A wealthy freeman (Mr. Stumpwater) living in Axefallow is sick, and none of the local herbalists can discern the cause. While he does not seem to be contagious, the strangeness of his condition seems to draw a good deal of concern from the Sheriff. A thorough investigation of the sick mans friends and family indicates that the last thing he did was head to Malagan’s Keep to shop for antiques and curios. His newest acquisition is a simple clock with a moving moon.
A Warden, Grimm, is dispatched to pick up Locke, a local tinker and purveyor of goods similar to the one found in the sick mans home. The curio is not one of Locke’s (nor is it one of his rivals’; the man was already questioned and an unrecognized makers’ mark found on the clock pieces). Inquiries into Locke’s circle identifies the mark as belonging to Thayo Beane, a poor freeman who sells his trinkets in the street markets of the keep and weekly at the Farmholder’s Market. The Market opens tomorrow, and Beane is sure to be there.
Examination of the object reveals it to be a simple clockwork machine that emits a slow, steady ping like a metronome while an armature moves a stone moon around in an elliptical path. The first thing anyone can notice is that the “clock” does not keep proper time. The metronome ping takes almost two seconds between sounding, and the elliptical path of the moon is traveled in about forty minutes. Locke uses an arcane device to sense for magic and there is a faint cast of it coming from the stone moon. The stone is identified as having been carved from a rune stone representing Journeying, of moving between many places. Quite likely, this stone is the source of the problem…
Thayo Beane has a reputation for being scattered and unorganized. His workmanship is fine, but he is himself unreliable. Jittery, he has episodes where he mutters to himself — but once he becomes aware of it, begins chewing on some kinds of plant roots (local plants known to help a person relax and gain clarity and mental focus). If approached menacingly, he breaks and tries to run. He is willing, even eager, to talk. When asked about the device, he says he built it after dreaming about it a few times. About the stone itself, he says he found it on the beach just east of the bridge on the south coastal road. He found the stone before he began having the dreams.
It would seem likely that Beane’s weak, fractured mind was influenced by or through the magic of the stone he found. Locally, magic is not particularly well regarded, and the Sheriff still hopes to keep things quiet. He does not need the interference of the count’s men (who’d just kill the sick man and probably anyone else who had been in sustained contact with the object) or the military (who would likely turn this into some sort of witch hunt and disturb local affairs way too much). He knows of an old sage , Blake, who lives in the forest hills up by the mining camps. He’s secured this man’s services in the past for concerns of a magical sort — and he’s the only real option aside from using official channels (and possibly involving the count’s men) and securing the services of some of the sages in Fivestones. Sheriff Sackbridge offers up a small parcel that says will help secure the Sage’s aid (it contains a bottle of Gnarl Root Spirits, a malted whiskey from a regional distillery in Welen’s Harbor).
Traveling part of the way toward Blake’s home, Locke and Grimm stop at the Prison and secure lodging. There is a public area in which they meet a trio of ratlings and a Knight-Errant named Layne. The Knight is chatty, possibly drunk, and keen to trade talk for some of Locke’s food. From him Grimm and Locke learn a bit of the unrest to the north in County Highwatch before they find a corner of the old ruins in which to set camp and sleep until dawn. The next morning they decide to head toward the mining camps, but the muddy trails are difficult for the horses, so they return to the prison and secure stables for a few days while they resume their travels on foot.
En route, Grimm decides to see if he can hunt down a wild boar for barter in the mining camp, so they head off the path and further up into the wooded hills. His plan seems almost to have failed, when snorts suddenly erupt from nearby…