After 10 years, Serin returns to Lepidstadt for a good friend and mentor’s funeral. Fillyp Asimov taught him much of what he knows and news of his death reached him in Caliphas. Not knowing what to expect, he meets Petr Kirov, a professor at the University of Lepidstadt and friend to Fillyp. The professor had helped Fillyp gain admittance to the University and had heard much about Serin and their friendship from Fillyp. Fillyp was also working with the professor as an assistant and apprentice and had traveled with him on more than one excavation.
The professor asks Serin to meet him at The Ghoul’s Jawbone to talk more about Fillyp. With him, he brings Ivan, a young monk who met the professor through his Order and wished to study alchemy at the university. The group conversed into the evening as a bard played a variety of melodies and told folktales. They talk of Fillyp’s life as well as the professor’s work. He has made a tremendous discovery, but is unwilling to reveal it just yet.
As the hour got late, the professor took his leave, but revealed plans to travel home to the town of Orsk for a festival. Seeking protection, he asked Serin and Ivan to join him, believing there would be safety in numbers.
The trio departs the next morning, talking as they travel. In the distance, they hear the yips of local wildlife and observe a storm brewing to the South. The first night, they camp in a small grove of ash trees, just off the road. A fire is built and somewhat sheltered from a brief rain shower by the trees. The yips of the animals remains close and they set a watch for the evening.
As Ivan sits watch, he hears rustling and yips all about the camp. Exercising caution, he awakens the others. Serin, not wanting a confrontation, conjures voices of additional travelers. The yips die down, but not before one source, a large gnoll, bursts from the trees and runs through the camp. The professor is left unnerved and stokes the fire, but the remainder of the evening passes without incident.
Serin, Ivan, and Professor Kirov continue their travels. The day is dreary, overcast, and rainy and a thick mist covers the ground to their knees. Trudging along, they find camp in a second, sparse grove of trees near the road. Again, they set a watch, the professor taking the first shift.
The following morning, Serin and Ivan awaken to the sound of crows and the smell of blood mixing with wildflowers and morning dew. The professor’s body lies where he sat down to take watch, his face frozen in terror and agony and his body torn open, flesh and entrails exposed and torn to ribbons.
Confused, they search the camp. They find a small bit of silver dust, but no idea what it means. The find a stack of notes, complex and confusing, in a satchel. They save these to study later for clues about his murder. As they search, Ivan spots a lone figure set atop a nearby bluff. He sets out after it, but after a short chase the creature – almost humanoid, with mismatched, necrotic skin colors and a shambling, hunched gait – eludes him.
Honoring his wishes, Ivan and Serin return the professor’s body to Orsk, seeking out his family at the town square. Unfortunately, the town is a superstitious lot and fearful of strangers. They are accused of the crime and their arguments go unheard. Overhearing that they will be jailed for the crime simply to avoid their being lynched, Ivan and Serin make their escape, an angry crowd in pursuit.
Running through a cornfield and hearing the baying of hounds in the distance, they are tiring quickly. Getting as far ahead of their pursuers as possible, Serin covers their trail with blast of acid, then they retrace their steps and hide in a nearby barn. The hounds follow the trail, yelping when they come across the remnants of the acid and preventing further pursuit by the hounds.
After escaping the townsfolk, they decide their best course of action is to return to Lepidstadt and try to determine what the professor was working on. They travel off the roads through the Shudderwood, eventually coming to a crossing over the river. Paying the ferryman, the two young men travel back to Lepidstadt along the north bank of the river in Vieland.
Once back in Vieland, Ivan and Serin split up, agreeing to rendezvous at The Ghoul’s Jawbone. Ivan went to the university, seeking out Professor Feona Peskow and being directed to her assistant, Pavel. He arranges a meeting with the professor at The Jawbone and is given the name of a tracker, Pavel’s cousin, who may be able to help them on their expedition into the marshes to the East.
Serin remembers an old friend who may be able to tell him if word of their status has reached Lepidstadt. He seeks out Calina at The Magic Maidenhead and rediscovers an old friend. Now the proprietor, Serin fills Calina in on the past 10 years, including the events of the past week. Confident that they can investigate without fear of being arrested on sight, Serin says good night and returns to the Jawbone to meet with Ivan.
They formulate a plan and decide the best course of action is to meet with the professor in the morning and go over the notes before going to meet with Pavel’s cousin, Vlad, to enlist his tracking services.