Having informed the rest of the group about the fearful sight of a skeletal, headless horseman within the observatory, Serra transforms yet again: this time into a mosquito, with the intention of making a stealthy approach inside to gather more information. Meanwhile Baxter leads Roe and Elinor on an investigation around the other side of the building, in search of a potential other entrance. The witch digs around in her spellbooks and pulls out a pamphlet for the observatory, aimed at tourists, which tells of an exciting new exhibit which was recently added…but no details on what it is. Roe finds a small window, below which are a dusting of gunpowder and a crate containing research equipment which she cannot identify, but looks to be more heavy-duty than a run-of-the-mill observatory would require. Inside, Serra has managed to determine that the horseman is clasping a skull under one arm — ethereal green flame pouring from its eye sockets — and is standing on the upper floor of the observatory, the front door being on the ground floor. Unfortunately, she buzzes a little too close to the horseman, who notices her and swats her away, dizzying her for a moment.
Meanwhile, Roe and Elinor have called Fi over to see if she can identify the source of the gunpowder. Fi recognises it as coming from a human-made weapon, a pistol of the sort she encountered when she was run out of her hometown. Roe is spooked by the idea of such advanced weaponry, being more used to bows and swords. Elinor watches as Roe climbs atop Fi’s shoulders, to see if she can open the window above them. After wiping some of the frost from the glass and seeing the green illumination of the horseman’s skull (albeit without knowing where that coloured light is coming from), she tries to prise the window open with a handle; instead, she snaps it off. Exasperated, Elinor throws her hands up in defeat and walks back to the front of the observatory. The rest of the group join her, and Fi flings the front door open without fear.
They walk into the lobby of the observatory. The marble floor is covered in a fine film of dust, along with more torn papers and books from the archive — as previously reported by Serra — and a scattering of odd-sized bones. There is a desk off to the side, and a plinth with a plaque in the centre of the room, but nothing else. At the back of the room is a spiral staircase leading upward. They can hear a buzzing noise above them, along with a low rumbling. Having collected herself after being swatted away, Serra flies down to the lobby and explains what happened, and reveals something interesting about the horseman: drawing on her early education in legal history, she recognises an insignia on the skeletal apparition’s armour as belonging to the long-abolished monarchy of the land, which has not existed for centuries. The sound of rumbling increases, and everyone gets ready for battle: Fi prepares another burning brand, Serra slides the skull she carries on her back over her head and transforms into a giant snake, Roe draws her weapon, and Elinor dramatically sets down her cauldron before sheepishly picking it back up.
Her adrenaline pumping thanks to the sight of gunpowder awakening unhappy memories, Fi leads the charge up the staircase alongside Baxter, followed by Serra, then Roe, then Elinor. The steps are covered in more pieces of paper, bones, and twigs remaining from Rowan’s ill-fated expedition into the observatory. On reaching the upper level, the horseman turns towards them, his steed — jet black, with the same glowing green flame pouring from its eye sockets — whinnying and charging at them. Fi, flaming sword raised, runs right at their attacker, only for the horseman to disappear, leaving a trail of green flame in the direction of the front door. Relieved that their enemy appears to have retreated, the group relaxes somewhat. Naturally inquisitive and bookish, Serra begins to sift through the papers scattered over the floor, both to try and identify what the horseman might have been looking for, and because she’s curious. She recognises them as star maps, which Roe — who has seen a few skies in her time — confirms. However, she does not recognise them as any night skies she’s seen. The low rumbling sound that was apparent on their entrance to the observatory has not abated.
Whilst the group picks over the mess of the observatory, Baxter chews on one of the more sizeable bones amongst the detritus. All of a sudden, the one in his mouth begins to shake, before being pulled from his mouth most cruelly, as if by an invisible force. It soon transpires that all of the bones in the observatory are moving, collecting in the middle of the upper floor, scraping up from the lower levels and locking together by its own accord. Elinor, smartly, moves towards the back of the room, expecting the worst. The bones reconstitute themselves in the shape of an enormous whale, floating a few feet in the air, its deep and sorrowful song echoing about the domed room. Serra identifies the whale as the “exhibit” that Elinor’s pamphlet had been touting, and was missing from the lobby. It sweeps its tail in an opening attack, with Serra dodging and everyone else being knocked back. Elinor quickly curses the whale, causing it to hesitate on each attack it makes, its movements becoming slower and more stilted. Fi shapes her burning brand into a ball of flame and flings it at the enormous skeleton, succeeding in knocking some of its fin bones to the ground, singed and covered in soot. Serra, still in snake form, attempts to take a bit out of its tail, but just misses. With the help of Elinor providing a distraction, she tries again, succeeding this time in grabbing ahold of the whale’s jawbone and pulling it clear off. It moans louder, as if in pain.
At this, Elinor asks the group, “Are we just attacking a scared animal?” Serra assures her, and the group as a whole, that this is not a dead whale who has returned to life. Part of the reason they’re in Barent, and why it’s such a tourist destination this time of year, is because it’s the solstice; the perfect time for casting magic, whether good or bad. “Well, actually, it’s been animated by somebody else,” she explains, “and is not a sentient animal in its own right.” Roe doesn’t have to be told twice. Baxter has been eyeing up this delicious collection of bones and, concerned for his safety, she blows her dog whistle to try and distract the whale. She succeeds, and Baxter goes for the tail nevertheless, but misses as the whale begins to raise it for another attack. Roe manages to duck the strike, which hits the ground behind her instead, but a bone is chipped off and strikes Baxter, who becomes a little more hesitant about trying to chomp on that whale tail again. Fi summons another burning brand and hurls a projectile that knocks off the whale’s remaining flipper. Having shifted out of her snake form, Serra transforms into a samoyed, attempting to attack the whale but once again missing. The whale doesn’t look to be in good shape: it is shaking, its movements even more awkward and unnatural. Elinor, having taken a step back, surmises that the horseman may be in control of the whale, having noticed that same green flame between the loosening joints of the skeleton.
At this, Roe attempts to reason with the whale, hoping perhaps the horseman will be able to hear her. He definitely seems like bad news, but perhaps he is simply not truly in control of himself, or aware of his situation as an undead headless skeleton man. Unfortunately, the whale is not one for negotiation, and at her awkward approach it just repeats its howls of pain. Serra, still a samoyed, takes the opportunity to leap off the stairway bannister and further loosens the whale’s vertebrae. The beast collapses at this final attack, and Serra tumbles off the side of the upper floor, hitting the lobby hard and taking some damage. The whale collapses into a pile of bones, which Baxter eyes with no small amount of delight, and which Serra expresses an interest in too — much to Roe’s concern.
Elinor and Fi race downstairs to see if they can catch sight of where the horseman fled. The green flame has faded, with some hoof prints in the snow visible through the open doorway. Serra, meanwhile, rushes back up (still in dog form) to take a look through the observatory telescope. Roe semi-patiently stands behind her, badgering her with questions: “What’s there? Is it good?” Serra sees a shooting star disappear behind a dark, unseen celestial body, guessing that it might be an eclipse, and suggests they go outside for a better look. The pair follow Elinor and Fi outside, where they gaze up at the gorgeous shimmering sight of colours in the night sky — an aurora! Nothing magical or untoward, just a beautiful natural wonder. Fi, meanwhile, has found more of those hot golden coins sunk into the snow, along with more scattered hoof prints headed in the direction of town. The group poke their heads into the bothy, where they see that a couple of darkened leaves have appeared on the pile of twigs that used to be Rowan, along with a scattering of seeds. Roe and Serra collect a few of the seeds, leaving a few behind, with the intention of perhaps “planting” their mute friend somewhere less cold.
The group wander back to Barent, the hoof prints and coins soon disappearing entirely. On entering the town limits they are met by a harried, nervous-seeming guard in ill-fitting uniform. He is stunned they returned from the observatory in tact; Serra manages to convince him that the “danger” that was being reported was overstated, that the building simply requires some maintenance, and there were a few sharp icicles dangling over the front door. Elinor informs him that it looked like some vandals had broken in and trashed the place, with particular damage being done to the whale skeleton on display. The guard seems disappointed at this, but thankful that the observatory is apparently safe; he tell the group he will write to the observatory’s owner with this news, as he is not in town, then bows — his helmet falling off his head — and he returns to the inn he came from.
Ready to unwind after their expedition, the group take a load off. Holing up at a tavern in the a tourist town not exactly wanting for such, Serra orders an elegant cocktail, lightweight Roe drinks a little too much and tries to order whale steak (whilst secretly feeding Baxter some bar snacks under the table), Fi has calmed down some and is enjoying a hearty stew, whilst Elinor gets a stiff drink to deal with the fact that this group is far more adventurous — and spoiling for a fight — than she was prepared for. They hit the hay in the beds available upstairs, resting up in anticipation of catching a train out of town the next morning.