The Reign Of Winter
Hermann's Tales 18
As it turned out, there were only three of these strange creatures, each convinced that they were able to navigate the way home, and none willing to forego their course of destruction.
It was with reluctance that we attacked them. As Benedictus informed me: if we didn’t stop them, they would destroy the area. If we defeated them but did not kill them, they would just resume after we left, which would put all the innocent human slaves in the city at risk. So we killed them all, one by one.
After we finished our grisly task we discovered that the magical vortex was dissipating (as Benedictus had asserted it would). As it disappeared we were confronted by an ice queen – it was the witch that owned the Pale Tower that we had looted so many weeks ago.
The fight was nasty, and to the death. At it’s end we saw our final destination – Baba Yaga‘s Hut! As we carefully approached it, I discretly rubbed my magic ring – for luck – only for us to be addressed by another of Baba Yaga’s riders, this time reduced to a skull on the gatepost.
He granted the mantle of the rider to those of us not yet forsworn, and we entered the hut.
Immediately I knew something was wrong. From the outside, the hut was a small and simple building. One small room, one door, one small window. From the inside, however, the hut was huge. The room we stepped into was larger than the entire hut appeared to be from outside. Realising this meant powerful magic was at play, I resolved to be careful about using my magical sight.
The room we entered had a huge cauldron at it’s centre, with a fireplace off to one side, a ladder to an attic space and two other doors leading to other rooms. One turned out to be locked, the other led us to a large misshapen creature, made entirely out of skulls and sinew. After a great struggle we defeated it, seeing a huge map room displayed under our feet. Great magics were at work here too, as you could just about discern large buildings in the images of the cities hovering about a foot off the floor. I surmised that this was a magical reflection of the real world – nice and flat, not like that dumb globe that was in the Pale Tower.
Another exit from this room led to a cellar where large flour wheels were set up. I get the feeling that the old sing-song about grinding down your bones to make her bread was possibly entirely too accurate.
Having explored most of the hut we settled down to rest. I incidentally discovered that – contrary to my expectations – the hut did not seem to radiate any magic. How it could be possible to create such a large space inside such a small hut without it? Well, the puzzle proved too much for my simple mind, and I went to sleep pondering the problem.
Half way through the night, Idrin woke us all with the tale of a human-sized, human-shaped duck that had appeared. We could see nothing of it, but just in case I cast my spell to reveal invisible creatures. Either Idrin had dreamt it, or it had teleported away. Either way, as a Fey creature, it was probably hostile.
Despite searching the hut carefully we could not find any trace of the strange creature, so we settled back down to sleep again. I had trouble dropping off due to my skin crawling and feeling all tingly, and so stayed awake until well after my invisibility sight dissipated.
In the morning I had another shock – my skin had turned even more scaly, and I now had a distinctly tanned (bronzed) look. I made it a priority to find out more about the creature I was turning into, hopefully before I finished my transformation.
No sooner had I finished my morning meditations and recast my magical armour than the strange duck woman appeared and started fussing about us. It seemed that this Fey was a tamed housekeeper, who was only too happy to help us when she heard we were trying to find Baba Yaga. This made two nice Fey that we had met. It seemed that it must be possible to bind them as servants, whereupon they cease to be a threat. Something else to possibly look into, time permitting.
She open the previously locked door, revealing a large library. I immediately started scanning the shelves to see if I could find out anything about my transformation, and soon found a book that held a lot of really useful, basic stuff. It seemed that my initial guess was correct – the more I used my magic, the faster I would turn into a dragon. But I would not become a dragon fully – my transformation would stop at a half-way stage, where I could temporarily become a full dragon using my magics. I also found that having a positive attitude towards my transformation would help ease the process, so would redouble my attempts to understand and embrace what was happening to me. All the better to serve Sarenrae’s will.
After a short while the others started getting restless, so I put down my books and went into the main room. Zorka, the house cleaner Fey, explained to me how to use the cauldron to move between realms, and how to use the stirring bowl to make the hut move.
Not wanting to leave this realm yet, I tried to use the stirring bowl. I managed to make the hut sway and dance, but no matter how much I tried I could not make it move as I wished. To my mind it would require a mage far more skilled than I to guide it, but Sven seemed reluctant to even try.
Giving up in frustration, I took the two magical totems we had obtained so far and dropped them into the cauldron. The hut’s dancing and twirling took on a dizzying speed, and the land outside the window blurred with the motion. Then everything started to feel weird and transparent, before snapping back to reality.
The room we were now in was vastly different to before. Instead of the three sets of doors and a ladder to the attic, we had just one set of doors on an upstairs landing. Going out of the door we found ourselves in a corridor stretching off into the distance in both directions. Following the right spur we followed the corridor around an extreme curve – normally I would say that logically the corridor curved around so much we should have crossed back into the corridor behind us, but I put this down to just another example of the strangeness of the hut we were in.
We came across a door emblazoned with a sunrise. Opening it we found a pool in the middle of a small jungle. A crow flew down and looked at us quizzically. Throwing all reason to the wind I talked to the crow as if it were a person, and to my now only mild surprise it answered back, in common tongue to boot.
It challenged us to answer a riddle, one which I guessed the answer to. It bade us to face a nightmare in exchange for information, which we agreed to. Behind another door was a small bedchamber containing a ghost. This spirit had been bound there by Baba Yaga, and wanted revenge on her. We agreed to free her in exchange for information, which she gave at a price, one of minor sacrifice by us. I allowed her to feast on me, as did several others, and she gave us the answers we needed. I resolved to do all I could to free her before we left this realm.
We returned to the crow with our answers, and he told us we had to meet with the three-fold woman. A fated meeting, perhaps?