Chapter 20 - The Otherworld
Vasya complains about being chained to the standing stone, and pleads (or demands) to be released. He claims Baba Yaga placed him, along with the cauldron of silver, for the party of suitors, to dispose of as they see fit, but Chonkorchuk is skeptical. He believes Vasya will escape, and leaves him chained, while he retreats to the high-gabled temple inside the compound. The temple is clean and empty of any statuary. No one seems to be present. At the center of the hall is a lit fire pit, but it gives off no heat whatsoever. The ceiling is covered with symbols that Chonkorchuk cannot read, but it reminds him of the scratchings inside his hermitage. Soon, his companions join him. Meditating by the cold fire, Chonkorchuk and Druvvaldis recall stories of the old gods – Perun – ruler of the sky, Veles – ruler of the Netherworld, and Mokosh – the Moist Mother Earth. The Thunderlord and the Lord of Cattle had a disagreement over who could claim Mokosh – a disagreement that reflects the permanent state of strife among the Old Gods. Sitting by the fire, both, along with Plamen, who serves the Old Gods also, intuit that this is the reason why they lost control of the Visible World - Yav’, from which they hail, to the adherents of the New Faith. The Old Gods retreated, or were forced to retreat, here, to the The Otherworld, where they marshal their forces, and wait for their chance to reclaim Yav’ for themselves. Mokosh – the keeper of Fates – tries to maintain the peace and to work for the reconciliation of her divine kinsmen, but often to no avail. In other forms, she is known as Baba Yaga. The companions inspect the grounds. The other standing stones are tended, but no offerings have been left anywhere but at the stone to which Vasya is chained. The compound stands atop a hill, and a narrow path leads down. A huge, dense forest surrounds the hill, but a patch of rocky, open land several versts wide surrounds the hilltop. No visible rivers wind through the land, which is, however, dotted with lakes and ponds. No sun is visible in the sky, which is nevertheless bathed in golden light. The sounds of hoofbeats are heard below, and Plamen espies an armored riders, dressed in white, and mounted on a white steed, charging by down below. The forest is illumined in bright light. The three companions, along with Katarina, descend down the steep winding path, and find themselves on a desolate heath. At the very bottom of the path is a large boulder with an arcane inscription. A raven sits on it and pecks at it. The writing is the secret script used by the volkhvy – the servants of the Old Gods – and Plamen, instructed by his uncle when he was yet a child – is the only one who can read it. The boulder is a Doomstone, and proclaims that those who go left will win a wife, those who go right will win a steed, while those who go straight will lose their life. Plamen attempts to converse with the raven and asks what lies about this place, and whether there are any towns or settlements. The bird responds that there are small settlements scattered in the woods, but no large towns are to be found anywhere near. Only Baba Yaga and her servitors, along with the strange riders, go by here. Plamen searches for the healing and nourishing berries he found in great abundance in his own world, but here, none are to be found. Snow covers the earth, and winter grips the land. The companions go back up the hill, and put in a halfhearted effort to free Vasya from his chains – Chonkorchuk is still not convinced he should be freed, though Katarina argues for his release. In any event, the group only succeeds in bending the links out of shape, which makes the chain harder to remove. They then head off to search for food, promising a desperate Vasya that they will return once they have found some sustenance. Druvvaldis summons a mule spirit, to help them carry back whatever they find. They proceed leftward past the Doomstone, not wishing to find their death, and having apparently already found a bride. Soon, they find themselves in a dense wood. It is hard making their way in one direction, as there is no sun in the sky, and no familiar growth on the south side of trees. Nevertheless, the party proceeds as best they can. They find no game, but as they scramble over gnarled roots and prepare to turn back, they are set upon by a monstrous bear, which roars out that it will destroy them. Plamen attempts to fend it off with his cudgel, while Chonkorchuk and Druvvaldis try to blast it from a distance. Druvvaldis' mule comes in to help the beleaguered healer, while Katarina shouts that she feels power within herself, but cannot release it without some sort of channeling mechanism. The bear rips at Plamen’s chest, and lays him out onto the turf, but Chonkorchuk is able to put the beast down with a well-placed blast, while Druvvaldis summons forth a helpful serpent spirit to revive Plamen, who is now sporting a nasty scar. The group returns to the temple, their mule loaded down with bear meat. Along the way, they search for a way to let Katarina release the power she acquired after the bathhouse initiation, until Chonkorchuk grants her the ivory-handled dagger he took from the smugglers. Plamen tends to Chonkorchuk’s wound acquired in that fight, and wonders if they should return to their own world to seek the aid of Hegumen Yaakov. Katarina finds a tree struck by lightning, and two loadstones near the Doomstone, to use as casting components. As they approach the hill, a black-clad rider on a black horse passes nearby, and soon, the land is shrouded in darkness. Upon their return, the party begins to roast the meat, and then settles down for the night, which passes uneventfully. After a red-clad rider passes by down below, the sky lights up, and the group rises for breakfast. Chonkorchuk has trouble chewing, however, and Plamen surmises that this is the result of being stabbed with a rusty blade by one of the skeletons in the warren. He again brings up returning to the Lazar’ and Liudmilla Abbey, but soon realizes that the power to purify and make things whole resides in him no less than in Hegumen Yaakov, though it will take a little time to summon it forth. In the meantime, he invokes the bear spirit that he calls on during battles, and grants its power to Vasya, who finally, with some help from Katarina (who uses her newfound magic to realign the deformed links) rips the chain off the standing stone. As the group makes preparations to descend back down, Chonkorchuk peers into the temple fire one least time to see whether it is a good idea to free Vasya. He sees only Baba Yaga’s laughing face in the fire.
- A tree struck by lightning (component)
- Two lodestones (components)
- A talking bear is killed and butchered