Chapter 35 - The Battle of Devil's Nose
In preparation for the evening's festivities, Sasha goes to the village center to give the rumor mill one final spin. She disguises herself as someone who might pass as Rogdai's daughter, with signs of a beating, and tells the crowd that her father is making her perform for money. She finds little sympathy in the crowd, and makes minimal money for her singing, so she decides to return to the hostel. Soon after her return, night falls, and the entire group of Yokels leaves the village, and proceeds down to Devil's Nose. Along the way, Chonkorchuk sees a raven flying overhead - perhaps an echo of an earlier vision. As they approach the standing stone, they see a crowd of over 100 assembled by the lakeshore, around the standing stone, the base of which seems bloodstained, like the one the party found in the forest. Next to the stone, there is a lumpy tarp of some sort. The rocky shore is covered with petroglyphs. Evtepi is there, but everyone is waiting for the guest officiant, who is to conduct this year's ceremony. Chonkorchuk tries to see if a magical portal has been opened, but detects nothing. At last, Rogdai appears, accompanied by Zhitko. There is a clamor rising from the crowd - where is the sacrificial ox? Rogdai makes his way to the standing stone, and quiets the crowd. Then he announces that this year, Kaverinka is to have a special sacrifice, courtesy of some visitors from out of town. He pulls back the tarp, revealing five human corpses in early stages of rot. Plamen and Vasilisa clearly recognize them as formerly being refugees outside Krinets city walls. Rogdai lifts his arms in the air, and the corpses rise from the ground. Vasilisa, offended, fires an arrow at Rogdai's hand, and moves off, accusing him of lying to the people he bought, Rogdai responds that Vasilisa is herself to blame for what happened to her, and sends the corpses into action against Drazhan and Chonkorchuk, as assembled people begin to flee, though a few hang around, with mouths agape, watching the proceedings. Chonkorchuk calls on them to aid his friends against the necromancer, but the bystanders prefer not to take sides. Meanwhile, Zhitko also swings into action - on the side of Rogdai, and the corpses, and advances toward Chonkorchuk with his huge hammer. Right away, Drazhan finds himself pressed by three of the risen corpses, though Plamen summons up a blast of thunder to push them away, and relieve him a bit. Drazhan puts up a disguise to look like himself, changes into a bipedal wolf, becomes infuriated, and fights back. Chonkorchuk finds himself between two corpses, and Zhitko. Sasha manages to charm Zhitko, and tells him to go after Rogdai, but the dark-aspected magician simply vanishes, and appears next to Vasilisa, where he summons a glowing sword, and engages her in a duel. With a bit of breathing room, Chonkorchuk tries to improve the odds by speaking the magic words, and summoning two out of the sack. Two cudgel-wielding toughs appear, and attack him, saying that they are there to teach him a lesson. Seriously pressed, Chonkorchuk summons up his infernal darkness, which envelops several enemies, and also swallows up a few innocent bystanders. This does confuse his enemies, however, and gives him an opportunity to hide in the darkness himself. Sasha, who is beset by the corpses crawling out of the darkness, fails to keep up her spell against Zhitko, who makes his way out, and attacks Drazhan, who is in the midst of trying to devour one of the corpses. Plamen conjures up a flaming sphere, and Chonkorchuk begins to blast away at the cudgel-wielding thugs. Eventually, most of the corpses are felled by Drazhan and Plamen. The young shepherd follows up with another signature move - summoning four huge warhorses to finish off Zhitko, but the smith characteristically transforms into a fire-breathing serpent, and chars several of them. Afterwards, he lays into Drazhan, though the ghazi is feeling almost no pain. In the duel between Rogdai and Vasilisa, the magician has the better of it, and forces her to retreat, after which he switches to magical assaults from afar, first against her, then against Sasha. Vasilisa switches her fire to the serpent, who, after having destroyed several of the horses, faces the joint assault of a second wave, along with Drazhan and the cudgel-wielding Plamen, while the axe-wielding Chonkorchuk finishes off the toughs, before turning his attention to the serpent. Deciding that he has had enough, the serpent takes to the air, but a blast from Chonkorchuk brings him spiraling down into the lake. Left alone, Rogdai flees into the woods, but the Yokels mount the remaining warhorses, as well as Plamen, who has taken the guise of a horse as well, and rides him down. Rogdai surrenders, is bound and gagged, thrown on a riderless horse, and the party rides north, circumventing Kaverinka. Vasilisa then collects her wolf to the east of the village, and the group rides on, until their horses vanish. At that point, they prepare to camp, and begin interrogating the prisoner. Free to speak, Rogdai reveals that he was sent by the Koshchei the Deathless to stop the party from traveling to the Tsardom of Shadow, and meddling with the Dread Lord's business. He expresses regret that they failed to get the message back in Krinets. In response to questions about Reznikov, he says the prince has gone to deliver the apple to a place where it will grow, providing the Dread Lord's followers with access to immortality. There are many places known to the Dread Lord, he implies, where such apples will grow, at any time of year. He also names various other followers of Koshchei, including erstwhile companions of Reznikov's - Nina, Lilith, Brian, and Fernando. In response to Chonkorchuk's offer to leave Koshchei's death in neutral hands, where neither the Dread Lord nor Baba Yaga will have access to it, Rogdai demurs - his death is the Dread Lord's property, and not to be left in the hands of the old, corrupt gods (Koshchei, according to Rogdai, is not a god, but something greater). He makes a counteroffer of his own - the Dread Lord is looking for competent allies, and would be willing to let bygones be bygones if the Yokels agree to come over to his side. The Yokels confer as to their next steps. Before they turn in for the night, it might be a good idea to enhance the pressure on their prisoner.
- Rogdai and Zhitko are defeated