Chronicles of 'Team B' - Chapter 36 - The Change of Heart and the Ring of Fire
Alden wanders aimlessly through the woods after his companions scatter, fleeing the navii who have come from Sitnitsa. Following a sixth sense, as if drawn by something, he comes upon the hut where Danifa and her pack dwell. Danifa says they have been expecting him - all the Children of Veles are being drawn to this place, now that the Lord Grey Wolf has come to reclaim that which is rightfully theirs. She tells him that his companions have gone to see the Lord, and tells him to also seek him out, so that he can recover his true nature, and reclaim the world that is his birthright. Curious if conflicted, Alden follows her instructions and proceeds south, toward the dark tree where the Grey Wolf has made his home. Falling through the hole, he discovers the Grey Wolf's tree fortress, and comes through the Maw Gate, into the Wolf's sanctum. A gruff, disembodied voice greets him, and tells him to proceed to Vladykino - a place he has visited before. The village will now pass to the control of the volkodlaks, and Alden is to proceed there to take his rightful place as a predator and ruler, and put the years of slavery and subjugation behind him. Alden attempts to object, and says the humans are too many, and that volkodlaks should learn to live side by side with them, but the voice tells him that times have changed, and the perfidious humans now have a choice: flee, or be eaten. As for Alden's apparent change of heart and his desire to live side by side with them, the voice reminds him of the wanton murder of the farmer just to steal his cow months ago. Alden says he has changed. The voice growls that his mind has been enslaved for too long, and he needs to see what it's like to live in the world to come. He says humans have failed to help him, as is indicated by their inability to cure his limp. He is expelled from the Maw, and proceeds toward his old haunts. Wondrously, his leg is fully healed. In two more days, he comes upon Vladykino, where volkodlaks have captured 50 or so villagers, and are now having some fun at their expense. He is greeted by the volkodlak's leader - a huge, hirsute wolfman carrying a morning star. Alden tells the captors that he has been sent here by the Grey Wolf, and the volkodlaks welcome him. Again voicing his objections to the scheme, Alden suggests that it may be better to trade with the humans and to send emissaries to nearby settlements. The volkodlak dismisses his fears - Vladykino and Malinka are under the wolves' control, after all, but he allows that Alden might travel to other villages and towns, calling on people to quit them while they still can.
* * *Now a rider approaches. He is Misha Rzhevsky, a man come from Lake Bogumil. God spoke to Misha, and told him to come south to Vladykino, where a group of people called the Serpentslayers have come to waken the great bogatyrs of old, and to save God's people from minions of the Evil One. As Misha approaches the gathering, he sees the wolves abusing prisoners, and announces his mission, calling on them to set the prisoners free. As the scene grows tense, Alden suggests that the wolves might release a young girl to accompany Misha to other villages, as proof of their willingness to treat, and as an eye-witness to their conquest. Surprisingly, the head wolf agrees. Misha picks scoops her up onto his horse, but then wheels around and charges the volkodlaks. One steps forward and lets out a bloodcurdling howl. The horse immediately wheels around, and charges in the opposite direction. While Misha desperately tries to calm his mount, the volkodlaks enjoy a laugh at his expense. Finally Misha dismounts and sends the horse away, so as to keep her safe, and approaches the raiders once again. At this, the wolves seize a couple of prisoners, and holds swords to their throats, saying that they will kill them if Misha gets any closer. Alden tries to lower the tensions by offering that he knows the Serpent Slayers, who Misha seeks. The head wolf, somewhat displeased by this fraternizing, calls on Alden to dispose of the interloper to prove his mettle...
* * *Inside the tunnels just a few versts away, the Serpent Slayers flee from the woman inside the fiery ring, carrying the fallen Lokan with them. The woman derisively bids Yuri to return, but the bogatyr rides away, saying he is already married. Vorobei is nowehere to be seen. Seeking another way out, and desperately hoping for some miracle to bring Lokan back, the party discovers two smaller cave chambers up ahead. One has a tall, fiery pillar, which it seems unwise to climb. There is no obvious fuel keeping the fire going, and yet it burns. The other chamber has a mysterious frond, or berry bush growing up out of the ground. Yuri inspects it, and finds a red gem growing where a berry ought to be. Further inspection yields another similar gem. Yuri begins to wonder whether this is some sort of puzzle, similar to what they found in Yaqub's cave, where holding fire to impressed letters opened a passage. But the solution to this puzzle eludes them. There is no way out past the bush and the pillar - only by getting past the woman inside the ring can the Serpent Slayers make their way back to the entrance - which is blocked, at that. Making hasty preparations, he attempts to ride around the ring, with Svetlana and Lokan's body in tow. But the woman's sweet voice is too hard to resist. Yuri dismounts, and approaches her form, floating above the ring. She hovers down, and whispering tantalizingly, kisses the cossack, causes his knees to buckle. She then tells him to leave the others, and join her inside her sanctum, which he gladly does, walking through the searing flames. She follows him inside, not greatly perturbed by the arrows Zorina fires up at her. Agapia summons up her moxie, and tries to will the ring to extinguish, but her magic is too weak to cause it to go out. They follow Yuri through the flames, but the lady sends him to push Zorina back out. Bewitched, Yuri is flat-footed, and Zorina dances around him, while trying to summon a healing spirit to keep him from dying. Agapia has found another solution, though - she uses an old talent honed years ago in the woods, and tries to push the woman into her own ring. On the second try, the witch is consumed in the flames. Badly battered, Zorina orders the spirit to soothe the Serpent Slayers' wounds. They inspect the sanctum - here is a silken tent, held up by human bones. Inside is a low table with a decanter and sweetmeats of various kinds, but nothing that seems immediately helpful. Again lacking options, the Slayers proceed back through the ring. Yuri, confused, weakened, and limping, trips on his way out, and is nearly consumed by the flames. The others pull him out, but his good leg is now badly burnt. The companions retreat back to the blocked entrance, and settle down to lick their wounds, and to wonder what lies ahead. The only way out seems to be through the center passage, where death surely lies.
- Two red gems
- Lady in ring of fire fried
- Misha finds his way to Vladykino
- Lokan meets his forefather
Character(s) interacted with
- Grey Wolf
- Danifa and her band
- Volkodlaks in Vladykino
- A girl and some captive builders in Vladykino
- Flying woman from within a ring of fire