You are getting nerdy…

The House of the Grey Circle, Chapters 5, 6 and 7

Chapter 5
February 5th, 1935

It was evening by the time they arrived back at the manor, and the sun was well into setting.  They filed into the library, stretching their sore and tired muscles.  They had all felt the effects of their mountain jaunt when they woke up this morning.  Perhaps not Warren, but it was impossible to tell with him anyway.  Without any discussion on the matter, they took seats around the table, and looked expectantly at Abigail.
Abigail set the journal on the table and flipped it open to the third page.  As they had hoped, there was writing there that hadn’t been when last they looked.  It was confirmed, then, that this journal was a proxy to whatever Malachi was really writing in, as Abigail had been carrying this one since they had first found it.  Picking the book up again, Abigail began to read.

February 4th, 1935
I am in the company of a band of Hungarian Gypsies who make their route along the largely untraveled roads between Szeged and Gyula.  Once a season, they break from their usual path and make camp at the edge of the woods east of Szeged.  I was fortunate to find them along their way, as those woods are my current destination.
Our reasons differ greatly, however.  Whereas I intend to venture into the woods, none of these Gypsies would dare consider such a thing.  I am told that these are “Baba’s Woods”, referring to the legend of Baba Yaga that is common in this region.  According to those that have been willing to speak to me, the Gypsies will spend a month here, taking measures of an undisclosed nature to prevent the cannibal witch from venturing beyond these woods.  I would typically meet such claims with a measure of scepticism, but there are those in this camp who are learned in arcane ways, and they assure me it is no mere myth they seek to contain.  They have done their best to convince me not to go.  Though I now consider the undertaking with a great deal more caution than I previously did, I still have no choice.
Just looking in their direction, I can feel the menace hiding behind those trees.  Even without the words of warning I have received from those more knowledgeable than I,I would likely be experiencing, at least in part, the trepidation I feel now.  There is no turning back, even if I truly wanted to.  The cave is hidden somewhere in the woods, and the secrets I have been promised wait within.  I will leave in the morning, as I am told that she is unlikely to be about in the daylight hours.  I will trust to hope that I will find what I seek without incident, and will not find Baba Yaga waiting for me.

Abigail closed the book, and gave everyone a moment to ponder before she spoke again:
“Any thoughts?”
“He mentioned being promised secrets,” Selena observed. “Someone is guiding him.”
“But we don’t know who,” Arthur pointed out, “and we don’t know their intentions.  They could be guiding him into a trap.”
“It certainly sounds like a trap,” Daniel said, “I don’t know much about Baba Yaga, but I’ve heard a bit.  Evil spirit of the highest caliber.  Some sort of fae monster.”
“She used to be a nature spirit of some sort,” Selena elaborated, “a forest guardian, according to the prevalent theories.  I didn’t have access to the right books to learn how, but she was corrupted a long time ago.  Twisted into a cannibal monster.  The forest she guarded is said to be devoid of life now.  Nothing but old, dead trees for miles.”
“How much of the legend is accurate?” Abigail asked. “What of the chicken legged hut, and the eating of children?”
“As far as I’m aware, those are largely true,” Selena continued. “Though I doubt terrible that she’d mind devouring, or at least slaughtering any adults she came across.  She’s among the worse beings to have made it into folklore.”
“So what shall we do?” Evelyn asked. “Do we follow him?”
“After yesterday, I daresay it’s imperative,” Abigail confirmed. “We need to know what Malachi’s on about.  And this time he might just be in real trouble.  The book says he’s not going into the woods until tomorrow morning.  We can’t make it to Romania by then, but we can follow as close on his heels as we can.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere tonight but home,” Selena interjected. “I know this is important and all, but I’ve got to spare some time for my children, and I’ll need to explain to my mother-in-law that I’ll be disappearing for God knows how long.”
“All right,” Abigail conceded, “We’ll go tomorrow then.  Arthur, can you have us ready to leave by ten?”
“We’ll be fueled up by nine-thirty,” Arthur confirmed.
“Excellent,” Abigail said. “Now, since Arthur and Selena have a long drive ahead of them, shall we adjourn for the evening?”

Selena’s mother-in-law had the rather unique ability to make grown adults feel like out-of-line teenagers.  It was her look, the way she could narrow her eyes just slightly and turn her whole face into a mask of disapproval.  She was wearing that mask now, and Selena had to admit that she would rather be facing Baba Yaga than Gertrude.
“This is grossly out of your character, Selena,” Gertrude admonished sternly. “What, exactly, has possessed you?”
“It’s an emergency,” Selena explained with forced patience, “an old friend has disappeared, and we believe he may be in some sort of danger.”
“We?” Gertrude arched her eyebrows.
“Friends from my childhood,” Selena almost choked on her next words: “The others who survived the fire.”
“If your friend is in trouble,” Gertrude’s voice had softened somewhat, “why not let the authorities handle it?”
“What authorities should we call?” Selena asked somewhat crossly. “We’re not even certain what country he’s in.  No, this requires resources of a different sort.  The sort of resources available to individuals possessed of absurd intelligence and ridiculous wealth.”
“What sort of trouble is this?” Gertrude looked worried now.
“We don’t rightly know.  We only know that our friend was acting wildly out of character, and that he would not be doing so unless he was under some sort of duress.  Given that he has since vanished, the conclusion is obvious.”
“And if this search puts you in the same danger?”
“I’m not in this alone,” Selena reminded her mother-in-law, “my friends are all extremely capable.  I’ll not be facing any grave threat without a quite threatening group of my own.”
“Will you write?” Gertrude asked. “And stop in when you can?”
“Of course I shall,” Selena assured her, “I’ve not forgotten the importance of my own children.  I simply have an obligation of loyalty to fulfill, and a friend in need.”
“Well, I shan’t fault your loyalty,” Gertrude smiled sadly, “that was something our William valued so highly.  I think he would understand, so I’ll try to do the same.”
“Thank you Gertrude,” Selena almost had to fight back tears at the mention of William. “I must be off early tomorrow.  Do tell the children I love them and will be home as soon as I can, will you?”
“Of course, dear.” Gertrude’s tone turned into one of maternal authority. “Now get yourself some rest.  You’ve got serious business ahead of you.”
Selena couldn’t help but smile as she turned away.

Chapter 6
February 6th, 1935

They were able to take the plane as far as Budapest.  From there they were once again forced to rent cars and go the rest of the distance by road.  They drove steadily for more than one hundred and fifty miles until they reached Szeged, where they stopped for petrol.  It was another sixty-five miles to reach the approximate region near the Carpathian mountains where they had estimated they would find the Gypsy camp Malachi had spoken of.
The drive was long and tedious, and evening was wearing on by the time the road curved and the mountains that had long loomed ahead of them now enclosed them on their right side.  Between the cars and the mountains stood a deep, thick forest, stretching on for miles.  Since they had no definite location for the camp, they could only keep driving alongside the woods and hope for the best.
They drove on for another hour before their search finally bore fruit.  Up ahead they could see the flickering glow of campfires, and as they drew closer they saw the silhouettes of caravans, tents and trucks.  They pulled off of the road and parked on the grass roughly twenty metres from the camp.  As they climbed out of the cars, they knew quickly that they were not alone.  A number of obscure shapes moved in the shadows before them.  Arthur reached back into the car he had been driving and switched the headlamps on.
Ten men faced them, spaced evenly apart in a line that segregated the cars and their occupants from the camp.  Each of the men was armed, mostly with shotguns, a couple of them with pistols.  They all wore the same glower on their faces.  Warren quietly placed himself between the men and Evelyn, the others remained carefully still.
“We do not welcome visitors to our camp,” the man in the middle called out, his English heavily accented.
“You welcomed one just the other day,” Arthur called back, calmly.
“The Englishman,” the Gypsy confirmed. “He came alone.  You are many.  It is not the same.”
“We’re no threat to you,” Arthur assured him.  His voice sounded strange on the night air.  Soothing. “We’re not armed.  The Englishman is our friend, and we’re looking for him.  Will you help us find him?”
The gypsy’s gun slowly lowered.  His face had taken on a glassy-eyes dullness as he stared at Arthur, who returned the gaze intently.  Arthur opened his mouth to speak again when he was interrupted by a shout from the darkness behind the men.
“No more words!” A middle aged Gypsy man stalked into the light, pointing an accusing finger at Arthur. “No more words from you!  You bewitch my men and prey on their minds!”
“I’m just trying not to get shot,” Arthur replied coolly, but the odd quality had vanished from his voice.  He wasn’t prepared to risk trying his tricks on this one.
“And they are just trying to protect their families,” the older man’s English was clearer than the other gypsy’s. “What do you want from us?”
“We’re looking for our friend,” it was Daniel who spoke now. “We know he came this way, and stayed at your camp.  An Englishman like us, tall, dark hair, spectacles?”
“Yes, I know him,” the old gypsy nodded cautiously, “the foolish young wizard who dared Baba’s woods yesterday.  He did not return.”
One of the women gave a hushed gasp.  They all looked at each other, momentarily uncertain, but then Daniel spoke again, his tone unchanged.
“Where did he leave his car?”
“I saw no car,” the man answered, “he came to our camp on foot.”
“What do we do now?” Selena whispered nervously.
“There’s only one thing we can do,” Daniel muttered back, then he spoke aloud again to the old man: “We need to follow him.”
The man scoffed. “Into the woods?  You are as foolish as he was.  To enter Baba’s woods is certain death.  You cannot help your friend now.”
“We have to try,” Daniel answered with quiet insistence, “he’s family to us.”
The man sighed, shrugging as though he shouldered a heavy burden. “You will do what you must then, for family.  And you will surely die in doing it, as he certainly did.  But you will not go tonight.  No, there is but one thing I can do to perhaps save you from your stupidity, and that is to keep you out of the forest while night is fallen.”
“She’s stronger at night?” Selena’s curiosity was piqued.  Typical of a Kinsbridge when magical beasts were the topic.
“Your women speak for themselves?” The old man came close to sneering. “You English are strange in your ways.  Yes, woman.  She is strongest at night.  By day, she lies dormant, but not powerless.”
“What power does she have during the day?” Daniel asked.
“The woods belong to her.  Even as she sleeps, she can work her will on them.  There is no other life or power among those trees to oppose her.  When you enter, she will know.  The only path will be the one she allows you; the only escape will be the death she brings when night falls.  The forest will close around you and swallow you whole.”
Daniel nodded. “We understand the risk.”
“You do not,” the man snorted, “but you will not be dissuaded.  I see that clearly.  You will stay in our camp tonight, so we may keep an eye on you.  For our protection.  You will respect our ways while you are here.  You will take nothing you are not given, and your women will hold their tongues in the presence of our men.”
“That is acceptable,” Daniel acquiesced. “May we at least have your name?”
“I am Janos.  I guide this band.  Do not bother me with your names.  They will mean nothing by the end of tomorrow.”
Without another word, Janos waved them to follow him.  Arthur switched off the headlamps and they followed the gypsy, clustered closely together.
“What are we doing?” Abigail demanded of Daniel in a harsh whisper. “This is insane!”
“This isn’t the time to explain,” Daniel said in the same low tone, “but I’m not convinced that Malachi’s dead.  I’ll explain when we’re settled.”

They were set up in an extra tent, and instructed not to wander.  The tent was a bit cramped for six adults, but the furs laid on the ground softened the hard earth, and the oiled canvas kept the wind out admirably.  All save Daniel and Warren were bundled in their coats along with the fur blankets they had been provided.  Warren seemed all right with only his coat, and Daniel kept warm in his own way, as always.  He dared not try to share his internal heat, lest he burn the gypsies’ tent and shatter the fragile welcome they had.
Abigail wrapped her blanket firmly around her and gave Daniel a rather sharp look.
“You promised an explanation?”
“Naturally,” Daniel sat cross-legged on one side of the tent, where he could see everyone. “First and foremost, Janos claimed Malachi didn’t have a car, which is patently ridiculous.  It’s more than sixty miles from here to Szeged, Malachi couldn’t have taken that on foot.”
“You think Janos was lying?” Evelyn asked.
“No, I believe that Malachi approached the village on foot.  It’s a good way to seem non-threatening, and that’s something Malachi would be liable to think of.”
“So he left his car far enough from the camp to be out of sight and walked the rest of the way,” Arthur concluded.
“Precisely,” Daniel nodded. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I never saw a car abandoned by the road on the way here, and Malachi would surely have come along the same route we did.  There’s no other easy road.”
“Of course,” Abigail pointed out, “Janos could be lying.  For all we know these gypsies killed Malachi and stole his things, car included.”
“The journal suggests otherwise,” Daniel said, “and it runs counter to logic.  If they killed him, why not kill us too?  They had the opportunity the moment we arrived.  If they were going to do that, we’d by dead already.  I’m convinced Janos was telling the truth.”
“Then why are we going into the woods?” Selena asked.
“A calculated risk,” Daniel explained, “for the sake of certainty.  If Malachi did, in fact make it out, then we can too.  If he didn’t, then he may still be alive and need our help.  If he’s dead, we need to be sure of it, and we should find whatever it was he sought, so we can better understand what he was doing.  Regardless, out chances will be far better than Malachi’s.  We have the advantage of numbers.”
“Not the right number,” Warren pointed out. “There’s no power in six.”
“We may not have the strength that a full seven would offer us,” Daniel replied, “but our combined skills are still worthy, are they not?  We can’t let our numbers discourage us when the whole point of this search is to find our seventh member.”
“You had better be right about this, Daniel,” Abigail said threateningly.
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” Daniel said. “For now we need to sleep.  Even if all goes well, I imagine we’ve got a hard day ahead of us.”

Chapter 7
February 7th, 1935

They were up early, awakened by Janos shaking their tent.  The morning air was cold, and the sun shone without warmth in the icy blue sky.  They carried few supplies, just a single satchel containing a pair of electric torches and the means to record whatever observations they might have.  They had donned or pocketed whatever talismans of protection or power they possessed, and considered themselves as ready as they could possibly be.
Janos accompanied them most of the way to the woods, but stopped short of walking under the shadow of the trees.  He looked at them gravely, in a manner they all suspected he reserved for the dead.  It was less than reassuring.
“We will offer what magic we can to keep the hag from seeing you,” he said, “but I do not expect that it will be enough.”
“Thank you, all the same,” Daniel said with a smile he certainly didn’t feel.
“You’re all mad,” Janos whispered roughly.
“Yes, you’ve made that clear,” Arthur replied. “Shall we get this over with?”
To look at them from outside, the woods were forbidding and unwelcome.  When they crossed the threshold of twisted black trees, the sense of unpleasantness only grew worse.  The trees looked dead, their trunks gnarled and twisted into a mockery of natural shape, their bark as black as coal.  Not a single leaf could be seen, nor any blade of grass.  The ground was grey and bare, nothing but hard packed dirt and stones.  There was no sound.  No birds, no tree-dwelling animals, not even a breeze.  The forest was dead silent.
Warren shuddered visibly. “There’s no life here.  This place is devoid of spirit.  It’s as if it was drained of all things that make the world alive.  It’s all cold, and evil.”
Evelyn placed a reassuring hand on Warren’s arm.  His magic dealt in contact with the spirits of the natural world and beyond.  To be in a place where he felt no spiritual presence was like losing one of his senses.
There was no obvious path to the cave Malachi had spoken of.  The trees were thinner in some places, making the forest passable, but there was nothing to even tell them where they were going.  The canopy grew thick above them, despite the absence of leaves.  The network of gnarled branches allowed no clear view of the sky, letting only the most minimal sunlight through.
No one spoke.  In the unnatural silence, even their breathing seemed too loud.  The nervous glances that passed among them suggested a shared suspicion: that where the trees grew thick and impassable or sparse and navigable was not random.  They remembered Janos’ words of warning, of Baba Yaga’s power over the woods.  If they were being herded, then where to?
As they walked, time and distance began to lose meaning.  Were they inclined to speak, none of them would be able to say how long they had been in the forest, nor how far they had walked.  Every time Daniel checked his watch, the time it read made no sense in relation to the last time he had checked.  Once, he was sure it had gone backward.  As they became less and less certain of where they were, the eerie foreboding of the forest settled more heavily on them.
Finally, a break in the trees opened to a small clearing.  Here, they could see the daylight sky, though the sun was still out of their view, which suggested that it had sunk disturbingly low in the sky.  At the other end of the clearing was a squat hill, the side facing them marred by a round black hole.  As they drew closer to the hill, they saw that the opening was neither natural nor accidental.  The sides were smooth, made of dark grey stone.  Carved into the stone around the doorway were rune-like symbols, similar to the ones on the circle in Scotland, but somehow warped.  Without knowing what the symbols meant, everyone sensed that they were twisted, and somehow wrong.
Daniel drew the two torches from the satchel, passing one to Abigail.  He proceeded first, lighting his torch before he entered.  Before he set foot in the cave, they were all started by the first sound they had heard since they entered the woods: the harsh call of a crow.  The bird was perched over the doorway, staring down at them.  It spread its wings and let out another rasping caw, which sounded more like a horrid cackle than the call of a bird.
No one present was ignorant of omens.  Whether the crow was a warning or a threat depended only on who had sent it.  Regardless of intent, they all drew the same meaning from its presence: time was short.  Forcing his hand to stop shaking, Daniel stepped into the cave, and the others followed close behind.
The cave was pitch black.  The weak light of day was unable or unwilling to pass over the threshold, and so the torches provided the only illumination.  The floor was scattered with dark stains, and the beams of electric light passed over a myriad of bones.  Many were the bones of animals.  Some were clearly not.  Daniel stepped gingerly over what could only be a human skull, and directed his torch toward the far wall.
The wall was scrawled with crude pictograms, engraved in the rough stone, along with more of the strangely unpleasant symbols that had lined the entrance.  Daniel passed his torch to Warren and drew from the satchel a piece of charcoal and a roll of paper.  Carefully, section by section, he took rubbings of the engraved images and symbols.
The pictograms seemed to depict a scene of worship.  Rudimentary stick figures were bent in apparent supplication, all faced the same way.  What else remained of the etching appeared to depict water, but the rest of it, whatever image the figures were meant to worship, was lost.  The stone from that point on was broken away.  Not worn by time but cracked and crumbled as though struck by a great, and very precise force.
Daniel finished his charcoal rubbing just as Abigail trained her torch further along the wall.  No one was quite able to suppress a gasp at what her light revealed.  If the fossil was somehow faked, then it was a very convincing facsimile.  The skeleton was clearly human, at least from the waist up.  As Abigail and Warren played their torches lower, the torso narrowed.  There was no sign that legs had ever been present.  Instead, the skeleton tapered away, and the spine continued on down to form a long, serpentine tail.
“Selena,” Abigail could barely do more than whisper, “do you recognise this?”
“It’s not like anything I’ve read about,” Selena said just as quietly, “but I barely had a chance to get beyond the basics.”
“How much charcoal do you have, Daniel?” Abigail asked.
“Not enough to get that,” Daniel shook his head, “and it would take too long besides.  We’re running out of time.”
“We’re past running out,” Arthur said from near the entrance. “We are out of time.”
It couldn’t have been that late when they came in here.  They certainly couldn’t have been in the cave long enough for the sun to set.  But outside, no light remained.  There was only ominous shadow and the growing whistle of a wind that had been absent all day.  Daniel hurried to pack away his charcoal and paper, and reclaimed his torch from Warren, stowing it in the satchel as well.  The air was charged with a growing sense of panic as they ventured out of the cave.
The deep purple sky was scattered with clouds, obscuring the moon and leaving the entourage in shadow.  The path by which they had come into the clearing was gone; the trees had gathered close, sealing them in with a wall of gnarled black trunks and evilly rattling branches.  The trap was closed.
They felt it before they heard it.  A force of gleeful malice bore down on them, and they all sensed the intense hatred and deep hunger that drove it.  They heard it next: a rough scraping thunder, like a great boulder being dragged across the earth with the speed of a roadster.  Even over that rolling, crashing cacophony they could hear her laughter.  It was a rasping, broken cackle with nothing of humanity in it.  It was the shrieking, gleeful mirth of a child’s worst nightmare made flesh.  Old fears of the dark were remembered in that voice, which came closer with each passing second.
Directly ahead, the groaning of ancient trunks and the snapping of countless dead limbs signalled the parting of the forest.  The trees drew aside like grass bending in the wind, clearing a path not for the lost young magicians, but for the one who approached.  The clouds passed from the face of the moon, and its cold white light finally fell on the forest.  In that light they saw her, the ancient spirit of a ruined forest, the rancid harbinger of corruption.  Baba Yaga.
She was shrivelled and old, like an ancient crone who kept on ageing, but never died.  Her skin had the look of old parchment stretched over ill-fitting bones.  Her hair was a white mass tangled with twigs.  Her clothes were tattered scraps of skin, their origin not fit for speculation.  Her eyes were burning coals in sunken pits, and her nose was an unsightly, hook-like thing.  Her half-toothed grin all but split her face in two.
She road in a giant mortar across the forest floor, its rough passage the source of the thunderous noise.  The pestle was in her right hand, steering her course, and her left hand disappeared behind her.  She was not yet close, as much as they could judge distance in this warped place, but even if they had time to escape, there was nowhere they could go.  The only path lay on the other side of the old witch.  They could not go around her, only through her.
They retreated back into the mouth of the cave, their hushed voices piercing the inky blackness within as they tried to form a hasty plan.
“We can’t fight her,” Warren whispered, his voice clearly shaking, “I can feel her power from here.  She’s too much for us.”
“We don’t have to fight her,” Abigail hissed, “only get past her.”
“How do we do that?” Arthur asked sarcastically. “Jump?”
“Shut up,” Abigail snapped, “I’m trying to think.”
Baba Yaga’s laughter taunted them as they sat in terrified silence.  She was coming closer with each second that they waited.
“All right,” Abigail said at last, “I think I have an idea.  Evelyn, I remember you were learning your family’s water craft when we were young.  Do you still remember it?”
“I remember some,” Evelyn hedged, “I didn’t have time to learn much, I was more interested in healing.”
“Can you make ice?”
“Yes,” Evelyn said hesitantly, “yes, I think I can.”
“Good,” Abigail’s voice grew stronger as the plan formed, but still she spoke quickly.  “Daniel, Selena, the rest will be up to you.  Everyone else be ready to run.”
The whole conversation had taken only seconds, but now it seemed Baba Yaga was nearly on top of them.  She was less than a hundred metres from the clearing when the plan took action.  Evelyn closed her eyes and grasped in both hands a bluish white crystal she wore around her neck.  Her lips barely moving, she whispered something too quiet for anyone else to hear.  With the bottom end of Abigail’s torch, Selena scraped a circle around herself in the hard dirt at her feet, and knelt, closing her eyes and bowing her head, repeating the same three words over and over.  Daniel simply stared hard at Baba Yaga, speaking softly to himself in Latin.  Seventy metres.  Sixty.  Fifty.
Abigail screamed: “Now!”
Evelyn’s voice grew no louder, but she continued to speak as she opened her hands toward the opening in the trees.  Power, gathered in the crystal, flowed away from her, directed at the ground in Baba Yaga’s path.  The earth took on a sudden shine as a smooth sheet of ice formed directly in front of the speeding mortar.  Baba Yaga hit the ice and spun out of control, her mortar careening toward the trees beside her.
Daniel’s voice grew louder, the last phrase of Latin coming out in an almost gutteral shout, punctuated by an open hand thrust in Baba Yaga’s direction.  Again, power burst forth tangibly from the young man, given speed and purpose by his words and thoughts.  The trees toward which the hag’s mortar spun exploded into flames, the power of Daniel’s spell meeting with the bone-dry wood to create an instant inferno.  Baba Yaga struggled with her pestle to regain control before she hit the flames.
Selena’s mantra came to an end, and she raised her head to let fly a wordless banshee wail.  The wind that had blown aimlessly above them gathered itself around her voice and slammed into Baba Yaga, pushing her violently off of the path and into the burning trees.  The old hag’s shriek as she fell into the flames was as horrifying as her laughter.
“Go!” Abigail shouted, and they all burst into a desperate run, sprinting down the path Baba Yaga had left.  With a breathless shout, Evelyn dispelled the conjured ice before they reached it.  They ran past the growing inferno, following the straight path that they hoped fervently would lead to uncorrupted land.
They couldn’t say how far they had run.  Daniel’s fire was a distant blurry light behind them, and Baba Yaga’s shrieks could no longer be heard.  Ahead of them, they saw open snow at last.  Relief washing over them, they slowed to a breathless jog, freedom only a few metres away.
The cackling laughter echoed through the woods around them, and the trees cracked and groaned as they closed in front of the exhausted party, leaving only a rough dark wall, through which only hints of moonlight could be seen.
“No!” Abigail screamed, dragging herself to a halt before she hit the barrier.
They all stopped, an aching dread growing among them, save for Daniel, who slowed only to a stalking stride.  There was determination on his face, and anger.  He raised his hands as he advanced on the line of trees, and threw them out before him, his hoarse voice shouting one last Latin incantation.  The trees burst into flames, nothing so dramatic as the mad blaze into which they had thrown the hag, but still they burned.
No one was sure, but they thought they heard Baba Yaga’s approaching laughter falter as the barrier of trees was consumed by fire.  They went up quickly, with no moisture to resist the heat.  As the trees started to visible buckle, Warren took a running start and rammed his shoulder into the middle of the burning wall.  He continued on through, smashing the tortured wood and falling to the ground beyond, rolling across the snow to extinguish the flames that had caught his coat.
One by one, they scrambled through, Daniel going last.  They emerged to open snow and open sky, no trees save the ones they left behind them.  The woods shook with a horrible scream of rage that chilled them to their bones, even now that they had escaped from Baba Yaga’s grasp.
Not terribly far away, they could see the camp, exactly where they had left it.  From the same direction, they saw Janos approaching, flanked by two other men.  They appeared unarmed.  As they drew nearer, the three of them could be seen to be wearing a variety of exotic talismans, and each held a string of beads in his left hand.  Janos looked dumbfounded.
“You have done the impossible,” he exclaimed, “faced the witch in her own domain and lived to speak of it!”
“Teamwork,” Daniel said wearily, “I told you we were prepared.”
“Your survival is a good omen,” Janos declared, “we must celebrate it!  Come, you will eat and dance with us tonight.  Even your women!”
Selena and Evelyn glared at his back as he turned with his companions and led them all back toward the camp.  Abigail nudged Daniel in the ribs with her elbow as they walked.
“You knew it wasn’t going to be that easy,” she accused with a small smile.
Daniel shrugged. “I had more power stored up than I needed.  I figured it would be smart to keep it handy, just in case.”
“Thank god for that,” Abigail said sincerely. “When we get home, I’m buying you a drink.”
“You do know that I own a bar, right?”

November 15, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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