|Vladykino - a prosperous village until two days ago|
But not all of Vladykino's people are dead or enslaved. One of its sons - Yuri Barolov - the youngest scion of a family of horse breeders - returns to his home village at the head of a dozen horsemen. He was sent by his elder brothers to seek aid from the Archbishop, but was able to convince the overlord's people to only send a skeleton crew - and now they have returned too late to save the village. Yuri is devastated - his family compound is destroyed, and there is no trace of his paramour Svetlana. He suspects that his brothers sent him away on purpose - to prevent the hot-headed youth from laying down his life for a lost cause. He presses the leader of the horsemen - Sen'ka Radomirovich - to follow the raiders to free the prisoners, but Sen'ka says that his people are there for only two reasons - to try to secure records of ownership of the land and slaves, and to see if the windmill has survived the raid. The archbishop, he says, has no intention of challenging the Kochmaki with an inferior force. He has no idea why the Kochmaki sacked Vladykino - they are usually careful about how they treat Church property, and the archbishop was scrupulous about paying his tribute.
While looking for survivors, Sen'ka's men discover a cellar over by the tannery at the edge of a village. A beam fell onto the cellar doors during the fire, apparently trapping someone underneath. Yuri helps the men move the beam, and opens the doors. Inside is a man named Innokentii Fedorovich, or Kesha, as he calls himself. A small, silver-haired, apparently blind man with a bandage over his eyes, Kesha says he was in the tannery cellar making leather covers for grimoires for the Archbishop. He came to Vladykino less than a decade ago from parts unknown. Yuri knows has heard that Kesha is property of the Church, but he has never actually met him - the curious man spent most of his time toiling away in the cellar.
Released from his prison, Kesha helps the men search the village, but finds nothing. The church has been completely burned, and no trace of the village records survives anywhere. Yuri makes another impassioned speech about doing something to save people from the evildoers, but it falls on deaf ears. Kesha takes off his bandage and looks askance at the young man, who suddenly falls silent. Sen'ka says his people, along with Kesha, will return to the archbishop's summer estate as soon as they have searched the mill south of the village. The mill, along with the leather works, has been Vladykino's big moneymaker. Built about 10 years back by a foreigner named Zbigniev Dragutinovich, it is rumored to be a marvel that not only mills flour, but coins out of thin air. Whatever the case, it has been the main source of Vladykino's prosperity. Sen'ka sends half of his men to scout ahead, to see if the Kochmaki are still nearby, and leads the rest to the mill.
|A windmill - still a marvelous marvel, and a wondrous wonder|
After arriving, the men are surprised to find the mill standing, and the miller's compound apparently unharmed. The Kochmaki passed it on route to the village, and might have been expected to loot and burn it as well. No one is home at the compound, however. Zbigniev had no family, and was known as an oddball who hardly ever attended church services, and he himself does not seem to be present. The mill door is locked with a chain, and the miller's house is latched from the inside. There are animals in the barn, apparently, and Yuri, along with Fedor, one of Sen'ka's people, and Kesha, go in to investigate. There are the usual chickens, goats, and cow, but one pen toward the back is larger than the others. A dark shape of some sort moves about inside. The three want to search it - perhaps the miller is hiding out there? - but instead, they discover a huge black rooster with a snake's tail, and glowing red eyes - a vasilisk. Fedor grabs it and tries to break its neck, but the creature is preternaturally strong, and proceeds to peck Fedor on his temple. Yuri rushes over to stab it with his spear, while Kesha touches it, and releases a jolt of mystical energy into its writhing body. The creature nearly does Fedor in - he goes stiff for a few tense moments after being pecked, but the other two manage to overpower the unholy best. Kesha takes his bandage off his eyes, which glow white, and a wholesome warmth permeates Fedor, who now feels better.
The three of them go over to the mill. Yuri climbs the beams and enters the structure through the second story window. After discovering the curious mechanism and the grindstones, he makes a disturbing discovery on the ground floor - sacks with body parts - apparently belonging to villagers who were still alive just before the raid.. Fedor smashes the chain from the outside, and releases Yuri. The two go over to investigate the house after forcing the latch. It is also abandoned, but there is a slaughtered chicken hanging above the doorframe, and drained of blood into a bowl below - some sort of offering to unclean spirits. In the cellar below are some victuals, which Kesha greedily consumes - he was starving for two days in his cellar. There is also a sack filled with coins.
|A vasilisk - born of a rooster's egg|
While Fedor and Yuri thoroughly search the house, Kesha goes back over to the mill to fix the chain, so no signs of forced entry remain. Suddenly, Sen'ka shouts out that he has sighted a shape moving across the field outside the compound. Fedor and Yuri mount up, with Kesha holding on to Yuri, and rush out to search. Kesha senses the use of magic, and directs Yuri toward the spot, but as they approach, they suddenly fall into a slumber. A dark shape briefly appears as they slide off their mounts, and then, their vision fades to black. When they awaken, no one is around, though they find two more sacks of body parts near them. A search reveals nothing, and they return to the mill, to spend the night. The men that were sent to track the Kochmaki found nothing - the raiders have gone far ahead, but having learned about the sacks and the offering, as well as the mysterious shape in the field, the archbishop's people have no wish to stay at the compound, and set up camp just outside.