Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Chapter 13 – At Death’s Door

Wherein the band discovers another trove...

Plamen decides to take a day off after his eventful foray, to have a chance to charge some holy water prior to returning to the warren. He feeds his remaining berries to Dmitri and Druvvaldis, and the two are now fully recovered. They have had a very successful couple of days trapping in the woods, and have managed to catch four hares, which Lionia cooks up into a stew.
Over the evening meal, Chonkorchuk relates the content of the visions he saw at his recent retreat. He is now more certain that the grain is not the treasure Baba Yaga seeks, and is willing to return to the warren to look for another treasure room. There is still disagreement about what to do with the treasure if and when it is found, and Plamen still displays a great deal of skepticism about working with Lionia and Rodion, but nevertheless, all are in agreement about returning.
Should treasure hunting fail, another career awaits Raskel
Rodion spends the next evening studying and playing Plamenka’s flute. Set to Druvvaldis’ accompaniment on the drums, it produces a mournful yet enchanting sound. Given what he knows about the magic contained in it, the workings of Plamenka’s other items (the sickle and sash), and its likely purpose, Rodion divines that it is likely a mechanism for calming the walking dead – probably a charged item, which is discharged by playing a particular sequence of notes. He questions Plamen about whether his mother ever sang to him, and the healer recalls a simple, three-note tune, which Rodion reproduces, and masters.
The following day, drizzle changes to light snow, and over the season’s first winter tapestry, the entire band returns to the warren. With the new earthworks, the way inside is clearer now, and the group, led by Plamen, moves in the direction of his previous skeletal encounters. Led by Rodion’s dancing lights, they make it to the entrance of the long tunnel leading to Tsibulka’s tavern, the band encounters the four skeletons fought  by Plamen two days ago, though only one of them is still operational. He throws a spear at Dmitri, and puts up a good fight, but it ultimately smashed by the ranger’s spear, with an assist by Druvvaldis’ frosty blast. At the conclusion of the encounter, the group inspects the remaining skeletons, wondering whether Plamenka’s ghost has been reanimating them. Not these ones, it appears.
Plamen leads the group away from his family’s chambers, hoping to thereby save their lives. The way is now lit by Druvvaldis’ fire beetle, summoned up to replace the deer and raven. Thus illuminated, the band encounters four more animated skeletons in the maze. At this juncture, Rodion-Raskel slips past the boney patrol, and tries out the flute, succeeding in immobilizing three of the four. The remaining one is dealt with by spear and blasts, while the other three are finished off in due course, as they cannot effectively defend themselves from the party’s assault after being immobilized. So two questions appear answered: there are more animated skeletons, and Plamen’s song is effective when performed on his mother’s flute.
A confusing series of mazelike tunnels, with several dead ends, terminates in a final dead end. This area is unfamiliar to Plamen, and Rodion, who has been mapping, thinks there are no other tunnels nearby. Chonkorchuk checks for the presence of magic. A massive aura of necromancy radiates from behind this wall… 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Chapter 12 – Go To Where The Treasure Isn’t

Wherein one changeling's quest for the truth yields unexpected results.

The band hurries back to the granary to make sure that Rodion/Raskel and the supplies are safe. He is, and says he is not seen the apparition. Those who have just been attacked by her are quite drained and want a chance to recuperate. Rodion would prefer making the granary their base, and slowly taking over the entire warren, but Plamen objects that the warren is already home to the poleviks, and that his companions are the ones spreading darkness and destruction. Dmitri adds that it’s unlikely Plamenka could have killed all those people and turned them into skeletons, considering how easily the group bested her. Rodion suggests that they don’t know the full story, and Plamen is being blind to the fact that he is a good son raised in a family of monsters. He futher ventures also that the group needs to think through what it’s doing here – there is little reason to continue putting themselves into harm’s way just to become enslaved to Baba Yaga. Chonkorchuk is offended by this, and responds by saying they do this voluntarily to learn ancient secrets, and to win the hand of Katarina. In any event, there is little sense in staying here and look for a treasure trove other than the grain, because they have searched the whole warren already, and Plamen asserts that there is nowhere else it could be stored. His visions from his queen have been cloudy, likely for a reason, and he needs to separate himself from the group for a while to meditate on what to do next.
Is this the real treasure?
Chonkorchuk departs for his hermitage, while the rest of the group prepares to leave also. Rodion comes up with an idea to use Plamenka’s blankets and tapestries to make more sacks, since no one thought to bring any back. While he is busy sewing them up (and Dmitri - stuffing his quiver), Lionia shows up, bringing one additional sack with him. He had just encountered Chonkorchuk on the way out of the warren, and had a brief exchange with him, in which the ascetic told the Old Fox to inform his companions of any tales of flaming skeletons ahead of time, and to stop worrying so much about the material world. Lionia did not see the apparition on his way to the bedchamber and the granary, but he is concerned that the band is being pulled in different directions, and seems to lack a plan. If people cannot continue with the search after the previous day’s encounter and insist on leaving, they should have a place to recuperate and store the grain without risking dying of cold, or burying full sacks in the ground (much less taking them to the hermitage, which has already been attacked once). He again offers his own house. Rodion accepts gratefully, while the others, including Plamen simply accept it silently as the most viable move in the absence of alternatives.
Before leaving, Rodion would like to close up the granary. Thinking this should be done the same way it was opened, he traces an outline in the entryway with Plamenka’s sickle, while burning another section of the sash with a sigil on it (one now remains). The outlined doorway glows green for a moment, but nothing happens. A discussion between Rodion and Druvvaldis establishes that the characters making up the sigil are for opening portals, and may be successfully reproduced by someone who knows the formula for the opening spell, and acquires the necessary ingredients for the ink to scribe it. Druvvaldis successfully reproduces the sigil on his drum. The band then pushes the section of wall that swung outward back into place. The entryway glows for a moment, and then the doorway once again becomes invisible.
Exiting from the warren is easier now after the burrowing job done by the fefila, and the group proceeds to Lionia’s house in Medunitsa across the frozen river. The bitter cold spell has ended, but the ice is still solid, and everyone arrives at his house without difficulty. It is a small hut at the edge of the village, and it does seem to have hives in the back, suggesting that the occupant does indeed keep bees. The inside of the house is stuffed to the brim with jars, tools, and junk of various kinds, but Lionia declines Rodion’s offer of helping him clean the place, saying he knows exactly where everything is. He would appreciate some help with the chores – chopping wood, carrying water, and perhaps, catching some game in exchange for his hospitality, while he is off at church in the morning (it being Nedelia). He finds a plucked chicken and some other viands in his cellar, and sups on it with his guests.
Lionia's place: a house of mystery, or a just hoarder's hut?
The next morning, after breakfast, Dmitri takes Druvvaldis into the woods to teach him how to set traps, while Plamen has a conversation with Lionia and Rodion about what happens next. He reiterates that he does not believe the story about any skeletons, as he has not seen them, and thinks it is the band, and not his mother, which is the cause of great evil, having invaded his family’s home, and engaged in wanton slaughter. Further, the doesn’t think there is any treasure, as he has seen nothing other than the grain, which he thinks his family grew themselves. Rodion and Lionia contest his take on the proceedings, and point out to him that everyone has seen the skeletons (they were responsible for Dmitri’s loss of his arm). The disappearance of the villagers at Crows’ Meadow, and the fact that parts of the meadow remain unexplored need to be taken into account. They should proceed on the basis of what is known, not fantasies, of the type Chonkorchuk peddles. Plamen says that he wants to investigate the matter for himself, asserting that he wants to protect the rest of the sleeping poleviks, and that he will learn more by himself by specifically going to where the treasure isn’t and talking to the denizens than the party will by following the violent methods it has been using. Lionia says it is too dangerous to go there alone. Even though he disagrees with Plamen and Chonkorchuk about their approaches to the task at hand, he respects their abilities, and does not want to lose them as allies in a common enterprise. But in the end, he and Rodion realize they cannot stop Plamen from going back. Lionia demonstrably mouths a prayer, and Plamen sets out alone.
He approaches the warren in the same way as before, but proceeds south rather than east from his own chamber, and works his way toward the rooms of his stepfather and half-siblings. When he comes to a long hallway that he recognizes as leading back to a shed in Lazarevo, he encounters four skeleton warriors, who attack him, as he cannot flee quickly enough with his limp. The skeletons are clearly armed with old Kochmak weapons, and wear old pieces of Kochmak armor, he notes. Plamen draws upon the power of thunder to smash them to smithereens, but he also wants to awaken the warren’s denizens with the noise. He manages to survive the encounter unscathed, but is almost immediately confronted by the livid image of Plamenka, who floats up to him, and mouths a demand that he leave immediately. Plamen complies, and exits the warren via the long tunnel.
He sneaks out of the shed cellar at Tsibulka Tsibulkovich’s tavern. The yard and the village are quiet and almost entirely empty – everyone is at church.  After he surreptitiously leaves the yeard, he runs into Chonkorchuk, who had returned to the meadow from the hermitage. After he heard the thunderous noises of battle, the fefila directed him back to Lazarevo. The two of them now make their way back to Medunitsa.

Lionia returns to the house from church shortly after Plamen, claiming he feels cleansed after the service. Plamen then admits that Lionia and the others were right about the skeletons, and tells them about encountering the apparition again. He now doesn’t know what to think, and is ready to return to the warren to inspect the passages in the other part of the warren, that he was warned by his mother to stay away from, the following day. Lionia is happy to hear that, and pushes for a new expedition, saying that the enlarged entryway is increasing the chances that someone else will find what they are looking for first.




Sunday, June 4, 2017

The PC and Family

Families are not usually important to members of the typical adventuring party, though this has changed somewhat since the introduction of the "Bond" feature. They were, however, key to the survival and identity formation of people in non-modern societies (and continue to be today, especially if we agree with the contention that we have never been modern).

If adventurers don't concentrate exclusively on slaughtering monsters, and wouldn't mind having some kin, but their players and Game Masters both have other things to think about, rolling on a table is always an option. It may spark the player's interest,  especially if an older brother means a chance to borrow some money, or even to recruit a new meat shield to bring into the dungeon.



Parents:

As an option, to provide an incentive to figuring out whether a character has parents or not, allow the starting character to double his or her wealth if both parents are living, and multiply it by 1.5 if only one parent is living. Assuming the character is in good standing with the fam, that is.


d8 roll

  1. The character is an orphan who grew up with strangers (never knew parents)
  2. Both parents are deceased (but known by the PC)
  3. Character is a black sheep
  4. Only father is living
  5. Only mother is living
  6. Both parents are living
  7. Character grew up with other relatives (grandparents, aunts, etc.)
  8. Other (character had multiple families of origin, grew up in non-standard/polygamous family, etc.)
Siblings:

This is an admittedly idiosyncratic table suited to a fairy-tale environment (which is what I run). It can easily be changed to reflect a more realistic situation. 

It is possible that some results will conflict with those of the Parents table, so ignore or rationalize inconsistent results.


d12 roll

  1. PC is the youngest of three children of the same sex
  2. PC is the youngest of seven children of the same sex
  3. PC has a younger sibling of the opposite sex that he/she is responsible for
  4. PC has an older sibling of the opposite sex who is responsible for her/him
  5. PC is the only child of a widowed mother who obsessively dotes on him/her
  6. PC's mother died, father remarried. Stepmother has a child from a previous marriage, and she and the step-sibling hate the PC
  7. PC was a foundling adopted by an elderly couple (only child)
  8. PC has three siblings of the opposite sex, and is responsible for marrying them off
  9. PC has an identical twin (who may or may not be the PC's polar opposite)
  10. PC and a fraternal twin of the opposite sex are children of a widowed parent who has remarried
  11. PC has a "named" sibling (may be of a different people or race) who has sworn to aid him/her in an hour of need
  12. Player choice: anything other than any of the above
Family of Procreation:

If anything, this comes up even less frequently than the question of parents/siblings, but can be a great stimulant to play (if a character is adventuring to find a match, or, conversely, to get away from an unsuccessful marriage).

d8 roll

  1. PC is single and innocent
  2. PC is single and experienced (may be unmarriageable as a result)
  3. PC is promised to someone
  4. PC is married but (still) childless
  5. PC is married, with 1d4 children
  6. PC is widowed, with no children
  7. PC is widowed, with 1d4 children
  8. Player's choice (vow of celibacy, polygamy, cohabiting, same-sex relationship, etc.)


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chapter 11 – Phantom Pains and Phantoms


Wherein the companions perform several sensitive operations, but then find themselves haunted by an old problem.

The band strategizes its next move, as it wait to see if Dmitri will wake up. A real healer is needed if the ranger’s arm is to receive the proper attention. The obvious answer is to find Plamen, but in light of recent events, it may be difficult to convince him. Lionia, surprisingly, undertakes to speak to him and make things right, and with the discovery of the grain, he thinks he has the leverage to convince Yelizarov to let the healer go. Raskel is willing to stay behind in the underground granary – as good a place as any to keep it safe, while the rest of the group is out dealing with their injured companion. He gives one of the four sacks – his share, as he sees it - to Lionia, to stash at his house in Medunitsa, and the Old Fox takes two sacks, turns into a fox, and runs off.
In a few hours, Dmitri wakes up, alive, but in great pain. As he cannot climb up the chute under his own power, Druvvaldis comes up with a plan to have his conjured deer-spirit drag him out once ropes are tied to his feet. The plan is successful, and, along with Chonkorchuk, he helps guide Dmitri toward the Yelizarov keep. As they get to the frozen river, they see a figure crossing it from the other side. It turns out to be Plamen himself. The healer met with Lionia earlier, who apparently told him that his mother was killed by a skeleton with flaming eyes – a story mooted earlier with Raskel. He then somehow convinced Yelizarov to let the hostage go, though before he left, Plamen had a religious discussion with the boyar, and solicited for himself a small icon of they boyar’s own manufacture in exchange for a promise not to harm it in any way.
Chonkorchuk nixes Lionia’s tale, and relates the story of Lionia killing Plamenka and dismembering her body (though he says he tried to stop it). Plamen is beside himself with grief, though he is undecided about which story is true, because he cannot understand why anyone would carry out such a desecration. Still, he agrees to accompany the trio back to the keep (there being no better option) to see what he can do for Dmitri. Druvvaldis, though, has no wish to stay at the fort; he takes one of the remaining sacks of grain, and uses it to buy himself a rest for the night at the Yelizarovka waystation).
Hopefully, they are getting the right limb
At the keep, Yelizarov undertakes to help, as Dmitri is still technically in his employ. With the assistance of all assembled, Plamen inspects the shoulder and tries to reset it. But he concludes that it is too fragmented, and cannot be salvaged. Yelizarov helps with having the arm removed, and the tough patient survives the ordeal. Along with Chonkorchuk and Plamen, Dmitri rests at Yelizarov’s for the night. Then, he has the arm fed to the dogs, and they all return to the warren the following morning, after collecting Druvvaldis.
As they approach the meadow, the fefila warns Chonkorchuk of great evil ahead. Looking up, they see a ghostly form drift toward the opening in the ground, and disappear down the hole. Getting everyone down the chute is expectedly complicated. Dmitri, now more unmaneuverable than before, gets stuck halfway down, as the dirt has frozen once more. He is freed, not without effort, by the fefila, who is an expert burrower. Then, with Chonkorchuk in the lead in place of the injured Dmitri, they skirt past Plamen’s room, and are assaulted by a floating spirit in the long corridor on route to Plamenka’s chamber.

You, again?
The spirit appears to look like the warren’s old mistress. She utters curses toward the band, though no sound comes out of her mouth, and then swoops down to attack. As she passes through, first Chonkorchuk, then Druvvaldis and Dmitri, they feel a wrenching pain, as if life itself is being yanked from the pit of their stomachs. Resistance is disorganized, and only Chonkorchuk is able to do any kind of harm to the spirit with his magic. Plamen attempts to entreat it, and unexpectedly, after having savaged Dmitri, it flies over him, and back toward the entryway. Feeling drained, even despite Plamen’s ministrations, the band proceeds toward the granary. But on route, Plamen is exposed to a frightening sight in Plamenka’s chamber: his mother’s charred and disembodied corpse, as well as the charred and picked-over carcass of his sheep.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pravda and Krivda

I've been thinking about introducing an ethical mechanic rooted in Russian folk culture for some time, and this week, I finally wrote one up. The mechanic will invoke the twin concepts of pravda and krivda. As linked traits,  the two would function somewhat analogously to the Inspiration mechanic. Pravda means truth, justice, and the righteous path, where as krivda denotes crookedness, lies, and injustice. The two ideals are sometimes personified in the popular imagination. Aside from the holiest of saints and the wickedest of sinners, most people survive by trying to walk a fine line between the two, though they will lean toward one or the other at different times in their life.


When a character commits a particularly righteous act - defending the weak, telling the truth when it is disadvantageous, or goes without so that another may enjoy an advantage, the GM may grant the character a point of Pravda. Conversely, when a character commits a particularly heinous act - tells a lie that has an especially deleterious impact on someone, backstabs an ally, or forces another to suffer so that he or she can benefit, the GM awards the character a point of Krivda.
As with Inspiration, points of Krivda and Pravda can be used to grant advantage on rolls, but with the following differences:
  •  Points of Pravda can only be used to help other people. They cannot be used toward evil ends, nor when the character is trying to benefit only themselves. They cannot be used in neutral situations, ethic (e.g. if a character is trying to recall a bit of lore or information).
  • Points of Krivda, conversely, can only be used toward evil or selfish ends - deceiving and betraying others, and benefitting at their expense. They cannot be used to give aid, or in neutral situations.
  • Unlike inspiration, points of Krivda and Pravda can be accumulated.
  • However, Pravda and Krivda cancel each other out. For example, if a character with three points of Pravda has accrued one point of Krivda, the point of Krivda cancels a point of Pravda, and the character now has two points of Pravda to use toward righteous ends.
  • It is possible to recoup points of Pravda or Krivda by using them, but not every usage has that result.

Note that accumulating too much Krivda can have significant drawbacks. A character who has more effective points of Krivda than their Charisma modifier will be making all Charisma checks vis-à-vis anyone aware of the character's behavior with disadvantage.
The Pravda-Krivda mechanic may be thought of as a replacement for alignment. Rather than defining themselves by adherence to an ethical or moral dogma, most characters struggle to live up to their higher ideals, and are defined more by what they *do*, not what they believe.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Chapter 10 – Just Rewards

After much time and effort spent on learning their way around a new platform, the Lukomorye Five get down to business.

Having taken a brief rest, the band decides to settle in for a longer stay. Plamenka’s magical tools are in their possession, and too much blood has been spilled to leave the warren empty-handed. The two doors are locked, to keep any other guardians from wandering in. Lionia is feeling peckish, and suggests cooking Plamen’s sheep, now that the bread given by Yelizarov has been eaten. Chonkorchuk ventures that Plamen might get upset when he learns what happened to the animal he was nursing back to health, but Lionia reminds him that he will probably be upset about what happened to his mother anyway. The other two carnivores present agree that a bit of meat might be a good idea.
Fefila - from Vishevetskaia's hand, to a dungeon near you
While the sheep is cooking, Chonkorchuk decides to call upon the Queen for a bit of additional help. He has seen visions that suggest she sends servitors to aid especially loyal followers, and given his efforts, he thinks he is deserving of one now. In his dreams, he has seen a creature called Fefila, created of a divine spark and fallen to earth, as a fine companion – solicitous of its master, adept at protecting him from magical attacks, and able to find salubrious fruit in even the unlikeliest places – particularly useful now, given the healer’s absence. In an hour’s time, a scratching is heard outside Plamenka’s bedchamber, and a curious, red creature with tufted ears, looking a bit like a cross between a squirrel and a beaver, emerges from a small hole in the wall, reassuringly whistling and warbling. Dmitri immediately dubs it a ‘squeaver’. The squeaver fefila presents Chonkorchuk with a large berry, which he breaks up into parts for himself, Dmitri and Lionia. Those who eat it now feel full – but the sheep is already roasting on the fire. The fefila crawls up on Chonkorchuk, and turns invisible, after which it melds minds with its new master, and explains how that is done.
In the meantime, Raskel is busy transcribing some magical formulae from memory using the ink he received from Yelizarov. Having filled three sheets with arcane scribbles (and tossing one of them on the fire), he makes a more thorough search of the room, discovering jars with dried herbs, and several containers of oil. The band requisitions those, and refills the lamp that Plamen picked up on their last visit. Raskel also scrutinizes Plamenka’s special objects, and handles them meditatively. The flute is imbued with some sort of charm, as Chonkorchuk informs him, but the other objects have transmutative effects, and work in tandem. The sickle is used for preparation for gaining entry, the fire from the lantern provides the trigger, and the runes painted on the sash are the agent.
The rest of the band rests and meditates for about half a day, while the sheep roasts. After everyone has eaten and slept, it is time to continue the hunt. From the far door, they continue down a series of mazelike corridors. Raskel remembers the way well, and before long, the band stands before a wall, beyond which Chonkorchuk senses a necromantic presence. Raskel goes to work: he draws an outline of a doorway on the wall with Plamenka’s sickle, and then snips off a section of her sash with one of the mystic symbols on it, and throws it onto the lit lantern. The door glows with an unnatural light, rocks and sand begin to crumble out of the crevice, and the door slowly swings inward.
Inside the room, four more skeleton warriors lie in wait. These comport themselves rather better than the previous four, and moreover, they benefit from the fact that the narrow hallway allows only one person to engage them effectively, at least at the start. Dmitri  gets the worst of it, as he faces off with a swordsman and a spearman poking at him diagonally. He hasn’t managed to recover as well as he might have from the previous encounter. The bony warriors press him, and after Lionia manages to send down one enemy with a well-thrown dagger that shatters a skull, another one sends the wolf down with a spear thrust to the shoulder that seems to come close to going through his throat. Lionia pushes into the room, but has little success. Chonkorchuk follows him in, shooting blasts of magical energy. Druvvaldis summons forth a bear-spirit to aid the collective effort, and thus aspected, tries to blast his way in also, while Raskel, who merely distracts the skeletons with illusory hounds until the very end, brings down the last remaining skeleton with a blast of his own.
The band members turn to their fallen comrade, who lies bleeding out on the floor. The fefila can offer no help, and Raskel and Druvvaldis try to staunch the bleeding by tying a scarf around the shoulder, but the blood flow is too rapid, and the scarf too threadbare. Desperate, Raskel manages to stop the bleeding with his sling, seemingly at the last moment. Dmitri is at death’s door; worse, his arm is hanging by a thread. The resourceful fox has a needle and thread; under direction of Druvvaldis, who has heard a lot about medicine, but has never performed surgery, he tries to sew the arm back on before it’s too late. The arm is now attached, but it looks like it’s merely hanging on by the threads.
The treasure. But is it pure?

Their comrade apparently stabilized for the time being, the rest of the band checks out the chamber. In the back of the room are large stone bins filled with grain. Is this the polevik treasure? Chonkorchuk sees a vision of a bony hand reaching out for silver, and concludes that it probably is. Lionia suggests that the party look around the rest of the warren, as there are areas that have not been explored yet, but Chonkorchuk says this was the only area where Plamen was not allowed to go, so it likely is. Lionia estimates that there are between 50 and 100 poods (several thousand pounds) of grain. He rejects Chonkorchuk’s suggestion to store the grain at his hermitage, branding it “unsafe”, and recommends his own house. The rest of the party decides that aside from the four sacks they have to fill, this is as good a storage place as any for the time being. Druvvaldis does summon forth a deer to help take what they can now. Lionia, however, recommends that the band can gain much more by selling a little at a time, and waiting for the famine to drive grain prices through the roof. He also suggests that the grain may yield influence – more valuable than money if it comes from the right people. Chonkorchuk insists that the treasure should be given to Baba Yaga.
There are apparently no other, obvious or hidden exits in the room, and the band settles in the hallway outside the room to catch its collective breath, and weigh its options.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chapter 9 – Dough and Bone

Wherein our heroes find themselves in several sticky situations...


Lionia urges the group on – there is not telling when Plamen might follow them, and this is work best done without him. The five cross over the frozen Vydra on foot, and proceed to Crows’ Meadow, skirting around Lazarevo. Plamen knows a long tunnel that leads into the warren from one of the taverns in the village, but no one else has seen it, and there is no telling how confusing the passage might be, and what might be waiting for them there. Better to face the dough guardian – (now affectionately called “cookie monster”) by going down the way they know.
Aren't crows supposed to go to Crows' Meadow?

However, as soon as the group leaves, it is followed by a flock of crows from the woods beyond Yelizarov’s keep. Chonkorchuk is especially worried that they will spy on them, and reveal what they saw to their own nechist’ master. Dmitri suggests misleading them by going into the woods for a while, while Chonkorchuk suggests going back to his hermitage, and returning later. But Lionia is impatient: he says if they wait any longer, more people will learn of the warren’s secret (he nods at Druvvaldis as he says this). In any event, the master of the forest is asleep until spring, and he can be dealt with later. A vote is taken, and the majority sides with the Old Fox – it’s now or never.
The chute into the warren has been partly sealed up, and then frozen, so Dmitri takes to the shovel, and is aided by Druvvaldis, who grows a torch flame, and softens up the dirt. It’s time to give it a try. Rodion conjures up an invisible servitor to carry the torch into Plamen’s chamber, so as to get the cookie monster to follow the flame, and give more people a way to join the attack against him. The plan seems to work, though not without some sweat, as brawny Dmitri gets stuck in the chute on the way down, and has to be wiggled free by Rodion’s arcane hand. When he makes it down, he sees the shape in the chamber, stomping out the torch, so he rushes in to attack with his spear. Lionia soon joins him, though Chonkorchuk, who is next, also gets stuck.
While the hermit struggles to make it down the chute, Dmitri and Lionia are having a tough go of it. The guardian is easy enough to hit, but weapons get stuck inside him, and the monster pummels both repeatedly with his doughy fists, which also make them stick to it. Worse, the dough reforms itself around the rends and divots made by saber and spear. When Chonkorchuk, and following him Druvvaldis and Rodion, finally make it down, and begin blasting the monster, it continues to demonstrate resilience. If anything, the cold makes it tougher. It crushes Druvvaldis’ crow, though he quickly summons a weasel to replace it. Finally, Dmitri manages to pull away enough to change – into a wolf-headed humanoid – and then bites the creature through a hole just made by his spear. The cookie monster’s head comes off, and it tumbles onto the ground.
Having won their way back into the warren, it is time to rest: a lot of arcane energy went into the fight, and Lionia and Dmitri are pretty well pummeled. The five decide to camp out right there in Plamen’s chamber: though the owner might appear at any time, there is hay and straw there, to make for a comfortable rest. The sheep that was there earlier seems to be gone.
 
Now where the hell is my rusty Kochmak helmet?
After an extended and undisturbed rest, the group is ready to go on. They heard  occasional creaks coming from the tunnels, and Druvvaldis sensed the presence of nechist’ in the area, but nothing appeared. It is best to follow the way they know, especially since it leads to where they need to go – Plamenka’s chamber, and her special trinkets. Progressing around the maze, the group suddenly encounters four skeleton warriors, dressed in scraps of rusty Kochmak armor, around the corner from the Mother’s chamber. Plamen’s lost sheep is behind them, bleating loudly. Perhaps it was set up as an alarm system, because the noise awakens Plamenka, who comes up, livid as ever, behind the skeletons. The skeletons’ rusty weapons prove relatively ineffective, and most of the warriors are dispatched quickly, though Plamenka succeeds in frightening Lionia and Druvvaldis, who flee back toward the entrance. The rest summon up reserves of courage: after Dmitri dispatches the final skeleton, Plamenka sends him to sleep (along with the sheep), but Rodion succeeds in putting Plamenka herself into a deep slumber. Awakening Dmitri, they tie her up in their net, gag her, and put the iron manacles found earlier near Chonkorchuk’s hermitage on her hands.
The battle appears to have been won without murdering Plamen’s mother. However, Lionia, changed to foxman form, soon returns, and while no one is looking, slips a dagger into his hand, and slices at the captive’s throat. While the companions are at first aghast, he shouts that they will never have peace while she is alive. In any event, she has many deaths on her head, as the skeletons warriors attest, and should be dealt with quickly. It is not Lionia’s day, however. He succeeds only in waking the prisoner, and in the blink of an eye, she transforms into a cat, breaks out of her bonds, and vanishes. Rodion manages to locate her and put her to sleep again. In the ensuing chaos, Lionia continues going about his dirty business, Dmitri attempts to shield the falling Plamenka, and Druvvaldis, who has now also returned, aims a frosty blast at her, but hits Dmitri in the back instead. Rodion finally lays her down again with a blast of magical force, but the resilient poludnitsa gets up again. Finally, Lionia hacks her to pieces with his saber. The band drags the mutilated body, oozing black blood, into her chamber, and collapses from