Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Chapter 5 - The Secret of Crow’s Meadow Warren

In which an investigation of one of the heroes' homes concludes with bang!

The following morning the companions attend to some business in the waystation shed. Lionia and the rest of the village go off to attend Nedelia services, though Terentii leaves a couple of his stablehands behind to keep an eye on the visitors. Plamen cleans Rodion’s wound once more, and notices that the swelling is finally going down. Rebandaged, Rodion prepares for the expedition by recalling some formulas from his younger days, and fills several sheets of paper with magical scribblings, using up his entire inkwell in the process. Chonkorchuk spends the morning muttering insane incantations, apparently searching for something.
When the sounds of the boats returning from the abbey reach the shed, the three companions depart for the meadow. Chonkorchuk paces around the field, still mouthing incantations, and hoping to get a read on any treasure in the vicinity. He does not, though he does detect a vague necromantic aura emanating from the ground itself. As he ponders the potentially disturbing implications of this, Lionia suddenly appears behind him, asking him what he was able to discover. After getting over his fright, Chonkorchuk relays his discovery, but complains about not being able to locate any massacre victims or treasure. Upon being questioned by Lionia, Plamen reveals that there are warrens underneath the meadow fashioned by his polevik family. He is aware of two ways in – one from a tight chute hidden under dirt and matted grass in the field itself, and one by way of a long tunnel leading from Tsibulka’s tavern in Lazarevo. He knows of no bodies, though the companions are already aware of scattered bone remains in the field – they used them in the ritual to summon Rodion’s raven. He also knows of no treasure hoard, but is aware that his kinfolk have money, which they occasionally distribute to the villagers for their deference and services rendered. Chonkorchuk is unconvinced, and thinks that too many people would be aware of the presence of treasure if it were indeed here, and the Kochmaki would surely have returned for it. Lionia disputes his reasoning. He says that the raiders were likely humiliated by their loss, and probably preferred not to invest any more lives and energy in recovering it. In any event, the group will never know what happened if they do not look, so he advises Plamen to lead them into the warrens.
Having performed the feat many times, Plamen easily slithers down the chute into the polevik tunnels. Rodion summons forth some lights to help him see. Chonkorchuk follows him, but the big, lanky man immediately gets stuck, and Rodion must summon an appendage to poke him so as to pry loose his knees and elbows, while below, Plamen grabs hold of his ankle and pulls him down. Rodion transforms into Raskel the foxman, and crawls down, and Lionia follows close behind him.

Dark as a dungeon down here in the warren

The tunnels below appear quiet. Plamen knows that the poleviks are asleep until spring, though he was warned on multiple occasions to never wake them from their hibernation – especially not his mother Plamenka – the family matriarch. He also relates to the rest of the group that there is a guardian fashioned by his mother to patrol the tunnels where his siblings and stepfather sleep, and that he was told to never go beyond a certain point past his mother’s chamber by himself. That seems like the most promising place to look. Nearby is the chamber he stays when he is living in the warren. He looks in on a ewe he left there to heal a few days ago, and gathers up enough straw to make a torch, so that everyone can see. Then, the group follows a series of tunnels to a wooden door leading to Plamenka’s room. There is loud snoring coming from inside, and Chonkorchuk senses magical auras inside, but the room is latched from the inside, so Rodion motions for Lionia to make himself useful. The old man tries to unlock the door using some awls and wires, but to no avail. He then performs a pirouette, and also changes into a foxman who has greater range of motion. With additional effort, he manages to unlatch the door.
Inside a square chamber, a human-sized, hairy creature sleeps on a straw mat atop a stone palette. She – Plamen’s mother – is partly covered by a blanket, and she holds a scythe in her left hand, and a wooden whistle in her right. There is a thin sash around her neck, the ends of which are tucked under the blanket. Chonkorchuk whispers to his companions that the scythe, the whistle, the sash, and a lantern on the floor next to the bed all give forth arcane force – transmutation in the case of the scythe, sash, and lantern, and enchantment in the case of the whistle. Plamenka herself also radiates a necromantic aura – she is nechist’, of netherworldly origin, and that is to be expected. Plamen quietly picks up the lantern and fills it with oil, to have a more durable light source. His mother lets out a stifled snore, but remains asleep. Then the four interlopers tiptoe up to the other door, open the latch, and depart. The door nearly slams, but Rodion manages to catch it at the last moment. Plamenka grunts again in her sleep, but danger is avoided.
The group follows another windy passage with several dead ends. It is confusing, but Plamen has been here before, and Raskel uses his mnemonic powers to memorize the way, since he can’t record a map on account of a lack of ink. Shortly after passing the intersection beyond which Plamen was warned not to wander, they come to another dead end. Raskel indicates that there is a strong, grainy smell, and notes that the tunnel has been sealed here. For his part, Chonkorchuk avers that there is transmutation magic built into the wall, beyond which, he detects a very strong presence of necromancy. Perhaps there is a secret storage chamber beyond the wall, but how to get in? The wall does not budge. Plamen has a choice to make, Lionia tells him. There is clearly something hidden here, and it likely has something to do with the vanished hoard and the massacre, but it now belongs to his people, so he has to decide what he wants to do. Plamen says he wants to return to the surface to think it over.
The group treks back to Plamenka’s chamber. Lionia opens the door, and Plamen goes to replace the lantern to the place he found in. An incautious step, and he accidentally kicks a clay chamber pot on the floor, knocking it over. His mother lets out a loud groan, and begins to rise up from the bed…

A rude awakening for Mother Plamenka

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