Less than an hour later, Kesha hears chimes in the woods that no one else seems to note. They remind him of his underground home in the Svora, so he tells his companions that that he will catch up to them, and goes to see what it is. It turns out to be a chud', vaguely familiar to him. The chud' tells him that he has come to see Kesha off on the next stage of his life, and to ensure that he moves toward fulfilling his destiny. The age of his enslavement is over, and he should somehow convince the archbishop to give him his freedom. Just then, Fedor comes riding up to look in on his companion. But somehow, he fails to see the creature, and then forgets about the incident entirely.
At the end of the day, the riders arrive at Malinka. After stabling the horses, Sen'ka goes off to report to the archbishop, while Fedor and Kesha wait their turn to supplicate him. Inside the church they encounter a man himself Alden Gravenich - a distinctly lupine-aspected servitor of the archbishop, who eagerly awaits to hear the news that the riders have brought back from Vladykino. Soon, Fedor and Kesha get to see one of the archbishop's priestly assistants. The priest has been briefed on the basics, but asks more in-depth questions about the mill, and the encounter with the vasilisk. He seems relatively unconcerned about the captives, and fears that any action against the Kochmaki will only provoke them further. He is concerned about the miller, and will allow Fedor and Kesha to recruit volunteers to find him and bring him back to Malinka. In exchange, he is even willing to heal Fedor's wound free of charge, and to give Kesha his freedom. Kesha also turns over the book he was working on and salvaged from his cellar.
|The main church at Malinka|
The way back to Vladykino is longer than the journey to Malinka, as Alden refuses to take a horse from the archbishop's stables, saying that the beasts fear him. With one only one horse between the four of them, the journey back takes two days. During the first night, while camping in the woods, the group is set upon by a lynx, which hopes to make a meal of Fedor's horse. But the soldier successfully spears the cat, and Kesha, adept at working with leather, successfully skins it and takes the pelt. Zoya keeps the ears, and attaches them to her hood.
The following day, the group arrives back at Vladykino. The village is still smoldering, but no one is around. The foursome head toward the mill, where Kesha once again tries to detect arcane energies. There is definitely magic connected to changing one thing into another coming from within the mill. The companions climb over the gate, and approach the mill. The mill wheel is turning, and it sounds like something is being ground inside. The chain lock is off the front door, so everyone except Kesha quietly walks in. The leatherworker circles around the mill, seeking other entry points. Inside, the three hear the sounds of coins, which are clinking down the chute, and into a sack. There is also a hissing chanting in an unfamiliar language coming from one of the upper floors of the mill.
The companions rush upstairs, and find the miller Zbigniev Dragutinovich - dark-haired, mustached, and with distinctly large, pointy teeth. Zbigniev utters a spell, and Alden, Zoya, and Zoya's cat fall asleep. Fedor is left alone to face the magician alone, and rushes into battle. He swings wildly and misses, though by then, Kesha has managed to climb the stairs and ladders to the third tier of the mill. The miller calls forth arcane power and makes pain erupt in three places in Fedor's chest and legs, and the soldier falls to the ground. Zbigniev flees upstairs, but Kesha follows, and succeeds in enchanting the miller before he jumps out of the upstairs window.
|Zbigniev Dragutinovich, surprised while hard at work milling bones|