"Yeah...poor kid." Katrina sighed. "Actually, Toby was protecting her when I found them. I really have no idea what his story is, but he's devoted to Tanya. Plus he's...very, very imposing." She smiled slightly. "For everyone but Tanya he's this hulking monster, but I think she sees him as more of a kitten."
"I see. She's really fond of you too. Have you asked Rob if you could keep her?" she teased. "How long have you and him been betrothed anyway? This whole amnesia thing must have really thrown a wrench into your plans."
The air seemed colder than usual as they walked. Now that she thought about it she hadn't been outside the city in the dark. Not this early in the night anyway. Part of her wondered what was in the dark that kept the residents in their houses at night. She gripped her dagger. Maybe she would find out.
Rob had lingered behind Iris and Katrina, taking notes again on the story about Toby and Tanya. Something felt off to him, but he wasn't sure quite what it was. How bad could getting this ritual be... maybe it's just the cold... He didn't hear Iris' comments, and seemed occupied trying to think of what to do next. So once we get these rituals, and all this unpleasant business is taken care of.......then what?
"Why must they put these damned rituals in the most remote of places? It's almost as if they didn't want Gnomes getting to them." Theo mused to Samuel, struggling to find solid land to support himself. "And of course we HAVE to go during a rain is coming down in maelstrom. I should've went with that frigid girl and the betrothed, at least I wouldn't be up to my shins in mud with them."
She chuckled to herself quietly. "I'm not planning on keeping Tanya...hopefully, we can find a way to reverse her condition and return her to he family." She smiled, more happily. "About a month before we got trapped here. Me and Hassan were heading out towards Mordavia when he proposed."
Horrible, ululating screams rang through the woods. Katrina paled. "Revenant packs. Run!"
* * * * *
Horrible screams came from the woods around them, then Samuel spotted a gaunt, thin, long-limbed creature clinging to a tree. It turned it's head to face them, then leapt forward at them, baring claws.
Samuel immediately leveled his Henry and fired off a shot before rolling to the side.
"Damn it, we need to fight everyone."
Iris had no problem following Katrina to hightail it out. She didn't look back, running headlong into the darkness. She kept her hand on the hilt of her sword, even if it felt odder than the daggers. She wasn't quite sure what was following them, but she doubted that a dagger would be appropriate.
Samuel's shot struck the creature in the shoulder, leaving a long and bloody gash down it's arm. It screeched, thick yellow goo dribbling out of the wound. It landed near the edge of the clearing and screamed, showing two rows of long, yellow and black teeth, then leapt forward at Samuel, biting into the flesh of his shoulder and tearing, leaving long, dark bloody wounds. It's attack was soon ceased as he put a second shot into it, this one ripping through it's guts and dropping it to the ground, scrabbling on it's back.
All around them they could hear more coming. Within seconds, three more were at the edge of the area, waiting to attack.
* * * * *
"We're almost there." Katrina came to a stony outcropping covered in vines and other plant growths. They looked almost malevolent, covered in cysts and tumors. She raised her hand, fire wrapping around it, then thrust it into the plant growth, cutting into the plants. A passage behind the growths was revealed.
"Keep close. We're almost through."
They emerged moments later into what looked like a cavern with the roof ripped away. Rich plant life covered the area, but it all seemed warped and sickly. At the top of a small hill within there was a hut standing on chicken legs, the path up to it lined with skulls on pikes. One skull was not on a pike, but a stand made out of a twisted tree, a glowing gemstone within it's left eye socket.
"Go back, or face thy doom." The skull spoke, an accent like a poor dockworker or a petty criminal tinged the skull's voice. "Hey, wait a minute. Ah, shit. Not you again. No, uh-uh. I was told never to allow you back into her hut...now who the hell are these schmucks?"
"God damn it!" Samuel shouted as he put a round through the head of the revenant on the ground, finally killing it. He immediately raised his rifle and shot at another, aiming for center mass. He hoped he might be able to kill another couple of them before he had to switch to a sword.
Gomik decided to tag along toward the obelisk, after all, it was where he got the sigil thing he had been carrying around this entire time, and it just really interested him. He followed Samuel and Theodore, lagging behind slightly while fiddling to get his back comfortably sitting on his shoulder. He stopped for a second and took a few peices of machinery out, and tinkered around with them for a second before he started hearing the screaming. His free hand moved to cover his ear, the other one still clad in the gauntlet. He saw the guys in front of him get into a fight, and that Samuel got hurt, so he hightailed it in there, opening a patch on the side of the glove and pressing a few things, and the familiar whir of the mechanics sprung to life. He stood in next to Samuel, ready to defend if the other revenants decided to attack.
Iris looked back the way they came, and then back at the skull. "...excuse me?" She turned to Katrina, her hand not moving from the hilt of the sword. "Where are we?" Part of her was tempted to grab the gemstone, but she decided to make sure it wouldn't kill her first.
Theo limped behind a tree as fast as his stunted legs would carry him, and readied his revolver. He peeked out from behind the tree, seeing the three standing revenants all standing in places he could hit them. He aimed the revolver at the chest of the one farthest away from his companions and squeezed the trigger. The revolver leapt in his hands, nearly smashing into his face. "Ah, hell, should've figured that would happen." Theo muttered as he regained his composure and took aim the revenant, making sure he had a better grip on the gun this time. He cocked the gun, and fired again, hitting the revenant in the right shoulder. "That's more like it," Theo smirked.
He tried his best not to laugh when the person started complaining. "Not good at making friends, are you Katrina?" He wasn't sure what was going on, but at least whoever was in front of them either was human or seemed to be sentient.
The first two Revenants took mild gunshot wounds, but seemed disinclined to slow down, leaping into the fray. One went for Theodore, the other for Samuel. The third held back, wary of the gigantic weapon on Gomik's hand. With good reason.
* * *
"Oh, shut up, Rob." Katrina glared at the skull. "This is Baba Yaga's little hiding place. Impossible to find if you don't know where it is. Fortunately, Morrigan knows just about everything in this little valley and she had a love for shinies." She smirked. "Let us pass, Bonehead."
"I'll need to confer with my compatriots on that, love." He rotated on his stand. "Hey, guys! Kat here thinks I should let 'er through, whaddaya think?"
"Tell her to go screw herself!"
"Tell her to go fuck herself!"
"Tell her to mast-"
"Shut the fuck up, Ted."
Bonehead twisted around on his stand. "Yeah, you ain't getting through. As for the bird and her side a beef there, they can go on through..." He clicked his teeth, his eye glimmering. "Just as soon as they come up with a favorable exchange, if you take my meaning."
"The bird and her side of beef?" Iris snorted, walking up to the skull. "My name is Iris. What sort of favorable exchange are you looking for?" She tried to put aside the idea that she was bargaining with a bone, glancing up to the hut. Now that she thought about it, they might be in a lot of trouble without Katrina.
"Well, that depends on what you've got ta offer. I'd love to take yer gold, dame, but I ain't got a way to use it, so unless you've got gold teeth I don't have much need for it. Find me something I can use, then I'll see 'bout letting ya through."
The path was open, though. They could probably just walk on past him.
The creature ran past Samuel, slashing its side as he passed. He shouted in pain before turning around and kneeling. As the creature charged in for what it thought would be the kill he lined up a shot to the head and pulled the trigger. Watching the bullet enter the creature's head and hoping that might stop it once and for all.
Iris looked around, noting the open path, but not wanting to risk it. Her eyes settled on Rob, who was still writing something (it looked like he was sketching the skull or something to her). She sauntered over to him and plucked off his top hat, dropping it on top of the skull. It looked a bit funny, since the eye sockets were barely visible from underneath. "There, thank you." she put a hand up and walked by.
"Hey...not bad! Not bad at all. I can see by the reflections in your eyes that it makes me look mysterious, gives me character. Hey, they're alright, let 'em on through!" He glared at Katrina. "'cept you, doll. You're staying behind." The skulls grinned at them as they walk past. Bonehead shouted, "Oi! Birdlegs! Squat!"
The massive hut settled down and the door swung open. A hefty amount of smoke or steam obscured what was beyond the door, you'd have to go inside to see within.
* * * * *
The Revenant staggered and fell to the ground as it's head was blasted apart. Two down, two to go. The last Revenant leapt into the battle, going straight for Gomik.
After staring down the last revenant for what seemed like forever, it finally jumped at him, and he lunged forward to meet it's attack. He cocked back his gloved fist, and then threw an uppercut at the creature, hoping to hit his neck in a killing sort of way. Hopefully that will do the trick. he thought as he performed this task.
Rob was clearly not pleased about losing his hat, clearly intending to get it back at some point, or at least a replacement. He turned to Katrina. "We'll be right back." He followed Iris, walking into the hut.
Iris cautiously walked in the house. It looked exactly like the stereotypical witch house would look: there was even a cauldron complete with its eccentric ingredient collection. A rat that ran by made her jump. "Ugh there's spiders too..."
Before she could take another step, a bucket of water fell off the shelf and crashed near her feet, throwing water all over her legs. "Fuck!"
Spirits of the Frigid North, spin the water, draw it forth. Frosty spirits, summoned twice! Turn the water into ice!
As soon as the voice stopped the water turned into ice. Iris screamed in surprise and pain as the cold ice squeezed her legs. She almost fell, doubled over at the waist, now rooted to the floor. "One word Rob, and I swear..."
"Floor, quick! Make him stick!" The floor fused onto Rob's shoes, locking him into place. A moment later a puff of smoke filled the cabin and out of it stepped an old woman, hunched over with a cane. Her skin was gray and appeared to be flaking off, her mouth filled with long, yellow teeth spotted with black, and the wrinkles were so thick the wrinkles appeared to have wrinkles. She was clad in what appeared to be a shawl embroidered a spidery pattern, fastened a the neck with a rat-shaped brooch that on close inspection appeared to be a live rat with it's front legs cut off.
Baba Yaga smiled at them. "Well, now...what brings such scrumptious morsels as you to my home?" She licked her lips, her tongue long and white. "Perhaps they've come to bring us dinner? I could do with some Leg of Man with a glass of half and half..." She stared at Iris as she said 'half and half', suggesting she wasn't talking about cream.
"H-half and half? N-no, we um... we're here to find the Ritual of Bone." There was no reason for Baba Yaga to not have a leg and "half and half" if she really wanted to, and Iris mentally cursed herself for going in there without Katrina. Although Iris wouldn't be getting the short end in that deal. She wondered if humans and elves tasted different.
"Yes, my dear? Cat got your tongue?" The old woman walked forward, grinning broadly. "It would make for a nice garnish..."
A spider crawled down from the wall and settled on her shoulder, chittering. Baba Yaga turned to it and raised an eyebrow. "Hmm, that's true..." She stared at them. "What do you want in my hut? Talk fast, I'm getting...hungry just looking at you. The Ritual of Bone, you say?" She sucked on her teeth. "Interesting. I have it in my possession. But why should I give it to you? What do you have to..." The spider chittered. "Elderberry pie...oh, pooh, you are right. I would love some Elderberry pie..."
Baba Yaga pulled out a scrap of parchment. "...Talk to Bonehead. He has the recipe. Make it for me, and you'll get your ritual. Just don't summon the Dark One and blow us all to Hell..." With a crack, the two found themselves standing in front of Bonehead, who was laughing uproariously.
"Well, well! You came back, I'm surprised! Didn't expect to see you two again outside of a quiche."
* * * *
The last Revenant fell to the ground as Gomik's fist struck it. It appeared to still be alive, but a quick followthrough reduced it's skull to a pulpy mess. That was that, the way to the Obelisk seemed clear.
Samuel took one of the dead revenants and hoisted it over his shoulder.
"I'm not about to take the chance that my payday gets picked over by some scavenger." He said as he started back on the trail towards the obelisk.
"Now lets just try and wrap this up quickly." He continued.
Iris rubbed her calves. She felt like she would get a frostbite or something if she had stayed in that ice a second longer. "Oh shut up. She says you know how to make Elderberry pie. Out with it." It was strange that the skull would know how to make pie, and also that pie was the only thing the witch wanted in return for a powerful ritual that had been lost for years.
"Elderberry pie!?" Bonehead sounded shocked. "Ah, shit. I hope you two aren't afraid of a little traipsing around. Fuck me..." His eye rolled up in it's socket. "Alright, first up you're going to need bones. Human bones, mind. Baba baby doesn't like animal bones, they mess up the flavor. Enough to line a pie-pan. There's Baba's flying mortar and pestle over there behind the hut, you can use that to grind them up. Next up you'll need some grue goo. That's the juices that leak out of the Dark One's Cave, you'll need to gather them at the source. They're no good diluted."
He sighed and clacked his teeth. "Let me see...obviously you'll need Elderberries, which means you're going to need the Elder berry bush. The Elder's a pretty mean customer. He's in the swamp, not too far from the Mad Monk's Tomb, actually. You know him? Good guy, he and I used to play Poker on Sundays...then he went nuts, but hey, who's counting? Anyway, Baba Yaga'll take care of the baking after you assemble it. Got that, kids? Oh, and you'll need a pan to put it in."
* * * *
It was a hike of a few minutes to come to the edge of the swamps. At night, they could see the wisps fluttering about. It was the work of a few seconds for Akivasha to gather them in Hassan's bottle using the candy, and from there on to the Obelisk.
From the light of the wisps, they could see markings appear on the Obelisk - a circle of letters with a spot in the middle that looked like it was for the Sigil. The letters were O, Z, A, K, M, U, H, V, L.
Akivasha, spider-maiden, was busy. Wisp-collecting! It was almost worrying how easy it was to snare a wisp with candy. "My. They really are like departed children," she whispered, half to herself more than anything. Then the Obelisk.
Though the dwarf had supposedly taken an object from the obelisk, Akivasha had seen it without closely inspecting it, and found the way the shadows danced about it by wisp-light to be most curious. Approaching, she counted out the letters. "A Z U V A H L, but there are two that don't fit. M and O." She squinted at the surface, turning to look at her companion. "What are your thoughts?"
Iris grumbled under her breath. "Of course it's not a normal pie. Of course it has to have nasty things in it." She brushed the hair out of her face, speaking up. "I don't suppose there are any jars or baskets we can put these things in are there? No pan? Do we have to go all the way back to town?"
She glanced around for the battlemage, wondering if the bones had to be fresh. "And do we need to kill someone for the bones, or do we just go graverobbing?"
"Aaaah, let me see what I can do..."
Bonehead rotated on his pole. "Oy! Anyone 'ere got a pan?"
One of the skulls grabbed what appeared to be a flattened skull with the holes filled in and threw it out. "Garn, use 'at."
Bonehead nodded. "Aer ya go. As fer the bones, I think Baba would probably prefer them old and moldy. Chop to it, doll!"
She caught the pan easily, turning a little to examine it. "Ugh... fine, fine..." She glanced at the entrance to the area, listening to make sure there weren't any more surprises waiting for them. Iris shoved the 'pan' into Rob's hands, motioning for him to put it in his bag.
"Bones first I suppose. We aren't going to get much done sticking together, but that seems to be the safest option since we aren't exactly veterans like your lady love at the moment. Time to go graverobbing... it looks like we weren't able to avoid it either way."
They walked a bit into the distance, and she was examining the ground. With all the things that chased them, she assumed there were bodies of the less fortunate around, if the witch hadn't gotten to them yet. And since most of the village seemed to know better, hopefully the remains she would find would be older...
"Well I think you've probably already solved the puzzle. Then again, I was a doctor not a puzzle solver. I would be more willing to trust your intuition. Just, for my money, I would bet you've already solved it." Samuel replied, moving the revenant back up on his shoulder.
Gomik walked toward the Obelisk, hearing his companions talk about the various bits of information they had gathered, as he rummaged around in his bag quickly. After moving a few hunks of metal around, he pulled out the sigil he had removed from the very spot earlier, and replaced it with slow motions. The sigil sunk in slightly, and Gomik tried moving it around, and it would turn clock wise and counter clock wise, which he felt like was odd. He carefully twisted it all the way around one way, then back to normal, then all the way around the opposite way, to see if anything would happen.
Attempting the combination Akivasha had suggested seemed accurate - the sigil sunk into the stone, and then a second pull opened a compartment. Within was a scroll, marked with three curving lines, a common symbol for wind or breath. Then the sigil popped free, back into Gomik's hand.
Three rituals in their hands, another in reach. Only two remained - the one in the possession of the sorcerer Gregor, and the one hidden within the Mad Monk's tomb.