During the night, Mika felt a cold hand on her soul. Recognizing the call of one of the undead, she made a terse excuse and traveled on her own to the river.
She reached the water’s edge and waited for a time. Finally something emerged from the water — the pale form of another rusalka, slimmer and fainter than Fair Mirinka. The rusalka greeted her, and told her that one of the men she pursues slew a girl and left her body in the river, and the ghosts demand vengeance. Mika asked how to recognize this man, and the rusalka replied that he carries a flail. The river-ghost then offered a small boon: if Mika were to give her a message, she would carry it to the murderer in his dreams.
“Come to the water,” said Mika, “and all will be revealed.”
Mika returns to the others before they establish their watch on the trail. She tells them of her encounter with the rusalka, and that one of the Ruin’s raiders will be compelled to come to the river. The bogatyrs move down to the river’s edge to prepare an ambush. Anfisa picks up enough traces to be confident that the warband has moved from the armory to the river before, and she lays out their trail.
The path leads to an old stone pier, disused and overgrown, built in the time of the armory. Kazimer, Anfisa, and Kostya find hiding places in the forest undergrowth. Gena moves under the stone pier, and throws a quick offering into the river to keep the dread river-spirits away from him. For her part Mika strips, and sits on the edge of the stone pier, singing a mournful song.
The first one down from the hill is one of the lightly armored Volyars. The scout immediately focuses on the naked girl by the river, and doesn’t seem to notice Anfisa, Kazimeer, or even Kostya in their hiding places. He moves farther down, and others follow him — the other two sentries, and the Volyar leader.
As the scouts fan out, four more figures tramp down through the woods. In the lead is a dwarf dressed in the mail of a dragon templar, carrying a flail with three heads worked in the likenesses of Vilyich Valyask Vozmei. A heavy pouch at his waist leaks thin trails of smoke. The three armored men in his wake wear similar mail, clearly acolytes to the dwarf.
As the bogatyrs tense for a more dangerous ambush than they’d hoped for, the rogue Volyar scout leader whistles and points. “Two on the right, one on the left,” he says. As the templars and scouts pull their weapons free, the bogatyrs break from their hiding places.
The Volyar locks on Anfisa as she and her bear charge upslope. “Anfisa!” he roars. “Today I’ll avenge my fallen brothers!” He closes the distance in a burst of speed, putting her immediately on the defensive as he swings his hatchets with berserker fervor.
Kazimeer casts a spell of somnolence, and the lesser scouts and templar acolytes collapse into a shallow sleep. Mika snatches up the sword and shield near her, and charges the templar, a wave of spirits with her. The templar responds by pulling the pouch from his belt and hurling it toward her. It lands in a pile of leaves that go up in flames as the pouch burns away from a flaming ingot. The fire forms into a humanoid form that leaps for Mika. Gena runs his saber through the river’s water (with one more prayer to the spirits) and intercepts the elemental, freeing a path for Mika.
The dwarf templar roars with the voice of a dragon. Mika is forced a step backward, and several of the unconscious warriors begin to stir. He then lunges at her, attempting to brain the naked girl with his triple flail. The templar’s offensive is checked when Kazimeer exhales a cloud of poisonous gas, and the dwarf coughs up a spatter of discolored blood. Gena takes the opportunity to overpower the flame elemental, steam hissing from his saber as it gutters and fades.
Battered and bloodied, Anfisa does her best to deflect the most lethal of her frenzied enemy’s strikes. Even with Kostya by her side, she barely manages to hold on. But then Mika stretches out a hand, and the spirits of Volyar ancestors flood through her. She and Kostya tear the Ruin’s tracker apart.
More of the scouts and the templar’s acolytes pull themselves free of Kazimeer’s enchantment, but it does them little good. Gena dispatches the acolytes with a few expert slashes at the same time that Anfisa and Kostya tear through two of the surviving scouts. Another celestial spell slams into the dwarven templar, and he finally totters and falls. The lone survivor is one of the Volyar scouts, who hastily surrenders when demanded to do so.
The bogatyrs set to interrogating the scout. He confirms that there’s roughly half a dozen men and women left, though their sorcerer has learned the secret to binding the forge’s elemental spirits. He says there is no proper sign or password to bypass the sentinels; the warband is small enough that they all know each other.He also seems certain that his surviving companions have what it takes to kill the bogatyrs — he speaks of the dragonspawn Vilyivich Blackspite with clear dread. Mika, still seething with the vengeance of the murdered girl, orders the captive to strip naked. He does so, and she tells him to run. The scout flees upriver, away from the forge.
The bogatyrs take the scouts’ horns, as well as a few other items of interest, from the corpses. Mika returns to the river to wash away the blood and ash. Anfisa doesn’t bother; the blood of her rival is still crusting her hair as they approach the armory.
They find that none of the scouts on the perimeter have been replaced. But another fire-spirit stands in the doorway to the armory, watching over the glass-scarred open area. The bogatyrs sound a blast on one of the scouts’ stolen horns, and the response is quick.
The enemy warband emerges in force: half a dozen armored warriors, an orcish woman with the ritual branding and light armor of a dragon sorceress, and a tall figure in ornate black plate armor. As they scan the treeline, Kazimeer invokes a small illusion to disguise himself as a blood-smeared scout. He staggers forward, cries out, and falls to the ground.
The warband reacts with caution. The black-armored figure, undoubtedly Vilyivich Blackspite, directs them to move into the western treeline past the pack mules rather than advancing down the open patch. He calls out to the ambushers, apparently unable to see them but certain they’re present. As the warband works its way downhill among the shelter of the western trees, the bogatyrs advance up the eastern side, and make for the armory’s entrance. They set up in the double doorway with Gena and Anfisa closing off the corridor. Anfisa sends an arrow at the warband, but the Ruin’s warriors instead withdraw farther into the trees.
Long moments pass. Blackspite’s Scourges do not reappear, though Gena and Anfisa continue to keep careful watch. Mika wanders back into the armory itself, taking stock of the warband’s activity. The forge contains several half-completed siege weapons, and a number of fine armors and weapons that seem to have passed the centuries without rusting. Many bars of rare metals are bundled for transport, and the gear implies that they were planning to leave soon. As she continues to look over the soot-stained chambers of the interior forge, she hears a distant, echoing chant over the flames. She pinpoints the chant as coming from the chimney before the fire changes from a rich red-orange to a darker, greener-tinted blaze — and then an explosion of smoke fills the forge, rushes down the corridor, and surrounds the entire entrance.
Kazimeer immediately begins to incant a short ritual. He speaks the final words, and the smoke is blasted clear with a gust of wind — just in time for the bogatyrs to see Blackspite and his warriors charging out of the fumes.
The sword Threshold lends its power to Gennadiy as he stands against Blackspite. The dragontooth warrior’s blade leaks a vicious acid from its fuller, spattering Gena even as he parries each blow. Kazimeer hangs back and draws on the arcane power still pulsing from the forge. Anfisa and Kostya tear easily through the orc sorceress’ bodyguards, but the fire elemental obeying her commands engages them before they can reach her.
Mika calls down the power of her goddess, and strikes the orc mid-spell. Gena rallies and delivers a precise strike between the plates of Blackspite’s armor. The dragontooth warrior responds to the grievous wound by spitting a spray of acid across the nearby bogatyrs.
Kazimeer strikes Blackspite with a lance of thunder, and Gena follows up with a vicious strike from Threshold. The black-armored warrior topples backward, acid from his blade spilling across the glass. Gena takes the opportunity to join the fight against the elemental, tipping the scales.
The orc sorceress, already wounded, pulls the cloth away from her neck and strikes a fist against her chest. Anfisa and Kostya give her the glorious death she demands.
With the last of the Ruin’s warband dispatched, the bogatyrs secure the armory. The elemental spirits powering the fire seem quiescent enough. They take the spoils from the warband’s raids:
- A satchel of coin
- A sack of looted silver
- Two mastodon tusks
- An elaborate steel helm
- A masterwork sword from Baravoi
- Two fine jacinths
- An agate figurine of a winged serpent
- Several stolen maps of the western reaches
The forge also offers many antique weapons and pieces of armor, several of which seem to be masterwork quality. But the treasure that seems to have drawn the band all this way is the metal, still untarnished after its time in the armory — a pallet of fine steel, a quarter-pallet of firebrass, and a quarter-pallet of hardsilver. The bogatyrs secure their enemies’ pack mules, and begin prioritizing what to take back with them to Zelezka.