Trumps of Winter

44 - The Elder Worm of Nith

A desperate battle and a strange reward.

With the monstrous serpent-things dead, Mika and Anfisa start examining the bodies. Mika pulls more trophies free, cutting away one of the venom barbs from a worm’s tail. Anfisa, looking at the bisected creatures, notes it has oddly bulging pouches in its innards, like a complicated gizzard. She ignores the odd sacs, but Mika dives in with a knife to open them. A number of valuable odds and ends spill out, apparently the personal treasure of the creature. Gennadiy and Kazimeer do the same for the other two, and the bogatyrs gather the spoils.

Once finished binding their wounds, cleaning their weapons, and stowing their plunder, the bogatyrs send Anfisa to scout down the far tunnel. She moves carefully through the dark, though her boots crunch on stray flakes of stone. She descends far enough to see a faint purplish light farther ahead, and to hear an idle rattle of metal on metal. Anfisa decides not to take her chances, reasoning that she could well have been heard, and returns to gather the others.

The bogatyrs descend as a group. The tunnel gradually dead-ends into a larger cavern, dimly lit by violet spiraling glyphs carved into the walls. The light spills onto the pale flesh of more drowned corpses littering the room and filters through a forest of swords, axes, and other weapons hanging on lines from the ceiling. Past this swaying mass of blades, the bogatyrs see a strange fixture shaped from the stone floor, something like a throne and something like a bowl. The purple light vaguely picks out the dark coils of something within the bowl, and a pair of lambent yellow eyes stare back at the bogatyrs.

As the bogatyrs begin to push into the room, a terrible voice whispers a venomous litany. It strikes into the minds of some of the party, seemingly poisoning their very blood. The group moves to engage in return, but it is difficult to move through the blades without being injured, and the corpses begin stirring to unlife as they do so. Between the dim light and its thick scales, the bogatyrs have a hard time landing punishing blows on the elder worm. Kazimeer gives in to the mind-poison, and strikes Mika a stout blow with the metal astrologer’s runestaff.

The battle around the bowl-throne is a difficult one. Anfisa, Kostya, and Gennadiy all have difficulty avoiding the swinging blades and striking accurately. Mika invokes the power of her cold goddess, and the ghostly remnants of hundreds of dead, those devoured by the Writher, pour their strength into her companions. Kazimeer draws on the power stored in his meteoric ring, sending a mighty thunderbolt into the Nithian elder. It recoils and thrashes, and the warriors press the advantage. Gena, Mika, and Kazimeer pick off the animated corpses and Anfisa and Kostya pin the Nithian down and bloody it.

The great worm thrashes reflexively as it feels the first serious wounds. It catches Anfisa in its coils, and squeezes the life from her — but Mika intervenes, and the cold skeletal touch of the Lich Queen stirs Anfisa back to consciousness. Mika further heals the Volayr ranger as Kazimeer and Gena focus on the Nithian and buy her some time. The serpentlike abomination is badly tattered by the time Kostya is able to pin it with his paws, giving Anfisa the chance to finally decapitate it with a mighty sabre cut.

Mika claims the poison spur from the Nithian’s tail as her prize. Anfisa cuts the forked tongue from the too-human head and also takes a vertebra from the Nithian’s tail as a personal trophy. As the bogatyrs cut down the various blades from the ceiling, to allow themselves some more space to move, Gennadiy finds a particularly striking sword hung with a tassel bearing the Knight’s emblem. He recognizes it as Dragon’s Valor, a powerful blade carried by one of Commander Valyevna’s loyalists. He takes it down and carefully bundles it for transport.

Mika readily cuts into the gullet-pouch of the elder Nithian as well, spilling out a number of curios. She finds a handful of gems, an odd glossy black cube, the unicorn-headed scepter of a Luskrin tsar, a blank book in a waterproof satchel, an elven tiara-helm, a tightly stoppered bottle of Double Venom, the heron-and-spear signet ring of the Kolzoss family, and — interestingly — a medallion set with a roving eye that she recognizes as a proper hag’s eye amulet.

The bogatyrs drag together the corpses, including one that Gennadiy recognizes as the warrior formerly in Valyevna’s service. Kazimeer sets the pyre alight, and the group leaves the Writher’s den.

The harpies watching over the river are surprised when the bogatyrs emerge without casualties. They quickly escort the group back into the presence of the Sirin. The harpy queen evaluates them carefully, and asks “You have the tongue… is an amulet still what you ask?”

“Yes,” says Mika, and the Sirin produces another hag’s eye amulet. But the priestess is suddenly suspicious, and watches the Queen in the West carefully. The four-winged Sirin seems to have already guessed that the group has a similar amulet in their possession, and she had glanced at the various treasures kept in the room. Mika pauses before reaching for the amulet.

The Sirin seems to notice her hesitation. “If we give you this amulet,” she says, “sooner or later, Yedza will certainly notice we no longer possess it. If you would prefer another reward for your heroic deed, I would give you something else: a treasure, a blessing, or an answer.”

“Where is the Black Chalice?” asks Gennadiy. But the Sirin shakes her crowned head. “I can tell you what the sky would see.”

The bogatyrs confer, and decide to ask for a treasure. The Sirin has her attendants bring out four odd artifacts: a resplendent golden helm, a whispering book, a bone saddle, and an elaborate coffin. Mika invokes the knowledge of dead lives past to better assess the treasures. She learns that the helm bears an enchantment of lordly inspiration; the book will, once each day, answer any question that can be answered with a name; the bone saddle would temporarily allow mount and rider to take ghost form; and the coffin levitates at will and would be usable as, among other things, a battering ram.

Despite Anfisa’s misgivings, the bogatyrs ask for the whispering book as their reward. The harpies give it to them, with what appears to be some form of relief. The Sirin thanks them again graciously, and they take their leave of the Queen in the West. They descent the rope ladders once more to Ironjoy’s vessel, and set out downriver.

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