Lorekeeper I: Chapter 12 – Witch Switch
Because when you could be an adult and solve your own problems,
Or instead, put your mortal soul in peril for a quick and easy fix,
We all know what we’d choose.
– Baba Yaga, the Seer of the North
It’s a long way from Stormheim to Urskaya, and Dimetraxia could feel every mile of it.
As the crow flies, it’s about the same distance she’d flown from the Blighted Lands to the Broken Spire, or from the Broken Spire to Stormheim, but both of those trips had taken a lot out of her. Also, any idiot crow attempting to fly along the mountains from Stormheim to Urskaya would likely have been frozen in a blizzard, exploded by Fey magic, eaten by a Frostling, or smacked with a stray Ice Troll’s boulder.
So, yeah, technically it was the same distance, but only in the same way that a smiling cuddly carpet python is the same length as thirty-seven hopping-mad hungry Zhul-Kari Deathspiders lined up end to end.
Nevertheless, she flew on, looking for Baba Yaga’s Hut. Baba Yaga, the Seer of the North, would be able to tell her where the next Blight would happen, if anybody could.
Dimetraxia knew where Baba Yaga lived. Over her long lifespan, she had visited here a few times, with mixed success. The first time had been seeking news of her mate, Venbarak, after he’d been captured by the Daemons. The information had been good, though the news was bad, and it only cost her a few scales as payment, though she never asked why the witch wanted them – she didn’t really want to know, to be honest. The second time… Well she didn’t want to think about the second time; it involved a cure for an ailment. Baba Yaga’s advice had been sound, but getting one of the ingredients – a furball from a Wolf-Daemon – had almost killed her. The third time was more recent, and resulted in her capture and imprisonment for a time on an Island near Darkstone.
When she thought about it, the quality of service here had been steadily decreasing over the last millenium. But where else could a Dragon turn in a crisis?
With those thoughts rolling around in her head, she began circling in towards the clearing where she knew Baba Yaga’s famous “Hut-on-Chicken-Legs” could be found. And, I mean, how tacky was that? As a marketing gimmick, it worked a treat though – everybody remembered the damnable hut-on-chicken-legs. Nobody wanted to see the witch in the damp cave, or the witch in the ramshackle cottage. But the witch in the hut-on-chicken-legs? She must be the best!
Dimetraxia suddenly pulled up, desperately beating her tired wings to hold herself in place. She hung in the air with all the grace of that idiot, frozen, exploded, half-digested, and boulder-smacked crow, which still isn’t too bad for any creature approaching their first millenium.
Her eyes weren’t the best, but she could see Baba Yaga’s clearing below. There was no hut, just smoke curling up from the middle of it.
If she’d flown all this way for nothing, she resolved to burn something down – preferably something nearby that wouldn’t put up too much of a fight, but anything would do in a pinch.
Patience is often inversely proportional to weariness, and that was definitely the case here. Dimetraxia spread her wings and circled down straight towards the center of the clearing.
It wasn’t until she landed, with a bone-jarring thud, that she saw where the smoke was coming from. Three Urska – the northern bear-folk – and a cauldron stood where the hut had previously been. Two of the bear-folk were large white-furred beasts with golden armor. The armor was unnaturally shiny, probably to account for the fact that their brains were unnaturally dull. In support of that theory, they just looked at her, confused.
The third bear stood over the cauldron, stirring it. She looked the opposite of dull and confused. Her eyes were bright, and her honey-colored hair was organized into long intricately-woven braids. She wore a green cloak, decorated with many strange feathers, one or two long enough to have come from something that probably could have eaten her. She was smiling at Dimetraxia. It was not a friendly welcoming smile, but a sly dangerous one.
“Welcome, Dimetraxia, darling,” she began in the common Adanian tongue, her voice heavily accented like all the northern Urska. “We have been expecting you.”
Dimetraxia took a step forward, and raised her head up high, looking down at the Urska in a threatening fashion.
“Who are you? And where is Baba Yaga?” she demanded.
“Calm your scales, friend Dragon,” the bear replied, amusement in her throaty voice. “My name, it is Urskula. And these are my two Dragoons, Rip, and Torn. Say hello, boys.”
The two armored bears grunted.
“As for why I’m here,” Urskula continued. “Baba Yaga asked me to watch over this place while she is… How you say?… On holidays?”
Dimetraxia narrowed her gaze, staring hard at the Urska.
“Don’t you give me that Dragon-stink-eye, darling!” the Urska witch chuckled. “Even witches need to get out of the cold occasionally, soak up some sun, and read a nice tome or two. But before she goes, Baba Yaga says to me ‘Keep an eye out for Dimetraxia. She is a big red Dragon. She has a question. She also has a temper. Do not let her eat you!’.”
“How did she know I was coming?” Dimetraxia fired back.
Urskula just cocked her head, smiling.
“I know… Seer of the North ,and all that… Just tell me where she is,” Dimetraxia demanded again.
“Darling,” Urskula laughed. “If I tell you this, when she gets back Baba Yaga will skin me and wear me as a hat – and that is if I am lucky. If I am unlucky, she wears me as furry undergarments. Eesh!”
Dimetraxia shook her head. This was going nowhere fast.
“Alright,” the Dragon finally conceded. “Will you be able to answer my question?”
“Darkstone,” Urskula said.
“What?” Dimetraxia was confused. “I haven’t asked you the question yet!”
“I know, darling,” the Urska witch spread her paws. “But Baba Yaga… She tells me the answer to your question is Darkstone. I do not need to know what the question is.”
“But what if I asked a different question?”
Urskula just cocked her head, and the annoying smile returned. Dimetraxia snorted.
“Baba Yaga also… She gives me a message for you.”
“What is it?” Dimetraxia asked.
“Come closer, darling,” Urskula’s voice softened. “Baba Yaga says it is for your ears only.”
The Dragon leaned her head down, and the Urska reached up on the tips of her paws to whisper in the Dragon’s huge ear.
Dimtraxia’s head snapped back.
“No!” she roared.
“It was a message, Darling.” Urskula looked apologetic.”Baba Yaga said you had been hard done by her advice in the past, and this time you should know the truth.”
Dimetraxia look down at the Urska witch, fury in her eyes.
“I will not…” The Dragon began, and then faltered.
“I am sorry, friend Dragon.” The sly smile was gone from Urskula’s face. She looked sad now.
Dimetraxia unfurled her wings.
“Tell that old witch she’s wrong,” the Dragon said. And without wasting any time, her old sinews creaked, and bones ground against one another in their sockets, as she beat her wings and lifted up into the air, almost knocking Urskula’s cauldron over in the process.
She circled once. She had half a mind to turn them all into bear kebabs. Serve them right if she did. But she thought better of it.
Then she began her long journey back to the south east.