“This is not the Russia I remember.”
Baba Yaga, legendary witch and mistress of the chicken-legged hut Izbushka, has awakened to find her ancient homeland a blasted, nearly lifeless wasteland. Forestland has vanished, the old spirits are gone, and even humanity has nearly disappeared.
“You are stubborn as we were stubborn, fierce as we were fierce, self-reliant as we were self-reliant.”
One young man, Josef, finds himself caught up in Baba Yaga’s search for answers. But even with Josef’s insight, and with all the magic in Russia at her fingertips, will Russia’s most notorious sorceress be able to restore her homeland to even a shadow of what it was?
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“Boy!” she said, then paused. “No. That won’t do. What is your name?”
“J-Josef,” the young man said unsteadily.
“Josef, then. Watch and learn–and touch nothing!”
With that, Baba Yaga went to work. A dozen jars from a dozen different cabinets yielded mysterious powders which she combined in her mortar, crushing them into a multi-colored powder that did not glitter, but gave off a faint, blurred glow that distorted the air yet had no color itself. Then she drew a long, flat box from a cupboard far too shallow to have held it. Inside was a pile of yellow-white bones, which she spread on the stones before the hearth. After lighting the fire and murmuring strange words in a tone too low for Josef to comprehend, she paced meticulously from one side of the fireplace to the other and back, then threw half the powder into the sputtering flames and the other half over the heap of bones.
The fire crackled and flared in response, its flames changing from orange to green to red to yellow to green and back to orange again. And as it did so, both Josef and Baba Yaga watched–the latter still muttering a spell–as the bones began to stir.
They did not rattle idly, nor did they merely cascade outward into a pattern on the hearth. Instead, they began to shine with a strange, yellow-green light, and in the grip of that glow they rose up like a complicated puzzle and began to put themselves together. The remnants of claws remained on the stone hearth, leg bones ran upward from these, and ribs organized themselves into the lower framework of a small skeleton. Before long, the complete frame of a large chicken had assembled itself, its broken backbone knitting together before the pair’s eyes. Something dark and curiously solid stared out at them through the empty sockets in the chicken-thing’s skull.
For a moment, Baba Yaga’s posture seemed to go rigid, but the stiffness oozed away before it could take hold. “What sorcery is this? A simple casting of the bones should not yield so much power.”