From Inside Baba Yaga's Hut
|A winding path out of Baba Yaga’s Hut includes a settling a score with an honourable Gnoll and a fatal encounter with a pack of fiendish dire weasels. Riddles in the dark with Baba Yaga and a titanic battle with a stone golem in the Cradle of Creation. The Stone Druids awake and Arek enters their granite shroud. An eternity passes and he is one with the stone. He emerges hundreds of years older; hundreds of years wiser, at the absolute bottom of Axes Bithtat.|
“By the Great Maker’s Anvil, where am I?” Arek said out loud as he walked the dark corridors. It seemed to him that he had been walking for hours on end. What seemed strange to the priest of Moradin was that the corridor sections were absolutely identical. Every thirty feet: the same mouldings, the same bas-relief. The corridor seemed to stretch out without end in a perfect way that Arek had never seen before. This stone had not been carved by tools. The sections were too identical for such precise craftsmanship, even by the best dwarven standards. What also seemed strange to Arek was that the more he walked, the less he seemed to remember about how he had gotten here in the first place. He remembered his companions, entering a hut, getting separated and lost, and then…this corridor. That was it.
“PURSUE DESTINY, PURSUE FATE!” Arek heard the words but he was not sure if they had been spoken or if he had heard them in his head. Suddenly, the walls shifted and the corridor turned right. Cautiously, Arek peered around the corner and saw a creature barely a few feet away. The creature had a bull’s head with the torso and lower body of a huge man: a minotaur! As Arek was staring, the monster blew some steam from its nostrils and charged, without any form of provocation from Arek. The confrontation lasted a few minutes and finally, with Moradin’s blessings, Arek stood over the creature’s dead body.
“THE UNIVERSE IS NOT MADE OF ATOMS, IT IS MADE OF STORIES. I COLLECT STORIES. TELL ME A STORY AREK ZARAM DAKAR. OR SHOULD I CALL YOU AREK THURIN AZAGATH BITHTAT, SECRET WARRIOR OF BITHTAT AND HEIR OF CLAN BITHTAT?” This time the voice was clearly heard by Arek. It was hard to tell where it was coming from. “Who are you? Where are you?” Arek called. “TELL ME A STORY, AREK, AND PERHAPS YOU WILL GET ANSWERS. PERHAPS NOT.” The voice called out. “I am not a bard. I do not know many stories.” Arek tried, still looking to find out where the voice was coming from. “TELL ME A STORY, AREK. AND PERHAPS YOU SHALL LIVE.” The tone left no doubt to Arek. Clearing his throat, he started to tell his tale…
The Silver Tear of Moradin
It is said that every ten years, the falls of Clangladrin, set in the mountain range not far from Axes Bithtat, freeze over for one nigh only as Seluna shines brightest during Verisa. As a gift to all dwarves of valour, Moradin promises to grant a wish to the one who first breaks off an icicle from the frozen falls, that icicle was traditionally called the Silver Tear of Moradin. Many generations ago, an expedition was being prepared by one of the clans to claim the prize. All the warriors were ready to go, even Grundak the Blind. Grundak had lost his sight from a powerful curse in a terrible fight with an orc shaman years before and was only barely tolerated by the other warriors of the clan. An old blind dwarf was not much of a fighter. While Grundak could tell a fine tale, his worth to defend the clan had clearly diminished. Still, the clan tended to its elderly and its impaired members. Some thought it would be a good idea to have Grundak around so that he could tell his stories and distract the other dwarves from the bitter cold.
A few hours after the group of warriors had set out, they were caught by surprise by a migrating band of hill giants. Unprepared to fight their adversaries who were close to madness by lack of food, the dwarven party was slaughtered. All were killed, save Grundak who had merely been knocked unconscious. As Grundak came to, he quickly realized he was now alone. Deciding to continue his quest for the Silver Tear, he stumbled for hours until he slipped on a sheet of perfect ice. Grundak realized he was on the pool formed at the bottom of the falls. He made his way to the falls and pried a piece of ice from the falls. He felt the warmth of Moradin envelop him. Ask for your wish, Grundak the Blind, Grundak smiled as he heard what could only be the Soul Forger. Grundak thought that he would quickly ask for his sight back as he had always dreamt of. Instead, he realized what he had to do for the Clan. “I wish for my Clan to be restored. I wish that my fellow dwarves be brought back to life”. Grundack felt the light once more and then felt nothing at all as he fell into darkness. He was woken by a young guard from his clan: “Grundak, we have found you at last. You brought us back! You…” The rest of the words were lost in the thunder of the falls which had started flowing again. Grundak turned to face the sun, low in the sky. He could feel its slight warmth but more importantly Grundak could see the light! Moradin had restored his sight after granting his selfless wish to save his clan. Grundak smiled as he had not smiled in decades and as he turned to face his comrade who had woken him, a single tear fell from the corner of his eye.
“That, Arek, is a beautiful story” said the voice of an old woman right behind Arek. Arek turned to see an extremely old human, bent over with a red scarf over her head. She looked strait at Arek with eyes that burned with an energy that did not seem possible to be contained by her frail body.
“A beautiful story and one that deserves a reward. Ask your questions young dwarf.” she continued.
“Who are you old one?” Arek asked.
“I am Baba Yaga.” she answered.
“Where are we?” Arek asked again.
“We are in the Great Sublime.” Arek stood silently, pondering the answer when Baba Yaga asked: “What is more important young Cleric of Moradin, Fate or Destiny?”
Arek took a moment and answered: “I seek my own path and make my own destiny.”
“We shall see Arek. We shall see. Find all the coins and you shall learn more.” Baba Yaga said as the walls of the corridors disappeared.
Arek heard the cry of gulls and his lungs were quickly filled with salty air. Arek knew he was near lake Seluna. As he was concentrating on his surroundings, he heard cries and the distant sound of fighting. Moving towards the sound, Arek came upon a village where huge brutish knolls were moving what appeared to be human slaves chained together. Looking at the creatures, Arek recognized the same gnoll that had defeated him at Sssraths’s Temple. How was this possible?Arek thought. Arek then noticed that what he initially thought was burning debris from the fight was actually a pile of human remains being incinerated. This has to stop! Arek moved towards the village and called out to Moradin. The fight did not last long and this time, Arek was the only one left standing in the end. As Arek freed the slaves, everything around Arek faded to black. He was back in the corridor, the walls shifting directions every ten steps.
As Arek wandered the maze of shifting corridors, other similar episodes in different environments occurred. One by one, he found all of BabaYaga’s coins. As he picked up the last one, again Arek found himself in complete darkness. He felt he could have been standing there for a few minutes or few a few days. Time had no meaning. He then heard someone approach, clear his throat, and then a familiar voice:
“Child of Sentar, my grandmother bids you farewell. You passage here comes to an end.” Arek knew the voice as that of Mohadir, the seer that Arek barely had time to know before entering the hut. “I would like to return to my companions. Can I not rejoin them?” Arek asked Mohadir now standing before him. Several passages and connecting corridors appeared all around them. “You are in a place that leads to many other destinations. You must choose which way to go.”
“Grandmother’s Hut is a doorway, or a path, or a bend in the river. Does it lead someplace or is it already there? Everywhere and nowhere; everywhen and nowhen; everything and nothing. The Hut is a crux, a hub, a forge, a pooling of energy. Several such places remain, though they are not all alike. The great city of Sigil is one such a place, and its Lady of Pain is not unlike my Grandmother, I suppose.”
Hesitating and perhaps somewhat scared to pick a way, Arek asked a few more questions to Mohadir including if he knew about Ulgar, Arek’s uncle and what had happened to him. Mohadir knew nothing of Ulgar. The seer guided him through a series of corridors and finally turned back when he had reached a certain point where the halls changed.
As Arek chose one corridor, he noticed that it was quite different from the ones he had been travelling since he entered Baba Yaga’s hut. This corridor was dusty and made of real stone. While Arek could not tell up from down, nor left from right, he felt strangely safe and at peace. Making a silent prayer to Moradin, he followed the corridors as it became increasingly ornate and finely decorated with dwarven artwork. After a time, the corridor led to a vast dome-shaped room. The floor was decorated with interlocking stones making several perfect geometric, mandala-like designs. While not familiar with the specific style and era, Arek recognized the craftwork as one of ancient dwarven origin. Lining the circular wall of the room were 23 statues separated at regular intervals. These represented hooded stone druids and they seemed unfinished, distorted and not fully formed. At their base was written the following: “We are Sentar manifest, tenders of the first tree. Now we are the guardians of its bones.”
Arek remembered the teachings he had received at Axes Bithtat about the mysterious Stone Druids. They had been an inbred, secretive sect, passing their knowledge only to their kin. They had always shied from dwarven politics and had never been part of any established political or religious order. They had been responsible for sealing up the many unknown levels beneath Axes Bithtat.
In the center of the room, Arek saw another statue. Again, this was a stone druid, yet this one had no cowl. It was taller and built stronger than an average dwarf, yet it clearly had the facial features of a dwarf. On its chest was a single rune that Arek understood as meaning “Timeless”, “Ancient” or “Ancestor”. Arek was not quite sure.
After having looked at what he could see from the opening leading into the vast room, Arek took Unity in his hands and stepped forward to explore the room. As soon as Unity was revealed, the statues began to chant. Arek recognized the chant because Tiberio had recalled a snippet of it in relation to their first battle in the Cradle of Creation during the Dream of Horrors. If Arek remembered correctly, it was called the “Bones of the Heart”.
Flesh shattered tree
The first Unity
Steel Stone looms
Cradle of Creation
The statues continued chanting and then the larger statue in the centre of the room stepped down from its pedestal and slowly walked towards Arek, each step making a thunderous echo in the chamber.
Arek called out to Moradin and a dense mist filled the room. Arek moved within the mist to hide from the large statue but it kept on coming. Arek could feel the tension build within the room. There was a presence in the stone all around him, vibrating with the ongoing chant of the smaller statues. And then the stone golem was next to him, trying to grab him. Arek called out to Moradin and asked for his divine strength. Feeling Moradin’s blessing, Arek called