We walked down the cobbled steps, avoiding cobwebs as best we could, but still getting webbed whether we liked it or not. Of course, I did not mind. On the other hand, my latest partner preferred remaining clean, which is a difficult task, especially considering my chosen profession of witch-hunting.
At length, we reached the bottom of the stairwell.
"Akh! Finally!" said Stepan, his breathing labored.
I hung my torch on a nearby hook, eyes wide, ignoring my partner and scanning the ancient runes on the stone in front of us. I brushed off the unknown years of dust, revealing the complete inscription.
I leaned closer and grumbled.
"Stepan!" I said, stepping aside briskly. "Make yourself useful at last! Read this!"
Stepan, who had been waving his torch at every shadow, both real and imagined, pushed his glasses on the bridge of his nose. He stepped toward the runes.
"Sure thing, Mikhail," he said, stuttering.
He leaned forward. Starting from the top, he read the ancient language out loud. The letters and symbols formed a spiral pattern. After he finished the translation, he stayed silent for a minute. I finally placed a hand on his shoulder and twisted him around.
"Damn you, fool!" I said. "Tell it to me in the common tongue!"
When I met his gaze, I faltered. His eyes had gone black. His skin had grown viridescent with patches of lesions.
"I will certainly damn one of you fools!"
The words bellowed from Stepan's mouth, but they were not his own. This voice, feminine and ominous, commanded immediate respect.
I caught my breath, reached into my coat pocket, and produced my Cold Moon amulet and stringed purse. I thrust the talisman at my possessed partner.
"Baba Yaga, listen to my words," I said, my voice resonating in the chamber.
"Mikhail, Mikhail, what morsel have you brought for me?" asked Baba Yaga.
I reached into my purse.
"Baba Yaga, for you, I brought a little cake."
I produced a small circular chocolate sponge.
At the sight of my sweet, the witch snickered with delight. Stepan stepped forward, snatched the cake, and began to eat it in large, messy bites.
I grinned, gripped the amulet, and held it out once more.
"Baba Yaga, listen to my words," I said. Her eyes turned on me as she continued to eat. "I have given you your treat, and I want my trick. Grant my wish."
She hissed, squinting her black eyes at me.
"Speak, fool, but be warned. Our wishes often leave us wanting something else."
I ignored her.
"I want your great riches!"
Her face softened into a smile.
"Then be my guest."
A hidden lock shifted and echoed in the damp chamber. The stone wall in front of me jerked, revealing a door with an opened crack. A gold light emerged.
I grinned, dropping my hand and amulet to my side. I stepped past Stepan and pulled hard on the stone door. Heavy, it scratched on the cobbled floor, kicking stones. Once opened, I hesitated beneath the entrance, allowing the moment to penetrate my senses. Golds and silvers of every hue reached my vision. They dazzled me. Coins of every kind stacked tables and chests. Chalices and goblets of the finest sort lined shelves. Chains and bracelets hung everywhere. And in the middle of this treasure chamber stood a massive mound of every sort.
At length, I walked inside and approached the mound. Although a few torches lit the room, they were unnecessary. A light from above me penetrated through a large hole in the ceiling. At that moment, a realization dawned on my mind.
“We are at the bottom of the Well of Wishes,” I said in a hushed voice, straining my gaze through the hole. “I can’t see the top.”
“Yes, yes, we are far below, my Mikhail, far below,” said Baba Yaga, snickering.
Behind me, stones skipped along the floor, and a loud thud echoed in the chamber.
I turned in time to hear a hidden lock latch. Shaken from my covetous daze, I dashed to the door and banged my fists against its stone. My hands searched the edges to grab and pull, or a lock to poke and pick.
“It has been sealed by my magic, you fool,” said Baba Yaga. “There is no escape.”
I turned on my heels to pounce on the possessed Stepan. Stunned, I stopped my advance, dropping my useless talisman to the floor, realizing only then his partnership had been a sham. His form had been replaced by an older woman, the witch Baba Yaga. Dressed in ragged clothes and holding her familiar broom, grey hair poked out from her hood. She grinned at me. Missing most of her teeth, she spoke while licking chocolate crumbs off her chapped, bleeding lips.
“You wanted my riches,” she said. “Here they are. They are yours. And you, Mikhail, are mine.”
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Michael R Kiel Fictions
Blog 9 - 2-20-2021