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.