The past week had not gone easy for Baba Zelenna. That damned devil Strahd had been increasingly nosy, his minions prowling constantly around the ruined tower that Zelenna called home, as if they knew what she had planned. At first, Baba Zelenna had not given it much thought; the Count’s paranoia waxed and waned, and the caller in darkness seemed capable of deterring most of the vampire’s lesser spawn.
Yet recent events had proved this theory wrong. There was obviously someone new in Borovia, and this someone – or someones – were a threat to Strahd. Ordinarily this would be a welcome development for the twisted green hag Zelenna, something to draw Strahd’s attention away from her. But then they had gone and started doing things, changing things, and for whatever reason Strahd had, instead simply eviscerating them, tried to toy with them, to draw the encounter out.
And then they had killed Eva. And following that, Chauntyn. Now both of her sisters were dead, their fanes defiled by their killer’s horrible zealotry. Even now Baba Zelenna could feel the strange void once occupied by the dark power flowing from the wilderness fanes.
Even worse, the void was starting to change, a slow trickle of positive energy seeping out from under the black tar of darkness that once fuelled her power and desire. And now, gods curse it, she was beginning to have doubts, as if the very shoud of darkness that covered this godsforsaken hamlet was threatening to peel away.
Yes, these last few weeks had been fraying her nerves like a cat with a lute. Well not after tonight. After years of preperation, Baba Zelenna was finally ready to make her play, and give that festering, arrogant bloodsucker a run for his money. And after that…
Oh yes. Tonight, under the new moon, Chernovog would arise from the deepest pit of Hell and lay waste to this pathetic little patch of dirt and the useless cattle that populated it. And now, as Baba Zelenna and her coven took their positions within the ruined stones of Ecaterina’s once-holy tower, she could almost taste the anticipation.
Baba Zelenna took her position in the sacred star formed by her witches and joined her dark power with theirs, focussing it in the unearthly green fire that grew in the centre of the star. Out of the corner of her eye, she could just make out the shadowy form of Chernovog’s prime material aspect. Although her dark lord was still physically bound to his home plane, the very presence of his ghostly aspect was powerful enough to inspire fear and awe Zelenna’s dark heart.
The fire roared as the coven chanted in unison, the green flames even now growing higher and higher as they channeled the Green God’s dark energy. Chernovog’s own aspect seemed to pulse with power, his viciously clawed limbs flexing with barely contained impatience.
Baba Zelenna’s head snapped around at the sound of breaking branches. In the shadowy scrub beyond the ruins she saw a mighty brown bear standing above the bushes. As she watched, the bear grew larger, its enormous bulk looming like a giant.
The bear roared, the deafaning sound reverberating through the tower’s stones, and hurled a glowing rock right into the middle of the coven. Baba Zelenna had just enough presence of mind to turn herself invisible and duck behind a block before the stone landed.
Then all hell broke loose.
A pack of adventurers appeared out of nowhere, barreling down on her coven with their swords and scorcery and sending her witches scrambling to react. Everywhere Baba Zelenna looked, there was blood and chaos – a meddling elven cleric bristling with swords, an abnormally huge half-orc who roared with delight as he cleaved through her witches, a shadowy figure at the back peppering them with arrows, and in the middle of it all, an obscenely large bear wading through her sacred cicle and pawing ferociously at Chernovog’s infuriated aspect.
A tall figure, his armour shining in the light of the damned glowing rock, caught her eye. Although blood and screams filled the air, Zelenna had no trouble picking out the golden-haired, chiselled festures of a paladin. But it was what was on his armour that caught her eye.
No! she screamed in her mind as she caught a glimpse of the familiar raven insignia. It can’t be – they’re all dead! The paladin shouldered his bow and drew a sword that glowed blue with holy power. Baba Zelenna reeled in shock as she recognised the mighty weapon, long thought lost forever. By the Dark One, the Knight of the Raven – he has the Sun Sword, just as was foretold! Then that means…
She scanned the rest of the adventurers as they cleaved though her witches and saw – yes there! – the cleric bearing the Amulet of Ravenkind. And although the firey jewel at its centre was still inert, the fact that they had both the amulet and the sword meant it was only a matter of time before they were activated.
Her attention was drawn back to Chernovog’s aspect, who was raking fiendishly at the half-orc and his giant pet bear. Even as the Green God fought his aggressors, he was yet able to turn his gaze upon her, his furious thoughts pounding mercilessly at her head.
Fool mortal! Your failure will cost you dearly – I will see you again, in hell! With a roar, the god’s aspect shimmered and faded under the onslaught, taking with it the dark energy that fuelled the mighty green bonfire.
As the putrid light faded, Zelenna became aware of another presence behind her. Turning her gaze, she percieved a thin human, seemingly invisible at the rear of the ruins. He was busily incanting abjurative magic, stripping her remaining witches of their powers. A dark cloud passed across Baba Zelenna’s horrible – although invisible – countenance.
Little mageling, if you think your pitiful spells will hide you from me, you are mistaken, she thought. You will be the first to taste my wrath!
Scurrying over to the wizard, she reached out a withered arm, breaking her invisibility and revealing her disguised face.
“Help meee,” she croaked out in her best helpless old crone voice as her fingers brushed his arm.
The mage looked surprised, but only long enough for him to realise that this person’s touch had sapped his strength.
He groaned and sagged under the sudden weight of his burden. “That,” he wheezed, “was the worse… bluff… I’ve seen yet…” He looked up and grinned at his attacker. “Behind you…”
Baba Zelenna frowned – this wasn’t the reaction she’d expected. It was then she became aware of heavy footsteps behind her.
She turned slowly. Silhouetted in the light of the glowing rock was the bulk of a seventy-foot tall bear. Baba Zelenna’s face dropped, just as the bear roared and pulled her into a powerful grab. She tried to wrestle her way out of the bear’s hairy grasp, to no avail – it simply growled, the deep rumblings reverberating through the hag’s body, and held tighter.
“Good work, Grul,” said a voice to her side. Turning, she just made out the shining, arrogant figure of the Knight. There was a blue flash as he levelled his sword, his face a mask of grim determination. “Let us finish this.”
As the Sun Sword lanced through her flesh, a thousand curses bubbled in Baba Zelenna’s pain-addled mind. She opened her mouth to scream her agony, releasing a gout of blood and bile. Her vision began to get hazy and unfocused and all she could make out was the enormous arms encircling her and the symbol of the raven dancing in front of her.
The last, tiny part of her mind that still functioned seemed to float, disconnected, from her body’s gory demise. So this is how it ends, she mused.
Time seemed to slow, and the red-soaked world before her faded. The last thing she saw was the hulking from of the bear’s keeper, lost in a bloody rage as he bore down on her crippled form, his greataxe held high. And then, the once-powerful green hag Baba Zelenna died.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
But not release.
The darkness that enveloped her swirled and started to dissapate, revealing patches of light.
Firelight. Green firelight.
A rasping chuckle and a voice that pounded mercilessly. Now you are mine, Baba Zelenna.