The platform stretched as far across as a galleon. Framed underneath with wooden slats, the floor they crossed onto was grass. Green, luscious grass. It struck a frightening contrast to the sky. No longer cloudy or spitting queer colored rain, now there was a dense humidity and by all appearances they’d left the earth behind altogether. A finite red surrounded them. Like they’d climbed into sea foam. They couldn't tell where the bubble ended, and the world returned.
The Baba Yaga's infamous cabin hopped on a single chicken leg as strong and tall as any mainmast. It had a veranda of its own, and a staircase with hoofs that chased the cabin around the lawn. Whenever the chicken stood still and tipped backwards to munch grass with its rear end, the stairs galloped over to offer entry. Moments later the house squawked from no discernible mouth and ran away. The hooved stairs settled with a sigh of exhaustion and followed.
Buttons watched this routine twice and fell over laughing.
“Stand up,” Silvia said. Then she saw Theo chuckling. The more enterprising of the two pirates wasn’t one for extreme shows of emotion, but he chortled hard. Silvia flapped her soggy arms in disgust. Then she allowed herself a quick snicker. It was a sight.
“The last one angered Lucifer. They’re a trial to train.”
“Oh shit!” Buttons rolled over in the grass twice and leapt to his feet, fiddling with his knives. Theo did his best to disguise his shock at the Baba Yaga’s appearance over their shoulders. Silvia had seen her and kept it to herself.
“Do you mean the house or the stairs?” Silvia said.
“Don’t be clever,” the Baba Yaga snapped and her tongue rolled out a foot from her face and snapped with every vowel. Silvia winced when the leathered bird-skin tongue scratch her cheeks. Her cheeks and lips wrinkled.
“Now. Let us progress.” The Baba Yaga cartwheeled to the house. Her ragged brown cotton skirts showed maggots oozing from her legs. The cabin stopped feeding and knelt on its claws, tipped sideways. The Baba Yaga turned and beckoned the adventurers with a single knobby finger. “Come. We’ll discuss the truth.” She walked into her home though the door was parallel to the lawn.
Silvia took off her shoes. She felt the grass blades soft and soothing against the soles of her feet. She probed outwards with her will. The soil felt wrong but she couldn’t put her finger, or toe, on it. Silvia reached into it and pulled forth more strength than should have been. A serenity overcame her. She walked towards the house.
She’d found the pirates in Fells Point, a Baltimore port. They’d let their quest to kill the sea serpent spread wide. Seeing their joined purpose, she approached them with her plan; to win the Sword that Knows from the Baba Yaga, along with a phoenix feather. She informed them that the window for success was small. The sea serpent fed in the Mediterranean for four years, a time frame which ended in a week. Then it traveled south to the Cape of Good Hope and mated with a Humpback whale. Lust satiated, the sea serpent descended to the bottom of the ocean for a hundred years. The mating season began by the time they reached the Baba Yaga’s island retreat in the Caribbean.
The only way Silvia won the trust of the two pirates was a display of her power. Aside from her Augurist capabilities and her extensive knowledge of the bestiary, she had a talent for growth. She sprouted a sunflower from Buttons’s boot. She promised this was only a start. It was time to prove herself.
Theo, who’d reloaded his pistol while the Baba Yaga displayed her gymnastics, held it in his left hand and his cutlass in his right. He followed Silvia, with Buttons trailing. What was next, the pirates thought.
The house sprung arms. Six clockwork limbs cranked out. Steam hissed out of the chimney. Blades and scissors extended from wood that whirred on unseen cogs. Along the limbs were translucent tubes. Tiny fish swam the tubes like a vicious, living blood. The house crowed with a rooster's bray and advanced on the adventurers one hop at a time.
Silvia didn’t let the pirates see her hesitation. A lump grew in her throat as architecture threatened her life. She took two more steps, getting lower to the ground with each one until she knelt and thrust her fingers into the grass. Silvia activated the growth. Out of the ground sprung three saplings. They surrounded the house, growing ten feet in an instant. Silvia flashed her teeth. On the ground, drawing from the planet, she could have summoned a single willow. The boundless energy of this place filled her, and those saplings grew further with every moment. Was that why the Baba Yaga ignored her? Did she fear another Augurist in her realm? No, that couldn’t be it.
The arms of the house hacked at the growing willows, chopping them as they grew. Silvia could tell that her efforts were a distraction. She refocused her energy. Instead of trying to box the house in, she shot bolts of energy into the soil. The trees grew and then, once the shock of energy faded, they’d die of their own accord. The house didn’t know and met each sapling with total fury.
“I can’t do this forever,” Silvia said. She didn’t look back at the pirates’ shocked expressions. Theo thanked his stars they brought the harpy. He charged. Buttons followed, drawing twin long daggers. He fell behind but made up for it with bellows of rage.
“Mast, madam,” Theo shouted. Silvia understood and angled a blast of focus just in front of the house. She let the influence simmer in her palm, slowing the onslaught to gather enough energy for an effective shot. The house bounded forward. Theo gritted his teeth but kept on loping forward. He flipped his weapons underhand, so they hooked.
Silvia released the bolt. A sapling sprung tall and true. As it shot up, Theo leapt and hooked the barrel of his pistol and blade of his cutlass around branches as they propelled him upwards. The pumping arms and blades of the house hacked at the willow. The chimney snorted a frustrated cloud of steam. In seconds, the tree splintered.
Theo kicked off the falling “mast,” shouted “Timber!” He landed on the shingled roof of the house, slipping before he found his feet. He danced across slate to the chimney and held fast.
The house bucked. It hopped and shook. The chimney spat flame, not steam, and the house screamed. Theo gripped clay bricks. He hugged the chimney close. This part wasn’t going as planned. If the house kept this up, he’d fly off and might even hit that red bubble out there surrounding them.
Buttons wasn’t sure how to help. Acrobatics were not his forte. Five out of six arms kept up their assault on the saplings. The house kicked and leapt to free itself of Theo. One arm tracked Buttons’s every step. It had a hedge trimmer for fingers. It reached and snipped Buttons. He stayed out of reach but dodged saplings as much as the trimmer. A willow caught him in the crotch and he toppled. He veered from the trimmer, cursing the harpy's hide.
“What the hell do I do?” The hedge trimmer got close, and he stabbed. He hit the tube through which flowed those big-lipped fish. He didn’t puncture the tube, but he put a dent in it. The house recoiled, giving Buttons an idea. “Theo, kill the fish!”
“Understood.” Theo was losing his grip. He caught sight of a lazy arm that wasn’t hacking as fast as the others. The next time the house bucked, he let the momentum throw him. Theo caught the lazy arm, with a spinning toothed blade at the end on a spindle. He held on with the crook of his right arm, his hand still grasping his cutlass. Theo kicked and swung his lower half to hold onto the arm with his legs. The cogs bit into his muscles but this gave him autonomy with his arms. He crossed his heels and hung upside-down. “Stairs.”
Buttons took his meaning and took off towards the hooved stairs.
Throughout the battle, the staircase had been laughing at them. It whinnied and danced outside Silvia’s growing and dying forest. Buttons hadn’t seen it’s horsehair tail. He stuck one dagger in his belt, dropped the other, and dove for the long tail. He snagged it and wrapped a tuft of hair around his wrist.
Silvia was running out of steam. She drew most of the energy she needed from the ground, but she supplied the focus. The snake-pigeon bites, so light as to have scabbed, sprung open anew. She felt blood pouring from a dozen holes. “Finish it, gentlemen,” she said. A dozen willows and she’d be collapse.
As loud as the cranks and steam of the house were, they weren’t black powder. Theo shot the tube, and the echo reverberated off the bubble. The tube opened and fishes fell to the grass, swimming upwards as they dropped as if to climb back. The chimney yelped, and the arm swung. Theo released with his legs, tumbling onto another arm. He’d ditched his pistol as soon as he fired leaving him a free hand. He gave up any semblance of panache and chopped at the newest tube as he would lumber. It took four cuts before the house’s vein popped open and more fishes poured out.
The remaining four arms zoned in on Theo. He dropped to the ground. The trees had stopped altogether. Theo had a thought. As the other arms got close, he tucked his chin and rolled, taking a gamble they wouldn’t redirect to catch him. He came up underneath the house, next to the singular chicken leg.
Rather than attack the only animal limb, he petted it. Stroked the leathery chicken skin. The arms, disconnected from the leg, stretched underneath but couldn’t reach Theo. He hummed a shanty to the leg, stroking, petting. The chimney purred. The chicken knee bent, and the house settled. Theo saw the floor of the house descending. He kept on petting and humming. With his spare hand, he pulled a cigarette from amongst his dreads. Then a match. Then a small, sticky ball of resin. He lit the smoke first and then held the match to the resin. The floor got closer and closer as the knee bent. The resin sparked.
Theo threw the ball, only as wide around as his thumb, up at the floor. It stuck. It was the pirate’s turn to exert his will. Goblin Ray Rocks have many properties, and they work best when a good goblin boy taps into their heat. This was the skill that made him the youngest helmsman in all the seven seas. The resin blasted and blew out the cabin floor. Theo pulled on the chicken knee and climbed into the Baba Yaga’s house.