Nik

May. 2nd, 2011 11:01 am
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[personal profile] escere
I can't remeber what I titled this. Too lazy to go look it up. Some line stolen from Hero by Ministry of Magic. Prompt: Write a story where you have to so same a damsel or you are the damsel being saved.
I find male heroes to be over rated. This is only two parts of a three part story. Not done yet. Soooo long.


A simple rustle was all that was needed to awake Nik out of dozing. Not that the hero was asleep; the potion was to powerful to allow that. Nik was just think about odd things, the things that usually came to mind when one was forced to sit in a bush for several hours, waiting for a damn bird to show up. From the sounds of it, the bird was there. Nik peered out from the bushes to see the prey. The bird sitting there, eating berries was as magnificent as had been explained to Nik. It would impress any normal person, though the hero had seen many such creatures other quests. Nik set up the trap, pulled a few strings and the net neatly wrapped up the bird.
At this point Nik escaped the confines of the bushes to admire the prize. The bird’s body was slightly smaller than an ostrich. It was probably some where between the size of a golden eagle and said bird, though built much more like a songbird or a peacock. It had a rather small body compared to its wings and a tail about twice the length as the body. The feathers on the bird were all sorts of colors from ruby red to bright yellow, which gave the effect that the bird was on fire. Nik knew not to be surprised; it was common knowledge that firebirds could only live on rare fruits, but the animal was a magnificent one.
“Now, how am I going to get you back to the tsar?” Nik muttered while watching he firebird.
The firebird looked at him disdainfully. Nik ignored the look at went back to plotting. The plans in mind had been set up for a bird much smaller then this, and while birds were much lighter then their appearance betrayed, Nik wasn’t prepared to have a huge bird fighting all the way back to the kingdom. Personally, Nik enjoyed having eyes and no gaping holes. The best idea was to treat the firebird like any hunting bird. Nik quick removed the jacket to use as a hood and crept close to the firebird to place it on the bird’s head.
“You’d better not being planning to put that on me.”



The musical-like voice startle Nik and with a quick glance around, Nik looked suspiciously at the bird. There had been a few talking animals Nik had come across on previous journeys but they were enough of exceptions that Nik tended to expect all animals to stay dumb regardless of how they looked. However, if the bird could speak, perhaps it could reason.
“How else am I supposed to take you back to the tsar?” Nik asked, putting the hood down.
“I would prefer not to go back to a palace and be locked up,” the bird said, “I have other places to go, in fact.”
Nik ground his teeth, “The tsar and I have a deal, you see, and I need to trade you for a horse.”
The bird snorted, which Nik had thought impossible until then. “A horse,” the firebird said, “I’m sure no horse could be worth me. Especially no horse that a simple tsar could own.”
Looking at the bird suspiciously, Nik replied, “Well, the tsar definitely has on of the best horses I’ve seen and he won’t take anything but you. I lost my last horse and I need another and I tend to go for the best.”
The bird looked at him, almost as if it was thinking. “I’ve seen the tsar’s horse and it is not best you could do, I’ve seen a much better horse and that one does not involve trading me to get it.”
“And where is this magical horse; east of the sun and west of the moon?” Nik asked sarcastically.
“Not so far away,” the bird replied with a grin, “Only in the nearest forest. I could show you if I was free.”
“If I free you, how do I know you wont fly away? It’s taken me weeks to catch you,” Nik said with careful eyes on the firebird.
“Is my word not good enough?” the firebird queried. Nik just looked at the bird with a raised eyebrow. The firebird gave in. “A feather,” the bird told Nik, and nothing more.
Taking the feather out that Nik already had, the hero looked at the bird questioning. The bird looked amused.
“If you had waved that around a bit before you had started your journey you could have saved yourself those few week,” the firebird said.
Nik froze as the mid processed this information. Then, understanding, Nik said, “It calls you, doesn’t it? I’ve come across things such as this before. Why would you tell me this?”
“It’s a deal. I’ll lead you to the horse for exchange for my feather returned. If I leave, you can wave that around.”
“And if I decide just to take you back to the tsar?”
The bird shrugged, “Then you settle for second best and I spend the rest of my life as a slave.”
Nik accepted that the bird had a good point. With the position of a hero, Nik did want the best because Nik didn’t want a horse to fail in a quest. That why Nik aways searched for a steed beyond what most knights went through. They tended to find one princess and marry her and live happily ever after. Nik had found many daughters of tsars, boyars, merchants, farmers, even princes, or children if needed; anyone who didn’t have a spouse or lover or family member who wouldn’t go out and search for them. That meant Nik needed a horse that would last, and Nik may have been a bit of a snob when it can to getting the best things. Nik also hadn’t spent so much time freeing chained princesses that the hero was going to trade a sentient being, even if it was for a really good horse.
“I’ll make you the deal,” Nik finally agreed. “you get me that horse, I’ll return the feather.”
Hoping that it wasn’t going to be a mistake, Nik freed the firebird from the net. The firebird took flight, gliding in the air before finally landing next to Nik.
Being rather impatient, Nik asked rather snidely, “Are you ready?”
The bird look down down its beak at Nik, ruffling its feathers, “As soon as you are.”
“Let’s go, then.”
The bird took flight again, making Nik and to run to gather all the equipment that had been prepared for the firebird’s capture. Nik couldn’t wait to have a horse again instead of having to run everywhere, especially after a crazed bird. The firebird recognized this and laughed as it flew further from Nik.
“Damn bird, get back here!” Nik called after it.
The firebird turned back, and in an instant it was at Nik’s side. “I wouldn’t prefer being called something other that ‘bird’,” the firebird informed him.
“It’s not like we were even properly introduce,” Nik shot back.
The bird rolled its eyes, “Who fault is that? I wasn’t the one trying to kidnap others.”
“Fine,” Nik bit back continuing the argument, “what would you like me to call you?”
The bird looked thoughtful for a moment, “Séraphine, I suppose. And you, human?”
“Nik’s fine,” Nik looked the bird over, realizing it was actually a she. It wasn’t Nik’s fault, really, most people didn’t think of birds in terms of gender. But looking back, the firebird definitely acted like a female.
The firebird looked at Nik as if she knew every secret, “Nik it is.”
“So, Séraphine, do you think you could keep a pace that a lowly human could keep up with?”
“I could try,” the bird took off away, forcing Nik to hurry to keep up with her.
Even at that pace, the journey took the rest of the day. Nik was in pretty good shape from past adventuring to keep a constant pace and they had started early in the day, but the forest was so far away that it took until dusk to reach it. The trees began to grow closer together as the forest thickened, and Nik was amazed to see Séraphine begin to puff up her feathers. She followed through with her end of the deal and lead Nik through the trees, despite no sign of a path. As they went deeper into the forest, Nik began to see something through the trees. As Nik’s eyes focused on the light, Nik suddenly stop short and swore.
“Baba Yaga?” Nik turned t the firebird, “You didn’t think that was worth mentioning?”
The firebird shrugged, “I had hoped it would take you longer to figure it out. Most heroes aren’t well-verse in, well anything, actually. What gave it away?”
“The damn chicken legs,” Nik motioned to the house, which was in fact, on chicken legs. For someone whose best survival rate was to know as much about what might be deadly, it was a good give away. “So was your goal to trick me here and have Baba Yaga take care of me?”
“No, I do plan to help you,” Séraphine said, “though if you get killed, it will be no fault of my own. You did say you wanted the best.”
The hero was annoyed enough to ignore the fault she was blaming on Nik. “Alright,” Nik growled, “What do you expect me to do?”
“The beginning’s rather simple,” she told him, “You just go up to the hut and knock. When Baba Yaga answers, you offer to work for her in exchange for the horse.”
“Then?” Nik questioned.
“You work.”
Nik could already see some gaping wholes in this plan, but one didn’t become a hero because they played it safe. Despite the possible death, despite Séraphine not telling the whole plan, Nik had decided to try it. After all, they had already come all that way and Nik had gotten out of bad situations before. The only thing that bothered Nik was that knowing look that graced Séraphine’s face once more. She was starting to be bothersome. Hopefully, once Nik got the horse, she would be no longer needed.
Nik sorted out the adventure pack, keeping only the most essential things on Nik’s person. Nik went farther back in the woods and hide the rest of the items in a place that they couldn’t be destroyed and that could be later found, if Nik had to make a run and leave everything behind for a bit. Once Nik was satisfied that everything was safe, the hero turned back and headed to what most storytellers in the country knew as certain death. True, Baba Yaga wasn’t always the villain in stories but neither was she good. She had rather uncertain moods for an old witch, which didn’t create the safest place for a hero to wander into.
“I would help you,” the firebird spoke with not a care in the world, “but Baba Yaga’s not too fond of other women. Especially ones powerful in their own right. Perhaps she views them as a threat. She’ll take the shy ones in, the ones who don’t have any self-confidence, but they have to leave before they grow bold.”
Looking at her retreating form over the shoulder, Nik said neutrally, “And what does that matter to me?”
Séraphine smiled, “Absolutely nothing. And don’t ask questions. It’s better that way.”
Without replying this time, Nik pushed through the thick forest, heading towards the hut of chicken legs, trying to ignore the overwhelming feeling of doom. The area around the house was cleared to a misshapen circle. The hut was off to one side of the clearing, joined by some woodpiles, hay stacks, a stable along with miscellaneous piles. Nik picked a path through the overgrown grass to the hut and just as the hero was about to knock, the door flew open.
An old hag looked down at Nik from the steps up to her house. Her beady eyes looked Nik over, her expression unreadable. Finally, she spoke.
“What are you here for?” Baby Yaga broke the silence.
Politely removing the hat, Nik said, “I would like to barter for one of your horses.”
This caused another period of silence as Nik awaited Baba Yaga’s judgement. At last, the old woman motioned at him and said, “Come in, then.”
She led Nik into the hut, turning around once they were far enough inside that the hero was standing in the doorway. “And close the door behind you!” Baba Yaga snapped. Nik did as she said and Baba Yaga went to the fireplace, where there was a cauldron sitting on the fire. As she stirred it, Nik took the opportunity to look around. The room was larger then the outside portrayed. There were doors leading off to other rooms. The kitchen was stuffed with pots and pans, and bits of food. Squeezed in the middle was a small table with what looked like preparation for he meal that Baba Yaga was now stirring. On only bit of space in the room was the cleared area around the hearth. Nik’s gaze led there, noticing Baba Yaga’s eyes upon the hero.
“I’ll give you the horse,” she spoke at last, “but you must work for me for three days. If you don’t complete the tasks I set for you...” Baba Yaga cackled, “well, you won’t have to worry about not having a horse.”
“Agreed,” Nik said, thinking it couldn’t be that hard. Though from the gleeful look that Baba Yaga was now giving the hero, that could be wrong.
“It’s too late to start to start to-night,” Baba Yaga said, “you can sleep in the stable. And don’t expect be to feed you. I don’t feed any stay that shows up on my doorstep.”
Nik nodded, wondering if that wasn’t for the best. One of the rumors was that Baba Yaga made soup of her victims and Nik wasn’t partial to the idea of sleeping anyway near her.
“I’ll just be letting my myself out,” Nik told the hag and left her laughing at the hero’s retreating form. Nik was already regretting the promise of three days spent with the old witch.
Nik stepped into darkness well leaving the hut. The sun had finished setting, but the moon had risen enough for Nik to be able to find a way to the stables. Luckily, it was unlocked. The hero could image Baba Yaga keeping to locked just to spite others.
It was too dark in the stable for Nik to look around. With the day that the hero had just had, Nik knew the best thing was to sleep. After devouring a light supper from the bag Nik had, the hero folded the heavy beaded coat Nik had been wearing as a pillow and. With a gulp of a potion to cancel out the one Nik had taken the day before, and fell fast asleep.

Nik was draw out of sleep with a sharp kick from Baba Yage. Normally, Nik never slept so deeply, but staying up for two days straight had that effect. Sadly, the hag was not impressed.
“Are you planning to sleep the day away or fulfill your end of the bargain?” she rasped as Nik.
“I’m up,” Nik groaned, regretting previous decisions. The hero grabbed the coat from the ground, and the hat from the floor, scamping after Baba Yaga as she exited the stable. The hero was still tying the coat around the waist as Nik left the stable and walked into the light of the rising sun. Baba Yaga led Nik to a large pile of rice in he middle of the clearing.
“This is your task for the day,” Baba Yaga said, not clearing up anything, “I spilled some pebbles among the rice and I need you to separate the two so that I can have rice for dinner. If you don’t, you’ll be the addition to the pot.”
“I’ll get it done,” Nik replied, feeling a sense of hopelessness. Baba Yaga could probably sense this for she jeered at Nik, who couldn’t look away from her missing teeth. As she left, Nik settled down to start separating the two. While the hero felt no hope in achieving the task, Nik wasn’t one for giving up.
That didn’t mean the sense of frustration wasn’t building up. It would have been worse if Baba Yaga had stayed around and gloated, but she seemed to have better things to do, for she headed off into the forest soon after assigning the tasl.
After Nik had sat among the barely growing piled of pebbles and rice as the sun rose in the sky. At the point that Nik was wondering whether hitting one’s head would achieve more, the firebird showed up.
“If would take you an eternity to separate those,” the firebird said, not particularly encouragingly.
“Since there’s no other choice,” Nik replied.
Séraphine let out a bell-like laugh, “You didn’t think I was going to spend you here and leave you alone?”
That was exactly what Nik expected since that was how it usually work. The firebird looked at Nik as if she couldn’t believe the hero would think that. She shook it off and continued, “Now get out of my way.”
Nik moved away from the three piles, annoyed at nothing to do. Trying to think of something to do in order to not feel so useless, Nik offered, “I’m going into the forest to get new supplies, then.”
“Fine,” Séraphine replied, “Just don’t take too long. Be sure to be back before Baba Yaga returns.”
Nik nodded, knowing that the trip had to be short. The hero headed into the forest, hoping to find something to hunt. Nik had a few weapons, most of them used to hunt. The hero carried a few knives and daggers, all short weapons. Nik also had a bow at some point, but if had gotten destroyed and the hero had yet to replace it. Nik didn’t even bother with a sword since they weren’t really need up north like they were in the west. The hero got by fine with small weapons.
When no animals appeared, not even the small ones that were in any forest, Nik expected it was due to the presence of the witch. The hero went as deep into the forest as Nik thought there was time for, but had to accept that there was nothing to hunt. Luckily, Nik was prepared for that. It was the correct season to find other types of food, such as berries on bushes and edible roots. There was even some mushrooms, though Nik normally ignored any fungus, there were a few types that the hero knew were safe. Due to the lack of other creatures eating these foods, there was food to gather in abundance. When Nik came across a stream, the hero made sure to fill up all the water sacks. Because of following the firebird, Nik’s supplies had been diminished. This was a good chance to remedy that. Nik was able to get as much food as the hero could pack away unusually quickly and headed back to Baba Yaga’s clearing before the sun had passed noon.
When Nik had returned to the clearing, Séraphine had finished sorting the rice. Not only that, but she had also found a sack to put the rice into.
“Thanks,” Nik barked out, not particularly good with gratitude it. It was hard for the hero to know when thanks were in order or how to show that.
The firebird smiled graciously, “I have to go now, I’m sure Baba Yaga will be back soon. I will return to-morrow to help you with the task you have then.”
“Yes,” Nik nodded, “I’ll see you then.”
The firebird took flight the left the clearing. Once she was gone, Nik poked at her handiwork to see how well she had done. There was not a pebble the hero could find the bag of rice and not a grain of rice outside of the bag. A bit impressed, Nik took the extra time to wander around the yard. It was pretty much how the hero had seen it the day before. There was enough that anyone could survive on their own. There was a stack of wood underneath a handing to protect in on the side of the house. Near the barn there where several hay bales and bags of feed for the horses. Nik now noticed a few things over looked before like a chicken coop behind the house and a small garden, and a cow that had probably already been put away the night before. While there were things about, the clearing was small and even that did not take long for Nik to explore. The hero also looked around the stable at the horses. They were all magnificent beasts, as the bird had promised. In fact, they would even made the tsar stare at them in jealousy. After Nik had explored as much as one could, the hero settled down near the bag of rice in order to protect it from any animals that might get curious. Nik enjoyed have a bit of peace to lazy in the sun and had almost hit that point of not-quite-awake-but not-dreaming when Baba Yaga arrived.
“Hmp, given up already?” the hag queried.
Nik jumped up and pointed at the rice bag, “No, I’ve just finished already.” The hero thought of minimizing the quest, but then thought better of antagonizing the witch.
Baba Yaga squinted at him then hobbled over to the sack of rice. She ran her hands through it, her frown deepening as she looked over the rice. “I suppose you did a good job,” she huffed, dragging the bag to her hut, “but if I find a single pebble in my supper...”
“You won’t,” Nik called after, hoping that was true. Assuming to-day’s job was over, Nik headed back to the stable. With more light to use, the hero set up a place to sleep more comfortable then the night before. Nik found an empty corner with some straw and beat it into submission so that it made a sort of bed. Despite not carrying too much supplies, Nik pulled out a thin bedroll that the hero always carried and put it on top of the hay. Untying the long coat from Nik’s waist, the hero once again used that as a pillow. Nik wasn’t too comfortable with unpacking most of the things, so the hero set up the items so that they were still packed away and close in case of emergency. Nik had awoke to fire, kolobok, a rusalka and even a zmey. After leaving stuff behind due to a quick exit, Nik now made sure to have everything ready to run. It was frustrating, but having to replace all the item’s Nik carried, especially since Nik didn’t go for the cheap stuff most heroes had; it was better to be prepared. And Nik liked the belongings.
Nik was more carful with sleeping for the hero was awake before Baba Yaga entered the stable. This apparently disappointed her, along with the perfect rice she had gotten for the old witch was in a foul mood.
“Time for you to earn your keep,” the women told the hero, who was already dressed and ready for the day. She led Nik once again into the clearing where she began the instructions.
“I need you to get me some raskovnik,” she told Nik. Baba Yaga grabbed a wide basket from the stairs to her hut and gave it to the hero. “Here, fill this up before the sun sets.”
“What does it look like?” Nik questioned.
The hag cackled, “I can’t do everything for you. Hurry up!” She gave Nik a push in the direction of the forest.
NIk had no choice but to head into the darkening wood. The hero headed a straight line, hoping that the firebird would keep true to her word. Luckily, after Nik had been out of sight from the hut for a while, the bird appeared.
“What has the old witch asked for you to-day?” Séraphine questioned.
Nik frowned, “She’s asked me to find some raskovnik with not clue or description but the name.”
“Ah,” the bird answered, “that would be a hard one for human to find. Luckily, you have me. Come, follow.”
The firebird then took off, leaving Nik to run after her fiery glow, cursing softly. The hero hadn’t headed off too far from the spot, but it still took them half the time until noon.
When Séraphine stopped, it was in a place like any other. “There,” she said, looking back at Nik.
Nik, of course, didn’t see anything but what they had been passing throughout the entire forest. “Where? What?” the hero spit grumpily.
Séraphine smiled gracefully, “It’s a bit hard for you mortals o see.” She pointed with her talon to a spot, “Look, it’s just over there.”
Nik squitted, but still didn’t see anything. The hero even tried walking around. The firebird sighed, “Don’t try to look at it directly. Look somewhere else and try to catch it out of the corner of you eye.”
Nik tried this. Then stared and it. Then looked at the spot in every way that it could for many moments and then suddenly it clicked. “I see it,” Nik said in amazement.
The firebird nodded and watched a Nik saw other bits of raskovnik around their spot. “It’s one of those odd things that you have to know how to see it before you finally can. Now hurry and fill Baba Yaga’s basket.”
Nik did has she said and started through the herb in the wide-rimmed basket. Though it was wide, the basket was also shallow so it didn’t take Nik as long as the hero had feared. When the basket was filled, the sun had passed noon and it was time to head back.
“Before you leave, I suggest you slip some of the herb into you jacket,” Séraphine advised. Nik didn’t see any use to have herbs, but it sounded like a good idea just in case, so the hero sliced off a few more bundles of the herb and stuck it in a pocket. Once that was done, Nik began the long trek back to the hut on chicken legs.
“Thanks again,” Nik grumbled to the firebird as she swooped next to him.
“Anytime,” the firebird politely returned, “or, at least until yo return my feather.”
“One more day,” Nik said wistfully.
Séraphine agreed, “Then you will have your horse and go back to adventure and I will go back to searching for exotic fruit.” Before they went any further, the bird stopped, “I should go so that Baba Yaga does not discover me helping you.”
“To-morrow then?”
“Of course,” Séraphine took flight and went in the opposite direction.
Nik continued to trek, all alone to face the hag. When the hero reached the clearing, Baba Yaga was there to greet him. She took one look at the basket on Nik’s arm and her eyes narrowed.
“I see you completed the task for today,” the witch sounded anything but pleased.
“Here are your herbs,” Nik presented the basket to Baba Yaga.
“I suppose this will do,” the witch snatched the basket from Nik, “I’ll give you your next task tomorrow.” She headed back into her hut, leave Nik alone int eh middle of the clearing.
The hero shrugged at the crazy old woman and went into the stable, gladdened that two of the three tasks were finished. Nik hated being in the same place for too long and the wanderlust was beginning once again. Tomorrow the hero would have a horse and be able to continue to the next quest. It was especially frustrating that Nik was doing all this for a horse. Not to save some princess from a zmey or from prince from his own stupidity but a damn horse so that Nik could continue normal work. Now Nik was beginning to whine.
Clearing the mind, the hero settled down the bed created yesterday. Nik looked att al the horses form that spot, wondering which one to chose on the morrow. That kept the mind from going to darker paths. Finally, Nik slept.

“Your task to-day is to watch my horses,” Baba Yaga told Nik after they had met in the clearing. I want them to be able to be exercised to-day and you’d better not lose a single one. Or let them get hurt!”
Nik nodded, despite not having any clue how to watch a herd of horse. Nik was used to having one horse at a time and that one was usually well behaved. But this was the last thing to do, so Nik agreed. The next step was to go into the stable and let all the horses out. The horses were glad of their escape and Nik looked in envy at the frolicking creatures. The hero herded out all the horses, noticing an ugly stallion creature Nik hadn’t see before. This horse, though not as small at a pony, was smaller then the other horses. It has a big head, thin legs, and a stocky body, giving a sense or being unproportional. Even it’s coloring was ugly. It was sort of a muddy grey-brown, with almost shaggy fur. Nik wondered why the hag would have a creature like that among all the beautiful horses, but expected it could be for labor around the hut.
With the stable door open, the horses flew into the forest, leaving Nik far behind. As the hero ran to catch up with them, Nik could heard Baba Yaga laughing as she was being left behind. But the firebird kept true to her work and was waiting for Nik a bit deeper into the forest.
“I’ll help keep them in check,” Séraphine told the hero as Nik reached her side.
“Good,” Nik panted, staring in dismay at the scattered animals.
The bird took flight and began coxing the horses back together. As she did this, Nik went though the horses, making sure they were all there and looking them over. Though Nik was also checkin for health, the hero was also seeing which one was the best choice to claim to the end of the day. Yet for some reason, Nik’s gaze kept going back to the small brown one. There was something about him.
With Séraphine’s help, Nik was able to keep the horses all in check through the day. Before the set began to set, Nik knew it was time to return.
“I guess it’s over then,” the hero told the bird.
“Perhaps it it,” Séraphine replied, “though you should be sure to leave as soon as you get the horse. Baba Yaga doesn’t like to be bested; if you stay, she may change her mind.”
Nik nodded seriously, “I plan to run as soon as I get that horse. I’ve already got all my things.”
“Some people would call that cowardly,” the firebird said lightly.
“Those people usually die the quickest,” Nik answered, “the clever ones know when to run.”
Séraphine smiled, “And now it’s time for me t go. I’l met you once you have your horse to reclaim my feather.”
“I’ll be ready to return it,” the hero said.
The firebird took flight and Nik led the mellowed horses back to the clearing. There Baba Yaga checked them over to make their their venture with Nik hadn’t hurt them.
“They’re all here and in perfect health,” the hag snapped, “with one do you want?”
Nik looked at the horses, undecided. In a pure reliance on instinct, Nik pointed to the small, almost pony-like horse. “That one,” Nik said.
The hero had thought that Baba Yaga’s look couldn’t get any blacker, but it did. With a look of pure hatred, the witch growled, “Fine! Take the damn horse! Get out of here before I change my mind.”
Fine with obeying that order, Nik led the small horse into the forest to retrieve the stuff the hero had hid earlier. Nik quickly tied the baggage to the horse, though perfect since the hero had a lot of practice with packing in moments. With that, Nik swung onto beast and galloped to the forests edge. After Nik had passed that barrier, the hero slowed the horse down to a trot.
It was here that Séraphine had caught up with Nik. She floated down next to him, and looked over the stallion.
“I see you got your horse,” the bird said, “good choice.”
Nik nodded and fished out her feather, “And for your help, I return you feather.”
The firebird grabbed the feather and tuck it away. “You’re not bad for a hero,” she admitted.
“You’re not bad for a flying bird on fire,” Nik returned.
“If you want to work together again..”
The hero nodded, “I suppose we could.
“Good,” Séraphine said, “I would give you a feather gain, but I fear that might get into the wrong hands. But I’m sure you could reach me somehow.”
“I would like to graciously thank you for your assistant on my journey,” Nik said automatically, words learned long ago, bowing as well as one could on a horse.
“Oh, and you may want to unlock the chain on your steed. Use the herb you kept.”
The firebird returned the bow then flew off for the last time. Nik watched her, stone face, the return to looking at road before the horse. The hero looked the horse over and sure enough, Baba Yaga had put some sort of glitter chains on the beast. Nik fished the raskovnik out of his pocket and held it near the lock. the chain kind of sizzled and slid off, disappearing. Having not clear what else to do, Nik shrugged and returned the herb to its pocket.
“I guess it’s time to continue,” Nik said to aloud.
“Where are we going.?” a deep voice said from in front.
Nik almost umped from the talking horse and swore, “What is it with talking animals?”
“I could keep silent,” the horse offered kindly.
The hero had to think for a moment, then sighed, “No, I couldn’t be that rude. Yo may speak if you so desire. I’m Nik. A hero, I suppose.”
“I’m Arkhip,” the horse replied.
“Ad you are?” Nik asked.
“An ala, perhaps, perhaps I’m Jarilo or one of Svetovid’s steed. Or maybe I’m just a talking horse.”
“Fine,” the hero answered.
The horse stopped to look back at Nik, “What, not curious? That’s a first.”
“I don’t really do curiosity,” Nik answered, “if people allow, I’m fine with learning secrets. But people aren’t meant to learn everything.”
Arkhip huffed as if he didn’t believe Nik. The hero ignored this and answered the steed’s earlier questioned, “Before I had to go on this damn side quest to get a horse, I was begged to find the daughter of a boyar. She was stolen away from her home and her father is fearful for what happened to her. I went to a seer and was given the location of Cherskiy. That’s supposed to be where she disappeared to.”
The horse stopped and began to look around, “The last I heard what that Koschei had taken over that place.”
Nik sighed, “Another villain pretending to be the Deathless? I was hoping to avoid those.”
“Shall we go else where?”
“No, continue,” Nik said, resigned.
The horse started going in another direction which Nik could hope was the direction of Cherskiy. “Keep in mind,” the horse warned, “that just because every second-rate villain claims that he’s the Deathless doesn’t mean that this one’s not dangerous.”
“Of course,” Nik scoffed, “it’s just a bit of cliché.”
Arkhip keep silent and instead began to pick of speed. Nik was amazed that the horse was going faster then any horse the hero had ever had and could keep the speed up over time. However, at that speed the two had to ride in silence, which wasn’t too bad since Nik was used to that.
When they stopped for the night, it was cold enough that Nik had to make a fire. As they had gone further north, the temperature had dropped making the air rather chilly. As Nik cozied up to the fire with the company of the hero’s own thoughts, Arkhip looked at Nik strangely.
“Aren’t you curious at all?” Arkhip ask.
Nik shrugged, “Not really. It’s you’re secret. I’ve found the worst things happen when people try to find out other’s secrets.”
The horse allowed silence as he thought. Suddenly, he said, “I once heard a poem. A rather interesting one.”
Nik turned around, wondering if Arkhip was talking about what the hero thought.
“The poem went,” Arkhip said, “ ‘Bluebeard did have seven wive, Curiosity was their sin, Six of the seven he did kill, But the seventh did him in.’ ”
“Is that damn poem still going around?” Nik asked, “ever since I talked to the western girls, everyone know it.”
“Those westerners are the worst gossips,” the horse allowed, “but that it you, right? The seventh wife?”
Nik removed her hat and ran her hands through her short hair, “I suppose I am, though my husband had many wives before me. Not just the seven those girls talk about and I never had a brother to save me. After havign to fight a few brothers, Shuten Dōji made sure his wives didn’t have anyone to come after him.”
“Shuten Dōji?” Arkhip looked impressed, “you’ll a long way from home.”
Nik nodded, “Which is why the western girls corrupted my story. My husband wasn’t a man with a blue beard, but a oni that took the shape of a man. It wasn’t his wives curiosity that doomed them, but his hunger. He set them up. The only thing that saved me was I’m not particularly curious. I never went looking in that last door. When he came to kill me, I fought back.”
“Why did you could here?”
“Have you ever bee to the far east? There’s some terrifying stuff. I tried the middle east, but their ideas of women weren’t any better then my original home. Some of the other female-heroes I’ve met love the west, but those quests are to reliant on fighting power.” Nik shrugged, “And I like it up here. These quests are about luck and cleverness. I like being clever. I got used to dress like a man in the east, but if people figure out my sex here, they’re more like to shrug and think ‘foreigner’ then stone me as they would in some of those other places.”
“And Nik?” her horse asked.
Nik shrugged, “It’s short of Nikita.”
“Not Ivan?”
She gave a half-smile, “I tried Ivan for a bit, but I got sick of playing the fool. Even Ilya’s better then him. I’ve gone through quite a few names, depending on my moods. I’m not sure which name I’ll pick next.”
“But why?” Arkhip wondered, “why not go home?”
Nik thought for a moment, “Why would I go home to a place were they sold me to a monster for a couple of coins? No one came to save me. Plus, I didn’t like the idea of other girls being in my position. There are a lot of other women like me, who never had a hero to save them. So we saved ourselves and decided we would be the ones to fight the monsters to save others whether they are male or female. We don’t meet each other often, but as proven by those damn western girls, we do meet up.”
“So that’s where their stories are coming from? The girls take your stories?”
“I’ve explained that it mean that more of those stories would pop up in their continues, but they laughed. I think they reason that the more stories they have and gentle, the easier it would be for them.” Nik shook her head, “And one of them was a mermaid. Can you believe that? Apparently she fell in love with a prince, who married someone else. Rather then give up, the girl decided to stay human and fight.”
“That makes sense, I suppose,” the horse finally said, “I’ve known a few heroes before I ended up with Baba Yaga. They were all about saving their girl or winning the kingdom, then would give up that life. You’re the first I’ve met to keep on doing it.”
The girl laughed, “I didn’t say I’m doing it totally out of the goodness of my heart. I do get paid by some of families. Plus, I can do whatever I want here. When I grew up it was all about dressing right or acting right and trying to marry well. I don’t have to do that here.”
“So it’s about freedom,” Arkhip supplied.
“I suppose it is,” Nik said, settling down for sleep. The silence lasted long enough for Nik to be lulled to sleep.
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