The air outside of the cavern shimmered. The vast shadow cast by the Crow seemed to disappear. A tall woman robed in a black, feathered cloak walked into the cave. She stopped at the edge of the runic wards, her face a mask of contempt. Long, midnight black feathers stood out on her head where hair should have been. Her smile was abundant in pointed fangs.
“I thought it might perhaps be easier to address me in a more relatable form,” Badb said. “You mortals have such fragile minds and it’s so easy to upset you.”
“Really nice of her,” Curian snarked in response. “Big, mean bird thought about our feelings.”
Badb continued, clearly not bothered. “My sisters and I serve a purpose far beyond your comprehension,” she said. “There are many more worlds than there are stars in the sky, and for every world there are far more people.”
Curian yawned loudly. “Yeah, this is the part where you tell us about how those people need to die for whatever reason, justifying you stuffing your ugly faces with souls,” she said. “I’ve fought monsters like you. I know the kind of twisted reasoning you use to justify your actions. You’re all the same.”
“Oh? Is that so, little world-traveler?” Badb replied, her voice suddenly bitter-cold.
The air in the cave wavered, a strange glamour suddenly present.
“Fiend, what trickery are you trying?” Sophia snapped.
Badb stepped back. “This is no magic of mine. I take my leave, but this is not the last you’ll see of me. Next time I will be far less kind.” She vanished from sight, the last signs of her presence was the sound of monstrous wings as she took flight.
There was a soft pop and faint sparkle to the air.
“That was unusual,” Sophia muttered. “Something must have set off the magic of the wards, perhaps.” She waited for a smart remark from Curian, which had become her default expectation.
“The realism of this haunted house is wild,” muttered an unexpected voice. “These spiders seem real. Really real. Too real, maybe. Oh, damn. They’re actual spiders.” Sophia glanced over slowly as whoever was next to her shook several large, confused spiders from her sleeve.
Sophia reached for the dagger at her belt, taking a step back.
Not-Curian looked around. She was shorter than Sophia, although only a little, with a shock of pink hair that practically glowed in the cave’s low light. Her armor did not look terrifically sturdy, Sophia noted.
“Witch! What have you done with my friend?” Sophia said, immediately cursing herself. Curian would have had some remark about the generous use of the word friend. “Traveling companion. What have you done with my traveling companion?”
“Uh, what did you do with me? And did you call me a witch? A real witch or just like an insult, because neither option is terrifically nice,” Not-Curian said.
“Just who are you, exactly?” Sophia demanded.
“Captain Isabelle Warpt of Spiral Reach Academy. Izzy to my friends. Jury’s out on you, person who calls people witch right when you meet them.”
Sophia blinked. “You didn’t use dark magics to imprison Curian and take her place?”
Izzy raised an eyebrow. “Is Curian your friend? Traveling companion? Either way, that’s a definite no. I wish I could do magic, but that’s some serious fairy tale stuff. Don’t suppose you have a name, huh?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I…It’s been a very trying day,” Sophia said. “Sophia. No nickname. May I call you Izzy or should I call you Captain Warpt?”
Izzy scratched her head. “You going to call me a witch again?”
“I suppose not, no, since it seems that was an error. My apologies,” Sophia replied.
“Izzy works, then,” Izzy said. “So where am I, exactly? Looks like I’m not in Kansas. Not that I was in Kansas.”
There was a sound from near the mouth of the cave. Izzy produced a shining, object and held it out in front of herself.
“What a curious crossbow,” Sophia commented, her eyes fixed on the mouth of the cave.
“Thanks,” Izzy replied. “It’s definitely not a crossbow. A crossbow would be more helpful about now, really. It’s a training plasma pistol. A broken one. I’ve never been too keen on hurting people.”
Steps outside of the cave grew closer.
“Me, neither,” Sophia said. She grabbed Izzy’s hand and pulled her behind a large, fallen portion of cave wall further behind the runic wards.
“Swear on me heart the runes spoke to me,” rasped a dry, hollow voice.
“That really the way you want to say that? That’s what you’re going with?” asked a second speaker. Shadows, despite the low light, crossed the cave’s threshold.
Izzy hazarded a glance around their cover and immediately fell backwards. “Oh crap, they’re skeletons,” she whispered. “Walking, talking skeletons. What the hell kind of Weirdsville is this?”
Sophia shrugged. “Evidently it’s not a Kansas,” she replied. “We’re currently traveling near the Rhimeghast Mountains, one of the major trading outposts for the Undead.”
Izzy held up a finger, her expression suddenly quite serious. “They’re real, live skeletons. Like, walking around with their skin missing. No insides or anything. Wait. How are they talking?”
“Same way we can hear you, I reckon,” replied one of the skeletons. “Clear as a bell.”
“Do come out and show yourselves, please,” said the other skeleton. “So as to not have to belabor the point, we can also see you despite not having physical eyes. Glad we could get that out of the way.”
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the heart comment from earlier, by the way,” the first skeleton said as Sophia and Izzy emerged. “We’ll be revisiting that when we’ve got a moment.”
Izzy raised a hand, smiling. “Now’s a moment. Why not discuss now?”
The skeletons hesitated as if considering Izzy’s suggestion.
“No, that can wait,” said the first skeleton. “First, though, we’ll need to take you to the Lady of Rhimeghast Castle. She’ll know what to do with you, you servants of the Morrigan.”