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The High Council of the Archivists officially discourages telling pre-Zenyecroat myths from the Heroic Era. Still, this ancient tale has always lived on in the Athenaeum through tavern ballads and bedtime stories for restless children. The following version was translated into Mundane for the Scholasta's records one hundred and twelve years ago in 8 EM.
The Great Zmey blocked out the skies as prophesized. His wings chopped hurricanes, breath from his three heads casting a pall that would keep Etherea in a frost for a thousand thousand years. All the land was beneath the shadow of the left head Svetovit. The icicles from his scales fell to impale temples and palaces. The right head Svarok suckled on the sun, draining the light of Dema into the hearth within the sky lizard’s chest. And the middle head, Szud, older-than-old, used his great bass voice to mock the Archivists at all hours. How small were their cities! How empty their empire. Svetovit, Svarok, and Szud would chill Dema until the Archivists abandoned their quest to unlock the secrets of Time.
Elder Perunir was getting sick of the end of the world. If it was going to happen, it ought to happen fast, before his children were as old as him. He was in rough shape for a hundred and twenty. Only meditation helped. Perunir had already made his peace with The Great Sleep that would one day greet him. But none could slumber through the coming of the Zmey.
“Why! Why? What a racket! Do we have to do this every decade now?” said Perunir to his neighbor Domovoy, an even older Archivist with bad eyes and worse knees. “It was never like this when I was a child. Damned prophecies. They get you coming and going.”
Dom said, “We must find Glowing Indrika, Queen of Animals, and ask her to send the Zmey back to the Isle of Rujanyi, beyond the Walls at the End of the World.”
With popping joints and aching backs, they took their canes and descended into the woods to see Yaga the Crone, who lived alone in a cabin shrouded in shadows that even the leshies shied from in fear. “Only young men have time for fear!” urged Perunir to Dom as they sat in front of Yaga’s bubbling cauldron. “Tell us, crone, where roams Indrika in these frigid hours?”
Yaga informed the elderly travelers that Queen Indrika had set off on a quest to banish the Zmey. She’d use an Eldertech gauntlet that could make anything it touched lighter than air.
The only problem was, Indrika had forgotten to pick up the gauntlet from Yaga. Would the gentlemen be so kind as to deliver the gauntlet to the Queen? She could not have gotten far on her trek to the World Tree, where the Zmey’s tail was wrapped around the trunk for all to see.
“Ada, shas! Walk all the way to the – oh, you’re serious. Oy.” Perunir shrugged at Dom. Who else could do it but them? Not the lazy young.
So they schlepped off in pursuit, hips creaking, waist high in the snow drifts, past dead evergreens and across the frozen Midnight Sea, each wave a cliff of ice, a forsaken trip in the cold grip of darkness and the never-ending blizzard. Dom groaned, “I should have brought a jacket.”
At last they arrived, coming across Indrika praying beneath the swaying purple branches of the World Tree. Her fur dress was torn, her antlers shorn on the trunk where she’d tried to untie the Zmey’s winding tail. The Queen of Animals had been waiting patiently for two heroes to help her finish this quest. She said, “Oh brave allies, I-“
“Out of the way, Queen!” cried Perunir, hobbling up to the tree with the humming, glowing, shining, whining Eldertech gauntlet. “We must do this fast so I may go to the bathroom!”
Perunir unwound the Zmey’s great tail hand over hand, its mountainous mass made no heavier than the shadows its owner cast. The three great heads Svetovit, Svarok, and Szud stopped as one and turned to their tail. Szud boomed, “What Puny Mortal Dares To Disturb-“
“Yeah, yeah!” Perunir gripped the tail and tipped the Zmey head over head over head, hurling the sky lizard over The Walls At the End of the World. The horizon brightened as the sun shone again. Cheers broke out across Dema – and as Perunir hobbled behind the World Tree to take care of his other business, Queen Indrika spoke to Dom about the prophecy finally fulfilled.
The one true hero who lifted the thousand-year chill was sworn to meditate in vigil for the rest of time beneath the World Tree, ever on guard in case the Great Zmey returned.
“He will not like that.” said Dom.
Perunir did not like that. Showing no joy, his last words before entering the chamber inside the World Tree’s trunk were, “Damned prophecies. They get you coming and going.”
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