The wind moaned softly between the black, hulking trees as Danica Grey padded silently down the forest path. She was thoroughly lost, and pissed off about it; she was smarter than this. Her map was so useless that she might have wandered off one of its edges by now and not known it. What irony. Hunendora Castle might have been a myth, but the site where it was supposed to be was well marked, and she couldn't understand how she'd managed to lose her way. Even a finding-charm had done nothing but lead her to this path, which she now followed because she had no other options before her.
She was tallish and slim, with almost colorless skin, slightly sunken eyes and flat black hair cut to her shoulders. She wore heavy trousers, boots, a turtleneck and a broad black shawl of wool that wrapped around her several times. Her pack was slung across her back, stuffed full of books, writing tools, occult knicknacks and two changes of clothes.
She was hungry and cold and growing tired of walking. Hunendora, like all the other legendary ruins she had visited in her trip to the Carpathians, was a dusty promise of hidden knowledge unearthed. She had already found two books of sorcerous lore, written in Old Slavonic and bound in human skin, under a flagstone in a Romanian church. There had to be more around here...and she wasn't leaving without it. All the old Kolduns and Kolunias were dead, wiped out first by Christendom and then by Communism. Only by the grace of her grandmother's senile ramblings had Danica learned about her heritage at twelve and been able to start pursuing it. She begged, earned or stole as much magical knowledge as she could get her hands on, finding her hunger for said knowledge just as potent as her hunger for power.
But the path of a magician is a solitary one, and there were no nobles anymore--here, in the States or in general--to extend patronage and keep her from becoming an outcast among her own kind. She had lost her family; she had no friends; eventually her sense of isolation in a crowd had driven her from her birth country entirely. She had come here in search of pieces of the heritage that was all she had left. And now? She seemed quite ready to die of exposure in the middle of the damned woods.
She came to a stop at a crossroads and looked each way, seeing only arrow-straight path in four directions, and the forest lining it like giants at attention. Sighing, she unshouldered her pack and set it down. The crossroads didn't help her much, but it gave her the opportunity to do something she'd meant to since entering a true wilderness for the first time since her trip started.
She found the exact center of the crossroads and knelt down there, drawing out one of the knives on her belt. Slicing her palm open delicately, she poked a finger into the dark, rich soil earth and dripped blood into it as she incanted in a language that hadn't been spoken in this area for over five centuries.
"Hail to the land and the Lord of the land; hail to my ancestors who sleep beneath its soil. May wind and wolf spare me their bite; may the black earth lend strength to a daughter returned."
The wind went quiet for a moment, and then rose to a shriek; it whirled all around the crossroads, but the air closest to Danica was still. Something stirred in the dirt; she looked down and saw bones pushing up to the surface. A skull broke through, followed by neck vertebrae and then a rattling forepaw. It looked like a cat skeleton.
The thing dragged itself from the dirt, shook itself off, and looked up at her with empty eye sockets. It trotted away down one of the forks in the road, then looked back at her over its bony shoulder.
Danica actually smiled. "Now that looks like something resembling progress."
She got up, sheathed her knife and grabbed her bag, starting after the bone-cat without batting an eye.