Baba Yaga & Her Fledglings

Eagles bring her tidings from the four corners of all nine worlds, ravens harry & peck at any who trespass in her clearing, her hut roams the taiga on chicken legs, but it still somehow comes as a surprise to people when they encounter Baba Yaga’s bird maidens.

‘Baba Yaga and maiden birds’ by Ivan Bilibin (1902).

Conventional wisdom has it that they’re what becomes of impertinent girls who fail to show Grandma Witch the respect she deserves. Those who know better know that some are escapees from brutal spouses or cruel families who prefer a life of semi-shape-changing as the enforcers, musical chorus & heralds of the Crone.

The Cruel Tutelage of the Gnarled Sifu

Those who have sworn an oath to exact vengeance even at the cost of their own souls may find their way to the Gnarled Sifu.

It stands at the edge of a forgotten burying ground surrounded by the tangled forest beyond an almost depopulated village. On certain days in the depth of winter when freezing fog fills the air & settles in the branches, a black mu ren zhuang (also known as a mook jong) appears beneath the Sifu’s lowest-hanging branch. Techniques practiced on this mu ren zhuang become increasingly lethal over time. Train on it long enough & your strikes become poisonous, curdling the qi of anyone struck by them.

There are those who say that you don’t even have to have any kung fu before you come to the Sifu. It’s more than happy to teach you, new & ever more vicious techniques simply entering your mind as you practice.

Of course your qi has been equally contaminated by your unholy training. If you’re lucky, on death you’ll be able to purge your self-inflicted curse by spending a few decades in Hell. If not, there’s no amount of good feng shui that can keep you from rising as one of the dreaded Jiangshi (or hopping vampire).

An Alpine Bard

That smile looks like he’s working on a plan to fiddle his way into yonder castle.

From the source:

A Gheg Albanian man from Malësia plays a Lahuta (Gusle)

Traditional instruments of the area often accompany Albanian folksinging and folk dancing. The most common is the flute, but bagpipes and drums are also heard at many informal gatherings. One instrument, the lahuta (LAII-hoo-tah), is a stringed instrument much like the lute that was common in northern Europe during the Renaissance. It is one of the oldest instruments still in use in Europe.