The Thorns of Winter -(updated 8/1/2023)

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
I'm looking forward to the next update - you do a particularly excellent job with your truly evil foes.

Johnathan
You know...I like hags as villans. But I still feel inadequate compared to a certain person's description of yugoloth society.
 

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Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Twisted Mirth…we have come to bargain. - 6/15/2023​



Twisted Mirth was chortling in the most sinister way, as she moved around the cave, her fingers searching for items scattered amongst what I would have called charitably, junk. The hag took out a black iron whistle and blew on it, but whatever shrill note it played, was on the distant edge of perception. From behind large sections of junk, emerged the elf woman and the human male that the night hag used as servants. They each were covering their ears from pain as they looked up at the hag with fear.

Twisted Mirth had work to do and wasn’t interested in abusing her servants. First, she gathered a metal sieve with a sickly purple plant growing in it with roots trailing through and below it. She wrapped the roots into a ball and deposited it on top and handed the bundle into the arms of the mute elf girl servant. The elf looked fearfully at it, and the hag, gulping nervously, as she was handed more esoteric items: A metal basin, with a bucket below it, an hourglass, large battered cup that looked like a chalice, several bundles of herbs, a hatchet, a broom, and what appeared to be a large dagger, which if I were to wield it, would be more like a sword. The elf struggled to keep it all in her arms, and the fear of dropping anything was clear on her quivering face.

Next, she called over the hapless male human, who I recalled was last being used as a stool. He shuffled over and the hag pointed downwards next to the steaming cauldron and knelt down on all fours and waited. With no effort, Twisted Mirth lifted the metal cauldron and deposited it on the back of the and to our horror, the man grimaced in pain at the sound of sizzling flesh, and the smell of the seared flesh, made me want to retch.

In response, Adrissa pulled on my arm and pointed at the two slaves reminding me, “We said we would free them!”

“Bothered by a little sizzle?” The hag mocked the girl. “Serves them right for breaking the deal they agreed to. But nothing can…kill them.” She smiled as she bent to ruffle the man’s hair and then moved to pet the elf’s cheek with a wicked smile. “Pain is what they deserve, for the disrespect. But it all gets better after a moment. They can’t get out of their punishment by dying. Oh no no no…But I do remember your interest in them. The conditions for their freedom are tied to our work tonight. If everyone else does what was agreed to, they will be free as well. Come.” The hag then grabbing a wool scarf, stained with green ichor, and full of holes and a floppy pink leather hat, exited her cave.

I and the others followed, warily. A pair of banderhobbs had bounded ahead in the snow as the behest of the hag, while her servants stayed closely behind. I winced looking at them; both were in rags, and clearly were suffering in the cold as neither had shoes nor covering for their hands. Their skin was swiftly turning white in the deathly cold air, and while I been told they could not die, it was clear that neither was protected from pain.

“Remind me to ask what the penalties are breaking this deal,” Doxx said to Rosa as we trudged behind her.

“Best thought there dearie, is not to break it to start with,” Rosa replied.

“Myrai, are you…” The Blade started to say to me quietly.

“No. I’m not. I am very certain that nothing will go as we want,” I hissed under my breath. “I might have changed the deal a little, but I am sure that this isn’t going to make anything easier on us.” Adrissa hung close to me, shivering in the cold. Or in fear, but this weird ‘grandmother’ of a figure of a hag, was clearly having an effect on her, cowing her to silence in between bouts of bravery.

The warforged, Sage and Bookshelf walked behind us all, saying nothing as they resolutely marched through the snow, If they felt cold or fear it wasn’t apparent on their steely faces.

We fortunately did not have to march far in the snow, as we came down the hill into a gully that protected it from the wind. While there were some stunted trees and bushes on the edges, the center was clear of vegetation. But on one side was a lump of snow, about neck high. The hag approached it, and took the broom from the freezing elf, and used it to brush away the snow and revealing a stone table. The hag took all the items from the woman, and thrust the broom into her arms, cackling at her, “Clear off the ritual stone and be quick about it! If we had the time, I’d make you use your tongue instead!”

The elf wasted no time clearing off the stone, and indeed I suspected the broom was enchanted to help her. She was moving quickly, probably to get a sense of warmth into her, but the center of the gully was being cleared faster than I thought it should have. But I had little time to wonder, as a watched her uncover a stone set into the earth, at least ten paces across. It was inset with worn grooves and carved channels that formed three circles on the stone. I couldn’t tell if the deep grooves were runes, arcane marks or just decorative. And it wasn’t long before it was all cleared.

“Bring the hatchet girl!” the hag instructed as Twisted Mirth then led the man with the cauldron on his back to the center of the circle. Once there, it seemed to take the giant hag no effort to lift and place the cauldron near the center. The man wheezed in relief from his burden lifted, as the elf woman handed the hatchet to the hag and gave a look of pity to the man. He glanced up at Mirth, and he extended an arm to the hag as he squeezed his eyes shut and grit his teeth, all to avoid seeing the hag bring down the hatchel on the man’s arm, severing it cleanly from his torso.

My drop dropped in shock, and I covered my open mouth in horror, as Adrissa screamed, all to the chuckles of the hag. She tossed the arm down in the center of the circle, and then chopped again at the…same arm? I watched with morbid fascination as the arm was cut away cleanly, only to be quickly replaced by another one that quickly sprouted from his body. As I looked at the pile of arms in the center, I realized that in my vision, they were no longer flesh and bone, but some type of hard wood.

“That is a foul hatchet,” Sage remarked with distaste.

“She certainly has quite an array of strange tools,” Bookshelf acknowledged, nodding in agreement.

The hag, having cut enough wood, spat on the pile, and they erupted in purple flames, as she easily lifted and placed the cauldron on the eldritch bonfire, which despite it being lugged in the winter like snow, was already bubbling at a boil. The elf and human male, while clearly tempted by the flames to warm their bones, retreated to the edge of the circle and knelt clinging each other for warmth. Rosa, not caring what the hag might say, took and draped a blanket around the pair.

Twisted Mirth didn’t object at all, her eyes focused on stirring the cauldron with the stick that was coated in thick grime. She then gave a knowing smile, and turned and beckoned to us, “Come. Now we shall make our bargain. All the things you and I want shall be spoken, and the penalties enumerated. But to make it a fair bargain, we must do this with one party at a time citing what they want and the other one stating what they want. One for one.”

“The penalties?” Sage asked evenly.

“Ah…they come first, so there is no surprise. For this one, the penalty is servitude for a dozen years and a day. And that applies to me as well. And I can guarantee, I will not be the one to break this deal.” There was a look of disgust that crossed her face as she briefly considered the outcome of that. “Also, neither party can hurt the other while the deal is in force. So, if no one objects, we all spit in the cauldron and negotiate the next term. If you don’t agree, we will continue until we do. But we only have until a turn of the hourglass to complete the ritual, which can only be done once a turning of the moon of Mabar.”

“How long is that?” Doxx asked Rosa.

“About a month,” Rosa replied.

“So, we get one shot at this?” Doxx said rolling her eyes.

Twisted Mirth said nothing and smiled, when Bookshelf said, “Then we are done with terms, we each spit three times and the deal is sealed. Well let’s get this started.”

“We all spit into the cauldron to start it. GIRL turn over the hourglass when we spit, or I will turn you into a timepiece as a replacement!” The hag shouted, and the elf jumped and scampered the table and placed her hands on the hourglass and watched.

“Now, spit!” and the hag quickly spat a dart of black goo from her mouth into the bubbly liquid which started to froth. We all looked at each other and each of us spat into the bubbling morass, at which the elf flipped the timepiece, and the sands began.

Twisted Mirth then started, “To avoid a fate of servitude for a dozen years and a day, between Great Auntie Twisted Mirth, and the band of…hmm…adventurers that share their expectorant here, a bargain equally matched will be made.”

“You wish the Master Key to be rebuilt! I possess the rod; you possess the gems. Surrender the gems, the true name of Teiazaam, and the blood of an aasimar, but not her life, and I will construct it.”

We all stood nodding. I was relieved that she called out my life wasn’t needed here without having to argue about it. But it was now apparent that Mirth had very little interest in us beyond tools. She was chasing something far more important to her, revenge. The Blade was the first, and we all followed with our own spit, causing the waters in the cauldron to start to glow in a color best described as a mottled mauve.

“You were to train us to use how to use the key,” Bookshelf started before Twisted Mirth cut them off with a bony waggling finger.

“--I said one of you. Who?” The hag stated, as she then crossed her arms watching.

We looked at each other and before we could even discuss it, Bookshelf replied. “Me. Teach me how to use the Master Key.”

“I will give you that knowledge, although it may take a day or two for it to make any sense. Agreed?”

We all nodded, and spat into the cauldron, causing it to froth a bit more, and the glow to grow.

“You will set free the woman and the man there!” Adrissa said angrily.

Twisted Mirth rolled her eyes, “Yes, yes, that was a given and need not be part of this. But since you require it, I require something of you. I require you to assist me with preparing the key, Adrissa.” She and the rest of us were taking a back. I pushed her behind me and was about to call it off, when the hag continued, “I do not require your life, or even for you to come to harm. I need you to put things where I tell you.”

Adrissa straightened up and came from around me. “Fine. I’ll do it.”

Twisted Mirth smiled and spat again into the cauldron, as did we all, causing it to glow brighter still, as the cauldron was nearing a roiling boil.

“I then require you to…oh what’s a pithy phrase. O…mete justice on the one who stole from me, and is helping the overlord break his bonds—“Mirth started.

“—We can’t, because you can’t tell us who it is.” Rosa pointed out.

The hag smiled widely showing her cracked and rotten teeth, “Ah yes, but I can tell you who can, and where that person is. Your friend Melisandre—”

“She’s not a friend!” Doxx barked at the hag.

“She is more of one than I, little changeling,” the night hag said as it leveled a steely gaze at Doxx. “And she can be found in…Denning.” Doxx’s jaw dropped, and we all looked at each other in surprise.

“Denning,” I said, wondering if this was just the beginning of rude surprises. “When and how did she sodding get there?”

“Best you ask when you see her. Do you agree or not? Time is flowing away.” The hag said pointedly.

“Fine,” Doxx said and spat into the cauldron as the rest of us did as well.

“Anything else?” Twisted Mirth asked, looking at each of us. I just wanted to get this over with, and really couldn’t think of move to add, and it was clear the others had the same mindset. “Good!” And she quickly spat three times in succession into the cauldron.

We all started working our mouths to come up with the last bit of spittle to fulfill the contract. It seemed that this was the time for my throat to suddenly go dry. It took me a moment to work some up as I was the last to deliver my trio into the cauldron. When the last bit dribbled into the pot, the color changed to a glowing swirl of blue and yellow. Twisted barked at the elf girl, “Now! Bring the cup!” I groaned inwardly, as the elf ran to the stone table and grabbed the battered chalice, and ran to the hag, eager to be rid of it. Twisted Mirth took it and dipped the cup into the liquid and with a pinky extended she sipped from its contents. She savored it and then passed it to The Blade.

The Blade looked at it is frowning, and took a quick sip, and handed it to Sage. As he did so, he blanched at whatever he tasted, as did Sage. And so, the chalice went to each one of us in turn, and each one’s face soured at the contents. Finally, I was the last to receive it and I looked at the contents trying to steel myself for whatever nauseating assault I was going to expect to suffer. I closed my eyes and put the chalice to my lips and quickly sipped.

While the others were nauseated, I felt my stomach cramp in pain as whatever I swallowed hit bottom. The pain spread from my bely to and down my limbs, causing them to twitch violently. The hag took the chalice from me, as I collapsed on my knees gasping for air. I was barely aware of the hag mockingly patting me on the back sounding like a caring parent, “There, there, it’s all over now. Aasimars don’t like their medicine it seems,” she then cackled, as I pushed her hand away from me, causing her to howl in laughter. Adrissa quickly came to my side and tried to comfort me, as the hag immersed herself in the sound of my agony. She wiped the tears of joy from her eyes and sighed, “Well the bargain is done then. Time to reforge the Master Key.”
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Keys to knowledge and regret - 7/25/2023​



The hag chortled as she watched me on my knees dry heaving. But despite the pure evil next to me, I felt that somehow this would all end well. That our regrets would be minimal, and the damage done to our souls would be minor. It had to…this wasn’t some drunken Sensate dalliance with a fiend. I was trying to help people after all. This wasn’t some game or other misbegotten way to spend time.

But to immortals, mortal concerns were just minor noise in their existence…if the mortal was lucky. But for many fiends they were levers to be pulled, and at best prizes to be collected and put on a trophy shelf. At worst, their souls would be currency, food, or used for…

I shuddered, as I remembered what Rosa had told me…that I was on the precipice of no longer being a mortal. I looked at the rest of our group, each looking around at the other members, each hoping this would all work out. I wanted to keep that perspective. I didn’t want to forget it, or change. But would that really be possible? Could I be a mortal in immortal form?

I shook my head to clear it. This wasn’t the time for idle hopes, as Twisted Mirth moved to the center of the clearing, and pulled out a rod that had some kind of brown and desiccated hand about the size of a child’s, but even daintier at the end. Taking a thread bare cloth pouch she tossed it casually into the air and hummed. The pouch hovered there, and like a conductor of a grim symphony, she directed the pouch along the ground, pouring out a thin line of yellow powder. And despite the seemingly casual waves of the rod, the circles, lines, and runes that were drawn were precise and delicate, even beautiful. But as I watched I realized it was really a single line being poured from the sack. It never double backed or crossed over itself, but it did sometime twist and turn to make lines in parallel. I guessed that even ugly hags had to follow the elegance of magic’s design, and that it was beyond even their corrupting hands to twist into something ugly. Perhaps it was that leftover fey buried inside; the source of their power came from places beyond even their control.

As she continued to draw with her rod, the hag commanded me, “Now, you aasimar, come here and kneel next to the circle. Do not mar the line!” she said waggling the strange rod at me. I noticed that when she stopped moving her wrist, the hand had a finger extended, and it continued to waggle without any guidance from Twisted Mirth. Trying to ignore the gruesome thing, I swallowed, and came to the hag, who pointed me to a particular spot where it appeared like a compass’ mark for north. With my knees quaking, I knelt down on the cold, hard earth by the edge of the ritual stone and turned my head and waited. The hag hummed, and eventually, the bag came back to where I knelt, with the beginning and where I presumed the end of the line would be met. As I waited, I recognized the scent of brimstone and something else that hung in the air as the pouch finished emptying its contents. The line was now complete, and the ends almost touched. I was puzzled on why they didn’t as there now was a small divot about a hand’s width apart, that both lines entered about halfway. However, it seemed to be intentional that the pair did not.

“Now the fun part!” Twisted Mirth said giggling as she handed me something that looked like a basin shaped like a bean or a moon, that was the top of a long and slender funnel. “We need some helpers! She will need to hold herself still while you bleed her, to fill the funnel.”

“What?” Doxx exclaimed as I stood there looking at the circle wondering if I would survive the bloodletting. “This bargain—”

“You fear you made a bad one? You wish to break it?” Twisted Mirth said looking down her long-pointed nose, glaring at the form of the old woman. Her expression was one of scorn and disbelief.

Doxx stood there her mouth quivering in anger, “What good is a bargain if it kills—”

The hag rolled her eyes and dismissed Doxx’s concern away with a wave of her twisted taloned hand. “Your druid could keep her alive easily if she cared to. And all the blood in her body isn’t needed, just enough to color the powder, and fill the divot so the circle is complete.”

“It’s alright, I can easily do that,” Rosa said, touching my side.

“I can cut her—” Sage started.

“You?” Doxx said incredulously. “I’d rather have The Blade do it—” The Blade looked down at his coiled whip in confusion at this as Doxx continued, “But he doesn’t even carry a knife. I have steady hands. I’ll do it. You’d…just lop off her head and burn the wound shut.”

The hag grinned, “And just as well. As you,” she pointed at The Blade, “and you,” then dramatically sweeping her hand towards Adrissa, “You each must take a gem, and stand on the East and West sides of the circle holding them high in the air, while you,” and she stabbed her finger at the other warforged, Bookshelf, “Will stand at the head of the circle with me.”

“Doing…what?” Bookshelf asked in a dull tone.

“Well, one-hand you will hold this:” and she gave them the filth incrusted stirring rod from the cauldron.

They turned it over in their hands and looked at the hag, “Why would I—”

“Because that is the body of the key,” Twisted Mirth said with a smirk.

Bookshelf looked down, and rubbed their metallic hand on the crusted rod, and after a bit of work, the dried layer of filth started to crack, and crumble away, revealing a purple metal shaft. “Byshek,” Bookshelf remarked as they continued to clean it, heedless of the hag stepping next to him, and placing an object on his head, startling the warforged.

On his head was a gray metal dome, covered with dirt, and small holes. Through the holes were a mixture of roots, chain and wire. The warforged cocked their head and shook it around on their head, before using both hands to lift it up a bit, causing several tubers to fall to the ground by their feet. The hag pushed the strange helmet down again on their head, now set deeper into the dome.

“Isn’t…that…a cooking colend—” Adrissa stammered.

“—We use what is handy,” the hag shrugged. “Don’t take it off, through this band of root and wire I will give you knowledge on how to use the key. Now, I have to prepare the ritual to bond the gems and rod together. It won’t take long. It all starts with your blood saturating the powder, and once that little divots fills in front of you…say the true name. I will take over from there.”

Nodding, I exhaled trying to steel myself. Rosa approached and took the funnel from me, and I put my hands on my knees, and took some deep breaths. Rosa spoke, probably to put me at ease, “It’s an old-fashioned leeching basin. I’ll keep it on the end of the powder here and I’ll tell you when your blood comes around dear. You might feel a bit dizzy though.”

I nodded, and whispered, “Thanks,” I then turned as saw Doxx standing next to me.

“My hand is steady,” she said and looking at the old woman’s gnarled hand it was perfectly level and still with the sharp dagger in hand. “I can’t promise it won’t…hurt.”

I nodded that I understood, and bowed my head as I pulled my hair away from my neck. Rosa placed the concaved basin against my neck, and I looked ahead of me, over Rosa’s head. Adrissa stood holding the red gem to my left, and The Blade held the blue gem to the right. Both of them looked uncomfortable holding them, while Bookshelf at the opposite end of the circle of it kept shifting, trying to adjust the colander on their head. The hag slapped their hand, so he retracted it and instead just held onto the rod and waited. I felt Doxx grab my hair to hold my head steady, and I took a final deep breath, closing my eyes.

“Cut me.”

I didn’t feel the knife pierce my skin. I did feel the blade though as it sliced deeper, until it pulled on something for a brief moment. Then I felt my heart pounding as I felt warm blood gush from the wound. It was then I felt the sharp sting and fire from the pain of the gash there as my mouth dropped open. I was focused trying not to move. My hands clung to my thighs, as my nails dug into my leather breeches. The pain was no worse than many that I had faced before, but in every case that I could recall, I was able to move, thrash or at least try retreat from it, even in vain.

I wanted to scream, or cry aloud but I was afraid to. Afraid to mess up this whole ritual. Afraid I would barely be alive to say the one word I needed to. Through my tears and my labored breathing, I could see the yellow powder turning not red, but a purple-like color. The transition of color had just passed The Blade, who could only watch in morbid fascination, as it slowly passed him, as he gamely held the blue gem aloft.

“It’s slowing,” Rosa whispered. “I’m going to heal her, but it will close the wound. You will need to cut deeply again.”

“Fine,” Doxx grumbled. And I heard a whisper from the halfling and felt pain as skin stretched and closed, followed by the euphoria as the pain eased. The feeling was ripped away, as Doxx sliced again tearing the newly closed wound back open. I felt my heart pounding as more blood poured forth. My eyes bulged, and my breathing grew more ragged as I clenched my hands. Fingernails pierced and ripped the leather and dug into my flesh.

Staring across at Bookshelf, the powder’s color change passed him, and I realized then it was slower than when it passed The Blade. I gulped for air and started to gather enough to speak, when Rosa gave my thoughts voice, “It’s slowing, we need more. I’ll use a more powerful incantation to heal her, but blood volume is slow to recover.”

“Do it!” Doxx said grimly, still gripping my hair holding my head still. “If I slice deeper, I can get a lot, but it might kill her!” I heard more druidic, and the sensation of skin closing. It was fire on my flesh as it stretched and closed, along with the tissue beneath. All for it to be sliced again. My heart’s pounding was now painful, and I flexed my legs as I knelt, trying to cope with the pain. My eyes turned to look at Adrissa, and I finally saw the powder pass her, as she looked with an expression of horror and empathy, her hands quivering as they held the red gem over her head.

But the changing powder was now slowing to a crawl. “The basin is nearly empty! You’ll have to cut and find one of the deep ones. Fresh ones that are from her heart.” Rosa said and whispered again in the language of the druid and the painful sensation of the wound closing made itself felt again.

“It will kill her!” Doxx said.

I closed my eyes, and strained for the air to speak, “D-d—do--”

The pain was sharp as the dagger cut deep, and I felt blood spurt out in a great gout. My heart’s pounding echoed my ears, as I realized, it was pumping…nothing. I could feel it constricting harder and harder to keep me alive and push blood through me. Blood that was no longer there. My heart rate was decreasing, as each beat came slower and slower.

Thump…thump

Thump……thump

Thump………thump


I then felt the strands in me, stard to thrash. They were lashing out trying to wrap themselves around and protect me. I could feel the dark ones trying to weave a mesh and pull it tight. The temperature was dropping, and I could feel the frost beginning to form, as Doxx and Rosa both exclaimed, “What the…no! no no no!” Hearing them got me to focus. I used the light ones to beat off the dark ones and use them to draw in more light into me. My eyes started to close, and the world became blurry.

My breathing was slowing as I curled up the strands around my heart and pulled on them, winding them tighter and tighter. I could finally feel tension on the strands though, but I was growing more and more tired. With my breathing now shallow I forced them to flutter open to look across from, as I saw Twisted Mirth gloating at my predicament. I grit my teeth and hissed in anger. Using the last of my energy, I pulled on the light strands until I felt them strain and then finally snap.

I was flooded with energy in my heart, and I felt it fill, and my heart pumped twice in sudden eagerness, as I felt the blood push through me. My neck’s open wound gushed and spat out more like a new well, untapped.

“What the?” Doxx said confused. “It’s overflowing! Too much!”

“I’ll close it soon! It’s almost here,”

I opened my eyes, and I saw the powder turning purple finally reach the divot in front of me. I watched with elation as the blood, my life’s blood started to fill it. My heart beat faster and I smiled as my heart beat faster and faster, each one pouring more blood into the funnel. Rosa whispered more words, and I could feel her magic close the wound at my neck. The blood rushed through to my head, and I felt restored somehow. With the circle now complete, I said the lone word in my mind.

“Yrrthacius.”

The powder suddenly was lit with mauve and green fire. Every line of the powder was now dancing and flickering with flames as I knelt there. The warmth and heat from the fire was a contrast to the cold around me and my torn breeches. But as I knelt there, I could feel the strands around me move as if something was pushed against them. Suddenly with a blast of wind, the fire was almost extinguished as something screamed and hit the earth in the center of the circle.

I lowered my arm from my eyes which I must have raised unconsciously to shield them. There in the circle on their belly was a figure of…something woman like. Her skin was lightly tanned, and she wore fine silk that were slit in a revealing manner exposing her legs and back. Her shapely legs both ended in hooves, and her head of hair was scattered around her, exposing two long sharp horns. Projecting from her back, were what were once a pair of wings, but now stumps of char, burned away. Finally, there were four tentacles, longer than I was tall, that also extended from her back, and now lay twitching. The fiend groaned, and pushed themselves up and opened their eyes, revealing empty sockets in their skull.

“Ugh….wha…what…what in the? Where am I?” the being said, pushing up its torso, and looking around confused. “How did I get to this place? And who has the audacity to…” Her head turned and “looked” at me with those empty eye sockets kneeling there, and her lips curled into a snarl. She scrambled quickly looking to tear me apart with her sharp nails.

I fell backwards and pushed myself away in a panic as the being lunged at me. She stopped cold where the line of fire now was, hitting an invisible barrier, and she collapsed onto the frozen earth with a moan. She lifted her head and shook it, and now with her as close as she was, I recognized her. She had unburned wings, and a tail, no tentacles and eyes then. But she was one of a pair of succubi that bathed me and seduced me in the Tenth Pit. It all flooded back to me how gentle she was, how she tenderly caressed me in the bath and treated me like a pampered…pet in a gilded cage. It was a wonderful moment or escapism, and a masterful seduction, all to disguise their intent.

But I was still a mortal plaything and nothing more. Something to be toyed with and discarded. But I forgot that as she forcibly revealed secrets about myself locked away. All for her mistress’ amusement. I never learned either of their names though, only Jade’s the Radiant Sister who oversaw my pain. The circumstances were now different though, our roles reversed. She wasn’t safe from me, but I was from her. Stumbling to my feet I said, “I presume you are Teiazaam.”

The fiend’s head snapped up to look at me as the sound of her name, her eyes narrowing at first before widening in shock. Her eyes narrowed in a glare as she spoke in a soft menacing purr, “Well, well, well. Isn’t this a surprise.” She staggered to her feet and tapped the barrier that separated us. “Powerful. More powerful than you could…and how did you summon me against my--” Her eyeless sockets opened wider, exposing the hollows where her eyes should have been. “—NO! How did you—”

I didn’t smile. I didn’t feel self-righteousness or anything like that. I wanted the exchange done with. Besides, she didn’t have the answers I wanted. She was Jade’s tool and nothing more. “I guess I should thank you for the memories of us…together. But I would have been happy never to see you again, in any form. But you should know better than to meddle with your…betters.” And I gave her a wicked grin.

She snarled at me, and her tentacles whipped around her, striking the barrier to no avail. “You? A better of me? You are just a mort…” her voice trailed off, as she squinted at me a faint glow became visible in her eye sockets. Her teeth clenched in anger as she continued. “I see…I’d welcome to the sorority, but you won’t survive long enough to be a memory..”

“Time will tell. But…I don’t claim to be your better,” I said evenly.

She looked at me confused, “Then who—”

“—Ah…the discourteous lilitu has finally starting to see the big picture,” Twisted Mirth said with a cruel chuckle as she stepped around from behind Bookshelf. The warforged tried to adjust the colander on its head, but the hag simply slapped his hands away. Teiazaam turned around and become visibly nervous in the presence of the Great Aunie, wringing her taloned hands together as she glanced around herself looking for any options of escape. “I see you remember me. Normally I like to take my time to teach a memorable lesson to an impudent fiend. But your meddling was less than welcome, and more to the point…rude.”

“I…I…didn’t mean to interfere in…whatever your—”

“Yes…of course not. So…I think it is only fitting that you never interfere again.”

Teiazaam nodded vigorously, “Yes! I never will. Ever. My mistake.”

Twisted Mirth smiled and watched the lilitu beg in her magical prison for a moment. “Yes well, I doubt your soul will find its way out of its new prison,”

As the hag said this the Teiazaam’s face contorted first into horror and then into unmitigated rage. She began to scream, “You wouldn’t dare! Jade! Malcanthet will not.”

“Silence, Yrrthacius.” Twisted Mirth said simply, and the litltu’s mouth slammed shut. She clawed at her face trying to force her mouth open again, and only succeeded drawing her own blood. “Oh, and still yourself…we can’t have you risking your soul over a trite disagreement.” With that, Teiazaam froze, unable to fight the compulsion of her true name in whatever magic the hag bound her.

“Better…everything is ready,” Twisted Mirth laughed openly now in glee. “All you need to do, is bring the gems and touch them onto the rod that your friend holds. Once done, I will finish the final incantation to bind it all together…and we all get what we want. So come you two.” The night hag began to chant in a unfamiliar language, as Adrissa and The Black carried the gems to Bookshelf and the rod.

Sage Redoubt had been standing idly by, with everyone having a task to accomplish but him. While it would normally be hard to understand what was going on in a warforged mind, in this case it was clear to me, that wheels were turning in his head. As I found the strength to stand, the juggernaut stepped towards me and whispered, “Something is out of place here.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, still feeling shaky from the blood loss.

“The circle is what I expect; a prison that will channel Teiazaam in a direction of the hag’s choice. But I only recognize some of the words she is using…but it seems off.”

Rosa looked up at the warforged, and then turned to look at Twisted Mirth, “It’s a corrupted dialect of sylvan.... that makes sense. But…the words and phrasing is about…cleaning? No…removal…it’s a...dispel?” Rosa said confused.

“What could she be dispelling?” Doxx said mystified.

Sage quickly made a motion, and a short incantation, causing his eyes to glow blue. He looked at Twisted Mirth and pivoted his head so he could hear her better. “She is not binding anything…she’s…breaking one.”

“What?!?” I said alarmed, whirling to see Twisted Mirth’s knowing smile as she looked at me, unconcerned. “Why would she free Teiazaam?”

“No…its’ not directed at her. It’s directed at the…gems!”

The hag screeched in victory her hand thrust up into the air in triumph. I could feel a surge all around us, as the two gems gave of a flare of light, engulfing the rod, the hag and Bookshelf. The light grew, and the blast of wind and air came from the rod. Bookshelf, braced itself to stay upright, and not drop the newly forged key in one hand, and other holding the colander on their head with the other. The wind around us shrieked and howled as it whipped around, as magic bonds were sundered. It flashed between heat and bitter cold, lashing my skin as the scent of brimstone was now overwhelming. Then there was flash, and I was knocked on my feet by a blast of force, knocking me on my back.

I lay there in the now dark night air, unable to breathe at first, when suddenly my lungs took in a deep breath of air. Sitting up, I saw that the circle holding Teiazaam, and the fiend herself was now gone. Bookshelf, somehow was still standing, holding the newly forged key, while The Blade was kneeling down, covering Adrissa with his great black cloak.

But it was the two children that stood where The Blade and Adrissa had been that grabbed all my attention. They were young half elves I guessed, both with long blonde hair and that cascaded all around them to their thighs and over their dirty smocks. They looked at each other, and then at Twisted Mirth, who now howled with laughter, saying nothing, their expressions empty.

Then I heard something that was unexpected to me, sobbing. I turned around and I saw the two slaves of Twisted Mirth. The male held and consoled the elven woman who now wept uncontrollably, looking and pointing at the children.

But the sounds of her crying were quickly overwhelmed by the night hag’s laughter which now doubled in volume and malice. Turning to face her again, I saw the two girls, look past me to the elven woman, and each of them lowered their eyes, but not before both of their mouths twist into wicked grins. Then as I sat there, I watched with horror, as from the backs of both girls, there was the sound of flesh ripping and bone cracking. From each one’s back, a pair of long thin arms had emerged. Each once then pulled away shattered ribs, and from each one a foul woman’s head emerged. Finally wriggling and stepping out of the small forms, a fully grown grotesque and naked woman emerged, one with deep bluish white skin, the other a foul green.

Two more hags.

My heart pounded, as I gazed upon the malevolence that I had unleashed onto Eberron, as the elf's crying behind me turned into a forlorn wail.

What have I done?

Session Notes:

Yeah. That happened. It was a shock and gruesome suprised. Such that I almost called this one "A good deed never goes unpunished." There were a lot of questions afterwards, on if this could have been avoided as well.
 
Last edited:


Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Back to Cattbron - 8/21/2023​



The clearing was now empty of the fiend Teiazaam, but the two ‘young’ hags that had effectively replaced her cackled with glee. Twisted Mirth and the pair opened their arms and embraced in the circle, now bound with smoke from what was once my blood. As they did so there was wash of vertigo that hit my stomach as I felt my strands impacted by an invisible knot of malice that now formed there.

My jaw quivered in rage as I staggard to my feet. Of all the horrors that I could have come up with; enslaved to Mirth, or Teiazaam, or even a plaything to Jade; I could have dealt with those things. I could have paid that price. But Eberron was going pay the bellman here, not I. I was merely the agent. The enabler.

But not its architect.

“You got exactly what you wanted,” I said between clenched teeth. “You never meant to help us.”

The three turned to face me, each with a different expression. One daughter looked at me with a mocking sneer, while the other tutted and shook their head. But it was Twisted Mirth herself that rolled her eyes and spoke to me plainly. “No…no…not yet. Your promise will do that for me though. This,” and she squeezed both of her daughter’s shoulders as any proud parent might, “was an overdue bonding moment. Not long delayed, but insulting enough to make me want to rend the flesh of the…” Twisted Mirth let the unspoken word hang there as she considered for a moment what she meant to say. “…but you are also very wrong. I do wish to help you—”

“—Because it helps you.” Rosa said sorrowfully. “The only way you would offer anything resembling a fair deal.”

“Closer to the right of it,” the hag agreed, while the other two giggled. “But I do not wish an Overlord’s return. Yes it would mean power, but before I was a power between many of them, all clawing to stay on top of the others. A single one? Nothing to do. And besides, I’ve had enough time to appreciate the finer points of mortal misery. Why give that up?” and she spread her arms wide. “Your poor fiend’s mistress will trade much to find her wayward fool of a lilitu. But not until your job is far over.”

“So!” Doxx said with a bravado I didn’t think was very convincing. “Where’s the knowledge you promised us? And the key?” she put her hands to her hips indignantly.

Twisted Mirth turn to look over her head at Bookshelf, who stood there silently, unmoving. Sage approached them first and placed a hand on their shoulder. Barely turning to talk he said, “He’s alive but dazed. Probably alright. Probably,” as Sage turned to give the hag a dirty look. Turning back, he lifted out of Bookshelf’s hands a byshek rod, with the red and blue gems now fixed on the ends. Turning it over in his hands, his eyes glowed blue for a moment and he nodded. “Its enchanted…and it has a lot of power coursing through it. I presume it…worked.”

Twisted Mirth shrugged, “The key was a simple matter, but sharing the knowledge though.” And she shook her head with a smirk. “Never tried that with a warforged before…interesting sensation. But the bucket of metal, wood and stone will be fine. The images and truth I gave to them will become clearer when they rest. I,” and she glared at Doxx, “keep my bargains. You can ask anyone.” She jerked her head towards of her former slaves, and then wrapped her arms around the daughters cooing, “Let’s find you something to clad your wondrous glory in.”

I wondered for a moment what she meant, and turned to look at the elf and human, who clutched each other in desperation. I realized then, that I didn’t really create a new evil. They did. Probably inadvertently, as neither realized the true cost, and I was equally certain that what they tried to gain in exchange was worth little more than ash on the wind. I stepped towards them but the man help his hand out to stop me, his voice quavered as he spoke for the first time, “Leave us…leave us be. We don’t deserve your sympathies. Or your help. We only want to be left alone with our…”

“Myrai, what are they talking about?” Adrissa asked, coming to stand next to me.

I winced and told her, “They are the…parents of a pair of babies long gone. Gone into a hags gullet. And that hag gave birth to a pair of babies just like them—”

“—No!—”

“—And they probably raised them. And then tried to hide them, not realizing it was too late, and making themselves Mirth’s slaves.”

Adrissa looked at me with tears in her eyes her mouth quivering, “I wanted them to be free.”

I bowed my head and held her close, “I don’t…I don’t think we can grant that really,” As the pair quietly sobbed and clutched each other.

The Blade observed this all with a scowl before saying simply, “We’re done here. We should go back to Cattbron.”

Doxx nodded, “I have to agree with you. I’ve had enough.”

-----

The journey into the still distant dawn, wasn’t especially warming or joyous. Honestly I couldn’t tell if we won something, or lost something. All I knew was that without my father’s knowledge, it would have come at a higher cost to ourselves. And it also meant, that I was still yoked to the whims of immortals. My father. Twisted Mirth and her kin. Jade. And I expected to add more to that list before long.

But how long would it before I forgot myself and my early years before I started to be as callous as they?

The lights of Cattbron was ahead, and unlike most times it was The Blade that was leading us forward, and not Adrissa. His pace however was brutal, and he was forced to pause frequently for the rest of us. Or more accurately, some of us. The warforged weren’t slow by any means, and Rosa had command of various animal forms that were faster if she chose, but she declined, wrapping her arms around herself and slowly following the elf. As for Doxx, the spry ‘old woman’ was faster than The Blade, but he plodded along Rosa’s side, keeping pace with her.

But it was Adrissa, and I that were the laggards. Myself because I felt shaky and tired, giving what I did to make the key. But Adrissa, where she once clung tightly to me, she now was distant, clutching her arms to herself tightly. I knew where her head was at, and I felt it was wiser to let her handle it on her own terms. However, others disagreed.

“Blade! Would you—” Doxx started at the elf.

“—‘THE Blade.” The elf hissed barely glancing backwards. “I though I was clear on that point.”

Doxx frowned, and her face flushed in anger, “Blade,” she started pointedly. “We need to slow down for the girls’ sake. They’ve been through a lot—”

“—And the people of Denning haven’t? They are probably blind in fear by now. And Cattbron? It is only a matter of time before the vege’s make their way south to them, and turn the citizens into tools or blankets for all I know. And you want to rest?”

I don’t. But…Adrissa…in the name of the Sovereigns, she’s still a—”

“—An innocent? She has seen the vileness of true criminals. We cannot wait for—”

“What? For her to grow up?” Doxx leapt forward and put herself between The Blade and their supposed destination of Cattbron. “So she can be as damaged as you? Why do you go back to Sharn and that sporting goods store front and let us do the real—”

“—ENOUGH!” Adrissa shrieked, getting all of our attention. “Childhood spoilt; check. Exposure to horrible fiends; check. Watching people around me act like my parents and guide me badly; check plus! Just stow it! ‘THE’ Blade…where are you going?”

The Blade stood up stiffly, his mouth opening and closing quietly, before replying, “To Denning.”

“Don’t we need something before we go back?” Adrissa said angrily.

“Well…we…we…need…um…well…”

“The oil. The Oil of Tagget. We need that from the Cannith Warehouse,” Rosa said.

“And that’s not the only item we need. The flower Morning Glyss,” Sage said reminding them. And we will need to travel along the lake to find it. If we can.”

“Of course! I’m glad you finally remembered!” The Blade said beaming.

Adrissa rolled her eyes and stomped her foot in the snow, and screamed at him, “You forgot! You are a terrible person, and a worse liar.”

The Blade stiffened and looked at the girl from beneath his cowl. “No. I’m just a person that deals with criminals. Not fiends, not hags, not world ending threats. But I do know we can’t wait. We have to move faster before…we all lose.”

Adrissa’s anger cooled a bit and she nodded her head. “You’re right. And I will be damned in Dolurrh if we are going to lose.”

Rosa smiled and chuckled weakly, “Well then. I know of only one place to go.”

---

The brass cone on the wall echoed with the sound of a gnome’s weary voice, “Ugh…I’m sorry the Cannith Warehouse and Library is closed for the time being until staff returns to answer—”

“Framlin! Open up!” the juggernaut bellowed into the cone.

From the cone we could all hear a stool fall onto stone and the sound of a gnome backside land awkwardly with an ‘oof.’ There was the sound of scraping wood on stone, and the winded voice of Kalborius Framlin spoke again, “Why…what…wait? You?!? You’re back? And you aren’t toads or banderhobb or anything else nasty?”

Sage shook their head in disbelief, “No you foolish bureaucrat we are fine. We need--”

“--Wonderful! Glad to hear it. Anyway we are closed for the winter. Especially the library. That is now completely off limits, and is enforced with the heaviest wood planks, tables and chairs. No toad, no juggernaut, and no Banderhobb can get in now!”

“So you locked yourself in,” Doxx said mildly. “Feeling hungry yet?”

“I secured the valuable texts within! And I happen to have a marvelous pot of more than finite gruel, with a infinite spice pouch!” Framlin’s voice came through with a smug response.

“Right.” Doxx said shaking his head. “Well, we don’t need to see you. We want the Tagget oil.”

“What??!?” Kalborius said in outrage. “That’s Cannith property! I can’t let you take it!”

Sage shook their heavy head and leaned into the cone and spoke levelly, “Yes, but you are already barricaded in. I doubt you can get out.”

“I…well…wait now! You can’t just take—”

“Cannith’s heroic donations have been noted citizen,” The Blade said quickly. “This conversation is done. Thank you.” He then took a rag out of a pouch, and stuffed it into the bell, muffling the voice of Framlin. The Blade then looked at us and said mildly, “Shall we?” as he flung open the unlocked door to the Cannith building.

Nothing had really changed since our last visit; the stairs wound up exterior of the square room up several floors. But instead of heading up, we headed towards a large double doors leading deeper into the building. But as we headed across the room we heard “STOP! You are NOT authorized!”

Sage’s jaw ground together with a metallic scraping sound, as he turned to face another, larger metallic cone on a tube in the ceiling. “Of course it would not be that easy to silence him.”

Doxx turned and looked at the cone, while The Blade ignored it and moved toward the door. “Look, you can help or you can shut up.”

“But I was left in charge! I’ll get into trouble if anything is removed!” Kalborius yelled in protest.

“Of the library.” Bookshelf said quietly, grabbing all of our attention.

“You feeling alright?” Rosa asked, putting a hand on the slender warforged’s thigh.

“I…am…better,” Bookshelf said slowly. “But I have images I am trying to…understand them. Anyway, Kalborius, I doubt that they put the responsibility of inventory control in your hands.

“WHAT? I resent that…utterly accurate comment,” the gnomes anger deflating into the truth of the matter.

“So you will be a hero then for ‘allowing’ us to take the oil.”

“I suppose…” Framlin sounded doubtful with a tinge of voice. The Blade opened the door, and we proceeded down the hall, and the gnome’s voice now projected from another cone in the hall. “However, but I really can’t stop you after all—”

“—Just put the furniture and planks when the winter starts thawing.” Bookshelf said plainly.

The Blade was nodding his head at the exchange, as he came to a large sliding oaken plank door bound in iron. He grabbed the handle and pulled on the door to move it aside. The wheels on the rail above screeched as metal wore against metal, echoing in the hall. I shuddered at the sound that caused me to cringe in discomfort and was glad it was over quickly. Once open, the voice of Kalborious was now echoed, in what I presumed was a large room ahead.

“I suppose I will have time for that,” the gnome was sounding agreeable for the first time as he continued. “Perhaps they’ll give me an award. No! A promotion! I can see it now how I, Kalborius Framlin…hey! Who in Dolurrh are you and what are you doing?”

We looked at each other in alarm and rushed into the warehouse. As we did there was the distinct snap of crossbow strings. I managed to raise my shield just in time and deflected a bolt that skittered across the floor, while a second pierced the metal, the tip cutting my forearm. Lowering it enough to peer over the top edge I saw our assailants and I groaned as I recognized them.

There were about seven or eight half masked helmed and cloaked figures half hid behind beams that supported the massive warehouse. Most were reloading, while another group was busy chopping at a set of large barrels midway through the warehouse. Several were already shattered, spreading their contents across the floor, a red oily liquid. They didn’t even turn to look at us as they continued to chop away at the oil barrels.

Then a man behind one of the pillars, took a shot at Doxx, who clearly picked the bolt out of the air with her gnarled hand and a scowl as the man shouted, “The Emerald Claw will win this battle today!”

Session Notes:
I didn't realize how long ago this was. At the time Adrissa, my IRL daughter was interested in D&D and curious and I gave her a pre-built role to play. She ran with it, and now years later I find myself dropping her off at college out of state, and we still talk and chat about Adrissa as I put the events into prose.

But now we can put that nasty eldritch witchery behind us and get back into the normal round of betrayal, power groups working at cross purposes and all the things that make Eberron a fun place to be.

Unless you are in Cattbron. That might be less fun.
 

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