As we traveled the former path of the river the farther west we got the livelier and healthier the plant life appeared. On the way to Bowcrag we passed through some truly depressing terrain, but this was almost pleasant. Corwyn claimed this was because of the influence of the hags and their inherent magicalness.
“I thought hags were all about misery and spiders and grossness and big ugly warts. Why would their influence help plants grow?”
“I’m no hagologist but hags are somehow related to the fey folk I think and they’re all about trees and grass and walnuts and shit right?”
“I thought they were mostly about tormenting people and stealing babies.”
“Well everyone needs a hobby.”
Things did turn muddier and more unpleasant as we turned north. We followed the smoke of a small campfire and found one of Corwyn’s fellow surveyors cooking up a mess of spicy swamp crabs. He was a scraggly looking Halfling in a red greatcoat that appeared to have been badly burned at some point. Whoever this merchant was that was hiring these people must be really into diversity – so far in his employ we’ve encountered a Kostelos, a gnome, and a Halfling. All men of course though, there’s a limit to how far tolerance goes. Corwyn and this fellow, Giger, chatted for a while and he invited us to share his repast – there was no way I was going to touch swamp crabs but everyone else seemed to enjoy them. Anflite and Filtan in particular were cramming the greenish little things in their mouths like greedy pigs.
Shortly after this diversion we saw a carriage stuck in the mud. The doors on the side facing us had been torn off and the whole thing was tilted slightly towards us, which was resulting in a thin stream of blood dripping off the floor into the muddy ground. Nearby a woman in a muck and blood smeared white dress lay with her ankle snared in a bear trap. Upon hearing us approach she looked up with a pale tear-stained face and started begging for help. The two sets of siblings were about to run forward when I stopped them with a whistle.
“Yeah, I don’t think so. Why would a carriage be out here? Or a bear trap for that matter? There are no bears around here. Plus where are the horses? Carriages don’t get far without horses.”
The woman started sobbing and raspingly gasping about how much her leg hurt and how bad the pain was. Anflite and Filtan looked like their hearts were breaking – I’m starting to wonder about their credentials as hired killers, seems like they should be made of tougher stuff. They wanted to run to her aid but I commanded them to stay back. Eventually the “carriage” disappeared, revealing itself to be merely a large roundish hammock. The “woman” calmly stood up and walked a few paces our way.
“That’s close enough. That was well crafted, but your choice was a little off for this terrain. That would have worked great in more of a deep dark forest setting. And what would have happened if we tried to help you?”
“You’ll never know will you? Perhaps it was a morality test, to see if you would help the weak.”
“To what end? I mean helping the weak sounds all well and good but the weak always need help you know? It gets tiresome. You save one person’s life and then it’s like you’re on the hook helping them for the rest of yours. If we’re being honest I prefer to help the strong, they don’t come running back to you for more help all the time, plus their gratitude bears greater rewards. I mean the weak, what do they have to offer really?”
“Well said. What is it that you and your assorted band of friends are doing out here? If I may ask.”
“We’re looking for the Tree of Woe. Know anything about it?”
“Sounds like the kind of place best avoided. What with the woe part.”
“You’re probably right, but going places that are best avoided seems to be my lot in life.”
The “woman” dropped the illusion, revealing a humanoid swine-type being. Although it was pretty hairy so maybe it was more of a boar than a pig? Although isn’t a boar just a name for a female pig? Anyway, you get the idea – it had tusks and was grotesque.
“I’ll tell them you’re coming.”
The swine-monster dropped to all fours and ran off in a way that looked awkward as all Hells but was very fast indeed.
“Nothing at all unsettling about that.”
Corwyn decided at this point that we could find the rest of the way ourselves. I tried to sell him on the thrill of coming face to face with a hag coven but for some strange reason he wasn’t into it. He turned back for Bowcrag as we soldiered on. Late in the afternoon we came across a half rotted river boat that was titled almost entirely on its side with the bottom (what’s the bottom of a boat called, the hull? Or is the whole thing the hull?) sunk deep in a weedy mud bank. I studied it for a good long while and saw no signs of it being an illusion, but you can never be sure right? Last thing I want is to walk directly into the mouth of a giant crocodile or man eating snapper turtle. Martialla tossed a rock at it which thumped into the decaying wood with an appropriate sound.
“If it’s an illusion it’s a good one. You want to check it out?”
“Of course I do, what possible reason could there be for not wanting to crawl into a collapsing riverboat in hag country? How do you think this got here? Surely when they dammed the river everyone would have known about it ahead of time.”
Getting in turned out to be more difficult than I thought. There was no good way to get inside so in the end I had Anflite and Filtan smash through the wood with their orc-axes. Even then I was the only one slender enough to wriggle in. Martialla could have probably fit as well but that would have been even more claustrophobic. She did use her magic to make my signet ring glow with light so I could see my way around and so that any critters in here could see me coming and get the jump on me. I’m not even sure what I was crawling through, unless this boat was made for pixies any corridor should have been much larger. After a dozen feet or so I dropped down into a huge room that looked to have been a dancing hall or something of the like – clearly this was the pleasure barge of a noble or those that cater to them. Seeing it sideways was a little disorientating.
Before I could look around much an apparition appeared before me – a woman in a dress that looked like it was made from the scaly hide of some monster. It was made in as if it was a dress of the highest fashion but those scales have to be Hells on the nipples. She would have been attractive it not for her empty eye sockets and the fact that her discolored skeleton could clearly be seen through her translucent “flesh”. The cards of a deck floated around her like bees orbiting a flower. Her voice was melodious in a haunting and low way.
“Fancy a game? I’ve been waiting ages to turn the cards again.”
“It can’t be that long, this river only dried up a few years ago.”
“The Lady’s Luck sunk long before the river was drained.”
“Ah, that makes more sense now. What’s your game?”
I laughed “Preposterous. I thought you wanted a game, not a waste of time.” Two tiny red lights appeared in her eye-holes and her ghost face twisted into a horrid parody of anger. “High card it is. What are we playing for?”
“I think that’s already spoken for but sure.”
“First to eight wins. I win and your body is mine – your delightful body – we switch places and I walk out of here, you stay, bereft of form. Powerless and alone.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Have you ever played cards with a ghost? I have now. The hard part is shuffling cards that have been covered with ghost syrup. I think fancy educated types call it ectoplasm but I’m telling you that it’s exactly the same as mostly clear colored syrup – sticky and gooey in all the wrong ways. I hit my eight high cards while she was still on three. It was the funniest thing, every time she dealt I won about half the time, but whenever I did I always won.
“What do I get for winning?”
“I think you cheated.”
“That’s a very serious accusation, cheating at cards gets people killed.”
“I’m very much aware of that, how do you think I ended up here?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you something, isn’t that dress horribly uncomfortable?”
“It was mostly for show. Even though you probably cheated for winning I will reward you with knowledge. The realm of the dead holds many secrets.”
“How do I get revenge on Duke Eaglevane?”
“Who’s Duke Eaglevane?”
“Okay then. Actually there is something that you might be able to help me out with. A friend of mine, well not a friend, she was a pain in the ass really – a work acquaintance of mine was killed recently and I’d like to bring her back. Resurrection you know. Return her from the land of the dead to my world. How might I pull something like that off?”
“Seek the seven strings.”
“What the Hells does that mean?”
But she had disappeared. After I cleaned the ghost snot off the cards I saw that the images on them had all changed to artwork depicting a woman that looked a lot like me in various forms of distress – distress like being tortured on a rack, or crushed by rocks, or being ripped apart by devils, that sort of thing. It’s the kind of keepsake that you can’t pass up. Scrounging around I found the woman’s remains which I gathered up, along with her scaly dress. Beyond that there was nothing of value and there appeared to be no other bodies either – whatever happened here I think was a little more than a simple shipwreck. I suppose a woman with a dress like that probably had an interesting life and death.
After crawling back out and allowing Martialla to magically hose me down (Drake didn’t even leer at me but I’ll chalk that up to concern over his sister) we gave the bones of the gambling ghost a proper burial.
“You know this is like the third or fourth ghost that I’ve put to rest? Fun fact.”
“Should we same some words?”
“What’s there to say? She’s dead, we’re alive. That’s pretty much it.”
Hair regrowth progress : .021%
Curses – Marksman’s Malady, Unnerve Beasts
Funds: 8,676 gold
Inventory: Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Ring of Protection +2, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings, Bag of Concealment, Belt of Giant Strength +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Black Marketers’ Bag, 852 Garnets, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses, Blue Dragoncloth Dress
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo