We had barely gotten underway when we were hailed heartily by two lumberjacks. Tall and strapping they were with shoulders as wide as ox-carts and haunches bristling with the strength of a thousand porcupines. Anflite and Filtan returned their greeting cheerfully, sinews all aquiver with appreciation but I irritably waved them back.
“Nice try ladies but I’m not buying it. The look is solid, although I would suggest that you vary things a bit more between the two of you – you nearly look like twins. Your mistake is one of posture. You look like beefy woodsmen but you’re still standing like women. Yours legs are too close together for one thing – it’s an unconscious instinct for women to try and protect their business, men on the other hand, they’re hanging their shit out there for everyone to enjoy and compliment them on. That’s the main thing, but the shoulders are a bit of a problem as well. When you want to appear as a man you need to open up your shoulders a little bit, not a lot, the difference is subtle but it’s the difference between self-confidence and guardedness. You never want to be too open as a woman right? Men raise the head higher and bend the shoulders more forward than women, you see . . .”
“You’ll have to forgive us, usually we’re disguising ourselves as winsome maidens.”
“Think nothing of it, this is one of my area sof expertise, it worked just fine on these two obviously. Was this an ambush and slaughter kind of masking or more of a feel things out kind of deal?”
“Play it by ear, you know how it goes.”
“Sure, sure. I assume your pig-slave told you we were coming so let’s get right down to it. My friend here was bitten by a werewolf, which is turning out to be a bit of an issue. Our experts tell us that the kiss of a dryad can cure that sort of thing, and we heard that you two had a dryad on the payroll so to speak. We’d like to see if we can work out a deal.”
“Our sister doesn’t receive visitors.”
“Yes, I’m sure after the whole thing with the river and the magic tree and the war against humanity she’s not super keen on engaging with humans and so forth but we were hoping that we could prevail upon her to help us anyway. I’ve found personally that helping others is a way to find your own path to recovery after a traumatic event.”
They both dropped their illusions and revealed their true forms. I’ve seen a river hag before, they’re reputed to be amongst the ugliest beings alive, and rightfully so, but they cross the line where they’re so surreally grotesque that is loses some of its impact. They’re so far from anything familiar that it’s not as bad. These two were worse because there was still some resemblance of a human appearance there. They were both sickly looking, painfully thin, and olive-skinned with an explosion of dark, rotting rank hair knots but one looked almost woody, like her green skin was the gnarled bark of a tree and her talons were like thick branches. The other, while still reedy was bloated at the joints, which were more of a fish-belly white color and were infested with leeches to boot. As well the second hag had clothed herself in a patchwork of priestly robes that looked to be from at least a dozen different religions. The first was horrifically nude.
“You are not welcome here.”
“Come now, surely there’s some kind of . . .”
“Begone! You stretch already the bounds of our forbearance! You come into our home, eat our food, wear our clothes, put your feet up on our table! Your very presence disgusts us!”
“Now wait a minute, I don’t . . .”
“Silence! Leave now lest you be thrice cursed!”
I retrieved my crossbow “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“May your veins weep! May every beast of the earth and sky lust for your blood!”
“I thought you hags were supposed to be smart, yet here you are in my sights, where are all your minions?”
I fired my crossbow, straight and true, and it passed right through the image standing before me – more illusions. They both disappeared as a dozen pig-men came hurtling out of hiding and charging with crude rusty weapons. Anflite and Filtan met them with their wicked orc-axes. I swiveled to start firing into the mass and was splattered across the arms and upper body by hot tar hurled by one of the real hags appearing to my side. The heat coming through my shirt was insufferable, but the places where the tar fell on my neck and bare hand were agonizing – I dropped the crossbow with a shriek. Martialla started weaving a spell of her own, but the other hag appeared and with a gesture the ring on Martialla’s finger blazed white-hot. Her spell forgotten with an agonized scream of her own she yanked the ring off, along with a majority of the skin on that finger and its two neighbors.
Before we could react the two hags joined hands and pointed at Lathal, spitting vile curses at her – causing her to drop to the ground convulsing violently. At first I thought that they had wracked her with pain, but quickly their intent was made apparent. Lathal bent over backwards in an excruciating lurch as the transformation began – tearing at her clothes with her clawed hands as she became the wolf.
The two half-orc sisters were cutting down humanoid swine with ease and the eyes of the hags turned towards them. Gritting my teeth against the burning tar I shaped my hand into a lion’s paw and leapt with claws out – and the hag caught my arm, checking me as easily as a father would a tiny child trying to strike at them. That spindly sickly looking arm contained strength that you wouldn’t believe. She grinned, her mouth a disaster of crooked brown teeth, and squeezed – sending pain shooting up my arm as the bone flexed and started to crack. Desperately I flung my Bead at her feet, a roaring campfire springing into life underneath her and to my satisfaction she leapt back with her own cry of pain.
“How about a little fire?”
“A pox upon your soul!”
At her words an aching, itching rash appeared instantly covering me from knees to chin. I grabbed at my crossbow and fired but I missed so badly I doubt an onlooker would have even known I was firing at her. Out of corner of my eye I saw that Martialla had turned herself invisible but that the other hag had no trouble finding her and ripping away her magic with her own – burning her with strange purple flames and sending her tumbling to the ground. Lathal, now in fullblooded werewolf form went after her brother with a vicious snarl. He tried to run, but she pounced on him like a rabbit, seizing him by the back of the neck with her jaws.
The hag walked towards me, heedless of my crossbow, which upon firing I missed badly again. She made a move to knock the crossbow out of my hands, but I dropped it willingly and seized her arm – using her strength against her to trip and roll her towards the merrily burning fire. Grabbing a clump of her crusty hair I managed to shove her face into the flames for a split second before she tossed me off like a bull dislodging a bloodrat. I landed badly, face and collarbone first, with all of my weight above and behind me. The hag calmly walked up on me and slashed me across the back with her claws – it felt like being stabbed with a pitchfork. In addition I felt the strength being magically sapped from my limbs. With nothing much else to do I went for the Deck of Curses and flung a card at her, it sliced into her flesh like a tiny dagger and more helpfully appeared to strike her blind.
“A brave attempt dearie, but the darkness holds no terrors for me, I can still smell your rotting bitch womb.”
There was a part of me that wanted to respond with a witty rejoinder but it was overruled by the ninety-nine percent of me what was scared shitless and wanted to scramble as far away as I could. Drake, covered with blood, had clambered up a tree to escape his sister but I saw her literally rip it out of the ground and send him tumbling through the air. Martialla, blurred by some kind of partial invisibility, had resorted to going sword to claw against the other hag and was just barely managing to hold her own. Taking the second hag by surprise from the blindside, I cuffed her across the back of the head, sending her stumbling into a gutting strike from Martialla. I leapt on the hag with all my body weight, getting her in a chokehold as Martialla stabbed her repeatedly in the belly and thighs. She slowly went to the ground as the other hag screamed as if she felt the same pain.
Even blinded she came unerringly at us. I shoved Filtan into the path of the hag, an act for which I feel no remorse. Martialla blasted the last few swinefolk to dust with her magic as Anflite rushed to help her sister struggle with the hag. Lathal had her brother by the throat and was choking the like out of him like a farmer strangling a chicken. I looked to Martialla, seeing true terror in her eyes.
She shook her head so I went to the deck of curses and tossed a card at Lathal. Whatever effect it had, if any, was not apparent. As Martialla and I looked at each other helplessly watching Lathal murder her brother Anflite and Filtan walked past us, throwing their bloody axes into the ground and limbering up their muscles as they moved forward. Looking behind me I saw they had killed the other hag, and looking back to them I saw them each grab an arm of the werewolf and drag her off her brother – who miraculously rolled away gasping for breath still alive. The sisters, amazingly, wrestled the rampaging shewolf-beast to the ground where Martialla ran forward and touched Lathal with a calming spell that slowly made her revert to her human form – passed out cold and sweat-slicked.
“Remind me to give you girls a raise.”
Filtan gave me a cool look “I was starting to think that you didn’t take us seriously.”
“That’s definitely not a road I’m going to travel down any further.”
Hair regrowth progress : .0225%
Curses – Marksman’s Malady, Unnerve Beasts, Melancholy
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 (two cards used), Blue Dragoncloth Dress, severed hag head (2)
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
Behind the Curtain : The curse card made Lathal barren. Oops. It’s not a great combat tool really.