Montalan 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

If I had ever thought about it, which I haven’t, I wouldn’t have thought that it would be possible to fall asleep clinging to a tree with deadly beasts below you.  I can tell you now that it is completely possible though.  I can also tell you that sleeping in a tree is a terrible idea.  When I woke up I felt like I had been pressed for several hours and then put on the rack as a chaser.  When you wake up with terribly painful joint pains the question I always have is how did you stay asleep?  Clearly you can feel pain while you’re asleep right?  Or rather pain wakes you up?  The point is when you wake up with a throbbing ache in your shoulder because you slept with your arm wedged into the crook of a tree’s limbs how did you fall asleep and stay asleep with that level of discomfort in the first place?  It makes no sense. 

The first thing I did upon waking was look below for the canine beasts that had treed me.  Actually that’s not accurate, the first thing I did was almost fall out of the tree while trying to stretch out my stiff back.  But after I managed to catch myself the next thing I did was look for the beasts – and saw them sitting below as patiently and silently as a cherished hunting dog waiting for the hand of their master.  And those eyes – looking up at me with hateful intelligence.  Oddly I’ve met a fair share of animals with human cleverness at this point and they generally still have the dumb eyes of creatures – maybe a little spark here or there, but generally there’s no difference between them and any other animal of their kinds from sight.  These hounds of the Hells were something else entirely – like humans eyes staring greedily up at me from their skullish beast-heads.  Of my mount there was nothing left – not even bones, there was a bit of the saddle on the ground but it seems they even ate most of the tack.

Taking stock of the situation I eventually noticed that I wasn’t alone in the tree.  On a branch above me and to the side I saw another person halfway standing halfway leaning halfway lying (I know that’s more than one but that’s how it was, you weren’t there so shut up about it) in a relaxed and comfortable manner.  I’m no expert on elfs but it looked a bit like an elf while not being an elf.  What it most looked like was one of the Shirefolk but this person had to be close to five feet tall and no Halfling ever grew so lofty.  Another difference,  its shoeless feet were far more delicate and petite looking than those of the smallfolk.  Being so fair and composed with easy grace I was left to guess that it was some manner of fey, although I’ve never seen one that just looked like a person – they usually have some kind of fluttery wings or vibrant colored hair at the very least to make them as faeries.  Even its gender wasn’t easy to guess at.

“Ahoy there.”

It glanced down and I saw that it was chewing on a leaf “And a good morning to you, it’s rare that I have visitors.  I would have preferred that you had introduced yourself first but it’s nice to have company nevertheless.”

“My apologies at that bit of rudeness, I was fleeing for my life at the time.”

It nodded “And a mighty fine piece of fleeing it was.  I’ve never seen one of your kind run up a tree so nimbly, or run up a tree at all for that matter, normally they climb like the clumsiest of bears.  If only you had been so concerned with your equine friend as you were for yourself.”

“If there was anything I could have done I would have done it.  Maybe I should stop riding altogether, I seem to end up being pursued by monsters more often than not and they pay the price.”

“Maybe you should, but humans will find a way to send horses to their deaths anyway.  I don’t care so much for horses myself, they make me sneeze and they have very little to say that’s at all interesting.  You seem like you’d have all manner of interesting things to say.”

“That depends entirely on what interests you.”

“Well put.  I saw you trying to drive off the pack with your crossbow, you’re not a very good shot.”

“That’s true enough, I generally manage to get along fine with my level of skill but this was beyond me, they’re very quick.  And they seem to know what a crossbow is.   That’s the real problem, they see me aiming and they dodge before I can even fire.  And the firing isn’t so easy clinging to a tree in the first place.”

“I would imagine not.  I’m sure they do know what a crossbow is since they’re humans.”

“That would explain why my beastspeech didn’t work on them.  Are they shapechangers then?  Seems like this would be a good time for them to change shape into something that can climb if they want to get at me.”

“No, they are as they appear.  I should say that they were human to be wholly true.  It’s a hag trick, they find some people who don’t want to be human and work their sinister rituals to turn them into these ugly critters.  So the hag gets a loyal pack of hounds that are smart enough to avoid people when they need to and smart enough to find people as she wishes.  It’s a pretty nice bargain for the hag.”

“What do the people get?”

“To run free.  To kill as they desire.  To take their pleasure as they will.  Have you ever met someone who seemed like a monster in human form?  This gives those people the chance to be what they really want.  To embrace this path is to reject humanity in exchange for the power and passion, trading their humdrum lives for corrupted flesh and spirit.”

“Still seems like the hag comes out ahead in the deal.”

“They usually do.  Most people strike a deal with a hag out of pure desperation but some think that they can come out ahead.  What they fail to consider is that they’re deal with an immortal creature that has done this countless of times before, you have to be pretty canny to get the upper hand there.”

“Hags are immortal?”

“Or near enough, they live for thousands of years anyway.  When they don’t get nailed to trees by humans.”

“So a hag is after me and these are her minions?  What the Hells is with this place?  This is like the third hag I’ve run afoul of this week.  There’s a whole dang village of them to the south!  Well I guess I only saw one hag there but I’m lead to believe there were others.”

“You went to that place huh?  No wonder these dogs are after you.  What’s happening is that this land is cursed.  Back when this was the Barony of Cyroa a plague of crows were eating all the farmer’s crops, which is something that farmers don’t like, seeing as how they don’t grow those crops for crows to eat.  They went to the Baron of Cyroa and asked him to do something about it.  The Baron thought about it and didn’t think there was much he could do – it’s not like you can send your soldiers out to fight crows is it?  But the Baron had a wizard advisor, as they often do, and he felt like he could handle the situation easily enough.  The wizard crafted a spell that would kill all the crows, it took some time because making a new spell is very hard work, but eventually he got it done.  Unfortunately though things were more complicated than they seemed, the crows themselves were compelled to be there by the magic of a demon. 

The next Baron over wanted to take over the land of Cryoa so he conspired with the demon to cause a catastrophe that would drive the people out and allow him to annex the lands into his own.  The demon was quite enjoying having his crows eat everything causing the people to suffer and he didn’t want to fun to stop, so he did some demon trickery and messed up the wizard’s spell so they when he cast it instead of killing all the crows it turned them into humanoid crow people.  However this botched spellcasting was just as good because the crow-people couldn’t fly, so the Baron could just sent out his soldiers to kill them at last.  Which is just what he did.  The demon got involved in the fight too but the Baron’s wizard and some of his companions were able to bind him under the ground.  Ever since then there’s been far more hags born here, I mean in the old borders of Cyroa which no longer exist, than there should be by any rights.  And those hags attract others.”

“Hags are born?”

“Yes, they’re born to humans, they don’t turn into hags until later.  That’s where the stories of changelings come from.  That’s one reason for them anyhow, sometimes fey actually do crib swaps like the stories say.  I guess they think it’s funny.  They’re a peculiar bunch.”

“That’s quite a story, is it true?”

“I think so.  It explains all the hags around here anyway.  There’s certainly a demon bound under a big tree a couple miles away.  He’s not a bad company for a demon, likes to fish.  Being alone for all these years are probably softened his demoncity.  I have a theory that it’s being in the Hells that makes demons so bad.  I bet if you take them away from all that for a couple centuries they’d probably turn out to be pretty normal people.”

“People?”

“Sure, why not?”

“You seem like you know quite a bit, any advice on how to get out of this jam?”

“Well you can’t wait them out, they’ll stay down there forever unless their hag mistress calls them back.  And it seems like you can’t fight them or scare them away.  If you could fly away you would have done it already.  I don’t know you so I can’t say for sure but it seems like you can’t get out of this yourself.  I can help you though if you want.”

“That would be very kind of you.  What would you want in return?”

“I can’t think of anything I need so no charge.”

“I hate to be cynical here but that kind of generosity makes me suspicious.”

“I’m just a helpful being, but I don’t blame you for being dubious, it’s a rare quality these days.”

“What are you going to do?”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth then I noticed a few things.  One was that the person I was talking to was gone.  The next was that instead of morning it was now several hours after nightfall.  Also I was in a different tree.  I’m no naturalist but I could tell that it was the dark smooth bark of an ironwood tree, which one hopes places me in the woods of Irontimber.  Below me was a merrily burning campfire with several people sitting around it staring lazily into the fire as people do sometimes when sitting around a fire at night.  One of them was Martialla.  I was frozen for a moment and I looked down at that scene for a long while before believing that it was real.  Eventually I crawled down out of the tree with the aid of my Slippers.  The people around the campfire were naturally very surprised by a woman appearing out of a tree without warning and several of them leapt to their feet reaching for weapons.  Martialla though upon spotting me smiled a lopsided smile, waving for her companions to stay their weapons.  She was about to say something when I lunged forward and caught her in a hug.  I may have even wept a little.  After a moment of confusion she hugged me back and then stepped back to look me over.

“You climbing out of a tree out of nowhere honestly doesn’t surprise me much given your ways, but I don’t think that anything could have shocked me more than that.  You haven’t gone soft have you?  What’s next you’re going to be saying that we’re friends?”

“I’ve never really had a friend before, it took me a while to realize what I was feeling.”

This admission seemed to startle her almost as much as the hug, and she was clearly embarrassed “Well . . . anyway, how have things been going for you?”

“The usual.”

“That bad huh?  No wonder you’re all emotional now.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 725,701

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace,  Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet

Courtier’s Outfit, noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring

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, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa  

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