Most hags however hideous they may be, and many of them are quite hideous, still fundamentally look like twisted and gnarled and mutated old crones. But the figure standing before me had no humanity left it seemed. Its face was that of a demonic bat and its neck, shoulders, and back bristled with ugly looking black spines. Its arms and legs didn’t seem to be flesh, they looked more like some manner of flexible horn. It was certainly a repugnant countenance but as I’ve said before I think monsters are more disturbing looking when they’re still somewhat familiar. A hellsteed is terrible to behold because of the parts of it that still look like a horse, whereas something like a behir is so alien to the eye that it loses some of its awfulness. I don’t know who designed hags but they went a bit overboard on this one if you ask me. I suppose there’s some kind of hag God that made them.
This particular dreamscape was a claustrophobic stone room that I could tell was deep underground, or you know that’s what it felt like since it’s a dream and it’s not really anywhere. Half the room was dominated by a massive cauldron/stove/furnace thing that was blasting out heat so that you could feel it in your eyes. The spiny bat woman was taking up a good amount of the rest of the space herself being quite large. She was occupying herself with fondling some entrails and viscera and constantly shedding some kind of black ash off her body. Maybe she was so close to the stove thing that she was being burned slowly and that’s what was coming off her. I of course was affixed to the wall with rusty chains. The usual.
“Is that what you really look like?”
Her voice was a rich manly baritone “Would you prefer something more comely?”
She pulled on her string of slickly glistening body parts until she had what was left of a human face and held it over her own like a child playing with a mask. Once a face is removed from the body it’s pretty hard to tell who it might have been before, but after a while I realized that it was Timora’s face. Once I made that connection the hag cackled as only they can and then hurled the bloody skin at me.
“Your friend can’t help you now!”
“I wouldn’t say friend, we really just met the one time. Is she really dead them or is this just a dream thing? I haven’t really figured out how all this works. What’s real and what’s just a dream? Are we like in a different dimension or something?”
She delicately and slowly dragged one of her claws down my face, slicing me from my temple down to the corner of my mouth “It’s not my job to explain how things work to you.”
My eyes were tearing up from the stinging pain, not just from being carved, but there was some kind of burning sensation along the cut as well “Fair enough, so why are we here then? Just for the torture or what’s on the agenda?”
“You could use a little torture maybe, you’re far too calm.”
“I don’t meant this to be flippant, but I’ve been threatened with horrible torture and death so many times at this point that it’s kind of lost its bite. I’m very afraid of you, I don’t mean to seem like I’m not, but you’ve kind of done yourself a disservice because tormenting me with nightmares all the time is part of what has desensitized me. That plus all the terrible things that have happened to me in the real world. I’m sure there’s fates and tortures that you could inflict in me worse than anything I can imagine but that’s the problem, I can’t imagine them. If you want to do the whole thing where you threaten me and I cry and beg for mercy and so forth I can do that, I’m very convincing at doing that, but I assume since you’re finally appearing before me that you have something else in mind. So can we just get down to whatever it is you want?”
“I’m tempted to hang you from hooked razors to teach you some manners but you’re right I brought you here for a reason. You’re too clever by half you are.”
“Uh, thank you?”
“My plan was to torment your dreams for years until you begged for madness to overtake you to blot out the experience. Things were going well until the Other One started intruding on my territory.” She stroked my head like that of a surly cat to make sure I knew what she was talking about “I had to block her out or she would have killed you. And that simply wouldn’t do. Death is too kind a fate for you.”
“I couldn’t agree more, I hope that I never die just so I can learn my lessons.”
She cackled right in my face, nearly cauterizing my nasal passages with the stench of her breath “You may have spurred the Ancient Queen but she has found others more pliable to her will and now her power grows.”
“So she’s getting stronger and you want me to take her out before she’s more powerful than you and crushes you like a bristlefly.”
She dug her claw-nails into my stomach and raged how she was more powerful than the Gods themselves and all the horrors she could visit in me for saying otherwise, but once she was done with her hissy-fit that was exactly what she wanted. She told me that in order to stop the other intruder into my dreams I had to destroy her mortal remains. Luckily those remains weren’t too far away – it’s always so inconvenient when the thing you need for the quest is on the other side of the world. The tomb of the once and future empress, if you can believe this bat-faced nightmare beast, is in the mountains to the north. She said that I should go to Gib’s Tor and one of her mortal slaves would show me where to go to find the tomb, but warned me that the new earthly minions of the ghost queen would likely be guarding it.
She sneered, which is really something with a bat-mouth “You think it’s that easy mortal?!”
This response enraged her to the point where she felt it appropriate to grab onto my arms and yank until there was a series of popping noises in both my shoulders. The pain was so intense that I passed out for a moment – which as I’ve mentioned before makes no sense in a dream. When I came around the pain in my shoulders was merely reduced to searing agony. The hag was howling and cursing and sending showers of stone chips flying as she punched at the walls. At one point she pressed her arm against the giant black iron stove like thing and burned her flesh down to the bone (which was purple by the way). I’m not sure what she’s so upset about, she’s getting everything she wants. Actually that’s not true, I know exactly why she’s so upset, I’m not sniveling and being craven enough to feed her ego. I suppose I should make more of an effort to pretend to be afraid in this situations. I’ve developed and unwanted and unwelcome streak of stubborn pride. I’ll need to work on stamping that out.
The pain in my shoulders was powerful enough that I couldn’t focus on what she was saying for a while but eventually I realized that she was screaming at me that I had to do something else for her as well. I said that would do whatever she wanted in what I thought was an appropriately cowed town but she seemed to grow even more angry. Maybe she can read my mind and she knew I was just doing it for her benefit. Her rampage grew more severe but with a nauseating sense of vertigo I found myself back in the real world. I think the part of her that was still in some measure of control sent me back before she ripped me apart. I felt like I was going to puke my guts out, but I closed my eyes and waited for the spinning to stop and eventually I felt okay.
It must have been after midnight because I could tell that my disguise ability was back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, magic makes no sense. How does it know what day it is? I understand the concept of something needing time to build back up, it would make sense of me if you had to wait a set amount of time to use a power again, but that’s not how it works at all. If you use all your magic at one minute before midnight and then wait two minutes you can do it all again. I suppose that’s why they call it the witching hour? That’s midnight right?
I put my hand to my face and felt blood – the gouges the hag had inflicted on my in the dream had come through to the waking world as well. That fucking bitch cut my face for real. I’m going to have to do something about that. Just as soon as I figure out how to kill a dream. Something to worry about later. I took on the form of the older lady with the pearl earrings and just walked out of the room. I could hear from the main hall the murmuring of several voices. I listened long enough to get the gist of it, sounded like the Vielanders had captured Gevudan and were plotting with some nobles to betray the Kingdom. Is there anyone in this damn place that isn’t trying to sell us out to the enemy? What kind of a world is it when I’m the one who’s always saving the day?
I found the first guard I could and told him to get a horse ready for me to ride. The fact that he didn’t question this at all tells me just what kind of woman pearl earrings is – you obey her, you don’t ask questions. Generally speaking even the most loyal and efficient of minions might say something about a midnight ride out of the blue but clearly Pearl Earrings had made it clear she was not to be questioned about anything ever. A few minutes later I was riding north through the woods on spirited light brown stallion that had marks on its legs like it had survived a wolf attack or wild dogs or something like that. A survivor, like me, we’ll get along well.
Around daybreak I came out of the woods and found the road. I turning north, figuring that if I was north of Ardint I would at least run into Tybhurst. I wasn’t though, a few hours later I came into Ardint. The only things I know about Ardint are that they make a lot of textiles here (nothing good) and that even though it’s nowhere special and not very large there’s an academy of some kind. Not one that anyone of quality would ever send their children to, but the kind that allows in wealthy merchants and other people of that ilk.
I didn’t see any guards so I went to the blacksmith under the assumption that they should know whoever kept the peace around here since they probably made their weapons and armor. I was shocked to find that the blacksmith was a half-orc woman. I told her that I needed to speak to someone in a position of authority was soon as possible. She didn’t seem concerned in the slightest but one of her apprentices, another woman (!) who didn’t even look strong enough to lift the hammer was very alarmed. She took me to the mayor, and by that I mean just directly to the mayor’s house. I understand that Ardint isn’t the big city, but it’s no sleepy hamlet either – it’s a decent sized town – you shouldn’t be able just to walk up on the mayor having breakfast.
And check this out, the mayor was a dwarf! What kind of crazy town is this? He continued eating his breakfast as I told him about the Vielanders and the two women I had seen plotting with them. He received this news so calmly I started to fear that he was in cahoots on the whole plan but once he was done with his breakfast he did send some runners to fetch what passed for magistrates and constables and the like and had me tell them the whole story again. Well, not the whole story, but the treason part. They at least had the good graces to be outraged, and more than a little worried that a large body of Vieland soldiers would come screaming out of the woods at any moment to sack the town.
Various messengers were dispatched to call up the militia and to make contact with the closest military force in Graltontown and to head spread the word to Tybhurst and Cathars and so forth which seems all well and good. But why wasn’t the militia already called up? Even without Vielanders sneaking around in the woods we’re not that far from the front lines, yet it seems like most people are acting like there’s not even a war on. Once they swung into action everyone seemed to forget about me so I make myself some food in the dwarf’s kitchen and chatted with his Halfling maid/personal assistant/mayoral aide. She was quite proud to tell me that Rohes (that’s the dwarf) had founded the town and was the only mayor they had ever had, going on a hundred years now. That must be quite something to oversee a community that you started for its entire history.
I asked her, since I had just saved the Kingdom from vile treachery, if she could get me some new clothes to wear and she was ecstatic to do just that. She talked at length about how Ardint textiles are the finest in the land (they aren’t) and said that she would be happy to buy me some traveling clothing. I told her that I was weary and wanted to rest and I trusted her judgement and off she went. Snooping around I found a magic bag under the floorboard in the mayor’s bedroom which had a couple of interested items in it. A few hours later the maid returned with some new clothing for me and we chatted away the afternoon drinking tea and having a fine time before it was finally sadly time for me to go. I traded a strange silver bead I took from the mayor’s sack for some feed for my mount and set out for Tybhurst a couple hours before sunset.
Inventory: Light Riding Horse, Bag of Holding, Ring of Spell Storing, +1 Saber, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, Ring of Climbing, Traveler’s Outfit
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, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company, maker of the manacles, Calvados Eure, Law Offices of Lampblack and Brimstone, Peronell Missplitter, Nightmare Hag