Episode 75: Traded Favours
The old woman trudged through the snow with the party following behind. As the wan daylight gave way to dusk, they arrived at an unassuming cottage nestled beneath a bluff. As they approached the woman was greeted by two excited skeletal canines, their green-flamed skulls chattering happily. She quieted the creatures, who regarded the party with an unnerving, quiet stares as they made their way inside.
The cottage was inundated with several lifetimes' worth of knick-knacks, parchments, pottery, tools, blankets, and ephemera too varied to catalog; a low fire crackled in the hearth. The old woman welcomed the adventurers, introducing herself as Nettie Blackfingers, and ushered them into the kitchen to sit around a large wooden table. As she settled, Nettie directed Magnus to the hearth with a heavy cast-iron teapot. Magnus summoned his unseen servant to assist, which earned him a scolding from the old woman. “Manners!” she said, and dispelled the servant with a flick of one too-long, extra-jointed black finger.
As they talked, it became clear there was something unnatural about this old woman; Ara and Sirlius found her deeply unsettling. As they talked, she inquired as to the party’s purpose so deep in the forest in the dead of winter. When they revealed their intent to enter the Feywild, she grimaced with distaste, though she declined to say why, instead turning the conversation to bargains. Nettie seemed eager to make an exchange with the party, about whom she seemed to have some preternatural knowledge. Though she admitted to having a variety of trinkets and objects that may be useful, Nettie seemed much more interested in dealing for secrets, for power. To Sirlius she suggested that a restoration of his horns might be had; for Yuna, a cure to her spell-sickness. To Keen and Ara she offered understanding. And what would she accept in payment for such things? Blood, spit and hair; a mote of destiny; a jot of vitality. Though each of them tempted, the woman’s eerie grin and black eyes warned of dark consequences.
Of all the party members, it was Magnus who seemed most willing to trade, and the two bargained. Nettie seemed most interested in acquiring Magnus’s dead arm; Magnus considered it but decided the cost too great. He suggested trading memories, but Nettie seemed less interested in the past than the future. Finally, he presented three residium slivers, which Nettie was most interested in. “But haven’t you a use for these already?” she asked with a knowing smile and gesturing at Whisper and Sirlius. Nettie suggested she assist Magnus in preparing two portions of Residium Binding solution, so that Whisper and Sirlius would be bound to their companions. Her price? “A favour, dearheart. A favour for a favour.”
Though the party was worried about being indebted to such a creature, Magnus readily agreed, and the two moved immediately to Nettie’s alchemical workshop to complete the work. Magnus’s companions spent an uncomfortable evening awaiting the results. When they returned, the work was complete, and two phials of the solution were ready. Using a steel needle, Magnus injected first Sirlius and then Whisper, and as the binding took hold, they felt their minds flooded with thoughts and images from their friends. Sirlius was quick to master his own mind, though not before sharing a vision of his patron, Drahnus, the Dark Lord. Whisper was more overwhelmed, and for some time her thoughts seeped into the minds of her friends, who learned of her lifetime of guidance by The Whisper King, and of her position as Warden in his Court. She also unwittingly shared the destruction of her flock, and of her deep need for companionship.
Their bargain complete, Nettie announced she would to bed. Taking a small cup of broth from a cauldron by the fire, she advised the party to stay the night and make way in the morning. Despite their misgivings a night, dry by a warm fire was too tempting to resist. Whisper attempted to sit a watch but was overcome by the imagery of shared dreams from the residium binding and lost consciousness.
In the morning, the party awoke suddenly at a clap from the old crone, who instructed them to be on their way. Sirlius offered the woman a gift of a vial of vampire dust, the last remains of Madame Elethi. Nettie accepted it, and in returned offered a piece of advice: do not trust the Guardians of the Gate. She also offered the party a final bargain: deliver a letter, and be granted with wisdom of the Feywild: “Accept no gifts, and make no bargains. Look not for aide among the Courts.” Yuna accepted the sealed parchment scroll and promised she would deliver it if she could.
The party left the cottage and its weird occupant behind, and resumed travelling southeast. After nearly a full day’s march in blowing, blinding snow, Whisper warned the party they were entering the hunting grounds of two Owl Bears: fresh tracks could be seen in the new-fallen snow. Careful to avoid attracting attention, they moved forward. More than once, Ara thought he saw a shadow high in the branches of the dense forest; it seemed they were being watched. Finally, the party found themselves facing another bluff, a rise of solid granite some hundred or so feet high. Atop it, all but invisible in the snows, Sirlius could make out a tall stone arch. Suspecting this might be the “Green Way Arch” mentioned in the nursery rhyme that seemed to describe their current journey, the party looked for a way up. Ara discovered a stairway cut into the stone, hidden from view by a cunning trick of perspective. Whisper slowly made her way to the top, wary of ice and treacherous footing. Though the stair seemed save, she was unnerved to find that the sheer stone on either side of the stair was inset with a multitude of bones: dozens, even hundreds of white bones and fragments of all manner and description seemed fused to the rock itself.
One by one the party ascended the narrow path, and emerging atop the stair found themselves facing the arch wrapped around which they could see an odd green vine. Atop the arch the vine was in bloom; three white flowers with striking luminescent pink centres seemed to regard the party. Fascinated, Whisper scampered up one side of the arch and inching along the top on her belly attempted to pluck a flower. Instead she found the plant extremely resilient and she was unable to pull a bloom away from the vine. She resorted to a pair of heavy shears from her Bag of Hoarding, and using all her strength was able to cut through the vine.
As Whisper rejoined the party with the flowers, Sirlius was fascinated to realize that he had seen such things before, though many times bigger – in a vision of the Feywild during which he communed with his patron. Curious, he cast a Detect Magic spell, and was shocked by a blinding pain in his mind. He screamed in agony, overwhelmed. Echoes of psychic pain traversed the Residium Binding telepathy, and Whisper, unable to control it, screamed also. Whatever these flowers were, their arcane essence was overpowering.
As the party considered whether the arch might be some sort of portal, Whisper noted that another standing stone, a solid chunk of purple schist, was visible at a fork in the trees just beyond. It seemed the party was still on the path, and growing closer to… something.
Hag Level: Grandmother
Bargain Rating: Consequence Free, Probably
Evil Clones Created: 0/1
RP Rating: Awesome!