A Tale of Three Witches

edited March 6 in Real Time Quests (IC)
We are under attack. Return here at once.
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The desperate call for help arrived in Mirith on the wings of a bat, under the cover of darkest night. It would reach Ryen first.

The wizard took off running – no time to waste looking around for backup; backup would find him. Besides, the path to the Vale was one of the quietest paths on the whole continent, and so well worn that you couldn’t get lost if you tried. So it wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world when he ran into another person on that same path, heading in the opposite direction with a bottle of whiskey in hand.

“Oh, hi!” she said, before making a familiar croaking sound.

“Hello!” said Ryen. “You’re not an assassin. I hope.”

“Me?! Me looks for pretty pretty flowery flowers.”

“I just thought, for a moment... nevermind.” The wizard cleared his throat. “Flowers you say?”

“Aye. That other forest witch… I must find what she used.”

“Oh, wow,” said Ryen. Frog in the throat… peculiar accent… bottle of whiskey… of course! This person was none other than the elusive forest witch Istra Falvo. It had been a fair few moons since Istra had been seen around the Vale. It was good to see that she was still in one piece. “So,” Ryen said. “What kind of flower do you think it was? A nevia? Maybe a bracken root?”

“I smell something rotteny-rot. Like… a droopy flower.” She took a long swig from her bottle. "Did you see her rituals?! All black and sleepy?”

Ryen gasped. “S…” he said, wracking his brain. That other forest witch, who had been behind a dark, bloody ritual under the full Sleeping Moon. What was her name? “Supper?”

“Aye, she’s called Dinner, or something. I was proper impressed.”

Ryen nodded along. “That’s powerful magic.” Powerful enough to put people to sleep… for good.

“Maybe it was a drink, not a flower.” She took another swig. “But man, she did use something proper strange.”

“Hm," said Ryen. "Maybe the flower was used in a drink. But I’m not the best alchemist, I’ll admit.”

“She had a hot cauldron. But it was no soupy-soup.”

“Right. Well, let us know if you need any help with that flower. I’ll keep an eye out, for sure.”

“Will do! I’ll keep searching!” She tossed a bottle toward Ryen, who barely managed to catch it. "There!"

"Cheers!" said Ryen. "And oh, before you head out. Keep an eye out for anyone sneaking around with bracken seeds. I just received word from the Vale that there was an attack."

"Oh, like mine?" She hoisted a bag of seeds in the air.

"Huh?" Ryen froze.

"Vale be Jeddy-boy's guild, right?"

"That's the one."

"Not me, then. Jeddy-boy is proper friend."

"Heh. He'd probably think you meant it as a gift, if you did."

"I like gifting my friends with proper gifts they like. I know he's a plate-man. Plate-men don't like booms."

"Not at all." Ryen grinned. "But I do!"

"You want boom? There!" Istra plucked a seed from the bag and flicked it toward Ryen.

"Aha, thanks!"

"Anytime." She returned the bag of seeds to her pack. "I did see someone."

"Oho. A rogue, maybe?"

"There was an ugly fellow-man. In red. Bleurgh. He had a bag." She paused and let out a loud croak. "And he mocked my pipe. Proper pipe this one!"

"Lovely. Did you hit him, or something?"

"Oh, I made him boom."

"Good," said Ryen. "He had it coming."

"He's ash now." Istra took another swig. "Anyway, green boy, there can only be one forest witch!"

"I agree! There's no place for Supper in this world."

"None! Only liquid Supper! I'll turn her into soup!"

"Sounds good! Good luck with the flowers then."

"Cheerio!"

"Later!"

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Intrigued by the possibility that Istra had already killed the Vale's assailant, Ryen took off northward with renewed energy. The dark forests seemed to glow under the light of the brilliant sea of stars above. Such was its beauty that for a moment, he almost forgot the urgency of his mission. Until, of course, he drew near to the Vale, where he found a very dense cluster of bracken completely surrounding the gate. Standing a safe distance away, he began to set fire to their roots and branches, watching impatiently as the wood crackled and sputtered. Not long into this process, he noticed a flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye, to the west. He spun around, spells at the ready, only to find a simple bat, flapping about aimlessly.

"What are you doing here?!" Ryen said, before sighing heavily. "Well come on then." He gestured the bat over, and remarkably, it obeyed. He gave it a gentle pat. "That's better! Now stay here and keep quiet!" Ryen turned back to the trees. "This calls for a professional, little one."

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After about an hour of controlled burning, and a few close calls, the gate was finally clear again. Ryen strolled into the hall triumphantly, his new friend close behind him. Oddly enough, Lans was nowhere to be found. The wizard contented himself with the thought that he must've been hiding in the basement, and then turned his attention back to the matter at hand.

"Okay!" the wizard said. "Welcome to our home, little bat. First rule, no hoarding! You will share you food with all the other bats." He tossed the bat a piece of raw steak, which it devoured in moments. "Now then... just where did you come from?"

He began to pace the central hall. That old scrap of paper was still lying atop the table. You are being too nosy. Mind your own business. With a wave of his hand and a * clar flas bur *, Ryen reduced the paper to ashes. "Dumb note." He spun back to his friend. "Alright then, chop chop!"

The pair marched out of the hall and started off westward. They didn't even make it to the road before encountering a lady all in gray.

"Good evening..." Ryen said, hands on his reagent pouch.

"It must be you!" the lady said, her voice calm and soothing. "Sweet thing. My dreams told me of a witch."

Ryen sent a bolt of lightning flying toward a harpie that had wandered in. His bat friend went chasing after at it. "Dreams..." he said. "Keeping you up at night?"

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She smiled. "I was looking for you, sweetest one. My dreams told me of a witch looking for Sleep. Is it you, who seeks the power of Sopor?" At this, Ryen could almost swear that her eyes were beginning to glow red.

"S..."

"Come closer."

"Uh..." Ryen took a small step backwards.

"Deliver yourself to the delights of sleep. You were the one seeking me."

"Dreams can be deceiving."

Her gaze seemed to intensify. "That, they are not! My dreams showed me clearly: a witch in the forest... longing for Sopor. Wanting her power."

"Ahh... yes..." A plan started to form in his mind.

"Yes? It is you, sweetest of sweetests?"

"I uh, I guess you found me!" Ryen stood up straight. "What power do you have to give?"

"Alas, the moon is not right. I must recharge my power with the moon."

Ryen glanced up at the night sky. "Sleeping Moon, it is not."

"Wait a full cycle, and the final sleep will embrace you."

Her eyes flashed red again, and suddenly Ryen was paralyzed, his gaze still fixed on the heavens. With every ounce of force he could muster, he willed his arm to move, but it would not. He started to feel the lifeforce drain from his body. The cloudy night sky was growing cloudier, grayer, colder...

"The sweetness of stillness," the witch whispered.

Istra... he thought, as the clouds gathered around him. You owe me one...


As he thought this, he began to feel a tingling sensation in his gut. What was that? It began to grow, grow stronger, heavier. Was that... anger? Yes, raw anger. Rage, even. Every ounce of him was burning. He felt like he was about ready to explode. He managed to let out a fierce roar, and suddenly, the invisible forces locking him into place dissipated. Pure, unadulterated fury exploded in every direction, setting the brush alight, and sending a massive fireball hurtling toward the crazy witch.

Not waiting to see the damages, he spun around and made a break for it. Above the roar of the flames, he could hear her voice call out after him, that impossibly calm voice. "You cannot kill... what is already dead!"

He ran and he ran, until the walls of the Vale came into view, and the witch was far, far behind him. As he made his final sprint toward the gate, something snagged on his legs and he tumbled headfirst into a log. Massaging his aching skull, he picked himself up and peered over his shoulder to see what he'd tripped on. The hollow eyes of a charred corpse stared back at him.

"ARRRGH!" He scrambled to his feet and dashed toward the gates.

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Disembodied laughter echoed throughout the woods behind him. An all-too-familiar voice, sickly sweet, called out faintly after him. "I will be back for you, sweetest of sweets! Give me a full cycle!"

And then, as he stepped into the hall, the laughter and the voices suddenly stopped. All was quiet, save for the spiders' usual chirping. In silence he crept over to the dormitories, through the creaky door, and over to his bed. Gently, he laid himself down on the bed, and stared at the ceiling with eyes wide open. Sleep would not be coming tonight.


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Comments

  • edited March 6
    Lans stood in the doorway, shaking his head. "Ouch," he said aloud as he stared over the near-lifeless body of Ryen lying stiff on the bed. "Darn kids... but I suppose I'd be tired too, after cutting through all those trees."

    Tearing his gaze away, he marched back to the gate, where the burnt husks of countless bracken still littered the ground. All at once he noticed something that he hadn't seen earlier, lying in the grass amidst the thicket. It was another note.

    "Next time it will be harsher. You have been warned."

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    And then, just southwest of the gate, something else caught his eye. He stepped closer. They were footprints, leading west. Leaving the note behind, he hurried to the west, following the prints, which very quickly led him to a charred, human corpse.

    "Grim," he said as he kneeled down and examined the body. Burn marks everywhere, and ash all around. "What a way to go." Examining further, he found the burnt remains of a plain red robe, and a very cheaply-made, probably store-bought dagger. "Who were you, would-be assassin... was it worth it?"

    Lans jumped to his feet and headed back into the hall. There was much to do. And as soon as Ryen could talk again, the wizard was going to have to do some serious explaining.


    * * * * * * * * * *
    * * * * * * * * * *


    The pair sat at the open window as the sun began to creep over the horizon, sipping at their respective mugs of ginseng tea. Ryen appeared to be burning through his like it was candy, while Lans of course made every effort to savor the warm, vibrant cup.

    "So the body you tripped over," Lans said, "it was burnt to a crisp? Robes of red?"

    "Yep," said Ryen.

    "Then it must be the same body that I found last night. And by extension, it must mean that this corpse was the ugly man who mocked Istra."

    Ryen nodded, half-smiling. "Bad move. But good for us: there'll be no more notes now. Istra made sure of that."

    "Sure, friend, but no sooner did Istra take care of that problem, than an even bigger problem reared its ugly head. What are we to do about Sopor?"

    Ryen winced, and took a long, slow sip from his mug. "I don't want her 'Eternal Sleep', man."

    Lans gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. "We'll find a way. We'll find Istra."

    "Well, I don't really think she owes me anything, now that she's killed the assassin."

    "It won't matter. Clearly, Istra wants to learn more about Sopor's arcane power. She will help. And maybe he will too." The cleric pointed to the tree just outside the window, where a bat was just beginning to roost.

    "I dunno about that one. And well, what about her dreams, man? She was able to see that Istra was looking for her. What else can she see?"

    "Well, no. She didn't see Istra, she saw ‘a witch’. And if you, in your infinite wisdom, were able to trick her into thinking you were that witch... then maybe she can't see quite as much as she's letting on."

    "Right." The weary-eyed wizard suddenly stood up, and headed toward the gate.

    "Where are you going?!" Lans called out after him, too tired to peel himself out of his chair.

    "To go practice on some bracken. You oughta come with." He paused, and glanced backwards at the cleric. "Especially after that little stunt you pulled in the Atoll."

    Lans let out a loud sigh. "I'll be there in five."
  • Sulovir stabs his dagger into the table at the hall and pulls out a small piece of parchment and a quill. “I probably shouldn’t do that,” he mumbles to himself and rushes over to a chest and grabs a plate, “this will cover that up.” He covers the hole with plate as he removes his dagger from the table. “Okay, where were we…”

    *Ryen,

    I received word that Cirilla needed help nearby the hall. I really regret spending the night in Mirith. I was able to meet with Maelthan, Breigje Balloc, Kwoo, and Luroth and race to the scene. I guess they didn’t know the shortcuts, as I arrived first and was able to decimate a gaper near the ghost of Cirilla. A couple of brigands then tried to attack me, but I was able to retreat and ambush them from the shadows of the trees.

    The other arrived and we got everyone squared away. To the south east was an encampment surrounded by Bracken. Flaming swords and fire fields in arms, we cleared the area. A note was left behind:

    “Use the eyes. Watch the activity of those nosy fools. -P”

    I grabbed what little gold they left behind in the shelter and returned to the hall. A body I do not recognize has been impaled at our doorstep. Half burnt, with ashes falling from the corpse. Nailed to the spike was another note:

    “You killed my pawn, but you won’t touch the queen. LAST WARNING!”

    What have you gotten yourself into? Who is ‘P’?

    Sulovir Lichslayer II*


    Sulovir places the note on the table and heads to his quarters to get some sleep.
  • edited March 15
    Yin and Yang sleep peacefully by the fire at The Hidden Vale guild hall, as Annabel watches over them.

    “You guys deserve a break. It’s been a long day.”

    The ranger lays out some papers on the table. They’re crinkly and damp. She begins to write a note for her fellow guild mates.

    Hey guys,

    Seems like trouble continues to follow us! I’m so glad nanasisan came with me to the hall today, or I might be in the gray myself. I tracked several brigands as we approached the hall, but didn’t realize that they had completely encased the entrance. Brigands, bracken and gapers were everywhere. Cassandra and Rhett helped us clear everything out. We found some red robes, some wet papers with blurry writing, and a note. The note said “I can and I will keep you out of my master’s business.” I left the papers out on the table to dry. Let’s try to decipher them later.

    I’m heading back to Mirith after the spiders are rested up.

    See you soon,

    - Annabel

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  • The blurred papers are now dry. With effort and with the right conditions of light, it is possible to decipher the following lines.


    Fia__ryx, my l__e, my _____ of light, my __sing star in the dark___,

    The way you spoke to m_ l___ night broke my h__rt. You know I _______ doing this for you. You didn’t ask for it, that is s___, but I wanted to demon___ how much I care, and that I can __ganise my men to help ______ in your cause.

    The ___ols of the Vale are no w___ prey, but I will keep them away from your bus____.
    And if you need ______ from Mirith, I can lead an ar___ to bring it to _______. Just say the word. Just say the _____ and I will steal the relics of V_____ from D______, I will murder the prie____ of Bri___baen, I will burn the ___raries in Andris, I will chop d____ the forest of ___rali, I will turn the sand of Le___in into glass, I will tame t__ _izards, just to serve you, just so that you ____ the heights you deserve.

    I will stop ____ now. We have _____ ___mbled a fort to ___ ____ end to those ___ddlers. Especially that ___tty face, the ran__ you said re____ded you of someone. It will be a pl__ure to see her burn. Call it my ___sonal reven__ from the way you tre__ed me yester____.

    Yours, fait__lly and ____ever,
    Petula, the fig___
  • edited March 18
    The fighter wiped his hands of the dust and the debris as the sun sank below the snowy mountains on the horizon. He had spent the better part of the evening sifting through the mounds of debris that stretched out before the hall. Their loyal ally in Marali, Commander Evroulf McTyr, had graciously sent a platoon of men down to tear down the walls of the brigand’s siege fortifications. The soldiers had even left behind all the wood and other materials recovered, for the Vale to use as they saw fit. Jedd had been hoping to find any other notes or clues that might have been missed, but after all that work, he was satisfied in knowing that whatever could be recovered, had been recovered. That waterlogged note, currently being transcribed by Annabel, seemed to be all they had to go off of. And now, for the first time in a long time, he did not know which way to go next.

    The Hidden Vale had long operated from the safety of the shadows, away from the eyes of the enemy. Their tactics had served them well for years, ensuring their survival and prosperity through times of war and peace alike. They had not suffered a serious invasion since the bygone days of the Ice War, well over a decade ago now. Even recently, when they had harbored Commander McTyr and his forces during the fight against Estess Vorund of the Creed, the Vale had always managed to avoid becoming a target. But now, they could avoid it no longer.

    He trudged into the meeting hall to find Ryen seated at the head of the table, scribbling furiously on a parchment, and Amayza mixing potions nearby. He nodded at them quietly as he departed for the sleeping quarters. Through the window he caught a glimpse of the Growing Moon – now waning – and was reminded of the second threat they currently faced, the second entity that had made the Vale a target. Sopor, the Eternal Sleep. The fighter tossed down his pack at the foot of the bed and plopped down on the harpie feather mattress, not bothering to change out of his dirtied robes. He felt drained, lifeless. At least Ryen seemed to be his usual peppy self, he thought as he felt himself drifting off. They were going to need all the energy they could muster to make it through these trials alive.

  • Sulovir and Annabel admire their handiwork - a crinkled paper that was once wet, now dried, blurry, and with multiple handwritings. Annabel hangs the page up for the others to read.

    Fiadoryx, my love, my beam of light, my rising star in the darkness,

    The way you spoke to me last night broke my heart. You know I am doing this for you. You didn’t ask for it, that is sure, but I wanted to demonstrate how much I care, and that I can organise my men to help you in your cause.

    The fools of the Vale are no weak prey, but I will keep them away from your business.
    And if you need anything from Mirith, I can lead an army to bring it to ash. Just say the word. Just say the word and I will steal the relics of Vandrovic from Duldrus. I will murder the priests of Brigobaen, I will burn the libraries in Andris, I will chop down the forest of Marali, I will turn the sand of Lerilin into glass, I will tame the lizards, just to serve you, just so that you reach the heights you deserve.

    I will stop this now. We have finally assembled a fort to put an end to those meddlers. Especially that pretty face, the ranger you said reminded you of someone. It will be a pleasure to see her burn. Call it my personal revenge from the way you treated me yesterday.

    Yours, faithfully and forever,
    Petula, the fighter
  • edited March 22
    On the 224th day of the Growing Moon, 452, Annabel, Sulovir II, Breigje Balloc and Platus explored the woods near the Hidden Vale guild hall. They discovered many poison beasts, bats, and hell hounds.. among other things.

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