“Ready?” asked Theodora.
“Ready,” answered Zelcor.
Scratchy and Milacent were still under the effects of the enchantment, and nothing the two magic-users could do seemed to break it. They had, however, found a hidden door at the spot where their two friends were pawing at the wall. They had therefore come up with a plan: they would tie up Scratchy and Milacent to keep them out of the way, then burst through the secret door with Theodora in the lead. They reasoned that whatever was there would see her, think she was the Runelord Sorshen, and not attack. Then they could talk to it, or attack it, or whatever the situation called for. In theory, it was an excellent plan.
“Just remember,” added Zelcor, “don’t say ‘Come give Sorshen a hug’.”
Theodora rolled her eyes and thrust open the door. “Greetings, my servants!” she exclaimed, “It is I, Sorshen!” It was an impressive entrance, but it was greeted by total silence.
The room they found themselves in was a rough-hewn cave, with the remnants of a large fire sitting in the center, beneath a natural chimney. Fishing poles, nets and various assorted cooking implements were stacked neatly against the walls. On the far wall was another one of the now-familiar red metal panels, but no people. Theodora was just starting to feel disappointed about her grand entrance going to waste when she heard something stirring behind her.
The sound was Milacent and Scratchy asking what had happened. Opening the door had apparently ended the spell, and it was time to decide what to do next. After some discussion, they decided to save the red door for later, and investigate the watery tunnel that they had avoided before. Scratchy scouted ahead, as usual, and soon came across another flooded cave. This one contained no corpses, but the sight was disturbing in a different way. On a small island in the middle of the cave, a hideous hunchbacked humanoid with green skin, dripping white hair, and bulging orange eyes was using the butt of a spear to poke at an unconscious human woman tied to a post. Skittering around the pair were more of the tiny lobster-clawed creatures Theodora and Zelcor had killed previously, apparently trying to wake the woman so they could torment her some more.
Scratchy went back to the party and they decided to intervene. There was still some distance to where the creatures were, so Scratchy began things by firing arrows at the green-skinned hag, and Zelcor cast his glitterdust spell on her, hoping to blind her. As soon as they did, there was a horrible screeching noise, and the creatures all dove into the water. The lobster-clawed creatures were hard to see, but the hag had the glitterdust spell on her, and everyone could see the glow were she was submerged. Milacent and Theodora moved toward the water, and along with everyone else prepared to attack as soon as the hag surfaced.
They didn’t have to wait long. There was a bubbling nearby, and the hag burst out of the water directly in front of them. From a distance, she had been hideous, but up close she was a level of ugliness worse than any of the party had ever imagined. Her hair was like rotting seaweed, and her loose skin hung in mottled folds from her jutting jibs. She looked emaciated, despite the fact that pieces of meat could still be seen stuck between her jagged teeth. She bent a single orange eye toward Scratchy, and the goblin staggered back as if struck with a hammer. Zelcor too staggered back, then collapsed to the ground in a heap. Milacent looked at them and muttered to herself. The hag was ugly, indeed, but there was clearly also magic at work here. She could feel the revulsion growing in her stomach, but managed to overcome it with anger and hate. Summoning up her rage, she stabbed out at the hag. Her ranseur caught it squarely in the chest. Much to Milacent’s surprise, it pulled itself off of the blade and attempted to dive back into the water. It was interrupted, however, by a volley of magic missiles from Theodora, who had also managed to resist its influence. The thing stumbled for a second, off-balance but not dead, until Milacent ended the encounter by lopping off its head.
With the hag dead, the party looked around and saw that the lobster-clawed creatures had fled, so they took stock of their situation. Zelcor was lying on the ground, alive but apparently too weak to move. Scratchy was upright and mobile, but his movements were slow and unsteady, and the woman tied to the post was still tied to the post. Milacent and Theodore decided to take all three of them back to the beach.
Zelcor looked bad, but turned out to be the easiest to deal with. A little restoration magic rendered him able to move again, and though it would be a day or two before he’d be at full strength again, Zelcor had never been very strong to begin with, so the loss was hardly noticed.
Scratchy, meanwhile, was crouched in a corner saying, “I’m going to go back. I’m not going to go on like this.” His usually smooth, athletic movement had been replaced with a lumbering, clumsy gait. He couldn’t run at full speed, nor could he fire off his arrows at anywhere near the rate he’d previously done. Theodore and Zelcor looked at each other with concern. It looked to them like he’d been the victim of a magical curse, and those were notoriously difficult to gauge. Some curses lasted until they were magically removed, which the party didn’t have the means to do. If that were the case with this one, Scratchy was determined to turn around and head back through the swamp to Magnimar, with or without everyone else. There were, however, occasionally curses which would wear off in time, and the two spellcasters were hoping that was what Scratchy had been struck with. They eventually talked Scratchy into staying with the party just a little while longer, to see if that was the case.
The final person to deal with was the unconscious woman. Her body bore the scars of horrific torture, and Theodora did her best to heal her. One set of scars, however, didn’t heal: a large set of gashes across the left side of her face. Something about them jogged Theodora’s memory, and then she recalled that the women in the red-trimmed armor they had killed before had similar scars. Things were getting interesting.
With the worst of her wounds healed the woman began to stir. When she opened her eyes the first thing she saw was Theodora, and her reaction was markedly different from the giant’s.
“You!” she shouted, and jumped away as quickly as she could. “You bitch! You whore! Just kill me and get it over with!”
This was not what Theodora had expected. “Um, what’s wrong?” she inquired.
“You know what’s wrong, Sorshen! You are the Queen of Lies! The Mother of Deceit!” she looked around for a weapon as she screamed, “I’ll never serve you again!”
Theodora decided that a different tack was necessary. “Wait, I’m a six foot tall man,” she said, “What do you see me as?”
The woman looked around at the others, as if she was just noticing them, and they all nodded their agreement with Theodora. “I’m so confused,” the woman wailed, burying her head in her hands.
With a little comforting, the woman revealed her story. Her name was Helanda, and she hailed from the city-state of Korvosa, a sometime rival of Magnimar’s for influence in Varisia. Several months ago, the old king had died, and his young queen had taken his place as ruler. With the change in power came unrest as various factions tried to test the new queen’s hold over her subjects, and things worsened when a plague began to sweep through the city. One night, the queen had had a vision of the Lady’s Light, telling her that the powers of the ancient Runelord of Lust awaited beneath the statue, waiting to be claimed. The queen sent a detachment of her personal bodyguard, the Grey Maidens, to reclaim the lost treasures.
Helanda had been a member of this detachment, and at first things had gone passably well. They had made their way through the swamp, negotiated with the boggards to gain entry into the tunnels, and found their way inside the Lady’s Light complex. Once inside, they encountered none other than the Runelord Sorshen herself (or someone pretending to be her), who quickly ensorcelled their leader, Orianna, and brought the other Maidens under her control. Helanda, however, had her doubts. “Sorshen” told most of the maidens to wait in the lower levels of the complex, while she took away Orianna to discuss their triumphant return to Korvosa. Yet several weeks later, none of the waiting Maidens have heard from their leader. Helanda had tried to lead some of them on a mission to contact Orianna, but she was betrayed by her sisters and left to suffer and die in the clutches of the sea hag. The last detail Helanda recounted with particular bitterness, spitting on the ground as she spoke.
“Well, that person’s not Sorshen.” Theodora said when the story was done, “Sorshen’s dead, but there seem to be a number of people that look like her running around.”
“Like you?” Helanda said with a smirk.
“Uh, no. I’m a six-foot tall … ”
“I get it, you had to calm me down before, and while you may look like her, you are definitely not Sorshen, or whoever it was we met. You can stop pretending.”
“Well that’s good. Say, why don’t you join us? It’ll help you get revenge on the fake Sorshen, and your chances of getting out through the swamp are much better if you’re with us anyway.”
“Sure, if you can give me some equipment. And especially if I can pay back my so-called sisters.” and with that, Helanda’s face twisted into a sneer.
Theodora looked to Milacent, who nodded her approval, and then to Zelcor, who did the same, and then to Scratchy, who wasn’t even paying attention.
“Hey, I can move okay now! I think the curse is wearing off!” the goblin said, jumping back and forth, “Oh, and did we search the hag lair for treasure?”
“You’re definitely okay,” everyone answered.