751. May 7th
The trial is in two days. After traveling the river for a time, we went through an arch of trees into the Tanglewood. Only brought one horse. It was clear that many creatures went through the arch recently. The forest was aware of our entrance and made an audible sigh accompanied by a foul stench.
The forest was corrupted. I’m no expert of Tepest fauna, but these were not normal creatures. More like something out of nightmares.
Before long, we were ambushed. It’s still unclear why, but a pack of skulks attacked us. Whether it was part of our “tests” is unknown. They were dangerous and matched us in numbers. Thankfully, we have begun working together as a team and escaped mostly unharmed.
Not long after we found a male goblin protecting a female goblin from fighting ahead. Beyond that were a horde of goblins fighting against two trolls. They were smart enough to have fire, but the trolls would easily kill many of the goblins, if not all. We decided to help them since we were all pilgrims heading to the hags.
While Tepest forbids most magics, my arcane gun has come in handy many times, especially against the trolls. Krajkah had a battle strategy that didn’t pan out due to the fluid nature of battle, but the rest of us worked well together. These two battles drained much of our resources though.
The goblin horde left us behind as we licked our wounds. Once we set off, we had one final challenge, if small, on the way to the hags: a floating bloated head with its eyes stitched shut. Another thing of nightmares. Krajkah popped it. He also took one of the seeds it spit at us.
Then we finally found the hags’ hut. It was in a clearing dominated by a giant tree. The clearing had bones strewn about. The tree had moaning heads attached to it and thousands of ravens perched on its branches. Esera cast bless on us but we would have needed much more than that to feel comfortable there. We knocked on the hut and a crone invited us in.
Within was another nightmarish scene: three disgusting hags (one with black tears, one with yellow-green tears, one with red tears) sitting around a table eating a goblin female while she was still alive. There were bits of eaten goblins scattered around the hut. It seemed like it could have been what was left of the horde of goblins we helped earlier. And there we were about to petition them for help as well.
The big one with black tears hated Esera for her purity. Krajkah tried to intercede before it could touch her but it smacked him into the wall. I chose to stay still and, for the most part, quiet. They revealed two pieces of information to us with nothing in exchange: the tincture of midnight would cure Lily of her curse; and somebody named “Melinda” is coming for the dagger. Could Melinda be an Arak hunter coming to claim it? Or something else perhaps…
The hags made three offers to us, with each being in exchange for a dose of the tincture. 1) Three of us could sleep with them to produce more hags. 2) Retrieve a stolen ring. 3) Esera lose her purity. We went outside to discuss.
But it was immediately clear to me this bargain wouldn’t work. They’d have a fight if they tried to do something to Esera. I would have no part in creating hag children to replace human children and I urged the others to not agree to that. I didn’t care that they were reading our thoughts. It didn’t change anything. It seemed retrieving the ring was our only option.
But they said we had to not only retrieve the ring but bring back a living goblin to serve as food. The ring would keep it alive. Things looked grim, but I was just hoping this would somehow work out. We went through a portal the hags made. After some crude traps and some spelunking in a goblin cave, we found the ring’s new owner, now a ghoul. We used some of the last of our energy fighting it, but afterwards came upon a cavern with goblin females and children. Some of us were opposed to kidnapping one of them. I feel like Esera and I were the only ones opposed to all of the hags options but time has passed and it’s not worth bringing up considering the outcome.
We went back to the hags without food for them. They claimed we broke a bargain and one of us would have to be food. That of course was not a suitable option either. Lily thankfully heeded Rima’s advice and gave them a riddle. I don’t remember if they agreed to any deal for the riddle, but it didn’t matter. They began arguing and fighting amongst themselves. It became apparent after a minute or two that they didn’t even notice us any more. Arathmis then went behind them and took one of the boxes containing the tincture. I put an image of an identical box in its place, but Arathmis had more ambitious plans than I expected and took a second box. I maintained the image anyway. Once outside, Kraj mentions we need to leave the ring so they don’t send somebody after us. Arathmis threw it at him but he ignored it so I picked it up, went inside, and put it where the second box was. Perhaps a ring plus a riddle will make a suitable exchange for a box. And now that the image is gone…I’m just glad we are far enough away that they haven’t done anything to us.
We took our horse and made our way as quickly as possible back to the rest. Once we got those, we made haste to Ivan’s ruins. I worry about the morals of some of my companions. None of the hags’ options were acceptable. Kidnapping goblins to be food, hags murdering and replacing human children, doing who knows what to Esera. Foolish. Murder by proxy is still murder, even we are stuck in a backwater place like Tepest.
But our efforts must shift to the trial soon. There is not much time.