The herb garden was coming along beautifully this season. Sahsi hummed softly to herself as she plucked mint, tucking them all into her bag. They’d need to be dried, of course, but once that was the case it’d be a nice tea. Oh, and who could forget the rose petals? They were a good ingredient in healing potions.
“Well, hello there… you’re Miss Sahsi, aren’t you?”
Sahsi looked up in surprise to see a fire genasi standing beside the garden. “Um, yes, hello!” Sahsi got to her feet and brushed off her skirt. “Sahsi Humble, that’s me. What can I help you with?”
“Let me introduce myself.” The genasi bowed. “I am Wick’of’Candle. Wick, for you. I couldn’t help but notice your eldercross.”
“Oh!” Sahsi blushed as she reached up to touch the horn like protrusions that came from the back of her head. “Yeah, it’s a… family thing.”
“Is it now? I understand family things. Oh, you’re picking herbs, I’m sorry if I intruded. Or would you like my help?” Before Sahsi could answer, Wick knelt on the ground and started going through the herbs. “I don’t spend much time in the dirt. Anything else we need to pick, my dear?”
Sahsi knelt down next to Wick. “Well, I could use some more lavender. You’re new to the guild, right? Working with Crowley?” she asked.
“That’s correct. He’s a decent party member. Big head, but you know. He’s earned it. Oh, lavender is such a pretty flower.” Wick plucked the herb, rolling the flower between his fingers. “So small and delicate, but such a powerful fragrance. What hex or potion will you be brewing with this, I wonder?”
Sahsi took the flower and added it to her bag. “Well, after drying, it makes a good sleepy time tea. Or a sleeping potion, for insomnia-”
“Or a good battlefield weapon?” Wick pointed out. “A sleeping enemy is a defenseless one.”
“I mean, that’s not really my thing, that’s more Dullahan’s style.” Sahsi twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “I’m more of a support role. I heal the other party members. If I really need to, I can use my crossbow, but my aim is horrible. I can barely hit the broad side of a barn.”
“You have claws.” It was a statement, not a question. “They’re quite sharp, aren’t they?”
Sahsi swallowed as she looked at her fingertips, currently painted pale purple to match the cloudy weather they’d been having. “Well… yes, but like I said, I prefer not to use violence.”
“Hmmm. You’ll make a terrible hag then, if you won’t use everything at your disposal.”
Sahsi’s heart skipped a beat before looking back up at Wick. The genasi was hardly bothered by this statement, simply picking more lavender blossoms and setting them down in a pile while he continued chatting. “I mean, that’s what happens next for you, isn’t it? Hexblood females turn into hags.”
“… Not many people know the right word for it.” Sahsi swallowed the lump in her throat. “For, well, me, anyway. I’ve heard a lot of different words, hagblood, changeling child… but hexblood, you must have personal experience with a hag.”
“Incredibly personal. Would you like me to pick some sage too?”
“Sure…” Sahsi took a deep breath to steady herself. These questions were just questions. No reason to read too deeply into them. “But I don’t intend on being a hag, you know. That’s not a requirement. I can find my own path as a hexblood, you know?”
“Is that so?” Wick pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I can’t imagine anyone would give up on that power to become a hag. You’ll have unlimited magical resources, a coven…”
Sahsi shook her head. “I know what being a hag is. I don’t want to become one though. Not ever.”
“Intriguing. Here, your sage.”
Wick was smiling, but something about it made Sahsi uncomfortable. Like he was being a bit too friendly. “You know, I might be able to help dry this for you. I’m not the most magical, but I do have a fiery heritage.” He lifted his hand and a little flame danced above his fingers.
“I appreciate the offer, but no thank you,” Sahsi managed to force a polite smile. “That’s all I’ll need today. Thank you for your help, Wick.”
“You’re very welcome, my dear!” Wick smiled as he got up, offering his hand down to Sahsi. “It was wonderful to get to know you. You’re the only one like you here, right?”
Sahsi nodded. “I’m afraid so. I’m all right though- I was raised by halflings. I’m more suited for a town like this,” she pulled herself up with Wick’s help. “I’m happy here.”
“Isn’t that wonderful?”
Suddenly Wick’s hand heated up unbearably hot and Sahsi yelped. She yanked her hand away and shook it out, bright red burns shaped liked finger marks already popping up from her skin.
“Oops. I’m terribly sorry. Can’t really control my fire sometimes. See you later, hexblood.”
Wick smirked before he sauntered away. Sahsi watched him go before she dashed to the bathhouse to place her hand in some cool water.
That was notan accident. There was absolutely no way it was an accident. She hissed as she tried to cool off the burn in the cool bucket of water.
“Helllooooo? Is there anyone in here? I left my rapier in here, so if you fucking took it- Sahsi?”
Sahsi looked up, then down, to see a familiar goblin poking her head in the door. “Oh, hi Odra. Were you washing your weapons in here?”
“Of course. What else is this place good for… are you okay?” Odra cocked her head to the side. “You look a bit shook up.”
“Oh I’m….” Sahsi trailed off before she sighed. “I’m not fine. The new fire genasi in the guild, Wick? I think he has something against hexbloods. He… asked some strange questions, said some weird things. And when he helped me up to my feet, he burnt my hand. He said it was an accident, but I’m not sure.”
Odra gaped. “That- that dick! What could he have against hexbloods?”
“I mean, we exist because of hag magic.” Sahsi held up her burnt hand. “It can be a tough place for some people. You’ve fought hags, right?”
“Several!” Odra beamed. “Annis hags, sea hags, green hags- er, sorry, I know your mom-”
“My mom is a horrible person. If you fought her and won, I’d buy you new shoes,” Sahsi deadpanned. “She uses everyone around her, even her own children… it’s why I don’t want to become-”
Odra gently rested her hand on Sahsi’s leg. “You won’t. You’re not a hag. As someone who’s killed multiple hags, you don’t got what it takes to be one. Hags are bitches, while you’re so nice it makes my teeth hurt.”
Sahsi laughed and patted Odra on the head. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks, Odra. I’m gonna go bandage up my hand.”
Sahsi wasn’t sure what had happened. She was enjoying her drinks with her friends, laughing about Odra exaggerating her latest feats, she was drinking her beer when she got a bit of a headache, so she excused herself… the last thing she remembered was collapsing in bed as the room spun… and realizing at the worst possible time there was someone standing in the corner. Someone with flickering orange eyes.
“Hey, hothead, the chick you have a murder boner for is waking up.”
“Sweet, sweet Elphira, you could not possibly comprehend the depth of my hatred at the moment for this hexblood. It is not a ‘murder boner’. That is saved for you and your daddy issues.”
“Go eat Crowley’s dick.”
“Oh, I’ve been trying to do that for years, my favorite harlot.”
“Um… guys? You mentioned something about her waking up?”
Sahsi’s eyes flicked open and she was definitely not in her room.
The place had likely been a church of some sort, but it hadn’t been used as such for likely decades. Nature had reclaimed it, turning the roof into a shield of ivy, while the pews were crumbling and overgrown with various flowering bushes. Sahsi had been tied up and laid to rest against a stone altar, while Crowley’s party were all sprawled around the ruins of a once holy place.
Sahsi glanced down at her wrists, which were bound with chain. Not rope.
The satyr’s goat like ears were pressed down against his head. “Wick, this feels wrong. I mean, we just got invited into the guild! And she’s a guild member!” He plucked his badge out of his pocket. “I rather like it here. We’re not supposed to hurt other guild members.”
Wick was looking at his nails, hardly seeming bothered. “I’m just weeding out the trouble before it starts. And if you were so against helping me, little Tynos,” his eyes flicked up and Sahsi shuddered at the hatred in them, “you shouldn’t have given me the herbs that I used to drug her drink.”
Tynos flinched and stared at the floor.
The half drow, Sahsi remembered her name was Elphira, rolled her eyes. “Enough with your dramatic asshattery, Wick. Just kill her and be done with it,” she said.
Kill her?! Sahsi kicked up a struggle against her chains while Wick thoughtfully tapped his chin. “I suppose we don’t have to wait any longer. Give me one of your daggers, Elphira. An iron one. She is fey kind after all,” he said.
Sahsi’s brain was scrambling for a way out of this. “You- you’ll get caught! People will know!” she yelped as she pulled and yanked at her unrelenting bonds.
Wick took a dagger from Elphira, testing it against his fingertip before he casually walking up to the front of the church where Sahsi was tied up. “No one will know. We’ll mention how you were seen taking a walk in the woods early this morning. You do love your alone time, hexblood.”
“Odra and Garl will-”
Wick smiled darkly before he hauled Sahsi up by the front of her dress. “They’re going on a little mission to put a grave in order, taking Dullahan and Sylvia with them as back up. Rather sentimental, but I digress. By the time they’re back, you will just be a dim memory in the guild. And considering how very short Garl’s attention span is with something he isn’t fucking or something that isn’t Miss Manyboots, you won’t even cross his mind when he sees your bunk is empty.”
The dagger nicked Sahsi’s throat and she whimpered as her brain went empty.
Think, think… think….
A tear dripped down Sahsi’s cheek as she stared at the dagger that was about to end her life. “I didn’t do anything to you.”
Wick narrowed his eyes and Sahsi swore she felt him heat up.
“It’s not about what you have done. It’s about you will do.”
“Just because I’m a hexblood?” Sahsi swallowed the sob in her throat. “What… what happened to you? What made you hate me so much, made you so sure I’ll hurt you?”
Wick paused for a moment, running his tongue over his lips before nodding, resheathing the knife in his belt. “You tempt a bard to tell a story? A smart move.I suppose I can give you as much, the story of two minstrels.”
“Oh my gods, she got him talking,” Elphira groaned. “Get comfy, guys, we’ll be here a while.”
Wick glowered at Elphira before he hauled Sahsi over to the altar, throwing her onto it. Sahsi yelped as her head cracked into the stone, the world swirling in circles around her.
“Wick and Wax’of’Candle.”
Wick leaned back up against the pulpit, those angered eyes not leaving where Sahsi laid. “A pair of minstrels who chose to travel the world to seek their fortune, a pair of fire genasi brothers. I played the lute, or the flute, depending on my mood… and my little brother would sing.” That hatred in his eyes briefly died down as he recalled the memories aloud. “He had the voice to make gods weep, so crystal clear and beautiful. My talent had, and still has, nothing on his. Before we left on our journey, my mother made me promise to take care of him. Protect him. He was younger, kinder. More the type to forgive and forget rather than remember. And one should never forget a wrong done to them, my mother and I both know that.
“We went all around the world. Some nights we ate like kings, other nights we swallowed scraps with the dogs. It was wonderful though. It’s the freedom of it all, choosing your own fate. If you don’t know what tomorrow brings, then you’re in good company.
“Then one day we came across a kingdom, a human kingdom that had never seen a genasi before. We attracted a lot of attention, enough that it got to the king himself. He summoned us to his court and begged us to play for him. Of course we did, we’d never played for royalty before. When we finished our song, he gave us what we thought was a generous deal- play for him and his court, and we’d never be hungry, never want for anything. They gave us contracts, and we signed them like the bloody fools we were. We didn’t know what all the flowery language meant. We didn’t know we’d signed away our freedom until we tried to leave. It didn’t matter how we tried to explain we were travelers, even a few months off the road was a unique kind of torture. As a warning they whipped us both. As a warning. I still have the scars. I held Wax in my arms and we cried, and I promised we’d still at least have each other in this slavery.
“We lived for years in that golden cage. We had everything we wanted, the finest foods, plenty of gold, but we didn’t have our freedom. We were only there to be decoration. Play, play, play whenever the king demanded. Our musical talents were renowned, but it’s difficult to be creative when there’s a whip hanging over your head. We hadn’t made any new songs between the two of us, and the king was getting bored of us.
“Then the enchantress came to court.
“She was beautiful, at least she appeared as much. She wooed the king with her tricks, claiming to be a magician of unlimited power. She wasn’t here to sign a contract though- she’d heard of the pair of genasi brothers, and she wanted to get to know at least one of them. The king ordered Wax to accompany her that night… it hadn’t been the first time someone who had pleased the king demanded our attentions, our gifts. Wax told me he’d be back in the morning, and left with a smile on his face. I’d never see that smile again.
“The next morning the enchantress had left, the only person left in her quarters was Wax…”
Wick’s voice cracked and he finally broke his gaze away from Sahsi. A tear briefly appeared on his cheek, only to hiss and pop as the heat of his body caused it to boil away.
“She’d cut his lips off and ripped out his tongue. From what we understood, she needed them for a spell.”
Oh. Sahsi paled before she used her elbows to push herself up. “… she’d disguised herself, hadn’t she?” she quietly asked. “She wasn’t a beautiful enchantress at all.”
Wick looked up, blankfaced, before nodding once.
“She was a hag. A nasty, wart faced, monster of a crone named Silver Matilda. My brother had never hurt another person in his life. He told me through writing that he saw her true face. A truly hideous beastly thing, she was.”
“He was alive?” Sahsi whispered.
“Alive. And suffering.”
Wick sighed as he looked up to the ceiling. “The healers did the best they could, but none of them were magical. They couldn’t regrow my brother’s tongue. He would never speak again, never sing again. His face was so brutally scarred he wasn’t allowed out in the court anymore. The king would have tossed him out, except I promised myself to his service for the rest of my days. I’d do whatever he wanted, as long as he let Wax stay with me. I’d never run away. I’d be his perfect little songbird. I even ended up learning how to sing, so I could do both mine and Wax’s part. At least I’d still be able to take care of Wax. But I think… I think there was really nothing I could’ve done to help him. Without his tongue and lips, he needed a lot of special care. I was singing in the court from dawn to dusk. Sometimes I’d perform through the night, not sleeping for up to three days at a time. Every time I was allowed to rest, I’d collapse. Wax knew I was suffering for his sake.
“So he waited until I was out of the room to tie a noose from the sheets and hang himself out the window.”
No. Oh gods. Sahsi felt her eyes sting with tears as she stared at Wick, clearly in agonizing emotional pain, recounted this tale.
“In his final note, he begged me not to blame myself… but to blame that fucking hag.”
Wick focused his gaze back on Sahsi and she gulped as she saw him flick that dagger between his fingers.
“I did. I do. And if you think I’ll trust a word of your fucking mouth, those lies that claim you’ll never become a hag,you’re wrong. I know what you are. And I’m taking my pound of flesh.”
Suddenly he was in front of her, grabbing her jaw and twisting her face towards him.
“Do you want to know how it felt? To be unable to speak after losing your lips and your tongue? To be completely helpless?”
“Wait!” Sahsi tried to jerk her head back, but he had such a strong grip as that dagger pressed against her lips. “Please, listen to me! I’m sorry about what happened to you, but your brother wouldn’t want you to do-”
“Sh sh sh sh…” Wick grinned murderously and Sahsi felt a cold chill run up her spine. “No words, my dear. Only screams.”
“Please no! No!” Sahsi shook as more careful pressure was applied, ready to cut her lips off of her face when a bolt of inspiration hit her.
“I can help you find her!”
The genasi paused, raising one of his eyebrows. “Beg pardon?” he repeated.
“You said her name was Silver Matilda!” Sahsi swallowed, staring down at that dagger. She had to keep talking. Anything to stop him from cutting her face up.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Wick asked.
“Every hag has a name and a nickname, um,” Sahsi closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself. “I have sisters who chose to become hags. Their names are Nosy Anne and Screeching Lucy. I’m not a hag, but I know a lot about them. Such as… such as that hags with enough power can know of every other hag in existence.”
“And how does that help me?” Wick narrowed his eyes as he ran that dagger against her lips. “Her name wasn’t Anne or Lucy. Are they powerful hags?”
“I mean, they’re average at best, annoying at worst. But their- ourmother isn’t. Her name is Ancient Genevieve. She is the self proclaimed Queen of the Hags.”
She couldn’t believe she was saying this. But if this was her only shot at not being brutally tortured and murdered…
“Ancient Genevieve can help you find the hag that attacked your brother. All she needs is her name. And if I go before her, she willtell you where to find her.”
Wick’s breath caught for a moment, the grip on his dagger faltering. Then he went steely eyed again and pressed the blade against her face again. “How can I trust you?” he asked.
“You’ll go with me!” Frick a frack. The best time to get away from this revenge driven idiot was to go to her mom’s. “You’ve been wronged, Wick. You’ve been… you’ve been hurt so badly, and I’m sorry. But if I can help you get vengeance for Wax, will you believe that I don’t want to be like that? Will you let me go? I won’t tell the guild about what’s happened, I swear it!” If she did, that would definitely sign her own death warrant. Crowley’s party would just leave, and the moment Sahsi let her guard down, she was dead meat.
Wick nodded slowly as he turned this over in his head. Sahsi held her breath, praying to every god that Wick would take her offer. It was the only card she had to play.
Finally he dropped the dagger. “Elphira, where’s the key for the chains?” he asked. “Looks like we’re going on a little road trip.”
Elphira reached into her pocket and threw the key. “No way you’re going alone, I want to see how this plays out,” she said.
Tynos noticeably sighed with relief. “I’ll wake up Nalthea and the hobs. We’ll pack and be ready to go at dawnbreak,” the satyr saluted before he trotted out of the church.
Sahsi sighed with relief as the chains were undone around her wrists. She rubbed them to get the circulation back going. “Thank you-”
her gratitude was interrupted as Wick slammed her down against the altar again. The dagger was back up and Sahsi’s shakes returned. She couldn’t speak. She could only silently pray.
“If this is a trick, hexblood…” Wick didn’t finish the sentence. He cut her face, right under her left cheekbone. He released Sahsi before throwing the dagger aside. “Am I clear?”
Sahsi whimpered as she sat back up, reaching to touch her cheek. “I… yes. Crystal clear,” she whispered.
With the threat still hanging in the air, Wick stormed out of the church, his feet leaving burnt marks on the ground behind him.
Sahsi slid off the altar before she tumbled to the ground, unable to support her weight on her jelly like legs. She reached up to touch her bleeding cheek before bursting into sobs.
I have to go home. I have to go home.
Sahsi swallowed before looking up. It was Crowley, and he almost looked genuinely concerned. It didn’t quite reach his eyes though, it was more like… curiosity.
“Hags are a rather independent species. How is your mother the queen?”
“Self proclaimed. Don’t… don’t forget that part.” Sahsi closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the altar that was nearly the last place she knew in this world. “Why did you let him dothat?”
“I don’t let him ‘do’ anything. His thing is hag murder, mine is getting rich. Hags happen to have a lot of treasure, and lots of people will pay to havehags killed.” Crowley shrugged. “It’s really a win win situation. I get a powerful ally so I can continue to get whatever I want, he gets to make himself feel better by murder. I don’t see why that’s so hard to understand.”
Sahsi sniffled, wiping her eyes off on her sleeve. “Perhaps because I’ve never understood hurting other people,” she murmured.
“Well, you’re weak, but at least you’re honest about it.” Crowley reached down to pat her head in a way that was anything but comforting. “It’ll be fine. You’ll tell your mom you want Silver Matilda’s head on a platter, and then you’ll get your sickly sweet happily ever after. I have to go make sure my hobgoblins don’t kill each other while packing up for the trip. You can stick around here. And if you try to run away, you’ll not have to worry about seeing your mom again. I’m pretty sure Wick will incinerate you.”
Crowley left the church, leaving Sahsi alone to sob.
Garl, Odra, please- come home soon. Help me.