The Adventures of Garl and Odra Manyboots- The Kingdom of the Hags

They’d made it to the Swamps. It’d been a stressful few days, yet Sahsi wished it would stretch on a little more. It wasn’t easy traveling with this violent group, it was still preferable to what was ahead.

“We’ll head into the Kingdom of the Hags tonight,” she said.

Crowley rested his hand on his mace. “We have to enter at night, then?” he guessed.

“Yeah. During the day, the whole place just looks like another part of the swamp. Part of the disguise. At night though,” Sahsi flicked her fingers, “it transforms back into the Kingdom. It’s going to be dangerous.”

“Are you trying to back out of our deal, hexblood?”

Sahsi could feel Wick behind her, the heat coming off his body nearly unbearable. She shook her head before turning towards the fire genasi. “Of course not. I need to make it clear though- my mother is a dangerous woman. Hags are a very prideful bunch. They’re always backbiting and trying to get the better of each other. So the fact that one has actually claimed the title of ruler, and it’s so far gone unchallenged? That’s a lot. It’s not just down to strict power either, she’s smart and manipulative. She will always try to get the upper hand on situations. And she wants me to break my eldercross and turn into one of her kind. I’m taking a big risk by taking you in there.”

Wick sneered. “Either she helps me find Silver Matilda, or I will finish what I started at the church,” he growled.

Crowley cleared his throat. “As much as I enjoy the murderous tension between you two, what do we need to expect? How many hags are in your mother’s kingdom, Sahsi?” he asked.

Sahsi twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “I’ve only been there once. And it’s been a few years… I’m going to say expect over a dozen. And of all varieties. Green, Dusk, Annis, her best friend is a Sea Hag- it’s why they live so close to a body of salt water, for her- and of course, whoever works for hags. Ogres, various goblinoids including hobgoblins and bugbears, giants, orcs, and I’m not even going to go into how many undead they’ll have ambling around. Each of those hags are cruel, they’re crafty, and the moment we take a step past the gate, they’ll know we’re there. Whatever you do, do not tip her off to the fact you’re blackmailing me into helping you.”

“Wouldn’t that be good for you, if she knew?” Wick commented snidely.

“No. Because she’ll kill all of you, put your heads on stakes, and then proceed to transform me into a Green Hag- whether I want to be or not.” Sahsi turned and narrowed her eyes at Wick. “And I would rather be dead than become like her.”

Wick frowned, but thankfully he didn’t push it further. Crowley clapped his hands together.

“Right. Let’s get going.”

Sahsi led the party into the swamp lands as the sun glared down at them. The jolly mood had been replaced with quiet awareness from everyone. Kendrenal and Turgut weren’t even going at it for once, Turgut gripping onto his crossbow and Kendrenal resting his hand on his hand cannon where it hung from his belt.

Sahsi kept scanning the area until she saw what she needed to- a tree that mirrored the one across from it perfectly. Too perfectly. “We’re here,” she said, coming to a stop.

Thunderwarrior paused as she scanned the area. “I don’t see anything,” she said.

“Few more seconds…” Sahsi glanced towards the setting sun. “… and, now.”

The area shimmered as mist slowly curled up from the ground. Everyone pulled their weapons, but Sahsi remained still as the shimmer faded.

The two mirroring trees had become a gate, guarded by two ugly as sin ogres. The one on the right lifted up his spear. “What business do you have in the kingdom of the hags?” he boomed.

Sahsi cleared her throat before stepping forward, tucking her hair back to fully show off the horns that sprouted from the back of her skull and formed a ‘crown’ around her head. “I’m Sahsi Humble. I am the daughter of Marfire ‘Mars’ Humble and Ancient Genevieve. I request an audience with my mother, and send someone ahead so she knowsI’m not here to transform into a hag. If I go in there and there’s a cauldron all ready for my bath, I’ll strangle both of you,” she said.

The ogres practically jumped out of their skin. They both went to run in, only to slam into each other and nearly knock themselves out. Wick quietly snickered and mumbled something to Elphira that had her quietly laughing as well.

After a brief spat the ogre on the left ran ahead, nearly trampling a small troupe of goblins heading out for patrols, shouting to ‘make way! Make way!’ Sahsi nodded at the remaining ogre before she stepped into the kingdom.

Now the mist parted to reveal a village among the swamp trees. Shacks were slapped together, the simple huts with chimneys that coughed out black smoke. All the monsters that Sahsi had mentioned previously were getting their day going, along with even more. And of course, there were hags. Hags upon hags.

Crowley swallowed before he leaned in towards Sahsi. “Sahsi, I believe you said there were a dozen hags. I’m counting about fifteen already,” he said quietly.

“… Looks like mom’s expanded a bit since I’ve been here last. Just keep calm,” Sahsi whispered back.

“I never let anyone think otherwise. I have a reputation.”

Sahsi hummed before turning to face forward. She could feel a hundred eyes on her, maybe more. Even the ravens in the trees watched as they passed by. The further they went into the ‘kingdom’, the more ghastly the monsters looked… and how many of them weren’t even monsters.

Wick visibly balked as they passed a wind genasi teetering near his hut, his glazed over eyes blankly watching them pass by before he took another swig from his canteen. Likely whatever was inside wasn’t water. “What is this gods forsaken place?” Wick asked in a hush tone.

“This is where people go when they believe they have been forsaken by the gods, and they have to make deals with the hags.” Sahsi looked at another poor soul, a minotaur that was so emaciated she was practically skin and bones. “If one’s out of options, a hag seems like a great fallback. They’re good at marketing like that. Of course, they’ll find a way to turn the tides on you. Odds are some of these people weren’t so bad. But once a hag’s got her claws in you, you’ll do things you’ve never even considered before.”

Wick swallowed, his face going several shades paler as he watched a drow drag himself over to the firepit, both of his legs below the knee gone.

The castle was really a carved out dead tree that stretched to the skies, its branches resembling claws that clawed at the clouds. The ogre that had ran ahead was stumbling out now, gasping for breath. “Go… go ahead, Miss Humble,” he said before he half bowed over.

Sahsi nodded before she walked inside.

The entrance was soggy and wet, and Sahsi ignored that part of her that felt at home. A loud screeching laugh interrupted her reverie and she groaned. “Lucy, leave me alone,” she said.

“Awww, you got new friends!”

The Green Hag floated down from above, slowing her descent with a parasol. Once her boots landed on the ground, she closed it and swung it over her shoulder. Where Anne had gone to great extents to make herself generically attractive by human standards, Lucy had gone the other way- her silver streaked black hair stuck out every which way like she’d been struck by lightning, and her skin was definitely more on the green side. Her haggish features had been toned down, but she still looked more than a little odd. “Who are all these… things?” Lucy gestured to Crowley and the others. “They look positively delicious!”

“Lucy, stop it.” Sahsi crossed her arms. “I’m not here to take the hag bath. I’m just here to talk to mom to find someone.”

Lucy pursed her lips. “And you think she’ll really help you without something in return? Oh, you’re still so naive!” she cooed at Sahsi, patting the top of her head like she was a dog. “I remember when you first showed up here, blubbering and sad- oh, you guys should’ve seen her when she was fifteen! She was a bit chubbier, but-”

“Lucy! Shut up!”

“Her eye had just turned red.” Lucy tapped by her own left eye. “And she was soooo cute! Really, I could just eat her up!”

Sahsi groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose as Lucy shrieked with laughter. “We’re going to see Mom now. Leave us alone, please.”

“Sure, sure, I’ll be here when you’re done! I wonder which one will end up being one of mom’s new toys.” Lucy winked at Wick, who shuddered in revulsion. “Ten gold says it’s sparky over here!”

Sahsi rolled her eyes but shoved past the eccentric hag to enter the throne room.

The throne room was just as horrible as the rest of this place. Skeletons of various species were posed along the ragged green carpet that ran up to the throne, which was also made of various bones.

And there sat Ancient Genevieve, Queen of the Hags. There was some odd human noble serving as a footstool, her feet propped up on his back while he continued to stupidly smile.

Genevieve sat up as Sahsi approached the throne, a soft smile crossing her face. “Well, well, well. The runaway daughter finally comes home,” she said.

Sahsi took a deep breath, trying not to gag on the mildew smell that hung heavy on the air.

“Hello, Mother. I’m here on behalf of-”

“Crowley the Oathbreaker, Wick’Of’Candle, Kendrenal Weaklone, Turgut Tuun, Tynos Littlehooves, Nalthea Thunderwarrior Ganu-Mekali, and Elphira Only. I know.”

Genevieve kicked the noble away and he remained limp on the ground as the green hag got to her feet. “I know already. I know all about them. Even if you rejected me, I couldn’t let you be out in the world defenseless,” she explained as she walked around the group.

Sahsi stiffened. “… All about them?” she repeated.

“Of course. I know that Kendrenal was left to die out in the cold because he’s so pathetically weak.”

Kendrenal balked.

“I know that Turgut was such an embarrassment they practically begged the Oathbreaker to take him off their hands.”

Turgut sputtered angrily.

“Speaking of the Oathbreaker, I know he’s as loyal as a snake and hungry for wealth.”

Crowley didn’t overly react to his credit, although he did shift his weight in what some might discern as discomfort.

“That Tynos has no spine, so he lets himself be used for what he believes are evil plans, all for the approval of those he owes his life to.”

Tynos stared at the ground, nervously tapping his golden hoof.

“I know Thunderwarrior was abandoned by her clan when she needed them most and would have been permanently blinded had some upstart named Calipher hadn’t saved her, and what kind of Goliath needs someone to save them?”

Thunderwarrior clenched her fists and glowered at the hag queen.

“That Elphira is the bastard of a human woman and a drow man that never claimed her.”

Elphira bared her teeth.

“Oh, and who can forget Wick?”

Genevieve came to a stop in front of the genasi, who was shaking in rage.

“The minstrel who let himself be tricked, and tricked, and tricked again… and look out, he’s being tricked now… because he really thinks that he could get away with threatening to take away what was mine, and that I’m really Genevieve.”

It all happened in a second. Genevieve’s appearance crumbled like sand, and the Annis hag that stood there now grabbed Wick by the throat and hauled him off the ground.

Shit.

“Marianne! Put him down!” Sahsi shouted.

The Annis hag looked down at Sahsi and grinned.

“Why? He’s already precooked! I won’t even need to throw him into the cauldron!”

Wick gagged as he desperately clawed at Marianne’s arm, his fingers shooting off flames but not enough to cause any harm to the Annis hag. Crowley drew his mace but before he could attack, the throne room doors banged open. A sea hag covered in weeds stamped in, while Lucy and Anne backed her up.

The sea hag screeched and Crowley went pale. He didn’t want to be afraid, but he couldn’t help it- sea hags were terror incarnate. Turgut was less graceful about it, he screamed bloody murder before he boltedto the far corner of the room, where he was immediately set upon by a pack of mangy looking canines. Kendrenal fired his cannon at the hounds and for his trouble was attacked by one who dodged the bullets.

Thunderwarrior threw her head back and roared before charging at the sea hag. Lucy and Anne clapped and all three rose into the air, floating above the angered Goliath. Lucy pulled a face and Thunderwarrior responded by throwing her club at her. This did knock Lucy down, but the club skidded away and was scooped up by the sea hag.

Elphira and Tynos went back to back as more of the mangy hounds circled them. Elphira summoned a glowing dagger before throwing it into one of their skulls. The creature dropped but another one took its place, followed by its trainer- a very angry hobgoblin who threw a dagger back at Elphira. She ducked, taking Tynos down with her, but this put them down low right where the dogs could pounce.

Sahsi glanced around wildly, this situation going far more poorly than she’d intended.

“STOP! MOM! ENOUGH! GET OUT HERE RIGHT NOW!”

Genevieve’s laughter echoed off the walls before the real hag queen appeared, back to sitting on her throne. “Patty, put the Goliath to sleep- I think Sahsi’s ready to talk, and call off your puppies, Gragoran,” she said.

The sea hag nodded before waving her hand. Thunderwarrior twitched a few times before she fell down, snoring loudly. Gragoran whistled and the mangy hounds took off back to the shadows, leaving a frantic Turgut attempting to climb the walls to get the fuck out of here.

The only one who didn’t hold back was Marianne, who was still strangling the helpless Wick.

“Marianne, I mean it! Put him down!” Sahsi snapped.

Marianne only grinned and Sahsi saw her hands flex as she squeezed Wick’s neck tighter. The genasi’s face had gone purple, his lips completely gray and his eyes losing their brightness.

Something in Sahsi snapped.

“I SAID PUT! HIM! DOWN!”

Her dark curls fluttered for a moment before her hair grew, and grew, and grew, until it was long enough to reach the Annis hag. The locks of hair wrapped tightly around Marianne and yanked her off her feet. Marianne shouted and slammed into the ground, finally letting go of Wick. The fire genasi gasped, crawling away desperately from Marianne before collapsing to the floor.

“Well, well, well. Little Sahsi, you’ve really grown. You told me you’d never use violence, and here you are now!” Genevieve leaned forward. “Using that hair grow spell I taught you how to control, and you even have a crossbow. I imagine you can enchant the arrows, if you really applied to it.”

“If I ever enchant an arrow, it’ll be to put it right through your heart,” Sahsi snapped. “What was that all about!?”

“Just to let your little kidnappers know,” Genevieve gestured to the party, all sorts of disorganized and frightened, “that I know their game. And that helping anyone that hurt you is something I’d never want to do.”

Sahsi swallowed before looking back at Wick. The fire genasi was a mess, his neck already turning dark purple with bruises. The tears in his eyes were close to overflowing, but Wick was somehow holding them back. “… This isn’t for me. It’s not even for them,” she said before turning back around. “It’s for the fire genasi that a hag by the name of Silver Matilda mutilated and drove to suicide. The fire genasi’s name was Wax, and he didn’t do anything wrong. At least you let people make the rope they’ll use to hang themselves.”

“Most of the time, yes.” Genevieve examined her claws. “But sometimes it’s quicker just to get it done. Do you really care about a man you never even met? That went the coward’s way out?”

Wick coughed, clearly he wanted to say something but he couldn’t get the words out with his banged up throat. Sahsi took a deep breath before she headed back to where he was. He’d managed to work himself up to his hands and knees but he was still a wreck.

Sahsi took a potion out of her bag and smiled at the weakened Wick. “Here. Drink it slow so you don’t choke. I brewed this one with chamomile too, so it’ll feel good on your throat,” she said softly as she pressed the potion up to his lips.

Wick glanced up with incredulous eyes but he drunk. The bruising on his neck slowly faded and he no longer wheezed when he breathed.

“There.”

Sahsi helped Wick up to his feet before glowering at her mother.

“If I’m willing to help someone that threatened to kill me- all because of what you made me be- I will go even farther for someone I don’t know.”

Genevieve clenched her jaw, drumming her fingers on the arm of her throne as she considered this.

“… Silver Matilda, you say?”

Genevieve smirked.

“This might work out for both of us.”

Genevieve flickered her wrist and an image appeared before the group of a terrifying woman with blue-black skin and horns.

“This the hag you want?”

Sahsi looked at Wick, and the look of pure hatred on his face told it all.

“I figured as much.”

Genevieve waved her hand and the image vanished.

“You’ll find her north. She’s paired up with two bheur hags, have fun with that, and she’s likely plotting on stealing more body parts to play with.”

Sahsi frowned. “Wait- you’re just telling us where she is? What’s the catch, mom? I’m not stupid,” she said.

“The catch is I happen to hate her.”

Genevieve gestured to the still noble on the ground, who hadn’t budged an inch since he’d been kicked away. The noble practically pranced over to serve as Genevieve’s foot stool again. “She thinks I’m a false queen. That I didn’t earn my position.” Genevieve spread her arms out. “When in reality I have scratched tooth and nail to get where I am today. I didn’t get handed a thing. I earned my kingdom. She’s yet to be a real problem, but she will be one sooner or later. You’re just taking out the garbage for me, adventurers, if you get rid of Matilda.”

Genevieve whistled and a black raven flew down and landed on Crowley’s shoulder, the aasimar flinching before he realized the bird was just relaxing there.

“That bird will take you to her. He’ll come back when you tell him to return to the queen.”

Sahsi glanced around the party, which save for the still sleeping Thunderwarrior and the cowering Turgut that was being soothed by Kendrenal, looked quite all right with this arrangement. Sahsi nodded and faced forward again. “I’ll send her head with him too,” she said.

“I’m so proud of you.”

Sahsi visibly flinched as Genevieve looked at her with what appeared to be genuine affection. After shuddering a few times, Sahsi turned around. “Let’s go,” she mumbled, walking as fast as she could without breaking into a full run to get the hell out of here. Kendrenal and Crowley managed to drag Thunderwarrior along with them, and they didn’t stop until they were out of the village.

Finally. Out. Sahsi fell to her knees, unable to stop herself from shaking any longer. She buried her face in her hands as she tried to level her breathing.

I hate her. I hate her. I hate her. She’s lying. She’s not proud of me. She’s trying to manipulate me again. I hate her. I hate her. I HATE HER.

A warmer than average hand rested on Sahsi’s shoulder and she looked up to see Wick.

“… Thank you, Sahsi.”

Sahsi blinked owlishly a few times before she realized that Wick wasn’t putting on a face, as bards are known to do. His flickering eyes dripped tears that quickly hissed away into steam, but he looked down at Sahsi with genuine warmth and kindness.

Sahsi sniffled before she pushed herself up.

“Let’s… let’s just make camp for tonight. Tomorrow we can start heading for Matilda.”

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