Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a Celnish man.
Below the surface, push his hand;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Strip Him down and mince His dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
To our treasure pile, add a ring,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a Ket-broth boil and bubble.
The twisted version of an old Celn song, wormed the way into their minds. Among the atrocities they had suffered tonight, it was the worst to hear these wicked words all around them in the dark.
Andril the mage, Areia the rogue, Thrak the scaly barbarian and Haryk the Handsome (as he was known in Far Realm and elsewhere) had just each taken a draught of the terrible liquid that brought them back to their full height. The table upon which they had needed to climb to find the potion, was now less than a side table to them, and with it, the immense cavern, was nothing more than a small cave. And although fully sized once more, they were still unclothed, and dirty and wounded. They had a fight coming, and they knew listening to the three disgusting hags talk and giggle and sing about their cooking, it would be their greatest fight yet. The three wicked old things slurped the soup and cackled and argued at each other as if they were at a dinner party. The sounds of their evil merriment reverberated around the cavern walls, but all the while they prepared to eat some of their shipmates. Haryk breathed deeply in and deeply out, and put a hand over a wound he couldn’t close magically or otherwise. This was going to be a fight to the death.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a Celn’s good blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
“We can’t take them on all at one time! There’s no way. We must fight them one by one,” said Haryk in a quiet whisper. He looked around at the others in the dim light of Andril’s glowing stone.
“We must take them quickly! We were taken in by only one of them. For who knows what would happen if all three of them used their charms against it, noble friends!” Haryk was thinking simply, it was how he had survived so long. “Dilly, dilly,” he thought. He imagined himself loading a thick round metal ball into the chamber of his father’s weapon and pouring a portion of black rock into the back end. How he’d kill to have his weapon back. He supposed that was indeed what he’d have to do, once more.
“But how do we ssseparate them, then?” asked Thrak. His snout was pressed nearly to their faces so that he could manage what he called a “human whisper”. His race did not whisper, but like all things, Thrak found a way to make being a Celn work for him.
“Listen, we may not need to…,” said Areia. She picked up Squeaks, and put him back in her pocket, silently thanking him for helping them to climb the table which held the potions making them whole once more. It was odd to think she had just used him as a mount, but thus was her recent adventures that this struck her as the new normal. Magic was still new to her, but this much of it was more than she had ever seen in her short lifetime.
From up ahead in the dank and filthy cave, came the sounds of squabbling. It began subtly, as if it were an argument over something small, but soon it was a massive argument. The voices of the evil hags drifted down to where they were.
“You didn’t check’em proper-like Griselda, you old sag-bottom,” cried a voice. “Now we’ll have to wait until the potion wears off to find their bodies after the birdies peck ‘em clean.”
“Your sister is right, you miserable dry crotch!” shrilled another. The hairs on Areia’s neck stood out for this was the voice, now turned sinister and wretched of her friend, Inara. Bard, no longer, her true self revealed here in her dark lair!
A new voice, just as Andril had suspected began to speak. He was right, it was indeed a coven! They didn’t recognize this voice, but it sounded like it held more authority. “If the potion wears off after the stirges drag them into their nests, we’ll never get to any goodies you miserable ancients missed stripping them!”
“Oh dry up, you bat-brain,” said another, “If you’re interested in visiting the nests, then go see em for yourself; They’re hanging up. Their bones’ll still be there come midnight, wench!” They figured this voice, the first to have spoken, for the voice of Griselda, who by all accounts, sounded like the weaker of the three.
“I already have more Kasillian goods then you, ma dears,” gargled the voice of the leader. Her voice was altogether too sweet and sarcastic now. “But later, I’ll go and check on the corpses and add to my collections, dearies.”
Suddenly, they heard the sound of something striking and clattering around the cavern. It rang out again and again, before coming to a stop. Andril ducked instinctively in the dark, hiding his lighted stone with his robes. He thought it sounded like a bone had been thrown perhaps.
“No one will be taking my treats,” barked the voice of who they believed was Griselda. “Keep your filthy Ketian hands off ‘em!” Andril knew then they had their chance for the sounds of footsteps faintly began to creep down towards them.
“Now!” whispered Andril, who set the light gem down on the cave. Areia was about to snatch it up, angry that he would give away their position. Then, she realized what he was doing.
“Genius,” thought the rogue, “a light in the darkness will reveal all one’s enemies.” She recalled an old pirate’s song she had heard on the docks in Far Bay. The gem’s eerie glow which he had only partly used to see with, now revealed a rough and boulder strewn cave, bones and skulls and other bits of debris were scattered and stuck in piles all around. “Follow me, Darkness take you!” and the others followed him behind a boulder some yards away. They turned and watched, hearts pounding. Ahead in the cave, shuffled feet, and a shadow loomed closer and closer above their heads on the cavern ceiling.
They didn’t wait long. Shambling and shuffling along, breathing heavily came the crusty old hag. It was Griselda, dressed in a disgusting set of robes. Her hair fell in tendrils all around her. Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. Chancing it, Areia peered around the boulder at just the right time to see the wicked hag looking down at the light. The evil old thing bent down to pick it up. Andril’s ploy had worked. “Now!” called the mage. Jumping forth, naked as the day he was born, the magician summoned dark missiles of energy which flew forth at the hag.
“I cast magic missile you old hag!”
They struck her chest and sent her flying backwards. Thrak, weaponless, jumped forth and in a flurry of rage snapped the neck of the hag, before she was able to scream for help. The others followed, making sure she was dead.
Searching the body, Haryk noticed something immediately. “Thank the light!” he almost yelled, but caught himself. And then whispering to his friends, he said quietly, “She carries our Bag of Lodging, friends. Thrak, Areia, we have weapons once more.”
“Got anything for me in there?” said Andril. He was standing behind them looking down. His hands were on his hips and his feet were shoulder width apart in a stance of triumph one might see from a contestant at the Challenge of Champions. His full body was on display in the weak light, and although he wore nothing, his face adorned a magnificent smile, the likes of which they had never seen before. Areia thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen to see the mage standing there like that, asking that question. She had to cup her hands over her mouth.
“We’ve created a monster,” said Thrak. And this time, the irony sent Haryk cupping his hands over his mouth.
“What?” said the mage. His pale naked torso was smeared with dirt and grime and blood but was nonetheless on full display. He took a hand off his bare hip and pointed to the dead hag they bent over. “Haven’t you ever seen a naked mage take down an old hag with his missiles before?”