The wooden hut was in a dilapidated state and had no windows to speak of, but otherwise seemed entirely ordinary – hardly the anticipated dwelling for a wild witch. As they approached, Greil could taste a flickering of arcane energy on the air.
Tarkus addressed the group under his breath, “Should I sneak around and get a better look?”
“I wouldn’t bother attempting it, goliath,” Tell replied with no attempt at lowering her voice, “Rhea has likely already sensed our presence. Any actions other than up front and honest ones may serve to anger her.”
Tarkus let out a low growl before speaking again, “Then allow me to go first.”
He strolled confidently straight up to the door and rapped loudly as the rest of the group formed a horseshoe behind him. A mere moment after his knuckles left the wood the door was pulled open from within, squealing loudly; a sharp and almost painful sound which seemed to echo out into the silent forest. A pair of amber eyes glared at the goliath from the gloomy interior for several seconds before the door was pulled open fully, and a large, clawed hand beckoned them inside.
They entered single file, Tell falling back and stepping inside last, closing the door behind her. Once again, several sets of eyes settled on her with suspicion.
The shack seemed to be comprised of one simple room, itself containing only two wooden chairs, both of which seemed to be in a healthy state of disrepair, and a large chest off in one corner. A thick layer of dust, practically sand, coated every surface and large clouds of it were kicked up from the floor by the shuffling feet of the new occupants, causing several of them to cough. How this could be considered a home was anyone’s guess.
Looming large on the other side of the room was the imposing figure of a heavily armoured dragonborn, whom Grimlock made immediate eye contact with. His glare was returned in equal measure and the two lizard men became embroiled in a silent staring contest which went unnoticed by all save Greil. Seated on one of the chairs to the dragonborn’s left was an old woman. Hunched over due to the impressive curvature of her spine, the hag seemed tiny, her withered hands and bony face, which could just be made out behind tattered strands of silver grey hair, served to make her look entirely pathetic. But the group’s two magic wielders were not fooled; from the very moment they entered they became aware of an almost suffocating arcane force filling the room. This woman had a great deal of power coursing through her veins.
Nearly half a minute passed in tense silence before Greil took the initiative, “Rhea, I seek your assistance.”
She turned her head to regard him, her joints groaning as she did so. Her dry mouth opened and shut several times, the dull sound of her gums coming together was that of a sword striking a shield in the oppressive silence of the room.
She finally spoke, her voice withered and cracking, “You seek the black dragon.”
Greil tried to suppress his shocked surprise as the energy he could feel seemed to increase in its intensity, bearing down on him like a gargantuan storm cloud, “I… I seek to remove this” he held his hand aloft, displaying the dagger which ensnared it.
Rhea leapt forward with the speed of a striking viper and clutched his hand in her bony talons. Her eyes seemingly bulged from her skull, black, opalescent orbs with no visible pupils, “This! I can help with this” she hissed.
Greil attempted to recoil but her grip was absolute. His companions all took on stances ready for combat; their hands poised to un-sling their various weapons.
“I wish it gone” the commander managed.
“Gone? A treasure such as this? Even though it grants you greater power?”
Greil held her gaze and, though the news that it bestowed power raised his eyebrows, gave a firm nod.
“So be it.” Rhea cupped her hands around the dagger and closed her eyes. The energy in the room surged, feeling now as a tremendous weight on Greil and Gregg’s very souls, as if at any minute their physical forms would give in and crumple under the force. Beams of light shot out from the small gaps between the witch’s fingers and Greil gritted his teeth as the warm, tingling sensation which engulfed his extremity became an intense, burning assault. Pain spread through his arm like wildfire, his nerve endings screamed in the back of his mind, their voices becoming strained and croaked from the sheer sincerity of their cries. He was mere moments away from passing out.
Energy fired out from the hag’s cupped hands, visible to the whole room now as it blew the stringy hair away from her features, showing the gaunt, skeletal face below. She whipped her hands away with startling speed; flinging the right one to her side, towards her dragonborn guardian, an orb of light streaking between them like a shooting star. The creature roared in surprise and pain as it gripped the wrist below its left hand and held it up for all to see. The dagger was fastened between his clawed fingers, the tendrils it had once sunk into Greil now wrapping themselves around the scaled hand, digging in, becoming one. The dragonborn shot a look at Rhea, pain and fear dancing across its eyes.
“Shhh my dear” she cooed. Her companion stilled himself and let his arm drop back to his side, seemingly unwilling to look upon it.
“It is done” Rhea rasped, turning back to face Greil.
He inspected his hand, surprised to see that there were no scars, scratches or markings of any kind which had not been there before. The pain had also completely subsided. The desire to leave as quickly as possible overcame him, and a quick glance at the rest of the group showed that they were clearly nervous, fingers twitching at the ready, but the witch had spoken of the dragon. He had to find out more.
“You mentioned the dragon,” he blurted out, not wanting to dwell on whatever strange ritual had just taken place, “What can you tell me of it?”
“You seek it. And you shall find it” she whispered, a small, wry smile curling the corners of her dry, cracked lips.
“I shall find it where?”
“To the north east. In the Gol Mountains. You are not far from it even now.”
“How do you know these things that have not yet come to pass?”
“I see the desires of mortals, and I see where they will lead them” she replied cryptically.
“I think we should be leaving” Gregg muttered.
“Rhea, I thank you,” Greil announced, taking a step back towards his companions, “What can I offer you in return?”
The witch let out a sinister cackle, laced with glee.
“Her” Rhea held up a long, bony digit and pointed it towards Tell.
The commander stopped still, “What? Why?”
Rhea laughed again, her fingers curling in on her palms as if trying to contain her excitement, “Give me the girl” she repeated.
“For what purpose?” Tarkus took a step forward, forming a barrier between the witch and the half-elf. Greil added his own firm reply, “She is not ours to give.”
Rhea stopped smiling, “Hand her to me. Now.”
“We will do no such thing, witch” Gregg, also took a step forward, aligning himself with Greil and Tarkus.
Tension hung in the air for the briefest of moments. The already potent arcane energy surged yet again as Rhea inhaled. Greil braced himself in the split second before the witch’s mouth tore open with sound, her lower jaw seeming to unhinge itself and drop impossibly low as an ear splitting wail tore across the small room and sent all but himself flying against the back wall where they sprawled into a confused mess of bodies.
Encounter: Witch Bitch