Ever since the fire at the hospital, our name has gotten around. People seem to be staring at us. Even the shadows make my skin crawl. Everything I once knew has become suspect. Never have I feared for my life or those of my companions as I do now.
Great Goddess of All Things New, I cringed to see the horror that is outside the gates of Helian. It has been some time since I ever made my way through the Black Goat Gate. I forgot the smell that lingers here….death. shivers The poor souls who live here are miserable and looking for a way out. Even the animals must suspect their ultimate fate.
Rennik approached one of the guards hoping they might be able to tell us some information on the hags. None of them believed they even existed. Sadly, had I not been faced with them myself, I would not believe either. How many others inside Helian are ignorant to the threat that has been looming here? It is exactly what these creatures wish us to believe.
Outside the gate, we crossed the haunting Last Hope to which Rennik seemed to know much about. He told us the story of the haunted watchtower. I was somewhat glad to pass into the Bones, but it was here that my heart felt as though it were ripped from my chest. Here in the forgotten swamp lands were the outcasts and poor of Helian. I wanted to pull my purse out in an offer to help. The priests of Ninkali often came here to offer help. I don’t recall things being just this bad before. Connor and Arnexus are quick to stop me, both uttering words that were not in the least kind. Around us the destitute draw nearer, desperation was in their eyes. Oh Goddess, how hard it was to turn away from them…but my companions were right. We were in danger there.
On we went to the Demi Grove, through the Swallowtail Valley. The further we head from the city, the cleaner the air is. It is somewhat of a relief to be outside the city walls again. By the time we reach the edge of the Grove, it is nightfall. Without knowledge of this fabled place, we decide it is best to camp the night in an abandoned stable. No doubt these stables were once used to house the steeds of hundreds of visitors to this place of heresy. Uncertain of the danger though Connor and Genna can find no trails other than those of animals…large numbers of animals…we decide to still post watch.
In the middle of the night, I see a strange figure. Uncertain of what might be out there and heeding the promise I made to Connor, I go to Arnexus. He hardly sleeps and is not deeply disturbed. I think he is far more cautious than I..perhaps even a tad bit paranoid. Still, we discover the worn statue of an angel with a moonglow spell upon it. The disgust I feel for this place only seems to grow with the more I learn about it. Nothing passes in the night to the relief of us all. After traversing waterways by way of raft, we soon find a path that too has the moonglow spell upon it. The hoof prints of sheep seem to have traveled this way as well…could it be that the hags have been capturing more human beings and turning them into sheep for transport? Even though we have come here to rescue Rohveka’s mother, if they have taken more slaves we must try to free them.
The path leads us to a stairway leading down flanked by two statues of angels, much like the one near the stable. This time, however, I feel something odd about them. As I look more carefully at the statues I soon discover that the inner gemstone eyes have hag eyes inside them. The hags know we have come. We proceed with utmost caution. Pulling out a hooded lantern, I shine the light ahead and seem to activate some kind of illumination spell within. It illuminates a room with the statues of what was presented as the daughters of Ninkali. Guarding the door beyond, however are four hobgoblins. Rennik tries to reason with them with little luck but manages to trade a Helian coin with one from the ship. The coins the hobgoblins were paid to protect the door were indeed Helian coins. They refuse to surrender and we are forced to fight and kill all but one. Genna secures him with manacles as we continue forward. We must get to Rohveka’s mother before the hags can harm her.
The next room holds five statues of the different aspects of Ninkali as well as one representing the daughters. The statue of the daughter stands out among the rest, making my stomach churn again. It is at the base of this very statue that Genna and Connor discover a hidden stairway. Behind us we hear the sound of reinforcements coming. We have no choice but to go down the passageway.
Inside the next room stands what appears to be some kind of channeling circle surrounded by several busts. Three seem to radiate a foul energy, pure evilness. Mesmerized by these statues with no faces, I cautiously walk around, moving closer to the evil ones. Rohveka quickly warns me to stay away from the circle. Someone is speaking to her, asking her to bring me into the circle. As I near the evil statues, I find nothing amiss though the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I know I should not touch them. I check out the statue completely opposite the evil one and find that it takes my face….mimicking my expressions and everything. It is truly fascinating. Rohveka tells me that the voice she hears says that I am the chosen one, but does not say how. This very room is a puzzle I long to figure out. Just what was it meant for? Arnexus warns us to stay away and not mess with what we do not understand. I should have listened to him….
Reaching out and touching the statue, I feel a surge of energy and the blessed presence of Ninkali. It brings tears of joy to my eyes as I feel as if I am in Her very embrace. I do not want to take my hand away, but I do so. A deep ache has awakened in me. I miss that nearness with you Goddess…you feel so far away…
Rohveka steps into the circle and the floor itself seem to slope, urging me to the middle as well. She urges me to stay outside the circle… for now. Even as she says this I cannot resist and put one foot near to the edge. The floor shifts again, tilting even more. Arnexus calls out to us telling us that it is a planar nexus meant for travel between planes. It was something we should not be messing with. Nothing happens to Rohveka though…Yet, when I entered the circle, we both begin to hover. Surprised by this new development and needing to steady myself, I reach out for Rohveka’s hand and there is an explosion of power….Roh was transformed….she looked like ME! The look upon Rohveka’s…my face is disturbing. She looks equally just as shocked and tells me that I look like her…holding my holy symbol I can still channel energy… Poor Thatch does not know what is going on. When Roh reaches for him, he transforms into a holy symbol much like mine. With him, she can even channel energy much like I can…As soon as she puts him down, however, he turns back into himself. He comes to me as if I am her….needless to say it was the most unnerving and scary thing I have ever been through….to be in the body of another…to see yourself with eyes that should be your own…no one should ever experience that.
Connor and Genna were working on a complex lock while we were stunned but now turned their attention upon us. They did not understand what had happened either. We had to find a way to make things right. Maybe the circle would return us to our proper forms! With no other option, we once more stepped into the circle and linked hands. I could feel the distress of poor Rohveka and felt the same. Luckily the pillars had enough energy to return us to our proper selves, but the process drained what power they held. Behind us we see a large hag looming, an Annis Hag Arnexus tells us. Luckily Genna is able to get the door open. As we try to escape beyond, the floor gives out beneath Genna and myself. The collapsed stairway had buffered our fall but there was no hope of getting back to our companions without a rope. Connor decides to check the way ahead to see which way was best for us to follow. While Genna and I wait, we hear soft classical music playing ahead. After scouting ahead the rest decide the safest path is the one below, away from the large hag.
We follow the corridor to a large room with bridges running to two pedestals suspended over water. On the far side is a woman sketching in front of a mirror. Suspended from the middle of the room is a bed with an unconscious man lying in it. This woman had been watching us…Rennik demands to know who she is and she gives us the false name she had been using for the past few weeks, Lady Tia. Without much prodding she goes on to say that her real name is Morriga and that the man now stirring is Captain Drago, one of many captains that help transport the slaves they capture.
Without warning the mercenary we hired shoots a bolt into the leg of the man. What was he thinking? He could get Roh’s mother and all of the slaves killed! Apparently all of the slaves are being held in spelled cages beneath the water. If anything happens to Morriga, she will kill them. We have no choice but to hear her out and play our cards carefully. The hags above, the large one named Griselle especially, wished for her to kill us, but she has other plans. She offers to let us buy the slaves if we leave her slave trade alone. There is little choice we have.
Connor moves carefully closer to her and begins to bargain with her. Of course her hatred of me causes the price to go up far more than anyone else…I guess we both find each other offensive…still, it is Yet, who can put a price on the freedom of these poor souls? Luckily Connor agrees. We all have more than enough money to pay the price she is asking, yet he goes one step further. She sweetens the deal with an offer to keep her slavers out of the provinces and also tell us the last location of all the hags she knows of. It is a deal we can hardly refuse. I know Rennik was seething with our decision, but it really was for the best. Is his lust for battle so strong that he cannot see reason? He has not seen the horrors that we have in what the hags put these poor souls through.
We agree to let her go for this information and she tries to teleport out. Arnexus is quick to stop her and force her to lead us out past the hags. She is true to her word. Griselle was not happy at all….but I was relieved that we did not have to test her in battle.
Outside the ruins we find the seventy slaves, luckily in their human form. Once Connor hands over the money they release Rohveka’s mother. With haste, we lead the slaves back to Helian away from the hags. Roh’s mother tells us they took her to find out Esmerelda’s whereabouts and to get their hands on the skin codex. We told her of the hag impersonating her and framing Esmerelda. Why is she so important to them? What is it they’re really looking for? Roh’s mother goes on to tell us that the mind wiping spell we encountered could only be done by a full coven….no covens have been formed in many many years though…
We meet William at the Black Goat Gate with several men. He assures us that he had tried to arrange for a group of men to go with us to find Roh’s mother. Someone had made sure that order never reached the men. It seems there is a traitor at work within the inner echelon of Helian. When told of Lady Tia he revealed that she had been buying up swamp lands. Most likely it was to hide her slaves upon before transport. He assured us that he would have men go and deal with the slavers.
Within the city Roh had time to spend with her mother as we all took a well deserved rest…or so it seemed. Apparently Connor, Arnexus and myself have all been plagued with strange nightmares. It is as if Ninkali is warning us of what could be. Knights of the Crimson Flame, witch hunters, had come for me….I still recall the pyre they wished to throw me on. I will never get that image from my mind….yet it is not the one that disturbs me most. It is the dream of failing Ninkali that haunts me the most.
Goddess, do not forsake me. Stay close and guide my steps. I will not fail….I will not…..I hope….