It has been a long while since I wrote--much too long. I am sitting in the cave of a witch after having enjoyed a rather pleasant meal. It would have been more pleasant if all body parts were present and accounted for for all my companions--or, at least, if the witch's cats would stop licking the blood off Wigolas' boot--but I suppose one doesn't start a quest of this sort without being prepared for both terrible creatures and the mud. If it weren't for the eye, I wouldn't be sure which was worse. But, all things considered... maybe the mud isn't as bad as I thought. Maybe.
But I am getting ahead of myself. It all began a few days ago. We'd spent some time resting up after the battle with the demon, and were all doing much better. (I should mention that that this is where the dream from the previous entry took place). We spent some time debating what to do next, as we each had reasons to go various different places. However, with most ideas we ran into the problem of money. There simply wasn't much to go around. After the dreams I had I decided to try not keeping any gold on my person, so I gave my money to Tristan. But even with that there simply wasn't enough to finance a group expedition.
We spent some time looking for jobs and came up with a few options. There was the man--Oakwood--who claimed the Witch of the Woods had stolen 20 years of his life (Wigolas was certain this meant there was a child involved, though we tried to explain that he was saying the witch had stolen 20 literal years--not that he'd had to spend 20 years raising a child). Then there was another request for an adventurer to find a hidden fragment of a star. The final request--and the farthest away--was from Mirable for us to find a box that had been hidden long ago--but she cautioned us to not let Tristan look inside it. I remained strangely quiet while the rest of the party debated where to go. I had reasons for wanting to avoid the woods, but considering it was only a dream.... hopefully... leaving the matter up to Phex to decide was sufficient. They decided upon the Witch of the Woods. So be it.
With Anvar to guide us, we set off. It was miserable going. The mud, the rain, just tramping mile after mile, ugggh. Tikkani didn't seem bothered at all--or Tristan's new friend Thorwald. (Outside of hating each other, they are quite the pair. Hmmm.) Tristan didn't comment on being uncomfortable, nor did Elenwe. But... I may have a somewhat kindred spirit in Wigolas--at least as far as anything outside the city goes. He looked even more miserable than I felt.
After the first couple days I caught sight of torches in the distance. Elenwe and I went on to scout out what they were--and we found a small party of orcs with a little man beaten and tied up as a captive. I felt pretty confident that we could set him free without them noticing, but unfortunately my confidence was proved wrong. Elenwe did the call of the owl that we had agreed on (By which I mean, Tristain asked us to hoot like a particular breed of owl if we saw one thing, or another breed if we saw something else. I didn't know owls came in breeds? Or that they sounded different? In fact, I'm not entirely sure whether it sounded like an owl at all. But at least we hooted. I'm pretty sure Tristan--and possibly Wigolas, who seemed to know exactly what he was talking about--was just trying to play a practical joke, and had a bad sense of timing).
At any rate, the orcs caught sight of us, and the hiding game was up. They charged. I know my limitations, and fighting orcs is simply not something I'm very skilled at. So I tried to climb a tree. It.... well, it didn't work. With all the rain the trees were slick and I fell on my face in the mud. It was awful. I assume Elenwe managed to acquit herself well, I couldn't really see at that point. The others showed up just as the orcs were upon us, and the battle ensued. Thorwald and Tikkani seem to be quite good with their weapons. Elenwe kept her bow going. I did manage to pick myself up and pull my saber out--if hiding wasn't an option, I wasn't about to be cut down without a fight--and by the time Tristan rushed to my aid with his flames I had the orc skewered on my saber.
At that point I snuck over to the the poor little man and set him free, leaving the fight to better equipped individuals (Even Wogolas was plying his club, and managed to finish one of the orcs off!). He was very grateful though not much help. About that time I looked over and saw the final orc riding Wigolas down the mountain side as if he was a sled, pummeling him and biting him as Tikanni and Thorwald teamed up to try to finish the orc off. They were not quite quick enough, however, as the orc did not see the flaming sword that actually ended his frenzy.
Everyone took time to verify that all body parts were properly where they ought to be after the battle, and Anvar arrived (he had dispatched two other orcs farther on). Tikanni and Thorwald went back for the mules. Together. (I suppose it is best to travel in pairs, but I begin to wonder exactly how much the two of them really "hate" each other... Hmmm). The small man I rescued was a Hill Dwarf name Bennigrim Sweetbread. He noticed me trying to clean myself off in a little muddy hollow, and very kindly offered me two clean pink towels from his pack and a bit of soap. I could have kissed him. Wigolas was chanting something to heal Tristan who had taken a rather nasty wound.
It turned out that Bennigrim was a candy maker on his way to Phexcare when the orcs waylayed him. He gave us some samples, and they were amazing. He and Wigolas seemed to hit it off quite well, and he even gave Wigolas a box of chocolates. After some discussion we decided to send Anvar back to Phexcare to accompany him the following morning and continue on on our own.
That evening after most of us had fallen asleep, we were awakened by Tristan, who must have decided to have words with Anvar about Vixen. He was reciting some sort of poetry--quite romantic stuff. Very sappy. He said he'd written it for the woman he loved and changed the names, I suppose he meant for Anvar to use something similar for Vixen, though... It... well, it simply wouldn't come out the same. Anvar thanked him, but I rather doubt Vixen will be hearing sonnets any time soon.
The next morning we set off, leaving Anvar and the candymaker to leave for Phexcare. We soon met a young shepherdess named Puera. We suspected that she was the Witch of the Woods, as we were very close to where Oakwood indicated we might find her. Tristan stopped to meditate, he said it would help him see through her wiles. Tikanni was less than convinced, as she said Tristan always seems to suspect pretty young women of being witches. At any rate, Wigolas and I went on ahead to meet her (Wigolas was quite excited about all the sheep--I suppose it felt more like home for him). She was VERY surprised when we asked if she was the Witch of the woods, and gave us directions on where to find the real witch. However, when she found out that Wigolas was a Blessed One of Peraine, she offered us some food and said one of her sheep could use some assistance. Wigolas seemed to wilt a little at the prospect--I think he has enjoyed plying his club rather than the usual mundane priest tasks--but he agreed without complaining.
While we were inside I looked around a bit, and the little cottage seemed quite cozy. Quite a few herbs, but perhaps that is normal for the country. I wouldn't know. Tristan and Elenwe spent some time planning out what to do in case the girl was a witch (we were still suspicious). Tikkani started whittling, while Thorwald watched and asked her questions about it. With just the slightest of nudges I could see some real possibilities with those two.... Puera and Wigolas finished up with the sheep about then, and we had a small meal before setting out again.
Puera had warned us to stay on the path, and to not take anything into the woods that might harm the witch. Tristan set me in the lead, which... well... He doesn't know about the dagger hidden in my pack, but something tells me the witch might. But I couldn't say anything, of course, so I took the lead--along with himself and Elenwe.
We were not very far into the woods when I noticed the squirrels in the trees above us were not quite.... normal squirrels. They had spiraling horns on their heads, and I remembered hearing that these creatures were called "death squirrels." I pointed them out to the group, and Wigolas became very excited. He couldn't quite tell what type of death squirrel they were, but wanted to tell us what he knew and figure out which way the horn spiraled. He soon would find out--though... I rather doubt he remembers. One of the squirrels dived from the treetop right at Wigolas. Before we knew what happened, Wigolas's eyeball was hanging off the horn of a rather adorable looking (except for the bloody eyeball-meatball on it's horn) death squirrel.
At that point all the squirrels began dropping from the trees and we were hard pressed for several minutes. There were too many of them to fight off, and we quickly realized the best course of action was getting out of the area as quickly as possible. For adorable balls of fluff, the death squirrels left more than one injury. We made it through--all in one piece with the exception of Wigolas' eye.
We rushed headlong down the path--taking care to stay on it as Puera had instructed--and the next thing I knew we had landed in what amounted to a heap at the edge of a pond the path circled. Farther around the pond a woman was searching for herbs with a basket on her arm. I knew instinctively that this was the witch. She stood to look at us, and when Tristan asked for time to see to Wigolas' wounds she simply nodded and skirted the edge of the pond and disappeared behind a waterfall. While the others were doctoring up the various wounds (I, of course, had escaped unharmed being rather nimble on my feet) I looked through the grass near the pond to see what it was the witch had been gathering. I am not sure if I found the same thing she did, but I DID find some lovely mushrooms that look very familiar. [critical fail in Herbs and Gathering] Ahh--I can smell them now, just as mama used to make them fried in butter. I had to stop eating it when I got older, of course, as such meals are not particularly good for the figure, but just looking at those mushrooms brings back memories of home. I haven't mentioned them to the others yet--once all this is done with the witch I'm going to cook a dish up and serve it to them. I may take a little myself as well, for old times sake. We'll see. One bite couldn't do much damage to my figure, I'm sure.
When all was finished we followed the witch to the cave. The following conversation was QUITE the surprise. As it turned out she was NOT the Witch of the Woods, as I had suspected, but instead the witche's daughter. She was, however, the woman that Oakwood had met and spent the night with. Also, to the great astonishment of everyone present except Wigolas, there had indeed been a child as a result of that night. The Witch of the Woods had discovered what happened, robbed Oakwood of 20 years, taken the child from Eafra, and cursed her to always stay within 20 miles of the cave she lives in. When Oakwood had disappeared, but before she was cursed to stay so close, Eafra had gone forth and somehow routed the entire orc army that had been amassing at the edge of the forest. She wishes for us to kill the Witch of the Woods to free her child, return Oakwood's years to him, and allow them to be together again. Ahhh. It really is love (oh, and, she is just as pretty as Oakwood remembered). She has been waiting for him for so long now, but unable to send word or explain what happened. We heartily agreed, of course, since this was why we came in the first place.
Oh--I am going to need to finish this later. It is morning now, and Eafra and Tristan are talking about potions. I think this sounds interesting, and I will update with what I have learned after we face the Witch.