Episode 3 – Of Hags and Harpies

Reev staggered along a small, upraised path emerging from the sunken bog. The trees’ barren, gnarled branches let in very little light. They were a net of intertwined twigs, dead orange leaves and vines. Moreover, a foul stench clung to the weeds and herbs like rotting flesh on a corpse. As he walked northward, a frigid rain picked up, and the superficial layer of snow began to dissolve. The ground grew slippery, slushy and muddy. He almost fell down several times, but managed to keep his footing. At twilight, he sat down on a stone, unraveled his bag and ate a piece of jerky and a biscuit, washing it down with water from his skin. Then he leaned back against a tree and tried, with great difficulty, to sleep. The air was cold, and the rain, which had dwindled to a drizzle, made things even worse. Owls hooted in the darkness, and wolves howled from far away. Reev felt evil even from the trees—Murk was a wicked place where only evil was comfortable. He awoke the next morning to find the snow had melted, but an uncomfortable chill clung to the air. The swamps were dark as ever, even in the usual brightness of morning, and as he rose to his feet, stretching, he remembered where he was and the dreadful fear returned. He filled his stomach with biscuits and jerky and pressed on. About an hour into the journey, he heard branches cracking in trees, but he saw nothing. He worriedly continued, queasy with fear. The swamp water deepened, and many junk-filled ravines, crevices and cliffs of rock could be found throughout the area. Only once did Reev spy a deer, and it seemed sickly and malnourished. Another hour passed, and a misty fog arose above the fetid waters as the sun emerged. The stench was horrid. After a while he heard footsteps approaching. They drew closer and closer. Reev pulled Doomblade from its sheath, horrified, and backed up. A woman emerged—a black-haired, nymph-like beauty clad in a sylvan-green gown. Her eyes were dark and enchanting. A few dead leaves clung to her greasy, unclean hair. “Hello?” she said, her voice silken, “The Queen is looking for a boy of about sixteen. Her Grace believes he is carrying something important.” “I’m carrying nothing,” Reev lied, “Just this sack of food.” “What is a human doing in these parts? You aren’t a spy, are you?” “A spy? No!” “You look Galiopean,” she said. Her face was small and menacing. She could move through the mucky bog with great ease—inhuman ease. “Let me search your bag.” “That won’t be necessary.” Reev bared Doomblade threateningly. In an instant the fair maid became something otherworldly. Her robes dropped, revealing a muscular naked body and small bare breasts. Her hair stood on end and her eyes simmered with fury. Her teeth became fangs, and spikes dripping yellow liquid emerged between her knuckles. “These spikes are dipped in hriskvar gandlen—devil’s honey. It will fill you with such horrid pain that you will seek to die. You will feel like you are burning alive, but the sensation will last for hours.” Two crow-wings protruded from her back and she knelt, ready to strike. “Give me the bag, or I will kill you!” Reev threw it down. “There, demon! Take it!”
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The harpy cackled. “Now I will kill you, little boy! I will kill you, and cook you with mushrooms. You will make a delightful dinner!” She shot her poison-covered spikes directly at his chest, but they shattered upon striking the hidden armor. Reev smiled as the harpy hissed in fury. She flapped her wings and leapt forward, knocking Reev to his back into the filthy muck. She struggled to grab his neck, but Reev resisted. Then she grabbed a stone knife and drove it deep into Reev’s bicep. Filled with incredible pain, he kicked the harpy away and weakly stood up as blood soaked his clothes. “Die, insedwassa!” she hissed and ran towards him. Reev slashed at her but missed. The harpy grabbed him by the neck and threw him headfirst into the ice-cold bog water, holding him down. He couldn’t breathe. He struggled with all his might and threw her off him, staggered weakly to his feet, and pitched back his sword deliriously. The harpy leapt, hissing, and Reev slashed. The blade tore through her chest, spilling grime and blood all over Reev’s breeches. But Reev’s life was yet in danger—his arm still bled profusely. He grabbed her dull brown cloak and tied it around his left arm as a bandage. He hoped to the gods that it wouldn’t get infected. Reev went into a small cave to spend the night. With my luck, it’ll be a dragon’s den. The wound hurt terribly, but it would heal. At least, he hoped so. That night he found a small cave in which he could hide, and struggled to sleep. When finally he did, he had a terrible dream—a nightmare that seemed totally real. The glyrn, Drayfin, was in a thicket, carrying a brightly-burning torch. Beside him were a stone table and the ugliest woman Reev had ever seen. Her hair was long, dark, and greasy, covered in filth. Boils covered her wrinkled face, and her nose was long and hooked. In the dreamy omniscience of sleep, Reev knew she was of a race called the Hags, and that her name was Biledrinker. In one hand, she held a knife; in the other, a wounded rabbit. “Where is he, wench?” The rabbit struggled only a little as the hag spliced its belly. Reaching into its gizzards, she pulled out the intestines to measure them. “Thirteen miles away,” she murmured, “North and slightly east. He is in bad shape; bleeding from a wound.” “And our fate?” “Misty,” said the hag, “Misty and uncertain.” “Damn you!” roared the glyrn, “You incompetent witch. Surely our fate is obvious.” He strummed his fingers on his legs. “You’d better be right about his location, or I’ll hang you from a tree by your innards. Send harpies to capture him. I want him alive!” “Yes, Lord Drayfin.” Reev awoke suddenly, covered in fearful sweat. The night grew chilly, and the cave seemed strangely unsafe. Reev grabbed Doomblade and the bag and walked outside into the cold night. He thought he was safe until he saw a dark shape approaching. The dream was true! He ran as fast as he could, splashing carelessly, thinking of nothing but escape. But harpy after

harpy surfaced, bounding through the trees. A set of spikes bit deep into his neck and he began to stagger. Exhaustion clouded his mind. Giving up just seemed so easy, so enticing. He was so tired… But then an arrow struck a harpy in the heart. She plummeted from the treetops, snapping her neck on a branch on the way down. And then it happened again. A few leapt down to the ground to face their foe—a man. A man in a gray-green cloak. Reev’s sight began to fade as the fighter dropped his bow, plunged his broadsword through a harpy’s chest and pulled the bloody weapon out to behead another. His sword flashed as he parried, dodged, and slashed. A marvelous fighter, he was everything Reev wasn’t—brave, mighty and more than capable of taking care of himself. But then the blackness was complete. End of Episode 3 Continued in Episode 4

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