Chapter 95: In The Crow’s Nest

If I had built up any expectations before stepping through a secret door deep in a hagraven’s lair, they would have been shattered within the very first minute.  Aside from the fact that we’re still inside a cave, the area ahead of us is a stark contrast to the space we just left behind — from a damp, chilly, shadowy tunnel full of filth and spiders, to a warm, dry, well-lit expanse with a relatively clean floor and a welcome lack of arachnids.  While it’s definitely a change for the better, it’s also a cause for concern.  It seems pretty clear that this area is the real hideout, and the cavern we just left was nothing more than an elaborate entryway, with the hagraven and spiders acting as lookouts for whatever else might be hiding back here.

The other thing I notice right away is… the table.

There’s nothing particularly special about it.  It’s just a sturdy wooden table, located quite close to the hidden doorway.  But since we’ve just been in a place where the most sophisticated construction was a rickety bunk made of sticks and rawhide, seeing an everyday table in here is more than a tad surprising.

The other surprising thing is what’s on the table.  I’m not sure what I expected, but I sure didn’t expect to see a collection of potions and shiny gemstones.  Huh.  Usually we have to fight more enemies than a single hagraven and a couple of spiders before we get to any of the good stuff, but I’ll take it.  I’m just turning toward Jenassa to direct her attention to this most interesting find, when something else happens that I didn’t expect — and it nearly makes me jump out of my skin.

Think you could you say that a bit louder?  Our horses outside might not have heard you.

Ahead of us is a large iron cage with a prisoner inside, asking for help in a loud whisper — and I’ve heard screams that would deafen us less.  The cage is some distance away, right across the room — and I admit, under normal circumstances, I’d be pretty impressed with his ability to project whispers from that distance.  If only we weren’t literally in mortal danger deep in an enemy’s secret lair.  Funny how that puts a damper on what would ordinarily be a nifty party trick.

Fortunately, after I grimace and mimic slashing my own throat with a forefinger, he gets the point and shuts up.    Behind me, Jenassa quietly relocates the valuables from the table into her pockets, while I grab my bow to cover her.  I don’t know where the enemy is right now, but I have to assume it’s somewhere close by — unless the idiot in the cage lost his voice along with his brains.

Carefully preparing a poisoned arrow, I take a few cautious steps forward.  Once I’m clear of the table, I swing my bow in a slow arc before I step forward again, attempting to locate any potential enemies who might take a dim view of our visit.

Suddenly I notice a slight movement to my left, and forcing myself to keep moving slowly, I aim my bow in that direction.  To my dismay, deep shadows obscure that part of the cavern, and I pause, trying to make out what might be moving over there and whether it constitutes a threat.

It doesn’t help my mood when I once again hear a loud whisper from across the room.

If you’re usually this annoying, I can see why they locked you up.

Behind me, I hear a muted snort of disgust from Jenassa, and I have to agree with her unspoken sentiment.  There’s no way we’re letting this moron out while we’re still in danger.  If he doesn’t even have the sense to stay quiet during a potential  rescue attempt, then we’re infinitely safer with him behind bars.

Mind you, at least he’s let us know that there are more hagravens around here — if that’s what we can infer from his reference to “crows”.  I notice he hasn’t mentioned any spiders, so that’s one tiny scrap of good news.  Not that I’m relying on this guy as any kind of accurate informant, but it’s good to know roughly what to expect.

I slowly scan the rest of the room, noting that there’s another table just opposite the iron cage, with a large wooden chest right in front of it.  Great, that’s another scrap of good news.  If we’re careful, we might be able to open the chest, grab the valuables, and get out without having to fight at all.

Then without warning, a piercing shriek shatters the silence, and with a sinking feeling I realize we’ve been spotted.  I swiftly raise my bow just as a sudden flare of conjured flame lights up that side of the room.

I guess you could call this a scavenger hunt.

As if the situation wasn’t dicey enough, another hagraven hobbles into view and starts to make life even more difficult for us.  I have to say, I really hate fireballs, especially when they’re aimed at my face.  I briefly consider summoning Barbie to help us out, but then I dismiss the idea almost immediately.  Multiple fireballs flying around in an enclosed space with Jenassa and me in the middle seems like a very bad idea.

Fortunately, I remember that I have another option.  After I successfully shoot one of the hags with my poisoned arrow, I reach into one of my belt-pouches and find a small bottle that feels distinctly cold to the touch.   Checking quickly to make sure it’s the correct one, I down all of its contents in a single swallow.

Just practicing a little fire safety.

A current of icy cold runs through my veins like an electric shock, and I involuntarily shudder, temporarily throwing off my aim.  As Jenassa engages with the first hag who’s already dying of my toxic shot, I wince as my second arrow flies uselessly into the wall, and the second crone turns toward me with her hands in the air.  To my considerable discomfort, her spell engulfs me in flames a moment later — which, despite the potion I’ve consumed, doesn’t exactly tickle.

I fire off a couple more shots as the hagraven approaches, expecting her to fall down at any moment — but I start to get alarmed when she just keeps right on coming.   Finally I pull Dawnbreaker free from its sheath and rush her down.

Time to fight fire with fire.

Immediately I realize I’ve made a mistake.  Between the holy blaze of Dawnbreaker and the hagraven’s conjured fireballs, it’s like running headfirst into an oven.   In seconds I’m wrapped in flames, and while the potion is still working to keep me alive for now, time’s running out fast.

Inevitably, panic sets in.  I start swinging my weapon around wildly in the hope that my adversary will die first — either from burning or blood loss, I don’t care which.  And to make matters worse, as I’m carving wide gashes into the hag’s withered flesh, the evil bird-bitch gathers the rest of her strength and pounces, viciously attacking me with the only other weapon she has.

Oh HELL no.  This better not be the last thing I see for the rest of my life.

Instinctively I fling my head to the side, barely avoiding getting my eyes clawed out, and feel a breeze as her talons just brush my face.  Then I lunge forward in a single desperate thrust, burying Dawnbreaker to the hilt in the hag’s scrawny chest.  With a blood-curdling shriek, the hagraven tries to claw at me again, but before she can reach me, she crumples, falling dead at my feet in a blackened heap.

From the corner of my eye, I see Jenassa racing toward me with a healing potion as I stand there, shaking like a wet kitten, with the acrid stink of burned flesh and feathers still in my nostrils.  That was way too close.

As if slowly awakening from a nightmare, I sense my wife gently reaching out toward me.  She takes my hand that’s still holding Dawnbreaker in a death-grip, and helps me carefully re-sheathe the weapon before tipping the healing potion up to my lips, softly encouraging me to drink it all.

Ahhh.  Thank you, my love.  That’s much better.

The things I do to collect rare ingredients.

Jenassa and I are in the midst of looting the corpses when a sudden loud racket startles us both, and we spin around, hands already reaching for our weapons.  A jolt of anger clears the last of my shock away when I see that it’s the prisoner, repeatedly bashing the hilt of his dagger on the iron bars in order to get our attention.  Well, he’s got it now, all right.  I watch as my wife bares her teeth at him in a furious snarl, while I contemplate my chances of successfully shooting this moron right through the cage.

We must look pretty intimidating, because soon after we turn around, he puts his dagger away and speaks to us in a syrupy, overly-polite, wheedling tone.  Ugh.  I think I liked it better when he was conspicuously stage-whispering at us.

Let me guess — would it be in a treasure chest?  Like the one that’s literally right here in this room?

Well, at least now he’s found some manners.  I glance at Jenassa, and she shrugs in a gesture that says up to you.  Sighing, I fumble around for the key I discovered earlier, and reluctantly step forward, fitting it into the lock on the cage door.  It’s almost with a sense of regret that I release the obstreperous captive.

As soon as the door swings open, he almost bowls me over in his eagerness to escape, and I back away hurriedly to rejoin Jenassa.  I have no idea how long he’s been locked up in there, but even with the stench of burnt flesh in the room, he doesn’t smell so good himself.  For a few moments he stands in front of the open cage, making a big show of stretching and bending and flexing his muscles.  Then he pulls something so monumentally stupid that I realize our initial assessment of his intelligence was far too generous.

You have got to be kidding.

For a second I can only gape at him, gobsmacked by the sheer absurdity of seeing a clueless naked guy seriously expecting me to surrender to his puny weapon.  (Reminds me of some bad dates.)   Dude, we just killed a couple of sorcerous abominations right in front of you, and you’re trying to threaten us without wearing any armour and brandishing the equivalent of a vegetable slicer.  Give your damn head a shake.

Rolling my eyes, I don’t even hesitate to draw Dawnbreaker on him.  I slap him once with the flat of the sword, just enough to let him feel the sting of the blade and the lick of the flames.  But, much to my irritation, he turns out to be one of those guys who just won’t take a hint.

You first.

Unbelievably, the idiot continues to press his assault — and I’m not at all surprised to discover that he’s not even that good at fighting.  I easily deflect his first few blows and keep slapping him with the flat of the blade, as it seems in poor taste to just outright murder someone this ludicrous.  Behind me, I can hear Jenassa start to snicker at these antics, and I can’t help but break into a wide grin myself.  After the terrifying battle I just had with the hagraven, taunting this woefully outclassed opponent is almost enjoyable.

As the contest of wills goes on, I watch with growing amusement as my adversary starts to lose his temper.  After a few more unsuccessful attempts to reach me with his dagger, he unleashes an ear-splitting yell of outrage and charges at me.  Still amused, I smoothly sidestep out of his way — and watch as he runs straight onto one of Jenassa’s outstretched blades, fatally impaling himself.

Gasping in shock, my attacker looks down confusedly at the weapon protruding from his chest, his eyes already starting to glaze over.  With a look of distaste, Jenassa abruptly kicks him off her blade and watches impassively as his body spins around once before it hits the dirt.  For a second I’m mildly irked at this sudden end to my fun, but fair enough.  I have to admit that it was starting to get a little monotonous, as the result was never in question.  And the way he died was actually rather fitting, since he brought it on himself, and it was ultimately just as stupid and pointless as he was.

Looks like this is the local cemetery.

Over by the far wall, there are some relatively fresh corpses arranged in a line — a human, an orc, and a spriggan.  It would seem these hagravens had led surprisingly busy lives well before Jenassa and I arrived.  We start searching the bodies for loot, but much like the former prisoner, it’s obvious that these victims have already been searched and stripped of anything worth taking.

Well, I hope we’ve been saving the best for last.  Turning around, I locate the chest I’d spotted earlier — which, surprisingly, is unlocked.  Lifting the heavy lid with some difficulty, I peer into its depths and blink in surprise.

So that’s where all the valuables are.  Hope you have plenty of extra space in your pack, honey.  We’ll be needing it.

Well, damn.  It’s showing up a bit late in the day, but I’ll take it.

 

 

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