Heagen watched from the doorway as the witch meandered through the marketplace. Ordinary people would be surprised by just how much evil mingled with them in their day to day lives. It’s for the best, he thinks to himself as he stands there. The form he was currently using was that of a elderly human beggar. In a city as big as Sothis they were everywhere. And universally ignored by everyone.
The hat of disguise was quite easily the best investment he’d ever made. The people of Osirion were generally accepting of the half-orc from the North, but enough would stare or make a fuss that it often got in the way of his work. It wouldn’t fool any but the most unwary of his targets, but it easily hid the hulking half-orc from the everyday citizens of the cities and towns where he occasionally did his hunting. And that was one less distraction from the hunt.
Besides, he enjoyed the fact that the witches and necromancers he went hunting for knew he was coming. Terror was part of the hunt. And he thoroughly enjoyed making those that terrorized others the subject of terror themselves. It had nearly been his undoing once or twice, but it was worth it.
Well that and the money. As much as he enjoyed the hunt, he seldom could afford to do it for free. Usually it was a bounty hunt. Some town or area would be tormented by an evil spellcaster of some sort. And those bounty notices would find their way to Heagen. He’d spent years building up a network across Osirion and this wasn’t his first hunt for the Eyes of Sothis.
The hunt this time was a witch that had been causing problems in the Crimson Island area. At least 8 deaths could be attributed to the witch, but the Eyes had been unable to find her. Even Heagen had needed two full weeks to finally track her down. He had begun to think he wouldn’t find her, but she’d made a mistake with her last victim. There’d been a witness.
Well, OK, Heagen was pretty sure it was intentional. She’d wanted him to find her. That was obvious to him in the way she was so casual in her movements from the moment he’d started following her. This was the third day he’d followed her. It was clear that she knew and she’d made no attempts to evade or lose him.
So, she was confident and inviting him to make the first move. He’d oblige her. It was just a matter of where and when. That was the tough part. He’d rather not face her in her own lair, but she didn’t emerge except during the daytime. And then it was only to go into areas that were heavily occupied by people. That wouldn’t do at all. If he endangered the citizens of Sothis, it was unlikely the Eyes would honor the bounty. And even if he thought they would, it’s not something he would do anyway.
It was to be her lair then. Heagen scowled as he thought about it. He hated the thought of attacking her in her place of power. She just wasn’t giving him anything else to go on. He mentally reviewed what he knew. He’d taken the opportunity to at least peer in the windows of her house. It seemed ordinary enough, but he knew that was a lie. There would be all kinds of wards and traps. That was certain. Her true “workshop”, as it were, would be somewhere hidden, probably in the basement.
His scowl deepened as he evaluated the situation. He realized he’d been so deep in thought that he’d stopped tracking the target. It only took a moment to find her. She hadn’t moved far. She was watching him via the reflection in a shop window. He thought he caught the faintest trace of a smile before she turned and moved on to the next shop.
Time to change things up. Heagen glanced about to make sure no one was watching them and then used the hat to change his form. This time he chose another of his favorites, that of a portly, middle aged human merchant. Moving into the crowd, he quickly disappeared down the street. He’d paid the local thief’s guild to watch her house. They would let him know when she returned. It was time to prepare for the battle.
Heagen headed for the northern end of the city. He’d scoped out all the local potion and magic sellers in the city over the first couple of weeks. While there were several in the southern end of the city, he was fairly sure at least a couple of them were either on the witch’s payroll or at least afraid of her enough they wouldn’t help Heagen.
Hours later, Heagen was back at a tavern just across the eastern canal from the Crimson Island, a few potions and a ring added to his gear. He’d spread his purchases across several vendors to lesson the chance of getting screwed by one of them. He’d then taken all his purchases to an old wizard he knew and trusted in the city to have them verified.
While he doubted the witch had much influence outside the Crimson Island area, she clearly had enough power to be dangerous. She’d evaded the Eyes for months and he was taking no chances. He thought about the wizard while he was downing his ale. Old Kernatis didn’t have many years of life left. He’d recommended several wizards in the city that he’d told Heagen he could trust. Those were the six wizards and alchemists Heagen had made his purchases from. Despite his trust in Kernatis, the half-orc wanted to make those judgments himself. As he developed those relationships he’d eventually choose 2, perhaps 3, of them to maintain a long relationship of frust with.
Wait… Frust? Fust… Tust???
Had Heagen been clear of mind at that point, he’d have instantly understood his mistake. As it was, it took him a full 12 seconds of staring down at his tankard of ale. The light dawned in his eyes barely a second before his head slammed into the table as his unconscious body went crashing to the floor. His last thought as he drifted off into a drugged sleep was “Oh, so that’s how…”
Heagen drifted back into consciousness. He was immediately aware of his inability to move. Not surprising. He was actually more surprised to have woken up at all. “Not dead then,” he muttered to himself.
“Not yet,” came a nearby voice. Female.
He looked carefully about with just his eyes. Wood ceiling, stone walls, tables with various laboratory. There she was. The witch sat on a stool at one of these tables, her back to him. Well, he thought to himself, that solved the problem of getting into her lair. Good sign.
“Not going to try and escape?” the witch asked, still working at her table.
“I’m comfortable,” Heagen replied. “I’ll get up when I’m ready.”
“You’ll try,” she responded. She turned and looked over her shoulder at the half-orc. “And you’ll fail.”
Heagen only smiled at her. It was a tactic used frequently with his targets. Show fear and your enemies will have power over you. Exude confidence and you just might throw them off kilter enough to make a mistake. And that’s all Heagen needed.
This one, however, was a cool customer. She merely smiled back at him, then returned to her work. She wasn’t likely to give Heagen that kind of opportunity. He’d need something else.
He slowly and carefully felt around with his fingers. The chains pulling his wrist downward were simple enough. No tingle of magical reinforcement that he could feel, but that was iffy at best. Unlike his frequent companion Parr, he couldn’t often sense the workings of magic until it was already in action against him.
He didn’t move his body any more than that, just focused on the sensations and pressure points against his skin. There were similar chains on his ankles and neck. All his armor and gear had been removed, obviously. Pretty standard prisoner status, really.
Just normal chains? Could she really be that foolish? He carefully moved his head as much as the neck chains would allow and examined his situation more closely. Ah, there they were. Carefully positioned needles at key places around his body. They would be laced with some kind of nerve toxin. Any flailing about and he would prick himself on one or more needles, rendering himself unconscious once more. Good, he thought. He hadn’t overestimated his foe. This was going to be fun.
“Satisfied?” came the witch’s voice. “You see you cannot move or escape.” Heagen turned his head towards her. She was watching him, more curious than anything it seemed.
“Is that what I am supposed to see?” he asked. “I must have been looking in the wrong place. I’ll check again.” He made an exaggerated show of lifting his head and looking down along his body. It was the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the neck chain.
After a few moments of showing off, he laid his head back down. Yeah, he could break these chains. Most prisoners made the mistake of trying to break chains by jerking on them. That only served to inflict pain on themselves more than anything else. No, the best route was a constant, applied pressure. That would inflict the least damage to themselves while increasing the odds of escape.
He was about 80% confident he could break free in under 6 seconds without stabbing himself with one of the needles. That was good enough for his liking. So now, the only question that remained was: Break free now or wait until she’s mid-monologue?
That was odd measurement, he thought to himself. Adventurers always seemed to gauge time in terms of 6 second segments. How it had ever come to that, none could say for sure. Some said it was laid down by some ancient god of some distant world and has spread across the cosmos since then. Regardless, it was an odd measurement of time to act by.
Heagen was deep into considering that philosophical quandary when he realized the witch was talking. Something about using the life-force of her victims to create the potions her agents were supplying to the pharaoh, supposedly to sustain his life, but actually slowly poisoning him, blah, blah, blah, revenge, something something, blah, blah, more blah…
Crap, he thought to himself, she’s already monologueing. Time to act, he thought. Heagen swiftly began applying a constant pressure against his chains by trying to curl himself into a ball on the table. The chains binding his arms and legs snapped almost simultaneously and he nearly twisted in such a way he would have struck one of the needles.
Instead, he converted the twitch into a backwards roll, twisting and snapping the neck chains as he somersaulted into a crouch off the head the table. The witch was so surprised that her diatribe had gone on for several more words before her brain was able to start reacting.
Heagen wasn’t about to give her the chance to start casting spells or call for help. Summoning the barbarian rage within, he kicked out and up into the underside of the table he’d been chained to, sending it flipping through the air and nearly smashing the witch in the face.
She’d had just enough awareness to duck and the table flew just over her head and into the workbench she’d been working on earlier. The potions and implements she had been working with there were smashed beneath the onslaught of the flying table.
The witch recovered quickly and with a single gesture and word sent a storm of ice and snow streaking from her fingers towards the half-orc. He tried to twist away, but was unable to evade as the storm enveloped his body.
Ignoring the icy pain, he leaped towards another workbench where his equipment lay and managed to lay hold upon his greatsword. What he’d failed to notice was the tiny insect lying in wait. A moment too late, he felt the bite on his hand. Immediately, he was wracked with pain and agony as he felt strength drain from him.
Still trying to recover from the staggering fever he felt coursing through his body, he was too slow to react as he saw the witch point a finger at him and speak once more. A black beam of energy sliced out and struck him in the chest. A different kind of pain and agony swept through him as he suddenly felt even weaker.
He’d greatly underestimated this one. He smiled as it struck him funny how he’d been worrying only a short while ago that he’d overestimated her. Just one chance now, he thought. Maybe not. His strength sapped, he dropped to one knee, his sword clattering to the ground just below his limp hand.
“Oh, you poor thing,” the witch said sarcastically as she strode towards him. “That looks really painful.” She came to stand before Heagen before continuing. “I guess I was hoping for too much. Big, strong lad like yourself. I could have gotten three whole doses out of you. Sadly, you’ve caused me too many problems now.
“I’ll just have to put you out of your misery and find another…” she stopped as she noticed Heagen’s smiling face. “What? What have you to smile about?”
Heagen’s smile broadened upon his face. “I guess I overestimated you after all,” he said. Moving swiftly, he reached down, grabbed the sword and with every ounce of strength he had left, he separated the witch’s head from her shoulders.
An hour later the door burst open and in rushed a squad of the Eyes of Sothis, ready for battle. Looking about, they quickly took in the scene of wreckage. To one side, the decapitated form of the witch and to the other, the half-orc slumped against the wall, unable to even rise and greet them.
“You missed all the fun,” Heagen muttered, then promptly passed out.
He awoke three days later in the temple of Sarenrae. The priests had tended his wounds and removed the contagions which he had been inflicted with, but he was still rather weak.
An hour later, one of the commanders of the Eyes arrived and spent three hours interrogating Heagen for all of the details of the incident. Finally satisfied that Heagen’s tale matched the evidence gathered from the scene, he thanked Heagen for another job well done and handed over payment.
As the officer turned to leave, Heagen stopped him. “Just how did you find me?” Heagen asked. “I never reported where her house was.”
“You can thank the Guild for that,” the officer replied. “One of their agents was on her way to the tavern to let you know the witch had returned home and instead saw you being hauled away. It took them a couple hours to finally decide to pass word to us through an anonymous tip. Even so. If it weren’t for them, you’d be dead.”
“Hmm,” was Heagen’s only response as he laid back down and let sleep embrace him once more.