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Unfathomable! Interlude: The Soldier and the Wicked Crone

Before she was a lich, Greta was Granny. She traded magical tattoos for gemstones. But you needn't worry if you had none. Granny was sure to offer you some other bargain.

At the beginning of a recent session, we had another flashback scene, this time to Greta's backstory. This introduces Yeel, an NPC that I hope will come into play before the campaign wraps up.

The Soldier and the Wicked Crone

Narrator: Once there was a soldier named Yeel who took leave from her battalion and crossed into the wastes. On the tenth day, she found a reeking hovel and was greeted by a tangled scrap of a woman—all long bones and flea bites.

Yeel: Take me to your mistress, wretch.
Turtleback Sally: No appointment? No calling card? Or supplicant’s gift?
Yeel: I’m here for the hag, not her underling.

Narrator: The pitiful figure slid forward, fast enough to catch Yeel off guard. Her breath was on Yeel’s face and her eyes were wide and staring. 

Turtleback Sally [whispered]: Are you sure? Have you no other path?
Yeel: She bestows enchantments with needle and ink?
Turtleback Sally: Yes.
Yeel: Powerful enchantments? Stronger than those… than others?
Turtleback Sally: Oh yes.
Yeel: And she takes payments other than gold?
Turtleback Sally: Ah…

Narrator: Yeel was led into the hovel. Among murk and cobwebs hunched a crone with fingers like needles.

Granny Greta: And who visits Granny? A soldier from the lichman’s army! With your brass buttons and braid. How pretty. How sweet.
Yeel: I… I would be a warrior of legend. You can make me indomitable on the battlefield. 
Granny Greta: Oh, my little sugared plum! My tender sausage! 
Yeel: I am sick of fools and cowards being promoted ahead of me on the strength of family connections and enchanted heirlooms—a halbrek that reverses the flight of arrows, a diamond stickpin that cloaks the wearer in flames, a pair of socks that prevents trench foot!
Granny Greta: It’s like a hard little nut, right here. Right behind your breastbone.
Yeel: My family have no wealth, no position, no heirlooms to spare me.
Granny Greta: And everyday the nut grows, doesn’t it?

Narrator: Yeel was laid down and Granny Greta began to etch into her skin the image of a sword. And as Granny worked, she sang:

Granny Greta [singing]:
One shot by arrows
Two split with a stone 
Three pecked by sparrows
Four hewn to the bone
Five burned on a pyre
Six sipped poison, I think
Seven, garroter’s wire
Eight drowned in the drink
How Nine might snuff it 
Counts little and naught,
It’s enough to pay Granny 
for the sword you have bought.

Granny Greta: Nine Lives it is called, and nine lives it’ll give you. You’ll be worth ten of any other soldier.
Yeel [pained]: What price?
Granny Greta: Hush! It’s time for art, not commerce. Let’s say the price is deferred. 

Narrator: And Yeel was worth ten times any other soldier. She was a hurricane, a plague, a judgment from the gods. And when she was cut down in battle, she rose and fought again. Such a warrior was highly prized. She became trusted with the most sensitive missions and her future was keen and bright.

Narrator: But now she knew the price. Each time she fell in battle, Nine Lives drank a ninth-portion of her soul. 

Narrator: To sell one’s soul was common enough, and what need would she have of it once she was dead? But to lose it a piece at a time, to live with that loss, to carry on with the awareness that you were a little less yourself and that much more the hag’s creature? It was a price beyond bearing. 

Narrator: Years later, Granny Greta traveled to Mur, leading a donkey cart sagging under the weight of her hoarded jewels, while she herself crackled with amassed magic and stolen souls. 

Granny Greta: I’ve come to purchase my lichdom!

Narrator: The Sorcerers of Mur had little love for hags. But they admitted that Granny had been meticulous in every preliminary and they prepared themselves to welcome a forceful new addition to lich society.

Narrator: The day of the ritual was astrologically fortuitous. Granny’s wealth assured that each component, from the plinths of jade to the Cascadian incense to the smallest ribbon, was of the finest, most thaumaturgically potent quality available. The final sacrifice was her own unsuspecting apprentice, a soul cultivated over decades for just this purpose. All was in readiness and as nearing perfection as a fallen world might allow.

Granny Greta: Me! Unending! Everything! Mine!

Narrator: Now Granny Greta lay swaddled in amulets in her shadow-iron casket, awaiting the final draft of Undeath, the arcane catalyst that would set the furnace of her lichdom ablaze. Quietly, a highly-decorated young soldier used her newfound influence to slip in and upend a vial of adulterant into Granny’s chalice.

Yeel [whispering to herself]: No high office. No immortal glory. No lich’s tower, no dynasty. Only a blasted mockery with barely wit enough to know how far you have fallen. And before my last life is spent, I will hunt you and kill you with your own cursed sword.


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