After the raven flew away, the party noted that the arms of the windmill were deathly still. They could not be sure if the slight breeze at their backs would be enough to turn it or not.
“Charming. Shall we?” said Malenthor.
“Might as well see what’s to be seen. Let’s do it,” said Balthazar, striding forward.
“Hrm, it looks like it’s going to need a dusting…” Lillian said sarcastically.
The ground floor had been converted into a makeshift kitchen, but the room was filthy. Baskets and old dishware were piled everywhere. Adding to the clutter was a peddler’s cart, a chicken coop, a heavy wooden trunk, and a pretty wooden cabinet with flowers painted on its doors. In addition to the clucking of the chickens, they heard toads croaking. The chicken coop contained three chickens, a rooster, and a few laid eggs.
The sweet smell of pastries blended horridly with a stench that burned their nostrils. The awful odor came out of an open, upright barrel in the center of the room. Warmth issued from a brick oven against one wall, and a crumbling staircase ascended the wall across from it. Shrieks and cackles from somewhere higher up caused the old mill to shudder.
Malenthor glanced at the stairs, then headed over toward the trunk. It had tiny holes bored into its lid, and the monk decided to leave it be, heading toward the cabinet instead. It contained wooden bowls full of herbs and baking ingredients, including flour, sugar, and several gourds of powdered bone. Hanging on the inside of the cabinet doors were a dozen locks of hair. Amid various concoctions were three small, labeled containers. “Youth,” “Laughter,” and “Mother’s Milk.”
Balthazar was fascinated by the stinky barrel, which held glistening, greenish-black liquid. “This actually smells kind of like the street fare in Mulhorand,” said the dragonborn. “I think it’s demon ichor.”
“Oh, remind me not to eat in Mulhorand,” Lillian said testily. “Demon ichor, locks of hair, youth, laughter, mother’s milk … and cookie recipes. This sounds like one hell of a grandma’s house.”
“Let’s go meet her, shall we?” Balthazar said enthusiastically.
Malenthor glanced upward at the latest bout of cackling. “Surely.”
“Hey grandma, come out and say hi!” Balthazar yelled up to the top of the windmill. Lillian facepalmed.
They ascended. The dirt-caked windows allowed very little light to enter the eight-foot-high chamber, most of which was taken up by a large millstone connected to a wooden gear shaft that rose through the ceiling in the center of the room. A stone staircase continued up, toward the sound of loud cackling.
“Lady and Gentleman, I give you the Bonegrinder,” said the dragonborn. Malenthor nodded at him.
Lillian and Balthazar failed to notice the pair of ugly young women who suddenly appeared among the party! They wore silk shawls and gowns of stitched flesh. Long needles stuck out of their tangled mops of black hair. “Come for a pastry?” one of them hissed in Malenthor’s ear.
“Perhaps,” he said, doing his best to appear nonplussed.
“Our mother uses only the finest ingredients,” the other said from behind Lillian, who jumped about a foot away. “One gold piece each.”
“Pricey. Worth it?” asked the drow.
“The best dreams you’ve ever had,” said the woman beside him.
The sorcerer recovered herself and said, “I’m sorry, did you just offer us pastry? For a gold? Are they made of silks and jewels or something?”
“Ancient Barovian secret,” said the hag near Lillian.
The tiefling cringed away a little. “Yeah, you see, has it been approved by the local culinary guild?” That set the sisters to cackling.
“Is your mother above?” asked Malenthor.
“She’s out selling her wares,” replied the one.
“Yes, she … isn’t beholden to any guilds,” commented the other.
Lillian looks efficiently creeped out by their general appearance but tries very hard to be polite because … of their appearance.
The monk continued to ply the sisters with questions. “I see. You live here? Have you been here long?”
“Long enough,” said the one.
“And we’ve answered your questions long enough. Are you here to buy?” asked the other.
“The pastries?” asked Lillian.
“Yes, my pretty. The pastries.”
“Mincemeat,” said the one.
“What do you think?” asked Balthazar. “I say there’s no such thing as a bad new experience.”
Lillian shook her head. “I don’t believe I will be partaking.”
Malenthor handed the hag beside him a gold coin. “Very well. Show me your wares.”
She grinned, showing what may have never been a full collection of teeth. “Follow me.” She headed toward the down stairs. Malenthor followed.
“Lillian… don’t be prudish. Live a little,” said Balthazar, following the drow.
Lillian scrunched her face as she brought up the rear. “I’ll take a look at said wares and decide after.”
Malenthor’s hag shuffled over to the brick oven and fetched a pie from inside. “Perfect!” she announced. “I told you, Offalia.” The other hag stuck her tongue out at the first one. It was home to a lot of pustules.
The hag passed the pie to Malenthor. It was hot, but not too hot to eat. And it smelled lovely.
“Thank you,” he said, considering the pastry before taking a bite.
While the drow considered, Lillian elbowed Balthazar in the ribs to get his attention. “Yes?” he asked.
The tiefling whispered to him in Draconic. “I heard crying above the room we were just in.”
“Oh? Let’s go check that out, then,” he replied in the same tongue.
Malenthor’s eyes widened in surprise. “Gods’ blood. This is very good,” he declared. He finished his pie off in two quick bites.
“We told you,” the hag said, sickly sweet. She provided a second pie to Balthazar. The dragonborn swallowed the pastry whole. Lillian shuddered at the sight.
The pastries made the men feel sleepy. Very sleepy. They both managed to shake it off, though. “They’re strong, Bella,” Offalia said to her sister.
“Hey… that thing packed a punch,” said Balthazar turning toward the stairs.
“Slow down there,” Offalia told him.
“One sec, beautiful, I’ll be right back,” he said. Ireena paled and Lillian turned green at the words.
Balthazar trudged up to the third floor to find a thick wooden gear shaft in the center of the cramped, circular room. In a rotting wooden closet were three crates, stacked one atop another, with small doors set into them. Next to the closet was a heap of discarded clothing. A ladder climbed to a wooden trapdoor in the nine-foot-high ceiling. A moldy bed with a tattered canopy stood nearby.
Balthazar breaks open one of the crates. Each was three feet square. The top one was empty, but the middle and lower ones each contained a captive child. The outward-facing side of each crate was fitted with a small door that had an iron latch and iron hinges. It could be unlatched and opened easily from the outside. The kids’ cages were full of crumbs. They pulled away from the front of the crates at the sight of the monster.
The dragonborn priest sighed. “Of course it had to be children.” He turned to head back down the stairs with his hammer drawn. Offalia suddenly appeared in front of him, blocking his path.
(Three seconds before…)
Downstairs, Bella spoke to her sister. “Go and see to the dragonborn. I’ll keep these entertained.” As Offalia vanished, the remaining hag said, “I guess our secret’s out.”
The hags shed their mortal guises, somehow becoming even uglier. Offalia simply lunged at Balthazar, but he fended off her slashing claws. Bella threw a black beam of enervating energy at Malenthor, the magic striking him in the chest and sapping his strength. Ireena drew her longsword and pushed her way through the kitchen toward Bella, but couldn’t find much room to maneuver in the close quarters.
Feeling weakened, Malenthor pulled his spear and spun it in a kata he learned early in his training, relying on his manual dexterity to make up for what he lacked in physical might. Despite his maneuver, his weakness slowed him enough for the hag to evade both his thrust, and striking foot.
“Come here, princess,” said Balthazar. “I need to help you with that ugly problem by introducing your face to my hammer.” He brought the heavy weapon forward and bloodied Offalia’s nose, but she looked more surprised and angry than hurt.
“I’m so through with you and your sister,” said Lillian, pointing her hands and firing a trio of scorching rays at Bella. Only one of the rays found its target, but the hag shrieked as her stitched-flesh gown burned off, revealing things no one was ever meant to see.
“Any idea what these things are?” Malenthor asked the sorcerer. No one replied.
Ismark drew longsword and shortsword, climbing up on a table to hack at Bella from above. He was a whirling dervish of blades, getting three hits in on her. The hag definitely seems resistant to his mundane weapons. Bella decided that Ismark was the greater threat, and lunged at him with steely claws, but he weathered the frenzied assault.
Offalia’s claws strike sparks against the warpriest’s armor again, and Ireena carved a gash alongside Bella’s side. Having noted the hag’s resistance to Ismark’s blades, Malenthor drops the spear and drew the silver blade, hoping it would make a difference. She dodged the sword, so he punched her in the head. At the sight of the silver blade, Bella’s bloodshot eyes focused on the monk once more.
Balthazar tried to position himself opposite the stairway down from the hag and prayed to Stromaus for a thunderwave. His battle prayer caught her right the midsection and she rolled all the way down the stairs to the ground floor.
“Oh, oh you too, you disgusting thing,” said Lillian to the other hag entering the room. She then spread her fingers and evoked a twinned chromatic orb, sending a ball of of thunder at each of the hags. Ismark slashed at Bella, covering her with several minor gouges.
Deciding that their prey was too strong, Bella cried out to Offalia. “Let’s get the Hells out of here!” A moment later, the two hags vanished from sight.