Cast of Characters
Brigid the Badass Barbarian by Heather Thornton
Ramona Briars the Small & Mighty Paladin by Candace Reagan
Zyrella the Firebrand Sorcerer by Cindy Ferkenhoff (absent)
Danu the Mercurial Druid of the Moon by Amanda Little
And Urdes the Rejuvenated Monk by Allixandra Ashler
~ ~ ~
The sturdy wooden door to the eastern wing, or the dormitory as it had been called, of the Abbey of Saint Markovia closed snugly behind them, secured with the Abbot's firm hands. On the second floor something scraped against the interior stone wall.
"You can see that the Belviews require attentive care. They are not of the sort welcomed by the townsfolk of Krezk or the others of the region."
"You did this to them?" Brigid asked.
"I treated them as best as I could. The corruption that had taken them was deep and painful when I arrived. Now, well, I believe they are my charges. My flock to tend."
Ramona retorted, "And the Sacrament you offer, is it like related to their... condition?"
"Oh, no. The Sacrament is a much more subtle remedy. It heals, yes, and perhaps if I had known of it before... well, then that would be a different tale."
Zyrella and Danu had stepped away, seeking to take the air away from the courtyard that smelled robustly of the pecking hens and the unmistakable sense of ears and eyes observing them from the dormitory. They took to the small farm within the Abbey's protective wall which was made of a score of rows of root vegetables, heads of cabbage, bulbous squashes, and barley. Two scarecrows peered at them, their bellies packed with straw and their shoulders dusted with snow. A half dozen rabbits nibbled at the carrots and parsnips, while four others wrestled with wire snares that had captured them. Zyrella looked up at the dormitory, a pair of mismatched eyes looking down on them from between ragged curtains. Danu loosened the snare and shooed the lot away, though they looked back from the small gaps in the wall before making their escape. Even here, they felt the gaze of others, intentions unknown.
"We grow most of our food and get our water from the well," the Abbot added, gesturing to the central, roofed well. "Our cistern is low at the moment. Would you mind helping me fill it?"
Ramona recalled the strange violet glow of the steaming tea. She took a knee briefly, summoned the same prayer, and came to the well. "Brigid and I would be happy to help, " adding a wink to her burly companion. "Let me just--Oh!" Ramona thrust herself into the well with a pantomime of a trip, she grabbed the bucket overhead as she tumbled which unspurled, sending the twin handles spinning wildly!
The stone-walled well opened sharply into an underground reservoir, the water glowing the same violet as she hit it hard, the awkward dive shaking up her senses, but she maintained her focus. The splash echoed up and Brigid halfheartedly wrangled with the well handle.
"Oh no," Brigid drolly replied, "Ramona, you clumsy oaf, you fell down the well."
Ramona scanned around in the pool, the water clear and swirling with hues of wine, but too dark to see any creatures living in the water. Except there was... something. Below her a form swam in at first a lazy circle, then spiraled up like some sort of snake rising from the depths at her! She tugged thrice on the bucket of the rope and Brigid began winding her back up. The Abbot added his considerable strength to the endeavor and just as she surfaced from the water a tale like that of an eel or fish broke the water and smacked her against the stone wall and spinning her about!
She continued to ascend, the sodden rope straining against the armored halfling half sitting in the bucket as her blessed vision faded, though the creature below appeared still as a shadow on darkness in the pool. It was far too large to ascend the well, but that was the smallest of comforts.
Zyrella and Danu returned to the courtyard as Ramona shouted up the well, "You've got... You've got a snake in your boot! I mean well! A snake in your well!"
Brigid hauled the damp halfling out of the well bucket and tried to wipe off what water she could.
"Miss, you thrust yourself down my well and then talk of snakes? What game is this? You will work up my wards! Someone is liable to get hurt. Stop this nonsense."
Brigid raised her handaxe and said, "Ramona says she saw a snake down there and I believe her. What do is going on here, Mister?"
"I said before that this is no place for violence. Not any longer," the Abbot seemingly growing in size as he spoke. "It is an old well. If there are fish or eels below, then so be it."
"Whatever that is, it could be hurting you and your charges," Ramona said, her bright orange hair tossing about sending sprays of chilly water around the courtyard.
"Do we look hurt? Do we look unwell? And under what notion should I believe you? You've shown yourself to be a playactor." The Abbot spoke confidently, assuredly, unfazed by the uncouth forms of his wards who watched from the dormitory.
Danu stepped in, "Perhaps we should go. The Abbot has been generous and kind to us."
Brigid and Ramona exchanged a sigh and a shrug.
"You've got a... a creature down there and it doesn't mean any of you a bit of good," Ramona called out as she and Brigid joined Danu and Zyrella at the courtyard entrance. The Abbot was close behind, pulling the gate closed to them.
"I offer healing to the townsfolk and I take care of the Belviews. If you would rather start rumors and spread distrust, then you have no place here," he added as the old iron squealed into place. "Good day."
~ ~ ~
The hike down was damp and long. The mountain air was crisp, pine scented the air, and the overcast cast hid a sullen sun. From the high vantage they could see that fog snaked between the trees in the wood and laced along Krezk's cleared ridge, suggesting winding serpents.
Serpents: A symbol of knowledge.
Brigid's quarry from that morning was trussed and roasting over a large central cookfire near the center of town. The mountain pool to the north with its slumping gazebo was the only open gathering place in town, which they had spied on their descent. Villagers had gathered simple tree stump stools and hewn log benches to pair with tables they'd pulled from a mishmash of homes, some more confidently made than others.
A squat man with curls of grey hair encircling a bald dome saddled up to them with a smile. "Dmitri Krezkov and I understand that you have my thanks for occasioning tonight's festivities! We don't often have reason to celebrate, but your hunt is more kindness than we generally see."
"Um, do you have an inn?" a soggy Ramona inquired.
"Oh!" Dmitri exclaimed, taking in Ramona's state, "Not much demand for that, but," he wheeled off an iron key from a loop of two dozen, "the second house on the left has been empty. It's yours to stay in as you need it. We do expect you to attend tonight! You'll be able to meet the whole town if you wish."
Ramona had already gone off to the house down the way to change and polish up her armor, the others following with snappy goodbyes.
~ ~ ~
The fire danced wildly at the center of the clearing. An assortment of pewter and crockery dishes were stacked with boar, hearty vegetable stew, hunks of dark rye bread. Anna, the Burgomaster's wife served ladle fulls of stew as other matronly types cut from the boar and cut off hearty pieces of dark bread. Children danced about near the fire while parents and grandparents looked on, sipping from mugs of tea and spiced wine. A youth played a flute with an uncertain style and a half-elf minstrel told stories of elvish kingdoms and a gracious dragonlord and a land of brilliant blue skies. The children laughed at his jests and cowered when he spoke of the evil grey dwarves that poisoned the roots of the ancient tree villages.
Danu carried a pitcher of wine to refill the mugs of Kristianna who dallied before joining the nightwatch and Brigid as they compared scars and stories of combat. Brigid was downing a second glass for every of Kristianna's single, which were not insubstantial on their own. Blaming the festivities and the fine company, Kristianna stayed overlong, flashing a smile at Danu who Genasi hair seemed to flow about around her face in its own currents.
Ramona leaned against a tree, unusually unarmored, sipping from her wine and unable to shake what she had seen today: violet waters, a beast beneath the Abbey, a gray something beneath the skin of these townspeople... Yet here they were, happily dancing and carousing with one another in their high stone walls. And she and her friends so far from anything they might call home.
But the spiced wine was good.
Zyrella took a perch in a tree nearby twirling fire about in an weary way, a pitcher all to her own now empty and hugged loosely in the crotch of a tree. Her mind imagined the city of which the bard spoke, her own Feycountry always close, but never quite there. And now... now it felt more remote than it ever had.
Urdes swayed with the musical words of the bard but was the first to notice the baby, held by his mother, begin to cry; and the boy who had fallen asleep at his father's feet and warmed by the fire started and stirred; an elder leaned hard into a tree as her legs gave way beneath her. Urdes moved to the elder, easing her to a raised root of a walnut tree. With a whistle, she called the others who turned, suddenly hearing the cutting cry of the child amidst the reverie.
Brigid scanned quickly from face to face in the crowd. A man clutched his chest, a woman suddenly crashed hard onto a bench, and the youthful flutist's energy faded. And while they were scattered about the scene, the bard was at the center. Brigid listed from side to side in a somewhat exaggerated if quite possibly inebriated jig toward the bard; Aldric she had heard earlier in the night. He continued to tell his stories to the children, though three had fallen asleep under furs and woolen blankets, when she crashed down without warning onto him!
The children grabbed one another, including the snoozing few, and scurried back from the burly woman as she crashed onto Aldric who seemed to deflate like a bellows beneath Brigid. A scream cut the night and they all could see, save Brigid face down atop Aldric, a skeletal green form emerge from the collapsed bard leering over Brigid.
Its digits lengthened in a nightmarish way and ready to rake across Brigid when Urdes shifted into a pose on one foot, her hand crossing the air before her as fire lashed out in the form of lengthy, draconic talons! The talons found their purchase on the monster and portions of its ichorous green body separated and splashed about. Shouts resounded and the villagers took shelter beneath tables and babes in the arms of their parents.
Dmitri leaned to Ramona and asked, "Your friend, she knows what she's doing, yes?"
With an just slightly too long moment of hesitation Ramona replied, "Oh, yep. She's got this under control," while recalling the wolves scratching and biting at Urdes on the High Road the night before.
Danu choraled the villagers to safety before rushing over to the pot of simmering vegetables. She raised her hands which seemed to rush low with cerulean sea water as the soup flowed upward into a heaving tendril of parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage and they flew into the terror overhead, seemingly washing away some of its skeletal mass!
Brigid pushed off from Aldric who lay moaning on the ground just as the creature flew, as if on a gust of wind just for it, back into a tree, vanishing into nothing as it did so. She grabbed her pair of javelins and flung them at the creature, letting her intuition guide her, one finding purchase while the second overshot and a moan called back of a villager taking the javelin!
Perhaps intuition was not Brigid's friend after so much wine.
The leaves rustled and the creature left a trail of fluctuating light as it dove at, no, into Brigid! It rushed through her mouth and ears feeling like a briny wave crashing into her, stealing her breath away. And then it was inside and Brigid... well, she had a song in her head that offered a blanket of calm that, later, would unsettle her. The song grew in her mind and she started dancing to and humming it aloud, "Mmmbop / ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba duba dop / Ba du bop, ba duba dop."
"Release my friend, you shall fight me!" Ramona commanded, her words imbued with fury and righteousness. Brigid's movement halted and just as the wave had entered her it crashed out of her, the creature's invisibility shaken for a moment as Ramona jabbed at it with her rapier, cutting off ribs of its slimy constitution.
Danu turned then, her eyes glowing blue, her face contorted, her hair rose and fused into a massive rack of antlers! She dove through the air, expanding in size as her forearms contorted into massive hoofed haunches as she charged at the creature, Danu's size growing with each step! And she barreled into the nightmare creature, Ramona diving out of the way as the majestic elk, now of a terrible and daunting size, slammed into the creature who was little more than a smear on Danu's felted horns as she trotted a round the clearing to lose her speed.
They took deep breaths of air, still infused with adrenaline.
Shutters latched and doors locked around them as the night quieted suddenly.
"I guess this is why we don't have parties very often," Dmitri said with a shrug.
Image Credit: Fear and Loathing in Ravenloft, https://fearandloathinginravenloft.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/google-drive-for-campaign-management/