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
Danu the Mercurial Druid of the Moon by Amanda Little
Urdes the Rejuvenated Monk by Jenna Ashler (absent)
And introducing Shiva Stoneheart, the Iron Gnome by Brooke Santos
~ ~ ~
Resting in their adopted home in Krezk, our adventurers rise from bedrolls in the aftermath of the interrupted celebrations of the night before. Outside, clouded skies are broken by fiercely burning stars. Leather booted footfalls and the ring of chainmail is drowned out by the clomp of greaves and the jangle of plate armor.
A tidy knocking and Danu answers. "Morning, Kristianna," she says with a smile, her hair twirling about her face.
"Looks like I'm not waking you all," the Nightguard Captain responds, with a smile curling the edge of her mouth, "but a stray came to the gate. Passed the tests and figured she might find good company with you all."
Kristianna stepped aside to reveal the squat figure of a sturdy tin can of a gnome, dressed in gaudy blues and reds, her metal helm curling just so in the style of a cap, her face bright and ruddy. "Hullo!" She says, loudly in the pre-dawn morning, "Shiva Stoneheart, at your service!" She shoves out her gauntleted hand to meet Danu's, a subtle jolt running up the Genasi's arm with the touch.
"Who's that?" Brigid calls and comes to the door. "Oh!" Brigid exclaims, seeing the rosy cheeks of Shiva. "Must be pretty strong to walk around in all that."
"Was my auntie's. Bit of a book-learner myself, but I've spent enough time in it to get used to it. And these besides," Shiva added, slapping the axe and pick at her hips.
"Well, glad to have another steady hand around here," Brigid said, slapping the armored gnome on the shoulder and inviting her inside. "We're going fishing!"
Kristianna raised a silent eyebrow to Danu, who smiled and said, "Yep. Fishing."
~ ~ ~
The pool at the edge of Krezk sparkled with what seemed like its own stars. The large gazebo was freshly painted but the roof sloped precipitously over the statue of a kneeling woman at its center. Offerings surrounded the figure: a bowl of flowers, piles of roasted nuts, smoked meat, a few fruits that had noticeably turned.
Leaning against the outer wall with a rod in hand was a man drowsily dipping and raising his line. His hair was black and tousled and his clothes carrying a bit of dust. He raised his gaze to see the fishers’ approach.
"Goin' noodlin'!" Brigid exclaimed.
"Noodling?" Zyrella skeptically retorted.
"Yep. You stroll on out to your hips and start reaching into their dens. No hook, no bait, just your pretty little fingers squirming in there." The blood began to drain from Zyrella's face. "And you get those pretty little digits in there! Grab 'em round the gills and yank! Woohoo! That's how you catch a fish."
"I'll stick with the rod and reel," Ramona said, which bounced high over her head as she lead the group. "Don't want to come across that snake thing again without a weapon in hand."
"Snake?" Shiva asked.
"Aye. Or like a snake. Big thing I saw, well, sort of saw, down the well at the Abbot on the ridge," Ramona explained, gesturing with the rod up at the structure that seemed to peer down on them. "It's doing something to the water. And the Abbot, he's making something with it and it is harming the townspeople. Not sure exactly how, but when the snake thing hit me it hit hard. I don't like it. Hence the fishing."
Shiva looked Ramona up and down, shrugged, and added, "Hence the fishing."
"Good morning to you," Zyrella called to the man holding his rod, eager to end the conversation of fishing.
"And to you," he said smiling. "Joining me, are you?"
"That's the plan," Brigid replied. "How are they biting?"
"Oh, not well," he said, sniggering. He raised his line to reveal a rough hunk of metal on the end of his line. "I don't really fish for my breakfast. I prefer baubles."
"Baubles?" Zyrella inquired as she and Shiva approached. Brigid, Ramona, and Danu looked the man over and started stretching out along the lake. Going fishing, after all.
"Oh yes. I do rather like finding trinkets and oddities." He reached into his robes and pulled out a battered tin whistle. "This, for example. I've polished it up as best I can and it is most peculiar."
"How so?" Shiva asked.
"Well, I have seen it myself, but it can stop a clockwork contraption dead. At least the smaller ones. I've heard that they walk about in the Count's Castle," gesturing out toward Ravenloft in the western distance, cloaked in encircling fog. "Would you like to make a trade for it?" he asked, twirling the whistle about.
"That does sound rather useful," Zyrella said to Shiva.
"I have a very nice timepiece," Shiva said, fishing around in her pouch. A spring and cog tumbled out as she held up the pocketwatch. "It shows off the moon's phase and more if you'd like to make the trade."
"Oh? You don't look like you've been in Barovia long. Have you noticed the lunar phases?"
"No, just came in the other night," Zyrella said. "How frequent is the full moon?"
"Once every twelve days, it seems. Lights the path, but keeps the wolves hunting."
"Must be hard on the ladies," Brigid shouted back. Brigid, Danu, and Ramona had been talking about their fishing expedition. Brigid, dripping in the chill pool, hadn't had any luck noodling about. Danu, had a different plan.
"Let me make some adjustments and we can make the exchange," Shiva said, fishing out her tools and fiddling with the timepiece. "Just a cog change and it should be just fine!"
Danu, meanwhile, set down her pack, took a few steps from the water's edge, and then ran and leapt high over it as if to dive in. In the air her skin shifted from fair to gray and her body extended. Her arms shrunk and flattened and as she hit the water she dove in with the long, predatory form of a reef shark she knew from the sea near her home. Shimmying about she quickly adjusted.
Ramona strapped the magical lab booties around her boots and stepped out into the pool. The water shifted around her creating the now familiar protective bubble of breathable air. Brigid shook off and and did likewise. They "swam" out to Danu and grabbed her fins and dove below the water.
The mountain pool was much deeper than expected once you left the ledge. Guppies darted away from them as they entered a submerged cavern which cut into the earth at a low, descending angle. Some hundred feet later it shifted upward and quickly emerged into a twenty foot wide pool cloaked in darkness. Ramona and Brigid strode on shore and Brigid raised a torch (luckily quite dry in the protective bubble), and sparked it alight with her flint.
The cave spread out before them, though the inky darkness hid much of it. Stalagmites jutted from the ground and one met a stalactite in a pillar about fifteen feet high. Near the water's edge was an unusually round boulder and on it were carved the suggestion of a crude face of large, hollow eyes and a wide, rectangular mouth. Brigid came close with her torch and slapped it.
Ramona stepped back, just a bit as the stone unfurled and rose to a stance of seven feet, and at least four feet wide at the chest.
"Don't forget about our getaway shark," she whispered to Brigid.
A sound like a tremor or a collapsing building stirred and spoke in the ancient language of stone, "Why... you... come... here?"
Ramona, stepped up next to Brigid, fluent in the speech. "We came from the village on the other side of the underwater cavern. Do you know what is contaminating their water?"
The living boulder looked between Brigid, tall and lit brightly with her torch, and Ramona, whose small but armored body was an odd vessel for the weighty, tumbling syllables. Their four-fingered hand raised toward Brigid and tapped at her cheek just firmly enough for her to feel the hard strength of it.
"Village?" the creature said, "With the... silverscales?" he said, suggesting something about three feet tall between its earthen hands. "Small ones."
"No. The human village, kinda like us,” Ramona replied.
Danu, who learned the tongue of elemental as a child, could understand that the creature meant no harm, vanished under the water. Surely the exchange above would continue without incident.
"So much for our getaway shark," Brigid muttered.
"No. The silverscales... they took... what I protected."
"And you can't get it back?"
"Silverscales live on water... Galeb can't reach them..." They pointed down the dark cavern, where the stone path declined gently. Stalagmites lay to the side in large chunks apparently damaged some time ago.
Danu surfaced with a splash, shifting back into her form with Shiva and Zyrella still in tow. Shiva examining her new whistle and added, "That Viktor fellow, interesting. Viktor Rorscht," until she realized there was a boulder being in front of her.
Shiva and Danu exchanged looks.
"Your kind, earthy-types, they make fellows like that. Big magic you got there," Shiva said.
"Usually with some kind of task in mind. They're living stone from the elemental plane."
Ramona explained that this creature, this Galeb had to protect something but little critters with silver skin had taken it. They lived nearby but on water, so the Galeb couldn't get to it.
"Sounds like a quest!" Brigid exclaimed. The others nodded and smiled.
Ramona turned back to the Galeb, "Would you like help?"
The Galeb raised its arms and its voice rumbled. Pebbles and cobbles tumbled toward it from around the cavern and even the stone roof seemed to sing back. The song, strange as it was, was clearly an affirmative.
"Can you lead the way?" Danu asked once the stonesong ended.
The Galeb nodded and started taking meditative steps down the path of shattered stone pillars. They then turned back to Ramona and said, "Faster?"
"Yes, please," Ramona responded, her hairy toes itching in the hasty boots. Wordlessly, the Galeb turned back and fell to the ground, but as they did so, they turned into its boulder and began rolling quickly down the sloped cavern floor.
Brigid unfurled her bedroll and began tobogganing after the Galeb! Shiva, meanwhile, leapt onto the boulder with a great shout and started shuffling along on top of it! Ramona, her boots sliding elegantly over the smooth stone, kept pace and then some. Danu and Zyrella took up the tail.
And as it was Zyrella spotted a pair of violet eyes looking at her from the shadows. Silver of skin and leaning leisurely against a stalagmite was an elf. With a slight backtracking, she greeted him.
"You and your friends do make a bit of racket," his voice was deep and sonorous, carrying well against the scrape of stones and laughter moving away from them. Danu, seeing Zyrella stopped, turned back to join her.
"Funny seeing a fellow elf down here," Zyrella said with a hint of a question.
"Oh, not so funny. These caverns connect all over the realm. You just don't want to lose your way."
"We thought that might be the case," interjected Danu, alarm hinting in her voice.
"My friends," Zyrella said, "we're hunting some kind of giant snake. Have you seen anything like that?"
"Snake," he scowled a little, his thin lips pursed in thought, "No. No I haven't. Have you seen the wolves?"
"Wolves?" Zyrella and Danu said in unison.
"Yes, they travel here. Packs of them. And the ones that can pass as men, with them." He stepped closer, the light and ruckus of their friends fading down the cavern. "I make things from the creatures down here. And if you're hunting something, perhaps I have some assistance for you. For a price, of course." He opened his cloak to reveal a half dozen bottles and vials tightly corked and labeled in elvish. His fingers plucked a vial of a cloudy white fluid with a subtle swirl of red. "I've extracted this from one of the wolfmen. It will grant you all the benefits of their sense of smell, making you a keen tracker for a short while." He looked Danu over, in her rough and simple attire, "And I imagine for you it would double again whatever... propensities you may already have."
"Five gold," Zyrella said.
The silver skinned elf guffawed revealing his mouth of fine teeth, somehow smaller and more plentiful than seemed right, "Surely you jest. A good joke, though. That is a paltry sum!" His violet eyes turned back to them.
"My friend, she meant to say twenty-five," Danu replied.
"Hmm..." He tapped the cork against the side of his mouth. "I do like to secure business. Perhaps I could let this one go at a discount. You'll know that I'm an elf of my word and that my tinctures are of great quality."
"Yes. Let's," Zyrella pulled a handful of coin and counted them. Vial and coin exchanged hands. "Now we must catch up with our friends!" Zyrella took Danu by the hand and they took off after their companions. Realizing only as the others came within sight that they had never gotten the elf's name.
"McSmugface would have to do," said Zyrella.
~ ~ ~
The subterranean lake was dimly illuminated by glowing shelf fungus growing off of deep roots along the edges of the wall. The lake was impossible to gauge, but they could see several forms swimming through the water toward the lake.
"Incoming!" Ramona shouted as she ducked behind a stalagmite. As she did so a half dozen fishy figures rose at the water's edge and flung spears in her direction. They rattled against the stone, but one found brutal purchase, stinging sharply m against Ramona's shoulder.
"Go fishing, they said," Zyrella muttered as she halted from high up in the tunnel's path and raised her hands with a deep, eldritch m shout. The lake shone in crimson for a harsh second before the meteor crashed through its summoning, decimating the silverscaled fighters. The blast raised a wave of steam, as well as the aroma of filets.
Brigid, unable to see a clear target, looked to the Galeb who raised their stone palm with a nod.
"You tell anyone about this," she said, raising her hand axes, "so help me I'll--" her words were cut short by the force of air blasting over her face as the Galeb flung her toward the cloud of steam. Their aim was true as Brigid came headlong into the first one. She opened her mouth, transformed by her totem bear, and tore the top half of the body off it! As she came to the second, she swung her handaxes wildly, cutting him down. She spat the soft ribs and gore of the creature at the companions fast approaching with a roar!
Shiva leapt to the water's edge and her armor shimmered in a cold white light as she fired a chill beam through the steam which crystallized and fell as sudden snow finding a target as it moved in toward Brigid. Three fishmen wielding harsh hooks and barbed, staves leapt to Brigid. Two of the staves tightened around Brigid, one around her stomach and the other over a bicep, cutting into her and earning her ire.
Danu, taking a stance next to Zyrella, spoke an ancient prayer in the secret, powerful language of the druids. The cloud of steam rose and cohered into a fierce gray storm clouds and began dropping pellets of icy sleet. Brigid leapt onto the quickly freezing lake surface as did one of her combatants while the others became stuck as the water froze around them!
Ramona pulled free the javelin, breathed deep, and dashed out from the stalagmite. Her ingenious boots glided over the water-smoothed stone and out onto the ice where she skated up to the fishmen, partially frozen to the water. Sleet cut around her as she slashed at each with elegant and brutal finesse.
Zyrella grabbed Danu and rushed down the rocky slope before lobbing a bolt of fire into the melee, unfortunately finding no suitable target.
Brigid, her red braid swung wildly about her, hacked at the tiny creature still holding his staff around her arm. Slashing at him madly with her axes, she left gaping wounds in the big-eyed, wide-mouthed humanoid who was surprised to find that Shiva had leapt out onto the ice, which groaned underfoot, and hacked at the back of its head with her pick!
The staff held tight to Brigid as the handle went limp.
Danu, having been hauled to the water's edge by Zyrella, raised her quarterstaff which glimmered emerald and dove at the closest fishman, bludgeoning him fiercely!
Surrounded and frozen the creatures bit and slashed with their hooks at Brigid, drawing trickles of blood as Ramona circled back and made another pair of slashes against them.
Brigid, eyes burning bright, raised her pair of axes and swung laterally at the two, who were neatly beheaded with a thwunk.
Steam rose around these damsels of danger who looked out over the lake at the village set up on bits of fungal raft. A guttural, impish cry echoed out at them as torches raised, illuminating a tall staff with the jaws of a shark mounted above it, festooned with bits of fur, feather, and rotting meat.
Note: At some point, "Dating like in Flagstaff apparently," was said, but I couldn't remember the context! Sorry!
Image Credits: The Creature Chronicle, http://thecreaturechronicle.tumblr.com/ & https://ravenloftthekingisdead.obsidianportal.com/wikis/the-village-of-krezk