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 Fire-hearted Monk by Jenna Ashler (absent)
And Shiva Stoneheart, the Iron Gnome by Brooke Santos
~ ~ ~
The inky black of the lake water rippled against the smooth stone floor of the cavern. Torches glimmered a few hundred yards away in the lake's center and the awful susurrus of the fishpeople carried strangely on the water's surface. Massive shelves of blue fungi shone a white-blue light over the surface as they jutted from deep roots of the pine trees of the Barovian forests overhead. In the center of the village was a shark's jaw, lined with razor teeth, over the tall staff of black wood and vine. And more lay just below but out of sight.
Shiva unlatched her helm and scratched at her forehead : How could she aid her new compatriots at that distant island? This was the same reason the earthen creature called Galeb Duhr was helpless to confront these silverskinned thieves...
Brigid spotted the look of concern, hefted her handaxes, and looked around. Danu, near to her side in the shallows of the lake pointed to the shelf fungus growing from the rooted walls. With a few hearty swings and Danu's finagling, it came loose and was held light in her hands.
"This'll do for a raft," Brigid said, chucking the shelf fungus into the lake near Shiva. Ramona fashioned a lasso with her rope just as Danu stepped into the water. Danu's form merged with the water and she seemed to melt into it, her arms refracting and branching in the water, and by the time she was submerged her skin was a mottled blue and purple.
Two tentacles tugged at the lasso just as Shiva clambered aboard the bioluminescent octo-chariot alongside Ramona and Zyrella who strode with dry elegance aboard. The Duhr gave a gentle shove to the raft while Brigid clenched a handaxe in her teeth and dove into the water; Brigid was more than a little thankful for Danu's handicap as a beast of burden as she swam alongside in the style of the northern hounds of her homeland.
And so they approached.
The icthian calls grew louder as they approached. Danu gave a final tug to the raft and dove below the water, letting momentum carry her allies onward as she gained what surprise she could.
A tall staff, adorned with crab shells and pulsing faintly weaved through the crowd at the water's edge. Coming to the fore was a figure, slightly taller than the others, and wearing a necklace of shiny baubles and squirming albino crustaceans was a fish-creature that bellowed with a deep, painful call. Rising from the waters came a maelstrom of dark figures that flew through the air about the central figure. The sorcery redoubled the bellows of its townsfolk.
Ramona took a knee and raised her crossbow, notching one of her blessed bolts. It shot true through the storm of dark forms at the fell priest, who bellowed in response. The forms flickered for a moment but continued to swarm as the torchlight flickered.
Zyrella's elfen voice sang and descended into the guttural notes of dragonspeech as she called forth a fireball on the fish-creatures focused on their priest. The explosion caught them wholly off-guard, sending a pair roasting into the lake water while a half dozen screamed and ran about in foolish circles like children's sparkle-tricks at a parade. The fiendish shadows flickered momentarily before solidifying again.
One of the villagers smacked into a ramshackle home and spread its flame while from the center of the village came an unsettling negative noise, a sucking or a void that seemed to quiet the fray. From the shrine at the center rose a green and blue phantom, like a massive squid as it rose into the air. It turned its tentacles to Ramona who felt a deep, curdling fear inside her as black clouds rose from the water clouding her vision and then evaporated, giving the sturdy halfling a deep shudder as the creature continued to... stare.
Brigid heaved herself over the village's edge and was swarmed by the fish-creatures. She took in a deep breath of the dank air of the subterranean lake and bellowed, and from deep within the spirit-bear met her call, grew through her. She spun her handaxes about and out sprouted the ursine claws of her totem as she slashed wildly at the creatures around her who fell as chaff before the scythe, her axe-claws leaving deep, fatal gashes in her prey.
Shiva crouched and leapt from the glimmering raft to the village's edge, landing with a boom on one knee just as a wave of the shouting fish-creatures moved in, were bowled over and blasted when her armor shone with a lightning bolt and rang like a great iron bell struck by that lightning! Thrummm, Shiva's spell sang as the creatures fell about her!
And then they swarmed. They dove with spear and tooth and claw. Spear cut into Brigid's haunch as a second's teeth bit into her forearm and Brigid bellowed as the great frost bears in response. They leapt onto Shiva, though her armor and bulk rebuffed their simple spear points. But there were so many, and the creatures were on them, attacking with joyous abandon as their priest darkly prayed and this... phantom moved into the fray.
Just as they did, tentacles lined with suckers reached out from the lake's darkness at the priest, who found himself held aloft in a tangle of arms! Danu clenched the foul creature tightly as she was bitten and stung by... fiends! The storm of figures was some infernal summoning and they slashed and bit with tiny claws and teeth as she held their locus aloft!
The priest's wide, fishy mouth seemed to grin as it raised its staff of shell and stone into the air and lightning etched the shells as it struck down hard on Danu's tentacles, giving her a shudder, but she held firm against its attack! Ramona raised her crossbow in response but her arms were weary, her heart racing as if she were back in that first tussle with the skeletons that marched against her village! When she released her bolt it flew well over the priest's head. She felt the cold in her heart and the clouds of darkness seemed to close around her.
As the clouds roiled around her vision the tentacled specter dove at Ramona, cutting through her and sending a shot of cold through her whole body, forcing her, weak and shallow of breath to her knee as it circled around for a second attack!
Somewhere in her mind she could hear a laughing like waves crashing high, high overhead.
Zyrella raised her hands and spoke words of power as fiery claws lashed out at the priest in Danu's hands! They found their target who squealed in pain as the fiendish fog finally faded. Perhaps, Zyrella thought, without the priest the phantom would dissipate.
Brigid, seeing the fierce Ramona lowered to a knee, moved from her fray to shield her. The fish-creatures lashed out at her, but she had felt worse from a rutting porcupine. She hefted her glittering glass axe high and slashed at the form overhead, relieving it of a pair of tentacles! The wounds released a cloud of smoky vapor around them as she roared at the monster overhead!
Shiva turned and blasted the phantom with a ray of cold from her wrist which shot out true! It cut through the creature from... well, head to tail, whatever that meant on this terror, and just as she readied a second blast the blow seemed to chill the cloud around it as it sublimated from the wound...
And for a moment there was an uneasy quiet...
That broke as it rose again from the shrine at the village's center!
"Well, that worked wonderfully," shouted Shiva just over the bellowing of the creature. As a wave of fish-creatures dove onto her finding gaps in her armor with their stonepointed spears. Another wave hit Danu, attempting to free their priest from her persistent grasp.
Danu's tentacle withered and shrunk, the priest dropping from her grasp above his scaled parishioners and landed with a hard thunk and snap to the village floor. She rolled herself onto the village's rafted edge and spoke a prayer to the storms that even in this dark place, far from the sky, the storm's fury might come. Smoke from the spreading fire curled over the shrine, meeting the thick darkness overhead, forming a ball of roiling grey energy. Furious blue lined the ball and lashed out at the shrine with a craaack!
The specter spiraled up toward the storm, its tentacles wrapping tightly together, and the bolt of lightning struck down at the village! And the village called back with a deep, painful snap as the bolt cut a deep furrow through the flimsy floating berg, cutting the substructure in two!
Ramona thought, seeing the lightning contour around the squid-creature as it turned its tentacles close to itself, "A... a snake?"
"Oops," Danu whispered, her light blue skin reddening faintly. "Not quite what I had in mind."
Ramona, still shaking, said, "Don't mind if I do," as she pulled a thick red potion from Danu's belt, uncorked it with a practiced thumb, and threw it down. The thick fluid coated her insides and warmed her from within. Her muscles relaxed and she could feel her heart calm just faintly.
Zyrella added, "Neither do I," as a pillar of fire crashed down alongside the swirling storm Danu had created at the town's center. The phantom moaned as a great slough of flesh fell, revealing strange, rib-like bones.
Brigid leapt over the fish-creatures as the flying, squid like form dove between the village's primitive structures. Just as it came rushing past she heaved out her gleaming glass axe and cut into the creature! A cloud of thick, odorless smoke rushed out as she put her force into it, cutting the whole body deep with with her blade!
Shiva, bounded from the water's edge off a building and to the town's center as the village halves began to drift from one another. Before the shrine she could see it in its full, macabre glory: A half-dozen humans in Barovian clothes and dark hair with dusky features were dead around the shrine, their hands had been severed and set into a stone bowl at the base of the shrine now full of blood, just above the bowl was a crude clay form, a facsimile to the creature Brigid had just cut into, except pieces of it had flaked off around it, and standing from base to the halo of shark's teeth with a staff of night-black wood and vines, lashed together with sinew. The whole structure leaned as its foundation drifted in twain, threatening to send the idol and the staff to the lake's bottom. There was only a moment to act as it slipped!
Danu called to the storm again, sending a bolt down hard onto the phantom and blasting out at more of the fish-creatures, revealing their bony skeletons below their scaled skin.
Ramona, finally breaking the sense of pressure and malaise, hefted her rapier and stabbed brutally through the fish-creatures moving in on she and Zyrella. "Kebabs, anyone?" she added with a gritting smile.
As she joked through her frustration, the specter rose up to the furious cloud and dove down through the shrine, forcing the pieces of the village further apart! Brigid vaulted toward the shrine, seeing only the sculpture at its center, and smashed it with a twin blow of her handaxes as her totemic claws seemed to lash out from her body. Below the swirling form dissipated into the water below. Shiva leapt over the opening in the village and grabbed the staff as it slipped toward the water!
And when she landed, she held the staff in her two hands, hunched and smiling at her beautiful new prize.
"Mine," Shiva muttered. "You are mine now. Now and forever."
Danu sensed the calm around her as the fight ferocity wained. She searched around for a boat and flipped it into the water. "I don't plan on being your steed again today!" she called out, tossing a pair of oars into the skiff.
Ramona rushed toward the center of town, hoping to learn anything more about the monstrosity they had confronted. She instead came upon Shiva who held the staff of blackened wood in her two hands just a little too tightly. "Come on, Shiva, time to get gone!" She said, grabbing the gnome and hefting her to her feet.
Zyrella, eager to stay dry, grabbed another skiff and tossed it into the water. Her eyes did catch beneath the upturned boat a purse heavy with coin which she chucked aboard as well.
Brigid, her roaring spirit bear calming inside her, scanned about and grabbed a few scattered gems from around the shrine. "Oh, shinies," she said, shoving them into her belt pouch before aiding Ramona with Shiva.
Danu saw the others aboard the pint-sized boats and looked around a final time at the shattered village of evil little fishy humanoids. Their large, dead eyes looked back at her. "I may just know someone who would appreciate you," she said, pulling out a small but fine pen-knife she'd used for herbs, mushrooms, and the occasional pearl. As her companions heaved off the of the village she leaned down and plucked a half-dozen fishy eyeballs from their sockets and fit them, each with a satisfying plumk into a vial before diving into the lake and swimming back to shore.
~ ~ ~
"Oh," the Galeb Duhr intoned from somewhere inside their earthen body, "You have recovered it. Thank you. I have just the way to keep it safe this time." While their tone remained flat, the damsels of danger could see them doing a little squatting dance as they approached.
"Aye," Ramona replied, dragging the skiff onto the cave's dry ground. "Shiva, could you hand over the staff?"
"Uh," Shiva said, seeing all eyes turn to her. She stepped back along the water's edge, her armor clunking with each step. "I... I think-" she turned to bound away.
"*Give.*" Ramona ordered, and Shiva complied mid-crouch, her boots shaking faintly ready to leap away. Instead, Shiva turned painfully around and held out the staff, its darkness seemingly pulling the light from the glowing shelf fungus around them. Ramona reached out and plucked it from Shiva and-
For a moment, she could feel it. Ramona could feel the call of deep roots, the smell of rotting needles, the crisp mountain air that could mummify a corpse left out for a season, for a year, for longer... She could feel the chilly rush of alpine air fill her and the promise of a stronger arm to swing her blade and the blessing of a more potent voice with which to issue commands. And she could see those around her kneeling in praise and in service.
And then it was gone. Her allies- No, her friends around her watched, waiting to see what she would do with the strange wooden staff in her hand.
"I believe this is for you," she said, handing it to the Duhr.
"Aye, friend. And I will protect it so. It is a danger, I understand."
"Yes, I think it is, too."
As they walked the steady climb uphill, the clang of Shiva grew more and more distant. If it weren't for the clang of plate, they might have been able to hear her say, "She had no right to take what was mine from me."