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 (absent)
Urdes the Flamehearted Monk by Jenna Ashler
And Shiva Stoneheart, the Iron Gnome by Brooke Santos (absent)
Warning: This material contains reference to home invasion and the loss of a child as told through a witness.
~ ~ ~
Brigid's bare feet padded in circles around the wood flooring of the living room, her companions sleeping just feet away. Dust flitted through the air of the bare house in Krezk. The road set out before them, but night had fallen and even within the walls of the village, they all knew it was unsafe to travel about. She noted the dust in the air, stood still for a moment, felt her muscles twitch in anticipation, and saw the orange and red dance along the grey motes.
Then she heard it. Or, perhaps, she felt it along the hairs of her neck and under the worn nails of her fingers.
She nudged Ramona her grabbed for her rapier, then Zyrella. Ramona moved to Urdes who shifted from her elfen trance as the door opened and Brigid ran to the tall gate of the village. The others were as quick to follow as they could.
Brigid moved with her own powerful grace, but it was not a quiet gentility.
"Hail," Kristianna called, but with a hushed tone. "We have... hazards beyond the wall." And as they watched the guards shifted in sets of three along the wall, torches held low and crossbows pulled taut.
"What do you have?" Brigid asked, first to arrive and tossing her handaxe in the air and catching as a student might twirl a quill. Ramona, tightening her final leather band, sped up in front. They didn't notice that Urdes had scaled halfway up the stone wall's steep stairs in the meantime.
"Vampyr," Kristanna said, her voice arch with a tongue older than her norm. "They're trying to find a way in from the wood. From the same wood as you all." Kristianna gestured them up and Urdes was the first to ascend. The wooden walkway creaked as the torch-bearing guards surged, trying to track shadows on shadows.
The hill below was tiered, engineered. Once, perhaps, it had been farmland. Now the Krezkovites had taken shelter behind their grey stones and silvered spears. Wise of them; or as wise as might be expected. And between the rolling tears Urdes saw the forms, like black cats dashing between furniture. One was near the gate, perhaps hoping to find some purchase on the swollen wood. Another tried to duck into a hillock, but it was too slow for her keen eyes. And a third, to the right and uphill toward the snowy peaks there, seemed to watch keenly, unmoving, as the guards dashed hither and thither.
Zyrella was the last to stand near the guard tower looking down upon them, her eyes dancing with a glimmering amber. Urdes whispered to the others, without gesturing, where the fiends were. Below, Ramona, Shiva, and Danu huddled with guards behind the gate, though the long glance between them suggested leagues of hard-traveled, and hard-fought, roads.
Ramona smiled. Brigid smirked.
"Open," Ramona grunted, as she shouldered into the gate. The guards shrugged and heaved the bolting beam aside, allowing Ramona to dash out to the closest target some twenty feed from the entrance, before pulling the door closed behind her. Her rapier seemed to glow, its ruby hilt burning so, as she stabbed into the pallid figure, who dodged to the side but caught a scalding slash from Ramona's backhand.
Brigid and Urdes leapt down from the wall, the earth quaking beneath Brigid's landing while Urdes stepped with avian lightness into the fray. Her hands burned bright as she struck at the vampire, landing a scalding blow! Her burning fists lit the ragged clothing of the creature before her, casting its dilated eyes in infernal hues.
Ramona raised her shield to deflect a raking of claws but caught a scrape as the vampire struck on her opposite side. A second moved in and leapt onto Urdes, rearing back as its fangs caught the moonlight and plunged into Urdes' neck, leaving a trickling of crimson and she felt the cold lapping of its pointed tongue.
Brigid leapt into the scene and shoved the blood-stained monster from Urdes' back, who just hours before she had wrangled to keep on their shared path herself, and raised her handaxes which surged with the spirit of her ursine claws and lashed at the vampire, whose wounds seemed to close up just as they were struck!
Zyrella raised her arms and summoned a ball of flame that arced like a miniature sun before lashing out like dragonsbreath, scorching the foggy hillside in a crescent of red! The scene was cast in a flickering of orange and red dancing along the faces of adventurers and undead alike!
Ramona, seeing that Brigid had knocked to the ground an easy target, plunged her sword into its head as the weapon burned with righteous fury! The vampire kicked and sputtered as it fought with unholy might, but Ramona held the hilt firmly until it fell still, the sizzling of its gray matter twirling into the moonlit air.
Urdes' simple shift was sodden with blood and clung to her as the flames crackled about. But this, this was her dance. Just as the third leapt out at her from the shadows she swung in a high arc, missing them widely, but her strike carried with it a curtain of flame that cloaked the third and sunk onto the second that had bitten into her. They squealed liked swine as her still enflamed hand touched her bleeding neck, searing the puncture wounds left by the horror.
The vampire in its cloak of ragged flames leapt onto Brigid and raked along her back, but its bestial claws were ill-prepared for her hardy hide! She reached for it just as Zyrella let loose an orb of roiling fire that splashed onto the creature, its rotten undead flesh cooking in the chill alpine night. Brigid wrangled and turned the creature about before tearing into its flesh with her tempestuous axe, which surged through the bite of her totem bear!
Ramona dislodged her blade from the skull of the still vampire on the ground, raising it as the wounded creature on the ground dove for her! Its mouth opened with inhuman width, its fangs long and fierce, as it scrambled to find purchase between her shield and armor, hinting the air with the ringing of bells. Ramona held it at bay with her shield as she sunk her rapier deep into its torso.
Only then did any of the Damsels of Distress see the nightcreatures, illuminated in the crescent of fire. Urdes, her focus lapsing for just a moment, saw sigil recalling her home country wreathed in flame. It was... or had been... perhaps still was a merchant's house. Well-to-do and haughty. Well-traveled. The creature... no, the man's ears were not as arced: a half-elf. The House of Greenseed, or Viridienna in Elvish, known for intermarriage. They liked to talk of love but it was often for the power that only those more... tolerant could gain.
And there, the three leaves sprouting vibrant from the robust seed were stitched into the vampire's cloak. Burning now. Burning so brightly. But there it was. And as the feral creature turned, perhaps the sullen, pallid face was one she would have known. Not tonight, but once.
Brigid's spectral bear struck down on it, her axe sparking between the teeth of her ferocious form. And she found purchase and tore the rancid meat from the man that suggested a home so, so far from here.
Zyrella's aim was true as she launched a bolt of fire, yellow and hot as it shot to the Greenseed vampire. He would have screamed if it had not struck his neck first.
Brigid fell onto the final creature, Ramona's blade cutting into its neck. Urdes said, "Speak. What do you want."
"Hungry," they could see it inscribed on their face before the words ushered out. "So hungry."
"Is that all you have?" Ramona added, cutting into the neck, no pulse surging against her blade.
"Need to... eat," the final word ushering out in a long, painful syllable.
Urdes looked to Brigid, kneeling hard on the prone creature that was, perhaps once, of its own mind. Then to Ramona who gritted her teeth, her blade hungry to kill the creature.
"I'll give you rest," Urdes said, kneeling, setting her hand to the vampire's back. it gurgled in response as Urdes' hand moved to the neck and then to its head, burning as it did so. Brigid stepped away as the creature arched, its face looking to the moon just as clouds swept in to cover it. Star pricked the sky as the skull shone through its burning flesh. The eyes of the thing that was once a man sizzled as its muscles fought against the three.
And then there was rest.
~ ~ ~
The Nightwatch welcomed them in, offering food and drink in the bewitching night. Kristianna told a tale of her early days on the Watch.
"I haven't seen them in a while. We trade for holy water when we can from Vallaki, but fire works best. As you all saw. Four came that night. We shoved two by spear-point from the ledge. They hit the ground, twitch, then flip like spiders back onto their legs. I pushed the same one off three times.
"Pallo Garvinski. It took him. His brother, Bogan," she said gesturing to a man still stalking the wall, "staked him later that night. It scaled the wall, shoved my friend Elisa from the wall into a tree and broke her leg and arm, before drinking from Pallo. Then it was in the village.
"It moved between the trees and gardens. There was a child singing to himself. We found it because the boy had stopped singing. The boy's father fought it as best as he could, but ultimately he fell. By then we'd blocked the windows and set fire to the place. The hope was the father would escape, but Barovia is unkind to hope."
Kristianna passed a wine skin, nearly dry, around. "That's why I fight. That's why we," she said, raising her shield, "protect Krezk. There are monsters out there. Silver and shield are the best we can do."
~ ~ ~
The morning came fitfully. The sky leaden and heavy. Typical for Barovia, it seemed. Fog continued to sneak along the roadside and between the trees like serpents.
The road to the vineyard was quiet. Ravens flew high overhead, a dozen could be spotted as they came upon the Wizard of the Wines vineyard after the crossroads off of the Old Svalich Road.
"Hail," a man greeted, flanked by a woman with a longbow and a man with a sheathed sword. They all wore heavy, dark, loose-fitting cloaks fringed in black feather. "I'm Dag Tomescu."
Danu approached, gesturing back to her friends to stay. She spoke in a hushed voice to Dag who nodded thrice. After a long pause he looked to the others and nodded. The archer whistled sharply and it was as a muscle relaxing, though why was unclear.
"Join us. We're readying the midday meal," Dag said.
The thin copse of trees cleared and they looked down onto descending hills lined with trellises of grapes. They could see to the left the robust, violet grapes ready to harvest and to the right the bare vines. Mist still encroached from the wood, but seemed to scurry back when too-long watched. At the center of the valley were two large buildings and a third small, likely a well-house, that created a small outdoor shelter between their rectangular forms. The sound of children responding in unison greeted them. A woman of jet black hair stood with a half-circle of children around her as she instructed them on... knots. Their knives were set neatly around them and youths strolled out hauling long wooden tables, cookpots, cutting boards, and dishware pounded out of a shimmering silver metal.
Dag gestured widely and the adventurers jumped in to aid where they could. A half dozen youths joined by others with sheathed swords and slung bows took bundles of bread, grapes, nuts, and meat out from the respite and ten minutes or so later different people joined.
And between them, despite differences in complexion and hair, there seemed a familiarity between them, a shared lineage or characteristic. The long noses and sharp cheeks were a giveaway, but also they seemed to walk tall, as if always looking over the vine trellises or the shoulders of one another.
Then they dined.