A Dream of a Goddess and a Visit to the Baths
"Dearest one, it is time to awaken."
The voice was soft, feminine, and, despite it asking her to wake up, soothing. Aravae gave a contented sigh and only shifted slightly, snuggling into the soft mattress beneath her.
"I know you are not sworn to me. You belong to the Seldarine. Yet I bring a message, one your Hanali Celanil will not begrudge me, for I know she agrees. I would like you to pass it on to my wayward priestess. Would you do that for me, dearest one?"
The bladesinger's eyes fluttered and she moved her head, ever so slightly, in what could be interpreted as a nod.
"The message is thus, 'Let your inner beauty shine through and the truth of it will set you free.'"
Pain blossomed at that final word, spiking on Aravae's forehead, sprouting in her shoulder blades, then lancing along her skin. She spasmed then jerked upright, mouth stretched fully open in a silent scream. After a few breathless moments the height of the pain passed, receding by degrees, till only an aching memory of it remained.
Aravae took a deep breath and released it. Her eyes adjusted and she found herself in a dark room sitting on a bed. Mialee slept next to her, looking peaceful despite the bladesinger dragging most of the covers off the druid as she'd thrashed awake. Another bed across the room held the sleeping forms of Aleina and Jhelnae with Sky laying on the floor in between the beds. At least someone had also covered the tabaxi with a blanket and folded another to cushion her head. A sturdy chest stood at the foot of each bed and there was also a desk holding small bottles of lotions and soaps.
Recent memory trickled into her consciousness. They had arrived at the Temple of the Restful Lily. Sylvarie wanted to paint a picture of them. Through some enchantment, with the painting as a conduit, they had all been put into a trance like stupor and their weapons taken. One thing was clear, she needed to wake the others.
But as Aravae reached out to shake Mialee awake, she caught sight of her hand. Patches of gold-colored scales marred her skin, which was also a deeper hue than normal. She reached up and felt along her forehead, fingers encountering the bony ridge and trio of horns she knew she'd find there. Still her heart rate increased, and dread formed a pit in her stomach. She flexed her shoulders and the leathery wings folded on her back responded, unfurling slightly.
For some unknown reason, in her sleep, she had shifted to her fey'ri form. That had never happened before.
Thankfully none of the others had awakened during her transformation. She concentrated, planning on shifting back to her sun elf shape, but paused as her gaze drifted over to the full-length mirror between the two beds. From previous stays she knew all the guest rooms had mirrors like this one, each a piece of art in woodcraft and silvered glass. An inscription carved in Common along the top of the frame read, "A mirror is a gateway to happiness, truth, and to accepting ourselves."
Her eyes settled on the word 'truth' and she remembered the feminine voice from her dream saying that word.
Aravae swung her feet off the bed to the floor. Someone had taken her boots and the polished stone in the gap between the bed and the rug Sky lay on was cold against the soles of her bare feet. Avoiding the sleeping tabaxi, the bladesinger made her way to the mirror.
Her captors had stripped her out of her armor, taking her quilted arming coat as well. Thankfully, for modesty's sake, they'd left her the corset-like under garment she wore for support. Her shoulders were bare, which had allowed her wings to sprout unhindered. Again she prodded at the ridge of bone at her forehead, examining them in her reflection. "Let your inner beauty shine through and the truth of it will set you free," the voice had said.
The bladesinger frowned at her image in the mirror as she ran hands along scaly patches of dark gold skin, feeling the roughness of them. Whoever they were, the bearer of that voice knew nothing of inner beauty.
Her brow furrowed as she once again concentrated to shift back, but again she paused, glancing at her sleeping companions. A suspicion arose as to why they slept while she was awake. As much as she disliked the idea of them seeing her like this again, she went to try and wake them.
A short time later she crouched over Sky, having failed to rouse any of them. Even a hard slap brought no more than instinctive raised hands to protect themselves and some tossing. But they refused to wake. Strange. Elven heritage usually protected against magically induced sleep. The enchantment holding her companions must be strong and different from a normal sleep spell. Aravae was now certain she was only free because she was in her fey'ri form. The painting of her would be as a sun elf. So, if she shifted back, the magically induced slumber would claim her again.
She stood, turned, and looked again in the mirror. Her reflection scowled back at her.
At the top of the mirror frame, below the inscription, was the carved face of a woman, her smile part inviting, part mocking. A curling and twisting representation of her hair danced along the frame, all the way down both sides, until the ends nearly touched at the bottom. Aravae did not know much about human gods, but she recognized this one. Sune, Lady Fire Hair. The Temple of the Restful Lily was dedicated to her. The bladesinger, in truth, had wondered why a moon elf like Sylvarie Silversong, would found a temple to Sune rather than the Seldarine Hanali Celanil. But it had always seemed a rude question, especially in a temple of the goddess.
Had Sune spoken to her in her dream? Had she caused the shift that awakened her? In answer, the carved representation of the goddess merely smiled her enigmatic smile and stared out with wooden eyes full of playful mystery. In the end, what did it matter if a goddess had spoken or if it was from the dreaming imaginings of her own subconscious? She was free of the magic of the painting, and it was up to her to save the others. There was no time to waste.
Aravae sighed, took a moment to calm and focus herself, then went to the chests at the foot of each bed. Both were unlocked and, predictably, empty. Unfortunately, their captors were not stupid enough to store their taken weapons and equipment in their room. Not only was she alone against who knew how many enemies, but also a bladesinger without a blade and a spell archer without a bow. She dropped a hand to her leather trousers, reaching into a pocket disguised as a seam, and smiled. They hadn't searched her thoroughly, probably assuming her a warrior with her swords and bow. They'd missed her pocket of spell components. So she had magic at least. Nothing she could use offensively, but better than nothing.
She needed weapons and any allies she could get. But who could she trust? Clearly not the staff. Other guests? Perhaps, but that would be a gamble. A risk to not only herself, but to her companions as well. Nor could she run and bring the Emerald Enclave back here to save them. Not when the three elves had discussed skinning Mialee, selling Aleina to a devil, and feeding Sky to some sort of canine creature. They all would be long dead by the time she returned. Also, no one in the Enclave knew her in her fey'ri form. No, she had to break the enchantment. Somehow.
A thought occurred to her. One thing had been clear. The elves and chief steward had all worked to ensure they would not speak with Cyrena. Aravae nodded to herself. The naiad of the baths was the place to start.
Reaching into her component pocket, she retrieved a wad of gum made from acacia sap with a plucked eyelash, her own, encased inside it. With it, she wove a spell. A haze fuzziness in her vision told her when it took hold, but she looked in the mirror to make sure. No reflection stared back. She was invisible.
This room was on the first floor and leaving through the windows would not be possible. They were narrow, not arrow slit narrow, but built to be used as such if needed. The Restful Lily was in the High Forest after all, and defense had to be considered. Even in a temple dedicated to the goddess of beauty.
The door then. Aravae walked to it and tried the handle.
Luckily, she possessed a spell for that. One needing no components. She knelt and whispered into the keyhole, focusing, and exerting an effort of will. The lock clicked. This time, when she tested it, the handle turned.
She only turned it slightly, enough to be sure it was unlocked. Placing her ear against the wood, she listened, making sure no sound came from beyond. When she was certain, she eased it open and slipped out into the empty hallway, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Aravae hesitated. She was about to leave her friends sleeping, unable to wake, at the mercy of their captors. She could give them a last line of defense, but at the cost of the last of her higher magic. If she cast the spell she considered, there would be no further invisibility when her current spell ran out. Nor more magically unlocking doors. Deciding, she removed a small pouch containing gold dust from her component pocket and knelt. She again whispered into the keyhole, this time from the outside, then blew the gold dust into it, arcanely locking the door to all but herself and her companions.
It wasn't much. The door could still be forced open or a similar spell to the one she used earlier could be used to bypass it. But it was something, and the door was iron banded and sturdy. Should someone break it down, she would hear if nearby.
Having done all she could, she padded down the hallway on bare feet. When she came to a corner, she peeked around it. Though invisible, the memory of the necromancer seeing through that same spell was too recent to be forgotten. Finding no one, she stealthy moved down the next hallway as well, passing more doors leading to guest rooms. She shivered, the skin of her shoulders and bare to the cool air as well as her midriff. And the polished stone also chilled the soles of her feet.
Reaching the end of the corridor, she listened at the door she remembered led to the common area of the bathhouse. Faint music came from the other side. She waited, hoping that at this late hour whoever played it would tire and go to bed. Minutes passed and the music showed no signs of ending. Time was not on her side. Eventually, her invisibility spell would expire. Aravae decided she'd just have to chance being detected and hoped the opening of a door would be attributed to a draft. Trying to mimic a door pushed open by an errant breeze, she slowly pulled it open. The music grew louder, and a floral scent wafted through the now open portal.
Heart racing, she searched the expansive open area that lay beyond. Large, cushioned chairs were placed around the space, all empty of occupants. A bar took up one corner of the room, alongside shelves of expensive wines and spirits and baskets of fruit. Two tables stood along one wall, each set up as a manicure and pedicure station with nail files, clippers, and bottles of nail varnish. She saw no one. Memory of this place came back to her. It was the lounge. The calming music and scented air were always present. Some sort of permanent illusory magic cast by the Sylvarie.
Aravae crossed the room to the door on the far side. A quick listen and she was through, finding herself back in the lobby. It was again dark, and no one was present. This very night, she and her companions had posed in front of the desk holding the vase of lilies. If only she could go back in time and warn her past self.
No time for regret.
Since she'd last been here, someone had cleaned the floor of their muddy boot prints. Aravae smiled, suspecting now why their footwear was taken and glad to have caused at least some misery to their captors. It was true that individuals hid all types of tools or small weapons in their boots, and thus it was good policy to remove them from captives. But their captors also probably wanted to clean no more of the floor than needed. She had a vague recollection of having her boots removed before being led in her trancelike state to their room.
The corridor beyond the lobby ran between two rows of curtained cubicles, behind which guests could change and slip into robes. Aravae passed by these curtained areas, moving towards the double doors leading to the baths. Again, she listened and, when satisfied, slid inside.
A floor of polished white marble surrounded a large central rectangle pool of steaming water in a vast, open-air bath. No lanterns lit the space now, and Aravae's dark vision did not allow for the perception of brilliant color. But she knew from memory that the water was an inviting turquoise blue in light. Stone pillars stood along the outside wall, sculpted with relief carvings of the goddess Sune. Between the pillars were frosted windows. These were now dark but diffused the sunlight from outside during the day. A mist from the hot water hung in the air.
She moved to the raised lip of the pool, marble floor a pleasant mixture of cool and warm beneath her feet. For a moment she knelt in front of the calm surface, looking for any sign of the naiad. She saw nothing. Not surprising since Cyrena was almost impossible to see in water. She listened intently but heard only the constant gurgle of the drains carrying away the overflow of water as the spring from the Feywild filled the pool with more.
"Cyrena," she whispered.
No response. Of course, in her caution, she'd been barely audible.
"Cyrena," she hissed again, louder this time.
A response came just as she was about to try again.
"Who is there?" A quiet voice asked from the water, not too far away. "I cannot see you."
"I cannot see you either," Aravae said.
No reply came and the bladesinger worried she'd already scared away the shy water fey.
"It's Aravae," she said.
A moment of silence.
"Is that name supposed to mean something to me?" Cyrena asked.
"I've been here before," the bladesinger said. "With my friend, a wood elf. We told you about the Dancing Falls and the headwaters of the Unicorn Run."
A pregnant pause.
"I remember you," the naiad said. "But why can't I see you?"
"A spell of invisibility," Aravae said.
"Drop it," Cyrena said.
"I can't," the bladesinger said. "I will not be able to recast it again and I have to stay hidden."
"From the hags?" the naiad asked.
The surprise of the revelation stunned Aravae momentarily mute. Hags? Of course. Three of them. A coven. Disguised as Sylvarie and two other elves.
The bladesinger nodded, then, remembering she was invisible, said, "Yes. From the hags."
"I've been fooled too many times," Cyrena said. "Everyone I trusted either betrayed me or came to a bad end. If you want to talk and remain invisible, meet me in the middle of the pool. Let me feel if you are who you say. But if you're not, I will drown you."
There was a slight splash from Aravae's right.
The bladesinger stood, ready to skim out of her clothes. Then she remembered what shape she held.
"Cyrena," she hissed. "There is something I have to tell you first."
Only the ever-present sound of draining water answered her.
"Cyrena," she tried again.
Nothing. Apparently, the naiad meant what she said.
What should she do? She could leave. She had learned something at least. Their captors were a coven of hags. Powerful adversaries. Even with her weapons returned and together with her companions it was doubtful they could overcome them. She needed all the information she could get.
Sighing, she loosened the knots in the corset like undergarment she used to support her chest and stripped it off. Her wings made this simple task awkward. The rest of her clothes followed. Each article appeared, its invisibility lost, as she dropped it to the marble floor.
Stepping over the lip, she waded into the water. It felt wonderful, warm and soothing. The depth was thigh high near the edge but deepened quickly. Within half a dozen paces she was submerged to her neck, wings soaking in the water as well. Then she could no longer touch her toes and keep her head above water. She paddled towards the center.
"Cyrena," she whispered. "There is something you should know…"
The bladesinger broke off speaking as she felt the stir of currents around her legs, then waist, then the water went deathly still as the flow reached her wings.
"Cyrena," she began again.
Before she could say any more a grip seized the back of her neck and a watery hand rose from the surface, seeking and finding the invisible horns on her forehead.
Aravae sputtered as she breathed in the water trickling down from the naiad's hand on her forehead. The bladesinger struggled. The grip holding her wasn't strong, but she treaded water and only thrashed around helplessly while the naiad was in her element.
"You are no elf," Cyrena hissed in her ear. "And I did warn you!"
Suddenly, the pressure of the grip on her neck ceased and the watery hand touching her forehead disappeared back under the water with a splash. For a moment Aravae thought the naiad had fled, back into the source of the spring. Then grips took hold of the bladesinger's kicking feet at the ankles and dragged her downward, so fast Aravae didn't even get a last desperate gasp of air.
In the adventure as written the naiad can turn the water acidic to anyone she chooses. It states she has done so to all the hags and all their minions. I had a hard time with this because why is she letting the hot springs stay operational? The premise is that the place is still being actively used as a spa. Yet there is a water fey who could essentially shut down the business and she knows the hags for what they are? So I changed it a bit and made it that she is constantly being hunted and the times she has turned to guest visitors for aid it has turned out badly (either they were plants, betrayers, or she ended getting them killed). I think that works a little better.
ALSO...I posted very close to Thanksgiving and I never thanked all of you for reading! THANK YOU! Look...let me be honest. The only job I've ever wanted to do was to be a fantasy author, and mainly a pulp fantasy author. I absolutely love tales of swords, adventure, quests, and magic. Always have...and I enjoy writing them. But once you write them, you kind of want someone to read them. I have quite a few friends. Many of them are into fantasy. Many of them have read things like the Drizzt books. If not those, then Game of Thrones, the Wheel of Time, Tolkien, etc. I have dropped hints to many of these friends that I am writing a D&D fanfic. The result is always the same, an uncomfortable silence where people ignore that I am fishing for someone who might read it. I did it just the other day. Someone asked how my Thanksgiving was and I told them I wrote about a spa where a bunch of adventurers were going on a girls trip. And yes, if I am honest with myself, I was hoping for a, "Hey! That sounds kind of interesting. You've been working on that for awhile, yeah? Mind if I take a look?"
Instead I got the same reaction I always get and I was appropriately embarrassed. I don't know why I won't learn! My DM, my best friend, I kept emailing him chapters and chapters with things like, "Hey, you don't have to read these if you don't want to, but you might enjoy them." It went way past the point of humiliating! These are all very good and nice people, but they are busy and have no interest in reading my ramblings.
The point is I can't GIVE this stuff away! I would be doing all this and getting zero readers and no feedback if not for you great people online. So THANK YOU! To quote Ted Lasso: "I appreciate ya!" :)
Update 5-4-2022 - rereading and updating