Spring approaches and love is in the air. It seems like every civilization I hear of, from the dour Mordentish to the most bizarre of outlander cultures, celebrates a holiday around this time of year focused around romance, whether of the noble and sophisticated type or of the more…fleshly variety. While sharing a candlelit dinner with the Lady Drakeson, it occurred to me that we often consider love to be the sole province of goodness, the ultimate indicator of a soul’s purity.
Tragically, this isn’t the case. The blackest of hearts can occasionally find another that beats in unison with their own, and woe to any that cross their path. Such villainous paramours feed on one another, becoming in tandem a far greater threat than the sum of their individual iniquity. Should you desire to investigate any of these forbidden romances, I would tread with extreme caution. Creatures who have only one bright light in a life filled with darkness are given to protecting it, and monsters such as these are not known for their restraint. There are a few such affairs that I’m familiar with throughout the world; most of them come to my attention as the likely cause of the death of a correspondent such as yourself!
1) The Doomed Lovers
Travelers along the road to Valachan occasionally encounter the specter of a woman some distance off the road, vaguely discernible and in great distress. Those kind-hearted and foolish enough to investigate rarely return.
I believe this apparition to be the departed soul of Lizibet Moore, who fled her home to wed a rakish Dementlieuse actor. Conventional wisdom claims he either abandoned her in the moor, or killed her himself. Moved by this story, I attempted to lay her to rest myself in my youth, a mistake which nearly cost me my life.
You see, Romero, her paramour, did not abandon her: he simply could not navigate the treacherous Mordentish swamps, and drowned in the bog. His love, upon finding his remains, killed herself in sorrow. Shunned by their own families, their love denied by the very ground beneath their feet, the two found in death the union they were denied in life: Lizibet now roams the moor in ghostly fashion, luring victims to her lover. His own form preserved by the bog, Romero projects upon his victims the terror he felt as the black mud filled his lungs, damning even those who escape him a slow, lingering demise from his cursed touch.
The two lash out at any living being that comes within their domain. Those who do not freeze in terror at the sight of Romero find themselves split further, as Lizibet attempts to possess those most capable of harming her lover. They’ve amassed a small fortune in stolen treasures by now, which they believe will finance the bright future that they don’t seem to realize they can no longer attain.
Lizibet is a 5th level rogue as well as a ghost with the Malevolence and Corrupting Touch abilities. Romero uses the statistics for a mummy.
2) The Singers
Speaking of dangers to travelers, should you find yourself along the coast of Dementlieu, for the love of Ezra, plug your ears! The first strains of singing you hear may likely be your last.
A tiny, lush island off the coast of Dementlieu, too small to even have a name, is the home for a woman who lures travelers to their deaths, although stories vary as to her identity. Some give her wings and clawed feet, and call her Cymone, citing the rocky island as her nest. Others claim she dwells in the tidal pools and drinks the blood of travelers, and name her Cold Brigitte. Aslaug de la Plage, the keeper of the lighthouse, dismisses these stories as superstitious nonsense.
In reality, there is not one monster, but three: Cymone is a harpy, Cold Brigitte is a watery fae known as a glaistig, and even the lighthouse keeper who protects their secret, Aslaug, is herself a sirine. The three are not merely compatriots, but lovers, but those who think to join them are in for a rude surprise, as the lovers feast on their prey: Aslaug devours their minds, Cold Brigitte drains their lifeblood, and Cymone gorges on their bodies.
The overlapping effect of not one but three songs of enchantment is usually enough to incapacitate entire groups of heroes. Should that fail to work, Cymone can always take to the air while Aslaug and Brigitte retreat to the safety of deeper waters (potentially luring an enchanted captive or two to their own drownings as well). It would take a dedicated group of adventurers indeed to dispatch this wicked love triangle!
Sirine statistics can be found in the Monster Manual II. Glaistig statistics can be found in the Monster Manual III.
3) The Artists
In the past decade or so, the works of a singular artist have begun to spread across the eastern core. A sculptor who works in marble, this mysterious artist is like none before him: rendering in stone the tiniest details, so fine as to be unbelievable, his figures so lifelike that one could swear they could spring to life. A small brass plate bearing a serpentine insignia, usually on the breast or the center of the back, marks each statue as his.
This dark work is the result of a medusa named Mukondi, who claims to hail from a land she only calls ‘the Shaar.’ She was an isolated threat, living alone on the plains near the border of Darkon and Nova Vaasa, before a chance encounter with a shipwreck survivor named Phidian, a maedar.
If you’re unfamiliar, a maedar is the extremely rare male form of the medusa. Immune to the gaze attacks of their female peers, maedars instead have the ability to restore petrification victims (which they rarely do).
The pair now practice an extortion scheme, kidnapping the loved ones of the wealthy and powerful, then demanding exorbitant ransoms to return them. Should any of their victims fail to pay, then there is soon a new statue on the market. (Phidian drills out the hearts of these statues, which he replaces with the brass plug that is their signature, thus preventing anyone from returning Mukondi’s victims to life.)
I believe Azalin is aware of their presence, but since they confine their depredations to Nova Vaasans (or those that are not his citizens), the lich’s forces do not confront them.
Statistics for maedar can be found in Dragon Magazine #355.
4) The Outcasts
Dazin Cade was an accomplished illusionist, and a renowned adventurer. Like many heroes before him, he chose to brave Castle Ravenloft. The bones of his companions lie moldering in Strahd’s flooded dungeons, but Cade himself was given the curse of vampiric immortality, and was put to work in his new lord’s service.
In some forgotten volume of arcane lore, Dazin stumbled across a mention of the Cult of the Nightfoe, and was immediately entranced. The defunct religion venerated a nameless destructor figure of ethereal beauty and incredible danger. Although his research indicated that Strahd’s forces had destroyed them all centuries ago, he became fixated on the cult, determined to locate its remnants.
In a hidden shrine in the Balinoks, north of the Luna River, he found what he was looking for. None of the priestly sacraments remained, but the dark visions he received as he slumbered told him he had found what he was looking for. He fashioned a new image of his deity: an icon forged from an obsidian-black metal, so cold as to sap the life from any foolish enough to touch it. So great was his devotion that the Nightfoe has given life, or a cruel semblance of it, to this statue.
Dazin Cade and the statue he has named Nightbane dwell now as both lovers and co-conspirators. They have even begun abducting those who wander too far into the mountains and cursing them with undeath, raising a new cult of vampiric spawn to worship at the Nightfoe’s feet.
Even without their underlings, Cade and the Nightbane are a terrifying combination. Dazin specializes in spells of light and shadow, which seem to energize his lover in an arcane way. The Nightbane may never speak, but it can certainly act, and it does so by emulating the god whose image it was created in, in his role as a destructor. He can even send out cascades of necromantic energy that peel the spirits away from the living to reinvigorate his vampiric partner.
Should the two grow much larger in power or influence, they may be forced to relocate, or else deal with the forces of Barovia’s monarch, who is unlikely to view the presence of a rival with good humor.
Dazin Cade is a human vampire, and a 9th level illusionist. Nightbane uses the statistics of a shadesteel golem (Monster Manual III), but with an Intelligence of 18.
5) The Duet
Many travelers have seen Zidora and Seoci. Although the two range all over the Core, they usually stay near Kartakass, where their abilities are most appreciated. They actually have a reputation as folk heroes, although this is far from the case.
In reality, the pair are brigands and murderers, who spin elaborate tales of their victims’ monstrosity after the fact. They use the guise of a pair of adventurers as a cover to rob the defenseless and evade the law.
Zidora is half-Vistani, an image she sometimes accentuates to add to her exoticism, if she thinks that would be to her advantage. She is a skilled at dancing, singing, and several instruments. Her lover, the Tepestani Seoci, is a tall, powerful man with long hair and a perpetual shifty grin. His skill is far more specialized, limited to the violin and a vast store of ribald songs and off-color jokes.
Seoci possesses a magical violin that makes him particularly dangerous. It entrances its victims, and makes them more susceptible to musical attacks. Conveniently, Zidora is a gifted sorceress, specialized in just such attacks.
Eventually, these two will run afoul of the wrong prey, but until then they live fast and carefree, lost in their own self-destructive romance.
Zidora is a 9th level sorceress specializing in sonic attacks. Seoci is a 9th level bard with a violin that functions identically to Pipes of Pain.
Love may not be the soul province of the goodly, but it is undeniably good. The presence of such bonds of true love within the most wicked of beings points to their core of humanity; it offers the hope that even the most sinful among us might be saved, or at least be offered a taste of salvation among our own self-inflicted damnation.
Take care, should you engage any of these beings. I have considered hunting some of them, but then I think of the lengths I might go to in order to protect Gwen, or she to protect me, and I inevitably decide that such dangerous hunts might be better left to the younger and more vigorous.
As always, safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie ‘Farshot’ Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: http://skyrimphotos.blogspot.com/2012/08/ghost-lovers.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.