|Hit Dice:||6 (27 hit points)|
|No. of Attacks:||1|
|Damage/Attack:||1 or 1-6 (1d6)|
|Special Attacks:||Petrification; poison; blindness|
|Size:||M (6’ tall)|
Northwest of the domain of Lamordia, beyond even the terrible Isle of Agony, lies a small island known only as Demise. Those who pass near the island have reported hearing songs of great beauty drifting out across the waves. Sailors who travel to this island seldom return, however, for the only thing to be found of the island of Demise is death at the hands of Althea.
Althea is a medusa, one of that terrible race of women who sport tresses of deadly vipers instead of hair atop their heads. Like all her kind, Althea’s body is that of a slender, even shapely human woman. Her countenance, however, is dreadful, having the general features of a human face but possessing the scales and texture of a reptile. Her eyes are nothing more than black beads, her mouth but a lipless slit through which her forked tongue slips in and out to taste the air for odors.
Althea’s senses are, on the whole, similar to those of a normal human. However, her eyes are somewhat weaker and are bothered by bright light. Her sense of smell, conversely, is far better than a human’s. These two tend to balance out, making modifications to surprise rolls and the like unnecessary.
It is impossible to say with certainty which languages Althea does or does not know. While she seems to know the language of Lamordia, she speaks it with a pronounced accent. What her home language is, or where she might have originated, is unknown.
Combat: Althea’s primary weapon is, of course, her petrification attack. Anyone who looks ino her snakelike eyes is instantly transformed to stone unless he or she can make a Saving Throw vs. Petrification. This attack can affect a single enemy per round and has a maximum range of 30 feet.
The power of Althea’s gaze is so great that it extends even into the Astral and Ethereal planes. Indeed, she is able to see creatures moving about in these nether-regions as plainly as she sees those on the Prime Material Plane.
Even death does not instantly halt the effect of this deadly gaze. Looking into the eyes of a slain medusa still requires a saving throw, although this is made with a +1 bonus per day that has passed since the creature died. Indeed, because any natural roll of “1” is an automatic failure on this saving throw, this gaze weapon still has a 5% chance of functioning for centuries after the actual death of the creature.
Althea is vulnerable to her own petrifying gaze. For that reason, she abhors mirrors and similar objects. Any brightly polished metal surface can be used to turn her gaze back upon her, forcing her to save or be petrified. Non-metal reflectors will not serve to destroy her; the gaze reflection spell is similarly impotent. The gaze of another medusa cannot petrify her, but that of a different type of creature (like a basilisk) can. If she is turned to stone, looking upon her petrified remains no longer carries the risk of death.
The snakes atop her head are able to attack each round. Althea’s asps can bite for a single point of damage, but anyone bitten must make a Saving Throw vs. Poison or die instantly.
In addition to this bite, Althea’s snakes can spit their venom at a range of up to 10 feet. Each combat round, every enemy within this range will be attacked in this manner and must make a Saving Throw vs. Breath Weapons. Failure to make this save indicates that the snake has scored a hit on the target’s eyes, permanently blinding him or her. The victim will be unable to see, with all the penalties and disadvantages that might normally be associated with such state, until he or she receives a cure blindness or similar spell.
In melee combat, Althea attacks with a slender-bladed short sword. This weapon does 1d6 points of damage against medium targets and 1d8 points of damage to large ones. While it is quite ornate and valuable (being worth some 500 gold pieces), it is not magical in any way. Althea has also been known to employ a short bow in combat, attacking targets as far as 150 yards away and doing 1d6 points of damage per arrow that strikes its mark. From time to time, Althea will use her asps’ poison to make these weapons more deadly.
Habitat/Society: Demise, the island on which Althea lives, is far from hospitable. Indeed, it is little more than a great outcropping of rock amid the grey-blue expanse of the Sea of Sorrows. Those who approach by sea will find no safe anchorage near the rocky cliffs that pass for Demise’s shore. A small boat might reach the coast safely, but only the most experienced seaman would stand much chance of surviving such an attempt.
The first report of Althea’s appearance dates back about 50 years. The Doma Ordana, a small merchant ship running north from Ludendorf to Martira Bay found itself caught in a terrible storm which hung above the sea south of The Finger. In an effort to avoid the brunt of the storm, the ship’s captain, a Lamordian named Johan Wehner, decided to sail around the Isle of Agony rather than risk the turbulent channel.
All went well until the voyage was half-over, when the ship rammed something beneath the waterline and split open. Most of the crew died when Doma Ordana vanished beneath the storm-tossed water. Wehner and five of his men managed to cling to floating debris and make their way to the shores of a rocky island. They found the coasts utterly inhospitable, being nothing but rocky cliffs and crushing surf. With some effort, they managed to come safely ashore, becoming, so far as they knew, the first men ever to step upon the island known as Demise. Wehner’s records of his exploration of the island were found adrift in a wooden keg several months later.
His account begins with the scaling of the cliffs. At the point where he and his men went ashore, this formidable climb was no less that 50 feet. Further, the rock was broken and loose, making it a very dangerous ascent. Good luck was with them, however, for the entire company completed the climb safely.
Wehner described the surface of the island as resembling a rock plateau or region of badlands. One of his men had spent some time in Kartakass and likened the area to the neighboring region of Bluetspur. Those familiar with that foul domain will certainly understand the unflattering image that such a comparison conveys.
The explorers reported no vegetation of any merit on the island, and the only fresh water they found were pools and puddles from the recent storm. Determined to find food and drink, they headed further inland.
Again, luck was with them. The center of the island was a great depression, hinting at a possible volcanic origin. Within this large crater, life had indeed taken hold. Springs of hot water boiled up from deep underground, filling the air with a thick sulphurous steam. Plants had taken vigorous hold here, transforming the region into a rich, tropical jungle. Animal life, however, seemed nonexistent, a fact which troubled Wehner and his crew greatly.
For two days, the castaways found life in the caldera of that ancient volcano pleasant, if dull. They ate and drank, recovering from the abuses of the storm and their trek across the rocky island. When they were well again, they began to explore their temporary home. While his men began to build the boat that would carry them back to the mainland, Wehner set about exploring the place.
Near the center of the great forest, he came across a strange structure. Built of some incredibly hard white stone, it seemed endless as he walked along its perimeter. At last, however, he came upon an arch in this mysterious barrier. Runes unlike any he had seen before adorned the portal, and he decided to proceed no farther on his own.
The next day, Wehner returned to the portal with his men. They had fashioned spears to defend themselves and carried the knives they had brought with them from the ship. None of them could make anything of the inscription. Together they entered the large, flat structure.
Inside, they found the place to be a great maze of featureless halls. It wasn’t long before the company had gotten turned around and were hopelessly lost in this labyrinth. Once again, the men found themselves wandering and without adequate provisions.
From time to time, they came across fine statues of men, women, and demihumans. In every case these were so lifelike and intricate that he and his men thought they might suddenly come to life. The statues seemed to represent a great variety of explorers, adventurers, and sailors. Despite their many differences, they all had one trait in common: without exception, the faces of the statues were twisted in horror and revulsion. Wehner thought the sculptor’s taste and technique odd, and wondered what mortal hand had crafted these ghastly icons.
When Wehner estimated that they had spent ten hours exploring the web of white stone, he called for them to hold up and make camp. His men were tired and further exploration was likely to yield nothing without rest. One of the men stood watch while the others slept soundly.
When Wehner awoke, he saw that some horror had come upon them in the night. The guard had been transformed into a statue. Like all the others, his face bore the unmistakable mask of someone whose last thoughts had been consumed with nightmarish fear and dread. Unable to do anything for their lost companion, Wehner and his crew redoubled their efforts at escape.
For several days this sad company wandered the labyrinth. From time to time they caught sight of some dreadful shadow flashing across the smooth walls. Not long after such a sighting, one of the men would let out a cry of agony and become petrified. In the end, only Wehner himself remained.
Wehner made ready to face the thing that was stalking him. He tied a band about his eyes so that he could not look above the creature’s waist. When it came to destroy him, however, Wehner was surprised to find that it did not charge forward like a mad beast. Rather, the medusa spoke to him, her words ringing softly off the walls of the labyrinth.
“You need not fear me, brave sailor,” the husky, seductive voice sang. “I shall not harm you. I, Althea, have chosen you above all others. You and I are meant to be together. Look upon me – am I not attractive in your eyes?”
Wehner’s blindfold allowed him to see Althea from the waist down. The perfection of her body was greater than that of any woman he had ever seen. When combined with the sheer perfection of her voice, the temptation was almost more than he could bear. In his heart, a sudden passion burned that called for him to pull away his blindfold and look upon the woman.
Althea stepped closer and Wehner could see that she was holding out her arms to him. Only then did he hear the hissing of asps and regain his conviction. Blindly, he struck at her with his blade. The cry of agony that echoed through the labyrinth was more than enough to tell him that his aim had been true.
Although wounded, however, Althea was not defeated. She grabbed at Wehner, ripping the blindfold from his face. Before he could look away, the asps upon her head spat their deadly venom into his eyes, leaving him blind.
Althea hissed at him, vowing that he would die slowly and in great pain. Wehner, his nerve shattered by the horror that he had faced, turned and fled. He didn’t know how badly he had wounded Althea, but she did not pursue him. He hoped that his attack would prove fatal, but something in his heart knew better.
To his surprise, the blinded Wehner found his way out of the labyrinth. He surmised, correctly, that the place was built as much of illusion as of stone. Without his eyes to guide him, he was far less vulnerable to the labyrinth’s magic.
Wehner’s account ends with his escape from the labyrinth, and his ultimate fate is unknown to the outside world. Most assume that he died trying to escape the rocky Demise or that he returned to the labyrinth and fell victim to the deadly Althea.
No one can say for certain how Althea came to be in Ravenloft. It seems certain that she is not a native of the Demiplane of Dread. The architecture of the labyrinth is classical in nature, calling to mind images of the Acropolis and similar structures. The runes above the entrance have no meaning in any known language; even magic has failed to reveal their hidden message.
Among the sailors who travel through The Finger and along the coast of the Sea of Sorrows, the story of Demise and its lone inhabitant is told with many variations. Some common threads have emerged, however, and may well be bits of Althea’s true story gleaned by scrying and scholarly investigation.
Whatever Althea’s original home, she seems to have been cast out from it. Indeed, the volcanic nature of the island clashes so greatly with the rest of the northwestern lands that Demise itself may be a relic of this unknown world. Some of the oldest charts in Lamordia do not show the island, a fact that lends credence to this theory.
As for the medusa Althea, she is very much a prisoner of her labyrinth. It seems certain that she did not build it, nor did she design the enchantments described by Johan Wehner. It seems certain, however, that she has acquired some degree of wealth over the years. Who can say what treasures might have been brought to Demise by explorers and castaways, only to fall into the hands of this terrible she-devil?
Althea’s isolation has driven her mad. She desires freedom and, if the stories are to be believed, a mate. Indeed, the account of Captain Wehner may well lend credence to this assumption. It seems that Althea always selects a single individual from among any party that enters her lair. All others in the group are then treated as prey, to be stalked and killed at her whim. The chosen one, however, she desires as a mate. It seems certain that anyone who might succumb to the charms of this woman would soon die.
Ecology: The island on which Althea lives is indeed a wonder of nature. From the sea, it looks like a cone of rough black stone rising out of the waves. Newly landed mariners will find its shores bleak and desolate.
Ascending the cone, however, will bring one to the lip of a great caldera. Looking down into this crater will reveal a thriving jungle of plants, hot springs, and rolling banks of steam. Exploration of the jungle will undoubtedly lead to the discovery of the labyrinth at its heart. The lack of animals larger than insects is further proof of this place’s unnatural history.
A fact not known to the outside world is that Johan Wehner still lives. Over the years, he has regained the ability to distinguish light from dark, but he cannot make out shapes. He lives in a cave near the sea, where he survives by fishing. He will offer what help he can to those who visit Demise – besides being familiar with every inch of the island, he knows that Althea cannot leave her maze. Those who encounter him will certainly think of him as a mad hermit, for decades of isolation have left him a broken, tragic figure.
Last Modified: June 10, 2010, 12:01:13 GMT
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