Henry and Gretta stumbled through the line of trees, both of them giggling madly and unaware of anything beyond their game. Henry caught the girl by the waist and they both went rolling toward the river's edge. They came to a stop in the moss just at the water's border. Henry leaned in for a kiss but caught up sharply at the look on Gretta's face.
"What is it, my love?" he asked.
For a moment she said nothing but then shook her herself free and pointed. "Look for yourself, silly. Over there. You see them? Oh, how beautiful! Aren't they just the most gorgeous things you ever did see, Henry?"
"Not the most beautiful surely," he said following his statement with a quick giggle. Then he glanced in the direction in which Gretta pointed. His eyes widened and he closed his mouth.
"My gods, but they are gorgeous!" he exclaimed. "I have never... what are they?"
"I have no idea," returned Gretta. "Horses. Great, beautiful horses. Just running through the river! All brown and black, white and red. So many colors!"
The two stood and watched entranced as dozens of the horses flowed along with the rushing waters. They bobbed up and down, sideways and front ways. But ever rushing onward much faster than horses ought to be able to do in such deep water.
"Look!" Gretta said, pointing at the water. "Look under the water! They're fish! Oh, what wonders!"
River Horses are creatures of pure magic. Their physical forms are ephemeral, mere shadows of their true selves.
These magical creatures are always in motion. They never stop, for to do so means death. As elemental forces of the rivers themselves, they reflect the constant chaos of the water as it rushes over rocks and past mossy banks.
There are two aspects of these creatures: Above water they appear to be fast running horses. Below the surface of the water, their forms take on the appearance of great fish. Multiple-hued scales of blue and green, red and brown, and many others. Thick bodies which wriggle and twist as they navigate the powerful streams through which they swim. As River Horses run through the water, they bob up and down, portions of their forms instantly transforming between fish and horse to maintain these forms.
They sound like no more than the water crashing and splashing about, though the occasional weigh or nicker can be discerned.
They are only seen in the larger, deeper waters which are able to accommodate their forms and plentiful numbers. In addition, the more powerful the waters, the more populous the herd.
Abilities and Weaknesses
These magnificent beasts are both tied to their watery abodes and unconstrained by them. No single River Horse must stay with any particular herd or even a particular river. One may bob beneath the surface and disappear from view, only to appear once more in a river a hundred miles away. It is said, by those who have studied such things, that a knowledgeable soul may gate across rivers by harnessing the power of these elemental creatures. It is thought that some of the wilder races use them in this fashion. It is also thought that such races have figured out how to pass messages across vast distances with but a spell; a scroll is tossed into the water to be snatched up by a horse in its teeth, which then promptly vanishes beneath the churning surface. How this happens is a great mystery, for all attempts by men have resulted in the loss of a horse and the anger of the herd.
Causing a River Horse to stop its motion will destroy it. Any normal restraint will pass through them; any magical fetter will cause a horse to collapse into a shower of rainbow-hued droplets. The Tenbaugh River ceased to flow when the determined wizard Glathran wiped out most of the herd. After the survivors fled to other waters, the river dried up. It moves no more.
Communication, both magical and divine, have proven futile. Yet somehow the forest races have been seen riding the horses like any other steed.
Most non-magical races experience an irresistible urge to watch a herd pass by and are generally unable to look away unless under some obvious threat. Afterward, many are filled with wild urges; the outcome of this depends entirely on the recipient. Boundless energy, pure rage, lust, anything related to the personality of the individual.
There is said to be a god or goddess of the waters to whom the River Horses are sacred. Perhaps the druids know. If so, they are likely to know spells which call upon the powers of the River Horse.
Use in Game
- Add flavor to a setting: Seeing such a magical event as horses plowing through the waters of a fast-flowing river can go a long way toward showing the PCs just how strange is the world in which they find themselves. It can also be used to show that they have left the normal world of their homes behind and are now entering the alien world of the forest races.
- As the messengers and steeds of the forest world: If the PCs are in the service of a forest lord they may be given a boost (though only under the most essential of circumstances.) Perhaps they will be sent on the backs of River Horses to the down-flowing mountain rivers in order to discuss important business with a Forest Lord there. Or maybe dire circumstances will convince the Forest Lords to send a message elsewhere on the PC's behalf. Alternatively, this can be used as a way to give someone else a leg up on the PC's.
- Magical Research: Many wizards are curious about the powers and nature of the River Horses. Might one not be captured in some fashion? Might a sorcerer not gain greater understanding or power by understanding how such creatures work? Might an elementalist not gain mastery over the very waters? Failure can have very real consequences on the life and water of a particular river. Such failures can also bring about the ire of the forest races.