Vampensh grimaced as he leaned his aching limbs onto the cheap pallet. Although he and his companions had fled Borovia some four days ago, they had done little in the way of licking their wounds. Rather, their time was consumed by preparing themselves for returning to the blighted land. For his part, Huge’s constant belittling of his clumsy horsemanship and awkward weapon handling had finally overcome the young mage; against his better judgement he had enrolled at a local fighter’s guild and had spent the last few days enduring gruelling physical challenges and even worse ridicule from the trainers and their young protegees.
The mage rubbed at his aching muscles. “Better that I spend my time practicing my spellcraft so I might immolate every last one of the smirking meatheads,” he muttered irritably.
Still, it didn’t hurt to have at least a basic understanding of physical combat – the better to aim his spells, if nothing else. And he was finding that verbal manipulation was almost as effective in disarming an opponent as blowing their arms off. For the first time Vampensh found himself considering the more subtle enchantments at his disposal.
A satisfied smile playing on his lips, Vampensh dug through his pack and extracted a large leather-bound journal. Discovered before their flight from the chapel of Castle Ravenloft, the party had poured over its contents and discovered it to be the journal of the castle’s master: Strahd von Zarovich. Although a great amount of the contet had been lost to both the ravages of time and its owners changeable moods, there was still enough to piece together a brief history of the party’s latest antagonist. The early pages were full of the clipped and regular longhand of a man of breeding and were largely cold and clinical recounts of the battles and politics of ages long gone.
Of greater interest, however, were the latter pages, specifically detailing Strahd’s coming to Borovia. The detached longhand was slowly replaced by a more curved and flowing script focussing largely around Strahd’s observation and growing infatuation with a Borovian beauty – Tatyana.
The last page was also the most disturbing, indicative – or so Malakai thought – of Strahd’s break from reality. Where there had once been the poetry of love, there was now the scratched and cramped detailing of Strahd’s obsession, the arrogant and solopsistic hand of a man possessed by negative emotion.
Although Vampensh and his companions had read the journal’s final entry many times before – those who could read, anyway – he smoothed the page out before him once more and, strecthing his cramped muscles, began to read.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I am the Ancient, I am the Land. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I was the warrior, I was good and just. I thundered across the land like the wrath of a just god, but the war years and the killing years wore down my soul as the wind wears stone into sand.
As goodness slipped from my life; I found my youth and strength gone, and all I had left was death. My army settled in the valley of Borovia and took power over the people in the name of a just god, but with none of a god’s grace or justice.
I called for my family, long unseated from their ancient thrones, and brought them here to settle in the casdtle Ravenloft. They came with a younger brother of mine, Sergei. He was handsome and youthful. I hated him for both.
From the families of the valley, one spirit shined above all others. A rare beauty, who was called “perfection”, “joy” and “treasure.” Her name was Tatyana, and I longed for her to be mine.
I loved her with all my heart. I loved her for her youth. I loved her for her joy. But she spurned me! “Old one” was my name to her – “elder” and “brother” also. Her heart went to Sergei. they were betrothed. The date was set.
With words she called me “brother” but when I looked into her eyes they reflected another name – “death.” It was the death of the aged she saw in me. She loved her youth and enjoyed it. But I had squandered mine.
The death she saw in me turned her from me. And so I came to hate death, my death. My hate is very strong; I would not be called death so soon.
I made a pact with death, a pact of blood. On the day of the wedding, I killed Sergei, my brother. My pact was sealed with his blood.
I found Tatyana weeping in the garden east of the chapel. She fled from me. She would not let me explain, and a great anger swelled within me. She had to understand the pact I made for her. I pursued her. Finally, in despair, she flung herself from the walls of Ravenloft, and I watched everything I ever wanted fall from my grasp forever.
It was a thousand feet through the mists. No trace of her was ever found. Not even I know her final fate.
Arrows from the castle guards pierced me, but I did not die. Nor did I live. I became undead, forever.
I have studied much since then. “Vampyr” is my new name. I still lust for life and youth, and I curse the living that took them from me. Even the sun is against me. It is the sun and light I fear the most. But little else can harm me now. Even a stake through the heart does not kill me, though it holds me for a moment. But the sword, that cursed sword that Sergei brought! I must dispose of that awful tool! I fear and hate it as much as the sun.
I have learned much, too, about this land of Borovia. Ancient are its ways, ancient beyond the knowledge of the simple folk of the valley. I have walked the ancient ways, secret roads linking three fanes of might, and thus I have become the land.
Three ancient saints dwelled in this valley long before my coming, and three hidden fanes still give tribute to their memories. I visited the Swamp Fane, the Forest Fane, and the Mountain Fane, and claimed their power for my own. Thus I solidified my grasp on this dim shadow of life.
I made the fanes my own, and I have become the Land. Also I made the fane-servants my own, and they now serve me as they once served the saints of the fanes.
I have often hunted for Tatyana. I have even felt her within my grasp, but she escapes. She taunts me! She taunts me! What will it take to bend her love to me?
I now reside far below Ravenloft. I live among the dead and sleep beneath the very stones of this hollow castle of despair. I shall seal the walls of the stairs so that none may disturb me.