The man knelt at the crossroads, his arm resting on the pommel of the wicked longsword that was thrust into the ground before him. At first glance, an observer might think he was meditating, or lost in prayer. In fact, this was only partially true.
“I am merciful, as the sun’s mercy shines upon me. I am strong, as the sun is strong. I am the light…”
He leaned heavily on the sword, his long black hair falling in limp lengths across his haggard face. Something in his peripheral vision catches his attention and he stands swiftly, his large frame held errect as much by pride as anything else. The man’s eyes sweep across the crossroads, picking out the familiar details in the dim light of the rising moon. The rotting gallows, the signpost, the scattering of gravestones in the middle of which he spotted movement again.
A group of dark wavering shadows poured across the ancient stones, their humanoid forms bearing down on him with murderous intent. The man touches the raven symbol hanging at his neck and draws his sword. With a cry, he charges at the nearest shadow, blade held high.
He bears down on the shadow with increasing speed. The shadow reaches out an incorporeal limb that shimmers with necrotic energy. Just as it is about to make contact, a black blur speeds past it, interruping its attack. The man takes immediate advantage of the shadow’s distraction and lets fly with a vicious swing that parts the shadow. It screeches and falls back.
The blur flutters above the man and comes to land on his shoulder, reavealing itself to be a raven. “Good work Hurrn,” says the man, stroking its jet-black plumage. The raven caws sofly, eyeing the approaching shadows with intelligence above its species.
“I know,” replies the man wearily. “These nights are long – too long. And our allies are far.” The man grips his sword tight, eyes blazing with determination. “Yet if we go to meet our end this eve, it shall be with courage and valour.” He straightens, seeming to shake off the fatigue through sheer force of will. “Know ye this, shadows!” he shouts at the approaching undead. “The Knights of the Raven do not wait for death to find them!”
With a powerful cry he leaps into the cluster of shadows, his blade flashing in strong, practiced strokes. He backs against the low stone wall of the graveyard, seeking to use the environment to his advantage. Yet he knows it is for naught; despite his skill and valour, he is at last outmatched. Leaping over the wall, he takes a stance in the middle of the crossroads, sword, shield and raven ready. The shadows approach with a slow, inexorable gait, their arms outstretched to take him in their deadly embrace.
They do not make it that far, however.
From behind them comes the sound of a chant. The man dimly registers it as a prayer spoken in elven. A powerful light overcomes the man and his attackers. The kngiht feels a sense of warmth and peace flow through him. The shadows, though, find it less pleasant.
They screech in agony as the light envelops them, instantly destroying their undead forms.
The knight blinks, taking in the group of newcomers. A motley bunch if ever there was, he thinks. Capable warriors, though, judging by their dress and armaments. The one closest to him steps forward, lowering the holy symbol of Correlon he had held before him. He looks satisfied, mused the knight. Yet overzealousness rarely did injustice to one sworn to destroy the undead. The man says a silent prayer of thanks and moves towards the group, hand extended.
“Well met, strangers! My thanks for your assistance. These nights are long and I fear I may have perished were it not for your assistance. I am Sir Urik, Knight of the Raven.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Tell me, Sir Urik, what exactly is a Knight of the Raven?” asked Uther as the party gathered around Urik’s campsite some time later. Unsurprisingly, the two paladins had gotten on fantastically, to the point where their conversation threatened to exclude their companions.
“We are a holy order of knights sworn to seek out and destroy the undead wherever we find it. We are the light that shines in darkness.” He smiled and stroked Hurrn with an air of melancholy. “Although in these dark times, our light is little more than that of a distant star. Our numbers have been greatly lessened. Yet we go on nonetheless, for what is life for a servant of the light who does not serve? No, better to rot in the darkest dungeon than to abandon one’s calling.” Urik nodded at the paladin that sat across from him, eyes gleaming with rightous fire. “You might consider joining our ranks, good Sir Lightbringer. You have strenth and valour, and you have already embraced Pelor’s light.”
“I’m honoured by your offer, Sir Urik. I will give it serious consideration,” replied the paladin. Noticing the bored and distracted gazes of his allies, Uther swung the conversation to more practical matters. “Sir Urik, you have been defending Borovia for some time now. What can you tell us of the vampires here, and of Strahd specifically?”
“There is much to tell. And as sleep is impossible with the constant threat of attack, we might as well pass the night doing something practical. Let me tell you what I know.”
The party listened intently as Urik described what he knew of vampire strengths and weaknesses, including the dark pact Strahd had made with the land, confirming the existance of three fanes thought to be the source of the vampire lord’s dark power, although their exact location he did not know. He spoke too of the legendary Sun Sword, an artifact thought to have the power to defeat Strahd.
“My druidic masters have spoken of a demon that is being raised here, thought to rival Strahd for power,” Grul posited once Urik had concluded his tale. “Do you know of any such occurence?”
“Aye, I have heard of such a thing. It is rumoured that there is a coven of witches that seek to overthrow the dread vampire by raising a demon. These witches are led by one called Baba Zelenna. Sadly, I know nothing else of their plans.”
Grul nodded as he contemplated this new information. He turned at the sound of a wolf howling in the middle distance, interrupted by a low moan, and shuddered. “You will yet know nature’s fury, Strahd,” he muttered. “I promise you that.” He cracked knuckles and, like the rest of his companions, contemplated the sleepless night ahead of him as he wished for the sun to rise.
Alchemical vampire repellent