They Paved Paradise (And Put Up A Monsterous Monlithic Sacrifice To Their Demonic Gods)

An Unexpected Ally

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.

Loot
Weapons Armour Items Other
.. .. .. Alchemical vampire repellent

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(Not So) Happy Trails

“So, Kavan the Grim, eh?” said Malakai as the group rode out of town for the second time that day. “Now I’ll know his name before I blast him back into the oblivion he crawled out of.”

“You had best not underestimate our opponent, Malakai,” reminded Haradrim. “You will recall that it was a vampire that almost got the best of our strongest fighter – ”

Uther snorted derisively, but said nothing.

” – and did it in broad daylight, my friend.”

“I care not for whatever dark magic sustains him; by Corellon’s hand I will see him burned, staked and buried.”

“You say that, but pluckin’ a different lute when ‘e wraps those fangs around your neck,” Huge rumbled. He hawked and spat, absently fingering the faded wound on his neck. “Then I’ll get the last laugh when my axe splits his skull.”

“Do not lose sight of our objective here, friends,” reminded Uther. Kavan is but the symptom of a larger problem. Strahd’s shadow is yet cast across this land.”

Grul pulled a face. “You needn’t remind me. I feel his taint everywhere; his evil twists all.” His gaze flicked across the stunted and warped undergrowth around him. “His death will do much for cleansing the evil that lurks in every shadow. And speaking of shadows…”

Grul pointed ahead, where the outskirts of the Svalich Woods were visible through the mist. The group urged their mounts onwards towards the thick forest. It rose up quickly to meet them, and as the party trotted forward the trail thinned, replaced by ancient trees and thick undergrowth. Grul rode, his eyes half closed as he sniffed at the air, tracking and identifying the many scents that laced the air. Less canny to the ways of the forest, the rest of the group contented themselves with scanning the undergrowth and the path ahead for threats, the reins of their mounts kept in the firm grip of someone who expects trouble, but knows not from what quarter.

Although it was only mid-afternoon, the sun was almost entirely blocked by the treetops. Haradrim’s experienced eye passed across every shadow, scanning each with a deep suspicion born of a lifetime of largely misanthropic behaviour. After almost half an hour’s worth of tense, uninterrupted travel, he called a halt. He pointed ahead of them where a huge, ancient tree grew, splitting the trail. Its knarled branches hung across the path, casting long shadows around it that criss-crossed its pale trunk. The air around them was still; the baying of wolves floated in from what seemed like miles away.

“What do you make of it?” he asked Uther as the paladin rode up beside him.

“There is evil here,” he replied. “I cannot yet discern from where, though.”

“It’s a white oak,” called Grul softly from the rear. “It is natural, and not uncommon in this region. This one has no doubt seen many moons. Yet I too feel a disturbance here, something unnatural.”

Huge cocked his ear and grunted. “Witches or hags, come out!” he called. His voice seemed to be swallowed by the trees. Yet from behind the tree a slight figure stepped out. He cast a suspicious glance across the party mounted before him.

“What evil do you bring to this forest?” Noting the confusion on Huge’s face, he spoke again, in Common. “What evil do you bring to this forest?”

The two elves in the party pricked up their ears at the sound of their native tongue and moved forward to take in the figure before them. Grul replied first.

“We seek the being known as Madam Eva. She has as yet eluded us, as a leaf in the wayward breeze.”

The elf frowned. As the party looked closer, they could discern that he wore only simple leather armour, but had a fierce looking bow that was trained right on them. His face was streaked with dirty and he had a slightly haggard look about him. “She is not here. Now leave.”

Grul frowned as the party attempted to interrogate the elf. He was confident, arrogant even, for someone outnumbered six to one. The elf was obviously familiar with the area and, although he knew of the villager’s problems with the undead, cared not for their wellbeing. He glanced around, marking the motion of a pair of shadows that moved to flank them.

Between Grul and Malakai’s growing sense of unease and the elf’s hostility, the party soon became aware of the fact that not only was the elf not going to be helpful, but that he was actually a threat. From the front, Huge subtly telegraphed his intention to charge the elf and the party readied themselves.

With a roar, Huge spurred his horse forward, his axe held high and ready. The elf responded with lightning rapidity, loosing a pair of arrows at the charging barbarian. Although they missed, Huge didn’t even get close to his prey. His horse bucked at some unknown threat and refused to move forwards. The reason became quickly apparent: Malakai summoned forth the power of his deity and blasted the elf with holy energy. The elf didn’t flinch, but a deadly shadow screeched in fury and dropped from its hiding place in the tree, and, much to the elf’s chagrin, fled into the forest before Malakai’s power. The cleric gave silent thanks to Correlon.

“Wraith!” he called to the rest of the party. “Steel yourselves; it will be back.”

A pair of wolf-like creatures burst from their hiding places and attacked the party’s flank. As Huge closed the distance on the elf and made to grab him, the lithe figure cried out and transformed into a wolf before Huge’s very eyes.

“Werewolf!” Huge shouted back at the party. “He’s a werewolf!”

“Yes, and so’re his friends!” called back Haradrim as he loose a pair of arrows at the snarling form that was keeping Uther occupied.

The party grappled with the slavering werewolf pack, slowly gaining the upper hand through sword and scorcery over their unnatural ferocity. At last, Malakai was able to magically blind the pack leader and Huge punched the diabled elf into submission. Pinning him to the ground, the party gathered to interrogate the werewolf-elf properly. Their attention entirely focussed on the prisoner, the hippogriff that landed heavily next to them caused some brief consternation.

“What in the name of – oh, it’s just Grul,” exclaimed Uther. “Where did you get to? Again?”

“The forest desired my presence elsewhere,” replied the druid after he had transformed back into an elf. “I will explain later.”

The party, having interrogated the elven werewolf and discovering that he had a surplus of disdain but precious little useful information, agreed to let him go free in exchange for him leading the party to his supply cache. Although Grul noted that his path through the forest earlier had taken him to a supply cache in a different direction, their prisoner insisted that his camp was the only location of magical items in the area.

Once they had raided the werewolf elf’s stash and set him free, albeit blinded, Grul led the party off in the opposite direction, explaining that he had been led to another weapons cache earlier.

“It happened whilst we were dispatching those abberations. You recall the dire wolf that we came across when we first entered Borovia? He appeared in the bushes, insisting that I follow him. He claimed that he knew the location of a stash of silver weaponry.”

“And you followed him? While we were fighting?” Huge looked incredulous.

“I must heed the call of the wild.” Grul shrugged, indifferent. “In this case, the call was a siren song; I was ambushed by a group of vampires and their spawn. The one who attacked me claimed to be Madam Eva…” Grul trailed off, scatched his head and looked momentarily confused. “But that’s not true, is it?”

“The werewolf assured us this was not the case,” replied Uther. “She may not be an ally, but it appears that she is not in league with the vampire.”

“We should be wary nonetheless, my friends. We do not know whether the enemy of our enemy is yet our friend. Or if she is indeed his ally.” Haradrim spoke in murmured tones, his eyes scanning the undergrowth.

“So you wandered off, following some wild beast off into the undergrowth where it led you into a vampire’s trap,” said Vampensh, deadpan.

“Nature’s call can be many things – sweet as birdsong or coarse as a rabid wolverine.” Grul pushed through the undergrowth into the clearing where he was ambushed. “Regardless, their attempts to return me to the earth proved fruitless. And now we have further armaments against our enemies.”

Grul reached into a knot of roots and removed a nondescript sack that clinked as he passed it into Haradrim’s eager hands. As the entryman peered into the sack, however, his enthusiasm waned somewhat.

“Fruitless is right, druid.” Haradrim drew from the sack one of the items contained therein – a rusted blade that was long since corroded beyond any usefulness. “All this tracking through the mud and grime, for nothing.” He sighed, exasperated. “What I wouldn’t steal to feel cobblestones under my feet again.”

“We should keep moving,” said Uther. It’ll be dark soon, and we have much ground to cover before we can rest. Let’s get back to the road and ride on.”

Loot
Weapons Armour Items Other
.. .. .. Potion of cure moderate wounds
.. .. .. Potion of greater magic fang +2
.. .. .. Potion of haste

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Shadows and Light - Part 3

Having spent the night in Thordor’s barn, the group rised at first light to plan their next move. Thordor was able to outline the major landmark’s in Borovia’s lanndscape, providing the party with numerous possible locations of Madam Eva and the Vistani.

“The Tser Pool is a good starting place,” said the blacksmith, pointing on the map he had sketched for the group. “There’s also Ivlis Marsh and Lysaga Hill, where the Vistani have been seen in the past. They’re a fair ways away, but I’ve tended to the horses you came in on, so they’ll do you fine.”

The adventurers decided on Ivlis Marsh as their first destination, it being the closest of the three landmarks. They set out on horseback, with the exception of Grul, who flew a short distance overhead on the back of an enormous bat, causing shivers of discomfort to run through the assembled populace of the village as great beast flapped it’s leathery wings before them.

They had been travelling on the path for a little over an hour, the sun shining dimly through the perpetual cloud cover overhead.

Grul came down to the ground in a flurry of leather and fur. “There’s someone on the bridge ahead,” he told them. Nasty looking, too.”

Huge walked a short distance ahead of them, peering down the track. “I see him.”

As soon as he made this obvervation, the stranger addressed him, calling out in a deep rasp. “Come, barbarian. We have business.”

Huge glanced back at his companions, shrugged, and moved towards the stranger. Although he was obviously heavily armed in chainmail with a huge two-handed sword, it wasn’t readily apparent he meant them any harm. Indeed, anyone who wandered the lands of Borovia without some means of self-defence was asking to be torn to shreds by any number of dangerous beasts. As Huge approached, though, he saw the man smile with murderous intent.

It was only then that he became aware of the fog that had gathered behind him, enveloping his friends and effectively cutting him off from them. With a cry the stranger lept upon the half-orc, grappling him with an uncanny power. He opened his mouth and bared a pair of fangs, trying to wrap them around Huge’s neck.

Shrouded in fog, the rest of the party could only discern from the seemingly distant noises what had happened to Huge. Vampensh could only barely see in front of him as he fought to hold his mental ground against the now-apparent fear effects of the fog. The fog pressed in on him nonetheless, and as the eerie evil forms presented by the fog surrounded him, Vampensh’s defences crumbled and he turned, fleeing in the easiest direction available to him. Above him, the fog had enveloped Grul as well, who, mounted on his giant bat, beat a hasty retreat and quickly dissapeared from sight.

It was only through Malakai’s rapid intervention that the mage was spared Grul’s fate. Summoning his divine magics, he purged the fear from Vampensh’s mind. The slight man nodded his thanks to the elven cleric.

“Right,” he said. “I think we’ve had enough of this.” With his mental faculties returned, Vampensh was able to summon a fierce gust of wind that whipped past him and immediately dispersed the magical fog around them.

The others wasted little time racing to assist their friend, who by that stage was wrestling for his life with his agressor. As they approached, the stranger lept backwards, breaking the grapple, blood dripping from his enlarged canines. He bared them at Huge’s approaching allies.

“Fools!” he hissed. “I’ll tear you all to shreds!”

With a roar, he drew his massive blade and closed in on them. Haradrim reacted first, sending a pair of arrows shooting into the vampire’s chest. Huge drew his own weapon, taking a stance against the enraged vampire who was charging at him.

The vampire, however, never made it. With a dramatic flourish, Vampensh strode forward past his friends and uttered a word of command. The vampire staggered, his mind suddenly assaulted by necromantic energy. The mage stepped closer, his hands outstretched as he manipulated the dark energy flowing into the subdued undead.

“Stop!” he commanded forcefully. “Drop your weapon and lie down!”

The vampire and the mage faced off, the vampire struggling to resist the urge to let his weapon drop from his grasp. He howled in anger, managing to resist the command. With a glare of pure malice, he transformed into a gaseous mist and flew away.

Vampensh dropped to his knees, his brow dripping with sweat. His companions looked at him, while Malakai saw to the wound on Huge’s neck.

Haradrim broke the silence first. “Where’s Grul?”

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Shadows and Light - Part 2

The seven adventurers – and their unexpected proteges – stared down into the grave, taking in the tunnel whose entrance sat at the base of the excavation.

“Strange, really,” observed Malakai. “A whole graveyard in a zombie-infested village, and only one grave reeks of evil.” He cast a look about the mist-laced cemetary and reflexively touched the intricate silver crescent moon hanging from his neck. “Well, whatever’s down there, they shall soon know of Corellon’s strength.”

The group climbed down into the pit, with Ashlyn offering to stay behind and guard the entrance. Malakai and Huge led the way, lighting a couple of torches as they stepped carefully into the dim tunnel that curved off into the darkness. Huge’s fingers traced their way across the wall of the tunnel, feeling it’s rough-hewn shape and the human detritus embedded in the dirt.

“Ghouls,” he said briefly.

“How does he know it’s ghouls who made this?” Tanya asked Vampensh as they brought up the party’s rear.

“The walls are rough, as if dug by humanoid hands,” explained the mage. “There’s also human remains embedded in the wall,” he continued, pointing at a skull that leered grotesquely from its earthen prison. Tanya shuddered as she passed it. “Don’t worry,” grinned Vampensh reassuringly. “just stick behind me. With a half-dozen adventurers in front of you, you’ll be safe enough. You may even learn something.” The wizard deftly removed a small magical focus from a belt pouch and twirled it briefly in his fingers before replacing it.

“Sure you’ll be safe,” offered Grul from behind them,grinning at the girl’s mounting apprehension. “Unless there’s spiders down here. They love attacking from behind, just ask Malakai. Or dire badgers.”

The party soon found their way to a small cavern. In the middle of the cavern were a small cluster of coffins, all broken beyond repair, save one.

“A coffin,” observed Haradrim wryly. “My friends, I think we all know what’s in there.”

The party nodded their assent and began casting their protective spells in preparation. “This might get ugly, you might need this,” said Vampensh, casting a protective abjuration on his charge. Her brother stood next to her, his back to the wall. His hand held his sword in a white-knuckled grip and his face was pulled taut with anxiety.

Uther eyed the coffin warily. “It reeks of evil,” he said. Turning, he recognised the fear written on Preston’s face. Tossing his hair, he chuckled quietly to ease the strain. “Relax, my young ward. Get ready to watch a real paladin in action.” He nodded to Huge. “Hit it.”

The half-orc let lose a cry and with a terrible crash brought his axe down on the sole intact coffin. The cheap wood exploded in a shower of splinters, but the coffin’s occupant leapt to his feet, apparently unharmed. Huge didn’t miss a beat, and immediately pressed his attack on the apparently unarmed vampire, with Uther following closely behind.

Behind the party, the walls of the cavern suddenly moved, and a group of ghouls climbed out of it. Vampensh and Malakai turned to see Tanya scream in shock, but the experiened cleric quickly called upon the might of his god to send the cowardly undead scarpering back up the tunnel towards the surface.

It was then that they heard the singing. From a heretofore unseen tunnel leading from the carvern they saw the most beautiful, ethereal being imaginable and felt an almost irrestistable urge to follow her. Grul’s hands immediately dropped to his sides as he stared, entranced.

“She’s wonderful…”

Haradrim shook his head, feeling the enchantment tugging at his senses. If he just concentrated…

“My friend, no!” With the manipulation dispelled, Haradrim saw instead of a beautiful woman a hideous harpy, it’s mottled flesh and bloody hair in stark contrast to the vision he saw just a few seconds before – and Grul was walking right to her. As the others shook the enchantment off, they too saw the harpy for what she really was, just in time to see her dissapear into the tunnel, with Grul, Tanya and Preston in tow.

Malakai started after them, only to hesitate; Uther and Huge were still locked in mortal combat with the vampire. A monk in it’s previous life, the unarmed undead was nonetheless proving a difficult opponent, even for the party’s two frontline fighters’ combined strength. At last, with a mighty heave of his axe, Huge felled the snarling humanoid and hammered a nearby shard of wood cleanly into its chest. Thus defeated, the half-orc wasted no time pounding down the tunnel in pursuit of the harpy, with Vampensh and the rest of the party behind him.

They turned a corner to see the harpy falling upon their entranced companions, raking her hideous claws across them. Pressed into the rear of the cave and surrounded by her victims, the party were unable to close to melee range. Opting instead for ranged combat, the harpy was quickly felled by a volley of flaming missiles from Huge, Vampensh and Haradrim.

With their kidnapper defeated, the dazed three quickly regained their senses and were brought back to health by Uther and Malakai’s curative magics. The party searched the cavern and, having collected what they found, destroyed the coffins in the main cavern to ensure the defeated vampire could not regenerate.

As the group climbed out of the grave, Ashlyn breathed a sigh of relief. “I am glad to see you safe.” She gestured to the collection of freshly killed ghouls that littered the gravesite. “I was concerned that these were just the vanguard of a larger force.”

“It got a little hairy,” admitted Uther. “But by Pelor’s grace we are unharmed. Although a few of us learned the hard way of the hypnotic abilities of a harpy.”

The party finally made it back to the town square in the early hours of the morning. They had spent the better part of the night waiting in the graveyard for the spirits that Preston and Tanya had seen to appear so they could question them. Unsurprisingly, the ethereal beings had not even acknowledged their presence, but Malakai was able to commune magically with the exhumed corpse of one of the bodies in the graveyard. The corpse had given cryptic answers to the group’s inquiries of the spirit’s death and the location and nature of the Sun Sword, but it nevertheless helped to clarify the magical nature of the weapon and it’s power in dealing with the undead.

With the body re-interred, the group returned to the town square, stopping only to deal with a group of wayward zombies and vargouilles.

They returned to see the town square brimming with refugees. Ismark sat off to one side of the square, sagging in his typical drunken stupor over a stool he had somehow dragged from the local inn. In seeing the party approaching, he gave a weak wave.

“Still alive, I see? Wonderful, wonderful. So’re we, for the moment. The minions of Strahd don’t stand a chance against our army of cobblers and farm-boys.” He grinned sarcastically and waved at the uncertain mob who stood warily by the barricades.

Uther ignored his brief diatribe. “We found your sister. She is alive, although she mourns the loss of your father and the Amulet of Ravenkind. We have interred him to spare him becoming one of Strahd’s zombie thralls.”

“Splendid,” muttered Ismark. “then she can spend her her last days defending an empty mansion.”

Huge’s eyes narrowed under his heavy brow. “Are you so eager to lay down your sword?” He leaned in close to Ismark, the many scars lining his face swimming into lurid detail before the intoxicated man’s eyes. “Life belongs to those who fight to keep it.”

Ismark turned away. “Let her fight, for what good it will do her.”

The massive half-orc grunted in disgust and swept the stool out from underneath Ismark, who fell to the ground with a gasp. “Pitiful. Even cursed as she is, she has more spirit in her on her worst day than you would on your best.” He stalked away, pushing through the crowd to Thordor’s home. The rest of the group followed, pausing only to throw a last glance at the man who lay spreadeagled on the ground.

“Cursed? What’s he talking about?”

Uther turned back to Ismark and gave him a sad look. “Strahd has been in her home and drunk of her life’s blood. She doesn’t have long.” He took Ismark by the shoulder. “That’s why it’s so important that you stand up now. These people,” he said gesturing to the tense mob that crowded the square, “they’re cold, they’re scared and they need leadership now more than ever. Your leadership.”

“But I don’t know how,” whispered Ismark. “I’m not anybody’s leader.”

“You are, Ismark. The mantle of leadership is your birthright, bequeathed to you by your father, and his father before him. It must be you, for there is no other.” He pulled Ismark to his feet and clapped him on the shoulder. “Better to face your fear on your feet as a man, then on your knees as a mewling babe.”

Ismark sighed, resigned. “I suppose I could see about getting the town militia together.”

“That’ll do for starters. Now, I need to see about resting. The night is old, and we have a long way to go tomorrow.”

Loot
Weapons Armour Items
.. +2 Bracers of Defence Milosh’s Wand (wand of missiles, lv5, 45 charges)
.. .. Silver-nibbed pen (20gp)
.. .. x2 gem-studded cufflinks (50gp ea.)

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Shadows and Light - Part 1

The party emerged from the church into the greying afternoon.

“It’ll be dark soon,” observed Haradrim. “We should return to the village to regroup and plan our next move.”

“They’ll no-doubt be glad that we cleansed the church of evil.” Uther smiled in satisfaction, absent-mindedly flicking his golden hair.

“A phyrric victory at best, Uther,” countered Vampensh. “The immediate threat has been defeated, but they’ve lost the one man who was able to stand against the undead. And we don’t even know if this will affect the zombies.”

The group started along the path, scanning the approaching village’s buildings with a wary eye. Steeped in growing shadows, they seemed no less oppressive than they had the previous night.

“We’ll know soon enough,” said Malakai with a grin. He fingered the symbol of Corellon that hung from his neck. “And they’ll know of us soon after.”

“I wish you wouldn’t sound so keen to face off with hordes of those filthy mindless corpses,” muttered Vampensh. “I like a challenge as much as the next man, but I prefer my opponents to be a bit more flammable. Besides, we – what?”

Huge nudged the mage into silence, pointing wordlessly into a particularly deep pool of shadows on the side of the road. “In the bushes. There.” He drew his weapon and stalked off into the bushes as his companions watched wordlessly, hands resting lightly on their weapons.

For a few brief seconds the air was filled with tension, but it was soon broken by a surprised shout followed by Huge’s rumbling chuckle. He emerged from the bushes, prodding a pair of familiar forms before him.

‘You pair!” exclaimed Uther as recognition dawned on his face. “Pelor’s grace, what are you doing out here?” He advanced on Preston and Tanya like an angry parent, the rest of the group trailing behind wearing expressions of mixed amusement and concern. “Of all the hells-forsaken things to do, why would you go wandering about at dusk?”

Preston looked sullen, unsure of how to respond to being rebuked by his new hero. “Aww, come on, we just wanted to see what happened. To Danovich? We weren’t in any danger or nothin’.”

“In danger? You live in a zombie-infested village and you followed us, a group of holy crusaders – ”

”- adventurers,” interjected Huge.

” – mercenaries – ”

” – opportunists – ”

” – into a combat zone! How is that not dangerous?”

Tanya shot Uther a steely glance. “What would you know? We grew up here, we know all the back-roads, all the hideouts, all the danger spots. We can handle ourselves fine.”

“Oh really?” asked the paladin, now on a roll. “And what would you do if an zombie caught you?”

The girl stood her ground. “I wouldn’t know; we’ve not been caught yet.”

Vampensh laughed and gave Uther a nudge. “They’ve got you bang to rights on that one, golden-boy.”

“We know things, too,” insisted Preston. “Like, every night we see spirits coming from the graveyard over there.” He pointed to the cemetary bathed in mist that bordered on the church grounds. “We come out here all the time, and every we see all these ghosts that rise from the graves and fly off towards Castle Ravenloft.

Tanya nodded her agreement. “It’s true. There’s hundreds of them, but they never bother with us.”

“Spirits, you say?” Malakai mused. “It’s not unheard of. I wonder what they’re doing. Have you ever talked to them, interacted with them at all?”

“Nuh uh. We’ve tried, but they don’t talk at all. They just fly off to the castle like we’re not even there.”

“Besdies, everybody knows they’re the restless spirits of folk who tried to defeat Strahd. They keep trying, every night, no matter what you do. They didn’t even notice that time goblin-brains here stepped in front of one and commanded it to stop,” Tanya said, gesturing derisively at her brother. “Just flew right through him.”

“That’s right, I did! I said, by Pelor’s light, I command you halt!” Preston did a fair imitation of what he thought to be an inspiring voice, despite the fact that he was about a decade and two octaves short being able to pull it off.

Uther smiled beneficently and slapped the boy on the back. “Spoken like a true warrior! By the light, we’ll make a paladin of you yet!” he said as Preston regained his balance, his earlier chastising forgotten in the face of percieved heroism.

“So you’ll let us help you? Please, I want to be a knight like you!”

Uther’s smile looked like it threatened to halve his head. “Then we shall make you one! Someone pass me a sword!”

Haradrim silded up to Uther, slipping him a short-sword from his pack. “Uther,” he muttered sotto voce, “do you know what you’re doing? The boy’s not even reached maturity, and you’d have him facing enemies such as ours? My friend, I worry for your judgement.”

“Nonsense!” the paladin rebuked. He laid the sword blade reverentially on Preston’s shoulders and uttered a prayer to Pelor before presenting him with the blade. “I hereby dub you a squire in the service of the Shining One. Be upon your fellows as the sun is unto us. Go forth and do his good works.” Uther laid a hand on Preston, who quivered with awe and solemnity. “Now – lets have a look at that graveyard.”

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Sickness, Madness & Death - Part 3

We entered the church to hear some nonsensical prayer coming from the pulpit. Despite the light of day outside, the church itself was draped in shadows. Huge peered into the darkness, the only one of us able to see clearly. I softly commanded Potato onto my shoulder so that he could communicate what he saw as well – no doubt with more clarity than what Huge’s limited vocabulary could manage.

The inside of the church was little more than a dishevelled husk of its former state. A pair of doors were set either side of us and ahead the main body of the church was littered with rotting pews. A gaping hole in the floor opened up some sixty feet before us and in front of it stood the altar.

As my eyes adjusted to the light I could just make out the form of a man at the altar. Babbling some incoherent pseudo-religious nonsense, his eyes snapped up and gazed at us as we entered, devouring us with maniacal glee. Evidently we had found Danovich. He was heavily armed, obviously mad and – unsurprisigly – not alone.

Huge reacted first, drawing his massive weapon and charging towards the mad priest. As Huge lumbered around the broken pews, I summoned forth my arane powers, levelling my hand at Danovich’s babbling form and blasting him with a crackling black ray of necromatic energy. I moved forward and to the side, making room for my companions and watched in satisfaction as Danovich’s wild-haired form grew weaker before my eyes.

Before anyone else could move to Danovich the doors either side of them swung open and my allies suddenly found themselves locked in melee combat with a group of powerful zombies. Not realising that his companions were otherwise engaged, Huge rushed to Danovich, striking the man with a powerful blow that sent him reeling. Apparently attempting to flee, the cleric nimbly escaped Huge’s swings and dashed off, jumping down the pit in the middle of the church. Huge, having tasted blood, unthinkingly followed seeking to press his advantage.

I knew the enraged barbarian would need assistance, so with the sound of battle raging behind me I followed Huge into the pit. Using the wand of levitation I lowered myself safely to the bottom, only to find Huge in more trouble than I thought.

Having followed Danovich to the church basement, Huge found himself face to face with the wild-eyed cleric’s laboratory – complete with an undead construct made of human body parts and strange alchemical appendages. The construct had pinned Huge with its horribly distended jaw, paralysing the half-orc with its terrible bite. As I landed almost right in front of it, I quickly drew its attention and it came straight at me.

Being reluctant to engage the thing in melee combat on its own terms, I opted instead to try something new. Drawing a scroll I had prepared earlier, I hastily intoned the spell and was immediately transformed into a nine-headed hydra. I loomed over the construct, revelling in my powerful new form. I struck quickly, snapping at the foul creation hoping to draw it for as much time as Huge needed to recover. I hit it, but my new form was shattered when the blaspehemous construct managed to land its hellish jaws around me, stunning me, and Danovich followed up with an abjuration that dispelled my polymorphed form.

Now both Huge and myself were helpless against attack, yet fortune yet favoured us. From above I heard the cries of our allies as they dove headlong into the pit to defend us. Malakai came striding in along the very air, demonstrating his holy zeal against the undead that swarmed against us. This sent the undead skittering into the gloom, and the others engaged the blaspheme long enough for me and Huge to recover. Danovich surely felt the tide turning against him as our group of adventurers battled against him and his minions. Once again summoning the necromatic powers at my disposal, I inflicted a terrible disease upon the cleric, robbing him of more power and whatever little sanity he had left. He swayed, hardly able to stand as the cackle fever overcame him.

With my allies in a desperate battle against Danovich’s unholy creation, I sought to destroy its creator, hoping that his death would end the creature’s unlife. I filled my hands with magical electricity and advanced for the last time upon the priest. As I touched him the energy lept across his body, searing his flesh and robbing him of life. His dying scream, though, enraged the blaspheme and it railed against its opponents. It took all of Huge and Uther’s combined might to finally destroy the foul being.

With Danovich dead and his construct destroyed, we were able to make short work of the remaining undead that cowered in the shadowy corners of the church. As we moved about the church we came across various scraps of journal entries, lists of exotic ingredients and an expensive set of alchemical equipment. With all these we finally had an inkling as to what had occured within the mind of Danovich. When Huge returned from the altar with a fragment of the Liber Blaspheme in his hand it confirmed our suspicions: Danovich, who had spent years fighting the evil that beset Borovia, finally succumbed to the darkness he sought so hard to oppose. With the Liber Blaspheme in his possession, the cleric attempted to restore his son to some semblance of life, which resulted in the creation of the horror that we had recently destroyed and, as a consequence, had exacerbated the undead plague that roamed Borovia.

“It is done,” announced Uther as he wiped congealed blood from his sword. “This place has been cleansed of evil.”

Kind of redundant if you ask me.

Journal entry ends here

Loot
Weapons Armour Items Other
m/w Morningstar +1 Full plate Liber Blaspheme Potion, Cure Mod. Wounds (x3)
+2 Greatsword +1 Chainmail Alchemical equipment, 2000gp Scroll, Lesser Restoration
+1 Flail Half-plate Golden Chalice, 700gp Scroll, Cure Light Wounds (x2)
.. Heavy steel shield Silver bells (x2), 50gp ea. ..

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Sickness, Madness & Death - Part 2

Continued from the Journal of Vampensh DeMartyn

We soon arrived at the manor house of the Kolyana family. Through the dim light that filtered through the clouds we could percieve a battle-scarred building set upon a large property. It was two stories high, with each of its many doors and windows laboriously bordered up. Picking our way past the bodies that scattered the grounds, we approached the front of the manor, through the windows of which I fancied I could see a dim light.

Once again favouring the direct approach, we announced ourselves at the door, calling to whoever was within that we were adventurers who saught to rid the town of the evil that had beset it. The woman who replied through the heavily barred door, however, refused to open it. Although she identified herself as Ireena Kolyana, she claimed that she had been tricked in the past by agents of Strahd and would not admit us until we could prove our virtue.

Makakai and Uther both tried to convince her of their alignment with the forces of good, but the canny woman refused to take them at their word. Ireena’s obstinance proved to be a divisive point for our group. Uther insisted on finding some means of convincing her of our good intentions, Malakai favoured at attempt to break in from the back and a few of the others, myself included, quickly tired of her paranoia and wanted to simply break the door in and interrogate the woman directly.

Eventually Uther acquieced to her request and shoved his holy symbol of Heironeous under the door – a risky act, should the voice behind the door not be whom she claimed – but luck favoured us and it was indeed Ireena who reluctantly opened the door for us.

Ireena was obviously a veteran of dealing with those of an evil bent. Most every room we saw of her house was littered with garlic, holy water vials and holy symbols of all shapes and sizes. As she stood before us, her lithe frame toughened by months of toil and anguish, I could tell that something was wrong. Her only wish was that we help her in interring the body of her father, Kolyan, who had died in the service of the village. Ireena was afraid he would be corrupted by the evil forces at work within Borovia, given that he had been poisoned and that the Amulet of Ravenkind which he used to fend off this evil had been stolen from within her own manor by Strahd’s agents.

We questioned her about why she stayed in the mansion, seperated from the rest of the village, what she knew of Madam Eva and how Strahd and his agents had managed to gain admittance to her home, but she remaind evasive and defensive on nearly every topic. It was only after we interrogated her for almost half an hour that she finally cracked and told us the whole truth: she had seen the vampire Strahd in her dreams. The creature would chase her across hill and dale and when he finally caught her would take her in his arms and embrace her.

In her dreams, Strahd called her ‘Tatyana’.

Although she thought it at first simply a bad dream, Ireena soon discovered the bite marks on her neck. She had been truly embraced by the vampire – in her own home no less! For the first time I began to grasp at the power Strahd possessed: he could enter someone’s home uninvited and use his vampiric abilities to doom another to an unlife as his thrall, as he had done with Ireena. It is my thinking that this forced entry may be linked to the pact that Thordor had referred to.

Once she had revealed her secret to us, Ireena was a much more compliant hostess. She agreed to let us examine her father’s study for the purposes of comparing the note we had recieved against some of the former burgomeister’s handwriting. As Ismark had said earlier, the two sets of handwriting did not match, which meant that the letter that drew us here was a ruse. But who wrote it and to what end we can only guess at.

With Malakai having performed the necessary rites on Kolyan’s body to prevent it being defiled by evil, we set a path back to the town square. Although we invited Ireena to accompany us back to the relative safety of the square, she refused, wanting to stay with her father until such time as we decided to go after Strahd himself.

With the sun’s first muted rays thrusting vainly through the cloud and fog, we quickened our pace through the town square towards the church, with Ashlyn joining our party as we approached the last known location of her allies.

We continued on our way as the sun began to rise. Thinking we would be safer in daylight, we picked up our pace, only to come across a group of zombies feasting on a dead horse that had fallen in the middle of the road. See us, they advanced, their rotting limbs and decaying flesh no doubt an anathema for Uther and Malakai. Acting quickly, I blasted two of the four with firey rays, dissolving their tattered flesh. They staggered on, however, barely responding to their wounds. Huge, Malakai and Uther advanced on them, cleaving their bodies with great sweeps of their weapons. The two I had injured quickly fell, and the other two had taken damage when more enemies appeared. Emerging from the shadows, a pair of ghasts appeared, their horrible visages and rotten stench momentarily stunning the three melee combatants. Thankfully, they recovered quickly and attacked with redoubled effort, Huge alone felling many of their number with great cleaves of his axe. A pair of foul-looking rat-dog creatures attempted to sneak up from the right, but a few blasts of my magic and a pair of arrows from Haradrim took care of them.

With much of my power yet remaining I thought it prudent to continue on to the church, rather than resting and waiting for darkness to overtake us once more. The others agreed and so we pressed on.

As the sun rose in the sky we approached the church. A dismal cloud hung over the crumbling building; whatever sanctity the place once had was long gone. Uther shivered and set his jaw as we closed in.

“There is much evil here. We should be cautious.”

Ashlyn nodded her quiet agreement and drew her blade, glancing around as she did so. “There are no undead here.” She frowned. “Nor any sign of my companions. They must be inside.”

Journal continues next page

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Sickness, Madness & Death - Part 1

Excerpt from the diary of Vampensh DeMartyn

Despite the horrors that have befallen them, the townsfolk of Borovia remain relatively helpful, if somewhat stoic, to outsiders. The presence of myself and my companions provides them with some glimmer of hope against their current predicament – although at this early juncture they still regard us with no small degree of skepticism.

While asking about the whereabouts of Madam Eva, we were introduced to Thordor, the local blacksmith. Of course, the revelation of his profession was hardly a surprise; the man’s enormous build, semi-permenantly furrowed monobrow and moustache that resembles a colony of dire caterpillars all point to a lifestyle centered around physical labour. He greeted us warmly, shaking each by the hand (and nearly dislodging any number of my vital spell components in doing so) before taking us back to his home. There, he introduced us to his family and around a late supper they did their best to answer our questions regarding the area and its inhabitants.

Thordor’s family were an intriguing lot. Thordor, a former adventurer and barbarian, has no small amount of familiarity with arms and armour, a knowledge which he has shaped into his current profession. His wife Maria, although obviously past her prime, was no doubt a charmer in her prime and the offspring of these two parents don’t seem to have suffered as a result of their lineage. Both Preston, their son, and Tanya, their daughter, have inherited their parents affable manner and are quite likeable, despite them both being somewhat god-touched. Preston, it seems, desires a life of holy crusades, blind faith and an insufferable desire to set all around him on the path of righteousness – so naturally he and Uther got on swimmingly. Tanya, on the other hand, wanted to follow a path of quiet servitude – a trait for which I would forgive her, for she is as a rose that blooms in the darkest night.

She is also a former apprentice to Danovich, and she confirmed that since the death of his son Doru, the village’s only cleric has succumbed to madness, ensconcing himself in the local church away from prying eyes. When Tanya spoke of this, her eyes darkened and were it not for the raging fire in the corner of the room I swear I might’ve seen the shadows pressing down upon her slight frame. Although I already knew that the town was already under dire threat of destruction from the constant zombie incursions, the reality that this beautiful girl’s life was in immediate danger suddenly pressed home just how much the town of Borovia had to lose.

We queried the family a little more about Madam Eva and her relationship to the town. As far as they knew, she was a matriach of the local group of smugglers, rogues and gypsies known as the Vistani. Evidently she is one of the three seers and wise-women for this tribe, and has been turned to a hag as a result of the vampire Strahd’s dark pact with the land of Borovia. This suggests to me two things: one, that although Madam Eva may well be responsible for the dire wolves plaguing the area, she may yet be saved, rather than destroyed and, two, it is possible that some of Strahd’s mystical powers that have been aluded to could be attributed to this dark pact he has with the land. If this is the case, we should keep a wary eye out for any structures or locations that support this theory, as anything we can use to rob such a powerful being as Strahd of his abilities would be worth investigating.

With this knowledge in mind, we took our leave of Thordor and his family. While the rest of the party trooped out with hardly a word of thanks, I alone decided to leave the family with a more tangible memento of our thanks. With an elegant flourish, I conjoured a bouquet of flowers which I bequeathed upon the mistress of the house. She recieved them with a gush of thanks, no doubt impressed by even so minor a magic as that which I had used. With any luck, this will aid our reputation with the family and the town in general – a reputation which I may yet be able to use to my advantage.

We ventured south, towards the Kolyana family home and current hiding place of Ireena Kolyana. We walked in silence and gloom, our lights doused to prevent the undead lurking in every shadow from being drawn to us. No doubt Malakai was itching to rebuke these evil beings, but prudence, for once, took precedence over zeal.

We were, in my estimation, about halfway to our destination when we came across a large two-story house, a dim light flickering on the lower floor. As we approached, we could hear a muffled voice from inside, crying and wailing. Uther, naturally, saw another opportunity to right a wrong and insisted that we investigate. Malakai – not wanting to be outdone – bravely, if somewhat foolhardily, went right up to the door and knocked on it. Thankfully, the sobbing coming from inside was not a trap but the cries of a mother parted from her daughter. Ordinarly this would be just another sad yet regular occurence in a hells-blasted town such as this, yet there were two things that suggested otherwise. One: the woman in question introduced herself as Mad Mary – a monkier bestowed upon her by the other townsfolk (much to her chagrin). Two: Mary asserted that her daughter, Gertruda, had been kidnapped by Strahd, yet told us that she had kept said daughter confined within her house – complete with ghastly pink wallpaper, fluffy white clouds and all manner of other infantile trappings. So while Gertruda may well have been kidnapped by the vampire lord, it seems equally possible to me that the poor girl, having reached maturity, simply tired of being ensconced within so banal and absurdly feminine surroundings and left. Of course, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that misfortune may have befallen her since then.

With promises of a thorough search for the missing girl (somewhat hollow, for my part), we took our leave of Mad Mary and her preposterously pink property. Thinking on it, I wonder whether this is how Uther sees the world – all vibrant colours: brightest blues, pinkest pinks and, of course, blackest blacks. The clearest division between right and wrong, with precious few tertiary colours, to follow the metaphor.

Journal continues next page

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An Invitation to Borovia

While staying at the Weary Horse Inn, Spelunkers Anonymous recieved a letter from Kolyan Indirovich, the burgomeister of a distant town called Borovia. He begged the party to come to the town’s aid as, although it was a naturally dangerous area in which to live, the town itself had recently come under attack by hordes of the undead.

Spelunkers Anonymous accepted the invitation and set off for the town. Soon after they arrived in the forest surrounding the town, they encountered a pack of dire wolves. One of these wolves was obviously different from the others, so the party killed the others and subdued this last one. Under interrogation, via Grul, the wolf claimed to be from outside the area, a free roamer. The others, he said, were under the control of one Madam Eva.

Setting the last wolf free, the party continued to Boravia. Upon arrival, they found the town almost deserted. While investigating, the party were set upon by fierce zombies. It tured out that these zombies had more or less destroyed much of the town and its inhabitants. The remainders were centered in the town square where they had barricaded themselves against their oppressors. Among the survivors were Ismark Kolyana, son of the town’s burgomeister, and Ashlyn a paladin in a party of undead hunters called Lightbringers who had been split up from her two companions and had not heard from them in three days.

The townspeople seemed surprised to see the party. This grew even more when Ismark was presented with the letter the party said was written by his father; Kolyan the burgomiester was, in fact, dead! Moreover, Ismark asserted that the writing in the letter was not his father’s.

In talking with the townfolk, Spelunkers Anonymous learned of Strahd, a vampire rumored to live in Castle Ravenloft which overlooked the town. They had also heard of Madam Eva, although they could not say for certain what her relationship, if any, was with the dire wolves. Indeed, they suspected that she may know of the Sun Sword, a legendary weapon designed to destroy the undead, which was sought by Ashlyn and her companions. They also learned of Danovich, the local cleric of Pelor who lived in the church that Ashlyn’s companions had left to search.

The party was left with three options available to them: travel West in search of Madam Eva, travel North to the chuch in search of Danovich and Ashlyn’s companions, or travel South to the mansion that is Ismark’s family home and is currently defended by his sister, Ireena Kolyana.

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