Ravenloft Campaign: Woven Fates

Tonight, I relate the story of a group of strangers that met here in the Land of Mists and, forced by destiny, wandered its roads in formidable adventure. Join us as I lead you from their first meeting along through their travels, their misfortunes and their shining moments. Grace them with your compassion in their losses; bless them with your support when the sky is dark and bleak. Do not forget to bestow your praise upon them as they vanquish terror and hold back the minions of darkness. Raise your arm to cheer for their victories!
And above all, share your glass with us for them, both in sorrow and elation, as you accompany them in the thorny road from lost adventurers to heroes of the mists.

Come, huddle with us by the fire here in the dark. The night is cold, but within the ring of Vardos, its evils cannot touch us. Tonight, you are a guest of the Vistani and nothing will harm you. Come, the Prastonata is over and now is time for the Doroq. Let the tales now unfold, let the revelations begin...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Log Entry 23

After the creature's escape, the group fell to the floor, emotionally exhausted. They were sure that the assailant was a minion of the night, and this close contact with a supernatural entity of some kind was a still a new and frightening experience for them. Looking to each other's support, they babbled for a while without real purpose, in a simple release of tension, until they simply sat there, almost in silence and retreating within themselves: Eva played with some pebbles, absent-mindedly; Gregor checked his belongings and counted his money, weighing his needs and planning carefully what he could afford; Gheata looked in the distance, at the forest, trying to pierce the darkness around them; Yuri looked fixedly into the night, but thinking deeply and ignoring everything his eyes registered: his mind laboured tirelessly trying to understand what was there so powerful about that circle that had kept the creature outside.

He rose suddenly, with a surge of energy
"There must be magic here! Some kind of magic! Oh, Ezra, please, guide me!"
He then concentrated in a prayer, while the others all looked at him, startled by his sudden outburst.
Yuri's mind filled with divine revelation. As he expected, there was some magic focused on the tall menhirs as if it spewed from them inwards, filling the whole space inside them. But to his amazement, there were two other auras that came from the middle of the circle, from the stone slab that lay there on the ground. Yuri almost lost the focus on his spell, as he acknowledged these, but he held to it and carefully studied each one of them. The one that covered the whole circle was the strongest, so strong that he had kept a vampire at bay, but even so, Yuri was awed when he learnt it was actually overwhelmingly strong! He had never, in his life, conceived of such a strong raw power. Surely, no man on earth could ever muster the power to put in place such a strong magical effect.
Still stunned, but methodical, he forgot about the powerful effect of the circle and examined the slab. One of the auras was now evident to him: a mark etched in the stone, that had been invisible up to now, glowed revealingly to his eyes - a K inside a circle, its main stem long enough for a dash to cut it and thus form a cross. It was completely unknown to Yuri, and suggested him no more than a simple personal sign. But below the slab, within the earth, he could sense another kind of magic: just a faint tingling of the magical fluid, something of a protective nature, was there, below the stone block.

The stone was about thirty centimetres in width, and half a metre long, and less than ten centimetres above the ground. Yuri tried to move it and felt it give way slightly. He dug around its edges finally uncovering a slit all around the block: it was, after all, simply atop a second stone. He tried to push it and asked for Eva's help, but they couldn't nudge it. Resting for a while their sore fingers, they gave way for Gregor to try his luck. With his imposing rotund figure, Gregor gave a confident push and the stone began moving: it was a lid! Below it, Gregor found a small cavity about thirty centimetres deep wherein a very old-looking wooden chest rested. It was reinforced with metal corners, and despite its venerable age, it was still in good condition.
"So that's what the magic is for: to protect that chest" exclaimed Yuri, excited.
"I guess you should be the one to open it, Yuri", stammered Gregor, hesitantly.
Yuri took hold of the chest and tried its lid: it was unlocked. He raised it slowly, anxious but suspicious, to reveal a book almost the size of the chest still in perfect conditions with this title:

De Studium Magiae Arcana, sedendum tractatum introductorius ad totius spiritis pureus de inclinatii divine quid non obstante suas fede et credentia veras in essentiam divinam magiae recognoscent existentiam in nostro mundum alterem practicarum dignem de studio

Inside, the same inscription with the added lines
Scriptus pro Altissime Patri Kiri
Calendarius Barovianus 350

The writing wasn't immediately clear for Yuri, but it was without any doubt in an ancestor of the sacred tongue of the Ezran church, for long the language of choice in academic literature and from which Mordentish itself had evolved. It bore enough resemblances for him to be certain of the meaning of the last line
"Holy goodness, this book is 400 years old!!!"

He paged carefully through it, caressing the pages to prevent any harm. It seemed to be a treaty on arcane magic, but he had to study the book in deep detail. For now, all he could try was to decipher the long title and a one-page introduction that read like this:

Explorator secreto oculte, tu quid trovavisti istem liberem sape quod tempos nigres adproximant. Andral sedet grande et dirigevit me in constructii Symboli Sacratis Ravenitae sed multu in istem mundum habo videtus et ora sto certus que causas habet quod fugent explicatii divine.
Non devies iam oculi tui. Audi me ad fini sine me proquod istus sacrilegio negare.
Ipsu proquod istem liberem abscondevi et si illo indagavisti, si illo trovavisti, tu tam bene habere sentitus istum iam debes: ill exsistet alteres magiam, impuram, mundanam, periculosam sed exsistens.
Adsevero tibi quod illa non sedet plus potente quo illam divinam sed sedet diversa et de naturae quod dei non cognoscent et non incalciant; pagan sedet, sed exsistet et quale receptaculis spirituaris deorum quod mundum gubernant, sedet nostram obligatio cognoscere illam.
Tu, patre quod leges istem liberem hic discooperiras differentis fundamentalis inter duos mundis et quomodo initiare studium istus regno prohibite.

Yuri was transported, but Gregor interrupted his ecstasy
"I think we should get ready to sleep, but we're in an unknown land and we should mount some guard. I can do the first shift."

1st October 751, 7th Night of the Waning Moon

There was not much arguing. They agreed on four single-person shifts through the night and prepared to sleep it away. The night passed uneventfully. Eva had the last shift, and when dawn finally came, she woke her companions
"Come on, it's high time to be moving. Plus, I hear some neighing!, so we might yet find some horses."
They got up and had breakfast. Yuri and Gregor spent about an hour communing with their deities, although Gregor did it with a mixture of disappointment and hope. This was Barovia, after all, and the solution for his spiritual problem was here, but he couldn't help feel that the divine had already abandoned him too much and he contemplated the hypothesis that it might no more return. Setting his doubts aside, he dutifully completely his prayers as well as Yuri and they departed for the final stretch of their journey, to the village in front of them.

As Eva had said, they found some horses nearby. She recognized them at once,
"Kal, my dear mare. Come here, come here girl"

There was no doubt: they were harnessed and in the very same attire of the horses they had brought from Ingelberg. Surely, the mounts had been transported by the mists as they had, only they'd been dropped somewhere else entirely.
"Well, so much for the better! We have horses again", said Gheata with a contented smile, "Let's go get them."
But the horses were in no mood to stop grazing and allow someone else to mount them. It took Eva all the best of her skill to finally appease them and soften them enough to be mounted or led by their rope. Cheerful and filled with hope again, they followed the road. It was a cold day, but the sky was clean. A small river flowed through the forest and where it most approached the road, it was but some ten to fifteen metres away from it. It was at this point that the light of the sun was cut by a bank of light fog that stretched over the road and entered the green forest, to the sides. Gregor hesitated
"Will this be normal fog?"
"Bah, Gregor, it is, surely", said Eva confidently, "the day is cold and the haze climbs from the river. Don't see bad things everywhere, now come on."
They crossed the fog, which spanned no more than a fifty metres length, and just a short walk ahead they saw a few buildings which formed, no doubt, a village. This was Barovia! Yuri was the first to speak
"Well, we're here. Where to now?"
"I think we should find a temple, if there is one" answered Gregor, "but I'm not overly confident..."
"Why? " Eva wanted to know.
"Because these Barovians are a quite cynical lot, not very religious at all", said Yuri. "Ezra never set foot within this land, as far as I know of."
"But the Morninglord has", countered Gregor. "In fact, the cult of the Morning Lord was born here... but Yuri is right in one thing, Barovians are not very religious. The pure Balok Barovians, that is."
"Huh, what's that?", question all the others.
"I know one or two things about Barovia that I learned when I studied the language. There are two major ethnic groups here, the Balok and the Gundarakites. Balok are Barovians, pure and simple, it's the name of the primitive racial stock since the times of foundation. The other group are the Gundarakites, who are strongly oppressed by the Balok majority. And these Gundarakites, they are adepts of the Morning Lord with fervour. It's one of many differences between the two races. Even the languages are completely apart: Gundarakites speak Luktar."
"I can see you can still surprise us from time to time", commented Gheata. "And what kind are these Barovians here, Gundarakite or Balok?"
They were moving slowly as Gregor told them this, but they had entered the main street towards the square they could see not long ahead. Gregor gave a look at the populace they could see
"Balok, I'm afraid. And they don't mingle if they can avoid it, so I don't think we'll find any Gundarakite here."
"Gregor, those Gundarakites, do they live everywhere in Barovia, or just in a small region?"
"Huh.... mostly in the south, I guess, Yuri."
"Then, if this is the village of Barovia, it is well in the centre of the country, from what I saw in the library, and if it is named as the country, it might well have been the first population centre. It is therefore the core, the heart of it, and it isn't likely that the ethnic minority lives well within the middle of the country. Do you know why there is a minority here? Were they conquered, or did they always exist?"
"Now that you ask, I'm not sure, but I guess there was some kind of war and they lost."
"Then, we're in cynicals' territory", concluded Gheata, finally remarking "It suits me."
"So, all of this just to know if we'd ever find a temple here, right? Why don't we just look for it?", asked Yuri. "There's an opening there ahead. I wager that's the main square. Let's go there and see if we can find something more."
"What now, Gregor?"
"Don't you want an apple? Those fruits over there look really enticing."
"You've just had your breakfast, Gregor" exclaimed Eva "not even half an hour ago."
"I know, but I fancy an apple."
The apples were in exhibition with many other kinds of fruits, in particular a large dark skinned plum that was displayed with great pride: "the best for Burgomaster Tuika", it read, and also "the choice of Raven's Crest Tuika". Despite his knowledge of the language, Gregor was not accustomed with the Barovian customs, so he could quite guess what Tuika referred to. They filled several crates in a stand leaning against the wall of a house, in the street, the first of several until the main square, as was usual in the village. This was, after all, the market.
While the other three waited in the middle of the street, Gregor approached the seller, a young woman with a full, voluminous figure. Her face was pretty, but she was not entirely cheerful. Gregor noticed a certain air of sadness on a visage well-suited for laughter and party. He bought her the apple almost guiltily, when a man approached the awaiting trio. He was dressed in black, quite uncommonly for a Barovian: he wore large boots over black wool trousers, but despite the cold morning air, his shirt was unbuttoned in the upper half of his torso. A golden medallion hanging from his neck contrasted vividly with the rusticity of a hairy chest in plain view. He was tanned and his skin was parched and dry from the sun. Completing the picture, he wore a large moustache and a narrow-brimmed hat and carried with him two or three knives and a sack over his shoulder. He should be around forty-five, at most fifty years of age. Upon seeing the group, he immediately began a loud noise, pointing at his knives suggestively. The three shrugged and looked at each other. Gregor, turning back with the noise, listened attentively and warned his friends
"He's trying to sell you knives."
But the dark seller was smart, for he immediately addressed them, in reasonable Mordentish with a broken accent
"Foreigners?! Ah, beautiful wares, mosta beautiful wares I hava to sell. Gooda knives, exceallent knives, perfect blade, tha best, tha best you'll find around. And more, I hava more. Come and see, I hava mirrors, I hava pans, I hava combs, forks, cuttalery, pots whatever you wish... Ah, but I also hava weapons and beasts, if your interest is more open-minded. I hava everything, everything you may wish for. Everything at my camp, if you wish. And all good quality, there's no better in tha whola village".
Gheata was piqued.
"Weapons, you said? Do you know a certain kind of sword that is to be wielded two-handed?"
The other responded almost exhilarant
"But of a course! What are you asking, me, a master seller, if I hava a two-handed sword? But of a course, of a course I do. I hava everything, I tolda you. Notta right here with me, but I hava such a one at my camp!"
"And can we go there?"
The man broke his animation mildly
"Notta right now... I still wanna try a bit more, but we canna meet here at noon, va bene? Ah, allora it's agreed. Noon will do. Or I'll even bring you the sword."

With this, the man continued his way towards the square, leaving them unsure of what to think. Gheata was the only one with clear thoughts in the subject
"I want that sword, no matter what."
As Gregor frowned at Gheata's remark, the seller confounded him even more with a sudden sigh
"Ah, the Vistani! Wish that I were as free as them, and not lost in this rotten place. The Vistani are really free: they sleep under the stars and don't fear the night. Oh, how much I would give to be able to do that too..."
She shook her head, and sat in a bench behind the stand, despondent. Gregor couldn't find the words to cheer her, and decided to continue his way. They went until the square and there looked around. A street came from the left, at an acute angle with the one they were following. Rising slightly, it led to a building that stood apart from every other. It had a very distinct structure, with a cross plant and a bell tower that had seen its better days, most notably lacking any bells. The whole building was in a miserable state of disrepair, betraying abandonment, disinterest or lack of resources.

They climbed the street up to the building and walked around it. It was, or had been, a holy building of some kind. The bell tower and numerous engravings suggested it, but the graveyard in the back attested that fact beyond any doubt. A man in his middle forties was tending to a small plot of land near the church, where he was tending to some cabbages, tomatoes, beans and other kinds of vegetables

"Hello, there, looking for something?", he said, leaving his work temporarily.
Gregor answered, as he was the only one who knew the language
"Hello. Is this a church, sir?"
"Why yes, and I am the priest. Are you in need of guidance from the Lord of the Dawn?"
He wasn't quite expecting to see a holy man in what he took at first for a simple gardener, but Gregor disguised it well
"Yes, in fact I believe I came just to the right place."
"Then please, enter. Let's go inside and make ourselves more comfortable."
He gestured to the other three but as they didn't move, the priest understood
"Are you foreigners?"
"Yes, yes. From Irvanika."
"Ah, Irvanika..." said the priest. Then, turning to a barely remembered Mordentish, he repeated
"Then, please, come in, we'll be more at ease inside. By the way, you can call me Donosty."
Donosty led the group to the church. It was sparsely furnished, and the signs of poor maintenance were everywhere
"I get to do all the work by myself, so this is a bit decayed. But the important is the spirit, not exactly the house... Although I'd prefer to revere the Morning Lord in a proper temple", he added almost apologetically.
"We'll have to sit in the pews. The other rooms are too crammed for all of us, so please, sit."
"People here are not very pious, are they?", asked Gregor, not a small bit worried.
"Huh, no, not indeed.... I have to concede you that. They don't come to church much... in fact, I have a very small flock. They barely fill the front pews."
"And why are you still here?", questioned Eva, intrigued.
"Because I know the Morning Lord will reach these people's ears. Because while I'm here, they are protected from the night, and they too will understand the message of hope my god brings. In time, they will embrace the sun and the religion. But for that, I must keep working tirelessly every day. I will not abandon them, as the Lord does not abandon me. But enough of me. Now, we turn to you, Gregor. Why, tell me, why have you said this was the right place for you?"

Gregor had been waiting for this chance. He told the priest his story, which his friends, too, were hearing for the first time.
When Gregor was a little child, his parents were forced to deliver him to a monastery, for lack of means to support him. The monastery belonged to the Church of Ezra. With time, Gregor took the vows and entered the order, but in his late adolescence, he met a man that was being helped by the brothers of the monastery. He was old and frail, and although he did not follow the teachings of Ezra, he found support at the monastery. Gregor befriended this old man, and heard his teachings reverently. The man died not long after, but he sown a seed in Gregor's spirit: the faith of the Morning Lord. This, Gregor took heartily, and he felt with true sincerity that this was his calling. Ezra's faith had been imposed on him, but this was different: the Morning Lord smiled at him with a light he wanted to meet. But, the sad truth was, he was not a priest of the Morning Lord.
Gregor left the Monastery and proceeded to Keshgel, the nearest city. Upon arriving there, he understood that Ezra was leaving him, although at a slow pace, which caused him no small affliction. He's been ever since tormented with by thought of permanently losing his connection to the divine. Each day he feels hollower inside, more distant from divinity, more tempted to follow his baser and more mundane instincts. But still, he's been holding to a light that was shown to him in Keshgel
"Your answer lies in Barovia! The solution for your problems is in Barovia!"
And so, he undertook the voyage to this country in search of answers.

Donosty and all the others listened attentively. They had never understood Gregor's difficulties with divine intervention, but only now did they understand his real sufferance. Donosty smiled reassuringly and compassionately
"You've really come to the right place. I can help you, but not entirely. You have to be ordained a priest of the Morning Lord. Only then will the radiant sun fill you completely, only then will you know the joy of the contact with the beautiful god of the Morn. The first step I can perform on you: you have to be baptized. It can be done only at daybreak, so we'll have to leave it for another day. The second step, though, is the more important one: you have to be confirmed within the church, you have to be anointed, and that can be done only in the Principal Temple of Krezk. It's in the direction you came from, after Vallaki, by the Old Svalich Road."
"Well, so I have to wait until tomorrow, at least, isn't it?"
"If there is sun tomorrow, yes. That becomes a rare commodity at this time of the year."
"And what do I need to bring?"
"Nothing much. I will provide for you. You have to be here one hour before dawn, to pray and eat a holy wafer. I will give you a vest, a simple tunic, which must be the only thing you'll be wearing during the whole ceremony. As the dawn approaches, we'll go outside, to the east wall of the church and you'll kneel on the floor. As the sun rises, I'll perform a prayer to invoke its blessings upon you. When I tell you so, you'll stand, and walk around the whole perimeter of the church with your eyes lowered in the first half, and then looking at the sky in the second half. Finally, I'll bless you with the holy symbol that will become your own, and replace the one you're using which, I'm afraid, is only a makeshift one and must be left behind. After that, you will be baptized."
"Simple enough. And do I have to say anything?"
"Right, yes, you have. You have to learn the words beforehand. Baptism is a magical ceremony, so you have to learn them well. Otherwise, you may not receive the blessings."
"And how do I know if I do?"
"You will feel it, quite simply. Light will invade your spirit, you'll feel more confident and energized. Perhaps you should come two hours before dawn, then."
"It's set. Oh, by the way, we met a gypsy down there in the street. He's got a few things we want to buy, but he said he's got them in the camp. Is it safe to go there?"
"Safe? Usually so, I think. But they don't take visitors that frequently. Still, selling expensive merchandise is one of the few things that make them grant some hospitality. But he may yet change his mind and come to you with a cart and a donkey and his entire load there. Ahahah!"
"What's so funny?"
"Sorry, nothing. Just a thought, really... Well, since we're at it, there's something I have to tell you. Remember the fog you crossed to enter the village?"
"How do you know we crossed it? You don't know when we arrived..." asked Yuri suspiciously. In reply, Donosty exited the church and invited the group to follow him. Stretching his arm, in a wide circular motion, he pointed at the horizon and said in a solemn voice
"Do you see the fog there, and how it extends past the limits of the village? Do you see how it forms a rim, a circle around the houses and the fields? That is the ominous, terrible fog of Barovia, and it has been there for four-hundred years, without having been lift one single day! It is not always as is today. Most of the time, it encircles also the Castle high there atop the cliffs. It crosses the Old Svalich Road somewhere within the forest, between the Gates and the bridge over the Ivlis. But it is known to shrink and expand, now and then. That fog is the reason why this village is a prison! That is why the folks here are depressed and devoid of belief! That is why this old village has been for so long forsaken, miserable, wretched. That fog, which breathes from the earth, is poisonous. Any person who enters it and breathes it inhales a latent poison which triggers only when he or she crosses the fog again. Then, it expands, filling the lungs and depriving it of their life's blood: air! The person begins to choke afflictively and unless she returns to the village, will die of suffocation."
His words sunk deep within the group, but before they could react, he added, in a lighter but ironic tone
"But!, as you will learn during your travels, the Vistani know mysteries no man can understand. Masters of the land they're not, but neither is the land their mistress for they can thwart its most basic imprisonments. Even this fog that defies all mortal intelligent beings has been overcome by them, for they know an antidote for that poison. And what's more!, they sell it liberally to whomever wishes it. In fact, it has become an exit toll from the village of Barovia: 5 gold coins per head, and you're free to go. Black-hearted Vistani, always ready to make a profit no matter how dire the circumstance!"
He breathed in deeply and then continued
"Which reminds me of another thing they can do which also befuddles me: they don't fear the night! I tell you, if I decide sleep outside this building, even if it is but ten metres away from it, I wager eight to ten against you that I won't live to greet the morning. And yet, the Vistani have always slept outside any protective walls, in the middle of the forest, sleeping even on the hard ground, for not all of them have their vardos. And no one ever heard that they had been attacked by foul beast of creature of darkness because of it. I simply can't fathom it."
"They sleep in the open because that's their place in the Scheme of Things", said Yuri.
Donosty had been talking for so long without interruption that he was almost surprised by Yuri's comment. He looked at him trying to understand his words, but only murmured
"Scheme of Things?" Then his thoughts wandered and he asked all of a sudden
"By the way, where did you sleep last night?"
This time, it was Yuri to answer
"We found a circle of stones. We thought it would be a good place and we camped there."
"Oh, the Circle of Stones. Mighty ancient magic there, yes. Come in, come in again. Let me show you a thing about that Circle."
They followed Donosty inside once again
"There is a small room we keep aside for books and records. It's got just a few, but there is one that may excite your interest."
They entered a small room with an old oak table in the middle and one bookshelf against a wall. There was barely space for them to move, and no chairs or stools.
Donosty surveyed the shelves and quickly found the one he was looking for. He opened it over the table and spoke
"This book was handwritten by Sasha Petrovic, the second priest of the Morning Lord church. He told part of his life in this book and of how he came to know the Morning Lord. When he was a child, he dared one day a friend of his to go spend the night in the woods. He was a half-Vistana on the part of his father, so perhaps that justifies this silly idea. Children's play, insensate by all accounts but it saved Sasha's life. Sasha and his friend spent part of the night within the very same circle you yourselves did. It was old already by then, and already by then it was sacred to some god. It had a fame that no bad thing could enter it and truth be told, nothing harmed them. They spent some hours there, until a strange glow that came from the village alerted poor Sasha. He ran back to Barovia, even though it was still night, to find that his house had been burnt to the ground and all his relatives killed inside. He was despised and abandoned by all, because of his father, no less. He had been tolerated only because his mother was the daughter of the burgomaster, but with all of them dead, he was simply outcast. The only person who took him in and gave him shelter was the mad Martyn Pelkar, who had been for some months lauding a new god no one ever had heard of: the Morning Lord, Master of the Sun and the Dawn. This was three-hundred years ago, give or take ten.
Sasha grew in Martyn's care and helped him rebuild an old temple, now reconverted to the Morninglord's cult, in fact, this very same church where we are now. When Martyn died, it fell on Sasha to continue his work. Sasha's faith was enormous and he never wavered in his beliefs. He is the true father of the Cult, and the model we all follow. Martyn never garnered another friend or follower in his life, so without Sasha, we wouldn't probably be here today. So you see, that Circle is intimately connected to the Church of the Morning Lord.
But in fact, there is more to tell about it. This book here also tells of another important thing in the history of Barovia, but belongs to the realm of myth and legend. It tells of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. It is important to note that there is a whole section of Sasha's life that he deliberately occults in this book. It is precisely when he comes to talk of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. He tells us that old myths spoke of a piece of the sun that was buried in Barovia and that could help the day vanquish the night for once and for all. He suggests that this refers to the Symbol and that it was found in that circle exactly, but that it was lost soon afterwards and that no one knows where it is. That's when he refuses to say more. He resumes the story some years later, and we note it is a different Sasha that writes it: more mature, more adult, less emotive and colder, more factual and without a great deal of his younger enthusiasm. He has been marked by some great grief we shall never know and he's more measured in his words. But I have read this book quite a few times and with excruciating attention, and I have come to concude that perhaps, just perhaps, reading between the lines and imagining his feelings, that Sasha still managed to find, in these years that he conceals, the Holy Symbol of Ravenloft, that he saw it in his grasp but that he failed to ultimately recover. Where it was then, where it remained, what force so great overcame it and kept it, and strangely important, it seems, who were his allies, Sasha won't tell and prefers to forget."


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