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, January 10, 2006

Log Entry 35

Gheata sat in the dark, the sun having set in the horizon two hours ago. In the same squalid, fetid room, the five Gundarakites looked at him, uneasily. Since their release, the conversation between them and Gheata had been nearly non-existent. Only one of them could barely understand and make himself understood by Gheata. But now, as the five men made preparations to sleep, Gheata tried to understand who they were and what they were going to do on the next day. There was not much he could perceive, and the contact was frustrating at best. The Gundarakites clearly were distrustful of him, but Gheata tried his best to assure them that his intentions had been honest. In the few phrases each understood, Gheata was able to tell their leader that he had rescued them because the whole situation had seemed simply unfair to him. This eased their watchfulness on Gheata a bit, and three of them lain against a wall to sleep.
Gheata still tried to uncover more of the Gundarakites' intentions adding gestures to words, but all he understood was they were going to a nearby village, perhaps an hour away. Borgodyna, he learnt, was between a half-day and a day away. Weary at last, Gheata himself laid to sleep without worries.

16th October 751, Third Night Before the Full Moon

The sun woke him in the next morning. Looking around, he was surprised to find he was alone. They had not taken anything from him, but they had left without leaving any trace of their passage. They were probably used to running away, although they didn't seem rebels... or at least, not until now. The house, however, had probably served more of their kind. It was abandoned and decayed, and could only serve as a temporary and desperate shelter and passing point for indeed its roof had collapsed in parts and there were many holes in the walls. The floor was littered with broken clay and putrid wood. Small heaps of decayed straw abounded, along with old rags that had once been clothes, and a pervasive smell of human necessities. It seemed more insufferable now than on the eve, when they had arrived. By then, he was still distracted with the unquiet presence of the others and the excitement of the flight. The Gundarakites seemed to know the militia wouldn't look for them there, in the heart of the slums. And in truth, the whole neighbourhood was very mazelike in its deepest parts, and that had been just the reason why the Gundarakites had gone there. But now, it was too much. Surely, there could be better houses around.
Gheata stepped outside into the cloaked sunlight. A grey sky, foggy and bearing the promise of rain, received him unwelcomingly. The street he was on led into barren moor to his right, and to another street like it to his left. He walked to this new way, which was little more than an alley. He wandered aimlessly and carelessly, until at last he found another abandoned house to his liking, all the while crossing paths with some urchins and being watched by suspecting neighbours who, however, looking at his sword and fierce look, refrained from calling his attention.

* * * * * * * * *

The next morning, after breakfast, Gregor announced that he was going to do some errands that day. There were some things he wanted to check in the market and besides, he really wanted to see that herbalist again. Eva was going with him because she knew something of the art also and wanted to learn more of it.
In reality, though, he was bent on finding Gheata. The man he had seen on the eve eluded him now and he thought that the best place to look for Gundarakites would be the Sanctuary. As he had thought, there were several there, adding their chants of sorrow to their prayers of misery in asking their god for blessings and deliverance. Gregor walked around, trying to pick up on the conversations. He wanted to know if these people had heard aught of the commotion of the eve.

Wandering around he heard two men that talked in a conspirational tone:
"... it's as I tell you, we should revolt!"
"The Morning Lord forbid! We can't, that would be a blood bath. The Master of the Dawn will provide for us as He's always done."
"You tire me with that complacent talk. I don't doubt that he will deliver us, but I'm sure we ourselves must do something to deserve it first."
"Aye, hold steadfast in the grief and be worthy of his boons when he finally comes."
"His boons, his boons... How will you be worthy if you sit here all day and do nothing else but pray? We should set examples, like those good ones yesterday..."

This was just what Gregor had been hoping to hear. Ostensively pulling his holy symbol to the exterior of his vests, he approached the men and introduced himself
"Good morning, my brothers. I couldn't help overhearing you speaking about the Morning Lord, and since I'm a priest, perhaps I could shed some light on your doubts?"
"Welcome, father" said the second man "me and my friend here we're having exchanging ideas on how best to please the God."
"So I heard", nodded Gregor, "but what was that about rebellion? Surely things are not that bad, are they?"
"You know we are oppressed, Father."
Gregor and the man moved away from his friend.
"Yes, but a rebellion, isn't that too much?"
"Then, you agree with me, that we should hope for the Morning Lord."
"Well... Agree I do, but I also think we should not rely entirely on Him. You should do something also, although not a rebellion, that is too much. But talking with your neighbours, vying for the welfare of the society, for example."
"Priest, you do know how we live here in Barovia, don't you?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to explain the situation to me for I'm a foreigner and not acquainted with the reality of Barovia."
"I thought so. We are oppressed, here. When I was young, I lived in Gundarak. I had my own country. Now, that country does not exist, it is simply part of Barovia, and we are the despised downtrodden community, the lower commoners of this land. Priest, I just want a chance to be equal to my Balok neighbour, but how should I do it? What does the Morning Lord say I should do? Fight, as my friend here says? I don't think so, I do not want blood. I've learnt to live here in peace, even if I still don't have for most of what the Baloks have."
"But you can't just sit and wait, man!" Gregor said determined. But he wasn't completely sure of the advice he should give. At the moment, though, his interest was more on finding Gheata, and he came to the conclusion that this man was not going to be of much help towards that.

He quit his company and looked for the first man, the one that had been in favour of some rebellion. He found him and approached him again.
"I've heard the ideas of your friend, now I'd like to know yours."
This was just a way to restart the conversation. Gregor soon led it to the theme of the incident of the eve and if the other knew of where the men might have gone to hide. At first, the man was alarmed with the thought that Gregor might be connecting him with some kind of Resistance and that he could be hunting for those, but Gregor said that with the men was a foreigner and that he was interested in that man, as he too was a foreigner and they should support each other. The other told him clearly that he found his motives obscure and his logic defective, but that for the gold coins he could send a message to that other man. For two more Wolf-Fangs, he could even have the man come disguised to the Sanctuary.

Having settled on this, he went back to Eva and explained the situation to her. She had been distractedly waiting for the whole scene to play out, looking around at the church and studying the people. But that bothered her, so when Gregor said he was done, she was happy to leave the temple and go with him to the market. They visited the herbalist gain for some new guidelines and then whiled the morning away. Gregor had sent word to Gheata to meet with him in the temple at dusk, and for the rest of the day he and Eva merely walked around Krezk knowing the city and its peoples.

* * * * * * * * *

That day was uneventful to Yuri and Irina. They passed it at the inn, where Irina confessed his inner doubts to him. She was afraid of her magical powers, and unsure of where they came from. Was she the daughter of some devil? The spawn of a hag? Yuri tried his best to assuage her, and convince the poor girl that some people were just born with her gift, and that she should be thankful for it. But he understood that the superstitious nature of Barovians could endanger Irina and the party if her powers were known, so she should kept them secret while in the middle of people, be it in a city or a hamlet. They were best kept for the wilderness and desperate occasions.

* * * * * * * * *

Gheata had settled in another empty house perhaps an hour ago when a man he did not know, covered by a cape and hood, came to him. He bore a note and had a small pack tugged under his arm. He gestured to Gheata showing that those things were for him. Gheata looked him up suspiciously, but the other didn't speak. Gheata picked the note and read it: it had been written by Gregor and asked him to go to the Sanctuary of First Light at dusk, so that they could plan their exit from the city the next day. The pack had, as Gregor said in the letter, a worn hooded cape, good enough to hide Gheata's features.

Later that evening, Gheata and Gregor talked in the shadows under the eastern wall of the temple.
"Look, Yuri is fed up with you. He told us he'd deliver you to the authorities, so I think he is clearly aghast with your attitudes. You're lucky I'm a bit more tolerant than him, so I'm ready to give you a chance."
Gheata simply nodded, but within he felt a slightly unpleasant tang. He had never thought on the consequences of his actions. As he had always lived almost alone, or only with his family, he never gave consideration to what the others might think of his actions. Just for a brief moment, he winced somewhat resented, but then shrug off the feeling and came back to his usual impassive stance. Gregor never noticed his flexions of expression and went on.
"So, we're leaving tomorrow. I think you should meet us on the way outside the city, as if by accident. Yuri will not object to having you with us again, I'm sure of that."
Gheata nodded and said simply
Gregor added
"Is that all? Thanks at least would be nice. You could show some gratitude now and then. Oh, and by the way. Give me money for your weapons that we'll be fetching tomorrow. And since you're at it, give me 5 more coins. That's how much finding you and getting you the disguise cost me."
Gheata gave him the money for his weapons.
"Where's the rest?" asked Gregor.
"You're a priest. Shouldn't priests be generous?"
Gregor was not expecting such a crude answer. A swift anger welled inside him, but he disguised it.
"Generous or not, I did it for you! You should pay me."
"I won't."
"Dastard! Do not expect more favour from me. I begin to think Yuri is the right one, and I already regret having made all this fuss to find you."
"Oh, come on, don't make a drama. Here you are: 5 coins. Where do I meet you?"
"We'll take the West Road. Wait for us about half an hour outside town. We should reach you two hours after dawn."
Gheata understood the bluff. Gregor was still mad at him.
"I did not know you priests also lied."
"Look, I've told you what we'll do. Now, believe it or not."
"But we were going to take the South Road."
"We were? So what? We have to make a detour. We heard something about an impediment a bit ahead on the road."
Gheata looked at him Gregor, suspicious of what his companion had said. Then, he turned back and went away, letting a mere, cold
"See you tomorrow."
escape his lips.
Gregor breathed deep and went back to the inn, where he met the rest of the band.

17th October 751, Second Night Before the Full Moon

On the morning, Gregor and the others went to the market and found their weapons were ready. They took them, and were getting ready to go when Gregor said he had taken a bad step and couldn't walk.
"I have to rest for a while. This is hurting and I fear it will swell. It won't harm much if we wait an hour or two, will it?"
He was so convincing the others accepted, but in reality, he was simply feigning. He feared Gheata would still take the South Road, and so wanted be there as late as possible. In the end, they had lunch at the same inn and departed only one hour after noon.

* * * * * * * * *

Gheata left the abandoned house early that day, and considered what road to take. Trusting his instincts, he took the South Road and decided to wait just a bit outside town, after the road turned west to border the northernmost fringe of the Tepurich Forest and before plunging into it, taking at last the direction south. He waited about half an hour, and then another hour after the hour he had set with Gregor. Tired of waiting, and thinking that perhaps Gregor had said the truth, he took on the road and entered the forest.
This region of Barovia was densely forested and Tepurich Forest was one of the oldest and most pristine in the whole Core, well protected from the harsh winds from the East by the Balinoks, there crowned by the ominous figure of the Dread Mount. Gheata followed the road through the dense green expanse. The ground curved in a steady slope to the west, foretelling the presence of a river to that side. Over the trail, however, the trees were less dense, and allowed Gheata to see the sun peeking timidly from time to time in a diffuse light behind the grey veil that overcast the sky. The air was cold as a cutting edge, sharpened by a light breeze, although nothing like the weather they had suffered in the mountain. Despite the light fog that could be seen in the distance, hovering above the trees, and the cloudy sky, the landscape was still fascinating, with the many thousand tones of different colours in the trees: gold, red, orange, brown and yellow gave the forest the look of a luxurious painting. The colours, the scent of the moist earth, the singing of the birds and the friendly rustling of the fallen leaves carpeting the floor would warm a kindlier heart than Gheata's, but he remained attentive and focused on the possible dangers around him.
The road became a mere trail after it penetrated the woods, but half an hour later, it degraded to a poorly kept condition that eased the walk among the undergrowth only slightly. Used to forests and the wilderness, his keen senses alerted him to something unusual. He looked up and saw, hanging from the trees, a series of monstrous spiders, enormous for what he was used to see: they would measure about two palms, he thought, and they watched attentively the almost non-existent trail, waiting to plunge on unaware travellers. Gheata was foolhardy most of the time, but not entirely a fool, and alone as he was, he decided to prevent the confrontation. He left the trail and went into the heart of the forest. He walked aimlessly for one or two hours. The fog, meanwhile, descended and enveloped the whole forest, cutting the range of his sight to little more than 2 metres ahead of him.

* * * * * * * * *

After lunch, the group took the South Road towards the forest, unknowingly following the same steps Gheata had treaded before. Gregor looked anxiously to the sides, half-remorseful of having deceived Gheata in this way. He expected at every turn to see his familiar face, and grew more apprehensive as they immersed farther and farther into the forest without any sign of him.
One hour into the woods, the trail became harder to follow, unkempt, almost erased, and the forest became warmer. Eva noticed some tension in the air, some strange feeling that took over her senses. It was as if there was a latent threat in the air waiting for the right moment to strike. The sounds of the forest seemed now more distant, near the border that was long behind now. The very trees seemed alert.
Eva looked wildly around
"There is something strange here. Don't you feel?"
The others agreed reluctantly with her. They thought it had been only their impression, but Eva had shown to be experienced in the wild. She wouldn't be wrong about this. She tried to listen attentively, but she heard nothing more than the wind...
Yuri read her mind
"Nothing, just the wind..." said he.
"And that's what's strange", mused her. "No birds, no beasts... this seems almost haunted."
A shiver went down Irina's spine.
They went on, but treading slowly, almost measuring each step.
With absolute surprise, Eva gave a cry suddenly. She was in the lead and was the first to feel them, but suddenly all the others knew the motive of her cry. Slender, thin, hair like threads adhered slimily to their face, their hair, their hands. They pended from the trees, which seemed to be slavering over the ground. From each branch that leaned over the path, one of those disgusting yarns spilled downwards. One would say the tree was trying to get sustenance from the earth by its branches, but careful examination showed that was not the case: at the end of each one, small worm of about three centimetres at most hang and curled as it reached the ground, trying to dig underneath the soil. Other worms were already climbing back up and others fell on the horses and try to drill through their fur, in search of blood. Eva snapped vigorously at her mare, trying to kill the grubs or at least sweep them away, but as she looked up, she saw that there were some stronger threads in the trees canopy, threads that also descended from the branches but tied to other branches, shrubs, bushes or tall stones. Eva tried to perceive what those threads could be when a group of spiders about 40 centimetres in length fell heavily over them and their horses. Unlike the worms, they seemed more interested in human flesh.

They dismounted quickly trying to gain space between them and the vermin. Eva's face hardened: she knew this kind of animal well, although she had never seen spiders this large. But she had no problems spiking the three spiders that headed onto her direction. Yuri and Gregor also killed their own adversaries sooner or later, but Irina had immense problems with them, and if it had not been for the rescue of the others, she'd probably end her days there under the trees. When the last spider was killed, Eva inspected Irina.
"She's been bitten, and she's very weak. I think she's been poisoned."
"She has? Oh bad luck, I don't have anything prepared for those cases" said Gregor despondently, but Eva retorted
"Never fear, I think I can handle her. I know a bit of herbs."
Eva tended to Irina and after some careful tending, she declared her safe from poisoning.
"We can go now, and Irina can walk", said she, "Even though, I think we should help her carry a few things."
"Fair enough", agreed Yuri. "But do you think it is safe to go on the trail?"
Eva was going to answer affirmatively when she looked at the full extension of the former way. Straining her eyes, she went pale when she noticed that there were far more spiders waiting on the branches above, and that as far as she could see, all the trees were thus crowded.
Trembling involuntarily and only momentarily, she said
"I think not, we'd best take to the forest. I doubt Irina would resist another of those incidents.

They left what had once been the trail and turned to tread among the very tree trunks. It was harder for the horses, and they chose to lead them by the reins. Eva kept the lead, and tried to maintain a direction parallel to the old road, or at least in the general direction south. It was not easy, for there were no clear landmarks and the fog was now pressing around them, severely curtailing their visibility. They wandered thus for almost an hour when they began to hear the screams of several voices asking for help, followed by another group that seemed nearer and offered incentive and assistance.
Vague diffuse forms seemed to emerge from the low mists as they approached, and after a while they were able to perceive a woman armed with a long sword, and four men equipped with ropes and long staves atop a ravine crowned with trees behind which spread a much denser and darker fog, not unlike a rain cloud extremely low. By the group, five horses could be seen with empty bags hanging from their saddles.
The band was still far, perhaps 20 metres away. The woman was merely observing, while the men pointed their staves in the direction of the mists, shouting
"Over here, over here. Catch!"
towards someone that seems lost in the middle of the fog and screams distressingly for help. Slowly, the first figures clamber out of the mists grabbing the poles offered by their saviours: three young girls, 2 older women and four men are heisted up the ravine and fall exhausted on the ground, breathing heavily. One of the men says their horses and wagon were left behind, and asks if it will be possible to recover them. The answer of his rescuer was blunt and unexpected
"That won't be necessary!"
as he drew a short sword that had remained concealed until the moment and plunges it in the perplexed man's chest. His colleagues swiftly kill the other men accordingly, while Gregor, Irina, Eva and Yuri stood by in terrified shock. The women screamed helplessly, while the seemingly leader of the band, with a sure and fast movement of her sword decapitated, in one single, the most beautiful of the three girls. In the blink of an eye, another head rolled by her feet, and she was going to do likewise to the third when
Irina's will cracked and she fell an incontrollable rage force her to run in the direction of the woman to end that vile action. Gregor recovered his senses and reacted fast, tripping Irina and sending her to the back ranks. He slapped her as his ears were touched by a voice he had already despaired of hearing again: Gheata too was witnessing the scene, emerging from the fog to their right after a few hours of wandering lost in the fog's misty embrace.
The woman lowered her arm, and focused all her attention on the unexpected intruders. Gheata ran to rejoin his group while the four bandits formed a curtain in front of their mistress.
Gregor was still shaken from the whole scene, but he ordered his body to obey his mind and fired a bolt that pierced squarely the woman's thigh, making her lose concentration and stop the gestures and chanting she was making. Yuri complimented him
"You did great, she was going to cast a spell at us, although I'm not learned enough in these arts to understand what she was trying to do."
But she began to chant again as two of the men charged forward. Yuri answered by commanding one of them to shy away and flee, as he had already done several times with so much success, and this time also it worked. Eva and Gheata prepared to receive the brunt of the charge, but Eva trembled: just like Gregor, the nefarious actions she had watched had taken a huge impact on her resolve. Another bolt flew from Gregor's crossbow, but it passed way above the woman's head. The soldiers clashed with strength and Gregor didn't receive the impact well. Losing balance, he almost fell backwards and his opponent got that moment to strike at his shoulder. The blade cut deeply near the neck, and Gregor fell to the ground. Yuri protected him while Gheata and Eva held the other two. Irina, on the back of the ranks, aimed one of her energy balls at the woman, but just the moment before, her own spell came to fruition at last: thick strands shot from her hands and fixed on the trees around them, then multiplied in a sticky web that covered all the combatants, bandits included.
Alarmed, these cried
"Jacqueline, Jacqueline, don't leave us here. Please, free us!"
but she turned around, grabbed the two heads she had cut, put them in the bags and mounted on her horse.
Meanwhile, Gheata fell his opponent, and Irina managed to get free of the web. With difficulty, Eva and Yuri also defeated their enemies and Gregor had another bolt pierce the shapely frame of that evil woman. Angered by what she took as mere insolence, she turned to face them, nonchalantly ripped the arrows from her body and threw them away. Then, she said
"You're going to regret that, priest!" in a despising tone. "See if you'll like your new company!"
She hissed the magic words without interruption, then laughed and said
"Ahahaha.... let's see how you'll fare against my friend when she arrives..." and then galloped away.
This alarmed them. Gheata broke free of the web, but the others remained trapped, despite all their attempts. Meanwhile, Gheata and Irina converged to one point. All of them could now hear the rustling coming through the trees. What would be this company that Jacqueline had announced?

And then they saw it. A huge spider, the size of a donkey, came out of the trees into their direction. Unhindered by the web, she advanced. Gregor cowered: he was nearly dead already, but the monster veered towards Yuri instead. He held her blow and dealt one back with his mace, but Gheata approached them from the outside to distract the verminous foe. It hissed and took his direction, while Yuri, with a supreme effort, broke free of the entangling strands and advanced with difficulty towards the edge of the sticky area. The spider menaced Gheata, but his trusted sword kept him safe and sundered the beast in two.
They rested at last, even though they were still in a dangerous situation: Gregor was in a critical state, and both he and Eva were still trapped in the web, and despite all their efforts unable to walk out of it.


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