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 37

Yuri remained at his post of observation for a long time. He studied the night intensively, waiting for a clue that a feeling within told him would come. He could not explain his conviction, but he did not descend from the rooftop until perhaps one hour later, perhaps an hour and a half, a fire erupted in the woods to the south. Yuri could see a large area catching fire and a just some moments later, a kind of a tower of flames moving away, further south. It extinguished itself not long after, but the fire took longer to stop. In an area so densely forested as this part of Barovia was, it was really fortunate that it was autumn, which is always harshly and cold in this region. Most of the trees were wet, and some still had signs of the last snowfall, so the fire didn't catch easily. On the other hand, that was a warning sign: whatever was causing these fires seemed to have no problems in igniting large regions in difficult conditions, which in itself was sign of a power to be reckoned with. Yuri took careful notice of the some reference points regarding the fire, although it was quite difficult to judge them at long distance.

The fire in Borgodyna, on the other hand, was controlled two hours later by hand labour. Eva and Gheata lent their efforts to fighting it, and later it was made known that a wagon had been pushed against the palisade with some barrels on it. The explosions were a mystery to the Barovians, but Gheata, Yuri and the others all thought of one thing: gunpowder. They would have to investigate that in the morning.

19th Ocotber 751, Night of the Full Moon

When light came, they first took breakfast and then went for their weapons. The first person they met at the barracks was a plain guard to whom they said they wanted their gear so they could move away. The man answered indifferently
"The captain's the only one with the keys. You'll have to ask him for it."
"And where is he?" demanded Yuri.
"He's at the prison questioning some prisoners. I guess it won't harm if you go look for him."
The guard pointed to a door that gave way to a narrow corridor, at the end of which was the prison block. Yuri said he would wait, but Gheata and Gregor decided to go talk with Konstantin. They found Konstantin in a naked room that had in the corner a cage where women, children and old men were almost piled up, prisoners. Konstantin stood in the middle of the room, kicking a woman at his feet while two guards watched. The prisoners wailed of despair and impotence, while the woman contorted with pain on the floor. The captain cried
"Where are the bandits that started the fire tonight? Where is Ardonk Szerieza?"

The woman merely cried, begging for mercy, and cried some more, grabbing Konstantin's ankles. The other prisoners echoed her pleas, but the Captain was hard as stone:
"I know you scum know who did this. I know you know their family, their hideout, and you are going to tell me this!"

And as he was going to kick the woman again, Gregor intervened, addressing the Captain directly.
"Excuse me."
Konstantin turned around, faced Gregor and questioned him with his eyes
"Are you sure this is necessary?" said Gregor.
"If you know some other way, tell me. These dogs know things I want to know, and it's for their good."
"But, surely this is no way to treat innocents. It was not them who threw fire to the palisade..."
"But they're of the same ilk. I want those rebels and these..." and he pointed disdainfully at the prisoners "these support them."
"Come on, now, I'm sure we can arrange some other way. I was thinking we could track those criminals instead. They shouldn't be hard to find. But please, don't hit that woman anymore, she's has suffered enough already..."
Konstantin acceded to Gregor's pleas
"Very well, but what was it that you wanted then?"
Gregor grinned and said apologetically
"Our weapons, sir."
"Very well, come with me."
But instead of leaving the room, the captain opened the cage and wrestled a child from her mother's arms. Again the people cried as Gregor, perhaps too diplomatic, chose not to intervene. The captain kicked away a few people and managed to bring the poor girl out of the cage, closing it afterwards.
"Let's go!"
as the prisoners cried from the top of their lungs
"Assassins! Murders! Heartless dogs!" and a woman added
"It sure is no hero that which beats women and tortures children."
Gregor was appalled, but didn't do anything. Gheata did not disapprove of the Captain's actions, and indeed thought he had been too lenient. Had it been with him, he'd probably have gutted the woman immediately instead of beating her.
Konstantin led the others out of the cell and said to Gregor
"They'll talk in a minute, you'll see."
Gregor asked, preoccupied
"What will you do to the child?"
"What really matters is: what do THEY think that I will do to the child?"

Gregor gulped and asked no more questions. Konstantin then moved to the wall and revealed a cleverly hidden panel behind which a steel door gave way to a safe cabinet where he kept weapons and other things best hidden. He asked the others for their claiming tickets and then returned their weapons.

Equipped once again, the group went to analyse the wreckage, where they found iron arcs as those used to reinforce barrels. Of the cart proper, there were not many vestiges, but the testimony of the guard who gave the alarm dissipated all doubts. Studying the site, it was apparent to all of them the cart had been pushed from a small slope where they found a crude ramp crafted hastily in wood, probably used to improve the rate of descent of the wagon. Near its base, they found a black dust they had no difficulty in identifying as gunpowder.
"Well, this clears the doubts as to the origin of the explosion. Funny that these guys seem to have not yet learnt about it" said Gregor, half-mockingly. Eva, meanwhile, was already busy at work looking for other tracks.
"Hey, I found some marks here!"
"Yes, like three people have moved away from here and into the forest. Here, see?"
She followed the lead to see if it was a veritable track they could follow. It was faint, and hard to see, but suddenly she gave a cry of surprise
"What is it?", asked the others.
"There are some VERY strange tracks here. I have never seen anything like this!"
The others ran to where she was, about 50 metres away from the ramp, and she pointed to the floor. A clear track could be seen, coming from the inner woods and almost superimposing on the first track, as if the creature that made it were following the first three people. But it was the track itself that was uncommon: it did seem like footsteps of a bipedal being, but in place of the right footprint was a circumference deeply etched on the ground about forty centimetres in diameter, but without pressing on what remained inside that line. The left footprint was an irregular rectangle of a massive weight pressed on a solid area.
"Wow! Now this is strange!"
These were marks everybody could see, and the track was conspicuous. They had no problem following that and analysing its main characteristics. Gregor noted the steps were irregular, some wider than others, and wiggling to pick the best path instead of cutting a straight line. But on the other hand, it seemed to him that a normal person would have made a track more irregular and unpredictable. The others were at a loss to explain the track, all Eva could say was that it was not natural, but Gregor said.
"I have a theory that may explain this. A construct!"
Only Yuri was vaguely aware of what he meant, and Gregor continued
"But it's not a perfect machine. The irregularity of its steps shows us that there is something animal-esque in it, something... random, instinctive, or intelligent."
Yuri replied
"But those are things made by wizards, aren't they? And incredibly tough and dangerous, I hear say."
"Huh, I guess so..."
The other shuddered at the possibility, but still the general consensus was that they should follow the tracks just to see where they led, and if Gregor's theory was right.
About one hour later, they reached an area in the forest that had burnt completely and recently in a circular space of about 100 metres diameter. Yuri was sure this was the same place where he had seen the fire sprout in the night.
Near the centre, they could see three blackened bodies completely consumed by fires, and on the other side of the recent clearing, another group of 4 people approached. Everyone in the group noticed the approaching party, and likewise on the other side, so that both groups stood motionless for a few minutes, trying to evaluate the other side's intentions. Gheata's first reaction was to draw his greatsword, but as the other side didn't show harmful intentions, he took the short sword instead. No one else in the party reached for their weapons, and Gregor advanced cautiously signalling peace. The others approached in an equally cautions manner, claiming they came in peace.
The party was composed of three men and a woman. One of the men wore a black tunic that covered him up to his feet, and brought a medallion around his neck that held a small silver sickle. The other three were dressed in practical clothes, fit to roam the woods. It was possible they had some armour underneath, but no one could say for sure. What left no doubt, however, was that they were armed. One man advanced from the group and asked
"Where are you from? You look foreigners."
Gregor took up the conversation, as they had spoken in Balok and no one but Irina could speak it.
"We came from Irvanika, and then we have been to Barovia village. We've been kind of touring the world."
The others shook their heads in disbelief.
"No one makes tourism anywhere, much less so in Barovia. But even so, how did you come precisely here?"
"Well, we were yesterday in Borgodyna, and we saw a fire here in the forest and we came to investigate it. And you?"
"We? We came for them" pointing at the corpses in the middle of the clearing.
Gregor offered their help and the groups approached and met over the unfortunate ones who had cruelly been killed by the flames. Yuri and Evangelina studied the marks. The tracks they had been following ended there, or better, inside the clearing, they scrambled as if there had been a fight in that place. And whereas the track of the creature eventually followed south out of the clearing, the other track of the three people obviously belonged to the three corpses.
Gheata let his dog search the corpses, but Gregor and Yuri advised him not to for the other party might not like it. This time, Gheata accepted the advice and recalled his dog, which permitted Gregor to question the others again.
"We've also seen a fiery creature move away from here. Do you know anything about it? I've heard they say that is the Morning Lord."
At those words, the woman in the back spat out furiously
"That was surely not the Morning Lord. I've seen that hideous creature battling them and I'm sure it was not him!"
The others supported the woman's outburst with nods and affirmations, and Gregor continued, with as charming a tone as possible.
"That comes as a relief to me, you know, and really, I never believed that story either... You see, I'm a priest of the Morning Lord, and it grieved me a lot to know it was causing havoc indiscriminately."
The other band reacted positively to Gregor's words, safe for the man in black. Gregor studied him. He recalled his studies at the monastery of Ezra, in the time when he learnt something about Barovian culture and other religions in general: that sickle was the holy symbol of Erlin the god of death of old Gundarak, when it still existed.
This confirmed one thing that was already clear in everyone's mind: this other party were clearly rebels too, in league with those that had been harassing Borgodyna lately. These were the men were hunting, after all, but they had a brief conversation in Mordentish among them, while the other party tended to the bodies, endeavouring to take them away.
"These are the rebels we sought", said Gregor.
"Then, let's kill them" tried Gheata, but the others opposed.
"Frankly, I never bought this theory of the rebellion too much", said Gregor, "I accepted only because of the money and weapons... and frankly, I was afraid of the count".
Yuri supported him
"I'm definitely against it. Right now, the construct seems to be a much graver threat, and the rebels can wait. Actually, after what I saw in Borgodyna and around here, I'm not sure the Balok are fighting the right war".
Eva was more or less indifferent to the route the conversation was taking, but Irina chafed a bit. She hid it, however. She had been brought up in the Balok culture, but at the same time beyond the Svalich Pass the Gundarakites weren't really heard of. They were too distant a problem, and Irina was fair at heart. She let it go without pronouncing a word, but when she understood they had taken orders from Strahd himself, she was quite shaken and fearful. She simply asked
"So you are going to forsake the mission you had?"
Yuri simply answered
"No, not forsake it. We merely had to collect information, so we'll do that. Just that. He never wanted us to kill anyone."
Irina didn't press on the matter. She was uncomfortable enough.
Gregor questioned the others again about the creature.
The first man said they had seen their friends battling it, but that their weapons were completely ineffective.
"It all lasted too little. They caught fire quickly and even the arrows they shot from afar simply stuck there on its wooden carcass without relenting it at all. And it pounded on them with such violence that they were almost smashed into the ground. I tell you, they died much before the fire consumed them."
Irina and Eva averted their eyes for a minute, in disgust of the imagined scene. Gregor and Yuri continued pressing the other for details (with Gregor translating for the other two) and found that the creature was made of wood, several strange parts of wood, mostly of the kind you find in farms: the right foot was a bucket upside down, while the left was a simple block of wood. One of the arms was a pitchfork, perhaps the only non-wooden part of the abomination. Its torso was a huge water reservoir and the arms and legs, made of several planks and similar things, had more joints than people. But still, it had a distinctively humanoid semblance.
"It's as I said", commented Gregor, "it's a construction."
The Gundarakite marvelled at the suggestion, and Yuri added
"I guess they also call it a Golem."
"So you mean there are more like these?" asked the now afraid Gundarakites.
"Well, there are rumours, and stories, of one or two of these things around the world, but mostly I thought they were simply myths and novels' villains", said Yuri.
"Relax, if there were more, we'd know. But" continued Gregor, "have you seen it go away?"
"Ah, yes. Lorella here followed it hidden in the dark when it moved away. When the flames faded, she could see it, and that's when we knew most of what I told you already."
"So it can walk around without being in flames too", pointed Gregor.
"Yes, it can. We need to destroy it, you know?"
"I agree. And you have got yourselves new allies to do it."
"We thank you. We'll need that help."
"So, do you know of a nearby village we can sleep in?"
The Gundarakites offered directions to some of them, although they reinforced the fact that they had all been previously attacked and that none could be considered secure but, on the other hand, all the attacks had specific targets.
"What do you mean?"
"Everytime it happened, it was just one or two houses that burnt, killing everybody inside."
"And were they Gundarakites?"
"Mostly yes, but some Baloks have been taken too."
The talk lasted for long, until they uncovered several things about the attacks. They began after the initial death of boyar Ivan Szimin, and the first burnings outside his house. A farmer had been killed in the next minutes, burnt to ashes, while two others were caught in the following day in the same manner. Then, the fires moved away and spread across the properties of several boyars in a random manner. Many of the deaths happened when a whole house burnt, killing the whole family inside, but other victims were simply caught out in the open.
After that, the two groups separated. Gregor and Yuri wanted to go on with the Gundarakites, but they refused, saying they had to remain hidden. So, the group went on itself to the village they had been pointed to. In fact, they spent the rest of the day studying the countryside. They passed by three villages where they could confirm the stories they had been told. They noticed the peasants were afraid of them, and an old man said plainly that the boyar had already taken everything. At Yuri's questioning, he explained that taking the fires as excuse he had come to get more of the stock for the winter claiming that his own reserves had dropped, but in fact, he surely was not attacked, and it was the very farmers from whom he was stealing now that were affected by the fires. That winter then would come a double strife against famine.
They left the people worried about their fate, but offered no comfort or solace. They had their own problems themselves. They settled in a village, in a guesthouse, where they got two rooms. In the privacy of one of them, they debated what they had uncovered about the Golem:
"This is a hideous thing to battle", opened Yuri, "we know it has incredible strength and is probably immune to fire. On the other hand, it must be very subject to water, and that is something we should exploit."
Gregor added that it was probably as fast as they were, for Yuri had seen him 1 hour after he had been on his vigil.
"That makes probably one hour and a half since the incident and since that was more or less the time it took us to reach the clearing, we have to assume it is fast."
"Right! Then, common weapons don't work against it."
"We have silver weapons", offered Gheata.
"I know, but somehow I feel that is not enough. We need magic here, I'm almost sure."
"More than that", thought Eva, "we need information."
"True", confirmed Yuri, "and we'll have to make several tests with it to uncover its true powers. I bet that if we could attract it to a river we could destroy it."
"At least", joined Gregor, "it must not be very bright. From the stories I've heard, they always have a master who effectively commands them, and they tend to be relatively dumb."
"I just hope you're right, Gregor, but that's another thing to confirm. There's a lot of work to do, boys and girls, and perhaps finding how Ivan Szimin died and how all of this started is the first thing to do."


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