The Ravenloft Files: Dead of the Night

The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 24, Chapter One, A Foreshadowing

Through the dense fog, and nearly hidden among the tall weeds and hanging moss, we spotted a dark silhouette, crouching low with pointed ears pinned back in anticipation. Two yellowish orbs with feline pupils stared back at us with obvious menace. Slowly, Redwald raised his double-barreled musket, took aim and gently squeezed the trigger. A loud booming sound echoed throughout the swamp following by the squawking of ravens. When the smoke cleared, the dark silhouette was gone, nowhere to be found. Like a ghost, it had vanished…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Sunday, October 8th 745 B.C.

With the threat of attack from either Emil Bollenbach or any of his henchmen now apparently passed, we had Redwald and Scar go and retrieve the carriage and horses, while the rest of us remained at the windmill and continued looking over the notes and equipment that the mad doctor had left behind. Ladislav was interested in the electrical generator and wanted to see if it might be possible to take it with us. Vance gathered up any alchemical equipment he thought might be useful while I spent more time examining Bollenbach’s notes and updating my journal.

Redwald and Scar have since returned with the carriage and horses and because we have further work to do at the windmill, we have decided to spend the night here. It is possible that Bollenbach, now in the body of his doppelganger golem, might return to try and retrieve his original body or his notes and equipment, and we intend to prevent that from happening. So we will keep a watch out tonight and hope that he does not return.

Monday, October 10th

Fortunately, our night last night passed by with no further interruptions and no attempts by Dr. Bollenbach to retrieve anything from the windmill. So in the morning, after preparing ourselves for the day, Ladislav, with help from some of the others, managed to remove the electrical generator and place it in his magical portable hole, along with some lab equipment and the doctor’s notes on golem construction. We then gathered up anything combustible and piled it in the center of the basement where we placed the body of Dr. Bollenbach. This we then dowsed with oil and kerosene and lit it on fire as we made our exit from the basement. After climbing upstairs, we poured more oil and kerosene inside the windmill and the adjoining shack and likewise set it ablaze. Gathering outside a short distance away, we stayed just long enough to see the entire structure engulfed in flames. Once we were certain that all would be destroyed, we headed out and made our way back to Neufurchtenberg. The plume of smoke could been seen for miles, I’m sure, and we wanted to be as far away from it as possible before anyone came looking for its source, undoubtedly loaded with questions that we did not care to answer.

Thursday, October 12th

After three days of travel through Dementlieu, during which time we encountered no difficulties and for which I have nothing of interest to report, we have arrived, safe and sound, back at our home in the Great Moor of Mordent.

Friday, October 13th

Today, we all decided to make the trip into Mordentshire to check on our businesses and deal with other personal matters. I was hoping to set out tomorrow morning and make another return visit to Il Aluk in Darkon where I plan to search for a few spells that I wish to acquire. So, when we all headed over to the inn to have a few drinks, it was not my intention to stay out late. But as it often happens when one becomes engaged in conversation and enjoys a few drinks, the time just seems to slip away. And then, there was the band of gypsies.

At first we were unaware of them. But after a bit, we noticed a small crowd of people forming not far from the inn, accompanied by shouting and cheering…and the faint sound of a drum beat. When we went to investigate, we saw five gypsies at the center of the crowd putting on a little show. There was one young man and four attractive girls, all in their twenties or thereabout. The man beat out a rhythm on a drum and shouted out like a carnival barker while the girls danced around and posed with curved swords balanced on their heads. The crowd, meanwhile, would occasionally clap, holler and whistle whenever the girls struck a pose, or sometimes laugh at the raunchy jokes told by the gypsies.

We soon found ourselves watching and joining in with the crowd as we seemed to have become mesmerized by their performances, Ladislav in particular. One of the girls, in fact, appeared to take notice of Ladislav, most likely due to his obvious Vistani lineage. When their show was over, they all moved around the crowd with baskets gathering up whatever tips the crowd was willing to offer. As this was going on, the girl who seemed to have taken a liking to Ladislav, approached him and commented on his Vistani ancestry.

She introduced herself as Yana, and by the way she spoke and carried herself, she appeared to be the leader of the band, or at least among the five that were there. She also introduced the others as Joaquin, Sonya, Maria and Anastasia. She and Ladislav had a brief conversation as he told her a little bit about himself and introduced the rest of us. From what we could tell, there were no elders or children among their group and, though they did not all look to be true siblings, they claimed to all be members of the Vodca family.

My intuition, however, tells me that they are more likely to be orphaned or runaway Vistani from different caravans with tragic pasts, and who have banded together to form a family of their own. Whatever the case, Yana invited us to visit with them later on at their vardos which were parked just north of the old mill at the edge of town. There, Yana offered to do a Tarokka card reading for us. We accepted the offer and returned to the inn for a bit, while the gypsies finished attending to the rest of the crowd.

A short while later, after the crowd had dispersed, we left the inn and drove the carriage to the old mill, where indeed we found a couple of vardos and some horses parked near a cozy campfire. There we were soon greeted by the same gypsies and introduced to two more, Aria and Niko, who had stayed behind to watch over the vardos. After some pleasantries, the pouring of some wine and a few brief conversations, Yana invited us into one of the vardos where she pulled out a large deck of cards and began telling us our fortunes.

Having witnessed several Tarokka card readings before, we were somewhat familiar with the cards and their meanings, but every fortune teller, it seems, has a different method of lying the cards out and interpreting them. This time was no exception and Yana’s method was the most unusual I had ever seen. Instead of doing brief card readings for each of us, she chose instead to do one large reading for the entire group. The end result of the card reading was interesting, though as is often the case, sometimes rather vague or confusing. It is usually not until later on, when some of the meanings then become clear. Because the card reading was more extensive than is typical, I have drawn a diagram and made notes elsewhere in my journal for future reference.

When the card reading was over and Yana had answered what questions she could about it, we thanked her and the rest of the gypsies for their hospitality. Then we piled into our carriage and drove the five miles or so to our home in the moors. Upon our arrival, each of us decided to pack our backpacks and Ladislav’s portable hole with gear and supplies for a sudden and unexpected journey. Some of the things mentioned in the fortune telling had us thinking we might soon be departing for parts unknown, and with little or no warning.

Sunday, October 15th

As previously mentioned in my journal, I had planned to set out yesterday morning to Darkon. But due to the late night on the previous night, I slept in longer than I had intended. When I did finally arise, I noticed the fog outside was thicker than it typically is. Fog, of course, is quite normal in the bogs around our mansion, especially overnight. But it usually dissipates to reveal the gray and overcast skies of autumn in Mordent by late morning. Yesterday morning was different and the fog was too thick for my liking. So I further delayed my departure.

By about 10:30 am, the fog still had not shown any sign of clearing. It was about then that we heard Douglas, our gardener coming in from outside, saying he had not seen the dogs for quite some time and he was becoming a bit concerned. A few minutes later, as if on cue, we heard the two dogs barking, off in the distance. This was immediately followed by another sound that had us all very concerned. It was the roar of a large feline, perhaps a plains cat, which are not native to that area.

Each of us quickly grabbed our backpacks and weapons, just in case, and headed out the door in the direction of the barking dogs. Very soon, Redwald was able to pick up the dog’s tracks as we moved out into the bogs. But before long, we suddenly heard the sound of the large feline hissing and one of the dogs yelping in pain. The other dog, barked and growled for a bit. Then all went silent. Hastily we proceeded forward still following the tracks.

Moments later, a dark four-legged shape was seen moving rapidly through the thick fog and towards us. We raised our weapons in defense. But it was only one of the dogs, Eric. We were relieved to see him, until we noticed blood on the dog’s muzzle. We quickly checked and found that it was not Eric’s blood, thankfully. Still, Eric was clearly upset and concerned about the other dog, Erwin. He seemed to be pointing us back towards the brush and fog from where he had just emerged.

We were about to set off in that direction when we heard the sound of movement behind us. Again, we raised our weapons expecting a large cat to come leaping out at us. But this time it was only Douglas. He had followed us by the sound of our voices and wanted desperately to help.

Over our long absences from the manor house, Douglas had grown to be quite fond of Eric and Erwin. Redwald told him to return to the mansion, but he refused to go. There was no time to argue, however, so we pressed on with Douglas right behind us.

Moments later, we finally caught a glimpse of our quarry…

…After Redwald fired his musket, we quickly moved in the direction of the large cat. It was nowhere in sight. But much to our relief, we did come upon Erwin. Unfortunately, our relief immediately turned to concern once again when we realized Erwin was lying on his side with several gouges and wounds around his face and along his flank. He was bleeding badly, wincing in pain and breathing laboriously. Redwald cast a heeling spell on him though, which greatly eased his suffering and soon he was up and ready to move on.

At this point, Douglas offered to take both dogs back to the mansion while we went after the cat. Again, Redwald objected to this, feeling it would not be safe for Douglas and the dogs. But Douglas insisted they would be okay and that it wasn’t that far back to the mansion. Redwald eventually relented, realizing that the cat had to be hunted down. So, we then parted ways with Douglas and the dogs, and continued following the tracks of the cat.

We followed the cat’s tracks for a little bit then through the dense fog. But at some point, we came upon a dry patch in the bogs and soon after we noticed that the trees and vegetation around us were no longer what we had come to expect in the bogs. Gradually, as the fog slowly began to dissipate, we came to the realization that we were now standing in a thick forest of stately oaks, maples, and other leafy trees. The air around us became a bit chillier and less humid than before, while the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn their autumn shades. Clearly, we were no longer in the Great Moor, and judging by trees and the color of their leaves, it appeared we were no longer in Mordent.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter Seven, A Truly Twisted Tale

Peering inside, we saw the cottage had only one room, but all that remained had been demolished, as the walls and ceiling were covered with stains left by unidentifiable materials. We had little time to observe this, however, for something sprang out at us from the dark interior with lightning speed. Roughly humanoid in shape, the torso of the hideous creature was part male, part female, though it had four arms and two heads; one of a man and one of a woman…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Sunday, October 8th 745 B.C.

After learning all that we could about the kidnapping plot from the men we had captured, we got the horses and carriage ready and headed out as soon as possible. We had gotten the innkeeper to send his stable boy into the city to inform the authorities there of the attack and kidnapping. But we had no intention of waiting around for anyone to arrive. According to our attackers, their employers wanted Hans and Annabelle DeFoe alive. So there was still time to rescue them.

Ladislav saw the four kidnappers carrying our two charges towards the city. We could only assume then that they had some plan for getting them inside the city gates, and once inside, we would have a near impossible task of trying to locate them in the twisted streets of Port-a-Lucine. So we decided upon a different course of action.

We knew that eventually, Hans and Annabelle would be taken to the windmill outside of Neufurchtenburg where the apparent mastermind behind the plot, Emil Bollenbach, wanted them delivered. That is why we are currently headed in the opposite direction, for we hope to beat them to the windmill.

Later – Sunday, October 8th

We rode in our carriage most of the day, while Redwald rode alongside on his horse, and reached Neufurchtenburg near the end of the day. We continued on without stopping, however, until we reached the windmill about two miles further on. By the time we arrived, it was well after dark, but we felt confident that the kidnappers could not have beaten us there.

One of the thugs who had aided the four principal kidnappers drew us a map, making it easy for us to find the windmill. In addition, he also told us about a local rumor in the village, which claimed that the windmill was haunted. According to the tale, the young miller and his wife, who most recently lived at the windmill, killed each other during a quarrel several years ago. Each had accused the other of being unfaithful, and their mutual jealousy caused their spirits to fuse into a two-headed, four-armed ghost that haunts the mill to this day. There are those who claim to have seen this ghost. According to the legend, the ghost even maintains the mill’s sails in the dead of the night.

As we were nearing the windmill, the strong wind that had been blowing all day was approaching storm proportions. Occasionally raindrops fell from the heavy clouds, and the wind drove the droplets so hard that they felt like hailstones when they struck us. As we might have expected, the worn sails of the windmill turned at a furious rate and creaked loudly under the strain. The trees surrounding the mill shivered in the powerful wind, while dead leaves raced down the hill upon which it stood.

We left the carriage and horses behind a low strand of trees at the bottom of a hill and proceeded on up. Drawing closer we could see that the mill and the small shack attached to its side looked abandoned, aside from the working sails. As the thugs had told us, there did not appear to be any guards. Still, looks can be deceiving, so we snuck around to the northern side of the shack, where there were no windows, and quickly moved to the door there.

After allowing Vance to check for traps, we braced ourselves for the unexpected and opened the unlocked door…

…The creature that attacked us was clearly stitched together from several corpses, two of which were likely those of the miller and his wife who once lived in the shack. This golem of flesh was without a doubt the source of the rumors about a two-headed ghost that haunted the mill. Though it was no disembodied spirit, it was quite frightening and horrific. Only due to our years of dealing with similar monsters were we able to keep from turning away in fear and disgust.

To make matters worse, just as the golem attacked us in the front, we were struck from behind by a couple of rogues who had snuck up behind us. We recognized these two as the men who had attacked us with crossbows from the roof of the inn earlier in the day. Apparently they had been hiding in the nearby trees. How they managed to get to the windmill ahead of us, I could only imagine. Perhaps magic was somehow involved.

Regardless, while those of us in front fought against the golem, those of us in the rear were forced to defend ourselves from two human adversaries. Scar, of course, went after the golem, since he is better trained against constructs like golems, while Vance tried to gain an advantage against the creature with a flanking position. Truly a hideous engine of destruction bent on killing us, the golem’s two brains however apparently allowed each head and each pair of arms to act independently of the other, thus preventing any flanking maneuver from being effective.

But despite the difficulty of the situation, we eventually managed to take down both of the rogues and then the flesh golem. When the battle was over though, some of us were pretty badly injured. Ladislav had already used up a great deal of his healing magic earlier in the day. So by the time he healed up our wounds after this battle, he had precious little healing magic left. Fortunately, one of the rogues was not quite dead, and with some smelling salts we were able to revive him enough to question him. Like the thugs we had captured earlier in the day, it did not take much to get him to talk. He then informed us that he had been given a potion that he used to send a message to someone inside the windmill, thus ruining any chance we might have to surprise whoever waited inside.

Still hoping we had gotten to the windmill before the kidnappers, though now less sure of it, we dragged both of the rogues inside and looked around. Inside the shack, there was nothing to be found beyond the dead golem and shattered pieces of furniture. There was, however, a door leading into the mill. Vance found no traps and the door was not locked, so we opened the door and shined a light inside the mill.

Like the ramshackle cottage attached to its side, the windmill was filled with shattered bits of furniture and other debris. The millstone, however was not to be found. It had apparently been removed from its place at the center of the mill, and the shaft that would normally connect to it had been extended through a hole in the floor. The shaft was spinning furiously and the gears in the room above were rumbling and creaking loudly. Seeing no other occupants in the mill, Redwald took a moment to look around outside to be certain that the kidnappers were not approaching.

Vance, however, made a more thorough examination of the spinning shaft and the hole in the floor, and he detected a strange odor of ozone and a bizarre crackling noise coming from below. He also found a trap door nearby which would give access to an underground chamber. Recalling the unusual electrical devices we found in the last windmill we visited in G’Henna, the thought occurred to me to somehow cause the shaft to stop turning, which in turn might ruin whatever plans Dr. Bollenbach had devised.

I climbed the stairs to the room above, where the windmill’s gears were located, and quickly determined that a nearby wooden beam could be used to jam up the gears. So we had Scar and Vance lift the beam and shove it into the teeth of the gears, causing a violent crashing sound as the beam was slammed against a brace. This was immediately followed by the sound of splintering wood and the heavy groaning and creaking of the mill as the sails came to an abrupt halt under the strain of the momentum and the fierce howling winds outside.

But despite the continued strain placed upon the entire mechanism, the beam stayed in place and the shaft refused to budge. When we returned to the room below, the bizarre crackling noise could no longer be heard. So we took a moment or two to ready ourselves and pulled open the trap door.

There we saw a chamber dimly lit by a flickering torch that left much of the room cloaked in shadow and a stationary ladder mounted just below the trap door. Using our own light sources to better illuminate the area, we descended into the room and took a look around. In the center of the room stood a large metal box where the shaft from above disappeared into. Thick cords extended from the box’s side, running along the floor and down a hallway before they vanished around a corner. A light from somewhere down the passage cast its faint glow into the corner, revealing the shape of several large crates, in addition to a crate in this room. I assumed the metal box contained an electrical generator of some kind and was glad we had stopped it.

Not far away, around the corner, we heard the sound of movement. So we had Vance quietly scout ahead. He moved to the corner in the hallway, observed what he could, and reported back to the rest of us. He described a room lit by several lanterns that hung from metal hooks on the walls, creating a smoky yellow light. Across the room he saw a writing desk with bits of parchment and books resting on it and a chair in front. Off to one side, was what appeared to be the corner of a large cage of some kind. But this was all he could see from his vantage point.

We quickly concocted a plan to try and take the occupants of the room by surprise, even though Bollenbach had apparently been informed of our presence, and were just about to put our plan into action when the thought occurred to me to first check the contents of the nearby crate. Upon opening the crate, much to our surprise, we discovered Hans, or what appeared to be Hans. He acted as if he had been unconscious and had only just awakened when we opened the crate. Behaving as if he was very groggy, he seemed to be genuinely shocked and amazed to be found inside a crate and claimed to know nothing of his whereabouts, how he got there, or where his daughter Annabelle could be.

Feeling somewhat puzzled ourselves at how the kidnappers could have reached the windmill before us, we told Hans to go back upstairs and wait for us while we went to check out the other crates. We watched as Hans climbed the ladder, and then we began opening the crates. Despite our efforts to remain as quiet as we could, in hind sight, I realize now that we must have been heard because we were only about 20 feet or so from the nearby chamber where Bollenbach and his accomplices were. Nevertheless, we were allowed to examine the contents of the crates.

Inside each of the crates, we found a large sack that, much to our horror, contained several severed limbs. These limbs appeared vaguely humanoid, but the flesh was grayish white, rubbery, and had a peculiar texture. Adding to the oddity of it all was the fact that the limbs lacked all signs of blood and the flesh did not stink of decay. I assumed they had been chemically preserved somehow and it seemed logical that they were intended to be used in Bollenbach’s flesh golem experiments. But the limbs also seemed somehow familiar to me. They reminded me of the doppelganger we fought at the inn in Darkon where we all met a few years ago.

Still, we had yet to come across any sign of Annabelle. So, having seen the contents of the crates, we then went ahead and put our previously conceived plan into action. For the most part, this largely consisted of using an invisibility sphere spell to try and take Bollenbach and his allies by surprise. When we were ready, I cast the spell and we moved into the chamber at the end of the passageway.

In addition to what I have already described, the furniture also included two long tables just to the right of the entrance where a variety of surgical implements – many of which were more reminiscent of torture devices than medical tools – lay scattered about. There was also a closed door in one of the far walls.

Lying on top of the table nearest to us, there was also the body of an unusual flesh golem – apparently stitched together from the bodies of several doppelgangers. Hideously scarred, this golem, like most other doppelgangers, was a sexless humanoid with rubbery ash-gray skin, sunken eyes, pointed ears, and a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. The wires that ran from the metal box into this room were attached to this golem’s head and torso. On the farthest table lay another doppleganger’s body – but its head was split wide open like a melon and its brain was missing. In the large cage to our left, we saw what appeared to be Annabelle cowering in fear. And in the far corner, beyond the tables, was standing who we assumed to be the infamous Dr. Emil Bollenbach.

He was a slim and fine-featured man whose unruly red hair was streaked with gray. Otherwise handsome, I suppose, he appeared to suffer from a nervous tic that drew up one side of his mouth. This tic, coupled with an insane gleam in his eye, sorely diminished his appeal, as did his rumpled and disheveled clothes which included a bloodstained apron.

As soon as we entered the room, Bollenbach looked straight at us as if he knew we were there, despite our invisibility. Then silver points of fire suddenly appeared in his eyes and a rainbow-flash of color swept away from him and over us. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before and when it passed we were suddenly very visible. Before we could take another step, we were set upon by three men who had been waiting for us just inside the doorway, hoping to take us by surprise. Fortunately, those of us in front had seen the men coming and were able to react in time. A bizarre battle then took place, where initially we focused on eliminating Bollenbach’s henchmen.

Bollenbach, meanwhile, tried to put an end to the violence as he shouted out, “You small-minded ignorant fools! You will not be allowed to stop me again! I am doing this for the good of the world! My creation will destroy the other monstrosities! Can’t you see? Can’t you see?…” He then pleaded for us to stop. But as long as his henchmen continued to fight, so did we.

As the battle continued on, however, we saw and heard more strange things we could not explain. Sometimes it was a loud but brief, bass-pitched hum, sometimes it was a strange translucent, shimmering substance that slicked the area all around us causing everything to momentarily glisten, and sometimes it was more flashes of rainbow colored light or some other bizarre effect – but always it seemed to emanate from or surround Dr. Bollenbach, despite the fact that he did not appear to be casting any spells or using any magic devices. Instead, it appeared he merely had to concentrate in order to produce the effects and rarely did it ever cause or create anything clearly beneficial for the mad scientist – that is, until later in the battle.

Meanwhile, we began to take down Bollenbach’s henchmen and as we did so, and as they hit the floor and died, their lifeless bodies resumed their natural states. We saw then that all three of his henchmen were also doppelgangers. Soon after the battle began, however, we found ourselves under attack by a fourth henchman from the rear. It too turned out to be a doppelganger. Later on, once the battle was over, we were able to confirm that this doppelganger was the same creature who had been posing as Hans just a short while before. So gradually, we began to understand what was really going on, though we still had many questions left unanswered.

As the battle seemed to near an ending, Bollenbach became almost frantic with his pleas for us to stop. Then suddenly, his eyes rolled back in his head and he appeared to faint. Just a moment after his body hit the floor, however, the doppelganger golem jerked to life and quickly rose up from the table. We now found ourselves battling this monster.

Initially, the doppelganger golem was just as difficult to fight as any other flesh golem. But as the battle continued, it too began to display some of the unusual phenomena that Bollenbach had just moments before, and soon we found our weapons had become almost useless. Only a very powerful blow from our weapons had any effect and even these did minimal damage. To make matters worse, what wounds we had managed to inflict upon him were beginning to heal at an incredible rate! On top of this, on a couple of occasions, the golem suddenly became a blur of motion, where the golem was able to move from one place to another in a split second, as if it could briefly shift through time itself! It was even able to produce some of these effects at twice the rate it had been previously. Fortunately for us, the vast majority of these abilities appeared to be only defensive in nature. When it did begin to attack, it was, for the most part, only with its powerful fists, which, granted, were deadly enough on their own.

But, perhaps, the strangest thing of all, was the fact that as the golem battled against us, its limbs appeared to gradually assume the shape of our limbs, one at a time. Soon it had become an odd mixture of itself and of us. I realized this must have been a result of the fact that it was composed of several doppelgangers, and was likely a quality that Bollenbach had found appealing in his quest to build the perfect super-golem. This was all quite disturbing in its earlier stages, but even more so when its head then transformed and took on the appearance of my head! It was all I could do to keep from turning away in horror.

Still, we continued to battle the monster. I knew, of course, that magic would be useless against it. So I summoned an archon to assist in the battle. But this too had little effect upon it. Eventually, though the golem was still injured, we began to sense that it could not be defeated by conventional means. We needed to find a weakness in the monster or we had little hope of destroying it.

Still we could not determine the source of the magic involved, if in fact it was even magic we were witnessing, and yet it was obvious that some very unusual things were happening all around us. Fortunately, Redwald came up with an idea. He surmised there had to be some kind of connection between the body of Bollenbach, which now lay face down on the floor apparently unconscious, and his powerful creation. It seemed logical that either Bollenbach was controlling the golem from his unmoving body, or that Bollenbach had actually transferred his life essence into the golem itself, since we had apparently interrupted the doctor’s procedure by stopping the windmill.

With this thought in mind, Redwald moved past the golem and straddled the prone body of Bollenbach while he pointed his musket straight down at his head. When the golem saw this, the creature suddenly became quite alarmed and tried to move towards Redwald in order to stop whatever he was about to do. But the golem was too late, and Redwald unloaded both barrels of his musket into the doctor’s head. At such a close range, one would have expected there to be nothing left of Bollenbach’s head. But like the golem, the doctor’s head proved to be much more difficult to hurt than we could have imagined. Nevertheless, the musket appeared to do enough damage to his head to cause a mortal wound and it seemed very unlikely that Bollenbach could have survived it.

But if Redwald thought this would have an adverse effect on the golem, he was quite mistaken. In fact, it only appeared to enrage the golem even further, and it was at this point when the golem seemed to lose some self-control as it unleashed some kind of mental attack on Redwald. Here again, we were not sure what happened. All we could say for sure was that the golem glared at Redwald with such an intense anger that Redwald suddenly doubled over and clutched his head in excruciating pain, while blood ran from his nose. Redwald later tried to describe the pain, saying it was unlike anything he had ever felt before. And yet, we got the sense that the golem could have killed Redwald had he really wanted to. Instead, the golem chose to vent its rage with its fists, smashing anything and everything that came within arm’s reach.

Redwald, meanwhile, took the opportunity to open the door on the far side of the room, since he was now standing right next to it. The door opened up to a bare room with a cot, a chest and a wardrobe. A single lamp hung from a hook on the wall, and on the floor next to the cot were an inkwell, a quill, and a well-read book.

Redwald took only a moment to glance inside the room, but to his disappointment, he did not see anything that he thought would be useful in putting a stop to the golem. So by this point, we were all beginning to wonder if there was anything that could be done. Then, much to our surprise, the golem appeared to concentrate one more time and suddenly it vanished as if it had teleported away. But it did not go far, for we then heard it moving around inside the room that Redwald had just discovered. Redwald, who had stepped back out of the room, was now taking the time to heal himself and was not too anxious to look back inside. So we paused for a bit to listen and we heard the golem lifting up the chest, which sounded as if it was full of coins. Then all went quiet.

After a few moments, we looked back inside the room and saw that the golem and the chest were gone. Apparently, the golem had fled. But we could not help but wonder why. The golem appeared to be nearly unstoppable, so why then did it feel the need to run away from us?

We took the time then to heal our injuries as much as we could and looked around at the lab. We found no magic whatsoever and nothing of real value. The only possible exceptions were Bollenbach’s notes and a highly annotated copy of Dr. Van Richten’s Guide to the Created. We did find the keys to the cage on Bollenbach’s body. So we opened the cage and let Annabelle out – or, once again, who we thought was Annabelle.

After some questioning, however, Redwald sensed that she was not being truthful and was about to cast a detect lie spell, when she suddenly confessed to being a wolfwere, which, of course, is a lycanthropic wolf that can assume the form of a human. In an effort to convince us, she then changed her shape into that of another girl. She apparently thought we would be more sympathetic to a wolfwere than a doppelganger. Redwald cast his spell anyway, and it turned out that she was not a wolfwere, but was instead a doppelganger, as we had recently suspected. We continued to question her, and after comparing her answers with those of the notes written by Bollenbach, we were able to piece together a scenario that finally began to make some kind of sense. Afterwards, because we knew we could not simply let loose a doppelganger, we then killed it as well.

In conclusion, it seems that the Frans and Annabelle who we knew, were doppelgangers all along. They had taken the place of the real Frans and Annabelle in Darkon when they were trying to hide from another gang of doppelgangers who were hunting them down. The real Frans and Annabelle had almost certainly been killed long before we were summoned to Lamordia. So we had, in fact, been unwittingly trying to protect a couple of doppelgangers from other doppelgangers who had no qualms about killing their own kind. Bollenbach had apparently struck up a deal with this second group of doppelgangers in order to acquire body parts for his super-golem. He seemed to think that a golem that could assume the form of its enemy was the key to destroying other golems.

As for the other strange abilities of both Bollenbach and his golem, I have begun to suspect that these were all brought about through rare mental powers known as psionics. The fact that Bollenbach was a mad genius who appeared to shun the use of magic, seems to support this theory. Furthermore, I also believe that Bollenbach was able to transfer his life force into the doppelganger golem, which means that he will not be able to return to his original body, due to the fact that his original body was killed. This would also explain why he became so upset when Redwald shot Bollenbach’s body in the head. But this makes me wonder how long Bollenbach will remain in the golem’s body? Could he soon make another such transference and take over someone else’s body? I feel certain it would take a great deal of mental effort to do so. And perhaps that is why he fled from us. Perhaps he was on the verge of exhausting his mental powers. If so, it would mean there is a limit to his mental powers which could be used against him.

On the other hand, will Bollenbach be content to remain in the doppelganger golem’s body? One would think that with time and practice, Bollenbach could learn to use the body to its full potential, in which case he could stay as resistant to magic and weapons as does a golem, and be able to assume the appearance of anyone.

Whatever the case, there is little question that Bollenbach is very likely an incredibly powerful telepath. One that none of us is all too eager to chase after, especially considering the fact that he apparently means to do good by finding a means to destroy other golems. It’s just unfortunate that, in the process, it seems he has created more golems than he has destroyed.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter Six, Arisen from the Dead

When the magic of the rings was enabled, a ghostly entity rose up from the badly mauled woman, wearing an expression of great sorrow and perhaps some resentment at having been killed in such a grizzly manner. With some trepidation as evidenced by the barely discernable quiver in his voice, Ladislav steeled his nerves and began posing questions directed at the disembodied spirit…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Thursday, March 16th, 745 B.C.

It has been almost seven weeks since we left the comfort of the manor house behind, though to be honest it feels as though it has been much longer. And while I left this place with high hopes of somehow returning to my home world, I will admit that when I once again set eyes upon this creaky old manor, centered in this dismally gloomy bog, I was truly filled with a great sense of relief. And yet, I find myself still wondering if this is only a dream, some kind of delusion, or an elaborately cruel hoax played upon us by the capricious and sadistic nature of the Mists.

Nevertheless, after seven hellish weeks spent in the realm of G’Henna, I will gladly take what I can get of this place, and no longer will I be so eager to abandon its meager accommodations, which by comparison are undeniable luxuries. I realize now that perhaps my expectations were far from realistic and that, considering the possible alternatives, I would be fortunate to call Mordent my home for the remainder of my days.

I also feel confident in stating that my companions, at this time, are of the same mind as me and are truly glad to be back at the manor. And, indeed, the servants we left behind, and our two dogs, were also very delighted to see us once again. Unfortunately, we left them in a rather precarious situation when we began our most recent adventure, with little idea of when or even if we would return. I am sure there is much to get caught up on concerning local events. But after such an eventful day, and a lengthy entry into my journal, which I felt so compelled to write down while my thoughts were still fresh, I am quite exhausted and feel the comforts of my own bed calling out to me. So I will now gladly turn in for the night, and pray that in the morning when I wake, I will still be here in my room.

Friday, March 17th

All in all, it has been, for the most part, a rather pleasant first day back in Mordent. Most of us slept in late I believe. But when we finally got up and around, we began to hear of how things have been going in our absence. The servants informed us of some much needed supplies around the manor as well as a few minor items that need our attention.

But after taking inventory of these things, we turned our attention to the one grim task we knew we had to deal with as soon as possible – the two dead bodies in Ladislav’s portable hole. Remembering how superstitious the residents of Mordent are about such things, including our servants, we informed them of the situation and immediately took the appropriate steps to follow the local customs. Once we had done all that was necessary to avoid upsetting the servants, which included storing the bodies in our cellar, Ladislav used a set of magic rings that we had taken from the deceased necromancer, and used them to cast a spell that allowed him to speak to the departed spirit of the dead woman…

…It lasted for several minutes and I must say, it was indeed a most unsettling experience, though one, I suppose, we should by now be somewhat mentally prepared for. Still, the disembodied spirit answered all the questions put to it and we learned that she was simply the wife of a baker in the city of Zhukar and her name was Olga Petrovna. We assumed she was of no direct relation to the High Priest of Zhakata who once ruled the realm of G’Henna and was likewise named Petrovna.

Ladislav’s final question, one that in hindsight he may have regretted asking, though he tried not to show it when he heard the response, was whether or not she had any last requests. The woman’s spirit answered by asking Ladislav to inform her son what had happened to her. Considering the fact that the domain of G’Henna had apparently broken apart and we had no idea what became of its residents, this request was one that would be difficult to fulfil if not impossible, and thus the reason for Ladislav’s momentarily pained expression.

Once the ordeal was over, and the woman’s spirit returned to wherever it had been summoned from, we discussed what to do next with the bodies. Obviously with the necromancer’s body, we would give it a proper burial in the small graveyard we had begun near the manor. But the band was somewhat torn on what to do with the woman’s body. We knew that it was within our power to bring the woman back from the dead and one of the main reasons Ladislav had done the speak with dead spell was to see if the woman was of any importance. Presumably, had the woman been of any importance, it would have made our decision to resurrect her that much easier. But after having learned that she was essentially a “nobody”, some of us now found ourselves in a moral dilemma, since we could not easily justify not bringing her back simply because she was a mere commoner.

The sense of growing guilt in my companions was palpable, and when they began to apply their conscience and reasoning to the problem, saying things like, “We could have saved her,” and “It will only expend a small amount of power from the rod of resurrection”, it quickly became quite evident what the final decision would be. So it was just a short while later when Ladislav used the rod of resurrection to bring Olga Petrovna back to life.

We realized, of course, that poor Olga would likely be traumatized by the whole experience. So Ladislav did his best to explain things to her and offered to help her and watch over her as she came to terms with all that she had been through and all that she had lost. We had a room in the manor prepared for her and we told her she was welcome to stay there as long as she liked. We even tried to come up with some suggestions on what she might do with her second chance at life. Though I also have some concerns on how the servants might react to her in the coming days, considering their superstitious beliefs and their fear of ghosts.

As for the body of the necromancer, we will have a simple burial for it tomorrow. Once all of this had been settled, a few of us took a trip into Mordentshire to tend to some business. I, of course, headed directly to my shop to see how things were getting along there.

To my disappointment, I discovered that in the last month or so, the book keeping there had become disorganized and poorly managed while some of the inventory was missing or unaccounted for. As a result, my shop had made no profits whatsoever during this time. But I suppose that is to be expected if I am to take such an extended leave from the business without a proper manager in charge. Still, I was not too terribly upset and, in fact, I rather enjoyed spending a few hours about town visiting and chatting with friends and acquaintances. By the end of the day, and following a pleasant ride in our carriage back to the manor, I was in a fine mood when we all sat down for diner, and afterwards had some nice conversation by the fireside.

I think we have agreed to spend some of our recently acquired wealth on refurnishing several of the rooms of the manor where the previous owner had sold off quite a bit in order to make ends meet. Some of us are also considering spending some money on businesses in town to further strengthen our ties to the community and give us something more to fall back on in times of need. Redwald has also proposed building a gunsmithy near the manor as well so he can fashion his own guns and ammunition.

Friday, March 31st

It has been two weeks since our return to Mordent and during this time we have accomplished quite a bit. Several of the rooms in the manor have been refurnished and I must say that the place has undoubtedly regained much of the grandeur it once certainly had. Redwald’s gunsmithy is nearly complete. Soon he will be spending much of his time there, I am certain.

Vance has also purchased an alchemist shop in town. So, when he is not busy training with Sir Isaac, he spends much of his time at the shop learning what he can of the business there. We are told that Sir Isaac has accepted Vance as Knight of the Shadows and a candidate for membership in the Circle. But he must wait until the annual meeting of the Circle in mid-summer before it can be official.

We were all pleasantly surprised tonight, when Sir Isaac appeared unannounced at our door with an unexpected guest. It turned out to be Vance’s sister Shayla, whom we had not seen in more than two years. It was in Il Aluk that the rest of us briefly met her as she helped us to escape a band of shady characters we believed to be members of the Kargat. She had suddenly appeared from out of nowhere and a short while later she was just as suddenly gone again.

This time, however, we got to spend more time with her and learned that, perhaps not so coincidentally, she too was a Knight of the Shadows. This fact explained much about our brief encounter with her the first time we met. She told us that most of her efforts have been in dealing with the Kargat and so most of her time is spent in Darkon. She, of course, being a native of that land does not need to worry about the memory altering effects of the land. Naturally, when she heard about Vance’s application to the Circle, she had to come visit and lend her support for Vance’s induction.

During Shayla’s visit, Scar and I also made the announcement to the rest of the band that we have made an offer to the owner of the Beached Mermaid Inn in Mordentshire, to purchase his establishment. He wanted some time to consider our offer, but we feel confident he will not turn us down. Assuming that all goes as planned, we have begun making further plans to make a few changes that we hope will improve the business. Among those plans is to offer a job to Olga as a barmaid.

She has made progress in her recovery, but we believe it would do her good to find work and become more active and useful once again. Perhaps if she does well enough, she can be trained for a managerial position at the inn, which would be nice since she has shown herself to be very grateful for what we have done for her. I feel she is someone we could put our trust in.

Wednesday, May 31st

At last, it appears we are ready to set out on the road again. All our preparations, I believe, had been dealt with and the time is right. My businesses are doing well, both the shop and the inn. Vance’s alchemy shop is likewise doing well and Redwald, of course, has been busy making firearms, both for himself and others, in addition to all the ammunition they need.

Olga has come along nicely and there are several regulars there who have grown accustomed to seeing her and look forward to it. They have become for her like a second family and I feel that at times she can almost forget about the loved ones she has lost. Still, I know, she often wonders what has become of them and dreams about seeking them out someday. But she would not know where to begin and she is definitely not the adventurous type. So it appears she is starting to realize that she will have to make do with what she can find here.

Tomorrow then, we will all set out together, including Sir Isaac. But along the way, some of us will go our separate ways for a time. Redwald will stop at Port-a-Lucine and visit with family, while he tends to some business. He plans to spend about a month there.

The rest of us will continue on to Il Aluk where Scar and I will spend a couple of weeks. I need to search for spells there and Scar hopes to sell a few magic items.

Ladislav, Vance and Sir Isaac will then go on to the misty borders of northern Darkon where Sir Isaac will show them where to find a particular Mistway that will lead them to an island domain called Nidala. Once in Nidala, Ladislav will visit a city called Touraine, while Vance and Sir Isaac continue on into the domain of Avonleigh, where it is said the sun never shines. It is there in a dense forest of perpetual gloom, known as the Phantasmal Forest, that the Circle meets every year on Midsummer’s Day. And it is there that Vance hopes to be officially accepted into the Circle.

Tuesday, June 27th

Vance and Ladislav finally retuned today and told us of their interesting journey to Nidala and Avonleigh. As expected, Vance is now an official member of the Circle. I won’t bother to write down much of what they told us, and in fact, there was much that Vance was not allowed to talk about concerning his first meeting with the Knights of Shadow. But he did mention a few things worthy of note. He told us that the current leader of the Circle is a man known simply as Caesar, though I am certain that is not his real name. Apparently he is an old man and is not expected to be around for much longer. So there has been some talk of who might succeed him, and many seem to think it will be an Outlander by the name of Gondegal.

Tuesday, October 3rd

Today we received a letter from Vance’s sister, Shayla. She has requested our assistance in a matter concerning an old man named Hans Defoe and his daughter Annabelle, whom she and Vance are acquainted with. Originally from the city of Nartok in Darkon, where Vance and Shayla grew up, they fled the land, believing their lives are in danger, and are currently hiding out at an inn in the Lamordian village of Neufurchtenburg.

According to them they are being stalked by a band of insane killers for reasons unknown, although Shayla believes it could be the Kargat who are after them. The old man and his daughter wish to flee to the city of Pont-a-Museau in Richemulot where they hope to elude their pursuers and possibly make a new start. Shayla wants us to help them and safely escort them to their intended destination. She explains that she is unavailable to do this herself, as she is currently working undercover on another matter concerning the Kargat and does not want to blow her cover and abandon her investigation.

We, of course, have agreed to help Vance and his sister in this matter, and are sending word on ahead of us to let Shayla know we are on our way. We will be taking our carriage there, hoping it will be easier to transport our two charges, even though the pace will be slow. We will head out tomorrow.

Friday, October 6th

After three days of travel in our carriage, while Redwald rode alongside on his horse, we finally arrived in the village of Neufurchtenburg. In an effort to remain discreet, Vance then used his cloak of the bat and flew in bat form, to the address of the boardinghouse where Shayla is currently staying. There, he discussed with his sister more details about the case, which he later related to us, and afterwards flew back.

According to Vance, Hans Defoe is a respected violin teacher and until recently, his daughter Annabelle was engaged to marry another musician. Unfortunately, Annabelle’s fiancé recently drowned when he apparently fell overboard from a riverboat.

But the Defoes say that this was no accident and are insistent that mysterious assassins are after them as well. They say that they have seen these mysterious men trailing them and claim that someone took a shot at Hans with a crossbow. Shayla says that the local constabulary investigated the matter and were unable to uncover any evidence of such a threat. They have ruled the death of Annabelle’s fiancé to be accidental. But Shayla, who has known the Defoes since childhood, believes their story.

She told Vance that the Defoes were currently staying at the Broken Horseshoe Inn and gave him the room number. So we came up with a plan to sneak them out of the inn with little chance of being detected. After parking our carriage about a block away from the inn, Vance and Redwald walked to the inn, while I followed behind invisibly. Ladislav and Scar stayed with the carriage. When we got to the inn, Vance and Redwald kept the front door open long enough to allow me to follow in behind. They then went to the bar and had a couple of drinks, while I went upstairs and found the room. After dismissing my invisibility spell, I knocked on the door and when someone responded, I introduced myself saying I had been sent by Shayla.

Hans opened the door and let me in. I saw then that he appeared to be a frail old man, while his daughter was young and delicate, perhaps nineteen years of age. Clearly, neither of them was of the adventuring kind. Initially, they were a bit suspicious of me. But I was able to convince them to trust me and I told them to gather their things. I explained to them the plan and when they were ready, I used a dimension door spell and took them directly to the carriage. By this time, Vance and Redwald had already returned to the carriage. So we immediately climbed inside and took off. Before long, we were well outside of the village and feeling quite certain that no one could have followed us.

After a mile or so, we pulled to the side of the road and made camp using the tents we had brought along. Naturally, we will be on watch tonight and as an added precaution I have cast an alarm spell.

Saturday, October 7th

We got through the night last night with no difficulties and no disturbances. Hopefully, no one is aware that the Defoes have left their room at the inn and we have eluded any possible pursuers. After a quick breakfast, we resumed our travels and a short while later crossed over the border entering Dementlieu and were well on our way to Port-a-Lucine.

Along the way, a few of us took the opportunity to ask the DeFoes some questions and hear from them their version of events. While they were able to add some details here and there, it still remained a mystery why they were being hunted. The best that we could come up with was the possibility that Annabelle’s fiancé had heard or witnessed something incriminating and that those who were after them assumed that Hans and Annabelle had knowledge of it.

Whatever the case, we managed to travel the entire day with no sign of any trouble or pursuers. When we were approaching Port-a-Lucine, we became concerned that we might run into trouble inside the city where there could be spies hiding among the populace. So we decided to stop at a country inn just about a mile away from the city. Fortunately, the inn was completely vacant. So we got to choose which rooms we wanted and set up the arrangements to our liking.

We have rented four adjacent rooms, one of which we have given to the DeFoes. Two of them will be occupied by those of us not on watch, and the fourth room we are keeping the door open so we can constantly observe the hallway, while two of us are always on guard duty. We will switch out the guard duty throughout the night as usual. And again, I have set up an alarm spell.

Sunday, October 8th

Well, despite all our precautions, we have allowed our two charges to be kidnapped. As I am writing this, we are currently headed back to the village of Neufurchtenburg to try and rescue them. But let me start at the beginning of the day:

We managed to get through the night last night with no problems and no sign of any intruders. It appeared as if we would be able to continue on our way without difficulty. But perhaps we were a bit overconfident.

In hindsight, we clearly should have gotten the horses and carriage ready before allowing the DeFoes to leave their rooms. But they had been cooped up in their rooms for so many days now and were very anxious to leave. So none of us gave it much thought when, following our breakfast, we all stepped out of the inn together and headed towards the stables.

Suddenly we found ourselves under attack. First, two men shot at us from the rooftops with crossbows. Then several more men came charging out from around a few corners and attacked with swords. Redwald struck one of the assailants on the roof with one of his pistols, and afterwards both of these men retreated and were never seen again. But the men with swords continued to attack.

We herded Hans and Annabelle back inside the inn, while Ladislav followed them and watched as they went and inside one of the rooms, slamming the door shut behind them. I too retreated back a bit to keep an eye on things, while the others battled against our enemies. But then Ladislav and I found ourselves under attack from a couple of more men who had gotten inside the inn. While we dealt with them, some of our attackers were beginning to drop outside in the courtyard.

By the time we had dispatched the two inside the inn, some of our foes outside the inn were beginning to withdraw, apparently having lost the will to fight after seeing some of their comrades fall. I turned to help my companions there, while Ladislav went to check on the DeFoes. When Ladislav got to their door he heard the sound of some commotion going on inside. He called out to them to open the door, but he got no response. The door was locked, so Ladislav ran into a room next door and looked out the window. There, much to his surprise, he saw four men running away at a very rapid pace, and two of them were carrying the limp bodies of Hans and Annabelle.

By the time Ladislav was able to report to the rest of us what he had seen, the kidnappers were already so far away that there was no hope of catching up to them. The rest of the assailants however, had all either fallen by now, or were running away themselves. Redwald chased after one of them and got him to surrender at gunpoint. Of the ten men who attacked us with swords, we managed to capture three of them alive, although two of these men were unconscious. Two of the men got away however, not including the four kidnappers, or the two with crossbows.

We questioned the men that we captured and it did not take much to get them to talk. They claimed that each of the men was paid handsomely to help capture “the old coot and his daughter” as they put it. They said they had most of their dealings with the four kidnappers and that they would meet at an old windmill a few miles northeast of Neufurchtenburg. But one of them said he had overheard the name of their true employer, a man by the name of Emil Bollenbach.

When Ladislav heard this name, he could hardly believe his ears. Emil Bollenbach, he explained to us, was the name of the mad scientist that the orphanage master, Wackford Squeers, had sold him and another kid to when they were just boys. But according to all that he had been able to learn about him, Bollenbach should be dead. In fact, even Dr. Van Richten told him so.

Dr. Van Richten had apparently worked with Bollenbach many years ago in an effort to hunt down flesh golems that were running amuck in Lamordia. But soon after Bollenbach discovered that a professor that he admired was responsible for some of these golems, his mind apparently snapped and he became convinced that the only way to stop these golems was to build a super-golem to defeat them. During a battle with one of these golems, the mad professor’s lab exploded and it was presumed that Bollenbach had died, in the explosion.

Several years later, however, Bollenbach reemerged and lured Dr. Van Richten into a trap, where he then attempted to transfer Van Richten’s mind into a super-golem that he had created himself. Thanks to the aid of some of the good doctor’s allies, Bollenbach’s plan was thwarted and the doctor was rescued. During the battle that occurred, it was again presumed that Bollenbach perished.

Could it be that Bollenbach has once again risen from the dead? There are other questions that concern me as well. We realize now that the four kidnappers used magic to help make their swift escape. But I still have to wonder how the kidnappers were able to locate Hans and Annabelle so quickly when they fled to the room and how they seemed to know just what to do in order to get away. Perhaps some kind of magic was involved there as well.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter Five, The Necromancer

Peering through the narrow opening in the door, Vance looked on in horror at the scene displayed before him. Just beyond the door was a large area open to the darkened skies above and surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs that rose up more than a hundred feet. At the very center lay a blood-stained altar on a low pyramid, ringed by crumbling walls. Next to the altar stood an imposing figure some seven feet tall, dressed in hooded black robes. His hideous features resembled those of a gargoyle. Nearby stood three vicious looking ghouls with bows and arrows on their backs. Below them were arranged six more ghouls armed with crossbows. Atop the altar, apparently unconscious, lay a middle-aged woman. The tall figure chanted and raised his out-stretched hands to the skies, while swirling winds blew all around. Just then, a rumble of thunder echoed through the steep canyon, seemingly heralding the human sacrifice that was to come…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

Thursday, March 16th, 745 B.C.

We arose this morning with great apprehension, knowing that on this day we might very well come into direct conflict with yet another Darklord before the day’s end. But if Lady Valerie’s words were true, we might be fortunate enough to catch him while he was vulnerable – during a ritual to increase his power. Whatever the case, we could only hope that we would not be too late.

So with this thought in mind, we prepared ourselves. And when we felt we were ready, we left the village behind and proceeded up the valley’s northern slope to the base of the cliff where we had been told we would find a cave.

The cave entrance was not difficult to locate, due to the tracks left behind by the wagon that was used to bring food to the village, not to mention all the footprints and erosion caused by those who had come and gone from the cave, over the past weeks and months. As we drew near to the cave and cast our light spells, we could detect a faint odor of rot and decay wafting from the darkness within. This was but the first hint of what we soon were about to encounter.

After casting a few preparatory spells on ourselves, we cautiously moved into the cave with weapons drawn and spell components at hand. Vance led the way, as usual, searching for traps. I dare say he fared better in this regard than he had in more recent excursions into darkened caverns, as he managed to locate and disarm a few traps along the way. This cave, however, was not entirely natural, but rather one that was largely man-made – or perhaps I should say, creature-made, for who could say with any certainty what nature of beings scraped and gouged out the roughly geometrically-shaped chambers that comprised a portion of the labyrinth where the so-called hermit was said to dwell.

Just inside the cave, we came upon the wagon we had heard about. A careful examination of it revealed in its bed the faint stains of rotting vegetable matter and what appeared to be blood. The only other exit from this chamber was through a closed door and when we opened it, we were attacked by a small band of ghouls. Having dealt with these creatures many times before, we had no problem defeating them this time.

We then passed through the doorway and came upon another feature we had also heard about – a small, circular pool of glowing water, where the hermit Piet supposedly received food and advice from Zhakata the Provider. I suspect, however, it was more likely some kind of portal or communication device through which the necromancer was able to speak to the vile demon that used him like a pawn. We did not take the time, though, or the risk, to test this or any other theories on the purpose and function of the pool. Instead, we continued on, trying the best that we could to get as far as possible into the maze of chambers before any alarm was raised.

We did not get much further however, before we stepped into a nearby cave and were attacked by half a dozen undead hounds and another bunch of ghouls. During this battle, so much of a commotion was made that we realized we had lost any chance of taking the rest of the complex by surprise. We also learned that many of the ghouls were more difficult to defeat than most ghouls, and they were capable of dealing out some very savage sneak attacks. Still, we were able to defeat them, but not without some injuries to ourselves. I even accidently caught Vance in a fireball that he failed to dodge away from, and as a result, his backpack was destroyed and some of his weapons were damaged or ruined.

From this point on, we moved from chamber to chamber fighting ghoul after ghoul, while more and more of the ghouls became more difficult to kill as we progressed. Occasionally, one of us would become momentarily paralyzed by the ghoul’s foul attacks, but thankfully it never caused anyone to come into any critical danger.

At one point, we came upon a room with an altar that was apparently dedicated to Zhakata the Devourer. We took a few moments to sufficiently vandalize the altar before moving on. Further in, we discovered a locked room where a couple of people were being held prisoners. After freeing them, we escorted them back to the entrance before returning to where we had left off and continued on.

Finally, after almost an hour of fighting our way through this den of horrors, we came upon a door where Vance could hear the sound of chanting coming from the opposite side. Faint sunlight appeared to be streaming through a gap under the door. Quietly and cautiously, Vance opened the door just a bit to get a peek at what lay beyond. ..

…Realizing there was little time to spare, Vance quietly closed the door and quickly described the scene just outside. Clearly this was the necromancer we had come all this way to find and destroy. So, not wanting to leave anything to chance, we hastily devised a plan of action and began casting spells on ourselves to prepare for a very tough battle. Just as we were about to open the door, however, I made a last second suggestion of using an invisibility spell on all of us, so we could get in close before attacking. As it turned out, this decision may just have been what made the difference between victory and defeat.

Trying our best to remain quiet, we snuck through the doorway and approached the crumbling wall. It helped that the necromancer was busy chanting and that the wind was blowing all around, for it made it less likely that we would be heard. In fact, we were able to sneak around to the far side of the wall where we could get a less obstructed pathway to our adversary. But as we began to encroach through an opening in the wall, a couple of the ghouls seemed to sense our presence and they reached for their bows. Realizing that our time was rapidly drawing to a close, Vance and Scar made a run for it and dodged past a couple of ghouls which took swipes at them as they went by. The ghouls missed and Vance and Scar were able to take up flanking positions on the necromancer where they struck him with several vicious blows.

The necromancer, however, appeared supremely overconfident, despite the severe injuries he had just received. He shouted out above the rumble of the stormy skies, “What is this!? Meddlers who think to thwart me? Ah, but you are too late! I have but to complete my ritual and you shall witness the transformation of a man into a god!” And, as they say, with these famous last words, the necromancer sprang over the prone body of his victim to the far side of the altar to gain a moment’s reprieve from the assault on him. There he somehow used what we could only assume to be channeled negative energy to heal himself. How this was possible we did not know. Perhaps it had something to do with the altar or some power he had received as a Darklord.

Whatever the case, it proved to be too little too late, for Vance and Scar ignored the ghouls that rapidly closed in on them, and pounced on the necromancer yet again. Then Redwald took several shots at him with his firearms and blew some sizable holes into him, dropping him next to the altar. Feeling some relief that we were able to take the necromancer unprepared and so quickly kill him, as I am certain he would have been a very tough opponent otherwise, we nevertheless realized that the battle was far from over. There were all the ghouls we still had to deal with and a few of them were far more powerful than any we had ever faced before. I thought to try and quickly eliminate some of them with a fireball. But, for some unknown reason, they remained completely unharmed by the fire. After another attempted fire spell later in the battle, I came to the conclusion that there was some kind of enchantment on the place that protected them from fire.

To make matters worse, more ghouls began streaming in through the doorway that we had just passed through. Apparently we had missed some ghouls when we bypassed a few chambers in the caves. But not even this was the worst part of the battle, for as we were about to kill the last of the ghouls atop the pyramid, one of them reached over to the unconscious woman lying atop the altar and ripped her throat out, killing her almost instantly. As blood spewed down the side of the altar and quickly pooled around the fallen body of the necromancer, something odd began to happen.

Arcs of electricity appeared in the air nearby as a swirling vortex began to take shape just a few feet from the body of the recently deceased Darklord. It seemed that the ritual was now complete and that a portal opening up to the Abyss was the end result. Having witness something very much like this when I was much younger, I knew what was about to happen next. Unlike the necromancer who foolishly believed he would become a god, I realized that instead he would only have been doomed to spend an eternity in the Abyss, while the demon that had used him like a puppet would come to take his place. And now that demon was on its way.

We continued to battle on against the ghouls while we waited for the portal to form. But all too soon, the demon arrived and we gazed upon its lanky form. Its head resembled that of a bat with a mouth filled with sharp fangs and a snake-like tongue, while great bat-like wings stretched from its scaly hide. It quickly struck Ladislav with a deadly energy beam, to which he was thankfully protected from by a magical pendant. Then, seeing that this had no effect, it waded into combat with claws and teeth.

The battle raged on for a short while as we focused most of our attacks on the demon. But fortunately, the demon was not all that tough as far as demons go. So we were able to kill it fairly quickly and turn our attention to the remaining ghouls. It is perhaps ironic that the demon did not appear to be aware that by entering into the Land of the Mists, it too was doomed to remain here. But soon after the demon was killed, we noticed that the storm above us began to intensify, while the ground below began to rumble. We got the impression that the domain was beginning to break apart and only then did it really dawn on us how much the canyon we were in resembled the interior of a dormant volcano – perhaps one that was about to awaken.

Still we battled on against the ghouls, knowing we would have to defeat them in order to escape. Meanwhile, all around us, rocks began falling from the cliffs and soon they were raining down upon us. But we managed to kill the rest of the ghouls, while Ladislav opened up his portable hole and tossed the bodies of the necromancer and the sacrificed woman inside. At the same time, Vance discovered a secret compartment under the altar and grabbed a small locked chest from it. We had no time to search for anything else. Then, in desperation, we ran into the cave complex. But once inside, we felt no safer there as dust and debris was falling from the ceiling. So we quickly made our way through the caves and back out into the valley.

As we emerged from the caves, we could see down in the valley below, the people in the village running for their lives. Many of the buildings there were collapsing into the streets and people were screaming for help. So we ran towards the village to try and help them. Then suddenly, the ground opened up in front of us as huge clouds of mist shot upwards and out. Unable to stop myself in time, I slipped and tumbled into the huge crevice. I fell for some distance and was certain I was about to die. But miraculously, I eventually hit the ground just hard enough to knock the wind out of me and no more.

Even stranger yet, was that the ground below me was damp and covered with swampy vegetation. Still the mists all around me were so thick that I could barely see two feet in front of me. But at least I was still alive, though apparently all alone. A short while later, however, I began to hear the sound of familiar voices calling out in the mists. Moving towards those voices, I was soon reunited with my companions.

They told how they too had all eventually fallen into similar crevices as the domain was breaking apart, despite their efforts to save the villagers. Scar was the last to fall and he went as an entire section of the ground gave way. We do not know what happened to the villagers. We have yet to see any of them. All we know at this point is that the bogs all around us began to look very familiar to us and before long, the Westcote manor house came into view. So feeling very exhausted and damp, and yet very relived, we picked up our pace and headed home.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter Four, The Vale of the Blest

Feeling quite certain that the ruins had long ago been picked clean of anything worth taking by those who had previously passed this way, we slowly led our horses towards the center of the ruins and to the one structure that stood out from the rest. Constructed of stone and therefore having better withstood the test of time, this building, which appeared to have once been a shrine to some long forgotten deity, had only a few areas where the walls were partially collapsed, while the roof remained intact. Leaving our horses just outside, we cautiously ascended a short flight of steps towards the shrine’s doorless entrance and the dark shadows that lay within…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Friday, March 10th, 745 B.C.

Once the battle against the kobolds had come to its conclusion, we took the time to tend to our injuries, exhausting all our magical means of healing save for a few potions. Afterwards, we searched about the cavern for anything of value, which included a few magic items worn by the chieftain and his sorcerers. By the time we had completed this task, we were too tired to do much of anything else. So, despite the fact that there was still daylight left in the day, we decided to make camp just inside the entrance to the kobold lair and rest for the remainder of the day.

Saturday, March 11th

This morning, we resumed our journey northward through the treacherous Claws of the Beast. Although the rough terrain greatly hindered our rate of travel, we encountered no other difficulties, and shortly after midday, we rode out of the hills without further incident. By the time the sun was setting low on the horizon, we had traveled about halfway through a wide valley. It is in this valley that we have made camp for the night.

Sunday, March 12th

Soon after setting out this morning, we began to see signs of people heading north along the same route as we are. There are no obvious roads or trails in this area, as far as we have seen, and because there appears to have been two or more bands of people each about 20 to 30 strong, we suspect these are the tracks of pilgrims, perhaps being drawn to the north by the rumors of the Vale of the Blest. The tracks appear to be several days old at the very least, some probably a week or two old or more. So it is unlikely that we will catch up to any of them anytime soon.

At about midday, we reached the northern edge of the wide valley and entered the foothills of a range of low mountains that stretched off to the northeast. Following the tracks of those who had passed before us, we stuck to a narrow valley that lay between the hills and a small lake which lay to the northwest. Keeping to the east side of the lake, we eventually came upon the ruins of an old town.

Nestled in between the lake and the foothills, we got the sense that this town was once a very ideal setting. But clearly that was all in the past, perhaps many decades ago. Now the town appeared abandoned, as most of the wooden buildings were partially, if not entirely, collapsed. There were no signs of life. Instead, a melancholy sadness seemed to hang in the air as a chill wind drifted through the ruins creating a sound like the whispering voices of ghosts from a distant time…

…As we stepped into the shrine, we noted immediately among the debris, two fallen statues, one to the left of the entrance and a larger one at the far end of the nave in the semi-circular chancel. Both statues appeared to be those of men dressed in clerical garb, and both were heavily defaced.

Using our typical sources of magical light to illuminate the chamber, we cautiously made our way further into the shrine, while Vance searched for traps. But as we approached the larger of the two fallen statues, a sudden chill filled the room just moments before five apparitions emerged from the walls and surrounded us. All five of the ghostly entities were dressed in tattered robes and had looks of extreme pain and anguish upon their ravaged faces. The most prominent spectre, which appeared just above the larger statue, screamed out in anger, “Blasphemers! You all will die!” The tortured spirits then reached out to touch us in an attempt to suck the life out of us, and a frantic battle ensued.

During the battle, several of us were struck by the spirits that had emerged from the sides of the shrine, and when they did so, not only did they cause a numbing chill to pass through us, but they also seemed to drain us of energy. Redwald was fortunate enough to be protected from this later effect by one of his magical rings. But the rest of us were not. Ladislav did his best to destroy them by channeling positive energy all around us. However, the effect of the positive energy seemed to be somewhat diminished, most likely because the shrine was in what Dr. Van Richten termed a “sinkhole of evil.”

But despite the terrible situation in which we found ourselves, we were quite fortunate that none of us were struck by the more prominent spectre as we believed it to be more powerful than the others because it was more difficult to destroy. It was most likely the master of the other spectres and certainly it would have drained more life force with each successful hit. Nevertheless, we managed to destroy it and the other spirits, though some of us were drained of energy before it was all said and done.

Once the threat had passed, Ladislav healed what injuries he could, while the rest of us looked around for anything worthy of note. Vance then discovered what appeared to be a hidden compartment in the stone base of the larger fallen statue. After checking for traps, he opened it up and found a stash of some fairly powerful magic items, including a sword and other weapons. No doubt these had been hidden under the statue many decades ago by the clergy who once tended to the shrine and whose restless spirits we had just released from damnation.

With the ghosts of the shrine no longer present, the shrine now somehow feels at peace, as if the sinkhole of evil has rapidly faded away. It has given us the opportunity to learn what we can about the magic items we have found and to rest with a roof over our heads. So we will spend the night here and resume our travels in the morning.

Monday, March 13th

Today we rode the entire day along the northern bank of a stream that flowed from the lake by the town ruins. The stream ran through a narrow valley, with a range of hills on the far southwestern side, and the mountains on the near side to the northeast. Though we have continued to follow the tracks of the people whom we believe to be bands of pilgrims, we have encountered no one. According to our map, we are currently about a day away from something that the mongrelmen marked on our map called Wadi, whatever that may be, and perhaps two days away from the Vale of the Blest.

Tuesday, March 14th

Still riding along the northern bank of the stream, the valley has grown even narrower, while the mountains to the north have encroached closer and closer to the stream as we have proceeded, leaving only a narrow path through which to travel. The stream, on the other hand, has only grown wider. But the tracks of the people, in whose footsteps we continue to follow, have not changed. Still we have not encountered a soul. Once more we have made camp for the night, perhaps for the last time in this gods forsaken land. Before doing so, however, we noted in the narrow valley ahead of us, a forested area – something we have seen very little of in this desolate realm. Could this be what the mongrelmen call Wadi? Wednesday, March 15th It did not take long for us to reach the forested area, but once we entered it our rate of travel slowed due to the unstable footing and the undergrowth. The woods there seemed to have a foreboding quality to them as if they were hiding some dark secret. And we could not shake the feeling that we were being watched by some malignant entity that had infested woods like some cancerous growth.

Eventually though, we emerged from the woods to find before us a very pleasant valley that seemed to be hidden away by an encircling wall of hills and mountains. The stream ran through the center of the valley and at the very heart of the valley sat a village that was clearly occupied by scores of people. More people, in fact, than we had expected to find – much more, perhaps even hundreds. Most of these people seemed to be merrily going about their business, while children played and tended to chores. From about half a mile away, we could see several people working hard to plow a field, having to do it by hand as they had no oxen. A few columns of smoke rose from the village, most likely from smithies or other such places. To all appearances, it seemed to be a thriving community.

This, we realized, had to be the so-called Vale of the Blest. But it was not what we were expecting and we were somewhat suspicious. So Redwald and Vance snuck in closer to get a better look. They were able to get right up to the edge of the village, in fact, and eves drop on a few conversations. After a bit, they snuck back and reported to us what they had learned.

At first, they said, everything about the village appeared very normal. But the more they looked and listened, the more they began to notice some peculiarities. For example, many of the buildings had the appearance of old ruins that had only recently been fixed up. And from some of the conversations, Redwald and Vance got the impression that the villagers were still in the process of trying to organize themselves. It was as if these villagers had only recently arrived to find this village which had been abandoned by its previous residents. If that was the case, we could not help but wonder what had happened to the previous villagers?

By this time, it was late in the afternoon, and we debated for a bit on whether or not to enter the village. We decided to enter the village though, in order to gather more information. So we dismissed our magical horses, since horses do not exist in G’Henna as far as we know, and we did not want to draw any extra attention to ourselves. Then we walked into the village. Almost immediately, we were greeted by friendly people, although many others were suspicious of us, no doubt because of our obvious weapons and our unusual appearances. But the mere fact that people went out of their way to greet us, demonstrated the fact that this was no ordinary village, but rather a large gathering of recently arrived pilgrims.

We were invited by some of the people to simply find an unoccupied space in one of the buildings and make ourselves at home, and later on to come to the center of the village for a communal dinner. This, of course, confirmed our suspicions. So we did as suggested, although none of us were ready to leave any of our possessions unattended. We then spent the evening mingling with the villagers, some of us splitting up to get better acquainted with the people and ask questions. Later on, as the evening drew to a close, we met up in our designated space and shared what we had learned.

This is what we have discovered: Nearly all of the villagers were indeed pilgrims who had only recently arrived – within a few weeks. Their leader is a so-called hermit by the name of Piet Dostoyevsky, who lives in a cave just north of the village. He is said to be a wise old man and a blessed disciple of Zhakata the Provider. Just inside his cave, according to some villagers who claim to have seen it, there is a magical, glowing pool of water through which the hermit speaks to Zhakata and from which, Zhakata provides food, much in the form of meat, to the villagers once a week. The hermit visits the village once a week and brings the food to the people on a wagon that is pulled by appointed followers of the hermit who live with him. Although the hermit occasionally visits the village at other times, usually to relate proclamations from Zhakata, he is not due to arrive for a couple of days. Perhaps most interesting of all, is that when the hermit brings the food, he also announces the names of a few people who Zhakata has selected to become special servants of his in a garden of paradise which supposedly lies in a hidden valley that can only be accessed through the hermit’s cave. It is said to be a great honor to be selected and those who are named follow the hermit and his men back to the cave never to be seen again. Also, no one seems to know what happened to the previous residents of the village.

Considering what Lady Valerie told us about the Vale of the Blest, and assuming what she said was true, we are quite alarmed by the above information. According to what we’ve been told, the hermit must surely be the necromancer that consorts with demons, he is probably feeding to the villagers the very people he has chosen to serve Zhakata, and for all we know, his helpers could be ghouls in disguise!

Vance did some scouting around in bat form as well, but found nothing more. Since the hermit did not make an appearance in the village tonight, we have decided to wait until morning, then go and investigate the hermit’s cave uninvited.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter Three, Into the Claws of the Beast

Having reunited the pilgrims, we wished them a safe journey and parted ways. Now changing directions once more, we set out walking this time directly to the north and towards the hills known as the Claws of the Beast. According to the rumors, these jagged spurs of rock form a gauntlet of wickedly curving claws of stone rising out of the earth. It is said that travelers, those who are fortunate enough to make it through the vale, feel as if they are constantly being watched. In a couple of days, we shall see if our information about what lurks in these hills is true…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Sunday, March 5th, 745 B.C.

With Valuan the elven wizard dead, we took a few seconds to look about and assess the situation. Dozens upon dozens of mutilated kobolds lay all about. None of them moved. Ladislav darted across the stone bridge and ran over to where Vance was lying. But as we had feared, he too was already dead. Fortunately, with our rod of resurrection, his soul was not, however, beyond retrieval. Ladislav quickly produced the rod from his pack and moments later Vance was once again among the living.

Meanwhile, Scar and I began examining the body of the fallen wizard, looking for anything of value as I detected for magic. Redwald did the same with the kobolds on the far side of the chasm and eventually he made his way over the bridge where we continued searching the bodies. Once Vance had regained his feet and was updated on what took place after he was struck by the lightning bolt, he and Ladislav took the set of keys we had found on the dead elf and went to release the five prisoners who waited patiently nearby.

Upon gaining their freedom, the pilgrims thanked us for their rescue and asked who we were. We gave them our names and explained to them the circumstances of our meeting the rest of their band of pilgrims. When they mentioned they were heading to the Vale of the Blest, Ladislav warned them against going there and we offered to reunite them with the others. They gladly accepted the offer and once we had finished searching the kobolds and tended to any serious wounds, we led the pilgrims out of the caves. From there, we made our way through the desert and back to the wizard’s windmill, arriving sometime in the early afternoon.

We have since then spent the remainder of the day, going through the wizard’s home and noting anything worth taking, including any provisions that we and the pilgrims can carry. I was fascinated by much of what the wizard had managed to accumulate inside his curious place of residence, including his collection of books and the various electrical contraptions, much of which I did not fully understand. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to study most of these things and so must settle for taking only a relative handful of books that may prove to be of some use to us. Among these however, and most importantly to me, is a spell book containing a few spells that I would like very much to learn.

Monday, March 6th

We left Valuan’s Windmill this morning and led the five pilgrims through the remainder of the desert towards the southwest. Because I cannot cast enough spells to provide mounts for us all, we have had to travel by foot. It has been a slow and exhausting trek through these barren lands. But at least the weather has been bearable and we have had no hostile encounters. On the other hand, the pilgrims have been in very low spirits and it has been a very trying task to keep them going. I fear they are suffering from the effects of the animator.

Tuesday, March 7th

We resumed our journey back to the southwest this morning and soon left the desert behind us. As a result, our rate of travel was slightly improved over yesterday and yet it still felt agonizingly slow. To make matters even more discouraging, there is the fact that we have been retracing our steps for two days and are now even further away from our ultimate goal than we were before.

There is also the disheartening prospect of having to pass though the rugged hills to the north of us, known as the Claws of the Beast, which a few days ago I had been hoping to avoid. But once we have parted ways with the pilgrims, assuming all goes well there, this forbidding range of hills will then be directly in our path on the way to our next destination.

I must also mention that while at Valuan’s Windmill, we came across some information that suggested the cause of the reported disappearances in those hills as being another tribe of kobolds. With the advent of this recently acquired information, my companions are now quite determined to rid the land of this dangerous menace in an effort to save the lives of any future travelers who might pass through or by those hills. So it appears we will soon be taking on yet another tribe of kobolds.

One final thought, though it should probably go without mentioning – the pilgrims are once again in very low spirits this evening.

Wednesday, March 8th

We resumed our trek to the southwest this morning and at about midday, arrived at a familiar looking valley where we had first encountered the pilgrims. It had been 5 or 6 days since we left them behind and therefore we could not be entirely certain they would still be there upon our return. But soon after our arrival, the pilgrims emerged from a line of scraggly trees, where they had been hiding, and came out to greet us. A tearful reunion between the separated pilgrims was then further enhanced by many thanks and blessings directed towards us, as we took comfort in knowing we had brought some measure of joy to these sorely deprived and misguided people.

When we asked them about their plans at this point, they told us they had decided to turn back south, thereby avoiding the so-called Blood River to the west, until they reached the main river. From there they would follow the river to the west and gradually make their way northwest to the city of Dervish, unless, of course, they came across something along the way that altered these plans. ..

…Though we still traveled by foot for the remainder of the day, I believe we made better time after leaving the pilgrims behind. I will also mention that the band in general appears to be in better spirits.

Thursday, March 9th

With the pilgrims no longer with us, I was able to resume my routine of providing magical mounts for us all, thereby making our travel easier and swifter. And while I cannot be certain of this, it is possible that having horses to ride has also decreased our chances of having hostile encounters along the way, for we have had few such difficulties overall in our journey to the north.

By the end of the day then, we were able to make it to the southern edge of the hills where we have made camp for the night. Though it might be inviting trouble we have gathered wood and lit a fire as it is still too cold at night to go without. We will simply have to keep a sharp eye out tonight.

It has been noted that none of us have experienced any episodes of despair, as we typically would, for more than a day now, and it is beginning to look as if the animator has finally decided to leave us. This, of course, would appear to be very good news for us, were it not for the fact that it likely means the animator has now found a new group of victims to feed upon, one more likely to provide it with negative emotions – in other words – the pilgrims. Unfortunately, assuming the animator has in fact gone with the pilgrims, there may be little if anything we can do to aid them against it.

Friday, March 10th

As we probably should have expected, we were attacked in the middle of the night by a small band of kobolds, which, like the previous tribe of kobolds, contained a few minor sorcerers and skilled warriors. But the kobolds almost certainly underestimated their victims and we were quickly able to counter attack. We therefore managed to kill all the attacking kobolds without suffering much in the way of injuries to ourselves. When the fight was over, we healed our wounds, removed the bodies of the fallen kobolds and returned to our schedule of sleep and watches.

The following morning, after readying ourselves for the day, we set out on our magically created horses and began the ascent up into the hills known as the Claws of the Beast. Early on we discovered that the rumors about the difficulty of the terrain were no exaggeration, as we found ourselves faced with traversing past steep pinnacles of stone and through narrow gorges.

Our progress soon slowed to a veritable crawl and at times we were forced to dismount and lead our horses on foot. Eventually though, we came across a trail that wound its way through and sometimes over the hills. Indeed, were it not for this trail, certain sections of the hills would have been impassable. And all the while, as we passed through the upper vale that lay amidst the rugged hills, we sensed we were being watched, just as the rumors had said.

At one point, about midday, as we were making our way along the trail, which cut along the edge of a cliff that loomed over the vale hundreds of feet below, we were suddenly attacked by another band of kobolds who hid behind a ridge of stone about forty feet above us. With a wall of stone to our left, a sheer drop to our right and only a narrow path ahead of us, it was a perfect spot for an ambush. I realized we had to quickly eliminate the threat from above. So I launched a fireball towards our attackers and managed to kill all but a few of the kobolds.

Unfortunately, the loud explosion just above us frightened our horses, which of course were not trained for nor accustomed to such things. All except Scar were able to keep our horses under control. Scar, however, was thrown from his horse and nearly fell off the cliff to his certain demise. Only a last second grab at a tree root kept him from plummeting hundreds of feet to the valley below. Vance quickly ran to where Scar was dangling from the edge of the cliff, and grabbed a hold of him. Then Redwald rode over and, while grasping on to one end of his blunderbuss, lowered the other end to within reach of Scar. When Scar grabbed on to the blunderbuss, Redwald directed his horse backwards and pulled Scar back up on to the trail.

Meanwhile, the rest of us worked to eliminate the few remaining kobolds as they continued to attack us from above with their slings and crossbows. Before long, we were able to kill them all, and suffered only a few minor injuries from the attack. Though for a bit, it was looking pretty dicey for Scar. Once we had the situation under control and were all back on our horses, we rounded the bend and found that we were able to ride up to where the kobolds had been so we could loot their bodies. Afterwards, we followed their tracks down the backside of the hill and soon came upon what appeared to be the entrance to their lair. We took a few minutes then to prepare ourselves and secure our horses. When we were ready we cast a few light spells and entered the cave.

Though the cave walls were not quite as narrow, this kobold lair was much like the one we had entered several days ago, with various traps and ambush sites set up in a maze of tunnels and chambers. And just like before, we dealt with a few minor sorcerers and experienced warriors in addition to the more average kobolds who made up the bulk of the tribe.

Eventually though, we arrived at a much larger cave chamber where it appeared the tribe’s chieftain was located, in addition to his more powerful warriors and sorcerers. Vance had been scouting ahead and he managed to get a look at the chamber without being detected. So we were able to come up with a plan and better prepare ourselves before entering the chamber. I summoned another hound archon and sent him into the chamber to attack the chieftain before launching a barrage of fireballs into the rest of the cave. This, combined with a holy smite spell from Ladislav, killed the vast majority of the kobolds in the first few seconds of the final battle, and quickly cleared much of the chamber, allowing us to easily rush into the room.

At this point, it looked as if the battle would be over very soon. But many of the kobolds who remained were not so easily killed, and more reinforcements entered the chamber from another passageway. I was able to slow or even stop some of the reinforcements with a web spell. But the rest we had to fight with more conventional means. Vance and Scar headed for the chieftain and his bodyguard of warriors, while the rest of us stayed near the entrance and attacked from a distance. The chieftain and his warriors proved to be very tough and before long, Vance found himself in a very desperate situation. In time however, thanks in part to the hound archon, the chieftain was killed and many of his warriors began to drop.

But Vance paid a price for this, as did Scar soon after, when the two of them were eventually knocked unconscious, forcing Ladislav to come to their rescue and get them back on their feet again. The kobold sorcerers also proved to be quite a challenge as they continued to launch what seemed to be a near endless onslaught of lightning bolts and magic missiles. Protected by multiple mirror images, they were difficult to kill. But eventually, they too fell. And what at first looked to be a fairly quick and easy fight, turned into a rather long, protracted and dangerous battle, albeit a victorious one in the end.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter Two, Out of the Fire and Into the Frying Pan

The slim column of flame burned with magnificent intensity, as tiny bits of charred bone from the burning corpses seemed to dance within its form. We rushed towards the funeral pyre, and as we did so, blue-hot tendrils of fire began to flicker and dart from the burning column. Suddenly one of the tendrils shot out and struck a man who had been frozen in place with fear. In an instant, the man burst into flames as he screamed in agony and staggered around with his arms flailing about in the air. Moments later, he fell to the ground, dead, …and yet his body continued to burn.
Some of us, now realizing we had a pyre elemental in our midst, began casting protective spells, while Vance and Scar moved in to attack. Just then, another tendril of flame darted out from the column of fire striking the burning corpse that lay on the ground nearby. The corpse jerked about as it seemingly sprang to life. Then it stood up and, like a zombie on fire, began shuffling towards us…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Wednesday, March 1st, 745 B.C.

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at the place where we were attacked by the werejaguars, and since I did not have the spells memorized to create the mounts we had been using to travel with, we decided to make camp in this same location. Tomorrow morning then, we will make a fresh start and resume our travels.

As a side note, I have noticed this evening, that it appears some of us have also resumed experiencing bouts of despair. It seems that the animator, which has attached itself to Vance, is back to its old tricks. I find this to be a bit discouraging as we had thought the animator might have left us, since we did not feel its presence the entire time we stayed with Lady Valerie.

Perhaps the animator was compelled or even prevented from having any effect on us while we were in the lady’s presence. Though this might simply have been a mere coincidence, it is yet again another reason to suspect there may be more to Lady Valerie than meets the eye.

Thursday, March 2nd

As planned, after I had created magical horses for my companions and me, we picked up where we left off and headed out on our journey to the northern territories of G’Henna. Before long we came to the river indicated on our map and, after a slight detour, found a place where we could ford the river. Once across, we continued our trek to the north and rode for half the day with no interruption until we noticed a plume of smoke rising up ahead of us. Moving more cautiously now, as we drew closer to the source of the smoke, we eventually crested a low hill where we could then see in the valley below, a small crowd of people gathered around what at first appeared to be a bonfire. Puzzled as to why people would be gathered around a bonfire in the middle of the day, we continued to approach until we realized that the bonfire was actually a funeral pyre and that there were several corpses lying atop the burning pile of wood.

Not wanting to disturb the funeral rites of the people gathered, who appeared to be ordinary common folk, we altered our course to skirt around the area. But by this point, some of the people had already spotted us, and although they seemed to be somewhat hesitant and suspicious, one of the men waved at us and cautiously moved in our direction. Realizing he wished to speak with us, we turned our mounts once more and rode over to the man. When we got near, the man introduced himself as Yuri, and asked us where we were headed. We also introduced ourselves and simply replied we were traveling far to the north.

He seemed to be sizing us up as if to try and determine our capabilities and our intent. But eventually he nervously stammered out a plea for assistance, saying that his band of people had been attacked by a small horde of goblin-like creatures and that five of them had been captured and taken away. Initially, he asked only that we pass along any information we could as to the whereabouts of the missing people. But knowing we could do more to aid these people, we offered to try and track the creatures down and rescue the captives.

Yuri then told us that he and his companions were pilgrims on their way to the Vale of the Blest. So we warned them against going there, saying we had heard that the rumors about the vale were false and advised them to go someplace else. Yuri added that the creatures had attacked them about the same time yesterday.

This obviously would give the creatures about a day’s head start. He also pointed out that they had managed to kill one of them. Yuri then directed us to where the dead creature lay and we were able to identify it as a kobold.

But as we were examining the dead body, we heard a sudden commotion coming from the crowd of people and turned to see what was happening. It was then that we noticed an unusual column of fire had risen from the funeral pyre…

…As we began attacking the pyre elemental, we quickly learned it was highly resistant to weapons. Because of this Vance soon turned and focused his attacks on the burning zombie, which he was able to have a much greater effect on. Scar, however, continued to attack the elemental with his sword and managed to do a fair amount of damage to it by swinging as hard as he could. He paid a price for it though when the elemental struck him with a tendril and caught him on fire. Scar, nevertheless, ignored the flames and continued swinging away at it. Redwald, of course, blasted the creature with his firearms, also doing significant damage to the creature while Ladislav and I cast spells, either at the creature or in an effort to aid or heal our companions. As I suspected, while the creature was resistant to weapons, it was, on the other hand, quite vulnerable to cold-based attacks, a fact that I took full advantage of. Although the monster was fairly tough, we eventually managed to destroy it without suffering any further long term ill effects.

Afterwards, Ladislav healed any injuries we had. Then he and Redwald also cast a few healing spells on some of the pilgrims who were still injured from the kobold attack. A short while later, we were ready to resume our travels. We suggested to the pilgrims to remain in this area, in the hopes that when we presumably rescue the captives, we will be able to more easily reunite them with the pilgrims. We then set out, following the tracks of the kobolds and their captives, which headed off in a northeasterly direction.

Due to the size of the band of kobolds and the presence of the captives, which would certainly slow their pace somewhat, the tracks were easy to follow. So we undoubtedly gained some ground on them. But because they had a full day’s head start, we were still a considerable distance behind them when the sun went down and we were forced to stop. Thankfully however, no one this night has shown any signs of despair. This is probably because the animator had more than enough negative emotions to feed off of earlier in the day.

One final thought – after some consideration on the matter of the pyre elemental, I am still puzzled by its sudden appearance. If I am not mistaken, ordinarily a pyre elemental would need to be summoned by magic, just as any other elemental – so unless there is some other unusual explanation, I can’t help but wonder if the elemental was intentionally summoned. If so, then by whom and to what purpose?

Friday, March 3rd

This morning we continued tracking the kobolds and their captives. The tracks were still easy enough to follow, but we may have lost some ground on them during the night. On the other hand, we were mounted and moving at a rate faster than they could possibly hope to. They are also probably unaware that they are being pursued, and so it is possible that they have no reason to push their pace.

Nevertheless, after traveling the entire day, we still have seen no sign of the kobolds other than their tracks. But Redwald and Scar have assured us we are probably no more than a few hours behind them. Unfortunately, with the coming of dusk, we were once again forced to stop for the night.

As I write this, we are camped just a few miles from the jagged hills known as the Claws of the Beast, which originally was to be one of our two destinations where people are rumored to have disappeared. I for one am glad we are now skirting around this forbidding range of hills, not only because of the difficulty and dangers of passing through it, but also because we appear to be headed in the direction of a place called Valuan’s Windmill, where an elven wizard is said to live. It would be a huge understatement to say that I was disappointed when the spellbook we took from the House of Bones was destroyed. So it is my hope that I might be able to acquire some much needed spells from this wizard. And yet I remain skeptical, much like the mood among my companions, which feels dismal. Perhaps though, we are only experiencing the all too familiar symptoms of despair brought on by the animator.

Saturday, March 4th

Shortly after setting out this morning, we came within sight of the desert known as the Frying Pan, where Valuan’s Windmill is said to be found. It was into this desert that the kobold tracks led us, and soon after entering it we discovered that the tracks had been obliterated by the unceasing wind that blows off the hills to the west. It was discouraging, I must say, to have come all this way and so close to catching up with the kobolds, only to lose their trail. Then the thought occurred to us that the elven wizard Valuan might know where to find the kobolds. It was yet another excuse to go and speak with the wizard and I was glad for it. So we continued on into the desert and by midday came within site of the wizard’s windmill.

Though the windmill appeared weather beaten even from a distance, the sails continued to turn. As we rode closer we saw that a deep pile of sand had formed on the west side of the tower, the few windows were blackened out and the entire structure was heavily worn by the constant wind and sand that blew against it.

Making sure to keep our backs to the wind, we rode up to the windmill, dismounted from our horses, stepped up to the door and knocked on it. Shortly thereafter, the door opened a few inches to partially reveal the thin figure of a male elf, with a suspicious scowl on his face. We introduced ourselves and asked if he had seen a band of kobolds in the area. His expression did not change much at this and he seemed hesitant to talk to us. Eventually though, he confirmed that he was aware of a band of kobolds in the area. Nevertheless, he appeared very reluctant to invite us in, until we asked him if we could enter. Finally he consented and opened the wide enough for us to step into his abode and out of the wind.

Inside the windmill, it became immediately obvious that he rarely had visitors as he had few places for us to sit. Most of the space was occupied by bookshelves, stacks of books and scrolls, jars and containers of various substances, and all sorts of odd specimens and writing materials. The sails of the windmill, we discovered, were not used to mill grain, but rather to generate electricity. There were a number of electric lamps around the place in addition to a few other electrical devices I could not identify.

We asked him if he had any water, to which he replied that it was in short supply. Then, oddly enough, Redwald offered to fill his water barrel up with water using a spell. Once this was done, the elf seemed to open up a bit more, and introduced himself as Valuan. He then told us that he knew of a kobold lair whose entrance was in some old ruins a few miles away. He offered to draw us a map leading to it and we allowed him to do so. I then asked him if he would be interested in trading a few spells, and he seemed genuinely interested. But still we got the sense that the elf did not care for company and was anxious for us to leave. I was also reminded that there were people being held captive by kobolds, which meant that the spells would have to wait.

With a map leading us to the kobolds now in hand, we wasted no more time and thanked the wizard for his help. Then we set out again and continued our trek further into the desert. Unfortunately, the desert terrain made travel more difficult and slowed us down considerably. So by the time we neared the ruins, the sun was beginning to set. Rather than try and find the lair in the quickly fading light, we decided to make camp, and enter the lair in the morning when we are better prepared. It will get chilly tonight, so we have made a campfire, but since we are so near the kobold lair, we have placed it in a low-lying area where the light will not be as obvious. And as we might have expected, the bouts of despair have once again returned.

Sunday, March 5th

Unfortunately, our efforts at concealing our campfire last night did not prevent an attack from the kobolds, who snuck up on us in the middle of the night and attacked. There were almost a dozen of them, and a few of them were even capable of casting arcane spells, though they were very minor. We were able to repulse the attack however, without too much difficulty and killed all the kobolds within sight.

Later in the morning, once the sun had come up and we were well rested and prepared, we quickly located the entrance to the lair and entered. Using several magical sources of light, we made our way through a maze of narrow tunnels and almost immediately became the victims of numerous traps and ambushes. Though we had Vance up front looking for traps, there were some that we missed, and some that Vance found but failed to disarm effectively. These traps ranged from shooting fire, falling rocks, ensnaring ropes, a falling bag of acid and even a rotting badger that made some of us nauseous. Only once did we manage to completely avoid a trap, which was a falling log.

As we were dealing with these traps, small groups of kobolds were attacking us from hidden niches and narrow passages. Again some of these kobolds were sorcerers while others were fairly skilled warriors wearing crude breastplates. Each time we were attacked, we managed to kill the attackers, but not without suffering a few injuries along the way, which Ladislav had to heal.

Finally, after experiencing numerous traps and ambushes, we arrived at a huge cavern that was dimly lit with torches and bisected by a wide chasm. The chasm was spanned by a stone bridge and a pool of water lay on the far side. Near the pool of water, we could see the five captive pilgrims chained up and surrounded by numerous kobolds, many of which appeared to be sorcerers. Spread out over the entire far side of the cavern were dozens of kobold warriors including some that wore breastplates. And finally, standing over all the kobolds and near the captives was a familiar looking elf – it was, of course, none other than Valuan. Apparently, Valuan had intentionally led us into the lair of the kobolds where he hoped to defeat us, though for what reason we could only imagine. He did not even bother to explain himself, but instead began casting a spell.

With no time to hesitate, we immediately charged into the cavern, when Vance and Scar suddenly stopped in their tracks and began looking about in an obvious state of confusion undoubtedly caused by the wizard’s spell. Realizing the threat that the elven wizard posed, not to mention the kobold sorcerers, Ladislav and I focused on them first. I led off with a web spell that trapped the elf, several of the kobolds, and all of the captives. Then Ladislav hit the same area with a silence spell.

This effectively took the elven wizard and several of the kobold sorcerers out of the battle for a short while and prevented them from easily escaping with magic. We then turned our attention to the horde of kobold warriors that came rushing towards us. Unknown to us at the start, there were numerous kobolds hiding in niches on our side of the cavern when we entered, and they came out to attack us from the rear and flanks. Redwald concentrated his firearms on these while I tossed fireballs across the cavern to wipe out large groups of kobolds there. At times, Vance and Scar were unable to do anything but stand and babel incoherently, or, even worse, cause injury to themselves. But whenever kobolds got close enough to attack them, they were able to fight back. Ladislav, meanwhile varied his actions between attacking kobolds and healing our injuries.

Unfortunately, several of the less powerful kobold sorcerers had managed to avoid the web and the fireballs and they proved to be a constant problem with their unerring magic missile spells. The kobolds were also aided by reinforcements that streamed in from other tunnels. So the battle continued on for quite some time. Eventually, Valuan and the other sorcerers managed to escape the webs and as they did so they too reentered the battle. I summoned a hound archon at one point and sent him after the elven wizard, or where I thought he was. But due to an obstructed view caused by the webs and stalagmites, I had lost track of him and did not realize he had turned invisible and somehow moved to another area of the cavern. Soon afterwards, the hound archon was killed by one of the kobold sorcerers.

Valuan, meanwhile focused several of his spells on me. Most of them were not visible spells, but I could sense the hostile forces of these spells as I managed to resist their effects. For the remainder of the battle then, the elven wizard did not cast a single attack spell that proved effective against us. But the same could not be said about the kobold sorcerers.

Towards the end of the battle, the confusion spell on Vance and Scar finally wore off and they were able to regain their senses. By this point, the vast majority of the kobolds were dead. I had cast a spell to locate the invisible elven wizard, so Scar used one of his figurines to locate him. Suddenly the elf found himself under attack with no one to help defend him. It was at this time when Vance crossed the bridge and killed one of the kobold sorcerers. Unfortunately, there was another sorcerer standing nearby and Vance was already seriously wounded. The sorcerer struck Vance with a lightning bolt spell and killed him. Moments later, the sorcerer was killed.

Scar and I then closed in on Valuan, who drew out a wand but then dropped it in his haste to touch Scar with it. Coincidentally, Scar lost his grip on his sword as he went to swing at the wizard and it too clattered to the ground. Redwald took a couple of blind shots from across the chasm but missed. I then cast a scorching ray spell and finally killed the elven wizard.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 23, Chapter One, The Lady of the Mists

Slowly but surely, the suspicious faces of the clerics, the soldiers and the people in the courtyard far below turned towards us. Then a voice in the crowd was heard to call out, “Yagno is dead! They’ve killed Yagno!” This was soon followed by shouts of, “Murderers! Kill them! Hang the bastards!” and other such threats. It was then that we realized our struggles in this unforgiving land of famine and zealous devotion to a beast-god were far from over…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Monday, February 20th, 745 B.C.

As I think back upon this moment, it all seems so very surreal. With the cool winter air swirling around, and the thinly veiled pockets of ash and debris floating all about us, we gazed at the newly revealed starry night sky while our ears continued to ring from the tremendous explosion that just recently shattered the High Altar. Now, the High Alter was gone, having dissolved into mist like the grotesque bodies of the transformed beings, both those alive and dead, which we termed the Altered. Gone also were the two main adversaries in this nightmarish conflict, the terrifying nalfeshnee demon called Malistroi, and the High Patriarch of Zhakata, Ruler and Darklord of G’Henna, Yagno Petrovna.

It was as if we had suddenly awakened from some terrible dream, where moments before, we were witnessing a clash of titans with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, to now finding ourselves in a world where everything seemed peaceful and quiet, with no sign of the waring foes to be found.

We took the next several seconds to look all around us at the clerics and soldiers whose dead bodies were strewn all about the roof of the temple, and at the crowd of people far below who appeared dazed and confused. The courtyard too was littered with the dead and the severely injured. Moans of pain and agony accompanied the quiet murmurs of people as they attempted to comprehend their situation. However, alongside the apparent despair and suffering, there was, for just the briefest span of time, a certain sense of relief in the air, a feeling of gladness that the worst was over and that those who were still breathing had somehow survived.

But despite the cheerful words of the spirit of Petchko as he passed along into his blissful afterlife, the promising tomorrow of which he had spoken proved to be but a fleeting illusion. Gradually and yet inexorably, the nightmare of our realty began once again to descend upon us. As Ladislav stepped over to Vance to cast a healing spell on him, the questions of those who had witnessed the climax of the battle slowly rose above the din and took voice all around us. What had just happened? Where did the demon and his army of Altered disappear to? And, most importantly, where was their beloved leader, Yagno Petrovna?…

…As the shouts of the people below us began to call out, nearby, the only two surviving clerics and the two surviving soldiers left on the roof of the temple, looked to one another for apparent guidance, until one of them worked up enough courage to tell us to drop our weapons, saying we were under arrest. The other three then stepped towards us and held out their weapons in a show of support, but they were hesitant to get too close. Realizing the growing threat, Ladislav tried to reason with the clerics, telling them that Yagno Petrovna was not the savior they believed him to be and that it was not our fault that he had been killed in the explosion. But it soon became clear that they would not be so easily persuaded. The crowd below in the courtyard became more and more restless and as they started to chant, the clerics and soldiers grew more confident and bold. More soldiers entered the temple and began ascending the stairs to the roof. Soon, they were emerging from the stairwell and surrounding us.

Ladislav, meanwhile, had at least stalled them for time while we tried to come up with a feasible plan of action. None of us wanted to battle these people, so we tried desperately to come up with a nonviolent means of escape. The clerics eventually realized they would need to give us a “fair” and very public trial. But they argued over which of them should become the new leader of the people. Seeing the reaction of the crowd, we saw that there was little hope of a fair trial. Eventually, enough of the soldiers had surrounded us that they were able to gather the courage to climb the stairs to the altar and take us by force if necessary.

Our situation did not look encouraging at this point. Though I am certain we could have defeated a fair number of the soldiers had we really wanted to or needed to, it was obvious that we were vastly outnumbered and would have been killed or captured eventually. Fortunately, it never came to this as something unexpected and inexplicable then occurred. Just as the soldiers reached the top of the stairs, it seemed as if they were all suddenly struck by a wave of fear. Across their faces appeared expressions of fright and horror and they turned and fled. Some were in such a state of panic that they knocked their comrades off the stairs, causing them to fall some twenty feet or so to the roof. Although they were looking in our direction when it happened, we could not figure out what had caused the soldiers to react in this way.

Thankfully though, it gave us more time to decide upon a course of action, but not a lot more, as another wave of soldiers began to climb the stairs soon afterwards. This time, however, Ladislav cast a spell that created an obscuring cloud of mist around us and the altar. I then cast an invisibility spell on all of us, and in the confusion caused by the blinding mist, we managed to slip past the soldiers and down the stairs. We continued on down from the roof into the temple and by the time the cloud of mist had parted we were long gone.

The invisibility spell lasted for several minutes. So we were able to sneak through and around the crowd of people in the courtyard and were well into the largely abandoned streets of the city before it wore off. Once we had made it this far there was little if anything that could stand in our way and prevent us from leaving the city for we knew the city gates had been left open and unguarded.

But as we made our way through the streets we drew near to an area of the city where the night sky had been lit by an orange glow. We had seen this area, in fact from the roof of the temple, but could not determine its cause. Now, however, it soon became obvious. A large portion of the city had been set on fire and several blocks had burned to the ground, save for an occasional blackened stone wall or a few charred timbers that had not completely collapsed.

As we scrambled past the smoking and ruined remains of the buildings, trying to remain unseen by the occasional stragglers and looters who scurried about, we overheard the sound of a man crying nearby. A glance down a darkened alleyway revealed a man seated on the ground, leaning against a wall and holding a small boy who also wiped tears from his eyes. The man was telling the boy to be brave, though it appeared he may have been even more distraught than the boy. We overheard the man saying that the boy’s mother and sister were no longer with them, that they had passed on to a better life. Then he cursed the band of strangers who had started the fire several hours before with their forbidden magic. It was then that we realized what had happened, and that we were indirectly responsible the deaths of the man’s wife and daughter.

We recalled, at that time, passing nearby the area on our way into the city earlier in the day. We had run into a band of looters who tried to rob us. I threw a fireball at them, killing several of them. The rest we killed with our weapons. Then we left the buildings to burn, believing them to be completely abandoned. Apparently, we were mistaken. Now, just after the man had cursed us, he caught sight of us. No doubt fearing more violence from us, he took the boy and fled into a nearby abandoned building. We then stepped around a corner to discuss the situation.

Some members of the band, Ladislav in particular, felt badly for the two lives lost in the fire and realized that with our rod of resurrection, we could actually do something about it. Vance and Scar agreed. I, on the other hand, felt some guilt for having been the one to start the fire. But I was of the opinion that there had been many lives lost in the city recently and we could not hope to save them all or bring them back. I also felt it would be too difficult to find the bodies of the woman and the girl in order to resurrect them. The point was made, however, that of all the lives lost on this day only these two, as far as we were aware, died as a result of our actions. Scar also felt confident he could track the man’s footsteps back to his home. So, as long as there seemed to be a reasonable chance of success and it did not take too much time, the rest of us agreed to let them try.

With these thoughts in mind then, we followed Scar as he retraced the man’s footsteps to the smoking remains of the man’s home. The structure had not completely collapsed, though it had been gutted by the fire and flames continued to lick at some of the structure. It did not look safe. Ladislav cast a fire protection spell on himself. Then he and Scar entered the building. As feared, some of the building collapsed on them while they were inside. But somehow they managed to find the two bodies, which were not as badly burned as we had feared. It looked as if they had died from smoke inhalation.

Ladislav and Scar were able to pull the bodies out and, once Ladislav healed himself and Scar, he used the rod to resurrect first the little girl and then the mother. He told them that they had merely passed out and that we were able to save them. Soon afterwards we led the two back to where we had last seen the man and the boy. They came out of hiding and the family was reunited with tears of joy. They thanked us for saving the mother and daughter, never realizing the full truth of what we had done. We then continued on our way.

After leaving the city, we began to discuss where we might go from there. With the death of the domain’s darklord, we knew there were a number of possibilities for what had become of the land. But the possibility that seems most likely to us is that the domain now has a new darklord. If this is the case, we might be able to simply walk out of the domain. But this seemed risky without further information. So we decided instead to return to the camp of the mongrelmen.

A short while later, we arrived at the camp and told the few dozen mongrelmen there about what had happened in the city. Unable to fully accept the idea that the demon Malistroi was not Zhakata the Devourer, we played along with their beliefs and declared that both he and Yagno had been destroyed. This pleased the mongrelmen greatly and they offered whatever they could provide for us, which, of course was not much. But we reminded them that we had been promised help in escaping G’Henna when we agreed to go on the quest to the House of Bones. So the elders of the camp gave us what information they had, which was mostly just a long list of rumors about various places within the land. We listened to their stories late into the night.

It is hoped that one of these rumors will lead us either to a magical gate or a mistway to another realm, or to the new darklord, assuming there is one, where we might find more answers. If need be, we may have to defeat another darklord in the hopes that the land will break apart and the mists will take us to another land. It may be a long shot, but it is all we have.

Tuesday, February 21st

Late this morning, we said our goodbyes and left the camp of the mongrelmen, heading southwest towards the arches where we had first entered the land of G’Henna. It was our hope that at the arches, we would find a gateway to take us back to Mordent, or even a clue that might lead us there.

Along the way, as we passed over the road to the west of Zhukar, we came across a most disturbing sight. It appears that a caravan of people had been attacked and slaughtered by a group of bandits. A wagon had been set on fire and many bodies lay strewn about. Were it not such a common sight as of late, we might have taken the time to bury the bodies. But we felt compelled to continue on our way.

We encountered nothing else of interest for the remainder of the day, and shortly before dusk, we arrived at the arches. But we found no gateway and nothing that would lead us to believe we might locate one. So we set up camp and as we ate our evening meal, which, as usual, consisted of the bland fare magically produced by Ladislav, we discussed our next course of action.

We have agreed to head north from here to search out two locations where it is rumored that people have disappeared. Perhaps, if we are lucky, in one of these places we will find a gateway to take us out of this accursed land. I have noticed, however, that some of us have occasionally fallen into brief episodes of despair. It seems that this land is taking a heavy toll on our mental health and it provides yet another reason why we must leave it behind.

Wednesday, February 22nd

Today, we began our trek to the north. As we had done previously when we needed to travel from the House of Bones to Zhukar as fast as we could, I conjured a magical horse for each of us to ride, and I will most likely continue to do so throughout our journeys in G’Henna. Unlike on our previous rides however, we are not in as big a hurry, so there is no need to ride the horses beyond their normal endurance.

Early in the day, it began to rain, which is a strange and yet welcoming sight in this typically dry and desolate realm. Afterwards, when the clouds broke apart, we even saw a rainbow, which again seemed to be a sure sign of hope. But it did not last for long. We encountered no real challenges this day, other than a river that we had to ford in the afternoon. But still some of us seemed to suffer from bouts of depression and despair as the day drew to a close.

We have begun to suspect that the small animator still clings to Vance, though we have seen no sign of the larger one for days. It is possible that the smaller animator is the cause of our bouts of despair and perhaps even the fear experienced by the guards on the roof of the temple, for it feeds on negative emotions and may be capable of producing them.

Other things have come to light as well over the past couple of days. Vance has tried to rid himself of the cursed dagger once again with the help of a spell from Ladislav. And to my great distress, we discovered that we had failed to remove the blight from the books we recovered from the House of Bones. As a result, most of them were ruined and had to be disposed of. We also failed in an attempt to remove a magical trap from the spellbook found in the House of Bones, and in the process, it too was destroyed.

Thursday, February 23rd

Today, we continued to ride north across the desolate steppes without encountering any real signs of life aside from the sparse and withered vegetation that dots the land. But at the end of the day, we came across a weathered and abandoned old house which we thought might be a good place to spend the night. When we entered it however, we found that it was inhabited by a small group of giant spiders. Three of them were roughly the size of dogs, but the fourth was truly monstrous and was much more difficult to kill. Nevertheless, we were able to kill them all without suffering any serious injuries. Afterwards, we found the skeletal remains of a few previous victims as well as a few possessions of value, which we collected. Unfortunately, Vance’s cursed dagger also reappeared in the skirmish.

Friday, February 24th

Today, we made good progress in our journey as we rode northward for most of the day, without incident. At the end of our ride we made camp once again in the desolate steppes, just a few miles south of a river, according to our map. As usual though, some of us fell into brief episodes of depression. So we are now fairly certain that it is the animator that is responsible for this. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little we can do to rid ourselves of this menace.

Monday, February 27th

As I write these words, my companions and I have found ourselves in a very mysterious and unexpected situation. But to avoid getting ahead of myself, let me first start by saying that we did not get through the night last night without experiencing some difficulties. Indeed, far from it, for we nearly did not survive the night – at least not with our humanity intact.

Sometime during the night, we were attacked by four lycanthropes, the likes of which we had never heard of, let alone ever encountered before. Werejaguars, I believe they were. While they probably would not have been much more difficult to defeat than your average werewolf, that is, had we known what substance they were vulnerable to, they proved to be quite a challenge otherwise. As it was, nothing we used against them seemed to be particularly effective. Not even Van Richten’s Guide to Werebeasts had much to offer against werejaguars. Nevertheless, we eventually managed to kill the monsters, but not before most of us suffered from several serious scratches and bites.

It was not until later in the night however, when we discovered what is perhaps their most disturbing aspect. For it was then that we learned firsthand that those who have been infected with their particular form of lycanthropy transform into werejaguars, not in a number of days or weeks, but rather in a number of hours! I was the first such victim to this terrible and quite painful transformation and it occurred just a few hours after the attack. To make matters worse, my transformation into a lycanthrope apparently hit upon some deep-seated fear inside Scar, and he suddenly fled from the scene in a panic. Ladislav had to chase after him and calm him with a spell from his staff, while the rest of the band had to try and subdue me. I, of course, can recall nothing of what occurred during this period, and so I must rely on what my companions have told me. But, according to them, my transformation into a werejaguar, was only the first of several that spread like a relentless plague through our band.

A few hours after my transformation, just before sunrise, Ladislav also succumbed to his disease infected injuries. So he too had to be subdued and tied up with ropes. It was at this point, that the band decided to tie everyone up who had been scratched or bitten by a werejaguar, before any possible transformations took place, even if the injury had come from one of us. This left only Vance, who among us was the only one who had yet to be injured by a werejaguar.

The band then waited to see what would happen. At about eight o’clock, Redwald transformed into a werejaguar! Then, at noon, it was Scar’s turn! And still at this time none of the rest of us had resumed our original forms. I’m sure Vance was quite disturbed by now, having seen all of his companions turn into monsters and leaving only him to ponder over our very grim predicament.

This, according to Vance, is the point at which things became even more bizarre, and we were suddenly and unexpectedly saved from a terrible nightmare by a strange woman who seems to have appeared out of nowhere. The day had already started out being very foggy. But shortly after Scar’s transformation, the fog became even thicker than before, and out of this fog stepped a raven-haired beauty with pale skin and piercing gray eyes. Despite the chilly atmosphere, she was bare-footed and wore only a thin white dress.

She asked Vance if she could be of assistance, telling him that she was an anchorite of Ezra. When asked for her name, she told him that he could call her Valerie. She seemed to know what needed to be done and when Vance accepted her offer, she took him by the hand and, in Vance’s words, “she felt cool to the touch.”

The next thing that Vance knew was suddenly waking up in a soft bed inside the chambers of a castle. All of his clothing and possessions were laid out on a nearby table and chair. Somewhat alarmed and mystified, he could not recall how he had come to be in such a strange place. But he got dressed and gathered his things. Then he opened the door and gradually made his way downstairs to a large dining hall where he soon encountered the lady once again. She offered him food and drink and when asked about the rest of the band, she assured him that we were all well. In fact, we had already been cured of our lycanthropy! She directed Vance towards another hallway where she told him we were resting in bedchambers of our own.

It was at about this time, when we too began to awaken and find ourselves in a situation similar to what Vance had just experienced. Soon, we were all dressed and reunited, and as we made our way back to the dining hall, Vance tried his best to explain to us what had happened. Back in the dining hall, the lady of the castle introduced herself to us and invited us to eat and drink. Realizing just how hungry we were, we gladly accepted her offer and, much to our surprise, were informed that we had already been guests in her castle for two days!

The food, which consisted of fruits, vegetables, bread and cheese, was very good, especially compared to what we had been forced to eat over the past couple of weeks. But we did notice the absence of any meets, which I suppose was understandable considering the land we were in. She also had plenty of red wine to drink.

While we enjoyed our meal, Lady Valerie encouraged us to tell stories of places we had been to and adventures we had been on. She seemed to really enjoy listening to anything we had to say, particularly if it came from Vance, who, for some reason she seemed to take a liking to. She did not, however, say much about herself and we did not ask a lot of questions, though I am not sure why. Perhaps some us felt intimidated by her or thought it would be impolite to be too inquisitive to a host who had rescued us from a terrible situation and asked for nothing in return.

But she did tell us that we were currently in what is commonly called the Lonely Tower, of which we had heard mentioned in the mongrelmen’s rumors, though we knew nothing more about it. Apparently, the Lonely Tower was much bigger on the inside than it appeared to be from the outside, probably due to the use of extra-dimensional spaces.

More importantly however, was the advice she gave us about escaping G’Henna. She told us that a new Darklord has taken over the realm. He appears to be a hermit living in what is called the Vale of the Blest, where many pilgrims are known to have traveled to and were never seen or heard from again. This place was in fact one of the two places we had decided to visit, thinking there might be a gateway there. But according to Lady Valerie, this hermit is actually a necromancer, a cleric of Zhakata the Devourer, who has been in league for quite some time with a powerful fiend. Supposedly, he has been transforming the pilgrims who come to him into ghouls who serve him willingly. He now has a small army of ghouls and some of these ghouls have become quite skilled in various tactics. Lady Valerie says that, in order to escape G’Henna, we will have to defeat this new Darklord. Fortunately, she has also invited us to stay in her castle as long as we like in order to rest and prepare ourselves for the challenges that await us. We have decided to stay at least one more night.

And so, in closing, I will simply say that while I don’t know how Lady Valerie could possibly know the things she says she does, I find myself compelled to believe her.

Tuesday, February 28th

Today, we took the advice of Lady Valerie and spent most of the day resting in her castle. I soon became lost in a library I discovered in the castle and spent the day perusing through an impressive collection of books. If only I could spend several weeks there or take some of the books with me.

I’m not sure how most of my companions spent the day, but I later heard that at one point, Lady Valerie took Vance for a stroll in a garden outside and it soon became clear that she had more than a just a passing fancy in him, though again I am puzzled as to what such an attractive lady would see in Vance. However – and I am uncertain if Vance should be admired for his faithfulness, or ridiculed for passing up such an opportunity – when Vance realized that Lady Valerie had taken an interest in him, he politely informed her that he had a girlfriend back home, whom he could not be unfaithful to.

Lady Valerie did not appear to take this news too badly, for a short while later, she was seen flirting with Ladislav, who I suppose is the most charismatic member of the band, despite or perhaps because of his Vistani blood. Apparently, Lady Valerie has been quite lonely in her Lonely Tower. But by this time, Ladislav was now convinced that Lady Valerie was not simply an anchorite of Ezra, but in fact, Ezra herself!

After some reflection on the matter, I can see how Ladislav might have come to this conclusion. There was certainly a mysterious air about her and she seemed to look the part. Plus, how else could one explain all that she had done for us and the things that she knew? Ladislav was certain that Ezra had taken notice of us because we had gone out of our way to correct a mistake we had made in Zhukar when we resurrected the woman and her daughter; and because of this, Ezra came to us and rescued us in our hour of need! And now, according to Ladislav, it is Ezra who is sending us on a quest to defeat a Darklord! And to support this hypothesis even further, today, when Vance decided to take advantage of Lady Valerie’s obvious liking towards him, and asked her if she could rid him of his cursed dagger, she took the dagger from him and it simply dissolved away in her hands! Again, I don’t know how else to explain this, except to suggest that the dark powers that rule over the Land of Mists are playing some kind of game with us.

Whatever the case, Ladislav found he could not accept the advances of what he believed to be the very goddess he worshiped. And so he too turned her away, though for a very different reason.

Later in the evening, after some discussion, we decided we were ready to leave the Lonely Tower and agreed to set out in the morning. Lady Valerie promised she could aid us one more time by quickly returning us to where we had been attacked by the werejaguars a few days ago. Therefore we would not have to retrace our journey and could soon pick up where we left off.

Wednesday, March 1st

Following one more nice breakfast of fruit, eggs and bread, we thanked Lady Valerie for all she had done and headed out from the Lonely Tower on a set of horses that she provided. Shortly after we departed we looked behind us to discover that the tower had suddenly vanished! Though it was another gray and foggy morning, we were certain the fog was not thick enough to make the tower disappear.

But this was only the beginning of the day’s mysteries, for just as Lady Valerie had told us, the horses upon which we rode then sped up and seemed to take us into an almost dream-like version of the world that suddenly flew past us in blurry streaks. What normally would have taken a few days to cover, we managed to cross over in a few hours. Before we knew it, we were back at the campsite where we had been attacked by werejaguars a few days before. We got off the horses to examine the place and make sure we were in the right place. When we turned around the horses were gone! They too had vanished just like the tower, and we were left wondering if it all was just some kind of mass delusion, or perhaps a powerful ghost. Or did we really have an encounter with the Lady of the Mists?
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 22, Chapter Seven, A Betrayal Foretold

The body inside the circle suddenly jerked into a standing position. A pronounced hush fell over the room as the haggard form starred around at the captivated onlookers, its eyes glowing eerily within a fanged face that was disturbingly like that on the statues of Zhakata that we had seen throughout G’Henna. Its skin was stretched tightly over its naked body, showing every joint and bone. Could this, we wondered, truly be a god?…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

(Continued from) Wednesday, February 15th, 745 B.C.

The darkness before us parted reluctantly as we cast light spells upon a few of our weapons and proceeded cautiously down the hallway. We did not travel far before arriving at the source of the ringing echoes – a huge natural crevice deep within the earth, where the darkness seemed to thrive. Stretching across the chasm was a bridge too long for our light to reach its end. The bridge was constructed of stout bones held together by sinews and did not appear to be particularly strong.

Convinced that the end of their crusade was near at hand, many of the mongrelmen were very anxious to cross the bridge. But we urged them to stay back while Vance scouted the bridge out ahead of us. About ninety feet across, Vance’s light source revealed the far side of the chasm and fifteen feet beyond that, a set of double doors. After checking around for a bit, Vance returned to us and reported finding no traps and that the doors did not appear to be locked. So, one at a time, my companions and I made our way across. We were then followed by the twelve mongrelmen who had made it this far, while the five surviving members of the Circle of Darkness cautiously fell in behind the mongrelmen.

As we crossed, Ladislav cast a light spell on a coin and dropped it into the chasm to see how far down it went. But at about sixty feet, the light suddenly winked out and the coin disappeared without a sound. This caused us to speculate various explanations ranging from a magically darkened area to the misty borders of the realm below us. Whatever the case, one thing we felt sure of was that falling into the chasm would likely result in one’s irrevocable demise.

Once we had all crowded into the limited space before the double doors, we pushed open the doors and gazed into the chamber beyond. It was a chamber unlike anything we had ever seen. Although spacious, it felt small and cramped because it was cluttered with tables and shelves. Surprisingly, it was lit by two small braziers at the far end of the chamber with smoke rising lazily above. Shadows gathered in the corners of the room and clung to the bony beams overhead.

Between the doorway and the braziers stood a podium, upon which rested a massive book. A body was slumped at the foot of the podium. Two more lay near the center of the room, and a fourth was crumpled at the far end. Here and there we could also see the remains of small animals in varying states of mummification.

A few of us, myself included, approached the podium to look at the book, while others examined the bodies of those nearby. Some of us noticed a half circle carved into the stone floor, inside of which rested the fourth body. The mongrelmen meanwhile, with the exception of Petchko and Wahrg, milled about the chamber, chanting and praying to Zhakata the Provider. It was clear they believed that somewhere in this room their goal had been reached. Petchko and Wahrg, on the other hand, along with the agents of the Circle, were more cautious and carefully surveyed the room.

Vance inspected the body near the podium, which we concluded to be that of the forgotten wizard and master of the House of Bones. Perpetually frozen with a look of horror on his mummified face, the hunch-backed man in black robes exhibited unmistakable evidence of having been stabbed in the back. The cause of death for the other two nearby men, the wizard’s apprentices, was not as easily discerned. Their expressions were blank and withered – as if they had been rapidly drained of life force. The third apprentice, of course, we had already discovered upstairs hiding away in their barricaded quarters, where it appears he eventually died of fright.

Bolsh and I focused our attentions on the book atop the podium. Bound in black leather, its pages were covered with cryptic runes. Casting spells that allowed us to read magic, we soon discovered that the book contained rituals and arcana used for conjuring and imprisoning extra-planar beings. One name stood out prominently – Malistroi. Perhaps the wizard believed this to be another name for Zhakata the Provider. For it seemed that it was this being called Malistroi who had been summoned – and who still remained trapped within the half-circle.

As we examined the book, we found a loose page containing a diagram of the warding circle. A sketch of the talisman and a note on the diagram indicated where on the edge of the circle the talisman needed to be placed in order “to awaken the Provider.” Seeing this, Bolsh handed the talisman over to Yart, instructing him to stand ready and place the talisman when the time was right.

Elsewhere in the room, a few of us slowly inched towards the half circle and as they did so, they could feel an electrical charge in the air. Upon informing the rest of us, we cautioned them to step no closer to the half circle, certain we were that it was a magical barrier. A spell to detect for magic seemed to confirm this. The body that lay within the half circle was curled up in a fetal position, thus making it difficult to determine its height and many of its features. But the body was naked and appeared withered and skeletal. We estimated it would stand about 8 feet tall. Beyond that, we could be sure of nothing else.

As we stood about examining the chamber wondering what we should do, while the mongrelmen continued to chant and pray, Bolsh unexpectedly began reciting the arcane words written in the book before us. Alarmed by his inexplicably rash behavior, for we had yet to even debate our next course of action, I slammed the book shut and pulled it away from him. Having before seen the disastrous consequences of a similar situation when I was years younger, I saw the warning signs before us and began to sense the danger we now faced.

Bolsh looked at me, at first startled and confused. Then with an expression of determination, he snatched the book back. I yelled at him, trying to talk some sense into him, as I once again grabbed the book and tried to hold him off. But already it appeared I was too late, for with the first uttered words of the ritual, something else in the room began to stir…

…Hideously inhuman, there was something forlorn about the creature that now stood before us. Something about its face seemed horrid and wicked, and yet so weary. It stared into our eyes as if it could see into our hearts and minds. Then we heard a voice, not with our ears but rather within our thoughts. It spoke to us, telling us it had been too long since it was imprisoned – telling us it was too late. “Go, quickly,” it said. “Leave this place behind.” The voice seemed to weaken, as did the creature. And yet the voice could not be held back. As it weakened, so too did we feel our strength begin to ebb.

If its intent was to strike a sympathetic cord within some of us, despite what our eyes and our rationale should have been telling us, then it succeeded. Seeing their god withering before them and on the verge of death, the mongrelmen became filled with rapture and began demanding the Provider be freed. The agents of the Circle became excited, though still remained hesitant.

Seeing that Bolsh would not easily take the book away from me and some of my companions who now came to my aid, Yart took it upon himself to free the being with the talisman. As he stepped towards the barrier’s edge, where the talisman would be placed, we shouted a warning and Scar moved to intercept him. Wresting the talisman away from him, Scar was able to prevent it from being used to free the imprisoned being.

But, despite all our efforts, it seemed the creature’s release was simply fated to be. For the mongrelmen were blind to the realities of the situation, seeing only what they had longed for, for all of their lives. In the end, it proved to be the undying faith of the mongrelman’s champion, Wahrg, who would ultimately secure the release of Malistroi, when, in a cruel twist of happenstance, he stomped towards the barrier and, in his excitement, the fool stumbled. Losing his balance, he fell to floor and as his head struck the ground, his blood spilled over the half-circle that was etched into the floor.

Once again, a hush fell over the room as everyone turned to see the fallen champion. But the silence was soon broken by the imprisoned being. “I hunger,” it hissed, an ancient smile appearing on its lips. Suddenly, the creature reached out and grabbed the unfortunate mongrelman with its boney hands and before we had time to react, it drained all the life energy from that mortal shell in a flash of blue light and a feeble cry from the victim. Malistroi then dropped the lifeless husk and inhaled in ecstasy. Crooking a finger in the direction of the other mongrelmen, they stumbled towards him as their eyes filled with a golden glow – all except Petchko. We realized then that the mongrelmen were doomed.

Some of my companions tried to stop the mongrelmen or reacted defensively. But it was all to no avail. One by one, the withered forms of the mongrelmen fell like cordwood to the floor. With a roar like a hurricane, the creature’s body distorted and grew to a towering height in the blink of an eye. With a moan, the remaining mongrelmen and several cultists fell to their knees chanting, “Provider, Provider, Provider!”

The creature surveyed the room with its glowing eyes. Its form shivered, and it appeared stronger. Small feathered wings unfolded from its back as an evil grin appeared just above the tusks jutting from its lower jaw. There was no mistaking it now, for at last I recognized the monstrous form as that of a demon known as a nalfeshnee, though I remained uncertain of its abilities.

Yart stepped forward then and spoke to the creature. “O, mighty one,” he said. “We have come to free you and crave your help against the vile Yagno Petrovna…”

The demon bellowed, “Yagno!” shaking the rafters. His wings thrashed. “Gladly will I aid any who battle him! With you, my blind servants, we will defeat him! We will gain our revenge!”

One of the demon’s beefy hands then closed on Yart, and yanked him into the air. The demon’s gaze swept the room as his body grew fuller. “You shall serve the Devourer and we shall wage war on Yagno and his false god!” Yart’s anguished scream fell silent as the demon crushed his body. The few remaining mongrelmen stared blankly at it, unaware of the gore that splattered them, until their flesh began to melt and reform beneath the demon’s gaze.

Suddenly aware of the demon’s incredible might and of the futility of fighting such a horror, my mind could only think of the tragedy that unfolded before me the first time I had faced a demon. In the back of my mind a voice was screaming – Run! Run for your life! And so I turned and fled. I was not the only one to flee, as I briefly noted that Madar had also run from the chamber, though I soon lost track of him. Back across the bridge I ran, through the dissection chamber and up the stairs. But as I entered the hallway at the top of the stairs, I was greeted by another unexpected sight.

There before me, a writhing mass of immense, slime-covered worms was pressing into the hallway from the direction of the room we were previously unable to enter. As big as a man, each of the worms had a twisted humanoid face. From the toothless maws of these maggots issued a haunting unnatural song. Their crawling bodies writhing across each other created incessant whispers and murmuring as they gradually made their way towards me. Seeing no way past these abominations, I had no choice but to turn back and race towards the other set of stairs.

But of course, back in the summoning chamber, my companions had problems of their own, which I would later hear about. Apparently, Petchko was the only mongrelman who had not fallen under Malistroi’s spell. While I was fleeing from the room, he was shouting back at the demon. His last words were, “Zhakata will strike you down creature!” But then, his face went blank and he too became a victim of Malistroi. Like the other mongrelmen, Petchko was drained of life force and his body was remolded into something else.

At first, my companions tried to fight the demon, but spells seemed to have no effect on him and most weapons did little if any harm to him. Malistroi simply laughed at our feeble attempts to battle him while he continued to feed on the easier targets. When all the mongrelmen had fallen, he began feeding on the cultists, growing stronger with each soul that he drained. Bolsh and the remaining cultists seemed unwilling to believe that all their efforts had been for nothing and they tried to reason with and placate the devouring fiend. But it was useless. Soon after their bodies were drained of life force and their bodies were reduced to quivering mounds of flesh, their flesh began to reform and grow into humanoid forms of varying shapes and sizes, all of which were hideous to behold. It quickly became apparent that we would eventually be forced to battle these altered beings as well.

Realizing that there was little hope in stopping Malistroi and that if they did not flee they too would become his victims, my companions turned and retreated from the room. Unsure of whether or not the demon would be able to break free from its imprisonment, they closed the door behind them to buy some time, and raced across the bridge. Some of them stopped on the far side to try and cut loose the bridge, while others moved on into the dissection chamber.

It was there in the dissection chamber where I ran into Redwald on my way back. He cast a spell on me that helped to calm my fears and allowed me to think clearly again. He then quickly explained what had occurred in my absence and we hurried back to where the others were trying to cut the bridge.

By this time, the door to the dissection chamber had been opened and several of the altered creatures were attempting to cross the bridge. With no time to spare, I cast a fireball at the creatures and in the process, destroyed the bridge. Those who were not instantly killed in the blast, fell into the impenetrable darkness below, where we heard them hit what sounded like mud about sixty feet below. But from the screams we continued to hear, we could tell that it was something other than mud they had fallen into.

With the bridge severed and any pursuit from behind us now thwarted, we were able to breathe a bit easier. But I knew that Malistroi would not be held for much longer and as a demon he could teleport anywhere that he wished to. We also had the problem of the worm-like creatures in front of us, which I now realized were probably the near mindless larva of demons. After checking the other set of stairs, we discovered that dozens of these larva were headed down both sets of stairs towards us. So we retreated back beyond the dissection room and waited. When they reached the dissection room, we attacked and I threw another fireball, killing and severely wounding many of them.

Once we had battled through the larva we headed back up stairs. When we reached the hallway where I had first encountered the larva, we returned to the door that we had been unable to open earlier. As expected, it now stood open and from inside we could hear a near deafening crooning coming from within. A viscous, foul-smelling fluid had gushed out into the hallway. Gagging from the stench of filth and rot, we peered into the room and found that there were still hundreds of these larva writhing about. Upon seeing us, they slowly slithered towards us. Realizing there was nothing in the chamber worth battling the larva over, we headed towards the exit.

But as we reached the large gallery we heard a familiar, deep voice echoing through the hall with menace. “Leaving? Hmmm?” it said. It was followed by a high-pitched giggle that ripped through the air. Then from behind the bone columns stepped out not one, but all four of the room’s cyclops skeletons, each one in armor bristling with nasty hooks and barbs and wielding massive greatswords.

Once again, we were forced to battle the animator, though which of the four skeletons it inhabited and which ones it had simply animated, we could not tell at first. Early on in the battle, when Vance went to grab his mace, it suddenly flew up and began attacking on its own. Apparently the smaller animator had now taken control of Vance’s mace, realizing that it was more effective than a dagger against skeletons. So Vance resorted to using his sword and dagger. The battle then proceeded as it usually did and we were able to defeat the cyclops skeletons. Once again, when the last skeleton fell, the animator was seen to leave and take a swing at Vance as it did so. But as it always had before, it then disappeared.

When the battle was over, Vance noticed then that he had been unknowingly using the dagger he had removed from the dead apprentice instead of his own silvered dagger. This has caused him to wonder if the dagger is cursed. So he has asked Ladislav to pray for a spell to remove curses the next time we rest.

Hearing a mass of larva approaching behind us at this point, we continued on to the exit and soon stepped out into the canyon. It was late in the afternoon when we left the House of Bones and were greeted by a cold, gray sky. Moments later though, we were also greeted by Madar, who had somehow managed to escape when he fled from the summoning chamber. Being the only member of the Circle of Darkness to make it out alive, he was very relieved to find he was not alone. But he was clearly dismayed to learn all that occurred after he left.

We quickly debated our options then and soon came to the conclusion that we needed to fly as quickly as possible to the city of Zhukar and warn them about Malistroi. After some thought and discussion, we have come to the conclusion that when Yagno Petrovna first came to the House of Bones, the wizard that he was with had summoned the demon Malistroi instead of Zhakata the Provider. Whether or not this was intentional on the wizard’s part or just some horrible mistake, we cannot be sure. But regardless, it seems that when it was done, Yagno stabbed the wizard in the back and fled, leaving the demon trapped inside his prison. This may be part of what has caused Yagno to question his faith in recent times. And despite the fact that we believe Yagno to be insane and of questionable morality, his evil surely does not compare to that of Malistroi. Malistroi, on the other hand, seems intent on raising an army and taking on the Dark Lord of this realm, to the detriment of all who live in G’Henna. So, as much as it pains us to do so, we feel we must return to Zhukar to warn the people and even, if need be, aid the Dark Lord in defeating the greater of two evils.

Once we had agreed upon a course of action, we made it as far from the canyon on foot as we could possibly go. When we passed through the canyon where we had previously encountered the restless spirits known as fael, we were visited by them once again.

This time we put my theory to a test and offered them some food leftover from one of Ladislav’s spells. To our satisfaction, this did indeed seem to appease them, and though they could not physically take the food, they appeared to mimic eating it and soon vanished. We left the food lying on the ground and proceeded on until we felt we needed to stop and make camp.

Thursday, February 16th

Upon awakening this morning, we discovered that Madar had disappeared. Perhaps more disturbingly, we found that the talisman had also been taken from Scar’s backpack. Scar and Redwald found what appeared to be Madar’s footprints leaving the tent where Scar’s backpack was. But just outside the camp, the footprints suddenly came to a stop, as if Madar had somehow teleported or flew away. Realizing that Madar had taken the talisman, we began to wonder if this was the betrayal that the gypsy woman Marda had warned us about. The more we thought about it, the more suspicious we became about other incidents that Madar managed to somehow survive unscathed. Was he truly just lucky, or was he in fact a good deal more skilled than he led us to believe? And the first time we met him, what was he doing on the fourth floor of the Temple of Zhakata and how did he know we were looking for the Sanctuary? It seemed there was more to Madar than we had originally suspected.

Whatever the case, it did not change our objective. We still needed to return to the city of Zhukar as quickly as possible. So, after Ladislav cast a spell to remove any curse that Vance may have acquired from the apprentice’s dagger, he tossed it aside. I then cast five spells that created magical horses which we could ride for the next 14 hours. After 8 hours however, even the magical horses would start becoming fatigued. So Ladislav would have to occasionally cast healing spells on them to keep them going. But because these were not real horses, we were not concerned about any harm we would cause them. The same could not be said about the sores we caused to ourselves from riding horses for 14 hours. But that is another matter entirely.

With the aid of the horses, we have made great time and have put the House of Bones far behind us. The horses may have also allowed us to avoid other problems as well, for we did not encounter a single foe along the way. Nevertheless, we have been in G’Henna long enough to sense there is something wrong, even in this bleak domain. The air now seems to press hard upon our eyes and ears. And to the south, the sky grows dark. There is an unmistakable smell in the air – it is the threat of a coming storm.

Friday, February 17th

Much like the previous day, we have ridden the magically created horses for most of the day and have made great time, though we are sore and weary from such a long ride. Early in the afternoon, as we were riding, the wind suddenly rose up and produced a stinging whirlwind. Then a wicked dagger of lightning jabbed the ground not ten feet away from us, blinding us with its flash as the wave of thunder crashed all about. Fortunately, our magical steeds appeared to be immune to becoming panicked.

As our vision gradually returned to us, we saw a hazy, gargoylish image, the desolate landscape visible through the form. It was Malistroi!

“Mortals!” he snarled in contempt. “At first I thought you had stolen the crystal and I considered amusing ways to destroy each one of you. But, I found that the item I seek was taken by a priestling called Rega. I want it back! You had a hand in freeing me. That is worth a reward, so you still live. Now, I will offer you a boon within my power if you recover that stone. Fail and I will ensure your life is long and exquisitely agonizing.”

Though we were hesitant to say so, a few of us eventually mustered up the courage to refuse the demon’s offer. In reply, Malistroi simply growled, “So be it! Fools!” Then the image vanished in an explosion of sand and grit that wounded some of us, though not severely. It is our hope that we can make it back to Zhukar before we are forced to fight the demon.

Following the encounter, we continued to ride on well after sundown until we could ride no more and eventually stopped to make camp. Along the way, I have noted other changes in the land, no doubt brought about by the release of a very powerful demon. The sky to the south has grown even darker, while the weather has become wild and unpredictable. Even the phases of the moon have advanced at a rapidly accelerated rate.

Saturday, February 18th

Early this morning, we arrived at the village of Kreshka. We had passed by the village on our way to the House of Bones because we did not want to leave any unnecessary clues as to our location. But on the way back, there was no need for any such precautions.

Only about a hundred men, women and children lived in the village which was surrounded by a low earthen wall to protect it from raiders. A deep well provided the settlement with ample water and there was a small herd of boney cattle wandering near the palisade.

Several of the villagers approached us as we entered and asked about the dark seething clouds on the southern horizon. They had sensed there was something wrong and they knew it was no natural storm. We were honest with them and told them a demon had been set loose upon the land and that he was headed this way with an army.

The village leader was soon summoned, a minor priest of Zhakata named Tvoshe. He appeared to be a good-hearted man with the best of intentions, but like so many of the people of G’Henna, he also seemed to be blindly loyal to Yagno Petrovna. When we repeated our warning to him, he interpreted our words as meaning that Zhakata the Devourer was coming to destroy them. We realized it was useless to try and correct him and for the time being it really did not matter. The important thing was that the villagers understood the danger that approached. Almost immediately, people began running to their homes to collect their belongings, while Tvoshe began coordinating plans for a mass exodus to the town of Dervich in the far northern part of the realm. Satisfied that the people would do all they could to flee from the danger, we left the village behind and pressed on.

A short while later, we came to the road leading to Zhukar, and soon after that we came to the intersection of that road and the road to the north. About half way between there and the old abandoned manor where we had stayed a couple of weeks ago, we came across an unexpected situation. Unearthly howls and horrid screams alerted us to some sort of violence not far away. The source was not hard to find. A group of what we have come to term as the Altered was tormenting one of their own, tearing at the outnumbered creature with their claws and fangs. The hapless victim spotted us, and cried out for help in a piteous and somehow familiar voice.

The victim was an unrecognizable, malformed creature, one of the oddly misshapen humanoids with a pointed skull, distorted features and claylike flesh, which we have termed the Shapeless. His attackers were two of the horrid midgets with bloated bellies, spindly arms and rotting flesh, whom we refer to as Imps, and three of the bulbous wretches, short, squat and rubbery with boated torsos and gangly arms and legs, which we call the Bloated.

Feeling somehow compelled to aid the miserable creature we attacked the other Altered and quickly killed them. When the fight was over, we noted the tattered clerical robes of the Shapeless and realized that this was what had become of Petchko. Still, after having suffered yet a second horrific transformation, he somehow managed to retain some form of humanity. But he was badly wounded; his doughy flesh was blackened and oozing a slimy gray ichor. Apparently unable to heal himself, Ladislav did what he could to magically repair his injuries. As he did so, Petchko was revived by his efforts and seemed insistent on providing us with some important insight that he had recently come to him.

“I remember him now,” he managed to sputter. “His name is not Madar. That didn’t seem right. When first I knew him he had a more horrible name and reputation. He was Rega, Yagno’s chief aid! He is much changed, but I recall his voice and manner from when we were both novices. He was ambitious even then.” The creature in Petchko’s ragged clothes choked as he continued. “He has betrayed us all,” he said. “The Circle…everything must have been some kind of trick to benefit himself or Yagno…”

As he uttered these words, his gaze looked up at the silvery moon that had rapidly cycled through its phases over the past few days and his catlike eyes began to glaze over. Despite Ladislav’s efforts, Petchko, it seemed, was dying. Ladislav realized then that Petchko had been poisoned, and there was little he could do to save him. Petchko tried to assure him that it was okay. He was ready to die, for no one would accept him now, not the people of G’Henna, not the mongrelmen, not even the Altered. So we decided to stay with him and provide him what comfort we could in his last dying minutes.

As we did so, we pondered over a number of things that now occupied our thoughts. We were puzzled, for example, on how these Altered had already made it to this spot on foot when we had ridden so hard on horseback to reach this location. We could only assume that Petchko must have fled from the House of Bones, running day and night while being pursued by his attackers who were determined to destroy him. It’s a wonder he made it this far.

We also considered Petchko’s words and what Malistroi had said about Rega. We recalled hearing a rumor about him once that had said Rega was Yagno’s chief assistant and one of the heads of the Inquisition. It was said that he never made public appearances and that none could say what he looked like, though he was rumored to be hideously ugly. It would appear that Rega, being a member of both the Inquisition and the Circle of Darkness, was a double agent, no doubt often pitting one side against the other. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that he is the true power behind both of these groups. And his purpose seemed to be the release of Malistroi and the acquisition of the talisman. Perhaps he believes he can control Malistroi with the talisman. If so, he could conceivably defeat Yagno Petrovna and assume control of G’Henna. And if that is indeed the case, then we have unwittingly aided him in his mad scheme for power.

Once Petchko had drawn his last breath, we dug a shallow grave for him and buried him. Then Ladislav said a prayer and asked Ezra to look over him, since none of us seriously believes in the existence, or at the very least, the good will of any form of Zhakata. When it was done, we continued on our way, now more determined than ever to put an end to the madness of this realm.

A short while later, we passed by the manor house, and when we finally made camp well after sundown, we were half a day’s ride from the mongrelman camp.

Sunday, February 19th

Early in the day, not long after setting back out on the road, and while the skies to the south grew increasingly dark and angry, we came upon a group of mongrelmen traveling in the opposite direction. When we drew near to them they appeared to recognize us and called out.

“Friends!” they greeted us, apparently surprised to see us. “We go to serve the freed Zhakata. What of you? Will you not serve him also?”

To say the least, we were a bit dumbfounded at the blind faith that the mongrelmen had in their religion. But we did our best to explain to them what had really occurred in the House of Bones and how Malistroi transformed the mongrelmen there into the Altered. Eventually, Ladislav managed to convince the mongrelmen to turn back and when they did, they offered to guide us to the mongrelman camp.

However, they informed us along the way that much had changed since we last saw the camp. They said that the Swords of Zhakata attacked the camp shortly after our expedition set out. Hundreds of mongrelmen were slain, and hundreds more have been scattered and lost since. The camp now held scarcely a few dozen mongrelmen, some of whom were the surviving elders.

When we arrived at the camp, which now has a massive gravesite nearby, we spoke to the elders and they listened to our tragic tale. They were heartbroken by our words, but at least they did not become violent when we implied that they had put too much faith in their myth about Zhakata the Provider. In fact, they suggested that the only possible solution to defeating Malistroi lies in Zhukar. We agreed and informed them that we were headed there now.

But we did not want to enter the city until we were prepared to do so. According to the mongrelmen, thousands of people, somehow having already heard the rumors of an army to the south, have fled the city and more continue to do so by the hour. So we will stay in the mongrelman camp tonight. And in the morning, we will complete our journey back to the city.

Monday, February 20th

This morning, after preparing ourselves for any number of difficulties, we walked the remaining three miles to the city. When we started out, we could see the city in the distance, but even from so far away, the city seemed far too quiet.

Despite the bitter cold, no smoke rose from the chimneys, and under the angry and darkened skies, no candles glowed in the windows. Indeed, while the skies grew increasingly dark, the land was darker still. Along the sides of the road, we saw discarded bundles of clothes and small personal possessions, a mute testimony to the mighty exodus from the city.

At the city gates, there were no guards to greet us and the city gates stood open. The city looked oddly abandoned and the gutters were littered with debris. As we made our way through the quiet, empty streets, shadows flitted from alley to corner almost faster than the eye could catch them. An occasional clatter of falling stonework echoed as we walked past guesting houses with gaping doors and wine shops left broken and gutted by looters. Again we wondered how the people could have learned so soon about the approaching army. But it was obvious that word had traveled fast.

At one point, we encountered a band of nine looters, each of whom carried a sack of plunder. They were on the verge of ransacking the bazaar when they spotted us. Emboldened by their recent success and encouraged by their superior numbers, they attacked us. They quickly learned what a mistake they had made when I threw a fireball at them and instantly killed most of them. The remaining few we quickly cut down with our weapons.

During the fight, Vance’s cursed dagger somehow reappeared in his hand, proving it would not be disposed of so easily. Also, a couple of buildings caught fire from the fireball, but we were too concerned about reaching the main temple to worry ourselves about burning down a few abandoned buildings. We did not even bother to gather any of the sacks of plunder that the looters had dropped, as we did not want to be slowed by the excess weight and did not want to take the time to open up Ladislav’s portable hole. There were much more important matters to attend to.

A short while later, we reached the temple district unchallenged, and as we saw the Temple standing before us, its blunt façade seemed to resemble the prow of a beached galleon. The windows were dark, and the usual bustle of junior priests and clerks was absent. The missing millings of humanity caused an uneasy feeling to well up inside me.

The main doors were ajar, their frames black and gaping. One door creaked loudly as it shifted on its hinges. Like the rest of the city, the Temple was nearly empty. Again we proceeded unchallenged through the Grand Hallway and up the stairs to the third floor. As we drew near the third floor, we could hear up above us the echo of loud but distant cursing. Upon reaching the landing at the third floor, we then heard the sounds of fluttering paper and heavy objects being flung about.

When we moved to investigate, a voice nearby bellowed, “Useless!” This was immediately followed by a string of curses. “All useless trash!” the angry voice continued.

Rounding a corner, we found ourselves facing a familiar figure, the man we had come to know as Madar, but who in reality was Yagno Petrovna’s chief assistant Rega. He stood among toppled shelves from which books and scrolls had been pulled. They lied scattered and torn across every inch of the floor. Rega’s appearance and demeanor was much different from the quiet and humble Madar that he once pretended to be. Now wild-eyed and obviously on the verge of exhaustion, he clutched the crystal talisman in one hand. Cradling it to his chest, he stared at us accusingly.

“You,” he growled. “Outlanders! Always turning up like birds of ill omen. What does it take to be rid of you?!”

Realizing that Rega had to be stopped and that he would either put up a fight or try to run, we tried to stall for time by talking to him as we inched in closer towards him. But he soon became wise to our motives and suddenly moved to take action. Redwald proved to be quicker, however, and managed to race in behind him, blocking off any chance for escape through a door on the far side of the room. The rest of us attacked Rega. But much to our surprise, Rega then cast a fireball spell that engulfed the entire room in fire, including himself. But Rega was clearly protected by magic from the fire and remained unharmed. I too was largely protected from the fire, but my companions were not as fortunate.

As the room and all of its contents were lit ablaze, Rega produced a wand and was about to use it, when suddenly an ape-like Altered known as an Apeman sprang out of nowhere and struck Rega. Yagno’s trusted assistant was wounded badly by the Apeman, and soon after, we managed to knock him unconscious, causing the talisman to fall from his grasp and onto the floor. However, we now faced another foe, and it was clear that the Apeman had its eyes on the talisman lying on the floor. To prevent the talisman from falling into the hands of another enemy, Ladislav quickly scooped it up, while the rest of us battled the Altered. We were then able to kill the Apeman without too much difficulty.

Afterwards, Redwald created as much water as he could to put out the fire all around us. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the library was beyond saving and all that remained were singed and water-logged scraps of paper. So, we healed up our injuries and grabbed anything of value from Rega who we bound and gagged. When Rega regained consciousness soon after, we headed towards the fifth floor, taking the captured Rega with us. As we made our way to the stairs, we could see through the windows that the skies were now black, full of scudding clouds, while flashes of lightning clawed the ground savagely. From the Temple’s uppermost floor, a dim flickering light reflected off the brooding gargoyles at the edge of the roof, indicating that Yagno Petrovna, High Priest of the Beast-God Zhakata, awaited us in his living quarters.

The staircase leading to the high priest’s chambers were empty and unguarded. At the top we found a simple wooden door, unlocked, which opened into a small suit of rooms lit by a few candles. There, at a devotional at the far end of the room, a man in red robes kneeled before a small altar. His head was bent in thought. A hood lay on the floor nearby.

Upon our entrance, Yagno made no sudden move and we could not even be certain that he had heard us. Had we wanted to attack him, we could have done so quite easily. But instead we paused, perhaps a bit uncharacteristically, and let the man finish his prayer. After a moment, the man seemed to be aware of our presence and he slowly, nonchalantly, stood up, carefully putting on his ornate hat and adjusting it before speaking.

Then he turned towards us and said in a voice, cultured and refined, with only a trace of an unfamiliar accent, “I have heard much about you. You have brought misery to my land. Did you honestly believe you could help anything by freeing a creature you could not control?”

He then held up a hand, gesturing silence even before we had begun to speak. “Do not bother to answer. Just consider what I say. Zhakata has brought you here for his purposes. I merely seek to do his will.” At this, he turned to look out through a window.

“The city is about to be invaded,” he continued. “Malistroi has gathered quite an army around himself. Even at their greatest strength, I do not believe the Swords of Zhakata could withstand the monsters – and the Swords are far from strong now, scattered between Dervich and Zhukar or fled into the Outlands. I am at a loss. It would be one thing if I had the fiend’s talisman, for then I could destroy it and him with it, but his foul army would still be plaguing my land and my people. If only there was a way to undo what has been done. If only the High Altar…”

Yagno’s eyes suddenly became distant. “Yes, it just might be. I must call upon the faith of the people. Their belief will defend G’Henna against this horror. The strength of their trust in Zhakata will save this land. Yes! It can be done! But how to gather the worshipers?”

Looking to us for a possible answer to his last question, we offered to help gather his followers, though when asked about the talisman, Ladislav did not admit to having it, saying only that he knew where it was. At the time, he did not seem to be aware of the presence of Rega, who stood silent behind some of us, guarded by Scar.

But Scar pushed him into view and we told Yagno of Rega’s betrayal and of his apparent plot to dethrone him. Rega, of course, denied everything and accused us of lying, saying that we did in fact have the talisman. But Yagno seemed more inclined to believe us than he did his chief assistant. Perhaps he had reason to suspect Rega that we were unaware of.

He did not even question us. He merely told us to leave Rega with him and that he would deal with Rega’s punishment. I could not help but notice that throughout our conversation with Yagno, he seemed to be a man at odds with his reputation. In fact, I found him to be quite reasonable, maybe even likeable – surely not the monster that legend portrayed. But in hindsight, perhaps this was only an illusion created by his considerable charm and charisma.

He told us that if we could help in rounding up the worshipers left in Zhukar, and deliver to him the talisman, there was a chance that Malistroi could be defeated. Otherwise, all would be lost. We agreed to do what we could, and he informed us that we needed to hurry. He said that the new moon was considered a very powerful aid to evil magic and dark purposes, and that it would be rising tonight. So we had to have the worshipers gathered around the Temple by the time it rose just after sundown, which gave us less than six hours. Yagno then bid us to begin our task and he sent along with us three of his personal guards to escort and aid us.

We spent the next several hours then doing everything we could think of to gather as many people as possible at the Temple, ranging from using a wand to create a giant illusion of Yagno Petrovna over the city and telling people to come, to pressing townsfolk into service as criers. We split ourselves up and mustered as many guards as we could find to help us.

Meanwhile, the harsh effects that Malistroi and his vast army of Altered had on the environment as they drew ever closer to the city, became more and more prominent. With each passing hour, the temperature of the air dropped, going from freezing and gradually getting colder. Overhead, the sky was completely black and webbed with lightning. Even the ground seemed to grow stonier and more barren.

Eventually, the hour drew near and we returned to the Temple where hundreds of townsfolk were gathering. By now, the cold was almost unbearable and Malistroi’s army was at the city walls. We passed through the crowd as quickly as we could and made our way up to the roof of the Temple.

Once we had emerged from the stairwell, wicked teeth of freezing wind tore through our clothing as we ascended the steps toward the High Altar. Yagno and seven lesser priests were chanting, swinging smoking censors as they walked around the altar’s edges. Close-up, we could see that the High Altar was a block of dark gray stone shot through with black veins. Sharp-etched runes were cut into its sides and blood-gutters were carved into its top.

Lying atop the altar was the body of Rega, held in place by worn leather straps that were fastened to the altar by iron spikes which had been driven into the four corners of the stone. By the blood draining down into the gutters, we could see that Rega had already met his punishment for his treachery and would no longer pose a threat to Yagno Petrovna.

As the people below moved around the Temple and began to fill the plaza, the altar began to glimmer, as though some kind of luminescence were building somewhere inside. Yagno saw us and waved us over, inviting us to attend the sermon atop the Temple. When we got close to him, he asked if we had brought the talisman. Somewhat reluctantly, Ladislav produced the talisman and gave it to him.

One of Yagno’s assistant priests then began a chant to aid us all with a divine blessing, and Yagno instructed us to defend him and the altar from any of the demon’s minions who approached, while he battled against Malistroi. Of course, if we should manage to defeat all the Altered we would then join in the fight against Malistroi. Six elite soldiers from Yagno’s bodyguard were also stationed at the top of the stairs next to the altar, while six more were stationed on the platform just below the altar where we were.

Having now assigned us our tasks, Yagno then drew a circle of powdered silver around him in preparation to create a magic circle that would ward him against demons. Then he turned and faced the murmuring crowd.

Meanwhile, far below the altar, the faithful of Zhakata had gathered around the Temple. Surrounding them were scarcely two hundred of the remaining Swords of Zhakata, bravely facing the encroaching darkness. As it drew nearer, we saw that the shadow was not simply the result of a new moon. It was a seething mass of terrible shapes, wailing more horribly than the wind ever could. In the darkness, pale fangs and talons flashed like tiny strokes of lightning as the horde closed in.

Upon witnessing the scope of the enemy, we realized that the people below would be massacred if we could not stop the demon’s army soon. Several of us, no doubt, felt a sense of hopelessness or a desire to go down below and help save as many lives as we could. But we knew that if we failed to defend the altar there would be no hope. So, while we waited for the enemy to approach, we did what we could with our missile weapons, taking down as many as possible until we had expended all of our long range ammunition.

Meanwhile behind us, Yagno spread his arms wide, his robes flapping in the freezing winds that scoured the temple’s roof. “Hear me, ye faithful!” he shouted, his voice carrying over the howling winds. “This is the hour of testing! Zhakata will judge us by how we stand against the dark. Are we not worthy?”

The crowd screamed back, “We are worthy!”

“Then believe, with all your hearts! Pour your faith into me, defender of G’Henna, the chosen champion of Zhakata. Lend me your strength for Zhakata!”

And thus Yagno had begun his sermon. But down below in the plaza, some of the Altered eventually broke through the line of soldiers and headed for the Temple, carving a path of destruction through the gathered crowd as they did so. Soon afterwards, these same Altered emerged on the roof of the Temple.

As Yagno continued his sermon, the High Altar began to glow more brightly, though it retained a sickly gray taint at its center. Near-tangible beams of light streamed forth, blasting the Altered from the roof like powerful streams of cold water. Screaming in pain and frustration, the Altered plunged over the roof’s edge to fall spinning toward the crowd below. But sixteen of the Shapeless managed to get through. Ten of these were met by the elite soldiers. The remaining six we had to battle, many of which Ladislav quickly destroyed with a holy smite spell. But soon, another wave of Altered came at us, this one consisting of Bloated and Imps.

While we continued to battle these creatures and Yagno continued his sermon, I noticed that the crystal talisman in Yagno’s hand had begun to glow an eerie, sickly green. I could see Yagno grimacing as if the talisman was causing him pain. But onward he continued.

“In our hour of need,” he shouted. “Zhakata has provided aid! In my hand, I hold the very life-essence of our enemy! And with it, rest assured, the demon shall be expunged from our land!”

Just then, even over the wind, we could hear the snap of leathery wings. A piece of the black night sky dropped to the rooftop to face Yagno across the altar – at last, Malistroi had arrived!

“Fool of a priest!” the demon shouted at Yagno. “You remember me, I think.” Malistroi sneered, a terrible grin spreading across his monstrous features.

“Indeed,” rasped Yagno, hoarse with his preaching. As one, the two adversaries raised their arms to attack.

Yagno struck first and channeled a wave of energy all around him. Though I would have expected him to channel negative energy as opposed to positive energy, somehow he was able to affect the demon with it. Perhaps it had something to do with a special ability of his or perhaps it was a power granted to him by the altar. Whatever the case, it affected only the demon, though just barely.

In return, Malistroi tried to strike Yagno with his clawed fists but was repulsed by the magic circle. So Malistroi had to resort to magical means to try and destroy his enemy. Time after time, Malistroi called down bolts of lightning upon the priest. But most of these had no effect on him, for he had protected himself with a spell that created a powerful resistance to other spells. On the few occasions when Malistroi was able to get past the spell resistance, Yagno was able to heal his injuries. Yagno meanwhile, continued to channel energy at the demon, and while Malistroi was able to resist much of the energy’s harmful effects, it did begin to gradually wear him down. No doubt, Yagno did not resort to casting spells at the demon because the demon was likewise highly resistant to spells. So the battle between the two mighty foes raged on and on, with neither one making much headway.

Eventually, we were able to kill the last of the Altered that stood around us, and as our final enemy fell, we turned to the struggle between the high priest and Malistroi. Realizing that Yagno could not last for much longer, we cast a few spells on ourselves in preparation to aid the priest, as some of us climbed the stairs to the altar.

With the demon now wounded and Yagno having exhausted his ability to channel energy, he cast a powerful spell and stepped across the magic circle to strike the demon, hoping it would be enough to mortally wound it. But the demon’s spell resistance proved to be too much, and the spell fizzled out with no effect. This left Yagno vulnerable, no longer protected by the magic circle, and Malistroi took advantage of it, pummeling the priest with his mighty fists. By the time some of us made it to the altar, Yagno was on the ground, blood and severe burn marks marring his vestment, while the demon loomed over him.

“G’Henna is mine!” the horrid creature bellowed, raising his taloned hands to strike the final blow.

“All you own is mist,” Yagno replied, almost inaudibly, swiftly tracing mystical symbols in the air with his hands. As he did so, the talisman fell to the ground and rolled to the feet of Vance standing next to the altar.

For just a moment, Vance stared down at the talisman, still glowing a sickly green. Then he reached down and picked it up.

Malistroi, meanwhile, let out a roar that shook our very bones and lunged towards the fallen priest, but his claws passed harmlessly through him. “You will not cheat me of my revenge!” shouted the demon.

As Vance later explained to us, he suddenly recalled then what Yagno had said earlier, that he could destroy the talisman and Malistroi with it. Could it be as simple as smashing the talisman? If so, where to smash it? Then Vance glanced at the altar and how it pulsated brightly. Could this, he wondered, be the main source of Yagno’s power over the domain? Instantly, the thought occurred to him and almost as quickly he had made up his mind to try and smash the talisman on the altar, though he had no idea what might happen next.

He turned to the altar then, intent on smashing the crystal against it. But the crystal talisman grew so cold that it began to burn his hands, and Vance was filled with an urge to flee from that place, to carry the talisman as far away from there as he could possibly get.

Then he noticed a spot on the altar beginning to glow even brighter – a spot that was the exact shape and size as the crystal. Vance recalled hearing a story from Yagno’s background that said the talisman was actually a fragment of the altar and the thought occurred to him that by placing the talisman back into the spot from which it had come he might fulfill the destiny foretold by the gypsy woman, Marda, when she read the band’s future.

But Vance did not particularly care for that destiny, even though it was he who had drawn the card from the tarroka deck and it had predicted the demise of the wicked. In Vance’s mind, the idea of fate controlling the future was repugnant to him. He wanted to be the one to decide his own fate, whether it be for good or ill. And so he ignored all the other thoughts that crept into his mind. They were mere distractions, perhaps even tricks being played upon him by outside forces. To him, the choice became clear – smash the talisman.

Once his mind was made up, he found it to be easier than he had expected to resist all the other urges. With all his strength, he brought the talisman down upon the altar. With a sudden thunk that seemed to echo, all eyes now turned towards Vance and a look of concern appeared on the faces of both Yagno and Malistroi. The crystal did not shatter, but a visible crack appeared in it. One more blow upon the altar would surely destroy it. And at that moment, time seemed to freeze for just a second. In no position to prevent what was about to occur, all those who stood nearby looked on with great anticipation as Vance brought the crystal talisman down for the second and final time.

With that a tremendous explosion shook the roof of the temple and all within twenty feet were caught in the blast. While many of us managed to dodge to the side and avoid the much of the fire and debris, Vance was unable to. He was caught in the middle of the blast and suffered the full effects of the explosion.

A hush fell over the city not unlike the quieting effect that snow has while falling, though for many of us near the explosion, our ears continued to ring for some time. When the smoke began to clear, we saw that not only had the talisman disappeared and the High Altar was shattered, but Yagno and Malistroi had vanished, presumably blow to bits by the explosion, for no trace of either one could be found anywhere.

Moments later, the fragments of the High Altar and the bodies of the Altered, both those alive and dead, began to dissolve into mist that swirled about, forming and dissolving to and from a wide number of humans of all ages. Among the shifting shapes, one suddenly held longer than the others, and we heard a voice.

“Thank you my friends, for freeing my land and my people,” said the mist-phantom of a handsome man. We recognized the voice as that of Petchko’s. “I, and the others whose souls have been freed, go to a much happier place…and so will those of you who are still living. Know that today you have performed as saviors for generations of G’Hennans, past and present.

The misty forms then dissipated, and as they did, the storm clouds overhead broke as well, revealing a familiar starry night sky. Meanwhile, nearby, I and my companions began to pick ourselves up off the ground, including Vance who had somehow miraculously survived, though he among others was badly wounded.
View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 22, Chapter Six, House of Bones

Five strangers emerged from just beyond the ring of tents. Moving silently and yet with purpose, these thin and rag-clad individuals appeared bony and pale in the light of the full moon. In fact, they seemed to radiate a bluish glow in the moonlight and, though I did not at first comprehend this, I thought it odd how the light of the campfire did not reflect off of them, as though they were insubstantial – as if they were ghosts…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Jareth Ambrose

Monday, February 13th, 745 B.C.

After more than a week spent traveling through the Outlands, it appears we have entered an area that is even more devoid of life than the rest of the land, if that is even possible. Here in the badlands, one gets the sense that nothing alive can survive for very long. It is mostly a maze of twisted rock formations and boulder strewn valleys where even the hardiest of weeds are largely absent. It is perhaps no surprise then that we did not encounter a single creature the entire day – not even a scavenger bird in the gray and dreary winter sky.

Towards the end of the day, we came across one of the many hidden ravines and stumbled upon yet another scene that serves as a testament to the harshness of the land. It was the weathered remains of a makeshift campsite and its most visible feature was a crumbling lean-to that had apparently been fashioned from a wagon. Many bones lay scattered about, some of them half buried, along with torn articles of clothing, rusted out cooking utensils and other useless bits of camping equipment. Some of the bones, which appeared to be human, had clearly been gnawed on by scavengers, while other bones, perhaps those of a horse, had knife marks on them.

Judging by what we uncovered, we put forth the hypothesis that these people (5 remaining by our count) were quite likely pilgrims, probably on their way to the House of Bones, when they were forced to stop and make camp. Their wagon may have broken down, or there may have been some other complication. Whatever the case, it appears they eventually had to kill and eat their horse. But not even that was enough to save them from starving to death.

Since it was near the end of our day’s travels, we decided to take the time and gather what bones we could find and give them a proper burial. With all of the mongrelmen, we had plenty of willing hands to quickly dig a mass grave and have a brief ceremony. Hopefully, it will put to rest any lost souls that may have resulted from this tragedy. Though most of the cultists refused to get their hands dirty, I was a bit surprised when Bolsh offered to say a prayer over the grave. It was easily the most decent thing we have seen him do thus far on our journey. When we were finished, we made a camp of our own a little further down in the canyon.

P.S. After having settled in for the night, we began our normal routine of keeping watch while the rest of us rested. As usual, I was on guard duty early, along with Petchko and one other mongrelman. Unfortunately, none of us became aware of the approaching threat until it was almost too late. I had just finished updating my journal for the day when I glanced up and saw something at the edge of the campfire light…

…As I noted the starved and haunted expressions on the faces of the advancing apparitions, I realized the sudden danger we now faced and my only thought was to warn the others and flee. So I ran away as I called out a warning. Petchko and the other mongrelman likewise backed away from the ghosts but they stayed within the ring of tents. Moaning in anguish, the ghosts then turned to attack the nearby tents while two of them chased after Petchko and the other mongrelman. When the ghosts touched them, I could almost feel the life-draining chill of the dead that each of the victims had to endure.

As each of my companions awoke and grabbed a weapon, a few of the ghosts entered the nearest tents, which were occupied by the cultists, and attacked. Vance, Scar and Redwald soon emerged from their tents to counterattack and as a result, both Vance and Scar were likewise drained of life force. Meanwhile, inside the tents, Bolsh and Olovo were attacked by the ghosts, and they too were drained by the ghosts’ deadly touch. Fortunately, there were many clerics among us who could channel positive energy and were it not for this fact, things would have gone much worse. But with the combined effort of all the clerics, all of whom had to evoke more than one wave of positive energy, they were able to destroy all the ghosts.

Unfortunately, Olovo was completely drained by one of the ghosts before they were all destroyed. As a result, he was killed, and only moments later, his undead spirit rose up from his body and became one of the ghosts. Since Olovo was not a particularly powerful cleric in life, his ghost was likewise not as powerful and Redwald was able to destroy it with one well aimed shot from his gun and a magically enhanced bullet.

However, as soon as this crisis was averted, we then became aware of another when Petchko began to act very erratically. Those of us who had been drained by the ghosts were now feeling very hungry and thirsty. But in Petchko’s case, he simply could not control himself and he began to search frantically about for any food or drink he could consume. When he did find something, he would gobble or gulp it down hastily, but to no satisfaction. Soon, he was tearing things apart in an effort to find more things to eat and drink. Vance was then forced to tackle Petchko and hold him down until we could come up with a solution to cure him of this strange malady. It appears however, that he will require a spell to remove the curse, which none of the clerics can do at this time. So, in the meantime, Petchko will have to be restrained until morning.

Ladislav was able to cast a spell on Vance though, and restore his lost life force. And the body of poor Olovo has been removed from the tent. Hopefully we will have no more surprises for the remainder of the night.

Tuesday, February 14th

This morning, after the clerics regained their spells for the day, Ladislav removed the hunger curse on Petchko. Then he restored the lost life force to Petchko and Scar. Petchko then restored the lost life force to the other mongrelman. This left only Bolsh who we could not restore and he became very upset about this, until we explained to him that it could not be helped. He will simply have to hope that his lost life force will return on its own or pay for a more expensive version of the spell if it does not. No one but Bolsh was at all bothered by this fact. While much of this was taking place, several of the mongrelmen dug a grave for Olovo and before leaving the canyon, we had a brief burial ceremony for him.

On a side note, throughout the course of the day, I have pondered over the fact that despite having buried the bones of the pilgrims who starved to death, their ghosts still appeared and attacked us. This leads me to wonder if we have permanently destroyed them or if their ghosts will eventually return to continue haunting the canyon. If the latter is the case, as I suspect it might be, then there must be some other method that will put them to rest permanently. Typically, when it comes to ghosts, there is often some task that must be completed.

So in this case, it may be that the pilgrims’ quest, whatever that was, has to be finished, or, since they died of starvation and since intense hunger is a side effect of their life draining ability, perhaps it is as simple as offering the ghosts some of our food – though I wonder, because we are dealing with the supernatural here, if ordinary food would suffice. Who knows? We may have the opportunity to find out if we should happen to pass through that canyon on our way back.

After resuming our travels, we once again made our way through the badlands without a single encounter. But a strong breeze blew at our backs for most of the day, pushing us southward into the cold wastes and scouring us with sand and grit. Then, unexpectedly, some of us were momentarily frustrated when it appeared we had wandered into a canyon from which there was no exit.

But as we squinted at the darkening cliffs, we detected something ivory white huddled at their base like an ancient tomb. Some of the mongrelmen seemed to become excited then, as if they recognized the area. The structure before us was squat and broken, rising from the stony floor of the plain. Cracked 8’ tall shard remains formed a toothy fence, barring strangers from the ruins, though several lay toppled and shattered on the rocky soil.

An archway pierced the wall, and a yellowed path led through it to the building’s only visible entrance – a gargantuan, monstrous skull. The tips of its menacing canines had sunk into the ground like fangs into soft flesh. They formed the sides of another archway leading into the dark interior of the structure. A faint moaning sound could be heard, rising and falling as the wind borne sand threatened to scrape any exposed flesh.

Realizing we had at last arrived at the House of Bones, we took a moment to debate our options. We are concerned that the Inquisition may have arrived before us and are now waiting there to ambush us. We also did not want to enter the place while some of the clerics did not have a full complement of spells. So we decided instead, to camp out in the valley near the cliff and station a group of guards at the entrance to the canyon. After setting up a campsite, we assigned a rotation of guards; 2 in the camp and 3 hidden at the canyon entrance at all times.

The sun set soon afterwards and when it did, Vance turned into a bat and scouted out the area around the entrance to the House of Bones for a bit. Upon his return, he reported seeing no sign of the Inquisition or any other recent visitors to the area. But he did spot what he believed to be the remains of a long dead explorer who apparently died near the entrance.

So far, the remainder of this night has been uneventful. But we continue to hear a distant moaning sound that we suspect to be only the wind. And under the light of the full moon, we occasionally see distant shadowy forms moving about. But again we have tried to convince ourselves it is merely our minds playing tricks on us.

Wednesday, February 15th

We made it through the night with no mishaps, though many of us reported having terrible dreams of destruction and torture, of cities on fire and the land being torn apart, while people flee for their lives or cower in fear. These nightmares certainly seemed to suggest some ominous portent and even the air of the canyon somehow felt incomprehensively evil and twisted. I am, however, relieved by the fact that Ladislav has managed to control his moon madness so far. In fact, he rarely ever loses himself any more.

When everyone was ready, we set out towards the odd structure that was our goal. As we drew close, we could see that the gateway inside the maw of the gigantic skull was composed of human skulls. It seemed to exude an aura of malice. The building was pitted, weathered, and partially collapsed. The closer we got, the more the moaning sound grew as a chilling wail of wind passing through the bones added to the eerie chorus.

We sent Vance in ahead of us and as he approached the edge of the toothy fence, the ground below him began to crunch. All around and inside the fence, the ground was covered with the skeletons of thousands of small creatures. Some of the mongrelmen followed Vance in, since they are typically quite stealthy, and a few of them cut their feet on the sharp shards of bone. There was, however, a smoother path leading into the entrance which turned out to be made up of the weather-beaten crowns of human skulls. Following this path, we passed through the fence and approached the archway.

There, lying among the huge fangs that rose up from the ground, Vance came upon the rag-clad, sand-blasted human skeleton he had seen the night before. It had been impaled on one of the tremendous canines. Vance determined that the would-be invader was the victim of a trap that was triggered by a pressure plate. The trap, however, was currently jammed with grit and dirt and now no longer functioned.

As we were observing the scene, a wailing noise suddenly rose above the moaning of the house. From the impaled skeleton rose the ghostly image of a young woman. A dark stream gushed from her mouth, and her dusty clothes were quickly soaked. She reached for Vance, her eyes wide with pain and madness. “Help me!” the apparition cried. “Help meee!”

Vance was so frightened by the sight that he turned and fled. Fortunately, he did not get far before Redwald was able to cast a spell on him to calm him. Meanwhile, those of us who were near the apparition attacked it. But our weapons and spells passed right through it without causing it any harm. When we realized it was not attacking us, but rather just continued to wail we then understood that it was merely a geist.

Since geists are typically harmless and cannot easily be harmed, we eventually ignored it and began searching the remains. When Vance had recovered from his fear, he hurried back to help in the search and only then did he stumble in the broken bones and fall, cutting himself in the process and momentarily providing us with something amusing to break the tension. Most of the woman’s equipment was useless, including a rusted out pistol. But we did find a magical ring on her that could be useful for those who are skilled with firearms.

After searching the skeleton, we continued on into the entrance, paying no mind to the geist as it persisted with its incessant shrieks. Once past the portal we found the house to be filled with a dreadful and menacing aura. Just beyond the entrance, we came to a huge chamber bathed in an eerie blue glow that emanated from the very walls. Spaced along the length of the room were colossal leg bones supporting the ceiling like columns. Beside each of the four doorways leading from the chamber, huge, one-eyed skeletons towered. They wore ornate armor bristling with nasty hooks and barbs. Their pose was erect, their mailed fists resting on the hilts of massive swords. Spaced about the chamber were six niches about a foot in all dimensions. Inside these niches were small figurines of various animals and made of various materials.

Cautiously we moved about the room examining each of the niches and the figurines. Much to our surprise, we were able to collect all six of the figurines without any trouble. We later discovered the figurines were originally created in a land called Sri Raji. As we made our way around the room however, we could not help but notice that same menacing feeling. At times it seemed to come from the deep shadows where the magical blue light failed to reach. Sometimes we could detect faint cracking sounds each time we would stop, or strange echoes. But above it all, the wailing of the geist could still be heard and it gradually began to wear on our nerves.

After exploring the first large chamber, we took a passageway that headed off to the northwest. It led to a roughly oval running hallway lined with doors. Beyond one door were some stairs leading down. But we were not ready to go down just yet. Beyond two sets of double doors, we found a large bedroom that appeared to have once been the quarters of the long forgotten wizard who was once the master of this place. Though we found various books, charts and trinkets in this room, we found little of any real value.

Another nearby room was apparently once a study. In addition to rotting furniture and a fireplace, it contained many shelves lined with books. Many of these books were quite valuable, including a Sri Rajian Manual of Figurines and copied fragments of the Madrigorian, which is an autobiography penned by a demon that became trapped in the Realm of Mists. Also among the items of interest, we found three more magical figurines.

Inside the fireplace, we discovered the charred corpse of an elemental type creature, which I believe may have been summoned from the Plane of Fire. After collecting anything of value, most of which we placed inside Ladislav’s portable hole, we moved on to the next door.

The next door however, was unlike any other door we had found. It was made of brass and onyx, with black metal fittings. It was also decorated with strange, angular runes and reeked strongly of death and decay. Vance could not pick the lock on this door, which was very complex. There also appeared to be an arcane lock on it that we could not bypass. Vance later on listened at the door and said he heard a weird crooning from within, underscored by something that sounded like hissing, whispering voices. Though no distinct words could be discerned, Vance told us that the very sound chilled him to the marrow with its alien, inhuman quality.

We eventually gave up on opening this door and moved on to the next room. The doors to this room had been barred from within, but we managed to get them open. Inside we found the mummified remains of what we believe to have been one of the wizard’s apprentices. It appears that the apprentice barricaded himself inside these quarters, which were once home to three apprentices. From the expression on his face, we can only assume that he died from his own terror, though what he was so afraid of we could not tell. The only item of any value in this room was an ornate, sigil-engraved dagger that Vance pried from the hands of the dead apprentice.

After examining this room, we found that some of the complex had been buried under a cave-in. So we moved on to another section of the house, where we found a strange kind of laboratory or surgical room with some disturbing equipment, a dining room, a kitchen, and several unused guest quarters. We found nothing of value in any of these rooms, but the odd chemical or charnal smells we came across only reinforced the strangeness of the complex.

Eventually we made our way to the southeast wing of the first level where we found a vast library. While we were loading books from the library into the portable hole, we were suddenly confronted by a creature made entirely of mismatched bones. Scar recognized it as a bone golem and was aware of how deadly they can be. Its first attack was a hideous cackle that was so terrifying, it could literally stop a man’s heart from beating. Many of us became paralyzed with fear. But three of the mongrelmen died right there on the spot. Those of us who did not die or were not paralyzed with fear attacked it with everything we had. But the monster was immune to most magic and highly resistant to most weapons. Redwald cast a silence spell in the area though, so we could not hear its cackling again. Then, when we began to wonder if we could bring the monster down with our weapons, Redwald discovered the monster’s only real weakness – a magically enhanced weapon that could do both bludgeoning and piercing damage.

Thanks once again to Redwald’s firearms and his ability to magically enhance his bullets, he was able to blow large chunks from the bone golem until it eventually shattered and came crashing down into dozens of pieces.

Shortly after we had destroyed the golem, however, we then learned that the bone golem was not the only danger within the library. For I had found a stack of spellbooks, which unfortunately had been coated with a contact poison. As I was loading the books into the portable hole, my hands began to burn. The healers in the group were able to neutralize the poison though and heal my injuries. Perhaps someday I will learn to be more careful with strange magical tomes.

But not even this was the last of the dangers, although the last danger was nowhere near as deadly as the first two. The last of the dangers was actually only dangerous to books. It was a rare kind of fungoid which slowly eats paper. Thankfully, Redwald recognized it and we were able to isolate the few books that I wanted and which are tainted with the blight. I’ll need to remember to have a cleric cast a remove disease spell on the books and remove the fungus.

After filling Ladislav’s portable hole with all the books I could fit in it, we realized that one of the problems we had in dealing with the bone golem was that our minds had become so nerve-wracked by the constant moaning of the giest, which even now we could still hear, that we had great difficulty in concentrating on the task at hand. It was clear that we needed to do something to put this restless spirit at ease. So we returned to the entrance and re-examined the situation. We knew we did not have any of the proper spells to permanently lay the poor woman’s soul to rest. But we thought that if we buried her bones, we might at least quiet her wailing and shrieking for a time. So with the aid of the mongrelmen, we dug four graves just outside the entrance; one for the woman, the other three for the fallen mongrelmen. Much to our relief, when the task was done, the restless spirit went away and we were blessed with relative quiet.

With this problem now behind us, we continued exploring the first level. The only other chambers on the first level, we discovered, were largely damaged by cave-ins and they had apparently been unused during the final days of the complex. So, with everything on the first level explored, save for the one room we could not enter, we took another set of stairs leading down to the next level.

At the bottom of the stairs we entered a passageway that soon connected up to a series of chambers where the faint smell of decay permeated the air. In the central chamber, there were tables with strong leather straps attached to hold down creatures, and along one wall were several cabinets holding surgical tools. Detailed charts and diagrams of the internal organs of a variety of species covered the other walls. I knew the charts and diagrams would be quite valuable to certain scholars or physicians, so we took them.

Cut into the floor around the room were blood gutters and drains, some of which were still stained with dried blood. One can only imagine what kind of gruesome experiments were conducted in this chamber. Along one wall were the doors to three holding cells, some of which still contained the mummified bodies of unidentifiable beasts. A fourth door led to a sort of supply room for more tortuous surgical equipment and various dried up chemicals and substances. None of these rooms contained anything of value.

Two hallways led from this area. The first one we explored merely led to the other set of stairs that connected to the first floor. The second passageway, however, led towards the northeast, further back into the heart of the cliff. From this direction we could feel a very slight waft of air and sounds seemed to echo as if we were approaching a very large chamber. Unlike the rest of the complex, this area was not lit with the magical blue light. Instead, it was pitch black. Somehow we began to sense that we were now approaching the chamber we had come in search of.
View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.