The Ravenloft Files: Dead of the Night

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.

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