The Ravenloft Files

The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 19, Chapter 11

Tales of the Mistborne: Dark of the Moon
Chapter Seven – Finale & Epilogue

In the midst of a small clearing, growing from the side of a small hill, was a great, rotten oak. Beneath its roots a dark cave awaited, just as Antonina said it would. There were no tracks leading to or away from the lair. Suddenly, the snow-filled entrance exploded outward and a huge, powerful wolf bounded into the middle of the party, snapping and snarling!…

Excerpts From the

Journal of Waylan
Mage of the Mistborne

(Continued from) Day 15, July 7th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

Keeping to the woods just to the east of the village of Vorostokov, we continued in a southerly direction until we found ourselves well south of the village, where we veered off towards the southwest and neared the frozen Trau River. As usual our progress was slowed by the deep snow but the situation would have been much worse if not for the snowshoes which had been provided to us by the two witches, Natalya and Elena.

All the while, we could hear behind us the howling of wolves which seemed to draw closer with every passing minute. We assumed these wolves to actually be the boyarsky who had transformed into their wolf forms soon after we fled from the Boyar’s Hall. No doubt the boyar’s men had found the slain body of Dmitri Dneprov and were now pursuing us with the thought of punishing us for our attack on the boyar.

But because the body of Gregor Zolnik had vanished, along with his sword and wolf pelt, they could not have known with any certainty that we had killed him. Not that this would have made much difference, for it was rumored that Gregor had miraculously returned from the dead on more than one occasion.

To add to our concerns was the fact that the forest had become pitch black with a cover of clouds obscuring any starlight. This left us with no choice but to use a light source in order to make it through the thick woods. Realizing that this would make it easier for the wolves to find us, we were forced to accept the fact that without a light source we would get nowhere and would only be delaying the inevitable.

However, shortly after locating the Trau River and turning once again in a more southerly direction, a cold wind, colder than normal, began to beat upon our backs. Soon, the howling wind grew in intensity and quickly drowned out the taunts of the pursuing wolves, bringing with it a thick shower of snow and ice. Though it did not appear to be a black-ice-storm, known locally as a zilinya neshka, it was nevertheless a blizzard that was now descending upon us, and it became clear that we would need to hurry and find shelter where we could wait out the storm.

Fortunately, we soon located a small overhanging cliff along the river bank that provided a good deal of cover from the harsh winds. In addition, there was an abundance of firewood in the area and with a burning hands spell from Vadolus, we quickly had a blazing fire going.

At this point, as we now huddle before the fire under a ledge, I am taking this opportunity to update my journal. Here, we feel relatively safe from the both storm and the pursuing werewolves which we feel certain will have to retreat back to the village. The storm will also make it more difficult for the boyarsky to find us once it has blown over. Unfortunately, it also means that we will not be able to travel until the storm has passed, and time is quickly running out on us. Soon, the dark of the moon will rise in the sky, and with its arrival so goes our last chance of defeating Gregor Zolnik and ridding ourselves of his curse of lycanthropy.

Day 16, July 8th:

As it turned out, the blizzard lasted throughout the night, dumping more than a foot of snow on the ground and much more than that in the snow drifts. The good news though was that we got enough rest for the spellcasters to regain our spells.

Once again I had to cast a sleep spell on Baldo due to his nightmares. When we emerged from under the ledge we were pleased to see the sunlight as the clouds overhead began to disperse. But there was little else to be cheerful about, for the daylight also served as a reminder that the time was rapidly running short. Soon, the new moon would rise, and though we would not be able to see it, we would certainly become aware of its presence when some of us would begin transforming into wolves. To add to our concerns, we had no idea how much time we had left – it could be hours, or it could be just a matter of minutes. So with this thought in mind, we set out to find Gregor’s cave as soon as we were ready to go.

In addition to our already long list of items for which we had insufficient knowledge, was the fact that we did not know how long it would take for Gregor to recover from his death. Would it be instantaneous or would it take a matter of hours? For that matter, if his recovery was relatively quick, would he be forced to stay in his cave and wait out the blizzard as we had? And when we next met him, would he be in the form of a man or a wolf? We assumed he would be in his wolf form – in fact, we were counting on it. For in his wolf form he was practically invulnerable – or so he would think. But unknown to him, we had sprinkled a mixture of salt and wolfsbane on his pelt, which, according to the ghost Antonina, Gregor’s mother, this would make him vulnerable to our attacks. Gregor however, being unaware of this fact, would almost certainly want to attack and kill us at this point, and he would almost certainly attempt to do so in his wolf form. So, assuming we were correct in our theories, all we had to do was find Gregor before our time ran out and kill him – this time for good.

After leaving our shelter, we continued along the river’s edge a few miles, as Antonina had instructed us, until we came near a vast frozen lake. Here, believing we must be close to Gregor’s cave, we began looking for a black and rotten oak. Unfortunately, much to our dismay, we found that there were numerous oak trees in the area. So I cast a location spell in the hopes that it would lead us to Gregor. Almost immediately I could sense his presence. I pointed in the direction indicated by my spell and we set off. A short while later, we found what we had been looking for…

…With the great black wolf now suddenly in our midst, we attacked him with everything we had, and as our initial blows landed on him, we could sense a look of unexpected pain, concern and confusion in the wolf’s expressions and reactions. But despite this fact, the wolf turned and lunged at the foe he now knew could cause him the most harm – that being me.

Before I could react, the wolf was upon me, his huge fangs sinking into the flesh of my shoulder. He snapped once, then bit again, this time with his huge maw around my neck. I could feel as well as hear the sound of bones snapping, my throat being crushed and my lifeblood gushing out all around. Helpless to resist its attack, I was flung about like a ragdoll as the huge wolf sunk its fangs even deeper and shook its head all about. Then it spit me out, tossed me to the ground like a fowl tasting carcass and turned to find its next victim.

There I lay on the frozen ground with a broken neck, half buried in snow which was rapidly turning red. I could not feel my body though the pain in my head was immense. No doubt I was going into shock and I realized I was dying. It all happened so quickly and there was a part of me that felt certain this could not be real. In the background, I could barely sense the struggle that raged on as my companions continued to battle the huge black wolf. I could see the whirling of bodies, and the flashing of blades; and I could hear the sound of Clint’s guns being fired and the howling of the wolf as it yet again felt the unaccustomed pain of its adversary’s attacks.

Then, nearby, I heard the comforting sound of Garret’s reassuring voice, and suddenly the pain in my head began to ease. I realized then that Garret had channeled positive energy all around us, healing our injuries. The wounds in my shoulder and neck stopped bleeding and I knew that, for the time being, my life had been spared. But something was still wrong, for I still could not feel or move my body. It seemed that Garret’s magic could only do so much, and I remained paralyzed with a broken neck.

As discouraged as I was by this realization, I had little time to think about it. For soon afterwards, I became aware of another sensation – one that I had felt not so long before, and one that up to this moment, I had been dreading. I knew then that our time was about to expire and that somewhere up above us the new moon had arisen, for I and several of my companions suddenly began the involuntary transformation into wolves.

While Baldo, Clint and Mikhail continued to battle the great black wolf, the rest of us became preoccupied with our uncontrollable transfigurations, and I feel certain that many of us at this point, were assured of our imminent doom. I, on the other hand, became aware of something else – that during the midst of my alteration, I began to feel the pain associated with it, coursing throughout my body. And while the pain was almost unbearable, it was a clear indication that the transformation of my body into that of a wolf had miraculously healed my broken neck. But once again, I had little time in which to ponder this amazing development, as with the physical change also came the mental change – soon the animal instincts of a wolf had taken over my mind.

As before, I was filled with the irresistible need to hunt, kill and feast upon raw flesh. My mind was consumed with this desire and all other thoughts were pushed aside and obscured by this single purpose. There was however a subtle difference in these thoughts when compared to the first time I had transformed into a wolf. This time, though it was not immediately understood, I could somehow sense that some of those around me were allies, perhaps members of my own pack, while the great black wolf appeared to be an enemy. No longer did I feel the compulsion to fight in defense of the black wolf. So upon the completion of my transformation, it was towards the black wolf that I sprang.

As I would later discover, among those of us who had transformed into wolves, there were some who recognized the black wolf as a threat, and some who did not. Those who did not attacked whatever was nearest. But in the end, it mattered very little, because once Gregor, the black wolf, realized that he could no longer control the werewolves under him and that he was now vulnerable to our attacks, he turned and fled. Already at this point, he was very badly wounded and on the verge of defeat. For the first time in a very long time, he now feared for his life.

Clint took a shot at him as he ran away, but whether he hit or not, it was not enough to

bring him down. So we were forced to chase after him. This meant that everyone followed, including those of us who had become wolves and were still under Gregor’s influence.

The great black wolf struggled in the deep snow, trying to escape his pursuers, and yet unable to gain any distance, while bright blood stained the snow as he ran. Bursting through the trees, the black wolf sped out onto the frozen lake, and somewhat hesitantly we followed. The ice creaked and snapped as we moved over its surface, but for the moment it seemed to be holding under our weight. We were not about to let him get away. So in desperation, the black wolf turned, its fangs bared as it snarled savagely.

Sensing that the black wolf was near death, we quickly closed on it and renewed our attacks. It did not take long. As the killing blow struck home, the wolf let out a human-sounding howl of rage and pain before collapsing. He shuddered once, and where the wolf had been lying there was now a man – the boyar, Gregor – wrapped in a bloody wolfskin. The battlefield fell silent as the boyar breathed his last.

Suddenly, there was an ear-shattering crack. Black fissures in the ice opened like gunshots, radiating from the place where Gregor laid. In the space of a heartbeat, the ice splintered into nothingness, spilling everyone into the dark, cold waters beneath!

We struggled with all our might in the icy cold water, but the water seemed to drag us down and paralyze our limbs. Baldo even attempted to gulp down a potion of gaseous form, but the shock of the cold water caused him to fumble with the vial and before he could gulp down its contents it became diluted with the water thus rendering it inert. Further and further, into the depths of the lake we were pulled until the light up above was gone and we were surrounded by black, numbing cold.

In the grayness that followed we saw a vision. The land of Vorostokov, beneath its silver blanket of winter, began to turn green. Then a young man stepped forward from the shadows of the dark forest. It was Alexei, first-born son of Gregor Zolnik. He knelt down before him and picked up a wolfskin – but it was not gray like his own. Instead it was the black wolfskin of his father’s. A look of anguish passed over his face, which quickly turned to that of pure rage, and with it, he leaned back his head and howled at the moon.

Suddenly, the white wolf of the mists appeared before us. It too howled, then twisted about and dissipated, surrounding us and bearing us away from the dark waters of the lake. As the mists quickly dispersed, we found ourselves back at the camp we had made some two weeks before – though it appeared as if no time at all had passed at the camp.

Those of us who had transformed into wolves, now reverted to our normal selves, though naturally we were bereft of any clothing. Fortunately, all of our clothes and possessions had reappeared beside us, even though they had been shed at the lakeside where we had become wolves. Even more curious was the fact that the body of Brother Quinn also reappeared, looking as though he had died only a short time before.

We were certainly glad for all of this. Unfortunately, we were also soaking wet with lake water and now freezing in the cold, dark night. So our immediate concern was to find some dry clothes and rekindle the fire. Once this was done, only then were we able to stop and consider the ramifications of the adventure we had just experienced. One thing that we soon agreed upon was the apparent meaning of the vision we had witnessed only a short while before – it would seem that while we had vanquished one Darklord, another would soon arise to take his place. And though I sympathize with the people of Vorostokov, I have little desire to return and aid them anytime soon.

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The Ravenloft Files, Vol.19, Chapter 10

Tales of the Mistborne: Dark of the Moon
Chapter Six

Clint could tell that whoever was following them, he was not particularly adept at sneaking about. So Vadolus decided to hang back behind one of the homes they were passing, while the others continued on. He then tried to creep up behind the man and take him by surprise. Unfortunately, Vadolus did not do a very good job of moving stealthily either, and when the man saw Vadolus coming up behind him, he let out a yelp and began running, threatening to alert the boyarsky of our presence in the village…

Excerpts From the

Journal of Waylan
Mage of the Mistborne

Day 14, July 6th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

We got through the night in Gregor’s old house with no sign of Gregor or his men and no return visits by the ghost of Gregor’s mother Antonina. So this morning, in an effort to gather up everything we thought we might need to defeat Gregor without drawing too much attention to ourselves, we divided the group up into two halves, each of which would take care of a part of our plan.

Peg and I followed Baldo across the frozen Trau River to the home of Marik the Mouse-eater; so named because he refused to eat the meat provided by Gregor. We did what we could to stay hidden from the boyarsky. But if we were spotted, it was our hope that our smaller numbers and the fur parkas recently given to us would be disguise enough to keep us from being identified.

Fortunately, we did not have far to go and the fence, the river banks and the nearby bridge provided a great deal of cover.

Peg slipped and fell on the ice covered river, which cracked beneath her and gave her a nasty bruise. But other than that, we arrived at the hedge wizard’s home without incident. Marik, as it turned out, was a rather strange man who was reluctant to open the door for us until we made an offer of trade with him.

When he did let us into his home, we saw that he was dressed in ragged hides and that his home was filled with all kinds of things, which I am sure anyone unfamiliar with arcane magic would consider bizarre. Much of the items appeared to be useless junk, but among these were jars and various containers of herbs, potion ingredients and spell components. We told him that Andrei the Furrier had mentioned his name as a possible ally in our quest but were hesitant to reveal anything more than that, though we did ask him if he had any wolfsbane. He did have some wolfsbane but wanted to know what we intended to do with it. It appeared that he had some idea of our purpose but that he too was reluctant to reveal too much for fear that we might be working for Gregor. Eventually however, we came to an understanding and he told us that he was aware that Gregor and the boyarsky were werewolves. Apparently he was the only one in the village who knew this. He, in fact, told us about an old legend which said that if one performed a certain ritual and donned the skin of a wolf, one could then become a wolf.

He suspected that about twenty years ago, Gregor had become desperate during that first harsh winter and performed this very ritual in order to become the black wolf. It seems however, that at some point, Gregor resorted to hunting creatures of the two-legged variety, and because of this, the dark powers of this world saw fit to make him the darklord of this realm. He was granted the power of invulnerability while in wolf form and given command over all the wolves and werewolves of the forest. But in return, he became a prisoner in a land of never-ending-winter.

We told Marik that we needed the wolfsbane in order to make Gregor vulnerable, and he admitted that he did not know this could be done. But to aid us, he gave us a few potions and a sling with a dozen silver bullets. With these things in hand, we then returned to Gregor’s old house where we waited for the return of the other half of our group.

The rest of us meanwhile, snuck off towards the west where we had first entered the village yesterday. Along the way, Clint spotted someone who was trying to follow them…

…Realizing the man was about to draw a lot of unwanted attention to us, Vadolus tried to calm him down and approach him non-threateningly. This worked well enough for Vadolus to then hit him with a touch spell that temporarily lowered his intelligence to that of an infant and effectively pacified him. The rest of the group then doubled back and helped lead the man to the smokehouse, where they hid. Aware that the man’s cry and the ensuing struggle may have been witnessed by people in the nearby homes, Clint looked about as they made their way to the smokehouse and saw movement in one of the windows.

So, while they were hiding in the smokehouse, they discussed what had just occurred. According to Mikhail, the owner of the house where Clint had seen movement was called Oleg the Woodcutter. From what Mikhail knew of the man, he believed that Oleg generally kept to himself and while he probably would not side with us in our struggles, neither would he be likely to run and tell the boyarsky if he had seen anything suspicious.

The man who attempted to follow them and obviously spy on them however, was an entirely different matter. Mikhail said his name was Pavel Cherensky and that he was the owner of the village’s tavern. He, on the other hand, would almost certainly run and tell the boyarsky if he had seen anything suspicious. It was clear then that they could not let Pavel go, but they were unsure of what to do with him. Eventually they decided to gag him, securely tie him up, knock him unconscious, and leave him in the smokehouse. They realized that his presence would surely be missed tonight when he failed to show up at his tavern. But this could not be avoided.

While in the smokehouse, my companions also found some salt which, according to the ghost of Antonina, when combined with the wolfsbane and sprinkled on Gregor’s wolf skin, would make him vulnerable while in wolf form.

With this done, they then made their way to the home of Ivan the Strong. Ivan’s daughter Eva lived in the same home along with her four children and was the wife of Turik, who was one of the boyarsky. So speaking with Ivan had a certain amount of risk to it. But it was hoped that Turik would not be at home during the day, and this proved to be the case. My companions were then able to speak with Ivan in private and with his being a good man, he was willing to lend us his magical bastard sword. With this in hand, they returned to Gregor’s old house and met back up with us.

For the remainder of the day then, we stayed hidden inside the old abandoned house, too afraid that any more movement through the village would surely bring the boyarsky down on us.

Already, we had some real concerns as it was that we would be discovered before the day’s end. Surely when Pavel failed to show up at his tavern there would be some kind of search for him and from what we could tell this may have been the case, for we did see some activity in the village after sundown. But two things I think may have worked in our favor and kept us from being found. First of all, Pavel was tied up in the smokehouse where his scent would have been masked by the smell of the place. And secondly, I suspect that others in the village were aware that Gregor’s old house was haunted, and therefore were probably very hesitant to investigate the place after dark. Chances are, we probably could not make it through another day in the village without being discovered. But fortunately, we only had to make it halfway through the night, and whether or not there was any luck involved, this we somehow managed to accomplish.

Day 15, July 7th:

It was about one o’clock in the morning when we snuck out of Gregor’s old house and made our way towards the bridge that spanned the frozen river. The village for the most part was dark and quiet. The sky was clear but all we could see of the moon was a faint sliver, serving us as a reminder that the dark of the moon was fast approaching, and with its arrival our only chance of defeating Gregor and his curse of lycanthropy would slip beyond our grasp.

After crossing the bridge, we made a wide skirt around to the east and north of the Boyar’s Hall, using a line of trees and a low mound of snow for cover. Without any source of light, but with a darkvision spell cast on Baldo to help guide us, we slowly approached the hall. Seeing that there were no guards posted along it, we climbed over the 12 foot high palisade. Its height and the sharpened points at the top made the climb difficult for some of us. But with assistance from the others, we all made it over the wall. On the opposite side there was a catwalk and a ladder that made the descent very easy.

Once inside the stockade, and seeing that we still had not been detected, we crept around a small shed and made our way up to the hall and a porch on its backside. At this point, Garret cast a locate object spell and searched for his missing shield. As hoped he detected it inside the hall. So he moved around the building a get to a better fix on the shield’s location. With that done we took a look at two doors on the porch. One of them was locked and without any tools Baldo could not pick it. The other door, however, was not locked. So Baldo opened that door and looked inside.

There he found a kitchen and several servants asleep on pallets. We were able to sneak past them and into a hallway beyond. From there we moved in the direction of where Garret had detected his shield and came to a door at the end of the hallway. Opening the door there we found a great hall with a large table, several benches, a wooden throne on a raised dais, and laying on the floor, five sleeping men.

Afraid that we would not be able to sneak past the sleeping men undetected. Baldo quietly closed the door and looked for an alternate route. He checked another side door then, only to discover that it was a bedroom which was currently occupied by two men which were none other than Gregor Zolnik himself and his right-hand man Dmitri Dneprov. They were standing there looking at a map and talking. Fortunately, their backs were turned to us and did not take notice of Baldo as he peered through the crack in the door. Baldo closed the door and we immediately fell into a silent debate, using hand signals and body language, on whether or not to attack them now. We decided however to hold off on attacking them until we had recovered our equipment.

We then decided on a plan where Garret would cast a silence spell on us and we could sneak past the men in the hall. This we did, but beyond the first door we came to was an armory with just ordinary weapons and none of our equipment. So we had to sneak over to a second door and past the sleeping men without the use of a silence spell. Fortunately we were successful and behind the second door we find our things. We then took the time to don our armor and ready our equipment, after which we once again snuck past the sleeping men.

From there we gathered outside the door to Gregor’s bedroom where we devised another plan. With this plan worked out, we then prepared ourselves and set our plan into motion. At this point, we threw the door open and began our attack.

The room was dark save for a crackling fire in the hearth. Gregor was now sitting before the fire and brooding. A weathered warrior in chainmail, whom we recognized as Dmitri, stood beside him, still scrutinizing the map. Before we either of them could do anything, we pounced on them with our weapons flashing. Baldo meanwhile, who had been rendered invisible by a spell, quickly snuck past both of them and jumped on Gregor’s bed, where he began sprinkling the salt and wolfsbane mixture on the wolf skin which Baldo had seen earlier hanging over the bed.

Despite our attack by surprise, Gregor and Dmitri recovered quickly, drew their weapons and counterattacked, calling out for the guards to come to their aid as they did so.

“I should have known that there was more fight in you yet,” Gregor said as he worked furiously to defend himself. “Dmitri here thought that you had found a place to freeze to death in the forest, but I didn’t believe you had died so easily.”

“We’ll be sure of it this time,” Dmitri said with surprising confidence, his voice hollow and sinister.

But Mikhail shouted back at his father, “Your tyranny ends today, Gregor!”

By this point, I had managed to work my way into the far side of the room where I was able to line both of our combatants up perfectly. I then let loose with a devastating lightning bolt spell that, when combined with the injuries they had already received, took both Gregor and Dmitri down.

Clutching his horribly burned chest, Gregor toppled with a great cry. For a moment he glared wickedly, his wounds seeping blood. “You have not defeated me,” he snarled. “I will kill you all!” Then he died, still cursing.

As soon as Gregor fell, an eerie mist filled the room, rising from the flagstones of the floor like the icy breath of some unseen monster. It swirled around the boyar’s body, and the image of a white, frost-covered wolf seemed to glare from the vapors. Then, as quickly as it had come, the mist dissipated and we saw that Gregor’s body had vanished!

His sword began to sparkle, and it too, dissolved into silvery mist that poured back down between the cracks in the stones. Finally, the black wolf pelt nearby began to sparkle with the same silvery light. In a moment it vanished as well.

At this point, our objective was to get out of the hall as quickly as possible. We did not want to fight any of the boyarsky, many of whom had wives and children who needed their protection and who would not have become boyarsky if they had had any real choice. Thanks to a grease spell that I had cast earlier, and a barricade that we put up in the doorway leading to the hall, the boyarsky were delayed just long enough to let us make our escape.

We ran back the way we had come, through the kitchen and past the startled servants who were just now rising from their pallets. Once we were outside we ran to the back of the palisade, quickly scaled the ladder and jumped over, using the snow on the opposite side to cushion our fall.

From there we headed back into the woods as fast as we could go and began circling around to the south, where we hoped to find Gregor’s secret cave, and where we hoped to have our final confrontation with the Great Black Wolf of Vorostokov.

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The Ravenloft Files, Vol.19, Chapter 9

Tales of the Mistborne: Dark of the Moon
Chapter Five

Without warning a group of wolves burst out of the underbrush ahead of us, snarling and yapping. They sprinted forward to the attack with fangs bared. Mikhail then suddenly clutched his head and fell, screaming, “No! No!” He thrashed about in the snow, snarling and foaming at the mouth. His eyes became yellow and feral, and his hands began reaching for the wolfskin in his pack!

Excerpts From the

Journal of Waylan
Mage of the Mistborne

(Continued from) Day 12, July 4th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

Following the disturbing news of Quinn’s death, a grim and somber mood fell over us as we huddled around the fireplace and thought about the loss of our friend and of the desire we had for revenge on his killer, Gregor. But we also thought about the difficulties that lay ahead, with all our weapons and magic items taken from us and most of us afflicted with lycanthropy and essentially under the control of our enemy.

But the two witches, Natalya and Elena, were not yet done with their efforts to aid us, as they said they had one more person to search for. This time they would try to find Mikhail. So once again, they told us to stay in the cottage. Then they bundled up and headed back outside into the dark and frozen forest. While they were gone, we hardly said a word to each other – our thoughts clouded with a heavy sense of despair.

But about an hour or so later, the gloomy silence was finally broken by the sound of the witch’s return, and with them, their nephew Mikhail. One look at his face though and it was plain to see that he too was disturbed by troubling thoughts. Obviously he was trying to come to terms with the fact that he was some kind of unusual lycanthrope, like his father and his brother. We saw that he still had with him the wolf pelt that was given to him by his father, though he did not wear it, and he seemed to carry it as though its touch made his skin crawl. He was given a blanket and he sat down next to us by the fire, as we briefly discussed all that had happened since we got separated.

With this done, Natalya pulled up a stool by the fire and spoke to us. “We have watched you for some time now”, she told us. “It has been many years since anyone stood against Gregor. My sister and I hate the boyar and want to see him dead for his crimes, so we will aid you against him. At the same time, we are aiding ourselves.”

“Years ago,” Elena said, with her eyes blazing, “that fiend murdered our mother. You can help us exact our vengeance against the boyar.”

Mikhail at this point, still seemed weakened and confused, but as Elena spoke he raised his head, his eyes smoldering. “He killed Antonina?” he said. “Another murder at his hands!”

“By now you have seen the kind of man that Gregor is,” Natalya continued. “You have also seen the dark magics that he commands, taking the form of a great black wolf when he wants, and forcing his boyarsky to serve him. He is an evil creature, a creature of darkness. If his rule continues the day will come when Vorostokov is empty save for the howling of the hungry wolves.”

“Besides,” cackled Elena, “if you do not strike now, you will never be able to. Gregor’s curse has touched several of you, and he can force you to change at will. But once your change is ruled by the moon, you will never be able to break the curse. The dark of the moon is only three days away. If Gregor is not dead by then, you will become his servants.”

“I will die before I become another of his boyarsky,” Mikhail muttered.

“Gregor will soon return to his hall and await your return,” said Natalya. “He knows that your efforts to avoid his hunt were futile – no matter what happened, you would be his in a matter of days. We think he took your weapons and equipment with him. Mikhail knows the way to the boyar’s hall.”

“You owe us your lives,” Elena said. “You can repay us by destroying Gregor – something that is in your own best interests to do.”

“If you do not undo Gregor’s curse by the dark of the moon,” Natalya repeated as she rose, “you will be his forever. You may rest here for the night. We can give you furs and supplies.

“Mikhail can probably find weapons or allies in the village, but you shouldn’t trust anyone you meet in Vorostokov. Many of the people are under Gregor’s sway.”

As it turned out, in addition to the furs and supplies, Natalya and Elena were also able to provide us with a few potions and some background information on Gregor. From what we have learned about Gregor’s curse and the beginning of the never-ending winter, we now suspect that Gregor is in fact the Darklord of this realm, which means he will not be easy to kill even if we can get back our weapons and equipment. We must somehow find his weakness and exploit it or we will never be able to permanently kill him.

With no spellbooks, Peg and I will have to make do with the spells we still have memorized and the few that we have in common with the witches, as they will allow us to use their spellbooks before we set out. Meanwhile, Garret has fashioned a crude holy symbol out of wood which should allow him to cast spells. In the morning, we will try to locate a few pieces of wood that we can use as staves or clubs. These, for the time being, will be our only weapons.

Day 13, July 5th:

With the dark of the moon expected in less than three days, we set out this morning towards the village of Vorostokov. The parkas and furs provided by Natalya and Elena were barely adequate, but by now the forests of Vorostokov had become familiar and we were getting used to the cold weather. Still, not having our usual weapons and armor was unsettling, though we did manage to acquire a few crude staves, and the lighter load made traveling easier. For most of the day, the woods were quiet and dark, but there was a distinct sensation of foreboding.

Then suddenly we were under attack…

…With the wolves approaching, we knew that Mikhail was struggling with the urge to don his wolfskin and become one of them, and we were afraid we would have to fight him as well. But he fought against this incredible temptation and managed to prevail, though he could do nothing else for the entire fight. I myself resisted the urge to use a spell that would blast all seven of the wolves in one fell swoop. But I suspected I might need my more powerful spells later on and would not likely have a chance to regain them. So we fought the wolves with our crude staves and a few minor spells, receiving a number of injuries in the process.

Without our armor, most of us were much less protected and it showed. Fortunately, these were all ordinary wolves and we had no difficulty with healing our injuries. With the wolves defeated and our wounds tended to, we continued our trek to the village of Vorostokov.

When we approached the village, night was settling over the land, which may have been a blessing – the shadows, along with the parkas and furs, hid our identities well. The village was surrounded by snow-covered fields, and the glistening band of a frozen river wound past the sleeping cottages.

Across the river from the village, there was a large wooden palisade and the peak of a high roof was visible behind it. Guttering torches flared before an open gate. This was Gregor’s hall as Mikhail pointed out. He then made the suggestion of asking some of the villagers if the boyar had returned. He said we may be able to collect a few weapons, adding that there are many in Vorostokov who have no love for Gregor’s rule.

He recommended that we first visit Andrei the Furrier, who is known as the most outspoken opponent of Gregor left in the village. We agreed with this, and Mikhail led the way to a large cabin with a snow-mantled roof where he knocked softly on the door. A moment later, it was opened by a thin old man with white hair and a face like seamed leather. “Mikhail,” he said with surprise. He then looked us over and motioned for everyone to step inside.

Inside, the cabin was filled with all kinds of cured pelts and skins, as well as raw skins stretched on racks to dry. A gaunt woman sat by the fire, sewing several pelts into a warm cape. As we looked about, the host straddled a chair and spoke to us. “I am Andrei. My wife is Miri. I can see that you are strangers to Vorostokov. Who are you and why have you come?”

Mikhail then made introductions and we explained to him our purpose in the village, though we said nothing more than we had to and made no mention of lycanthropes. We told Andrei that we needed weapons, advice, a place to hide and possibly some allies.

As for weapons, Andrei suggested a man known as Ivan the Strong as he was said to have a magical bastard sword though he himself was now an old man, and Katerina the Trader, whose husband had fought and killed Gregor once only to be killed the next day by a wolf, after which the boyar returned to the village unharmed. We were also told about other people in the village who might be of help, such as Tarak Tupolek, Mastislav and Olaf, three young men who likely would be interested in joining us in any attack on Gregor. Then there is Marik the Mouse-eater, the village’s hedge wizard, and Brother Terensky, the village priest, both of which could be good sources of information and other, hard to find items.

A few other people were mentioned as well, such as Anatoly the Carpenter, who helped to build the boyar’s hall and knows its layout very well. Unfortunately, several of these people were related to, or otherwise had ties to members of the boyarsky and we could not be sure who we could trust. And the more talking we did to the locals, the more likely we were of being caught by the boyarsky. Even staying at the home of the most outspoken opponent ran a certain amount of risk to us as well as Andrei and his wife. We debated for some time on just how many people we should talk to and how much we should involve the villagers.

But we finally agreed on at least speaking with Katerina the Trader. She lived next door to Andrei and it was a simple matter for Andrei to go and ask her to come and talk with us. We then talked to her and she agreed to lend us her husband’s weapons and armor. It wasn’t much but at least it was a start.

We could not come to an agreement on speaking to any other villagers just yet. But we did want to look into finding a place to hide. Staying at Andrei’s seemed to be too risky. So Mikhail suggested an old smokehouse that no longer saw much use. The smell of the smokehouse would help to mask our scent from any wolves. But Baldo pointed out that the smell of the smokehouse might follow us where ever we went and attract the wolves to us instead. So Andrei suggested using the boyar’s old cabin. Since the boyar now stayed at his hall, the cabin was largely abandoned. This, we thought, was a better alternative.

So we divided ourselves up into pairs and two by two, we headed off in the direction of the boyar’s cabin. Baldo and Mikhail, the two quietest among us, took the lead. About half way there though, we ran into trouble as a pair of large men in furs suddenly rounded a corner. Baldo and Mikhail had already made it across the road and were out of sight. But I was behind them and did not see the two men coming until they were right in front of us. When they saw us, they drew their swords from their sides and advanced. “Who are you?” one of them demanded. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”

I hesitated for just a moment, unsure of how to respond. But I saw Mikhail rapidly approaching from behind the two men saying something about me being a cousin of his. I, however, made the mistake of telling the two men that I was heading to my home, overlooking the fact that in a village as small as Vorostokov they would know everyone who lived in it. The two men realized then that I was lying and moved to attack. Fortunately though, we proved to be quicker as Baldo came up and stabbed one of them in in the back, while I cast a spell on the other that caused him to become momentarily dazed. We were then able to take out both men quickly and quietly.

The encounter may have actually turned out to be a good thing, as we were able to acquire more weapons and armor from them. But we could not be sure how much their presence would be missed and what effect that might have. We carried both of their bodies with us to the boyar’s cabin since we could not leave them in the streets for anyone else to find.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the cabin. Here, the wind moaned eerily within the silent ruins of Gregor’s home. The door was standing open, and snow had drifted in to cover the floor. Few furnishings were left – an old rocking chair by the cold fireplace, a battered trunk by the window, and a few hides hanging on the walls. Some odds and ends such as clay jars, iron pots and knives, and needle and thread litter the earthen floor of the house.

The musty smell of long disuse was strong, and the placed seemed dank and small. The wind moaned higher, and suddenly a terrible chill descended. There seemed to be another presence here. Upon sensing this, Baldo, who was in the lead, refused to enter the house.

So Vadolus got the nerve up and stepped inside. When he did, the battered old chair by the fireplace began to rock, slowly creaking back and forth, and a faint cackling noise could be heard. A chill ran up my spine and I very nearly took off running. But the thought occurred to me – where would I run to?

Then Mikhail stepped in behind Vadolus and as he did so, in the rocking chair, a ghostly glimmering of a white, crystal net of glittering ice took shape. A pair of pale hands appeared next, working the net, weaving it. In a moment, the rest of the apparition became clear. An ancient crone rocked back and forth, cackling and muttering as she weaved the powdery snow into a spider’s web of ice.

“Welcome, Mikhail, welcome,” she whispered. “Come and give your grandmother a kiss, my boy.”

Mikhail’s face was slack with terror. “Bolzhoi moi! It is Antonina,” he exclaimed.

“Twelve years ago your father murdered me, Mikhail,” the spectre continued. Her voice was as faint as the wind in the snowdrifts. “There is a power in this land that sustains his curse, that gives life to him now. Gregor cannot be destroyed. If you kill him, his curse will only bring him back stronger than before. His curse must be broken if you are to finally kill him.”

“The curse of the wolfskin?” Mikhail asked, his voice tight.

“It is Gregor’s source of power, and his only weakness. Sprinkle the skin with salt and wolfsbane, and when next he dons it he will become the black wolf again, but he will be vulnerable to your weapons. Kill him while he is caught in this form, or you will never be able to defeat him again.”

“If Gregor is killed in man-form his curse will carry him off to a secret cave in the forest. If you are quick you will be able to poison his skin before he vanishes. His cave lies three miles to the south, beneath a black and rotten oak.”

“Will this break the curse that he passed to me?” Mikhail asked, desperately. But the apparition was fading again, already. The spectre’s laughter echoed like shattered icicles and was gone.

With the apparition now gone, the rest of us stepped inside the cabin and closed the door. It now seems clear what we need to do. But how to go about it is another matter. We will spend the night in this place, and think about how we might accomplish this task.

View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol.19, Chapter 8

Tales of the Mistborne: Dark of the Moon
Chapter Three

The snow cave that we had built provided only so much protection from the storm. Worse yet, the air was growing colder and colder, despite our efforts to block out the wind and ice. It also seemed to suddenly grow darker in the cave, so Garret cast a light spell. In the next instant, sinister shadows appeared all around us, patches of darkness emerging from the snow and the driving sleet and the howling wind of the black ice storm.
Mikhail leaped to his feet, his cape fluttering behind him in the swirling wind. “The arayashka! We are doomed!” he cried…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Brother Quinn
Of the Order of Guardians

(Continued from) Day 4, June 26th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

Following the brief battle with the boyar Gregor and his boyarsky, we spoke with Mikhail and he asked Waylan if he had any means of observing the boyar and his men to see if they were headed back to the village of Vorostokov as they had said they would. He mentioned that he had noticed Waylan talking to his “pet” raven and had also seen Waylan casting spells during the battle, so he was curious if the raven could be used to fly overhead and spy on the boyar. Waylan said that he could do this and immediately sent Lefty off on a quick reconnaissance mission. Mikhail then warned us, although he was grateful for our assistance, about the use of arcane magic, as so many of the land’s people are fearful of magic.

A short while later, once all of the fires had been extinguished and all the wounded had been tended to, several of the villagers showed their gratitude towards us by giving us a collection of winter furs, a basic set of rations, and gear to aid in surviving the harsh climate, including a set of either snowshoes or skis for each of us. They did this despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, that some of them had seen Waylan casting spells and were somewhat fearful of him.

With things returning to a semblance of normalcy in the village, we then gathered at the tavern and asked Mikhail what he intended to do at this point. By then, Lefty had returned and told Waylan that the boyar and his men did indeed appear to be headed back to Vorostokov. With this information, Mikhail told us that he thought the village would be safe for a while. He felt certain that Gregor did not have enough men with him to risk returning, and that he would have to return to his hall to get more warriors. According to Mikhail, it would take Gregor ten days or more to get there, depending on the weather.

He then told us that he wants to go to Kirinova and convince the men of that village to help him fight off Gregor – and he asked us to go with him. He said they could not spare any more of Torgov’s menfolk, and called us great heroes in an effort to persuade us. He told us we could go to Kirinova and return before Gregor even reached Vorostokov. He also felt that we might be able to find some answers as to why we have found ourselves in this land, since Igor Rikorsky originally came from Kirinova.

We agreed to go with Mikhail to Kirinova and gather any allies we could find there. But we thought it would be best if we then went on to Vorostokov and took the fight to Gregor rather than return to Torgov. Mikhail agreed that this might be a better plan but was concerned about the safety of his village. Either way, we would have at least five days to think the matter over, since it would take that long just to reach Kirinova. Mikhail did not want to set out until tomorrow morning though, since there were a number of preparations he would need to do today. So this gave us time ourselves to prepare and to become somewhat accustomed to our snowshoes and skis.

During this time, Vadolus, who is taking great care not to reveal his true identity as both an elf and an arcane spellcaster, took the opportunity to partake of a pastime that is apparently central to the social life of every village in Vorostokov – and that is the sweathouse, where men and women gather to trade stories and song in thick heat, though it is understood that there are certain rules for social conduct governing these sweathouses as it is a tradition to enter them naked.

If anything unusual did occur in the sweathouse, no one told me about it and Vadolus apparently does not wish to discuss the matter. I get the sense that whatever happens in the sweathouse, stays in the sweathouse.

I, on the other hand, spent much of the day talking with some of the villagers, Greta, the owner of the taphouse in particular. She told me that more than twenty years ago, the land we now know of as Vorostokov was mostly referred to as the Grovinekevic Forest in the Northern provinces of Cerillia, which none of us are familiar with. Then one year, winter came early and the crops were ruined. Four months later, in the hardest winter anyone could remember, the villages were on the verge of starvation. But somehow, Gregor Zolnik, the master hunter of the village of Vorostokov, was able to hunt down enough food and kept many of the people of his village from starving to death. By the end of the brutal winter, Vorostokov was the only village in the area that had not lost over half of its population, and Gregor Zolnik was hailed as a hero. Duke Andrei Vladimir in fact came to thank him personally and Gregor met the duke’s third daughter, Ireena. Shortly afterwards, Gregor and Ireena were married and they moved off to live in the duke’s castle. But when the following winter came, the land of Vorostokov was suddenly cut off from all surrounding lands including the other provinces of Cerillia, and game was now more scarce than it had ever been. The great black wolf appeared about that time and since then the land has been trapped in a never-ending winter. Fortunately, the hero Gregor returned to the land and once again saved many of its people from starvation.

Over the course of twenty years or so, Gregor has become the most powerful man in Vorostokov, taking the position of boyar and ruler of all the land. In recent years though, game has gradually become more plentiful and the villages are more capable of fending for themselves. It may be because of this, Greta believes, that Gregor feels his power is beginning to slip and he has, as a result, become more of a tyrant. I feel however, that there is also a connection between the black wolf and the never-ending winter, since they both appeared at the same time, and I suspect there may be a druid involved – a druid that sometimes takes the form of a black wolf – a druid that is quite likely the darklord of this realm.

Day 5, June 27th:

We left the village of Torgov this morning and began our trek to Kirinova, following pretty much in the footsteps of Gregor and his men.

Though we are a day behind, we are well provisioned and the weather is clear and calm. It is however, still quite cold. Fortunately we have encountered no unexpected difficulties so far and up to this point, we are doing as well as we could have hoped for.

Day 6, June 28th:

We started out this morning much the same as yesterday. But toward the end of the day, the sky began to grow very dark and clear, almost as if night was falling – but the sun was still shining. It was a strange sight to behold. The temperature meanwhile, began to drop rapidly. A keening wind then sprang up, rising from nothing to howl ferociously, driving stinging particles of ice before it. Mikhail screamed above the noise, “It is the zilinya neshka! We must seek shelter at once, or we shall surely die!”

We were out on an open plain, so immediately, we began to build a snow cave in a nearby depression. It was all we could do for protection and building a fire in this relentless wind was out of the question. Unfortunately, Garret had not prayed for any spells to protect us from the cold, since each of us now has a parka and furs, and he did not think we would need any magical protection. But as we would later learn, the possibility of frostbite and hypothermia would not be our only concerns, for we would eventually discover that there are beings which actually thrive in such inhospitable weather…

…With Mikhail’s shout of despair we quickly drew our weapons and prepared to defend ourselves. These arayashka, (meaning “snow-people”) as he called them, were actually some kind of undead wraith. There were six of them and like all wraiths, they were incorporeal and therefore very difficult to harm. But gradually we began to wear them down. In return however, not only did their touch cause freezing burns, but they also drained our strength with each successful attack. Fortunately, Garret was able to affect them by channeling positive energy in the area and this easily proved to be our greatest weapon against the snow wraiths.

After we killed three or four of the creatures, the others turned and fled into the walls of snow, and we have not been bothered by them again. Still, we have the zilinya neshka to deal with, and according to Mikhail, it is not likely to let up for many hours.

Day 7, June 29th:

It has been almost a full day since we barricaded ourselves in this snow cave. Over this time we have had to make numerous repairs and modifications to the cave in order to keep out as much of the ice and cold as we could. But it has been nearly impossible. The night was almost unbearable and many times we have begun to succumb to frostbite and hypothermia. To combat this, we have tried to stay huddled close together to preserve our body heat and every once in a while, Garret has channeled positive energy around us or cast healing spells on us, without which I am certain some of us would be dead.

There is however hope, as the storm appears to be letting up. Unfortunately, it is also nearing another end of a day. So we will be forced to spend one more night in this snow cave.

Day 8, June 30th:

This morning, with the storm now over and the weather much improved, we were able to resume our trek to Kirinova. Fortunately, with our snowshoes and skis, the added precipitation has not made any substantial difference in our rate of travel though we did lose an entire day camped out in the snow cave.

Day 10, July 2nd:

After five days of trekking through the frozen forests and icy plains, plus one day spent waiting out the storm, we approached the village of Kirinova, which according to Mikhail lay just over the next hill. There we hoped to find hot meals and warm beds awaiting us. At the top of the ridge the open farmland that surrounds the tiny hamlet could be seen.

Then we heard the sound of wolves howling in the forest behind us, not too near, but not far enough away for peace of mind. Still several hundred yards from the village, it became obvious that something was terribly wrong – there were no fires burning and no lights showing in the dark cabins. The village was still and quiet.

At that point the wolves fell silent. A glance behind us however revealed dozens of them watching from the edge of the woods. The great black wolf was there! Instantly they sprinted silently from the forest and began to head for us. The nearest buildings in the village were only about fifty yards away, and the wolves were probably a quarter of a mile or more behind, but closing fast.

Feeling the need to run for the nearest building, we started to take off. But Garret told us to wait while he quickly cast a spell. The cover of the nearest building seemed miles away, but with Garret’s spell we were soon able to outpace the wolves through the knee-high snow. Still, the wolves behind us silently converged on our position, flitting over the field like graceful gray shadows and headed towards us. We then spotted a building directly ahead and the wolves were still a hundred yards off.

The door of this building had been knocked off its hinges, and some of the window’s shutters were left half open. As we approached we saw that the inside of the cabin was dark and cold, but not too dark to hide the horror that lay within. An entire family lay sprawled in death inside, torn to pieces by some savage attack. Outside, many of the nearby houses and buildings were also dark and cold, with doors swinging in the wind. Behind us we could hear the soft padding of paws on the snow, signaling the eminent arrival of the wolves.

I realized then what we could expect to find within each of the buildings and it was suddenly all too much for me to bear. I had not been expecting to find such a terrible tragedy and I became so overwhelmed with revulsion, that I could not enter the building. Instead, without giving it any real thought, I took off running. In my horror and in an irrational state of panic, I fled through the village and well into the fields on the opposite side – never realizing that I was all alone. I ran as fast as I could for what must have been a full minute or more, though it seemed much longer. When I finally came to my senses, and discovered that I was by myself and that nothing was chasing me, my thoughts turned to my companions. So I turned around and headed back, though I was too spent to return at the same rate at which I had fled.

Meanwhile, my companions were busy dealing with the wolves and later on they explained to me what had taken place. While I was running away, the others moved into the cabin, though I was not the only one who was affected by the horror within. Baldo was also quite disturbed by the sight. But instead of running away, he became momentarily stunned by what he saw and thereafter was shaken, though he was still able to fight when pressed to.

Before the majority of the wolves made it to the cabin, Waylan cast a spell and threw up a wall of fire that caught most of them on the far side. Vadolus and Mikhail then picked up the fallen door and put it back in place to keep out the wolves, though they were not able to secure it before three of the wolves pounced on it and tried to knock it down. It took all the efforts of Vadolus and Mikhail just to keep them out. Clint meanwhile was using his pistols to great effect and shooting out of one of the windows at the wolves and identifying the red-eyed ones from the normal wolves as he did so.

One of these wolves boldly jumped up into the window to attack Clint, only to be blown away by his pistols. But soon after two more wolves jumped through a second window to threaten Waylan, Garret, and Baldo. Fortunately they were able to deal with them. Many of the other wolves outside meanwhile, were circling around the wall of fire, but these paused for some unknown reason before approaching the building. The apparent reason however, soon became evident when several men appeared from behind other buildings with burning brands in their hands. They tossed these brands on to the roof of the cabin my companions were in and though the roof was covered with snow, they eventually caught fire to the roof.

As this took some time however, other wolves continued to try and enter the cabin. Garret, seeing the black wolf waiting on one side of the cabin, cast a searing light spell and struck it. But he was discouraged to see that the spell did no apparent harm to the wolf. Vadolus then told Mikhail to let go of the door they were holding and as he did so, Vadolus cast a burning hands spell on the door. It was quickly knocked down however, as the three wolves then rushed in and attacked. One of them pounced on Peg and knocked her to the ground. But again, my companions were able to kill them.

By this point the men had disappeared and all of the remaining wolves were waiting outside for the cabin to begin burning. When it did, my companions decided to jump out of a window that was on the far side of the cabin from where the black wolf stood watching. Waylan cast a black tentacles spell in an area where some of the wolves had congregated, but these wolves managed to escape it. Then using a fly spell, Waylan flew out of the window and struck another group of wolves with a slow spell. By now, my other companions were making their way out of the window, though they continued to be attacked in the process. Still, the wolves were being taken down, most of them normal wolves.

Eventually, there came a point when the wolves decided they had lost enough and they suddenly retreated. I was on my way back at this point and saw the cabin burning. But by the time I reached my companions, any wolves that were still alive were far off in the distance.

View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol.19, Chapter 7

Tales of the Mistborne: Dark of the Moon
Chapter Two

Realizing that the wolves would soon catch up to us, we began to look about for some means of fortifying our position should we be forced to defend ourselves. But we were quickly running out of time. To either side of us, we saw dark shapes flitting through the trees, darting and disappearing in the shadows. The crunching of paws on the snow and the sudden snap of twigs and branches could be heard. The wolves were circling, and it was only a matter of minutes before they closed in to attack.
The only defensible ground was an open clearing where it would be easy to see the wolves coming. It seemed that the forest itself was alive with menace. Suddenly, a great black wolf was there, larger and more terrifying than I could ever imagine, watching us with keen human intelligence from the edge of the clearing. Its yellow eyes burned with hunger and hate…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Brother Quinn
Of the Order of Guardians

(Continued from) Wednesday, March 25th, 742 B.C.:

After having killed the two ghoulish white shadows, and realizing they appeared to be somewhat intelligent creatures, the thought occurred to us that they might have a lair nearby, and that there might be valuables in that lair. So Baldo used a potion of treasure finding to see if he could locate any such valuables. At the time, it seemed unlikely. But as it turned out, the potion led us to a snow cave about four hundred yards from where we first encountered the creatures.

There we found a small hoard of coins, an enchanted dagger and a magic ring. Perhaps more importantly though, we also discovered two parkas, two sets of snowshoes, a sturdy backpack and shelter for the night.

It was well after sundown when we finally settled in for the night. As it now stands, we should have enough firewood to get us through the night, and while Garret’s magically created food certainly would not garner any accolades for taste, it should easily sustain us for the time being. Tomorrow we will continue our trek to the northeast and with any luck, find some sign of civilization.

Day 2, June 24th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

Having learned that the land of Vorostokov uses a different reckoning than that of Barovia, although the nomenclature in their calendar is the same as that of vaasi, I have decided to adopt the calendar of Vorostokov in my writings in the hopes of avoiding any confusion in the future. The fact of the matter is I have no idea how the time here might relate to that of Barovia, since it was spring when we last saw Barovia and, according to the local calendar, it is now summer in Vorostokov, though one would certainly not recognize it as such by the weather we have so far had to endure. So one might ask – did we travel back in time? – did we travel forward in time? – does time even flow the same in this land as it does in Barovia? Who can say? Since these questions cannot now be answered, it may be pointless to even speculate, and with that being the case, I will follow along with what seems most prudent.

Once again the night was bitterly cold and seemingly never-ending. But we managed to make it through, albeit in great discomfort, and with the faint lighting of the dawn, and following our morning prayers, we proceeded on through the knee-high snow and the dense evergreen forest and resumed our slow and arduous journey towards the northeast. For most of the day, our travels were uneventful.

But gradually, towards the latter half of the day, we became aware of a certain sound that seemed to come and go as if drifting on an intermittent breeze through the forest. It was the distant howling of wolves. And as the day wore on, what at first we took to be a seemingly innocuous disturbance slowly grew more pronounced, until eventually becoming an ever-increasingly, threatening presence. By this time, it had become obvious that the beasts were following behind, hot on the scent of our party…

…The power and malice of the black wolf was awe-inspiring. But it turned and abruptly vanished into the woods – just as its pack mates dashed in, faster than our eyes could follow! Only Baldo was able to fling a dagger at one of the wolves before they closed, and missed.

Immediately we were set upon by the snarling canines, some of us having been distracted by the black wolf as if that had been its intent. Ferociously their jaws snapped at us, ripping our clothes to shreds with their fangs as they clamped on tight and shook their heads in a wild frenzy, often drawing blood as they did so. Never before had I seen such a viscous display of savagery from a pack of wolves. It was as if they had become uncontrollably maddened by an insatiable hunger. Every one of us was beset by at least two or three of the bloodthirsty beasts, though some of us fared much worse than others. Poor Peg, in fact, the least experienced of us and most assuredly unaccustomed to close-quarter combat, was quickly pulled down by some of the wolves and was soon being mauled to pieces.

Perhaps more disturbing was the fact that while some of the wolves appeared to take injury from our weapons as they normally should, others seemed to be completely unaffected by our attacks. Clint, for example, shot one of the wolves dead, only to discover that the wolf next to it remained completely unharmed by his bullets. The rest of us thereafter, began to encounter the same difficulties. So Clint quickly reloaded one of his pistols with silver bullets and found that they were able to affect those wolves that we had not been able to harm otherwise. We then noticed that some of the wolves had glowing red eyes whiles others did not, and realized that it was the wolves with red eyes that we had such difficulty in harming. Fortunately, Waylan by then had cast a fly spell on himself and had flown up above us. He then swooped down and let loose with a lightning bolt spell that killed several of the wolves of both kinds.

But it was almost too late for some of us. Peg had been torn apart by the wolves and was on the verge of dying from her injuries, though she managed to cast an invisibility spell on herself for protection. Baldo had also been pulled down by the wolves and several more of us had been badly bitten and were bleeding from multiple wounds.

However, the most dangerous threat, by far, still had yet to enter the fray, though it did so now. The huge black wolf then suddenly appeared behind Waylan and tore into him twice, taking large chunks of flesh out with each vicious bite. Fortunately, we had apparently done enough damage to the wolf pack at this point that their leader called a retreat. The wolves then turned and quickly bounded into the forest, leaving their dead behind, though we did manage to get a parting blow on one of them.

With the wolf attack now over, Garret healed our wounds by channeling positive energy and we briefly discussed what had just occurred. Considering the fact that some of the wolves were only harmed by magic and silver weapons, we could not help but suspect that some of the wolves may have been lycanthropes, though I have come to understand there are several known varieties, particularly those that take the form of a wolf. From what we have heard and read, most of these are capable of spreading their lycanthropic disease – which means some of us may be infected, and there is really no way of telling who. Thankfully, out of the seventeen wolves that attacked us, including the large black wolf, we managed to kill ten of them, seven of which appeared to be normal wolves while three were possibly lycanthropes. Not including the large black wolf, three of the normal wolves fled, as did three of the possible lycanthropes. Since food and clothing appear to be in such short supply in this land, we decided to field dress the seven normal wolves for their hides and meat and take them with us.

After doing this, we continued on our way. But we did not get much further before the sunlight began to wane. So, because of our apparent lack of progress this day, due in part to the shortness of the daylight, we decided to cast a light spell and continue on for another hour or so. As we did so, we eventually came within sight of what must be a frozen lake that Waylan had spotted two days before when he flew above the trees to look around. Soon after that we came within sight of something else.

Once again the night had become bitterly cold. It was also unnaturally still and quiet, and the forest was flooded with the silver light of a single moon, making it easy to see. Towards the end of this day’s journey, we spotted, off in the woods, a dim orange glow – the light of a campfire.

Encouraged by the prospect of encountering another human in this frozen wilderness, not to mention the alluring warmth of a fire, we continued on in the direction of the light. The fire was about half a mile away, through the forest, and soon we came upon a clearing where a campfire crackled before a small lean-to made from pine boughs. A dark-haired young man sat before the fire, warming a cup of steaming tea. The fellow was wearing weathered buckskin, with a great parka of fur hanging over his shoulders. A sturdy bow and a large battle axe lay close to his hand. A pair of rabbits was roasting on a spit over the fire. As we drew near, we called out to the man a greeting so as not to alarm him and asked if we could approach. He answered back a welcoming reply and invited us to join him. Some of us I think did not expect to receive such a friendly reception in such a forbidding wilderness, but we were certainly glad for it.

The young man introduced himself as Mikhail Zolnik, calling himself the marshkovik, or leader of the warriors from the nearby village of Torgov. We, in turn, introduced ourselves and even Waylan gave his real name with the logical assumption that an alias such as Lord Jotto would be wasted on such simple folk as these appear to be. We struck up a conversation with the man and learned much about this land and its people, and in exchange, we told him much about ourselves, particularly our homeland and our recent and mysterious appearance in this land. Most importantly, we told him about our encounter with the man we believe to have been Igor Rikorsky and the subsequent discovery of his campsite and journal. We showed the journal to Mikhail and the map that was found within, and he was very grateful to us for having received the warning that Gregor and his men, the boyarsky, intend to attack the village of Torgov. He told us that he would take us to the village tomorrow and asked if we could assist the village in any way that we could. After listening to what he had to say, we assured Mikhail that we would help him and the villagers however possible.

This then, is a portion of what we learned from him, or at least what we were told, and Mikhail appears to be a warm and friendly person, both patient and polite – so we have no reason to distrust him: First of all, this land, known as Vorostokov, appears to be cursed with a winter that has never come to an end in more than a generation, though Mikhail claims to be unaware of its cause. The land, which appears to encompass less than a dozen villages and no more, is supposed to be entirely surrounded by a ring of mountains through which no pass is known to exist. And though the weather here is bitterly cold and could easily kill a man unprotected, he assures us that we should be grateful that we have not yet witnessed what he calls a zilinya neshka, or black-ice storm, which he says no man is likely to survive without shelter. He also mentioned that the white shadows we encountered yesterday are known locally as yeneshyy, or white cloakers.

The most powerful man in Vorostokov, he tells us, is the boyar Gregor Zolnik, whom Mikhail freely admits is his father, though he has not seen him in years. According to Mikhail, Gregor is an evil man, and his warriors, the boyarsky, enforce a reign of terror over the other villages. The boyarsky demand tribute from the other villages and take it back to the main village of Vorostokov, starving the rest so that Gregor’s favorites may be fed. Mikhail’s village of Torgov, he tells us, refused to send tribute when the boyarsky came last week, and he fears that the boyar will make them regret their decision.

Tomorrow we will travel to Torgov and see what can be done about all of this, though I fear the outcome may be grim.

Day 3, June 25th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

Upon our awakening in the morning, Mikhail, as promised, began guiding us to the village of Torgov with no unexpected difficulties along the way. Though it has been an exhausting and often painful few days, we are starting to become accustomed to the extremes of the climate, and thanks to the wolf meat that we prepared last night, we have had plenty of food. Garret has also adjusted his spell selection to better accommodate my companions and him, and protect them from the cold, though I have refused any magical aid in this regard, feeling that it is necessary for me to endure the harsh elements without such comforts so that I may more quickly redeem myself for having broken my vow of poverty. I rely instead on natural means such as fire and the furs we have gathered to protect me from the cold, for it would be foolish to allow myself to succumb to frostbite or hypothermia, which could easily occur were I to leave any part of my body exposed.

Towards the end of our day, as the twilight was fading, our trail came to an end at the village of Torgov. The Trek had been exhausting. Mikhail’s home, as it turned out, is a tiny little hamlet at best, nestled in the shadow of a barren, snowy hill. A dozen small cabins sit in a circle in the center of the village, and about a dozen more small farmhouses and worhshops are scattered around the general area. Farmland covered by a blanket of snow surrounds the sleepy village. The granaries and livestock pens are almost empty.

Mikhail led the way to a small cabin and entered, stomping snow off his boots and shaking the ice from his parka, and we followed suit. Inside, warm firelight filled a cozy taproom. A handful of villagers were drinking hot tea or hard cider, with somber expressions on their faces. They acknowledged Mikhail with smiles and handshakes, but watched us with suspicion.

“Anna, Pyotr, Kerin, these are strangers I met in the forest,” Mikhail said, making introductions all around. They are exhausted and half-frozen, but they have an odd tale to tell. Bring cider, bread and blankets for them.”

We thanked the villagers for their hospitality and offered to pay for their goods and services with our unique skills and talents, such as Garret’s ability to heal and provide food, just to name a couple. It soon became obvious that the village has no clerics or spellcasters of any kind and they were quite amazed at the few spells that Garret cast. For the time being, Waylan and Peg have perhaps wisely refrained from casting any of their spells for fear of becoming the subjects of a witch hunt, though, from the sound of it, there may soon come a time when their spells will be needed.

We spoke with several of the villagers then and told them what we had learned from the journal of Igor Rikorsky, and we offered to assist them in defending the village from the boyar Gregor. In turn, we got to know some of them: There is Anna Karella, an attractive young woman with an easy laugh and dancing eyes. She is a friendly and cheerful person and is the fiancée of Mikhail. Then there is Pyotr Bolshoi, a grizzled old farmer, surly and morose and a hopeless pessimist who is convinced that resisting the boyar is useless. Kerin, a tall young man with keen eyes and a cat’s grace is said to be the village’s finest archer. He appears to be easily impressed and may be too eager for a conflict with the boyar. We also spoke at length with Kerin’s aunt Greta who is the owner of the taphouse. She is a kind-hearted gossip who seemed more interested in filling our ears with news about the other villagers. Garret and I also took the opportunity to tell some of the villagers about the Morninglord and did what we could to spread his word, since it was obvious that the village and the land could really use some hope and the services of a cleric.

After some discussion, it was decided that we would have an impromptu meeting this evening with any of the villagers willing to come and talk about the defense of the village. So we sent Kerin out to spread the word among the villagers and in time we had a small gathering at the taphouse. We then had a brief discussion and it was agreed that in the morning we would all gather together and formulate some plans to help defend the village, though if possible, we would do what we could to avoid any bloodshed. Unfortunately, there is no way to know at this point, when we might expect the arrival of the boyar and his men. It literally could be anytime now.

For the night and presumably for as long as we need it, Greta has offered to let us sleep in the taproom since there is really no other place for us to stay. It is good to be once again in a warm and relatively comfortable dwelling. But I am concerned about what tomorrow may bring.

Day 4, June 26th, Year 1127 of the Patriarch’s Calendar:

To our dismay, the boyar Gregor and his boyarsky arrived much sooner than expected. Our sleep was interrupted by the sounds of fighting outside. Men were yelling and cursing, and the sound of steel on steel was clear. The wind howled terribly, and the sun had not yet risen. Only blackness and frost could be seen outside. But it was obvious that the village was under attack! Realizing we could not run out into the night unprotected from the elements and unprepared for battle, we quickly donned our gear and outer clothing.

When we were ready, though I felt as if we had taken too long, we opened the door and stepped outside to see chaos. Wind stung our eyes and the frantic shouts and cries of the wounded were confusing. It took a moment to make sense out of the scene.

One of the peasant’s huts near the center of the village was burning brightly, and tall powerful warriors in chainmail were preparing to burn other cabins, torches flaring in their hands. Villagers were attacking the warriors with whatever weapons they could find – pitchforks, hammers, hatchets, and hunting bows. The warriors were cutting them down in a battle-rage.

In the middle of the fight Mikhail frantically hewed at the warriors with his axe. “To me! To me!” he cried to the villagers. The men of Torgov were outnumbered and outclassed, but their anger had lent them strength and they were managing to hold their own. More warriors were pouring into the fray, though, and it was certain that the peasants would be defeated if they did not get help.

Overseeing the attack was a stocky, broad-shouldered man with a bushy beard and a great fur cape. He held a bastard sword by his side, and directed his followers with hoarse shouts and gestures. Beside him stood a tall, slender youth dressed similarly and a wiry guard with a great battle axe. Their attention was obviously still elsewhere.

Seeing the man with the bushy beard, and realizing he must be the boyar, Gregor Zolnik, I ran towards him, dodging past combatants on either side, and charged up to him. He saw me coming though and landed the first blow on me with his bastard sword. Then the man with the battle axe circled around to my flank and came after me. I then struck the boyar several times with my fists and though I know that I hurt him, he did not appear to be greatly affected. I knew then that this would not be an easy fight, but I was determined to take down the leader of the boyarsky and put an end to the violence as quickly as I could.

The majority of my companions meanwhile ran to the aid of the villagers as many more would have been lost had they not. Still, even with our assistance, the villagers were dropping as quickly as the boyarsky. It was apparent however, that Gregor had not been expecting an experienced band of adventurers to be helping the villagers. No doubt, he was counting on easily overpowering the peasants of Torgov, but with our unforeseen presence, he clearly began to rethink his strategy.

Due largely to our aid then, the tide of the battle turned in favor of the villagers. The boyarsky fought fiercely and neither asked for nor gave quarter, and the villagers managed to hold their ground. With an awful oath, Gregor Zolnik suddenly ordered his men to withdraw.

Surprised by the unexpected call for retreat and the cautious lowering of weapons, I glanced back behind me and saw the villagers too spent to follow as the boyarsky began to pull back. Looking at Mikhail, I saw him step forward and raise his sword in defiance.

Gregor then turned and cried, “Listen to me, people of Torgov! If you surrender, I will spare your village, but if you make me return to Vorostokov to gather my warriors, not a soul among you shall survive.”

“Go back to Vorostokov, then!” Mikhail shouted back. “We have seen your mercy, father! We will die free rather than live beneath your heel!”

“You have not seen the last of me, my son,” growled Gregor. “Your outlander allies will not be around to save you the next time we meet, Mikhail. I’ve let you be for far too long.”

The boyar then turned his back on me and the village, and I was left standing there with a mixture of confusion and outrage. Though I was badly wounded I was convinced that we could defeat Gregor and his men, and I was certain it was a mistake to let them go.

Mikhail apparently read the emotions so clearly written on my face and said to me, “Let them go. He is my father, and there has been enough bloodshed for one night.”

Still I could not see how Mikhail could say such a thing, considering the threat that he had just issued. But I tried to keep in mind that these were people entirely unaccustomed to such violence and that a son and his father were at the core of this conflict. So I did as Mikhail asked and let them go. With a look of contempt then, Gregor stalked off into the darkness with his men following, while the village fell silent, save for the moans and cries of the wounded.

Garret immediately began tending to the wounded and managed to save many of them from dying, though for some it was too late. Others meanwhile ran to fetch water and put out the fires. I did what I could to help with the cleanup, though I was still angry with Mikhail for quite some time for allowing Gregor and his men to get away. I was certain that there would soon come a day when we would all regret this decision.

View
The Ravenloft Files, Vol.19, Chapter 6

Tales of the Mistborne: Dark of the Moon
Chapter One

The wolf drifted in and out of vision, darting and disappearing in the mists and the shadows. The air around it was amazingly colder, and every breath drawn burned in the nostrils and lungs with its frostiness. Suddenly, the wolf turned to attack!
In a lightning-swift leap, the wolf attacked, silently snapping and lunging as the mists closed in. The wolf seemed almost spectral, taking form from the mist, then disappearing again in a swirl of fog, only to reappear and attack from another direction. The surrounding shouts and sounds of struggle seemed strangely distant and weak. Its first target was Garret, and when the wolf clamped down on Garret’s forearm, a swirl of cold mist passed over him and suddenly Garret was gone…

Excerpts from

The Journal of Brother Quinn
Of the Order of Guardians

Monday, February 17th, 742 B.C.:

Though it gives me great pain to do so, I find myself in the agonizing position of having to disclose a most terrible admission. At first, I thought I could justify my actions and did not want to admit, even to myself, that I had done anything grievously wrong. Naively, I tried to convince myself that the extraordinary circumstances of our most recent encounter warranted the temporary cessation of my self-imposed ban on the use of materialistic contrivances and that, when all was said and done and our deeds had all been recorded in the annals of history, the ends would indeed justify the means. But sadly, I must declare that this is simply not the case.

The truth of the matter is that I have, once again, fallen to the temptations of the very artifact of malevolence that I have sworn to protect all others from and in its insidious employment I have broken my vow of poverty. Curses upon that instrument of evil, for in its use I too have been cursed!

To be more precise, I awakened this morning to discover that my hands are now covered with hideous lesions and open sores which no amount of curative magic seems capable of healing. The skin on the rest of my body likewise has changed, though it has taken on a decidedly tough and leathery quality, which, oddly enough, might prove to be of some benefit to my protection. As to the reasoning for my sudden and otherwise inexplicable overnight transformation, I can only surmise that, by the breaking of my vow, I have attracted the attention of the Dark Powers of this world, which think to tempt me down the path of corruption by offering me a meager reward in exchange for an easily concealed physical ailment. I have read and heard many a story about others who have followed this path, only to become trapped by the lure of power. Some of these have even become Darklords – powerful beings in their own right, but ultimately tormented souls that are prisoners of the lands in which they would rule.

I, however, am determined not to be such a one, though my difficulties go far beyond the mere alterations in my skin. In fact, it is mentally and spiritually that I find myself to be most crippled, for in the breaking of my vow I have become unclean, and as such I have lost the divine benefits granted to me by the Morninglord for the taking of my vow of poverty. Because of this I have, starting this day, taken measures to correct my weaknesses and return to the path of righteousness and enlightenment. My first step was to visit the Crimson Citadel Fane and pay the high priest Pave Lod Ragnaar a great deal of money to have him cast an atonement spell on me, though regrettably he is a follower of the Lawgiver rather than the Morninglord. Unfortunately, it is the best that I can do at this time.

Having done this, I will venture into the woods tomorrow for a week of fasting, prayer, meditation and communion with nature in the harshness of winter as a form of penance and to help cleanse my soul. Upon my return, I will begin my search for some means of redemption. And though I know it will not come easily or quickly, and that I can never again return to a state of innocence, I am determined to once again be clean and righteous.

I have spoken with my companions and have told them my intentions, and they have, in turn, assured me that they will tend to all other matters and any pending business while I am away.

Monday, February 24th:

I have, at last, returned from the wilderness, though I am feeling weak and in ill health. I must rest for a few days before I can resume writing in my journal. I am sure there is much I need to be caught up on.

Thursday, February 27th:

Today finally, I am feeling well enough to return to my studies and pursuits and will begin again to record for posterity the events connected to my life’s work and that of my companions.

To start off with I will mention that the Faraway Estate is now owned by the fictitious

personage known as Lord Jotto and is essentially ours to do with as we please. For over the course of the previous week, Waylan, with the assistance of Mr. Gregorovich, has convinced the local authorities that Dimitry Velikovna has had a sudden change of plans and has unexpectedly returned to his homeland of Barovia. As such, he has apparently made the necessary arrangements, through his agent Mr. Gregorovich, and has sold the estate to our Lord Jotto for an undisclosed amount of wealth. All the required documents have been attended to and to any interested outside parties who would take the time to investigate the matter, it would appear that Mr. Velikovna, as a part of the transactions, has acquired a certain artifact of which he had been searching for and which had been, until recently, in the possession of Lord Jotto.

Also during this time, the body of Sorin has been given a proper burial, while the remains of Velikovna, Magda and Sophie have been sealed away in one of the hidden underground chambers. As for any easily transported wealth found in the estate, it has been divided up between the members of our group, with the exception of those items which could be identified as having been stolen from the bank in Bergovitsa. These have been returned to the bank on the condition that no questions would be asked and a reward for their return has been accepted.

As for Tor and Ulf, the two henchmen of Duke Rivtoff, they have also made one more appearance at which time they were shown the forged document supposedly from Prince Othmar, which states that Lord Jotto and company are currently employed by the prince for an unspecified matter of great importance. They have not since returned, nor do we expect them to.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gregorovich, Vasile and Ionache have gradually shown signs of returning to the people they once were before becoming the dominated slaves of Velikovna and we are hopeful that they will once again be able to resume lives of normalcy, though it seems clear that they will forever remain somewhat disturbed by the horrible things they have witnessed and been subjected to over the past several years. Whatever the case, they have stated that they do not wish to return to Barovia. So we have decided that when we leave this place, we will leave them behind to take care of it for us.

Finally, I will add on a personal note, that after a week spent in the wilderness, I feel that I am ready to seek my redemption, though in what form it will come only time can tell. However, I have begun experiencing nightmares again, and I feel it is also time that I resume my research into the recovery of the final pieces of Nerull’s Will. In this latest nightmare, I dreamed that we lost the wagon and the staff that was in it. I do not know if there is any real significance to this dream, but I cannot shake the feeling that I should keep the staff on my person when we do decide to leave this place. For this reason I have made an agreement with Waylan concerning the staff’s protection and am having fashioned a container with a strap in which I can carry the staff at all times.

Sunday, March 22nd:

It has now been more than a month since our defeat of Dimitry Velikovna, and during that month little has changed. During this time I have read all that there is to read in this house concerning anything that may have to do with Nerull’s Will and have poured over my notes again and again. I feel there is nothing more to be learned here and it is time we take our searches into the land of Barovia. I am also still in search of some means to redeem myself for having broken my vow of poverty. Waylan and Peg, meanwhile, have spent the past month learning new spells, while my other companions have occupied their time with various other pursuits.

But tomorrow, we will say our goodbyes to Horatiu, Vasile and Ionache, who have become good friends of ours, and be on our way. Who knows when we shall return to this place – if ever. For now, it appears that our path may take us a great distance from this place.

Monday, March 23rd:

We set out this morning, passing through the city of Bergovitsa one last time, and headed southeast along the Vaere Bange Road as it passes through the Howling Hills. As always we are traveling with our merchant wagon, in which we have brought along some merchandise in order to complete our appearance, as well as our horses and traveling gear. So far the weather has been pleasant, though I am certain the night will be quite chilly. Our first day of travel was uneventful and we have made camp just north of the intersection of the Old Svalich Road.

Tuesday, March 24th:

As I am writing this entry, we are currently lost in a land we are entirely unfamiliar with and, in fact, we have yet to see any sign of civilization. As one might be able to discern by the shaky scrawl of my penmanship, it is bitterly cold in this place and our survival here is most assuredly not a certainty.

But let me begin by saying that we resumed our journey this morning as expected, and soon found the turnoff on to the Old Svalich Road. From there we headed west into the Balinok Mountains and sometime later passed over the border into the land of Barovia. Here we were quite amazed at the beauty of the towering mountains and the surrounding countryside, though the looming shadows added to the chill of the breeze that blew through the pass and the road began a gradual incline that slowed our travel somewhat. Still, our journey was uneventful and eventually it became time for us to look for a place to camp. A short while later, having set up our camp and built a good fire to help get us through the night, we sat down to have our evening meal when we were visited by a very strange encounter that would then lead to a very drastic alteration in out intended path.

The night was cold and damp, and frigid mists blanketed the valley. A rim of clear ice had settled over the branches of the trees, and the ground was covered with white frost. The warmth of the fire was a comfort against the chill of the evening. In the distance, the ghostly howl of a wolf arose. Its forlorn cry seemed to sap the warmth from the fire as an icy chill permeated the camp. Even with weapons close at hand, there was unease in the misty darkness away from the fire – something did not feel right.

Then the mists swirled and eddied, and a dark shaped emerged and stumbled forward. It was a strangely dressed man, and he tottered forward and collapsed.

He was wearing thick furs and a hooded cape, and his boots were made from buckskin. Broken snowshoes were strapped to his back, and clutched in his hand was a blood-stained hatchet. His face was a ghostly white, and a pattern of deep blue wounds surrounded by patches of white frost marked his throat and his arms. A long, flowing beard and mustache framed his swarthy face.

Garret quickly moved to inspect the man and found that his skin literally burned with cold to the touch. He cast a healing spell on the man and checked for any vital signs. But it was to no avail. Despite Garret’s prompt attention, the man was already dead – stiff and frozen through. Witnessing the unnatural death of this stranger we gazed at his corpse in stunned silence.

But the silence was suddenly pierced by the haunting howl of a wolf, much nearer than the previous one. A great white wolf with red eyes then emerged from the mists a few yards away. The mists clung to it, and with a quick twist it was gone, padding off again into the fog and the cold. It turned and glanced back once, and then the mists rolled in to conceal it once more.

We took a moment then to inspect the dead man and see if there was anything on him which could identify him or his place of origin. In addition to the broken snowshoes, the hatchet, the parka and other clothes that he wore, we found a composite short bow , an empty quiver and a hunting knife. In his backpack he had a few scraps of dried meet, but nothing more.

As we puzzled over the appearance of this stranger, we were visited once again by the white wolf…

…With the sudden disappearance of Garret, some of us moved forward to attack the wolf, while I stayed back and fought it from a distance, using whatever I could find to throw at it. For those of us who moved up to attack it, they met the same fate as Garret and mysteriously vanished in a swirl of mist whenever the wolf would bite them. Seeing this, Peg cast an invisibility spell on herself and moved away while Waylan cast a fly spell and flew up out of harm’s way. But in the end, it made little difference. Eventually, I too was bitten by the wolf and vanished from the campsite, leaving only Waylan and Peg behind. Waylan then, as I was later told, cast a lightning bolt spell which almost certainly destroyed the white wolf. But as the wolf exploded a wave of white frost was thrown up, striking both Peg and even Waylan who was flying high above, and like the rest of us, they too vanished into the mist, leaving behind our horses and our wagon and everything in it.. For each of us, what happened next we experienced individually, though we later learned that our experiences were all the same.

Waves of cold numbed our whole bodies, whether we were bitten by the wolf or were struck by a blast of cold mist. Then pain and darkness overcame us, and we felt ourselves falling and racked by horrible chills. As we collapsed, the mists rushed in to cover our bodies, and one by one we disappeared.

Suddenly, darkness and cold swirled about, and all sense of direction was completely obscured by the mists. Our heartbeats slowed and stopped in the numbing emptiness. Time seemed to hang suspended, though the darkness lasted but a moment – or perhaps for an eternity – before white, blinding light erupted from everywhere. In the next instant, reality returned in the form of cold, dry snow. There was a bitter, biting cold that, unlike the frigid night mists from before, was obviously not supernatural. It was, however, more numbingly icy, more absolutely arctic, than seemed possible. Exposed hands and faces were already becoming clumsy and painful, with needles of searing cold piercing the skin in a maddening assault.

All around us, several varieties of evergreens – mostly pine, spruce, and fir – stretched on as far as the eye could see. Powdery snow lay over the branches and in deep drifts beneath the boles of the trees, creating an eldritch realm of sparkling ice and delicate white sculptures. It would have been quite beautiful if it were not so bitterly cold. The sky, at the time, was deepening toward twilight, and the approaching night was certain to bring unendurable cold. It was evident that coats and furs, adequate for the winter of the realm left behind, would not be enough protection in this frozen place.

Immediately, we set about gathering firewood and tender to start a fire, while some of us began building a snow cave to help keep out the bitterly cold wind during the night. Looking about we saw that the immediate surroundings held nothing but dark, brooding forest and deep drifts of snow. No landmarks of any kind could be seen in the frozen wilderness. The cold, dry air left our throats and noses burning. The wind carried on it from far away the howl of a wolf. The sun was soon dipping below the horizon and although it was barely imaginable, it was growing colder. Fortunately, the time of day was different from the realm we had just left behind and there was still daylight in which to prepare.

As we searched about the hauntingly quiet area for firewood we discovered a set of tracks in the snow, leading to a small clearing nearby. They were the footprints of a single man, with numerous animal tracks overrunning the man’s prints. The human footsteps appeared to abruptly end in the middle of the clearing. We decided to wait and investigate these tracks further tomorrow. For now we were more concerned about the coming night, and from the looks of it we got the sense that the night will be a long one.

Wednesday, March 25th:

The night last night seemed to last forever. When the sun finally rose, it was dim and weak, and from the way that it barely cleared the southern horizon, it was obvious that there would be less than five hours of sunlight. Perhaps with the twilight that lasts for a few hours before dawn and after sunset, we hoped there might be about eight hours of usable light during the day. To add to our troubles, we have discovered that all the food and water that we brought with us into this realm has been spoiled. Fortunately, Vadolus has his magical plate of plenty and Garret is able to create food and water with a spell. Garret is also able to cast a spell on us that will protect us from the bitter cold for a large portion of the day.

Our first objective for the day was to follow the tracks we had found yesterday and see where they led to. As it turned out they came to an end at a clearing only about two hundred yards from where we made camp last night. Here, the air was unnaturally still and clear in the frozen woods. The only sounds were the crackle and rustle of boots in the snow and ragged, steaming breaths. Near the tracks in the clearing lay scattered packs and gear, apparently an abandoned campsite. A heap of cold ashes and half-burned logs was surrounded by packs, a crude set of sleeping furs, and a pair of skis. It was obvious that someone left in a hurry, without bothering to take any of the supplies or equipment. From the condition of the packs, it would seem that wild animals had discovered the camp.

Upon close examination we discovered 10 days’ worth of rations, two frozen waterskins, enough furs to manufacture one parka, a tinder kit and kindling, and a tattered journal, written in vaasi, partially burned and lying in the cold ashes. We took a closer look at this journal and learned several things including the name of its previous owner, Igor Rikorsky, whom we presume to be the man we encountered on the previous night. Inside this journal we also found a map, inked on caribou hide, which apparently represents a portion of this land which goes by the unfamiliar name of Vorostokov. According to the journal and the map, it appears that the nearest village is called Torgov and lies to the northeast of us. So it is there that we have decided to head.

But also according to the journal, there appears to be another reason for making the journey to Torgov, if we so chose, and that is to warn the villagers there about the coming of the boyar’s men. The boyar, a man by the name of Gregor, has apparently decided to destroy the village of Torgov as the villagers there have rebelled against him. Whatever the case, it bears investigating.

Towards the end of our first day of traveling through the woods, the wind changed and began to moan with a low, chilling tone. We found it difficult to keep our thoughts from returning again and again to the mesmerizing sound. Exhaustion soon began to really set in and it became hard to keep moving. Our limbs seemed heavy and our bodies ached with pain and weariness. It was almost as if the moaning of the wind was draining away the strength and the will to go on. But gradually Waylan began to realize that the moaning of the wind was not natural. It seemed to him that the sound was coming from a certain mound of snow off to one side of us and he pointed this out to us. But by then it was almost too late, as a cold lethargy slowly descended over some of us and the sinister moaning filled all our thoughts like a gelid ice, numbing away all other sensations.

Suddenly a ghoulish white shadow drifted into view from beneath the pine boughs and enshrouded Clint in a horrible embrace! At this point, a few of us managed to shake off the lethargy and move to defend us. Waylan was among these and he cast a spell that appeared to captivate the creature. Whether or not he was able to charm the creature I cannot be certain. But he was able to convince the creature to release Clint, at which point an identical creature approached us and attacked. But by doing so, it ceased the moaning it had been doing, which released all of us from the lethargy. This creature then engulfed Baldo and we were left with little choice but to attack the creature while Baldo was still trapped within. Because of this, every time we struck the creature Baldo was injured as well. So we had to try and come up with methods of doing harm to the creature which would not also do harm to Baldo. At one point, Garret had to channel positive energy in the area, excluding the creature, in order to heal up Baldo. Eventually though, Baldo managed to escape the creature, at which point we then destroyed it. With this done, we turned on the other creature that Waylan had somehow managed to keep distracted, and destroyed it as well.

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The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 19, Chapter 5

Nerull’s Will: The Emerald
Chapter Five

Moving quickly but cautiously we continued on while those of us in front, upon reaching the floor of the cellar, began to circle around to see what lurked beneath the stairs. There we saw Ionache emerging from the shadows. Before him he held a longsword that shimmered a faint bluish glow as frost and steam seemed to pour from its blade.

Just then we were greeted by Magda and Sophie who suddenly emerged out of the darkness from behind the nearby kegs. They both smiled at us with their devilish grins and their alluring dark eyes. Then Magda spoke in her sultry voice saying, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, what brings you here? You should not be in this dank and dark cellar. You have been very naughty and now you will need to be punished.” Suddenly their eyes flashed with excitement as they hissed and lunged towards us, revealing the large canine-like fangs of a vampire as they did so…

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(Continued from) Friday, February 16th, 742 B.C.

Since we had already killed one of Velikovna’s servants, perhaps unnecessarily, and possibly even feeling some guilt for having done so, Garret quickly moved into the kitchen and stabilized the wounds on Vasile so he would not bleed to death. For Sorin it was too late. I had let my anger at the theft of Nerull’s Will get the best of me and for whatever part Sorin may have played in that theft, if any at all, he had paid for it with his life.

It did not occur to me then that all of Velikovna’s servants could be mere pawns which had the unfortunate fate of becoming the victims of a vampire’s ability to charm and dominate lesser mortals who might otherwise be innocent of any wrongdoing.

As soon as Garret had tended to the cook’s injuries, we tied him up to make sure he would not be going anywhere. Then we moved on to the scullery and found the stairs leading into the wine cellar. Using a light spell to guide us, we proceeded down the stairs. The wine cellar was lined on the north and west walls with racks, about a third of them occupied with bottles of wine. On the south wall was a large unlit fireplace and near the east wall at the bottom of the stairs were two large kegs of ail.

As we made our way down into the cellar, some of us heard the faint sound of movement under the stairs below us…

…We now found ourselves face to face with two creatures which number among the most feared creatures of the night, and despite having suspected Magda and Sophie of being vampires, we were still nonetheless, quite startled to discover that our suspicions had proven to be correct. Fortunately we recovered quickly from our initial surprise and immediately fell into a defensive stance. Vadolus was the first to be attacked by the two vampiresses and as they struck him he could feel his stamina being literally drained away by their icy touch, though Magda also used a dagger that magically exuded a corrosive acid along its edge. Vadolus, in turn, fought back with his longsword, though he was discouraged to find that his shocking grasp spell, which he channeled through his sword, had no effect on his assailants. Some of us then came to Vadolus’ aid, while others cast defensive spells or turned to attack Ionache.

That is when our main opponent chose to make his entrance. From the shadows in the far corner of the room, he emerged as though, in one instance, he were a part of the darkness itself, and in the next, he was stepping forth to reveal his presence. Moving with an air of confidence and superiority, Dimitry Velikovna glared at us with a look of disdain. “How rude of you to barge in on our humble abode uninvited,” he spoke in his silvery tongue. “It appears I will need to teach you a lesson in etiquette for your lack of respect.”

In response to his words of poison, I roared back at him in defiance, despite my quivering legs which threatened to buckle beneath me even as I moved in his direction. Seeing in his hand the staff of Nerull’s Will, which I noticed was now adorned with a large emerald at its head, I was drawn irresistibly towards him, or rather the staff. “Thief!” I yelled at him. “You are mistaken! For it is I who will be teaching you a lesson!”

A few of us then focused our attention on Dimitry as he too let out a hiss and displayed his vampiric fangs. But despite our best efforts, we found him a very difficult target on which to land a solid blow. When we did hit him our weapons often did little to no harm to him and any wounds we managed to inflict quickly healed soon after. Clint shot him several times with his pistols, but as his bullets had no enchantments on them they had no effect on the vampire. Garret tried to strike him with a searing light spell but missed. And for his efforts Garret then became the victim of Velikovna’s first magical attack. Using one of the new powers of the staff, Velikovna launched a black ray of negative energy at Garret which suddenly drained from him a great deal of his life energy. To make matters worse, we were amazed as we watched Velikovna’s shadow then detach itself from Velikovna and begin attacking us as a completely independent entity!

At this point, the battle against Dimitry Velikovna had barely begun and already the situation was looking very grim. But now that he saw how the staff was aiding Velikovna, both defensively and offensively, and realizing he could not harm the vampire with his bullets, Clint chose instead to do the next best thing. Making good use of his uncanny ability with firearms, Clint was able to shoot his pistol and knock the staff out of Velikovna’s hands, causing it to land at his feet! Velikovna, who was visibly startled and amazed at the gunslinger’s skill with a gun, was only momentarily dismayed, however. For he immediately picked the staff back up and used another one of its powers to strike me and drain from me a portion of life force that was then transferred through the staff to Velikovna, making him even more formidable than before.

As all of this was occurring, my companions meanwhile, were dealing with Velikovna’s henchmen. With the aid of allies like Baldo, who used his sneak attack ability to great effect, and Waylan, who launched several magic missile spells among others, Vadolus was eventually able to take down one of the female vampires and the other soon followed. Even Peg was able to lend a hand in the battle with some of her spells. But Magda and Sophie were only vampire spawns under the control of Velikovna, and as we later discovered, were nowhere near as powerful as their master. When they died their bodies, along with all their possessions, turned to mist and drifted away into the fireplace where they disappeared. With the two lesser vampires gone, at least for the time being, some of us joined in on the fight against Velikovna and his shadow as others turned on Ionache, who was the least of the threats against us despite the powerful sword that he wielded. After dropping the last of the female vampires with a devastating blow, Baldo then landed a crippling backstab on Ionache which also took him down.

Elsewhere however, our battle against Velikovna and his shadow was not proceeding as well, as the powerful vampire alternated his attacks between Garret and I, and his shadow was similarly sapping our strength. Both of us were now injured and drained of life force, particularly Garret. But Clint continued using his fancy shooting to disrupt Velikovna’s attacks. Again he shot the staff out of Velikovna’s hands. But this time he timed it so that I could then reach down and grab it before Velikovna could get his hands on it. With the staff now in my possession I fled to the far side of the room, though Velikovna was not far behind. Appearing determined to regain possession of the staff, he then stepped back into the shadow in the far corner of the cellar and suddenly emerged from the corner on the opposite side – right next to me! It was as if the shadows were a means of instantaneous travel for him and he could jump from one shadow to another with just a mere thought! Once again I found myself under attack from the vampire. Peg tried to aid me by casting an invisibility spell on me.

But seeing that Garret was about to drop, he then decided to deal with the cleric of the Morninglord who he apparently had a great disliking for. Obviously believing that one more attack from him would drain what remained of Garret’s life force, he shouted at him, “Come! Join me!” Then he reached out and struck him. Ordinarily this would have killed a man in Garret’s condition and doomed him to return as a lesser vampire under the control of Velikovna. But Velikovna was clearly unaware of the power of Garret’s magical shield, which automatically resurrected him the instant he died, though for the time being Garret chose to play dead. And to be honest, at that point, we were not even certain if his shield had saved him.

I, on the other hand, was getting desperate to find an effective means to combat the vampire and realizing I could probably use the powers of the staff’s emerald with no adverse effect, I launched a couple of acid arrows at Velikovna, which gradually began to take a toll on him. Velikovna’s shadow was then forced to flee due to the heavy amount of damage it had received, which allowed every one of us to focus our attacks solely on Velikovna.

Still the vampire was incredibly tough, and I am certain that he would have fled if he felt he was truly in danger. But suddenly, Waylan struck him with a magic missile spell, followed immediately with another crippling backstab from Baldo, and before Velikovna could react, Garret blasted him with a searing light spell. With all of these attacks occurring within a matter of seconds, Velikovna was unexpectedly overwhelmed and he fell before us with a gasp of disbelief. But like the other vampires before him, he too turned to mist and retreated into the fireplace where he disappeared.

With all immediate threats now apparently eliminated. We took a few moments to tend to our injuries as best we could. Garret also stabilized the wounds on Ionache and kept him from dying. Then Garret used another locate object spell to search for the amulet that Velikovna always wore around his neck. The spell indicated that Velikovna was now southeast of us. So we searched for secret doors and eventually found one next to the fireplace.

Through the secret door we entered a large room that was lined along the south wall with a row of ten coffins. To the west was a large pile of dirt and to the east were two doors. Following the direction of the locate object spell we entered another room with only one ornate coffin at its center. But upon opening it we found it to be empty. Still, the locate object spell directed us further east. But there were no more doors in that direction. So we looked for a secret door and eventually found one, which was opened by the turning of a wall sconce. Beyond this secret door we found a room similar to the one we had just left, with a single coffin at its center.

This time when we opened the coffin we were pleased to find Dimitry Velikovna lying within and quite helpless. So at this point, following the advice of Garret, who was the most knowledgeable among us when it came to vampires, we pounded a wooden stake through the chest of Velikovna, who let out a gasp as we did so. Then we filled his mouth with holy wafers and cut off his head. And thus was the end of Dimitry Velikovna.

With this grisly task now accomplished, we retreated back to the room with the ten coffins where in two of the coffins we found Magda and Sophie. There we repeated the procedure we had just performed on Velikovna and likewise put a permanent end to the two lesser vampires.

At this point, we had eliminated all the threats within the mansion and had completed our goal of recovering the staff of Nerull’s Will as well as the emerald that was now a part of it. So we took the time to do a thorough search of the house to see what else we could find of any value to us. We then discovered a private library in the cellar which contained a spellbook, a fair amount of research and other interesting material, and several journals written by Dimitry Velikovna. In addition to this we found a few magic items, some of which were being carried by the vampires or their servants. Taking our search up to the first and second floor of the mansion, we found Horatiu Gregorovich who offered no resistance and who posed no threat to us. Like the other servants he had been charmed and dominated by Velikovna and therefore could not be held responsible for his actions. In fact, he proved to be of some help in answering some of our questions about Velikovna.

After doing a thorough search of the mansion, we gathered Vasile, Ionache and Gregorovich in one room where we could keep an eye on them, and for the time being, we placed the body of Sorin in one of the coffins in the cellar. Then Garret did what he could to restore the life energy to those of us who had been drained by the vampires, while the arcane spellcasters identified the magic items we found. Once the magic items were identified we divided them up. By this time it had grown dark outside and we decided to spend the night in the mansion.

So we have taken the time this evening to discuss our possible plans from here on. And it seems likely we will soon be venturing into my homeland of Barovia, despite the danger it may present to all of us, particularly myself. For it appears that the next part of Nerull’s Will, the sapphire, may be found there. But there are other reasons for going into Barovia as well. Garret for example, has expressed a desire to seek out a secret society based there known as the Dawnslayers. And Baldo may also be able to find more answers to his mysterious past there, though he did discover something more this evening by examining Velikovna’s journals.

It appears that Velikovna really was his father, despite his assurances that he could not possibly be. The journals seemed to confirm it. According to the journals, most of what Velikovna had told us was true. There was an incursion of vampires in the village where the gypsy tribe of Baldo’s mother often passed through and Velikovna was secretly engaged to her. But what Velikovna failed to tell us was that he had become a victim of one of the vampires and it was for this reason that he fled from the village. However, it seems pretty clear that his mother had become pregnant before Velikovna’s transformation into a vampire. The reason why Baldo looks nothing like his mother or father was also explained in the journal, for it seems that Velikovna had a curse placed upon him by Lizelle’s mother for courting her daughter against the tribe’s wishes. No doubt, Baldo is quite disturbed by what he has learned here tonight. But at least he now knows the truth.

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The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 19, Chapter 4

Nerull’s Will: The Emerald
Chapter Four

Clearly disturbed by the tale he was about to tell, Velikovna gazed at the floor and spoke in a low and somber voice. He said that in a small village in Barovia, where he first met Lizelle’ and where Lizelle’s foster parents had raised her since she had first wandered out of the Mists as a small child, there was an incursion of vampires. The townsfolk had battled these vampires for some time and at some point the vampires had apparently killed Lizelle’s foster parents. But for some unknown reason the vampires chose not to harm Lizelle’. However, despite never being physically harmed by the vampires, Lizelle’ was never the same afterwards, for apparently witnessing the death of her foster parents was too much for her mind to deal with and she was so traumatized by the event that from that day on never again did she speak another word. Velikovna claimed that the townsfolk then turned against him, believing that he had somehow allowed this tragedy to happen when he could have prevented it. So Velikovna left the village and returned to his home in Vallaki. A few months later, it was said that Lizelle’ just mysteriously disappeared in the night, leaving behind no sign of her departure…

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(Continued from) Thursday, February 15th:

After dealing with Tor and Ulf, the two henchmen of Duke Rivtoff, and with any hope, delaying any complications with them for at least a couple of days, we decided to split up into smaller groups and look into other matters before making our return visit to the Faraway Estate.

I, for example, had to go through all of my notes and research and remove anything that would indicate that we were in the possession of the staff of Nerull’s Will, for I had told Dimitry Velikovna that I had the sapphire instead and if I was going to show him my notes and research, I would need to remove anything that contradicted what I had already said.

While I was busy doing this, Waylan used much of his time working on creating a forged document that he could show to Tor and Ulf, and which appeared to prove that we were currently employed by Prince Othmar and doing an investigation for him – something that may come in handy later on. Meanwhile, the others spent the day doing things like gathering supplies that could be used against vampires, such as holy water, holy wafers and wooden stakes. We could not be sure if in fact we were dealing with a vampire here, but we thought it best if we were prepared for one nevertheless. Some of us also did some investigating on the previous owner of the Faraway Estate to see if we could uncover anything unusual there. But here we were unable to discover anything useful to us or incriminating to Velikovna.

Eventually the time drew near when we would need to prepare for our return to the Faraway Estate. But before leaving the city, we decided to take the staff of Nerull’s Will to a place where we hoped it would be well guarded. I did not feel comfortable bringing the staff with us in the wagon, nor did I want to leave it behind unprotected. So we found a bank where we could store the staff and its case overnight in a guarded vault.

Clint came along with us and by now, Garret had acquired a spell that he cast on Clint, which would allow him to speak and understand Darkonese. As such, he was able to ask us about our purpose here in Bergovitsa and I explained to him that I was in search of the missing pieces of a magical staff, but did not go into any great detail on the matter. With the staff now securely locked away, we took our wagon and horses and rode north out of the city.

A short while later, at about six o’clock and just after sundown, we arrived at the gates of the Faraway Estate and rang the bell. As before, we were soon greeted by Velikovna’s servant Sorin. Waylan offered him a ride in the wagon up to the front of the mansion so he could ask him a few questions along the way. But upon doing so, Waylan discovered that like the other servants of Velikovna, Sorin was not a particularly talkative sort, and he was unable to get anything useful out of him.

Just outside the front doors of the mansion, Sorin secured our horses and wagon, and then showed us into the entrance hall and on to the same living room we had been taken to on the previous night. There he left us and went to summon Velikovna, who appeared a few minutes later.

Our host greeted us with the same welcoming smile and offered us drinks, but did not want to discuss our business until after diner. Instead, he seemed more interested in small talk and wanting to get to know us better. So we obliged him and asked him if he could give us a brief tour of the mansion. He happily consented to this request and led us around the first floor, showing us his library and study.

When we returned to the entrance hall where the portraits were, Baldo brought up the subject of the painting of his mother. He had told us earlier that he needed to get some answers from Velikovna about his mother before we did anything that might turn him against us. Velikovna then told us a story about how he was engaged to the young lady named Lizelle’ Dragomir, but before they could get married, a great tragedy struck…

…When Velikovna finished with his tale, Baldo admitted to him that Lizelle’ was his mother, which clearly took him by surprise. Baldo told him that she was four months pregnant when his mother emerged from the Mists and we could plainly see that Velikovna was, for just a moment, wondering if he could actually be Baldo’s father. He seemed to recover quickly however and assured us that he could not possibly be Baldo’s father. And considering how attractive both Lizelle’ and Velikovna are compared to Baldo who did not really resemble either one of them, we assumed he was right. It certainly put Baldo’s mind at ease. Velikovna also told us that if Baldo wished to find his real father that he should look in Barovia. This also made sense because Oma Amelia had told Baldo that if he wanted to find his true father he should begin his search in Nova Vaasa – but she never said that his father was in Nova Vaasa.

And while I did not mention this to my companions, I noticed then, as I was looking at the painting of Lizelle’, that she bore a striking resemblance to Izabela, whom I once had been engaged to marry and who later committed suicide rather than be the unwilling wife of Strahd Von Zarovich. Seeing this, I could not help but wonder if Strahd was the main vampire that Velikovna had told us about and if Lizelle’ was yet another reincarnation of Strahd’s long lost love, Tatyana. Somehow, it feels like too much of a coincidence and yet the timing seems right. So at this point I am not sure what to think.

I was however, struck by the fact that Velikovna talked so openly about vampires and I was not able to discern any lies from him. So, while I still believed Velikovna was himself a vampire, I was left with some doubt and could not be absolutely certain of my conviction. One thing that I could be certain of though was that if he is a vampire he is also a very good liar. But then I suppose most vampires would become rather adept at telling lies.

After our discussion in the entrance hall, Velikovna showed us the other rooms on the first floor, including a den, an unfurnished sitting room and the kitchen. By that point though, our diner was ready and we were ushered into the dining room. Since Peg was with us this time, there was no room in the dining room for Gregorovich to join us. Velikovna, by the way, in keeping with his reputation with women, really poured on the charm when introduced to Peg, who had not come with us on our first visit to the Faraway Estate. Our diner, despite its pleasant appearance, was again rather bland tasting and the roast duck was particularly dry. The wine, on the other hand, was very good. I noticed that Velikovna did not appear to eat a lot and merely seemed to pick at his food, as he had done on the previous night.

When we were done with our diner, we retired again to the living room while Velikovna went and found Gregorovich. When the two of them returned, they brought with them a third man whom Velikovna introduced as Ionache. We recognized Ionache as being the coach driver from two nights ago. He was a large, barrel-chested man who seemed to be even less loquacious than Velikovna’s other servants, and he carried with him a huge stack of books and notes that he placed on the living room floor. Ionache then left the room and with Velikovna looking on with great interest, Gregorovich and I began going over the research that the two of us had done.

As I might have expected, much of what Gregorovich had found I too had discovered, and vice versa. But there were a few things here and there, where we were able to learn from each other’s research. One of the areas where I was able to pick up new information was concerning the history of the sapphire, which Velikovna and Gregorovich believed to have been in Barovia – that is until I had claimed to be in possession of it. Seeing as how this fact seemed to be impeding some of our progress, I decided to admit to Velikovna that I did not have the sapphire but rather the staff. They, of course, were anxious to see the staff. But I told them that I had left it behind in a secure place.

With this matter out of the way though, we were able to make more sense out of our combined research. But still we had no real leads on which to follow (though I still suspected that Velikovna had at least one of the gems and would not admit it). Velikovna however, told us that he believed that one of the vampires which had been terrorizing the small village in Barovia now had the emerald and that this vampire had recently fled into Nova Vaasa, which is the reason he had come here six months ago. He also told us that the reason he had been spending so much time at the Murdered Hat was to become acquainted with a number of people that frequented the place who might, in turn, lead him to this vampire.

Again, I could not tell if there was any truth to what Velikovna was saying. But I do admit that he sounded very convincing. So I decided to play along with him and proposed that we set up a trap to lure this vampire to us. I suggested that if we made it known to certain people at the Murdered Hat that we possessed the staff of Nerull’s Will and were looking for potential buyers, the vampire would then be drawn to us. Velikovna agreed with the plan though he pointed out that this might put us in considerable danger. I, of course, was aware of this fact, but I believed the amount of risk involved to be acceptable.

While we were busy going over our research and discussing our plans, Baldo did a little discrete investigating of his own and pulled out a dagger to clean his finger nails with. As he was doing so, he nonchalantly tilted the dagger in such a way as to catch the reflection of everyone in the room. He later signaled to the rest of us that both Velikovna and Gregorovich cast reflections and it was plain for all of us to see that they both also cast shadows. I mention this because according to folklore, vampires cast no reflections and no shadows. So here again, I was presented with evidence that neither Velikovna nor Gregorovich were vampires and once again I began to have some doubts about my convictions. Still, however, I recalled from my own personal experience that no two ghosts are alike, no two mummies are alike and even doppelgangers have their variations. So I must assume that the same can be applied to vampires and that perhaps there are some who do cast shadows and reflections.

At the end of our evening at the Faraway Estate, we decided to follow through with the plan that I had proposed starting this night. It was now about ten o’clock and we wanted to get back into the city. Fortunately we learned that the main eastern gate remains open until midnight. So we took our leave of Velikovna for the time being and headed back to the city. I was still feeling a bit anxious about leaving the staff of Nerull’s Will inside the bank. So we passed by there on the way to the Murdered Hat. As expected the bank was locked up tight and presumably there were guards stationed inside. Still, I wanted to be surer of its protection, so we had Baldo, Peg and Waylan’s raven familiar Lefty stay behind and guard the bank from concealed positions. Then we travelled on to the Murdered Hat.

Our second visit to the night club was quite a bit different from our first visit there as it was now late at night and the place was crowded with men and women who were out just to have a good time. As I had suspected there was a door in the back of the place were only the most exclusive clientele were allowed to go. Still, I was able to bribe one of the bouncers who stood outside the door into letting us in. And of course, Waylan once again assumed the role of Lord Jotto.

Back inside the VIP room, we found several gambling tables of various sorts along with a number of private tables where the wealthiest of merchants and nobles gathered with friends, henchmen and business associates. Several serving girls scampered about delivering drinks to the customers as ladies of the evening flirted with those same customers. We found an empty table in one corner of the room and took a seat there, while we glanced about the room observing people and attempted to look important.

Sometime later, as previously planned, Velikovna appeared along with his two sisters Magda and Sophie. Initially, they acted as if they did not know us and went and sat at another table. After a while, however, Magda and Sophie approached us, pretending to meet us for the first time, and began flirting with Waylan and Garret again. As they were doing so, they discretely pointed out three tables where the most influential of the night’s customers sat, including one member of the city council by the name of Warnaar Vorstedd. Waylan then called a serving girl over and bought Mr. Vorstedd and his companions a round of drinks. But when Vorstedd then sent a couple of his henchmen over to find out why, Waylan merely introduced himself as Lord Jotto and told them he was just being friendly.

A short while later, Velikovna got up from his table and strolled over to ours where he also pretended to introduce himself for the first time. All of this was to make it appear to any on-lookers as if we were traveling merchants trying to sell something. After a brief discussion with us, Velikovna then made his way around the room and talked to various people, supposedly telling them that we have a magical staff for sale. When he was done he came back and told us that he had “baited the trap” so to speak, and now we would just have to wait and see if anyone takes the bait.

With this accomplished, our work for the night was done. So we left the Murdered Hat and drove back to the bank where we picked up Baldo and Peg. It was about 1:30 in the morning when we arrived back at the inn.

Friday, February 16th:

We were awakened at about three o’clock in the morning by a tapping noise at the window. When we arose to see what the matter was, we saw that it was Waylan’s familiar Lefty. The raven was clearly in a frantic state, so Waylan spoke to the bird to find out what the matter was. To my horror, Waylan then told us that the staff of Nerull’s Will had apparently been stolen, though the bird did not see who or what had taken it!

We immediately got dressed and headed out the door and within minutes we were approaching the bank. When we got there we found that the glass window at the front of the bank had been smashed from the inside out, apparently by the body of one of the guards inside. Shining a light in through the window, we could see that two guards lay on the floor in pools of blood and that both had their throats ripped out. The front door however was still locked and we could find no tacks leading from the bank’s only door. From outside the broken window, we could see that the vault door was slightly ajar, but we could not see inside it. So we had to assume that Lefty was correct when he said that the staff had been taken. The city watch still apparently had not been alerted about the break-in yet. So we decided to quickly make our way back to the Murdered Hat to see if anyone was still there. When we arrived however, the doors were locked and the night club was apparently empty. We then decided to return to the bank. But by the time we arrived, the city watch was there and examining the crime scene. We did not want be seen out in the streets so late at night, so we continued on past the bank without stopping and returned to our room at the inn. It was now about four in the morning and we needed to get some rest if we wanted to recover the staff.

It was about noon when most of us woke up and began getting ready for the day. But because the spellcasters had to regain spells, it was about 1:30 in the afternoon before we left the inn. We then went directly to the bank. By the time we arrived, the broken glass had been cleaned up and the window was boarded over. We went inside and spoke to the banker about what had happened. He told us that the vault had apparently been picked, since the guards do not keep a key to the vault on them, and that a number of items had been stolen including the long narrow box we had deposited there (We did not revealed the contents of the box to the banker so he could not be aware of what was in it.). Since it appeared that whoever stole the staff used magical means to enter the bank, or perhaps entered the bank in gaseous form as a vampire might do, we came to the conclusion that there was nothing more to learn at the bank. So we headed out in the direction of the most likely perpetrator – Dimitry Velikovna.

We arrived at the Faraway Estate at about 2:30 and from outside the fence, Garret cast a locate object spell to see if he could find the staff. Just as we had expected, Garret detected the staff somewhere beneath the mansion. So, at the corner of the grounds, we climbed over the fence and quickly made our way to the mansion. There we circled around to the northeastern side and approached the back door there.

As we approached the backdoor however, we saw a curtain in the window of a nearby room move aside and there we saw Sorin pointing a loaded crossbow at us. Though he must have realized that he could not very well shoot at us through a glass window, he shouted at us to leave the property. But of course we refused to do so, knowing full well that Velikovna had the staff of Nerull’s Will. Garret then cast a silence spell around the window and Clint pulled out his hand gun, which he calls a revolver, and shot Sorin through the glass. Due to the silence spell, the gun made no noise, but the window shattered and Sorin fell back into the room. Baldo immediately moved up to pick the lock on the back door, but as he did so, the rest of us knocked most of the remaining glass out of the window and began climbing through.

We then found ourselves in a storage room which Velikovna had not shown us on our tour of the house. It was full of crates, boxes and barrels among other things. And as we threw the curtains aside, we saw Sorin standing there with one hand covered in blood and clutching the wound in his chest, while in his other hand he still held on to the crossbow. We motioned for him to drop his weapon. But instead he raised it and aimed it in our direction. He never got the shot off however, as Clint shot him again with his gun. Sorin dropped to the floor at that point, apparently unconscious. So I picked up a barrel and smashed him with it to make sure he was dead.

Immediately afterwards though, a strange chill passed through the room which sent chills up our spines. Suddenly we all got the strangest feeling that we were being watched, though somehow we knew it was not Velikovna or his henchmen. Looking down at the crumpled form of Sorin as he lay in his own pool of blood, I momentarily felt a tinge of guilt, and it suddenly occurred to me that we had just broken into a home and committed a murder. I then also recalled hearing stories of how the Mists would sometimes try to tempt someone who had just committed an act of evil into doing more acts of evil. But I quickly dismissed this feeling of guilt and tried to convince myself that we were justified in our actions because they had stolen Nerull’s Will from us. I am not sure how my companions felt about this and I can only speak for myself. But I was determined to get the staff back whatever the cost. So I pushed any thoughts of guilt I might have had to the back of my mind and continued on.

From the storage room then, we moved through the hall and into the kitchen. There we encountered the cook Vasile who threatened us with a set of kitchen knives. He proved to be tougher than Sorin, but he too felt the wrath of my justice and quickly fell before us.

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The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 19, Chapter 3

Nerull’s Will: The Emerald
Chapter Three

As he glanced at the painting, which previously had been difficult to see from a distance in the dimly lit room, Baldo’s eye seemed drawn to it as though there was something about it that caught his attention and would not let go. His expression then turned from one of curiosity, to one of concern – and then to one of absolute horror, as though he was staring at a ghost. Suddenly he turned away as if by doing so he could somehow deny what it was he had just seen. He then tried to act as if nothing had occurred, though it was obvious that his mind was reeling with disturbing thoughts…

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(Continued from) Tuesday, February 13th:

While Waylan was busy copying spells for most of the day at Mikaal’s bookstore, some of us decided to do some investigating elsewhere. I asked Mikaal if he could give us any more information on Horatiu Gregorovich or his master Dimitry Velikovna, and I was told that he is frequently seen visiting a nightclub with the unusual name of the Murdered Hat. According to Mikaal, it is a rather posh establishment near the city’s central red-light district, and its name is apparently derived from a humorously garbled reference to a series of incidents that occurred in the area several decades ago, where a nobleman wearing a top hat was suspected of murdering several women, much like Bloody Jack of Peridon or the Signature Killer of Nova Vaasa, who still has yet to be identified or apprehended.

Being curious about the place, I and several of my companions decided to visit the Murdered Hat and see what information we might be able to gather there concerning our mysterious Mr. Velikovna. As it was still early in the day, there were not many patrons there when we arrived. But as Mikaal had indicated, the Murdered Hat was indeed a rather ritzy affair for what was essentially a tavern and a gambling den, though one could only imagine how it must appear late at night when the place is packed with high-priced harlots, wealthy merchants, noblemen and those less than scrupulous individuals who would dare to socialize with the under-belly of the upper class. And while I could not confirm it, I got the sense that there is a door in the back leading into a much larger area where only the most exclusive of clientele is allowed to go. However, if such a place does exist, I am fairly certain it would have done us no good to enter it so early in the day as it would almost certainly have been void of any occupants at that time. Still, I was able to ask one of the serving girls there a few questions and receive a few answers in return, though she was obviously reluctant to talk about any of the regular customers with a complete stranger. She gave her name as Rachel, and said that she had seen Dimitry Velikovna there, late at night, on a number of occasions, the most recent being three nights ago. She also seemed to confirm the rumor that Dimitry was a notorious playboy and ladies’ man, sometimes seen leaving the club with one or two ladies on his arm. I could not help but wonder, judging by the expression on Rachel’s face, if any of the ladies who left with Dimitry, ever turned up missing later on. We were not able to learn much more there so we checked around a few other places, though our results were not any better.

One other place we visited was the Crimson Citadel Fane, a walled religious community on the northern edge of the city and seat of the High Priest of the Lawgiver, Pave Lod Ragnaar. There we spoke with a cleric and asked about the possibility of purchasing a permanent magic item that could be used to heal injuries. We were informed that such items are extremely rare. But the cleric agreed to let us speak to the High Priest tomorrow on the matter. I also stopped by a tailor’s shop, as I began to suspect that my meager apparel might have been hampering my efforts to gather information.

Towards the end of the day, we all met up again for dinner at the Inn of Bergovitsa. Waylan had finished copying his spells and we were even joined by Clint, who despite his language barrier had managed to repair his hand gun and take care of a few other matters. Although some of us may have had some reluctance in allowing Clint to join us as we discussed our plans, we did not want to be rude to the stranger and since he does not understand most of our languages we were not too concerned about what he might overhear.

At this point, I am not sure how much he understands of our purpose here in Bergovitsa, though I am now certain he is aware that we seek an item which we suspect might be in the possession of Dimitry Velikovna. Beyond that, no one has told him anything about the item we seek and he has not asked us about it. In fact, he does not appear to have any interest in it, which at this point might be a good thing. However, should he continue to spend time with us, there will eventually come a point at which I will become very suspicious of him should he fail to show any curiosity towards what it is we seek. Therefore, I think I will need to keep an eye on this stranger, as we can never be too sure if there is not a spy among us or a potential thief searching for the right opportunity to get his hands on Nerull’s Will.

We had considered the possibility of visiting Dimitry Velikovna this evening, using the letter from Mikaal as an excuse to see him. But we decided instead to wait until tomorrow morning when it might be more appropriate. For the same reason, we also decided against visiting the Murdered Hat in the off-chance that he might show up there, feeling it would make a better impression if we met him at his home first. So our plan for the evening was to do nothing; simply remain at the inn and wait until the morning to continue our investigation.

But this plan was slightly altered when we noticed two shady looking men observing us from the bar. All dressed in black and armed with swords and daggers, these men looked like typical street thugs or mercenaries, and revealed no identifying insignia or uniform. After a few minutes, the two men approached us and one of them spoke, introducing himself as Tor and his companion as Ulf. They asked if we were Lord Jotto and company, bought us a round of drinks and told us that they had a business proposition. Seeing that these two men kept looking over their shoulders and clearly did not want to be overheard by anyone else, we began to suspect that they were up to no good. So we suggested continuing the conversation upstairs in our room where it was more private, thinking that we might find the need to rough these guys up – or worse. The two men agreed and we headed upstairs. But when the conversation then resumed we were surprised to discover that the two men claimed to be employed by Duke Rivtoff of the Rivtoff family, one of the five ruling families of Nova Vaasa. It seems that Duke Rivtoff had heard we were capable adventurers, with some of us skilled in the use of arcane magic, information gathered most likely from one of the bandits we had captured, just as I had feared, and the Duke was interested in hiring us to take out a rival band of mercenaries currently being employed by the Duke’s old enemies, the Vistins.

They made an offer of 2000 g.p. if we would accept the job and gave us a few details. Unsure of how to respond to the offer, Waylan, still using his cover as Lord Jotto, did well by telling the men that 2000 g.p. would not be enough and that Duke Rivtoff would have to make a better offer if he wanted our services. The two men said they would speak to the Duke and get back to us. Then they left.

Waylan’s answer gave us the time then to discuss the situation. As noted earlier in my journal, I had some concerns that our use of arcane magic might get us into trouble. But being offered a job by one of the ruling families was not what I was expecting. It is fortunate that we did not attack the two men, for doing so might have made an enemy out of Duke Rivtoff. Still, we were not sure how best to handle the situation and several suggestions were put forth. My suggestion was to accept the offer and then allow the rival mercenaries to defeat us, which would hopefully get us off the hook, so to speak, and avoid making any more enemies. My companions were not sure that this plan would work however, and had other ideas of their own. Some of us thought we could gain some advantage by taking out the rival band, while others thought it would be best if we avoided altogether getting into the middle of a dispute between two ruling families. But I’m not so sure that this was even possible at this point. Whatever the case, we could not come to an agreement on the matter, for none of our ideas seemed to be without a certain amount of risk.

This morning, Peg decided to stay behind at the inn to study some spells. But the rest of us, including Clint, resumed our efforts to locate the missing pieces of Nerull’s Will. Our first stop though was the Crimson Citadel Fane. We had told Waylan of our visit there yesterday and that the High Priest, Pave Lod Ragnaar, would be expecting Lord Jotto to pay a visit today. Soon after our arrival at the massive church of the Lawgiver, we were introduced to Pave Lod Ragnaar, who appeared to be a very strict, high-and-mighty sort of fellow who questioned Waylan on his religious beliefs and his background. He was very determined and unwilling to deal with anyone who did not follow the path of the Lawgiver. Fortunately, he was not able to determine if Waylan was lying, as indeed he had to tell a few fibs, and thanks in part to a spell that Garret cast upon Waylan, which made him more charismatic than he already was, Waylan was able to convince the High Priest to sell him a Wand of Healing, though it did not come cheap. We then gave the wand to the band’s cleric, Garret.

With this done, we then rode out to the Faraway Estate, taking our wagon and horses with us. At the gates of the estate, we rang a bell there and waited for an answer. Eventually a man that we recognized as the footman from the night before came out and greeted us. We told him we had a message from the bookseller Mikaal and that we wanted to speak with Dimitry Velikovna. The servant then told us that his master was busy at the time, but that he could deliver the message for us. We insisted on speaking to Velikovna in person. So the servant told us to return around six o’clock. With this brief exchange, we turned around and headed back to the city.

Since we now had several hours to kill before we could return to the Faraway Estate, we decided to look into one of the city’s more well-known diversions which we had heard so much talk about. In the Avener’s District, which lies in the northeastern corner of the city, is the site of the greatest horse races in all of Nova Vaasa. But rumor has it that it is also probably best to avoid the area despite its popularity, as crime is said to be rampant in the area – crime ranging from the expected pickpockets to the unexpected reports of a “shambling mud-monster” which supposedly stalks the district at night, attacking those who stumble across it. Still, we were not swayed by such rumors and it was not long before Lord Jotto and company were paying a visit to the race track.

As one might come to expect, Waylan was once again determined to play his Lord Jotto role to the hilt and he was equally determined to sit in one of the track’s covered box seats with the rest of the more privileged spectators. With this goal in mind then, he concocted one of his typical ruses and as usual Lord Jotto was soon having his way. In the end however, things did not go as well as he had hoped for, since the box seat cost 25 g.p. and he only came out ahead 8 g.p. after an entire afternoon of betting on the races. Still, the outcome could have been much worse because at one point, Waylan suddenly discovered that his pocket had been picked and that he was missing 8 p.p. Fortunately, Clint happened to catch a glimpse of a small boy who earlier on had bumped into Waylan and was very likely the perpetrator. Towards the end of the afternoon, Clint spotted this same boy, who turned out to be a halfling in disguise, and we accosted the thief. As we were questioning him however, Garret unwisely pulled out his wand and pointed it at the halfling in an attempt to frighten him. The halfling then called out and alerted a nearby member of the city watch who then came to see what the matter was. After sorting things out a bit, the halfling was forced to return the 8 p.p. to Waylan. But the guard then began asking Garret about the wand. Garret claimed it was just an ordinary stick. So the guard asked to have a closer look at it.

Seeing that the “ordinary stick” had symbols and lines etched into it, he placed it in his pocket and told Garret, “Thanks for the stick,” clearly intending to keep it for himself. We then were forced to pay the guard 10 g.p. in order to get the wand back. The whole ordeal was rather trying. But it certainly could have been much worse. Afterwards I made sure to say a word or two with Garret about displaying items of obvious magic in public.

With our day at the horse races now at a conclusion, it was time for us to prepare for our return visit to the Faraway Estate. We arrived there shortly after sundown at about six o’clock as instructed. Again we rang the bell at the front gate and soon we were once again greeted by the footman, whom we then learned went by the name of Sorin. Sorin opened the gate and we rode up to the front of the mansion. We could see upon closer inspection that the mansion and the surrounding grounds had certainly seen better days, as much of the mansion was in need of repairs and the grounds looked as if they had not been tended to in years. But this was perhaps understandable considering the fact that Velikovna had only bought the place six months ago from a man who was reportedly suffering from financial difficulties.

After securing our wagon and horses, Sorin led us into the mansion. Just inside the front door, the entrance hall was dimly lit, but we could see it was a fairly grand, two-story room with a chandelier and portraits hung on the walls. Sorin quickly led us from there down a short hallway and into a nicely lit and well-appointed living room, with a fire burning in a large fireplace. He offered us drinks from a liquor cabinet and left us to summon his master. A minute or two later, he returned and introduced us to Dimitry Velikovna who followed him into the room.

As we had expected, it was the same man we had seen in the carriage on the previous night. Dashing and handsome, with dark wavy hair and long sideburns, Mr. Velikovna proved to be a rather charming and gracious host. We presented to him the sealed letter from the bookseller Mikaal, and after allowing him time to read it, I added that I wished to speak to him on another matter. I then got right to the point and told him that I was in search of the pieces of an artifact, though I did not say the name of the artifact. I told him that during my research I had noticed that an employee of his, Horatiu Gregorovich, had been doing similar research. Velikovna admitted that he too was in search of an artifact, saying that it had been an old family heirloom which had been lost long ago when he was a boy and living in Barovia. His story seemed fairly convincing and I could detect nothing contradictory about his claims, though it was obvious that he too had things which he was reluctant to reveal.

Realizing there was an obvious degree of distrust between us, Velikovna then suggested that we take the time to get to know each other better and asked if we would be willing to stay for dinner. We accepted his offer and Velikovna immediately had his cook, Vasile, begin preparing a dinner for us.

While we waited, we had a few drinks and talked for a while. We told him a little about our backgrounds, though Waylan continued to play the part of Lord Jotto and we did not go into any great detail on any of our exploits. Still, Velikovna appeared to be a very perceptive man and I am sure he would have known if we had told any outlandish lies. Velikovna, in turn told us a bit about his background. And there again, while I could not sense that he was lying, I got the impression that there was much that he was not telling us. After a while, we were told that our dinner was ready and we were then led into the dining room. Along the way we passed through the entrance hall again and as we did so, some of us could not help but notice a very queer expression suddenly appear on the face of Baldo as he passed by and got a good look at one of the paintings…

…Moments later, while we were seated in the dining room and Velikovna was distracted by one of his servants, we whispered to him and asked him what the matter was. He whispered back something that shocked us all – he told us that the woman in the painting was his mother!

Not knowing how sure Baldo could be of his claim, we did not immediately bring up the subject with Velikovna, but chose instead to continue our discussion about our recent research and other topics. We asked if we could meet Horatiu Gregorovich, and he was then invited to join us at dinner. His appearance and demeanor was much as we had expected, being an older, quiet and timid man, and like all of Velikovna’s servants, he seemed to be always preoccupied or distracted by other thoughts and never quite in touch with his surroundings. Shortly after he was introduced to us however, he did, apparently against Velikovna’s wishes, let slip that his research had been on Nerull’s Will. But I then also admitted that I too was in search of the missing pieces of Nerull’s Will, though I claimed to be in possession of the sapphire rather than the staff. Velikovna then told me that he had been in search of the emerald, though here I got the impression that he was not telling the truth – I suspect he may already have the emerald. During our discussion though, I told Velikovna that I was a member of the Order of Guardians and that it was my goal to acquire all the missing pieces of the artifact and to then lock the artifact away and guard it from anyone who might try to use it. This clearly would go against Velikovna’s desire to supposedly “recover a lost family heirloom”.

But Velikovna, claiming to be a reasonable man, said he understood that my objective appeared to have more importance than his own and offered to let me have the emerald once it is recovered. He even offered to help us find it. In return however for this generous offer, he proposed that we perform a service for him at some point in the future, and hinted at the possibility of hunting down vampires in his native homeland – perhaps even Strahd himself, though he had nothing specific in mind just yet. The details, he said, we could work out later. For the time being, he was only interested in comparing the research that each of us had done, and seeing if we could locate the emerald – or so he claimed. Nevertheless, we agreed to his proposal and made plans to return to his estate with our research tomorrow evening. At least that is what we told him. Our actual plans however, may differ a great deal from these.

Towards the end of our dinner, which by the way I found to be rather bland in taste considering the apparent wealth of its host, Baldo eventually spoke up and asked Velikovna about the paintings in his entrance hall. Velikovna then mentioned the painting in which Baldo claimed the young lady looked like his mother, and said it was a painting of a long-lost fiancée of his by the name of Lizelle’, which also happened to be the name of Baldo’s mother. Velikovna said that a tragedy had occurred and because of it the two were never married, though he did not go into any details about the tragedy. Baldo told Velikovna that the lady looked like someone he knew but said no more about it. We then asked Velikovna if he had any family and he told us he had two sisters which also lived there at the estate, but which were currently not at home.

As we were leaving though, the two sisters, Magda and Sophie, made an appearance in the entrance hall, having apparently just arrived home from a night out in the city. It seems they may have been fairly intoxicated as they, much to the disliking of Velikovna, were extremely flirtatious towards Waylan and Garret, the two more attractive members of our band. In fact, they tried to get Waylan and Garret to take them back to the city for a night out on the town. Fortunately, the two declined the girls’ offer, as I’m sure it would only have led to trouble.

We then said our goodbyes to Velikovna and returned to our room at the Inn. Along the way we discussed our first meeting with Velikovna, and, based on his manner and other such oddities, I am fairly convinced that he is a vampire, though I have no real proof to support this hypothesis. Some of my companions agree with me however. So perhaps on our return visit we shall find some proof. Whatever the case, we have all agreed to stay in one room tonight, including Clint, and I am keeping Nerull’s Will close to me.

Thursday, February 15th:

This morning, as we were gathered in the common room downstairs to have some breakfast, we were paid a visit by Tor and Ulf, the two hired thugs who work for Duke Rivtoff. They made an offer of 4000 g.p. for us to accept their job proposal. They also made a veiled threat, indicating that if we declined the offer, things might get difficult for us. Waylan told the men we needed to discuss the matter. So they told us they would return in half an hour, at which point we needed to give them an answer. When they left, we talked about it. Baldo then put forth an idea we had not thought of before but which might actually work. He suggested that we think up an angle that would make the Duke reconsider hiring us or threatening us. We then came up with the plan of telling the two men, or at least hinting to the two men, that we had already been hired by Prince Othmar to do an investigation for him. This would almost certainly change the Duke’s outlook towards us as he would be very hesitant to deal with anyone who worked directly under the Prince’s supervision.

When Tor and Ulf then returned, we let Waylan do the talking and I believe he was able to convince them of our employment by the Prince. At the very least, they would need to consult with the Duke and check into our claim, which could take days and hopefully buy us all the time we need to deal with Velikovna. So the two left once again, saying they would need to speak with the Duke on the matter. But before leaving they told us they could be contacted at a tavern called the Fat Cat.

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The Ravenloft Files, Vol. 19, Chapter 2

Nerull’s Will: The Emerald
Chapter Two

When the two steeds came within sight of us they abruptly came to a halt and began stomping their hooves. They then rose up on their hind quarters, their front legs kicking out at the air in front of them as they snorted and belched out unholy yellow, blue and white flames from their mouths and nostrils. Gazing into their sinister crimson eyes, I saw that they seemed to glow with an evil intelligence…

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(Continued from) Tuesday, February 11th, 742 BC:

Initially, it appeared that none of us shared a common language with the stranger who had come to our aid, which I suppose should not have been all that surprising considering his unusual dress and the weapons he wielded. But after Waylan ran through all of the languages that he knew he eventually discovered that the stranger was familiar with Nidalan, though even that, according to Waylan, the stranger spoke with an unusual accent which at times was difficult to understand. Nevertheless, Waylan and the stranger found that if they spoke slowly enough they could comprehend one another.

So, while the two of them talked, the rest of us tended to other matters, the first of which was to see to it that the two bandits we had captured would not be going anywhere any time soon. I made sure of this by securely tying their hands and feet behind their backs, forcing them to lie on their stomachs and making it impossible for them to even stand up.

Garret meanwhile tended to our injuries, removing any arrows and healing the wounds by channeling positive energy around us, making sure, of course, to exclude any of the bandits. This was something that the stranger was apparently quite amazed about, seeing his injuries being magically healed. This then led Waylan and the stranger into a discussion on magic and other topics that the stranger was clearly unfamiliar with.

According to Waylan, the stranger, who goes by the name of Clint, is what we sometimes refer to as an Outlander, an individual from another world, drawn by the Mists into this world for reasons unknown – except perhaps to the Mists themselves. Clint claims to have wandered into a dense fog on the previous night upon which exiting some time later, he found himself lost in a strange and unknown landscape, where not even the night sky was recognizable. After wandering about for a bit, he decided to bed down for the night and the next morning he would try to learn more about his surroundings. This morning, he then continued his wanderings and eventually happened upon a group of bandits who were laying in waiting for their next victims. When we came along, according to Clint, he decided to assist us against the obvious outlaws in the hopes that we might assist him in return. Clint claims to have done his share of bounty hunting in the past, so fighting bandits was something he had plenty of experience with. However, in his discussions with Waylan, it soon became clear that magic was not something he had any real knowledge of. In fact, it seems that magic in Clint’s world does not even exist except in fanciful tales that are sometimes told to children. The same could apparently be said about monsters, and Clint was obviously quite skeptical when Waylan spoke to him of monsters and magic. He soon began to have some serious doubts about his previous beliefs however, when Waylan reminded him of the web spell he had cast during the fight with the bandits. Then to further support his argument, Waylan cast a light spell and then a mending spell on Clint’s clothing, repairing a hole where an arrow had pierced it. Seeing all of this, Clint was clearly now at a loss for words and the expression on his face seemed to say that he no longer knew what to expect from this strange world in which he now found himself.

While Waylan was continuing his talks with Clint, the rest of us gathered any valuables found on the bandits both dead and alive and placed them in a pile. A detect magic spell indicated that a few of these items had minor enchantments placed on them, including a chain mail shirt which we gave to Clint as a reward for assisting us against the bandits. In addition to the items found on them, we also discovered that each of the bandits had a horse hidden behind a low hill nearby. I suspect these horses had been stolen from a ranch somewhere but we
found no identifiable markings on them. Once all of these things had been gathered we then piled up the bodies of the dead bandits, gave them their last rights and set them ablaze. It was obvious that we would not be able to make it to Bergovitsa tonight, so we moved down the road a ways from the funeral pyre and set up a campsite there.

Wednesday, February 12th:

We were awakened in the middle of the night by Vadolus, who had been on watch, warning us that something was coming our way. By the time I got up and got a look around we could plainly see what appeared to be a series of flames dancing about in the darkness perhaps a hundred paces away and advancing rapidly towards us. But it wasn’t until these flames were a hundred feet away or so that we realized what they were. At that point we could see two inky black horses, a stallion and a mare I believe, both of which had manes, tails and hooves that seemed to be made of fire…

…It was a terrifying sight to behold and a chill ran up my spine as I gazed at them in horror. Waylan, in fact, was so frightened by their presence that he turned and ran back to the wagon where he locked himself inside. The rest of us though were able to keep our wits about us and quickly began taking actions to defend our camp. Garret and Baldo, realizing that the other horses were starting to get spooked, moved to calm them down while some of us turned our attentions to the approaching threat. It then occurred to me that I had read something about these creatures in my studies of Nova Vaasa and that they were quite appropriately known as “nightmares”.

As I recalled the fantastic stories I had read about entire herds of these nightmares terrorizing the countryside, I used the dim light of our campfire to my advantage and hid in the shadows. Then, while some of my companions drew their attention by meeting them head on, I circled around to flank them as they closed in to attack. From there I began pelting the hellish equines with stones. But as the nightmares drew close to my companions they belched out clouds of sulfurous black smoke which threatened to blind and choke anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in them, but which appeared to have no adverse effect whatsoever on the nightmares. Still we battled on, trying our best to stay clear of the smoke, which for some of us was virtually impossible. Vadolus took quite a beating from the nightmares. But eventually we caused enough harm to one of the beasts that it apparently decided to flee by turning ethereal. Its companion apparently tried to follow soon after, by using the same means of escape. But we were able to kill it before it got away.

When the fight was over, we found Waylan inside the wagon busily engaged in a futile attempt at opening the box containing the staff of Nerull’s Will. It is fortunate that he was unsuccessful in his efforts, for I shudder to think what he might have done with the staff had he succeeded. We were able to calm him down however and assured him that the nightmares were either gone or dead. Then Garret, once again tended to our injuries. And judging by the expression on Clint’s face at this time, I got the feeling that he was trying to decide if this was all just some terrible dream. Unfortunately though, during the fight with the nightmares, one of Clint’s pistols apparently misfired and now was in need of repairs.

The next morning, we gathered our things and continued our travels to the city of Bergovitsa. The two bandits we had captured, we kept their hands tied and forced them to walk behind the wagon. Then behind them we had all the bandit’s horses lined up in a train. Later on, we sold the horses at the first ranch we came to when we got near to the city. Unlike Kantora, Bergovitsa is nestled in the foothills and low mountains of the Balinoks which come out of the neighboring realm of Barovia, though in Nova Vaasa they are known as the Howling Hills due the large number of wolves that are so common to the area.

In our travels throughout Nova Vaasa, I have noted a feeling of danger that simmers in all of the country’s cities, thanks to the widespread crime and general discontent, but Bergovitsa has an extra element of chaos added to that already explosive mix. The Rivtoffs and the Vistins have long vied for influence over the city, and this struggle for power and status has boiled over into the streets. Of course, I assume that one rarely sees the aristocrats themselves suffering for it. Instead, gangs of thugs, hired by one of the noble families, harass and assault innocent commoners or merchants whose only fault is that they in some way represent (or are thought to represent) the interests of the rival family.

At the gates into the small city we used our usual cover as a group of merchants and hired guards, and told the guards there that we had two captured bandits with us. They told us we could take the two bandits to a guard station and gave us directions to it. They also recommended the Inn at Bergovitsa as a place to stay while in the city, saying that it was a favorite among traveling merchants. From there, we followed the directions given to us and headed directly for the guard station.

At the guard station, we turned the two bandits over to a sergeant there, who asked us several questions about the bandit attack. I got the feeling that it is not at all that uncommon for bandits to be turned over to the city guards, only to be released a short time later and allowed to return to their former way of life or perhaps even to be recruited into one of the many gangs of thugs that roam the streets. We asked the sergeant about a possible reward for turning in the bandits and were told that they would have to get back to us later on about it. So we told them we could be reached at the Inn of Bergovitsa. Upon reflection however, it has occurred to me that this whole affair with the bandits might actually backfire on us, should the bandits report to the city watch that arcane magic was used in their capture. Knowing that, like many of the people in these lands, Nova Vaasans have a deeply rooted distrust of arcane magic, which has been banned by the Church of the Lawgiver as being blasphemy, and that suspected practitioners of arcane magic are frequently imprisoned, we should probably try to keep our use of magic to a minimum.

After leaving the guard station, we gradually made our way in the direction of the Inn of Bergovitsa. But along the way, we passed by a few stores and pawn shops where we were able to sell the rest of the equipment we had taken from the bandits, which turned out to be a tidy little sum and may end up being the only reward we can realistically expect for the capture and defeat of the bandits.

With this done, we finally arrived at the Inn of Bergovitsa just before sundown. We saw then one of the reasons why traveling merchants so highly recommend the place, for the rooms are quite good and the meals are excellent. But there is more to it than that, as we later discovered from other travelers that we eves dropped in on; apparently the innkeepers have long enjoyed an honest reputation, and ever since persons unknown robbed Sir Tristan Hiregaard here in his sleep many years ago a small discrete group of hired guards have made this the safest inn in Nova Vaasa. Though to be honest, we also, much later in the night, caught one of these guards taking a catnap in a corner booth near the front door.

We put our wagon and our horses in the nearby stables, where the inn also keeps a guard on watch during the night, and following a very nice dinner, checked into one of the inn’s large common rooms which can hold enough beds for the entire band. Despite this fact however, I have decided to spend the night in the wagon where I can keep a closer eye on Nerull’s Will. Clint, who tagged along with us up to this point, also checked into a room next to ours. But here is where we parted ways with the Outlander, which I thought might be for the best as I did not want to have to try and explain to a complete stranger what it was we were actually doing in Bergovitsa.

After our dinner, Waylan spoke with a couple of traveling merchants, by the name of Viggo and Rudolf, who sat at a nearby table and learned a few things about Bergovitsa. Viggo was apparently very familiar with the city of Bergovitsa including many of its residents. So Waylan asked him if he had ever heard of a man by the name of Horatiu Gregorovich. Viggo did not recall the name. But when asked, he did recall hearing something about Gregorovich’s master, Dimitry Velikovna. He told Waylan that Velikovna had purchased an estate just to the north of the city about six months ago which had been put up for sale six months prior to that, though he did not mention the name of the estate.

Following his conversation with the merchants, Waylan wanted to take a walk around town, I assume, to get a general idea of the layout of the city, though I am not certain if he had anything more in mind. We agreed with his proposal and soon afterwards we were strolling about in the dark streets of the city.

Waylan, since entering the city, had once again resumed his familiar persona as Lord Jotto, the well-to-do and rather pretentious distributor of fine cloth and various other items of merchandise, and was, as was necessary for the role, sporting his finest accoutrements. We, of course, realizing that his appearance would be a sure invitation for trouble, kept a wary eye out for anything suspicious, and it did not take long before we spotted a gang of thugs trailing us and attempting to stay hidden in the shadows. Seeing this, we decided to split up just a bit, with those of us who could likewise hide in the shadows peeling off into a nearby alleyway. The rest of then paused in the street to carry on a mock conversation and allow the thugs to get closer and make their move. When they did, those of us who were in the alleyway, jumped out and assaulted the thugs as they attempted to do the same. But these thugs were clearly not interested in a fair fight, much less a fight in which they were obviously outmatched, and they quickly turned and fled into the alleyways after several of them took some vicious hits. Suspecting these thugs to be of no real importance, we did not bother to pursue any of them. Instead, we resumed our walk through the city, eventually making our way to the north side of town.

There we came to a city gate that was smaller than the one through which we had entered. This one apparently led only to the farms and ranches that lay to the north of the city and was therefore not a major thoroughfare. It was closed however and two city guards stood on watch next to it. We approached the city guards who instantly became suspicious of us. But Waylan spoke to one of the guards, whose name was Karl, and cast a suggestion spell on him, thereby convincing him and his partner, with the aid of a platinum coin, to open the gate for us and let us pass. We then exited the city and headed north down an old farm road.

After a walk of about half an hour, we eventually came to a large estate which lay to the west side of the road with a spiked, wrought iron fence surrounding it. A little further on we came to a gate in the fence, above which stood an iron archway that read “Faraway Estate” in the local language of Vaasi. Off in the distance inside the estate, we could see a mansion with a few windows dimly lit. We could not be sure if this was the estate that Dimitry Velikovna had bought six months ago, but since it was the only estate we had seen so far which lay to the north of Bergovitsa, we were fairly certain it was. However, now that we had found the place, we were unsure of how to proceed from here. Waylan wanted to further investigate the place. But I was opposed to trespassing onto a property based merely on the fact that someone inside the mansion had apparently been doing the same research that I had been doing. There was a definite possibility that one of the gems of Nerull’s Will lay within that mansion. But this was only a guess on our part, and even if one of the gems was in the mansion, it didn’t mean that it was being used for ill purposes. There simply was not enough information just yet to warrant the illegal entry into someone’s home.

As we were debating what to do at this point though, we noticed some movement just outside the mansion. It appeared that someone was preparing to leave the estate in a horse-drawn carriage. So we ran and hid in the bushes on the far side of the road just opposite the gate and waited. We then saw the carriage pull up to the gate with a driver at the front dressed in a black top hat and coattails. An identically dressed footman who stood at the rear of the carriage hopped off and opened the gate, let the carriage pass through, closed the gate, and hopped back on to the carriage. The carriage then sped off in the direction of the city. As it passed by us, we got a good look at the carriage. It was a very nice coach painted in gleaming black with gold trim. The two horses that pulled the carriage were also solid black and appeared to be of high quality, though their eyes were hidden from view by blinders. The inside of the carriage was also hidden from view by a set of dark burgundy curtains, one of which however, was momentarily pulled aside, revealing the face of a handsome and distinguished looking gentleman in his mid-thirties with dark hair and long sideburns. He gazed out at the countryside and did not appear to notice any of us hiding in the bushes. From the description we had been given of Horatiu Gregorovich, who was said to be in his fifties, we assumed that the man in the carriage was not him, but rather his master, Dimity Velikovna. With this thought in mind, and now very curious about where this gentlemen might be headed to so late in the evening, I told my companions of my intentions and took off after the coach.

Aware of the fact that my companions would not be able to keep up with me and the carriage, I assumed they would follow along behind me at their own pace. But I also wanted to be sure that I stayed far enough behind the carriage so that no one in the carriage would notice me. Moments later though, as I was running along, I suddenly sensed that I was not the only one running after the carriage. A quick glance to the left and right confirmed my suspicions. For on both sides of me I saw and heard several black shapes flitting through the dark moon-lit shadows and keeping pace with me. I could see their canine eyes glaring back at me and hear the heavy panting of their breaths. I realized then that I had attracted the attention of a small pack of wolves. Not wishing to deal with them at the moment, I decided to increase my speed and run past the carriage in front of me. It did not take long before I had left the wolves in the dust behind me and was soon approaching the carriage. The footman at the back of the carriage was facing forward and did not notice me until I was right beside him, at which point he appeared to be quite startled at seeing a man racing past him. I shouted out to him, “Wolves!” and pointed to the rear as I ran on by. I then continued running until I was well ahead of the carriage. Then I quickly ducked into a row of bushes at the side of the road, where I hid and waited for the carriage to pass on by. When it did, I waited a bit longer to see if the wolves were still following. Unfortunately, they were. So I decided I needed to deal with these wolves before I could continue on after the carriage. I then jumped out in the middle of the road and waited for the wolves. When they arrived, I used my hands and feet to quickly pummel all six of the wolves into unconsciousness. Then, once again, I took off after the carriage.

By the time I caught up to it however, I was very near the walls of the city. I looked around and did not see the carriage. But I did see another road that intersected the one on which I had been traveling. It led off to the east and to the west and appeared to circle around the city walls where it would eventually connect with the roads leading into the city at the larger east and west gates. I tried to locate the tracks of the carriage, but in the dim light I could not distinguish the tracks of that carriage from any others. So I took a guess and headed towards the east. A short while later, my guess proved to be correct. But by the time I spotted the carriage again, it was parked along the roadside near the gate and it seemed fairly evident that the coach’s recent occupant was no longer present. The footman was tending to the horses and the driver could no longer be seen. From the body language of the footman I got the sense that the footman was alone. So I decided to hide behind some foliage at a distance where I would wait to see if anyone else came along.

I waited for some time. But nothing else happened until I spotted my companions walking up the road behind me. I signaled to them to come and hide where I was currently positioned. They then told me that on the way back they did not encounter any wolves, though they did find a spot in the road where a recent struggle appeared to have taken place, which included a few small puddles of blood. So I am assuming that the wolves regained consciousness and fled before my companions arrived at the scene. They then questioned the guard Karl at the north gate, he said he had seen a carriage pass by and headed towards the east gate. They also told me that Karl would only be at the gate until midnight. So we would have to return to the north gate by then if we wanted to get back into the city. It was now about ten o’clock.

We decided to wait for about an hour and did so. But nothing else happened during the whole time. At eleven o’clock the footman and the carriage were still waiting patiently outside the gate. So we returned to the north gate and re-entered the city. From there, we walked back to the inn, where eventually we turned in for the night. I, of course, have taken the time though, to update my journal. Tomorrow we will see if we can come up with some other method of looking into the Faraway Estate and its owner, Mr. Velikovna.

Tuesday, February 13th:

This morning, after a late breakfast, we came up with a plan of seeing if we could get an invitation into the Faraway Estate. We asked the innkeeper, Olav, if he could tell us where we might be able to find a library or a book dealer that dealt in hard to find books. He gave us the name and the directions to a book seller by the name of Mikaal who specializes in rare books. So we immediately set out to find Mikaal’s book store. When we found it a short while later, we saw that it was a small, out of the way place which likely had very few regular customers. We also found that Mikaal was a small gray-haired old man who seemed more at home with his books than he was with people. We asked him about Horatiu Gregorovich and Dimitry Velikovna, and he claimed to have dealt with Gregorovich in the past and had known that he was employed by Velikovna whom he had never actually met, though he could be fairly certain that it was Velikovna who was truly interested in rare books. He told us that Velikovna had been seeking a number of books and that he had been given a list of these books in case he should happen come across a copy of one. Fortunately, Mikaal said that he had just recently acquired one of these books, a book on alchemy, and that he had not yet notified Velikovna about it.

We made an offer to buy the book from Mikaal, but he refused to sell it, saying that it was reserved for Velikovna. But he did tell us that he would let us deliver a note to Velikovna, letting him know that he had acquired the book. This was something that Mikaal would ordinarily pay a delivery boy to do. But we offered to do it for him, as we hoped it would give us the opportunity to meet with Velikovna and learn more about him. He then wrote out a short letter addressed to Velikovna, sealed it with wax and handed it to us.

We then asked Mikaal if he could tell us anything more about Velikovna or if he had anything written by him. But all that he could give us was a vague description of Velikovna’s seal, which was a castle tower over which was inscribed the letter V.

We also asked Mikaal if he might have any spellbooks among his rare books. But at the mention of spellbooks, he seemed to reveal an expression of concern as if he were trying to judge whether or not he could trust us. Apparently deciding he could, he then pointed out a small collection of books at the back of the store, which had a number of spells cleverly concealed within several pages of ordinary text. Once again reminding us that the use of arcane magic is banned in Nova Vaasa, he then offered to let Waylan copy a number of spells for a fairly steep price. But Waylan was able to talk him down to half his asking price, as it was obvious that Mikaal could really use the business. He did however make Waylan promise not to reveal to anyone where he had acquired these spells. Unfortunately, it would take most of the day for Waylan to copy all the spells he wanted into his spellbook.

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