Expedition To Castle Ravenloft - Forgotten Realms

Barovia - village of the walking dead

Excerpts from the journal of Gevyen Tallmer of Tethyr in the Year of Wild Magic, 1372

16 Eleint: I write this journal now with a trembling hand, as events have darkened with most alarming alacrity. Our night’s rest in the forest was disturbed by the incessant howling of wolves, both distant and at times disturbingly close. I was reliably informed by gruff Saldek of swooping flights of bats careering through the camp in the early hours – a time when I was blissfully in slumber. The day had dawned like the last few, with no respite from the veil of mistiness cloaking the land. Another silent, plodding journey of the last few miles saw us reach the realm of Barovia at a little past midday – though time-keeping cannot be assured without the sun’s shining path across the heavens. Barovia proved to be bounded by a perturbing set of gates. Gray in the fog, high stone pillars loomed up from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road. Huge iron gates hung from the stonework, dew clung to their rusting bars. Standing before the pillars were two stone statues of armed guardians with wicked polearms. Their carved heads lay among the weeds at their feet, apparently neatly broken from the stone shoulders. Our guides turned to me for advice, as there was no apparent way of gaining entry to this mysterious realm. When Valarion the elf quested forth towards this barrier, the gates slowly opened with a spine-tingling screech of metal. There seemed to be no mechanical reason for this opening and not a soul stirred nearby. With wonder and concern, we ventured forth as a group between the strange portals. I do not recall if it was Saldek or Valarion who suggested a means to secure the gates in an open position to facilitate a possible future exit. However, I watched open-mouthed in apprehension as our guides manoeuvred the stone heads to wedge the iron gate firmly. Surely, they must have realised that such a disrespectful act would not bode us well into this realm? No sooner had we successfully entered Barovia as a whole; and the gates violently swung shut – propelling the stone heads with force in our direction. One stuck the wheel of our vehicle, as I peered over the wagon’s side the head appeared to grin evilly back at me. I can relate now, that I did not expect Barovia to throw open her arms in welcome; but my mind’s eye had always pictured a prosperous mountain community of honest, toiling hardy folk. As we neared the village of Barovia things were certainly amiss. Tall shapes had loomed from the dense fog, and the muddy ground had given way to slick, wet cobblestones. A dilapidated wooden sign reading “Welcome to the Village of Barovia”, lay across the stones, seemingly torn from its mountings. As we grew closer, the shapes resolved into tenements whose windows were boarded, broken and lightless. Nothing moved, though this accursed fog markedly reduced visibility to mere dozens of yards. It is now with horror and dismay that I relate our passage to the town’s square. Praise be to Lord Lathander for bearing me through these troubled times and this living nightmare. I am indebted to the skill of my companions, both old and new in at least attaining the square. We were beset by hordes of merciless undead – I am ashamed to report that despite my aged years, I have never encountered such beasts before. Lathander has willed me to serve him best in the dusty halls of libraries amongst weighty tomes, and had until now not required me to face our church’s most reviled foes. During these assaults I cowered in the relative protection of our wagon, with the admirable restraint and cool-handed control of grooms Pardrey and Seth in driving furtively behind the safe path created by our companions. I was too terrified to personally witness the ghastly details of battle; but have had firsthand accounts of the individual valorous actions of the party members and of the foul creatures we encountered. It seems that we have chosen our ‘guides’ well. Valarion, whilst slightly built as elves tend to be, proved to be both a valiant and effective fighter. Despite being armed with only a worryingly light blade, he was nerveless in skewering our foes by dancing amongst their midst. Heavy set Saldek was a veritable whirlwind of blade and vengeance; and he seemed to have considerable combat skill amongst undead. Glor’s magicks provided a welcome assistance to our allies – it now seems surprising that such recent friends could act so effectively together, maybe Lathander does hold sway here still? My humble thanks go to the members of our order; the noblest Ash was a stalwart in defence and honour. I must reveal an increasing respect for Seymour – the power of turning that Lathander has afforded him seemed to sway the tide of the battles they encountered. As of our foes, what can I reveal? It seems the mainstay of the assault on the town is from within their own ranks – hordes of zombies have risen from the dead villager’s graves. I have read of these horrors, of course, but no tome could instil in me the fear of the sight of their soulless eyes and relentless plodding gait. At various points the zombies were aided by more mysterious creatures, such as a spell-wielding corpse that I recall may have been a deathlock. More terrifying, I have had it reported that hideous human heads with bat-like ears assailed us – those surely can only be vargouilles! Carrion feeders seem to trail these streets too – a strange gore-streaked malicious beast looking like a cross between an overlarge rat and a wolf; and human-sized maggots dripping with ichor. Despite my abject terror today I must recall and record these observations for future research. The only untouched corpse we discovered on our passage through the town today was that of a local carpenter, by his papers he went by the name of Viktor Litmunova. I implored our companions to secure his body; I would even suffer it on our wagon beside me – but they paid me no heed, driving forth to the next melee. As I write now, I am beset by guilty pangs of conscience that we should have at least afforded the decency of proper burial of one of the village’s noted craftsmen. I fear that his corpse is unattainable now – it surely must have fallen to ravenous beasts. As we reached the town square, the full horror of Barovia’s predicament was patently obvious. Barricades lined the square, and a sole combatant was holding the hordes of death at bay – an armoured female figure struggled against overwhelming odds. The most brutal fight of our short-lived Barovian time occurred, with yet another bewildering enemy. Aided by the ever present zombies, a similarly appearing creature proved to have the most worrying power yet – that of entombing humans with a swift throw of its gravedirt encrusted arms. This occurred twice, both my own nobler Ash and the armoured lady were thus driven bodily into the earth beneath the square. Saldek’s mightily powerful sword arm eventually accounted for this supernatural terror; and all thanks be to Lathander, we recovered Ash and the badly injured lady. At this point we sought, and were granted the relative refuge of the village’s central tavern – “The Blood of the Vine”. There was little joy to be had in this apparently once fine inn, a victim of poor upkeep and bursting with many village families sheltering from the zombie infestation. However, we were allowed a space in the stale, sweaty beer-tainted common room. The poor lady we rescued was in a pitiful state of nerves, wounds and despair. We stabilised her with healing and she recovered enough to venture that she was “Ashlyn, a paladin of the Lightbringers of Lathander.” I am not completely knowledgeable of this sect of our church, but of course, Lathander has many servants across Faerûn in various guises and sects. She was most grateful for our timely assistance; and expressed her mutual surprise in encountering fellow Lathandans. She went on report that Lightbringers have a doctrine of slaying undead wherever they could be found; and that she and her companions had heard that Barovia was thick with the horrors. Her companions had included Thendrick, faithful servant of Lathander and Mathilda, a fighter of great renown. She also revealed that it was her quest to find the legendary Sunsword. My heart skipped a beat with this sudden revelation – surely we are not in competition with our own brothers and sisters? My tongue also stilled in my mouth – despite my devotion to dear Lathander I cannot bear to have my life’s work claimed by another. A human failing this must be, and I shall seek penance if necessary. These relics are Zazesspur’s right alone! Ashlyn continued that apparently the townspeople had said that someone named Madam Eva would know of the sword’s whereabouts if anyone did. When pressed on her companions, Ashlyn confessed that, “Thendrick and Mathilda wanted to check out the church to the northwest. The townsfolk believe that’s where the zombies arise. Everyone told them to talk to Madam Eva first – she’s some sort of wise woman who lives west of town, the same one who apparently knows about the Sunsword. But they wouldn’t listen, the arrogant clods. They went to the church, confident they could handle whatever they found without needing advice. That was three days ago. I haven’t heard from them since, and haven’t been able to venture beyond this square.”
I must relate that I could go no further today, my wits and spirits seem to have been drained by this terribly afflicted village. I, a simple scribe of the musty library, forced to endure the living dead – it is simply too much. This evening’s events have been quieter, yet no less disturbing. Ash and Glor nobly went to the assistance of the townspeople in reinforcing their makeshift barricades; whilst the rest of our beleaguered party remained in the Blood of the Vine. I continued my conversations with Ashlyn, but could not fail to witness the actions of Saldek & Valarion. They had sought the ruler of this village and were directed to a man of noble bearing, yet with filthy stained garb matching his defeated air. He was Ismark, the son of the Burgomaster Kolyan – just the man we sought. Ismark revealed that his father had died ten days previously and was lying in state at his family’s mansion. Disturbingly Kolyan’s body was guarded only by his daughter Ireena, who’d barricaded herself within. When pressed on the zombie plague Ismark said, “The plague began in the church. Danovich the priest used to ward the church and the village, but his vigil lapsed when his son Doru was slain by brigands on Old Svalich Road. No one knows what became of Danovich, but soon afterwards the zombies began to walk.” Ismark also discussed the arrival of the Lightbringers, remarking that they had been directed towards Madam Eva but instead had sought the church first. He carried on, “the zombies didn’t get my father, and the infection began after Kolyan was already dead. No – it was the master of the castle, or his servants, that killed Kolyan Indirovich!” It seems we have stumbled into a realm beset with terror and intrigue; this was the first that we have heard of the ruler of this land. Apparently a few months ago the ruler of the castle paid Barovia a visit, a lord by the name of Strahd, for what reason Ismark could not explain. He paled as he described the encounter where Kolyan bravely stood up to Strahd using the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. Again my ears pricked up – mention of the second relic I sought, within hours of venturing into this troubled town! Ismark described the Holy Symbol as a powerful amulet that hurt Strahd. He sobbed as he related that one morning after Strahd’s attack they woke to find their father dead from poison; and that after this attack the power of the amulet wouldn’t work for himself or Ireena. I’m ashamed to report that Saldek and Valarion then mocked this beleaguered individual – taunting him for his apparent inaction, and failure of leadership. Did they not realise the weight of responsibility this poor man is burdened with? The loss of his father, the blighting of his town and the withering of Lathander’s love in these parts has crushed the failing spirit of this noble lad.
Ashlyn and I remained holed up in the inn this evening as my colleagues attempted to seek the counsel of Ismark’s sister Ireena in the Burgomaster’s mansion in the south of the town. Ireena would not let them enter the mansion as she feared infection. They did not encounter any further zombies, but did attend the house of a troubled woman; her wails had been piercing the night air. This lady, Mary Bogoescu, was apparently inconsolably weeping for the loss of her daughter Gertruda. There was no suggestion that she had been overrun by the zombie plague, through her bitter grieving tears Mary blurted that she thought that the master of the castle held her daughter Gertruda now.
I do not know if I can bear any more sad tidings. We now retire for the night; Ismark has kindly provided our group with a deserted warehouse that he assures us will hold against the zombies. If only Valarion and Saldek could recognise this man’s true character. Ashlyn and I will begin to restore Lathander’s light to this murky den of iniquity tomorrow.

Gevyen Tallmer Scribe to the Dawnhall of the Morninglord, Zazesspur, Tethyr


Excerpt from the journal of Valarion Ulthedran

1372 16th Day of Eleint

For a day and a night we travelled along barely trodden roads that lead us north, our nights only disturbed by the howling of wolves and flights of bats. We came upon a rusted gates with two guardian statues recently beheaded. Unsettled by the strange gates we tried to prop them open with the statue’s heads. As we passed through the gates closed sending the heads rolling towards us. This is an ill auspice.

We arrived in the town of Barovia, a mist settling about us and making it difficult to see what lay ahead, surely the town would be safe enough? Ha! Barely had our boots touched cobbles when we came upon shambling undead corpses! Ash and Saldek moved forward, Ash declaring that another creature waited down an alley, I rushed to bring it low while Ash struggled against some enchantment. From Saldek’s description I can tell you while I fought in the alley the party acted with a peculiar air unlike the personalities we had suffered on our journey both the dwarf and Seymour moved into action, the dwarven mage casting a spell that seemed to halt the approach of the creatures in their tracks while Seymour held forth his god’s symbol and muttered some prayer that caused them to explode while Saldek disposed of two peculiar monstrosities that had stalked from the shadows.

For those unfamiliar with me I HATE UNDEAD! They do not die when you use artistry as your tool of slaying, their festering stench and disease are all pervading and even my alabaster skin crawls at the thought of them. There is no doubt I have a duty to cleanse this place if I can, not to say a profit cannot be found.

We continued toward the town centre in hope of finding the Burgomaster’s home that we may find what curse has befallen the town, HA! God botherers are as big a jinx as one might hope to find! More of the walking corpses lunged at us from doorways, from above peculiar winged heads swooped down, giant writhing maggots slithered into the street. From a door I was assailed, its foetid claws and teeth digging into my flesh filling me with an illness that turned my stomach and bowels, behind me the dwarf Glor was similarly under assault. The flying creatures attacked our paralysed forms breaking the hold. Bolts of energy filled the air as Glor eradicated the flying fiends. I attacked the zombie in the doorway but to little avail.

Saldek, Ash and Seymour saw off three more walking corpses and two large maggots while I struggled in the doorway, Saldek impressing the church men with his combat prowess, his blade cutting a swathe through the enemy. Seeing me struggle my companion came to my aid as I stepped back from the fight. It never fails to amaze me the skill and speed that my sullen and brusque comrade achieves in moments of the most brutal combat, I hope never to be placed at the wrong end of his rage.

We moved on to the town centre where we came upon a scene of valiant combat as an attractive young woman fought with a number of shambling undead. Seymour held aloft his holy symbol and sent most of them running, Glor adding his own magics to try and rid the cobbles of the undead while Ash, Saldek and I moved in for close combat. With a gracefully acrobatic leap I cleared one of the barricades while the paladin and my companion engaged numerous zombies soon turning their corpses to dust. We saw one creature lift the young woman from her feet and with some strange ability he slammed her into the ground which devoured her. Soon Ash too became a victim of the creature. De Crecy and I engaged the remaining zombies until Saldek once more whirled through them like a rabid wolf leaving only the powerful thing that had interred Ash. I drew my whip and attempted to take it from its feet but its strength was too great for me and once more the battle was won by Saldek.

The young woman was Ashlyn, a paladin of the Light-Bringers of Lathander, another god-botherer. She and her companions had attempted to aide Barovia all indications showing the local church to be the source, but her headstrong companions had ignored advice to seek out the wisdom of a nearby Vistani wise woman and had gone on to the church to seek the source of the plague.

While Ash and Glor went to aid the townspeople with rebuilding the barricades that had held the undead at bay Saldek and I went into the local tavern, Blood on The Vine, partially to quench our battle thirst but also to gather information and seek profit.. The Inn was filled with refugees from the undead infestation, families huddled together in the shadows while the air was filled with the stench of sweat and stale beer. The landlord Arik pointed us in the direction of Ismark, son of the Burgomaster who sat in a corner hiding from his sorrows in the bottom of a wine goblet. Such men should not be allowed to become nobles even among humans, while his people suffer he seeks the solace of wine and sophistry. From the cowardly drunkard we learned that his father was recently dead and that the letter did not originate from him but may have come from the master of a nearby castle. His sister Ireena remains barricaded in the Burgomaster’s house with her father’s corpse where she holds a vigil for him in fear that he may too rise to join the ranks of the undead, she may possess a holy amulet that may help us to cleanse the area. Saldek and I decided to head for the Burgomaster’s house and collected our colleagues along the way, they may not be my choice for comrades but they have proven themselves valiant in combat and otherwise good of heart.

As we travelled the street to the house we heard a wailing from within a barricaded house and de Crecy and Ash insisted on further investigation much to my consternation and no small irritation. Inside we found a middle aged woman weeping and wailing in a room of pink and gaudy decoration obviously from some twisted adult’s idea of a child’s dream bedroom. Ash stood and bellowed at her as if barking orders at a subordinate soldier so I stepped in and coaxed her to talk. Her daughter was missing, apparently she had kept her daughter coddled in that peculiar room her whole life to “Keep her safe from the dangers of the outside world”. She could tell us little else and we made mumbled remarks that if we could find her we would bring her home. As Ash remarked on the way out I think it likely the child simply fled to escape an overbearing mother.

Our journey to the Burgomaster’s house yielded little of any worth save that Ireena is understandably worried over the plague of undead.

We spent the night in a storehouse generously offered by Ismark.

- Valarion Ulthedran



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