Penitence

Fortunes Told in the Mist
The long road to Vallaki

Groggily, Yaroslava followed Irina to the hallway window. From the other side of town, by the church, an uncanny green glow arose, and multiple shapes emerged: humanoid figures of men and women who seemed to glide across the ground. Each of the ghostly forms was caparisoned for battle. Irina called this the "March of the Dead." Local legend says that these were the spirits of those strangers who faced against the Devil and lost, and their fate was to endlessly repeat their doomed march on the Devil's fortress for all of eternity. Nobody knew what happened to them after they reached Castle Ravenloft, but they returned again each night to repeat it.

When Irina turned away towards her chambers, Yaroslava saw a mark on the young woman's neck, dimly illuminated by the glow of her lamp: two small, but vivid, puncture marks. When asked about them, Irina grew pale but explained their origin: when the Devil visited her, she had no memory of the visits except for the hunger burning in his eyes, and no evidence except for the bite marks on her neck. Barovian lore held that the Devil turned his victims into his corrupted spawn by draining their blood, as he had done with Doru.

-

The night before, the children of the late Kolyan Indirovich tried to make their foreign guests at home. Though a reserved pair, they took particular interest in Yaroslava's experience in a noble court. Irina was enamored with the stories of great feasts and festive galas, and she recited some of her favorite poems, which Yaroslava did not recognize but noticed that they had a classical quality. Yaroslava attempted to endear herself to her host by reciting some contemporary romantic poetry; Ismark admitted that he was not a poet himself, but he appreciated the art. Ismark, for his part, was more interested in the martial prowess of the giant. He asked Emil whether the giant fought for him, but Emil explained that Mao-Ying fought for himself.

-

Before dawn, the inhabitants of the beleaguered manor awoke and began to carry the coffin of Kolyan Indirovich to his final resting place through the still-dark streets of the village, to where Father Donavich awaited in the cemetery. There, the grim-faced priest stood next to another coffin. Mercifully, the shadows of Barovia did nothing but watch the proceedings as light began to chase them away.

The funeral proceeded largely the same as a normal Lyubomiran funeral, although with many particular references to the light of dawn and some additional rites that may have been archaic customs preserved in this village that had been frozen in time. Moreover, the priest made a number of exhortations to the Morning Lord that Emil felt bordered the line between heresy and a very strong, but innocuous, veneration of this particular patron saint. Irina and Ismark asked their guests to leave without them while they stayed to say their final goodbyes to their father. Though she was only his adopted daughter, it was evident that Irina was strongly affected by Kolyan Indirovich's death.

As they made their way through the village, whose streets were filling with morning mist, the heroes heard the clatter of wooden cart wheels on the cobblestone. A hunched figure in a drab cloak went from door to door, knocking and waiting for a response. When they approached, the figure seemed to notice and turn down another street to avoid them. Catching up to the cart, they found that it was lined with pastries and pulled by an elderly, heavyset woman. She answered their questions in circles, only saying that her name was Morgantha and that she lived outside of town and made the trip every day to bring sweet treats to the poor people of Barovia. She then offered each a pastry, which they all took and which Mao-Ying hastily consumed (after giving one to Lae'boo as a reward for his obedience). Unbeknownst to the others, a warm, uplifting sensation quickly spread throughout Mao-Ying's body as he fell into a stupor in which he imagined that he was back among his clan being lauded as a hero. Yaroslava pretended to eat hers but only provoked the old woman's irascibility. Meanwhile, Emil opened his senses to sense what sort of danger this woman might pose: his nose was suddenly assaulted by a pungent stench, and he saw black smoke rising from the old woman's form. He knew not the exact nature of the being before him, only that she was a dark, supernatural force. Cracking open the pastry, however, it appeared by all accounts to be a normal mincemeat pie with a sweet smell and a flaky crust.

The old woman made to leave, but Emil imposed herself in her path at every turn. When it was evident that she would reveal nothing further, he overturned her cart, spilling the pies onto the cobblestone. While her assailant was occupied with removing a cart wheel, the old woman bolted with unexpected speed down the street. Yaroslava ran after her but could not close the gap, and, turning down an alleyway that the old woman had entered only moments before, found no trace of her.

After regrouping at the posadnik's manor, there was one more issue to resolve before they could depart: Pamphilos's fate. Pamphilos begged the Lyubomirans to convince the giant to show mercy, but Mao-Ying refused to allow the criminal to travel and fight alongside him. Yaroslava asked Ismark what punishments, aside from execution, are used in Barovia, and he explained that banishment is used in extreme cases, although it is a given that the banished party will die to the wolves and other terrors that prowl the wilderness. Yaroslava insisted that Ismark order Pamphilos to be banished, but Ismark had no concern for how the pagan stranger dealt with his problems and only asked that the execution be carried out away from the manor grounds. Yaroslava was not pleased and felt that Ismark was proving himself to be a weak ruler, unable to protect his subjects and unwilling to enforce the law of his land on outsiders residing within it.

The party took Morgantha's cart and purchased a sickly mule from a villager to haul their belongings as they made the long trip to Vallaki. They reached a crossroads that led through the forest and up the mountainside to Vallaki or down a gentle incline towards the Tser Pool. A lonely gallows and an overgrown cemetery waited at the crossroads, as though a warning; Ismark said it had never been used in his lifetime. Before continuing to Vallaki, the party wished to meet with the supposed athinganoi seer, Madame Eva, whom the proprietors of the tavern had recommended to them, so they took the trail towards the river.

A sudden creaking noise from behind them broke the silence of the stale morning air. Turning towards the noise, they saw a corpse hanging from the gallows, its skin ashen and its neck obviously broken. Yaroslava's heart raced as she recognized it as her own, but to the others it appeared to be that of a total stranger. She turned away to calm herself while Emil investigated the body, cutting it down from the noose to perform the appropriate rites. As soon as the body hit the weathered boards of the gallows, its skin began to melt away in a black ooze that seeped between the wooden planks, its clothing fraying and dissipating into the wind like smoke. It was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.

Cheerful music and the sound of bawdy laughter filled the air as they approached the athinganoi camp. The athinganoi, evidently excited to see strangers, welcomed them and offered them wine while an old storyteller told them of the wizard who attempted to defeat the Devil one year ago: the battle raged onto the mountain bridge far above, and the wizard fell a thousand feet down to the bottom of the Tser falls, leaving no trace. They also warned the heroes of a few things: stay on the road, for dangerous animals and crazed tribals roam the wilderness; never harm a raven, as they carry the souls of the dead; and avoid the windmill along the road (after which they quickly changed the topic).

The seer's tent was dark and dimly illuminated by magical fire as the party entered. "You've suffered a terrible fate, haven't you?" the old crone cackled, and she called each by name, almost taunting them with a reference to a duty that they will now never finish. She offered to read their fortunes using the occult magic of her cards and her crystal ball. The magical flames seemed to subside as the seer dealt the cards, peering into the mists within her crystal ball in order to discern its meaning:

Before flipping over the first card, she spoke, "This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient will help you better understand your enemy." She revealed the card of the Beggar. "A wounded dusk elf has what you seek. He will part with the treasure to see his dark dreams fulfilled."

"This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope." She drew the card of the Anarchist and gasped as she peered into her crystal ball. Her voice was aghast as she spoke, "I see walls of bones… a chandelier of bones… and a table of bones—all that remains of enemies long forgotten."

"This is a card of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight." She revealed the card of the Berserker. "Find the Mad Dog's crypt. The treasure lies within, beneath blackened bones."

"This card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness." She drew the card of the Tempter and paused for a moment as she peered into the orb, as though listening for something. "I hear a wedding bell… or, perhaps, a death knell. It calls thee to a mountainside abbey, wherein you will find a woman who is more than the sum of her parts.

Her hand lingered over the final card. "Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him!" After drawing the card of the Donjon, she spoke, gravely, "He lurks in a hall of bones, in the dark pits of his castle."

During the reading, hazy figures slowly began to take shape in the shadowy corners of the tent. After the reading of the final card, everyone's vision suddenly focused on the ghastly figures, which now had a distinctly human shape. All else seemed to become hazy and unfocused, as though seen through foggy glass. The figures all spoke in unison, a harmony of dissimilar voices: "We are the ones who fell in defiance of the devil. We were weak, and he fed on what strength we possessed. We give what remains to you." The advanced on the party, their forms dissipating as they approached and filling the heroes with a a suddenly invigorating sensation.

Without further delay, returned to the crossroads and took the road towards Vallaki. The road passed through a dark forest at the foot of the mountain, and the mist settled heavily between the trunks of its trees, but before long the party ascended on a switchback path up the mountainside, leaving behind the village of Barovia lost in the mist. They came upon an ancient stone bridge that crossed a chasm formed eons ago by the path of the river Iblis. To the west roared the Tser falls, which fell a thousand feet below, where nothing could be seen through the fog and the spraying mist of the waterfall. Beyond the bridge, the mountain pass seemed to grow more claustrophobic as they approached another crossroads. To the east, the gnarled husks of long-dead trees lined a cobblestone path. They passed by quickly, Irina and Ismark making signs to ward off evil as they explained that that path led directly to the Devil's lair.

Another great stone wall and iron gate set in the mountain pass, similar to the one that led them into the Barovian valley, allowed them passage to the west. Through the gate, the path continued past a weathered, onion-domed windmill resting on the cliffside, its vanes stripped down to the skeleton. Heeding the warning of the athinganoi, they passed it by. Not far away, they could stand on the cliff and see down into the vast expanse of the Svalich Woods, whose dark green treetops reached up from the heavy fog. In a clearing, a walled settlement stood—Vallaki. Though the road around the woods was long, the party heeded the other warning and dared not leave the trail. They eventually passed by the distant shore of a lake and reached the gates of Vallaki.

The town was protected by its wooden palisade and the iron gate attended by two stern guards. The path toward the gate was lined with the heads of wolves up on pikes. Though the guards were suspicious, they allowed the party entry after Ismark made his plea to speak with the posadnik.

While still gloomy and quiet, there was a certain feeling of life in the town that Barovia certainly did not possess. Here and there, townsfolk walked the streets, going about their business. For now, it seemed, they were safe.

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A Cold, Unwelcoming Place

Yaroslava awoke with a scream, but she was no longer alone. Emil, Mao-Ying, and Lae'boo were nearby, and all were sound in their bedrolls with their possessions and bodily integrity intact. Pamphilos, however, was gone. They found themselves in an unfamiliar forest of evergreens, with an unseasonal chill in the air. Though they knew not how they had arrived here, each had a vivid recollection of his final memory: being separated from the others and attacked—fear and sudden agony, then darkness. Mercifully, these memories began to fade like that of a nightmare after waking, but it got them no closer to an explanation.

A vague light came from behind the thick curtain of clouds in the sky, but while a mist clung to the branches and trunks of the surrounding trees, it did not advance upon the group as it had the night before. Traveling through the wood, they came across a dirt trail that cut through the wood. Following it for several hours, they came upon a massive stone wall between the hills flanking the road. Set in the wall was a great gate of iron bars, on either side of which stood headless stone sentries. As the group approached, the gate creaked open with a slow, agonized groan. On the other side awaited a ghastly sight: a skeletal rider upon a no less skeletal steed. Clad in the unrecognizably tattered tabard of some ancient house, it moved with some unknown animating force down the road at the opening of the gate. While it appeared to move around the group when they stood in its way, they destroyed the blasphemous revenant, making sure that the bones were as still and silent as they should be.

It was several more hours before they came within sight of a decrepit-looking village. The village surely looked abandoned, but a long, wailing cry that emerged from the fog insisted otherwise. Carefully, though moved toward the source of the lamentation, seeing that all of the windows and many of the doors of the village were boarded up. The truth of the matter was that the village was inhabited and even had some level of commerce, but the frightened, emaciated peasants who dwelt there spoke little that made sense. Oddly, they all spoke in the Old Church dialect, and their clothing and writing were reminiscent of the forgotten times of the Holy Empire. The heroes met a woman driven mad with grief, Marya, whose wails carried through the village streets because her daughter, Gertruda, had been taken by "the Devil," and she implored the strangers to rescue her before harm befell her. A tight-lipped shopkeeper and his simpleton nephew spoke of attacks on the village by the Devil's minions, especially against the house of the posadnik, the village's governor. 

When the mists parted briefly, far above the village, at the apex of a cliffside, one could see the impossibly high walls of some foreboding citadel. There, the villagers said, resided the Devil, the feared and hated ruler of this land.

Exploring the village, the heroes found a gathering of villagers, but little more life than they had encountered previously. The drearily-dressed villagers, huddled together over their tables, stared fixedly and unwelcomingly at the strangers. Three women in the taproom gave them a decidedly warmer welcome: three athinganoi women, sisters whose inscrutable eyes glimmered with excitement at the sight of the strangers. These athinganoi—evidently the owners of the tavern—welcomed them to the village of Barovia, which shared the name of the valley in which it is located. The sisters were strangely tight-lipped about certain subjects—in particular, more details about where they were and how they got there—but recommended that they seek out the wisdom of an athinganos seer, Madam Eva, who could pierce the mist of the future and who resided just outside of town.

Another patron, a young and handsome man with hair that was strikingly white before his years, beckoned them to join him and share a bottle of wine. "Do you believe that man can kill the Devil?" was the first thing that he asked. He introduced himself as Ismark Kolyanovich, son of the posadnik, Kolyan Indirovich, and he seemed excited to meet strangers, although he gave his condolences for their circumstances.

"You… know not where you are, do you?" he asked in response to their confusion. "Barovia—this village, and the land around it… is in Hell. And if you are here, then that means…"

The heroes were stunned by the revelation—the attack the night before—their sudden appearance here—the warning words of Tyddyn's presbyter about salvation… Emil hardened his heart at the revelation as a voice whispered "Home…" in his mind, keeping himself afloat over the crashing waves of truth around him. Yaroslava felt her heart race and her mind swim as this man stoically explained such a harsh, final truth and found herself suddenly fixated on him. Mao-Ying, with no other explanation for the situation, suddenly found himself in the afterlife of a god that was not his own and became preoccupied with ensuring that his material possessions were in order as a way of coping with the incredible realization.

Ismark promised to help them deal with their new situation in return for help in return. He brought them to his family home, which was marked with evidence of relentless attacks by the Devil's minions over the past several weeks, which suddenly stopped the night after the death of his father, the posadnik, whose elderly body could no longer resist the endless strain placed upon him. At the manor, Ismark introduced the heroes to his adopted sister, Irina Kolyanovna, who was a young and regally composed woman with long, auburn hair. 

The siblings explained that, many generations ago, Barovians were simple, God-fearing folk who were protected by the archangels Eirian—the Morninglord—and Bogdana—Mother Night. However, the Barovian ancestors committed some heinous affront to God that was so unforgivable that Mother Night, once their protector, cast the land of Barovia into Hell. Now, the sun no longer shines, and the Morninglord no longer intercedes on their behalf; while the presence of Mother Night can be felt during the night, it is a cold, distant presence. The Devil who now rules over them is a punishment for this forgotten sin, and Barovians have been suffering his punishment ever since. What's more, once or twice a generation, damned souls are delivered to Barovia to suffer the same torment at the Devil's hands as do the Barovians.

Recently, the Devil had set his sights on Irina, and he has come to her in person on two previous occasions. While these visits are only a hazy memory to her, they have left an undeniable mark on Irina: two puncture wounds despoil her alabaster neck, clear evidence of the Devil's designs on her. The Devil is known to drain the blood of victims and turn them into unholy servants who bend to his will. Enraged, Ismark has been looking for any way to protect his sister and intends to take her to the town of Vallaki, which lies beyond the mountains, but the roads are fraught with danger. Worse, the posadnik's children had been unable to deliver the man's body to the church on the far side of the village for a proper burial because the Devil's eyes are always on Barovia, but Irina has refused to go anywhere while her father's corpse lingered in their home. The appearance of the strangers changed all of this.

The heroes, accompanied by Ismark, visited the church to speak to its priest, Father Donavich. The church had clearly been suffering attacks of its own for a long time, and more disturbingly, the inhuman cries of a suffering young man howled from beneath the floorboards. Exploring the side rooms, they found chambers containing a mixture of Lyubomiran holy symbols and other icons of an unfamiliar origin depicting a sunburst. Behind the final door was the most shocking discovery: Pamphilos, haggard but conscious, on his knees with his hands manacled and chained to the wall.

Finding the priest in a state of evident delirium at the church's altar, the heroes demanded answers. Through the man's mad sobbing, they gathered that the source of the pleading cries from the basement was Donavich's son, Doru, who recently reappeared after going missing one year ago. Doru had, along with a small group of other villagers, accompanied another stranger who arrived in Barovia alone—a wizard who rallied the villagers to destroy the Devil. Upon reaching the castle, most of the villagers immediately fled at the sight of the beast, but Doru never returned… until now. But he was different—changed—hungry. Donavich had been praying night and day for the intercession of the Morninglord to save his son, who had been turned into the Devil's spawn. That morning, he received an answer in the form of Pamphilos, bound and chained in the other room. Donavich felt strongly, however, that it was not Eirian, the Morninglord, but Bogdana, Mother Night, who answered his prayers, offering him a way to sustain his son…

Donavich begged the strangers not to kill his son. However, by appealing to the man's faith and inner convictions, they were able to make him see that his son was no longer his son, and that he could not allow himself to commit a vile act of murder in order to sustain the creature that his son had become. A revelatory look came upon the aging man's face, and he saw the intercession of the Morninglord at work in the words of the strangers. While Mother Night had tested his faith, the Morninglord had brought him the answer. He brought the party into the room with the trap door, whose key he had thrown away in a fit of despair. The heroes ripped the rotted door open and descended with Ismark and the priest into the dark undercroft…

There, clinging to the shadows of the large, earthen room, was an emaciated human figure who looked more like a feral, but frightened dog. Doru begged his father not to let the strangers harm him, but Donavich, mustering the strength of his resolution, told Doru that this must be done to put his soul to rest. Despite his waifish appearance, the young man possessed an inhuman strength and resilience and fought rabidly for his continued existence. Climbing the walls of the undercroft like a spider, he nearly reached the trapdoor but was finally struck down before he could escape.

With the issue at the church resolved, Donavich promised to bury the posadnik at dawn the next morning. Mao-Ying said that he would decide on Pamphilos's fate in the morning. The heroes returned to the posadnik's manor and spent the rest of the evening conversing with their hosts. Each of them had a troubled night…

Emil dreamed of sitting alone before a stage on which a woman in an exotic costume danced with fiery grace. He noticed something behind her, and shifting the focus of his attention away from the dancer, he saw a small child, a girl, standing immobile and staring at him. She had the pallor of a corpse.

Mao-Ying dreamed of a cold mountain pass, through which he trudged in a snowstorm. Out of the haze ahead, he could see two knights on horseback charging at him, side by side. From the dark mists behind him, he could hear a low, booming repetition of sound like a staccato rumble of thunder. The sound drew nearer as the knights charged in slow motion. Suddenly, the great talons of an enormous bird of prey appeared through the storm, plucking each knight from his horse and making them disappear into the stormy sky.

Yaroslava was roused from her slumber by Irina. "Come with me," she said. "I wish to show you something…"

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Into the Unknown

"Well? And then what, barkeep?"

"They vanished the same way they appeared in Tyddyn: suddenly and unexpectedly. Went into the heart of that cursed wood and never came back. Shame about that, after everything they did for us, but that forest takes what it will…"

-

The heroes of Tyddyn fought their way bravely through an ambush by craven barghests and hiked for hours into the wood before finding a nest of harpies, who mocked the interlopers. Parlaying with the bird-women, the heroes learned that the priests had indeed died unmercifully by their bloodied talons. What's more, they had not long ago seen Pamphilos traveling alone like a cursed man into the darkest heart of the wood. There, they said, dwelt the "Black Bird," some sort of harpy goddess also known as Kelaino, who ruled the forest and gave the harpies their most baleful songs.

Though the harpies tried to turn the heroes into their next banquet, the heroes resisted the bewitching melodies that the monsters sang and slew them so that they would harm no one else. Amid a pile of human remains and harpy filth, they found the unmistakable remains of several clergymen, Oleg included. The former lover of Yaroslava's stratega had been martyred.

With her task finished, Yaroslava informed the others that she would accompany them no further into the woods. Emil and Mao-Ying, along with Mao-Ying's bear companion, Lae'boo, ventured further into the forest, from which a torpid fog emerged. From the border of their perception, a black, predatory beast pounced upon them, a six-legged monstrosity from whose body, which rippled with muscle, erupted two long, barbed tentacles. Fighting fiercely to defend themselves, they managed to drive the beast away. In time, they came upon a single, ragged tent, in which slept an equally haggard-looking man who was nearly comatose from exhaustion and want of food and water. Mao-Ying recognized him as his quarry, Pamphilos, but the man was too delirious to say anything except some mystifying words about being watched and tormented. Mao-Ying hefted the man over his shoulder, and the group made haste to return to Tyddyn before the sun set.

Meanwhile, the mist had spread so far that it caught up to Yaroslava, who made a quick pace on her own back to civilization, albeit using some of the orienteering techniques picked up from the heathen, Mao-Ying. As the mist surrounded her, though, she began to realize that she was now walking in circles. As she stopped to get a grip on the situation, she became aware that she was not alone as she sensed a disturbance in the air directly behind her.

Turning slowly to face the interloper, she saw a wan, but imposingly regal figure: woman in a long, black gown whose train draped across the moist earth and which was made entirely from black feathers; her bare arms having a pallor reminiscent of the sky in early twilight. She stood almost expectantly with her hands folded over one another, but it was clear that her fingers trailed into sharp nails like the talons of a hawk. The upper half of her face was obscured by what appeared to be a dark mask made of two raven wings that emerged from her temples; covering her eyes, they swept back and up to merge indistinguishably with voluminously feathered black hair that looked like the plumage of a great crow. Her lips were blood red. Yaroslava dared to speak: "Kelaino?"

She did not deign to acknowledge the question and only spoke these inscrutable words: "Such a beautiful tragedy… to watch the burning sun fall into the deep, black sea."

When Yaroslava asked for the meaning of the words, mask of feathers over the entity's eyes drew back to reveal wide, circular eyes with a bright, but sickly yellow iris filling the area around a pitch black pupil. Like the eyes of a raven, they stared intently, but distantly through Yaroslava's. In an instant, her form erupted into a swarm of crows that assailed Yaroslava, pecking and scratching relentlessly. No help came as she screamed into the empty forest and collapsed under the assault, their cacophonous cawing cloying at her mind and their talons clawing at her exposed skin.

Things were little better for Mao-Ying and Emil, who were now realizing that they were hopelessly lost, as every attempt to gain their proper bearings only seemed to lead them fruitlessly back into an impossible loop. Nevertheless, they chose to press on, their dwindling bundle of torches mirroring their diminishing hopes to escape this befuddling fog. While Emil's strength of conviction pushed him through the night, Mao-Ying—despite his great strength—collapsed to the ground. While the giant commanded his bear companion to leave him behind, the loyal creature refused, disobediently staying at his side. Emil nearly stayed standing before the first light of dawn, but exhaustion eventually took him, as well.

During the night, Mao-Ying awoke from his exhaustion to the sound of growls and roars in the black, foggy night that surrounded him. It was no doubt Lae'boo fighting some predatory lurker, but in an instant, the sounds of battle ceased. He looked to the body of Pamphilos, whose outline was barely visible to his bleary eyes, and watched as a barbed tentacle emerged from the inky mist, rolling the mercifully unconscious man's body towards its salivating maw. The sound of rending flesh and cracking bone foretold what would come to him soon after.

Something woke Emil from his exhausted stupor, and he could see the long, black train of a gown trailing the earth before him. With what little strength he had left, he defiantly held up his shield with the holy symbol of his faith emblazoned on its surface. The figure before him spoke with a haunting melancholy: "It will not save you now…"

As the figure glided across the earth away from him, other creatures emerged from the mist: dark, predatory beasts with teeth fit for rending flesh.

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The Heroes of Tyddyn

"Take a seat, pilgrims. I'll pour you some drinks. How was your journey? Safe? I'll tell you who you have to thank for that. Wouldn't you know that Tyddyn's had its very own heroes? And I'm not just talking about Saint Eirian lying in repose under the cathedral. Stay a while, let me tell you the story…"

-

The three of them arrived together by carriage, but what bound them was nothing more than fate: Lady Yaroslava and the itinerant zealot, Emil, arrived from the eastern realms, over by the Heresiocracy: she looking to find her stratega's lost love; and he searching for the light that would burn away the dark shadow cast wherever he walked. Towering over them both was the giant, Mao-Ying, who traveled from a distant land in pursuit of a criminal whose bounty was his honor.

'Round this time, Tyddyn was under siege. Always had a problem with bandits on the road ever since the town grew into a great trading center as more and more pilgrims came to visit the ruins of Saint Eirian, but they were different lately, organized, brutal—an army. The heroes survived a series of attacks 'long the highway and found that their fates intertwined not just with each other, but with Tyddyn: Lady Yaroslava's man, a priest named Oleg, had gone missing recently, and the bandits were suspected; Mao-Ying's bounty, after hanging around town for a while, ended up running with the highwaymen; and Emil promised the presbyter he'd offer help to Tyddyn in exchange for a chance to commune with Eirian's relics.

Hunting bandits weren't the only good thing they done for Tyddyn, neither. You probably passed by Delwyn's farm 'long your way in. Wolves had nearly ate all of his livestock, but these three helped hunt down the pack. Delwyn was so pleased with 'em for saving his farm, he treated 'em just like family. The good lady and the foreigner weren't inclined to mingle with a poor Lyubomiran farmer, but Emil stayed with Delwyn's family every night… probably just as well, since word started gettin' around that there was somethin' strange about the man, that he bargained with the devil for sorcerous powers that he used to terrify his foes.

'Course, people had reason to be skittish 'bout black magic at work in Tyddyn. The guard had been so busy dealing with the bandits, a whole cabal of devil worshippers set up shop in the middle of town! Guard eventually got around to it and held some in stocks in the middle of town: a dark man from the heathen kingdoms and some local no-gooders, talkin' about how Lubomir were evil and the devil were truly sent by God! Can you believe it? They hanged 'em good, don't you worry. We're God-fearing folk, here.

Didn't help, neither, that there was a Pauper Knight, Sir Pajen, they'd helped along the way to Tyddyn, and though he were proper grateful for their aid, he saw Emil's powers and swore he saw the devil in it. He'd get to talking after getting some ale in him, and before you knew it, every laborer in town heard that Emil was some kind of sorceror. Hoo boy, when Emil found out who started these rumors, he came storming in here right cross with Pajen. Thought there'd  be a fight, but the men must've worked something out.

Lot of people forget about this, but there were a time when people in town'd cross the street and make a sign against the evil eye whenever they crossed paths with Emil, so it seemed like the only friend he had was poor Delwyn. He even refused to speak when the demarchos gave him a platform at the celebration, but you know what he did? He called everyone to the craftsmen's square and gave a speech the likes of which I can't do justice. Had the working folk enraptured and the priests casting each other nervous looks, talking about being a warrior of God, a "paladin" like under the Holy Empire, and working wonders like no one ever seen. Saw Pajen in the crowd, I did—threw a dark glance at the spectacle and left Tyddyn that very night.

Now, even with the bandits on the run, that was only half the work done. They still ain't found Oleg or Pamphilos.

They'd found a holy symbol on a harpy that attacked them during their last foray, so they knew they'd need to go deeper into the woods and prepared for a great ordeal. They trained with the town guard, and Lady Yaroslava even won the respect of many who doubted her by humbling a bunch of 'em that ganged up on her. Mao-Ying even trained a wild bear to fight alongside him—some say it was heathen magic, while others say that the giant won the beast's respect through his great strength. Me, I think it was a little of both. And by the time they left, they'd gotten themselves some shiny new arms and armor. Not sure how they got their hands on it, but some say they saw Lady Yaroslava hand over a mighty fine antique instrument to some shady-looking gentleman who was in a real hurry to get his hands on it. I think the lady just carried more wealth on her than she wanted anyone to know about, though. Either way, they left their old gear with that farmer, Delwyn—what a charitable bunch!

During that time, some guardsmen who were clearing out the last bandit camps came back with word of a nest of harpies deep in the wood. With their preparations done, the heroes left to make a final trip into that cursed place…"

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