Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Scribblings of a Scribe IV

Excerpts from the notes of Archivist Tim, Friar of the Order of Ehlonna

Barovian Date: 2nd of the 11th Moon

A disturbingly eventful night showed us that whatever was drawing the dead to town had not died with the despoiled Danovich, as our nocturnal musings were disrupted by the dread wailing of a ghastly ghost. As we tumbled into the tavern’s tall common room, our talk became tense and the sorcerer trembled in terror as we beheld a specter of death floating there near the ceiling. No weapon seemed wont to wound it, and daggers merely dashed vaporous holes in the diaphanous dead thing.

A channeling was needed here, of power so holy that the wholesome shade could not resist – a power that I was humbly pleased to provide, illuminating a path arrow-straight from Elonnha’s symbol in my hand to the head of the foul creature, burning away its essence in cleansing light and holy fire.

Our earlier sleep broken and forfeit, we sought the solace of slumber far past the proper hours for morning prayers, but surely I would be forgiven this lapse in the face of the purging I had performed during the night?

A simple meal broke our fast, and quickly hence we made our way back towards the crippled clapboard chapel, with the sorcerer in tow. The cowardly elf seemed to have exhausted the sum of his courage in joining us, and now hung back at the rear of the group as we re-entered the chapel and beheld the trapdoor we had carefully secured the previous afternoon burst half off its hinges and obviously no more an impediment to movement than a discarded pile of tinder.

Carefully, we started down the stone steps into the chapel’s crypt, with the orc-man and the raven-knight staying close beside the steadying light of my upraised torch. As we faced and cut down a handful more of the shambling dead in the cold stone hall, a high-pitched scream from behind us heralded the elf’s unceremonious descent of the stairs – with a twisted monster rending at his flesh even as he fell. There could be no doubting this was the Blaspheme of Danovich’s journal, its sharpened teeth glinting like obsidian in the torchlight, and its shriveled skin doing naught to hide its necromantic origins. Of the wholesome country lad his father had described, there remained not a trace, not even in the eyes – where once whites and lively colors had danced about in search of fair sights, now only blackened orbs stared outwards, seemingly unmoving though it must have been looking between us.

The foul thing landed atop Rial at the bottom of the crypt stairs, and before we could run it through, it distended its jaw to a hideous degree…and bit down upon the skull of the elf. As it ripped back and forth with its teeth I could see cracked and shattered bone exposed beneath the fast-ruined flesh for the brief moments before we fell upon it with righteous war cries and hacked the desecrated corpse apart. I tried to save what spark was left in Rial then, but I could sense his spirit slipping away despite my efforts – and as the other two tended to the remains of the freshly re-killed, I saw the grim visage of Death slip from the shadows and glide over the floor towards where I knelt by our newest comrade’s broken form.

It seemed as though time slowed around me when it approached, as though creatures in its proximity obeyed rules of time passage quite different from that of the plane around us. It spoke to me briefly, impressing upon me the question of what I would give to have the elf returned to the living – a question to which I answered that I would sacrifice any part of my body or soul to save this other. It seemed to consider this for a time, before turning with a dry rustling sound towards the supine form of the elf and addressing itself to him. It asked what life was worth to him, and seemed as taken aback as I was when the elf spoke to say that it wished to make a pact – Death’s power and the life to use it in for a cost that Death could specify.

If the Reaper voiced his cost, it was not for my ears to hear.

The elf’s bargain, though, was successful, and as Death slipped away into the multitude of shadows around us in the cold stone crypt the elf began to draw a few shallow breaths and his grip on life strengthened steadily thereafter.

It seemed that the Thorax and Draven had not noticed anything amiss, and were barely progressed in their movements despite the lengthy time I had spent in the presence of Death. Why then could I see Death, when he did not come for me? Should I have not been as blissfully ignorant of his presence as any living man whose doom is not yet upon him? Am I blessed to see the movements of such spirits around me, or am I cursed instead, living on borrowed time, the signatory to a pact that I cannot remember while I wake?

Heaped in a pile in the crypt were several sets of arms and armor in good repair, and we feared that these meant the undead we had slain in the crypt may once have been Ashlynn’s companions. We handled the dead with care, bringing them out of the darkness and laying out their bodies to wait for Ashlynn to identify then and conduct their rites. Also in the crypt was a hugely elaborate alchemical laboratory, amazingly untouched for all the undead that had lately been shambling around the area.

The Blaspheme’s twisted corpse was another matter, as even in his weakened state the elf seemed covetous of parts from the body, and the orc-man desirous of its teeth. In the end, however, we burned it all, save for the shriveled heart which I sought to preserve for study upon my return to my abbey.

Our short trip back to the centre of town was unnervingly quiet, with only the rotting corpses of the once-again-dead to break the silence by attracting autumn’s last few buzzing flies. When we reached the town square and gained the safety of the barricades, we beheld the remains of another assault – we were told that in broad daylight they had come, impaling themselves on barricade and spear alike, nearly swamping the Ashlynn and the few villagers still hale enough to offer resistance, before suddenly collapsing as if their un-life had suddenly deserted them. I am forced to question now, whether these undead were actually created by Danovich, or were they rather animated in turn by the desecrated remains of his son when Danovich raised him into a Blaspheme. Was the magic animating it truly so powerful that it could afford to spend so much of it as to make a virtual plague of undeath on its own?

The orc-man was having none of it, however, and was convinced that the corpses were merely “faking it” – which seemed to mean that he needed to cleave the skulls open of each one he passed near in turn, just to “make sure”. As we headed to the Burgomeister’s manor house, this meant that the streets soon stank with the smell of rotted brain matter and clotted gore. While the stench turned our stomachs, Thorax seemed to revel in it, proclaiming loudly with each swing his ongoing tally of kills – how many times he reached 5 and started over again, though, I didn’t bother to pay attention to.

What remained of the day after we ascertained the safety of the manor-house (and with it, the well-being of Burgomeister Ismark’s rather fetchingly self-reliant sister, Ireena) was bent towards the grim task of tallying survivors and beginning to assemble the bodies of the dead into what would become a great pyre in the chapel courtyard. Rial was too weak to help, though how much help the slight elf would have been with this grim, heavy work would have been dubious at the best of times.