Barovian Date: 1st of the 11th Moon
Our efforts last night were followed today by a bracing round of early morning exercise as we cleared debris from the village square, and lent a hand repairing and reinforcing the battered barricades the undead had torn apart in their nighttime assault. Such good deeds did not go unpunished, however, for the orc-man managed to sufficiently abrade the feelings of the sole remaining local shopkeeper that even the offer of a sizable bribe of gold was unable to persuade him to open his doors for business!
The town square is a perfect example of pre-Malthusian architecture...
...Mid-morning, we left the warrior Ashlynn the relatively quiet daytime watch at the town square, and headed towards the local church, where Ashlynn's companions were last known to have been headed several days ago. Though no-one save the orc-man was tactless enough to state it out loud, we all harbor the fear that her brothers-in-arms are likely already dead, and worse yet, could have been reanimated as powerful foes.
In spite of the few rays of sun that broke through the oppressive cloud cover, groups of undead still roamed loose on the streets within a few blocks of the fortified town square. Foremost among the daytime groups were horribly rotted ghasts, whose foul stench was anathema to freshly filled bellies! The creatures seem to have some sort of venom as well, perhaps secreted onto their befouled skin like sweat on an honest farmer under the noonday sun – when a bite or ripping claw broke through armor and skin, this venom forced a powerful lethargy upon us, slowing limbs and clouding the mind. It wore off after a time, but stout hearts and focused minds were needed so that we could defend ourselves while still battling the venom's effects.
The town church here is a small one, perhaps thirty cubits a side, forty at most. The structure is built on a small outcropping barely worthy of being called a hill, and in typical rural style is surrounded by the consecrated graves of past local notables. A small steeple with belfry surmounts the entrance, and the whole structure seems in good repair, though the whitewash on the planks is several seasons past its prime. The Raven-knight first voiced what had struck all of us: after the damage that had ravaged the town, the relatively good condition of the church seemed surreal and unnerving. Fortified by a solid encasement of tempered steel, however, our stout defender of the paganistic bird-god strode confidently forward, and opened the door to the first of our many dooms.
We must have tarried too long outside, or perhaps conversed too loudly, but no sooner had we strode inside than did a magick most foul strike us all! I nobly sought to draw its harm within myself to shield the others, and succeeded in doing so – but my frail shell could not handle the blasphemy that these twisted energies inflicted upon it, and I felt as though a thousand scourgings had been wrought upon my very soul as I felt my body buckle and collapse!
Yet the peace of divine embrace would not come!
As all around me seemed slowed and faded, I saw the emissary of Death itself slip from shadows that I had not heretofore seen, and stand before me. It spoke to me; and in a language I did not know; I knew it claimed that Death itself had no wish to claim me. As its voice grated on with the sound of leathery wings and the creaking of decrepit bones, I struggled back to the realm of the living, where the world was alive with the clash of steel and the screams of devastated, unholy flesh forced to move once more! My world for a time was little but blood and pain and the sweet screams of creatures feeling their flesh rent from their bones by the powerful swings of the Raven-knight and the mighty orc-man. At long last though, the tumult ceased, and my shattered body and soul could re-knit themselves.
The interior of the church after the skirmish was rank with the smell of flesh, both long-rotted and newly dead. Remains of the village's former priest (a follower of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel, mighty champion of Order and carver of the Pillar of Strength in the Hall of the Gods) lay nearly split in twain a fore the desecrated altar. A huge hole in the wooden planks of the church floor dominated the hall, with only the inky blackness of the crypts beneath it to give it color and meaning.
In my ragged state, I bent my meager efforts to the reclamation of the alter from its befouled state, and found within its recesses a single page of what must once have been a great treatise on the darkest powers – a description of the process needed to create a creature called a “Blaspheme”, a true abomination that could only be forged from the besmirched remnants of the blood-kin of the would-be necromancer himself!
The other that resided there was a simple journal, the mundane musing of a village priest, Danovich, filled with day after day of confessions, penance, town gossip and tallies of ill-born livestock in the area. The ending, though, aye, there was the rub, for the ending of the journal showed a journey down the most perilous of St. Cuthbert's roads – that of vengeance upon those that have wronged you. The priest, you see, had a son, a strapping lad who plied his trade between the small villages, cottages and camps that scatter the land. When he fell to brigands on the unprotected roads, his father began to write of vengeance, and pursue it above all else – shuttering the church to the townsfolk, and dabbling in dark lore to bring back a semblance of life to the ruined and rapidly decaying body of his son. In delightful detail his descent into despair and dementia is described, his doings more dark and dreadful all the while. The fiendish apparatus, the boiled heart and piercing nails, the stolen teeth and insidious incantations are procured piece by piece and day by day, their presence a steadily mounting cacophony of the pressures of madness bearing down on his unwavering faith in vengeance without regard to the other strictures, his blind love of a dead son now come creaking back down the dread path from death to life!
Nothing besides remains. Undated, I know not whether this poor soul was so far gone in his pursuit of what blind faith lead him to that he lost all reason and ability to place his fractured thoughts to paper, or if perhaps instead that his last entry was made just before we arrived. Alas, I would have loved to have talked to him, to find out where he came by his lore in such an isolated place as this Barovia, and to find, to, whether his god still blessed him at the end, when his vengeance broke free of control and brought ruin upon the town around him.
Even his body could not go whole to the next realm, as the orc-man, in a fit of barbaric splendor worthy of an ancient epic, raised his great axe above his head once more and with a single blow smote off the hand of dead Danovich! He keeps it now, a macabre and slowly rotting trophy of his kill. If his smell was not quite rank enough before to turn fresh cheese blue, surely now the bouquet of rotting flesh that hangs from his belt will elevate the potency of his stench to levels that even the most discriminating she-orc would likely find irresistible.
Still, a brief return to the tavern for drinks and time to clear muddled heads was thought to be in order before we delved into the basement crypts, and the innkeeper served the pungent orc-man with no more ill-humor than the previous evening. We all drank deep of the beer whose tun we had blessed the night before to stave off diseases as I have seen documented in the great libraries I have perused, where the texts of the old learned masters put great stock in the cleanliness of water, food and tools. As cleanliness is next to godliness, the application of godly blessing must of course then be one step better than the application of mere cleanliness at protecting the physique from infection and decay!
Our mealtime was livened by the casual inquisition of several local gypsies by the blessed warrior Ashlynn and the Raven-knight Draven. Sadly, their efforts to uncover the subtle, early signs of corruption were interrupted by the arrival of another traveler – an elven half-blood of arcanely magical disposition. Apparently in search of knowledge to wield the sorts of devastating power that frequently show up only in lands at the brink of catastrophe (natural or otherwise), the half-breed Rial decided to accompany us for the time being. His skills may be useful, but I fear his sort too easily go astray when confronted by the lure of the sweet dark abyss of temptation.