Author Topic: A Chronicle of Faith  (Read 405 times)


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A Chronicle of Faith
« on: March 08, 2024, 05:14:24 AM »

I am Ives. Ives is I.
Should one other than myself discover this journal and read of it, it is not important that you know who I am. You need not learn of my past before the mists took me to this cursed place. You need not know of my faith; only that I am indeed a man who lives by it. All that shall matter are my actions and my recount of them. For they strive to serve Her greater will. My purpose, in this world and the one before, has always been to be wise to Her truths – omnipotent and all-encompassing as they are. I carry forward guided by Her holy light. Believing the soul of man to be irrefutably sacred. Mankind must bind together the fractures that divide it. I urge you, as I urge all, to unite. To mend the harm inflicted upon humanity by both ourselves and our newfound otherworldly foes. In this unity, there is safety. In safety, there is peace.
With faith, even in death, we survive as one.

. . .

I arrived to Barovia in the Autumn of the Barovian Calendar year of 778. The strange mist that looms over the Core had claimed me on my pilgrimage to enact holy charity for the kingdoms to the east. Nearly half a year has passed since then.

In my initial arrival, a great many were pulled here through the cruel intentions of these mists. Though lost and distant, coming from what I later came to find were varying worlds and realities alike, the many of us that were once strangers found ourselves united by this twist of fortune. For a time, there was harmony amongst the chaos. The beings of darkness and evil that threatened our very lives only drew us closer. Our wisdoms and strengths combined to enlighten and elevate us. For its duration, this unity brought me peace. Despite our fate to be imprisoned and tortured by the mists, I found happiness. I had family.

Now, my family is gone. I do not suspect I will reunite with these people again. My brothers and my dearest sister began to perish or disappear one by one until all that remained was myself and the memories I held of them. Yet, I still kept faith. It was all I could assure myself would remain in this uncertain world.

In their company, I began to discover that some remnant of their individual occult power had taken root in me. Perhaps what little influence their gods, patrons, or other deities held in such a distant place grew in me as well. The gifts bestowed upon me by dear Nona, Red “the Blue”, and Drask allowed me to develop some form of strong empathy with the wildlife, connecting to them in a way that should otherwise not be possible. In addition, the works of the ambitious Amelia Winters had encouraged me to resume my studies in the field of herbalism and alchemy. In this way, I felt a trace of their presence and their legacy still remained with me. For many months, I studied the flora and fauna of Barovia. I came to hone my understanding of the natural philosophies. It was this pursuit for alchemical advancement that came to be the catalyst for my involvement in events to come.

It had begun with a weapons test. The same weapon that Drask and I had been attempting to make functional. A complex and intricate feat of both mechanical and alchemical ingenuity. One that I expect would make Amelia quite envious. In truth, I had intended this to be my last course of action before leaving Barovia permanently. I had made way to the Vistani caravaneers fully inclined to part with both the land and my past life in it. I had grown to feel it was time to move on. But perhaps I also felt to conclude this last deed I owed to my brother’s memory. I came to possess the necessary amount of black power needed to operate the weapon’s firing mechanism. And, yes, I was fully aware that this act was illegal and would lead to my prosecution with the land’s officials. But I did not intend to stay long enough to be found guilty of such a punishment. I conducted the test only a short walk away from the Tser pool where the Vistani were encamped.

The test resulted in catastrophe. This was in part due to my desire to experiment on a living subject. Dangerous, yes. But the demonstration needed to be authentic, as I saw it.

As night fell, I located a suitable target; a roaming band of small green humanoid creatures. I had encountered similar creatures before in the caves surrounding Vallaki. It was unknown to me how viciously hostile this variant was at the time. Regardless, I would see that my weapons brought some semblance of safety to the roads, believing my experiment may as well serve a greater good. I remained hidden, positioning myself a good distance away behind a tree by the open path. I took aim at where they gathered atop a hill. Then, with my target aligned with the barrel, I fired. My aim was more than sufficient. As the hammer struck down and the powder detonated within, the lead bullet was propelled forth at a tremendous speed, piercing the chest of the creature and knocking it to the ground. It lay still as it succumbed to its wound almost immediately. I was overjoyed with my success, at this moment. But the moment quickly faded. The weapon had been far louder than I had anticipated. So much so that each remaining creature was now alerted to my position. In an instant, six or seven of these small but lethal monsters were charging down the hill to my exact location.

I ran further into the trees as I began to rearm my weapon for another attack. In my haste, I used far too much black powder. Enough to spontaneously turn what I was holding into an explosive device. Unknowingly, I paused and turned back to take aim again. As the creatures approached me, they witnessed the very contraption that had just killed one of them detonate in my hand. The hand itself was blasted to gorey pieces of flesh and bone. I was thrown to the ground blinded and disoriented. Shrapnel had buried its way into my face. I was completely concussed, unable to even stand in order to run. I began to panic. I screamed out in pain and agony. The creatures surrounded me and, without hesitation, chopped at my body with their blades until I went limp. They watched as I bled motionlessly before them. I do not recall anything beyond simply trying to keep my breathing from ceasing as I felt my very life dwindling away with each passing second.

I remember the gripping fear of dying alone. Dying out of complete incompetence... Dying for no greater purpose.

Then, in a flash, I was awake. My breath had returned to me. It was morning. A hooded woman accompanied by two men now stood beside me. All three were seemingly outfitted in foreign-appearing armored attire. I assessed my wounds as one of her companions did the same. Without a word, this companion used means of sorcery to restore my mangled body. It was then the woman introduced herself.

Azadeh Khorzavi was from the land known as Hazlan. She had been passing through Barovia for reasons she did not reveal beyond calling it “an expedition” or something of the like. She explained that she had saved me from death after coming across my body in her travels. Once we were introduced, I offered to repay the debt I now found myself in. It is difficult for one to put a price on a man's life. For this reason, I asked what her efforts were worth to her. She told me that such a sum would translate to about two-thousand Barovian wolf-fang. As I did not have this amount on my person, she instead told me she would accept payment in the form of a favor, once I was able and fully recovered. I expressed my confusion in this as I came to realize her tendency of excluding integral details. She went on to reveal where I could meet her, once I had settled my means of repayment; an popular inn located in the Hazlani town of Nordenvall. Shortly after, she and her followers were once again on their way.

I returned to Vallaki immediately. I would work relentlessly to gather the coin necessary, regardless of whether or not she would accept it. I sold a good deal of animal pelts along with some diamonds and valuable relics I had kept in my possession. (If you are to learn anything of me, know at least that Brother Ives always repays his debts.) With the amount made in only a few short days, I once again made the journey east. This time, with a destination in mind. I had found purpose once more. Soon enough, I would hire a caravan to Hazlan, planning to converse with the woman who had allowed me what she had called a “second chance” at life.

« Last Edit: March 13, 2024, 09:52:47 PM by radboy »


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Re: The Journal of Brother Ives: A Chronicle of Faith
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2024, 03:26:11 AM »

While it need not be known what it is I believe, whom it is I pray to, or why I am of such strong faith and conviction... I sense it may give better context for my actions. I once attempted to document Her teachings, when I first arrived in Barovia. As hard is it was to locate and decipher any scriptures that remained of Her in my home land, I do not suspect there any whatsoever located within the Core. I will perhaps transcribe these; Her Five Teachings, as I proceed with my tale. For it may yet prove necessary, should I no longer be around to speak of them.

May they serve to give Her light a willing soul to yet illuminate.

The Mist Camp had always appeared to me as a strange and mysterious place. I would not otherwise find myself there without reason. It is a location where any may congregate throughout the Core despite their alignment or intentions. It is indeed fascinating to observe these travelers as they stay to converse or pass along on their way. What is even more fascinating are the curios that are sold by the traveling merchants and Vistani traders that do business with those passing by. I had developed a habit of periodically investigating these artifacts, many of which were imbued with distinct blessings from other planes of existence. Likely are they to be holy relics of their own worlds. Stemming from an endless source of potential civilizations and their gods.

But, this time, I carried with me only enough coin to pay my debt and nothing more. Anything left was spent on traveling supplies and repairing my armor in the aftermath of my experiment’s failure.

During my rest at the Keep of the Dyad, once I was ready to meet Azadeh Khorzavi in the village she had mentioned, I inquired with the local population about the land of Hazlan. I only then came to realize I did not know anything of where I was now headed to. I was uninformed of their culture and society so drastically that I felt it necessary to at least make an attempt to learn. Especially given the strict and sudden implementations of rule and law I had experienced in Barovia prior to this. To my surprise, all those I spoke with held Hazlan in just as ill of regard as many had held Barovia.

Slavers. Savages. War-mongers. The list of descriptions was far less flattering than I could have anticipated. Nothing more kind was said of the Khorzavi family as a whole. I began to fear what and whom it was I had now involved myself with.

The response had become so reoccurring in the people I asked that I began to suspect there was undeniable validity to them. At a point, my inquiry led to an involved discussion which had absorbed many local bystanders. As this group discussed their opinions amongst themselves, a woman in the crowd approached me and offered me armed protection, if I was to journey to Hazlan. This woman, introducing herself as Soursight, would agree to serve as a bodyguard for my meeting and help me locate Nordenvall uninterrupted. An additional one-thousand was her price; more coin I needed to earn.

I did not suspect my personal invitation with Azadeh Khorzavi to lead to my enslavement. I saw little reason for a woman to save a rogue stranger from a foreign land from death only to then force him into a live in captivity. Still, given my new found uncertainty, I believed the precaution to be necessary. The cost would not be hard to earn. Two or three good hunts for pelts and I would acquire Soursight’s asking price. So I returned to Vallaki yet again until I had the amount needed to purchase the assistance of an escort. Although likely wise to employ such means of safety, my audience with Khorzavi had now taken a week to follow through with. I did not wish to delay it any longer.

I returned to the Mist Camp days later with the money in hand. Soursight was still present. This was likely a prime location for her to entice potential clients to her protection service. Though I am embarrassed to admit her identity was not immediately obvious to me. Soursight was never without a steel helmet covering her features, in our interactions. I asked to her very face where I could locate the bodyguard known as Soursight… She informed me.

A small number of her companions stood with her, as our deal was made. One of them asked to accompany us. Soursight held no preference as the man was not obligated to a cut of the payment in the contract. I was certainly not in a position to deny additional bodies in this endeavor. With that, the three of us departed for Hazlan immediately by way of caravan.

Before the evening concluded, we had reached the border dividing Barovia and Hazlan. Despite their profession, neither of the two seemed to have much understanding of Hazlan’s geography. They were as lost as I was, with only Khorzavi’s description of where to find the village of Nordenvall to proceed with. We moved quickly before night could fall upon us. With haste, we made our way north. I did not wish to linger long enough to learn if the dangers of Barovia’s wilderness resided in Hazlan as well. I was also rather watchful to spot any border checkpoints that may appear. The laws of Hazlan were unknown to me, yes. But I did not wish to risk the possibility of being detained for carrying contraband into the territory, given I still held a sizable amount of black powder on my person.

Just as darkness came, we arrived in Nordenvall. Unharmed and without interruption. The establishment Azadeh Khorzavi had described was rather easy to find, large and populated as it was. I instructed the two that accompanied me to wait outside the gates of the inn. I did not wish to offend the woman who invited me by appearing with an armed escort. I instructed them to listen for any signs of a disturbance and be mindful of any suspicious people that may enter or exit. If I did not return by morning, they were to come in to look for me. Now confident in my safety, I entered the building alone.

The room I stepped into seemed to occupy the entire ground floor of the building. Patrons bustled between tables to converse. The rising tobacco smoke emanating from the several hookah pipes was almost potent enough to obstruct my vision. The bar itself was rather unoccupied, however. I proceeded towards it for something to drink before I was intercepted by a voice. I turned to the sound of my name being called. There, just as promised, was Azadeh Khorzavi seated alone in the corner of the room. She sat in what could be considered no less than a throne. She waved me over. Never had I seen someone more relaxed and comfortable in my life. I approached and gave a deep bow as she gestured for me to sit on one of the cushions to the side of her. I accepted, making sure to verbalize my gratitude. Though I have not been in the presence of nobility or royalty, I am confident this is as close to the experience as I will come.

We engaged in a long discussion. Azadeh Khorzavi was very aware of the claims surrounding Hazlan and slavery. However, she denied these to be true, discrediting them as a popular misconception and nothing more. Those who were not native to Hazlan, she told me, were woefully ignorant of their customs. She explained in great detail that Hazlan itself was run by powerful families. These families would enact and enforce the laws that governed the land, holding complete authoritative reign over its people. Acting to show one’s allegiance, in this way, was considered a crucial pillar of Hazlani culture. Servitude to the families and their causes was a virtue woven into the very values of this society. It was for this reason Azadeh Khorzavi chose to take interest in saving my life.

The Khorzavi family needed allies. It needed promising individuals that would serve the people of Hazlan through pledging their services to Azadeh and her kin. As she did not venture into the land of Barovia often, she sought the help of locals who could search for and recruit these individuals on her behalf. This was her proposition to me. One in which, along with striking my debt with her specifically, she would offer to compensate me for financially on behalf of the Khorzavi family. The family, she told me, would be a very strong ally to have.

When I offered Azadeh Khorzavi the amount she had told me to bring, she urged me instead to keep it. For the benefits and protection of the Khorzavi family to be valid, she told me I needed to remain indebted to her. Without the Khorzavi family’s blessing, I was not protected by the law in any way. I would not be safe, were I to remain in Hazlan.

I pondered her words for some time. I contemplated my place in this family. As I did, I explained to her my intentions. I stated my purpose in life was to heal the injured, cure the sick, and unite the divided to bring forth peace through safety. Such are the teachings of my Lady and the holy mission of Her disciples. Were I to agree to Azadeh's terms, I would seek knowledge and opportunity for how to best enact this cause. She assured me with great confidence that serving the Khorzavi family would be the best way to enact this for the people of Hazlan.

However, it was at this moment I realized a dangerous error I had made. The people of Hazlan, I was told before arriving, were meant to worship a god known only as the Lawgiver. Any other faith was considered heretical. Those who openly conveyed such heresy could be prosecuted accordingly. I had openly proclaimed my true faith in a heavily populated and constricted environment. And I had done so only mere moments before it was explained to me the law did not protect me. I internally began to pray that my conversation with Azadeh Khorzavi alone would prevent those who overheard us from doing anything irrational. Though, when I confessed my faith was not that of the Lawgiver to her, she simply assured me that “it can be fixed later” in a tone that was far too calm.

Our discussion had lasted far longer than I anticipated. I found myself in a room full of people who could attack me without consequence and two hired mercenaries paid to protect me. Were it not for Azadeh’s interest in me, I sense things may have become far more volatile. Before morning came, I made sure to take my leave. However, I did leave Azadeh with some form of payment; all but a single coin short of the two-thousand she had instructed me to obtain. Azadeh smiled and accepted. I could not deny that her and her offer had at least captured my intrigue. Perhaps, I thought, this may indeed be an opportunity to learn about the world, heal those in need, and be part of a family once more. Perhaps this was a sign given to me by my Lady that my place was in Hazlan.

I remain in debt to Azadeh Khorzavi to this very day.

I left the grand tavern and saw that only one of my bodyguards remained. Though morning had almost come, the other had taken their leave. I do not wish to think of what may have happened, had I come to any legitimate danger. Still, I thanked the one who remained. I had given Soursight her payment in full before we had reached Nordenvall. None the less, I instructed this person to give Soursight my thanks and to assure her that all had gone well… Unfortunately, yet again, I found out too late that I was talking to Soursight herself. Again, I am not good with faces. I am even worse with a lack of faces. My last words to her were an apology for confusing her with her companion.

I departed Hazlan with every intention of returning to Barovia. Inclined to either earn the favor of the Khorzavi family… or to see what those I would invite into it thought of them.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2024, 03:32:28 AM by radboy »


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Re: The Journal of Brother Ives: A Chronicle of Faith
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2024, 09:50:13 PM »

We come from a great many realms. We fathom an expansive bounty of worlds. We endure an endless series of consequences through our boundless possibility for actions. Yet, despite this, I have come to understand certain consistent, undeniable truths. Events or beliefs that persist throughout all of this infinity. Ones that I see in others just as I do within myself.

There is the soul of man, sacred as it is.
There is the mortal plane we know and all those that come after in which we cannot.
There is good. There is evil.
There is hope. There is despair.

Faith must always persist. Be it in one's self, in another, or in a being beyond comprehension. Many have there been times where the tides of the world around me has swept me into parts unknown. Faith has always been my anchor. With it, I am never lost upon the seas I venture on. I stand ready to face storms and still water alike.

In all I have lost and all I will lose, faith is the one thing that will always remain.

I should give mention to the fact that, while I did indeed intend to return to Barovia on the Khorzavi’s behalf, I did not do so immediately.

Instead, I spent time in the Mist Camp for a short few days to collect my thoughts. In doing so, I conversed with many that would engage with me. Many of them were practitioners of the occult. It was with these individuals that I expected to find the highest probability of success in my recruitment drive. Barovia, much like my homeland, had outlawed the open practice of such magics. I suspected those who would wish to learn more of the arcane would hear of the opportunities the Khorzavis provided to do so.

One woman in particular stands out to me as having been exceedingly pleasant and insightful. Though I never came to learn her name, she told me much about the nature of witchcraft. One of her stories involved an intoxicated sorcerer burning a village to cinders in a drunken fit of debauchery. Another was of a sinister hag that imprisoned and tortured its captives with vile illusions, subjecting them to unthinkable torments. Her stories would almost be whimsical were they not true. As she wore rather elegant robes of bright crimson, I asked her if she had any involvement with the Red Academy of Hazlan; an official institution devoted to the study of magic. She denied this, claiming forced worship of the Lawgiver was something she could never abide by. In a sense, I was inclined to agree with her. My only prior experience with a member of this faith was a man who raved incessantly of the Lawgiver’s wrath and pelted me with stones as I was publicly stockaded by the authorities of Vallaki. Perhaps this god does indeed favor those who punish the accused for the scar above my eye where the stone had struck me has never healed. But the details of this event are likely best explained in a later entry.

Merely speaking of Hazlan and the Khorzavi family seemed to unsettle or alarm a noticeable amount of those I spoke with. Be it for legitimate reasons or simply out of their collective misconceptions, I began to suspect I would face this challenge with much difficulty. I anticipated this would only become worse, once I returned to Barovia.

Before I made my return, I decided to make use of what coin I had left over to charter passage to a place known as Port-a-Lucine in the land of Dementlieu. It was something I had been meaning to do for some time. Brother Drask had informed me their advanced usages of technologies and applications of scholarly pursuits had given way for black powder weapons to be publicly traded and sold. My own weapon, the pistol that had nearly killed me, had been reduced to pieces and was rendered inoperable. I would seek to better understand this weapon through those that specialized in them.

Port-a-Lucine proved itself to be a beacon of high society and a ruin of poverty simultaneously. It's architectural beauty as a fortress-like harbor city upon the sea was dimmed by the districts of hovels and dilapidated dens that the wealthy attempted to sweep to the side and obscure from sight. Were I not guided to an arms dealer that resided in one of these poorer districts, it is likely I would not have seen this contrast. Supposedly, the crime conducted in these places alone made the Port almost as dangerous as Vallaki and its shapechangers. Still, I pressed forth to accomplish what I was there to do.

On the far end towards the city walls and among the warehouses that lay inland of the docks, a gunsmith did indeed maintain a well established business. It was strange to see something so condemned in Barovia sold so openly here. But the clerk himself was rather insightful and most helpful in teaching me proper techniques for operating his wares. He sold me what gunpowder I could afford and educated me on how to minimize the possibility of backfire, should I proceed with using a pistol in combat. Attempting to fire one of such low quality had been my mistake. As I was all but a novice in this field, purchasing one crafted specifically never to backfire - one of superior quality - was recommended to me. Of course, I did not carry the money to do so. The ones labeled as “mastercraft quality” nearly exceeded 15,000 in price. I decided to seek elsewhere for what was recommended to me. My lack of coin had already been a point of concern as I now held only just enough to ensure my return to Barovia.

Fortune, however, seemed to favor me. Upon leaving the district that night, two deceased men lay slain on the road I walked. Their bodies were left alone between a local tavern and the docks. As I approached to investigate, something struck me as familiar about their appearances. Both of these men’s faces had been plastered on a notice board in the terraces of the port’s social center. They were wanted men. Both held sizable bounties to be paid in full upon proof of their death. I do not know how these two men were killed. I do not know why their bodies were simply left in the street to rot that night. However, I thought it would be foolish to pass up such a profitable opportunity that lay so obviously before me.

I attempted to drag both of their bodies somewhere safer, remaining alert for any who would question or interrupt me. A guard approached me with much suspicion as I had pulled their corpses into the higher-class district. I explained who the men were and made clear my intentions. Without another word, he moved to decapitate the both of them with a handaxe, tossing me the heads and directing me to a bounty office to claim my reward. Gruesome as it was, it was much easier to navigate Port-a-Lucine this way. I left the rest of the remains to whatever it was the guard would do with them. About thirty minutes later, two payments of 1,700 had been given to me for a total of 3,400. By complete circumstance, I was a much wealthier man. It is the sort of coincidence that leads one to suspect divine intervention had a role in it.

My earnings were spent right away as my good fortune seemed destined to continue. At the Mist Camp - my midway stop before reaching Barovia - I once again examined the merchandise held by the Vistani caravan traders. It was there I found a selection of masterfully assembled pistols and rifles for sale. As few knew how to handle these firearms (or simply chose not to, given the danger they posed) I was likely the only one in some time that had expressed interest in buying anything of the sort. With that, I was able to replace my old pistol with a new model; the “Helling and Son Fidelis” supposedly renowned for its accuracy and immunity to the phenomenon of backfiring. I felt well protected once more.

In a world where your enemies wield destructive magics that would spell your death at the incantation of a few words, one must seek means of ensuring they are able to match the threat posed by said foe with such extraordinary firepower.

It was now the Barovian Calendar year of 779. By a week's time, I had merged myself back into Barovian society. I took notice of just how easy it was to do so. I had immersed myself in their culture quite easily in the months I had stayed there; learning their language, history, customs, laws, and religions. An ordeal that would require me to do the same, should I have chosen a life in Hazlan. Regardless, I spent my efforts attempting to make new acquaintances and provide aid to those in need once more. Instead of making camp isolated in the wooded outskirts, I took residence at the Lady's Rest inn just outside the west gate of the Grey City of Vallaki. (Not to mention I was still wary of returning to the Drain underneath Vallaki after its patrons had become more and more disreputable in time.) In the weeks that followed, I began to develop connections with a particular few. Ones in which I will describe as their significance becomes relevant in my recounting of events.

I refrained from mentioning my dealings with the Khorzavis until I felt confident doing so would not bother those I came to know. It was a moment that rarely ever came. Though it was in fact my initial reason for returning, I did not wish to end the bonds I had begun to foster prematurely. All of those I came to know before my departure were now dead or gone.

While the land itself felt familiar to me, I could not help but feel more alone.

I took care to tend to my personal matters in this time as well. In secrecy, I was able to fix my first pistol (which I will now refer to as the Iron pistol for the sake of differentiation.) This brought my total amount to two, in case of an emergency where I would not have time to re-arm the first. Aside from practicing my skills in combat, I continued my studies of herbology and alchemy. I had become quite adept in them both as I found myself making use of new ingredients and reagents that had once surpassed my ability. Finally, I made a conscious effort to hone the gift bestowed upon me that dear Nona and brother Drask once possessed. With focus, I learned how to further apply their teachings. I became able to dominate wild animals with ease through sheer willpower alone. Even larger beasts or creatures of stronger intelligence were now within my capability. The winter wolves, crag cats, and dire animals of Mount Baratak to the north of Lake Zarovich became my means of quantifying just how strong my newfound power had become.

On one night in particular, I decided to make use of the opportunity to dominate the most fearsome animal I could think to encounter in Barovia; a dread raven.

Though they appeared as massive ravens, these birds were monsters from the mists, make no mistake. They preyed upon men as if they were a natural source of food. Their deafening shrieks and razor sharp talons and beaks made them flying instruments of death. Yet, upon seeing a flock of them one night, as I made my way towards the settlement of Watcher to the west, I sensed it possible to establish the same mental connection I had made with other lesser creatures. It was likely one of the more foolish things I had ever attempted to do. But I truly wished to test myself and see just how far my power had come.

Approaching from the east, I stopped and waited across a river for an opportunity. I needed one to separate for the others as I could not evade the full flock. As such a moment presented itself, I cautiously maneuvered around the larger flock. Towards the one that had deviated out from the woods as it perched openly on the path to Watcher itself. I stuck to the trees as I observed it. However, I did not remain hidden for long. As I got close enough, the monstrous bird took notice of my presence and flew forward at me. I had anticipated this as a possibility. Before running, I attempted to connect with it. It was far more difficult that I could have imagined. Though not, I could sense, impossible.

As I pried further into dominating the dread raven, I fled down the path leading to Watcher. I tried time and time again, as I ran. But the bird gave chase. Looking back, it is good that I only had one dread raven on my trail. Had it been any more, I fear I would have placed the group of travelers heading towards me in the opposite direction in unavoidable peril.

I saw this group of four or five as I cleared a bend around a tree. In attempting to break the raven's line of sight, I instead made it aware of even more sources of food. Quickly, they noticed me and the monster that followed me. Instead of running away, they drew their weapons and dashed ahead to meet the danger. The people of this group were clearly no strangers to the hazards the night posed. I had grown to be quite good at evading these hazards myself. Much like I had been in my homeland. However, I had become far too used to being alone. I gave little to no regard of those that may be placed in the line of danger as a result of my reckless actions. And, while I would often risk my own safety for the sake of a cause I deem necessary, my thoughtlessness has on multiple occasions placed innocent lives unknowingly in harm's way. The dread raven that now flew towards this unsuspecting band of travelers was a far too perfect example of this. An example I then sought desperately to rectify.

I paused and turned around to face the monster. With all my mental strength, I would empathize with it before it could reach me or the others. Devoting every last one of my senses to this singular goal, I closed my eyes. I held my breath. In that moment, I felt a new presence among me. Soothed by my actions. As I opened my eyes, the dread raven stood peacefully before me. Dominated by the power I exerted before it.

I had done it. I exclaimed my success out joyously as the group approached. They likely did not understand what had happened. They likely found me to be maniacal. But I did not care at this time. I laughed in victory as the group sheathed their weapons and proceeded onward, giving what I am sure to be suspicious glances in passing. It was one of my proudest accomplishments… I imagined that my brothers and sisters would be proud of me as well.

Wasting no time, I experimented with just how much control I could assume over the dread raven. A cave not too far off the path was home to a colony of fire beetles. Their mandibles could produce a lesser quality varnish of flames, when distilled correctly. I would enter the cave with the creature that had attempted to slaughter me mere moments ago and have it instead assist me in harvesting these mandibles. With any luck, I expected a complete restock of my varnish supply before morning could arrive.

. . .

And it is this very decision that led to the most horrifying encounter of my life. The encounter that solidified my role in future events to come. The one that gave me new purpose in life by nearly taking it from me. A form of evil that could not be imagined in my worst nightmares as it shook my very understanding of the human soul to its core.

In this cave, on this night, I came face to face for the first time with the vampire known as Irina Cosovei.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2024, 10:39:30 AM by radboy »


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Re: A Chronicle of Faith
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2024, 05:31:13 AM »

I: The Lesson of Her Birth

In the beginning, there was One. Almighty and infinite. As omnipotent as It was merciful. Just as It was One, this absolute power would divide into Two. Both equally infinite in their existence. They were the Creators.

The Father, from complete nothingness, created the earth and the cosmos alike. The world in which we know and the world in which we do not. In this totality of physical existence, He would bind it to the unbreakable law of time. For all things that begin must also end.

The Mother, out of Her everlasting love, would sacrifice Herself upon the surface of the cold, dead world below; to birth from Her death the very warmth of mortal life. In this sanctuary chosen to be Her final place of rest, there was now land and water. There was now sky. There were living creatures to fill each and every expanse. And, to guide them, there was now light in the universe to balance with the darkness. By the will of our Two Creators, so began the dawn of the first day.

However, the existence of mankind had yet to come. Though there was life, there was not yet purpose. While there was light, there was no guidance. In this, there was no hope of understanding our very reason for being. And then, just as One had become Two, so too came a Third; that of a Daughter. From this, mortal life was blessed with the holy Child of our Creators. Conceived to anoint life with more than just its existence. To separate good from evil as light was from darkness. To bless us with individual wisdom, order, and purpose.

Our Mistress, in guiding and ruling over the beings of Her chosen creation, remains with us as part of our reality. In doing so, the part of Her that occupies our world shares its obligation to both time and change. As once was shown by Her Mother, She demonstrates everlasting love and commitment by sacrificing Her permanence. As She was once born, She may die. And, just as death gives way to life, She may yet be born again. Just as the sun is to set, the dawn is to rise again. She may change yet that which is Her is everlasting. There is always Her love. There is always Her word. And there is always Her will.

"Honor be, thy Lady of a New Dawn. Bless us, Your chosen people, in remembrance of Your impossible sacrifice. You give us that which You forfeit. Through Your mercy, there is radiance in light. There is wisdom in Your absolute truth. And there is the potential for everything in nothingness. Guide us forth, as time proceeds and all may change. Lead us safely and peacefully into the world around us. In this, we give our praise to You."

There was much word in circulation regarding the vampire that had been preying upon the people on the outskirts of Vallaki in recent days. Whether these were rumors or retellings from the victims was not always clear. However, after hearing enough of them, I had built my idea of what Irina Cosovei was.

First and most notably, Irina Cosovei was a vampire; a creature that appeared as human but was corrupted by powerful evils in mind, body, and soul. It was not yet clear to me how such a fate befell Irina Cosovei. At this point, I had little to no knowledge of vampires whatsoever. What little did exist from my homeland remained within the realm of fiction and folklore. I would never once suspect these monsters to walk in the world of the living.

The stories surrounding Irina were numerous enough while remaining relatively consistent. Irina Cosovei appeared to those she preyed upon; those who traveled alone or appeared unable to properly defend themselves. Were the odds not visibly in her favor, it was unlikely she would reveal herself. Upon isolating her prey, she would present herself before them. This is what struck me as worrying – Irina Cosovei did not immediately kill and feed on her victims. Instead, she played with them. She would reportedly strike deals with those unable to escape from her grasp. For a tithe of their blood, she would grant her victim the mercy to flee. A twisted offer many who told the tales had found themselves with no choice but to take. Then, as quickly as she appeared, once she had her blood in one way or another, she was gone. By morning, not a trace would be left of Irina Cosovei. The victim’s account would be the only indication anything had happened at all.

Days before my own encounter, enough attacks had surfaced about Irina Cosovei that the officials of Vallaki had released a proclamation. This served to further enforce the city's curfew and urged awareness of this “vrolock” – vampire. Their words were as follows:

Irina Cosovei introduces herself as a native born to the settlements along the river Luna. Be warned that the woman she claims to be is gone and all that remains is a ravenous predator. Her manner is deceptively persuasive and a mimicry of true life.

Irina Cosovei may be recognized as a woman of short stature with chestnut brown hair and a pale countenance. She wears a sleeveless gray and black dress with a crimson scarf around her neck. She conducts herself with a coterie of victims turned to her malevolent ends.

Do not entreat this creature and should you value your lives, heed the practices that have long preserved the people of these lands.


While I did not make conscious efforts to defy the curfew, little did I take heed of it. Only recently by this point in my story had I found residence so close to the Grey City's walls along the western outskirts. Perhaps living in the wilderness had caused me to grow accustomed to being disregarded by the public. Perhaps my sudden success in taming a dread raven that night had blinded me to the possibility of being approached by this vampire. The thought of coming into contact with the very monster that had sent Vallaki into a concerned uproar did not cross my mind until it was too late.

I had made my way deep into the cave and began harvesting the desired mandibles from the beetle carcasses. It was then I found myself interrupted by the break of silence. The dread raven I had dominated grew unsettled by an unknown presence. Suddenly alert, it outspread its wings and faced our only exit. I followed its gaze, taking a few steps away from the narrow corridor that led to the cave entrance and standing further towards the center of the room. The sounds of footsteps approaching did not cause me immediate concern. I first expected another alchemist or adventurer to step into view unaware that I had beaten them to the resource they also sought. But, as the three figures came forward, I could feel my heartbeat pause and my breath go still. The sight of the bright red scarf alone was all I needed to see. I knew who it was that had found me.

A young pale-skinned woman stood herself in between two fully armed humanoid figures on either side of her. The two behind the girl were adorned in plate armor and held large, menacing swords. The trio brooded in place as they stood between me and my only means of escape. The girl smiled and stepped forward to speak to me. I could feel her dark, twisted sense of confidence emanating from her expression alone. She knew I was now a cornered animal. Nothing more than suitable prey.

As she spoke, I could detect a trace of Balok in her accent. It was calm. Almost happy. Yet hearing it unsettled me to a degree that I could not keep my hands from shaking. Her first sentence, as if to mock me, was to ask if I was aware there was a curfew. She said it was very dangerous for one to be alone in the wilderness at night. I looked back to the dread raven that stood at the ready behind me and simply retorted by saying, "We both seem to keep capable company, should we need to defend ourselves." As I examined the two that waited standing behind her, pointing to the scarf around her neck, I very directly asked her, "You are the vampire they speak of, yes?"

She seemed amused by me doing so, stating she was indeed the very vampire they spoke of. And, again, she mentioned that it would have been wise for me to abide by the curfew. "I have been known to oppose this curfew many times, in my pursuits," I told her. "Such has gotten me into trouble before. Though it is never my intention to outwardly defy the law."

My plan had become to delay her in hopes of having an opportunity for escape present itself. To perhaps learn something she may reveal to me in conversation. However, in mentioning that I was a law violator, she seemed unusually delighted. She suddenly took great interest in my identity and asked me to introduce myself. "I am Brother Ives. A healer. A preacher. The night does not keep me from tending to those that may be in need." An idea then came to me as I spoke to her in Balok. Rudimentary as my understanding of it was, I asked her, "May you return me the kindness and introduce yourself as well?"

As our discussion continued, she seemed even more pleased by our exchange of words. I shudder to now think I held such a pleasant conversation with a vampire for as long as I did. She, speaking back to me in Balok, introduced herself formally as Irina Cosovei. And it was at this point her offer was presented to me. As if reminded of her existence as a vampire, she offered me a chance to avoid the violence our meeting would inevitably come to if I were to willingly give her my blood. An amount that she described as "enough to get her through the night."

I refused her as politely as one could. I sought to keep things civil for as long as possible. She would ask it of me again, making sure I knew the consequences that refusal would bring. I remember my words to her very clearly; "While you speak to me with the illusion of formality, your request itself is nefarious. Sinister in nature. It serves a purpose I cannot abide by... I instead implore you to repent. To seek redemption. To amend that which you have done and save what is left of your soul before that which afflicts you claims it completely."

Suddenly, she was unsmiling. Her tone and demeanor now completely sincere. She stared at me with a sharp, penetrating gaze. At this moment, she confessed to me that she did not seek redemption. She sought a cure. Feeding off the blood of willing victims allowed her time to pursue one. She would work as long as it so took to free herself of the curse that had taken her. I could hear how resolute her words were in the way she spoke them. There would be no diplomatic way out of this situation. My hands, still trembling, waited patiently at the ready to grab for my pistols. Both of which were strapped to a bandolier hidden behind my back in a position I was confident she could not see. I urged her once more to heed my words, stating that her only hope of ridding herself of her curse would be through the forgiveness of her god. "You must atone while you are still sound enough of mind to do so," I would beseech her.

Her patience had worn out. With passion in her voice, she claimed her god had abandoned her. She said there was no hope beyond that of her own efforts. The blood that she so needed to keep herself satiated drove her to ravenous fits of hunger, she explained. And she and her two thralls would now collect the amount necessary from me to keep her sustained. She took a single step forward and told me she was sorry it must come to this.

My hands went behind my back as one clutched the grip of my Fidelis pistol. "As am I," I said before pulling it from the bandolier and taking aim. Before she could make sense of what it was I held, I fired.

The Fidelis struck my target directly in the center of her chest as the blast echoed deafeningly throughout the cave. Irina Cosovei recoiled in pain and surprise at the sound. She had not expected me to be carrying firearms. As she saw me then move to draw my second pistol, she retreated out of the room past her two armored thralls and behind the bend of the corridor. I fired the Iron pistol as she attempted to do so. But the bullet only made contact with the wall as she had successfully reached cover. The thralls now moved to overwhelm me and charged forward. However, the dread raven, still under my command, flew to meet their advance. It blocked her thralls from emerging from the tight passageway and entering into the room with its large body. I pulled back to rearm my guns so that I could fire again. The tension of the situation had taken hold of me as I struggled to keep my hands steady enough to properly reload. I would have to be certain this was done correctly. Now was not the time for error.

As I took the time to reload, I kept looking to my dread raven as it did battle with the thralls. While it seemed to be making contact, it did little to no harm to either of them. My immediate assumption was that the beak and talons of a dread raven were not capable of damaging the flesh of the undead. It would only be a matter of time before the raven was slain and the thralls were able to enter the room. A wave a panic washed over me. I would need to make my weapons operation before I could be caught defenseless.

I had only managed to completely ready my Iron pistol before I noticed the raven had been wounded so severely it was now incapable of flight. Irina herself had peaked back into view. She had healed her injury through means of potions or magic of some sort. She now appeared completely unharmed. I reached into my bag and pulled out a relic capable of bestowing the power of invisibility upon me. Once used, I took to a hiding place behind a column of stone deeper into the room. As I did, the raven fell. Killed by the thralls. I now faced the three of them alone.

Irina stepped past her thralls and back into the room from the passageway. I could hear her instruct them to guard the exit, preventing my escape yet again. There was a harrowing sense of stillness. Slowly, she proceeded inwards until she was standing in the middle of the room. It was likely she knew I had performed some sort of magic to hide myself. She would proceed to hunt for me just as a predator would hunt its prey. I did all that I could to calm myself and slow my breathing. I could not risk loading my Fidelis pistol and having it be heard or compromising my invisibility. I would have to make count the one shot I was guaranteed.

She peaked around the large rocks on the sides of the room one by one in a counter-clockwise direction. It would only be a matter of seconds before she reached the stone column I was behind. I began to suspect she was completely aware of where I was. That she could see through my invisibility somehow and was once again "playing with her food" so to speak. As she passed a pool of water and positioned herself between the cave wall and the stone column, she paused. Were I visible to her, she would be looking at me directly. I watched her stare at me, unsure of if she knew I was there... until she smiled. Her wicked smile seemed to indicate my fate was sealed. I had no chance of escaping by passing her guards. I did not wish to try. Were I to die in this cave, I then decided I would take her with me.

I aimed the Iron pistol at her and pulled the trigger. I had revealed myself and relinquished my means of invisibility. However, the bullet seemed to strike Irina Cosovei so forcefully and in such a crucial location that she fell to her knees in agony. Her guards, seeing her take such a grievous injury and seeing me appear out of nowhere, both decided to ignore their master's orders and run to her aid.

I thought about attempting to finish off Cosovei at that very moment. I thought to draw my rapier and drive it through where her heart would be. Or dropping a lead bullet into my Fidelis pistol, pressing the barrel of it to her forehead, and firing. But, instead, I decided it would be better to escape. Were I to kill her, I would only doom myself to be cut apart by her thralls, I thought. I would instead run back to the western outskirts and find help. I knew I could not do this alone. I would need assistance. I dashed away from where Cosovei lay kneeling and sprinted around the two thralls as they tried to stop me. One got a swing at me, making contact with my arm. But the injury was nothing that would not heal. The passageway was now open and unguarded. I leapt over the corpse of the dread raven, ran down the corridor into the main room, and out the mouth of the cave. I could hear them chasing after me as I ran into the night. I grabbed a potion to hasten myself from my bag and drank it as I ran. My running speed accelerated faster than any normal man could keep up with. I was now free from the confinement of what could have very well been an earthen tomb for me. It was not until I made my way to the safety of the trees that I looked back to catch one last glimpse of Irina Cosovei and her two thralls watching as I fled.

Rarely were the western outskirts of Vallaki unpopulated. Even at night. People often stood to socialize or do business on the main road. They often showed little to no regard for the curfew. Occasionally, the city guards would take notice of obvious violators and punish them as they took to their patrols in the morning. However, more often than not, this went without consequence, making the night a more favorable time to take part in social gatherings. This was especially so for those who would more typically face scrutiny for being non-human.

Though people were indeed present, by the time I had retreated safely back to the outskirts, it was rather calm. Not commonly are there such tranquil nights in Barovia. I am sure my screams for assistance in combating the vampires lurking across the river to the west did not serve to contribute to this sense of tranquility. But time was of the essence and I so desperately sought help before the vampires could depart. It would not be long before the arrival of dawn and any trace of them would vanish in the light of day. While perhaps only a short few less than ten were present, only one immediately offered to help; a rather small and eager sounding man whose name I later learned to be Quigley. I hesitated in believing he could assist me. However, he insisted over and over that he "burns vampires" which seemed like a necessary talent at the time. Also, I was in no position to be overly scrupulous, given the circumstances. So, before any more time could pass, he and I ran back on the path west, crossing the river and venturing up the hill to where the cave resided. We lingered by the entrance for a moment and debated our approach. If the vampires were still inside, we would need to take care not to fall into an ambush.

But such things have a tendency to happen anyway, despite one's best efforts to plan.

As we spoke and readied ourselves, we looked back to see a second volunteer had followed behind us. He had only just made it to the top of the hill and began to ask about the situation before we were attacked. As the words left his mouth, three armored vampires with the same menacing swords dashed at him from the trees. The man was caught completely unaware as the vampires themselves seemed to emerge from complete nothingness. In the very same breath, they cut him down where he stood. He fell to the ground dead before his body could settle motionlessly on the dirt.

At that, once again, I drew my weapons and took aim. The other volunteer, Quigley, seemed somehow able to conjure fire to use against the vampires. I did not pay attention to his means of doing so as I was rather occupied myself. Even more groups of these armored vampires, two of three to a unit, pounced from the treeline to descend upon us. However, this time, I had freedom of movement to aid me in fighting them. Combined with my potions used to increase my speed, I assured myself ample time to load my pistols, aim, fire, run, and repeat. It is a pattern I had perfected as the battle lasted nearly until the break of dawn. I would estimate over fifteen of these creatures attacked us. I would use nearly every bullet and grain of black powder in my possession. Between Quigley, myself, and a three-person adventuring parting returning to Vallaki that assisted us at the very end, the vampires were dispatched. There was no sign of Irina Cosovei. But her ranks, I suspected, had at least been thinned. I felt as if we had won a great battle against the vampire menace.

I did not know what was to come. It was not clear to me that such a battle would transpire nearly every few nights in the weeks that followed... But, for that moment, we celebrated victory.

The party of three saw to the corpse of the unfortunate volunteer that had perished before the battle could even ensue. Quigley then followed me as I returned to Vallaki myself. I believed it necessary to report what had happened to the city guards. He and I stood in front of the Morninglord sanctuary and discussed things as I waited for the Garda to emerge from the west gate. I was reluctant to do so, believing I would need to omit details as to how it was I defended myself. I did not wish to face charges and prosecution for using the very weapons that had just saved my life. They were, however, extraordinarily illegal. For this reason, I relayed the story to Quigley and asked him to exercise discretion in mentioning what he had seen.

It was then that something fascinating occurred. A man approached me, having overheard me talking to Quigley, and attempted to speak to me in Balok. He had heard us mention vampires and asked me to describe to him what had happened. He dressed in clothes that seemed far too foreign to be from Barovia. He did not possess any trace of a native accent. However, since I did know enough Balok to hold a conversation, I discussed with him what I had experienced overnight. This supposedly intrigued him greatly. So much so that, after introducing himself by the name of Angel Valdés, he asked me to take him and an associate of his to the cave I had seen Irina Cosovei. I did not know why he was so invested in this matter. But I saw this as an opportunity to distance myself from being the one who reported these happenings to the guards, making the connection between me and my weapons all the more difficult to come to. So, after tasking Quigley to be the one to make the report, I took Angel Valdés and his companion back to the cave.

As expected, there was nothing to be found inside. Only the corpses of the beetles and the dread raven littered the stone floor. Still, Angel and his man took time to investigate for anything unusual. What specifically it was they searched for, I do not know. As the other continued to look around, Angel himself began to question me about every detail that had transpired. I provided every last intricacy for him that I could fathom. It had been so recent that the surge of urgency I felt had not even yet died down. Though, still, I held mention of how I had asserted dominance over a dread raven and used black powder weapons to retaliate against my attackers. However, as the dread raven's remains would likely need some explaining, I soon saw it as futile to avoid mentioning how it got there and reluctantly made my power of animal empathy known.

Angel then began to make his purpose for his inquiries more clear. He claimed to be an established monster hunter. He was in need of any new information regarding Irina Cosovei so that she could be hunted down and destroyed. After hearing my story, he told me that it should be told to the officials of Vallaki as well. Such information would continue to help in the efforts against Cosovei's attacks. I brought attention to having tasked Quigley to do so but he believed it should be me that must speak to them as I was the one who met Cosovei face to face. I then implored Angel to be the one to relay the story to them. I mentioned that I wished to keep secret my means of self defense. Angel, now curious, then asked how it was I had managed to fend off my attackers and escape. The man did not seem like the sort of person who would report me for carrying pistols and black powder. I could sense his only interest was killing the vampires. Therefore, without a word, I presented my Fidelis pistol before him, holding it out for him to see. I expected his reaction to be something in way of a simple nod of acknowledgement or perhaps a word or two ensuring me that my secret would be safe. What he told me next was something I did not anticipate.

Angel looked back up at me from staring at my pistol and asked, "You only use one?"

I am sure my expression reflected the confusion I felt. At this point, his associate had finished his examination of the scene and returned to Angel's side. "I only have one I am able to safely rely upon," I explained. He smile and pulled two pistols from underneath a long coat he wore, flourishing them as if it were a display. He proceeded to ask me in detail about my involvement with them, where I obtained them, how I came to practice with them, what models mine were, and so on. Never before had I been given such an opportunity to discuss these weapons in such a vast amount of detail. By the end of our discussion, he handed me another pistol he kept on his person. It was one of masterwork quality. Beautiful in its design. As ornate and elegant as a pistol could possibly look, I thought. "This one might suit you well. I've gotten a lot of use out of it. But I've since moved on to ones better for my talents," he said. I graciously accepted his gift. If this pistol was one that he had ceased using, I speculated wildly to imagine what else he might have carried on him...

As I mentioned to him that I had contemplated finishing off Irina Cosovei instead of running from the cave, Angel dismissed this as what would have been a needless sacrifice that would amount to nothing. It was better that I survived and relayed the information to those that would benefit from it. Any attempt I could have made to kill her would not have succeeded. He informed me of a very short list of ways to fully kill such a vampire. It would essentially come to being able to stake it through the heart with a piece of wood and leave it exposed to the sunlight or locating the vampire's coffin where the body rests and destroying it there. These methods to slay such a monster confused me greatly, at the time. As Angel and his associate left me in the cave to be on their way, I considered just how much there was to know of these creatures. Had it not been possible to truly kill Irina Cosovei that night, I wondered... would there ever come an opportunity where it would be? Would Irina Cosovei reveal herself to me again?

In the days that followed, things remained mostly uneventful. I had taken once again to staying at the Lady's Rest inn to recuperate from my ordeal. But I now did so with new found purpose. Purpose that surpassed my desire to appease the Khorzavi family. My place in life has always been to help people. To heal the sick and injured, aid those in need, and guide those who find themselves lost so they may yet again walk in Her holy light. Irina Cosovei had given me this sense of purpose by attempting to kill me, that night. In ridding Barovia of her, I would be saving people from the harm she would bring about. My fellow man may yet be united in the cause of stopping the vampires from preying so freely and relentlessly on the innocent. And, should there be any hope at all in saving the soul she once possessed, I would see that it would be done. In my reflections, I came to understand the nature of Irina Cosovei as tragic as well as loathsome. Just as I did for all of her victims, I prayed for her every day. I continued to practice with my pistols so that I could better defend myself against her and her underlings. Though I had much to learn, I would study these vampires diligently. I would come to better understand my enemy by any means necessary. If I could do so, I vowed that I would never allow another man to fall prey to the same creatures that had attempted to prey upon me. I made it my holy mission. My word to my Lady. In this, I saw my place in Her greater will. It was something I had sought to understand for a long time.

I believed all of this – my very presence as a prisoner of the mists, would perhaps finally begin to make sense.
« Last Edit: March 25, 2024, 12:58:50 AM by radboy »


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Re: A Chronicle of Faith
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2024, 07:09:48 AM »

Almighty being of infinite righteousness, divine light, order, wisdom, justice. Hear our prayers and rejoice. Your followers are great and many. Through Your mercy, we may provide safety and peace to all fellow mortal men.
You are truth. You are a shield for the innocent, the weak, and the sick and injured. Bring light and retribution to the unholy and the damned. Provide homage and acknowledgement to Your followers that hold true to Your teachings which You deem worthy. Grace our som

Damn that bell. Damn that damnable bell. Ringing, ringing, for hours, ringing, hours upon hours upon hours. Piercing my skull as it takes root in my head. I would rip it all from my brain matter. I would have it end. I would have everything end if it means that damn ringing ends along with it. I would bash my knuckles into the bell until it rings no longer. Bash my head into it until I am no longer able to hear. Damn it. Damn it to every hell of every faith. WHY do I still hear it?? Why does it still ring? It is still just as loud as it was that night As loud as it was the entire night. Hours into the night  it rang. Itstill rings. Make it stop. Make ME stop. Why does SHe damn me like this??Damn it and damn me. Make all of this end. I cannot go on like this Make it stop.Make it stop. Save me from this noise Make it stop makeit stop make itstop make it stop make it stopMakeitSTopMAKeITStopMAKEITSTOPMAKEITSTOPMAKEITSTOPMAKEITSTOPMAKEITSTOPMAKEITS

As the week proceeding my first encounter with Irina Cosovei concluded, I came to realize just how momentous my newfound task was. I did not expect it to be anything less than a large undertaking. However, the extent in which I prepared for what may happen occupied nearly every hour of every day. Such is necessary, when building a foundation from nothingness. I quite recently did not know a thing about vampires as a whole, hunting them aside. The time in which I devoted to reading, researching, and inquiring about them must have made me seem completely fanatical. Yet, even still, there was only so much these scripts and conversations would provide me. I still felt uneducated and ill-prepared to face against a vampire like Irina Cosovei again. It is a lesson I learned back from my time in the brotherhood I was once part of; information or experience gained by one’s self will always surpass that which is told to you. I came to suspect much of my understanding of these creatures and their capabilities would come from such personal experience. Therein lay the paradox. I felt I was not ready to apply my knowledge and yet, to become ready, I would need to see how my knowledge could be applied.

I felt it then necessary to find like-minded people to aid me in my cause. Individuals I could rely upon to band together and combat the dangers that now loomed over Barovia. There is always safety in unity, after all.

I had already observed some noteworthy people as I came to investigate potential assets to the Khorzavi family. One such person I came to know was a woman by the name of Olivia. I met her one night after finding several bodies of the small green humanoid creatures that lived in the area. One known den of these creatures was an abandoned and dilapidated house they had taken to just outside the western wall of Vallaki. These creatures were not the same ones that had cut me apart after my test's failure, mind you. These ones were far less likely to do substantial harm as they were more akin to some sort of small animal rather than man. Although they could be dispatched of quite easily, the quantity of their corpses made me curious enough to investigate the house and see who it was inside that had managed to kill so many of them. It was directly in the entryway of that house we first met.

Even as I found her, she was still fighting the creatures, slaying them with a blunt weapon, a shield, and some usage of what I suspected at the time to be incantations of arcane origin. I greeted her and informed her that I had found her by following the trail of dead she left behind. She seemed strained to some extent by having dealt with the ones she had just defeated. For this reason, I offered her my help in her efforts. I had no reason to slay the pests so unnecessarily but I would sooner accompany her to ensure her safety than leave her to potentially find herself in harm's way. She seemed far too determined to be rid of them. And, perhaps even then, there was something that drew me to her… though I could not yet place what it was.

Olivia proceeded to clear the first floor of the building, working her way into the basement tunnels and crushing every last creature that stood in her way. I made sure she was healthy and free of any disease the rodents that scurried out from the crevices could transmit through their bites. Sometimes, I would offer my blade, should the odds not be in her favor. I sensed her appreciation for this but she made it seem important that she was the one who was killing. She made it seem as if it were some form of responsibility of hers to do so. I asked her about it as we made our way through the tunnels. We had a discussion I could describe as no less than wildly thought provoking. She claimed to worship a being known to natives of the Core as the Loa. Hers was one of war and battle. One that valued victory in combat above all else. I did not find this to be immediately alarming. The way in which she slaughtered did not appear to be with malice or ill intent. Violence is not inherently evil, after all. It occurs among animals in nature where the concepts of good and evil do not apply. Yet, when committed by man, their ideologies often motivate them, making the cause for such violence potentially sinful.

I did not sense this in Olivia, however. Her own nature did not seem conflicted by her morality as she continued to kill every creature that resided in that place. It was as if the act of killing them was as integral to her as it was for an animal to hunt for food. With much forethought and guided application for her means of pursuing combat, she proved to be quite capable of channeling her desire to kill towards what she deemed appropriate. Much like an opponent engaging in honorable combat rather than a mindless killer striking for the sole purpose of ending a life. It raised many questions for me, knowing that someone’s faith could have this effect on them. I asked her to accompany me to the Lady’s Rest to discuss these matters of faith further. To my surprise, she accepted. We spent what must have been the remainder of the night talking to each other. I was fascinated that, even though our faiths differed so fundamentally, we came to agree on such a large number of basic principles. Never would I have expected to make such a connection with a person I found slaughtering a house full of pests to appease her deity. As she was often present along the western roads, I found myself taking notice of her quite often. It is rare, to my knowledge, that those of separate faiths connect so strongly. And, when it comes to people killing for the sake of their faith, I have certainly known no end of worse offenders.

The leader of the Order of the Sacred Rose, Vandryn Carro, was another individual I had met in between the time of my pursuits. I had taken to watching over the river Luna to the west of Vallaki periodically. It was across this river where I had done battle with the vampires. Vandryn Carro was crossing the bridge leading over it at the same moment I was, one day. We stopped briefly to introduce ourselves and, much like with Olivia, spoke of our beliefs. It is strange indeed to think open communication among those of differing faiths could unite people so frequently. This would not happen in my homeland as any two men of opposing religions would surely brand the other a heretic. With Vandryn Carro, while I found him to be no less agreeable than Olivia, much of his own faith seemed to draw parallels with my own. I later came to possess a book of scriptures pertaining to his faith. I believed it to be important to acquaint myself with all religions of the Core, as it was. His holy texts speak of a Creator, an eternal afterlife, and goodness in the souls of all men. His book contained countless examples of these absolute truths I had found fragmented among the varying doctrines so often.

Vandryn Carro himself was much more established in the community of Vallaki than Olivia was. Or I, for that matter. Many who knew him personally would describe him as nothing less than a paragon of virtue. I found his motivations and rhetoric commendable immediately, in our brief conversation at the river that day. I would periodically reconnect with him but knew him as nothing more than a respected acquaintance at this time. There were other matters that kept him occupied as he did not yet seem to take notice of the vampires and their aggression. While this would not come until later, it was for good reason that he did not take heed as immediately as I had.

In tandem to the events brought about by Irina Cosovei, there was another dark power at play. This group was perhaps present before Cosovei had begun to antagonize the people of Vallaki. Many nefarious individuals had banded together to form a cult in their worship of a hellish fiend. They had been cited as responsible for numerous attacks, abductions, and even performing sacrifices that left their victim brutally disemboweled in a ritualistic manner. There were even rumors that this group had succeeded in bringing forth a demon into the world occupied by mankind. They were (and still are) the Cult of Pazrael. While I did not see much of them personally besides the aftermath of some crime scenes in the city, they made their presence known among Vallaki's places of worship. Those that affiliated with these faiths became the more frequent of their victims. The Morninglordians, the Ezrites, and even the members of Vandryn Carro’s church and congregation had been made woefully aware of the cult’s efforts to abduct or murder their acolytes. Their numbers were large enough to make people justifiably concerned. In addition, if the rumors of their success in demonic summonings were true, people rightfully feared what else the cult might be capable of. Vandryn Carro had devoted much of his attention to these matters, believing it to be an affront on his faith. Had I not had such a personal investment in learning how to slay the vampire that had nearly killed me, I would have likely been inclined to join him.

Just as well, my attention did not sway away from the man that had claimed vampire hunting to be his occupation. Angel Valdés was not a man I saw often. His business often took him away from Barovia entirely. However, as I still had lodging at the Lady’s Rest, he knew exactly where to find me when he needed to. In the days immediately after our meeting, he would approach me and ask if I had come across any new developments. Inexperienced as I was, I found it difficult to track a vampire. They are no mere animals. To track such elusive creatures that reside in shadow until they decide to reveal themselves was a skill I had never progressed with. Angel gave me guidance from time to time but nothing that I would be able to apply on my own without assistance. His attention was not on the vampires themselves, anyway. Instead, he believed that Irina Cosovei possessed a network of informants. Conspirators that were mortal but had allied with the vampires. Angel believed that discovering these spies would lead to the most effective way of discovering and defeating Cosovei.

This as well proved to be no easy feat. I did not suspect a vampire would make connections with those who were not good at what they did. These people in question were likely just as deceptive and manipulative as a vampire. But, being told this by Angel, I once again set my sights on observing the people of Vallaki. Just as I had always done. Watching over for anything unusual while keeping what Angel had told me as well as my own studies in mind.

This would continue for several days to no avail.

I had grown desperate. My commitment to my task had started to border obsession. Nine days had passed since encountering Irina Cosovei and I had made no progress in accomplishing my goal of being rid of her. I had learned nothing of the vampire’s whereabouts or the identity of her conspirators. Cosovei still roamed the wilderness and resumed preying upon any unsuspecting people who found themselves as unfortunate as I had. All this would amount to would be conversations shared with those that saw her. They would retell their story of what had happened. And every story would begin to seem the same as the last. There was nothing new. There was no variation. No hint of any need for deviation. Time and time again, Irina Cosovei would succeed in obtaining the blood she needed while facing no consequence at all.

In preparation for even the possibility, I had further armed myself with weapons. I frequented the Vistani caravaneers who traded at the Mist Camp. I purchased all relics I deemed worthy of assisting me in my cause. I became a walking armory, possessing any needed tool for whatever situation I could find myself in. In my possession, I had a rapier, a whip, a war sickle, a mace, a parrying dagger, a longsword, a bladed buckler shield, a longbow, a crossbow, and a staff. In my upbringing, I was trained in the fundamentals of using every one of them in combat. I was more than ready to do so, should it be needed... And these were only the weapons that the city’s officials would deem legal.

For firearms, my pistol count had now reached five in total. I carried with me as well a musket; a long rifle which operated by using the same mechanisms as a pistol but with a much longer barrel for improved accuracy at range. I would find myself returning to the arms dealer in Port-a-Lucine occasionally to purchase more black powder and lead bullets. This should have made me feel worried. It should have made me feel like a lawbreaker or a public hazard on two legs. Instead, it only made me feel safer. For I knew what I carried would repel a vampire. And I would much rather prefer a cell or a quick execution than an eternity existing as a monster, were I to become afflicted with the same curse that befell Irina Cosovei.

On this night in particular, I found myself returning to the sanctuary of the Morninglord at the western outskirts from the local Vistani encampment. I had developed a habit of checking the bodies that were present in that sanctuary. The temple inside was where any remains that had been recovered from the wilds would be gathered. I did this in case I could identify someone I knew. Perhaps one of my friends or family members that had gone missing long ago… It was a habit I could not seem to part with.

However, something caught my eye, as I made it to the road. To the left of the temple’s face was a tree. By that tree, shaded in the darkness of night, were two minks. They both stood together and were strangely still. They did not appear bothered by the traffic that was walking across the roads that night. It was unusual behavior for such animals to exhibit. But what was most odd was not their behavior. It was that one of them looked to display curious abnormalities that no mink should. It seemed almost diseased in some way. Some sort of strange bright green bile or other bodily fluid dripped from its mouth. And, as I looked at the animal’s face, I noticed a glow to its eyes. It was unlike any animal I had ever seen. In passing it to make my way to the sanctuary, I subtly attempted to establish an empathic connection with them like I could with other animals. It is a skill that has proven to be most helpful in detecting whether a living thing is truly animal life or masquerading as such. And, while I could make this connection with the first mink, I could not do so for the one with the glowing eyes.

This was no mink at all. Whatever this was, it was attempting to blend in as an inconspicuous rodent to watch the area unseen. I came to the conclusion, based on the eyes, that this thing was in some way associated with the vampires. For all I knew, this mink could be Irina Cosovei herself. I had been told vampires could take the form of an animal, after all. The more I gave it thought, the more convinced I became that this imposter needed to be investigated.

I reached the door, stepped inside for only a brief enough moment to formulate a plan, and stepped back out again. There was somewhat of a gathering present that night. Perhaps around eight people had taken to socializing in the area. Between myself and the tree the two minks stood underneath, two men were having a conversation. One of them I knew by the name of Kellar. I had met him periodically while out in the wilderness to the north. He would either be assisting adventuring parties or hunting the wildlife while testing flame magics at the same time. His aptitude for conjuring fire was how he had taken to hunting deer… Odd, yes. But not the strangest thing present that night. He was reliable and capable enough for me to ask for his assistance in apprehending the creature.

I slowly approached Kellar and the person he was conversing with and informed them of the faux mink. I remained as quiet as I could, instructing them not to stare directly at it so as not to alert it of our suspicion. I was able to convince them that whatever this was had to be part of the vampire’s scheme in some way. They agreed to assist me in capturing it. I instructed them to wait until I passed it as I would pretend to walk west down the path into the forest. After passing it, I would dominate the true mink and lead it away from the imposter. Once it was isolated and we surrounded it on all sides, we would move in to apprehend it. There would be no direction it could run to escape. Once caught, we could then discern its true purpose for being there.

The two agreed. Even a third person, having overheard what we discussed, offered to help. With that, our plan was put in motion. I made my way westward along the path. I walked at a standard pace without looking to where the minks stood. But I knew when I had passed them. As my mind connected with that of the true mink, it followed me as I moved west. I then turned around as I instructed the mink that followed me to continue west into the woods and out of the way. The faux mink had turned its attention on me as it now faced me directly. At the same time, the group of three drew closer from behind. One of them, the one Kellar had been conversing with, then attempted to grab it. I had expected resistance as my hand settled readily on the hilt of my rapier. Yet, surprisingly, this imposter did not retaliate more so than an actual mink would. It struggled, yes. But the man was dexterous enough to firmly grip it as he held it up towards me. The other two stayed by both sides of it as I approached and gave it a closer look.

The thing secreted its green bile-like substance from its mouth. It squealed and menacingly flailed about while restricted by the man’s grip. Truthfully, by this point, I had expected something to happen. I expected it to take on the shape of a man and try to fight us or conduct some sort of magic to attempt to release itself. But nothing happened. The creature just struggled in the man’s grasp as its glowing eyes darted between the four of us. We must have looked truly mad, treating what appeared as a wild animal in such a way. At the risk of appearing even more mad, I took my inquiry further.

As the three discussed among themselves what they believed this thing was, I drew my rapier. It would be my hope to force a reaction out of the faux mink. I would seek to get it to reveal its true form to us. I made it clear by speaking out loud that I would impale the mink through the chest in a matter of seconds. The tip of my blade drew ever closer to the thing’s body as its shrieks became louder and it flailed more wildly. It was visibly aware of the danger it was now in. I was even further convinced some sort of dark magic was at play, disguising whoever this was as the monstrous mink. If it would not reveal itself to me, I stood ready to kill it and examine its body in death.

That is the point where I heard Olivia’s voice. She rushed over and screamed angrily at us demanding to know what we were doing. Kellar and the third volunteer looked at each other astonished. It was as if they no longer knew themselves what it was we were doing. The man that held our captive, in turning to face Olivia, became distracted enough for it to squirm free of his hands and fall to the ground. However, it did not have the opportunity to flee as the four of us together still surrounded it. I angled my rapier downwards to follow its movement, indicating clearly that I would run it through, should it attempt an escape. Olivia then looked to me. In frustration, she once again demanded an answer. I explained what I had seen to her. I pointed out each of the creature’s abnormalities and how I believe it related to vampirism. I made my suspicion about the creature being some sort of agent for the vampire’s cause known.

She looked at me as if I were an idiot. By now, those that were not yet involved in this interrogation attempt could no longer avoid it. We loudly bickered as I continued to hold what seemed like a mink at bay with my sword. I am sure we were all quite the spectacle.

Things were quickly getting out of hand. I then simply sought to put an end to it. “Kill the creature,” I instructed the others as I advanced my weapon towards it. It backed away to avoid the possibility of me lunging for the kill. Olivia demanded us to stop and to release the creature immediately. She called us all fools for even thinking what we were about to kill was associated with vampires. Our argument continued and grew heated. At this point, I had even suspected her of being allied with the vampires in some way. My need for results had truly blinded me.

One thing, however, was clear. Our hooliganism had attracted the attention of the public eye. The crowed that had gathered to look on was one I did not suspect the mink would change its form in front of. The environment was becoming more and more dangerous as the number of bystanders grew. And Olivia, certain of things as she was, seemed to know far more than what she was letting on. There was something secretive about all of this. Yet I was not in the correct setting to learn what it was. I would need to improvise.

“Very well,” I told Olivia, “I will let it go.” I retraced my blade as the creature it had been pointed at dashed forward towards the trees. I waited for about three seconds before running after it. I had hoped perhaps it would try to run off to some place in particular. Or that it would change form once it had broken line of sight with the rest of the crowd. The other three and Olivia followed behind. We kept pace with it as it scurried deeper into a wooded area and ran behind a tree. At that point, I am convinced it conducted some means of turning itself invisible as it did not emerge from behind the tree’s base. When I had made my way to the tree, it had vanished.

I was livid. My only lead in over a week was now not only gone but fully aware I was suspicious of it. The three that had rallied to my cause began to search the area for it. I did the same while Olivia and I continued to bicker. I attempted to coerce the truth out of her. She had been far too certain of what this creature truly was for me to not take notice. For one who had not given much thought to killing a building full of pests, she was far too defensive of something she should assume to be common vermin. It was clear we both knew the creature was no vermin at all. As I deduced this out loud to her, I then demanded that she tell me what she knew about what we had captured.

She was already at her limit, I am sure, and was more than willing to help me understand if for no other reason than to prove me a complete and utter imbecile. She said that the creature was a druid and, in fact, not a vampire at all. I did not understand yet how this absolved the creature in question from being affiliated with vampires. I retorted by saying vampires could possibly be druids as well. I stated that they could take the form of animals. Olivia explained that they took the form of bats exclusively. Again, she claimed we were idiots for ever suspecting one would appear as a mink.

Kellar, by this time, had joined the conversation as the other two searched the nearby area. He had begun contributing to the argument himself. The idea then came up that whatever this was could have been "neuri" – a were-creature. As he and Olivia went back and forth in their exchange of insults, I noticed movement approaching us. The scurrying noises of a small animal rustling through foliage soon alerted the others as well. The "mink" in question had returned. It made its way to the middle of the circle we had formed. With its claw, it proceeded to make markings in the dirt. The markings formed to make letters. The letters would begin to make full words. The mink was communicating something to us. Silence swept over the group as we all watched what was being written. My hand, by force of habit, once again gripped the hilt of my blade, ready to draw upon this creature as it continued. Once finished, it stepped to the side and waited. Kellar raised his lantern to the message so that the five of us could view what was written in the dirt. As a smirk formed on Olivia’s face, the rest of us looked down at it as we read…

…That we were indeed idiots.

Kellar lowered his lantern and stared at the creature. He approached it, possibly ready to grab it again. After all, the creature had yet again found itself in the middle of all of us. Perhaps this was all the proof Kellar needed to know this was indeed something beyond just a strange looking mink… Or perhaps he simply did not appreciate being referred to as an idiot. Either way, he towered over the creature as if to intimidate it into submission.

It was at this moment that whatever was in front of us finally changed shape. Though, not to its original form. Instead, the mink morphed before our very eyes into a massive bear-like thing. Its mouth once again secreted a bright green substance I then identified to be acidic. Its glowing eyes darted between the idiots that had believed themselves capable of killing it so easily. It faced Kellar, now towering above him in a far more intimidating fashion. Kellar immediately threw himself back and scampered away to give space between him and this hulking mammal-like monster. The beast then turned to me. It raised one of its front limbs as it brought one of its humongous up to my waist. With it, it looked at me as it tapped upon the pommel of my rapier. My hand left the rapier’s hilt and dropped to my side. I did not need words to tell me the beast wished for me to keep my weapon in its sheath.

Despite how menacing this druid had become and how angered it likely was by our behavior, I could only truly feel a sense of relief. Though I had been correct in assuming this had been no mere mink, it was also not a vampire. It calmed me to see that this ordeal would not need to end in violence. (Relief is not all I felt, now that I reflect on my thoughts. I also recall a substantial amount of embarrassment and shame.)

Despite this, the truth had been revealed. The other two left to return to the outskirts as morning drew closer. Sunlight had already begun to peak from over the horizon. Kellar stayed for a moment longer, suspicious of the druid, before leaving to return to the outskirts himself. I, however, approached Olivia to apologize. In my efforts to root vampire sympathizers from Vallaki, I had incited a mob against an otherwise innocent druid. I acted under a severe lack of information and allowed myself to be guided by my impulses. She accepted my apology but soon left for the outskirts as well, likely bothered by the fact we would have attempted to kill her friend had she not been there to intervene.

As I was now left with the druid, he then finally took his true form in front of me. I assumed it also necessary to apologize to him. While we did not meet under the most peaceful of terms, he and I became rather friendly with each other in our discussion. As he expressed to me a need for privacy, I will not be documenting his name in this journal. But he was indeed an excellent source of wisdom regarding vampires. Every error I had made that night, in talking to him, I would now never make again. Druids seemingly had as much reason to hate the vampires as I would have.

Days later, I found Olivia again in the tavern of the Lady’s Rest. I offered her my strongest potion as further means of apologizing — whiskey. Alcohol is as strong a form of alchemy indeed. My gift seemed to cheer her up and, since some time had passed, she told me she held no grudge against me for what I had done. I was glad to have repaired my relationship with her. It is all too important for one to accept such times they have acted wrongfully with humility.

Though something still stuck with me in the aftermath of that night. Olivia seemed to have a far better understanding of vampires than one would expect. She had a means of defending her friend from every accusation I threw their way. And she had the information and sources to back her stances on the matter. I did not expect her to be one of their sympathizer any longer. But, even away from the realm of vampires, Olivia seemed far more informed and far better connected than I. I found myself now even more interested in learning about her. I remember thinking, given her knowledge, her connections, and how she would protect those she had bonds with, she would likely be a very good ally to have.

As for the druid, he informed me he would continue to watch over the area around the Morninglord Sanctuary by the west gate. However, in our conversation that took place in the woods after the commotion had ended, I attempted to convey to the druid that I had only become so suspicious of him because he stood out so substantially as a mink. Especially in times that are rife with concern and paranoia, people will take the slightest hint of abnormalities as a means for conducting action against it. I advised him to perhaps take the form of a less conspicuous animal to avoid arousing such suspicion in these volatile times. The druid, after having taught me more of the nature and abilities of vampires, agreed with me and told me he was inclined to take my advice. Given how our meeting started and the fact that I have only seen him once since that day, I must assume he is still around and has indeed applied my advice.
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