“Don’t worry, I have more to offer. After all, this trade appeases my true master. So, just as before, present your trade.”
Rustling into your pockets, you feel crumpled pieces of parchment, a cold sweat drips from your fingers to nearly stain the hidden papers. You realize what else you can offer, things far more taboo than prior offerings. Hesitant, you remove your clenched hand to reveal more documents. The scribe taps his fingers, quietly chortling to himself in dark glee. “Ah, now there we go. I’m a man of my word. When you deliver good content, I will supply far more. Ready yourself, more things we prepare for here within our great Darkon.”
Author’s Note: My first set of rumors and happenings were enjoyed, let me craft some more. For the time being, there is no marked time on the Barovian Calendar. As an aside, this isn’t my first reference to the Prisoners of the Mist server for Neverwinter Nights. My hints of Gundarakite rebellion took notes from there too. I should really get back into that, it was good fun!
The Dukkar Pact
Königreich des Feuers is a bellicose land fueled by command through extremes. The monstrous servants of the Fuhrer King discovered the powers of misty passageways. Since their leader learned he was “cursed” to never leave his lands, he came to blame the Vistani that arrived to aid the villages. Learning of Falkovnia and later Invidia, he desired to send his best men to make arrangements with them. As if facilitated by The Mists, the Flaming Soldiers of his ranks found themselves traveling a strange road, arriving in Falkovnia. Something astonishing happened, they returned to normal human form as they left Feuers. They thought themselves to be aided by divine rites, before speaking with Drakov’s legions. Within Falkovnian borders, they asked audience with the Darklord in hopes of providing mutual aid. Learning of a chance to dominate the Core, Drakov obliged. The pact became started, with Feuers agreeing to burn down any enemies of Falkovnia, in exchange for helping to police the unruly people and train the soldiers of Gunther Drachenblut’s kingdom. Word of Invidia reached these troops from Drakov, which lead them to uncover a conspiracy against the Vistani. A long trek took them through Verbrek provided an awakening of sorts too. Their curse wasn’t gone, as they could assume their monstrous forms when overcome by passions of destruction and war. But, these abilities lasted for a limited time while away. The werewolves of the forest were none the wiser and attacked the troopes, only to be blasted by torrents of flames into the dens. The horrifying soldiers purged all in their paths without remorse or feeling. What started as werewolf scouts uncovering strange men turned into a blood bath against inhuman fiery creatures, causing retreat and regrouping. Few of Drachenblut’s men fell in these battles, as even Nathan Timothy questioned who or what these creatures were, and what they wanted. As the werewolves readied for an attack, the legions simply fled Verbrek while leaving hell fire in their wake. Timothy figured it best to lead the fiery behemoth go from savage lands and into Invidia. Invidian forces, mistaking them for bandits and rebels demanded to know their presence at once. After clarifying, they were warned of the “Witch of Castle Hunadora”, before encountering hidden Gundarakite rebels. The rebels fled after infernal fury was delivered upon them, and once again, the true forms of these horrid soldiers were revealed.
The scouts and rangers employed by the nation were astonished and in shock, before reporting word of them back to Malocchio. The fiendish despot wished to test their mettle through commanding beasts to attack them. All of the controlled creatures were vanquished, as he sought to track them down. A rallying point across the river from Tancos became the meeting point to examine what these outsiders were really about. Following their explanation, Malocchio was amused and greatly impressed. He lead them to an execution site, where the soldiers are asked to incinerate prisoners of Invidia; brigands and vistani, to prove their loyalty to such a cause. The fiery soldiers once again reveal themselves, obliterating the victims. Their actions are carried without any remorse or second thought, as if they turned from men to automatons. Their fierce forms unnerve the tyrant for a moment, before realizing the power of such new allies. After much deliberation, Invidian forces were granted the secret path back to Kongreich der Feurs to purge the Vistani and help Falkovnian mercenaries, in exchange for both taking part in the greater conspiracy to help destroy the Vistani as a whole.
However, not all of the Königreich des Feuers warriors trust the tyrannical overlord of Invidia. The Second in Command, Military Commander Heinrich Eintmann, suspects something deeply wrong about Malocchio. Eichmann is deeply concerned over Malocchio’s unwillingness to kill his mother, a traitor and Vistani corrupted scum in the Commander’s eyes. Not to mention, he can discern something more otherworldly than his strange mother. The details of the secret cambion bloodline are shrouded in mystery, regardless of these concerns. Because of this built up distrust, he has formulated his own plans of striking Invidia after intentionally waiting for the rebels to do massive damage, then proceeding to destroy both. As far as Military Commander Eintmann is concerned, Malocchio is the ultimate foil in his plans against both the rebels and the Vistani. He bids his time with crafty diplomacy and bluffing in ways impressive to even the Usurper King himself. While the rigid devotion to Drachenblut helps cloak the minds of his forces, they are not immune to the Dukkar or his Witch Mother. As such, they have kept safe distance when direct meetings aren’t necessary. But, more pressing to him is to keep the Dukkar’s appreciation by fighting the Gundarakite insurrection that has boiled over as of late. These forces have become more brazen, more violent, more direct. Eintmann is not concerned about them. To him, these rebels are mere vermin to scorch out of existence.
The Red Wizards of Hazlan are a strange bunch. More than one? Yes, strange times caused Hazlik to cause such things. For much time, magic was banned outside of the Darklord himself. But, following the Grand Conjuncture, Hazlik realized that he needed a new approach. Through his arcane school, he kept a tight leash on understudies, to see who would make the perfect successor. And through them, he could see his revenge come to pass. While his scheming is kept closely secret, the existence of his top pupil has interested the nefarious Caller once more. Eleni, a scholar of Rashami origin, has proved to be the most useful in Hazlik’s mission. He bids time to see how far her gifts advance, especially after uncovering Hazlik’s plans for her. Should this progress, the Caller will continue his mad spawning experiments in hopes of eventual freedom. Neither the master nor the apprentice are aware of this fiendish spy, who has taken up a safe distance for once. In terms of subjects for the Gentleman Caller though, Eleni is a far lower priority for now.
But, this is a far jump from Hazlik’s worst nightmare to come. Back upon Toril, the Mageocracy of Thay was experiencing much in the ways of division. Most of this conflict was sparked by the Zulkir of Necromancy, Szass Tam. A trusted ally, a unique shapeshifting undead servant named Ulog’Nielt, helped to carry rumors around the nation. His goal was to help sow distrust and contempt among the various zulkirs, plotting conspiracy and paranoia. What Tam didn’t know is that this ages old ally had gradually turned his back over time. Feeling like just a pawn, Ulog’Nielt plotted a master plan to take down the Zulkir, or at least betray him to other Magical Schools. However, as his plans were ready to see use, a strange Mist enveloped him. By his approximation, his master found out and all was for nothing! On the contrary, his subtlety bested even the best. But, within Hazlan, the creature found himself disguised as one of the mortals. In short fashion, he learned of the darklord’s distaste for Necromancy. Unaware of the Dark Powers, he assumed he was banished to some prison for failed Thayans. None the less, he has been trying to coax anyone disgruntled enough to take his side, even going as far as gifting them knowledge of necromancy. Due to his own gifts, he’s capable of assuming countless faces, allowing for easy shift of blame should the would be necromancer get caught. It is said that Hazlik refuses to teach necromancy, except under proper circumstances, drawing even greater suspicions. As time advanced, the impish shapechanger learned more of his status in The Mists, his role changed similar to Szass Tam’s petty plotting against the other Zulkirs. Unaware of the toils of a darklord, he seeks to command power over the land as a vastly superior Thayan, even if his own Mulani heritage has been diluted from him being a necromantic mutant.
All of this grows worse after victims of manipulation have been sent to Hazlik’s land. They are no pawns of other Thayans or fiends, but those who have foreseen a new grim prophecy. It is their mission to locate arcane secrets and artifacts, supposedly embedded in the land. Among these statements of prophecy, a fierce zealot of Ezra would be there to provide much in the way of information… having escaped Darkon and later Barovia prior. All of this attention has caused much grief for the Darklord, who has become dissatisfied with the Church of the Lawbringer’s attempts to police the situation. Temptation has arisen to at first give false leads to send adventurers away. However, his obsessive desire for revenge has caused him to study these interlopers from afar. Hazlik contemplates new plots, finding ways to push these seekers of prophecy to his agenda. Should this “Unparalleled Darkness” commence and he breaks free, he can use a potential army to bring ruination to Thay. The hidden rival, Ulog’Nielt, has slowly caught wind of this. He shows little interest in this prophecy, but he too has manipulated adventurers in spike of the Darklord.
A Poison for Zombies
There are many secrets to the creation of zombies within Souragne. Among them involves a mind poison capable of numbing the victim, before turning them into a zombie. But, where do such things come from? A priest who became obsessed with the darklord began to craft his own version in fervent dedication to the cause. To him, the dead will pay by his demand. While similar things already exist in the domain, he wanted a route more unique to himself. Dr. Magabdwul was once a resident of a domain largely unknown to me.. He proclaims to have roots in Har’Akir, but this is a falsehood. His roots are in priesthood, where he followed the church of the great serpent. Many names does it have, Zehir, the World Taker, Set, The Tempter and more. He hailed from the world of Terra, at a time of barbarian-kings and cults to the gods. Taken from his ancient home, he wandered the mists, with some ancient knowledge of alchemy. In time, he preserved himself and extended his life with a mysterious substance. One fell experiment should have killed him, instead The Mists found him. However, one day, he discovered that he already died. One of his creations stopped his death… or rather, kept his life force going after that. This lead him to search for divinity that could help explain this. The misty passages lead him to Souragne, where he learned of the lessons of The Lord of the Dead. From the Voodan who have a connection to the darklord and others, he learned means of refining his ancient formulas. And from this, a new Zombie Powder was born. Of course, this poison was only crafted to praise The Lord of the Dead.
Now, what do such ancient alchemical secrets do? To start, it travels through the blood and reaches the brain, where it paralyses the victim and makes them appear dead. In truth, a kind of deathly metamorphosis is taking place. While skeptics will proclaim that the victim is brain damaged and appears dead, negative energy begins to flow into the victim in real time. After a certain time, they are reborn with power connected to that who administered the poison. Magabdwel has become controversial, despite giving up all claim and control of his undead to the darklord. Of course, interest in such toxins have spread well beyond the Island of Terror. The wondrous land of Darkon seeks to perfect such an experiment to help infiltrate and undo much of Necropolis. Borca seeks new vials of deathly substances for further games of trickery. Even the Dark Witch of Dawnsveil has sent pawns to help claim samples to further her games against the Governor. Meredoth and Strahd have become interested in obtaining through some black market dealings. These voodoo zombies created through poison are rife with experimentation potential. In fact, variants have shown up within other points of the Mists. One particularly sickly creation was by a servant of Azalin, an explosive zombie used as little more than a ticking bomb. Obedient to a fault, these zombies are activated by magical ritual. Many a crafty mage daring to make them is also quick to survey them first. Anyone disturbed enough to make such a creature is about as likely to scry the damage that they do. Curiously, noxious swamp gas is a major component in this mobile explosive process. It’s likely that said gas came from Souragne as well, captured through some elaborate jar ensnaring technique.
How it spread should be rather obvious though, smugglers and criminals. Leave it to the exploitative to find a new market to carve into. During one of Magabdwul’s many follies, he poisoned an already undead criminal posing as a mortal. While stepping out to break from a ritual, the posing “corpse” proceeded to steal from the priest and flee the scene before he could catch up. This has left the alchemist in a very tight spot with the domain, let alone those devout to the Loa. But, the secrets to his superior creations are kept to himself and remain useful to other around him. Plus, they mostly align with the policies and priesthood and necromancy within the domain. While he treads thin ice, he has proved smart enough to get ahead somehow. None the less, ingenious members of crime syndicates have had some luck cracking the codes behind these complex creations. Among them is the Living Brain, living within Dementlieu. His criminal order has been most successful in retrieving samples from rival groups. And by his incredible genius, he has helped to create copies to sell to black markets and those looking to buy.
A Good Eye, an Ill Omen
Within Tepest, sorcerers and those who favor dark magics have become more brazen. Their attacks have been more calculating, more successful, more dangerous. Many attribute it to the stories of the hags three that haunt the lands. Tall tales say that desperate warlocks and witches make pacts with them for nigh unstoppable power. However, connections between these supposed cultists are very loose. The only thing remotely uniform about them is the symbol of many opened eyes. Some would apply this to Vecna, the Keeper of Secrets. But, he was shattered, surely that cannot be. These mages have even expanded beyond the domain. Perhaps a conspiracy with a Dukkar is forming, not just from the nefarious Malocchio… but another! Maybe the Dark Powers themselves are seeking a new type of champion to take forth another powerful domain. Rumors detail that a new prophecy, akin to the Grand Conjunction has been foretold.
What is certain is that impossible has been accomplished, Divinations magics have been cast without flaw. Within the Lands of the Mists, this cannot be. The powers beyond always tamper with such magic, in part to keep a diviner from gaining too much and in part to make the caster see what the Dark Powers want them to see. But, this is not the case here. Their visions are as clear as any well trained Vistani. Some have posed as Vistani, to ensure that their boons may slide along with the status quo of the land. Their own discarded or disliked status allows them to just move about their business away from others, seeking out all means of hiding places. Those who don’t assume Vistani caravan facades remain in the underground. Neither fake vistani nor secretive cells have been spotted and time will surely run out. Of course, meddling is the cause of this. After all, the Dark Powers wouldn’t find ways to design their own potential undoing. Unless they started one thing, someone interfered with another. Why could this be?
The one cultist even rebuked Vecna, calling him a false prophet to the cause. The real cause will emerge from a door, it will seek the end for all. When I inquired about my travel from Sigil, the cultist bemoaned me as a poseur to the real traveler. The cause remains very much in the dark, but all that was said is that a mass enlightening will emerge and clarity will amass the lands. Such speech definitely lends creed to another dukkar, but not the tyrant of Invidia. But, this can also mean something on par with the Grand Conjunction could happen again. But, Hyskosa is gone, meaning someone has replaced him as the “True Dukkar” or he himself has returned to finish what he started. Even Malocchio has taken notice, cracks of his confident demeanor showing through. The campaign to eliminate the Vistani has garnered a side tangent of uncovering this new mystery. The conspiracy of the Mist Gates fall in line with part of this rhetoric. It begs the question what this end game will be and how this falls into place. Of all people, those with this mutated gift would probably know, if the truth didn’t already render them mad. Other strange events have been noted, perhaps part of a greater prophecy. A lesser scholar would assume that the schisms within Invidia and Barovia are the center, but it’s far more widespread. If the Grand Conjunction was the beginning, what is the end? Perhaps these mad seers and fake vistani have seen the end! But, by all means, they will not be found and will never talk.
The Bard… is back?
Within the city of Skald, in the domain of Kartakass, there is someone with an uncanny resemblance to Ramon DeLeon. This wandering bard captures his mannerisms perfectly, to the point where he mostly certainly is the banished bard. But, it has been months and he happens to appear just before an annual competition for Meistersinger of Harmonia. However, something about his is rather odd. For starters, he can be revealed that he isn’t one of the wolfweres that stalk the domain in song or in hunt. But, he has been gone for so long with no signs of wear or distress. It’s likely that his identity has been taken by someone else, but who exactly? Clues point to something rather strange in the works. For starters, this bard speaks of slightly different tales of “The Planes Beyond” than the original did. Plus, in certain forms of light, his eyes not only reflect but look exactly like those of a cat. However, he shows no other signs of being aligned with Baron Von Kharkov’s forces in Valachan. Likewise, he does not remotely seem like the Paka, cat-like shapeshifters. Tales of the Rakasta Empire of Myoshima, within the Prime World of Mystara, give some hints as to who this might be. Likewise, stories of settling in a colony dominated by fae-touched animal people likewise inform of a possibility. Despite these contradictions and an alternate history, he remains much the same.
This version of Ramon spoke kind words of various figures around the Core and beyond. One figure that came up was an eccentric artist from Dementlieu named Pierre, though those who have seen his more extreme and aggressive side refer to said man as “The Dome Splitter”. The bard tells that this artisan has also made breakthroughs in surgery similar to sculpting. For those who know deeper about the Dome Splitter, it’s likely that he created a disguise for this fake. If it is the real man, something else seems horribly off. Beyond the strange eyes, he has odd quirks that feel forced and at times contrived, as if he is aware that he is an imitation. Other times, he feels spot-on and no different from the true version. But, Councilor D’Honaire has also become a friend of Ramon lately. While the councilor’s charming personality does little for the bard, they have somehow become good friends. This is particularly odd, as Ramon had been a known critic of the bureaucratic and politically bloated. He spoke well of far more chaotic figures, such as Hazlik the Red Wizard. Still, it all seems rather odd.
When spoken to, one can still gain stories from the traveling storyteller. But, many contradict documents and statements previously delivered. In fact, his recent tales in the Old Kartakan Inn left the proprietor, the legendary Harkon Lukas, mutually shocked and lightly disappointed. Upon announcement that he would participate in the yearly festivities within Harmonia, Skald’s Meistersinger looked quite reassured. I deliver this message only in confidence, but the Meistersinger said that he could “sense uncanny feline auras from this fraud bard”, whatever that means. Not long after gathering these notes, they should be in transit to a trustworthy scribe within the jurisdiction of Darkon (Why yes, that’s me!) But, as a final note, I saw the meaning of Lukas’ warning first hand. Within an upper floor of the inn, I saw putty like flesh slough off into a bottomless bag, magically turning into goo. What existed below was indeed a cat creature of some sort. He suspected little in my silence, save for a knocked over glass left for maintenance to pick up. I will say no more, save for the yowling sound I heard from the room. I don’t know what such a creature is or why it impersonates The Bard, but there was the truth on the matter. I trust this message will be received by my good friend.
New Heroes Arise?
Factions and guilds assemble all the time, but they often fade out into the mists themselves. One has maintained a rather consistent following. This group is simply known as “The Order of the Crows”. Clad in black cloak and grey armor, they make themselves known in their travels. Likewise, many carry a crow motif through patterns to actual symbols. From their oath to their main directive, honor and service prevail above all. Their order of watchmen hails from a world much akin to Terra, but in a land well torn by corrupt politics and war. Tales of grim winter haunt the order, even in its roots. They see that work can be done by getting involved with the community, even politics on the rare occasion it intertwines with their beliefs. Some seek to be worthy of lordship or at least ownership of land. This isn’t to say that the Crows are a bureaucratic group. Many are more than willing to directly intervene with sinister plots, especially over their chosen protected area. Contrary to speculation, they disavow mercenary type behavior, viewing that as greedy and money-hungry rather than aiding in a common good. Compared to other organizations, they are far more egalitarian in their methods of recruitment. Should one prove themselves in various moral hurdles and interviews, they have a positive chance to take the oath. Save for monstrous beings and other races driven by evil, they prove themselves welcoming to all means of newcomers. However, they forbid practice of fell powers or allegiances to wicked ideologies. Likewise, cultists to evil powers and subversive spies meant to undermine the order are actively sought out and vanquished.
While operatives have desired to expand to other lands, Barovia is their most prominent base of operations. By their own words, they see it as the best opportunity for those newly lost to The Mists, as Barovia is where most fresh victims are pulled into. However, Dementlieu has begun to recognize their good deeds as well. Their attempts at diplomacy have begun to expand to other organizations. The Templars, originating in the world of Gothic Terra, have sought them out for assistance. While more rigid to the point of dogma, they retain friendliness with the fellow orderly heroes. Their praises have traveled mistways and into otherwise disconnected domains. Likewise, recent tales of the liberation of an elven city have begun to spread as ballads of justice and triumph. Glensburough, of the Fell Crafts Cluster, has seen visitation by Crow numbers. While their stay was brief, they helped in rescuing a group of wayward children lured into the abandoned wax studio known as Bohemian. But, no matter where they travel, evil notices them far quicker than good. They say that an evil power is already capable of noticing a holy decree or imbued sword of a paladin already… And worse, is capable of pinpointing them within several meters. This has made matters more complicated for them in recent times, as attempts to clarify rather strange events have found many members missing or dead. Recruitment events and ceremonies have become more frequent by necessity, something that could risk breaking traditions.
One curiosity is having a mage in charge of a predominantly warrior based society. Enryn is one such practitioner of the arcane, indeed a strange sight for the order, but a well admired one at that. None the less, the spellcaster is cordial and helps to maintain order and organization. Some detractors feel his presence and leadership is not important, suggesting something darker at work. He has brushed these naysayers aside, even if he still remains overly cold in his demeanor. More than likely, his cautious personality was developed by the terrors of the lands themselves. A rumormonger suggests he attempted a taboo spell, backfiring and granting him frightful visions and wicked dreams. Seeing as the rumormonger was a spy sent to foil the organization, the story can be tossed out. Many soldiers, knights and paladins do their best to suppress any envy about his station. They see him as snobbish or standoffish, having a personality that contrasts with the more open and social personalities oft found within guild halls. None the less, his wide array of knowledge and sage wisdom has earned him much in rank, privilege and respect. His takeover as leader was one through peaceful transition, but with much debate and deliberation. Skepticism became the hardest adversary for the mage, who felt it necessary to prove himself worthy of fighters.
Image Credit: Looking Glass – Thief Deadly Shadows