“Bard’s tales for sale! Scripted and sold by an honest book keeper! All of the stories in these tomes are completely real! I offer tales of bravery, terror, exploration and more! Please, step inside for more!” A familiar Darkonese man hocks various loud proclamations in the light of day, a fine market square acts as his stage.
Author’s Note: The setting is no stranger to B-Movie trash and neither am I… So, there is plenty of that here too. You have blobs of rotten food, plant hybrids, murderous ball ghosts and more.
Alleigosto Institute of Innovation’s Strange Happenings
Years of persecution and shunning has lead to many bright minds of Zherisia and Lamordia looking for other lands. Thanks to the formation of the Broken Cog, the former became even easier. Despite the rising number of terror attacks, the land of Alleigosto still brands itself as an advanced culture open to tourism, commerce and invention. Among these places is a university dedicated to advancing crafts and technologies throughout the greater nation and cluster. Despite being a debated puppet of Rockbaecche, the university proclaims to operate on funds from both the public and local private investors. In reality, this isn’t fully true. Several government and company guild sectors from the neighbor state have helped set the establishment up for their own ends. In many ways, they treat it as a research and development center for the colony head’s needs. But, beyond monitored laboratories and class rooms, what else happens here?
Less worried about the trends of high technology, artifice and creation; a chef within the institute’s kitchen is more proud of other strange things. Nona Diranelli is what the other staff call the Head of Catering or “the Witch of the Kitchen” as she is known tongue-in-cheek. A seemingly kindly old woman, her concern was making sure that bright minds are well fed and nourished. All around, her recipes and meals blend old world charm and natural nutrition with contemporary sensibility. However, Nona has acquired a strange hobby for any waste and leftovers. Deep down, the waste of food maddens her immensely. Being born to a humble and poor family, she found herself looking down upon the faculty and students alike; considering them pampered and uppity. Within storage vats that she has procured herself, she contains wasted food matter as a source for her own experiments. The decaying mush of rotten food matter has been imbued with magic. This ranges from little globs slithering in vents up above to massive blobs assembled for her own twisted ends. The former tends to spy on the eatery visitors. She uses them to see who finishes their meals and who wastes. Those who are especially snobbish about it are recorded on her own target list. In fact, Nona recently became ambitious with doling out punishment. A student, Roberto Melloenia, went missing after an animated mass from the kitchen trailed him across the campus. As Melloenia took an evening stroll towards a garden near a sewer drain, the mass pulled him in and consumed him rapidly. Upon discovering her success, she desired more retribution against such a wasteful system and its spoiled people. After investigations concluded on the campus concluded, she was cleared through some clever word play and proper hiding of her darker pursuits. In the meantime, Nona has been careful to keep murder targets off the dining hall menu.
The Division of Biological Technologies has been proposed as a means of fighting back against the hazardous toxins and pollution seen in the likes of Nosos. While the ruling elite of Nosos don’t enjoy this, it has become a favorable compromise with the more extreme factions of Alleigosto… for now. One case is far less considerate though. Dr. Marcello Vistaverde was something of a child prodigy, a young genius employed at an age barely above the student body. His specialty was harnessing energy from plants, in hopes of using them as an alternative to coal or oil. Many were especially deterred by this, including a colleague of his whose focus is applying oil based power to more machinery. Said colleague hatched a plan, unleashing several unstable alchemical formulas upon the plants of Vistaverde’s laboratory. The concoction not only killed off the plants, but proved particularly explosive when Dr. Vistaverde lit a match for a pipe. The ensuing boom was blamed on the terrorists previously responsible for attacks in the nation, as the rival colleague was killed in the explosion. However, the plant doctor was not. By some miracle, he had fused with the flora of the laboratory. The end result was some manner of plant-human hybrid. Mortified by what has become of him, he fled from the institute in shame. Now he seeks to recreate the incident and make more creatures like himself.
The Division of Automaton Research carries the worst flavors of Lamordia and the worst Alleigosto has to offer. It is here where unethical machine men find their origins. The beginning of this came in the form of letters from an Emil Ballenboch. He mused on his discovers of The Brain in Dementlieu, as well as mechanical golems as a means of combating Flesh Golems. These letters, collected by the Dean of Students, ultimately lead to creating a school to show their own worth. To further ensure Alleigosto gets a leg up on competition from other domains, several Lamordian expatriates were hired to oversee the new division. In the year 749 BC, breakthroughs allowed the school to solve both the burial space crisis and the need for a greater defenses. It’s no secret that the Machine Men utilize biological inspiration. But, much of the corpse itself is used as a building frame, while the soul provides a power source. Within 2 years, a mad wanderer who simply called himself “Dieter” showed up to help bring the brain-controlled automaton idea to life. What brought him from Lamordia is very much a mystery, as the crazed roaming scientist was largely oblivious to his surroundings beyond his work.
The Four Provincial Villages of I’Cath
I’Cath haunts four nearby villages, each suffering under a guardian of its darklord. The four villages all have simple and humble names, each related to a season in some regard. They are Wind, Flower, Snow and Moon. According to False History, these names were adopted by a poet who described the passage of time and its affects on the land. A stance in his poem described those four very words. While this is well documented, it’s unknown if such a poet actually existed within the domain. More than likely, said poet did exist upon Shou Lung in Toril at some point though. However, the poetry within the domain is long since treated with deprecation. According to historical lore, the trend of analyzing nature through poetry became overdone to the point of mockery within the land. However, during times of strife, the poetry has become a fallback into comfort. Unsurprisingly, the four villages provide little comfort otherwise. Though, they are far less deadly than the grim palace grounds and nearby forest in the middle of the domain.
The Four Villages are lands that contend with the day to day of their grim tormentors. Often, villagers engage in humble work or downtime activity to pass the days, simply surviving. However, each village suffers most when their named season draws near. Visitation from dark creatures and their respective guardian becomes more common and the outside conditions are equally cruel. In the Village of Flowers to the East witnesses horrible insects emerging, as well as the blooming of deadly and poisonous plants. Disease often spreads quickly, as spore-like clouds burst from lethal flora. The Village of Wind to the South is not one where cooling breezes interrupt harsh sun rays. On the contrary, the summer winds sting more than the oppressive heat. Also, drought proves far too common and many sources of water dry up until summer passes. The Village of Moon to the West is one consumed by entropy. Forces of dark magic and decay love to infest and corrode the land while the autumn season is active. Food rapidly spoils, spirits find themselves easier to anger, weakness and ruin are accelerated, death can be seemingly random. Finally, Village of Snow to the North is far from atop a huge mountain, just a few gentle slopes at most. However, its winters are harsh and overwhelmed with blizzards and bone-chilling temperatures. Likewise, an overwhelming sense of isolation can push many villagers into madness.
The fates of these residents are always brought into question every year. But, those who try to escape to another village always meet their doom. While it’s possible to meet a guardian during a “danger season”, those who try to avoid their village’s plight will always meet them. And barring that, an emissary or underling of this guardian will bring a swift end to the victim. In extremely unlucky instances, the foul sorceress known as Tsien Chiang or one of her corrupt three daughters may appear instead of a guardian. Should this happen, the hapless victim will often be dragged back into the doomed palace for a slow and gruesome death. Even adventurers fleeing from I’Cath have found themselves fending off absolute horrors, should they try to escape a territory during their dangerous season. Each provincial village prepares fervently, not in the name of appeasing the guardian or the darklord, but as a means of survival. As such, there is little time for joy and passion, as creative pursuits have atrophied to an extent. Even the once beloved poets of the land are treated as lazy layabouts who can’t help their home protect against oncoming trials. This newfound rigid culture became almost as overbearing and cruel as the other trials of the domain. The grim expectations of each respective village have been the doom of some residents, well before the seasonal horrors brought their wrath upon the lands.
The Wulver are accidental creations of a crazed wizard, tricked by a likely false divinity. The doom of his creations came at the hands of both an ally and potential enemy, the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins… But the methods were not to his expectations. While both are well trained under the tutelage of Rudolph van Richten, they also lack some of the experience and worldliness he had. Through an elaborate tale, the wayward wulver mage wove a tragedy about people forever turned into werewolf like beasts, driven mad by false hopes of a god that won’t save them. And more so, they desire to bring all in their path into their disturbing cult. While some of that is true, he continued to stuff fabrication to portray them as warped monsters out to induct all into their parody of the holy.
Upon discovering many of the beastly folk, the twins didn’t see werebeasts, so much as humans broken down into depressive monsters. While they had a belief in the Morninglord, their expressions and prayers were ones of defeat rather than rejoicing. Some of the pathetic creatures begged for aid and forgiveness, while others questioned the cruelty of the gods. The name D’Amberville was met with disdain, referring to him more as a demon than any savior or noble figure as he painted himself as. The broken souls sensed within Gennifer a stirring curse, even informing her as such. Following her shock, they even alerted her to a fortified lodge within Verbrek, should she need aid in controlling or possibly ridding her affliction. Many admitted that they were once werewolves themselves before they became what they are now. As far as they are concerned though, the Light of the Morninglord will someday liberate them and show them a path. Should this happen, they may return and offer such to Gennifer in kind for sparing them.
D’Amberville had been spying upon the duo, before getting impatient and revealing himself not far from the twins. With proper information in tow, they confronted the mage on everything that transpired, only for his excuses to be met with cold disbelief. As he readied spells to confront the twins, the two quickly countered and overpowered him. As he was stricken down, he watched in his final moments as the Wulver that approached the fight began to return to proper humanoid forms. Even former werewolves found themselves magically purged of lycanthropy, following some extra help, as if D’Amberville became the progenitor of their bloodline. The strange sect of the Morninglord rejoiced and thanked the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins for bringing salvation at last. In the end, the Mystaran mad mage had accomplished his goal of ridding Wulver from The Mists. However, he never foresaw the irony of his own life being required to accomplish this.
A Gathering to Die For
Saidra D’Loque alias “Saidra D’Honaire” was a notorious conviction artist originally from Richemulot, before transplanting into Dementlieu. Her schemes usually involved forging identities and proof, while using her sinister enchantment magic to bypass other obstacles. And should that not be enough, she still had her allies. Prior to a life of crime, she was the member of a lightly respected coven of witches that has traveled between Mordent and Lamordia on occasion. Ultimately, her sneaky and deceptive behavior pushed too many coven sisters the wrong way, leading to many asking her to leave. She respectfully went on her way, but the secrets she was taught proved too tempting to not save. Across noble courts, respected businesses and more; she’d perform elaborate scams and cut out any chance of being found out. This could range from mental manipulation to stealthy assassination. Her final scam was against the Council of Brilliance itself… particularly the charming rumors regarding Councilman Dominic himself. This lead to a surprise visit from Tristan Sicard, a mad barber who showed up to “perform requested cosmetic aid” unannounced. Any actual attendant would have been suspicious, but Saidra didn’t care. Another pawn, Saidra mused, before Tristan revealed himself immune to her magic. And worse, he had a grim sense of vengeance as he turned the schemer into his next victim. The body was taken back to “Dirty Daniel”, as has happened time and again. But, things weren’t over.
In life, Saidra had become known for the Yearly Gala of Frimaire. Toward the end of harvest season, into winter chill, Saidra would be the hostess of a yearly party, rife with the opulence and pleasures of wealth. In the 7 years she has spent in Dementlieu, she has long since made a name. Dominic himself is more than familiar with Saidra, who has pretended to show interest in him, then ultimately turn him down and reject his own abilities… by some otherworldly means. In 759 of the Barovian calendar, the time of her party once again rolled around. Knowledge of her death was kept to a choice few, as everyone else assumed that she vanished for some strange reason… only for her to arise again. In truth, she is a phantasmal being who used her own knowledge of magic to possess a wax figure specially crafted within the Dementlieu’s own famous wax studio, La Maison de Cire. Alexandre du Cire, at least the fake wax golem version, was happy to aid the fine lady in her mad goals. Her end of the bargain is to lure survivors into du Cire’s clutches. But, what of la Gala de Saidra?
Not far from Chateaufaux, La Manior is where the undead enchantress would run events normally. However, the rising winter of 759 was a bit different. At first, matters started as they always have. Saidra would greet guests personally as they were allowed in by private guards. She would wish them good tidings for the year ahead, as well as for the upcoming winter months. While the festivities somewhat commemorate the end of harvest season, very few invited guests ever hard to worry about that. But this year, a grand masquerade was necessary, perfect for the possessed sculpture to interact. And even stranger, cold air was intentionally let into the establishment, to consternation and complaint of many. Feelings of unease grew, as something almost magical about the music seemed to compel guests into a trance-like state. Or at least, only those who were invited found themselves entranced.
Those who tried to get in on these exclusive events were outed. And for the outed, a grim fate. Her newly gained undead powers would tear apart the unfortunate victim, as her true nature would reveal itself. Sometimes, her artificial body would contort under the dark magical influence. In some cases, the magic could even melt the wax a little. For a short while, the party continued as uninvited guests were horribly eliminated, disintegrated into black soot. But, enough of this weakened enchantments enough for guests to see the horror unfolding before them. It was at that point that all guests were sealed in and her true goals could commence. Spectral horrors began to dance around guests, as Saidra unleashed her mystical wrath on anyone suspected of aligning with Dominic or her mystery killer. In the case of the latter, it was random guess work combined with an underlying blood lust. Panic caused guests to swarm, trample and do whatever in attempt to break free of the manor. But alas, doors and windows were magically shut and guards were enchanted to kill anyone trying to break free. The Last Party turned into one stained by magical ashes and blood. However, Mists anew washed over her as fully revealed herself as a blighted phantom. This was just as she spotted Dominic, seeking protection from his allies.
As she darted for the Councilman, the phantasmal horror vanished. In truth, she became bound to a Pocket Domain within Dementlieu. And just like that, those who fled magically forgot what transpired within the manor, save for that the party was unlike anything that they had ever experienced before. It is said that even in a pocket domain, invitations will still extend throughout the domain and beyond for the next year. In one year’s time, such a thing will happen. However, Dominic and Tristan will never show, thus her vengeful search will always prove fruitless… save for the stories she makes up to feel better about killing the random or innocent. She could be convinced that those targeted are spies or underlings of either enemy party. And for those who leave the party, they are cursed to see Saidra at moments that prove convenient. These cursed images are manifestations of her will. While she can’t dominate others, she can create these temporary magical doubles to influence instead.
IMAGE CREDIT: Spectral Illusions – Haunted Library; Loyce – Plant Hall, University of Tampa; Gong Kai – Zhong Kui; Lius Lasahido – Silverstrike; Harry Clarke – The Masque of the Red Death;