One last trek through the mists, friends. One last trek is all it takes. Will it spell the end? A new land? Unsure. May something out there pity us.
Author’s Note: The year is ending and it’s almost Christmas… Will I do more Ravenloftian goodness? Well, someone has to in the face of Poseurloft! But really, we’ll see. I’m tired of D&D, as has been noted by the lack of crunch for a long time. The good thing about a lot of my creations is that I can rebrand them as something else, if it came down to it. Anyway, hope your days were jolly and nice. Or at least, more so than in the Lands of the Mists. Perhaps this is goodbye to the Demiplane of Dread, at least for now. Likewise, a few more metaplots are looked at here for now.
Ongoing Machinations of Drakov
The War Machine charges ever onward. And with it? New techniques and methods to ensure that Drakov’s experts in espionage sneak and skulk in the darkest corners. All of this prepares for greater desires of conquest. The bolstered Drakov Spy Ring establishes a foot hold on Darkon, but only because Azalin wants to study them. The ring has likewise moved through the core into a “strange extension of Mordent”, Zherisia and later Alleigosto. Several outposts have brought those within Ministry of Science to gather information for horrid experiments. One spy successfully obtains a sample of the Rockbaecche plague, alongside some automaton blueprints. The Inhumane Dead are created, undead born from disgusting crimes against life disguised as experiments. Torturous cold water suspension trials, holding racks above flame pits, other extremities meant to push the mortal body beyond. All of them are bonded to powerful metal cage armor, moving alongside them. These undead soldiers cannot be controlled by Azalin, not that he knows this yet. Documents belonging to Emil Bollonboch have likewise been acquired, detailing strange experiments for the destruction of flesh golems. These prove useful in the Inhumane Dead project.
Lesser undead soldiers made excellent scouts and forces intimidation, sent to explore anomalies alongside living caretakers. One such group uncovered a Shadow Domain anomaly, one previously reported by Ramon. The Shadow Domain of Arak resurfaced for much time. The arid wastes, devoid of life, haunted the troops. No Shadow Fey visited them, just the creeping dread of the uncanny upon them. As the forces left the mirrored domain, they found themselves unable to find it again. Several became haunted by strange dreams soon after, some going horribly mad from a grim revelation of some apocalyptic entity. Drakov, not wanting to show or admire fear towards this menace, had these men questioned for their sanity. Those incapable of showing it were executed while others were discharged in somewhat honorable standing. However, they were treated like little more than civilians.
While his allies are sparse, a new presence emerges to help in the eternal war against Darkon. Drakov has been forwarded information by a mysterious informant, an elderly human woman who swears bloody vengeance against Azalin Rex. For the moment, she is spared but not trusted. As a whole, those not within his own military efforts are quickly put down, if using magic. This is mostly because she has been an excellent informant on Azalin’s practices and wishes to help in his downfall. In terms of political prisoners, the woman has slowly earned some level of begrudging respect, due to the deep misogynistic tendencies of Vlad Drakov. His current goals are to use his more occultic ministries to harness whatever useful information and arcana they can from her, before deeming her too dangerous and worthy of execution. In the meantime, he is more willing to humor her, especially her tales of a gothic world of Terra. Little has been said about her identity, save for a name… Maggie. Her tales of her home world aren’t just for show, but signal an escape should all go wrong.
Another ally is from convenience and chance. Warriors under oath of the Falcon found themselves within the domain of Tovag not long after the Grand Conjunction many years ago. This information started as plans to invade the fortified land, only to switch in favor of recruitment towards the Falkfuhrer pact, in wider spread effort to take the Core and beyond. The Falkovnian Ministry Arcana has kept the mysterious Maggie under close watch while a far less powerful version of Azalin’s secret weapon is constructed. With some success, contact has been made and the two warlords have begun to conspire. Small amounts of troops have been so far been shuttled to some degree of success. In the end, Kas the Destroyer neither trusts nor likes Drakov. However, his initial fears about Vecna pushed him in such a direction initially. Later shattering of Vecna’s realm only pushed this further, adding a deep desperation to either vanquish his foe’s realm or escape once and for all.
Kas’ Losing War
Kas the Destroyer is stuck in a losing battle. The Cult of Yuzq’Thogorn preaches wide spread entropy, as the true Vecna was shattered by an impossibility. And worse than them? The assault of Paradox Horrors ranging from the ruins of Cavitius. What lies beyond the Burning Peaks under Kas’ control is a mobile apocalypse. Every day, horrors lay seige to a land far from prepared. Resources are funneled now more than ever into the troops. For the Darklord, this is proof of his mission and validity for his harshness. While abominations are slain and driven back, their essence is pulled into the microcosm of The Void that was once Vecna’s domain. The shadow of Citadel Apocalypse, the Void stepping stone before The King in Yellow’s Carcosa, sits as a horrible reminder of the atrocity committed upon reality. And worse, this primordial soup of entropic horrors is where it all began, where an unending nightmare was truly sparked. Only through Vecna’s hands will the full nightmare be born.
But, what of matters in Tovag? While the lands under the warlord’s grasp already struggled under oppression, now much of it is lost; utterly destroyed by Paradox creatures. Reality beyond the lands of the peaks twists and tangles into a surreal parody of life itself. Even the ground beneath one’s feet is unstable and ripples into maddening shapes. Anything beyond Tor Gorak is far too dangerous to tread far from. Likewise, the fortress of Kas is properly defended against whatever evils may linger. Despite a deep dislike of Drakov, recent innovations haven’t come soon enough. Cruelly created and repurposed dead have earned an edge against the Dread Lich… or what’s left of him. Not only is the cult’s necromancy unable to ward them off, but the rotten legions retain equal parts intelligence and pure rage. Alongside his mighty order of The Daggers, they keep the evils beyond at bay… for now. Creatures of absolute corruption are ideal targets. Even civilians have been allowed to band together with militias to help in this purge. Currently, some land beyond Tor Gorak has been rescued. But, this victory is minor and there is great fear that far more will soon be lost.
There is no assured victory. And the Unparalleled Darkness assures that there is no victory. What Kas does not know is that the Cult of Yuzq’Thogorn has ensured that vestiges and essences of Vecna remain within the former Citadel Cavitius remain. They are bound here to help fuel their mad pursuits. For all their efforts, they are unaware that they’ll only fold all into the Shadow Rift when Azalin’s apocalypse gets in the way. Until then, they scheme and aspire to take the Paradox not just through the Mists but the planes beyond. Also unbeknownst to them, they have already succeeded in this front. Likewise, a minor rift has allowed another to see their plans to fruition. Uncovered by the wandering bard, there is a conspiracy that unites Azalin Rex with the Gentleman Caller and The Oinoloth of Reality’s End. Especially partaining to the last one, his yugoloth army is given free reign to assault Tovag. Likewise, Mist Fiends have begun to materialize and attack Tor Gorak from within. Such attacks are currently rare, but the decaying stability of the domain points them to becoming more frequent. The Burning Peaks is doomed. Any help to and from Falkovnia is temporary as Kas has begun to realize that his war will fail and there will in time be nothing left.
Even in native Borca, many have started to raise eyebrows at the beloved Church of Ezra. Their in ability to stop vile heresy as of late, coupled with some rather eccentric behavior within clergy has gotten the public talking. To further the gossip and fascination, a visitor approached the Great Cathedral of Levkarest. The pitiful ragged thing was recognizable as human, a young woman even. Some of the clergy balked at her presence, while others were quick to usher her in. Many speculated that her appearance might have been a test from Ezra, to see how the church would react. For several hours, the mystery woman was cared for and nursed back to health. The Praesidius, Levin Postoya, himself remarked that her journey to the Cathedral was undertaken with likely great purpose. As color returned to the woman’s face and animation followed, the guest stirred and became adamant of recanting her journey. Those tasked with caring her were both excited and concerned, as the guest’s state was still quite poor. Against her decision, she was forced to wait till nearly the next day. Revitalized and readied to address the church, the unknown woman began to address.
In the lands of Nova Vaasa, the presence of a more extreme sect has been pushing gradually increasing anti-Ezra agendas throughout the lands (of the core). Zealots clash with the Lawgiver faith, sparking bouts of religious violence in the streets. Attempts made by other sects to clean up the damage are rebuked, or declined at best. This in turn has created growing public discontent and even revolt against Ezran presence, especially in Nova Vaasa and Darkon. Despite an ongoing presence of “The Iron Faith” in Hazlan, many refugees disinterested in apocalyptic prophecy have found some peace there. Even worse, someone is manipulating the fanatics behind the scenes. She fears that this “foreign agent” seeks to twist prophecies and visions of Ezra into distinctly powerful nightmares. The campaigns of misinformation and fearmongering have been sending negative messages about the church. While some corrupted cultists have been apprehended, no information on a true dark master was relinquished. More worrying, many of these diabolic henchmen were former members of the Church of Ezra at some point. What lead them on their dark road is a mystery.
Much of this news was relayed to various divisions to some degree. However, this was kept from lower ranking clergy, in effort to keep widespread fear at bay. But, with this curious woman, these fears were now out for all in the faith to hear. What caused an uproar was not her experiences abroad. Rather, it was her own statements of prophecy. In her chilling words, the lack of cooperation between The Dark Twins will cost the land in its darkest hour. A fractured Borca will only be destroyed by a nightmare that likely tainted former Anchorites and Acolytes. Taken back, arguments began to flare up among various divisions and orders of the Cathedral. This only ceased as the present Praesidius stood aghast, pointing out that the Ezraite that came to his place of worship faded from view. The seemingly flesh and blood traveler became nothing more than a ghostly imprint on the mind. Few stood in greater shock than the Praesidius, well aware of his own political involvement in what is yet to come.
Gazing upon the Temple in the Eldritch Depths
And there I saw it, a monolith to a forsaken age, the very bastion of my own nightmares. Cyclopean carving bent and twisted in geometries alien and unfathomable. Non-euclidean warping of matter contorted into something befitting a portal to another dimension. What horror is this? No horror, at least to those who understand. This place of worship brings no solace, only terror, only the voices of the things that will bring the lands above to ruination. It is the omen of entropy not just for a fallen nation, but others too. It is the harbinger for a nightmare, ringing the bell to alert a far greater evil. It shall be informed that its meal is ready and all reality is ripe for plucking.
Ichthyos has long since been a land in decline, with rumor that much of its cities and peoples slid into the sea. This isn’t entirely a lie. It is said that a temple dedicated to profane and eldritch gods rests deep within said sea. More strangely than its origins, it sits outside of time. Color drains away, as a relic of a bygone time sets waiting. It hungers for attention and visitors, it seeks to reawaken its foul power. It sits untouched, untainted by the outside. It is preserved unnaturally, through impressive stone work and pulsating magicks. One team was sent to discover its many wonders, using state of the art submerging technologies forged between Ichthyon and Alleigoston engineers. This vessels brought the crews safely belong the chilling waves, already containing many horrors in their own right. But, the city below. It was equal parts breathtaking and mind rending. Evil lived here, but the crews couldn’t place what, nor could they ponder for too long without pain. Eventually, the deep sea boat was pulled by something unnatural and forced to surface. But, this was not above land, no…. a strange pond leading to the bottom of temple stairs. Darkness beckoned them forward, beckoned them to learn more.
From ancient stone steps, the survivors crept upwards. It was then that noises of the grotesque rung in despicable caterwaul. Croaking, retching, popping, gasping; all blended together in a monstrous chorus that hung over the accursed temple. None the less, the quest for knowledge pressed the stragglers onward. Filmy ooze began to cover and merge with the moisture upon their ground. Only then did visions of profane statues appear. And with them? Eyes, bulging and unflinching eyes. Said eyes were attached to disdainful mockeries of the flesh, blends of aquatic and land creatures that bellowed the vile sounds. They chanted in exultation to their dark god. And upon an altar was a name, Dagon. This was no mere mistake, the curious crews were brought here intentionally. Such a strange place beneath the depths was meant to be their graves. Contemporary weaponry could slay a few beasts and drive a few back, but many crewmen were as cornered as the monsters they faced. Only one swam through the gap, only to be pulled back from an alien world to the surface he knew. There was little to do besides return and warn all who would listen.
Power Problems of the Broken Cog
As of late, many of the Alleigoston Wonder Works that have been so widely distributed throughout the Cluster have had their share of peculiar quirks and extreme malfunctions. A fluctuation is pressure proves to be a major concern, as does overall power supply. Not only factories, but whole blocks have seen temperature devices, computational systems and more go haywire. Even vehicular craft has stalled out or backfired. Some have theorized some sort of “gremlin” is materializing to promote mischief and havoc among machinery. Fears of vandals and technophobes also travel the streets, telling of revolutionaries far worse than what Duke Olbsodt could gather. While none of these are true, the actual facts are still quite startling. No, the source of these anomalies and failures is the result of several men from the land of Timor. But, these men have long since ceased to be normal, let alone mortal. They have becoming something of vampires, or energy vampires for that matter.
Many previous sources proclaim that the Energy Vampires of New Timor are still alive. That should be impossible. As it stands, those affected by this supernatural phenomenon have become conduits for fire, steam and lightning. Any normal body that would attempt to store these would be destroyed. At the very least, their curse has made them beyond human. When not contending with a drained source of power, they look much as they did before their strange transformation. However, grasping a font of power, their skin changes color, as veins light up from their source. Their eyes, nose and mouth flair up with heinous light. From their fingertips, their drained source can be used as a potent weapon. Perhaps as some facet of their abilities, they can jump incredible distances without injury and hover down slowly as well. It shouldn’t help that these pseudo-vampires all share some means of criminal background.
Little has been known on their origins for much time. It has been said that dark ritual craft has lead to them to what they are now. Rockbaecche Occultism meets the fallen druids beyond Alleigosto is closer to the truth. Several fugitives were forced to escape Zherisia for their own continued existence. As a greater cluster began to reveal itself, including how the domains were affected, new hiding places opened up. And with them, new techniques to ensure revenge. Technophobic priests of nature found new homes along the Rockbaecche border, where sinister cults joined with them in hopes of aiding the others’ problems. For wayward criminals, the potential for a deal was brewing. Zherisia was rich in many resources for the arcana and strange works of art. Both side of strange casters proved interested, resulting in several heists with some extra aid. In exchange for their services, the thugs and thieves were given the means of enacting a ritual to change them forever. Due to lack of experience and the lack of aid from either magical group, something in their ritual went wrong. Rather than just finding ways to utilize energy, the afflicted found themselves hungering for it. Stranger still, they found themselves more immune to most things. However, the presence of holy artifacts and purified silver proved frightening and heavily damaging upon contact. The brutes and scoundrels went on their quests of terror, unaware of these weaknesses.
The Chain Reaction over Nosos
Nosos is a disgusting place, but remains the true house of industry for the Rockbaecche colony. And unlike the other fallen territories and nations, they’re more than happy to comply. Or at least, to a degree. None the less, they share countless detractors all over the cluster. Even far less technophobic residents have come to dislike the glowing blight at the southern edge of the domains. Mixtures of Alleigoston eco-terrorists and the generally disgruntled have buried hatchets for now in search of the greater threat. Nosos, already a cesspool of pollution and corruption, is also one to heavily exploit its labor…. far worse than any of the other domains. This expendable force often dies horribly from being overworked or poisoned. This hasn’t sat too well with many nearby. As such, retaliation has become something of a thorn in the greater Rockbaecche security and commanding military.
But, that usually means dealing with mad rebels and the like. The use of rather damning and infernal magic was something all together. At the smokestack district in eastern Nosos, a massive black fireball formed in the sky, before hurling down and blowing up several buildings. Screams were drowned out by the evil flames, with countless innocents in nearby properties eaten up rather quickly. The dark flames cascaded and danced, as if there was life and intelligence to them. Districts found themselves engulfed and nearby streets became heavily damaged. After several hours, the flames leapt back to their point of origin, as if on command. The loose cabal responsible for this found themselves likewise consumed. But, rest assured, domains are given to new dark champions as such. More than likely, their attack earned them their doom.
This wasn’t the end of it, as a rather grim figure in the mutated wastelands beyond the city saw the incredible display. It hungered for such power, something to wield and help shape the corrupted wilderness of horrors as it pleased. The eldritch figure began to send minions into the cityscapes, in search of the network of magic-users who conjured such a dark ritual. Desperate to bring something to their master, numerous magic users were captured in hopes that they knew such a spell. They did not succeed, causing them to be devoured or assimilated. Some suspect other bits of foul play at hand. Some suspect that the energy vampires of Timor have been involved with the destruction and fallout that has ensued.
Rumors of Evil Artifacts
Few along the pathway of the Headless Horseman speak of The Table of Bloody Tithes. It was carved of a cursed tree and infused with profane magic. Its uses for evil rituals brought further desecration and taint upon the already vile artifact. While it has its roots in Barovia, it was smuggled into Tranquility by an associate of Van Hassen. The table never made it to the estate, as the thieves who stole it were slain by the horseman well before. It lies in an otherwise humble and featureless shack, its first and last resting place. The aura it exudes from the roads beyond the shack are nauseating and sometimes excruciating to those religiously attuned to forces of good. The table drains blood from all that touches it. The power within can be used to bolster dark magic, by striking it with an obsidian dagger. Due to its Barovian origins, some fear that it was property of the Devil Strahd to bolster his practices in the arcane. Others feel that a rival sought to outdo him by any means necessary. Should the latter be the case, it was likely that the Count removed such a threat before the artifact faded into obscurity. Curiously, the horseman never enters the hut. While neither him nor his horse recoil or flinch by the makeshift housing, they will avoid it all costs… for reasons unknown. This makes the fates of the thieves all the more curious.
It is said that the soul of the fallen Dragon Lord, Antorek, was locked away in the Demiplane of Dread; all while the body rots away in the realm of Faerie. That’s not wholly true. Seeing himself pure of heart and seeking to take a magical essence through the planes, the Dark Powers twisted that in a cruel way. His actual heart was taken with him, changed into something of an unholy relic. Above the Darklord’s lair, in a mockery of a temple, The Heart of Antorek rests upon a pedestal. Those within proximity risk mutation into the wyld-kind or horror-beasts that roam the lands. This overrides the typical insanity needed by those embracing the Savage Cult of the Vengeful Dragon. Like the ritual that creates their kind, the heart beats with a raging radiance that empowers the cult’s spells. Said artifact makes visiting the Darklord particularly dangerous, with means of destroying proving improbable due to sheer force of magic required, alongside enchanted steel. Likewise, a whole domain will directly work against you.
There is a simple looking box with roots in an obscure disease based religion in Rockbaecche. This “plague box” is the source of much corrupt occultism and entropic hysteria. The cult wishes to spread things through the power of curiosity. Many wander, offering a look at a simple box. The wanderer observes nothing, considers the cultist crazy and moves on. But, each box contains a latent version of a disease. In the weeks before Ste. Ronges dealt with the ichor ooze outbreak, a strange woman was wandering around to show her “magical box”, before disappearing before authorities arrived. So far, this was the only one found, after her mangled body was found below several catacombs. There is a possibility that the Cult of Simon is involved somehow. The initial strain was cured by a distant branch of the Church of Ezra, however there is darker truth to this. Their arrival from Borca to assist the non-heretical in Richemulot was because of a bargain between Louise Renier and Ivana Boritsi. The priests were sent to humiliate Jacqueline’s efforts, to some success. In return, a propaganda campaign organized by Ivan Dilysnia has been sabotaged by waves of rats. The dandy of Borca suspects foul play, but it has been traced to a patsy in the form of a traitor wererat exiled from Richemulot. The exile has been said to exhibit strange behavior, inquiring into what has been called “demonic”.
The Gate of Containment, an incredible collaborative work capable of revolutionizing two clusters. This doorway is not unlike the conspiracy of The Mist Gate. However, its inventors proclaim that it contains threats within a liminal space in between this world and an undefined otherworld. This elaborate working came about from a mixture of sources. Primarily, a group of researchers and other brilliant minds of high society arrived from a “land beyond Mordentshire”, Glensburough. Their goal was a way of ensnaring threats unseen by the common eye. This order, known as “Glensburough Club for the Astute”, took up a base within Mordent proper. Lord Godefrey attempted to suppress activity in the coming months, to ensure that his manor was not targeted. Several studious minds from Lamordia were likewise recruited for the largest known project in the core, as countless others were seen as the works of fiction and paranoia. Tests captured and suppressed horrible beasts of the bogs nearby the riverside. However, one patron who helped make this operation happen is mysteriously absent from it all. Enryn, a formerly active member of the Order of the Crows, has not only fallen silent but has disappeared. His impression on the matter implied that he knew more than those actually working upon the circular gate apparatus. He has a familiarity with gateways and travel through dimensions, due to witnessing fell magic and related creatures. Several letters attached to his name have surfaced in his place, each detailing some hidden truth or unholy conspiracy. His knowledge may extend well beyond that though. He isn’t alone, many of the collaborators are far less deformed cultists of an Emerging Nightmare. In truth, the liminal space is something of a dimensional paradox beyond space and time. It is here that the proto – Waking Nightmare is sent power before it can bind its primary assets of the Nightmare Lands, Shadow Rift and Bluetspur to its being.
Finally, there is the matter of the Blood-Binding Rods. Normally, these dowsing rods when dripped with blood can find sources of incredible power. But, in the hands of those close to Duke Nharov Gundar, they are given new focus. At first, the twisting and turning rods of power helped with tracking in artifacts relevant for the upcoming war effort. From weapons, to various icons holy or unholy to almost anything useful in future campaigns. But in time, it was realized that they could help in another matter. Thanks to occultists of Erlin aligned with the former Darklord, it was discovered that the rods could attune directly to the gateway within Gundar’s former sanctum, Castle Hunadora. As long as blood is dripped and the rods are continuously attuned to, it is possible for Gundar’s forces to be funneled through Hunadora for a surprise attack on its current occupants. This combined with pincer maneuvers on the lands ahead would be a fool proof plan to seize what is rightfully his. One matter weighs upon Gundar’s mind, whether or not to kill “The Witch of Invidia” or Gabrielle Aderre.
Image Credit: Grimoire fashion store – Grimoire photograph; nik1979 – Vlad Drakov; Andrea Chiampo – Mutants’ Revolution; Gallowglass – Medieval ghost; Jeff Remmer – Temple of Dagon; bonbon3272 – steampunk explosion; Fred Jant – Ghostrock Bomb; Strobridge Litho Co. – Zan Zig’s Hat Trick