Almost a month ago the retired adventurer – the oft-celebrated Wizard Ahrmin Zakolov -vanished from his tower in the village of Dharnic without a word to anyone. Village life carried on as normal until six days ago, on 22nd Lamashan when ethereal monsters clad in dark armour descended from The Hungry Mountains. Green balefire emanated from the mouths and eyes of both they and their fearsome steeds as they ploughed through the village with murderous intent.
Many tried to stand against them, to slow their advance, but all were cut down by their wicked-looking ghostly scythes.
28th Lamashan, 4710. The Village of Dharnic in eastern Virlych, Ustalav:
In the village square, amid the light yet persistent rain lay the bodies of five villagers. Placed in a circle in an almost ritualistic fashion, they slowly returned to consciousness as they sat up, blurry vision gradually coming into focus as they looked to one another for clarification:
Gregor: Dharnic’s resident butcher who travelled to the village with his wife over ten years ago,
Rastomir: a Priest of Urgothoa who led his congregation for The Entropic Hall,
Victor: the eccentric alchemist’s assistant and often misunderstood Tiefling,
Vlad: a travelling Skald unfortunate enough to be staying in Dharnic during that fated night,
and Ursk: a Half-Orc Barbarian who, like Victor, was often shunned by the Villagers. Normally found in the Waylodge outside of Dharnic, he would occasionally venture into the village to trade with the Blacksmith.
Each remembers the attack from the ghostly scythe-wielding riders, as well as the fact that despite fighting bravely against superior odds, they did not survive. Of the five it is Rastomir that first notices that he does not draw breath in the cold midnight air. As the realisation of events sinks in, the group look about them to see the bodies of their friends and neighbours being defiled by carrion-eating Ghouls.
A combination of fear and anger rising within them, it is Gregor – fearful of the fate that befell his wife and children – that is first to act: heading straight for his family home without regard for his own safety, the others notice that the ghouls do not react to Gregor or indeed themselves, ignoring them utterly.
As Gregor rushes to his home with Ursk and Victor, Rastomir and Vlad head toward the only place in the village with an abundance of weaponry to protect themselves: The Blackened Hammer Blacksmith.
Gregor’s home was a mess; the door hung from its hinges and blood stained the walls and floors. It is not long before the fate of the butcher’s son is discovered as a ghoul is found feeding on his remains. Stricken with grief, Gregor cannot even find the will to strike down the foul creature, instead turning his attention to finding his wife and daughter. While Ursk suggests violence, Victor removes himself from the other’s presence when he discovers that Rosalee – Gregor’s wife – is not in her bedroom but her clothes are…
At the blacksmith Rastomir and Vlad find the blacksmith dead, slumped over her anvil as a ghoul picks away at her exposed spinal column. Shoving the vile creature aside they turn over the body to see that the wound inflicted was that of a scythe through disembowelment. Knowing their situation is dire, the pair set to looting the blacksmith of anything useful.
Back at the Romavitch household, Victor remains in Rosalee’s room, sating his cross-dressing interests seeing as nobody still “lives” in the village to judge him while Gregor and Ursk descend into the locked basement of the home when they discover ghouls scratching away at the doors. Happy for some bloodshed Ursk dispatches the creatures before forcefully breaking through the trap door that had appeared to be locked from the inside, but the group find only further death where they had hoped to find answers: Gregor’s daughter, having locked herself in, had committed suicide rather than face the horrors going on outside the home. Gregor, beside himself but acutely aware he had not yet found his wife’s body, returned back to her room to think. Ursk was slower to follow, revelling in the opportunity to kill more ghouls throughout the home.
Upon finding Victor to be wearing the clothes of his late wife, Gregor’s mental fortitude finally broke down and he threw into a murderous rage which, unbeknownst to him, triggered a change in him pulling forth the Undead Aspect of his new form. Morphing into a Lich, the butcher flung spells at the startled Victor who leapt out of the bedroom window in a desperate bid to escape the enraged butcher. Doing so triggered his change as well, and he morphed into a Shadow undead before vanishing from sight.
Rushing upstairs following the sound of the arcane – something which he was both equally distrustful and superstitious about – Ursk found a Lich in Gregor’s bedroom and assuming it was more undead coming to finish the job of wiping out the town, attacked. Reflexively and without fully understanding how, Gregor used his new Lich abilities to force Ursk from the house using his will alone and the Barbarian, enraged at not being in control of his actions, began to take it out on the ghouls around the village as he made his way toward the Blacksmith to search for Vlad and Rastomir.
At the sound of commotion from the Romavitch household, Rastomir decided not to get involved, instead letting Vlad know where he was going before heading toward the Temple of Urgoatha – The Entropic Hall – to see what had happened to his congregation. Of all the survivors it was he that had taken to the turn of events the easiest, feeling their predicament was a “gift” from his Goddess.
As the raging Barbarian made his way across the village killing everything in his path, Vlad attempted to calm the mind of his neighbour but insodoing, much like Gregor’s grief or Victor’s wish to vanish, Vlad’s need to manipulate people brought about a change into that of a unique Vampire and even though his power to control the minds of others was powerful, Ursk was so enraged that Vlad could not grasp his mind and the Barbarian landed a powerful blow upon the Skald-Vampire with a swing of his double-headed axe, felling him where he stood. However, before his body even hit the floor Vlad mysteriously vanished.
As Rastomir searched The Entropic Halls and found all of his congregation massacred, he piled up the bodies outside of the doors as an offering to Urgothoa and looted all the valuables he could carry. Gregor used the time he had to calm his emotions and return to his mortal form.
Victor, still running from the Lich, stumbled into Hersche’s Lodge Tavern and heard the faintest of noises from out the back, in the storehouse. Investigating he found the only surviving villager and son of the Tavern owner, a lad of seventeen winters known as Errish Hersh. Hysterical, the young man begins to whimper and recoil at the sight of Victor after he returns to his mortal form. Concerned that the sound may attract ghouls (not aware than Ursk had dispatched all the ones in the village), Victor comforts the young man who seems to go deeper into shock. Following the sounds Gregor and the now calm Ursk headed toward the storehouse as Rastomir began his return from the Halls of Entropy.
As the pair met in the town Ursk seemed relieved to see Gregor who decided – considering the volatile nature of the Barbarian – not to try and explain he and the Lich were one, but instead convinced him to hurry toward the storehouse. As the pair entered the building and found Victor with the young man sat upon his lap, none were aware that Vlad had reawoken in the village square, exactly as he had done at midnight.
It took time to calm the young man, in fact long enough that Rastomir and Vlad had joined them, but in the end – after a calming spell was cast upon him – the group found out what had happened from Errish Hersh…
By way of the young man’s description, he had been working on one of the top shelves of the storehouse when the riders entered the town, and lost his balance resulting in him falling among some crates and losing consciousness. When he awoke the damage had been done but he found ghouls stalking the village. He hid in the storehouse for five days, and late in the evening of the fifth night he decided to run but saw through the slit in the door a portal open in the village. From this portal walked four “silver men” of about twelve feet in height who collected seven dead bodies – Gregor, rastomir, Victor, Vlad and Ursk as well as foreman Agnir from the mines and the jeweller Varn Neuman – and then retreated through the portal swatting off ghouls as if they were nothing. Hiding once again he was awoken the next night by the sound of the portal re-opening and two of the silver men returning, carrying the corpses of the group that now surrounded him. Only this time, as the silver men laid the bodies out in a perfectly neat circle, the ghouls showed no interest in them. Unsure what to do but hoping the ghouls would eventually leave, Errish remained hidden once again.
When questioned about the silver men, Errish indicated they were “made of iron” and had emblazened upon their chests and backs a mark, which he drew for the group. Recognising it as the symbol of the Wizard Zakalov, the group (along with Errish) decided their next stop – and hopefully somewhere they might find answers – was the Wizards’ tower on the other side of town.
While the others deliberated how best to proceed Ursk went on ahead, adamant that the spell-caster had to give him answers for what had happened. Finding the tower seemingly empty, the Barbarian went inside and began searching around. Followed shortly by the others and Errish, it didn’t take too long for the group to search the ground floor and find that a couple of the Wizard’s automated servants remained. Though they could not give them too much information, they indicated that servants on other floors may be able to explain more, so the group scaled the tower, floor by floor.
Discovering many rooms which seemed to have not been used for some time as well as servants who all indicated the Wizard had left via the front door of the tower almost a month ago, the group came across an illusionary wall in the Wizard’s bedroom which revealed a journal half burned in a long-since extinguished fireplace. Gaining snippets of words from half charred pages they were able to discern the following:
" d Vorsenir "
" he Night H "
" ri Kublitsy a "
Of those words one – Vorsenir – was recognised as the name of a city to the east, across the border to Amaans. Their only lead, the group felt that the best chance to find Zakalov, hopefully Rosalee but more importantly the truth behind their fates, rested in that city. Before they set out, they decided a thorough check of the tower would be in order, knowing that a floor was still above them, and at least another led beneath the ground level at which they had entered.
Ascending the stairs the group came across a room empty of all but a large magical circle of Protection from Evil, some destroyed magical apparatus and the towers’ guardian – a Marble Sentinel which attacked them without warning as they ascended the stairs. Gregor, Victor and Vlad found they were able to reflexively assume their undead forms, as did Rastomir who became ethereal and floated above the ground as a Wraith. Luckily for them Ursk was more interested in destroying the Marble Sentinel than trying to figure out why his neighbours had become undead horrors, and more importantly was in facing the sentinel head on as Victor, Vlad and Gregor shifted forms behind him.
Though difficult to best in combat, the group did eventually disable the Sentinel, though while still caught within the red haze of the Barbarian, Ursk lashed out at Rastomir who had assumed the form of a Wraith and, when he found he could not harm him, was overwhelmed by a sense of such primal frustration that he too, changed form. Appearing as a towering Graveknight, the group became aware that their fates were linked in some supernatural manner and that they were no longer quite mortal – nor truly undead – but something in-between… something Deathless.