Lost in the Mists
Following the grim conclusion of the Horseman’s tale, our heroes departed from Tranquility and continued on their journey. The followed the Road, but quickly found themselves in another domain with no trace of Tranquility or the Road—-for the story of the Road was done for now.
A fresh highway, which had clearly been built recently, greeted them and in the distance they saw twin mountains that had not been on the horizon the day before. The land had invariably changed, yielding to a cooler forested plain. They continued following the highway, until they saw a large farm off the road.
Stepping off the highway, they traveled to the farm to gather information on their new surroundings. Our insightful players quickly deduced that the farm had been abandoned for some time, and faded bloodstains on the barn roof suggested it was not abandoned peacefully. As the heroes investigated that farm, they discovered a scarecrow in the garden and five leather aprons hanging on the clothesline. As predictable as it was horrible, the scarecrow came to life as did the aprons—-which proved to be the flayed skins of the farm’s previous inhabitants. The party destroyed these monsters, though this fight proved to be one of their most difficult.
A search of the premises produced a small journal written by one of the farmer’s sons. It told of a sad and terrible tale. A handsome stranger had happened on the farm and gave the farmer a magic potion to bring their scarecrow to life. In need of other farmhands, the farmer animated the scarecrow and put it to work. All was well for some time, but when the crop was harvested the scarecrow turned on the family and brutally murdered them all. Interestingly, the search also uncovered a mysterious flyer from the Carnival. Perhaps these two things were related in some way?
The party continued on and arrived at the fortified town of Maykle. This village protected by a moat of running water and a tall palisade wall. Though eyed suspiciously, the party entered the town without issue and began searching for answers. They learned that they were in the domain of Darkon and were following the new King’s Road. The townsfolk talked of a missing king and his recent return. While the king was gone, the hordes of undead had begun prowling the countryside. The players sought rest at a local inn that evening.
In the dead of night, the heroes were all awakened following a strange dream. They felt a compulsion to go into the darkened tavern. Together they descended into the moonlight hall, and encountered the source of their compulsion. A powerful magical presence waited for them, and remained shrouded in darkness even with Goodman’s holy light. Though already obvious, the presence announced itself as Azalin Rex, the Darklord of Darkon.
Azalin appeared to know all about the party and offered them no violence. He reported that he found their victory over Vosk to be most interesting. Indeed, he claimed that he wished to aid them in their quest to bring similar ruin to Lord Strahd. Cautiously, the party agreed that help would be welcomed but was expecting some negative element to accepting aid. In this, Azalin did not disappoint them.
The wizard-king told them of an event that occurred 7 years ago known as The Requiem. It occurred because Azalin had made a concentrated effort to leave the realm of the Mists. The resulting explosion sent ripples through the plane and changed many things. Azalin’s physical form was destroyed and he was disembodied for five years. During his absence, a terrible entity that called itself Death took over Azalin’s capitol of Il-Aluk and controlled his realm. When Azalin returned to the plane two years ago, he fought to reclaim his land. He was able to, but it appeared that Death was now a Darklord and Azalin’s former capitol was now a new domain: The Necropolis. This change prevented Azalin from reclaiming the city.
Azalin would allow the party to leave Darkon and aid them in their quest only if they would destroy his usurper. Of course, there was a grim caveat to this relatively simply quest: after the Requiem the Necropolis was under a magical affect called The Shroud. This curse killed any living being that entered the city and reanimated them as undead creatures. As such, the party would have to die in order to accomplish their task. Azalin assured the party that he believed they would be resurrected by Death’s destruction. With little other choice, the party agreed.
Through a dream later that night, Azalin showed the heroes a secret passage into the dreaded fortress of the Grim Fastness where Death had taken up residence. Through the dream scape he showed them the way to his laboratory. He explained that on that dread night that the Requiem occurred, he was performing some fell arcane ritual. The ritual was interrupted when his focus breached into the Gray Realm, the world of the dead. With this connection established, the focus turned into the dread necromental named “Death”. This disrupted the ritual, destroyed Azalin’s physical form and caused the great upheaval throughout the Mists. The party would need to complete this ritual and severe Death’s connection to the Gray Realm. Only then could he be defeated.
The party awoke outside of the Necropolis, ready to face their own death! Like true heroes they matched to their somber fate. As the party crossed the great blackened gate of the city, they died. There was no pain or feeling, just a sudden change from living to not. They were dead and death could simply be described as: cold. But not the cold of the icy stream; instead it was the cold of a love long extinguished: desolate, ethereal and lost.
It wasn’t all that bad!
They were dead, but they had been reborn as Azalin had warned. The Shroud had released Saima of her human nature and replaced it with a bloody hunger. Barlow’s visions had turned him into an allip, a spirit associated with lunacy and suicides. Garret’s reanimation reflected his secretive nature and returned him as a specter to haunt his friends. The call of the wild struck through Lucas’s animation, and he rose as a cannibalistic ghoul. Zaphyram’s love of battle was personified in his return as a wight. And best of all, Goodman’s struggles between good and evil became far more entertaining with his reanimation as a vile death knight!
With their new condition firmly established, the undead horde made their way through the grim and haunted Necropolis. The citizenry all were undead, reanimated as zombies or other macabre creatures. The inhabitants gave the party a wide breath and they arrived at the Grim Fastness unmolested.
The dark fortress loomed over the buildings of the Necropolis, casting despair with its shadows. Even in their unfeeling state, the heroes felt the awful oppression of the Grim Fastness. They reached the opened gate and then jumped into the putrid moat as Azalin had instructed them. The wizard-king neglected to tell them of the foul creatures that had taken up residency in the sludge. The heroes faced mutated crocodiles and a horrible hooked horror, but they quickly destroyed their opponents. The heroes came to a spot on the wall that Azalin instructed them to use a magical word unlock the hidden door. They did so by uttering the word Azalin gave them: Irek.
Strange that someone’s name would be the secret password.
The party moved through the illusionary door and found themselves in a darkened hallway. As they moved through the hallway, magical lights came to life and illumined a grisly sight: A massive pile of corpses blocked their path. Azalin had warned them that our heroes would have to bypass certain guardians to proceed. He did not lie in this. The corpse reanimated and rent themselves into pieces. The flesh of the corpses separated from the bones and reformed into a horrible flesh golem. The skeletons came together as a spiked ball of bones, and the viscera became a vile orb of blood. These three abominations attacked the party and threated to absorb their bodies and blood. Regrettably, even these terrible foes fell to the righteous might of the Heroes of Miredus.
They continued down the hidden hallway to a secret stairwell that led to Azalin’s laboratory. Wisely, the heroes ignored the arcanely locked black iron door in the hallway. One wonders what horrors were behind this door. The stories of the Mists tell of several adventuring parties that tried to open the door of the Black Vault, but alas that is a story for another time.
The heroes reached the laboratory and found it cluttered with books and notepads, just as Azalin left if seven years prior. They began searching for clues to the tenebrous ritual Azalin was working on the caused the Requiem. In his search, Barlow found an old notebook with a spell cast into the pages. Unfortunately, as he read the spell aloud, he cast it and brought to life a spell of conflagration! The heroes had to destroy this arcane beast before they could continue their search.
Our heroes searched the library and reviewed what they had found. The lich had taken extensive notes and detailed three componets of the grand event that unexpectedly lead to The Reqiuem. First there was a focus, a perfect copy of Azalin himself. This copy was referred to as “Lowellyn Dachine”. The second component was a ritual that would make Dachine into a lich. The third was a simultaneous ritual that would rip the arcane energy from Dachine and transform Azalin into a demilich.
Luckily for the world, a foolishly overlooked flaw in the first ritual lead to the second ritual never succeeding. Lowellyn was filled with energy from the Shadowfell, making him a demigod now known as Death and Azalin’s physical form was destroyed. But the second ritual remained primed, and if the heroes completed it, they would severe Death from the Shadowfell and make him vulnerable.
Armed with this information, the party rushed to the throne room to face the lunatic entity. Between laughter and screams, Death mocked them—-truly believing that he was the primal force of death.
But we know that that’s not true, don’t we?
The party began performing the final components of the ritual while Death sent his wight bodyguard and a carpet of reanimated flesh to destroy them. With the party busy completing the ritual, our heroes suffered grievous wounds to their undead flesh. But even with these grim odds, the party destroyed their foes and completed the second ritual.
With a flash of brilliant light, Death was struck by an eldritch blast causing him to lose the unlimited connection to the realm of death and shadow. With the Darklord vulnerable, the party immediately attacked the creatures. Screaming in rage, and whispering omens of despair, the former Dachine brutally attacked the party, but he faced the righteous power of our players. Death and his dread wraiths were soundly defeated.
The party did not return to life as expected, but Azalin appeared before them to reclaim his ancient capitol. The lich was most pleased at Death’s destruction and reclaimed the black iron crown that was once his. He tried to persuade the party to remain in Darkon and abandon their quest, for they would be powerful allies to him…and even greater foes in the future. The party refused, and the lich was forced to oblidge them in fulfilling the bargain.
The Mists know all and punish all, do they not?
Azalin gave the party the Icon of Ravenkind, an ancient holy artifact of Barovia and one very important to Lord Strahd. What this item would do remained a mystery, but it was certainly important. Azalin told the party to leave Darkon at once and head south to Nora Vassa and continuing to Vorostokov. From Vorostokov, they would travel west through the mountain pass and into Barovia. Certainly opposition awaited them in the snowy forests of Vorostokov, but they would face it together. Azalin used a powerful wish spell to return the heroes to life and set them on their way.
A thrilling end to this quest, alas the heroes remained noble in their cause despite temptation.
But has a seed of doubt and darkness been planted in the heart of one or more of our heroes?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.