66. “Whatever happened to my Barovia Twist?”

Taken from Tunwéya’s notebooks:

Following the quasi-successful routing of the Hell Hounds, and the superlatively successful resolution of the Missing Halfling issue, we spent some time recovering in the crypts beneath High Hall. When we, from the slab, began to rise (Memo: next time the opportunity presents itself to rest in a room whose furnishings incorporate an unsullied pillow, take the pillow with you afterwards), Pherria Jynx (to nobody’s surprise) once again proposed we should retrieve the Helm of Torm, necessitating (as previously indicated) a graveyard smash-and-grab.

We caught on in a flash, and resolved to see it done, whereupon Pherria gladly provided us with multiple flasks of holy water, one of which we placed around the neck of the self-declared Elephant Lulu, in the hope that she might be able to inhale the holy water with her trunk and then disburse it in tandem with her Trumpet of Sparkles ability in order to overlay her abilities with an element of divine power. (Memo: recording this idea in retrospect, I am conscious of a nagging thought just out of reach and unwilling to be pinned down. Must set aside time to consider fully.)

Hilde Kass recommended that if we were indeed intent on pursuing Pherria’s plan we would be advised to follow Dead Street to avoid the devils, but noted there was a risk we might attract the attention of the Redeye Coster, a gang of ruffians who had taken to sheltering civilians under their somewhat criminal wings. If we did, she noted, we might wish to speak with a cleric she believed to be with the, one Luciano Langstraat whose real name – she explained – was Luciano Kaas, i.e., her father who, in order that the criminals of the Coster would not link him to his daughter the Hellrider, had joined them under an assumed name (Query: could consider drawing Hilde’s attention to delicious irony of this, in order to boost morale with playful badinage?? Eminently reasonable action to increase camaraderie in survival situation, but causes nagging doubt I cannot place.)

We set out undaunted, with Hinnerk jovially whistling a variety of tuneless signals intended to indicate subtle messages to any passing roughs, all of which – Hinnerk assured us – passed as bona fide messages among the smugglers of his acquaintance, indicating by their use of different notes that here were fellow travellers who posed no threat. (Although, based on our reception by the leader of the Coster, Radd Maasman, I suspect this profession of a wide network of links to underground smuggling gangs using whistling as a private language was simply self-serving cant).

However – Leofric managed to barter a yellow potion from inside our trusty Bag of Holding (Query: Wonder, now, what on earth this can have been. Hope it wasn’t something important. Must start making labels), and Radd kindly let us in and provided some information – the Coster is guarding some 125 people, for one, and, of more immediate interest to us, the undead in at the end of Dead Street by the Windmill could not be trusted to refrain from attacking, but those in the graveyard “just stand about unless attacked“.

(Memo: do not trust smuggling ruffians, even if they are willing to sell rum.)

We also managed to find Luciano Langstraadt and, through subtle hints and gestures, indicated to him that we had come from High Hall and his daughter, Hilde, had asked us to check on him.

Here, virtue was its own reward: in revealing to him my current theories regarding the fallen/unfelled Hell Knight/Hellrider division I revealed to him two critical pieces of knowledge, viz. that some Hellriders have not fallen because they signed not the original Creed Absolute, but the addendum (this category includes Reya), and that others have not fallen because they signed the original Creed Absolute but did so under an assumed name (as with our acquaintance of High Hall, Zurito Matt, who later vouchsafed that he was born “Klaus Ziegler”, but changed his name because his parents did not wish him to become a Hellrider).

Of course, this distinction did not explain why Hilde Kass failed to become a Hell Knight, and I was complaining to her father of this dereliction when he became rather pale and observed that Hilde is also not Hilde’s name: as a child, her family farm was attacked by trolls, and she was orphaned, and adopted by Luciano – although Hilde does not know this. (Oh! Have placed nagging doubt. Memo: Refrain from observing delicious irony until after Hilde has chance to speak to Luciano about her adoption.)

Nevertheless, this observation appears to explain the reason why some number of Hellriders did not fall, viz:

A diagram Tunweya Made indicating the possible divisions of Hellriders and Hellknights based on which copy of the Creed Resolute they signed, under what name

Essentially, my current hypothesis is that only those Hellriders who a) did not sign the original copy of the Creed, or b) signed the original but under assumed names have remained un-turned, while the rest became Hell Knights, presumably because their Oath forced them to do so. (Query: does this change re. assumed/false names also correlate with Marital Status?? Must ask Reya if she’s single.)

With one mystery resolved, we continued on our way up Dead Street and made our way into the Grand Cemetary, a venue whose grandeur was somewhat diminished by the bits of corpses hanging from trees, apparently twitching in time to the arcs of lightning from the corrupted companion, and the large numbers of skeletons shambling around looking (even at that stage) rather less static and disinterested than we had been led to believe.

Advancing among the various monuments we approached a large temple structure, again surrounded by undead. Reya called out, asking her “fallen comrades” for permission to retrieve the Helm of Torm, but without any obvious effect, for while I registered in passing the appearance of a priest of some sort emerging from behind the temple, the key feature of interest was that, on the steps of the temple, was what appeared to be the living skeleton of a minotaur.

This was (of course) a perplexing thing to find, since the natural habitat of Elturel has hardly ever been an ideal habitat for such beasts, and it hardly seems likely that any who ventured here would be honoured with a burial in the grand cemetery. Of more significant interest, however, was the fact that an undead minotaur skeleton presented an almost unique opportunity to make some notes on the actual articulation of the creature’s joints rather than relying purely on theoretical reconstructions, so ignoring the shouting in the distance I began to make a very brief sketch indicating the articulation of the beast’s shoulders as it hunched itself ready to charge.

Sadly, these preparatory notes were lost in the subsequent scuffle. I gather from speaking to Leofric since, that the Priest was some sort of delusional zealot determined to “control the might of Elturel gone by” and who – incautiously opting to ‘Hail Zariel’ in the presence of the Levellers – forced a fight.

In my annoyance at having such a fantastic opportunity for quiet study interrupted, I must confess to having channelled the might of The Fallen Companion to call lightning on his head, whereupon he retreated amid a cloud of scorched zombie flesh, but the remainder of the undead in the vicinity were not quite so easily pacified, and a considerable fracas ensued in which it was necessary to smash many of the graveyard inhabitants with a combination of magic and physical weapons, not without cost to ourselves: Lulu was badly gored by a minotaur (letting out a series of indignant squeaks), and one of the other two (three minotaur skeletons! All fascinating opportunities for discovery and all now smashed beyond utility) thrust its horn so viciously through Reya’s chest that I felt compelled to pass her one of my potions of greater healing, only to then find the first minotaur charging directly at me, with similarly disastrous results.

We have, for now, calmed the undead. The priest – he claimed to be “Gideon Lightward”, as Leofric eventually conceded, having first proposed a number of less suitable names – has retreated into a shed behind the temple. It would probably be wise to undertake a brief rest, staunch our bleeding, and possible recover what bones we can before advancing to confront him.

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