Shadow of the Demon Lord @ Gamezilla RPG night

Bad booze at the Rusty Crown
I'll 'ave a half(ling)

Forgive me, and forgive my evil shadow…

The Festival of Forgiveness went smoothly enough, I suppose. These New God rites are strange. Everybody seeking forgiveness for things they were willing to announce publicly. All the while knowing that there were plenty more things that you'd never announce, that the crowd would never forgive you for. Someone said as much. Seems stupid really, given most of the village worship the Lady and her Lord. 

Almost forgot – there was an Elf there. A misbegotten Fairy – as large as life. Strike me lucky – I almost forgot what I was supposed to be getting forgiveness for. I so wanted to ask him… so many things. 

Before I got a chance, though, I started choking. It was as if the secrets I couldn't say were welling up inside me. It wasn't just me, either – everyone there was choking and mewling and dying.  I guess this village holds more secrets than I thought. 

Turned out it was a stinking Fairy trick. Someone had secreted five pots of garbage around the hall, and that was what was choking us. It was a spell, and it was coming from somewhere in the village. We broke up into groups to sort it out. 

Bad Booze at the Rusted Crown

When things went haywire at the Festival of Forgiveness, we took one look at the pots and knew who was behind it. Everyone one of those garbage bins was in a tankard from the Rusty Crown. I knew the hog-piss from there tasted bad, but this was beyond the pale. Good ol Rusty had some answering to do. 

I drink there, Dot sleeps there, Vert works there, so we knew exactly where to go. I'm not sure why Teller and Owen came along, but I was glad that they did. Always good to keep an eye on the blacksmith. 

Rusty was his usual surly self – he's such a miserable bastard. Worse than I thought, as it turned out. We put him to the question, but he was having none of it. Finally Vert took us down to the celler. It was cold and dark down there, and in the dark something was scratching at the kegs… from the inside. 

I backed off quick smart, but ol Rusty was too close. A scrawny dead arm smashed out of one of the kegs and grabbed him by the throat. He was a goner, for sure. The others tried to fight, but Dot and I knew what to do. We raced up into the bar and found the most flammable gut-rot there. Dot was messing about, stuffing rags into bottles. No time for that – just splash the stuff about and set the damned place on fire, for Gods sake. 

That done, I ran back to the stairs to warn the others. Rusty was gone – eviscerated by the demons, but the others were holding there own. In fact, they had things well to hand, except for Owen. He was fighting Rusty's monstrous shadow. In a moment of madness, I jumped down to save him. My mind was in turmoil – Owen fighting zombies, the inn burning, me in the middle of it. Fire, for Gods sake – what was I thinking! Of course, he didn't need me, did he? Story of my life.

Vert and Dot put my fire out, thank Gods. Owen smashed all the kegs, revealing that they were stuffed with the bodies of Halflings. Turns out the Halflings had been coming to the inn, and Rusty had been stuffing them in the kegs in some mad ritual. Teller found a book that detailed all of it, and a strange fetch that Dot identified as some sort of powerful spell. 

Of all of us, Vert ended up coming out of it the best of all. Turned out that Rusty hadn't just employed him, he'd adopted him as his son. So now Vert is the new Rusty, running the Rusty Crown. God knows if anyone will ever drink there again, though. 

Toughest Hop Fight ever!

We all gathered in the hall, and it turned out that there had been trouble all over. 

Trouble all over, and it wasn't over yet. We were congratulating ourselves on a job well done when the gravedigger's shadow sort of … grew. It turned into an enormous thing – took up half the hall it did!  I could see that those poor souls in there were doomed, so Dot and I scarpered (along with half the village, I don't mind telling you). 

It was clear that those poor souls were doomed. There was no way that force of arms was going to be able to overcome that monstrous thing. So we did the only thing we could do – we set fire to the hall.  

I couldn't tell you what transpired inside that hall that night. That is someone else's tale. Heroes they were – that's all I know. They fought that thing and defeated it – Gods knows how. 

Too late to save the hall though. Lucky no one was burned to death, now I come to think about it. Pity about the hall.

I'll tell you one thing for nothing – next year, I'm not going to any New God Festival of Forgiveness. I don't care what anyone says.  

- Porky

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Henri's journal entry 423...
A point to reflect on - do elves deserve the New God's love?

 

It's my third year in town and so I attended my second Festival of Forgiveness. Last year I made something up as I still wasn't comfortable sharing anything that I truly needed forgiveness for, and much of that is between me and the New God.  My preference would have been to stay in the library or in my room, however I'm trying to embrace the message of community love that Father Bert has been preaching, may the prophet guide his soul, and so attended this year.

I’d like to think that I’ve grown in the last three years since living in Chuton, to start accepting others that have Fey influence flowing through their veins but I struggled at the Festival when an Elf presented themselves. I didn't know what was worse, a couple of the townsfolk asking for forgiveness for killing others, or the flash of memories from the horrific years I spent among the Elven kind as a teen. If it stays in town, I’m going to have to keep aware.

The town forgave me for taking books from the library but I still feel guilty about it. Mrs Ellis is quite strict about books not leaving the library and I was hoping she would be at the Town Hall to forgive me as well, but I didn't see her around.

After we all finished asking for forgiveness, I could see that Father Bert was about to provide us some wisdom from the New God when he started having difficulties breathing. I was about to run over to help him out when it felt like hands were closing around my own throat. I turned and faced what appeared to be a shadow of my own form, right in front of me and its hands were clutching around my neck. I thought a demon had been summoned and almost fainted in fear. Gathering my wits, I tried to strike it with my staff but struggled to connect because of the awkward grasp it had on me but I was able to push myself away from it.

With room between us, I swung out my staff and still couldn't connect which made me wonder if it was even real.  But it must have been, as it started to claw back into my skin as if my shadow-self wanted to possess me.  Luckily one of the townsfolk struck it from behind and the shadow form dissipated.  The Town Hall was so loud and everyone was running around I didn't even note who helped me out to thank them. I can guarantee it wasn't the elf (they probably summoned the shadow demons).

There were commotions going on in all the corners of the Town Hall and people were finding remnants of some conjuration spells.  One of them found a page from a book however the letters were appearing as translucent ghosts and impossible to read. Having spent days upon days in the library where the page had likely come from, I joined up with the blacksmith's son Alaric, a flying mechanical device he helped fix up called Bzzzantine, and a rather odd sounding human named Waylon that spoke in a dialect of common I hadn't heard before who claimed to be from a far place called England, and we all went to find the rest the book.

We arrived at the library and, as it was quite late, it was locked.  We could hear Mrs Ellis mumbling inside however I had key due to being able to access the building during nights where I couldn’t sleep, so unlocked the door and went inside to makes sure she was ok.  Alaric stayed downstairs to chat with Mrs Ellis while I led the flying contraption and Waylon to the magic section upstairs to see if we could find the book the page had come from.  When we got upstairs every single book looked blank… not blank as in completely blank with nothing on them, but an odd ghostly feeling blank like the words and images in them had all been removed just leaving, for lack of better words… kind of translucent scarring.

 

We went downstairs to see Alaric listening to Mrs Ellis prattle on about three goblins that had come to the library. But her story kind of shifted and she was saying how Alaric looked like the Ogre that was chasing the three little goblins and how it went to the first goblin’s house and blew it down.  She stopped telling the story and slumped into her chair and just stared at us.  We figured it out that she wanted us to act out the childhood story and so Alaric the ogre chased us three little goblins to our houses and huffed and puffed and blew the houses of straw and wood down, but when he got to the house of brick he was all puffed out.

Once we finished the story a book flew out of a case and fluttered around Alaric's head.  Waylon snatched the wordless book out of the air but it kept flapping around. He held on to it as Mrs Ellis started to tell us some other stories.  She fell short with her narration so we had to help her out and shortly after three more stories, we each had a book flying at us. While Waylon and I were able to catch a book flying over head, Bzzzantine and Alaric struggled and because if it, the flapping pages of the books sliced paper cuts into them.

 As I was struggling with the book, I noted from the corner of my eye that the ink in the pen Mrs Ellis had in her pocket was oozing through her clothing and formed into a big black inky spider – much worse that any creature I had ever seen in the Mistwood. I could tell that the animated book I was holding was trying to do me harm too so slammed it to the ground under my staff.  After bashing it a couple of times the book stopped moving.

I stepped behind a bookshelf but kept the demon spider in my sights. Over the top of the bookcase I could see Bzzzantine trying to slice up the book with his sawlike hand and the book flew into Bzzz's propeller which I can only assume caused Bzzzantine to drop to the ground. I had to think fast as the demon spider was about to sink its fangs into Waylon so I slung a stone at it and knocked off two of its black spindly legs. Waylon jumped over the spider slamming into poor Mrs Ellis, however knocking her down caused the spider demon to pull back out of my site as it seemed to be linked to the flow of ink coming from Mrs Ellis' pocket.

As I came around the bookshelf I noted Bzzzantine was on the ground and not moving.  The book appeared to be sucking up at the oils (is that what they were? I'll have to ask Alaric) coming from Bzzantine's cuts.  Having read up on the Clockwork physiology, I knew that there was some sort of winding key to start Bzzzantine up again so wound it and the next thing I knew he flew off with his sawblade spinning and headed straight towards the pen in Mrs Ellis pocket.

I could tell that the New God was looking down on us as the spider demon exploded with ink going everywhere.  All the books started flying off the shelves and sucked up the ink thus refreshing their pages and became whole again.  I noted that there was one book in the corner of the library that wasn't trying to absorb the ink into itself so I went over and picked up the book and opened it up.

An immediate overwhelming sense of dread flowed through me as the book was calling out for me to kill those in the room. For some reason my mind reflected to the blessing I received from Father Bert during the Festival of Forgiveness and I said a quick prayer of thanks to the New God and could feel their presence flow through me and was able to push out the evil that was trying to enslave me.

The book had a diagram of bones forming into a V into the spine of the book and there was some sort of foul magic emanating from it and so tore it in two breaking the binding it had.  All of a sudden, the evil heaviness that seemed to permeate the space we were in was lifted and we could all tell the energy had shifted.  Blessed be the prophet.

 

Waylon wanted to leave Mrs Ellis in the library (some people have no compassion or remorse… he knocked the old lady out!) however Alaraic and I carried her back to the Town Hall where all the villagers seemed to have reconvened. I suggested he get in touch with the apothecary and left Alaric to look after Mrs Ellis.

As I was listening to tales the others were sharing about their dealings with dark forces in other parts of the town, there was a shriek from the gravedigger and a massive shadow demon seemed to spawn out from him. He admitted to murdering someone at the festival so could possibly be studying some sort of demonology, I'll need to keep an eye on him.  Anyway, as the demon started coming forth I followed several town folk out of the building.  Watching through the window, I saw the demon strike out at Lion who gnashed at the demon in response. After a short time, the townsfolk came together and defeated the demon.

 

Having served my master, the great wizard Bartholomew, for 13 years I've been around a lot of magic. I've copied plenty of volumes for him, as well as the library, however the words and symbols never really resonated with me. I don't know why, but when my shadow self drove itself into me something triggered and I was able to recall some of the spells I had transcribed many years ago. I've wanted to follow the path of magic for a long time and finally feel the energy flowing through me. I now also know that my master wasn't the good person I thought he was & maybe what the gristmill owner John said about the inquisitors was right.

Henri

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Bad Earth
"Bad earth gives bad crops." - Farmer's Almanac

From the personal journal Sister Hüvje, priest of the New God and minister to the town of Chuton.


I need to keep a diary. My new position in this town requires a certain appearance of calm and confidence, but if I do not share my feelings with someone – even if it is only this inert bundle of papers – then I may truly go mad.

Where to begin…

The Forgiveness Festival. Things were already strange. In previous years the ceremony has been a lightweight affair, sometimes with a few tears or tantrums. This year, though… Havelock burying Widow Markham, and the old woman’s apparent activity within the coffin. Could he really have battered her to death with his shovel? Surely he must have been mistaken. Maybe there were rats in the coffin, or… I don’t know, something.

His bizarre confession seemed to taint the whole event. Blys the weaver took exception to a poor traveller who came to participate in our ritual, saying he was an elf. Ridiculous, of course. Elves are a myth, though I must admit there is something very odd about that tall, pale stranger.

Far worse was to come, however. As Father Bert – poor, sweet Father Bert – began to deliver the final blessing, he began to choke and wheeze. The hall was suddenly filled with the most hideous whispers, like twigs scratching on a window shutter. “We do not forgive! We do not forgive!” they rasped in a hissing cacophony, and the air turned strange. I struggle to describe it. It was like the air had become heavy and thick, as on the most humid days of high summer, but without the warmth. On the contrary, it was suddenly very cold.

That was when I realised that I, too, was struggling to breathe, and there was a terrible pressure on my throat. I heard that voice, his voice, taunting me, telling me that no, I was not forgiven, that no petty ritual dedicated to a false god could cleanse the filth from my soul, and that he would always hate me for… No. I refuse to think about it.

For a moment, I was lost to myself. There was only blind terror, pain and suffocation, and – seemingly a hundred miles away – the shouts and screams of the community I have tried so hard to serve. Perhaps that was what brought me back to my senses. They are simple folk and not without flaws, but the people of Chuton have been good to me. I knew I had to help them.

That was when I saw what was trying to squeeze the life from me: my own shadow. Some occult force had lifted it from the floor and given it mass and independence and malignant intent, and its black, soft-edged hands were clutched around my neck. An involuntary scream could barely escape my compressed throat, coming out as a crow-like creak. In blind terror I struck at that black, shapeless face with my fists, feeling nothing resisting my blows. It was like punching the air.

Somehow, it had the desired: the crushing grip on my throat loosened then fell away, and the dark form broke apart like mist in the morning sun. I was free.

Looking around, I saw that many of my flock had also fought off their weird attackers, but some still struggled. Somebody – was it Alaric? – had fallen to his knees, and his shadow seemed to have gained more mass, more darkness, as if it became stronger as he weakened. Before I could think I loaded a stone into my sling and let it fly, and it flew straight through the thing’s face without slowing – I heard it strike the wall behind – but it seemed to injure it. The shadowy attacker burst into black tendrils and was gone, just like mine. I think I may have lost my composure for a moment, perhaps shouted something I should have kept private, something stirred up by the ugly lies the thing had been whispering into my ear, but my memory is hazy.

Many things suddenly happened at once. Somebody shouted “Smash it!” An orc voice, perhaps? There was a sharp crack and the tinkle of pottery on flagstones. The horrible oppressive weight of the air lifted, like a soap bubble bursting. The few remaining shadows shrieked and boiled away into the air.

Apparently, it was over.

In the aftermath, I learned more of what had happened. Some unknown attacker had hidden ritualistic fetishes around the edges of the hall. They were revolting objects: clay beer tankards filled with grave soil and bones, rotting vegetable matter, ugly purple vines, and sheets of vellum made from the skin of who knows what. Somehow, they had caused the appearance of those horrible shadows.

There was a lot of panicked shouting, but we managed to piece together the significance of each ingredient. The tankards were from the Rusty Crown, a pub on the eastern side of town, and the grave dirt was obviously from the cemetery to our north. The vines came from a spot northwest of town in the forest near the standing stones of the old gods, and the vellum from the library to the southwest.

That left the compost, a mass of stinking rot studded with chunks of rotten potato. There was only one place it could have come from: the Bailey family farm, a short way out of town to the south-east. When the name was said out loud, I struggled to catch my breath. There was no monstrous shadow this time, just a terrible sense of foreboding and shame. I hadn’t even realised that the Baileys, despite being devout followers of the New God, had not come to the Forgiveness Festival. I asked around, it seemed that nobody had seen them for days.

It didn’t occur to me at the time to check on Father Bert, and I feel ashamed even though I know I could have done nothing. It would be hours before I discovered that my friend and mentor was lying in a dark corner of the hall, lifeless and still. I was so frightened for the Baileys that I didn’t think to check on those who were actually present in the town hall.

I need to get on with the story or I may never finish it. Blys the weaver had immediately leapt to accuse the strange visitor of causing the attack, and with no authority at all had slapped irons on the poor man, shouting about “elf magic”. Where she got iron manacles from I have no idea.

Somehow, in all of my arguing with her that she had no legal right to arrest an innocent traveller, we all got bundled together. I was determined to check on the Baileys, and the odd pair of Blys and the supposed elf were sort of carried along in my wake. We were joined by Branka the dwarven farrier and Terry, an orc and dyer, and weirdly perhaps the closest Blys has to a friend in this town.

We stopped to gather weapons along the way, arming ourselves with scissors and shears and knives at Blys’s house and hammers at Branka’s. The dwarf was very reluctant to let me borrow a small iron-headed tack hammer, as if she she thought I might steal it, but she relented when I vowed to return it to her. She was in a highly emotional state, muttering incessantly about demons and the need to destroy them all. Terry, however, was agreeable company. He is uncomplicated, but friendly, though he has a tendency not to think through the consequences of his actions. Oh, poor Terry.

It was a tense journey as we crept along the east road toward the farm, a fat honey-coloured harvest moon drawing out disconcertingly long, dark shadows before us. Blys and the stranger bickered the whole way, but eventually she agreed to remove his shackles, if only to have an extra pair of hands if things should turn ugly. Soon enough we passed Widow Markham’s now-empty house, and there was the Bailey farm, ringed by its low dry-stone wall.

We approached under the shade of a copse of trees, thankful to lose sight of our shadows for a moment. As we came closer, a hideous stench assaulted our noses. The vegetable garden outside the wall, where Eamon Bailey and his two muscular sons Bob and Ben raised their award-winning potatoes, was exuding an incredible stink. It was somewhat like the reek of rotten windfall fruit in an orchard during the last warm day of autumn, but mixed with something far worse.

Some of the others wanted to investigate, but I simply couldn’t make myself draw any closer, and I am sorry to say that my earlier supper and several mugs worth of mead made a hasty exit from my body. Branka seemed similarly overcome, so we turned away from the rancid garden and looked over the wall.

It took me a moment to register what I was seeing. Everything that normally grew in the garden, including Velda Bailey’s lovely petunias, was gone. The entire house yard seemed to have been erased, replaced with a dark blankness, but then I peered closer and realised it was moving. The barren ground was heaving and rolling, as if something terrible was slithering lazily around underneath it, like snakes under a blanket. The stink was here too, but not as strongly as in the vegetable patch.

That was when I saw them. A faint light was coming from one of the windows of the farmhouse, and straining my eyes I could see two family members – Ben and Eamon, I think – apparently eating dinner. Goosebumps prickled my arms, though I could not have said why. All I knew was that something was very, very wrong.

At that moment the other three returned, babbling something about a slimy pit and talking worms. Poor Terry had been pushed too far, it seemed: he kept declaring that “Worms aren’t supposed to say that!” and “Those were bad worms!”

I told them about seeing the family inside, and also about the horribly roiling ground of the house yard, and we unanimously agreed to walk around the property (away from the vegetable patch, naturally) and knock on the back door. Terry, bless his simple soul, tapped lightly, shouted “Hello!” and then kicked the door in, cleanly off its hinges and onto the floor. I would have laughed at that, but then I saw the Baileys and my throat was sealed shut in horror.

The entire scene was illuminated by a sickly green glow, much like the faint lights that sometimes appear above graves. All five of the Baileys were there, seated around the dinner table: Velda and Eamon sat across from each other, and beside them were Bob and Ben. At the foot of the table, closest to the door, was dear little Stacy. Poor, innocent, simple Stacy. Oh, dear God, Stacy…

They were eating themselves. Their chests and stomachs had… oh God… they had burst open. Inside was rotten and filthy, a festering mulch of intestines and compost and monstrous potatoes tangled with roots that quivered and reached and grasped. Gobs of… something… were dripping out of their gaping torsos onto the table, and then would stab into them with their forks, bring the squirming clumps of rot to their slack, oozing mouths, and…

It was an intentional blasphemy, I know. The New God’s eternal nature is symbolised by Ouroboros, the serpent that eats its own tail – I have that very symbol around my neck as I write this – and here was the same concept, perverted into unholiness. Something, some evil malignancy with a warped intelligence and cruel sense of humour, had created that hideous tableaux to mock us and our beliefs.

For a moment I was lost again. The world swam and hovered, and I suppose I must have come close to fainting. When my senses returned, I was horrified to see that Branka and Blys had stepped inside the room, and Terry was muttering “Burn it! Burn it!” as he struck flint and steel onto the damp thatch of the roof. The “elf” wisely remained outside with me, and had drawn a longbow from inside its travelling cloak.

Branka struck Ben Bailey from behind with her staff, splitting his rotting body in two, turning it into a grotesque V shape. Blys shouted about an object in the fireplace and I saw her strike something with her hammer. The green glow vanished in an instant, and there was a horrific crunching sound as the four remaining Baileys twisted their bodies to stare at Blys. They each reached out a hand, their dribbling, foetid mouths gaped wide, and they howled or screeched or some other sound I do not know the word for. All I know is that it was one of the worst things I have ever heard.

Despite their poor tortured bodies being almost torn apart, the four of them staggered to their feet and began moving toward Blys, clumsy but clearly filled with murderous intent. Whatever she had done, it had made them angry. The thing that had once been Velda lunged at Blys, and something wonderful happened: the pale stranger, the so-called “elf”, placed his slender body between Blys and her attacker. She had given him nothing but suspicion, and he put himself in harm’s way to protect her. When the horror of that night threatens to overwhelm my memories, that is what I try to focus on: a stranger to our town who had been greeted with suspicion and hostility, risking his life to protect somebody who hated him.

It cost him, too: the Velda-thing tore at his pale skin with her filth-encrusted nails, drawing a gush of dark blood. Sickeningly, the potato roots inside Velda’s chest cavity reacted to the fresh blood, sending out hungry tendrils that reached for the wounded elf. Before they could make contact, Branka smashed the shambling corpse with her staff, and Velda finally found her rest.

Movement drew my attention to the right, where little Stacy was reaching her twisted hands toward the heroic stranger. She was behind him, and I couldn’t find my voice. Acting on instinct, I did the only thing I could: I swung my sling and sent a rock flying at the stinking, stumbling thing that had once been the sweet but clumsy little girl who had spilled her drink into the Mayor’s lap at the Yule feast.

My aim was true. Stacy’s head burst open and a flood of blackened gore splashed out as her body, now truly lifeless, tumbled to the filthy floorboards.

Oh Stacy, I’m so very sorry. You deserved better. They all deserved better.

The sharp smell of smoke made me look around. Terry had finally gotten the roof alight, and it was catching more quickly than I expected sodden thatch would, so quickly that I worried for my companions inside the house. The so-called elf was closest, so I leaned through the doorway and grasped his cloak, yanking him backwards to safety. I called out to Terry to rescue the others from the rapidly thickening smoke.

Through the haze and wavering orange light, I saw once last thing inside that accursed house. Eamon Bailey was standing over the corpse of his wife, staring down at her with confused eyes. For a moment, I saw unmistakeable recognition there, followed by grief. The ruined parody of a man who had once been a member of my congregation looked up in confusion, and I could see viscous slime dribbling from his eyes. It… he… was crying for his dead wife.

My final glimpse before the burning roof collapsed was of Eamon punching his twisted claw-like hand up through his throat and into his brain. In the end, he died on his own terms. Then he burned.

Five strange companions stood in sombre silence and watched the little farmhouse being consumed by the flames, reminding me of the fiery graves of the warrior kings of old. I grasped the symbol of my faith in my right hand and prayed the best I could. “Let them rest,” I said. “I don’t know if anyone is really there, if anybody can hear this prayer, but please, if you can hear me, let them rest. They were good people, hardworking and kind. They did not deserve this fate. Let them rest.”

I’m not sure I even believe there is anything out there to hear our prayers, but somehow I felt heard. I knew a kind of peace as we watched the fire burn down, ready for something else to happen. When we were sure nothing was going to emerge from the glowing embers, we wordlessly turned to leave.

With the power in the house dispersed, the other horrors around the farm had also retreated. While some of the smell lingered, the vegetable patch had collapsed inward, forming a dark pit. Similarly, the weirdly alive dirt of the house yard was now still. Confident our work was done, we returned to the town hall.

The other four groups had encountered similar horrors as those we found at the farm – they told chilling tales of flying books that drank blood, the corpses of halflings pickled in barrels of liquor, and even stranger things – but we were no closer to solving the mystery of who had caused all this terror. The mayor started to organise us, make plans for what to do next, but he was suddenly drowned out by a terrible voice.

For the second time that night, shadows had come alive in that hall, but this time they gathered together in a single place. The gravedigger’s shadow had grown to monstrous proportions, and now it towered above us all, an immense figure blacker than a moonless night. It mocked us, laughed at our efforts to undo its evil schemes, and credited our successes to luck. All our forgiveness would come to naught, it laughed, and our beloved town would fall to ruin.

Many of the townsfolk ran in terror, and I wished I could join them. Everything in me was aching to scramble blindly from that hall, but I had made a promise to watch over these people, and may I be damned by all the gods old and new for such a foolish vow. But still, I stood my ground.

I was heartened to see that others were also refusing to run. The mechanical lion that acts as a self-appointed nightwatchman in Chuton was inspirational, shouting out its defiance and leaping to attack. It was struck a terrible blow by the shadowy giant, and we all groaned in despair, but a moment later we were cheering as the brave lion struggled to its feet and roared.

Its incredible courage moved me to act, but what could harm such a terrible being? Then it occurred to me: light banishes shadows. I grabbed a burning torch from its bracket on the wall and threw it with all my might, putting every ounce of my will behind it. My aim was true, and yet… I was wrong. Light does not merely dispel shadows. It also creates them. As the flame was swallowed up in the beast’s misty form, I was certain that it had become even darker and sharply defined. Foolish girl, I thought to myself in a voice that sounded suspiciously like my mother’s. You’ve only gone and made it stronger!

And yet, it had given me an idea. If there were no lights at all, could the creature of shadow exist at all?

“Put out the lights!” I shouted to everyone around me, and I started pulling torches from the wall and stamping them out. It probably had no effect, but it felt good to be doing something, to be fighting against this corruption in my own small way.

I was so intent on my task that I missed everything else that occurred. I heard later that the mad street preacher who bellowed his prophecies of doom in the market square had been killed. A priest and a preacher. I refuse to believe that was coincidence. Poor Terry, too, fell while bravely trying to assist the gravedigger. He was a kind soul, and I hope he finds peace. Many others were injured, some close to the point of death.

However, all of us united were too strong for the interloper. In the end it was Blys, of all people, who struck the final blow. The demon’s shadowy form began to blur and fall apart, and rivulets of liquid shadow ran across the floor like the blood sluices in a slaughterhouse. Even so, its evil work was not yet done.

“You think you’ve won?” it screamed, it’s voice coming from everywhere and nowhere. “You have sealed your own doom, you fools! This village is cursed! This world is cursed!”

As the last of the scraps of blackness dissolved into nothing and its mocking voice echoed into silence, we heard the tolling of bells. Every church for miles around, maybe every church in the world, was ringing its bells. Just church bells, as I had heard a hundred times before, and yet my heart felt frozen in my chest with dread.

That was a week ago. No explanation has been forthcoming about the bells. Travellers carrying news from other towns all told the same story: the bells rang of their own accord, with nobody pulling the ropes. It lasted for only minutes, but everybody was shaken by the strangeness of it. Yet life is continuing, as it does.

I have moved from the deacon’s hut to the priest’s house, determined to carry on Father Bert’s work as best I can. Tradition holds that a female minister in this role take the title of Mother, but I feel that what my flock needs in such uncertain times is a sister, so that is what I now call myself: Sister Hüvje. Aside from the formalities of title, little has changed. I move through the village, offering encouragement or comfort or wisdom, as seems appropriate, and the people seem to have accepted their new priest well enough.

What they do not know is that I have changed. I am not the same woman I was a week ago, and I feel I must be going mad.

I am having a terrible dream, the same one every night. In it, I am back at the Bailey’s farm, standing outside the door and looking into the farmhouse. Eamon is there, a ruined dead thing, standing over the broken shape of his wife. He is staring and crying, just as he did that night, but then he crouches down clumsily, bringing his twisted, slack face down toward her. He looks ready to kiss his wife, or perhaps bite her, but instead he does the impossible: his jaw gapes wipe, and his own feet slip inside that dark maw.

He should fall, but instead he floats above the filthy floorboards, and his feet slide deeper into his throat. I can see his neck bulging horrifically as his ankles and then his calves slither inside, and surely it has to burst open – it cannot stretch any more than this.

Eamon’s body has formed a perverse ring, hanging in the air at head height, and now there is a deep, resonant hum and a faint golden light coming from somewhere, maybe everywhere. The ring of dead flesh is now spinning like a wagon wheel and I can see that the light is coming from inside it. The sound is getting louder and louder until I feel my head must burst open from the power of it, and the golden light has become blinding.

Then there is silence, and total stillness. I stand in darkness, and before me there is only a shining ring of gold, floating in the air. A great eye opens within the ring, and it looks inside me, past cloth and skin and flesh, deeper into me than anyone has ever cared to look, and I know that it truly sees me, everything I am.

A voice, thrumming with power, speaks…

…and I awake screaming, my bedclothes soaked in sweat. Often the scream is wordless, but two nights ago I heard myself cry out “Stacy!”. Last night, to my horror, I shouted another name, one I haven’t spoken in years. The effect, though, is that I am terribly tired. All that gets me out of bed each morning is that sense of duty I feel to these people, but in my heart I am utterly spent.

There is more, and it may be the worst of it. That first night, the first time the nightmare ripped me from sleep, I awoke with my hands clutched to my throat. The bruises where my shadow had tried to strangle me had been very painful, and I had fallen asleep stroking the raised welts with my fingertips.

The pain was now gone. I lit a candle and examined my throat in Father Bert’s tiny looking glass. My throat, mottled purple when I had fallen asleep, was pale and smooth again.

Later, I visited Branka to return the hammer I had borrowed. She was limping from the deep wounds that the Baileys had inflicted on her, and I placed my hand on her burly shoulder in sympathy. I don’t know why I did it, but I muttered a short benediction, and the farrier gasped. The scabbed gash on her arm had vanished, replaced by a faint pink scar. Before she could ask me what I had done, I mumbled a brusque goodbye and stumbled outside, hurrying back to my house and hiding inside.

There is a power in me now. I did not ask for it and I don’t know what it is, but worst of all I do not know who is granting it to me. Holy ones heal, it is true, but so do witches and druids. What is the spring from which this power flows? I do not know, and it frightens me.

I cannot tell anyone any of this and so it is you, dear diary, in whom I confide. I do not know what the future holds, and while I wear a bright smile when I mingle with my flock, it is as false and as brittle as a porcelain mask. I live in constant fear. There is worse to come, I know it.

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An Excerpt from the Journal of Nessa
The night of the Festival of Forgiveness

……This could be longer than my usual entries in this journal, what happened tonight needs recording, before the memories begin to fade, or, more likely, my mind tries to forget the things I saw…..

The night (as the festival takes place at midnight – this should  perhaps have been my first clue that something about this town isn't quite right( began as normal, many of the town residents were together, chatting and awaiting Izzy and Father Bert to begin the more formal part of proceedings.

Those present asked forgiveness for something they needed absolution for. My own forgiveness, well, I still will never regret killing that bastard. He caused me enough pain over the years, he deserved all he got and more, but I like some of the people in this town, particularly those who cross my palm with money, so I tried to fit in. This was to be the end of anything resembling normality…..

All of a sudden we heard a dissonant chanting – I don't remember much but I distinctly remember hearing "You are not forgiven" loud in my ear, then, if that weren't enough, our shadows – yes even as I write this now, I still can't quite believe it – twisted and began trying to choke us to death, every one of us.

The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. I remember having a distinct feeling of anxiety that has lingered to this point. Perhaps I shall not fully recover my faculties. I know I managed to break away from my shadow, and soon after, I heard a loud bang, and the shadows became, just regular shadows. A few of the other had found some tankards containing weird bits of bone and earth, with some strange purple coloured vines. Now I am no magician, but even I know that some bizarre ritual was happening here.

After a little discussion with my fellow shaken residents, a few of us decided to try and investigate around the local standing stones, as the vines had been seen around there. Accompanying me were the apothecary, the barber, who doubles as the surgeon if needed, the local gnomish tinker, and Stenk, who I had previously watched with disdain, given he was an orc. He had revealed himself as a changeling!! I didn't even know they were real, I had always thought they were told to frighten children into eating their parsnip root.

As we approached the stones, we felt somewhat uneasy, and it wasn't until we got close that we realised the absence of sound, and that we were yelling at the tops of our voices to make ourselves heard to each other.

We crested the rise upon which the stones stand, and saw something even more bizarre than that we had already seen that night. 2 large tusk shaped stones (my companions thought they were bone, but I didn't have the heart to tell them until later)  lashed together and FLOATING 5 feet above the water, in the middle of the stones. Not only that, the front faces of the stones reflected our faces. As we walked around we saw tracks that appeared to be human. Unfortunately we couldn't follow them as they disappeared into the long grass. Our tinker friend tried to throw a stone from his sling at the stones from the opposite side, but missed and when his stone hit the water, the ripples appeared muted. We had no real idea what was happening. We decided we needed to get those stones out of there somehow, so the barber waded into the water, and grabbed them This caused the most hideous noise in my ears I had ever heard, fortunately I managed to get the ringing out of my ears in time to see the tinker throwing a slingshot at the closest stone to us – he was gesturing wildly at something we couldn't see – I moved around to see what I can only describe as a mirror faerie. Yes Nessa, when you read this back you are not exaggerating, it appeared to be an elven like being, with a skin of mirrors. I let loose an arrow, hitting it, and it appeared to cause cracks in the surface. We managed to hit it enough to cause it to shatter, but when we saw 4 more trying to claw their way from the stones, we decided we were outmatched, and I am not sorry to say we ran, but not before breaking the stones apart, the barber having been pulled out of the water by the apothecary. This did appear to cause the remaining beings to stop their pursuit, but we did not hang around to check. 

We waited at the Town Hall, having been the first party back, the other townsfolk having also gone to investigate potential clues as to the origin of the strangeness.

However, things would just get stranger, as from the undertaker's shadow, a HUGE shadow thing grew, and proceeded to taunt us, suggesting that a malevolent being is behind all of this. I am proud to say that, unlike some people who shall remain nameless (they know who they are) I attempted to fight the demon, but I wonder just how much difference we were making. A couple of the residents, my new companion Stenk included, threw themselves in front of the monster's attacks, losing their lives in the process. Whether through our efforts or perhaps discretion, the monster began to dissipate, but not before throwing out a curse upon the town, the nature of which we had no idea. However just after the monster disappeared finally and said it's last curse words, there was the sound of bells tolling in the distance. I am choosing to believe this was just a coincidence. I cannot countenance the possibility of anything else….

I now need to try and sleep, but whenever I close my eyes, I see Stenk collapsing into his real form…..

Nessa

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Journal of Tonk B. McleTonk
Festering of Grievances

Typical.  One lone single day in a whole damn year,  everyone puts on their bestest behaviour, plea forgiveness and promise to make a better life for themselves.  Who are they kidding?  It’s just one glorified excuse for getting drunk and gossip.  Festival of Forgiveness?  Call it Festering of Grievances, and you’d be halfway there.  I mean, a couple of villagers straight our confessed TO MURDERING SOMEONE and nobody bats an eye.  Just another laugh and a story to tell over a pint at the tavern.  Someone, anyone, needs to come to this village and write about this.  This demon forsaken Shit-Village Chuton.  And when do the hillbilly racists misandrist collection of sorry species actual agree on something?  The one time an Elf comes into the village, and every single one of my philistine neighbours start hurling the miserable alien abuse in perfect concordance.

Let me take that back.  Demon forsaken village?  Well, that I was wrong about.  The Demon Lord has cast his shadow over this town – somehow casting attention to this garbage corner of the world and deciding it is worth its while to murder all of us with eldritch shadow beings.  Just proves how there is no goddamn reason in this uncaring and random business of a world.  Why else would anyone waste their time on the absolute worse specimens of creatures to inhabit the so called civilised world?  I can say that without undue offense, as goblins are the very worst of our kind.  Walling in filth and ignorance, and taking pride in being pariahs of the realm.  No thought to even question the execrable lot we have been awarded in life, and to seek a way out via education, enlightenment or action.  

Shadows defeated, at least they served as a proxy for the pent up bloodlust that was materialising into elficide if not for the opportunity to curb-stomp your own shadow.  There has to be some delicious irony in that.   I took the opportunity for what it was – concrete hints or occult and arcane forces hidden behind a thin veneer of reality.   Heading off with a slice of the lynch-mob to the cemetery, a strong contender for somewhere I could glean more into the arcane forces at work.  At the risk of my own lynching by a vandalous clockwork who thinks anything that is unexplained should be gutted, and at the definite cost to my own sanity of which I never had much of a strong grasp on, I salvaged a bone that formed some dark ritual fueling a curse to our village.  As if we are not cursed all, by the biggest curse of them all, that of being born.  

This curious bone at least sparks a sliver of joy – an opportunity to study and understand the hidden mysteries that govern our existence.  There is magic involved, and I intend to unlock its secrets. 

Back at the town hall, I made a quick exit when an actual demon materialised.   These ignorant sods think that courage is jumping blindly into a danger that you are too ignorant to understand.   True courage is understanding exactly the horror of a situation, and taking action anyway.  Myself?  I’m robbing chance from dictating when my inconsequential life is over.  I hope to die, but it will be on the time and day of my choosing. 

Demon Lord, if you are listening:  We ain’t nothin’ but a town of goddamn, chicken-shit, horse-shit, tattle-tale, pissy-assed, whiney, fat, flabby, out-of-shape, drunk, supersticious, peekin’ out the windows and snoopin’ around, listenin’ on the confessions and spyin’ in the peephole and peepin’ in the crack of the goddamn door, listenin’ in the fuckin’ Sheetrock: Mr Demon Lord puh-lease, show some feckin’ mercy, I mean swallow up the  whole village, won’t you?

I’ve had a miserable life, but at least I can hope it will be over soon. 

Tonk B Macletonk

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Fear of the Blank Page
A Less-Than-Quiet Library Visit

They told me libraries are great for learning, and they weren’t wrong. My quest for knowledge to fill up my clockwork brain taught me the following things:

  1. Some librarians are NUTS;
  2. If a library is devoid of inked words, they’re probably gonna be in a pen in the old lady librarian’s pocket and become a giant Ink Spider (it's happened 1 out of 1 times so far);
  3. It’s best to smash the pen when it’s NOT in the old lady’s pocket;
  4. It’s hard to apologise to the nice old lady about smashing the pen (and the supporting flatbed of 3 of her previously-intact ribs) when she’s been knocked unconscious by a well-meaning but slightly frightened teamster;
  5. Thankfully, like with any PR disaster, there was a larger disaster to help us all forget, and hey, quick, check out that massive demon shadow with all the cursing and the changeling killing and the whatnot!

More knowledge to follow.

Love from your knowledge-thirsty buzzsaw-handed klutz,

Bzzzantine

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Ink and Shadow
Alaric's account of the horrors of Festival night

From the journal of Alaric Clay:

It all started innocently enough – the annual Festival of Forgiveness. I was worried for Mrs Ellis the librarian, since she had mentioned recently that the letters in the books seem to fade more each day. I spoke with Reisus the apothecary who said she'd been to see him, and suggested I might make some seeing glasses for her. After some asking around, Hüvje offered to lend me her spyglass, and Henri suggested I speak to the gnome who had come to town. I also heard some disturbing information from Ruby about the goblin Chrissie Todd and the missing Farmer Bailey, but I didn't manage to do anything about either of those things before the ceremony began.

I asked for forgiveness for my insistent questioning of some of the old ways, which I suppose is a bit odd given I still honour the Old Faith. Still, I meant it, and didn't expect anything too shocking to come out. But Havelock killed the Widow Markham! Or at least, what was left of her. And Stenk turned out not to be an Orc, but a Changeling! His true form was difficult to comprehend. Worst of all, the clockwork that had been brought to me, little Bzzzantine, whom I repaired and reactivated – it admitted to accidentally killing a dog and its owner! What have I done?

But worse was to come. All of us had difficulty drawing breath as our own shadows rose up and strangled us! I had never seen the like, and the horror momentarily overwhelmed me, but somehow I regained my wits and managed to light one of my torches, burning the shadowy creature and causing it to slink back from whence it came. I tried to help a few others, but we were all trapped inside the Town Hall until Ruby found and smashed a tankard hidden in a corner. More were found, and it became clear they were part of some foul magic. One of them contained a blank page of vellum, which reminded me of poor Mrs Ellis, who hadn't made it to the ceremony. I rushed to the library, finding myself joined by Henri, Bzzzantine and the teamster Waylon.

There we found Mrs Ellis seemingly well, but addled; she spoke of characters from stories as if they were real, including Sir Jonas of the Redblade novels, the Dragon Rider Lucas, and the dwarf Hagar, as well as several children's tales. I tried to calm her while the others searched for books of magic upstairs, but as I helped finish the story, a book flew from a shelf and began circling my head, flapping its pages like a bat! The others returned, having found the books all blank, and as we tried to calm the librarian by helping complete her memories of other stories, more of the books circled us – and then attacked! We tried to defend ourselves, but the books were vicious – and one of them battered Bzzantine so badly the little thing became inert. The books tried to soak up his spilled fluids, as though trying to drink – they wanted something to replace the lost ink!

I dodged around the bookshelves, and so missed some of what happened next, but Mrs Ellis' pen started to leak ink – more and more until it flowed from her pocket and formed itself into the shape of an enormous spider. We fought it, but it was strong; much to my horror, Waylon decided Mrs Ellis was the cause of the trouble, and attacked her! This didn't do much to quell the beast until he or Henri (I was busy fending off a tome) destroyed her pen, causing the creature to explode in a burst of ink, covering us all. I threw one of the books into the ink, which calmed it, but soon after the other books all flung themselves from their shelves, soaking up the spilled ink and restoring their words.

Well…all save one. I stayed with Mrs Ellis, but I heard Henri's mutterings as he peered inside the one book left on the shelf, something he described only briefly as a foul ritual which had tried to corrupt his mind and soul. We went back to the Town Hall, and I carried Mrs Ellis with me, hoping to find the apothecary to get her some aid. Reisus had no sooner left us, and I had laid her down gently in the corner near the door, than horror erupted once more – an enormous dark creature rose from the shadow of Havelock the gravedigger and threatened us all, trapping Mrs Ellis and I in the corner! I did my best to protect her, lighting a torch in the hope that flame would ward off the creature, though I was filled with dread. When the clockwork struck it a mighty blow, I was shocked back into action, and tried to help while staying near the stricken librarian, though my dagger went wide.

I'll never forget the bravery of Stenk, the orc I barely knew and had only discovered wasn't even an orc only that evening. He stepped forward and faced the beast, and it tore him apart, his natural form of twigs and stones collapsing before me. I still see that moment sometimes, when I close my eyes.

Somehow, we prevailed, and the creature was destroyed, the killing blow struck by the weaver Blys, who I now know uses those iron offcuts I sell her to make clothing to ward off the fae. She is a hero, as are all those who fought that beast. As for me…well, I don't know. Was it brave to stay in the corner with the librarian? Or was it an excuse for cowardice? If I had stepped forward, would Stenk still be alive? Would I be dead? I ask myself these questions often, though I know it is pointless.

But we are far from safe – those who stayed with us in the Hall that night heard the pronouncement of a curse upon us all. Perhaps what they say about the Demon Lord is true. But "perhaps" isn't going to help us. I have embarked on a new course of study, into magic. I will study the ways of magicians old and new, to determine the truth of our afflictions and protect us from them. I have discovered ways to blend magic with the engineering I already know. And since I fear it is something we are short of, I will also study the magic of Time – before it runs out on us all…

Alaric Clay

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THE SHADOW OVER CHUTON
LEVEL 0 (STARTING)

CHUTON is a village of 200 souls in the Northern Reach, near the city of Sixton.

Tonight is the Festival of Forgiveness, an annual ceremony of thanks during the Harvest Moon. All villagers and visitors gather in the village hall to share the bounty of the harvest and to reflect on the past year and to seek absolution for failings. The tradition is for everyone to take a turn to say "I am (name), and I am a (race/profession). I try to be a good person, but I (describe act for which you seek forgiveness). Please forgive me." All present say "We forgive you", and at the end of the evening all drink from the same cup, and toast to the coming year. In a first, this year will be the first time that Clockworks will take part in the ceremony, in recognition of their part in the community.

The annual Hop Fight is then held, in which everyone hops on one leg and tries to knock each other over. The Hop Champ then taps the harvest keg and sculls the first beer. Couples then announce engagements and seek the blessings of the community, followed by a party until sunrise.

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'Ain't nothing but a Gravedigger
Or ... mmmm, sweet,sweet malicious potato

The Mayor probably shouldn't have let the clockworks into the Festival of blah blah in the first place, that's when it all started to go wrong. "Forgive me for this, forgive me for that, don't cut our toes off Chrissie, oh no, I'm being strangled by my own shadow!" It's the same thing every year. Well , it's the same thing apart from the "being strangled by my own shadow" part. That was quite different and a lot of fun. Mayor Izzy always throws the best parties. 

So, after the screaming stopped , it turns out that it wasn't a party thing by the Mayor after all! It was some weird, "we can't say his name Lord", magic stuff trying to actually kill us all.

I know right! That's what I said, "COOL!"

So we mostly didn't all die , shame, and everyone will be wearing turtlenecks for a while, which is fine, but then the whole town rushes off to the Tavern or the Library or some other place to "investigate" some stinky steins full of mud and potatoes. I took myself off to the Graveyard , because, you know, there's things in there that don't need finding…

The Graveyard is so quiet at night, well it would have been if these five other people weren't following me everywhere. I guess that's alright.  The coffin maker was there, I guess she thought there might be some business in it for her. The gravedigger too, he's a badass and has his own shovel and boots.  Tonk,  the goblin farmer kept saying stuff like wizard and magic and ritual, weird.  Oh yes , the town clockwork torch was there , pretty cool really, I wonder how it works and the midwife, Ruby, a midwife in a Graveyard. I don't know about you but that's a bit suspicious.

We had to kill a big centipede, which was eating the dead bodies from open graves, but the important thing was I stole a pair of boots from Chris. 

Oh yeah, there were some glowing bones and Tonk kept saying eldritch horror and ritual magic and how he has to check the drainage in the top field. That goblins' unhinged if you as me .

We got back to the town hall and it all went a bit Pete Tong. Before I knew it I was outside , staring in through the window, watching the town get eaten by a giant shadow demon and I started thinking about all those empty hovels and all those comfy beds and what a long day it had been. 

I hope everyone will be ok, I guess they know what they are doing. 

Chrissie Todd

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