I'm back! I've got a backlog of stuff I never updated to here, and I may have found a motivation to keep going thanks to some generous reviews.
Day 4, Night.
Well, that certainly was educational. I'm more exhausted than I knew was even possible, but my mind is racing too fast to allow myself to sleep. A few things are finally starting to come together for me.
Mordavia is an entirely different place by night. After slipping out of the window in my room and floating over the gate, I came to rest at the garden in front of the town. The pumpkins themselves seemed to glow like jack-o-lanterns, channeling some excess magic that was thick in the air. They say that no one goes out at night in Mordavia, that there are dark things which rule in the realm where the sun retreats and shadow reigns. Everyone locks up in Mordavia by the time the sun even begins to set. I was on my way to being the only living expert on the subject of whatever it is that goes bump in the night.
I crept to the east, feeling the leaves crunch beneath my feet and disturb the stillness of the cool night air. I had decided to head towards the outskirts of the cemetery, to see if Igor's clientèle were making full use of their tombs. As I trudged forward I began to feel a slow numbing sensation, like all the warmth was being sucked out of the air around me. There was a mound of rocks in the dead center of a grassy clearing, which I could have sworn was bare just a few hours earlier. An unearthly chill began to burn at my bones and I felt my strength slowly ebb. I started to back away, as a glowing red light started to dance around the stones, and a dark blue mist began to materialize in front of me. I tripped and fell backward, and the mist began to form hands, and a face with a dark scowl. It flickered, and I could see right through if I stared hard enough. I finally began to run away, and felt a crackle of blue magic sizzle behind me. I kept running until the warmth gradually crept back into my bones and finally fell to the ground, huddling for warmth by the brook south of town.
That same night I saw two more mounds of rocks scattered throughout the fields of Mordavia, but I kept my distance after that. I'm convinced the mounds represent the last resting place of some malevolent spirits, possibly slain in the forest and guarding their last treasures. None of the mounds were present by daylight, something about these creatures must only allow them to appear after the sun sets. I'm getting the feeling that I'm in way over my head on this one, I'm not about to tangle with the undead just yet, I may be courageous but I know my limits better than most.
I nearly panicked when a more mobile creature of the night starting crawling its way out of the ground and plodding towards me. It was some kind of an undead revenant, a mindless mobile corpse likely spawned from more of the dark influences in the valley. Flesh hung loosely off of its bones like a poorly tailored suit, and it seemed drawn to me on the basis of my life force alone. It chased me over the stream in the forest, but thankfully the revenant shuffled away when I reached the glowing lanterns of Erana's garden. Not wanting to rest there just yet, I started to head south and noticed something else that hadn't been there before. A circular fountain had appeared in the clearing outside Erana's garden, with water spewing into it from the mouth of a cherub statue kneeling on the rim. The air felt cooler than in the rest of the forest, and I could sense the presence of some powerful enchantment at work. I leaned in to examine an arcane inscription around the base of the fountain, and finally knelt down to take a sip of the water. It was sweet, like strawberries, and I found myself drinking heavily before I knew it and my vision begin to blur. I felt my body falling backwards as the forest began to swim around me and fade to black. I can only remember being vaguely disappointed that I was stuck drinking alone again.
I don't know how long I was out, the sky was still dark and nothing had changed in the forest. While I was unconscious I dreamed about a woman with a high-pitched voice speculating on whether or not I was likely to get myself killed before I'd be of any use to "them". And there was something vaguely profound over whether I'd learn to use the magic of Mordavia or be consumed by it instead. I was more than willing to take up the other half of the argument, whatever it was, but before long I found myself snapping awake in the middle of the forest again with no trace of the fountain. I was more than a little bit freaked out, but at least no one tried to rob me this time.
This just adds to my pool of questions of course. Why would someone set some sort of an enchanted trap for me and not bother to harm me or even take anything from me? Was it just a test? The fact that they didn't bother with any of my possessions just makes me think whatever they want from me they're still waiting for. I still know nothing about whoever brought me here or why, but with my reputation someone probably intends to turn me loose in a particular direction and pick up the pieces afterwards. Either by having me kill some undead guardian or using me as a stooge in a power play against some other villain they expect me to get rid of. Whoever my "benefactors" are that brought me here they don't trust me enough to tell me what they want or consider me enough of a threat to themselves to get rid of me. And whoever planted the trap for me tonight apparently considered it a trivial matter to examine me and be rid of me. If I play the altruistic adventurer and strike out at wherever I think the problems of Mordavia lie I have no way of knowing that I won't just be playing into their hands. I've resolved to be on my guard from this point onward, someone here has an interest in me and I should figure out what they want before I do anything drastic.
Aside from the undead wraiths and zombies polluting the countryside, the one other quasi-spiritual entity I encountered was lighter on the antisocial tendencies and about as confused as I was. A pale blue figure that looked like she had once been a blond haired woman haunted a particular region of the forest. In addition to being incorporeal and transparent, she was surprisingly communicative. She seemed quite certain that she just got lost during a stroll in the forest, and if she could just get back to the town everything would be all right. The strange thing was that she couldn't remember her name or why she went out there in the first place, there were a lot of topics she seemed uncomfortable with. I tried leading her towards the town or out of the forest but she disappeared whenever she moved too far away from the clearing, she seemed rooted to the spot. She was very badly scared, and barely able to hang on to whatever memories she kept with her. After a while she was able to remember that she was in the forest picking blackberries to make a pie for her husband, but couldn't remember what happened next or why she was unable to leave. Even mentioning the topic of ghosts or the undead to her brought her nearly to the point of tears. Eventually she disapparated altogether and I was left standing alone.
I can only assume the woman must once have been Nikolai's wife Anna, trapped in the place where she must have died. She's still searching for him as desperately as he is for her, but I don't know what I could do for either one. Nikolai refuses to let himself believe she's dead, and she is apparently in denial about her own state as well. And I don't know that they could move on or be reunited until both of them admit it.
I checked out the castle gates just to see if they offered any other avenue of entry now that the gatekeeper was off his shift, but a pack of vicious necrotaurs waited on the other side. Even if I could levitate over the enchanted barrier, I'd be ripped to pieces before I reached the ground. Deciding I'd seen enough for one night, I headed back to the town gates following the light of the glowing jack-o-lanterns in the pumpkin patch. Waiting for me in the mist was my official welcome woman, Katrina.
And so we come to the real reason that my heart is still racing and I haven't been able to fall asleep. This woman is unlike anyone I've ever met. She was hiding in the mists around the town gates, but her face lit up when she saw me and she rushed out to greet me. She seemed genuinely excited to see me and upset that I'd managed to hurt myself. I was offered a healing potion and she taught me a magical spell to help protect myself. "Frost Bite." From my simple experiments so far, it seems to freeze the entire air around wherever you cast it. This is a lot more useful than it would first appear. Most of my other spells, force bolt, flame dart, and lightning ball for example, work by attacking its target directly with magic, and are therefore vulnerable to magical wards or a simple reversal spell. This one simply freezes the air and lets the cold do the job. It may not be particularly helpful with the undead monsters who make no claim at being warm blooded, but I expect it will come in handy.
Apparently magic is as much a part of her lifeblood as it is of mine. She claims she lives at the castle, which I had already guessed, but was reluctant to speak any further. Boris only mentioned three people he knew of in the castle, the master, a male foreigner, and the master's daughter... I'd have to assume Katrina is either the master's daughter or else a servant employed in the castle. She seemed just as cautious of the dangers of Mordavia as everyone else... and yet, less fearful somehow and more concerned for me. We spent some time talking about my adventures and everything that had led me here. She seemed to hang on my every word.
It's very difficult for me to try to write objectively at the moment because I'm still viewing everything I saw or heard through a rosy prism. She's beautiful, magical, and maybe the one friend I have here. A couple times her hands brushed softly against mine and our eyes met... and I know she wouldn't be risking herself in the forest this late if she hadn't desperately wanted to see me too. But there seems to be something that frightens her too. She seems guarded, and unwilling to let herself go or talk about some things. Sometimes she would get excited and speak faster as we spoke or move in closer to me, then seem to catch herself and slink back or cast her eyes downward. She excused herself, saying she needed to hurry back to the castle before they noticed her missing. I should be asking myself what information she can get me or whether or not she could even sneak me into the castle, but I found myself caring mostly about when I would get to see her again.
I just remembered to check the main lobby of the inn to see if the Domovoi would appear. It was crouched on top of one of the counters, with a sad expression on its face. It's apparently some kind of a helpful spirit designed to make people happier, but things in Mordavia are beyond its ability to remedy. He says the gnome in the inn, the innkeepers Yuri and Bella, Olga and Boris, and even the Domovoi himself all need help.
Despite being rather cryptic, the Domovoi was more willing to talk about the problems in Mordavia than anyone I've met so far. I told him about how I was a hero and I wanted to help things, and he warned me to stay away from the castle. Something terrible is brewing in Mordavia he said, and he's worried I'll get myself killed before I can fix any of it. The Domovoi knows a few things about the valley I hadn't figured out yet. He advised me to stay away from the undead, although not all undead are purely evil. Some are ghosts, trapped in this plane until they realize their fate and let go of this world, and some spirits are reborn as Rusalka. Rusalka are drowned women whose spirits try to drown people as some sort of karmic revenge, although the Domovoi claims they're just misunderstood.
The Domovoi says there's another Domovoi trapped somewhere in a "very bad place." He said the door will eat me if I don't use a magic symbol. I asked if he meant the monastery built by the cult of the dark one and he nodded slightly. Inside is another Domovoi who's been trapped for some time, left completely dried out and unable to move. If I can help his friend, he says he'll help me in return. This would actually mean trying to enter the monastery without getting killed, but I've been putting that one off for long enough. We'll see if I can cheat death from the dangers of Mordavia again.