Listener, sometimes I feel at a loss. It is you and I with this bird’s eye view, seeing a story of the dark and the hopes and fears of those caught within.

We see the crying tears of a mother in Shadowgrange that doesn’t know her where in that manor her daughter is kept, wallowing in the decrepit corpse of a house. We see the inquisitor Seeta being stirred from her sleep as the sound of bells and the scent of smoke rouses her from her tenuous slumber. We see the hidden man Rem Karolus battle with fiends in the streets with flashes of steel and holy light, but fleeing at the sounds of the church he serves. We see the druids and savage folk of the hills gathering around the mountainous bones of the earth in prayer of a lord who will free them of their loss and pain. We see the caves of the burgeoning howlpack, and a strong dark skinned woman looking for something to believe in. We see the shattered remnants of soldiers praying with a conflicting but nonetheless real faith in the righteousness they hope to serve again. We see the vampire progenitor Strephan Maurer, calmly and idly contemplating his words, and the days to come as he gazes out of the shrouded window of his wagon. And we see a woman that looks remarkably like Grimhild but dressed in a red dress that cascades and flows like a river of blood as she leans in an whispers something secret, something dark to a glass and metal contraption flowing with ice white light. Though I suppose most notably, we see her smile. A true smile, not fiendish, but the confidence of someone who has made up their mind.

And yet despite seeing all these things listener, we are still caught along this story. Hoping we will see how it ends. Whether this is a story of redemption, vengeance, or just purely tragedy. Though I suppose that is for them to decide. But now plans are in motion, and there is no turning back.
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Dressed in red and black finery the cost of multiple men’s lives, Strephan Maurer idly sips at a goblet of wine and eyes the sky with a placid face. The peace was a practiced neutrality, holding back a steady tension with gossamer and decorum. He was ruminating. Ruminating on life. On death. And on his deep and utter boredom. Things were supposed to get exciting, another set of slayers and warriors, users of magic and prayer stepping into his valley. His drummed a set of manicured nails across the polished wood of his arm rest, each beat like that of his languid heart.

They had her. Tatyana, his soulmate trapped in the breast of another. His brow furrowed as he still stared toward the graying cotton of the clouded sky. He didn’t mind waiting for her, but the game had been patient. And like everywhere else he had set up the pieces. And then they came in, upturning the board as they didn’t even know the game was being played. Maurer lowered his golden eyes to stare across the western gate of the estate, the storms clearing to simple rain on the other side of the walls, hills and forest blocking his eyes but not his vision.

It had been long enough coming. He hoped they would play along, stumbling haphazardly into the affairs and secrets brewing in Pallas. The neonates he smuggled in. The efforts of Lady Wachter. The cultivated paranoia and obsession of Inquisitor Seeta. But alas, they were simply a distraction. And waiting just to show off, well… It seemed desperate. As the first line of smoke came up from the direction of the forest nestled town, Maurer smiled a gentle tired smile. “Rahadin,” he said clearly to the darkness beside him, “I think it’s time we paid them a visit.”
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It was years ago that the Abbess, still tall and fair, came to reside in the confines of Krezk. The abbey had been there almost as long as she could remember, a cloistered building of of bone white, it’s graying walls visibly darkening against the fresh snow from disuse. But then it was named. The Abbey of Saint Traft. And that was when she took responsibility. She could still remember him, the legendary man who brought justice to lands near and fair to the shining field and towers of Gavony. His face was stern, but not grim. There was a softness behind his strength. And now he was dead.

She has seen him once, just the once before taking ownership of the old and poorly maintained stone walls of the abbey. A wispy figure, faint and flickering, candescent manifest will of the man she served. There was nothing she could do for him. But all those years ago as she looked toward the rest of her existence, she thought she could perhaps help others.

That was a long time ago, and she had changed much. The town had changed much, grown about her like roots from a tree. And she had became a rumor, a whisper on lips. She knew what they thought of her and her quiet solitude up on the snowy hill, only surrounded by those under her care. But she had fixed them. “And soon.” she spoke out loud, tracing a hand along the red haired head of the woman resting on smooth sheets before her. “Soon you’ll fix him. And they’ll be safe. But first… They must remember we care.”
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It was on a cold day, filled with slowly falling snow that we see Baron Krezkov. Bald on top with his earth brown skin and wiry ring of white hair he was resolute, a dark spot amongst the pale ground. He was kneeling with a face so stony if appeared carved, glancing into the uncovered rectangle of dark dirt growing lighter with frost. He had lost so much. His wife, sturdy and willed had run out of tears before he had. And in this moment he did not think himself a strong man, simply there, broken and cold at the grave of yet another child.

But as we pull back we know he is wrong. A kneeling man, sturdy, holding the crumbling world together in the cold of snow, surrounded under the Hawthorne forest by other dark figures. Carpenters, farmers, blacksmiths, weavers all. His people. They stood around him in reverent mourning, a town supported by one man. And though he thought he wouldn’t make it through another day, he was wrong.

And in being wrong, he was strong. He was Krezk
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Excerpt from the Writings of Cathar Dragomir:

“This is it. This is the end.

Death was… Welcome. It felt wrong to view it as so. But that sleep we are promised, a peace unknown to the living was never so beloved until I had it. And now… The Hold is in ruins. The people gone or fallen. My glorious angel, slain sometime in my negligent rest. No life could I sacrifice to right the wrongs that have happened.
So I shall give it my death.

The Lord was the first of us. Furious. A rancor unlike that I had ever seen. Seething in silence, a menace that I could not put to words. When I woke with a start I knew where I must go, clawing and scrabbling from my dirt and wooden bed. It was undignified. We were undignified. But we were here. My brothers, ready to serve again. We were filled with that anger, brought back by loyalty and love. But loathe am I to say it, I am not certain that this anger is righteous.
It seems fighting back the war of time is almost as hard as the vampire. We lose more every day. And I too feel my memories and hopes fade, and my weariness emerge. That anger has become something else. Seeping, sinister. I have faith in my lord. I hope he can end the madness of that Fiend Maurer. But selfishly I hope it is soon.

For I am so very tired.

And as it stands, this stalemate… This is the end of hope.”
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