Transylvania Chronicles

The Clearing

After the men who had been sent to Rudne for men and supplies had returned to the camp, plans were made for the coming days. The three Vampyr decided to travel to the two villages east of Tihuta Pass to establish trade and enforce their authority.

They left the caravan as soon as the sun began to rise. Along they took three wagons, eight horses, trading goods, five of Radu’s men, all the Rus and Drago, who would lead this veritable caravan during the daytime.

Andronicus was the first to rise at sundown, and noticed that the caravan was moving slowly. He climbed out of his wagon and approached one of the horsemen in the front, who told the priest that they were looking for a campsite but had a hard time finding a suitable location in this dark and dense forest.

Soon, the other two undead awoke and it was decided that, since finding a suitable spot in these lights was near impossible and the first village would not be reached within half a day of travel, they would camp here, near on on the road. The only Rus who knew a few words of Romanian protested fiercely, stating this to be the domain of Baba Yaga, a highly feared forest witch, and that no one should stay a night in her woods. When the Tzimisce tried to sense the land and the presence of the Kupala spirits, he felt no disturbance. Although not in itself greatly alarming, he did notice an absence of wildlife in the area. Hrothgar, in his own way, noticed it too.

The Gangrel retreated a little ways into the forest and took on the aspect of a raven to scout the surroundings. From high up in the air he spotted an open area, some fifty paces off the road. While descending to get a closer look, the bird shape spotted that something was odd about what first appeared an ordinary campfire spot. Not a single tree grew within the perfect circle in the middle of this otherwise dense and dark forest. Also, the center spot, where one would expect the remains of fire, was decorated in such a way that is had the resemblance of a black sun with its beams pointing outwards, almost as if painted by a child.

Even closer examination revealed that what first had appeared to be rocks surrounding the fire spot, were in fact human skulls and the ‘sunbeams’ attached to these skull were decayed arms, every hand clutching one of the skulls.

After relocating to the other side of the clearing the Vampire noticed that the black spot in the center was in fact some kind of seemingly bottomless pit. Hrothgar, still in his bird shape, dropped a small pine cone down into the dark hole to establish its depth, but heard no sound. After a second try with the same result the raven returned to the caravan to inform the others of yet another focal point of the maleficarum of Transsylvania.

The three Vampyr debated about whether it was wise and necessary to return to the spot Hrothar had scouted, since the Rus had at first made it clear they did not want to stay the night in the forest, but were persuaded by the promised protection of the Vampyr. But the argument that a night near such a malevolent place and perhaps a Russian witch nearby, made them decide to investigate. Hrothgar informed Drago that he, Zedenek and Andronicus were to scout a sighting nearby and would be back soon. Drogo decided not to inform the Rus of the Vampyrs’ absence.

Although one might assume that on foot the Gangrel would have a hard time finding the exact location he had spotted from the air, the three Vampyr walked straight into the clearing at first attempt. At first glance, Hrothgar confirmed this was the place he had wanted to show to his two companions. However, approaching the center of the clearing revealed that there was no pit. The black spot looked like the simple seared remains of a campfire. Surrounding these ashes were ordinary rocks. Branches were lying about the place, but not in such an orderly way that a rational mind would see a resemblance to the beams of a sun. The shape of the clearing was also not as sharply cut as it was when Hrothgar first saw it. Frustrated, the Aefterganger walked to the center of the clearing. Standing on top of the ashy remains he jammed his spear into the ground, which proved all too solid.

Zedenek connected to the earth and tried to attune to the land, but felt nothing out of the ordinary. Frustrated and to the astonishment of the other two Hrothar took on the shape of the raven in plain sight and flew off. Examining the ground, the rocks aligning the old fire and the branches on the ground, Zedenek and Andronicus found themselves puzzled, and alone.

Hrothgar, now flying above the tree line, tried to see if perhaps the clearing he had first spotted was another than the one he had led his companions to. There was no other clearing. He flew across the camp, where nothing had changed and the men were mostly sleeping or eating. The Gangrel flew back to the open area, were he found the place as he had left it the first time. The clearing was perfectly round, the branches were again methodically aligned to the stones, or skulls, and the black spot of ashes in the center was once again a pit of unknown depth. There was, however, no sign of the other two Vampyr.

Zedenek and Andronicus decided to walk back to the road. After leaving the clearing, the Tzimisce and Toreador came upon a clearing some thirty paces before they should have reached the road. They soon noticed they had walked into the same clearing they had just left. The two walked in the direction of the road again, and moments later came upon the same clearing. They tried again, and again. They were walking in circles, even though their sense of direction seemed true.

Frustrated, Zedenek climbed a tree to get a view of their resoundings, while yelling down to Andronicus what he saw. At the moment he was too high up for Andronicus to see him, the sound of Zedenek’s voice stopped. The Tzimisce was now out of the clearing. Looking into the clearing from the tree, it was empty; Andronicus was not there. Zededenek had figured a way out of the infinite chain of empty clearings. He climbed back up into the tree to tell the Byzantine to do the same as he had done. It worked, and both Vampyr were outside the clearing and together again. However, there still was no trace of Hrothgar.

When the two Vampyr simply called out for the Norseman, Hrothgar could hear their voices and arrived to find his two companions intact. Andronicus suggested to return to the caravan, but the Fiend wanted to test his theory. Since Hrothgar was unaffected and able to leave as he pleased while he was high up in the air, he reasoned, they must have come across some kind of zone of illusion, much like a bubble of befuddling smoke and mist.

And so Zedenek gave one end of a rope to Andronicus, held the other end and entered the clearing again. Zedenek walked to the center to see if the disturbances he had made earlier were still visible. When he looked back at the rope, the Tzimisce noticed that it was no longer heading in the direction were he last saw Andronicus. Not only that, but there was no sign of the Byzantine.

Andronicus, noticing that the rope Zedenek was supposedly holding had suddenly changed direction, decided to tie the far end to a tree and enter the clearing. As he entered he saw that Zedenek was not there, and the rope he had tied to the tree now pointed in a sharp angle to the side, not the direction he had just come from.

A personal nightmare of frustration followed for both the vampires as they tried to find a way back to the road, once again. And this time, climbing a tree did not help them. Their drag to freedom included a giant spider living inside the pit, Latin words on the ground stating that there was only one way out with an arrow pointing to the bottomless blackness in the center and other unexplainable tricks of the mind or manifestations of evil. In the end, they got separated again as the drama continued.

The final manifestation by which it all ended for both Vampyr was an individual encounter with an old woman dressed in rags. Andronicus had just climbed the highest tree he could find when suddenly an old woman stood at the foot of the tree motioning for Andronicus to follow her as she walked towards the edge of the pit in the middle of the clearing. She stopped, turned around and beckoned the priest to follow her before she stepped into the darkness below. Andronicus did not follow.

Meanwhile, Hrothgar had returned to the caravan to gather men and tools to search for the missing Vampyr. To his dismay, the Rus refused to help, stating that they would rather die here than heading into the forest to face the evil witch. And so Hrothar headed out to the clearing once again, together with Drago and his frightened but brave men. The Rus were ordered to guard the caravan.

The Gangrel and his searching party had no trouble finding the clearing. Seeing no pit, nor skulls and bones, but just an old campsite, Hrothar decided to set up a chain of rope and torches from the road to the site, to make sure it could be traced back.

At the edge of the clearing where he had lost his companions the Northman started to cut down the highest tree he could find, planning to set it on fire and have in land on the center of the clearing, plain for anyone to see, illusions or no. As he set about a trunk with his axe, Andronicus’ tree began to shake.

Zedenek, in the meantime, was high up in a tree brashly calling out for Baga Yaga to come to him, when suddenly he spotted the old woman in the tree next to his, just out of reach. As the Tzimisce yelled to her “What is it you want?!”, the old woman only giggled and spoke:
“What is greater than the Gods, more evil than the Kupala. What do the poor have and the rich need? What makes you die if you eat it?”

She then walked towards the pit and stepped in, still giggling. Then Zedenek heard the sound of an axe hitting wood close by, and feared that it was his tree that was being cut down. But it was the tree Andronicus was in.

After some initial frustrations and utterd curses, all three Vampyr were back together again. They collected Drago’s men and returned to the caravan to find it as Hrothgar had left it.

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