The Sixth Hexad
The Bodiless Shall Journey to the Time Before
Where Happiness to Hate Creates Land and Lore.
Sixth Verse of The Hexad of Hyskosa the Seer
The lights of Castle Ravenloft shone brightly in the misty night, and the sounds of music and joy carried beyond the stout walls into the little village of Barovia.
Tonight was a national celebration.
All of Barovia was in high spirits, for tonight was a wonderful occasion for rejoicing. Sergei von Zarovich, beloved youngest son of the late Baron Barov von Zarovich and brother to Count Strahd von Zarovich, was to be married this night to a beautiful local girl, Tatyana Federov.
The castle was filled with nobles from across Barovia, representatives from all of the noble houses. The small chapel of Andral, god of the sun, was filled to capacity with the wealthy and powerful. Servants were everywhere, catering to the needs and desires of the guests.
A priest and two novices stood behind the altar at which the couple would be united in marriage. Upon the altar sat The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and The Icon of Ravenloft, two powerful holy symbols. Behind the clerics was a magnificent stained glass window, depicting the rising of the sun over the horizon, sending light across the world. The clerics, like everyone else, waited with a mixture of confusion and anxiety. The hour was late and both bride and groom had yet to appear. Lord Strahd himself was strangely absent as well.
A horrific scream from outside rent the air, and a few saw a form pass before the stain-glass windows of the chapel, clearly falling.
Leo Dilisnya had been waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He had come to this wedding for one reason, revenge. Years before, The Petrovna family had murdered Izabela Dilisnya, beloved matriarch of the clan, setting off The War of Silver Knives. The Dilisnya family had come so close to gaining righteous vengeance, until that fool Barov von Zarovich had intruded upon family matters, ordering an end to the feud. Her blood still cried out for vengeance, because of the von Zarovich family's meddling.
Barov was dead, but his actions would come upon the heads of his children.
But those blasted von Zarovichs had not bothered to appear!
Where in The Nine Hells were they? Were the fools not going to attend their own wedding?
Or had they eloped . . . ?
He was tired of waiting, they were doubtless still within the castle walls, they would be unable to escape his assassins.
Leo smiled as he gave the silent order to attack.
In the kitchen, Wilhelm went about his work with joy. Everyone in Barovia was entranced by Tatyana's beauty and Sergei's charm. Even the normally dour cook was in a good mood. The kitchen boy opened the door to take out a bucket filled with garbage, and noticed that the mist seemed unusually thick and cold. Wilhelm heard a terrible scream from somewhere above, a woman's scream, then utter silence.
As the quests looked at one another in confusion, Leo Dilisnya sprung his trap. His guards began firing crossbow bolts at random into the crowd, striking even his own kin in the mad assault. Several guests and servants rushed the altar in the confusion, seizing The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and The Icon of Ravenloft before making all haste toward the exit, encouraging the others to flee.
They knew that something even worse was coming.
Then the great stained glass window shattered inward, and the world seemed to stop.
There, blood dripping from his crimson mouth, stood the once regal Count Strahd von Zarovich. His handsome face was twisted in maniacal rage, his dark eyes radiated madness. His wedding finery was torn, ragged and soaked in blood. He leaped upon the priest like a panther, burying his fangs in the cleric's neck. The assassins turned their cross-bows on the vampire, but he was beyond caring...
Wilhelm heard the screams of fear, anguish and death. Something had gone wrong, terribly wrong. His heart was racing, he hoped that he would not lose control.
"Treachery!" A servant rushed into the kitchen, "Dilisnaya assassins!"
Some of the staff began to panic, while others armed themselves and rushed towards the chapel.
Wilhelm hung back, he wasn't a fighter and couldn't risk the change coming over him. The door behind him led outside, but the castle was surrounded by a moat and a heavy wall, he could not escape that way, assuming Lord Strahd and his warriors could not get everything under control. He relaxed slightly, Castle Ravenloft was well-defended, and assassins wouldn't likely bother with a lowly kitchen boy.
Yes, Lord Strahd probably had everything under control...
Strahd slashed an assassin's throat with his newly acquired claws before turning to another and striking him with enough force to crush his skull.
At the sight of Strahd sinking his fangs into the priest's throat Leo Dilisnya knew that he was outmatched and undone. Ordering his men to attack the vampire, he fled in terror, leaving dozens of cooling corpses in his wake.
Now, almost everyone left in the chapel, guest, guard, servant and assassin, was fleeing for the exit. Strahd was like a maddened animal, slashing and snapping at everything that moved.
Victor Wachter, husband of Oleka Dilisnya stood his ground, defending his daughter Lovina, the only one of his four children who had survived his brother-in-law's treacherous attack. It was obvious to him that Strahd was now a vampire, but Strahd was not the one who had murdered his wife and children.
He stood by his Lord against the assassins.
Another servant rushed into the kitchen, babbling about Lord Strahd killing the priests and Leo Dilisnya slaughtering everyone. That was enough to convince the remaining staff that it was time to flee. Almost immediately they were caught in a wave of panicked people. Wilhelm was nearly crushed by the press of bodies struggling to escape some unseen horror. He flattened himself against the wall as people rushed past, some bleeding heavily, others blind with terror. There were contradictory screams and shouts of assassins and vampire.
"What happened!" He called out to a passing valet.
"Just run you idiot!" Was the reply.
Unable to do so because of the crush of people, he altered his fingers just enough to climb the wall and crawl into the shadows, hoping that no one would notice.
Fortunately, they did not.
A moment later he dropped to the ground, the crowd had scattered. He hoped that he still had time to escape whatever horror was roaming the castle.
He began to run toward the front gate.
Strahd rushed to raise the drawbridge. He could not allow any more escapees, at least, not before he could 'convince' them to keep his new nature a secret.
Wilhelm saw his Lord in the entrance-way, bent over a noble maiden, his teeth sunk deep into the pale flesh of her neck. He stopped, trembling, as Strahd turned his eyes to him.
This was no longer the Strahd von Zarovich who had defended his country and it's people from Terg invaders, the orcish hordes and so many other threats. These were not the eyes of a world-weary war hero.
They were the eyes of a demon.
Strahd flung the bloodless girl away and Wilhelm knew he had no choice, not if he was going to survive.
He had to transform.
Strahd watched in surprise as the small, tow-headed kitchen boy began to change. Long, thin limbs tore through his shirt, his face flattened, elongated and vanished, leaving behind eight round eyes and thick mandibles with deadly fangs. The last of the tattered clothing fell away to reveal a large brown spider the size of an attack dog, his front limbs raised in a defensive posture, his mandibles clattering in an obvious attempt at intimidation.
Strahd stared at him for a moment, an expression of surprise clear upon his blood-covered face. And then it happened.
Strahd von Zarovich laughed. Not an evil, cruel laugh, but one of genuine amusement. This pitiful little creature could not harm him, and his defensive display was comical to the vampire. He smiled broadly, revealing bloody fangs, "So, I am not the only creature of the night within these walls." Strahd decided then to let him live. He stepped aside, indicated the portal, "The drawbridge will be raised within moments, little spider. I suggest you go while you can, unless you wish to stay."
Wilhelm was in no position to argue. He bolted across the rapidly rising drawbridge and into the surrounding mists.
Strahd watched the spider skitter off into the mists with amusement. He'd had a werespider working in his kitchen for years and had never known. As the drawbridge closed, cutting off all escape, his bloody lips twisted into a smile. The boy would not betray him, for fear that his own 'condition' would become known.
The amusement was short-lived, however.
Tatyana, his beloved Tatyana, for whom he had murdered his own brother and made a pact with Death itself, was dead.
Leo Dilisnaya, Damn his bones! had escaped him, for now. He would track him to the ends of the earth and teach him a new definition of suffering.
There were still enemies within the castle as well, and he felt arrows sink once again into his now tattered wedding attire.
He turned to finish his bloody business.
Wilhelm lay naked and panting in the grass outside the village of Barovia, surrounded by unnaturally cold fog. It was embarrassing, but he was too frightened to consider that at the moment. He was alive, that was all that mattered. The youth shifted slightly, raising his head to look back toward the castle of horrors.
The lights began to go out, one by one.
Soon, there was only darkness.
The knocking at the door was light, almost timid.
Ursula held her dagger tightly, her husband and sons had gone with the rest of the men to hunt down the traitorous Dilisnya and his dogs, and she was unprotected but for her blade.
A weak voice called out through the door.
"Please, h-help me."
He sounded very young and weak.
Against her better judgement, she went cautiously to the door.
"Who is it?"
"M-my name's W-Wilhelm, I need help. Please!"
She opened the door, holding the dagger in front of her, only to drop it in surprise. Before her stood a boy of about thirteen, stark naked and shivering violently from cold and fear. He was covering himself with his hands and blushing deep crimson in obvious (and understandable) humiliation. She quickly turned and grabbed her husband's spare coat, which was long enough to cover the boy's small frame, wrapped it around him, ushered him into her home and led him to the seat by the warm hearth fire.
"Gods! What happened to you boy!?"
His hazel eyes were wide, "I was . . ." He didn't know how to explain his nudity, he certainly couldn't tell her the truth, "B-bathing in the river when Dilisnya's men came . . . T-they tried to . . . To . . ." He let his voice trail off, "But I escaped."
"You poor child! Are you . . . Hurt?"
"No, Thank Andral." He managed a shaky smiled, "I'm just . . . Frightened."
That much was true, at least. He was utterly terrified.
Ursula stroked his dirty blond hair, "You're safe now. One of my boys is about your age, I'll fetch some of his clothes and a warm drink."
"T-thank you . . ."
He knew that he could never tell anyone the truth. Not if he wanted to live. If the villagers didn't kill him for being a werespider Strahd would kill him for exposing him. No. He would stick to his story, and hope that Strahd would ignore him.
He was still trembling when the woman returned with clean clothing and a warm mug.
Strahd was too distracted to notice that The Icon of Ravenloft and The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind were missing from the now ruined and desecrated chapel. Had he noticed, he would have rejoiced, two less holy symbols to threaten the newly turned vampire.
But he did not.
There was much work to be done. The few servants and guests he had allowed to live were busy boarding up windows and doors and disposing of bodies. Unfortunately, dawn was breaking and he had to retreat into the catacombs beneath the castle. It was a family custom to build resting places while one was alive, and Strahd had a waiting stone casket in the crypts to which he could retire in safety.
He stood by his tomb for a moment, his mind reeling with the implications that he was dead, yet alive. Soon he would crawl into that casket and rest as if truly dead until the sun set and he would live again.
An eternal cycle of death and undeath . . .
He paused for a moment, then walked further in, past Sergei's crypt, and stopped before a specific coffin:
The few surviving guards had yet to find the body, and something deep within him told him that they never would.
Eternity would be a lonely proposition without her.
This is based on the Ravenloft adventure From the Shadows, along with several novels which detail the massacre at Sergei and Tatyana's wedding such as Vampire of The Mists by Christie Golden (The only Vampire book I actually liked.)
The Bodiless refers to a group of heroes whose bodies were taken by Lord Azalin, an enemy of Strahd, and whose souls were sent back to steal The Icon of Ravenloft and The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. They were placed in the bodies of guests and servants, and died several times before succeeding and retrieving the items, changing history and helping bring about The Grand Conjunction.
The Land Before refers to the land of Barovia, before it was taken into the mists.
Where Happiness and Hate creates Land and Lore. Happiness being the intended wedding. Hate being Strahd and Leo's betrayals, which caused Barovia to become a new Land in The Demiplane of Dread and went down in Lore (infamy).
Wilhelm is mine. He survives and is taken in by a local family. In later Barovian times, almost no one would open their door to a stranger, even a helpless child or family member, due to the many dangers wandering the land, some in human form. But no one understood that they had even gone anywhere, and people were more kindly and hospitable at this point in time.
Victor and Lovina Wachter were spared by Strahd for their loyalty. Oleka Dilisnya, Victor's wife, was Leo Dilisnya's sister.
Leo Dilisnya hated the von Zarovich's for ending a family feud between the Dilisnya and Petrovna families, and used the wedding for his revenge. Leo murdered most of his own family in the attack, including his parents, brother, one of two sisters and several nieces and nephews. Ironically, all of his intended targets were either dead or undead by the time of his attack, his crimes were in vain. Strahd and Lovina eventually tracked him down and took their terrible revenge.
Strahd von Zarovich was a warrior and ruler of Barovia, but he was jealous of his younger brother Sergei and envied his relationship with Tatyana. He made a pact with dark forces, stabbed his brother to death on their wedding night and drank his blood, becoming a vampire. He thought Tatyana would love him with Sergei dead, but she threw herself from the castle parapets, choosing death over him. Between Leo's assassins and the maddened Strahd's rampage, very few people were left alive in Castle Ravenloft by daybreak. Barovia was then drawn into the mists and became the 'first' domain in The Demiplane of Dread.
There are, of course Six Verses in The Hexad of Hyskosa, of them I'm only familiar with the Third, Fifth and Sixth. I don't know enough about the Fifth to write anything about it. I know almost nothing of the First and Second and nothing at all about the Fourth. (I refuse to read the adventure dealing with The Fourth Hexad, Night of The Walking Dead, because I loathe and despise zombies more than anything else in fiction. Just the sight of the adventure's cover physically sickens me.)
So, these two, The Third and The Sixth, will likely be the only parts of The Hexad that I adapt into stories.
Everyone outside of Wilhelm belongs to TSR and Wizards of The Coast.