FifthColumn's Curse of Strahd

Canto the Third

Creep Dive

“He did not care what the end would be, and in his lucid moments overvalued his indifference. The danger, when not seen, has the imperfect vagueness of human thought. The fear grows shadowy; and Imagination, the enemy of men, the father of all terrors, unstimulated, sinks to rest in the dullness of exhausted emotion.” – Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

On the third morning in Barovia
-The party awoke at what passes for “dawn” in this bleak country. Sydney discovered that the odd book dropped by Old Zsazlo now contained two entries…also in Rurik‘s handwriting and even more foreboding than the last.
-In acquiescence to the requests of Luvash and Arrigal, the Outlanders sought to gather any information they could to help find Arabelle.
-Liveth collected a button-eyed doll from Arabelle’s hammock, and Percy was able to pick up the child’s scent. A muddy slick off the south side of the Vistani‘s hill led to the shod hoofprints of a horse which disappeared into the game trails.
-The trails formed a meandering network that eventually emerged from the woods along the south edge of Vallaki.
-Dargos, a member of the morning gate detail had been on the nightly rotation two nights earlier and proudly told Sydney of the 3 citizens who’d returned through the gate that night on horseback: Urwin Martikov, Bluto Krogarov, and Rictavio, the foreign half-elf carnival master
-Urwin, proprieter of the Blue Water Inn, reportedly returned from Kresk in the west with a large sack which he claimed was full of trade goods.
-Bluto, a fisherman, also carried a sack which Dargos assumed was the day’s catch.
-Rictavio was not remembered to be carrying anything, but Rictavio is sufficiently weird that nothing should be ruled out.
-The party wended its way toward the Blue Water Inn to ask around.
-En route, they passed the Arasek Stockyard, in which was parked a colourful carnival wagon emblazoned with the phrase Rictavio’s Carnival of Wonders. The wagon proved too tempting to ignore, and the party investigated. It was chained and padlocked, and as the Outlanders approached, something large and inhuman began so shake and batter the inside of the wagon.
-Liveth climbed the vehicle, and spotted a hatch on the roof, but just as she did so, a small, stern man stepped out of the warehouse and told them Rictavio had already come and gone, as he does every morning, and then he politely encouraged them to leave.
-Across from the stockyard was spotted a coffin-maker’s shop, as cheerful as it sounds. Liveth’s supernatural ability to sense undead confirmed that the coffin shop was positively infested: with around 10 undead creatures inside.
-Moving along in due haste, the party investigated crowd sounds just south of the Old Svalich Road and discovered that the down square was a strange sight indeed:
-Town guards were removing posters for the “Wolf’s-Head Jamboree” which happened yesterday, and replacing them with posters for the “Festival of the Blazing Sun” which would take place in a few days.
-Along one side of the square was a row of stocks in which two men, a woman, and a young boy had been locked, their heads covered in cartoonish plaster donkey heads.
-Homes and shops were decorated with layer upon layer of faded, weather-beaten garlands, flowers and streamers, some of them months or years old.
-A giant of a man, bald and covered in black studded leather and a fur-trimmed cloak, surveyed the square. In what appeared to be a red dragon-claw glove (complete with talons) he clutched a white skull-head pipe and produced a cloud of black smoke which itself coalesced momentarily into a skull shape before dissipating.
-Unlike in the Village of Barovia, Vallakians moved about in the square conducting chores and business as though nothing were amiss.
-A villager interpreted all of this for the party: the burgomaster “is usually having a festival.” His catchphrase is “All will be well!” and it’s a legal requirement that citizens agree with this sentiment. The people in the stocks were guilty of “malicious unhappiness” and were being corrected. Izek Strazni, the scary bald man, is the burgomaster’s henchman and enforcer.
-The group finally arrived at the Blue Water Inn. First investigating the stable, they found only one horse, a gray draft mare. Liveth tried to commune with the animal, gathered that she was Rictavio’s horse, that she was happy, didn’t know the smell of the Vistana’s doll, and loved a good horse joke.
-The taproom was empty except for the barkeeper/proprietress, Danika Martikov. She told them Urwin was her husband, that he was sleeping at the moment and that yes, he had come back from Kresk two nights ago. He’d hoped to trade for wine, as their shipment was late, but that the Kreskites couldn’t help them.
-Rurik, suddenly noting a pattern, seemed to dedicate himself on the spot to solving the Barovian wine crisis and hoped to get this lost kid business cleared up posthaste.
-She said they’d missed Rictavio by a few hours, but that he was a good customer and would be back later as he was lodging at the Inn.
-Bluto Krogarov, she told them, was a destitute drunkard who traded fish for wine but hadn’t caught a fish in weeks. He told her 2 days ago that he had a plan and that he’d be back, and she hasn’t seem him since.
-The party wasted no time getting to the lake, where, as suspected, they found a chestnut riding horse tethered to a post, three rowboats beached on the shore, and on the lake about 400 feet away, a single rowboat with a lone angler.
-Sydney, Ireena, and Percy took one boat, Alistair, Rurik, and Ismark took another, while Liveth deigned to swim along stealthily behind the boats through the cold water.
-When they neared the fisherman and hailed him in greeting, the man responded, by rising, seemingly in a trance, lifting a burlap sack from the floor of his boat, and tossing it unceremoniously into the water. Then he sat back down as though nothing had happened.
-Sydney dove into the cold, dark lake and made a beeline for the ripples the sack had left behind. Percy the cat joined her, while the others rowed their boats closer. Alistair cast a spell to limn the back in violet glow, making the form easy to spot even in the depths. Sydney reached the sack and quickly ascertained that it contained a human form as she dragged it to the surface. As she did, however, a harpoon shot through the water, slicing across her thigh!
-Liveth grimly and summarily despatched the stupefied man in the boat with a single arrow to the throat, Ireena pulled the sack containing Arabelle into the boat as two loathsome humanoid/piscine hybrid creatures clawed and snapped at Sydney and Percy. Sydney pulled herself into the dead man’s boat and Percy into another. One of the creatures quickly overturned the boat containing Sydney (and Bluto’s corpse), and the other tried to do the same on another boat. Sydney swam free while a creature dragged Bluto below, and Rurik and Ismark fended off the second creature who disappeared into the dark depths.
-As they headed back to shore, Alistair opened the sack and stabilized the unbreathing girl, and Liveth restored her to consciousness. Sydney, swimming to shore faster than the boaters could row, declined to wait for a pickup just as a fish-creature dragged her back underwater. Sydney, intuiting that the monster merely wanted to drag her below for dinner, wrestled free and kicked herself away from the thing as Alistair magically illuminated it. The creature, unable to hide and outmatched, dove and circled back toward Bluto’s capsized boat, and the Outlanders bid it good riddance.
-Reaching shore, Rurik claimed Bluto’s horse and the party sough the shelter of the forest to look to badass Sydney’s wounds. As they rested, the group noticed a leather-wrapped bundle hidden under a bush, which contained a woman-sized set of common clothes. They left it behind and returned quickly to the Vistani camp. They learned that Arabelle was what one might call an “old soul”: clever, sassy, and rather entitled. She told them that she’d gone to visit Kasimir, who wasn’t home, and that Bluto tried to lure her away, she’d run, and he dragged her off by force. He kept her in a box the next day and muttered about his plan to fix everything…seemingly, he was nothing more than a desperate drunk who’d reasoned that since Vistani were lucky, sacrificing one to the lake would make the lake give up some fish.
-The Vistani, particularly Luvash were overjoyed that Arabelle had returned. They shared wine, although in far stingier pours than the previous night. Luvash took Sydney aside, opened up the caravan’s treasure wagon, and offered her a choice of rewards. Sydney elected a box containing 1200 Denari!
-Arrigal told Rurik that the Vistana the Outlanders sought, Ezmerelda d’Avenir, was not one of theirs. She had come through earlier, claiming she was off to kill the Devil, which inspired a laugh from Arrigal. A week or so later, she’d returned, battered and torn, but impressively vertical. She said she was headed west to Kresk, looking for a wizard, a teacher who would help her defeat Strahd.
-Arrigal also told them that the home of the Silver Dragon Argynvost was south and west of the Vistani Camp and that the dragon’s knights have fought Strahd’s wolves and undead forces “though they themselves been dead some four hundred years.”
-Rurik entrusted the care of his new horse to the Vistani, and the group returned to the Blue Water Inn, hoping to get more information about Bluto, telling Danika they couldn’t find him. Danika told them where his house was, but they quickly became sidelined by the presence of Rictavio.
-Rictavio proved an unusual character indeed, one moment gregarious and chipper, the next dour and cheerless. He spoke of many things, including but not limited to:
-He is always searching for performers and oddities for his traveling exhibition.
-His pet monkey Piccolo, who he’d given to the toymaker Gadof Blinsky (“Is no fun, is no Blinsky!”) because Blinsky “needed him more”.
-The wonders he’d seen in his travels “all over”. His wagon, he told them when pressed, contained “trade secrets” and he wouldn’t give away “the big reveal.”
-The Vistani (he doesn’t like them). Madame Eva (“she doesn’t have your best interest at heart, but neither will she lie to you.”)
-When asked if he’d like to help them, Rictavio dodged the question, asked about their plans, and upon hearing the name Ezmerelda d’Avenir, cautioned them not to trust her and bid them good luck.
-Next, the party headed to Saint Andral’s Church, hoping to find a safe haven for Ireena and then pay a visit to Bluto’s house. At the church, they were greeted by Father Lucian Petrovich, who told them that the bones of St. Andral have protected this edifice from the predations of evil for centuries. Ireena and Ismark went to the front to pray, while Father Lucian pulled Alistair aside in confidence. “Whom do you serve?” He asked “My faith has left me.” Alistair answered. Lucian responded that was immaterial, that Alistair would understand. The bones hallowed the church, but the bones had been stolen a few nights ago.

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