FifthColumn's Curse of Strahd

Prelude

Death House, verse 1

“… I have a personal dislike to Vampires, and the little acquaintance I have with them would by no means induce me to reveal their secrets.” – Lord Byron

Each of the five had bedded down the previous night according to his/her own standard of comfort:

-Sydney. the child of the city, in the meager room she shared with her mother, her little dog Grim nestled against her chest.
-Alistair, the false Brother, in a plain, unassuming room that made up for its lack of luxury with a blessed dearth of scrutiny.
-Aethelred, the wild man, soothed by the rhythmic dripping of groundwater through the untrammeled serenity of his cave.
-Rurik. the blade-for-hire, in the arms of some anonymous professional, much like himself, lulled to oblivion by the evening’s drink.
-Wela, the dreadlocked dwarven pupil, perched in the crook of a tree limb, her body poised, even in sleep, in the practiced pose of her discipline.

When they awoke, they were together, and they were somewhere else. They found themselves in fine, clean linens atop handsome beds (beyond any of their means), circled like wagons and very much out-of-doors. Their belongings had been neatly arranged at their feet. Surrounding them was a strange, forbidding forest from which only an old animal path offered any suggestion of a plan. As wolves howled from an unknown distance and direction, they sprang from their beds, which immediately crumbled to ash upon their vacancy. With no idea where, or in whose company, they found themselves, each was rightfully distrustful and on-guard, but as strange mists began to roll toward them through the trees, they knew that explanations would have to wait.

They followed the narrow track to a gravel road, scarred with cart tracks and hoofprints, and, persuaded by the ever-encroaching fog, hastened down a small hill to the edge of a dismal and seemingly empty village. Houses and inns were shuttered, and the streets were silent but for the whimper of a child nearby. Investigation led them to a small boy and girl in the street, who told them they couldn’t go inside their house due to a “monster” inside. The children’s parents, the searchers were told, were trying to protect them from the creature, but they were worried about the baby Walter, who was still in the nursery on the third floor. Justifiably suspicious but given no other immediate option, the five entered the old rowhouse.

Proceeding through well-appointed rooms of a seemingly well-to-do household, the group moved directly up a broad spiral staircase directly to the third floor. Unlike the main chambers of the lower floors, the third level was choked with dust and cobwebs, obviously disused. Choosing a door at random to begin their search for the baby Walter, Sydney stepped past a suit of decorative black armour which lurched to life at the intrusion, slamming the little searcher with a heavy gauntlet. Her companions sprang to her aid, with Rurik tackling the construct and wrestling it, with Wela’s assistance, to the edge of the stairs. It was Sydney who, filled with retributive rage, slammed the unnatural thing down the stairs, where it crumpled into a heap, but inexorably began to right itself.

The group wasted no time moving into the first door the could, a nicely furnished but disused bedroom. They barricaded the door with a wardrobe from the wall, and Rurik opened an adjacent door within the bedroom to find a dusty nursery complete with a black-shrouded bassinet. As he entered to investigate, however, he saw that there was no infant within, just a figure materialized behind him. The specter of the family’s nursemaid, dutiful beyond the grave, attacked the bravo with unmitigated wrath in her eyes. At great risk to himself, Rurik baited and taunted the spirit while Alistair laid into it with blasts of force from his fingertips. Meanwhile, the remainder of the party searched for alternative exits, exploring a small balcony off the nursemaid’s chamber. Aethelred descended a rope and tried the main gate, but the thick mist which had by now surrounded the house proved to have an unnaturally disorienting, wearying, and generally discouraging effect. The unkempt woodsman returned to the house by the front door.

Meanwhile, Wela attempted to disable the spectre, first with fire and then by wisely shattering a large mirror near where she had materialized. It proved, however, to be the combined efforts of magic and steel that eventually brought down the enraged apparition. Sydney traced Aethelred’s path over the balcony to rejoin him downstairs, while the others discovered that in shattering the mirror, Wela had unwittingly uncovered a secret door leading up to the attic. Sydney and Aethelred had just crept past the animated armour, now once again at it’s post atop the third floor landing, and discovered the once-sumptuous master suite, when they heard their companions calling to instruct them back toward the nursery. Aethelred prodded and coerced the ensorcelled suit of armour away from the door, and Sydney bull-rushed it from behind, sending the thing over the edge of the staircase once more…this time for good.

The group once again whole, they climbed the secret staircase for the attic. Immediately they discovered the bedroom of the children they’d discovered outside…or so they thought. The skeletal bodies of the little ones were in plain view, and as Rurik lifted the lid of a toy chest, the ghosts of both children appeared, making it plain that they had not met these adults outside or ever before. Rose and Thorn, as they introduced themselves, had been locked in the attic while their parents went to fight the “monster in the basement”, never to return. The neglected children had wasted away and starved, and now were stuck in this room forever, they thought. With the help of a dollhouse which replicated exactly the house that they were all standing in, they helpfully showed the adventurers a hidden stair leading from the attic directly to the basement. As the adults tried to leave. though, the little spirits were overcome with fear of being abandoned again, and no amount of explanation would convince them to let the party go. As Sydney left the room, the petulant Rose leapt bodily into the little urchin, impressing herself as a passenger in Sydney’s psyche. While the remaining members were able able to resist similar possession by the ghost of little Thorn, the child’s abject sobbing drew the sympathies of first Grim (Sydney’s loyal but often inexplicably absent terrier), and then Alistair, who selflessly offered himself as a vessel to carry the small ghost along.

The intrepid five (plus three, counting two little ghosts and a dog) now knew that their exodus from the house depended upon their investigating the nature of the goings on beneath it. Emboldened, they descended the shaft into the “basement” which they quickly learned was much more. As soon as they’d reached the bottom of the stairs, they encountered the crypts of the Durst family. Spying the name Walter Durst on an open bier, they resolved not to disturb any of the tombs and searched for a way through. They soon learned that the “basement” was actually a serpentine tangle of corridors connecting sleeping and living chambers which had clearly been used for unsavoury purposes. As they searched for clues, they found a dining room in which four mouldering corpses surrounded a large wooden table. Each cadaver wore the tattered remains of a dark robe.

Moving on, they quickly encountered four more similar, but markedly less restful creatures. These lean, slavering monsters clawed their way from the earth as the group retreated, barricaded the passageway into the dining area with the long table, and prepared to make a stand at the chokepoint. As the creatures attacked, Rurik valiantly manned the barricade while Alistair unleashed arcane force wildly, hampered by the trepidations of the terrified little spirit who shared his mind. Sydney struck in opportunistic rhythm with her companions, catching them off-guard while Aethelred launched deceptively punishing projectiles from his sling. Two of the ghouls, adapting tactics, began to circle through the passages toward another entrance to the small room. Wela leveled flurries of hammer, fist and foot attacks at the creatures, somehow staying vertical the while, but Rurik eventually fell to the slashing claws of the undead horrors. Aethelred rushed to his aid, reviving him with restorative magics. The party soon gained the upper hand, despatching the creatures before pausing to catch their breath, regroup, and consider their next step.

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