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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Prelude II
Death House, verse 2

…he had required, to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation… -John William Polidori, The Vampyre

This is a placeholder for the lost but (hopefully) eventually restored log for Death House part II, wherein the Outlanders escaped the diabolical house.

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Canto the First
Last Rites

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light.

—Lord Byron, Darkness

Today at Dawn:
-Our heroes agreed to help Ismark Kolyanovich in exchange for assistance in reaching Madame Eva‘s Vistani encampment and later Vallaki.
-Ismark introduced them to his sister, Ireena Kolyana (alive, foxy, but certainly problematic: bitten twice by a vampire she called Strahd) and their father, Burgomaster Kolyan Indirovich (dead and still a problem)
-Their house was besieged nightly by wolves and worse things trying to get in. After father’s heart gave out, the attacks stopped.
-They asked the Outlanders to help bury father. Ismark wants to get Ireena away from the village to safety.
-They agreed, and transferred the coffin to the Church. Aethelred plugged the mule deficiency personally.
-They met Donavich, the priest. They heard the starved screams of Donavich’s son, Doru, who he said is a vampire, in the Undercroft.
-The group left Donavich, Ireena, and Orin to tend to father’s body. They stopped at Bildrath’s and found that the prices are exorbitant. Sydney bought Woodcarver’s tools anyway.
-Ismark led them toward the Vistani camp at the Tser Pool. On the way, the group was attacked by needle blights. Ismark proved he was no slouch in a fight.
-There was an old gallows. As they turned their backs to it, the corpse of a Barovian commoner appeared to everyone but Sydney, who instead saw her own corpse staring back at her. It dissipated when she touched it.
-Madame Eva told them many things STUFF HERE
-The Vistani told them a story of a Wizard who tried to fight the vampire Strahd. They tried to sell the outlanders potions that would “let them walk through the mist unharmed”. The party smelled a scam. They also tried to give the outlanders free wine, but only Aethelred was actually smart enough to really drink it. It was good wine (better than the stuff in Barovia).
-The party returned to the village. At the church, Ireena told them Orin had gone away and said not to wait for him.
-The party, expecting an attack overnight would try to hinder the funeral or take Ireena, busied themselves with reinforcing the church’s windows making Holy Water flasks, and Sydney even going so far as to set traps outside the front and side of the church.
-Liveth set up a sniper nest in the bell tower. The others stood vigil. Donavich slept/prayed/ranted. Doru screamed in the basement. Ireena tried to sleep.
-At Midnight, Liveth saw a macabre but spectacular procession as hundreds of glowing specters of non-Barovian looking people rose from the cemetery and marched silently toward Castle Ravenloft.
-The attack began at 3 a.m. with 6 zombies shuffling out of the woods in red and black livery toward the church. Liveth and Sydney took shots from the bell tower, Alistair fired Eldritch Blasts (which curiously looked entirely different tonight than this morning) through gaps in the boarded windows. Aethelred called roots from the ground to entangle the undead and an extremely effective Moonbeam to rend them with radiance. Rurik and Ismark kept guard over the front doors and Ireena’s bedroom.
-The zombies began to fall, but a few began to break through the fortifications. Aethelred magically mended the snapped boards while Liveth and Sydney dropped to the main roof to continue with ranged support. Rurik left his post at the door to block the zombies’ progress. He lopped the arm from one, only to learn that it continued to attack. Ismark similarly ran to the outlanders’ aid. Soon, the zombies were vanquished.
-Rurik ran to check the main doors which remained barred, and to check Ireena who had vanished. He found her somnambulantly unlocking the undercroft where Doru was still screaming ravenously. Frantically, Rurik carried her to the priest’s office and planted her there.
-Aethelred summoned his Moonbeam over the open trapdoor and heard anguished howls and sizzling flesh below.
-Rurik returned, slammed the trapdoor and threw himself bodily over it. He was surprised to find the vampire shove the door and him aside easily.
-Doru emerged, an emaciated waif, barechested and bloodshot. The heroes unleashed spells, blades, arrows, and holy water at the creature, who, while ravaged by the attacks, was not dissuaded from its purpose. Cornered, he scaled the walls effortlessly on fingers and toes and desperately scuttled through to the main hall, where he set upon the near-catatonic Donavich who had kept him prisoner and starved him for a year. The outlanders finally destroyed the foul thing, but not before he had killed and drained the priest behind his own altar.

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Canto the Second
Pack Tactics

“All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel. …Think about it. There’s escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist.” Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

The second morning in Barovia:
-The outlanders assisted Ireena and Ismark in the internment rituals of Kolyan, Donavich and Doru.
-Sydney discovered that the pit trap she’d set before the church doors had certainly been tripped during the night. Man-sized bootprints could be seen around its edge, but there was no evidence that anyone or anything had reached the bottom.
-Alistair gave a passable liturgy for the deceased, improvising at points where Donavich’s texts were damaged.
-The party finally took a much-needed rest at the burgomaster’s estate.
-During the night, Aethelred was troubled by nightmares of twisted, shuffling trees blotting out the sun. He excused himself from the trip to Vallaki to seek more clues about the blight creatures which had attacked the previous day.
-Rurik also dreamed, vividly, of an older woman wrapped in jewels, lying in bed next to a mannequin while bats and ravens swarmed overhead and a faceless figure in a bridal gown loomed over the bed.
-The party set off toward Vallaki late in the morning.
-In the Svalich Woods, the party encountered a lone footman in chain mail, visored helm, and a white surcoat emblazoned with a grey dragon. The warrior was surrounded and assailed by four wolves as the outlanders approached, with more streaming out of the forest to join the fight. The six travelers and the stranger, with notable contributions from Liveth’s panther Percy, made quick work of ten wolves in total.
-Only one wolf attempted to attack Ireena during the fight, once, and it immediately withdrew with a look that seemed like recognition.
-After the battle, the stranger, who had sustained multiple bites and claws but seemed none the worse for wear, set off on his way to the east, but not before questioning the party’s motives, telling them “when you’re ready to hunt real prey, get to Argynvostholt and look for Vladimir,” and raising his visor to reveal the desiccated face of a rotted corpse, but with piercing and vibrant blue eyes.
-Pressing on, the party came to a stone bridge spanning the canyon over the magnificent Tser Falls. Its four gargoyles proved to be mundane stone.
-As they crossed the bridge a skeletal figure on a skeletal warhorse galloped by, dropping a small book at Rurik’s feet. Sydney picked it up and saw that it gave a detailed description of Rurik’s dream…written in his handwriting. Rurik wanted nothing to do with it, but Sydney pocketed it.
-Ismark and Ireena believed the rider to by “Old Zaszlo”, a restless spirit who hunters claim has been criss-crossing Barovia for centuries, seeking a way out.
-The group traveled on, approaching the western Gates of Barovia. The huge iron gates swung open as the outlanders arrived, and closed behind them. At once convinced that Lord Strahd was aware of their presence, the party rushed to make westward progress.
-They arrived at a dilapidated windmill, which Ismark and Ireena said had been abandoned as long as they’d known. Some were tempted to investigate it, given the windmill deed and motifs found at the Durst house, but daylight was drawing scarce. An agitated raven atop a post seemed to want their attention. Casting a spell to speak directly with the bird, Liveth got a crystal-clear message: “Stay away! Not safe! Go now!”
-Less than a mile from Vallaki, the group encountered a dark, hirsute man carrying a small sack of pelts. Calling himself Valentin, he offered to accompany them the rest of the way to town. Immediately distrustful, the group gamely agreed, making small talk and learning the the Blue Water was “the best inn in all Barovia.”
-Sydney was quick to confirm that Valentin was sizing up the group’s collective armament. When he tossed his sack of pelts to Rurik and excused himself to answer nature’s call, the outlanders bolted without a second thought.
-Valentin caught up, of course, now in the form of a bipedal lupine recognizable mostly by his pants.
-The group stood and fought. Though the monster proved immune to their blades and arrows, Valentin was certainly susceptible to Alistair’s magical blasts and was no match for the combined efforts of the other five travelers (and Percy) to restrain him.
-Having despatched the creature (whose corpse reverted to its human form), the party finally reached the failsafe surrounding Vallaki, but too late: the gate guards had padlocked the entry. They were obviously fearful of something and unresponsive to even Ireena’s persuasion. They told the travelers to try their luck with the Vistani to the southwest and come back in the morning.
-The party saw no alternative but to take the guards’ advice. They found the Vistani camped atop a seemingly manmade hill, perfectly round, into the sides of which six hovels with intricately carved woodwork had been built. Most of the Vistani were inside of their own various, but the outlanders found a large central tent in which two men were savagely whipping a teenager tied to a post.
-The smaller of the two men introduced himself as Arrigal, and his larger brother as Luvash. The beaten boy, Alexei, was being punished for faltering in his duty to protect Luvash’s daughter, Arabelle. When the brothers, who claimed to be in charge of the camp, were away the previous afternoon and the remaining Vistani were drunk, 7-year-old Arabelle disappeared. The brothers had dispatched a dozen of their people to find her to no avail.
-Arrigal agreed to allow the party to camp in an unused cards or in their own tents as they preferred, in exchange for a few of the furs Rurik had looted from the werewolf.
-If they wanted information about the Vistana woman mentioned in Madame Eva’s Tarokka reading, Arrigal expected their help in locating Arabelle. “You seek a Vistana, we seek a Vistana; fair trade.”
-The group agreed. They began to make camp and explore trade options with the Vistani.

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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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Canto the Fourth
Brood

I ain’t no demon, Lord
Oh look to me please
Good men are sufferin’
With the evil at ease
And millions of innocents
Are born to disease
Oh where is our solace, Lord?
Oh Lord, answer me
I look to your people, Lord
But they’re being cruel
They sleep with the criminals
That they aim to recruit
They raise in their stadiums
A poisonous brood
I think they would crucify
Oh someone like you
One day, will this be over?

—The Silent Comedy, All Saints’ Day

The third afternoon in Barovia:
-The Outlanders interrogated Milivoj, the church groundskeeper, at his home. They learned that he is the primary caretaker for 3 small children (siblings, they deduce). The children were thin and gaunt but sat silent and still while the party was present.
-Milivoj admitted, after negotiating for an 80 ep payoff, that he had stolen the [[Bones of St. Andral]] for a lot of money (though less than 80 ep!) and given them to Henrik Van der Voort, the Coffin Maker.
-Van der Voort had said the bones were for an important client, but nothing more specific.
-The party made a beeline for the Coffin Maker’s Shop, wasting no daylight. Liveth knew from her supernatural attunement earlier that multiple undead creatures were, or at least had been, inside.

-En route, they chanced to rendezvous with Aethelred, whose investigation of the plant blights they had encountered earlier had borne fruit. He explained that the blights spawn from a very twisted miscarriage of nature called the Gulthias tree. Legend has it that the first Gulthias tree grew from the blood-slaked stake that had been used to destroy a vampire. Such a tree is purely malevolent and bent on consuming the blood of living creatures. The blights it produces are often shepherded by evil druids who serve as servants to the tree, and maraud the wild places seeking blood to feed it. The blights in Barovia have been around for centuries, but their activity level is increasing parabolically this season: they are emanating in larger and larger groups from an area to the far southwest of the region. Aethelred thought to get closer to the source of the blights for more information, but spent one harrowing night in the woods along the piedmont of Mount Ghakis before deciding that he may be out of his depth.
-Aethelred now knows that there are wild people in the far-flung places. They run on all fours and wear nothing but blue-grey mud and some leather strips to carry their stone-age tools. They are not particularly aggressive, but weren’t happy to see an outlander druid, either.

-The Outlanders found the shop closed and locked, with windows barred and covered in heavy drapes. Sydney cased the perimeter and found a side door that could be lock-picked out of street view. In the mean time, Aethelred assumed the form of a squirrel and scaled the building, clambering down a stovepipe into a wrought-iron potbelly.
-Aethelred could partially see, and Sydney could hear, the creaking steps of old Van der Voort crossing from his second-floor kitchen into his bedroom. Brazenly, in broad daylight, the party commenced a stealthy trespass of the establishment, moving through the workshop and shoddy coffin display, and up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs, they saw a kitchen to one side and an expansive storage space with wooden pallets and massive crates marked “хлам” (That means ‘junk’ in Rurik‘s native Russo-Common!)
-Rurik, tired of squinting through the dim, dusty room, moved to open a blind, but in doing so kicked a pallet and raised a clatter to wake the dead!
-The old man, alerted to the trespassers, rushed from his bedroom with a candle in his hand. Sydney quickly cold-cocked him and he crumpled in a heap.
-Moving quickly, Aethelred was released from his hiding place in the woodstove, Alistair began to search van der Voort’s quarters, Rurik, Sydney, Liveth, Ismark and Ireena investigated the "junk crates. Sydney’s keep awareness revealed trace movement in each of the boxes.
-A crate near Rurik burst open. soil and sawdust spilled forth revealing an open casket and within, a very awake woman in leather bodice and breeches, her pale face painted with a stripe of red across the eyes. She bared her fangs, surprising no one.
-She spoke with a very un-Barovian accent (she sounded like certain folk of the Sword Coast, actually). She seemed happy that breakfast was being served and whistled to rouse her compatriots, but then glimpsed Ireena, immediately recognized her and it seemed that her priority suddenly changed.
-The other crates began to rattle visibly and another creature, this one an oddly emaciated-looking, tuskless half-orc, burst free behind Rurik and tried to grab the fighter, who deftly and resolutely refused to be manhandled. This creature’s own fangs erupted from his jaws: razor-sharp incisors from the top and bottom.
-Alistair, meanwhile, had found a secret compartment in Henrik’s wardrobe, and recovered the Bones and a small sack of coins. He shouted that the task was done and bolted for the exit. The others followed suit: some down the stairs and some through the second-story windows!
-As the group ran toward the Old Svalich Road and the safety of St Andral’s Church, the female vampire leapt lightly from the window and into the street. She was smugly unperturbed by the daylight as she cried out merrily “They can’t protect you forever, ”/wikis/Tatyana/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Tatyana!" Ireena knew the creature was calling to her, although she didn’t know the meaning of the name. Had Ismark not held her back, it appeared she would have resigned herself to her fate at the hands of the undead.
-Back at St. Andral’s, Father Lucian shed joyful tears when the bones were returned, but the revelation of perhaps 6 vampire spawn in Vallaki caused him no end of panic. Before he set to work on the rituals necessary to reconsecrate the relics and the church, the priest warned the Outlanders that there was no simple solution: reporting the vampires to the Burgomaster could be tantamount to “spreading malicious unhappiness” and get them all arrested, exiled, or worse. He implored the party to find a way to quietly address the vampire presence but Aethelred, having already had enough of the civilized life summed up the sentiments of his companions: “We may be the heroes this town needs right now, but we aren’t the heroes it has.”
-The group determined that if the Bones kept Ireena safe from harm in the church, that their obligation had been met and they must continue in their quest to find Ezmerelda d’Avenir as well as the prophesied boons to defeat Strahd. As the church filled with parishioners seeking sanctuary from the unknown horrors of the night, the Outlanders resolved to watch over the church only until morning and to leave Vallaki at first light, leaving Ireena in the care of Ismark and the Morninglord.
-Overnight, Liveth took up a watch in the church’s bell tower and watched as six vampire spawn, including the two they’d seen in the coffin shop, unabashedly sauntered toward St. Andral’s, circling and pacing around it like alley cats, whooping it up and making wolf-calls before finally walking back down the Old Svalich road, knocking over planters and rubbish bins, frightening the few passers-by who hadn’t already bolted themselves indoors, and disappearing.

View
Canto the Fifth
Splinters

Fear is unnatural. Lightning and thunder are unnatural. Pain, death, reality, these are all unnatural. We can’t bear these things as they are. We know too much. So we resort to repression, compromise and disguise. This is how we survive the universe. This is the natural language of the species. —Don DeLillo, White Noise

The fourth morning in Barovia:
-At dawn, the party wasted no time preparing to leave Vallaki, but they weren’t early enough: Izek Strazni, the burgomaster’s hulking lieutenant with his monstrous dragon-hand, was already at the church doors, speaking in hushed tones with Father Lucian. He indicated the Outlanders with a gesture of his claw and waved them outside, while Father Lucian could only offer an apologetic expression as they passed.
-Izek, backed up by twelve (!) town guards with halberds, told them in few gravelly words that they were to surrender their weapons and accompany him to the burgomaster’s mansion for questioning regarding the theft and property-damage at Henrik Van der Voort‘s shop. The Outlanders’ protestations fell on deaf ears until Alistair finally overcame his reticence to use his fey-charms. Ensorcelled, Izek directed them to leave town directly and warned them that the Burgomaster would not look kindly upon their return. The Outlanders saw no reason to argue and hastened beyond the stockade toward Kresk.
-On the road, Liveth surprised everyone by tripping a rusted wolf trap that hadn’t even been well-hidden, but leapt clear as it snapped shut. The group was not expecting a trap in the middle of the main thoroughfare but pressed on.
-Later they approached a broken signpost which, when righted, pointed the way to Kresk and Tsolenka Pass (Southwest) Lake Baratok (Northwest), Vallaki and Ravenloft (Northeast), and Berez (Southeast). “Tsolenka Pass” and “Berez” were both unfamiliar to them.
-Near the crossroads, they were set upon by six fearless wolves. Beyond trading a few dangerous blows with Percy, they posed little threat but it was notably disconcerting that the group had now been attacked by wolves twice in Barovian “daylight”.
-A few miles beyond where they left the carcasses of the wolves, the Outlanders came upon a hirsute and chatty fur trapper…and certainly a werewolf, everyone assumed. He sized up their weapons indiscreetly while he cheerfully warned them about the various horrors of the forest, and Sydney quickly displayed her silver dagger and informed him that they were not afraid of wolves and such. He quickly took his leave, but not before telling them not to expect much from Kresk, as “they don’t let nobody in…they ain’t gonna start today.”
-As they approached Kresk, the temperature dropped precipitously, and light, fresh snowfall could be seen through the thickening fog. The party smelled sick-sweet pipe smoke just before two young male Vistani stumbled out of the woods, stoned and drunk out of their gourds. They offered to serve as guides for 100 Denarii apiece, and the Outlanders considered it briefly, until they realized exactly how close they were to their destination. The youths also attempted to sell them “mist potions” as Luvash had, but the Outlanders demonstrated they were no mere tourists before moving on.
-Over four hours after leaving Vallaki, the party finally spotted the walls of Kresk atop a nearby hill, and the unmistakable [[Abbey of St. Markovia]] looming further above. This town had 20-foot-tall buttressed stone walls rather than a wooden palisade like Vallaki. They stated their business dutifully to the watchmen, who called for the burgomaster, Baron Kreskov.
-A short, dark, bald, and bearded man rather resembling a dwarf, Baron Kreskov told them in a manicured voice that it was not his lot to allow strangers into Kresk, as the people’s safety was his only concern. However, he asked them what sounded like his standard interview: “How many wolves have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?”
-Satisfied, apparently with their answers, he explained that Kresk relied on the outside world for nothing but wine and that(much like the Vistani and the Blue Water Inn) the Wizard of Wines had not delivered the expected shipment. If they could deliver the missing shipment, he would be bound by gentleman’s decorum to open the gates to them reciprocally.
-Ever-cautious Rurik, who had probably never agreed to anything without reservation in his life, accepted this quest on behalf of the group without a shadow of reservation, equivocation, hesitation, abrogation, or regard for self-preservation. The Outlanders set off for the Wizard of Wines, to the southeast.
-As they walked, the weather warmed somewhat and the snows gave way to cold drizzle and mud. Without warning, Percy took off at a tear and stopped at a spot not far from the road. Investigating, Liveth discovered that the panther had led her to a large, black iron birdcage on the ground. Inside were three dead ravens in various states of decomposition, and, as the party watched, a fourth raven flew in as though compelled and perched within. Aethelred cast a spell to speak with the bird, who seemed nihilistically resigned to stay in the cage, and when he was removed, he expressed a dull wish to go back in. Alistair blasted the cage with eldritch force, destroying it, and the raven was immediately freed from whatever had compelled it thus. He explained to Aethelred that a crone he called Baba Lysaga hated ravens and had made it her mission to eradicate them. He conjectured that this cage was a device of her making. He did not know where she could be found. The group thanked him and moved on.
-Eventually they saw a sign for the vineyard and followed a cart track until they were hailed by an old man in a cloak decorated with a few tiny silver baubles and gems. He waved them off the trail and explained that the Winery had been (and was still being) sacked by blights for unknown reasons. He introduced himself as Davian Martikov and told them that his family had been driven into the woods nearby to hide for over a week and that the creatures had given no indication of leaving.
-The Outlanders quickly surmised that the “Wizard” of Wines mas more of a trademark than an earned honorific, and said they’d look into his blight problem. They followed the trail about a half-mile to a huge vineyard and a large, well-built winery. They made it within 100 feet of the building before dozens of three-foot-tall shrub-creatures scuttled at them through the vines from all directions.
-Rurik marched confidently toward the winery’s veranda, trusting his armour, his sword-arm, and emboldened by the promise of wine. He had little reason to fear, as the plant-things proved as fragile and clumsy as they appeared. Aethelred called down a magical moonbeam to roast them severally with radiant energy, while Alistair used his own magic to send a large group of them to sleep. Sydney drove the Rod of Awareness into the soil, calling forth its abjurative properties before joining Liveth in supporting the fight at range.
-As Rurik was swarmed by blights faster than he could put them down, others spilled past him toward the others. Percy pounced forward to do his part, while the rest continued to apply blade, arrow and spell. The main loading doors of the winery suddenly crashed open and twenty more twig blights sallied forth, urged on by a savage figure covered in blue-grey mud, like the wild mountain-folk Aethelred had spotted near Mount Ghakis.
-The Outlanders marveled at the sheer number of assailants but held their own, and as the little blights fell so readily, there still seemed no cause for immediate concern. Their confidence waned, however as another wild druid arrived, this one with five man-sized needle blights of the type they’d faced near Tser Falls. These creatures were no more expert in combat than the smaller twig blights, but their attack was far more deadly when it landed, launching sharp flechettes at range into the flesh of their foes.
-Before the party could even adjust to this new threat, yet more blights appeared, led by their own druid shepherd: these were sinewy, ropey things and though they numbered only two, they would prove to be by far the most dangerous. One grappled and restrained Rurik while the other summoned slithering tendrils and entangling roots from the soil around it, cutting off aid from the outside.
-While Rurik struggled to free himself and endured an unreasonable volume of attacks from the blights surrounding them, the others were being overrun themselves. Aethelred’s Moonbeam danced about the battlefield to toast blights a few at a time, and the others shot and cast as fast as they were able, but it seemed futile. Percy was savaged and narrowly escaped death by running into the outhouse just as Liveth clambered atop the same building for a better vantage. Aethelred and Alistair were pinned down, and Aethelred shifted into the form of a Brown Bear to fend off their attackers.
-Still, it was only a matter of time before the Outlanders began to fall. The first to succumb was Rurik, who finally fell under the swarming monsters and was trod underfoot, though the creatures mercifully moved on to attack still-vertical targets. One of the druids cast a Thunderwave spell at the swirling melee containing Alistair and Aethelred-as-Bear. The dubious choice cleared the blights off of the two Outlanders, but damaged the warlock and druid enough that a few more blights could bring them down. Sydney deftly dodged, kited about the battlefield and returned fire, but alongside her comrades, blights, and evil druids, she, too eventually fell. Percy, having cowered in the relative safety of the outhouse for too long, found his resolve and pounced back into combat to aid his allies, but was ultimately met with a lethal volley of needles.
-In the end, a few blights and a single druid remained with only Liveth perched atop the outhouse to face them down. Reeling from the loss of her bonded companion Percy, perhaps she despaired. Perhaps it was Sydney’s Rod of Alertness, still planted in the ground and still emanating warm protective radiance, that gave her strength. Whatever the cause, she could see that at least a few of her companions still drew breath and, on swift Elven legs, she made her move: darting across the field she slid next to first Rurik, reviving him with healing magic, and next Sydney, for whom the next ragged breath might have been their last. The three grimly cut down their remaining foes, roused their friends (but for Percy who was beyond saving), and trudged into the Wizard of Wines Winery to learn what the fuck this all had been for.

View
Canto the Sixth
Stitched Up

“Viewed from the summit of reason, all life looks like a malignant disease and the world like a madhouse.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Fifth Morning in Barovia:

-The Outlanders recovered from the brutal assault on The Wizard of Wines by wild druids and blights. They were briefed by the Martikov family, who have revealed themselves to be part of a group of Wereravens in opposition to Strahd called the Keepers of the Feather. The party agreed to accompany two Martikovs, Adrian and Elvir, as far as Kresk, where they planned to seek out Ezmerelda d’Avenir, who Madame Eva‘s tarokka cards revealed would be near the [[Abbey of St. Markovia]].
-Before they left, Dag and Elvir revealed that they had discovered a lone druid hiding out in the cellars, and that he had been “taken care of.” They offered the Outlanders a clearly magical but off-putting staff the druid wad been carrying. Alistair used a newly acquired ritual to identify the staff, revealing it to be made from the Gulthias tree, capable of vampiric strikes and, by destroying the staff, capable of destroying blights and other plant creatures in a large area. He wrapped the staff in furs and stowed it, knowing that its potential as a bomb was too great to pass up.
-The Outlanders and Martikov brothers set out for Kresk with the wine wagon. As they approached the Raven River Bridge, they espied a black, seemingly driverless carriage to which two black horses with funereal plumes had been hitched. The carriage door opened slowly without visible impetus.
-Rurik yelled at the carriage “hey asshole!” and asked if the carriage had a broken wheel or axle. A mumbled response came from within, also including the word “asshole.”
-The hidden speaker revealed himself: Orin! He tried to explain how he got here, and what had happened in the meantime, but even large gulps of restorative wine and zzar left his story confusing and incomplete.
-The others gathered that Orin had
*spent an evening of indeterminate nature with the three proprietresses of the Blood on the Vine Tavern.
*tried to rendezvous with the group but been thwarted by a zombie attack at the church and had fallen into Sydney’s pit trap outside.
*tried to escape Barovia to the east, but was thwarted by the Mists.
*ended up, somehow, at Castle Ravenloft, where a dusk elf threatened to cut off his ears before commanding his to deliver a message to the Outlanders.
*woken up in the carriage on the bridge just before the party approached.
-Orin presented a sealed letter from Strahd. It confirmed that he had brought them to Barovia and invited them to dine at Ravenloft where they could speak civilly.
-With no intention to rush to Ravenloft, the Outlanders welcomed Orin back into the fold and continued with the wine wagon to Kresk.
-At the town gate, Rurik tried briefly to shake down Tural the guard for the 10 GP the latter had wagered that they would not return with wine.
-The Burgomaster, Dmitri Kreskov, and his wife, Anna, greeted the party and invited them in to share wine and fellowship. The party learned that the Kreskovs had lost their last surviving son, Ilya, a week earlier. He was 14 and died from an illness that had taken his three siblings as well.
-The Outlanders learned that Kresk operates as a commune that relies on the outside world only for wine.
-The village was built by the ancestors of Dmitri Kreskov at the feet of the Abbey after Strahd’s forces had conquered Barovia centuries ago.
-The Abbey was founded as a hospital by [[St. Markovia]], who was later martyred when she and other paladins of the Morninglord rose up against Strahd.
-There is a blessed pool in Kresk that is said to cure those who drink from it. Liveth used her divine magic to improve the condition of a statue of the Morninglord in a gazebo adjacent to the pool.
-The burgomaster said that locals did not approach the Abbey. He said that strange noises came from within and that the bell rang at irregular hours. The Abbot, he explained, had arrived in Kresk 100 years ago and hadn’t aged a day. The Abbot was a polite but solitary man who occasionally came to town, expecting and being granted wine, but other than that, the Kreskites and Abbot did not meddle in each other’s affairs.
-The Outlanders were surprised to find that Kresk had not seen the Vistana they sought in the village. Liveth and Sydney searched the interior perimeter of the walls, though, and found evidence that a female person with one abnormal foot had recently scaled the rampart and ventured off toward the Abbey.
-The group offered to take some wine to the Abbot and the Burgomaster accepted.
-After climbing the high, treacherous switchback road to the Abbey, the party encountered two piles of furs on the other side of a low outer wall, each pile rising and falling as though something were sleeping underneath.
-They called out and were greeted by two repugnant creatures, each an odd collection of mismatched human and animal parts, who called themselves Otto and [[Zygfrek.]] The latter went to get the Abbot, who returned and bade them come inside to share some wine. He was a beautiful man in his 20s without a trace of Barovian dialect. He said that Ezmerelda d’Avenir was indeed a guest of the Abbey and he would happily introduce them.
-As they walked, he indicated the graveyard to one end and the turnip garden to the other. In the inner courtyard, the visitors saw a well and, nearby, another of the strange mongrelfolk, this one with bat wings and spider mandibles, chained to a post. They could hear all manner of shrieks and cries: mournful, joyful or outraged, but universally mad, from within the Abbey. The Abbot explained that some of his subjects needed more intensive therapies than others and guided them into the main hall, which was furnished with a large, formal dining table.
-Also in the hall was a beautiful pale woman with auburn hair in an old ragged red ballgown whom the Abbot introduced as Vasilka.
-As they shared wine, he explained that he arrived in Barovia with the intention of doing the Morninglord’s work as a healer and set up in the then-abandoned Abbey. After several decades, an inbred family of lepers called the Belviews came to him to cure their ailments, but things got out of hand. Their requests were extreme, and in an attempt to prove the power of the Morninglord, he obsessively toiled to comply, creating the mongrelfolk the Outlanders now saw. He admittedly regretted what he had done and felt that it was his duty to keep the Belviews imprisoned here for their safety and everyone else’s.
-He revealed that Vasilka was to be his redemption. He believed that Lord Strahd’s curse began when his true love, a peasant named Tatyana, rejected him for his brother Sergei and fall 1000 feet from the Great Balcony of Ravenloft to her death on her wedding day. The Abbot called Vasilka “his greatest creation” whom he was currently preparing to offer to Strahd as a bride. He believed that were he to find love, Strahd’s curse, and consequently the Misty borders of Barovia, would be lifted. He had already sent Strahd an invitation to meet his intended bride, and expected His Lordship soon.
-The group had no doubt that the Abbot believed everything he said, which only inspired them to hasten on their way. Informed that Ezmerelda did not desire to join the gathering, they asked if they could go and speak with her. The Abbot gladly obliged, but left them to find their own way whilst he returned to Vasilka’s lesson.
-Crossing back through the courtyard to the larger hospital building, Liveth attempted to give Marzena, the chained, winged mogrelwoman, some food, but the creature was too suspicious and shrank away.
-Upon entering the hospital building, the Outlanders recognized that the mad wails and squeals of the mad mongrelfolk were coming from just down the hall. Disinterested in exploring the madhouse further, they climbed the staircase to the upper level and the disused Hospital.
-As the party crossed through the hospital to explore the doors marked Operating Room, Nursery and Morgue, Liveth’s supernatural sense confirmed that the party was not alone in the room! Sydney plunged the Rod of Alertness into the floor and instantly revealed six humanoid Shadows lurking in the corners. The undead creatures attacked.
-Orin cried for everyone to leave the room (it seemed he had a grand plan), but the others inside found they didn’t have much choice. Rurik was personally set upon by half of the loathsome spirits, while Sydney, Liveth and Percy faced the rest. With Alistair and Orin providing fire support, the Outlanders proved their mettle by handily despaching the Shadows in short order, emerging unscathed.
-A quick search of the Operating Room revealed only an old surgical table to Sydney, and, in the Nursery, Alistair encountered the creepy but fleeting visage of a nun in white robes reflected in a window.
-In the morgue, Liveth saw a raven perched in a broken window. It squawked and flew down to the garden below, and she understood that it wanted to party to follow.
-First, however, they had to do the job they came for. Stepping out of the hospital onto the inner wall, the Outlanders found an exterior entrance to an old barracks, and knocking at the door, they encountered Ezmerelda. The young Vistana proved to be blunt and headstrong, and armed to the gills. She explained her plan to wait for Strahd to come for his “bride”, Vasilka, and to strike while he was away from his castle. Sydney could see that Ezmerelda was not as confident as she claimed, and the party was able to convince her to join their effort to uncover the items they sought to fight Strahd: the holy symbol, the sun sword, and an item promising “history, knowledge of [their] enemy.” After sizing up their equipment, Ezmerelda recommended stopping at her place (a wagon she’d parked near the old tower on the shore of Lake Baratok.)
-The party, now with Ezmerelda in tow, descended to the courtyard. As they exited, the bells of the Abbey began to peal. In response, the mad screams and wails within the Abbey reached a fevered pitch. “Soup’s on,” Ezmerelda explained. The raven they’d seen in the morgue led then to a headstone in the graveyard. It was marked “Petrovna” and bore an indentation shaped like a sunburst. Rurik took a shovel that had been leaned near the now-vacant guardposts and began to dig. Only a few feet below the snow, he discovered a chalky cement slab and below it, a small placeholder plaque explaining that the sacred bones of Tasha Petrovna were captive at Castle Ravenloft.
-The Outlanders wasted no more time before returning to the village of Kresk and warning Dmitri Kreskov of the possibility of Strahd’s visit. He thanked them for the warning, but suspected its veracity. Here, the party was left to plot their next move.

View
Canto the Seventh
Effigies

“Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortured and remain forever.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is hell,
And where hell is must we ever be.
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that is not heaven.”
—Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus

The Sixth Morning in Barovia

-The Outlanders had passed the night in Kresk, at the home of the Burgomaster, Dmitri Kreskov, and his wife, Anna. Ezmerelda d’Avenir had no desire to be seen by the Kreskites and preferred to bed down in a grove withing the walls. Liveth and Percy kept her company.
-Rurik, curiously, awoke refreshed, having suffered no nightmares that night. Sydney checked the dreambook to be sure he was telling the truth.
-After breakfast, the party set off toward Ezmerelda’s wagon, which was parked on a small island on Lake Baratok, in the shadow of an old wizard’s tower (The Tower of Khazan).
-As they traveled, the Outlanders grilled the Vistana for information about her past and purpose, but many of her answers were incomplete or cryptic:
-Ezmerelda was not a native of Barovia but was from a similar “prison-realm” called Darkon…“inasmuch as a Vistana is from anywhere.”
-She came to Barovia seeking her mentor, a powerful vampire hunter called Van Richten, when she heard he planned to go after Strahd.
-Ezmerelda had fallen out with Van Richten years earlier, but didn’t want to miss her chance at a hunt this big.
-Evidence led her to the Tower of Khazan, but as she never saw Van Richten enter or exit the tower, she left her wagon behind and set off to find him.
-Of course she can ride into and out of Barovia, or wherever, as she wills. Such is the gift of Vistani blood. She doesn’t know how Van Richten got here, as he’s not a Vistana.
-Along the path to Lake Baratok, the group saw some footprints leading toward their destination from the east, but those abruptly left the trail and disappeared into the Svalich Woods.
-Upon reaching the lake, they were met by a causeway leading to the island, upon which rested the old tower and Ezmerelda’s vardo, as promised.
-Putting no stock into Arrigal’s fairy tale about Khazan’s Tower electrocuting all who tried to enter, Sydney touched the door and was immediately electrocuted as the entire structure was sheathed in lightning! Luckily, the ratcatcher was as nimble as she was intrepid, and she took only minor damage before tumbling clear.
-Alistair sought the secret to opening the tower and stopping the lightning. As he did so, Ezmerelda slipped through a secret hatch beneath her wagon and opened the back door from within.
-The party saw that the vardo had been rigged to explode upon intrusion, with a hundred vials of Alchemist’s Fire hanging like festive decorations across the ceiling. So much propellant would clearly disintegrate the wagon and its contents, which proved to be worth a small fortune.
-As Ezmerelda stocked the group with all manner of vampire-hunting supplies, as well as an annotated map of Barovia and a stolen page from Van Richten’s journal, Alistair worked out an odd glyph on the door, which proved to be a series of instructions for an odd dance. The warlock performed the necessary motions and spoke the name “Khazan”, heeding Madame Eva’s reading: “Let the Wizard’s name and servant guide you to that which you seek.”
-Upon entering the Tower, the group encountered four eight-foot clay statues which proved to be golems installed for the purpose of raising and lowering an elevator to the fourth floor.
-Arriving at the top of the tower, the Outlanders came to a room in which Van Richten had recently stayed. A suit of armour in the room proved to be another of Khazan’s toys, and also proved quite deferential to Sydney’s interrogation. He told her that Van Richten had indeed been there, wasn’t anymore, and that Khazan had been gone for a long time.
-A desk in the room had its drawers turned out as though it had been hastily emptied. Its presumptive contents were found in a woodstove across the room: remnants of Van Richten’s journal and other documents which had been burned.
-At the foot of the bed was a small chest which gave off a strong lavendar fragrance, opening it, Sydney discovered a grisly scene: a disembodied head, magically embalmed, with obvious Vistani features. Ezmerelda shrugged and said, oddly, “Van Richten doesn’t much like the Vistani.”
-Before they could glean much else, Orin, watching at the window, discovered that three humanoids were sidling up the path toward the causeway outside. The Outlanders crammed onto the elevator. Before she could join them, though Sydney was stopped, gently, by Khazan’s animated armour, who then revealed a secret compartment behind it, containing the Tome of Strahd, as Madame Eva hasd prophesied! She took it and joined the others, and they descended as fast as the clunky clay golems would allow.
-Outside, the party encountered three trappers who claimed to have been attracted by the lightning which had limned the tower and was visible for miles around. They attempted to shake down the adventurers for whatever treasures they had looted from the wizard’s tower. the Outlanders were disinclined to be robbed, however, and summoned steel and spell to defend themselves!
-Two of the three trappers morphed into lupine hybrid forms, surprising no one. The third, named Kiril and ostensibly the leader, attempted to fend off attacks from the party until three dire wolves joined him from across the causeway.
-Liveth seemed eager to test her new divine gifts of the Morninglord, launching holy flame far closer to the extremely explosive vardo than anyone was comfortable with.
-As the Outlanders and their new ally quickly gained the upper hand, the leader, Kiril, tried to flee as the wolves covered his retreat. Unfortunately for him, Sydney had already sunk a few recently-acquired silvered crossbow bolts into him and was not keen to lose them, so she doggedly shot him down with the support of her compatriots.
-Having cut down the three werewolves as well as the three dire wolves, the party hastened to depart the island before more assailants arrived. Ezmerelda climbed onto the driver’s board of her vardo and spoke: “Drovash”. Two quasi-real horses appeared , already tethered to the wagon, and the group was off.
-Heading south toward Yester Hill, where the wereravens believed the first of their magic gem-seeds could be found, the group encountered an animated scarecrow with knives for fingers, a gut stuffed with dead ravens, and an evil rictus which glared at them. Five more scarecrows lurched toward then through the dark wood.
-The party found the macabre constructs to be surprisingly resilient, and they imparted a supernatural fear ability that terrified and bewildered sturdy Rurik in spite of himself. Still they managed to put the foul things down and be on their way, but not before Liveth and Orin had both tempted fate by casting flame spells very near the volatile bomb-wagon again.
-As they passed the branching path that led west to the Wizard of Wines, a large unkindness of ravens overtook them from the northeast. One of the birds landed, hopped into the wood and whistled in a non-avian way for the Outlanders’ attention. Investigating, they found a Barovian woman modestly hiding her nudity behind some shrubbery.
-“Things have gotten bad in Vallaki,” she explained. “Vampire spawn stalk the streets, causing no end of trouble for the citizens. They’re leaning on Father Lucian to turn out the woman you left in the care of the church. He’s resisted, but he can’t hold out much longer.” Having delivered her message, the woman transformed back into a raven and was off.
-Trooping onward, intent on arriving at Yester Hill with plenty of daylight remaining, the party recognized their destination from miles away: a bald, man-made mound stretched 400 feet above the surrounding forest. It was ringed with hundreds of ten-foot-high stone cairns, and at its crest, a massive, 20-foot ring of boulders, periodically being struck by lightning, as well as a sickly copse surrounding a massive, twisted tree. Even from a long distance, they could see that the ring of monoliths contained a 50-foot tall wicker effigy of a caped humanoid. To the immediate west of the hill, the Mists of Barovia stretched high into the sky like a thick curtain.
-The group parked the wagon and approached the hill on foot. Orin strapped makeshift bandolier of Elzmerelda’s Alchemist’s Fire over his shoulder. Rurik heard a low deep voice that no one else heard. It beckoned him toward one of the stone cairns, with the promise of a mighty chieftain’s spear with which a worthy warrior could rule the land. The mercenary felt no compunction to resist and dug up the savage but vicious-looking implement where it lay upon the moldy bones of long-dead king Kavan. He felt its power as soon as he touched the weapon, and knew it was meant only for him.
-As they walked up the side of the hill toward the copse of trees, hoping to find the Martikovs’ gem-seed, Liveth espied what appeared to be a meteor streaking overhead. Drawing the spyglass she’s elected from Ezmerelda’s stash, the elf investigated and could hardly believe what she saw: a horse, black as night, galloped through the sky, with a humanoid rider upon its back. The horse, it should be noted, was on fire.
-The Outlanders resolved to do what they came to do and be gone quickly. As they approached the grove, they quickly determined that the tree at its heart was the Gulthias Tree about which Aethelred had told them. They also determined that a gleaming axe was embedded in the trunk, beneath which lay the skelatal remains of some would be lumberjack, and at least a half-dozen needle blights patrolled the grove. They moved toward the tree cautiously, but the blights remained passive. Finally, Alistair brandished the Gulthias Staff recovered at the winery, and snapped it in half, creating an unholy scream which carried on the wind for hundreds of feet. The blights they could see, as well as dozens which had remained hidden among the shrubs, suddenly stiffened, withered and died. The Gulthias tree however, seemed unaffected.
-The party set to work chopping and burning at the ancient tree, even as Liveth confirmed that the flying, burning horse and rider had landed amidst the monoliths adjacent to the grove. She saw that multiple bipedal creatures in blue-grey mud from head to toe had risen from divots in the earth and begun gesticulating and genuflecting between the rider and the wicker man.
-The Gulthias Tree was not easily killed. It’s spongy, rotten bark oozed blood and seemed to deter even fire damage. The axe which had been found in its belly proved especially effective against it, but still it was slow going. Even as the Outlanders toiled to fell the wicked tree, the mud-covered humanoids had multiplied to six in number and had organized their motions and chants into a primitive ritual of some sort. The dark rider and his flaming steed merely observed, impassive.
-The party gradually came to the conclusion that the savage men must not be allowed to complete their rite. However, they feared the prowess of the strange rider, and their fears were justified. As they got closer, they recognized his face from each electrum coin they’d acquired in Barovia: the face of Lord Strahd Von Zarovich himself!
-Half of the Outlanders resolved to complete the tedious work of felling the Gulthias tree while others set off toward the ritual in progress. As the tree finally began to fall, two of the wildmen, one with a staff, the other with a greataxe, split off to investigate the sudden clangor. Orin released a powerful Fireball which decimated the remaining assembled druids and berserkers and set the huge effigy alight. Still, Strahd watched, merely amused by the commotion.
-As the party moved in and intently destroyed the wicker man and its wardens, Rurik made eye contact with the vampire and, in a split-second decision, saluted…before brandishing the Blood Spear of Kavan and obliterating the penultimate berserker with a practiced martial maneuver.
-Lord Strahd returned the salute with a look of satisfaction. He dismounted the flaming stallion, said something imperceptible to the last living wildman who then ran at full bolt away from the battle. Then Strahd locked eyes with Rurik once more.
-Rurik, in a panic, attempted to barter his party’s welfare for Ireena’s location in Vallaki. Strahd smiled, and coolly responded that he knew all about Vallaki. He asked if the Outlanders had received his invitation and said that he hoped they wouldn’t spurn it. All the while, Rurik could feel the creature clawing at his psyche. He could see the vampire’s shadow stretching toward him, claws extended, even as Strahd stood still before him, fingers steepled. He fought to maintain control and held his ground. The warrior answered simply that they had the invitation.
-Strahd then said that he hoped to see then the following evening in Vallaki for the burgomaster’s Festival of the Blazing Sun…it would be a spectacle not to be missed, he promised with a velvet grin.
-Finally, he told them that the “Old Crow’s Seed,” the gem they sought, would be found in the smouldering heap that had been the wicker man. His “misguided children,” he claimed, aimed to use its power to their own ends, and would have, had the Outlanders not thwarted them.
-He bade them recover their treasure and leave him to Yester Hill.
-Meanwhile, Ezmerelda had dived for cover outside the stone circle as soon as she recognized Strahd. The Outlanders, puzzled by her sudden loss of resolve, asked why she hadn’t on the attack. She responded that the timing was not of her choosing, that Strahd still held the advantage; they wondered if the Vistana’s bluster had all been for show.
-Having recovered the gem-seed, the party withdrew. As they did so, however, Alistair and Orin considered the sheer reach of the Gulthias Tree’s root system and wondered if the Tree would eventually grow back to produce more Blights. Orin packed the stump with his bandolier of Alchemist’s Fire, and detonated it from a distance with magic.
-Looking back to the circle of monoliths, it appeared Strahd had not even perceived the sky-high explosion. Instead, he stared, rapt, toward the west, where they could see in the thick mists, a mirage, as tangible as it was illusory, of a glittering, welcoming valley, a bright castle and flowing banners, in all ways the opposite of the forbidding Castle Ravenloft.
-As they walked down the hill, some of the Outlanders wondered about the confusing things they had seen:
-What had the wildmen planned to accomplish with their ritual?
-Why had Strahd simply allowed them to walk away from him?
-Was Ezmerelda d’Avenir nothing more than a sham?
-Why was Orin casting such obviously unsubtle spells today, unlike any Bard they’d known?

They’d have plenty of time to wonder as they made their way back to Davian with the precious gem-seed.

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Canto the Eighth
Springs Eternal

“She smiled and said with an ecstatic air: “It shines like a little diamond”,
“What does?”
“This moment. It is round, it hangs in empty space like a little diamond; I am eternal.”
—Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason

The Seventh Morning on Barovia

-The Outlanders rose in the Wizard of Wines Winery, having been urged back to Vallaki in light of growing unrest in town, Lord Strahd’s own statement of intent to attend the Festival of the Blazing Sun (which he promised was a spectacle not to be missed), and Ireena’s precarious sanctuary within St. Andral’s Church.
-Having sent raven messengers the night before to both the Blue Water Inn and to Ismark in the Village of Barovia, the group loaded up the Martikovs’ wine wagon with full and empty barrels to help them bypass the guards at the town gates. Accompanied by Adrian and Elvir, they approached Vallaki and split into two groups to mask their numbers from those who may be watching for them. Half took the wine wagon to the west gate and the rest traveled to the north gate, where Muriel Vinshaw was scheduled to work guard detail.
-At the west gate, Sydney was relieved to see Dargos, the guard who had shown her deference a few days prior. Aethelred had transformed himself into a small animal and joined Grim in Sydney’s pocket.. Rurik, Sydney and Esmerelda had stashed their weapons in an empty wine barrel. Dargos the guard proved deferential and helpful, but told this group to take their wine shipment directly to the burgomaster’s mansion; instructions which they promptly ignored and headed to the Blue Water Inn.
-At the North gate, Orin, Alistair, and Liveth met Muriel Vinshaw, who was working guard duty as she’d promised. Her fellow gate guard was suspicious of them, but Muriel helped the m talk their way through. They rendezvoused with the others at the inn.
-Upon arriving at the Inn, Danika Martikov anticipated their requirement and sent them straight upstairs to find Rictavio. The “carnival master” tried feebly to maintain his ruse, but Ezmerelda had already deduced his real identity and let him know it. He took off what proved to be an enchanted hat and the illusion fell: he was not a half-elf at all but an older, far more distinguished but impressively coiffed human man: Rudolph van Richten!
-Van Richten took Ezmerelda aside for a bit and ther group watched as her ire subsided and the two embraced tearfully. When they returned to the group, Van Richten told them his theory: Strahd would arrive at the Festival this evening and offer to remove the Vampire Spawn who had been harassing the town for a few days, in return for the townspeople handing over Ireena Kolyana to him. He believed the group needed to get Ireena out today if they hoped to save her. When asked to join the Outlanders in their mission, he offered sadly that the best thing he could do to help was to stay away from them. Ezmerelda didn’t argue.
-On Muriel’s tip that the town toymaker, Gadof Blinsky, was making a doll who looked eerily like Ireena, three of the party including Alistair, Orin, and Liveth set out to investigate. Blinksy was a portly, jolly man in a threadbare old jester cap, and his shop was full of weird and macabre toys. Muriel had not been exaggerating.:The doll was the spitting image of Ireena. While Alistair attempted to get some information, Orin, thinking the doll might have some sort of magical value, tried to snatch it, but Blinsky caught him and became enraged. Orin pacified the toymaker with short-term charm magic, but the three were unable to get anymore information from him and so Alistair and Liveth headed for the church and Ireena while Orin headed back to the Inn and his companions.
-Meanwhile, the others had concocted a plan to smuggle Ireena out of town. Since Strahd had twice bitten Ireena, Ezmerelda knew that Strahd could psychically locate her no matter where she was, except apparently while under the consecration of holy sites like St. Andral’s. They decided to use Aethelred’s magic to put Ireena into a deathlike state, remove her from the church, deliver her to the holy spring of St. Markovia in Kresk, and decide the next step from there. Elvir and Adrian positioned the wine wagon outside the North Gate to facilitate their escape.
-When they arrived at St. Andral’s Church, Liveth and Percy took up scouting positions outside, as did Rurik. Sydney noted, by way of the rod of Awareness, that there was an active scrying orb outside of the church, and that they could not bring Ireena through the front door. They entered, noted that an old woman was playing alone at the front pew and Milivoj was keeping watch outside from the belfry. The Outlanders told Father Lucian and Ireena what was going to happen if Ireena stayed and how they planned to exfiltrate her. In spite of her misgivings, Ireena was convinced by Sydney’s plain speech and agreed, but Father Lucian was concerned not only about Strahd, but also Izek Strazni, who seemed obsessed with Ireena and had been leaning on the priest to let him see her.
-No sooner had the words been spoken than Izek arrived with six guards and shouldered his way past the priest and into the church. He was not expecting a full counter-assault, however, and was quickly disabled by the party inside with no opportunity to fight back.
-Outside, Rurik, Liveth and the cat made quick work of the guards as well, and surprisingly to some, Rurik took care to leave each guard alive. Their unconscious bodies, along with that of Strazni (also left alive), were dragged into the walled cemetery but the group knew that time was of the essence before reinforcements arrived.
-Aethelred induced the false death state in Ireena and the rest fed her out the side of the church by a side window and toward the North Gate. When they arrived, they found Orin, who had passed the time by entertaining and gambling with the guards, waiting for them with the cart. They were just about to leave when there was a disturbance just a few houses south of the gate.
-The Outlanders saw a wizened old crone standing outside a residence. There was a commotion before the people inside tearfully presented a small boy of about 6. He screamed but the old woman lifted the child with unexpected strength into a burlap sack and tossed the squirming bundle onto her hand-cart.
-sydney and Liveth ran to the child’s aid, and the old woman explained haughtily that the child was fair payment for her Dream Pastries. this family couldn’t get enough of the sweets and their account had fallen far into arrears: 50 Lords behind! Sydney gave the crone enough money to cover the boy’s release, as well as purchasing a few pastries for the group. The old woman returned the child to his parents, who were delighted. The child was rightfully NOT delighted with his parents for putting him in such a position to begin with.
-After Orin and Alistair had a few quick words of assurance with the still suspicious guards, the group set off for Kresk. Apparently their trick had worked to keep Ireena’s departure unnoticed, for they were untroubled by pursuers. They did, however, have to face a half-dozen giant spiders who had staked out the road, and they did so with fire and steel. Orin, in particular, took a special savage glee in roasting the monstrous creatures.
-On arriving in Kresk, the Outlanders beelined for the holy font and placed her within the waters before reviving her. Upon doing so, a vision appeared in the water. A young, beautiful man in fine clothes with dark hair smiled directly at Ireena. He spoke, calling her "Tatyana, my love’. Ireena seemed at once to remember everything of her past time, and was ecstatic to be reunited with the spirit of her betrothed (and Strahd’s murdered brother), Sergei Von Zarovich. He reached his hand toward her and she accepted it, and they both became one with the surface of the pool, then shimmered and disappeared.
-As the Outlanders looked on with an immense sense of relief and joy, black clouds roiled overhead. The face of Strahd seemed to appear in the clouds and lightning flashed. “SHE IS MINE!” The storm bellowed, and a bolt of purple-white energy struck the pool, sending Outlanders flying, destroying the nearby gazebo and the statue of the Morninglord which Liveth had worked so hard to restore. The waters of the pool became black and dead. The Oulanders left Kresk at the burgomaster’s insistance, and knew that though Ireena/Tatyana may now be at peace, the full wrath of the Devil Strahd would now be brought to bear in vengeance against them.

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