“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.