Curse of Strahd

Dreams prt2
the night before we face the abbot again

Draug sleeps fitfully before the impending confrontation, pressing his hand to the now embedded holy symbol in his chest seems to calm him, and he dreams deeply.  Once again he is transported to that moonlit lakeshore, before his goddess and patron.  "What troubles you Draug?" she asks him even as he kneels before her, sensing his unease.  "My lady, i fear i will be unable to finish my fights with the darkness.  I have met the devil himself, and i come up very short to him, and even now it seems he has tempted a holy servant to fall from grace and serve him. What chance do i have again such a power?"  Sehanine thinks for a moment, and asks Draug, "Do you doubt in me Draug Naule? Do you denounce you vow to fight the darkness and devil till the end?" Draug shakes his head violently, "No Lady, i would lay my life down to protect people from the terror he strikes, and all his servants and allies. If i'm to face him and die so be it, same with his werewolf servants. But i'd atleast want a chance to kill and win the fight."  Sehanine smiles softly at him, "Very well Draug,  but to recive this gift you and your allies must put an end to this fallen angel,  for he is creating horrors and robbing the very dead of their rest to make this false bride. Do this for me, and i shall grant you the strength and a weapon to push back the darkness and let the moonlight once again shine."  Draug bows to her again, "as you command my Lady.  I will not allow his perversions continue against nature." and as he says this, the crecent moon seems to decend upon him, taking the shape of a bow, and gets absorbed into his symbol, causeing a flash of pale light visible even in the room that Draug sleeps in. Sehanine touches his head, "Do not fear, do not doubt, you are my chosen warrior, and you will fight with this knowledge in your heart.  Now go, and prove your worth this gift."  Draug awakens and the rest of the group has started to stir, ready to face whatever comes his way.

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The red mists

He was a man of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with a massive, strongly marked face and a commanding figure. He was dressed in a sombre yet rich style, in black frock-coat, shining hat, neat brown gaiters, and well-cut pearl-gray trousers. The man stood for a minute or more with a heaving chest, fighting against his emotion. Then an older man looked up uttered “Please be calm”, and in a peaceful voice he added "our studies revealed with considerable accuracy our new formula is unimpeachable” assured tapping the big man on the shoulder as he passed by. The old man saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes; and he was reminded not so much of his mother as of his father. It has been several years of loyalty.

“Please let me go!” shouted a soft yet serious voice. The elven grace contrasting with her current situation, she once more tried to force her way loose of the ropes with no success. 

“Please stop doing that to yourself, we’re not savages but you leave us with no other option” answered the old man. While he approach he started “Brielle, Brielle… my young lady. We just want to get out of here. I can’t afford letting you loose knowing our secret. It’s an unfortunate discovery of yours”. Thinking, the old man lost himself in his thoughts for few minutes. 

The awkward silence becoming a pressure on everyone, then a masked man also dressed in fine black robes suggested with an almost unnoticeable smile “Why don’t we just kill her?”. Some figures glared at each other and the silence was back for few more minutes. It lasted until the old man was back from his lost thoughts.

“I see we have conflicted opinions upon the matter, the only solution left is a vote on what to do with her” countered the elder. “It leaves us with three options. Option one: killing her. Option two: keeping her until our mission is done and then we release her. Option three: making her part of the guild by taking an oath” announced the old man as he raised his third finger illustrating the last option, then he turned to his loyal body guard “My friend, would you mind conducting the votes while I get back to what we were suppose to be doing?”.

With no further questions, the elder wizard turned away facing the heavy fog in front of him. He emptied a sack of dust on the floor, focused himself for few seconds and said in what Brielle knew to be draconic “Glittering dust that absorbs mist. With the royal blood, the dark powers shall concede. A way for souls it must provide, through the path of the planes where they can be freed”. He poured a vial of blood into the dust. The blood puffed in a small glittering red cloud, the cloud merged quickly into the mists and began to form what seemed to be a gate.

“1501 DR, Experiment 43. The gate was successfully opened” logged that old man to magically enchanted feather that took notes for him. Then he gestured to his friend so he could bring the hat with the voting results.

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Maestoff's Regret
After clearing the windmill.

Maestoff sat in the windmill for a moment, remembering his days migrating from farm to farm. He turned the recently found feather over in his hands. He remembered her crying on the steps, as her father hurried out to take his hand.

 

"You've done a good thing today boy. Truly, my daughter is all I have in this world besides this land. What are you doing just picking crops?"

Maestoff caught his breath, wiping the blood from his hands onto his tattered shirt. "Just.. looking to earn some coin and eat some food sir." He looked for the young woman that the wolf confronted. She was sitting on the steps to the door of the farmer's home, her white hair falling over her tear streaked face.

"Well here, come inside a while. I've got food on the table and it looks like you could use a day in the shade!" The portly farmer laughed, which felt strange to Maestoff as adrenaline still pumped through his veins. He got up and dusted himself off, following the farmer's lead.

The man's daughter had composed herself somewhat, fixing her hair and finally looking at the farmhand that had saved her life. She sat there, still unable to speak, but gave an appreciative nod as he walked by. She was very pretty, something he hadn't seen much of between his time working the land and his meager existence in the slums of Waterdeep. When their eyes met, he saw something else he hadn't seen before. The young lady's skin was porcelain white, as were her eyebrows and eyelashes. The bit that caught him off-guard was her eyes, they were a striking red.

"Boy?" Maestoff turned and saw the farmer looking back at him from the doorway with a sly grin. "I'd thought food and coin was all you were after. C'mon in, let's have a talk."

He blushed slightly and hurried inside. As far as meals go, this was the closest to a feast that Maestoff had ever had. There was pork, duck, cabbage, potatoes, all products of the land the man lived on. They both sat and ate for a while. The farmer could see how hungry Maestoff really was; a few times he almost left the utensils to the side, fighting the urge to dive face first into his plate.

"My name's Recolte," the farmer spoke up after a time, "what's yours?"

"Maestoff" was all he managed through a full mouth, "-sir." He added quickly.

"Well Maestoff, you handled things very well out there. My daughter Sera, she's a sweet girl. Too sweet for this world maybe." He took a bottle from the table and uncorked it. "Wine? My brother's a vintner, always gives me a bottle or two when he visits." Maestoff put his hand up before Recolte could fill his cup. "Water's fine, sir."

Recolte shrugged and took a swig from the bottle. "Well, down to business. You're a strong lad. You obviously could eat a bit more than you have been. How would you like it if I were to take you on permanently? See, I was never great at training a watch dog." he motioned to two hounds laying by the porch, seemingly uninterested in anyone's comings and goings. "So what if, instead of picking fruits and vegetables, you pick off any stray wolves or thieves in the night? The pay would be steady, and you certainly have the build for it. I'll properly equip you free of charge."

Maestoff sat up and wiped the mess of food from his face. "I think I'd like that sir. I don't have much of a home to return to though." Recolte's face grew into a big grin. "We can sort that out just fine. And enough of that 'sir' crap. You may be my new watchdog but I'm no master. Maybe that's why I could never train em well." He stood up and grabbed for his coin purse, while motioning for Maestoff to follow.

The two men stood on the front porch of the home. Recolte handed him the money and pointed him towards the nearest blacksmith. "Tell him I sent you, get yourself whatever equipment you feel comfortable with, and get back to me when you're ready. We'll iron out the details tonight." They shook hands and Maestoff went on his way.

As he reached the property line, he heard a shout in his direction. Maestoff turned to see Sera dashing up to him. "Thank you." Was all she said, as she kissed him on the cheek. They caught eyes, her red meeting his blue, and that moment passed for an eternity. Before he could respond, she dashed away, back towards the big farmhouse.

 

Maestoff put the feather back under his breastplate. He'd come a long way since then, and the road felt rockier than ever. He took a large swig from his wineskin and gathered his things, everybody else seemed to be outside inspecting some large stones. Back to it then.

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Appreciating Kassandra
Hi Birdy,
 
Doing pretty well.  We fought against some witch-like things today.  I got fried by two lightening bolts…nearly killed me.  Well, one was my fault; I stupidly stood my ground when I had a perfectly good chance to get under cover.  So stupid!  Anyway it was a bitch!  Or I should say they were bitches!  Afterward we were all too exhausted even to explore our newly gained property…an old windmill. 
 
I wish I had learned something about the Vistani from you…or maybe you don’t know of them either.  They are the gypsies of Barovia…nomads…not trustworthy but not totally against us, I think.  It is true that Strahd allows the Vistani to travel in and out of Barovia…the only ones allowed to do so.  But, I’m not sure they are completely free to do so a will.  They may be in league with Strahd or simply informers who would like to be free of him as much as us.  We met a small group of elves today at the Vistani camp.  They were here against their will, like us.  They had been ambushed by a group of werewolves and had joined the Vistani camp for mutual protection.  They seem oddly out of place to me…but so are we.  The elf leader is definitely an enemy of Strahd, something about his daughter’s soul being held in the devil’s castle.  You know I don’t believe all this mumbo jumbo about the God’s helping us.  What’s a soul good for anyway?  Nonetheless, he’s a probable ally. 
 
There are only two of my companions that I’ve not described to you.  Our newest member, a strange looking cleric named Urican, and, of course, the beautiful Kassandra.  Thought I’d never get around to talking about her didn’t you. ::smile::
 
Kassandra:
 
The only woman I’ve ever known that is as beautiful as Kassandra is Wink.  I miss Wink; I hope you are caring for her!  Anyway, Kass is a talented Bard that gets the immediate attention of every man when she enters a room.  When she plays her instruments in a tavern or inn the audience is mesmerized.  But the true beauty of Kassandra is her warmth, charm and empathy.  If there are children around, she wants to stop and play with them.  If we meet an elderly person she insists that we stop and see what we can do for them.  But she is not bashful; I swear if we met a dragon intent on eating us she would walk up to it, shake her finger and order it to stop.  In battle she inspires us, heals us and is as fearsome as any of us when she attacks.  We’d be in trouble without her.  Of course, I’d like to see more of her…uh…I mean spend more time with her but her good ole cousin Draug has three eyes…one watching Kass, one on our enemies and one on me!  Damn! 
 
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Damn Yue!

Slate paced back and forth in the church; the others were asleep.

Damn! damn! damn!  There was always something about her that I didn’t trust.  But, I wasn’t as observant as Maestoff or Draug.  With me the suspicion was simply the coincidence of her arrival at the same time as us.  Paladins don’t just drop out of the blue when you might need them.  Funny, she was (is) beautiful but I never was attracted to her…unusual for me.  Heh.  Well, too late to do anything about it.  But, we must figure her out…no doubt we’ve not seen the last of her. 

Clues:

  1. She knew exactly where the devils’ hideout was.
  2. During the fight with the devils and the werewolf Draug urged her to use Divine Smite…she refused.
  3. Maestoff healed her and, in the process, learned that she was not hurt nearly as much as she seemed to be.
  4. She never attempted to heal herself even though eventually she collapsed from her injuries. 

Conclusion:  I think we can safely assume she was no paladin.  But, that doesn’t get us any place.

More Clues:

  1. She did seem to genuinely fight against our enemies. 
  2. While we were all at Wizard of Wines, she was in Vallaki and could have spirited Ireena away from us without a problem.

Conclusion:  I don’t think she is in league with Strahd; she is more likely against him.  But, to wat purpose?  What is she trying to do and why?

Last Clues:

  1. Draug would have seen if she was a shape-shifter; so she isn’t. 
  2. But, she flies.  She can fly!
  3. She left a red feather where she took to the air.  Was it a part of her or a part of her clothing.  I’d feel better if it were white.  Red?

Conclusion:  What the hell is she? She may be against Strahd but she isn’t necessarily with us. 

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Examining the Puzzle

Slate sat against a tree just off the road, several yards from the city gates.  Kass and Maestoff were instructing the guard and Father Lucien about the young Vistani girl and the fool fisherman.  The fisherman was not evil but he suffered from a perilous case of idiocy.  Of course if you start executing idiots where to you stop? 

Slate shrugged and let out a sigh; he need to concentrate on recent events.  Brielle, a mistress of intrigue and mystery herself, had always chastised him for being too direct and for his thinking being too linear.  “Mysteries are like a three-dimensional spider’s web.” she would say “If you try to follow a straight line you’ll fall off onto the ground.”  He wasn’t sure he completely understood but he could see the he and his friends were certainly holding the ends of numerous separate strands.  But the secret to this dilemma was not in finding the center of the web; Strahd was the at the center.  The solution would come from binding the varied entanglements into a tight knot around Strahd’s wicked neck.

The bundle of resolving threads, though not clear, were at least evident.  The card reading and its five ciphers.  Let’s take them one at a time.

The Trader: This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient will I help you better understand your enemy. Look to the wizard of wines! In wood and sand the treasure hides.

 

What we know: We discovered the Tome of Strahd…his own words in his own hand.  What did we learn? 

  1. Strahd lost his obsession, Tatyana, the youthful object of his desire (perhaps love) when she spurned him for his young brother.  Committing suicide she was lost to him forever.  So, we now understand the reason for Strahd’s obsession with Ireena…reincarnate or just a remarkable resemblance, it doesn’t matter.  He is now immortal and he is desperate to make her immortal as well…both vampires but both together.  Keeping Ireena from him is critical.  But, in the end, the only way to do that is to destroy Strahd. 
  2. What Strahd fears the most is the sun and light.  But, just as much he fears a sword brought by his brother

Where these strands lead: It seems to me there are three important connections here:

  1. The connection with Ireena is clear
  2. There is a weapon essential for defeating Strahd, the sword of light, that we must find.
  3. The sword is connected to Strahd’s brother Sergei whose body is unaccounted for.

Slate barely heard the debate going on in the background but he kept his mind on task.   So far they knew very little but did anything they know possibly connect to the other card riddles?

Philanthropist: This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope.  Look to a place where sickness and madness are bred. Where children once cried, the treasure lies still. 

This puzzle does not seem to be connect yet to what we learned from the Trader.

Merchant: This is a card of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight. Seek a cask that once contained the finest wine, of which not a drop remains.

Yes!  This is where either we will find the sword or more about where it lies!  Easy enough, or maybe not.

Broken One: This card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness. Your greatest ally will be a wizard. His mind is broken, but his spells are strong.

This has been clear for several days now.  This undoubtedly refers to the great wizard that lost his mind battling Strahd.  North of the lake his where is likely found; and that is where we are headed now. 

Innocent: Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are I beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him! He dwells with the one whose blood sealed his doom, a brother of light snuffed out too soon.

This may mean the dead brother, innocent of wrong doing.  A good guess is that he is entombed in the depths of Strahd’s own habitat, perhaps the last puzzle we will solve.

Find the ends and tie them together and do so as soon as possible.  But, number one rescue Ireena.  We cannot let her fall into the hands of Strahd. 

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The Dream
After finding the journal of Strahd

Draug dreams deeply that night, the town square and the silver haired woman appears again, once more in the town square. This scene has been replaying in his dreams ever since the first, each time he has been frozen, unabe to do anything, forced to relive the horror of watching yet more people be torn to shreds by the werewolves, even still senseing the oppressive force that thier master Strahd is pushing.  No more he thinks to himself, never again, and he whispers a prayer to his goddess to grant him the strength to end this cycle, to push back against the darkness, to end the suffering caused by this evil before him.  His amulet again flares to life and light, and a bow seeming made of pure moonlight appears in his hands.  Filled with purpose from this sign, he draws his bowstring, an arrow appearing notched as he does, and he joins the fight.  What seems like an eternity passes in the bloody battle, taking many wounds yet refusing to fall, doing everything he can to save as many as he can from the pack.  Finally the battle ends, the pack withdrawing much smaller than before, the woman and several of the townsfolk still living. Draug collapses to the ground, the bow dissapearing from his hand as he falls, bleeding out from the many wounds he suffered. He stares to the sky, thanking his goddess for aiding him, allowing him to do some good in this horror filled world, only regreting that he was unable to continue fighting for her. Draugs life slips away from him, and he is sure he will die.  He starts to feel a beating upon his chest, an incredible burning sensation as the woman appears before him again, asking if he would hunt and fight till his last breath against the dark powers, no matter what the cost. Draug answers without hesitation, "Yes, I would fight till all my bones are broken, my body torn asunder, and my heart stops to keep the dark powers at bay." The woman smiles, "Then i will make you mine, my warrior here in this dark land, to bring an end to Strahd's darkness and the wolves terror." She places her hands upon the amulet and his chest, life surging back into his body, along with a terrible burning sensation. Draug jolts awake, clutching his chest which burns horribly.  When the feeling finally subsides, Draug looks down to see his amulet is gone, and in its place is a perfect tattoo of his on his chest in silver, almost as if his amulet has melted into his skin. He hears whispered in his ear, "with this our pact is sealed, you are my warrior, and i shall grant you strength"

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The Inscrutable Draug

Hello Birdie,

Just another entry in my notes to you.  We’ve progressed in our never-ending journey into this horror.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for all the education you gave me in the arcane use of my bow.  Those abilities have literally been a life-saver on more than one occasion.   I wish I could have learned more about druids…evil ones, at least.  Although learning to use the bow by shooting trees in the forest was some scant help.  But those trees didn't move! 

Anyway, I want to tell you about another of my companions.  You remember introducing me to Kassandra, I’ve yet to describe her to you but I will ::wink::  Well Kass has a cousin that travels with her whose name is Draug.  He is an elf, one of your kin but of the wood elf variety, I believe. 

Draug:

The only thing that any of us really knows about Draug comes from watching him.  He is quiet and not at all conversational.  A young, strong, highly skilled ranger, he is incredibly intuitive in combat.  He always seems to focus on the weaknesses and importance of our enemies.  More than once I’ve yelled out to him for advice in the middle of a battle.  Where Maestoff charges into battle with a passion, Draug rapidly assesses his most advantageous option and moves quickly to gain it.  Though we share a love for the bow, our skills compliment rather than supplement one another.  Surprisingly, though we have much in common, this mutuality has not brought us much closer together.  Draug is very protective of Kass and stays close to her.  That is understandable inasmuch as the one thing we know about him is that he and Kass have a vicious vendetta against werewolves.  This is especially true for Draug…his family, in fact his entire village, was destroyed by them.  When we are not otherwise engaged Draug sits by himself (not far from Kass) lost in deep thought.  But, his eyes are not lost in a far-away stare, rather they are intensely focused like a perfect arrow shaft pointed at a hated enemy. 

More when I can,

Slate

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Spies

"My leader" announced a strong and monstrous humanoid as he strode in the cave. "We managed to intercept this letter from the priest Donavich. I prefer you read it yourself" bowed the the shadowy figure, stretching out his arm with a scroll on his hand. "This is not the original, as requested we make copies so we keep being invisible".

"Thank you, I couldn't except less" smiled the master reading curiously. "After years we might have gotten what we needed". Glomming the letter the leader added "I will handle this myself". 

Even bowing the big devil couldn't hide his surprised face as he thought "Handling it personally… hmm.. I guess the odds are in our favour this time"

The village of Barovia was calm this night, the streets awkwardly filled with people, as if the fear was temporarily gone. The beautiful human dressed as a Vallaki guard was admired as she walked through the village, without wasting time she went straight into the tavern. 

The burgomaster's son Ismark was there, his amusement lifting up his spirits. When he noticed the smoking blond, he quickly invited her to his table "What brings you here soldier? Or should I say, my lady?" said him softly as he pushed a glass of Purple Grapemash. 

"My mission here is already completed" lied the blond lady, "I just wanted to be safe and warm until tomorrow, when I shall head back to Vallaki" then she paused taking a sip of the wine "thank you! I really needed this. Hopefully I can get a room available in this tavern" wondered her looking around.

"Fear not" swiftly added him, his interests growing by her natural charm "I give my word that a safe place you will have to rest this night" assured him adjusting his seat "I'm Ismark the burgomaster" introduced himself, his chest up, clearly proud of that. Two days ago a group of people managed bury his father, put the priest's son to rest, take his sister out of Strahd's umbrella, and do few other beneficial things to the village. He happened to be at the tavern when they arrived and the villagers are now welcoming him as the burgomaster, probably thinking he might have brought them here. Some even told stories about how he reminds his father in his actions. 

They talked for almost two hours, Ismark leading the conversation. He told her about himself, a wolf fight he got into, his recent days, at the end he was getting a little depressed thinking how it is going to be after the devil comes back. But after drinking several glasses of wine, enough to get Ismark hammered, he didn't want to worry about it now. The woman was mostly following, in joy when hearing about what these strangers have done for the village. She was indeed happy, defeating Strahd in any way is always something to appreciate. She was also tipsy, however still in good shape.

"I feel like I know you better but I still don't know your name my lady"

"Victoria. It is a pleasure to meet you Ismark. You brought happiness to a night that was supposed to be boring and depressing as things usually were in this village" she then laughed. Blushed she covered her face with her hands to stop smiling, then she dropped her hand on his. With the touched, he became paralyzed, and waiting for him to act she slowly closed her eyes seducing him. Ismark did not miss the chance, he could see nothing around, his body operating only for this. He went ahead kissing her, feeling his body burning from inside. Those soft and wet lips tasting wine were irresistible.

"Why don't you stay in my place tonight, so you can save a little bit of money and have a nicer bed to sleep?" offered him about half an hour later, when she has finally lost interested and stopped asking questions about the things he told. He was surprised that she was really interested in his stories, that wasn't what usually happens. They were already sitting closer to each other and he had his arm resting on the back of her chair. "I can also have someone cleaning up your armour, you see"

She just nodded kissing him back. Few minutes later walking their way to the mansion she suddenly stopped on the middle of the street.  

"What happened?" asked him surprised "Was it something I did? I'm sorry…"

"No." she interrupted him and paused for few seconds, letting the suspense take over his mind. "How am I suppose to be seen with the burgomaster?" she questioned him looking around, trying to be logical about the situation "The soldiers wouldn't respect me if this somehow reach their ears. You think I haven't heard about your sister? She has been in Vallaki once, she might tell someone".

"Don't worry" he quickly added, then he pulled her close and whispered in her ears "Please keep this between us, but my sister is also not at home anymore. She travels with my friends to Vallaki as we speak, she is safe with them and far away" a sad face popped as he remembered the fact his sister is gone for a while.

A wide smiled appeared on her face as she broke his stupor "I trust you then, let's go. I definitely need some sleep". 

When he was wake up next day, her bed was empty and she was gone.

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Night's Watch
Just before Draug's shift and Slate's rude awakening

    Maestoff sat silently in the forest clearing. The middle watch felt exceptionally lonely. The fire had burned out to ash and ember. The dim red glow provided no real light, it was little more than a reminder of the contrasting darkness surrounding him. He ran his fingers over the inside of his shield. Seven fresh tally marks were carved above the arm straps. Seven infernal things he killed since he came to this strange land. He could take some small reassurance in that. He had killed before, yes, but before he left that tavern with Slate in search of Barovia, he had only faced off against common thugs and the occasional beast. His old master, Bromm taught him about the undead and infernal beings that shared this plane of existence yet to see one.. To drive a blade into a walking corpse and see no reaction, no blood. He felt around for one of the bottles of wine and popped the cork. The wine flowed red. He was glad to see not all hope was lost here.

 

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