Curse of Strahd

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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Rats!

“Skulk, get up here with that torch!  Why are you crawling? There’s plenty of room to stand!” Slate was agitated.

Wink giggled in the darkness then called to Skulk as well.  “He’s afraid of the spiders Skulky; he doesn’t want to run into their webs.” Another giggle.

“I am not!  I…I just can’t see where I’m going!” Slate retorted.

As Skulk brought the light forward all three youngsters peered into the dark tunnel ahead.

Slate was attempting to look the intrepid explorer, a difficult task for a 12-year-old.  Wink, already beautiful a year before becoming a teenager, smiled with the ever-present twinkle in her eye.  And, Skulk, half bent over despite the seven-foot high passageway, stood warily behind Wink.

“We ain’t should be here, Slater,” Skulk whined.

“Just be quiet; we haven’t even gone fifty feet and already you want to turn back?” Slate said.

“Then you carries the torch; I don’t wanna go first.” Skulked answered. 

Wink suddenly seized the torch from Skulk and strode confidently forward.  “Com’on you babies don’t be so afraid of the dark.” Wink rolled her eyes and sighed in frustration. “Boys!”

Slate scampered forward grabbing the torch from Wink.  He was leading this expedition, not a girl!

Two of the three were carrying their own version of a weapon.  Skulk held what looked to be a chair leg  so tightly in his hand that his knuckles were going white.  Slate toted what had once been a short-handled gardener’s weed hook.  Actually it was half a weed-hook as the top half of the curved blade had broken off before it had been discarded. 

“Where does ya think it goes?” Skulk ventured.

“I told ya, I bet it’s the tail end of one of the Paradox tunnels.” Slate answered

“Sure, like one of the Paradox tunnels, that probably don’t exist anyway, would lead to the dredge.” Wink shook her head.  “It’s nothing but an old smuggler’s tunnel that leads to the docks.”

“Old Hammer-head swears that this is one of the Paradox tunnels, the only one outa the dredge.” Slate insisted.

Wink laughed, “There’ a reason he’s call Hammer-head.  He’s hammered out of his head 24 hours a day!”

“Okay, if you two don’t want to go with me, turn around and go back,” Slate retorted.

“Oh calm down, Slate.” Wink’s voice turned soft as she took Slate’s arm with her delicate hand. “You know I wouldn’t let you go with out me.” 

“Well, I ain’t goin’ five feet from that torch…for’ed or backerd.”  Skulk added.

The threesome crept forward, slowly at first and with a bit more courage after a short while.  The passageway was damp everywhere and even wet on places.  This was the seacoast and underground tunnels had to be shallow and would still always suffer from saltwater seepage.  The passage itself was squared on the floor and the sides but arched overhead.  Remarkably this underground causeway was constructed, not carved.  The walls were made of cut stone as was the ceiling.  The floor was just sand. 

Wink was intrigued by the workmanship and repeatedly ran her finger down the joints where the stones fit tightly together.  “You’re right Slate.  No smugglers would spend the time and effort to build something like this.”

Slate wore a grin like a badge of honor.

The three stopped in unison.  The torch revealed that just ahead was a door-sized opening on the left.  The main passage continued straight onward but the opening gave the appearance of leading to a room, a room without a door.  That was when the scraping sound began.

“What be that?” Skulk urgently whispered.

Wink and Slate looked at each other but said nothing.  The two cautiously and quietly crept forward.  For all the world it sounded like claws being scraped across stone.  Skulk gripped his chair-leg in two hands and stayed tightly behind Wink.

As all three hesitated again, looking at each other and then at the opening, a large grotesquely undulating ball of black fur rolled out of the room and headed straight for them in a cacophony of high screeches.  Skulked screamed as loudly as their attacker, dropped his chair-leg and ran for all his worth. Wink and Slate followed quickly on his heals yelling between gasps of air.

“What is it, Slate?

“I dunno!  Just run!”

Just at that moment dozens of black hairy creatures began nipping at their boots. 

“Rats!  Its just rats!” Slate cried, as he began flailing with both the torch and his half-weed-hook.

“Back up! Back up!” Wink called to Slate

With that Wink began murmuring quietly and moving her hands in an intricate design.  Within a second a cone of flame exploded from her fingers and savaged the floor in front of her…rats and all.  With hysterically heightened squeals the rats not conflagrated ran back to their hiding place. 

The three adventurers, silent since the encounter climbed up through the trap door they had discovered earlier. They leaned breathlessly against the remains of a fallen stone wall.  Wink began to laugh, Skulked frowned and Slate simply advised, “I’m gonna find my way into the Paradox someday, starting from right here!” 

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Traveling with Maestoff
Birdie (Brielle)
 
To say that strange things keep happening is truly unnecessary.  Given where I am (wherever that is) it would easier if I wrote to you when something normal happens!  We’ve left the town of Barovia, at least for now, and are heading to Vallaki, a town about three days walk from here.  My friends and I are escorting a young lady, Ireena, who is the romantic focus of the monster Strahd for some reason.  Actually, as crazy as it sounds, Strahd believes that Ireena is the reincarnation of the woman he once loved.  Yeah, right.  Well, as I mentioned before, I am feeling good about my companions; all of them are quite dependable as well skilled.  My friend, Maestoff, is an interesting fellow.
 
Maestoff:
Quiet until he is confronted with anything he considers unlawful or unjust, he is quick to defend.  I admire Maestoff’s dedication to justice, but he hasn’t learned that what is lawful is not always just.  As you know, in my life, I’ve found that the two rarely coincide in this world.  Still, having Maestoff first into the battle, without hesitation, is a great comfort.  What an interesting mix he is, powerfully strong and viciously effective in combat, he is quiet and almost gentle the rest of the time.  However, he is always watchful for and sensitive to what I might just call wrongful cause.  Of course he is a paladin so I have to put up with the nonsense about his god.  As if the gods ever did anything but pile hardship upon hardship on the world.  Don’t get me started on that.  Anyway, Maestoff is a good friend and a frequent savior of us all.  Lucky to have him with us. 
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Draug's Dream

The crescent moon shaped amulet turns into a full moon, the wolf at the center becomes a mist that fills the amulet and explodes in a fog that immediately surrounds you. The constant movements of the fog tricks you with images and shapes until an even like humanoid with wings forms before you. It doesn't stay hard to distinguish it from the fog, when everything else around becomes the sky at night, with far distance stars. Before you, the woman form is colored and you can't speak, move, or even breathe. You heart pumps heavily like it would blow out of your chest; your mesmerized state then realizes her face and body is constantly flicking into different animal shapes in many parts of her body.

She then points her finger to you meanwhile levitating towards your direction, when you blink you see a paw instead, that quickly becomes a tentacle, then a vine that starts emanating light so bright that blinds you for few seconds. When your eyes recover, you see another woman. She does not notice you. Her long bright silver hair resembles the moon reflecting in a lake, loose strands camouflaging when over the grey breastplate amour, misleading your sight. She has wolfish brown eyes, vivid like the trunk of a tree in the sun that adorned her exceptionally pale face.

The woman is in a square, in a town you haven't seen before.  Someone is speaking to the public, when wolves comes out of the darkness and surprise the people. Ripping flesh and painting the floor with blood. She fights against them, but it is too much for her. The inaudible scene breaks its silence as she screams in pain when a werewolf claw pierces through her chest, scaring you with the unexpected sound as you awake sweating.

Back to your sense the night seems quiet, Kass sleeps heavily on your side. You see the dragonish eyes looking at you, the cleric sharp senses woke him up as he felt your unusual sleep. Torinn could not avoid noticing you holding the amulet on your hands.

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Young Slate Learning

Young Slate Learning

Skulk and Li’lbit leaned against a wall of what was left of a burned-out building.  They watched intently as Slate shot arrow after arrow at a surreptitiously obtained bale of thresh at the far end of the building’s old foundation.  Slate was 15 years old now, or thereabouts, and had been practicing with his precious bow for two years.
 
“Slater, why’d that witch woman give ya that bow anyway?” Skulk said with a half yawn.
 
“I told ya, Brielle’s no witch!  She uses magic but she’s an elf so that’s not unusual.” Slate snapped.  “And, as I’ve also told ya, she’s teachin’ me to be somethin’ better, so I kin get outta the dredge.”
 
Skulk shrugged and leaned back against the dilapidated wall. 
 
As Slate aimed his next arrow his forehead furrowed and his eyes momentarily glazed over.  Even Skulk noticed that the arrow, instead of flying straight, curved slightly to the side. 
 
“Hey, what’d ya do ta that one ta make it go sideways like that?” Skulk asked.
 
A look of frustration flickered across Slate’s face.  “Aw, well, Brielle’s tryin’ to teach me ta use some magic on the arrows I shoot.  I’m just not very good at it.  Yet.” 
 
Both Skulk and Li’lbit perked up.  “Magics Slate?  Hows?” Li’lbit’s young girl’s voice pierced the air. 
 
Now it was Slate’s turn to shrug.  “Its kinda hard to explain.  I guess that’s why I’m not so good at it yet.  Ya have to concentrate harder than ya think possible to make your arrows do things.”
 
Skulk chimed in.  “Do what things?”
 
“Well, things like go faster, hit harder, and, when you’re really good, curve around corners."
 
Skulk and Li’lbit looked at each other and began to laugh.  Li’lbit jumped up and like a spider climbed up and over the rickety half-wall and dropped to the other side.  “Shoot me now, Slatey” She giggled wildly.
 
Skulk laughed too and called out to Li’lbit, “Aw, yous so little he couldn’t hit ya if ya was right in front of ‘im.”
 
Slate grinned and walked the 60 feet to carefully retrieve his costly arrows.  “Yeah, well someday I’ll pin the ears on you two together with just one shot.” 
 
Li’lbit came skipping around the corner smiling.  Then both she and Skulk curled up for a nap.
 
Slate returned to his spot and once again scrunched his face in deep concentration; then let another arrow fly.  And, another.  And, another.  And another.
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