Curse of Strahd

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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Donavich's Letter to Father Lucian

To my dear and keeper of the light Father Lucian Petrovich, who relentlessly fights for Vallaki and honours the Morninglords. 

I hope this letter finds you well, and I can owe one more to the blessed ravens.

The  lords answer in unexpected ways, ways you initially question, doubt, and finally regret mistrusting. After years without strangers who fiercely opposed the vampire's schemas, the Village of Barovia saw hope in this last few days. Ismark and Ireena managed to get their father buried, his soul is now free and in peace.

Sleepless nights of praying for my son Doru weren't in vain, it was brutal what they had to do to him. I couldn't help myself and I had to look at the body, but he wasn't himself anymore. Mari helped me overcome the sadness and despair, I deeply felt she could understand my pain. Perhaps because her daughter is missing and we have much to share. Turns out I feel alone, but my heart is calm and motivated to move on.

I am feeling much better now and certain that these people will go to Vallaki after some point. I hope when that happens you can offer them your treat in respect to what they've done for the Village of Barovia and for myself.

Please send my regards to Yeska, the poor soul you're guiding out of darkness.

Your friend, Donavich.

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Slate's letter to Brielle
Brielle,
 
I have a feeling that anything I write to you I’ll actually end up handing to you.  There is no way to send letters to you, nonetheless I know you will demand to know everything I’ve done and seen when I see you next.  So, I’m just going keep a running letter that I can give you when I see you again.
It may sound strange but I don’t know where I am or how I got here.  Oh, I know the name of the place, a town called Barovia, but it isn’t on any map I’ve ever seen.  This place is inhabited by supernatural creatures of all kinds and they all seem to want to eat or possess my friends and me.  Barovia, and the surrounding country, is ruled by an especially cruel and nefarious vampire…yes vampire…that has tortured and terrorized everyone in the kingdom.  I’m afraid that your’s truly and my talented company members have no way out of this situation except to neutralize, let’s face it, kill this thing.
 
Fortunately, I am in the company of five other souls, each all highly skilled and capable in his or her specialty.  So far our personalities are melding well, thank goodness.  Each is not only skilled but, just as importantly, trustworthy and dependable.  I should tell you about each one.  I don’t have time at this point to write much more but I’ll start my descriptions and add a new one each time I write.
 
Mei:
 
By far the most mysterious member of our party is Mei.  To call her quiet would be misleading; it would be more accurate to call her silent.  She is a young porcelain-skinned, diminutive beauty.  She has dark hair and elegant almond eyes.  I can always tell if she is within sight because she wears gleaming golden clothing that twinkles in the corner of my eye; she seems like a firefly that is always alight.  I can’t quite tell yet but I think she is a wizard in training.  At least she is a student of the arcane arts, and I mean a student.  Although she is already adept at casting helpful (often deadly) spells, she spends most of her time searching for and reading books.  We’ve been several places in this gods-forsaken town and every building we enter Mei searches books to read.  I don’t even know if she sleeps…she’s reading when I go to sleep and again when I wake up.  Not only that but in places that scare me half to death, I’ll see Mei wandering ahead of the group…walking into a dark room, seemingly oblivious to danger…just to see if there are any books.  I said that she is silent and that is mostly true.  But, she is not at all disrespectful to the rest of us, merely ultra-focused on whatever is going on in her mind.  Nonetheless, she can shift her focus immediately when our group is threatened and become an instantaneous deadly protector.  So, though we don’t know her well, all of us are grateful to have Mei as one of us.  
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Mei's Thrills

Despite the complete shock and despair in the initial contact with the mist, loosing track of my companion and ending up somewhere, the idea of being in the mists of this forsaken place brings so much excitements and all the new books, discoveries that seems to exist in here as dutifully remembered in my studies are far more surpassing my worries and until the moment I finish the book, also some duties. 

Memoir entry:

22-04 – Found mist, lost Roaringhorn, found group, found a house with lots of books and knowledge about alchemy which is my deepest desires to read as fast as I can and absorb all there is.

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Maestoff's writings 2
From the holy ground to a haunted estate

We put the preacher's son down today. Before our descent into the basement however, a newcomer arrived beside the poor woman that had lost her daughter and requested our aid. She was sent in search of Torrin, and ended up here in quite the same way as the rest of us. She calls herself Mei. Her features seem foreign to me, though I've seen similar folk in Waterdeep on occasion. She knows magic beyond our scope which should prove incredibly useful against an evil like Strahd.

The poor boy in the basement of the church didn't deserve his death. I regret not having some other way to cure whatever affliction Strahd gave him, but we could at least offer him peace in the next life if not this one. We put a stake through him and burned his body to be sure he wouldn't revive. We finally buried the burgomaster's body as well, and rested at the church for a while. Mei and Kass both seemed to take an interest in the books the church held, and studied while we licked our wounds.

It started getting dark, and we realized we ought to return to Ismark. We bid the holy man goodbye, and I prayed that Tyr protect him from further torment. As we made our way south towards the manor, however,  we found two children in our path. They called to us, asking for help, as some "monster" seemed to have attacked their home. Seeing these two children in the dead of night was unsettling, especially when Strahd seems to use magic and illusions to lead us astray. I cast Divine Sense and found them to be ghosts. I decided to keep it to myself at first, as a tortured soul deserves help no matter their state. We reached their estate and Kass called out to them to figure out more of their situation. They didn't say much beyond the fact that there was a monster, humanoid in shape, that had taken their house. As we moved through the house we could see just how twisted and corrupted it was. Like much of this place, on the surface I felt no real sense of dread or revulsion, but up close, these things showed true. The artwork on the walls, the cold quietness. We moved one floor at a time, clearing and searching for any signs or information.

(I'm a bit hazy on the details here since my connection wasn't too great and the voices kept cutting out. Hopefully this won't happen again, trying to schedule things better on my end so I don't get interruptions.)

Upon the final floor I saw a suit of armor as I entered. The suit creaked and shifted of its own accord and stepped towards me. We exchanged blows and all in all the thing wasn't too hard to bring down, our strengths combined are pretty damn strong. We rested and I fixed myself up somewhat,

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Kassandra's Journal

Draug and I were tracking werewolves. We were lured to a forest and after an hour walking we passed out. I woke up with Draug calling my name, he had some weird dream about kids afraid of a monster and asking for help. We kept walking and found a dragonborn called Torinn. The cleric, who was traveling with a caravan, got lost in the mist and found us.  A few more minutes walking and we and found Slate and his friend, Maestoff, on the floor. I got worried but after checking for his vitals we realized they were just tired and no medical care was needed.

Slate told us they were there because of a letter from Kolyan Indirovich. The burgomaster of a village in Barovia was asking for help. According to the letter, there is a very strong creature haunting the village and killing his people. Turns out that we all end up in this village, even those who were not going there.

The mist seems to never dismiss. The village was quiet and all the houses have it’s doors and windows closed. As we got there, we were lured by the screams of woman. Arriving at her place we talked to her and she said Strahd, a Vampire, kidnapped her daughter. She informed us the village was in constant danger. Minions and wolves were always around trying to murder and kidnap Barovia’s people. The woman sent us to the tavern, she said we could find help there.

Arriving at the tavern we found Ismark. He is the son of the Burgomaster (which is now dead). He asked us to help him scout his father’s body to the church. We met Ireena, Ismark’s half-sister. According to them, Strahd is somehow attracted to Ireene, what puts her in constant danger. As we spent the night with them they told us stories. This one in specific grabbed my attention… They said Ireena’s was bitten by Strad (TWICE!). I, honestly, didn’t trust this people very much and now even less, but Barovia people need our help and I will give my best to help them.

When were scouting the Burgomaster’s body to the church we were trapped by zombies. It was a relatively tough fight, we were not expecting that during day light. But we managed to kill those bastards. I need to admit, we make a great team.

Arriving at the church we found out that the priest’s son became a vampire. The poor man didn’t know what to do. We told him we would try to help, however, we all know there is no cure for vampirism…

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Slate is Thinking

Slate paced along the wall in the church vestibule.  How in the world had he ended up here?  Wherever here actually was. Let’s see, having a drink with Maestoff, the letter, the crazy mist and then Kass and Draug pop out of nowhere with Torrin – he knew them all – how did that happen?  He shook his head, “quit trying to find an explanation,” he told himself.  “Well,” he thought, “I couldn’t be in better company.”  He knew and trusted everyone, and they had more than proven themselves in the fight against the undead creatures. 

“Okay, let’s take stock.” He reasoned in silence and began a list in his head using the lessons he had learned from Brielle;

“First, Count Strahd, a powerful vampire lord, so dominating that he controls not just Barovia but all the area around it.  We aren’t nearly strong enough to confront him, what we need is knowledge…we need to know more about him, and probably need a lot more help. No confrontations!”

“Second, Mary: the woman we found consumed with quiet hysteria over losing her daughter Gertruda.  She thinks Strahd has taken Gertruda to his castle.  Maybe, maybe not.  Again, we need to know more but we clearly need to find this little girl.”

“Third, Ismark, who’s father, the mayor just died, has begged us to protect his half-sister, Ireena.  Ireena is a peach maybe not as beautiful as Kass but at least she won’t turn me into a newt like Kass could.  I’ll have to get to know her better.  Ireena asked us to bury her father in the church cemetery, which led us into a fight with the undead…eight of them.  I was the only one among us in a position to put some distance between myself and the creatures and was fortunate to take no damage.  It makes me feel guilty, but a ranged attack is how I can help best.  That brings us to, Donivich, is that his name?” 

“Fourth, the village holy man, Donivich has barricaded himself in the church which, it seems, has been attacked again and again by wolves or other creatures that can cross hallowed land.  Undoubtedly commanded by the hand of Strahd.  We’ve placed the coffin of the mayor in the cemetery but the more pressing problem is the priest’s son.  It seems the son has been bitten by and has morphed into a vampire.  He is currently locked in the church basement.” 

Slate’s thoughts turned back to the present.  “I know about vampirism.  How can I tell Donivich that his son no longer exists.  Of course he hasn’t eaten, all he ‘eats’ is blood! To him his father is no more than a meal but the poor man can’t hear that.  The truth is the only way a <u>son</u> can come out of that basement is dead.  Whether my friends know it or not, there is only one cure.  If we go into the basement, it has to be with a ferocious intent to kill that thing, not save it.”

So what’s next?  We need to rescue the soul of Donivich’s son and bury the mayor.  Then we have to decide how to protect Ireena.  After that, who knows.  First things first.

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