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This is a pretty cool place, I think
This whole manor house place is actually super cool! The statue tried to breathe on us when we came in, we found a soot dragon (that we unfortunately killed with the dang thing wouldn't just let me shove it in a pot to domesticate it) and there's even a weird graveyard outside that doesn't have any zombies! There is that crypt outside that had the inscription about dragon's bones or something, so I'm thinking if we can find the bones and return them, maybe I can get someone to ask the dragon's ghost if I could fix the place up and live there. The dragon-ghost doesn't even have to move out, I'm fine with roommates.

Or would this technically be a live-in landlord? A die-in landlord? Whatever. If it agrees I'll probably have to get someone to teach me to say the name of the house. Seems rude to stay somewhere with a name you can't even pronounce.

Oh, and I forgot the best part! The chapel is pretty cool, but there were these three undead there that were super tough and beat up on Lupin. He's hard to hit, but not that hard to put down if you can, apparently. Well we beat them and I'm told they'll just find new bodies elsewhere and be angry at us for killing them.

How cool is that? Most people have to wait most of their natual lives to find evil stalkers willing to spend the effort to track them down over and over again, and now the group has three! I hope I pissed one or more of them off enough to come after me personally, but they may be just after the party, you know, like in general. Still! Having an unkillable evil that keeps coming after them is the sort of trait the great saints have, so I'm just SUPER PUMPED at how today's adventure turned out to be!


Man I hope there are basement stairs like these. I bet I could get the gnome to scream in terror if I goosed him on them.
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Chapter 6: Argynvostholt
The heroes left St. Andral's Church early the next morning. Father Lucian told them that things had been quiet since his sermon last night, but they had best leave early to avoid any conflicts. What townsfolk were up at the early hour hastily changed direction as the heroes passed. The gate guards let them through with no protest, though their mute, sullen faces gave them suspicious glares. By the time the sun had risen behind the dark clouds, they were headed west on the Old Svalich Road. They made their way to the switchback trail that led southeast to the so-called haunted mansion they had heard of without incident. Rumor had it that an order of knights led by a dragon had once called it home, and the reading given to them by Madam Eva said that a powerful weapon against Strahd would be found in the house of the dragon.

The trail led steeply upward, through mist-shrouded woods. The heroes as it turned out, were not here alone. Four of the wild hillfolk jumped out from hiding. Their skins were covered with clay and bits of brush, and they caught the heroes by surprise. They roared a savage battle cry, and attacked with their stone-bladed axes. The berserkers were fierce foes, but the heroes made a swift end of them. After cleaning up and tending to their wounds, they reached the abandoned chateau.

The statue stood like a mute sentinel.

The mansion's southern third had collapsed, and the rest of the massive stone edifice was in bad repair. As they approached the flagstone steps up to the main doors, they circled a huge statue of a silver dragon on a stone perch. There was no sign of life or traps in the carved stone, but as they reached the top of the steps, its mouth opened and a blast of cold air made their hair stand on end. There were no other surprises, and the heroes entered the great mansion. A single word was carved above the door, on the stone lintel: ARGYNVOSTHOLT.

Beyond the door was a great hall, with a massive stair leading up to a second-story balcony running along both sides of the hall. Doors led off of each side, six in all. As Caxius, Evan, Shokk, Verity, and Volta went to the north side of the hall, Cira and Lupin went south. The first group found an abandoned suite, a few tower rooms, and a kitchen in bad repair. The second group found a nest of giant spiders, each nearly the size of a pony! They rushed back to help their comrades, and it was close thing. Thick webs, like gray ropes, clung to Cira and Lupin, and a few painful, swollen bites could be seen on their flesh. But magic and steel slew the last of the fell beasts.

With trepidation, the heroes made their way back through a ruined dining hall, and to a small chapel beyond. Doors with large, stained glass windows led into the place. A broken window along one of the chapel's sides let fog spill in from the small graveyard on the north side of the manor house. A trio of figures in rusty mail knelt before the altar of the Morninglord.

[I]The revenant knights of the Silver Dragon were angered by the heroes' intrusion...[/I]

They rose and turned as the heroes entered, and one spoke with a voice that was cold, sepulchral, and hollow as an open tomb. "You do not belong here. You will die for this trespass!" The trio moved forward with rusty blades, and the heroes barely withstood their onslaught. Cira recognized them as revenants, and knew that they were in trouble. Lupin rained blows on one, which it shrugged off with ease, it's dead flesh knitting shut where he had stabbed the undead warrior. Shokk and Volta hewed at them with their axes, but the trio refused to fall easily. Cira and Evan blasted them with radiant light, while Verity rained down crossbow bolts and fiery spells and Kyne darted in and out, his silver daggers flashing.

One by one, the revenants fell, burning thanks to Evan and Verity. As their corpses smoldered, Cira tended to the serious wounds that Lupin, Volta, and Shokk had all taken. They decided to bandage up, clear the ground floor, and rest. A brief exploration of the chapel's balcony and a couple of rooms on the upper floor revealed nothing - except a bust, cloaked in illusion, that appeared to be Kyne's severed head! Caxius led a small group outside to search the mist-shrouded cemetery and the large, marble mausoleum outside. They slid its stone door open, and the hollow crypt was empty. A couplet in draconic was carved into one wall, and Caxius used his dark-given gifts to translate it. Apparently, this was the resting place of the silver dragon Argynvost. The same silver dragon that apparently founded this order of knights. Its bones were not present, and this worried the heroes.

Savid, the dusk elf scout. He had seen much in his four centuries, but even he was scared of what lay in these walls.

As they cleared the lower floor, they found an elf with dusky skin and dark hair hiding in a wine storage room. He introduced himself as Savid, and said he'd come here searching for a Vistani girl who'd gone missing from the camp outside Vallaki. He and his people had come to the valley of Barovia centuries ago. Strahd had conquered their homeland, and they were among the few that remained. They were forced to serve the Vistani. He had been wounded, and the heroes patched him up. He revealed that the dragon had indeed founded this knightly order, the Order of the Silver Dragon, and that they had fallen in battle with Strahd. The dark lord himself had slain the silver dragon. Its ghost was said to haunt these ruins. The heroes and their new friend made their way back to one of the tower rooms, barred the door, and rested fitfully until night fall. The rest of Argynvystholt awaited....

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It's strange for the half-orcs to be the ones keeping their mouths shut
Because if Cira had managed to keep hers shut, we wouldn't have been kicked out of yet another safe place. The roads are choked with wolves and worse, and even if nothing has been able to kill us yet I prefer sleeping somewhere I don't have to be on my guard every moment of every night. That's the sort of thing that dulls the senses and leads to crazytown.

I don't even feel bad about killing the baron, evil asshole that he was. Condemning people to death for stupid crimes is the right of any noble, but is being dragged down to the gutter and killed by the same peasantry. His wife seems nice enough, though, so hopefully she'll look away from how, uh, brutally we murdered her husband. Maybe we should give her a few weeks to adjust before we come back.

I wonder how many minions Strahd has in this land. We're starting to carve a swath through them, though I feel we have barely made a dent. It's of no real concern to me, either way- either we start clearing the land of evil and I have done good, or I continue to bring just vengance to evil minions and please my god. If it's the second I should probably look for a way out just to go visit my family, but I'm happy enough here either way. It's the right sort of home for a half-orc paladin, that's for sure.
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Chapter 5: The Festival of the Blazing Sun
The heroes left the Wizard of Wines early the next morning, shortly after a dim sun rose behind dark clouds. They made the journey back as far as the Raven River Crossroads without incident. As they neared the river, they discovered part of the trail had been washed out by the rain. As they prepared to ford the stream, feral eyes gleamed in the half-light of the dark woods. A half dozen dire wolves charged out silently, savagely, and attacked from surprise. The heroes were caught off guard, but fought back and slew most of the beasts. It seemed as if Strahd would have his beasts harry them at every turn.

The Devil Strahd's wolves. It seemed as if they would harry the heroes at every turn.

Apart from a group of Barovian scouts, out hunting for a missing young woman, there were no other incidents of note on the road back to Vallaki. The guards at the gate gladly let them in, and the heroes returned to the Blue Water Inn. Urwin Martikov and his wife Danika were glad to see their safe return, and thanked them for the wine. So did Karl and Nikolai Wachter, who had feared the wine casks would run dry. With two hours to kill before the festival started, Volta, Verity, Evan, and Cira decided to visit St. Andral's Church. The Wachter brothers informed them that the next festival would be the Feast of St. Andral. Cira was interested to learn more about this saint, unknown to her in the Realms. In the meantime, Shokk, Lupin, Kyne, and Caxius headed to the town square to see the preparations for the festival.

The group at the church met a boy named Yeska, who invited them in and introduced them to the priest, Father Lucian Petrovich. Seeing the holy symbol of the Realms' own morninglord, Lathander, on Cira's shield, the priest confided that the church had been robbed three days ago. The only thing taken was its greatest treasure - the hallowed bones of St. Andral himself! The only one he had told was the boy, Yeska, who was afraid after hearing rumors that the "devil" Strahd was riding the night once again. The boy's older brother, Milivoj, who acted as groundskeeper and gravedigger for the church, came in the back, scowling. He told Yeska to help the good Father Lucian, and then went out and back to work.

St. Andral's Church was a refuge, but a dreary one.

Volta tried talking with the young man as she chopped wood for the church, and Cira talked with Yeska. She got the boy to reveal that he had told only one person - his brother - about the bones of St. Andral and that they had been hidden in a crypt below the church's altar. The cleric went to confront Milivoj, and under the ire of her gaze, he revealed he'd been paid to steal them by Henrik van der Voort, the local coffin maker. He'd only done so for enough money to feed his brothers and sisters, as their parents had died years ago. Sympathetic to his plight, Cira did not punish him save to make him promise to apologize to Father Lucian. She rounded up the rest of her companions, and they made their way back to the inn.

The rest had found little, apart from sad decorations and miserable looking villagers. Meeting with their companions at the inn, they all opted to head to the coffin maker's shop to speak with the man. With an hour or so to spare, they figured they would have plenty of time to make the Festival of the Blazing Sun. The shop appeared closed when they arrived, and knocking on the door only produced shouts. "Go away! We are closed! Leave me alone!" When attempts at subterfuge failed, Shokk simply kicked the door down, breaking the bar holding it fast!

Henrik, the coffin maker, collapsed and sobbed, "They made me do it! He came one day. Vasili von Holtz. He made me keep them here. They are upstairs, in the attic..." Shokk and Volta made their way upstairs, while the rest took up position below. The attic storeroom was full of piles of wood and crates. As Shokk approached one, it splintered apart as a hand burst free of it, scattering wood and loose earth. Four more followed, and the barbarian and the paladin found themselves facing five vampire spawn!

The rest rushed upstairs, and a fierce battle raged in the cramped confines of the coffin maker's attic. The undead shrugged off blows that would have split a normal man in twain, almost instantly healing wounds that would have been lethal. Blood was drained, but flashes of radiant light and the hew of axes put an end to the vampires. In the aftermath, they found Saint Andral's bones and Caxius remembered where he'd heard Holtz's name before...the Abbey of St. Markovia! It was no less than Strahd himself in disguise. Henrik revealed the vampire's spawn had terrorized him, and planned to attack the church during the Festival of St. Andral a week from the day.

The vampire spawn were almost feral, and were hungry for blood. It was a close, close thing, but the heroes prevailed.

They quickly returned the bones to a grateful Father Lucian, and the church was once again hallowed ground. They rushed back to the festival, only to be greeted by a procession of sad looking children in drooping flower costumes escorting the mounted Baron Vallakovich, his Lydia, and the Baron's soldiers to the town square. An enormous wicker sun had been raised on a crane, and the Baron rode forth with all solemnity to light it with a fiery brand. But a sudden downpour extinguished his torch, and one of his own guards began to laugh. A gasp ran through the crowd, and the sputtering, red-faced baron immediately demanded the guard be bound and tied behind his horse so that he could drag him through the town, as penalty for his disrespect and mockery.

The heroes intervened. Verity's words did not sway the baron, and though Cira had cast a spell to calm his hostile emotions, the baron's henchmen Izek Strazni took umbrage. "Sorcery! She seeks to charm the baron!" He charged her with his axe, slashing away, and only Cira's mail and shield saved her from death. Evan cast a spell to freeze the devil-armed henchman in place, and he was paralyzed! Kyne, Volta, and Verity made quick work of him, and Lupin charged Baron Vallakovich himself after the stout, angry man had slashed at the cleric, Cira. He tore the nobleman's throat out, and Shokk finished him. "The Baron is dead," he roared. Caxius caused the earth to tremble with a spell, while Verity created an illusory wall of flames. It was too much. The guards broke, the crowd fled, and the square was deserted.

[I]The Baron was dead. Long live the Baroness...?[/I]

In the aftermath, the heroes made their way back to the Blue Water Inn. Change had come to Vallaki, and only the morrow would tell if the change would bode ill for them...
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Well now we've gone and done it
Volta and I have proven we can dance! I fear we have sullied the reputation of half-orcs everywhere!

Hah, but it is good to keep the others on their toes every one in a while. I know any barbarian worth their salt knows how to dance, but I am surprised at how well she's been trained in ballroom dance. That's not something that comes naturally, I can tell you that!

The Abbot still bothers me. He is a celestial being and as such clearly a Good creature, but creatures like him have a different idea of Good and Evil, as well as Right and Wrong, as us mortals. I don't think I'll stand against his attempt at creating a bride for Strahd, even if she doesn't get a choice in the matter, but I don't agree with his treatment of the Belview family. They seem happy enough, whether through routine or madness, but I shall have to keep an eye on him. If the Abbot brings in more people for "replacements", I shall have to have a stern word with him.

But it is of no matter, I am on my way to a town for a festival. If it is a good festival I shall drink some wine and hopefully get in a raucous drunken brawl, though I feel that this will be the horrible depressing festival that ends with me attempting to free innocent prisoners. At least it should be entertaining either way.
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Chapter 4: The Abbey of St. Markovia
The heroes set out from the Wizard of Wines just past dawn. Davian Martikov thanked them for their aid, and had another request. Three green stones, each the size and shape of a pine cone but lit with inner light, had been stolen. They were magic seeds, he said, and the pagan hillfolk's bloody-handed priests had taken them. He had overheard (though he did not say how) that one had been taken south to Yester Hill and one south and east to the ruins of Berez, a flooded village along the Luna River. The last he supposed had gone north somewhere.

The heroes promised to aid them, and set out. Along the road, they met another traveler, Lupin by name. He was a monk and a companion of Caxius and Shokk who had been separated from them in the Misty Forest. Wandering for a few days, he had finally located his companions in this strange land. He was a rough-looking man with long sideburns, and wore simple traveler's clothes with a short, slender blade at his side. He was one of the shifting kind, with the blood of werewolves in his veins. He greeted his companions, and they filled him in on the situation, what with Ireena, Strahd von Zarovich, and their promise to aid her and defeat the land's vampire lord. He seemed to accept this with relative calm.

The heroes reached the walls of Krezk by noon, and were let inside and escorted to the burgomaster's cottage. The village was not much more than cottages surrounded by misty woods inside a heavy stone curtain wall. The burgomaster, Dmitri Krezkov, thanked them for bringing the wine and asked for their aid with his son. The young man had died only a few days ago, and he was the elderly burgomaster's last child and only heir. He wished to visit the Abbey and talk with Abbot, who was rumored to have supernatural powers, including the ability to restore the dead to life. The heroes agreed to talk with the holy man, and made their way up the switchback trail to the Abbey of St. Markovia. Along the way, Ireena seemed to hear someone calling her in the distance, but chalked it up to her fatigue and trepidation.

A low wall circled the abbey, and the iron gate was unlocked. The heroes were greeted by two short figures in rough, homespun robes. One was a hunched man with a wolfish snout and ear, a beast-like leg that ended in a lion's paw, and a donkey's tail. The other was a woman with tufts of wolfish fur, scales, and cat-like eyes. Evan recognized them as mongrelfolk. The male chuckled and simpered, introducing himself as Otto Belview, one of the Belview family as was his cousin Zygfrek (the female). They had all come to the abbey to be healed. He kindly offered to escort the heroes to the abbey proper and the Abbot. They made their way past a graveyard on one side and a garden on the other, both overlooking a four-hundred foot drop to the village below.

Otto and Zygfrek Belview. Twisted members of a twisted family. Perhaps it was best the abbey was walled...

The abbey itself had two wings, joined by a high-walled courtyard. The gates opened easily, and the guards they saw atop the wall were no more than straw mannequins wearing rusty mail and blunted spears. A stunted woman with bat- and spider-like features was chained to a post in the courtyard, and stone coops (no doubt once holding fowl) were along the walls. The heroes could hear shouting, hooting, and screaming from all of them. "Family members," Otto chuckled apologetically. "They are...unwell. Locked up for their own safety." He led the heroes into a great hall, where sweet viola music wafted down from a belfry overhead. A woman, auburn-haired, pale-skinned and beautiful, wearing a tattered red dress, sat at a long table. A beautiful blonde man in simple monk's robes was walking down a stair on one side of the great hall and towards the table when the heroes entered. "We have guests, your holiness," Otto told him.

They realized the Abbot was not a mortal man. Nor was he sane.

This was the Abbot, and he introduced himself and Vasilika, the strangely silent woman. He was instructing her, he said, and invited the heroes to join him for an early supper. They agreed and sat with the Abbot, explaining the situation with Ireena. The Abbot gladly offered to provide her with shelter. Both Shokk and Cira noticed the woman had scars along her joints, wrists, neck, and so on, all covered by make-up. She jerky movements and gestures and grunted sounds that might have been the start of words. They quickly realized this woman had not been born...she had been made from the parts of dead women.

When confronted - politely of course - the Abbot responded that yes, he had used surgical and alchemical techniques to make Vasilika. He had done much the same to the Belview family. They had suffered the double stigma of inbreeding and a family-wide exposure to leprosy, and he had removed mortified and corrupted flesh, replacing it at their insistence with the pure flesh of beasts. Shokk, fearing the worst, used his ability to sense supernatural forces upon the Abbot. He learned that he was no demon or fiend, but rather a celestial - an angel that had taken a mortal guise! He shared that carefully with his companions, and they gently asked where the Abbot had gained such knowledge.

He replied it had come from a traveling scholar and alchemist named Vasili von Holtz, who had actually been Strahd himself in disguise. The Abbot, who had come here to end Strahd's evil, realized the vampire lord was bound to this land. He could not truly die here, nor could his curse end by death. Learning of Strahd's misery, he realized only happiness would end his suffering and the suffering of the land's people. To that end, he crafted a bride for Strahd in the image of his lost love, intending her immortal frame to keep the undying vampire company and happy for all time. He only needed one thing - a bridal gown. The heroes agreed to help him find one, with the condition he would restore the burgomaster's son to life. He agreed, promising them two more lives as well. He also said quarters would be prepared for Ireena, but she hesitated, saying she would think the matter over.

Verity had asked about the music, and she and Caxius were escorted up to the belfry by the Abbot. A man with two heads was there, playing a viola. One head was small, like a toddler, and had hide almost like a crocodile along one side. One hand was replaced by a crustacean's claw, and both feet and legs were like those of a bear. He was introduced as Clovis Belview, and stated he drank heavily (as evidenced by many empty wine bottles) and played sweet music to keep his other head asleep. He'd heard them below, and wished he could help them fight the vile Strahd! Caxius did mention something about Madame Eva's card reading saying a musician with two faces would help them against the dark lord...

Clovis Belview's music was as beautiful as he was twisted and grotesque. A good soul inside a monstrous shell...

The heroes descended the mountainside, and Ireena again heard someone calling her voice. Concerned, the heroes encouraged her to follow the sound. She wound her way through the trees in the village, to a small pond on its far end. A small gazebo and shrine stood next to the crystal-clear waters. As she approached, she heard a voice calling her. The heroes heard it too! "Tatyana! Come to me my love!" They saw the reflection of a handsome young man in royal finery in the water, looking up at her, his hand extended. It extended out of the water!

"Sergei!" Ireena said, "Sergei, my love! I remember. We were to be wed! Yes, I am Tatyana! I will come to you!" A couple of the heroes tried to hold her back, but Cira sensed something wonderful was happening. She stopped them with her magic, and Ireena reached out - and was pulled into the water! They saw her now, in a beautiful wedding dress, embracing and kissing the man with such passion and love that it made their hearts soar. Light emanated from the water and she smiled at the heroes in thanks and joy. In a flash, they were gone. They knew that Ireena, who had been Tatyana reborn, had found safety and happiness. But the sky grew dark, the thunder rolled, and a voice seemed to cry, "You have taken her from me!" Lightning struck the water, setting the gazebo afire, and nearly killing a couple of the heroes. Strahd had seen...had known...and doubtless wanted revenge on them!

Dazed, the heroes helped put out the fire and let the burgomaster know what happened. He knew that none in Krezk had skill enough with needle and thread to craft such a gown, and time grew short. His wife, Anna Krezkova, agreed to take a few men and trade goods to Vallaki, to see if they could find such a gown. The heroes agreed to escort her the next morning. They made the trip in a few hours, and were greeted suspiciously by the guards. As one tried to slip off, Kyne followed her and knocked her out. The heroes returned to the Blue Water Inn, and finally met the carnival master Rictavio, a gentleman in finery with a leather overcoat, gray hair, and spectacles. They also drank with the Wachter brothers, Karl and Nikolai. As they did, Volta and Kyne escorted the lady of Krezk to a dressmaker's shop. She did not have the coin required, and the seamstress could not deliver the dress in such short order. She suggested they speak with Lydia Petrovnka, the Baroness Vallakovich, as her wedding dress was said to be spectacular, and as a good-hearted woman she might not refuse an entreaty for aid.

Volta and Kyne escorted Anna Krezkova to the Baron's estate, and were let in by a suspicious maid. The entry hall was crammed with bundles of twigs, and they were led shortly to a dining hall. A tall, older but still beautiful woman was speaking with several other women over tea and cakes, and introductions were made. The Baroness Vallakovich was happy to speak with Anna about the dress, after being convinced a "fortuitous marriage, one that would bring great joy to Krezk," was in the offing. As Volta and Kyne waited in a small parlor near the main entrance, Izek Strazni - the Baron's henchman - spotted them! Kyne's quick talking and Volta's steely gaze prevented an immediate bloodbath, and Baron Vargas Vallakovich was summoned. He was a stocky man, with a gray pompadour and deep-set, suspicious eyes. He had not been informed about Izek's actions, and was convinced by Kyne's silver tongue that the heroes were only helping a stray girl. Oh, and they had promised to bring back wine for the festival of the Blazing Sun on the morrow. Mollified, the suspicious Baron let them go.

With all due haste, the heroes left as soon as Anna had secured the Baroness Lydia's dress, much to the Baron's chagrin. Returning to the inn, they gathered up their gear and headed back to Krezk as fast as they could. They were ambushed on the road by a group of hillfolk, berserkers clad in fur, clay, and hides, and a great champion wearing a bearskin. It was a tough battle, and the hillfolk were slain to a man. Apparently, they had taken great offense at the heroes' slaying of their pagan priests, and had begun to track them.

But the heroes reached Krezk shortly before nightfall, and escorted the burgomaster, the dress, and his dead son up to the Abbey of St. Markovia. The Abbot was greatly pleased (and more so, as Volta had some other items of clothing for Vaslilika) and set about his work. He glowed with unearthly power as he touched the young man's dead body and bid him to rise. With a start, life returned to the young man! Herr Krezkov was grateful, but he, his son, and his men departed swiftly. The heroes thanked the Abbot, and left shortly thereafter, once they explained that their friend was now safe. They had some choices to make about where they would go next. More importantly, they had definitely drawn Strahd's attention....
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Chapter 3: The Wizard of Wines
The heroes camped in the dark of the Svalich Woods overnight. Near the Hour of the Wolf, Caxius was on watch. He saw dark figures approach out of the fog and the trees, four of them. All wore dark, hooded robes and the leader a mask of gold wrought into the likeness of a bearded man. "Lay down." He whispered, "lay down and sleep. Give us the girl." The tiefling warlock struggled against the magical compulsion, and his will held.

"Wake up!" He shouted, rousing the others. "We have company!" As the group rose, the masked figure gestured with his staff and a ring of fire circled Ireena and Volta, scorching the half-orc barbarian. Kyne charged the figure, his blades flashing, and he knocked the mask aside with one of his daggers. It was a diabolic figure, with red, scaly skin, leering features, swept-back horns, and a nest of vipers in place of a beard. The bearded devil struck its staff on the ground again, and a long blade shot out of one end. It stabbed and struck at Shokk and Cira as they closed in. The other figures' hoods swept back, revealing corpse-pale flesh, appearing like melted candle wax, clinging to a hunched figure with dirty claws and a gasping mouth. Lemures. They surged forward, seeking to claw, grab, and suck the very life from those they fought.

"Give us...the girl!"

Caxius made short work of them as Verity's crossbows took two down swiftly. Cira, Shokk, and Volta - who leaped forward as the wall of fire collapsed - slew the devil with an ax-blow. Evan's spells brought down the last of the lemures, and the heroes caught their collective breath. After watching their foes' bodies melt away, they rested as best they could for the remainder of the night.

Come the gray dawn, the heroes made their way back to the Luna River Crossroads, and then up the trail towards the village of Krezk. At the Raven River Crossroads a few miles ahead, a sign pointed northwest to Lake Baratok, another south to the Wizard of Wines Winery, one back east to Vallaki, and one west towards Krezk. As the heroes made their way down the trail, without warning they were set upon by a pack of lean, hungry wolves! Sudden growls, feral eyes, and flashing fangs were the only warning they had, but the group fought back and drove the half-handful that survived back from whence they came. Bandaging what injuries they had, the heroes continued onward. The road rose as the terrain sloped upwards towards the mountains. The air grew cold and a bitter snow began to fall among the pines, chestnuts, and oaks.

The walls of Krezk.

Ahead, the heroes saw a twenty-foot high wall of stone with a pair of guard towers and a massive, iron-banded oaken gate. As they approached, a pair of guards in tall, fur hats moved to the edge of the parapet atop the wall, pikes in hand. "Who goes there? What business do you have in Krezk?" Shokk explained they had brought a young woman in seek of sanctuary, and wished to take her to the Abbey of St. Markovia, which they saw on the far side of the walled village, atop a snowy cliff with a long, switchback trail leading up to it. The guards looked dubious, and called for the town's burgomaster, one Dmitri Krezkov, a balding, bearded. middle-aged man in fine clothes, furs, and a fine fur hat. "You appear to be adventurers. This makes you either servants of the devil Strahd, or his enemies. Neither one is welcome here. You must leave!" They saw crossbows raised along the parapets.

Caxius and Cira asked if there was aught they could do to prove that they were friendly. The burgomaster hesitated. He did admit that their last shipment of wine from the winery was long overdue, and that if the heroes could clear that matter up and bring the wine back, they would prove they were friendly. "One good turn deserves another. Do this, and you will have our hospitality." With that, the heroes chose to head back up the trail and to the winery. They had not gone far before a small pack of dire wolves had surrounded them, and with eerie howls, moved in to attack. The battle was quick and fierce, and the heroes pressed grimly onward.

Upon reaching the Raven River Crossroads again, the heroes found themselves caught by surprise as the creepers and thorny brush along the trail animated, and roughly humanoid plants shambled forward, pelting them with hails of thorns and lashed them with writhing vines. The heroes suffered some serious punctures and bruises thanks to the hurled thorns and crushing vines, but managed to cut the plant creatures down. Mystified, they moved on south to the winery. Arriving late in the afternoon, they saw a sign pointing off to the vineyard and another into the dark woods ahead. A raven perched atop the sign cawed at them bobbing its head, and flew off towards the vineyard. Going by the ravens that had aided them at the windmill, the heroes followed.

The air was cold, the mist was heavy, and the grapes seemed to have withered on the vine.

They were greeted by a young man in a dark cloak as they made their way through the rain and into the vineyard. He beckoned them on, and they followed him into the woods where a group of people waited. The eldest among them, an old man with white hair, a heavy beard, and a scowl greeted them. He was Davian Martikov, the father as it turned out of Vallaki's innkeeper, Urwin Martikov. He greeted the heroes suspiciously, but warmed when they brought news of his son. Davian explained that pagans, priests of the hillfolk, had come down and taken the winery. They had brought monsters with them, things of root, vine, stick, and branch. Plants that walked...and killed. He promised that if they could free the winery, that he would gladly give them the shipment of wine for Krezk. The heroes agreed, and approached the winery as dusk fell.

As they approached the open loading dock, perhaps thirty of the stick-like blights covered with thorns shambled in towards the heroes. They ran for the open loading dock, closing the doors behind them. Making their way into the winery, the heroes discovered a large room with four, huge wooden vats where wine was fermenting. A wooden walkway ran around the room, and the heroes saw a woman with a cloak of skins and goat's head headdress who was painted with mud pouring a vial of some dark liquid into the vat. Dozens of small creatures made of twigs and sharp brambles crept about the floor. She spotted them, and cried out in alarm.

Blights had surrounded the winery.

Shokk ran forward, leaping up to the walkway, and engaged her even as she transformed into a bear. A pair of other figures - one with a cloak of feathers and one with a wolf's-headed cloak emerged. The first carried two stone knives, the second a black, gnarled staff. The first turned into an eagle after throwing flames at Cira and Verity as they ran in. Volta had cut down several of the twig blights and Evan torched the rest. The leader, clad in a wolf hide and streaked with mud and dried blood, had called up a swarm of biting insects, but his hold on the evil spell was broken. He called down blasts of lightning, then turned into a giant eagle, but before he could attack, Evan's web spell pinned him in place. He changed again, into a giant spider, and continued to rain lightning down on the heroes through the windows above. The battle was fierce, but in the end, Shokk slew one druid while Verity's bows, Cira and Evan's spells, and Kyne's daggers took down the leader of the evil pagan priests. Evan identified the leader's staff. It had been carved from a vampiric Gulthias tree, and was a vile thing. He knew that if he broke it, it would slay all plant creatures and blights within the sound of a scream, and he did so. Not only did it slay all the thorn blights outside, but several more and a horrid shambling mound in the cellar below!

A search revealed the winery was clear. Evan sent his familiar back to the vineyard with a message, and the Martikov family joined them within the hour. Davian thanked them profusely, offered them a gift of fine wine, and insisted they stay the night. The heroes rested, warm and with bellies full of good stew and fine wine. On the morrow, they would set out for Krezk, and hopefully a more friendly reception...
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There's a city I'll have to go back to
Something seems very off about Vallaki. The wolf heads on pikes seemed pretty normal, but torturing people because they aren't happy enough during a festival? Seems like a great way to get people even less happy. Maybe that's the plan?

Sounds like there needs to be some revenging for happiness in this town.

That's going to have to be later, though. And probably sneaky, because the town's leadership seemed very keen to stop Ireena from leaving. Caxius teleported her away, but that only leaves the question as to why he didn't do so in the first place.

I guess he wouldn't have had the time to make her his friend, then. He's very focused on that. One of my favorite qualities of his, in fact!

Still, the tour of Vallaki wasn't a total loss. We met up with Blinski and while he was creepy, he seemed to genuinely want the best for the children. He even had some great toys which taught some important lessons - my favorite was the spinning thing that showed children being chased and eaten by wolves. Children should learn early to not leave town at night or they'll get eaten by wolves, and this seems a much better way of teaching that lesson than letting one child per generation get eaten by wolves, which is usually what happens. Unless it's my father's side of the family, in which case one child goes off and is found the next day sleeping in a pile of wolf corpses with a new wolf puppy.

I'm not sure which side of my family is weirder.

And hey! I've got this new ventriloquist's doll! I'm going to have to find someone to teach me how to use it properly, I love it!

I was just going to burn it, but how can you burn something this adorable?
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Chapter 2: The Road to Vallaki
The day before leaving Barovia, the heroes had an interesting encounter in the street. An old woman was going door to door with a peddler's cart, selling fresh hand-sized pies to desperate-looking villagers. Shokk and Caxius approached her, asking what she was selling. "Dream pies, yes. Old Morgantha is selling dream pies! Would you like one? It's one gold coin..." The duo agreed and took them. They were delicious, full of rich mince and smelling like lavender and sun-ripened peaches. Their hearts will full of joy, their spirits lifted with every bite.

Cira and Kyne were suspicious, and Volta and Evan a bit uneasy. Kyne sneaked up behind her, while Volta checked the cart. There among the pies was a bundle, a burlap sack...that was wiggling and let out a stifled cry. It was child, a little boy, bound up. Volta snatched up the child as the others drew weapons and readied to attack. Morgantha tried to run and got a knife in her back for her trouble. She...changed. Her skin darkened to purple-black, her nails growing long and sharp, her eyes glowing lambent yellow orange. She was a night hag! She ripped and tore at the heroes, cackling and howling. But they wounded her grievously and she faded, becoming ethereal. "I will see you my your dreams!"

Old Morgantha said she would see them...soon.

Volta returned the boy to his parents, who were ashamed but seemed consumed by their lust for the delicious pies. She scolded them, patting her axe in warning. The heroes and Ireena set off shortly after the funeral the next dawn, and made their way up the road to the northwest, past the gallows at the crossroads and up the side of the mountain to Tser Falls. Crossing the bridge, they met a group of Barovia's hill-folk, wild men clad in furs and painted with clay, wielding stone axes. They made a superstitious gesture and crept back off the trail. Ireena said they had been here a long time, before Strahd had conquered the valley with his armies, and remained hidden in small mountain villages led by priests worshiping pagan gods. They mostly avoided groups, but lone travelers might run into them to their dismay.

As they made their way up the fog-shrouded road, they heard the clop of hooves on muddy ground and the clack of bones. A skeleton clad in rusted mail rode up on a skeletal horse, its empty eyes and grinning skull fixed. Deciding to take no chances, the heroes attacked, inviting instant retaliation from the rider. It charged, using its lance, but they shattered both skeletons in short order, leaving naught but bones which Volta scattered to the sides of the road.

They had started late in the morning, and the sun was nearing the horizon. Up ahead, to the west, they saw a path lead off to a windmill standing on a small hill overlooking the Svalich Woods beyond. It was identical to the windmill on the crest of the Durst family, and Kyne realized he'd found the deed to it in the hidden room off the library. "I will make it mine," he said, "we should explore it, and rest there for the night." The heroes made their way up the path, and as they approached, saw it's white, plastered walls had chipped and peeled, revealing gray brick and stone beneath. The vanes were half-rotted, and the landings that spiraled up the outside were broken. A raven above the door squawked at them, dancing about, then flew off cawing. But the door was closed, and smoke came from somewhere inside. Shokk and Cira made their way in, finding a brick oven aglow with flames, a mill-wheel, tables covered with baking implements, and barrels of strange slime in one corner. A stair wound up the inside. A small cart stood off to one side.

The Old Bonegrinder, as it was known locally.

Outside, Caxius, Kyne, Volta, Evan, and Verity saw a figure lumbering through the woods. He was huge - nearly 8 feet tall - and his head was covered by a burlap hood with crude eye-holes. He drug a large cord of wood behind him, and carried a massive axe over one shoulder. He grunted with surprise at seeing them, and began to move forward, letting out a guttural string of muffled sounds which might have been words, but could not be understood by any there. Inside, Shokk leaned over one of the barrels, looking down in...and a clawed hand on a wiry arm covered with gray-green skin shot up and tried to grab him!

A fight on two fronts began. The half-orc paladin jumped back, but knocked the barrel over, and as it spilled, four wretched creatures with hunched backs, drooping ears, snout-like faces, and long, clawed arms crawled out. They began to claw and bite at everything in reach. Outside, the heroes laid into the brute as he slapped Caxius aside and clipped Kyne with his axe, wounding the rogue. But several daggers and a heavy blow of Volta's axe brought the brute down. Inside, the heroes cut down the demonic dretches as more spilled out. A voice from above cried out, "Nephew, is that you? Did you come back with wood for the fire? Mother Morgantha has more pies to bake!" Another voice agreed, and the heroes realized there were hags there - perhaps a covey!

A dretch, hungry and stupid, but vicious.

An old woman with a face like a wrinkled apple came down. She chided Cira, "Tut-tut, you shouldn't be here. But maybe you should stay anyway...for dinner!" With that, she swelled and grew into a 7-foot tall hag with blue skin and long, black claws. Another hag was coming down the stair behind her, and Cira was raked through her mail by the hag's talons and nearly fell. The heroes retreated, and Cira through a flask of alchemist's fire into the barrels, setting them alight. The hags howled, and ran to beat out the flames as the heroes ran into the woods.

They saw ravens flying around a ring of standing stones and ran there. The heroes hid and the ravens flew off, cawing and fluttering around the brush. The heroes heard the hags searching for them, but it appeared the ravens drew them off. Cira and the others found strange carvings on the stone, like a city under four different seasons, and the teeth of children buried at the base of one. She realized they were sacrifices to an unseelie fey lord, and blessed the now-desecrated stones. The heroes rested quietly, and the night passed...but not without incident.

Caxius and Shokk were on watch, and the tiefling warlock saw a lantern in the woods. It began to move off, and he and the half-orc paladin opted to follow it. It led to a ruined house, about 10 minutes' walk away. As the heroes moved in to take a look, the ground erupted in several places and rotting corpses rose up to attack! Fighting off a hoard of zombies, many of which refused to attack the warlock thanks to his pact with the lords of the dead, the light reappeared behind him. It was a will-o'-the-wisp, and though it sought to shock him, the warlocks enchanted blade and defensive spells sent it fleeing into the night. They cut down the rest of the zombies, and made their way back, only letting their companions know what happened come the morning.

Early the next day they cut through the woods and made their way up the road to Vallaki. The town guards were a bit suspicious, and the wolf heads on pikes nearby made the heroes a bit guarded, but they proved they were friendly and were let into town. They were advised that the Wolf's Head Jamboree had ended last week, and in three days' time the Festival of the Blazing Sun would begin. There were many festivals in Vallaki the guards said, usually one a week for the last several years. All were ordered by the town's burgomaster, Baron Vargas Vallakovich, and happiness was mandatory.

The heroes made their way in, past a great stockyard where a colorful carnival wagon was parked. Remembering Madame Eva's prognostication, they stopped to inquire, but the carnival master, one Rictavio, wasn't there. The heroes were directed to the Blue Water Inn on the other side of town, and made their way there. The innkeeper, Urwin Martikov, his wife Dannika, and their sons Brom and Bray were happy to have more guests apart from the carnival master, and rooms were prepared for them upstairs. Volta and Ireena took a bath while the others ate and drank. A pair of young nobles, Karl and Nikolai Wachter, sons of a Lady Fiona Wachter the heroes would learn, came in around noon. They were friendly and talkative, and drank quite heavily. They talked of a haunted mansion to the southwest where a dragon was said to live, of the Abbey of St. Markovia, of a mad wizard said to be seen on the shores of Lake Zarovich to the north, and of the Baron and his mad festivals. They said their sister was to be wed to his son, but the wedding was called off as she was in fragile health after an...incident...with the Baron's son, Victor Vallakovich.

They saw the toys Volta had given Brom and Bray, and also spoke of toymaker's shop. Volta had joined them by then, and the half-orc barbarian seemed fascinated by that. She, Kyne, Shokk, and Ireena went to the market square while the others rested. They saw a few men, women, and children in stocks wearing plaster donkey heads - punished for being "disrespectful" during the last festival, they found out - while others drew water from a great fountain. They saw a couple of town guards led by a large man with a bald head wearing light armor and a heavy, fur-lined cloak that he concealed his left arm beneath. An axe was slung over his shoulder. This was Izek Strazni, the brothers had told them, the Baron's right-hand man. He exchanged a few suspicious words with the two half-orcs, but was distracted by Ireena. He gave her an intense look - one of familiarity perhaps - and left shortly thereafter.

The trio moved on to the toy shop, Blinsky Toys, which had a sign in the window reading, "Is No Blinsky, Is No Fun!" The labels on the Durst children's toys were explained, at least. Blinksy was a jovial man with a trim beard, a large waist, and a friendly disposition. he wore a purple and green jester's cap and a monkey rode on his shoulder. A gift, he stated, from a carnival man named Rictavio, who asked for a doll dressed like a Vistani. His toys say the least (including a carousel of wolves chasing frightened children, a mock gallows, and a vampire ventriloquist dummy), not the least of which was a doll that looked just like Ireena! It was a special order he said, for the the Baron's man, Izek.

Blinsky was friendly but very disturbed...

Concerned, the heroes made their way back to the inn and met up with their fellows to head to the stockyard. But Izek and a dozen town guards met them, and demanded they turn the girl over for questioning. They refused, and Caxius turned her invisible, bluffing that he had teleported Ireena away to safety. A fight broke out, and the heroes nearly fell. Izek was wounded, and they discovered during the fight that his left arm was not that of a man. It was a green, scaly thing covered with barbs and long claws. A devil's arm. Both sides withdrew, and the heroes met back up with Ireena and fled. They headed west on the road, stopping late and setting camp off the trail. They might have worn out their welcome in Vallaki, and now thought they might have to head to the Abbey straight away. Who could tell what the dawn would bring, let alone the night...
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New place, old problems
This Barovia place is, frankly, abominable. I thought the note we received was too good to be true. And it was. At first I thought we could be doing well for ourselves since I ...acquired... the deed to a house and a windmill. Turns out the house is haunted, full of tunnels underneath, filled with undead, AND demons! I'll have to tare down the house, fill in the earth, salt it, consecrate it, then build a silver foundation woven with spells of warding! I mean, once I do that my house will be the most spectacular in ...wherever we are, but it will be EXPENSIVE. I'll have to see how much I get from the Windmill.

Healing Ireena was good, and I was glad to show her my skills, though Verity and Volta seem more appreciative of my skills. Both would make an excellent partner, Verity in the more traditional sense, though Volta's ...natural beauty... shows through with that nice coat and partially laced shirt. Gotta say, I'd never be cold with her around.

The Vistani camp was great fun. Reminds me of some people I met when I was much younger. My mother, I think, brought me to them. I remember dancing and music, and several of the young women taking turns playing with me. Still, that was long ago and I have more pressing things to deal with.
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Chapter 1: Barovia
The heroes were not the only outlanders at the Blood on the Vine tavern. Two other travelers, adventurers from Faerun hired by the Lords' Alliance to deal with a band of marauding werewolves in the Misty Forest, had arrived in Barovia after being lost in the mists. The first was a burly half-orc man wearing chainmail and carrying a silvered greataxe. His name was Shokk, a paladin in service to Tyr. He was accompanied by Caxius, a ruddy-skinned tiefling warlock. There were others of their group that had become separated, and the duo didn't know if they had made it to the village safely. But having overheard the heroes' conversation with Ismark, they volunteered to aid the worried man's sister.

Night had fallen, and they hurried south through the village streets toward the Burgomaster's home. The cries of a woman issuing from a boarded up house attracted their attention though, and fearing the worst, the heroes stopped at a boarded-up home just south of the main square. Cira, Caxius, and Kyne made their way inside, and the rest cautiously followed. They found a grieving woman upstairs, clutching a little girl's doll with a tag that read "Is no Blinksy, is no fun!" They were able to calm the woman, Mad Mary, and discovered her teenage daughter Gertruda had gone missing. Promising to do what they could, the heroes left her to her grief and pressed on.

The burgomaster's mansion was old, the rusty iron gates were bent off their hinges, and the windows had been smashed out and boarded up. Ismark knocked on the door and was admitted by his sister, Ireena. She had curly auburn hair and was quite beautiful, but she was armed and suspicious. Ismark allayed her fears and brought the heroes inside. For weeks they had dealt with attacks in the night. Ireena said she had been seen by Strahd one evening as she returned from picking wild blackberries on the edge of the forest. Their father, Kolyan Indiriovich had died only a few nights ago, the strain of protecting his daughter too much for his heart to take. Teh former burgomaster lay in a coffin in the drawing room, wilting wildflowers surrounding his body.

Ireena Kolyana was no shrinking flower...

"We have been unable to bury him in the churchyard," Ismark confessed, "as the villagers will not help and Donavich, the priest of the Morninglord has turned us away. I do not know why, but he seemed upset and distracted. If you can help us survive the night, and bury our father, I would ask you to take Ireena from here. The town of Vallaki is found to the north, on the shores of Lake Zarovich. It is fortified, and its burgomaster Baron Vallkovich is a stern but just man."

The heroes rested for a few hours, and come midnight, the attack began. Caxius saw the mists rise around the Burgomaster's house, and dark figures move through the gates. Zombies. Rotted, fetid corpses shambling forward, led by a withered form in dark robes. "At them," it rasped, "take the girl and kill the rest!" They heard a crash upstairs, and Shokk ran upstairs to confront them. Cira moved to join him, but only after the cleric had raised her holy symbol and turned nearly half the zombies. Caxius and Evan blasted at them with magic, as the wight leading the zombies shattered the window with a spell, then blasted back with a lightning bolt! The zombies began to force their way in, and both Ireena and Ismark took up swords and began to slash and stab at the undead fiends. Kyne lurked by the door, taking shots with his bow and stabbing any that managed to push their way inside. Upstairs, a pair of zombies with wings made of flayed skin and broken bone had crashed in through the windows. Shokk and Cira hacked away at them, and Caxius joined them with magic moments later. The half-orc paladin grappled with one and they fell out the window, a blow from his axe ending it as both tumbled to the flagstones below. The wight attempted to flee, but was brought low by magic and blades. The attack was over.

The dawn came, and the heroes made their way to the church at the far end of town. It was in the shadow of a tall spire of stone, a spur of the great mountains, atop which stood a dark and massive castle - Castle Ravenloft, as they would learn. They made their way quietly into the church, and heard a man softly praying in the chapel. As they made their way forward, the voice of a young man cried out from below. "Father, help me! I am so hungry!" The chapel had been damaged, with many pews broken, and the church's exterior also showed signs of damage. The priest, Father Donavich, urged the heroes to leave, but Caxius, Kyne, and Shokk had gone looking for the source of the plaintive voice. They found a trapdoor that was chained shut, likely leading to the church's cellar and managed to open the padlock.

Doru's thirst could not be by blood.

Cira, Verity Starkiller, and Evan escorted Father Donavich to the cellar, as Caxius went to start preparing a snack for whoever was below. Descending into the cellar, the heroes saw a slender, bedraggled young man...with fangs and lean, feral features. This was Doru, the priest explained, his only son. A foreign wizard had come to the village weeks ago and led several of them on a crusade to destroy Strahd. They failed, and the wizard was apparently destroyed. Donavich only wished to save his son, now cursed with vampirism, but could only contain him. Cira tried to remove the curse upon him, but to no avail. The young vampire spawn bolted towards the stairs, clawing at Shokk and sinking his fangs into the half-orc's neck. Father Donavich tried to stop him and Verity with an incantation, but failed, and Kyne stuck the priest with a dagger. The half-orc paladin's blade, Evan's spells, and Cira's prayers managed to reduce the young man to ash. His father was grief-stricken, but Shokk's words comforted him, and he was able to mourn for his son and gather his ashes for burial. They broached the subject of Kolyan Indirovich's funeral, and Donavich agreed to bury him. "Come shortly before dawn, and we will hold the service then."

With aught else to do, the heroes went to the tavern for a drink and stopped by the mercantile house. The proprietor's prices were outrageous, and Cira thought twice about purchasing supplies. After talking with one of the Vistani women at the tavern, Shokk, Verity, and Evan decided to head to the Vistani encampment outside of town to have their fortunes told. The rest agreed to accompany them. As they crossed the river and reached the crossroads, they saw a gallows, and Kyne saw a vision of himself dangling form the noose. None of the rest had seen it, and the vision passed. Unnerved, he and the rest followed the trail to the pool at the foot of Tser Falls.

The Vistani encampment was lively, with men and women working, cooking, laughing, and drinking among a circle of wagons and tents. They joined the festivities and shared a few drinks, and one Vistana told of the wizard who had come, and how she saw he and Strahd battle atop the castle's ramparts, only for the wizard to plunge off into the falls. His body was never recovered. Thus warned about the dangers of Castle Ravenloft, the heroes made their way to Madam Eva's tent.

Madam Eva showed them their fate in the cards of the Tarokka.

She was an elderly woman, but wise and sly, and offered to tell their fortunes. Verity paid a silver coin, and the cards were drawn.

She saw that the knowledge to defeat Strahd could be found in a room with walls of bones and bone furnishings.
She saw that a man in a carnival wagon carried a talisman capable of warding off great evil.
She saw that a blade of light could be found in a fallen house that belonged to a dragon.
She saw that they would find an ally in a man with two faces and a song in his heart.
She saw that Strahd would only face them truly at the seat of his power.
She saw that one among them could not be trusted, and would prove false in the end.

Informed, if not enlightened, the heroes returned to the burgomaster's mansion to await the dawn. Cira had healed the wounds in Ireena's neck, removing the taint of vampirism from her. The night passed quietly, save for the howling of wolves from all around shortly after midnight. Shortly before the sun rose, the heroes helped bear Kolyan Indirovich's casket to the graveyard behind Barovia's church to the Morninglord.

The funeral of Kolyan Indirovich.

As dawn approached, the clouds rolled overhead and the thunder rolled. They could almost hear a voice on the wind saying, "she is mine!" Suddenly, the door of a nearby crypt burst asunder and a dozen graves erupted with earth as rotting bodies clawed their way to the surface. A trio of undead came forth from the crypt, two in rusted mail and carrying notched longswords, one with grayish skin covered in grave dirt. Cira raised her holy symbol, driving many of the zombies back, as Shokk ran up to engage the trio of dead warriors. One grabbed him, seeking to slam him to the earth, but the paladin resisted. Caxius joined him shortly, and the rest dispatched what zombies remained. The battle was over swiftly, and the heroes made sure Ireena and Ismark's father was laid to rest.

Father Donavich urged them to take her to the Abbey of Saint Markovia, in the village of Krezk, to the northwest. They would leave shortly, heading out before noon. It would take most of a day to reach Vallaki in the north. Despite the dawn, the sky was dark and a cold wind blew down from the mountains....
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Tags: Fate , Quest , Recap
Prologue: Death House, Part 2
The heroes worked their way through the cramped tunnels beneath the Durst house in Barovia. It felt like crawling through a grave. The earth was cold and damp, and the wood sagged with rot. They found an open chamber ahead, and Kyne scouted it, searching around a long, low table with bones scattered about it. He opened a half-rotten door to what must be a pantry, only to have a worm-like horror, so pale as to be luminescent, crawl out. It was like a large grave-worm, and its black mandibles were surrounded by wriggling tentacles. Volta and Rundoki got in close, their great weapons hampered by the tight quarters. But with aid from Cira's holy flames and blasts of magical energy from Evan, they quickly cut the thing down. They found that the bones in this crude dining hall were human bones...bones that had been gnawed on.

Working their way through the tunnels, they found a large chamber, its roof supported by many timber posts. A well was at its center, and small bedchambers surrounded it. Kyne sneaked ahead and saw a couple of dark figures covered with spines crawling on the ceiling. The group, warned ahead of time, moved in. A pair of spined devils attacked as they entered, though they were quickly dispatched by magic and heavy blows of Rundoki's sword and Volta's axe. They found scant treasures in the bunks, but no signs that it had been inhabited any time recently. Working around a dining hall and back through the crypts, they worked their way onward, through the damp, dark earth. An eerie chanting could be heard, echoing through the claustrophobic passages.

Kyne remained ahead, and heard scrabbling in the cold earth to either side of him. The packed soil of the tunnel exploded upward as four hungry ghouls rose, surrounding the rogue. He nearly fell to their cold, tearing claws and broken, yellow teeth, but Cira's holy command drove a couple back as the rest moved in to dispatch them. After a few bandages and muttered prayers of healing, the group found a crude shrine at the end of a passage. A rough statue was there, one of a man in a black cloak clutching a shadowy orb of polished glass. As Volta yanked it from the statue's hand, the shadows in the room animated and began to attack with icy touches that froze their very blood. But sword and spell again prevailed, driving them back into the darkness.

Ghouls, hungry for flesh, had surrounded Kyne...

Down another passage from the shrine, the unlucky rogue found a door that was not a was a mimic! He nearly fell after being bitten by the cursed thing, and pulled through it to a small dining room. Rundoki and Volta dispatched the thing with aid from Cira, Evan, and Tiberias. Beyond the dining room was a small bedchamber, and Volta was ambushed there by a pair of ghasts that dug themselves out of shallow holes in the earthen walls, their greedy claws raking her flesh. With holy fire and mighty axe- and sword-blows, they were felled. They had a small bit of treasure, including a fine mail shirt and an old spellbook.

Following the twisting passages, the group doubled back and found stone steps descending further into the darkness. They followed them down into a reliquary chamber of some sort, with many gruesome curious found in niches along its periphery. Two passages led out, one to long-abandoned cells where skeletons still hung from iron chains, and one to a rusty, iron portcullis that blocked off a half-flooded room. Volta and Rundoki were able to raise the heavy iron gate, and Kyne locked it in place.

The room beyond was flooded to a depth of two or three feet, with a low ledge surrounding it. A six-sided dais rose in its center, free of the water. A bloodstained altar was at its center, and iron chains descended from the ceiling, directly over it. The wall across from the entry was broken, and the crack led into a small cave-like hole of some sort. The eerie chanting could be heard even more clearly here, and as the group entered, all went dark. As the light of Cira's magical flame came up, they saw 13 figures in black, hooded robes standing along the ledge. A figure in black with an ornate gold mask carrying a black staff stood on the far side of the altar, across from Kyne, who had ascended the dais.

The figures chanted for a sacrifice, implying that one must submit to death lest they all be slain by...something. Something called Lorgoth the Decayer. The heroes would have none of it! They drew blades and readied to strike. The figures on the ledge vanished, and as Kyne struck at the figure in the mask, his knife-stroke ripped it aside, revealing a red, scaly visage surmounted by horns and a beard that appeared to be composed of hissing snakes! The devil's staff extended a blade, becoming a vicious glaive, and it slashed and struck with snaky beard at both the rogue and the dwarf paladin, then at the half-orc barbarian as she drew in to fight.

The thrust of a blade brought the bearded devil low. But it was not the only horror in the dark temple beneath the Durst house.

As they battled atop the dais, a strange, black ooze flowed in from the crack and drew towards the heroes. They all felt a chill and a psychic miasma in the air, a sense of dread and wrong. Runkoki recognized it at once. It was a slime devil. This must then be Lorgoth the Decayer. He shouted to the others, "It's just an ooze! I will handle this!" Perhaps it was bravery, perhaps foolishness. But it led to his death, all the same. The slime devil struck at the dwarf paladin, and in one blow it shattered his skull and dissolved the front of his body, leaving a gory mess. With a final blow, the bearded devil was struck down, and the heroes fled. Cira had rigged the wheel they found on the inner wall to drop the portcullis, though it barely slowed the slime devil.

They ran from it, reaching a set of hidden steps they had found earlier that led up to the first floor den. But the house was filling with toxic smoke, and phantom blades slashed at them as they passed through every open door. It took two of them to break down the front doors and rush out into the chill, evening air. Smoke and dust billowed out, but the doors to the house slammed shut.

Barovia, as the night mists rolled in.

Numb and alone in the deserted streets, the heroes had lost a friend. There was little else to do but seek shelter for the night. They made their way down the street and found a tavern - the Blood on the Vine (though Cira was sure the "on" had once been "of" before being scratched over). After banging on the door, they were let in. A surly looking bartender, a trio of dark-haired barmaids in silks, and a youngish man with pale, blonde hair and a grim look on his face were the only ones inside. It took some sweet talk and quite a bit of coin to get food and drinks, and one of the barmaids suggested they should try and find someplace to stay ere the night became too dangerous.

As they pondered their next move, the young man introduced himself as Ismark Kolyanovich, the son of the town's former Burgomaster, and inquired as to why outlanders had come to Barovia, especially so late at night. They shared the two letters they had found, and the young man was startled and amazed. "Perhaps this is providence, and the Morninglord has delivered you to aid me and my sister, Ireena. I need to return ere long to her side, for attacks have come at night. My father died only two nights ago, and she has been bitten twice by the devil Strahd! I fear she will not survive a third attempt. Will you come and aid us?" They agreed, and set out as night fell over Barovia.
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Prologue: An Invitation/Death House
A company of six stalwart adventurers sat in the River Shining Tavern in the town of Daggersford. They had been a scant few adventures together - fighting bandits along the Trade Way south, goblins in the Ardeep Forest, and even escorting a caravan north to Waterdeep. They had been fast friends since a young age, and planned to seek fortune, glory, and (for some) redemption, together for years yet to come.

There was Rundoki Wrathblade, a dwarven paladin of Tyr, seeking a measure of justice for himself and those he had wronged in the past. He and another rough youth, a pale human rogue of tainted blood named Kyne Darkblade, had come up together. Kyne had turned from darker pursuits to seeking down criminals for coin. Through Rundoki's religious studies he had met Cira Sundance, a young priestess of Lathander from the Morninglow Tower. She had been friends for quite some time with the bard and adventuress Tiberas Starkiller, a half-elven lass whose tales and songs thrilled patrons in Daggerford and beyond. They had made an unlikely friend in Volta, a young half-orc woman raised by woodcutters to the east of town. She had become a local hero after killing a group of bandits that had slain the granddaughter of Daggerford's ruler, Lady Morwen Daggerford. Despite her rough appearance, she loved her fancy long coat and would whittle toys for the local children. And the most unlikely friend was Evan Timers, nicknamed "the Pants-Plunderer," a gnome and would-be wizard, trickster, and scholar of sorts.

The River Shining Tavern was warm and cozy, but the night was dark...and full of terrors.

They discussed their next venture over cold ale and a warm fire as dark clouds and rain made for a cold night outside. A stranger came into the tavern, a dark-haired man dressed in bright silks under a traveler's cloak. Gold winked from a single earring and off rings on his fingers. He approached the group and offered them a sealed letter. "I have come seeking help for a small town, east of here, on the borders of the forest. You look like the sort that might find such work...attractive?" He spoke with a strange accent, though there was neither menace or pleading in his voice. "Leave on the morrow if you wish to reply," he said, "and follow the trail east into the woods. Coin will be offered for your help, among other rewards. I will take my leave of you, for the chill of the night is on me, and I have miles yet to go ere I rest." Evan was able to identify him as one of the Vistani, mysterious travelers and traders who appeared now and again along the Sword Coast, apparently from somewhere to the south.

With that, the group looked at the letter. It was a missive from the Burgomaster of a small town named Barovia, a town that none of the companions were familiar with. It said that a great evil had fallen on their town, and the burgomaster's own adopted daughter was imperiled by it - a vampire! It was decided. They would leave come the morning.

The heroes set out east, into the highlands and the Misty Forest beyond, following the trail the mysterious messenger had indicated. The morning fog had only thickened as they traveled, and by midday, they were lost. The heroes managed to find a new trail, one that appeared to head west, back to the coast. Volta tried to head east, cutting a trail of her own, but her breath seemed to be caught in her throat. The cold mist was choking her! It appeared there was no other way to go. As they traveled, the heroes realized the very forest around them had changed and the trail rose instead of fell. Evan surmised they had gone through a crossing - a place where the barrier between worlds was thin. They could have crossed into the Feywild...or the Shadowfell.

Following the path, Volta found a dead body off the side of the road. It was a man, badly mauled by wolves, and he carried a letter. This too was from the Burgomaster, one Kolyan Indirovich. But instead of pleading for his adopted daughter Ireena, he urged those who received the missive to call upon holy men and seal up the ways to his land. For it was cursed, and ruled by a vampire named Strahd von Zarovich. There was no other way now. Feeling trapped by the mist and the dark trees, the heroes nevertheless pressed on. They reached a pair of massive gates, marking the entry to this land. As they passed through the great iron portals flanked by headless statues, the gates slammed shut behind them, like the doom-laden toll of a great, black bell.

The gates of Barovia, which slammed behind the heroes like the door of a tomb shutting for the last time.

Making their way forward a few miles, the heroes came across tended fields under overcast skies and a small village. No doubt this was Barovia. Night was fast approaching, and as they thought to seek an inn, the group saw a pair of children in the road ahead. It was a girl of about 10 and a shy boy of about 8. She wore a fine, gray dress and a red cape, and the boy wore a hooded gray coat, both with silver stitching and lined with fine fur. The girl introduced herself as Rosavalda and the boy as her brother, Thornboldt. She also said that there was a monster in her house, and her parents were trapped in a very matter-of-fact manner. Volta, wasting no time with children apparently in danger, followed them back to a narrow four-story home that appeared to be in need of some repair.

"Mama and papa call us Rose and Thorn," the girl said, as the children led Volta and the rest to their house.

The heroes went in past the rusty gate and through the heavy wooden front doors, after no one responded to their knocking. The group made their way in through the foyer to a great hall, one with polished black marble floors, a massive hearth on one end, and on the other a rosy, marble staircase that spiraled upwards. Doors led to a kitchen and pantry, a dining hall, and a den complete with stuffed wolves and some functional crossbows in a locked cabinet. The walls were paneled with carved wood showing forest and pastoral scenes, some with disturbing things hidden in the designs. Seeing no way downstairs, the group tried to ask the children where their parents were...only to find Rose and Thorn had vanished!

Making their way upstairs, the group found a library and a conservatory on the second floor, along with servants' quarters. As Tiberias played the harpsichord she found and Kyne searched the conservatory, the rest investigated the library. Cira found a secret room - complete with books of dark, infernal lore and the skeleton of what had no doubt been a thief slouched over an open chest. As the cleric approached it, the skeleton animated and books flew off the shelves, attacking like a swarm of bats with razor-edged wings! Although Evan was left bloodied and hurt, the group managed to dispatch most of the books and the skeleton without too much injury.

Something was definitely amiss in the house. Some rooms appeared fresh; others overrun with cobwebs and dust. Making their way to the third floor, the group was attacked by a suit of plate armor mounted on a stand at the head of the stairs that animated and tried to kill them! It was quickly dispatched, and they found abandoned bedrooms and a dusty nursery. When Volta entered, seeing that the cradle was occupied by a suspicious bundle, a misty apparition appeared! It was a young woman, possibly a nursemaid, though her eyes were hollow and her face contorted with wrath. She was translucent and gave off a ghostly blue-white light. "Nooo!" She cried, "leave the child alooone!" This horrid specter attacked, and only with Cira's holy fire and Rundoki's sacred blade was the thing finally defeated, dispersing into a silvery mist with a wail. Volta had taken what she believed to be a baby to safety, only to find it was no more than a bundle of blankets.

The wail of the nursemaid's specter chilled them to the bone.

Further searches apparently angered something within the house, as while Volta and Evan found a secret panel in one bedroom, a sheet and a sword in the master bedroom attempted to murder Kyne and Tiberas, while Rundoki and Cira fought an animated broomstick! Dealing with these threats, the group went upstairs, finding a dusty, cobwebbed attic with a room full of furniture on one side, a few cramped bedrooms, and a door closed with a padlock. Kyne was able to slip the lock, and inside they found a room furnished for two children, complete with toys, a dollhouse fashioned as a replica of the house they were in...and the bones of a boy and girl of about 8 and 10. Rose and Thorn appeared, leaving no doubt as to their ghostly nature. "Don't leave us," they implored, but fear had gripped the hearts of the heroes. Rundoki tried to reason with the restless spirits, but as they attempted to possess some of the others, blades and spells were brought to bay. Tiberas was nearly slain, as a ghostly hand passed through the bard's heart, causing it to cease beating for a brief moment. But blades and spells dispersed the ghosts, and their remains were bound up in sheets and taken, with Rundoki, Cira, and Volta hoping they could be laid to rest.

Kyne searched the dollhouse and the toys, finding a strange label on them. "Is no Blinksy, is no fun!" The labels declared. The dollhouse was more interesting, as it showed a secret stair spiraling down from the attic to...something...below. He found a matching secret door in the room with the sheet-covered furnishings, and opened it. They followed a wooden spiral stair down, until it became stone, and then down further into a series of narrow, packed-earth tunnels braced with heavy wooden beams. A series of crypts lay beyond, and they found a pair of unoccupied ones, labeled "Rosavalda Durst" and "Thornboldt Durst." The children's remains were laid to rest with a prayer, and they reappeared briefly, waving goodbye silently (and sadly, it seemed) as they vanished into a silvery mist. Despite the dark and the terrors around them, the heroes felt uplifted for the briefest of moments. With their hearts eased and their nerves steeled, they continued to look for the monster under the house...

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