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The cart continues to creak and wobble towards Ravensloft. Along the road, the party begins to see many strange occurrences: floating green lights, nearly unending nights, and the continual feeling they are being watched. Shaken by these events, they decide to dispose of the bodies of Marion and Harolt. Originally, they had planned to use their corpses as proof of a growing conspiracy against Strahd; however, they now believed they’d look no different than murderers. Not ones to stand upon the grounds of religion and ceremony, they order Bemril to continue driving as Krug cuts the bindings that had tied them to the roof of the corpse wagon.
As they enter the streets of Ravensloft, the cart begins to bobble back and forth along the cobblestone paths. The streets are almost entirely deserted. Homes are pushed far back from the city streets, and blocked off with tall, wrought iron fences. The only signs of life are quick movements from alleyways, the slamming of shuttered windows, and flickers of candlelight between curtains. The tall man informs them that the appropriate gestures need to be made, and they can’t just kick down the castle’s gate.
To this end, Krug ‘n’ Krew order Bemril to find them an inn. Bemril gathers his bearing in the town square, as Thaelen steals coins from the city’s fountain. Krug gets in on the deal, and the pair find 10 moss-covered copper pieces. The tall man scribbles all of this down as he shakes his head. The drow eventually leads the cart down an eastward path, and the party finds themselves at the Elderstone Haven.
Thaelen, Tlareg, the nameless woman, and Six decide to bring the wrapped painting indoors as they negotiate sleeping arrangements. Meanwhile, Krug and the thin man decide to investigate the mysterious lights outside of the city, and order Bemril to, once more, take the reins. Having undone all of the progress they had made in the last hour, the trio find themselves near a small meadow pinned between some long since dead trees. A few spectral lights phase in and out of existence nearby, and Krug hatches a plan.
The half-orc ties Bemril to a tree, and orders the thin man to make a place to hide. Through a crude use of Eldritch Blast, he blows open a small hiding place in a cluster of bushes. For the next few minutes, they watch and wait as the spirits regain their bravery. Krug is excited to see the drow get eaten by a nether beast, and the tall man is “just along for the ride.”
A few moments later, the phantasmal image of a long dead soldier begins to approach Bemril. In a horrid, labored voice, he demands the gagged elf answer, “Who… Are… You?”
A moment of silence passes before a nearby bush responds, “Krug.”
The apparition approaches them and once again demands information, “Who… Dare… Trespass… Here?”
The silence is deafening, until Krug leaps out with a hearty, “Hey.” The barbarian slowly and stealthily reaches for the bush, and with profound speed rips the tall man back onto his feet.
Sensing his intellect is needed, he asks the specter for its name.
“I was once Cortessio of the Idravalli. I came to these lands as my Emperor decreed. The devil Strahd took my life, and now I am a prisoner here.”
The tall man mutters some words into his book, and begins turning the pages. Eventually, he comes to the page he was looking for and looks into the man’s sins. Cortessio Valdar had been a lieutenant of an Imperial detachment ordered to claim Barovia some 60 years earlier. By every Imperial statute and decree, Cortessio would have been a dedicated soul to his nation. While misguided in the invasion, he had performed his duty as expected and served honorably. Unable to discern any reason why his soul would be bound to the Material Plane, the thin man asks how him and Krug can help.
“Free us. End our suffering.”
The conversation continues for a moment longer, but the protracted responses of the party and a clear misalignment between the nations causes a fight to break out. Cortessio drains nearly half of Krug’s life force in an instant. Bemril tries to scream. The thin man, noticing they’re currently surrounded and split off, manifests a Minor Illusion from within the forest. The booming and powerful voice of Strahd echoes out, “Challenge me again if you so dare!” Cortessio and the other spirits flee in terror, buying the party enough time to recover Bemril and flee in the cart.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party enters a dusty but well-decorated tavern. A single human man in his late 50s is aimlessly polishing glassware as a lone hobbit rocks and forth muttering to himself in the corner. Misha goes to talk to the hobbit, while the rest engage the bartender. Curious about the oddities of town, they ask about the deserted nature of what they correctly assume to be the nation’s capital.
He simply shakes his head, and says he doesn’t have the stomach for such a conversation. While he’s happy to house and feed some guests for a change, for a fee, he’d never speak ill about Strahd’s rule. Realizing the rooms will completely bankrupt him, Thaelen asks the proprietor to gamble, in the hopes of earning a night’s stay. Having learned a lesson from trying to gamble with nothing before, he offers to bet a piece of art against one of the paintings along the wall. The man agrees, as long as he can actually see the painting first.
Thaelen and Tlareg convince the man to let them unveil the painting in the cellar, claiming that it would be damaged by the sheer intensity of the light in the candle lit room of a building constructed in nigh-perpetual night. The man unlocks the cellar and climbs down as Thaelen and Tlareg immediately agree to kill him in elvish. The basement would leave no witnesses, and they figure the other patron wouldn’t be a reliable witness.
The pair descend into the cellar as Six stares into the maw of the void. A dank, mossy scent greets them as they look over the mostly empty crates of supplies slightly rotting in small pools of water. Some construction supplies lean in the corner, but they quickly realize how destitute the man who owns a bar with no clients is. Feeling bad, they decide not to kill him immediately; however, they also agree to swindle him.
Thaelen unveils the portrait, and the man immediately begins screaming. “THAT’S A PORTRAIT FROM CASTLE RAVENSLOFT!!! ARE YOU THE THEIVES WHO STOLE IT? OR ARE YOU JUST INSANE?!”
After some quick words, they claim they’re in town to return it to Strahd; however, the man wants no part of their business anymore. He hurriedly shoes them upstairs and kicks the party out on the street. Six and the nameless woman aren’t too surprised and leave with their allies.
Eventually they stumble across another tavern named Brasov, which is manned by a lone dwarven man. They share a round of drinks and discuss their evenings. Misha reveals she learned the halfling, a man named Vorna Cieni, had suffered a great tragedy- his ancestral home burning during a city-wide fire. He had lost everything, and continually warned he to avoid the four manors in town: Kovel, Tuzla, Szolnok, and Lauciene. The man behind the bar agrees, as they’re the homes of some of the most powerful families in town. Curious about the fire, they question him and learn a large portion of the city had burned down about thirty years earlier- shortly after Strahd’s wife had passed away. The city never fully recovered, but they had always been protected.
Eventually, the groups hears a banging on the door. Shortly after, the rest of their party joins them with expressions of shock and misery. They spend some time catching up before realizing the late hour. Everyone, except for Thaelen, agrees to stay indoors. The wizard decides to sleep in the cart, but adamantly refuses to move it out of the wind or towards any warmth.
The next morning, he is frozen half to death and quickly hurries indoors for the warmth of the fireplace. He sees the rest of the group saunters down looking restless and disturbed. Most of their dreams had been invaded by nightmares and odd, ominous messages. Krug passes around a note he found slipped beneath their door:
Your presence has humbly been requested this thirteenth day of Hammer at Castle Ravensloft, home of our lord and sovereign Count Adrianus Vladimir Tepes Enderson Strahd.
As they soak in the news, they hear a knocking at the door and a stuffy voice of a high class echoing out, “May I enter?”
The party looks at each other before Krug answers for them, “Sure.” An elderly gnome in extravagant formalwear enters, and approaches their table.
“Greeting, children of Barovia. No doubt, your invitation to the dinner being held in your honor has found you. You have done a great service for my master, and he wishes to reward you thusly. I have been dispatched to entrust you with these funds, so you may acquire… appropriate clothing for such an occasion.”
The group accepts the invitation and the gold, and are also directed towards a fine tailor in the city. With only a few days to spare, they rush towards Edderson’s Clothiers and put in a rush order for dinner attire. Krug, possessing the foresight to always travel prepared for a formal dinner, instead purchases a signet ring. In an attempt to bargain down the price, Thaelen succeeds in angering the tailor, who immediately kicks them out to be left alone to his work.
Unsure how to spend the next two days, the group makes some half-hearted attempts at shopping; however, their minds take them elsewhere. The sudden invitation has startled most of them, and they spend several hours muttering to themselves.
Eventually, they bump into a short, hooded figure walking through the city. He excuses himself, explaining he’s looking for a man selling a dog. Thaelen, understanding the calling of his chapter, returns the sign, “Oh, so you like dogs, huh?” The two share a brief sequence of coded messages before agreeing to meet in an alley. Everyone else decides to stand watch over the cart, fearing a robbery.
Luckily for Thaelen, the ally, a hobgoblin named Werm, comes with a message from a friend: Dalzos Dagoth. Dalzos is worried about current events, and has started sending people into the countryside to be his eyes and ears. The ringmaster is following up on reports of stranger-than-normal happenings across the nation. Werm was asked to deliver several warnings and a message from Dalzos, in the hopes of directing the party’s attention to one such manner.
- Always know who you’re talking to. Establish a code.
- Strahd has eyes everywhere. Be discrete.
- Nothing is what it appears to be. Check everything twice.
Thaelen thanks the hobgoblin, and asks what Dalzos wanted to know about in Ravensloft. Werm informs him that a man named Tilman has been asking similar questions to Dalzos. Krug ‘n’ Krew aren’t the only ones in Barovia looking for answers, and, should they be interested, Tilman might be able to help them out. Should they want to meet him, they should head to the remains of the original castle on the night of the full moon. As Thaelen contemplates the information, Werm begins to walk away, and shouts over his shoulder, “We’ll see you on the fifteenth then.”