Nick Nichols

Clojure Developer and Dungeon Master

In Service Of The Master

As Krug releases his hand, Strahd’s armor falls forward, crashing into the ground. The ancient magics that defend the castle Ravensloft swirl to life, and the barbarian watches in awe as the Helmed Horror rises to its feet. A distorted, pained voice rings through their minds, “End my suffering! Let my watch come to an end!” Against its will, the being rips a great sword from the wall.

Sensing Strahd’s magics, Thaelen pulls into a dark corner to conjure a Minor Illusion. As the rest of the party charges out of Strahd’s laboratory, they hear his voice echo out, “Stand down!” Unaware of the sound’s origin, Tilman, Cecilia, and Tlareg cower in fear. Jack and Misha, having wielded similar spells before, charge into the battle. The warlocks let out a barrage of Eldritch Blasts that crash into the unholy machination. Undeterred, Strahd’s unwilling servant strikes back with a flurry of slashes that nearly cut down the half-orc before him.

Realizing the party’s situation, Tlareg regains his senses and joins his comrades. Thaelen follows him, conjuring a barrage of Magic Missiles that harmlessly bounce off of their target. As the fight continues, the cries of distress and fear ring out through each of their minds. With each successful blow, the distortion grows and grows; however, the Helmed Horror’s combat abilities are undeterred. Pinned in a corner, it lashes out with two skillful strikes that knock both Tlareg and Krug unconscious. Misha dashes forward as Thaelen and Jack cover her with Ray of Frost and Hellish Rebuke respectively.

She begins to pour a potion down Krug’s throat, but the guardan of Castle Ravensloft intervenes. The great sword swings down, and a sickening shriek rings out as her life is taken from her; however, her sacrifice was not in vein. The moment of distraction buys just enough time for the remaining casters to strike their foe down. As the now-dormant fragments of plate mail strike the ground, a soft whisper rings through their ears, “Thank you.” Using the little medical skills they have, they manage to revive Krug and Tlareg and smack the members of the Belgrave Consortium back to their senses. Panicked, the group decides to flee and regroup later.

Krug ‘n’ Krew limp back to Brasov to rest for the night. As they enter, they motion to the bartender to keep quiet and slip him a silver piece. They cross their fingers, and hope Bemril, or any other agents of Strahd that may be around, haven’t noticed their journey. After tiptoeing down the hallway, they each find the sweet embrace of sleep.

The next morning, Thaelen and Tlareg sneak into Jack and Krug’s room to discuss their plans. Within seconds, they agree to find Six and ditch Bemril as quickly as they can. From their, they reason that since much of the down fears Old Ravensloft, they may be able to squat in one of the old buildings. If they can stay hidden for one more night, they can meet Tilman and Cecilia again and plot their next steps. Fully agreed, they stumble their way downstairs and find Six and Bemril patiently waiting at one of the dining tables- their eyes diligently trained on the staircase. The normally brash and terse half-orc seems strangely at peace, and an uncharacteristic smile crosses his face.

Bemril waves to the party, “Come friends, let us join in a fine breakfast and enjoy the fruits of Master Strahd’s lands.” The four share a knowing glance before slowly making their way over. Thaelen semi-convincingly laughs and tells them, “It’s a little early, so I better get a drink.” Six and Bemril laugh along, and watch the half-elf stumble over to the bar. Jack, recognizing the move, sweeps in and asks how their card game had gone the night prior. Thankfully, it provides enough of a distraction for Thaelen.

He slides another silver across the bar, “Hey man, I need something real strong this morning.” The bartender nods, and begins pouring Maltört. “So, uh, you’re from here. Do people ever get too friendly out of nowhere?” The glass slides across the table, as the bartender gives a silent, solemn nod.

Dismayed, Thaelen returns to the table as Bemril begins planning out their day. “We could visit one of the many libraries in town, or continue visiting the wonderful people across the countryside.”

Jack nods, “Yeah, meeting a lot of people in a big, well-trafficked part of town would be good. Somewhere very public.”

Six responds in an oddly chipper tone, “Yes, there are many fine shops we passed by in the square. Perhaps one of the nice eateries that Misha mentioned.”

Bemril gleefully claps, “Oh yes, that would be quite wonderful. Where is she now? Sleeping in?”

“Something like that,” Thaelen stammers. She’s not feeling too well, but would want us to have a good time. We should let her rest.”

With a look of odd concern, the drow whispers, “Perhaps she caught a cold last night. We should contact one of Strahd’s doctors to look after her.”

Jack quickly interjects, “Oh no, it’s more of a flu thing. Just needs to get it out of her system, you know?” A tense air settles over the table, but Six and Bemril eventually agree to leave for the day. They wander around the shops and sights half-heartedly, pretending to be blissfully ignorant of the terrors they had witnessed the night prior. The citizens each greet them with kindness and share Bemril’s infectious passion for their nation. Even the bartender from the Elderstone Haven greets them warmly. Fearing their safety, the four sane members of Krug ‘n’ Krew begin plotting their escape.

As the day comes to a close, they return to Brasov and hatch their plan. They ask Six and Bemril to fetch a card game and flee into the night. The fresh snow and driving blizzard make travel difficult, but they find the strength to sprint back towards Old Ravensloft. Eventually, the four come to a small, abandoned home. While most of the building has given way to years of disrepair and the damage from the fire, a few central rooms remain relatively undisturbed.

They agree on a watch shift, and do their best to rest. As they sleep the howling winds crash into the ancient walls of their makeshift home, threatening its stability. Strange sensations run down the spines of each member, and their dreams are invaded by strange, contorted nightmares. Thaelen awakens in a cold sweat, having seen some horrifying image from his past. With shaking hands, he draws the image from his dream to remember it for the next day: the five-pointed star of Tiamat.

They wake in turn, and pull together their few remaining rations. It’s barely enough food for a reasonable breakfast; however, starvation would be a far kinder end than one waiting for them beneath Strahd’s rule. The spend the day in solemn silence, contemplating the loss of their two comrades. Jack and Thaelen flip through a small atlas they had purchased the day prior, wondering if any safer shores existed in Eibellion. They share their plan with the other survivors, and plot their escape from the cursed land.

As night falls, they slip back into town and find the address Tilman had shared with them. They knock and Jack begins speaking in a low, guttural tone. A slot jerks open right above the ground, and a small mirrors slips out. Thaelen kicks it, and they hear a terrified screech on the other side. After explaining their situation in primordial, they hear a series of locks, bars, and chains come free. The door swings open, and they a greeted by a seemingly abandoned house. A small, white kobold wearing goggles and heavy work gloves peers from behind the door, and points them downstairs.

The party winds their way through the dark home, and into a small nook in the basement. Tilman, Cecilia, and an almost entirely unconscious man greet them. The human, adorned in patchwork furs and three days of unkempt facial hair greets them, “Your the lot that fucked with Strahd’s old armor, right?”

Tilman glares at the brazenly drunk man, “We’re so horribly sorry about everything that happened. We knew investigating Strahd would be dangerous, but we were unprepared.”

Tlareg scoffs, “Yeah, you can say that again.” Thaelen takes the opportunity to share a drink with his kindred spirit.

Ignoring the criticism, the gunslinger continues, “That being said, we’ve begun to uncover Strahd’s true plans. There’s a thread connecting the portraits, that armor, and the strange disposition of everyone in this country. We need to act quickly, or it may effect us too.”

Jack begins shaking his head, “Let me stop you right there. This is way over our head, and we need to get out of dodge.”

Cecilia takes offense, “This is your home as well as ours!”

“Yeah, and I’d rather not die here too.”

Frustrated, Tilman continues, “We’ll need help continuing this work. You are good people, and we have allies. This is a time for unity!” As he speaks, the shaking of metal armor begins ringing and heavy footfalls emanate from the stairs.

Thaelen, staring through the table before him, speaks to nobody in particular, “I’m not so sure about that. I think I did something bad in the Empire. I don’t know what really happened, or what I may have done, but… But I think my soul is bound to Tiamat.”

Queued to the sound of the daemonic name, a sword unsheathes and comes inches from Thaelen’s face. The party sees the vengeful fury of the paladin of Bahamut they had met in Trostenwald: Arminius Wintergale. “Is that so?” he scowls.

Within seconds the party is nearly at arms, but Thaelen talks them down, “I don’t want to be! I’m afraid of it and want that shit gone.”

Tilman on the verge of tears of defeat sighs, “Well, if you will do no good, I suppose it’s best you do no harm then.”

Arminius nods in agreement, “I will escort you out of this place, but on one condition. You will come to purify your soul through service to Bahamut. I will entertain no objections to this.”

The party, seeing few other options, agrees to his demands. They discuss the details for a few moments, before setting off with Arminius. Tilman and the Belgrave Consortium will use the information and resources the party gathered to help the people of Barovia. Krug ‘n’ Krew will follow Arminius to the Buxswell Dutchie in Ushazan to cleanse their souls, and assist the Order of the Platinum Dragon in some upcoming guard work. With their minds set, the party splits off and heads towards their new destiny.

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