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The freeze-frame releases, and everyone returns to the ground. Thoroughly exhausted from laughter, Otto takes a moment to catch his breath before summoning two of his personal guards. Two lightly armored humans join everyone else: A poorly shaven blond man, Harolt, and a not-at-all discretely hungover woman, Marion. Krug ‘n’ Krew discuss their travel plans, while waiting for Otto’s stable hand Gydwyn. The staffs hurries around in search of him.
Meanwhile, Otto explains the journey to Ravensloft will take about five to seven days in the current weather, and begins explaining the route. The party will travel east through the Forest of Bacäu until they reach Cadca. Otto’s uncle, Childris Westerwilt, owns an estate in the city, and will need to inspect the portrait the party recovered for any damages. After that stop, they can continue their journey to Ravensloft and present the recovered portrait to Strahd personally. Everyone in Otto’s manor looks worried, as none of them can recall seeing or hearing from Gydwyn for the last few days.
Six mentions he has some experience with animals, but has no idea where he’s going. The thin man, familiar with his homeland, offers to navigate, but is denied the opportunity. The discussion continues until a drow in dirty, poorly-fitted clothing enters Otto’s estate. He introduces himself as Bemril, and regrets to inform the party that his long-time friend Gydwyn has fallen quite ill. Having driven carriages before moving to Toramand, he offers his services. Seeing few other options, the party agrees.
Harlot, Marion, Thaelen, Tlareg, Krug, Six, and the two nameless adventurers hop into the coach of an ostentatious gothic cart lead by two Clydesdales. The interior is beautiful, but also tightly cramped with their supplies and the portrait. Bemril leaps up to the front of the cart, and they trot off with a light, picturesque snow falling in the background.
While traveling, the unnamed woman shoves her way through the entire cart, inconveniencing most, to sit next to Marion. Now rearranged, the party begins discussing recent events in Barovia. Harolt and Marion are displeased with the lack of trust and security in the nation. Thaelen is displeased with the lack of alcohol. The nameless woman is displeased her advances are going nowhere with Marion. They continue to grovel for a few more hours, until Bemril stops the cart for the evening along a frozen lake.
They begin setting up camp for the night, light a fire, and make several quick ice shelters to sleep in. Thaelen, preferring the obvious solution, hops back into the cart. He swings open the door and finds Bemril staring intently at the now uncovered portrait of Tatyana. Creeped out, he asks what is going on, “Hey buddy, you uhhh taking care of yourself in here?”
“I am simply admiring this fine portrait. I cannot explain it, but her appearance is somehow… comforting to me.”
“Alright, I see what’s going on in here. I’ll just sleep outside then.”
Hearing a scream, the wizard leaps back out, and finds the nameless woman scaring away rats from her possessions. The others find signs of rodents in their packs, and are generally disgusted. They are exhausted from the long day of sitting, and decide to catch some rest while they still can. Thaelen slips into a makeshift igloo and spoons with the nameless man for warmth.
The next day brings fair weather and a much easier journey. In the long, rolling countryside, Krug ‘n’ Krew spot a pack of foxes bouncing through the deep snow drifts in search of food. Enjoying their trip, they decide to enjoy a finer meal for lunch. The nameless woman prepares a charcuterie board and some fondue with the cheese and preserved meats Otto provided. She sits next to Marion, and asks if she likes the meal she cooked.
Marion, trying to be polite responds, “It’s nourishment enough, but not really my thing.”
“What do you mean?! This is great!”
“It’s a bit much, and not anything I’m used to. I prefer simple things over luxuries.”
Disappointed, the nameless woman gorges herself on cheese. After finishing their meal, the pack up and continue towards the tree line. Along the road, they encounter an old, decrepit windmill and hears sounds of scratching in the cart. The party stops, and discusses their options.
Tlareg sounds worried by the strange occurrence, “Where I grew up, there were stories about places like this. None of them end well. We should move on.”
Thaelen agrees in his own, unusual way, “It ain’t no thing.”
Marion and Harolt are terrified, and ask to get moving once more. Bemril asks what the commotion is, and that he only hears the creaking of the blades turning. Thaelen begins wondering what type of animal is pulling the cart. Feeling no wind and a deep sense of discomfort, the party decides to leave the area as quickly as possible.
That night, Bemril brings the cart to rest about one hundred meters from the forest’s edge. The party eats some leftover fondue and has a hushed conversation while Bemril meditates in the cart. Tlareg begins scanning the horizons, and feels Krug ‘n’ Krew is being followed.
Harolt whispers to the party, “This whole thing smells to me.”
Tlareg mutters, mostly to himself, “He came out of nowhere and probably killed the other guy.”
The nameless man agrees, “Yeah, and he’s pretty obsessed with the painting.”
“That cursed image is nothing but evil. Imagine what could have been done with that money!” Marion, for the first time, is lively and angered.
Offended, the nameless man interjects, “Count Strahd may be rich, but he keeps us safe.”
Harolt is frustrated too and jumps up, “Safe from what? There are people starving in the streets and horrors all around! We need to do something.”
Sensing the tension, Krug begins reaching for his weapon. Marion barely notices, and yells back at the party, “Destroy it! It brought that freak. It’s time we did something!”
Bemril rolls out of the cart as Harolt begins marching towards it, torch in tow. Refusing to let the property of his sovereign Count Strahd get destroyed, the nameless man casts Eldritch Blast. A fight quickly erupts.
Tlareg senses his distant foe approaching and casts Create Bonfire to reveal the shadow hound that had been stalking them. Thaelen throws an Ice Knife towards Bemril, and shards rip through the side of the cart. The rest of the party trades blows with Marion and Harolt, with the nameless man taking nearly fatal damage.
The hound charges Thaelen, and rips into his throat. Thankfully, Tlareg manages to shatter the mask binding the hound to the Prime Material Plane and rescue his comrade. Likewise, Krug and Six dispatch the two Barovian dissidents. Bemril tries to run away, but stumbles through the deep snow and surrenders immediately.
With the immediate damage gone, they force him to tell them everything. The drow explains beings like him have felt a strange bond to Barovia as of late. He moved to Toramand after his former home of Ivalion suffered the cataclysm of the last age. The strange occurrences the party has noticed are reminiscent of his ancestral home and the Shadowfel. Some have been upset by Strahd’s rule and his absence after the death of his wife. There are rumors of rebellion in the land, but Bemril promises he is not involved. He genuinely wanted to help his friend Gydwyn, and didn’t know about Harolt and Marion’s intentions.
The party debates their options, attempting to confirm or deny Bemril’s account. Tlareg acknowledges the elves, like himself, are each uniquely bound to different planes. High elves, like himself trace their ancestry to the Fey Wilds. The drow are bound to its dark mirror, the Shadowfel. Wood elves are children of the Prime Material. Wishing to learn more about the curious energies of Barovia, Thaelen casts Detect Magic.
As his eyes adjust, he sees the energies of the Fold slowly flowing around him. One of Bemril’s ring glows faintly with magic of the school of conjuration, and determines it’s related to transloacation magic. Additionally, he senses a pull of energy towards the southwest. He informs the party, and the nameless man tells them that Ravensloft is in the direction of the flow. Tlareg recalls that elemental magics follow a similar pattern, but doesn’t understand what would cause that. With more questions than answers, they decide to tentatively believe Bemril’s story until they can learn more. They temporarily bind his hands, and take their rest for the night.
The next morning, they untie Bemril and continue their journey to Cadca. While traveling through the forest, they see frozen over spider webs in strangely beautiful formations as they refract and scatter the light; however, this does not last for long. The deeper they penetrate the forest, the less and less light is available. As they cross through the other side and into Cadca, the darkness has fully settled in with an early nightfall. The unsettling feeling of being watched creeps through the party, but they continue forward.
They arrive at the manor of Childris Westerwilt, and knock for several minutes to no avail. Sensing danger with his infallible connection to the nuances of reality, Krug kicks in the door. The group immediately fans out to investigate.
The tall man and Krug rush upstairs, and find several empty bedrooms in pristine condition. The two also find Childris’s private study. The walls are covered in unusual and perverse illustrations and drawings of the human form and its inner workings. On a raised dais, they find an unusual arcane tome that walks the lines between religious and arcane magics. It is nearly incomprehensible, but they determine it will be useful to them.
The nameless woman raids the kitchen and steals the breads and cheeses Childris was keeping. She also takes a few fresh vegetables and some cooking supplies. That being said, she does leave a fine tea set that has gone cold. Tlareg helps her load the cart, but otherwise stands watch over Bemril outside.
Thaelen, believing he can find a wine cellar, leads Six downstairs. They find a few dusty bottles, and a pool of blood. Shouting to the rest of their party, the pair hold off investigating until they have aide.
Fully assembled with Bemril in tow, they pull back a curtain to Childris’s studio. There are a multitude of half-finished portraits and spilled paints. Most shocking is the brutalized corpse of Childris. His body lies in the center of a formation not unlike that found in the book the nameless man found. They investigate the scene, but find no signs of a struggle nor clues to the identity of the murderer. Bemril pleads the group to seek the aid of the Belgrave Consortium, but the group flees the scene, fearing they’ll be framed.
With the horrors behind them, they press onward to Ravensloft.