I sometimes wonder why I continue to write these notes to you. I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll ever be able to resume my journey to find you. Indeed, I am unsure even if you yet live. But my hope and my belief that we will one day be reconnected keeps me going, so I will continue to put my thoughts and experiences to paper so that, upon our reunion, I can share them with you.
Anyway, I was telling you about my investigation into the missing bones of St. Andril.
We went to the coffin maker, Henrik Van Der Voort’s shop. Although reluctant, to put it mildly, he did allow us entry. Pallas successfully located the stolen relics, and in the attic, we found several crates, which, after a moment, burst open when the vampire spawn therein emerged to attack us! We engaged these undead fiends with the intent of destroying them. So filled was I with righteous zeal, that I did not notice that the others of my party had chosen to retreat rather than fight. Pallas was yelling something about setting the building ablaze so that fire might do what needed to be done. She started conjuring fire in various spots around the room, which quickly spread along the floor and walls. Clearly, I did not join in the general retreat quickly enough to suit her and as punishment, she started another fire behind me in the stairwell, cutting off my only exit. With danger now on both sides of me, I was forced to abandon my fight with the spawn and throw myself through the flames or risk certain death as the building was consumed around me.
On the one hand, her approach seems to have worked. The building was completely destroyed in the inferno. On the other hand, the town authorities took an unfavorable view of a group of strangers committing arson in their community. We were lucky they only banished us.
Having been kicked out of Vallaki following the arson incident, our company was contacted by agents of a Lady Wachter of Vallaki. She offered to assist us in returning to the town in exchange for our help with some political maneuvers she had in mind involving deposing the current Burgomeister. Well, without getting too into the details of local politics, the Burgomeister did seem to be abusing his position, so we thought it worth listening to the Lady’s proposal.
But first, her agents, the Martikovs (who run the region’s only winery as well as run the inn in Vallaki) required that we aid in restoring the winery, The Wizard of Wines, to operation. It turned out that wine production had stopped because some evil nature worshipers had stolen some magic that facilitated the growth of the wine grapes. We had to not only defeat these druids and the foul blights that they’d created at the winery itself, but recover the magic that had been stolen. Our band, whatever faults we may possess, has proven to be quite adept at fighting. Not only did we destroy many foul corruptions of nature, but we recovered some powerful magic weapons with Dahl and Durum will put to good use. AND, let me not fail to note, we encountered Strahd von Zarovich. He was present as these druids attempted to complete a foul ritual, the intent of which will remain as unknown as the goal is unrealized. At this point, Strahd did not seek to engage our band. He did cast a spell or two, but it felt more like he was toying with us, testing us, or merely unconcerned about our presence. After a few moments, he departed.
The winery now restored to its rightful owners, the Martikovs (did I mention they’re were-ravens? No? They’re were-ravens.), we regained entry to Vallaki by concealing ourselves in the wagon delivering a shipment of wine for the next in a long string of festivals organized by Burgomeister Vallakovich. We met with Lady Wachter and she told us about the Burgomeister’s erratic and abusive behavior and policies, and we learned that his chief enforcer was Izak Strazni, a brute with a demonic looking arm. Dahl was keen to investigate a carnival wagon we’d seen days earlier when we were being ejected from town. He recalled something from the fortune reading that the company had received from Madam Eva of the Vistani.
We made our way towards the location of the wagon, but came upon the town square where the latest of the Burgomeister’s happiness festivals was taking place. Only moments into the proceedings, we heard screams and commotion coming from a block away. A large tiger had wandered into the area! The assembled townsfolk scattered in all directions. The tiger actually seemed nonthreatening. Some of our party followed it at a distance as it walked through town and ultimately out the western gate.
Meanwhile, Dahl and I thought it a good idea to see if we could take advantage of the chaos to investigate the Burgomeister’s residence, find this Strazni, and ‘convince’ him to cease his abusive ways. We found the place with little trouble and stealthily made our way around back and in through a rear entrance.
I can imagine you having a good laugh now, dear brother. Yes, I, your rule-following, law-abiding little brother, was willingly breaking into a private home, assisted by a paladin of Oghma no less! Desperate times? I admit that I am coming to see a certain wisdom in your approach to life.
In any case, we made our way silently up the back staircase of the home, and found the Burgomeister in his study. We quickly subdued him, without injuring him, I might add, and learned that Strazni was indeed in residence, just across the hall.
Again, we carefully approached our intended destination, but there would be no reasoning, or even discussion with this brute. It was a short, intense fight, that left the ‘sherrif’ of Vallaki dead. One exceptionally peculiar thing about the man’s chambers; there were dozens, DOZENS, of dolls displayed around the room, all bearing the same countenance; that of Ireena Kolyana!
The rest of our company rejoined us at the house. Pallas sat the Burgomeister and his wife down and laid out how things were going to change in Vallaki. No longer would the leader be allowed to mistreat the people. Lady Wachter was eager to take his place, and without Strazni around, there was little to stop her from doing so. Pallas was convincing…. sort of. As least we think that things will improve. Little did we know then that Lady Wachter might actually be worse. More on that in a moment.
We also learned that the Vallakoviches had a son, Viktor who spent all his time in the attic of the home. While I stayed with the couple, and Durum passed out in the living room (he’d found some genuine ale after all), Pallas, Dahl, and Zora went to search the attic and make sure the son understood the new order. It was in the attic that the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind was discovered. This was MOST fortuitous. As I mentioned before, our ultimate victory over Strahd may depend on this wondrous artifact.
Viktor, it turns out, has some affinity for arcane casting. Although he seems a sullen, moody youth (can it truly be that he is but one year younger than I?), Pallas felt it would be dangerous to leave him unsupervised. As such, she offered to take him on as an apprentice. Despite his mother’s objecting, Viktor accepted. He will be coming with us.
We also found time to finally investigate the carnival wagon. The wagon belongs to a man named Rictavio, and it was his tiger that was loosed as a joke (by mischievous, thuggish children of the Lady Wachter) upon Vallaki. Zora searched the wagon and found therein a journal written centuries ago by Strahd himself! Ansgar, I think that devil may have included hints in those pages as to how he might be defeated.
That night, Strahd attacked.
Upon hearing a commotion in the middle of the night, we rushed through the town to find Strahd and a host of wolves and zombies attacking the church; he was calling for Ireena to come to him. Our fighting prowess was on full display that night! Not only did we quickly deal with the devil’s minions, but Zora did something that actually caused Strahd to flee! What ho! This may not be as difficult as we’ve been led to believe!
In spite of this, it seems quite clear that Vallaki is not safe from Strahd. Not only is he able to come and go as he pleases, Lady Wachter turns out to be a supporter and sympathizer! If we are to keep Ireena from harm, we’ll have to find somewhere else. We have three options before us. Travel further west to the fortified town of Kresk, try the Amber Temple just outside of Kresk, or the ruins of a castle, Argynvostholt. We asked Urwin Martikov for some additional information about our three choices, which he was happy to provide. We decided to test our luck with Argynvostholt as it is the closest.
We ask Ireena and Ismark what they would like to do, stay in Vallaki, or accompany us to the ruins. They opt to come with us.
Oh, here’s the story on Lady Wachter. Yesterday (the day after Strahd’s attack), we’re tying up loose ends in Vallaki and one of those loose ends is to get back to the Lady about her request to depose the Burgomeister. We were all arrayed in her sitting room, listening with growing shock and dismay to Lady Wachter tell us how acceding to Strahd’s rule is better for all, when Dahl sensed evil coming from the basement. He and I excused ourselves from the room under the pretense of having to use the privy. Sadly, we are not especially skilled in deception, so we were unable to proceed surreptitiously. Dahl has a straightforward way about him and upon this occasion was not at all worried about what anyone might think. Without any pretense, he went right for the basement and I went with him. We had but a moment to look around when suddenly, eight or more skeletons clawed and crawled their way out of the ground beneath and around us. The rest of our group, along with Lady Wachter was making their way to the basement by this time, and together, our party made short work of these undead. Without even a second to catch our breath, a secret door opened up and we found a group of five cultists. They presented no challenge whatsoever, and we kept one alive for questioning. But Lady Wachter had other plans. She muttered an incantation that snuffed out the life from the last cultist. She claimed the cultists must have been intruders, but she was obviously lying. Pallas enchanted the woman and tried to get some answers from her new ‘friend’, but even in her charmed state, the Lady Wachter is a politician. Apparently, she has no friends that she trusts with the truth of things. Despite her obvious deception, we didn’t feel we had cause, or right, to punish the woman in any way, so we left her. So you see, brother, not only is Strahd a threat on his own, but he has supporters in town. No, it would no longer be safe there at all.
So, bright and early this morning, our group (Dahl, Pallas, Durum, Zora, Ireena, Ismark, Viktor, and myself) departed for Argynvostholt. It took but half a day to get here. We managed to make our way inside, and have defeated a few ghostly apparitions that opposed us. One spirit, ‘friendlier’ than most, is intelligent and took the time to speak with us. He conveyed much of the history of the place, and of Barovia. This shade told us that souls that perish in Barovia are trapped here, unable to travel on to their final resting place. This is abhorrent! It cannot be allowed to stand. Brother, I borrow from Dahl’s book when I now swear an oath that this evil must end! While the rest of the group goes off in search of another ghost here that was the commander of this company of paladins while they lived, I am staying behind with Ireena and Ismark. I hope to have more good news when next I find time to write.