As the party slept that night in their respective quarters, strange and vivid dreams came to them in the night. Some dreamed of grasping undead hands that shot out of the ground and pulled them into the cold damp earth, while others dreamed of unspeakable tortures and vile laughter. Suffice it to say that although our hearty crew got the rest they so desired, it was not a pleasant respite. The lands of Barovia were certainly affecting the psyches of our intrepid crew. In the morning, the wagon was loaded with six barrels of the winery’s fine Red Dragon Crush, to be transported to the town of Krezk in the hopes of allowing them entry.
Saying their farewells to the Martikov family, the party leaped aboard the wagon which made its way through the early morning to the town’s gates. The villagers and guards, seeing the long overdue delivery, opened the gates and eagerly ushered the wagon and its contents inside. Tragedy struck when a barrel slipped off the wagon and rolled down the steep hill to bash against Mahel, attempting to slow its descent. As the barrel cracked, wine began to spill out, but was quickly soaked up by the guards, wrapping their thick fur cloaks around the barrel to staunch the flow of the sweet, dark liquid and sucking the juices off their fingers like starved children.
After the last barrel was offloaded, the Burgomaster again welcomed the party to the town, which was for all purposes, a commune – everything that was needed – be it wood, cloth, food, household goods – was to be taken or grown from the town. No entry or exit from Krezk by the citizens was needed or even desired. In this way, Krezk was a stalwart bulwark against the evil forces that encroached upon it in the lands beyond. Residents never leave the village for fear of being attacked by wolves, dire wolves, and werewolves. The only import that was ever needed, the Burgomaster explained, was wine, which was greatly needed to keep up the spirits of the Krezkite citizens on dark, cold nights.
The burgomaster brought the characters to his home, a modest cottage with a small plot of graves (some freshly dug) behind his house. Some of these gravestones seemed to indicate that children were buried here. Entering the house, the Burgomaster introduced the party to his wife, Anna Krezkova, a stern yet pretty middle-aged woman whose features and emotions seemed streaked with recent grief. Sitting down to a repast of meat and vegetables locally grown, the meal was interrupted by a guard reporting that a townsperson was about to give birth. Marek volunteered his services as a healer and was ushered out the door to assist. The topic of conversation then turned to the Abbey presiding above the town. The Burgomaster described the history of that place — the Abbey of Saint Markovia, once a convent and hospital, was now a haunted ruin that emanated unhuman laughter and bell tolls heard at all hours. Hundreds of years ago, the holy figure Saint Markovia and her followers attempted to overthrow Strahd. After a fierce uprising, Markovia and her most loyal followers stormed Castle Ravenloft, only to be destroyed. After that, the abbey became a fortress closed off from the rest of the world. Strahd ruthlessly preyed on the fears of the clerics and nuns holed up inside, but ultimately it was their isolation and greed that doomed them. The clergy began fighting over food and wine. Some of the clergy fell prey to Strahd, while others went mad and either starved themselves to death or turned to cannibalism. By the time their supplies ran out, they had either been killed by each other’s hands or driven hopelessly insane by Strahd’s acts of terror against them. For years afterward, the villagers of Krezk avoided the place, fearing that the abbey was cursed, haunted, or both.
Marek returned, his hands covered with blood and amniotic fluids, he recounted a harrowing experience. The Krezkite woman had given birth to a healthy baby boy, but the baby didn’t cry. Marek could see that the mother was deeply troubled, saying, “My child has no soul….”
A decision was made to stay the night in the town and journey with a barrel of wine to the Abbey in the morning, hopefully to determine if Ireena could be allowed sanctuary in that holy place. The characters parted to their own devices, some volunteering for menial tasks which would allow their hosts to give them room and board for the night. Mahel accompanied Ireena to the north of the town, as Ireena confined that she felt “drawn there.” At the north end of the town stood a crystal clear pool of sweet water, standing near a dilapidated gazebo and a statue of white wood, seemingly a shrine to the Morninglord himself. Ireena, almost as if in a trance, walked slowly to the pool’s edge as a disembodied voice called to her. As lreena reached the pool’s edge, an image appeared in its sparkling blue waters: a handsome youth of kind and noble visage. The sadness in his eyes turned to sudden joy. “Tatyana!” he says. “It has been so long! Come, my love. Let us be together at last.” lreena gasped and put a hand on her heart. “My beloved Sergei! In life, you were a prince and a man of faith. We were to be married long ago. Has this blessed pool called your spirit to me?” She reached toward the water’s surface as a hand of water rose up to take hers. Fearing a trick, Mahel intervened and pulled Ireena from this apparition. The hand sunk back into the pool, Sergei’s image faded, and Ireena wept and screamed his name. Immediately after this, dark clouds gathered overhead, and a peal of thunder shook the land. The dark clouds above coalesced into a terrible visage – Strahd himself. A deep, dark voice from beyond the mountains cried out, “She is mine!” A terrible crack resounded as blue lightning split the sky and struck the pool, blasting Mahel and Ireena and sending them flying. Lightning struck the old gazebo as well, blasting it into flinders. The wrath of Strahd was indeed great, as the clear waters of the pool now turned a sickly green-brown, any trace of purification washed away. Ireena, furious that a reunion with her long-lost love from a past life was thwarted, sobbed incessantly as Mahel stalked away, offended by Ireena’s lack of gratitude in saving her life.
The night was punctuated with cackling laughter from the Abbey, as well as a sorrowful bell which tolled at strange hours. In the morning, the group reconvened to make their trek up to the Abbey. Strapping the barrel of wine to his back, Ulfrik lugged his liquid cargo alongside his cohorts up the winding path. Reaching the summit, the party met with a horrific surprise: two monstrous sentries, each festooned with various animal parts and clearly insane. Keeping their cool, however, the PCs stated that they were there to deliver wine to the abbey. The creatures escorted them to the Abbey’s two main buildings, where they witnessed another of these creatures — this time with bat-wings and a spiderlike face — attempting to break the bonds which kept it shackled to a post in the middle of the courtyard. A frenzied cacophony ensued with Mahel’s kind offering of food to these creatures, resulting in a legion of cries of “FOOD! FOOD!” emanating from the building to the south. At this point, the Abbot himself emerged, which immediately silenced the creatures’ insane howlings. Kindly ushering the party inside, the Abbot introduced himself and welcomed the party. Gentle-sounding music trickled down from above, played on a single stringed instrument by some unseen master. The Abbot graciously offered a hearty meal of stew to the party, while his silent companion Valiska, a pale and graceful woman clothed in a tattered red dress, went to and fro attending to the characters. The characters slowly came to realize that Valiska was not alive — her pallid flesh was coated with a powderlike substance and the smell of decay was masked by a florid perfume. She also had patchlike seams that crisscrossed her body, a clear sign that her body had been ravaged by a necromantic influence. Calmly ignoring this, and unsure as to the Abbot’s trustworthiness, they implored the Abbot to take Ireena into his custody and holy influence. As a matter of quid pro quo, the Abbot asked the characters to help him find a bridal gown…. for Valiska. Inquiring further, Leowen asked the Abbot for a tour of the Abbey proper. The Abbot agreed and called for the figure playing music above to begin the tour…. at which point, Ezmerelda descended the staircase. Mahel, horrified, intoned to her, “But…. He’s creepy! Why?”