Curse of Strahd

Welcome to Castle Ravenloft

The thing that was once Marek Spindlepin lifted itself from the red marble floor. It no longer breathed, and the cold no longer hampered it. It wriggled out of its fur-lined clothing like a snake sheds its skin, revealing a skeletal frame only barely covered with a thin layer of muscle and desiccated flesh that clung in ragged patches. Looking around, the skeletal being gazed longingly at its form, unaware (or uncaring) of the horror that it would emit on living beings. All feelings not of self-preservation, greed or hunger for power were stricken from its mind. And it felt… good. Marek… that was my name. Yes…. it thought. It looked down at the rest of the pitiful accoutrements of good that it had surrounded itself with. Those will have to go, it thought. Power. All that remains is power. With a terrifying ease, Marek opened the stone wall and glided through the hole. Looking to the side of the corridor, it saw the sleeping form of a human, horribly burned on one side of his face, and shivering violently in the stark cold of the temple. That must be Vilnius. He may still be of use, Marek thought. He returned to the Amber Sarcophagi in which resided the Vestige of Tenebrous and, touching it, made supplication to his new god. Although Tenebrous did not take form in his consciousness, from deep within the amber rock, a feeling of contentment emanated. Tenebrous was pleased with his new servant…

On his way to the entrance of the temple, Marek heard a powerful thrumming sound from behind one of the doors nearby. Not one to run into a potentially dangerous situation without first knowing more, Marek decided to wake the sleeping Vilnius and enlist his servitude in return for escape. After all, he thought, Vilnius (and his pet quasit) is a weak willed fool, and could be useful as fodder for whatever eldritch horrors still reside here. Vilnius, eager to be led from the temple, gladly accepted Marek’s offer based on their previous agreement. Vilnius opened the door and exposed a swirling whirlpool of energy in the shape of an door. Clearly, this was a portal — to where, he had no idea, but it was clearly a way out. “Go through,” Marek instructed Vilnius. Begrudgingly, Vilnius scampered through the portal and vanished. Marek then messaged him to see if he survived the passage. “I’m all wet,” came the whining response. “But I’m alive.” If he had breath to sigh, he would have spent it. Insipid fool, he thought. Marek stepped through the portal…

Mahel, Ulfrik, Velikov and Ismark awoke to a cold, gloomy day in the town of Krezk. Their rests had been adequate, and although the mists, ever-present in this land, had chilled them to the bone as they exited their abodes, the hope instilled in their beings gave them a vigor that they hadn’t felt for many weeks. It was time. Time to meet up with Marek, and finish what they had been brought into so long ago. It was time to confront Strahd and to stop the unholy union of him and his bride-to-be, Ireena. They could only hope it wasn’t already too late. Well, Mahel thought sardonically, we’d better get dressed up if we’re going to a wedding. She made her way to a nearby tailor’s shop, and bargained with the tailor for alterations to a purplish dress that she had obtained earlier that day (along with accompanying male formal attire) from the burgomaster and his wife, Anna Krezkova. Anna was distraught and the Burgomaster asked Mahel ask a favor to relieve her of her sorrow. So, Mahel did what she knew would work – she hid outside and then cast Hideous Laughter on her, causing her to erupt in laughter. In return, the burgomaster gave Mahel several old suits that no longer fit him. Once she had calmed down from her laughing fit, Anna Krezkova felt relieved of her malaise, and similarly donated an old dress to Mahel. Mahel asked the tailor to take it in (Mahel was shorter than the lanky Anna Krezkova) and for the extra material to be made into a smaller dress – for a diminutive friend of hers… The tailor, knowing of the group’s deeds obtaining wine and bringing it to the town, charged Mahel nothing in services (Krezk was a commune and did not believe in the use of money for service) but only that he would have the work finished before the end of the day. Mahel walked the path to the ruins of the Shrine of the White Sun, where the Morninglord and Saint Markovia were once worshipped. Now, due to Strahd’s power, it was nothing more than flinders and blackened ruin. The once pristine waters of the nearby pool in which Sergei, the spirit of Strahd’s murdered brother, had apparated, were now covered with a greenish film and the waters were dank and foul. Now alone, she thought despairingly that much of what had happened in recent weeks might have been her fault – in her fear of a trap, she had stopped Ireena from reuniting with Sergei’s spirit, who seemed to have been resident in the once holy waters of this pool. Sadly, she reached down to dip her fingers in the water, and cast message. She hoped that she might contact whatever was left of the spirit of Sergei – perhaps he could offer a glimmer of hope in the dark days ahead. Unfortunately, there was no response…

(Camera pans down to the dark water, jump cut to:)

Marek landed with a splash in deep murky water which receded over his head. It was a good thing that Marek no longer drew breath or he would be drowning. His red eyes glowed under the surface of the water, and he now saw that he was in a small stone walled cell, barred with bands of iron, filled with five feet of dank water. He floated to the surface and saw that his cellmate, Vilnius, was tugging on the bars, to no avail. Their cell faced another cell across a flooded hallway, and there seemed to be more cells attached to theirs to their immediate left. A mold-covered ceiling hung three feet above the still, black water that filled this dungeon corridor. Shackled to the back wall of their cell was an emaciated figure in a blue robe, its spindly arms spread wide and its head tilted forward. Long, gray hair hung down in front of the dead man’s face. Wonderful, Marek thought. Out of the frying pan… Vilnius let loose his quasit, who flitted down to the other end of the hallway, but then once out of sight, gave a horrifying shriek. A crunching, slobbering sound could be heard. Something was in the cells with them. “Hello…?” Vilnius croaked in fear. A gruff, throaty male voice responded, “Who’s there?” Marek began to converse with this person, who turned out to be a prisoner at the other end of the cell block. Marek said that he would free him, on the condition that he would help them escape. Vilnius misty stepped out from the cell, and Marek (after many attempts) picked the lock to his cell with a spare dagger. Wading through the water, he saw a horrifying sight (at least for most mortals): pounded into the roof of the cell was a rusted iron pulley, strung through which was a rope tied to one of the crossbeams of the barred cell door. Dangling upside down from the pulley was a man, flabby and stout of build, in tight-fitting leather armor. His boots were bound with rope just below the pulley, his fleshy hands tied behind his back, and his head underwater. He wasn’t moving. Clearly this man was tortured and then drowned – a terrible way to die. Marek waded down to the prisoner’s cell. He was an almost-starved young human male with dusky brown skin, struggling to keep his teeth from chattering, his clothes shredded, and soaked from head to toe. He claimed to be a resident of Vallaki who was chased by dire wolves to the castle. Marek used his dagger and once again picked the lock on the prisoner’s cell. Once freed, the three of them waded up the hall and forced open the door to the prison block. “Where is here?” Vilnius asked the young man as the door opened with a sloshing groan. The door opened into an arched hallway filled with black, still water. The water’s surface was like dark, mirrored glass, disturbed only occasionally by the “thwick” of a drop falling from the ceiling. Twenty feet ahead, arched doorways led downward from each side of the hallway. In the arched doorway ahead, an iron door stood closed and partially submerged. The answer was obvious even before the young man answered him. “You’re in the dungeons of Castle Ravenloft,” the man said with a throaty cough. Vilnius gave a whimper and a low moan. Marek, meanwhile, curious of his surroundings, waded through the hallway of water, stepping gingerly on its slimy stone walkway. It was difficult to see here – so much dirt, detritus and filth was floating in the murky water. He took a tentative step, and an explosion of air and water flew up around him. Marek suddenly disappeared, leaving only a slowly dissipating swirl in the water. Vilnius and the young man stared in disbelief. Marek’s vision cleared after a moment, and he surfaced. He found himself transported to behind the bars of yet another cell. If I still had eyes, he thought, I’d be rolling them now. He got to work picking the lock of his new cell. Then, something behind him in the cell started to glow….

Back in Krezk, Mahel got her dress (and Marek’s) and the formal attire fitted for the boys. Coming back to the town square, Mahel said to Ulfrik that she had to wait for Marek down at Luna Lake, as she had promised. Ulfrik argued that they could not afford any detours; it was time to go the castle – they had to confront Strahd, Marek or no Marek. A little boy, one of those who was rescued from the werewolf den, ran up to Ulfrik and said that something strange was at the main gate: a black carriage. Mahel was insistent that she would not be drawn into a trap and that she had to wait for Marek to make sure he was still OK. At Velikov and Ismark’s urging, however, she convalesced that she would run along side to make sure they’d reach the crossroads, where she could then disembark and meet Marek south at Luna Lake. Boarding the carriage, they said goodbye to the burgomaster and his wife (and her newly adopted children), and it took off, Velikov inside, Ulfrik at the driver’s seat, and Ismark jogging behind Mahel, trying to keep up as best he could. Once the carriage reached the Raven River Crossroads, Ulfrik pulled on the reins, trying to stop the carriage — but the horses wouldn’t stop. Mahel freaked out, and shot one of the horses with her shortbow, which, dying and falling in a ditch alongside the road, took the other horse attached to it down, and caused it to break both its front legs. The still living horse began to shriek in agony. Mahel grimaced and put it out of its misery with a dagger to the throat. The carriage was now halfway in a ditch, with two dead horses attached to it. The group began to argue loudly about what to do next as the skies above them began to darken. Even Mahel got frustrated and started to yell to the heavens, perhaps to the powers that be, perhaps to Strahd himself. Then, almost as if in return, a voice that sounded just like Marek messaged Mahel in her head, saying, "Not at Luna Lake. Now in Castle Ravenloft. Come soon." This spurred Mahel to re-evaluate her direction to the Castle, brought there by carriage or no. Velikov attempted to get out of the conveyance but the doors of the carriage wouldn’t open – Velikov was now locked inside. Then, they heard a noise. An awful noise. The four slowly turned to the source of the noise: the horses. Bones cracked and sinews creaked as the horses (now zombified) slowly got up out of the ditch, and soundlessly began to assume their position back on the road to draw the carriage once again. Completely freaked out, but knowing a good thing when they saw it, Mahel and Ulfrik jumped on the carriage’s top (Ismark clinging to the rear) and it took off like a rocket, the zombie horses racing towards Vallaki. The guards at the western gate of Vallaki recognized Strahd’s carriage right away and immediately opened the gates. The carriage raced through town, passersby remarking in fear as to who was unlucky enough to be inside, some outright screaming and running away. The carriage reached the eastern gate, which was similarly opened and it streaked past, the horses racing along hairpin turns and high escarpments to the Gates of Barovia which were ominously open. The carriage passed through and instead of veering south, it took the cobblestone road east towards the Castle, as the dark grey sky above deepened into a torrent of wind and rain. Lightning struck around them as a hulking grey shape appeared on the horizon – the Castle itself. The carriage raced at breakneck speed towards the castle entrance but the drawbridge was up! A 1000 foot drop loomed nearer and nearer, the party terrified, and Ulfrik readied himself to jump. At the absolute last second, the massive wood and steel drawbridge fell with a thud and the carriage drove across, passing under a huge stone archway that connected to 80 foot walls into the inner courtyard. The carriage slowed as it reached the main courtyard, the rain pelting down. Ulfrik and Mahel disembarked, and Velikov opened the door to the carriage. Ismark, however, was nowhere to be seen. Did he fall off the back? Where did he go and when? The noise of clopping hoofprints echoed through the entryway as the carriage exited, leaving the three in the pouring rain. The main doors to the castle were open, inviting them inside with the warm orange glow of torch light. Trying to keep herself (and her new dress) from getting soaked, Mahel ran to the safety of the open doors, through which the sound of organ music, haunting and despondent, could be heard from somewhere inside the castle. Ulfrik and Velikov followed, passing through ancient wooden doors into a vast cobwebbed hall with stone gargoyles peering at them from high above. The music was louder now. Mahel suggested to Velikov that he go find his sister. Velikov cast invisibility on himself and puttered off down a nearby stairwell. Ulfrik unsheathed the Sunsword, shining brilliant light amidst the darkness and dust, and moved closer to the room where the organ music was seemingly coming from. Then, he opened the door…

Three enormous crystal chandeliers brilliantly illuminated this magnificent chamber. Pillars of stone stood against dull white marble walls, supporting the ceiling. In the center of the room, a long, heavy table was covered with a fine white satin cloth. The table was laden with many delectable foods: roasted beast basted in a savory sauce, roots and herbs of every taste, and sweet fruits and vegetables. Places were set for each member of the party with fine, delicate china and silver. At each place was a crystal goblet filled with an amber liquid with a delicate, tantalizing fragrance. At the center of the far west wall, between floor-to-ceiling mirrors, stood a massive organ. Its pipes blared out a thunderous melody that spoke in its tone of greatness and despair. Seated at the organ, facing away from Mahel and Ulfrik, a single caped figure pounded the keys in raptured ecstasy. At their approach, the figure suddenly stopped, and as a deep silence fell upon the dining hall, as it slowly turned towards them….

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mattgordon

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