Curse of Strahd

Dearly Beloved

“Ladies! How YOU doin’?” Marek intoned in a flirty manner.

The brides of Strahd, though once lovely in life, now held nothing but horror for those that beheld them. Perhaps for Marek, the promise of unlife realized, there were worse thigns than undead females that looked voluptuous even brimming with evil. Ulfrik unsheathed the Sunsword, spilling pure sunlight into the darkened crypt. The brides reeled and hissed with fury, their pure white skin already starting to bubble and sear. In a rage, one of the brides, a tall female with a curious mask made from bone, leaped through the air and fastened herself onto Vilnius, knocking him down. She grabbed his head with a steely grip and drove her face into his exposed neck as he screamed with fear. Her fangs sunk into his neck and a massive gout of blood spewed forth, painting the nearby wall. Vilnius’s hands shot up in pain and he gave a single cry of agony. And then… nothing. He was dead. These vampires were not simple spawns. They were old, powerful, and immensely cruel. “As one! NOWWW!” Ulfrik cried and the group launched into a coordinated attack against the three vampires. While Van Richten and Emil cornered one bride, Ulfrik faced off against another, a tall, red haired female with a soiled purple gown and black eyes. She hissed as the sunlight enclosed her, and her once pale skin began to blacken and burn. Ulfrik slashed and spun, wounding the redhaired female and then, slamming her against the wall with a powerful body check, speared her through the chest. Then he swiveled and decapitated her. The dark skinned female was next to go. While Van Richten swiped at her with his newly acquired shortsword, Mahel and Emil skewered her with their sword and spear, allowing Marek to blast her with a chill touch. The undead foe could not withstand such an attack and turned to ash before them, a look of peace on her face. Last but not least was the masked vampire bride. She was lithe and agile, leaping around the room and lashing out with her claws and fangs. The group encircled her, leaving her no room to run, and their combined numbers and might utterly overwhelmed her. Ulfrik dodged a ragged claw attack, ducked under and lanced out with the sunsword, eviscerating the masked foe. The mask slowly slipped off as she turned to ash, revealing the top portion of her face had been scarred and burned long ago, and yet it remained in her undead state. Ulfrik felt a tinge of pity. Mahel backed away from the remains of these creatures, and plastered herself against one of the three statues. And then… she was in a different place. She was surrounded by low, bricked in walls, and the ceiling… was moving. She slowly glanced up and saw that the ceiling was covered with a blanket of bats. Thousands of bats. Wary of these creatures, she slowly moved to a nearby stairwell where she heard a set of boots coming down in her direction. The figure turned visible – it was Kasimir Velikov! He glanced at a gem he held in his palm, which was pulsing with a purple glow.

“Kasimir!” Mahel whisper-shouted, causing Velikov to jump in fright. “What are you doing down here?”

“Looking for my sister,” he returned. “This gem says she’s down here.” Mahel glanced at the glowing gem, which seemed to glow brighter as Velikov walked deeper into the catacombs. It worked as some kind of divining rod, showing the way to his sister’s tomb. Velikov and Mahel approached a tomb with the name “Patrina Velikovna – Bride”, the door fastened shut. Velikov pried open the door, and using the brightly glowing gem, looked inside. A spectral apparition lashed out of the open doorway, throwing Velikov tumbling along the fog enshrouded floor! A banshee! Knowing full well what form Velikov’s sister had become in her undeath, Mahel knew that she had to distract it somehow. She cast mirror image on herself and started to gesture wildly. The troubled spirit locked its eyes on one of the images and started to float aggressively towards her. Mahel, fearing for her life, saw the female elf’s corpse still ensconced in the tomb and knew what had to be done. She screamed at the sprawling form of the dusk elf. “Velikov! Do it! Raise her! Now!” Velikov lifted himself up, and sprinted towards the open door of the tomb as the banshee prepared to scream with anguish and fury….

Hearing Mahel’s voice (and upon looking, not finding Mahel in the room), the group immediately halted their brief respite and raised the lever to open the portcullis. After a short search, they found the source of the yelling: Mahel. And nearby, sitting on the ground, Kasimir Velikov. But not as they remembered. Kasimir’s flesh looked desiccated, almost see-through. Something horrible had happened to him here in this castle. And finally, a new figure – an elven woman looking longingly at her dusky skin.

“Alive. I’m… I’m alive,” she whispered.

“Patrina,” Velikov murmured. “I brought you back, dearest sister.”

Patrina’s face was a mask of hatred as she stared at him. “My little brother. Kasimir the Lesser. How apt that you were the one to bring me back to the world of the living, since it was you and your followers that killed me!” She slapped him across the face and spat upon him.

“What?” Mahel stammered. “What do you mean?”

Patrina was furious with self-righteousness. “This impudent dusk elf couldn’t stand the fact that I fell in love with the dark lord himself and saw our existence together as an affront to our race. So he and his followers took it upon themselves to stone me to death.”

“For which our entire race suffered the loss of all of its females at the hand of Strahd and his chamberlain, Rahadin,” Velikov croaked.

Patrina crossed her arms and looked at the withered form of her brother. “If you were not the only family I have left, you would be ashes under my boot. Blast! Where’s my book! You would think you would have buried it with me.” Velikov looked distraught and humiliated. Patrina, on the other hand, wasted no time. She started to root through her tomb, presumably for her spellbook. Mahel, always eager to help a fellow female elf, produced Mordenkainen’s spellbook and handed it over to her. “Splendid,” Patrina said sweetly and smiled.

Marek, meanwhile was bored to tears. He saw a nearby crypt with the words “Pidlwick – Fool of Dorfiya” and grimaced. He thought, ugh, that horrid creature. If I had spit, it would be on him. Next to that crypt, he saw another one with an open door, which was mysteriously inscribed with, “PASS NOT THESE PORTALS YE FOOLISH MORTALS.” Marek, knowing himself to be no longer mortal, walked inside… and found himself teleported back to Strahd’s crypt. He wandered over to the coffin, opened it (to find Strahd not inside) and inscribed “Marek was here” in the soil that lined the vampire’s resting place. Then he walked back to the group, looking oddly bemused.

Moving slowly through the crypts, they heard the sounds of voices coming from the north… and stumbled upon a most unholy wedding ceremony. White marble steps descended to a tomb that had a vaulted ceiling thirty feet overhead. A stillness – a calm amid the storm – was here. In the center of the tomb, a white marble slab supported an intricately inlaid coffin. Chiseled into the slab was a name: Sergei von Zarovich. To the north, behind the coffin, were three alcoves. A beautifully carved statue stood in each alcove – a stunning young man flanked by two angels – looking as polished and new as the day each was placed there. An iron lever protruded from the south wall, west of the tomb’s entrance. Standing in front of the slab on which the coffin was placed were three figures: Ireena, looking weak and pale, her clothes bedraggled and her face without emotion under matted and bloodied auburn hair; Strahd himself, who stood beside her, holding Ireena proudly (yet tenderly) by the hand; and between them, the Baron of Vallaki, who held some kind of book with a nervous look on his sweaty pink face. Strahd slowly turned to the party and smiled.

“Look at you, with your soft faces all in a row like sheep at a butcher’s. Tatyana is mine. She has always been mine. You try to protect her from me, because you fear her destiny, a destiny that you work to deny her from, but which leaves you trembling with a sense of inadequacy. It is your fear that makes you weak. You shall fail. You think me powerless with your totems and your trinkets. These serve only to keep me at bay, to keep me from killing all of you in the blink of an eye. You think you can kill me? HAHAH! I, who commanded nations hundreds of years before you were born? I laugh at all of you. You and your typical mortal inadequacies. Ulfrik, with your puerile wish to be nothing more than a ravenous beast. Pitiful. Mahel, who trusts not those who care for you, and yet shows pity for those same weak, helpless mortal souls. They are naught but insects, crawling in my earth. Marek. You showed promise. You chose the dark path, as I did long ago. But for what? Greatness? Knowledge? Power? Hah! You know nothing of true power! And my old friend, Van Richten, with your so-called faith. Your faith could not save your family. Your faith could not save…. her.”

As he said this, Ezmerelda D’Avenir appeared from behind Strahd and walked beside him. But she was not as before. She was pale, with long sharp fangs which poked out from under her top lip. Her eyes, once warm and brown, now glowed red. However, her face showed sadness and sorrow. Van Richten began to shake with grief and fury. Strahd, paying him no heed, continued.

“Fools, all of you. No matter what happens in this infinitesimal speck of time, know that I will always be. None have stood against me and lived. Long after you are forgotten dust, I shall still walk this plane and rule over it! And you, you think to kill me, who Death himself could not overtake? I am the Ancient. I am the land!”

As he screamed this furious statement, massive cracks broke through the ancient stone walls of the castle. First one, then two, then thousands of bats poured forth through the wall, heavily obscuring everything in the room. Even the light of the Sunsword was diminished from the intensity of their numbers. Patrina and Marek began to cast spells to ward off these vats, but found that the area in which they stood had some sort of anti-magic ward as their spells seemed ineffective. Clearly, the lord of Barovia wanted this fight on his terms, not theirs. Strahd gestured, then vanished amid the swarms of bats. From behind him, Marek’s shadow stretched and lengthened, then fully detached from the lich’s form, rising up to its full height as Marek turned to face it…

Van Richten saw Ezmerelda stalking towards them and shouted, “Ezmerelda! No you must resist!” Ezmerelda, with a look of sorrow on her face, simply said, “I’m sorry,” and unsheathed her magical rapier and handaxe. In response, Van Richten cast Protection from Evil on Ulfrik, who unrepentant, struck out at Ezmerelda. Ezmerelda blocked the sunsword with her own weapon, and sunk her sword into Ulfrik, draining his life with her sword. At the same time, the shadow latched onto Marek and started draining his (albeit undead) strength. Mahel, seeing that something drastic had to be done, ran into the crypt and charmed Ireena and the Baron, hoping to have them run from this place of horror and death. And that’s when she felt the eyes of the Count on her from above…

A cold hand, as strong as steel and invisible, swatted Mahel away with immense strength. Mahel flew across the room and smashed into the wall, bleeding heavily from her head. Her unconsciousness clear, the charm effect dissipated. Ulfrik found his second wind and continued to defend himself against the relentless attacks of his former ally. Velikov rushed into the tomb and cast ice storm to hopefully get rid of many of the swarming bats. The spell’s cold eruptions turned Strahd visible for a second, but unfortunately the balls of hail slammed into Mahel’s unconscious body, further pushing her towards the waiting arms of death. Strahd grabbed the werewolf Emil and with preternatural strength, lifted him off the ground. The invisible vampire lord clearly readied to bite him and drain his life essence. Patrina, however, was a woman scorned. She had seen that she had been replaced by another, and her blazing rage against her former lover was real. She cast disintegrate on Strahd’s invisible form, which connected with a horrific ripping noise, blasting him with greenish energy which sizzled. She then cast a globe of Invulnerability on herself and smirked. Van Richten used his shortsword to dissipate Marek’s shadowy foe, in that Marek found his own shadow re-attached to his body.

Mahel’s vision clouded, and she started to see a bright light, leading her away from this place of torment, a place where her clan would accept her and love her again… and then, when she was almost released, the looming face of Strahd appeared before her, and the light was extinguished. She heard his low, soothing voice, purr to her, “Flesh of my flesh. Blood of my blood. Kin of my kin. Death of my death. My bountiful wine press. My bride. This life is no longer than the space between two heart beats, I give you eternity. Come into the night, the darkness.” With that, he tore at his wrist with his fangs, and forced the ensuing blood down her throat – using this as a way to both revive her and charm her. Mahel’s elven will had been successfully overpowered by the evil of Strahd. In her mind, she heard his voice, telling her to kill… Ulfrik.

Marek cast spirit guardians, and the torrent of spiritual energy felled even more bats. Their tiny corpses covered the floor, and the air began to clear. Patrina began to machine-gun Strahd with magic missiles as she attempted to defend himself with his long black cloak. Ezmerelda, turned away from Ulfrik and grabbed the prone body of the werewolf Emil. Hoisting his feral form off the floor, she simply said, “I’m so sorry,” and drove her sword through his eye. Marek grimaced but felt no sorrow at the loss of his companion. Ulfrik felt the loss of his lycanthropic brethren, and hastened to end this foul fiend’s unlife. She was no longer Ezmerelda, she was the enemy!

Mahel rose from the floor, the taste of Strahd’s blood still fresh on her lips. Kill Ulfrik, she thought. Yes. She took Al out from under her tunic and cast her last contagion spell through him as she heaved him at Ulfrik. Ulfrik dived out of the way as Albreth hit the wall, a greenish mist dissipating from the skeletal creature.

Van Richten dodged the still invisble Strahd’s attack and wheeled around to slice at the vampire’s form with his magic shortsword given to him by Marek. Strahd slammed him with his iron fist and Van Richten fell. Strahd’s voice echoed through the room. “And now, old man, you will die. Ezmerelda, please dispatch of him.” Ezmerelda stood over Van Richten, her rapier at her old mentor’s throat as he weeped before her. “I cannot,” she cried, and a single bloody tear fell from her face. Ulfrik took this opportunity to step forward and impales her on the sunsword. Ezmerelda had a final look of peace then turned to ash. And then, at that moment, the bats cleared and the sunsword flickered into sunlight. And Strahd appeared, hissing and burning.

Ulfrik swung with all his remaining might at the newly revealed (and very pissed) Strahd, the sunlight streaming from the sword hissing into his flesh. Strahd grabbed Ulfrik by the throat, hoisted him up and swatted him down. The blow was too much – Ulfrik fell unconscious, bleeding drastically. The sunsword fell to the floor and the sunlight went out like a lamp. Albreth grabbed it, and shoved it down his gullet. Strahd screamed, “You will all drown in blood!” Marek stepped forwards, reveaing the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. Calmly he said, “Not today.” He slammed the crystal embedded in of the symbol against the wall. Only, it didn’t break. Strahd laughed evilly and closed in on Marek, his fangs exposed. Marek jumped up and crashed down on the amulet, shattering it. Sunlight streamed from the broken holy symbol. Strahd screamed with anger and fear and fled from the room, turning into a greenish mist. Marek sighed with relief, saying, “I’ll get you next time, my friend.” Then he turned to Ireena. Wordlessly, he cast his chill touch spell on her, killing her instantly. Ireena collapsed, but seemed finally at peace, free from the horrors of this realm. Throughout the castle, the insane fury of Strahd could be felt. “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” Hearing a voice that rattled the very walls of the Pillarstone of Ravenloft itself, the Baron ran shrieking from the room.

Van Richten, heavily wounded, chased his quarry through the catacombs, as did Patrina. Mahel hid in a nearby crypt, still hearing the commands of her master to protect him. She saw a nearby crypt: “Artank Swilovich: Friend and member of the Barovian Wine Distillers Guild.” This was as good a place to hide this blasted weapon as any. As she opened the crypt door, she was greeted by the faint smell of wine. A skeleton draped in rags lay atop a marble slab in the center of the crypt. Heaped around it, covering the entire floor, were thousands of empty wine bottles. She took the sunsword and hid it in the wine crypt. Marek quickly found her and asked if she had the sword. Mahel, still under Strahd’s influence, lied and said that she hid it in a crypt to the west. Marek saw through her lie and calculated where the sword hilt would be. He opened the nearby crypt and shed a non-existent tear for all the wine wasted. With an audible sigh, he grabbed the sword and ran to the south, chasing after the vampire lord.

Ulfrik was dying, for possibly the last time. In his death throes, he saw his brother, running through the forest. He was happy to call him Little Wolf no longer – he could now be called Great Wolf. But now was not his time. He must fight! The tattoo on his skin that told him of his fate burned away and wakened Ulfrik from his torpor. Ulfrik roared and changed into a massive blue-furred werewolf! Growling, he bounded after Strahd…

Strahd’s mist floated into his coffin and the heavy portcullis slams down. Safe at last, the vampire would need only to regenerate his strength and call forth his children – then they would be doomed. Van Richten and Patrina reached Strahd’s crypt and tried to wrench it open, but the portcullis was either too heavy, or magically sealed. Mahel unsheathed her daggers. She would die to defend her master… as would anyone would would assail him! Marek remembered the crypt teleporter – and ran again inside to find himself back in the crypt of Strahd, and alone. He swiftly ran over to Strahd’s coffin, lifted it up and with delight cast inflict wounds on the near-destroyed form of Strahd. From behind the bars of the portcullis, Patrina and Van Richten watched as Strahd faced his final judgement.

Strahd couldn’t hide his surprise as death took him into the black abyss. Surprise turned to rage, and the Pillarstone of Ravenloft trembled with fury, shaking dust from the ceiling of the vampire’s tomb. The shudders abated as Strahd’s burning hatred melts away, replaced at last with relief. The dark orbs of his eyes withered and sunk into his skull as his corpse deteriorated. In a matter of moments, only bones, dust, and noble garb remained. Strahd von Zarovich, the dark lord of Barovia, was dead and gone.

Mahel (now freed from Strahd’s charm), Marek, Ulfrik, Van Richten and Patrina left Castle Ravenloft and stood looking out towards the eastern sky. Through the chilly morning mists, the land of Barovia was visible far below. There was peacefulness here. Rest had come to the valley for the first time anyone could remember. A light flashed before them with a calm white glow. Slowly the ghostly form of Ireena Kolyana appeared – she seemed at peace, her countenance untouched by evil. Behind them, another soft white light glowed out of nothingness. Wheeling around, they saw a stately figure in shining armor and a flapping cape. His countenance showed great strength of will, yet the forcefulness of his presence was tempered by his calm, sad eyes. His features were those of Strahd, yet subtly different. His voice was calm and peaceful as he spoke. “My name is Sergei von Zarovich.” He turned to lreena. “Tatyana, the time is at hand to rest. Come, my love and wife.” He stretched forth his hand. lreena Kolyana’s questioning eyes suddenly opened with recognition and knowledge. Forgotten memories rushed back to her. “Sergei!” she cried, springing to him with the grace of a doe. They embraced. lreena turned and said, “I am lreena Kolyana, but in my past I was Sergei’s beloved Tatyana. Through these many centuries we have played out the tragedy of our lives. Now, with our deepest gratitude to you, that tragedy is over. It is time for joy to begin again.” Shimmering light surrounded lreena and Sergei. Hand in hand, they walked east toward the edge of the overlook. Their feet did not touch the ground as they treaded a path beyond this mortal world. Their invisible road took them beyond the eastern precipice, their glow illuminating and thinning the clouds above Barovia. The clouds suddenly broke open, letting shafts of glorious sunlight flood through. In the valley below, the strange fog dissolved. The sun rose for the first time in centuries. All over Barovia, the fog that surrounded the land thinned, and it no longer harmed those who passed through it. The bats, wolves, and dire wolves of Barovia would soon lose their supernatural link to Strahd upon his destruction and become ordinary beasts, destined to be hunted down or driven to the farthest reaches of the Svalich Woods. Mahel and Ulfrik stand atop the precipice with Marek, Van Richten and Patrina. Mahel closed her eyes, and felt the warmth of the sun on her upturned face. In a sullen tone, Marek said, “I am glad for your enjoyment of the sun. I wish its rays still held warmth for me.”

The dark clouds that loomed over the valley for centuries soon gave way to pure sunshine, shocking the Barovians out of their despair. The Barovians took the sunlight as a sign that the evil in their land had been purged. Those who had souls left the valley, while those without souls faded into nothingness as they took their first steps beyond the edge of Strahd’s former domain.

Upon his death, Strahd’s vampire spawn were freed from his control, and each sought a new destiny. Escher, in particular, left the realm, in search of new experiences and a way to become a vampire lord himself.

Van Richten was overcome with sadness that Ezmerelda had died and that death is left in his wake wherever he had fought evil. He Barovia for places unknown, to live out his remaining days in solitude. Evil yet to fight but seems that with this loss, his fervor has finally waned.

Patrina thanked the party for bringing her brother to justice and to help her exact revenge on Strahd. With a withering glance at Marek, she left for the slopes of Mount Ghakis. Weeks later, Marek would hear rumors of a new power rising in the ancient Amber Temple, one who had plundered arcane knowledge from that place in preparation to become Barovia’s new master…

Marek ruled what remained in Barovia with an undead iron fist. The lich said he would give every living soul in the region time to leave or face his reign of terror. He stated that he sought to destroy this realm. Barovia’s destruction would become a testament to his god Tenebrous and starting with the castle, he would destroy it, stone by stone. Mahel was appalled and thinks of the children who live in the towns and villages nearby. VR: Souless will disappate. Marek uses a sending spell to Mahel, “I promise no harm will befall the innocent if i can spare them, but I will allow no more suffering in this land.” Mahel does not find this comforting. she’s going to inform the vistani of the danger and plead for them to stop him. Vistani have no desire to be fealty to another lord. Now that the mists have subsided, and fearing that the Barovians might kill them for being spies and collaborators, the Vistani pack up their wagons and leave the valley with great haste. The Barovians are happy to see them go. Mahel, unsure if the curse of the werewolf is still with her, joins them. Albreth, the spell over the lands broken, enjoys flesh and skin for the first time in many weeks. Overjoyed. Ulfrik returns to Zuleika and tells her of her husband’s noble death fighting Strhad. She is sad, but honored to know how her husband died and asks for his help in reforming the Children of Mother Night. He agrees.

All over Barovia, things changed but things stayed the same. In Krezk, the Burgomaster resisted the rule of the new darklord and asked for assistance from the Abbot, who together began to form a resistance to the rule of the Lich. Their army was a motley one, made up of creations that the mad Abbot had constructed over the years – flesh golems and mongrelfolk, as well conscripts from the town. In Vallaki citizens hear news of the death of Izek Strazni and the guards abandon their posts, take their families with them and leave Barovia to the east. The Baron was powerless to stop them. The Baroness, knowing that their power had all been spent, became morose and sullen. She was the first to go. She was found dead at afternoon tea, her body cold and, some said, completely drained of blood. The Baron’s son, Victor Vallakovich, was found hanged from the roof of the Burgomaster’s mansion a day later. Only the Baron himself remained. As the citizens realized that the Baron held no real power, they began to stream out of the city for the lands beyond. The Baron, terrified, knew that whoever had killed his wife and son would come for him as well. “Come back, citizens!” He cried. “All is now well! All is now well!” he yelled madly from atop the roof of his mansion, a crazed look in his eyes. That night, a horrid scream was heard coming from his bedroom. The door was found locked from the inside, and his servants could not open it. By the time they bashed their way into the room, a scene of horror was what they beheld. The Baron hung from the ceiling by iron chains, skinned to the bone, his dark red blood coating the walls. And on the walls carved by some kind of animal claw, was one word: “Ireena.”
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EPILOGUE

Far to the west, a wall of mist still undulated. This misty curtain obscured a faraway white fortress on a hill above a great city. The ancient folk called the mist the Whispering Wall, for within it they could hear the whisper of voices from the past and the future. They believed that an ancient god gave up his divinity to preserve the world from destruction and that his last exhalation as a god produced this mist. Within it were all his memories of the world and all his visions of its possible futures, and with proper preparation, a seeker could go on a vision quest within it. Some students of the arcane contend that the Dark Powers took a bit of that fog and twisted it to create the mists of Barovia, and that perhaps Strahd’s domain is just a dark memory in the Whispering Wall.

Towards the Whispering Wall, a lone figure in a disheveled black cloak walked, holding a bag of soil. And from that soil, a single black-barked branch sprung. A branch with dark red sap.

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