Fangbanger

Rushing In - 15
let's touch everything nothing can go wrong we're invincible

Day 29

I take a deep breath and calm myself. No. I can’t do this right now. The more I looked, the more I saw the overlap, and I wondered if Cera could watch. I got fidgety as she talked, but we did have questions… and she wasn’t actually reticent to answer them.

She came from the Abyssal Plain, which is beyond the layers of hell. She rose through the ranks of the army to serve her Queen. Malz’hara said that she was a fragment of Malz, now contained in a—what did she call it?—“wretched meat bag prison.”

“Please teach me of these levels of hell,” Jakauf said. “We have a chalkboard in other room for you to do useful diagram.”

“What? Okay,” Malz agreed.

“Motherfucking… guys, if I wanted an education, I wouldn’t have been born in abject poverty,” I snap. But we stop by there, because we were currently using Malz void eyes to find secret doors, and she wanted to teach Jakauf about the levels of hell and the abyss. Seriously, though, those eyes went beyond creepy. I tried to make eye contact with her once for a full thirty seconds and dissociated briefly.

We go down the stairs. I nervously pluck out the tune to the 'don't touch everything' song I'd written as we get to a small opening, but Cera and T’homm start arguing about who got to go first. It went on for long enough that I actually got peeved and raced forward.

Oops. Seven monsters face me.

I instinctively wave my staff (somehow) and cast a wall of ice between me and the monsters, spearing some in the thick sheet of crystal. I flee. As I exit, T’homm begins to shut the door behind me.

“No!” Cera… Malz yells. “There are tombs back there!” She apparently still wanted to touch these fuckers. She ran forward to stop Thomm and tripped. On her way down, she grabbed the paladin. The two of them fell backwards.

The huge stone door slid closed, thanks to the combined efforts of T’homm and Malz’hara. “Fuck,” Malz hissed. “Okay. What’s the plan?”

Plan? “No plan, hun. There is a nice thick door separating us and I’m totally alright with that,” I say.

“Full same,” T’homm echoes.

“You wanna fight this, fine. I like to be a bit pickier. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.” With that, I walk away. Jakauf stays, but I hear T’homm’s solid steps follow me.

Anvyre nervously joins us as we walk upstairs, though she looks guilty. The moment we hear fighting, she breaks and runs back downstairs to help. I hold out a hand as if to stop T’homm, should she wish to do the same. “Hey. We need to talk.”

We both head upstairs and onto the landing. “Listen. You’ve never asked or cared about my forgiveness, so I doubt you care, but we have better shit to worry about so. I’m done. It’s annoying to avoid you and I have to set some things aside.” I have to raise my voice a couple of times to get over the shouting.

Listen, I love a good shock value, and T’homm’s face is a nice level of surprised. It doesn’t last, but it’s fun while it does. “That’s big of you,” she says. And stops.

I look disappointed as I hear the sounds of fireballs behind us. “Nothing, no sorry, no explanation? Come on, you’re cooler than this. Give me something.”

“We could have died.” I stop bitching long enough to see that T’homm’s gone serious, arms folded in front of her. “We weren’t ready for that fight. I was more willing to have you mad at me, than have you dead, so… sorry not sorry.”

A pause stretches between us. “…I can accept that,” I say, mad that T’homm got me back on the surprise factor. A scream echoes from the stairs, and we turn to look. “So. Malz’hara.”

“Yeah,” she says.

“She’s a thing.”

“Yeah.”

“What are we gonna do?”

“…dunno.”

I laugh. “Oh fearless Lady T’homm, lead us!”

“I’m serious! This is… weird. She’s evil and I don’t like evil stuff. But is Cera in there? What if we do end up having to turn on her? What if she kills us? I like not being dead.”

“…yeah.” I sigh. “So. Wait and see?”

“Maybe we can bring Cera back.” That was enough to convince me. T’homm looks up. “Oh, I think the fighting is dying down.”

[Player’s note: we literally left the room to have our chat. We didn’t pay much attention to the fight except snippets. I took some liberties with dialogue cuz I wrote nothing down. I have no clue what happened.]

We head back downstairs to see Malz’hara, Jakauf, and Anvyre [also Luco wasn’t here for some reason??? Cera turned evil and he went to take a nap, I forget] seemed to be slightly scratched up but otherwise okay. The door was open.

Seized by a fit of pique, I walk forward and slap my hand on the nearest sarcophagus before anyone can move.

Suddenly, I feel what the others must have felt: an evil presence seep into my mind and whisper in my ear. “I offer you the dark powers of—“

I snap my hand off the sarcophagus and feel its magical energy go dark, forever. “Rejected, asshat,” I say.

“Rude,” Malz says behind me. She runs forward to touch a sarcophagus, and I see the transaction happen. When she turned back and smiled, she was… completely toothless.

“Ew.”

T'homm had seen what I did and stepped forward. Her reaction wasn't as fast, listening to that dark voice I know only she could hear. There was a long enough pause that my heart skipped, fingers clenching on my staff. Then she stepped away, and from what I could see, wasn't any different. Only a little of the tension left my shoulders.

As we start to head back through the temple and out, Malz’hara happens upon a giant hold in the ground that we’d seen the prior day. “What’s in here?” she says, peering down.

“Donno, but that apprentice guy told us this was dangerous,” T’homm says.

“Dibs,” Malz says, starting to climb down the hole.

“Oh my GOD,” I start. Then the hole is lit up with fire, and Malz falls.

There’s going to be a fight, if Malz isn’t already dead. “I’ll help!” T’homm says, going to jump directly in.

I hear the crunch as she lands on Malz, hard, and wince.

“Oh, gosh,” Anvyre says. I watch open-mouthed as she also jumps in the hole.

More crunching. I wince harder. I poke my head down there. “Guys, what—“

Suddenly there’s fire in the hole.

Jakauf takes this moment to jump down. Into the fire.

I pause. “Um. Guys? I’m gonna… stay up here,” I say, looking down into the fiery pit. Not. Enough gold. In the world. Just in case, I lay down at the edge of the pit and look over, trying to pick out as much fighting as I could.

More fire. Evil cackling. Loud yells and sounds of pain, followed by the smells of searing flesh and hair. More fire. I could see a body, charred beyond belief—had to be Malz. Death by squish, damn.

T’homm moves into my field of vision and I perk up. However, she looks damn hurt. I panic. “Uh. T’homm! Just go with it!”

Then she’s a bear.

She roars in confusion, apparently unable to a) realize she’s a bear and b) fight back, but it gave her some temporary health while I tried to figure out how to help. Finally I sigh and pull out a handful of copper. “Fly, my pretties,” I say, and release them. T’homm shifts back to human, just as confused as she’d been as a bear.

As my coins fall, they zip around the corner and begin to attack whatever was causing problems. Within a bit, some of the fighting dies down. I think?

Suddenly a naked lady appears in front of me. “What the fuck?!” I yell.

“Stop killing me!” she screams.

“I don’t know what’s going on!” I scream back.

Finally the fire dies down. The naked human levitates the group out of the hole, and Anvyre takes off her cloak to rest it around the woman’s shoulders. “Who the fuck?” T’homm says. She turns to us and grins. No teeth.

It’s Malz.

The body she’d left when she reincarnated (one of the dark gifts, I presume) had Cera’s soul in it. Had, operative word, as we look at it when Malz levitates it up.  It’s charred beyond recognition, and definitely beyond a restoration. I step forward and respectfully request to keep the body in my bedroll for now, and Malz accepts. There’s not much left and it fits easily in my makeshift bag. My fingers tighten on the cloth before tying it to my pack, the group talking in low tones about what to do. T’homm offered Malz her noble clothes she’d abandoned for snow gear, and though it kind of fits, we’re left with the prospect of figuring out how to bring Malz out through the bitter cold outside. And I can’t bury Cera in this frozen butthole of a place. I fucking hate Barovia.

“Oh, wait.” I jump into the hole, twisting my ankle hard on the process, but gather my copper coins, because waste not et cetera. I pop back into existence with the group, grinning as I pocket them. “Sorry. Errand.”

“…I can see why she liked you,” Malz said, raising an eyebrow.

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Cera Leaves - 14

This is your first hard lesson: everybody leaves. You will learn it now, and you will learn it countless times after. They will die or abandon you and there are no exceptions. You can only trust yourself, and your own caution is your greatest ally.

Day 28

Before anybody could move, including Vilnius, Luco shoots him in both knees and drops him.

I stare at the man at my feet, sobbing about his book. “Uh.” I pull out the book and drop it in front of him. “…here.” Then I walk away. This was way too much trouble for something I didn’t care about.

T’homm approaches him and pats him on the head awkwardly, healing him. As Cera casts an illusion, I walk to the wizard and note a staff by his feet. I pick it up and feel a brief shock of energy, and suddenly the itching in my fingertips is all I can feel. Gold. Right, I’m here for gold. Can’t forget that. The only reason I travel is for gold. I have a goal… the staff chills me, and I realize it possesses frost magic.

I head back out with T’homm towards the statue, but it shoots at us before we can get close and so I fuck off. We find bottles, and I apathetically inspect blue bottles, finding nothing. One of our party [I forget who] finds a secret doorway and get 10 mystery bottles. None of this is gold, though we do find the empty case of what might be floor plans to castle Ravenloft.

Walking down a hallway, I happen to see a book. I try to sneak it into my bag past Cera, but she notices, and asks what it’s about. I can feel it’s magic, and hear a small voice.

Could be worth gold, gold, gold…

“Stories,” I lie as I flip through the pages.

As we leave, I feel a hand in my bag. Immediately I grab the wrist and level my staff at Cera, who looks startled in getting caught. Magic crackles at the end of the staff. I release her wrist only reluctantly, hatred in my eyes as I storm off. How dare she. Those are my things. My gold.

We enter another room and spot a doll house castle. Huh. After inspecting it a bit, T’homm grabs her hammer. “Problem solved!” she says, gleefully smashing it. Inside, we find the amulet.

“Can we move on now? There isn’t any gold here,” I snap.

Cera rounds on me. “Okay, what’s your problem?” she asks.

I don’t even put any effort into my lie, brain noisy with the thought of getting more gold. “Female troubles,” I say. Cera doesn’t look like she believes me, but she quiets down.

She trusts me.

I feel a pang in my chest but it’s quickly drowned out.

Day 29

I wake feeling stronger, and we go around checking out more of this place. Suddenly we open a room to see Anvyre, tied up at the end of a delicious smelling “feast” that proves no more than illusion. Cera cries out and runs to untie her. When I approach for comfort, I am shunned by Cera. Well. Fair.

7 shadows suddenly attack.

I react quickly, casting shadow and blinking into invisibility. Luco fires a lightning arrow. Jakauf gets hit and blinks out. Cera rips into them, T’homm wipes out another. One remains in front of T’homm. I approach her side, and a ray of cold explodes from just over her shoulder, obliterating the last one before I drop invisibility. T’homm gives me a skeptical look, but Anvyre—is BACK.

Jakauf sees an ewer and grabs it; it fills with wine. I look interested, that could be valuable. Both Cera and Luco seem interested. “I will share the wine, but this is Barovian artifact; I will keep,” Jakauf says.

To get to the next room, we have to dash to avoid getting hit with a magic missile. Thankfully it works. There’s a statue at the end of the room, and a few bodies worship at its feet. Before I can even suggest investigating, Cera blasts it and it reacts strongly.

My brain fuzzes over and I approach, unwillingly, with T’homm, feeling the urge to worship the statue above all else. They attack the statue and attempt to revive us, but nothing works, though I feel my attachment to the staff waver. It is only broken when they destroy the statue.

Luco finds a small room and stomps the skulls on the floor for some reason (???). Cera helps him open the next room, and the floor falls in, and four spectres attack.

Honestly, I’m getting sick of us picking every damn battle. This is not at all interesting to me. I lean over the edge, insult a spectre, and then walk away to file my fingernails. T’homm joins in, and when they’re all done playing murder hobos, we help them back up with a rope.

“Hey look, a hidden door,” Luco says, pointing across the drop.

“Huh?” Cera asks.

“There.”

“Where?”

“Right there!”

“…oh.” Cera opens it and enters a new room. There’s a skeleton on the floor, looking quite comfortable, eyes glowing red.

“Do I know you?” it asks.

He does not know his name, and is probably a Lich, though he doesn’t seem to want to attack us. Until, of course, Cera sees a magical book on the desk. I can’t really blame her, but it is still annoying when she grabs it and misty-steps away. Suddenly the skeleton is attacking, powerfully, knocking her down. Luco snags the book and throws it back. I have a feeling we missed out on a lot of good loot, and sigh, for though he’s calmed down, attacking and stealing first aren’t always the answers.

Luco also seems to be grabbing the most random shit from off the floor, wanting to use it to decorate himself. Oh yeah, no regrets about him joining us at all.

As we explore more rooms, Jakauf opens a door and gets a desk thrown at the door. Jakauf pokes a bit and gets hit by a chair. Again, no time to suggest we investigate calmly—he throws a fireball into the room and shuts the door.

As we wait for the room to finish burning, we take a short rest, in which time I check out the book. Seems to give the user more wisdom. Definitely worth some gold. Jakauf bugs me about it, and I lie to his face without any remorse—especially not when we check out the room and figure out that there was some fun stuff in there that’s now burnt beyond recognition.

I clear my throat. “Here’s a song, guys. Maybe it’ll help us not destroy everything,” I offer helpfully as I tune my lute.

“Stop look and listen,

Before you explore the room;

Use your eyes, use your ears,

Don’t bring us doom!”

Cera opens another door with knock, and we see sarcophagi. I nervously repeat the song.

T’homm goes up and opens a sarcophagi. She seizes up. “What is it?” Cera asks.

“Nothing!” T’homm obviously lies. “Well… it offered me a dark gift. From Ceriac. But for a price, and I rejected it.”

Apparently that was all that they needed. Cera and Luco run up to touch them and get their own gifts, avoiding being turned evil just barely.

They open another room and Cera runs towards the middle sarcophagi as if to hug it before being attacked by a huge monster. I insult it, give inspiration to Cera, and then wander off. Fucking around with evil stuff is definitely a Nope on the list of Gal, and I’m sick of people touching everything and causing all this shit. Cera gets wailed on a little, Jakauf grabs it with a big hand, and we manage to blink it out. Of course, Cera still approaches the tomb, along with Luco. Luco becomes covered in greasy fur, Cera suddenly gets big voids for eyes.

I stay quiet, but am getting anxious. They’re messing with ancient magics. They could seriously hurt themselves.

The last room has four creatures, eagerly awaiting. “We want truth,” they say to Luco and Cera. “We want truth and you can get gifts.”

“I have PTSD,” Luco says honestly before approaching one of the sarcophagi.

“I have two people trapped in one body!” Cera says eagerly. I’m thrown for a loop, but can’t ask anything. I wonder if the rest of the party is just as uncomfortable as me, but nobody’s saying anything as Cera runs forward.

And then she changes.

Her old skin fades away, and Cera is no more. In her place is a weird lady, with black, red and green scales, eyes still void.

My heart grows cold.

“Hi, Gal here,” I say. “What the fuck?”

“Malz’hara is my name.”

“What happened to Cera?”

She doesn’t respond.

“If I ask you your story, will you ignore me?” I ask, feeling sick. Cera is gone. Cera is dead? Who the hell? She knew this. This was what she meant by two people, and yet she allowed this to happen. She didn’t reject the gift and kept poking and now she’s gone, just like everybody else I’ve ever given a shit about. She’s left the party. She’s abandoned me.

She looks at me, as if memories are sorting themselves out. “She was very fond of you,” Malz’hara says.

I feel the knife in my back twist and decide, in that moment, that I hate this person.

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The Amber Temple - 13
i was so sick of the old title style lololol

Day 27 – 18th day of lunar cycle

As we wander Krezk, we find Luco. “How very dare you,” I snip.

He explains that the situation had been messed up—terrifying, really. As the group lays into him, I feel most of my anger go away. I mean… to be fair, his instincts mostly align with my own, so I spoke up. “Honestly, I can’t be too mad,” I sigh.  “That would make me a hypocrite.”

“You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first,” T’homm says.

I shrug. No denial from me.

We mess around for some of the day, wandering around the village. T’homm goes off by herself, and then emerges from wherever she’d been, wandering into the woods, looking a bit drugged and dazed. “Don’t? Stop?” I call out.

"Wait, don't go?" Cera adds helpfully.

There’s no response. “Well… you’re an adult.”

When she comes back, she looks… different.

“What happened to you?” Cera asks.

“I went into the forest, and met a bear,” T’homm starts. “The bear gave birth to a bird, and the bird regurgitated a worm, and I ate the worm. The worm gave me the blessing of the earth, and then I rubbed the earth on my shield and I said, ‘The shield of T’homm!’” She holds aloft the shield like she must have done during her acid trip in the forest, and we can see there is a worm on the surface of the shield.

Man, I’m still mad at T’homm, but most times I wish I didn’t have to be. She’s still a character, and I’m going to like telling her stories regardless. I still can’t drop the windmill thing. I know that it’s mostly petty, and maybe we should just talk it out, but I want to hold onto petty a little longer.

We set out later that day, planning on going to the Amber Temple. We see a few bodies, possibly torn up by wolves, and Luco advises us to decapitate them. Which the rest of the group can do, because ew.

Suddenly, a bat swoops overhead. We aren’t much surprised when Strahd forms where the bat lands, some kind of smug as usual. A thought occurs to me, and I raise my hand. Cera gets it a few seconds later and beams in to message me. “Does he know we went to see his dearest mother?” I whisper in my mind to her, a little smirk on my face.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, because Cera’s face lights up with unspeakable mischief. “Hey, Strahd,” she says aloud. “We visited old mama in the swamp, and her lovely baby. We’ve also done a little light reading.” Oops, I’ll go ahead and take the blame for this one, and we all watch Strahd’s face darken into a rage. He sics his wolves on us, and we brace for impact.

Before any of us can move, Jakauf steps forward and motions with a smooth, swooping motion. On the wolves a huge wall of fire shoots up, and I hear the yelps of pain accompanied by the smell of burning fur. Still, they come for us, and suddenly a lot of angry wolves are up close and personal.

I do happen to note T’homm and Cera crowding my flanks a bit more than usual. Without Cal, we’re all a bit more vulnerable. It’s a little cute of them to be worried about my particular squishiness, and I can’t say my instincts help much as I back up. We continue to attack, but as the wolves fall, we still cannot see Strahd’s form behind the flames. When the last wolf is dead, he reappears as we feared, charming Cera. “Give me the book!” he roars, locking eyes with her, knowing it was in her pack.

“Suck an entire bag of dicks!” she shouts back, though her body stiffens. Her arm flings out, and she fires off shot after shot, slamming into Strahd.

He laughs.

We start running.

Cera stands her ground, and Strahd outstretches his own careless hand. A black-green spell laced towards her, knocking her down. I stop in my tracks and run back to her.

“Cera! To me!” I yell, preparing to cast a spell.

She staggers to her feet, weakened but not out.

The moment her hand touches mine we blink out of Strahd’s range, and see him only as a small black dot, retreating as we flee.

*

That night, our long rest is uneasy, but undisturbed.

Day 28

In the morning, my hut falls down, and we see the signs of wolves in our camp.

As we travel, we find Tolenka Pass, huge and ominous. We can see a bridge far beyond a huge wall of burning green fire. We walk up to the flame, contemplating how to pass. T’homm reaches out with her pinky as if to test the fire.

“No!” Luco and Jakauf shout at the same time, going to stop her. She pouts and huffs off. Luco rolls his eyes and goes to the side gate, going to climb the fence. At that point the rocks come back to life and attack.

We fight valiantly against what appear to be demons, but the moment Luco drops, the one still surviving backs off. I go forward hesitantly and heal Luco. Once they see me do something not all about trying to break the rules or kill them, the demon sends me a message. “Go through. Don’t hurt me.”

I relay this to the group. They shrug, and we pass through the green flame unharmed. “I TOLD YOU!” comes T’homm’s voice, late to the party.

We bypass a tower and go to the bridge, statues at both ends in various states of crumbling. In the middle there’s a black cloaked rider on a black horse on the bridge. When we get close, we see that he is Strahd. T’homm reaches out to pet the horse, and this time the other two don’t think to stop her. The figure and the horse both vanish into ash the moment her fingers make contact. We watch it drift into the river and continue until we’re off the bridge.

Eventually we arrive at what appears to be a castle carved into stone. We open the door and see a hallway with arrow slits in it opening into a cavern. And everywhere we look, amber coated every surface. “Guess we found the Amber Temple, guys.”

T’homm pulls up her cloak to move without being seen, entering the cavern. I more or less stride after and conjure up a couple of balls of flaming blue light, circling them over my hand. I see a statue in the middle, faceless. Curious, I conjure up dancing lights in the form of a mustache on where its upper lip might be. I just want to see the face. A chill runs up my spine when I see it’s faceless.

And then the statue fires a volley of magic missile at me.

I back away, stinging and immediately dropping the light, but recognize that I’ve pissed off some sort of deity. I’m an idiot, but I’m not that stupid, and I pull out my instrument and begin to play.

“I’m sorry! Oh my god, I’m so sorry!

Won’t happen again!

I know I’m a huge asshole just intruding on your castle—

Oh my god, I am so sorrryyyyy!”

I hold my breath.

A single warning shot to the feet, and then there are no more attacks.

Good enough.

We explore the cavern and head to another room. We explore a bit until we open the door into a huge lecture hall and see a man cowering on the other side. He seems very little threat, mostly burned, blistered, and huddling, so we approach cautiously but trying to appear friendly. We learn the dude was Vilnius (“Villainous?” Cera mouths at me; I just look at the mini-demon Vilnius has and raise my eyebrows). “Jakarius was my master. He is very dead now, killed by a… what do you call… The bone in head?”

“Skull?” I supply.

“Yes! That, but on fire.”

“Flaming skulls.”

“They kill Jarakius. If you see him, I would like his book of spells. It is very cold out, and I need it to make it down the mountain.” Cera’s eyes light up with the mention of a book of spells. “I will let you look, but I do need the book. Please.”

“Why didn’t you get it?” Cera asks.

“The flaming skulls would have killed me. And there is golem, very large, is patrolling and attacking everything he sees. But he cannot fit through the door, so I stay in here.”

Have fun dying in here? We leave and pretty quickly find the golem. “Yo, golden shower! Collapse and die, please!” I call out as we attack. Luco gets separated, and T’homm gets beat on. I move back away just as the thing shrieks, temporarily fucking with the party. We finally beat him down and continue exploring.

In another room, we find a group resting: a gladiator, some berserkers, and a dire wolf. They’re friendly, and don’t mind us exploring as long as we don’t disturb anything or drag them into a fight. “Do please beware of the… oh, what is it. The thing here?” The gladiator pointed to her forehead.

“Skull,” I add, just as helpful as the first time.

“Flaming skulls. We do not like them.”

We open the door directly next to their’s and three flaming skulls immediately attack us. “What did we say!” they scream, running. I see a man’s burned and collapsed form near the wall; the wizard.

We attack back, but they’re hard to hit; they fly up, casting fireball, and I’m caught in the worst of it. I give T’homm haste as I beat out the fire in my clothing.

I come forward to look at the wizard. I see his book, on the ground, somehow surviving the wizard, and kneel beside it.

“Is that my book?”

Instinctively, I scoop the book stealthily into my bag at the sound of the apprentice’s voice. Then, I think about it logically. Books were worth a lot, but they weren’t my preferred loot. Cera seemed to want it. Would he let us use it first? Is that how magic worked? Gods, I hadn’t been listening to him earlier.

I stand and flash a winning smile, casting an inquisitive look at the group. “Book? Gosh, must’ve not been here,” I say convincingly. It doesn’t seem to be working, but I was just trying to think of if we should keep it or not.

“Give me my book! I’ll die without it!”

“Um.”

He attacks.

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Dungeon Interlude
random aside from Gal's past

Dungeon Interlude

(no game today, so I wrote a short story. Takes place when Gal is about 18.)

The days were just beginning to turn hot, the sun staying up longer in the sky. Harvest had come, and with it a good mood around the market, but there were still many with empty bellies. No part of the year was kind on the unwanted.

“Thief!” a voice bellowed over the market. A young child fled through the stalls, clutching an apple in her hands. She couldn’t have been more than ten, and she clutched the apple like it was her last resort.

As she turned the corner, she ran headlong into a startled group of guards. One caught her by the hair, holding her still and causing the apple to drop to the ground. “A thief, huh?” one guard snarled, stepping forward. “There’s plenty of you. How well could you steal, missing a hand?” His grip on her wrist was like steel, and the child shrieked in terror.

“Sister!” A loud, clear voice cut through the crowd, parting it as easily as her hand. An older girl, just barely an adult, placed a hand to her chest and rushed forward. “Oh, Clarabelle. My dear, I’ve been looking all over.” She steered the girl to face her, the guards letting go of one arm out of sheer confusion. “Girl, how many times have I said? Don’t go outside without an escort. I swear.”

She turned to the guards with a winning smile. Her blond hair was pulled back into a braid that fell to her slim waist, and a lute was strapped to her back. “My apologies, good sirs. My poor sister Clarabelle is, uh… not right in the head. We usually keep an eye on her, but today the butler left the door open.” A deft flick of her foot and she got the apple into her hand. She shined it off and handed it back to a guard, followed by a few clinks of gold. “I’m sure that will cover the apple and the poor vendor’s bad day. No harm no foul!” Her laugh suggested a noble’s birth, and the guards straightened slightly. The vendor, having waddled up to stand behind them, said nothing.

“Yes, I…” The guards really didn’t have much to add.

“Let me get this child back home, or mother will be very cross,” she said, waving as she ushered the girl away.

Once they got around the corner, the lady sighed, all nobility charm gone. “Fuck, kid, you’re gonna get a stub being that careless,” she scolded.

The girl still looked terrified, tears streaking her cheeks. “Who are you?”

“I’m Gal. Gal La’Vant.” Gal sniffed, wrinkling up her nose. “How long you’ve been on the streets, kid?”

“A few weeks. My real name's Viola.”

Gal led her back to the compound. It was more like an old abandoned warehouse. Nobody had the key to the front door, and guards mostly left it alone, but a simple push at a slat around back granted the two access. Inside there were bedrolls and a facsimile of life. A fire was well-tended near the west wall, and a few people milled around, resting or eating. “It’s not anything permanent for people, except Ron,” she said, pointing out a man by the fire. “He cooks, and we try to keep him stocked. If you hang out here for a bit, we can show you a bit about surviving on the streets.” She pointed back the way they came. “And a hundred feet that way is a small stream on the edge of the forest. You can use it to wash up… please.”

It wasn’t long before Viola was asleep, probably having had to go without a safe place to put her head for a while now. Gal sighed, cocking her hip and going to head back out.

“You can’t save them all,” a bemused voice came from the corner.

Gal paused in her path, letting the other catch up and tilting her head as he did. “Watch me, Lele.”

Lele laughed, his face freshly shaven, holding out a hand and meeting her in their handshake. As usual, Gal took comfort in the familiar slap of their hands. “One day you’re going to meet a kid you can’t help, Mama La’Vant,” Lele said.

“You helped me,” Gal reminded him.

“No regrets.” She snickered, and he joined her in true best friend fashion. “You going back to market?”

“I’m going to have to wait for it to cool down. I’ll stop in later and check up on her. Any jobs?”

“Nah. Keep a look out, will ya?”

“Bitch, you know it.” They exchanged another slap of skin and then they were off. Gal found a good place by the courthouse to begin a performance, and by the end of the day she had several coins clinking in her hat. Nothing quite like an honest living. Not to say stealing never happened, but if they were going to go through the risk, they were going big or going home. Better to be hanged for a hundred gold heist than an bit of bread.

When Gal slipped back around to the compound, the place had quite a few more people but no Lele. She did find the girl, though, tossing her an apple. “To replace the one from earlier,” she explained.

“They call you… Mama La’Vant?” the girl asked, still timid. But clean. Gal hadn’t been the only one waiting for her to bathe.

“Ugh… I hate that nickname. Call me Gal.”

“Gal, I…” The girl rooted around in her pockets, before holding up a pendant. It was gold, and a ruby was set into the middle. “Here.”

Gal’s breath caught at the sight of the ruby, but she shook her head as quickly as she went to make the girl put the jewelry away. “Hold up. I didn’t ask for no treasure. And if you had it, why didn’t you just pawn it, idiot?” Hey, she took care of kids, but sometimes they were dumbasses. She was trying to refrain from cursing, though.

The girl shook her head, lower lip quivering, and insisted on giving her the jewelry. “It’s not for sale. My mom gave it to me. She didn’t say much, but she said it was related to our family’s worth… in the hills.”

Gal felt a shiver go down her spine. “Why the heck would you be going to the hills?” The place was a haunted graveyard a few miles out into the forest, centuries-old tombs reduced to stacks of rock and dimly-lit entrances. And they’d all been ransacked, so it wasn’t even worth the risk. Gal knew they were ransacked, of course, because she’d gone out there to do the same and come back disappointed.

“There’s one, the tomb of Valencia. Our family.” The girl sighed. “I can’t go. Maybe you can?” She walked away before Gal could give back the jewelry, so. Well.

Gal mostly planned on holding onto it for either an emergency pawn or to give back to the girl once she was ready. But the thought of adventure gnawed at her over the course of the night, and the thought of riches was even more tempting. So in the morning she packed up, snagging a piece of parchment to scrawl a messy letter to Lele. Writing was one thing she’d learned before being abandoned, and she’d thrilled in being able to teach something to Lele for a change.

Gone to the hills. Girl told me about some tomb stuff for the house Valencia, I want to go check it out. –Gal

She finished it with the date and time she left, gave it to a mutual friend to get to him, and then walked out.

The trek to the hills was always kind of pretty in the spring, and Gal enjoyed the view of the sun rising in the early morning sky. She got there not long after, picking her way through the rubble. She hadn’t before paid attention to the names on the tombs. Most were destroyed beyond recognition, but she could see letters and names here and there. Mostly old, old families, some still prouncing about in town as the village assholes—the nobility. But just as last time, besides the occasional spirit to avoid, the hills were empty, abandoned, and quite frankly depressing.

Gal spotted a rock in the side of a hill and climbed on top, now able to see further. She finally spotted a tomb, almost towards the very back, and could make out a bit of carving on one broken rock face: ‘Vale.’ Score. She hopped off the rock, rolled to her feet, and ran to the tomb. When she got there, she could see an entrance mostly blocked by rubble, the darkness beyond imposing. She climbed inside, lit a torch, and stared. It was…

…disappointing.

It was merely a short hallway leading to a dead end. There were a few coffins set into the walls, and even these had been cracked open for the jewelry of the dead. Gal huffed, wandering around the hallway, the wind taken out of her sails. She’d lost a half-day of work now. Not a huge deal, and it wasn’t the girl’s fault, but ugh.

Thinking of her, Gal drew out the pendant to look over it again. Simple carvings were set into the gold circle, surrounding the ruby, but it was random and didn’t seem to hold any message. On a whim, she held it up to study it better in the small amount of daylight streaming in through the hole.

The ruby caught the sun and began to glow.

Gal yelped and dropped it, and the glow stopped. She scrambled to pick it back up, less startled now, to see the same effect. The ruby seemed to charge up in the sunlight, something she hadn’t been able to see in the daylight, and then a smaller thread of light snaked out from it. It pointed to the far wall. Gal wandered over and saw that it was piercing in the center of a small notch. On a whim, Gal pressed the pendant into the hole and saw it fit perfectly.

The wall slid in, and Gal silently pumped her fist. Not a waste of time… maybe.

Scared to take out the pendant in case the door closed behind her, Gal slipped into the opening and was greeted with a long hallway. Glowing mushrooms lined the walls, and when she extinguished her torch, she saw it lit up the area passably well. She crept down the hall, noting the lack of anything useful but also the large door at the end of the hall. The door stuck at first, but when she pushed it open, she saw a longer hallway, twisting and turning. Gal snuck down, keeping alert, and poked her head around one corner and seeing some unmoving figures resting upright. Statues, or undead guards? Gal decided to not find out. She was tempted now to turn back and get help, but they weren’t doing anything, and her fingers itched with the thought of undiscovered gold.

She kept going, simply sneaking past them.

A few more twists and turns, some more undead monstrosities giving her heart attacks, and she emerged into a hallway carefully carved into the cracks. As she was moving down this last hallway, she noted a hole in the ceiling, allowing light to pour in, which explained the half-inch of tepid water. There was a line on the wall that also indicated some amount of flooding, so she wasn’t getting any scrolls out of the place. The door at the far side was just as ornate as the first one, but this was possibly more intimidating, like a warning.

She creaked that open, pushing inside and ducking down to stay low.

Figures waited on the far side. Squinting in the dim light of the cavern, Gal saw an opening that would be better suited for a cave—did all tombs have this? How the hell did the house of Valencia swing all this? She hadn’t heard of their name as anything special, just a few survivors clinging to the lower rungs of the middle class… though their luck seemed to have changed for the worst recently, if the child was any indication. This was some kind of commentary on the temporary riches of nobility, or the fact that Gal had only been here eight years and wasn't technically from the area. There were doors set into the sides, and she could barely make them out, but the man-shaped things at the end of the room seemed to be statues, and not more gross mostly-decomposed bodies. She cautiously crept from her hiding spot, and when she didn’t trip any attacks, went about exploring.

Most of the rooms led to things the family would need in their next life: rotted clothing, dissolved food, pets… servants. Gal pulled a face at the last one, a few neat coffins set into the walls. Nobles weren’t much better now, but at least they stopped killing servants just to avoid pouring their own ale in the afterlife. Between the doors, she spotted large slabs of rock set into the walls, their carvings showing scenes of battle. Cool, but nothing she could pick up and steal.

Some of the side rooms had jars of gold and jewels, but not a whole lot, and her pockets weren’t filling up like she thought. Still, this was a good haul, and no regrets. She finally emerged from the last door, now only a few feet from the statues, looking down and seeing it.

A chest rested between the two statues, half-set into the wall, a trap string along the side. Looking up, Gal saw where rocks would be dropped, and disarming the old trap took just a matter of moments. The statues, she realized as she looked at them once more, were of old soldiers. They wore full plate armor, centuries out of style, and their swords were real.

Gal paused for a long moment, taking in their forbidding presence.

Then she opened the chest.

There was a chalice resting there, golden and covered in jewels. Gal caught her breath, hands hovering over the gold for a long moment. The creak of the lid opening seemed to echo around the tavern.

She snagged the chalice and shoved it into her bag.

All hell broke loose.

The statues began moving, rock crumbling and dust flying as their arms, unused for a hundred years, broke from their sides and raised their swords. Gal leapt away, feeling the bite of steel in her shoulder but not stopping her flight. There was a large crash from her side, and Gal barely dodged as one of the large stone slabs practically exploded outwards and was flung halfway across the tavern, revealing another corpse soldier inside. She kept moving, now dodging multiple stone slabs in her mad dash to the door, hearing the swords clanging as the army began to move.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck,” Gal chanted, thankful they were so old, sure that was the only thing that was saving her. She managed to get out into the hallway, closing the door and hoping half their fingers had fallen off, before starting her run down the same intricately carved hallway.

She drew up short. Outlined in the door on the far end were the shambling bodies of the other corpses she’d seen along the way, blocking her escape.

Cold sweat dripped down her back as the door behind her began to shudder. The statues had made it, and they weren’t bothering with any mortal ‘opening the damn door.’ They were going to break it down to get to her, and judging from the sound, she had seconds, not more.

“Gal! Here!”

A rope smacked the side of her head and she grabbed it immediately. The door behind her shattered as she climbed the rope while it was being pulled up. Her injured shoulder ached as she got to the stone opening above and was pulled as it scraped along the side, but she felt the woosh of air from a sword barely missing her foot and clung tightly.

She was pulled from the rubble, somehow not far from the entrance, the entire thing having snaked around a few times. “Am I glad to see you,” she gasped, and was immediately pulled into Lele’s arms, who held her like she’d fall apart if he didn’t. It would be insulting, but Gal accepted it. For all of Lele’s teasing about her being like a mother hen, he worried ten times more.

“We should get out of here… I don’t know if they’ll be after me,” Gal said once Lele had hugged it out, and he nodded. He reluctantly let her go back to the entrance for the pendant, and the two skedaddled.

That afternoon, they sat in the warehouse, Gal down to her undershirt as Lele took care of her shoulder. The girl had gotten the pendant back and a few handfuls of gold and jewels, which was all she’d accept after hearing the story. For someone who was like twelve, she got the whole ‘payment for those who’d go’ thing, but Gal wondered if the statues would have even attacked had a member of the ancient house been the one inside. As for the rest, once everything was sold, the money would keep the warehouse in comfort for a couple of years.

“Don’t do shit like that again,” Lele admonished, his voice rough with anger.

“For the last time, I didn’t think it would be like that,” Gal sighed, wincing when he pressed into the cut a little too hard. “Ow, chill. Seriously. The hills have a few restless spirits and are mostly just creepy. You know it.”

“Promise me.”

“You first, jackass. You leave all the damn time.” Gal had lost count of the times she’d had to patch Lele up after some adventure he’d deemed too dangerous for her.

They fell silent. Ron came by with a cup of something hot, and Gal accepted it with her good arm and a nod.

“On the way back…” Lele was the one to break the quiet first. “It was a close call. I’d been looking for the entrance and heard some shouting, before finding the hole. If I hadn’t, or if I hadn’t brought rope…”

“You always bring rope,” Gal reminded him.

“You could have died. You could be dead, right now, with no way for me to get to you.” Lele paused, his fingers pressed to the skin of her shoulder, and she glanced at him. His face wasn’t unreadable, just a mix of so much that Gal had trouble picking it out. The majority was rage, but a few things that were just a blend of relief, and sadness, and something else that Gal knew had crossed her own face a few times in the last year. It felt personal, and Gal looked away.

“You’re the only person I trust around here,” Gal mumbled. “I didn’t leave you behind on purpose. I was just curious, and got in over my head.”

“I did that to you, didn’t I?” Lele lamented. “Where’s the sweet, innocent girl I met eight years ago?”

“She was ten, and hungry. You don’t get curious when you’re hungry,” Gal shot back, but smiled.

Lele snorted and slapped the bandage he applied, which caused her to yelp and hit him back. But his good mood was returned a bit now that they’d gotten the arguing out of the way. Risk-taking was sort of their thing as members of the lowest rung of society, so it was something they had to get over quickly. The two got up, Gal tugging on her shirt proper, and went to grab some food.

“And the house Valencia. You idiot. Any local here would’ve told you that they’re known as some of the biggest noble necromancers in the region,” Lele added as they sat down with their bread and meat.

Necromancers? That would’ve been nice to know. Gal looked up to see if the girl was around so she could chide her for leaving out some fairly important information.

The girl was gone. When Gal looked at her bedroll, she simply saw a new pendant, one of a mask.

Gal never saw her again.

View
Gal versus almost nobody - 12
seriously we had to force the only fight of the game

Day 25

At around noon, we arrive back in our cabin where we’d formerly spent the night. Cera stalked about darkly, her magic extended around her and doing the same to the atmosphere. Cold sweat ran down my back, fingers plucking out a worried, sad song on my lute. My gaze casts around the others. “Luco?” I ask, pausing when I notice the hunter isn’t among us.

“Ran off,” Cera says. Then she lowers her voice. “I don’t blame him.”

It’s just us three now. I look between her and T’homm, then back down at my lute. Shit. I look back at Cera. “If I die, you’ll loot my body, right?” I say.

Cera looks at me, her gaze sharp. “If you die, I’ll lose my shit,” she snaps, and the words are temporarily cast from my mouth. I hadn’t been expecting that response, not with that much sincerity. We’d lost two of our original party, and it was hitting her hard.

I try for the same sincerity and fall short, but to be fair, I hadn’t even attempted a try in a long while. “I appreciate that,” I add at last, going for tentative humor. “But then you’ll loot my body, right?”

Cera sighed, and softened. But she still headed outside, looking around before sending up a raven signal, pleading for help. I follow her with my eyes.

What happened next, I was ill-prepared to face. A bat swooped from the sky and landed in front of her, and both her and I were struck by paralysis. Strahd formed in front of her, laughing and holding out a bag. “Shame about your friend,” he said, before disappearing once more.

It was some of Cal’s things. “I’ll sort out the coins,” I volunteer. Cera shoves them at me as a raven approaches, forming quickly into a man. She chats with him as I sort, not getting much out of him.

“We should head back to Baba Lysaga’s area,” T’homm says in a low voice as we chat. “She’s hurt. Might be keeping her scarecrows nearby. Could be the best time to get in and out.”

We are still hurt, but we agree, and set out once more. Don’t get very far before Cera stops the party. I tense, looking around as she readies an eldritch blast. “Show yourself, now,” she demands.

A man steps from the bushes, hands held up in surrender. He’s filthy, a traveler, covered in the mud of the swamp. He’s also short, just barely over my shoulders. “Please, stop! My name is Jakauf,” he pleads in the accent of Barovia. Under the mud, his skin is tinted blue. Cera holds out her hand to clean him, and now I can see colorful bandanas worn as accessories. “Jakauf Stanovich. I am not here to hurt, I am here to help.”

“If you’re so friendly, why were you hiding?” T’homm says.

“The wereravens are not so fond of my people,” Jakauf says. At the silence, he adds, “the Vistani. But I hear about you, and I want to help. You are the Beasts of Villaki, no?”

There’s a stunned silence. “Is that what they call us now?” Cera asks.

“Gonna get me a banner made,” I chuckle, suitably impressed by the nickname.

“I’m into it,” Cera agrees.

“How are you useful?” I ask Jakauf.

“I can give you information,” he says. “I know this area.”

“What do you know about Baba Lysaga?”

“That she may be the mother of Strahd. She is centuries old, though. This is what they tell children, for their fairy tales. She raised him, and due to the protective spells she cast, he is unable to die.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see T’homm raise her hood and go to sneak up behind Jakauf to smell him, and… completely fails. He yells in surprise and vanishes from sight.

“….uh.” I close my eyes tightly and then look to the sky, hand hovering over my eyes. “Mask help me.”

[I gain a +1d4 to my next d20 roll I make as a favor from my god, Mask, from the DM. Then I proceed to NEVER USE IT. Mask didn’t REALLY want to help me, he just wanted to make it seem like he was being nice.]

He reappears behind T’homm. “That is a very scary thing to do!” he scolds.

“Okay, fun. What do you know about the Tome of Strahd?”

Jakauf looks up, frowning. “It is an old book. Written in the blood of his first wife. I hear he protects it carefully.”

Ew.

We go forward to check out the mansion. Cera sends Amicus up to check out the mansion from above, and quickly reports back. “There’s a ghost in there!” she says, surprised. Now we could see from the windows the flickering form.

“What the hell is all this?” I ask, looking at Jakauf.

He frowns, then his face goes blank. “A young peasant woman, Marina, lived here. She met Strahd, and looked like Tatiana. The Burgomeister, Lazlo Ulrich, and the priest killed Marina to keep her safe.”

Typical asshole dudes.

“Then, Strahd murdered everybody.”

Explained the ghost.

Cera approaches, and the ghost turns out to be friendly and begins talking to us.

[Out of character: I zoned out at this point because a player, Bryan, made us ink-black cupcakes. Our DM ate some and it dyed her lips black because of the ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS amount of black food coloring used. I couldn’t help it and broke down laughing at her being goth. Once I pointed it out, we all died. So I honestly can’t remember what he said.  Related TMI, it can take anywhere from 7-10 hours for black food coloring to pass through your system.]

The ghost confesses he has the autobiography—the Tome of Strahd. Strahd doesn’t want others to see it, but tough shit. We help the ghost pass on by letting him know Marina has been reborn as Ireena, and is very happy with hunksicle Periwimple. He leaves, but not before telling us, “200 paces to the west is a monument to my folly, and the treasure you seek.”

Jakauf finds the monument first, a tribute to Marina. Amicus spies the crack underneath and T’homm steps forward to open it.

“I’ll help,” Cera offers, reaching forward.

“No, I’ll work alone.” T’homm bluntly rejects the offer and knocks the lid off the tomb. Oh god, it stank. Suddenly, we see shambling gray figures in the fog, approaching us slowly. Too slowly.

Cera grabs the book, which is wrapped in hide in the tomb.

Then we run.

We go back to the mansion. Cera stops us, mentioning that Amicus had spied a large rubble in the corner of the mansion. We go there, and it becomes obvious that we would have to do manual labor for a good hour to clear the rubble.

“Oh, I’ve an idea. I’ll summon the unseen servant have Wagner help out, as well.” The fact that it got me ten minutes out of doing the work as I had to summon him didn’t mean anything. Besides, it worked out. His work over the next fifty minutes balanced it out. We go down a stone staircase to a cellar and see rotted casks. T’homm tastes the water because of course she does, and staggers back up, looking disgusted and kind of drunk. Great.

We read the book. The handwriting, it turns out, is the same as Lord Visili, who had granted land to Fiona Wacher’s ancestor. Sordid details emerged. Lord Strahd disliked his brother, Serge, who loved Tatiana. Tatiana loved Serge back. Strahd wanted her. Strahd murdered Serge, and Tatiana killed herself in response. Strahd then became undead… a vampire. We glean that sun will hurt the vampire, and that he seals himself in castle Ravenloft.

Day 26 – 17th day of lunar cycle

We discuss where to go next and prepare for the temples. We stop in Vilaki for clothes and furs. The tailor doesn’t want to refit Cal’s best fur for Cera, so I mimic Cal using a disguise and his voice and get her to refit the wolf cloak. We also hang out for a bit and get clothes for cold weather. I purchase a healing potion, giving up 50 gold with Strahd’s face on them. I’m loathe to part with it still.

Day 27 – 18th day of lunar cycle

We head out, ignoring a foot trail into the woods. Shortly after, as I drive the cart, wolves attack. [We made the DM roll until we got something to fight, because we hadn’t yet fought anything that day.]

We fight them, and then my horse goes down. After I shatter the wolves involved, I jump down to heal her. “Moxy,” I breathe as I watch her stagger to her feet, relieved. T’homm kills the rest after shattering them.

Cera gets down to skinning them all after we take a short rest. I do it once and get a good hunk of wolf meat, but my next attempt with my dagger is gross and less than satisfying. I prestidigitate my hands clean and count myself lucky for even getting that much. When we get to Krezk, it’s an easy task to sell the pounds of meat.

View
Gal vs Baby Lasagna - 11
warning: permanent character death

Day 24

We wake from our slumber at the Abbey of Saint Markovin, or whatever his name was, I usually just make them up. As we settle for breakfast of gruel and wine, a man approaches the group. T’homm looks up from her task of pouring her wine into the gruel and eating it like that. “Hail?” she says.

“Hail. I am Luco, and I have a delivery for the Abbott.” We all stare as the Abbott greets him. He was Barovian, with a grey tint to his skin; a human ranger.

“Here, Abbott.” He gives him a large, seemingly waterproof bag. The Abbott puts it down, and it thuds dully. Ew. “Your delivery.”

“My thanks.”

Luco turns, fascinated with the elves in our party, and our dwarf. “What are you?” he asks.

“Elves,” Cera shoots back, quickly.

“And I’m a really hot dwarf, 179 years old, about to hit menopause,” T’homm adds out loud.

“What’s your story?” I ask, curious.

“You want to know?” he replies.

“I’m a bard. I like stories,” I say. “Not like I can get much out of these chucklefucks.”

“Hey,” Cera cuts in, offended.

“Well, I can’t say much,” Luco says.

“Blah.” I look around. “Where is Anvyre?”

The group murmurs back concomitantly. I stand and go search for her. She’s not inside. She’s not outside. I frown. Looking up at a sudden commotion, I see Cera striding down the street, past me and to the horses. Alarmed, I jog to catch up. “What’s up, buttercup?”

“Luco said Strahd may have stolen our friend,” she snaps through clenched teeth. “We are picking up the speed to get to his ass.”

Strahd has Anvyre? My blood runs cold. Part thinking about the possible treatment at his hands—she’d saved my life more than a few times, and the thought is not pleasant. But also… Our healer was out of the picture. I’d have to rely on these hooligans to not abandon me if I went down… I felt the pangs of cold sweat in the small of my back. Also not a pleasant thought. These idiots wouldn’t waste the action.

“Hold up.” We pause as Luco jogs up. “Let me join. I, too, have reason to hate and hunt Strahd.”

“Whatever. Buckle up.”

As we head out, it’s not long before we encounter a shadowy figure, ominously looming overhead. Bad timing, dude; Cera is in no mood and automatically fires off a spell. It shoots him from the perch, and he falls; in midair, he turns into a bat. More of his kind are summoned from air and appear to attack.

My hand shoots forward with faerie fire, and Luco takes advantage of that with a fun splintering attack. With a cry, Cera goes balls to the wall, wiping out quite a few bats with a few perfect hits; T’homm follows up with a mighty throw of her hammer. Only a few remain.

“Luco, you want to take on the mangy rats, or should I?” I call out. The remaining few stiffen and fall out as the psychic damage kicks in. I smirk.

Without hesitation, Luco fires at Strahd with his silver-tipped arrows. “I demand an audience!” he shouts.

Strahd swoops down over us in a huge bat form. I know how powerful he is, and it terrifies me, standing there with no healer. Nobody who’s supposed to make sure I get out okay. I freeze, and to my chagrin, I cannot move until Strahd is out of sight.

A quick talk with Luco shows that we know souls get recycled, and some babies are born without souls. Upon that, Luco opens up. “My son was born without a soul,” he says. “I am here to stop it from happening again.”

T’homm looks at me. I’m getting sick of people assuming that simply because there’s a child involved, I’m immediately invested… true though it may be. Not like it makes me trust Luco more.

We find the marsh, having to leave our horses and cart behind. We set up camp in a cottage, cleaning up a bit, and rest it out.

Day 25 (16th day of the lunar cycle)

[Unknown to Gal: during Cal’s watch, about four zombies creep through town, ignoring horses. He lets them pass without comment. Luco sees traces of it in the morning.]

We leave any remaining horses behind and cross a two foot river, though T’homm was less than eager. We see a red light and approach it, finding a person waiting for sneaky people. We approach; he was Muriel Vimshaw, from the town of Berez. He signals he’s a wereraven, and we stay quiet on that front, motioning like Luco shouldn’t see. The town was abandoned. She makes the scarecrows that hunt the wereravens.

We head to what’s left of the town, only bits remaining. T’homm sees stump with the skull of a giant. On either side of the door are two cages full of squawking ravens. We approach without issue, since the noise of the ravens drowns out our footsteps.

Cera reaches out, and one of the cages bursts open with a loud knocking sound. The ravens escape, flying due south. The white noise of the ravens dies down.

The inhabitant notices.

Baba Lysaga springs out of her tree stump home, jumping into the skull and blasting into the air. She casts a poisonous cloud. I panic and run out, finding the edge and emerging. Once I’m out, I see Cera and head to her side, only for us to quickly get surrounded by scarecrows. The swarm of ravens is there, attacking a scarecrow for us.

I see Cal climb the roots of the house to end up inside, trying to taunt the witch into attacking him. There’s a pause as I see Cera fly up and out of this mess, leaving me with a good fuckton of scarecrows. That’s fine, I have my own tricks, and I don’t mind seeing Cera then blast Baba off her skull, starting to fall.

I hear Cal shout, “Hey Lady, is this your baby?”

Wrong thing to say.

My image suddenly pops out of existence and reappears towards the back of the hut, out of the scarecrow’s range. I hear Baba Lysaga scream with rage, threatening Cal so he wouldn’t touch her baby.

Then the roots of the house began to pull from the found, and all hell broke loose.

The house caught Baba, and holds Cal twenty feet off the ground until Cal got out of the grapple. I now see the damage Luco had caused going loco on Baba, and a repeat shows his skill in doing a lot of damage. T’homm is beat up pretty bad, and I see her flee.

When T’homm flees, and Cal is in the midst of doing the same, the job of the bard isn’t to argue. I shatter the scarecrows on my way out and begin running.

I look up to see Cera, enraged and… pushing it. Baba was beyond furious, screaming at us to leave, and Cera wanted to fire off one last shot. I got nothing out as I saw her shoot magic out and then run, taunting her.

T’homm and I run faster. Still, I keep looking back, seeing the story with no ability to change the ending.

Baba Lysaga holding up her hand and pointing

Cal falls.

I look back one last time to see the shambling body of Cal stumble to its feet, with the very real notion it was under her control.

I don’t look back again.

We run.

View
Gal versus her evil group - 10
we left some kids up in a tower to rot

Day 20

Fiona Wacher lay dead on the bed. I freeze in my tiny corner, just out of the range of sound, as the guards begin knocking on the door. “Lady Wacher, is everything all right in there?” one says.

I take a deep breath, recalling Wacher’s voice, before making my attempt. “How dare you disturb me,” I snip. “I am allowed to move about in my own quarters.”

The silence is dropped, and we search for the key. Cal tries the door, and the guards get suspicious again. “Lady Wacher, are you okay? You have your own key!”

“If you keep disturbing me, I will send you away!” I snap.

“But Lady—“

Anvyre comes up with the key from around Fiona’s neck. Gross. It gets handed to Cal.

Well, looks like we were going for a fight.

Before we could attack, I try one more tactic to end this without bloodshed. In my best Lady Wacher voice, I yell, “I’ve changed my mind. LEAVE!”

The guards respond hesitantly, but neither leave nor come inside. Well. I tried.

Cal unlocked the door to swing at the nearest guard… missing both times. The guards are only startled for a moment, before they attack back, wailing on his poor ass.

“Ahhh!” I look behind me, only to see in horror that Cera had miscast her magic. It backfired, causing her legs to start to… to melt! I recoiled in horror, shit, but a lesser restoration would fix that right up. Another spell flies through the air, making the nearest guard blind.

Shit, we need them dead. I run across the room, jumping up on the dresser so I could spin and cast shatter. Or at least, that was the plan. At the last minute, my ankle twists weirdly, and I stumble, the dresser falling with me. I mostly avoided injury, except a drawer fell out last-minute and rammed into my big toe. “Fuck!” I shout, hissing and clutching at the injured food. I mean, it’d be better in a second or two, but right now that was it for me.

I can practically feel Cera’s death glare on my neck as I bitch about a stubbed toe with her flesh currently melding with the carpet. I amp it up just a little bit.

Cera reaches out as the fighters attack. “Crown of Madness!” she cries, binding the non-blind guy to her will. He attacks his compatriot, who quickly goes down. I can see he’s unable to actually smack me, so I run up, cast shatter, and flee. Cal decides to finish him off by grabbing him and walking to dump him down the stairs. That’s… that’s smart.

T’homm runs over and casts a Hold Person spell so good that she can make the dude talk. Instead of saying ‘nothing’s the matter!’ the guy bellows, “Lady T’homm defeated the Burgomistriss! Long may she reign!” And then he dies.

Cera and I agree to go check the room, while T’homm and Cal wait, except they don’t and just leave. Assholes. Fine. We figure we can meet them at the Wacher house, and do. Cal now has Father Lucian over his shoulder. Upon the look we give him, he says simply “He tried to get away.” Well, okay then.

“You! You’re the ones who killed Lady Wacher!” the guards say, because of course the word was spread.

“Yeah!” T’homm states before I can even start crafting a lie. “Obey my authority!”

Well, that led to a fight (surprise, surprise), and a fairly easily won one at that. Upon entering, we search for the sons, only to find them having locked themselves in their room. T’homm kicks down the door to see they’re cowering in a corner. We question them, and as I expect, they’re just scared shitless and want to live. Upon casting Zone of Truth, we finally get out of them that they’re just looking to stay alive and keep on living. We even tell them about their dead dad being kept in ‘gentle repose’ in their mom’s bed, and their reaction was true disgust, so it didn’t seem there was much love lost between them and their dead mom.

Out of curiosity, we ask about their sister—the one that Fiona psychologically tortured until she thought she was a cat. They inform us that she just committed suicide after being bullied and tormented by Victor.

Next stop: Victor and his mom, the Baroness. Turns out, Father Lucian (still over Cal’s shoulder) is the Burgomistress’ brother, and we are able to put him down without fear of escape. After all, we need him to re-consecrate the bones. Victor denies the tormenting, saying that Lady Wacher was just desperate for him to marry the girl, and he was annoyed but not that mean. He is a bit of a necromancer, and we just fail to tell him that Cera now has his spellbook. I did chat with him for a bit on his skeletal cats, which were cute as hell before Cera blasted them to pieces. We convince the Baroness to rule, reinstate her, and then look the Wacher household.

We find and take a good wedding dress, as that was a request of the Krezk commune for their weird meat doll.

I see the crystal decanter Cera had stolen and ‘returned’ earlier, and laughed, passing it up for the golden goblet alongside it. When I look back at Cera, I see the decanter is once again gone.

We look in the library to find a room full of feral, howling cats. T’homm magics a cat to be still, and I see a small key around its neck. We clean up the room a little, and Cera finds a secret passage. Inside is an iron chest that opens with the key, and we start looking through it. Yeah, some electrum and gold with Strahd’s face on it, and I divvy up the gold and keep the electrum for safe-keeping. There’s an antique wooden pipe just used for smoking, and five scrolls with deeds to land that Strahd had given Fiona. I see a leather-bound book and my eyes light up at the title: “The Devil We Know—Worship of Devils Leads to Happiness.”  “Mine,” I say, shoving that into my bag. Under it is an old letter, and I pick it up and read it. “It’s to Lady Lovina Wacher,” I say, standing. “It’s from Lord Vasili von Holtz, thanking Lovina for her hospitality and loyalty over the year.” Seems… interesting. I carefully fold it back up and put it away.

We head to the wine cellar, which had a weird decorative pentagram on the floor, and as I explore the south side, eight skeletons burst from the ground to attack. I scream as they cut me quickly down, one more attack knocking me out despite my attempts to flee. I wake up to Anvyre over me, knowing I owed her my life a couple times over at this point. Shaky on my feet, we return to the Burgomeister’s mansion and to our rooms.

Day 21

I give a riveting speech to the town square about peace and love, but everybody’s way too scared of us. Fair; we seem to be on the side of nobles, and that lot is a bunch of bastards. We simply tell the wereravens to keep an eye on leadership and let us know if something goes down. After all, apparently ‘fixing government’s is our tagline now.

We head to the bank to clean out Wacher’s cash, and find 1000 Gold, taking 100 gold each and leaving the rest to her sons. We also make sure Father Lucian and his son re-consecrate the bones to protect the church. After putting in an order for a carriage (which I think is entirely silly, but they want a very fancy one for some reason) we head to Krezk.

Once there, we hand over the wedding dress and get our resurrections, which don’t work on the bones we’ve been carrying. Too old. Cal find a sacred bit of water, the Pool of the Morning Lord, and throws in the demon arm he’d taken from Isaac. It vanishes forever, irretrievable even with mage hand.

We head back to the Vistani, get 5 healing potions and Cal’s wagon and horse, plus our silver weapons. We now know the bone’s identity as well—Leo Delosigna, an adventurer who betrayed Strahd on the day of his and Tatiana’s wedding. I hate this stupid country. We stay with the Vistani, resting up so we can head back to the windmill tomorrow.

Day 22

We head back to the windmill. It’s been a week, and there are no defenses up.

“Dibs!” yells T’homm, already heading inside.

“Can we come up with a plan!” I hiss at her back. With no response, I sigh and use up a Bardic Inspiration on her. Goddamn.

Cal hangs back. “The fuck?” I ask him, knowing that T’homm was in there alone without any tanky backup.

“I wanted to arm wrestle for it,” he pouted.

“…the fuck.” So I head inside to back up T’homm, since he was too much of a baby.

The fight is long. Cal apparently got offended that I also decided to go in, but I’m just not arm-wrestling for shit. T’homm gets hit with enfeeblement, and Cal pushes past me to get in front of her and start hitting the witches. Thus, when T’homm throws her hammer, she keeps clipping him.

Behind me, Anvyre investigates the oven and finds delicious smelling pastries, human bones, and a big cauldron of gross. I also hear the sound of breaking windows, and glance behind me to see the bottom of a ladder Cera was climbing up. To stairs further up? Possibly…

Curious, I run outside to the fight, as I can’t see anything of this one besides T’homm’s butt. I see a witch leaning out of the third story, trying to cast magic at Cera, so I run out and hit them with some attacks before I duck back in. Thus, I miss when Cera misty-steps inside the third-story and then subsequently blasts the witch out, who hits the ground hard.

When I go back in, I try and trip up the witches, but I’m now in the way of Cal’s healing. He just picks me up and moves me. T’homm then rubs herself and moans as she heals, so I leave to go outside and cast shatter on the witch still twitching on the ground. The witch attempts to attack Anvyre and gets smacked for her trouble.

I decide to reach into my bag and pull out a ball of fluff, the first time revealing what this present from Strahd does. “Haydn, go!” I yell, and as I throw it, a majestic as fuck owl flies out perfectly. He swoops the witch, causing one point of damage, and then beautifully comes back to land on my arm. I pose a little. Then I shatter the witch to death.

Cal apparently (I am not there to witness it) grabs the remaining witch and yanks her out. I run upstairs and see the broken window and the missing Cal/witch, and figure this out immediately. Cera then leaps out of the broken window using feather fall. T’homm follows, but nobody catches her. …this group is fucking insane.

Anvyre is in the third floor, and I go to follow. I freeze at what I see.

Two young children, chained up and crying to not die.

T’homm had been up here. And Cal.

They knew.

I look around. These kids had been in here longer than a week.

They knew there were kids trapped in here.

They just left them to rot.

I see red briefly. Then I go to help the kids, cleaning them with some magic and comforting them. Their names are Freek and Myrtle, and their parents got addicted to the pastries and sold them to the hags for more. They are from the Cantemir and Dilisnya families in Villaki, which will be good information for the future, but they want a family—specifically Ireena, who they’ve heard so much about. Well, she owes us her life, so that could possibly be arranged. Anvyre checks the attic and doesn’t find much while Cera comes up and mends their clothes some.

“I was up here, I didn’t see much of anything,” Cera says to me. She’s thinking the same thing, though.

We herd the kids downstairs, only to pause when we see one of the hagwitches’ bodies missing. “Shhhhhhhhiiiioooooot,” I say, remembering the kids. “Fudge. She must’ve recovered.”

“Dang. Dang it all to heck,” Cera sighs.

Outside, we suddenly see four giant megaliths, each to a different, old city, representing the four seasons. Anvyre moves to the middle and removes the dream pastry and children’s teeth that had been desecrating the area. Cera cleans the stones. I turn to T’homm, sheltering the children under my hands.

“T’homm. Guess what we found,” I said, leveling the dwarf with a death glare.

“Ummm,” T’homm starts, but Myrtle moves forward.

“I knew you’d come back for us! I know you,” she said.

“…no?” T’homm says. Cal echoes her sentiments, less shitty but still not convincing.

I feel like I can see directly into her soul. I step to her, cupping her face in my hands. “I know what you did,” I whisper. “I do not forget.”

[Side-note: Gal rolled a nat 20 for insight, and T’homm fumbled her deception.]

[Other side note: The DM now knows Gal is prime for betrayal of T’homm. Hmmm.]

We head back to Krezk, with the kids in the cart and everybody to the sides. Suddenly we’re attacked by wolves, my horse rearing up as four come to flank me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Cal jump off the cart. “I am alpha!” he roars. Fine by me; one of the wolves peels off to attack him, instead, but it doesn’t prevent the wolves attacking me from biting me. I see Anvyre getting attacked hard, but I had my own problems, casting shatter to defend myself before I can help her.

Cera jumps up on the cart. “I am alpha!” she mimics, before unleashing a circle of fire that cleans out a good chunk of wolves. Fuck, that was a lot of shit.

We finish killing the wolves, beat up some, before Cal pulls out a knife. “What the fuck,” I repeat, and he goes around to butcher them, getting wolf steaks and an excellent pelt. “…I need a nap.” It’s been a long day.

Day 23

We pass through Villaki, still terrifying everyone. I am cold towards T’homm and Cal, processing my thoughts. We see the skeletal rider once more, and a swarm of friendly ravens, and I think about how I’m trapped here, and who I’m trapped with. We finally arrive at Krezk around sundown.

Cal goes to a tanner and hands over the pelt so he could make a hood. More importantly, they accept the kids, good for us.

View
Gal versus The Man part 2
or, we overthrow the government again

Day 19

I haven’t much time.

We headed back to Villaki, having to fight zombies and giant dire wolves on the way. At one point, T’homm gets knocked off her horse but gets her foot caught and is subsequently dragged away from the fight. But we make it back save, go to the Inn to get the keys. Man, it seems as though the town is abandoned… nobody’s looking at us. At the inn we learn the truth—Father Lucian Petrovich has been taken captive. We fear for the daughter and head back to Wacher, though Cera and Anvyre head instead to the church. The daughter is safe, but Fiona had found the sacred bones and thought they were the stolen ones instead. Cera tells us this, as Amicus curls up in my hood (I’m a little fond of the dragon. He’s cute).

We go see Father Lucian after talking with Lady Wacher. Cera heads off to research zombies and werewolves. Okay, so yeah, the holy bones were gone. Well, shit.  Using a locator spell, we find the bones in the vampire house. We pull up our britches, cast a Daylight spell (which doesn’t fucking work) and get to work killing some vampires. It looked shitty, but then I felt the holy glow of Turn Undead at my back, and the vampires fled Anvyre’s presence. I had a feeling that if that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be alive.

“What do you do if I die?”

“Loot the body, steal the boots.”

“Good girl.”

We whittle the group of 6 to two—mostly T’homm and Cal, typically surrounded and trying to deal with getting bit all the time from these assholes. After Cal kills one, I reach out and sent T’homm into a frenzy of action and speed. When she turns around, splattered with vampire blood, she was grinning widely, still high off Haste.

“You know what, bard?” she declared. “You can steal anything you want.”

I feel the incredulous grin take up semi-permanent residence on my face, as always kind of awed by her outright nature. “Thanks! I was going to!” I respond cheerfully, flashing her the thumbs up.

I then happen to glance at the box next to me. “Oh,” I say. “I found the bones.”

*

The others start to plan how to proceed with the bodies. I politely decline because gross, and I leave to the sight of them trying to stick them in the bag of devouring. No regrets. I look around a bit. “Hey, guys, there’s like a dozen coffins down here,” I shout up as a reminder. I hear horrible sounds and repost myself by the door. Fuck this shit. When they come down, it turns out they cut off the heads, and Cal brings them with in a box. Well, that’s a joyous way to spend our time. T’homm goes to sleep, deciding this is a Not Her Problem. I’m very close to doing the same, but I was torn between helping and listening to the warning bells in my head that carrying around a box of heads wasn’t a great idea. But Cera and Cal decide to take the heads to the church and bury them on the hallowed ground, preventing them from being found. We store the bodies in the coffins and head to the church, bluffing the guards. In the end, I can’t follow them inside, deciding to wait outside. I make zero attempt to hide myself from the guards, keeping an eye on everyone. We return to the mansion once the deed was done to find sleep.

Day 20

The next morning, Lady Wacher approaches us with a plan. Of course, we don’t have one, so I turn to her with a serious look. “Oh… we have a plan,” I say. “A solid, definite plan to find your daughter. It’s the best plan; we’ve all done a lot of plans, they’re experts on plans. They all say it’s the best plan. I’m excited for this plan.”

“O-okay,” Wacher said, growing convinced. Slowly but surely. “How long do you think it will take?”

“In this situation, numbers are fluid. They exist in the moment. But I can tell you it’ll be the fastest out there, people who know me, know that’s true.”

Wacher was silent, then turned to T’homm. “I knew I liked her,” she said, though days before she’d been clearly annoyed. Sometimes I enjoyed fucking with people.

We head to the tavern, getting drinks and chatting about our plans. As we share rations (how does T’homm always get hot soup from the oddest places?) and space, I recognized I was getting curious about these guys. It’s been two weeks, and I loved a good story… They were bound to be full of them. But the time never came, and the wereraven had a chat with us. We discuss possible… rebellion, which was interesting. We mentioned that Fiona is with the werewolves and Strahd (which we of course didn’t know, wink wink) he says that he supports it. We tell him about the vampires we beat up, and he asked if we had truly killed them. “Uh…”

“What do you mean?” Cera demanded.

“They need to be staked through the heart. I think. Maybe. Some of them do, I’m rusty on whether it was vampire or vampire spawn. If those were all real vampires, though, you’d all be dead.”

To be honest, my instincts told me we’d been close to death anyway, but this was much more important. It meant the vampires weren’t dead, and we had a bit of a cleanup. As a unit, we leapt to our feet and ran back to the vampire house, void of its coffinmaker for some time, but definitely with coffins that had moving bodies in them. Then they opened one with stakes in hand and made a slight clarification: headless moving bodies. I stand guard by the door, waiting for them to come close enough to open the door and blast them with real sunlight. Killing them was easy enough. At the end, Cera promised to make us stakes. Cal asked for a simple engraving with his god’s symbol on the side. I jokingly started demanding things, but Cera was so accommodating I actually ended up feeling guilty. “Kidding. …a mask.”  Mask was my god, may he watch over my fingers. That might be kinda cool.

We go back to T’homm’s room in the mansion and start to brainstorm what to do next; it was only afternoon, and we were now outright planning our second rebellion in less than a week. Honestly, politics are boring nobles and assholes screwing over everybody else, and I tended to stay out of them whenever possible. I know Cera is battling her conscience, but honestly, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. People get screwed. This is decades-old common sense and maybe seeing those kids in the stocks made me forget it.

We decide to explore the rooms around Lady Wacher’s. I pick Balthazar’s room first… these are hard locks, though, and I feel the workmanship in how they make my tools strain. His room is boring. I then take one look at Lady Wacher’s lock and know there’s no way I’m getting past it. I try my hardest, and yet still feel the tools nearly break. “Fuck, no, use Knock,” I say, backing away. [Player’s note: I ended up rolling like 4 times using up inspiration, bardic inspiration, guidance, etc, just to BARELY make the roll to not break my tools. Hell no.] Cera does so, and we’re inside.

From there, it was easy to enter the trap door to the attic. Her husband was still super dead and frozen on her bed. The attic was creepy. Some new stuff from Fiona Wacher was there, including a golden mirror that supposedly radiated conjuration magic. None of us could figure it out, though. Towards the back there was an ‘all is not well!’ sign, which (past a lightening magic ward) led to a room with two skeletal cats.

T’homm noticed I was hovering towards the back and motioned me closer. “I’m good out here,” I said.

“Gal! There could be children in here!” She said, like she had my number. I narrowed my eyes, peeved at the obvious trap. It wasn’t my fault that every child under the age of twelve was in danger in this damn country.

I mean, I’d been that kid once. I was only alive because somebody helped. At that age, life isn’t something you experience, it’s something that happened to you, and they don’t quite deserve it yet. Still rude to exploit that feeling, and I gave T’homm’s back the stink eye until she exclaimed inside, “Oh man, I was right? Rad!”

I move forward to see three small children standing with their backs to us in the corner. I could see at a second glance they were painted wooden dolls. “Somebody had made their own friends,” I hear somebody in the group mutter. But it worked, and I was there, and nothing monstrous was ready to rip me limb to limb. It was also interesting as fuck in here, a good story, so I moved inside to explore. Damn it, it worked.

I could see scrawled around the room teleportation circles and on the desk a leatherbound spell book [Lot 5] that Cera claimed with unconstrained glee. Cute. Seems, though, that whoever was in there had been making teleportation circles until they managed to finally escape and teleport out. Well… interesting. There didn’t seem to be many clues. We didn’t even know if this was Lady Wacher’s doing, or the late Burgomeister. We snoop some more upstairs, and make a plan to wait up here and drop down to kill her at night. We’d have to be careful of her little lizard serpent, but we had our own as well.

I cast silence and we drop down. The imp apparently, though, is looking right at us and raises the psychic alarm. We have no choice but to kill both of them in a fight. It’s… grossly easy, and when Cera finally stills the imp in combat, I shiver.

Now we have a new problem. Escaping the room, with a dead Wacher and pet at our feet. Also, trapped in a silence bubble with dead bodies. Gross.

View
Gal versus puppies - 8
I try to punch Cal and fail

[ this entry is a two-fer, two games in one!]

Day 16

After a long rest at the inn, we reconvene at the eating area in the inn. The mood is high: word is out that the Burgomeister is no longer in charge, and we get a bit of extra food at our table with a wink. He was not loved. Still, he is rotting in a coffin by now, and looking around the table, I see that some of our group had fitful sleep. Cera looks rough in particular. I would be among them, but to be honest, I’ve spent most of my life in a moral grey zone. I mean, yeah, he’s dead and his wife and son are in jail. Less than ideal. But I think about those kids in those stocks, the willingness to drag those beneath him behind a horse, and I don’t lose sleep.

I think about comforting her, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Too close.

“So. We free them?” Cera says, breaking our silence.

“Yeah. But we have to be careful,” T’homm adds, warningly. “Maybe I can get in good with Fiona. She knows me, and I did her a great service. I could get in.” Risky, but okay. We can check out the guard situations around the prisoners.

The door opens and Mason Mahoney, my friend in the guard, walks in. I stand to greet him with the 5-step handshake I taught him while we searched for that perfect stranger, my friend Rick. To my delight, Mason Mahoney remembers it well. Still, I know the news wouldn’t be good. “I’ve come to offer you a meeting with the Wacher, Lady T’homm,” Mason says. “I will wait to escort you.” From his tone, we have no choice. Still, it went with our plans.

Wacher brings T’homm into another room to chat about a job. I assume it’s for the head of the guard. She emerges, letting us know about it, and about our position… as underlings. A wide grin cracks my face. We’re her lackeys? T’homm? “Fuck yeah, Lady T’homm,” I smirk. Of course I get a weird look from Wacher, but the annoyed one on T’homm was the goal.

We are led to our quarters, T’homm going off to her own. I pick a bed with a clear straight-shot escape route closest to the door, in case we really are staying here. I don’t savor the thought of honest work, but it might be necessary to cement our cover. Gross.

T’homm and Fiona prep for the funeral, and according to her later retelling to us, inquires about her missing daughter and items… like the bones. T’homm gets a medallion of gold later, as well, my fingers itching at the tips at the sight of it. She also holds up a set of keys… useful. The first thing we do is go and release the rest of the prisoners from the stockades where they still resided, Cera using magic to warm them. When we return to the Burgomeister’s house, it gives off the aura of ‘scary sex dungeon’ with the current motif, and I kind of like it. For the dinner, I get bored and challenge Cera to a bread-steal-off. The person to steal the most bread without anybody noticing wins. We end with a tie, a weirded-out Lady Wacher, and an increasingly annoyed T’homm, who calls for rest.

Day 17

There is a funeral held for the BM, and we see 13 people acting unhappy about the proceedings. We manage to scare a few of them into smiles but they aren’t around afterwards.

And listen, nobody should be surprised when I go and try and make a few quick bucks. Fiona tells T’homm to reprimand me; I try to be sneaky, but when I wink and whisper “reprimand me” at T’homm, there is a sudden moment of silence. Oops. We also happen to scare a poor maid, T’homm paying 5 silver for a 5 copper pastry and demands more. The poor girl… those pastries take three days to make, so we talk T’homm out of it.

Day 18

We head to chat with the wereravens for a copy of Fiona’s keys, which they say will take two days to make. We also get a wagon, and soup, and make up an excuse to vanish for a couple of days to ‘find Fiona’s daughter.’ The whole village is being searched, and it’s not really a safe place for the girl and Ireena right now. We get to Krezk and meet Dimitri Kreskov, whose ancestors build Kresk. He wants another three barrels of wine, so we head south to the winery. We cleanse the poisoned wine, fix the fermentation vat, and are off with the three barrels.

The village of Kresk appears to be a hippy commune, with no exports or making money. We head to the abbey and wake the guards who are part animal. I trail a string to distract the part-cat. Cera illusions bird chirping to help out. We high-five, and it’s awesome.

Here are screams coming from a shed, but we are told it’s a psych ward. The people here are anti-Strahd, believing that the bride of Strahd can overthrow the curse.

Cal and T’homm decide to visit the psych ward, and see a crazy flesh Gollum to fight. Or so Cera showed me; I don’t deem it necessary to explore an obviously crazy-haunted place, so that little adventure starts off with me saying “I’m good out here.”

They made a beautiful flesh Gollum to confuse Strahd, and ask for a wedding dress so she could be a trap bride. They get her measurements.

We have dinner and go to the barracks next to the haunted hospital of illness. The day before we got here, apparently the Burgomeister’s son died—not our bad! The priest is going to resurrect him. The spell takes an hour and needs a diamond… normally. This version took 10 minutes and no diamond was used. We cast looks at each other.

We head to the local midwife Kitana Dolvy, who needs help delivering a baby. The baby is born without crying… apparently born without a soul. Oh. The son who was resurrected stole the baby’s soul… apparently, Barovia is a closed system.

If we die, our souls are trapped here.

Apparently up to half the people in Barovia suffer from soulessness. Well. That explains why everything is so cheerful around here.

As we start walking back, we notice that Ireena is spellbound, heading to the north of the village, and nothing we can do stops her. I mean, I still slap her to try and wake her up, but mostly because I hardly ever get to slap anybody, and I’m nothing if not opportunistic.

A ghost appears out of a fountain, a boy. “Tatiana!” he cries out. “We’re together at last!”

“Serge!” she calls. Must be some of that recycled souls bullshit. We manage to pull her away, just as thunder rains from the heavens and destroys Serge.

“She is mine!” a deep voice called. Well. Serge tried to take Ireena, and Strahd done fucked him up. Should be fun eventually fighting him.

Cal, Anvyre, and T’homm decide to explore the crazy hospital. Of course, I’m good out here… but Cera and I follow to prank them, making spectral images appear. Other shadows do appear, so the group kicks ass.

After this fun adventure, we go to Lake Baritov to see Rictavio. We manage to spy Von Richen’s tower, which is the most likely place to find him, across a long bridge.

In front of the tower, there is a purple cart. It looks magical, and fun, and we start investigating. The wheels have gold trim, and there’s a sign on the door: “Keep out!!!”

Cal promptly knocks off the lock and the whole things fucking explodes.

We start looking at the tower, me fuming, and see a sign on the door that looks like a bunch of stick figures doing a dance.

Cal promptly touches the fucking door and it electrocutes us, him, and probably Rictavio, if he was in the tower.

I’m going to punch him in the face after this fucking thing.

Turns out it was just telling us to do a dance. Cera completes it, and the door easily opens. Though we’ve been making a lot of noise… and out of the woods, 16 wolves show up. As they approach, a few transform into werewolves.

Fearing for my horse, Moxy, I immediately back her into the tower. This means two things: nobody can now enter the tower… and we are all going to be dead by the time the wolves get to her. Both of these things are find by me.

We scare the wolves with a bit of dancing lights, where Cal, Cera and I shoot stuff to try and heart. Cera keeps causing pile-ups of wolves with force damage, which is ideal. Cal and T’homm race forward to take damage and destroy some wolves. I mostly just insult the living fuck out of them. It seems that the werewolves are not affected by anything not dealing magical damage.

Cal gets bit. Not good. I light up the wolves with fairy fire and Cera beats one the fuck down. As werewolves fall, more take their place, attacking Cal and T’homm. Anvyre bravely runs up to heal our bleeding companions. “I am the alpha wolf!” Cal yells as he hacks down the alpha, attracting more attention to himself.

When Cal gets bit again, he goes down. T’homm risks an attack to revive him, only for him to promptly fall again, causing T’homm to hesitate on healing or fucking up the last wolf. When Cal gets up… he looks… off.

As we catch our breath, suddenly motherfucking Strahd appears from the heavens like a scary lich god. I prepare to fight… and die. No way are we strong enough right now. But he doesn’t attack.

“This group, you are… interesting,” Strahd murmurs, looking us over. “I want it to get a little more interesting.”

A piece of treasure appears at our feet, just for us. And then a pile appears in the center, and we find ourselves forced to take one. Presents? To help kill him? Fine.

I get handcuffs and a bag of tricks, and can’t help wondering what message he is sending to me.

Once the obvious danger is done, I make several attempts to punch a mostly unresponsive Cal and miss horribly with my tiny stick arms. It’s the thought that counts! And the thought is, Cal fucked up. I mean, I fuck up a good amount too, but nobody’s surprised by it. It’s my thing.

We take a short rest and then head into the tower. There are gargoyle statues inside, ready by an elevator, and respond to commands to lift it. T’homm goes up and finds an unconscious and kinda crispy Rictavio, and takes an awfully long time with him. Probably molesting him… girl has issues.

She comes back down, and Anvyre goes to heal him. She talks with him… apparently, the cart Cal destroyed belonged to his friend, Esmerelda. I go up and immediately sell Cal out, and it becomes a good idea to leave.

The group cuts off the heads of a few of the werewolves, and we head off to Villaki, now successful in our attempt to ‘retrieve the keys.’

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Gal versus wine - 7
we overthrow the government the end

Day 14, continued

[ it’s been like 3 weeks since we actually did this campaign, and I can’t remember a damn thing. The overall basic story is the same, but assume more of the embellishments are just coming out of my ass. Thanks!]

With one druid captured, two killed, and a good chunk of needle blights murdered, we decide to leave the unconscious druid with the mage Kasimir and sneak through the area. We find two draft horses, and my eyes light up. Hey, every girl has a weakness, and mine just happens to be for the prettiest ponies, tiny baby cute horsies, yes you are… Ahem. In moving around to the back, we see the empty fields and a door. Going inside the back door reveals a basement with a grape-ton of wine. The label reads Purple Grape Mash #3.

“Oh, this was a lovely year,” I say sarcastically, putting the bottle in my hand back up on a shelf. It does not escape my notice that T’homm and Cera stuff some of the wine in their bags, and I resign myself to clinking companions. Potentially drunk companions, I silently add to myself, seeing another room with a good double dozen of more expensive Red Dragon Crush wines. From Cera’s excitement, this was worth a good ten times more. That finally grabs my attention, and I swipe a wine bottle. Ten gold wasn’t a bad haul. We find more barrels of wine, noting to take them to the Vistani, before we go find his kid. That’ll get us those potions that let us go through the mist, out of this eternally monotone hole.

Fuck. I didn’t want to keep thinking about it, but I was obsessed. I could leave.

We see scratches on a door leading down. We follow it and have to cast light to see, finding a few patches of brown mold keeping the place cold. Nothing to be gained, we head back up. Poking around a bit more, we find fermenting tanks with a huge swarm of ravens. I jokingly salute them. One caws at me. Cal frowns at a door nearby. “Locked,” he announces.

I look up at the ravens, still watching us, and remember the times they’ve been weirdly helpful, and are now just being weird. One caws, and motions upstairs. I head up and see a kitchen, pocketing a few bags of spices. On the road, it went a long way. I guess I’m volunteering for cooking duty the next few nights.

The others explore as well, finding beds with footlockers. Cera discovered and snagged a few Red Dragon Crush labels.  I find a small room and discover a footlocker with a chunk of change in it. With a push, I also discover a secret compartment. There is a gold locket with the winery owner’s deceased wife Angelina, and many gemstones. I take a gemstone, twelve gold, and thirty-five silver. It won’t do to take a noticeable amount; this way it won’t get discovered for some time.

I also see on a desk a book. I open it to discover that it’s a list of receipts. Not being able to come up with something significantly less boring, I then close the book again and head back down.

Suddenly there’s a commotion. T’homm has seen a guy who looks terrifying, and who then hops down onto the wine barrels and darts off. T’homm gives chase, crushing a barrel in her pursuit. Cal pursues a bit more gracefully, and both confront Loco. T’homm misty steps in front of him. Loco attempts to steal a horse. Cera, noticing the issue, feather falls down gracefully to help try and get the guy off of the galloping horse… At least, this was relayed to me later, as I am off by myself. I arrive in time to see them beat Loco unconscious and bring back my—the—horse.

The guy had a staff on him, a blight staff, but it sends constant shivers up my spine. It just doesn’t feel… right. It’s evil. Cera seems excited to see it, so I say nothing, but I’m relieved when she goes off to explore on her own. I do the same, though keeping my distance. I’m not one to love being uncomfortable.

Cera comes back frowning. “You know that book?” she says to me.

“Oh. Yeah?” I ask, remembering specifically not having read it. I also inch away. I hate that goddamn staff.

“The receipts include everybody we know of, BV, BW, K, the Vistani… And S,” she says, though glowering at me for avoiding her. “Do you think…?”

“Strahd.” Anvyer is frowning now as well. Nobody has any other ideas.

Okay, so everybody has a hand in helping out corrupt politicians. This surprises me exactly nothing.

“Hey, also I found a key?” Cera says, holding it up.

As a group, we head to the locked door. There’s nothing there. The place is empty.  In heading back to the vats, I notice a foul smell coming from the wine. “…poison,” I gag, turning away. We bottle up some of the poison to take with us.

“Oh, hey. One of the druids had some coin on him,” I say, remembering. I give everybody two gold and six silver. Yeah, I keep 4 gold and 11 silver for me, but that’s standard finder’s fee. Plus the red gemstone. Maybe I’ll use some of the gold to make a necklace; I can tell it’s worth at least 50 gold.

After restoring Martikov to his rightful position as winery owner, the wine flow will return to the inn.

Cera approaches me again, but I continue to avoid her as long as she has the staff. Her face twists, and she turns to break it by slamming it on the ground. It screams bloodcurdlingly. “Fine,” she grinds out, walking away. I feel pretty guilty that she destroyed it, but… I can’t help but feel relieved. I’m worried what a thing like that would do to Cera if she attuned to it. Power is never truly free.

As we head back to the Vistani with the wine, we encounter a skeletal rider on a horse, holding a sword made of dark light. We could tell it used to be an adventurer, just like us. It was a fun, sobering experience that left us all a little emotionally scarred.

We get wine to the Vistani, afterward going to Irwin Markitov at the hotel to let him know that wine shipments would resume. He is grateful, and somehow slips that he’s with the Keepers of the feather, the wereraven order who oppose Strahd. We’re just never going to mention we’ve helped him at all.

Day 15

After a rest, we head to the lake to search for the girl, thinking she might be at the edge of the water. We see a man out on the lake and begin searching. The man stands, lifts a large sack in his hands, and dumps it off the side.

My heart leaps into my throat. The girl.

Both Cal and I take a running leap to the water to jump in and swim, where Anvyer and Cera climb into a boat. They make it there before us and save the girl. The man isn’t moving, but I still want to attack, still hyped up on adrenaline and thinking that he could try and hurt the child again.

For a moment, I raise my arm, preparing shatter as I stare at the man. He’s unmoving, possessed, and in that moment I wonder if he could be a problem for us in the future… My shatter charges. Then my brain catches up with me and reminds me he’s not moving, and that we had the girl. Okay. No murder.

But I would set an infant on fire to get out of here.

We take the man and the girl back to the Vistani. Apparently, the lake had dried up of fish, and the man thought the girl could be the magical sacrifice needed. I kinda want to shatter him all over again, but the Vistani have their own plans. And their own lies.

The potion wasn’t real.

The leader looked me dead in the eyes and said that the potions weren’t for people as strong-willed as us. Then he had to continue staring me in the eyes as my face became hard-set and I refuse to look away. “We will reward you another way,” he tried to wave off, offering us horses even as a I plot to burn this place to the ground.

At least my horse is a piebald gypsy. I call her Moxy, and we go off with her to the inn for breakfast. At the inn, the Keeper hand us a bread basket, with a note at the bottom. “I have travelled to Lake Baritok, I hope to see you soon. –R” Rictavio. I decide that at one point I will definitely help him take down the evil Vistani for the sole purpose of them getting what’s coming to them.

But first, we have to overthrow the government. We trick Isaak to go to the lake at dusk, telling Fiona Wacher the ideal time to get the Burgomeister. We trick him forward by me doing Ireena’s voice and get in a surprise attack. We kill Isaak, but he attempts some kind of magic and blows himself up.

In searching the body, we discover money and keys. His right arm is prosthetic. Curious as to this guy’s life, I cast ‘speak with dead’ and, using the Burgomeister’s voice, ask Isaak about his life.

“I lost arm to dire wolf, nearly died. I was born without a soul, and the only thing that kept me grounded was my sister, who forgot her little head during the attack and ran into the woods. I was teased by kids, and I killed them. I was caught and saved by the Burgomeister, who uses my evil for good. I dream of her… Ireena… My sister.”

“Oooookay and speak with dead over.” That was some incestuous gross tragic backstory. Cera looked conflicted, but I just stood and wiped off my hands. Good enough, we did our shit.

We decided to investigate the Wacher house, nobody but T’homm ever having gone inside. We find a room with a young woman claiming she’s a cat. Her mother is Fiona, and she hates the burgomeister and his son Viktor. As far as I know, she is traumatized by some kind of awful shit, so we decide to take her with us.

In our search, we also find a few shiny things (Cera takes a goblet and a decanter worth quite a bit), and we see Fiona’s dead husband Mikolai in gentle repose, which is the third creepiest thing I’ve experienced today. Amicus, Cera’s dragon thing, finds a key, and we see a chest. It has bones and is lined with lead… whatever is in there, there is a lot of effort in keeping it sealed up and away from resurrection.

We take the box and the girl to the church. Using greater restoration on the girl helps—her name is Stella, and she tells us that Fiona was trying to use her to take over the town. The priest is going to help prevent the bones from being resurrected. Father Lucian agrees to take care of Stella.

After, we head to the mansion. She demands the keys, which are given up awkwardly by Cal. The Burgomeister is dead. We do our part in convincing her not to kill the Baroness… for now. Coups are awkward, and this one is the worst, keeping a straight face when my brain is yelling ‘we kidnapped your daughter!’ But listen, my life is an awkward mess, so we just keep keeping on.

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