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.”
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.