Entry 6: 23 Flocktime, CY 575
We have succeeded in our quest, though in a way we never considered, and my heart is heavy even as it rejoices. At least one pure soul in this dark realm has found happiness and light, and I rejoice to Boccob and Pelor that this is the case, but yet, I feel a sense loss, something my companions must not see, as they take such pleasure in making light of my feelings. But isn’t it a bard’s duty to taste life in all its wonders and sorrows, to feel things more deeply than other beings? Isn’t that why we are who we are?
I digress, however.
After an arduous and exhausting climb we made it to Krezk. The guards called out in greeting and inquired our business. We responded with our need to speak to the monks in the monastery and they responded by bringing us to the attention of the Burgomaster, which we found somewhat puzzling—and not a bit distressing, if I’m to be honest.
I feel sorrow for the people of this vast kingdom that they live in a place so mistrustful of visitors. Certainly there are such places on Oerth as well, but none that seem as far reaching or intensely paranoid as those in this kingdom of Barovia. As one might expect, we were asked to prove our good intentions before entering (though it may just be they needed help and felt if they simply asked us, we might not give it—either way, how sad to live in such a state!)
Burgomaster Dimitri Krezkov spoke with us and asked us, before entering, to prove our quality by investigating a series of missed deliveries from the Wizard of Wines. We agreed, after a brief parlay in which we convinced B. Krezkov to agree to put Ireena up in his home and keep her safe until we returned. It was not an ideal arrangement, leaving her in the care of someone we did not know, but once more we encountered people in need of aid and could not turn from them. Besides that, this was the place we had been led to believe our lovely charge would be kept safe, and that meant success in our mission.
So it was that we left Ireena in the care of Krezkov, and made our way to the winery. As we approached through the forest, I was hailed by a figure cloaked and cowled, deeper in the forest. Cautiously, my companions and I approached, having now become quite accustomed to the dangers of this land’s forests.
The figure led us deeper under the thick canopy to a modest campsite, where huddled around a small campfire, no fewer than seven other figures, their own cloaks pulled tightly against the wet chill in the air. Our new guide pulled his cloak down to reveal a wizened face, and introduced himself as Davian Mortikov, the proprietor of the Wizard of Wines Winery. The others we met were his family: his eldest son Adrian, younger son Elvir, his daughter Stefania, her husband Dag Tomescu and their children Claudiu, Martin and Viggo (twins) and Yolanda.
The family bade us to sit, and informed us that we had been walking into a dangerous trap. Davian began his tale:
For centuries, the Wizard of Wines has been delivering the best of wine from the highest quality grapes and berries to the surrounding lands. This was made possible by magical seeds—gemstones, in fact, which were buried beneath the soil allowing and encouraging the growth of three very unique varieties of grapes that produced the finest wines ever tasted.
Now, the clan had been driven from their winery and home, the victim of a vile curse or targeting by corrupt creatures that befoul nature itself. Their Seeds have all been stolen, their livelihood destroyed, and their home occupied. It has been ten years since the first and second Seed were stolen; the first has been lost to time, but the second was carried off by walking scarecrows from the now-haunted and abandoned ghost town of Berez.
For the past decade the family has managed to continue their operations using the third Seed, but now, a few days ago, a cult of evil druids, werebeasts and their foul creatures of blight descended upon the winery, drove the family out, and stole their third Seed. From out of the forests they came, pillaging, destroying and bringing to bear all the powers of evil, darkness and decay, such that a simple family of artisans had no means to stand against them. For nearly a week the family had huddled in the forests, scrounging for what food they could and desperately seeking a solution. The children were malnourished and starving, the family in clear need of aid and succor, and then we came, as angels from the dark.
Upon hearing their tale, we vowed to do what we could to restore the family and their operations, and informed them of the concern of the fine folk of Krezk. Indeed, upon hearing that a dark sect of druids were behind this, Myra was among the first to announce her intent to destroy this foul corruption of all she held dear. The family told us that, if it was still there, we were welcome to take a shipment back to Krezk from their stores, should we regain them their home.
Thus it was that Adren and I moved as silent shadows to investigate the winery. Surrounding the building we discovered six groups, each containing five of these foul creatures of blighted vegetation shambling around as though on guard. They appeared as shuffling, hunched humanoids, but the stench of rotting plant matter was strong and they were clearly beings of pure, black corruption.
Using our unique skills, Adren and I managed to infiltrate the winery itself, where within we found a wild-looking druid pouring some sort of blackened, brackish syrup into the vats of wine, spoiling them for drink. We also caught sight of a small creature comprised of twigs, skittering in and among the shadows. From here we constructed a strategy.
The two of us would position ourselves to attack the druid, while our companions stormed the building, running through the groups of blight creatures like a gauntlet rather than trying to face all thirty of them.
The plan succeeded; the moment we heard our companions slam and lock the door of the winery, barring the blight creatures on the outside, Adren and I made our presence known and skewered the evil druid like a wild boar. At this moment, our companions entered the room and a score of those twig-things swarmed from the shadows. Calling upon the light of my faerie fire spell, I illuminated them in the dim light, and Stefan called down the blessings of his deity upon us. Myra assumed the form of a great brown bear, and Davlin unleashed a bolt of fire into the creatures while Cymric hewed through them like so much chaff and wheat.
Four more druids made their presence known and the battle was joined, and two gigantic blighted creatures comprised of vines arose as one of the druids brandished a horrible, twisted black staff, announcing “Nature bows to my whim, for I wield the vampire’s staff!”
Such a declaration proved unfortunate for him, as it marked him our primary target. He did not last long against the fury of our swords and spells. When he fell, so did the vine blights, and then one by one the rest of the foul beasts were cut down before our righteous fury. We emerged little the worse for wear, and victorious, to the gratitude of the Martikov clan.
It was Davian himself who told us the tale of that wicked staff, called Ghoulfius, a weapon named for the species of tree, which grows in a place called Nightfang Spire, and from whose wood the staff had been hewn. The staff was once used as a tool of light to destroy an ancient vampire. In vengeance, the spirit of fiend infused and corrupted the staff, giving its wielder the ability to call upon these degenerate creatures of blight.
We destroyed the staff, thus removing yet another stain of darkness from this land, and loaded up the missing shipment from the Martikov stores. The remaining Seed was saved and while the group had much to do, to clear out their befouled batch of wine, they were confident they would be able to resume business once more.
We returned to town to the cheers of the residents—being hailed as heroes is becoming rather commonplace for us here, and while it is gratifying to the ego, it is disheartening that this land is in such dire need of heroes to celebrate.
We reunited with B. Krezkov and were heartened to find Ireena in good health and in better spirits. Our full day was not to end yet, however; a few hours later our beautiful young charge began to hear a voice calling to her—a voice she insisted was not the Devil Strahd. She followed it, with us close at her heels, until she came to a quiet pool at the center of town. There, within the pool, we all saw the vision of a handsome, noble young man who called her Tatyana.
To our astonishment and hers, Ireena recognized the man and remembered him as though from a past life. “Sergei!” she said. “My prince, Man of Faith, has called to my spirit!”
Before we could react, she stepped into the pool, met by the vision of this Sergei, and embraced him. My heart both soared and broke at the same time as I watched the two fade into the light, bathed in the ecstasy that only arises from two soulmates long separated, reunited at last.
Since nothing seems to end happily in this bleak place, that was when things turned dark. A deafening clap of thunder resounded through the village as a bright streak of blue lightning impacted the pool, knocking all of us from our feet. A booming voice sounded from the clouds as a dark visage appeared before us, shouting, “She is mine!”
Our blood chilled upon the realization that we had all now been marked by the Devil Strahd for rescuing young Ireena (Tatyana?), we withdrew back to the Burgomaster’s home, where he filled us in on the events that had rocked this particular small village.
It turns out that the insular residents here never leave, and subsist on trade, including their monthly shipments of wine from the Martikovs. The Burgomater himself lost his 14-year-old son to a mysterious illness recently, and their shrine to the Morning Lord had been destroyed.
He informed us that taking Ireena to the abbey may not have resulted in the best end to our quest, and regaled us of a story regarding the abbot—a woman named Markovia—who once stormed Castle Ravenloft itself and failed. It was then that the Mists came and drove some folks in town mad, turning them into cannibalistic horrors that reigned terror upon the town. This was centuries ago.
The current abbot is over 100 years old, has not aged a day, doesn’t talk much and only emerges from the abbey to visit the destroyed shrine. The town pays the abbey tribute in wine and is largely left alone. There are whispers that in truth the abbot is a servant of Strahd, or possibly Strahd himself (the latter is something we currently dismiss, as if it were the Devil Strahd, would he not have already moved to destroy us in light of rescuing Tatyana from his clutches?)
Bells are heard from there at odd hours, and inhuman screams from there split the night. Nobody ever visits the place.
Thus it was that we retired for the night. As I pen this entry and prepare to take my sleep, it occurs to me that we have no preset purpose here, now. No quest to fulfill, but we are heroes in a world that seems utterly lacking in those with the courage to do right. We have also been marked as enemies by the dark lord of this land, and must be on our guard to face his black retribution.
Indeed, while we have no marked quest, our mission and purpose seems clear. The gods have brought us to this realm to stand as beacons of light against this encroaching darkness, and even if I must go on alone, I will not rest until this world sees its first sunrise in the gods only knows how many centuries.