Entry 2: 17 Flocktime, CY 575
It occurs to me upon only this, my second entry, that I might learn the calendar of this strange realm and begin dating these journals with the proper dates for this place, though on some level it helps to ground me, keeping track of the passing of days on Oerth. If indeed time even passes the same here as on my world.
This realm, this Barovia, weighs on me even as I try hard to maintain a positive outlook on events. After all, someone must work to keep spirits high in the face of this oppressive place where the sun never seems to rise through the constant gray clouds that blanket the sky. Indeed, one resident informed us that it has at very least been many years since anyone in this place has seen the sun.
In any case, certainly our druidic companion Myra seems to have a demeanor that matches the overall dour mood of this “demiplane,” as Adren calls it. Whether she was always this way or the place has soured her I know not, but I am determined it shall not have such an effect upon me.
Thoughts on the nature of the place aside, I turn back to the events that fate has chosen for our motley band.
We found ourselves standing once more in the streets of Barovia, the place we came to call the “murder house” closed to us once more. The light (such as it was) was fading and we made a point to locate an inn where we could pass the night in safety.
I spent several years eking out an existence on the back streets and alleyways of the Free City and thus know the ways that cities work. Even in a realm not so oppressed by the tangible forces of death and despair that hang heavy here, the streets are not a secure place to sleep. It also means, however, that I am almost always able to find a necessary resource.
Thus I led the group unerringly towards the town center, where ahead of us a sign swung creaking in the night displaying a grape vine and the words, “Blood of the Vine,” though the “of” had been scratched out and replaced with “on.” As we approached the inn, however, a keening cry split the wind to our right, and being the sort who are unwilling to let a despairing soul go unaided, we investigated.
We came upon a neglected home which had been boarded up. The weeping sounded from within, and when there was no answer to our knock, we made our way inside, where upstairs we found a middle-aged woman named Mary, weeping because her teenaged daughter, Gertruda, who she’d kept locked away for most of her life, had escaped into the Barovian night.
My heart went out to the woman as she poured out her tale: she had kept her daughter locked away to protect her, supposedly from the attentions of the mad noble Strahd who rules over this land, and, she claimed, has a penchant for spiriting away the young women of the village. We let her pour out her story, and then, before taking our leave, promised to keep an eye out for her daughter, for which she seemed eminently grateful. We agreed amongst ourselves, however, to simply deliver the message to the young woman that her mother was worried, and not to force a girl to return to such an untenable situation as being held under lock and key.
We continued on to the Blood on the Vine Inn.
Upon entering the Blood on the Vine, we noted the usual motley crew of tavern denizens, the majority of whom seemed as grim as the land around. There was one gentleman, however, who sat in the corner and smiled at us as we walked in, waving us over to him. He introduced himself as Ismark Kolyanovich, son of the town Burgomaster Kolyan, whose dual letters we carried with us. He was able to discern which of the two (the warning to travelers to stay away) was genuine. This left us with a strange mystery—who, then, would have penned the other letter, begging travelers for aid?
Alas, any insight was not to be forthcoming, as along with the revelation came the sad news of the Burgomaster’s demise a few days past. Ismark informed us that his father lay in state at their home, as he had been unable to gather any stout backs and hearts to bear him to his final rest. We gladly volunteered our services.
Ismark paid for our meal and guided us to his home, a surprisingly worn and dilapidated manse that had been recently marred and scarred with signs of hard battle—there were burns, scorch marks, hideous gouges that Myra was able to identify as the claws of some beast or another. Many windows were shattered and planked over. The grass was trampled, the lawn and gardens unkempt and uprooted.
“It looks,” Adren observed, “like a siege.”
“You would not be mistaken,” Ismark replied, and bade us enter as he rapped on the door and called out the name, “Ireena.”
We heard multiple locks disengage from within, and the door swung open to give us our first breathtaking vision of the lovely Ireena Kolyanovich, who we learned was Ismark’s adopted sister. I kissed her hand, and it seemed as though she was not used to proper social niceties, but she was polite and welcomed us into her home. My companions also introduced themselves, though they were a bit less formal in their approach.
The first thing that struck me as I entered the place was the holy symbols. Though they were of gods foreign to this follower of Boccob, St. Cuthbert and Pelor, they clearly meant something to these folks, as the home was practically covered floor-to-ceiling with them in every room. Were it not for his bearing and demeanor, I almost would’ve thought Ismark a priest, there were so many deific marks herein.
Stefan inquired about the deities, and we learned that the gods who the locals revere are the Morning Lord and the Night Mother, though most of the populace believe the gods to have abandoned them centuries ago, and sent “the Devil Strahd” to punish them for their sins. The more I hear of this Strahd character, the less I like him.
Kolyan lay in state in the great hall of the manor, and after we paid brief respects, Ismark filled us in on what had happened. It seems that indeed a mighty siege took place against this structure. For weeks, they have been attacked by wolves, demons and other creatures of the night, throwing all of their hellish powers against the home, which stood strong against the onslaught.
Unfortunately, it was all too much for the poor Burgomaster, who held out as long as he could, but three nights past his heart gave out and he made his final journey to rest with the gods of this land. Astonishingly, with Kolyan’s death, the attacks ceased—as though that was the plan all along.
Ismark then dropped another vial of alchemist’s fire upon us: the reason the attacks began in the first place was that Kolyan had refused to hand Ireena over to become victim to the foul delights of the Devil Strahd, who was responsible for sending these horrors against the family. It now fell upon Ismark, both as good brother and acting Burgomaster, to protect his sister.
He begged of us that, after helping to bury his father, we escort Ireena to the fortified town of Vallaki, across Lake Zarovich to the northwest. There, he claimed, she would be better defended against the depredations of Strahd. Readily, we agreed.
Entry 3: 18 Flocktime, CY 575
We took our rest and the next morning, bore Kolyan’s body to a ramshackle, run-down church atop a hill at the local cemetery. Like the manor house, the church had been subject to attacks from claw and flame. Inside, the temple was much as those on Oerth, quiet and lit with the soft orange glow of candlelight. We could hear quiet prayer in the distance.
Then, suddenly, a scream tore through the air that curdled our blood, chilled our bones and made every hair stand on end. It was of a ululatory form that no human vocal cords I have ever experienced could utter, and yet nor was it completely bestial. It was the cry of someone, or something, caught between worlds, between man and beast…between living and dead. To the last, we froze in place until the wailing passed, and the place fell silent once more, save the quiet prayer in the distance.
We approached the sanctuary, where a rotund priest that Ismark identified as Donovich was huddled, the source of the quiet prayers. Another spine-scraping cry erupted from the floor boards below, this time speaking words we understood, but which were no less chilling for the comprehension:
“Father,” the voice wailed, “I’m hungry!”
“So what’s with your starving son downstairs?” I asked pointedly.
“I’ve kept Doru there since the day he changed,” the priest answered.
“Uh-huh. And how long, exactly,” Adren asked, “has your son been an unholy abomination?”
“Not very long,” came the foreboding answer. Brother Donovich then switched into business mode, voicing his presumption that we brought Kolyan for burial, and offering his thanks to us for helping Ismark. He enquired as to whether we had also been asked to escort Ireena to Vallaki, and we responded that indeed we had, and would guard her with our lives.
“For that, we are grateful,” Brother Donovich said. “Another option you may consider is the abbey at Krezk, past Vallaki. It has the advantage of being even more distant from Barovia, and of surrounding Ireena with clerics who are quite capable of defending her from the degradations of Strahd.”
We thanked him for the information and told him we would take it under advisement.
We asked about possible inns or way stations en route to Vallaki, having established it as a couple of days out from the city, and Donovich advised us that there was a camp near a small lake called “Tser,” where a people called “Vistani” made a home. From his descriptions, these Vistani sound a great deal like certain groups of traveling nomads that pepper Oerth in parts of the Flaeness. If so, I judged them like to be mystics and seers, but tricksters and grifters as well.
We buried the burgomaster and convinced Ismark that it would be in his and the town’s best interest for him to remain behind. He was, after all, the acting burgomaster, now, and having him stay would enable us to keep up the pretense that Ireena was still here. We then slipped out of town via a southwestern route, and made our way through the forest.
As if events had not been strange and mysterious thus far, we came to a crossroads, where even on Oerth it is known that the walls between worlds are thin, and encountered several things: a gallows with a frayed rope, swinging as though in a breeze though the air was as still as a statue; a graveyard full of poor, unmarked headstones—known as a “potters field” on our world; and a signpost with signs pointing to Barovia, from where we came, to something called Tser Pool to the Northwest, and to Ravenloft/Vallaki in the Southwest. Indeed, off in the distance we could see the castle itself, silhouetted in the moonlight and lightning. I admit, while I have seen my share of fortifications, my skin crawled at the sight of those sinister ramparts.
As we stood, I suddenly saw a body swinging from the gallows, which had not been there before. It turned its dead eyes to meet mine, and I swear by Pelor that the thing bore my own face. My companions, though somewhat disturbed by the appearance of the body, insisted that it bore no resemblance to me, and was simply a rotting corpse that we had overlooked. I challenge you, dear reader, to explain how someone could view a gallows and fail to notice a body hanging from it, but thus was the truth to which my companions clung. For me, the experience was nothing short of sanity-rocking, and even now, several days later, I find myself unable to calm down.
After I calmed, we chose the route to Tser Pool, to visit with the Vistani and hopefully take our rest. A few hours passed and we found ourselves traversing a winding road marked with deep wagon ruts that descended into a valley, beneath a stone bridge far overhead that we judged to be the road to Vallaki. We came to a pool along a river where a gathering of brightly colored tents and wagons was scattered. Music that was simultaneously mournful and joyful at once filtered through the camp, from a group of performers within.
We made our way over, where I produced my lute and pipes, and joined in the song. The Vistani, impressed, invited us to exchange stories, whereupon I regaled them with our adventures thus far as you have already read. They, in turn, told us the following story:
“Once, long ago, a great sorcerer came to this land, it was said to lift up the people and challenge the Devil Strahd in his very home. Over a course of weeks, the mage gathered together an army of the people, rising their fury and indigence at the treatment they had suffered under the demonic lord, and together they marched upon the castle.
There, however, at the very gates of Castle Ravenloft itself, the courage of the army failed when Strahd appeared and showed his power, and to the last, they fled before his might, leaving only the wizard standing to face the dark lord. They fought a mighty battle of weapons and sorcery both great and dark, but in the end, Strahd prevailed, hurling the wizard over 1,000 feet to dash his body against the rocks at the foot of the cliff.
I must say, our own story was more heartening.
We were offered an audience with Madame Eva, who we were given to understand was the leader of this group, or at least a very respected elder (the title they used was “Shuvani”), and accepted both out of curiosity and out of obligation to present ourselves to their elder or leader.
Eva was welcoming and kind, and offered to read our fate in the cards. Long a fan of divination, I at least was eager to learn of what the past, present and future held for us as a group. My companions agreed as well, and she laid out five cards representing History, Protective Forces, Power and Strength, a force of aid, and the Enemy himself. Our results were as follows:
The Card Representing History: The 5 of Coins, the Guildsman. This card showed Eva a darkened room, full of bottles, the tomb of a guild member.
The Card Representing a Force for Good and Protection, a Holy Symbol of Great Hope: The 7 of Glyphs, the Charlatan. Eva saw a lonely mill on a precipice and told us to seek the treasure that lies within.
The Card of Power and Strength, of a Weapon of Vengeance, the Sword of Sunlight: the 10 of Stars, the Master of Stars (the Wizard). She saw a wizard’s tower on a lake. We were advised to “let the wizard’s name and servant guide you to what you seek.”
The Card that Sheds Light on a Great Helper in the Battle against Darkness. The Hero. Eva advised us to search for a troubled man surrounded by wealth and madness. His home is his prison.
The Card that Shows the Enemy, a Creature of Darkness, of Power beyond the Mortal Realms. This Leads to Him. The Raven. To find answers we should seek the Mother’s Tomb.
Thus it was that we passed the night in safety among the lively and mysterious Vistani of Barovia.
Entry 4: 19 Flocktime, CY 575
We left the Vistani this morning and followed the winding valley road to another crossroads, where signs pointed to the camp itself, from whence we’d came, and to both Castle Ravenloft and to Vallaki. We made for the latter.
As we approached Vallaki, yet another mysterious gate in the road opened before us. It was Adren who suggested an uncomfortable feeling that these gates may in fact be scrying devices for the demonic lord of this land. At this suggestion, we chose to pass around the gate rather than through it.
We found ourselves traveling even deeper into the strange valley to the northwest along a winding, twisting road, and noted an old stone windmill to the west, which hearkened back to our card reading. I marked it for later exploration. At length we came upon a walled town along the shoreline of the lake and approached the iron gates. The town, chillingly, was surrounded by pikes on which were stuck wolf heads in varying states of decay.
I advised our druidic companion only half-jokingly that assuming a lupine shape might not be in her best interest here, and we hailed the guards who at first were not eager to allow travelers in after the city had been closed for the night. I managed to talk our way in by invoking the gods of the land, and swearing upon them that our mission was righteous, and that we merely sought shelter from the wilds for the night.
The town struck me as much more like what I was used to on the streets and alleys of Oerth, though it still featured similar strange architecture as did the Barovian village we’d left two nights hence. Again, calling upon my skills as a former city rat, I led my compatriots unerringly through the maze of streets to an inn whose sign featured a blue waterfall, and we entered a large, well-outfitted and welcoming taproom where we found a table.
I arranged with the innkeep for us to share two rooms—one for the women and Stefan, and one for the rest of us. I must admit, the prospect of not being near Ireena is not pleasant for me, but as a gentleman and her sworn guardian I understand her desire to remain separate. I only pray that our devotee of the gods is as honorable as I believe him to be.
I then set up and played a few songs to entertain the patrons and lighten the mood.
Before long, Ireena excused herself and headed to take her evening’s rest. Stefan accompanied her, citing his need to engage in his nightly prayer, as well as a desire to sit sentinel with her.
As we took our meal, a man approached us who introduced himself as Rictavio. He had a fine and noble bearing and wore well the cares of his age. We invited him to please, take his meal with us, and discovered that he, too, was brought here from another far-off world, long ago. He is a sort of showman, looking for traveling performers to join his troupe. He has heard of the places from where we all hail, which is both heartening and disturbing at the same time.
We ate, exchanged pleasantries, and Rictavio excused himself. We discussed our next plan and decided that before we moved on to Krezk, we would take a few days’ respite in Vallaki and possibly explore the mill, whose resemblance to our card reading was too strong a lure to ignore. We then headed to take our own rest, wondering what promise tomorrow holds in this strange and dark realm, and if we would ever again set eyes upon our own native shores…