Day Six continued…
I hopped my merry way to the crossroads before the castle, to find an empty black carriage with two large black horses. I got in and tried to relax, though the ride was unnerving. The sky darkened towards night with the fleeing sun and heavy clouds ready to pour. And pour they did just as I got into the courtyard of Castle Ravenloft and ran into the open door.
Through the open doors and down the hall was a grand room with large dragon statues and a sweeping staircase. An elf of some ethnicity I had never seen before came down the stairs and led me further into the castle to the dining room. As I entered Strahd was sitting at a great organ with his back turned to me, playing. The instrument filled the room with bright, ringing tones. Finally finishing, he turned and asked me if I appreciated music before inviting me to sit.
We made small talk over dinner. Only I ate, naturally. One thing that was unexpected for me was that fact that some of the dishes I was served had garlic in them! So I made a mental note of as many of the herbs as I could identify in the food – surely these do not affect Strahd as the wildflowers affected Doru. You’ll never believe who my servant at the table was… Ismark the Greater, the former burgomeister of Barovia, a shambling wreck of his former self. I made no sign of recognition or disgust.
As we talked of many things I could sense many of the times he was pressing me for information, sometimes only with delicate words, and sometimes with the heavy hypnotism of his unblinking eyes. He tried to ask about Ireena, and I feel as if I was just able to slip past his hypnotic control and tell only half truths about ‘Danya’, the girl I met outside of Vallaki and who had not come with me because she was babysitting Radovan. Also another thing he tried to pry about was the animals I can turn into. His interest seemed mostly academic though, so I promised to write him a book of the animals I know. But here is an interesting thing: even though he seemed to know everything I had been up to, the one thing he didn’t know was that Madame Eva, the vistana, had given me a fortune telling. Interesting, that!
He also offered me the run of his library any time I want, and he gifted me Old Bonegrinder, seeing as I claimed the deed. As the night grew deeper he invited me to run with him and his wolves. We did so. I was high on adrenaline – here I was, daring to run with the alpha predator, so vulnerable and weak beside him.
Soon our time together was ended and I was bundled into the carriage again. This time it took me all the way into Vallaki. But I did not return to the inn. Instead I camped in a lean-to off a house.
When the sun rose I ran for the lake, stripped naked and bathed before returning to my friends. They were all shaken by my late return and I embraced each of them in relief. I filled them in on what had happened, even telling Ireena the truth about her father. We decided the time was ripe, and we had to go to find the other outlander. We knew she was across the lake, so we went down there to see how we could cross it.
We got there and saw an awful sight! A fisherman in a boat threw a sack in the lake – it was wriggling, and large enough to be a small humanoid! I turned into a croc and raced to rescue the bundle. I nosed it back to land and the others tore the young vistana out of it. While Donavich performed the necessaries on her I dove back in and drove the boat back to shore with my mighty jaws. The man within was a simpleton who had heard an urban myth that sacrificing a vistana to the lake would bring more fish. We took him to the church to receive their justice, and we took the little girl, Arabelle, to the camp just out of Vallaki.
When we got there we saw three dusk elves – the ethnicity of elf I saw in Strahd’s castle – and they were delighted to see Arabelle. Most of the camp were out looking for her, but her father was here and greeted us warmly, giving us a box of jewelry as thanks. We ate lunch with them. They were slightly more hospitable than the first Vistani camp.
In the afternoon we crossed the lake at last. We were prepared for a long trek of many days, but it turned out we needn’t have worried. For I recognised the strange tracks of the Outlander, left almost as signs for me to follow.
As the slope got steeper, the terrain rockier, in the afternoon light we were greeted to the sight of a great elk to one side, and a graying wolf to the other. We had found the Outlander.
Note: Those who have played Curse of Strahd will already likely know who the person is you are supposed to find on Mount Baratok, and it’s not a druid. I won’t spoil it here for anyone who is yet to play. But basically it’s a famous old school character of D&D. James thought that character might not be as relevant to me, so instead he made the Outlander be my very first D&D character from when I started in 4th Edition back in 2011: Marja, my Wilden Druid with her pet wolf Word. Out of character this of course lead to me squealing in excitement! My mind is still blown 🙂 In this edition she’s multiclassed into Ranger also. I can’t wait to see what happens next!!