We rose at dawn and packed as much as we could onto the wagon. We returned Hans and Katarina to Vallaki and picked up the wedding dress from the seamstresses. Then we continued to Krezk. All ten of our orphans (Myrtle and Freek, our original orphans, and our would-be werewolves, Magda, Vladislav, Boris, Lavinia, Anton, Ivana, Fatima, and Sergei) our mule Bruce and the wagon, Copernicus the goat, 10 chickens, and all of the toys I had bought for the children, all came to live in this sleepy commune. After delivering the children safely, Donavich took some time out to ward the gates while Ireena and I tried to find the source of the mysterious voice she hears every time we come to Krezk.
All together again at lunch time we decided to go up and deliver the wedding dress ourselves and scope out this Abbot fellow. We went up the hill to the fortified abbey and were greeted at the gates by two shambling figures of mongrelmen, made up of different parts of animals. What the heck was the Abbot up to? They led us through and we found more mongrel men, including one in chains who, when we tried speaking with her, bit Ireena and tried to lap up her blood! We were most disturbed, but then we were called in to meet the Abbot.
He was every bit as beautiful and composed as the last time we had seen him, and greeted us serenely. With him was a beautiful young woman, and I congratulated him on his bride. Oh no, he said, I was mistaken. He was not the groom. Who was, I then asked. Has he not told you, asked the Abbot. A dread fell over me. This quiet young girl was to marry Strahd? I took a closer look at her and that was when I noticed the smallest, most delicate stitchmarks on her wrist. No, no just her wrist. Her whole body. I complemented the Abbot on his workmanship and he tried to pretend I was imagining things. Giving an odd look at Ireena, he led us all in for lunch.
Ireena, Radovan and I tucked into the stew, stupidly. Donavich was the only one to push it aside, and when I noticed, I stopped too, and pushed Ireena’s away from her. It was too late: Radovan slumped in his chair. Oh dear, the Abbot said, I had hoped you would not guess and eat up all the stew so it would knock you out until Strahd arrived. He had guessed at Ireena’s identity and was going to give her to Strahd instead! Instantly we rose to the fight, as groggy as we were. It was to be a difficult fight, we realised, as he stood and revealed his true angelic form! We fought as hard as we could, but in the end he managed to grab the sleeping Radovan and force us to surrender.
He had made several mistakes. One of them was leaving us alone, unharried, for an hour in his dungeons, as it meant we could refresh some of our spent energy should it come to a fight again. The other mistake we had no idea about until our rescuer arrived at the door. Turns out the werewolves north of Krezk had long been aware of the mongrelmen and one had informed Zuleika of our capture. She came to rescue us while her pack created a distraction at the other end of the abbey. I turned into the form of a great prehistoric bear and bashed through the door. There was no time to retrieve our confiscated weapons; Zuleika insisted we follow her at speed to the portal.
The portal! I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave, but to get everyone with me to safety was a tempting idea. We raced down the hill to a placid pool with a gazebo beside it. To our horror, we spotted a red and black dot on the horizon, moving incredibly fast. Strahd. We increased our pace.
As we reached the pool suddenly a vision took a hold of not just Ireena this time, but all of us. Sergei, she cried out. Tatiana, a man’s voice called to her, and a watery hand reached for her. Strahd slammed between them and stared into Ireena’s eyes. She fell into his arms. Dirwin, you have betrayed me, came the dark indictment from the creature of the night. As we raced to attack, he shrugged off our blows, and walked steadily towards the pool. He threw a fireball which burned us all greatly, including Ireena, who looked near death. He carried her into the pool.
A foolish attempt! The pool exploded in fury, flinging Ireena away from Strahd and he, scorched and hideous beyond recognition, flung not far from the ruins of the gazebo, where Radovan had run to hide. The child, face filled with fear, picked up a burning piece of the structure and rammed it straight into the fiend’s chest. He was paralyzed!
Donavich revived the felled Ireena and ran to help Radovan hold the stake, while I was locked in combat with Strahd’s fell steed. The other three tried their best to hold the fiend down while I battled the beast and manage to extinguish its life and flaming mane. But alas, even as I had that minor triumph, the pinned vampire stared into the eyes of Radovan and willed the boy upward. As soon as the stake was out of his heart, he vanished into mist, which flew over the hills.
It was a failure, yes. But to come so tantalizingly close and live to tell the tale? That was a victory in its own way. At least that’s what the watching crowd seemed to agree on. We were taken back to the burgomeister’s and nursed back to health. I sent four giant kookaburras into the evening light. One to Vallaki, informing the priest and burgomeister there that the name Dirwin was now mud to Strahd, and that they should make efforts to protect themselves against any repercussions for our association. The second to the Martikovs of the winery, informing them of the development and their eminent danger. The third giant kookaburra to the tower east of Krezk, hoping it would find its way to Ricktavio to inform him of the open warfare state between the master and me. And the final giant kookaburra to Marja and Word, informing them that now was the time to return and join Public Enemy Number One.
When we woke it was to find many allies and acquaintances calling on us. First came the Martikovs. They came to say they were moving on and abandoning the winery for now, as they were open allies of mine. Also they told me they believed I would be the one to take Strahd down, and they would help me however they could.
Second came Marja and Word, and thankfully they were ready to pledge fully to our cause. Soon after came the third visitor, and it was a Vistana called Esmerelda, so had found our note intended for Ricktavio. Turns out she is a student of his. She decided to pledge to our cause too, though she seems a little bit more likely to rebel against our group consensus should we come to a disagreement. Fourth came Madame Eva and the Vistani! This was completely unexpected. She spoke to me and told me about the Amber Temple far in the mountains to the south. She said it was the source of Strahd’s power, as well as her own. I also theorize it may have been the source of Izek’s power too. She seemed angry at me when I tried to say that I would try and defeat Strahd without compromising with evil. And finally Zuleika and her pack had come to join us. She was perhaps a little ashamed of running away from the confrontation with Strahd, but I told her I understood and that her rescue had been invaluable to us.
With everyone assembled, Donavich whipped up a crowd with a powerful speech against the Abbot. I could finally understand why he would become a priest. I had seen his faith in action, but now I was finally seeing his public speaking in action. He told them of the mongrelmen and of the flesh golem he had made of the body parts of their dead daughters. He told them that the Abbot was a fallen angel who was happy to compromise with Strahd for convenience. Soon the crowd was whipped up and we went up, Krezk inhabitants, lycanthropes, and my party.
While the small army of ours faced the mongrelmen the Abbot placed in his courtyard, we ran into the abbey to find our confiscated weapons. Unfortunately this was a real struggle for us, as we had to wade through room after room, fighting off mongrels and shadows in our search. In the end we had to bust straight into the dining room where the Abbot and his terrible bride were. Ireena and Radovan slipped away and found the weapons in the room underneath, returning to join the fight upstairs. This time, with our additional allies, we had the angel on the ropes. The hideous bride was a great brute and tore a couple of commoners limb from limb, but we stirred her into such a frenzy that what ended up happening was she dealt the final blow to her creator. But we were able to put her down too.
A well earned rest in Krezk that night as we recovered and made our plans. Tomorrow, to Castle Ravenloft.
What a terrible idea! We left Krezk at dawn and went straight to the Castle. We faced great skirmishes – wolves at the gates harried us, and then wights in the courtyard put a mighty dent in our morale. But the final straw was the four dragon statues in the hallway. We nearly died in there. We ran for it, flying on summoned giant kookaburras all the way back to the windmill. After a short rest there we carried on to our secret lair were we spent a night argumentatively. I had to speak sternly and with conviction to end the bitter conversations. Tomorrow, we take on the Dead Dragon’s Lair.
We arrived at mid morning at Dead Dragon’s Lair or as we later learned to call it, Argynvostholt. The ancient defense of a dragon statue breathed a gentle cooling breeze on us rather than the intended attack. We entered the ruins of the grand old keep.
It was a sad sight within of former glory now crumbled. We went upstairs and in a room found a hearth from which a small, ashy dragon burst. It flew through the rooms and led us to a dark ghostly knight. His name was Vladimir and he stopped us. He spoke in long dead voice of his vow to see Strahd punished… and that he would stop any who tried to end Strahd’s punishment. I argued that Strahd’s punishment was punishing more than just the vampire. The knight did not care. Since neither of us would budge from our moral positions, it was a fight. He called out six of his phantom order and attacked. We prevailed, though it was hard won. We considered stealing his armour and sword, but his spirit would chase us across Barovia if we did, so we decided against it – at least until we put his spirit to rest.
We met two people in here who did not attack us: an injured dusk elf called Savid who had come looking for a missing person. We healed his leg and promised to help him back home once we were done here. Also we met Godfrey, once the lover of Vladimir, the only undead knight who did not attack us. We begged him to join us, sure that he was the ally that Madame Eva had spoken of in her tarroka card reading she gave me. He said he could only do that once the spirits of Argynvostholt were put to rest.
Also we saw a strange sight – a man rushed into the courtyard, and delivered a coffin. We went down to look, and the name on it was “Radovan”. We were all frightened, but to alleviate the mood I pushed Radovan so he almost fell in. But seriously, that’s something to investigate when we get back to Vallaki. Could it be our old friend the coffinmaker?
As we explored more of the complex we fought more spectral knights and phantoms, all of the order of the silver dragon whose likeness covered many surfaces in the form of art. We also saw more illusory dragons in hearths and heard ghostly voices which spun for us a tale. I will tell it plainly, though we learned in bits and pieces from spirits, voices, letters and paintings. This ruin was once the home of the order of the silver dragon Argynvost, who lived and fought amongst his disciples. They fell four hundred years ago when Strahd’s armies descended upon Barovia. His skull was taken and kept in Castle Ravenloft. If we can find it and restore it to this place, three things will happen: the restless dead here will be able to finally settle; Godfrey will join us in our cause; and the light of Argynvost will shine as a beacon over Barovia as a symbol of hope. We were in truth bitterly disappointed that we would have to return to Ravenloft without a powerful ally, in order to earn the trust of that same ally! But we managed to clear the ruin out and map its known rooms.
We returned Savid to his people outside of Vallaki and the leader of the dusk elves, camped with the Vistani on the outskirts there, asked us to take him to Amber Temple when we go. His sister had been killed by Strahd, and he wanted vengeance. Any ally is welcome!
We returned to our lair to rest our very weary bodies. Tomorrow we think we will seek out Ricktavio before we decide what to do next.