When last we left our heroes…
Despite their misgivings of the Vistani, the party desperately needed to rest. Lin spent much of the night attempting to decipher The Tome of Strahd the party found in the treasure wagon, eventually coming to an understanding of its intricacies. Meanwhile, the others left to speak with the unusual elves. They were shepherded to speak with their leader, Kasimir Velikov. Lin rejoined the party as they entered the hovel of Kasimir and sensed that the male elven guards were immediately discomforted at her presence.
An ear-less, melancholy elf welcomed the party warmly into his hovel. He offered to partake in his breakfast and congratulated the group on surviving as long as they had. He introduced himself as Kasimir and quickly apologized to Lin. He tried to politely explain why he and the elves were so tense around her: Count Strahd von Zarovich had long ago killed all the women of the Dusk Elves as revenge for the lynching of Kasimir's sister, who Strahd had become infatuated with. The Elven men had no untoward ideas, but were concerned for her safety. An Elven woman seen in the company the Dusk Elves would likely invite disaster for all parties involved. At this, Lin took her leave to study the tome further in the bunk wagon.
Kasimir answered the remaining party member's questions regarding the history of Barovia. When asked about Madam Eva's Tarokka Reading regarding "a fallen house guarded by a great stone dragon” he told the party of an old order of knights who were wiped out centuries ago by Strahd as part of his campaign to take ownership of what would become Barovia. He explained that the order either worshiped a dragon god or was lead by a dragon, or some such. He pointed the remains of their keep out on the party's map.
In regards to the prophecy related to the Raven and the Raven with Blue-Tipped Wings that had been following the party, he knew nothing. He said that all he knew of it was that in the legends of the valley, ravens are the servants of Mother Night and carry lost souls to her embrace.
Cuthbert was curious if Kasimir had ever heard of a tower to the west of The Town of Vallaki. Kasimir had some knowledge of the building. He pointed it out on the group's map. Kasimir believed the tower was once the abode of a powerful wizard and adviser to Strahd. It is widely believed that the tower is riddled with magical traps and monstrous creatures that keep any would-be pillagers from entering or, for the very unlucky, leaving.
Having answered the party's questions, Kasimir brought a new matter to their attention: he knew of a secret place in Barovia. Kasimir had been keeping an eye on Strahd for hundreds of years and had been investigated the path Strahd followed to vampirism. In his search, he found that local tribesmen of the southern mountain range told tales of Strahd visiting the mountain immediately before his ascent to supreme power. This lead Kasimir to take several of his bravest followers through the range. Several of his men were lost to dangerous fauna and treacherous terrain, but eventually the found a strange temple hidden away in the rock. They began to probe the ancient structure but traps and demonic beasts caused them to retreat. Kasimir believed his people were not up to the task but that the party would be capable of plumbing its depths. He openly admitted that he had two motives for this - firstly, he would do anything to see Strahd fall; secondly, he wished to find the power to revive his sister. The party agreed to meet him in the tribal village near the foot of the mountain sometime in the weeks to come. Kasimir recommended that the group bring hunted game as a tribute to the tribesman.
The party left the camp, traveling westward to Unknown. Along the way, Lin continuously studied the tome from the back of their wagon. Before she could finish deciphering the first chapter of the book, the party happened upon an old abandoned graveyard populated by the corpse of a hungry wolf and swaying humans figures. Recognizing them for zombies, Harker leaped into action, efficiently dispatching one of the three undead. The group followed, quickly cutting their foes to pieces. As they surveyed the land, the wolf corpse came to life and lunged at Harker. As it flew in the air towards the ranger, Cuthbert quickly reacted, slicing the canine into pieces.
They investigated the graveyard and found several more animated bodies. One that may have fallen into an open hole dug by wolves and another attempting to burst its way through a shallow grave. Grief channeled his divine might, with the guidance of Cuthbert's religious training, into a holy strike that cleansed the grove of it's necrotic energies. With the graveyard now clean, the group looked around. They found that most of the names on the modest tombstones were named Strakovna, a family that lived near Vallaki and used to provide the town with food that could not be easily grown within the town. They had not been heard from in years.
The adventurers left the graveyard and continued westwards until they reached and intersection with branches to the northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast. Jenkins and Grief tried their best to repair a nearby broken sign and were somewhat successful in doing so. This allowed them to see that the arms indicated "Krezk" and "Tsolenka Pass" to the southwest, "Lake Baratok" to the northwest, "Vallaki" and "Ravenloft" to the northeast, and "Berez" to the southeast.
As the others looked at the sign, Lin finished translating the entirety of the tome's first chapter. She leafed through the torn and blackened pages full of strange and foreign script and before her eyes the cipher morphed into perfect common inscribed beautifully in murky black ink.
"I, Strahd, Lord of Barovia, well aware certain events of my reign have been desperately misunderstood by those who are better at garbling history than recording it, hereby set down an exact record of those events, that the truth may at last be known."
The book fluttered open to a blank pair of pages along the spine and mist began to pour from the binding. The party immediately began to feel lightheaded. They collapsed along the ground as a hungry mist crept along towards them. The saw only nothing - nothing and mist. Then, in the fog, a handsome man in a black cloak and a regal, red tunic, looked at the group with a stern face and piercing eyes. He stepped closer to the party with the grace of a king. The groups eyes met his cold glare and he began to speak.
"I am ancient. I am the land. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past."
The figure faded into a black and red cloud before reforming into a young boy, no older than 12, with a small sword at his side and tears streaming down his cheeks. The mist receded further revealing a glorious, well-adorned castle shining brightly in the sunlight. Hanging high on the towering ramparts were rich, red banners depicting a black raven - the same one emblazoned on the front of the tome. The boy moved and sat at a set of stairs leading to a wooden door, behind which the group could hear several people speaking.
The party approached the boy and he identified himself as Prince Strahd von Zarovich. He had been training with Rahadin, his father's adviser. He was upset because of the high standards placed upon him by his father, King Barov, and his tutor. He believed that if he did not achieve their goals, he would be replaced by his yet unborn baby brother, Sergei. Insider, the party could hear Strahd's father telling Rahadin to push the boy harder. He thought Strahd was still too brash and foolish. Rahadin agreed, and took his leave to continue with the sparring session.
When Rahadin saw Strahd speaking to no one, he chided the boy for still having imaginary playmates. Grief attempted to strike Rahadin but simply faded through the figure. Rahadin seemed strangely aware of it at once, brandishing his blunted training sword to the air. He told Strahd that they would continue training immediately. Cuthbert took the opportunity to examine Rahadin's fighting style, while Grief coached Strahd on how to get a hit in on Rahadin.
The party tried to listen in again on King Barov and heard his wife telling him not to be so hard on Strahd.
At this, the scene dispersed into mist and they heard the voice speak.
"...yet that past is now filled only with regret."
The party came to back in the crossroads. Ireena Kolyana informed them that they had been unconscious for approximately an hour. She was very relieved to see the party in good health and had no idea what had happened. She was eager to get back on the road.
They spoke little of the event, and traveled westward. Ireena said that she had a request for the group from her friend Vasilli. He had told her that one of the merchants he works with, Zhenya Romanov, had recently traveled to Krezk in the middle of the night and had not returned. He asked that the group keep an eye out for her or her caravan. If she has been killed, he needs her log book badly for his accounting. He said that as a reward the party could keep anything else at the caravan. The party was hesitant to accept, but told Ireena that they would keep an eye out.
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