Ravenloft Campaign: Woven Fates

Tonight, I relate the story of a group of strangers that met here in the Land of Mists and, forced by destiny, wandered its roads in formidable adventure. Join us as I lead you from their first meeting along through their travels, their misfortunes and their shining moments. Grace them with your compassion in their losses; bless them with your support when the sky is dark and bleak. Do not forget to bestow your praise upon them as they vanquish terror and hold back the minions of darkness. Raise your arm to cheer for their victories!
And above all, share your glass with us for them, both in sorrow and elation, as you accompany them in the thorny road from lost adventurers to heroes of the mists.

Come, huddle with us by the fire here in the dark. The night is cold, but within the ring of Vardos, its evils cannot touch us. Tonight, you are a guest of the Vistani and nothing will harm you. Come, the Prastonata is over and now is time for the Doroq. Let the tales now unfold, let the revelations begin...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Log Entry 24

They rose and bade farewell to the priest. The sun was reaching its highest point in the sky and they wanted to keep their arrangement with the gypsy. But as they were leaving, Donosty called them one last time and added, almost as an after-thought:
"In case these things interest you, there's going to be an execution in the village this evening."
Donosty looked uneasy
"I myself won't be going, but I think you should assist, just so you know what country you're in now".
Donosty turned back to his affairs, but Yuri and Gregor questioned him further
"Who are they executing? And Why?
"It's just a petty thief. He had been at it for already some time when they finally caught him. He was trialled and found guilty and in the middle of the audience he insulted the burgomaster and especially the Count quite vigorously. He was immediately sentenced to death. It is today" he added sadly.
The conversation died then and there. They turned back to the village and to the centre square where they could already devise the gypsy and his donkey. While they descended the slope, Gregor and Yuri conversed about the punishment that would take place at dusk
"I kind of agree with it, if he really did insult the governor before everybody." offered Gregor. Yuri shrugged and replied
"I just want to be sure he really was caught deservedly. What if he was being trialled for theft yet he really didn't do anything? Will he have been framed?"
"I think perhaps you're making a conspiracy where there is none, Yuri, but we can find that easily enough later today."

As they reached the square, the dark man advanced in their direction with a boisterous welcome
"Friends, coma here! Let as go, let as go. I'ma gonna show you tha besta blades in the country. Nah, even in tha whola Core."
Gheata took the lead and said dryly
"Take us there!"
The Gypsy led them out of the village. They crossed the fields, passed a cliff that sprang from the pillar stone of the castle and behind it, against the tall rocky wall, they came to a small green expanse by a spring that shot from the river they had crossed before. The forest loomed just a bow shot length in front of them after the spring. In the middle of this green yard, a lone caravan served as home for a small family: a woman cooked outside while four children played carelessly. There might be more people inside but they couldn't see. The Vistana exclaimed
"Welcome to my Vardo, my home! Come, let me show ya this fina collection of blades".
He went to his vardo and uncovered a large bundle whence he drew a dozen of swords, knives daggers, all of different sizes and shapes
"You're lucky, I still hava all these to choose from! All tha finest, all tha besta. You'll never find equal ones in tha whola Barovia! See this longsword, or this shorta concealable one if you're discrete"
He handed them to everybody, clearly trying to entice his visitors to take the most of his wares. But only Gheata was interested, and he knew definitely well what he wanted
"Do you have a greatsword?"
"Sura I do! Sure, sure!" and he handed one to him. "Take your time ta admire thisa beauty! It's a magnificenta sword!"
Gheata concurred. If felt well balanced and good material. Gregor, who had been inspecting the rest of the wares (which included all kinds of metal pots and pans), was at once interested by the sword. He gave it a look, weighed it in his hand and with an approving wink he said
"Looks good!"
Finally, Yuri too asked to see it.
"This is not the kind of weapon I use, but I know good material when I find it. This", he said, while he admired the blade and felt his weight, " is exceptional make, never seen as good a sword as this."
"How much do you want for it?" asked Gheata.
"Wella, how much do you hava? We can try to find a fair price for you anda me.!"
"Well, will you take five coins?"
"What? Scandal, blasphemy! Five pieces, for such a good thing? Oh sacrilege. Let's call it off, for the sake of my Mamma I canna sell it for thata price."
Yuri intervened
"It's pretty good material. I'd say it's worth about 250 or 300 coins"
"More, more, ita has to be more. 400 at least."
Eva let a sigh escape her lips
"That's really high!"
"All right, all right. 350 and that's over"
"Look here, I really don't have that much. Will you sell it by 100?"
"I cannot, I cannot. But look here. I want you a happy customer, you want the sword. Let's make a deal. I'll keep the sword for you, you come back later when you hava money, I sell it then. Or ... you can pay me in service."
"What kind of service?"
"Oh, only the Raunie can say. But here, take thisa wristband. It's gotta magic. When you meet any of Vistani, they'll know ya and know ya have agreed to help them. Go see the Raunie and she'll tell you what kind of service she needs. The wristband will force you to it."
Gregor and Eva shaked their heads in discomfort.
"I don't know, to agree to do something we do not know... I wouldn't accept"
"Very well, very well. One last offer thena. Bring me a dagger. A silver dagger with black blade, a hilt of hide decorated in red and gold. I'll trada tha sword for that."
"And where do I find this dagger?"
"Uh... I think you shoulda speak to my wifa. It's her over there."

Gheata approached the woman. She stopped what she was doing, looked up at him, and without saying a word question him with his eyes.
"Uh, did you hear what your husband told me about a dagger? What can you tell me about it?"
The woman stood upright, went back to the Vardo and came a minute later with a slim deck of cards in her hand. She drew four cards: the Moon, the Hanged Man and the Justice upside down. The lat card was the Ace of Swords. At length, she spoke
"This is a special deck. It's made only of the aces and the Major Arcana. Its meanings are therefore rather strong, they tell you of the essence of things, not of circumstances or probabilities. This ace means that whatever this is, it will be near you in the very near future. Its function is only the time. The other three, now, they describe this dagger.
The Moon is an ambiguous card. It represents the Night, the Dark, the Hidden. It is Evil, but it can also simply be Emotion, Spirituality or Love. The cards are not clear, they never tell you the whole story, but they give you fair warning. You'll have to find what's the true meaning of this card.
Now, the Hanged Man suggests it is associated with some kind of Execution, or some kind of Yielding. It can also mean Contemplation and Change, but the vibrations I feel from it lead me more towards the execution.
Finally, the Justice upside down. This is connected to some act of distorted justice or something completely arbitrary without any substantiated reason. This is what the cards can tell. You alone can decide what to do and decide upon these words.
Now go in peace."

Gheata approached the group again. He quickly told them of the reading and said to the Gypsy
"I'll find the dagger. Keep the sword for me"
and turning to the rest of the group
"we can go now."

Before leaving, and remembering the words of the priest, they profited to buy a potion for countering the effects of the fog for each of them. Then, they returned to the town and decided it was time to look for some place to stay for the night. Barovia was a small village. It didn't take them much to understand there was only one boarding house, an inn called Blood on the Vine, right in the square of the village. It was mid-afternoon. The common room was not packed full, but it had a few groups. The wide open windows did their best to illuminate the room, but there were not few sombre corners that the light barely reached. Behind the bar, a large burly man adjusted some garlic hooves hanging from the ceiling. He turned from his business when he saw potential customers. Eyeing them quickly he exclaimed
"Ah, foreigners! You'll be needing rooms, I wager?"
Gregor replied
"Yes, we'd like to stay the night. How much is it?"
"Ten silver pieces for room, two people for room."
"And if we stay one in each room?"
"Ten silver pieces for room, one person in room."
"You're not a man of many words, are you?"
"It depends. How many rooms is it then?"
Gregor told them the prices.
"We could stay two in each room."
"Hmmm...", said Eva, "that means I'll have to stay with one of you. Gregor, I'll sleep with you."
Gregor's face lighted as a child who's given a candy.
"Alright! Two rooms then, isn't it?"
"Certainly not", said Yuri, "I want a room just for me."
"Guess that puts me in a single room then", said Gheata.
"What about you, Eva?"
"No need to change. I'll stay with Gregor."
This then addressed the innkeeper.
"Well, it will be three rooms then. How much is it if we stay longer?"
"You want to stay longer? Then I can make you a better price! Three gold pieces for a room for five nights. Please, take care of our horses."
"Here's they keys. Your rooms are turned to the back of the house, but they're clean and comfy."

They paid for the rooms and sat for a reinvigorating drink, while a boy took their mounts to the stables. Gregor listened on to the conversations around them while the other spoke of the execution
"I bet this dagger has something to do with this", said Gregor.
"Perhaps someone will be wearing it, no? Let's keep our eyes well open."
"Yes, Eva, and not only for the dagger. Keep attention to your purses to, the last thing we need now is to be robbed. We're not exactly rich."
"I'd really like to know if this thief was any thief at all." continued Yuri, almost thinking aloud.
"Gregor understands the language. Let him ask a few things", suggested Gheata.
Yuri nodded, but did not reply. They finished their drinks and rose
"It's time, let's go outside."

It was still relatively early but the people were arriving. As they watch the crowd slowly forming, Eva asked Gregor what he had got from the conversations in the inn.
"Well, lots of interesting stuff. First, to answer Yuri, he was indeed a thief. I heard a few of the men complaining of things he had stolen from themselves proper, not hearsay. So I think that may clear your worries. What I found most interesting comes now. Did you know that the Burgomaster is behaving oddly? They say he's been cocky, these last weeks, too opulent, arrogant and even showing off. They say he's challenging Strahd himself, who doesn't like extravagancies. I don't know, if that thief is being killed for an insult, this Burgomaster may get a warning if he doesn't change his ways. Oh, true, he takes taxes too. People complain they're too high because this year they won't have anything to give him. Bad weather and all... Curiously, a few of them were saying that the taxes stay all with the burgomaster, but he collects them in the name of the Count. Is it me, or is he wasting riches he should be keeping and warding for Strahd? I don't know, really."
"Well, seems like an interesting character, but he should be careful. Do people like him?" asked Yuri.
"I don't know, really. They didn't show much emotion, and spoke of him quite factually. They pay taxes to him, it's a fact of life, undeniable, unquestionable. It doesn't draw hate from them, I guess, they must be used to it. But there was more. They say a girl was kidnapped, one named Olya, daughter of Piotr. She was still young, but taken disappeared. In fact, one of them said she was sent for: Van Holtz came in a black carriage and took her to the Castle, to the Count. They give her up for dead, and they say his father is set in deep melancholy. He might not live long..."
Eva echoed everybody else's thoughts "Well... then we should be careful at night".

Meanwhile, a large crowd had assembled in the square. They remained away from it, watching everything from the distance, to the exception of Gregor who preferred to watch from a nearer spot. He mixed with the mass and did so well that in some time he was in the front row. Just at his side was a large burly man, dressed with a pompous coat trimmed with quality fur. He was tall and finely appointed, a severe contrast among the drab and nearly destitute people of Barovia. It wasn't hard to recognise the Burgomaster. But this latter was absent-minded. As the executioner brought the sentenced man and laid his head on the trunk, the Burgomaster murmured, thinking no one was listening
"Oh, I wish I had the courage to say the things this man said. That bastard of a Count surely deserves to hear a few things."
He wasn't aware that Gregor heard these words and took good notice of them.
The execution was brief, without much ado. The herald read the sentence, proclaimed and passed by Count Strahd and enforced by the Burgomaster Idril Kolyanovich. Then, the executioner raised his axe and let it fall with violence on the wretched's head. The populace watched with reverent fear, understanding these public displays were more deterrents and assertions of power than punishments for a crime. They were severe warnings, Strahd was not know for his mercy. As the axe fell, the silence was broken for a brief moment, when a collective cry of relief and redemption issued from every mouth. Then, they disbanded quickly. Only two servants of the burgomaster carried the decapitated body to the limits of town and left it there.
Yuri was appalled
"They're leaving it to rot there!"
"It won't have time to rot, Yuri," said Eva, "it will surely be gone in the morning".

Still, Yuri asked Gregor to question a late passer-by on it and the answer was short and simple
"He's a criminal, they don't get to be buried in the graveyard."

They had dinner in the inn. As they ate, they talked about the afternoon, and although each of them observed with close attention, none could see anywhere a dagger like the one they were searching. Gheata, now convinced that they had lost their chance, borrowed some money from Gregor to buy the sword the next day. At night, the inn was packed full. The garlic hooves were now much more evident than in the afternoon, hanging from the ceiling and windows. They noticed the people in the room clearly avoided them, altogether ignoring they were there. Suddenly, the Burgomaster himself entered the room. His cheeks were red, and he looked somewhat disturbed, worried and with slight traces of fear. He surveyed the room and approached the table where the group was.
"Are you foreigners?"
Only Gregor understood him
"Euh... yes"
"Then this is for you", he said, taking a letter from his pocket. He left the inn at once, without saying another word. There was a moment of silence, but it stopped right afterwards. Meanwhile, they looked puzzled at each other. The envelope bore the name Lord Strahd, in an extremely elegant cursive handwriting. It was still sealed with a raven crest bordered by two swords. They copied the seal and then broke it. Gregor translated the letter to them

"Greetings from Lord Strahd von Zarovich, Count and Ruler of Barovia,

It has come to my knowledge that your group has arrived to the village of Barovia. You are clearly no common travellers, for you bear weapons and have a confident military bearing. Do not fear, I will not prevent you from the use of your weapons, as long as you do not strike any of my subjects nor any of the Vistani. Rather on the contrary, I have a need for your services, for very seldom do we have such adventurous groups here around.
I invite you to visit me in Castle Ravenloft in two nights time, so that we may discuss business. You will be well rewarded. I stress that I do expect you to come.

Strahd von Zarovich"

They exchanged puzzled glances, wondering who exactly was this Count Strahd and how did he know so much of them. But most importantly, why did he invite them to join him at night. Yuri, at least, seemed well determined not to see foot in the castle without ample daylight, but if he knew something concrete about the Castle of its prominent inhabitant, he hid it well from the others. They decided to postpone a final decision and decided on the plan for the morning. Gregor was going early to the church to prepare in advance for his ritual. Eva and Yuri decided to accompany him: even a five minute walk through a deserted Barovia, despite the faint light of the dawn, could be dangerous.

That night, before going to bed, Yuri pored over the precious book he had found in the morning. He began to read it, patiently and earnestly, delving into the first secrets of arcane magic. Three hours he spent at that before finally collapsing to sleep. Meanwhile, in the room next to his, Gregor couldn't sleep. He was excited about the ritual that awaited him in the morning, the beginning of the solution for his spiritual problems. He turned and turned on his bed, trying to meet sleep, still a bit frustrated at Eva's adamant resolution that they should sleep in separated beds well kept apart. He had had his hopes, but now he endured the disappointment with the conviction that the morrow could bring an important renewal for him. There was just a little pang that anguished him: his knowledge of the weather told him that they were going to have a cloudy day, and with all likelihood, the ritual would fail.

2nd October 751, 3rd Night Before the New Moon

Gregor rose early, and woke Eva. When they went down to the common room, Yuri was already there. He had awakened a servant who was preparing hot milk and bread from the oven. It was a simple but strengthening breakfast.

They covered the distance to the church in quick strides, arriving there without incident. Donosty was inside, already preparing everything. He gave Gregor a robe and a parchment with the words he had to learn. They waited anxiously for the time. Finally, it came and Gregor performed the ritual as well as he should. Alas, the sun did not rise clean and bright. The sky was overcast and the day was lost.
"Well, Gregor, there is always tomorrow, as the Morning Lord teaches. Do not despair, for light will come. You needn't come so soon tomorrow, you already know what to do."
As Gregor, Eva and Yuri turned their backs on the church, they could see a large commotion down in the village. A crowd had assembled on the street going to the burgomaster's house, quite in the opposite direction from the church relative to the square.

Gheata slept fast through the night. As he reached his bed, he fell sleeping like a rock, but he was rudely woken by the cries in the street. Curious, as ever he was, he came down and followed the crowd in its natural motion. He did not understand the words, but he could guess something of a scandal had happened.

Eva, Yuri and Gregor ran to the square while Donosty went down simply at the same step as he did all mornings, chanting and crying aloud the virtues of the Morning Lord and calling all to faith. They left him behind, oblivious as he was to anything out of the ordinary. As they reached the Blood O' the Vine, a stout young man, tall and vigorous, no more than 25 years old, coming running from the opposite direction as everybody else, bumped into Gregor and nearly threw him to the floor. Never stopping in his run, he entered the inn in a swift quick motion. Gregor and Yuri, finding the behaviour strange, followed quickly after him into the inn, while Eva decided to follow the commotion. She soon found Gheata and the two did their best to peer amidst the crown and understand what was going on.

The common room was empty. Only the innkeeper was behind the bad with an air of anxious expectation, broke quickly by the young man:
"The Burgomaster! Ba'al Verzi"
The innkeeper opened his eyes in alarm, but that reaction lasted only a moment. Resolutely, he signalled at the man to follow him and they entered a door behind the bar, never noticing that Yuri and Gregor had just entered and witnessed the scene. Intrigued, these followed them through the door, to end stupefied in a small storage room with no other door... but it was empty. There were only shelves and shelves of bottles and crates, certainly wares for the inn. They diligently looked for a trapdoor, a shifting panel or concealed door, until after almost twenty minutes Yuri found a fixed, but moving, bottle. He hesitated for a while, then pushed it. A section of the wall slid to the side, but the noise was enough to alert the two other men. A cry of alert came from below. Yuri and Gregor didn't wait to see how many more people were down there and they ran away into the street. When the innkeeper reached the door, they had successfully mingled with the populace. They soon reached the Burgomaster's house but the confusion was too much. They waited patiently for something to happen. Nobody clearly knew what was going on, but some strong men were keeping the people away from the house. They didn't have any look of authority, but were clearly following orders of some older respectable men. In the middle of all this confusion, they found Eva and Gheata and even Donosty.
"What's going on?"
"As far as I can tell, the Burgomaster has been murdered. They say he's in the hall of his house, staring at the ceiling with a dagger plunged in his chest up to the hilt."
They opened their mouths wide. They pressed Donosty for more details, but this was all he could say. They looked around them once again, until they saw, in a corner, the innkeeper and the young man, in a group with a girl and another man. Gregor approached them furtively. They were whispering, and it looked as the innkeeper and the young man were lecturing the other two in a rather secretive way. They moved away from the house, but Gregor's fine ears perceived an excerpt of their dialogue:
"It was the Ba'al Verzi".
"That is a Ba'al Verzi dagger?"
"Yes, one of those gold, red and black."
"That means they're active again. We have to be careful."
"But.... they were always against him, weren't they?"
"They were, but past deeds do not guarantee present intentions"


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