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Curse of Strahd [CLOSED]

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
Walking on two legs was becoming tiresome -- Syvis had never been part of a roving herd or among a circle of nomads. The wolves had a den, and at most she would be part of territory patrols or hunting packs, which always returned to the den. A part of her was tempted to borrow the form of a wolf -- or even a horse, to potentially offer a ride to one of the other packmates who seemed to be growing weary.

The chill was welcome, where it managed to get between the furs and leathers she wore and glanced down to see if Otrev had puffed his feathers out to maintain his warmth. The motion of something swinging eventually caught her eye, aided by the vibrant yellow, a stark contrast to everything else around.

At Hircus' question, the wood elf shakes her head, "This does not affect me as it seems so many other things here have the rest of you." Turning her amber eyes on the hung figure, "Perhaps someone marking their territory, or a promised threat. An intruder that was unwelcome." Considering the cleric's hypothesis she shrugged, "Or a thief who stole something from there. It's hard to tell in this strange land. I've not seen others like them here -- this land seems to be held strongly by humans."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]In addition to his yellow shirt, the short hanged man wears drab britches with many pockets and well-worn traveling boots. His hands, dark and swollen, lie limp at his sides with flies idly buzzing about them. These, and other, signs tell Hircus that the execution took place here yesterday.

Other aspects of the grim scene, like the physique of a halfling or gnome in this land dominated by humans, and the worn spots on the britches where sheathed weapons, now absent, have rubbed the cloth raw, suggest that the deceased could well have been another adventurer from lands beyond.

"Creeeeeeek. Creeeeeeek." The sound above Hircus' head is one of the ravens that have followed you here all the way from the great wall, perched atop the gibbet and aping the strangled sound of the hangman's rope shifting in the wind. Its four brethren remain high above, only intermittently visible through the fog into which you've descended in coming down the mountainside. [/div]
 

jfish

Junior Member
"Do we wish to take the poor soul down?" Ina's suggestion comes quietly, her eyes flicking between the body and the raven. "It seems distasteful to leave them, but I am reluctant to invoke any ire from the locals."
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
"We do," Moire says, answering Ina's question while her eyes remain fixed on the poor dead halfling. "The locals have already vented their ire and this gallows does not lie within their community. There's even a graveyard."

The Paladin unslings her backpack and sets aside all of her usual encumbrance by the low wall enclosing the graves. "This seems a good opportunity for a rest anyway. Why don't the three of you take your ease while I see to this man?"

Assuming agreement, Moire sets to work on digging a grave. Lacking much to dig with, she looks around to see if someone left a shovel against that wall or tucked under a brush (who wants to carry a shovel all the way out here, after all?). If there are none, she resorts to using the handaxe that slew a vampire to break up the ground on a likely free plot site. And as she digs, she whispers prayers to Ilmater, on behalf of the halfling and on behalf of all the poor people of this land trapped in King Strahd's nightmare.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]The walled plot is of modest size and holds eleven blank grave markers. It's not well-tended—weeds sprout riotously within the low walls—and there are no tools in sight. Unless this hanging is a rare occurrence indeed, those who meet their fate at the gibbet are not interred, but disposed of otherwise.[/div]
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
The cleric's eyes scan the small cadaver noting the dark blood pooled in the expected places, his manner of dress and the fact that he has been relieved of his weapons. Hands on hips, Hircus backs away from the gallows. "No friends. I think we should leave the poor soul. It is clear this person was left here as a warning. I think we would should try to understand the hangman's warning, but leave the sign. The four of us can't solve Barovia's problems one at a time." He turns to look across the faces of his friends. "We are here for one reason, and I think you know what that is."

Hircus bends to retrieve a stone from the ground and tosses it at the mocking crow. "He knows what that is!"
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]The flung stone seems to break through the Raven's stoicism of speech. "Rude!" he exclaims, in words intelligible to Syvis, as he takes to the air and retreats to a tree some distance away.[/div]
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Moire looks to the sky, judges the heavy weight of the sun in the west and sighs. She passes the body of the halfing a wistful smile before striding up to the hanged man.

"Ilmater wouldn't leave him," the Paladin says to Hircus, eyes still on the poor corpse. "Neither can I. But neither would Ilmater see me risk your lives. I can't leave him but neither can I bury him. So I'll pray for him. And then we'll make the best time we can, with what sunlight remains."

She walks up the gallows, draws her sword and cuts the man down. Then she hefts his body, her face a mask of steeled composure while she handles a body dead a day in the sun. As gently as she can, Moire lays him out in the shade of one of those blank grave markers and straightens his limbs, leaving him a posture of 'rest'. With a bowed head, Moire draws her sword and cuts the underside of her palm, blade cutting into flesh already scarred from such rites in the past. She takes up her blood-stained length of cord-turned-holy symbol, anoints it anew and uses it to draw upon the grave marker.

Death pays the debt of all crime
May this man find rest
In Ilmater's arms


With bowed head, Moire prays:
"Oh Master of Mercy, hope for the hopeless,
Take this man home, if no other home he has.
Give his spirit rest and his kin peace of heart.
Grant me peace as well, and give me your spirit of mercy and forgiveness.
If this man suffered for naught, give me grace to show mercy to those who had no mercy for him.
Help me teach by Your example.
And guide my sword if they cannot be turned away from their cruelty
."

Rising once more, Moire cleans her sword and sheaths it. Then she gestures on towards the crossroads. "Night comes soon. Shall we take the Tser Pool path and look for a campsite?"
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]Beneath the hood, the halfling's face, though clearly distorted by death's hand and time on the gibbet, is recognizable as middle-aged, bald with a bent nose. In the course of Moire's brief ceremony, two of the lingering ravens alight on nearby headstones and watch silently until the prayer is complete.

With packs taken up again—every adjustment is a painful reminder of Moire's freshly opened wound—the group takes the Tser Pool way that leads northwest into the woods at the base of the hill. It's a misty, winding path that exits about a half hour later along a broad bank where the river that flowed beneath that high stone bridge enters what is presumably the Tser Pool, a small lake several hundred feet across. The ravens do not join for this final stretch of the day's journey, staying behind at the crossroads instead.

The soft strains of an accordion reach your ears, and a short distance along the riverbank, where it widens into the woods, you find the camp Syvis spied from far above several hours ago. The colorful tents and distinctive tall wagons near the campfire suggest another group of Vistani. Down here in the lowlands, with the daylight starting to fade, this place is smaller and of a more somber mood than Luvash and Arrigal's boisterous hilltop settlement.

One of the tents is much larger than the other five, seemingly longer-established too. Stakes supporting its variegated layers of canvas give the impression of having living roots anchoring the shaggy behemoth of a dwelling in place.

The old Vistani man who plays the accordion sits near the fire with several other men and women. Noting your approach along the path that leads through the camp, a few of them stand and watch you. When you are within earshot, one of the women, heavyset with her long dark hair braided on one side, nods and says, "So, who is this? They send you from Barovia village to consult our Madam Eva, yes?"[/div]
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus watches Moire with a reserved and professional detachment. His thoughts are on the road ahead when he should be present. Torm's road becomes less clear with each new thing they learn about this land. They must press on before they lose their way.

The camp seems harmless to Hircus as they approach, but he has not yet come to trust the Vistani even after they have received such gifts. That thought brings to mind the advice of Kasimir, WIne! They forgot the wine. There really was no time to visit the winery, but if need be, there is always Luvash's gift, The Archfiend. Maybe, if it comes to it, Hircus can offer them a taste. If nothing else, he may be able to determine the potency.

The woman's question brings Hircus back to the moment, "No, not Barovia, but we have come to speak with Madame Eva." The cleric holds his hand across his chest and gives a curt nod, "I am Hircus Hornbrow, I am a holy priest of Torm." That's when Hircus realized he should have left the introductions up to one of the others. He steps to the side with a small bow.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Moire smiles slightly at Hircus' introduction and places an appreciative hand on his shoulder. Stepping forward, she adds to it. "And I am Moire Cassiel, Paladin of Ilmater." She gestures to Syvis and Ina respectively to introduce themselves before speaking up again. "We come from your other camp, near Vallaki. We did a certain kindness for Luvash there and he suggested we might inquire for certain answers to certain questions with one of your own here. We also..." She pauses, thinks for a moment on whether or not she wants to bring Strahd into this or not, before deciding it'll help more than it'll hurt. "We also met with your King and he agreed it would be wise for us to seek answers here, with your Madam Eva."

She stands, smiling faintly to show her good intent while not smiling so much as to show undue bravado or risk the perception of entitlement.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]The people around the fire seem unimpressed by this mention of exotic gods from a faraway land, but exchange furtive looks at the reference to King Strahd. The woman who greeted you places a finger on one cheek just below her eye and pulls downward to strangely widen her gaze as she leans forward and scrutinizes Moire, with no apparent concern for how this overt skepticism will be received. Seemingly satisfied, she blinks, straightens herself and says, "Yes, then you should consult her. Let me check."

The heavyset Vistana walks to the large tent and disappears inside, reemerging a few minutes later with a beaten metal tea kettle hanging from her thumb. "Madam will see you now," she announces, holding the heavy tent flap to one side. All is darkness within, undisturbed by the afternoon light.[/div]
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus flinches at the mention of Strahd to the Vistani woman, but it seems to have had the desired effect. "You have a way with words Moire. Torm's blessing's are always upon you." Clutching his amulet, Hircus rests a hand on the paladin's shoulder. With a wink, Hircus turns and pulls aside the tent a little further to accommodate his larger frame then steps toward the dark interior.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
With an answering nod, Moire says "I welcome Torm's blessings, especially in this land. I fear we'll need any we can find before too long."

"Thank you," the Paladin says to the heavyset Vistana. And then she enters with Hircus, unable to see but trusting in the better eyes of her elven companions. There were answers to be had here, no matter how dark the tent.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]Beyond the open tent flap lies another, and then more, in layers, accounting for the apparent darkness. Moving through these veils seems to release a musty odor rich with incense, and a faint tingling of bells beckons from deeper within. Step by step, the five-foot journey might be a long trek into some subterranean faerie realm.

The flaps or curtains seem too close to Hircus. Is the outside world really only several steps away? Can he get out if he needs to? Everything seems uncertain and stifling. But at last he's through the stranglehold of the vestibule and into his memory of the dimly-lighted interior of Madam Eva's tent.

woman (2).jpgHe stands, while the gruff human warrior Varius and the sly wood elf monk Astryos sit at the heavy table where the cards are laid out. At the other end of the table, the old Vistani woman watches with a grin. Hircus recognizes her at once as the woman he will meet at the mysterious darkling grove, the one who spoke of Zhudun. Disoriented by this memory of a future meeting within a vision of the past, Hircus stands mute as the other two men debate the reading.

"It's too much," says Varius, slouching in his chair. "The sword, yes. That's obviously of use. But these other trinkets? Too long. The Abbey won't withstand another attack. I say we fetch the sword and take the fight to Strahd at once."

"In my experience,"
Astryos replies, "being fully prepared for the hunt can only help, even if it takes longer. I would never set out after a pack of werewolves without silver and wolfsbane. And besides, it's not our decision. We're here to get the reading and report back to Markovia. She'll know which course is best."

"Mmmmmm,"
Varius muses, "maybe ... Hircus, what do you think? Grab the sword and get the jump on old Von Z, or do it the long way, the book and the raven necklace too?"

Before the Cleric of Torm can get his voice back to answer, the vision fades, and he is back in the present, pushing through the curtains into the tent.

Beyond the final veil the space opens up considerably. Candles flicker on a heavy table, reflected back by hundreds of tiny metal discs that hang from the top of the tent. Syvis hears a dull metal slapping sound, the door of Otrev's cage swinging open. "Ooh, shiny," the mute songbird declares with wing and head motions before fluttering out and darting up to one of the ersatz stars above. His beak clicks against it a few times before he settles down on one of many dark cloths draped over inscrutable objects at the periphery of the room.

A chime sounds, the ringing of a pair of finger cymbals clapped together by a hand extended from what seemed to be another of the covered objects in the room, but is in fact the back of an old Vistani woman, if the voice that speaks next is any indication. "Ah, I have been expecting you!"

The cloaked figure turns on her stool and Moire, Hircus and Ina see the face of the strange woman met in the grove several days ago. Her wrinkled mouth gasps in wonder. Then, a slow grin of delight spreads across her face. "Hircus Hornbrow, is it?" she says with a chuckle and a wink. "And I had heard you perished with your friends long ago. Were you only lost, wandering the Svalich Woods all these years, and now come to hear your fortune again? Or are you some impostor, a prank of the Dark Powers, sent to take advantage of a poor old woman? It doesn't matter, Hircus. Tarokka will not be fooled. No matter who you are, she will give only true readings."[/div]
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
Having let the others lead the way in this latest interaction, Syvis stayed silent but alert on the group's arrival at the new camp.

Stepping into the tent felt like entering the bough of a tree, pushing aside one branch to find another and thick leaves already in one's face. Eventually getting through the fabrics, the druid was surprised to see Otrev leave his cage so readily, chuckling faintly before calling to him, "So all this time I only needed trinkets to coax you out?" Her eyes attempted to take in all the shapes of the interior, especially after realizing one lump of blankets and fabrics was actually a woman. Hearing her speak directly to Hircus, Syvis stepped to the side -- evidently this was another more familiar with the group than her, and a reminder she had not been part of this pack from the start, nor for very long.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Stepping inside the tent with her party, Moire takes a moment to adjust to the interior. Then she notes Hircus' brief stiffening, prepares herself for a similar burst of revelation and feels oddly relieved that she hasn't. Knowing more of this place, what they did, would help but that strange ambivalence to poking into old memories persists.

The clang of the finger cymbals causes her to gasp slightly, unprepared for the sound as she was. Moire blushes slightly before walking further towards the cloaked figure. She renders a brief bow at the old woman's greetings. "I suspect the truth lies somewhere between being lost and a prank, although if it's a prank, it's upon us and not upon you. Madame Eva, I'm Moire Cassiel." She briefly introduces the others before continuing. "A long time ago, we fought at Markovia's side, for all the good it did. Now, we've been returned by...by the hand of a dark power perhaps. Already your King knows of our return. I feel time is running out for us and you-"

The Paladin smiles a bit bitterly and says "You may be the only hope we have. The only hope of learning how we may save ourselves, and everyone else we can."

"Would you look into our fates and see if there's any other road before us, save the one that leads to destruction?"
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus stands, mouth open and staring at the old VIstani woman. It takes the cleric a moment to gather himself before he can reply, "I may be Hircus or I may be an impostor, but I think only you can tell me that. This land is familiar and strange. The same and different from how I remember. All the lines seem blurred. Friends may be enemies and enemies might turn out to be allies, save for your king. I am sure that he wishes us all dead." Hircus surveys the room and his friends, then looks back to Madame Eva. "My question is the same as my friend Moire. What chance do we stand against your king? And... Tell me about this sword."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]"Moire Cassiel," the old woman muses, "I know that name. She perished with Hircus, Saint Markovia and the rest in their assault on Castle Ravenloft. Were you there too, dear?" she asks Ina, who has grown especially quiet.

"But you, the birder," she smiles at Syvis, "I can see plain that you lack the grim weight of these three haggard heralds of the past. Your countenance is more akin to those of the desperate visitors to Barovia I'm used to hosting. Funny," she chuckles, "I wager you are both eldest and youngest among your companions."

Turning back to Moire, Madam Eva says, "I can ask Tarokka again for the answers Hircus sought long ago: the locations of the book, symbol and blade that are fated to end Strahd's reign, breaking the curse that holds this land. I never learned if you found those relics, save for the sword—rumor says was broken by Strahd's own hand when it was last turned against him."

"I warn you though. If you are mere shades of the Dark Powers, then these things are not meant for you, and Tarokka will lead you astray. That is why I give my reading freely, without fear of boojums bearing deceit."

"So, shall we begin?"
She is already fanning a deck of cards on the table. She scatters them here and there, then collects small groupings, stacking them back into a proper deck, which she further manipulates before spreading it out again. Her closed eyelids flutter as she says, "Tarokka, share your secrets. What has become of that old and musty tome to which Count Strahd von Zarovich consigned his memoirs and confession? Once, sick with nostalgia and self-disgust, he threw it away. Now, it hides from him, scorned and hateful. He cannot see it."

"Hircus!"
Madam Eva shrieks, as the guttering candles flare up like a thaumaturgical parlor trick, "Show us the card!"[/div]
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]The card revealed is the nine of swords, the Torturer. "Ah, so it has not moved," says Madam Eva. "Still it waits high in that house, among other mementos of the past age, in a town where all is not well. We must assume it was denied you in the past. Now, a half-mad master of hollow cheer dwells within. And this man lives there too," she says, placing a finger on the grim figure depicted by the card.

torturer.jpg

"Now, Tarokka," Eva continues, "show me, where is the lost symbol of those ancient protectors of this land, from the time before Strahd came here, and his curse thereafter. The woman with the bird, you should draw this one; sweet irony, in legend, the protectors were namesakes to Strahd's own mother!"[/div]
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]The card that Syvis selects is the Seven of Coins, the Thief. "So," says Madam Eva, "the symbol has indeed moved. Whether you ever held it or not, since I last read this fortune, it fell into the hands of another, who possessed it for a time. Since I have not heard of this, I propose that she never knew the object's true nature. And now, it is buried with her, as forgotten as she is."

thief.jpg

"And now, Moire,"
the old woman says, "what of this broken sword? Did Strahd keep it as a memento of his victory over Saint Markovia's band? Or was it discarded, finding its way to some lost, lonely corner of this land? Shall we ask Tarokka?" She nods to the remaining cards spread before her.[/div]
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]Moire turns over the Six of Glyphs, the Anarchist. Madam Eva sucks her teeth. "I am afraid it is the former, my dear: Strahd keeps the remains of the sword close at hand. A mad man built the Count a gruesome cabinet to house mementos of victims and foes. I see walls of bones, a chandelier of bone, a bone table. In this tatterdemalion ossuary, you will find the weapon's hilt."

anarchist.jpg

"These are the relics you asked me about centuries ago, Hircus. Now, as then, I give you one more oracle: Tarokka will speak of someone in this land who will stand at your side in the face of Count von Zarovich, a person you can trust without reservation, who, once won over, will never abandon you so long as they live."
She reaches into the shadows of her robes and produces a smaller collection of cards that she apparently gathered back in with great skill while manipulating the deck earlier. The rings on her gnarled knuckles sparkle in the candlelight, and Otrev flutters down to the table. "What's this now?" the songbird asks with a bob of the head and kick of one leg.

"Well, well," chuckles Madam Eva, "would you choose for us, little one? Some tell fortunes by the flights of your brothers and sisters, so why not?" She fans the cards out so that Otrev can indicate which to reveal.[/div]
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
Cautiously at first, and then with greater alacrity, Otrev hops across the table towards Madam Eva's ringed fingers. As soon as one of his long wrinkled toes skips over a card, the old Vistana flips it over to show the Darklord, a dim skeletal or mummified being with horns, or a horned crown, sitting on a heavy throne.

"Oh, little bird," Eva says, "you set your friends a difficult task. In Markovia's own seat, the vampire's warlock plots to usurp the mantle of a broken being of light. Redeem the warlock and they will serve you instead, to the Count's chagrin."

"Tarokka has spoken," she proclaims, lifting her hands from the table before Otrev reaches his shiny quarry. "If there is more you would know, ask, but you will have to accept an old woman's senile ramblings in reply; my cards have grown cold."
 
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ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
"My questions are many, but I struggle to find focus in this moment." Hircus runs his hands through his hair and sighs, "When we met in the grove just a few days ago I was hesitant to hear your message. I doubted you, I thought you may be a deceiver, a charlatan. I do not think this of you anymore, but I continue to question your role. The Count is your people's king, but yet you aid us in finding these relics. Does this not put you at risk? Your people? At Luvash's camp we were attacked by the Count's beasts, but the Vistani there did not aid us. Some were indifferent, but others openly enjoying our predicament." Hircus shakes his head.

"I can't shake the feeling that we are mice stuck in the barn with a cat and the people of Barovia are the farmer shaking us out of the hay."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid gray; padding: 10px]"What grove do you say?" Madam Eva asks with mirthful mock-wrath. "I am an old woman who never travels far from my tent, and it has been a fair bit longer than a few days since I last laid eyes on you. No, you are mistaken, you met with someone else in this grove, or an impostor. I blame the Dark Powers, on whom It is always a safe bet to pin any unnatural occurrence."

"You are not the first visitors to Barovia to wonder at the Vistani. Their ancestors suffered for generations, driven from their homeland and then persecuted wherever they wandered. Until, that is, a group of Vistani saved Strahd's life—this was long ago, when he was but a man like you, fighting his wars—and earn his eternal gratitude. He proclaimed that all Vistani would be forever welcome in these lands, free to come and go as they pleased. After his change, he kept that pledge—perhaps his only remaining connection to his humanity."

"And so, Barovia is the Vistani's one true safe haven, to which they may return and know peace. Many see their king for what he has become, but still, it is a hard choice: walk away, back to a world that has declared them anathema, or stay here, comfortable and complicit to whatever degree each negotiates. Some have even gone so far as to embrace the Count, tempting new visitors to Barovia for his amusement."
Ina seems to take special notice of this last comment.

"As for old Eva," the seer says, "I've lived enough of this land and its Lord to know it ran its course ages ago. The souls here are brittle; they creak and groan in their shabby skins, while Strahd will never learn or change, doomed as he is to repeat the same drama generation after generation. The game must end, his curse with it. I will do what must be done."[/div]
 

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