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Curse of Strahd [CLOSED]

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
"Nothing in life is ever as simple as it was when we were little girls growing up," Moire says. And for just a moment, the Paladin forgets she's talking to what's probably a vampire and instead they're merely two women with enough age and experience now to know both carry a cost that can't be paid back.

Then the moment passes and the black-haired Moire smiles softly at the striking Lady Ludmilla as the vampire seemingly mocks the burgomaster. "Surely a village like Vallaki benefits from the attention of those at the castle. Although how you ever manage to keep track of so many festivals quite escapes me." She doesn't go quite so far as to mock Vallokovich but there's a bit of a shared joke there.

"Old partners, you say." Moire arches both eyebrows in mock surprise. "And the dispute's forgotten? Perhaps it is, just as you say. Something best forgotten." She hesitates a mere moment before ducking her head in dutiful respect to an apparent mistress of the castle, an act of deference a foreign knight might give to local royalty. The pretense, the fiction that the rulers here weren't obviously undead monsters deserving of destruction was thin but it still remained. Given that fiction allowed for a little more delicate conversation and the chance to learn of their enemy, Moire had no intention of abandoning it just yet.

Deception wasn't something Paladins found virtuous but then there was nearly no chance these vampires were fooled either. Perhaps they too enjoyed extending the game, enjoying the play as much or more than bringing it to an end.

"Far be it for me to refuse the request of so fair a lady, however," Moire adds at last, another duck of her head but a bit of smolder as the vampire's dark eyes are met with the soft, faded green of her own. "Especially when hints are all there is to be had. My companion and I heard the other night from the ruler here that we had something of a shared history. The details of that history are as mysterious to me as they are to you...perhaps more so for me, if the Lord here has been at all forthcoming with you."

"But then, that's a hint in itself, isn't it. People back from the grave after so long and with no explanation. Count Strahd himself seemed a touch surprised and all of Barovia lies in his hand, doesn't it."

Moire leans in, then, just as close to Lady Ludmilla. "If it wasn't by his hand, what other power might have brought this to be?" she whispers in the woman's ear. "What power might be out there, open for the taking, open perhaps to the hands of someone with the curiosity to seek it out?" She smirks slightly and her pitch drops a touch as she finishes with, "Surely, my Lady, there are places in this castle far more becoming for the both of us than a tomb."
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus wants to drop the pear immediately, but restrains his impulse and gently replaces the partially bruised fruit back on the table. He then wipes his hand down the side of his pants to clean away any remnant of the expiring fruit. His attention returns to the Lady as she finishes her question, "No!" then a little less forcefully, "No, eh... my mother played many instruments, but it was not a gift she passed to me. Eh... either way, even the musically ignorant can appreciate such a beautiful piece." The trails off as Moire takes over the conversation. After Lady Ludmilla has fized her attention on Moire once more Hircus surveys the table for signs that the rest of the food is in the same state of fresh decay.

Hircus turns in place casually examining the room as any dinner guest at any party might do. Hands behind his back he looks over the artwork in the room and once more into the hall.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]"Thank you," Ludmilla replies, "though there would have been more to see in the glory days." She watches Hircus as he begins his circuit of the great dining room, past the too-ample platters of meats and savory dishes that have been laid out. Where he had expected to see works of art, there are only unadorned marble walls.

Leaving the cleric to his perambulation, Lady Ludmilla turns her attention back to Moire with a sympathetic frown. "Oh, tch, don't be like that. We spoke of girlhood, but we are grown women now. We have no need of games of corruption and redemption—I see your sign of the Morninglord. We will do what we do, without concern for our souls. Yours seems capable of restoring itself and mine ... well, I think you can imagine. But you are right, there are places more becoming for us than a tomb. If you are staying later, after dinner, seek me out and I will show you more."

Hircus' course has taken him around the room, past the imposing pipe organ and back again to the open doors. A trace of light glints off the suit of armor hiding in the shadows out there. Several footsteps sound from down the great hall to his left. It is Fianna and Syvis, back early from their separate exploration of the castle. He also sees the stern, unfamiliar dusk elf close behind them. As the trio draws near, a strange gasping, moaning noise wells up like a deathly counterpart to the pipe organ's earlier music. Moire hears the dirge too, while Ludmilla closes her eyes in apparent reverie at the sounds of torment. Otrev flaps a greeting to Syvis as she and Fianna rejoin the others, but is soon stamping around in his cage, agitated by the terrible sounds that seem to follow wherever the chamberlain goes. "No, I don't like it. Take them away."

"Oh, who's this you've found, Rahadin?"
Ludmilla asks, smiling at the two new arrivals. "More guests? If this is everyone, will you please inform the Count?" With a deep, silent bow, Rahadin withdraws.

"Great depths in that one," Ludmilla says. "Well, the Count will join us shortly. He and I will take the head and foot. Otherwise, you may sit where you like." The table is far longer than required for the present company. "This should be exciting!"
[/div]
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
Fianna gives Moire and Hircus a regretful look and a small shrug. This misadventure is sadly out of her hands.

She takes in the lavish room and banquet already set out and memories of dining with the fae come back to her... Whatever is going to happen, she will be sure to be on her best behavior. As for seating arrangements, she hesitates, waiting for those who have had interactions with the Count in this lifetime to make the first move.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The mention of her tattoo makes Moire self-consciously touch it; for some reason its existence is stranger to her than this second life. Mysterious resurrection or not, the idea that her body has a history with this land not shared by her mind? That makes even less sense. Who was Aurica to her, once upon a time, that Ilmater's Paladin would have taken the Morninglord's symbol?

Distracted, Moire frowns at the sound of the dirge but quickly takes note of the presumed vampire's pleasure and simply firmed her expression. Mostly to keep from rolling her eyes. Of course.

Ludmilla's invitation is well received and Moire gestures her companions to the table, choosing one of the seats nearest the head of the table. Even if their companions were caught after all, the Paladin's instincts are to shield them by drawing as much of the Count's attention as she can.
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
The sound of approaching footsteps draws Hircus out into the hall. Watching the trio of Syvis, Fianna and the dusk elf approach the cleric's back straightens and draws a quick breath at the sound that accompanies the group. His eyes fix on the unfamiliar dusk elf and he concentrates on the sound. What torment accompanies this elf? No, it haunts him. He must be the reason for this unholy chorus.

...So it is true, you jackal. You served the father, now you do the son's dirty work, even as he becomes this undead monstrosity.
...All of this, the torture, the slaughter, it changes nothing; I go to my grave knowing the Velikovna snake is dead. No longer will she intrigue with your master. I don't know which was the worse, you or her.
...What madness, Rahadin? It's no secret, the hundreds, or is it thousands now, you've slain, but to murder all the women? You would extinguish your own people? Your soul is damned!

...Why? You would not bow before your own king, but you grovel before this short-lived human monarch, Barov?

Hircus backs into the room in to keep his distance from the elf. From behind him, Hircus hears Ludmilla refer to the elf by his name. He plants his feet and squares to the elven escort.

"Rahadin, you are accompanied by more than my companions. The tortured cries of the dying swirl in the air around you. As a devoted cleric of Torm I cannot ignore this curse. I cannot bear it's message quietly! Servant of Strahd! Betrayer of your own people! What do you say to the accusations of your victims?"
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]The dusk elf's eyes drift slowly to Hircus, a bit incredulous, then mirthful as a thin smile graces his pale lips. He pivots with a dancer's grace as a hand drifts to the curved sword at his hip. But Lady Ludmilla takes a quick step out towards him with an eyebrow raised in warning. Rahadin exhales through his nostrils and steps back. Before taking his leave, he addresses a verse to Hircus:

He stares at the lake
What are those fish doing there?
He looks up, drowning


The exchange has heightened Ludmilla's interest in Hircus, and she crosses over, the better to examine him. "I took you for one who watches from the wings, sir, but you have lines in this play, even if they begin with a dreary foreign deity. Be careful. Rahadin has served this household for centuries. He has a legacy of his own, which he carries with him, as you have heard."[/div]
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
"I do not fear Barovian fishermen. Nor those that puppet them." Hircus relaxes his posture as the situation diffuses in front of him.

Ludmilla's comment draws the cleric's attention, "As a cleric of Torm, I am sworn to..." Hircus takes in the room, his friends and remembers their situation and the reason for his silence up until now. They are indeed vulnerable like fish. "...investigate such clear signs of torment. I simply want an explanation for this chorus of last words."
 
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Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Diplomacy is a skill taught to Paladins. Compromising with evil is not. Either way, there's something to be said for a middle ground, given the terrain and distribution of forces on this battlefield. Paladins are brave but not stupid. Spending their lives needlessly now saves no innocents. Ilmater may champion those who endure and suffer, but how much more praiseworthy is that suffering if done to spare others.

The Broken God does not bless those who break themselves without cause.

"Hircus," she calls out quietly, from where she stands beside the table. "We're guests here. The least we can do is ask."

Moire then turns to the dark elf. "No doubt the Count prizes your long service to him. By all means, fetch the master of these halls. Before you go, however, we would appreciate an explanation for the...sounds that linger about you. Would you be willing to offer an account?"
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]Moire's words fall short of Rahadin's withdrawing form; the chamberlain is not enticed back for further discussion of his circumstances.

"There, there," says Ludmilla as she reaches out to stroke Hircus' hair. The chill of her touch runs down the follicle and numbs his scalp. "I know this is all very difficult for you. We Barovians don't have your constellation of gods to guide us; only good Mother Night watches over the land. But, not wanting your digestion impaired by doubt, I will tell you what more I can of Rahadin's nature."

"Duty and loyalty are his watchwords. His path was set long ago, when he pledged himself to our Lord's father, King Barov. Since then, over these hundreds of years, he has only concerned himself with the most direct way to walk that path—our Rahadin is no gentle meanderer on woodland trails. Many who thought their own paths set found they led straight under his boot."

"As for Rahadin's affect, let us call it, well, your charming friend speaks true with her clever words."
The elegant woman looks to Moire as she continues, "There are other powers in this land. Not gods like Mother Night, or perhaps this Torm, but powers still. They have ways of making their presence known. Rahadin's choir is one such. And do you think it is a yoke he suffers under?" The question is addressed to Moire. "Is that your concern? I do not know, but you would be wise not to press the matter further here. We so rarely have company. I only want to keep all of you around as long as possible." With her hand she gestures to the whole group, including Fianna and Syvis.[/div]
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
Syvis took back Otrev's cage as she stood with the others, turning slightly to keep the small bird away from the strange elf and his aura. While the other speak she picks a seat, not so much sitting in it as crouching upon the cushion, Otrev's cage on her lap.

As they begin to speak of gods and greater powers, the druid rolled her eyes. She didn't need proof of things beyond their plane that could affect the material -- the spirits she summoned for aid were quite evident, but she also didn't feel like she had to worship them. They belonged to nature, it would do as it pleased whether she was present or not.

"Do not expect much from me," she finally spoke. "I was not among the group so long ago, I'm merely a stray the mists took. My 'great quest' is finding the rest of my pack that was stolen away."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]"Is that so?" Ludmilla asks Syvis. "I shouldn't have presumed. We're delighted to have you, just the same. By the sound of it, yours is the more usual way by which visitors reach Barovia. Something goes missing, someone is lost in the woods, someone chases a runaway pet, the road turns in a new and unexpected direction."

strahddinner.jpgFootsteps echo in the hall outside. Lady Ludmilla gestures for everyone to make ready, as she stands facing the open doors with her back to the foot of the table. The chairs the guests have found for themselves are heavy oak affairs with intricately carved backs. The footsteps stop and moments pass, then minutes. Lady Ludmilla looks back over her shoulder and smiles at Moire briefly before returning her gaze to the doors. At last the footsteps resume, and Count Strahd von Zarovich appears, wears a crimson shirt with elaborate gold filigree. Rahadin hangs back in the shadows behind his lord. Lady Ludmilla curtsies to Strahd, who nods in acknowledgment and makes his way to the far head of the table. He gives only cursory glances to the four guests. Before taking his seat, he pauses at the organ and presses a single key. The instrument exhales a lone, tremulous note that is still decaying when Strahd sits.

"The cast has changed," Strahd says, flatly, to Ludmilla at the far end of the long table. "Is it so?" She answers in amazement. "Even more fascinating!" Her eyes move from face to face around the table. "Which? Who is it?" Strahd does not reply but puts his napkin on his lap.

A pale young woman dressed in servant's garb enters the dining room—Rahadin is no longer visible outside the doorway. Her shoulders are rounded and she wears an expression of great boredom. She takes one of the platters and begins to serve around the overlarge table. Lady Ludmilla says, "I'm afraid we are a bit understaffed at Ravenloft these days." Strahd sips his wine, lost in thought. As the serving maid passes by, she sneaks the odd wicked grin at the guest, revealing by her teeth that she too, is one of Strahd's thralls.

Lady Ludmilla attempts some version of small talk during the prolonged, awkward serving. The leering maid has not yet completed her task when Strahd casually turns to Moire and says, "So, Moire, your day was productive? Was the fortune teller able to shed any light on your condition?" He fixes her in his deep, penetrating gaze.[/div]
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Once the vampire gestures for them to take their seats, Moire sets the example by doing exactly that. Clad in armor, she briefly and wistfully wishes they'd had a little more time to make themselves presentable. But then, undead monsters might not even notice the difference.

Strahd's entrance seemed to fit a pattern of behavior she'd started to notice. His hospitable words at the tents and his kind invitation...followed by wolves being set upon them. Their elegant carriage ride...turned into a nightmare rush through the forest. And now he deigned to join the people who'd come at his invitation...only he took his sweet time getting here, for no purpose she could discern besides one. His random pressing of a note on the organ, his evident disinterest in his guests also fit that forming pattern.

Perhaps this vampire's greatest joy lay in surprising and unsettling people. A behavior practiced for so long it was ingrained habit. He might be incapable of not behaving this way anymore. Useful to know, if not useful to experience.

Moire returns Ludmilla's brief smile with a quirk of one eyebrow and the tease of a smile at her lips. The attempt at small talk is welcome and appreciated.

The serving vampire's far more direct wicked grin meets with a pair of raised eyebrows and a dubious expression from the Paladin.

Once the Count joins them for dinner, Moire waits politely and patiently for him to take up the conversation. It is his table, after all. His causal turn towards her at last draws a formal, somewhat stiff turn of Moire's shoulders and she faces the vampire. Those powerful, piercing eyes bore into her. There's something in the man-clad monster that makes her want to admit everything to him. It takes no effort to feign a degree of enthrallment for the darkly handsome Count. She finds herself leaning forward in her seat, mouth unconsciously open, hands pressed into her lap. For a moment, her companions seem to fade away until there's only the pair of them.

"Please, Moire, extinguish Sergei's blade. Its sight pains me."
Vi sula tasarak
.

The Paladin doesn't blink but when she finally gives forth her voice, what she says is "She answered us by telling us this, your Majesty: 'The great vampire hunter Rudolph van Richten, slayer of Lady Ambrogio, Prince Eoghan the Void Bringer, and the Mistress of Crimson Cords, among many others, has crossed over from the land of Darkon and stalks our Strahd from the shadows. He knows the Count's weaknesses and even now sets his traps.'"

Now she allows herself to blink and to take a sudden sharp inhalation of breath. Then she tilts her head to the side, inquisitively. "But surely such a man wasn't alive when we were...here before. What might his connection be to us? Or does his knowledge and our return share a common origin?"

Time to see if Strahd will accept this offering as the whole.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]At Moire's words, there's an almost imperceptible change in Strahd's eyes, a faint reflection of some distant object across the dark orbs. He stares at her intently for a long time. At the other end of the table, Lady Ludmilla leans forward towards Syvis and whispers, "When you said your pack ... are you a keeper of rare birds? Isn't he one of our native beauties?" She dips her head down and smiles at Otrev.

"I apologize," Strahd suddenly announces as he stands, "I have something to attend to." And with that, he walks the length of the dining chamber and exits through the open doors. From her seat, Lady Ludmilla follows his movement with her eyes. Her mouth hangs open. When she has watched the Count's exit, she looks back at Moire. "What did you ..." she starts to say, but then stands herself and walks out into the hall. She leans back into the dining room, holds up a finger, and says, "I'll be right back," before the crisp clip of her footsteps echoes away.

The hosts have departed. Rahadin hasn't been seen for some time. The guests are left alone with the cold banquet. And the vampiric serving maid, who stands to one side holding a dish of aspic. The maid looks from face to face and grins her nasty grin. Keeping her body facing the guests, she slinks sideways to the organ at the rear of the room. She opens her eyes wide in exaggerated drama, slides a foot forward and presses one of the instrument's great floor pedals. The expected ominous bass tone does not sound. She opens her mouth in an expression of mock surprise. Lifting the same foot, she brings it down slowly on a second floor pedal, which likewise produces no sound. But then there is a low rumbling—the maid's aspic jiggles on its platter—as the entire pipe organ slides a few feet to the right, exposing a dark gap, a hidden doorway that was concealed behind the leftmost pipes. Continuing the pantomime, the serving maid tips her head in the direction of the dark doorway, raises her eyebrows twice, then steps slowly back to lean against one of the columns along the wall. Holding the platter of aspic with both hands, grinning, she waits.[/div]
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
The druid had been watching the discussion between Moire and Strahd intently, slowly looking over her shoulder at Ludmilla's question. "No," she replied simply. "A wolf pack. Otrev is one from this ... place."

When the hosts left, the only non-pack member left was the maid. Syvis sighed. "Does your alpha keep you so starved that you have to try and feed yourself by trickery? Shameful, for both of you."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]The maid squints at Syvis, holds out the platter of aspic and giggles. Shrugging her shoulders, she takes a few sideways steps towards the double doors, away from the organ and the concealed chamber beyond it.[/div]
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus, having been silently assessing their situation from his dining chair, stands and faces the others and nervously clears his throat. "This may not be a popular idea, but I suggest we take this woman's suggestion and explore a little while our hosts are away." Hircus moves toward the revealed doorway and peers inside giving the giggling vampire servant a wide berth. He then turns to his friends once more, "Anyone up for a stroll?" He asks with a shrug and a smile.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]The maid slowly nods in affirmation of Hircus' suggestion. There's ample room in the banquet hall to approach the concealed doorway without coming close to her. In the room behind the organ, faint traces of light from the dinner candles reflect off dusty mirrors, dozens of them, of all shapes and sizes. The mirrors lean against the walls, stand on shelves or simply lie on the floor. The chill of night air also finds its way in to the abandoned room, by way of cobweb-choked arrow slits in the north and west walls. This was once some sort of archer's post overlooking the castle's courtyard. An arched hallway to the left leads deeper into the dark, forgotten walls of Ravenloft.[/div]
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The sudden departure of their host surprises Moire but that suddenness also saves her from having to conceal her great relief. Ludmilla's departure lowers the implicit danger here a bit further, although the Paladin admires the departing beauty a bit wistfully before turning back to her companions. Tigers were beautiful too, after all.

Once the servant opens up the secret entrance behind the pipe organ, Moire frowns a bit and she looks suspiciously at the maid. A vampire grinning wickedly meant this was almost certainly a trap. On the other hand, staying here meant encountering the Count again and, to be frank, she has better odds taking her chances in the castle than facing the monster who already killed her once.

Besides, if this is a plot by the vampire maid to try feeding on them, then at least Moire can claim she was provoked when Strahd inevitably finds the dead woman's severed head. And one more monster would perish before the Lord of this Land brought them down.

"No, my friend," Moire says, rising from her chair and resting a hand on her sword. "I think this is a fine idea. How hospitable that the Count's staff are giving us the chance for a bit of a tour while our host is preoccupied. Thank you," she says with a tilt of her head towards the maid. A nod that doesn't take her eyes off the creature.
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
"Well, then I will lead the way." With a few words to his patron Torm the cleric's hammer lights in his hand. Hircus nods to Moire then moves through the opening into the dusty room. He makes his way across the room to the arrow slits and peers outside into the courtyard. Then turns to watch for the rest of his group.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]With the spell cast, dozens of clerics of Torm suddenly look back at Hircus from the many mirrors stored here. Every move he makes towards the far wall and its arrow slits triggers a flurry of activity in his peripheral doppelgangers as all the fragmented versions of himself shift in their panes. The arrow slits are only about as wide as Hircus' hand is long, and full of cobwebs and birds' nests, but he can make out the courtyard beyond. The glow from his hammer illuminates the space immediately outside the slits; anyone standing in the courtyard tonight would see a warm glow coming from the all but forgotten archers' post.

The other exit from this room is a short corridor that ends at a T intersection, the left-hand branch of which must pass behind the southern wall of the dining hall.[/div]
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
Fianna gives a wry smile at Moire's interpretation of courtesy in the face of these vampires's strange behavior. "I'll come too if you'll have me," the young woman says as she stands up. Looking to Syvis she adds, "unless you'd rather stay be hind. I don't think any of us should be alone in this place."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
[div=border: 2px solid Navy; padding: 10px ]The maid keeps her distance as, one by one, the four guests enter the abandoned post. When they are all inside, she walks casually over to the table and puts down her plate of aspic. Looking up and down the long table of mostly untouched delicacies, she does some desultory gathering and stacking of dishes, while keeping an eye on the activity in the secret room. In the case that anyone meets her gaze, she treats them to her unpleasant grimace before returning to work.

"Another sad place," Otrev comments to Syvis. "Where did everyone go? Remember when we were back near my brothers and sisters?" Somewhat morose, he walks up to the bars of his cage and, suddenly perking up, gestures, "Oh, who are these handsome fellows?" Dozens of Otrevs stare back at him from the mirrors in the ancient chamber.

Considering the wall on either side of the doorway back to the dining hall, Syvis notes that there is no lever or other obvious mechanism that might move the organ aside, were it to return to its original position blocking the way.[/div]
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Fianna's softly tendered offer to accompany them feels...satisfying. For though Moire never laid eyes on the woman until the other night, she knows the woman somehow and knows that trust, loyalty, a willingness to risk aren't something Fianna does easily.

"Always," Moire says in answer to the witch.

The surreal experience of seeing herself reflected many times over bothered the Paladin just enough to look away from the glass, to the arrow slits. Then she frowned. "Why have mirrors next to the battlements? A way of signaling those outside the castle perhaps? Who here would have such a need, though?"

Puzzling over the brief mystery, Moire shakes her head. "Shall we try left then?"
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
"Nothing, no one out in the courtyard. I guess I didn't expect to see anyone. It would be nice to know where our hosts are at the moment." Hircus nods while listening to Moire's musing on the mirrors, "I don't get the impression that this room is used much at all, and why would they needs so many mirrors for signaling. No, I believe these mirrors are being hidden from vampire eyes. It is said that these particular undead no longer possess the ability to cast a reflection. I imagine a constant reminder of this symptom would wear someone down."

Hircus moves toward a few mirrors to inspect them more closely. He reaches out to wipe the dust from the glass surface using the meaty part of his hand. "Left it is. Let us see what secrets this castle olds."

Before leaving the room of mirrors, Hircus pulls a musty old sheet off of a nearby mirror and drapes it over the glowing hammer in his hand.
 
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