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Curse of Strahd [CLOSED]

Baba Luga

Vestige
The charcoal is quite faded, but someone has written, "Court," on the door at eye level. Below this word is a crude map. The door resists slightly—it has swollen in its frame—but then swings open into the servants' passage with a dry creak. Strands of cobweb trail from the edges of the door.

Hircus' war hammer projects a long beam of light into the vast, dark room on the other side of the door, illuminating the cushioned seat of a large wooden throne just 10' away. This appears to be a disused audience chamber, with the throne inexplicably turned around to face this wall instead of the chamber proper. Whatever other furniture belonged here has been removed, and the large picture frames hanging on the walls have cloths draped over them. At the far end of the room, where twin staircases descend, a chill breeze comes in through a massive, broken, stained-glass window. There are exits on the right-hand wall: a pair of large double-doors near the stairs, and a smaller door closer to the throne.

court.jpg
 
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Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Moire steps into the audience chamber, trusting in Hicus' light, knowing that her sword's divine illumination will fade in a matter of moments anyway. She slowly approaches the throne, curious as to its positioning. The Paladin briefly glances back towards the servant's door to confirm (A) if it's really a door or if it's a secret door that blends in with the wall or something as well as (B) if there's anything written on this side vs. the crude map from the servant corridor's side.

Then she steps up to the throne and firmly pats the cushioning. It's been years since she was a pirate but a wealthy man was known to put things of value close to be on hand. The habit was long-since dead but for once its use might be righteous given their enemy.

If the throne turns up empty, she gazes at the base to see if it swivels or if someone went through the trouble of physically turning it around. And finally she proceeds towards the small door close to the throne, the one marked with scales on the crude map. "If someone wants to check the paintings, we might learn something," she calls back over her shoulder. "Old as they are, there's a good chance the subjects might still exist. In one form or another."

She inspects the door handle to the scale-door, mostly to see if anything is obviously out of place. Even a pirate wasn't a professional burglar trained to break into buildings or through doors, she usually just hacked her way in. But at least she might use a bit of cloak to turn the handle if there was anything suspicious.
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
"I thought the same thing," Fiana answers softly and moves to examine the portraits. She is careful to lift the covering without pulling them down so that they can make the fact of their presence be as unobtrusive as possible once they move on.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
It's an awkward maneuver, drawing the heavy cloth outward enough to peer up at the large canvas beneath. The cloth hangs behind her and blocks Hircus' light, and thus left with only her darkvision, Fianna sees what is surely a robust palette of oil colors reduced to shades of gray. Up close like this, the natural cracking of the painting's surface is most noticeable. But even with those factors, and the extreme perspective from this angle, she can make out several small buildings. It's a panorama of a great city, shrouded in fog. Details are hard to make out, other than a few towers and spires that reach up higher than the surrounding buildings. The upper right section of the canvas is dominated by a pale fortress high on a hill.

As Moire enters, she notes that, when closed, the other side of the servant's door will look like a featureless section of plaster wall. A puff of dust is her reward for probing the old, threadbare seat cushion. The throne itself is quite heavy and does not readily move, though Moire is able to nudge the clawed feet a tiny, noisy distance to one side. Looking down, she sees a ring of scratches on the floor, presumably created when the throne was turned to its present facing. Abandoning this project for the time being, Moire walks up to the smaller door and sees a keyhole in the backplate below the heavy iron doorknob.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
Fianna makes her way, clockwise, around the chamber, carefully pulling back the coverings to inspect the other enormous frames:
  • A portrait of a stern old human man with a long black beard, dressed in voluminous robes, with an ermine fur over his shoulder.
  • A portrait of a similarly-saturnine human woman, with long black hair and exotic jewelry.
  • A full-length portrait of Count Strahd standing next to another man, whose face is obliterated by a long gash in the canvas.
This brings Fianna to the broken stained-glass window and the cold night breeze. Having lingered in the servants' corridor until now, Syvis enters the room. Otrev feels the change in the air and darts his head around to examine the audience chamber. He gesticulates with jerky movements that are different from his usual speech. This affectation comes across to Syvis as the equivalent of speaking in quotation marks. "We begged and pleaded. There was such hunger in the land. Implacable. At last, he turned his back on us and would hear no more."

As Fianna continues around the room, passing the great downward staircases and the large double doors, she sees more paintings:
  • A great battlefield scene, full of horses, blood, and fire. The composition draws the eye to one figure among the throng, an armored Count Strahd, riding at the vanguard of one army as it drives a wedge of destruction through the other.
  • Not a painting, but a large, heavy mirror, darkened and desilvering with age.
  • A scene of Castle Ravenloft itself, but under construction. In the foreground, a human man is showing a few other people plans for the great project.
This tour of the room has finally brought Fianna over to Moire, by the smaller door. The paladin is reaching for the doorknob when there is a click and a slow, guttural groan. The left-most of the double doors drifts open slightly into this room, and a crystal hand bell floats through the gap. Its cut surfaces dazzle in Hircus' light.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The throne and its cushion turned up nothing particularly interesting, which isn't much of a surprise but still was a possibility she feels better about having checked.

While her companions tend to the rest of the room, peering at portraits or staying on watch, Moire inspects the door knob the best she can in the dim light. No obvious traps at least. Just as she puts her hand on the doorknob, however, that crystal hand bell floats into the room. Instead of trying to enter the right-most door, the Paladin steps back from it and raises her shield as she draws her sword once more.

It looks to be benign magic so far. How threatening can a hand bell be? But this castle is the least likely place Moire has ever been in to have benign magic. Will it ring and summon more of the dead? Or, worse, the Count himself?

She glances at her three companions for guidance. All of them know more about mysterious enchantments than she does.
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
The elven druid looked down at Otrev with surprise, murmuring softly, "Where do you find these words?"

At the sudden shrill of the bell, Syvis tried to cover her ears, wincing at the noise. "So much for a silent presence ..." She looked over at the others, "Should we defend our place or try to find another hiding spot?"
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
"I don't think we can expect to defend ourselves here," Fianna says nervously, "if we get pinned down, we may never get out. We should keep moving.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
When you're about 10' from the floating crystal bell, it starts shaking rapidly from side to side. The sound produced is unreasonably loud and shrill, given the bell's delicate appearance. It rings for just a few seconds before you get close enough to apply your length of cloth. As you do, there's a definite sense of something sharing the space with you, as if your cloth is briefly tangled up with another, before the bells drops into your wrapping, muffled and still. A passing draft moves towards the open double door, through which you can see a dark hallway.
The last echo of the bell dies off.
Moire is silently grateful to Hircus for muffling the bell, even it ended up being too late. She listens to Syvis and Fianna express their concerns before sighing and nodding in reluctant agreement.

"Let's at least look through these different doors here and then move on down the stairs here," Moire suggests, waving to the double-doors the bell came out of as well as the door she's standing nearby, ending with a point towards the far end of the audience hall towards a pair of staircases descending down. "I don't know if they'll expect us to double back to the servant's corridor or not but we have a better chance of finding what we're looking for on the main paths than we do on side passages not meant for public eyes."

She listens for further remarks on their direction/strategy, particular if Hircus has anything to contribute, and then she tries the doorknob on the single door she was by. And if it's locked, the Paladin inspects the feasibility of kicking it open.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
Otrev blinks up at Syvis and pantomimes, "I only repeat what is said. In the places you take me, there are often sad voices. It is like where I came from a long time ago. Don't you hear them?"

As Moire has anticipated, the smaller door doesn't readily open. There's a heavy thud as it resists her. And then her ears pick up a very faint noise from somewhere on the other side of the door—the rustle of spilling coins calls forth old piratical memories.

At this moment, an ashen face moves into the gap between the just-open double doors about fifteen feet in front of Hircus. Another ghoulish member of the castle staff, this one a grinning mockery of a priest dressed in soiled and faded garb of Lathander, the Morninglord. And behind him, a similarly-undead dwarven woman whose dark robes could be those of a choirmaster. Both are happy to see the cleric of Torm, and lunge into the audience chamber to welcome him.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
What seems like it could be another quick fight against the castle's undead inhabitants takes a turn for the worse as more gruesome servant's arrive: a cook from downstairs, and the butler from before, who crawls upside-down on the ceiling before dropping down twenty feet on top of Hircus. This attack from above is the decisive shift that brings the Cleric of Torm to the very brink. While Fianna and Syvis provide support from across the room, and Moire wades into the melee, the four abominations focus their appetite on Hircus, finally paralyzing him with their tainted touch.

It is upon losing consciousness for a second time, as the faux-priest bites into his side, that Hircus hears the voice of Inawenys, the noble-born elven rogue. "Why is it so cold in here?" she asks. And indeed, it is freezing. Hircus shivers in a dark and long-forgotten place. But now a few glimmers of distorted light flash here and there, jagged beams of amber. "Ah, yes," says another, strangely familiar voice nearby, that of an older woman, "the vestiges make it so. Best to keep moving until we find who we're looking for."

Hircus can see more now, distorted figures, lit in dim shades of amber as they walk in this place. Here are Ina, Tegan, Fianna, Moire, and the woman with the familiar voice, who walks ahead to lead them wherever it is they're headed. But really, she is like no woman Hircus knows. From behind, her entire head is covered in reddish-brown fur, including her long fox ears. Her voluminous robe, decorated with stars and planets, billows around her.

"I'm not so sure about this..." Ina whispers nervously in Hircus' ear. "Maybe there's another way."

Their guide's furry ears twitch. "Did you say something?" She stops and turns around to look back at Hircus, Ina, and the other. It is not a fox, but a jackal that smiles at them with a gleam in her eyes.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
"And this is Zhudun?" Tegan asks. The scene before Hircus' unconscious eye has shifted. Tegan stands in front of an enormous block of cloudy amber at least eight feet tall. There's a jagged black scar deep in the center of the block. "It looks just the same as the others," Tegan remarks. "How can you even tell these vestiges apart?"

"Well,"
says the jackal-headed woman who Hircus realizes is grinning right beside him, "that's what the concordance is for." She holds up a heavy tome that is connected by a long chain to a bracer on her arm.

The vision fades as Hircus comes to again, in the midst of the fight against Strahd's undead servants. He rolls to his feet and joins the battle. The butler and faux-priest are destroyed, while the choirmaster and cook run off in separate directions.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The battle had been fierce and even frantic, with Hircus nearly done for. The cook retreated, the choirmaster ignored their attacks with dismaying ease but at least two of the ghoulish undead were slain.

Moire lowers her sword before sheathing it. She places a gloved hand on Hircus' shoulder and murmurs a prayer to Ilmater, feeling the connecting warmth of her God's holy light illuminating the war priest's wounds, wiping them away. Then she squeezed once, firmly for it to be felt through the armor, a gesture of affection and comraderie. "I thought we'd lost you, my friend," she says, and though she puts on a false smile for him, the hollowness of her voice tells how much the priest's brush with death shook her.

Turning to the rest of her party, the Paladin dips her head in respect before saying, "Syvis, Fianna...thank you. We might have perished without your contributions. Let's be done with our business here quickly and look for safer harbor elsewhere."

"Take a look through the doors the bell came from, just in case the object of our search is there. I'll see to the other room. If possible, I'd like to be on the move in the next minute but I don't want to leave behind a place we might need to come back to."

Moire proceeds to door, confirms its locked and gives a quick nod of her head. Then she backs up to the throne and braces her shield. A warcry might be fitting but what little discretion is left to them could still be the difference between life and death. So Moire charges the door silently and slams into it with her full armored weight braced behind the shield.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
leif.jpgThe door itself is reinforced with iron bars and gives not at all to the brunt of Moire's impact. The left-hand jamb where the bolt resides however, is another matter. It squeals, cracks and warps, freeing the door, which, thus released, swings wide open into the room beyond.

Moire's momentum carries her into a large study, walls lined with overstuffed bookshelves and pigeonholes. Trails of paper and dust reach across the floor from these peripheral shelves towards a great black desk in the center of the room, at which a stooped human man stares at Moire with a bit more insouciance than the sudden intrusion might warrant. He holds a large quill pen in one hand, with which he was apparently just writing on a long scroll unfurled across the desk and down onto the floor beyond. Coins are stacked in various groupings all over the rest of the desk, while other coins rest in one pan of a brass balance scale nearby. A tasseled rope hangs from a hole in the ceiling within reach of the man. He sighs heavily and blinks at Moire. A candelabra beside the desk provides enough light for Moire to see that there's another door on the other side of the room.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The iron bars are an unexpected, but not overwhelming, obstacle. Moire finds a certain grim satisfaction when the door yields to her shield-backed ram.

That satisfaction ends in the next moment at the sight of the man behind the desk. A living man, if appearances could be trusted. At least he didn't seem too upset at the intrusion. Although his lack of surprise suggests interruptions are perhaps not terribly uncommon. Or more likely still, Count Strahd seems entirely the kind of master to storm into a room with his fury up.

"I beg your pardon," Moire says, in an attempt to be polite. "We're guests of the master of this castle but I'm afraid his staff have been a little less..." the Paladin pauses while searching for a diplomatic word before finally pressing on with, "...hospitable. Clearly this is not the best place to wait the night out. I'm Moire, by the way. Moire Cassiel. I apologize for the interruption."

She listens to any response he cares to make and lets him set the tone for what comes next. Her introduction was indelicate to say the least but a bit of civility can go a long way to ruffle riled feathers and the man doesn't seem particularly riled anyway. Perhaps he might be a source of information? So instead of ushering herself out, Moire pauses with her hand on the doorknob and awaits any reply he cares to make.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
The man behind the desk rolls his eyes and shakes his head. With a long sigh, he takes up his dry quill and dips it in a nearby inkpot. His left hand reaches over the blotter to gather some scraps of paper, allowing Moire, and anyone near the doorway, to see and hear the manacle and chain that anchor him to his station.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The sight, and sound, of the chain rattling draw the Paladin's eyes in an instant. That changes everything.

Moire steps fully into the room and circles the desk, her gaze fixed on the chain and where it connects to. "Be at peace, my friend," she says as she approaches. "I didn't realize you were a prisoner. Allow me to release you, if I can."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
As Moire maneuvers around the desk, she spots four good-sized wooden chests among the books and papers on the floor towards the rear of the room. The other end of the chain on the manacle is fused to a metal bolt encased in a long horizontal slot that runs across the accountant's side of the desk. This appears to give him some range of movement while binding him to his station. As Moire draws closer, she crosses some invisible line, and the man's cool affect changes suddenly. He draws his head and shoulders back, and his chair skids a few inches. His lip trembles and he drops his quill, which evacuates a blob of ink onto the dense manuscript he's been writing. With the freed hand, he grasps about the air near the tasseled bell-pull behind him, eyes fixed on his would-be liberator.
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
With the account's attention fixed on Moire, Fianna whispers the words of a spell and calls a servant of force to her assistance.

"Please," she says to the seemingly-frightened man as she steps forward and directs her magical assistant to keep the bell-pull out of his reach, "we only want to help you, and if that means leaving you alone we can do that too."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
With his eyes fixed on Moire and Fianna, the account continues to grasp at the empty air where the bell pull was, until his overextended reach causes his chair to start tipping back. His feet kick up and he starts to pinwheel his arms. This motion soon snaps the chain on his left wrist tight, bringing the front legs of his chair back to the floor with a loud smack. He catches his breath and regains his composure when the two women keep their distance.

"Well, then, yes," he says, dabbing at the spilled ink with a rag from his breast pocket, "I choose to be left along, I should think. If life has taught me one thing, it's that when things change, it's always from bad to worse. I'll stick it out like this. I know the rules of the game here." His eyes dart to the books and papers that encircle him. "Let's see now," he mutters more calmly, looking over the intruders in his office prison. He takes a small notepad from one of the desk drawers and starts scribbling in it, mouthing words to himself as he studies Fianna and Moire. "You don't mind, do you?" he asks. "For my personal reference only."
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The plight of the accountant catches at Moire's heart, for it wasn't so long ago that the life of a pirate seemed equally entrapping. Leaving her past behind had been an almost impossible act, made possible only through Ilmater's vision and grace. Such conversions are the substance of experience and sufficient time to reflect, though, not the sort that can be handled in conversation while undead reinforcements may be on their way.

But the prospect of learning more of their quest is just as impossible to ignore, no matter the risk.

"By all means," Moire says as he starts making notes. "If you wish to remain, I can't blame you. I can only ask that you not volunteer what you've seen and written when asked, for doing so may result in a fate far worse for us than for yourself, kind sir."

Regardless of if he's moved by her appeal, the Paladin takes a step backwards to the door before pausing. "Would you happen to know the directions to a room said to be filled with bones? If you have that knowledge, would you be willing to share it with us? The sooner we know where it lies, the sooner we'll no longer be a distraction to you."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
"I can't make any promises if torture or ensorcellment enter the picture," the accountant says with a grim smile that shows off his rotten teeth, "but otherwise, why should I speak of your passing? After all, they never tell me anything about what goes on here, despite the constant expectation that I value and track every piece of bric-a-brac in this heap. There may very well be a room of bones somewhere around here—it seems in keeping with the general decorative motif—but my bookkeeping system only references the chambers of Ravenloft by a matrix of letters and numbers, with the Count's possessions similarly coded. I seldom know whether I'm tallying up coins or candle-ends, whether they're locked away in an ossuary or an outhouse. It's very demoralizing, especially for a professional."

"That's why I take my own notes whenever I can, in my own separate cipher,"
he says, pointing with pride to the little notepad he's been jotting in. "Now I've recorded the things I've seen you carry, so that, in the likely event that you meet a ghastly fate here and your possessions default to the Count's cabinet, I'll at least have some idea of the particulars. It's the only way I have even a chance of knowing what's going on!" He gathers in some of the slack in his chain to lean forward, conspiratorially. "Do you know, things have gotten so bad that there are items supposedly in the collection that aren't even in the castle, with no one the wiser? Take article 35Q for instance: I have no idea what it is, but after years of cross-referencing old ledgers and manifests, I'm all but certain it's actually over at the River Ivlis Crossroads! Makes no sense at all, right? But there you have it."

The accountant has worked himself up into a bit of lather with his complaints. He grips his quill with a white-knuckled fist and jabs it into the inkwell, then resumes his work on the massive scroll before him, muttering under his breath and shaking his head.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Moire's come a long way since her pirate days but she's not remotely agile or literate enough to keep up with this man. Instead, she latches onto a reoccuring theme in his monologue.

"So you don't know rooms as well as you know things. Perhaps you know..."

Vi sula tasarak. Once more, the memory washes over her, halting her words for a precious second before reflex carries her forward. "...know of what was once a crystal sword. Sergei's blade," she adds, dredging up the name from memory. "It had a...a platinum hilt. Do you know where the hilt is located now?"

And then, as the implications of how deep his records go, Moire's eyes grow wide. "For that matter...I'm Moire Cassiel. And my possessions no doubt already lie in the halls of this castle for I perished here, more than a century ago. Has my name ever crossed your desk in your research? Is there anything of mine left to reclaim?"
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
The accountant is a bit perturbed when Moire begins this fresh line of inquiry, but his interest is clearly piqued when she mentions Sergei's blade. "Ah, of course! A sword that once belonged to the Count's brother. A family memento. That would be something to put in the cabinet. I've never heard of it, certainly never seen it. Like I said, they keep me absolutely in the dark about what exactly the inventory is and what exactly the rooms are. See for yourself!" He produces a soiled card that reads Readyreat 1, 842: Chamber K88: items 99A-C, 1225J, 8V. "But I'm sure you're right about Sergei's sword," he continues. "It just makes sense. Thank you for the intelligence. Let me make a note of that." He scribbles in his little pad again.

"To sadly continue my refrain of ignorance, I have no idea who you are either. However, even prior to my employment here, I had heard of the famed Catacombs of Castle Ravenloft. Were I looking for a decedent and their grave goods, I'd start there. I don't know the exact way, but I wager it's down, as far down as you can go. On the other hand, the state of things lately, I wouldn't be surprised to find people interred in broom closets."
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The accountant's revelations are both useful and obscure. Moire's surprised to find just how grieved she is that he doesn't know what became of her. Up until this point, the Paladin has largely ignored her unremembered time in Ravenloft, mostly handling the flashbacks of insight by ignoring them when she can. But the possibility that she might be here somewhere is now a possibility that steals into her heart and lures her with something truly rare in her experience; temptation. Moire's never found the chivalric restrictions of Paladinhood to be particularly restrictive, mostly because those things it forbids were things she indulged in to an excess, at the expense of many beside herself. Turning her back on those things is for her, as much as it is for Ilmater.

Yet she's here. Possibly. And whether Moire's body lies within Castle Ravenloft's Catacombs or not, what truly matters here is the mission. Count Strahd has played an indirect game so far but he still holds every advantage. He killed them all when he was weaker and they were stronger. No. She had to focus on the hilt. No matter how surprisingly appealing her personal past had just become.

"You've been more helpful than you know, my friend," Moire says, and while she uses the word a bit too easily, the sudden warmth she feels for this imprisoned man is genuine enough. "Given your circumstances, keep hold of hope the best you can. We'll put you in danger no longer. I only ask, if you can tell us, where the Count's cabinet lies. And then we'll bid you goodbye and the blessings of Ilmater upon you."

If the accountant answers, and assuming there's little more to be gained by asking further questions, Moire looks to her companions to see if they have anything to add. And then she steps out of the accountant's room, back into the throne room.

Having finished her business here, Moire proceeds to the partly-open double doors through which the undead Choirmaster recently left the Audience Chamber. Just a peek through, to know what might be worth following up on later. Undead reinforcements may be on their way and it's time they left this place.
 

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