Fianna has enough residual sense of Tegan's tics and mannerisms to see that he's a bit put out at the idea of everyone spending the night here, but he doesn't complain. He smiles and digs around for whatever shabby blankets and other accouterments of rest he can find in the abandoned hovel. Vanwandir, in the form of a bat, aids the search by chasing off the odd mouse or cockroach. With everyone as well outfitted as is can be expected, Tegan excuses himself—he has some further business to see to by moonlight—and he and his familiar head out into the dim streets of Barovia.
Piece by piece, Ina removes the showy leather armor that the Vistani gave her. She takes Fianna aside and hands the lot to her. "I barely remember you, but that's alright. I want you to take these. If I'm going back to Vallaki for that book, I need to be discreet. Wearing this armor they'll be on me in no time. And besides, you're practically in your bedclothes! And take one of these too," she says, producing a slim dagger from her boot. She puts her hand of Fianna's and smiles. "Take good care of these fanatics," she says with a wink. Having given these gifts, she reclines on the couch and stares off across the room. Her eyes gradually glass over, blinking vacantly as the muscles around her jaw relax and she enters a meditative trance.
Syvis is the first to be roused by the rapping on the door. It takes a moment to process the cluttered little house, the new pack mates around her. She must have sunk into the deep trance, where the dreams—so unusual for her people—come to her. "It is already happening," the terrible voice that warns in dreams had said. "The place that eats worlds devours the world, chews it together with its own murky pap." But these words are already fading as she reacclimates to her surroundings. The front door is a silent question mark. Did someone really knock at it, or was that only the beating of the wind, which sounds like it has picked up outside significantly since everyone dozed off ... hours? ... ago. The candle on the table has burned all the way down. More importantly, Ina is nowhere to be seen. She must have left while Syvis was dreaming and the others were asleep. Nearby, Otrev blinks and cocks his head to one side quizzically.
Three solid raps at the front door convince Syvis that she did hear right, and wake Hircus, Fianna and Moire as well.
Finally settling down to rest, it took Syvis awhile to become comfortable enough. Each small movement made her alert once more, still not quite trusting Tegan nor the creature that hovered near him. It unsettled her in its own way, that it was an animal yet all too human-like for her own preferences. Regardless she pulled out her blanket and curled in on herself in her own nest, the small birdcage of Otrev's nearby.
Waking from a sound, her eyes barely opened, not out of tiredness, but to try and prevent the gleam of them reflecting in any light. Not hearing anything, the elf began to look around the small area, frowning briefly at the missing Ina. Offering a finger into Otrev's cage to gently pet the small bird, her head snapped to the door and the sound that came from it. Moving along the floor quietly she approached Hircus and Moire, gently nudging their shoulders to make sure they were awake, then finally Fianna once she recalled the half-elf was somewhere in the room. Her voice was soft, "We have a guest."
Moire blinks the sleep from her eyes, rising within a second to full consciousness. She'd like to credit the response time to the righteous paths of the Paladin but, no, it was her piratical history that taught her to never rest that deeply.
Syvis' words register a second later. Moire rolls to her feet, body stiff and sore given she'd gone to sleep in her armor...for exactly this kind of circumstance. Donning the marvelous armor the Vistani had given her would taken ten minutes or more; time she didn't have. Instead, the Paladin's in the position to stand and draw her sword without risk of being unarmored. Or of the armor being left behind, if this is the carriage and the invitation will not wait.
Being the cautious sort, she gestures to Syvis and Fianna to flank out...and with a quick motion of the finger, Moire hopefully communicates the suggestion that one of them look outside to see if they can spot whoever it is (and how many there might be). For her part, she doesn't move. Just getting up likely made a bit of noise but people turn in their sleep. Whoever knocked will likely knock again, buying them time. The moment she moves, though, anyone listening's going to hear a warrior in armor advancing on that door.
Hircus wakes reaching for his chest to feel for his armor and then for his hammer. Of course, he removed his armor so he could get a decent rest. While the others answer the door, Hircus begins to don his chainmail and gather his things.
"I won't go into the night unprepared again. They'll have to be patient this time. Moire, I suggest you do the same. If this is another escort like the other night, then we will just ask for a minute to prepare." The big cleric begins the process of slipping into the chain shirt and cinching the straps. The whole time he is muttering prayers to Torm and shaking his head.
Fianna thanks Ina for the gifts, she too can barely recall the other and she is far less used to this strange feeling of remembrance, so it feels rather like kindness from a stranger. After taking the dagger and armour, she lies down to rest, but sleep is a long time coming. It is her first night in this strange place, and though it is not her first night away from home, it is her first time since everything changed. Since her mother died. When she is woken up by the knocking on the door, there is a bad taste in her mouth and a wetness on her cheeks.
She rises rapidly enough when her current location and company comes back to her, and their situation becomes clear. She gives Moire a questioning glance and nods in the direction of the window.
Nodding at Moire, Syvis kept low to the ground as she moved through the room, and tilted her head just enough to get a glimpse over the window sill. What she saw on the other side made her want to growl in anger and howl in desperation. The Lord of the land had come through on his promise. Studying the horses for a moment, she wondered if they would be as friendly as Otrev, or as aggressively loyal in their own way as the direwolves were.
Sitting on the floor by the window, the druid sighed. "Our transport is here. I didn't see the driver, that does not mean much given who we're dealing with."
Moire sighs audibly, then gives Fianna and Syvis a slow nod. She glances at Hircus, still donning his gear and winces slightly as her back complains when she straightens. If the driver turns out to be a patient man, she's going to regret sleeping in armor.
Not that she wouldn't do it again under similar circumstances.
"Very well," she said. "Let's get on with it." With a raised eyebrow to their newcomer the Paladin adds, "It's been hours since we reunited, Fianna. You weren't part of the King's request. If you'd rather stay here and go it alone, this is your last chance. Otherwise..." She almost reaches out to clasp the other woman's arm in camaraderie before remembering the witch doesn't particularly like being touched. Instead, she just smiles and says "If we must brave the King in his den, we're stronger together than apart. Together, we'll come through this."
Moire waits a moment for Fianna to decide what to do. Once that's settled, she strides to the door and opens it to greet the driver. "Thank you for your patience," she says politely to whoever (or whatever) is on the other side. "If we can beg a little more patience, we'll soon be ready to leave and join your master's company dressed in our best out of respect for his station."
Fianna takes a moment to center herself. She very much does not want to go back to the castle she only just escaped from, but neither does she want to be left alone and ineffectual in this strange land. The young woman takes a deep breath, looks Moire in the eyes and nods. "I'll go with you," she says.
Moire finds no answer in the gusty night air outside, save the snort of one of two black horses hitched to a large, ornate carriage waiting in the muddy street. The carriage door stands open and Moire can dimly see the cushioned benches that face each other within.
Moire stands at the door, then holds it open a bit wider so others in the room can see the same scene she does. With a smirk, she glances back at Hircus and says "Looks like you have time to get dressed after all."
She turns back to the carriage before suddenly frowning. After a moment of contemplation, she points at one horse, than at the other horse before asking "Which one of you knocked?"
Hircus finishes his preparations and moves toward the door next the Moire who seems to be talking to no one. "No driver." He turns his head to look at Moire, lifting his beard so it doesn't snag in the chainmail, "This should go well." The big cleric turns to the side so he can squeeze through the door past the paladin. He walks toward the carriage with his hammer slung over one shoulder. Once close enough, Hircus goes up on his toes to look inside.
The black horses snort quietly and pad their feet as Hircus draws near. There's no one seated on the velvet-upholstered seats inside the carriage, but a large covered basket rests on the floor at the rear of the compartment. A small envelope is on top of it.
In the moonlight, the horses' coats are sleek with sweat, as if they were driven hard on their way here. The closest of the pair, the one with the lone patch of white beneath her eye, turns her head to regard Syvis with a slow blink, but says nothing. There's a sad, silent majesty in her gaze.
The carriage shifts ever so slightly as Moire mounts the step and ducks inside sufficiently to reach the envelope, which is closed with Strahd's seal in red wax. The card inside reads:
My Friends from Out of the Past, I hope this day's activities have proven fruitful, and that the evening finds you well and disposed to join me for a repast at Castle Ravenloft. Perhaps together in these civilized surroundings we can discern the meaning behind your strange arrival here. I promise your journey will be a safe one. You may find brandy and blankets in the hamper to warm you on the way. I await your arrival.
Your most sincere and appreciative host, Count Strahd von Zarovich of Barovia
"I hate to disagree," Fianna says nervously as she regards the driverless carriage, "but I did not find him to be so when I was at the castle earlier." She sighs, "I don't suppose we have much of a choice, but I have a bad feeling about this."
Hircus stands like an over-sized carriage boy, holding the door as the others inspect their ride and decide to enter. As he stands there he scans up and down the street, watching for onlookers and nosy neighbors. It is unlikely a carriage from Strahd's castle will go unnoticed in this backward town. "I do not wish to stand in the night waiting to draw a crowd. I am not eager to meet our host again, but I also do not wish to stand here on display. We do not know what the locals will think of us for this apparent compliance." The big cleric looks at the ground and twists his mouth in frustration, "That is if we ever return to this town with our souls intact."
Still deciding how to take the non-response of the mare, Syvis offered her hand for the beast to smell if it cared to, looking around to try and see if the horse's ears flicked a particular direction, listening for commands.
Focusing her own hearing, her attention was caught briefly by the sound of a word from within another house. Staring at the house for a moment she slowly moved around to join the others in stepping into the carriage, looking back at some of the gear she'd had to carry only hours ago as a horse herself. "We've already gotten an audience at least. Considering our short entrance before, I doubt they had much idea about us to begin with. Too fleeting to be worth attention, unless we become a threat." She looked around the inside, "Either we're now allies in their mind, or a more defined risk. Assuming we return any time soon."
"Good points," Moire says, nodding to Syvis from her seat in the carriage. "But good points we'll need to address after this audience. The ruler of this land has invited us to dine with him and I suspect that will be the most..." she pauses, searching for the right word. "Delicate matter we've yet faced since coming here," she finishes.
The Paladin looks to the concerned faces of Syvis, Fianna and Hircus, then leans back in her seat slightly as Syvis boards. "I don't know what we face in the Castle. Perhaps Fianna can enlighten us on the way. In the meantime, there's blankets and a nip of brandy for courage won't likely hurt. Whatever our host may be, I think he's the sort who does things face to face." The black-haired Paladin smirks then before resting a hand on her sword as she says, "As am I."
In the end only Moire and Fianna enter the carriage, taking Otrev in with them for safekeeping, while Hircus and Syvis mount the broad driver's bench on top. Hircus recognizes this specimen of carriage as a particularly fine landau, the sort of vehicle someone might own if they wished to make a habit of ostentatious jaunts about town. In this case, however, the normally low-slung, open doors and windows that would let the passenger be noted and admired by passers by are occluded by smoky glass, making it hard to see in or out with any degree of clarity.
As everyone settles in, lamps at the top of the landau begin to glow faintly as if enchanted with a weaker version of the holy light that Hircus can summon. This seems to be a signal to the horses, as they shake their heads and start forward with the carriage. From his perch Hircus can appreciate how steady and confident these working animals are, while Syvis' eyes might find other meaning in the creatures' toil.
Though the direct way out of Barovia village would be to head west on what passes for the main thoroughfare, the horses take the landau on a grim parody of the showy tour a noble might make of a populous city district, heading east instead and then through many twists and turns before eventually coming around to the obvious westward egress. Instead of admiring onlookers, the only eyes to see the elegant landau are the shuttered windows of ramshackle houses. The sole lot of note holds the utter ruin of a collapsed manor. Scorch marks on the jagged timbers indicate to Syvis that there was a fire here not long ago. When the edge of the village is finally in sight, a torrent of sobbing reaches those on top of the landau. Someone in one of these last houses is suffering some unknown misery above and beyond the usual lot of the people here.
Back on the Old Svalich Road that Hircus, Ina, Moire and Syvis walked earlier today, the horses pick up speed. Hurtling barefaced into the clear, breezy night the three up top have their respective plumages well tussled. The carriage follows the road back over the stone bridge and into the woods. Inside the carriage, Otrev seems to have something to say to Moire and Fianna, doing his strange little dances in his cage, but neither of them has any idea what he's going on about.
About a half mile on, where the road curves to the right, the horses, so far flawless in their progress, take the turn harder than they should and quite casually carry the landau off the side and down a sharp embankment. Owing to the darkness of the windows, Moire and Fianna first learn of this through a great shock as the vehicle dives down and bounces on its springs, sending the two women and their possessions rattling around in the compartment. Otrev's cage tumbles over and rolls back and forth on floor, and it doesn't take a translator to get the gist of what the bird is going on about now.
Meanwhile, on top of the carriage, Hircus and Syvis can anticipate the jolt, but have little to stop them from being thrown off. Somewhat experienced with horse-drawn vehicles, Hircus instinctively leans back and grips the side of the seat to keep himself in place, but Syvis is instantly pitched up onto her toes, teetering at the edge of the footrest. The horses, utterly unconcerned, and the carriage, miraculously still bearing all four of its wheels, continue on over rough, uncharted ground towards the dark forest ahead.
Riding on the front seat next to Hircus, Syvis kept her eyes moving, trying to take in any meaning from the route they were being driven. She's silent, still on edge with the idea of willingly being, in her mind, captured, but the rest of the pack have had longer here than she has, so she will trust in their judgement.
Squinting from the wind, the ride feels boring, if anything, too plain for their ultimate destination, but the druid is quickly proven wrong as the horses take a hard turn, down a path that were Syvis on hooves of her own would have hesitated at. As such she's taken by surprise as the carriage lurches under her and in an attempt to hold on, reaches for instinct -- the instinct of claws to grab onto anything available. Her nails grow out briefly into wicked talons as they dig into the leather seating, leaving holes in the cushion where her fingers have gripped. As the ride calms, the talons fade, but Syvis keeps a grip on the railings around her, not eager for another bump of that level.
"None of the Brandy for me, thanks. I am going to ride on that perch up top. I have spent a few many days driving a mess wagon, so I feel," Hircus pauses as he considers the feeling the cabin gives him, "more comfortable up front in the fresh night air."
The big man climbs up top, ignoring the creaking and complaining coming from the leaf springs beneath him. "That groaning," he says to Syvis, "That's completely normal. We are going to have a nice smooth ride in this kingly carriage. Much like a goat being loaded in the wagon to market." The cleric's mood still hasn't soured. He drops into the seat with a huff and a chuckle.
The ride is much as he expected until the carriage drops off the smooth road and begins moving ng toward the woods. Once he is stable he looks to see if Syvis needs a hand, but she has a good enough grip, so he just gives her a nod of approval and then begins looking for the brake.
"Maybe we can slow them a bit if we can find the brake." he says at a loud enough voice to be heard over the wind and noise of the carriage.
The brake paddle is right where Hircus expects to find it, and he presses down with all his might. Somewhere beneath him, pads engage the big carriage wheels with a grinding screech, but the horses have other ideas and, straining at their bands, continue to drag the landau through mud and stone. The brakes groan miserably one last time before the paddle goes slack under Hircus' foot as some vulnerable part of the mechanism snaps loose and the wagon shoots off again into the very thick of the wood, free of any visible road or track.
Branches swing and snap at Hircus and Syvis, leaving angry welts where the two fail to guard their faces. Inside the carriage, Moire and Fianna are still collecting themselves when the lower branches of trees start dragging against the windows and sides of the landau like ravenous owlbears outside a tent. Far from being slowed by these obstacles, the horses somehow manage to pick up speed. Hooves crunch through brambles and splash across brooks, sending errant sprays of water across Hircus and Syvis's legs.
Amid all this chaos, a sudden stillness sets in, as if the forest has given up the fight and decided to accommodate the carriage. It cannot be that the horses have found some hidden woodland road, for the branches and brambles pass as close as ever; they just seem to not matter, having become almost ethereal. Free of the incessant snapping and slapping of foliage, Syvis can hear the small beasts of the night hailing the horses as they go by.
Half an hour or more passes this way, traveling smoothly through the woods with only the dim glow of the landau's lamps to show the way, before the horses suddenly pull free of the trees and take the landau back up onto another stretch of road, this one paved with the remnants of old flagstone that ring out against horseshoes and carriage wheels. And, despite the impossible difference in elevation from the road outside Barovia village, the road has not much farther to go before it will reach the gates of Castle Ravenloft, whose dark walls and spires tower hundreds of feet over the lowered drawbridge that crosses a chasm of unimaginable depth. A warm glow from the castle's courtyard is visible through the raised portcullis at the other side of the bridge. To Hircus and Syvis's eyes, this bridge in no way inspires confidence: its boards are cracked and shored up many times over, the rust-eaten chains rattle and creak in the wind. But the horses continue apace, passing eagerly between crumbling stone towers on their way to the bridge.
As the horses charge across the untenable drawbridge, tendrils of memory reach out from the misty chasm below, grasping for Hircus, but only the faintest impressions of what the priest of Torm might have witnessed here centuries ago drift by with the wind. The bridge's boards creak and bend in protest, but hold enough for the heavy carriage to pass across, beneath the moldy wooden portcullis and through an arched entry passage, into a vast and dismal courtyard that stretches out into the shadows on either side of Strahd von Zarovich's palatial home.
In the courtyard the horses take the carriage in a wide loop, breathing heavily as they gradually slow, until the landau comes to a stop near the castle's outer doors. This grand entrance is flanked by fluttering torches and a warm glow spreads from more torches within. From where they sit, Hircus and Syvis can see into the foyer. Another set of doors, closed, waits at its opposite end. This night's clear sky has lately ceded territory to a dark cloudbank into which the crescent moon soon vanishes, along with this land's strange stars.