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Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Moire bore the trip uncomfortably and likely in silence, if Fianna wasn't feeling particularly talkative. She'd been groggy still from half a night's sleep but all exhaustion had faded, along with most of her fear and anxiety. Being rattled around in armor for an hour or so did a remarkable job of swallowing up mental discomfort with physical discomfort. By the time the carriage arrived at the castle, the Paladin felt as bruised as if she'd spent hours sparring full contact.

Once the carriage came to a complete stop, Moire waits a moment more, bracing herself with her hands in case of another jolt. Then, she nods once and extends one hand to Fianna while the other opens the carriage door.

"Sorry Otrev," she says with an apologetic smile to the caged bird. Once Fianna disembarks, Moire follows suit with the birdcage in tow.

Standing in the courtyard, she takes a slow, lingering look at the condition of the fortifications as well as the evidence of disuse. Strahd may be a powerful undead ruler who'd already killed her once but at least it didn't look like he had an army on top of that.

"I believe our host is expecting us," the Paladin says, as she turns back to regard her companions. "Whatever else this is, it's an opportunity. Remember what we came here for. If it's possible..." Moire pauses, swallows once and continues, "I will see if I can get him to focus on me. Be alert for an opportunity to sip away and expore if you can. Syvis, Fianna, see if you can find the place. Hircus, if the opportunity arises, see if you can talk to the person. I don't know if our host can hear everything we say but be circumspect in case he can."

Having said what she meant to, Moire raises an eeybrow and asks "Any last minute questions, suggestions or plans to be aware of?"
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
Attempting to protect her face from the branches, Syvis mostly tried to guard her eyes -- all too aware of how easy it would be for a pointed twig or branch to do injury, the fast passing trees leaving faint marks on her coppery skin, slowly fading on the rest of the trip. Once the attack has passed, the druid glances off to the side as she hears many small voices hailing the carriage, especially the horses.

Looking up at the castle, Syvis grimaces -- not even having entered yet and she wishes they'd turn back. All this looks to her like entering a bear's den, not even guessing if the bear is absent -- they know it's home, and it's waiting for them. Slowly moving from off the top of the carriage, the druid's legs were wobbly from the roughness of the ride but soon enough recovered. At first she wanted to check on the horses, but seeing the others emerge from inside, her attention was taken by the messy form of Otrev in his cage. Reaching in to try and check his small form for any injuries from the trip, she looked up at Moire so plainly stating their plan. Blinking slowly she answered, "Yes. You do realize any of the animals around here answer to him yes? So now they have all heard and know, likely scurrying to report already."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
"Who else hears? Who else hears?" a nightjar chirrups and whirs from untended brush. "This one speaks intelligibly! I must be off!" The small dark bird flies up to and through a large round window high above the open castle doors. The panes are shattered, and the room behind the window is dark, but the light from the exterior torches shows that the lead dividers form the abstract image of a rising or setting sun, just like the tattoo behind Moire's ear.
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
Fianna takes Moire's hand with a nervous smile and steps out onto the courtyard. Once outside, she wraps her arms around herself and looks up at the foreboding castle walls, trying to see if she can place any of the rooms she saw when she was there before, or that she saw in her vision.

"I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of splitting up," she says softly. "Though perhaps there is really no other place more dangerous than in the man's presence."
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus grabs the seat rail and throws his bulk over the edge of the carriage feet first. Nodding at Syvis' mention of the animals listening he adds, "Bah, we are being led to slaughter one way or another. His plans likely account for our own. I will do as you instruct Moire." He ends with a nod and takes a single step toward the door then turns to the others. "We are expected for dinner. Should we stand here and wait or present ourselves on time? Torm would approve of the latter."

The big man turns again and begins walking toward the door with a quiet, murmuring prayer to Torm on his lips.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
At first glance the foyer is not so ornate as the castle's facade. Who knows how long the worn banners have hung here? But just a few steps inside the chamber reveals a high, vaulted ceiling decorated with intertwined stone carvings—jubilant gargoyles locked in orgiastic embraces. The foyer is only half-crossed when the double doors at its opposite end swing open towards you and the heaving bellows of a pipe organ bursts forth from somewhere within. A great entry hall waits past the foyer, its even higher ceiling supported by heavy marble columns. More gargoyle statues stand watch there, grotesque grins from around the domed ceiling. Wavering torches play an illusion of movement across their faces. The great entry continues to the right, while a broad, massive staircase to the left ascends and bends up out of sight. Across the hall, yet another pair of doors, closed, conceals the deeper reaches of Castle Ravenloft.

The unseen organist concludes a sequence of sustained chords and plays a simple melody that is soon mirrored at a higher register. A third version of the tune is added, forming the start of an intricate fugue.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
Moire is, despite herself, a bit impressed by the spectacle. Although the gargoyles are an offputting look. Besides, weren't they meant to be defenders of the castle? Why put them inside instead of outside? Unless those gargoyles were actually gargoyles...

She listens to the pipe organ music as the group proceeds in. Coming into the great entry, the Paladin glances down the path towards the music and presumably the castle's owner. Then she looks up the staircase before turning back to her three companions.

Having learned the value of silence, Moire points to Fianna and Syvis in turn, then points to the staircase while lifting her eyebrows inquisitively. Then she points to Hircus and herself before pointing in the direction of the music.
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus finishes his murmured blessing with a touch to his forehead, Moire's shoulder and Syvis' arm. "This place..." He begins, but his sentence is drowned out by the blasting of the pipe organ.

Moire's gesture toward the music is acknowledged by a nod from the big cleric. He takes a deep breath, filling up his chest and begins walking toward the open doors.
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
Once again Syvis felt as though they've merely entered the den of a waiting beast, but kept silent like the rest of the group. Tilting her head briefly to figure out Moire's motions she noded, glancing at Fianna, the latest newcomer, yet apparently an old friend at the same time.

The druid offered Otrev's birdcage, speaking in a somewhat stilted manner, "The carriage ride took a lot out of me. Please carry Otrev's cage for me?"
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
Fianna does not look entirely comfortable at the notion of splitting up, but her eyes find Syvis's and she gives a small nod in acceptance of Moire's implied suggestion.

Tentatively, she steps forward, leading Syvis up the staircase.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
And Moire accepts the cage from Syvis before bidding the two elves to move on. Turning back to Hircus, she smiled a bit ruefully as she offered him the cage. It didn't need to be said that the Paladin wore her shield on her back and would need the extra arm if things went badly for them.

Then, with confident steps, Moire advances towards the pipe organ music, walking side by side with Hircus.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
Rahadin-dark.jpgFianna and Syvis turn left and begin to climb the great marble staircase into darkness—tall candle stands against the walls every few risers hold neither candles nor wax, apparently unused for some time. It's not long before the two are in shadows with the throbbing strains of organ music behind, pushing them forward. An astonishing forty feet onward the staircase begins to curve to the left. The darkness that way would be total if not for their sensitive eyes. Another step onward and the receding organ music is suddenly met from around that bend by an onrushing sound that is at first like the wind. As it comes on however, Fianna and Syvis hear in it the babbling of a hundred voices, weeping, screaming, pleading for mercy. The chorus of misery quickly escalates from a curiosity to an unavoidable source of anxiety, growing louder and louder, until it washes over the two and recedes somewhat, though not entirely. As the wave cascades down behind them, someone seems to step directly out of the shadows ahead. His fine features are like Kasimir's people, the Dusk Elves, but his attire and bearing are regal by comparison to those humble elves in drab cloaks.

"This is not the way," the elf proclaims in a low, gravelly voice. "I will show you." He nods and gestures back down the staircase, indicating that Fianna and Syvis should turn around and descend before him. Below, the fugue has reached a quieter passage, so that the muted voices of terror and despair that seemed to have abated are revealed to be still present, merely subdued, forming a ghastly auditory penumbra around this elf.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
ludmilla.jpgMoire and Hircus follow the torch-lighted great hall to the right, drawn onward by the fugue's crescendo. At the hall's end, brighter light spills out from open doors to one side, while a low passage across the way—perhaps for servants—tapers into darkness. A dim alcove near the servants' passage holds a full suit of plate armor whose well-oiled surfaces catch and reflect the dancing torchlight.

The source of the music is indeed beyond the open doors: a magnificent dining hall with crystal chandeliers and marble walls. The pipe organ is situated incongruously against the far wall, past a long, heavy dining table laden with all manner of delicacies. The instrument is of a majestic scale unlike anything either Moire or Hircus has seen, and its volume is almost deafening, even in this large chamber. The organist with her back to the guests is a tall and glamorous woman with hair held up in an exquisite coiffure by gold pins. Her high-heeled shoes stand next to the organ bench while she operates the foot pedals with her bare feet. Having reached the fugue's coda, she plays a long, intricate trill with one hand while turning her head back over the opposite shoulder to fix a wry smile on Moire and Hircus. Turning back to her instrument, she raises both hands and brings them down, loud and long, upon the final chords.

With the pipes breathing out their final decaying tones, the organist pivots sideways, slips her shoes on and, standing, straightens the front of her long gown. She is tall, slightly moreso than Hircus even. "Good evening," she says as she walks around the feast table to great her guests. "I am Lady Ludmilla Vilisevic. It is my pleasure to welcome you to Castle Ravenloft. I have heard so much about you." She extends her hand and looks at the two new arrivals expectantly.
 

ZombWie

Hircus Hornbrow
Hircus rounds the corner into the chamber where the organ music is coming from with a sideways glance toward the armor on display. Just for a second, the big man thought it was a knight skulking in the shadows to trap them in this place. Who could blame him? This castle greeting is like none he has ever received. Like moths they are drawn into this chamber, like rats toward bait.

When the lady speaks, Hircus looks first to Moire to see if she will speak, then clears his throat. "Em, good things I hope." Hircus leans back and forth from one foot to another, "The organ. You play with... passion. What was the name of that piece?" Not waiting for a response, he moves toward the table and picks up a piece of fruit and palms it then turns toward Moire and smiles a smile he hopes hides his nerves.
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
It's hard not to be impressed by the castle's unexpected grandeur. Moire saw plenty of cities, ships and seas in her life as a Luskan pirate. But distantly seen palaces in great condition were out-spectacled by walking through the real thing, a bit run down or not. And the interior seemed in much better shape than the exterior.

Moire's never seen a pipe organ of that size or scale before and she pauses a moment simply to marvel at it. Particularly when she realizes the organist isn't their host. It affords her a moment to take her time, to soak up the detail and the ambiance...and then grow used to them, so she can be undistracted in dealing with the castle's residents.

By the time the Lady Vilisevic approaches them, Moire's managed to wipe off the wide-eyed rube's expression and trade it for a pleasantly diplomatic smile. Noticing the cue, the Paladin steps up to the tall woman, takes her hand with both of her own and presses a kiss upon the woman's glove or skin.
"My lady," Moire says in greeting just before releasing Ludmilla's hand. "Thank you for your kind invitation. I'm afraid the Count wasn't as forthcoming with us as he was with you, I presume. But then, surely our host must have known mere words couldn't possibly do you justice. Shall we expect the Count presently? Or will we have the pleasure of your company alone for the time being?"
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
While she has accepted rationally that returning to the castle is likely for the best, it is not something that has sat well with Fianna, and nothing that has happened in their time here has done anything to change her feelings on the matter. Each step up the stairs towards the horrid cacophony is taken slightly more nervously, and she is almost relieved when the menacing figure steps out before them.

She doesn't answer him right away, but throws a glance at Syvis, she herself is more than inclined to follow along, but she does not want to do so without her companion's agreement.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
The pear in Hircus' hand is green and fragrant with a red blush. its underside is soft and bruised against Hircus' palm.

Lady Ludmilla smiles approvingly as Moire takes her hand. The straps of her demiglove run between middle and index fingers, leaving the rest of her hand free. The soft leather is cool on Moire's lips, but the flesh of the exposed fingers and palm is ice cold to the touch.

"Oh, it is certain the Count will wish to join us," she says, looking out into the great hall behind Moire. "Soon, someone will come and then we will send them to him with the happy news of your arrival. In the mean time, you will tell me what you think of our land. Where have you been? You have news for His Excellency, Yes?" She places a frigid hand on Moire's cheek, sending narrow shoots of chill down the paladin's neck, across the shoulder beneath her armor.

Leaving her hand to linger on Moire's face, Lady Ludmilla looks to Hircus and says, "That little fughetta was composed by one who lived here in a past. A piece for students maybe, by no means the finest example of that brilliant woman's work, but at least within the compass of my abilities. Her Twilight Phantasie, for instance, is more exquisite by far. But who can master it now? Ah, the memories in this place." She closes her eyes in transient reverie. When she opens them, she stares at Hircus with an excited thought, "Do you play sir?"

Back in the darkened stairwell, the stern dusk elf considers at Syvis and Fianna for a few moments, while that same muted sound of countless cries and screams tremors in the air. As the chorus fluctuates, individual voices bob to the surface from time to time, like ingredients boiling in a cauldron. As each comes to the top it issues its own terrible plea for mercy before sinking back down into the bottomless throng.

The elf exhales, long and slow, and descends a few steps closer to the two women. "Carriage. Bird. Window," he says enigmatically, examining their responses after each word. Pausing then, he closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them again, he recites a bit of verse in elvish:

A cat walks the halls
Moving low as the moon climbs
Where soft mice are found
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
Syvis tries to make sense of the dusk elf's words. Is he alluding to the ride here in the horse-drawn carriage? His face is nearly expressionless. Something twinkles in his eye, a reflection from torches in the entry hall far below. Is there even a glimmer of emotion in the depths of those dark orbs? Syvis seems on the precipice of some discovery when one of the suffering voices, speaking elfish, rises up to intercept her. "No, Rahadin, we submit! Please no more, I beg you. She is our only child now. We are your people. Why? Why?" The voice breaks into heavy subs before dying back into the general murmur. Syvis is left even further shaken and disoriented by the experience.
 

Abrahms

One Thousand Club
The druid had not been eager to enter the mansion, a large beast's den as far as she was concerned, nor had she entirely been eager to split the pack. Yet here she was, and hadn't even had time to take the form of a creature to try and scurry off. Doing so with the elf before her would just be a waste of energy, no doubt he could easily kill whatever form she took.

Even as he tries to direct the pair back down the stairs, Syvis merely stares at him, amber eyes focused and not wanted to give up her position so easily. Trying to focus on the words he says, a bolt of pain appears in her mind, along with some strange echo of another voice.

Growling low under her breath as she tried to regain herself she looked back at the man. "We arrived in a carriage. We brought a bird. There are windows here. Is your task to pace the halls looking for wanderers or are we your new mice."
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
Fianna answers the elf's words with wordless puzzlement at first, but as he mentions the window, she becomes nervous that he knows of her brief stay in the castle mere hours ago, and more importantly her escape in a manner that still makes little sense to her. The words of poetry leave her unmoved, despite her heritage, she has never actually met an elf before Syvis and the cryptic phrases mean nothing to her.

When the druid at her side speaks, Fianna hardens her face. Despite her own misgivings, she will stand by her new-found friend.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
The elf extends an arm, almost, but not yet, touching Syvis' shoulder as she stands below him on the stairs. "I am Rahadin, of House von Zarovich, called chamberlain here, to serve the line and see that order rules."

A broom dances up
Weaving spiders come not here
This house shall be clean


Rahadin considers for a bit, pursing his lips in thought, and follows with another verse:

The table is set
Knives and forks in formation
To salute the guests
 

Epiphany

Proverbs 17:9
The ice cold palm is confirmation, of a kind, and Moire barely represses a regretful wince at the discovery.

"Barovia seems a lovely land, my Lady," the Paladin says, withdrawing a step towards a more polite, conversational space. A glance at Hircus results in a raised eyebrow at his choice to dine...but then every soldier needs to eat, especially when there's no telling when the next meal may come. "We enjoyed the hospitality of Vallaki though an unfortunate misunderstanding led us to set foot to the road once more. We've spent the night in the Village of Barovia as well. And of course we've enjoyed the fine hospitality of the Vistani at two different camps."

"As for news, we helped find a girl missing from the Vistani. We dealt with the fisherman who'd taken her hostage. We also enjoyed the good company of the Baron Vallakovich as well as the many festivities taking place in Vallaki. I can't imagine such mundane matters hold much interest for Lords and Ladies of your station, however. But then, we've recently come to these lands. Perhaps you might enjoy sharing particular news of your own, for the sake of our elucidation, your amusement or perhaps for us to look into for you?"

An uncanny feeling makes her feel like she's being watched from behind but Moire resists the urge to turn to look. It's surely nerves.
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
Lady Ludmilla smiles in reverie. "Ah, the Vistani, yes. I remember when I was a girl in Krezk I thought they were terrible. Of course I grew up and came to appreciate their special place. But still, I do not blame that girl for her fears. She lived among simple people whose teachings were that people of a particular sort must be either all good or all bad. The Vistani were strangers in Krezk, so therefore all bad. Step outside the walls of your village and you find it is not so simple, no?" The elegant woman arches a brow at Moire.

"Vallakovich!" she snorts gaily at Moire's mention of the burgomaster of Vallaki. "Was it the Commemoration of Forgotten Loves? Cat Counting Day? Of course we at the castle take an interest in the concerns of our vassals."

"As for my news,"
Ludmilla says demurely, taking a meandering step that again closes the distance with Moire, "I'm afraid that would be nothing but idle gossip and tales of infighting among the lower orders here. Except ... for one topic, which is the main fixation here lately." Her eyes trace a path over to Hircus and back, then up and down Moire's body. "It concerns some old partners of my Lord in an age-old dispute, best forgotten—it was certainly before I entered this world. In truth, it was forgotten, until their sudden reappearance, centuries after they died." Her dark eyes stare into Moire's. "And here is what I am told: when they perished, their souls were missing; but now," her tongue dances across teeth not surprisingly as sharp as were Faria's earlier today, "their souls are rich and fulsome! How does one explain this?"

Lady Ludmilla leans in close to Moire, her breath cold on the paladin's ear, while her eye darts to the open door and back. "Come," she whispers, "just give me a delicious hint and I will share some of my court gossip with you. Or, tell all, and I will show you your tomb in the catacombs, if you like."
 

Baba Luga

Vestige
A low rumbling gathers in Rahadin's throat, accompanied by the collective groaning of the eldritch chorus that suffuses the darkened stairwell. In prolonged syllables the chamberlain proclaims

Children late to sup
Ears unwashed and fingers black
All heed mother's bell


Arms outstretched, he advances, plainly intent on either driving Syvis and Fianna down the stairs ahead of him, or, barring that, scruffing the pair and dragging them along in his wake.
 

Esbilon

Seven Thousand Club
At that, Fianna takes Syvis's arm and starts leading her down the stairs. As she does, she leans in and whispers, "I think it's best to go along with this for now. Maybe we'll get a chance later, but we should join up with the others. Any plans we had should clearly be changed."
 

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