Curse of Strahd: Chapter III
[16 minutes, 2170 words]The one where they reach Barovia
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Valentine was alright after he drank a White Mauzzit and was near a bonfire I had set up. Don’t judge me but I like naming my potion based on the colour: Red Mauzzit, Blue Mauzzit, Brown Mauzzit(Don’t ask me about that one), White Mauzzit and Colorless Mauzzit(I hope I could bleach that from my head).
Upon the bridge hung a human corpse tied it the railing with strong coir. The young man appeared to be a commoner. His muddy clothes were torn and raked with claw marks. Crows had a feast on the body. The man had obviously been dead for several days. He held a crumpled envelope in one hand.
Bruno pulled the envelope. It contained a letter, which was surprisingly still intact. He read it:
“Hail thee of might and valor, I, the Burgomaster of Barovia, send you honor - with despair. My adopted daughter, the fair Ireena Kolyana, has been these past nights bitten by a vampire. For over four hundred years, this creature has drained the lifeblood of my people. How my dear Ireena languishes and dies from an unholy wound caused by this vile beast. He has become too powerful to conquer. So I say to you, give us up for dead and encircle this land with the symbols of good. Let holy men call upon their power that the devil may be contained within the walls of weeping, Barovia. Leave our sorrows to our graves, and save the world from this evil fate of ours. There is much wealth entrapped in this community. Return for your reward after we are all departed for a better life.
Kolyan Indirovich, Burgomaster”
“One of the letters was a fake!” Valentine exclaimed.
“The other one,” Sleatense replied. “I sense it.”
“You sense it?” So asked.
“Yes, my inner voice tells me that it rings of truth. That an evil power is laying waste to Barovia and its lands.”
“Let me paraphrase, instead of using divination or deduction, you base your decisions on your ‘inner voice’?”
“Yes,” Sleatense answered.
“Are you sane?” So violently asked.
“Yes,” Sleatense answered calmly.
“Guys, the fire is acting weird,” I called out.
“Can be more clear?” Bruno asked as he turned around.
I didn’t need to answer.
The woods were quiet that night, and the air was chilled. The fire roared wildly as a low mist gathered around the edges of our camp. The fire rose to an unimaginable extent before getting extinguished. The fog came rushing inwards and then hanged thick, turning the trees around you into grey ghosts. Then we noticed that those were not the trees that surrounded us minutes ago.
The bridge had disappeared and so had the body which it used to bridge. Looking ahead I saw marble gates. Jutting from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road, were high marble buttresses looming grey in the fog. Huge iron gates hung on the stonework. Dew clung tightly to the rusted bars. Two headless statues of armed guardians flanked the gate, their heads were lying among the weeds at their feet. They greeted us with uncomfortable silence.
As soon as we reached the gates, they swung open screeching as the hinges moved.
“Look around, maybe there is some trap,” Bruno advised.
I watched my feet before stepping ahead. I walked in a precarious fashion looking above, again and again, to make sure no dropping stone could pulp me to death. I glanced at the rest of them to make sure that no one else was in trouble.
Anti-climactically, none of us fell in a spiked pit or was crushed by falling stones. Valentine was the last to cross over, and as soon as he did, the door shut itself with a loud creaking of the hinges. We followed the muddy road ahead.
Tall shapes loomed out of the dense fog that surrounded everything. The muddy ground underfoot slowly turned into slick, wet cobblestone. The tall shapes became recognizable as a village. The place was dimly lit and joyless. The place was deathly still for the sound of mournful sobbing, presumably of a woman, that echoed, filling the place with a sense of omnipresent dread.
It was four hours to dawn then. “We should attend to the sobbing woman,” Bruno suggested.
“At this time of the day?” Xaia asked.
“She is weeping,” Sleatense replied.
“It’s her personal matter.”
“She may help us find whom we are looking for,” I argued.
“But isn’t this too early to intrude on some person, especially a person who is in distress,” Xaia asked.
“She is correct. Why don’t I set up a tent we all have a rest?” I advised.
“That does that. But first thing in the morning, we will check on the weeping woman.” Valentine announced. Everyone agreed, nodding their heads.
“You awake?” I asked Valentine. It was about dawn, and Valentine was dressed in his purple robes.
“I didn’t sleep.” He replied.
“The mourning woman?”
Valentine simply nodded.
“Well, since we are both not sleeping, why don’t you help me brew some potions?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I have never done so before.” He replied.
“Don’t stress, we are all learning.”
I started a fire and kept my cauldron on it. Valentine passed me ingredients and I put them into the heated cauldron. It bubbled and boiled, it changed colour multiple times but in the end, we were left with five bottles of white Mauzits and one bottle of a purple-coloured bubbly liquid. I would have thrown it out but Valentine wanted to keep it. So I offered him a trade.
“This vial calls out, it’s all for you. It’s all for you. I made it, but I would like to trade it with you.
“Yeah, I think a trade would be fine,” Valentine replied swinging for the vial. I pulled it back.
“I’ll trade it for a story of your past. Your eyes and action speak of something deep, something tragic and I want to know what? I just hope you can trust me enough to tell me about it.”
“I don’t trust you yet. I don’t trust anyone. I don’t think I ever will again have blind faith in someone.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, sliding the potion into my pocket.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life. I’ve been harmed by people. Not in a long time. I thought I was going to be something, someday, a long time ago, and now I don’t know what to do and where ahead to go. Why don’t you ask me again in a couple of days? I will prepare an answer that is better than this for you, I promise.” Valentine replied.
I pulled out the vial and handed it to him, “Keep this for at least trying.”
The dawn had broken and the rays of the sun refracted threw the dew on the roofs of the Barovian houses. The melancholy fog still lingered. A raven with blue-tipped wings flew from the highest tower of the cathedral towards our encampment.
It cawed loudly as it approached us.
“What do you want pretty raven?” Somelina asked.
It landed on the loamy forest soil and jumped softly towards her.
“I think it wants us to follow it.” So pointed out.
“And how are you supposed to know that?” Bruno asked.
“I have a special connection with ravens. I always know what they are thinking.”
Bruno laughed, “That’s a good joke to start the morning with. Now please give some grain to the raven and let’s get going.”
“It’s true.” Somelina pressed.
“Tomorrow you are going to announce you can know what wolves are thinking. The next day it is going to be humans.”
“What?” Everyone shouted.
“Aren’t raven’s bad luck?” Sleatense pointed.
“I have heard so.” I chimed in.
“It’s not that simple.” Valentine snapped in the air as light purple mist gathered near the tips of his fingers. It formed a tarot card, Death. “For example, the death card means the end. Most people relate it to life or happiness and dread at the mere look of this card. But the card means the ending of one cycle and the start of another. A cycle of abuse ends and gives birth to a new life.”
Xaia joked, “So tell us, tarot master, what does the raven mean?”
“The raven’s black plumage is often considered the symbol of death and illness. But this bird is different. The tips of the wings are painted blue, sending the message that this is a bird of insight, of knowledge.” Valentine explained.
The raven cawed, as if in agreement with Valentine. It then flew towards the village. We all followed it readily. A single shaft of light illuminated the main square, its brightness looking like a solid pillar in the heavy fog. Above the gaping doorway, a sign hung precariously askew, proclaiming this to be the Blood on the Vine tavern.
We all went inside. The raucous shouts and jeers I had come to associate with taverns were not what I found inside. Most of the tables were occupied, and a barkeep slinked around the tavern—their shoes making not a sound. The hearth was shielded by a tinted screen, and the stew cooking in the cauldron only released a faint scent of potato and carrots. Somehow, everyone seemed perfectly content with the quiet, the dimness, and the lack of fragrance.
Bruno approached the barkeep, “Hello, We are visitors. We came here after we received a letter from Kolyan Indirovich. Could you tell us more about this place?”
“Could you please ask more specific questions?” He replied, emotionlessly.
“He mentioned his daughter, Ireena being bitten by a vampire, Could you expand?”
“All know that the Devil seeks Ireena as his consort.”
“Well, he also said that the menace is four hundred years old. Is that true?” Somelina asked.
“That’s the general consensus.”
“Could you tell us more about the Devil you talk about?” I asked.
“I am not willing to talk anymore.” The barkeep said moving away, “My employers are sitting in the left corner. They will talk more freely about such matters.”
We all made our way to the left corner. There sat three brightly dressed women. “We are new here. Could you help us?” Sleatense asked.
“New in what sense? Are you from Krezk or Vallaki or from the outside world?” One of them asked.
“We are from the outside world. We came here on the special request of Kolyan Indirovich.” Bruno replied.
The sisters burst out laughing, “It will be a shock for you but he died.”
“WHAT?!” Xaia exclaimed.
“He died a few days ago, trying to ‘protect’ his daughter Ireena, fighting Count Strahd. Tonight they are gonna have his burial.” One of them responded.
“Can you tell us more about this Count Strahd you talk about?” Xaia asked.
“Count Strahd’s life is shrouded with mystery.” One of the women said, “But we can lead you to Madame Eva, she who sees everything, if you could do us a favour.”
“Look, on the third table from the entrance,” Another said.
We all looked over to see a drunk man wearing faded orange and yellow clothes.
“He owes us a debt of 5gp. Can you intimidate or steal it off him?”
We all moved towards the man, the plan being to talk to him kindly or else to intimidate him. Just when we were about to approach him a hand pulled me back, “Are you the outsiders?” the man asked.
We turned to be greeted by a blonde man with a roughly shaven beard and a tough jawline. His clothes were well pressed.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then I suppose you must be heroes of great might and valour.” He remarked.
“And what makes you say so?” Xaia asked.
“That’s a long story. I need your help.” He rushed, “My father, the Burgomaster of Barovia, must have sent the letter. Unfortunately, he died fighting the Devil four days ago.”
“We were informed of that.” Sleatense pointed.
“The Devil is still behind my sister. If you could offer her protection and escort her till Valaki; we’ll be grateful.”
“By the way, Where is Valaki?” I asked.
“The owner’s asked us to shake a guy for debt. What about that?” Somelina interrupted.
The man pulled out change from his pocket. He counted 5gp and placed it on the serving table, “Settle the account for Radu.” He shouted to the barkeep.
“Ok” The barkeep, emotionlessly.
I fumed, “You still haven’t quite answered my question. Where is Vallaki.”
“I’ll explain everything. Come with me.” He replied.
“If you don’t mind. You haven’t even told us your name and we need to find some fortune teller.” Valentine said.
“I am Ismark. Many call me Ismark the Lesser.” He said, “And for the fortune teller, I believe you are talking about Madame Eva. I can take you there...”
“But for now, please follow me.” He said as he walked past the door.
On the top of the announcement’s list, I have launched a new newsletter called Hypothetically. It tries to answer strange hypothetical questions using real world science and math.
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