Strahd vs. The Gentlemen Bastards
Chapter 11; New Hire Orientation
<Several days ago, near Lake Zarovich.>
After the regime change in Vallaki, Izek Strazni - once the sheriff, he is now a renegade - flees the town for his life. He has stopped to drink at a brook, when he hears movement behind him. He turns sharply and raises his barbed demon hand, preparing to conjure flame. He is met by a hunched elderly woman, "I mean you know harm, young man." She reaches into a pocket of her dress to remove a small pouch. "I recognize your fear and your wrath, some one was taken from you. Murdered." She takes a small pinch of dust from the pouch and sprinkles this into the softly bubbling brook. Izek intently watches the image that takes shape in the water. She shows him the one responsible for Baron Vallakovich's death. She promises to help him claim vengeance.
<Meanwhile, in the village of Barovia.>
Captain Hurst and the Gentlemen Bastards that had remained in the village of Barovia have taken rooms in the inn above the Blood of the Vine tavern. He had sent the party (Elyadra, Galinndan, Grimm, Kylar, Sauron and Winston) west, and had sent another pair of Bastards to scout the woods to the north. When this second group fails to return, he sends Draāgon (a half-orc druid/barbarian) and an elven ranger to investigate.
While the elf gathers information from the villagers, Draāgon makes contact with a group of ravens at the forest's edge. Using speak with animals, he asks after the lost Bastards. The two of them also pay a visit to the local church, but find it abandoned. At Draāgon's insistence, they dig up three graves. Draāgon performs a gruesome, but tender ritual – cutting the remains into pieces and using them to construct shrines to honor the dead.
With the information provided by ravens and the elf's help, Draāgon picks up a trail at the edge of the village. He brings along his faithful donkey. By this time, night has fallen. The very mists of Barovia begin to hunt them, the elf is devoured.
Draāgon spots the light of a will-o'-wisp that leads him to the ruins of ancient tower. There he discovers the remains of his missing allies and the body of third individual. This third corpse is much older, far more decayed. On it, he finds an aged journal that includes a crude map of a castle. The wisp invites him to drink from a pool at the center of the tower, he nearly succumbs to this charm before his pet donkey snaps at his hand. He's forced to slay the wisp. He decides to stuff the bodies into the well and places a shattered door over top. But, when he turns to go – he hears a knocking. He quickly fells a nearby tree and returns to the well. The door has been cast aside and he finds the hands of the dead reaching for him. He stuffs the fallen tree into the mouth of the well and with all of his might, he plants it there – trapping the dead within. He sets off south, toward Barovia village. He encounters the mist again, but evades it.
<The next day.>
Upon returning to the inn, Draāgon learns that Captain Hurst has gone missing. And, only a single Bastard remains by his side – a human fighter who claims to be losing his mind. The owners of the Blood of the Vine claim that they saw him leave the night before. When Draāgon searches the captain's room, he finds the man's weapons and boots left behind. The fighter explains that Hurst would never abandon them, that he'll return soon, and all will be well. But, neither is convinced. They rest in the captain's room, but are disturbed by a rap at the door. A voice calls to them from the hallway, it sounds like Hurst. When Draāgon admits him, Captain Hurst attacks – he's been turned, he's a vampire spawn! Draāgon lands an attack with his scimitar, but the wound closes up within seconds. When Hurst sees the fighter lying helpless, he pounces on him. Draāgon takes that opportunity to flee, but not before ordering his donkey out and starting a fire.
To the west, Draāgon meets a strange man on the road. It seems as though the man was expecting him. He's taken to the vistani camp at Tser Pool and introduced to their wisewoman. Madam Eva greets him as if she knows him. She clears her table and lays out an arrangement of tarroka cards, casting a sort of divination. She reveals that the Gentlemen Bastards have gathered the items they need to destroy Strahd, but lack the will to confront him. She tells Draāgon to allow the ravens to guide him. When the divination is complete, she invites him to rest and eat with them. Draāgon declines, he sets off west – in search of his allies.
<Meanwhile, in the west.>
Elyadra, Galinndan, Grimm, and Winston wake in the heart of the werewolf den – a system of caves in the face of Mount Baratok. Kylar's daughter and the other children prepare their meal. They are told that Kylar will not be joining them today as he is resting after a late-night hunt. The party looks over a map of Barovia, planning their next course of action. They decide to explore the strange tower which Galinndan had discovered the week before. They cross the wilderness and reach Lake Baratok. Grimm casts water walk, allowing them to reach the tower quickly.
As they round the tower, they see a carriage arriving. The driver is Sauron! The passenger is Ireena! They stay hidden and watch as Sauron brings the horses to a halt. He instructs Ireena to step down and follows. He says a command word that sounds like, "Arvesh", causing the horses to disappear. Sauron leads Ireena to the back of the wagon and forces her in, taking care to look over his shoulder, he slips a padlock on the wagon door – sealing her in. Sauron approaches the tower entrance and begins flailing his arms in a kind of dance. The party loses sight of him as he enters the tower.
Elyadra and Winston study this briefly and deduce that they must perform a dance following these pictographs. Elyadra pulls this off flawlessly; the door opens. The party is immediately attacked by one of the hags that had survived the burning of the windmill. They quickly discover that the tower is sheathed in an antimagic field. Within a few seconds, Izek Strazni strides across the causeway, he raises his demonic arm (with its barbed spines and long black nails) and produces fire with it. He launches this flame toward the wagon and sets off an enormous explosion. Galinndan, Grimm and Winston are caught in the blast – suffering heavy damage and are thrown toward the tower. They see Ireena's body land in the mud beside them. They are forced to fight on two fronts; Elyadra and Winston battle the hag within the tower, while Galinndan and Grimm face off with Izek outside. Ireena's body begins to stir, she rolls over to look at Grimm - but her face has changed!
Morgantha, mother and leader of the hag coven, rises from the mud. Sauron and Ireena were never here, the hags are shapeshifters! She throws magic missiles at Grimm and nearly turns the tide of the battle. The party is victorious. Elyadra cuts Izek's demon hand off as proof of his death for Lady Wachter.
Within the tower, they are met by the silent gazes of four clay golems. Each holds a rope in its hand that extends to an unseen mechanism higher in the tower. They step onto a platform in the center of the room and order the golems to lift them. The creatures pull at the ropes, the platform ascends. On the top floor, they find a suit of plate armor and a chest containing a severed head and spell scroll written in a foreign language. Galinndan sets the top floor ablaze before the group descends. Elyadra investigates the towers odd antimagic property and experiments with loosing a brick from the tower wall. She discovers that the brick – when separated from the tower – continues to give off the antimagic field. But, how is it that the golems function within this aura? Elyadra wishes to keep the brick, but has the idea to take some of the golems' clay to cover the brick. Perhaps this will suppress the antimagic field until she has a use for it. The golems aren't conversationalists, but she finds them unwilling to part with pieces of themselves. When she tries to take it by force, they respond with violence. She is quickly overwhelmed. Galinndan rushes to her aid, but the two of them quickly fall. Winston steps onto the center platform and commands the to lift him up. With the combative threats neutralized, the golems do as they are bid. Winston immediately steps off the platform and drags the elves outside, where he and Grimm administer first aid and potions. When Elyadra wakes, she finds herself covered in clay.
The party returns to their wagon, having left it on the road outside of Krezk. They find it being searched by berserkers of Yester Hill. Elyadra fires an arrow, killing one. The other berserkers flee into the woods. A half-orc approaches from the east. Its a familiar face, a fellow Bastard. They quickly catch one another up. It seems that Draāgon is of the mind to have them journey to Castle Ravenloft so that Strahd may finally be destroyed. While, Elyadra intends to scour a few more sites on the map, seeking objects of power. And, if they happen upon some treasure in the process – who could that hurt? Working together they prioritize the list of sites and decide to travel to the nearest.
High above the river valley juts a quiet promontory upon which looms a sepulchral mansion, its turrets capped with fairytale cones, its towers lined with sculpted battlements. A third of the structure has collapsed, as has part of the roof, but the rest appears intact. A dark, octagonal tower rises above the surrounding architecture. As the party approaches the mansion, thunder rumbles in the distance, but the house stands silent, seeming like the fossilized remains of some long-dead thing smote upon the mountainside.
Perched atop a ten-foot-wide, ten-foot-high cube of granite is a moss-covered statue of a dragon, its wings tucked close to its body. The statue looks east, toward the mansion.
Flagstone steps flanked by stone railings climb to a landing in front of a pair of tall, wooden doors with rusted iron bands and knockers shaped like small dragons. Carved into the lintel above the entrance is the word Argynvostholt.
The Gentlemen Bastards enter. The foyer feels like a king's tomb.
A grand staircase leads up to stone balconies held aloft by stone pillars and arches. A tall, faded tapestry depicting a nobleman in silver armor hangs from an iron rod above the staircase landing. Two chandeliers of wrought iron hang from the ceiling like monstrous black spiders. A great shadow with wings moves across then walls and disappears. The party hears a soft bestial hiss.
A fire erupts in the dead hearth and assumes a draconic form. It hisses, crackles, and unfurls its smoky wings. The fiery dragon hisses as it addresses the party. "My knights have fallen into darkness. Save them if you can. Show them the light they have lost!" The dragon was once the great silver dragon Argynvost. It can sense that the knights of the Order of the Silver Dragon have been corrupted. It revealed itself to the Gentlemen Bastards, hoping they will help the knights find peace. Argynvost tasks them with recovering his remains from Castle Ravenloft, so that he may then light the mansion’s beacon. He hopes that this light will remind the order of what they have lost and enable them to let go of their hatred and find redemption and rest. The party agrees to help them.