Strahd vs. The Gentlemen Bastards
Chapter 9; Dark Sacrifices
<In the town of Vallaki…>
Galinndan is wakened by knock at the door. He asks who goes there. The visitor answers only with another knock. Galinndan gets out of bed, but hesitates at the door. The voice beyond the door sounds as though its coming from the bottom of a grave, "I've come for the paladin Kylar." Galinndan explains that he's not here. The owner of the voice promises to return and then shuffles off into the cold night. Galinndan prepares to set off for Krezk.
Elyadra visits Wachterhaus, with Lady Wachter's permission she administers a potion to Stella. The girl drinks it, but nothing happens immediately. Next, Elyadra returns to the cemetery at St. Andral's Church, intending to dig up Ireena Kolyana and restore her to life. She discovers that Father Petrovich's grave has been disturbed. Before she can investigate, she also spots Ireena sitting atop the cemetery wall, and immediately sees that this is the young woman's ghost.
"I know what your doing and I won't let you. Death has been my only escape from Strahd. Bring my brother back instead, the only thing he ever did wrong was trust you and your friends." Elyadra explained how it was best for the kingdom and that Strahd is needed in order to defeat an even greater threat, but Ireena wouldn't hear it. Elyadra was only able to convince Ireena's soul to return to her body by promising to help her destroy Strahd once and for all. With the scroll of raise dead, Ireena's life is restored, they return to the Blue Water Inn and meet up with Galinndan. Ireena goes to he room she shared with her brother, retrieving her gear and sword. Meanwhile, Elyadra tries to contact Strahd through the earring of sending, an unfamiliar voice (with an elven accent) answers. "You'll be answering to me now. My name is Rahadin, chamberlain of Castle Ravenloft." Elyadra tells him that Ireena lives. Rahadin invites them to Castle Ravenloft and vows that they may cross Strahd's land unmolested. Elyadra insists that he come to them and gives their location. "Very well," Rahadin answers before he breaks the connection. Ireena steps out of her room and finds Elyadra. She explains they will have allies in the west, Baron Krezkov (a friend of her father's) and the Abbot of St. Markovia (an enigmatic, but powerful holy man). Elyadra reminds her that she was dead moments ago, she needs food and rest. Ireena agrees, but it takes some convincing.
<On the Tsolenka Pass…>
Winston watches as Kylar and the monstrous goat tumble over the ledge of Mount Ghakis. The chant, "Sangzor, Sangzor, Sangzor" continues. Its coming from somewhere up the path. Moments later, dire wolf and four humans come into view. The female, who appears to be the leader of this hunting party from Yester Hill, informs Winston that they had been tracking the Terrible Sangzor for weeks. Winston invites her to go down and take a closer look. She declines and says that she'll have Winston and his friends as prisoners instead. For Strahd has marked Winston for dead. Not only him, but this man as well – they reveal that Sauron is also in their custody. The necromancer has been beaten severely, but continues to defiantly struggle at his bonds. Combat ensues, Rictavio draws his cane-sword and urges Winston and the others to flee. Winston fires at the leader and retreats to the bridge. Between sword thrusts and parries, Rictavio reveals that his real name is Rudolph van Richten – the legendary monster-hunter and that Strahd is his true quarry. He vows to hold these barbarians at the bridge so Winston can escape. His fellow gunslinger, Luke, takes shots at the barbarians. Winston hesitates, recognizing that they are outnumbered but refusing to leave the old man to die. The leader of the hunting party mounts her dire wolf and leaps from the cliff side onto the bridge, cutting off any hope for escape. Desperate now, Winston reaches into his pack for his magic items: he throws a giant rat from his bag of tricks. Van Richten holds the hunters back, but takes nasty blows from their swords and spears. Winston takes Nit's gun in hand and fires one of the old man's alchemical charges – causing a volcanic eruption on impact. The dire wolf is completely incinerated, its rider is thrown into the chasm, and a 40-foot section of the bridge is destroyed. At the sight of their leader falling to her death, the remaining berserkers press their attack harder, pushing the party closer and closer to the gap in the bridge. When Van Richten falls, Winston throws a handful of his dust of disappearance, turning his friends, his enemies and himself invisible. In the confusion, the berserkers swing wildly – ending the dust's effect on themselves, while Winston drags Van Richten's body to safety. By the time he can get them to relative safety, he discovers Van Richten has expired in his arms. The dust's effect wears away. Winston prepares to bury the body after gently removing the man's hat and ring. He takes these, along with the man's cane-sword. Winston, with Luke's help, buries Van Richten in the snow without a word. Then wrapping their furs tight around themselves, they continue to ascend the Tsolenka Pass.
<In the town of Vallaki…>
Rahadin, chamberlain of Castle Ravenloft, reaches the Blue Water Inn. Ireena Kolyana reaches for her sword, looking to Elyadra for support. Elyadra does not draw her weapon. Galinndan retreats into the shadows of the inn's common room. When Rahadin gets within 10 feet of Ireena and Elyadra, they are both bombbarded by what sounds like a thousand ghastly, death screams – taking psychic damage.
Rahadin seizes Ireena turns away her ineffectual attacks with his scimitar, he disarms her with a lightning-quick maneuver. He looks to Elyadra and says, "Pardon, its a curse placed on me by an ancient enemy," he refers to the death screams, not sparing Ireena a single word. Elyadra and Galinndan stand by as Rahadin drags Ireena to his horse. He binds her hands. She tries to spit in Elyadra's face, the spittle falls short – not quite reaching her boots. Rahadin rides off, Ireena's resistance ceases when she has to struggle to keep up alongside his horse.
Galinndan hitches the wine cart, he and Elyadra ride toward Krezk in silence. A raven lands in the seat beside him, then turns into a naked man! A shapeshifter. A wereraven. "Could you spare a pair of trousers, good man?" Galinndan offers the man a robe from his pack. The man politely accepts and steps into it. "The winery has come under attack by the needle blights and barbarians of Yester Hill. We beat them back, but its only a matter of time. We took a prisoner, he's hard to understand but he keeps repeating the word Wintersplinter. We fear it may be some sort of new plant monstrosity. We need your help now." Galinndan and Elyadra agree to help. The wereraven takes raven form and flies away, leaving behind the empty robe. They pick up the pace.
<Near the summit of Mount Ghakis…>
The road fades away under a covering of snow, but it takes Winston and Luke far enough to see the facade of some kind of temple carved into the sheer mountainside ahead. The front of structure is fifty feet high and has six alcoves containing twenty-foot-tall statues. Each statue is carved from a single block of amber and depicts a faceless, hooded figure, its hand pressed together in a gesture of prayer. Between the two innermost statues is a twenty-foot tall archway with a staircase leading down. The gunslingers notice humanoid and dire wolf tracks leading to the left of the temple's entrance. They follow them, finding a narrow fissure in the mountainside that leads into a torch-lit room. They squeeze through and find what must be the remains of the hunting party's camp. They open a heavy amber door, entering a cavernous chamber. They descend a flight of stairs and stand before a 40-foot tall granite statue of some faceless god. They meet a lich-like creature who can't quite remember his name. He introduces himself as the Keeper of the Amber Temple and invites them to his chambers for tea. They accept and follow him through a series of hidden doors and torch-lit hallways. They pass through a huge library, the ceiling of which contains a fresco that depicts angels being set ablaze in hell. When they reach the keeper's apartments, the lich begins to look around for something. He wanders the room and jumps with a start when he notices Winston. "Do I know you?" Winston reminds the keeper that he had invited them in for tea. He suddenly remembers and sets to it, while complaining that he has lost his spellbook. Winston finds a book sitting out in plain view, titled The Incants of Exethanter. He opens it up to find it full of spells that he cannot read, but recognizes them as overtly evil. He considers not telling the keeper, but finally chooses to bring it to him. Remembering his name and purpose, Exethanter explains the purpose of the Amber Temple. He offers to introduce Winston to the vestige of a dark god that is one of many that had been imprisoned in the Amber Temple. Winston agrees. The keeper takes him deeper into the temple, through torch-lit halls and large amber doors. Each door requires a magical command word to open, having his memory restored, Exethanter provides these passwords. Winston feels drawn to one room in particular, he asks the keeper about it. "The treasure vault. In ages past, rulers once paid tribute to the temple's keepers in payment for guarding the ancient and forbidden lore. Traditionally, one seeking knowledge would also leave some sort of tribute." Winston wished to pay tribute. Exethanter opened the vault, revealing 6 huge mounds of miscellaneous treasure.
As Winston inspected these riches, he recalled Madam Eva's words: “This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope.” She had revealed the Bishop card. “What you seek lies in a pile of treasure, beyond a set of amber doors.” Winston eyes were drawn to an ancient talisman and knew it at once as the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. A relic that once belonged to Strahd's mother, brought from their ancestral homeland. It was Strahd's tribute when he made his pact with the Dark Powers. Winston drew a longsword from his pack and placed it onto the pile containing the talisman. With a skillful sleight of hand, he took it without the keeper noticing. From the vault, Exethanter led him to an amber sarcophagus containing the vestige of Drizlash. The keeper invited him to touch the amber prison. When he does, the imprisoned deity speaks to him in an inhuman voice. "I am Drizlash, the Nine-Eyed Spider. Accept my gift, the ability to climb walls and ceilings like a spider." Winston knows this will allow him descend Mount Ghakis since the bridge has been destroyed. Winston accepts the gift and its given. He tests it out, walking up the temple wall. He notices how pleased Exethander becomes, the keeper invites him to rest for the night in his apartments. Winston agrees, and is led back to these chambers. Once alone in a simple bedroom, Winston opens his pack to identify some magic items. He discovers that Van Richten's hat is a hat of disguise, which will grant him an illusory shapeshifting power. When he puts on Van Richten's ring, he hears a familiar voice. "That was a big mistake, son." It was the voice of Van Richten speaking to him telepathically. The properties of this ring begin to magically flood his mind; it protects him from thought-reading magic and if he dies with this ring on, his soul becomes trapped inside it. This has apparently happened to Van Richten. Winston can now speak to the legendary monster hunter through the veil between life and death. Winston considers inspecting the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, but thinks the better of it. Its not safe enough here, he can't let the keeper know he took it. When he undresses, he discovers the cost for his dark gift. To his horror, he finds that Drizlash has blessed him with a third eye that has sprouted from his chest. It rolls upward to look him in the face, blinks twice and closes. The next day, the Keeper feeds him and escorts him to the temple's entrance. The three hunters from Yester Hill are waiting for him outside. Before Winston can go for his gun, Exethander raises his hands from the depths of his robe and unleashes bolts of lightning that obliterate the barbarians.
<The village of Krezk…>
Elyadra and Galinndan reach the walled village of Krezk just before dusk. The guards speak to them from the top of a 20-foot wall. They recognize the wood elf and are happy to see that he has brought the wine shipment. Once they have the burgomaster's permission, they allow them entry. Once the wine cart is seen to, Galinndan immediately sets off for the Abbey of St. Markovia. Baron Dmitri Krezkov introduces himself to Elyadra and invites them to stay at his home. Elyadra accompanies him and notices that this village has no inn, tavern or shops of any kind. The burgomaster explains that they are a society that has no commerce, that everyone does their part to support the community. And in return, everyone stays fed and is kept warm. As they near the burgomaster's home (which is no grander than any other), a tall, stern-looking woman exits. Before Krezkov can introduce Elyadra to his wife, the woman tosses a hand towel to her and asks her come along, a villager is about to give birth and she could use a hand. Elyadra helps with this task, but is surprised when the newborn doesn't cry. Lady Krezkov says matter-of-factly, "It is sad, the child has no soul." She washes her hands and leaves the home, expecting Elyadra to follow. The high elf does, but asks her to clarify her statement. "Aside from you outlanders, there are two type of people in Barovia. Souls and shells." She explains that the curse on this land traps the souls of the dead here, forbidding them from reaching the afterlife. These souls haunt Barovia until they can be born into a child. "We are old souls. But, not all Barovians are born with a soul. The shells live among us and can contribute just as well to society, but they lack most emotions and find no love or joy in life." On the way back to the burgomaster's house, Elyadra notices a small crowd of villagers eyeing her. She touches the hilt of her moonsword, which grants her a form of truesight that sees shapeshifters for what they are. She notices that one man in this crowd is a werewolf. The werewolf sees her looking his way and wanders off – out of sight. She brings this up to Lord and Lady Krezkov at dinner. They are both startled to learn this and confide to her that there was a violent killing a few days ago. They have always feared going beyond the walls, but its necessary for hunters and loggers to make excursions. A few days ago, one of these hunters was found eviscerated in his home. What had to be the work of some horrid beast. They task Elyadra with identifying this individual and quietly putting an end to it. Elyadra agrees. Hours later, as she meditates on the cot provided to her, she hears a scratch and a meow at the door. She opens the door, admitting a little black cat. It walks to her cot and lays down underneath, looking up at her with a pair of very familiar green eyes.
Galinndan reaches the hilltop above Krezk. At the abbey's gate, he is confronted by two mongrelfolk. One appears to be made of dog parts, the other hides a face covered in lizard scales beneath a roughspun, hooded cloak.
Out loud, they consider killing him to rob and eat him. When he offers them wine, they begin to fight each other for it. He walks past them and enters the Abbey of St. Markovia. He finds the Abbot and gives him the wedding gown. The Abbot is pleased and begins to make alterations immediately. Distractedly, the Abbot invites Galinndan to stay for dinner. He agrees, but is first tasked with feeding the Belview family. He and the mongrelman, Clovin Belview, begin to carry a large cauldron of stew around the abbey grounds. Clovin dips a ladle into the stew and unceremoniously flings the food at these poor, unfortunate wretches. Galinndan begins to do the same and is amazed at how many of them there are. Dozens upon dozens of hooting and grunting monsters. He finishes the feeding and gets the hell out of there, returning to Baron Krezkov's house to rest for the night.