Chapter 7; The Time-Traveling Cowboy

<The next dawn…>

Winston wakes with a full bladder, discovering that the monkey has shat on the floor again. He finds Piccolo resting in the chair in the corner.  Winston steps into his boots, fastens on his gun belt and leaves the room seeking relief at the inn's privy. Its damn cold and had snowed the night before – still coming down, but gently. He encounters Rictavio in the innyard, the scholar has a small wagon afixed to his old mare, Drusillia. The shrouded corpses of Ismark and Ireena Kolyanovich rest inside it. "Bound for the cemetery at St. Andral's," Rictavio says somberly. "I'll meet you there," Winston vows before excusing himself and entering the privy. Once relieved, he steps out into the innyard. All is white. He finds himself standing numbly outside the privy, not really knowing how he got here or how much time has passed. He heads inside to see to a quick meal. The others are all stirring, Kylar is having a drink. 

Winston reaches St. Andral's Church and helps Rictavio bury the Kolyanovich siblings. Not far away, one of the older orphan boys is burying Father Petrovich. Rictavio says a few words, prayers to one called the Morninglord or maybe its Mourninglord -  Winston's not sure which.

Image result for rudolph van richten

Elyadra pays a visit to Wachterhaus, entering through the kitchen. A servant summons Lady Wachter. She greets Elyadra warmly. Elyadra asks after the Lady's daughter. "My book club and I have been over and over the text of  Victor's spellbook, there is nothing in it that can help Stella." Elyadra asks to see the girl. Lady Wachter permits this, unlocking the girl's bedroom and watching as the elf enters. Elyadra finds  Stella hiding under the bed wearing a soiled nightgown. The frightened girl hisses, "Little kitty doesn't know you! Little kitty doesn't like the smell of you!" Elyadra tries to coax the girl out with a piece of jerky.  Stella scurries out and takes it with her teeth, then flees back to safety under the bed. Lady Wachter says, "You are good with her, I'm impressed." She thanks Elyadra for being so considerate, then sees her out.

Elyadra meets the rest of the Gentlemen Bastards at Vallaki's gate at noon. They set out west, bound for Argynvostholt and Krezk. At the Luna River crossing, the party is ambushed by a druid from Yesterhill, accompanied by a berserker and several plant-like aberrations. They put them down quickly, but not before  Winston is torn apart by needle blights. To their horror, the Gentlemen Bastards watch as  Winston simply falls apart into a pile of mushy snow. There is no sign of the gunslinger, save for the bottom ball of a snowman.  Grimm recognizes this as the work of magic, possibly a high level Simulacrum spell. Before deciding what to do and where to go next, the party proves to one another that they are in fact themselves. Elyadra, Kylar and Galinndan open a cut on their fingers. Each wound runs warm and red with blood. Grimm conjures fire that dances along his entire form, it flares with intense heat. He is certainly no simulacrum. 

<Meanwhile…>

Winston regains a groggy semblance of consciousness when is dipped into frigid water. He is being pulled down a dark stone corridor, in waist-deep water. The only light comes from the lantern in the hand of the hunched form that drags him. The creature appears to have the ears of a panther and skin like lizard scales. Winston tries to escape the thing's grasp, but cannot muster the strength. He is dragged down a short flight of steps, deeper into the water now, past several prison cells. Some hold the remains of dead men. He is thrown unceremoniously into the last cell. He gets to his feet to keep from drowning, the cold water is up to armpits. The creature locks  Winston's cell, then turns to shine lantern light into the cell opposite, revealing a living man within. "Are you hungry, Emil?" the creature croaks. The tall, dark-skinned prisoner replies, "Always." The creature taunts the man, "Not so scary behind them bars." The man's eyes narrow, "Open the cell, we'll see how scary I can be." The thing laughs maniacally, "No, the master would never allow it." The creature shuffles off, the light of his lantern quickly fades, leaving both men in absolute darkness.

Image result for flooded dungeon cell

Winston searches himself, his gun and gear are gone. Magic earring is gone. He has only the clothes on his back and his boots. He reaches down into the water, into his left boot and smiles to himself in the dark. His hidden thieves' tool. As he leans against the wall of his cell, his hands run over something etched into the stone. Words. There's a message here. He spends several minutes running his hand over the writing, someone has carved instructions on how to escape the castle. They mention traps and monsters, and instruct him to enter flame. Its signed "Nit". Could this be right? Or just the scratchings of a madman? Winston commits the words to memory and sets to the task of picking the cell's lock. This gets the other man's attention, "If you can get us both out, I'll help you."  Winston doesn't agree quite yet, "How'd you get here?" The man says direwolves chased him into the castle, where he met the chamberlain. He was disarmed and brought down to the dungeons. Winston finally gets his cell open and starts on the stranger's lock, he asks the man where he's from. He says Vallaki, but  Winston detects an ounce of deception. The man surprises him by asking, "Where you from?" "…Um, Barovia village," Winston replies. The man snickers, "Yeah, I lied too." Free of their cells, the men share their names. The man introduces himself as Emil Toranescu. The two of them work together to escape the castle dungeons. During a fight for their lives in a flooded torture chamber,  Emil reveals his true nature. The man is a werewolf! 

Image result for werewolf art

Emil makes it out of Castle Ravenloft, but  Winston's escape is hindered by the castle's chamberlain, Rahadin. He's taken before Strahd and is confronted by a terrible choice.

<On the snow-covered road between Vallaki and Krezk…>

The Gentlemen Bastards meet a rider, an old man dressed in the fashion of a gunslinger. Kylar is the first to recognize something familiar about the fellow. He urgently demands, "Has it happened? Ismark and Ireena?" They inform him of their deaths. "Jesus, I'm too late. I'm so sorry." The man puts his head in his hands. After a moment, he raises his eyes, his face grimly determined. "We need to ride, now. Its not too late to stop him. We have to stop him before he gets too powerful." When Kylar asks for the man's name, he hesitates and looks around for some inspiration. "Snow. Call me  Nit Snow." Kylar soon puzzles out this anagram, discovering that this man is  Winston in some form and its not Strahd that he's after. They return to Vallaki, following their new quarry."

Image result for cowboy burying someone art

Chapter 7; The Time-Traveling Cowboy

Strahd vs. The Gentlemen Bastards caseytrumble caseytrumble