Just as we reach the village of Vallaki, we are surprised by the vampire Strahd von Zarovich who easily beguiles most of us. He takes and destroys Beatrice’s holy symbol, and takes back his “I, Strahd” book from Cali. As he is leaving, wolves close in on us and attack! Not only that, but our trusted cart transforms into a giant wooden abomination with a lust for elf blood! Our horse is killed immediately, and the wolves keep several of us at death’s door for several tense moments, but we prevail.
The no-account town guards inform us that the baron of this town demands that everyone be happy, as he believes it keeps the devil away. We play along to get in, and off the road. They tell us of the Blue Water Inn, at the center of town.
We bring horse meat, a couple of wolf carcasses, and our supplies into the town until we find the stockade, which is attached to a general store. We lock up our cart (and hope it remains a cart) and browse the wares. We then continue on to the Blue Water Inn.
There, we find a number of locals having drinks, some vigorously. We barter for room and board, and with the trade of horsemeat we are given free food and lodging for four nights. Cali agrees to perform each night, as part of this trade and begins enthusiastically and skillfully.
We learn about the innkeeper, his wife and children. Luccaria offers two wolf hunters the carcasses we left out by the road, and they buy her drinks when they return. Cereus befriends the half elf Rictavio, who is a recently arrived outsider with a carnival wagon. Two drunken youths are the sons of a noblewoman, and are best avoided.
After supper, we go to the church of St. Andril to meet Father Lucien and try to beg sanctuary for Ireena. There, we discover the priest comforting an old woman named Willamena, whose son has been imprisoned by the baron and his right-hand man, Izek, who is known for his violent demeanor and deformed, fiery right arm.
Once their conversation concludes, we approach the priest. We explain Ireena’s need for sanctuary from the devil, but Lucien says that the timing couldn’t be worse as the bones of St. Andril, the relic which makes the church hallowed ground, were stolen not two nights ago. Lucien asks our help to find them, and we agree.
Lucien lists the people who might know about the existence of the bones: Baron Vargas Vallakovich and his family and servants, Lady Wachter and her family and servants, the altar boy Yeska. That would be it, he thinks, unless someone else was told.
We return to the inn, and eventually people head off to bed.
The Goings On
We stand on a lightly forested road a short way from the wooden palisades and gate of an unknown town. Along the road closer to the gate, pikes are driven into the ground and each has a wolf’s head impaled upon it. Two guards stand aside the iron barred gate, which is slightly ajar. The guards wear chain shirts and metal helms, and carry shields and pikes. It is mid-afternoon.
Glimmerald seems eager to explain lycanthropy to us, the bookish nymph. Apparently it creates a bond between the cycles of the moon and its victims, a bond which can penetrate even deep into the earth where her people live. Her uncle was a weremole, and he was difficult to deal with, she says. Who knew such things existed? She continues by explaining that the “lunar cycle” is the source of the term “lunacy”, which sounds right so we say nothing. She believes that since the tracks Cereus found on the road were those of a wolf, the victim would probably exhibit certain behaviours of a wolf. Ear scratching and begging for bacon, if their domestic cousins are any indication. She says that silvered or magical weapons are required to do them any harm whatsoever, which makes Luccaria judge the silvered shortsword she holds with a little more respect. She believes that lycanthropy can be cured by magics which deal with curses, as long as the wound was not imparted by what she calls a “career lycanthrope”. We are confused by this arcane distinction, but we trust and hope that she will recognize the difference when examples cross our path. Let Lady Doom foul someone else’s fortune on that dark day.
As we move closer to the gate, one guard and then the other shout, “All will be well!” We are confused by this, and respond in various ways which do not seem to satisfy the two men. The guards repeat themselves, more emphatically, and we echo them with, “All will be well!” They seem pleased by this. They then ask, “Are you happy?” We are again confused. “Is it required for entry?” Luccaria asks. “By order of the Baron, all will be well!” they shout.
Suddenly, we hear violin music from the woods behind us, off to the south of the road. Out of the foliage we see our old friend, Strahd von Zarovich! We are all pleased by this, except Turk for some reason. Perhaps she is in a mood. Also, Ireena and Ismark seem frozen in place, which is probably because of the misunderstanding back in Barovia. Strahd walks to Beatrice, looks at her holy symbol and tells her that she does not need such trinkets of forgotten gods here in this place. He asks her to hand it over to him, and of course she does after the briefest hesitation. He takes it, crushes it, and drops it to the ground. He walks to the horse, whispers something to it, and then feeds it an apple. He moves on to Accalia, asks her for the book we dug up, and she hands it over to him after a mild protestation. That all done, he turns and walks away. Suddenly, Cereus senses wolves approaching from all around us! Strahd points over his shoulder toward Beatrice as he walks away. He takes a few more steps and then fades from sight, just as the wolves rush in to attack! Astoundingly, at that moment the cart tips backwards and then rises up to stand like an enormous man! It swings a wooden “arm” at our draft horse, and drops it with a single blow! The town guards step back toward the gate slowly, and make no attempt to interfere.
The battle is fierce. The cart pursues Cereus with an arcane hunger. The wolves, meanwhile, seem keen for Beatrice, Ismark, and Accalia. Cali quickly falls as the wolves team up to rend her tender flesh, but Beatrice moves unseen across the battlefield and heals her back to consciousness. Ismark falls next as the wolves tear at him, though Ireena’s healing returns him to the fight. The cart, seemingly frustrated by Cereus’ nimble movement, strikes Beatrice, dropping her to unconsciousness. Ismark falls yet again, and once again Ireena heals him. Turk levels blow after devastating blow with her great maul, while Luccaria tries to divert the wolves attention to herself and Glimmerald burns the beasts with magical fire! Cereus ducks between cover to launch arrows first at the cart, then at the wolves. We eventually do enough damage to the cart-man to return it to its normal form, less some maul damage. We collectively destroy the last of the wolves. Cereus tells us that fighting to the death is not normal wolf behaviour. We catch our breath.
Alabaster flies up over the town to investigate within. We discover that it is, indeed, Vallaki!
“Did you see the devil?” we ask the guards. They respond, “The Baron wants us to be happy. Being happy keeps the devil away.”
One guard flatly continues, like a bad actor in a roadhouse show, “Welcome to the town of Vallaki. You look like outsiders. There is an inn about the middle of the town. You can’t miss it. It’s called the Blue Water Inn. There is blue water on the sign. It is a comfortable stay, and you will like it. They have some of the better wine, and they have wolf steaks.” He seems like he’s trying hard to be pleasant, but it comes off flat and mechanically paced.
“What should we do with these wolves?” we wonder aloud. A guard says, “You could bring them to the inn. They serve wolf.” The other guard injects, “Oh, but what about those guys? Szoldar and Yevgeni, the wolf hunters. They kill and bring wolves to the inn themselves.” The first guard continues, “You shouldn’t leave the horse in the road, either. If the ‘right-hand man’ comes along, he might be angry about it.” Glimmerald wonders out loud if a Cloud of Daggers could deal with the horse meat efficiently, which sounds gory but we each have to concede that it could make the work quicker.
“Who is the right hand man?” we ask. “Oh, the right hand man of the Baron Vargas Vallakovich, his name is Izek Strazni. Vargas is our noble. The town is named after his family line. He’s makes the rules. His right hand man is Izek Strazni, but don’t call him the ‘right hand man’ that because it will make him angry.” “Because his right hand is cut off?” Turk asks. “No, his right arm is long, has claws, and is on fire.” “Oh, right.” Turk says with more nonchalance that is strictly required. “Right, no ‘right hand man’ then,” Cali confirms.
Cereus chooses to dress and carve the horse’s corpse properly, rather than let Glimmerald’s magic turn it to giblets. It takes about a half hour, with some help. Luccaria uses her magic to repair the damage to the cart, and tries to clean off some of Beatrice’s blood.
We load up our scattered supplies, the horse meat, and two of the wolves. Luccaria suggests we offer the wolf carcasses to the two hunters, to curry some favour from them. Being hunters, they may be of some use to us later.
We enter Vallaki through the east gate and find that it stretches perhaps a mile east to west. It does not look nearly as abandoned as the village of Barovia. Perhaps only one quarter of the homes are abandoned, versus more than half of Barovian houses. Incredibly, people here are milling about and walking in the streets.
As we are moving away from the gate, one of the guards asks, “Say, do you know the carnival master?” “No,” we say. “Oh, well he’s staying at the Blue Water Inn as well. You can’t miss it. It’s in the center of town, with blue water on the sign.” Luccaria asks, “Did he bring a carnival with him?” “He had a big carnival wagon. And he had a monkey,” the guard says. “Have you been to his carnival?” “No,” he says. Luccaria hesitates a moment and then asks, “Do you work at night as well?” “No,” he says, “we’re the day shift. The night shift watches at night.” This seems to satisfy her.
We pass a building with a large sign which reads, “Arasek Stockyard”. The spacious yard has several locked sheds and a big warehouse-type building which looks like the general store. In the stockyard is a carnival wagon with fading lettering on the side which reads, “Rictavio’s Carnival of Wonders”. Suddenly, the door of the warehouse opens and an elderly-looking man pokes his head out. A middle-aged woman, perhaps 15 years younger, is behind him trying to peek past. Cali asks, “Can we store our cart here?” “Oh, yes, and we have a store here,” the man says. There is a price list on the wall of the store, as well as a bulletin board with a couple of posters, one placed roughly over the other. “The Festival of the Blazing Sun” is on top.
Come one, come all,
To the greatest celebration of the year:
THE FESTIVAL OF THE BLAZING SUN!
Attendance and children required.
Rain or shine.
ALL WILL BE WELL!
The “Wolf’s Head Jamboree” is the poster under it.
Come one, come all,
To the greatest celebration of the year:
THE WOLF’S HEAD JAMBOREE!
Attendance and children required.
Pikes will be provided.
ALL WILL BE WELL!
Cart storage will cost us one silver per day. Turk asks about security. “There’s the lock for the door. And as well, we live here above the store. If anything were to happen we would call out ‘to arms, to arms!’. Perhaps even Izek himself would come. He’s a very strict man.”
Turk asks, “Arasek, are you interested in purchasing some wolf carcasses?” “Oh, please, call me Gunther. I don’t buy wolf pelts or meat. The Martikov’s at the inn buy them.”
We ask them, “What do you know of the wolf hunters?” They say, “You can find them at the Blue Water Inn.”
The woman gives Cali a lock for the cart and says that it can be brought to area 4.
“The festival is in three days, and you must attend. All will be well.” We ask about the wolf’s head festival, and they respond, “The wolf’s head jamboree was seven days ago. As long as we are happy, the devil will stay away. The devil only likes unhappy people, like those in that village of Barovia.” Ireena gets her back up immediately, and suggests that Barovians might have a reason to be so unhappy, living in the shadow of the devil. The man and woman agree that that might be so, and happily that defuses Ireena for the moment.
Turk asks about holy symbols, thinking of Beatrice’s loss. “You might want to talk to Father Lucian, at the church of Saint Andril.”
We continue on.
Near the center of town, we reach what is surely the Blue Water Inn, given the sign out front with blue waterfall on it. Smoke rises from the chimney. The sagging roof has seven ravens perched on it, but there is no sign of a nest. Alabaster flies up to check them out. None of them look familiar to him or Glimmerald. One of them takes off and heads north, quickly disappearing from sight. Glimmerald sends Alabaster off in pursuit.
The inn has a stone well. A path runs up between the inn and the building next door, leading to the woodshed out back where Alabaster finds the raven on its roof.
At the front of the building, stairs go up to a portico where double doors open into a common room. Damp cloaks hang from pegs in the entrance. The tavern is packed with tables & chairs. It has a balcony reachable by stairway, and another balcony overhanging an entrance to the east. All windows have shutters and bars, but are open at the moment. Oil lamps hung around the room and sitting on tables suffuse the area with warmth and a dull orange glow. The walls are adorned by wolves heads on plaques. The bar is directly across from us as we enter, and near it are three huge wooden casks. Around the room there are sixteen people, not counting the woman behind the bar. A pair of guys in wolf cloaks are sitting together, with shortbows hung over their chairs. There is a short, but colourfully dressed, half elf sitting at a table by himself. Another table has two guys who look like normal Barovians, but who are kind of drunk and mildly carousing. There are some other people drinking as well: a group of six at one table, and a group of five at another.
Luccaria asks out loud if anybody here is a wolf hunter. Predictably, one of the wolf-caped men stands and introduces himself as Szoldar, and says that he and his friend Yevgeni are wolf hunters. He is a large, rough man. Luccaria approaches, and tells them that we were assailed by wolves as we came into town. “Only so much we can do,” Szoldar says. “Oh, no, I simply meant that there are a number of wolf corpses out by the east gate. If you can profit by them, then I’ll tell you what: you can go collect them, and then I’ll let you buy me a drink when you return.” The two men jockey for position, and Szoldar says that she’ll be getting two drinks then. They leave immediately.
The barmaid tells us that a room is 1 electrum per night. We request three rooms, and are informed that two double rooms and a common room with four beds are available. Cali bargains a payment for four nights, at a discount because she will perform each night.
Turk tries to sell our horse meat. “Oh, you’ll have to discuss that with Urwin, my husband” Mrs. Martikov says. She shows Luccaria to the room upstairs, and sets to preparing them all. Luccaria removes her armor, shield, and backpack, and changes into fine clothing. Urwin will refund the cost of the three rooms and upgrade our food & wine each day in exchange for the horsemeat. Perhaps they are sick of wolf after all? Or maybe he understands that sometimes a change is as precious as a jewel. Also, and this cannot be understated, this town has Red Dragon Crush wine, which is a welcome upgrade from the Grapemash #3.
Downstairs again, we note that the two young drinkers are getting increasingly garrulous. “The brothers sometimes have a little too much, right about now. If nobody bothers them they get a little noisy but keep to themselves. Sometimes they get a little cantankerous, and it might be easy to pick a fight. We’d prefer if you didn’t. Their mother, she and the baron don’t get along. They like to get a little bit lippy. One of these days, Izek’s going to straighten them out.”
“Who’s Izek?” we ask. “He’s the head of the guard. An ill tempered man.” she says. “And what’s with the…“ we trail off. “The arm? They say he lost it as a child, and then growing up he was bullied a lot. I guess there’s only so much someone can take. He became violent. He was an orphan, and the baron took him in and raised him as his own. Perfect loyalty. And then one morning he woke up with the arm.” We wonder quietly if such things are normal here. Surely someone would have said if that were so.
Cereus approaches the half elf’s table. “Greetings! I have not seen one of my own in this land.” “I am Rictavio,” he says, “I have been traveling this land, seeing the sights, entertaining.” “By yourself?” “Yes. Well, I had a monkey named Piccolo,” he says, “He took such a fancy to the dollmaker that I sold him.” “Dollmaker?” Cereus asks. “Yes, peculiar fellow, down toward the stockyards. Ask around down there. He sells lots of… well.. children’s toys. He makes all sorts of toys. My monkey, Piccolo, took quite a liking to Gadof. Gadof took quite a liking to my monkey. So…”
“Are you from Barovia?” Cereus presses. “No, I traveled here,” Rictavio responds, “Most peculiar thing. It was just me and my wagon, and then mist closed in around us. Later, as the fog retreated, I found myself moving through the gates, and I was on my way to the village of Barovia. The people here seem fine, and I’ve been here in Vallaki for several weeks. I do plan on traveling soon, after I’ve concluded some business. I wish to see more. Have you traveled?” “Oh, no,” Cereus says, “We just arrived.” He then leans in a little closer to Cereus and says, “One of your friends disappeared upstairs; she looks Vistani.” “Not really sure,” Cereus deflects, “She’s a chance partner of mine, and we do not inquire into each other’s past.” “Fair,” he responds, “it’s just… a lot of people don’t trust Vistani in these parts, and they say they’re to be … avoided. Have you been to the camp south of town?” “No, we haven’t been there yet,” Cereus says, “We’ve only been to the village of Barovia.” “Well, I have some business to attend to.” He motions to Urwin, and points toward the rear area of the tavern. Urwin disappears out back. “I have a few small errands to run, and then I’ll be back. If you’re staying here, perhaps I’ll see you. These are good people. Their boys are good. These people sure do love their festivals. Don’t leave town at night. It’s very dangerous in the woods around these parts.” He moves to the bar.
Urwin Martikov is a human male, mid-30’s, and in good shape. He has a big grey and black beard. He is not muscular, but stocky and healthy. He comes out with a wolf steak on a plate. Rectavio pays him for it. He takes out a cloth handkerchief, puts the steak in the handkerchief, wraps it up, and leaves.
Cali asks Urwin about the Festival of the Blazing Sun. “So many festivals,” he says, “I don’t remember. The Festival of Flowers, The Festival of… there’s a festival every 10 days or so to keep spirits up. The baron and many people of Vallaki believe that keeping our spirits up prevents the devil from taking interest in us. Haven’t had a sighting of the devil in our walls in a very long time.”
“Where does the Baron live?” Cereus asks. “Baron Vargas? Oh, yes, he lives just south and west of the inn. It’s a sizeable mansion. If you were interested in speaking to the Baron, he does take guests and is interested in speaking to visitors. If you’re going to visit the Baron or his lovely wife, though, it’s best to go during the day. I would recommend not going during the night, as you’ll meet his mastiffs or, worse, his bodyguard, Izek Strazni.”
“When you say that the devil has not been seen in Vallaki in a very long time, would it be around 20 years,” Ireena asks? “Why yes, it would be around that long. Maybe a little longer,” he says. The blood drains from her face. She is 21 years old.
The conversation somehow swings to “wolf people”, and Glimmerald perks up. “Oh, you’ll pardon an old lady’s curiosity. Are they… were-wolves?” she asks. “Oh, yes, we haven’t had any of those in town in many an age, either. There are more of those to the west. They don’t bother people on the road too much. They keep to themselves.” Glimmerald thinks he’s lying about that, though perhaps not in a malicious way. “Are you planning on travelling west anytime soon?” he asks. We say not anytime soon.
Upstairs, while alone, Luccaria talks to the barmaid to try to assess how happy she actually is. She is quickly convinced that she and her husband are like peas in a pod, and are very happy. Two boys wander by. They are her two sons, each around 10 years old. They handle menial tasks around the inn, like tidying. They all get on well.
Downstairs, some of the other patrons come and go. Once Cali begins playing, one ducks out and returns with friends. Her performance is just that good. Patrons offer coins and applause.
The wolf hunters come back and buy Luccaria some wine. Rectavio returns and heads upstairs. Cali earns some copper and free wine for her excellent skill.
As things calm down at the tavern, we head to the church. It’s a big, slouching building with a graveyard out back. It is surely centuries old, with a steeple atop its roof. Cracked, stained glass windows adorn the walls. Out back, a thin mist creeps among the graves. There are four people standing on the steps: a middle-aged man in white robes, an old woman who wipes back tears, and two young men. The robed man has black hair and beard, and he is talking to the woman. One of the two youths is a brawny teen, with a furrowed, bushy brow and a spade in his hand. His shirt is untucked and there is mud on his hands. He is clearly the gravedigger. Standing next to him is much younger boy in a white robe. At our approach, the younger boy scoots in behind the older one, poking his head out sheepishly to watch as we approach. The old woman dabs tears from her eyes with a handkerchief while other people in the street are milling about in the street nearby, giving the priest a moment to have his conversation with the woman.
Cali cautiously approaches, at a respectful distance. The two boys back away a bit, with the younger one ducking inside the church. The older one sizes up the group, giving us a dirty look.
As we get close enough, we overhear the conversation. The priest says, “It’s okay Willamena, I understand your concern, but Oudo will be fine. I’m sure the Baron just wants to frighten him; perhaps have Izek give him a talking to. I’m sure if he was going to bring him to the town square he would have done so. I’m sure it’s all going to blow over, and I will pray for his safe return.” “But he’s my oldest son,” she says, “And I’m afraid what Izek might to do him. And the baron is just as bad; those big dogs. Could you speak to him?” “Speak to Izek?” he asks, surprised. “Oh, god no,” she says, “Who would want to speak to Izek? No, the baron. I’m sure it would sound better coming from you than me. You’re the priest of the morning lord. I’m sure you have some sway with him.” “I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” he says, “and see what I can do. Are you coming in for the evening service?” “Yes,” she says, moving into the church. The older boy holds open the door for her. Then others in the street head toward the church to enter. About a dozen people and six or seven children with them, perhaps twenty in total.
Cali approaches the priest. He wears a holy symbol of the sunrise. “Newcomers to town, I see. All is well, I’m very happy, isn’t everyone?” “Oh yes,” Cali says, “I’m very happy as well. We come seeking sanctuary.” “Sanctuary, you say?” He steps off to the side, to let people pass into the church, and lowers his voice. “What sort of sanctuary, exactly?” “This lady here is Ireena,” Cali says, “She hails from Barovia. She has been assailed of late by the devil, and we fear she is not safe in Barovia so we brought her here, to seek sanctuary in this church you have here.”
He leans down and gets even more quiet. He makes a motion for us all to huddle up around, and we do. “Is there any chance the devil knew you were coming here?” he asks. “To be perfectly honest,” Cali says, “I’d have to say yes.” “The timing couldn’t be a worse coincidence,” he admits, “The blessed church of St. Andril is hallowed ground, normally. You see, a secret crypt beneath the altar houses the bones of St. Andril. Holy relics. And these bones, it is they that power the hallowed ground of the church and keep it safe, such that the devil could never enter inside. But someone stole them a few days ago, and I’ve not yet figured out who. If the devil knew you were coming, he might have arranged it. One of his servants, perhaps, not his spawn since they wouldn’t be able to enter either. I expect he hired or implored someone. But not many people know about the bones.”
Who does know, we ask. “Besides myself, there’s the baron. He’s from the oldest family, the royal line, that’s why the town is named after him; the Vallakoviches. His son Hector knows, and his wife, of course. Besides the Vallakoviches, there’s the Wachter family. Lady Wachter is an interesting character herself. She’s been known to say ‘I’d rather serve the devil than a madman’. She’s very opposed to the baron. She has those troublemaking sons, always drinking. She has a man who works for her. Many servants, in fact. There’s those two families. Past that, no one would know unless they were told.”
Cali points out the two young boys and wonders if they’d know. “I did tell the young one. He was scared one night. But he’s only a boy. I’m sure he wouldn’t.” “The devil has ways, though” Cali suggests. “I took him in. Let him sleep in the shack with Milovoj,” he says, “The young boy Yeska. They’re both orphans. Yeska is so quiet; so timid.” “The devil takes perverse delight in corrupting the innocent,” Cali says, “I can’t think of one more innocent than a young boy.” “You could come back in the morning,” he says, “I can show you where they were, and you can best advise me on how to proceed. If I can’t find them soon, it’s my fear they’ll be lost and the church would not be on the same sacred ground.” “We’ll be more than glad to,” Cali says. “Have a good night, father.” “Didn’t catch your name,” he says. “Cali” “I’m Father Lucian,” he says. He shakes our hands.
We return to the inn.
Glimmerald warns Urwin Martikov that we might have visitors. “Bad visitors?” he asks, “Oh, it’s a pretty safe place. I wouldn’t be too worried.” Glimmerald sizes them all up. Urwin’s wife is a little on the thin side, but the rest are brawny.
We each head off to bed: Ismark and Ireena to share a double room, Cali, Turk, and Glimmerald in the common room, and Cereus in the other double. Luccaria slips out with the hunters to the family home of Szoldar, which he shares with his side-kick, Yevgeni. Szoldar tells her of his father, who was a mighty hunter who slew a giant bear and presented the skull to the baron. This was a point of pride for his family, but recently the baron has started telling people that it was his own father who slew the bear. Szoldar’s wounded pride does not overwhelm his common sense, though, and so he does not speak openly about this.
Here we end our session.