Ireena almost succumbs to Sergei’s offered hand in the Morninglord’s reflecting pool in Krezk, when she suddenly remembers her oath and the suffering of all Barovians under the Devil’s evil reign. She withdraws, in sorrow. Sergei implores, and on the wind we hear the Devil say, “No, Sergei. She is mine.” And then suddenly a bolt of lightning from a darkened sky strikes the pool, splintering stone and wood and sending people flying.
The Burgomaster is displeased that we have brought the Devil’s attention to his little village, and he asks that we leave the next morning.
We take our cart and two barrels of wine up to the Abbey, high up the mountain spur, to meet the Abbot.
We are greeted by beast folk aberrations who exhibit strange behaviour. They agree to fetch the Abbot for us.
When the Abbot emerges, he is a beautiful young man. Perfect in all worldly ways. He kindly invites us in and even freely heals Turk of her hag affliction.
We see that the beast folk are caged and bound around the compound, and the Abbot’s two-headed assistant, Clovin, talks of disciplining the others.
Led inside, the Abbot explains how he intends to lift the Barovian curse once and for all. He has constructed at least one flesh golem from pieces of beautiful corpses, and intends to offer this to the Devil as a substitute for his true love, Tatyana.
It’s all too much for Ireena’s stability and spirit, and combat becomes the inevitable conclusion. We discover that the Abbot is an angel of some sort, with huge feathery wings and a mace.
We manage to destroy both the angel and his flesh golem bride, and find a moment’s rest to consider our options for next session.
The Goings On
We begin the session separated within the town of Krezk.
Cereus increasingly believes that we are being watched. There have always been ravens watching us, but now he sees bats and wolves as well, watching us from a distance. After some time, they turn and walk east. Is it coincidence? Are they reporting in with the Devil?
Five of the seven of us are at the pool at the back of the village. Even under gray skies, the pool shimmers. They see the bare-chested marble statue of the Morninglord, arms outstretched, near the gazebo.
Glimmerald and Accalia discuss the nature of the pool’s magic, but are unable to draw strong conclusions.
As Ireena approaches the pool’s edge, a handsome youth of noble visage appears. Ireena knows instantly that this is Sergei. “My beloved Tatyana. Come my love, we can be together at last,” Sergei says. Ireena responds in kind. She moves toward the hand coming up through the water.
Visions of that fateful day swirl through Ireena’s mind… A wedding dress… Sergei’s hand in hers… His whispers of adoration and his promise of undying love in her ear as they stand cheek-to-cheek… the warmth of his lips on hers… the taste of his breath… the cold side-eye of his brother… Strahd’s palpable jealousy… a flash of steel… a scream of pain as Strahd then undid everything she held dear–was that Sergei’s or Tatyana’s cry of anguish? A flash of a cliff’s edge… the Devil’s twisted words of longing… the sound of wind in her ears as the ground rushes up toward her… the blackness of the void that follows, that gives no reprieve from her despair…
Ireena snaps back into the world outside her mind’s eye, yet still feels the memories swirling around in her consciousness. She sees her own hands reaching out, toward the ephemeral visage in the pool also reaching out for her. Her heart aches. Her breath is shallow. Her pulse pounds in her ears and her chest, and the anxiousness to end the life she now knows and dive headlong into the arms of her one true love, a love stolen from her lifetimes ago, is almost too much for her to bear. Trembling, tears freely flowing down her face and mouth agape, her fingers inch ever forward…
“…Come my love,” the apparition implores.
Her fingertips touch the pool. It is cool, yet warm too somehow, further beckoning her into Sergei’s embrace.
Ireena’s conscience then calls to her. The weight of her Oath falls on her, almost arresting her heart and soul. She remembers the hopelessness the people of her village feel. That she has felt. That she has seen on the faces of nearly every person she has met since leaving her home. She remembers Kolyan. Ismark. Father Lucian.
Her shoulders drop and her hands recoil, balled into fists made of equal frustration and determination.
“My love… S-s-sergei… I… I cannot…” Ireena stammers between sobs. “The unliving corpse of your vile brother holds this land in his icy grip, and so many continue to suffer at his hand. He keeps the spirits of every Barovian imprisoned within his realm, tormenting them for his own amusement for generation after generation. Their souls cannot leave for the afterlife. I must see his end before I can leave this place, as that is the Oath I have made to our ‘Lord. I long to fall into your eternal embrace, but I cannot abandon the innocents that forever haunt this place. I must see my task done, and help lift the veil of darkness that shrouds all of Barovia. The Morninglord has championed myself and these companions, that we see an end to him once and for all. Wait for me, my love, because I have faith that our ‘Lord will bring us together again when our quest is complete and my mortal life is utterly spent. Until then, we will stay apart in all but our hearts.”
There’s a whispering on the wind which is heard by those around the pool, but also somehow all the way across the village at the Burgomaster’s house. “No, Sergei. She is mine.” We know instantly that it is the Devil. The sky darkens slightly, and a lightning bolt erupts from the sky toward the pool. Cereus and Glimmerald are brutally struck and knocked back. Others are spared the worst of the bolt’s power. The statue and gazebo are destroyed, and as the victims collect themselves they understand implicitly that whatever magic the pool possessed has been destroyed as well.
The Burgomaster arrives at the pool shortly after Luccaria and Beatrice. “What’s brought the attention of the Devil to this place,” he asks, and then pieces the clues together fairly quickly. “I’ll honour our deal. You can stay the night here, but I expect you all to leave in the morning.” At this rate, we’re going to be living at the winery, like itinerant alcoholics.
We somehow get onto the topic of history books, and Dmitri says, “The Devil’s not fond of people writing history books. Most of the histories in the land are oral histories. Books tend to disappear.” That is most unfortunate, Cali says.
She then asks about the Fidatovs. “Well, they’re not from here,” he says, adding nothing more.
“Do you happen to have any books around,” Glim asks. “No,” he says, “pretty much all the books in the village are fiction. Stories for young ones.”
He continues, “As I mentioned before, there’s no inn, so you’ll need to find houses to take you in. Perhaps wherever you stay will have books there.”
We gather our cart and remaining wine barrels and push on to the Abbey, so that we’re there in the light of day. The switchback road that hugs the cliff leads up hundreds of feet. It grows colder as we ascend. The road swings around onto a plateau where we see the wall surrounding the Abbey’s buildings. It’s a wide ledge on which the abbey is perched. The gravel road we’re on passes between two small out-buildings. A five foot high, three foot thick wall of jumbled stones wraps around the complex. The buildings are joined by a 15 foot tall curtain wall. Blocking the road ahead of us, between the out-buildings, are iron gates held on rusted hinges. Through the gates, the abbey stands quiet. One of the buildings sports a chimney spouting gray smoke.
We’re above the mist here, and it’s hard to see the village below.
There is a tended garden with scarecrows off to the east of the buildings, but inside the low wall.
The gate is not locked, and Beatrice opens it. There’s a loud groan and creak as it turns on its rusty hinges. We hear sounds of something rummaging.
Owlabaster flies up, and spots both bats and ravens around the area.
Luccaria steps into the breach in time to see two small creatures coming out of the trees and moving in our direction. One four and a half feet tall, the other about 5 foot tall. They’re both wearing cloaks of animal fur. As they move, they walk in funny ways. Hobbling. As they come into view, one of them has a wolf snout, complete with fangs. The other has donkey skin on his face. Donkey man’s legs and feet are those of a lion. Behind a cloak we can see a donkey tail swaying back and forth. The second one is shorter and female. The left side of her face is covered with lizard scales, and the right side has pale human skin interrupted by tufts of fur. One of her eyes is feline. Her fingers and thumbs are cats paws (though still opposable). As the pair approach, the male speaks: “I wasn’t asleep! I wasn’t asleep. I’m the best guard ever EEEYYAAAAAH. That’s what a good guard does, patrol. That’s why Cloven picked me.” “Is that me, you’re directing that at,” the female asks him, “You’re judging, aren’t you? You’re always judging me!”
“Am I not beautiful?” the guy asks. Luccaria and Beatrice successfully bluff to the affirmative.
“Are you here to see the Abbot?” We ask if Clovin is the Abbot. “Fpppttt, no, he wishes! Cloven’s in charge of us, but not the whole place. That’s the Abbot.”
“You stay here with Zygfrek, and I, Otto, knowing exactly where to find the Abbot, will go and get him for you.” Tell him that we’ve brought wine, we ask him. “Oh, yes, I will!” He hobbles off through double wooden doors in the curtain wall.
We enter the grounds through the gate and it is closed behind us. We notice that near us is a graveyard. Cali checks the gravestones for names and dates. Ireena can translate the dates, and tell us that the graves go back hundreds of years. Perhaps the original inhabitants of the abbey.
There is a thin crust of snow all around. In the light snow, we can see that tracks lead from the doors to the gates and then back to the tree where we see furs laid out like bedding. Chain shirted decoys with spears are atop the gate towers.
Otto walks out. Just behind him is a man in his early to mid-30’s. His robes aren’t tailored but they do fit him well. He’s an impressive specimen. He appears to be a human male with high cheekbones, well-coiffed hair, and a great physique; not overly muscular, but in great shape. Well kempt. He may even press his clothes. He walks toward us with a bold, confident stride.
Otto does a “great job” of introducing us to the Abbot. “Nailed it,” he congratulates himself.
The Abbot gives us a warm gesture. “Welcome, I am the Abbot. Welcome to my humble home. The Bellviews here are in my care, poor things.” Ireena notices he’s wearing a holy symbol of the Morninglord.
Turk sizes him up. No bruises or scars, but the way he walks does suggest that he’s at least somewhat competent as a combatant.
“If you would all excuse me but a moment, I suspect this one,” (he indicates Ireena, and the holy symbol she wears), “might speak a tongue which I also do.” He speaks to her in a language the rest of us don’t understand, but he repeats the message in Common after.
“It is a welcome sight to cast my eyes upon another true believer of the Morninglord. I am his devout servant, having traveled from a place far away in both space and time to revive the Abbey of Saint Markovia. I am the light and the hope, sweet child. I am glad you have come to me for salvation. Here, under his watchful eye and mine, you can find respite from the forces of evil that trouble this darkened land.”
We later learn that he spoke in Celestial.
Cali says it’s very nice to offer the hospitality of his home. There are many things we want to talk about with you, not the least of which are these Bellviews here.
Turk says, “I heard the Abbot could cure a hag haunting.” “I have the power to heal with my touch, it’s true. I have been known to raise the dead. I can indeed remove a hag’s curse. In addition, I have been working on alleviating the curse; the land’s curse. I have a plan.”
“But, to your question,” he turns to Cali, “When I first came to this place I found the Bellviews. It’s been all I could do to help them. I’ve been helping them now for years. I fear they wouldn’t survive without me. There’s quite a few of them. Not just the two of them. They’ve repopulated almost the entire abbey. They’re all related. They’re all descended of the same lines. And these eccentricities, they are of their own choosing. They wanted to be more, and I made them more.”
Beatrice senses that he believes everything he’s saying, and seems to really care about the Bellviews.
We ask, but why are you here? Was it just the curse? No, we joke, the wine. “Oh, yes, the wine does help. It lifts my spirits.” Turk says we shouldn’t be trying to raise more spirits.
“Ooh hoo, yes. Speaking of spirits. You shouldn’t go to the second floor of the south wing. There are restless spirits there. They’ve been there since I arrived. We don’t use those rooms. You shouldn’t explore around on your own.”
A bell rings from the belfrey, over the north building. From the south building, we hear a cacophony of sound. A horde of voices. “Woo! Yeah!” mixed with animal sounds.
“You asked about my plan to alleviate the curse on this land, and that’s where we might come to an agreement. You might be able to help me. You should meet Vasilka.” As we get to the curtain wall doors, the little plaque to the right of the doors says “The Abbey of Saint Markovia, may her light cure all illness”.
As the Abbot ushers us in, he lays a hand on Turk and she feels more vital. Like the hag’s curse has been lifted!
Through the doors the courtyard is filled with a thick, swirling fog. Again, we see posted guards on the walls but they turn out to be merely scarecrows. There are wooden doors to the north and east. There’s a well in the center, with a rope running over a winch and to a bucket. Three shallow alcoves contain wooden troughs. For feeding these manbeasts? We suspect we’ll find out.
Tied to a post in the south part of the courtyard is a short humanoid with bat wings and spider mandibles. She has cloven feet, and is about 4’ 5” tall. She seems mad; wild. She edges away from us as we approach. We suspect she has a soul, as she experiences a fear of us.
We hear hoots and hollers from the locked sheds all around the yard. Cereus hears a scratching noise coming from the well at the center of the courtyard.
There are no visible stitch marks on any of these man-beasts. They look like they were born this way. They seem to have personalities. Souls. They are not “empty husks”. Luccaria has a dark thought about how Dmitri and the others might feel about hundreds of souls tied up inside these aberrant frames.
As we approach the north building, the door opens. We see a 4’ 7” man with patchy fur or hair, but most notably he has two heads. One is a normal-sized human head with goat horns. The other head is that of a small child. His left hand is a crab pincer, while his right is a normal human hand. His right foot is bear paw. He’s wearing a monk’s robe tied around the middle with a rope belt. They step out the door. The human head looks up at the Abbot and says, “I rang the bell. Feed them now. I will discipline those that need it.”
It sounds like there could be hundreds of voices from the south wing.
Regarding the bat lady chained on in the yard, the Abbot says, “Marzena has these strange theories that everyone is out to get her, but she can’t leave. She tries to fly away, but if she flies out into the wilderness there’s no way she would survive. So I have to keep her chained.”
As we reach the north door, we see that the ground floor is a 50 foot wide room. There is a cauldron on an iron rack above a fire in a hearth. Above the mantle is a golden disc, a symbol of the Morninglord. There are stairs going up, and stairs going down. There are perhaps a dozen chairs around a long wooden table covered with wooden dishware. Behind the table is a beautiful, alabaster-skinned human woman. Her auburn hair is in a cute up-do. So is Luccaria’s raven hair but nobody ever mentions it, she silently complains. The woman stares straight forward, lost in thought. There are candles lighting the room.
The Abbot steps into the room, and motions toward the table. “Come, come, sit so I can explain.”
Out in the courtyard, Cali casts Detect Thoughts while others make noise to camouflage the verbal component. Meanwhile, Luccaria messages the alabaster woman, “Are you here of your own free will?” “Yes, I think so.” she says after a moment’s hesitation.
“Vasilka. Pull out your chair and have a seat.” The woman does so, very mechanically. Is she human, we wonder?
“Please, please, have a seat. I will explain my whole plan.”
“The land is cursed because the Devil is so unhappy. He’s so unhappy because he seeks his bride, but he can never have her.” No, he cannot, Ireena says, coldly. “So,” (he motions to Vasilka), “I made him one. I’m training her. She hasn’t learned all of her etiquette, but she’s getting better. The only thing I don’t have is a wedding dress. But soon, I will put her in a wedding dress and present her to him. They will marry and the curse will be broken, and the land will be free.”
“There’s no good wedding dress in Krezk. Now, in Vallaki, I’m sure there are noble families who might have an appropriate wedding dress. I could pay you, I would not expect you to travel there for nothing. You are outsiders, and the adventurous sort, so if something were to befall one of you then I could repay your kindness with the help of the Morninglord.”
Turk asks what brought the Abbot to Barovia, and where did he come from? “The Morninglord sent me, to minister to his flock. I came from another land, but you see, I commune from time to time with the Morninglord himself. He told me that this poor land of Barovia was under a curse, but I could be lured inside by the Vistani, and I could help the people once inside. I immediately sought out the abbey of St. Markovia, as I knew this would be the best place to help.”
Cali mentions that she’s heard that his true love has been reborn, and so how will we convince him that this (she indicates Vasilka) is his true love? “Well, I don’t think that she could be his true love, but he might love her anyway. There was a village along the river to the south. Berez. He suspected this woman was his love reborn, and her own people stoned her to death so that he might not have her. In his anger, he made flood waters rise and drowned out the village. Now it is nothing but plague and pestilence. I would see him sated in this simpler way, that he might stop this worthless pursuit.”
You’re suggesting that we bring you a wedding dress, and you would raise us from the dead? “No, I was suggesting that you bring me the dress right away that I might release the curse.”
Did you raise the Bellviews? “Oh, no, I haven’t raised the Bellviews.”
Where did Vasilka come from? “She was constructed.” From what? “Parts?” From the town? “Otto and Zygfrek, they leave the abbey from time to time and they go out into the wilderness. They look for … it’s much like not wanting to destroy the living trees, so you find the deadfall for firewood. In similar fashion they find bodies of the unfortunate and…”
I think I’ve heard enough, Ireena says.
“Child, why so upset? I am the light. I am sent by the Morninglord. I alone can bring the dead to life. I alone can heal by mere touch. I expect you to be thrilled to meet me.” Ireena says, “I was hoping beyond hope that you were good.” “I am going to bring salvation to this land,” he says. “You might have been sent as salvation to this land,” she replies, “but I can see now that you have been corrupted by it.” “I AM INCORRUPTIBLE,” he angrily retorts. “Look at me,” she asks, “what do you see?” “I see a naive young woman,” he says. “I am Tatiana,” Ireena states.
The tension is unbearable. Luccaria cuts it with a lash of lightning. We are engaged in combat. He reaches under the table and draws out a mace. It rises up on the table and its clothing is ripped by a pair of huge feathered wings emerging from his back.
Turk stabs him, but he seems to shrug off the pain. He slams Ireena and drops her to the ground instantly. He tries to strike Luccaria, but a magical shield intercedes. Spells have trouble landing on him, and mundane weapons seem ineffective. His constructed bride attacks us as well, mechanically, and we discover that she is immune to mundane weapons.
The Abbot calls to Clovin to “bring the other golem!”
Ireena is healed back up and climbs to her feet. After some sparring and a failed attempt to compel the angel to fly off to confront Strahd in direct combat, he very nearly strikes down Turk with a single well-placed swing of his mace. Turk rallies immediately and returns with a perfectly placed strike of her own. So distracted, Ireena seizes the opportunity to drive her luminous sword through the angel, killing him. We then quickly destroy the stitched-flesh monstrosity the Abbot had made.
The door to the room is barred with a table, and we try to take some moments to rest.
Here we end the session.