I did not sleep particularly well in the guest house, but neither I think did the others. Arturo and Relic reported having seen a spectral procession making its way from the cemetery toward the castle in the dead of knight. Ireena explained that the spirits were the souls of adventurers who had failed to oust Count Strahd over the years. They rose every night to try once more, but as ever before, they failed. Cheery thought.
We made our way to the mercantile, where I bought rope for an exorbitant fee. Unfortunately, there were no other commercial options in the village, and the merchant’s suppliers were the gypsies. We discussed our next move briefly before deciding to visit the gypsy encampment by the river, and without further delay we left the village behind. The fog remained, though at times the wind would kick up to stir the trees, the icy river, or whatever other bit of scenery might be handy. If possible, it seemed that the clouds above had grown darker from the day before. Until we arrived at the camp.
The sun was actually shining above the camp, and I beseeched Topscuttle to determine what enchantments, if any, were laid about the camp. Despite the chilly reception we’d received by the gypsies at the tavern the night before, those in the camp welcomed us in to share their fire and sing songs. We enjoyed their hospitality for about a quarter hour before the gnome approached the fire, shaking her head. No magic of any sort? Curious.
Shortly thereafter, we were shown to one of the tents. Within, we were met by an aged gypsy woman, who greeted us by name, rattled off an innocuous secret about each of us, and said that we were expected. She had been watching us for some time, and offered to read our fortune in her cards. Seeing no harm in it, we agreed, and she laid five cards face-down on her little table. Each of us turned one card over at her bidding, and she translated the meaning of each card, though as with most divination I’ve experienced, it contained little of substance. Still, it pleased her to have done the reading, and I asked after the airship crash.
She claimed to remember the crash and described a place in the forest northeast of the village. She also said that the Master – her title for Count Strahd – had his minions take anything of value from the ship at the time and back into the castle. I thanked her for the location anyway, then bid her and her people good fortune. She returned the generic blessing and we returned to the road.
The weather grew worse as we wound through the forest-mountain pass and crossed the high bridge. We came to another fork where a dark carriage waited, hooked to a pair of dark horses. The door of the carriage opened on its own, but no one sat within. Relic was the one to suggest that it had been sent to deliver us to the castle, and with the storm growing stronger, we climbed aboard. The sable steeds took off at breakneck speed down the partially cobbled road, even as the rain began to fall and the thunder pound.
They stopped abruptly at a pair of weathered guard houses flanking an open drawbridge. To get out of the weather, we hustle across into the courtyard then straight ahead to the nearest open door. Dark music permeated the house, and we followed it to its source in a grand dining room. There a dark-cloaked man appeared to be seated at a massive organ which took up the majority of the west wall. He welcomed us to the castle and bid us sit and eat. A tasty-looking dinner was laid out with a seat for each of us. The wine in each crystal goblet was of the highest quality.
Not sure what else to do, we thanked our host for his hospitality and sat down to dine. He watched us for a time, and it became uncomfortable. Bex pointed out to me that his reflection appeared in the mirrors arrayed around the dining room, something Donavich assured us was not true of vampires. I asked the man a couple of questions and his tone turned threatening before he disappeared from the room, doused all of the lights, and apparently slammed all of the doors and even the portcullis closed, trapping us all within the castle. I illuminated the table with a simple cantrip, and Art began to relight the snuffed candles. We finished our dinner, then stood to investigate.
I discovered a secret door behind the organ, and opened it to reveal a hall with a dark-cloaked mannequin hanging within. Likely the method by which the illusion was accomplished. We began to explore, descending a spiral stair, and encountering a number of skeletons in a dead-end hall set with alcoves. We dispatched the animates with relative ease, and continued our exploration of the castle. We encountered a small man called Cyrus who asked us what we were doing outside of our rooms in the tower. When we told him that we were not offered rooms in the tower, he fretted, then turned to a nearby door muttering about needing to finish dinner. We pursued the odd little man into what must be a kitchen, but smelled more like a charnel house.
Three large cauldrons bubbled, and as we watched, arms reached out from within. The little man began poking at them with a large spoon and lamented the loss of his cooking skills. Unsure what to think, Arturo and I moved closer to the nearest cauldron to inspect the contents. A dozen zombies crawled out of the cauldrons and began to attack! We defended ourselves, though it took longer to dispatch these dead than it had the skeletons. Still, we were victorious, with only minor injuries to show for it. We then turned toward Cyrus, hoping for some sort of explanation…