After traveling through Karrnath, I never thought to see a more downtrodden land, but Barovia goes above and beyond the oppressive feel of even that fell nation. The “road”, such as it was, passed through a self-opening/closing rusted iron gate and into a mist-shrouded forest, with trees impossibly close together, preventing one from leaving the slick cobbled path for more than a short distance in any direction. And then Relic found the body.
The mustachioed fellow had clearly been dead for several days, apparently savaged by some beast, based on the tracks in the mud and tears in his flesh. He carried a missive from the Burgomaster of Barovia, warning outsiders to avoid Barovia and/or establish a holy barrier to prevent the evil within – a “vampyr” – from escaping. Of course, the letter also referenced the wealth in the village, so it seemed a somewhat conflicted call to action. Still, I held out hope that we might learn something of the airship purported to have crash-landed some five decades past.
We proceeded into the village proper, drawn through its dim and empty streets to the sound of wailing that carried across the stillness – the only sound aside from Arturo’s frequent strumming on his lute. He had been playing minor chord arrangements since we entered the gate, as if trying to provide the soundtrack for a play. A solid companion, but sometimes I wonder at his commitment to dramatic flair. We made our way to the village square – though really it was more of a circle – noting signs for a tavern and a mercantile, before following the sound of the crying down the main street to the south.
We found a two-story house that appeared to be boarded up from within, and though we knocked heavily on the door and called out to any within, we were not answered. Topscuttle Weirdwalker, our eccentric “spider-gnome”, cast a minor transmutation and then crawled up the wall to peek into the un-boarded upper-floor windows. She found them locked and gestured for Bex to help. The changeling complied with a glib comment, as is her way. A few minute later, Topscuttle managed to open the door for the rest of us and we made our way upstairs to find Bex trying to console a sobbing older woman. Arturo stepped in.
He got her talking and she told him that her daughter Gertruda had been taken to Castle Ravenloft, as had others before her. We asked about the burgomaster’s letter, and she pointed us to the manor at the end of the southern lane before devolving into wracking sobs once more. We left the old woman to her misery, with promises to investigate her daughter’s disappearance.
The burgomaster’s manor had several signs of being cursed, even moreso than the rest of Barovia. All windows shattered, a wind that only seemed to serve to make the bent iron gate swing and creak noisily, weeds choking the yard, and foliage covering the outer walls as if the very ground were trying to swallow the building. Charming.
A small door in the front door for an occupant to speak through opened at our knock and a woman asked us our business. I told her we sought the burgomaster and told her we’d found the letter on the dead messenger just inside the gates of the village. She asked to see it and confirmed that it was from her father, the burgomaster, and not a trick of the dread count. She introduced herself as Ireena Kolyana, the woman purported to have been bitten by the vampire, and thus more closely subject to his curse. She led us farther within the manor and the smell of death prefaced her showing us the body of her father. His heart had given out after too many nights of being terrorized by the minions of Count Strahd.
She insisted that she was no longer safe in her home, and that even the townsfolk had abandoned her for fear of the vampire. We expressed our intention of investigating Gertruda’s disappearance, and she insisted on coming with us. When asked why she did not simply leave Barovia, she explained that the mist prevented it – choking the life out of any who tried to flee. Only the gypsies knew of a way to escape the killing mists, and they were known to guard their secrets closely. I asked her of any stories about a flying ship having crashed in the area, and she said she’d never heard of such a thing, suggesting that Mad Mary – Gertruda’s grief-stricken mother – might know. One thing at a time.
We offered to help her bury her poor father, and she was very grateful for it. Arturo cleaned up the corpse with a minor cantrip, and we wrapped it in a heavy cloak for Relic to carry to the church north of the village. There we met Donavich, the local priest and introduced ourselves. He helped us bury the poor man, and talked at length about the vampire, enumerating its many strengths and few weaknesses. Clearly, he sees us as a means of ridding the village of their oppressor.
I asked Donavich about the airship wreck, and he recalled a story he’d heard as a boy about a flying ship crashing in the woods. Men went to salvage what they could from the wreck, but as the story went, agents of Count Strahd intercepted them. What became of the cargo was unknown. It seemed that the library in Castle Ravenloft was the most likely source of information about the wreck.
We finished burying the burgomaster, and the priest said a few words over the grave. The others began to head to the tavern, but Donavich pulled me aside and confided in me a secret about Ireena: she was not the burgomaster’s true daughter. Master Kolyana had found the girl near the base of the hill upon which Castle Ravenloft perched. He’d taken her in and loved her truly, raising her as if she were his own flesh and blood. I thanked the priest for this insight and caught up to my companions.
The Blood on the Vine tavern – formerly “Blood of the Vine”, though the preposition had been struck through and revised – was as dreary an establishment as one might expect. What few locals dared to be out as sunset neared hunkered over their tables near the fire that did little to ease the chill – even though it was late Summer. Ireena greeted a man within as her brother, whom she introduced to us as Ismark the Lesser. We informed him of his father’s burial and sat down to speak with the man. The rest of the patrons paid us little mind.
I expected the people of Barovia to be more … reactive, to the presence of a tiefling and a warforged in our midst, but really they haven’t batted an eye. I presume this is because the fear of Count Strahd, their personal devil, is so deep that anything else can only be a lesser evil and therefore not worth the effort of fearing. Arturo could not stand the stagnant atmosphere, and began to play more merry music to raise the spirits of those at the tavern. I will say this for the man: he is a talented musician and gifted showman. His performance managed to cut through the morose atmosphere and drew a smile from Ireena, which Ismark commented was a rare sight indeed.
The young woman offered us lodging for the evening at the Kalyona guest house, across the street from Mad Mary’s home. For lack of a proper inn, we of course accepted her offer of hospitality.