Curse of Strahd

Restless night

Einarr shifted and fidgeted in his bed, struggling to sleep. The events of the day played over and over in his mind, leaving him with a subtle, nagging sense of dread. As a boy, his father’s raven keeper had told him that being sleeplessness was caused by the mind by being unable to rest and that the cure was activity, working the mind till sleep came easily. He rose from the bed and fetched his armour from the chair in the corner of the room. Laying the mail out on the desk, he fetched his kit from his pack. He began the tedious work, scrubbing the links with a stiff boar hair brush by candlelight.

Still his mind kept wandering back to the things he had seen. First, his dream. He remembered the vision as vividly, as though it were a forgotten memory returned. He had stood looking from a high tower, watching whilst the land burned at his command. Women and children died at his command. The people had turned against him and he crushed them without remorse. A simple nightmare, brought on by the strange events of the last few days? A symptom of his unacknowledged fear that he would likely never see his home again? He did not know. Then he remembered the graveyard. Seeing his own name carved into tombstone had shaken him, more than he cared to admit. Buried in a shallow grave as a criminal, rather than burnt atop a pyre whilst his deeds were recounted and his kinsmen wept. What manner of evil could cause such a thing? The events on their own count be discounted, easily dismissed as simple tricks of this bewitched land. But the two together? This painted an sinister picture of a future he cared not to ponder. As he began prepping the thick and pungent grease, rendered from seal blubber, to oil the mail, he remembered something his father had told him many years ago.

“To rule is a heavy burden” he had said.

“A lord must be a beacon to his people, a rock on which they can depend, a shield to protect against the winds of fate. The wise king realises that he is placed upon the throne to serve the people, not for them to serve him. The law says a subject should honour and obey his lord and yet, if the lord is not fit or shames his title with cruelty or neglect, the people are duty bound by the oldest laws to remove him and pass the mantle to one more fitting”.

“Crowns slip easily from heads unworthy”

With these words, a sense of clarity washed over him. The people of this land were owed justice. They were denied the basic rights of shelter, security and happiness. The devil Strahd treated them as cattle and not as his flock. This would not stand. He would see to it, omens be dammed. His comrades too, they were lost and far from home. Thought they were not his subjects, he knew he had to show them that all was not lost. That they were not forsaken and that hope should burn bright in their hearts. His deeds would bolster them against the darkness.

The dread left and purpose filled him. With it came weariness, his eyelids suddenly heavy. He looked down at the grubby armour and sighed. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, but the job was less than half done. It wouldn’t do to leave it unfinished.

He lit a fresh candle and set about his task

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Interlude

Asger cursed his feckless guards and the mists that spooked them so. He flinched as the wolves howled again. This was supposed to be easy.

He started as the shadows took the shape of a man, tall and muscular, his face framed by his thick black hair and beard. He was naked. And flanked by two giant wolves.

Asger gulped.

“You have taken one of my children”.

“We…we’re sorry. We’ll give him back. When we get to the inn…”

“You misunderstand. A child who is foolish enough, weak enough, to be caught by the likes of you has no place in my pack”

Asger looked confused.

“I can find myself another child. That is not what upsets me so. What upsets me is that you thought you could do this without retribution. That misapprehension I cannot allow to go uncorrected”

Asger’s eyes widened as the man’s muscles started to bulge, his flesh to ripple. His face elongated into a snout, his fingers into claws.

The last sound Asger heard was the howling of wolves.

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Of Sickness and Wolves

Two jet black bolts fizzed through the air, one thumping into the wooden shelving of the store room behind, the other burying itself in the midriff of Einarr’s hulking form, puncturing muscle and viscera. The mercenary clad in black leather armour roared in satisfaction as his shot hit home, dropping his crossbow and drawing his sword.

Einarr’s companions, an unlikely collection of physiques and figures, immediately reacted; shadows were sought by a nimble rogue, preparing her bow; a diminutive druid sought to heal the injured Einarr, a pink glow coruscating over her tiny hands; a kinsman of Einarr, a brother no less, noble and powerful looking, after seeing Einarr struck, charged with his glaive; a cunning looking robed greenskin climbed into a nearby cupboard, leaving a small rodent scratching at the door behind him frantic to join his master in safety.

I surveyed the scene, calculating quickly how best to dispatch the moronic oafs very obviously in the employ of my target; that small time crook and piffling hedge wizard I recognised from my youth somehow turning up here and running (very poorly) our accommodation for the evening. My churning innards still groaned from the sopping mush he served for dinner, with a little secret ingredient in that left one of the Northmen’s hunting party dead.

Deciding I would evidence the true power of a Death Mage to my impromptu colleagues in this instance, I uttered the trisyllabic nomenclature, shifting my voice down through impossible octaves and reaching deep into my roiling digestive system. Throwing back my hood to unleash the rising biliousness, I opened wide my mouth to vomit forth the unholy buildup of necrotic, poisonous energies.

It struck the man with a force I found gleefully pleasing, the wretched poison flooding into his mouth, up his nostrils and even pushing in through his ocular cavities. My recent studies into bipedal, humanoid physiology have given me a greater understanding of how and where to direct my necromantic energies to cause immense pain and discomfort at the very least, with incapacitation and death at best. Or perhaps undeath at best, once my powers are fully realised.

I had certainly calculated correctly, for the satisfying stench of decomposing human matter was filling the air, accelerated to levels that astonished even myself. I had bettered my previous efforts with this one; what had been the soldiers head now resembled a ruptured and imploding jack o’ lantern, sickly green poisonous flame flickering in the orifice that was once a mouth.

The others all glanced at me with sickened expressions, but I knew what they were thinking…and I would prove them right to think exactly that. Now, If I could just get that goblin to bring his talents to bear, inferior as they obviously are to mine, this party could be a force to be reckoned with.

My previous master will know fear, for now I have the next piece of the trail to follow… and a war band at my back.

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The March

“My liege, I…”
“Don’t call me that” replied Einarr, continuing the march.
“But, my Lord I..
“Quiet boy” hissed Fafnir.
“But..”
“Still your tongue, Brant!” the old man barked.
Fafnir gestured at the ancient forest with a wizened hand.
“This place is old, older than the House of Gunnar. Who or what holds court here, I do not know. But beasts and trees have ears. Some can speak.”
One of the men muttered an oath under their breath.
“Best not to say anything that could cause offence whilst we remain in their domain. Speak wisely, or not at all”
Brant nervously scoured the dark spaces between the trees. He could not shake the feeling that something watched their every step.
The party marched on in silence.

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The story so far...

Wolf Trouble

All is not well in the small town of Vastervik, which falls within the domain of Einarr’s father. Vastervik, a remote and self-sufficient village, has come under attack by wolves (and, rumours have it, wolves that walk as men) and Einarr has been dispatched with a small group of warriors to support the village. Aid has also been requested from the church of Malar, who have sent Torvald along with the party.

A small train of merchants has also been recruited to bring the town essential supplies; weapons and armour and, more importantly, dried food supplies – the town has lost some of its most able-bodied townsfolk, and this has affected its ability to harvest crops. One of these merchants is Pukka the racist goblin, who has his horse and cart loaded with trade goods and is accompanied by two hired guards.

The war party has stopped off at the Crooked Crow, the last inn before Vastvik, for some hot food and a decent nights sleep before wolf hunting begins in earnest in the morning. At the inn, the party has been joined by Nibby, whose druid domain extends to the affected area. Although druids do not ordinarily accept help from outsiders, the threat is significant enough that druidic pride has to be set aside for the common good.

My name is Inigo Montoya

Mordrith’s studies have been interrupted by news that his master Szordrin, the man who killed his father, has resurfaced. It is not clear what Szordrin is doing, although some few reports suggest that he is looking for a portal, while others indicate that he believes he has found the secret to eternal life. Mordrith has followed his trail to the Crooked Crow inn.

Get your hands off

The peace and quiet of the hermitage at which Gobnait has been shut away, escaping her dark past, was disturbed recently by a group of Vistani gypsies camping outside. The all-night carousing was bad (if you never hear an accordion again it will be too soon) but worse is the fact that the Vistani stole an enchanted emerald from the heart of the hermitage. The emerald gives life to the soil around it, and has indirectly been the source of much of the hermitage’s food. Gobnait has taken it upon herself to use the abilities of her old life to retrieve the emerald from the Vistani. She’s tracked them to the Crooked Crow inn…

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