Not the least glimmer of light escaped the castle’s tall black windows. It’s broken battlements sketched a jagged line across the darkened sky. Castle Ravenloft brooded over a bleak, mist-shrouded valley. Constructed on the sheer side of a thousand-foot cliff, the terrible fortress was occupied by something ancient and evil.
A blot of night detached from the shadowed walls of the castle and moved out onto a narrow balcony. Lightning revealed the sneering countenance of Count Strahd von Zarovich.
His eyes, burning with a never-satisfied hunger, took in the drizzling twilight, the looming peaks, and the few sad lights of the village below. He clutched one hand to his chest and muttered, as if making a promise, or perhaps delivering a curse, a single name: “Ireena…”
Strahd grimaced, and his sharp canine teeth promised mayhem. A bitter wind spun dead leaves about him, billowing his velvet-lined cape.
Another fit of lighting burst from the storm’s underbelly, casting stark across Strahd’s face, The angular muscles of his visage and the taut lines in his hands revealed a man accustomed to exercising complete authority. In that face, no pity lived—-but, perhaps, hints of growing madness?
His eyes narrowed as he spied the newcomers. A group traveled down Old Svalich Road toward the village. His grimace transformed into a hideous smile. He knew they were coming, knew why they came, and relished what would be their ultimate fate. No plan could be called good unless blood was spilled during its execution.
All the pawns were finally assembled; all the pieces, prepared for so long were in place and waiting to play their parts. Even from where he stood on the balcony, Strahd heard the unceasing pulse of the Dayheart; its beat throbbed up through the castle stone into his rigid flesh. Its horrid semblance of life sustained Strahd with a vigor even more potent than the unholy existence he had enjoyed these many centuries. Precious few weapons could permanently harm him anymore.
Soon enough, Strahd would personally attend the newcomers.
Welcome to Barovia, a mist-shrouded forest valley in the southeastern foothills of a brooding mountain range. This minor realm is little visited, being far off the major trade routes and having a poor reputation in surrounding lands. Ancient curses, gloomy weather, and vicious werewolves plague the long-suffering peasants who bend beneath the yoke of a cruel nobleman.
Hundreds of years ago, Count Strahd von Zarovich conquered Barovia and moved his family, “long unseated from their ancient thrones,” to the valley, fortifying the castle and raising it to new grandeur. Strahd is the architect of his own cursed existence, having made a blood pact with an unnamed evil entity. Since that time he has lingered on while his family perished one by one. Now he rules the lands of Barovia alone.
After centuries of dreary inertia, and perhaps growing a bit mad in his endless existence, the small group of adventurers have arrived; each with their own reasons for venturing into Barovia.
Their investigation has led into a misty valley with a town of the same name just on the horizon.
Roughly a day’s travel from the village, party Kickass comes upon a roadside hostel, ‘The Weary Horse Inn’, whose common room hosts dirty patrons from the sparsely populated countryside. Weary from travel and deciding a night’s rest in a bed far outweighed the prospect of another night under the stars, it was a mutual agreement to take a room for the evening.
With the dying of daylight, a fog creeps across the land, clutching everything in its clammy grasp. Inside the Weary Horse Inn, through, the fire is warm enough, and if the few patrons are sullen and stare a little boldly, at least the food and drink are good.
For an inn’s common room, it’s quiet. They keep their voices low, and even the clink of their mugs seems subdued as the fog gathers outside. When the door swings open, every head turns to see who has arrived.
This new arrival loudly stamps the mud off his boots in the doorway, then strides confidently over, throwing a letter down on the table in front of party Kickass.
“The village of Barovia is in need of heroes,” he says in a thick accent. “You’ll do as well as any.” Without another word, he turns to leave.
In spite of numerous attempts to pump the stranger, appearing as a thug, armed with a wickedly curved sword and wearing a chain shirt under his colorful garb, for more information, the best either man could get were directions in to town and a warning that the woods are dangerous at night. Allowing the Vistani to leave, they read the letter silently to themselves.
Settling in and contemplating the contents of the letter the two set about ordering for the evening.
After an evening of drink and a full belly of mutton, sticking to the path they made their way down the Old Svalich Road:
Black pools of water stand like dark mirrors about the muddy roadway. A pall of thick, cold mist spreads over the ground. Giant tree trunks stand guard on both sides of the road, their branches clawing at the mists. In every direction the fog grows thicker and the forest seems more oppressive.
There gray in the fog, high stone pillars loom up from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road. Huge iron gates hang from the stonework, dew clinging to their rusting bars. Standing before the pillars are two stone statues of armed guardians with wicked polearms. Their carved heads lie among the weeds at their feet, neatly broken from the stone shoulders.
As the Funky, Chunky Monkey party approach from the east and pass through the gates they screech open slowly of their own accord and then slam shut with a loud clang. Unperturbed they continue down the path, their goal in sight.
Late midday mist thickly blanketed the village, smothering the streets and marooning the buildings, forming an archipelago of crumbling masonry in a gray, hopeless sea.
At the village’s lonely edge, most structures were abandoned, burnt-out hulks. Charcoal was thick on the air, but the choking odor couldn’t overpower the underlying, sickly sweet smell of carrion and spoilage. Claw marks raked some of the vacant homes, ominous not merely because of their presence but because of the five-fingered, handlike shape they suggested.
Farther inward, most building survived. Doors were barricaded with tables, broken carts, and smashed furnishings, Windows were shuttered and planked. But had anyone been saved? Silence was thick in the fog-bound streets, as though from cotton stuffed into the ears. Nothing living stirred, nothing breathing walked the streets.
But where the living were absent, the newly dead shambled.
And hunger, too, raw and unstoppable, stalked the village, multiplying with each new corpse that kicked and shuddered its way back toward animation.
A hunger that could never be slaked.
An infection that could never be stemmed.
Tall shapes loom in the dense fog, and the muddy ground underfoot gives way to slick, wet cobblestones. A dilapidated wooden sign reads “Welcome to the Village of Barovia.” As one grows closer, the shapes resolve into tenements whose windows are boarded, broken, and lightless. Nothing moves near-by, though the fog limits visibility. Faint sounds, as of something groaning, echo hollowly from somewhere deeper in the settlement.
Approaching the sign, there is a small wooden map carved into the back with annotations that are no longer legible due to wear and recent damage.
The streets are choked with mist, limiting vision to only a few dozen feet. The buildings here at the edge of town look abandoned, burned out, or barricaded. Garbage litters the ground, and a carrion stench assaults one’s nose. An overturned haycart blocks the street…
Shambling from behind the cart and out of buildings came six infected zombies and a skeletally thin corpse with cadaverous eyes that sizzle with cursed power, deadly spells dancing on it’s fingertips. Two gore-streaked, four-footed carcass eaters lounge near the overturned cart feeding on some lumpy mass at their feet, looking like a cross between an overlarge rat and a wolf, jaws of an extraordinary size and eyes glittering with rabid fury.
After dispatching the small wave of undead in the area, the Chunky, Funky Monkey party decided to continue on down the path:
The everpresent mists clear slightly, revealing a human body lying face down in the street amid the garbage. One of the buildings facing the street has its door smashed in.
Approaching the body, two 4ft dead-white segmented worms appearing to be maggots grown orders of magnitude too large… eyeless, drooling stinking ichor from their clacking mandibles, squirm from beneath the now obvious corpse they had been feeding on. Additionally 4 infected zombies make their way out of the surrounding buildings, sensing fresh blood and movement in the road, thereby alerting two hideous, distorted human heads suspended from leathery wings. In place of hair, these Vargouilles are crowned with writhing tendrils, and their eyes burn with a menacing green flame.
Making quick work of the undead foe, the Young Republican’s Club party cleared a nearby building to hold up in for the night just as dusk fell, finding a small group of villagers huddled in a room barricaded against a lone zombie still attempting to get in. The terrified survivors informed them that the zombie attack began only a few days ago but quickly got worse and that when killed by a zombie the victims rise as one but moments later. They beg our Young Republicans Club to escort them to the village square, which they’ve heard is still holding out against the horde.
Holding for the night, we leave them until next time.