We climbed up the switchback trail to the abbey, Daisuke, Oscar, Elga, Ireena and I. The abbey was a large stone buildings, built along two wings. One wing was quiet, while the other echoed with screams and strange sounds, more animal than human.
The gates of the abbey were guarded by a pair of strange creatures, part human and part animal. They spoke passable Common, and ushered us into the courtyard. They advised us that they would seek the abbot. While we waited for the abbot, another odd creature climbed out of the well in the middle of the courtyard. It attacked us, but Elga dispatched it handily. The door opened, and we were summoned to meet the abbot.
The abbot greeted us in the mess hall of the abbey, a large room with a roaring fire. He was accompanied by a young woman, with pale skin and long auburn hair. Daisuke was drawn to her, but observed that her skin bore traces of stitching, and that such marks were widespread on the parts of the body that were uncovered.
The abbot gave us a warm welcome, and we reciprocated, offering up a bottle of wine from my stash of the Wizard of Wines. While we ate (turnip soup), we spoke of many things, Strahd, the mysterious woman, the inhabitants of the abbey, and the abbey’s namesake, St. Markova.
The abbot was both forthcoming and extremely pleasant company. He was clearly an erudite man with a taste for the finer things, if the music drifting down from the upstairs lodgings was any indication. The abbot advised us that his assistant, Clover, was an accomplished harpist. True, at one point during our meal, the abbot seemed to have some difficulty remembering the name of his patron deity, and he was a bit evasive concerning the nature and rituals of his religion, however, my experience with the faithful has shown me that contrary to the stereotypes one hears in the stories, many god-faring folk are uninterested in the details of their faith, and have difficulty recalling the name of their patron. Anyway, in the interests of thoroughness, the abbot worshipped the Morning Lord, an aspect of Pelor.
The abbot informed us that he had entertained Lord Strahd at the abbey on occasion. Obviously, this made the abbey an unsuitable location to house Ireena. However, from his discussions with Strahd, the abbot had learned that Strahd was not native to Barovia, but rather had claimed the land by right of conquest, erecting the castle and naming it after his mother, Queen Ravenica. Strahd had a younger brother, Sergei, who was to be married to Tatiana. Strahd was jealous of his brother, and entered into a great wrath.
He killed his brother by flinging him from the battlements of Castle Ravenloft, and murdered the other wedding guests. Tatiana, to flee from Strahd and join her beloved, killed herself by throwing herself off those same battlements. The abbot believed that this great tragedy lies at the heart of Strahd’s curse. In order to alleviate Strahd’s curse, the abbot made him a (wo)man, with red hair and no tan, who’s good for relieving Strahd’s tension.
The abbot also gave some background on the abbey itself. It was built to honour St. Markova, a cleric of the Morning Lord, who had defied Strahd and fought him. The outcome of that battle was brutal, with Strahd prevailing, but walking for days afterward with a limp. Given the great age of the abbey, Strahd has been the ruler of Barovia for a very long time.
The abbot has also been a resident of Barovia for a very long time. He ascribes his youth and vigour to his patron (once again, the Morning Lord). Now, I am not one to proselytize, but perhaps Oscar should renounce his service to his Dark Lord in favour of the abbot’s patron. Sure, Oscar would likely no longer be able to call upon the spirits of the damned to defend him, but the abbot indicated that he was capable of raising the dead.
The abbot also told us the sad history of the other résidents of the abbey, the Belviews. Apparently, the Belviews were once human, but sought to perfect themselves by incorporating the traits of animals and magical creatures in their body. The process drove them insane, so they (and their descendants) remain sequested in the abbey. Some Belviews (such as the guards and Clover, the abbot’s assistant) retain sufficient sanity to assist around the abbey, but many must be locked up for their own safety.
The abbot gave us a tour of the monastery. It was utterly unremarkable, though on the tour we met Clover, the abbot’s assistant and a man with two heads. Madame Eva’s Tarokka reading told us that a man with two heads, a man of music, would be of great assistance against Strahd, but we figured that this was a little too on the nose for prophecy. There had to be a hidden meaning.
Regretfully, we had to cut our visit short. If Strahd did visit the abbey on occasion, Ireena would not be safe there. As we headed back down the switchback trail to Kresk, we passed by the shallow pool that provided Kresk its drinking water. The pool seemed to call out to Ireena, and her eyes glazed over. She began walking to the pool, and it was all we could do to prevent her from entering it.
At the same time, an ill wind blew a storm over Kresk. Not to be excessively dramatic, but the clouds formed into Strahd’s face and he threw lightning bolts against us. As Ireena approached the water, a reflection in pool formed into a man, and Ireena gasped “Sergei!”.
She entered the pool and I tied a rope around her waist to ensure she would not drown. As she pushed further into the pool, her body became translucent and the rope slipped from around her waist. At this point, only Daisuke was holding onto her hand, and Elga was holding on to him.
My reckoning was that since Strahd seemed upset about what was happening, we should clearly encourage it, so I wasn’t too fussed when Daisuke let go and Ireena disappeared into the pool. As she vanished, all the magic seemed to disappear from the pool. The villagers of Kresk were not particularly happy that we destroyed their magical pool, but they are communists, so who cares.
We have decided to return to the abbey and recruit Clover, in the hopes of better understanding Madame Eva’s prophecy. Afterwards, we intend to confront Strahd. This may be my last scroll.