Daisuke and I stalked silently towards the witch’s hut. The hut was surrounded on all sides by wicker cages stuffed with ravens, cawing pitifully. Still, to date, two simple truths had never steered us wrong in Ravenloft:
1. Ravens tended to help out against whatever was attacking us that week; and
2. You can never go wrong stabbing old people, particularly if they were ugly.
Accordingly, the two of us approached the hut and freed the ravens, keeping an ear open for movement from inside the hut. As more and more ravens escaped, the cawing grew less frantic, and Daisuke heard movement from inside the hut. He signalled silently to me, then clambered onto the roof of the hut, as silent as a shadow.
I took a position next to the entrance, my crossbow ready to fire. The moment the old woman stepped out, she received a quarrel to the head. This was immediately followed by Daisuke tackling her to the ground. Lady Arimaka and Oscar rode up on Lady Arimaka’s er… adequate mount. The old woman barely had the opportunity to shoot off a spell before being reduced to a fine red paste.
As we entered the hut, we saw a crib with a child in it, crying. Lady Arimaka reached out to it while I reloaded my crossbow, but the child turned out to be an illusion. More than that, we soon realized that the child was none other than a younger version of Lord Strahd himself.
I am not particularly given over to flights of fancy, but I could not help but imagine what would have happened if the child had been a smaller version of Lord Strahd.
In any event, we realized that the gem we were seeking was located underneath the crib. Our first attempt to seize it resulted in Lady Arimaka almost losing her hand, as the hut seemed to spring to life to protect itself. Our second attempt resulted in Lady Arimaka’s axe being bisected (fortunately Oscar was able to mend it). Finally, our third attempt was successful.
We searched the room and found a chest. Oscar’s attempt to open it was unsuccessful, as he had failed to notice that it was latched shut. His failure was a stroke of luck, as in addition to being locked, the chest was ensorcelled. We successfully banished the spell and I picked the lock, only to be attacked by a swarm of dismembered hands. Although not a threat for the party at full strength, I shudder to think how much damage they would have done had we been substantially injured in the fight against Baba Lesaga.
Daisuke suggested that the gem might be able to disrupt the magic keeping us in Ravenloft, so we decided to detour by the gate leaving the valley before returning to the Wizards of Wines. This detour would result in our passing near Kresk.
The road along the way passed at the foot of a fortress in the mountains. As we approached the fortress, we saw ghostly visions in the mist of a terrible battle, with a dragon made of mist burning an invading army horribly. As there was no way to reach the fortress from the road, we resolved to return later.
As we approached Kresk, we came upon a party of foresters. They informed us that a small girl had been stolen from Kresk. They believed werewolves were responsible, and we decided to assist them in recovering the girl. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake.
Lady Arimaka had a spell which would permit us to track the girl, but it required knowledge of an identifiable item upon her person. Accordingly, Lady Arimaka lent her mount to one of the foresters to take to Kresk to find someone who knew the girl and could identify what she was wearing. In the mean time, Lady Arimaka and Daisuke attempted to track the werewolves.
I spoke to the foresters. In particular, I had noted that one of the foresters referred to the little girl as “soulless”. This struck me as an odd way to refer to a person, so I questioned him. He claimed that certain people in Ravenloft were born without souls, they tended towards grey and listless and simply seemed less “alive” than other inhabitants. His comment reminded me of some of the townsfolk in Valaki, who repeated certain motions mechanically. Even among the foresters, while some of them had splashes of colour in their outfit, others seemed drained of vitality.
The mount returned with one of the girl’s kinsmen. Lady Arimaka cast the spell and it led us to an ominous tower on the shores of Lake Baratok. Just outside of the tower, there was a ruined wagon, of the style used by the Vistani. It was locked and bore several inscriptions to keep out. Mindful of what had occurred at Baba Lesaga’s hut, I examined the door for runes. None were found. I then attempted to pick the lock. My attempt was unsuccessful. Oscar, impatient, broke the lock with his axe and swung open the door, igniting the several dozen vials of alchemist’s fire contained within. The wagon went up in an enormous conflagration. The entire party was burned within an inch of their life. The foresters and Ireena were not so lucky. We managed to save Ireena’s life, but the foresters were burned to a crisp.
Later on, at the foot of the tower, we discovered the body of the little girl, dead. She appeared to have been killed by some short of electrical discharge, but we have not yet ascertained the cause. We spent the night on the ground floor of the tower putting off exploration for the next day.