Let's Get It Strahded

Excerpts from the Testamentary Epistles
A Letter of Nolmear Dannendal

[Ed: The following letter, HGC Ltr. 18, was written to a young student of the Rindiarwain Circle of the Forest of the Children. It goes on at length about matters pertaining to the craft of this circle of druids. The selections pertinent to our study of the Downfall of Strahd, rather than the bric-a-brac of Elvish druidic arts, picks up in this excerpt, beginning at manuscript line 234]

…Now my tale turns to strange things. Young Aristar, I would have you know that what small learning you may find in these letters is dependent on what follows, and all meager gifts I have given you prior to the present moment are dependent on the things that follow. What now seems an age ago, I met a young boy in an attic. The writing of this memoir is entirely to his credit; I was young and wild, and relatively unlettered when I met him. But I have pondered that meeting in the intervening years, and what those with wisdom or a desire to gain wisdom might learn from it.

He showed me that it was more important that I thought to sow in writing the seeds of renewal in spirit and heart, for he had been so badly served by a library full to bursting with knowledge but woefully bereft of wisdom. He is, in short, the reason why I strove to put in writing things that younger ones might find illustrative, unvarnished gems which they might polish to the brighter sheen of inner beauty.

As I wrote in my last missive, with hopes that you might maintain a clear head when emergency threatens, and at the same time stand for something more than personal gain, I was in the cells of a particularly difficult Burgomaster. It was not difficult to escape, I found – you have, I assume, mastered the arts of transforming into all manner of beasts by now, and in this case a simple spider was more than capable of slipping my mundane bonds. I needed to find my urn, though, and so while prudence might have dictated I move directly for a window, it was necessary to find those things which had been seized at the onset of my imprisonment.

I moved stealthily around the manor, details which need not concern this telling save for a single strange room, sparsely but carefully furnished, adorned with dolls of the lady Ireena which I have mentioned in previous entries in this epistolary series. Perhaps at a later date I will tell you what these dolls augured.

Eventually I found myself in a small attic above the master bedroom, where my precious urn and other gear had been stowed away for safekeeping. As I fastened the last straps of my leather, a bright flash of purple light emanated from around a nearby doorframe, as did a burst of arcane (if inept) mutterings.

My next act may seem impulsive to you, Aristar, and certainly in some sense it was, for I was myself Aristar at the time. But understand: the voice I heard was young. It came from a space adjoining what appeared to be a deserted attic room. My guess, proven false as you shall soon find, was that I had stumbled across some young servant dabbling in magic, and that any attempt of whoever was in the other room to turn me over to the Burgomaster could be countered with my own reminder that the Burgomaster might not like whatever thaumaturgic abhorrences were being conjured just above and slightly east of his marriage bed.

Though my assumption was sound, I was not prepared for what I saw. A boy in his pre-adolescence, holding a sorcerous volume in his hands, sigils scrawled about his feet, strange dolls near him like those I had seen of Ireena, though these not bearing her likeness.

But most strange were the cats.

If you are properly following your studies, you have cut into many a creature by now to observe its interior life, to gain knowledge both scientistical and spiritual about the motion of blood in vessels and the skeins of nerves that rest along the muscle. You no doubt have experienced bones as a hindrance to your scalpel as you seek to carve out and conquer the knowledge that the once-living body, laid bare in such a bloody nakedness, can provide. But bones are more than obstacles, dear Aristar.

Bones serve are a cage, and cage in two senses. Though the cage from which I had escaped was intended to contain me, so too do some cages, such as the kennels of hunting dogs, serve a protective function. The bones beneath our skin serve both these functions: they contain our vital organs and essences, preserving them so that the stomach does not rest in the legs, or the heart migrate to the bowel. Yet at the same time they provide protection, so that it takes more than a slight blow to disrupt the liver or set the lungs to gasping.

And on top of this cage, one builds the structure, like beams in a roof, like the latticework patterns that create the curves of a reed basket or the cross-stitched threads in a tapestry, upon bones is the musculature built, on bones are laid the tendons and cords that bind strength to movement and give meaning to the skin laid atop all the marvel that is the body. The bones are more at the heart of our life, lives of action, than heart, for a heart without bones is an affectless vessel unable to change or intend the world differently. One such muscle, one of the few which sees the starlight without a blade piercing the skin, is the tongue.

But we were speaking of cats. The cats in this room believed they were cats, and had the mannerisms of cats. Mannerisms such as the tongue. Observe your housecat. Observe how it grooms itself, using its rasping tongue to smooth and dislodge burrs and hindrances in the fur. The cats in this room did much the same, for to themselves they were but cats, and cleaning a matter of instinct more than a matter of strict cleanliness. Yet to my eyes these cats were not cats, but merely their own bony cages. And so lacking a tongue, their bony heads grasped at their sides, where fur might be, mindless instincts in their heads compelling them to clean what fur and flesh had been lost to them.

I speak in riddles perhaps, so I will be clear: yes, dear Aristar, these cats were alive, yet only their skeletons remained.

They fled from the opening of the door, like cats, but not so quickly that I did not see them for what they were, and record the memory forever. Looking at this boy with this volume in his hand, I did not see him then for what he was. But my reflection at the end of a long life tells me plain. He was the one who lacked the knowledge to take these cats from their dead state to a state of real life. He was the one who could only instill in them a half-life in which they were so mutely ignorant that they still did not know they were dead. In short, his knowledge of craft, speedily arrived at and approached without care of those around them, was much like these cats: ignorant, and mostly dead, but living enough to bite.

We spoke for a time. He was attempting to use what power he’d learned from the books in his father’s library – for his father was the Burgomaster, and had given endorsement to these arcane explorations of his son – to escape Barovia. I cannot blame him. I, too, sought escape from Barovia. It was a dreadful place. But as we spoke I realized that he had wounded servants in his quest, attempting to use them to power his dreadful, inexpert chalk circle, a circle far beyond the power wielded by wizards of advanced seniority let alone fledgling children. The cats had been raised as afterthoughts, likely after he sacrificed them to his lunatic quest.

The child attempted, in fact, to use me in the circle. He learned of some of the tricks I could do with flames and sparks and the weather, and thought my magic would power his device. I was able to hoodwink him somewhat with a small crystal orb I had obtained from the haunted manor, but when that failed he became irate and banished me from his sight. The full details of our encounter are not concerning here, save that I did escape the manor that night as a small spider, hid in a bush to recover my strength, and managed to guide the Burgomaster’s dogs away from my refuge with the faintest breath of wind and a single thrown Goodberry. But these are things of history, of knowledge. We search instead for wisdom.

Be wary, as you study, to grow in wisdom faster than you grow in strength. This child had intelligence, cunning. He had read of magic arts in books, and learned enough of the words to do damage. But he had no sense of what it meant to be alive. His power was skeletal, it lacked bones and it lacked blood and it lacked the muscles to effect more than a mewling tantrum. But it was enough to shatter a crystal globe laid in a magic circle, and it would have shattered me but for that useless bauble in my pack.

I have written long, Aristar, and you will have to wait for my next chronicle at another date. I shall send you the letter as quickly as I can compose it, which, as you know, can take some time. Suffice to say that the next story will begin with me at the camp of the Vistani, were I awaited word from the friends I had sought to contact by means of an animal messenger. And perhaps there is a lesson there too – a lesson of how to render aid to a people who have shown you hospitality, so as not to stretch their generosity too much. But again, another time. There are only so many lessons a heart can obtain in one letter.

I remain, as ever, your Tura,

Dannendal, Nolmear of Cuaryë

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The Hills Are on Fire
With Bolts From The Sky

After entrusting Dannendal to the hospitality of Valliki’s Burgomaster, the brave party ventured westward, searching for the Wizard of the Wines. While on the Old Svalich Road, they encountered a footpath into the forest, which they judiciously avoided. They also ran across someone’s belongings cached in a hollow log. Nearby, mysterious tracks in the forest switched from man to beast mid-stride. Chandra’s scorched sigil let the owner know that the party has been through this area, but everyone decided that sticking to the road would be the best bet.

The sun sank lower and lower in the sky until dusk was at an end, and nightfall grasped the land. Wolf howls hastened the party’s footsteps, until, at long last, the winery was in sight. Before they could make it in, the party ran into the family of Davian Martikov, the patriarch of the Martikov family and winemaker extraordinaire. He told the party of how the forest itself seemed to have turned on him and his family, driving them from the winery and into the forest.

Using a secret entrance to gain access to the building, our heroes routed the druids and their foul blighted vegetation that occupied the wine-makers’ place of business. One druid was left alive for questioning, and we learned of the tale of the three magic seeds which enabled the Wizard of the Wines to grow healthy and plentiful crops year after year. The whereabouts of one seed is unknown, but the other two had been purloined by the druids to the south and Baba Lysaga, a witch, living in the fens to the east of the winery. Without the magic of the seeds, no wine-producing grapes can grow in the poisoned soil of Barovia. Justice was met swiftly, and the druid was cast into the funeral pyre with the remains of her accomplices. Only one druid managed to escape with their life, diving into the forest with a retinue of forest blights behind him.

The very next morning, the party set off to the south, in search of the druid’s circle, in hopes of recovering one of the stolen seeds. Before long, they sky darkened, clouds began to lash out with bolts of lightning, and they met with a great hill, encircled by rows of black rocks, crowned by a giant statue fashioned by roots and vegetation. As the party made its way up the hill, the sky loosed a streak of lightning that savagely blasted Torkk. Chandra then made quick work of the statue from afar, drawing the attention of the berzerkers and druids who protected the circle. Guzzle’s quick thinking enabled him to use his own druidic powers to channel the storm’s fury at the attacking force. Much blood was shed before the last of the defenders fell.

Cresting the hill, an gigantic, gnarled Golthias tree came into view, invariably the source of the blighted druidic creations plaguing the area. Erloren, trusting in the will of the gods, and his god in particular, entered the copse of trees attempting to parlay with this force of nature. The blights’ trap sprung, retraining the party and forcing them to do some quick hedgework in order to barely escape with their lives.

Once the dust had settled, and as everyone was trying to catch their breath, tending their wounds, Apakon was chosen by the spirit of a long-dead berzerker chieftain to wield his legacy – the Blood Spear. Additionally, Chandra uncovered Plantsbane, an axe that Torkk was only too-happy to start practicing with.

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Recap Pt1. by Todd/Torkk/CptnTiller
Reposted (w/o permission) from FB to refresh our memories

Recap Pt. 1
[start to inside city gates]- correct me as needed and I’ll update, I’m just going off my notes and memory which are light to say the least:
Dannas, Erloren, Guzzle, and Torkk journeyed to the remains of Erloren’s town to help him bury the dead that lay about town in the wake of the zombie attack. Afterwards, Guzzle went about town, finding what could be found, and Torkk started a f… never mind the two druids started a fire. Two approached them: Apakon [Sharptooth] and Chandra- returning from an unsuccessful quest. They came across the group and chatted, agreeing to stay the night with the party. While not off to a perfect start, they got along on various topics, most notably Dannas’ extreme interest in the polar bear head draped over Sharptooth’s shoulder.
Night began to fall and a watch order was agreed upon. First Chandra, then Sharptooth and Guzzle, then Torkk. During their shift, Guzzle chattered at Sharptooth, gaining information about goliaths as a peculiar fog began to creep in around them. They noted that the fog seemed odd and puzzled about its origin and supernatural feeling. Then the earth seemed to rumble and they wondered how much of it had been their imagination. After a few moments, it rumbled again, and they woke the rest of the party just in time for the earth to open up underneath them, sending them tumbling downwards to a deep dark cavern filled with scattered bones over a dirt floor. Sharptooth and Torkk were both minorly hurt in the fall, but with the assistance of Dannas’ goodberries they recovered their health. He pocketed the remainder for a time when the need may arrive. Chandra raised some dancing lights into the air, and while they were so deep the sky itself was hidden, they could see a path ahead of them leading through what appeared to be a catacombs of sorts – alcoves on either side of the path with bodies in them.
The party agreed to make their way down the path, traveling in a straight line for 4 miles, before pausing to rest. Dannas worked a detect magic spell which illuminated faintly at both ends of the tunnel they were in and suspecting they may be in some kind of unending magic tunnel Torkk etched his symbols into the right wall with the charcoal from a torch. This was for naught as they continued onward and eventually came upon an opening. A clearing was found on the outside and a dark night and pine trees. Guzzle climbed to the top of one of the trees to get a view of where the best route might be and as he did so, the howls of wolves punctuated the air. He discovered that a path to the west was the best way out, so the party moved to the path. Upon reaching it, the southwards path was shrowded in a mist very similar to the one that had surrounded them at their campsite, so they proceeded northwards, deciding nothing good could come from mist.
After a bit of travel, a stench of rotting meat filled the party’s noses and they decided to figure out the origin. a bit off the path they found the dead body of a messenger of some type, covered in wolf bites and disheveled. In it’s hand a blood soaked scroll which Erloren took from him and read aloud. The contents of the letter, which was from the burglemaster[?] of Barovia pleading it’s recipient to do good, drive away the vampires and stay away from him and his sick daughter [Isabella?] because they were lost souls.
Sufficiently creeped out, the party headed back to the path, to be greeted by a red wagon with two gypsy-esque folks at the front of it, named Ralemana and Valoted. They told the party that Barovia had a vampire in it, they call him the devil and we’re going there because Ms. Ava summoned us. Torkk inquired if they were vampires and they were not /vampires/ at least. So that’s… something? The two offered them some drink as they traveled, and to ease Torkk’s suspicion Dannas ran a purify spell over it so that they might all enjoy it without fear for poison. As they talked they a large city wall with a dark and looming gate that entered. The gates opened by themselves, adding to the creepy atmosphere of the city, most of the houses in which had boarded up doors and windows. Their cryptic hosts dropped them in the city, informing them that they would meet Ava soon, in their camp outside of the city.
Will do the rest soon <3

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