Curse of Strahd

Better Lucky than Good - A Memoir

Chapter 1

I have decided that I shall not tell you all that transpired from my days in Baldur’s Gate. At least, not yet. The thoughts of those times bring back many mixed emotions. And while those accounts of romance and bravery would undoubtedly become instant classics, I am not sure I am ready for their telling… Perhaps someday I will. If you are lucky enough to find me in the right tavern, in the right mood, and at that right time it might happen. When I am feeling nostalgic, or melancholy, or some alchemical mix of the two. When too much drink has removed my defenses, but not yet swept away my memories, maybe then you will find yourself to be one of the privileged few who know the rest of my story and are still yet alive to tell it.
But my early years are not my focus now. Here, I am chronicling my journey; I am moving forward.

My first escapade, post Baldur’s Gate, had taken me away from civilization and into the unkempt wilds. Some rather powerful and influential friends had learned of strange disappearances from a small town inn and asked for my assistance. Sensing this to be an opportunity to place myself in good graces… and begin to atone for… well, let’s leave it at-

I agreed.

I came with the expectation that there might be others I could either join with, or compete against, on this endeavor. And upon my arrival at the inn I found I was correct; I was not the only one with an interest here. The ancient librarian I told you of earlier had ventured out of his hiding hole and was standing before me. Why he was interested in tracking down this particular disturbance I can only guess. He extended his hand and introduced himself. Stone. If I were to make fun of a name, I suppose I should have to begin with my own, so let me instead simply note that his is different. Not an appellation so much as a description of his pallor. It seemed as though we were going to be joining forces this time around.

He was just as grey as ever, and I am sure just as cantankerous. But I must admit that my biggest surprise upon meeting him again was the sudden recall of the library itself. They say that your sense of smell is tied very closely to your memories. You could be 2 planes of existence and 20 years removed from your home, but if you smell your mothers yhaumarind tarts, your mind is instantly teleported back to her very kitchen.

His smell, some arcane mixture of abandoned basement, old parchment, and binding glue, had assaulted my nostrils. For a moment of time, both immensely long and incalculably short, I was standing among the books, looking at his same face, with my companion beside me. Almost out of desperation I looked to where my companion had stood. The vision vanished from my eyes as quickly as it had come and I pushed those memories back to where they belonged. Then as a distraction I focused my attention on a torrent of questions racing through my mind.

Did the library make him smell like this? Or was it the other way around?

How long had he been in there?

If I spend too much time around him, will I start to smell?

I was unable to thoroughly ponder this last question, as I was introduced to several others who had a similar reason for being there.

It seemed to me, at the time, that these individuals were to be merely an aside in my story. Having the benefit of hindsight I will tell you they play a much larger role than I first imagined. So I shall give you, the readers, a quick synopsis of the people who eventually became my trusted traveling companions on my journey into legend. But I shall attempt to keep my writing of the people and events very much in the near past, almost a “here and now” perspective. I wish that you see us as we were then, not looking back from the future. For example, if I told you now that one of them later betrayed us, murdered two others and led me on a three month chase to avenge them, well then you would view certain conversations differently as now you too would be seeing this all through the lens of hindsight. I wish to avoid that view, so please understand I am going to present most of my story from the perspective I had at the time.

You have already met Stone, and we will leave him at that…

Kat’s a Half Orc. She is tall, dark, and hand-y with a Great Axe. Large and imposing sum her up physically. Emotionally, she revels in the inferno of battle. But intellectually, she is not the brightest ember in the fire. She is so opaque, that I have no fear of writing this down. Even if she comprehends transcribed language, these large obfuscating words will keep me safe from her. In fact I think I shall endeavor to do that in all my writing about her. If something may come back to haunt me should she read it, I shall add at least one potentially discombobulating word, for safety’s sake. This will insure I remain among her good graces. And as long as I am in her good graces, she will keep me safe from other large and imposing things.

Erin is a Halfling. Yes HIS name is Erin with an “E” but that is one of the least odd things about him. One could be forgiven for assuming him to be a feral child upon first glance, or upon a second, or after having smelled him. I have not completely ruled out the possibility that he was indeed raised by wolves. This would explain his penchant for turning into one. Despite all, I will credit him with staying true to his calling as that of a Druid, although he is perhaps a little too in-tune with his wild nature.

Ayalla first struck me as a quiet and rather fetching elf. Now some might critique me for not using a more dramatic word than quiet. And I would use words such as demure, reserved, or coy if they applied, but they do not. There is an honest quality to her silence; it goes without pageantry or pretense. She likes to let her arrows do most of her talking. And I have noticed the pointy ends can be rather persuasive. Fearless and tenacious, she fights with precision, grace, and a little bit of magic.

Czernabog is an earth genasi. My first impression was of a rough and tumble kind of guy. But I soon learned that it was mostly the grit and grime that gave the impression. In truth he was more cordial than he first appeared, and even had a fairly persuasive way about him. With a little coaching his abilities might rival those of my own. But his talents did not seem to spring forth from him naturally. No, there was some other essence that clung to him. I do not know what kind of pact he made or with whom, but I could tell it was there. Something was fueling his arcane talents.

And of course there was me.

The inn keeper seemed happy to have patrons as his troubles had nearly run the place empty. He explained that occasionally people would rent a room and then vanish in the night. Items would be left behind that would never be forgotten, no matter how rushed one would pack. Clearly these were not voluntary departures. Our new rag-tag team decided upon camping out in the very room where most disappearances occurred. Stone attempted to ply his trade as a wizard and was able to identify one possible source. The fabric of reality between planes was very thin here. Whether this was naturally occurring or magically induced he could not say. I can only assume that this conversation was boring to Kat as she chose this moment to beleaguer us all with pointless questions. This slowed our progress to a crawl. I was forced to intervene. With only the smallest of chicanery, I was able to convince her that someone as strong as she could help weave reality back together by using a large enough needle. Not my best work, I’ll admit. But we were in a hurry and watching a Half-Orc “sew” reality back together with a rapier was quite risible. Stone was then able to finish his investigation, but was unable to supply any means by which to fix this weakness.
We resolved to keep watches during the night, and set off to sleep.

My turn for watch never came. During the first rotation we were gently pulled from our world into some bizarre land. Some twisted realm inhabited solely by shadows, mist, and a lone red brick house. I suppose it would qualify to some as a mansion, being several stories tall. But our focus was not on its category, rather its contents. As we explored it would give the impression as currently occupied one moment and then long abandoned the next. When we stumbled upon our first skeleton, an infant child hidden under the kitchen floor, our discomfort turned to dread. We wished to leave, however this plane had left us with no options save but shadows, mist, and this house. We continued our efforts to investigate and solve the riddle which was this abode, hoping that in its solution was our salvation.

Many eerie and odd things did we see that day. Smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and more confused and unnerved us. Erin attempted to use the chimneys as tunnels to provide “advanced scouting.” I’m not sure it brought us anything other than soot as a result, but I applaud his ingenuity. We had a few close shaves that convinced us to stay together as a team while exploring, and soon stumbled upon a narrative. A journal entry here, a page from a letter there, and soon the story was unfolding. A happy family was torn apart. First emotionally by a husband who was cheating on his wife with the nanny, and then by the wife who discovered this and set about the grizzly task of punishing them both. It ended with her own death and the unfortunate subsequent deaths of her children. Laying the bodies to rest sprung us from our prison. It was a dreamscape that we had been trapped in. Some being had invaded our minds and kept us locked in dreams of their own design.

Opening my eyes I discovered we were in some sort of asylum. We were all together in the same room, and all strapped to beds. No sooner had we awaken, trying to understand our new surroundings, then we were informed by a covert messenger that we were still inside a dream. The message was sent by someone who was likewise trapped in this dreamland. He promised to assist us in breaking free as long as we agreed to help him do the same. It seemed that we didn’t have much of a choice.

We were considered to be patients, and we were under no illusions that these “treatments” might be for our own good. We slipped our bonds and crept through the building. When we were presented an opportunity to confront one of our captors, we took it. His existence still baffles me to this day. Never before had I seen a disembodied brain, floating in a heavily fortified jar, and still living. He possessed some form of mental magic as he lashed out using only his thoughts. Kat and Czern were physically battling the encasement, but the progress was slow. I realized that some of my companions were on the brink of succumbing to his madness. I reacted quickly and without thought for myself as I locked minds with him. We dueled for but an instant and he was no more. I would like to claim that I bested him in single combat, but if it were not for the immediate threat posed by the others, I doubt it would have gone so well. After a few more mind twisting events we found our hidden accomplice. Bolstered by the prospect of freedom we fought our way out the front door.

We awoke one last time in the attic of some building in a strange land that appeared as close to normal as we had seen since agreeing to help the poor inn keeper. We were not keen on remaining around for whatever our captor had in store for us, so again we battled our way out of the building and never looked back.

Not recognizing the surrounding countryside, we followed a road to an intersection hoping that a sign pointing to civilization would tell us how far we had been taken. Alas, all we found was more confusion. Not one of us had ever heard of a single town listed. We were truly in a foreign land. According to the signpost our next stop was some place called Barovia.

Maybe the gods will smile on us and we shall find some help there…

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mrroderick DanielBuchmueller

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