Curse of Strahd

Better Lucky than Good - A memoir 2
Chapter 2

I shall now give you one general rule for life, one insight into luck, and one piece of advice that covers them both.

1. Know who is telling your tale.
2. Luck shines on those who learn the lessons from their own past.
3. Keep a journal.

Many of us like to believe we are in charge of our own “stories.” Not in the way where we determine our fates (although there will be more on that later). No, I mean to say that we trust we will be able to reveal to the world how our personal story unfolded. This is rarely so. Quite often, upon reflection, it is apparent that our personal tales are fashioned by the commoner found lounging at the adjacent table. Don’t believe me?

When the next mistral travels through your village inquire:

How many of his tales did he witness personally?

Did he believe a story as first told him by the “brave knight” who claimed to have beheaded the dragon using only his grandmothers wooden teeth? Or did he ask around?

How many of these “epics” did he even compose himself?

No, this lesson is to impress upon you that if you are to be great, then stories will be told. And if stories are told, then someone had to be their author.

And so we arrive back at my third point, my advice: Keep a journal.

You will witness in this book that there are dozens of people, if not more, who could claim to impart some of my tale. Believing, that as a witness, they bare the veracious account. But because I am the one scribing it in its entirety, my telling will be viewed as the most authoritative. What someone else may attribute to skill, conceivably, may have just been luck. And I wish the record to be my own. As often as feasible be the one who puts your legends to ink. While it keeps an accurate account of your deeds, it also gives you a map not to follow.

And that brings me to my second point: Luck shines on those who learn the lessons from their own past.

As we all know, lightning rarely strikes the same place twice. So it is with luck. Hardly ever do you witness a duplicate instance of great fortune. If it were so then it would appear as patterns, and wizards with too long of noses would begin dissecting it. No, luck is known to be fickle for just this reason. Tymora wishes to be unpredictable. You cannot, and should not, ever think you will be lucky in the same way twice. Let your story be your guide. Keep your history near and you will not be doomed to repeat it. You need your tale to be fresh in your mind. For the next time you find yourself in a comparable situation, you will most likely not be gifted with identical luck, and you will need to synthesize a new avenue out of it.

As for my story:

We had just liberated ourselves from the dreamworld, and we were probing our way through this new country-side.

Before we approached the village of Barovia we were met on the road by a local gypsy. This world calls them Vistani. She was a stunning beauty who took a liking to me immediately. After exchanging a few pleasantries she insisted that I accompany her back to her encampment just outside of the town of Barovia. She realized her slip of the tongue at once, and extended the invitation to the rest of the troupe.

We arrived to find her companions enjoying an evening of frivolity. Wine, music, and dancing were interrupted only by food and stories. We quickly ascertained that this beauty had ulterior motives for the invitation. She had bid us to come because of a grand-motherly figure in the camp. This half-crazed elderly woman, Madam Eva, wished an audience with us. It soon became apparent that while she may not be in possession of great luck or fortune herself, she was blessed to be quite the fortune teller. She told us of a powerful vampire named Strahd who held sway over this land. She then spoke of her people and how we should be careful not to trust them, for many of them have sworn fealty to Strahd. At last she informed us that if we are to ever depart this land, we must overcome Strad. A daunting, and deadly, task to be sure. Our fortunes were laid out in front of us and, though cryptic, the five cards were informative enough to give us guidance us on our quest.

Card 1: A treasure to be found in a lonely mill on a precipice

Card 2: A holy symbol of great hope on a skeleton of a warrior, lying on a bed of stone flanked by gargoyles.

Card 3: A sword of sunlight in a fallen house guarded by a great stone dragon.

Card 4: An ally to be found in a troubled young man surrounded by wealth and madness.

Card 5: Find our enemy in darkness where morning light once shone – a sacred place.

As we left the happy camp of the Vistani we began to realize, even more, that this land was filled with perils. We would have to trust each other, and tread lightly, to persevere.

We arrived in Barovia and took stock of the town. It was not very large, nor very well kept. The village had seen better days and so had the townsfolk. We made our way to the inn and established lodging for the week. At the inn we were approached by a young man eager to bend our ear. His name was Ismark Kolyanovich. He was a thin pale man with light hair, he had a tale of woe, much like any other man of this town I suppose. Nothing of this stood out to me initially(Remember the first lesson of this chapter. His tale, if left up to me to tell, will become nothing more than a footnote in mine). That is, until he mentioned Strahd. Now that he had divulged such information as to cause my attention to emerge, I was intrigued to hear that his sister had been on the receiving end of Strahd’s advances. Their home was assaulted by agents of Strahd, bent on ushering her away. This strain had taken it’s toll on their father, and had culminated in his recent demise.

Now that they were on their own, Ismark was desperate to escort his sister away to safety. He had heard rumor that a larger village, not too far away named Vallaki, had been experiencing relative security and freedom from Strahd’s influence. He wished to hire us to conduct them safely there. This band of adventurers I am now grudgingly associated with, jumped at the chance to be upstanding folk. I was not so eager to make an immediate enemy of Strahd. Keeping a low profile has its advantages and, while this might be the right thing to do, I hoped this would stay unobserved. Never the less, we traveled to their home to discuss how to proceed.

The house might have been impressive if it weren’t for the condition it was in. Windows and doors were covered and had seen obvious signs of assault. Weapon marks(or were they claws?) were clearly visible, as were the splotches of dark fluid, not known to be either blood or ichor. Again I wondered about the wisdom of this act. Ismark introduced us to Ireena. A beauty who’s dark hair and complexion seemed to contrast with Ismark’s. And this was exaggerated even more when they prepared for travel. Ismark traveled light with leather armor and rapier; while Ireena fortified herself with impressive full plate and longsword. I would love to say that we departed at once, but their father’s burial must be attended to first.

We traveled as a group to the local temple. This was dedicated to the morning lord. Notice I did not say Lathander. For we soon discovered that, while all indications give credence to this being the same morning lord, it seemed quite odd that they did not know of the name Lathander.

As we entered the temple we were greeted by the local priest. He seemed willing to perform the rights. This was agreeable to me as I wished for us to vacate this town as quickly as possible. We were feeling somewhat safe and secure knowing that, even with all this evil in the world around us, we were standing in a holy temple. But life rarely stays as you would expect it. Hearing a young man’s voice crying out for food, we investigated and found a vampire being detained there. We set upon it and soon found he was quite the adversary. As luck would have it, being in a temple must have swung the fight in our favor because we were suffering very few real injuries. The priest began to castigate and then forbid the battle as he revealed this was his son, but in the fray we were forced to end its miserable existence.

Obviously this did nothing to ameliorate our relationship with the priest. After much “coaxing” we were able to finish our duties there, bury their father, and continue on our journey toward Vallaki.

Oh and Kat bought a pastry from a very sketchy old lady. More on that later.

Our excursion on to Vallaki met without incident. Along the way we observed a windmill sitting high on a hill overlooking the surrounding area. We all agreed that this must be from our first card reading, but since we were charged with the transport of Ireena we decided to reserve this investigation for another day. We also happen to alight upon evidence that there are wareravens in the area. Although none were witnessed directly.

Entering into the city of Vallaki we proceeded directly to the main inn. And after procuring lodging for the week, we started to gather any information we could. The local bergermaster was a man of means who believes that keeping the people “happy” is the key to keeping the city safe. Being unhappy is punishable, and so everyone here does what they can to appear “happy” about everything all the time. Not being a dullard I adopted a similar affectation quickly so as to not draw attention to myself. My fellow travelers were not quite so skilled. We learned that the only family that does not indulge this fantasy is an older house with enough power that no one attempts to enforce this upon them. We also saw a local bard, but did not have the occasion to speak with him.

Now that Ireena and Ismark were safely tucked away at our inn, we set out to uncover the secrets of this windmill.

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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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1 - Better Lucky than Good - A memoir
Introduction

Hello readers. I know why you are reading this; and don’t worry all the excitement, entertainment, and the wisdom you seek is going to be found in these pages I can assure you. But before we get to all of your interests, let me address the “lucky” individual who happens to be the first person reading this (to those who are re-reading this you will see what I did there).

You are indeed a lucky soul, for I am sure you have been gifted this manuscript by a handsome man of some years. That was I who passed this tome on to you, spreading even more good fortune in my wake. In your hands rests a collection of epic tales teaming with boundless providence and great fortune. For you hold my journal. Doubtless you will seize the opportunity to publish this book and make both your name and your bank account grow. But be mindful of this first lesson that I impart (to both you and the readership as a whole):

1: If you are blessed with bountiful luck, share it with others.

At first this might seem altruistic, philanthropic even, but let me be clear. Great personal luck breeds jealously. And if you find yourself surrounded by those who are constantly jealous of you, then you may need that great luck more and more often. Perhaps later I will regale you with the detailed story of where I came from and why I have arrived at this point in my life. But for now, suffice it to say that I came from meager beginnings on the streets of Baldur’s Gate where I was a member of a local thieves guild. I had a knack for getting my way and doing what needed to be done. But I also had a reputation for getting more than my fair share of “lucky breaks.”

For example: I once was needed to procure a certain book from a local library, it was of those rare and expensive kind. I determined that I should have use of an accomplice in this case. I chose a quiet and unassuming friend. As my own force of personality tended to draw attention, I thought it wise to bring someone more non-descript, and she certainly fit the bill. Since I was not a member of their library, there was a fee to be paid and a short interview with an old codger who seemed to take his job way too seriously. He was tall and thin. The hair on his head was grey. The hair of his beard was grey. Even the hair coming out of his ears, was grey. But he was not so far past his prime as to be addled. No it took quite a bit of cunning to convince him that we should be allowed in with the precious books. Even after gaining entry it was obvious that he was watching us carefully. I devised a threefold plan. I was sure he would be looking for me to steal something, so I would make sure not to disappoint. I hid one small book, easily detectable, in my pocket to give him something to “foil” me with. Then I found another light tome I might be able to sell for a bit more profit and hid it to medium effect on my friend. Thus giving us more wealth or giving him a sense of accomplishment if he were to find it. And lastly my target manuscript was stashed away most effectively, again on my female friend.

Upon attempting to leave he stopped us, as I knew he would, and began a simple search. He quickly found my pocketed book. He seemed proud he had caught me, but did not accept this as a completed transaction. He seemed to double his efforts, the tenacious old coot. Of course there was nothing more on me, but he eventually found my light tome on my friend’s person. Not only was he taking our profit, but it did not seem to have the desired effect of giving him a sense of accomplishment. He found us each with a book, he stopped our thieving, we should be done here. But no, it seemed to only encourage him more. I was beginning to worry about a more “thorough” search as he looked to wave over assistance, when lady luck shone her face upon me. With the light tome still in his hand and an accusatory look upon his face, I saw a larger than expected flicker of light gleaming off of his eyes. I first mistook it as his excitement, but then a curse pierced the silence. Behind me a little way one of the younger members who, in an attempt to make out some faded writing on one of the older scrolls, had leaned in a little too close to an open flamed candle. The one thing a librarian fears more than a book thief…

FIRE

The details of his reaction and the following extinguishing of the flame were not nearly as important as our hasty retreat. He had even been so kind as to drop my light tome in his rush to save the library. So I continued on to complete my mission. This was but one of many instances that would eventually earn me the name-

Lucky

Would I have such a willing and inconspicuous friend if I were to keep all the bounty to myself? Not for long. So she was rewarded for her troubles…

But that is yet another tale.

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