Curse of Strahd

Better Lucky than Good - A Memoir 3

Chapter 3

I have come to live my life by many thoughts, one of which is “it just might work…” This simultaneously expresses abandon and caution for me.

Now I know a few of you are asking, “Can two interpretations be both concurrent and opposite while arising from one statement by one person?”

Well if you wish to delve into those depths of philosophy and thought, you’ve come to the wrong book. This is a manuscript that will tell you practical things for life, like HOW things are. If you are preoccupied with minutia, then I suggest you go study with those dusty, long-nosed, cantankerous old wizards, whose idea of fun involves correcting another old wizard on his pronunciation of the word for “bread” in a dead language that neither has ever heard spoken.

For those of you who did not leave to pursue a monastic scholarly tradition, I will continue.

You see, I have found this phrase to serve as both encouragement and warning. When approaching a difficult situation, retaining the perspective of possibility is paramount. How possible is it really? When leaping from the top of the wall down onto a merchant’s tent canopy, how likely is it to break my fall – but not me? What’s the chance that the merchant has stocked his pavilion with bedding and pillows as opposed to say armor, or worse, swords? Trust me when I say these things are best judged before gravity has you in her grip. Now many will say that this is just assessing the risk at hand. And to a point they are correct. However, a full evaluation is not just impractical, but probably impossible. You would also have to take into account what situation put you on the top of that wall to begin with, and why you would wish to leave its relative safety in such haste. Attempting to calculate your way out of this would be best served by the type of mind that would never have let you get up on the wall initially. Let alone make any of the escalating decisions before that. And it most definitely would have balked at the idea of staying the night in her bedchambers, in the first place. So you see, a full calculation of the odds is not what we desire. The people who excel at that spend their nights with… books.

What we need is a quick 0-4 scale check, nothing more, nothing less.

4 – Guaranteed

3 – Probably

2 – 50/50

1 – Unlikely

0 – Impossible

If it is a 4 then you probably didn’t even stop to think about it and are just carrying on. A 3 might have given you a quick pause, but still you probably showed little concern. It is the realm of 2 and 1 where we apply the “it just might work” principle. If you feel the reward is worth it then why not try, after all…

It just might work.

The rewards can be glorious and the consequences of failure, quite often, are only temporary pain and suffering.

Now some people fear a little suffering. But if you wish to live your life so that you never have to feel any of the pains, then you will also live without feeling the joys and ecstasies. You do not get one without the risk of the other. If this finds you antipathetic, then I again direct you to the company of those with overly long noses.

There are limits to this of course; and you must always be willing to say “the cost might be too great” or “the reward too little”. But these are for you to discern. And I suggest not dwelling upon it.

Finally we have come to the 0, the impossible. I shall say only this: I do not believe it exists, but if you have assessed the situation as such, act accordingly.

As you grow in your understanding of luck I believe you will come around to my way of thinking. But in the mean-time we have a windmill to explore.

We ended our last chapter with the decision to uncover the secrets of the windmill. We even entertained the pursuit of it that very day. As we readied to leave the town, a local inquired if we were planning to depart the safety of the walled city just before night fall. We realized our knowledge of the surroundings was incommensurate with the task; and it seemed as though all the native folk desired to be indoors at night. Observing that we would likely have to make camp even before reaching our goal, we resolved to set out at first light. We retreated to our inn and ordered up some food. We spoke with several locals and got more acquainted with the area.

There was a lake to the north and an abandoned village to the south. To the west was a tower, a town and a winery. To the east, back the way we came, was the windmill, the village of Barovia, and Castle Ravenloft home of Strahd. The locals with which we were speaking seemed odd in more ways than one. The continual feigning of happiness continued to grate upon me. I began to wonder if people so willing to live lies in front of each other, might be busy keeping other secrets. So that night I set out with the intention of doing a little exploring.

After an preliminary search of the property I located a hidden passage. In following it I began to question my decision. I knew not where this went, and I could be in great peril operating unaccompanied. While this appeared to be nothing more than an inn, I have seen enough seemingly innocent places packed with dirty secrets and hidden evils to never let my guard down. I was greatly relieved when I found it to be a quotidian cut-through to the kitchen for the family that operated this inn. The proprietor was still working late and of course was curious as to why I was there. I adopted the affectation of a dullard looking for his room. While my performance was exemplary, I am not sure how convinced he was. After all, I did just come through a “secret” passage known to his family. Luck shone upon me, and he seemed satisfied well enough to direct me safely to my room.

The next day we arose and journeyed out in search of this windmill. Along the way we came across a small family fleeing a decimated hamlet to the south. There was something about them that struck a chord with me. I found myself giving them a small portion of gold and directing them to our inn at Vallaki. Two birds with one stone, I suppose. Give our innkeeper a bit of referral business so he has reason to overlook my activities; and perhaps help this family find some peace in this dreary world.

As for us, we intended to find the first piece of the puzzle to our eventual escape. We arrived at the windmill finding it decrepit and no longer in service. A large raven sat perched upon it and seemed to alternate between cawing at us and looking back toward the city. It could be a warning, or it could be a distraction. We have been warned that many of the inhabitants of this land cannot be trusted. Either way we knew we needed to uncover what this location had to teach us. Our quest was at a standstill and some forward momentum was essential. After exploring the grounds we ventured to the door. We could smell something sweet baking inside. We knocked respectfully and were quite surprised to be greeted by the suspicious old woman from Barovia that sold Kat her “dream pastries”. Kat was pleased and was immediately interested in getting her hands on more of them. According to the old woman, they were a blending of baking and alchemy. In consonance with this, Kat reported these delectable little things not only tasted amazing, but produced the most blissful night’s sleep.

Small talk revealed there were three women living here, a mother, standing in front of us, and her two daughters who were upstairs. We attempted a short conversation regarding business arrangements and a desire to assist in selling for the ladies. But mother only seemed interested in the acquiring of more materials for her baking. While flour, butter, and sugar all seemed reasonable, several of us did receive a shock when the secret ingredient of children was requested. The conversation quickly devolved from cries horror, to accusation, and then to the sudden urge to burn the building down with the women inside.

Quite a battle ensued as we engaged the mother with half our party indoors and half out. She grew claws as her visage changed and we realized we were dealing with a coven of hags. While the three of them were separated by distance their individual spells packed little punch, but that would change in an instant if they coalesced. As to the immediate threat, those claws could be used to devastating effect. Now, I happen to be in possession of a bit of arcanum that distracts an opponent while causing small amounts of damage. Its best use is to put an enemy off balance and interfere with their ability to land a powerful blow. Now, I do not purport to know much about the study of hags, but I do know this. They resist magical attacks such as my spell.

I was now faced with a choice. I could wade into the fray with sword in hand, a guaranteed tactic with little reward, as my skill does not match that of others in our party. Or I potentially waste my time in combat attempting to lessen the effect of her claws by casting against a hag. This mother must be done away with quickly. If she survives to join with her daughters their combined might will be overwhelming. And let us not forget the potential glory in routing a hag from her attacks and saving my compatriots. In my quick evaluation I gave this a 1…

It just might work.

Now I could describe my actions that placed me perfectly to deliver this spell. Or I could tell you of the effect it had on her assaults, and how they were neutralized. But I prefer to focus on the face she made as she realized her best option for defeating us was stripped bare, in a way that it should not have been able, by magic. Her eyes opening as wide as wagon wheels, while her brow furrowed down in anger. Her jaw jutting down and out as though to scream, but her breath forcibly taken as an inhalation of shock and disbelief settled over her. It is still a pleasant memory to me. Unfortunately this spell of mine is short acting. She realized this and bid her time with a spell of limited power. As my own arcane influence over her was vanishing she readied to swing. So I attempted this surprising feat once again. After all…

It just might work.

And it did. The look produced this time was less shock and more anger, and I was thinking this might become a trend. The gaze she leveled my direction left no room for misinterpretation. Beating all odds she found her only recourse was to attempt another of her lesser spells. Her daughters were rushing down the windmill to assist, but even as we heard them on the stairs, I leveled my spell her direction one last time…

It just might work.

The glare I received could have turned Elverquist to vinegar. And for three spells in a row, she found herself without her best weapons. Even weakened as she was, the damage she dealt was not insignificant. Kat and Erin formed a frontal wall absorbing damage and trading blows. Stone, Czern, and Ayalla launched fire and arrows cutting and burning deep. Bound in a chain of futileness she fell at our feet as her daughters rounded the top of the staircase and looked down in horror. The battle was far from over, but the biggest danger had passed. We maintained our proven strategy and, without their mother to form the coven of three, we were able to best them.

Our reward for all of this was the saving of two young orphans, and recovering a dusty old journal of Strahd’s. It seems that even he understands the lessons of Chapter 2.

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mrroderick DanielBuchmueller

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