Penitence

Fateful Encounters

Boys, dolls, and elves

Morning of the third day in Barovia.

A knock came at the door to the party's room at the Blue Water Inn. Ernst appeared with some information for Lazlo: someone very important wished to meet with the damned, and it was none other than Lady Wachter herself wishing to dine with them at her manor. When the group reconvened in the mid-morning, they discussed this along with the investigation into the disappearance of St. Andral's relics.

Emil brought Milivoj and Yeska to the inn, where Emil and Lazlo could try very different approaches to getting information from them in the empty taproom. Milivoj was insistent, despite Emil's pressuring interrogation, that he had not known about the bones and had nothing to do with their disappearance. Before long, he stormed out of the inn. Meanwhile, while Yeska had little information to give to Lazlo, this line of questioning was definitive: Yeska said that he told Milivoj about the bones, and no one else. Lazlo left to catch up with Emil, who had followed Milivoj out into the street.

They found Milivoj at the graveyard, fuming as he began his day's work. Despite Lazlo's attempts to reason with him, Milivoj's temper boiled over, and he refused to speak any further, indignant that the work that he does in order to support his younger siblings was being interrupted. Lazlo even attempted to magically charm him, but the spell failed to take hold; fortunately, he was able to pass off the strange gesture and babbling as a form of blessing.

Working inside the church with Father Lucian, Emil investigated the reliquary and keenly deduced that the floorboards had been pried up with a flat, wide instrument, not like a prybar but more like a shovel. In addition, there were traces on the floorboards and in the hidden shrine of soil among the dust. Determined to get a confession out of Milivoj, Emil decided to apply pressure to the young man's weakness and asked the priest for the location of Milivoj's house where he and his siblings live. The priest recognized the man's intentions and refused to give the location, telling Emil that he would no longer be welcome if he threatened Milivoj's young siblings.

While Emil investigated the church, Puck and Emil explored the town square and found several people—men, women, even children—in the stocks with false donkey heads placed over their own. Lazlo attempted to get some water from the well to the prisoners, but Izek appeared on patrol flanked by two guards and stopped him. Though Lazlo insisted that he was only trying to give succor to the prisoners and not release them, Izek demanded that he replace the donkey heads and never meddle with the prisoners again, and he threw his weight around to emphasize that this was no joke.

Back at the Blue Water Inn, Irina mused over something unusual that Yaroslava had said to her that morning. She could never have guessed that Yaroslava had stumbled into a terrifying connection with a predatory entity… While helping the baroness prepare early that morning, Yaroslava once again noticed something odd about the tall mirror in the room. While inspecting the mirror, she acted on a hunch and asked the lady, who was preoccupied with her own morning routine, "What do you think of Strahd?"

A moment later, a ripple appeared in the surface of the mirror, like an underwater creature breaching the surface. Then, Yaroslava's reflection disappeared, and she found herself staring into the piercing gaze of a tall, black-cloaked figure who beckoned with the curl of a slender finger as his lips parted and a voice came from the mirror: "Join me tonight…" The man's figure disappeared and was replaced briefly by the image of Castle Ravenloft standing atop its pinnacle rock. Thought initially stunned by the sudden appearance, she found herself  looking forward to such a polite invitation.

With the investigation into the relics temporarily stalled, the party decided to go to the athinganoi camp to seek an audience with the "dusk elves." On their way out of town, however, they followed Ismark on a detour into Blinsky's toy shop, as he wanted to find a gift for Irina to cheer her up.

When they entered, they found the shop attended by a gloomy, heavyset man in a moth-eaten jester's costume. Once he noticed their arrival, however, his demeanor changed instantly as he launched into a prepared greeting, pleased to finally have customers other than the baron, who paid him a small stipend each month to make decorations for the festivals. The party discovered why the man, who introduced himself as Gadof Blinsky, had no business: while obviously talented, especially with clockwork mechanisms, his aesthetic was eerie, even macabre. Blinsky explained that he wanted to give people an opportunity to take the things that normally terrified them—swarms of bats, hungry wolves, and even death itself—and instead experience them in a safe, playful manner. He had yet to convince any of the townsfolk of the merits of this.

Irina suddenly stiffened as she took a doll from a shelf and stared incredulously at its painted white skin and long, auburn hair. Blinsky gasped as he noticed Irina, as though he instantly recognized her. He explained that the baron's henchman, Izek Strazni, had been extorting him to create a doll every month to an exact specification. While Blinsky felt that each doll he made got closer and closer to Izek's description, he felt that he did not truly grasp the details until he saw Irina. True enough, the doll that Irina held in her hands held an uncanny resemblance to the young woman.

Since Blinsky worked with clockwork mechanisms, Emil asked the man for a gear to fix his clockwork dancer. Blinsky was happy to oblige, and after a short bit of tinkering, the tiny dancer was spinning slowly and filling the room with a light, pleasant melody—but something in its tune disturbed Emil. Blinsky explained that he considered himself a student of the ancient master, Fereidones, who perfected the art of clockwork. It is said that Fereidones's masterpiece was a clockwork man, which was said to have made its way to Castle Ravenloft.

Thoroughly disturbed by much of what they experienced in Blinsky's toy shop, the party left, with Emil fighting a voice in the back of his mind, Lazlo stuffing into his pack a ventriloquist's dummy said to be carved in the likeness of the devil Strahd, and Yaroslava hugging a stuffed, black felt cat that Ismark bought for her.

Outside the Dusk Gate, a few farm cottages lined a road that led into the dark woods to the west, and another, smaller path led south into a clearing, in the middle of which rose a small, green hill. The hill was topped by a great tent circled by barrel-topped wagons like those seen in Madam Eva's camp. At the base of the hill were tiny cottages, each of which guarded by a cloaked figure. Seeking direction, the group spoke approached one and found him to be a man whose slight stature contrasted with his swarthy skin, dark hair, and sullen demeanor. The guard explained that his clan, whom the locals call "dusk elves," lived there with the athinganoi. The athinganoi up in the camp were currently in disarray, as the daughter of one of the leaders had gone missing. Consequently, most of his people, who still passed down the skill of hunting and tracking, were out with the athinganoi scouring the woods for the missing girl. However, the leader of the dusk elves, Kasimir Velikov, was still in the camp.

Kasimir's cottage was guarded by two of his people, and at the party's request one of the guards went inside to inform him of their arrival. A minute later, another man wrapped in a cloak emerged, scrutinizing the party. As he introduced himself, he lowered the hood of his cloak, revealing garish scars where his ears used to be. "I am Kasimir Velikov, leader of my clan. Why have you come?"

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Pechorin

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