Evening falls, and the muted light that manages to filter through the Barovian mists begins to fade. The adventurers, accompanied by Burgomaster Krezkov, wind their way up the switch-back path towards the abbey once again as the burgomaster regales them with stories of the Abbot and how he had been helping Krezk since the days of his grandfather.
“He must have been here for at least one hundred years,” Krezkov says thoughtfully. “He’s a bit… odd, but he has helped our town in many ways.”
“That would make sense, given that he’s a Celestial,” replies Devlin, as he strides up the path. “I wonder how long they live for?”
The burgomaster gives him a confused look. “A Celestial? How do you know he’s a Celestial?”
“I can sense it,” pipes up Siri, but before she can elaborate they notice a group of Krezk nobles walking dejectedly down the path towards them. Krezkov approaches them, waving.
“What’s happening? Why are you returning to the town?”
The taller of the nobles jerks his head in the direction of the abbey. “They won’t let us in,” he answers. “They said that there won’t be a wedding and we heard a lot of…” he considers his words for a moment, “well, shouting.”
The men continue down the hill, but the adventurers feel a lot more apprehensive about the supposed celebration by the time they reach the abbey gates.
Stealth does not come naturally to the clanking group of friends, so it is quite a surprise when they managed to sneak successfully past the two mongrelfolk guards and make their way to the main courtyard. As a light rain starts to fall, Devlin gingerly pushes open the main gate and peers inside.
There’s no sign of the Abbot, his assistant, nor any of the mongrelfolk, but as the sorcerer squints into the darkness, he can make out the form of a figure slumped next to the central well, a figure that wears a beautiful white wedding dress. It’s Vasilka.
The flesh golem is a dead weight but, between them, Siri, Thia and Obryn are able to carry her over to one of the guard huts, out of the rain. Horrified at the plight of the poor girl, the kindly burgomaster holds her hand and agrees to stay with her while the friends go to find the Abbot, but as they walk across to the doors of the main abbey, Devlin suddenly stops as something catches his eye in the rain-spattered dirt. Frowning, he sees an unusual set of tracks, hoofprints that stop abruptly in the middle of the courtyard. Hoofprints that appear to have been burned into the ground…
The inside of the abbey is equally puzzling. It looks as if it’s been trashed, and there are leaves of paper scattered across the ornate floor as if they’ve been ripped from a book. Siri picks one up; it looks like gibberish to her, but Thia recognises it as the Celestial language and reads one with interest, declaring it to be instructions on how to create golems. However, scrawled across the page in large letters is another word, written over the top of the instructions. It simply says ‘LIES’.
Feeling a little disconcerted, the group head upstairs to another room that appears to be the Abbot’s chambers. Sitting in the middle of it and sobbing is Clovin, the Abbot’s mongrelfolk assistant, and Siri rushes over to comfort him.
“What happened here?” she asks. “Where’s the Abbot?”
Clovin wipes away a tear with his lobster-claw hand. “Gone. Strahd came…” he sniffs and lets out another strangled sob. “Strahd came, and he laughed. He laughed!”
Siri puts her hand on his shoulder, sympathetically. “What did the Abbot do?”
“He was angry, so very angry,” replies Clovin. “He left. I…I don’t know where he went.”
“Well, we’re going to try and find him, okay?” the Paladin smiles. “You stay up here where it’s safe, and…”
Siri is interrupted by Nordan as he lets out a gasp of surprise. She turns her head to see that the blood-hunter has pulled a sheet back from a table, revealing a body that has been stitched together from various bodyparts. The others go to look, and suddenly understand the reason for Nordan’s shock. The chest bears Nordan’s scars; one muscular arm is adorned with Obryn’s tattoos, and the face has Devlin’s purple eyes.
“What is this?” whispers Nordan, his own eyes widening as he stares at the monstrosity.
Clovin lets out another loud sob and they all jump and turn to look at him. But when they turn back to the body, it’s nothing more than a collection of stacked bodyparts with no resemblance to a human figure.
Shaken, the friends leave the room and head back down the stairs, Siri picking up a book with a locked strap around it on the way out, in the hope that it might shed some light on the Abbot’s whereabouts. This time they head to the cellar, a dark, cool room which is stacked with casks and bottles of the most opulent ‘Wizard of Wines’ vintages, including ‘Champagne du le Stomp’, the best that money can buy. As they examine the bottles, they find one that has no cork and which appears to be empty, until Siri gives it a shake. A rolled piece of paper falls out. It’s a spell scroll for the ‘Heroes’ Feast’ spell, and Thia sticks it into her backpack.
Still with no sign of the Abbot, the group leave the main abbey and head across to the building where they know there are cells that the mongrelfolk are held in, and where Devlin had previously met a dark elf who begged him to get her out.
Pushing the door open, they’re immediately hit by the smell. Rows of cramped, straw-covered cells line both walls and strange sounds emanate from the resident mongrelfolk inside, but Devlin pushes aside his revulsion and strides towards the cell where the dark elf is being held. He looks through the window in the door and sees her hugging her knees at the back of the tiny room. She looks up, hopefully.
“Have you come to get me out?”
“Yes,” he whispers. “Hang on.”
Suddenly there’s a grunt from further down the corridor, and they’re all horrified to see the huge form of the flesh golem guard stomping towards them, preparing to attack. Siri quickly blesses her companions, while Thia deploys her spiritual weapon, Nordan pulls out his double-bladed scimitar and Obryn draws his magical blood-axe. They manage to get in a few hits but the golem is a formidable foe. Devlin waves his hands, the hexagram on his forehead lighting up as he casts a powerful fireball, but as it explodes there are screeches from further down the chamber and some of the mongrelfolk peer out of their cells, eager to see what’s going on. Obryn charges at the huge figure, swinging his axe, and the golem crashes dead to the floor. However, there’s now no guard to keep order and on seeing this, the mongrelfolk leave their cells and begin to edge towards the adventurers. Devlin races over to the dark elf’s cell and wrenches at the padlock, before Obryn joins him, tells him to back off and then smashes it off the door. It swings open, and the elf rushes gratefully out to join them, using her magic to help them fight off the encroaching mongrelfolk.
Nordan backs towards the door.
“We need to get out of here, NOW!” he yells, glad when the others call back in agreement. One by one they all leave, except for Obryn who is raging and determined to take all the mongrelfolk on by himself.
“Obryn!” Nordan yells in frustration. “GET OUT!”
Obryn swings his blood-axe, pulls a face and then sighs in annoyance, before turning back to the crowd of monstrosities that are snarling in front of him.
“I’ll be back for you pussies later,” he says, then strolls towards the door, taking a few opportunity strikes in the process that he just shrugs off.
Outside in the courtyard, the rest of his friends are hurriedly gathering Vasilka and Burgomaster Krezkov, ready to make their escape. The trouble is, the mongrelfolk aren’t willing to let them do that and they burst through the door behind Obryn, spitting and growling, and slashing with their mis-shapen limbs. The adventurers are outnumbered; they manage to get through the huge courtyard gates and close them, but it takes four of them just to keep them closed as the mongrelfolk throw their bodies against the wooden barricade in an attempt to get to the group.
“We can’t let them escape!” yells Siri. “If they do, they’ll pour into the town and attack everyone, and I can’t let that happen. They’re just simple folk, they wouldn’t stand a chance!”
Nordan isn’t convinced.
“You’d be surprised at how strongly people can fight for their lives,” he shouts back. “They’ll fight if they have to, and we need to just get out of here and get everyone to safety!”
There’s another huge push from behind the gates, and it’s clear that they can’t keep the hoards back for much longer. Suddenly, the dark elf they’ve just rescued calls out excitedly.
“The dinner bell!”
Waving her hands, she casts thaumaturgy and the sound of a loud and resonant bell pierces through the shrieks of the mongrelfolk beyond the gates. They fall momentarily silent. Then an excited chatter and the sound of scurrying feet reaches the ears of the adventures as the pressure on the gates dwindles.
“Now, go now!” the dark elf shouts.
But Siri knows that she can’t risk the creatures escaping out into the town, so tries to go back through the gates in order to bar them in some way. Horrified, Nordan grabs her and drags her back.
“Are you mad? We need to leave!” he yells, pulling her with him towards the abbey’s outer entrance, and the rest of their friends who are currently legging it as fast as they can.
Siri does feel a little bit better when she sees Obryn dragging the rusted outer gates closed, and she quickly locks them shut with a special set of manacles she’d commissioned in Vallaki.
Weary and a bit battered, they return to the town where the burgomaster invites them all to stay at his house for the night. He arranges food for them too, and his wife gives Vasilka some more appropriate clothing so that the wedding dress can be cleaned. As they eat, the dark elf introduces herself as Drusilla, and tells them that she was imprisoned by Strahd as a trophy after he killed all the other female dark elves in the realm. She managed to escape the catacombs of Castle Ravenloft where she was held, but the experience maddened her mind and she fled to Krezk to beg the Abbot for refuge. It was only once she’d been placed into a cell that she realised how terrible the conditions were, and by that time it was too late. When Nordan asks her if she will return to the Vistani encampment to join her people now that she’s free, she shakes her head. It’s understandable, given that she would be the only female dusk elf there.
The adventurers turn in early and sleep soundly through the night, all except for Devlin. The sorcerer wakes around midnight and walks over to the window, only to see a beautiful woman with flowing hair, standing in the street below; his Goddess Eilistraee. She beckons to him and Devlin follows her to the blessed pool at the north end of the town. There, she raises her hands towards the water so Devlin steps into the pool, but instead she smiles and shakes her head, miming that he should take a drink. As he does so, he notices stealthy movement from the corner of his eye; a dark shape with piercing eyes, weaving in and out of the trees behind the pool. He freezes, but Eilistraee seems unconcerned and smiles serenely again as a huge, shadowy wolf approaches him and circles his legs.
“Keep him close, you are about to be tested” she whispers, and disappears.