It takes them a little while to track footprints and search around, but eventually Haldar, Devlin, Thia and Obryn spot Siri’s undead elk, Lightning, standing nervously outside the shop of Blinksy the toymaker. Obryn, feeling particularly incensed about the Paladin’s badly-timed departure, promptly kicks the door violently open before stomping inside. In front of the counter, Siri stops her impromptu hand-puppet performance and turns towards the ruckus, while Blinksy jumps and hides behind the counter in fright.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” yells Obryn. “D’YOU THINK IT’S OKAY TO JUST CLEAR OFF AND LEAVE US IN A DANGEROUS SITUATION?”
Siri smiles at him.
“Oh nonsense,” she replies. “You lot are the strongest people around and you didn’t need my help! I’d already done my bit by killing Isek and taking care of Baba Lysaga, and I wanted to come here and play with the puppets instead.” She pokes an albino death weasel puppet towards the dwarf, and he angrily swats it out of the way. She ignores him. “So, did you kill the fiend? I bet you did.”
“No,” Haldar sighs. “We made him answer some questions and let him go.”
Siri pulls a face and looks at the weasel, which shakes its head sadly.
“Well, I hope you got some good information out of it, then,” she says, before turning back to the toymaker and peering at him over the counter and wiggling the puppet. “How much for this one?”
“Take it,” he stutters, fearfully. “You can have it, no charge.”
Siri gives him a huge grin and turns to leave, stuffing the weasel into her backpack.
Thia, concerned by the behaviour of her friend, slides a couple of silver pieces across the counter towards the quivering Blinksy, and the group emerge back onto the streets of Vallaki, which they now realise have undergone quite an unsettling change. As they head towards the Blue Water Inn to visit Urwin Martikov they notice that, although the stocks in the town square have been dismantled, there are now members of the menacing Wachterguard patrolling the roads in their long, black cloaks with a red candlestick motif. The townsfolk also seem to be actively avoiding them.
Devlin throws open the door of the inn and strides inside, pulling out his pipe and lighting it up. He spots Urwin behind the bar and goes over to talk to him while the others rent a room for the night and disappear upstairs. Devlin sits down and puffs out some smoke.
“So, there seem to have been some changes in Vallaki?”
“Yes,” Urwin frowns. “I did tell you to come and talk to me before you did anything, you know. The politics here are complicated, to put it mildly.”
The sorceror nods, trying to ignore the fact that they may have buggered it all up quite badly.
“And this Lady Wachter?” he asks the innkeeper.
“She’s taken over now that Isek is out of the way and can no longer protect Baron Vallakovich.” Urwin picks up a mug and dries it with a cloth as he talks. “He was useless as a burgomaster but, have no doubt, the first thing Lady Wachter will be looking to do is get rid of anyone who opposes her.”
Upstairs, Siri flings open the door to the bedroom and immediately claims the bed for herself. Thia, and Haldar swap looks and mumble about how she’s being a bit selfish, but they let it pass and stash some of their belongings there before heading back downstairs to where Obryn is enjoying a plate piled high with sausages. Before they can tell him about the bed situation though, the door bursts open and two members of the Wachterguard march in, heading straight for them.
“Lady Wachter demands your presence at the Wachterhaus,” the largest one says gruffly. Devlin appears behind the group, stuffing his pipe back into his robes.
“Well, we’d best not keep her waiting then, had we?” he replies with a wry smile.
Walking to the north-east end of town, the adventurers approach the residence of Lady Wachter; the Wachterhaus. It looks depressed. The roof sags heavy over the gables, the walls appear to bulge out under the weight of all the moss and vegetation that covers them, and the building lets out an audible, creaking groan as they walk up to the door, giving them the impression that it hates what it’s become. Nevertheless, they walk inside and are led into a lounge decorated with a dark painting of a smirking man. The lady of the house sits on one of the huge sofas and beckons to them.
“Please, come in, sit down,” she says, her smile not at all reflected in her eyes as she watches each of them take a seat. “Again, I would like to thank you for your service to Vallaki and myself. Please take this as a first payment. There will be many more, as long as your loyalty to me continues.” She leans forward and slides a black velvet bag across the small table between the sofas, which Siri grabs before anyone else can take it.
“You are all welcome to come and go as you please in Vallaki,” Lady Wachter continues, “and you are invited you to attend the celebration we will be holding in the town square tomorrow evening.”
“A celebration?” Devlin asks. She turns her head towards him.
“Why yes, of course,” the new burgomaster answers. “We will be celebrating my appointment to this position and holding an execution of all those who defy me.”
“Seems fair,” she says, as her friends all turn towards her in shock. “You can’t run a town while there are dissenters in it.”
“Exactly. And of course, Count Strahd will be honouring us with his presence as well,” she replies, smugly.
Back at the inn before bed, Thia and Haldar have a quiet discussion about their concerns that Siri doesn’t seem to be her acting like her usual law-abiding, goody-two-shoes self, and they wonder if the mirror she used in the burgomaster’s house has done something to her. Thia can both remove a curse and possibly restore her back to her old self, but she needs powdered silver in order to cast such a spell. They resolve to try to persuade the others to visit to the blacksmith in the morning to see if he can powder the silver pieces they already have, and then turn in for the night.
The next morning, the sun rises and tries to cast its bright rays over Barovia, but once again is foiled by the dark clouds and veils of mist enveloping the land. In Vallaki, five adventurers knock at the door of the blacksmith’s shop but are disheartened to find that he’s not very receptive to them at all, like most of the townsfolk. Thia approaches him and pulls the silver jewellery from her bag.
“Sir? We were wondering if you would be able to powder this silver for us?”
He looks up with a frown.
“You won’t help us?”
The blacksmith’s face reddens.
“I had a brother in the town guard. I’m attending his funeral today because of you. So why should I help you?”
Siri draws her sunsword and speaks its command word, but nothing happens. She shakes it a bit before claiming that it needs charging, then pulls her other sword, holding it up to the blacksmith’s throat with a dark smile.
“Perhaps you’d like to join your brother at his funeral?”
Even Obryn is horrified at this reaction from his companion and he steps in, pulling the paladin away at the same time.
“Sir, forgive our friend, she’s not herself,” he says in a gruff but kind voice. “How about we pay you an extra twenty gold pieces in addition to your price for powdering the silver for us?”
The blacksmith considers the offer for a moment, then nods.
“Fine. I might be able to get it done before midday for you.”
Deciding to go and have a look round the shops for a bit while the blacksmith does his thing, the adventurers wander up the street towards an apothecary on the other side of the town square, but they notice that the square has a lot of activity. Wooden structures are being built that look worryingly like guillotines. As they pass two of the workers, Devlin casts a surreptitious spell that yanks one of the hammers out of their hand and flings it across the flagstones, then he conjures an illusion of Lady Wachter’s voice.
“I’ve changed my mind, dismantle everything!”
The workers look up, confused, but while the one who’s lost his hammer shrugs and begins to pull at a plank, the other chastises him and tells him to keep going. Deflated, Devlin walks on to join the rest of the group, a little way ahead of him.
The apothecary is an unusal shop crammed full of strange items, and they are greeted warmly by a jolly little fellow who introduces himself as Dargos Belasco. He bounces behind the counter, apparently excited to have customers.
“Hello, welcome! This is my shop, please do browse around, we have all sorts of treasures!”
Thia greets him back and walks over to him.
“Do you sell potions at all, like health potions?”
“Noooo, noooo,” he replies, shaking his head. “I have many other fine things though – souvenirs, knick-knacks, and I do have some holy water if you would like?” He waves his hand with a flourish towards a shelf behind the counter that has a number of small bottles on it. Siri picks up a sign that says ‘You don’t have to be undead to work here, but it helps!’ and turns to him.
“How much for this?” she asks.
“Ah, good choice! That would be ten silver pieces.”
Siri manages to barter him down to seven silver, and then hangs the sign around her neck with a chuckle.
“Yeeeees,” says Haldar. “Well, I think we’d better get back to the blacksmith’s, don’t you?”
After bidding good day to Dargos they make their way back to the blacksmith’s shop but, when they arrive, they discover that he’s nowhere in sight. It looks as if there’s been something of a scuffle indicating that he might have been taken by force, and the group become worried that he may have been one of the townsfolk that Lady Wachter considers a dissident. Devlin hunts around and finds that he has indeed powdered their silver for them, and as Siri starts to dig through his stuff to see if there’s anything worth taking, the others sneak outside while she’s distracted.
“We need to get Siri back to normal,” says Haldar. “Something has gone very wrong with her. She’s normally such a goody-goody, and yet she’s now in there looking for stuff to steal from a blacksmith with no regard for the fact that he might actually be in danger.”
Thia waves the powdered silver.
“There is a ritual I can do that could set her right,” she says. “The trouble is that she has to be a willing participant, so we’ll need to come up with a way to convince her that it’s for her own good.”
“Hmph,” Obryn replies, gruffly. “Well, she seems pretty selfish now, and when she tried to use her sword it didn’t work, so maybe we could tell her that the spell will enable her to use her weapon again?”
With the plan agreed and Siri convinced, especially as she found nothing worth pinching from the shop, they return to the inn and take the paladin upstairs to their room where they won’t be disturbed. Thia performs the ritual and, at the end of the hour, Siri feels something lift from her and senses an evil being beyond the window that shakes its head in disappointment before disappearing. She’s suddenly filled with a strong sense of forgiveness, as well as remorse for her actions against the blacksmith and her friends, and immediately digs into her backpack to share out the reward given to them by Lady Wachter.
“Oh my goodness, what have I done?” she sobs, handing out the polished obsidian stones to each of the others. “I’m so, so sorry…”
“It’s kind of a shame that she’s good again,” he says, an air of disappointment in his voice. “I quite liked her when she was feisty and willing to disobey the law.”
With their friend restored they head back downstairs, but now the bar is quiet and empty save for the bard, Rictavio, who’s sitting by the fire all by himself. There’s no sign of Urwin Martikov, or his family.
“What happened?” enquires Devlin in confusion. “Where are the Martikovs?”
Rictavio shakes his head, sadly.
“The guards took them,” he whispers. “Urwin, Danika, and their children. I fear they may have been arrested.”
“Oh no,” Haldar replies, fearfully. “What should we do? We have to help them all!”