Episode 16: A Day with the Dead

The adventurers wake refreshed and, after performing their various morning rituals, they pack up their belongings and steel themselves for another day of danger and mayhem inside the castle. The only viable exit they can find from the brazier room is a door that has a set of steps leading upwards behind it, and on ascending them they find a long corridor carved into the stone foundations of the castle and swathed in a swirling mist that obscures the floor. Obryn tells everyone to stay at least ten feet behind him, while Devlin casts Dancing Lights in front of him so that he can see a little better. Being a dwarf, though, Obryn knows his stone. He determines that this tunnel is a relatively recent construction and that it leads towards a doorway at the far end, so he strides confidently down the passageway like he’s on a mission. What he doesn’t see, however, is the trapdoor that opens in the floor beneath his feet. The others gasp as the dwarf suddenly disappears in a swirl of mist; there one moment and gone the next.

Devlin runs over, careful not to step on the open trap.

“Oi, dwarf! Where have you gone?” he shouts. There’s a creak as the trapdoor closes and the sorcerer briefly glimpses an angled slide below it, leading south, but there’s no reply from Obryn.

In a bid to find their lost friend, the adventurers put a crazy plan into operation. Thia ties a rope around her waist with Siri hanging on to the other end, then Devlin opens the trapdoor and Thia climbs down. The trouble is that the paladin can’t take her weight and topples over, so Devlin levitates her into the air. She yelps in surprise, clinging on to the end of the rope for dear life as Haldar grabs her leg and drags her backwards like some kind of weird balloon. Meanwhile, Thia is left dangling halfway down a slippery passage as the trapdoor slowly returns to its closed position.

As Obryn’s eyes adjust to the darkness, he sees that’s he’s in a tiny, barred cell and up to his chest in filthy, stagnant water.

“I see the trapdoor has caught another one.”

The dwarf can’t see where the voice is coming from, but he can tell that it’s a man who sounds as if he’s given up all hope of ever getting out of this place.

“Hello?” he asks, gruffly. “Who’s there, how did you get down here?”

“I chose the wrong side, and Strahd doesn’t appreciate that,” comes the reply. “I was taken from my family a few weeks ago and left in this cell. They feed me once a day, scraps mostly.”

Obryn casually tests the bars in front of him but they seem solid despite showing signs of rust damage below the water level. He runs his feet around the bottom of cell, finding nothing.

“And what is your name, stranger?” he asks.

There’s a slight pause before the voice speaks again, quieter than before.

“My name is Rolan.”

In the corridor above them, the rescue attempt is getting more and more chaotic. Devlin has now cast Fly upon himself and has pushed open the trapdoor, enabling the others to pull Thia back up again. Then, controlling his flight, he makes his way easily down the passageway and pushes open the trapdoor at the other end. He grins at Obryn.

“About bloody time,” grumbles the dwarf.

“I see the trapdoor is busy today,” murmurs Rolan. “More victims?”

“Help,” replies Obryn. “Or at least, I hope it’s help.”

Devlin makes his way into the cell, although it’s very cramped with the two of them in there and the dwarf is forced to squash himself against the slimy stone wall to make room. The sorcerer casts his eyes around the cell.

“Who’s your friend?” he asks, trying to peer down the flooded corridor on the other side of the bars.

“It’s Rolan,” says Obryn simply, nodding his head in the direction of where he believes Thia and the others to be, although he’s a little off. Devlin raises his eyebrows.

“I think we need to tell you something,” he says, trying to direct his voice at the adjacent cell. “One of our friends is someone very important to you.”

There’s a sigh from nearby, and the sound of someone moving in the water.

“Don’t tell me Zuleika rustled up a rescue party?”

“No,” replies the sorcerer. “Does the name Thia mean anything to you?”

This time the pause is longer.

“My daughter. But she is either really brave or really foolish to come to Barovia.”

Devlin takes a few minutes to formulate a plan and, after the man confirms that he would very much like to get out of the cell and see his daughter again, the sorcerer reaches his hand through the bars and casts Dimension Door, immediately teleporting himself and Rolan back to the brazier room. The man is frail and sopping wet, but he makes it up the stairs and along the corridor with Devlin’s help. Thia is overjoyed to see him, and the two hug each other while the sorcerer makes a return trip for Obryn.

Taking a little time to rest and catch up with each other, the cleric explains to her father about the deal they made with Zuleika to find her mate, Emil Touranescu, and how in return the werewolf pack leader permitted them to take the children they’d been holding, including Thia’s own two daughters, away from the den. Rolan tells her that he has not seen either Emil or their missing friend, Nordan, and that he only took his grandchildren so he could turn them into werewolves, guaranteeing them safety within the pack. This appals Thia and she tries to persuade him to let her remove his curse, but he insists that it’s the only way they all can be together, given that the mists prevent anyone from escaping the valley. Barovia is his home now, and he wants to remain as a werewolf. He laughs when the cleric asks him if he would reconsider should they manage to kill Strahd, not believing that they would be capable of such a victory. But he agrees to think about it, and she hugs him again.

“Will you come with us?” Thia asks, not wanting to leave him behind in case he is captured and lost again.

Rolan nods, slowly.

“I am too weak to be of much use in a fight,” he says wearily, noticing as Obryn favours him with a suspicious look. “And no, before you ask, sir dwarf, I would not attack the people who rescued me and reunited me with my daughter, either.”

After about an hour, they gather up their things and head towards the doorway at the end of the stone corridor, making sure that they jump over the trapdoor this time. Haldar pushes the door open wide, and Siri wrinkles her nose at the scent of death as they step into the cavernous room beyond. Squinting into the darkness, they see that they’re standing in a huge hall built from stone and filled with rows and rows of tombs, stretching as far as they can see. Above them, the vaulted ceiling is constantly moving with the furry, black bodies of thousands of bats, and the flagstones beneath their feet are caked in a thick layer of foul-smelling droppings. Grimacing and trying to walk carefully, the adventurers examine the inscriptions on a few of the tombs nearest to them. Some seem to be the graves of people who were involved in building the castle; some sound like important nobles, while others could be adventurers like themselves, it’s hard to say. The friends are aware that they haven’t got nearly enough time to peek inside each one, and most of them are a bit hesitant to do that anyway, but Siri’s curious nature pushes her to at least check the tombs bearing names that she recognises.

In Piddlewick’s tomb, she finds a box containing a Deck of Illusions and murmurs a ‘thank you’ to the ghost for pointing her there. Further on, she sees the name ‘Tasha Petrovna’ engraved above one of the stone slabs; the same name that she saw on the rose-covered gravestone in the grounds of the Abbey of Saint Markovia. Knowing that this lady was good of heart, she enters and places her hand reverently on the chest of the body inside.

“Rest well, Tasha,” she whispers.

A soft voice echoes from the walls around her.

“There is a grave to the west, with roses that never die, in a place built by healers, in a village called Krezk. When all turns to darkness, touch this holy symbol to the grave to summon the light and find a treasure long lost.”

Siri gently removes the pendant from around the lady’s neck and joins the others again to tell them what she’s heard, so when the next tomb they recognise is that of the wizard, Kazan, Haldar and Devlin are the first to go inside and explore.

The skeleton laying on the marble plinth within is draped in rags, but the skull has black opals in its eye sockets and amber jewels for teeth. The sorcerer tries to see if the teeth are loose, but they’re jammed in tight and he’s not too enthused about taking the entire skull with him. He leaves, and Siri tiptoes in to take a look.

“You know,” she says to Haldar, thoughtfully. “We called out the wizard’s name to find the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, and the inscription on this tomb reads ‘His word was power’. Do you think that something will happen if we say his name again?”

Haldar is reluctant, but Siri is feeling brave and, standing in the centre of the tomb, shouts out the name of the wizard. To her surprise, a magnificent black staff appears from nowhere, floating just above the skeleton and glowing with dim, magical light.

The paladin looks at the ranger, but seeing that he is apprehensive to take it, she gives a shrug and grabs hold of it in her right hand. There’s a flash of bright, white light as lightning bolts crackle from the walls and converge on Siri, causing her to cry out in pain, but when the energy fades the staff remains in her grip and she carries it triumphantly outside. Haldar casts Identify on it and discovers that it’s a Staff of Power, so he keeps it with the intention of attuning to it when the adventurers rest for the night. Siri’s not happy about this, but resigns to it after Haldar offers her the Icon of Ravenloft in exchange.

Resisting the urge to check out the crypt of Elsa von Twitterburg, whose inscription states that she was a ‘beloved actor with many followers’, the group continues to read the inscriptions on each of the tombs to make sure they’re not missing anything important, despite the fact that they could swear they hear a long and heavy sigh from somewhere far away.

Apart from a surprise attack by three giant spiders, one of which Obryn manages to kill by booting it across the room, the rest of the search is uneventful until Siri finds an intriguing tomb towards the south end of the hall that has a blank inscription. Curious, she goes inside and finds it empty, save for two large alcoves with ‘Pass not these portals foolish mortals’ engraved into the stonework above them. Cocking her head inquisitively to one side, Siri sticks her arm into the right-hand one. There’s a whooshing sensation and she suddenly feels as if she’s being pulled forward at tremendous speed, causing the rest of the party to cry out as she disappears from the tomb.

The paladin emerges from the right-hand alcove of a similar pair, except that she‘s now in a very different tomb. This one is much larger, with sculpted black marble walls and an ornate black coffin made of finely waxed wood in the centre, resting on a mound of fresh earth. On the far side of the room, she spots three similar mounds of earth, and her memory instantly reminds her of the crates filled with earth that they’d found in the coffin maker’s shop, and which turned out to be the resting places of some rather nasty vampire spawn. The sense of evil in this room is palpable. Moving as quietly as she can, Siri tiptoes to the left-hand alcove and sticks her arm into it, hopefully. This time, the whooshing sensation returns her to the original crypt where she quickly ushers her friends outside, describing to them what she’s seen.

Nearly at the far end of the hall now, the next crypt they visit is inscribed with ‘Gralmore Nimblenobs, Wizard Ordinaire’. Haldar and Thia chuckle at the name as they pull open the door and, on entering the tomb, they see a desiccated corpse with long, white hair, clutching a staff across its chest with bony fingers. Thia picks it up and examines it, noting that one end of the staff has a marble nob while the other has a brass nob, and that there appears to be a recess in one end of the wizard’s marble plinth which looks about the same size.

“Which end should we put in though?” Thia says, thoughtfully. “Marble or brass?”

Siri peeks around the side of the door and grins.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, marble to marble, brass to brass. How does that sound?”

Thia shrugs and returns the smile.

“Seems fair!” she replies, and promptly sticks the marble nob of the staff into the recess. There’s a worrying rumble and both adventurers freeze, but then the plinth levitates upwards by about five feet to reveal a hidden compartment beneath it that contains a black leather pouch. Haldar bends down, pulls out his sword and gently hooks the pouch out with the tip of the blade. It contains three spell scrolls; one of Fireball, one of Lightning Bolt, and one of Cone of Cold. The ranger pockets them happily.

Although it’s hard to tell in the darkness of the stone hall beneath the castle, the day is wearing on. The adventurers have made a note of the location of the tomb of St. Markovia, along with three large sets of stairs leading further down; one to the north, one to the east and one to the south, but for now they continue towards the south.

Devlin suddenly frowns as they approach the staircase.

“Wait,” he says, rubbing his forehead. “I can sense magic between these two crypts here. It feels like conjurati…”

The others turn around as he stops talking, but the sorcerer has vanished. In his place stands a slavering, snarling undead wight that promptly takes a swing at Obryn, so he retaliates, raging at it with his war axe. Thia manages to finish it off with her spiritual weapon, but even when the foul creature lies dead on the floor, Devlin doesn’t return.

Siri wonders if he might be in the nearby tomb of Sir Klutz Tripalotsky, who fell on his own sword, because setting off a magical trap does seem to have been a bit clumsy. She finds the knight’s corpse with a sword still sticking into his chest and, feeling a bit sorry for him, pulls it out. The ghost of Sir Klutz suddenly appears and bows, losing his balance so that his head goes through Siri’s chest. She squeals.

“I do apologise, my lady,” he says sheepishly. “But thank you for removing my sword. In return, I shall fight alongside you!”

“Good-oh!” grins Siri, leading him outside and trying to ignore the fact that the ghost immediately trips over his own boots. “Hey everyone, I found a friend!”

As the paladin introduces him to the group, Obryn’s face grows red with rage at having to put up with a strange and clumsy phantom, but Thia distracts him with a plan.

“I think I might be able to find Devlin if I concentrate on an item that he’s wearing,” she offers, waving her hands to cast Locate Object. Closing her eyes and picturing the Ring of Lesser Polymorph that the sorcerer is currently wearing on his finger, she senses its presence not far away, though at a disturbingly lower depth.

From Devlin’s point of view, he went from walking and talking to silent and laying on his back in an instant. Not entirely sure of where he is, he feels around and finds himself surrounded by flat planks of wood that encase him and don’t permit him to sit up, so he comes to the logical conclusion that he’s in a coffin. Unable to push the lid open himself, he shrugs and settles down to meditate, figuring that he may as well get a rest out of his situation.

“Over here!” yells Thia, pointing to a crypt with the inscription ‘Stahbal Indi-Bhak: A truer friend no ruler ever had. Here lies his family in honor’, while running towards it. “He’s in here somewhere, I think!”

Obryn pulls open the door, but beyond it there is only a shaft that leads straight down to a depth of about twenty feet. Stagnant water is pooled at the bottom, and the dwarf can see bones floating on its murky surface.

“Lower me down,” he says, hastily knotting a rope around his waist and urging the others to hang onto the end of it. “I’ll go get him.”

The bottom of the shaft opens into a wide, underground cave, and Obryn has to tread lightly so that the bones crunching beneath his feet don’t make too much noise. Calling quietly to Devlin, he locates the sorcerer in a wooden casket inside a stone crypt, manages to free him, and the two escape without rousing any more wights that may be lurking in the many other coffins that litter the cave. Figuring that they’ve had enough excitement for that day, Haldar puts up his hut and the adventurers rest for night, hoping to finish their explorations of the remaining crypts the next day.

After eating breakfast and performing their morning rituals, the group sets out in earnest to find out all they can before heading back upstairs to the drier and less smelly areas of the castle. Stopping first at St. Markovia’s crypt, Thia detects the scent of roses but sees only a large bone on the marble slab inside. She touches it and thanks the Saint for blessing the pool in Krezk that helped so many children overcome their madness, and as she does so a shimmering image of St. Markovia appears before her.

“The vampires must be destroyed,” it whispers in the faintest of voices. “Use me as your weapon.”

Thia picks up the bone, thanks her and goes to join the others, who are trying to lift a portcullis in front of the stairs in the northern part of the hall.

This tomb contains the remains of Strahd’s brother, Sergei. The atmosphere inside is incredibly peaceful, and the white marble walls behind the sarcophagus are carved with a relief of Sergei being lifted towards the sky by two angels. Haldar points out that one of the angels strongly resembles the Abbot of St. Markovia’s Abbey. Siri’s Sun Sword, which used to belong to the brother, communicates its feelings of sadness and shame that it was unable to save him, so she leaves it on top of his tomb for a little while, hoping it can find peace. Sir Klutz is also wistful.

“I liked Sergei,” he whispers. “He was a good man.”

In the eastern tomb, they find the crypts of Strahd’s parents, King Barov and Queen Ravenovia.

This leaves only the southern tomb as the possible resting place of Strahd himself, and Siri thinks that she may have been there before. Leading them to the crypt with the blank inscription, she points them to the right-hand alcove and they all walk through it, emerging into the tomb with the black casket and mounds of earth. Haldar has a plan to take the coffin out of the room, hopefully scuppering Strahd when he can’t get to it to sleep, so Thia casts Dispel Magic on it, just in case. When she does so, however, three corpses spring from the ground on the far side of it, and the adventurers suddenly have a fight on their hands against three of Strahd’s old brides, not looking quite as beautiful as perhaps they once were.

Haldar hurriedly levitates the casket, but when he tries to touch it to give it a push, he vanishes. In his place, there’s now another wight to deal with. Obryn rampages at one of the brides and gives her a good whack, while Siri casts Turn the Unholy with the help of the Icon of Ravenloft, making all the undead in the crypt leg it in fear. Two of the corpses run for the portcullis and desperately try to lift it so Devlin hurls a Chromatic Orb at them, damaging them as it explodes in a ball of fire.

Meanwhile, Obryn charges the wight, roaring as he brandishes his war axe at it. Siri yells at another of the brides and takes a swing but loses her grip on her sword and it drops to the floor. Swearing under her breath, she turns to bite the wight instead and, hanging on for dear life despite the awful taste on her tongue, grapples it in place giving Devlin the opportunity to finish it off with another Chromatic Orb of fire. Siri yelps as it strikes, still terrified of the flames.

As Devlin had told the others where he had been teleported to when he’d activated the magical trap, Haldar knows immediately that he’s inside a coffin in the cave beneath the tomb of the Indi-Bhak family. Pulling a face, he manoeuvres the Staff of Power to a position where he can use it, then casts Levitate on stone slab above him before pushing his way out of the wooden casket. Jumping onto the hovering slab, he rides it back to the bottom of the shaft like a surfboard as more wights begin to break out of their coffins, staring up at the ranger with their cold, blue eyes and slashing at him as he passes.

Back in Strahd’s crypt, Siri has managed to light up her sword once more, flooding the chamber with sunlight. Two of the brides are dead and the last scrambles up the walls and across the ceiling, but there’s no escape from Thia’s Spiritual Weapon or Devlin’s Chromatic Orbs. The corpse drops to the floor, dead once more, and also a little bit on fire.

Without wasting any time, Thia dispels the magic on the black casket, and Obryn and Siri smash it into little pieces. They did consider setting it upside down against the wall so that if Strahd teleports into it he would suddenly be standing on his head, but with Haldar still missing they need to act quickly.

Meanwhile, Haldar has made it to the shaft of the crypt. He levitates the slab up towards the top as the wights start to claw their way up the walls to get to him from below, but he makes it to the crypt doorway, steps off and then drops the Levitate spell. The slab crashes back down the shaft taking all the creatures with it, and the ranger dusts off his hands, pushes the door open and steps back out into the dark hall. He meets the rest of his friends coming the other way.

“Let’s get out of this place,” he says, with a grin.

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