Barovian Date: 11th of the 11th Moon
Our week has been busy, but with the trivialities of daily life that come with any settlement rebuilding after near-disaster. Clearing wreckage, making small repairs to houses of people and faith alike, and slowly accounting for the dead and missing. The new burgomeister did his best to make good on the promises of riches cited in the mysterious missive that summoned us, but our small band refused most of what was offered – the village was not rich to begin with, and what was offered was from the annual taxes owed to the local lord. We knew that to take such sums was to leave the village open to reprisal in the spring when the lord came for his taxes, and as such we left the largest share untouched.
We did accept other compensation beyond monetary, however. Chief among these was a house that we collectively shared - the village now having a surplus of dwellings after the loss of life in the undead plague. Rial moved the alchemical laboratory from the church crypt into a back room, and after giving burial to the remains of the former owner we found within a wardrobe, the house became a welcoming site for us.
A town guard was formed at the behest of Draven, and he spent long days with the aid of Thorax and Ashlynn drilling the new recruits in the basics of martial activities. Their equipment was sorely lacking, however, until I convinced Bildrath the shopkeep to part with a variety of basic weapons and armor that he had been hording for a not-inconsiderable sum. While we have no illusions about their readiness to fight supernatural threats like the undead, at least we knew that common brigands and starving wildlife would not be able to prey on the villagers.
At last, however, we could justify waiting no longer, and felt that we had to set out to discover the truth of what the villagers had been telling us: that the lord of the land, far from being the thirteenth noble to bear the name “Strahd von Zarovich”, was instead actually a vampyr, and possibly the same creature that had been the first of that name. His rule was said to embody a combination of brutal suppression of dissent, a cultivation of isolation from the surrounding realms, and neglect of the needs of the land’s people.
Strahd left his roads little better than muddy tracks cutting through the wilderness, the trees encroaching wherever travelers had not cut them back for campfire fuel, and the wolf packs always visible as they flitted just out of bowshot among the undergrowth. Brigands were said to roam the realm, preying on the few travelers they could find – as evidenced by the death of the son of the late cleric Danovich, at least some of the villagers tales had a basis in fact.
Our road was to take us north, to a small lake known as the Tsar Pool, and an encampment there of the local nomads – known locally as Vistani. There was said to be a wise woman among them, one Madam Eva, who was well versed in local lore and the legends we sought to chase down. Our road was still clear, for which we thanked the gods given the lateness of the season, and we made good time on our hike. Reaching one of the few crossroads on the trip however, we stumbled across a handful of Murks (semi-corporeal wraiths) haunting a small graveyard and gallows. We made quick work of them thanks to the assistance of an older man who was there at the same time – a mentor of Draven in the raven-knights named Uric, it turned out.
Later, one of the ever-present wolf packs finally grew daring enough to assault our party directly, led as it was by an enormous winter wolf who clearly dominated his smaller woodland kin. It was a short, brutal fight to bring the beasts down, during which the magic of the elf Rial was instrumental – his strange augmentation magic turned the orc into an oversized killing machine, while his fiery bolts wrought havoc among the pack. Thorac insisted on taking a prize from the wolf when it finally lay dead, and ended up with its still-bloody skull on his head like a gruesome helmet. We cut a large haunch from the thing as well, bringing the meat with us as a gesture of goodwill towards the nomads we sought wisdom from.
We reached the camp in late afternoon, easily spotting the multicolored canopies of tents and wagons amid the green trees and against the grey backdrop of the now-sullen sky. Our reception was a wary one, with their sentries alertly watching our movements as we made our introductions. The wolf meat was well received, however, and was roasting on the fire by the time we were led to the oversize yurt belonging to Madam Eva.