After the funeral of their father, Ismark and Ireena begin to lead the way out of town, heading West.
Approaching the river: “This river flows as clear as a blue winter sky through the valley.”
Shortly after crossing the river Ayrole narrowly misses being caught in a hunting trap set inside the woods. Distracted by the trap a pack of wolves attack the group. As the first group starts to fail a second group joins in trying to bring down the group. As the damage begins to pile up, on both sides, a crossbow bolt shot from the woods nearly kills the wolf in front of Solvayla. Krl puts many of the wolves to sleep and the rest break away, fleeing towards the nearby trees.
After killing the remaining sleeping wolves, a figure appears from the woods and retrieves the crossbow bolt from the carcass:
Looking around at the startled and suspicious faces, the feathers melt away and a naked woman is left standing before them. She introduces herself as Malakee and explains she is aone of many wereravens in Barovia. There is much evil in the land and she patrols the area from time to time to assist travelers. She steps back into the woods and returns, fully clothed and armed, with a backpack over one shoulder.
She travels with the group for a ways until they reach a crossroads:
An old wooden gallows creaks in a chill wind that blows down from the high ground to the west. A frayed length of rope dances from its beam. The well-worn road splits here, and a signpost opposite the gallows points off in three directions: Barovia Village to the east, Tser Pool to the northwest, and Ravenloft/Vallaki to the southwest. The northwest fork slants down and disappears into the trees, while the southwest fork clings to an upward slope. Across from the gallows, a low wall, crumbling in places, partially encloses a small plot of graves shrouded in fog.
Investigating a bit they discover 11 unmarked graves that haven’t been disturbed in many years. The final resting place of the people hung here. As the group begins to leave:
You hear a creaking noise behind you, coming from the gallows. Where there was nothing before now hangs a lifeless, gray body. The breeze turns the hanged figure slowly, so that it can fix its dead eyes upon you.
Ayrole looks back and is startled to find it’s him hanging from the gallows! Noticing the rest of the group is not as disturbed he discovers they just see some commoner hanging there, not him. Approaching to examine the corpse Ayrole notices that every blemish, every scar matches his own exactly. As he reaches out to look more closely the corpse melts away into nothing leaving an old, decaying rope swinging in the wind.
Spooked, the group begins to think of where to camp for the night. Malakee points toward the road labeled “Tser Pool” and says a Vistani troop can usually be found there and that they are usually very hospitable with travelers. Those with higher passive perception scores can just make out music coming from that direction.
The road gradually disappears and is replaced by a twisted, muddy path through the trees. Deep ruts in the earth are evidence of the comings and goings of wagons.
The canopy of mist and branches suddenly gives way to black clouds boiling far above. There is a clearing here, next to a river that widens to form a small lake several hundred feet across. Five colorful round tents, each ten feet in diameter, are pitched outside a ring of four barrel-topped wagons. A much larger tent stands near the shore of the lake, its sagging form lit from within. Near this tent, eight unbridled horses drink from the river.
The strains of an accordion can be heard with the singing of several brightly clad figures around bonfire. A footpath continues beyond this encampment, meandering north between the river and the forest’s edge.
The Vistani warmly welcome the group to their fire and pass out bowls of stew. Malakee sits right down by the fire and digs in, chatting amiably. As the meal is wrapping up Malakee looks over and asks if anyone has had their fortune told. Everyone sitting around the fire looks intently towards the group for their answer. When they learn no one has visited their fortune teller they insist the adventurers go and see Madam Eva, in the large tent by the water’s edge. Krl scoffs at fortune telling, but gives in and heads toward her tent.
Magic flames cast a reddish glow over the interior of this tent, revealing a low table covered in a black velvet cloth. Glints of light seem to flash from a crystal ball on the table as a hunched figure peers into its depths. As the crone speaks, her voice crackles like dry weeds. “At last you have arrived!” Cackling laughter bursts like mad lightning from her withered lips.
Madam Eva addresses Krl by name as he enters and asks if he’s found out what those keys he found open yet. She then sends him back out to get the others, but not Ismark or Ireena.
She addresses each group member by name and mentions something to each that she should not have known:
- Ayrole Moff Flynne – She address him by his full name and asks if he is still haunted by spirits.
- Karolinus – Says it’s been a long time and mentions his aunt is still in Vallaki.
- Thulrum – Tells him this is a fine place for him to continue his quest to vanquish evil.
- Solvayla – Asks if she still has anger management issues.
She then deals from a pack of cards forming a cross in front of her:
Starting with the first card on the left:
The Tome of Strahd
This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient will help you better understand your enemy.
8 of Glyphs—Bishop
What you seek lies in a pile of treasure, beyond a set of amber doors.
The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind
This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope.
4 of Stars—Abjurer
I see a fallen house guarded by a great stone dragon. Look to the highest peak.
This is a card of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight.
6 of Glyphs—Anarchist
I see walls of bones, a chandelier of bones, and a table of bones—all that remains of enemies long forgotten.
This card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness.
Mists (Queen of Spades)
A Vistana wanders this land alone, searching for her mentor. She does not stay in one place for long. Seek her out at Saint Markovia’s abbey, near the mists.
Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him!
Raven (Queen of Clubs)
Look to the mother’s tomb.
With a final warning that their group is not yet strong enough to confront Strahd, Madam Eva encourages the group to seek out these artifacts. She then tells them to go rest by the campfire and recover from the day’s events.
Returning to the fire, the camp has settled down into a story-telling mood. Malakee and the Vistani are chatting when one turns to Malakee and asks, “What was that wizard’s name from a year ago?”
Malakee isn’t sure she ever knew his name but turns and tells the story:
A mighty wizard came to this land over a year ago. I remember him like it was yesterday. He stood exactly where you’re standing. A very charismatic man, he was. He thought he could rally the people of Barovia against the devil Strahd. He stirred them with thoughts of revolt and bore them to the castle en masse. When the vampire appeared, the wizard’s peasant army fled in terror. A few stood their ground and were never seen again.
The wizard and the vampire cast spells at each other. Their battle flew from the courtyards of Ravenloft to a precipice overlooking the falls. I saw the battle with my own eyes. Thunder shook the mountainside, and great rocks tumbled down upon the wizard, yet by his magic he survived. Lightning from the heavens struck the wizard, and again he stood his ground. But when the devil Strahd fell upon him, the wizard’s magic couldn’t save him. I saw him thrown a thousand feet to his death. I climbed down to the river to search for the wizard’s body, to see if, you know, he had anything of value, but the River Ivlis had already spirited him away.
It’s growing late and the camp begins to settle down for the night. As one of the Vistani heads toward her tent, yawning, she says to the group: “Oh, and watch out for windmills on your way to Vallaki” just before she disappears inside.