I acknowledge that I will most likely be able to hand deliver this letter since there’s no interplanar mail service, but I feel I need to write this anyway.
After the ancient king’s of Geoff sent us into the past to stop whatever had made the crack in the Mad God’s prison, we found ourselves in the kingdom of Barovia. There we discovered that many of the local lord’s servants were, in fact, cultists of the Mad God. Leading them was one Leo Dysillna, and we suspected that his death might have been what caused the fracture in the prison. We decided to take him prisoner and bring him back to Oerth with us where he could be safely and justly dealt with. Long story short, Strahd Von Zarovich had once been a good man, but his protracted battles with the forces of Vecna seemed to have slowly tainted him. His obsession with his much younger brother Sergei’s bride and the corrupting influence of Petrov Von Zarovich, a cousin, drove him to make a deal with some kind of dark power — perhaps even the Mad God. He murdered his poor, innocent brother and chased the young bride, Tatyana, who flung herself from the castle walls rather than submit to the monster he had become. And then the land was swallowed by mist.
We found ourselves in what would be our present day, still in Barovia, still with Leo Dysillna as our prisoner. Though the last bit was brief. A swarm of giant bats immediately descended from the sky and seized Leo right out of our grasp, taking him to the ominous castle in the distance. Ready to follow regardless, two driverless black carriages arrived in short order to take us to our destination. Granted, I was not best pleased to be relying on mysterious transportation, but it was expedient.
The entire land was so saturated in evil, I realized my normal ability to sense it was completely overwhelmed. We deliberated briefly in the courtyard before deciding to head inside. Where we were promptly separated. The castle was quite enormous, but our time there previously helped us orient ourselves. Marsys and I found ourselves in the chapel where there we found a holy icon of a raven. We were shortly joined by Idrys and Kylie who had arrived near us. Villius and Loreli met Sergei’s ghost who gave them his holy sword, Ardes and Faern ended up in the wine cellar, and the others were in a tower with a gigantic, monstrous heart that attacked them. It didn’t take long for all of us to meet up, fortunately, and we decided to go find the master of the castle since he evidently wanted to see us and most certainly had Dysillna.
Along the way we spoke to an immortal accountant who had chained himself to his work desk in order to prevent anyone else from interfering with his work and a beleaguered, equally immortal butler, Cyrus Belvue, who had been told to be hospitable to us. The butler led us around the castle without complaint and explained that Tatyana’s soul had reincarnated every 30 years while Strahd always chased after her. No matter how hard he tried, the lord was always thwarted in his pursuit. Groups of adventurers would often come through, kill the malevolent count, though he would always return the next night.
Eventually we made our way down to the crypts where we stopped to speak with Sergei’s ghost. He seemed resigned and sad. It made me wonder if he was trapped, or if he chose to stay to watch over his brother whom he had so adored in life. I didn’t ask. However, our discussion gave me the creeping sense of resignation that Strahd was going to use Leo as a bargaining chip to get us to fetch poor Tatyana… Ireena… whatever her name is now. Sometimes I loathe being right.
Indeed, when we went to Strahd’s tomb, he immediately threatened Leo’s life and promised to sacrifice him to the Mad God if we didn’t do what he asked. The man is dreadfully theatrical and obviously insane. He believed that the gods had sent us and intended to use that to our advantage, intended to break whatever curse prevents him from gaining Tatyana. He bid is to go find her in a realm called Darkon and ask her to come to him. She is a priestess of Pelor and it is unlikely that she would refuse. In the event that she does, he claims he would give us Dysillna. Though I noticed he made no stipulations about what condition the man would be in.
Whatever good man existed has been long since gone. He is nothing more than a pitiful parody of the good ruler who sacrificed so much to protect his people from the depredation of the Archlich. Now he makes them beg for his help. His connection to the land allows him to make it flourish, but instead he hoards his power and makes his people wallow in fear and poverty. He believes that they owe him this for protecting then. The very suggestion that his people need to pay him a debt for doing what is his most important and noble duty… That conversation made me more angry than I have been in a very, very long time. To see a noble who once understood his duties that can now no longer even grasp the truth of the responsibilities he has… I wanted nothing more than to run him through.
I can still remember grandfather’s favorite saying: “The blood of nobility has no inherent value. It is only through the greatness of his people, tempered and forged by his deeds, that a lord is made worthy.”
He claimed that the good gods would never seal him into the prison without giving him a way to “win.” However… I have some suspicions. I highly doubt that getting his hands on Tatyana is what would break his curse. Rather that, if he ever should wish to be free, he would have to set her free. Release her from that place and let her go while accepting the burden of anchoring the Mad God’s prison as his penance. Something he incapable of doing. He does not even believe that he committed any wrong.
Tatyana, on the other hand… I cannot believe that good and just gods would leave her to suffer eternally. Either she agreed to be a part of this cycle at the time of her death or there is some way for her to free herself. I can’t help but believe that. What she would need to do, though, I have no notion of.
I was struck, too, by some of the similarities between Strahd and Balthasar. Once good men who loved their people and their families who were corrupted, either through some inherent flaw in their souls or through the machinations of those around them, sacrificing those they had previously cared so deeply for. Sacrificing their own families. Transformed into monsters from the inside out. I can’t help but wonder… Is there anything at all left of the men they were? Anything human and worthy of redemption? I could find nothing in Strahd that indicated that he even wanted such a thing. Perhaps Balthasar was the same.
Regardless, we will head to this place called Darkon, ruled by the Lich Azalin Rex — the Azalin that my grandfather told us about in our history lessons. An ancient king of the Oeridians from before the migration… I will have to try to remember everything grandfather said. Perhaps there is something that might be useful to us.