Our heroes returned to the Barovian Burgomaster Manor, divided and frustrated.
Still, they banded together to make a vow of secrecy regarding what happened to Doru (though it took some persuading on Elbar’s part).
Elbar was covered in blood from ending Doru’s life, and this was what first caught Ismark’s eye when he welcomed them back in. As Elbar was escorted to a washroom to clean up for dinner, Ismark shared a story of regret to Erzi and Galdan. His reason for letting the strangers bury his father’s body: he was unable to look Donavich in the eye after allowing Doru, his childhood friend, to go off and fight Strahd alone – only to die in the attempt.
A sad revelation even in light of the truth. Erzi and Galdan did not break, but consoled Ismark in his despondency, before the time for dinner approached.
It was to be a celebration of Burgomaster Kolyan Indirovich’s life.
As dinner was being prepared, Erzi comedically assisted Elbar in finding a presentable outfit amidst the old clothes of the deceased Burgomaster (which Elbar then adorned with the skulls of her enemies in a very Elbar fashion), while Ophelia read stories from her book of Russian fairytales to Ireena.
The meal began with a toast, proposed by Ismark and Ireena, in honor of their father. All glasses clank together, a cheer of health and well-wishes for the dead were spoken, and then, time stopped.
Ismark was frozen in place – his arm still outstretched in the toast. But our heroes and Ireena were now surrounded at the dinner table by an eerie mist. The obvious handiwork of Strahd was graced by the vampiric lord himself, as he appeared from nowhere. Strahd seemed to take great pleasure in tormenting Ireena by alluding to getting rid of her brother, and all around messing with the frozen-in-place Ismark.
“Little brothers always seem to get in the way of things.”
When he’d had enough of toying with Ireena, Strahd forced her into the same state as her brother, and turned to our heroes – all of whom were on edge.
“And now we’re all alone together.”
Strahd’s smile was wicked – but his words were even more so.
From nowhere, two envelopes and multiple pieces of parchment appeared in the center of the table. It was all quite simple, really – Strahd explained – he saw great promise in all of them, perhaps even one of them could rule Barovia with him, but he knew there were doubts in them all. ONE of them, he had decided, could be allowed to leave Barovia – so long as they knew it would mean the end of the lives of the remaining heroes. On the table were four “stay” pieces of parchment and four “leave” pieces of parchment. Each of our heroes would take one of each kind of parchment and place the one that held their decision in one envelope, and place the remaining parchment in the other.
Unless they played Strahd’s little game, the heroes would be forced to sit in this eternal fog, and so they played.
And though each claimed to have said “Stay”, when Strahd revealed the envelope for all to see, it was clear someone was lying. Right?
Having sown distrust in our heroes, Strahd left with a peal of laughter in his wake, and the room returned to normal.
Ireena attempted to lie to her brother in the hopes that the others would follow suit and not speak of Strahd’s visit – but Erzi couldn’t let it slide. And so dinner ended in a dour mood, with the siblings frustrated at each other, and the heroes skeptical of their bonds of trust.
Still, with too much time on their hands until sleep could reasonably claim them, they all attempted some semblance of normalcy and tried to relax in the parlor after their meal. Ophelia read some more, Galdan did a little investigating, and Erzi played some music. It was going well – until Erzi’s bag began to rumble.
Unwilling to admit that he had purchased the “So You Want To Woo The Burgomaster’s Son Starter Kit”, Erzi tried to hide so he could open the once-locked kit. Once he did, it was revealed that there were two tiny chocolates sitting inside.
As Erzi looked up, Ismark was giving away a chocolate to Ophelia, having grown fond of the little girl, and commenting on how he had a sweet tooth himself.
With a triumphant grin, Erzi set himself to swagger up and confidently “Woo The Burgomaster’s Son”.
Too bad Galdan and Elbar – long suspecting of Erzi’s crush – were feeling a little mischievous.
Before Erzi could hand Ismark the chocolate, a long game of keep-away began with Galdan and Elbar successfully stealing the chocolate and holding it hostage from the bard, while Ismark looked on in red-faced silence, and Ireena merely grinned.
After Erzi successfully managed to cast Elbar into an uproarious laughing fit, and wrenched the chocolate away from her – whatever theoretical romantic tension was lost, and Erzi gave the chocolate to Ismark who gratefully ate it and bashfully scurried away to his room.
Disappointingly, the chocolate did not seem to be enchanted in any way. Ah well. There were still two items supposedly left in the once again locked kit.
That night, unable to sleep, Elbar was wandering the halls of the mansion when she began to gain a sense of uneasiness coming from Ismark’s room. When she opened the door, there was a horrifying sight of Ismark, covered in blood, stabbed with a sword – the scent of death overwhelmingly reeking in the air around the room. Panicked, Elbar ran as fast as she could to Galdan’s room, waking up everyone but Ireena in the process.
And when our heroes returned to Ismark’s room?
He lay there, peacefully, sleeping – not a sight nor scent of death to be found.
In fact, Ismark awoke to everyone crowded around his bed, and was horrendously confused and embarrassed. But when told of what Elbar saw, Ismark made them all promise not to tell Ireena anything. Reluctantly, they all agreed, and Elbar decided to stand guard outside Ismark’s door for the rest of the night.
When morning arrived, the group – having decided the night before to try and go to Vallaki (since it was on the way to Krezk) under the guise of Galdan, Elbar, and Erzi being hired saleswords escorting the “guardians” (Ireena and Ismark) and their “charge” Ophelia – changed into their traveling clothes and began the trek away from the city of Barovia.
They encountered fog, an open grave, and even a body that, for a split second looked like Ismark – all seemingly the work of Strahd, playing games with them. But then they discovered a bundle of clothing, hidden away, and decided to take it with them. As they did, a raven came out of the sky from seemingly nowhere, and Ophelia coaxed it to land on her shoulder, and it happily did so.
With an almost eerily uninterrupted trip, they arrived at the heavily guarded gates of Vallaki – and discovered a city within that seemed somehow more cheerful and yet also far gloomier. As Ireena and Ismark headed to find an inn for shelter, the adventurers stumbled upon a flier for “The Festival of the Burning Sun” and began to wonder just what exactly they’d gotten themselves into.