Wandering through the planes is not without its perils. Last night, I found myself slipping through a dream to the Summer Court, where I was given an audience with Verenestra, the Oak Princess herself. It did not go well…I may write more on that later, but suffice it to say, I found myself in a strange new body, not quite human, not quite fey and bound by a pact to be her vessel.
The strange dream soon shifted into a nightmare as the woods grew darker, the mist thicker and the howling of wolves closer. This was no longer the verdant realm of Oberon, but some place grim and dark where the sun itself is hidden behind a haze of clouds and heavy mist. The horror of having my body, my very sense of self, warped beyond recognition was soon replaced by the more immediate terrors of a gloomy realm that bears no resemblance to the Sword Coast I call home.
Fortunately, I soon discovered other travelers as lost as I was, who stumbled here from worlds unknown. It seems this domain is connected to many other planes, not merely the Feywild or the Upper Planes of the Archfey. One of them seemed completely shocked to see dwarves, and even stared at me long enough to make me feel more uncomfortable than has become my default. I realized that it was my newly pointed ears that caused the fascination. I am no longer quite human, something that I forget among the other, more obtrusive changes.
Introductions were cut short by wolves, mangy and half-starved. They nearly killed two of our number, but the timely arrival of the dwarf Thorrik helped us fight them off. The beasts fought like rabid dogs, fleeing neither from flame nor bloodshed, and they were slaughtered to the last. I learned that She had spoken the truth when she said I would be a vessel for Her power, and was able to reflexively send the crackling energies of the Feywild into the beasts. This body at least has some advantages to compensate for the price I paid.
I introduced myself as “Ileyna”, the name I was given to seal the pact. Perhaps it is my true name now, at least until I manage to free myself from these bonds. True or false name, it matters little, as my new companions took to calling me “sweetheart” or “little one”, monikers that irked me more than they knew. All told, we were six: Two humans, two dwarves, an elf….and whatever I am now. Not quite human, not quite fey, but a mix of both.
Introductions taken care of, we decided that we could not stay where we were. We followed the path, shepherded by the almost malignant will of the gathering mists. Eventually, we came to a gate that was almost as foreboding as the surrounding woods. Giant statues of humans, stone heads decapitated on the ground, met us as the iron gates creaked open to grant us entry. By this point, we were getting hungry, and hoped to find some sort of tavern and respite from the gloom.
We pressed on, discovering a body. I have seen death before, who hasn’t by age 20? But this corpse was mutilated by birds and wolves. A letter in his jacket warned of a vampire lord feeding off the daughter of the local Burgomaster. In the stories, vampires seem to enjoy above all else the blood of fair maidens. This served to further remind me of the new vulnerability of my situation and I felt a pit of dread in my stomach. Jaym, however, seemed enervated by the news, producing stakes and vials of some substance. A professional monster hunter? Perhaps my luck isn’t completely bad.
When we finally found the village of what I assume to be Barovia, the streets were empty and the tavern shut tight. As the sun was only just setting, this was as odd as it was disappointing. The strangeness was further enhanced by the sight of two waifs, a girl and her little brother, weeping in the street. They spoke of a monster locked in their basement by their parents. Jaym volunteered to slay the beast, and I agreed, motivated more by hunger than any sense of heroism.
The house itself is chilling. Nymphs and satyrs adorned the lattices and woodwork, reminding me of the Summer Court where I made my foolish pact. But upon closer inspection, I saw skulls and serpents entwined among the vines. Whoever lives here hides an interest in the macabre, a fact further evidenced by the library we found upstairs. I have perused some of them, books on demonology and cult practices. I consider myself something of an authority on the powers that be, both in the higher planes and below, and these books smack of childish fancy and nonsense. The sort of thing nobles would play at when they wanted cheap thrills or to impress a lady. What was far more chilling was the letter, which I am copying here for my own records, that was written from the feudal lord of this land.
_My most pathetic servant,
I am not a messiah sent to you by the Dark Powers of this land. I have not come to lead you on a path to immortality. However many souls you have bled on your hidden altar, however many visitors you have tortured in your dungeon, know that you are not the ones who brought me to this beautiful land. You are but worms writhing in my earth.
You say that you are cursed, your fortunes spent. You abandoned love for madness, took solace in the bosom of another woman, and sired a stillborn son. Cursed by darkness? Of that I have no doubt. Save you from your wretchedness? I think not. I much prefer you as you are.
Your dread lord and master,
Strahd von Zarovich_
Now we wait, some tending to their wounds, while I read the assorted books and letters found in a hidden niche of the library. I thought I would take a few minutes to record what happened thus far. I am changing into something I may not recognize, and these words will give me a lodestone to remember what and who I am. For now, I must go. We are no closer to finding the beast that is in the basement, but Thannys tells me that the children are gone and the mist is at the doorstep. His words send a chill down my spine, and I dread what we will find.