The Inn of Last Hope (or is it Lost Hope?) is a desolate place which sits on a crossroad between the natural world and the Shadowfell. Those who are lost on a moonless night often find themselves visiting the inn during their wanderings. Tonight was no exception.
The first to arrive at the inn this rainy evening was the mysterious Calemdras. His elf-like features did little to disguise his dangerous demeanor. Ignoring they young barmaid Beatrice’s exhortations to dry himself by the fire, Calemdras sat down at a table in a darkened corner of the room.
A young changeling girl named Harlys arrived shortly afterwards. Knowing the distrust average folk have for her race, she assumed the form of a buxom human woman. Leaving her owl familiar Ette outside to keep watch, Harlys entered the forbidding inn. Unlike Calemdras, she availed herself of the fire and the mead that Beatrice brought. The innkeeper Barnum offered his two lodgers some of his beef stew to help chase away the cold.
Meanwhile, the elven druid Verasis found himself in the unusual position of being lost in the woods. Normally his connection to the natural world led him uncannily to where he wanted to go. Troubled, Verasis took heart upon seeing the inn, hoping that he would be able to orient himself with the help of the occupants inside.
The fact that Verasis entered the inn with his wolf companion Faoltiama at his side caused Beatrice and Barnum some consternation. Nevertheless, order was soon restored and Harlys summoned her familiar Ette ro her side. Verasis soon began to questions the others as to where they were.
Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the inn seemed as lost as he was. Even Barnum the innkeeper seemed a bit befuddled. He was only able to relate that he and his daughter had originally come from Hagleytown and that travelers who stopped at the inn came from “all over”.
The travelers converged on Calemdras’ table and began to talk among themselves. Just as things seemed as if they would be quieting down for the night, the front door of the inn flew open and a man in loosely draped but colorful attire strode boldly into the room.
Stopping before the table where the group was gathered, the man spoke to them in an accented voice:
“I have been sent to you to deliver this message. If you be creatures of honor, you will come to my master’s aid at first light. It is not advisable to travel the Svalich woods at night!”
The man then pulled from his tunic a sealed letter. It was addressed in beautiful flowing script to the three adventures at the table, as well as someone named Arjhan who was not present. The messenger dropped the letter on the table along with a pouch containing 150 gold pieces.
“Take the west road from here some five hours march down through the Svalich woods. There you will find my master in Barovia.”
He then turned and strode out of the inn as dramatically as he entered it. Understandably curious, the group opened the letter and read it:
_Hail to thee of might and valor:
I, a lowly servant of the township of Barovia, send honor to thee. We plead for thy so desperately needed assistance within our community.
The love of my life, Ireena Kolyana, has been afflicted by an evil so deadly that even the good people of our town cannot protect her. She languishes from her wound and I would have
her saved from this menace.
There is much wealth in this community. I offer all that might be had to thee and thy fellows if thou shall but answer my desperate plea.
Come quickly for her time is at hand! All that I have shall be thine!
Harlys divided the gold in the pouch three ways. They then decided to rest the night at the inn before embarking on the road to Barovia.
The next day the group traveled down the old Svalich road. It was a muddy trek and there was a steady drizzle. Eventually the group came upon an old iron gateway blocking the road. As they approached within 50 feet, the gate slowly swung open creaking on its ancient hinges. Once they passed the gateway, the gates closed ominously behind them.
Already in the blighted lands of Barovia was the daring dragonborn knight Arjhan. He was seeking the changeling mage Harlys for reasons of his own. Arjhan paused on the road, convinced that he was missing some important clue that would lead him to his goal.
It was about this time that the rest of the group came upon the dragonborn knight. Absorbed in thought, he failed to note their approach until they hailed him. It was then that the druid Verasis noted that worg wolf tracks crossed the road, chasing down two legged prey.
The group followed the tracks and found a mutilated human body still gripping a sealed letter. Deciding from the large “B” emblazoned on seal that it belonged to the Burgomaster, they decided to present it to the man when they saw him.
Continuing down the Svalich road, the group finally came across the Village of Barovia. It was not what they expected. Despite being only late afternoon, no one was on the streets. Most of the houses were boarded up and the doors were barred. A wailing woman could be heard in the distance, so the group decided to investigate.
The wailing was coming from a dilapidated house not far from the town square. Inside they found a distraught woman named Mary. Insane with grief, Mary merely babbled incoherently about her missing daughter Gertruda. Unable to get any more information out of her, the group left her to her grief.
Not certain where to go next, Harlys suggested they try the general store. Once there, they were greeted by Bildrath, the proprietor of the place. Despite his mistrust of outsiders, the group was able to get some information about the current state of the village.
The Village of Barovia has been under by worg wolves and zombies for over a month. The attacks seemed to be most focused on the Burgomaster’s house and many villagers believe that the attacks are somehow related to the Burgomaster’s adopted daughter Ireena.
The attacks against the town have lessened considerably since the death of the Burgomaster nearly a week ago. When Verasis mentioned that the group had recovered a letter which belonged to the Burgomaster, Bildrath suggested that they might be able to find the Burgomaster’s son Ismark at the Blood of the Vine tavern.
The group soon arrived at the tavern. Gypsies guarded the door while the shell-shocked bartender Arak mindlessly cleaned the same glasses over and over. Ismark was in the corner drinking heavily.
Verasis informed Ismark that the group had received a letter from his father Kolyan. When Ismark saw the letter he was dismayed; the letter was not in his father’s hand and the message had been altered. The group then showed him the sealed letter they had found on the dead body near the gates of Barovia. They opened the letter and read its contents:
_Hail thee of might and valor:
I, the Burgomaster of Barovia send you honor — with despair.
My adopted daughter, the fair Ireena, has been these past nights bitten by a creature calling its race “vampyr.” For over 400 years he has drained this land of the life-blood of its people.
Now, my dear Ireena languishes and dies from an unholy wound caused by this vile beast. Yet I fear, too, that the creature has some more cunning plan in mind. He has become too powerful to be fought any longer.
So I say to you, give us up for dead and encircle this land with the symbols of good. Let holy men call upon their power that the evil one may be contained within the walls of weeping Barovia.
Leave our sorrows to our graves, and save the world from this evil fate of ours. There is much wealth entrapped in this community. Return for your reward after we are all departed for a better life.
Ismark believed the forgery to be the work of “the devil Strahd”, an unholy creature that ruled this land from the Castle Ravenloft. Recently the fiend had taken an interest in his sister Ireena and had begun attacking the town. While Ireena was well fortified in their father’s house, twice the walls had been breached and she had received the mark of the vampyr.
Knowing his father’s last desperate plea had failed, Ismark took the group back to the Burgomaster’s house. The house was boarded up and signs of recent attacks were everywhere. Ireena was initially loathe to let the group in, but her brother’s presence convinced her that she could trust this motley band.
The smell of rot permeated the Burgomaster’s house. The villagers were so terrified by the attacks that no one would even help Ireena take her father’s body to the graveyard to be interred. Ireena was hopeful that the group could help her finally put her father to rest— but it would have to wait as nightfall was fast approaching.
Barricading the house, the group took turns at watch during the night. Near the stroke of midnight, the howling of wolves and other more unnatural noises were heard outside the house. An incessant pounding was heard coming from the main entrance.
With a scream of twisting metal the stout oak door was knocked from its hinges. A work wolf as large as a horse charged into the entrance way with four putrid zombies following in its wake.
The group engaged the beasts, hoping to keep them at bay. Calemdras charged in first, taking down a zombie and injuring the worg with his bare hands. Arjhan engaged the worg as well, drawing its ire. Verasis found himself unable to directly engage due to the cramped quarters, but fired off several shots from his trusty bow.
Though the group was doing well, there was a problem. Each time the zombies fell, dark energies would reanimate them. Harlys realized fire would keep them down for good and cast a burning hands spell. Unfortunately, several of her allies were also caught in the blast.
Shortly after the the zombies fell, the worg wolf was similarly dispatch. The group prepared itself for the possibility of a renewed assault, but none was forthcoming.
Ireena seemed almost insulted by the relatively light attack on the household that evening.
“What game is the devil playing?” she wondered aloud. “He could have finished it tonight, what new torment does he wish to inflict on us?”
With no answers to give her, the group spent the rest of the night in an uneasy sleep.