1st Day of the 1st Quarter of the Reaper’s Moon, Season of Mists, Year 766.
Days in Barovia: 11. The moon wanes gibbous.
“Ah, Elliana. We thought you may come this way.” As the light from the sunsword crept towards the viewing balcony in the Ravenloft dungeons’ torture chamber, the nobleman sprawled on a chair there looked up at the strikingly beautiful companion at his shoulder and said “Olivia darling, I think it’s time for you to leave.”
And without hesitation, even as Cornelius strode forward with holy symbol in hand to arrest the pale woman, she slipped away behind the thick velvet curtain behind the thrones on the platform.
“Now look here,” Cornelius shouted from down among the racks, “I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing. But you’re in our way- and that means you must die! Bully Boys, attack!”
He held up his holy symbol towards the gentile and channelled its divine power to paralyze vampires… And nothing happened. As the stranger was lit by the sunlight of Dickie’s sword, his flesh did not smoke or smoulder or slough away. And the Bully Boys did not leap to their leader’s commands.
The man cleared his throat awkwardly. He looked curiously at Cornelius, then fixed his gaze on Elliana. “Hello, Ellie. I, ah, see you’ve found some new friends. I assume these are the infamous Bullingdon Boys? The wizard, the servant, and that must be-“
“You shut up!” Cornelius interrupted, “Bully Boys, attack!”
“- The eponymous Bullingdon himself,” the man finished with a look of some disdain.
“You’re… Alive?” Elliana said, shocked, confused, her breath catching then heaving.
“Clearly he threw in his lot with Strahd,” Cornelius accused, “and we, the brave Bullingdon Boys, need to kill him. In the name of justice.”
Paris, his face a mask of concern, held up a hand to her employer. “No, stop,” then, to the man, “now, tell me how you know my daughter!”
“Daughter?” the stranger looked from Elliana to Paris and back again. “Now that’s a turn-up for the books.” He stood, lifting his hands in a calming gesture towards Cornelius. Dickie noted the sigil on the man’s tabard and the shield resting by the throne, a hawk in flight, the same as on the signet ring the manservant had recovered from Baba Lysaga’s hut.
“Allow me to introduce myself. His Grace Anslem Charles Fitzwilliam Thruppington-Spence, Duke of Gullaine, Lord Protector of the isles of Farnish and Mugg, Knight of the Most Distinguished Order of the Star of Morning.”
“No one wants to hear your idiot titles, stupid man!”
Anslem Thruppington-Spence raised an eyebrow at Cornelius. “I heard the Bulligndon Boys were led by a nobleman. Indeed a count or somesuch.”
“A marquis, if you will, sir.”
“Where would this marquis happen to be?”
“He’s right here in front of you, ready to give you a beating!”
“No. No, I don’t think so. You see a marquis would have at least some small amount of decorum and manners!”
“Then you have grossly overestimated King Cornelius Bullingdon the First of Barovia, and soon to be Saxonia! And, may I also introduce my mighty wizard, Paris Digby, who any moment now is going to stop discussing, and start disintegrating!” Cornelius gave Paris a pointed look and wiggled his eyebrows to get the message across.
“Well, um, I don’t think you’ve quite handled this as well as you could’ve,” Paris muttered defiantly.
Cornelius rolled his eyes. “Clearly this man has sold himself to the vampire lord and his conversation is a delaying tactic, so Strahd can organise some ruse to defeat us.”
“He seems to be a friend of Ellianas,” Paris protested, “maybe it’s worth hearing what he has to say.”
“He is suspiciously alive, though,” Dickie said.
Elliana ignored her companions. “I thought you died… What happened to you?”
“Well, nothing, really. I didn’t die, the same as you, and-“
“He cheated death by throwing his lot in with Strahd! But he will not cheat the Bullingdon Boys! We will slay him!”
Dickie put a careful hand on Cornelius’ shoulder and gently said, “We can slay him in good time. Let her have this moment. It seems important to her.”
While Cornelius spluttered to Dickie about every moment wasted allowing Strahd to defeat the phantom knights, Anslem asked Elliana “Does the man have no decorum at all? Has he completely lost his wits?”
“I… I haven’t known him for long,” Elliana said apologetically.
Cornelius had shaken Dickie off, and cried over “Now look here! The amber sarcophagus made me king and I will not be denied in this way!”
“Bullingdon, listen,” Anslem said, “I don’t know what this nonsense is about sarcophaguses, but you can’t be king of Barovia, you understand?”
“I am king of Barovia! Look upon my kingly hat-“ Cornelius gestured to the crown atop his bald pate- “my kingly companions-“ his gesture swept in the Bully Boys, then his hand closed tight- “and my kingly fist, which will soon be punching you in the face!”
“Yes, but, you understand, Barovia- well, for one, it’s a principality, and for two, it already has a prince.”
“We are here to slay the prince, take it for our own and turn it into a mighty kingdom, the envy of the world!”
Paris suggested they leave the discussion on the government of Barovia until their task was finished, but Anslem thought otherwise. “It’s an important matter to discuss, actually. I came into Barovia with much the same idea as you, I think. But, listen, you can’t assassinate the rightful ruler of a foreign nation just because an old gypsy woman told you to.”
“You misunderstand me sir. We are not assassinating Strahd because an old gypsy woman told us to- we are assassinating Strahd for our own selfish reasons.”
“He killed Berty!” Elliana cried, “Uttix and Tammith died! He-“
“I know! I know, Elliana. Don’t think I’ve forgotten! They are dead, damnit and it’s my fault. It was vain of me to bring the Spency Squad here, vain and foolish, and their deaths lie at my feet as much as at Strahd’s.”
“You’ll pay for your vanity!” Cornelius swore.
Paris snapped. “Look, Cornelius, we don’t go around killing people just for existing!”
“But, surely he’s an enemy? He’s alive at the heart of our enemy’s castle.”
“Why don’t you let him explain?” Paris turned to Thruppington-Spence. “Why are you alive, here?”
The leader of the Spency Squad gathered his thoughts. “I am alive because I have spent long nights talking to Strahd, and I have come to see reason. I had hoped that you- particularly you, Elliana- could see reason as well.”
“Another one?” Dickie muttered, “He’s as bad as the bloody abbot.”
“He was going to murder me and drink my blood, and the only reason he didn’t was some hussie called Tatyana drew his eye!”
“I sympathise that some of his means of government are… Distasteful. But, who are we to say what is the right or wrong way to rule? I’m sure- I’m sure, Cornelius, that the way we do things in Gullaine differs from your own Saxonia, but those differ-“
“Because Gullaine I’m sure is some backwater hell-hole,” Cornelius interrupted yet again.
Anslem shook his head. “You are truly a disgusting man.”
“I am a child of the nobility of Saxonia!”
“You are a child, sir, in that you are correct!”
“This man insults me!” Cornelius beseeched his comrades, “I must see him silenced by violence!”
Elliana continued to ignore everything but her old comrade. “Stand aside Spence. I have revenge on Strahd for everything he stole from us.”
“You won’t! You won’t, Elliana, you’ll die. You’ll be dead like Uttix and Tammith and dear old Berty. And like theirs, your death will be my burden. I thought-”
“Then that is a matter for me to decide and not for you.”
“Yes, I’m the one meant to be protective of Elliana, thank you very much,” Paris interjected, “I don’t know where you’ve just cropped up from, but I’ve been her dad for her whole life.”
Thruppington-Spence looked at Paris in confusion. “I thought you said you didn’t know your father?”
“I ran into him,” Elliana explained.
“I’m glad to hear that, Ellie.” He frowned, looking over the party arrayed below him. “Is there not a fourth Bullingdon Boy? Where is he, is this some subterfuge?”
Cornelius bristled. “You sir, insult me. You say I know no good government, you say I am a child, and now you dare mention my dearly departed brother.”
“I will not allow this insult to the honour of the Bulligndons to go unavenged. I command you, sir, to a duel!” eyes locked on his noble adversary, Cornelius muttered under his breath “Dickie, get the crossbow and hide somewhere.”
Honour Among Thieves
“My commiserations for your loss. If it’s to be a duel, then I suppose a duel it shall be.” Anslem Thruppington-Spence hopped down from the balcony. He approached them, sloshing through the black water and weaving past racks and iron maidens, and as he drew his sword he said to Elliana, “I don’t have much faith in this man’s honour. I trust, Elliana, you will not set upon me like a pack of wild dogs?”
“Who do you think I am?” she asked, hurt by this, and Anslem pursed his lips apologetically as he lifted his shield.
Dickie proffered Cornelius the handle of the Bullingdon family rapier. The Bullingdon heir hefted the weapon unfamiliarly, giving it a few practice swipes in the air.
“I suppose you won’t stand as my second, Elliana?” Anslem asked his once-companion. As she looked conflicted, he continued “No, I wouldn’t ask it of you, I shan’t be so cruel.”
“Dickie will be my faithful second, for I have true, loyal companions who remain alive,” Cornelius boasted.
“I will,” Elliana said after a moment. “You’re deluded, Strahd has brainwashed you… But I don’t want you to die. This would be much easier if you would stand aside.”
“Thank you, Ellie. I have been persuaded, but not by magical compulsion or through threat of violence. I have simply come to see reason.” He turned to Cornelius, blade in hand. “So, Bullingdon?”
“Whoever you are…”
Anslem frowned at him. “Go on?”
“That’s all I was going to say.”
Cornelius pressed Anslem but the duke, clearly a more accomplished swordsman, turned the amateurish blows aside with ease. His longsword snaked around Cornelius’ guard and sliced through the flesh of his shoulder.
“Remind me, Bullingdon,” he asked, “was it to first blood? Or to the death?”
“To the death, you fool,” Cornelius spat through clenched teeth. “You have merely scratched me!” He pushed forward, wrapping one hand around Anslem’s sword arm and throwing the other forward, a closed fist around the rapier’s hilt. But Spence’s shield came up to ward off the cheap shot, and Cornelius’ follow up body-blows found significant armour beneath the hawk-sigil tabard.
Anslem threw Cornelius off, driving him back with a flurry of slashes and thrusts. Cornelius struck a fencer’s pose, turned sideways with one hand behind his back- and with this hand, concealed from his opponent, desperately gestured at Dickie to get involved. “You’ll not win this one, fiend!”
Dickie shrugged, casually moving up a wall and drawing his miniature crossbow, Sunsword still in his other hand.
“Look here, Anslem, some of those blows are landing a little heavy!” Paris called, “Where did you learn to fence? Raise your arm a little higher. What kind of a name is Spency Squad anyway? Bully, Bully, Bully!”
“Oi, oi, oi!” replied Cornelius as Paris successfully distracted Spence. Hung from the wall, Dickie was training his crossbow at Spence.
“Dickie, you seem like a reasonable person,” Elliana warned him. “Don’t do that.”
“You want us to fail here?” Dickie said from above her.
“Cornelius challenged him. Anslem won’t kill him.”
“It’s a duel to the death!” Anslem called over, as Cornelius threw himself at him once again. Anslem batted the rapier away, sidestepped Cornelius’ charge and slapped him on the rump with the flat of his blade as he went stumbling past; but Cornelius’ hand managed to grab Anslem by the wrist as he passed and threw him to the ground.
“Why can’t you fight like a man?” Spence cried as he pulled himself up out of the black water, thrusting for Cornelius’ vitals with the point of his blade.
“Because I fight like a Bullingdon!” Cornelius replied. And true to this, a quarrel struck down from Dickie, angling underneath the neck guard and thudding into the top of Anslem’s shoulder, spinning the noble around.
“A pack of dogs! I knew it!” he cried at Elliana, outraged, as Paris stepped behind a panting and bloodied Cornleius, rubbing his shoulders and encouraging him. Weariness lifted from the Bullingdon’s limbs as Paris’ restorative magic took effect.
Dickie had loaded another quarrel and fired at Anslem again, but Elliana had her eyes on him and threw herself in the way of the shot. The bolt clattered off her armour as she splashed into the water. “How dare you interfere in a duel between honest gentlemen!” Cornelius shouted at her.
Dickie called down, “This is how Strahd wins!” as Elliana raised her hand to him. “Put. Down. The crossbow.” Her words carried a chill, and Dickie’s fingers stiffened as they were afflicted with magical cold.
“You have no honour, sir,” Spence hissed at Cornelius, warding off punches and even with his sword-arm limited by the bolt in his shoulder, pressing the other nobleman back.
“I have Bully honour, sir!” Cornelius responded, retreating.
There was a momentary pause in the melee as Anslem struggled to pursue his foe, grasping his arm and grimacing. Paris took the opportunity to step between the two, a glimmer in his eye.
“You know, I think I remember you from old Saxonia,” Paris said, magic lacing his words. “I think we’re friends from way back. So, listen to some advice from an old chum: drop your weapon, and we’ll all just have a nice chat together.” He winked at Cornelius.
Among the Dead
Anslem stepped back from Cornelius. He kept hold of his sword but dropped his guard, the weapon held loosely. He looked at Paris. “Yes… Yes, that’s right, we’re old friends, aren’t we? I don’t see any reason this ought to go to the death, I drew first blood, that’s enough of a victory.”
“Most definitely! Cornelius, will you-“
“Victory, sir?” Cornelius cried in indignation, “I will not allow you to have victory!”
“Cornelius!” Paris said in strained tones, “wouldn’t you say that’s enough of a fight to be getting on with?” he winked again at his employer.
“Paris, your eye is twitching.”
“Remember… a Bully Boy always carried his running shoes.”
“Yes, but there are four of us and one of him,” Cornelius protested. “Or, there were four of us.” He looked pointedly at Elliana. “If he admits that I am the one who achieved victory in this duel and that his honour is besmirched by his devastating loss to Cornelius Pfeffil Bullingdon… Then I will end the combat.”
Paris spluttered in the face of Cornelius’ near superhuman conceit. “Do you- you’re- I can’t… Cornelius. You’re making this much harder than it needs to be. I’m trying to be a good dad here!”
“You know Paris, I would have much preferred it if you had been a good dad earlier, and a bad dad now. So, what say you, Andrew? Do you admit my superiority and concede?” Cornelius reached out his hand to shake.
Anslem Thruppington-Spence grasped the hand and shook it vigorously. “You did your very best, old chap. I don’t quite see how you think you’ve won, maybe the rules are different in old Saxonia, but I for one am satisfied with the result of this contest.” He smiled at Cornelius. “I think we can both walk away with our honour intact.”
“And now you’ll get out of our way and let us go and defeat Strahd and release his grip over this land?” Cornelius asked.
Spence looked to Paris.
“You can do me this small favour, can’t you?” Paris asked, “We knew each other back in school, and you always helped me out.”
“Yes, back in school,” Anslem said, his eyes slightly glazed. “I do recall. So, what do you want me to do for you, Paris, my old friend? How can I help?”
“All you have to do is get on with your life, let us go past and murder Strahd.”
“That sounds reasonable to me.”
“Now give me a big hug.”
“Here you go!” Spence winced as he moved his injured shoulder to wrap Paris in a warm embrace. Paris held him for a moment, then reluctantly pulled away.
“Now, where’s your charming lady friend?” he asked, recalling Spence’s companion.
“I don’t know,” Spence informed her jovially.
“She’s not hiding behind that curtain waiting to murder us?”
“I think she’s going to have run away because you have a sword of sunlight.”
Cornelius glowered at him suspiciously, then told Dickie to go and investigate. The manservant scrambled across the ceiling, sunlight moving with him, and stuck the blade- followed by his head- through the curtain. No murderous vampire lurked there.
“Oh, she’s a vampire?” Paris asked.
“Yes, she’s accepted Strahd’s dark gift of immortality.”
Elliana bristled. “And what exactly is your and her relationship, Spence?”
“Anslem always had strange taste in women,” Paris said.
“That’s not very fair,” he replied.
“She is undead,” Paris pointed out. Anslem shrugged.
“Let’s end this before he comes out from under your trance,” Elliana said to Paris.
“What trance?” Paris replied, as Elliana stepped past her father and climbed up on to the balcony.
Anslem frowned. “Yes, what trance? What are you talking about, Ellie?”
“Anyway, it’s time for us to go, old boy,” Paris told the ensorcelled nobleman. “It’s been a lovely time, maybe we’ll catch you on the way out.”
“Glad to see you, Paris!”
Cornelius looked around at the various instruments of torture stood in the chamber, and with a cunning smile said, “Anslem, I’ve had a thought. Why don’t you lock yourself in one of these iron maidens and wait for us to return and get you?”
“I think that sounds like a bloody stupid idea, Cornelius. Paris, why do you hang around with this fool? Surely we’re much better friends. Lock myself in an iron maiden, how ridiculous.”
“Yes, we’re much better friends, Anslem,” Paris said, shooting a look of go along with it to Cornelius. He paused a moment, then asked very rapidly, “We’re old friends, so can you honestly tell me- what exactly was the nature of your relationship with my daughter?”
“As your very good friend, I couldn’t possibly tell you anything that could besmirch your daughter’s honour.”
“Are you saying that it would besmirch my daughter’s honour if you were to tell me? Old boy?”
“I’m saying that there’s nothing to tell.” Anslem winked at Paris.
Paris looked at his party. “Right, let’s kill him.”
Anslem laughed. “Paris, your japes never cease to amuse me.”
“Now just… Go… Go hide somewhere before you get killed,” Paris told him.
“Righty-ho. There’re nasty phantom knights about.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“Cheerio, chaps,” Anslem Thruppington-Spence said as he waved them off, “and remember that an elderly Vistani distributing crackpot fortunes is no basis for radical government reform!” as he sloshed his way out of the water-filled chamber, back towards the dungeons, they heard him calling “Supreme executive power lies with the rightful prince, not in some farcial cartomancy ritual!” And he was gone.
Beyond the red curtain of thick velvet was the brazier room from whence Elliana had escaped the castle previously. The stone brazier still burned with a fierce, white, heatless flame; seven coloured circles still sat around it. To either side still stood the bronze statues of charging warriors, and above still hung the huge hourglass. Still the inscription read:
Cast a stone into the fire:
Violet leads to mountain spire
Orange to the castle’s peak
Red if lore is what you seek
Green to where the coffins hide
Indigo to master’s bride
Blue to ancient magic’s womb
Yellow to the master’s tomb
“Well, here we are,” Elliana said. Then, looking up, she asked Dickie “why are you still on the ceiling?”
“’Cos if I come down I think you’re going to stab me,” Dickie replied cautiously.
“I don’t plan on stabbing anyone except for Strahd,” she assured him, and Dickie warily descended down one wall. “Although I do prefer people who do not shoot my friends in the back.”
“Look,” Cornelius explained, “your friend agreed to a duel with the Bullingdon Boys and that’s just how a duel with the Bullingdon Boys goes.”
Elliana gave Cornelius a long look. “He was right about you,” she muttered under her breath.
“What’s important is that we finish this,” said Dickie, “couldn’t have him- have anything- get in the way of that.”
Elliana pointed to the magic brazier. “Yellow to the master’s tomb.”
“Well, I was just thinking, perhaps we could have a bit of a sit down before we go to the master’s tomb?” said Cornelius wearily.
“You were keen to get on earlier,” Paris reminded him.
“Yes, well, now, a couple of those- mostly harmless- nicks Eliiana’s friend gave me back there are starting to, well, hurt quite a lot. I’m sure if I sat down for an hour or so I’d have my strength back!”
Paris pointed out that the enchantment on Anslem Thruppington-Spence would not last indefinitely, and the other Bullingdon Boys agreed that they did not have the time to spare. Dickie crushed one of the remaining prayer beads on his necklace, and the divine energy within eased Cornelius’ pain; the leader of the Bully Boys girded his loins, and reached for the yellow stone. His hand touched Elliana’s as she too reached forth, and Cornelius pulled his hand back awkwardly.
Elliana cast the yellow stone into the brazier and the white flame turned yellow. The sand in the hourglass began to run, and she touched the flame. She vanished, and was followed by Dickie, then Paris, then Cornelius.
They emerged onto cold dark stones where, in the flickering sunlight, wide columns supported a low, arched ceiling. Thick fog swirled up to their shins. Large, stone doors were set into the columns, and above the nearest Dickie saw a carved epitaph: Artemis, builder of the keep, thou standest amidst the monument of thine life. These pillars that held up the ceiling doubled as tombs.
One nearby tomb stood open. The stone door was carefully laid to one side. The crypt was empty, swept clean. Above the doors engraved letters that read Ireena Kolyana – Wife.
Dickie frowned at this, and turned to his comrades, and then, suddenly, they were plunged into darkness. The light of Cornelius’ holy symbol, Elliana’s glowing sword, even the true sunlight of the Sunblade… vanished. Pulled away. Swallowed. And they were left in total darkness.
“This is a place of repose,” a voice said in their midst, cold and powerful. “Light does not belong down here. Leave the dead to their quiet dark.” A pause. “No. No, you will not leave them. You will join them!”
Strahd was there.