1st Day of the 1st Quarter of the Reaper’s Moon, Season of Mists, Year 766.
Days in Barovia: 11. The moon wanes gibbous.
Among the Dead
Deep in the bowels of Castle Ravenloft, among the tombs of the ancient dead, the Bullingdon Boys’ lights- Elliana’s glowing blade, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, and the sunlight of the Sunsword- were extinguished. Total darkness encompassed them as the vampire lord’s words rose in their midst.
“This is a place of repose. Light does not belong down here. Leave the dead to their quiet dark. No... No, you will not leave them. You will join them!”
The Devil was among them. In the darkness they defended themselves as best they could as he lay into them with deadly strikes and fireballs, the light of the spells swallowed by the uncanny blackness.
But there were four points of purplish glow, hanging dots that shed no illumination; as Paris tried to dispel the darkness around them, one of these points winked out. Elliana’s Sword of Revealing too held the power to dispel magic; another purple glow winked out. Feeling this was right she charged through the darkness to one of the remaining glows. From a few feet away she could see the light hung from a lantern affixed to the wall; no flame within, just the dim purple glimmer. She called to her allies and Dickie followed, as Cornelius used the power of the Holy Symbol to fend Strahd off in the darkness.
Then the assault on Cornelius stopped… And a cold hand grasped Elliana by the neck, wrenching her away from the lantern she was assaulting. Paris ran to her cries, and the very stones of the catacomb shook as he rebuked the vampire attacking his daughter; Elliana felt Strahd stumble and broke free of his grasp as he tried to haul her away from her allies in the dark.
Dickie heaved one lantern off the wall, the purple light vanishing, and raced to the other. “Someone help me break this damn lantern!”
A voice replied- but not one of his allies. “Stop, you fool. Give me the sword, and I will put it in my brother’s tomb, where it belongs.” Strahd sought to compel him but Cornelius had laid the protection of the Morninglord on his old friend, and Dickie heard his master’s words in his head- “Fight the bastard!”- and was immune to Strahd’s charm.
A crackling bolt of frost leapt from Paris’ wand to shatter the last lantern, and as it fell from the wall light burst forth: the light of the Sunsword and of the Holy Symbol Ravenkind, washing back the dark of the tombs. And Strahd was revealed: stood inches from Dickie, recoiling, smoking, burning under the renewed radiance of the blade of true sunlight.
As the Golden Bully Sword arrived to smite Strahd the vampire retreated from the sunlight, putting one of the great pillars holding up the catacomb ceiling between him and Dickie. The castle groaned as massive cracks broke through the crumbling mortar in the ancient stone walls. First one, then two, then a dozen, then hundreds, thousands of bats poured forth in to the catacomb, bats so thick that the Bully Boys couldn’t see, couldn’t hear over the snapping of wings and screeching of the vermin, as the bats madly scratched and bit and smothered them.
Dickie pushed his way through the swarm, chasing after Strahd… and behind the pillar where the Lord of Ravenloft had fled, the bats parted to reveal a huge, twisted, monstrous bat-like horror, twice the size of a man, torn wings strung from ragged arms holding huge claws, the mouth open wide in a horrific screech. Its black fur began to smoulder under the light of the sword and Dickie recognized under the monstrosity, the feature of the vampire lord- this monster was Strahd.
A screech of bestial terror ripped from Strahd’s monstrous throat and Dickie froze as the creature fell upon him.
Cornelius pushed himself through the bats, holy fire dropping them by the dozen as he moved through the mad press towards the light of Dickie’s sword. The Golden Bully Sword carved a swathe through them towards Strahd, and bats dropped around Paris as thunder rippled out from him. Flame licked up Elliana’s sword and leapt from bat to bat, the blade cleaving through a brace with every swing. Bats were dying by the dozen as Dickie’s comrades pushed towards him, but not dying in vain as the dense press of flying vermin slowed the Bully Boys… And Strahd was upon Dickie.
Fiendish jaws clamped around the manservant, huge fangs piercing from shoulder to midrift, an arc of blood as the black-furred neck heaved and the man was rent into the air, a desperate Cornelius finally closing to their hated foe only to see his closest friend dangling limp and bloody from Strahd’s mouth as the dark lord looked down on him with one huge red eye glowing in vicious exultation.
The Sunsword fell from Dickie’s hand. Its light went out. Cornelius flung himself against the beast’s hide and Elliana was there beside him, arcane energy crackling up her sword, but the creature was moving past them, scrabbling away into the darkness with their comrade. As Elliana picked up the now-just-a-hilt of Dickie’s weapon, thunder roared outside of the castle, and a moment of light flared through a huge window on the eastern wall of the catacomb. The Bully Boys saw the bat-monster Strahd with Dickie in its jaws… heading towards that window.
Paris dug deep. “Dickie, old chap, wake up!” he cried, and a soft blue glow accompanied his words, floating faerie lights which spun and glittered in the ancient tomb. The lights spread away from Paris, dancing towards his friends where they rested upon their hands, their brows, their lips; and Cornelius and Elliana felt lighter, less weary, refreshed. And Dickie’s eyes opened.
Elliana charged forward, and as she saw Dickie rouse she hurled his weapon towards him. A nimble hand snatched the Sunsword out of the air, and Elliana now held her own sword, the blade of sunlight sprang back to life as a blade of steel carved through vampiric hide.
Dickie twisted in the devil’s jaws and thrust the Sunblade up into Strahd’s neck. A gurgling wail accompanied the stink of burning flesh as the monster released its hold on the manservant, but Dickie did not fall as his other arm supported him, dangling from the dagger in his other hand, jammed into the side of the gigantic bat-devil head.
The bat-monster form collapsed, contorting and shrinking until the Lord of Ravenloft knelt before them in his more familiar form. Smoke poured off his pallid flesh in the light of the Sunsword and his face was contorted in hatred- a twisted snarl at odds with his dead black eyes. Strahd threw his head back haughtily as he stood, his fists clenched as if to close around Dickie’s throat, and he roared “DIE NOW, BULLINGDON BOYS!”
Cornelius held the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind high and but Strahd restraining power of the sacred icon; and as Cornelius came charging forward, Dickie stood with Sunsword raised, Elliana at his side, the Golden Bully Sword closing in, Paris joyful at returning his friend from the jaws of death… Strahd fled.
Flight of the Vampire Lord
The Bully Boys thought they had Strahd trapped, pressed on all sides with the cold stone of one of the catacomb’s many tombs at his back. But with a callous sneer the vampire lord stepped backwards through those stones, and was gone.
There was a sudden crescendo of crashing stone as stone slabs fell from the doors of crypts all through the catacomb. Shamlbing out into the fog came ancient skeletons, arisen from their long rest to defend the master of the castle. Some carried weapons- bows, swords, axes, crossbows- that were entombed with them; others held golden candlesticks; one carried a ceremonially painted oar, and some carried no weapons at all. In all of their varied buriel garments these skeletons descended upon the Bully Boys and then, in a roar of light and heat, they were engulfed in a fiery cataclysm, blackened bones scattering as they were devastated.
Paris blew smoke from his fingertips.
As more skeletons poured forth from deeper within the catacomb a cry of “Argynvost!” rang from the stairwell, resplendent phantom knights charging into the skeletal horde, ghostly swords clashing with rusted chainmail, ancient steel carving through ethereal armour.
The arcane light of Elliana’s sword flared to almost blinding radiance which blasted forth, a spear which cleared a path through the remaining skeletons. The arcane glow of her sword thus expended, it no longer shed its revealing light, and as she charged forward something unseen clashed against her armour. “Damnit,” she cried, “he’s invisible!”
Seeing Elliana trying to defend herself against a foe she could not see, Dickie acted quickly, and a flask of oil flew from his hand. It shattered in the air inches from Ellian, splattering over parts of Strahd’s torso. “You can’t hide from us, you bastard!” Dickie yelled, pulling the cork from a healing potion and chugging the restorative liquid.
“You won’t get away this time, fiend!” cried Cornelius, again holding the Holy Symbol aloft. The oil-smattered figure seemed to stumble, struggle, but his dark will once more overcame. But the light of the Sunsword he could not resist; as his unliving flesh bubbled under its glow, his spell failed and the vampire lord was visible once again. Screaming in rage, Strahd again fled back through a pillar; then there was a familiar rush of air as a fireball exploded in their midst. The skeletons and phantom knights were washed away in the fireball, and the Bully Boys were left burnt, singed, gasping for air, as Strahd retreated deeper into the catacombs.
“Dickie, I want to try something,” Paris gasped as he brushed himself off, and grabbed the manservant by the shoulder. Dickie vanished. “Yes,” Paris cried, “it worked!” The glow of sunlight still emanated from where Dickie had stood, but he and all he bore were invisible. In that glow, the fog around their feet shifted and rose, lifting into pillars that broke into humanoid shapes.
The thing before Dicky took form of a homley woman in an apron, her hair in a bun, sleeves rolled up. He knew her… his sister, Clara, but her face was twisted in a rictus of hatred as she slashed at his invisible form with a large kitchen knife.
Dickie clenched his jaw as he murmerred “I’m sorry, it’s not you, you’re not here, it’s not real-“ and the blade of sunlight struck down the spectre of his sister, the ghostly form collapsing back into fog. In the light of his sword he saw the vampire lord and closed to Strahd, the dagger of venom flashing. “How dare you! How dare you involve her in this!”
A gnarled claw of fog bedecked in misty rings reached for Paris in a gentle caress as the form of Baroness Rhineheart appeared to torment him one last time; her touch was cold and seeped his strength, and Dickie reappeared as the wizard’s concentration was broken. “Will you never leave me alone?” Paris wailed, and flicked the wand of ice; the form of fog, mostly water, froze, cracked and shattered, ice crystals scattering around him.
It was Anslem who rose to face Elliana, but not noble as he was when he fought Cornelius; he sneered in contempt, hacking and hewing with a sword of fog that she desperately parried.
And before Cornelius, a cloaked spectre rose with thin arms protruding from deep sleeves, hands clenched into claws, the hood falling back to show a jealous spiteful face, eyes of mist fixating him as he was assailed by a spectre of his brother, Clarence Quincy Bullingdon.
“No!” Cornelius cried, “I don’t have time for this! I came here to fight Strahd, and Strahd alone! Begone, ghosts!” and against his holy will ghosts of Clarence and Anslem fled into the darkness.
Once again surrounded by foes, Strahd, burning in the light of his brother’s sword, the devil again fled. His hands raised high, and the fog rose around him, around the pillars and columns of the catacomb, and around the Bullingdon Boys. Dickie caught sight of a flight of stairs behind the vampire before opaque grey mist filled his vision. Elliana charged into the blinding fog, green flame licking up her sword; the blade, thrust questioningly through the mist, struck true, and the oil coating him ignited. The flaming silhouette was a target Dickie could attack, and the Sunsword flashed but Strahd’s flailing hand batted his attack aside; but Dickie stepped forward, twisted, lunged and the dagger rose inside Strahd’s guard and plunged into the chest of the dark lord of Barovia.
Cold hands wrapped around Dickie’s forearm. Black eyes looked into Dickie’s. Still aflame, the vampire lord pulled Dickie closer, moaning a low, guttural word… “No.”
And Strahd slipped backwards from the blade. His body landed on the ground with a thud, unmoving, and collapsed into mist.
The dense fog collapsed. Behind where Strahd had fallen was a flight of stairs, and the as the body of their adversary melted into mist, that mist flowed down those stairs, down into this deeper tomb.
“Wait, so, wait is he dead yet, or is this like the first time, or the, uh, the second time?” Paris asked.
“I think we still have to find his tomb,” said Dickie.
“Yes,” Cornleius agreed, “we must go deeper.”
“His body must be completely destroyed,” Elliana said solemnly.
“Lower down and further in,” said Dickie, girding himself.
“Prepare your selves, Bullingdon Boys,” said their fearless leader, “this is the end. We must step forward into the darkness- and from there, we will spread the light!” He paused. “Dickie you go first.”
Sunsword held infront of him like a beacon of holy righteousness, Dickie descended the stairs. Black marble steps led down in to a dark tomb. The essence of evil permeated the very air. Settled into the dirt of the floor was a shining black coffin of finely waxed wood. The coffin’s fitting were brilliant brass; its lid was closed. Three women stood above it.
All three were dressed in bridal gowns. One white; one red; one golden. They turned to the Bullingdon Boys, and spoke with one voice: “No! You will leave our husband to his long sleep. Begone from this place. He is not yours to take. Begone!” in the light of the Sunsword, their flesh bubbled and smoked, but they did not blench.
“I am the king of Bullingdonovia, and I shall do whatever I wish!” Corenlius declared with confidence.
“You don’t understand,” Paris said, “if we destroy Strahd, you will be free.”
“We do not want freedom,” the brides of Strahd spoke. “We want our husband.”
Dickie frowned. “I am sorry, but it is too late to stop this now.”
Cornelius rolled his eyes. “I tire of this conversation. I will not be stopped! The Morninglord commands you step aside!” he held the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind above his head. Their faces turned to vicious sneers revealing pointed fangs; as they lunged, clawed hands extended, the power of the holy symbol overcame them, and they were paralyzed in place. The sunsword flashed in a golden arc; Elliana’s steel blade followed; the Golden Bully Sword, too, swung forth, and the three vampiric brides collapsed in smouldering ruin.
The Bullingdon Boys advanced on the black coffin. They removed the lid. Within, the mist sat, waiting. The silhouette of a man, patient and reforming. Cornelius had a stake in his hand. “See, Strahd? You may have tried to run, but you can never escape from the Bullingdon Boys! Bully! Bully! Bully!”
As Dickie and Paris chanted “Oi! Oi! Oi!”, the stake came down in both hands, slamming into the chest of the silhouette of a man, where the heart should be, and the mist writhed for a moment, then collapsed, disappated, and was gone.
The castle groaned, the stones themselves seeming to shift and sag. A wind whipped through the catacomb as the entire structure seemed to sigh, a long, low moan of sorrow. And then, all was still. And all was quiet. Strahd Von Zarovich was no more.
“Is that it?” Elliana asked.
“I’m not convinced,” Paris said nervously, “He’s probably going to pop out again at any moment. Oh!” he slipped on his ring. “Hey, Rudolph?”
“Yes?” Van Richten’s voice replied in Paris’ head.
“I think we’ve killed Strahd.”
“We’re in his tomb right now. We killed the heart, we stabbed the thing in the coffin, it seems legitimate.”
“You destroyed his body, and then you went to his tomb and staked it before he could reform?”
“That’s where we are now, yes.”
“By the gods Paris,” Van Richten exhulted, “you’ve done it!”
“Why do you sound surprised?”
“I’m just very happy! I can’t believe it!”
“Please find me a body, Paris. I don’t like being a ring.”
“We’ll get right on to that Rudolph, don’t you worry about it,” Paris said, pulling off the ring.
“Is he really dead?” Dickie asked.
Paris shrugged. “Rudolph seems to think so.”
“We have destroyed him! And now Barovia is ours. We must leave, and go forth among this land- which now belongs to us! We will tax its people dry, then raise a mighty army and return to Saxonia to take back my birth right!” Cornelius’ eyes glinted with a mania.
“One step at a time, m’lord,” said Dickie, “shall we get out of this castle first?”
They ascended from Strahd’s tomb into the catacombs of Castle Ravenloft. Light was pouring in from the east. They walked back through the wreck of their final battle, weaving through the columns. To the east there was another tomb: stairs led down past guarding warrior statues, between which a tomb rests in hushed silence. Tall stained glass windows dominate the eastern walls, and light falls from there upon two coffins that rest on white marble slabs. One is the coffin of a king; the other, the coffin of a queen. The vaulted ceiling overhead is enlaid with a beautiful golden mosaic.
The Bullingdon Boys stood there, at the end of their long journey; the conclusion of their quest.
Elliana Roche. For one so young to have seen so much… She was defeated, but survived where her friends fell; she were imprisoned, but escaped; she returned and avenged those friends, in the company of new allies. And she found her father.
Paris Digby. Who came to Barovia so desperate to impress, a liar and braggart, fraudulent mage, terrified his charade might fail. He went toe-to-toe with witches, liches and vampire princes. He lost a pupil… but found a daughter. He doesn’t have to pretend any more: he truly is a mighty wizard.
Bren Tanner- Dickie. A humble thief from humble beginnings. He accepted the gifts of dark powers in a temple of ancient evil, killed a fallen angel, and wielded a sword of sunlight against the vampire lord.
Cornelius Pfeffil Bullingdon the Third, Marquis of Saxonia. The last son of a house fallen into disgrace. A greedy, petulant bully, a petty tyrant… He let his sister die in Saxonia. He let his brother die in Barovia. And he survived. Through him, the Morninglord found purchase in this land, and through him the dark lord has been destroyed.
Through that tall window in the eastern wall, high above the village of Barovia, the Bullingdon Boys saw clear, blue skies. And hanging high in that azure, a golden circle; the symbol of the morning lord, bathing Barovia in its light.
The Sun was shining.