20 May 2019

Session 30 – Dawn

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 End

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.”

“You’ve what?”

“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!”

“You’re welcome.”

“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.

The End.

9 Nov 2017

Session 29 – Honour

1st Day of the 1st Quarter of the Reaper’s Moon, Season of Mists, Year 766.

Days in Barovia: 11. The moon wanes gibbous.

Anslem Thruppington-Spence

“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.

2 Nov 2017

Session 28 – Assault on Castle Ravenloft

1st Day of the 1st Quarter of the Reaper’s Moon, Season of Mists, Year 766.

Days in Barovia: 11. The moon wanes gibbous.

The Pipes, The Pipes Are Calling

Dickie crushed the topaz bead and released its magic. Over the next minute, as the magic took effect, they underwent a very strange transformation. Slowly, their bodies- hair, teeth, flesh- their clothing, their weapons- the raven perched on Elliana’s shoulder- everything; began to turn into mist. It started slowly, gradually spreading through their form, until at the end of the minute they were barely corporeal accumulations of fog, roughly cohesive to the shape they had held before.

The Bullingdon Boys could not speak, with no functioning vocal chords, although they could still just see each other. And they were no longer bound by the weight of their bodies. With the ease of thought their gaseous forms rose into the air, and soon they were all executing exhilerating aerobatics- Dickie for the second time in his life, the rest of them for the first.

Maintaining rough cohesion as a group they rose into the sky above mount ghakis. All of Barovia lay before them, the beacon of Argynvost a brilliant star revealing the land below. The luna river swept from the bridge spanning the gorge up the valley, through the ruins of Berez and past the dragon’s mansion. To the north the Abbey of Saint Markovia perched above Krezk; Lake Zarovich was a dark stain, Vallaki a barely visible blot.

And to the east, looming over the land like a great black bat atop a pillar of stone seven hundred feet high, the Castle. Ravenloft. And in the deepest pit, the devil’s tomb, their final battle with Strahd.

Unable to talk, they managed to coordinate and began to move east- and they flew, swift as a storm, around and above the mountain, towards the castle in the far distance. The land was a blur below, and the Bully Boys soared towards their target not having to navigate their way down the mountain, through valleys, up hills, around lakes; not having to ford rivers and not bound to winding trails. How it was to fly above the world unbound, and how close the castle seemed!

The beacon of Argynvostholt moved from their north to north west to west; they soared over Tser Falls where the water of the Ivlis river crashes down into the pool where they had their fortunes read what seemed so long ago, to pass the village of Barovia; and in less than an hour; maybe less than half an hour, they were closing on Castle Ravenloft.

Thunder rumbled and the clouds grew thick around their misty forms. Huge hailstones began to fall around them, lightning crashed so close that they were blinded for a moment. The wind around them reeled and howled. Through the sleet and hail and cloud, illuminated by garish lightning, they could see the castle. Huge and batlike, black and foreboding, perched upon a gigantic pillar of stone, the castle loomed over the surrounding landscape. A bridge spanned the chasm to the west of the pillar, connecting the castle to the land; to the east, the pillar fell away for hundreds and hundreds of feet to the village of Barovia, a tiny spec below.

Cornelius’ mist-form pantomimed to the others, and they descended upon the castle to land before the chasm, before the bridge, before twin turrets of stone, broken from years of exposure. Beyond the guard towers the precipice of the wide, fog-filled chasm disappeared into unknown depths. The awesome presence of Castle Ravenloft towered above them.

A lowered drawbridge of old, shored-up wooden beams stretched across the chasm, between the Bullingdon Boys and the archway to the courtyard. The chains of the drawbridge creaked in the wind, their rust-eaten iron straining under the weight. From atop the high walls, stone gargoyles stared down from hollow eye sockets, grinning hideously. A rotting wooden portcullings, green with growth, hung above the entry tunnel. Beyond this location, the main doors of Ravenloft stood open. A rich, warm light spilled from within, flooding the courtyard. Torches fluttered sadly in sconces either side of the open doors.

Their forms regathered, and the across the bridge from the castle the Bullingdon Boys slowly became corporeal again.

“Is everybody here?” Cornelius asked.

“I seem to be,” said Paris, as Elliana nodded.

Dickie was looking up at the castle; up, and up, and up. “Blimey. Sure is a lot of that.”

“Are you all prepared for what is to come?”

“Quite,” said Elliana with confidence.

Paris whispered so that his daughter could not hear. “For quite a long time I really did hope that we were just pretending we were going to do this.”

“No Paris. There is no other way. If you wish to return to Saxonia, we must do this. Now, can you do that thing where you make people’s voices louder on me?”

“Most definitely!” Paris waved his hands theatrically, shouted a few nonsense words and Cornelius’ eyes glowed with magical power as his voice was amplified.

The last of the Bullingdons turned to the castle. “Hear me now, Strahd! This time, we are the ones who have come for you! It is I, your hated foe- KING Cornelius Pfeffil the First of Barovia, and YOU are a squatter in MY domain!” His voice boomed across the chasm, echoing off the walls of the silent castle. “Now I come to cast you down! But I do not come alone. For I bring with me: Paris Digby, the mighty wizard, who will flatten these walls with a flick of his wrists!”

“Hurrah!” Paris shouted.

“I bring also, my loyal and noble manservant Richard, who with his wicked dagger will cut your throat and flay your hide! I come also with the last of the Spency Squad, who you tried to kill, but who escaped your grasp- Elliana… Something.”

“In Anslem’s name you will not live to see another day!” Elliana cried.

“But these, Strahd, are not my only companions today, oh no. For I have brought an army; an army that will bring you to heel once and for all.”

Cornelius drew forth the silver horn of Argynvost and held it above his head. “Look upon my horn, ye mighty, and despair!”

He put the instrument to his lips and blew three times.




The bright notes rang clear. As the final note lingered, there was a pregnant pause…

And then, coalescing in the air behind them was a splendid phalanx of knights, ghost-blue spirits in prisitine armour on barded destriers, shields and caparisons bearing the crest of the silver dragon. At their head was Vladimir Horngaard, the lord commander of the Order of the Silver Dragon. A knight by his side carried an enormous standard, the silver dragon emblazoned upon it given life by the rippling wind.

As Cornelius turned to regard the host, Horngaard spoke. “So. It is time?”

“Yes, you kitschy knights of the dragon. It is time to have your revenge!”

“Very well.” He turned his horse, raising his enormous sword above his head single handed. “Arise! Arise, Knights of Argynvost! Fell deeds await! Long centuries we have waited! Now, we act! Spears shall be shaken! Shields shall be splitnered! And Argynvost will be avenged! Ride forth! Ride forth, and fear not the darkness! ARGYNVOST!”

And as a single voice the spectral host cried “ARGNYVOST!” and charged towards the bridge, towards Castle Ravenloft, a stream of ghostly horses and men flowing around the Bullingdon Boys.

The Silver Order was a distraction. The Bullingdon Boys had no intention of joining a frontal assault; they would instead revert back to their misty forms while the magic lingered, and fly to the tallest tower wherein lay the heart of Exethanter.

As they underwent the weird shift of form once again, Elliana asked, “Who are these dragon fetishes?”

“Good chaps, they’ll be a lot of help I think,” Dickie replied, his hands becoming fog.

“Useful idiots,” Cornelius told her, “Just, don’t get in their way.”

As they transformed, the Bullingdon Boys bore witness to the Silver Order’s assault on Ravenloft. The tide of silver-blue spirits crashed over the bridge in a perfect formation, and there was a phantom cry, the twin of the horn Cornelius had blown. The knights’ charge carried them into the courtyard, where they spread in a wider formation, and the half-mist Bully Boys saw the tip of the spear reach the open doors of Ravenloft and without stopping fly up the stairs and into the castle…

And from the darkness within, the knights were rebuked, the line buckling then surging forward once again as some force beyond greeted them. As the charge lost momentum and the fight pressed into the castle knights began leaving their horses, and as the Bully Boys rose into the air they saw the host pushing, pushing, into the maw of the great castle, swallowed and out of sight.

They flew upwards, hundreds of feet above the walls of the castle, up and around and above the trio of tall towers that stood as a cluster over the huge structure. Cornelius, Paris and Dickie recognised the structures from the model of the castle in the Amber Temple: southeast, a tall tower with a conical roof, no windows or doors apparent; to the north, the tallest tower wherein lay the heart, and some way down the face of this tower, a bridge connecting to the flat roof of the third, southern, shortest spire.

As they approached, Dickie communicated his intention by flying around the top of the tallest tower, not descending to the obvious doorway. The others eventually caught on and gathered around him.

The tower roof was rimmed with battlements intermittently spaced with hideous stone gargoyles. As they approached, lightning flashed, and grotesque stone faces lurched into life; the gargoyles stiffly lifting themselves, their stone wings spreading as they rose into the party’s midst, hands outstretched with razor sharp claws. They lunged towards the Bully Boys…

And dove, down towards the courtyard, ignorant to their presence as near-invisible mist, swooping down in answer to some summons from the battle below.

The Bully Boys alighted on the roof and once again took solid form. They resumed their natural forms on the slick flagstones, pelted by hail and rain. What Dickie has seen was a trapdoor on the roof; this he investigated cautiously, and finding it unlocked and apparently not trapped, threw open. Rivulets of rainwater trickled from the roof into the pitch black room below.

Elliana moved to descend first, but Cornelius stopped her. “Woah there, Elliana,” Cornelius said, “traditionally it’s Dickie who goes first through the doors. We wouldn’t want to take that privilege away from him now!”

Dickie eyed up Elliana, in her full set of steel plate. “Now now, if the young lady in her very strong looking armour wants to go first I’m quite happy-“

“Dickie, be a gentleman,” Paris said, “this is my daughter! The least you could do is go fir- hey, you come back here young lady!” Elliana had pushed forward and slid down the ladder, hands and feet to either side of the rungs.

Dickie went into the trapdoor head-first and slithered off sideways, along the ceiling. Not batting an eye, Cornelius climbed down the ladder, followed by a muttering Paris.

Elliana unsheathed her sword, which glowed dimly, shedding some illumination around her. “You call that light? This is light, my girl!” and Cornelius’ holy symbol blazed radiantly to reveal a dreary room with manacles attached to the walls. In the middle of the room was a bed fitted with leather restraints, and at the foot of the bed was an embossed iron chest. A stairwell curled around the tower wall, leading downward.

“That’s a pretty ugly sigil,” Paris said, pointing to the iron chest which bore a hideous bat-like crest.

“Well, it’s better than having dragons everywhere,” Cornelius replied.  “Dickie, open that chest.”

Dickie casually strode to the floor, down the wall from the ceiling. The chest was locked but popped open after a moment under his fingers. Within was a bejewelled golden crown resting on a silk pillow. He raised it up to show his companions.

Cornelius’ eyes lit up. “Stick it on my head, Dickie! About time I had some proper regalia.”

“Paris, could you give it a look over to see if there’s nasty magic?” Paris did, and found the item to be completely mundane.

“Come on, crown me!” Cornelius demanded.

Paris was uncertain. “I don’t know, seems like the kind of thing you’d get Dickie to do?”

“No, Paris. You are a mighty wizard, and it is by your wizardly authority you will crown me king of Barovia.”

“Does that make me… Like, the bishop?”

“It makes you something.”

“Well, in that case… I, mighty wizard, Paris Digby, do proclaim thee king Cornelius Pfeffil Bullingdon the First, of Barovia!”

“Bully! Bully! Bully!” demanded King Cornelius.

“Oi! Oi! Oi!” his loyal subjects replied.

“Every minute we’re here, Saxonia feels closer to coming back under my grip,” Cornelius said softly with a smile.

“Every minute we linger, the closer Strahd gets to defeating your horde of dragon-fetishists,” Elliana said, making her way to the stairs.

Bleeding Hearts

From below, they could hear the familiar lub-dub, lub-dub of an enormous heart. Behind Elliana, Dickie drew his sword and dagger, the sunlight blade springing to life. Paris, not wanting to be last, tried to follow but Cornelius elbowed him aside.

A reddish light flared, settling into a dull pulsing glow illuminating the full immensity of the tower: the spiral staircase descending some two hundred feet, the tower wider at the base and narrowing as it climbed. Before them, suspended by grotesque veins clinging to the ceiling, hanging above the two hundred feet of empty space in the core of the tower, was an enormous heart pulsating with red light. The heart of Exethanter.

Dickie caught sight of concealed recesses in the walls along the stairwell around the heart; tall alcoves, with a faint glimmer of blades. Some sort of trap. “Careful, something on the walls,” he said, as he crawled onto the ceiling and started to slice through a huge vein with the Sunsword. Enchanted flesh sizzled as the light-blade began to cut through it.

As Dickie moved away, Cornelius used the space in front of him to make a running jump, out over the abyss and onto the gigantic organ. Clinging to it with his legs, he began to batter the flesh, his fists coming away bloody.

And then the tower responded.

The whole structure began to pitch and throw wildly, lurching one way then another. Cornelius held on to the heart, Dickie maintained his balance upside down on the ceiling, and Paris clung to the stairs; but Elliana, in her full plate, was thrown from the balcony into empty space.

From the hidden recesses Dickie had spied, poles extended with wicked blades at their ends; these animated halberd began flailing at the space on the stairwell around the heart.

As Elliana fell, her raven fluttered away from her shoulder, squawking with indignation. A flash of light surrounded her and she decelerated, defying gravity and gently floating downward. She reached out one hand and a lash of lightning wrapped around the pole of the lowest halberd. She swung towards it, one hand grasping the edge of the stairs as the magical whip sheared through the blade of the animated weapon; her weight jerked her down but she managed to raise her other hand, and heave herself up on to the stairwell,  a full turn of the tower away from where her father clung to the top of the stairs.

Paris crouched down on the stairs as the tower heaved this way and that, frost licking from his wand to strike the heart- “How about a… heart attack!” he cried- as with his other hand he summoned the Golden Bully Sword. The sword floated over to the nearest halberd and battered into it, bending prongs out of shape.

Dickie’s blades- one of sunlight, one of wicked metal- flashed, and he sliced clean through two of the huge flesh-tubes holding the heart to the ceiling. Blood sprayed all over the rollicking tower as the heart swung ponderously, and then the other veins suspending the heart tore free from the ceiling, and with Cornelius still astride it the heart began to fall.

The tower stopped its shaking, freezing at a weird pitch, the halberds stopped writhing, and Cornelius and the dead heart fell.

“Dickiiiie!” Cornelius cried as he fell; Elliana threw out a hand, and the rate of his descent slowed to a gentle floating fall as green light ensconced him. “Dickie?” Cornelius called again after a moment, as the initial excitement of the fall wore off. Dickie began to run down the wall of the tower, racing after his falling master. The manservant threw a rope, which came tumbling past Cornelius; he grabbed it, but the other end slipped through Dickie’s hands, and the whole rope fell past Cornelius.

The floor still rose towards Cornelius, quite quickly but not terrifyingly so. He impacted the ground, the heart beneath him, and was coated in blood and gore as the soft organ ruptured. “I feel… Icky,” he said, as Dickie walked down the wall towards him.

A few feet away from Cornelius was a descending stairwell, and two creatures emerged, frantic and panicking, shouting “The tower! The tower! The heart! The master!”

“No! No!” Elliana heard, as a third creature emerged on the landing near her, far above Cornelius and Dickie, where the bridge outside joined to the shorter tower’s rooftop.

The three were humanoid, pale, pathetic-looking with clawed hands and sharp canine teeth prominent. The Bullingdon Boys had fought their like before; vampiric spawn of Strahd.

Those on the ground floor stopped, hissing, as the radiance of Dickie’s sword fell upon them. Needing no more prompting, he leapt from the wall above, coiled and spun in the air and landed behind one of the undead, the Sunsword flashing down like a falling star.

The vampire’s arm came off at the shoulder and it screamed as the limb fell to the ground, the stump smoking.

Cornelius, stood, rope in hand, coated in blood, shouted “Stop right there!” and divine compulsion washed over the creatures; one stuck fast, paralyzed, while the one Dickie had disarmed continued to writhe away from the manservant. It turned and ran back down the stairs, wailing as the sunlight caused its flesh to melt and run.

Above them, Elliana threw up a hand at her foe and a spectral claw appeared; the vampire spawn evaded its grasp, and while the spell faded ducked under the sword blow striking at its neck. “Ha! Beaten up by a teenage girl!” Paris shouted at the creature in combat with his daughter. The Golden Bully Sword struck and the magic lacing the mockery caused the creature to wince and stumble. Its claws went skittering off of Elliana’s armour and shield.

Dickie chased after the retreating vampire down the stairs, swiftly closing on it; he ducked low, sliced through hamstrings and then the dagger plunged into its eye socket; the creature writhed, sizzling in the sunlight, then lay still. Cornelius stepped to the paralyzed vampire and began levelling punches into it, laughing at the defenceless creature as bones snapping under his pummelling fists.

Elliana’s blade leapt with green flame and flashed once, twice, biting deep into the vampire’s flesh; the Bully Sword smashed down on it and was joined by a ray of frost from Paris’ wand.

Dickie rejoined Cornelius, who asked “Could you pass me a handkerchief there?”

“Do you want this over with quickly, milord, or are you having fun?” Dickie asked, nodding at Cornelius’ paralyzed punching bag.

“I’m having a great time Dickie,” Cornelius said, “except for the fact that I’m covered in disgusting, disgusting heart blood.”

He continued throwing punches as Dickie rootled through his pack for a towel. Cornelius’ fists smashed into the paralyzed vampire spawn again and again until it was an unrecognizable sack of meat, flesh running in the sunlight, and finally the paralysis ended and the remains collapsed wetly on the ground.

High above, the remaining vampire scrabbled at Elliana, desperately trying to find purchase on her steel plate but unable to harm the newest Bully Boy. She smashed her shield into its face, her sword flashed again with green flame and as she stepped back to deliver a final blow, the Golden Bully Sword swung low to decapitate the vampire, crushing its skull sideways.

“That’s how it’s done, my girl!” Paris called down the stairs to his daughter.

Elliana, having heard Paris mocking the creature from afar, called back angrily “Is there anything wrong with being beaten up by a teenage girl?” Vampire gore dripped from her glowing sword and her eyes literally blazed.

“Of course not! I was just trying to put him off his game- and it worked.”

“I don’t appreciate it!”

Paris shrugged. “Helped you make short work of him.”

“Come up with some better taunts.”

“Don’t talk back to me,” Paris tried warily, testing his new found fatherhood.

A voice rose from below them- it was Dickie, calling “Everything all right up there?”

“Just teenager problems,” Paris shouted down the tower, “You’ll know what it’s like when you’re a parent, Dickie.”

The newly united father-daughter duo began to make their way down the tower, moving past doorways that led into the upper and middle floors of the castle to join Dickie and Cornelius below. They knew that they would face Strahd in his tomb, and the path to the catacombs would be down, deeper, into the bowels Ravenloft.

Dickie had withdrawn a vial of oil from his pack, and was applying it liberally to his dagger; oil of sharpness, that would make the weapon more keen. If ever there was a time to use it, it was now. Seeing this, Elliana followed suit with her sword. Paris helped clean Cornelius, blood and gore flying from the burly Bullingdon with flicks of his wand.

The distant sounds of battle rang through the castle as Vladimir Horngaard’s spectral knights clashed with Strahd’s forces.

“Down, then?” asked Dickie, nodding to the descending stairs where the vampire spawn had tried to escape him.

“Only way to go,” replied Paris as Elliana clattered to her feet.

“You know Elliana,” Cornelius said, “I’ve always said only cowards need to wear armour.”

She frowned at him. “I find it quite useful. Prevents bad things- like nasty blows to the head- from happening.”

“And death,” suggested Dickie, “let’s not forget about death.”

“My doctors tell me I have an incredibly thick skull,” Cornelius bragged.

“Armour to a fighter is like a spellbook to a wizard,” Paris explained, “you grow out of these things.”

Quietly, Cornelius said “It’s a shame Clarence never grew out of his book.”

The stairwell descended to a landing where lay the corpse of a one-armed vampire, turned, descended again. It led to a dark passage. To the north and south alcoves held rotting wooden cots and dirty rags. The ceilings were yellow with lichen. Beyond the alcoves, the light from Dickie’s sword revealed a shambolic room; shattered furniture in heaps, broken bones scattered amid crumpled armour, axes and swords jutting out from the walls as if driven into them with force. Doors led north and south.

Elliana cautiously stepped forward, eyeing the bones with suspicion.

“Elliana, what have we told you about Dickie going into rooms first?” Cornelius asked angrily.

“Dickie is not wearing thirty pounds of metal.”

“Yes, because Dickie is brave.”

“I don’t see him going first.”

“You keep jumping ahead and stealing his thunder! You need to learn some humility, if you want to fit in with the Bullingdon Boys.”

Elliana gave Cornelius a scathing smile, as Dickie let out a resigned sigh and stepped into the room. Nothing happened; the bones remained inanimate, the weapons remained embedded in the walls, no grumpkins or snarks jumped out.

They went through the southern door. Dark stains covered the floor of the room beyond. Large oak tables, scarred and beaten, lay scattered like toys, their wood crushed and splintered. Replacing them were furnishings made entirely of human bones.

The walls and high, vaulted ceiling were a sickly yellow colour, not from faded plaster but because they were adorned with bones and skulls arranged in a morbid decoration, giving the room a cathedral-like quality. In each corner of the ossuary stood enormous mounds of bones, and garlands of skulls extended room these to grim chandeliers of bones than hung from the ceiling above a long table- also constructed of bones- in the centre of the room. The chairs surrounding this were too made of bone, decorated with skulls, as were the doors to the south and the doors they had come through. The double-doors in the eastern wall were banded with steel and free of decoration.

“Well, that settles it,” Cornelius said. “No one in Barovia has any taste of interior d├ęcor.”

“What has to be wrong with a person to do this?” Dickie asked.

“It’s very crass,” Paris observed disdainfully.

“I think all of us can agree that we don’t want to linger here,” Elliana said, while Paris prodded a bone clad chair with his wand. Absentmindedly, the foppish mage asked “Do you think any of these could be your guys?”

“Yes, Elliana, which femurs do you recognize?” Cornelius asked viciously. “Maybe your friend has been made into a chair?” Elliana tensed for a moment, her jaw clenching, then took a deep breath and relaxed.  Her raven, Amity, fluttered from her shoulder to perch on a bone chandelier.

“I think it unlikely that Anslem has found such rest.”

“Maybe we can now rest on Anslem,” Cornelius quipped, grinning to Paris and Dickie at his pun.

Dickie rolled his eyes. “Let’s just leave this room. It’s not very nice.”

Elliana strode to the steel-banded eastern door, following the logic that the strongest door would be the one they would be least welcome behind and therefore the one they should go through, and opened it to reveal a dark corridor.

“I’m sorry old chap,” Cornelius muttered to Dickie as Elliana went first once again, “I keep trying to tell her.”

Generously and certainly not motivated by self-preservation, Dickie said “It’s alright milord, let the young blood go first.”

“Very well. You’re still my favourite, Dickie.”

Dickie smiled wanly. “Thank you, milord.”

Tourist Traps

Fog clung to the floor at Elliana’s feet as she entered the dark passage, backlit by the sunlight of Dickie’s sword, her own dimly glowing blade held out before her. A giant shadow lurched across the ceiling of the corridor as a figure shuffled purposefully down the hall towards her.

As it stepped into the light, Elliana recognised the figure; shuffling forward with an unlit lantern in one hand, less than five feet tall, hunched, muttering. The left side of its face- almost that of a man- was covered with lizard scales, and he had the ears of a panther. His left foot looked like a duck’s, large and webbed, and patches of black fur sprouted from his arms.

This was the creature that had served as her jailer for long weeks in the castle’s dungeon. As they saw each other, and both were struck with recognition, it took a step back, stumbled, crying feebly “Ah, no, no, you’re meant to, you gotta get back in the, ah, the master’s gonna-“ as Elliana rushed towards him.

“It’s one of those damn Belviews!” Dickie shouted, and indeed it appeared to be one of the strange mongrelfolk the Abbot had created in the Abbey of Saint Markovia. Elliana tackled it to the ground, and for a moment they were lost in the fog, then she stood, heaving the miserable creature from its feet.

“I see you remember me.”

“Y-y-you hurt my face!” she had, slamming it into the bars of her cell.

“Quite. I think we’ve found a guide,” she called to her companions.

Dickie wandered over. “What’re you doing out of the abbey?”

“I don’t live there,” the creature whimpered. “I serve the master!”

“How about you serve us, and take us down a floor?”

“Yes! Where is Strahd? Take us to him!” Cornelius slapped the jailer across the face.

“Cornelius!” Paris hissed, “don’t hit the disabled!”

“He’s a servant of the enemy. He deserves to be hit for his treachery to Barovia.”

“But he hasn’t got the, you know, the,” Paris pointed at his temple and circled his finger, “to know what’s the right choice and what isn’t.”

“I, I, I got some stew,” the creature offered, reinforcing Paris’ point.

“We don’t want your stew. We want to find the master of this castle, so we may destroy him!”

“You… You want me, to, to take you down?”

“Another thought that just occurred to me,” Cornelius continued, “if there is any great treasure in the castle, perhaps you can lead us to it.”

“I can’t get in the treasury, I don’t have the key,” the mongrel creature muttered.

“Just the master then.”

“Don’t think about doing anything clever,” Dickie warned the creature. “Firstly, you’re not clever- secondly, we’ll skewer you.”

“I’m, I’m not clever,” the creature admitted, “I’ve got stew.”

At sword point, the creature led them to a door that led to a corridor at the end of which was a stairwell. Elliana was struck by recognition; as they stepped through, she turned around to regard the doorway from the direction of the stairs beyond. She had seen this corridor before; she had climbed those stairs; the times that Strahd had invited her to dine with him, she had been led to the floor above from the dungeons below up that very stairwell. From here she could find her way to the magical brazier which had let her escape the castle, and which she thought could be used to find Strahd.

“Your services are no longer required.” The pommel of her sword cracked into the skull of the jailer and he collapsed like a sack of potatoes.

“That wasn’t very ladylike,” Cornelius chided.

“Why does everyone keep hitting the disabled?” Paris lamented.

Elliana turned towards them unrepentant. “Do you know how long that creature kept me down there, feeding me on stagnant water and…”

“Stew?” Paris guessed.

“Disgusting gruel.” Elliana’s eyes flickered with magical fire.

“I’m sure he didn’t know any better.”

“I always say you should face a man before you punch him into unconsciousness,” Cornelius said.

“He had plenty of time to face me through the bars of my cell.”

“I wouldn’t wish prison on anyone,” said Dickie, recalling how he met Cornelius, “and prison here I’d imagine is worse than most.”

Elliana strode toward the stairs, Paris on her heels, Dickie and Cornelius behind. All of a sudden there was a clang of metal as the heavy tread of the armoured youth set off some pressure plate; two metal grates crashed down from the ceiling, trapping the father and daughter in a cube. “What the hell!” Elliana exclaimed as, with a grinding of gears and a rattling of chains, the two new walls and the section of floor beneath and the ceiling above them began to rise; the whole cube lifted by some means into a shaft above.

As the box-trap rose into the ceiling above them, Dickie flew forwards, kicking off a wall to land on the bottom of the retreating cube. Unhindered by gravity, he pulled something from the pocket of one of the pouches on his haversack- a pot of paint and a brush, and began to paint on the bottom of the slab separating Paris and Elliana from him.

Below, Cornelius tried to jump up and grab on to Dickie but the manservant was lifted out of his reach. Within the cube, Paris let out a girlish scream as green-grey gas began to fill the cube; he took a deep breath and promptly collapsed to the floor unconscious. Elliana stabbed her sword at the floor in frustration but simply chipped at the thick layer of stone.

The elevator came to a shuddering halt almost a hundred feet above the corridor below where Cornelius looked up at Dickie worriedly, the manservant painting furiously. Dickie stopped, regarded his work: he had painted something like a crude trapdoor on the bottom of the cage, and as the magic of the marvellous pigments took effect the trapdoor became real, stone transmuting into wood and metal. He heaved it open, and Elliana jumped back as a hole suddenly appeared below her, Dickie’s head peeping through.

In the corridor below, something fell through the ceiling in front of Cornelius. A ghost-blue knight was thrust down from the floor above and landed at Cornelius’ feet in a crumpled heap. The head of the phantom appeared to have been twisted all the way around; as it landed before him, the ghostly corpse dissolved into thin mist.

“The old knights of Argynvost don’t look like they’re doing so well,” he called up the shaft nervously, as a second figure descended through the solid stone of the ceiling.

This one came feet first. Its cape billowed slightly as it came to rest before Cornelius. Not ghost-blue, but pale and striking, in royal regalia and with noble bearing, Strahd von Zarovich descended on the last of the Bullingdons.

The vampire laughed. “I see you have been separated from your frie-.”

“Can it, Strahd!” Cornelius shouted over Strahd’s monologue, hoping his voice would reach Dickie above. “It’s just you and me now, mano-a-mano, no dirty tricks.”

Cornelius glanced up the shaft, caught Dickie’s eyes and desperately waved him down, then leapt at the lord of Barovia. Strahd avoided the first blow but the second glanced him on the shoulder. Strahd winced in annoyance- “The heart,” he growled.

“That’s right, Strahd! I rode your heart into oblivion, and now I ride you to your doom!”

Dickie was streaking down the wall towards his master, assuming Elliana could make her own way down the shaft with the unconscious Paris, the Sunsword blazing in his hand. He rounded the bottom of the shaft onto the ceiling of the corridor above Cornelius and Strahd’s brawl, and the vampire hissed at the sunlight fell upon him. Strahd was blow for blow with Cornelius, his bare hands crashing in to the Bullingdon’s leader.

Elliana looked at her father. Paris was unconscious, but alive- asleep, in fact, open mouthed, drooling, snoring loudly. She gathered his smaller frame in her eyes, and clad in armour jumped through the new trapdoor. Magical energy crackled around her, and once again her fall was slowed to a gentle downwards float.

Strahd stepped around Cornelius and turned his gaze on Dickie. His will crashed in to the manservant. “That sword is my brother’s. Give it to me and I will put it in its rightful place. In his tomb, where it belongs.” But the sword flared and with a will of its own encouraged Dickie, who shook through the charm.

“I’ll put it where it belongs all right- in your foul heart!”

The vampire gave a growl of disgust and as his flesh smoked from the light of the sword, sank through the solid stone floor.

“Coward!” Cornelius shouted, as Elliana landed softly at the bottom of the shaft, placed Paris on the floor and drew her sword.

“I heard Strahd’s voice- where is he?”

“He went through… the floor,” Dickie said. “It was weird.”

She looked down at Paris. “Get up.” Paris rolled over, sticking a thumb in his mouth. Elliana reached down and slapped him. “Snap out of it, damnit!”

“Ow!” Paris moaned as Elliana began to shake him by the shoulders. “There’s no need to hit me, I was just resting my- wait, where are we?”

“If you’d bothered to be awake, Paris,” Cornelius said, “you’d’ve seen me and Dickie giving Strahd the old one-two.”

“You breathed in some gas,” Elliana explained, “it put you to sleep.”

“Well, I happen to be very sensitive to that particular gas. You see, I’ve got an allergy,” Paris blustered. “So that would be why my reaction was so much stronger than any of yours, you see.”

Elliana had real relief in her voice as she said “Well, you’re up now. I was worried there, for a moment.”

“I’m sure everyone was worried. I bet that fight was a lot harder without mighty Paris Digby.”

“I didn’t know you were asleep,” Dickie said. “I’ll be honest with you Paris, he just, kind of… left.”

“Probably because he saw I was coming to.”

“We should carry on,” Elliana said. She gestured for Dickie to go ahead of her, saying “Bren?”

“What is that, some sort of code?” Paris asked in confusion.

“That’s how he introduced himself to me,” Elliana explained. “I know you all call him Dickie, but-“

“That’s because it’s his name!” Cornelius said firmly.

“It’s his Bully Boys name,” Paris added.

Cornelius continued, “My valet has always been called Richard and Dickie here is no exception.”

There was a brief moment of pause as this revelation settled over Paris and Dickie. The manservant let out a long, “Oh! I’d wondered…”

Elliana suggested he walk beside her to look out for traps or anything else untoward. Paris narrowed his eyes at Dickie, who smiled back at him. “Don’t worry, Paris, I’ll take good care of her.”

“Not ‘too’ good care of her,” Paris said suspiciously.

“I don’t like what you’re implying.”

“I’m not implying anything. Stop flirting with my daughter.”

Elliana’s eyed flared.

“Paris, I don’t like you in parental mode,” said Cornelius, as the side of Dickie’s face that had movement looked askance. “You’re cramping the Bully Boys’ style.”

“Paris, have you ever known me to flirt with anyone? That is not what this is.”

“I thought you were just doing it badly.”

Elliana rounded on Paris. “I don’t appreciate you sticking your nose in my personal business, dad.”

“I’m just trying to do the job!” Paris said, exasperated.

Cornelius raised his hands to the sky. “Well, just in case anyone forgot, we’re all trying to do the job of defeating a mighty vampire lord, freeing the land of Barovia from his evil, raising a large army and marching upon Saxonia to reclaim my inheritance and wreak vengeance upon those who stole it from me!”

“I know!” Paris said, “But now I have to balance that responsibility with being a full-time dad!”

“Well you should’ve thought about that, Paris, before you took it out of your pants and stuck it in her mother!”

Dickie and Elliana left he bickering pair and headed to the stairs. There was a loud graunching noise and a rattling of chains and Paris and Cornelius dove out from below the shaft as the elevator came crashing back down to the place where they had just stood.

They descended into black, still water; a corridor with doorways to the north and south, that Elliana recognized as leading to the dungeon cells.

“There is a… teleporter- this way.” Elliana pointed down the corridor. “It is how I escaped the castle and came to the Amber Temple. It also allowed for transport to other places- including ‘yellow, to master’s tomb’. I think that is where we need to go.”

“Well, you seem to know what you’re doing,” Cornelius said, “so maybe you should lead the way this time. But! Only this time.”

In the chamber beyond, dark shapes rose out of the water. Hooked chains hung from the ceiling. Revealed by the light of the two glowing swords, the shapes were revealed as racks, iron maidens, stocks and other instruments of torture. Skeletal remains of their last victims were still trapped in the malevolent devices.

A balcony set on the north wall overlooked the room. A red velvet curtain was closed behind two large thrones. On one of these a man was splayed, his legs over one arm of the seat; a woman stood behind him, her hands on his armoured shoulders.  

The man spoke. “Ah, Elliana. We thought you may come this way.” Sprawled in the chair was her old friend, the only other survivor of the Spency Squad: Anslem Thruppington-Spence.