Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Taste of Wormwood

When last we had seen Grimm and Tarvin, they had entered a mysterious carriage that arrived to whisk them away from the Death House of Barovia and deliver them to a meeting with "the sisters." The coachman drove on through the mists, using a path only he is privy to, that eventually rejoined Old Svalich Road and brought the duo to the fortified town of Vallaki. As they approached the town, they noticed that it was encircled with a high wooden palisade and the path leading to its iron gate was lined with the heads of wolves impaled on sharp wooden spikes; the town itself was bustling in the weak morning light, but the remnants of old festivals--banners, ornaments, and such--were festooned about the town eerily.

The carriage deposited Tarvin and Grimm in front of a tea house called the Black Orchid. Inside, they were presented with a table laden with eggs, sausages, fried bacon, breads, jam-and-honey flavored pastries, and a samovar of strong black tea. Their hosts introduced themselves as Morrigan and Pandora Rue. Both men noticed that the pale blonde sisters were dressed in the manner of noblewomen from their own country--Morrigan in a crisp riding outfit and ruffled blouse, Pandora in a frilly lace gown. The sisters explained that they too had entered (and escaped) the Death House, having been pulled into it from their native land by the same inexplicable mists. They informed Grimm and Tarvin that they were now at least temporarily trapped in a strange land, the valley of Barovia, but that escape might be possible. They also told the pair that after their ordeal in the Death House the sistes can sense when their countrymen have been pulled into Barovia--hence sending a carriage to retrieve them from the house, assuming they survived. 

Morrigan acknowledged that the sisters had prospered in Barovia (which piqued Tarvin's interest) by brokering in formation. Sensing an opportunity to get the lay of the land and perhaps forge a useful connection, Tarvin volunteered the pair's services; as luck would have it, Morrigan and Pandora did have need of venturesome souls: Morrigan explained that one of their friends had gone mad from drinking a particular bottle of absinthe that could be traced to the winery and distillery operating on the premises of the Fatted Calf Inn. The duo offered to investigate the matter for the sisters, and the sisters gratefully booked them a room in Vallaki's Blue Water Inn, gave them horses for the trip, and a map to the isolated Fatted Calf.

While Tarvin adjourned to a bath house to clean the stink of adventuring (and particularly the carrion creature he had previously tore apart) off him, Grimm dealt with an agent sent by the sisters to convert the portable items they took from the Death House into ready gold. At the close of the transaction, Grimm glanced out the window and noticed a young woman with curly brown hair and a similarly brown dress stooping to pick up items from her bag that had spilled onto the street--and that a carriage was streaming toward the oblivious woman. When yelling a warning failed to alert her to the danger, Grimm quickly darted into the street, grabbed her by the back of the dress, and pulled her out of the way in the nick of time. After recovering from her brush with death, she gave her thanks and introduced herself as Ivara Olashenko. Although she had no time at present to buy Grimm a drink as a reward, she promised that he would soon have an invitation from her. She retrieved the rest of her books from the street and hurried on her way.

Things seen upon the way: four peasants milling about by a wagon with a broken wheel (studiously avoided) and a lonesome chapel with a black stone statue of a veiled and robed woman standing before it (also avoided).

The Fatted Calf was a homely wayside inn at the foot of a hill terraced with grape vines An old barn converted to vintner's business stood beside the inn. Inside the inn, Tarvin and Grimm were greeted by a middle-aged man with thinning hair and a growing paunch. A beautiful red-haired woman (Mirella) went about the business of polishing the tables to a soft gleam, and a hulking teenage boy (Petro) sat scribbling furiously at a slate with a piece of chalk. During the small talk over food, wine, and a glass of the inn's celebrated absinthe, the proprietor (Josep Kolkov) indicated that his son had lost his wits due to an "illness." Though he never mentioned it, it appeared that the woman--slack-jawed and vacant eyed--suffered from the same affliction. A glance at the boy's slate showed that he kept drawing a demonic being only to erase it and begin drawing it over again afresh.

Tarvin bantered with Josep while Grimm attempted to slip out and explore the barn; however, as he tried to leave the inn, Grimm was met at the door by a dandy whose clothes were soiled and torn, his face bruised and battered. The fop introduced himself as Martinus di Rosalba, of the aristocratic Rosalba family, explained that he had been set upon by four ruffians lingering by a wagon with a broken wheel (an ambush avoided by Grimm and Tarvin) while searching for his sister Emilia (who ran away with a man of a lower station), and began to help himself to Tarvin's wine.

Eventually Grimm found the opportunity to approach the barn. From the windows he only saw what one would expect from a working winery: a wine press, crates of bottles, stills for absinthe, and a workbench crowded with funnels, ladles, etc. The only oddity was a wooden, carved statue of a green fairy in the center of the room. As he entered the barn, Grimm noted the presence of a tripwire, but deftly avoided it. Inside, he discovered a locked door to what appeared to be an office but the lock proved to be too complex for him to figure out. 

Back in the inn, Josep interrupted his conversation with Tarvin as he seemed to hear a sound that no one else reacted to. He rushed out of the inn, heading toward the barn, only to discover Grimm creeping out of the winery. He rushed at Grimm in a fit of anger and fear, brandishing a metal mallet. Grimm stepped on the tripwire, causing bells to ring furiously in the Fatted Calf, calling Tarvin to his aid. A brief melee ensued, and Josep was finally cowed by Tarvin's intimidation.

Re-entering the Fatted Calf, Tarvin and Grimm are greeted by the sight of an unconscious Martinus on the floor with Petro standing over him with an upraised fist. Josep claimed the since his illness his son experiences violent episodes; Tarvin and Grimm arranged to take a room at the inn and gave Martinus a berth to recover from in it as well. However, Grimm and Tarvin crept out of their room through the window, under the cover of night, to further explore the barn. 

Once again Grimm failed to pick the lock of the office door within the barn, but to his chagrin he discovered that the door was now unlocked. There was nothing unusual in the desk, but moving the rug revealed stairs going down into a basement. Down into the basement, then, where a stone well with chain running from windlass into dark, impenetrable water and five doors are found. 

Tarvin decided that there must be something interesting down in the well, so he decided to climb down the chain. Something was down there, something hard that filled the shaft beyond the waterline--no getting around it. As he began to ascend the chain, something reached up out of the water and shattered his lantern, leaving him to scramble back to safety in darkness.

The first door revealed a pile of dried human skins, shucked from their meat like ears of corn.

The second revealed a restrained man whose body suffered from inhuman swelling, distension, and bloating, as well as breasts that have become swollen with unnatural milk. Realizing that Tarvin and Grimm are not his captor, he explained that he is a son of Josep. Painfully altered in body by his father and used for some demoniac purpose, the son begs for death. He assumes a prone posture and stretches his neck as if in anticipation of a guillotine--Tarvin gives him release with one stroke of his axe.

The third door revealed another desk and bookshelves that hold a few scattered books of occult lore. One of them details Josep Kolkov's absinthe recipe; one of the ingredients is a bit out of the ordinary: "milk of the demon."

The fourth door revealed an otherwise empty room, save for chains and manacles ready for use.

The fifth door revealed a young woman in much the same state as Josep's son: her limbs rendered useless from swelling, her body wracked with an excess of...something. She begged for the pair to save her, to not let Josep continue to milk her (the secret ingredient of his madness-causing absinthe), so they released her from bondage and prepared to make good their escape when...a body came crashing down the stairs (the unconscious form of Martinus) and a jaunty whistled tune was heard from coming from the main floor of the barn. Sensing he inevitable, Tarvin issued a challenge to whistling Josep, who came down the stairs and began chanting in a strange, disquieting language. Tendrils of luminous darkness lashed out at the adventurers as they battled Josep, but none managed to grasp them. Ultimately, Grimm drove his silver short sword through Joseph's throat in an attempt to silence that hellish and unnerving chant.

Their resolve shaken, Grimm and Tarvin gathered up what valuables they could find in the Fatted Calf, managed to get Martinus, Emilia, Mirella, and Petro into the back of a wagon, located the deed to the vineyard and winery, and got back to Vallaki in one piece, even though the forest seemed to close in upon them on the path. They sent a message to the Rue sisters requesting a meeting, and found two letters waiting for them: Grimm's letter was from Ivara, inviting him and his master to dinner, Tarvin's was from Pandora Rue, letting him know that she could tell him the location of the Old Bonegrinder mill should he wish to see it out.

* * *

For record keeping purposes, the spoils;

XP - 250 each

Treasure - 
a wagon and two draft horses (no saddles) (The Rue sisters will expect their loaned horses back.)
a deed transferring the winery lands from Ezra the Patriarch (priest of the Night Mother) to Josep Kolkov.
148 electrum pieces
2 rings worth 50 gp each
earings worth 100 gp each