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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:48 AM
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Chapter 2

At the gates
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"Wolves an' werewolves, eh? Can't say I'm sorry to hear 'bout more of 'em dead." Looking over to Halas, "Huh? Oh, those're just leftover from the last festival. We'll be rid of 'em 'fore the next one."

"Hm," the guard grunts, peering passed Aender into the fog. "Lot of you," he comments as the strung out line of travelers slowly congregate outside the gate. "Well, you made it just in time. We were just about to chain up the gates." The other guard, a younger man, leans his pike against the inside of the wall and lifts a heavy crossbar before swinging the gates wide for the party. "The Blue Water Inn should be able to put the lot of you up, long as you got coin," the older guard goes on. "Take this main drag straight through town to the center, where you'll see it on your right. Big building with a well and stables. Can't miss it. Probly be a good idea to ask around 'bout our laws here. Trust me, you don't wanna break any of 'em by accident or otherwise."
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:49 AM
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Aender smiles up at the guards, before looking back to the others. He felt a bit upstaged by Halas more detailed description of their perils on the road, but regardless the gate was open to them and they knew where to find the inn. He wasn't about to be left outside the walls that was for sure and moved inside. Walking towards the center of town.

"Well that wasn't so bad, though that warning about the laws was a bit ominous. They must be pretty strict around here. Let's find this inn, and get a room, and some food and drink. Oh I hope they have hot baths I could really use one after the long trek here. Looking up toward Ismark and Ireena he smiled I guess this means we fulfilled our end of the bargain yes? Perhaps food and drink on you tonight?"

Chuckling he continues to walk towards the center of town obviously in a better mood than he has been in some time.

 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:49 AM
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Polly Titchwillow
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'Is a big hunk of steak against the law?' Polly asked, giving the two guards a tired look. 'Because honestly that's all I want right now. Something that's not been roasted over a campfire, and something that was not trying to eat us, few minutes earlier.' Looking at Aender, she shrugged. 'Couldn't care less about a bath, to be honest. Rain'll come soon enough. But otherwise, I'm on board with your plan. Find an inn, get some proper sleep and food. Worry about what comes next tomorrow.'

The monk looked up at the city with trepidation. 'Never did like cities,' she admitted. 'Too many people. Too loud,' she explained. 'Not that I don't like people, just... Not this many,' she shrugged, looking uncomfortable. The intimate celebration at the Vistani camp had been the highlight of her journey here. And there were plenty of small hamlets back in the not-a-nightmare-world, who had found themselves devoid of booze and beef the morning after she'd passed through. Cities were just too far from what she considered comfortable- too many people stopping to gawk at the woman with the antlers, for one.

'So, Blue Water inn it is. Hope they've got something strong,' the Hexblood said, tapping the side of her tankard. 'Running kinda low- I'm wondering what they have here that I can throw into the mix.' She then looked at the siblings, eyeing them both. 'You'll join us, right?' she invited them. 'I'll even pay for my own drinks, never you worry,' she added with a wink directed at Aender. 'Unless, there's somewhere you need to be right now?'



 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:50 AM
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Barry Elba
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As they made their way to the Blue Water Inn, Barry came along side Ismark and asked him softly. "Do you know anything about these laws?" he keeps his voice down for the next sentence. "It's often strict laws are not for the safety of the people, but for their control from the top....I am...uneasy..."


 


 

 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:51 AM
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Mara offered a polite nod to the gate guards as she walked by, a gesture of respect to those who shared her former profession. In truth she was glad she hadn’t had to open her mouth to get them inside the gates; feeling incredibly tense this evening as she was, things might have gone poorly. Inside the gate she tried to follow close behind Ismark as Barry, Halas, and Polly questioned the two nobles, because chances were good the nobleman knew the laws of this place; it was his destination afterall. Their business here was too important for them to be running afoul of the laws, and she had no desire to fight some guards just trying to make some money to feed wives and kids.

The farther down the street they get, the farther they get into the city, the more relaxed Mara feels, and her thoughts turn from the stresses of life-and-death trials in the wilderness to the reality that soon enough Ireena, …and Ismark and Lucian, would be gone. She had already spoken to Ireena, and meant what she said too, yet even as she snuck a glance at the raven-haired beauty Mara wondered if it was the right decision. Her mouth opened and then snapped shut just as quickly, as she decided against also asking the trio to join them that night; instead waiting to hear their answer.




 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:51 AM
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Arrival
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"I'm afraid we know little of this place," to Barry."I told you before that we've barely enough money to get settled here after your payment," Ireena then replies to Aender. "I wish I did have more. You're all well-deserving of a bonus. I'll tell you what: once we get into the privacy of the baths, I'll hand over your payment. That's not something we want to do in front of strangers. After we're all clean," she gives Polly a mildly disgusted side-eye glance. "I'll pay for tonight's dinner... for all who come to the table clean," she clarifies, pointedly avoiding Polly's return gaze now.

The inn seems fairly obvious on arrival. A middle-aged man in a leather jerkin steps from the small stable building to receive Jacob and Dixie. He smells like one of the horse stalls, so much so that you can barely notice the brandy on his breath. "I'll take care of these fine animals for ye," he gives a gap-toothed grin. "Ye should take the packsaddles, though. I can't be responsible for them or what's in them." Ismark hands the man four coppers, who takes them with a somewhat disappointed air as if he were anticipating more. "See that you do," Ismark told him. "These animals served us well on our journey."

Being supper time, the common room of the inn is fairly busy. Ireena marches passed the tables and directly up to a somewhat harried looking woman who appears to be the server. "We need baths immediately, a place where we can sit down together for dinner afterwards, and..." she glances back to the party as if doing sums in her head, "four rooms after that." The friendly faced barmaid smiles and nods at all the demands, turning to shout into the kitchens. "Brom! Bray! Get baths ready for ten people!" A pair of sullen looking pre-teen lads exit the kitchen and disappear into a different back room, looking plainly resentful about the extra work. The barmaid turns back to Ireena, but she seems to include the entire party with a glance. "Now the baths will take a half-hour to get ready. You all come with me." She leads you towards the back of the common room where she pushes the end of a large table against another. "That should seat all of you comfortably. Now, would you like drinks while you're waiting? Or I could just bring the supper straight out if you want to do it in reverse order."

"I think just drinks for now", Ireena says without so much as a glance around to get popular opinion. "What do you have?" The barmaid smiles at Ireena, but spreads it around the table as she directs her answer to everyone. "We've got two different wines, brandy, and hard cider. The cider is very nice if you ask for it heated. Quite warming, really."
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:52 AM
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Aender looked to Ireena smiling. "Don't worry about it, and certainly don't feel bad about it. I have a few coins in my pouch still. I'm just glad we finally made it here, hopefully things are less exciting here."

Once inside the inn he drank in the smells and sounds, Ireena wasted no time moving to order rooms and food and baths. The woman behind hte bar moving to arrange tables for them he slid onto an end seat with the wall to his back. He didn't like being exposed and this allowed him to see the whole room. As she listed the drinks he perked up. "The hot hard cider for me please."

He thought about ordering a tray of bread and cheese and offering to pay but he didn't want to slight or make Ireena feel bad, having seen her reaction to his asking for them to buy dinner and such. He let everyone else order as he scanned the room trying to get a good feel for who else was in the room.

 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:53 AM
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Polly Titchwillow
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Polly did little more than roll her eyes at Ireena's snootiness. The haughty mayor's daughter had slept in the muck these past few days, same as the rest of them. But it seemed any sense of camaraderie was gone the moment they set foot back in "civilization", and they were back to the roles of employer and hired help.

She spent a little time with Jacob before the stablehand. 'Don't you worry buddy,' Polly told the animal, placing her forehead against the mule's, eyes closed. 'They'll take good care of you here. Nice hay, warm stable, fresh water. Well, fresh-ish,' she smirked, putting little faith in the establishment's quality. 'I'll come back for you in the morning. You play nice with the other animals, yeah? And if there's any nice lady mules in there, you go and sweep 'em off their feet with stories of how you stood up to those wolves. That'll impress them.' Then she opened her eyes, frowning slightly. 'Or any nice boy mules, if that's your thing. I'm not judging,' she grinned.

Then she took the saddlebags from Jacob's back- and slightly buckled under their weight. 'Jhorn, Mara? Little helpe here, please?' Polly then approached the stablehand and, noticing him staring rather dejectedly at Ismark's back, dug three golden coins from her pouch and subtly handed them to the man. 'They don't pay me much more than that, but us hired helps gotta stick together, yeah? Just make sure they get the good food, and a nice and warm spot in the stable, and we'll call it even.' Looking around, she suddenly remembered something she'd heard in the Vistani camp. 'By the way,' the monk started. 'Do you know a merchant or the like around these parts, who might be interested in a trade for mule feed? Might have some excess I can get rid of, if the price is right.' If Arahja's suggestion proved true, then Polly at least wanted to get a bead on what would be considered a fair price for a sack of grain...

She then hurried to catch up with the others, catching the tail end of their conversation. With a grin, she walked up to the server. 'How much is a bottle of brandy going to run me?' she asked. She needed to refill the hellbrew in her tankard, and besides, a half hour was a lot of time to kill... Then she looked down, and smiled at Lucien. 'Oh, and a tankard of... Milk? Water? Whatever the kid wants,' she added.

In spite of her carefree demeanour, the monk Perception check (+6), please!took a moment to study the room. One could never be too careful when entering a new town- she'd been run out of enough bars to try and spot trouble brewing- glances at them which lingered too long, weapons hanging from belts...



 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:53 AM
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Halas Fogbarrel
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Per standard operating procedure when entering an unfamiliar establishment, Halas attempted to blend in with the group, to not stand out. He was small, he was slight, he was nondescript and liked it that way. As orders for food, drink, baths and rooms were made, he perception +5surveyed the room, keeping an eye out for anyone who seemed a bit too interested in them. Strangers and travelers in this land did not seem commonplace and anyone who was either would naturally draw suspicion. That was fine. What he was looking for was a look that meant more than mere curiosity or conjecture. He was looking for someone who didn't seem surprised at their arrival.

With that complete, he would play one of his most devious tricks in his arsenal, the Detect Thoughts spell. Once cast, he had a minute to bounce his magic off of any interesting looking minds to learn their surface opinions. He also always liked to save the most dispassionate mind for last. Whatever face looked the most disinterested in their presence would get the last listen. Sometimes people could do too good a job of acting unbiased.

 



 

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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:54 AM
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Being towards the back of their large group Beth couldn’t hear the exchange with the guards very well. Steps, the creak of leather and the rumble of another cart behind them told her that they were also not the last ones to reach the safety of the walls of Vallaki. How safe it was, probably depended on whom you asked. At least they could stop worrying about being tracked by real wolves for a night or two inside the walls.

She followed the group down the main street past homes and shops and businesses. It looked like a lot of the towns Marybeth had traveled to making her living as a herbalist. Dirt road with the deep ruts, faded paint on signs, wood frames slightly crooked from weather and time making the building fronts lean into each other like a couple of knackered men on their way home from the pub.

The inn the guards had directed them to was certainly one of the biggest buildings in town. Inside it was pretty packed, but then again it was time for the evening meal. The sorceress could not agree more with Ireena about having a bath before eating. It would make everything so much better once the stink, and dirt from the road was taken away. Beth wasn’t going to argue about a bath and meal that was being paid for.

“I’ll chip in on that Brandy Polly,”
Beth chimed in on the Monk’s inquiry about the price for the stiffer alcohol. She would need it for making more tinctures. “And a pitcher of warm cider,” she hollered at the barmaid settling herself into a chair. She put her bag between her feet under the table; one it was out of the way and two less likely to get rifled through. Beth made a note to cast her mage armor on herself once they were in the privacy of the bathing area.


 


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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:54 AM
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Heading towards the door, Mara paused and turned back towards Polly and the animals, handing her halberd off to Barry or Jhorn, whomever was closest. ”Go, I’ll help with the bags.”

When Mara did finally enter the inn, it was bearing a substantial amount of weight, leather straps creaking almost as much as the floorboards beneath her. She waited patiently, for a time, while drinks and such were discussed before catching the innkeeper’s attention. Following off to one of the rooms they were renting for the night she set the packsaddle down, before dropping her pack which made just as much noise as one would expect from a bag of chain mail. She made one quick trip downstairs to fetch her halberd and drop it off in the room as well, before finding a seat with the others and ordering a glass of wine.

She lifted her glass to the table, "Well, we made it here alive."




 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:55 AM
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Splish-Splash
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Everyone seems intent on enjoying the hot cider. Not a surprise during all the past wet and cold days. Even when not soaked by rain, the weather has been cool and very humid, often travelling through mist that leaves condensation drops all over your body. The central hearth with its drying heat is an instant comfort. A pleasant surprise when the drinks are delivered is the mulling spices included in the cider. Lucian is served a hot, but soft cider and rolls his eyes back in near ecstasy as he sips from it. Polly takes only a single shot of the brandy after splitting the cost of the bottle with Marybeth - that and filling her flask 3/4 full with the stuff - before surrendering the rest to the sorceress. It's obviously just a distilled product of the wine they serve, but still quite good.

Aender, Polly, and Halas attempt to take stock of the common room patrons. They all seem like locals and offer an uncomfortable amount of return appraisal. It seems even here that travelers are somewhat rare, especially in such large and disparate groups. Polly notices a couple of young men who seem engaged in power-drinking brandy - possibly a source of trouble, but nothing the group can't handle. There really seems to be nobody standout-ish to draw focus. Halas casts a spell, but is able to discern little that has to do with the party.

Finally, a younger barmaid you haven't even seen yet comes to inform you the baths are ready. On the way there she explains how happy she is over your arrival and her hopes that you'll stay. Her explanation quickly turns from friendly welcome to self-serving as she describes how the family business only calls her in to work when there's more work than they can handle, and that's the only time she's able to earn pay. Still, it's understandable and you don't take too much offense at the attitude flip. The bath-room is right next to the kitchen, and thankfully just as large. Four steaming tubs on one side and six on the other, meant to separate women from men with a translucent curtain drawn across the divide. A pit with glowing coals and rocks is in the middle. "That's if you wanna soak extra-long," the girl explains. "Just use those tongs there to grab a hot rock or two and drop 'em into yur water."
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Nothing like a hot soak after a week travelling in the cold and damp. Polly may not admit it out loud, but even she's appreciative of the relaxation and warming aspect, even if she has no care for cleanliness. Those smart enough to have a dry change of clothes also wash their existing set in the bath water and leave them hanging to dry on hangers obviously set for the purpose. Still playing the boss, Ireena emerges from the women's side after a half-hour, her high and proud breasts holding her wrapped towel up as she chivvies you all to be ready in five minutes. True to her demands, she emerges again quickly and heads for the common room only to stop just inside the door. She's no longer wearing her armor, but a simple, if finely made dress. "Here's the promised payment," she says to the room as she sets down a medium sized pouch bulging with 300 gpcoin. "Come on, Ismark and I are still buying your dinner."
OOCEveryone, please feel encouraged to interactively post here. Just don't carry your post through the end of the night. This one turned out longer than I'd planned, so not combining to make too massive a post.
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:55 AM
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Aender followed the young woman back into the bath area smiling as they went. Once they arrived he looked around and grinned he could feel the hot water in the air. Once clear he undresses quickly and climbs into one of the tubs. Leaning back and soaking in the hot water a short bit before actually bathing himself thoroughly and washing his clothing to allow it to dry.

Once done bathing he continues to relax enjoying the heat from the water. He lost track of time quickly and when Ireena cane around the divider her ample figure obvious he had to admit how appealing she was to the eye. Sitting up more int eh tub lowering his lower body deeper. In true form she gave them a time limit, once she walked back to her side he climbed out and dried himself off before dressing in his fine clothing. They were clean and it would allow his others to dry fully.

Once dressed he was about to move out to eat when he saw her produce the pouch of the promised gold. His eyes estimating its contents by size alone. She said they were still buying dinner and he smiled. "Lady Ireena you look positively radiant in your dress if I don't say so myself." Smiling up at her as he waited for the others to join them.

 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:56 AM
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Polly Titchwillow
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When they were brought to the bathroom, Polly blinked, looking aghast, first at her companions, then the waitress, then at the bathtubs- which were standing right next to each other. Flimsy curtain notwithstanding, did they honestly expect her to disrobe in full view of the others? Polly had absolutely no wish to see the others wearing naught but their skin, and even less of a wish for them to see her thusly.

Shaking her head, the Hexblood took a step back, and nodded in the bathroom's direction. 'You know, you can never be too careful,' she started. 'How's about I keep watch on this side of the door, make sure nobody comes in while you're all without your weapons and armor? I'll go in once you guys are done,' she offered, her tone of voice promising she was not going to budge on this point. Ireena and Mara could ogle each other all they liked; the Hexblood wasn't going to be part of it.

After the last of her allies had filed out, Polly placed her hand on Barry's shoulder and bid him to wait. 'Do me a favour,' she said, looking quickly at the others disappearing in the common room. 'I'm not at all comfortable with all this. Stand guard outside, yeah? Promise I'll be done quick.' She then went in quickly identified the only clean bathtub by the lack of dark, grimy water, and sighed. Shivering with disgust, Polly made sure the door was closed, but still felt uncomfortable at the lack of a lock, despite knowing Barry would dutifully stand guard.

Sighing, wondering why in the name of Cegilune's worm-infested teeth she put up with this, the monk disrobed and stood next to the bath. She refused to get in just yet, instead lowering her head so she could dunk it in the clean water and wash her hair, at the very least get the cloying blood and muck out of it. The process was a bit more difficult than she'd liked, her eldercross scraping against the inside of the tub more than once.

Rather than continue to wash herself, Polly took her clothes and put them in the bathtub, rubbing the worst of the filth off. There was no way they'd be dry by the time she was done bathing, so the monk resigned herself to spending the rest of the evening in cold, damp clothes. Then, reluctantly, she stepped into the bath, refusing to sit down and marinate herself in the filthy water. Instead she scooped handfuls of water from around her lower legs, and washed herself as best- and as quickly- as she could, keeping a wary eye on the door at all times. She supposed she trusted Barry, but that didn't mean she trusted everyone in the common room.

When she got out, Polly quickly dried off, then put on her partially dried clothes and, her expression darker than it had been while fighting the wolves, opened the door to find Barry still patiently waiting. 'Bloody high-and-mighty little miss princess,' she grumbled at him, visibly upset at the woman who had forced her through the ordeal. 'What in the name of Cegilune's moldy cabin does Strahd even see in her?' Grunting her displeasure, Polly grabbed her tankard and took a big swig of it. 'Thanks for standing guard,' she said, with a reluctance born of the discomfort at it all, though her appreciation was evident as well.

She walked back to the table where her companions were sitting. 'Another bottle of brandy!' she shouted at a passing waitress, then joined the others. 'So,' she started. 'We got you here. What's next for you two?' she asked, her eyes resting on the siblings- only now realizing brother and sister had been bathing in the same room. Cegilune's warty nose, she thought to herself, rich people and their weirdness...




 


 
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Old Feb 11th, 2023, 11:57 AM
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Halas Fogbarrel
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As Halas opened up his mind to the thoughts of the tavern patrons, the bard discovered a level of misery and forlornness that he had hitherto never experienced before. The people in this town weren't here to socialize or catch up on the latest gossip. They were here to drink away the agony of choosing to eat or buy kindling for their home hearths. That spending what little they had on booze was their solution only made the halfling more depressed for these people had truly lost all hope. It was almost as if they were simply biding their time to die to end their disconsolate existence.

So affected by the outcome of his spell that the usually chipper halfling was rather sullen as the group moved to the back room for baths. He merely sat in his tub, barely actually scrubbing just trying to sort out the thoughts he had invited into his mind, to separate the attitudes of Vallaki back out of his psyche. He looked over at Lucien and wondered if they could truly leave the boy in this place. To doom him to be the next sod drinking away his sorrows hoping for the relief of death. Was there anyplace in this cursed Barovia that wasn't so crushed beneath the unrelenting heel of Strahd?

 



 

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