Our heroes’ sleep was not quiet.
Tsora was again visited by dreams of strange symbols being carved into wood. This time, however, she could identify that the wood was a stake. Her dream then sent her soaring through the sky over a battlefield littered with burned buildings and crucified bodies, and banners bearing an old symbol that marked the Vistani from a time of intense persecution. Now the symbol seemed to be used to signify a rebellious triumph.
Senna dreamed of her old mentor, Raymond Frost. He seemed to move through an immense tower library, and as she finally closed the distance, she could see the book he was reading. It appeared to be the same book of children’s nursery rhymes that Sir Vincent left to Alston.
Ulrich dreamed about running through the woods, following a trail of blood. As he did so, the woods warped and darkened, red veins running through the trees. He ended his pursuit in a clearing, standing before the Red Woman. Her dress undulated and shifted between fabric and liquid blood. She told him that there is a shapechanger hiding in Vallaki, and he must find and slay it.
The party set off for Vallaki. Arriving at its gates, they perceived immediately that it was a much larger and more vibrant town than the village of Barovia. Despite this, the large entry gates appear solely ornamental, and there were no posted guards. Instead, the first denizen they encountered was a young well-dressed noble, thoroughly drunk.
He claimed to be heading off into the wood to rescue his brother, who got caught up with a bad crowd that meets in the woods. Sasha immediately noticed that he wore some valuable-looking cufflinks, and decided to move in for an easy steal. The drunk, whose name is evidently Karl Wachter, is all too happy to have Sasha in his personal space. She scored the cufflinks easily.
Karl was a little too forward in his inebriated state, and most of the party were content to let him wander off into the woods. Ulrich, however, could not let an innocent-if-gross-bystander wander off into the woods to die, so he explained that our heroes were there hunting monsters by decree of the mayor of Barovia. He offered to help rescue the brother, Nikolai Wachter, and asked Karl to share everything he knew. Unfortunately this provided little more information than they already had. There are a bunch of Vallaki teens obsessed with vampires, and they meet in secret in the woods. The party urged him to return home, since they were here to take care of the problem.
Moments later, however, Tsora heard an unnerving sound from within the woods—musical but discordant, the unmistakable droning of an accordion! Sasha tracks the sound and finds a tiny monkey in a tutu, playing a tiny accordion. She led it back to the group, and Tsora used her druidic magic to communicate.
They learned that the monkey’s name is Piccolo, and that he was playing to lure Karl deeper into the forest to see if the wolves would kill him. Apparently the wolves had red eyes under Strahd, normal eyes after he died, and now they have red eyes again. So Piccolo was conducting an experiment—in no small part because Karl had been cruel to him in the past.
Piccolo led our heroes to some of the Children of the Night camping sites, where they found evidence of revelry and bloody handprints that match the ones left in the church. They also found two upturned sites in the ground, from which sleeping vampires likely rose.
With no sign of Nikolai, the party decided to head back into town.
Sasha decided to find Karl again, both because he may have more info about his brother, and also because he likely has more valuables lying around. Meanwhile, the rest of the party explored the town.
Sasha’s efforts led her to the grandest home in town, the Burgomaster’s mansion. It turns out Karl is the son of the Burgomaster herself, Lady Fiona Wachter, whose path Sasha was none-too-happy to cross. Severe and formal, she brought Sasha to a drawing room where she met with the yet-still-drunker Karl. As things get increasingly eerie, Alston joined the party. Among the strange happenings were: occult books disguised as mundane books; a painting of Lady Wachter’s late husband, whose eyes followed Sasha around the room; and finally, a host of swirling insect-like points of movement that rippled through the walls.
Meanwhile Andrei found the charred remains of Vallaki’s church, as well as its former altar boy Yeska, who now maintains a small shrine not far away. He explained that Lady Wachter has always been hostile towards the church and has refused to authorize funds to rebuild it. Ulrich found a tiny rat-like dog, and uses his animistic barbarian skills to communicate with it. This mostly just confirmed what the party had already learned—Lady Wachter’s house has best scraps, but too scary, and the wolves have red eyes again.
Back at Wachterhaus, Nikolai finally arrived, beaten and bruised. The party rushed him off to the Blue Water Inn to interrogate him. He seemed to have had more than his fill of the Children of the Night, so he was willing to share what he knew—as long as the party swore to protect him from whatever attacked the group in the woods. He claims that an old woman approached their group, but out of nowhere she became something monstrous. He also shared that they know when and where to meet because Doru calls to them telepathically, and that they typically convene about once a month.
They also learned that the innkeeper at the Blue Water also owns the Blood on the Vine back in Barovia, and is the employer of Bethany. His name is Urwin Martikov.