The room was stark, bright white overhead lights, still in mist form for he could not turn back to his Vampire self Strahd concentrated and willed the smoke to form something approaching a shadowy, gaseous form something more like himself.
He had the sense of being watched, not just from Invisiboy but in the narrow room the screen had turned off, he knew what this meant, either they wished to trap him here forever, or they had been satisfied. Now all he had to do was wait.
Unknown to him at that very same moment Vecna, Tasha and Daniel where in identical rooms likewise being interrogated with the same pattern of questions.
After some time the door slid open releasing Vecna, Strahd and Daniel.. before them stood a young women with curly red hair flanked by soldiers, both the women and her guards wore strange uniforms, Strahd couldn’t help but notice the slim cut of the women’s skirt – it was distracting as she explained that her name was Dannel and The Captain had determined that for the moment they were free – as long as they did not try to harm anyone or cause trouble.
“You are Strahd from Barovia yes?” The women asked, her pale blue eyes looking at the form of Strahd.
If he had a pulse it might have sped up for it had been a embarrassingly long time since a young women who was not too young took interest in him. Though he was also on the back foot for while his ego was eased by the fame of being known beyond Barovia it also raised the question of exactly WHAT this mysterious Captain knew about him.
While Daniel, Strahd and Vecna quizzed the women the final door opened and behind them was the sound of Tasha yelling “Of course I’m alive.. see!” the flash of a spell before she stormed out in a huff to join them. “Well.. this was not at all what I expected” she admitted looking at the sparse metal box that they had found themselves in.
“I’m sorry, are you hungry? Come you’re very welcome, new people are always a blessing.. Queen Dannel said leading them to a hatch, the Guards watching the strange newcomers with suspicion as the door was opened and they where lead into the next carriage, still narrow but instead of cells the room opened up into seats and tables, passengers talking, sitting and drinking as outside the windows flashes of eldritch green lightning and dark stormclouds contrasted heavily with the more hopeful mood of the people abord the train.
Very odd.. Vecna thought, as they passed though the doorway he noted runes above the door.. his eye catching more and more of the same ruins. Vecna recalled how when they were first detained the message had first appeared in this script before changing to Common, likewise the people of the train had a strange accent, many speaking what sounded a lot like Gnomish and Comprehend Language failed to perfectly translate – for this was not a language or culture documented within the ‘known’ world. The word ‘Eberron’ having no meaning to him nor did any of the party know the nation of Cyre or why these people seemed so very paranoid.
As Tasha found herself a drink and blended into the crowd and Queen Dennel examined Daniel’s jelly-like skin and questioned why he was wearing a fish-tank on his head Vecna moved to the window. How strange it was, for instead of a view of the lands they had just left looking out the window showed a horror sight – strange constructs, metal people shooting, casting magic and fighting with every kind of weapon against a army of the undead. The glow of explosions far and near and above all the dark red clouds tinged with green necrotic energy. Checking each window the view was the same – to the east, west, north and south the train travelled though a land at war, a war without end.
“If I may” Queen Dennel ventured to Daniel and Strahd “this.. disease you seem to be suffering from, I do belive we have the technology to cure it.. if you would be willing to try?”. Trying to read her intent she was open, hopeful but also it wasn’t hard to see the signs of strain in her face, the burden of leadership. She is young.. Vecna thought, while Strahd was trying to not be distracted by the fact that yes-she was…
Daniel was more then willing to explore the train, Strahd agreeing more to spend time with the lovely young lady then in any expectation that whatever magic cure was offered would be worth his time. Vecna was left with one choice.. to either stay back with Tasha who had already formed a circle around her as she drank and tried whatever passed for food here or go with them.
It wasn’t much of a choice, the other two were clearly idiots and required his supervision.
So started their tour of the Lightning Rail, Queen Dannel acting as guide as she explained how the original train had only been 20 carriages, but as time and the population grew they expanded it, using the art of artifice to keep the whole thing running. It was clear she was passionate about the train and her people as she lead them up-train. People started at them openly, people of all colours but Vecna noticed that the majority was human, there was no Tieflings, few elves and other races. Daniel of course got the most stares for the people of Cyre were modest, dressed in long suits and gowns, no bare arms and rarely a bare head amongst them. So the sight of a underdressed Tiefling wearing a Fish Tank on his head – and nothing else.. on top of his jelly-like skin was turning more then a few heads. Yet again Vecna felt annoyed, here he was a third wheel as Strahd hung on every word of the women, Daniel had the people in shock and awe and he was here.. a God, the Whispered One.. and nobody seemed to care!
It was a unique kind of torture.. the slow walk, stopping every few meters for the guards to see them though to the next carriage, a endless series of faces as they moved though sleeping carriages, eating carriages, banks and banks of various carriages set up to grow food, others thick with pipes and the hiss of steam. Security Checkpoints, markets, factories where people worked delicately putting together works of artifice that Vecna couldn’t even begin to understand.
Then there was the matter of magic… It was a given in their world that magic was divided into the ‘have and have not’, if you where lucky enough to have magic you would climb to the top of society to become a great mage or adventurer. Yet as he moved though the carriages wonder was everywhere. In the Laundry Cart he saw people using stones enchanted with ruins that magically pressed their clothes flat.. bottles of potion being sprayed to make stains disappear and a person waving their hand as a needle sewed up a tear all by itself.
This was not impressive magic, but to see commoners, simple folks wearing gloves that glistened with ruins and glasses that read as ‘eyes of minute seeing’ and seemingly having no idea of the wonder, the power that was on display to everyone – it was as garish as the illusions that decorated the market carts – bright neon coloured lettering in Gnomish ruins offering services, or highlighting the special of the day.
They walked though a nursery where proud mothers sat, their golden gloves gently resting upon bellies or flipping though books.. followed by nursery’s and schools each cart divided by year. Vecna noticed that the numbers were odd.. each cart the year level got older, but the number of students got smaller.
“Is that a Skeleton?” a young boy called out at Vecna as the party was moving though the first year classroom.
“YES” said Vecna, stepping forward, stretching to his full height and drawing upon his power to look as SCARY as possible.
“COOOOOOL” the child said.. the kids behind and around him clapping and oohing and ahhing over Vecna’s display.
He should kill them, and yet instead he felt himself enjoying their attention, here at least was some creatures who would bow down to his power if he only had to ask.
So why then did he find himself giving into the children’s demands.. spending time doing a ‘show and tell’ session instead of putting his full focus on getting off the train?
Before the ‘thing’ that was brewing between Strahd and Dannel got bad enough that he would have to kill them all..
Speaking of which.. Strahd if anything was a romantic.. sure Dannel was speaking as much to Daniel and the group as a whole as she guided them up train but Strahd the others could well have disappeared, for here was a women, a Queen for the people called her able to understand the challenges that he too faced.
Nobody would understand what it was like to have the hope of a entire nation on your sholder, to be young, attractive and so passionate about saving your people.. nobody but Strahd who saw himself the same way, a tragic hero of a doomed land.
“Why do you not just stop the train and get off?” – he couldn’t remember who asked the question, nor did he pay much attention as Queen Dannel explained that they had to keep moving at 100mph or else the wards that protected the train would fail.. that until they found a safe place to stop they had no choice but to keep moving. To the people of the train the constant vibration of the engine, the slight movement from side to side, front and back as it braked, turned and banked was the difference between life and death.
However to Strahd there was a bigger problem, for no sooner had Queen Dannel started talking of the train and the potential ‘cure’ for their disease then she mentioned some person called Norran. It was not hard to see the care and something else in her voice as she spoke of the great engineer who’s lab hopefully held a solution to Strahd and Daniel’s problems while also explaining how it was him, and only him who knew how the train worked, and who all their survival depended on.
Strahd frowned, some other man.. no.. this was clearly a mistake, he would prove to Queen Dannel that there was only one salvation, one ‘hero’ for her to look up to.
That was Strahd von Zarovich! Even before they reached the door of the Lab Strahd had made his mind up, he hated Norran for how could any man chose to toil away in a lab and abandon such a lovely creature to toil away trying to solve the petty problems of the train-foilks.
No, he was the man she needed, he would keep her safe.. he would save them and he would love her.. for the more time he spent with her the more he was convinced.
This foreign queen was none other then his Tatiana!
For no matter her name, no matter her face he would know his true love anywhere…