Fifteenth of the Sixth Moon, 351

I must write down everything that happened tonight, for it may prove important in the future.

I had all but given up hope. After months of spending time with Tatyana, nothing had changed. I have showered her with gifts, including my mother’s jewels, to no avail. She even had the gall to give mother’s necklace to the poor! She seems unmoved, but still unaware of my true intentions. My brother has proved to be frightfully naïve and does not suspect a thing. He even came to me today to talk about his fears of marriage and the love he has for his eldest brother.

I hate him so much.

The wedding is tomorrow. Guests have been arriving for days; the servants busy themselves making a grand spectacle of the Castle. Lady Ilona will oversee the ceremony and has been busy as well. The villagers gossip about how handsome the prince is and how kind the lucky bride is. And I have been hiding in the shadows, knowing that every moment we draw closer to Tatyana being taken from me.

We went on our final walk today. I arrived to her chamber where she showed me the wedding gown she would wear tomorrow. I all but hissed when I thought about Sergei fumbling to remove the garment when he tried to consummate the union tomorrow night. I held back a desire to seize her or order my guards to take Sergei to the dungeon. I knew couldn’t win her like that. I needed help. Immediately afterward we parted, I stole to my study to read the books Alek had given me.

I spent the rest of the day and evening reading those books, looking for anything that could prevent what was going to happen tomorrow. Alek came to the locked door once, urging that he needed to talk to me, but I would not open the door. Hours of reading the books, hours deciphering the old script. Nothing. I gave up and muttered, “Anything. I would give anything for Tatyana.”

And I was answered.

I knew at once I was not alone in the room, but I could see no one. I demanded that whoever it was show themselves. Mocking laughter retorted that I “could not bare the sight”. It was Tatyana’s voice. I knew it was some kind of cruel trick, but then it said I had summoned it. Or them, it said I summoned “them”. There was a cacophony of voices: Sergei’s, Tatyana’s, Alek’s, my mother’s, Ilona’s—-all saying that they were there to give me my heart’s desire.

“What is this?” I asked, but I knew the answer. Death had come for me at last. Perhaps I had slipped away without realizing it; seized by some chest pain whilst I searched for a way to steal my brother’s bride. The candle of my life had burnt low and now the flame was extinguished. The voices responded with mocking confirmation.

“But it need not be the case, Strahd. You can live forever—-and take Tatyana from your fool brother,” Ilona’s voice said.

“Yes, Strahd, please take me,” Tatyana’s voice cooed, with a smoldering emphasis that made me shudder as Sergei’s laugh sounded through the study. I clenched my teeth.

“What are the terms?” I demanded. All the voices laughed.

“The terms are you will live forever, you will have your youth, and you will have Tatyana,” my mother said.

“What do I have to do?” I asked.

“Life for life. Joy for joy. Blood is needed to seal the pact. Despair is needed to empower it.” Sergei said.

“Do you agree?” Ilona asked.

I agreed. The voices cackled with hideous acceptance and then they were gone. But I was not alone. I heard the terrace door of the study open. I turned to see Alek standing there—-he had clearly heard everything. He started to protest but I was already on him. His sword was almost out of its sheath when I stabbed the Ba’al Verzi dagger into his side. Blood fountained out, and the smell of it overpowered me for a moment. Alek collapsed to the stone floor, and apologized for his intrusion.

“It didn’t have to be this way, Strahd. I would have helped you,” he said as blood welled up in his mouth. I sighed. Of course it had to be this way, Sergei gave me no option. No one would understand. I looked at Alek. The blood was pouring freely from his mouth, the vile magick of the dagger quickening his death. He was struggling to say something to me. I knelt down to my oldest friend and listed to his last words.

“Ba’al Verzi—-waiting—-“ he said. And then his eyes closed. I calmly put my blade to his neck and drew the edge across. The blood was flowing like a river now. And I was overcome with a sudden urge—-and I drank deeply of my friend’s blood. It had the same coppery taste blood always has, but as I drank it changed. The blood was intoxicating; I could taste life in it. I could taste beauty and youth. I did not stop until the river did.

I moved Alek’s body to the closet in my chambers. I have feverously written this while it is still fresh in my mind. I may need this information. I sense changes in my body; I feel stronger and I am certainly now committed to this path. I am sorry to have killed Alek, but he left me no choice either. I wonder what he wanted to say earlier, and what his mentioning of the Ba’al Verzi meant. No matter. His blood has sealed the pact. Now I need to empower the magick and take what is rightfully mine. And I know exactly how to do that.

There will be a wedding tomorrow. And after that Tatyana will be mine forever.

Fifteenth of the Sixth Moon, 351

Lost in the Mists ignatiusvienna