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Chapter 26: The Final Confrontation
Come the grey dawn, the heroes set out down the trail from Argynvostholt. They returned to Krezk and the abbey, letting the guards know that their business was there alone. Going up the trail and to the gates, they were escorted once again by the monstrous Otto Belview to the main building and there to meet with the Abbot. His creation, Vasilika, had come very far indeed and was playing the harp when they entered. They confided with the Abbot that the time had come for them to confront Strahd von Zarovich, and that they would be taking the simulacrum of Mordenkainen with them. While the Abbot disapproved, stating that such action would only result in their deaths, he did not stand in their way. Without his blessing, they left the Abbey of St. Markovia for the last time.

As the morning gave way to afternoon, the heroes made their way past the two river crossroads and bypassed Vallaki, heading over the pass, and reaching Barovia at last. They met with Ismark, told him of their plans, and went to Father Donavich, letting him know the hour had come. The old priest gathered up his staff and a jack of leather and metal plates, and set out with them come the following morning.

As the clouds rolled overhead, the heroes found themselves finally heading up the ill-used road to Castle Ravenloft. No black coach awaited them past the upper gates, though they spotted wolves shadowing them along the moors. Finally they reached the castle. The drawbridge was down and the front doors stood open. Verity entered first, past the statues of the dragons in the foyer and the gargoyles in the entry hall. They did not react to her presence, but seemed to leer down in silence. The heroes opted to head up the great flight of stairs to the left of the entry.

Twin staircases led up from a landing at the top of the great stair. Suits of plate armor stood there, silent sentries that clutched dragon-headed maces. They led up to a reception hall, where a throne-like chair sat on a dais, its back to the dual entries. A stained glass window on one side had the image of a knight with a dragon crest. As the heroes entered, Verity moved over and sat in the chair, contemplating what she would do when they found Strahd.


The stained glass window was more than mere decoration. It held a deadly opponent.

That was a mistake. The stained glass knight in the window came to life, stepped off it, and attacked! The two suits of armor trod up the landing as well, swinging their maces. The fight that followed was brief but fierce. Caxius and Evan blasted away with bolts of fire and force, and Zahar rained arrows on all, as Cira and Donavich engaged the stained glass golem. Lupin and Volta charged the suits of armor, one to a stair, as Shokk moved in on the creature of glass. It slashed away with a sword of razor-sharp leaded glass and unleashed a burst of blinding light as Cira hit it with her shining sword. It focused the light into a brilliant spray of colors, that burned, froze, and dazed the heroes. But they shook off the effect. In short order, the golem had been shattered and the suits of armor blasted apart by mighty blows from axe, sword, and fist.

Taking a moment to catch their breath, the heroes made their way back around to the spiral stairs next to the dining hall on the lower level. They ascended them, up two levels, to the small banquet hall where they had found the wedding cake of Tatyana and Strahd's brother Sergei. What they had not counted on were two monstrous creatures, much like spiders with men's torsos, heads, and arms, crafted out of spare body parts stripped of skin and with blades grafted into their limbs. They pounced and slashed with their horrible blades, but the heroes felled them quickly. They recalled the chambers ahead to the west, but had never gone to the door to the north. If their map of the castle was correct, this would likely be where they study was. And where Strahd waited for them.


Strahd awaited them.

The heroes were not wrong. The door opened on a lavish study, lined with shelves of leather-bound books. It was carpeted, and a heavy table stood in its center. Couches sat near the bookcases, and large, overstuffed chairs upholstered in burgundy leather sat before a massive fireplace hearth on the east wall. A figure rose from one chair. It was Strahd von Zarovich. He downed a crystal goblet of some red substance and smiled. "So, you have come at last. Have you reconsidered my offer, as your friend did?" He gestured to the other chair, where Kyne Darkblade sat.

"Our answer is the same as last time." Shokk replied. "Never."

"Then you will die!" Strahd growled, and the fight was on. He moved with unearthly quickness, striking with his blade and withdrawing before they could react. He blasted the heroes with a ball of eldritch flame but their defenses let them withstand the inferno. Cira moved in, sunlight spilling from the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, but Rahadin slipped from beneath the table and slashed at her, driving her back with his poison blade. Even as that happened, papers and scrolls flew from shelves and tables, forming a large man-shaped figure like a mummy, though arcane symbols flared on its tightly-wrapped pages. It clawed at Shokk, Volta, and Verity as they moved in. Evan, Zahar, and Caxius fired from the other room, peppering the count and his servants with arcane spells, as did the faux Mordenkainen and Donavich the priest.

As Strahd slashed with his blade and tore at Volta and Verity with claw and fang, he animated the furniture in the room and sent it crashing into the heroes. Kyne danced around them, summoning darkness and vanishing from sight as he stabbed and retreated time and again. Rahadin was a blur with his poison blade.

But the heroes were far from helpless. Cira and Volta cut away at the scroll golem as Verity paralyzed Rahadin with a spell and a song. Zahar filled him with arrows, ending his life. Shokk finally came face to face with Strahd, and struck him with three mighty blows, his sword flaring with radiant fire each time. Strahd snarled, his blade flicking away, piercing the paladin's defenses time and again. Shokk was barely on his feet and everyone else wounded. Volta had fallen twice and was barely on her feet. Strahd moved as a blur across the room, snatched Verity, and drug her through the far doors into the bedchamber where he'd kept Gertruda. He tore at her throat with his fangs, lapping up her lifeblood.

But Cira stepped in, using a prayer to the Morninglord to revitalize the warrior-bard. As Shokk moved in, Verity stood up with the thighbone of St. Markovia in hand. She swung the holy mace with all her might. "I've had enough of you!" Her blow shattered the mace, driving the bony shard into Strahd's heart. He screamed and dissolved into a mist, which swirled past their feet with the swiftness of the wind and back through the vent in fireplace. A blast of cold from Evan finished off the treacherous Kyne, and Volta had cut the paper golem to shreds.

With their foes defeated, the heroes extinguished the flames and stepped into the massive hearth. Cira found a loose brick, pulled on it, and opened a secret door into a hidden treasury. But there was no sign of the mist there. She found a crack in the far wall, near the floor. Grabbing an iron torch cresset there, she pulled open another secret door. It led into a web-choked hall that ended in bronze-sheathed double doors. Making their way carefully down the hall, tearing the webs away, they opened the far doors and found themselves in the castle's belfry. Nearly at a loss, Cira and Lupin carefully searched until they found a crack in the floor on the north side of the room. Another loose brick was pushed in, and a latch released, opening into a larger secret treasury. Inside was a tower of iron, fully 20 feet across and 30 feet high.

Volta remembered the iron key that the ravens had dropped for her weeks ago, and tried it on the door. Sure enough, it opened. Inside they found heaps of gold coins and treasure...and a single, black coffin. A blow from Volta's axe revealed Strahd, lying in state. With an oath, Cira stepped ahead, drawing a flask of holy water as Zahar put a shaft of ash wood straight through the vampire's heart. Shokk took his head with a blow, and Cira sprinkled the water on his remains. The vampire crumbled to ash. It was over.


Strangely enough, Strahd had a look of peace in his eyes just before Shokk's blade fell.

Outside, the clouds broke and the sun came out, the dark skies lit up as the sun neared the horizon. Night was coming, but for the first time, it was a night without terror. The heroes rang the bell, and it pealed gloriously through the valley beyond. They looted the treasury, finding an enchanted helm, shield, and rod, and managed to shrink the iron tower back into the cube from which it sprang. Their sacks overflowing with gems, jewels, and gold, they made their way down the mountain and back to Barovia.

Come the dawn, they saw the wagons of the Vistani rolling through town. They had others with them as well - Rudolph van Richten and Ezmerelda! The two said their good-byes. Van Richten was leaving, seeking evil elsewhere, while Ezmerelda said she would remain to protect this place, lest Strahd someday return. Madame Eva told them their time here was done. The Vistani were departing and would show them the way. Would Strahd return? She did not know. Did evil ever truly die? If he did, she and her kin would return. But the heroes had brought hope to this land, and that was something sorely needed.

They followed as the mists cleared, and they found themselves on the forest road back to the river and Daggerford. They had returned to the Realms, and to what fate they knew not. But adventure beckoned, and they would answer it's call once more.


The sun had finally risen, and the road beckoned them once more...
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It's a sad day indeed
Yesterday should have been a happy day of fun and laughter, what with the multitudes of ghouls, dragons, vampires, and giant bone-slime monsters, but I just can't put the bad part out of my head. The crypt was great and full of interesting things to fight (or not, in the case of the nightmare) and interesting characters to meet. Sir Klotzsky is the star of the castle so far, perfectly happy to help us along in his own clumsy way for simply pulling his sword out of him.


Yeah, something like this.

But even after all this awesome stuff and making it all the way across Barovia at night, another interesting experience, we ended up handing back the dragon's skull to Castle Argynvstholt. What I didn't realize, and what nobody told me, is that would lay all those revenants to rest. My eternal nemesis, my unkillable fight, is now gone. It's probably a good thing for the revenant and the world in general, but won't someone think of the half-orcs for once?

At least we're almost done with Strahd. There's not much left here that we haven't de/refiled with our presence, and I'm not sure how much longer we can wander around Ravenloft before we force a fight with Strahd.

Maybe I can hope he'll come back as my eternal revenant fight? If he does, maybe I can learn to respect him.
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Chapter 25: A Beacon in the Dark
The heroes fled down the road leading to Castle Ravenloft, reaching the upper gates as the sun dipped below the horizon. The sky was overcast and dark, lit only by flashes of lightning and the eerie blue balefire which danced among the gorse and heather lining the steep road. They found Strahd's black coach awaiting them. The silent coachman pointed to them with his driver's whip and the doors to the coach opened. The heroes declined to get in.

With a crack of his whip, the black horses burst into blue flame, consumed until there was nothing left but fiery skeletons drawing the black coach. It charged the heroes, attempting to run them down as the coachman gestured with his whip. A cold chill ran down the heroes' spines as it charged, but they fought back. Cira and Lupin managed to dodge the coach's wheels but Shokk, Volta, and Verity weren't so lucky. Zahar kept well back, and he peppered both driver and horses with arrows. Evan had vanished, along with the dragon's skull, protecting the precious relic. In the end, despite the half-orc barbarian nearly being run down, a blow from Volta's axe shattered the hip of one skeletal horse, sundered the front wheel of the coach, and sent the whole thing into a tumble. It vanished amidst a spray of churned up mud and earth, and the thunder of its wheels was replaced by the roll of the storm overhead.


Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me...

Barely pausing to catch their breath, the heroes made their way down the road towards Vallaki. They did not pass unmolested. Cira, Evan and Lupin provided light as best they could, but this became a beacon in the night. The group heard the flap of leathery wings overhead, and saw two giant bats descend, accompanied by swarms of normal-sized bats, all with shining eyes and glinting fangs. The two monstrous ones were mounted by warriors in the mail and livery of Strahd's household guard. Like the rest they had seen, these warriors were already dead, their withered flesh clinging tight to iron-hard bones. They brought bows to bear, but the heroes were ready with missiles of their own. Zahar proved to be as good a marksman as he claimed, and his arrows brought one down in a hurry. Verity used a favorite spell to create a pattern of hypnotic, swirling lights that lit up the darkness and brought the huge bats crashing to earth. Volta, Shokk, Lupin and Cira were quick to capitalize on the fallen wights, and brought them low in a hurry.


Giant bats descended from the night sky.

Stopping only long enough to grab the skull, the heroes pressed on to Vallaki. Some honeyed words from Verity got them through the front gates and across town, with the heroes only pausing long enough to bind their wounds and catch their breath. They continued past the Luna River crossroads, running into a shambling horde of zombies along the way! These unnamed dead, victims of tragedies along the road, were no doubt animated by Strahd's necromancy from afar. But Cira called on the holy power of the Morninglord and blasted them all to ashes and dust.

With hardly a pause, the heroes made their way up the long, forested road to Argynvostholt, the seat of the Order of the Silver Dragon. They would return the dragon's skull to its crypt, as they had promised the dead knights who still lingered in the ruined manor. But their way was not clear just yet. Several sets of lambent eyes shone out of the darkness ahead as they reached the front of the ruin. Dire wolves. What meager light came from the moon and the night sky was eclipsed as a shadowy, draconic form flew overhead. It was a dragon of shadow, a living darkness, no doubt called up from the pits of night by Strahd's foul wizardry. A figure sat atop it - a vampire, from the gleam of his eyes and sharp teeth - in dark robes. One of the devil Strahd's dark servants, sent to stop them.


The shadow dragon descended out of the night sky, seeking the dragon's skull and the heroes' deaths.

Exhausted and embattled, the heroes fought against the dire wolves and Strahd's fell servants. The shadow dragon flew in, it's breath a lance of lambent purple flame, searing and rotting flesh. Its wings, claws, tail, and bite tore at them, notably Caxius and Zahar, whose attacks seemed to cause it the most pain. The vampire warlock blasted them with fire and lances of force, but Cira blasted him back with radiant bolts of holy light. In the end, sword and spell laid the dragon low, and its shadow flickered into the dark as the vampire riding it crumbled to dust.

With the way clear, the heroes made their way into the mausoleum behind the manor house and placed the skull to rest. As they did, a beacon of silver light lit in the topmost tower of the great house, shooting skyward. They felt new hope surge into their breasts. As they made their way back into the main hall, Sir Godfrey Gwilym descended the steps. "You have laid my brethren to rest, even Vladimir Horngaard, whose sword you," he nodded to Shokk, "carry. With our master laid to rest, we can rest as well. What arms we had are yours. Seek them in the vault upstairs." With that, he crumbled to dust leaving only his armor behind. Among them they found a scythe-like polearm and a longbow, both enchanted, a shield that could warn its bearer of impending harm, and a breastplate of spell-forged steel. Re-armed and armored, the heroes rested until dawn. With hope in their hearts, they would make their way back to the castle soon enough - and put and end to Strahd!
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Chapter 24: The Hall of Bones
The heroes ascended the steps from Sergei von Zarovich's tomb and resumed their exploration of the crypts beneath Castle Ravenloft. They found a few empty crypts and a couple of traps, one where Volta nearly fell thirty or so feet into a spike-filled pit, and one where Shokk did fall, plunging through an illusory floor into a room filled with ghouls. They found a crypt of king's counselor, whose skull answered a few questions for them. They found the crypts of General Kroval "Mad Dog" Grislek, where a sword wraith and a trio of hell hounds awaited any foolish enough to move the slab aside. They found the crypt of King Droston the Hellborn, and faced tar devils and a clever imp. They also found a crypt with a warning carved above one of its two arches. Caxius stepped in...and the tiefling warlock found himself elsewhere.


General "Mad Dog" Grislek and his hounds of hell.

Caxius had appeared in a tomb, one with black earth covering the floor and a polished coffin of ebony and silver at its center. Three small niches stood to one side, and steps led out the other. As the tiefling touched the coffin, the earth pushed aside in the niches and three beautiful vampires emerged - the brides of Strahd! But Cira, Verity, and Volta stepped through afterwards, and the three living women fought against a trio of dead ones. Shokk figured out where the sounds of combat had come from, and ran that way just behind Evan. Both of them reached a corner leading to the portcullis blocking the entry to the tomb...and vanished! They reappeared in coffins, at the bottom of a shaft beneath one crypt they had already explored and cleared. The dead, charred bodies of wights lay scattered about, and the two were able to climb up out of the place and back into the crypts.

Meanwhile, the vampire brides were momentarily stunned by Cira's presentation of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. Gaining the upper hand, the heroes quickly dispatched the unholy trio. Realizing they had found Strahd's tomb, Cira dumped holy water on the earth filling the coffin and said prayers over it. This place would no longer be a sanctuary for the vampire lord. Verity took the jewelry of the dead vampire brides - another thorn to prick Strahd's pride. They found that one of the archways teleported them back to the empty crypt that led Caxius here in the first place, and set about checking the rest of the crypts. They found the crypt of Strahd's steed - a nightmare - but with a word of power and a gesture, Evan banished it back to the infernal realms from which it came.


The brides of Strahd...

That said, the heroes used the knowledge gained from the skull and their map of the castle to find the ossuary. They went up the stairs at the west end of the crypt, exiting on the level with the wine cellar. They made their way to the double doors at the west end of that fog-carpeted hall, and opened them cautiously. The room beyond was covered in bones, everything from digits to thighbones to skulls, set in elaborate patterns in the walls, floor, and ceiling. A table and chairs crafted of bones stood in the center of the long, wide chamber, and most importantly (and impressively) a dragon's skull hung over the door they had just entered! Further, Evan saw something in a vessel crafted from bones on the table - the hilt of a sword! The Sunsword was here!

Ignoring the other doors leading out of the room, Shokk and Volta began trying to take the dragon's skull down. Evan, Verity, and Cira moved further into the room, while Zahar kept watch. Four great pyramidal piles of skulls and bones were here, one to each corner of the room. With a sudden clacking and clattering, the piles rushed together, forming a massive heap of bones moving as one! Great limbs of bones and skulls unfurled from the massive thing as it rolled forward on skulls. It brought limbs as big as tree branches down with bone-shattering force, scattering the heroes and rolling over the top of them in a wave of crushing, scraping, and piercing bones.


The thing was a necronaut, a juggernaut formed from the bones of the dead, and it nearly stopped the heroes' quest once and for all.

But the heroes fought back, Shokk and Volta rushing in with sweeping blades as Verity struck with the blessed thighbone of St. Markovia. Cira cast holy light at the thing, and Evan blasted it with fire and force. Zahar conjured arrows of shadow to distract the monstrous undead thing, and Caxius blasted away with bolts of eldritch force. Though battered, bruised, and nearly crushed beneath the weight of the thing, the heroes scattered the bones about the room, ending the creature's unholy animation.

With the skull in hand, they made their way back up the spiral steps - only to be stopped by a stone wall in the middle of the steps! But Cira called upon a prayer to the elements, and shaped a hole in the wall big enough for them to pass through. They continued up into the great hall, and ran for the doors. Gargoyles began to come to life, and the dragon statues in the foyer animated, breathing gouts of flame! But scorched or no, the heroes ran for the castle gates. It seemed Strahd wished them to stay, but they refused his hospitality.

Regrouping on the road to Castle Ravenloft, the heroes had the great silver dragon's skull at last! And they had recovered the Sunsword. Their next stop: Argynvostholt!
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Chapter 23: The Crypts of Castle Ravenloft
The heroes had returned to Barovia village following Kyne's betrayal in the dungeons beneath Castle Ravenloft. Ismark Kolyanovich had put them up for the night, and when dawn came, they decided on a course of action. The Sunsword had been lost to them, and with no other clues to go on, Evan came up with the suggestion that they visit Madam Eva and have their fortunes told once more. Lacking any other clear course, the rest of the group agreed. Shortly after breaking their fast the heroes made their way along the road out of town towards the Vistani encampment at Tser Pool. The Vistani had not moved on, and though they were initially wary, they remembered the heroes and greeted them cautiously but warmly. After an exchange of gifts, they were led to Madam Eva's tent.

"Welcome again," the old woman said as they entered. "You have come to have your fortunes told, yes? I will give you three answers. One for the question you came to ask, one for the question you did not come to ask, and one for the question you did not know to ask." Although confused, the heroes paid the price of one gold coin and Evan stepped forward to draw the cards. The gnome wizard drew the 6 of Glyphs - the Anarchist. "The treasure you seek is in a hall of bones on a table of bones." He next drew the Seer. "Your foe awaits you in a place of warmth, wisdom, and despair." Finally, Evan drew the Broken One. "A man of faith, whose sanity hangs by a thread. He will be your greatest ally...now. There is another with him you need. One eye, one hand." With that, she told them that the best repayment would be to give Strahd peace and lay him to rest at long last. The heroes thanked her and left, pondering her reading.


The heroes had questions, and Madam Eva had answers...

They came to the conclusion that the "hall of bones" could only be an ossuary, likely found beneath a cathedral or castle. As they had found nothing of the sort in the Amber Temple or the Abbey of St. Markovia, they realized it had to be beneath Castle Ravenloft. Second, they determined a place of warmth would have a hearth, and wisdom indicated books, and finally that place would also have to be in the castle. Thus, they would likely find Strahd in his study. Finally, the broken man of faith could only be Father Donavich, whose son Doru had become a vampire. They visited him at the church of the Morninglord in Barovia, and he agreed to accompany them to the castle when they were ready to confront Strahd. "Not for revenge. But for justice." And more importantly, there was one there with him, a man with dusky skin and pale hair. He wore a patch over one eye, and one hand was gloved with an archer's gauntlet. He was Zahar, an archer with a knack for magic, and a hunter of werewolves. Both Caxius and Shokk had met him what seemed like months ago when they set out from Daggerford to investigate werewolves in the Misty Forest. He'd been lost in the woods for days he'd said, only to find himself...here. With the duo vouching for him (and with him having nowhere else to go) Zahar decided fighting a vampire lord and finding a way out of this land sounded like productive uses of his time.

With that, the heroes made their way back up the road to the castle of Strahd von Zarovich. They ran into a group of hunters along the way, shortly after finding wolf tracks and a hidden bundle of clothes in the mud near the gallows at the Tser crossroads. This same group had suggested campsites to them in the past, and with a short detour, Volta determined it would be an excellent place to be ambushed. Werewolves, they surmised. Well, time to deal with them later.

The black coach was waiting for them as they reached the western Gates of Ravenloft. The mute driver gestured as the coach's doors opened. Without word, the heroes climbed in or clambered on the runners, and took the ride up to the castle. The coach clattered across the drawbridge and onto the cobbled courtyard. The doors of the castle stood open, the light of torches spilling out. The heroes made their way inside, past the entry hall, and to the spiral stair that down to the flooded dungeon far below. They made their through the torture chamber, up onto the balcony, and to the room with the strange, stone brazier.


The black coach awaited them. Strahd knew they were coming, and was seemingly unconcerned.

There were seven slots around it, and a verse detailing seven locales around the land. Seven stones, each a different color, rested in small depressions around the edge of the brazier. The large hourglass above was filled with black sand that did not run down to the bottom. Using his arcane talents, Evan identified the brazier as a teleportation device. One of the colored stones could be cast into the white flame burning without heat in its center. The flame would change color, the sand run down, and a teleportation circle open. After a minute, the circle would close and the stone roll back up to its starting position. They determined some of the likely locales - the Amber Temple, the Abbey of St. Markovia, the castle's highest tower - but declined to try any at the moment.

They turned their attention to the stairs leading up from this room, and took the middle path. It led to a fog-shrouded, narrow corridor with a pit trap that Shokk barely avoided falling down thanks to Volta's reflexes and strong grip. The polished marble shaft led down at an angle, likely back to the flooded dungeon Evan thought. Zahar made his way forward, carefully blocking the pit's lid closed with a spike after it reset. Edging down the narrow passage, the heroes found it ended in a blank stone door with no handle or hinge. Volta pushed it open, and discovered that they had exited into the crypts beneath the castle. Once again, fog crept up to their shins and they could feel the squish of filth beneath their boots. Thousands of bats clung to the ceiling overhead.

Without any other prospects, the heroes began to search the crypts. They passed a few by, opening the likely prospects. They found the crypt of Saint Markovia herself, where bones animated into a giant skeleton with long, bony claws and a handful of skeleton warriors. These foes were quickly smashed, and the only thing remaining was a decorated thighbone on the marble slab. A spirit, that of the blessed saint herself, appeared and bid them use her body as a weapon. The thighbone was magic, enchanted to strike like a mace that would disrupt the undead with its holy power. Verity took the weapon, and the bard had a determined look on her face.

Another crypt opened into a shaft that dropped 40 feet into a vault filled with coffins. The group descended, finding that the dozen plus coffins were occupied - by wights! But Verity's quick thinking led her to dazzle the wights with a hypnotic pattern of lights, giving Evan time enough to surround them with a wall of fire. The wights that weren't consumed by flame were cut down in swift order, their life-stealing touch no match for enchanted steel and silver arrows.

They went on, finding some minor treasures in one crypt, and a harness of wood, leather, and metal in another that appeared to be some sort of flying machine - along with a musket pistol, smoke powder, and plenty of silver bullets! Volta took the contraption, while Evan took the gun. They found another crypt, that of King Triosky, and a swarm of skeletal body parts flew out and attacked! Two skeletal warriors with four arms rose, as did the skeleton on the bier. It had a three-faced helm with three skulls beneath! This dreaded skull lord and his undead minions fought hard, and Volta nearly fell as several of the heroes were wounded badly. But Caxius used his magic wand to change one of the skeletal warriors into a bunny rabbit and absconded with the tiny beast! With these foes defeated, they found the skull lord's plate armor was enchanted to provide resistance to the cold touch of necrotic magic.


The Skull Lord, King Triosky, was not amused at being roused.

They made their way back to a small side chamber, blocked by a portcullis. Shokk was able to raise the gate, and they found a larger tomb with a coffin on a large, marble slab. Three statues stood in niches along the far wall - two angels flanking a young warrior in shining mail. This was the tomb of Strahd's brother, Sergei von Zarovich. His body was perfectly preserved in his coffin, and his shining half-plate looked new. Cira could tell it was theirs to take, that Sergei was at peace with Ireena's (or Tatyana's, as it were) passage beyond the misty borders of this dark land. This was a place of peace. The heroes chose to rest here for a short time, then press on to find the ossuary and take the Sunsword back...
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Exciting and terrible developments
This new development with Kyne is troubling, to say the least. I don't pretend to know why he turned against us and tried to kill Verity or Volta, but he surely knows I'll take vengeance for them if he shows up again. If he has a good excuse, I'll raise him afterward, since he is my friend, but now I have some smiting to do.

It didn't help that we had such a knock-down drag-out fight before. Caxius and I nearly died from fighting the golems with the necromancer, but at least we didn't let her get away! Even Volta was having problems harming the golems, and I know from experience how hard she hits. It is a little strange to think about that in regards to how mediocre she is at smashing and breaking things - I guess that's her craftsman's heart showing through. She's more about making things and breaking people, unlike other people.

But now, we're down a set of lockpicks and hands. We should ask around, see if we can find someone to fill our Kyne-shaped hole in our party.
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Chapter 22: Betrayal
The heroes opted for another course of action. Time, they felt, was pressing in on them. A return to Castle Ravenloft was in order. Apart from a brief and unsuccessful ambush by a group of hillfolk barbarians - the leader of which was bald and strangely pale - the way to Strahd's home was clear of obstruction. No black carriage awaited them at the Gates of Ravenloft this time, and they saw strange, ghostly figures in the mist and rain off the road. When the heroes arrived at the castle, they found the drawbridge down and the gates open wide.

Making their way in through the entry hall, they turned down the small corridor by the dining hall where they had dinner with the count, and this time descended the small, spiral staircase. They hoped to reach the crypts and find either Strahd's coffin or more weapons to use against the vampire monarch. They passed the corridor where the elevator trap had nearly led them to their doom, and found themselves in a passage flooded to chest height. It had doors to either side halfway down its 50-foot length, and ended in an open archway.

As Shokk, Volta, and Cira made their way down the corridor, the half-orc paladin and the human cleric found traps the hard way. Their was an upward explosion of air from beneath the surface of the water, and both were sucked down into trapdoors - only to disappear! Momentarily disoriented, they found themselves submerged in cells on the same side of a small corridor. There were more cells on the other side, their iron bars slightly rusted but surprisingly solid. Shokk managed to force the door on his cell, but Cira could not. A rotted corpse hung in the bars of her cell.


Emil Toranescu before...

Meanwhile, Volta had edged around the submerged pit, and forced the door on the south side of the hall. It revealed a small corridor, fronted on both sides by iron barred cells. A quick shout greeted her. "Who is there? Can you free me?!" A tall, bald, dark-skinned man was in a cell just to the left of the door, and he introduced himself as Emil Toranescu. He said he'd been imprisoned here after stumbling into the castle.


...and after.

As that happened, Kyne made his way carefully ahead, avoiding the pits and looking for trapdoors. He found one the hard way, and materialized underwater in a cell at the end of the south hall. He shouted for aid, and Volta began to wade towards him. Caxius was doing likewise on the other side of the main corridor, and also disappeared, ending up in a cell directly across from Cira. Shokk had forced the bars on his cell, shattering the lock, and waded across the flooded hall to Caxius. Cira had used magic to re-shape the very stones of the castle, exiting through a tunnel beneath the bars of her cell into that same side corridor.

They discovered they were not alone. A strange, opalescent ooze with broken bones grinding about inside it slurped along the ceiling of the south corridor, just bypassing Kyne as it moved towards Volta. She had remembered where she had heard the name Toranescu before: Zuleika Toranescu, the female werewolf who had thought her husband slain by Strahd - this must be him! "I know who your wife is!" She replied. But this triggered a dire change in the man. He began to transform into a werewolf himself! As Caxius rose in his watery cell, a massive figure of bone, sinew, and long, razor-sharp claws rose out of the water behind him. Another rose in a cell near the entry to the north hall, which had been forced by Cira.

A brief but intense battle was fought in the two dungeon halls. Emil tore his cell open, even as Volta and Kyne managed to blast the ooze to bits. Cira called upon holy guardian spirits as Shokk brought his sword and Caxius his scythe to bear on the boneclaws. They found scattered coins underwater in one cell, and a glow in another revealed a further treasure - a longsword, it's bright steel blade shining in the dark. This crusader's sword had a spirit within, and its ever-sharp blade cast a brilliant radiance. Cira took the blade as her own, and it somehow seemed right.


The boneclaws had terribly long claws...

The heroes made their way into the next chamber after catching their breath. It was a flooded torture chamber, overlooked by a balcony on the north wall. A red curtain covered an entry at the rear of the balcony. As the heroes made their way around the half-buried implements of torture, a voice chuckled above. It was a woman wearing pale leather, leather made from human skin, and a hooded, crimson cloak. "I see Strahd has guests. Good. I've been looking for more subjects in my experiments." Rotting corpses rose from the water and shambled forward, half a dozen of them. Two hulking figures with mottled and patched gray skin and long, clawed hands came forward as well, each nearly twice the height of a man - golems, stitched together from dead flesh.


The necromancer's handiwork.

As Cira raised the holy symbol of Ravenkind, forcing some of the zombies back, Volta surged forward through the waist-deep water and attacked one of the dead flesh constructs. Caxius grabbed Shokk, and both reappeared on the balcony, but not before the female necromancer had blasted the party with a chill wind, nearly freezing the surface of the water as well as their flesh. They raced through the curtain and found her on the other side of an odd, stone brazier burning with silver flame. Iron statues of horsemen stood on either side of the small room in alcoves, and as the half-orc paladin moved through, they began to move!

It was a terrible fight on two fronts as Verity, Volta, Kyne, and Cira battled the flesh golems and zombies below, while Shokk and Caxius were horribly outmatched by these iron golems and the female necromancer above. Although Shokk managed to slay the evil woman with his magic blade, both he and Caxius were nearly laid low. Cira managed to call upon her holy power to fortify and heal her comrades, but against all odds and all reason - Kyne turned on the rest of his friends! Using the powers granted him in the Amber Temple, the rogue-turned-warlock blasted them with cold, threw out necromantic curses, and nearly laid his comrades low.

Verity almost fled, her resolve almost destroyed. But she could not - no, WOULD not - let this betrayal stand. With a word and a charm, she froze Kyne in his tracks and brought out the razor-sharp magic axe they had taken from Izek Strazni weeks ago, and brought Kyne low with a pair of deadly slashes. But this was not the end of him. The water bubbled and roiled, and a new, dragon-like humanoid rose. But the bard could see it in the creature's eyes - this was Kyne, returned to life! He grabbed the sword from his old body's hands, snatched the pouch from the corpse's belt, and dove under the water to disappear. Meanwhile, the other heroes had rallied and defeated the iron golems despite nearly being slain by Kyne's treachery.

Hurt, shocked, and seeking answers, the heroes withdrew. They ran headlong for the gates of Castle Ravenloft and headed for Barovia. Maybe they would find answers. Why had Kyne betrayed them? What had happened to the fabulous Sunsword? How could they defeat Strahd?!
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Chapter 21: The Towers of Ravenloft
The heroes continued up the spiral stairs that had brought them to the office of the king's accountant. The next landing led into a short hall with two alcoves flanking an ornate steel door. As Shokk approached the door he saw two dark man-shaped figures, one standing in either alcove. With a gleam of red eyes, both figures collapsed into a swarm of rats! The rats surged forward and down the stair, biting at everyone. Shokk and Volta swept the swarms with their two-handed weapons while they stomped and smashed themselves and dozens of rats into the walls. Kyne swung about with the sunsword, incinerating rats by the score, while Caxius, Cira, and Verity used magic to blast and burn the rats away.


RATS!

With the vermin cleared out, they entered what appeared to be a dining room set for some sort of reception. A large, moldy, green-tinged wedding cake stood atop the table, listing precariously to one side. The small wooden image of a bride sat atop the cake, while the groom lay upon the floor, covered in dust. A harp stood in one corner, while a lute was on a table in the other corner. Verity investigated the lute, and found it remarkably clean and in tune - and enchanted! She played the harp, and a spectral figure materialized, that of a dwarfish man in the livery of jester. "I was Pidlwick the fool," the phantom said, "and my treasure lies in the tower above. I died falling down the stairs...." As the figure faded, Volta picked up the figure of the groom and put it back atop the cake.

That was a mistake. As the half-orc barbarian did so, the window to the battlements - where Shokk was standing - blew open in a cold draft of air. Verity and Volta both felt a chill close around their hearts. There was a presence there, an invisible presence! Verity cast a spell that rained fey flames down on the area, surrounding two invisible forms in flickering, spectral fire. One appeared to be a man, the other a woman, their phantasmal features contorted in fear and rage. With blows from enchanted blades and spells, the two spirits were dispelled.

Leaving through a door across from the one they had entered by, the heroes entered a bath chamber with an adjoining walk-in closet or dressing room. As Volta, Shokk, Caxius, and Verity went into the closet, Kyne and Cira went to investigate the tub...which was filled with blood. As Kyne approached, the liquid exploded upward and a figure shot up to the ceiling. It was a woman, nude, her pale skin and long, dark hair drenched with blood and her features distorted. Her hair reached down to lash at Kyne, wrap around him, and pull him to the ceiling where she raked at him with long nails and reached to kiss him, filling his mouth (but fortunately not his lungs) with blood. A hail of steel and spells greeted this foe, and she was brought low in moments. The horrid apparition and the blood vanished. The heroes grabbed a few capes from the closet to replace their own rain-soaked garb and went through a set of double doors on their right.

The room beyond was large, clean, opulently furnished...and occupied. A figure rose from a canopied bed along the far wall. It was a young woman with dark hair and wide, innocent eyes. "Who are you?" She asked, "Did Strahd send you?" The young woman, barely little more than girl, introduced herself as Gertruda. With a start, Cira realized this was the daughter of Mad Mary, who had wept so bitterly after her daughter back in the village of Barovia. The young lady was reluctant to trust the heroes and did not wish to leave. "Strahd has been very kind to me. He treats me like a woman, not a little girl. I won't go with you!" That changed when Caxius enchanted her with a simple spell. The heroes had decided - they must leave with her and now!


The innocent and unfortunate Gertruda.

They made their way back to a window and climbed out on to the parapet surrounding the upper floor of the castle. Making their way around to the side that faced the gates, they tied ropes together, secured them to a battlement, and prepared to climb down. Kyne was down first, with Shokk right behind. The burly half-orc paladin carried the girl. That is when things went horribly awry.

A cold wind flashed past Shokk, and Gertruda was lifted off his back and carried to the top of a corner tower, 40 feet up off the walkway. A dark figure stood there. Strahd! He sneered down at the heroes. "You cannot take what is mine!" He snarled, and with savage fury he tore the girl's throat out with his fangs and flung her body from the tower to the courtyard 120 feet below. He then hurled a fireball into the party, the explosion burning away Shokk's rope, and the paladin narrowly avoided a plunge 80 feet to the courtyard when he grabbed the nearest crenelation. The battle was joined, though the heroes were hard pressed. Caxius grabbed Volta, and the two vanished, reappearing next to Strahd. With a bit of magic, Shokk joined them. Verity enchanted Cira, allowing the cleric to fly closer, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind burning with bright sunlight.


Strahd joined them in battle atop the towers of Castle Ravenloft. Things did not go well for the heroes...

But their spells and blades were not enough. Shokk was thrown from the tower, and only his supernatural vitality enabled him to survive. Volta was horribly wounded, and Cira was brought low by Strahd's bite. If she had survived that, the fall to the courtyard was her death. Verity was nearly dead, and Kyne had fled over the wall, hiding from the dark lord. But Strahd had enough for now. "Flee with your lives! Know that I am your master!" Perhaps the sunlight and the wounding dealt by Volta's magical greataxe had taken their toll; perhaps not. Shokk used a prayer and managed to restore life to Cira, whose soul had not quite fled. But the heroes fled for now, managing to lower the drawbridge and regroup outside the walls of Castle Ravenloft.

They returned to the village of Barovia, joined later by Kyne, who had hidden. They rested, determined that they would first head to Vallaki, then perhaps to Krezk, and gather supplies and reinforcements. They were not done with Strahd. Nor, they knew, was Strahd done with them...
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Chapter 20: Dinner With the Count
After a restful night in Vallaki, the heroes opted to head to Krezk to meet with the Abbot of the Abbey of St. Markovia. Along the road, as the heavy rain turned into wet snow, they saw a skeletal horseman plodding down the trail. The clop and rattle of the bony horse, the jingle of his rusted mail - all mournful sounds they had heard before. They stood aside to let this mute horror, this sign of Strahd's merciless wrath, pass in peace. It was not to be. A cold light burned in the skull's empty eye-sockets and the figure brought up its rusted lance. A raspy voice echoed from the hollow skull. "I will have my sword!" It was Vladimir Horngaard, his spirit now possessing this undead thing!

The former commander of the Order of the Silver Dragon charged Shokk, whose armor narrowly turned aside the lance. In an instant, the group fell on the dead knight and his skeletal horse, and they both fell under a flurry of blows and shattering spells. "I will be back..." the voice cried hollowly, fading off into an eerie echo.


This skeletal rider was no harmless phantom.

The rest of the trail was clear, and the heroes headed straight to the abbey. They climbed up the old switchback trail that led out of the village and up to the cliff where the abbey stood. Otto Belview greeted them in his cheery yet mildly insane way, escorting them through the gates of the main building. The courtyard was quiet, and it appeared that his cousin had finally broken her chain and flown off. They had briefly conversed with one of the guards, and learned the bells of the abbey tolled at odd intervals, both day and night. As they were escorted into the main hall, they saw the Abbot there with his creation, Vasilika, and the simulacrum of the archmage Mordenkainen that Evan had created with magic wrought from a scroll found in the Amber Temple.

The Abbot greeted them, and they remarked on how fast Vasilika's education was progressing. The heroes told him of their difficulty with the night hag, Morgantha, and the Abbot was hard pressed to grant them any aid. He had been barred from the other realms, or so he said, and could do no more than offer them shelter. The simulacrum of Mordenkainen offered a solution. It had an enchantment that could grant the recipient true seeing, enough to see things not of this world. If the heroes could use this spell when one of their number fell into a nightmare, they could see the hag as she hovered near her victim. A charm to dispel magic would be enough to bring her forth. The charm around her neck, it explained, was the key to her power to fade into the ether. If that were taken, she would be vulnerable and could be slain.

The heroes agreed to stay the night, and enacted their plan. Cira waited patiently with the simulacrum as the others slept, and when Verity began to writhe and moan in the throes of a nightmare, she cast her spell. The hag appeared! With a furious snarl, she began to leap at Cira while she clutched for the small pendant around her neck. But Kyne was faster, and snatched it away. Morgantha howled with fury and unleashed her claws and spells, but she fell to Volta's axe and Shokk's sword. She was slain, and her body faded back into the nothing of dreams.


Morgantha had haunted their dreams for the last time.

Freed of her dogged haunting, the heroes thanked the Abbot come the morning and left. They opted to head back to Castle Ravenloft, taking advantage of what hours of daylight they had left. They arrived a few hours before sundown, in the midst of a storm. The black coach was waiting for them past the gates of Ravenloft, and the heroes chose to ride to the castle. The coach stopped in the courtyard, and they stepped out. The doors to the castle remained open, and the heroes entered cautiously. The foyer had four dragon statues, one perched in each corner, and the inner doors led to a vast, octagonal hall. Stairs to the north led up, a door to the east led back, and a hall to the south led to more stairs and another door. They could hear the thunderous, mournful tunes of an organ being played from behind that last set of doors.

A dusky-skinned elf with black hair wearing the rich garb of a castellan came down the stairs. "The master," he said in solemn tones, "is expecting you. He would like you to join him for dinner." Though Shokk and Cira prepared to walk off, Caxius turned with a smile and approached the double doors. Worrying for their friend, the rest of the group went with him. Beyond, there was a large dining hall, the huge table laid with a great feast. Across the room, playing the organ, was a dark-haired figure in black and red clothes. It was none other than Strahd von Zarovich himself. He turned as they entered.


Rahadin, the Count's chamberlain.

"Welcome, my friends. I am glad you accepted my invitation. Rahadin," he nodded to the elf, "you may leave us." With a nod, the elf closed the doors behind the heroes. Caxius and a couple of others dug into the feast, while Shokk, Cira, and Verity watched. "We do not need to be enemies," the Count exclaimed, "if fact, I can send you home, provided you agree to serve me for a time first." Questions came, suspicions were raised, and though Kyne felt the offer a fair one, the rest refused point-blank. "Foolish," Strahd chided. "Very foolish. You may stay the night to think on your refusal, but I warn the castle is not...safe." With a booming laugh from the vampire lord, the chandeliers overhead went out as a great rush of cold wind swept the dining hall. The tapers re-ignited, and Strahd was gone. The heroes could hear the doors of the castle booming shut. They might be trapped...


Verity wasn't sure if Strahd was playing a welcome...or a funeral dirge.

They began to explore the area, and found a secret panel behind the organ, which slid forward when one of the pedals was pressed. Shokk moved into a defensive redoubt behind, made his way to one of the castle's corner towers, and followed a cobweb-choked hall to a spiral stair leading up. The rest followed, and they climbed to a small room on the next floor. A white-haired balding man sat chained to a desk in a crowded room, ledgers, books, scrolls, and parchments cluttering every surface and the shelves behind him. He introduced himself as Lief Lipsiege, the count's accountant, and asked for naught save a bit of dinner. When Volta raised her axe to sever his chain, he misunderstood and shrieked with terror. A group of undead warriors and two undead sorcerers, all wights, entered from the stair up and wordlessly moved to attack the heroes. The battle was brief but intense, and the accountant unharmed. In gratitude, he gave them keys to the chests in the room and they took several hundred gold and silver coins and a strange book for themselves. There was another set of stairs that led up and out, the stairwell they had come up, which continued up, and another door that led deeper into the castle. Which way would they go...?
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It seems like wherever we go in this place, trouble follows.
Or maybe we go to trouble. Or maybe we cause trouble. Point is, there's trouble. It's a real shame, seeing as how the Moldovars were so nice to us before they thought we were going to to the well. In a weird way I think they were trying to protect us from that light ooze thing down there, or maybe from the werewolf. It was a nice thought, though we had to go avenge them after they attacked.

It's probably for the best we all went together, because I really didn't want to go anywhere after dinner. The whole place was just so peaceful, we had a nice sunset to watch and Volta was even happy learning how to play cards, and I really should have realized something was wrong when I didn't even want to go find more things to fight. Thankfully, Verity's resolve is made of sterner stuff than mine, as should come to no surprise to anyone who has tried to convince her to not do something stupid. She was bright enough not to go near the well, but that didn't really help her when that ooze thingy went after her.

Sadly enough, killing the ooze seems to have killed off anything drawing water from the well. Maybe we should ask the Abbot to take a look at it after we kill Strahd.

Speaking of the abbot, the good Father Lucian doesn't seem to be able to help us with our little hag problem. He's could give us shelter in his walls, but we are still going to have to call on the abbot again.

Maybe Otto will know about his relative Cyrus, and how best to extract my vengance from him.
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Chapter 19: A Light in the Darkness
The heroes rested again, trying to digest what they had learned in Castle Ravenloft. Again, Shokk was tormented by nightmares and unable to rest. They realized this was the work of Morgantha, the night hage, who had escaped justice at the Bonegrinder. They cast a spell of protection on Shokk, who was able to rest during the day as the others made preparations. They went to the trading post, but found its owner Bildrath as canny and greedy as ever he was. They still managed to purchase a few vials and began preparing holy water for their war against Strahd. Ismark had mentioned some strange lights that had been seen south of Barovia village, and wondered if the hag was responsible. Seeing no other immediate alternative to finding her, the heroes decided to investigate.

They crossed the Ivlis River near dusk, and quickly saw the woods had taken on a strange aspect. The trees and undergrowth were lush and appeared overripe, and there was the smell of ash and rot in the air. A strange, phosphorescent glow was just visible in the dark of the woods. The area was quiet, as if all animal life had vanished. The heroes latched on to a weedy trail and found a small farmhouse. It belonged to Andrej and Lavinia Moldovar and their farmhands. A couple of mangy looking mastiffs were tied up outside, and the farmhands and Andrej had an unhealthy look. He nevertheless invited the heroes inside and offered them a meal and a place to stay, as it was growing dark.

The heroes asked Andrej about the strange lights and what had happened to the plants and animals. He told them a strange light had fallen from the sky many days ago, and ever since his plants had begun to grow. It had fallen near an old well on his property. He also warned the heroes they should not go there, and to ware the woods for there were wolves. The heroes talked of retiring to his barn for the evening, but Verity let slip they would go to check the well first thing. This was apparently the wrong thing to say, as one of the farmhands flew into a berserk fury and charged her with an axe! The dogs went wild, and Andrej came out, two axes in hand. "Leave the well alone!" It turned out Lavinia was one of the Barovian witches, and she turned her spells on them from the back door of their hovel. The fight was brief but bloody, and the farmhands, the dogs, Andrej, and his wife all crumbled to ash with a spark of strangely-colored flame as they died. Something had happened to them.

And it happened to Shokk and Volta. They had become listless, and unwilling to leave the area. Fortunately the well was close by, and the heroes made their way to it through the overgrown woods. A strange color, one they could not identify, glowed like witchfire around the trees and from the boarded-up well. As they drew closer to it, Shokk, Volta, Cira, and Caxius approached the well and knocked the boards off. A strange illumination washed up the shaft, and Verity and Caxius felt drained and weak afterwards. It turned out they were not alone. Cira saw a form moving through the woods, and a massive, malformed wolf charged out and attacked!


[I]The strange color rose from the well in a cloud of unearthly radiance.[/I]

As the heroes turned to battle it, the color rose from the well in an unearthly cloud. It was alive. A diabolical intelligence, non-corporeal, and with a touch that was deadly. It crept up behind Cira, and its touch disintegrated her cloak. She would have died herself had she not side-stepped at the right moment. Caught between the two foes, Volta and Shokk concentrated on the wolf as Cira and Caxius tore at the cloud of color with magic, using radiance and force to disperse its essence. In a matter of moments, both were destroyed, and the threat had passed. The heroes made their way back to the village to rest.

Shokk slept fine. Cira had terrible nightmares that night, and felt as if she hadn't rested at all. The night hag was back. With little recourse, they chose to set out for Vallaki and speak with Father Lucian at St. Andal's Church. Perhaps they could get some help there. They had a strange encounter on the road - a swarm of red-winged butterflies flew up around them at the bridge crossing the Tser Falls. Butterflies with stinging, poisonous bites as it turned out. They were joined by a dark figure swooping down out of the clouds, a monstrosity of skulls, bones, and flesh shaped to look like a monstrous, winged insect. No doubt a creation of Stahd! This deadly, flying wing tore at the heroes with razor-edged bones as its gaze withered their souls. but once again Cira's heaven-sent radiance proved the undead fiend's undoing.

Licking their wounds, the heroes pressed on to Vallaki. They met with Father Lucian, who had no spells or miracles to take them to the ethereal realm where the night hag could haunt their dreams. But he could offer them sanctuary in the blessed walls of St. Andral's church. The heroes opted to rest there overnight, planning their next move...
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Chapter 18: The House of Strahd
Having rescued a pair of small children, a boy and a girl, from cages in the hag's lair, the heroes decided to head on to Barovia village to find a place for them. They hadn't seen Ismark Kolyanovich for weeks either, and decided it was time to inform him of his sister's fate. But their passage was not unnoticed. They passed through the upper Gates of Ravenloft, in the shadow of the massive castle itself. A black coach, drawn by two black horses, awaited them. The driver was as silent and still as a phantom, and the doors to the carriage sprung open as the heroes neared. Volta, Verity, and Kyne entered the carriage as Evan and Lupin hustled the children down the road to safety. Caxius, Cira and Shokk balked at entering the eerie vehicle, and in an instant, the situation turned deadly.

The doors to the carriage slammed shut, trapping the trio inside. The horses seemed to burst into unearthly blue-purple flames and burn down to skeletons. The death coach charged Shokk and Cira, overrunning the pair and nearly trampling them fatally. The coachman lashed at Caxius, while Verity, Volta, and Kyne felt a deathly chill sap their very life-force. Verity forced the door open and jumped out, and was clipped and sent sprawling as a result. Kyne called on the gifts he had gotten at the Amber Temple, and blasted the coach from the inside with lightning and cold while Volta hacked away with her axe. Shokk swiped at it as it thundered by, and Caxius and Cira launched spells at the grim coach.


Strahd sent his coach for the heroes. They declined the offer.

Cira realized this black coach was not so much a vehicle and three creatures as it was a dark spirit, a single entity, no doubt sent by Strahd. With radiant light from her divine spells and the mighty hewing strokes of Shokk's blade, they managed to drive the thing off. It became no more substantial than smoke, thundering off back towards Castle Ravenloft. Badly hurt, the heroes forced their way down the road, recovering their strength as they hurried. Apart from a few hunters on the road, they had no challenges as they entered Barovia village.

Ismark was overjoyed to see them, and took the news of his sister's apparent rebirth and escape from Strahd's dark reach in stride. He put the heroes up for the night, giving them time to plot their next move. Shokk had terrible dreams that night, dreams of falling, and felt no better rested on the morrow. Despite his fatigue, he, Verity, Volta, Caxius, Cira, and Kyne set out to visit Castle Ravenloft. They figured that the time had come to find the bones of the silver dragon said to lay beneath the castle, and to learn more about their ultimate enemy.

The road to the castle was quiet, though the overcast skies grew into a storm by the time they reached the drawbridge. It passed over a sheer drop more than 1,000 feet high and led into the walls of the great castle. Castle Ravenloft was built atop a giant stone plinth, and overlooked the entirety of the valley to the east. Although the doors to the great central keep were open, the heroes made their way through the courtyard and along the side of the mighty castle. The inner walls were as high as the outer - nearly 80 feet - and were pierced by an iron portcullis. With a little might and magic, the gate was opened and the heroes circled the upper chapel and made their way to an overlook. Beneath the stone balcony, they could see windows carved into the rock more than 150 feet below. Using a climbing kit and some minor magic, Kyne secured three ropes together, anchored them around a gargoyle, and made his way down the face of the cliff to the windows.

They were opaque with caked on dirt, but he cleverly began to quietly remove the sections of stained glass in preparation of opening them. He quickly realized that he would have to cut an opening big enough to climb through, as the windows were fixed. Kyne also saw that it was some sort of tomb set in the rock beneath the castle. Finally, he saw only too late five black, spectral figures emerge from the stone around him and attack. Wraiths! Only his vampiric heritage saved him from instant death at their touch. Kyne quickly ignited the shining blade of the Sunsword and dove through the opening into the tomb. Caxius saw what was happening and grabbed Verity, using his magic to teleport them both inside. Cira and Shokk started to climb down the rope, hand over hand, to reach their comrades. The blade of sunlight along with Verity's magical pipes proved too much for the wraiths, who fled into the darkness. Shokk nearly slipped coming down the rope, but made his way after Cira into the tomb.


Castle Ravenloft stood like a brooding titan.

The heroes found they were in the catacombs beneath the castle, and that this was the tomb of Queen Ravenovia and King Baranov, Strahd's parents. A curtain of blue light sealed the crypt, and it was quickly determined that only Cira could pass back and forth through the wall of light. Everyone else was stuck in the upper catacombs. Realizing there was no other way out, the heroes began to explore the catacombs beneath Castle Ravenloft.

The catacombs were cramped, the floor thick with mist and a squishy substance that proved to be bat guano, based on the literally thousands of bats perched overhead. They opened several tombs, finding a vampire bride of Strahd's, along with a banshee, a body covered in gold, and a tomb with Kyne's name! The place was horrid and dank and they finally found the stairs out. Making their way up, they stopped at the next level. The corridor they found was thick with fog, and a short figure was slumping down their way. He was not quite five feet tall, broad shouldered, and had animal-like features. He was Cyrus Belview, a member of the same family experimented on by the Abbot, and Strahd's manservant. He offered to show the heroes the way out, one that would allow them to bypass the main hall.

Foolishly, they accepted.


Strahd's portrait was as evil as the vampire lord himself.

He led them to a side corridor, and gestured for them to enter. As the heroes made their way down, a pair of steel shutters slammed shut to either side of them. That section of the corridor became an elevator and flooded with gas that nearly rendered them unconscious. It shot up 300 feet in a matter of seconds, and ended at a simple landing. There were two statues, a portrait of Strahd, a rug in front of a door, and spiral steps to either side, one going up, one going down. It turned out the rug, the statues, and even the portrait were guardian constructs. The heroes dealt with them swiftly and surely, made their way down the steps, found the main hall, and retreated from the castle. Strahd's mocking laughter could be heard in the storm....
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Chapter 17: Return to the Bonegrinder
The heroes had begun their descent down Tsolenka Pass, the treasures looted from the Amber Temple in tow in an old, bronze chariot they had found there. The wood, stone, and iron construct Caxius had found and assumed control of hauled the loot, while Evan and the tiefling warlock rode in the vehicle. Nearing the bridge which spanned a wide gorge plunging fully 500 feet to the river below, they saw the shadow of giant wings overhead. It was a monstrous vulture, bigger than a farmhouse! Verity had heard a couple of drunken Barovians tell a tale of a great titan, who stole the secret of fire from Morninglord, and been chained to Mount Baratok to have his heart torn out by a great vulture every night at dusk. The bard didn't know if the tale were true, but the huge beast was real enough.

It swooped down, and would've sliced Kyne in half with its beak if the pale, mask-wearing rogue had been a whit slower. Merely slashed, he staggered back as Volta and Shokk were swept up by its talons. Thinking fast, Verity used a charm to create a pattern of shifting lights in the vulture's path. Hypnotically enthralled, the great bird's flight stalled and it crashed into the opposite wall of the gorge and then plunged into the river below, Shokk and Volta in tow. The two half-orc warriors managed to let the great beast take the brunt of the impact, and dodging its talons as it attempted to take wing, cut it down with axe and greatsword. Caxius used his magical gifts to jaunt down to them, then grant Shokk the ability to scale the cliff like a spider, hauling he and Volta up thanks to his great strength.


The giant vulture swooped down, its wings like the shadow of death falling over the party....

The group opted to return to Kresk, and spoke briefly with the burgomaster and rest for the night. They decided to forgo confronting the Abbot, despite the reading they had received from Madame Eva a couple of weeks ago, feeling that Clovin Belview was not yet needed. They headed back towards Vallaki, and were ambushed by a group of Vistani cutthroats led by none other than Arrigal! The sly assassin had some endgame in mind as he tried to kill Kyne and steal the glowing blade the rogue carried. But the group turned the tables and dispatched the Vistani once and for all.

The road to Vallaki was clear after that, and the heroes rested there only briefly before pressing on to the Bonegrinder, the old windmill that Kyne had found the deed to long ago. The home of the hags who had been grinding up children for their dream pies. And the heroes had come back to end their evil. The way was fraught with some peril, as they were attacked by a pack of ghostly wolves. But the heroes made it there with little delay.

The place was as decrepit as they remembered, through there were now three goats outside, munching contentedly on the pale grass. The heroes were cautious, but were still caught off-guard as an eight-foot-tall figure stepped out of the woods unseen and nearly took Verity down with a swipe of his axe! It was the "nephew" the heroes had fought - and killed - before. As that happened, Caxius approached one of the goats, which promptly charged him. As it did, it transformed into a goat-headed, hunched humanoid that pulled a long, heavy branch off a nearby tree. The two others transformed, and battle was joined on all sides. In the end a blow from Volta's axe hooked the sack-like hood covering "nephew's" face, revealing a monstrous zombie, lips and eyes stitched together, an instant before that same axe took its head from its shoulders. The three demons fell as well, and the heroes moved into the mill.


The Bonegrinder....

They were caught off guard as a blast of lightning ripped through them, and a hag with warty green skin appeared. Another, more than 7 feet tall herself, appeared behind Shokk as he went up the stairs and grabbed him with iron-hard arms. The last, familiar for her dark purple skin and horrid features, appeared from nowhere and blasted the group with more dark magic. The coven of hags had made their presence known, and the heroes were in trouble. But they swiftly turned the tides! Shokk even managed to leap out a second story window and tackle Morgantha as she flew outside the tower! With her two daughters slain, she vanished, vowing revenge. The heroes opted to head to the standing stones nearby, and rested the night there.

Of course, the night did not pass quietly, as they were attacked by a single revenant - the head of the Order of the Silver Dragon had come back for his sword. Of course he now wore the body of a teenage girl, clad in scraps of rusty mail and wielding a notched and rusted greatsword nearly as big as his new frame. But Shokk met the dead thing head on, and managed to drop him low once more. But it was only a matter of time before he came back...
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Tags: Boss Battle , Recap
I never did think it would happen to me! My life rocks!
It's been a while, but man, this last week. It's like: Dear Vengance Paladin's awesomeness coalition, I never thought it would happen to me. . .

Note to self: found the Paladins of Vengance Awesomeness Coalition. Soon.



So we found this giant-ass vulture flying around, looking for food, and it decides Volta and I look the most meaty (it was right) and grabs us. While it's flying, Verity hypnotizes it so it just drifts into the other side of a five hundred foot tall cliff down to a rushing river. Right as it's crashing there Volta and I get on top of it to ride it down like the world's first giant bird wranglers. We're trying to hold on, grabbing wings and shit to stop it from recovering. So it hits the ground with us on top of it at maximum speed, flinging us on and knocking Volta senseless. That would have been awesome enough, but then the bird gets back up! We're still fighting! In retrospect it would have been way cooler to just let the bird start flying again so we could have an epic battle, but Volta came to her senses and just beat the ever-living shit out of it with me before it really recovered too much. Oh well, there's always next time. Please let there be a next time.


Yep. That big. Except I look more awesome than that turd on top.

So afterwards we decide to go deal with the hags in the probably-late Kyne's mill. We show up, kill a bunch of demons, and the hags are nowhere to be seen. I head inside looking to buy one last dream pie before we murder them when the big hag proves why she's the Borovian National Hugging League Champion thirty years running. I'm talking big strong half-orc wearing full plate just getting squeezed in a way I haven't been since I was just a wee lad visiting my grandma with my dad. And this time she didn't even put me in a death fight with wolves! Man, family can be a hoot, right? Verity helps me out, we get into a little fight, and next thing I know I'm alone on the landing to the second floor, no easy way down the stairs, and the oldest hag flying outside the window.

So I did what any reasonable person would do and threw myself out the window at her. Broke her fly spell and we both landed on the ground swearing vengance against the next thing that hurt us. Then she left, the last of her coven. I remember thinking she was just going to head back to whatever plane she was from and probably spread some nasty rumors, but maybe we'd find more dream pies in our future.

Then that night, the revenant I got my sword from shows back up to kill me! I know, I had the BEST DAY EVER! Kyne was super cool about it too, and let me fight the guy on my own. He told me he'll be back - I can't wait. We're going to be stronger and I'm going to get him in a holy book at some point. We'll be arch-enemies in the background of a larger story, really only still in the story to not bore the audience with too much morality or whatever the "real" lesson is. That's what I want my legacy to be.


Basically this, but with chainmail over the top. Way too cute!

But anyway, a few days later we're on our way to Castle Ravenloft to look for some shit and I learned something important: I need my beauty sleep. If I'm cranky I start snapping at people and Kyne can't let it drop and Cira starts yelling and the waffles get burned and it's just not good for harmony. Turns out I may have been cursed or posessed or infiltrated or something by that last hag, and we need to get me un-whatever'ed before I can get a proper night's rest.

Shit, maybe I should have asked the banshee about that. She'd probably know. We'll have to ask when we go back for her treasure and I'm in a better mood.
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Shokk and the terrible, horrible, no-good very bad okay it wasn't so bad I guess
Man, yesterday sucked. I missed out on fighting the undead feast, got thrown out of the armory by poltergeists, hammered into one large bruise by the amber golem, blasted by the death slaad, and the litch turned out to be a pretty nice guy. Normally that last bit would be pretty good, but I was in a bad mood and ready to fight someone when we met him.

Oh well, I've got a few more days of shit-kicking to look forward to before we go do anything else, and if nothing else I'm sure I can offer to "train" some Valakii guards.

The litch was actually super helpful, and I'm surprised! I don't expect he is a capital-G Good person, but he was grateful enough to be revived by Cira that he just handed us Strahd's diary. He's got some interesting insights in there, in that it looks like a normal dose of absolute power corrupting absolutely, but he had someone he loved and that seemed. . . normal? I guess? Except for the part of her getting mad about something dumb and minor and he went in to a rage and killed a whole bunch of people and all I remember is thinking that if I was going to rage-kill women who freaked out over minor things I would have murdered Cira a few dozen times over.

If nothing else, that book has helped humanize Strahd to me. And if there's something I've learned, it's that we can kill humanoids if we need to.
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