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Chapter 16: The Amber Temple, Part 3
Leaving Evan behind to continue his experiments in the alchemist's lab, the heroes made their way along the upper west hall to the double doors at the end. Inside, they found a plain dining hall with a large table set with an enormous feast! They could smell roast meat, fresh vegetables, warm bread, piping hot gravy, and good, strong wine. Cira, Shokk, and Volta moved in as Verity, Caxius, and Kyne slowly examined the room. Cira saw a tarnished copper ewer on the table as Shokk dug in to the food, which tasted as delicious as it smelled. Cira quickly realized the food was but an illusion, as the wine did not cleanse her palate. Only the copper ewer was real. As she reached to grab for it, the food vanished. Eight specters, literal ghosts at feast. passed through the wall. With a raise of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Cira blasted them all from existence.

Making their way downstairs, the heroes examined the two sets of double doors leading off the main hall by the great statue. The first set had been sundered, and only an empty hall with shattered weapons, crushed bones, and rent armor remained. As they entered, Shokk, Verity, and Volta were attacked by an invisible force. Poltergeists, legacies of long-forgotten adventurers, as it turned out were responsible, but enchanted steel and spells put a quick end to them all. In the second vault, the heroes found treasure - mounds of it - when the amber doors were breached by Shokk. He also found a beating from some invisible force, but Cira dispelled the enchantment and revealed a large, amber statue of an armored man with the head of a hawk. Despite the blows it rained down, the heroes fought back and shattered it to bits.

Vampire spawn awaited in the great vault. No doubt Strahd had been here, and prepared for any who sought to find his secrets.

Behind the statue, they found cracks in the wall that led into another large chamber. Volta, Verity, and Shokk began to squeeze their way through, and found a large vault with a black, marble floor and three enormous blocks of amber in niches. A half a dozen rotted crates were scattered about, and a gold marble stair with a black railing on the far end of the room spiraled upwards. The huge blocks were crude sarcophagi, but the trio found the room was inhabited. As Volta crossed by one of crates, it sundered from within - as did the rest! Vampires, all clad like adventurers from some far-off land, jumped on the heroes. Kyne slipped in the chamber, the Sunsword flashing with lighting-fast jabs. Caxius slipped in, blasting about with eldritch force, while Cira came behind, sunlight flashing forth from the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. The sunlight, Volta's axe, and Shokk's blade did the heavy lifting, and soon the vampire spawn were all dust.

They examined the three amber blocks, and Kyne found they each contained vestiges as well. One offered the dark gift of the Vampyr, and Kyne had no doubt this is where Strahd had made his dark bargain centuries ago. He received another gift, from Zhudun, the Corpse Star, which enabled him to raise the dead - once - at the cost of appearing like one dead himself. With their curiosity satisfied, the heroes made their way up the stairs. They found a great library, lined with black marble bookcases. The books were all blank, but the arcane casters among the party realized they would reveal their text when the proper command words were spoken. They also found a pair of secret doors. One to the south led to steps that emerged on the floor of the main hall, behind the great statue.

The other led into a small, dusty chamber. But further examination revealed a second door leading west into an opulent bedchamber, albeit one that was dusty and festooned with cobwebs. A figure in rich but tattered robes stood there, and turned as the door opened. It was a skeleton, its eye sockets blazing with pinpoints of red light. A lich! "Who are you?" It asked in a puzzled voice, "and why are you here?" Caxius introduced them, to which it replied. "Ah, I am...well, I don't remember who I am." An amnesiac lich. Cira, feeling bold, cast a Greater Restoration spell from the scroll they had found earlier, and the undead wizard's memory was restored in full. He introduced himself as Exethanter, and said he was there learning knowledge. He knew the heroes were after it as well, and said there was one book in the library they did not need a password to read. A quick search turned it up - the Tome of Strahd! A quick read revealed much of the dark lord's history, and the heroes felt better prepared to face the vampire.

Exethanter was terrifying yet quite well-mannered for an undead wizard.

The lich revealed there was one more vault, which could be found off the second balcony above the great hall. The heroes made their way, finding a secret door at the rear of the small shrine there, and went downstairs to what appeared to be the far end of the collapsed hall to the east. A single vault was there, already open, with three amber sarcophagi in it. As Shokk entered, a figure appeared - a gray-skinned toad-like humanoid in armor carrying a wicked sword. A death slaad, Kyne realized! It was a tough foe, but the heroes cut it down swiftly. The vestiges trapped here offered great strength, resilience, and true sight, but most of the heroes declined their bargains.

Resting briefly, the heroes opted to leave the Amber Temple. As they made their way down to Tsolenka Pass, Kyne stumbled across a ring in the trail. Fascinated, he picked it up. It was gold, with the two-headed raven sigil in onyx as the stone. Putting it on, he was almost overwhelmed by a strange presence. Verity identified the ring, revealing it to be the component of a Magic Jar spell. It was none other than Strahd, attempting to possess him! He tossed the ring aside, but swore he heard a snarl of rage on the wind. Then, as the heroes neared the bridge across the pass, they heard the flap of wings in the dark, cloudy skies overhead....
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Chapter 15: The Amber Temple, Part 2
The heroes pressed on, making their way to the next sealed amber door. Although Kyne was unable to disable the enchantments sealing the portal, Volta and Shokk had enough muscle to breach the door. Beyond, another small chamber with a blue, marble floor held three large, amber sarcophagi in niches. Evan lit the room with a burst of fire which, strangely enough, caused Kyne to flinch back as if the rogue was now afraid of fire. Perhaps the bargains he had made with the vestiges in the amber sarcophagi had more of an effect than he let on.

There were other horrors here as well - strange, thin humanoids clad in organic armor sculpted from black resin. They crawled down the walls and attacked from surprise, slashing at the heroes with ribbon-like blades and blasting at them with spells. But the heroes rallied and fought back, and soon the armored figures were all dead. They rotted away quickly, leaving only the crumbling black resin of their arms and armor behind. Kyne, Verity, and Caxius investigated each sarcophagus, and Kyne took more and more power into himself. Each bargain left him with a new and even more horrible sign of the unholy power that he had taken into himself. The others began to look on him with suspicion...and fear.

Kaorti, once human, now monstrous things from the Far Realm.

As they exited into the hall, the heroes heard cackling voices. "What have we here? Others come to loot the Amber Temple? Thieves, vagabonds, and rascals?" A trio of women with green, warty skin, long, sharp nails, and all wearing ragged, dark robes and carrying - of all things - brooms, entered the hall from another room. A trio of witches, no doubt here for arcane lore. The heroes wasted little time with words, as the three witches tried to hex them. Blades and spells made short work of the witches and their animated brooms, and the heroes searched the two remaining rooms on that side of the hall. All they found was a massive construct, fully 10 feet tall, in one of the side rooms. It was crafted of wood and iron, and could no doubt move, but was not animate. Caxius saw a sigil crafted on the back of its helmet-like head, and made note of it. Perhaps they could find something about it in another room.

As they crossed the great hall and made their way into the west passage, the heroes chose to ignore the double doors at the far end and the near end of the chamber. One of the far sets of doors had been breached, though the other two were still sealed. Time enough to explore more later. As they entered the west hall, Caxius and Shokk saw a strange radiance emanating down the passage, reflecting off the amber-glazed walls. Rounding the corner into the hall running parallel to the main chamber, they saw a small, humanoid figure levitating in front of a breached vault door on the north end of the passage. It turned to face them. It had hair like flowing silver flame, purple-black skin that shone with points of radiance like stars, and its eyes and mouth glowed with fiery radiance. It looked at them, whispering words in some alien tongue. But its intent was clear, and it was as if they could hear its voice in their minds. It said, "Die!"

The shining child was a waif of the outer darkness. It had not come to play.

Shining beams of radiant fire lanced at the pair, and with a wave of its hand, the creature created a wall of shimmering, rainbow colors that cut the corridor in half. It passed back through the wall as the others rushed in. They narrowly avoided being blinded by the shimmering curtain of light, and saw the small creature pass back and forth through it, lancing about with beams of star-fire and a touch that seared like the sun. Evan realized it had created a Prismatic Wall with the barest of efforts, but the gnome wizard knew that certain spells could bring it down. He, Caxius, Kyne, Verity, and Cira hammered at it with spell after spell, and color after color vanished. Volta and Shokk absorbed hits from the creature as best they could, with Volta's axe slashing it time and again, causing drops of burning blood to fall as the enchantment on the blade wounded the small aberration. In the end, the wall collapsed, and without its protection, the two half-orcs' blades and Verity's hand crossbow made short work of the creature.

The heroes moved to explore the breached vault, and found that one of the sarcophagi had been destroyed by some unimaginable force. An eye opened in the air, and tentacles reached out of nothingness to grab at them, but arrows, spells, and blades quickly forced whatever hid in the empty air to withdraw, seeming vanishing back into the outer dark. More sarcophagi, more pacts...and more suspicion. More rooms were explored, with nothing of value found. Yet another vault was found, one filled with one-eyed, hunched, humanoids - nothics - that were defeated in short order. More sarcophagi, more pacts. Kyne appeared less and less human. More rooms. Whatever scholars or wizards ran this temple, they had left little behind, and it had been long ago by the state of the place. Making their way back upstairs, the heroes confronted the wizard's apprentice, Vilnius, about his master's staff. Evan decided he was keeping it, and threats were made. Vilnius shrugged off a charm spell cast at him by Caxius, and opted to act! It cost him his life, as though he had esacped with a simple Misty Step spell and blasted the party with a Lightning Bolt, Caxius caught up and paralyzed him with a Hold Person enchantment. There was nothing magical about Verity's crossbow bolt to the back of his head, but it ended the fight pretty quickly. Remaining upstairs for the nonce, the heroes rested and and healed before making their way downstairs.

The Eye of Fear and Flame harrowed the party with fear. And flame. And hell hounds.

The heroes found another vault, with a robed skeleton inside. It cackled, urging Kyne to commit dark deeds, and when he refused, it raised its head. One eye socket held a ruby, the other a black sapphire. It blasted the party with fire and fear, and summoned hell hounds to do its bidding. The heroes faced a tough battle with this one, barely prevailing as the thing fell to a well-placed bolt.

The heroes made their way back upstairs, finding an old laboratory of some sort. Evan was able to reconstitute a handful of potions. Another room held a scale model of a castle, one Volta recognized as Castle Ravenloft! With foresight aplenty, the heroes made a map of the castle, which would likely be handy when they chose to confront Strahd. A few rooms yet remained. The heroes pressed on, looking for more knowledge and weapons to help with their impending battle against Strahd....
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Chapter 14: The Amber Temple
The night passed, and when the heroes awoke, they found wolf tracks in the snow around their magical shelter. "I'll follow them for a bit, and make sure that nothing is lying in wait for us," Lupin told the rest, and the ranger took off. The rest of the heroes descended the narrow stair in the cliff face into the cold darkness of the Amber Temple. They passed arrow slits set in the walls and exited the steps onto a huge balcony overlooking a vast, dark chamber. Caxius could see a 40-foot high statue of a hooded, robed figure at the far end. Amber-sheathed double doors stood to either end of the balcony, the set on the east side ajar. Steps led down from either side of the balcony north to the floor of the vast chamber.

The heroes opted to explore the door to the east, and beyond found a chamber with doors leading off to the north and a 10-foot diameter hole in the floor on the chamber's far side. Caxius and Shokk went over to examine it, and the tiefling warlock saw a single, huge eye staring back up at him - along with ten smaller eyes! He drew back, shouting, "Something is below!" As he did, the heroes readied and saw a massive, spherical form rise into the room. It had an armored hide, a maw full of sharp teeth, a single central eye, and ten smaller eyes on stalks - a beholder!

The heroes found that terror had eyes only for them in the Amber Temple.

The aberration unleashed rays that cracked and disintegrated stone, instilled terror and froze the body and mind, and half a dozen other horrible things. A beam of anti-magic swept out from the central eye, and Cira, Evan, and Caxius could feel their magical powers vanish under its cold touch. But Volta, Shokk, and Cira stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the gaping hole, striking with axe and sword, as Kyne and Verity stood back and launched missiles at the beholder. Though wounded by its eye rays, the heroes managed to triumph as the beholder did not have the space to maneuver out of their reach.

The massive corpse fell below, into a chamber tiled with red marble. But the heroes decided to wait, and check the chambers above first. Quite by accident, Shokk and Caxius found a secret chamber to the south of that room as they tried securing a rope to a torch sconce, only for it to turn out to be the handle of secret door! They found a small room beyond with many small holes in the walls, each designed to store scrolls. Evan and Verity joined them in searching, and they found three enchanted parchments.

Volta had gone through the doors leading north however, and found a hall with a cracked floor. Doors stood ajar at the far end, and doors to the east halfway up opened into a small auditorium of some sort, with red marble benches on tiers that led down to small floor surmounted by an obsidian lectern and a massive square of slate hanging on the far wall. The half-orc barbarian sensed movement behind the lectern and called out, and a man with singed garments and badly-healing burns on one side of his face and scalp came out. He was nervous, and worried about the thing outside. After she told him they had slain the beholder, he shuddered and said, "no, the thing that cracked the floor!"

Just then, the doors on the far end opened and an amber statue with the head of a jackal stomped out, the stone floor cracking even more beneath its massive weight. With a cry of alarm, she charged the amber golem with her axe and the rest rushed in to hack, shoot at, and blast the construct. Though it pounded at Volta, Cira, and Shokk with massive fists, it fell beneath their combined blows and spells.

Inside the Amber Temple.

Beyond the northernmost doors, they found a half-collapsed room and a door that led west onto a balcony overlooking the vast hall and the statue, the floor of which was 30 feet below. Shokk and Caxius tied off a rope and readied to climb down, when a voice boomed out from the statue. "WHO HAS COME TO THE AMBER TEMPLE? WHAT DO YOU SEEK HERE? WHAT WILL YOU PROVIDE IN OBEISANCE FOR KNOWLEDGE?" Evan and Cira had made their way back around to the steps leading down, Verity remained in the hall to the east of the main floor, looking down through an arrow slit, and Volta had moved out onto the balcony as Shokk and Caxius climbed down.

"Uh, how about some scrolls?" The half-orc paladin suggested. Caxius meanwhile used his devil's sight to scan the face of the statue, and saw past the magical darkness that shrouded the interior of the hood. A pair of eye slits led into a small chamber in the statue's head, and he saw a figure looking back. Numbing pain shot through his mind as he resisted a spell that would have left him a drooling idiot, and he shouted "We are under attack!"

As Caxius grabbed Shokk and magically teleported inside the statue's head, a pair of lights appeared in arrow slits on the far side of the hall, in what had to be another corridor overlooking the main temple floor. A pair of flaming skulls looked down, and began to blast at Cira, Volta, and Evan with spells of force and flame. The gnome wizard launched a fireball spell back at them, placing it through the arrow slit with ease, only to realize they were immune to fire! Caxius and Shokk meanwhile found an old man with rose-tinted spectacles wearing robes in the small chamber atop the statue. He visibly quailed as they appeared, and introduced himself as Heinreich Stott ,and said he was simply guarding the Amber Temple as he sought knowledge of his own. "I simply wanted some supplies," he said morosely. He escorted them down a spiral stair that led down to a secret door in the base of the statue at the rear. And when they got there, he cast a spell on Shokk that caused the paladin's armor to begin heating up, slammed the door behind them, and locked it!

"Heinrich Stott" was not a harmless old man after all...

The battle raged out front, and the "harmless old man" appeared back in the statue's head. Volta tried to climb in the eye slit as Evan cast a spell that would paralyze a humanoid...only for it to fail! "He's not human!" Evan yelled, and the figure wavered and re-appeared on the floor of the main temple hall. He was an orange-furred humanoid with a fox's head, horns, clawed hands, and the same robes and rosy spectacles. "He's a fiend!" The gnome wizard yelled. The flameskulls, meanwhile, rained down fireballs and magic missiles on the party as arrows and eldritch blasts struck at them. Cira, Volta, and Shokk charged at the arcanaloth fiend, but he vanished again, appearing on the balcony overhead as he blasted them with a chain lightning spell. Evan had cast a haste spell on Shokk however, and the armored half-orc nimbly sped up the rope, hopped onto the balcony, and cut the fiend down with three rapid smites from his enchanted greatsword. The flameskulls followed after, as Verity shattered them with well-placed crossbow bolts.

Pausing for a short rest, and remembering the apprentice wizard - Vilinius - had told them his master perished in the far hall, burned to death by flaming skulls, they went up to investigate. Unfortunately they found a band of hillfolk barbarians camped in the room on the west side of the balcony. They were gathering up their supplies to leave, and a quick and bloody fight broke out. It was cut dramatically short by one of Evan's fireball spells, and Volta's bloodthirsty greataxe.

In the hall beyond, they found a pair of skeletons that rose up and burst into flames, hurling fire and clawing at them with burning talons. But the heroes cut them down in short order, and found the body of the wizard who had perished there, lying in a charred heap near the door. His spellbook was burned to crumbling ash, but a blue crystal staff underneath him radiated power. Evan identified in as a Staff of Frost, and Caxius claimed it, "For now." He said evenly. "I am sure we will give it back to this apprentice when we have defeated Strahd." A curious look in his eye gave something of a lie to his words...

The heroes made their way back to the side chamber where they had dispatched the beholder, and climbed down into a red-tiled room set with three alcoves and a door on the north side of the wall. All were carved from amber. As Kyne examined one of the sarcophagi, a voice in his mind offered him power, in the name of Fekre, Queen of Poxes. The others had offers as well, and he and Caxius took the voices on their promise of power. Strange signs appeared on their faces and in their voices, marking them as tools of these forgotten entities, vestiges of power. Kyne was able to undo the enchantment holding the door shut, at least temporarily, and they made their way into the hall beyond, where more doors like this one beckoned...
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Chapter 13: Tsolenka Pass
The heroes prepared to bed down for the night in the Abbey of St. Markovia. The Abbot told them the only place available would be the old hospital wing, on the other side of the courtyard. "I am afraid we have scant other accommodations. Be cautious, for darkness lingers there. And please, do not harm any of the Belview family. They are much like children to me." With those warnings, the group made its way into the other part of the abbey.

They heard mad laughter, cries, and shouts from down a long hall leading off an entry chamber. Stairs led up to second level, but Volta saw a large form shuffling down the hall. Hopefully, she tossed a wooden ball with a bell inside bounding down the darkened corridor. A large, patchwork form of mismatched body parts stitched together and given monstrous life shamble down the hall, grunting unintelligibly. It became agitated, and moved forward, fists raised in anger. Shokk moved to intercede as Volta, Caxius, and Kyne raced back across the courtyard to get the Abbot. Cira attempted to cow the brute as Evan hid and Verity headed up the stairs to make sure they weren't caught in an ambush. As that happened, nearly a dozen starving mongrelfolk charged out of one of the cells down the hall, all clutching sharpened bones and rocks. These members of the Belview family were hungry, and looked at the heroes like meat had just been put on the menu.

Maddened screams and laughter echoed down the dark halls of the sanitorium in St. Markovia's Abbey.

Evan created an illusion of the Abbot as Shokk, Lupin, and Cira cowed the mongrelfolk and pushed the flesh golem back. The rest arrived with the Abbot in tow, and with eyes flashing celestial fire and shadowy wings spreading out behind him, he told the inhabitants of the sanitarium to behave. They shuffled off, returning to their rooms. He apologized to the heroes, and thanked them for showing discretion. With that, the heroes headed upstairs. They found an old office with one door that led to a hospital ward, and another that led to a parapet around the courtyard. Shokk, Caxius, and Lupin explored the hospital, only to be attacked shadows of the dead. Enchanted blades and ki-focused strikes made short work of them. They explored a trio of rooms beyond, finding nothing, though Lupin saw a raven land on the sill of a window overlooking the abbey's garden. It cawed and flew off, to land on a scarecrow below.

As he and Volta went back downstairs and outside to investigate the scarecrow, Cira and Verity prepared the room for a rest while Caxius, Evan, and Shokk found another room on the same building accessed by a door from the parapet. They found old, half-rotting bunks inside, and Caxius found a dagger at his throat as a woman stepped out of the shadows! She was a Vistani woman in riding leathers, armed with sword, axe, and dagger. She also had a cunningly crafted wooden leg. After asking them a few, serious questions and learning the heroes were opposed to Strahd, she introduced herself as Ezmerelda d'Avenir, a monster hunter.

Meanwhile Volta and Lupin had found, of all things, a russet-colored bag stuffed into the guts of the scarecrow. The shifter monk reached inside and found a furry lump that, when he pulled it forth, rapidly grew into a bear! Volta used her primal empathy to intuit the bear was friendly and would obey Lupin's commands. Overjoyed, he rode it back to the Abbey. Once there, introduction were made. Verity remembered the werewolves that attacked outside the tower by Lake Baratok spoke of a huntress, and Ezmerelda confirmed it was her. Indeed, she had lost her lower leg to those same werewolves years before. They also learned the wagon was hers, and that she knew the tower's owner - Rudolph van Richten - though she hadn't seen him in years. After learning he was in Vallaki, she told the heroes she would travel there, though they were more than welcome to ride with her.

Ezmerelda d'Avenir was easily as dangerous as she was beautiful. Which is saying a lot.

The heroes had other plans, though. They talked with the Abbot the following morning about having Cyrus Belview accompany them as Madame Eva's Tarokka reading showed that a two-headed musician would be their greatest ally against Strahd. He refused flatly, becoming somewhat angry. "As I said, I view them as my children. I would not have any of the Belviews ride into danger! I will give Strahd what he needs, and his threat will be ended. Do not ask again!" Cautiously, the heroes left the Abbey of St. Markovia, determined to head to the Amber Temple for more answers about Strahd and the Abbot. Ezmerelda went with them as far as the Raven River Crossroads, and said a temporary farewell. The heroes headed south, up the side of the mountain, to Tsolenka Pass and the Amber Temple beyond. Apart from a band of peasants hunting late in the afternoon, they found little until the reached the pass.

Snow had begun to fall, and the road had become a ribbon clinging to a ledge along a great cliff. A sheer drop-off was to the other side, and the way treacherous at times. They came to a thirty-foot high black wall pierced by a single portcullis blocking the road. A curtain of green flame burned across the far side, past the iron portcullis, and huge statues of vulture-like demons stood atop the two gate towers. Beyond, they saw a single white tower surmounted by several large, gold statues along the side of the road, overlooking the valley beyond. As Kyne approached the portcullis, it opened of its own accord. With a bold leap, he jumped through the wall of green flame, only to be horribly burned!

As he recovered on the other side, Caxius used magic to vanish and re-appear atop the gate tower. He had thought to tie a rope for the others, but the statues began to move, stone cracking and sloughing off, revealing horrid demons! They screeched and attacked, diving at the heroes even as they unleashed foul, necromantic magics and a palpable aura of fear. But the heroes fought back, blade, bolt, and spell felling the two demons, returning them to lifeless stone. Evan dispelled the magical wall of flame, and the heroes made their way through. They explored the white tower, and found eight large statues of warrior-maidens, each plated in gold, at its top. Along with what appeared to be the skeletal remains of these maidens, hidden under the snow. The cold wind blew and the snow shaped into spectral maidens which tore at them with cold claws. But Cira's holy symbol and Volta's enchanted axe made short work of them.

After resting a moment and warming themselves as best they could, the heroes made their way forward. They found a great, black stone bridge arching over a gorge which plunged into mist. Far, far below they could hear the rush of the river. Approaching the near side, they saw a rider atop a black horse with burning eyes move forward out of the late afternoon shadows to the center of the bride. He was armored, carried a longsword in one hand and a whip seemingly made from a human spine in the other. And he had no head.

Shokk issued a challenge to the headless horseman, only to have it met with a near-lethal response.

"It's a dullahan!" Cira shouted. Shokk and Volta moved forward to challenge him, only to be ridden down! The half-orc paladin was caught by the dullahan's whip and nearly dragged off the bridge. As Volta followed, a dozen heads came sailing out of the darkness, flying as if borne by wings. They were the severed heads of men and women, all the dullahan's victims, and they were terrible to behold. They flew at the rest of the heroes, apart from a trio that flew at Volta and Shokk, keeping them from advancing. They screamed horribly, bit and butted, and fixed the heroes with cold, deadly stares or burning eyes full of hate manifesting as flame.

The battle was epic, with Shokk and Volta pulled down, ridden down, slashed at, and trampled time and again. But the two half-orcs rose time and again, greataxe and greatsword slashing away at flying heads, undead rider, and phantom steed. The dullahan unleashed deadly magics and fought like a demon, though with Cira and Evan's spells of light and flame, he was given pause long enough for the blades to do their work. Evan ended him with a consuming blast of flame, what was left of his body blasted off the bridge to fall into the mists below.

Hurt and half-exhausted, the heroes made their way up the mountain pass. They reached a great cliff face, carved to resemble the entrance to a temple. Six great niches were carved there, three to each side of steps that led down into the cliff. In each stood a twenty-foot high statue of a hooded, robed monk, hands clasped as if in prayer, faces covered, all carved from a single, massive block of amber. The Amber Temple. Evan used one of his enchantments to conjure a magical shelter and the heroes rested there as night fell, waiting until near dawn to enter the strange and terrible temple.
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Eventful days!
Man, you just never know about who you'll find on an adventure. We were looking around the basement of this house and saw a big guy with very little brain and a little guy who was, to be honest, mostly brain. You'd think the brainy guy would be the reasonable one, and you'd be wrong! We started talking, he started yelling about how we were servants of Strahd, I started wailing on him with a hunk of wood, he summoned his alchemical servants, and a good time was had by all. Even when I got beat to a pulp by the automotons and the brain's science-magic. We got it taken care of, mostly, and as the thing was dying it released a big goo-teeth-tentacle thing that Cira called a. . . soggy barbarian? I've probably got that wrong, but it's not my problem. And I really can't be too angry at someone trying to take vengeance on me, it's kind of my shtick.

We let the big guy go when the house started to come down, but I don't think he made it out. Can't save them all, and he didn't seem to happy, so I'll just file that one under "a shame" and go from there.

Then as we were headed up to check out the lightning we heard striking up above, we get ambushed. Then we get ambushed again, but by a crazy wizard dude. At least the first was just hillfolk trying to sacrifice us and the second was easy enough to knock out. We felt so bad for the guy we thought we'd take him back somewhere he could get some help, which mean unfortunately heading back to the Abbot. Cool guy, but creepy as all get out.

At least the trip there was eventful. One of the revenant knights we'd killed earlier came back to kill us, which was super awesome, but Volta killed him so now he's her eternal enemy. Rest In Peaces eternal enemety of an ancient evil, it was a nice feeling for a while. There was also apparently an ambush by the Vistani, but by the time I was done saying "what the fuck" a few times they were dead.

So, long story short, turns out the crazy dude is Mordenkainen and he's a big deal or something to mages? I thought Evan was going to need to change his pants, but he kept it in his pants. Mordenkainen is super knowledgeable and really is surprisingly patient and kind, so I think I'm going to enjoy chatting with him in the future.

Plus, I always enjoy meeting Otto, as weird as he is.
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Chapter 12: That Which Lies Beneath
After a cold night in the dilapidated house of Vasili von Holtz, at first light the heroes made their way to the trap door in the kitchen pantry. The stone steps did not descend into a cellar, but rather a stone-walled laboratory. The walls were lined with narrow wooden tables crowded with glass and copper instrumentation, jars of powders and strange fluids, and parts and pieces of animals...and other things...that had been dried or pickled. A thaumaturgic circle scribed in some slightly luminescent blue paint took up the center of the floor. A single door led off the room.

Only evil lay beneath this sign etched on the floor...

The heroes were careful to avoid disturbing the circle, and made their way into the chamber beyond. It was a long hall, lined with several iron-barred cages. They could see vaguely humanoid forms in the four cages, all whimpering and crawling in their own filth. One had spider-like facial features and a hunched, pale body covered in mottled scales. One of its hands had skin like that of an amphibian, complete with sucker-tipped webbed fingers, the other covered in wolf-like fur. The others were just as monstrous, obscene perversions of life that were the result of transformative surgery that had broken them in body and mind.

Ignoring the mewling wretches for the moment, Shokk, Kyne, Cira, Caxius and Volta made their way forward while Verity, Evan, and Lupin lagged behind. They entered a second door, one that led to another lab of some sort. Tables crowded around the periphery of the room, many covered with books and elaborate alchemical equipment. One large table was covered in old blood stains and surgical equipment. A large iron cage sat along the far wall, containing what looked like a heap of rags. A large jar sat on one table, a brain floating inside, suspended by some eerie, unidentified fluid. As Shokk approached, a voice echoed in his mind and the minds of his companions.

"Who is there? Who are you? Where is Balthazar?!" Taken aback for a moment, Shokk asked who was speaking. It was the brain - the brain of none other than Vasili von Holtz! He explained that Strahd had come to him many years ago, learning and sharing various secrets with the reclusive alchemist. But Strahd had disposed of him, removing von Holtz's brain and preserving it following the alchemist's own notes, as some sort of cruel jest.

Vasili von Holtz, in the flesh, as it were...

Cira had made her way to the cage, pulling back what was actually a ragged blanket from the cage's occupant - a massive humanoid of patchwork parts, moving and blinking in mute desperation and and mindless despair. "And what is this...abomination?" The priestess asked, her face stern.

"Balthazar has attempted to craft me a new body. Where is he? Why has he not come with you?!" The heroes' excuses grew thin, and they could feel a powerful will probing their thoughts. "You lie!" The brain screamed in their minds. "You have slain him! Now I will take one of your bodies!" With that, the brain of Vasili von Holtz unleashed a blast of psychic energy that sent the heroes reeling. Shokk was on him in an instant, but even his greatsword was not enough to shatter the armored jar holding the alchemist's brain. Psychic feedback seared the half-orc paladin as he struck.

As the others moved in, they saw the alchemical equipment move and twist, pulling together to form a pair of large, vaguely humanoid forms composed of brass and steel frames with articulated joints. Strange fluids ran through pipes and tubes along their limbs, and the brains of animals in jars seemed to command their movement. These mechanical golems lurched forward, attacking Volta, Shokk, and Cira. Cira meanwhile chained the cage with the flesh golem intended to be von Holtz's new body as it began to below with berserk intensity. Caxius filled the room with a hungry, cold darkness but the brain of von Holtz vanished.

The alchemical golems were formidable, but ultimately fragile, foes.

In short order, the heroes blasted the two alchemical constructs with spells, hacked at them with blades, and tore them to pieces. The brain in a jar had appeared in the other room however, and managed to use its psychic powers to break the arcane circle on the floor. Von Holtz's raspy laughter echoed in their minds. "I called this thing up from the depths of time, using its substance to grow, to command, and to transform flesh. Now it will be free, and none of you will survive!" Shokk's greatsword brought an end to von Holtz once and for all, as a mighty blow shattered the jar and left his once magnificent brain a splattered ruin of pulpy flesh.

But time was running out. Cira smashed the chain holding the flesh golem caged, while Verity and Caxius smashed open the cells holding the mongrelfolk created by von Holtz's new apprentice. Ushering the miserable creatures ahead of them, they raced up the stairs and narrowly avoided being crushed by the alchemist's house as it fell. The basement's floor cracked and a slimy horror issued forth. It was massive, nearly as big as the house had been, and its substance glistened like an oil slick. Mouths, eyes, and grasping and tearing pseudopods formed along its surface as a horrid, gibbering or reedy trilling issued from a thousand throats. The heroes fled, retaining what composure they had, as the bulk of the monstrous shoggoth made its way to the shores of Lake Zarovich, disappearing beneath the black water.

The shoggoth pushed up from below, smashing the house from beneath, then made its way to the lake and disappeared beneath the surface.

"Well, they probably won't get any fish anymore now," Shokk quipped as the heroes made their way from the ruined house. They rested for a short time, away from the shore of Lake Zarovich, and made their way up into the surrounding hills near the base of Mount Baratok. They had seen flashes of lightning unrelated to the storm up there, and had decided to at least investigate before heading back to Vallaki.

As they made their way up past the treeline and over the mist, the heroes encountered a ragged looking, balding man with a long, disheveled, black beard in tattered robes. "You!" He shouted. "Assassins! He sent you to finish me off, didn't he!" Despite their protestations of innocence, the obviously mad old man raised his hands towards the heroes and lightning flickered between his fingers. Before they could react, he disappeared and reappeared nearby. A huge, glowing sword faced Shokk and a boulder bounded down the hill towards Evan. The rest of the group, moving in close formation along a path leading up the hill, was blasted by a series of lightning bolts that leaped between them.

The man, obviously a powerful magic-user, was not an easy foe. He blasted the heroes with fire, lightning, and thunder, shrugging off blows with wards and twisting spells back around on their casters. But in the end, he was subdued by Shokk, Volta, and the rest working together. They bound him, hand and foot, and gagged him. While Cira tried to cure him, his madness was beyond what the priestess could cure. She sighed. "Only one is strong enough to cure his madness: the abbot." Resigned to help him, the heroes carried him down the hills and along the lake, through the woods, and back up the trail to Krezk. After a brief talk with the burgomaster, they made their way back up to the Abbey of St. Markovia. Greeted at the gates once more by Otto Belview, the heroes were escorted to the abbot's presence. He agreed to restore the old man, and allowed both he and the heroes to stay overnight and rest in the abbey.

Yup. It was freaking MORDENKAINEN!

The old man turned out to be none other than the legendary archmage Mordenkainen! He had come to this land months ago to defeat Strahd, only to fail and be cast down. Most thought this mad mage had perished after his battle with Strahd von Zarovich atop the battlements of Castle Ravenloft, but he had survived the long plummet over the Tser Falls, broken in mind as well as body. He'd been hiding in the mountains, using what spells he had prepared. Mordenkainen thanked them for their aid, and vowed to help them escape this land once he'd recovered his spellbook and his staff. In the meantime, he gave them all a charm of protection, inked invisibly onto their skin. Though it seemed that he would not ally himself with the heroes permanently, Evan convinced Mordenkainen to let the heroes create a simulacrum of him to aid in their battle with Strahd. With one ally thus at hand, they sought to gain the aid of the ally prophesied in Madame Eva's Tarokka reading - the two-headed man, playing his music. None other than the mongrel-man Clovin Belview! Now to convince him to leave the abbey with them...

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For Sale: One Creepy Cool Mansion
If it wasn't for the fact that everything in it hasn't been taken care of, I'd love to live here! This place has everything - traps, fights, crazy laboratories, secret paths, and a kitchen! Who wouldn't want to live here!

I even got a new set of armor! Good thing Caxius knows how to resize armor, even though it really hasn't helped me yet. Stupid wax mage figures think they can stop me with a few lightning bolts, pah.

I'm looking forward to what's under the house, too. Last I heard there was another body for Vasili von Holtz, so maybe it has his mind is in there too? Or maybe we'll just have another big fight, so it's pretty much a win-win for me.

Plus, it keeps us out of Vallaki for a few nights. I'm starting to feel bad about the amount of problems we're causing there, even if the town is better off after.
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Chapter 11: The Alchemist
The heroes were escorted by a group of the Baroness Vallakovich's guards to her home, a brooding mansion with peeling paint and massive oak doors. They were escorted into a parlor and Lydia Petrovna, the Baroness, was brought before them. She wore black and was obviously still in mourning for her husband. In a calm voice she thanked them for coming, and told the group she had no ill will towards them. "My husband was a good man at heart, I think, but he was consumed by fear and a brittle disposition. He took all slights to heart, and became cruel in his overreaction. He did want what was best for Vallaki, however. I hope that our son, Victor Vallakovich, will take up his father's title and rule this town wisely. Will you speak to him for me?"

Evan, Cira, and Kyne volunteered, while the others remained below and spoke of other matters with the Baroness. They were led to an attic room and met the dark-haired young man. He was thin like his mother, but had the prominent, sharp features of his father. His room was a cluttered magical laboratory, and Evan could see pages scrawled with notes, glyphs, and partial spells scattered on every surface. He told the trio he didn't wish to be the baron of Vallaki, and that he had a grander destiny. He would escape this land, and use his magic to achieve greatness! Evan realized the spell he was working on was a teleportation circle, but that it was horribly flawed and likely beyond his ability.

Victor admitted that he'd tried in on some servants and that they had vanished in a flash of purple light. The gnome wizard had no doubt they'd been disintegrated. Evan and Kyne told him should continue his experiments, and with a bit of cunning and illusion-weaving, convinced him he was on the right path. Cira was outraged at this, but the young man was too enraptured by the idea of escaping Strahd's dark realm that he refused to listen to her pleas for caution and that he should look to support his mother in this time of need. Reluctantly, she left with the others as they wished the Baroness well and set about determining their next course of action.

Having heard a rumor that lights had been seen in the abandoned house of the alchemist, Vasili von Holtz, along the shores of Lake Zarovich, the heroes opted to head that way. This had been the identity that Strahd had used before, when he convinced the Abbot at the Abbey of St. Markovia to perform his vile surgeries and attempts to create life and when he had the coffin maker, Henrik van der Voort, house several vampire spawn. If this was a lair of the vampire, they owed it to themselves to investigate. So they set off later that morning, and made their way without incident up an old wagon track along the dark shores of the lake. After about three hours of travel through the dark woods, they came across an old, three-story house set back from the water's edge along the periphery of the forest.

The abandoned house of Vasili von Holtz.

It was run down, with the windows boarded over and the paint mostly gone, revealing old, graying wood below. A long porch ran around the house, and there were massive double doors at the main entry, and a smaller side entry along one corner. Through slats and dirty window glass they could see a living room of some sort and, of all things, a small ballroom on the side. Shokk decided to open the main door, Verity at his side. They narrowly avoided falling into a trapdoor that opened beneath them! Carefully skirting the edge of a thirty-foot deep pit, they managed to get the doors open and step over the corner of the pit, getting inside.

Meanwhile, Volta, Caxius, and Cira circled around the other way and came in through the ballroom. Double doors led off two sides, and they headed to the one that doubtless led to their companions. As they crossed beneath massive brass-and-crystal chandeliers, Shokk reached the other side of the doors that must lead to them. He saw two full sets of plate armor standing there, one to each side. When he examined them, they moved - and attacked! Each brought a halberd to bear, and he, Verity, Kyne, and Evan could hear the clank and whir of gears inside them. On the other side of the door, the chandeliers fell, narrowly missing the trio in the room but showering them with shattered crystal! Eerily, the frameworks of the chandeliers moved, animating like spiders with bladed legs!

[I]The clockwork spiders slashed with bladed legs.[/I]

While Volta and Cira used axe, mace, and spell to hack away at these constructs, Caxius held back...only to get a dagger in the back as a secret panel opened behind him! A hunchback with one furred arm with webbed fingers, a wolf-like yellow eye, and a single bat-like ear had thrown the blade, and cackled "We have guests! The new master will be so pleased!" While Volta and Cira shattered the constructs - unleashing a horde of tiny, clockwork spiders with venomous stings from each - Caxius turned on the hunchback.

Shokk and the others smashed and bashed the clockwork armor in the foyer, and then ran in to help. The hunchback fled, closing the secret panel behind him. Shokk and Volta bashed it down, and followed the passage around, hoping to catch him. Verity had gone up the stairs off the foyer meanwhile, after doing a quick search, while Kyne looked around outside for signs of danger. As the others made their way around and opened a secret panel into the kitchen, Verity turned suddenly, alerted by a creak on the stairs behind her. It was the hunchback! Without a second's hesitation, she put a crossbow bolt between his eyes.

The others, meanwhile, had found the house's staff, as it were. There were six of them. Two wore the frock coats and powdered wigs of butlers, while two wore long wigs, plain black dresses and white aprons. The other two wore simple leather aprons over homespun trousers, and aught else. They were vaguely male or female, but their skin was pale and waxy, their features generic, and their eyes watery brown, with a whitish glaze. "You should not be here," one said in a flat monotone. "The master wants us to get rid of intruders." With that, four of them produced long knives and moved in to attack. Impossibly, the heroes saw the arms of the other two stretch out like rubber, with bludgeoning fists that seeped a clear fluid reaching out for them.

Evan recognized them as magen, magical constructs or simulacrum, and knew that they could absorb spells hurled at them. The heroes regrouped, and though Evan had been grabbed by one, pulled close, and his skin burned by the acid that seeped from their pores, the rest were only cut and bruised a little. They downed the constructs one by one, leaving only puddles of waxy liquid and empty clothes and wigs behind. They rested briefly, tended to their wounds, and found a trapdoor that led below. The heroes opted to search upstairs first, but before they could get far, they were attacked!

The wax-like magen did not hold up so well when fire and blade were applied to them.

An invisible assailant crept around and cast a cloudkill spell while they rested in the dining room! Though Evan dispelled the poisonous vapors, the heroes were blasted by lightning. Cira spotted where the blast came from, and Shokk and Volta moved in. Evan dispelled the invisibility spell that concealed the man - a trim, middle-aged human man with a neat beard, rapier, hand crossbow, and a store of what looked to be pouches and phials on his belt - and Caxius froze him in place with a spell. Shokk cut him down without hesitation as Volta and Verity fended off another pair of magen that had accompanied him.

Catching their breath, the heroes made their way upstairs. They found a library with three more magen cleaning and putting away books. Two were in blue-gray robes, the third in green. He had strangely hypnotic eyes, but a few bolts from Verity's new hand crossbow took him down. The other two produced iron rods that crackled with lightning, and blasted away at the heroes. In the end though, two more puddles of waxy fluid were seeping into the carpets. Inside, they found a trio of scrolls and a spellbook, one that Evan eyed hungrily. They found a master bedroom - recently used - and a room where it looked like an old bathtub and several arcane apparatuses had been used to craft the magen from wax. Farther upstairs they found servants' quarters, used no doubt by the magen, and what had once been a tower lab with a skylight. There had been flashes of lightning overhead, and they wondered if the equipment that had once been there had brought life to other horrors.

Exhausted, with night coming on as the rain came down outside, the heroes set camp in the master bedroom, keeping watch as they waited for the dawn. They got what rest they could. With first light, they would venture to the basement below...
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Wolves, Wolves, and More Wolves.
That's the theme for recent adventures. We've got to be making good progress through the endless legions of wolves here, right? Strahd hasn't just opened a portal to the Elemental Plane of Wolf here, has he?

At least this greatsword works wonders on werewolves. I prefer greataxes for both cultural and physiological reasons, but I've been pretty impressed with how this sword feels when I swing it. And when I swing on giant werewolf leaders trying to rip Lupin's face off, the vengeance and justice and magic all come together to leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Specifically, warm from the blood spraying over me and fuzzy from the bits of hair coming with it.

That guy at Lake Zarovich, though, that was worse news. People here have some sort of malaise hanging off them at the best of times, but I think he was just a man taken of too much drink and too little sense. Trying to sacrifice a child to anything should be answered, but I don't think he meant it with any malice. Drowning the man was a much kinder vengeance than letting him be tortured by the girl's family, despite what Cira though.

It deserves to be said, that woman really is incredibly strong. She may be one of the strongest humans I've ever met, and that's really saying something. She may end up beating me in a contest one day, and that would be a real treat. I'd even put up with listening to her gloat about it!

But all of our strength combined means nothing in the face of treachery. Kyne managed to fend off someone trying to rob us, but he was gone before I could even wake up and run out. I'm beginning to wonder why all this is happening here - why in Vallaki, of all places? We're already not very welcome in the town, and I'm feeling more hostility this morning toward us. Is this a subtle working by Strahd, or is it just our wonderful luck coming to play?
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Chapter 10: Return to Vallaki
The heroes awaited the return of the pack's leader, Kiril Stoyanovich, at the werewolf den in the low mountains east of Lake Baratok. Zuleika Toranescu, the female werewolf seeking revenge against the pack's leader, waited with them. Her husband had been drug off to Castle Ravenloft at the pack leader's command, and she feared he was dead. She told the group that Kiril and the rest of the pack were on the hunt, and would return near nightfall. So they set an ambush in the cave mouth and waited.

A short time later, they saw a pack of nearly twenty wolves approaching! A bit under half started walking upright as they approached, and one was fully as large as a dire wolf. On his hind legs, he was as big as an ogre! This was Kiril, the leader of the pack. As he approached, his ears went back and he sniffed the air, growled, and began to speak. "Blood! I smell blood. And man-flesh. Come out!" With a roar, Zuleika charged out, and the battle was on! It was a fierce and furious struggle, and Evan decided to open the hostilities with a fireball spell detonated amidst the charging pack. The normal wolves died, incinerated by the blast, and even the werewolves were burned badly.

The werewolf pack returned, and they had caught the scent of blood...

The leader of the pack fared much better, darting in and out with unbelievable speed, tearing and biting at Shokk and Lupin. Volta, Kyne, Cira and Caxius moved forward into the fray, slashing and striking at werewolves and felling them with blade and spell. The pack leader was hurt badly by Shokk's enchanted greatsword and darted past the half-orc paladin, running deeper into the cave. The heroes finished off the remaining werewolves and followed him, Zuleika leading the way. They found a winding staircase tunnel behind a hide curtain that led to a ledge high atop the bluff. A circle of standing stones was there, and as Shokk and Lupin moved out, they were attacked from above! Kiril had healed rapidly, his wounds nearly gone thanks to his supernatural vitality, and he tore at them with fang and claw. But Shokk was ready, and with two mighty blows, he cut the werewolf lord down. It was over.

Zuleika left them, saying her revenge was complete and that they would not see her again. The heroes rested overnight, wary of attack, but the dawn came and they were off. Kyne had not slept well, and did not feel rested. He'd had nightmares all night, dreams of being chased by wolves. Cira and Evan confirmed his fears - he had indeed been cursed by the treasure he'd taken.

But despite his lack of rest, the other heroes were good to go. They took the children in the cave with them and made their way along the curve of the hills to Krezk. Though a pack of starving wolves fell on them, the heroes managed to kill the beasts and get the children safely to the small, mountain town. The burgomaster was glad to take them in, and after the heroes ate a hearty lunch of stew and bread, they set out for the Wizard of Wines Winery.

They arrived and were greeted by the Martikovs with open arms, for the heroes had brought the last of the Seeds of Life back home. With further thanks, the heroes took a gift of wine and made their way back to Vallaki to start taking care of unfinished business. Along the way, they stopped by the shores of Lake Zarovich and saw a small boat and a man trying to catch fish. They saw the bearded man put down his pole and pull up a small bundle wrapped in ropes - a bundle the size of a child that moved and wriggled! Rowing quickly out while shouting warnings, the heroes saw the man dump the bundle into the lake. Shokk and Cira were closest, and the big half-orc jumped in despite his mail and caught the bundle. Cira hauled him up, and they found that the bundle was a girl of about seven, dark haired and dark eyed, and most likely one of the Vistani. Caxius and Kyne questioned the man, named Bluto, and he said he'd taken the girl because "the Vistani are good luck, and the fish weren't biting." But when he still wasn't able to catch any fish, he was going to sacrifice her to the lake! Caxius paralyzed him with a spell to keep him calm, but Shokk had heard enough. He pitched the man overboard despite Cira's attempt to stop him, and let him drown.

The girl, Araballe, was the one they heard had been taken from the Vistani camp outside Vallaki. They returned to the town, and were let in despite suspicious (and fearful) looks. Kyne stopped by the Church of St. Andral and spoke with Father Lucian Petrovich about getting the curse removed. The old priest was happy to help, grateful still for the return of the saint's bones, and told him to come back come the dawn. He had also noticed a man following the group, and trailed him unseen to a run-down manor house, a squat, brooding thing near the center of town.

The heroes made their way to the Blue Water Inn, and took rooms. They cleaned the girl up and met with Rictavio, the carnival master, asking him about the strange, old tower east of town. He eyed them suspiciously, but they assured him they shared the goal of ending Strahd's reign over this dark land. He then revealed himself as none other than Rudolph van Richten, a vampire hunter of some repute. He told the heroes that he had something for them, and to meet them back at the inn come nightfall.

Rudolph van Richten, vampire hunter, when not in his guise as the carnival master, Rictavio.

The heroes then made their way to the Vistani camp shortly before dark. Savid was with them, and pointed to a hilltop south of town. The hill was ringed by small huts built into the hillside, each with elaborately carved wooden lintels and rooftops. "My people, the dusk elves, live here. We are bound to serve the Vistani. It is a long tale, but if you wish, my people's leader can tell you more. His name is Kasimir Velikov. Come get me when you are ready to leave." With that, he left them for the time being.

The heroes made their way to the hilltop, which was circled by barrel-topped wagons, tents, and strands of horses staked out for the night. A huge pavilion stood at its center, and as the heroes approached they could hear the crack of a whip and a cry of pain! They entered, finding several Vistani men drinking while one was tied to the tent's center pole. A large man with a thick beard was whipping him with one hand while drinking with the other, and a slender man with a trim beard stood nearby, chuckling. Shokk and Volta interrupted them, presenting the girl. The larger man was the Vistani headman, Luvash by name, and the slender man was his brother, Arrigal. He was Arabelle's father, and he was overjoyed at her return. He quickly forgot his whip, and Arrigal saw the young man cut down. It turned out his name was Alexei, and he'd been on watch when the girl had disappeared.

The Vistani camp was lively, and no one challenged the heroes when they arrived.

Despite the circumstances, Luvash asked the heroes to join him for food and drinks, and they accepted, supping with the Vistani. Luvash was crude and, to all appearances, a violent man, but he did love his daughter. He thanked the heroes and let them pick out a treasure from a locked wagon in the Vistani camp - a jewelry box as it turned out, with a few, precious trinkets inside. Arrigal asked them many questions as they drank, and seemed fascinated the sword with no blade that Kyne carried.

Upon their return to the inn, van Richten a.k.a. Rictavio, met with the heroes. He presented Cira with a small, platinum disk shaped like a stylized sun set with a bright, red stone. This, he explained, was the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, a powerful item crafted by priests of the Morninglord. He said he would help them as best he could in defeating Strahd von Zarovich once and for all.

The night went by first. Kyne, still restless, clambered up into the rafters of the inn after everyone else had gone to sleep. Late, come the hour of the wolf, a figure crept in through the second story door and made its way room to room, looking for something. Kyne barely heard something as the floor of the balcony below him creaked. He dropped down, but not quietly enough as the figure whirled to face him. It was Arrigal of the Vistani! He lunged at Kyne, stabbing with one hand as he grabbed for the hilt of the Sunsword! He tried to wrest it away from Kyne, but to no avail. Arrigal fled into the night as Kyne sounded the alarm, but though the pale-skinned hero chased him, he lost the wily Vistani in the dark. Kyne made his way back to the Vistani camp, confronting Luvash in his tent after waking the large man with a blade to his throat. He warned him that any attempts to come after him or his friends would be a death sentence for Luvash - and his daughter! Luvash growled that he was not his brother's keeper, and he knew nothing of what had transpired. He told Kyne that he would forgive this once, as he owed his daughter's life to him and his friends, but that should he see Kyne again, he would have his head.

Come the dawn, Kyne returned to the Church of St. Andral and had the curse upon him removed by Father Petrovich's prayers. He returned to the inn, and he and the rest of the heroes were greeted by some of the Baroness's soldiers. Apparently, they had been summoned to meet with her...
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Really, Shokk, Really?!
So I decided me and Shokk should go back to Vallaki to, you know, recycle some goods and make some new friends.

While there we met those wonder drinking brothers! They still haven't notice the missing knife, so I said to Shokk "These guys seem like great people! We should drink with them!" Shokk and the brothers think this is a grand plan, of course.

As we're drinking I can't help but notice that Left Brother has a very nice cloth of gold pouch. It looks weighted down with something valuable for sure. I insisted we have a big old party, and the brother don't seem to mind paying for it. I ask the innkeep for the best wine, and, seeing my opportunity, slip a little aide to help it hit harder. Things were going fine, we were drinking, I'd slipped myself and Shokk the antidote, but what do you know, he drops that cup! Still, a couple of the lovly ladies were getting involved, and when Left Brother got up to 'water the garden' I snagged that pouch. What do you know, not only did it look pretty, but it had several gold crowns, and silver plated dice! "Great!" I thought to myself. "With a bit of work I can get these babies to roll just how I want them too."

Then I noticed Right Brother had the very handsome ivory-hilted dagger with gold filigree and an amethyst bigger than my thumbnail! Needless to say I figured that it would go batter with my maroon cloak and subdued blacks rather than either of the brother's ostentatious tunics and trousers. Urging Shokk on and saying something about revenge for loseing the last contest we had with the brothers, which I made up right then and there, a good and rousing story, meant that the paladin was all in to drink them down.

And I'll be damned if he did! Right after the brothers passed out, so did Shokk. Using their coin, and surreptitiously listing my beautiful dagger, I had several of the local lads take them home safe and sound. Deciding Shokk was fine where he was I paid the inkeep to let him sleep it off on the floor. After getting several flattering invitations me and my new lady friends when to one of their houses for more celebration, if you know what I mean. After several, exhausting hours I hear a commotion from outside and I hear a familiar, if slurred, roar.

"Just great," I though, scrabbling for my clothes (and making sure my money and new dagger were still there). It turns out Shokk has the rare alergy to the drug I used: It imparts hallucinations to the imbiber! Leave the rest of the coins from the cloth of gold pouch, though not the pouch itself, to my various bedmates, I chased after Shokk only to see him pass out in front of the ex-Baron's wife. Quickly spinning a story about how he was been sleeping off a drunk and then sensing her danger through his powers granted by his god, I got her to forgive him the destroyed house and guards. Then, in a stroke of genius I told her about my own small part, ambushing the undead servants of Strahd and leading them on a merry chase so as not to disturb such a vision of beauty. It earned me a blush and a kiss, and we were given a cart so that we could leave to draw off any more minions.

I woke Shokk a few hours later and spun him a story about bad wine, and how we had to leave town after he 'saved' the lady of the manor. The look on his face was priceless!
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About that missing time. . .
So we made it back to Vallaki, Kyne and I, thinking we'd just talk up some people and hear some rumors and maybe just have another night in civilization, when we met the Wachter brothers back in the inn. Kine talked me into talking and drinking with them, saying that if anyone would know anything it would be these two.

Well, I don't think he was wrong, but I also don't remember much of drinking with them. I do remember waking up in the Blue Water Inn in the dead of night, alone and with a feeling of dread. Stumbling outside, I found the townspeople overtaken by evil forces! The town guard shambled toward me with the countenance of zombies, unholy fire burning in their eyes.

Now, my specialty is vengeance and smiting, but even I know when to put the weapons away and make with the punching. The mists of the night seemed to clutch at me as I battered down all opposition to me on my way to the Mayor's house, as something told me I'd find Kyne in the late Izek Strazni's chambers (though hopefully not his torture chambers!)

I remember breaking down the door, or maybe a window, into the Mayor's house and roaring to find my friend, bringing the entire staff running. I fought my way through them to the coward in the back, the one with the arm covered in scales of mist. We dueled, him with his spear and I with my fists and an improvised shield made of a chair. For every hit I landed on him, he landed two on me and I felt my strength waning, until I felt the time was right to revengance myself. Grabbing the possessed guard's spear in one hand, I ripped it straight out of his grip and threw him out the window with the other. A mighty crash resounded, and all was still.

I made my way from door to door until I found the former Strazni's chambers, but all was empty. I called for Kyne and didn't hear anything, so I resolved to check the second story. Kyne is resourceful, I told myself. He's probably rescued himself already, but I felt the need to check.

I made it two steps up the stairs when the lady appeared with a lantern, asking what was causing such a ruckus at an early hour. She glared at me, or maybe through me to my very soul, and I passed out.

When next I woke, Kyne was dunking me in a very cold stream, which really wasn't helping my pounding headache. I shouted my happiness at seeing him and asked what happened, when he asked me the same thing. Recounting my adventure, he merely shook his head. We had some wine gone bad, he said, wine that caused much more drunkenness than usual. The brothers and he weren't willing to drag me up to a bed after I passed out, so he merely rented a room and went to sleep it off. When he woke to a commotion, he checked it out and eventually tracked me down destroying the burgomaster's home and fighting his guards. He was going to wait for me to pass out, but eventually decided knocking me out with a sap was a better decision than letting the drunk paladin talk to someone in charge.

As he explained it, the only reason we weren't immediately jailed and put to trial, let alone banished, was because the men I fought at the mansion really were attempting to kill the ruler, and I had stopped them without any casualties. She let us leave, he explained, and had even let him take a cart to push me in.

So, I guess I learned a valuable lesson from this - next time I get drunk and wake up cold and alone, start fighting. A commotion is the best way to draw support to me!
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Chapter 9: The Wolves of Lake Baratok
As it turned out, Shokk and Kyne had not gotten far, as the rain had washed out the road headed north from the ruins of Berez. After a cold and wet day fighting off more than few wolves, they managed to hike overland and reach the Wizard of Wines shortly after dark. They supped and rested with their comrades. Come the dawn, they all set out north. Old Davian Martikov had suggested that the last of the Seeds of Life had been taken north by the hillfolk, somewhere north of the lakes.

With aught else to go on the heroes set out. Lupin had gone ahead to scout, and they lost sight of him in the woods. They reached the Raven River crossroads late in the morning, only to find four small children waiting there. They were all wet and shivering, nearly blue with the cold. They could see the banks of the river were swollen with water, and a wrecked wagon was lodged under the bridge on one side, upside-down. "Our mama is trapped in the wagon!" One of the children cried, "She's going to drown!" They were scared for their mother, and unwilling to be left behind, so Caxius and Cira each grabbed one child and Volta grabbed two. They followed Shokk across the bridge. Verity, Evan, and Kyne waited on the other side, suspicious of the raging waters and the surrounding woods.

Shokk reached the wagon and waded into the dark, turbulent waters. A limp figure with long, dark hair spilling out into the water around her lay beneath the surface. As Shokk reached for her, she moved. Her face was pale and dead but her nailed hands and long, wet strands of hair grasped the half-orc paladin and pulled him under! As Shokk struggled with the drowned woman, the children turned now-black eyes on Volta, Cira, and Caxius. "Shh," they said. "It's time for us to be buried." They clawed and bit at the three, impossibly forcing them into the ground, up to their waists.

The drowned maiden had a cold embrace.

Cira raised her holy symbol, and two of the undead children staggered back with jerky movements, unable to approach. But Volta could not get her axe to bear, and Cira was still grabbed. Both were pulled under the cold, dark earth. Shokk continued to struggle against the drowned maiden and pulled her up onto the bank even as her hair choked him, her cold claws raked at him, and her gaze caused him to choke up cold water, struggling to breathe. Verity, Evan, and Kyne launched magic and missiles at their undead foes, though the bridge blocked a few shots. One of the children fell, burned by Evan's spells, its body crumbling away to smoldering ash. Cira burst free of the ground, and used spells and invocations to drive the undead back. Caxius fell, his lungs filled by the maiden's cold gaze, only to rise again thanks to the spirits at his command. Shokk finally cut the maiden down, and her body slid into the dark water and disappeared. They quickly dug up Volta, who was panting for breath but otherwise unharmed.

The heroes rested for a short time, cleaning their scratches, bandaging their wounds, and getting the caked dirt off their clothes. They opted to follow a rough trail north, towards Lake Baratok. Savid, their dusk elf guide, did not know what awaited. They found an old, stone tower at the end of a grassy estuary. A barrel-topped wagon, painted purple, was parked out front. The heroes approached cautiously, and examined the wagon and the tower. The back door of the wagon was locked, and Kyne was certain it was trapped. The tower was old and crumbling, with a scaffold around it part way up. The iron door had no handle, but was set with a copper plate inscribed with stick figures and a diagram of some sort. Shokk touched the door...and was in for quite a shock. Literally, in this case, as a bolt of lightning slammed into the tower and sent him and Caxius reeling. He tried again, only for the lightning to strike a second time. "Stop!" Cira said, and she cautiously moved up to examine the door. She mirrored the poses of the stick figures, following the diagram for their order. The door swung silently open.

Inside, they found an elevator platform lifted by chains and pulleys by four large, clay golems. A few ascended to the top, where they found a furnished chamber and (of all things) the severed head of a Vistani man, preserved and stuffed into a chest! They tossed the head down to Caxius, who was able to ask it a few questions. The man had been killed by the carnival master they had met in Vallaki, Rictavio! He had been a thief and tried to rob the man. He felt that Rictavio was a threat to his people, but he had no real other answers. As the heroes left the tower, Savid saw something running up the estuary - a pack of wolves.

The wolves surrounded the heroes, and several in the lead...changed. Stood upright. And began to speak. "The huntress," their leader snarled, "where is she?" Although the heroes professed no knowledge of any huntress, the werewolves were on the hunt, and they attacked! It was a savage and bloody battle, though Cira's conjured angelic guardian spirits and the hungry darkness the warlock Caxius produced slowed down the advance of fur and fangs. Evan rolled under the wagon at one point and found a hidden trap door. He crawled inside, only to realize the inside was booby-trapped with a hundred or so flasks of alchemist's fire, which would all be triggered if the back door was opened. He cautiously crawled out after that, blasting away with his cantrips. Volta's axe and Shokk's greatsword took a heavy toll on the wolves, as did Kyne's blade of sunlight. In the end the heroes were victorious, though bloodied, and rested for a while by the tower.

The werewolves were hungry for blood.

With no sign of other inhabitants, the heroes left the wagon alone and headed along the west shore of the lake, making their way north into the dark forested foothills of the mountain beyond. After an hour's walk, Volta came across what she first thought to be a game trail through the woods. It was not, as only wolf tracks could be seen. Intrigued, the heroes followed the trail northwest. Beyond the cold mist and dark trees it led, up past the treeline, to a cave entrance. The cave was framed by a rock overhang which looked eerily like the open jaws of a wolf, complete with rocky fangs. Torchlight glowed from somewhere within.

Kyne sneaked forward, and found a pack of wolves and a man in ragged clothes and a fur vest playing a flute for them. He could hear more movement in the cave but opted to go back and let the group know what he found. They approached cautiously but openly, and Shokk called out to see if any would greet them. The man in the ragged fur vest and two women clad in furs came out. They had been looking, the paladin said, for a lost Vistani child and wondered if they had seen any children. The man let out a rough laugh. "You came for the children, eh? I think not. You won't leave this place. You will only die here, with my teeth at your throat!" With that, they changed, revealing themselves as werewolves.

It was a brief but savage fight, and three more werewolves rushed out to join the fray. But the heroes' skill with steel and spells prevailed, and the werewolves were all slain. All but one. Kyne explored the cave and found a shrine where several children were being held in wooden cages. He also killed what he though was a feral wolf pup, but turned out to be a young werewolf. In the shrine he found a dark-skinned woman kneeling in front of the statue of a wolf-headed female with a crescent moon behind her head, like a halo. Treasure was scattered about the floor in front of the statue, and among the coins and jewels was a green stone that glowed with inner light - the last Seed of Life!

The woman introduced herself as Zuleika, and said the pack's leader, Kiril Stoyanovich, was a dog under Strahd's heel. Her husband had been taken and killed by the vampire at Kiril's behest, and she prayed to Mother Night that he would be returned safe or that she would be given her vengeance. She said the heroes were proof of one prayer being answered, and said she would help them against Kiril. He and the rest of the pack were on the hunt, and would return soon. The heroes bandaged their wounds and rested. They could hear howls in the late afternoon sun, howls that drew closer as the sun neared the horizon and night began to fall.
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Chapter 8: Yester Hill
Leaving the ruins of Berez early the following morning, the heroes split into two groups. Kyne and Shokk opted to head back to Vallaki to see if they could find any rumors about where the third Seed of Life could be found, while the rest chose to scout Yester Hill. Savid told them they could take the trail north again, follow the road west to the Raven River Crossroads, and then head south, past the Wizard of Wines. Alternately, they could go south along the Luna River and skirt the north shore of the lake, then follow the river west to reach Yester Hill. That would take roughly half the time. The rest of the group agreed that was a better course of action and set off.

The old cabin was barely more than a ruin on the swampy shores of Luna Lake.

The rain was heavy and mist rose from the forest floor and the river, half-obscuring a rough trail that led to the north shore of Luna Lake. They could not see the far side, and Savid said it was more than a mile across. Making their way along the shore, Lupin spotted a green glow through the trees ahead. A black iron lantern hung in the trees, a fat, black candle inside lit with an eerie green flame. It stood near a ruined dock or landing of some sort, and an overgrown trail led back to a ruined cabin. Quick investigation turned up four long-ago rotted bodies inside. Cira's quick examination of the corpses revealed they had died of disease. Caxius called upon the gifts given him by the spirits of the dead, and the warlock called back one of the men's spirits to answer his questions. The man revealed they had died of a sickness called mortasheen, that they had gone to the far side of the lake where none were supposed to go, and that "the rider" had come among them, spreading disease.

With no further answers to be had, they left. They did not get far before a splashing behind them revealed something monstrous coming up out of the lake. It appeared as a skinless man riding a skinless horse, black blood oozing through its veins with a yellow membrane draped across it. But the man and the horse were one. And it wielded a rusty iron longsword. Three corpses shambled out of the reeds and marshy ground of the shore, and crashed into the heroes, vomiting leeches all over them. Evan recognized it as a nuckalavee, a fey monstrosity that spread foulness and disease, yet avenged polluted waters. But that knowledge did little to help, and it reared, trampled the heroes, and blasted them with a foul, toxic breath.

The nuckalavee brought death in its wake.

The battle against the nuckalavee was fierce, and several of the heroes fell. But Cira called upon the divine power given her by the Morninglord and protected and healed her friends even as she blasted the thing with radiant power. Volta, nearly felled by the creature, managed to bring her battle-axe around in a mighty arc, severing its man torso from its horse back, killing the thing. The shambling, putrid corpses were cut and burned down, the supernatural leeches within them dying. The heroes were hurt, and pulled back out of the rain to rest in the woods for a short time.

Though hurt, they pressed on. A short while later, they reached the bottom of Yester Hill. Mist surrounded the high hill, and cairns of black rock dotted it on all sides. A ring of black rock surrounded the top, and lightning struck down at it, time and again, from roiling clouds overhead. The mists to the west were thick and ominous, and the heroes circled to the east, until they found a trail that led up to the top. The way was not easy, as a pack of more than dozen wolves charged them silently from the forest, but they were quickly beaten back. It was an ill omen.

The summit of Yester Hill.

A great circle of dead grass was inside the ring of black stones, which was pierced on one side by an opening at the head of the trail. A massive wicker statue of a man in cloak stood across from the entry, on the far side of the ring. As Verity, Volta, and Caxius made their way towards the wicker form, shallow graves all around the inside of the circle burst open. Men clad in skins and thick clay, some with animal headdresses and designs in dried blood on their hides, rose and cried out in fury. The hillfolk were here, and the heroes had trespassed on their sacred place. Volta and Lupin rushed in to attack, and Evan wasted no time blasting them with a fireball spell, one that ignited the huge wicker statue.

The lead shaman of the hillfolk called down lightning to blast the heroes, and as he did, one bolt struck the wicker man. The huge, flaming construct began to move, striking at the heroes with massive, burning fists. It reacted without thought, even grabbing at the barbaric warriors around it, and one was thrown into a cage in the thing's chest where he began to burn.

The fiery shadow of the wicker man fell across them...

As the savage battle raged, Evan felt a cold chill and could not move! Something rode down out of the sky - a man in dark clothes and a cloak atop a black steed with a fiery mane and flaming hooves.

It was Strahd von Zarovich.

He grabbed the gnome wizard, flying with him as he taunted the heroes. He had been called by the sacrifice of the pagan hillfolk, who worshiped him as a dark god or a servant of Mother Night. As Volta and Lupin burned their hands cutting down the wicker man - which had taken its toll on all of them - Verity, Savid, and Cira rained fire down on Strahd and his mount. He contemptuously threw Evan from his steed's back after clutching at him with cold, powerful hands. But Evan had recovered from the cold which paralyzed his limbs, and floated back down to earth after casting a minor spell. Strahd cursed and fled for now, his mount grievously wounded.

The remaining hillfolk had fallen or fled, and the wicker man was no more. Searching its remains, the heroes found a green, glowing stone - one of the Seeds of Life! Volta also heard something below, to the west, and through the mists she saw a white city on a hill, shining beneath the sun. A spirit called to her through the mists, that of a barbarian warlord of old. He told her the city was a vision to torment Strahd, that of his long-lost home to which he could never return. He told her that he was impressed by her ferocity in battle, and that she could have his axe. The half-orc barbarian unearthed a greataxe from the cairn the spirit stood in front of, a magic axe that dripped blood.

Strahd had come. It would not be the last time.

The heroes opted to leave, lest the hillfolk return. They traveled the few miles to the Wizard of Wines, where they were greeted by the Martikovs. They were grateful for the return of two of the Seeds of Life, and put the heroes up for the night after tending to their hurts. Refreshed, the heroes prepared to leave at dawn.
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Chapter 7: Berez
After sleeping in the ruined barracks tower off the kitchen of the great manor, Argynvostholt, the heroes woke a few hours after nightfall. After once again exploring the cemetery - and finding naught but a few graves that had been opened months ago - the group made their way upstairs. Circling back around to the great hall balcony, they made their way down a side corridor. Volta and Lupin had reached a door at the end of a hall, and triggered some sort of trap. Kyne and Verity had been at another door, and Cira, Caxius, Evan, Shokk and their new ally Savid had been just off the balcony. A wall of stone sealed off the hall, and phantom warriors, wielding ghostly blades, emerged from closed doors and passed through walls, attacking the group.

It was a close battle, and their phantom swords passed through armor and flesh alike, leaving terrible bruises and lingering cold. But Evan dispelled the magical wall, and blades, spells, and holy invocations managed to disperse the hateful spirits. The heroes found a small, wooden coffer with four potions, all which would protect the imbiber from harm. With these in hand, they made their way up spiral stairs at the end of the balcony to the mansion's third floor.

Phantom warriors emerged from the walls, ready to slay all who lived and intruded on the fallen manse.

They found a large room, hung with faded war banners and dominated by a large table. Six skeletal knights sat at the table, and one addressed them. He gave his name as Sir Godfrey Gwilim. He and the other knights of the Order of the Silver Dragon had fallen into corruption, seeking only revenge against Strahd von Zarovich. But their commander, Lord Vladimir Horngaard, had forbidden them to act. He promised that should the commander relent, or should the dragon Argynvostholt's spirit be laid to rest and the great beacon in the main tower re-lit, that he would aid them in their fight against Strahd. Only returning Argynvost's skull to his tomb could re-light the beacon, and the skull had been taken by Castle Ravenloft.

Continuing through the half-collapsed halls, they found another long hall, its twin windows overlooking the valley beyond, to the west. A high-backed chair sat facing the windows, and in it another armored, skeletal corpse. This was Lord Vladimir Horngaard, and he greeted the heroes coldly. He only wished to inflict pain and torment on Strahd, wishing to leave him alive and in eternal suffering for the pain he and his men had felt. The heroes told him of Ireena, and how she was Tatyana reborn and yet denied to Strahd. But this was not enough. Cira and Caxius saw he clutched a platinum hilt with no blade, toying with it. Remembering Madam Eva's fortune telling, and how a weapon to defeat Strahd could be found in the house of the dragon, the heroes asked if he would turn it over to them. He

Caxius chided and insulted him for cowardice, as did Lupin, and that enraged the revenant knight. With a yell, he summoned six more phantom warriors, and the heroes met them all in battle. The fight nearly proved deadly, but the group prevailed and Lord Vladimir's body was destroyed. But his spirit was ill at rest, and they feared they would see him again, one way or another. The lord commander's own greatsword was a magical blade, and the hilt was far more than it seemed. Kyne took it in hand, and the sword spoke to him without words. This was the Sunsword, and it formed a blade of pure, burning sunlight in his hands. He knew it hated Strahd, and would do all in its power to stop him.

Lord Vladimir Horngaard.

A quick search of the rest of the third floor yielded little, and the heroes made their way to the top of the mansion. They crossed a small bridge to the beacon tower and destroyed two more phantom warriors. They found where the beacon was, and knew that getting it to re-ignite with its holy light would be a task long in the coming. They rested again, and come the dawn, readied to head out. As they did, they heard a wagon pulling away, down the gravel and mud road to the mansion stronghold. Investigating, the heroes found a coffin with Kyne's name etched on it, leaning against the dragon statue out front. Opening it revealed a swarm of bats, which flew straight at the rogue! He quickly cut them down with his sword of light, and the group continued on.

They decided to head to the ruined village of Berez, on the shores of the Luna River. Davian Martikov had told them one of the Seeds of Life had been taken there, and so the heroes cut overland and down the hill to the shores of the river and the flooded, swampy remains of what was once a town. The mist was thick, but they saw a light across the river among a ring of standing stones. Wading the wide, deep, and rough stream, they reached the menhirs. An older woman with a lantern was there, and she gave her name as Muriel Henshaw. She warned them that the ruins were cursed, and an ancient and powerful witch named Baba Lysaga lived there. It was a dangerous place, and she warned them that they should move on. But she wished them well, and made her way on into the late morning mist.

Despite the warning, the heroes forded the river and circled the ruined cottages. They came across a ruined manor house atop a low hill, as Muriel had told them they could find such. A pen fenced with posts topped with human skulls contained several goats, and an overgrown garden was off to one side. A ghost materialized out of the fog, that of the town's former burgomaster, Lazslo Ulrich. He explained that the town of Berez had been drowned when the river rose at Strahd's command. His own daughter, Marina, had been the mirror image of Strahd's beloved Tatyana, and when he and other villagers had slain her to prevent her from falling under Strahd's evil spell, the dark lord took his vengeance upon them. The heroes explained what had happened to Ireena, who had been both Tatyana and his daughter reborn, but it was not enough to lay him to rest.

After finding his daughter's tomb and making their way back to the heart of the village, they found a small, wooden hut perched atop a large stump with massive roots. Scarecrows stood in the marsh grass atop wooden frames along the path that wound through the swampy ground. A fence topped with human skulls surrounded the hut, and as Lupin hopped the fence, the skulls began to scream! The scarecrows lurched and hopped off their posts, running in to attack. The heroes dispatched them quickly, and made their way to the hut. A huge cauldron stood to one side, and it had apparently been fashioned from a giant's skull. Muriel had told them the old witch had flown around in a magic cauldron, and they could almost believe it...

Baba Lysaga's creeping hut, come to life.

Opening the door, the heroes saw a small hut with bolted-down furniture and a crib with a crying child. A green glow came from the floorboards beneath the crib. As Cira and Volta attempted to enter the moved. The eight massive roots tore free from the ground, and the whole thing began to move like a massive spider! It stomped forward, crushing Cira, Verity and Lupin beneath it's "feet" as it flung rocks at Evan and Kyne. Volta barely held on, discovering the crib was an illusion. The heroes below hacked at its legs as the half-orc barbarian hacked at the floorboards. Things looked grim, and Verity was down, almost crushed to death beneath the hut's massive wooden legs. But Volta pried up a green stone she found there, one the size and shape of a pinecone, and the hut shuddered, lurched, and collapsed!

The heroes had barely caught their breath (and started to loot a small chest in the hut, one that had been protected by a glyph of warding that let out a blast of thunder) when a figure began moving towards them through the mist. It was a goat, accompanied by a crone with green, leathery skin, long black nails like claws, and stringy white hair bound up in an elaborate weave. This was Baba Lysaga. She chided them for breaking into her hut and trying to steal from her. She explained how she had been the midwife to Strahd's mother, Queen Ravenovia, and Strahd's nursemaid. She had worshiped Mother Night, and said spells and prayers to bind Strahd to darkness and awaken the magic within him. She was his true mother, she said...

Baba Lysaga was going to chide the wayward children who broke into her hut and stole her treasures...

And she attacked. She cast terrible spells, blasts of flame and dark, necrotic energy. She turned into a cloud of flies and back again, disappeared in a mist only to reappear nearby. She deflected attacks and spells, and things looked grim for the heroes. But in the end, a final blow from Volta and a spell from Evan dropped the witch. It had been a near thing, and Shokk and Cira had nearly perished, but the heroes prevailed. They found a wand on the hag, one with the power to change a creature's shape, and a few other treasures and magics in her treasure chest. They opted to find higher ground, in one of the ruined huts, and rest until evening. Surely the dangers of Berez had all been dealt with...?
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