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Tag: inter-party_conflict

Chapter 22: Betrayal
The heroes opted for another course of action. Time, they felt, was pressing in on them. A return to Castle Ravenloft was in order. Apart from a brief and unsuccessful ambush by a group of hillfolk barbarians - the leader of which was bald and strangely pale - the way to Strahd's home was clear of obstruction. No black carriage awaited them at the Gates of Ravenloft this time, and they saw strange, ghostly figures in the mist and rain off the road. When the heroes arrived at the castle, they found the drawbridge down and the gates open wide.

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

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


Emil Toranescu before...

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


...and after.

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

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

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


The boneclaws had terribly long claws...

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


The necromancer's handiwork.

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

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

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

Hurt, shocked, and seeking answers, the heroes withdrew. They ran headlong for the gates of Castle Ravenloft and headed for Barovia. Maybe they would find answers. Why had Kyne betrayed them? What had happened to the fabulous Sunsword? How could they defeat Strahd?!
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Chapter 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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