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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
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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