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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
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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Tags: Milestone , Recap