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Darth Paul
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Curse of Strahd
Chapter 20: Dinner With the Count
After a restful night in Vallaki, the heroes opted to head to Krezk to meet with the Abbot of the Abbey of St. Markovia. Along the road, as the heavy rain turned into wet snow, they saw a skeletal horseman plodding down the trail. The clop and rattle of the bony horse, the jingle of his rusted mail - all mournful sounds they had heard before. They stood aside to let this mute horror, this sign of Strahd's merciless wrath, pass in peace. It was not to be. A cold light burned in the skull's empty eye-sockets and the figure brought up its rusted lance. A raspy voice echoed from the hollow skull. "I will have my sword!" It was Vladimir Horngaard, his spirit now possessing this undead thing!

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


This skeletal rider was no harmless phantom.

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

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

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


Morgantha had haunted their dreams for the last time.

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

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


Rahadin, the Count's chamberlain.

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


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

They began to explore the area, and found a secret panel behind the organ, which slid forward when one of the pedals was pressed. Shokk moved into a defensive redoubt behind, made his way to one of the castle's corner towers, and followed a cobweb-choked hall to a spiral stair leading up. The rest followed, and they climbed to a small room on the next floor. A white-haired balding man sat chained to a desk in a crowded room, ledgers, books, scrolls, and parchments cluttering every surface and the shelves behind him. He introduced himself as Lief Lipsiege, the count's accountant, and asked for naught save a bit of dinner. When Volta raised her axe to sever his chain, he misunderstood and shrieked with terror. A group of undead warriors and two undead sorcerers, all wights, entered from the stair up and wordlessly moved to attack the heroes. The battle was brief but intense, and the accountant unharmed. In gratitude, he gave them keys to the chests in the room and they took several hundred gold and silver coins and a strange book for themselves. There was another set of stairs that led up and out, the stairwell they had come up, which continued up, and another door that led deeper into the castle. Which way would they go...?
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The rest of the trail was clear, and the heroes headed straight to the abbey. They climbed up the old switchback trail that led out of the village and up to the cliff where the abbey stood. Otto Belview greeted them in his cheery yet mildly insane way, escorting them through the gates of the main building. The courtyard was quiet, and it appeared that his cousin had finally broken her chain and flown off. They had briefly conversed with one of the guards, and learned the bells of the abbey tolled at odd intervals, both day and night. As they were escorted into the main hall, they saw the Abbot there with his creation, Vasilika, and the simulacrum of the archmage Mordenkainen that Evan had created with magic wrought from a scroll found in the Amber Temple.

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

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


It was none other than Strahd von Zarovich himself. He turned as they entered.