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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
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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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
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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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
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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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
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 quietly...at 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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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