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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
Chapter 7: Berez
After sleeping in the ruined barracks tower off the kitchen of the great manor, Argynvostholt, the heroes woke a few hours after nightfall. After once again exploring the cemetery - and finding naught but a few graves that had been opened months ago - the group made their way upstairs. Circling back around to the great hall balcony, they made their way down a side corridor. Volta and Lupin had reached a door at the end of a hall, and triggered some sort of trap. Kyne and Verity had been at another door, and Cira, Caxius, Evan, Shokk and their new ally Savid had been just off the balcony. A wall of stone sealed off the hall, and phantom warriors, wielding ghostly blades, emerged from closed doors and passed through walls, attacking the group.

It was a close battle, and their phantom swords passed through armor and flesh alike, leaving terrible bruises and lingering cold. But Evan dispelled the magical wall, and blades, spells, and holy invocations managed to disperse the hateful spirits. The heroes found a small, wooden coffer with four potions, all which would protect the imbiber from harm. With these in hand, they made their way up spiral stairs at the end of the balcony to the mansion's third floor.

Phantom warriors emerged from the walls, ready to slay all who lived and intruded on the fallen manse.

They found a large room, hung with faded war banners and dominated by a large table. Six skeletal knights sat at the table, and one addressed them. He gave his name as Sir Godfrey Gwilim. He and the other knights of the Order of the Silver Dragon had fallen into corruption, seeking only revenge against Strahd von Zarovich. But their commander, Lord Vladimir Horngaard, had forbidden them to act. He promised that should the commander relent, or should the dragon Argynvostholt's spirit be laid to rest and the great beacon in the main tower re-lit, that he would aid them in their fight against Strahd. Only returning Argynvost's skull to his tomb could re-light the beacon, and the skull had been taken by Castle Ravenloft.

Continuing through the half-collapsed halls, they found another long hall, its twin windows overlooking the valley beyond, to the west. A high-backed chair sat facing the windows, and in it another armored, skeletal corpse. This was Lord Vladimir Horngaard, and he greeted the heroes coldly. He only wished to inflict pain and torment on Strahd, wishing to leave him alive and in eternal suffering for the pain he and his men had felt. The heroes told him of Ireena, and how she was Tatyana reborn and yet denied to Strahd. But this was not enough. Cira and Caxius saw he clutched a platinum hilt with no blade, toying with it. Remembering Madam Eva's fortune telling, and how a weapon to defeat Strahd could be found in the house of the dragon, the heroes asked if he would turn it over to them. He

Caxius chided and insulted him for cowardice, as did Lupin, and that enraged the revenant knight. With a yell, he summoned six more phantom warriors, and the heroes met them all in battle. The fight nearly proved deadly, but the group prevailed and Lord Vladimir's body was destroyed. But his spirit was ill at rest, and they feared they would see him again, one way or another. The lord commander's own greatsword was a magical blade, and the hilt was far more than it seemed. Kyne took it in hand, and the sword spoke to him without words. This was the Sunsword, and it formed a blade of pure, burning sunlight in his hands. He knew it hated Strahd, and would do all in its power to stop him.

Lord Vladimir Horngaard.

A quick search of the rest of the third floor yielded little, and the heroes made their way to the top of the mansion. They crossed a small bridge to the beacon tower and destroyed two more phantom warriors. They found where the beacon was, and knew that getting it to re-ignite with its holy light would be a task long in the coming. They rested again, and come the dawn, readied to head out. As they did, they heard a wagon pulling away, down the gravel and mud road to the mansion stronghold. Investigating, the heroes found a coffin with Kyne's name etched on it, leaning against the dragon statue out front. Opening it revealed a swarm of bats, which flew straight at the rogue! He quickly cut them down with his sword of light, and the group continued on.

They decided to head to the ruined village of Berez, on the shores of the Luna River. Davian Martikov had told them one of the Seeds of Life had been taken there, and so the heroes cut overland and down the hill to the shores of the river and the flooded, swampy remains of what was once a town. The mist was thick, but they saw a light across the river among a ring of standing stones. Wading the wide, deep, and rough stream, they reached the menhirs. An older woman with a lantern was there, and she gave her name as Muriel Henshaw. She warned them that the ruins were cursed, and an ancient and powerful witch named Baba Lysaga lived there. It was a dangerous place, and she warned them that they should move on. But she wished them well, and made her way on into the late morning mist.

Despite the warning, the heroes forded the river and circled the ruined cottages. They came across a ruined manor house atop a low hill, as Muriel had told them they could find such. A pen fenced with posts topped with human skulls contained several goats, and an overgrown garden was off to one side. A ghost materialized out of the fog, that of the town's former burgomaster, Lazslo Ulrich. He explained that the town of Berez had been drowned when the river rose at Strahd's command. His own daughter, Marina, had been the mirror image of Strahd's beloved Tatyana, and when he and other villagers had slain her to prevent her from falling under Strahd's evil spell, the dark lord took his vengeance upon them. The heroes explained what had happened to Ireena, who had been both Tatyana and his daughter reborn, but it was not enough to lay him to rest.

After finding his daughter's tomb and making their way back to the heart of the village, they found a small, wooden hut perched atop a large stump with massive roots. Scarecrows stood in the marsh grass atop wooden frames along the path that wound through the swampy ground. A fence topped with human skulls surrounded the hut, and as Lupin hopped the fence, the skulls began to scream! The scarecrows lurched and hopped off their posts, running in to attack. The heroes dispatched them quickly, and made their way to the hut. A huge cauldron stood to one side, and it had apparently been fashioned from a giant's skull. Muriel had told them the old witch had flown around in a magic cauldron, and they could almost believe it...

Baba Lysaga's creeping hut, come to life.

Opening the door, the heroes saw a small hut with bolted-down furniture and a crib with a crying child. A green glow came from the floorboards beneath the crib. As Cira and Volta attempted to enter the moved. The eight massive roots tore free from the ground, and the whole thing began to move like a massive spider! It stomped forward, crushing Cira, Verity and Lupin beneath it's "feet" as it flung rocks at Evan and Kyne. Volta barely held on, discovering the crib was an illusion. The heroes below hacked at its legs as the half-orc barbarian hacked at the floorboards. Things looked grim, and Verity was down, almost crushed to death beneath the hut's massive wooden legs. But Volta pried up a green stone she found there, one the size and shape of a pinecone, and the hut shuddered, lurched, and collapsed!

The heroes had barely caught their breath (and started to loot a small chest in the hut, one that had been protected by a glyph of warding that let out a blast of thunder) when a figure began moving towards them through the mist. It was a goat, accompanied by a crone with green, leathery skin, long black nails like claws, and stringy white hair bound up in an elaborate weave. This was Baba Lysaga. She chided them for breaking into her hut and trying to steal from her. She explained how she had been the midwife to Strahd's mother, Queen Ravenovia, and Strahd's nursemaid. She had worshiped Mother Night, and said spells and prayers to bind Strahd to darkness and awaken the magic within him. She was his true mother, she said...

Baba Lysaga was going to chide the wayward children who broke into her hut and stole her treasures...

And she attacked. She cast terrible spells, blasts of flame and dark, necrotic energy. She turned into a cloud of flies and back again, disappeared in a mist only to reappear nearby. She deflected attacks and spells, and things looked grim for the heroes. But in the end, a final blow from Volta and a spell from Evan dropped the witch. It had been a near thing, and Shokk and Cira had nearly perished, but the heroes prevailed. They found a wand on the hag, one with the power to change a creature's shape, and a few other treasures and magics in her treasure chest. They opted to find higher ground, in one of the ruined huts, and rest until evening. Surely the dangers of Berez had all been dealt with...?
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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
Chapter 5: The Festival of the Blazing Sun
The heroes left the Wizard of Wines early the next morning, shortly after a dim sun rose behind dark clouds. They made the journey back as far as the Raven River Crossroads without incident. As they neared the river, they discovered part of the trail had been washed out by the rain. As they prepared to ford the stream, feral eyes gleamed in the half-light of the dark woods. A half dozen dire wolves charged out silently, savagely, and attacked from surprise. The heroes were caught off guard, but fought back and slew most of the beasts. It seemed as if Strahd would have his beasts harry them at every turn.

The Devil Strahd's wolves. It seemed as if they would harry the heroes at every turn.

Apart from a group of Barovian scouts, out hunting for a missing young woman, there were no other incidents of note on the road back to Vallaki. The guards at the gate gladly let them in, and the heroes returned to the Blue Water Inn. Urwin Martikov and his wife Danika were glad to see their safe return, and thanked them for the wine. So did Karl and Nikolai Wachter, who had feared the wine casks would run dry. With two hours to kill before the festival started, Volta, Verity, Evan, and Cira decided to visit St. Andral's Church. The Wachter brothers informed them that the next festival would be the Feast of St. Andral. Cira was interested to learn more about this saint, unknown to her in the Realms. In the meantime, Shokk, Lupin, Kyne, and Caxius headed to the town square to see the preparations for the festival.

The group at the church met a boy named Yeska, who invited them in and introduced them to the priest, Father Lucian Petrovich. Seeing the holy symbol of the Realms' own morninglord, Lathander, on Cira's shield, the priest confided that the church had been robbed three days ago. The only thing taken was its greatest treasure - the hallowed bones of St. Andral himself! The only one he had told was the boy, Yeska, who was afraid after hearing rumors that the "devil" Strahd was riding the night once again. The boy's older brother, Milivoj, who acted as groundskeeper and gravedigger for the church, came in the back, scowling. He told Yeska to help the good Father Lucian, and then went out and back to work.

St. Andral's Church was a refuge, but a dreary one.

Volta tried talking with the young man as she chopped wood for the church, and Cira talked with Yeska. She got the boy to reveal that he had told only one person - his brother - about the bones of St. Andral and that they had been hidden in a crypt below the church's altar. The cleric went to confront Milivoj, and under the ire of her gaze, he revealed he'd been paid to steal them by Henrik van der Voort, the local coffin maker. He'd only done so for enough money to feed his brothers and sisters, as their parents had died years ago. Sympathetic to his plight, Cira did not punish him save to make him promise to apologize to Father Lucian. She rounded up the rest of her companions, and they made their way back to the inn.

The rest had found little, apart from sad decorations and miserable looking villagers. Meeting with their companions at the inn, they all opted to head to the coffin maker's shop to speak with the man. With an hour or so to spare, they figured they would have plenty of time to make the Festival of the Blazing Sun. The shop appeared closed when they arrived, and knocking on the door only produced shouts. "Go away! We are closed! Leave me alone!" When attempts at subterfuge failed, Shokk simply kicked the door down, breaking the bar holding it fast!

Henrik, the coffin maker, collapsed and sobbed, "They made me do it! He came one day. Vasili von Holtz. He made me keep them here. They are upstairs, in the attic..." Shokk and Volta made their way upstairs, while the rest took up position below. The attic storeroom was full of piles of wood and crates. As Shokk approached one, it splintered apart as a hand burst free of it, scattering wood and loose earth. Four more followed, and the barbarian and the paladin found themselves facing five vampire spawn!

The rest rushed upstairs, and a fierce battle raged in the cramped confines of the coffin maker's attic. The undead shrugged off blows that would have split a normal man in twain, almost instantly healing wounds that would have been lethal. Blood was drained, but flashes of radiant light and the hew of axes put an end to the vampires. In the aftermath, they found Saint Andral's bones and Caxius remembered where he'd heard Holtz's name before...the Abbey of St. Markovia! It was no less than Strahd himself in disguise. Henrik revealed the vampire's spawn had terrorized him, and planned to attack the church during the Festival of St. Andral a week from the day.

The vampire spawn were almost feral, and were hungry for blood. It was a close, close thing, but the heroes prevailed.

They quickly returned the bones to a grateful Father Lucian, and the church was once again hallowed ground. They rushed back to the festival, only to be greeted by a procession of sad looking children in drooping flower costumes escorting the mounted Baron Vallakovich, his Lydia, and the Baron's soldiers to the town square. An enormous wicker sun had been raised on a crane, and the Baron rode forth with all solemnity to light it with a fiery brand. But a sudden downpour extinguished his torch, and one of his own guards began to laugh. A gasp ran through the crowd, and the sputtering, red-faced baron immediately demanded the guard be bound and tied behind his horse so that he could drag him through the town, as penalty for his disrespect and mockery.

The heroes intervened. Verity's words did not sway the baron, and though Cira had cast a spell to calm his hostile emotions, the baron's henchmen Izek Strazni took umbrage. "Sorcery! She seeks to charm the baron!" He charged her with his axe, slashing away, and only Cira's mail and shield saved her from death. Evan cast a spell to freeze the devil-armed henchman in place, and he was paralyzed! Kyne, Volta, and Verity made quick work of him, and Lupin charged Baron Vallakovich himself after the stout, angry man had slashed at the cleric, Cira. He tore the nobleman's throat out, and Shokk finished him. "The Baron is dead," he roared. Caxius caused the earth to tremble with a spell, while Verity created an illusory wall of flames. It was too much. The guards broke, the crowd fled, and the square was deserted.

[I]The Baron was dead. Long live the Baroness...?[/I]

In the aftermath, the heroes made their way back to the Blue Water Inn. Change had come to Vallaki, and only the morrow would tell if the change would bode ill for them...
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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
Chapter 4: The Abbey of St. Markovia
The heroes set out from the Wizard of Wines just past dawn. Davian Martikov thanked them for their aid, and had another request. Three green stones, each the size and shape of a pine cone but lit with inner light, had been stolen. They were magic seeds, he said, and the pagan hillfolk's bloody-handed priests had taken them. He had overheard (though he did not say how) that one had been taken south to Yester Hill and one south and east to the ruins of Berez, a flooded village along the Luna River. The last he supposed had gone north somewhere.

The heroes promised to aid them, and set out. Along the road, they met another traveler, Lupin by name. He was a monk and a companion of Caxius and Shokk who had been separated from them in the Misty Forest. Wandering for a few days, he had finally located his companions in this strange land. He was a rough-looking man with long sideburns, and wore simple traveler's clothes with a short, slender blade at his side. He was one of the shifting kind, with the blood of werewolves in his veins. He greeted his companions, and they filled him in on the situation, what with Ireena, Strahd von Zarovich, and their promise to aid her and defeat the land's vampire lord. He seemed to accept this with relative calm.

The heroes reached the walls of Krezk by noon, and were let inside and escorted to the burgomaster's cottage. The village was not much more than cottages surrounded by misty woods inside a heavy stone curtain wall. The burgomaster, Dmitri Krezkov, thanked them for bringing the wine and asked for their aid with his son. The young man had died only a few days ago, and he was the elderly burgomaster's last child and only heir. He wished to visit the Abbey and talk with Abbot, who was rumored to have supernatural powers, including the ability to restore the dead to life. The heroes agreed to talk with the holy man, and made their way up the switchback trail to the Abbey of St. Markovia. Along the way, Ireena seemed to hear someone calling her in the distance, but chalked it up to her fatigue and trepidation.

A low wall circled the abbey, and the iron gate was unlocked. The heroes were greeted by two short figures in rough, homespun robes. One was a hunched man with a wolfish snout and ear, a beast-like leg that ended in a lion's paw, and a donkey's tail. The other was a woman with tufts of wolfish fur, scales, and cat-like eyes. Evan recognized them as mongrelfolk. The male chuckled and simpered, introducing himself as Otto Belview, one of the Belview family as was his cousin Zygfrek (the female). They had all come to the abbey to be healed. He kindly offered to escort the heroes to the abbey proper and the Abbot. They made their way past a graveyard on one side and a garden on the other, both overlooking a four-hundred foot drop to the village below.

Otto and Zygfrek Belview. Twisted members of a twisted family. Perhaps it was best the abbey was walled...

The abbey itself had two wings, joined by a high-walled courtyard. The gates opened easily, and the guards they saw atop the wall were no more than straw mannequins wearing rusty mail and blunted spears. A stunted woman with bat- and spider-like features was chained to a post in the courtyard, and stone coops (no doubt once holding fowl) were along the walls. The heroes could hear shouting, hooting, and screaming from all of them. "Family members," Otto chuckled apologetically. "They are...unwell. Locked up for their own safety." He led the heroes into a great hall, where sweet viola music wafted down from a belfry overhead. A woman, auburn-haired, pale-skinned and beautiful, wearing a tattered red dress, sat at a long table. A beautiful blonde man in simple monk's robes was walking down a stair on one side of the great hall and towards the table when the heroes entered. "We have guests, your holiness," Otto told him.

They realized the Abbot was not a mortal man. Nor was he sane.

This was the Abbot, and he introduced himself and Vasilika, the strangely silent woman. He was instructing her, he said, and invited the heroes to join him for an early supper. They agreed and sat with the Abbot, explaining the situation with Ireena. The Abbot gladly offered to provide her with shelter. Both Shokk and Cira noticed the woman had scars along her joints, wrists, neck, and so on, all covered by make-up. She jerky movements and gestures and grunted sounds that might have been the start of words. They quickly realized this woman had not been born...she had been made from the parts of dead women.

When confronted - politely of course - the Abbot responded that yes, he had used surgical and alchemical techniques to make Vasilika. He had done much the same to the Belview family. They had suffered the double stigma of inbreeding and a family-wide exposure to leprosy, and he had removed mortified and corrupted flesh, replacing it at their insistence with the pure flesh of beasts. Shokk, fearing the worst, used his ability to sense supernatural forces upon the Abbot. He learned that he was no demon or fiend, but rather a celestial - an angel that had taken a mortal guise! He shared that carefully with his companions, and they gently asked where the Abbot had gained such knowledge.

He replied it had come from a traveling scholar and alchemist named Vasili von Holtz, who had actually been Strahd himself in disguise. The Abbot, who had come here to end Strahd's evil, realized the vampire lord was bound to this land. He could not truly die here, nor could his curse end by death. Learning of Strahd's misery, he realized only happiness would end his suffering and the suffering of the land's people. To that end, he crafted a bride for Strahd in the image of his lost love, intending her immortal frame to keep the undying vampire company and happy for all time. He only needed one thing - a bridal gown. The heroes agreed to help him find one, with the condition he would restore the burgomaster's son to life. He agreed, promising them two more lives as well. He also said quarters would be prepared for Ireena, but she hesitated, saying she would think the matter over.

Verity had asked about the music, and she and Caxius were escorted up to the belfry by the Abbot. A man with two heads was there, playing a viola. One head was small, like a toddler, and had hide almost like a crocodile along one side. One hand was replaced by a crustacean's claw, and both feet and legs were like those of a bear. He was introduced as Clovis Belview, and stated he drank heavily (as evidenced by many empty wine bottles) and played sweet music to keep his other head asleep. He'd heard them below, and wished he could help them fight the vile Strahd! Caxius did mention something about Madame Eva's card reading saying a musician with two faces would help them against the dark lord...

Clovis Belview's music was as beautiful as he was twisted and grotesque. A good soul inside a monstrous shell...

The heroes descended the mountainside, and Ireena again heard someone calling her voice. Concerned, the heroes encouraged her to follow the sound. She wound her way through the trees in the village, to a small pond on its far end. A small gazebo and shrine stood next to the crystal-clear waters. As she approached, she heard a voice calling her. The heroes heard it too! "Tatyana! Come to me my love!" They saw the reflection of a handsome young man in royal finery in the water, looking up at her, his hand extended. It extended out of the water!

"Sergei!" Ireena said, "Sergei, my love! I remember. We were to be wed! Yes, I am Tatyana! I will come to you!" A couple of the heroes tried to hold her back, but Cira sensed something wonderful was happening. She stopped them with her magic, and Ireena reached out - and was pulled into the water! They saw her now, in a beautiful wedding dress, embracing and kissing the man with such passion and love that it made their hearts soar. Light emanated from the water and she smiled at the heroes in thanks and joy. In a flash, they were gone. They knew that Ireena, who had been Tatyana reborn, had found safety and happiness. But the sky grew dark, the thunder rolled, and a voice seemed to cry, "You have taken her from me!" Lightning struck the water, setting the gazebo afire, and nearly killing a couple of the heroes. Strahd had seen...had known...and doubtless wanted revenge on them!

Dazed, the heroes helped put out the fire and let the burgomaster know what happened. He knew that none in Krezk had skill enough with needle and thread to craft such a gown, and time grew short. His wife, Anna Krezkova, agreed to take a few men and trade goods to Vallaki, to see if they could find such a gown. The heroes agreed to escort her the next morning. They made the trip in a few hours, and were greeted suspiciously by the guards. As one tried to slip off, Kyne followed her and knocked her out. The heroes returned to the Blue Water Inn, and finally met the carnival master Rictavio, a gentleman in finery with a leather overcoat, gray hair, and spectacles. They also drank with the Wachter brothers, Karl and Nikolai. As they did, Volta and Kyne escorted the lady of Krezk to a dressmaker's shop. She did not have the coin required, and the seamstress could not deliver the dress in such short order. She suggested they speak with Lydia Petrovnka, the Baroness Vallakovich, as her wedding dress was said to be spectacular, and as a good-hearted woman she might not refuse an entreaty for aid.

Volta and Kyne escorted Anna Krezkova to the Baron's estate, and were let in by a suspicious maid. The entry hall was crammed with bundles of twigs, and they were led shortly to a dining hall. A tall, older but still beautiful woman was speaking with several other women over tea and cakes, and introductions were made. The Baroness Vallakovich was happy to speak with Anna about the dress, after being convinced a "fortuitous marriage, one that would bring great joy to Krezk," was in the offing. As Volta and Kyne waited in a small parlor near the main entrance, Izek Strazni - the Baron's henchman - spotted them! Kyne's quick talking and Volta's steely gaze prevented an immediate bloodbath, and Baron Vargas Vallakovich was summoned. He was a stocky man, with a gray pompadour and deep-set, suspicious eyes. He had not been informed about Izek's actions, and was convinced by Kyne's silver tongue that the heroes were only helping a stray girl. Oh, and they had promised to bring back wine for the festival of the Blazing Sun on the morrow. Mollified, the suspicious Baron let them go.

With all due haste, the heroes left as soon as Anna had secured the Baroness Lydia's dress, much to the Baron's chagrin. Returning to the inn, they gathered up their gear and headed back to Krezk as fast as they could. They were ambushed on the road by a group of hillfolk, berserkers clad in fur, clay, and hides, and a great champion wearing a bearskin. It was a tough battle, and the hillfolk were slain to a man. Apparently, they had taken great offense at the heroes' slaying of their pagan priests, and had begun to track them.

But the heroes reached Krezk shortly before nightfall, and escorted the burgomaster, the dress, and his dead son up to the Abbey of St. Markovia. The Abbot was greatly pleased (and more so, as Volta had some other items of clothing for Vaslilika) and set about his work. He glowed with unearthly power as he touched the young man's dead body and bid him to rise. With a start, life returned to the young man! Herr Krezkov was grateful, but he, his son, and his men departed swiftly. The heroes thanked the Abbot, and left shortly thereafter, once they explained that their friend was now safe. They had some choices to make about where they would go next. More importantly, they had definitely drawn Strahd's attention....
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Darth Paul
Posted by the GM
Curse of Strahd
Chapter 3: The Wizard of Wines
The heroes camped in the dark of the Svalich Woods overnight. Near the Hour of the Wolf, Caxius was on watch. He saw dark figures approach out of the fog and the trees, four of them. All wore dark, hooded robes and the leader a mask of gold wrought into the likeness of a bearded man. "Lay down." He whispered, "lay down and sleep. Give us the girl." The tiefling warlock struggled against the magical compulsion, and his will held.

"Wake up!" He shouted, rousing the others. "We have company!" As the group rose, the masked figure gestured with his staff and a ring of fire circled Ireena and Volta, scorching the half-orc barbarian. Kyne charged the figure, his blades flashing, and he knocked the mask aside with one of his daggers. It was a diabolic figure, with red, scaly skin, leering features, swept-back horns, and a nest of vipers in place of a beard. The bearded devil struck its staff on the ground again, and a long blade shot out of one end. It stabbed and struck at Shokk and Cira as they closed in. The other figures' hoods swept back, revealing corpse-pale flesh, appearing like melted candle wax, clinging to a hunched figure with dirty claws and a gasping mouth. Lemures. They surged forward, seeking to claw, grab, and suck the very life from those they fought.

"Give us...the girl!"

Caxius made short work of them as Verity's crossbows took two down swiftly. Cira, Shokk, and Volta - who leaped forward as the wall of fire collapsed - slew the devil with an ax-blow. Evan's spells brought down the last of the lemures, and the heroes caught their collective breath. After watching their foes' bodies melt away, they rested as best they could for the remainder of the night.

Come the gray dawn, the heroes made their way back to the Luna River Crossroads, and then up the trail towards the village of Krezk. At the Raven River Crossroads a few miles ahead, a sign pointed northwest to Lake Baratok, another south to the Wizard of Wines Winery, one back east to Vallaki, and one west towards Krezk. As the heroes made their way down the trail, without warning they were set upon by a pack of lean, hungry wolves! Sudden growls, feral eyes, and flashing fangs were the only warning they had, but the group fought back and drove the half-handful that survived back from whence they came. Bandaging what injuries they had, the heroes continued onward. The road rose as the terrain sloped upwards towards the mountains. The air grew cold and a bitter snow began to fall among the pines, chestnuts, and oaks.

The walls of Krezk.

Ahead, the heroes saw a twenty-foot high wall of stone with a pair of guard towers and a massive, iron-banded oaken gate. As they approached, a pair of guards in tall, fur hats moved to the edge of the parapet atop the wall, pikes in hand. "Who goes there? What business do you have in Krezk?" Shokk explained they had brought a young woman in seek of sanctuary, and wished to take her to the Abbey of St. Markovia, which they saw on the far side of the walled village, atop a snowy cliff with a long, switchback trail leading up to it. The guards looked dubious, and called for the town's burgomaster, one Dmitri Krezkov, a balding, bearded. middle-aged man in fine clothes, furs, and a fine fur hat. "You appear to be adventurers. This makes you either servants of the devil Strahd, or his enemies. Neither one is welcome here. You must leave!" They saw crossbows raised along the parapets.

Caxius and Cira asked if there was aught they could do to prove that they were friendly. The burgomaster hesitated. He did admit that their last shipment of wine from the winery was long overdue, and that if the heroes could clear that matter up and bring the wine back, they would prove they were friendly. "One good turn deserves another. Do this, and you will have our hospitality." With that, the heroes chose to head back up the trail and to the winery. They had not gone far before a small pack of dire wolves had surrounded them, and with eerie howls, moved in to attack. The battle was quick and fierce, and the heroes pressed grimly onward.

Upon reaching the Raven River Crossroads again, the heroes found themselves caught by surprise as the creepers and thorny brush along the trail animated, and roughly humanoid plants shambled forward, pelting them with hails of thorns and lashed them with writhing vines. The heroes suffered some serious punctures and bruises thanks to the hurled thorns and crushing vines, but managed to cut the plant creatures down. Mystified, they moved on south to the winery. Arriving late in the afternoon, they saw a sign pointing off to the vineyard and another into the dark woods ahead. A raven perched atop the sign cawed at them bobbing its head, and flew off towards the vineyard. Going by the ravens that had aided them at the windmill, the heroes followed.

The air was cold, the mist was heavy, and the grapes seemed to have withered on the vine.

They were greeted by a young man in a dark cloak as they made their way through the rain and into the vineyard. He beckoned them on, and they followed him into the woods where a group of people waited. The eldest among them, an old man with white hair, a heavy beard, and a scowl greeted them. He was Davian Martikov, the father as it turned out of Vallaki's innkeeper, Urwin Martikov. He greeted the heroes suspiciously, but warmed when they brought news of his son. Davian explained that pagans, priests of the hillfolk, had come down and taken the winery. They had brought monsters with them, things of root, vine, stick, and branch. Plants that walked...and killed. He promised that if they could free the winery, that he would gladly give them the shipment of wine for Krezk. The heroes agreed, and approached the winery as dusk fell.

As they approached the open loading dock, perhaps thirty of the stick-like blights covered with thorns shambled in towards the heroes. They ran for the open loading dock, closing the doors behind them. Making their way into the winery, the heroes discovered a large room with four, huge wooden vats where wine was fermenting. A wooden walkway ran around the room, and the heroes saw a woman with a cloak of skins and goat's head headdress who was painted with mud pouring a vial of some dark liquid into the vat. Dozens of small creatures made of twigs and sharp brambles crept about the floor. She spotted them, and cried out in alarm.

Blights had surrounded the winery.

Shokk ran forward, leaping up to the walkway, and engaged her even as she transformed into a bear. A pair of other figures - one with a cloak of feathers and one with a wolf's-headed cloak emerged. The first carried two stone knives, the second a black, gnarled staff. The first turned into an eagle after throwing flames at Cira and Verity as they ran in. Volta had cut down several of the twig blights and Evan torched the rest. The leader, clad in a wolf hide and streaked with mud and dried blood, had called up a swarm of biting insects, but his hold on the evil spell was broken. He called down blasts of lightning, then turned into a giant eagle, but before he could attack, Evan's web spell pinned him in place. He changed again, into a giant spider, and continued to rain lightning down on the heroes through the windows above. The battle was fierce, but in the end, Shokk slew one druid while Verity's bows, Cira and Evan's spells, and Kyne's daggers took down the leader of the evil pagan priests. Evan identified the leader's staff. It had been carved from a vampiric Gulthias tree, and was a vile thing. He knew that if he broke it, it would slay all plant creatures and blights within the sound of a scream, and he did so. Not only did it slay all the thorn blights outside, but several more and a horrid shambling mound in the cellar below!

A search revealed the winery was clear. Evan sent his familiar back to the vineyard with a message, and the Martikov family joined them within the hour. Davian thanked them profusely, offered them a gift of fine wine, and insisted they stay the night. The heroes rested, warm and with bellies full of good stew and fine wine. On the morrow, they would set out for Krezk, and hopefully a more friendly reception...
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Chapter 2 — A Mother–Son Talk
"You were born when I was only twelve and a half pyesigeni old," said Galadrel to her son. (Leokas knew the Elvish term to mean "four-snows". For an elf, a year was such a short time-period, one did not often refer to time periods in years when talking with other elves.) "I was so very young then. Young and deceived. I was blind to the man your father actually was. When I finally left him a pyesigen later, you were still too young to remember it. I wanted to take you with me, but I knew you would be safer in elven woods with our family, and you were too young to make the choice I made. I often visited you in secret, watching you grow into a man from afar."

   Leokas listened without interrupting. Elves reached physical adulthood at about the age of six pyesigeni, but they don't consider anyone a full adult until around the age of 100 years at least. In fact, elven culture discourages elves from marrying before that age. So his mother was indeed young.

   It was also the case that elves were expected to be raised by their extended family and the community after their first few years with their parents, so even with the early loss of his mother, Leokas' childhood was little different from that of his peers.

   "The 'man my father actually was'?" said Leokas. "What do you mean? He told me you were murdered by hobgoblins."

   "It was easier a tale for him to tell you than the truth. The truth was that I left him."

   "Whatever did he do?"

   "I cannot bear to talk now about the things I discovered he had done. Please, my son, permit that to wait until another time."

   "But I saw my father slain by a hobgoblin with my own eyes!" said Leokas. "Then they burned the entire village down!"

   "Yes, sadly he was. I heard of your father's death ten snows ago. It grieved me, truly. Thrandual paid for his crimes, but he did not deserve the death he received. He chose a dangerous path, one of which I could not approve, but he was not evil in his heart; I know this. He had much good in him.

   "My second husband died a few years after that," she continued. "Having lost both of the men I have ever loved, I was distraught and left the pack. I headed south into the Forest of Tethir. So long remained I in wolf form in my grief that I almost forgot what it was to be an elven woman."


   "You do not recognize what I am?" she asked. "This wolf form was not a curse. I became a Lythari by choice when I took a second mate."

   The Lythari, the Ly-tel-quessir, were an oft-forgotten subrace of elves. Many believed that they had abandoned Toril for the Feywild long ago, but obviously not. They were lycanthropes, but it was a chosen condition, not a curse or disease.

   "How is it that you found me? How did you become my... animal companion? I had a vision while in reverie the night before Belvin and I found you, or rather before you found us, in that cave during the great storm. I believed that Solonor had sent you to me."

   "It is truly a miracle of Sehanine that led me to you, my son. And perhaps the Lady of Dreams and the Great Archer fated our meeting together. Whatever the Seldarine's will, I did not even recognize you at first. When I did, I felt it best to observe secretly as your animal companion until which time I should know why it is that the goddess led me back to you.

   "All this time, I have not known whether I should reveal myself to you in my true form or not. Now, it seems, the gods have made that choice for me." A tear came to her eye. "It is good to see you with my elven eyes again, my son."
Session: 74th Game Session - Thursday, Jun 30 2016 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
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