Strahd vs. The Gentlemen Bastards
Chapter 13; Return to the Amber Temple
<The town of Krezk.>
The Gentlemen Bastards stand outside the walls of Krezk, listening to the sounds of total bedlam within. The mongrelfolk, unfortunate wretches created by the Abbot of St. Markovia, have been freed from the asylum. The town gates have been abandoned as the guards have been rallied to confront the invaders. Draāgon casts speak with animals and questions a pair of ravens, he learns that the monsters have been loosed upon the townsfolk. Most of them are robbing the people of food, but the more aggressive of the mongrelfolk have a taste for the people themselves. Winston, Elyadra, Grimm and Draāgon climb the town's 20-foot high wall with relative ease, then take the most direct route to the abbey in search of Galinndan.
They find the elf has been set upon by horde of these monsters. The party attacks and finds the mongrelfolk don't pose much of a threat when in small numbers. They dispatch half a dozen of them, and watch as others flee from them in favor of easier prey. Draāgon casts cure wounds on Galinndan's injuries. When a large group of mongrels find the courage to surround the Gentleman Bastards, a voice comes from within the abbey. "Stop. Let them take their friend." Vasilka comes into view at the top of the abbey wall. She recognizes how dangerous the party is, she speaks to them: "Take him and go. Leave Krezk to its fate, for our hunger will be satisfied." The party agrees to these terms; helping Galinndan to his feet, they descend the abbey grounds and flee from the Krezk without looking back.
The Gentleman Bastards set off toward the Amber Temple in pursuit of the renegade wizard - and former Bastard - Sauron Alkinin. Winston is reminded of his last trip through Tsolenka Pass and his brief visit to the temple (see Chapter 9). They first make a stop at the Wizard of Wines Winery, hoping to borrow supplies and cold-weather gear from the Martikov family. The family's patriarch, Davian Martikov, is eager to fulfill their request, sending his children and grandchildren to fetch the items. The party warns him of the uprising going on in nearby Krezk. Draāgon provides them several weapons from his collection; a maul, a longsword and a mace. Davian thanks them for the warning and orders his son-on-law to make preparations to construct defenses. He also sends a message via raven to his allies in Vallaki. When the old man overhears Winston mention the damaged bridge on Tsolenka Pass, he chimes in: "I can help you." He smiles at the party knowingly. They agree to let him accompany them, when he insists they allow him the opportunity to repay his debt.
Before reaching Tsolenka Pass, they catch a glimpse of Yester Hill of to the west. Lightning strikes the standing stones that rest atop the summit. Galinndan and Davian remain at the side of the road, as the others set off across the tall grass at the base of the hill. Elyadra and Draāgon find tunnels that have been bored into the hillside. Elyadra cats unseen servant, sending the little devil into the dark hole. The others continue their climb to the tall black tree that stands amid the ancient stones. Winston pries a battle axe from the trunk of the tree, causing a weak spurt of blood to splash on his boots. Blood continues to ooze from the wound. Draāgon practices some druidcraft, attempting to commune with this tree. He senses a malignant force within it that would see him dead if it could. He concludes that this tree is used as part of fell rituals by the barbarians of Yester Hill. It could be destroyed if they could spare the time to uproot it entirely. Draāgon also suspects that relieving the land of Barovia of its curse, may cleanse the taint on this place. Elyadra's servant returns, it reports that the tunnels are empty. It describes a room shaped like a bathhouse, inwhich the black tree's roots bleed into a dark pool. It informs her there is no treasure here, only a few pieces of pottery and some soiled bedding in their earthen chambers. They set off toward Tsolenka Pass once again. After about an hour of study, they learn that the axe is a +1 fey battleaxe of plantsbane. Winston hands it to Draāgon.
The shelf of rock on which the mountain road clings grows narrow. To their left, the icy cliffs rise sharply toward dark, rolling clouds. To their right, the ground falls away into a sea of fog. Ahead, through the wind and snow, they see a high wall of black stone lined with spike and topped by statues of demonic vultures with horned heads. Set in the center of the wall is an open iron portcullis, behind which burns a curtain of green flame. On the other side of the dark wall, gripping the mountain's edge, is a guard tower of white stone topped by golden statues of mighty warriors.
Winston drops a blanket onto the ground and prepares to pour water on it from his waterskin. From high atop the wall, he hears the agitated chatter of a monkey. He looks up to see Piccolo clutching at something in his little paws and barking at him in a chiding tone. Piccolo throws a severed human foot at the gunslinger. Winston narrowly avoids the foot. When he looks down, he recognizes it. It looks just like his foot! Piccolo disappears from sight, apparently climbing down the wall's far side.
Winston empties his waterskin on to the blanket, then throws it over his head. Without hesitation, he dashes through the curtain of green flame. Davian and the rest of the party water their blankets and follow. Winston spots the monkey just as it slips into the guard tower door. Suspicious that this may be a trap, he follows cautiously. To his horror, Nit Snow's death shroud has been partially unwrapped and some of the body has been eaten! Piccolo hides behind the corpse. The poor thing has been eating human flesh in order to survive the harsh conditions on the mountain. Once he gets past his initial revulsion, Winston offers Piccolo some of his trail rations. The monkey seems eager for the food, but distrusts the gunslinger. Winston leaves the food on the floor and walks away, hoping Piccolo will decide to follow. The party continues up the pass, leaving the wall and tower behind them. Winston is happy to see that Piccolo is cautiously following at a distance.
The snowy pass comes to a gorge that was once spanned by a stone bridge. On each side of the gorge is thirty-foot-tall stone arch. Atop each one are two statues of armored knights on horseback with lances, charging one another. The bridge was destroyed during Winston's previous visit, now a forty-foot gap lies before the party and the opposite side. They look at Davian Martikov. The old man walks to the edge and begins to undress. The cold wind bites at him and howls like wolves as it passes through the gorge. The party ties two ropes together and lash one end around Davian's ankle. Davian, a wereraven, takes the form of a human/raven hybrid and flies across the gap. He unwinds the rope from his leg, securely ties it off on a stone, then flies back across. While he redresses, the party takes turns crossing the rope. One by one, they climb out across the gap, a 500-foot drop just waits for one of them to make a mistake. Davian and Galinndan agree to wait back at the guard tower to aid the party in their return journey. When left on this side of the gap with two complete strangers, Piccolo dashes past them and across the rope. The monkey slips! – but Winston come to the rescue. Weary from the bitter cold, the party continues up Tsolenka Pass.
<The Amber Temple.>
The road fades away under a covering of snow, but it takes them far enough to see the facade of some kind of temple carved into the sheer mountainside ahead. The front of the structure is fifty feet high and has six alcoves containing twenty-foot-tall statues. Each statue is carved from a single block of amber and depicts a faceless, hooded figure, its hands pressed together in a gesture of prayer. Between the two innermost statues is a twenty-foot-tall archway with a staircase leading down.
Winston knows of a secret entrance, he leads the party to the western side of the temple where a natural fissure has opened in the mountainside. Each of them squeezes through this crack, entering the Amber Temple. Once they confirm that its secure, the party settles in to rest in this room. Two heavy, amber doors stand closed. Out of the harsh wind and with a fire going, the party is almost able to get warm. They rest for eight hours. Winston wakes to a horrible pain – the effects of Baba Lysaga's foul curse. While the others break down the camp, the gunslinger lies incapacitated in anguish. There's nothing the others can do to ease his pain. When he's ready, they move deeper in to the temple.
Beyond several sets of amber doors and dark corridors, they reach a lecture hall. The chamber is brightly lit by red copper lanterns that hang from the ceiling. The walls are sheathed in amber that has been shaped into bas-reliefs of wizards with spellbooks. Stairs to the north and south descend twenty feet to an obsidian lectern, behind which a slab of black slate hangs from chains. Between the stairs are descending rows of red marble benches. Draāgon keeps watch as Grimm and Elyadra review the chalk marks on the slate. They find it covered in complicated arcane formulae. Winston investigates the dusty surface of the lectern and benches, discovering there may have been books here recently. He finds a human hand-print and assumes that Sauron has been here recently.
Suddenly, Draāgon hears a sound coming from the dark, unexplored end of the hallway. He casts produce flame and sends out a burning orb. The light touches a huge amber statue that has come to life!
The construct stamps out the flame and rushes forward. Elyadra throws a smoke bomb in its direction to give her an opportunity to reach a safety and to provide cover to her allies. Draāgon holds his ground, breaking the amber golem's charge. Winston's bullets don't seem to have any effect, so he fights by Draāgon's side with his shortsword. Grimm casts cloud of daggers, which easily tears into the construct's amber bulk. Elyadra throws a silver bomb at it, dealing massive damage but causing a loud explosion that echoes throughout the temple. By the time Grimm is able to finally melt the golem into a think amber syrup with hellish rebuke, the temple's patrolling guardians arrive on the scene.
From the hallway, three blazing green flameskulls attack the intruders with fireballs and magic missiles. Grimm casts scorching ray, but the spell's fire damage has no effect. Draāgon holds back, casting cure wounds on himself before rushing forward with his javelin. Another of Elyadra's silver bombs and a well-placed shatter spell from Grimm dispatch two of the three guardians. Winston's bullets work just fine on their fragile skulls, he expertly blows the last one to pieces. The party falls back to the lecture hall to rest, having sustained several injuries. They seal the door behind them.
Little do they know that in the hallway, the shattered fragments of the flameskulls begin to knit back together…