Day Forty-Nine Continued
As we flew to the Amber Temple Kasimir told me of the reason why he needed to go to the temple. It turned out that he wanted to seek the power to bring her back from the dead. She had been a lover of Strahd’s, and when the dusk elves killed her for this, Strahd killed every female dusk elf. Wracked with guilt, Kasimir wanted to return her to the world. I told him I wanted to help him get there, but paying the price for the power would be his choice.
In the lead up to the temple we were nearly buffeted off our mounts by the mighty wings of an enormous roc. Greatly hurt by this bird, but still alive, we rested in a cave near the Amber Temple. While we rested I talked with Esmerelda and tried to get a gauge on what she was planning to do regarding Rictavio. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer. But she did try and pin down what my intentions were. She said Madame Eva had told her that we couldn’t win, that the land would die if we tried to kill Strahd, or we’d just fail outright and he’d come back. I told her I couldn’t believe that until I’d tried.
Exploring the territory, we saw Rictavio’s wagon and the main entrance to the temple, but we decided to take a secret entrance we found through a fissure. Through there we ran into a tribe of barbarians, but I held up my hands and told them we weren’t here for them. I think they were more intimidated by the hide of the demon goat Sangxor which I wore on my shoulders. So they let us carry on through the temple. We explored the eerily silent halls until we found a wizard called Vilnius hiding in a lecture hall. He asked us to help him find his master’s remains in the hall, so we took him with us. Next, we ran into a golem that attacked us, but there was only the one, so we were able to overcome it.
The next room and statue however proved far more deadly. We went onto a balcony and from the great, deep hood of the statue in the central chamber, a fireball came out and burnt us all badly, killing Vilnius. We hid in a side room and made our plan. I flew through an arrow slit in the wall in the form of a raven and landed inside the hood to find a wizard sitting in there! But as I tried to question him, he teleported away.
So I returned to the team and we made our new plan. Because there were further arrow slits along the west wall through which fire bolts were being shot, we needed a distraction. So Esmerelda threw out a bunch of illusions from the deck of illusions Pidlwick gave us (she got a goblin, kobold, incubus and an ogre, but she decided to use the cloud giant and a bunch of bandits). While these illusions provided a distraction, my summoned pixies turned my party into birds, and Esmerelda flew invisibly, and we all met in the hood of the statue, guarded by its magical darkness. The trick worked, and then Esmerelda cast Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum on the hood, with all the wards turned on against being heard or seen, and no teleporting out… but the ability to teleport in was allowed.
We waited in there and the wizard teleported back after an hour. We tried in many different ways to interrogate him magically, but he seemed to be immune to all of this. We soon found out why, as he attacked: he was a demon! He fled, and teleported away once outside of the hood. We decided to wait in the hood for him or a replacement to return, and return he did, with six flaming skulls. Marja threw out illusions ( a troll and an ogre mage) to distract them and I summoned ravens which got quickly exploded by all six fireballs. Somehow we miraculously survived this onslaught, and Esmerelda cast a magical shield up to deflect all magic spells thrown at us. It was very, very tough, but on our last legs we managed to destroy the skulls with ranged attacks, and the demon, bound to protect the temple, could not help but attack us until he died. We got a spellbook, a cloak of many things, and some treasure for our troubles. But we needed to rest in that hood for a good few hours after that.
When we finally found Vilnius’s master’s corpse, he was long dead, but Kasimir picked up his wizard staff. In the next few rooms we uncovered a scale model of Castle Ravenloft, a tome of understanding, a green copper ewer of renewing wine (protected by spectres), an evil statue that almost bewitched us all, and a room for of skulls. Behind that we found an amnesiac lich. Rather than attacking, I restored his memory. His name was Exethanter, and we were able to convince him that we were not invading his temple but trying to repel other invaders. He gave us passwords for the locked doors, and we kept exploring. He also told us what this place was: the prison or crypt for dead gods. The last place we visited on the upper level was a library with every single spell in it. We sighed wistfully and left…
Downstairs was when we began to find the dead gods, and their amber-sheathed forms whispered promises. But each of their promises came with prices we were not willing to pay. So we continued exploring, fighting witches and their brooms, a death slaad, poltergeists, and golem that was a twin of the first one upstairs. From the copious treasue piles we took only eight statues of saints and a children’s book for the orphanage.
Through the last portal we found the Amber Vault, in which the worst of the gods were kept… and a bleeding, dying Rictavio. We rushed to heal him, and Strahd swooped down. He already had taken the pact with the dead gods and looked much changed. We went to our routine for fighting him, with Donavich casting Daylight… which Strahd countered! Then he cast Disintegrate on Donavich, and my most loyal companion was forever reduced to dust. Filled with rage and despair I lifted the holy symbol from his remains, but its power failed for me. Once Godfrey was downed too, Strahd lifted Ireena into his arms, the sunsword slipping from her hand. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, Esmerelda murdered Rictavio and took on her the pact of the vampire. She teleported out, leaving us all shocked.
Kasimir forged forward to meet his goal, and took upon him the gift of Zudun the corpse star, which was the ability to raise the long dead. But his skin took on a corpse-like appearance.
We turned to the last of the amber crypts as it spoke to us. It was Tenebrus, the one who had made Strahd in the beginning, and had remade him now. It laughed at our despair as it rose out of its crypt…
It had never been trapped at all.
We left the temple to see the edges of the realm falling away. The world, it appeared, was ending. When Strahd marries Ireena and then murders her at midnight tomorrow night, the realm will end and he will be free to ascend to greater, darker power.