On Sunday nights, a group of friends and I gather to play Dungeons & Dragons. This is the chronicle of their tale. (This post contains spoilers to “Curse of Strahd”)
The woman, alerted by Fletcher’s movement in the caves behind her, stands. She asks for “Bianca,” and “Wencensia,” but Fletcher stays quiet and hidden, and the woman moves over to the cages on the far side of the cave, and out of Fletcher’s sight.
Fletcher returns to the group, and tells them what he’s found, and they all agree that a full assault is their best option against this person. Fletcher grabs some bones from the floor and, again on the ceiling, moves back to the stairs – but this time the woman is nowhere to be seen.
Fletcher tosses a bone onto the stone stairs, where it clatters to a stop. After a moment, the woman’s voice answers from somewhere within the cavern, asking who Fletcher is. He doesn’t respond. The woman asks why they’re here. Fletcher doesn’t answer. She finally asks if the others are dead. Fletcher recalls that they have killed six werewolves since coming into the caves, so he slowly, deliberately drops six bones – one after the other – onto the stairs as his answer.
The woman understands this, and asks that, if they kill her here, would they free the children? Fletcher asks if there is a reason they should spare her. She answers, saying she would keep fighting for control of the pack. Fletcher says they’re here to destroy the werewolves to keep them from answering to Strahd’s will. The woman spitefully says she would never answer to Strahd, even if he were there, staring her in the face.
Malis immediately steps out and down the stairs to excitedly greet the woman, who was hiding behind the central wall of stone separating the two stairs that lead into this cavern. The woman acts defensively, but Malis assures her she won’t hurt her. Malis says that they have common ground, and can work together.
Cairie and Krossa follow Malis into the larger chamber, taking in the scene. Fletcher sneaks around the stone wall to the other set of stairs that lead into the area, attempting to block the woman’s escape. The woman is Zuleika, she is a werewolf and part of this pack, though she disagrees with its leader, Kiril. Zuleika reveals that the children here are the latest recruits to the pack, and that they are meant to fight to the death – the survivors are turned and join the pack. Fletcher’s truesight reveals that one of the caged children is already a werewolf – Kellen, the newest recruit. He couldn’t be older than 12.
Zuleika’s husband, Emil, attempted to overthrow Kiril, but was defeated, and taken to Strahd’s fortress. She does not know if he still lives, but would see him returned if he does. She knows she is not powerful enough to defeat Kiril on her own, especially with his loyal followers always nearby, and has been praying to Mother Night for guidance and assistance. She believes that the adventurers are the answer to her prayers – and they do admit that they’re here to kill the werewolves.
Then, a gruff voice comes from behind them, saying, “You’ll need more than prayers.” Everyone turns to see a very large, very muscular man – whose torn shirt could barely even be called a shirt – descending the stairs into the cavern. Fletcher demands that the children be freed, as he sees a number of wolves appear at the top of the second stairs to his right. Malis attempts to appeal to the several other men and women behind Kiril on the stairs, saying that they do not need to follow a man as evil as Kiril – but all they do is laugh.
Kiril laughs as well, and then orders his pack to kill everyone, shifting immediately into his hybrid werewolf form. He is huge, much larger than any of the werewolves the party has already faced. Krossa goes into a defensive stance. Fletcher attempts to summon the hell hounds as he had in the Amber Temple, but nothing happens…and he cannot remember the words in the Infernal language. Instead, he casts finger of death at the leader of the pack, and retreats toward the cages. Kiril shrugs off most of the necrotic damage.
Kiril turns and lunges at the nearby Krossa, and chomps his huge jaws over the dwarf’s shoulder, his monstrous teeth scraping against bone. Krossa’s will, though, staves off the disease of lycanthropy. In response, Krossa stabs Kiril in the side several times with his new, silver dagger, but Kiril holds on with his bite.
Zuleika rushes past Kiril and shifts into her hybrid form to attack Kiril’s followers on the stairs. Cairie attempts to cast witch bolt at Kiril, but misses, nearly hitting Fletcher at the other end of the room. She goes to take cover behind the statue of Mother Night. Malis puts up a huge wall of flame that seals off the chamber at the bottom of the stairs, burning both some of Kiril’s followers and Zuleika as well, who are all now separated from their leader.
Ezmerelda rushes up to Kiril and slashes at the beast with her silvered shortsword, landing critical blows and causing the werewolf to release Krossa. Van Richten runs to Krossa’s aid, casting cure wounds on him. Fletcher then dashes up to Kiril’s blind side and lands a huge, two-handed blow to the beast’s face with the Gulthias staff he took from Rolen’s corpse. Large, inky black scrapes appear along the wolven face, and some kind of ichor seeps into the flesh…as Kiril’s form falls to the floor of the cavern, defeated.
Malis drops the wall of flame as Fletcher grabs Kiril by the neck and uses his immense strength to lift the body off the ground in victory, to show the others what has become of their leader. However, a sight meets them on the stairs – of Kiril’s followers holding a battered and beaten Zuleika, now back in her human form on her knees, a werewolf’s sharp claws pressed to her throat.
At the top of the other stairs, more men appear and toss two things into the chamber: an empty, iron helm that belonged to Armando the animated suit of armor, and the horribly bloodied form of Kasimir Velikov. Malis rushes to Kasimir’s side to confirm that he is still alive, though barely.
One of Kiril’s followers steps forward and tells the adventurers that their allies are gone, and that they will now be destroyed. Fletcher laughs large and loud, and drops Kiril’s body to the floor. He then says that in exchange for their lives, the werewolves will release the children here, will never kidnap children ever again, and will now follow Zuleika’s lead.
The man thinks for a moment, and then admits that the party is indeed powerful, recognizing their disadvantage. He says they have one, single amendment. He snaps his fingers back to his pack, and they tear Zuleika’s throat out. Thus, Ezmerelda and Cairie start opening the cages and collecting the children. Van Richten subtly starts moving back toward Kellen, motioning to Cairie to bring the boy to him. When close enough, van Richten touches Kellen on the arm and casts remove curse to cure him of the lycanthropy.
Krossa takes Armando’s helmet and immediately heads back through the caves. Fletcher follows, picking up Zuleika’s body as he goes. Malis gathers the children to her, and calms them, leading them toward the exit. Van Richten then casts cure wounds on Kasimir to help him stand, and the dusk elf goes with Cairie and Ezmerelda. Van Richten is the last one to leave, and he stops to offer any of the pack a last chance to rid themselves of this life. Of course, no one takes up the offer, and so van Richten leaves.
Outside, Krossa searches for any sign of Armando, and finds pieces of the armor scattered about – seemingly defunct. He attaches the helm to his gear as a memento of his fallen ally. Ezmerelda attempts to comfort Krossa, and reprimands Fletcher when the rogue called the suit of armor useless.
Van Richten looks for any sign of his saber-toothed tiger, which had been standing guard with Kasimir and Armando, but there’s no sign of it. Van Richten surmises it must have resorted to its instincts, saying that that’s unfortunate for the vistani. Fletcher still carries the body of Zuleika, and they all decide to return to Krezk to figure out what to do next.
Back in town, they take the children to Anna Krezkov’s house, and she welcomes them inside. Anna agrees to look after the children – recognizing some of them as having been from Krezk – and promises to return everyone to their home. She is surprised and relieved that the adventurers were able to seemingly stop the werewolf attacks.
She notices Fletcher for the first time since his transformation, and she’s taken aback by his appearance. Malis says that that is Fletcher, and he says that the burgomistress knows him. Anna, shocked, asks what happened to the once-proud member of the city guard. She tells him that she hopes his fate turns. The adventurers bid her farewell and leave.
They head to the pool at the northern end of town, where Fletcher sets down Zuleika’s body. He says he can try to bring her back to life with the magic he gained from the Amber Temple, but – after trying this on Rolen and failing – he wants to know if the werewolf even wants to come back first. He asks if van Richten can speak to her to make sure.
Van Richten casts speak with dead on Zuleika’s corpse, and a breath draws into her slack mouth. Van Richten asks if she wishes to return to life. Zuleika says that she does still have unfinished business. Van Richten then relays Fletcher’s next question of if they bring her back, will she help in the fight against Strahd. Zuleika responds, saying she could still be of use in the fight.
Those are the only questions Fletcher has. Van Richten opens it for others. Malis asks – knowing that the souls of the deceased are forever trapped within the domain of Barovia – if Zuleika can see the spirit of her husband, Emil, among the dead. Zuleika says she does not know. Malis asks if there is a soul by the name of Gilly (her friend, Gilrean) among the dead. Zuleika says she does not know, she is not aware of the souls of others. Finally, van Richten asks if Zuleika can sense the presence of Mother Night. Zuleika falters here…and finally answers that she cannot feel anything at all.
With that, the spell fades. Fletcher says he is willing to bring Zuleika back, but is unsure if the magic will work, or how long his ability to use the magic will last. He asks the others if he should try to use it on her, or save it for someone more important. Krossa and Malis ask if maybe they could bring back their ally, Khurz the half-orc cleric. Fletcher thinks it could work, and so they decide to head back to the winery, where they buried their friend.
Kasimir is less than thrilled with this idea. He is tired, and merely wants to return home. The others want this too, so that they can claim the prize they earned for helping the dusk elf. However, it is extremely important to the party that they try to revive Khurz, so Kasimir agrees to accompany them to the winery. Van Richten and Malis obtain a horse-drawn cart for the journey so that Kasimir can rest. They put Zuleika’s corpse in the cart as well.
The adventurers journey south and come to the road leading to the winery. Here is where Krossa and Raif had once found Urwin Martikov’s cart destroyed, and the bodies of both Davian Martikov and Ismark Kolyanovich. They head west until they reach the winery. Stephania – Davian’s daughter – brings them inside and fetches Adrian, Davian’s eldest son. Adrian greets them, and thanks them again for what they’ve done for the winery. Since they returned one of their magic gems, he feels confident that production could soon start again for the Purple Grapemash wine.
Cairie asks where the other two gems are, and Adrian says that one disappeared decades ago, and was the cause of the fallout between his father and his brother, Urwin. The second was stolen more recently, and they found hints of straw nearby, which leads the group to believe that Baba Lysaga’s scarecrows took it. The group then explains to Adrian that they wish to see the grave of their ally. Adrian leads them out to the gravesite in the field north of the winery, and they find all three graves undisturbed.
Adrian fetches them some shovels, and the party starts to dig. After some time, they find Khurz’s body, still wearing its armor, still possessing the burns and rotted flesh from where it was hit by Strahd’s spells. Fletcher hauls the body out of the grave and then casts raise dead. After a moment, Khurz gasps for air and lurches back to life. As Khurz composes himself and casts cure wounds on himself, he finds his allies all around him, and is happy to be alive again.
Seth now returns to playing his previous character, Khurz Whitescar, the half-orc cleric, as well as playing John Fletcher.
Everyone then goes to the cart, and Fletcher casts raise dead on Zuleika as well. The yellow glow from Fletcher’s empty, starry voids for eyes fades. Zuleika’s slashed throat seals shut, and life surges back into her body. She thrashes for a moment, as if trying to throw off her werewolf attackers, but van Richten holds her and calms her. Nearby, Adrian is shocked, and offers up his family’s home so that the adventurers can wash up and rest a bit. Zuleika opts to strip naked by the well outside and wash herself there.
After everyone has had a chance to clean, they all sit at the Martikov’s dining table inside the winery, and catch Khurz up on everything that’s happened since he died on Yester Hill. They then discuss their next plan of action. They need to return to Kasimir’s house outside of Vallaki to retrieve the holy symbol he possesses there, then they must journey to the drowned village of Berez to find the sword of sunlight, though they fear what else lies there.
Now up to date, and with renewed purpose, the group decides to leave. Krossa mentions to Adrian that they haven’t seen many ravens around lately, and Adrian agrees. They have not heard much from Urwin since he left, though the group says the man accompanied them to Krezk and then left to return to Vallaki. Adrian is sure that his brother is keeping busy with his family there.
As they reach the front porch, Khurz asks Fletcher and Adrian if it would be possible to also revive Ismark and Adrian’s father, Davian. Fletcher is not opposed to the idea, and asks Adrian if his father would even want to return to life. Adrian surmises that there is a good chance, yes. Fletcher asks Adrian how he could be repaid for such a deed, and Adrian says he could pay Fletcher in gold, or silver.
The mention of silver catches Fletcher’s ear, and he asks for all the silver they have. Adrian agrees to such a price to bring back his father and the patriarch of the Martikov family, and he goes inside to fetch the payment. After some time, Adrian returns with a large satchel bulging with coins, saying that there should be over 300 silver pieces inside. Fletcher takes it, with Ezmerelda stating that that’s plenty for silvering multiple blades.
The group heads back to the graves in the field, while Zuleika stays with the cart, and they exhume both Davian and Ismark. Fletcher attempts to cast raise dead on Davian first, but nothing happens. In fact, Fletcher can feel that there is no ability within him to perform such a feat anymore.
He admits that he doesn’t think he can do that anymore. Fletcher glances at Kasimir and remembers that he has another way to bring back the dead – the same ability that Kasimir took for himself back in the Amber Temple – the very first thing that Fletcher claimed for himself.
Fletcher touches Davian once again, and this time uses the resurrection magic that allows any to come back no matter how long they’ve been dead. The magic flows from Fletcher and Davian breathes again. Adrian runs to his father and comforts the man as he sits confused next to his own grave. Beneath Fletcher’s oily black fur, his corpse-like appearance also disappears.
Adrian begins leading Davian back to the winery when the group notices the clouds overhead darken and start to swirl and churn in a supernatural way. Krossa recognizes this and everyone agrees it’s time to leave. They head for the cart as pulses of light ignite within the roiling clouds. A booming clap of thunder echoes across the sky and transforms into an enraged voice, screaming, “NO!”
And a giant bolt of lightning streaks down without warning, striking and exploding the cart.
Holy crap, I was not expecting this session to go down this way! Not only were my players geniuses in their strategics and were able to so easily take down Kiril and his werewolf pack, but they then put their heads together and came up with the awesome plan of bringing one of their dead-and-buried allies back to life! Honestly, they did a great job here, and it turned out to be one of the best sessions we’ve had so far.
I offered Seth the option of turning over one of his two characters, so he wouldn’t have to run two PC’s at once, but he agreed to run both. That’s really nice for me, because the NPC’s were stacking up behind the screen. I’m grateful that he’s willing to do this. I trust him, too, because he’s an experienced player, and has also sat in the DM’s seat before.
So now Khurz is back! The party regained their healer! I missed this character, to be honest. He was very funny in his dry humor. This is definitely a spark of light and hope for the party. I mean, the session ended on a pretty positive note…if it weren’t for that lightning bolt at the very end. They can’t have everything now, can they?
So, did Zuleika survive? She was sitting on the cart, after all. What will happen next? Will the adventurers continue with their plan to get Kasimir’s holy symbol, and then head toward the drowned village? How will Khurz get along with Fletcher?
Find out all this, plus what surprises I have in store for my players in the next post, “Attack of the Dead.”
Please note that my posts are sporadic, and not very consistent because not only of scheduling issues, but also because my wife are I are expecting our second baby any day now. So my focus is more on the home and the family at this time, rather than the D&D game. I try to make time for it, but that’s not always possible. I truly thank you for continuing to follow along on our story, and I absolutely still love to share these campaign diaries. I hope you enjoy reading them.
Until next time, Well Met!