The Amber Temple, Part I

In which our heroes seek the means to raise Berrian’s sister from the dead.

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Karth, Tasklar (and Anton)
Source: “Tsolenka Pass” and “The Amber Temple” (Curse of Strahd)

Prologue
After Eligos discovered the location of the Amber Temple, the heroes set about putting their affairs in order before setting off on the lengthy journey to the distant Balinok mountains. The kindly sage even procured some cold weather gear for them before they left the city.

Tasklar returned to Aunty Wormtooth to see if she could restore the eye he’d lost (again) in the fight against the mind flayer. “Third time’s the charm!” she cheerily remarked as she produced a magical eye from among the many oddities cluttering her cottage. Not only did this eye restore the bard’s vision, but it also allowed him to see as well in the dark as his elf and half-orc companions could!

Aunty Wormtooth asked for nothing in return, and as Tasklar set off to rejoin his companions, he began to feel like the fatted calf of legend.

Tsolenka Pass
After a journey of many months, the companions arrived in a mountain valley. In a small village they acquired the services of a local hunter and wilderness guide named Anton Barthos. He knew of the Amber Temple, though he’d never been there himself. It was said to be haunted. He agreed to take them up into the mountains.

After some time trudging through the whirling snow and icy mountain winds, the group came to a narrow point on the mountainside where the trail was guarded by a formidable gate fashioned from black stone. The top was line with spikes and two statues of vulture-like demons. The heroes recalled the last time they’d encountered such a statue:  in the mind flayer’s museum of cursed magical curios. It had come to life and attacked them!

A portcullis stood closed in the middle of the gate, and through it they could see a flickering curtain of green flames! Beyond the gate walls, they could make out a squat tower of white stone, its battlements ringed with tall golden statues of fierce-looking warrior women.

Although the portcullis rose of its own accord as the group drew near, they did not like the look of the flames. Tasklar chose to walk up the side of the wall using Gil’s slippers of spider climbing, while Karth leapt up using Gil’s ring of jumping. Tasklar lowered a rope so that Berrian and Anton could climb up.

Tossing the rope over the far side, Karth proceeded to climb down. However, as soon as he’d thrown himself over the wall, a horrid grinding sound heralded the animation of the vrock statues atop the gate. A fierce fight ensued, in which the vulture demons repeatedly attempted – and failed – to grab any of the heroes and throw them off the cliff. The heroes, meanwhile, clustered together for protection and took swipes at the demons with their weapons whenever they drew close enough. Anton, meanwhile, impressed the heroes with his ability to vanish into the swirling snow, only to reappear somewhere else to let loose his bow at the frustrated demons.

It wasn’t long before both demons were dead. The heroes turned to look at their surroundings on the other side of the gate. They were somewhat surprised to find a dead body lying in the snow. Upon closer inspection, the body bore an uncanny resemblance to Berrian, but without any of his belongings. Much to their revulsion, when Karth prodded the body, the flesh fell away and dissolved, leaving nothing but the skeleton and its ragged clothes.

Leaving the body, the group went to inspect the tower. The entrance was barred, so Karth went leaping up to the roof, followed swiftly by the wall-walking Tasklar. As soon as the half-orc set foot in the snow on the roof, a voice on the wind warned him to begone. The snow swirled together, forming the shapes of six thin women who immediately proceeded to attack Karth with icy fingers.

The half-orc leapt away, leaving Tasklar to deal with the snow maidens himself. He tossed a few fireballs at them and they soon dissipated. Karth returned with another mighty leap to inspect the rooftop. There was a trapdoor leading down in the center. And several ancient skeletons dressed in guard uniforms lying half-buried in the snow. Under one particularly deep snowdrift, the half-orc found what appeared to be a thighbone that had been fashioned into a mace. Holding it in his hands, he could feel its power surging into him.

Yanking open the trapdoor, Karth descended into the tower, followed quickly by Tasklar. They hurried down to the front door and removed the bar so that Berrian and Anton could join them. There was little of interest in the tower, aside from the head of a dire wolf mounted above one the chimney on the upper floor.

The group took a short rest, and Karth took the time to examine the thighbone. Attuning himself to its magic, he discovered that it functioned as a mace of disruption, a weapon designed to be used against undead creatures.

The heroes then decided to push on. Around the side of the mountain they came to an old bridge. As Berrian moved forward to inspect the bridge more closely, Karth turned just in time to see a massive goat with bloodstained horns come charging down the mountainside. Much to his chagrin, he was unable to avoid it, and it bucked him off the side of the mountain. He went tumbling head over heels for quite a while before coming to rest on a ledge, deep in a sea of fog.

The burly half-orc picked himself up and then used the ring of jumping to get himself back up the mountain. When he returned to the path, he discovered that the others had already slain the beast. Anton explained that it was a legendary beast known as “Bloodhorn”. Karth decided to skin it. While he was doing so, Anton suggested that they return to the tower and rest there for the night, as the day was drawing to a close.

During the night, while Karth was on watch, he was sure he could hear, at one point, what sounded flapping wings above the ever-present wind … quite massive wings, in fact. He chose not to go and look, and in the morning, there was no evidence that anything had been outside the tower in the night.

The Amber Temple
After a light breakfast, the heroes took to the bridge. Though it was cracked in places, it seemed sturdy enough, and nothing untoward happened as they crossed it. From there, it was another few miles along a twisting track that took them higher up into the mountains before at least they reached a plateau beside a cliff. In the cliff’s face someone had carved a massive facade, complete with alcoves housing huge statues of faceless priests made entirely of amber. In the center of this structure yawned a dark passageway descending into the mountain. At long last, they had arrived!

Slipping down the icy steps in the entrance, the heroes allowed their eyes to adjust to the dark. They caught sight of arrow slits on either side of the hall. On the other side of these slits were empty guard rooms, though the one on the right did house a robed skeleton in one corner. No entrances into these rooms could be discerned, however.

Moving on, the heroes found themselves on a wide balcony overlooking a vaulted temple. Two sets of stairs at either end of the balcony led down into the darkness. The walls of this temple were glazed in amber. To the left, a set of amber double doors stood closed, a warm but wavering glow emanating through them from the far side. To the right, another set of doors stood open, darkness beckoning from beyond.

The companions chose to move to the right first, helping each other move soundlessly across the dusty floor. Peering through the open doors, they found a side room with a strange hole dug through the floor. The room below glowed faintly with a pale green light. A square alcove to the south housed a single door.

Sneaking over to the door, the heroes opened it to find another square room filled with broken bits of timber. Karth surmised that they had once been bunks and that this had most likely been a guard room of some kind. Closely inspecting the walls, the heroes soon found a secret door leading into the guard room with the robed skeleton. Clutched in its bony hand was a wand. It turned out to be a wand of secrets. They tossed it in the bag of holding along with the other one, sure it might come in handy at some point in this temple of secrets.

Back in the side room, the others watched with some dismay as Karth decided to toss an everburning torch down the hole. This disturbed some creatures that were waiting down there, and up rose three human skulls, wreathed in green flames! A furious battle followed, in which mighty magics were thrown about, and Karth leapt up and wrestled one of the skulls to the ground so Berrian could smash it with his sword.

The heroes nearly lost Anton before all three skulls were smashed. Their guide was most humbled and impressed with Berrian’s magical healing abilities. He had never seen such power before in his life.

Unfortunately, as the companions watched, the skulls slowly began to reform. This triggered some memories: these were flameskulls! Undead guardians that could only be permanently destroyed by having the magic that held them together dispelled. Tasklar cast dispel magic on one of the crushed skulls and it stopped rejuvenating.

Tasklar then decided to descend the hole to see what was down below. He found a small room with a red marble floor and three alcoves in the east, south, and west walls. A single amber door stood to the north. In each alcove stood a large block of amber. In the flickering light of the torch, it almost seemed as if a thin wisp of smoky darkness writhed inside each block.

At that point, a strange voice in the bard’s head urged him to reach out and touch the blocks. He found himself unable to disobey. He was offered several “dark gifts”. He accepted two of them before climbing the rope back to the floor above. His companions were horrified to find that Tasklar had undergone a hideous transformation while in the chamber below: his one normal eye now glowed a sickly yellow, and one side of his face drooped horribly, as if he had suffered a stroke.

Getting over their shock, the group opted to go back out onto the balcony … but without warning, a bolt of lightning shot out of the darkness shrouding the temple’s vast interior. To everyone’s surprise, it flashed from one to another until all four of them burned with great pain!

Anton was down again. Karth grabbed him and they ran back through the open doors and took shelter in the ruined guard room, barricading the door as best they could with the broken bits of timber. After receiving more healing, Anton awoke and proceeded to cycle through fits of laughter, screaming, and weeping for several minutes before his mind became his own again.

Berrian began to wonder what kind of place this was. Would he really find the power to restore Bhára to life here? And if he did, what would it cost him?