Our heroes were left on the mountain above a cemetery resting before they head down toward the blighted graveyard, do they have enough left to survive?!
The heroes took a short rest atop the hill where we left them then descend to the cemetery below; immediately after they enter hallowed ground, the shrubbery around the dead tree animates and the stick figures they once before encountered emerge. The group rushes the down the slope of the hill and they are quickly engaged by the animated twigs. Bent lights the initial cluster of evil shrubbery ablaze and leaves them incinerated. The remaining animated branches rush the heroes attempting to grapple them to the ground. Bent avoids engagement, Andromeda turns into a snake to attempt to wither away, but is pinned and morphs back nearly the moment she tried to turn; Melrik turns lashes through the twig in front of him. Lythander is able to break free and point blank shoots an arrow through the head of the nearest creature, then turns and fires into the other creature pinning Andromeda. Shamesh fighting bravely against the largest of the evil twigs lands blow after blow into the big creature and then Melrick comes over and lays into it again; finally the paladin lays low the creature with his last swing. Hugo is able to clean the last of the twigs from around himself and Bent.
As the dust settles from the scrum, they realize that the animated twigs are coming from the main dead tree, the party thinks that they should burn the tree down, and Lythander points out that the sap leaking from the tree is blood and they should uproot it in addition to burning it. They entertain the idea of having Andromeda morph again into a large mule or horse to pull it out of the ground, but Bent conjures a cantrip to start magically digging the roots up while the rest of the party are still debating the possibility. He molds the earth to his will and at the end when the tree is finally completely dug out Andromeda lights the uprooted tree on fire with a small flame from her hand; with the tree ablaze the felt assured this tree would not longer be a problem for future travelers. As the tree was uprooted the shining hilt of a sword was revealed. They pull it out of the ground slowly and surely not knowing what to expect. After having unearth it safely they gather the rest of the items they have found thus far, laying them on the ground in middle of the loose circle the heroes now stand in. They see the cloak, the hat, the hilt of sword, and the axe they had pulled from the base of the tree before uprooting it. Bent waves a hand and some arcane words over the items and they all start to glow, it appears they are all imbued with some kind of magic.
As they are dividing the items amongst themselves for safe keeping they hear a scream from a woman running up the mountain and they run to chase after what they heard. Andromada stays behind wondering why they are taking off so quickly… and behind her, suddenly, unexpectedly, she is aggressively grabbed! Feeling the squeeze around her arms, abdomen, and throat! Her eyes grew wide with terror as the realization of what is happening washes over her. She knows before she even sees the abomination; it’s Strahd! He laughs as sees the panic on her face; she squirms to look behind all she can see is her friends too far away to try to save her and below there are skeletal hands reaching up clawing at her pulling her down towards the hole in the earth underneath her. He lowers her into the hole as she flails wildly in panic, unable muster any noise because Strahd had her by the throat. The ground closes in around her and she begins to suffocate; drawing a final bated breath in absolute terror.
Andromeda is back to reality and all her friends are right next to her, there was no screaming woman nor had her friends left her. She has imagined the whole thing… and then she hears a chuckle off in the distance, as does Melrick, Bent, and Lythander; it appears Strahd was in fact nearby but nobody else is aware of the vision she just had, frightened she sits on the ground, and waits for the group to gather themselves and head out.
They head back to winery to tell the warepeople what occurred and return what they have found. Their friends were happy to hear that the heroes found the magic acorn and the source of the evil tree creatures that were attacking their vineyards. They decide to throw the heroes a celebratory feast to commemorate the great victory. While they are feasting Bent takes time to really examine the items they have found. After deliberation he is unable to discern the true source of the arcana within these items; however the sword he can see that there is clearly another piece of it somewhere, but more importantly he realized that the sword can destroy Strahd. He can sense that the sword itself is afraid of Strahd, and more importantly that the Strahd is afraid of it; he realizes that this sword should be wielded by his paladin friend. Meanwhile Melrick spends time inspecting his new axe, and the hilt of the axe is made of vines and leaves, and it appears that it was created to kill plant and tree life. The party, after further discussion realizes that the the skeleton they found at the bottom of the tree was likely somebody that was trying to chop down the tree to get to the sword hilt below. In fact they believe the tree, an unholy entity itself, was probably put on top of the sword to hide it by Strahd.
They are given provisions by their friends at the vineyard to complete the shipment and journey to Irwin at the Inn. Before leaving they express gratitude for the generosity and they have now made allies of the druids. Off they go and on their way they decide to travel near to the tower where they last saw Esmerelda hoping for some inclination of what became of her. They find two dead naked men with claw marks all over. They deduce that the large wolves they keep seeing must be warewolves. They find nothing further, and thus head the rest of the way back toward Valaki. After an uneventful trip back the rest of the way, they return the wine as promised. Irwin looks approvingly upon them and sends his daughter to gather something for his adventuring friends. She returns with something wrapped in cloth, it’s a big old book, dusty, and imbued with an essence they don’t quite understand. Bent takes the book, blows the dust from the book and begins to read from it aloud.
The book is hand bound, old, leather, and brittle. It takes little time to realize that the book itself must have been written by Strahd, in a shorthand that is known to be unique to him (according to Irwin). After reading a few passages from the book, it reads as if it is an autobiography from Strahd telling his story; might this be a diary? The heroes agree that this is indeed his journal. The story tells that he had an unrequited love, a woman named Tatyana, who instead loved his younger brother, Sergei. On the day they were to marry, Strahd made a pact with Death to prevent the loss of his love to another man; completing the pact by killing his own brother and preventing the marriage. Tatyan despaired, now hated Strahd; he chased her to try and explain that he made the pact because of his love for her, but she would not listen. She ran to the top of the castle and flung herself over the walls, to her death. Strahd tried in vane to find her body but never did. He fears she still haunts him, and now his is locked in debt to Death forever. In the journal he admits that the only way to kill him is the blade of the sun that his brother once wielded and the he intends to destroy it; furthermore he explained that a stake through his own heart will not kill him but will only pin him in place until he can remove it. The passages also reveals that he now eternally sleeps under Castle Ravenloft, and the walls of the stairwell that lead to there are sealed. This revelation now has the group pondering the the whole of what they have learned; in a way, this almost humanized the monster.
They know they are still not yet ready to deal with Strahd, they still have more to do as they need to all the help they can find if they are to destroy this undead lord. Off they head to the ruins of Berez, the location of the last seed, to help their druid friends gather the remains of what they have lost from the vineyard. On the way they find the very same lantern that was not lit before, however now it is burning without any plausible explanation; more importantly it appears to be burning without any source of fuel. Sensing no evil they decided it could be useful, and Melrick insisted they were going to use it; proudly carrying it on their journey the dwarf lead the way.
They arrive in Berez and notice that the town is essentially in ruins and rubble left in the aftermath of an attack from Strahd (as they were told previously). The town buildings are crumbling and all of them appear to have previously been the homes of a bustling little township. As they approach the rear of the village they see a large tree stump with a light emanating from it. Lythander sneaks up and sees inside the big tree trunk a decrepit old woman rocking a baby cradle with a glow coming from underneath the crib; it appears the large tree was hollowed out into a home. Nearby there’s a pot containing… warm blood? Adjacent to the pot is a large glowing skull, floating, with two cages hanging off of it that are holding imprisoned ravens. The rogue believe these must be some of their wareraven friends! Lythander is able to sneak inside the tree hut undetected and proceeds to pick the locks on the cages releasing the wareravens; they immediately head toward the old woman to attack her! She turns and starts flailing at the birds; seeing the chaos ensue the rest of the party starts to rush the entrance to assist Lythander. The old hag rushes to the glowing skull fighting off the ravens swirling around her and jumps into the skull that was now upside down. The hag, protected securing herself in the overturned skull was able to fend off the annoying wareravens in time to unleash what was intended to be a fireball into the approaching heroes, but not before Bent was quick to counterspell saving his friends lives. The hag was not able to avoid Lythander’s arrow, she never saw him in the waylay of birds and the arrow struck at her back delivering a devastating wound to the unholy creature. While all this was happening in the hut, the scarecrows around the property began to animate and attack getting to Shamesh first, working their their way toward the whole group. Their claws, magically imbued, cause Melrick to flee in fear down the nearest ally taking more claw swings as he ran. Shamash, fighting at the front, steps forward and breathes flame into the nearby foes including into the hag.
Andromeda seeing the hag hiding in the skull decides to drop an explosion of lightning directly toward her and destroyed two scarecrows that fell in the path of the surge, while also burning up another and finally ending at the skull and the hag herself laying an explosion of electricity on everything it touched. Unfortunately, her companion Hugo was also caught in the path of lightning; and she immediately recognized she had to help him, growling some noises to heal her friend. Hugo grits through the pain, and unleashes a wave of thunder toward the nearest scarecrows. Bent unleashes another fire bolt at another scarecrow, then Lythander drops another arrow into a nearby scarecrow. Again the hag was thwarted by Bent who dispelled the next incantation she attempted. Melrick comes to his senses, finally stopping himself from fleeing and returns to the fight; with a dash he engages the nearest scarecrow to try to help Andromeda. Now free the druid girl can unleash another explosion of lightening into more scarecrows ending at the hag, one more scarecrow is destroyed and the skull is further charred and again Hugo is electrified badly hurt by the Andrameda; she grunts and growls some additional healing incantations toward her cleric friend to keep Hugo in the scrum. Still on his feet thanks despite being electrified twice, Hugo finally successfully creates a thunderous wave of wind to destroy a nearby scarecrow and move out of the path of lightning coming from Andromeda. The hag seeing the situation getting dire turn herself into a swarm of flies, and then the hut they found her in all of a sudden shakes the ground and animates into a massive abomination that rumbles the ground all around it as it walks toward the heroes. In awe everyone stops to turn and look…
This may well be the end, the monstrosity is too much for the heroes at full strength, and certainly too much when they are on their last efforts, next week will we read their doom?