Night is beginning to fall as the adventurers approach the Wizard of Wines vineyard, on the way to Yester Hill. Their horses are tired and, hoping that they may be able to find a safe place to spend the night for a change, Devlin walks up to the door of the main house and gives it a knock. Adrian, one of Davian Martikov’s sons answers.
“Oh, hello!” he smiles. “Davian was expecting you back a while ago. Have you found any of the other gems yet?”
The three gems that enable the winery to produce its wines had all been stolen. The group managed to retrieve one of them from the evil druids and return it, but the other two are still missing.
Devlin puts on his apologetic face.
“Not yet, I’m afraid, although we do know where another is. It’s just a matter of being able to retrieve it.”
Adrian nods understandingly but lowers his voice.
“Erm, it might not be a good idea for you to see father if you don’t have any more gems,” he says, a little embarrassed. “However, you’re welcome to spend the night in the barn, and I’ll try to get some food out to you.”
“We completely get that,” replies Devlin, remembering what a grumpy so-and-so Davian Martikov is, “and we thank you for the offer. We’re very grateful.”
The barn is large, easily accommodating the horses and Lightning, while the hay loft provides a comfy area for the adventurers to bed down. It’s also dry, which is fortunate as they can hear thunder rolling across the skies in the distance, and the first few raindrops beginning to fall on the roof. As they get settled, the door opens and Lohrakna, their half-orc friend and Obryn’s future business partner, comes in with a tray of cold meats, bread and cheese.
“It’s good to see you again,” she says. “Here, it’s not much, but hopefully it will be enough for you. I would suggest you leave as early as you can in the morning, though, so that you can avoid Davian.”
“Fair enough,” the adventurers reply in unison, before tucking into the food. “And thank you!”
Lohrakna gives them a curious look.
“If I may ask, where are you heading?”
“To Yester Hill, to destroy the Gulthias tree,” replies Obryn, with a mouthful of ham. She nods in approval and continues.
“That might get you on Davian’s good side,” she replies. “News is that the druids have regrouped, and Strahd has definitely visited the hill again since we were there. If the tree were to be destroyed, the threat of another attack on the winery would be greatly reduced.”
Obryn swallows his food.
“And how are the grain fields?”
“They’re growing, but very slowly,” she replies. “I think it may take all three gems for them to grow faster, so it might still be a while before we can produce ale. Now, I will let you rest. You must be tired.”
The following morning, after a superb night’s sleep, the friends arrive at Yester Hill not long after dawn. The remains of the wooden figure they’d destroyed before is still there, but as they approach a number of druids start to gather at the top of the hill. Obryn is having none of it.
“Alright, you hippies,” he booms at them with an intimidating cadence in his voice. “Attack us and you’ll regret it. We’ll kill every last one of you!”
The druids look at each other with fearful expressions, pause for a second, then all sprint away in the opposite direction. One druid, who had been in the process of clawing his way out of his burial mound, quietly re-buries himself.
“That’s more like it,” says Obryn, his chest puffed out in pride.
As the rest of the group head towards the sickly-looking grove of trees behind the hill, Thia and Devlin stand near the top and look across towards the mountains. For an instant, the mists part and they see a large building in the distance, a church perhaps, or a temple. A distant bell rings. Then it’s gone, enveloped by the ever-present mists once again.
Standing in the centre of the grove of dead trees and shrubs is the Gulthias tree, a blackened and twisted growth oozing blood-red sap from its trunk, and the source of the druid’s power. The skeleton of a humanoid is slumped at its base and above it, buried in the bark, is an axe. Siri shivers at the sight of it. The last time they were here, she sensed great evil coming from the tree and, although that hasn’t changed, it seems that the evil wasn’t just coming from the Gulthias tree itself. Without warning, the adventurers are suddenly faced with blights of all kinds; twig blights, vine blights and needle blights that begin to skulk towards them across the clearing.
Devlin shoots a Firebolt at the tree, while Obryn flies into a rage, draws his battleaxe and charges towards it, closely followed by Siri. Thia and Haldar stay further back, taking out some of the blights with spells and weapons. Drusilla stays close to Devlin, and mirrors his attacks using fire as that would appear to be the best way to get rid of a tree. However, when Obryn reaches the tree and gets a hit on it, he realises that something is wrong because he can’t move anymore. Siri reaches the tree too, but then turns and flees in absolute fear.
As the blights gradually get taken out, reducing the Gulthias tree’s defences, it tries a different tactic. Reaching its roots out to the nearest dead tree, it animates it and brings it to life, and suddenly there’s a huge, walking ‘Wintersplinter’ thudding towards the group, sweeping its heavy branches around it.
“What the bloody hell is that?” yells Haldar, sprinting towards Obryn and the tree before stopping and fleeing in fear.
“It’s huge!” calls back Siri, now feeling a lot braver again as she races towards the creature and lands some blows on it. It retaliates, and she falls unconscious at its feet. More spells fly from Devlin and Drusilla which weaken it, and Thia casts a healing spell, managing to bring Siri round. The paladin stands up, aims her sword at Wintersplinter and hits it with her divine smite, sending it toppling to the ground in a shower of broken branches and shattered wood.
Meanwhile, Obryn has shaken off his paralysis and is still wailing on the tree itself, getting in some pretty decent hits with his battleaxe, but when Siri runs over to him, he suddenly turns on her and knocks her unconscious again. Everyone else turns their attention to the evil, oozing growth – Devlin fireballs it, Drusilla tries to do the same but misses, Haldar and Thia run over to help rouse the paladin while managing to resist the maddening effects of being so close to this evil tree. But Obryn has had enough. In a proper rage, he channels all his strength into a final swing of his battleaxe aimed at the gnarled trunk. There’s a cracking sound, then a drawn-out creak, and the tree smashes to the ground, showering them all with foul sap and splinters of blackened bark.
Haldar walks over to the stump and frowns at it.
“It’s not over yet,” he says, pulling out a shovel. “We need to dig this up if we truly want to kill it,”.
Still a bit weak, Siri hobbles over to help. Obryn joins them, and soon the roots are exposed and removed, Siri blasting them with a firebolt just to be sure it’s completely dead. But where the roots were, they now see a few things poking out of the soil, things which have been placed there by Strahd and his minions so that they might become corrupted by the evil of the Gulthias tree. Haldar jumps into the hole and finds a few bits of silver jewellery which he tosses up to Siri, and then he uncovers what looks like a bone…or maybe a horn? Before long, they’ve unearthed an entire dragon skull, the skull of the silver dragon, Argynvost, himself.
Getting the skull back to Argynvostholt isn’t such an easy task. It’s massive, so they construct a kind of sled from the slimy remains of the Gulthias tree and attach it with rope to Lightning, the undead elk. Devlin levitates the skull and lowers it carefully onto the sled, and they’re ready to go. It takes a while for Lightning to acclimatise to the weight he’s pulling and the makeshift platform nearly tilts a few times, but he’s a strong lad and he soon gets the hang on it. By the time evening falls, they can see the vineyards of the Wizard of the Wines on their left so, not wanting to bother the Martikovs, they camp down in a clearing in the middle of a small wood, not far from the main house.
During Obryn’s watch, he feels a tap on his shoulder and spins around to see Lohrakna standing there.
“You know, if you’re trying to hide, you probably shouldn’t have a campfire.” She points up at the column of smoke spiralling into the air. “It kind of gives you away.” She chuckles at Obryn’s embarrassed expression. “You know, you could have stayed at the house, Davian will be pleased if you’ve destroyed the tree and stopped the druids.”
“We have indeed,” replies the dwarf, jerking his head towards the sled. “And we also found a dragon skull which we need to take to Argynvostholt.”
Lohrakna’s eyes widen in awe.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” she says. “Why don’t you stop by the house in the morning and I’ll lend you a cart so that you can transport it more easily. You can talk to Davian while you’re there too.”
Obryn nods and thanks her, and she bids him goodnight.
The next morning, the adventurers pack everything up and make their way to the main house with their dragon skull and undead elk. They get quite a few odd looks, but when they meet Davian Martikov, he’s very pleased to hear what they’ve done. Well, he’s less grumpy than he usually is, at least. They also tell him that they know the location of the second gem and that they think they have enough information to be able to recover it soon. He’s satisfied with that and offers them some breakfast, which they gratefully accept.
Lohrakna keeps good to her word, and the adventurers are soon heading down the road towards Argynvostholt, with the dragon skull on the back of a cart pulled by Devlin’s horse and Lightning. They decide that there’s no way they’ll be able to get the skull through the mansion, so instead they head around the back to the graveyard, where Devlin crowbars down one of the old iron fences surrounding it. As Haldar and Thia open the stone door of the mausoleum, the others carry the giant skull as fast as they can, but they’re interrupted by the sound of the heavy chapel door banging open. Turning their heads in fear, they see two revenants standing on the steps.
“Defilers!” they shout, and as they begin to charge towards the group, the adventurers hurriedly try to get the skull inside so that they can place it on the marble plinth.
Devlin stands in the doorway and contemplates throwing a fireball but, given that the revenants are only five feet from him by now, he reconsiders.
“Hurry!” he shouts, in a bit of a panic. “They’re nearly on us!”
Summoning all their strength, the rest of the group give Argynvost’s skull a final heave and lift it onto its plinth, and its final resting place.
A sudden calm seems to blanket the graveyard, and the two revenants halt their attack and exchange confused expressions. In the mausoleum, the group gasp in awe as a ghostly silver dragon head with deep blue eyes and an elegant crest forms around the skull, and it seems to lift slightly as a long neck appears behind it, followed by a muscular body that disappears through the back of the small building.
Moving with a graceful elegance that belies his gigantic form, the spirit of Argynvost leaves the mausoleum, followed at speed by the adventurers who stand with the two revenants, their differences now forgotten, to watch this noble dragon take to the skies. Flapping his wings weakly at first, Argynvost soon finds his strength as he circles the mansion a few times, swooping above the heads of all who gaze up at him, moved by the beauty of this incredible sight. Then he heads towards the mountains before turning and flying back at speed, climbing higher so that he can land on the top of the octagonal tower, where the beacon of old once burned. There, he curls his silver form around the tower and transforms into a dazzling light that streams through the prismatic glass and out across the land of Barovia, as far as the eye can see.
The two revenants sheathe their weapons and turn to the adventurers, their eyes no longer filled with hate.
“Come with us.”
They’re taken to the bedroom on the ground floor, where they spent their first night in the mansion, and told to wait. After an hour or so, the revenants return and lead them upstairs to the throne room, which is now filled with around forty knights seated on either side of the room. Vladimir Horngaard and Sir Godfrey Gwilym stand in front of the throne and greet them as they enter.
“You have restored the beacon of hope, laid our friend to rest, restored my love to me and freed us from our curse,” Vladimir says. “Step forward, so that we may know who you are.”
The adventurers introduce themselves.
“I’m Thia Golonodel”
“Siri Kahana, sir, it’s good to meet you again.”
Vladimir nods respectfully to each of them.
“I sense you have questions. You may ask anything of us, and we will answer if we can.”
Haldar steps forward, with a slight bow, and addresses Vladimir.
“We need to retrieve a gem from a walking hut in Berez, but it’s very strong and we’ve heard there’s a witch there.”
“Yes,” Vladimir answers. “Baba Lysaga is a powerful evil, but if you destroy her then her hut will not be a challenge to you.”
“Thank you,” replies Haldar, digging into his pack and pulling out the Abbot’s locked book. “We also found this. Are you be able to open it for us, please?”
Vladimir takes the tome and studies it thoughtfully.
“This belongs to the fallen angel who has started to seek out the Amber Temple.” The knight closes his hand around the lock and with a flick of his wrist, snaps it off before offering it back to Haldar.
“You would be wise not to read the words contained within.”
The ranger bows his head in gratitude and asks one more question.
“You’ve been so much help to us already, but please, do you know anything that would assist us in defeating Strahd?”
Vladimir closes his eyes briefly and shakes his head.
“We were mortal when we battled Strahd,” he replies softly. “As was he. He was arrogant and passionate, but he was powerful, even then.”
The knight then turns towards Siri.
“Step forward, young paladin.”
Siri, who had been half-hiding behind Devlin given that the last time she had met Vladimir he had been about to kill her, takes a deep breath and does as he asks. The knight turns to Sir Godfrey, who hands him a cushion covered with a black silk cloth. He removes it to reveal the beautiful platinum hilt of a sword, its guard flared out like dragon wings, and with a blue gem at its centre surrounded by the sun symbol of the Morninglord. Siri looks up at Vladimir and he nods, so she reaches out and takes it from the cushion. In her hand, it flares into a bright sword of sunlight and she feels a sentience within it.
“Will you help me to defeat Strahd?” she whispers.
Inside her head, a voice replies.
“It would be my pleasure.”
As she sheathes the sword again, thanking Vladimir profusely, he speaks again.
“Have you sworn to an order?”
Siri, a little bit overwhelmed by the situation, doesn’t
quite understand the question and gives a daft reply.
“I live by the oath of devotion, sir.”
The knight draws his greatsword.
The paladin does so, and he touches his sword to her shoulder.
“Do you swear not to lie or cheat, and to let your word be your promise?”
Siri’s breath quickens as she finally realises what is happening; Vladimir is allowing her to take her oath, something she has not been able to do since arriving in Barovia.
“Do you swear never to fear to act, but to use caution when it is wise to do so?”
“Do you swear to aid others, protect the weak, and punish those who threaten them, and do you swear to show mercy, tempered with wisdom, to your foes?”
“Do you swear to treat others with fairness, let your honourable deeds be an example to them, and to do as much good as possible while causing the least amount of harm?”
“And do you swear to be responsible for your actions and their consequences, protecting those entrusted to your care, and obeying those who have just authority over you?”
Vladimir touches his sword to her other shoulder and bids her to stand.
“You are now a Knight of the Order of the Silver Dragon,” he says, kindly. “The last of our Order. Go out into this land and act with honour and goodness, in the name of our friend.”
Siri is overcome with emotion but manages to whisper a thank you.
Vladimir turns to Sir Godfrey, takes his hand and smiles as they sit together. A soft breeze blows through the room, ruffling the adventurers’ hair and whistling softly, and then all the knights stop moving. They are at peace now, and their spirits have departed, leaving the friends alone in the great hall.