Episode 12: The Amber Temple

Snow falls lightly on the pathway leading through the mountains and the adventurers shiver, wrapping themselves up against the cold and brushing the frost from their hair and beards. Deciding that there’s no point in going back after they’ve travelled this far, they make their way down to the crumbling stone bridge. The black nightmare horse stamps its fiery hooves as they approach, and Count Strahd looks down at them with a smile of superiority and contempt.

“So, you seek the Amber Temple?”

The friends nod, and he chuckles softly.

“Great power can be found here, although you might want to watch that one.” He points at Siri, who straightens herself, defiantly. “She has already been tempted by evil. Who’s to say she won’t be tempted again?”

“I know evil now,” Siri replies to him. “I will be more wary this time.”

Strahd turns to the rest of the party.

“If you do decide to continue, I hope the Temple treats you a lot better than it did me.”

Before any of them can respond, the vampire and his horse seem to fade and dissolve into thin air, like fog blowing away in the wind. The mountains are silent again.

The friends cross the bridge and walk on, the freezing temperatures biting at them, but Devlin notices that Drusilla doesn’t appear to be feeling the cold as much as the rest of them and asks her why. She tells him that a Vistani friend gave her a ring of warmth quite a while ago, and that it protects her in this kind of weather. He takes the opportunity to ask her again about her interest in the Amber Temple, and she answers him in a voice filled with anger.

“Because I want to see Strahd dead in revenge for what he did to my people,” she seethes. “Because I want to see this land and its people freed from his grasp, and because I desperately need to be able to leave this place. I have been trapped here for so many decades, and there are powers inside the Temple that can help me do that.”

Haldar, who has been eavesdropping nearby, studies her expression and body language and realises that she’s telling the truth, both about wanting Strahd dead and about having itchy feet. As they trudge on, he releases his familiar, Black, and the raven reports back that the path continues for another couple of miles before ending at a large building further ahead.

The building is impressive. At about sixty feet high and constructed from pure amber, it has six huge alcoves in the front wall that each contain a statue of a faceless, hooded figure expertly carved from a single block of amber. In the middle, a twenty-foot-tall archway looms over a set of stairs that descend into a dark hallway. Devlin steps down them and casts a spell to see if he can detect any magic in the area, but all he senses is a trace of divination magic to his right, so the others join him as he walks cautiously into the hallway. Its very dark inside. Siri grips Devlin’s cloak unable to see, but the darkvision of the others shows them a vast room beyond a long balcony at the end of the corridor; a room with four huge black marble columns and an enormous forty-foot statue of a hooded figure with outstretched arms, positioned against the back wall. The hallway in which they’re standing has arrow slits in the walls, so Haldar sends Black to one of the slits on the left and then looks through the raven’s eyes. The room beyond is small and empty with nothing special about it, but through the slits on the right he sees another room containing a skeleton, clad in tattered blue robes and clutching a wand. However, he can’t see an entrance, and when he tries to squash the raven through the slit to fetch the wand, it’s too narrow for him.

Noticing the ranger’s frustration, Devlin casts his skeletal mage hand inside the room, sending it over to the corpse. It takes a bit of tugging to get the wand free as it’s well and truly frozen to the fabric of the robes, but with a crack he manages to do it and he brings the hand back so that it can poke the wand through the arrow slit. Haldar takes it – it’s a Wand of Secrets, and he pops it into his pocket.

Next, he sends Black to check the large room at the end of the hallway. The raven flies out over the balcony towards the enormous statue, and sees many smaller white marble statues along the amber-sheathed walls that depict humanoid wizards with staffs. One at the end of the room has toppled over and shattered. As Black continues to investigate though, three small white bolts fly from an arrow slit at the top of the left-hand wall, hit the bird, and he vanishes with a squawk. As the adventurers step forward onto the balcony, Siri senses undead on both her left and her right, so they try to move stealthily to an open door on the right. It doesn’t work. An orange glow appears at the head of the forty-foot statue and a fireball shoots towards the balcony, exploding within feet of them all as they rely on their instincts to dodge out of the way. They make a dash for the door where Siri, who is still hanging on to Devlin’s cloak, casts an aura of vitality to heal the sorcerer’s injuries a little, but through another open doorway to their left they can see three glowing green skulls hovering menacingly in the hallway.

Weapons in hand, Haldar, Thia and Drusilla race into the room with Obryn backing them up at the doorway but the flameskulls are immediately on the attack. Luckily, however, their aim isn’t too great, and before long the adventurers have managed to take them out with firebolts, a spiritual weapon and a war-axe, plunging the hallway into darkness once more. After catching their breath, Siri lights up the sunsword and they explore the rooms. There isn’t much to see, but Haldar finds a glowing green hole in the floor and decides to take the time to conjure an unseen servant that he can send down to see what it can find. Meanwhile, Devlin opens a door at the other end of the hallway. A large statue of a jackal-headed human, carved from amber but cracked and showing signs of wear, turns to face him, closing its hands into fists. He promptly shuts the door again.

“Erm, I think we might have a problem,” he says, innocently pointing northwards and causing Siri and Obryn to run forward with their weapons held in a defensive manner. Hearing this, Haldar abandons the spell he’s casting and joins them, along with Thia and Drusilla. They all wait, holding their breath, but nothing happens.

“Maybe it doesn’t know how to open doors?” Haldar ponders. “Let’s finish exploring in here, and then we can get rid of it.”

He goes back down the hallway to the small room with the hole in floor, where he pulls out the wand of secrets and waves it around. On the stones of the far wall, a red glow outlines a hidden doorway, but the ranger is hesitant to open it so Devlin strides over and gives it a push. It slides to one side revealing a tiny room with uniform-sized holes in one wall, each just big enough to hold a scroll. Devlin casts Detect Magic. He finds only one that gives off an aura of conjuration magic, so he walks into the room and uses his mage hand to try and retrieve the scroll while Haldar peers around the doorway. But the scroll is too old and fragile, and part of it disintegrates. Frustrated, Devlin stamps on the piece of parchment and goes back to the hallway.

“Okay,” he says. “Let’s go and sort out that amber statue thing.”

Back at the northern door, the rest of the gang ready their weapons so they can launch a surprise attack. Devlin throws open the door with his mage hand, and Siri and Obryn immediately charge straight in to whack at it, while Thia produces a flame to hurl. But the sorcerer is still frustrated, and as the amber statue stomps through the door towards him he throws a massive fireball at it, shattering it into thousands of pieces. He grins in satisfaction, feeling much better.

While Siri is searching for a few nice bits of amber that she can keep, a door opens in the hallway. Devlin and Haldar hear another door open, and they spin around to see a man standing in the doorway of what appears to be a lecture hall. He’s mean-looking, and a lot of his hair appears to have burned away.

“What happened?” he asks with a stutter, staring down at the shards of amber that cover the stone floor.

The sorcerer puffs out his chest.

“We happened. Now, who are you and what are you doing here?”

The man backs up into the sanctuary of his room again, drawing the adventurers inside with him.

“My name is Vilnius. I’m a wizard’s apprentice and I’ve been stuck in here ever since my master told me to wait for him. I need to find him. And if he’s dead, I need his spell book and staff.”

“Why didn’t you just leave?” questions Haldar.

“Did you not see that statue thing out there?” Vilnius replies angrily. “It would have killed me if I’d stepped out of this room! I may be training to be a wizard, but I’m nowhere near as powerful as my master.”

Siri, who’s been using her divine sense to one side, pipes up.

“I sense evil from this one,” she says. “And there’s also a fiend in here, over there, behind that chair.”

Haldar doesn’t appreciate wizard’s tone or the fact that he’s evil, and he shows it by grabbing the man from behind, holding him fast and pulling out his dagger.

“If you don’t tell the fiend to show itself I’ll cut your throat,” he growls, much to Thia’s horror.

“There’s no fiend in here!” stammers Vilnius nervously, but Devlin is already reaching his senses out to detect magic around him. He leans forward and pulls an amulet shaped like an upside-down ‘V’ from beneath the wizard’s cloak, then snatches it off his neck, breaking the chain.

“What’s this for?” he demands.

“I don’t know!” yells Vilnius. “I found it here and thought it looked valuable, that’s all!”

Haldar grips him tighter and brings his dagger menacingly up to the man’s neck.

“The fiend?” he says again. “Or would you prefer that I just slit your throat right now?”

The wizard sighs in frustration.

“Fine, fine.” He turns to look behind him. “You can come out!”

There’s a maniacal cackle from behind the chair and a quasit suddenly appears out of nowhere. It pulls a nasty face at Devlin, who promptly firebolts it, destroying it instantly.

“My familiar!” cries Vilnius, struggling against Haldar’s hold, but the ranger has had enough and draws the dagger straight across the wizard’s throat. Blood spurts from the wound and he falls to his knees, clutching his neck.

Thia is horrified.

“Haldar, what are you doing?” she yells, running over to heal the man. Vilnius is understandably pretty damned cross, and even more indignant when Haldar reaches into his robes and grabs his spell book, stuffing it into his pack.

“Let’s just leave him here,” he says. “We’re only going to have to drag him around with us otherwise.”

Siri walks over to speak to the man.

“How about this – you wait here and if we find your master, or his spell book or staff, we’ll bring it back to you?”

Vilnius shakes his head.

“No. You’ll just want to keep them for yourselves!”

Given that he’s being so disagreeable, they leave him to rage on his own in the lecture hall, closing the door behind them and heading north to explore further along the hallway.

As they get to the end, the hallway turns to the left and they pause, realising that this brings them out onto a platform and directly into view of the head of the forty-foot statue. Surmising that the spell which had been cast at them on the balcony was a fireball, which both Devlin and Haldar know requires a verbal incantation, Haldar casts Silence at the statue head and the group step out into the open. They flinch as an orange glow forms as it had done before, but nothing happens and they safely leg it through a door to the north and into another room. This one has a recessed area that used to hold an obsidian statue, but it has been smashed leaving only a pair of feet on a plinth next to a couple or ornate candlesticks. Haldar uses the wand of secrets but finds nothing, so he opens a door on the west wall and steps into a narrow room with another arrow slit. Looking out, he can see the back of the giant statue and he waves the wand again towards its feet, illuminating a secret door in red at floor level.

“There’s got to be someone inside it,” he whispers to the others. “Otherwise, why would there be a door?”

With nothing else to see in these rooms they quickly dash back to the hallway before the Silence spell expires, then head towards the balcony where they first entered, noticing on the way that the door to the lecture hall is now open and that Vilnius is gone. Hoping that a Pass Without Trace spell will give them enough stealth to cross it safely to the hallway on the opposite side, they step gingerly onto the balcony. It makes no difference. Whoever is hiding inside the statue is not at all fooled, and a lightning bolt hits Thia before they can all get through the door ahead and slam it closed behind them. They breathe a collective sigh of relief and turn around, leaning back against the safety of the stone wall. From the darkness of the room, six pairs of eyes suddenly look back at them, then advance towards them. Five berserkers and a wildling growl antagonistically and raise their weapons, but they weren’t counting on Thia casting a Calm Emotions spell and making them indifferent to the adventurer’s presence. Hurriedly the group yank the door to the north open and flee through it, quickly destroying three more flameskulls that are incredibly surprised by their sudden entrance.

As safe as they can be for the moment, they check around the hallway, which matches the one they’ve already explored on the opposite side of the great hall except that this one has a dead wizard clad in fur robes in it. Haldar notices that he has a staff, but his spell book has been burned beyond repair and isn’t worth picking up. Siri, thinking that this might be Vilnius’ master, leans down and picks up the staff, which feels really good in her hands, before strapping it to the pack on her back.

“We need to identify what this is before anyone uses it,” she says to her friends, but secretly she’s worried about the feeling it gave her. Nevertheless, they continue to explore.

Pushing open a door on the west wall, they find themselves inside a small room full of shelves stacked with dusty old bottles. The air smells pungent and somewhat mouldy and, as they check the bottles, they realise that the contents have long since spilled out and dried up. None of them have labels, and Haldar can’t find any books in there, but on waving the wand of secrets, he does find a hidden door. It takes them down a flight of stone steps and into another hallway directly below the one they were in, but the walls of this one are sheathed in amber while the floor is polished black marble. Statues of cats, ravens, frogs, weasels, rats and all types of familiars line the walls, although many are laying smashed on the ground. A thick amber door behind them doesn’t budge when they give it a shove, so Devlin casts Dispel Magic on it. The door opens.

Drusilla is immediately eager to go inside and pushes past Devlin to get into the small room.

“This is it!” she says, her voice filled with awe. “This is what we came here for!”

Inside are three sarcophagi, all made of amber, and she gazes at them longingly, walking to each one.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” replies Devlin. “We’re not sure what they do.”

Drusilla leans down, narrowing her eyes.

“There’s something alive in here, look. Something’s moving.”

She’s right. As Devlin looks closer, he can see a thin wisp of black, floating as if it were caught in a breeze. Suddenly, he hears a voice inside his head; a reedy, raspy whispering.

“I can give you the gift of evasion and non-detection. You could move through the world as though you are invisible. Do you accept this gift?”

Without saying a word in reply, Devlin sidles over to Drusilla and whispers to her instead.

“We need to get out of here.”

She turns to him, nodding eagerly, and making for the door.

“Yes, yes. These are not what I am looking for. There must be others.”

The next door they check opens easily, and behind it they find an old bedroom, complete with wood furnishings that were once colourful but are now collapsed and disintegrating. As time is wearing on, they decide to rest there overnight in the magical hut and each friend takes a watch, just to be safe. After Obryn completes his watch, he goes to where Drusilla is sleeping and gives her a kick.

“Isn’t it about time you took a watch?” he says gruffly, jerking his thumb towards the entrance.

She sits up, rubbing her eyes, and smiles.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

In the morning, Devlin manages to decipher another passage from the Tome of Strahd. This one says:

“The dark powers have cursed me. Each time I get near Tatyana, she is taken away again. Perhaps I may yet unravel the black threads of fate. I must keep her safe this time.”

After Siri’s morning prayers to Vulodin, she casts Identify on Devlin’s amulet and the staff she picked up from the dead wizard. She concentrates for a minute and discovers that the piece of jewellery is a control amulet for some kind of mechanical construct, while the staff is a Staff of Frost. This is a powerful magic item, but it can only be used by a wizard or sorcerer so, after letting him know how it initially made her feel when she touched it, she hands it to Devlin. He doesn’t get the same sense from it, and admires it happily. Haldar also spends a little time reading Vilnius’ spell book, and conjures Black once more. The raven reappears again on his shoulder, giving a soft squawk.

Packing up their things, they cautiously leave the room and return to their exploration of the Temple. The next door they open leads to another bedroom, but as Siri walks in she is hit in the shoulder by a porcelain pot that has been thrown across the room at her.

“Well, how rude!” she declares as Haldar joins her, only to be hit by another pot.

“What the heck is going on?” says Devlin, using his senses and catching a hint of evocation magic from under the bed. He casts Faerie Fire towards the back of the room, and a spectral form is suddenly outlined in a glorious pink. Upset at this, it chucks a piece of wood at the sorcerer, and he retaliates by firebolting it to oblivion.

Curious, Siri pulls a chest from under the bed and opens it, revealing a wooden tube which Devlin tries to persuade her to pick up. She’s not having it and persuades him to take it instead. Devlin picks up the tube. Inside, he finds a mysterious spell scroll which Haldar pops into his bag, unable to read it until he has more time to study it.

Strangely, the heavy amber doors of the next room are already open, and as they peek nervously through them, they can see why. In the centre of the room, between two more sarcophagi and in front of another that appears to have been destroyed, stands a fearsome creature; a hunched figure wearing dirty, tattered robes and with only one eye beckons to them as if it is pleased they have arrived. It leans close to Devlin and speaks to him in Undercommon, a language only he can understand.

“You are a long way from Menzobarranzan, traveller. What brings you here?”

The sorcerer draws himself to his full height and channels the spirit of a famous adventurer, one of whom songs are sung and stories are still told throughout the land.

“We have come for your immediate surrender!”

The creature looks confused.

“I am not going to surrender,” it says. “I am all that is left of the great seekers of knowledge.”

Devlin nods towards the destroyed sarcophagus.

“What happened to that one?”

“I do not know,” replies the seeker. “But there are two others that are still intact. Wouldn’t you like to receive the power they hold?”

The sorcerer doesn’t answer, and instead turns to his friends and relates what the creature has told him, supposing that it must be a wizard who has been twisted by knowledge and opened doors that were never meant to be opened. Siri looks over at the creature as it beckons to them from the doorway and senses evil from it, but it’s nothing compared to the evil that is coming from the sarcophagi. She shivers. Drusilla also doesn’t want to go into this room.

“This one fills me with dread,” the dusk elf says. “We need to find others. One of these sarcophagi holds a way to leave Barovia…”

She suddenly runs excitedly through another doorway and touches a particular amber sarcophagus, much to the protests of the others. When she turns back to them, her eyes have changed from their regular purple to disturbing starry voids, but she is smiling.

“I have it! A way to travel to other planes, I can see it all!” she gasps. “I can feel the mechanisms of Mechanus, the chaos of Limbo. We could leave here right now! I think I could open a portal to anywhere we would want to go, anywhere away from this cursed place!”

Siri uses her divine sense on the party but doesn’t sense anything evil about Drusilla. She doesn’t sense anything good either, but the strangest thing is that she also can’t feel anything from Haldar.

Perhaps the Amber is taking its toll on them all?

The only exit they haven’t yet explored from the hallway leads them back into the great hall where the forty-foot statue resides. Deciding that they should check out the door at its base, Haldar sends Black out to scope the area, but again the bird is destroyed by a spell that comes blasting from the statue’s head. The face beneath the hooded cloak looks completely dark and squinting at it doesn’t reveal any openings through which someone could attack them, so Devlin sends a fireball up there, hoping to cast some light on the situation. It explodes, and they hear a strangled yelp. He aims another up there, but this time there’s only silence.

Casting Invisibility on himself and Drusilla, Devlin sneaks over to the secret door that Haldar had discovered from above with his wand. It opens easily and he can see a spiral staircase ascending upwards, so he lets the others know. They dart across to join him. The statue doesn’t attack this time, remaining ghostly quiet.

Edging up the steps they encounter a patch of magical darkness, but Thia quickly dispels it and they make it to the top of the statue without being challenged. However, now they can tell that the hooded head is merely an illusion, because from this platform they can see the entirety of the great hall around them; the columns, the statues of the human wizards, the balcony at the far end and the hallway entrance. On the floor of the platform lies an unconscious man in wizard’s garb who has clearly been stunned by Devlin’s fireball, so they tie him up just as he begins to moan and open his eyes. Siri determines that he’s evil, but before they can do anything he comes to his senses, chuckles and vanishes, the bindings they’d used to hold him falling to the floor in a pile. Hearing running footsteps from the great hall, they see him legging it across the marble floor.

Devlin waves his hands and mutters an incantation, and the man levitates into the air, his legs flailing as he suddenly realises that there’s no ground beneath him anymore. Then he vanishes again.

At the top of the statue, the adventurers all turn to look at each other.

“Now what?” says Haldar.

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