Although there was no real way to determine the time of day, the party woke after what they assumed to be a night’s rest. All seemed to be ready to leave the temple… except Marek. Quietly and without showing any ill will, Marek stated that he wanted to stay, but only until he had “finished his work.” “What work?” Ulfrik questioned. "Work that will ensure that we will have the power to overthrow the evil enshrouding this land, " Marek answered. “Power that will ensure that he is destroyed.”
The others, especially Mahel, argued against staying – and they had to stay together, they were stronger now that they had all the artifacts and also with the “dark gifts” that the powers had granted them. Marek cryptically retorted that the power granted him was beyond measure, and would require some time to come to full realization. With it, Strahd would surely perish. Haavich admitted that although the temple seemed safe, there were other… things that inhabited it (or invaded it) that would prove to be quite dangerous. Mahel stated quite clearly that Strahd most likely knew where they were and would send his forces to destroy them if they didn’t leave. Marek said it was worth the risk; that he could bar himself inside and that he needed to spend the next couple weeks finishing his work.
In frustration, Mahel walked through the secret doors to Omar‘s chamber to see him lying on the floor, apparently sleeping. “Sleeping?” she said to herself. "The undead don’t sleep…" She poked at his skeletal frame. No response.
“Hello? Are you awake?” Omar’s eye sockets, before filled with a reddish gleam, were now black holes, devoid of any life. She tapped his skull, and instantly, it crumbled to dust.
“Shit! Guys!” Mahel called out. The others entered, and were shocked to see that their powerful guide had been destroyed by a yet undetermined force.
“You see!” Mahel yelled at Marek. “Even Omar isn’t safe, and this is his home!” Marek shrugged. “Maybe it was just his time to finally die. We don’t know that someone killed him.” Mahel stared at Marek, shaking with frustration. Marek surveyed Omar’s study, smiling at the ancient tomes of knowledge festooning the small, cramped space. “Yes. This will do nicely.” Ulfrik stood in front of Marek and pointed his finger in his pale face. “What exactly are you going to be… working on?” Marek looked at him and cocked an eyebrow. “Immortality,” he chimed. Ulfrik looked at Marek, then at Haavich. Neither of them knew what he was talking about.
Mahel growled with frustration, then left Omar’s study down the secret stairs to the main area. Pale sunlight filtered in through the main opening to the south. She took in a sigh of cold air and sat down next to the massive black statue. A sound coming from the entrance quickened her pulse. Hiding behind the statue, she peered out and saw someone slowly entering the temple. A figure in a woolen cloak and hood. As the figure descended into the area, it took off its hood, showing that it was a male elf with a broad scar across his forehead. He paused, looking around. His breath made small clouds of steam in the freezing cold. She sent Albreth to the others to alert them of the visitor.
Mahel called out, “What are you doing here?”
The elf called out that he was there to deliver a message to the group. An invitation. Slowly moving towards the figure, Mahel went to take it. As Mahel approached this elf, a screaming of thousands of voices could be heard… from inside her head. She gripped her ears as if drown them out and glanced over at the elf, who seemed not to notice this deafening din. Instinctively, she backed away, and as she did, the screaming in her head faded away.
She glanced at the letter. It read:
The postscript continues:
As an invited guest for my wedding, no harm shall come to you if you come with no ill intention. Please attire yourselves appropriately for our most joyous occasion.
“So, you’re a servant of Strahd,” she said, doing her best to hide the note of suspicion in her voice. “Yes,” the elf said, “he is the great power that rules this land. I would give my life for his.” Mahel nodded and started to move slowly away from this figure. Under his cloak, she caught a glimmer of steel – this servant of Strahd was certainly prepared for a fight. A grinding of stone behind her signaled that someone was coming from the secret staircase. She breathed a sigh of relief as Ulfrik, Marek, Haavich, and Velikov walked to her side. As they did, the elf’s eyes widened as they fastened upon Velikov.
“Well, I see you’re moving up in the world, Velikov,” the elf said with a sarcastic sneer.
Velikov’s face became a mask of pain and rage. “You,” he growled, and his hands became tight fists.
“You know each other?” Mahel asked.
“Of course. He is the demon who… who KILLED MY PEOPLE! He is Rahadin! "
What?" Mahel’s hand dropped to her rapier.
The elf dropped his cloak, showing a pair of razor sharp scimitars. “Ah, a disappointing an end for you, Velikov,” Rahadin hissed. “The mongrel shall die like the rest of his race.”
Velikov launched himself at Rahadin, who kicked him and slashed at him with blinding speed, causing him grievous wounds. The party joined in to defend their ally, and found that this elf was a dangerous foe. Coming close to him was nigh impossible as the screams of those thousands of foes he had met and killed over countless years filled their heads as they fought. However, beaten and bloody, the party defeated Rahadin, who cursed them in elvish before his head was severed, rolling across the frozen floor.
Recovering from the fight, it was clear that Strahd not only knew where they were, but actually had intentions to wed Ireena and requested their presence at his castle. Marek stated that this was clearly a trap, and that the best thing for them to do was to stay here and wait until he had completed his work.
Disheartened by Marek’s insistence, Mahel walked slowly towards the entrance, her head in her hands. That’s when she felt it. In the floor. A deep low rumbling. She dropped to the floor, feeling for the noise. It was getting louder. Then the rest of the party felt it. The walls of the temple started to shake, cracked amber and powdered frost dropping from the ceiling.
“No.” Mahel ran for the entrance, an idea of what was happening blooming in her head. As she ran up the corridor to the outside world, she saw standing a figure dressed in purple robes – from afar it looked like the old man, Heinrich Stolt. Except that this was no man. As she neared him, she saw that his head was that of a jackal. And he was casting some sort of spell… at the mountain above, causing an avalanche! What manner of creature was this?
“Avalanche! Run!!” Mahel yelled at the group inside. Mahel ran past the creature, and struck at him with her rapier. The creature nimbly dodged out of the way and cursed at her in a language she did not know. Ulfrik’s hound lunged at the creature, breathing fire and snapping at him. Ulfrik and Haavich joined in slashing and blasting him, but this was a powerful creature of evil. The snow started to rain down from high above, a wave of ice and snow, slowly descending in a thunderous roar.
The creature, realizing he’d be overcome in a trial of strength, cast fear on Ulfrik, making him run screaming back into the temple. In his mind, Ulfrik saw his brother’s capture, trial and bloody execution, a memory from childhood which he’d been unable to face the dread reality of. The jackal-headed humanoid then ran down the mountain, casting teleport to gain more ground from the doomed crew. Mahel and Velikov took shelter from the oncoming storm of snow. Dr. Haavich, realizing that there would be but one chance to save those inside from being buried forever inside the temple, put on a shield of fire around him and attempted to usher Marek and Ulfrik to safety. But it was too late. With a sickening thud, thousands of pounds of snow and ice came sliding from above onto the face of the temple, burying the main entranceway and pushing dozens of feet of snow into the main hall. Mahel and Velikov were luckily far from the landslide of snow, but Haavich and Ulfrik’s hellhound were completely buried in a 60 foot mountain of snow and ice. Mahel sent Albreth to find him, but Albreth could not. Velikov even cast locate object to try to find Haavich, but said that he was nowhere to be found, even with the use of his spell. Ulfrik and Marek, meanwhile, were trapped inside, and began the arduous process of digging themselves out.
Marek said, “I can create a tunnel for us to use to escape, but it is going to take several days. I’m going to make some tea.” He left to Omar’s study, where he brewed a cup and began poring over arcane texts.
As the day wore on, Mahel found a side entrance near to where the barbarians were encamped inside. Finding that they were able to reunite with their lost companions, they related that Haavich was gone. Ulfrik hung his head in sadness. “He was a noble soul. He tried to save us.”
Marek nodded and handed Ulfrik a warm cup. “I’m afraidI have to get back to crafting my phylactery.”
“PHYLACTERY?” Mahel yelled, causing echoes to reverberate around the dark chamber. “WHAT POWER DID… THEY… GIVE YOU?” Marek looked calmly at her and said that the Dark Powers gave him the potential to transform himself into a lich. Horrified, the party backed away from the diminutive cleric. “It’s for the best,” Marek uttered, attempting to get them to see his point of view.
The sound of clopping hooves and wood could be heard down the road. A carriage arrived outside in the driving snow – a carriage with no driver. Black horses, their breath steaming, standing in the snow… awaiting them. On the inside of the carriage was a crest. Ulfrik recognized it as the same crest from the letter that brought him and his original companions to Barovia. It was also the crest on the invitation that they had most recently received. Their ride to Castle Ravenloft had come.
All the party, (except Marek) wanted to immediately leave the temple to find the antidote to the belladonna poison and save Ismark. But it was getting dark. Travel in the dark in these lands was most certainly not advised. The group retired back to Omar’s study. The tension in the air was thick as the group settled into a fitful sleep.
In the morning, the plan was made. Ulfrik, Mahel and Velkiov would go in search of the meadow safforn and a cure to Ismark’s malaise, and then they could determine if there would be enough time for Marek’s arcane experimentation with lichdom, as distasteful as it might sound.
Velikov went Inside the carriage, Mahel climbed on one of the two horses, and Ulfrik sat at the driver’s seat. Bidding a farewell to Marek, Ulfrik spurred the horses, and the carriage set down the mountain side. After an hour, the ride brought them back to the bridge on the Tsolenka Pass and abruptly, the horses stopped. The giant goat was standing in the middle of the bridge with a fistful of Meadow Saffron in its mouth, chewing lazily.
“NO!” Ulfrik leaped off the carriage, sword in hand….
Marek shuffled back to Omar’s room and plopped himself at his desk. He waved away the cobwebs, lit a candle, and began to read a nearby set of scrolls, written in ancient penmanship. The hairs on the back of Marek’s neck suddenly stood on end. He turned quickly to look behind him. Nothing. Not even a cool draft. He was sure he’d walled up the space appropriately…
He slowly turned back to the scroll…
A pale hand, its nails sharpened to fine points, and showing a magnificent ruby ring on one finger, slowly gripped his shoulder from behind. Marek was frozen with icy fear. A deep familiar voice with a rich Barovian accent intoned, “Hello, Marek.”