Baba Lysaga was indeed awake, her exposed flesh horribly burned, strapped to a table titled upright as if in some horrid medical experiment. Van Richten and Ezmerelda stated that they had spent the better portion of the last day “questioning” her, attempting to find pieces of informtaion that they could use in their hunt for Strahd, but the witch had said nothing so far. At this point, Ezmerelda was interested solely in ending the hag’s life, while Van Richten was more studious and academic, all the while taking notes on her behavior and anything they could glean from their interactions. Marek and Ulfrik decided to join in, asking the hag questions about why she was there, what her relationship was with Strahd, if she was really his mother, etc. Dr. Haavich was intent on finding a way to the Amber Temple and took the time to examine the map of the road ahead. He soon lost track of the conversation happening around him. “There!” Haavich suddenly exclaimed. “Thirteen miles between us and the base of Ghakis.” A satisfied look spread across his face. “No more than a day, assuming a uninterrupted pace.”
After a time, the witch seemed to relent, but in a rather crafty fashion — in order to give information, she seemed interested to know information from them. She seemed interested especially in the tattoo that appeared on Ulfrik, although they let her know little about that. Baba Lysaga seemed convinced that she was Strahd’s real mother. Her ‘son,’ Strahd, was the true ruler of the land and that anyone who disputed this fact could go rot. She had not been to the Castle in over a century, and it was likely that Strahd cared little for her in reality. She had also likely not confronted Strahd, but chose to stay close, always looking for ways to help her “son.” Despite the horrors Strahd has wrought, Lysaga still envisioned him as the perfect child she delivered into the world. Strahd is the only thing in her life that matters to her. Marek found this rather sad, almost pitiful.
The subject matter turned to the Amber Temple. Van Richten stated that the temple was less of a temple, and more of a prison, one brimming with evil. The witch seemed amused that they were planning to venture to that place, warning them that they would die there. Haavich became incensed, threatening Lysaga with the power of the Morninglord, all the while the hag had an awful sneering smirk on her burned and decaying visage. Haavich boldly strode forward and said, "Your ‘son’ will meet his end. The help he requires will be limited to his funerary arrangements at the bottom of a dark pit from which he will never return. The hag opened her cracked and burned lips and utter an awful screeching cackle. She uttered a curse, that at the temple, the “pit” would be one from which they would not return. Taunting her with the memory of the illusory baby in the crib in her hut, Marek mocked and gloated over her as she gibbered and screamed at him. Haavich exclaimed, “Silence your tongue, hag. Or be consumed by the cleansing light!” Van Richten stepped forward, and Lysaga spat at him, a glob of blackened fluid that he disgustedly wiped from his spectacles. He then excused himself to question her personally as the rest of the party boarded the elevator to find resting places in the tower. As the elevator descended, Marek and Haavich noticed that Van Richten was beginning to cast a powerful charm spell on her, for purposes yet to be known.
The night dragged on and Mahel awoke from her trance. Sending Albreth to scout out the top floor, he found a few rather interesting things. First, in a old wooden trunk, to his horror, he found a severed head. The head’s visage showed a look of surprise and yet showed no signs of decay. Disgusted, he closed the trunk and moved to the wooden desk quietly as Van Richten and Ezmerelda slept. He opened the desk and riffled through the papers, finding a crude drawing of Castle Ravenloft, and, at the bottom of the pile, two pages that were seemingly ripped from a notebook. Journal pages. He shoved them inside his rib cage, and delivered them to Mahel. Mahel took the time while her companions were asleep to read the pages and learn more about Van Richten’s backstory….
The morning dawned and the companions awoke and determined what they should do. Should they head directly to the temple? Should they visit the Wizard of Wines to check on Davian Martikov and return the horses lent to them? Ulfrik volunteered to return the three horses to the Martikovs and then rejoin his companions after checking on them. He saddled himself grabbed the bridles and rode through the early morning mist to the winery, where he was pleased to see that the family was starting to tend to their vines once again. After speaking with Davian’s eldest, Elvir, he was happy to hear that Davian had recovered, as if by a miracle from the awful disease that had inflicted him. Ismark’s condition, however, had not changed. He was still in a coma. Upon the advice of Elvir, Ulfrik chose not to bring Ismark with them up the treacherous slopes of Mt. Ghakis to the temple, as the stress of the trip and the cold weather might make things worse. Elvir said that his family would tend to him and await their return, hopefully with the Meadow Saffron by which they could fashion an antidote. Ulfrik returned to the tower on foot, and gathered his companions. Donning their winter coats, they began to ascend the sloping road towards the peak of Mount Ghakis and the evil that lurked in the Amber Temple…
Hours later, the party trudged along the narrow road the grey slate slopes of the mountain hugged the road; on the other side loomed a deep chasm that plunged hundreds of feet into the mists. The window began to howl as the temperature dropped to a freezing, bitter cold. Snowflakes turned to flurries, which soon turned to sheets of frost that battered the four compatriots. Ahead, through the wind and snow, a high wall of black stone lined with spikes and topped by statues of demonic vultures with horned heads loomed in the distance. Set in the center of the wall was a closed iron portcullis, behind which burned a curtain of green flame. On the other side of the dark wall, gripping the mountain’s edge, was a guard tower of white stone topped by golden statues of mighty warriors. Mahel approached carefully and scaled the edifice to the top. The two large statues of horrific bird creatures loomed viciously over the edge of the wall. Mahel hammered in an iron peton and fastened a rope to it, hanging it over the edge. As Ulfrik approached the wall, the portcullis opened slowly as if an unseen hand moved it upwards. Down at the other end of the tunnel a solid wall of flame blocked exit to the other side. Marek stroked his chin and started to examine it for illusory magic. Finding none, and assuming that he would be able to control the elemental damage that this fire would present, he held his breath, closed his eyes and ran through the wall. The fire singed his skin and burned some of his red hair, but he was able to tamp out the flames once on the other side. Ulfrik, convinced of Marek’s safety, gripped the rope and began to climb up to join Mahel. Stroking his chin at the magic nature of this obstacle and, potentially, the statues at the top, Haavik cast fly on himself and floated upwards to join the party. Mahel began to descend, but the rope slipped and Mahel fumbled for the edge of the wall. Her fingers gripped the edge, but the snowy surface was too slick, and she started to fall. As a reflex, Haavich cast feather fall on her, and she began to glide to the ground. As Mahel glided downwards, the statues came alive — and lashed out at Haavich and Ulfrik with their vicious claws and razor sharp beaks. Haavich put a shield of force between himself and the creatures, and floated speedily away, striking out with his magic. He noted that these creatures had vast, vulture-like wings with which he could be pursued through the air.
Ulfrik slashed out with his greatsword, but saw with dismay that the razor-sharp steel did little against these foes. He skidded down from the rope, and leaped down to attack the creatures, unsheathing the sunsword. Mahel dropped to the ground unharmed and pressed herself to the flat slate of the mountain, then cast mirror image on herself, and attempted to blend into the frozen environment. She ran to the north along the road hoping to gain some distance between her and the two demonic foes. A shrill bleating sound from above her on the mountain alerted her to another creature’s presence. It was a goat, but one of massive size, staring down at her, its hooves scratching the jagged stone in fury. “Shit,” she muttered. The goat charged down the mountain….
Ulfrik lashed out with his sunsword, its radiant energy slashing through the flesh of these demonic creatures. Haavich blasted from above with a fire bolt and a fireball (both enhanced with thunder magic) while the creatures emitted a horrific screech that the PCs had to shield their ears to, lest they succumb to its stunning power. Marek prepared his elemental magic and avoided his enemies’ blows as best he could.
At the last moment, Mahel dodged out of the way of the rampaging goat as it skidded to a stop near her. She unsheathed her rapier and slashed at it in the flank. The goat screamed, echoing through the valley. Dark red blood stained the pure white snow on the mountain road. Seeing an opportunity for escape, Mahel dashed at full speed through the wind and snow to the north where the outline of a broken and battered bridge came into view. The goat pursued her, but stopped within a dozen feet of her. It raised its head, sniffed the air, then ran south. And that was when Mahel heard it – the sound of wings through the howling wind… massive wings. She followed the sound to its source high in the air and saw it – a humongous bird, flying high above the mountains its silhouette clearly visible through the driving snow. “Fuuuuuuuck,” Mahel groaned. Hiding briefly behind a nearby tree until the giant goat had disappeared into the mountains, she then turned and dashed back to her compatriots.
The winged creatures were being slowly driven down, but the damage done to the party was intense. Haavich, gasping with exertion, cast spells of force, thunder, and fire at them, causing them to burn and wail in pain. One of the creatures spat a cloud of green spores at Haavich, but his undead fortitude prevented the poisonous damage. The other made a huge swipe at Marek, and gouts of blood erupted from his chest. He crumpled to the ground, holding a hand to his wounds. As he did so, Ulfrik, bloodied from the fight, finished one of the creatures with a massive chop from the sunsword. The other, confused from seeing a triple image of Mahel, paused long enough for Haavich and Ulfrik to sever it’s wings and hew its head from its distended neck. The group ran to Marek’s body, intending to save their diminutive friend. But it was too late… Marek was gone.
As they watched, the mists crept up from the cliffs and began to adhere to Marek’s body, enclosing it in a kind of cocoon. Haavich, seeing this, said, “Ah, so it begins.” Saddened by the loss of their friend, Mahel and Ulfrik padded to the nearby gatehouse and opened the door, finding shelter from the wind and snow. Haavich followed, and used his magics to create a fire in the nearby hearth. The three sat in solemn silence, unsure what to say to one another. Ulfrik’s chest and arm began to itch furiously. Something was about to change for one of them…
Outside, the mists rolled and coalesced over Marek’s deceased form.
Then, finally, they dispersed.
And someone… or something… lay on the snowy ground where Marek had been….