Marek knew not why these spirits were attacking him and found them to be little more than a distraction to his work. After all, he had his own spiritual guardians that would obey his commands. His snapped his fingers, and misty humanoid shapes began to encircle his body, clawing at his foes, tearing them ghostly limb from limb. In a matter of seconds, it was over. Dusting himself off from their ectoplasmic remnants, Marek finished the final touches of his phylactery and then set it aside. He looked over at his makeshift alchemy set and the eldritch, vile ingredients that were required to make the potion that would transform him into a lich. The work… the work… He wiped a hand from his sopping brow and realized that barricading himself in a room with no ventilation had made the air rather thin. He would have to do something about that. And that’s when he heard it – a tapping sound coming from outside the chamber. A steady, insistent tapping. Marek ignored it and focused on the task at hand. Drawing forth a long glass cylinder extrusion with a sharp needle, he began to extract his first ingredient: his own blood….
In the forest north of Lake Baratok, Mahel, Ulfrik and Kasimir Velikov tracked the howling to a nearby clearing. Mahel scouted ahead and, in the light of the full moon, saw five figures – four men and a woman, standing in silence, their clothes patched and tattered. Mahel noticed that Ismark was one of them. He was face to face with the hulking form of Kiril Stoyanovich; clearly the battle for leadership of the clan had not yet begun. Velikov and Ulfrik stayed back, motioning to Mahel to move up and hear if anything was being said. Ulfrik took a step gently forwards, and stepped on a rather dry patch of twigs, snapping under his weight. The sound alerted Kiril and his pack, who, angered that their private matter was being spied upon, stepped up to confront Ulfrik and Velikov. Mahel, attempting to stay far from such conflict, began to creep slowly out of sight. Ulfrik goaded Kiril to the point of bestial rage, at which point Kiril and his followers shifted into their hybrid forms and pounced. Velikov, seeing that the main threat would come from Kiril, cast hold person on him, and a spiral of purplish energy wrapped around the werewolf, restraining him and sending him to the ground. Ismark looked confused as to why he could not transform into his wolf form to defend himself, even in the light of the full moon, and began to panic. Wide eyed, he realized he had no weapons, and bolted away. Mahel sighed, checked on her compatriots, then raced after him. Ulfrik faced off against the female, a pale-haired werewolf, and proceeded to wear her down with vicious blows from his weapon, finally severing her head. It fell at his feet, unchanged from its fearsome visage. From behind him, Ulfrik heard a savage roar of rage and pain from Kiril. Kiril burst from his magical bonds, and lunged for Ulfrik. Clearly this pale werewolf meant something to him – perhaps she was his mate? Ulfrik fended off the attacks from the three remaining werewolves, but was horribly clawed and then bit in the process. As the werewolf’s jaws clamped down on his arm, Ulfrik smiled. He could feel the surge of warmth coursing through his veins: a familiar feeling. He was sure to get back his lycanthropic abilities now… if he survived. Velikov pelted the evil shapechangers with fire and arcane magic. He then cast an Ice Storm on the creatures, which withered their strength with an onslaught of magical cold. Mahel stopped Ismark, attempted to calm him down, then ushered him back to the battle. She unsheathed her rapier, and lunged at the closest werewolf, attempting to finish it off. But she realized too late that her rapier was not silver or magical and so reconsidered. She charged up her shocking hands spell and gripped a werewolf from behind, electrocuting it. The smell of burnt fur permeated the area, which mixed with Mahel’s still pungent aroma, was quite sickening. Another werewolf nearby turned and deeply bit her arm, drawing blood. “Ah shit,” Mahel intoned, realizing that she might as well now be infected by their vile disease. Ulfrik, seeing that Kiril was wounded and wheezing with effort, turned the full fury of the Sunsword on him, and then kicked his feet out from under him. With a spin, he plunged his sword to the hilt though the monster’s heart, then withdrew it and hacked off his head. As he did so, Mahel reached out to the werewolf that bit her and grabbed it by the head, shocking it to death. Ismark, viewing the carnage, muttered, “Sorry I couldn’t help. It seems like I can’t change anymore.” The three others, panting with exertion, looked at him with a mixture of shock and confusion.
In the Amber Temple, Marek needed fresh air. The tapping on the wall had long since stopped, but his lack of air would prove to be somewhat debilitating if he didn’t do something about it, and soon. He bore a hole in the stone ceiling, and freezing cold water streamed down on him, clearly run off from the snow that tumbled down from the avalanche days before. The air is so cold, why wouldn’t the water have frozen? he thought. Gasping from the shocking deluge, he used stone shape to cover up the hole, then bore another golf ball sized hole in the stone that he had fashioned to wall himself in. When he did, he saw a bloodshot eye staring back at him. “Hello,” a very human voice croaked to him through the hole. The man on the other side of the wall was named Vilnius and he was very much insane. He said that he “talked to voices” and they all were inside the temple. Attempting to extricate himself from the conversation, Marek attempted to trick Vilnius into thinking that he wasn’t really there, either; that he was one of the voices that Vilnius was hearing. He wasn’t sure if Vilnius bought it. He seemed a poor tormented soul, a recluse who had made the temple his home after some horrible event. Vilnius admitted that he was burned rather badly – the “green flames” had incinerated his master and driven him into hiding. Clearly Vilnius was speaking about the flameskulls. Marek said that he needed to be left alone – that he was working on something that would free them both and allow them to leave this place. Vilnius seemed energized by this statement. “Promise me that you’ll free me from this place,” he whimpered. “Trust me,” Marek said, darkly. “Once I have what I want, you will be freed.” He then filled up the hole and continued his work.
In the forest, the PCs healed their wounds and attended to Ismark. Ismark inquired about Leowen (sadly dead, burst into flames) and Marek (up at the Amber Temple, to become a lich). He seemed somewhat horrified by these turns of events but was happy that Mahel and Ulfrik, at least, were still alive and well. He also was somewhat mystified by the change in Ulfrik’s skin and the change in Mahel’s…. scent. The two explained the “gifts” of the dark powers at the temple, and that it was a place that they wished to never return. They also noted that even though they had found the meadow saffron, it was unused, as Ismark had escaped from the Martikovs before they could make an antidote to the Belladonna. Why had he not changed to a werewolf, he inquired, when he needed it most? The full moon, at least, should have been an impetus if he could not change by himself. Intrigued, Mahel asked Ismark about the events of the last few days. Ismark had indeed woken from his coma, transformed and left the Wizard of Wines. He found that he had little control over his wolf form when he had changed. His natural form was that of a man, and he was not a pureborn lycanthrope. One of the benefits of being a pure lycanthrope was that they could change at will and control themselves in their hybrid and wolf forms. An effect of being pureborn was that they would not change back to a human form when they died. That, at least, made sense to Ulfrik now, seeing the wolf heads littered around him. Ismark’s proclivity was to prowl back to those that changed him – Kiril’s clan in the werewolf den. There, he entered and found that there were children held captive by the evil werewolf. He challenged Kiril to leadership of the clan in order to save these children, and was escorted out to the forest. That is where they had found him, about to start the ritualistic combat. Mahel asked, “Did you eat or drink anything when you were at the cave?” Ismark replied, “They served me some wine and some sort of stew.” Mahel, with her knowledge of medicinal potions, surmised that Kiril had played foul and induced some sort of substance in Ismark’s food that would stop the lycanthropic change. It was good luck that they had arrived when they did – Ismark would have been slaughtered had he remained in his human form. But now, all of them except Velikov were infected with lycanthropy. After three days, it would become permanent if they did nothing to cure themselves…
Ismark further described his encounters with the werewolf clan of Barovia which called themselves the Children of Mother Night, as they all worshipped that mysterious deity. Recently, a rift formed in the clan when another werewolf, Emil Toranescu, questioned the treatment of children kidnapped by the pack to be changed into werewolves. KiriI forced them to fight each other to the death until only one child was left standing. The winner would then be turned into a werewolf, ensuring what Kiril called “the strength and purity of the pack.” Emil instead called for keeping all the children alive and turning them into werewolves, thus increasing the pack’s size. Emil said that a larger pack would ensure the werewolves’ survival, whereas Kiril saw a larger pack as too difficult to control and feed. Kiril and Emil were at each other’s throats over this and it led to the brink of outright conflict. Then, mysteriously, KiriI disappeared, causing the other werewolves to wonder whether he had fled in fear, or was killed. When Kiril returned, he had allied with Strahd, who gave him several dozen dire wolves as his own private enforcers. The dire wolves escorted Emil back to Castle Ravenloft to face punishment, and·he was never seen again. Kiril reestablished his dominance, but his ideas and tactics didn’t sit well with the pack’s older members such as Skennis, and they certainly didn’t please Emil’s mate, Zuleika Toranescu.
The four trudged back through the forest in order to see if something could be done to save the children from a horrifying fate. As they entered the cave, they noticed that most of the werewolves had gone, seemingly on hunts of their own, and few, if any of them, knew as to the fate of their erstwhile leader. They moved slowly and carefully into the torch lit cave, following Ismark’s lead. Rough-hewn stairs led down to a bizarre sight: wide-eyed children behind wooden bars staring in terrified silence. The cave held six wooden cages, their lids held shut with heavy rocks. Two of the cages were empty, and each of the others held a pair of frightened children. A crude wooden statue stood between the cages. It bore the rough likeness of a wolf-headed woman draped in garlands of vines and night flowers. Piled around the statue’s base was an incredible amount of treasure. A woman in shredded clothes knelt before the statue. Behind the statue, two maggot-ridden corpses hung from iron shackles bolted to the wall.
The woman was Zuleika Toranescu and she was charged by Kiril to guard the children until he returned from his challenge from Ismark. Now, however, Kiril would never return. Technically, Ismark had challenged the werewolf’s leader and although he had not bested him in combat, it was not clear as to who was to lead the Children of Mother Night. Zuleika related that she was distraught, praying to Mother Night for the release of her husband – she was unsure if he was dead at the hands of Strahd or was held captive, and she implored the PCs to find out. Mahel and Ulfrik said that they would do so, but that she had to release the children into their custody. It was at this time that a raven flapped into the damp musty cave, and transformed into an old woman — clearly a wereraven. She introduced herself as Muriel Vinshaw and stated that she was a member of Keepers of the Feather. She said that time was short — other werewolves would soon be returning to the cave, and that she had been keeping her eyes on the PCs since their venture to Berez (she was the shadowy figure across the river warning them not to encroach upon Baba Lysaga’s property). She said that the children would find suitable homes in the nearby town of Krezk – it was certainly a better choice than Vallaki and woe betide them if they were to find their life in the doomed town of Barovia, so close to the vampire lord himself. Krezk was the only true safe haven for them, and she would make sure that they would find safe passage there, if they were to move quickly. Agreeing that this was the best choice, Zuleika freed the children upon Mahel and Ulfrik’s agreement to investigate Castle Ravenloft for her husband, and escorted them out. The children were a scared, wide-eyed lot – none of them had been turned to lycanthropy, but they had seen horrors in that cave that had frightened them far beyond any of their years should be. As they exited the cave, they heard the sounds of hundreds of ravens flapping and squawking in the early dawn air. The mists were starting to rise from the ground, mixed with early morning dew, casting a grey haze through the morning sky. The children trudged on, past the abandoned tower, along the Old Svalich Road
(Mahel and Ulfrik attempted to cheer the children up with a makeshift puppet show, to no avail) and up the winding, rime encrusted road to Krezk. Once outside the gates, they contacted the burgomaster and were greeted warmly (called “the saviors of Krezk” due to their delivery of the wine to the town). The children were escorted to the burgomaster’s wife, who, now childless, seemed somewhat comforted at the arrival of youth and hope to the town. Setting themselves to work to obtain room and board for the night, the PCs grew worrisome as there was only one place left to go: Castle Ravenloft itself. Hopefully Marek had finished whatever business was required of him…
The last day bloomed with a futile paleness as the light of the sun, filtered through the dank mist and clouds reached the Amber Temple. Inside, Marek sweated profusely. He was so close to completion… any moment now, and the potion that would grant him the power he so desired would be complete. A quantity of a particular salt made from the tears of children was the key catalyst; Marek mixed it with the other ingredients and watched them boil and smoke. The last drop of the tincture filtered through his devices, and a viscous purple droplet fell into a beaker, turning the reddish mixture already there to a dull black serum. Was it done? Had he completed his work? Or was this all for nothing? His phylactery hanging around his neck, glowing with a dull orange gleam, he reached out and took hold of the glass phial that held his destiny. His fingers were slippery from nerves and exertion, but he knew that it was now or never. Summoning up all the courage he had, he pressed the phial to his lips, and swallowed the vile potion in two gulps. It began working almost immediately: the taste was beyond awful – it burned his throat as it went down, and caused him to hack and cough. A grinding tore at his bones, and he was racked with deadly nausea. His vision blurred, and when it cleared, his skin and flesh began to fall from his bones as if they were putty, causing the most intense pain he had ever felt. He screamed with agony and clawed at his eye sockets as his vision went red – his eyeballs turned to jelly and oozed out from his eye sockets. He collapsed to the ground and ceased breathing. His heart stopped, and would not beat again.
And then, Marek, The Dying Star rose from the floor, a grin spread across his skeletal visage…