Mahel and Ulfrik carefully looped the rope around the stone gargoyle. To their amazement, it didn’t animate. They heard an enormous boom and watched as the nearby tower fell to pieces. With a crash of lightning, they saw the enormous visage of Strahd appearing out of the clouds. Van Richten said a strange word, under his breath, “Gottinhimmel.” The enormous illusion of Strahd’s face roared like some sort of horrible demon, then disappeared into the clouds. Someone had very much pissed him off. Only one person they knew could possibly do that: Marek. Ulfrik proceeded to tie off the line, and Mahel traversed down the side of the keep. They landed on the stone walkway below and looked into the room through the tall open window…
As the image of Strahd’s anger dissipated into the storm, Marek stepped onto the bridge that spanned 20 feet from the crumbled tower to the nearby roof. Emil reverted back to his human form and grabbed a broken halberd to use as a spear. Seeing that they needed a rest and that the rain would not abate, the four determined to take a respite. Marek kicked one of the shattered pieces of Murderbot down the enormous shaft then hocked a loogie at it, watching it fall.
A sweet yet pungent smell of decay filled the room into which Mahel, Ulfrik and Van Richten stepped, in the center of which stood a long oak table. A blanket of dust covered the tabletop and its fine china and silverware. In the center of the table, a large, tiered cake leaned heavily to one side. The once white frosting had turned green with age. Cobwebs hung like dusty lace down every side of the cake. A single doll figure of a well-dressed woman adorned the crest of the cake. Suspended above was a web-shrouded chandelier of forged iron. An arched window in the south wall was draped with heavy curtains. Resting in a wooden stand by the window was a dusty lute, and standing quietly in the southwest corner was a tall harp shrouded in cobwebs. Ulfrik went in, followed by Mahel and Van Richten. Mahel saw a figurine in the dust – a cake topper of a young man. Mahel pocketed it. Van Richten looked at the cake and saw no male cake topper. Wide eyed, he began to scan the floor, asking if anyone had seen a small figurine. Bewildered by Van Richten’s attitude, Mahel said she had it. Van Richten screamed to drop it! At that instant, the cake exploded and something enormous, something invisible inside the cake roared and viciously attacked them. Van Richten freaked out and ran out of the room. Ulfrik started to fight off the invisible foe while Mahel hid behind the outside wall. Van Richten immediately came back in to the room, and with all his might, tried to hold the door shut. He seemed even more scared than he was originally. The door began to splinter as it started to break down. As the invisible creature was deftly defeated by Ulfrik, the door broke down. In the doorway, the Imposing figure of Izek Strazni stood, axe in hand. “You!” Mahel shouted, “Why are you here?” Izek grinned, a murderous gleam in his eye. “I’m here to give away the bride. If my sister’s going to be married, I’m going to be the person to do it. We are blood after all. And like the Count says, ‘Blood is thicker than water.’ In return for killing you, Strahd says he’s going to give me my real arm back and then make me burgomaster.” Mahel rolled her eyes. Like that would ever happen, she thought. Ulfrik tensed up, ready to finally dispatch this terrifying foe. He lunged at Izek, but he dodged and swung his massive axe at Van Richten, slashing the older man across his back. Ulfrik quickly interposed and heaved the scholar across the room over the aged table. Standing toe to toe, Ulfrik was a tad bit shorter than Izek, and no less massive. Ulfrik grabbed Izek’s wicked looking axe, attempting to wrest it from him. In return, Izek opened his clawed palm and a bloom of fire erupted out at him, singing Ulfrik’s blue-tinged skin. Mahel, seeing Ulfrik’s dire need for asistance, ran in and jabbed hard at Izek with her rapier and dagger and then quickly darted out again. Izek looked down at the wound and gripped his hand hard to it, lest he bleed out. His face became a mask of rage and pain and in a moment, his axe lit aflame. Swinging with furious anger, Izek laid into Ulfrik, sending the big man sprawling. Mahel dashed in again, and with a battle cry, swiped at Izek’s midsection, slashing with all her might. Izek looked down. His guts had fallen out of his torso and lay hanging like pink ropes. “But…” Izek stammered. “I was going to be burgomaster…” Izek crumbled to the ground. Wasting no time, Mahel made sure that this time, the captain of the guard was truly dead. She unsheathed her dagger, and with a few swift strokes, hewed his arm and head off. Even Van Richten was a little appalled by this bloody act of vengeance.
Finally freed from the threat of Izek Strazni, the three focused on trying to find Marek. The tower which they saw fall was in the northeastern quadrant of the Castle. Searching in the nearby room. Albreth checked it out to find a tub full of blood. As he did so, a blood-drenched creature exploded out of the tub and attached to the ceiling, cackling maniacally. Blood poured off its pale flesh, bony limbs, and stringy hair as it scuttled away. “Nope. Nope. Full. Of. Nope,” Mahel intoned, and then closed the door to this clearly haunted bathroom. They opened another door to what looked like a study. A blazing hearth fire filled this room with rolling waves of red and amber light. The walls were lined with ancient books and tomes, their leather covers well oiled and preserved through careful use. All seemed in order here. The stone floor was concealed beneath a thick, luxurious rug. In the center of the room was a large, low table, waxed and polished to a mirrored finish. Even the poker in its stand next to the blazing fireplace was polished. Large, overstuffed divans and couches were arranged about the room. Two chairs of burgundy-colored wood with padded leather seats and back cushions faced the hearth. A huge painting hung over the mantelpiece in a heavy, gilded frame. The rolling firelight illuminated the carefully rendered portrait. It was an exact likeness of lreena Kolyana. “I see now why Strahd wanted Ireena,” Ulfrik grumbled. The three took the time to rest on the nearby couches and bandage their wounds….
Sitting upright, Marek heard a voice in his head – a message from Mahel. He was surprised in that he did not know that she had the ability to send messages of this kind. The message was: “In basement. Come quickly.” Marek gathered his compatriots and decided to go down the stairs. Although the stairs were sturdy they were quite slippery from the outside rain and threatened to send Marek tumbling hundreds of feet to a crushing doom. Vilnius cast fly on Marek to allow him better vantage to what was below. Marek flew down to the basement stairs and saw a small passageway choked with dust and four alcoves. Emil grabbed some nearby dusty rags to cover his nakedness. Marek listened at each door, checked for traps and then, of course, demanded Vilnius open the door (as a precautionary measure, of course) which he gladly did for his “master.” Vilnius opened the nearby door to an area with ten dusty alcoves. But they were not alone. As soon as Marek wandered halfway in, the bones of those unfortunate adventurers before him hidden in the alcove animated and attacked! Several attacked Vilnius, slashing with rusty iron scimitars, but their attacks had no effect on Emil’s lycanthropic immunities. While Marek turtled behind his sturdy shield, Vilnius cast ice storm and wiped out the majority of the undead fiends. Emil trashed three with his spear and Marek used his new chill touch ability to utterly destroy the last one. Vilnius hobbled over to Marek, bleeding heavily from several wounds. Marek hissed at him, “Vilnius! I told you to stop being a target!” Sorrowfully, Vilnius whimpered, “I’m sorry, master!” Emil huffed and rolled his eyes. The unlikely trio wandered more through the castle, into a room constructed entirely of bones with a very familiar looking dragon skull – a skull of a silver dragon. Marek smiled. So this what what that fool Haavik was looking for. Well, it may still have some use to me, later, he thought. Suddenly, a floating candelabra appeared out of nowhere, startling Vilnius, and floated past them and up the stairs. Perhaps an invisible spy, Marek thought. Or was this place even more haunted than was previously thought? Vilnius opened another door to what at first Marek thought was a laboratory. But it wasn’t. A horrible odor of decay filled this steaming hot room. A huge pot bubbled over a blazing fire pit in the center of the room, its green, muddy contents churning. The far wall was lined with pegs, hanging from which were numerous large cooking implements-some of which could easily double as implements of torture. Marek went over to inspect the cauldron, and immediately, three zombies, their skins boiled off showing nothing but reddened flesh and bone, leaped out out the filthy boiling water and attacked. The trio returned the attacks in kind, but at first, even their strongest attacks didn’t destroy these undead monstrosities. Each time the zombies were felled, they got back up and continued to swat their rotten fists at them. Even Vilnius was brought low by a haphazard attack. Emil, having quite enough of these lifeless foes, used his makeshift spear and pinned a zombie to the wall through its head. Another zombie, weakened by magic attacks, was subsequently decapitated by Emil and the last experienced a fire bolt through its head by a bleeding though conscious Vilnius. Regaining their strength yet again, the trio walked east to a what seemed to be a wine cellar. Marek felt suddenly sad at the thought of never tasting the joyful fruit of the vine ever again. This area proved to have no exit, so they walked back to the ossuary and Vilnius opened the last door. In the room adjoining, Neferon was there, behind a sturdy table with dozens of papers and a large accounts book. At first, the arcanaloth didn’t recognize Marek in his “evolved” form. But then, his golden eyes narrowed and he hissed at the gnome lich, “Youuuuu!” Marek grinned, ready to end this being once and for all….
Meanwhile, in the study, Mahel received a message from Marek saying, “In basement. Come quickly." The nearby stairs going down spiraled down to a landing. Mahel heard through the wall a set of voices. It was Marek… and other voices, not as familar. Then she heard a hissing growl: “Youuuuu,” followed by the sounds what seemed like a fight. Clearly marek was in trouble and was on the other side of that wall. She started looking for a way to get through the wall to get to Marek.
The battle had commenced. Neferon was a crafty and powerful foe and his spellcraft was strong as well. He cast banishment on Marek, who blurred temporarily out the plane into a vast darkness, but was quickly brought back when Emil’s attack on the arcanaloth broke his concentration. In retaliation, the fiend cast a vicious chain lightning bolt which dropped Vilnius into unconsciousness. Emil was smoking and Marek, even in his advanced state of undeath was almost taken out. A thunderous boom accompanying this spell rattled the nearby walls. Mahel steadied herself and saw loose masonry falling out of the all onto the stone floor. Taking a cue from this, she and Ulfrik frantically began to kick holes in the wall in order to break through. With a crash, they broke through to the awful bone ossuary. Disgusted and amazed, they turned north to see the action and, for the first time, what Marek had become. As one for the first time in over two weeks, the three heroes joined forces and fought off the arcanaloth that they last saw in the Amber Temple. Eventually, with the full team working as one and with their erstwhile companions’ assistance, they overcame and killed the arcanaloth. With a slump, the fiend fell to the floor and quickly dissipated into a puddle of ichor. Panting with exertion, the group took the opportunity to revive their team to full health and rest in the fiend’s room. After a time and somewhat awkward introductions, they had to decide what was next. The goal was clear – to confront Strahd in his brother’s crypt as per Madam Eva’s Tarokka reading, over a month ago. But how? Clearly, Strahd had the advantage and had lured all the heroes down to the basement for some unknown plan. Uncaring as to Strahd’s plan, Marek began to search around and eventually discovered a secret door leading to a staircase. Carefully, the party traversed the stairs down to the dungeon. A sickly mist filled the stairway ahead, then coalesced into the form of the vampire Strahd, his eyes burning red with anger. “You have worn out your welcome,” he said. “Whatever gods you believe in cannot save you now!” The party, surprised, nevertheless launched into a coordinated attack on the vampire lord… that passed right through him. “It’s just an illusion,” Ulfrik shouted. The illusory vampire chuckled and melted away like a wax doll in a bonfire, leaving no trace behind. “Now he’s just fucking with us,” said Mahel. The group walked quietly down the steps… back to the brazier room which Emil, Vilnius and Marek knew well. This time, however, they chose the yellow gem and sent Albreth through to make sure that it was somewhat safe. They followed. When they emerged, they found themselves in a dank crypt. Black marble steps descended to a dark tomb that had a vaulted ceiling thirty feet overhead. The essence of evil permeated the very air, along with the smell of freshly turned earth. Settled into the dirt on the floor was a shining black coffin of finely waxed wood. The coffin’s fittings were of brilliant brass, and the lid was closed. South of the coffin were three gloomy alcoves. An iron lever protruded from the north wall, east of the tomb’s entrance As they stared, the earth moved north of the coffin, and three vampire spawn “brides” in soiled gowns and wearing dirt-encrusted jewelry exhumed themselves from the earth. Hissing with evil, they attacked….