The giant goat stood on the bridge, its mouth full of a pink flower which it seemed to enjoy chewing on immensely. Its eyes were glazed over with the soporific effects of the medicinal herb. Ulfrik, seeing that this herb was most likely the one needed to bring Ismark out from his coma, launched himself at the goat, and in response, it bolted for the other side of the crumbling bridge. Ulfrik unbuckled his two hand axes and threw them with unmatched accuracy, landing hits on the flank of the massive creature. Mahel nocked an arrow and shot it in the shoulder, hopefully slowing it as it reached the other side. Kasimir Velikov raced after the goat, preparing whatever spell he could to stop this massive thing from escaping. The chase continued down the mountain until the goat reached the wall of green flame that they had encountered earlier that week. The goat, bleeding from several wounds, sped up, preparing to leap over the 30 foot stone edifice, bypassing the flaming obstacle. Velikov reached out and with a word, summoned a 50 foot wall of stone in front of the goat, and the creature skidded to a halt. The goat turned around and, cornered and in an act of desperation, charged to head-butt the party off the sheer face of the cliff. Mahel withdrew her rapier, and dodging nimbly out of the way of the initial attack, skewered the creature between its shoulder blades. The goat’s eyes rolled upwards and with a sad bleat, the goat collapsed in a heap. Wasting no time, Mahel began to skin and gut the huge creature in an effort to obtain its flavorful goat meat.
Meanwhile, back at Amber Temple, Marek turned slowly to see the imposing figure of Strahd standing before him. The vampire lord had clearly been in waiting and although Marek had enclosed himself in the chamber with the three Amber Sarcophagi, Strahd had found a way inside. Strahd calmly conversed with Marek, knowing that he desired eldritch power and expressing a request to make Marek his successor. All Marek had to do was to bring Rudolph Van Richten to his castle so that he could… “talk” with him. Strahd complimented Marek by saying that he was the most crafty of his peers, and that he would be a fine ruler of Barovia, if he would be willing to accept this deal. Marek considered it for a moment, and then, raising his hand, cast sunlight causing the vampire lord to shrink away, his pale skin starting to hiss and smoke. Strahd walked boldly into the spell, grabbed Marek and lifted him off the ground, baring his fangs. “I will give you one last chance,” he hissed. Marek, undeterred, presented The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and attempted to paralyze the arch-villain. Strahd reacted violently, and transformed into a greenish mist, flowing out through a small hole in the temple wall. Satisfied, Marek used stone shape to smooth out the wall, so that nothing could get in… or out.
Although the herb in the dead goat’s mouth was indeed Meadow Saffron, it was chewed away and covered with a gooey saliva, most likely making it unusable. However, Velikov’s spell to locate a patch of this herb seemed to indicate that it was nearby. Searching at the base of a nearby tree, they were able to uproot and find a hefty bunch of the flowers, which they sealed away for freshness in their packs. Knowing that Marek had made his choice to stay at the Amber Temple, Ulfrik and Mahel decided that they should return to The Wizard of Wines and hopefully revive Ismark. They clambered on top of the carriage, and it moved along the road to the wall of green flame. Ulfrik closed his eyes and held his breath, hoping to weather the burning obstacle. Lit aflame, he tumbled from the carriage attempting to roll the flames out. As the carriage drove through the barricade, a portcullis rose and then dropped down, trapping Ulfrik inside. As Mahel attempted to stop the carriage, Ulfrik strained against the bars, finally strong-arming them up and running through the snow to catch up. Reaching the carriage, he leaped inside, his clothes smoking. “Well, at least it doesn’t smell so bad anymore,” Velikov said. Mahel gave him a scathing glare.
As the carriage descended from the peak of Mount Ghakis into the less chilly but no less misty lowlands, the horses driving the carriage seemed resistant to being driven in any particular direction; it was clear that they, like much of this land, were controlled by the dark power of Strahd himself. However, the carriage was clearly able to halt if they were not present onboard. Exiting the carriage at the Raven River Crossroads, the three made the walk along the Old Svalich Road to the familiar and welcome sight of the winery. There, they once more met with Davian Martikov, who ushered them inside to meet with Davian’s son Adrian. Adrian sadly admitted that Ismark had torn free of his bonds and escaped the winery two days ago, running into the forest to the north when pursued. Adrian also noted that although the lycanthropy had seemingly taken full effect and that the belladonna had worn off, there still was a semblance of Ismark’s personality present in his monstrous form, as he did not attack the young children of the Martikov family when he broke free. As night was falling, Adrian advised Ulfrik that he and his companions should stay at the winery until morning where they could resume their tracking, assuming that there was anything left to track…
That night, Marek further barricaded himself inside the amber chamber, but was able to see through small cracks in the amber that spectral figures were floating through the far hallway to a door not yet opened by him or his peers. He messaged to Mahel, “Visited by Strahd, made offer to rule Barovia if I delivered you and Van Richten to his wedding. Strahd is slightly more tanned now. Still working…”
In the morning, Mahel, Ulfrik and Velikov left the winery and tracked Ismark through the forest north. They reached the Raven River, and finding that the tracks crossed it, decided to ford the swiftly running river. Ulfrik swam across and Velikov polymorphed into a bear and waded across, but Mahel had a tough time swimming and, much to her chagrin, had to be hauled across with a length of rope.
Further on that day, Ismark’s trail went cold in the forest, so they moved east to Lake Zarovich. They sidled around the lake and activated the door to Van Richten’s tower through the “dance.” Opening the door, Ulfrik called up… to no response. Ascending in the elevator to the top floor, Ulfrik found that Van Richten’s living quarters were completely ransacked. Tables and wardrobes were overturned, beds were ripped to shreds and there was no sign of either Van Richten or Ezmerelda.
Across at the edge of the lake, Mahel saw three humanoid figures watching them. It was too far for Mahel to make out any discerning features, and when the figures disappeared up a nearby promontory, the group decided to follow them. Velikov turned them into fish, and they swam quickly across the lake. Reaching the other side, above the tree line, carved into the side of a rocky mountain spur, was a wide, torchlit cave that looked like the gaping maw of a great wolf. From somewhere deep inside was heard the echoing sounds of a flute. Some of the notes were discordant — painfully so.
Mahel stealthily climbed up the rock face, and inside the somewhat brightly lit cave, standing
on a five-foot-high ledge, were two feral-looking women wearing shredded clothing and
clutching spears. Mahel reported this to her companions, and with Velikov’s assistance they were both able to cast hold person spells on the guards. One by one, Mahel clambered inside (hoping her scent would not give her away — although the cave smelled awful in and of itself), grabbed them, tied them up, and brought them outside. Mahel then used disguise self to appear like one of them and walked back inside. Further in, a five-foot-high stone ledge overlooked a larger portion of the large cave, which had a smoldering campfire at the far west end. The floor was covered with gnawed bones – and for good reason: nine wolves and an old man, tending to them, were here. The old man was the one playing the flute. It was clear that this was a cave belonging to a clan of werewolves. Mahel called the old man over, and then cast charm person and ushered him outside. Ulfrik immediately restrained him with rope, just as he did the two other guards. Mahel and Ulfrik questioned the old man, named Skennis, about Ismark, and learned that he had arrived earlier that week. Brimming with power from his newfound abilities, Ismark had challenged the clan leader, Kiril Stoyanovich, and the two had left to fight for “alpha” status somewhere in the woods.
They also learned that Skennis was the father of the one of the werewolves killed by them in defending Mordenkainen, and that the flute was his son’s. Regretfully, they remarked that they had no choice but to defend themselves, and that if he so wanted, the dark powers imprisoned within the Amber Temple could bring his son back to him… for a price. Skennis considered this, and agreed that he be of no further trouble to them if they let him go in peace. Ulfrik released his bonds, and Skennis limped away. They now had a new direction in which to search for Ismark – somewhere in the nearby forests of Barovia. The three doubled back down the hill just as night began to fall and the clouds parted. As they reached the shores of Lake Zarovich, they heard a solitary howl from the forests to the north east. Then another joined in, echoing it. After a minute, there were more than five distinct howls coming from all around them. The moon, exiting from behind a dark cloud back, shone with a dull gleam. And it was full…
Far away, Marek, still in his fully barricaded room, was putting the final touches on his newly fashioned phylactery. One by one, the “spirits” that he had been communicating to seemed to grow darker and more malevolent in their conversations, especially when Marek told them to leave him alone or he’d drain their power to fuel his phylactery. Looking up, Marek realized that the shadowy figures were now surrounding him. He hesitated, unsure of what to do. Quicker than thought, the spirits leaped at him with screams of anger and vengeance…