Baba Lysaga glared at Ulfrik with mix of hatred and pure glee. Her revenge, it seemed, was nigh. She had convened her coven and was readying to kill off the old man. It was merely a bonus that Ulfrik and his companions had fallen into her trap. Baba, although powerful, still bore the scars of their last battle – the left side of her face was scarred and burned, and her clothing was charred and smelled of ash and the coppery smell of dried blood. Ulfrik unsheathed the Sunsword, and the hags shrieked in horror. They immediately began to cast rays of frost and enfeeblement at Ulfrik. Muttering a curse, Lysaga blasted Ulfrik with blight, a beam of necrotic energy, which caused Ulfrik’s blue flesh to wither and blacken. Finding his second wind after the initial attack, Ulfrik concentrated his attacks on Lysaga, summoning the strength of both his cursed lycanthropic alter-ego as well as his inner wolf spirit. With a mighty slash, Ulfrik struck Lysaga and she fled through the doorway, leaping down the nearby trap door. Well, that was easy, Mahel thought. Mahel charmed one of the hags, who interceded on their behalf and then cast sleep on some of her previous allies. Using the confusion, Mahel hid close to the nearby wall, shooting a few arrows at available targets with eerie precision, and then allowing Ulfrik to wreak his vengeance. As she clung to the wall, she heard the mewling sounds of the cats from the next room. Normally I like cats, she thought, but I get the feeling those things are not just normal cats. One of the cats trotted in from the ruined room and stared straight at her, giving a loud hiss in her direction. “Shoo!” Mahel said. “Scat!” The cat bounded into the room where Ulfrik was fighting the hags. Mahel grinned. That grin, however, was interrupted when she saw a figure floating through the nearby door from downstairs. It was Baba. She was back. “Uhhh, Hi,” Mahel chimed. Baba grimaced and began to cast a spell. Thinking quickly, Mahel grabbed Albreth and cast the first of three contagion spells through him to her as she launched him like a javelin straight at her. But Lysaga dodged. Albreth clattered against the wall, shaking his skeletal head as the spell dissipated. “Sorry,” Mahel intoned. Mahel quickly opened the door and then shut it behind her, slamming the door on the nearby cat’s tail. A loud screech emanated from the cat, followed by hissing noises, which allowed Mahel a small moment of victory. Baba began to bash her way through the door was blasts of magic, but the sturdy iron door held firm. “Al” however, wasn’t out yet. He communicated psychically to Mahel to charge him with contagion again. She did so, and with a screech, Albreth launched himself at her. The greenish energy passed from him into her, and Lysaga began to bleed from every possible orifice, screaming with the pain of the diseased. As Ulfik finished off the fourth hag, a loud buzzing sound could be heard near the door. Swarms of angry insects flew under the crack, summoned by Baba’s magic. They stung and bit at Mahel and Ulfrik who furiously swatted at them. With a flash of magical force, the door fell from its frame. Baba Lysaga stood in the doorway, bleeding and furious. Cackling with insanity, Lysaga cast a fireball, incinerating the swarms of insects and the remaining hags, and quite badly burning Ulfrik and Mahel. Amazed that the two could withstand such an attack, Baba began to ready perhaps an even more deadly spell. Ulfrik wasn’t ready to die again. Not here. Not now. With a roaring leap, he slashed out at Lysaga, striking her three times, stunning her with the fury of his attacks. Ulfrik then swiveled around to plunge the sword through her heart. As she lay dying, Baba Lysaga croaked out one word with a look of piteous sadness on her now disfigured and bloody visage: “Strahhhhhd.” She then lay still as stone, her dead eyes staring at the dark clouds seen through the nearby windows. She was dead. Ulfrik panted with exertion while Mahel scuttled over to Van Richten to determine his condition. Although the old man was bound by magic, he was quite clearly also unconscious. Bruised and battered, the two carried Van Richten from the room, and discussed where in this house of horrors they should venture next…
Marek stared down the dark staircase and listened intently as the faint sound of a heartbeat echoed through the air. In the silent hour that had followed, Marek had taken in his surroundings. He and those who he had acquainted himself with, Vilnius and Emil Toranescu, were sequestered in the highest peak of the castle, hopefully hidden from any potential dangers that the Castle might hide. The rain and thunder howled outside, and the eerie thump-thumping of the heart (the same one from his dreams, no less) gave him a semblance of what he might have felt in his mortal life as fear. He no longer needed to sleep, so he glanced around the room, observing for anything that might seem out of place. A creak in the rafters brought his attention skyward. Was something on the roof? Or, inside the roof… Standing up from his prone position on the floor, he focused his vision on the place where the noise emanated. In the pitch blackness, he could see nothing, but a moment later, a flash of lightning from outside illuminated a shadowy figure moving slowly among the wooden beams. Fearing nothing that would hide from him and his compatriots, Marek called out to it, readying a spell in case of an ambush. The thing in the rafters leaped down – a small, spindly man not much larger than a child, or than Marek himself. But this was definitely no child. The creature was made of metal and leather, the sound of tiny gears and clacking of metal belying its true nature – a construct. Although it was clear that the creature could understand common, it could not read, write, or most importantly, speak, which made communicating slightly difficult. However, Marek was able to interpret its hand and body language enough to determine that it seemed friendly, and that Strahd seemed not to be its master. Unarmed, the thing didn’t seem dangerous, and it seemed to want to offer its services as a guide to whatever the castle was to confront them. Waking his companions, and satisfied that the small jester-like construct would be of use, Marek allowed it to join the party, hopefully to bring them through the castle somewhat safely. It ushered them down the stairs. Something about this thing made him wary. As they descended the stairs the sound of the heartbeat grew louder and louder. As Marek stepped onto the spiral staircase, a reddish light flared below, then settled into a dull, pulsing red glow. Looking down, Marek now saw the full immensity of this tower. The spiral staircase circled up the tower’s full height, over 150 feet down to the main floor. The tower, sixty feet wide at its base, became narrower as it climbed to the peak. Just below them, at the pinnacle of the hollow tower, a large crystal heart pulsated with red light….
Mahel and Ulfrik retreated downstairs to the study, where they shut closed and barred the doors and bandaged their wounds. Mahel forcefully woke Van Richten from his stupor, who was happily surprised to see Marek and Ulfrik alive and gave them his gratitude for saving him. Mahel remarked that they had come to his tower looking for him and that it was ransacked and abandoned. Van Richten nodded and said that Lysaga’s whole coven had come to her rescue and then captured him, while Ezmerelda had escaped out the window of the tower. Her whereabouts were currently unknown. Settling in for a rest, Mahel and Ulfrik did their best to stave off the cold and darkness outside as well as the gathering fear that something was lurking just behind the door. In the middle of their rest, a woman’s scratchy voice could be heard calling out a name: “Grizzlegut! Grizzlegut, where are you? A pox on you…” Mahel waited for the voice to go away, then slowly opened the door. At the foot of the door was a faceless doll in a wedding dress that had yellowed and frayed with age. Mahel, creeped out yet again by the abundance of off-putting toys in her collection, nevertheless placed the doll in her pack. She noted, however, that this doll was different from the rest – it had no tag indicating that it was the work of Gadof Blinsky… They had to get out of here. Mahel woke Ulfrik and Van Richten, having formulated a plan to get to the other tower to where Marek had messaged he was. Opening the nearby window, she sent Albreth along the slippery wet roof to view what rooms were below them. She then tied off a rope and sidled along the roof, but her grip slipped and she slid down the eaves of the roof to the joinder 30 feet below, slamming her legs into the shingles to slow her descent. Ulfrik yelled, “Mahel! Are you alright?” As she looked up at her compatriots, she saw another figure standing atop the highest point of the castle’s high roof, staring at her – a pale figure in a long cape with a high collar. Seemingly uninterested in the pouring rain, Strahd stared at the four, a smirk clearly visible on his cruel face. A flash of lightning later… and he was gone. I’m going to kill that fucking guy, Mahel promised to herself. A rope was lowered down to her from Van Richten, and she clambered slowly over to the edge of the roof. Walking to its edge, she saw 30 feet beneath her, a crumbling walkway. She used mage hand to unlock the tall window below her, and saw a cobweb encrusted room with a long table. In the middle of the table was what looked like a wedding cake… Moving slowly over to the nearby gargoyle, she prayed that this thing of stone would not animate and attempt to kill her. She moved closer and looped the rope around its neck….
Marek knew what he had to do. This crystal heart was clearly a construct of evil and needed to be destroyed. He cast his newly found power, chill touch on the heart, and black veins of necrotic energy appeared on the heart’s crystalline structure. What Marek didn’t see, however, were mounted on the walls along the section of staircase nearest the heart – ten halberds embedded in the walls. Upon Marek’s attack, the halberds flew off the walls and attacked him! Luckily, Marek’s shield interposed itself between almost all of the attacks from the halberds, allowing him to cast Spirit Guardians – a whirling torrent of ghostly attackers which blasted out from Marek, tearing and slashing at the halberds. Emil immediately grew and shifted form into a massive hybrid-form werewolf who lashed out with fang and claw at the attacking animated objects. Vilnius ran away screaming, and then cast mage armor on himself to avoid any potential danger. “Oh, no! Master, look!” Vilnius pointed at the nearby walkway as four bedraggled and be-sodden figures dropped from the outside wall. Their bloodstained mouths and long claws revealed themselves as vampires, and they joined in the fray. Dressed in the vestments and armor of warriors and powerful spellcasters, these vampire spawn were most likely former adventurers whom Strahd defeated long ago. Clearly, Strahd did not want this structure touched. As the vampires leaped at the party, the construct suddenly turned and retracted a small club from a compartment in his back. Then, turning to Vilnius, he opened his mouth. A puff of air shot from the construct’s mouth and a green dart flew into Vilnius’s neck. “Aagh!” Vilnius clutched at his neck and pulled the dart out, greenish fluid leaking from the tip of the dark. Marek took a moment to look at the construct as if to say, “Why…” Then, Marek yelled at Vilnius,“Kill the doll!” Vilnius screamed in white-hot anger and cast magic missile. A stream of purplish force bullets machine-gunned into the form of the construct. Only the construct’s little jester hat was left intact as the spell pulverized it. “Well done,” Marek hollered, and Vilnius gave him a sheepish grin.
The ensuing battle was grisly; the halberds hacked and hewed at the three compatriots, but finally succumbed to Marek’s spells and Emil’s attacks. Vilnius provided magical support from the stairs above, avoiding the sight of the vampiric attackers who were able to regenerate their wounds over time as well as leech the very lifeforce from their victims with their attacks. As Marek dodged and weaved from the onslaught of vampires, he secretly wished that someone with a Sunsword was around! Ulfrik, now would be a good time to show up…. Over time, the vampires were slowly worn down as Emil’s claws and bites tore chunks of undead flesh from their bones. One of the vampires lunged at Emil, and he sidestepped, watching as the vampire fell hundreds of feet to its demise. When the last of the undead menace was eradicated, Marek took a step back to view the carnage, as Emil growled with exertion. Turning to Vilnius, he ordered, “Vilnius, use your power to make me fly.” Vilnius obeyed and cast fly on Marek. Marek hovered over to the crystalline heart, and placed both hands on its smooth surface. Summoning forth a power he had never known until now, he drew from the heart its life energy, and siphoned it into his being. He could feel the vast dark energy of this creation flow into his body, and it felt glorious. Marek cried out, “Oh, the power, the power. I can taste it. THE SOUL IS MINE!!” At that, the crystalline heart shattered, and shards of glass flew in every direction. Sheltered in a shield of magic, Vilnius and Emil were not harmed. And Marek felt nothing as the razor sharp glass could not pierce his cold dead flesh. As the heart exploded, the tower began to rumble and shake. Huge chunks of stone and masonry fell from the tower walls, crashing with huge booms hundreds of feet below. Marek, Emil, and Vilnius quickly exited the tower via the nearby walkway, where they huddled in the cold rain as the tower, massively damaged by the explosion of the heart, stood like a broken ruin against the night sky.
And then, the storm clouds darkened. A huge pale visage appeared, as if constructed from the very storm itself. Strahd had come. And he was not amused.
As the rain pelted down, Marek defiantly shouted at the top of his lungs, “YOU’RE NEXT, STRAHD!”