Marek had no shadow. It was quite a disconcerting thing to see. Everyone stared at him. Mahel, with speed unlike any of them had ever seen, started to look everywhere for his shadow: on other people, in the woods, amongst their belongings – anything she could do to make sure that this was not some kind of evil trick or omen. Finding nothing, Mahel grimaced, then wordlessly moved to scout ahead on the road, mentally prepared in case Marek turned on them. The others silently walked along side Marek, ready for anything. An hour or so later, with no trap sprung, Mahel saw hidden in the grass alongside the road a glass trinket. Not knowing if this was also some kind of trap. she used mage hand to retrieve it. It turned out to be a crystal with a flower embedded inside. She put it in her bag, in case it might have any import later.
After walking a few miles out of Vallaki, the party determined that the forest to the south was thinnest here, and to save some time, they decided to cut thru the forest to find the Old Svalich Road on the other side. After walkiing in the dark forest for only a few minutes, all noise from the surrounding flora and fauna suddenly stopped. Ulfrik’s senses began to pick up on certain smells: burning, and old leather. Ismark, however, only smelled the faint scent of death. It turned out both of them were right. Thirty feet away from them. four skeletons, those of two adults and two children were found sitting upright, posed as if staring at each other. To test if these were animated skeletons, the group used mage hand to push one over, then, seeing no movement, walked away, satisfied. Looking back after a minute, Mahel saw that all four were again sitting up. “Nope. Nope. Nope,” Mahel repeated as she picked her way through the dark trees.
Finally, the group reached the other side of the woods and saw the ruins of Old Bonegrinder in ruins, burned to charred timbers. Marek was amazed. Leowen became somewhat suspicious of his behavior since leaving Vallaki and the whole “no shadow” thing. It seemed like Marek was surprised at a great many things, and was certainly acting oddly. Marek inquired as to the party’s interaction with the windmill. Ulfrik and Leowen spoke about their battle with the three hags, and how they were killing children to grind their bones into their pies. After a few more miles of trudging down the road, the group came to the massive stone wall bordering the lands outside Castle Ravenloft, the castle itself looming in the distance. As they went through the open gate, it closed behind them with a screechy clang. Choosing wisely not to go the castle, the group took the south road towards Tser Falls. Upon hearing the thundering falls in the distance, they slowed their approach. The day was late and they had to find a way to get Ismark’s lycanthropy under control before the full moon arose. Leowen sent Majesto in raven form to scout the base of the falls. Looking down, the base of the misty falls was hundreds of feet below, and they did not have enough rope. Marek brought out Sir Milton, who although undead, looked sluggish and ill, covered with a thin layer of slime. Perhaps this was somehow linked to Marek’s not having a shadow? Majesto flew up through the billowing mist and perched on Leowen’s shoulder. He said that he didnt see any book, but saw plenty of dead things – skeletons amongst the falls – perhaps people who fell from great heights. Thinking that they should first scout other potential places where the book might be, the PCs walked to the top of the falls to check there. They saw that the trees were scarred from fire or warped from arcane magics, other trees splintered to kindling, as if from a great force. Clearly this was evidence of the battle with Strahd from a year ago. Leowen sent Majesto again, this time west to check the surrounding area. Finding nothing of value, the group made the decision to jump and use feather fall to the base of the waterfall. However, the feather fall spell was only good for five people, and unfortunately there were six of them. Mahel volunteered to remain and take the long road around south then back through Madame Eva’s Vistani Camp at Tser Pool. Looking down, Mahel noted a small islet of land just south of the falls – a perfect landing spot for them. Saying a fond “good luck”, the group looked at Mahel one last time, then jumped!
The attempt to land on the island went not so well for some of the party. Gliding down, many of them unfortuantely landed apart in the water. As they floated down, they heard grunting, hissing, growling, and squishing noises… the sound of hungry undead swarming in the pool below! A battle commenced! With these undead foes, when cut apart or bashed in, parts of them fell off and continued to fight! Even beheaded or with missing limbs, thee zombies were not deterred. Also fighting along side with these zombified enemies were spirits of the drowned that drained the very life essence from their victims. The PCs unleashed magic and steel, but found themselves outnumbered and forced a retreat onto the island. Van Richten cast a magic circle around them, which prevented many of the shambling undead from entering, while the remaining PCs stayed inside and picked off the remaining walking corpses and their limbs one by one. After all the bloated zombies were destroyed, the PCs assessed their wounds and took time to heal up. Renewing their search for the book, the shadows from the waning rays of the sun revealed a hidden cave behind the waterfall. The group entered, and saw a perfectly circular tunnel which seemed carved into the very stone by magic. Ahead, as the tunnel banked east, a magic mouth appeared and with a jaunty, twangy accent, inquired as to their presence. The group said that they were looking for Mordenkainen’s spellbook, having been sent by him. Not trusting the adventurers, the magic mouth immediately shut the hidden stone door to the outside world. Agony! If only Mahel was with them, she could vouch for them, having seen the magical signature rune that she saw on books and papers in his study… Saying that the only way he could believe them was to go through the test that Mordenkainen created him for, the mouth opened the hidden stone doors at the other end of the passageway and then disappeared. As Ulfrik stepped over the threshold, a reddish wall of force separated him from his companions, one through which he could not communicate either telepathically with Leowen nor with simple speech. The booming voice of the mouth was heard in the room, saying, “Puzzle Time! 30 seconds! Get ready!” then opening a walled section of the room to reveal a tiled floor with letters on it. The riddle was revealed by the mouth, after which a loud ticking sound was heard. A timed puzzle! Thinking quickly, Ulfrik hopped from one tile to the other, moving with grace to avoid ending up like the blasted skeletal remains of an unlucky adventurer seen on one of the tiles. Finishing what he could only hope was the answer to the riddle, he jumped to the other side, and awaited his fate…
Meanwhile, in the corridor, another door opened, through which Van Richten entered and was faced with another puzzling, yet ultimately solvable, riddle. However, something was indeed different as when Van Richten finished his riddle, a bright chime sounded through the dungeon and the door of force opened, ushering the rest of the party through. Steeling herself, Leowen stepped through the doorway this time, unsure as to what to truly expect and hoped that her intellect would keep her from harm. Faced with yet another riddle, Loewen steadily walked from one tile to another, and stepped to the other side, awaiting, perhaps the same chime as was heard with Van Richten. Nothing came. Instead, the wall that opened up Van Richten’s chamber closed with a grinding of stone against stone, sealing the old man inside. At that exact same moment, the full moon rose over Barovia. Ismark doubled over in pain as he ripped at his clothing and froth at the mouth. “You need to get away from me, Marek… please….” he growled. Marek, wide eyed, and bereft of help, ran to the door of force, now black and opaque, and started to pound frantically on it. Behind him, in the hallway, Ismark screamed as his muscles began to ripple and shift, bones cracking and thick brown hair sprouting from every pore. His scream took on an inhuman deep tone, and his eyes shone with a yellow gleam. He threw back his head and opened his fanged mouth. A monstrous howl emerged from his throat and echoed through the long hallway….