After investigating the mayor’s house and finding that Cordelia has no memory of giving Bethany anything for wine—why would she help her rival?—the party concludes that something is amiss. Tsora attempted to recall the herbs she saw dropped into the wine in her dreams, and impressively was able to recognize them as Blacktongue Thistle, a semi-mythical herb that grows in the ethereal plane. Alston sensed that the barrier between the physical and ethereal planes was weaker in the mayor’s wine cellar, where the suspicious wine bottle had been removed. Obviously someone with magical power was arranging Bethany’s “crime.”
After some deliberation, they return to Sir Vincent’s hunting shack in the woods, only to find that it has been burned to cinders! Tsora transformed into a cat to sniff out the arsonists and followed a path through the forest.
Unfortunately, the trail faded. Fortunately, it landed them at the Tser Pool, where Madame Eva makes her camp. She gives them a Tarokka reading, revealing cards in response to their questions. The Enchanter: someone is clouding the minds of the denizens of Barovia, as our heroes suspected. The Artifact: this mysterious figure is searching for an item of great power. The Shepherd: Sir Vincent was killed because he was protecting something, perhaps a secret. Alston asked the final question: “what was Sir Vincent protecting?” The Hooded One: a shrouded body, deep within the earth. A dark, hidden place—the crypts of Castle Ravenloft.
With understandable reluctance, the group sets off for the abandoned castle.
They find it largely in ruins, the large entry door unlocked. They proceed into a spacious antechamber, where they are greeted by none other than Strahd himself. Or so it seemed, anyway, until it became clear that he was merely an illusion woven into the antechamber. The door into the castle proper, unlike the first door, was heavily barred from the inside. A frazzled voice from within lambasted them: “Get out! There’s nothing here for you, just as I told that woman and her beast!” Clearly the mysterious figure had been here too.
The party quickly surmised that this was Reginald Downsby, the steward to which Sir Vincent’s journals made reference. Tsora appeals to his love for Strahd, arguing that as a vistana, her people feel his loss as well. He demands that she prove her heritage, and she sings a traditional vistani song that is rarely shared with outsiders. This moves Downsby to tears, and he opens the door and leads them inside.
Downsby is reluctant to talk, but the party presses until he breaks. He says that he has holed up in the castle for fear of Rahadin’s return. Rahadin is the gray elf who was Strahd’s former steward, and Downsby believes he orchestrated Strahd’s death in collusion with a young woman named Lydia, with whom Strahd was infatuated.
He leads them down a long, long spiral staircase deep into the heart of the cliff that the castle rests upon. Deep down into the ancient family crypts, where he brought Strahd’s body. He reveals that Strahd’s body is… not perfectly preserved. His head and hands have been removed, and an unsettling purple ink has been painted in lines leading from the wounds to his chest, where a ghastly crater is all that remains of his heart. Someone stole his heart, head, and hands. The ink matched the eerie bottle that Sir Vincent left to Andrei.
Realizing he has revealed too much, especially after hearing Andrei talk about destroying the heart, Downsby offers to show them something else—but it turns out this is a ruse, and once upon the spiral staircase, he activates a trap that sends them sliding through a tunnel, out a waterway into the river.
They wash up, once again, at the Tser Pool. Not far onto the road, they come across an old vistani man and his granddaughter. They introduce themselves and Pyotr and Ana. Their caravan was attacked by a hooded woman and her undead servant—clearly the mysterious figure and Sir Vincent. The vistani pair had been fleeing the Southlands, where bad things were happening. They said that the vistani there had become militant, murdering and pillaging non-vistani communities and slaying anyone who spoke out against their new leader.
Ana said she heard the woman say Barovia would pay for wasting her time. This was our heroes’ cue to return as quickly as possible.
When they arrived, however, all was quiet. Too quiet—and Sir Vincent’s three paramours were all missing. They found the blacksmith out looking for his daughter, and they went back to his place to investigate. Her room looked like it hadn’t been slept in for weeks, and the pile of silver she claimed she was taking to have the smith forge into weapons was discarded in a corner.
They return for the third and final time to Sir Vincent’s hunting area in the woods, to find Bethany and Cordelia locked in a fight, rolling on the ground and pulling on each other’s hair. Breaking it up, it is clear that both of them have been mesmerized. At this point, Olivia reveals herself—more than that, she reveals her true nature: a succubus! She had been hunting Strahd’s heart and was trying to seduce its location out of Sir Vincent. When that failed and he started to suspect her, she arranged to have him killed. Now frustrated that her plans have come to naught, she attacks!
She reanimates the charred remains of the giant spider the party previously encountered, and it assists both her and Sir Vincent in battle. It was a tense fight, but the party was victorious. Alston claimed Sir Vincent’s sword as his own, and they headed back to town to explain everything and lay Sir Vincent to rest, again, hopefully for good this time.