As the vampires came upon our heroes, it became clear that they were more teenagers, likely turned by Doru. Senna recognized one of them: the Braeburn orphan girl Lyszet, who first told them about the Children of the Night.
The party fought valiantly, and they generally had the upper hand against the nascent vampires, despite difficult terrain and dense trees. Ulrich, however, continued to see a clearing and moved through those trees as if they were curtains of bloody meat. To Ulrich’s eyes, the greatest threat was clearly the towering avian monstrosity that emerged into the clearing. Unfortunately he was the only one who could see it. It could see the others, however, and its beak and talons did very real damage even to those who disbelieved.
Ultimately, Ulrich triumphed over this bird monster. And as it fell, it melted into the shape of Urwin Martikov, the innkeeper back in Vallaki. However, then that form faded into dark, black liquid and seeped into the ground. Ulrich was then able to join his compatriots in fighting vampires. Unfortunately, Tsora’s magical ice storm awakened a dormant treant, who furiously demanded that everyone leave the forest. Using her knowledge of druidic, she was able to pacify him and assure him that they were on the same side. The treant came around and helped them smash the last of the vampires. He warned them, however, that there were many more in the forest. He could feel them emerging from the dirt, hungry and confused.
As the battle subsided, Ulrich saw the Red Woman at the edge of the clearing. She spoke to him. “You have seen Martikov’s true form. You must find him and put him down. You must save them.” She then faded from view, and in so doing, the vision of the clearing fell away. Ulrich saw the same woods as everyone else. Father Andrei also joined the crew, returning from his mission in Barovia. It seems the vampires had actually been fleeing from his Holy Symbol of Ravenkind.
Tired and confused, and more than a little suspicious of Ulrich’s alternate view of reality, the party headed back to the tower to sleep. And as happens so often in Ravenloft, some of them dreamed.
In her dreams, Tsora saw a young woman sewing a cold, dead hand onto her arm.
Alston heard his master, Darion Storm, whispering his name. Softly, then urgently. It woke him up, but the whisper continued into his waking. A strange light illuminated a portion of the basement wall, and the voice whispered from within. Alston painstakingly moved the debris and breaks that had been hoisted in front of what was actually a secret door. On the other side, much to his shock, he saw his own possessions. The books, the bag, and the horseshoes of the horse he originally tried to set off on to attend Sir Vincent’s funeral. There were signs of a struggle that suggested bad things for the fate of the horse. Most shockingly of all, however, was the fact that Euphrastes had written notes all throughout Alston’s books.
Alston stormed to the top of the tower and pounded on Euphrastes’ door. They launched into a frantic, high-energy argument. Euphrastes accused them of being spies sent by Darion Storm to disrupt his work, or perhaps sent by Dr. Von Lichtspriegl to confirm that Euphrastes was a failure. Alston accused Euphrastes of stealing his books, daring to mar them with notes, and killing his horse. “Your horse is fine,” Euphrastes said, gesturing towards Clevis. Alston’s eyes grew very wide. The argument dragged on.
As they argued, the rest of the party woke and began speaking with Clevis. He added the important details: Euphrastes thinks Von Lichtspriegl has abandoned him because he failed in his mission to acquire the head of Strahd and send it to his master. He did do that, mind you, but the head was missing its eyes.
They learned that it was acquired at a midnight black market hosted by a group of shadowy figures known as “the Cabal.” They entertained many bids higher than Euphrastes’, but when they asked his plans for the head and learned that it would be sent east beyond Bergovitsa, they instantly chose him. He bundled the head in a magically-sealed case by courier. He hasn’t seen it since, and Dr. Von Lichtspriegl has gone silent. With more than a little bitterness, Alston and the group decide they had better go. Ulrich was anxious to confront Urwin Martikov.
The way home was dotted with desperate young vampires, which the party easily put down as they went. Andrei confirmed that this fits what he learned in Barovia—that Doru has begun converting all of his followers into vampires. This poses a problem for the group, since it means killing Doru would create a chain reaction of new vampire lords empowered to create their own vampire spawn.
Arriving in Vallaki, the group stopped at Wachterhaus to see if Nikolai had returned. Unsurprisingly, he had not, and Lady Wachter expects the group to help retrieve him. Senna sets off for a bookstore, where she meets an old widow desperate to sell the last of her husband’s books so that she can die in peace. In her expedition, she also ran into Karl Wachter, drunk as usual. He hit on her, as usual. But he did do one unusual thing: he gave her a gift. “From my mother,” he said, horrifyingly. She opened the small box to reveal a pendant necklace inscribed with a symbol of Nyarlathotep, her dark patron. It also included a note that read “Be careful. Our kind are not welcome here.”
The rest of the party convened at the inn, where they attempted to grill Martikov. He suspected Ulrich was hitting on him, and professed to have a wife to whom he was quite devoted. Meanwhile, Tsora and (somewhat unexpectedly) the other party members arranged for a make-up performance. This worked for Ulrich, who wanted everyone distracted while he snuck into the innkeeper’s quarters under the cover of Alston’s invisibility spell.
The plan… basically worked. Ulrich and Sasha explored Martikov’s private room and found it very spartan. However, they did find several bits of incriminating evidence: a letter in mid-composition to his wife, raven feathers in his bed, and torn clothing and shackles in his closet. This was enough for Ulrich, who set out to the main floor to lay down his accusations.
Meanwhile, in singing the tales of their exploits thus far, Tsora made poetic mention of Ulrich’s visions of the Red Woman. Instantly, Martikov shooed the patrons outside and slammed the door shut. He demanded of the adventurers in a panicked voice, “what do you know of the Red Woman?!”
At that moment, Ulrich emerged from his invisibility and roared, “SHE WANTS YOU DEAD!!!”
He leapt at the innkeeper, who screamed as his skin shifted to black, his face became more beak-like, and feathers began to sprout from his arms.