The quick summary:

The group wandered through the castle, encountering new allies including a vampire-hunter named Joe, a blue-hued elf named Dan, and a trio of villagers whose confidence far exceeded their skills. They had been trapped in a dungeon cell and taunted by Strahd. They discovered Strahd’s journal, a religious icon that Ireena recognized as a legendary item of great power, and a star-shaped medallion. They fought stone gargoyles and vampires and were threatened by dragons. And yet, they had found not a clue regarding the Malakandra nor had any success in dispatching the Vampyr.

The long version:

After taking a short break to catch their collective breaths and rethink strategy, Anton recalled that the fortune teller had told them, "Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe. You may find this amid the ruins of a place of supplication". Anton felt that the reading seemed to tell of a book of some sort, “a book that will tell of the Vampire.” Deciding that a 'place of supplication' sounds like a temple, and temples are usually on the ground floor for easy access, the team headed back to the main floor to do a complete search.

However, as soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs, they were attacked by eight stone gargoyles. The team battled the gargoyles, killing four of them and driving the others off, assisted by unexpected help in the form of a newcomer, who identified himself as “Joe” and declared himself to be a hunter of nosferatu and joined their quest to kill Strahd.

They passed through a long corridor lined with statues. A careful search of the statues found nothing. At the end of the corridor, the doors opened to reveal the chapel.

The storm outside the castle had subsided, and the clouds had thinned enough to provide dim light, colored by its passage through through broken and boarded up stain glass windows. This room was clearly the ancient chapel of Ravenloft. Pews and benches lay about the floor in jumbled disarray, coated with centuries of dust. Beyond this debris, lit by a single, piercing shaft of light, an altar stood upon the platform. The light fell directly on a small statue. A figure was draped over the altar. This room seemed as though nothing had disturbed it in centuries, and that nothing ever could.

After searching the room, and determining the figure on the altar was long dead, they examined a pair of objects sitting on the altar. The statue they had seen from the back of the room, still bathed in a single ray of light entering through a hole in one of the stained glass windows, stood about 12 inches tall and 6 inches across, was shaped like a triangle, and looked to be made of silver. Next to it sat a book, bound in a thick black leather cover with brass hinges and fastenings.

Determining that the book was not the one they were looking for (“the Malawhatsihoosit”) they decided to read it to see if it would provide a clue about dealing with the vampire. It turned out to be a journal, apparently written by Strahd himself.

Anton read aloud to the group. "It's hard to see. The ink is faded. Let's see...." He spoke hesitantly. " 'I am The Ancient, I am The Land. My beg... My beginnings are....' Damn." Anton looked up. "I can't make it out. The writing is too faded." He turned a page, then another. "Damn. Now it's in a different language or something." He looked behind him to Sarah, Syman, and Ollie. "You guys want to take a try at this?"

The three hirelings stepped up to where Anton stood on the altar. They each in turn viewed the obscure markings, each shaking their heads, unable to read the text. Ireena stepped up to Anton. "Perhaps, if I may look." Anton looked to Mel and the others, then back to Ireena. Saying nothing, he showed her the book. "No," she said, "I do not recognize those markings. It is not in the language of Barovia, nor of any other that I have seen."

Anton turned another page. More of the strange markings filled it. "Well, Ollie, take the book. We can bring it back to the village. Maybe someone there can read it." Before handing the book to Ollie, Anton flipped a couple more pages. The pages were very faded, and what writing he could make out was in the same unknown script. He turned one more page, and suddenly his face brightened. "There's more. I can read this." He looked up at the group, then began to read. " 'The death she saw in me turned her from me. And so I came to hate death, my death. My hate is very strong; I would not be called 'death' so soon'.

" 'I made a pact with death, a pact of blood. On the day of the wedding, I killed Sergei, my brother. My pact was sealed with his blood.

" 'I... I found Tatyana we...' Dammit!" Anton turned a page. "It's too faint to.... wait a minute. 'I have studied...' Then it gets faint again. Here's some more. Umm, 'youth, and I curse the liv'... the living? Then over here, 'the sun and light I fear.....little else can.....through my heart does not kill.....' "

Anton paused a moment, then looked up. " 'that cursed sword that Sergei......I must dispose of that awful.... hate it as much as the sun."

Anton turned the page. " 'I have often hunted for Tatyana. I have even felt her within my grasp, but she escapes. She taunts me! She taunts me! What will it take to bend her love for me?

" 'I now reside far below Ravenloft. I live among the dead and sleep beneath the very stones of this hollow castle of despair. I shall seal shut the walls of the stairs that none may disturb me.' "

Anton turned a few more pages, but if anything was ever written on them, there was no sign of it.

They walked half way to the chapel entrance when Anton stopped cold. "Look at that!" He was pointing to a large tapestry, hanging on the western wall of the chapel about 15 feet north of the main double-door entrance; a similar one was hung on the wall the same distance to the south. The tapestries, their designs faded with age, had been ignored in the original search of the chapel. But now Anton noticed something new: they were both swinging to and fro in a slight breeze, and as they swung, they showed passageways beyond them.

The whole team now froze. Missing such entranceways was dangerous to their survival, and each of them knew it. But they had missed them the first time through. Still, there was nothing to do about it except to set about the task of exploring the newly discovered passageways.

The group spread out in guard position as Mel and Drake went to explore the northernmost passage. They found an arched room that opened to a rising staircase to the west. Alcoves in the north and south walls opened into this small room. Within the dark confines of the alcoves lurked 8-foot-tall shadowy figures. Their stone forms showed mighty muscled arms and legs. A black shadow fell across the features of their faces.

The figures remained still. Drake encouraged Mel to approach the northernmost one. As they closed to within striking distance, the statue remained motionless. They carefully examined the statue, and, after a few minutes determined it was harmless. They made the same determination of the southern statue. They quickly searched both of them and found no signs of secret doors or panels.

Their seach complete, they examined the staircase. It was made of old wood set in a stonework shaft. Drake planted a tentative foot on the lower step, and the wood creaked and groaned underneath his weight. He stepped off the staircase, saying, "I think we've been at the top of these stairs, or ones just like them. At any rate, I don't trust them to take our weight. Besides, we're headed down, not up."

The pair of men left the northern passageway and headed to the southern one, where they found a similar arched room that opened into a huge circular staircase to the west. As in the other room, there were alcoves in the north and south walls of the room, with similar statues in each alcove, only these statues held bright blades. Very warily, the pair checked out each statue, and came to the same conclusions as they had for the other set: they posed no threat, and concealed no compartments.

The spiral staircase was huge. The large grey flagstones of the staircase led up and down around a 20-foot-wide stone core. Cobwebs filled the staircase, making it difficult to see even the ceiling. Heavy beams sagged overhead from centuries of weight. The team conversed, and decided to try this staircase. Mel and Drake in the lead, they set out downward.

Their trip was aborted quickly. Not by an active threat, but by a solid masonry wall completely blocking the staircase. The wall had a small chink in it, but otherwise appeared very solid. They retreated the way they came, and, as their plans involved downward travel, skipped any journey up the stairs, instead re-entering the chapel and moving back towards the chapel exit.

They paused for a moment as Anton voiced some ideas that had been turning in his mind. "I almost forgot part of the gypsy reading. There's supposedly something of protection against the vampire somewhere high up, where we wouldn't like to walk, with living rocks. Well, we made it to the roof, and there was that narrow walkway, but no living rocks. Unless there are more of those gargoyle-things that fly around up there. It might be worth checking out again. There's also a 'great weapon of light' somewhere in the 'heart of darkness'. Dunno what that means."

"But, that's for later. At least we have a couple more 'upwards' options to check out. For now, though, I figure that between Illya's laser, the mason grenades, and the magical weapons we have, we can take out ol' pointy-teeth. We just need to find the Malawhatsithoosit book. I still think the best bet is down. We should go back to the stairs, and head down this time, and search around there. I think we keep the same marching order, except that Illya should carry the laser instead of the shotgun, in case we bump heads with Strahd. I think a blast of coherent light should brighten his day......"

"Anyway, that's my plan. What do you guys think?"

After some clarification of the plan, the group cautiously moved out of the chapel, expecting to be attacked as they opened the doors once more. Surprisingly, the hallway before them was empty and quiet as a tomb. Mel and Drake began inspecting the statues, first checking them to see if they were identical or individual. They found each statue to be of a different figure, so they began a thorough search. They spent several minutes on each statue, but, fifteen minutes later, when the search was completed, had found no signs of secret panels or hollow spots in the statues, the floor, or the walls. While they had searched, the rest of the group stayed in their teams (Illya and Joe as Team 2, the rest of the group as Team 3), and stayed alert, keeping watch on both ends of the corridor, but never straying further than 20 feet from Team 1. They had closed the doors to the chapel behind them.

As the search was finishing, Ireena gave a short cry. "I know it! I remember!" She turned, her fair face bright with excitement, to face the leaders of the group. "It is from the tales, old legends told to us by our father when we were children. The statue. In there." She pointed back to the chapel. “The legends tell of a holy icon, the Icon of Ravenloft, as old as the castle, older even than the devil Strahd. It is said to have great powers over the undead, when used by a holy man of good and noble heart."

Joe spoke up. "Such a thing would be of great use here, if your story is more than legend. I have found that many legends hold much truth."

The group debated quietly for a minute, then, still undecided, they turned to quickly return to the chapel and look at the statue again. They quickly filed in, and Drake and Mel approached the altar as the rest of the took up guard positions. Drake noticed it first: the beam of light that had been illuminating the statue was gone. Then, as the two approached the altar, it became clear that the triangular statue itself had was no longer there.

A quick look around the altar showed no sign of the statue; nothing else had been disturbed. Very warily, Mel and Drake returned to the others and reported their observations. This had been unexpected, but after another search of the chapel turned up no evidence of what might have happened, exited the chapel and closed the doors tightly behind them. They continued down the hallway, back to the large room about which three deceased gargoyles lay still. They turned to the south, towards the spiral staircase they had previously used to ascend the tower. This time, they went down.

The chill wind they felt the last time they used this staircase was even more intense than before. They reach a landing about 50 feet down; the landing opened into a corridor that went about 30 feet north, and ended in a door. The spiral staircase continued down, so they passed this landing and continued into the depths beneath the castle.

The stairway spiralled into the earth. They continued down, 30, 40, 50 feet and beyond. They could feel the weight of the ground above them, the castle, the oppressive weight of the evil of the place bearing down on them. Mel and Drake, walking side by side in the lead, stopped suddenly. The stairs descended into black, still water that filled an arched hallway before them. The water's dark surface was like dark mirrored glass, disturbed only occasionally by the "thwick" of a drop falling from the ceiling. As they peered down the hallway, they could see arched doorways leading right and left, about twenty feet in front of them.

Mel, who was armorless, continued down the stairs until the water reached the top of his boots. Using his sword, he probed ahead of him. Bending forward, he found the edge of the steps, then the corridor floor. The water in the corridor was about a meter deep.

He turned around and relayed the information to his teammates above. "So, now what?" he said to no one in particular. As if to complicate their decision even more, a weak cry for help echoed down the corridor, breaking the silence of the hallway.

Drake was the first to answer Mel's not-so-rhetorical question. He said, in a very firm voice, "I am not going any further down here, YET. I want to explore UP that circular staircase we found near that altar, thingy-ma-bob. I am going up NOW. We can eat there, rest up, then climb. I have a feeling that it would be a VERY GOOD idea. I'm going. If you continue down, I'm leaving. You can NOT convince me to do otherwise."

Mel's response to this was simple. "Where are you leaving to?" J

oe spoke up before Drake could answer. "We must try to aid this voice of distress. It could be a trap, but it could be our salvation." The group exchanged glances. For the first time, dissention had formed in the ranks.

It was Anton who broke the silence. "If we're going to act, we have to act now. I won't ignore a cry for help, even if it's a trap.

"Mel, you, Illya and I will check out the cry for help. The rest of you - return to the altar room and wait for us. Drake - you're in charge. If we're not back in an hour, assume we're dead."

The rest of the group agreed, and Mel, Illya and Anton headed forward, cautiously.

Drake, Joe, and the others headed back towards the altar room. Drake climbed the stairs in the lead, with Joe next and the rest of the group behind them, protecting Ireena. They moved quickly but carefully through the castle until they reached the chapel.

Once there, they closed the double doors, and Drake and Joe took up defensive positions near the altar. The rest of the group moved behind the altar. They all took off their backpacks, pulled out some food and water, and ate a bit. Then they rested, building up energy for whatever challenges lie in their near future, waiting for the return of their compatriots, or for an hour to pass.

As the team rested in the chapel, a blue elf suddenly appeared. After some initial "posturing", they came to find out that his name is Dan, and that he intended to slay the vampire of the castle. Drake, Joe, and Dan tentatively agreed to ally themselvew against the vampire, and the conversation ended with a polite greeting and handshake from Dan to all of you. Well, all except for Syman the orc, who Dan clearly did not like (and the feeling turned out to be mutual.)

In the meantime, back in the cellar, the three spies stepped into black, still water that filled an arched hallway before them. The water's surface was like dark mirrored glass, disturbed only occasionally by the "thwick" of a drop falling from the ceiling. Twenty feet down the hallway, arched doorways led downward 2 feet from each side of the hallway. In each arched doorway, an iron door stood closed and partially submerged. All was still except for a weak cry for help coming through the south door.

As they walked down the corridor, a trap was sprung that teleported the three of them into a dungeon cell; the fungus-laden ceiling hung 3 feet above still, black water that filled the entire dungeon corridor. The water was 5 feet deep. Small cells, their entrances blocked by iron bars, rand down on both sides of the arched central hall. Liquid dripped from the hanging growth on the ceiling.

Strahd appeared, taunting them, and left them locked in their cell as he went to seek the rest of the team. After he left, Anton, Illya, and Mel used thermite to escape, then quickly attempted to find their way back to their teammates to warn them of Strahd’s impending attack. As they made their way back to the temple, they were attacked by a trio of vampires, who they fought and defeated. In the fight with three vampires, Anton had been drained of some of his life force. They then encounted three local villagers (and their dog) who were out to kill Strahd, and who loudly accompanied the three men as they returned to the chapel, returning just inside their one-hour time limit.

As a result of this, and the fact that it was getting late in the day and they wanted somewhere safe to sleep, they decided to return to the village for the night, except for Dan, who remained in the chapel, studying a spell book of some sort.

When the leaders of the group attempted to enter the entry hall of the castle, four horse-sized red dragons swooped down from the ceiling and threatened them. The leaders retreated; Mel asked Joe to kill the four dragons to prove his loyalty to the group, but he declined.

The group decided to retreat to the chapel and rethink strategy. They returned, finding Dan where they left him. Anton recalled a bunch of information they had gotten, suggesting that an item of great power against the vampire could be found up in a tower. Since they had already searched one of the towers, they decided to try the others. Dan joined your group for the search.

To get to the second tower, they climbed the one they had already searched up to the top.

The roof of that tower was connected to an entryway to a taller tower by means of a stone bridge. The crossing was treacherous; the first man (Drake) to attempt to cross actually fell, and was only saved by the rope tied about his waist. He made it over eventually, followed by two others (Mel and Illya).

When they entered the tower, it trembled; they could see a sort of glowing crystalline heart hung from the ceiling 40 feet above them. Dan went over and used some sort of magical levitation to check things out, but could come to no conclusion. Mel used a shotgun to blast the heart, which eventually "died", and the shaking of the “living rocks” and the tower ceased.

The rest of the team crossed the bridge, and proceeded up the stairs to an opening in the tower ceiling. Mel, Anton, Drake, Illya, and Dan went up to search the room, while Joe and Sarah stood at the rear of the party facing down the steps on guard duty. The rest of the party sat on the steps between the room above and Joe/Sarah.

Anton and the blue elf Dan had an argument, during which time Dan handed Anton a religious icon that he claimed would protect the party from the vampire; Anton recognizes the icon as one that the party had seen when they were in the chapel, but which was missing when they returned. Anton handed the icon to Sarah and agreed to give Strahd’s diary to Dan, who wanted to try and decypher it for clues.

Tension hung in the air, an aftermath of the harsh words between Dan and the others. But despite this tension, the adventurers moved in workmanlike fashion to perform a complete and thorough search of this small room. As they begin, Mel ordered Syman to return to the steps and send Ollie up. Syman made no effort to conceal his frustration at the current situation, but said nothing as he returned to the stairs and headed downward. A few moments later, and Ollie climbed up. Mel pulled Strahd's diary from Ollie's pack, and handed it to Dan, who began to leaf through the pages.

Anton and Illya stepped over to the bed and begin to search it, while Mel and Drake crossed over to the manacles.

The bed was made of a wooden frame, with a mattress that was stuffed with coarse straw. It appeared to have been well-used in the past, and had been well tended to; in fact, it was for the most part dust-free. A few minutes of searching revealed nothing under the bed, and showed that the frame was made of solid wood, hiding nothing.

The mattress was the next target. Anton tore open the side of the mattress and begn pulling the straw out, a handful at a time. When about a third of the straw had been removed, Anton's hand touched something solid. He grabbed it and pulled it out. It was a white tube, about 18 inches long, with a cap on one end. Handing it to Illya, he continued his search, and by the time the mattress was empty of straw, he had pulled out a second tube identical to the first, and something even more interesting.

In Anton's hand was a medallion in the shape of the sun, with a large crystal imbedded in the center. Around the crystal were various markings and symbols. It was obviously very old, and the craftsmanship was remarkable.

Mel and Drake had less luck. The manacles were bolted firmly to the wall. They, too, had been well tended to, showing no signs of rust or abuse. The wall around the manacles seemed firm, and they saw no way using the tools they had with them to remove the manacles from the wall. The manacles appearred solid and did not appear to hide anything. Neither Mel nor Drake could tell if the manacles had been used recently. They began a search of the walls of the room, looking for anything unusual.

While the others searched, Dan examined the diary. As he did so, he ventured down onto the steps, and saw the others sitting quietly if pensively. Syman was sitting a few steps below the top step, and when he saw Dan coming down, he quickly got up and descended down to where Joe and Sarah were standing guard.

Suddenly, Joe turned back to the others, calling out in a quiet voice, "Something approaches!" Syman dashed up the stairs to give warning to those up in the tower room.

For the moment, no threat was visible, either in the tower or in the room above. Anton’s watch at this time read 1627.

Proceed to Part Three, the original internet session