The Abyss Stares Back

Hot Fly Cuff Action
A lesson in overthinking

We return to the city of Barovia after visiting the castle to visit with Johanna and inquire as to the results of her research.

1. She gives us the coordinates (at least, as closely as she can) of the memory containment device, somewhere in the Eldritch Woods.
2. She gives us the name of the plant used by the barbarians on Mount Baratak – kiteweed – to give them their berserk abilities.
3. Something else that we’ve now forgotten

We decide to retrieve the memory device first, then make our way to Kresk, possibly stopping by the mountain on the way. So it’s off to the Eldritch Woods. We decide not to take horses, but to instead walk through the crisp winter air. The path is not much more than a deer path, since there isn’t any real civilization beyond Barovia in this direction.

After a few hours, we see something up ahead. It looks like some crumbled ruins, or perhaps the remnants of a tomb or mausoleum. Rotting leaves are everywhere. There is a drawing of a planetary system on the structure (3 moons orbiting a central planet?), with the words “the only good is knowledge, the only evil is ignorance” on it.

There is a door on the structure, currently closed, as well as what appears to be a nest with a metallic object glinting in it. So Mads investigates, and pulls out a bronze scale, which is then followed by the dragon that dropped the scale flying overhead. Fortunately, we all manage to conceal ourselves (even Mads, just a few feet away), and the beast settles back down into its nest. Mads stands up to reveal himself and tries to make conversation with him it, but it demands that he leave immediately and does not respond to his pleas to listen. It implies that it was left here as a guardian, but doesn’t give the details of its deal.

So we decide that we need to kill it (personally, i think it will become a threat to civilization, and Milosh maybe just likes to kill stuff). Mads wants to go and explore before we attack, just in case there is a back door, or perhaps some other place where the orb might be kept. But we override him. And then we superbowl a dragon fight.

After it is dead, Mads picks the lock on the door and we enter the building, which is not a tomb but rather a covering over a stairway going down. The hallway they we pass through has symbols with a similar planetary motif. At the end is a relief of a scholar bearing a scroll and a quill, along with a series of words on the wall.

Strong – weight – made
Hot – fly – cuff
Arrow – sand – left

Closer inspection and a kind DM reveals that there are certain areas of the statue that have been groped before – the head, left hand, right hand, stomach and left foot. So obviously head – scroll – hand. Sure.

At that point, the door behind the scholar slides open to reveal a dark passage behind…

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Remembering to Forget

The shadowy figure turns out to be Camille, and she’s trying to convince her sister to run, refusing Strahd’s command. They get emotional, and Camille’s response to her sister’s emotions is to use chloroform on her. Mads interrupts, and has a long crazy conversion with C and he encourages her to get her sister away from Strahd.

Camille had a plan to “kill” her sister, and then be taken by us to Strahd to face punishment for the deed. While in his presence, she would then attack him. Even Mads thinks it’s crazy. He tells her to wait for a time while we discuss our options.

The final decision that we come to: Milosh will use Vistani magic to switch the dreams of the two sisters, and then we will take Camille with us to the castle. We also will endeavor to find a way to suppress our memories so that we don’t give away the secret if our minds are read by Blackburn. The ultimate goal is to trick Strahd into eating Camille instead of Ludmilla, which doesn’t really help anyone but Camille, who will be dead (or undead) but satisfied at keeping her sister from harm, but her sister is probably going to die of ennui over all this anyway. And the town will be short one of their only puissant defenders, and likely will become a bat-infested ruin in the near future.

We decide that there are two options for removing the memories of our own deception. We can either travel back to the Awakened farm where we rescued… someone, defeat the cultists’ pet demon who is likely still guarding it, and have Mads use his unique abilities to pull us into a dream world. Then, we can use the lingering connection to an ancient mnemonic artifact left by the scholar’s mind-wiping powers to reconstruct our own minds, all the while fighting the darkest parts of our psyches as well as the terrifying remnants of primordial Vistani magics that were never meant to be tampered with by mortals. Or, we could go to my old teacher and have her do it. Choice 2 it is.

The next day, we set out with Camille, after Milosh creates a charm for both sisters to switch their dreams which will have CONSEQUENCES THAT WILL SOON BE FORGOTTEN. Back to the city. Johanna is there, but there are signs of a struggle in her room. She says that one of the shadow assassins came to see her, and then proceeds to make us feel bad by minimizing our battle with the other two assassins. We explain our plan, going over the exact details of what we want to remember and what we want to forget. She tells us all about the results of the research that she completed, including a good guess for the location of the mnemonocyte and critical intel on the source of the Ravager drugs, but we totally neglect to tell her to preserve those memories. And then, we continue on with our…

The next day, we set out with Ludmilla, after Milosh makes some comforting small talk with her. Back to the city. Blackburn is still in Castle Ravenloft, and we present evidence of the success of our delivery job, as well as the bonus round prize of Ludmilla. He stares at all of us for a few moments, and then congratulates us on a job well done. Ludmilla departs, likely never to be seen again.

Blackburn takes us into his confidence. Although Strahd himself cares not a whit about the Awakened, Blackburn has plans in motion. He says that there will be an ambush of the scholar in the near future. The Favorite, whom we only know as “that curly-haired blond guy who sent Neds dead bread dad to attack Point Hope”, is normally based in Kreszk, evidently a stronghold of cult activity, but is on corruption duty in the town of Lowentour. He is a fop and a former disciple of Strahd by the name of Casimere Drake who turned on his former master. And he surely still has Ned with him, although converted into some kind of monster that we’ll have to deal with since we abandoned him to his fate back when that other thing that I can’t remember happened. There will be a conclave on the first of the month when all the bigwigs of the Awakened get together for team building activities, and this month’s schedule will include Strahd’s forces, in a genocide capacity.

Blackburn knows that the cult has access to teleportion magics, but he has a dimensional anchor to nullify that advantage that must be delivered with the attack. And, seeing as how we just proved ourselves as competent delivery men (much better than those chumps at Corvo Couriers), we will have the honor of that particular suicide mission.

Wait, what?

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Only Following Orders

The sign of the Iron Rook is an iron badge with a picture of a rook sitting on a castle. The package is about 10 inches across, wrapped with a blood red ribbon. It is not sealed, almost asking us to open it.

Milosh knows that Iron Rook agents are rare, but that they carry with them the might and, more importantly, the threat of Strahd. Milosh also suspects that the badges are being used to either spy on us or track us, so we should be careful what we do or say.

We pick up our horses from the stables and depart out of the city to the east, heading towards Sebes. We eventually break away from the road and take to a path through the woods. And then, another hour or so later, we approach the town.

From up ahead, we can hear the sound of combat and shouting, and we come across a motley group of militia pointing worriedly up into the trees. And then we see the giant bats attacking them. And then they are attacking us!

And then we kill them, cutting short their wild frenzy. The townsfolk who were being attacked stop and stare at us. Many of them look new and shocked. Their leader, who introduces himself as Janus, greets us and thanks us for our help. He is joined by a woman, his second in command, Camille, who is also the daughter of the mayor.

We tell them that we have a delivery for Camille’s sister, and Camille becomes visibly agitated, demanding that we leave the town, although Janus doesn’t know why. He does know that the two sisters are close, and that they used to have a younger sister who died in a hanging under mysteries circumstances. It seems as if she is expecting this delivery and fears it. But we won’t leave, and she stalks off into the town.

Janus points us to the mayors house, and we travel there. Camille is there with her father and other sister, and she is arguing with them, telling them that we need to be thrown out. She fails, and we convince the mayor to let us speak with his daughter Ludmilla. Camille tells him that her sister has been having the dreams, and he suddenly gets very serious, telling her to leave. He realizes that we’re there on Strahd’s behalf, and grovels, more or less begging us for forgiveness.

Milosh delivers the package to Ludmilla, and she fearfully opens it. Inside is a ruby necklace and a note, saying that she should join Strahd at her earliest convenience. She feels super bad, but she seems willing to go and be his concubine, or his lunch, whatever the case may be. Her father is quite shaken up, and asks us to stay the night and escort her to the city the next day.

And then, we go bad. Milosh goes to the butcher and threatens him into preserving the bat wings that Mads brought. Vistani curses are bandied about, countertops are broken, and sausages are delayed. I go to the inn and get caught up in their fake, fearful celebration, putting on a concert of my own ego. And Mads does stalker-y surveillance on Ludmilla to make sure that she doesn’t commit suicide, because we are the instrument of the destruction of her life.

Towards the end of the evening, Ludmilla is asleep and Mads sees someone enter the room. Who. Can. It. Be.

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Urban Parcel Service

We go to the intersection where Mads agreed to meet the sisters’ assassins, and there we wait. Not for long, though, because two figures that seem to be made of smoke coalesce near us, brandish their shadowy knives, and attack. Fight!

We are victorious, but before we destroy the second assassin I take out a small jar, put a quick summoning circle on it, and catch a fragment of the spirit for questioning. And then, the actual questioning. We discover, through some shared memories via Mads, that the scholar wanted the sisters to tell him how to create the synod, implying that he doesn’t have as much information about us as we feared, but they wouldn’t really help him other than telling the assassins that fear would work. So they were killed. And now, we need to not be afraid, but of what we don’t know.

The next day, we go to Castle Ravenloft to meet with Lord Blackburn. It’s creepy. Creepy bridge with its creepy invitation-taking ghost. Creepy front door. Creepy Butler. Creepy hallway. Finally we are brought to a room where we wait for Blackburn to arrive.

He greets us, and we tell him everything we know, including that we basically knew his agents were vampires and not really denying that we killed them and know the hunters. But he’ll give us a chance to work together against the scholar, if we undertake a mission for him.

The mission is to deliver a package to Ludmilla Schwartz, in the town of Sebes. Her father’s name is Jacob, and he is the leader of the town. It must be delivered directly to her, with no interference in the process. We will bear the sign of the Iron Rook, which should get people to leave us alone.

We accept, and prepare to take the package to Sebes.

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Meetings and Memories

Johanna, before we leave, invites me back to her place after hours to catch up. Like, really, even though Mads expects something more kinky. Before that happens we discuss some of our next options.

We decide to split up for the evening, with me going to see Johanna, Milosh checking whether any of his people are nearby, and Mads going to check on Lucinda and to talk to the spinsters.

Milosh meets a Vistani snake oil salesman named almost-Zachary who he pumps for information about the drug using barbarians. He is told they would light up their fires of war, where all of the best warriors would gather and grow strong. The sales guy doesn’t know anything about the herb per se, but they at least give Milosh some furs to keep him warm in the mountains. They also discuss the memory stealing, and the Vistani implies that a crystal ball like structure would probably be the most powerful memory construct. Also, to get the memories out the item would need to be destroyed. Simple!

Mads goes to Lucinda, who is pretty much as confused as she was before. Books don’t mean anything to her, and she laments that. She still lacks her memories from before we arrived in Barovia. He has a very heartfelt conversation with her about how she should work to find new interests now that she has forgotten her old life.

I go to see Johanna and we talk about things – old times, my demon voices, stuff like that. It’s nice.

Mads goes over to the sisters’ shop to see them, but finds it dark. That doesn’t slow him down at all. He goes in, and finds the front room completely empty except for a single spinning wheel. There is a weird mist drifting through the floor boards, probably sentient, and a copper scent in the air. And the sisters are dead, with their servers heads impaled on knitting needles in their bedroom.

During his explorations, he encounters some kind of assassin spirit. Maybe? And then he challenges it to a duel in the center of town. So he flees, comes to find the rest of us, and then we all go to the meeting place to have a fight, because that’s close enough to honorable for us.

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Liesl with an Option to Buy

We get what information we can from Sasha and Liesl about the vampires in the cave. They tell us that there are at least two of the creatures, perhaps a few more, and that the hunters are not aware of any other entrances.

We decide to sneak into the chamber and try to stake a few of the monsters before they realize that we are there, and perhaps pull some of them out into the sunshine. The plan, of course, relies on stealth, which is one of our specialties. And then we screw it up with two ones. The vampires are alerted to our presence, and they are up and out of their coffins before our eyes adjust to the darkness. We are, evidently, just in time to be their snack. But perhaps they will be our snack instead! Fight!

It isn’t long before we have dusted all of the vampires (there were 3, including one that was super disinterested in the fight, and I’m going to pretend that the first two were sweethearts). The coffins in the room contain personal effects, including a letter from one of the vampire’s mothers congratulating her on her alchemy shop, dated about 5 years ago.

In the next room is a desk with some books and papers on it. Inside one of the books is a letter.

Grell, 2 tasks. Find info on the hunter in Teufeldorf (he killed someone’s consort – Katarina). Find the upstart in Barovia, this scholar, and learn his strength. Love, Lord Blackburn

Mads has the idea of seeking out Lord Blackburn and allying ourselves with him (temporarily) against the scholar, who seems to be his competition. For that reason, we don’t share the letter with Sasha and Liesl, assuming that they would try to act against Blackburn if they knew he was a vampire. We conjecture in post that Sasha is this hunter that the letter speaks of.

We return to Teufeldorf and the church, where we find some of the crazy people that Heinrich brought back milling around in the sanctuary, being tended by Mortimer. Mads relays the information about the asylum and remaining patients, and Mortimer agrees to help Heinrich stay sober and Heinrich will help to bring back the patients.

Our plan is to go back to Barovia and talk to Lucinda and Blackburn and whoever else we have there and go from that. One evil possibility is to inform Blackburn of Sasha’s identity IFF an extra bargaining chip is required to acquire his assistance.

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Checking Out

We find a first draft of a prophecy that Yaris (the mad scientist that we just defeated) had written for the Awakened. There are a number of re-wordings and corrections that imply that he was writing this not from memory, but rather to sound impressive. Even so, the writing shows that Yaris knew more detailed information about us than we are comfortable with – maybe the rest of the writing has information about our future as well.

We take the patients from the third floor down through the dumb waiter system to the first floor. One we get back to town, we will tell the church of Lathander that the people here need their help, and it will be easier to get them out away from the electroshock room. And Mads makes a promise that he will burn the asylum down in four weeks.

We decide to find room 2135, thinking that Heinrich’s girlfriend might be there (the crazy doctor implied it, although Heinrich himself didn’t pick up on that). Inside, we find the long-dead corpse of a woman, hung from the ceiling, wearing an opal engagement ring on her finger. There is a suicide note carved in the wall that is angry that “he left me”. We cut down the body and remove the ring, but there is a cold wind and her ghost appears.

She is initially angry that we took the ring, and then angrier once she learns that Heinrich is still alive (she thinks that he left her here), and then she just wants to see him. So Mads goes and gets Heinrich for a family reunion, and maybe a ghost death. They laugh, they cry, they realize that her father betrayed them both. And then she forgives him and disappears so that he can heal. And take care of their daughter, who is also here. We did a good thing!

We gather up Heinrich, his daughter, and her two friends and try to leave. The weird receptionist lady is here as well, and she insists on us logging out and turning in our badges before we can leave. So we do that, and in exchange we get a minor magic item or two. Hooray! But then Mads turns in Sebastian’s token and receives a form letter/condolence card instead, which enrages him.

One we are all done we travel onwards with our new wards in tow.

Mads gets shot in the chest by a vampire hunter! Oh no! But it’s Sasha and Liesl, and they are in the middle of one of their cute little vampire hunts, having found a lair in a cave that they are about to assault. Awwwwwwww… We decide to come and help. Or hinder, depending on how things go.

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The Leg Bone's Connected to the...

We charge into the room. Well, Mads charges into the room, teleporting into the middle of the group before Milosh and I can react. He is surprisingly angry.

The main doctor guy is surrounded by a number of gurneys flipped up on end, each with a patient strapped in to them and with a juice groove cut into the bottom. Around them all are creatures, looking mostly human, but with craggy features and covered in spikes and such, as if they have been partially transformed. They are carving patterns into the floor – symbols of some kind…

We fight with the doctor and his minions, and enjoy his whispered words of despair and ability to make us distrust and attack each other. But he doesn’t survive for long, and we eventually take him down. All non lethal, of course, since we suspect that shed blood will unleash horror. And then his tentacles flop out of his sleeves. {Shudder}

Mads moves to free some of the patients tied to the gurneys, and has crazy conversations with them about hot air balloons.

We interrogate the good doctor and he is rather forthcoming with his information. The ritual was supposed to summon one of the generals of the Black Amaranth to take control of the ravagers and solidify them as a force under the control of the Awakened. Now that we have disrupted that, I guess that they will continue being crazy.

He confirms that we are believed by the inner circle of the Awakened to be some kind of prophesied group called “The Synod”. He even has a copy of the prophecy, written by him, that appears to have undergone a number of revisions to make it sound more impressive. It would be easy to dismiss the prophecy altogether because of its obvious edits, but they do seem to have information about us that shouldn’t be known by anyone. Anyway, we drag the doctor out into the hallway before dispatching him. He claims that killing him will not be an impediment and that he will be brought back shortly by his master, so we will put his claims to the test.

One last thing that he says, “We should look for her, 2135”. We have no idea what that means.

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Blackhawk Down

We don’t want to talk about what happens in the electroshock chamber, but it doesn’t go as well as we would hope. We end up leaving the room one person short of where we started. And maybe one of us has the guilt of shooting the missing person in the head with magical thunder as he was being swarmed by lunatics and devoured alive.

Once we have escaped the chamber, we head to the room above the kitchen and find the dumb waiter from below. It is jammed by the body of a dead patient, which we promptly remove. We can use it to access the third floor, which was inaccessible due to the stairs being collapsed from the second to the third floor.

Mads scouts the waiter exit on the third floor and find the third floor kitchen empty, although it looks like food has recently been prepared here, and Mads can hear the sounds of conversation coming from somewhere down the east wing. So we go that way.

The floor looks to be mostly made up of doctors’ offices, one of which has a cultists in it, peering at a bloodied dagger on his desk and watched over by an icon of their demon lord. Mads and Milosh kill him dead, but not before he refers to us as the “Synod”? We don’t know what he means, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing.

Also not good is the mural that we find on the wall, depicting… us? There are four figures in a painting labeled the Bodyguard, the Spymaster, the Inquisitor and the Oracle. The last one is crossed out in red paint. At least we hope that it’s paint. This might be related to the cultist referring to us as the Synod. They seem to be planning something for us, or are convinced that we are going to do something for them that we are as yet unaware of.

Further down the hall, we find the source of the conversation behind a closed door. Mads peers in with his magic ring and sees an examination room, all set up for torture and converting people into monsters. The room itself is square, but there are examination screens surrounding a central area in a circular pattern. The circular room from Sebastian’s vision! It even has the bleary eyed patients wandering around…

There is an obvious head doctor in the room who immediately grabs Mads attention and this becomes our primary target. It is not, unfortunately, the scholar.

Mads decides it’s go time, tells us to leave the main doctor alive, and vanishes. And then it’s go time.

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Happy Thoughts, Interrupted

It’s motherfucking gargoyle time. The children’s guardian drops down from the ceiling, apparently angry that they handed us a key to progress further into the asylum. After we exit the room and close and lock the door, we hear the girls screaming in fear and the monster roaring with rage. Sigh. We can’t let this continue, so Milosh screams a challenge and the gargoyle smashes through the door to engage us. NOT with the body of one of the girls, her bones shattered by the force of the impact, face pulped by its inhuman strength, whom the creature then carelessly tosses to the floor as she whimpers in agony. Nope, not that.

We battle the gargoyle, whose stony skin is nearly impervious to the weapons wielded by Mads and Milosh. It is not, however, resistant to the demon-fueled thunder wielded by yours truly, and it is eventually reduced to a pile of gravel on the floor of the hallway.

We pass back through the room and reenter the kitchen, where we find the three girls hiding in the oven (fortunately, no one does much cooking in this institution). Mads awkwardly lets them know that we destroyed their tormentor/daddy, and they seem to be more or less OK with that. We ask them some questions about what lies further into the building, and they warn us about the “funny man” guarding the way up to the next floor, as well as the “lightning room” that we will have to go through once we have ascended.

So it’s off to the funny man, whom we find perched on a smoking pile of… something… at the end of the hall leading to the stairs up. The smoke is mind altering, although only Sebastian and I are affected by it (bad trip LSD for the former, cocaine for the latter THISISTHEGREATEST). We all share, some of us unwillingly, in the ridiculousness that follows.

Finally we make it to the man himself, and it turns out that the pile he is sitting on is BURNING DRUGS, no surprise there. And also, he is crazy. Still, no surprise. He cackles in delight at himself and invites us to RIDDLEFIGHT with him. And we DO, and we WIN. So he pushes his little stash out of our way, opens the door the the ascending stairway, and then beats us with a series of puns that would have had much more gravitas if the riddling had gone differently. Oh Cicero, you scamp.

Upstairs, we find a hallway layout similar to what we have just come from, with the first wing of the building populated by a series of looneycells, minus most of the loonies. A bit further on is the morgue, which gets just enough of a glance from us to verify that the Awakened are still messing with dead bodies in what we can only assume are experiments designed to create ever more horrific creatures to spread wisdom and knowledge across the land for fun and profit.

And then, past that area, we find a set of double doors through which can be seen the electric blue flashes of… well, electricity. In we go, to Electroshock Therapy. It is a large room with a van de graf generator in the center spitting electricity into the air, surrounded by a horde of pacified crazymen. They seem to be very very fond of the generator, almost as if it is their deity of peace. Around the room are cells, closed and locked, that look to contain a higher class of violent offenders, judging by their scars and the thirst for blood visible in their eyes, as well as a small enclosed chamber on one side that screams CONTROL ROOM. And also which has “Control Room” written on the wall above it. The hallway at the far end of the room was blocked off by a wall of arcing energy, preventing us from exiting out that way.

We enter the control room and find a set of four multicolored wheels begging to be spun into some predefined positions, but whose instructions had been lost to the ravages of crazymen. Fortunately, we recall the rhyme of the girls downstairs, who had sung of colored things in their nursery rhyme. Although what a “violet cry” is, we don’t know. We keyed in that sequence and, lo and behold, the generator shut off. And the cages opened. And EVERYONE EVERYWHERE began howling for our blood and charging towards the control room.

This is what happens when you take away the weirdos’ binkies.

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