The Abyss Stares Back

The Curtain, Pulled Back

We clean up after ourselves at the end of the fight. I go around the town, hunting down the rest of the woven and releasing then from their servitude. Milosh descends into the basement and destroys all of the evidence they’re storing down there, like the jars of fluids and the torture implements. Mads destroys Blackburn’s body very carefully, out back where none of the townsfolk can see. He retrieves a note from the body saying that someone was reporting all of this to Strahd. And an iron rook symbol.

Mads wants to retrieve Sebastian immediately, but we decide to wait until the next morning. After a long argument, of course. And then we go to the farm. The farmers are OK, and Sebastian is still in the basement in the position that we left him in.

Mads pulls the stake and Sebastian comes back to unlife, grabbing Mads around the neck and growling. A chicken shake takes the worst of the edge off, and then we chat and apologize.

It gets a little weird. Sebastian feels really bad about what he is, and Mads essentially wants to treat him as a pet. We tell him that we are going to Point Hope to rebuild and that he can join us there. And he takes a long drink from our elf so that he doesn’t murder the farmers upstairs.

Incidental vision: Man with a scar across his face is terrified and doesn’t want to fight. Not what he appears to be, but is desperate and knows too much.

We leave the farmhouse, after warning the farmers to head to Kreszk before Sebastian can come upstairs. Along the road, Mars and Milosh see signs of the ambush where the captain was taken. There is a separate trail leading out of the ambush that looks to have been made by a few men escaping the attack. We follow.

We eventually come to a small camp populated by cowardly recruits and wounded men. We recruit them for the return to Point Hope, doing what we can for the wounded in the process.

Onward to point hope! It’s destroyed, looted and empty, which hits Milosh hard. The fortress needs a lot of repair to make it livable again, and we start to plan for its reconstruction.

But then we get a phone call from Johanna! She is under continued attack from shadow assassins sent by the Awakened, and they have redoubled their efforts against her since she’s been helping us. She asks us to go to Teufeldorf, where she’s tracked down the source of the creatures. Since we are busy at Point Hope, we send Sebastian to her to serve as temporary protection while we finish boosting the defenses of Point Hope and then go to Teufeldorf.

So we do that. Upon arriving at the city, we go to the location described, which is a graveyard behind the temple. What terrible clerics. Then we break into one of the mausoleums that seems to be occupied and fight the cultists that we conveniently find there. One of them has a scar over his eye, like Sebastian described, and we decide to keep him alive, since he knows too much. Unlike his two unfortunate companions…

There is a note in the tomb that totally throws us, saying that the men here know that the scholar is going to send the Synod to attack them. And we were just sent by… Johanna… who is being watched by Sebastian…

Crap.

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The Six-Million Goldpiece Man

We step over the dead specialist and enter the room that Mads slammed shut behind her. Inside is another laboratory, this one containing two cots (presumably for the assistants), a journal, and a number of medicinal sample jars. The jars are labeled with our names, and although the fluids in the jars designated for us are limited (some blood and hair), there are also jars for Sebastian with a more extensive (and intimate) collection.

The journal details the last few weeks of the specialists work, including her departure from the asylum, intensive torture sessions and Sebastian’s conversion into a vampire. It turns out that the Vistani matron was right – his visions eventually did kill him, despite our efforts to blacken his soul into compatibility with Ravenloft. Near the end, she expresses her disbelief in us as the Synod. She doesn’t get a chance to talk about how we murdered her. Oh well. She does mention some damning statements about Sebastian, like how she sent him out to find us and maybe lure us into the mayor’s house, which he did. He didn’t tell us about that…

We do a bit more bookkeeping. Mads puts an additional entry in her journal saying that she is going to go out and look for Sebastian to throw anyone reading the book off her real location, which is dead in the next room.

In the next room over we find a few more items of interest. One is a summoning portal through which, we believe, the woven are being brought. Disrupting it will prevent any more from being imported, as well as cut the present ones off from their source, which I have just decided is important. We also find a recently-dug grave that we believe was used to store Sebastian during his vampiric fermentation.

Before we leave, I convince Mads to let me dissect the remaining road warden, and I am confident that, with the knowledge gleaned from the procedure, I will be able to remove the remaining Woven without killing the rest of the villagers.

And then it is off to the evening! And the inevitable fight. We return at the appointed hour to meet with Cassimere, and he is very excited to get started! But then we get to participate in a Truxican standoff, with both Casimere and Blackburn waiting for the other to attack. So we take the initiative and trick the vampires into starting the assault.

And then we fight! The two leaders take on each other in a sea of chomping minions while we take on the mid-level. And we kill the fuck out of them, like we do. Finally, the Favorite gets the better of Blackburn, throwing him down off of the balcony and threatening to kill him if we don’t give up. But that plays right into our plans, and Milosh charges forward, thrusts a stake into Blackburn’s chest and chortles in glee. And then Casimere, desperate to avoid a kill steal, tears out Blackburn’s throat.

The whole distraction is enough to get Mads into position behind him, and we continue the fight. A few devastating hits later, and the Favorite is down, but we are not quick enough to stake him before he turns to mist and flows upstairs. We follow, fighting or way through the house for the right to stake him first. Finally, we kick out way into his bedroom and three-way impale him, ending his unholy existence.

The townspeople, after seeing us defeat everyone important, finally rise up against the cultists. As they say, better late than never…

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An Inconvenient Truth

The battle starts with two half – transformed man monsters charging across the chamber at us. Abalescu is in the lead, with another roadwarden right behind. Fight!

We are victorious! We knock Abalescu unconscious with the sedative from the torture room, kill his lieutenant, and have to deal with a few of the now-awakened man-things from the gurneys. After the fight, I take one of the dead gurneymen into the operating room to see how the creature attached to their necks is controlling them, and Milosh puts Abalescu into one of the empty cells to deal with him later.

Detail: each of the villagers had a creature attached to their faces (like a face-hugger) that has a tentacle shoved down their throat. Their eyes are white and devoid of thought. This explains why the villages working on the wall outside are wearing scarves.

Milosh and Mads interview one of the other people in the cells, who were part of the road wardens involved in an attack (and victims of an ambush) on Kreszk after the bread incident. It seems that point hope has probably been attacked, although the men don’t know for sure. We also take time to arm and feed the men in case they can serve as backup in the upcoming fight, leaving the cell door unlocked behind us.

I perform an autopsy on the dead gurneymen, and see that the face-hugger has infiltrated the men’s spinal column with control cords and injection tubes. It doesn’t look like they can be forcibly removed without harm to the victim. However, the knowledge gained from the examination, combined with information on the notes in the room, gives me the impression that I could use some sort of sonic attack/command word to detach the creatures. It would work better if I dissected the living man, though… We’ll leave that for later.

Milosh and Mads continue on down the hallway and come to a room with a couch and some other furniture, and some supplies that may be used in the torture room. Also here are the pendants that we wore in the asylum. Weird… And even weirder is what happens when Milosh grabs his – he sees a vision of our experience in the asylum, but then it shifts and the asylum suddenly appears in much better repair. And it makes it look like we broke into a legitimate hospital and killed innocent people. The other pendants, grabbed by Mads and I have similar effects. So… We killed orderlies? And Sebastian? Or is this another lie?

The door at the end of the room suddenly opens, and in walks a woman, dressed in a labcoat and flanked by two assistants. We immediately recognize her as the receptionist from the asylum – the one who provided us with the pendants that are sitting in this very room, and which tricked us into killing an unknown number of patients, doctors and orderlies. In a heartbeat, Mads has slammed the door closed behind her to prevent her escape, and Milosh has backhanded an assistant to the ground and has her throat in his grip.

We have a short, tense conversation with her. Infuriatingly, she’s under the impression that we’re part of her team, like most of the awakened. To make things worse, she super proud of tricking us into killing at the asylum, and getting to torture (and maybe turn) Sebastian for her cause. We get so angry that Milosh just tries to outright murder her, which in hindsight could also be part of her plan… So we fight!

She turns out to be pretty tough for a scientist secretary, and is a brutal disciplinarian who makes Mads and Milosh attempt to kill each other before she destroys their minds. It’s rough, but we survive.

Now we’re left with the decision as to whether or not to dismember her, or flay her, or something equally horrible. Oh Mads, you monster…

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Fangs for the Memories

On the other side of the newly – opened passage, we find and follow a hallway sloping gently downward that terminates in the back of a chapel with a dais at the far end and a weak phosphorescent glow coming from the ceiling. Oh, and two skeletal guards. Milosh nonchalantly strolls up through the aisle, drawing the ire of the guards and causing them to attack. Fight!

Once the skeletons are dealt with (aka, scattered across the chamber in the form of dust), we explore. The dais and skeletal remains reveals nothing, other that the fact that the whole structure seems absolutely ancient and undisturbed for ages. There are two doors leading out from the room, and Mads opens the one on the left. The light is stronger here, almost daylight in strength, and to the uneducated eye it looks like a greenhouse. It even has a tree in it, which Mads tries to converse with, labeled “the tree of truth”. And some dead plants that he insists could be undead, because he literally doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

The other door leads to what looks like a medical chamber of some kind, filled with empty shelves. In the center is an ash pile, with scorch marks on the ceiling above it. This ceiling has the same kind of phosphorescence as the other rooms. Around the pile of ash there are 7 skeletal figures. A fragment of paper that we find implies that maybe, just maybe, there might have been some transcendence going on here, and that the fire was fueled by books and scrolls from this storage room.

There is another door exiting from this room, and Mads tries to open it but finds it to be stuck. And not just stuck, but held as if by a person/spirit in the other side. Neither his nor Milosh’s strength is quite enough to pry it open, but pure confidence in my knowledge (i.e. ridiculous ego) is enough to join the get-through-the-door-club. Yay!

Inside is an egg on a pedestal with firefly-like lights swirling around inside of it. I hear something whisper “welcome, apprentice” in my head, and we all feel like there is a presence in the room as we enter. It seems like this is our goal, and that the swirling lights are the memories stolen by the Awakened. The age of this place, however, also implies that the egg here is far older than they, and that the memories (or whatever else it may be) inside could be from creatures other than those we know about.

We argue for some time about what to do – whether to break the egg immediately or take it with us, whether what is inside may be dangerous enough to selectively fish out memories or smash it and release all, whether the voices heard in the chamber are those of the prisoners of the orb or those of the long-deceased builders of this place, etc. Finally we decide to take the orb outside and smash it immediately, and while doing this call Johanna and find out whether it has any immediate effects. So we do, and it does, although exactly what those effects are is unclear.

Oh, and Mads decides that it’s a good idea to eat some fruit from the mysteriously-not-dead tree in the left room of the underground temple, and he gains the power to be slightly more insufferable. AND he makes a direct inquiry to Johanna as to whether she is a demon, the answer to which is surely not a lie that will come to haunt us later.

Finally, we set off on our journey to Kreszk, deciding to bypass Mt Baratak and Point Hope in favor of speed. After we have dealt with the situation there and participated in the surely-not-suicidal attack on the Awakened by Blackburn’s cronies, we will go to Point Hope to make sure that it still stands, then to the mountain to educate ourselves in ancient blue-huffing barbarians, then maybe back to Teufeldorf to burn down the Asylum.

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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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