The Abyss Stares Back

Sparkly Whiny Vampires

We continue our training sessions with our minions. Billie will start to build the Ravens for Mads. Johanna teaches me a safe word to stop Sebastian if he gets out of control. Milosh teaches his recruits how to fight brutally. Before bed, I take an astrolabe and hourglass and try to chart the movement of the stars to determine our location. Mads attempts the same by talking to them, then runs recon on Joanna’s room in case he wants to break in there later.

The next day, we take Gia and get portaled back to the Vistani camp. Marya and the other Vistani are overjoyed to see her, and she gets them and sings the praises of the Synod and the Awakened. Hooray, we have new allies! Mads isn’t excited that Gia is talking about the Awakened, since he wanted the Vistani to be strictly loyal to us, but whatever, it is what it is.

We travel on to Point Hope. Mads wants to visit the cave that we left Sebastian and Camille in, but he doesn’t realize that I took Sebastian back to the Heimat. At Point Hope, Mads and Camille conspire against the Awakened and myself – she misses her new boyfriend and wants to whine about it. She’s not happy about me taking Sebastian back to Johanna.

Continuing onward, we reach the foothills of Mount Baratak about the same time that a snow storm begins there. Up ahead of us on the path we can hear what sounds like a frightened man getting a beating, and as we approach it looks like some large men(?) applying the beating. Milosh charges in to investigate with his weapon and confirms his suspicions. Ravagers! We engage!

We polish off the creatures and help the beaten man to his feet. He introduces himself as Otto, a scavenger traveling the pass who was looking for abandoned gear before being attacked and beaten by Ravagers. He tells us that there are caves further up the pass that we can take shelter in for the night, and that he was trying to get to an old building he spotted on one of his earlier journeys. Milosh helps him to repair his gear during the night, and in exchange he shares his provisions with us.

The next morning, we send the old man on his way and search for this building that he mentioned. It is not hard to find, and turns out to be an awakened research cell inside the mountain itself. There are notes, lab tables, a few dead bodies, symbolic symbol carvings etc. There is something wrong about this place that all of us feel, and it seems as if something alien has been using this area as a gateway into our world.

No doubt we will soon find out what that something is…

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Contact with the Enemy

We all discuss the situation and come up with the following plan. Sebastian and Camille will travel to the Vistani camp in the night and wait in the woods. When Gia comes out of her wagon to pee in the middle of the night, Sebastian will jump her and try to bite her, possibly name dropping Strahd in the process. At the same time, Camille will attack the camp. We hope that this will either change Gia’s mind about Strahd, or convince Marya to ignore her concerns about the vampires. We will follow the next day and use the situation to continue our pressure on her to join us.

When we arrive at the camp, we find the Vistani in an uproar. It seems that 2 men were killed last night in the woods, and the camp wants to form a posse to search for the ones who did it. Once Marya had calmed the people a little, we head inside to talk. She says that the two men were caravan guards, but they were off duty at the time. They were found this morning by some of the other guards.

Marya leads us out to the site of the attack and we investigate. There are signs of a battle here, with 5 combatants. Mads finds an arrow with runes of protection from undead on them, as well as a hole in the ground, probably left by a stake, surrounded by black ichor. There is no ash, though, so it doesn’t appear as if one of the vampires is dead. Marya receives a report from one of her men that Gia is missing. We tell her that we will find Gia and Milosh and Mads go off to track whoever escaped from this battle.

They come to a cave with black ichor splashed on the rocks, and inside are Camille (in full vampire mode), an unconscious Gia, and a very injured Sebastian. Camille tells them the tale – Gia has the sight, and saw the attack coming. She had two archers up in the trees that opened fire on Sebastian when he appeared and weakened him, then Gia staked him to the ground. Camille managed to knock out Gia and kill the two guards violently, and then drag them here.

She also tells them that Sebastian’s disguise failed him once he was staked, and that Gia knows it was him. Presumably, that would incriminate us as well. Milosh takes Gia out of the cave while Mads allows Sebastian to feed on him and regain his strength.

We discuss our options. Since Gia knows that Sebastian attacked her and is connected to us she is unlikely to convert to our cause (possibly if we give her Sebastian). Camille suggests that we turn her into a vampire to remove her credibility. Sebastian suggests we let Johanna alter her memories to forget that Sebastian was involved. We chose the last option, and Mads and I take her back to the Heimat through a portal while Milosh returns to Marya to remind her of the danger of Strahd and to tell her that Gia is OK and under our medical care.

Once we get to our base, Mads passes out from blood loss and I verify that he is letting Sebastian feed on him. Johanna and I take Gia to my chamber for reprogramming. Milosh returns after his talk.

We end the session in our rooms, Milosh training his recruits, Mads instructing Billie in the art of evasion, and me studying Gia to see if there is any physical manifestation of the sight.

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Minus Master Milosh

We start off in the briefing room of the Heimat, where we have been promised gifts. Johanna tells us of the ring of erudition, which is what she has been using to drain the minds of her victims, and she reveals to us that the minds trapped in the sphere that we freed were a group of ancient scholars. She now has the power to place the minds of these dead scholars into the empty shells of those she drained. Win! This is apparently what is now inhabiting that loremaster lady that we have been running into.

These scholars had gone into psychic hibernation until the spirit of knowledge had entered the land, which the awakened qualify as. They will be able to serve as a research force for the awakened/us.

Then she leads us out to the side of the building, to present us with the gifts that she mentioned earlier. The gifts are evidently facility upgrades, with Milosh getting a training yard, Mads getting apprentice spies (the first is is a girl named Billie), and me getting an interrogation chamber with a restraint chair and “implements”. The room also includes the book that gave me the Vox Umbra, although its pages are all blank at the moment. Sebastian gets a crypt to sleep in, a very nice crypt, with a marble coffin and padded with rich fabrics.

We can now spend time in our themed chambers to receive a buff – sending a spy to the map or receiving 2 d6 boosts to defense for Mads, extracting info from a prisoner or getting a d20 reroll for me. Milosh gets.. something else that will be revealed next week. We all get our own rooms, and there is a library on the second floor to do our own research.

Johanna takes Mads, Sebastian and I aside to speak with us about Gia, the granddaughter of Rounie Marya, telling us the she is going to convince the Raunie to ignore our advice and maintain faith with Strahd instead (Sebastian had seen it). This will likely lead to the deaths of whichever Vistani spill the beans about us, as well as revealing information about us. Joanna’s suggestion is that she could be eliminated, which would be the most expedient way of avoiding the deaths. Mads suggests that rather than do that, we might be able to just directly scare Gia and gain the same effect, perhaps by having Sebastian disguise himself as a different vampire, or perhaps by using Camille to do it. I suggest that Gia could be knocked unconscious during the attack, which would encourage the Raunie to mistrust Strahd and keep her granddaughter out of the equation.

We travel to point hope to discuss the matter with Milosh before we do anything concrete (outside the reach of Johanna). Lucinda is there, but we now know that she is now wholly inhabited by one of these sphere monks that we’ve heard of and is therefore not at all Lucinda anymore.. She’s doing as well as can be, but we have been told that she has “strengthened” Point Hope. We have yet to see what that means.

Sebastian and Camille meet for the first time, and they seem to get along very well. Possibly a little too well – it seems as if both of them need to commiserate about being unwilling vampires. This can only lead to betrayal, obviously.

The last thing that we do is take Milosh aside to tell him what we have learned about Gia and the Vistani, and what we think that we should do about that.

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Grumpy Vistani All Around

We rest in the camp, with Gia (Marya’s daughter) providing us with a place to rest and a promise of breakfast in the morning. It is delightful.

After breakfast, we go to speak to the Raunie, and we explain to her that this attack on her people was sanctioned by Strahd himself, through this “Onyx” individual who is presumably the replacement for Blackburn. Milosh is very careful to not mention the awakened to her during his explanation of how we discovered the impending attack, although we do eventually speak about it couched in statements about allies of necessity. The Raunie’s granddaughter, Gia, is very angry about the whole deal, first because we are directly involved with one or more vampires and second because one of those vampires is Sebastian, a man with the sight, who she is convinced will destroy the Vistani. Marya says that she cannot make a quick decision and must consult her fortune telling. Milosh stalks out because she won’t commit and Gia leaves because Marya won’t refuse.

After one last conversation between Milosh and one of his cousins (Milosh seems to be telling him to be subversive and convince others to convince the Vistani to back us) we depart for Lowenturm, where Camille awaits us in our room at the Inn.

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Multilevel Ambushing

I meet up with the iron rook on the outskirts of town, where he introduces himself as Percival (I tell him that my name is Jurgen Crotchnow), and he also reveals that he and his allies are vampires. We are not particularly surprised, since they are working for Strahd, but I do have to deal with this chump being all annoyed that I can’t follow him through the woods at his preferred speed.

We all reach the camp and find 2 other men waiting for us there to start the attack, circle the bedrolls and jump in. And then the synod springs their ambush! We almost immediately find out that Ludmilla, the girl that we stole for Strahd, is one of the vampire troopers.

We destroy the vampires but leave Ludmilla, or Camille, or whoever she is, alive. She is now free, since one of the other vampires was her sire, and she is hoping that we can help her by providing asylum. We agree to do so, although there is some disagreement as to whether we are going to reveal her existence to the scholar and the awakened, or whether we will just keep her existence to ourselves.

She tells us that Tatiana is part of a different cell of the iron rooks, and that she is planning on staging an attack on another nearby Vistani camp at dawn. Fortunately, the item that Mads stole from Tatiana is a compass that points to nearby Vistani, and we follow it to the target location. It happens to be the same camp that we had taken Sebastian to (and who had recommended that we have him killed), and we speak briefly with Rouney Marya, who seems disappointed with our new outfits.

We plan to repel the attack and have the Vistani jump out at an opportune time. Then, the attack! A group of spectral wolves come tearing across the meadow at the camp, and we move to stop them. Fight!

We win! Tatiana and her minions are no match for us, although it is close there for a second. Now, to speak with the Rouney about allying themselves with the awakened.

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Two Stones, Two Crates

We make ready to return to the town of Lowenturm to find the perpetrator of this foul deed, but first we decide to do some marketing with Luke. Being a werewolf (or related creature), it seems like he shouldn’t like the vampires, but he’s kind of ambivalent about the whole deal. We give him our business cards and play our theme songs, and then move on, leaving him with the name of the synod and an opportunity to contact us in the future.

On the road back to town, we pass a bush that snarls at us hungrily, and then a pack of spectral wolves bursts out and starts chasing us. We flee down the path to a bridge crossing over a narrow river before they catch up to us. Fight!

The wolves prove little challenge to us, and after they are dispatched I follow their magical trail back through the woods. In a pile of leaves near where they burst out of, we find a pair of bodies – the guards from the caravan. There are signs that the cause of death was electrocution, which explains the scorch marks in the camp attack. Having nothing else to gain from here, we move in to the town.

The hospitality stand in the town is empty at the moment, so we move directly to the tower at the center of town, which also happens to be their city hall. We accost the clerk at the front desk and convince him to fetch the mayor for us. She is not compact, not does she have long dark hair, so she can’t be the culprit. However, during the course of the discussion, the clerk does spill the beans about a potion merchant named Tatiana that matches the description. We threaten them, in series, with the possibility that we are part of the iron rook or that we kill members of the iron rook, and they agree to stay in the tower for now so that they don’t interfere with our plans.

We go to the market and find the potion merchant. She matches the description that we were given, so we talk to her. She seems innocent enough, and her selection of potions is unimpressive, not seeming to be the kind of thing we would expect a decent wizard to be selling. There is a creepy dumb guy watching her closely that she introduces as Gurt, the slow guy who carries her stuff. It turns out that she is half Vistani, and a conversation with Milosh reveals that she harbors some bitterness towards them over them kicking out her and her mother. Mads makes a contribution by picking her pocket and retrieves a small object, although he doesn’t get a chance to look at it yet.

At one point, Gurt is sent off to her room in the Lions Mane Inn to fetch her shawl and I follow, giving him some relationship advice when he emerges from the room. I then go in myself to look around, finding a small lightning rod, such that a wizard might use in casting a lightning bolt, as well as an iron rook badge. Oh no! After I leave the inn, I end up being tailed by another agent who I confront. They are here on behalf of Onyx, who is presumably a lieutenant in the iron rooks. I convince him that I am here with another lieutenant (Obsidian) and that I need his help in killing Milosh. We agree to meet south of town to kill them (us) at their (our) camp.

Tatiana finally closes up shop and goes off to do some chores with Gurt, and Mads and Milosh go back to the inn to rest. I leave a pie containing a message about the attack on their table, which Mads eventually eats. They head South to set up an ambush spot, while I join my new frenemies.

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Cool Paws Luke

During the night, we have our own sleepy time hijinks. Milosh dreams of the matriarch of the Vistani camp that we had gone to earlier (by the name of Rouney Marya). She tells him that he must bring down the devil by lying with the demon, and then a dark shadow rises up behind her, and he wakes up horrified.

I wake up with Johanna looking at herself in the mirror and she’s actually looks genuinely happy. She expresses that she is glad that she doesn’t have to go it alone anymore. Then we go at it together.

Mads wakes up on a rooftop, even though he had passed out in the alley where Sebastian fed on him. He had a nice note from Sebastian clutched in his whatever that thanks him for being a friend, expresses distrust for Urban, and says not to tell anyone about him trying to eat someone and for the people he will eat in the future. Made scratches out that part and leaves all the nice things about himself, then steals breakfast from a wealthy house.

We return to the university to be on our way. Johanna gives us the opportunity to rebrand ourselves, but we’re pretty happy with our names. Milosh does become the Champion rather than the bodyguard, since our bodies do a good job of guarding themselves. She tells us that her people are aware of a skirmish in the Forlornwald that surely must have been perpetrated by Strahd’s people, if not Strahd himself. And then she creates a portal to take us there. Milosh takes his armor off in case she has enchanted it to deceive us, but it all appears to be real.

Mads ascends into the trees to look around and sees the town of Lowenturm in the distance. We head there, in the hope that someone there has heard of an attack on the Vistani in the area. The hospitality coordinator of the town gets us and wants to give us a tour, but we refuse. She does tell us that a caravan came through here a few days ago and departed to the south, which would seem to be the one that we’re looking for. After helping her with the tourism slogans of the town, we leave to follow the caravan.

The trail of the wagons splits off of the main trail towards an ambush location and we follow. A clearing up ahead has 3 wagons that have been attacked, with the people murdered and bloody (about a dozen overall). We go to work.

It appears that this is the same caravan that passed through the town, as it bears the name of the magician guy that the hospitality lady from the town described. A quick autopsy shows that the people here died of blood loss from what appears to be a mammalian attacker with dark hair, but there was no obvious sign of feeding. Tracks in the area look canine, but they do not appear to have left the area. We decide that werewolves are the culprits, but it is not obvious where they have gone since the tracks do not exit the campsite.

There are a few areas that are burnt as if by fire, and I determine that there are two distinct types of marks, one of which appears to be from a summoning spell and the other which appears to be from a stroke of lightning or another kind of electricity. None of the Vistani here appear to be able to cast spells, nor do any of the bodies have marks of electricity in them, so there isn’t an obvious explanation.

At that moment, Milosh hears the sound of a Vistani dirge coming from the woods somewhere to the north. Fortunately, he is a master at the concertina, and he joins in with harmony to try to me the player into the clearing. And he succeeds! The player is a man, or appears to be at least, but instead he admits to being a wolfwere. He says that he knows who did this evil deed, but he won’t tell us unless we evict some people from his forest. Sounds good to us.

The people to be evicted turn out to be a family from another world who are disturbingly innocent. They recently arrived here through the mists and have set up a logging and fur trapping operation and just want to be left alone. After a good amount of convincing and a fair amount of vague threats, we get the family to agree to move to the outskirts of Lowenturm. We also eat some delicious biscuits. Finally, they are out and we return to Luke.

He tells us that it was a woman who committed these murders, and was capable of summoning spectral wolves to kill the Vistani. She is described as having long dark hair and being small and compact, with an herbal smell about her. She departed to the north, returning to the town where I can only guess she is the mayor. Her goal appears to have been to not only kill the gypsies, but also to frame the wolfweres for the job. We tell Luke that it was probably vampires, since they don’t really get along. And then we head off to the town to find the culprit.

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The Thank You Tour

The session starts with Mads and I talking to Sebastian and trying to gently tell him that we are now working directly with the scholar. As expected, he doesn’t like the idea of not killing the people who tortured him, but Mads and I convince him to stay his hand (partly because I use an icon roll to corrupt his soul just enough to help him accept his new dark position). We return to Johanna.

We talk for a little while about what we are expected to do and why Strahd might be willing to act against the Vistani now. Maybe it has something to do with the sight – perhaps he wants to either gain control over it or fears that it might be used against him.

Before we strike out to a Vistani camp to investigate what is going on, Johanna asks us to join her on a trip to one of her people’s camp to have a press conference to introduce ourselves as the synod, and we agree to do so, under the assumption that we will then be recognized by her troops and this able to command them.

She offers us presents as well, and after we are teleported to the camp we end up in a room with 4 armoires, each inscribed with one of our names on it. Inside each of them is a suit of armor for one of us, personalized and bearing the insignia of the Scholar, or the synod, or whatever it is (a dagger with a quill crossing it). They are totally badass and Mads just about passes out with greed over his new leather armor. We take our items and put them to good use.

We join Johanna in front of a large gathering of her people and she gives a speech about how we are great and that we are totally on board with the Awakened. Milosh tests out his newfound power by convincing the mob that one of the men in their midst is a traitor and must be killed. They do so, and it’s a combination of impressive and horrifying.

We return to Barovia to rest and recuperate, and also to level up! Hooray for level 4!

We have a few solo adventures. I end up joining Johanna in her quarters for a late night study session. Mads, while looking for a place to sleep at night, stumbles in on Sebastian hunting a man for a meal. Mads doesn’t approve, so he knocks the terrified man unconscious and offers up his own blood to slake our vampire’s thirst. During the process, Mads calls on the power of the prince of Shadows to steal away Sebastian’s thirst temporarily.

The next day, we will get sent to the Vistani camp to move this shit forward.

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Deal with the Devil

We take the surviving cultist out of the mausoleum to one of the inns in the town of Teufeldorf where we question him. Amongst bowls of soup and trenchers of bread, all of us attempt to put the ex-cultist at ease and get some information out of him. He is loathe to believe us, understandably, at least partly because we are so incredibly weird. We freely admit to him that we are the Synod, since it has become apparent that we are, but try to put him at ease with the claim that we didn’t really know who were were murdering or why.

He (and he can’t remember his name here) doesn’t remember much about recent times. He thinks that he is from Zeidenberg, and that he and his sister were converted there. They were poor and needed jobs and or money, giving us the impression that the cult preys on such individuals. He can’t believe that we are planning on killing the scholar. Because we totally are. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know why he and his two friends were able to shake off the control of the awakened, but I take some blood samples and give him a medical examination to analyze later. They might be useful in figuring out how to free other awakened.

In the morning, we take him to the temple of Lathander to hopefully recover, or at least get someone else watching him since he is worried that he will revert. Talking to Sasha, we find out that the asylum had been successfully emptied and that we can burn it down. Or we could, if we wanted to take some time to do so now. But we don’t. We head straight to Barovia to confront Johanna and end this.

When we get there and find her (and Sebastian, dutifully watching her) in the university, she seems to be upset, with a brandy snifter on her liquor cart smashed. It’s probably out of anger for all the headaches we’ve been causing her, combined with the fact that we just turned her most recent boyfriend into ashes. But there’s a simple solution for that, so after our initial greetings I stay with her and Mads and Milosh go into the back room to find whatsername. She’s there, but she’s acting as if she has been lobotomized or something (which is probably accurate, even if it’s not in a physical sense). Milosh, after trying to convince her that her home and duty is in Point Hope without any luck, resorts to putting a Vistani curse of pain on her instead, and she and her artificially cheerful personality stumble out of the room in agony and lurch towards the door.

We send Sebastian off after the unnamed lady, and the rest of us stay to confront Johanna. I blow our original plan of murdering her before she realizes that we now know what we know now by telling her that we know what we know, and that we know that she knew all along that we didn’t know what she knew or what she was. She takes the new knowledge in stride, although she is disappointed that we didn’t kill the escaped Awakened faster (we do tell her that they are dead, which should spare the remaining man in Teufeldorf, unless he turns back and Sasha or Digweed kill him). I drop what would have seemed to be a bomb, that I am willing to work with Johanna against Strahd, since the two groups are in direct conflict. And the Milosh drops another bomb by entertaining the idea! And then he scolds her for sending a note to the cultists, because seriously we would never have figured it out if it wasn’t for that note.

We chat. Or maybe negotiate, not sure if it counts. Milosh demands that Johanna change her nasty ways and stop turning people into acid demons, which she halfheartedly agrees to after telling us to “find a better way” (I am unconvinced that a bunch of peasants with pitchforks can harm an army of vampires in any meaningful way, so maybe the acid possession is better). She also tells us that she knows that Strahd has some kind of nefarious intentions for the Vistani, whom he has “tolerated” thus far. She doesn’t share anything yet, since we have yet to prove any kind of not-stabbing-her-in-the-back loyalty. We discuss how we might be willing to work together on common non-evil goals, like driving back the Ravagers, helping the Vistani and weakening Strahd’s control over the world.

Mads, unlike Urban and Milosh, is still unconvinced that any good can come of this new deal, although maybe the realization that most of the people in Barovia aren’t real people at all – only soulless shells – might change his mind. Mads and Urban go off to break (or conceal) the news from Sebastian, who is waiting to escort somebody to Point Hope, and who will certainly not object to working with the people who transformed him into a blood-sucking monster rather than getting his violent revenge on them.

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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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