The Abyss Stares Back

Gangs of New Dorf

We spend some time at the Heimat. Milosh makes plans to send some of his soldiers off to the ravager campsites that the road wardens found to see if the orienteering code described by the tribe in the mountains applies to the ravagers as well.

While Johanna and I go off to engage in whatever, Milosh and Mads discuss what to do. They decide that, since Heinrich is a drunk, we should take some wine with us when we go look for him in Zeidenburg. Plan A at the moment is to try to turn him, plan B is to kidnap him and being him back to the Heimat for questioning and/or brain sucking, plan C is unknown and plan D is to kill him. Or maybe profit. Mads takes his minions (now there are 3, although one has a knife injury in his foot and the other has adoorophobia) in a quest into the basement to retrieve said wine and comes away with two bottles of red wine and one of white (in case Heinrich is a lady). Along the way, Mads wants to take Sebastian out of the Heimat and never bring him back.

Johanna and I talk about my supposed betrayal. She is upset that I read the demon book out from under her and didn’t even say goodbye when I left, but I counter by telling her that it was the book’s choice as to who got the power, and that immediately after the experience I had little control over what I did to other people (and it was usually terrible and violent). She seems to be somewhat comforted by that at least.

Mads breaks into Johanna’s room to make sure that he can and to check her defenses but doesn’t get into the heavy burglary yet. On the way out he finds a blue book with a calligraphic B on it lying on a table and takes it, but doesn’t read it yet.

The next day we plan to leave for Zeidenburg before dawn, but Sebastian doesn’t show up at the appointed hour. When Mads goes to look for him, he is lying unresponsive in his coffin. Mads assumes that Johanna did something to him, but we don’t come to an easy resolution and decide to deal with this later.

We get transported to the area near Zeidenburg and head north to the city. Along the way, we are accosted by a gang of men wearing red arm bandannas with skulls on them. They demand everything that we have, then just ask for our money, and then Milosh educates them in macroeconomic theory. They fail the course, so we’re forced to kill them.

We move on to the town, and find it in even worse shape than it was when we left it – buildings falling down, filth in the streets, the whole nine yards. We go to Schneideldorf’s house first to see what condition it’s in and find it filled with squatters and very little else. We ask a sickly mother there about the town in general, and she says that she doesn’t know anything about a dragon statue, that the mayor lives under the thumb of the bleeding skulls in a house down the street, and that the west side of town is the industrial zone. I tell her to wait here and that someone will come back for her.

Mads hands me the book from earlier and I check it out, finding it to be a journal of Sebastian’s, and I go to the last entry. It details Sebastian’s doubts about his remaining humanity, as well as a description of a hunting/murder chase that he had involving a terrified girl whom he killed for fun but didn’t even eat. We all read the entry, and if depresses Mads enough that he has to leave the house and go out into the street to murder his sadness away.

We go to the mayor’s house and punch our way through the gang members we find there, then question the mayor. It turns out that the two gangs vying for control of the town were pretty even until the last time we were here, and that we weakened the crypt vipers enough that the skulls could take over. The breakdown of duties is that the Skulls (run by a man named Lug) operate out of the Ill Repute (Schneideldorf’s favorite drinking/whoring establishment) and run the drug/prostitution/extortion part of the town. The other guys, run by Ernesto, handle murder, weapons and the hard stuff.

We momentarily forget that we’re actually in the city to retrieve Heinrich, and start to come up with a plan to either just murderdeath the gang leaders, or alternatively use their loved ones (Lug’s mistress Destiny or his awful children, Ernesto’s Iforgotwho) to anger the leaders into resuming their all-out gang war.

But we really should get Heinrich first.

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Ten Rounds

Up ahead in the mountains along the path we spot signs of a settlement, then observe the people in it for a while. They appear to be ravagers, but of a more primal and noble sort. They are dressed in furs rather than human flesh, are sitting around cook fires near crude tents and appear to have either women or young adults among their number. There is an obvious leader among them, standing in front of a more generously decorated tent that is watching over the other tribesmen. We decide to do two things at the same time – Milosh and I will try to talk to them and get on their good side while Mads steals from their tent.

The chief is remarkably receptive to Milosh and I when we come up the main path and ask to share their bounty. However, one of his people demand that we pass a series of trials before we sit at their fire. She names the trials mind, body and spirit, and that seems tailor made for the three of us. :-) I start with the trial of the mind, which involves taking a hallucinogenic drink and then trying to remember three women’s names. Milosh gets to fight in a gladiatorial snoo snoo battle with a gigantic bear woman named Fralka, and they go 10 rounds of axe and blade. Mads has to travel to a dragon cave and retrieve a pregnant statue without becoming pregnant himself.

We are all victorious! Much snoo snoo is had. That night, we celebrate with the tribesmen, who tell us about the smoke breathers, another tribe (?) who misuse the sacred vine and have generally been jerks. Milosh convinces them to help against the other ravagers, I get them to swear fealty to the synod (sort of, anyway). We also get a recipe for and a sample of some kind of milk that the tribe uses to release themselves from the effects of the virrid. We don’t ask them exactly what (or who) they extract the milk from.

Once we are done, we leave for point hope, passing through the ruined inn north of Berez and Kreszk first. In Kreszk we examine the progress that the town has made since the vampires were killed, and find lingering signs of Casimir’s promotion of us there. Mads is disturbed by the innkeeper’s deference to us.

Then we go to Point Hope. Milosh wants to check on Abalescu and try giving him the milk to see if it makes a difference. He meets Lucinda there and she mentions that she could probably make a serum to improve the soldiers here out of Abalescu juice, but that it would probably lead to the death of Abalescu. It’s not as bad because Abalescu has already asked to die, but Milosh wants to hold off and try giving him the milk instead so that everyone can be weak. Mads talks to Camille and she continues to complain about everything.

We then return to the Heimat to talk to our sponsor again. I start to tell her about the remaining proto ravager tribe, but Milosh kicks me before I can. Johanna brings out Sebastian and he starts having a vision of Heinrich near a dragon statue with outstretched wings. It doesn’t go far enough for Johanna, and she… encourages more from him somehow (something about a building with green shutters), which appears to cause Sebastian pain. Milosh interrupts her before she can go a third round.

Mads escorts Sebastian back to his room to recover (and not be chained up by Johanna).

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Grandpa's Old Recipe

There are some corpses on the wall that look to be test subjects that died of exposure. There is no sign that they suffered any trauma, nor have they been turned into either ravagers or awakened. There are notes on a chalkboard on the other side of the room that confirm that the Awakened were interested in the old tribes that used to inhabit the area. The notes say that the roots and vines they consumed granted them a type of proto-rage, as well as unnaturally long life. Maybe they are still alive? Maybe they are the ravagers that the road wardens fought originally, and the more recent ravagers are the products of the Awakened?

Mads and Milosh go down one of the side passages, getting hit again by the madness pressing in on them, and reach a large chamber with a pool in the center of it. It is surrounded by large stone blocks, some of which have body parts on them. The ceiling and walls have unusually green vines climbing across them. The watery substance in the middle of the chamber starts to ripple, and a transparent oozing creature emerges. Fight! And win!

During the battle, I was thrown through a door into a back office of the compound, inside of which is more information about the ragestone. It has a recipe for the material, which is composed of starch, the vines that we saw in the jello room (virrid) and ash bark. It probably also requires the interference of an outer being or god-like thing to activate.

We move on to another hallway to investigate and find the remnants of a portal lingering on a pedestal. The exit from this room is obscured by curtains. Milosh tries to go through the curtains, but he goes momentarily insane, gets confused, and returns to stare at an imaginary world in the other side of the portal fragment. Mads and I manage to break him out of it before anything unfortunate happens.

Milosh cuts down the curtains, and we go into the next room, which looks to be an animal storage room. The animals have gone bad and merged into horrifying chaos monsters that now attack us. Fight!

After we fight them off, we bandage ourselves and move further. The next room holds a sphere similar to the monastery that held the monks of the sphere, and this one contains the spirit of the doctor from the asylum. He asks us to give him a body so that he can return to the scholar and “help” us in some way. Milosh wants nothing to do with him because he is part of the reason why we committed so much murder at the asylum. We end up leaving him behind to stew rather than risk him taking over our minds or something equally horrible.

We decide that our next immediate step will be to go to the very top of the mountain and see if there’s anything left of the original barbarian tribe of the mountain.

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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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