The Abyss Stares Back

Dreams, Part III

We find ourselves on a dark plane with a foreboding castle looming in front of us, with tall dark towers reaching up into the sky and a dark mountain stretching up from behind it. There is a large front door banded with iron that appears to be unguarded, and a column of mist rising up from the left side of the building. We assume that the front door would be worse than it appears to be, so we head for the mist.

It is rising from a tunnel under the building, and we can tell as we get closer that the mist is very hot, though probably survivable. Mads, now a sorcerer because of insanity, travels down the tunnel by making himself immune to the heat. At the bottom, he finds a grate leading out into a bath chamber of some kind, populated by maybe sexy devils? He sends his raven back up the tunnel to tell us what he sees, but decides that he shouldn’t start a fight by himself so he comes back to us. After he describes the scene, Johanna confirms that what he saw was probably succubi that could maybe be reasoned with?

He decides to use his time rewinding watch to return to the bottom of the tunnel and opens up the grate, falling into the spa pool with one of the women who introduces herself as Kallista. She is interested in him and his purpose here, as are her three friends. They offer to open up a door to the upper floors if Mads can entertain them sufficiently. He gives it his best shot, but it turns out that they are most entertained by draining his life force.

We finally hear his screaming from the other end of the tunnel and toboggan our way down there to save him, minimizing our burnination. He doesn’t specifically need saving since the girls are done with him. They offer to party a bit more with the rest of us, but we politely decline and leave for the upper floors.

On the way up, we approach a hallway with screams emanating from it and go in to investigate. There are cells along both sides of the wall with people in them – people with their eyes closed, trapped in what looks like their own nightmares. A larger room at the end has more torture victims and a larger demon. One that is eager to fight us, it seems.

The fight ends with Mads essentially materializing inside of the demon’s chest and exploding outwards. Milosh sort of frees some of the torture victims, although they don’t seem to realize it. Mads imagines that one of the victims is Sebastian having a nightmare about climbing out of his own grave, which makes him regret his life choices even more.

We move on, coming to a small room filled with artwork, where each of us becomes immersed in a nightmare based around our own insecurities. But we defeat art through a combination of cleverness and pure stubbornness!

Next up is a dining room with Johanna’s history with our demonic target carved on the wall. According to the surely trustworthy and complete words on the wall (filtered through Mads’ inner wackiness), Lamoracanthus used to be the land itself, before his brother stole it from him and became the mists. His brother then got a champion in the form of Strahd, so Lamoracanthus got his own champion in Johanna. She needed a Synod, so he brought us. And to get us, he sent the heir, the unmoving one, Milosh.

After some grousing about the implications of all of this, we move on, all a bit crazier for the wear.

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Dreams, Part II

The world that we end up in is a post-apocalyptic version of Teufeldorf, in the midst of a monster uprising. The city is ruined and filled with evil. We are immersed in the fiction of the vision, and we know that we are leading three human survivors to a safe house at the old church of Lathander, where Mortimer and Sasha are sheltering people from the monsters.

On the way, we can see the remnants of a tavern on the next street over, where four vampires are attacking a group of survivors. One is already bitten, one is being held by the throat, one is trying to hold them off with a holy symbol and one is cowering near the door. It doesn’t seem to be possible to save all of them without putting our current survivors at risk, so we decide to save the boy near the door and the holy symbol wielder by hurling a knife through the window and opening the throat of one of the others, driving the vampires into a frenzy.

We continue on to the church but find the door ajar when we get there. It seems like the place might be compromised, so we stash the survivors in a nearby silo and then go inside. Mortimer is kneeling by the altar, but when we get to him it is obvious that he is dead, since his head falls almost completely off. Yikes.

At that moment, Sebastian strolls in through the front door flanked by Camille and a vampiric Sasha. He tries to make some small talk but Milosh runs him through with a sword. Fight!

Sebastian has a really bad time and Milosh finally puts him down. Camille cries because Sebastian is dead, and Milosh suddenly sees him as Anneliese. Everyone is sad, but also everyone is also happy that Sebastian is dead. Everyone. I find Sebastian’s signet ring in his dust, which will allow me to silence a battle or a something for a short while.

Back to the hub! And then off into Milosh’s dream, which is of course in a ruined road warden camp. We explore the fort for a while. It appears as if everyone just up and left. Purple smoke drifts across the sky from somewhere. In the building, we run into Abalescu, who has become even more ravager-like in the dream. He says that we will soon be like him, and then purple smoke begins to pour down from the fireplaces, causing us to choke until we escape the building.

But then it gets worse. A horde of ex-wardens pours down the mountain towards the fort, screaming with rage. Fight!

The road wardens work surprisingly well together (and they have crazy flags with them that are even more puissant), but we still defeat them. Back to the hub, where we gain a new level and a galaxy basalt slab leading to Lamoracanthus’s castle.

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Dreams, Part I

The plane turns out to not be featureless at all, but it is forbidding and nightmarish. The world seems to have gone entirely gray, but the dark ground seems almost to be moving, and quiet whispers emerge out of the void. As we walk, fissures in the ground start to appear around us, growing larger until we reach a larger solid platform with scenes visible from it – a forest, a ruined city, a black building and clock tower, and an abandoned outpost.

Milosh wants to deal with Johanna’s dream first (and Mads would like to burn any books we find), so we head towards the clock tower and enter the door there. We end up in a library in impeccable order, but with no one in it. Mads and Milosh attempt to cause damage to the place, but it almost instantly heals itself.

At the far side of the room are a door and an easel with a chalkboard on it. The board looks blank to all of us except for Mads, who can see a math puzzle in it. He solves it in record time and opens the door, although Milosh takes the credit since he happened to be standing nearby with a crowbar.

The room beyond is another library chamber, with infinite rows of books stretching into the distance. On the one wall are three paintings of authoritarian figures – a judge, a priest and a professor. They seem like perfectly nice people until they step out of the wall and accuse Mads of being illicit, immoral and illiterate. They’re not necessarily wrong, but they seem to want to destroy us over it, which is not OK. Fight!

Of course, we are victorious, capitalizing on the vulnerability of the paintings themselves to weaken the figures, even though we ourselves are affected by the deep fear if this place. We pass out and reappear on the island, but Mads has managed to find a pocket watch that will allow us to reverse a small amount of time. We decide that our next stop will be the forest, again mostly because Milosh doesn’t think that it will be his nightmare.

We find ourselves at the end of a bridge spanning a deep ravine, with the sound of running water rising up to us from its unseen bottom. Again, fear washes over us and Mads and I are affected by it. In the middle of the bridge lies a huddled figure who turns out to be another Johanna, with tears running down her face and her wrists slit. The Johanna that we are with pushes her away and spits on her disdainfully. This is apparently the time just after she was fired from the university and before she was pulled into Ravenloft.

Mads verbally torments her for a little while, rubbing her weakness in her face, and then we continue across the bridge. However, we find that we can’t leave and that we gain wounds like Johanna’s in the process, so we turn around. Mads says some vaguely nice things, and I edit the note I left for her to make it clear that I would see her again some day (spending an icon point to edit her memory appropriately. The Johanna on the bridge recovers from her sadness and reveals herself to be the real Johanna! But the fake Johanna turns into a pair of demons and a bunch of little flaming guys!

We defeat the demons and return to the hub, and now we are all best friends with Johanna. Next up is my nightmare, which we assume is located in the ruined city.

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Bat Babies

Susanna invites us inside to discuss the situation. We explain ourselves in the most disturbing and convoluted way possible, while Susanna makes dinner for her sister. She is understandably skeptical about our story, and we can offer little in the way of proof. She doesn’t want to come with us without being sure AND we’re not sure whether a trip through Johanna’s portal will do any harm to a pregnant woman, so we will stay for now.

We have dinner and formulate a plan. Since this is the kind of situation where a heavily pregnant woman would certainly start to give birth at an inopportune moment, we tell Susanna to move Belinda to the root cellar for her protection. Our hope is that vampires will attack tonight and Susanna will witness them, making our story much more believable.

Sure enough, shortly after the sun goes down, there is the sound of wings flapping outside and a crashing noise coming from the second floor. We rush up to investigate, and run headlong into a group of man-bats pouring in through a hole in the roof thatching that they just created. Fight!

Fortunately, these things were not expecting us, and they are ill equipped to deal with three dangerous adventurers. They are very well equipped to be dead, however.

We rest for the evening (full heal up) and call Johanna in the morning for extraction. She is not excited about the baby we are bringing with us, but we (and she) don’t really have a choice. We are confident that arrangements will be made.

Johanna wants to discuss the next steps with us. She tells us that she would like to break her agreement with Lamoracanthus, the demon who has granted her some of her powers, and who is the source of the internal workings of the acidy awakened. According to their contract, she is obligated to continue providing bodies for the demon souls to possess, but since we have forbidden any more possessions, she hasn’t been doing so. He is probably getting mad, and might get uppity soon.

Her plan is to enter the demon’s realm of nightmares and fear through Mads’ dream abilities. We prepare ourselves with drugs in my torture room, and then join Mads on a featureless black plain in her mind. Mads brings us fully into his mind (giving Johanna a tail in the process), and then we set off to see what awaits us.

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Birds!

We are transported to the university, in the wake of Strahd’s attack. There are several bodies hanging from the lamp posts in the quad, as well as the bloody chunks from other unfortunate individuals. I spend a little time examining the area where Mads saw Strahd, as well as the hands of the people he killed, just in case there is some physical evidence that got left behind. Milosh goes into the building that holds Johanna’s office to see if there are any students left in the closet. Mads and his familiar see an odd raven who might not be a raven up on the roof of one of the buildings and try to have a conversation with it. No luck there, but he sends his familiar off to make contact.

Mads and Milosh end up in Johanna’s office, which is vacant of students. Mads does find the note he scrawled, however. Shortly thereafter, Mads hears sucking sounds coming from the hallway, and looking out does in fact see something that sucks. Zombies! Or something like zombies, at least. Fight! It becomes evident that at least one of these are the students that Mads thought he was saving.

We commit murder with our usual efficiency and continue our search for Dr Braun, whose office is just three doors down from Johanna’s. It has obviously been ransacked, but we manage to find a letter from Susanna’s sister Belinda requesting her help with some trouble, as well as a family portrait including the two of them. Evidently, the professor’s sister lives in the town of Cuzou, and we theorize that she may have fled down there to hide with family. That will be our next stop.

Upon leaving the university, we encounter a dark clothed man in the quad with a raven on his shoulder – Mads’ familiar! This is the raven that he was trailing, now shown to be a wereraven. He introduces himself as Bray, and happens to be the member of the Order of the Black Feather that Sasha told us about back in the day. He is carrying a wanted poster of the Synod detailing our crimes and promising punishment to those who aid us. He wants to talk, and tells us to meet him at the Blood on the Vine.

So we do. He is the bartender there, and sits down to talk with us for a while. Mads goes on a short trip to his witch head trees while we begin. The short version is that he offers allegiance to our cause as long as we are all fighting Strahd, which is not a problem. To start with, he will aid us by spreading misinformation about sightings of the scholar to keep Strahd guessing, and we will relay anything we learn from Sebastian about the Order to him. He is interested in meeting with the Scholar personally, but we don’t make any promises yet. In fact, we maintain the misconception that the scholar is a man, just in case. We also don’t tell him that the Oracle is a vampire, although he will find that out the next time he meets with Sasha and sees Liesl’s missing arm.

Finally we leave for Cuzou, traveling by foot through the forest. It is not difficult to find Belinda’s house, since we have an address. Milosh and I knock while Mads covers the back door. A woman soon answers – Belinda, it appears – and it is obvious that she is very pregnant. Susanna comes from the back to shuttle her back in the house. We break the bad news to her in the most brutal way possible – by telling her that everyone she knew from the university is dead, and that there are vampires hunting her right now. We will probably take her and her sister back to the Heimat. But first, maybe vampires will attack right now?

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Human Trafficking

We fight against the sweaty mistress of labor and her minions, who appear to be children who have perished from their work here. They claw at us with their bony fingers and shield their foreman from our weapons. And then Milosh explodes them, and Mads explodes her.

We end up with about 20 children rescued from the sweat shop, and we pile them all into a cart and haul them off to Teufeldorf so that the church of Lathander can take care of them. Sasha isn’t completely down with our plan to dump children on him, but we give him some of the money that has been provided for the use of the synod to enhance the transaction.

We contact Johanna again and prepare for her to send us to the university to search for professor Braun. Johanna tells us that her forces have already found one of the other missing professors – Blaupunkt, and that he is even crazier than expected. She suggests that he be fed to Sebastian, since he isn’t much good for anything else.

We get some soldiers from the Heimat who will escort the girls to Point Hope, and we return to the Heimat. There, Mads goes and talks to his remaining raven(s?), and then to Sebastian. Sebastian is looking like his condition has not improved – he seems quite down, but at least he is doing his job of reporting his visions again. He tells Mads that one of his visions was of Milosh walking through the fog and not choking, and then being free from it. He also has dreamed of urban pickles, which sounds pretty tasty.

Mads gets the impression that Sebastian is fading and thinks that it might be time to think about breaking him out. Sometime.

Off to Barovia! Time to find a missing crazy professor lady.

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Our War on Drugs

We travel to Zeidenberg with Heinrich in tow, slapping our way through one of the local gangs on the way. He doesn’t remember in great detail what happened to the children, but he has vague ideas that we follow to an industrial dock area. It seems that the crypt vipers (the blue team) run this section of town. We approach a warehouse that Heinrich says looks familiar and speak with the man outside. We ask about the girls and he actually knows what we’re talking about.

Soon, we are talking to Ernesto, the big boys’ man. He ostensibly doesn’t recall the destination of the girls now, but he’s willing to look into it for us. In exchange, we are to find the source of a competing drug in the city, something injectable, and shut it down. The house of ill repute is the place to start.

We go there and indulge ourselves. In amongst Turkey legs and alaskan pipelines we learn that Angelique might have some available, possibly through her boyfriend. Mads gets into his room after his girlfriend leaves, steals his money, and finds a box of syringes with this new drug in it. The kid says he stole the drugs from a house west of town. He then tries to escape but gets kicked in the head.

The next day, we head out to this drug house, which is quite a distance outside of town. Inside is a gnomish alchemist who invites us in. He recognizes us as the synod, and has done work for Johanna (the specialist, actually) making all kinds of torture and hallucinogenic drugs. Lots of these were given to Sebastian, probably. He acknowledges that he was robbed and that this particular drug was part of what was taken, but also says that he isn’t making any more. We might be able to use his knowledge to work against the ravagers.

We return to Ernesto and inform him that we shut down his competitor, which turned out to be one kid thief with a limited supply of stolen merch. He really would like to know our source, but we refuse to turn in the gnome in case we need him again. He hands us an address in town to which he sent the girls.

The address turns out to be a sweatshop staffed by children, with a cat o nine tails wielding woman in charge. Mads finds the girls and tells them to be careful because knives may be flying soon. That sets off one of them, and her screams alerts the woman in charge who suddenly wants to fight something. Might as well be us!

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Somewhere, a Place for Them

Milosh and Mads start off at point hope after putting in an order to Johanazon for overnight delivery of a necromancer. They intercept Camille before she leaves for the evening, and Mads suggests that she terrorize Zeidenberg for her evening meal, because no one there is of any personal importance to him.

Back at the Heimat, Johanna informs me that the man who betrayed Ludmilla (Camille’s sister, from Sebes) to Strahd has been brought to the Heimat. I take him to my torture room and we talk for a while about Camille and her fears and weaknesses. Evidently, she is likely still sensitive to the fact that she was never as popular as her sisters, sensitive to the insults she endured as a child (being called ogre), and it will no doubt hurt to hear that her commanding officer is the one that caused the death of her sister and her own monstrous transformation. Having gathered traumatic horrors to destroy Camille’s will, I retire for the evening.

The next day, the necromancer from Johanna is ported in – a spirit by the name of Gregor stuffed in the body of Heinrich. He and Lucinda speak for a few minutes (she’s quite excited to have another monk to work with), and then Mads and Milosh take Gregor off to Kreszk to raise the spirit of the specialist. It takes several hours of Gregor squishing rotten body parts together before her spirit can be summoned, and then they spend some time tormenting her soul orb to get her to talk.

She reveals to them the three sets of command words (frenzy, sleep and suggest), and also tells them that she has 5 suggestions as to how to remove his vulnerability permanently – kill him, kill everyone who knows the words, deafen him, convince Johanna to remove the words or bring her back to life and let her resume her experiments, but with the goal of undoing her work. Milosh also demands that she reverse what she did with Abalescu, which she says she cannot.

None of these answers please the merciless overlords, so they destroy her soul orb and rebury the body. They hope to find a way to use Vistani curses to edit words before they reach Sebastian’s ears.

I meet the rest of the team in Point Hope, after leaving one of Sebastian’s cravats near Camille’s room. We discuss the possibility of using Gregor to retrieve his crazy children from whoever he sold them to in Zeidenberg (probably one of the gangs).

Camille comes out of her hole with the cravat and asks Mads where it came from, but nothing is revealed. They have a discussion of what could be done with Sebastian, what the specialist said in particular, and she is made even more not happy, between the terrible choices they were given and the fact that Mads won’t break Sebastian out right now.

That night, Camille visits me and is all cranky about the cravat, but I tell her to go away. Mads has a dream about vampires attacking the university in which he sees Strahd killing the staff trying to find out the identity of the scholar. He manages to get 4 names of potential suspects, which we now know. Mads saves some students hiding in Johanna’s office by leading them to the hidden room, then leaves instructions for them to go to Berez. After waking up, he rushes out of Point Hope to meet them, because surely they could have covered hundreds of miles on foot in the last hour without being eaten by wolves. Then he forgets where he told them to go, rides towards the wrong city, then realizes the error and abandons them entirely in his mind.

In the morning, we contact Johanna and explain the situation with the other professors. She tells us that one of them is dead and dumped in the lake, one is mindless and wandering in the woods outside of Barovia and one is missing entirely. We will gather them all up and hide them somehow to keep Strahd searching.

But first, off to Zeidenberg to find Heinrich’s children (enslaved by the gangs) and take them somewhere… better. Which is funny, really, because no place here is better than any other.

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Washing Day

Through the portal, we can see Sebastian holding Johanna off of the floor. We dive through the portal and find Sebastian attacking Johanna, with Billie bleeding on the floor, two of Mad’s Ravens dead on the ground and the sound of a child screaming from upstairs. Fight!

Mads feeds Billie a healing potion while Milosh and I fight Sebastian, and Milosh manages to choke him out or something. Mads takes an unconscious Sebastian to his coffin and supervises some of Milosh’s men nailing the lid shut, Milosh goes upstairs and helps Liesl survive a torn-off arm and Florica deal with a vampire bite, and I help Johanna up from the floor. She is, unsurprisingly, not as injured as she appeared to be when we saw her through the portal.

Once everything is under control, we all go talk to Johanna. Her story is that Sebastian has been acting more and more erratically, and that he finally snapped. She reveals that she has made some preparations for the event, and that she has a strongroom (read, prison) partially prepared for him. Mads isn’t particularly fond of any of this, of course.

We go down to see her fully-operational, lightning-reinforced, triple-sealed anti vampire cage. It’s totally sweet. And even though there is a restraint table in there, we’re sure that Sebastian will be happy there. As happy as you can be in solitary confinement, at least.

Mads and Milosh stay behind to speak with Sebastian when he wakes up, and I go upstairs to talk with Liesl. I do my best to comfort her, and tell her that we are going to send her back to Teufeldorf. Before that, I remind her that Sebastian did this to her and that he is currently imprisoned, but that he would be very dangerous if he ever managed to escape. And then Johanna edits her memories to her advantage and portals the girl back to her home.

Mads and Milosh talk to Sebastian when he wakes up. He doesn’t remember much – just that he was playing with Liesl and Florica, got up to speak with someone in the hallway and then became angry – really angry. He doesn’t seem to remember much about the ordeal, and has to be reminded of who he killed. They reveal to him that they are only playing along so long as Johanna is the lesser threat.

We rest up and plan for our next move. But before we go, I go down to visit Sebastian. He’s hostile at first, and tries probing my mind while he questions me about whether I knew what was going to happen to him back in the asylum, but I burn my icon relationship to have my demons lash out against him and convince him both that I did not intend for him to be killed back then, and also that he really is a danger to the world who is best left caged. He believes it, which is sad for him.

Before I go, Sebastian has another vision. It’s an ambush in Lowenturm, evidently. Can’t wait until we’re there again.

And then on to more adventure!

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Vladimir Lootin

We put Heinrich, who is still blathering as if we are going to let him go, into one of the cages in the garage building. The one without a hungry vampire in it, it course. He is very, very drunk, and doesn’t look like he is going to try to escape for some time.

Mads and I go into the workhouse to look at what the zombie workers were doing in there, and find that they were in the process of casting swords and other weapons. The weapons are not particularly fine, having been made by zombies with no artistic talent, but they seem to be made out of an unknown metal. It has a silvery glow to it, but is not pure silver. From an analysis of the foreman’s log and the inventory, we infer that the weapons are high nickel steel, which is resistant to corrosion.

Milosh goes into the main house to look around. The house is foul with dead bodies, probably the workers from the foundry or maybe hobos, and anything related to Casimir Drake himself has been defiled. There are some papers to and from Ulrich – brainstorming for spell names, letters back to Strahd requesting orders, musings about how the little girl might be important but no concrete information as to why.

Before we go to sleep we have a discussion about what to do with the gangs. Mads suggests that we release our vampires in the town to devour the gang members. I counter with the idea that Camille would be neither as selective nor as efficient as we would hope.

Then, sleep! And back to the Heimat with Heinrich in tow.

Once we get there, Johanna immediately sucks out Heinrich’s brain, and then explains what he knew. He seems to have dumped the girls off somewhere in Zeidenberg because he was a drunken fool – it was probably voluntary for both parties and not that he sold them. She tells us that he told Strahd about our identities (and Onyx would have confirmed much of this) and that he traced the trail of the scholar back to the university in Barovia city but no further.

We hunt down Florica and Liesl in the Heimat and find the little girl in a room playing with Sebastian, Liesl looking on.

I go down into the basement with Mads to look at the symbol that he has found

We have two options – track down the priest of Lathander (although it seems that the awakened already saved him) and take Florica to the Vistani along the way, or go to the university to get rid of incriminating evidence.

We do the latter. Hijinks ensue.

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