The Abyss Stares Back

Full Moon Rising

A new day dawns in the land of Innistrad – in the city of Avabruck, to be specific, a town surrounded on three sides by the dangerous (most would say “werewolf-stalked”) forest of the Ulvenwald. To the west, breaking the monotony, lie the formidable Niebelheim mountains. The only link connecting Avabruck to the rest of the world is a dangerous road called the Breakneck Ride, so named because of the speed required to travel its length over the course of a single day. Those caught on the road when night falls are oft never seen again. Mines dot the mountainsides, farms spread out along the eastern side of the town, and a massive graveyard occupies the area north of the city.

It is one day before the Sleep Revel of Marta Bruns, former wife of Erik Bruns, one of the wealthiest men in town. She has been dead for 21 years, and the city will celebrate her accomplishment of staying in the ground, failing to rise as undead. Erik’s current wife, an elven woman by the name of Anneliese, is the only one who isn’t happy about the celebration.

Four men rest in a tavern, prospective legends all. Sebastian Bellerophon, a human mage from Gavony, sips his ale, pondering the glimpses of the future that he so often sees. Ulrich Schadenfreude, another, beefier, human wizard, flexes his muscles and drowns memories of his time in the magic academy of Thraben in drink. Mads, elven thief and local madman, pages through the wallet of one of the farmers that the stars told him to steal from. And Urban Richter von Istendahl, demon-touched inquisitive, mutters abyssal words of power under his breath, hoping to learn something new. And to not accidentally destroy the inn with them.

They have a short conversation with some local farmers, highlighted by Mads taking advantage of their naivety with tall tales of underground potato-sucking demons and apple-picking undead. Prior to this, their concerns had been more about the drought that holds the region in its dry, dusty grip, but now… Now they have more absurd problems to worry about.

The conversation is interrupted by the entrance of a large, tattooed man, wearing a mail coat bearing the sign of Avacyn. He accosts the bartender, Evan, youngest son of Erik and Anneliese, shouting something about a contraption that the inn is using to make ice. From his words (and some prodding by Ulrich), it would seem that the device is powered by the souls of dead criminals. But ice IS very important around here, so perhaps it is a reasonable tradeoff. The farmers tell the group that this is Edgar, oldest son of Erik and Marta.

After a series of brief conversations, they discover that Edgar is angry about just about everything – his stepmother, the drought, his brother’s inn, the other cathar, the upcoming sleep revel – everything. His specific duties evidently include watching over the Graf – the graveyard north of the city. He mentions to them that the First Cathar’s men have gone north for some reason, but he won’t (or can’t) provide any information as to why.

As they wander the inn, Mads accidentally collides with a barmaid and causes her to drop the drinks she was carrying. When he reaches for money to pay for this, his hand instead grabs a jeweled dagger in his pocket. Although he is bedecked in blades, this particular one does not look familiar to him. He notes that it is inscribed with patterns reminiscent of flies.

One of the other travelers in the inn grabs our attention, a well-dressed man in unusual clothing who has ordered food but doesn’t seem to be interested in eating. Mads approaches him and engages him in conversation. The man, who introduces himself as Albert, has traveled to Avabruck to speak with the mayor, but he doesn’t wish to discuss the reasons. Mads, recognizing his Gavonian accent, invites Sebastian to speak with him instead, since he is a fellow countryman. And he hopes that Sebastian will bring him a list of valuables that the man has that are worth stealing…

Sebastian has more luck that Mads, and he and Albert commiserate over the poor quality wine in Avabruck. Albert finally reveals that he is in the city to negotiate a water deal between Gavony and Avabruck. Sebastian also sees a vision of the man, standing at a podium, surrounded by a shouting crowd.

Urban examines the dagger, and during the process one of the gems tears free from the hilt, grows wings, and flies around the room. While the group is surprised at this, it is even more unexpected when one of the other patrons of the tavern rises from his seat and quickly exits. It seems to be a sign of guilt, or possibly knowledge, and Mads takes it as such and follows him, pursuing him to the northern border of the city before turning back.

The rest of the group leaves the tavern to meet back up with Mads, but are interrupted by the sound of alarm bells ringing at the east gate. They run to the gate to see what the commotion is, and arrive just in time to see a man ride in through the gate, frantically calling for it to be closed. The militia, also running for the gate, manage to do so just a moment too late, and a group of wolves breaks into the town and tears into the men.

The fight does not go well, and the adventurers eventually are dropped to the dirt, leaving the militia to finish off the wolves. They awake back at the inn, looked over by Emil, the middle Bruns brother and a cathar himself. Edgar arrived at the gate just in time to pull them away, and has now completely lost respect for the group. Emil, on the other hand, is grateful for their help and quite a bit friendlier than his brother. Mads is immediately convinced that they need to obtain silver-laced mud before the next full moon to concoct an antidote to the lycanthropy that they’ve certainly caught.

The party is broken up by more wolf cries from outside, as well as the screams of the townsfolk. The group, along with Emil, work to get people off of the street, but are eventually confronted by an enormous wolf-man who leaps up on top of the wall and howls, silhouetted by a flash of lightning in the distance. He does NOT look friendly.

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Wolf it Down

The wolf, standing by the gate, lunges into the militia and begins to slaughter then. Emil tells us that he has materials that might help us, but that they are on his horse. Which is at the gate. Sad face.

We decide to take to the walls and go around the wolf, so Mads scales the wall. He attempts to help the rest of us up, but his rope breaks, and we decide to have him run ahead while we run interference. Ulrich starts the game off with an acid arrow, drawing the creatures attention and covering it with schnitzel. Yes, I said schnitzel. We fight!

And we win, with colorful rainbows of light! Mads tears out some of the spikes from the wolf after we killed it while I examine the body, find and remove a silver tipped arrow. The removal causes the body to revert back to human form, one that possesses a primitive style circular tattoo of strange design. I cut into the design and notice that the ink glows green in the moonlight, and may be the cause of his condition, rather than a wolf bite. I sketch the tattoo and gather a sample of glowing tattoo skin for later.

Mads goes outside of the town to look for tracks, and believes that this guy came in from the northeast. It is unknown what the source might be. Mads, while he contemplates this, loses track of time and zones out. When he regains his senses, he finds himself in the dark, and accosted by cloaked figures wielding crossbows. They want to know why he is out, and state that they are tracking dangerous creatures.

Sebastian and I go outside of the walls and call for Mads. He hears our voices, and the men holding him are skeptical of his intentions, but he convinces them to come with him to the town.

They, identified as cathars, come to the town to speak with us, and we share some knowledge. The arrow in the wolf was one of theirs, and they are as surprised as us at the attack. They tell us that they don’t know the origin of the werewolves, or what their intentions are. Also, they are keeping their eyes on some of the outer villages who might be practicing some dark magics. Sebastian is very interested in going with them to their camp, but Mads is nervous to do so, so we ultimately decide not to.

Ulrich heads to the inn to eat, and ends up speaking with the owner of the local magic shop. He is interested in magical items of all kinds, and mentions a barrow nearby that might have wights. Maybe we could go and side quest it. The man is from Nephalia, the land of the mad professor, and we have a short conversation about the undead and assume that he might have something to do with an impending zombie uprising.

Sebastian saves one of the mayor’s men from tripping over a barstool and gets an appointment to see him. I manage to open the mysterious book in my possession and find out that it improves my physical skill. Mads talks to the of dagger and unlocks its ability (injure wounded creatures further).

We go to see the mayor, with the intention of having Sebastian negotiate having the water merchant speak to the mayor. From the contents of his parlor, we can see that he has had military service, collects boring books, and enjoys sausages.

The mayor thanks us for our service and offers whatever aid he can provide and a ceremony honoring us, but won’t discuss the water merchant. He distrusts the Lunarch and believes it world lead to too much influence over the town. But Sebastian convinces him eventually, although he says that the whole town will have to make the decision. With him giving a speech at the town podium…

So we wait for the ceremony, and then plan to travel to the mine to grab our werewolf prevention medicine, and return to watch the sleep revel. And perhaps defend the town during it…

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Enemy Mine

Change of plans – we will go to the mine first, and then return for the town hall /award ceremony. But first, I go to the mayors house and get a recommendation from one of his men. We can take this to the mine and hopefully convince them that we are not there to steal their silver.

On the way out, I notice that the mayor is agitated, pacing back and forth in his study (visible through a large window) and apparently talking to someone. Mads climbs up the building to take a look inside, and sees the mayor talking to two elves inside (one brown haired woman and one blonde man). We don’t know them, and their talking isn’t a crime. Although it almost certainly is.

The trip to the mine is uneventful, and we are greeted there by a Dwarven guard. Although he doesn’t turn us away, he also isn’t too keen on letting us take soil for nothing. He will escort us down to get dirt, but he will charge us for it. He also gives us a lot of crap about needing to bring in the foreman to appraise the dirt, obviously trying to extort money from us, although he offers to GRACIOUSLY allow us to buy the dirt for the cost of an equivalent weight of silver.

Some distance down the tunnel, I start to get a headache, feeling a pulsing suffusing the area. It grows to a peak at one section of the passage, and I see warm, red runes glowing on the wall – blood and terminate. No one else can hear or see anything, but Sebastian can feel it when he gets close. Even better, he disarms the trap on it that neither of us knew was there.

It turns out that the wall wants blood, and in a moment of weakness (mostly mine, but somewhat Mads) we convince our dwarf ally to cut himself and touch the wall. Mads is too good at this… The wall grabs a hold of him and drains him dry, then eats his hand. Which is bad. But the wall opens up to reveal a new passage! And Urban shows new signs of demonic taint. Heh.

We follow the passage, picking up silver dirt along the way and carrying the dwarf husk with us. The passage opens up a new chamber, but it contains spiders. Big ones, too. Fight!

They totally wreck us, and we barely make it through. Further down the hall, we come to a chamber, possibly a tomb or memorial, depicting a 9 fingered king in a relief in the wall. There is also a magical wand on a bier that looks like the missing finger of the statue. Maybe the wand would fit in the missing statue slot… Sebastian sees a vision of Ulrich holding the wand up surrounded by a blue glow. Everything here seems to be ancient, and we cannot identify it.

Ulrich takes the wand and it raises itself above his head and emits a blue glow and thunder (which hurts Mads). And then we leave, the secret door closing behind us (and spitting out the dwarfs severed hand). We take a few of the spider demon bodies with us, stuff the desiccated hand inside one of them, and exit the mine.

Finally, we decide to leave everything behind and return to town and never speak of this again. Yikes. There is guilt, letters from dead fathers to sons (Ruhan to Cecil), and serious issues all around.

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Missing Only the Vinegar
What is that wonderful smell?

On the way back to the town, Mads explains to us what we need to do to create this potion that will treat our conditions. It is long and involved, needing clean water and maybe werewolf urine. WTF.

We go to the inn to borrow a still to allow us to distill some water as Mads goes into the woods. Evan is willing to lend us his for a while, and is very interested in the possibilities of whatever science we’re doing.

Mads, as he wanders the woods, hears voices nearby, and upon further investigation discovers the Knights from before (~6) with an elf tied to a pole in a clearing. They are happy, he is not, and his desire for freedom is obvious.

Mads, a hero to the end, decides to try to free the elf. And he succeeds! Mads manages to distract the guards, slice the bindings and both of them flee into the woods.

The elf says that the cathars killed most of the rest of his village and kidnapped him, asking him questions about his heritage. Mads believes him because he is a racist, although it is likely that this is the village practicing black magic that we were told about.

All of us slather the mud compound on our bodies (except for Ulrich), getting a full heal in the process. Ulrich and Sebastian the go to the magic shop to show off the wand. The proprietor doesn’t know anything specific about it, but is willing to take the wand for a time to research it. Maybe later…

Finally, the time for our medals arrives! But Sebastian needs to get his hair cut first? During his shave, the barber talks about how there is an army outside the city, associated with the emissary. It would seem that he is familiar with Sebastian and his rabble rousing (he is from the Order). He wants Sebastian to capture the emissary to scare the soldiers off.

I don’t think it is a good idea, and we have a long discussion about the wisdom of the enterprise. It seems like maybe the situation isn’t real – we’re not really sure there is an army outside of the city at all, and this group might just be using Sebastian as a patsy.

We get our medals and give a speech, then sit while the emissary gives his speech. In exchange for bringing in water, he proposes a 15% tax on the mines, or to take the town’s silver. It doesn’t go well, and soon everyone is screaming at him. They leave in disgrace.

We follow, some to enact this plan, some to keep an eye on Sebastian, and some because they’re curious as to what is going to happen.

About 5 miles from the town, the soldiers are stopped on the road, and the emissary is in the woods. Mads spies on him, and sees that he had been knocked out by one of the guards, who is stealing his clothes. Sebastian meets him in the woods, and they exchange knowing winks, and then clothing. We originally try to find the emissary himself, but give up after discovering that he was dragged to the farmlands outside of the city, then maybe put on a cart that we couldn’t catch. Surely that’s not a bad thing.

The session ends with us following a now-disguised Sebastian and the foreign soldiers through the woods as they return to their camp (and hopefully not commit murder immediately thereafter).

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Here Comes the Rain Again

Sebastian reaches the camp with his entourage, which is populated by a few dozen soldiers. This would be a sizable force for the Avabruck militia to deal with, actually, since it’s a smallish town. The commander of the camp welcomes the “emissary” back and asks how it went. So they go off and talk.

Sebastian tries to talk the commander down with warnings about the dwarves being a threat, but the commander encourages the emissary to go directly to the dwarves to negotiate. Argument!

After they reach a stalemate, the commander then decides that it’s a good idea to poison the well instead. Nice guy. It seems that he cannot be dissuaded. For reasons that we don’t know about, they need a lot of silver and want the mines here.

Sebastian, as the emissary, uses a relationship point in a new way! Yay! He knows of a thought-to-be legendary city of silver dedicated to the Angel that they can steal from. It’s seems like it will work! They will go to this city, leaving only a small force to protect the emissary. 2 guards and a squire?

During a well-planned deceptive bathroom break along the ride back, we meet up with Sebastian and debate what to do. We decide to ambush the other guards, leaving the squire alive, and act as if the emissary has been kidnapped. Which he has. And we do! We give the squire to the false guard and return to the town. With our new horses.

A short while later, we attend the sleep revel. Everyone in town is there, and we introduce ourselves to the host and his wife, then dig into the food and drink. After a few inconsequential conversations, the celebration moves on to another ritual where they carry around Eric and shout pall bearer.

They mayor and Anneliese don’t seem interested, and we notice one of the servers (a blonde elf) leave out the back, and Mads follows. Then they’re in the cellar. We are suspicious about everything! Mostly without reason. Sebastian tries to get into Eric’s cellar. And does, escorted by the somalier.

Then he finds a secret door, uses a wine bottle to knock out the somalier, and goes through the now-revealed secret passage. At the end there is a ladder leading up to a moist trap door, but he does not investigate further, then comes back to the kitchen and alerts them to the state of the somalier.

I talk to the dwarf leader and tell him that we went to the black brier mine and did not receive good service. The dwarf who we met there disappeared after initially meeting us. Huh. The dwarf lord thinks this is very important. So he and his host leave to form a rescue party. Anneliese takes Eric upstairs and the room is quiet.

We return to the kitchen, now that everyone has left, and go back into the cellar. Above is a cave, with what looks like a dungeon in it. There are chains hanging on the walls (for temporary use only), some dried blood, and a scrap of purple cloth that might match the purple sashes on the soldiers.

I propose that the mayor is behind the Order of Night in this town (if they are even associated), and has had the emissary imprisoned here, and that at least Anneliese, the blonde elf and the major are involved. Perhaps Eric is as well. We don’t know why, exactly, but we have been told that the mayor doesn’t want foreign intrusions in town.

We track from the cave and eventually find an evil ritual being performed in the woods. Drums pound, cultists chant, and fires blaze. Listening in, it seems like they are going to sacrifice 3 people – Eric, the squire and the emissary – in order to try to restore the rains. Hells no. We attack!

There is a mammoth battle (off screen) where the drummers turn out to be werewolves and we tangle, freeing the emissary and squire. We kill the cult leader, who is revealed to be the mayor, but Anneliese kills Eric. Once that happens, rain falls from the sky, mist rises from the ground and more werewolves appear. We flee into the rising mist.

We find ourselves in a different forest, surrounded by choking mist that drags us into unconsciousness. The last thing we see is the silhouette of a lone figure coming towards us through the fog.

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Guerrillas in the Mist

It was only a dream… or so I thought at the moment of waking…

Mist swirled around us as we ran through the dense brush, the darkness of the approaching evening made more foreboding in the shadows cast by the canopy above us. Something behind us howled, blood-curdlingly close, as the pounding of our flight through the woods mixed with the sounds of pursuit – the crack of branches, the snarl of beasts. I could swear that I felt hot breath on my neck, as if the creatures’ jaws were about to snap closed on me, but when I glanced back there was nothing to be seen. Only the obscuring blur of the rising mists, mists that seemed as if they had congealed from a mix of the blood-magic-spawned rainstorm and the dying screams of its victim – Erik Bruns.

The billowing mists, not content with merely shrouding our vision, turned to a caustic, choking vapor, filling our lungs with its filth. My breath turned to a hoarse cough as I fought for air, driven forward by the howls of our pursuers. But the mists seemed to solidify – my legs dragged, my chest burned. Finally, there was no choice but to halt and collapse in the wet soil. My last view… fangs… no, bars… not soil, but bricks…

Ulrich was the first of us to awaken, and he in his gentle way (his words), woke the rest of us. It had been a dream… perhaps. Sitting there, in the cell that we now found ourselves, it was difficult to remember where our actual flight from the werewolves in Avabruck had ceased and where my mind had begun creating its own terrors. Maybe it doesn’t matter now, considering our new situation.

We were in a cell, our gear having been carefully stripped from us, but at least we seemed no worse off than we had been in Avabruck. At first, we believed that the ritual that we had interrupted had also been discovered by others – Edgar, perhaps, or some of the other party guests – and that we had been rescued, in our turn, after saving the lives of the Gavonite ambassador and his hapless squire. However, the accent of the guard who stood outside of the door and told us to shut our mouths was unusual – certainly not from Avabruck, and nothing that any of the three us us could place…

Mads was furious that were were imprisoned and desperate to be free, which I found odd seeing as how he was likely to be more used to this condition than the rest of us. Ulrich was already swearing vengeance against those that had locked us in here. As for Sebastian, he was nowhere to be seen.

Our new state of consciousness must have been something the guard was waiting for, because he soon returned with two other men – one who appeared to be in command, bearing obvious insignias of rank, and the other dressed more as a hunter, with darker hair and skin than his two companions. Both of them watched us for a moment, and I could see the suspicion in their eyes. Finally, after a rapid series of accusations and vague threats from Mads and Ulrich, the commander introduced himself as Captain Abelescu, accompanied by Dalca, his assistant. Again, his accent struck me as odd for Avabruck, but my thoughts were interrupted by both Mads and Ulrich demanding to be released. The captain was unfazed, and insisted that we answer his questions before he would consider any of our requests.

As I was convinced that this was a misunderstanding, I had no issue with answering his questions. The most likely situation was that we had been apprehended along with the werewolves led by the mayor, and that the soldiers could not be sure that we were part of them. The next most likely scenario seemed to be that we were in the captivity of the cult itself and that they already knew that we opposed them, thus we could not tell them anything they didn’t already know. The least likely possibility was that we were held by the werewolf cult and that they had no idea who we were, in which case the truth could mean our death. But the odds of the truth helping us was much greater than its opposite.

The actual case for our captivity turned out to be something that we could not have anticipated. As the captain questioned us on our identities and motives, it became apparent that he had never actually heard of the places and people that we mentioned – not Avabruck, not Gavony, not the Ulvenwald – nothing. Captain Abelescu told us that were were in a land called Barovia, which none of us were familiar with either. We have yet to understand the exact position of our relocation, much less the method of its execution. Perhaps even more important news than the site of our prison was the captain’s pronouncement that Sebastian (now that we had used his name) was found dead in the mists with us. Mads demanded to see the body, and his insistence appeared to surprise our captors. I agreed with Mads – we could not be sure that the body that was found was not the squire, or perhaps even a young werewolf.

Abelescu agreed to release us under the eye of Dalca, whose first name was Milosh, we learned at that point. He was the one who had pulled us from the mists, and in their eyes we owed him a debt. As he led us out of the cell he explained more about where we were – a rough fortification called Fort Hope maintained by the Rödvaardens, in the northern land of Barovia. As we left the building we had been held in and entered the courtyard of the fort, the pale, cold sunlight surprised us, and the forest of pines and firs that covered the area were a stark contrast from the oaks and elms of the Ulvenwald. Milosh explained that the Rödvaardens police the land and deal with inhuman threats to its people. There was also a good deal of talk about a man named Strahd having a great deal of influence over the land and even the mists, but it is uncertain whether us being here has anything to do with him.

And then, Sebastian appeared! It turned out that the captain’s report of our naive wizard’s death was merely a test to judge our reaction, for if we had callously dismissed his demise then we certainly would have to have been evil. I can’t say that I agree with the captain’s logic, but it was good to see Sebastian again. I think that we had all dreaded having to identify his body. Except for Ulrich, perhaps.

Milosh and Abelescu explained that it would be beneficial to us to prove ourselves by accompanying Milosh on a ranging into the woods, and that there had been reports of restless dead being sighted near the road to the west of the fort. At least the undead were something that we were familiar with, so we agreed to the task given us.

Before departing, I noticed a woman at the other end of the courtyard, observing us and taking notes in a small book. Unlike the other inhabitants of the fortification that we had seen, she appeared to have a scholarly demeanor to her – a welcome change from our typical company in Avabruck. I introduced myself, “Urban Richter. For your notes,” and she introduced herself as Lucinda, the Keeper for this fortress. We talked for a while, but unfortunately neither she nor I were familiar with the regions or people that the other one mentioned. We agreed to talk later, after the ranging that we had agreed to, perhaps over wine, if any can be procured here. And without Mads, preferably.

Finally, we departed for the woods, chatting more with Milosh about this Barovia that we found ourselves in. He told us, gravely, about the greatest threat that the Rödvaardens faced – a group of bestial abhumans called the Ravagers, who came through the mists recently and have committed a great deal of violence to the outlying towns. To punctuate his description, he led us to a woodcutters’ camp that had been attacked by the Ravagers. It was horrific what they had done to the men here, tearing them apart to paint the buildings with their blood. Those buildings that they did not raze, that is. Some of the bones showed signs of butchering as well, as if the woodcutters had been carefully stripped of flesh to serve as a meal…

Oh, and there were zombies that we had to destroy. If only everything were that simple…

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You remind me of someone...

Inside of the woodcutters’ camp, the sounds of the forest completely fell away, as if every creature other than us had the good sense to hide from what had happened there. From the interior of the camp, though, we could just make out the sounds of creaking from… somewhere. We thought it was just the wind blowing through the shattered windows of the village. But, we noted later, there was no wind at the time, as if it too feared to bear witness to the death there.

Up ahead of us, we could see the body of a woman lying in the street, seemingly having fallen (or been thrown) from an upper story window, her head surrounded by a halo of blood partly soaked into the earth. Considering that the attack had occurred several days ago, as described by Milosh, this was… odd. Maybe the Ravagers had returned? Perhaps this was a survivor who had crept out of their hiding spot in terror and fallen accidentally, or one driven by madness to suicide. Whoever they were we could do nothing but investigate, although strict practicality stated that putting a crossbow bolt into them from the end of the street would be wiser.

So compassion won out over practicality, though practicality was proven to be the better alternative in the end. As Milosh approached, the woman proved herself to be animate, but was missing her lower half, as well as her life itself. “Where were you?” she/it questioned Milosh accusingly before attempting to bite off his feet, and its attack brought forth a horde of shambling, clawing undead from the houses around us.

The creatures lacked any sound tactics, fortunately, and we managed to return the creatures to their graves without anything worse than a few gashes to ourselves. A quick inspection of the corpses revealed no specific animating force, implying that the horror of what had been committed in the camp drove the dead to rise in search of revenge. Milosh confirmed that the Ravagers were not known to intentionally raise the undead behind them in the wake of their attacks.

Mads made a detailed inspection of one of the curiosities left behind in the town by the Ravagers – a gruesome set of sculptures, constructed of long stakes and human corpses, or at least scattered pieces of the latter. The construction appeared very deliberate, although even his fractured mind could find no recognizable pattern to either the bodies themselves or int the markings on the pikes. After a quick search of the houses in the town, which revealed many more bodies but no more that were animate, we returned to Fort Hope to regroup and discuss the Ravager threat.

The men of the fort were glad to see us return, and Milosh sought out Abalescu to make his report while Mads looked for Lucinda to ask her whether any logic had ever been noted in the human sculptures left behind by the Ravagers. Both Milosh’s report and Mads’ questioning left their respective other parties somewhat unsettled. However, we got mutton stew and delicious bread in the mess hall for ourselves, so it was all worth while.

Later that evening, I went to see Lucinda in her offices to continue our discussion from earlier in the day. In among our talks about the geography of the region, its major powers and the events of the day, we also discussed one of Lucinda’s primary interests – Rudolf van Richten, celebrity vampire hunter. The signed portrait on the wall behind her desk and the distracted way that she spoke his name betrayed her infatuation with him. However, she did say that I reminded her of him and bestowed upon me an amulet handed out by his fan club that she said had some power over undead. Also, we searched through her library and found some descriptions of the Ravagers’ behavior, including the impaled bodies left behind at the woodcutters’ camp. And then I retired for the evening, promising to continue our talks another night, over another bottle of wine (thank you Sebastian, by the way).

Finally, we all turned in for the night to get some good sleep. A sleep that was almost immediately interrupted by the sound of alarm bells ringing inside of the fort…

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First Contact
We have met the enemy, and he is odorous

We were awakened by the sound of alarm bells resounding over Point Hope, calling the soldiers to what we did not know. Mads, outside sleeping in a tree as was his wont, overheard the captain receiving a report from one of the Wardens’ scouts. The Ravagers were on the move, heading towards the small town of Grozny. It was no more than a raiding party, maybe 15 creatures total, but the kind of destruction that even such a small group could do… It was time to mobilize.

Abalescu gathered together a group of a dozen men to accompany him to the town to defend it, and we volunteered our services as well. And then we departed into the woods, followed by a MONTAGE, because that is what heroes do. We had to make it to the town before the Ravagers did, or else. What exactly the else would have been, we didn’t know, other than the fact that it would involve bodies and pikes. Or bodies ON pikes, to be more precise.

Due to our incomparable skills, we did as we needed to, and we got ourselves and the Wardens to Grozny just ahead of the approaching abominations. After a short delay involving Mads and his new-found appreciation for rhubarb pie, we cleared the streets of citizens and prepared to make our stand. And stand we did. The Ravagers attacked without hesitation, howling and scrabbling over each other as they tried to slake their bloodlust, but they were no match for our discipline. Or for the discordant tones of my Canticum, bringing thunder and death down among them.

Mads checked the bodies and found little other than their own filth and the scraps of cloth that served as their clothing, but one of the Ravagers was carrying a small silver locket containing a portrait of a woman in it. It was unclear where the locket had come from – perhaps another village that the creatures had passed through, or a memento of a past conquest. It seemed doubtful that there was any sentimentality in the creatures’ vicious minds, though, so it was just as likely that the locket simply had been trod upon and gotten lodged in the ichor covering the man-thing.

Once the streets were quiet once more, the mayor and some of the braver townsfolk came out to see us and thank us for our help, offering to celebrate us and our victory with a revel that night (not a sleep revel, for, oddly, the people were unfamiliar with such a thing here). Also there would be more pie. Mads had considered refusing before that was mentioned. We agreed, with the stipulation that we not deplete their stores, and that we take the immediate opportunity to try and track the Ravagers first, before the trail cooled. We decided to return in the evening, and Abalescu and his men would, in the meantime, help the townsfolk construct a wall to blunt further attacks.

Over the river and through the woods, the Ravager trail took us. They evidently had moved quickly, as the entire trail was of similar appearance. However, after hours of tracking, we finally came to what appeared to be the remains of a Ravager camp, on top of the burnt out remains of a Vistani merchant/entertainer camp. Judging from the impaled bodies on the outskirts of a set of circled, charred wagons, it looked like the Ravagers had not been welcome visitors. Although I told Milosh otherwise, it looked as if the Vistani had suffered horribly at the hands of their attackers, and that they had remained here for days to do it, as any tracks leading into the camp were long gone.

We did what we could for the Vistani, burying them after recording the positioning on the pikes, and then returned to Grozny for some well- deserved pie.

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Beating a Dead Horse

Returning to town, we are impressed by the fortifications that the road wardens have managed to construct. Milosh gives his report to the captain, particularly the bodies in pikes that we encountered.

And then we party! Ulrich gets into bare knuckle fighting, while Mads interacts with old women and small children. He’s turning them into thieves for his amusement.

Sebastian and Urban speak for a while about the ravagers and Lucinda, but then he has a vision of a cave with blood and a woman’s screams. He describes what sounds like a scene of sacrifice, with green and black clothed figures near a stone with blood running through grooves. Milosh doesn’t recognize the (admittedly vague) details.

The party continues, and eventually dancers come out. One of them appears to be half Vistani, and she comes and talks to Milosh about the ravagers. He thinks that they probably will attack again and that if she stays she will probably die, but he doesn’t tell her that. She mentions that her mother’s tribe is near the town of Zeidenburg, but that she doesn’t really feel accepted anywhere. Milosh encourages her to be proud of her heritage. She also hits on him, but he is utterly uninterested.

Mads and I talk about Milosh and his dislike of parties. I conjecture that merriment reminds him of something he has lost. Sad face.

Mads interrogates some of the inhabitants to see if they have a similar icon to the Prince of Shadows, and they tell him about the Gentlemen Caller, who is shifty and seductive and sounds quite familiar. And then they all retire for the evening and play with their socks.

I talk to the mayor and encourage him to both train his troops and prepare to evacuate the town should an attack come.

Milosh and I speak about future plans, and he suggests that we go and talk to this troop that the dancer mentioned and see if they can provide any insight on Sebastian’s vision. It sounds like a great idea!

The next day, we set out to return to Point Hope so that we can talk to Lucinda before seeking out the Vistani. However, while on the road Abalescu halts us, and we see a lump in the middle of the street. Sebastian mutters the word “crow”, but then doesn’t remember that he did. Milosh approaches the lump cautiously, but Ulrich hits it with a magic missile, to everyone’s surprise.

It is a dead horse! And we have just beaten it. There is a blood trail leading away from the horse into the forest. Milosh follows it as I grab some saddlebags from the ground. They bear a marking of a crow on them, and the name “Corvo Couriers”, from the city of Barovia.

The blood trail leads to a cave matching Sebastian’s description, and we hear a scream from within. We charge in! Inside, we encounter a group of cultists surrounding a crying woman and an apparently dead man. They are wearing black and green pants and shirts, and are dripping some kind of acid from their Web – covered bodies. Needless to say, they don’t appreciate our intrusion, and we tussle.

During the fight, the crying woman stands up and attacks us, apparently turning into one of the cultists as acid starts to drop from her arms. With difficulty, she tells us that “they” are making her attack us. But her change only prolongs the inevitable, and we finally knock them all down.

The chamber they are in had a collection of books written by Schneideldorf, a rumored associate of vanRichten, along with a journal that has some bookmarks in it. Ulrich also takes a statue of their god (?) with the initials “BQ” carved on it, and Mads takes some of the cultists’ knives. I examine the saddlebags, and find them packed with letters and packages going to Zeidenberg. I open one and find a damaged doll that I try to clean up like a good guy. We burn the bodies of everyone before we leave.

Finally, we get back on the road to Point Hope.

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