At the Frontier of Acot

Vampire Weekend, part 1

Order of the Drake

A series of bleak winter mornings had greeted Acot City since the arrival of Varen, Scratch, Mindartus, Alec, and Doppelmeier. Their time here, while not uneventful, still had not been marked with blood. They had felt the trail of foes become progressively warmer as they found more and more clues that would lead them to a confrontation. It was inevitable that someone among their many enemies would strike at them…

Alec had awoke to find two young men at his door dressed in tabards carrying the symbol of Pelor.

“Sir!” They spoke in unison, an obviously rehearsed expression, as was their synchronized bow afterwards. One of them spoke, “We are acolytes sent from the temple of Pelor to serve you. I am Huim, and my companion is Chel. I bring a message from your companion, Shoshanna of Evandra.” Huim handed the missive to Alec who scanned it briefly, a frown creasing his face.

Alec took stock of his new charges. Huim had an earnest face. His uniform was clean and his hands bore the signs of honest work. Chel was his opposite, his tabard was wrinkled as though he had slept in it. A few small wine stains decorated Pelor’s symbol.

Alec bid them to enter his chambers. He sat at his desk and dashed off a quick note to Shoshanna. “Huim, deliver this to Shoshanna. Wait for her reply. Also, tell me everything you can about what is occurring in the Apartments. Chel, I need information. Go into the city and see if there is any news. I need to know more of the Pernokians and the war.”

Huim and Chel looked at each other and nodded once at their new master. They scurried off at a run.

Alec’s hand tighted around Shoshanna’s note. He went to find his companions to share the news and seek their help.

Mindartus’ mind traveled whilst he slept. His consciousness traveled the interstices of the Feywild, lightly touching them and studying the array of lights that bloomed with his attention. His intellect pondered the tasks set before him. He sensed it would be dangerous, however he felt a burgeoning power beckoning. He felt sure that something else called for him from the Aether, or perhaps it was something in himself calling outwards.

A knock at the door interrupted his sleeping meditations. He awoke and put on his robe. He opened the door with his mind, and readied a few defensive spells. Mindartus sensed that their was much afoot and a few precautions were never out of place. However, it was only a palace servant bearing a letter from the University. The servant handed it to Mindartus and bowed. “M’lord Mage” he said before turning on his heel and walking away. It seemed to Mindartus that the man walked more swiftly than was needed, but then the practitioners of the magical arts had always been viewed suspiciously. He opened the letter and read. There were several requests from his fellow mages. Mindartus mused whether these endless interruptions would cease once he had seized his proper place in their hierarchy.

“Stone properties?” thought Mindartus. His mind flitted back to the unusual stones he had encountered. Two were of note, the remembrance of a powerful stone from Kulu’s dream and the stone in the ancient Eladrin fortress that burst with life energy. He wondered what the study of this new stone would bring to his knowledge of such things.

However, a more pressing matter took the forefront in his thoughts. “Apprentices! Tedious,” thought Mindartus. He could scarcely believe he had been such a creature at one point in his life. Nevertheless, he had been helped a few times himself in that awkward phase of his life. He would repay his tutors poorly if he refused to help now.

He went off to seek his companions. He suspected this task would be greatly aided with their help. He knew that it would at least be completed more swiftly, which would allow him time to focus on greater things.

Doppelmeier waited patiently as the trickle of people started to increase. He had been awake for hours. The knowledge that the source of his hatred were close had burned in his thoughts while he slept and woke him early to face the day.

The previous evening he had been slipped a note by a passerby. He scarcely remembered the woman’s face, but the note had been from Bonemeal. A few inquiries around town had revealed that there was a disturbance at the Rivari Apartments. “Creatures” the barman had said. “Monsters” the merchant had said. Then, luck of all luck, he had found a boy who was near catatonic with fear. All the boy would say, in a dry breathy whisper, was “They fear the sun!”

It was good enough for Doppelmeier. He knew what was happening. A part of him believed he could feel their corruption, like a cold shadow over his soul. He had been waiting since then. The others slept and Doppelmeier knew better than to wake them prematurely. He had been trying to think of ways to enlist their help. They’d been very reluctant to help him with his other task. He glanced at Bonemeal’s note once again. It was written on dried leather, the writing was burnt into it like a brand. His hand reflexively clasped the raven tattoo on his neck. “I won’t fail,” he whispered.

He saw, emerging from a the palace, the ally-for-now warlock, Scratch. He stepped forward, praying that the others would help him.

Scratch was haggard from the previous night. His crow had finally returned after an absence of many hours. Scratch pondered the information he had received and wondered how he would move forward from here. He had given little thought to his next immediate step.

He saw Dopplemeier approaching him with a determined expression and smiled. He knew the halfling didn’t trust him overmuch and the feeling was mutual. They were both dealers in secrets and secrets breed suspicion.

“Scratch,” said Doppelmeier.

“Doppelmeier,” Scratch nodded at him.

“I wish to go to the Ravari Apartments. I believe there are events occurring there which will interest all of us.” Doppelmeier spoke with a fierce intensity. At times he seemed to be two different people, at once a happy-go-lucky rogue and a fierce fanatic for his goddess. Scratch enjoyed him when he as in his rogue persona, and was wary of him when he dropped into his fanaticism.

“I see. And you want me to support you to convince the others. What events are occurring that are so interesting?”

“There has been a disturbance. I have heard reports of monsters. I think it likely that they are somehow related to the other disturbances which he have already quelled.”

Scratch considered briefly. He would have preferred to spend time in the library; exploring the ancient stacks of tomes and scrolls. However, it was getting quiet, and his Tiefling blood surged at the thought of action.

“Fine then, I do support you in this. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, has occurred there. If nothing else, the Apartments are rife with a criminal element, which should be interesting.”

Doppelmeier stepped back, a pleased expression on his face. After a time, Alec and Mindartus stepped from the palace.

Alec’s shining armor was near blinding to look at in the morning sun. “Friends,” announced Alec, “this day we should explore the Ravari Apartments. I have heard tales from a friend that there is much woe in that district. It is in my heart that we should bring peace there if we can.”

Scratch stopped himself from rolling his eyes and noticed Doppelmeier and Mindartus had not refrained. “Very well friend Paladin,” said Scratch, “I am agreeable to your suggestion.”

Mindartus nodded, “I also have business in that direction. An apprentice has gone missing from the University chapter here. My peers have requested that I seek her out. They believe she went missing in that district.”

Doppelmeier’s face brighted at the unanimous agreement. Scratch looked at him wonderingly. “Surely the little halfling couldn’t maneuver us that well.” thought Scratch. “Impossible, all of our secrets would be laid bare if the rogue was so good.”

Scratch’s thoughts were interrupted as a harried Varen emerged from the palace.

Varen began his morning, as he always did, by holding his sword. It whispered to him of the shadows that fell across the land. Lately he felt as though it had begun to know it better, and it had begun to know him better as well. There was a blossoming understanding between them and Varen felt sure that there was more potential in the sword than had previously been seen. Sometimes he even caught glimmers of Sol Flindel himself in the sword. Although, the Eladrin’s soul had powered the magic it was only a narrow slice of his personality and knowledge that inhabited it. The sword seemed to be its own person now. It was a jumble of emotions, and most powerfully felt was regret. The sword now even thought itself as less Sol Flindel and more as Regret. It had been in a rage since the slaying of DaShain. Though they saved the elven maiden, countless other captives had been abandoned to their fate. The sword rejoiced at saving the elf, but despaired and raged at Varen for the failure to save the others. It wanted to save everyone. It never wished to see evil triumph over the innocent. It had taken weeks to quiet the sword’s anger and recrimination. Varen felt that communicating with the sword had helped him to better understand it. It had a determination to it, a determination that had infected Varen’s own consciousness. He welcomed the feeling.

He had thought long on the events of the past few days. The meeting with the king and his advisors had given him much to think about. The advisors to the king had certainly revealed much about their allegiances. He was not sure if any of them could be trusted.

Most importantly, he desired the resurgence of the Acoti Rangers. It was gratifying to know the king shared that desire. However, Varen felt conflicted at the king’s motivations. The king had already flung most of his brothers into the battles and to their demise. Now, he was to raise and train a whole new set of Acoti to fight. He was determined that they would be better trained, better equiped, and better able to survive the challenges of the war torn land.

Varen equipped himself and prepared for the day. He had chased out the servants sent to help dress him and wash him on the first day of his arrival. He was uncomfortable with his new title and fought the trappings of nobility. He was a grown man and needed no help in such matters.

His chambers included an opulent receiving room. A well dressed servant waited for him.

“A message from your estate, M’Lord” The servant pressed a sealed envelope into his hands and waited patiently while he read it.

Glide wanted to send some of his men with Haskeer to quell an uprising of lizardfolk. “I’m not so flush with men and equipment that I can waste them needlessly,” muttered Varen. Glide was a good man to have and seemed to be an able spy and informant. His assessment of military matters was sorely lacking though. Varen sat to write his reply.

“Have this sent on a fast horse,” he told the servant. The servant accepted the note and left quickly.

There were several other letters on a small table in the receiving room. Two were from Shavenfell and one was from the king. One of the Shavenfell notes was addressed to Alec. Varen left that one unopened. The other was from the Order of the Drake recruits. Varen scanned it with a smile. He frowned at the king’s note. “What is that tiefling up to anyway?” He wondered. He gathered the letters and traveled to the courtyard to meet with his companions.

They all smiled to greet him.

“Friend Varen,” began Alec, “we have already been in conference whilst waiting for you and have decided on a course of action.”

Varen frowned to discover that they had begun planning without him, but nodded when they told him their plans. He passed around the letters he received and noted Alec’s brilliant smile at his letter. The paladin pulled paper from his pack and wrote a note on the back of his shield. He left momentarily to find a servant.

Scratch frowned when he looked at the king’s note and similarly left to find a servant.

When they had returned Varen leveled a gaze at his companions. “Let us be off!”

The Order of the Drake departed for the Ravari Apartments, a district known for its poverty and crime. The place was notorious for the cutthroats and pick pockets that dwelt there. Curiously, many merchants had been doing business there for years and without incident. The reason for this was a group of vigilantes known simply as “The Guards”. They were a group of ruffians who had banded together to ensure no merchant was harassed. Naturally, and in keeping with the spirit of the district, The Guards did not do this for free. They collected a percentage from every sale in the district. If a merchant failed to pay the consequences were instructive, if not lethal. Few merchants defaulted on their payments to The Guards.

They traveled down the sodden muddy streets. Few people were in evidence and many of the windows of the dilapidated buildings were shuttered or boarded over. Those people they did see gave them suspicious glances while hurrying to their destination. As they trudged onward, an acolyte of Pelor ran up to greet them.

“What news Huim?” asked Alec.

“Shoshanna brings you greetings. She says that a fell power is at work in this district. It has laid low a goodly number of the populace. She says that many have sought shelter in a chapel of Erathis. She bids me to lead you to her so she can discuss this further. Also, she warns you not to travel the streets at night.” Huim gasped out the words in one breath.

“Well done, faithful of Pelor. I suspect she is right to take precautions. Go to the Temple and inform the priests there of these events. Find me when you are done.”

Huim bowed to Alec and ran out of the apartments. The man seemed frightened of the sights he had left behind him.

The Order shifted uneasily. Alec and Varen loosened the swords in their scabbards. Doppelmeier counted his shuriken. Dutifully, they trudged onward to the chapel of Erathis.

They arrived and immediately noticed protective wards that had been hastily scrawled on the doorways and windows. Inside the chapel, a throng of people had gathered. They gazed at the well-armed men fearfully. Near the front of the chapel wounded men and women had been laid out. Some of the people tended them while a few clerics of Erathis moved tiredly between them giving blessings where they could.

A woman dressed in the robes of Evandra greeted the Order. “Alec, you came! The gods bless you and your friends!”

Alec gazed around the room. “Shoshanna, what has happened here? You had mentioned an illness, and the work of fiends… but this…”

She gave him a sad look. “Yes, it has worsened in the past few days since I arrived. I regret I did not provide all of the details in my original letter, but… these poor people. I could scarcely take the time to write between defending them and tending to their wounds.”

“Defending them?” Alec asked, his eyebrows raised.

“Yes, monsters swarm the streets at night. They attack without mercy and their claws inflict dreadful wounds.” She gestured at the prone people. Alec noted that many bore claw marks on their wrists and arms.

Doppelmeier scanned the chapel. He spied a stack of corpses behind some shelves and out of the public eye. He lifted the sheets that covered the bodies and found city folk who had died from their wounds. Most had deep scratches on their necks as well as their arms.

Scratch busied himself by questioning the people who had gathered here. Varen counted his arrows.

The Order gathered together to discuss their next step.

“It’s only noon,” said Varen. “We have time to seek out The Guards and see how they did in all of this. I think we’ll find more clues if we leave now.”

“Maybe so,” said Scratch. “I’ve heard that they have a compound near the center of the district. Some of the people I spoke with claim that it still stands. Also, the monsters that attack at night are described as fair skinned with bestial features. They are ravenous and feed on blood. Some say that they have seen kinsman rise as a creature after they were attacked and slain.”

“It can only be the undead,” said Doppelmeier.

“Yes, but what kind?” Asked Varen. “I know little of such things aside from what we have already fought.”

Mindartus and Scratch studied the bodies. “Vampires.” Said Mindartus coolly. “Notice the puckered flesh around the wounds of the fallen? I have read accounts of such things. It is caused by an infection of necrotic energy.”

“I agree,” said Alec, “although I am uncertain what good this knowledge does us. They are weak to sunlight, but I am not so strong in my faith that I can ask the sun to stay the night.”

Doppelmeier gave him a long look. “They must be slain.” He said.

Varen, looking impatient, gestured at the door. “Let’s go. We can talk about how to kill them soon enough. We need to know more first and we can’t do that here.”

The Order of the Drake left the chapel and made their way to where they had been told The Guards made their headquarters. As the afternoon wained, they noticed that there were no people around at all. After about an hour of swift walking they saw a barricade across a narrow street. Tough and dirty looking men stood behind it watching them approach. Behind them were men with with bows, pointed in their direction.

“Hey you!” Called one of the men. “Stay where you are! Who are you?”

“We’re here to help!” Yelled Varen. “We’re here to fight!”

“C’mon up here then!” The party approached and were greeted by a man in leather armor with mud smeared on his face.

“Huh.” Said that man. “Alright look in this bit here.” He held up a mirror.

Glancing at each other, the party each looked into the mirror to see themselves gazing back.

“Definitely Vampires.” Muttered Mindartus.

“Good then. I’m the boss here, alright? We’ve been fighting off the fuckers for days now and we’re still breathing. I’m Caruck, these are The Guards.” He pointed around him at the other men in leather armor. “These other guys are here ‘cause of us too.” He gestured at some of the townspeople who were holding improvised weapons. “Looks like you might handle yourself okay in a fight too.” He said, looking the party over and giving their weapons an extra long stare.

The men parted to let the Order into the enclosure. They looked around to see that barricades had been placed on all of the streets leading to the central building. Men with swords and bows stood idly. Some were napping in the afternoon sunlight.

Varen walked around the enclosure and viewed their defenses with a practiced eye. He snorted at some of the townspeople and looked up at the top of the headquarters where no one was stationed.

“Yeah? Pretty good huh?” Said Caruck. “It got us this far. Course that’s just for starters. See how we got our archers spread around? That’s to stop ‘em when they come jumping off of the roofs. Yeah, ha, and then we got these damn newbies here to stab ‘em up when they fall into the dirt. Good huh?”

Varen gave him a level look and continued to look around at the defenses.

Mindartus came up to Caruck. “I’m looking for someone. A mage apprentice named Miska. Some townspeople at the chapel said you might know her?”

Caruck gave the robed mage a look. “Yeah, I know her. She was a good’un even if her snout was permanently raised to heaven. She helped us for a while.”

“Where’d she go?” Asked Mindartus.

Caruck looked sad for moment. “Stupid girl thought she could kill em all. She said a lot of stuff I didn’t understand, but I think she was gonna magic them or something. She left this letter too.” Caruck handed Mindartus a letter. He sat down to study it carefully.

Scratch spoke up, “So she’s gone then? When did she leave?”

“Yeah, left a week ago. Poor girl. She’s probably a screaming monster by now. Stupid.”

Scratch looked thoughtful as he watched Mindartus read the letter.

Several hours went by as Varen studied the defenses and Mindartus interpreted Miska’s letter and notes.

Varen finished making his circuit and addressed Caruck. “So, do you have any idea where they all go when the day gets here?”

Caruck nodded. “They head into the sewers. It’s all twisty turny down there. I sent some men once, but they didn’t come back.”

“Ah!” Said Varen. “Do you have any blueprints for the sewers? Maybe something written down so we can track down the vampires?”

“Uh, you mean, like, in words?” Caruck gave Varen a blank stare. “I had a friend who could read once. I don’t think he had anything like that.”

Varen fixed Caruck with an incredulous look. “Gah!” He yelled, and threw up his hands.

“Geez…” said Caruck. Some of his other men gave Varen uncomprehending looks.

“This is not good.” Said Mindartus. “She’s dabbling in something where an experienced mage would tread carefully.”

“What’s that?” Asked Scratch.

Mindartus relayed how Miska had discovered a ritual for closing energy planes and how she believed she could modify the ritual to close off the necrotic energy to the vampires.

“She’s got a good theory,” he went on, “but the power needed is phenomenal and the phrasing and symbols would have to be exact, perfect actually. And it gets worse. She’s discovered how to summon a demon and intended to do so to gain assistance in creating this ritual.”

“You are shitting me!” Yelled Varen.

“Interesting.” Said Scratch, a speculative look on his face.

“So,” said Doppelmeier, joining the conversation. “We probably have a demon out there as well.”

“Yes, perhaps.” Said Mindartus.

“Dammit!” Varen cursed. “All we can do now is get through tonight. We’re not likely to be able to travel much more today. He waived around to indicate the fading sunlight and the apprehensive expressions on the men around him. “Caruck!”

“Yeah, what now?” Caruck said sullenly.

“Can you get men on that roof of yours?” Asked Varen.

“Yeah, why?”

“Gods man, put the archers up there! They’ll have a better view and can reinforce each other easier. Alec, will you organize the ground defenses? I’m climbing up on the roof to organize these men.”

Alec nodded. He started yelling orders at the men around them, gathering them together and distributing them around the perimeter. Occassionally he would confer with Doppelmeier, talking animatedly.

Varen climbed up to the roof and took Scratch and Mindartus with them. Together they organized their defenses.

Night fell and with it the voices of the men fell to a whisper. Gradually, sounds could be heard echoing over the city. Growls and bestial howls sounded from far away. Sometimes, scratching noises were heard.

Then the screaming started and with it more howls and an evil laughter from a hundred voices.

“They’ve found another holdout of city folk.” Said Caruck to Alec. “Seems like there’s always a few holdouts. Don’t know why they try to hide out instead of fleeing or heading here.”

Alec glanced down at the shorter man. “I think they’ll be coming for us soon.”

“Yeah.” whispered Caruck, his voice suddenly small. “They will.”

Vampires surged around the corner of a nearby building. They traveled at an unnatural speed, leaping and bounding across the distance. The archers started firing and managed to take down a few before the rest slammed into the barricade, their claws flashing with hate and necrotic energy. Alec and The Guards set to their grim work, taking down the vampires as they closed. It seemed like wave after wave of the creatures came out from the darkness. All of their once human faces were set into rictus smiles.

Mindartus shouted and pointed his wand and a fog of shimmering ice sprang into effect on a nearby building, momentarily blocking the vampires from reaching the top and slaying those that were there already. The archers on the roof loosed arrow after arrow at the encroaching swarm. Their aim aided by an increasing desperation. Varen stood out amongst them. His bow sang with the throng of arrows he loosed. He rarely missed, yet cursed when he did.

The soldiers at the barricades remained steadfast. Their swords traveling up and down like a great machine. What they lacked in precision they made up for in blunt effectiveness. Their blades created inescapable traps for the vampires that closed with them.

Scratch unleashed the fury of the feywild. He teleported from place to place. He madly risked wounds so that the wake of this teleportations could lash out at the mindless horde.

Men cried out as they took wounds, but kept their ground and continued to pour themselves into the fight.

Only one vampire managed to avoid their preparations, jumping down and leaping toward some of the townsfolk. Varen ended its threat with a well placed bow shot.

Moments later, the attack had ended. The Order of the Drake had emerged victorious and The Guards had sustained no casualties.

“It’s the first surge.” Said Carack. “We don’t know when the next will come. Stand ready!” He called to the defenders. They flashed grins back at him and at the Order. Usually they felt the sting of the vampires claws most keenly in these attacks. This time, the Order had proved the difference and they all knew it.

“Someone approaches!” One of The Guards shouted from the perimeter. Several lanterns could be seen and drawn blades among them reflecting the light. The lanterns came closer until Alec was able to make out Shoshanna along with several warriors.

“Hail!” She cried out. “I’m searching for the Order of the Drake!”

“We’re here!” Yelled Alec. “Why are you out in this dangerous night?”

Shoshanna approached and was allowed to enter the enclosure. “The chapel has been attacked. The wards have somehow been breached. We need you to come right away. We cannot defend against another attack.”

The companions drew together to discuss what to do.

“They’ve been attacked. We must go to defend them, they have no one else.” said Alec.

“What about these men?” Asked Doppelmeier. “They will need our help too.”

“Yes, but the greater need is with the chapel.” Argued Mindartus.

“No, we will kill more of the creatures here.” Said Varen.

“No! Please…” Shoshanna gave them all pleading looks. “Go to the chapel. I will assist the men here. My healing arts are great and I carry the blessing of Evandra. Please!”

The members of the Order of the Drake quickly agreed.

Hastily, they made their way across the streets and allies of the Apartments. They came across several lone vampires which they slew quickly. After thirty minutes of swift walking they knew their goal was close. A long street with building clustered on either side led them forward.

A horde of vampires attacked. Varen and Alec tried to stop the creatures from swarming around them, and killed many, but they saw that the creatures were coming from all sides, over the tops of buildings and through windows. They came around alleys and boiled up the street behind them. Mindartus was aghast at their numbers and spat magic missiles from his wand, taking the creatures down one at a time. Doppelmeier pulled down his skull mask and prepared for a long fight. He was confident that the mask would defend him from the creature’s necrotic claws.

Meanwhile, Scratch cursed the creatures and flung his powerful magical blasts of energy slaying them. When a cursed creature was slain he would teleport and kill all of the creatures that had surrounded him.

Alec called on the power of Pelor and with a single sweep of his sword he destroyed a multitude of the grinning vampires.

Mindartus found that his attacks were ineffectual against so many. He retreated, but found that he was cut off from the others by four more vampires. He sustained many wounds as the claws of the vampires savaged him. Varen turned and tried to slay the vampires with his sword. He moved through them like they were leaves falling from a tree, but still they swarmed around the men.

They were like bright islands in a flood of fangs as their blades flashed and magic shot out in different directions. Scratch moved with swiftness and purpose as he ended the unlives of the vampires. Mindartus gained the help of Alec and Varen and managed to push the creatures back from himself and unleash a torrent of deadly magic.

Doppelmeier weaved through the creatures, untouchable. He lept and rolled as though in an exotic dance. His blades found purchase with each thrust and slash.

Time passed, and though exhaustion crept up on them they eventually finished the last of the creatures.

“We must press on,” said Alec, breathing heavily in his armor. “The creatures will not let us rest long.”

So they made their way those last critical minutes to the chapel. There, the priests of Erathis puzzled over the fallen wards.

“You’ve returned!” said one of the priests exultantly. “Perhaps you can help us. Something has caused the wards to fail, but we cannot determine what nor how to fix it.”

“Yes… perhaps we can do that.” Said Scratch. Alec, Scratch and Mindartus approached to study the wards. Varen and Doppelmeier entered the chapel to take stock of the survivors. They saw that the chapel had been touched with death and mayhem. The people looked hurt and hopeless as the Order conducted their investigation.

“What happened here?” Asked Doppelmeier to one of the townsfolk.

“They attacked.” Was the reply. “They moved through the wards of the chapel like they didn’t exist. The gods have truly deserted us. I feel as though I’ve known it all along. We are all dead men and there is no hope for us. I knew it when she came and whispered to us that there were none left to help, and the gods did not care.”

Doppelmeier’s ears perked up. “She? Who’s she?”

“A pale red-headed girl.” Someone replied. “I knew her once, I think.” Said someone else. “We all did, I suppose,” said an elderly man, “her name is Miska.”

“Where did she go?” Asked Doppelmeier, alarmed.

The townspeople looked at each other confused. “I think I saw her in there… I think. She went there, and there was a flash of red light.” One of the townsmen pointed to an adjoining room.

Alec, Scratch and Mindartus studied the ward.

“I know this ward,” said Alec. “See, it’s a circle that intersects four points. Let’s see, the points are Divinity, Protection, Knowledge and Faith. A simple but effective protection to draw on sanctified ground, although difficult to maintain.”

Mindartus also studied the ward. “Yes, something has interfered with it, but what some… energy.”

“A demonic energy.” Scratch said decisively.

Mindartus gave him a sharp look. “Do you think that…”

“Yes. She was here.” Said Varen stepping from the chapel. “Doppelmeier found out from one of the townspeople. He’s searching the place now.”

“Hmm, I think she only interfered with one point, but which one?” asked Mindartus.

Alec focused on the ward. “Well, the Divinity point would require the direct intervention of an opposing god to break.”

“Heh, that’s out then.” Said Scratch.

“We hope…” muttered Mindartus.

“The Knowledge point requires the betrayal of one of the casters of the ward.” Continued Alec.

“Better not be that.” Said Varen. “I can’t be killing priests without knowing for sure and we don’t have time to test them.”

“Hmm, the Protection point requires an opposing force overcome the ward in a direct show of power. It takes a lot and I’m told it’s quite flashy.”

“One of the townsfolk saw a flash of red light. Could that be it?” asked Varen.

“Maybe…” said Alec.

“No, such power would scourge the ground around the ward and probably melt the stones of the building. A flash of light is too subtle for that.” Said Mindartus.

“Well,” said Alec, “the Faith point is breached by compromising the faith of those the ward protects.”

“That must be it!” Yelled Scratch.

They went into the chapel and saw the despondency of the the townsfolk in a new light. Doppelmeier emerged from the adjoining room. “She’s not in there. If there’s something else I should be looking for then I don’t know what it is.”

“I could try to give the people a rousing speech,” suggested Scratch. “That sort of thing has worked in the past.”

“Not this time, friend Warlock.” Said Alec. “I sense that their change in mood must be arcane in nature. There must be an object here that is still channeling the will of the caster. Something that sucks life and hope from those who interact with it.”

“Such a thing must be magical.” said Mindartus, “Attend me. I will focus my arts on discovering its whereabouts.”

The Order gathered around Mindartus as he focused his magical abilities. He turned from room to room and eventually moved to the adjoining room that Doppelmeier had searched.

“I sense it!” Mindartus gasped. “It is a despicable device. That stone there!” He pointed to a small stone perched on a nearby shelf.

Doppelmeier moved to pick it up, but Mindartus swept past him pushing him aside. “Don’t touch it you fool!”

Mindartus opened his pack and took out a small intricately carved box. He managed to scoop the stone into the box without touching it. “There!” He said.

The Order noticed a subtle change in the room, as though a malignant presence had been removed; a presence of which they had previously been unaware.

The men returned to the other room and saw that many of the townspeople had collapsed. A priest was tending to them.

“They all fell at once.” Said the priest. “Although, I feel the air in here is now more wholesome. Did you discover the source of the ward’s interference?”

“Indeed we did good priest.” Said Scratch. “I believe you’ll find the ward functions once again.”

The Order of the Drake waited out the remainder of the night in the chapel. Outside, vampires came and went, but the wards held them at bay. Varen spent some time on the roof, idly shooting arrows down at passing vampires until morning came.

With morning, a triumphant Huim returned with a small contingent of Pelorian priests and Paladins.

“We’ve come to help!” He said to Alec. “These men and women are here to address the threat. No mere vampire would dare stand against so many followers of the sun god!”

“Well done, Huim.” Said Alec. “This will certainly help us, although I think we have much yet to do. Mindartus, it is clear that the University apprentice Miska has something to do with the failure of the ward last night. Is it often the practice of your University to teach the summoning of demons?”

“Indeed not my friend!” Exclaimed Mindartus. “I do not know where she might have learned such a thing. Perhaps it has something to do with that Pernokian defector we heard about some nights ago.”

“Are you talking about Miska?” Asked on of the townspeople. “She was often seen in the company of a strange old man who lived on the outskirts of town. She was always talking with him and always seemed quite upset afterwards. In fact, I think that the old man is the only reason she came into this district.”

“Where does this man live?” Asked Alec.

The townsman quickly gave Alec directions to a small cottage on the outskirts of the district. The Order of the Drake bid farewell to the priests and townspeople and made their way swiftly to the cottage. It took barely a few hours to reach it and was not quite noon when they arrived.

As they approached the cottage Varen and Doppelmeier saw a flutter in one of the windows as though of leathery wings. They described what they saw to the party.

“Imp?” Suggested Scratch.

“Perhaps so.” Said Mindartus.

They entered the cottage and found the first floor was abandoned. There was a half eaten meal rotting on the dining room table. A book lay open next to it. They found that the book was a history of an ancient ritual known as “Geas” and that in the margins the man who lived here had written notes indicating that he was researching how this ritual might be performed. Particularly worthy of attention were the notes that said Voluntary I knew it all along. That won’t be a problem of course and So, others for used this for redemption!. The rest of his notes were arcane runes and words. Mindartus and Scratch poured over them carefully, occasionally offering a comment about some aspect of a rune or the suggested wording of a magical phrase.

The others grew tired of their rambling and eventually traveled up the steps. They found a small library and a bedroom. The library consisted of a rocking chair and a small bookshelf with histories and treatises of magical events. The bedroom was more interesting as it had a small leather bound diary next to the bedstand.

Varen perked up as they were exploring.

“I’m sure I hear something.” He said.

Scratch came up from downstairs and listened as well. “You maybe right Varen. There might be something here. “Come out, creature, and we will do you no harm.”

“Hsss,” Came a reply. Alec jumped a little as it seemed to come from behind him. “You mortalsss will not keep your word. You will ssslay me if I come out.”

“We won’t,” replied Scratch, “and if we wanted to do that, being invisible will only delay the inevitable.”

“Very well. Hss.” A small imp appeared in the bedroom, it’s leather wings flapped lazily to keep it aloft.

“What do you wish of me mortalsss.” It asked. Its eyes studied the Order keenly.

“Tell us of the man who lived here.” Mindartus said.

“I will tell you, but you must releassse me from this bond. Allow me to leave this place. However, I do not wish to be banished, which is what would happen if you tried to kill me.”

“We will not harm you and we will not banish you.” Mindartus replied.

“You will answer our questions though.” Doppelmeier threatened, pulling his dagger free.

“Xanthrosss was his name.” Said the imp. “Traitor! Hsss!”

“What is your name? And why do you call him a traitor?” asked Alec.

“I am Zaphir. The massster betrayed me and cursssed me to remain in this tiny mortal dwelling. I who ssserved ssso well for many yearsss. He betrayed many causssesss, my massster did. Mine, yours, others…”

“What cause of ours has your old master betrayed?” asked Scratch. “Did he teach a woman named Miska to summon demons?”

“Hss, yesss. Missska was a clever human. She sssought to learn the higher art of sssummoning. She found that my massster could teach her. She was enraged when he refusssed.” The imp chuckled in its snorty sibilant laughter.

“He refused? Tell us more, imp!” Said Varen.

“Hsss. She found out he was from Pernok… threatened to turn him into the King’s guardsss if he did not cooperate. Clever Missska. He taught her how to summon one such as I. Yesss.” The imp laughed again. “The massster told me that I was not to teach her to sssummon, but not that I could not help her once she knew how. Ssstupid massster. I helped clever Missska to strengthen the ritual. She sssummoned one much more powerful than I.” The imp laughed again as it boasted.

“What did she summon? Where is she now?” Asked Scratch.

“She is not here, not anywhere. If you banished me, I might greet her for you.” Replied the imp.

“Possessed. Great, just fucking great.” Said Varen bitterly.

“What did she summon?”

“Osyluth… Bone Demon!”

“You disgust me imp.” said Alec. “Lets go.”

“Yesss, but firssst, releassse me!”

“I think not demon. You can continue to rot in this stinking cottage. Let’s go.”

The Order of the Drake departed amidst the howls of despair from the imp. Scratch picked up the diary from the bedstand before he left. He read an account of Xathros, and how he sought redemption after the sins he committed in the Pernokian army. He read that Pernok was indeed corrupt and the clergy of “Pelor” in that district were nothing more than charlatans. Xathros sought redemption by an ancient ritual called “Geas”. He hoped to cast it on himself and thus gain the attention of the gods. If he succeeded, then the gods would acknowledge his redemption and he would be free to live his life without shame. The journal seems about to say where he was setting off to perform the ritual, but the pertinent pages are missing.

Scratch shared his findings with others. They discussed the implications of this as they made their way to the library to discover the blueprints of the sewer.

The reached the library and Doppelmeier quickly found the sewer layout. The document was old and outdated. However, he was able to piece together a few likely extra chambers from his knowlege of dungeoneering. Scratch made his own way through the library, taking down ancient historical tomes and reading a few passages here and there. When he left, his pack bulged with books he intended to peruse.

The Order of the Drake rested, knowing that the true battle had yet to begin.



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