Whispers of the Vampire’s Blade. Part III

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War-Forged came up with a plan to increase our rate of travel to above walking speed. While he was generally a little slower then a human War-Forged could run continually without getting tired. With Toryil, Altra, Fraiya and myself doubled up on the two remaining horses and War-Forged (and Altera’s wolf) running along beside we managed to cover more ground then I had imagined.

The journey got me thinking about the living constructs called war-forged; they did not eat, sleep, breath or  grow fatigued so what kept them going? The most obvious answer was they were powered by magic but I knew from personal experience that they did not register on a Detect Magic spell and I knew of no instances where a war-forged had been effected by a Dispel Magic or similar, magic disrupting effects.

It took us a day and a half to reach the next settlement, a pleasant little town called Westbrook. By this point The Kings Forest, on our left, had retreated from the road by several miles. To our right we could make out a broad river.

Westbrook consisted of perhaps thirty or forty buildings including a temple to the Sovereign Host and an inn called “The Starving Pilgrim”. If the sample of locals that we saw was the norm the population of Westbrook was split almost fifty-fifty between gnomes and humans. One such gnome, who we soon learnt was called  Meecha, came over to say hello.

When we told Meecha of our need for horses he escorted us to meet a local rancher, a human called Jeremiah. When we found Jeremiah he was hammering horseshoes into shape but he was more then happy to deal with us. We had soon arranged the purchase of three horses complete with saddles and tackle from him. The horses would need to be shod before we could take them so we had an hour or so to spare. Since we had not had anything decent to eat for the last couple of days we decided to spend the time at The Starving Pilgrim and invited Meecha to join us.

A pleasant hour or so passed. Meecha was curious as to how we came to lose our horses so we told him a half-truth, that we had been attacked by wolves. We learnt that Lucan’s carriage had only passed through Westbrook yesterday morning and had been delayed by repairs. That was the first piece of good news we had heard in a while. On learning that we were going to Trolanport Meecha warned us that they didn’t like trouble-makers there.

All too soon it was time to be on our way once again. Now with a horse each it took us four more days to complete the journey, reaching Trolanport at noon. The capital of Zilagro was just as attractive as I remembered from my previous visit. It was only a shame that we were not here under happier circumstances. Finding Lucan and his mysterious, murderous companion was certainly going to prove a challenge. War-Forged suggested that we find a House Sivis message station and see if there were any messages for us. The message station that we found was huge and clearly catered for all sorts of official documents as well as transmitting and receiving messages. Altera was concerned as to how the civilised folk of Trolanport would react to her lupine friend so she stayed outside while the rest of us went in. War-Forged hunch proved right and there was indeed a message from Viorr. In it he warned us that Lucan was believed to be travelling in the company of his sister Grilsha who was a mage. Well that seemed to clear up the mystery of the woman in carriage.

The letter also told us that other parties were looking for Lucan, that an agent of The Dark Lanterns had been attacked by a mummy searching for Lucan on behalf of it’s mistress. I had read a bit about mummys and knew then to be powerful creatures of unlife most often “native” to hot, arid countries. Not monsters to be trifled with. Toryil agreed, adding that they carried a deadly, magical disease called “The Mummy’s Curse”.

In the final part of his message Viorr offered us some help, there was a women called Brianna who he had notified of our mission and she would aid us. She would prove her identity to us by correctly identifying “The shape to the key to the tower” as being a “V”.

We had barely got back to Altera, the horses and the wolf when a very eye-catching young woman made her way over to us. She was human, about five and half feet in height with short red hair and attractive amber eyes. She was wearing a flowing black dress highlighted by a silver necklace. The young lady introduced herself as none other  than Brianna. We quickly verified this claim using the code phrases in Viorr’s letter.

Satisfied we let Brianna, or “Bri” as she asked her friends to call her, lead us to a discreet taverna called “The Gnome’s Rest” where she was able to provide us with quiet a lot of useful information. On the way she was joined by a tabby coloured cat that seemed to be hers.

She had identified the “krell” mentioned in Lucan’s partially destroyed documents as “Neya ir’Krell” the Aundairian ambassador to Zilargo. Neya was holding her annual masquerade ball at the embassy that night and Bri had managed to obtain three tickets.

She also knew more about the mummy mentioned in the letter. While it had been attacking the Dark Lantern agent it had threatened that his mistress would bring death down on Sharn if the sword was not handed over. Not only that but The Emerald Claw were also said to be interested in finding Lucan.

Her final piece of intelligence was the location of Lucan’s carriage. It was currently residing at the bottom of one of Trolanport’s canals. Intrigued we decided to go and have a look.

Bri led us through several quiet back streets to a secluded stretch of one of  Trolanport’s many canals. It took me a while to spot the carriage, Altera had to point it out for me, but there it was, a dark oblong beneath the waters. Since he didn’t breath War-Forged volunteered to go into the canal and have a look in the carriage. About thirty feet away was a set of steps that descended down to the water level, where gondolas and other boats could moor up. War-Forged dumped most of his equipment, except for his war-hammer, and we tide a length of rope to him in case of trouble. Before he submerged I fished out  the everbright lantern from his magic haversack for War-Forged, it would probably be quite dark down there.

Without fuss War-Forged descended the steps. They stopped a little below the waterline so he had to jump, quickly sinking the fifteen feet or so to the bottom of the canal. No sooner had he alighted on the bottom than we spotted two shapes moving rapidly through the waters towards him in an aggressive manner.

Altera snatched up the rope and began to pull but strong as she was she couldn’t dredge War-Forged up from the bottom of the canal alone. Tugging away at the rope I was afraid that Altera was being more of a hindrance to War-Forged than help.

I saw the black shape that was War-Forged and the black shape that was one of his attackers swirl together and the waters darkened as he struck it a blow with his war hammer.

Toryil began calling upon The Undying Court to send him an ally. Friaya took more direct action. He ran to the waters edge, unlimbering his bow as he went, and fired down into the water but missed.

Bri cast a spell and unleashed a pair of Magic Missiles into the injured attacker. It went limp and hung in the water. A second later and I had cast the same spell, injuring the second attacker.

Altera gave up with the rope and, following Fraiya’s lead, ran to the water’s edge with her bow but she didn’t unleash her arrow. At about the same time Toryil’s prayers were answered and a sleek dolphin appeared in the war. It charge the remaining attacker but the creature was nimble enough to dodge not only it but an attack from War-Forged on it’s flank.

The skirmish was brought to a sudden end as Bri unleashed another pair of magic missiles and finished off the second attacker.

The fight over, War-Forged started to make his way alone the bed of the canal towards the carriage. Taking the rope with us we followed alone the canal path. As we did I commented to Bri on her spell casting ability and she revealed that she liked to go by the mockier of “Brianna the Black Mage”, although she freely admitted to being a sorceress rather then a mage.

We saw the glow from the lantern stop by the entrance to the carriage for a minute and then it disappeared inside. As we waited a pair of grey cloaked gnomes came strolling by. It appeared that Fraiya’s comment that Trolanport didn’t have a watch was a slight exaggerating as the pair of gnomes introduced themselves as members of the constabulary. They were curious to know what we were doing and if we were responsible to for the carriage littering their canal. I had already come up with a story to cover the former and told them that our friend, a war-forged, had dropped his valuable war-hammer into the canal and was trying to find it. No, I told them, the carriage wasn’t anything to do with us and I suspected that my friend was simply as curious about it as they were.

The gnomes didn’t seem inclined to press the point and decided to wait and see what War-Forged found. While we stood there they warned us it was generally a bad idea to go swimming in the canals, particularly the less well used ones, as they had problems with Sahuagin. That explained War-Forged attackers but was it a simple case of “wrong place, wrong time” or had Lucan made some kind of deal with them to guard the wagon? I knew a little about Sahuagin, related to sharks they are an unexpectedly intelligent race despite their bloodthirsty nature and live in complex societies. There was, I remembered, a sizable city of them in the sea not to far from Trolanport.

After a couple of minutes we saw War-Forged make his way back to the steps. Unfortunately his heavy exoframe meant he couldn’t swim the ten feet or so to the base of the steps so we had to haul him up to the surface. Before War-Forged could speak I pointed to his war-hammer and said “You found it then”. War-Forged caught the hint and said he had indeed recovered the hammer. When the gnomes asked about the carriage War-Forged told them it was empty and abandoned. Once they had gone War-Forged elaborated a little, the wagon was indeed empty with the exception of one curious item; a plain and empty coffin.

If the gnomes noticed the damage War-Forged had received at the tridents of his attackers they had chosen not to mention it and I quickly did what I could to repair him

Since we had drawn a blank with the carriage it was time to think about the masquerade ball. Bri only had three tickets and she insisted, fairly, that one should be for her. Toryil claimed the second. I was very eager to be the third member of the group but it occurred to me that Bri and I had quiet a bit of overlap in terms to talents. Instead I suggested that Fraiya go.

Toryil had an idea, he believed that if the was an embassy to the Undying Court within the city he might be able to get tickets for all of us.

With Bri as a guide it didn’t take us long to find the embassy-come-temple of Toryil’s people. It was a wooden mausoleum secluded in it’s own grounds surrounded by strangely haunting statues of elves reaching long arms up to the heavens.   

Unsurprisingly Toryil went in alone. He came out a short while later without much of his equipment, which he had chosen to lodge at the embassy, and a pair of tickets. Apparently the Aundairan Embassy always sent the elves tickets to the ball but the elves had never desired to attend.

This meant that I could now go as well as either War-Forged or Altera. Initially War-Forged turned down the offer and suggested Altera take the ticket. However, since reaching Trolanport Altera had clearly been concerned at the attention that her wolf had been getting and she flatly refused to be separated from him to go to the ball. War-Forged got the last ticket.

We had the rest of the afternoon, which was now only about three hours, to get ready. The first thing we needed was costumes. A few quick enquires revealed that a masked costume worthy of the occasion would cost at least a hundred pieces of gold. Using the Promissory Note Viorr had supplied us with we drew out five hundred.

For my costume I was inspired by the emblem of my house, the Chimera, and chose a mask with the face of a lion with the face of a dragon on one side of my head and the goat on another, the rest of the costume was in green. I secreted one or two spell components about my persona s well as the Pearl of Power.

Bri was dressed from head to foot in Breland Blue and wore a mast shaped like a boar, the symbol of Breland.

Toryil exchanged his golden death’s-head mast for one depicting a baboon, an animal with religious connotations for the elves of the Undying Court.

Fraiya was dressed all in black with a mask of four white, featureless faces upon his head.

War-Forged stoically wore a costume made out of multi-coloured streamers with a long golden beak for a mask.

Leaving Sek and Bri’s cat with Altera and her wolf we hired a gondola and headed for the ball.

Outside the embassy we joined the procession of brightly clad revellers who glided up to the gates. Bri used a simple Prestidigitation spell to, literally, add some sparkle to her costume. Before entering the embassy we had to pass two gnome guards decked out in full sets of highly ornate pate armour. Our tickets were good but there was some embarrassment when Bri was asked to hand over a pair of daggers and Fraiya had to own up to carrying a dagger and a roll of thieves tools . To be honest I’m not sure why the guards let us in, tickets or not, but they did and as we passed they wished us welcome to a “night of a thousand stars”.

The choice of words could not have been better. The ballroom, which was in front of the embassy proper, was illuminated by hundreds of softly glowing, floating balls of light. Swaths of richly coloured drapes decorated the room. In one corner, on a stage, a four-piece orchestra played. A table, spread with glasses of fine wine and plates of rich food, ran alone one wall and desecrate waiters moved between it and the guests making sure everyone had as much as they needed. The guests were a sight to behold. Some stood and gossiped, other twirled on the dance floor but all were dressed in the most extravagant range of costumes and masks, depicting every conceivable subject from animals to stars to emotions.

As captivating as the scene was it was clear that if Lucan was here he was not going to be easy to find. With variable levels of confidence Toryil, Bri and I began to work the crows while Fraiya staked out the drinks table and  War-Forged just lurked. Occasionally one or two of us would meet up and exchange bit and pieces of information, fitting them together to like parts of a jigsaw. We learnt that Lucan was here, that he had arrived with his sister and the pair were wearing eagle-shaped masks. Further, Lucan’s outfit had rows of diamonds on his sleeves and a blue cloak. Then Toryil spotted Lucan, he was dancing with the ambassador. Toryil had quickly asked a passing lady the honour of a dance and had taken to the floor but had been unable to get close enough to overhear what the pair had been talking about. As soon as the dance was over Toryil made his way over to the rest of us, who by chance were all together, and pointed out our quarry. As soon as the dance was over Neya ir’Krell had slipped away into the embassy. I glanced around of any sign of Grilsha. I could see no sign of her. Remembering that she was a wizard I cast See Invisibility but nothing was revealed to me.

An elegant woman in a dragon mask had now approached Lucan and the pair were dancing. Bri took my hand and we joined them on the dance floor. I must admit that I was more concerned about seeing what Lucan was up to them my footwork but that was probably how I noticed the dragon masked woman making small but significant gestures behind Lucan’s back. As I may have said before Enchantment spells and I have never got on but I recognised a Charm Person spell being cast when I saw one. From her eye-line it seemed that her intended target was Lucan. If that was the case the woman didn’t get the result she expected. Lucan thrust her violently from him, raised his armed and then The Soul Blade appeared in his hand. Viorr’s description didn’t do it justice, the sword dripped malice from every inch. The ruby pommel glowed like a blazing eye and there was a strange hook in the length of the blade that brought to mind the vicious claw of some predatory animal. For a moment time seemed to freeze and then I heard a chilling voice in my head. “Kill her”, it commanded.

Lucan unleashed a savage slash that bit deep into his erstwhile dance partner’s torso. Her scream shattered the spell that held the revellers in thrall and all chaos broke out.

The bulk of the party goers began to panic and like some disoriented, multi-limbed, multi-headed beast began to charge toward the doors leading further back into the embassy.

I saw Fraiya dash over to a table and grab a chair.

The servants threw down their trays and started to run towards Lucan.

Toryil’s voice boomed with divine power, commanding Lucan to “Drop” but the former Dark Lantern paid no heed.

War-Forged lunged out of the crowd to grapple Lucan but his target slipped nimbly away to end up beside his sister who cast a spell I recognised as Cats Grace on him.

The dragon-masked woman was somehow, despite her terrible injury, still conscious and she unleashed a barrage of three Magic Missiles into Lucan at point blank range.

By now I had pulled my wits together. I cast a spell of Mirror Image and them tried to manoeuvre around behind Grilsha. My mind was torn with indecision, something that could prove fatal in a fight. Lucan had saved our lives, could I really repay him by killing his sister? But then the image of Nev’s burnt and broken corpse sprang to mind reminding me that she would show us no such consideration.

Two servants, most likely discrete embassy guards , had reached Lucan and with surprising confidence for unarmed men facing a swordsman, attacked. If Lucan had been fast when he evaded War-Forged he was defiantly more so with the advantage of the Cat’s Grace spell. A beam of magical energy lanced from Bri, who was holding a scroll in one hand, and hit Lucan. A Ray of Enfeeblement. Despite this Lucan plunged in on the attack, killing the dragon-lady with his second blow before turning on his heel and running back across the dance floor, weaving his way past those (including War-Forged) who tried to bar his path. I quickly followed his line of advance with my eyes. At some point Neya ir’Krell had re-entered the room and he was making straight for her with his blade held high!

Toryil interposed himself between Lucan and the ambassador but the Sanctuary spell he had just cast didn’t stay Lucan’s hand and the elf received a vicious blow. Later Toryil would tell me that he was sure he heard Soul Blade sigh with pleasure as it bit into his flesh.

Both Fraiya and War-Forged attempted to overpower Lucan, Fraiya swinging the chair like a club and War-Forged trying to grapple. Lucan was too nimble for the pair of them and even managed to deliver a vicious blow on War-Forged as he dodged.

Bri and Grilsha exchanged volleys of Magic Missiles. Several times Grilsha begged her brother to abandon the fight but he paid her no heed. The waiters seemed confused as to who the aggressors were, one attempted to punch Fraiya but the half-elf was too quick. A second closed in on Bri.

I tried to reach Toryil but had to force my way through the crowds who were pushing in the other direction. Even as I did so the two gnomish guards from the gates came rushing in.

All of a sudden my mind was filled with a mocking laughter, later I learnt that my companions “heard” it too, for a moment I felt dizzy, as if my sanity balanced on the brink of an abyss, but I was able to throw off the effect.

Before I could reach Lucan and the others he had struck Toryil a second time, forcing the badly injured priest to retreat, while still nimbly evading any attempt to hit or grapple him.

Once again Grilsha begged her brother to flee. Noticing that Fraiya was heading her way with his improvised club she took her own advice and cast an Invisibility spell. Luckily the Detect Invisibility I had cast earlier was still in effect and I saw her making towards us, though whether she planned to carry on past and leave or help her brother I couldn’t tell.

Somehow the waiter who had been closing on Bri with clear menace was now sprawled on the floor. Bri unleashed another pair of Magic Missiles at Lucan but he showed no sign of slowing down. Some detached part of my mind noted that Bri had just cast Magic Missile four times in the few hours I had known her, a very impressive feat.

By now I was right up in the middle of the melee. As Lucan twisted about, trying to bring his wicked blade to bear in all directions at once I noted with some shock that, while his cloths were ragged from the fight he seemed to have no injuries of his body. From where I was I had clear lines of fire on both Lucan and his sister, who thought she was safely invisible. Even as I began to bring a Scorching Ray to mind I was unsure who to target it at. Then Lucan seemed to recognise me and in a weak voice begged for me to save him. My mind was made up; I shot the sword. Away from the heat of battle I’m now not sure what I had wanted to achieve. If I had destroyed the Soul Blade it would have cost us a five hundred gold piece reward. I needn’t have been concerned though, even though by some miracle I hit the sword it seemed unscathed. I had hoped that at the very least the sword would have become so hot Lucan would have had to drop it but he didn’t seem to notice.

A moment later two blows hit Lucan. A scimitar made of glowing force that hung in the air delivered the first, a Spiritual Weapon conjured by Toryil so he could fight from a safe distance. The second was  blow was delivered by Fraiya using the more mundane remains of a chair. Before my eyes, however, I saw the wounds heal in seconds.

I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye as Grilsha produced a wand and suddenly the fight was plunged into darkness.

I backed away and cast Mage Armour for good measure. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark it became clear that it wasn’t absolutely pitched black, I could still make out shadowy figures.

Once again we heard that mocking voice in our heads and once again I had to fight to retain my senses. In the darkness the fight carried on. I saw dark shapes thrusting, punching and dodging but if Lucan had been difficult to hit before now it boarded on the impossible. One figure didn’t press that attack, War-Forged had succumb to the will sapping power of the voice and was standing motionless.

Things were looking desperate and that called for desperate measures. Due to the tight-packed nature of the fighting I had held off using Colour Spray for fear of hitting my companions but now I threw caution to the wind.

For a split second Lucan was illuminated by the clashing blaze of light. He had cast aside his mask and held one of the gnome guards by the neck.  The light blinded both the gnomes. Fraiya was momentarily stunned. I don’t think War-Forged was effected but it really made no difference. Lucan, the one person who I had hoped to stun even for a few seconds, was completely unaffected.

Before the light completely faded I saw Lucan drag the gnome to him and then, with a sickening noise like something from a butchers table, he bit into the guards neck and began to drink his blood. On reflex I looked away and when I looked back both Lucan and his sister were gone, leaving a dead gnome on the floor.

Over the next few minutes the darkness lifted and War-Forged got his wits back. When I described how the gnome had died Toryil declared that Lucan was now a “Vampire” a powerful and rightly feared creature of unlife that shunned daylight and feed on the blood of the living. I wondered when this curse had overcome Lucan, he had walked freely in the sunlight while we travelled on The Cloud’s Destiny. I asked Toryil if there was any cure but grimly the priest replied that the only “cure” that could help Lucan was his destruction.

I took a moment to examine the woman who had been Lucan’s first victim, I removed her dragon-mask but her face was unfamiliar. It occurred to me then that Lucan’s undead state explained why he had shrugged off so many mind-effecting spells, Charm Person, Command and Colour Spray at the very least.

As you might imagine Neya ir’Krell was determined to know what was going on. Though we didn’t mention who employed us we told her that Lucan was a wanted man in Sharn and we had been sent to bring him back. The ambassador mused that Lucan’s murderous attack must have been prompted by him discovering that she had betrayed him. We tried to find out in the nature of this betrayal but she would not be drawn and soon we had something else to occupy us; Neyar ir’Krell believed she knew where Lucan and Grilsha would be heading! She had arranged for an air-ship to be put at Lucan’s disposal. It was docked at the mooring tower this very moment.

Quickly we were on our way. Luckily our tavern was on the way so we risked a small detour to collect our equipment. Altera was waiting for us, alerted by Sek’s agitation during the fight. We grabbed our stuff and ran through the benighted city until we reached the shadowy structure of the mooring tower. At the top, illuminated in silhouette by the fire of it’s elemental ring, was the dark shape of an air-ship. It looked like we were in time.