Whispers of the Vampire’s Blade. Part IX

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Looking up from his pondering Lucan fixed us with his burning eyes and announced “You have to stop me”.

I was torn between curiosity about what was going on and concern about Lucan’s vampiric ability to bend the will of other to his own. I tried not to meet his gaze, looking over his shoulder at the statue. If it was a god I didn’t recognise it from my studies. It was constructed of a black stone but shot through with vivid, crimson veins, as if the statue was bleeding from a hundred sword blows.

In the shadows of the chamber I could hear whispering voices begging for their freedom.

Lucan told us that the seal had weaken The Soul Blade’s hold on him. He asked us why we had betrayed him. Grilsha, in her letter, had made a similar accusation and War-Forged spoke for all of us when he denied any knowledge of  the deed. Lucan told us that he had received a message in our name that had lured him in the depths of Sharn where he had met “Her” and been transformed into a creature of unlife. Now my curiosity overcame my fears, surely he was referring to the mysterious “Calderus” in Grilsha’s letter. Unfortunately Lucan refused to speak “Her” name but claimed that she was a greater evil then he and, rather enigmatically, she wanted to be “twinned with the blade.”

Suddenly Lucan gave a cry of pain and we caught a glimpse of his flesh splitting on his face and arms as if he was receiving a flogging from an invisible whip. Later Toryil said it was the sort of thing you expected to see if someone had cast a spell of curing on an undead. In her letter Grilsha had said that The Soul Blade had tortured Lucan when he had denied it’s will  and I guess that was what we were now seeing.

The pain seemed to snap Lucan out of his reflective mood. When next he looked at us his face was a mask of animalistic rage. With a speed that I could barely follow Lucan practically flew across the room and lashed out with his blade at War-Forged. If it had been an other member of our band I suspect the blow would have been lethal but War-Forged weathered that attack, battered but still defiant. In a flash Lucan had leapt back and before we could stop him was stuck, like some hideous spider, ten feet up one wall. He brandished his sword, the blade of which seemed to be surrounded by a dark mist, at us and my head was filled by a disorientating barrage of images. I was not the only one afflicted but we were able to throw off the effect.

Both Altera and Erban ran towards the wall. As she went Altera dropped her shortsword, which would have been useless against Lucan’s undead flesh, and took a two-handed grip on her enchanted longsword. Erban was able to get beneath him and swung his blade up at the vampire but Lucan was too nimble for him.

Both Bri and I had pulled out scrolls and were desperately reading from them.

Bri’s scroll was one of those we had lifted off Grilsha’s corpse, a spell of Haste. Suddenly Lucan, who had been darting like a shadow along the wall slowed down to, almost, human speed. Of course he hadn’t really slowed down, Bri’s Haste spell had speed us up till we matched the vampire’s speed. Lucan may have lost the edge in speed but he still had it in agility as he demonstrated by easily weaving past Toryil and launching himself at Altera.  With impossible grace Lucan closed on Altera, evading her longsword on both the way in and the way out, and once again The Soul Bladed tasted blood.

As he retreated back up the wall Lucan’s luck seemed to run out as Bri hit him with a ray. Unfortunately it was a Ray of Enfeeblement to which Lucan, as a vampire, was completely immune. Lucan wasn’t, however, immune to the bite of the glowing scimitar, a Spiritual Weapon summoned by Toryil, that appeared next to him.

I had not been idled this time. The scroll I had used contained spell of Enchant Weapon I had purchased just for this occasion and with it I was able to place a magical aura on War-Forged’s trusty hammer. War-Forged himself was using his Artificer’s arts to magically repair some of the damage Lucan’s initial attack had inflicted. This also gave me time to pull and read a second scroll, casting a spell of Spider Climb on War-Forged. Thus reinforced War-Forged charge across the room and up the wall to take the battle to Lucan. The pair spared for a second and them Lucan was down the room and closing in Bri, in an attempt to dominate her will as he had his own sister. Luckily it seemed Bri was made of sterner stuff.

As he found temporary shelter up a wall Lucan boasted that it had been he that had murdered Failin and framed us for the deed.

The fight was in fall swing. Lucan was never still, darting this way and that, striking and retreating. Twice more The Soul Blade unleashed waves of madness at us but we gritted out teeth and refused to give in.

Altera was too badly injured to dare close with Lucan. Realising that her arrows would be useless against the vampire she shouted at War-Forged to throw her Grilsha’s hand-crossbow  and, more importantly, the enchanted bolts. She was unfamiliar with the weapon, however, and lost valuable time cocking and loading it.

Agile as he was Lucan couldn’t dodge the Magic Missiles that Bri and I sent in volley after volley against him.

Remorselessly Lucan was pursued by Toryil’s flying scimitar. At the same time Toryil himself engaged Lucan, matching Talaen Kara against The Soul Blade. Toryil was certainly rose to the occasion. A month of practice with the twin-headed scimitar paid off, the elf combining parries with deadly counter-attacks to good effect.

Lucan seemed to sense the threat Toryil posed and for a moment forgot about The Soul Blade and lashed out with a claw-like hand. Toryil saw the danger, not only did a vampire possess superhuman strength but it’s touch wounded both the body and the soul. The elf ducked back and, before Lucan could bring back his own blade to parry, drove Talaen Karam home.

For a moment it looked like Lucan was going to fall but then he suddenly dissolved into mist. I was already mid-way through casting a second Magic Missile spell and, seeing no reason to stop, unleashed three more magical darts into the mist. What effect they had I couldn’t tell.

War-Forged ran over just as the mist sped across the room towards the statue. War-Forged swung at the mist with his hammer but it seemed to pass harmlessly through and a second later our quarry had disappeared from view behind the statue. Altera, Bri and Erban quickly headed after Lucan but as they too disappeared behind the statue I heard Altera calling out that he was nowhere in sight. Warily Toryil scanned the shadow-filled reaches of the ceiling. I knew how he felt, the idea of Lucan leaping out of the shadows to make a surprise attack wasn’t a comforting one. To be on the safe side I cast Mirror Image, creating five illusionary decoys.

Of course a surprise attack wasn’t our only problem. We had seen how quickly Lucan healed. With every second, I figured, he would be getting stronger. By comparison we had burnt up a lot of magic over the last few seconds, magic we would not have at our disposal again in a second fight. Time was not on our side.

I left the others to search the chamber and turned my attention to the seal upon the floor. I had been itching for a closer look since entering the chamber. I quickly came to the conclusion that it was a Dimensional Seal, almost certainly created by druids during their war with the Dalceer. There are places where different planes of existence are closer together. Sometimes these overlaps are only temporary. Others, like the link between Sharn and the plane of Air, are pretty much permanent. Perhaps this temple stood in such a place, or would do if the seal did not keep the planes apart. It would explain why the Soul Blade had drawn Lucan here.

My companions had found no trace of Lucan. Toryil and War-Forged had even looked into the sarcophaguses but only found the dust of long-dead goblins and six, iron-bladed swords. Iron, or rather Cold Iron, I reminded my colleges was said to have great power over certain demons.

A re-check of our remaining stock of healing potions showed that “two” was an overestimate. We only had one and it was decided that Altera should drink it. Even after the healing potion she was pretty beaten up so she entrusted her magical longsword to War-Forged. In a similar vein, as the blessing he had placed upon his longsword was now faded, I gave Erban Roewyn’s magical dagger. It looked comically small in Erban’s mailed fist but it could have been all that stood between the paladin and the vampire.

I decided to have a look for Lucan myself. I concentrated my search on the floor behind the statue, postulating that, as a mist, Lucan might have seeped between the flags stones. As I did I became aware of a draft blowing from one side of me. It seemed to be coming out of the wall and, on closer inspection, I found a small secret door. The secret door, about five feet square, opened on to a narrow shaft leading downwards. This had to be Lucan’s escape route. It looked like a tricky decent but there was an alternative, earlier we had found a set of stairs going down.

Heading back the way we had come we found the steps and descended deeper into the  ziggurat. At the bottom of the stairs we found ourselves in a corridor that split into two. One branch headed off into the darkness. The second ran only for a short distance and then turned a corner. There was a faint but unsuitable sound of drumming in the air and it seemed to be coming from this shorter corridor. We decided to investigate and found ourselves at the top of another staircase. The sound of drums was clearly coming from down below, as did the odour of stagnant water, so we descended.

The stairs ended in what appeared to be a fairly large chamber, although rotting and mould covered tapestries stopped us from seeing the room’s full extent. The floor of the chamber was hidden by black water. There was a heavy looking stone door at the far end and, to the left of the stairs on which we stood, was a stone plinth on which stood a pair of hide covered drums. Above the drums floated what I guess could be called a double-headed drum stick and it was rhythmically pounding out a beat on the drums. Had it been carrying out this function, I wondered, for thousands of years, unheard until we had arrived? Or had something Lucan, or us, done activated the magic?

Carefully War-Forged began to wade across the room. The water appeared to be about two feet deep.

He was about halfway across the room when the was a sudden noise of agitated water and a pair of thick tentacles, their point of origin concealed from me by a hanging tapestry, leapt out towards War-Forged. War-Forged dashed one aside with his hammer but the second wrapped around his torso and yanked him off of his feet and out of sight.

Altera rushed into the room, keeping to the far wall. As she went she tipped out the magical bolt from the hand crossbow and replaced it with a non-magical one. At the same time Toryil rushed into the room. He nimbly ducked under a tentacle that flew in his direction and then vanished behind the tapestry.

By this time Bri had pulled out one of her scrolls and was wading over to join Altera.

I had readied the wand of Magic Missiles but couldn’t see whatever it was that was attacking War-Forged. My problem was soon solved as Erban waded forward and, with a swing of his longsword, cut down the tapestry. In doing so he revealed a bloated, ovoid creature perhaps eight feet in diameter. It’s body was split by a wide mouth filled with vicious teeth. It had three, stumpy legs and three tentacles. One tentacle was only about two feet long and ended in a cluster of eyes. The other two were much longer, they were the tentacles I had seen flailing around and indeed one was still wrapped around War-Forged. It looked like the creature had been trying to stuff War-Forged into it’s mouth but my comrade wasn’t going to go down without a fight and was lashing out with his adamantiom fists and feet. Toryil has struck at the beast with his twin-bladed sword but it’s thick hide turned the blow.

I pointed the wand and fired, striking home with a Magic Missile. Altera also fired, hitting with the crossbow bolt. The beast gave two squeals but kept on fighting.

Using the scroll Bri unleashed a Ray of Enfeeblement at the beast but, fearful of hitting one of her comrades, fired wide. The ray, however, distracted the creature enough for Toryil to get through it’s guard of flailing tentacles and deliver two punishing blows, one with either end of Talaen Kara. The creature was clearly weakening from it’s injuries and I was able to finish it off with another Magic Missile.

After he had disentangled himself from the beast War-Forged turned his attention to the stone door. First he put an “ear” to it. Then he went over and moved the drums. Then he listened to the door again. Apparently satisfied by what he heard he began to tug at the door. Initially the door resisted his efforts to shift  it but, after much effort and with help from Toryil, the portal was finally opened.

The chamber beyond was large, in size it rivalled the chamber in which we had fought Lucan though it’s ceiling was not as high. It was clearly a mausoleum of sorts  with perhaps thirty stone sarcophaguses  spaced around the chamber. Like the previous room this one was covered in about two feet of water.

Moving up behind War-Forged, Bri cast Detect Magic. After a few seconds of concentration she informed us that she could sense six magical aura’s in the chamber. Two sarcophaguses contained one aura each but there was a third sarcophagus, pretty central to the room, that had four magical auras, one of which was fairly potent.

Carefully War-Forged and Bri entered the room, heading for the stone coffin that Bri had indicated contained four aura. They had barely entered the room however when a green foam started to ooze out  from the cracked lid of a sarcophagus. As more and more of the foam flowed from the coffin to form a mound of greenish slime, the pair rapidly backed out of the room. It was a good thing they did too as I recognised the “creature” from my studies of deepest Kyber; it was an Ochre Jelly.

As it closed on us I quickly ran over the salient points in my mind; Ochre Jellies were composed of a highly acidic slime. More importantly, if attacked by bladed weapons or electricity, they would not be hurt but be divided down into smaller sections, each and every one of them capable of fighting.

I quickly warned my friends about the danger and there was a desperate stowing and drawing of weaponry as War-Forged produced his trusty hammer and Erban drew a heavy mace.

As the Ocher Jelly oozed through the doorway War-Forged swung  his hammer and hit. I had moved back to the way we had come in, giving myself a clear line of fire at the Jelly. I had been holding back a Scorching Ray until we ran Lucan to ground but it seemed now or never. The ray hit the Jelly square on and burnt away a sizable chunk of it but the slime was still going.

So far Toryil and Altera, not having any bludgeoning weapons, had kept back. I gestured madly to the club at my belt and shouted for one of them to grab it. There was a splash from behind me as Toryil dropped Talaen Kara into the water and made a grab for club at my belt.

The Ochre Jelly lashed out with a pseudo-pod at  Erban but he was able to parry it with his mace. War-Forged lunged in again, pressing his attack with his hammer. As second later Bri hit it with a pair of Magic Missiles .

Again the Jelly lashed out but this time Erban wasn’t so lucky and a solid blow sent him reeling back into the water. After a few seconds it became clear he wasn’t getting back, if the blow hadn’t killed him outright he would soon drown. I was pulling out Grilsha’s wand, preparing to try my luck with it once again, but it was time for a change of plans. I waded over to where Erban had fallen. As I did I got too close to the Ochre Jelly and received a whack with a pseudo-pod for my stupidity. It was like being kicked by a mule and within moments the torn skin was starting to blister from the traces of acid left behind. As I plunged my hands into the inky water and pulled Erban’s head up into the air I was well aware that I was far too close to the Ocher Jelly with no real way of defending myself. Luckily War-Forged was into his stride and raining blow after blow down on to the creature. Suddenly the Ochre Jelly just gave up the fight. It lost all cohesion and the thick, yellow foam began to dissolve into the water. Both War-Forged and Toryil, who had been slowly edging in, cried out with pain as the waters they were in turned acidic. I saw a tide of yellow moving my way so I pulled on Erban’s limp body with all my might and dragged him back. We all took shelter back up the stairs. Toryil was the last as he desperate searched around beneath the water for his sword. Luckily there was enough water in the two rooms to dilute the acidic jelly down to safe levels.

My friends looked pretty done in but, I pointed out, after all the trouble we had with the Ochre Jelly we should at least check out the magical auras that Br had divined. Hopefully one would be some sort of healing magic with which we could revive the unconscious Erban.

We headed across to the sarcophagus where Bri had detected four auras. I don’t know what the others were expecting but I was taken completely off guard when the lid was pulled aside to reveal Lucan. He seemed to be asleep, The Soul Blade resting on his chest. I guess that even the healing powers of vampires have their limits and Lucan’s injuries had been enough to drive him off, no doubt to rise again the next night. War-Forged and Toryil were quicker to recover then I. In a flash War-Forged had produced one of the stakes Bri had whittled and his hammer. Toryil reached in with Talaen Kara and nudged The Soul Blade, which Lucan had clutched to his chest, out of the way. Later Toryil told us that he felt Talaen Kara cry out in terror as the two blades touched. As soon as the blade was away War-Forged drove the stake home. Lucan’s eyes snapped open but their red flame seemed to have lost it’s potency.

I asked Bri what, other then The Soul Blade, was magical in the sarcophagus. She indicated Lucan’s armour, his boots and, oddly, one of his gloves.

We now had a choice to make. Lucan was worth more to us if we brought him back “alive” to Sharn. Toryil had made no secret of the fact he wanted Lucan destroyed as soon as he had learnt that the fugitive was a vampire. There was certainly no objection from the rest of us., the very last vestiges of sympathy he might have got from me had gone when he gloated about Failin’s murder.

As War-Forged secured the stake in Lucan’s heart Bri, Altera and I checked out the other two sarcophaguses that had got Bri’s attention.

The first contained, judging from the quality of her attire, the dusty remains of a female goblin of high status. In one hand she held a brilliantly cut emerald. Tucked into her belt was a vial. As Bri helped herself to the emerald I checked out the vial, a potion of Levitation I decided.

The second sarcophagus contained the remains of what might have been a goblin shaman or priest. In one hand he clasped the hilt of an iron sword. Like the ones we had found upstairs  it was very clearly of goblinoid design but an excellent weapon despite it’s antiquity.  In his other hand he held a long, thin wand of bone. We took both.

By now Toryil and War-Forged had managed to separate Lucan from The Soul Blade. Quite understandably neither of them had wanted to touch the sword so they had shaken Lucan’s paralysed body until it had slip from his grasp and now lay in the bottom of the coffin.

Pulling out Lucan we slid the lid back into place, intending to come back for the sword, and carried the inert vampire back upstairs.

Soon we were in the entrance chamber. At the end of the short corridor we could see pale sun light of the afternoon. After the oppressive darkness of the ziggurat it looked very inviting. War-Forged marched out carrying Lucan’s body. As soon as the first rays of sunlight fell upon it Lucan’s skin started to darken and shrivel like paper thrown into a fire. As War-Forged put him down onto the stone steps Lucan caught fire, burning with an unnatural, heatless flame. Within moments there was nothing left of Lucan but ashes that were soon swept away by the wind. His clothing and possessions were intact and War-Forged stuffed them into his magical rucksack.

Now we had to deal with the sword. For Grilsha’s letter and Lucan’s behaviour we knew that The Soul Blade had an evil will of it’s own and anyone who touched it was in danger of being overwhelmed.

Quickly I devised a plan. The interior of War-Forged rucksack was in a pocket dimension, I reasoned that if it was in there the blade would be unable to reach out to control any of us. I remembered reading about the dangers of putting sharp objects into Bags of Holding so War-Forged rooted around until he found a longsword sheath. Now all we needed was a safe way to get the sword into the rucksack. I remembered Bri mentioning that she had at least one scroll of Protection from Evil. Amongst the benefits of that spell was warding from possession by evil forces. Bri would cast the spell on one of us who would quickly put The Soul Blade in the scabbard and drop it into War-Forged rucksack. The plan seemed watertight to me but my colleges seemed not to be convinced so I volunteered to be the one to handle the sword.

We headed back into the depths of the ziggurat. Lucan may have been destroyed but we didn’t let our guard down, who knew what else still lurked in that ancient pile of stones?

Back in the burial chamber we put our plan into motion. War-Forged pulled the lid off of the sarcophagus, The Soul Blade was still there. Bri cast Protection from Evil upon me. Reminding myself that the plan was fool-proof I reached in and picked up the sword. As soon as I touched it I “heard” an insidious voice in my head but it was muffled and indistinct, like someone speaking from the far side of a wall. Quickly I secured the sword into the sheath and rammed it into the rucksack. The moment I let go the voice vanished.

I noticed that my companions were looking at me in a suspicious manner so I assured them that I was in no way possessed.

While there was at least one part of the ziggurat left unexplored we had achieved what we had set out to do and it was time to leave. We rowed back across the lake to where Altera’s wolf was waiting, and camped there for the rest of the day and that night. In the morning Toryil was able to revive Erban and began to treat the rest of our injuries.

A five day hike across the plains got us back across the boarder of Zatharon. There we used the Promissory Note one more time and brought tickets for the Lightning Rail. A three day journey across the heartlands of Breland brought us back home to Sharn. It was about a month since we had left and any joy I had about seeing the mighty towers of Sharn again was soured by the realisation that two of the six of us that had set out had never lived to see the sight.

I was till in a bad mood when we went to see Viorr. I challenged him about Lucan’s claim that he had murder Failin in order to win our trust. Not only did Viorr not condemn Lucan’s actions but he seemed to suggest it was just another day’s work for The Dark Lanterns. I bit my tongue before I said or did anything I would regret but inwardly I wondered if Viorr would be so philosophical if it was he who was framed for murder and condemned to slavery in the name of the greater good.

Viorr excepted Lucan’s travel documents as proof of his death so we received our thousand golden pieces each. Understandably he was not willing to handle The Soul Blade so he asked to take temporary custody of War-Forged rucksack saying that it would be returned in a day or so minus the sword. He was as good as his word.

Of the many items we had picked up on our journey the ones we deemed useful we kept while others were sold. I ended up with both  of Grilsha’s wands and the wand from the goblin shaman, a wand of Colour Spray as it turned out. Most of my reward money I spent on scrolls which I transcribed into my book of spells.

So that was the end of the quest to recover The Soul Blade. Well not quite, there is a little epilogue. The first night back in Sharn War-Forged and I headed back to my rooms to find that someone had already been there. The place hadn’t been torn apart or anything but it was clear that someone had searched it thoroughly. Instinctively I went to where War-Forged had hidden The Creation Pattern before we left, under my mattress. It was no longer there.

The Lord of Blades? The Emerald Claw? The Dark Lanterns? House Cannith; north, south, east or west? Someone had stolen The Creation Pattern but I had an ominous feeling that this was not the last we would hear of it.