The sun dawned on what looked like it was going to be a sunny day with nothing further happening that night.
That morning, as I re-learnt my spells, I made a couple of break-thoughts in my continued quests to master the Arcane. I was able to commit to memory a couple of spells that had always alluded my until then . Additionally I discovered a “loophole” in the formula of some of my spells that I had never noticed before. A loophole that, if exploited correctly, would allow me to increase a spells potential effect.
Today, I thought, was going to be a good day.
We reached Staralaska early that morning. It was a heavily fortified town, a junction for three lightning-rail lines and three major roads. This had made Staraska a target during The Last War and the town and it’s surrounding lands still bore the scars. It was a sobering sight and we could expect to see more echoes of that terrible conflict before we reached Vatlarond.
As the train pulled in to the station I jumped off to the platform and, as carefully as I could without drawing to much attention to myself, looked over the other disembarking passangers in case Grilsha was one of them. I even went as far as casting See Invisibility but nothing showed up.
We had a three hour stop over in Staralaska. Scrapping together my dwindling monies I nipped into the town to find some items that should help us in a confrontation with a vampire. From a church of The Sovereign Host I purchased four holy-symbols (Toryil, Erban and Rowan already had one each). I also found a seller of magical goods and brought a scroll with the spell Enchant Weapon. If vampires were truly resistant to non-magical weapons then Bri and I would be okay with our magic spells. Erben could bless his sword as he had the night before and both Toryil and Altera had enchanted steel to fight with. War-Forged, however, had none of these options and would be at a serious disadvantage, hence the scroll.
I wasn’t the only one to be looking to the future. When I returned I found that Bri had acquired a large string of garlic and was witling us two wooden stakes each.
Once the train was moving again we put our heads together about how to locate Lucan and Grilsha. It would be far better to find them now then run the risk of losing them as they left the train.
Perhaps I should describe the set-up of the train of coaches on the lightning-rail before I go any further. At the front was a crew coach from where the elementals were controlled and where the crew had bunks. Behind that was a cargo coach. This was followed by passenger coach (with its four, four person cabins and two small lounges) followed a lounge and dinning coach, followed by two more passenger coaches (on the first of which we were staying), another lounge coach and a final passenger coach. The train was finished off with a second cargo coach and then another crew coach.
War-Forged and Toryil decided to check the coaches forward of our cabins. Erban , Bri and I checked the coaches further back from ours. Altera decided that the other passengers would not want to see her wolf stalking the corridors of the train and so the pair of them remained behind in our cabin.
Both of the search-parties had a method of detecting Lucan if they came close to him. As a paladin Erben had a sixth-sense for the presence of evil while Toryil had memorised a spell of Detect Undead.
As the three of us swept back through the train Erben detected no hint of evil. Pretty soon we were standing outside the rear cargo coach. There was a sign on the door that read “Staff Only”. I was a little concerned that Erben would dig his heels in about breaking regulations but I guess the stories you hear about the stiff-necks of paladins are exaggerated and he entered quite happily with the pair of us.
The cargo carriage was windowless and dark, which seemed to make it an ideal hiding place for a being that was vulnerable to sunlight. Erben announced that he could not sense the presence of evil but we decided to check out the place anyway. I stayed just within the door to keep a sharp ear out for anyone approaching. Erben and Bri started to head along the carriage, pocking around in the shadows as they went. Before they had got to the far end I heard the sound of the door to the next carriage being opened. I tried to get my colleges’ attention but they were too far away for hand signals and I didn’t want to shout. Quickly but quietly I tried to catch up with them but before I had got half way the door was opened behind me. Without a seconds thought I jumped behind cover but Bri and Erban were caught flatfooted in the shaft of light that extended from the door.
Expecting to see a confused and indigent ticket attendant I peaked from my place of concealment and was relieved instead to see War-Forged and Toryil. The pair had carried out their search with no luck and had decided to sweep backwards along the train for good measure.
So Lucan was nowhere between the front and rear cargo carriages. That only left the crew carriages. Or did it? I pondered the question for a few moments. The various Detection spells, and I assumed a paladin’s nose for evil worked in a similar way, were not infallible. According to common thinking three feet of wood, a foot a stone, and inch of most metals or a thin veneer of lead would be enough to block the magic. Of course Grilsha could be carrying Lucan around in a steel box but that struck me as unlikely. Could the walls of the carriages block the magic? They seemed to be made of wood and were far less then three feet thick. Spotting a ticket attendant War-Forged and I began asking him questions about how the Lightning-Rail worked. We slipped in a few questions about the construction of the walls and were rewarded with the answer that the sleeping carriages were shielded with lead, for the privacy of the paying guest. Perhaps rather belatedly Toryil suggested that this was probably why he had been unable to detect the mummy last night until Altera had opened the door of their cabin.
This wasn’t good news. It meant that we could have, in fact we almost certainly had, walked right past Lucan’s hiding place any number of times and been none the wiser. Baring forcing our way in to every cabin it looked like the only way we would find Lucan and Grilsha would be if they made a mistake and, the given their track record, that seemed rather unlikely.
For the next few hours I set pondering the problem as I watched the world pass by. The day was just as sunny as the dawn had promised. Sunny? Could that be the answer? I nipped back to my cabin. It was well light by the sunlight. If I was a vampire, trapped in a cabin like this during the daylight hours what would I do but block the window? A quick check revealed that a heavy blind could be pulled across the window. I pulled it down and then went outside on to the balcony to see if I could tell that the shutter was down. I could.
Quickly I found the others and outlined my thinking. The logic wasn’t foolproof, Lucan could spend the day hiding on the upper bunk out of direct sunlight, but I felt certain that if we worked out which cabins had their shutters down one of them would be holding Lucan and Grilsha.
We did a survey along the outside of the passenger carriages using the balconies. In total six cabins had their shutters drawn, two on the first carriage, one on the second (the same carriage our cabins were on), one on the third and two on the forth.
Taking the bull by the horns I went up to one of the cabins that we had identified in the first carriage and knocked on the door. It was opened by a wealthy looking woman of middle years with steel grey hair. It certainly didn’t look like either Lucan or Grilsha. I pretended that I was looking for an friend, a woman called Grilsha, who had told me that this was her cabin. Mention of the name didn’t provoke a response so I apologised for disturbing her. As the woman closed the door it occurred to me that, if I had been a paladin I could have sensed the room for evil while the door was open. With this in mind Erban was given the task of knocking on the other doors. Perhaps a little unfortunately he had taken my example to much heart and as he knocked on the other five doors he announced who he was and who he was looking for each time. Of the five only one door was opened, by a gentleman overjoyed at meeting a servant of The Sovereign Host and three more doors gave no response at all. However Erban’s knocking at one door, in the final passenger carriage, was answered by a woman’s voice. Try as he might Erban could pursued her to open the door . Although there was no real reason why Grilsha and Lucan couldn’t be lurking in one of the three silent rooms we focused our attention on this last door, keeping a stealthy watch on it from the lounges at each end of the carriage. What I wouldn’t have given for a scroll of Clairvoyance at that moment!
As time passed and day turned to night I began to realise that we had a new, very different problem. At about midnight the train pulled into Vatharon. On the platform I could see gnomes in the garb of House Civiz preparing to board so they could check that everyone crossing the boarder had the necessary travel papers. We had papers but this was as far as our tickets took us. There was a ticket office only fifty feet away but we didn’t have enough money to buy new tickets. This normally wouldn’t be a problem as we still had the Promissory Note but it was the middle of the night and it seemed unlikely that the local office of House Kundarak would be open!
Once we were as sure as we could be that Lucan and Grilsha were not planning to leave the train at Vatharon, War-Forged and I dashed of to see what we could do about money. We found the local officers of House Kundarak easily enough but it was locked-up for the night. Hoping that someone lived on the premises War-Forged banged on the door. A Magic Mouth appeared giving us the opening hours and telling us to come back in the morning. Looking around I spied a temple to The Sovereign Host. Leaving War-Forged to keep knocking, just in case there was someone inside who was a very heavy sleeper, I went across to the temple. Inside I found a vassal of the The Host called Nell. I explained to her that we were in desperate need of money and asked if she knew where to find the representative of House Kundarak. Thankfully Nell was willing to help us. Collecting War-Forged she took us to the home of a dwarf called Fullum. Fullum was clearly not happy to be awoken in the middle of the night but once we showed him the note he agreed to advance us the money we needed. This meant going back to the officer. It looked like Fullum didn’t entirely trust us as he brought along a war-forged body-guard. As we waited for Fullum to go inside the office and return with the money I asked Nell if she could bless my holy-symbol, I might be needing it very soon.
Once we had the money I made as small donation to the church for their trouble and War-Forged and I headed back to the Lightning-Rail station. There we purchased tickets for all of us that would take us all the way to the end of the line.
Soon enough the train was on the move again. As far as we knew no one had left the cabin that we had under observation. War-Forged volunteered to watch the cabin while the rest of us got some sleep. I left Sek with him hoping that the empathic link that I shared with my familiar would alert me if War-Forged got into trouble.
I was sharing a cabin with Erban and Roewyn. We decided that we needed to keep watch in case anything slipped by War-Forged. I took the first shift. I only stood watch for a couple of hours before handing over to Erban but even then it meant I would have to sleep well into the morning to regain my magical energies.
While I slept things were happening further down the train. War-Forged told me later that he caught a glimpse of movement through a window. He went to a balcony door and opened it for a better view only to discover a large shape flying along beside the train. It was a glidewing, a large flying reptile from the plains, and sitting upon it’s back was a small figure. The figure was one of the plain-dwelling Halfling barbarians. Spotting War-Forged he hurled a small javelin at him. The Halfling’s aim was true but the missile broke against War-Forged adamantium exo-skeleton. War-Forged stepped back and closed the door only to see movement coming from the other end of the carriage as four war-forged, with weapons at the ready, came into view. All four were made of black adamantium. The one that seemed to be in charged had a female form and was armed with a scimitar in a locking gauntlet. She pointed at War-Forged and announced “That’s one reported to have the Schema. Leave one alive and kill the rest.”
I was awoken by a strong emotion emanating from Sek and that emotion was fear. I swung out of bed, casting Mage-Armour as I did, and banged hard on the wall we shared with the other cabin.
Getting the hint Erban, who was then on watch, threw open the door and raced back along the train to join War-Forged. I was in hot pursuit and the others were close behind.
As Erban threw open the carriage door and headed across to the next carriage he was suddenly hit from the side by a javelin. I ran to the door and caught a glimpse of a glidewing flying along beside the train. Quickly I cast Mirror Image to add to my defences and headed across the gap. Another javelin was hurled but it speed by doing no harm.
Altera, Toryil and Roewyn were close on my heels. Bri decided to climb the ladder up to the trapdoor in the carriage’s ceiling but had trouble getting the hatch open.
There was a scream from somewhere behind us, it sounded like it came from near the front of the train. In an instant Erban had turned around and was heading in the direction of the scream. Roewyn headed after him, the pair crossing paths with Bri who had given up on the trap door.
Crossing two more carriages I threw open the door that lead to the compartment where we had left War-Forged on watch only to find myself face-to-face with the female war-forged. At the time I was taken completely aback. Latter I discovered that she had climbed onto the carriage’s roof via it’s trap-door, most likely in an attempt to get behind War-Forged who was proving a difficult obstacle.
If the war-forged was surprised to see me she didn’t show it and demanded the location of the Schema. When I didn’t answer she took a swing at me with her scimitar but only succeeded in hitting one of my decoys. I retaliated with a Scorching Ray, scoring a direct hit. An instant later Altera had pushed between us and struck home with her longsword. Despite flame and steel the war-forged still had plenty of fight left in her and repaid Altera in kind.
Behind me I noticed Toryil quickly shin up a ladder to our current carriage’s hatch. Bri opened the door to the carriage’s balcony just enough to get her hand out and began to launch magic missiles at the nearest glidewing rider.
I turned my attention back to Altera. She and the War-Forged were evenly matched. I unleashed three Magic Missiles into the war-forged but before Altera could follow up she was hit by two javelins. The shifter jumped back into the carriage, her great strength easily enough to shove me back as she did so. The war-forged seized the chance to slam the carriage door shut.
Unexpectedly the train came to a sudden stop. I had to grab hold of a couch to stop from being thrown to the ground. Bri had no such luck but was able to keep casting Magic Missiles from the floor. With some relief I noticed there was no sign of Toryil being hurled from the roof by the sudden deceleration.
The javelins must have hurt Altera more then I had first thought as she was leaning against the wall drinking a healing potion. I was very concerned about War-Forged and wanted to find him as soon as possible. Of course the female war-forged could be waiting just behind the door ready to behead anyone who stepped through so I took a second to reinforce my defences by summoning the power of my Dragon-Mark and used the Pearl to re-call Magic Missile to mind. Even with these precautions I was relieved to discover that the female war-forged seemed to be in the act of retreating, throwing open a balcony door. As quick as a big cat Altera lunged past me and closed the distance to the female war-forged, her sword flashing. It was a heavy blow but, thanks to the war-forged’s adamantium body, not enough to take her down. The retreating warrior signalled a second war-forged, this one male, to engage Altera while she made he escape. Bri and I cut this new target down with a barrage of Magic Missiles.
Quickly I took in the scene. As well as the one we had just dispatched there were to more “dead” war-forged lying in the carriage. Both had exo-skeletons of black adamantium but, to my relief, neither were War-Forged. I cast my eye further back down the carriage and spotted the inert form of War-Forged, with Sek perched atop of it.
I headed down to him. As I passed the fallen war-forged I noticed that one had been dropped by a single hammer-blow to the head, clearly War-Forged’s work. What had killed the second seemed a puzzle, it looked like he had simply come apart at the seams. Since there seemed to be no danger here I shouted to Altera and Bri to go help Erban.
As I reached War-Forged’s motionless form I noticed two things. The nearest roof hatch was open (it seemed to be the night for rooftop adventures) and there was a dead woman lying a few feet away. From her red hair it could only be Grilsha.
War-Forged had dispatched the first of his four war-forged attackers with his usual skill but after that it had turned into a game of cat-and-mouse as the remaining three tried to catch him in a pincer formation. During this War-Forged had become turned around so he now had his back to the cabins he had been watching.
Our distracting of the female war-forged had given War-Forged the chanced to dispatch a second enemy but no sooner had he done so when he was struck in the back by three Magic Missiles. Turning he saw that Grilsha had emerged from the suspect cabin. Forgetting his previous opponents War-Forged had charged down the passageway and attacked the mage. Despite her injuries Grilsha had begged her brother to flee rather the defend her. In one fluid motion Lucan had dodged under War-Forged’s attempt to block him, leapt up to the ceiling (to which he had stuck like a spider), punched open the trap-door and was away into the night.
Grilsha had enough fight in her to unleash yet another barrage of Magic Missiles into War-Forged but he had retaliated with his failing strength, splitting open her skull. I hoped, where ever he was, Nev had been watching.
Luckily War-Forged wasn’t so badly damaged that I couldn’t revive him with a Repair Light Damage spell which I had empowered with my knew enhancements. As I was following this up with a second repair spell Toryil ran up. His run across the carriage roof had brought him to the attention of the wild Halflings. One had leapt from his mount to attack the priest but Toryil had dispatched him with his twin-bladed scimitar. A second had tried to skewer him with a lance forcing Toryil to summon a Spiritual Weapon to keep him at bay.
There seemed to be no point in hanging around where we were so Toryil and I began to run back the way we had come towards the front of the train. War-Forged remained behind, apparently to guard Grilsha’s body.
As we ran up the train we passed the body of a dead Halfling. He must have climbed down into the train using the trapdoor Toryil had opened only to run into Altera.
We found Altera and Erban in the last carriage before the front cargo carriage. The war-forged must have gained access to the train at both ends, perhaps with the attention of sweeping through the train, looking for their targets, and meeting up in the middle. The floor was littered with bodies; two war-forged that Erban had dispatched, two House Orien guards that had been unfortunate enough to run into the war-forged and lastly Roewyn. Of Bri there was no sign.
Altera and Erban finished off the last two war-forged just as Toryil and I arrived. As soon as the last war-forged had fallen Bri appeared. She was in a bad way, there was the shaft of an arrow embedded deep in her shoulder and her night-robes were drenched in blood. Despite this it looked like she had been trying to get around to attack one of the war-forged in the back.
Leaving Toryil to see to Bri I bent down beside Roewyn to check for vital signs. The carpet under him was thick with his life blood and his small body was pale and seemed to have shrunken. Roewyn, the strange, comical gnome we had met less then forty-eight hours before, was dead. Yet another victim of our pursuit of Lucan. He had asked for nothing from us and seemed ready to follow us to Xoriat and back for the sake of friendship and his mysterious prophecy. As I reached to close his glazed eyes I notice that Roewyn had scrawled something on the ground with his own blood, a final message that read “Trust Muroni”.
Of course we took the opportunity to liberate any valuables our fallen enemies had possessed. Each of the war-forged was armed with a well crafted longsword as well as sturdy looking longbows. Additionally all but one had a potion which I quickly identified as being imbued with Repair Light Damage, I was sure War-Forged would find a use for them. Both of the dead Halflings carried a skilfully crafted wooden shield as well as sets of leather armour which had been enchanted for give greater protection. With the death of Roewyn none of us were small enough to wear the armour but we were sure they would sell for good money if we could find the right merchant.
War-Forged had found a letter on the body of Grilsha. It read:
“If you find this letter then know that my life has been forfeit in an
attempt to protect my brother, both from those that would kill him and
the evil that lies within his soul. I have witnessed his torment and
have stood helpless as I see his mind destroyed by a fate that neither
of us can do anything to stop.
My beloved brother Lucan is a victim of many evils. Firstly to Calderus,
a dark temptress who has destroyed the good man I once knew, and in his
place has left a hollow shell for the twisted evil of vampirism to
inhabit, and for her to enslave. Her first act was to force him to
betray the very government he had sworn to protect and use his knowledge
to steal a blade so evil that even the sages of the Lanterns had refused
to study it. But of course my brother had no choice, his mind had been
taken over by her. Neither of us have the luxury of choice.
But one evil was outwit by another – far greater. For the Soul blade had
called for freedom, I know that now, and once my brother grasped the
blade his mind was forfeit. Perhaps Calderus was the swords first
victim, perhaps she also had no choice in this dark fate..
In his rare lucid moments my brother has told me much. That he was
betrayed by a group of adventurers whom he had been tasked to recruit on
behalf of Breland, for they had sent him to the trap Calderus laid for
him. That he knows and suspects that they themselves are pawns, torn
between great forces. What I would do to destroy them! They have undone
a good man! That the Soul Blade forces my brother to some dark task
within the ruins of an ancient ziggurat within the borders of Thrane.
‘Free us’ it whispers in the darkness and I hear this.
In all of this my brother is an innocent victim of a fate. Remember this.
Lucan refused of course, and the sword tore his flesh from within. Still
he resists, but the blade is relentless in it’s hold on him.
I know now that my free will is also forfeit and I have no choice but to
help him now, his evil power has me enthralled by his will. I cannot act
to stop him and must protect him! Oh how he would know that I would give
my life for his a thousand times and more!
And so I scribe this. I hope that you are hunting my brother to return
the sword. I hope that you understand that my brother died the moment
his mind was destroyed by evil. I hope you can find a way to stop him
completing that which the soul blade forces him to complete. I hope that
you choose to do so.
The letter was certainly food for thought. Who was the mysterious Calderus? The mummy we had destroyed had spoken of her as his mistress and it seemed she was also responsible for Lucan’s undead state.
I had a nasty feeling that the “group of adventures” Grilsha mentioned was a reference to us, certainly I felt like “pawns, torn between great forces” at times, but what was this about a trap?
Up till now I had been told that a vampire could enslave the weak-willed but it was clear that Grilsha, who was a more accomplished mage then I, was “enthralled by his will”. This didn’t bode well for us when we finally came face-to-face with him.
On the subject of which Grilsha’s letter gave us tantalising hints as to where Lucan was going, “an ancient ziggurat within the borders of Thrane”, but where was it and could we reach Lucan before he fulfilled The Soul Blade’s dark purpose?