From the Journal of Tang Zhen

Session 10

September 14, 5086, Loc

Before we left Apris, our group discussed the possibility of extracting information from Erwyn's corpse. Our connection with the church of Faynwan may aid in that. Delyra voiced strong objections about carrying his body, or the relevant pieces thereof, all the way to Corstref. Dunbarton settled the issue by cutting off the head and stuffing it into a sack which he carried.

We slept late, then journeyed southwest to Loc, here to await tomorrow's ferry to the mainland.

Delyra borrowed some money from me to purchase incense and pearls. She spent the morning atop a hill, and returned with a small air elemental following her. She calls her new familiar "Woosh".

September 15, 5086, Thenateles

Yesterday, and during today's trip across the bay, Delyra practiced hovering atop Woosh, so that it can carry her. We spent a relaxing day experiencing the sights and smells of Thenateles, the largest of the local city-states within a three day hike. Our respite from excitement was cruelly short-lived, however; this evening has been horrifying.

The disturbance occurred while we were enjoying drinks. The tavern door burst open, and a woman with a desperate, panicked look announced: "Help! I need help! Does anybody here know how to follow tracks?"

My companions and I looked at each other, sighed, and rose from our seats. All except for N-Guuk, who paused only to finish two pints in two gulps, and Dunbarton, who looked ready to remain seated in an apathetic stupor. Tam grabbed Dunbarton, our only experienced tracker, and dragged him out with us.

We hurried southward along the street, past people watching curiously from open doors along the way. Our grateful supplicant, who introduced herself as Marni, appeared to have disturbed many establishments before finding us. We turned west, and she explained that her husband Harold had been missing for three days. He made his living as a trapper, harvesting always from the same part of the forest. There, during her search for him, she had found a small hole in the ground, surrounded by a large scattering of loose dirt containing two footprints leading away. She had wisely followed her own trail back, to not risk further obscuring whatever signs of passage might be left, then immediately visited the town guard. They offered no aid, despite her insistence, so she sought it elsewhere and found us.

Upon passing the city limits, we gladly noted no sense of the malevolent aura carried by the forest farther north along the coast. We picked our way through the woods, and came upon a sign that read, "Warning: Snares next half mile". Marni led us slowly and without mishap through Harold's trapping area. Dunbarton took the lead when the freshly turned dirt came into view.

He closely examined the area, finding three sets of foot prints: One old print leading to the dirt, one new set leading straight away from the cavity at the center, and Marni's trail to and from there, along the route by which we had just come. The older, heavier print was untraceable on the firm earth elsewhere, but Dunbarton followed the new track. It wandered as though without purpose in a generally southwest direction, then curved toward the southeast. We slowly followed Dunbarton, and Marni recognized that we were approaching her home.

The tracks indeed led us to the front door of her rustic but large and tastefully decorated house. A wash basin outside the door had been used recently, and wet footprints led inside.

If the quiet horror of the scene inside does not haunt my dreams for months, I will consider myself a lucky man.

Harold (for so he proved to be) sat still, facing the lit hearth as we entered. His clothes were filthy with dirt; his hair was a bedraggled mess. Marni called his name, her voice a mixture of fear, hope, and confusion. He turned, and she caught her breath at the sight of his unnaturally pale skin and his eyes glowing darkly red like half buried embers. His own look of worry and confusion, it seemed for an instant, started to fade into relief at his wife's presence, but the fright evident in her face froze his.

In a cracked, pleading voice, Harold said, "I can't get warm. I've been sitting here by the fire for a half hour, and I can't get warm. What's wrong with me? Don't look at me like that! Why are you looking at me like that?!?"

"What do you remember happening since you last left the house?" Tam asked.

"I... I went out this evening to check the traps. I think something hit me from behind. The next thing I knew, I was stumbling through the woods, covered in dirt. I came home."

"You left three days ago," said N-Guuk with quiet force.

"No," said Harold, turning to Marni. "Just this morning, we-"

She interrupted, "No. That was three days ago."

"But how? What happened to me?"

"Are you undead?" asked Pheldran.

"What? Undead? How could I be?" Harold replied.

Delyra said, "Well, if this hurts..." She incanted a Disrupt Undead spell. Harold screamed with momentary pain. "Yep. You're undead. Sorry about that."

Harold, shaken, said defensively, "What? No I'm not. How could you say that? How could you say such an awful thing?"

Tam spoke again. "This still doesn't tell us how it happened."

"How what happened?"

"You being undead."

"Don't say that! That's horrible!" He turned back to Marni. "Don't be scared. I would never hurt you. You know that."

Trembling, she said, "Yes. I know that." He extended his hand, and she slowly approached and embraced him. He seemed to calm down.

A voice from just outside the doorway intruded. "I might be able to shed some light upon your situation. If I may?" The man bore the dress and accent of foreign nobility. The bottom of a chain shirt showed beneath his vest, and he wore a hand-and-a-half sword comfortably at his side.

"Please," said Harold.

The gentleman entered. "It is very rare for one who has been turned-"

"Who are you?" N-Guuk interrupted.

"My name is Chrysterron," the gentleman replied, annoyed. "It is very rare for-"

"That's a great outfit," Delyra interrupted. "Who's your tailor?"

He smiled. "There is a great tailor by the name of Hesius in the city Protevousa, capital of the halfling lands across the ocean."

"Hesius in Protevousa, in the halfling lands. Got it. Thanks!" Delyra said with a smile.

"You're welcome." He bowed graciously. "If I may continue, it is very rare for one who has been turned to retain so much of their soul as you have, Harold. It usually happens only in cases of extraordinary love."

Pheldran asked, "So what is he then?"

Tam added, "And how do you know about it?"

"He is mine," Chrysterron said. His eyes flashed red for a moment. "Harold, kill her."

We had no time to react. Harold placed his hands on his wife's head and quickly twisted it, breaking her neck in a sickeningly audible manner.

Dunbarton fetched his pick and swung it at Chrysterron, who stepped aside and let the pick hit a rocking chair. Pheldran thrust with his longsword, but Chrysterron turned and let his armor brush aside the blade. Tam dove away from the melee and, keeping low, rushed to Marni's prone form, to give aid in case the injury had not killed her.

Just as Chrysterron coolly turned aside N-Guuk's axe with his bare hands, Delyra launched a powerful volley of magic missiles. He winced as they hit. His shock turned into frightful rage, and in an instant, he was upon her. In the next instant, his fist was all that remained where she had been. Delyra slammed into the top of the far wall, her head smacking loudly against the joist. She dropped to the floor inert, leaving splintered wood and a smear of blood on the wall.

Harold stood, frozen in shock, his hands still raised in the killing position. He appeared ready to burst with grief at the sight Marni's body on the floor, and made no move to interfere with Tam.

Jasper was behind me; I do not know what he was doing. I drew my crossbow, hoping for an opportunity to help, with the aid of a true strike spell, before anybody else died. I suspected that my unarmed technique would be useless against this foe.

N-Guuk, Pheldran and Dunbarton moved to surround Chrysterron from three sides. Jasper came in from behind. They all slashed and stabbed ferociously, but the few attacks which he did not dodge still failed to penetrate his armor.

Tam finished his attempt at magical healing, and tested the woman's pulse. He then grimly turned his attention to the melee.

Chrysterron's sheath leapt back from his sword in a flash. In quick succession the sword thrust backward to impale Jasper through the abdomen, slid back out and swung forward and up diagonally across Dunbarton's chest, came around and back down to slice deeply into N-Guuk's clavicle, and as Chrysterron spun around, entered Pheldran right below the rib cage and exited just left of his spine.

Chrysterron continued his spin to face me, and in that instant, before my friends had even finished falling, I loosed my crossbow bolt straight at his heart, guided by magical accuracy.

He slapped the bolt from the air with his left hand as though it were a moth.

"Okay, you win," said Tam. He didn't even have to raise his voice. With six people dead or dying, the room had suddenly become quiet, save for the blood pounding in my ears. Tam continued, "What do you want from us?"

Chrysterron sneered. "You have nothing that I want. This," he gestured at Harold, "is what I came for." His eyes shone red again as he addressed Harold. "Let us go." They dove through the window with astonishing grace and speed, and immediately disappeared into the woods.

Tam began healing our companions, and I did what I could to stanch the flow of blood from those he had not yet reached. In the end, he managed to revive everyone except for Marni.

We returned to the city to alert the guards to the danger. At the station, they were concerned, if understandably doubtful. We have rented rooms, and my companions will likely require two more days to fully heal, even with all of Tam's divine aid.

September 17, 5086, Pettigwyn

I would wonder whether the Universe is trying to teach me not to pen in my journal any expectations of respite, but that would be arrogance.

There was no rest for us that night. As we settled to bed, someone knocked on the door of the room next to mine. N-Guuk answered: "What is it?"

A woman's voice replied, "I wish to speak with you. I heard you were in a fight earlier today."

"What do you want to talk about?"

"Vampires," she whispered, though I could still hear. "May I come in?"

He let her in, and Jasper gathered those of us in other rooms. We settled in a cramped circle. Our visitor was shrouded in a black cloak over black clothing. She pulled her hood slightly back to reveal elven features. She was pretty, even for an elf, though her dark hair was cropped short. She introduced herself as Ranvera.

She explained that she is a huntress of vampires, and that her organization has been tracking Chrysterron's movement. He is trying to establish a coven on this coast, as a branch of the Sulaken circle whose home is to the south, across the sea. Her mission is to prevent this.

She asked for our aid. Though we could do nothing against Chrysterron, with her advice and proper planning, we could kill Harold while she kept Chrysterron busy. That she felt skilled enough to survive against him astounded us, but she made it clear that she knew what she was doing.

She taught us about the art of killing a vampire, but much of it was frustratingly vague. Every vampire bloodline is different, with different powers and vulnerabilities, hence general statements about vampires are bound to be wrong in some specific cases. The surest way to kill a vampire is to impale its heart with wood, which will immobilize it. Then incinerate the creature. A vampire heavily weakened by damage will turn to vapor and return to a nearby point wherein it can rest and recover. Vampires of the Sulaken circle require earth from their own grave sites at such a point, and that is the key upon which Ranvera's trap depended.

She had found and destroyed the coffins and grave earth that Chrysterron had prepared for himself and for Harold, in the nearby town of Amarana. Chrysterron, an Elder vampire, could survive for quite a while without his grave earth, and probably possessed a backup stash. But Harold would need his grave earth every day. Hence, they would necessarily be back to visit Harold's grave site, which was the freshly turned earth in the woods out of which he had climbed that very evening. That was where we could ambush them.

Given that we likely could not kill Chrysterron, Ranvera advised us to leave town as soon as we dispatched Harold. She implored us not to tell her where we would go afterward, for if the worst should happen, Chrysterron must have no way to get that information from her. He himself had no particular skill at locating people, so we would likely be safe once we had gone some distance.

Ranvera led us out of the city to a temple of Daewyr. She knocked a strange pattern on the door, then exchanged pass phrases with someone inside. They let us in, despite the late hour. I paid for the healing we received. They charged extra for Delyra, who had lost some life essence in the encounter and who hadn't felt quite right since. The priests there were knowledgeable about vampire killing, and sold Tam four silver sling bullets in addition to supplying us with holy water. We found it odd, metaphysically, that the clergy of the Dweller in Darkness aided us in fighting vampires; one would think that Daewyr of all gods would be friendliest toward vampires. Perhaps those who best know the abominations have the deepest loathing for them.

We returned to Harold's grave. We expected the vampires to arrive from the southwest, so we hid in the brush just to the northeast, after building a pyre many yards farther back. Dunbarton wondered what would happen if we emptied our holy water into the grave, but Ranvera assured him that cleansing the site that way would take far more holy water than we had. She hid to the southwest of the grave.

We waited uncomfortably for nearly an hour before three figures arrived with great haste: Chrysterron, Harold, and a female dwarf whom I had never seen before. As Harold reached his grave, an arrow suddenly sank into Chrysterron's side. We prepared to attack, but could not follow through, for Chrysterron emitted a horrific roar that chilled us to the bone and sent us fleeing from him as fast as our feet could take us.

One by one, we overcame the supernatural effect of that roar, and returned to the grave as quickly as we could. I enchanted people's weapons as they returned, to allow them to damage the vampires. Ranvera was enmeshed in a hit-and-run battle with Chrysterron, never striking from the same direction twice. Delyra provided support from the air, raining down magic missiles.

The dwarven vampire sliced N-Guuk with her axe before he and Dunbarton managed to take her down; she vanished. The grief never left Harold's face, but he fought us mechanically and with great strength. Jasper and Pheldran put him out of his misery; he vanished as well. We quickly started digging up the grave, on the assumption that he had returned there to heal after dissolving into mist form. He had no other sanctuary containing his grave earth.

Chrysterron moved with unnatural speed to attack Ranvera, but managed only one vicious sword swing before she leapt back, drawing him farther from the grave. She raced away from him, swung herself around a thick tree, and landed facing him, one leg planted on another tree to stop her movement, with her bow somehow already drawn and nocked. I have never seen anybody move with such speed and agility. Her arrows pierced and further enraged him, but did not slow him.

We uncovered Harold's body. N-Guuk and Dunbarton worked to lift him from the grave and place him on the pyre.

Meanwhile, Chrysterron again reached and hit Ranvera. Only Delyra was in position to see what followed, but she tells me that with a flick of the wrist, Ranvera's hand suddenly contained a dagger, which she plunged into Chrysterron's chest. She must have missed his heart, though, for he ripped himself free and pressed her hard with skillful sword attacks. Delyra had used up her magic, so she did not follow as the melee moved farther from the grave site.

Jasper poured oil over Harold's body, and Pheldran magically torched the pyre. We ran as far as we could. We forced a march all the way to Leänder, where we slept for a few hours in the late morning. Then we pressed on so that we could reach Pettigwyn and be off the road again by nightfall.

Here we slept long and late, with nothing but our own dreams to disturb us.

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