The Ghosts of Callaway Camp
Dropping the ring of fire and sliding down the rope ladder to the ground outside, you prepare to join the battle. Looking around, you can see that most of the camp is already on fire or otherwise demolished. Perhaps only half a dozen of the metallic angels you had seen at Ironheart, GHASTs are what they are apparently called, are currently present. Yet despite their numbers, the battle was overwhelmingly in their favor.
As you watch, a GHAST leaps up into the air in a haze of bluish fire, zooming towards a small cluster of Ghosts guarding a ladder leading up to a burning treehouse as children hurriedly climb down it. A trio of crossbow bolts fired by the Ghosts glance harmlessly off the GHAST’s shining breastplate. Reaching the rope ladder, the GHAST neatly bisects the ladder, and one unlucky child, with a single slash from one of its bladed wings.
Then it plunges down into the midst of the guards, landing directly on one and crushing him beneath its feet. Bloody blades mounted on each of the GHAST’s forearms then flash out, stabbing into the second Ghost’s chest and tearing him literally in half. The final Ghost turns to flee, abandoning the remaining children in return for his own life. He fails to preserve even that as the GHAST turns and raising one wing to point directly at him. From the wing’s tip emerges a ray of light, spearing the man through the chest and vaporizing him.
You are preparing to unleash a torrent of flame at the construct to distract it from the screaming children when you are violently tackled from behind. A moment later, you hear the GHAST take flight once again, and the childrens’ screams cut off as they are incinerated by the cloud of fire left behind.
“What are you doing!?” Kris hisses into your air as he jerks you back up onto your feet. “You can’t fight, you need to start running! Every man I have ever seen who tried to fight one of those things, every single one, died horribly within seconds. And last I counted, there were six of the damn things here. You can’t stop them, you can’t avenge the dead, the only thing you can do here is throw your life away. Katrina is . . . safe - you think I would have come back for you if she wasn’t? But we aren’t going to be if we stay here.”
Kris begins to drag you away from the scene of slaughter, towards the dark trees beyond the circle of light created by the burning Ghost encampment. Uncertain whether you should remain behind to “throw your life away” as Kris so elegantly put it, or abandon all hope of saving anyone else in return for your own miserable life, you allow Kris to half-drag you towards safely. Unfortunately, you are almost to the safe darkness of the trees some distance away from the encampment when with a soft whine one of the GHASTs descends to block your way. It’s glowing blue eyes settle first on you, and then Kris.
Koram Alstan . . . you are free to leave unharmed as per the Baron’s treaty. However, Kris is to be apprehended for questioning in regards to Katrina Alstan’s whereabouts. Korram Alstan, please step away from Kris so that you are not inadvertently injured.
“Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you!” Kris grunts, immediately get go of you to turn and run back the way you had came. In a blur of motion, the GHAST raises one wing, beginning to track Kris.
Repeat, Korram Alstan, stand aside. You are within the firing path, and may become inadvertently injured. You have three seconds to comply.
The Purifier’s Camp
Not wishing a confrontation with potential allies, you land as demanded. The two sentries follow you down, dismounting while still covering you with their crossbows. The one guard clearly doesn’t recognize your name, as he simply snarls at you.
“Oh, is that all? For all we know, you’re an assassin. Karth might hear about you after your interrogation, but he certainly isn’t going to talk to you unless you’ve got important information about the Church!”
The other guard reaches a hand over, forcibly lowering the snarling guard’s crossbow.
“Easy now. I recognize the lad, so he’s at least good at convincing people of what he says. And I imagine he would soon regret it if he tried to kill Karth. Look sir, I don’t know if you’re really Lord General Ander, but I’ll go pass your name on to the higher-ups and see what they have to say about letting you meet Lord Karth. Wait right here.”
The guard then hops back on his griffon and flies away, leaving you with the angry guard. Sneering, the guard points his crossbow back at you, and leans up against his griffon, awaiting his companion’s return.
You are both kept waiting for that return for quite some time, until finally an entire platoon of well-armed guards arrive on foot. Near the back of the formation is the friendly guard, who steps forward to deliver a low bow to you.
“Apparently Lord Karth has been hoping that you would make an appearance. Forgive our impertinence, Lord General Ander. This honor guard shall escort you to meet with Lord Karth right away. Your griffon will be well cared for in the meantime, and David shall return to his berth, if this is acceptable to you.” (Going to assume it is, or you come up with a reasonable alternative that they likely accept.)
As one, the large band of armed men falls in around you, providing a solid wall of bodies that leads you into the camp proper. Men and women of all ages and sorts were moving about the camp even now at night, all wearing the tabard with the flaming fist.
You are perhaps halfway to the massive command tent in the middle when a strong sense of evil passes over you, similar to what you experienced in Stonefall. An oddly familiar looking woman catches your eye just then, out in the crowd that has assembled to watch your procession. She looks at you with something akin to shock, and then ducks back into one of the nearby tents. You are sure to make note of which tent for later investigation, assuming your meeting with Karth goes well.
Finally, you arrive at the command tent, where another large group of armed and armored guards has assembled. Standing in front of the tent opening is a tall man with fiery red hair, and three parallel scars running across his cheek. He smiles as you and the honor guard come to a stop in front of him.
“Welcome, Lord General Ander Windrivver. I am Karth Chemonte.”
Stepping aside, Karth motions for you to enter the tent.
“I believe that we have much to discuss, you and I. Perhaps it would be best done in private, over a bottle of wine?”
The City of Amaranth
The City Gates
Beside you, Delora nods silently in agreement. As you watch, the gate continues to rise until it locks into its raised position. A minute later, you hear Delora take in a sharp breath as a cloaked and masked figure steps out into the street from inside the gatehouse. Although partially obscured by the cloak and mask, you are still able to make out enough of the figure’s body shape and face to identify it as a female vampire, her irises the same shade of crimson as Varlest’s.
A few steps out into the street, the figure pauses to stretch lithely, almost cat-like in its motions. Then the figure breaks into a run, literally dashing up the side of a nearby building up to its roof and out of sight. Delora gasps in shook, looking up at the rooftops overhead in awe.
“What . . . what was that!?”
You had heard some vampires were capable of incredible feats of acrobatics, just as some gained magical powers or shapechanging. It would seem whoever Varlest’s new allies are, they are not limited to just one specific clan of vampire.
Ahead, the open gateway stands dark, almost beckoning you forward deeper into the city. It would seem that the slum district of Amaranth had been heavily compromised by Varlest and his allies. But perhaps other areas of the city were still secure and capable of lending assistance. Or perhaps not, and you were simply wasting your time along with the risk of stumbling into another vampire as you almost did here. If the entire city was now compromised, it would likely be best to find a way to flee entirely, or at least a safe refuge where you could wait out whatever was to follow.
Then you felt it, a subtle but disquieting twist of your gut that whispered to you something was very wrong. Instinctively, you turned around and peered back down the alleyway. There was nothing there, thankfully, but something was different. Perched in the night sky a short distance outside of the city was an ominous black pyramid, hanging magically in mid-air. This night was getting weirder and more disturbing by the minute.
WhiteKnight777 & MrEdwardNigma
“We’re going up there!?” Bran asks, swallowing nervously but looking considerably less pale now as he releases the shell of life energy. Ross simply grins and pats the lad on the head.
“Easy now son. It’s either go up there, or deal with the undead horde.” Ross explains as he nods at the ranks of zombies and other corpse-like creatures assembling on the ground surrounding the hole that the pyramid left. There’s a considerable number of them, easily as many as were present at the final battle beneath Ironheart – Kartul most have resurrected most of the graveyard in his time below. Ross then shoots a glance towards Mellita.
“We really going to take the corpse-kisser with us? I think we have a good idea where Helion is now, and she’s just going to go run off and warn him we’re coming first chance she gets.”
“N-no . . . although I can’t act against him, I don’t have to help Master either. As I’ve said already, I have no idea where he would be in that . . . thing!”
“Hah! And we’re just supposed to take your word on that, are we?”
“Let’s just stop arguing! We don’t have time!” Bran exclaims, as he weaves a field of magic, granting everyone within the group the ability of independent flight. This includes Mellita, although she makes no attempt to fly away as the groups floats up a few feet up with their newfound freedom from gravity.
Above, Kartul’s citadel continues to float menacingly, lazily approaching the city walls while the undead army gathers below. As the group watches, a number of small shapes detach themselves from the floating structure, flying off into escort patterns. Umber identifies them as gargoyles, stone statues imbued with the souls of demons to grant them a sort of life. They tended to be ferocious but rather dim-witted, obeying their creator’s orders without question. Whether they would be willing to offer escort directly to Kartul or would merely attack depended entirely on the instructions last given to them regarding visitors.
Dividing Heath’s possessions but letting him keep the silver mirror, you ask if any more ransacking needed to be done.
Material wealth is largely useless to me.
I wouldn’t mind taking a tour of this place to see where he keeps his silver and that promised Donovale, but he’s probably got the whole place trapped so I’d rather we just go.
With the desire to leave confirmed, you teleport everyone including Heath back to Seymour’s teleport room. When you first rematerialize, Seymour is not there. A minute later however, he comes into the room from the only door, holding a half-full glass of wine in his hand.
“Well, there you are! Back –“
Seymour comes to a dead stop upon noticing Heath’s dead body.
“Did you really need to kill him? I was really looking forward to him squealing after the Council was convinced of his guilt. But no matter, I’m sure they won’t have a problem with how this turned out as long as we have proof of what he was doing. You did get proof, didn’t you?”
“Oh yeah. In fact, seems Heath was on his way out to meet some vampires when we dropped by.”
Seymour ponders his information for a moment, his frown deepening.
“Vampires you say. Hmm . . . that’s not good. Come on, I want to show you something.”
Seymour leads you out of the room into a hallway, and then into a richly appointed sitting room where an opened bottle of wine was resting on a nightstand. Along one wall was a series of ceiling-high windows looking down on the city. You don’t need Seymour to point out the black pyramid ominously hanging in the sky beyond the city wall.
“That thing just rose up out the ground a few minutes ago, from the direction of the graveyard. I’m willing to bet our necromancer friends have something to do with this. I was about to rouse the other Council members when you got back. I wouldn’t mind some more information to give to the Council, either about this pyramid or about the vampires Heath was going to meet. Something tells me the two are related – think you can investigate one or the other for me?”
The Surrounding Mountains
Studying the wall, you take stock of how many torches there appear to be. Spaced roughly evenly along the wall are perhaps five dozen torches, about a hundred feet in between each one. By climbing up near the middle of the distance between two of those torches, you will likely only have to contend with low illumination, but that may still be enough for the guards on patrol up there to see you. All it would take is one jumpy guard to shout an alarm to bring your mission to a halt. Still, trying to climb up would be better than wasting what hours of darkness you had left circling the place in the vain hope of finding an actual hole in the wall.
Lucure evidently concurs with your assessment, as he motions the group forward a minute later. For the moment abandoning stealth for speed, your group races across the moonlit plain of empty ground to the base of the wall. Thankfully, you do not yet hear the guards call from above.
Next, a grappling hook is prepared. Even with all the rope your group was carrying for such an eventuality, most of it will have to be used, meaning that only one hook could be used – you would have to climb up single-file, one at a time. Although you can not hear the rasp of the grappling hook as it is thrown, several hard tugs reveal that it has found purchase above.
Grimly deciding to test your fate on the hook holding your weight all the way up, you lead the small squad, having the most experience with killing quietly. It is a long, hard climb, and your feet slip on the solid iron more than once, leaving all of your weight on your arms and nearly causing you to tumble to your death. Finally however, you make it up to the top of the wall.
You can dimly see several guards moving about the wall with you, their presence occasionally revealed fully as they pass through the patch of bright light thrown by one of the torches. Below is another long clearing of empty ground, this one still littered with bodies and the remains from very large funeral pyres. Beyond that stands the second wall of Ironheart, and beyond that finally the actual fortress and the massive spires jutting into the sky above it all.
Your attention is suddenly diverted as you notice a trio of guards pass through a nearby torch’s light, heading directly for you and the grappling hook. The elves are climbing up as fast as they can behind you, but there is no way all of them will be able to climb up before the guards arrive. You would either have to deal with the guards with the help of Lucure and the next elf in line, or would have to abandon the hook and run hide somewhere before the guards reach your current location. And whatever you do, it will have to be quiet.
“Yes sir.” Wulfric replies, a curious note of caution? disappointment? In his voice. While your subordinate stalks off a short distance to contact the others on his communication crystal, you address the elf once more.
Although you can’t understand the elf and he can’t understand you, you greets you with a string of harsh elvish words as you heave him up onto the back of your horse. You bind him tightly into place, confident that despite having an unpleasant ride he should not actually be dashed against any stones. You wanted him alive for what was to follow.
At your summons Wulfric comes back over.
“Yes, I’ve managed to inform most of the groups. I was unable to get in contact with one squad however – likely the elves already found them.”
Wulric shoots an angry glance as the elf trussed up on your horse.
“However sir, while I concur with your strategy, I have my concerns.”
Leaning in close, Wulfric whispers intently to you.
“Sir, by abandoning the forest we’re also likely abandoning the Countess to them. If they have as many ambushes as it seems like they do, some wandering noblewoman twit is bound to blunder into them sooner or later. She might already have, and is now dead or worse. Regardless, we’re not getting paid one copper until the Countess’s fate is invariably determined. Let me assembled a small team of our best trackers. We’ll sneak back into the forest mounted, and try to slip around the elves until we find out what happened to her.”
Although there was an eager note in Wulfric’s voice, you are aware of his capabilities. In his time serving under you, he has grown into a capable commander, and he would not be putting this plan forward unless he was confident in his ability to accomplish it.
The elf continues glaring at you as you wipe the spittle away and return his insults with a command to go back to bed. As the elf lapses into slumber once more, you turn back to Klaus who is even now starting to move about the room collecting objects, Rudolf trailing after him.
“I’ve been living in the mountains for the past couple decades. I don’t have the foggiest who in power is even alive anymore, let alone who would be willing to shelter us. Right now, we just need to collect supplies, load up the sleigh, and get out of here. Back when it was just the handful of elves I’d have killed them all, but now I don’t care what happens to them. Kill ‘em, leave ‘em, set ‘em free, it’s all the same to me – still not going to keep my home regardless.” Klaus growled as he continued to pick up items.
The soft sound of a door whispering open drew your attention back to the bedroom doorway, where the Countess was cautiously peering out at you and Klaus.
“I was listening at the doorway.” She admitted, her cheeks starting to flush with embarrassment. “In answer to your question, I have a few ideas where to go. It all depends on what sort of lies the Baron has been spreading about me, of course. It is my right to go before the King himself, but that would require several weeks of travel to the capital. There are also several nobles whose estates are considerably closer, although their loyalty is questionable. Among them, I would put the most faith in Viscount Damont and Duke Volesin. Although young, the Viscount is a fairly vocal enemy of the Baron – I am sure he would have no hesitation in sheltering us. Of course, his influence is also rather meager, and considering the Baron’s lack of hesitation in assaulting other nobles’ homes, he may already be dead.”
The Countess looks quite pained at this possibility, and holds a hand up to her face for a few moments before continuing.
“Duke Volesin is fairly powerful, enough that I doubt the Baron would move against him directly at this point. Although he is neutral on the subject of the Baron and I have never met him personally, he was an old friend of my father. I am sure he would shelter us as well, and his estate is perhaps only a week’s travel from here. Most of his domain is also in the lowlands beyond the mountains, and thus out of the elves’ invasion path assuming they make directly for the capital.”
“Well, wherever we’re headed, first thing we gotta do is get out of these damned woods, which are crawling with elves. Then we gotta get out of the Barony, and we know the Baron’s men want me dead, Pryene back in Ironheart, and –“
“And to confine me in a situation worse than both, yes. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the Baron’s men will be able to recognize both Pyrene and myself, assuming our descriptions have been passed out.”
Grunting, Klaus shrugs as he pulls out several long cloaks to add to the pile, handing one to you and tossing another to Amelia.
“Well, we can help with that, at least from a distance. They ought to block out some of the cold as well. Unfortunately, I don’t know any clever tricks for sneaking past the elves outside, so we’re just going to have to ride like the wind and leave them eating snow. And pray they don’t think to drop trees in our path until we’re already past ‘em.”
Tossing most of the assembled gear into a heavy leather sack and then tossing said sack jauntily over one shoulder, Klaus beckons both you and the Countess.
“Alright then, let’s go outside. Pyrene, grab the crossbow – you shoot anything that moves out there that you don’t like. Countess, you bring up the rear, help keep an eye on the treeline while I get the sleigh ready to move. You two can also figure out where we’re going in the end, because one place is much like the other to me. Rotten elves, chasing me out of my damn home that I built with my own two hands.”
Although he mutters considerably after that, only your sharp ears pick up the long string of curses and insults to the elves that would be enough to make anyone blush.
Vash’s only response to your mouthed words was a slight nod. From then on he made a show of it, occasionally waving one hand outstretched in front of him, as if trying to touch something. Once or twice he asked the group to stop, going into one of the nearby cells and mumbling prayer-sounding words. Vash’s efforts did not make the darkness any more stifling, but you could see a note of purpose re-enter the eyes of your guards.
Down and down through the dark corridors you went, stepping over the bodies of prisoner and guard alike – evidently no efforts had been yet made to clean up this area. You did not see any demon bodies, but arrows and gouges in the stone clustered together suspiciously in the walls and floor now and then suggest a body once briefly rested there.
Somehow, your little band makes it all the way down to the third floor without encountering any real danger, although a rat’s unexpected appearance caused several of the guards to jump back in fright. Ultimately the guards are able to direct you to Karth’s cell. Sharing a look with you, Vash nods and violently shivers.
“Oh, yes! This is most definitely a center of evil resonance! It must be cleared out at once! Protect me while I cleanse it!”
Motioning you into the cell with him, Vash kneels down near the middle of the tiny square and begins mumbling again. By the light of your torch, you are able to examine the entire cell, and notice quite a few disturbing things.
First, all of the walls are covered in strange symbols that seem to have been painstakingly scrapped into the stone. There is a pattern to them that suggests a language of some sort, but it is not any with which you are familiar. Over in one corner, a small pile of scorched leather and half-melted chains sit. Likely, Karth was somehow able to break free of his bonds, and then destroyed them with intense flames. Or perhaps whatever freed him from his bonds used fire to do it. The cell door’s lock had been melted into useless slag, which seemed to confirm he escaped/set free by intense flames. How Karth was able to escape injury from such flames was a mystery however.
Finally, in one corner of the room was a shattered piece of stone. One long piece with a rounded, scratched off tip was clearly what Karth used to make the inscriptions in the wall, but the other shards seemed to have a different purpose. In fact, you noticed that most of those other pieces had writing of their own on them. Although difficult, it might be possible to reassemble them. Hoping that whatever Karth had wished destroyed would be important, you begin to piece the shards back together.
Minutes pass, and at several points the guards look in to question Vash. Each time, he answered that the evil here was strong, and that he needed more time, while shooting you a “hurry up” look. Finally, the tablet was whole once more, and despite the myriad of lines running through it, you were able to read the list that they formed.
- 1) Summon Purifer as per the mad angel’s instructions
- 2) Make pact with Him
- 3) Escape
- 4) Travel to Whitefen
- 5) Meet with surviving followers
- 6) Reform Army of the Pure
- 7) Destroy the Church of Light
- 8) Create the new Church from scratch
- 9) Profit from my long struggle
You are just finished with reading the list when you near the faint scrape of claws on iron, a moment before the cell door clangs shut. Of course, with the lock melted you are not stuck inside, but the clang of the iron door swinging back into its frame is still enough to make the guards all jump and Vash to look worried at the door. A moment later, an invisible voice cackles from the midst of the guards.
“Uwheeheehee! Are you poor souls lost!? Because Caxle has found you! And now you’re all DEAD! UWAHAHAHA!”
The Screaming Dark Estate
“Grandmaster” Vylethar continues to frown as you explain your presence here, although you sense now that his irritation has been shifted away from you. His expression changes to one of neutral interest as you relay your false story of meeting Adamè. As you suspect, Adamè’s sharp ears are able to pick up your whispers, and the effect your story has on her is devastating. She breaks into sobs moments after your story reaches its conclusion.
“Oh Tare . . . . Tare Tare . . .”
Black doesn’t seem to react beyond mild anxiety, Brown with reserved pity, and Red with irritation. Vylethar gives you a hearty slap on the back before leaning in close.
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You’re here now, and that’s what matters. If you will excuse me a minute – don’t go anywhere.”
Walking around the side of the bed, Vylethar kneels down next to Adamè while reaching up with one hand to carefully wipe away her tears.
“Now now, there’s no need to start crying just now my pet – you’ll ruin your make-up like that.”
With one last sob, Adamè throws herself into Vylethar’s arms, clinging desperately to him. Reflexively your fingers curl up, turning your hands into claws, the better to wrap around Vylethar’s neck and start squeezing. Even with your instinctual hatred of him, you did have to marvel at Vylethar’s smoothness as he gently stroked Adamè’s hair until she finally relaxed and stopped crying.
Then as if remembering something else, she roughly pushed Vylethar away. “Teareal! Where’s Teareal!?”
Vylethar flashed his perfect teeth as he shrugged. “No idea, babe.” Surprisingly, he instantly regretted his words as the previously calm Adamè suddenly lashed out, flailing at him with her chained hands.
“You bastard! Where is Teareal!?”
“Woah! Calm down there!” Vylethar exclaimed as one flailing fist nearly connected with his nose. Then he managed to snag hold of the chain connecting Adamè’s wrists, and the brief wrestling match that followed was no contest with Adamè’s weakened state. Holding her wrists down against her chest with one hand, Vylethar stroked her hair again, although again he was in for a surprise as Adamè turned her head to try and bite him, while the bed sheets began to jump about as her legs flailed from underneath.
“WHERE IS MY BETROTHED!?”
Grimacing as he immediately released her and stepped back, Vylethar looked as if he had just swallowed something unpleasant and it had lodged itself in his throat.
“Ah, okay, I get it now. My mistake. Listen, I’m going to go find out where this Teareal is. You just wait right here, okay? These ladies here are going to take care of you while I’m gone. You just lie back down and get some rest, alright?”
Glaring at him, Adamè smoothed her veils and settled back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “Fine.”
His smiling expression fading to something considerably more dark, Vylethar turns back to you. Throwing an arm over your shoulder, he begins to guide you out of the room, while looking back towards the girls.
“See to it that she has everything she needs . . . and that she’s no more trouble.”
Once he has you out in the hallway, Vylethar turns you around to face him, placing both hands on your shoulders as he looks into your eyes.
“So, Achbar . . . did you encounter anyone else when you found her? Any idea who this Teareal guy could be? I seem to remember Crx saying something about finding some more slaves, but honestly I wasn’t really paying attention to him at the time. Right now though, it’s extremely important that I find this Teareal guy. So . . . can you help me?”