The Ghosts of Callaway Camp
Stepping aside, you suddenly grab hold of the GHAST’s extended wing, twisting it around and flipping yourself up over the armored creature to land on its back. The ray of light streaks harmlessly into the ground a few feet from Kris, and then up into the air as you wrench the wing around. Eventually you manage to bend the joint back far enough in a way that it is not meant to go to snap the wing completely off, but not without a price.
It seems that both edges of the GHAST’s wings were bladed, and as it flings you off its back you find your hands torn and bleeding. Yet Calcifer is still with you, and your mangled extremities begin to repair themselves as you fling yourself away from the tree moments before the GHAST blasts it with his remaining wing beam.
Again you tear off a wing, but this time allow the metal edge to remain embedded in your hands, fighting against the pain as you wield it like an oversized sword, cutting the GHAST’s limbs apart. The dismembered corpse crumples to the ground, and you notice that not only does it seem unconcerned with this, but there is no blood. There is no creature inside the suit – indeed, it seems to be made out of almost solid metal. The construct turns its head to gaze up at you with its glowing blue eyes.
You have chosen to interfere in the affairs of the Baron. For this you have broken the terms of your agreement, and as such you shall suffer his wrath.
Then something strange happens. The GHAST’s metal skin begins to ripple and melt, smoothly flowing back together before solidifying again, once again whole. The wing embedded in its shoulder dissolves into a wad of oozing metal, which flows along to its back, beginning to reform into a wing, while its missing legs and other wing slither back over to the main body. You had only seen anything like this once before – during the final battle beneath Ironheart, the fallen angel Melcara had been capable of impressive acts of regeneration. What you were watching now was vaguely similar in the speed at which the GHAST’s damage repaired itself, although you can’t recall the angel’s skin melting and flowing back together.
A moment later, Kris is at your side, grabbing you by the arm and again leading you towards safety.
“Come on! I told you these things can’t be stopped!”
Behind you, the GHAST regains its footing before twisting both of its reformed wings around to point at you and Kris. You are just ducking behind the tree you had been making for before the GHAST showed up. There’s no way you can outrun the thing, given it’s ability for flight, even assuming the beams of light don’t cut you down first.
Shoving you on ahead of him, Kris pauses by the tree for just a moment, grabbing a concealed rope that was tied around the tree’s trunk. In his other hand flashes one of his namesake blades, slicing cleanly through the rope in one motion. A moment later, an old log descends from the tree, swinging around and launching itself at the GHAST.
Although not a perfect shot by any means, the log still slams into the GHAST’s shoulder, sending one arm flying and crumbling one of its wings. The bizarre construct collapses to the ground once more beneath the weight of the log, giving you precious more seconds to flee.
Eventually, the sounds of slaughter and pursuit fade behind you, replaced by the quiet sounds of the forest late at night. Kris motions for you to stop, doubling over and leaning against a tree for support as he greedily sucks in air.
“What . . . did it . . . mean . . . by . . . agreement!?” Kris rasps, his emerald eyes starring at you accusingly. “Did you . . . cut a deal . . . with . . . the Baron!!?”
The Purifier’s Camp
Looking about the camp, you can tell that Karth’s men come from all walks of life. Although a few are professional soldiers, most were farmhands or poor merchants, having never lifted a weapon in their lives. Still, they are slowly being trained by those more experienced, and you can see the sense of purpose in their eyes. Given time, Karth would likely be able to forge them into quite an army.
After seeing what you think may have been Melcara, you extend your senses out again while moving through camp. You do not sense any other signatures, until you come within sight of Karth’s tent and then it hits you like a wall. The man is surrounded by a very strong aura of supernatural evil, although it is not like anything else you have sensed. It is very strange, for while it feels similar to the presence of the Hells, that aura is only part of what you sense, rather than the entire source. Almost as if the aura originated somewhere else, and then merely passed through the Hells, picking up the evil of that place.
So alerted, you are cautious in your greeting with Karth, but nonetheless accept his offer of hospitality. His guards remain outside, leaving you and him alone. He leads you past a table littered with maps into another “room” of the tent. There another collapsible table sits with several chairs, as well as a small cabinet. Opening the cabinet, Karth produces two glasses and a bottle of wine, a Donovale judging from the label. He motions you to sit across the table from him and then uncorks the bottle, pouring you and him each a large amount of the wine. He raises his glass in a toast to you, and then drinks first, as if to show you that it is not poisoned.
After a minute of savoring the fine wine in silence, you get down to business. Karth smiles at your question.
“I should think that is obvious – to finish what you – and I, have started.”
Karth slams his one open palm down onto the table for emphasis.
“The destruction and rebuilding of the Church of Light, from the ground up. I know we both could no longer turn a blind eye to the godless mockery our glorious institution has become! I know we both fought against it, and I know we both lost. But together, perhaps we can succeed!”
Karth leans forward, speaking eagerly now.
“I have the men and the willpower, and you have the blessing of the gods! The Church already fears us. Imagine their terror if they learned that the Lord General Ander Windrivver marched at the head of the army of true believers!”
Karth settled back into his chair again with a smug smile.
“I know our goals are the same. What are you going to accomplish on your own? My army will eventually grind the Church into the dust, it’s just a matter of time. The people now know that they have been lied to all these years, and the true believers among them shall never cease rising up until the true Church is once again erected on the ashes of the old. But I know that if you are leading them, my men shall fight like mad beasts, and no one will dare question the legitimacy of my actions. So, what do you say, Lord General? Will you join us?”
The City of Amaranth
The City Gates
“But . . . what are the guards going to do against that?” Delora whispers back, starring up in awe at the hanging structure. Even from here, it gives off a palatable aura of magic as well as malice. Abandoning caution for speed, at least for the moment, you step out into the street again, gently pulling Delora along with you.
You had to find some remaining authority within the city and warn them about this threat, as well as the compromising of the gates. After that, perhaps, you would go and investigate this strange new object in the sky. You were aware that flight magic existed, and although you had not developed a runic form of it, perhaps you could find some other way to reach the citadel. You suspected it was important that you go there, for it likely was key to whatever was about to happen within the city.
“I think there’s a guard post deeper in the city, in the merchant district.” Delora offered, and so you found yourself making for the ominously open gate. You are just beginning to pass through the gate when half a dozen large figures burst out from the other side.
In the moonlight, you can see silvery reflections dancing off their thick fur and long snouts. Although their dog-like appearance is somewhat frightening, as is their large collection of weapons, you recognize the humanoids as gnolls, inhabits of the desert that runs along the Kingdom’s one border. The gnolls react in surprise as seeing the two of you, and although they initially raise their weapons at you, they quickly lower them upon realizing that the two of you were just a pair of young women.
“Identify yourselves.” The leader snaps, looking at the two of you curiously. “Do either of you know what is happening here?”
WhiteKnight777 & MrEdwardNigma
“I agree!” Ross mutters in response to Hans’s suggestion to destroy Mellita. Unfortunately, nobody else seems to pay attention to them as Umber opens up his wrist and offers it to Mellita. Mellita looks hesitantly at Umber’s offering of blood, but a moment later her hunger overcomes all concern. She drinks greedily, shivering violently while making a number of soft noises that sound like pleasure.
“Vampires.” Ross grunts in disgust, going so far as to drop a hand over Bran’s eyes and turning him away.
Eventually, Mellita pulls away, her blood-flecked lips pulled back into a grin.
“That was – “ Mellita is interrupted by Umber’s kiss, and in the background Ross retches a bit.
“I *hate* vampires.” He grumbles as Mellita nods at Umber’s promise.
“I will put your gift to good use, Lord Umber!” Mellita vows, while staring at her right hand, turning it over and back as if she could see the new blood flowing through her body. Considering she hadn’t gone insane or spontaneously exploded into bloody giblets yet, Umber had to admit this was considerable progress over his past attempts at feeding lesser vampires his blood. But now it was time to press on.
Lifting off into the air thanks to Bran’s flight magics, Umber leads the others up towards Kartul’s now-floating citadel. It is not long before some of the gargoyles swarming about notice the small band and swoop down towards them. With a mad cackle the lead ones descend upon the party, claws outstretched as they hiss, “Welcome, guestssss! Ssssstay a while! Sssstay forever!”
As the first gargoyles reach the group, they fan out, each closing on a separate member of the group. With a snort Ross weaves to the side of his gargoyle’s clumsy dive, swinging his warhammer up and around to smash off one of the gargolye’s wings as it swoops past him. With a shriek of dismay the construct tumbled into a wild spin, plummeting helplessly down to the ground far below. With a sharp gesture, Bran dispelled the magic animating the gargoyle approaching him, turning it back into a grotesque statue that fell towards the ground with impressive speed. With considerable surprise, Hans’s gargoyle claws futilely at him, and then pounded into rubble a few seconds later before it can recover from its shock at encountering metal instead of flesh. Mellita’s gargoyle swoops aside as it approaches. “You may passsss!” It hisses at her, evidently recognizing her nature. Likewise, Umber’s gargoyle slams to a halt in front of him, although its reaction is even more violent.
“Sssstop! Sssssstop!” It hisses, motioning to the horde of gargoyles closing in from all angles. As the horde slows to a halt, Umber’s gargoyle turns back to face him.
“Lord Umber. The Ungod isss expecting you. You may proceed, but your companionsss are not welcome here!”
Beckoning Umber forward, the gargoyle spreads its wings in a sort of salute as it swings to the side. The other gargoyles in the horde follow suit, clearing a path of empty sky for the vampire lord to ascend up towards the pyramid’s apex, where a balcony of sorts seems to have been added.
“Heh. Exorcism, hmm? Would that even do anything to you? I assume despite your incorporeal form, your soul maintains a connection to the physical world rather than the Hells.” Seymour’s voice holds a note of true curiosity for a moment, before his expression turns serious once more.
“In any case, I’m sure the Council will have more pressing issues to deal with than sorting out Heath’s cause of death.”
Extending your senses out towards the pyramid, your nose is awash with a cocktail of different magicks. It’s like standing in front of an open oven – even from here, the magical energies of that pyramid are strongly present. You suspect that you could subsist off the pyramid’s magical energies for a decade, if not more, assuming the magicks were stable enough to last that long. It is doubtful that even your intense hunger would be enough to consume the magical energy needed to cause the structure to wobble, let along fall.
“Fine. Take his corpse since you still need it, but try to bring it back in relatively one piece for burial. Traitor or not, he was still a part of the Council.” Seymour replied to your question with a sigh.
You know, we’ve dealt with some pretty crazy things in the past, but I’m not sure we want to jump feet first into this one. I’ve never even heard of any mage capable of levitating anything that big! And assuming the vampires are working for whoever is capable of that, maybe we ought to continue investigating them instead of walking up to the front door?
I concur that we require more information on the pyramid, but it seems obvious the vampires are about to make their move. Going to a meeting where Heath was going to simply drop off information, and extracting any useful knowledge from those there for the drop-off, might take too long.
“Well, I’ve got to get to contacting the other Council members. I’m sure any of them that are still awake are about to be doing the same. Get me what answers you can, as soon as you can.” Seymour said before exiting the room, stepping around Heath’s corpse with a slight sniff of disdain.
The Surrounding Mountains
Lucure nods at your whispered warning, turning and helping the next elf in line haul himself up onto the battlements. Then together the three of you release a trio of arrows at the oncoming guards when they pass into the next torch’s light. Two of the guards fall quietly gurgling with arrows in their throat, but the third elf’s shot is slightly off, striking the guard high in the shoulder instead. A pair of arrows released a moment later by you and Lucure strike true, hitting the man in the throat and face just as he is opening his mouth to scream an alarm. Instead, the guard numbly tumbles back off the battlements, falling to the ground just outside the fortress.
“Nice shooting.” Lucure whispers to you as the remaining elves slowly clamber up the wall. While the last elf in line begins to coil up the rope, Lucure looks over thoughtfully at the inner wall. Looking at it yourself, you see that it seems to be even higher than the outer wall. Not an uncommon sight amongst human fortifications, but considering the outer wall’s already impressive height, it seems a tad excessive.
The top of the inner wall is brightly lit, with torches spaced only about ten feet apart. It would seem the guards relaxed their defenses about the outer wall, but maintained them at the inner wall and beyond. It seemed unlikely that you would be able slip past the numerous figures you can see standing watch up there.
Out of the corner of your eye, you watch one of the elves with you slip over towards the two fallen guards, checking to make sure they were dead and dragging their bodies out of the torchlight. He seems to recoil in surprise upon flipping over the second body, and this one he drags all the way back to the rest of the group.
“Look!” The elf hisses as he rejoins the group, cradling the body in his arms. With a quick sweep on his hand, he removes the guard’s helmet, and even in the dim moonlight you can plainly see the pointed ears. “Elf has spilt elf blood tonight!”
“An unfortunate mistake.” Lucure murmurs, momentarily bowing his head. “But he was a traitor to his people. Let us never forget that.”
Suddenly Lucure freezes, as if a thought as occurred to him. Slowly, he looks over at you. “Telest, I don’t think we can infiltrate any further. There are too many guards waiting at the top of the inner wall, and too much light. The Tur wishes for as complete a picture of the fortress’s defenses as we can give him. Clearly, the humans employ traitors in their ranks as we have heard. Perhaps if the two of us don the uniforms of these two guards, we could sneak into the fortress that way? There is some blood on them, but at a distance that should hopefully not be noticeable! What do you think?”
“What? No!” The elf who had recovered the guard bodies hissed. “Sir, that plan is unnecessarily risky! If you are discovered, you would be surrounded without help! Let us return and report what we have already discovered to the Tur, or press on and examine the inner wall more closely. Perhaps there is a hole in their defenses that we simply haven’t noticed yet!”
Wulfric grins ferociously and nods, hurrying off to collect his band of men. As suggested, he takes your best trackers and woodsmen. If you had chosen to remain in the forest, you would have no doubt felt their loss keenly. As it was, you would likely be withdrawing from the forest onto the plains, and perhaps even all the way back to Amaranth. Your enemy’s numbers were unknown, and it may become necessary to level the battlefield with walls for your side.
That would leave Wulfric completely cut off from any support, but you were the commander. You had to think of all your men, and not just a few, no matter how important those few were to you personally.
As Wulfric and his men stalk off into the forest, you gather up the rest of your men and lead them back out through the forest. You encounter no more elves on your way out of the forest, although your travel is slow enough that you just barely reach the edge of the forest before night sets in. This turns out well enough anyway, as your men conspire to string up your elf prisoner from one of the nearby trees. You would have to have a detachment of your men take him back to Malohk for interrogation. Although he found torture distasteful, the old gnoll had a number of magical methods for sifting through a target’s mind, and perhaps he could learn something more than your threats had been able to gleam from the elf so far.
As your men begin to erect makeshift tents and unfurl bedrolls, your communication crystal begins to hum. Expecting to be hearing from Wulfric, you are somewhat surprised when Malohk’s voice rings through the crystal. It is very faint and breaks up frequently, although this does not seem to be a problem with Malohk but rather the crystal’s magic.
Gazrul, we … assistance! An army … has just … the city graveyard! I am … organize … local militia, but … sabotaged … city’s …! I … if … will … you in time, but … men … back … Amaranth! … will try … you … our status! I have known … you were …, Gazrul! It … an honor … with you! Goodbye, …
With one last blast of static, the communication crystal fades again, Malohk’s transmissions either over or completely cut off by whatever was interfering with it.
As you break the mental connection, the Countess has a haunted look for a moment, but she quickly relaxes as she looks around at the peaceful scene of the cave, Klaus sitting near the entrance wrapped in furs, Rudolf curled up in front of him.
“Yes. I had heard only a few stories about Korram, but let me assure you none of them are true. He’s an intense, focused man, but there is such sorrow in his eyes. And when his daughter is mentioned – she’s all he has left, Pyrene. I really hope he’s alright. I kept expecting him to burst into the carriage until you came along . . . he’s probably dead or locked back up by now.”
The Countess lowers her head at this pessimistic news, but looks back up at your question. Pity returns to her eyes as she reaches out a hand to you.
“I’m not sure what I saw. I seemed to be floating, dreaming, although all I saw was an endless nightmare. The young girl I saw, abused and mistreated by rough men – that was your sister, wasn’t it?”
So it would seem that memories are not so much shared but exchanged. While you were viewing the Countess’s memory of her rescue, she must have received one of your memories from your time within the Prism. Which gives you an idea, about the first nice people you had met within Ironheart. The Countess smiles wanly at your offer.
“I would have thought nice people and Ironheart was an oxymoron, but my own rescue is proof enough I suppose. I would certainly be willing.”
The Countess closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, preparing herself for you to reach up to her forehead again. This time, you instead reach out to touch her arm. The surge of energy that leaps between you, taking you away to the vast field of memories again confirms that a mere touch is sufficient for the exchange.
You are following along behind Korram, still twitching nervously at every scream and clang that echoes off in the distance. Your heart continues to flutter in your chest, but not quite as wildly as it had earlier. Nor could it, for it was now wrapped in a vise of sorrow.
Dima was dead, shot by the guards, and left to rot on the stone floor only a few rooms away from where he rescued you. No, you could not dwell on this horror, instead you must focus on escape. And remembering where you had heard the name of your new traveling companion, a man with black hair and piercing green eyes who was even more driven than Korram.
He called himself Seraph, a name that triggered recognition in your mind, although you knew not from where and it was driving your paranoid mind mad. But it was something to focus on other than poor Dima’s fate, and so you slowly worked through all the possible sources.
One from one of Father’s parties several years ago? No.
One of the names on the infinitely long list of names you tried to force yourself to memorize upon taking over the Ashargrin County? No.
Suddenly, the rooms you are passing through are no longer empty. A man hangs from one wall, most of the skin flailed from his back while two other men sit numbly behind bars. Somehow, the whipped man is still alive, and has the strength to cry out, “Mercy!” as Seraph passes. With a disturbing casualness, Seraph produces a dagger which he uses to slit the man’s throat. He then gestures at the other two men watching the proceedings with a mixture of horror and resignation.
“We should eliminate the other two prisoners as well. They may involuntarily give the guards information about who we are and our passage through here.”
Unable to take your eyes off of the flailed and now executed man hanging from the wall, you feel your stomach roiling. Fortunately, you had received nothing to eat in several days, otherwise you are sure that you would have immediately collapsed, retching your stomach contents onto the floor in a most unladylike manner. You had to do something . . . you didn’t think you could watch two others butchered in the same effortless manner. You had watched Korram and Seraph cut down a number of guards on your way through, but that was self-defense.
“No . . . we can’t do this!” You feel yourself shout a moment later, trying to put your argument into more eloquent words, but your stressed mind was trapped in an endless loop, and unable to help you make a stronger argument. You reflexively cringe as Seraph looks at you with contempt, not slowing in his march towards the other two men. Your eyes swing over to plead with Korram, but to your surprise he is already moving, interposing himself between Seraph and the cell. He seems just as unsettled by Seraph’s conduct as you are.
"No. Don't. Give me sixty seconds to work with them. I was a revolutionary, I'm very good at concise persuasion." Korram says.
“It is entirely possible they would give information against their will. Can you convince them not to?” Seraph argues, but nonetheless the intense man takes a step back, crossing his arms over his chest as Korram turns back to whisper something to the two men.
After that, he shatters the bars holding the cell door closed with several swift blows, allowing the two men to escape.
"Now go." He commands, stepping aside to allow the two prisoners to exit the cell.
The first prisoner stops to whisper something to him, while the second one walks over to one of the nearby braziers, pulling out a pair of hot irons. One of these he tosses to the first prisoner, who clumsily attempts to catch it, burning his hand in the process.
The second prisoner then raps his fist against his chest and nods at Korram.
“I was a footsoldier in the Baron’s army, once. I saw and did terrible things. But when I repented for my sins, I was thrown in here. I will not make the same mistakes again.”
Looking away from Korram to Seraph, the former solider continues. “I do not know why you are here, and it does not matter. The guards will hear my death rattle before a word about either of you is spoken. I swear it, just as I swear to ensure that my . . . friend here does not either.”
Bending up with the hot iron now uncertainly held in his hands, the other prisoner exclaims, “Hey, I didn’t agree –“Immediately the former soldier grabs the man by the arm, slamming him against the remains of their cell. He then holds the tip of his glowing iron a few inches from the man’s right eye, saying nothing. He doesn’t have to, as the expression on the cowardly prisoner’s face is enough to confirm his coerced agreement.
Finally releasing the other prisoner, the man nods at both Korram and Seraph. “Good luck.” The two then depart, dashing out the western doorway to parts unknown. As the former soldier passes by Seraph, he nods at him again, muttering “Sir.” For his part Seraph says nothing, although he does not return the soldier’s farewell, instead silently turning away to wipe off his bloody dagger before sheathing it once more.
“Let’s go.” Korram says, moving towards one of the several doorways leading out of the room.
As if he knew the way, Seraph leads the group out.
“Yes, let us continue.”
He has just reached the doorway before he flings himself back into the room.
“Three guards plus elite.” He hisses to Korram, and by extension, you. “Hide and then ambush them. Take one of them alive to show us the way out of here.”
Again, your drug addled and panicked brain could not process this new demand placed on it, and you numbly looked around the room, trying to find a place that could shelter you from the incoming guard’s sight.
“Hide!? Where!?” You exclaim in a panic.
"Countess! This way!" Korram whispers back as he moves over to you.
Taking you gently but firmly by the arm, Korram quickly leads you over to behind a large wooden structure set up near the center of the room. Judging by the manacles hanging from the top, it was used to hold a prisoner still in a standing position. Korram manauevers you behind it.
“Don’t move a muscle.” He advises before diving back into the cell he had just helped to empty. The advice was completely unnecessary, for your fear was nearly paralyzing as you crouched down behind the stand to await the outcome of this latest battle. More fighting, more killing, more death. Would this be the time that you watch helplessly as Korram falls to the ground with a crossbow bolt in his gut?
A moment later, an elite strides into the room. Somehow, he is alerted to Seraph’s presence, swinging around to face the warrior just as he leaps out from the side of the doorway. They become locked into a grapple, until finally Seraph swings him around and kicks the elite into a stand of cutting implements.
“I leave the others to you, Korram!” Seraph shouts as he readies his sword and three other guards charge into the room, looking about confused. They don’t have long as Korram leaps out from his hiding place, delivering a flaming uppercut to the middle of the three.
"Evening, gents," He says as he crushes one of the remaining guard’s swords in his burning fist. "Not that I actually know if it's evening, what with the fact that we're locked in a doom fortress. Still, it's been a long 'day,' so you catch my drift." Korram swiftly dispatches the other two guards, while Seraph engages in a whirling sword duel with the elite. They strike so swiftly that your eyes can barely follow the movements, and they seemed fairly evenly matched.
At least, evenly matched until Seraph slams his shoulder into the elite’s chest, send him tumbling back into another piece of torture equipment, looking much like a large wooden table with shackles at either end. The elite rolls back up onto the table and down onto the far side, trying to put some distance between him and Seraph, but as he does Seraph locks one of the manacles around the elite’s sword arm. As the elite lands on the far side and realizes this, Seraph leaps onto the table, kicks the sword out of his trapped hand, hops down beside the elite, slams him into the table again, and then grabs the elite’s free hand and pins it to the table by skewering it with his own sword.
The other thing is disturbing enough that you cannot watch any longer, although you can still hear them talking and the elite’s grunts of pain. Even that is too much for you, and you clap your hands over your ears, trying to will the horrid sounds away. It doesn’t help much, and you can still hear their voices.
“Talk.” Seraph says.
“Screw you –ARGH!” The elite responds.
“Talk or lose the hand.” Seraph growls, then he seems to address Korram.
“Nice work. Did you have any questions for our friend here other than the quickest way out of here?”
"No, I have no questions for him."
You then hear footsteps approaching, a moment before Korram appears around the side of the structure you were hiding behind. His face is grim, but it seems to relax a little as he looks down at you, and he tries out a gentle smile.
"It's safe now, Countess. You can come out now."
“Good. Can we get out of here now?” You reply, offering Korram your hand. To your slight surprise he takes it, gently pulling you back up on to your feet.
Over by the table, Seraph is leaning in close to the elite, listening closely as the wounded man whispers something into his ear. When the elite is finished, Seraph pulls away with a grimace while the elite sneers defiantly.
“My thanks to you.” Seraph says, before tearing his sword out of the elite’s hand. You try to look away, but not fast enough as Seraph grabs a handful of the elite’s hair, pulling his head back and slitting his throat with the freed sword.
“We have what we need. Let us depart this place. This way.” Seraph says, allowing the elite to slump down against the table, his one hand still trapped in a shackle. Having little choice in the matter, you follow along, one hand held up over your face, and doing your best not to look at the bodies strewn about that you are forced to step over on your way out of the room. You can feel the bile tickling the back of your throat again, and you fear that you’re going to begin shaking and sobbing at any moment. But you know that if you do that you will be unable to stop yourself, and so you force yourself onward, desperately concentrating on the mystery of Seraph’s identity.
So focused are you on your inner struggle that you nearly bump into the back of Korram as he stops, holding up a hand to Seraph.
"Seraph, wait. Before we go on, I have to ask you: who are you? Several people seem to have recognized you, and you fight better than almost any man I have ever seen. So once more, I ask you: who are you?"
Clearly impatient at this delay, Seraph sighs. “It would take too long to explain. We must hurry before they lock this section of the prison down. If you do not trust me, Korram, then I do not ask you to follow me.”
"Very well. Another time, then."
“Seraph . . . Seraph. That name sounds so familiar to me, and yet I can’t place it.” You mutter, more for your own benefit than anyone’s. Tugging at a strand of your hair in frustration, you start to follow Seraph once more. You pause by Korram’s side, looking into his conflicted eyes.
“I don’t know if we should trust him, Korram. But he apparently knows the way out of here, and I would rather not stay in this terrible place any longer than necessary.”
You and Korram then follow Seraph along in silence, passing through a number of other rooms, some still occupied by prisoners and others completely empty. Neither Korram nor Seraph pauses to deal with these prisoners, as it seems that you were in a race against time now. Not having any skills of your own that could free these unfortunate victims, you continue on without stopping as well.
As Seraph begins to duck through yet another doorway, he suddenly flings himself back just in time to allow a crossbow bolt to sail past.
“Elites. Three of them.” He grunts as he produces a crossbow to return fire.
Hearing a shout behind you, you turn and see another five guards entering the room you and Korram had just left. They cannot help but notice you both, and immediately begin to move forward.
"Seraph, hold off the grunts. I'll deal with the Elites."
The two men immediately switch positions, and Korram leaps out into the doorway, shielding himself from crossbow bolts with a sheet of flame that incinerates any bolt fired before it can reach him.
"Heh. I learned how to deal with you b******* last time."
Although you cannot see what Korram does to the three elites, it seems to be effective as you can hear screams of pain from the other room. A moment later, an elite charges through the doorway, his armor glowing brightly as if it had been heated in a fire. He tackles Korram, pressing the still hot metal into his chest.
“Stings a little, doesn’t it?” The elite growls, headbutting Korram and twists himself around to clumsily draw a dagger. “But don’t worry: it’ll all be over soon.”
Looking back, you see that Seraph has already dealt with three of the five guards, but he could not possibly deal with the remaining two and help Korram in time. And Korram definitely needed help.
It was up to you, you suddenly realized. You weren’t quite sure how you could help, being nowhere near strong enough to grapple with an elite guard. Then your eyes fall on the brazier full of glowing hot irons, and you think back to the two released prisoners armed themselves with them.
Swiftly moving over to the nearby brazier, you tug one of the irons out, surprised a bit at just how heavy it was. Still, you manage to avoid burning yourself or dropping it, and hefting it, move over to the two prone men.
Gathering your courage, you manage to growl “That’s right, it will!” at the elite before bringing the hot iron down onto his back. The elite grunts in shock, but refuses to lose his grip on either Korram or the knife. So you heave the iron back up into the air for another blow, only this time instead of hitting the elite, you slam the end down into Korram’s stomach!
“Sorry!” You whisper with a grimace at the pain you clearly caused the man you were supposed to be helping.
“Don’t be. I’m wouldn’t.” The elite grunts as he flails out with his free hand at you. You try to dance back, but move too slowly and the elite manages to catch hold of the hem of your dress, pulling you down hard on to the floor next to Korram. As you lie dazed on the floor, staring up at the elite as he prepares to plunge the knife down into either you or Korram, a handaxe thunks into the side of his neck.
“I’m not sorry either.” Seraph calls out, followed by, “Are you two alright!?”
A moment later, it seems that Seraph will be the one that it not alright. A hail of crossbow bolts fly through the doorway, several embedding themselves in the various pieces of torture equipment or his backpack, but one bolt firmly embedding itself in Seraph’s shoulder. With a scream of outrage, the man reaches up behind him and tears it out of his own back, holding it up for the guards to see with another scream of indignation. Then he throws himself down onto the floor next to you and Korram as another swarm of bolts fly into the room.
“Seems we’ve made them a little mad: over a dozen guards on my side now. How’s your side doing?” Seraph grunts at Korram, and then turns his intense stare over to you. “Help me get this backpack off.” He commands, and you immediately move to obey, pawing at the heavy straps until finally it slips from his wounded shoulder. Immediately he begins to dig through it.
“Not too many of these left. But now seems like a good time.” Seraph says as he pulls a pair of healing potions out. He drinks the one, and then offers the other to Korram. Judging by the shouting from the adjoining rooms, you were now surrounded and under siege by a large number of guards. And you weren’t sure even Korram and Seraph would be able to get you out of this situation.
The memory ends suddenly, and for a moment you are confused until you realize that it is likely your own memory of meeting the Judge’s two personalities came to an end.
“I . . . see. So not all servants of the Baron are twisted and cruel.” The Countess remarks quietly, before looking up, a question in her eyes. “Did they -?” The Countess falls silent, but you know the ending to the question – “escape”.
The sudden thrown is perfect, as the knife flies through a narrow gap in the cell bars, slicing through the air where the voice was coming from. The knife strikes something as it suddenly stops in mid-air, an eruption of blood following a moment you.
“You . . . bastard! You . . . killed . . . Caxle!” Caxle shrieks a moment later, as a small demonic creature reveals itself from thin air, your knife protruding from its tiny chest. A moment later, the creature stops beating its wings, falling lifelessly to the floor. The body doesn’t even hit the floor before a gout of flame consumes the body entirely, leaving only an ash-covered knife to bounce against the floor. The guards outside the cell recoil in horror from the knife at the tinkling sound it makes against the floor.
“Nice shot!” Vash says, genuine appreciation in his voice. Then he leans in close, whispering just loudly enough for you to hear. “I hope you have found something helpful, because after that display I think the guards are going to get really anxious if we hang around here any longer.”
Vash then makes a grand display of flailing his arms about and shouting “Begone!” before falling to his knees. He then turns back to the guards, pumping his fists over his head. “It is done!” The guards even give a subdued cheer, before looking back towards the passage leading up to the surface.
“But our work is not quite done yet! Deep in the darkness beneath this place rests the center of the disturbance! We must go down yet another level to reach it, to where the special prisoners are kept!”
This time instead of cheering the guards simply stare at Vash in mute shock. Eventually, the newly promoted lieutenant finds his voice.
“The . . . maximum security level!? Um, sir . . . I don’t . . . I don’t think . . .”
“Look lieutenant, do you want this demonic infestation to come to an end or not?”
“We would love to help you sir! But . . . none of us know how to navigate that level! Only elites ever go down there! It’s a confusing maze of interlocking tunnels that’s full of otherwordly creatures, and that was true even when the prison was actually operational!” The lieutenant blurts out in a flood of information.
“Oh.” Vash says simply, but then from here you can hear the wheels in his mind turning. “Well . . . could we go find an elite that would know the way?”
The lieutenant shakes his head, dashing that hope.
“I’m sorry sir. I don’t think even an elite would know all of the passageways, they split up the information in case a prisoner broke loose and captured one of them. Perhaps if you had an idea in what part of the level this center is?”
Vash gives a predatory smile at this news. “Why yes, I do actually! I have reason to believe the center is located near the cell of Ander Windrivver.”
Here another surprise was waiting for Vash, as the lieutenant scratched his head in confusion.
“The paladin? Are you sure? I would have assumed he would have been capable of dealing with any demonic corruption.”
“Well, perhaps he was incapacitated before he could do so?” Vash asked with mixed anticipation and fear. Again the lieutenant shook his head.
“No sir. Actually, I was there during all this. I saw Ander Windrivver leave the prison unharmed – apparently the Baron released him! Never heard of that before.”
“Oh! Well then! I’m sure if the good paladin is up and about, he probably did deal with it before leaving. Um . . . shall we all go back up to the surface then?”
These words were met with a loud cheer from the guards, and after prying the cell door open again, they lead you back up towards daylight, their spirits considerably lifted. As you follow along, Vash leans in close to you.
“So they both escaped! Damn, I figured other than getting in and getting out, this job was going to be like stabbing fish in a barrel! Instead, now we’re going to have to chase them all over creation! You got any good ideas on getting out of here?”
The Screaming Dark Estate
Vylethar frowns in concentration a moment, and then turns back to the room.
“What’s your name dear?”
“Adamè.” Came the terse reply, carried on a note of scorn.
Vylethar nonetheless nods in satisfaction.
“There we go, alright. Adamè is her name, and Tearreal is probably the name of this male elf you found. I hope so, I suppose it could just be her brother or something instead – wouldn’t that be awkward?”
As you make a show of struggling with your invisibility, Vylethar drops his arm away from your neck and takes a step back, clearly both interested and disgusted by the show. When you finally “give in” to the invisibility spell, Vylethar nods and motions for you to follow, taking the lead.
“Alright, let’s get going. This male elf isn’t going to kill himself. Heh, of course, what am I saying? This is the Hells, so he very well might. Anyway, since you’re new here, I might as well give you the guided tour along the way.”
Vylethar makes a sweeping gesture of the upstairs corridor while he leads you back towards the stairs.
“Up here is my personal quarters, along with those of the ladies. There’s also a dining room and a few other areas, but none of those are particularly important. The ladies take very good care of me, so unless you come bearing news or I’ve summoned you, stay off this floor. Especially until you’ve got your . . . problem sorted out, the girls don’t need spooked unless I need them spooked, got that? Anyway, those three ladies you met back there are Madeline, Amanda, and Vivian.”
As Vylethar begins to descend the stairs, he ticks off each girl.
“Amanda is the skittish, black-haired one. She got involved in a cult when she was a teenager. They sacrificed her shortly thereafter – typical demon lies about “eternal life”, blah blah blah. By the time I pried her out of their claws, she was a complete mess. You think she’s easily spooked now – ho boy.”
Vylethar ticks off another finger.
“Vivian’s the red-head. She poisoned two of her husbands in order to get their money. The law eventually caught up to her, hung her in the center of town. She’s rather prickly, but a complete freak under the sheets, if you know what I mean.”
Vylethar ticks off his third finger with a snort.
“And Madeline. Madeline’s . . . interesting. She was a paladin, part of the Church of Light’s grand crusade against the Hells. She died down here, and now her soul’s basically stuck here. Forever. But, that’s good news for me, even if she is a bit of a prude.”
Walking down off the last step, Vylethar gestured around himself at the hallway.
“This is obviously the ground floor. You’ll probably be spending most of your time down here, unless Crx needs you down in the basement.”
Vylethar jerks a thumb to the doorway leading out on to the balcony as he passes.
“Out there is the balcony. You might occasionally stand guard out there. I don’t recommend you take a swim in the pool though.”
As Vylethar continues to lead you down the hallway, he continues to describe the doorways leading off to the rest of the ground floor. A soft scuffle gets your attention, and as you walk past the doorway looking out to the lobby you passed earlier, you see Limier land in a crouch. He begins to head directly towards you, and by extension, out into the hallway that Vylethar continues to saunter down, describing his estate.