13/7/51: 12:00 – 12:25: Still battered, bruised and tired from their travails in the halls of the Vulgorim, the group find themselves in Laeran; a young settlement that has rapidly grown in power due to its position at the crossroads between the North Republic's greatest cities. It is a place grown rich on the trade that is conducted within its walls, a realm of wide roads and sturdy, stone buildings, that is home to an ever growing population. As the party walk towards their meeting, they notice that most of the folks about are either humans or dundiir, although a few vyrleen are also seen going about their business. They also notice that there are few temples – though they know this is linked to the cities founding* - though shrines to various heroes of the 2nd Age are prominent all over the place, and at least one chapel dedicated to Rithuen'Ardanna is seen.
It is a grey, overcast day, a light, chill rain drizzling from on high, and the group are soaked by the time they find the Jaded Monk; a well built structure with a slate and tile roof, and a sign depicting a bored looking friar sat with his back to two semi-nude nymphs. Coal smoke drifts from its chimney, promising a warm fire and food within, and the group eagerly approach its heavy front door. They enter the place with the minimum of fuss, and soon learn that they are expected; their “business meeting” taking place on the second floor. Scanning the room, the vyrleen is immediately aware of more than a few individuals who are clearly servants of the TKSG scattered about - here no doubt as muscle should the meeting go awry.
Two guards dressed in chainmail and bearing heavy blades watch the door to the chamber where the meeting is to be held. The group are searched, but neither guard has the will or guts to request they hand in their various weapons, and a growl from the warforged sends them scurrying back. The meeting room consists of two chambers; the first, a welcoming room is the one the group step into. The other is a similarly sized room complete with fireplace, table and chairs, linked to the first by a short, wide corridor. The group are shown through to the second room by a pale skinned vyrleen who wears long dark robes, which flare into a rather dramatic collar. Hair slicked back, his goatee thickly oiled, this individual introduces himself as Kestrel Mirrendale; personal advisor to Khorven Dulsiir, and arch-magus of the Tanners and Knife Sharpeners Guild.
In the next room, stood behind the table waits a squat man with a wide smile. He is in his late thirties, and by the looks of his face, has endured more than a few sound beatings in the past; his nose bent from several breaks, a number of pale scars pulling his pockmarked face in several directions. He is dressed simply – though all spy the fine blade he keeps at his hip, and the glimmering rings that adorn his fingers – and seem genuinely pleased to see the group.
“May I introduce Master Khorven Dulsiir. Head of the Guild, and my patron”, declares Kestrel in a smooth voice, sweeping his hand towards the man.
The group nod a greeting, and Khorven bids them sit, in a warm but firm manner.
As the group settle, Kestrel announces that he is going to secure the room against any scrying attempts or mundane attempts to listen in, and Khorven states that they shall wait until he is done before discussing anything “of a sensitive nature”. As he says this, all catch the less than friendly look he gives Llewellyn, and for a second the group wonder what lies in store.
Khorven pours the artificer and rogue a drink, whilst the Veteran and Ferrous wait patiently. In the other room, they can hear the vyrleen chanting, the air tingling with power as he wreathes it with his abjurations. The first spells are harmless enough; seeming only to lend a thickness to the air that stifles sound and makes everything feel somewhat muffled. However, as he moves through the second chant, the artificer realises something is wrong; the words – sharp and sibilant – being ones he recognises as...
Khorven sees Ormid's face, and the artificer realises from his reaction that he has no idea what is going on either. Sensing something – a pressure that is building that all recognise as the forging of an interdimensional portal – the group stand, their chairs falling back. In the other room, they can see Kestrel has his arms raised, the air before him puckered and warped, his eyes shining brilliant crimson as his mouth works the vile words of his spell.
“Get him!” Shrieks Ormid, his battlefist powering up, “Get him before he can finish the spell!”
But it's too late...it is complete, and suddenly the portal throbs open, a wave of chill stench blasting into the room on the horrifying gusts of a sound that causes all in the room (apart from Kestrel, who is laughing madly, his eyes still shining, his eye teeth suddenly elongated into sharp canines) to flinch in shock.
It is a dirge of purest sorrow; a cacophony of wailing, screaming and weeping that triggers profound misery in all the living souls in the room, slowing their reactions and distracting them somewhat from what they must do. It tears at their minds and crushes their hope, calling forth memories of such loss and sadness that all struggle to concentrate on anything else.
“W-What is that?” Gasps Ormid, shaking his head as if trying to dislodge the dirge.
“I don't know.” Screams Khorven, shaking and pale, “This is nothing to do with me!”
Kestrel has already cast another spell, his form suddenly flickering and shimmering as if caught in the midst of a potent mirage, and the group realise that if they don't fight through their shock, their enemies will soon end them.
Suddenly, four pale humanoids dressed in the dark clothes of Khorven's guild, step through the portal, and the guild masters gasps as he recognises them as men he thought alive until now. Each have feral, burning eyes of blood red, pale skin and extended eye teeth. All bear the wounds that so recently saw them transformed into fledgling cold ones. They bear short swords, and move with an unnatural fluid grace and speed, that only enhances their unearthly menace. Like Kestrel, these vampires are unaffected by the horrific screams and wails that issue from the portal, seeming to relish the despair it instils in the group.
And then, as the vampires stalk towards the party (save one, that draws a crossbow and stands as guardian with Kestrel), the source of the hellish wailing appears; emerging slowly from the portal in a pool of its own shadow. It is a humanoid apparition that appears as a tormented male wrapped in bloodied and tattered robes. Its spectral skin is covered in scratches and cuts, and cruel lengths of leather have been bound tightly across its form, biting into it. It is lipless, and its mouth is locked wide open, allowing it to issue the painful song of ultimate loss and misery that curdles the air. However, most horrific of all, the undead things eyes are gone having been replaced by several cruel nails, which have been driven deep into its eye sockets. From these wounds drips a constant flow of corrosive black gore, which trickles onto the monsters' talons, and into its mouth.
“You thought you would undo the glorious plans of the Masters of all Shadows did you!” Screams Kestrel, his hands already moving to start another spell, “Thought you would disrupt his ineffable designs?”
Somehow Ormid manages, through the sorrow that swallows him, to work a spell, enhancing the warforged's weapon, honing its blade to an impossible sharpness. Seeing this, Kestrel spits out another complex spell, and a blinding beam of brilliant green energy flashes from his fingers to strike Ferrous, half the defender's side simply vanishing in a burst of lambent particles. Veteran charges forwards, his axe snarling as flames begin to jet from its blade. He is stopped by one of the vampires, who jabs twice at his chest, the blade turning off his armour. In response, he hacks the undead things three times, each blow carving a cavernous steaming, spitting wound into it. As the last blow hits, the vampire collapses into a cloud of dirty mist, which flows as if alive towards and into the portal. Another of the vampire rogues leaps towards the warforged, half its head vanishing as Khorven, tears in his eyes, fires a shot from a rune carved pistol**. The bullet hits home, blasting a crater in its head. The monster, unfazed, lands in front of the Veteran, its blade snaking out and finding a gap in his armour. As it stands, the warrior watches in grim fascination as the vampire's head begins to pull itself together, its unholy necromantic metabolism healing its wounds at an impossible rate.
Suddenly Llewellyn appears next to the warforged, the Momentum sweeping out before him. He leaps towards the undead rogue attacking the Veteran, and then leaps away without making an attack, the horror instinctively trying to stab him. However, the rogue twists in such a way that the blade misses, and the vampire ends up somehow stabbing itself. Still in motion, the vyrleen repeats this manoeuvre against a second rogue, and then against Kestrel himself.
Infuriated, Kestrel glares intensely at the back of the warforged's head, allowing his potent undead psyche to reach forth. “Friend,” he whispers into his mind, “we are not enemies. We are both soldiers that serve a great destiny. Fight with me against these fools. Help me to...” A spear of hot agony flashes across the front of his face as the warforged manages to push his suggestions away, sending the vampire mage's head snapping back with a hiss.
“Bastard!” He curses, sweeping his hand out, and filling the back chamber with withering flame; blasting the grievously wounded Iron Defender to the ground, its systems overwhelmed, its artificial life ebbing. The artificer and guild master are also badly burned in the sudden eruption of raw destructive magic – though at the flame's touch, the artificer's daemon amulet begins to shine with a sickly light, shielding him against any further fiery attacks.
The vampire facing the Veteran is dispatched; easily avoiding a huge chop that would have destroyed it, only to find the Annihilator in its chest twice more a split second later. Like its companion, at the moment of death, it melts into a scudding mass of oily mist, flowing weakly towards the portal. Still reeling from the horrible screams of the Wheep, the warforged moves towards it, his blade swinging. Similarly, the rogue hurls his mace towards it, the Adamant head becoming lensed as it gathers unnatural momentum and gravity about itself, gathering mass and lethality as it flies. Both attacks strike the vile spirit, devastating the thing; its shrieks of misery only increasing as they carve into its semi-solid form, the icy cold of death stinging Veteran's arms as he hits. A bullet from Khorven's pistol strikes the horror in the chest, and with a final ululating scream it vanishes – the sudden lack of its screams shocking to the living in the chamber.
Kestrel reacts with fury at this as the rogue cartwheels away to intercept another of the Vampire spawn, his mace devastating its neck and upper chest as it slams home, screaming the words to another potent spell. In the back chamber, Ormid has just finished applying reparative oils and spells to the downed Defender. However, his ears prick up as he hears the vampire mage's chants, and he dives back, screaming a warning. As this happens, the rooms are briefly flooded with blinding light as a cone of dizzying, blasting, blinding colours – brighter than the sun and heavy with magic – explode from Kestrel's hands, engulfing the two rogues and the Defender. Bathed in crimson light, the vyrleen feels the band of the Flame's Essence grow intensely cold on his finger, as it utterly absorbs the fiery energy of the spell. Ferrous is struck by a hazy wave of dazzling blue energy, his body immediately becoming covered in frost, his suddenly frozen vital fluids erupting through his armoured exterior before he crashes, damaged beyond consciousness again, to the ground.
However, Ferrous is lucky compared to poor Khorven. Leaping to avoid a vivid green stream, the guild leader is struck by a arcing current of violet magic. He screams as it strikes him immediately blind, and sinks to his knees as the violet energy grows brighter and more dense about him, seeming to utterly consume him. He manages a final scream before, with a pop of displaced air, he vanishes, leaving no trace.
Seeing this, the final lesser vampire is dispatched, and the group move to take out the mage. Llewellyn leaps towards him, mace swinging, but is stopped mid-stride as Kestrel's preternatural will hammers into his mind, compelling him to stop and to attack the Warforged. For the briefest moment, the command takes, and Llewellyn falters in his approach. Ormid works more healing spells; shattering a luminous vial of alchemical fluids on the ceiling, soaking the party, the mix restoring their bodies somewhat, and the Veteran slashes out at the mage, striking him firmly, a hiss of furious protest escaping the vampire's blue tinged lips. In response, Kestrel leaps back, and utters a coughing, sharp word of power, thrusting his hand at the warrior.
And at once, the warforged disappears...
...finding himself in another place – a realm of surreal, warped, shifting walls and endless unreal corridors. With a metallic growl of frustration, he begins to move forwards, desperate to find his way out of the extraplanar labyrinth to which he has been sent. For what seems like an eternity he wanders, unable to make sense of the constantly changing maze, with its strange angles, illogical patterns and impossible configurations, and he begins to wonder if he will ever find a way out....until....
Suddenly he is back in the chamber, the air still thick with the stink of undeath and cold magic. Across the way, he sees Kestrel spinning back, his ribcage caved in by a massive blow from Llewellyn's mace – the rogue having called upon his stubborn free will, to drive the vampire's insidious commands from his mind. The warforged can see that the blow has rendered the undead mage insensible for a moment, and he is tumbling, helplessly, towards the portal he opened, which is beginning to collapse without its caster to sustain it.
Gasping, the artificer stumbles into the chamber, watching Kestrel fly back.
“The portal!” He yells, “It's our only chance to get to the heart of all this!”
Reaching out with his arcane strength, the artificer manages to “grasp” the fraying form of the portal (in a metaphysical sense). He gasps as he feels terrific forces pulling at him, and grits his teeth as he pours his will into its structure, reinforcing it as it begins to lose cohesion. Trusting Ormid, the rest of the group leap towards it, their journey becoming a terrifying, chaotic horror ride as the artificer, following, is no longer able to keep it stable...
….Up and down lose meaning.....
….Snatches of sounds from unknowable sources roll around them....
...Order reasserts itself, and the group are dropped in a pile of flailing limbs and pained moans...
12:25 – 12:40 They are in a sewer tunnel, the air thick with the stench of ordure and foul water. The one they stand in is bone dry however, one end of it sealed by a steaming fall of scummy, stinking water. At the other end is a wall, within which stands a very sturdy door of metal.
“Shouldn't we have appeared right where the treacherous bastard went?” Snarls the Veteran.
“The portal collapsed as we entered it.” Replies Ormid, “In truth, we are lucky we weren't catapulted into some random dimension, or embedded in solid stone”.
“What happened to Khorven?” Whispers the rogue.
Ormid says nothing, and instead just shakes his head.
The door is checked by Ormid for the presence of magic, and he immediately senses an incredibly potent ward on it. Gingerly, he reaches out towards it, allowing the form and flow of the energies to reach back. After a few seconds he withdraws sharply with a gasp.
“Symbol of Death”, he whispers, before loudly warning his allies. “Far more potent magic than even Kestrel was using. I have a horrible feeling there is more to all this than simply him and his treachery.”
“Can you get rid?” Asks Llewelyn.
“I can, though it won't be easy, and if I mess up...”
Everyone except the artificer exits the tunnel, wincing as they slosh through the disturbingly warm waters that gush from above the tunnel's opposite end, trying not to think about their source or contents.
Licking his lips, Ormid closes his eyes and once more allows his supernatural awareness to extend towards the vicious black tangle of runes and glyphs that ward the door – a hidden matrix of spells that, if triggered, would unleash a blast of death magic that would stop his and the rest of the group's hearts instantly. Carefully, he picks mentally at them, gently teasing them apart and forcing them to adopt new configurations, allowing the lethal energy to flow gently away. The physical world fades as he concentrates completely on the task, his heart slowing to a crawl as a detached calm envelops his being. Slowly, carefully, he applies pressures to the strands, and little by little, bit by bit, they begin to come apart, gently releasing their deadly payload into the aether.
Ormid returns to reality, suddenly aware of a lightness to the very essence of the air that the invisible death rune was suppressing, although another energy – the unmistakable psychic stench of a fiendish presence – rushes to fill the sudden void.
Soaking in sewer water, the Veteran smashes the door down, and at once the air is filled with distant sounds of screaming and hissing, as well as the charnel stench of undeath. Immediately beyond the door is a small, neat, dressed stone chamber, wreathed in shadows. A single descending stairway to the right is the only exit, and it is from there that the sounds and stinks emit.
“Ready?” Asks Ormid, before striding in. The others begin to follow, but stop sharply as the floor suddenly erupts with slender spikes of steel, several of which punch into the artificer's body, briefly lifting him off the ground before slamming him down hard on the ground. Gasping, Ormid scrambles to his feet, blood pooling beneath him. He manages to leap out just before the spikes stab up again, crashing at his allies feet....
“Guess....guess I missed that one.” He wheezes, blood still pouring from his wounds.
* At the end of the Age of Loss, about 100 years before, the Cellinthar'Valladirite leaders, the “Council of Ten”, elected to turn their city into a holy site, utterly dedicated to their deity. This unfortunately meant forcing those not of the Cellinthar'Valladirite faith to leave. Thousands were displaced, each given a small stipend to help them “resettle”, and to this day, there is no love lost between the people of Laeran and the Holy Guides.
** This weapon is clearly enchanted, for although it creates the usual cloud of smoke and flash, no sound issues from its heavy, blunt barrel.