Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part XI - Vampire Season - Chapter 6
They Don’t Make Guardhouses the Way They Use To
Elvisda had gone to the retrieve The Boulder. Now, he, the golem, the two guards and the cleric from the temple approached the burnt out guardhouse. Shalla was standing there waiting for them.
“What are you doing here?” Elvisda asked her.
“Keeping an eye on you,” she replied with a mischievous grin.
He couldn’t help himself. Shalla had a devastating smile; the kind that could make a man weak in the knees. He grinned back, walked up and kissed her.
“Thank you, my dear, for thinking of me. But I fear that the folks around this building may be in more jeopardy than we are. Do you think, perhaps, you could knock on a few doors and offer some of these folks the hospitality of our fine establishment until we clear out this nest?”
“I can do that,” she said, turning to go. “But you do know that your charm won’t work on vampires, don’t you?” she called back over her shoulder.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he yelled after her, “it seemed to work well on the last one.” Then he laughed heartily.
They walked up to the guardhouse and assessed the situation. The building was a fairly good size being approximately 80 ft by 80 ft according to Elvisda’s calculations. It showed signs of fire damage but was still quite solid. There were burn marks on the front door, but it was still intact. Elvisda ordered the golem to knock it down. The Boulder smashed in the door and all five of them entered the building.
They entered what had most likely been a common room. There was evidence of furniture that had been there at one time, but now there were mostly tattered cloths and a few pieces of charred wood here and there. The room itself was about 40 ft by 40 ft Elvisda guessed. The floor was made of stone and there were some indiscriminate tracks across it. There was a door to the north and they headed towards it.
Elvisda ordered the golem to knock down this door as well. The massive creature complied and they stepped into what must have at one time been the barracks. There were burnt cots up and down the entire length of the room.
There was an opening in the back that on a cursory glance proved to once be an armory. But there were no weapons here anymore. There were a number of items burnt beyond recognition, but that was it. Either the guards had taken everything when the building had burned, or looters had.
There was another door on the east wall. The Boulder smashed in this one as well.
This room was most likely the captain of the guard’s quarters. There was a burnt bed frame, and what might have been a couple of dressers and a desk along the wall. They searched around the room, and found a secret door in the stone floor under the bed.
“Smash door,” Elvisda commanded once again. An animate being might have found this constant smashing somewhat redundant. But the golem was incapable of independent thought and just did as it was told.
Boom, boom, boom, boom; the sounds shook the entire house as the golem’s stone fist met the stone floor. The reverberations traveled through the earth all the way down to the underground where the rest of the party waited almost directly below.
“What are they doing up there?” Glorfindel asked aloud.
“Oh, you know Elvisda,” Seth replied. “Once he gets his hands on that golem ring, things get broken.”
Meanwhile, up top, The Boulder had finally won its battle with the stone door. The entrance shattered into pieces and stone rubble went falling down a long dark shaft. They could clearly see a metal ladder leading downward, but it disappeared in the darkness after a few feet. They heard the stones hit the ground a few seconds later.
“Well at least it isn’t bottomless,” Marcus commented.
Ashfor smiled at the young half-elf. He had been worried about his companion ever since he had been bit by that ghoul in the underground tunnels. It was good to see that his sense of humor had returned.
“Well this will never do,” Elvisda said as he surveyed the shaft. There was a ladder leading down, but they could not see the bottom.
“Boulder,” Elvisda commanded, “let’s see if we can shed some light on this. Punch a hole in the roof.”
All four men moved back out of the room as the golem reached up and tried to hit the ceiling with its long arms. It couldn’t quite reach though so it grappled one of the support beams and half climbed up still with one foot on the ground. It was a strange sight, but it worked. The golem took a huge swing and punched a hole right through the roof. Then it clambered back down.
The men reentered and looked down the shaft. Light streamed in from the hole in the roof, but it was late in the day, and it did very little to illuminate the shaft. But there were now piles of fresh wood from the roof all around the room. “Let’s gather these up and stack them by the shaft,” Elvisda told the men.
They all complied and when they were done there was a neat stack of wood next to the hole in the ground. “Watch this,” Elvisda said, and he walked up with some tinder and flint and lit the wood on fire. When the wood was burning pretty well, the bard ordered the golem to push it down the shaft. The golem did so. Then the men all walked up and looked down the shaft. About 50 ft down they could see the woodpile where it had scattered across the floor of a chamber. The fire was still burning at the base of the ladder, but there were also glowing embers scattered around it.
Then smoke began rising up the shaft. The men got out some cloth, doused them with water, and wrapped them around the noses and mouths. Then they went to the ladder and began to climb down. Ashfor went first, followed by Elvisda, then Marcus and finally Krelar.
When Ashfor got about 35 ft down, the shaft opened up and he was in a 50 ft chamber. He still had about 15 ft of ladder to climb down before reaching the ground. He quickly surveyed the room. There were about 6 hexagonal tables with hexagonal benches around them in the center of the room.
A funny feeling suddenly passed over the guard and he turned his gaze to see a little boy hanging from the ceiling by his hands and feet. The boy was looking straight at him. He heard a whisper inside his head. “You will serve us.” He felt lightheaded for a moment, and then shrugged it off.
Then he spotted another little boy, also on the ceiling crawling towards him fast! Ashfor reacted immediately. He jumped down the rest of the way to the floor, landed skillfully and drew his sword. He yelled to the others ‘Vampires!”
The one little kid jumped down after the guard and took a swing at him knocking him back with surprising strength. Suddenly, Elvis dropped out of the shaft, and landed a few feet from them. The vampire boy turned and looked.
Ashfor tried to take advantage of the situation and swung at the creature with his sword. But the little vampire was too quick. It easily dodged out of the path of the blade. Then two purple missiles slammed into its side visibly shaking the little creature. “Hey that hurts,” it said in a little boy’s voice.
Ashfor swung with his sword again, but the creature had already moved out of his range and lunged at Elvisda. But Elvisda was ready. He ducked the little vampires attack. But then the second little creature dropped from the ceiling and landed on the bard, trying to get a grapple hold on him. But the bard was an experienced fighter. He threw off the creature and then tumbled between the two of them as they lunged again ending up well out of their reach.
Just then Marcus landed on the ground next to the ladder and took as swing at one of the creatures with his sword. He connected, getting both creatures’ attention. But before they could move, there was the sound of multiple pops from behind them. Both creatures whirled around and were suddenly facing 7 Elvisdas, each with a magic wand pointing at the little vampires.
The creatures were taken aback for a few seconds. They were just regaining their composure when a blinding white light suddenly appeared making a large circle around all the combatants. When Elvisda could see again, he spotted Krelar at the bottom of the ladder with both arms raised up. The cleric must have cast a turn undead spell the bard thought. He could no longer see the vampires, but then noticed two puffs of smoke floating across the room. They clouds headed towards a door on the other side of the chamber and seeped through the cracks around it.
Krelar walked over to the group and began to heal Ashfor. When he was done he told them “Your wounds are all healed, but I can’t do anything about the life force they drained from you. Either Almon or Elvisda’s cleric friend up in the castle will have to take care of that.”
The group then crossed the room and stood at the other door. Elvisda listened but did not hear anything coming from the other side. But when he tried to open the door it was locked. “I think we will need help on this one,” he told the others. Then he stood still for a moment, concentrated, and cast a whisper spell. He targeted Glorfindel and told the wizard where they were and to bring the whole party with him.
Down below, the rest of the party had been waiting for Elvisda and the others to return. Seth had been pacing around from door to door, not able to sit still. When Glo got Elvisda message, he told the rest of the party. They were starting to get up and head back for the tunnel when Seth cried “Wait!”
They all turned to look at the little ninja. “I thought I heard something,” Seth continued, “over here.” He was standing at the east door which led to the kitchen area. He pushed his way through the door and stopped to listen again. The others followed behind him.
“Shhh,” the halfling told the party. Then after a couple of seconds, “There it is again.”
He started slowly walking towards the hallway leading north out of the kitchen area. Then he stopped and turned his head, listening again. Finally he stood up, turned and smiled at the others. “I’d know that loud voice anywhere,” he exclaimed. “That’s Elvisda! He’s on the other side of that door” he finished pointing to the entrance at the end of the hallway.
Then Seth walked over to the door and yelled “Hey Elvisda!” as loud as he could.
A second later they heard a voice call back. “Seth? Is that you?”
“Yeah it’s me,” the halfling replied. “Who else would it be?”
“That’s Seth alright,” the voice responded from the other side of the door. “Can you get this thing opened?” the voice asked.
“Easy as pie,” Seth replied already going to work on the door. In less than a minute, he had it opened. On the other side of the doorway stood Elvisda, Ashfor, Marcus and Krelar. Ashfor looked a little pale.
They all congregated back in the kitchen and Elvisda told them what had happened in the guardhouse. When he was done, Seth said “That first vampire girl went through a hole in the ceiling a couple of rooms over. Now these two little vamps came in here. You know, it might be worth exploring where this chimney over the kitchen hearth goes.”
They went over and looked. There was enough room for the halfling to climb up.
Seth prepared to hoist himself up the flue, when Elvisda said “Wait. We passed by another door in the hallway back there.” He pointed to the north hallway. “Can you open that door for us first?” he asked the little halfling.
“Sure,” Seth replied. He went down the hall and listened at the door. The little ninja didn’t hear anything. He unlocked the door and stood back. Everyone else gathered around the door, ready to battle if necessary. Elvisda even played a tune to inspire courage in the group. But when they opened the door the room was empty. The group entered and looked around. This was a bedroom. There was a good sized bed against the one wall, a wardrobe, a dresser, a desk with a chair and a chest in one corner. They opened the wardrobe and found some cleric robes hanging in it. They looked relatively new. In fact, they looked just like Qualtan’s robes.
While the others were searching the room, Seth went back out into the kitchen and climbed up the chimney. He ended up at another hearth up in the guardhouse. There was another flue going up from there, but Seth decided to just climb back down and rejoin the others. He returned and told them what he found.
“This whole place in intertwined with the guard house,” Seth observed. “How did it burn down?”
“We always thought it was because of a fight between two guards,” Relkin replied. “Now I’m not so sure. This place looks like an old gambling den hidden below the house. But none of us ever knew it was here.”
Elvisda was standing over the chest. He asked Seth, “Can you open this?”
“Sure,” Seth replied walking over to the chest. After examining it for a minute the little halfling reported that there was a trap on the chest.
Elvisda got out his lute and played a tune to inspire confidence on the halfling. And Shalla cast a spell on him to make him feel more heroic.
Seth went to work on the chest. He studied it carefully, his fingers moving this way and that, almost faster that the eye could see. Finally, they heard a click, and Seth stood up. “That was too easy,” Seth smirked opening the chest.
They looked in and found a belt, an amulet and a black dagger. Seth turned to Glorfindel and asked “Are any of these items magical?”
Glo came over and stood over the chest. He waved his hands over the contents and the belt and amulet began to glow.
Seth picked up the dagger. “I wonder what this is made of,” he said studying it. It was composed of a black metal but was definitely not adamantine.
“I think I know,” Elvisda replied. “Let’s sit down. Shalla and I have a story to tell you all.”
They all relaxed, sitting on the bed, the chair and the floor. Martan stood at the door keeping watch.
“Remember how you said you couldn’t find me before?” he said to Glorfindel. “Well there was a really good reason for that. Shalla, do you want to explain.”
“Ok,” the lady bard agreed. “As some of you already know, I traveled around quite a lot before I ended up here in Restonford. I had been in a number of towns and not necessarily always in the nicest sections. But I can handle myself so that was never much of a problem for me.”
“Anyway,” she continued, “I happened to be passing through Garrotten a few months ago. It was after a performance and I was sitting in Abrahams, having a quiet drink by myself in a corner booth. It was late in the evening and not many folks were around. So it was pretty quiet. I was also kind of tired so I might have started to doze off. I was just about to head up to my room when I overheard a bit of a conversation from the next booth. I figured whoever was talking did not know I was there because they were chatting pretty freely. I couldn’t hear every word, but I did catch some interesting ones.”
Shalla paused a moment. “The discussion seemed to be centered around different methods of assassination. And one term in particular struck me as quite ominous, although I didn’t remember it until this morning. The expression was Soul Binding Ritual.”
The group sat in silence for a minute then Elvisda took up the conversation. “So after our little encounter with the vampires earlier this morning, I had gone back to my room to rest. Shalla came to, um, keep me company, and we got to talking. When she mentioned the term Soul Binding Ritual to me I immediately thought of the circumstances around the Baron’s murder. So we put our heads together and realized that we had a fairly extensive library right at our fingertips.” He paused to see if anyone could guess what he meant.
“Peltar’s house,” Glorfindel filled in for him.
“Yes,” Elvisda replied, “Peltar’s house. We went over there and scoured the library, until we found some books on Assassins and Dark Magic. It seems that Peltar had a quite extensive collection in this area. It kind of makes you wonder about him. Anyway, we took a few books with us to one of the other rooms, sat down and starting reading through them. It took awhile, but eventually, Shalla found a book with a description of the ritual in it. So it turns out that it is an Assassin version of the Soul Bind spell.”
Shalla took over from there. “It requires the assassin to slay the victim with a Thinaun weapon, like the one you are holding in your hand,” she said nodding at Seth. The halfling looked down at the blade he was fingering in his hand and then back up at the lady bard. His face was filled with curiosity.
“When the spell is cast,” she continued, “the assassin extracts the heart of the victim and the soul is transferred from the weapon to just that enchanted organ. Part of the spell extracts most of the victim’s blood, and the Assassin has to have containers to hold it to complete the second part of the ritual. The ultimate goal is to create a Soul Gem.”
Seth spoke up. “That sounds very familiar. I know I have heard the term before.”
Elvisda replied, “I’m not surprised. They are worth a veritable fortune. Anyway, to continue, the second part of the ritual is performed over a period of 30 days during midnight. The ritual uses part of the victim’s blood, the heart and the gem. When the 30 days are over, the heart and the victim’s body, where-ever it is, turns to dust and the gem becomes a soul gem.”
“However,” Shalla continued, “if the heart is destroyed, or the ritual is not performed every day, the soul is freed to travel to its home plane, and the victim is available for a Raise Dead or Resurrection type spells from either its body or the heart.”
“Just one more thing,” Elvisda added, “the caster of the spell must name a specific demon or devil of power as part of the casting, and during the final ritual, he, or she, may summon that being. The summoned being will either perform a service or buy the soul gem from the caster.”
“Wow,” Glorfindel exclaimed, “That’s one hell of a ritual.”
“Literally,” Seth added.
“Anyway,” Glo continued, “It seems that this is/was Qualtan’s room. And, therefore, he was in possession of the Thinaun dagger. That firmly connects him with the Baron’s murder. So the question remains, why would he have been involved in the brutal death of his old traveling companion and supposed friend?”
“Can you scry on Qualtan,” Seth asked. “If we can find him, we can ask him.”
“Let me try,” Glorfindel replied. The wizard went to into a trance for a few minutes. He came out of it, shook his head, and reentered the trance state. Again he came out of it and shook his head. He tried one more time and then came out of his trance.
“No luck,” the wizard said. “Something is blocking me, or the gods are just not on our side today.”
“No worries,” Elvisda said. “We’ll just have to find him the old fashioned way. Let’s start by finishing the search of this room now that we have our little rogue/ninja with us.”
Seth stood up, nodded at the bard, and said, “Sure. I’ll check around the room.” The little halfling carefully searched the room until he found a secret door. He opened the door and entered another room, this one only 10 ft x 15 ft. There was nothing in there but a rug.
Seth searched that room too and found yet another secret door. He opened it and there was Qualtan, laying on the floor, dead. Elvisda bent down and examined the body. He discovered two puncture wounds in the neck. “Vampire,” he said.
Seth knelt down next to the body, pulled a stake from his belt and drove it through the body’s heart. “Just in case,” he told them. They dragged the body back to the bedroom.
“Look what we found,” Elvisda announced.
Everyone came over to see the body.
Then Glorfindel called out “And look what I found.”
They looked over and saw the wizard sitting at the desk. He held a blue velvet covered box in one hand and two pieces of parchment in the other. “What is it?” Elvisda asked walking over to the wizard.
Glorfindel opened the box and showed them the contents. Inside was a beautiful silver ring with a sapphire stone. Then he handed Elvisda the papers in his hand.
The first parchment, yellowed with age, looked at one time crumpled but then smoothed and folded carefully. The second parchment looked to be newer.
The bard read them, one at a time, with Shalla staring over his shoulder. The first one said:
It is with heavy heart that I must return this ring to you. It is most beautiful and a value the sentiment behind it, but I am afraid that my heart is already given, now and forever more, to Grellus.
I shall always treasure the time we spent together, and I have learned much. I hope we can remain dearest friends, now and always.
With fondest regards and best wishes for happiness,
The second one said:
Be patient, in only a little more time, all that you have always dreamed of and deserved will be yours. We have already begun eliminating all that stands in your way. Continue the work in the catacombs and be ready. An emissary has already arrived in town, and the time is soon.
xxx D. xxx
“Wow,” Elvisda said when he finished.
“Yeah, wow,” Shalla repeated.
Elvisda handed the letters over to Seth. The little ninja read them. When he was finished he said, “Well that sure explains a lot.”
“Yes it does,” Glorfindel agreed. “But does anyone know who D is?”
They all were quiet for a few moments. Then Seth spoke up. “Wait a minute. What was the name inscribed on the master vampire’s sword? You know, the sword we found with that black armor and shield?”
“Oh yeah!” Elvisda exclaimed. “That began with a D. Was it Dis…graced? Dis…gruntled?”
“Disgrin!” Glo shouted. “It was Disgrin.”
“Yes,” Seth said, “That was it. Disgrin.”
“So the second letter was probably from the master vampire,” Elvisda declared.
“That makes the most sense,” Seth agreed.
“Well it’s starting to get late,” Elvisda said. “We really shouldn’t stay down here after dark.”
“Probably true,” Glorfindel replied. “In fact, we should go see the Baroness. The town people need to be warned that there are still vampires, and then we need to have a long talk with her ladyship about what we have discovered down here.”
With that the group went back out into the hall. From there they headed north to the chamber with the ladder and climbed back up to the guardhouse.
Once on the surface, they all headed back to the castle to meet with the Baroness.