With the staircase apparently blocked by the dread statues, our heroes begin to explore the rest of this floor.
Gabriel leads the way, and finds a door at the end of a hallway. He picks the lock and finds a room lined with shelves full of bottles of blood. Saffron and Lucas both take a few bottles.
Meanwhile, Jocq explores another hallway. Turning a corner, he stumbles upon a horrific sight. A dozen corpses hang from the ceiling. Each corpse is completely drained of blood. Some of the bodies are recognizable as some of the peredhil and dragonborn that accompanied our heroes into this accursed cave. The site is too much for the kind-hearted dwarf, and he collapses unconscious.
Idelle, Heskan, and Havilar rush to the dwarf’s side. The two dragonborn recoil in shock at seeing the bodies of their friends hanging from the ceiling. Motionless, they stare at the sight in horror. Idelle tries to rouse them, to no avail. “Get over here and help!” she yells at the others. Lucas arrives on the scene. Together, the Delacroix cousins wake Havilar, but Heskan and Jocq remain unresponsive.
Saffron and Gabriel remain in the “blood closet.” Gabriel refuses to leave until Saffron does. “What exactly are you expecting me to do?” she asks. “I don’t know what you’ll do, that’s why I’m not leaving you alone in here,” he replies. Saffron smiles playfully, then floats through the wall. Gabriel proceeds to methodically smash all of the remaining bottles of blood.
After a few minutes, Heskan wakes up, but Jocq remains unconscious. Saffron materializes next to the rest of the party, and Gabriel arrives after his bottle smashing escapades. The party anxiously awaits for Jocq to wake up.
All of the party that is, except for Gabriel. The opportunist walks away to explore the rest of the castle. “Where are you going?” asks Heskan angrily. “Jocq is lying unconscious on the ground, and you’re just going to leave him?” “What am I going to do?” replies Gabriel. “I can’t do anything to help.” “You can be there when he wakes up. You can make sure nothing attacks him while he’s lying helpless in this horrible place,” says Heskan. “I’m not going far,” argues Gabriel. “And besides, you’re all there with him aren’t you?” The fighter pauses before continuing. “Do you want me to stay?” he asks condescendingly. “I won’t go anywhere if you want me to stay here.” Heskan glares at Gabriel for a few moments before growling “Do what you want.”
Gabriel waits by Jocq’s side. After a few more minutes, Jocq wakes up. He yells “Those monsters will pay for this!” and charges toward the staircase. Again and again he throws himself at the barrier, while Maglor cackles at him from above. “Good, good, you’re finally embracing the madness,” Maglor taunts. “I’ll show you madness when I get up there,” fumes Jocq. Gabriel and Lucas try to hold the dwarf back, but he still manages to hurl an axe at Maglor. The blade catches Maglor in the chest, where it leaves a small wound. “That’s the spirit!” says Maglor. “Embrace your rage; embrace your anger.” Turning to Gabriel, he says, “It’s not safe; he’s gone crazy. You’d better stab him before he gets you.” “I’ve got another axe laddie, and I’m not afraid to use it,” yells Jocq. Maglor only laughs in response. Jocq finally calms down, and the party leaves the mad elf to his own devices.
Jocq and Lucas enter the hanging corpse room. There is a door at the far end, a passage to the left, and a portcullis to the right. Behind the portcullis is a ragged man. “Please help me!” screams the man. “I’ve been trapped here for so long! Please, let me out, please have mercy.” Gabriel looks at the man skeptically. “What is your name? How long have you been here?” he asks. “I’ve lost track of time,” replies the man. “Please let me out. I’ve waited for so long for someone to come.” Lucas walks closer, looking carefully and closely at the prisoner. As he does so, he realizes that the man is an illusion. Behind him wait a pack of hungry gnolls. They don’t appear to be aware of the party. “Don’t open that gate,” commands Lucas.
Lucas and Jace eagerly discuss how to take potshots at the unsuspecting gnolls. “Why don’t we just ignore them and conserve our resources?” suggests Havilar. “Look what happened when we did that with the wolves,” argues Jace. With that, Lucas walks up to the door and summons a sacred flame on one of the gnolls. It screams in pain, and in unison, the gnolls’ heads snap towards their new foes.
One of the gnolls chants a spell, the gate dissolves, and a ferocious combat ensues. The gnolls’ fury is great, but their martial prowess is not near those of their enemies. One by one, the gnolls fall, cut down by swords or burned alive by magical flames. Despite their heavy losses, the surviving gnolls’ bloodlust is unabated.
Only three gnolls remain. Two are locked in battle with Jocq at the entrance of their liar, and one lurks near the back, firing arrows into the crowded melee. Havilar sees an opening, steps forward and runs a gnoll through. The beast collapses to the ground. She exhales momentarily, but as she does so, the gnoll at the back of the room sees an opportunity. He charges over the body of his fallen ally, and skewers the unsuspecting dragonborn on the end of his spear.
With a triumphant roar, the gnoll falls upon Jocq, but the dwarf easily parries the blow. Gabriel steps forward and dispatches the gnoll from behind. Jace fells the other one with a well-placed fire bolt. With their enemies vanquished, the party turns towards Havilar. The clerics rush to her side, but it is too late, she is dead. Idelle and Heskan bow their heads in silence.
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do,” says Jocq. “You gave her a second chance at life, friend,” says Heskan. “It wasn’t enough!” says Jocq. Heskan busies himself arranging his clanmates’ corpse. Gabriel rests his hand on Havilar’s shoulder in a silent farewell. The others cut down the hanging bodies. The corpses are arranged in dignified fashion, Jocq says a few words, and then the corpses are lit on fire. The party watches silently as the remains of their friends go up in smoke.
With a heavy heart, the party presses on. Jocq opens the door to the next room and walks in. Old, decaying tapestries line the walls of this room. These cloth hangings celebrate the despicable acts of the castle’s vampiric inhabitants. Panel after panel shows vampires killing, torturing, and drinking from the innocent. Jocq is overcome and collapses unconscious again.
This time, the party calmly waits for Jocq to wake back up. Lucas enters the rooms and examines the tapestries, while Jace stands in the doorway. With a look of disgust, Lucas rips a tapestry in two. Unfortunately, this releases a cloud of spores, and both Lucas and Jace begin to cough and choke. Lucas quickly recovers, but Jace continues to gasp for air. Lucas looks on with concern as Jace turns paler and paler shades of blue. With shaking hands, the hapless wizard reaches for a glass vial in his bag. He undoes the stopper and pours the vial’s contents down his throat. Jace gasps for air and slumps to the ground. Once he catches his breath, and snaps at Lucas, “A little warning next time?”
“Sorry,” says Lucas, shrugging. He busies himself burning the rest of the tapestries from a safe distance. Jace stays even further back.
Once Jocq wakes up, the party moves on. They find a room full of dismembered body parts. Gabriel can’t handle the gore, and retreats into his own mind. The others engage several flesh golems and zombies that arise from the carnage. Lucas blocks the entryway with his snake, and one by one, the enemy combatants are picked off.
The next room has three doors along the far wall. Lucas opens the first one, and feels a rush of fear. He is able to compose himself, and stares into the darkness behind this first door. He opens the second door, and is hit by an invisible rush of wind. Squinting through his gem of seeing, Maximillian sees the outline of an elemental. This invisible creature pummels Lucas again and again, while our heroes’ own strikes miss the elemental. Lucas retreats on his broom, but the creature pursues. Idelle casts Faerie Fire, and the invisible stalker is no longer invisible. With its main advantage negated, our heroes make short work of the stalker.
With Cyprien Galehot defeated, Jocq ventures down the hallway the vampire was guarding. The hallway leads to a room with a large table and several white wolves. The wolves do not attack, so Jocq tells the rest of the party what he sees.
The rest of the party moves up and sees the wolves. They decide that a long range attack is the best plan of action. After more deliberation, they decide that Jace is the man to do it. Then, it’s time to decide which spell to use. As the conversation drags on, the wolves decide not to make themselves sitting targets and slink off.
With the wolves out of sight, our heroes decide to leave that room alone, and open a side door. This door reveals another hallway, leading to a staircase guarded by three vampires. The vampires give the usual pronouncement of death and doom, then battle is joined.
Jocq casts protection from evil, which severely weakens the vampires. However, the previously ignored wolves attack from behind, and two more vampires attack from another direction. Maglor expresses surprise when the wolves actually attack him. Saffron is attacked by a vampire and turns ethereal before retreating behind Heskan. Jace collapses after being hit by a blast of cold breath from one of the wolves. Fortunately, the next blast of freezing air passes over his head.
Maximilian runs up and revives Jace, then drops a wolf and a vampire with two well timed shots. Jocq tries to tumble between two vampires and falls flat on his face. From his stomach, he raises his holy symbol. Two of the vampires are unable to stand before this divine power, and they flee back toward the staircase.
Our heroes finish off the remaining combatents, then pursue the fleeing vampires. They find one and easily dispatch it, but the second one is taking shelter with a flesh golem. Jocq suddenly finds himself face to face with an angry golem. After a crushing blow to the head Jocq falls unconscious.
The golem crushes one of the dragonborn before moving on to Idelle. After taking a vicious hit from the golem, she vanishes in a cloud of mist. Heskan attacks the golem, then gasps in astonishment when his weapons do no damage. Idelle reappears and fires two bolts of magic at the golem.
As Jocq slips closer to death, he hears Saffron’s voice in his head. “You’re dying.” “I know,” replies the dwarf. “I could save you if you’re willing to make a deal.” “Thanks for the offer sweetie, but if it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”
Maximilian catches up to the fight and dispatches the golem, then heals Jocq. Jocq pulls a diamond out of his bag and crushes it over the recently deceased dragonborn. She revives. Idelle and Heskan thank the dwarf effusively. “I don’t do it for the praise,” says the dwarf.
After a grueling fight, it’s time to rest. Jace tells a story from his past. The elf shares about a previous quest for knowledge, and its deadly cost. Some time ago, Jace read a magic scroll aloud, without knowing what it did. His friend was sucked into a magical vortex and vanished forever. The other members of Jace’s adventuring party drove him away, and Jace was left to reflect on the consequences of his actions.
Jocq and Heskan express sympathy for Jace and his had tale. Saffron wants to know what spell he actually learned. Jocq chides the blood mage for her insensitivity. Gabriel asks the other dragonborn what her name is. “My name is Havilar,” she replies.
With their rest complete, the party heads up the stairs to come face to face with two terrifying statues. They flank the staircase to the next floor. They are like great figures seated upon thrones. Each has three joined bodies, and three heads facing outward, and inward, and across the staircase. The heads have vulture-faces, and on their great knees lay clawlike hands. They seem to be carved out of huge blocks of stone, immovable, and yet they are aware: some dreadful spirit of evil vigilance abides in them.
No one dares to approach the statues. No one except Maglor. The elf walks right past them, then turns around and asks why no one is following him. Both Jocq and Heskan try to pass the statues, but they are unable to, as if an invisible wall was in the way. The party decides to explore the rest of the floor. Maglor says, “I’ll be here waiting.”
The PCs say farewell to Amethyst and head for the 2nd floor. As they leave, Amethyst offers to teach Jace how to use mind control if he clears the vampires out of the castle. Jace agrees. When they get there, they are greeted by the twin vampires. They welcome the heroes to the floor of strength. They disappear and the PCs are left to face two bone devils. After a terrific struggle, the devils are defeated.
The struggles in the cavern and the castle have taken their toll. After some discussion, the PCs decide to rest. They head back down to the basement, figuring that Amethyst will provide some safety. Amethyst questions the heroes’ courage, and Jarl blames the others for wanting to stop. Jocq and Amethyst converse a little bit.
After a good night’s sleep, our heroes set back out for the upper floors. Upon arriving at the site of their last battle, they find the room completely empty. No sign of the infernal corpses remains.
The party finds three exits from the room. The first is a door encased in ice. Saffron warns against opening it, but Noveena tries to dispel the ice magic anyway. It doesn’t work. The second door is locked. Gabriel picks the lock and finds an empty room with a suit of armor inside. Jocq inspects the armor and finds a poisoned needle hidden in the neck. After disarming it, he notices the armor is magical. After a quick prayer to his god that goes unanswered, he puts the armor on.
The third exit from the room leads to a large, open room with balconies on either side. Over a dozen vampires stand on the balconies, silently watching our heroes pass. The PCs turn a corner and come upon a lone vampire standing in the middle of a large room. " My name is Cyprien Galehot. If you wish to pass, one of you must face me in single combat." Jarl steps forward.
The two warriors exchange pleasantries, then begin a brutal, close-quarters fight. Lucas and Jocq discuss covertly helping Jarl, but the peredhil waves them off. In the end, Jarl stands victorious, although he is grievously wounded, and much of his psionic energy has been expended. During the fight, the vampires on the balcony vanish without a sound. And with that, our heroes forge ahead into the darkness.
Our heroes watch Heskan and his charges as they walk out into the darkness. The light of their torches slowly fades as they disappear from view. Weary from their infighting, our heroes prepare to rest before pressing further into the castle.
Their rest is cut short by the sound of howls and screams. Heskan and the villagers desperately run for the safety of the castle, pursued by a pack of ravenous wolves. One of the villagers trips, and the wolves are instantly upon him. His horrific cries are quickly cut short as he is torn to shreds.
The survivors run inside; Malcer nips inside as well. With a twist of her hand, Saffron slams the door shut. Outside, the wolves feast on their prey, as their mournful howls pierce the night. Several of the villagers cry softly. “There is no escape! Wherever you turn, death is waiting!” screams Malcer. Idelle speaks softly to herself in elvish. Jace’s ears perk up, but he is unable to make out what she is saying.
Maximilian picks up weapons from the bodies of the fallen peredhil and hands them out to the villagers. They look at them unenthusiastically. Jocq tries to inspire the villagers to no avail. Everyone settles down to rest and calm down for a while. Jocq takes the opportunity to talk about his dreams of all races putting aside their differences and fighting together as one. As the dwarf speaks from his heart, everyone begins to listen to his words. Even Maglor is silent. With a renewed sense of purpose, our heroes set out to explore the dark corridors before them.
Jocq takes the lead and carefully proceeds down the hallways. He discovers and avoids several traps, and also finds a secret door. He cannot open it though. After a good deal of exploring, the party comes across a locked door. After Gabriel picks the lock, he is attacked by two vampires. Thanks in large part to some crack shooting from Maximilian, the vampires are easily dispatched, with only Gabriel being hurt.
Once the vampires are dead, the party explores the room. There’s a door on the right-hand wall. Jocq notices a tripwire across the door, and asks Gabriel to cut it. As the opportunist goes to cut the wire, he accidentally activates the trap instead. The ceiling collapses, pummeling everyone with rocks of various sizes. Jocq excitidely notes that some of them should be heavy enough to set off some of the other traps from a distance. He speculates that activating the traps may open the secret door he’s found.
A beefy looking villager offers to hurl the boulder onto a trap’s trigger switch and promptly drops it on his foot. Gabriel takes the boulder and successfully throws on the switch. Unfortunately, he is not standing back far enough, and is blasted by flames. Jocq tries to shield him from the worst of it.
Gabriel refuses to throw the boulder on the next trap switch, so Jocq does it instead. He banks the boulder off of a wall, and successfully avoids the ensuing flames. Unfortunately, this does not open the hidden door. However, it does open a door on the other side of the floor. While the others investigate this, Jocq finally realizes that the secret door can be opened by simply pushing on it. It leads to a downward staircase. The other door reveals a staircase going upwards.
Now that the party has two ways to go, they argue about which path to take. Due to some scary noises from the staircase to the second floor, they decide to go to the basement. Idelle and Heskan agree to stay behind to watch the other staircase.
Jocq rolls his boulder down the stairs. When nothing happens, everyone heads down. They meet a vampire with a pickaxe. The vampire behaves very strangely, as it does not attack them, and instead invites them to come with him. He does not retaliate even when Jocq attacks him. Jace realizes that the vampire is being mind-controlled.
Eventually, everyone follows the vampire. He leads them to a large chamber. In the middle of the chamber, resting on a bed of coins, is Amethyst. She explains that she is mind controlling the vampires to fill in a hole. She doesn’t want her mother to use the hole.
Jocq puts the villagers to work helping Amethyst. Jace asks Amethyst if he can learn how to mind-control vampires. Amethyst seems non-committal. When asked what she will do about the vampires upstairs, Amethyst says it would be nice if the PCs could clear them out. Jocq eagerly agrees to do so.
Saffron, Jace, and the others finish their discussion on blood magic. Maximilian comes down firmly against it, while Gabriel seems more concerned with Saffron character. Noveena argues that since Saffron’s had blood magic since birth, it’s a gift meant to help her fight aberrations. However, when it comes down to a vote, only Noveena gives a halfhearted “yes?” to using blood magic to enslave the vampire lord Absolon. Saffron offers to teach Jace the ways of blood magic at a later date, when there are more available “materials.” Gabriel expresses righteous indignation at the notion.
Their argument is interrupted by Father Alexandre Anders arriving on the scene. As he looks up at the castle, a dozen horrific monsters leap from the castle roof. These unholy combinations of man and bat screech challenges at the priest below. Father Anders chants "Tremble before the lawful fury of Torm. Fear his wrath.” With that, he pulls up the hood on his cloak, obscuring his face. A pair of glowing wings sprout from underneath his cloak, he draws two glowing blades, and launches himself upwards toward the demons above. A palpable aura of menace emanates from him.
Gabriel fires at the bat demons, but misses. Noveena is more accurate, and two of the creatures swoop down towards the party. As they approach, they emit awful shrieks. Maximilian is stunned by their cries, and is easy prey for the monster’s claws. However, the barrage of spells and arrows from our heroes is too much for the man-bat, and Maximilian recovers in time to deliver the final blow. The fight between Father Anders and the other demons moves over the castle and out of sight.
“He is here! It’s happening; it’s finally happening!” laughs Maglor manically. “And stay dead!” yells Maximilian as he repeatedly stabs the corpse of his vanquished foe. Maglor happily watches the bloody ranger mutilate the demonic corpse. Saffron speaks up. “I’m not entirely comfortable bringing that one along,” she says, nodding towards Maglor. “You’ll turn on me first, and soon, you will turn on each other” replies the elf. Jarl notes that Maglor has not committed any crimes, since being creepy and weird is not a crime. Jace suggests that Saffron use her blood magic to enslave Maglor. Saffron is willing to go along with this, but the other party members shoot down this idea. Noveena wonders why the others are so concerned about the evils of blood magic and vampirism, but are willing to use the aberrant items in their possession. Maximilian condescendingly mocks her idealism, and argues that they have other more urgent things to worry about.
In the end, the more impatient party members, Jace and Gabriel, start walking around the castle, looking for an entrance. They find a gate. It is closed, but a vampire opens a small door in the gate and invites them inside.
Jarl takes the vampire up on his offer, walks forward… and plunges into a pit. There is a gelatinous cube in the bottom, which proves to be only a minor inconvenience. When the party looks up after finishing off the cube, the hospitable vampire is gone. Most of the party ventures inside, but Gabriel, Jace, and Maximilian remain outside.
Upon entering, the party sees two cages in the center of the room. They are filled with old acquaintances. Peredhil, dragonborn, and humans from Aix en Provence are all represented. The cages are barred, not locked, so Jarl and Heskan quickly free the captives. As they look up from this task, they are greeted by two identical, familiar looking vampires. They say, “Welcome to the Floor of Illusions. Welcome to the Room of Rage.” As they speak, a feeling of overwhelming anger comes over everyone in the area. Jace, Maximilian, and Noveena are able to overcome it, but everyone else lashes out at those nearby.
The villagers fall quickly, being no match for the trained warriors they are fighting. Jace attempts to halt the carnage by conjuring an enormous spider web in the middle of the combatants. As the fighters become entangled in the web, the carnage slows, but does not stop. Jarl gains control of himself, but is surrounded by an enraged Gabriel and several furious peredhil. Once Maglor cuts down several peredhil and villagers near him, he moves to join this other melee. Noveena takes down a villager, apparently in self-defense, then begins attacking Maglor.
Gabriel and Maglor regain control at about the same time. Despite this, Gabriel is not ready to stop fighting. Pretending to still be enraged, but fooling no one, he kills another angry peredhil, and then attacks Maglor. Horrified, Maximilian runs into the room, and clocks Gabriel on the back of the head, knocking him out.
Maglor heals himself, laughing all the while. “I didn’t need your help,” he tells Maximilian. “I could have handled him just fine.” “That’s what I was afraid of,” retorts the ranger. “It’s finally happening!” Maglor repeats. “Just like thirty years ago! Except this time I’m underground, instead of up there in Aix en Provence. Will I be the only survivor again? Is it my destiny?”
The others discuss what to do about Gabriel. They send Maglor outside. As he leaves, he repeats his predictions of doom. “We’ll all turn on each other. It’s begun!” “He’s actually starting to make sense,” admits Noveena. After taking his weapons, Maximilian heals Gabriel, causing the fighter to regain consciousness. Gabriel argues that he killed the peredhil in self defense, and that he only wanted to teach Maglor a lesson. Others point out that both Noveena and Jarl attacked other people after they regained control. They defend themselves, and accusations fly. What was truly self-defense? Did Noveena really need to defend herself against a stick-wielding villager? Why couldn’t Gabriel have used non-lethal force? Is it ok to only use non-lethal force for the final knockout blow? Instead of pointing fingers, we need to kill the vampire that’s responsible for this, argues Noveena. All of these points are vehemently argued as the party licks their wounds.
We begin again with the explosion in the entrance to Lord Absolon’s cave. Lucas and Jocq are trapped under the rubble with Saffron, Hivan’s assistant. Lucas and Jocq try to find a way out, to no avail. Saffron offers to teleport them to safety, which she does.
The three of them find themselves in a chamber beside a stone table. The table has chains on it, and troughs beneath the table run toward five stone thrones. The three adventurers discuss the disturbing truth, that this room is probably used for human sacrifice. As they turn to leave, a suit of armor by the door comes to life and attacks! The armor is quickly knocked to pieces, but not before Lucas and Jocq are both wounded.
The two clerics and the sorceress leave the sacrificial chamber and head down a flight of stairs. Lucas notices a suspicious pressure plate at the bottom of the stairs. He retrieves a piece of the vanquished armor, wedges it under the plate, and the adventurers are able to proceed.
After some more waking, they find themselves at the top of a large cliff. A switchback trail heads down the cliff. As they descend, they see a point of light below. It is the other party members. After a brief reunion, and some note comparing, the reunited party proceeds onwards.
They encounter some vampires. The vampires rudely ignore the party, and instead converse among themselves. They identify the PCs as “flunkies for the lightning witch.” Maximilian guesses that they are talking about Meldy, and fingers the stone in his pocket. Once the two sides get around to fighting, the vampires’ bravado is quickly destroyed by a devastating fireball from Jace and a casting of turn undead from Lucas. Two of the vampires run for their lives, and only one of them escapes.
Among the ashes of one vampire, the party finds a cold, white gem. Upon looking through it, they realize that it bestows the power of truesight. Maximilian takes possession of the gem. The party rests and Noveena explains her hatred of all things aberrant. This leads to a spirited discussion about whether the party should destroy the aberrant items in their possession. They decide that the middle of a vampire lair is not the best place to try and destroy strange items with mysterious powers. Gabriel does stop using his aberrant dagger.
As the party continues on, they realize they are being stalked by a displacer beast. They turn around and kill it. After the fighting, Maximilian realizes he feels uneasy. He senses some sort of malignant presence lurking in the center of the cavern. Lucas and Jocq throw glowing rocks in the direction indicated. They reveal a large castle, stretching almost to the cavern ceiling.
Gabriel clenches his fists as the twin vampires proclaim doom and destruction upon the expedition. When the runes go off, he’s caught in the fiery blast. As the dust settles, he notices two things: a nearby dragonborn trapped under the rubble, and a ghast rushing towards him.
Gabriel makes quick work of the monster, then frees the dragonborn from the rubble. The dragonborn introduces himself as Hirash Heskan. Heskan explains that he’s already been briefed on Gabriel and his companions. “You’re an excellent fighter, you’re rude and uncouth, and you have a penchant for thievery.” “All true,” replies Gabriel.
This new duo climbs up the rubble, onto the balcony where the vampires once stood. It’s slow going, since Heskan’s been injured by falling rocks. Gabriel looks back for his friends, but sees nothing but dust and rocks. Moving forward, they pass though a chamber supported by pillars carved to resemble anguished humans. “Unsurprising,” remarks Gabriel. “They seem to delight in suffering, especially when it’s humans.” Heskan remains silent.
At the end of the chamber is a small passageway. It leads to a hole in the wall of a large cavern. Gabriel wedges his grappling hook in between two rocks, then climbs down. With some assistance, Heskan climbs down as well. They begin exploring this new cave, keeping the wall on their right. Before long, they see torchlight approaching from the other direction.
Maximilian is carrying the torch. Jace, Ives, Jarl, and Noveena, an elf, and a ghoul are with him. The two groups exchange stories. Maximilian insults the dragonborn empire. Gabriel expresses concern over Ives’ condition. Ives and Jace want to rest, but Maximilian wants to keep looking for survivors. They compromise an a brief rest. Gabriel tells a story of the first time he handled a scimitar. He bested his instructor on the first try. His teacher was impressed, but his father was not. After an hour, everyone continues walking along the wall, in the direction that Maximilian’s group was headed in.
After several hours, the wall begins to bend towards the right. As the adventurers round the bend, several hundred bats swirl overhead. Some of them are unnaturally large. Suddenly, with a flurry of wings, the bats swoop down and attack! The large ones make easy targets from Ives’ and Maximilian’s arrows. The small ones are more difficult to eliminate, since there are so many of them. The elf cackles and laughs, even when the bats’ claws draw blood. His pet ghoul snatches at the swarms with his claws, then eats the ones he snags.
After his earlier encounter with the wraith, Ives is barely hanging onto life. The ranger attempts to keep himself between Ives and the bats, but it’s hard to shield someone from flying creatures. With his lifeforce almost gone, a single pass from a swarm could be enough to kill the rogue. Unwilling to die here, Ives summons the aberrant fortress. Scores of bats are crushed beneath it.
The strange elf’s mouth drops open. He stares at the fortress in amazement. Almost in a daze, he walks over and touches it. The wall yields slightly to his touch. Horrific facsimiles of the crushed bats appear on the castle, and tendrils snake out to consume nearby bats. “Never seen anything like this before, weird elf?” asks Maximilian. “My name is Maglor,” replies the elf. Jace fries dozens of bats with blasts of fire. Heskan draws two swords and waits for the bats to swoop down on him, before cutting them down.
Perhaps slightly disturbed by the fortress’ behavior, Ives picks it back up. Maglor looks disappointed. The last few remaining bats are cut down. Maximilian turns to examine the bend in the cave wall. It’s a gradual bend, but eventually the wall makes a 90 degree turn. “Well, it looks like this is as far as this side of the cave goes. We should head back to see if anyone else has found a passageway out of the original room.” Everyone begins the several hour trip back to the original passageways. Gabriel notices a dark statue with dull, red eyes looking down at him from above. He shoots at it, and it vanishes into thin air. No one else notices the statue.
After a few more hours of walking, Jace begins to grow restless. “We’ve almost arrived at the passageway Gabriel came out of,” announces the ranger. “We’ll walk fifteen minutes past the passageway we came from and then rest for the night.” “What happened to looking for survivors?” demands Jace. “Now you’re OK with leaving them to die.” “It makes sense to wait by these entrances to see if anyone else comes this way,” says Maximilian. “Then why did we walk for hours in one direction?” asks the wizard incredulously. “We needed to see if there was anyone in that direction, and now we need to see if there’s anything in the other direction. Besides, Ives is hurt and he needs to rest.” “Oh, so now you care about Ives.” “I kept him safe during the battle with the bats. We just need to scout a little more and then rest.” “Rest and let all those people die?” asks Jace sarcastically. “The infighting has already begun!” exclaims Maglor. “Jace, what do you suggest we do?” asks Gabriel. The argument gets rather heated, but in the end Maximilian refuses to back down, Gabriel and Heskan back him, and Jace sullenly tags along. “She’s my sister, damn it!” exclaims the ranger to himself.
Another half hour of walking reveals nothing except the two entrances that the various party members came out of. Maglor continues to preach his message of doom and despair. Finally, Maximilian spots some light in the distance. It turns out to be Idelle and two dragonborn. All three are wounded; one dragonborn is resting on a makeshift stretcher. Maximilian casts some primal healing magic on the bedridden dragonborn, who begins to stir.
Idelle explains that her party climbed into the enormous cavern from a hole in the cavern floor some distance away from the wall. They carried their wounded friend to the wall, and have been resting and waiting for someone to find them since. Heskan and Idelle speculate that most of their companions are probably dead. “All of us were dead the moment we stepped through those doors,” says Maglor. “The ones who died first were the lucky ones. They won’t have to witness the infighting and cannibalism.” “If you don’t have anything constructive to say, be quiet,” snaps Gabriel. “No one can say anything constructive in here. It’s all pointless; all of it!” With this, Gabriel rushes the elf and sticks a gag in his mouth. This only momentarily silences Maglor, as he kicks Gabriel backwards and draws his sword. “The fighting’s going to begin sooner that I thought,” he says. “I don’t have a quarrel with you,” says Gabriel. “But I want to quarrel,” says Maglor. Heskan steps between the two combatants. Maglor looks eagerly at Gabriel, but when the opportunist refuses to draw his weapons, the elf disappointedly puts his weapons away.
Maximilian asks if he can speak to Idelle in private. Once they are alone, he cautions her to contain her surprise, and then tells her his true identity, Maximilian Delacroix, Idelle’s older brother. The siblings share an embrace, although Idelle is more enthusiastic about the hug. Maximilian explains that he kept his identity a secret to keep his family safe, but he couldn’t anymore, not with death so near. Idelle explains that her alliance with Hivan is only a means to an end, and that she’s aware of his evil deeds. She also tells Max that she can take care of herself. The two agree to keep their relationship a secret from the rest of the group, and agree to tell the others that they were merely discussing the road ahead.
Meanwhile, Gabriel has a heart-to-heart with Heskan. The two warriors share stories about meeting different races and cultures, and the differences and similarities between humans and dragonborn. Heskan talks about the importance of clan, and his desire to bring glory to his clan. They talk about the one dragonborn Gabriel has known, Keryassa Flameheart. Gabriel mentions his desire to be there for his family, his voice tinged with pain as he remembers the rift between them.
While his two human friends engage in conversation, Jace slips into a meditative trance. It’s disturbed by a strange voice in his head. “Why that’s a mighty nice hat you’ve got there, mister,” says a strange jellyfish creature. “My name’s Mr. Flumph, what’s yours?” “Jace,” replies the wizard. “Where did you come from?” he asks. “I’ve been wandering around these caves, ever since I got separated from my friends.” “Can I touch your hat?” “Sure.” “It’s so soft and smooth; it feels so nice.” With that, Mr. Flumph merges into Jace’s hat. The wizard is disturbed by this, but quickly realizes that he’s gained some mental abilities while Mr. Flumph is merged with his hat. “Will you stay with us after we leave this cave?” he asks. “I don’t know; we’ll see how fun you are,” replies Mr. Flumph.
The rest of the party prepares to rest for the night. Maglor turns towards his pet ghoul. “I’m sorry Petrov,” says the elf before cutting the ghoul in half. “Why did you do that?” asks Gabriel. “Ghouls can only deny their natural urges for so long,” says Maglor. “Despite their outward veneer of civilized behavior, in the end they cannot resist their primal urges to eat and kill.” He pauses and grins creepily. “In that way, they’re not so different from you and I.”
After a brief discussion about who will take what watch, the party rests for the night. Once his meditation is over, Jace spends his time copying a new spell into his spellbook while his companions sleep peacefully, within the depths of the vampire lord’s lair.
The unnamed man’s lifeblood slowly seeps into the sand and stones. Saffron smiles to herself as she begins drawing arcane sigils on the cliff face. There a crack and a smell of sulfur on the air. Now, the cliff looks different. Where there was once blank stone, now stands an ornate facade. Foreboding vampiric statues glare down from their recessed alcoves. The large, intricately carved, wooden doors slowly swing inward. A faint odor of rot and decay lingers in the air.
Ularalu speaks up. “I’m not going into that horrible place.” She shivers. “I’ve had a bad feeling on this trip the whole time and now I know why. There’s nothing good in there, I know it! Nothing but darkness and death. It’s a terrible, horrible place and I don’t know why anyone would want to go in there and Keryassa’s dead and you just keep moving ahead and you just left her up there and it’s like you don’t even care!” With that Ularalu will flies away. Ives yells after her, “There might be things to burn inside!” Even that promise is not enough to stop her, and no one else tries.
Idelle’s pet lizard jumps out of her arms and begins swimming back to the boat. “Really?” says Idelle. “How typical.” “Looks like you can’t even handle a lizard,” Jace snidely remarks. “I suppose you’re right,” says Idelle demurely.
“If everyone’s done defecting, shall we go inside?” asks Saffron. Everyone heads inside. The peredhil, dragonborn, and Maximilian light torches. The doors swing shut, trapping everyone inside. Ives runs up and pushes on the doors. They don’t budge.
The torchlight reveals a large atrium with a balcony at the far end. Four rows of columns run the length of the room. There isn’t much time to take this in, because the sounds of growls and snarls come from beyond the entryway. A horde of ghouls charges into the room. Jace obliterates a half-dozen with a fireball. The others fall almost as quickly. With the exception of one unfortunate dragonborn, all of the “good guys” survive. The strange elf now has a pet ghoul. The dragonborn prevent the ghoul from feeding on their fallen friend.
Two identical vampires step onto the balcony. One raises his arm and begins to speak. "Lord Absolon welcomes you to his home. You have done well to defeat the doorkeepers, but know this: no one has ever left this place alive; powers stronger than you have tried and failed. You have dared to challenge a vampire lord in his sanctum, and now you shall suffer the consequences. Those who die quickly shall be counted fortunate by those who remain.” “We accept your challenge,” replies Jarl. The vampires smiles and snaps his fingers.
Suddenly, multiple runes light up on every pillar. Several people recognize these sigils as Glyphs of Warding. These runes remain invisible until triggered, at which point they explode. The runes do in fact explode, bringing the ceiling down on the unfortunate adventurers.
Maximilian, Jace, Jarl, Ives, and a peredhil find themselves separated from the rest of the group. Due to skill and/or fortune, only Maximilian is singed by the flames, and no one is pinned down by the falling rocks. From the cries beyond the rubble, our heroes surmise that some of their friends were not so fortunate.
As if it was planned, another group of ghouls rushes into the room, hoping to feast on some unfortunate souls pinned beneath the cave in. Judging from the screams and shrieks, some of the ghouls find easy prey. However, the ghouls attacking our group of five does not find anything easy. With a wave of his hands, Maximilian conjures a tangle of thorny vines in the path of the charging ghouls. They struggle through the thicket, the thorns tearing at their flesh. By the time they reach our heroes, they are dispatched with ease.
Now that the fighting dies down, Maximilian, Jace, Jarl, and Ives turn toward the new peredhil. She is outfitted for combat, as most peredhil are, and also seems to possess a singularly inquisitive nature. She peppers all of her new friends with questions, and writes down their answers in a book.
Jace grows impatient and suggests they move on. Jarl offers a compromise of moving and talking. Our heroes make their way out the atrium, through a narrow passageway, and into a large cavern. With their limited torchlight, they cannot see any walls or ceiling. Only the peredhil, Noveena, with her magically enhanced vision, can see the ceiling.
At Jarl’s urging, Maximilian fires a flaming arrow into the air. It briefly illuminates the cave and scares a few bats. It also attracts the attention of more unsavory creatures. Several strange apparitions begin flying toward the party. Jace and Maximilian recognize them as specters, but only Jarl identifies one as a deadly wraith.
The specters encircle the party and combat begins. Thankfully, most of the party carries magical weapons that can effect the specters’ incorporeal bodies. The wraith charges Ives and drains the rogue’s lifeforce. He withers before our heros’ horrified eyes, and can barely stand. He reaches into his bag with trembling hands, and pulls out a fleshy cube. The cube expands into a fortress, crushing the wraith beneath it. However, the wraith phases through the walls, and avoids being completely destroyed. Jarl charges the hateful appirition, and deals it a grievous blow.
Jace, tired of the specters’ sucking, retreats into the castle. Ives charges the wraith and stabs it in the back. His magical rapier disrupts the wraith’s form, and with an unnatural scream, it disintegrates. “Vengeance!” cries the rogue.
One by one, the specters are picked off. Ives bravely charges and stabs another one. Once the last specter fades into nothingness, Ives shrinks the fortress back down into a cube. “You must destroy that abomination!” demands Noveena. “I agree” says Ives, as he puts the cube back into his bag. The two adventurers continue to argue about the fate of the strange device. Jarl sides with Ives, prompting a “They were right about you” barb from Noveena. In the end, Ives refuses to destroy the aberrant fortress, and the party continues on.
After a short walk, the party comes across the strange elf, Maglor, and his pet ghoul. Both are covered in blood. Maximilian chooses to believe it’s ghoul blood, shuddering at the alternative. Noveena is eager to find out all she can about this strange elf, and peppers him with questions, much to Jace’s annoyance. Maglor expounds on his admiration of Lord Absolon and his desire to meet the vampire lord. He claims that the cavern they are in is infinite, and that they will be lost forever, until they cannibalize each other. “Hopefully it won’t come to that,” says Jarl. Finally, at Jace’s insistence, the party moves on.
Perturbed at the notion of an infinite cavern, Maximilian suggests that the party retrace its steps and find the original wall. They do so, and after some walking, they find a wall. “Now,” explains that ranger, “we simply follow the wall, and we’re sure to find another exit.”
Jarl arrives in Aix en Provence. He finds his friends emerging from Calvinus Castle. They exchange pleasantries. While they are doing so, Maximilian stumbles out of the forest. He has clearly been sampling the local “herbs.” None of companions comment on this.
Feeling emboldened by their reinforcements, our heroes decide to return to the basement of Calvinus Castle. Keryassa somehow manages to force open the stone coffins beneath the keep. One vampire remains asleep when his coffin is opened, and Keryassa drives a stake through his heart. The other one wakes up, and puts up a brief fight. Lucas urges his friends to keep the vampire alive so he can be questioned, but Keryassa kills the him anyway.
Our heroes search the rest of the castle. Jarl finds a journal written by the late Pierre Calvinus. It describes his slow descent into madness upon the arrival of an advisor Absolon. Unfortunately, it offers no clues on where to find this Absolon now. With all of their leads seemingly exhausted, our heroes decide to camp in the castle, in hopes of another lead magically showing up. Afternoon turns to evening, and as the full moon rises above the trees, Keryassa begins to undergo a shocking transformation.
Her teeth and claws lengthen, and hair begins to protrude from her scales. Unleashing a bestial howl, she transforms into a werewolf. Through her rage and fury, she manages to focus on the person in the room she hates the most, Amethyst the dragon. She claws and bites at Amethyst, who manages to dodge most, but not all of Keryassa’s attacks.
Everyone else begins attacking Keryassa with impunity, presumably hoping to knock her out. Before they can, not one, but two onis suddenly materialize in the room. As our heroes turn to face this new threat, their eyes are somehow drawn back to Amethyst. She appears to grow larger, the windows of the room fly open, and an immense pressure seems to emanate from the dragon. The wind outside sounds like the growl of an immense beast. Almost everyone, friend and foe alike, are terrified by this display of power. Their hands tremble in fear, and they are unable to even approach Amethyst. Even Keryassa rage is not enough to overcome this fear, and she turns her attention to one of the onis. Unfortunately, the oni proves to be more than a match for her, and she falls to the ground, bleeding from several spear wounds.
One by one, the combatants overcome their fear of the shapeshifted dragon, and begin focusing on the onis. One oni falls, and our heroes swarm the other one. The devious monster, seeing his opportunity, unleashes a Cone of Cold upon his huddled enemies. Keryassa’s unconscious form is also caught in the blast, and her life is snuffed out.
Reeling from shock and cold, our heroes prepare for a desperate final assault. Before they can, something snaps in Amethyst, and she steps forward. She begins to grow and shift, discarding her human form, for a draconic one. She easily tears the oni to shreds, and reverts to her human form.
Ignoring the dragon in the room, our heroes eagerly loot the dead bodies. Keryassa’s magic items and coin are doled out. Then, the party decides what to do next. Jarl insists that Keryassa body be brought back to Bonifant and given to her next of kin. No one else has any ideas, so after a good night’s sleep, everyone sets out for Bonifant.
As our heroes pass through the village of Aix en Provence, the villagers gather to stare and gawk. “That’s it, you’re just going to leave?” shouts one villager. “You’ve just made them angrier!” “Made who angrier?” asks Jarl. “The oni.” “We just killed them” says Lucas. The villagers ask for proof, so the adventurers bring back the oni’s dead bodies. Lucas kicks one, and emboldened by this, the villagers join in until Jace once again conjures up a foul smell.
Finally willing to talk, the villagers point Jarl and the others in the direction of the nearby cliffs. That is where Father Anders was headed, they say. The party dutifully heads in that direction, after leaving Keryassa’s body with the villagers.
On the edge of the cliff, the party encounters a strange elf with a wispy beard, wearing dented armor. Jarl engages him in conversation. The elf explains that he is trying to get down the cliff. He also says that he knows Father Anders, although he does not say how.
Lucas ferries everyone down on his broom. Once down, the elf begins poking at the cliff face. “There must be a way to get in!” he says. With further questioning, the party discovers that this is the hidden liar of Lord Absolon. The elf says that he has to see the vampire. Jarl mistakenly claims to have Lord Absolon’s journal. The elf snatches it up eagerly, then quickly drops it when he finds out it does not belong to the vampire lord.
A ship that Maximilian recognizes as being worthy of the Tour de Vitalio anchors offshore. A boat brings eleven people to shore. It’s Idelle and ten dragonborn. Idelle explains that the dragonborn are her bodyguards. The captain of the dragonborn introduces himself as Hirash.
The boat returns with eleven more passengers. It’s a group of peredhil, with Hivan and Saffron among them. Idelle and Hivan explain that they are working together to gain entrance to Lord Absolon’s lair. Jarl asks if they can join this expedition. After conferring for a bit, Idelle and Hivan agree. Jarl asks if their goal is to kill the vampire lord. At the same time, Hivan says “No,” and Idelle says “Yes.”
Hivan explains that he hopes to control Lord Absolon, and use his power to bring about a peredhil empire. He will not say how exactly he plans to do this. The PCs and the peredhil have a conference apart from Idelle and the dragonborn. They agree to have each other’s back in case of a quarrel.
With that settled, the next task is to gain access to the fortress. The boat returns again with a bound human sitting in the bottom. As the peredhil drag him toward the door, their intent becomes clear. They will open the door using human sacrifice. Jarl protests. Hivan claims the man is a member of The Iron Circle, and deserves his fate. Jarl argues that the man deserves his day in court, but Hivan will not listen. Lucas puts his hand on Jarl’s shoulder and says “Let it happen.” Jace mutters “We’re outgunned.” The other peredhil block Jarl’s path to the prisoner. The unfortunate man is dragged in front of the door, where Saffron slits his throat. Then, she dips her hand in the man’s blood and draws several arcane symbols on the cliff face. With a flash and a smell of sulfer, the cliff face transforms, revealing the entrance to Lord Absolon’s fortress.
Jace arrives in Aix en Provence around the same time that Lucas, Gabriel, Amethyst, and Ularalu are getting up after spending the night in the oni’s shack. The villagers regard Jace with mistrust.
After some discussion, the party heads to the ruins of Calvinus Castle. The courtyard is empty and bare, and there’s dried blood crusted on the walls. The only building that’s still standing is the keep. Ularalu is convinced to fly up and take a look at the roof of the keep, which she promptly sets on fire. Then the PCs get her to burn down the doors to the keep. Gabriel and Jace are caught in the explosion and suffer minor burns.
Gabriel storms through the door and falls through a pit trap. Everyone else flies over it, with the exception of Amethyst, who jumps. Lucas helps Gabriel out, then the party proceeds into the keep. They find a vampire waiting for them. "You have meddled in things you do not understand. For this, you must die. Your blood shall slake my eternal thirst.” proclaims the vampire. He is joined by several zombies. After a brief battle, the undead are vanquished. Gabriel is the only one ever in any danger, as his companions fly for most of the battle.
As our heroes collect themselves after the battle, the room suddenly grows unnaturally quiet. Rising from the floor is a terrifying specter. Only Lucas is able to remain calm. The ghost, an emaciated young boy, demands his family’s silver chalice, which has been stolen by harpies. Lucas agrees to retrieve it. The boy points them in the direction of a stand of trees on the far side of the castle.
But first, our heroes head back to the village to rest. The villagers are as (un)welcoming as always. Jace causes some of the most unfriendly ones to smell a foul odor, befitting their foul attitudes toward strangers. For some reason, the party decides the oni’s old shack is the best place to rest.
Of course, the oni shows up the greet them. Lucas quickly realizes that his side is at a disadvantage fighting in an enclosed space, and shudders as he remembers the oni’s icy spell. He points at the oni and speaks in a commanding voice, “FLEE!” The oni attempts to resist, but he cannot. With anger on his face, he flees the cabin. Once outside, everyone spreads out to avoid being caught together. Everyone takes turns hitting the oni. Before they can kill it though, it turns invisible and escapes.
Lucas wracks his memory for a foolproof way to kill this creature. Unfortunately, he cannot recall any silver bullet. It appears that the oni simply must be struck down before it has a chance to flee and heal.
As revenge for disturbing their rest, the adventurers burn down the oni’s shack. Then, they head into the woods to complete their rest. Amethyst, who was missing during the oni fight shows up. Gabriel demands to know where she’s been. “Getting some food,” replies the dragon. Amethyst explains that the villagers had no qualms about helping her. Gabriel suspects mind magic.
After a brief siesta, the party heads to recover the silver chalice. The harpies’ nest is located on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. As our heroes approach the cliff, the harpies begin to sing.
To most, the harpies’ song sounds like the most horrific screeches imaginable. But to Gabriel, they sounds like the music of heaven itself. Tears spring to his eyes, and he runs toward the sound of the music, and toward the perilous cliffs as well.
The others spring into action to save him. Ularalu conjures up a huge wall of flame, burning the harpies, and putting an obstacle in between Gabriel and the cliff. Unfortunately, neither the heat from the flames, nor the pain of being burned is enough to snap Gabriel out of his trance. Lucas and Jace shoot fireballs at the harpies that are far enough away from Gabriel.
Gabriel finally wakes up. The other harpies gang up on him, but once their spell has been broken, they are not very effective combatants.
Once the harpies are dead, the PCs loot their nest. They find the chalice, as well as a good amount of other treasure, all hidden under a disgusting mess of feathers and excrement.
The PCs take the chalice back to the ghost. They place it on his grave, and it sinks into the earth. Lucas asks the ghost if he’s seen Alexandre Anders. The ghost says he has. Gabriel asks when. The ghost replies cryptically, “a long time ago and a short time ago.” He explains that he has trouble keeping track of time. He also says that a long time ago, the paladin and vampires were both there, and everyone in the village died, except for one young elf, and the people locked in the castle basement.
The PCs head down to the basement. They find two coffins, which they leave alone, and they head back to town.
Special thanks to Tommy (who probably will never read this), for doing an excellent job playing Ularalu!