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!
Maximilian, Lucas, and Ives head back to the Temple of Torm to speak with Meldy. Amethyst and Ularalu tag along. They arrive to a scene. Foulques Delacroix, Idelle Delacroix’s father, is attempting to take the horses that the PCs left at the temple after rescuing him. He argues that they were originally his property before Idelle gave them to the PCs without his consent. The orphans at the temple are reluctant to let their new pets go.
The three adventurers confront the nobleman. Ives appeals to Foulques’ magnanimity and suggests that donating the horses to the orphans would impress his noble peers. Foulques is unconvinced and demands that Lucas continue looking for his estranged daughter. Maximilian suggests that if the orphans and Foulques cannot come to an agreement that the horses be cut in half, and one half be given to each party.
After some debate, the PCs decide that their long-forgotten horses would be useful in tracking down Father Alexandre Anders. They mount up and ride off, after promising the orphans that they’ll return with their caregiver, and promising Foulques that they’ll look for Idelle along the way. Neither the old man nor the orphaned children can really stop the PCs, and they watch our adventurers ride off.
After a few minutes of riding, Lucas remembers the original purpose of his visit to the Temple of Torm, to speak with Meldy. So, our heroes return to the temple, ignore the awkward glances between the children and begin looking for Meldy. Ives and Maximilian spot her, but Lucas is fooled by her orphan disguise. So, he begins shouting her name. “Subtlety is the purpose of wearing a disguise,” states Meldy unhappily.
Meldy and the PCs withdraw to the ruined chapel to talk privately. The PCs learn that Father Anders was seen heading south, and that the priest has a history with Abolson the Vampire, the very same Nosferatu that the our heroes have already encountered several times. Meldy does not know the exact nature of this history, only that it led to Father Anders retirement to the orphanage. She guesses that Father Anders is heading to Aix en Provence, a small town to the south where Absolon once dwelt.
Armed with this new knowledge, our heroes head to the guardhouse to ask for more supplies. They repeatedly mention the great threat they are going to face, and convince Ashoulla to give them her personal healing potions. Satisfied with the results of their shakedown, our heroes swing by to pick up Gabriel Andre Beaumont, then head south.
As night falls, our heroes find themselves in the middle of the swamps to the south of Bonfiant. Maximilian and Lucas argue over where to camp. The rest of the party somehow senses that Lucas has selected the better spot, and Maximilian reluctantly follows.
Ularalu lights a large fire, and everyone settles in for the night. Despite Ives’ magical Rapier of Warning, Maximilian insists on keeping watch. He relents when he sees that Amethyst is staying up as well.
Several hours later, everyone jolts awake as the bullywug which have surrounded the camp spring into attack position. Our heroes strike down several of the frogmen before any of the startled creatures can throw their spears. Gabriel attempts to reason with the bullywug, but is only met with proclamations of their grandeur. The battle goes well until Gabriel loses his footing, and strikes his head against a bullywug’s shield. Sensing an opportunity, the frogmen swarm the fighter and knock him unconscious. Their spears and jaws are somehow able to inflict grevious wounds despite Gabriel’s adamantine armor. Unfortunately for the bullywug, Master Beaumont’s friends are not so easy to subdue. The bullywug attempt to drag Gabriel away, but are cut down before they can get far.
After catching their breath, Maximilian and Lucas notice Ularalu has set large portions of the swamp on fire, and several bullywug have prostrated themselves before Amethyst. Maximilian taunts the bullywug, who respond with impotent threats and bluster. Amethyst claims that it would be “hard to explain” why the bullywug have decided to revere her. Maximilian cuts a leg off of a dead bullywug, roasts it, and holds it to his mouth. Once he gets a reaction from the surviving frogmen, he tosses it aside.
In the morning, our heroes continue south. The bullywug attempt to follow their new leader, but cannot keep up with the horses. Our heroes ride the day away, and arrive in Aix en Provence in the evening. The townspeople are quite unwelcoming. Gabriel attempts to reserve a room at the town’s only inn, but balks at the 10gp per night price, and the 50gp security deposit. Maximilian bribes an old man to get him to talk. The two men trade insults about each other’s way of life. Maximilian does learn that few venture to Calvinus Castle on the outskirts of town, and even fewer return.
As our heroes leave the tavern, they notice that everyone has locked their doors, and few lights shine in the windows. They make camp near the town square, but are chased off by a town watchman. As they leave town, they are approached by a kindly old man. He offers them lodging in his own home. Our heroes are quite suspicious, and grill their new friend about his history and occupation. The man explains that he has lived in Aix en Provence and hunts for a living.
Satisfied with his answers, our heroes head to their temporary abode, a ramshackle hut on the edge of town. They go to bed, but set watches. During Gabriel’s watch, he notices the old man begins to stir. He slowly reaches underneath his bed, and pulls out a long, cloth-wrapped pole. He looks up and sees Gabriel watching him. “What do you have there,” asks the opportunist. The old man smiles and replies, “a spit.” With that, his features begin to contort and twist. His body grows larger, and his fingernails lengthen into dark claws. Awakened again by Ives’ sword, our heroes spring to their feet and battle is joined.
The foul creature unleashes a blast of cold air at Lucas, Gabriel, and Amethyst. Lucas takes the brunt of the attack, and is nearly knocked out by this single blow. The others inflict small wounds on this monster, but as our heroes watch, the monster’s flesh begins to knit back together. Lucas runs outside, chanting healing spells as he runs for the door. Amethyst casually gestures and a spectral hand reaches out for the monster. Her first attempt dissipates harmlessly, but her second attempt clings to the creature, preventing his wounds from closing.
With his regeneration disabled, Maximilian and Gabriel inflict several devastating blows upon the monster. Seeing its end approaching, the creature turns into a cloud, squeezes through a hole in the cabin and flies away. Gabriel and Maximilian chase it, but cannot bring it down. They return to find Amethyst tearing up the floorboards to take the gemstones hidden underneath. Our heroes find several precious stones, as well as three magic items. Amethyst explains that this creature is known as an oni or ogre mage. She guesses that it will hide at least until its wounds have healed, a process which will take several minutes. She also thinks that it has probably cannot cast many more spells for some time. She denies knowing what the old man was before he attacked.
Despite the threat of the oni’s return, our heroes decide to spend the rest of the night in the oni’s cabin. Time will tell whether this was a prudent decision…
Our heroes debate many different ideas for storming the tower. They eventually decide to send Ularalu to scout the tower after the pixie casually mentions that she can turn invisible at will with the power of pixie dust. Gabriel Andre Beaumont asks if the pixie dust will work on him. Ularalu thinks that Gabriel only need believe in himself, and he too can wield the power of pixie dust. The opportunist can almost feel the dust taking effect, but nothing happens. Ularalu concludes that Gabriel must not be pure of heart.
With that, Ularalu heads off to scout the tower. After a few minutes, there is a loud explosion, and smokes begins pouring from the tower. Gabriel sprints toward the sound, and the others follow behind. A group of bandits waits behind a barricade. Unfortunately for them, the barricade offers no protection from Keryassa Flameheart‘s and Jace’s fireballs. Before long, only one remains standing, the well-muscled and good looking Hercule. He goes toe to toe with Jarl, knocking the peredhil to the ground and bringing him close to death. Unfortunately, for Hercule, Jarl’s friends come to his rescue. Before the strongman meets his end, he yells toward the tower, “Beaumont is here!”
Our heroes catch their breath from storming the barricade. Gabriel starts toward the tower, but he is met by a group of bandits walking toward him. Gabriel’s father, Nicholas, is with them, and one of the bandits, a peredhil, holds a knife to his throat. The peredhil introduces himself as Hivan and attempts to convince Jarl to join him. Keryassa and Jarl argue back. Hivan feels that the peredhil are being taken advantage of by the Vitalians, and is seeking to gain power for the peredhil. Keryassa questions the wisdom of joining with the remnants of the Iron Circle to accomplish this. Hivan appears to consider Keryassa’s words, but one of the other bandits, a female peredhil named Saffron, argues that is it too late to turn back now. No one will take Hivan seriously if he simply gives back his hostage. More discussion ensues. Hivan agains seems unsure of himself, so Saffron takes matters into her own hands, and plunges a dagger into Nicholas’ chest. Battle is joined. Hivan transfixes Gabriel in place with some sort of mental illusion, while Jarl heroically drags Nicholas away from his enemies. Lucas is able to revive the old man. Hivan and Saffron teleport away, leaving the rest of the bandits to their death.
Hivan’s tower is filled with treasure, including thousands of coins, a magic broom, bow, and rapier. Our heroes take one of the bandits’ ships, and sail back to Bonifant. Nicholas confronts Gabriel about endangering him with his reckless adventuring, and about using the Beaumont family shipping business as a front for crime. Gabriel has nothing to say. When they arrive in Bonifant, our heroes abandon their boat at the docks. Gabriel evicts the squatter from his father’s house, and begins cleaning it out. Everyone else, heads to the guardhouse. Imara Adelin acknowledges their report, and the PCs ask if there is anything else they can do. Imara doesn’t have anything, but Ashoulla needs help. She tells the PCs that Alexandre Anders is missing. This priest is the caretaker of the orphanage where Ashoulla and Saint were raised.
The PCs head to the Torm Orphanage and interview the children there. They learn that Father Anders was seen talking to a man wearing a dark cloak. This man seems to fit the description of a vampire. A child asks Keryassa to burn all of the beds, and the dragonborn obliges. In the chapel, where this rendezvous took place, the PCs find a large hole in the ceiling, apparently caused by an intense beam of light. Lucas uncovers a secret chamber underneath the altar. It appears that the chamber used to contain weapons and armor, as well as several smaller items. They’ve been recently removed. Jarl recalls a rumor, told to him by Ashoulla, that Father Anders was once an extremely powerful paladin.
The PCs go to convince Gabriel to join them. He asks for another day. He does hand over the sending stone, so Keryassa can contact Meldy about Father Anders. She tells Keryassa to meet her at the orphanage.
Gabriel Andre Beaumont, Jace, Amethyst, and the mysterious ranger are trapped on Noirmoutier Island. They’ve taken cover in some sand dunes from the archers in the tower. Here, they are temporarily hidden from their foes.
Meanwhile, back in Bonifant, Jarl, Keryassa Flameheart, Ularalu, and Jocq D’Gemseer are met by a dwarven member of the city guard. He introduces himself as Kildrak Rockseeker, and informs the party that their friends are in danger. Jocq, perhaps offput by Kildark having a similar accent to his own, is quite suspicious of the dwarf’s motives.
The two dwarves, dragonborn, peredhil, and pixie board Kildrak’s ship. Jocq is still quite suspicious of Kildrak’s motives, and continues to grill the dwarf on why exactly he is helping them. Jocq briefly considers pushing his fellow dwarf overboard, but he is eventually satisfied of Kildrak’s good intentions.
Meanwhile, back on the island, a group of soldiers approaches the dunes and begins searching for the invaders. Outnumbered almost four to one, Gabriel and the others prepare for a desperate final fight. Jace begins edging toward the shore, hoping to delay the inevitable. A soldier comes around the dune that our intrepid rescuers are hiding behind, and battle is joined.
As the villainous kidnappers call out to each other and close in on our heroes, Kildrak’s ship approaches the shore. Jarl, Keryassa, Jocq, and Ularalu disembark and join the fray.
Jace and Maximilian retreat toward their friends, leaving Gabriel and Amethyst to face the brunt of the brigands’ onslaught. Gabriel collapses after being wounded many times, but Amethyst fights on, despite being stuck enough times to kill a normal human many times over.
The kidnappers move to encircle their foes, both old and new. Keryassa, Jace, and Jocq climb atop the sand dunes and fire on their attackers from above. Jocq manages to revive Gabriel from a distance. Ularalu ignites several bandits, before being knocked unconscious. Jocq revives her as well. Amethyst begins to waver, but the others kill the flanking bandits and come to her aid. And so, as quickly as it began, the battle is over.
Jocq stands atop a sand dune, and looks toward the tower. Nicholas Beaumont’s kidnappers appear to be taking up defensive positions. The party begins to debate how to breech this fortress. Keryassa suggests creating a fortress of their own, with the strange cube she has been carrying around in her pocket. Ularalu suggests lighting the tower on fire, before Jarl reminds everyone that Gabriel’s innocent father is probably inside. Gabriel tires of the conversation and begins to stride off to the tower on his own, before he is confronted with the incredible stupidity of that course of action.
Jarl and Keryassa attempt to collect enough money to pay the kidnappers demanded ransom. Unfortunately, Gabriel has already spent all of his money, and Jocq and Amethyst are unwilling to part with theirs. Jocq notices that Amethyst has two large gemstones in her pack. She explains that they have sentimental value to her. Jocq asks to handle them and is rebuffed.
The party licks their wounds and continues to discuss what they should do next. Maximilian spills the beans about Amethyst’s secret. Jocq is smitten by this beautiful, shape-shifting, mind-reading dragon. He converses with her and teaches her about normal behavior among humans. The dragon seems to appreciate the attention. Jarl suggests attempting to deceive the bandits into accepting less money then they’ve asked for, and rescuing Gabriel’s father when he is brought out. The others, for the moment, can not think of a better plan.
Night falls over Bonifant. Jace heads to the Elven Embassy for the night. He discusses his adventurers with Ambassador Sophianya Woodsoul. There’s a fair amount of elven snootiness toward the other races.
Gabriel goes to his father’s old home. It’s been looted and there are some vagrants living there. He pays a vagrant some money to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
Lucas, Gabriel Andre Beaumont, Amethyst, and Maximilian head to the peredhil embassy to once again impose on the kindly race. Foulques Delacrox intercepts Lucas and Maximilian. He complains that he is still unable to locate Idelle, and wants to know where Jarl is with the promised help.
In the morning, Lucas, Gabriel, Maximilian, and Amethyst meet at Uncle Paco’s Crepe Stand. Amethyst chats with Uncle Paco while the others eat. Gabriel asks Paco if he’s seen Augustin Eugene, the man who handed Gabriel the ransom note, so to speak. Paco has seen him, but isn’t able to provide much other useful information. He promises to keep an eye out for Eugene.
The PCs get ready to head out. They agree to look for Hercule, Pierre DuPont‘s old foreman. Pierre’s old spice warehouse seems to be a good place to start. Gabriel pulls Amethyst away from her cooking discussions with Uncle Paco, despite some nudging from Jace to leave her alone.
Hercule has left his old job, and no one knows where he is. Gabriel has several terse conversations at the warehouse, then everyone leaves for the guardhouse.
Maria Pontmercy is not there. Instead, Imara Adelin is in charge. She sends Gabriel along to the records department. The guards are puzzled by Gabriel’s requests for “known associates,” “last known address,” and things of that nature. They are able to tell him the whereabouts of Osark, one of the other men that Selkar suspects. He owns a fancy clothing boutique in the merchant district.
Osark is more interested in selling clothes to the newest heroes of Bonifant than talking about Gabriel’s father. Jace buys a fancy new hat. It’s blue with sparkling stars. Maximilian ducks out of the shop when Osark tries to sell him something. Amethyst persuades Osark to sell her some fine clothes for a heavily discounted price. After some more fruitless questioning, Gabriel gives up and goes to stake out the back of Osark’s shop. Amethyst quickly gets bored and suggests that she can easily find out if Osark is involved in Nicholas’ kidnapping. She enters the store, and a few minutes later comes back out and says that Osark is not involved.
Amethyst notes that in the underdark, when one is looking for a criminal, one usually goes to a place where criminals congregate. With that in mind, the party heads for The Priest and Knight Inn. Gabriel asks Selkar if he’s found anything. Selkar hands him a note, which says that his father is being held on Noirmoutier Island. The note is signed “Archer.” Gabriel gives Selkar the rest of his gold.
Gabriel heads to the guardhouse and asks Imara for a boat. Imara explains that the island is offlimits, and that she will organize a large force to oust whomever is there once she confirms Gabriel’s information. She cannot guarantee that Nicholas will remain safe during the attack. Gabriel repeats his request for a boat. When Imara asks what he plans to do, Gabriel will not say, and Imara tells him to get out.
Down at the docks, Gabriel finds an old man who is willing to rent out his rowboat. Unfortunately, Gabriel does not have any money to pay him. Fortunately, after a few kind words from Amethyst, the old man agrees to give up his boat for free. As the party rows away from the docks, the old man comes to his senses, and begins yelling angrily, but to no avail.
After almost an hour of vigorous rowing by Gabriel, the party arrives at Noirmoutier Island. It is dominated by a central tower, but the party cannot make much else out. They decide to circle around the island, and take in a good view of the island’s beaches and rocky outcroppings. As they complete their circuit, the party is hailed by a larger boat. The dwarf standing in the new boat’s prow explains that he is scouting out the island, and warns our adventurers that Noirmoutier Island is off-limits, and likely inhabited by dangerous outlaws. Gabriel replies that he is not on the island, and so is not breaking any laws. The dwarf continues on his way.
As our adventurers observe the island from a distance, they are startled by a large splash nearby. They soon realize that they are being shot at from the tower. Gabriel begins to row towards the island. Despite his best evasive maneuvers, the rowboat is hit and begins to sink. Our heavily armored friends cling to the wreckage of the boat to avoid sinking. They begin paddling toward shore while Jace flies above. Another ballista bolt lands uncomfortably close.
Suddenly, the PCs are enveloped in darkness. Amethyst’s spell keeps the ballista at bay, for now. Jace flies closer to the island, then retreats from a flurry of arrows. He takes cover in Amethyst’s cloud of darkness. After several nerve-wracking minutes, the PCs feel sand underneath their feet.
However, their relief is short-lived. A voice calls from beyond the darkness, “We have you surrounded! Lay down your weapons and come out!” Jace pokes his head out, only to have a crossbow bolt whizz by it. The PCs prepare for battle, give the signal for Amethyst to dismiss the darkness, and come out firing.
The battle is fierce and over in a few seconds. Seven outlaws lie dead on the beach, and three more stare blankly into space, their minds hypnotized by Amethyst’s spells. Jace is grievously wounded, and only Lucas’ assistance keeps him from joining the ranks of the fallen.
Amethyst interrogates the surviving outlaws. By reading their minds, she learns that there are about forty more outlaws on the island. Some are patrolling, and some are in the tower. After executing the survivors, Jace, Gabriel, Maxamilian, Lucas, and Amethyst make a break for some nearby brush, hoping to hide from their enemies.