Chapter #1069

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2021 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Arusha         human female wizard/alchemist                          +
+   Judhon         gnome illusionist and unwilling servant of Marek       +
+   Ocrivus        human high priest of Athon                             +
+   Paige          human female warrior                                   +
+   Poulos         massive human ex-slave-turned-warrior                  +
+   Williamson     young human soldier                                    +
+   Date:          unknown (over three weeks since arrival)               +
+   Time:          just before dusk                                       +
+   Place:         the dark castle overlooking the town of Holmburg       +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "All creatures feel fear."                                            +
+   "Even the scary ones?"                                                +
+   "Especially the scary ones."                                          +
+                                            - from _Batman Begins_       +

                   MLXIX.  Final Resting Place

  After making their way down an immense spiral stairway, fending off
large numbers of giant bats, and surviving the attacks of a quartet of
vampiresses, the party has reached a subterranean crypt.  Within this
small, dark, cobweb-filled chamber are five coffins.

Ocrivus:  (smiles grimly)  At last...the vampires' lair.
Paige:  (brandishing her flaming sword)  And we're sure they're here?
Arusha:  All four of them were wounded- (she nods to Paige) -one quite
  severely.  Vampires typically retreat to their resting places to heal
  and recover.
Irina:  Especially after being turned by a priest.  (to Ocrivus)  Your
  efforts should still be in effect - they can't attack us unless we
  give them absolutely no other choice.
Ocrivus:  (nods)
Arusha:  (produces a handful of wooden stakes, and a small but sturdy
  mallet)  Moment of truth.  (she looks around)  Who's going to...?
Belphanior:  (sheathes his sword)  I'll do it.  (he takes the tools and
  goes right to the fifth coffin, which is of much finer quality than the
  other four)  Marek first.  The others are hurt, but he's still at full
  strength.  Ocrivus, be ready with that holy symbol and your powers.
Ocrivus:  (joins the elf next to the non-hinged side of the coffin, his
  face set grimly)
Belphanior:  Poulos - you stand on the other side, and pull it open.  We
  need to move quickly and efficiently.
Poulos:  (moves into place, putting his hand on the edge of the coffin)
  Just say the word.
Belphanior:  (readies a stake, still apprehensive about whether Hope will
  also be in the coffin, what state she'll be in, and what choices they
  will have in dealing with her)  Now.

  Poulos yanked the coffin open, and Belphanior lunged forward to plant
the stake and swing the mallet...except that the thing was empty!

Belphanior:  Damn.
Ocrivus:  What trickery is this?
Skektek:  Huh.  (he looks around the small room, then at the narrow hall
  behind the group, half-expecting a surprise attack)
Irina:  He must have some other resting place...elsewhere in the castle.
Paige:  Well, it is a big place.  He could be anywhere.
Judhon:  (starting to worry about what Marek will do when he learns of
  the gnome's betrayal)  What about the other coffins?
Arusha:  (nods)  We need to check them too.
Belphanior:  Right.  Nothing's changed.  (he moves to the nearest of the
  other four coffins)  Same plan, different target.  Let's get this done.

  This coffin was not empty; it contained the blonde-haired vampiress
from the earlier attack in the stairway-shaft.  That hair, and much of
her face, was burned away thanks to Skektek's spell.  Still, the single
intact eye rolled about to stare at those who had disturbed her slumber.

vampiress #2:  (stirs, about to attack)
Belphanior:  (without any hesitation, he puts the stake in position over
  her heart and brings the hammer down, swiftly, three times, driving the
  wooden point deep into the creature's heart)
vampiress #2:  (convulses, shrieking, as her flesh begins to decay into
Razor Charlie:  (watches, grimacing and turning his enchanted dagger over
  and over in his hand, ready to throw the blade if it becomes necessary)
Belphanior:  (grabs another stake and turns to the next coffin)

  The process was repeated three more times, although the third vampiress
had to get blasted with a spell from Skektek while leaping out of her own
coffin, and the fourth vampiress put up quite a fight.  That one - the
well-dressed, dark-haired former noblewoman - actually made it across the
room before getting pinned by a blast of water from the magical flask that
Arusha carried.  Irina then darted in and smote the undead foe with her
mace, driving the latter right toward Paige, who stabbed the vampiress in
the heart.  This combination of attacks caused the creature to transform
into mist, and forced her back into her coffin; after that, she was staked
and her body decayed like the others.

Williamson:  (looks into one of the coffins, still in awe that such dark
  creatures exist and that he just faced them)
Ocrivus:  (smugly)  And now for Marek himself-
Arusha:  Not yet.  (she gestures to the four open coffins, each with its
  own badly-decayed skeleton surrounded by clothes and dust, and each
  with its own stake driven through the middle of a vampiress' remains)
  They're not destroyed...not really.
Belphanior:  I was about to ask.
Skektek:  How do we kill them for real?  What about a fireball?
Irina:  In our own world, it involves decapitation and some holy wafers.
  I'd assume it's the same here.
Skektek:  (disappointed)  So no fireball?
Arusha:  That would only melt all of these coffins, and maybe also set
  the castle on fire.
Skektek:  Oh.
Belphanior:  (muttering to himself)  Decapitation...hmm.
Irina:  What was that?
Belphanior:  Nothing.  (he sighs)  Did anyone bring a saw?
Paige:  (holds up her flaming sword)  We don't need one.
Arusha:  This is simple and quick...sever the heads, or what's left of
  them, then fill the mouth with holy wafers.
Belphanior:  right.  (to Ocrivus)  Did you bring the holy wafers?
Ocrivus:  (sheepishly)  Err...
Arusha:  (removes some from a pouch)  Of course we did.  Who would go off
  to kill vampires without bringing the necessary tools to do so?

  As each vampiric corpse was dealt with, it decayed even further, ending
up as a loose pile of ashes that then disintegrated into dust.

Arusha:  (lays some garlic wreaths inside the fifth coffin)
Irina:  Good idea, in case he ever comes back here.
Arusha:  If he does, he won't be resting in this coffin.
Belphanior:  We need to find Marek, and fast.  It's got to be night by
  now, or at least dusk.  We don't have much time.  (to Judhon)  If you
  had to guess - your first and best guess - where would the vampire be
  right now?
Judhon:  (rubs his gray-stubbled chin)  I'd say the bedchamber, far above
  in one of the towers.  I can show you the way.
Belphanior:  Good.  We've wasted too much time already.
Arusha:  (shaking her head)  No doubt as Marek intended.  His powers are
  likely greater at night.
Belphanior:  If nothing else, we can't break out windows and expose him
  to the sunlight.  (to Ocrivus)  Are you one of those priests who can
  create your own sunlight?
Ocrivus:  Yes...Athon willing.
Belphanior:  Good.  Make sure Athon's ready to help you when the time
Ocrivus:  Athon will aid me in destroying the monster, I can assure you
  of that.

  With that, they made haste, rushing back up the massive spiral stairway
and back into the castle proper.  From there, Judhon led them through a
convoluted series of staircases, chambers, and halls as they steadily
ascended into the upper reaches of the dark castle.

next:       the fate of Hope
released:   4/9/2021
notes:      At first, I toyed with the idea of having Arusha argue that
  the best move would be to leave the other four coffins alone, since the
  vampiresses within had already been wounded and turned and would thus
  not pose a threat to the party anytime real soon.  This idea would have
  caused some debate and argument, and if used would have also had the
  party laying garlic over the coffins to trap their occupants within.
  But...I decided not to pursue this because I felt like it would slow
  down the main story.  Not to mention that Belphanior likely would never
  leave such potential enemies behind.
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