For what seemed like the hundreth time since riding forth from Wandlesbourne, Théscine examined the parchment scroll given to them by the vampire, her fingers idly tracing the pattern of Eril's family crest in the wax seal. "If she wants our help," she asked, "why won't she let us see what's written inside?"
"It's nothing personal," replied Aldira, "Without the seal, the Reverend Father might not believe it was from her."
"But what's inside?" Théscine asked. "It seems all rather long for just a request to meet him."
"I daresay it contains a confession," opined Firdeth. "She instructed us to give it to the Reverend Father in person, and let no others see it. What else could it possibly say?"
"How about, 'Please execute the bearers of this scroll'," said Lycinia.
"Hmphf!" objected Miolla. "Eril's our friend and would never-- what's that thing?!"
Setup: 4, modified - (was Travel to Monastery of the Blue Stones to deliver Eril's message)
Interrupt: NPC action - summoned demon
Characters: Neldir, the Elders of the Elven Forest, Eril the Vampire, Ranwitha the Pious Merchant, Siorighan MU12, summoned demon, Tibalt & Barnot, dwarven mercenaries, griffon
threads: find Neldir & the book
recover fallen thieves' bodies
In the morning, Eril gives the PCs a scroll sealed with wax bearing the imprint of her signet ring. On the outside of the roll is written "Reverend Father Gelnay de Val d'Oine - Monastery of the Blue Stones". The monastery is but half a day's ride along the coast.
But first, supplies are in order. [Using the d30 Companion makes shopping less sure but more fun. To summarise:
Miolla and Théscine visit the city armour smith, both hoping to buy chainmail; only 1 suit is available, which Miolla buys for 125sp. Théscine agrees that she is more of a front line fighter, and so better deserves it.
Aldira and Firdeth find the alchemist's shop. Sadly, no potions are available. They stock up on normal provisions (iron rations, torches, lamp oil, oilskin cloaks), spending about 75sp.
Lycinia and Debinvarr go looking for horses. In the end, they visit all 3 sellers in the city, in order to buy 6 riding horses with 2 saddlebags each. The total cost comes to 843sp; they trade 860sp worth of gems and jewellery.]
They leave the city about midday, riding along the pebble beach towards the monastery. They are about five miles from their destination, when Miolla spots something glowing faintly in the distance, being carried back and fort by the tide. They approach cautiously. It seems the strange glowing object is caught in a mass of seaweed. No, not seaweed; something large and stringy and and oily-black that seems to pulse and shiver and write in the current. Then it leaps from the water to attack.
[The demon was Summoned by Neldir back in scene 4. It has finally caught up with the party. I didn't so much roll for his spellcasting as I did make sure the random creature produced was one that would allow him a Great Success on the Domination roll, allowing it to perform an extended service, i.e. track whomever the elven Elders sent to find him.
The demon: HD 6, HP 28, AC 18, Move 120', ML 10, Attacks 2, Damage 1-6 (glowing stinger), 1-6 (smoking pseudopods)
-ESP (always on)
-Globe of Invulnerability (always on)
There is no chance of surprise on either side; combat begins.
As the thing rushes out of the surf, Firdeth and Aldira's horses bolt. [I made a morale check for each horse at the sight of the supernatural horror. Only two of them failed. It will take 1d6 rounds for Firdeth and Aldira to re-join the fight. And since riding horses are not good to fight from...]
The rest of the elves dismount to face the beast in mêlée. The demon attacks Miolla twice. She manages to fend off the stinger, but receives a nasty blow [for 4 damage, leaving her at half HP] from one of the flailing, semi-material pseudopods.
But as the thing got so close to her, Miolla is able to strike back at it. Her mace makes a satisfying crunch as it hits the creatures torso [7 damage]. Théscine slashes it furiously with the shining elven blade. Ichor sprays the ground from a deep wound [8 damage; it is down to 13hp]. The thing ignores Théscine entirely, pressing its attack on Miolla. This time the stinger finds its mark, leaving a hole in Miolla's new chainmail, and in Miolla (3 damage; she has 1hp remaining]. Aldira returns, having lept from her horse and run back at full speed. She shouts for her companions to get back from the demon.
The elves all make a fighting withdrawal. Aldira speaks words of power, and a mass of webs appears around the demon -- though all the webbing within ten feet of it shrivels and falls away to nothing. Unimpeded, it strikes at Théscine. The smoky tentacles slam her aside [4 damage, reducing her to 0hp] and she falls to the ground.
Debinvarr sees and opening, and lunges with his rapier, sticking the demon in the side [4 damage, reducing it to 9hp]. But he has overextended himself, and is unable to defend against its stinger, which whips round to catch him between the shoulderblades [6 damage, bringing him to -1hp]. He falls half beneath it. Firdeth runs back, and as she passes Aldira, begins to grow to half again her current size, the recipient of Aldira's spell.
Lycinia adopts a defensive posture; she neither hits nor is hit in return.
Firdeth is not as lucky, stung [for 6 damage, down to 1hp] badly in the stomach.
[round 6. I forgot how to roll anything higher than a 9 on a d20...]
Lycinia forgoes defence and presses her attack. The wild swing barely scraps along the demon's oozing hide [2 damage]. Miolla, who has been hanging back due to her injuries, fears the battle may be lost. She raises her mace above her head and charges the thing, screaming a half-incoherent oath. She brings her weapon solidly down upon the centre of the beast [rolls 19+3, hitting for (8x2=)16 damage, bringing it to -9hp]. The demon dissolves in a cloud of oily smoke and the acrid scent of acetone.
Setup: 4, Travel to Monastery of the Blue Stones with message
Characters: Neldir, the Elders of the Elven Forest, Eril the Vampire, Ranwitha the Pious Merchant, Siorighan MU12, Tibalt & Barnot, dwarven mercenaries, griffon
threads: find Neldir & the book
recover fallen thieves' bodies
After the battle, the somewhat-shaken PCs put their injured friends back on their horses and ride to the Monastery.
The Monastery of the Blue stones is an enormous religious complex, housing a community of at least 300 monks, nuns, priestesses, priests, and knights. It's political clout rivals that of Wandlebourne Cathedral, in whose parish it ostensibly sits. The blue stones from which the monastery takes its name are slate paving stones, remnants of the tiny church which stood on this spot over 800 years ago. It was on these very stones that the conquering warlord Aerdwine (later King, and finally Saint Aerdwine) first felt the blessing of the God of Light, and ordered his soldiers to break off their raid on the little church, and embrace its glorious faith. His Holy Crown is the greatest relic which the Monastery possesses.
When the party reach the monastery, they are met by a rude and quite officious cleric who tries to shoo them away, saying that there are no services until the morrow [initial reaction was 4, Unfriendly]. Aldira explains in no uncertain terms that her friends require healing, for which service they are prepared to offer a fine gold brooch (350sp) to the Monastery's treasury. The cleric grudgingly concedes her point, and they are brought in to an anteroom where they are visited by the healers.
Aldira takes the cleric aside and requests and audience with the Reverend Father Gelnay de Val d'Oine, as they have a message to deliver to him -- and him alone. He refuses out of hand until she shows him the scroll. His eyes go wide when he sees the seal upon it, and he scurries off to find the Reverend Father forthwith.
The party are ushered into the none-too-modest office of the Reverend Father. Rich tapestries line the walls, telling stories from the life of Saint Aerdwine, whose kingly Crown is always woven with strands of real gold. The Reverend Father is a robust man: middle-aged, grey at the temples, but possessed of a strength and vigour the equal of his imposing and austere character. He is clad in simple monk's robes, but the rings glittering on his fingers speak of a background of wealth and privilege [Reaction roll = 12! Helpful].
Aldira hands him the scroll. He examines it for a moment, breaks the seal, then peruses its contents. Abruptly he tosses it down onto his desk amongst the bejewelled codices and silver writing set. He looks up at Aldira and addresses her directly. "Tell me, my child, do you know this region well?"
Aldira can barely suppress a curtsy as she responds, "I grew up in Alder's Well, your Grace."
"Your Grace!" laughs the Reverend Father, "I'm not bishop yet, my child. But I take it, then, that you recognise this seal, and know what it means."
"I do, your G-- I do."
"Then perhaps you can explain to me why my sister has requested that I meet with her, and why she requests that all of you be present at the meeting, and why the rest of this scroll seems to be one long confession..."
In the cold hours before dawn, a procession makes its way north from the monastery; The Reverend Father is in the lead in full ceremonial attire, followed by two junior clerics. Behind them travels the young wizard, Aldira, and five elves. All bear the great, flaming brass torches, symbolic of the Light God himself. They proceed a mile up the road, and at length see a figure ahead in the darkness, sitting upon a worn milestone.
"I got your message," says the Reverend Father sternly, "Now, dear sister, I took a solemn oath that if ever I saw you again, I would destroy you as befits the... the thing you are. What means this?"
"I have something you must see, dear brother," says Eril as she rises from the stone, "something that changes everything. something that proves even you can be wrong!"
"And that is?"
"Behold your precious Crown!" exclaims Eril as she produces it from a cloth bag and sets it boldly atop her head.
"BLASPHEMER!" thunders the Reverend Father, "Unholy monster! How dare you defile-- defile... how can you even touch it?"
"Your Crown," says Eril taking it off and tossing it into her brother's hands. "is a fake."
"I don't understand! Where's the real one?"
"Why not ask du Molleré? He took it on its journey."
"He'd been parading this round for weeks. Can you honestly say he wouldn't have noticed the forgery, even during the daily monstrance?"
"Why are you telling me this? What do you hope to gain? Is this your revenge?"
"My poor, dear brother," says Eril, putting her hand on his shoulder, "you forget I was always the pious one in the family. But tradition must be upheld: the eldest inherits the duchy, the middle child enters the army, the youngest takes holy vows. Otherwise you would rule, Gyves would be the soldier, and I the priestess. I want to uphold the faith. I want to see justice done. And I want to be returned to the fold."
"But your excommunication... your undeath..."
"You swore before the altar of the Light God most high, that you would destroy me should we ever cross paths again. Brother, I want you to be true to your word. But you must absolve me of all my sins, and baptise me again into the faith, and swear that my bones shall rest in the family vault beneath the monastery, lest I be damned for all time!"
The reverend father looks at her, bewildered. Several times he begins to stammer a reply, then abruptly lapses into silence once more. Eril grows increasingly impatient.
"Dawn is nearly breaking!" she exclaims. "If we're to do this, it must be done at the proper time, in the proper way, as the Light God's luminescence once again pushes back the darkness. Brother! You know this is right!"
"Very well," he says, "I concede. But do you have the fortitude to go through with the ceremony?"
"Friend elves," says Eril, "may I please impose upon your kind natures for one last service? I need you to hold me against the boundary stone, facing the rising sun, whilst my brother and his attendants perform the holy rites. You must promise that no matter what I do, no matter how I threaten, or curse, or beg, or plead, not to let go. And when it is done he must drive this stake through my heart, destroying this unclean vessel that my soul might know peace."
Eril sits on the ground facing east, her back against the weather-worn milestone. Lycinia and Miolla, being the strongest of the elves, each take one of her arms, and hold them back against the stone. The others collect around them mournfully, ready to step in should their strength falter. Miolla kisses Eril on the cheek. "You were the nicest human I know," she says.
The first rays of sunlight begin to peek over the horizon. "Let us begin," says the priest. He begins to intone the sacred words of forgiveness, of the cleansing of sins, and of acceptance into the bosom of the Light God's holy congregation. Eril's face becomes bestial at the sound of the prayers, she begins to writhe and spit, screaming foul curses and dark imprecations.
"Hold her head steady!" shouts the Reverend Father. Théscine and Firtdeth grab Eril by the hair, forcing her head back as her demon eyes glare out at them. The attendant priests approach with trembling hands bearing clear glass phials of holy water. They raise the phials to the light of the dawn. "As the Light God banisheth the darkness of night from the world," chants the Reverend Father, "so may this baptism banish the darkness of sin from thy eyes."
The attendant pour the blessed water over the vampires eyes, which begin to boil and smoke from contact with the holy liquid. The vampire lets out a soul-shattering howl. Lycina and Miolla's muscles are strained taut against the furious struggles of the raving vampire. Aldira and Debinvarr add their strength to the affray, trying to pin the vampire's kicking legs down with their weight. Some of the holy water splashes Firdeth's hand, each drop of the sacred liquid burning her fairy skin like acid. But she holds fast, as do they all.
Into the midst of this comes the Reverend Father boldly, hammer and stake at the ready. He positions the stake as best he is able, and with a final whispered prayer, he strikes. A gush of black blood sprays forth from the wound. The vampire emits a last, piercing screech, and then goes limp.
Eril lies against the stone, her features momentarily at peace. Then the years rush to catch up, to overtake her. She begins to wither and fall away, until nothing but a pile of crumbling bones remains on the dewy grass in the morning sunlight.