Chapter #896

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

+     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       +
+   1991-2005 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!                                          +
+   "It's good to be a myth."                                             +
+   "Yeah, no one hunts for a myth."                                      +
+           - Methos and Duncan McLeod, from _Highlander:  The Series_    +

                   DCCCXCVI.  Trilogy of Terror

+   Date:          11/13/575 C.Y. (Common Year)                           +
+   Time:          the dead of night                                      +
+   Place:         somewhere in the Clatspur Mountains                    +
+   Climate:       cold, with a chilly, biting wind                       +

  The bat sailed through the night air, its leathery wings beating almost
silently as it flew through the shadows.  The moon was a crescent in the
sky above, its light obscured every time a cloud passed by.  Nothing else
shared the sky tonight; no birds flew, no insects chirped.  The bat soared
along, following the winds across the rolling hills and plains that
surrounded this mountainous area.  The bat was little more than a shadow
amidst a night of shadows...and yet, it was so much more.
  More to the point, it was hungry.
  This was no mere bat; rather, it was a shapechanging creature of great
age and power.  Hiding by day and roaming by night, it took the blood and
the life of others to sustain its own.  Sometimes, it appeared as it was
now:  a large, black bat that roamed the night skies, searching for prey.
Other times, it appeared as a tall, pale human female with jet-black hair
and a lethally seductive temperament.  In that form, the vampire could
pass for human, and often did.  This was as much out of habit as
convenience; after all, the undead creature had once been human.  In many
respects, it still was; this was a gray area, with no clear lines about
what was what.
  Bat, vampire, was a she, and her name was Victoria.  She had
once been a typical young woman of the sort often found in civilized
lands:  born of wealthy parents, raised in a setting that lacked any real
problems or pressures.  She had been young and full of zest for life, the
need to run and play and have fun, and in later years the need to flirt
and tease and kiss, also in the name of fun.
  That had been more than three hundred years ago.  The naive young woman
was now a seasoned hunter and killer, an often-ruthless taker of lives
who utterly destroyed anyone she got involved with.  Victoria had been
stalked, bitten, and slain by a vampire named Qurac, and then become one
herself.  It had been awkward at first, with so much changed and so much
to abilities and powers, deadly weaknesses, and above all
else, the unrelenting thirst for blood.
  That had been a long and painful path, but it had been necessary if
she wanted to continue existing - and she'd quickly discovered that she
did.  The quiet, docile, sometimes shy young woman was dead, in more ways
than one; in her place was an aggressive, cunning predator, a wolf in
sheep's clothing.  The change from human to vampire had brought out a new
side of her personality, one that learned to use power for its own sake.
Once she'd gotten past the actual act of draining the blood from another
living being and thereby consuming its life, she'd realized that there
were many advantages to her new self.  The strength of ten men, the power
to change into a bat and soar above the land, rapid healing and a complete
lack of aging...these were gifts, not part of a curse!
  And so Victoria had accepted her new lot in life, and embraced it with
all her heart.  She'd also decided it was time for a change of scenery,
and with that change, safety.  Leaving the land of her birth and former
life, she had made a long and difficult journey north and west, into the
vast mountainous region beyond Urnst and the Free City of Greyhawk.  Once
there, however, all risk was gone; there were plenty of places to hide by
day, and plenty of small towns in which to feed at night.  She also
realized that by exercising a small bit of self-control, she could avoid
killing her food and having it later change into a vampire.  This helped
her cover her tracks and avoid detection for much, much longer than was
typical for a vampire.  At the slightest sign of trouble, or risk, she
immediately moved on to some other hunting ground far away.
  So it had been for many, many long years...and so it was tonight.  The
vampire bat flew through the night, nearing the next small town...a town
nestled amidst the misty peaks of the Clatspur Mountains...a town called

+   Date:          1/6/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         a small town in the southern Clatspur Mountains        +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +

  The house wasn't even a house - more like a shack, a small dilapidated
shack nestled among dozens of others like it.  This one, however, had been
located and singled out...for this one contained something dangerous and

Bram:  You're sure this is the place?
Boltar:  (nods)  The magic of Pholtus never lies, especially in matters
  such as these.
Drak:  Well, it doesn't look like much.  I'm not sure why the thing would
  want to live _here_.
Marko:  They don't all live in palaces.

  The group entered the building, slowly and carefully.  Due to the holy
powers of the priest of Pholtus, they had a distinct advantage when it
came to sensing and locating their quarry.  Rather than light every dark
corner and check every shadow, one at a time, they could simply move
through the place until they found who - what - they were looking for.
  Of course, thanks to Boltar the priest, they could also actively seek
the vampire's exact location.  The hunters were six in number; aside from
the priest Boltar, the group consisted of Bram, Drak, Parekh, Marko, and
Dorval.  Bram, tall and grim and clad all in black, was the leader of
the group, and perhaps the world's most experienced vampire hunter.  Drak
was a hulking barbarian warrior, and Parekh a brown-skinned female wizard;
these two were a couple.  The grizzled veteran Marko was a stark contrast
with the young, relatively inexperienced Dorval, but both were skilled
warriors who showed no fear.  Marko had taken Dorval under his wing and
was teaching him the ways of warfare, as well as vampire-hunting.
  Of course, the learning curve was still in progress...

Dorval:  How will we find the vampire during the day?  I thought they
  only came out at night, and hid themselves away in the daytime?
Bram:  This is true, but only someone with a death wish would hunt a
  vampire in the nighttime.  Many an intrepid vampire hunter has waited
  until late afternoon - or even dusk! - to finally enter the lair of the
  monster.  That is sheer folly, and has spelled the doom of every such
  fool who tried it.
Dorval:  (nods)  I see.
Marko:  Lad, you have a lot to learn...but learn it you will, for we'll
  surely come face-to-face with the monster this day.
Dorval:  (nods grimly)  Fine, then.  I look forward to it - this is a
  noble mission, to destroy evil.
Boltar:  True.
Bram:  (smiles thinly, pleased with the young man's enthusiasm)
Boltar:  Hold.  (he points to a pile of debris on the floor)  There...
  the monster lurks beneath the floor.
Marko:  (begins moving the junk out of the way, revealing a heavy metal
Bram:  No doubt the vampire, its ghastly work done, uses its mist-form
  to flee to some hideaway below.  (he turns to Drak)  Can you move this
Drak:  (smirks)

  The barbarian warrior concentrated then, using his magical belt to
change his size, becoming ten feet tall.  Drak was as strong as an ox
to begin with, but now he had no trouble lifting the metal grate.  A
narrow shaft was revealed below, leading down into darkness.

Parekh:  (points down into the shaft, a cone of bright light shining from
  her fingertips and illuminating the passage)
Bram:  Let's go.

  They quickly found that the shaft opened into a series of chambers
below, and the third such room contained a coffin!  It only took the
team moments to surround the great wooden casket, their weapons or spells
ready.  Boltar held his holy symbol high, intent on preventing any sudden
attempt at escape.  Drak had returned to his normal seven-foot size, but
he held his enchanted mallet high, ready to deal a crushing blow.  Marko
moved toward the coffin, signaling Dorval to stay put; though the lad was
young and enthusiastic, this was work for experienced veterans.

Bram:  (nods to Marko)
Marko:  (grabs hold of the coffin's lid, and pulls it open)

  Within the casket slumbered a pale, dirt-covered man.  This was no
well-dressed gentleman, as many vampires tended to resemble, but rather
a filthy, stinking fellow.  Dried blood crusted his mouth, and there
were small worms wriggling around within the coffin.  The smell was
putrid - decay and death filled the small room, and lesser adventurers
would have choked and perhaps been sick.
  Not so this group!  In fact, Bram wasted no time staring at the foe
before him; he had personally known other vampire hunters who'd made
this mistake, and not lived to tell of it.  The vampire-slayer stepped
forward, his ebony cane raised...and brought the weapon down, its sharp
silver tip piercing the vampire's heart!

vampire:  EEEAAAAAARGH!  (it howls and screams as blood spurts from its
Bram:  Die.
vampire:  (begins to decay, its flesh falling to pieces and revealing
  bare bones)

  It didn't take long; within moments, the vampire was but a skeleton,
surrounded by putrid dust.

Dorval:  (runs into a corner, vomiting and gagging)
Drak:  (stifles a grin)
Boltar:  (begins sprinkling holy water over the coffin and the remains
  of the vampire)  We will, of course, need to sever the head and then
  perform the usual rituals.
Bram:  (nods, his jaw set)  This monster will trouble the region no more.
Dorval:  <ghak>  Sorry about that...
Marko:  It's okay, lad.  Most of us had the same reaction the first time
  we slew one of these things.
Parekh:  It's almost unavoidable, given the smell alone...
Drak:  (looking around)
Marko:  Well, that's that.
Dorval:  We're done?
Bram:  We've only just begun.  I've gotten word of another possible
  vampire - maybe even an entire nest - to the north of here, further
  in the mountains.  This is a fight that never ends.
Boltar:  What about the potential new companion you spoke of earlier?
Bram:  (nods)  We shall go seek that one out...and then, our strength
  thusly bolstered, we'll head back to these peaks and meet our next
Parekh:  Who exactly is this...Ghuust?
Bram:  He's some kind of necromantic wizard...I've been told that he
  speaks with the dead, senses them, perhaps even exerts influence over
  them.  We could use someone with those abilities.
Drak:  He sounds weird.
Bram:  That may be, but we should at least look into it.  (he eyes the
  mountains that loom over the small town)  We'll be back in this place
  within a week, and then we'll head north...where we'll find and slay
  whatever vampires lurk there!

+   Date:          7/6/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          inconsequential                                        +
+   Place:         the deep subterranean city of Skava-Ra                 +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +

  Another day began in the remote city of Skava-Ra...except of course for
the fact that "day" was a relative term here.  No sunlight shone over the
towers and streets of this place, just as no moonlight bathed them at
night.  The city was entirely underground, nestled within a gigantic
cavern far beneath the surface of the world.  It was thousands of years
old, constructed in ages past by individuals whose names had been, for
the most part, lost to even the most learned sages.
  Skava-Ra had been built on the blood and sweat of countless slaves, and
had been home to some of the most ruthless, diabolical figures who ever
lived.  It had, from the outset, been a city with a clear plan and a most
specific purpose.  Every facet of its existence had a purpose, like a
collection of interlocking puzzle pieces that formed a greater whole.  In
the strange case of Skava-Ra, the greater whole was horrific beyond all
compare...for Skava-Ra was a city of vampires.
  The whispered legends about this place were, for the most part, true.
The city was indeed populated by thousands of vampires; down here, far
from the sun's hurtful rays (and interfering mortals) the vampires not
only survived, but thrived.  There was no sunlight to end their unholy
existence...and there were also no bold adventurers, no crusading priests
to seek them out and destroy them.  Rational, caring beings would have
made the case that it was simply wrong to destroy vampires just because
they required the blood of living people to survive.  However, vampires
(while generally rational) were far from caring.  The natural order was
simple:  they required blood, and the living had it.  The fact that the
very nature of vampirism endowed them with powers and abilities beyond
those of their prey was just more evidence of the way things were meant
to be for vampires.
  And here in Skava-Ra, all was definitely as it was meant to be.  In
place of a sun and moon, the huge cavern's roof had been enchanted to
resemble a night sky, complete with a moon.  Many thousands of feet
above the city, this false tableau of stars and moon shone down upon
the vampire-city at all times.  There were even rainstorms - for vampires
liked rain and wind - which were generated at random times and strengths
by powerful magic.  In all these ways, Skava-Ra's climate was permanently
fixed to be pleasant for its inhabitants.
  The food chain, of course, was the most novel aspect of the great,
dark city.  Much as surface-dwelling humans bred cattle and other farm
animals, the vampires kept a large stock of humans - thousands in number,
pale in complexion, and meek in disposition after untold generations of
this underground existence.  The vampiric rulers of the city had learned
long ago that certain rules were necessary to keep the supply-and-demand
cycle working properly.  Rule number one was that no new vampires could
be created here as a result of killing a human; this would add a consumer
and remove a provider from the food chain.  Generally, the humans were
bled and then returned to their guarded community to heal.  Once in a
while, some vampiric noble or ruler would earn the pleasure of draining
a human completely; when this happened, the slain were quickly destroyed
to prevent them from rising as new vampires.
  The second rule was that the humans needed to breed and remain healthy,
and for this reason, they existed as a sort of underclass in Skava-Ra...
slaves, performing all necessary manual labor, without rights, who could
be taken away suddenly and without reason.  The humans who lived in the
underground city were completely ignorant of any other life; they were
the latest generations of a cycle that had lasted for centuries.  Rumors
of another world above, with freedom and a bright disk overhead, were
whispered legends passed on over the years.
  Naturally, a place such as this required mighty defenses.  After all,
there were other caverns and tunnels in the vicinity - some even led to
the system of underground cities known as the Underdark.  The vampires
had been down here long enough to have everything figured out; all roads
into their city had long ago been sealed, save for one.  This great
passageway was lined with skulls mounted on poles, for many thousands of
feet leading to the city.  Further, there were several guardposts along
this passage; stationed at these were vampires as well as strange and
fearsome monsters.  Should any outsiders actually reach Skava-Ra - which
had never happened - those poor doomed fools would find themselves facing
countless legions of vampires, many of whom were also warriors, wizards,
or high priests.  Worse still, there was the ruler of Skava-Ra, he who
sat upon the Blood Throne...the oldest vampire on Oerth, a god-king who
had existed for millenia, and whose powers were many and mighty.  Truly,
if there was anywhere on Oerth where mortals feared to tread, the vampire
city of Skava-Ra was it.

  This was where Victoria had come after her last unfortunate adventure.
It had been more than a year since the vampiress' forced separation from
Belphanior and his group.  It hadn't exactly been their fault that the
entire group had been transported back to Oerth in the middle of a hot
spring day, but she did bear Belphanior some resentment for not making
much of an effort to find her.  More, she suspected that being in the
presence of Belphanior's amulet of Necros had dulled her instincts, made
her more comfortable around humans, elves, and other living things.  At
the very moment she'd fled their presence (and the hurtful sunlight)
she had experienced an almost-tangible change of heart.  In the days
immediately afterward, Victoria had become certain that the amulet had
been influencing her thoughts and actions, to some extent.  The desire
for companionship had always been there, and Helgate had definitely been
an interesting place, but the fact remained that a predator wasn't meant
to socialize with its prey.  Whatever had come before was now just a part
(and a small part, at that) of Victoria's three-hundred-plus-year past
history.  She had moved Skava-Ra.
  Perhaps it was born out of a need to belong...or perhaps she had grown
tired of always being on the move, and never knowing if vampire hunters
were tracking her activities.  Perhaps she would remain in Skava-Ra for
a long time...or perhaps only a short span.  The past months had been
good ones, free of worries and full of new people and experiences.  The
city was much like a normal human city, in that politics and intrigue
were ever-present.  There were also a lot of little nooks and crannies
to explore, where strange and secret things were happening. On the other
hand, staying in one city for any length of time was incredibly boring to
some people, including Victoria, who was used to roaming as she pleased.
  This dilemma has been equally balanced until Victoria allied herself
with one of the most powerful and influential denizens of the underground
city.  Ulruk was the city's general, in command of all its military
forces and in charge of its defenses.  He was a human-turned-vampire, a
tall and powerful warrior who had been a veteran of many battles before
becoming undead.  Now, he was even more dangerous, the best (or worst)
of both worlds.  He and Victoria had gotten along from the start, and
were now inseparable; Belphanior was but a memory, in a mind filled with
them.  That was the irony of the situation:  Belphanior might someday
find Victoria, and come to Skava-Ra to "rescue" her...only to find that
she cared nothing for him, and was quite happy where she was!  It was
almost a certainty that Belphanior (along with anyone he brought with
him to Skava-Ra) would not survive such an encounter.

next:       back to the trap-gateway and their efforts to escape it
released:   10/28/05
notes:      This is the 2005 Halloween episode, with a horror theme.  It
  also sets up some possible future encounters.  I haven't yet decided
  if Belphanior and allies will venture to Skava-Ra to find Victoria,
  but if they do, you'll read about it here.  It sure would be bloody...

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