Chapter #991

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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       +
+   1991-2013 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!                                          +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+ THE MAIN PARTY                                                          +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+     stone golems, 6                                                     +
+     iron golems, 3                                                      +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Otto           12th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+ CLOSE AQUAINTANCES                                                      +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+   Bosco          14th level halfling thief                              +
+     Kaloth's chess set (summons up to 32 individual beings)             +
+   Drak           15th level human barbarian                             +
+   Lyra           14th level female drow wizard                          +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Socrates, large albino hound                                        +
+   Rob            17th level human priest of Trithereon                  +
+     acolytes, 6,all high priests of Trithereon                          +
+   Yod Ironbeard  21st level dwarven warrior-king                        +
+     Spikey        9th level halfling fighter                            +
+     Sparkey       9th level halfling fighter                            +
+     war-lizard mount (30' long, armored, and battle-trained)            +
+     elite dwarven troops, 20, including several shamans                 +
+                                                                         +
+ OTHER ALLIES, HIRED HELP, ETC.                                          +
+   Cespedes       19th level human wizard, elementalist                  +
+     Talos        adamantine golem                                       +
+   Dexitheseus    17th level human wizard, jack of all trades            +
+   Sir Dremel     16th level human paladin of Heironeous                 +
+   Sir Drexel     16th level human paladin of Heironeous                 +
+     Limbor       13th/14th level elven wizard/priest                    +
+   St. Wilhelm    13th/13th level human fighter/priest of St. Cuthbert   +
+   Wu             18th level human wizard, transmuter                    +
+                                                                         +
+ THE NEW VAMPIRE HUNTERS                                                 +
+   Bram           15th level human ranger, vampire hunter                +
+   Rezzik         13th level human warrior (werewolf)                    +
+   Hrothgar       11th level minotaur berserker                          +
+   Yuki           13th level human female half-vampire warrior           +
+   Janus          12th level quasi-human wizard (Seeker)                 +
+   Melancon       14th level human high priest                           +
+   Elias          intelligent flesh golem                                +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          4/20/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the deep subterranean city of Skava-Ra                 +
+   Climate:       chilly                                                 +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "The sanity of the plan is of no consequence."                        +
+      "And why is that?"                                                 +
+         "Because he can do it!"                                         +
+                  - from _Captain America:  The First Avenger_ (2011)    +
+                                                                         +
+   "It's not just a question of whether or not to use violence...        +
+    there simply is no other way."                                       +
+                  - from _Magnum Force_ (1973)                           +
+                                                                         +
+   "It's not safe for you to be here."                                   +
+      "I'm not looking for safe."                                        +
+                  - from _Machete_ (2010)                                +
+                                                                         +
+   "In normal times, evil would be fought by good. But in times          +
+    like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil."      +
+                  - from _The Chronicles of Riddick_ (2004)              +
+                                                                         +
+   "With a small, dedicated group, there is nothing that can't           +
+    be accomplished."                                                    +
+                  - from _Red_ (2010)                                    +
+                                                                         +
+   "Walk away.  Trust me, this is one you're not going to want           +
+    to see through to the end."                                          +
+                  - from _Desperado_ (1995)                              +
+                                                                         +
+   "What's the point of having this thing if I don't get to use it?"     +
+                  - from _John Carter_ (2012)                            +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                   CMXCI.  An Unthinkable Assault





  The last few days have been violent and hectic.  Three days ago,
Belphanior's home was attacked, some evil artifacts taken, and the
priestess Jenna slain.  Two days ago, the elf addressed an assembly of
friends, allies, and vampire hunters and made it clear that the entire
world might be in danger...and that there would have to be some sort of
assault on the underground city of Skava-Ra.  One day ago, with some
help from powerful allies, Belphanior made major strides toward that
end by peering into the past of Skava-Ra to learn the history, layout,
and weaknesses of the city of vampires.  That evening - last night -
he'd promised a small group of core allies that he would ponder all
the information and formulate a plan of attack to share with them the
next morning.
  That morning has passed, the planning has been finalized, and the time
for action has finally come...





  The vampire sniffed the air; all of a sudden, something felt wrong.
There was no tangible or logical basis for this - it was just a hunch,
but the vampire trusted his senses.  He looked up at the massive double
doors, fifty feet high, that towered over him and the guardhouses outside
of Skava-Ra's entrance.  Then he looked over at his three fellow guards,
who of course were also vampires.  In fact, every sentient being within
a league was either a vampire, an animal minion of the vampires, or human
livestock.

vampiric guard #1:  (gazing down the 30' wide road leading away from the
  city, its sides lined with skulls mounted on poles)  Did anyone else
  hear something?
vampiric guard #2:  Hear something?  Like what?  We don't exactly get
  many visitors down here.
vampiric guard #3:  (nods)  Not to mention the two other squads on patrol
  out there, in the main passage.  If someone or something wanders our
  way, they will deal with it long before we ever see or hear anything.
vampiric guard #1:  Of course, but still...(he frowns)  I could swear I
  heard something...
wolf:  (one of several tied to a post nearby, its ears perk up and it
  turns to face the gigantic passage, a low growl building in its throat)
  Grrrrr...

  Within moments, all of the wolves were similarly agitated, and strained
at their bonds, eager to be unleashed so they could charge off down the
passage and have a chance to bite and slash at something.  There was no
longer any question about it; something was happening somewhere further
down the big tunnel.  A distant rumbling noise could be heard, and the
stony ground trembled, ever so slightly.

vampiric guard #2:  What the hell...?
vampiric guard #1:  I told you.

  By now, the entire complement of exterior guards had emerged from their
quarters:  a dozen vampires, among their number a wizard and a priest.
These forces were augmented by a score of wolves and perhaps twice as
many large bats, the latter of which now chittered as they hung from the
passage's high ceiling.  To either side of the central roadway, countless
dozens of filthy rats scurried back and forth.

vampiric wizard:  You, you, and you - get out into the passage and find
  out what's out there.

  The designated three vampiric guards immediately changed into bat form
and flew away from the gate and out into the darkness.  Although vampires
didn't require light, many preferred it because it reminded them of their
previous lives.  Therefore, a low level of illumination was kept both
within and outside the city; the massive double doors and the guardhouses
were lit by a handful of torches.  About a hundred feet from the exterior
of the city, the range of this light gradually faded out, even as the
huge passage curved around to the right.  Anyway, the three vampire-bats
were immediately joined by a score of the bats from the ceiling, and
there was a cacophony of excited chirping as the dark, leathery forms
flitted away into the passage.

vampiric wizard:  You - get inside the gates and alert the detachment
  there.
vampiric guard #7:  (nods)  At once.  (he assumes gaseous form and then
  ascends upward)

  Above the top of the double doors was a wide barred window, about ten
feet horizontally and one foot vertically.  Its purpose was twofold:  it
allowed the vampires an easy way to get in or out of the city without
having to actually open the heavy portals every single time, and it gave
defenders a place to launch missiles and spells from without having to
exit the city.  However, by the time the guard's gaseous form got to and
through the barred window, it became quite obvious to the vampires that
something was approaching.

vampiric wizard:  (watches in astonishment as a bright glow heads toward
  them at a dangerously rapid rate)  Take cover!

  The fiery sphere blazed up the passage, heading right at the city's
gates - and then exploded, spraying the gates and the guardhouses with
searing flames!  Most of the vampires were incinerated and instantly
forced into gaseous form, while a few of them had been able to take
shelter in one of the small structures outside the gates and were only
partially burned.  However, the fireball had ignited those buildings,
and also bathed the passage's floor, walls, and ceiling in flames, along
with the huge double doors into the city.  No sooner had the fireball's
massive explosion faded...than a second fireball, launched from a closer
distance, blasted into the stone wall which held the city's gates.  Then
a third followed; the combined power of the three successive detonations
had utterly destroyed all outlying buildings and beasts, forced all the
vampires into gaseous form, and covered everything in flames.  The great
double doors still stood, though parts of them were melted and there was
surely some fire on the inside, that had sprayed through the small barred
window and the seams around the doors themselves.
  The attackers wasted little time continuing the assault; by the time
the flames had settled down and all the steam had cleared, the invading
force was at the city's gates.  A gigantic form, thirty feet tall and
made of solid metal, marched up to the city's doors, its every mighty
step shaking the floor of the huge tunnel.  Its right hand held a short
sword (short being a relative term, as the sword was almost fifteen feet
long) and its left was open.

adamantine golem:  (clenches its left hand into a fist the size of a
  large anvil, raises that fist, then brings it forward into one of the
  double doors with enough force to topple a small building, and a sound
  of heavy metal being struck by heavier metal)

  <BLAMMM!>

  The city's gates had massive stone anchors at floor level, each one
requiring two stone golems to lift.  However, while this measure was
effective against an attack at ground level, it didn't help much when
the force was being exerted thirty feet above the blocks.

adamantine golem:  (batters the upper portion of the door a second time)

  <BLAMMM!>

  The sound of each impact was deafening, and such a sound had never been
heard in Skava-Ra, in all its thousands of years.

  <BLAMMM!>

  The left-hand door buckled, its hinges protesting, as the foot-thick
iron bent and groaned with the tremendous blows.

adamantine golem:  (continues to pummel the door repeatedly, breaking
  it down further with every punch)

  While those on the other side of the city's gates had been taken by
surprise, they had recovered quickly, and now launched countermeasures.
No doubt assuming (with good reason) that they were under attack from
an iron golem, the vampiric wizards blasted the portals with multiple
lightning bolts - an attack which slowed the movements of iron golems,
one of the few ways to impede their progress.  However, the adamantine
golem was unaffected by electricity (or much of anything else, really)
and ignored the powerful energies that burned craters in the doors and
the stonework around them.  A few smaller arcs got past and hit the
ceiling of the outer passage, a hundred feet above the floor, vaporizing
some of the guano-covered stalactites where the large bats nested.

iron golem #2:  (doesn't notice as a sharp stalactite breaks loose
  directly overhead, falling straight downward on a deadly path)

  The stony missile shattered harmlessly on the construct's shoulder,
and the golem continued its march, part of the assault force right
behind the larger adamantine golem.  This second line was made up of
all of Belphanior's functional iron and stone golems; as soon as the
adamantine golem broke through, knocking the huge warped doors aside,
the six stone and three iron golems moved through the portal and into
the vast cavern that held Skava-Ra.  One good thing about the doors
each being twenty-five feet wide was that virtually the entire force
of attacking golems could pass through at once.  One of the iron golems
stumbled on a stone anchor that was still in place; it stopped, bent
down and grabbed the thing, and hurled it aside, caving in one entire
side of a guardhouse on the inside of the wall.

Cespedes:  (quite some distance away, he continues to observe the golems
  and direct their actions through magical means)

  One of the many things that the unusual wizard brought to this battle
had been his idea to affix magical speaking-stones to each golem.  That
way, he could issue commands to the various golems without having to
physically be anywhere near them.  Of course, this required a great deal
of concentration, which was why the wizard was in the rear ranks, far
from the actual battle.  Using scrying magic, he could see through the
eyes of each golem, and adapt their actions as the situation changed.
Naturally, the golems had been issued a default command in case the
communication was somehow lost:  in the absence of direct orders from
Cespedes, they were to simply smash buildings, causing as much property
damage as possible.
  But these weren't the only golems in the vicinity.  The four ebony
golems on the inside of the city's gates - whose primary reason for
existence was to lift the stone anchors, push the massive double
doors open, and pull them closed - now reverted to their secondary
purpose, mindlessly lumbering toward the larger and stronger golems
that had just come through the demolished city gates.

adamantine golem:  (swings its right hand, the one with the sword of
  the same material as its body, in a great downward arc)
ebony golem #1:  (staggers as the stony ground beneath it cracks with
  the transmitted force of the blow, and its left shoulder and arm
  break off and fall to the ground)

  Under Cespedes' guidance, six of the the attacking golems ganged up
on the four defending ones; it was never good to leave an enemy golem
behind and intact, and Cespedes wanted them out of the way as quickly
as possible.  The larger adamantine golem continued marching toward the
city proper:  hundreds of buildings, connected by both streets and high
walkways above the ground, clustered together within an inner wall.  At
its current pace, the construct would soon reach the outlying building
outside of this walled central portion of the city.  It was currently
under attack by a dozen vampires, most of whom has been positioned on
the walkway directly above the city's gates and who had headed for it
right away.  This platform had allowed defenders to stand and launch
attacks through the barred window, but it had been ripped free of the
wall during the destruction of the doors.  The vampires atop it weren't
hurt, of course, and landed on the ground inside the outer wall, unsure
how to deal with the thirty-foot golem.

vampire #8:  (a wizard, it launches a volley of magic missiles at the
  construct's knees)
adamantine golem:  (ignores the spell)
vampire #8:  What is this thing?
vampire #3:  (a warrior, it leaps atop the golem's back, slashing with
  a fine magical sword which quickly gets dented)
adamantine golem:  (ignores the vampire)
vampire #5:  (an expert marksman, it leaps into the air and fires a
  magical crossbow bolt at the construct, but the missile bounces off
  the golem's face, its keen tip blunted)  Damn.
vampire #11:  (a priest, it transforms the rock beneath the golem into
  soft mud)
adamantine golem:  (sinks up to its thighs)
vampire #3:  (astutely leaps away to avoid being caught in the mud)
vampire #6:  (another wizard, it dispels the magic on the mud, causing
  it to change back into solid rock around the golem's legs)  There!

  Of course, dozens of other vampires moved to defend the fifty-foot
wide gap where the city's mighty gates had once stood.  This was a tall
order, though, given the fact that the most powerful of the attackers
were actually still outside...

vampire #33:  (its red eyes widen in surprise)  Aie!  Beware-  (it is
  obliterated by a fiery object the size of a small boulder)

  A sudden and deadly barrage of blazing meteorites streaked through
the now-doorless doorway, specifically targeting the majority of the
vampires.  The resulting chain of explosions shook the ground and sent
loud echoes through the entire cavern, ensuring that every single
denizen of the city now knew that something was amiss.





  Within one of the city's more prominent towers, a grim and gigantic
figure shook his mighty head yet again.

Ulruk:  (in the process of hastily donning his jet-black chain mail,
  he whirls and strides across his chambers to peer out of an ornate
  window)  What in the Nine Hells is going _on_ out there?
Victoria:  (enters the room, buckling on her sword-belt)  I told you-
Ulruk:  (roars angrily, his fangs bared)  Not now, woman!
Victoria:  (crosses her arms and glares at him)  Make up your mind.  Do
  you want to know what's happening or not?
Ulruk:  (sarcastically)  One would venture a guess that the city is
  under attack.
Victoria:  I hate being able to say 'I told you so'...I really do.  But
  I knew this was going to happen.  I tried to tell you.  Belphanior has
  come for revenge, and has no doubt brought powerful allies.
Ulruk:  Powerful enough to bring this city down?  I think not.
Victoria:  Maybe, and maybe not.  But only a fool would utterly ignore
  all possibilities.
Ulruk:  That may be...(he stalks about, buckling on his sword)  Whatever
  the case, my place is with my troops, leading the fight.
Victoria:  But-
Ulruk:  (glares at her)  What else would you suggest I do?  (he snatches
  up his great black helm in one hand and hefts his shield in the other)
  I am a warrior.  Our home is under attack.  My course of action seems
  quite simple here.  (with that, he storms out of the room, ready for
  battle)
Victoria:  (frowns)





  At the city gates, the front assault line of golems had finished off
the ebony golems, which were now reduced to piles of black rubble.  The
iron and stone golems now marched toward the inner wall that surrounded
the city proper.  Their orders were simple:  demolish.
  Meanwhile...

adamantine golem:  (flexes its powerful metal body, and cracks appear
  in the newly-solidified stone around its trapped legs)
vampiric warrior:  (gets careless and strays too close, and gets cut in
  half by a sudden swing of the golem's sword)  Ack.  (it becomes mist
  and drifts away)

  Meanwhile, the main wave of attackers - those who came in the wake of
all the golems - was now through the shattered city gates.  Its front
line consisted of warriors, behind whom were priests, and in the rear
were the wizards.

Parekh:  (looking around briefly)  Amazing.
Pallin:  (hovering above the ground due to a flying spell he previously
  cast)  Agreed.  What a place.

  Despite their mission and its urgency, the mortals were still quite
awestruck at the very construction of Skava-Ra:  an underground city
nestled within a huge natural cavern, roughly circular and spanning
more than five thousand feet, the cavern roof thousands of feet above
appearing as a night sky complete with stars and wind.  The city's many
towers and buildings flowed together in places, and were connected by
normal roads as well as narrow sky-bridges.  The tallest structures were
clustered toward the center of the city, dominated by one massive spire
that dwarfed the others.
  Inside the gates, the city's defenders now moved to meet the attacking
forces.  Over a hundred vampires - most of them warriors but with some
spellcasters in their ranks - fanned out to defend their city from the
intruders.  Three magical webs landed atop the adamantine golem, pinning
it to the surrounding rock of the cavern floor.  Other webs flew from
their casters toward the attackers; some were vaporized in midair by
spells from Parekh and the others, while other webs found their targets.

Drak:  (now covered in a mesh of webs, he suddenly grows to his full
  twenty-foot height, snapping numerous strands of the webbing)  Bah.
Sir Dremel:  Impressive...but does it not make you a greater target?
Drak:  Probably, which is why I'm counting on the rest of you to have my
  back.  (he swats at a leaping vampiric warrior with his huge maul, but
  misses)
vampiric warrior #3:  (whirls back around, sword raised)
Sir Drexel:  (raises his holy avenger sword above his head, an act which
  repels that vampire and a couple of others that were nearby)  Fear not,
  good Drak!
Limbor:  (stands behind his liege, ready to aid the paladin with all of
  his wizardly and clerical ability)
vampiric warrior #14:  (moving in from the side, sword raised)
Limbor:  (blasts the foe in the face with a barrage of magic missiles)
vampiric warrior:  (reels back, its face smoking)  Aaargh!
Sir Drexel:  (steps forward and slashes at the foe, wounding it badly
  and knocking it to the ground)  Die, hellspawn!
vampiric warrior #23:  (assumes bat form and flees, rather than face the
  paladin's fury)
Sir Dremel:  (brandishes his own holy avenger sword, using its powers
  to repel four other vampires, then wades toward the vampires' ranks,
  utterly fearless)

  The twin paladin brothers were accompanied by five other paladins, each
a loyal follower and mighty warrior in his - or her - own right.

Hilda:  (a six-foot tall holy warrior-woman of broad build, she swings a
  many-spiked morningstar that blazes with holy light)  Come on, then!
  (she bashes a vampiric priest, knocking him back with great gashes in
  his chest and one arm)  That's the first of many!
Sir Drexel:  Well spoken, good Hilda.
Hilda:  My morningstar will do the speaking for me this day!  (she hits
  a vampiric warrior, who falls back with hideous wounds)  Taste the
  righteous fury!
other paladin #1:  (knocked down with a dented helm, thanks to the blow
  of a vampire's sword)  Ungh!
other paladin #2:  (steps in, engaging the undead warrior and protecting
  his fellow)
other paladin #3:  (blocks the swipe of a vampire's cutlass with his
  shield, then bashes it in the chest with his mace, driving it back)

  Nearby, the adamantine golem flexed its arms, shredding all of the
conjured webbing, then broke free of the cavern floor, silently getting
to its feet and resuming its march toward the city proper.

adamantine golem:  (steps on a large, ferocious wolf, crushing it, then
  swings its sword at a group of vampiric defenders, scattering them and
  ignoring the arrows and spells that bounce off its metal skin)

  Actually, there was one other in this front line whose sheer presence
might possibly have rivaled or exceeded that of the gigantic Drak or the
invulnerable adamantine golem...

Yod Ironbeard:  (astride a 30' long, fully-armored war-lizard, he hurls
  his mighty axe, which is one of the most powerful dwarvish artifacts
  ever known)
vampiric wizard:  (cloven in half by the powerful weapon, it instantly
  becomes mist that seeps away)
Yod Ironbeard:  (catches his axe as it magically and safely returns to
  his hand)
war-lizard:  GRAAARGH!  (it swipes at a nearby foe with its great horned
  head)
vampiric warrior:  (leaps back, narrowly avoiding what would have been a
  disembowelling blow)
Yod Ironbeard:  (throws his axe at the distracted opponent)
vampiric warrior:  (reels, its right arm and shoulder now severed)  Ack.
Yod Ironbeard:  (catches the weapon as it sails back into his hand)  On,
  warriors!  To the attack!  (spotting a knot of vampire warriors, he
  hurls his axe again, knowing that he can't possibly miss)
vampiric warrior:  (its head cleaved down the middle, it becomes mist)
other vampiric warrior:  (knocked down by the axe's continued momentum)
  Argh!
third vampiric warrior:  (barely dodges the weapon)
Yod Ironheard:  (holds up his gauntleted hand, catching the weapon when
  it returns)  Onward, troops!

  The dwarven general-king was decked out in gleaming mithril armor that
bore many protective enchantments, and he wore a great helm from which
protruded two curved metal horns.  Yod and his lizard mount had fought in
many campaigns together, and were an effective team; the rider knew how
to control his mount with the simplest of movements, and the mount was
quick to obey, even in the heat of battle.  They made a good team; the
lizard kept any frontal attackers at bay, while Yod used his axe to deal
catastrophic blows to foes who were further away.  A score of the king's
most skilled and loyal warriors and shamans marched at his flanks, as did
his twin halfling henchmen, Spikey and Sparkey.

Spikey:  Take that!  (he stabs a vampiric warrior in the shin with his
  shortsword)
Sparkey:  And that!  (he chops the same foe in the leg with his small
  but sharp axe)
vampiric warrior #9:  (steps back, amazed at the fighting prowess of
  such small foes)  You won't-  (gasps suddenly as a pike stabs through
  its chest, driving it back)
dwarven warrior #3:  (charges forth, pushing the vampire away)
dwarven warrior #5:  (fires his crossbow, hitting the undead foe in the
  neck with a magical bolt)
vampiric warrior #9:  Argh!
dwarven warrior #7:  (reels under a powerful sword-blow from another
  vampiric warrior)
vampiric warrior #15:  (stabs another dwarf in the shoulder, but is then
  driven back by the axe of the dwarf to the wounded one's side)
dwarven priest #2:  (holds up his holy symbol, attempting to turn back
  the nearest vampires)  Away, foul ones-
vampiric warrior #17:  (resists the turning, and leaps on the dwarf,
  ripping at his armored form)
dwarven priest #4:  (succeeds in turning three other vampires, then uses
  his mace to block the sword of another vampire)  Ungh!

  Every single member of the attacking force fought with enchanted
weapons - swords, axes, daggers, pikes, maces, arrows, bolts, whatever.
This had been easier to achieve than one might have thought; all of the
assaulting force were veterans of many campaigns and adventures, plus
most of the principal figures possessed sizable stocks of extra magical
weapons and ammunition.  In addition, they all wore or carried a potent
combination of holy symbols, holy water, and garlic.  This had been but
one of the many tips provided by the old man Bram had brought in early
this morning, to advise those about to go forth and do battle with
vampires.  Before the overall group had left safer havens and ventured
to Skava-Ra, they had gotten a taste of vampire-hunting wisdom...

     Bram:  You would all do well to listen to this man.  He taught me
       everything I know, and has forgotten even more.
     professor:  (coughs)  Very good, then.  I commend you all, for the
       decision you've made is not one to be taken lightly.  Skava-Ra
       has no natural sunlight, so the most powerful weapon against
       vampires is absent.  Lacking that, the elements of surprise and
       sheer brute force will be your greatest advantages.
     Sir Drexel:  And holy power!
     Dexitheseus:  Let us not forget about magic.
     professor:  (nods)  Certainly, but at some point most of you will
       be subjected to vampiric attack, and possibly a bite.  There are
       some safeguards that can help against that sort of thing.  Holy
       symbols never hurt, as long as you possess some modicum of actual
       faith.  Otherwise, such symbols will be as useful as silver, which
       is to say not at all.  So wear some garlic on your person if you
       wish...or better yet, rub it into your skin...or even better,
       eat as much as you can.  There have been documented cases of
       vampires not being able to drink the blood of victims who favored
       a lot of garlic in their diets.  (he coughs)  As always, these
       tactics are not foolproof - none are.  They are just ideas, that
       you can use if you wish.
     Mongo:  That all sounds good, but could we talk about offense too?
     professor:  Of course.  To harm a vampire, a weapon must possess
       some degree of enchantment.  Fire and holy water work well too,
       as does acid.  Electricity has some effect, and cold much less.
       Forget poisons and other toxins.  And remember, always remember,
       that any wounds will regenerate over time.
     Yod Ironbeard:  What about their gaseous form?
     professor:  If enough physical damage is inflicted, a vampire is
       forced into mist form, and must then return to its coffin or
       other resting place for a number of hours.  This is actually
       when vampires are most vulnerable, but in your case, with a city
       full of them, chasing each individual vampire to its coffin isn't
       feasible.  Just rest assured that hurting them badly enough to
       force them into mist form basically puts them out of the fight.
     Bram:  And also note that, although they can change to their mist
       form, and back, at will...that transformation isn't instantaneous
       at all.
     professor:  (nods)  It takes about the same amount of time as the
       strike of a weapon or the casting of a spell.  The point here is
       that, while a vampire can make this change at will, it cannot do
       so fast enough to make it invincible in combat.  In battle, they
       typically only assume mist form when forced to, or when they are
       losing a fight and wish to flee.  A vampire cannot strike you,
       change to mist to avoid your attack, change back to strike you
       again, and so on...the transformation is not that trivial a thing
       for them.
     Belphanior:  Let's talk about the guaranteed ways to kill vampires.
       That's what many of us are most interested in.  Can you speak to
       this?
     professor:  Yes.  Sunlight, of course, always works to destroy them
       utterly.
     Yuki:  (makes no comment)
     professor:  While you have no true sunlight, some of your clerical
       worthies can perhaps summon a slice of such light, which will
       still have the desired effect.
     Rob:  (smirks to himself)
     professor:  Running water kills them as well, although it takes a
       bit longer.  A stake through the heart will work, but must be
       followed up with decapitation and stuffing the mouth with holy
       wafers, else the vampire will reanimate if the stake is removed.
       Those are the three guaranteed methods, although it is possible
       that a few of the vampires in Skava-Ra may be old and powerful
       enough that they are resistant, or - dare I say it - immune to
       one or more of these methods of destruction.  You must always be
       ready for that.
     Parekh:  I certainly hope that's not foreshadowing.
     professor:  As do I, my dear.
     Belphanior:  And you're sure you don't want to come along with us?
     professor:  Impossible, I'm afraid.  I am far too old for such
       adventures.  All I can do is pass on my wisdom.

  The knowledge and tactics passed on by this old, bearded scholar and
retired vampire hunter - who had been Bram's mentor, and was arguably
the greatest living source of vampire lore - had been used as much as
possible by the members of the attacking force.  He had also donated a
number of magical scrolls and other items; for example, all six of the
primary wizards were protected by warding magic, such that no vampire
could physically approach them.  But that wasn't all; between the front
line of warriors and the magi were the priests:  St. Wilhelm and Rob, as
well as a half-dozen of the latter's acolytes.  These were all powerful
priests themselves and all of them had volunteered for this perilous
undertaking.

Rob:  (brandishes his holy symbol, which glows blue as he chants prayers
  to Trithereon)

  The seven vampires nearest to the high priest of Trithereon - five
warriors and two wizards - instantly retreated, fleeing Rob's sight.
Of course, there were plenty of other vampires to continue the fight...

vampiric warrior #19:  (lunges forward)
St. Wilhelm:  (steps into the thing's path, his entire body glowing
  brightly, and brings his wooden cudgel around)
vampiric warrior #19:  Ungh!  (hit by the holy weapon and knocked back
  twenty feet, much to its surprise)  What the-  (as it stands up, that
  surprise becomes even greater as its body ignites with a burst of holy
  flames)  Aaaaargh!
Rob:  Good work, O saint.  That one won't be turning to mist and fleeing.
St. Wilhelm:  Aye.  (he raises the cudgel, and the nearest vampire, who
  just saw what happened to his fellow, turns and flees in fear)
high priest #1:  (succeeds in turning back another four vampires)
high priest #2:  (falls beneath a leaping vampire that somehow got past
  the front line of warriors)  Aargh!
high priest #5:  (comes to the rescue of his companion, brandishing his
  holy symbol, driving that undead foe away)

  Of course, the wizards - last but not least in the attacking ranks -
had their own contributions...

Lyra:  (hits a phalanx of vampires with a sheet of flames, driving them
  back and actually forcing a couple into mist form)
Dexitheseus:  (spotting an advancing pack of large, ravenous wolves and
  realizing the danger they represent due to being unaffected by clerical
  turning or other measures aimed at vampires)  Closer...closer...(he
  lets loose with a spray of multicolored lights that fan out in an arc
  almost a hundred feet long, felling or staggering numerous vampires as
  well slaying the dozens of bats, rats, and wolves it touches)
Pallin:  (sights a vampiric wizard working a spell, blasts him with a
  volley of fiery bolts, then teleports away as another vampiric wizard
  causes a gigantic black claw to appear and swipe at the air vacated by
  the elven mage)
vampiric wizard:  Eh?
Pallin:  (reappears fifty feet away and twenty feet higher, and quickly
  begins casting another potent spell)
Parekh:  (conjures a wall of swords amidst another knot of foes)

  The array of red steel blades, numbering a hundred and of all shapes
and sizes, instantly began whirling and dancing with blinding speed.
The keen edges whistled and hummed as the magical wall of weapons moved
among the vampires, inflicting terrible wounds to all it touched, most
of whom were quickly forced into gaseous form from the sheer damage
sustained.

Alindyar:  (concentrating on the rocky cavern floor)

  The dark elf's powers caused a portion of the ground to ripple and
shift in a way that resembled water, although it still looked solid in
form.  This strange and terrible magic forced the rock up toward the
great cavern's ceiling, in two high waves to left and right...waves that
suddenly slammed together, crushing a score of foes trapped between!

Parekh:  (watching with awe, she wonders - not for the first time -
  exactly what sort of strange magic the dark elf commands)

  Meanwhile, the sixth member of the Cabal had shed his human skin in
favor of another form...one more resistant to vampiric attacks, not to
mention much, much more powerful.

Wu:  (takes to the air as a red dragon, his massive wings beating as his
  huge scaly body ascends)  GRAAAAAAAAAARRRGH!

  Every combatant from both sides, as well as all within the city proper,
took notice as the entire cavern shook from the mighty beast's bellowing
roar.  A moment later, a division of reinforcements heading out of the
city proper was suddenly incinerated (along with a couple of buildings)
by a great gout of well-aimed flaming breath.  When the steam settled,
all that remained was a huge patch of fused rock, the melted remains of
some weapons, and several dozen weak streams of mist that struggled to
find their way to their sleeping places.

Wu:  (suddenly hit in the flank by a cone of cold from an airborne
  vampiric wizard)  RRRGH!  (he whirls in midair and bears down on the
  attacker)
vampiric wizard #11:  Oh crap.  (he flees, pushing his spell of flying
  to its very limits)
Wu:  (swipes out with a huge many-taloned claw, swatting the foe away
  as a human might swat a fly)
vampiric wizard #11:  (slams into a tower with a sickening crunch, and
  changes into mist)





  These battles, while great and certainly noteworthy, were actually
the distraction...carefully planned and staged to resemble the sort of
attack that the vampires might expect from anyone assaulting their city.
While engineered to have a strong chance of success, the frontal assault
actually masked a pair of smaller-scale covert forays into the city
proper, seeking specific targets.  The first of these small teams found
itself in a little-used hallway within the Imperial Tower...

Bram:  (surveys the passage, which is well-lit thanks to the enchanted
  globe mounted on the back of the flesh golem Elias)  The elf was right.
Elias:  (takes a step forward, altering the shadows in the hallway as
  he moves)  I see no vampires.
Janus:  Few do.  (he turns his bandage-covered head to the left, and then
  to the right, a blue light coming from the gaps in the wrappings where
  eyes should be)  There are two vampires in the next room, thirty feet
  ahead and behind that door.
Yuki:  (having already drawn her black shortsword, she heads that way)
  I will deal with them.
Rezzik:  (moves to follow her, longsword and dagger ready)  Let me help
  you with that.
Yuki:  (doesn't turn back to regard the other)  If you insist.
Hrothgar:  (hefts his huge battleaxe, stretches his seven-foot frame, and
  grunts)  Let's fight.
Bram:  Fear not.  Soon, you shall have all the fighting you could want.
  (to everyone)  Keep alert and be careful; I daresay no vampire hunters
  in history have done what we're doing.  We are now well and truly in
  harm's way.
Melancon:  (carefully cradling a small stone pot, its surface covered in
  magical sigils)

  This group's purpose was to find and destroy as many of the city's
rulers as possible, as well as any other vampires that got in the way.
This had been Bram's idea ("After all, that's what we do!") and he hadn't
seemed concerned about the potential great odds against his small group
during this mission.  Of course, he hadn't become a great vampire hunter
by giving in to fear and worry; his way was the same as it always had
been:  to take the initiative and attack with a potent combination of
sound strategy and various powers.





  As for the second secret attack force, they appeared within a dusty
storeroom, this location chosen, like the other, for its recent disuse.

Belphanior:  (looks around as he unsheathes the Moonsword, which casts
  a powerful light across the various crates and barrels here)  Good.

  The elf had seldom fought with any other weapon in the ten years since
acquiring Blackrazor, but the black blade's powers were a detriment when
fighting certain types of foes, including vampires.  The Moonsword, with
its rather unique powers against undead, had been the logical choice for
today's endeavor.  Even better, it was a finely-balanced and highly
magical blade, one that channeled a bit of its holy essence into its
wielder, bolstering his confidence and defenses in the face of undead
foes.  This was a weapon that Belphanior found quite easy to wield.

Otto:  (surveys the area)  Just as you predicted.  Maybe we'll have some
  element of surprise here.  (he readies his crossbow)
Hope:  (immediately casts Haste on herself, to complement the defenses
  begun with the Stoneskin spell she cast on herself a few minutes ago)
Razor Charlie:  (touches his vampire-warding amulet absentmindedly, then
  checks the dozens of extra enchanted knives he collected from various
  donors before this expedition)
Bosco:  (checks his sling of seeking and the pouch full of magical sling
  stones that, like Charlie, he recently got from helpful allies)
Skektek:  (after checking his other key offensive items, he readies his
  wand of magic missiles and makes sure that his backup wands are within
  easy reach)  Won't be long now.
Ys:  (hefts his greatsword)  The time has come...for revenge.
wispy thing:  (hovering nearby)  frrrp.
Mongo:  (tightens his grip on Stormcrest, and turns to Belphanior)  Let's
  go find your lady-friend.

  In order to get the two smaller attack groups into the city, Belphanior
had put two of his recently-acquired artifacts to use, in tandem.  The
Loom of Ages had, of course, already been used to delve into Skava-Ra's
past, to identify secret ways into the city.  Today, the Eye of Celestian
(whose basic operation had been deduced by Pallin, perhaps the world's
leading expert in such magic) had been utilized to transport the two
different teams into the underground city.  Better, they had entered at
precisely the points necessary to go unnoticed (at least right away) and
be close to their specific goals.  While Bram's group intended to destroy
the city's leadership, Belphanior's group's objective was to rescue Neera.

Mongo:  Explain again how we're going to know where she is?
Belphanior:  (sighs)  For lack of a better term, I...looked back in time
  and watched them take her, bring her here, and so on.  I know exactly
  where she is.  Or was, as of this morning.
Otto:  (dubiously)  I'd feel better if there were more than eight of us.
wispy thing:  sssss.
Otto:  Nine, then.
Bosco:  Hey, there could be a lot more.  All I have to do is use my magic
  chess set and-
Belphanior:  We appreciate it, Bosco, but let's wait on that until we
  really need the extra manpower.
Bosco:  But how will I know when that time comes?
Belphanior:  (claps the halfling on the shoulder)  You'll know.  I trust
  your judgment.
Bosco:  (nods happily)  Good deal then!
Belphanior:  Okay, let's get in formation here.  As planned, Bosco and
  Otto, take point and scout ahead.  Mongo and I will be in the second
  rank, then Skektek and Hope.  Ys and Charlie will be the rear guard.
Ys:  (looking perturbed, or at least as perturbed as a giant gray hulking
  humanoid reptilian can look)
Belphanior:  We already discussed this.  Every once in a while, it's good
  to change things around a little.
Ys:  (frowns)  If you say so.
Belphanior:  If we get attacked from behind, I want our biggest sword
  there to stop them.  (he looks the big reptilian in the eye)  I swear
  to you, you'll have your chance for revenge for Jenna.  We all will.
Ys:  (tightens his grip on his gigantic sword)  Very well.
Belphanior:  (watching the others move into position, he frowns, then
  looks to the wispy thing)  You should scout ahead of Otto and Bosco,
  since you can spot something nasty even before they do.
wispy thing:  (happily)  psssb!  (it sails toward the front line, quickly
  passing them without really being noticed)  fssss.

  The elf had done his research, and fully expected to find Neera within
a very short time.  The storeroom door would take them into a hallway,
and after that, a left turn and then a right turn would put them in the
dungeons.  At least, that was the plan...a plan that quickly encountered
an unexpected twist when the party opened the storeroom door and moved
into the passage, only to come face to fang with the two vampires that
were walking away about twenty feet to the left.

vampire #1:  (whirls)  What the...
vampire #2:  Those aren't slaves.  (draws a long, thin rapier)
wispy thing:  brrrn!

  Unfortunately for the vampires, the adventurers had rehearsed not only
their marching order, but also their tactics in case of conflicts in both
passages and larger chambers.  Before they knew what was happening, the
vampires were already wounded courtesy of a magical sling-stone from
Bosco and a magical crossbow bolt from Otto.

vampire #1:  (hit in the temple by the small but potent stone)  Ungh!
vampire #2:  (regards the bolt suddenly protruding from his thigh)  Argh!
  Damn, that hurts-

  Mongo's hammer crushed the foe's head and chest in a spray of blood and
gore; while the blow would have been truly fatal for a regular opponent,
it simply caused the undead creature to change into mist, its clothing
and sword falling to the ground along with the bolt from its leg.  As the
other vampire reconsidered this fight, it was hit in the forehead, hard,
by another of Bosco's sling stones.

vampire #1:  Ouch!  Damn it-
Skektek:  (hits the foe with a volley of magic missiles)
vampire #1:  Urgh!  Argh!
Belphanior:  (leaps forth, knocks the foe's longsword aside, then stabs
  it in the heart)

  The vampire fell, dark blood dripping from its mouth as Belphanior
withdrew his blade.  As had happened in past uses of this weapon, the
wound began to glow with white light, which soon spread to the vampire's
entire body.  Just watching this light made the observers feel better...
calmer and more relaxed.  A few moments later, the pale, fanged vampire
was now a normal, healthy human male who rested peacefully there on the
floor.

Hope:  (amazed and disturbed at the same time)  So that's what it looks
  like.  Interesting.
Bosco:  Yeah.  Well, I'm not going to carry him.  (he eyes Mongo)
Mongo:  Hey, don't look at me.
Ys:  This brings up a good question...do we leave this innocent, now-
  not-vampire lying on the floor, perhaps to be found and savaged by his
  former allies?
Belphanior:  Hmm, I hadn't thought about this.
Ys:  We can't just leave him here.
Skektek:  Sure we can.
Belphanior:  (settles the debate)  We'll have to.  There may be dozens
  more like him before this is over, and we can't bring them all along,
  or even wait for them to wake up.  (to Hope)  They seem to need several
  hours of rest after this process.
Hope:  (shaking her head)  No doubt.
Otto:  (surreptitiously picks up the bolt dropped by the vampire, putting
  it back in its quiver)
Bosco:  (surreptitiously picks up the second vampire's rapier as well as
  the first one's longsword, then realizes he has no place to stash them)
Mongo:  (sighs, quickly opening his portable hole)  In they go.
Bosco:  But-
Mongo:  You find and gather the loot, I'll carry it, and we'll divide
  it up later.
Otto:  Assuming we make it out of here alive.
Skektek:  That's certainly my intention...well, that and destroying as
  many of these things as possible.
Ys:  Damn right.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Enough delay.  Let's go find Neera.





  In the nearby dungeons, that very individual was in a state of near-
panic.  It had barely been four days since she'd survived the vampires'
attack on the sky castle, only to be abducted and taken by physical and
magical means to this hellish place deep beneath the world's surface.
Her initial fear - that of being tortured or possibly bitten and turned
into a vampire - had fortunately not come to pass, and despite being
locked in a cell this entire time, with little clothing and no privacy,
she had been more or less left alone.  Food and water had been provided,
although it was obvious that the vampiric guards who brought it each time
would rather bite her and drink her blood.
  One advantage Neera had was that her captors knew nothing about her,
certainly not her abilities or level of intelligence.  She had listened
astutely while certain higher-ranking vampires thought her unconscious
and talked right outside the bars of her cell.  In any other situation,
she would not have been happy about the fact that the tall, black-haired
vampiress obviously knew Belphanior and had some sort of history with
him.  However, the one called Victoria had surely saved Neera from being
vampirized more than once during this brief captivity.  The gigantic
warrior, the one they called Ulruk, had barely been held at bay, but
Victoria seemed to have convinced him that this particular captive was
much more valuable alive and intact.  They hadn't even bothered to post
any guards outside her cell or the cell block; she deduced that there
weren't, and never had been, many prisoners in this grim city.
  Unfortunately, there was little that Neera could do, since she was
shackled to a ring set into the cell's wall and had nothing more than
a filthy tunic.  However, despite all of this, she had resolved to bide
her time and make the best of the situation.  The possibility of rescue
had not seriously occurred to her; she had heard Belphanior and the
others talk about Skava-Ra enough to know that going there was widely
considered insane, not to mention a probable death sentence.  Therefore,
when the unmistakable sound of explosions and other carnage reached her
windowless cell in the middle of the great central tower, she was quite
surprised, although she also had a pretty good guess about what might be
happening outside.  The frustration of being trapped in a cell, unable
to see or know exactly what was happening, was maddening.
  Then her second surprise of the day came as the door to the small cell
block opened to admit a tall, dark figure...

Victoria:  Wake up.
Neera:  I'm awake.  How could I not be, given whatever's happening out
  there?
Victoria:  (grimaces)
Neera:  Er, what exactly _is_ happening out there?
Victoria:  I think we both know the answer to that question.  (she takes
  the key from its peg on a wall, walks over, and unlocks the cell door)
Neera:  (her eyes widen)
Victoria:  (pulls the heavy door open as if it weighed nothing, and then
  strides into the cell)
Neera:  (recoils, fearful)
Victoria:  (grabs the shackle around the prisoner's wrist and rips it
  open)
Neera:  (steps away, rubbing her wrist)
Victoria:  Let's go.
Neera:  But-  Don't take this the wrong way, but why are you letting me
  go?
Victoria:  I'm not letting you go, I'm just letting you out of here.  If
  I let you go right now, you wouldn't last long.  Now come on.
Neera:  (walks out of the cell)  If you insist.
Victoria:  I suppose it was just bad luck on their part, that the home
  they had to rob to get that damned relic was Belphanior's.  Although
  the worst luck was those two idiots deciding to take back a prisoner.
  Had they just stolen the jawbone, he might have given chase, or he
  might not have.  By stealing you as well, they ensured pursuit.
Neera:  (wondering what the point is, she remains silent in order to
  learn as much as she can)
Victoria:  I tried to explain.  I tried to warn Ulruk, and get him to
  warn the others, but he wouldn't listen.  The problem with great men
  is that they often have great pride.  (she shakes her head)  And in
  this case, that pride could be the downfall of this whole city.  (she
  frowns)  If that is indeed Belphanior knocking at the gates, so to
  speak, then he won't have come alone.  He's probably got an army with
  him, and no army like any of this city's denizens would expect to face
  either.
Neera:  (suppresses a smirk)
Victoria:  But you already know all of this, don't you?  One cannot be
  in Belphanior's life and not know what he's capable of, and what drives
  him.  (the tower shakes from a nearby detonation of some sort, and she
  holds her hands up in frustration)  Case in point.

  The tall vampiress led the prisoner out of the cell block and down a
passage, into another chamber that was lavishly appointed.

Victoria:  (strides purposefully over to a large heap of furs)
Neera:  What are you doing now?
Victoria:  Quiet.  (she hurls some furs aside, exposing a small chest,
  then opens it)  Ah.  At least they obeyed Ulruk's orders and left this
  alone.  (she retrieves a small leather sack)  These are your things,
  or at least whatever you were carrying when they took you.  (she hefts
  the bag, eyeing it critically, then hands it to the surprised Neera)
Neera:  (starts to open the bag)
Victoria:  No, not now.  There's no time.  You can deal with that later.
Neera:  Why are you doing this?
Victoria:  Because you, sitting in that cell, are useless...useless as
  a hostage, useless for bartering, and frankly, with the chaos that's
  now happening all around us, you were also in grave danger.  I was
  concerned that you'd soon perish, at the hands of either vampires or
  attackers.
Neera:  Oh.
Victoria:  (leads the way through another door, into a short hall ending
  in a larger chamber)  It is my hope that by saving you from such a fate
  and reuniting you with Belphanior as soon as possible, this city will
  be spared from destruction.  Most of its inhabitants are innocent and
  have nothing to do with this situation.
Neera:  They're not innocent.  They keep and breed human slaves for food.
Victoria:  (shrugs)  Do you have the same concern for the cow that is
  slaughtered to provide the meat you eat?
Neera:  I don't see how-
Victoria:  (turns and glares at the sage)  The question was rhetorical.
  Whether or not you agree is irrelevant.
Neera:  (gaping in fear)
Victoria:  As soon as we get out of-
voice:  Out of where?

  They had entered the next, larger chamber - an opulent dining hall of
some sort - but the room was not unoccupied.

Victoria:  Drakov.
Drakov:  What are you doing with that prisoner?

  Standing in the middle of the room, a stack of documents under one
arm, was a tall, well-dressed vampiric nobleman.  Despite the situation,
Neera couldn't help but notice how handsome and regal the man was; he
practically projected an air of prestige and command - and a powerful
one at that.  Of course, Victoria knew exactly who he was, and didn't
really have time to deal with him.

Victoria:  I'm moving her.  Ulruk wanted her in a more secure location.
Drakov:  I've heard of no such order.
Victoria:  That's because he just gave it.  In case you haven't noticed,
  the city is under attack.  Things are a little chaotic at the moment.
Drakov:  (almost looks like he intends to take one of his scrolls and
  brandish it at her in anger)  You forget yourself, woman.  I am the
  administrator of this city.  Do not take that tone with me-

  The aristocrat suddenly found the tip of Victoria's saber at his pale
throat, the weapon's keen point drawing a tiny droplet of blood where it
touched the skin.

Drakov:  (eyes wide)  Uhm...
Victoria:  Choose your next words carefully, bureaucrat.

  Just then, two vampiric guards appeared by means of a door on the far
side of the room.

vampiric guard #1:  What is the meaning of this?  (he draws his sword,
  as does the other)
Drakov:  (steps back)  Very good.  Now, I do not know what treachery
  might be afoot-  <GHAK>

  The vampiric nobleman recoiled in shock and pain, dropping his pile
of documents as his newly-cut throat sprayed bright red blood all over
his fine shirt.

Victoria:  I warned you.
Neera:  (steps back to avoid being splashed by the gushing blood)  Eww,
  that's disgusting.
Drakov:  (falls to his knees, trying to stem the flow of blood with his
  hands)  <GLURK>

  Victoria had already sprung into further action, charging right toward
the two surprised guards and attacking both at the same time.  For her
part, Neera did not waste this opportunity.

Neera:  (quickly digs through the bag and retrieves her cloak, donning it
  as Victoria fends off both opponents' attacks)

  Fastening the cloak in place with her magical brooch, the sage next
put on both of her rings, as well as her magical circlet.  Only then did
she think to don her sandals, as being barefoot in any combat situation
was a disadvantage.  Technically, sandals weren't much better, but she
had to take what she could get right now.  By this time, one of the pair
of guards was down with a bad leg wound, and Victoria was fighting the
other, their blades ringing as they dueled.

vampiric guard #2:  (trading sword blows with Victoria, who is bleeding
  from a couple of minor cuts)  Your treachery shall not go unpunished!
Victoria:  I'm trying to save this city, you idiot.
vampiric guard #2:  I'm sure you'd say anything to save yourself now,
  bitch.
Victoria:  (parries his attack, then steps back)
vampiric guard #1:  (gets to his feet painfully, and prepares to attack
  the vampiress from behind)

  The vampire reeled suddenly as a barrage of fiery magical missiles
hit him about the head and shoulders, burning away small chunks of his
undead flesh.

Victoria:  (whirls, kicks the distracted foe in the crotch, then brings
  her sword back around in time to block that of the second attacker)
vampiric guard #1:  (falls, groaning and in pain from his various wounds)
Neera:  (readies another spell)
vampiric guard #2:  (misses Victoria with a lunging attack)
Victoria:  (tags him in his sword-arm with a slicing backhanded blow)
vampiric guard #2:  Argh!  (he swings his blade around, barely missing
  her as she steps back and to one side)  Damn it!
Victoria:  (not one to talk needlessly in battle, she fights silently)
Drakov:  (having recovered a bit, he staggers toward Neera, bloody hands
  grasping and mouth agape with fangs ready, his intention to drain her
  blood and heal his wounds)
Neera:  (figuring something like this might happen, she turns her next
  spell on him)

  A small but potent cone of blazing flame shot from her fingertips and
blasted the noble right in the face!

Drakov:  AAAAAARGH!  (he staggers back, flailing his arms, his head and
  shirt on fire)  AAARGH!
Neera:  (begins the work of casting a Stoneskin spell on herself)
Victoria:  (opens the second guard's stomach with a sudden deadly blow)
vampiric guard #2:  Uhk.  (he changes into mist-form and begins to drift
  toward the room's nearest exit)
Victoria:  (whirls, dispatching the other, fallen guard within moments)
vampiric guard #1:  (also forced into mist-form, which also drifts out
  of the chamber)
Victoria:  (turns and approaches the flaming, screaming Drakov, who has
  inadvertently managed to set some curtains on fire while thrashing
  about)  I never liked this man.  (with a precise, powerful swing of
  her saber, she splits the burning head in two from top to bottom)
Drakov:  (forced into mist-form, he floats away like the others)
Neera:  (watching in amazement)
Victoria:  Don't just stand there - see if you can put that fire out
  before it spreads.  We've got enough problems as it is.
Count Ossok:  You cccertainly do.

  The fighting and associated noise had attracted the attention of more
hostiles, in this case the tall, skinny, beast-like Ossok.  This ancient
vampire's pale skin, bald head, and rat-like fangs were terrifying, at
least to Neera, who recoiled with a shudder.

Count Ossok:  Come, my children.  (he gestures as several dozen rats of
  various sizes scurry into the room)  It isss a good thing I sssaw fit
  to do sssome sscouting.
Victoria:  Skulking, is more like it.  Call off your vermin.
Count Ossok:  Think again, ssslut.  You might have fooled General Ulruk,
  but not me...not Ossssok.
Victoria:  That's because you're nothing like us, but rather a freak.
  (she kicks a foot-long rat that is getting too close, sending its
  hairy form tumbling into a corner)  I'm warning you-
Count Ossok:  Pleassse, do not insssult my intelligenccce.  You have
  freed and taken a prisssoner and attacked guardsss, not to mention
  Drakov.  (he motions his rats forward, and they quickly surround the
  two women)
Victoria:  (motions Neera to get behind her as she readies her saber,
  eyeing the dirty creatures)
Count Ossok:  Trussst me when I sssay that Yegyar would readily give me
  free reign to deal with you asss I sssee fit.
Mongo:  (bursts into the room with a mighty shout)  Deal with this, you
  fucking bloodsucker!  (he hurls Stormcrest at the filthy vampire lord)
Count Ossok:  (hit by the enchanted weapon, he is knocked back into the
  wall with a loud crunching sound, and stays imbedded there amidst the
  cracked masonry as the hammer flies back to Mongo's hand)
Skektek:  (blasts the handful of rats nearest to Neera and Victoria with
  magic missiles)  Yeahhhhh!  (to Victoria)  Long time, no see.
Victoria:  (nods to the wizard, amused)
Otto:  (shoots a rat with his crossbow, pinning it to a couch)
rat #4:  (scrabbles helplessly, bleeding profusely and unable to free
  itself)
Belphanior:  (strides into the room, dispatching first one rat and then
  another as he heads straight for Neera)
Neera:  (runs into his arms)
Belphanior:  (immediately checks her neck for any evidence of bites,
  then takes a small vial and splashes a bit of holy water on her)
Neera:  (wiping the drops from her face)  Well.  I missed you too.
Belphanior:  (seizes her in a fierce hug)  Mission accomplished!
Neera:  I can't believe it...you came for me!
Belphanior:  Of course I did.  (he glares at Victoria)
Victoria:  Don't give me that look.  (she cuts a rat in half with her
  blade)  I've done nothing but help her.  I want her gone.  I want all
  of you gone.
Belphanior:  Well, then.  Right now, are you with us or against us?
Victoria:  (cuts a giant rat in half)  With you, it would seem.
Neera:  (to Belphanior)  I'd advise believing her.
Victoria:  (smirks)
Belphanior:  I guess it's a good thing for you that we don't have a
  priest amidst our ranks today, then.
Victoria:  (stabs a large rat that was about to try and bite her foot)
  It would seem so.
Otto:  (shoots another rat in the head, killing it instantly)
Bosco:  (his winged boots flapping furiously, he simply flies over the
  rats)
Mongo:  (swats at a leaping rat with his shield, batting it aside with
  enough force to crush every bone in its body)

  A handful of vampiric guards, no doubt following on the heels of Count
Ossok, suddenly burst into the room from the same entrance that he had.

vampiric guard captain:  Get them!
Hope:  (finishes her spell, causing the rock of the ceiling directly
  above most of the the vampires to change into mud...which immediately
  falls onto them, hindering their advance significantly)

Ys:  (wades into the room, almost immediately crushing a smaller rat
  underfoot)
wispy thing:  (having sailed over to where Ossok is slowly and painfully
  prying his bloody form loose from the wall)  brrrn!
Razor Charlie:  (tiptoeing around the general melee looking for a good
  opportunity to throw some knives, he spies the wisp accosting Ossok,
  and heads that way)





  Elsewhere in the Imperial Tower, Bram and his vampire hunters had come
up against a certain morbidly-obese elder vampire and high priest.  This
individual, along with two shambling, mindless ogre zombies that he
controlled - plus a dozen vampiric guards - was giving the intruders a
serious run for their money...

Varnath:  (having created several small ice seeds, he hurls them at the
  hunters)
Melancon:  (hit by one of the things, he staggers and shivers as it
  detonates in a blast of icy cold)
Rezzik:  (jumps back as another seed impacts the floor right where he
  was standing)  Whoa!  (he immediately turns to defend himself against
  the attack of a nearby vampiric guard)
Yuki:  (leaps aside and avoids another seed and the resultant small
  explosion of cold as it bursts against the floor)
vampiric guard #7:  (hit by another seed due to the careless nature of
  the high priest's attack, he is unaffected by the cold)
Yuki:  (rolls up into an attack position and slashes at the nearest foe)
vampiric guard #13:  (finds his sword-arm severed by the lightning-fast
  attack, and staggers, blood spurting from his stump)  Aieee!
Yuki:  (whirls and buries her sword's tip in his throat)
vampiric guard #13:  (forced into mist form)
Janus:  (having produced a small silver urn with some runes in its base,
  he holds it up while chanting ancient words of power in some long-lost
  arcane dialect)

  The mist form of the critically-injured vampiric guard was instantly
halted in its escape...and instead drawn to the urn, and _into_ it!

Janus:  (holds the urn steady as a small burst of green flame shoots out
  of its top)
Varnath:  (despite his age and power, he recoils at the sight of this
  item which is clearly able to destroy vampires in their misty form)
  By the fangs of Kanchelsis...!
Hrothgar:  (cornered by two guards and one of the big zombies, he drinks
  a potion and goes into full berserker mode, charging at all three with
  his gigantic battleaxe swinging wildly)  GRAAAAAAARGH!
ogre zombie #1:  (knocked back, its rotting head split from crown to
  neck by the minotaur's axe)
Bram:  (bashes a vampire with his cane, the silver tip opening a cut in
  its forehead)
vampiric guard #3:  Argh!
Elias:  (swarmed by four vampires, he ignores their life-draining touch
  and methodically bashes them against the floor or other vampires, one
  by one)

  One of the vampires had the bright idea to dislodge the light-globe
atop the flesh golem's back, and it hit the floor and shattered into a
hundred pieces - each of which was itself enchanted with the spell of
light!  This actually made the overall illumination in the room even
stronger, and surprised the vampires.

Elias:  (swings one arm into a wall, smashing that vampire and causing
  it to let go of him)
Melancon:  (having carefully cradled his small, sigil-covered stone pot
  for long enough, he finally sees a good opportunity, and hurls the
  thing toward Varnath, speaking a command word.
Varnath:  (watches as the thing shatters ten feet away from him)  Hah!
  You missed!
Melancon:  No, I didn't.  Or at least, I didn't need to hit you.

  The pot had contained a small amount of water, which was now somehow
whirling and growing into a larger amount...a much larger amount.

water elemental:  (splashing and gurgling, it immediately envelops the
  nearest vampire)
vampiric guard #8:  (almost laughs, until its flesh starts to burn and
  melt)  <gluuuuuuub>
Varnath:  What?!?
Melancon:  Holy water elemental.  (he points at the obese high priest
  while addressing the elemental)  Get him.
holy water elemental:  (begins to move toward Varnath)
Varnath:  (screaming in a high-pitched squeal)  Nooo!

  The vampire used an item to summon a high, thick wall of bones between
himself and the elemental; this slowed the latter down somewhat, but it
would eventually get through.  Meanwhile, in the main battle, the burst
of a wide-area-effect spell heralded a new arrival, the cone of cold
exploding in the midst of all combatants.  This was a calculated move,
as the fierce cold would harm any vampires caught in its blast much less
than it would the mortal attackers.

skinny red-haired boy:  (standing there, giggling, as various people
  stagger about thanks to his cone of cold)
Bram:  What the hell are you?
Cagan:  Your death!

  Nearby, Hrothgar was fully in the grip of his berserker rage.  Nothing
the vampires did seemed to slow him down, and he had wounded several of
them already, plus hacked one of the ogre zombies to pieces.

Hrothgar:  RAAARGH!  (he swings his axe, gutting a vampire)
vampiric guard #10:  (forced to become mist)
Janus:  (chanting, he still brandishes the silver urn, which draws that
  vampire's mist-form to it as well, consuming it with another small
  gout of green flame)
Varnath:  Enough.  (he hits the bandage-wrapped mage with an evil spell
  to slay living beings)
Janus:  (resists this intended death, but still staggers, dropping the
  urn, which clatters and rolls away)
Cagan:  (completes a spell, firing a thin green beam from one finger)
Melancon:  (his back turned and therefore completely unaware, he glows
  and vanishes, leaving only some dust)
Bram:  Noooo!  Melancon!
Cagan:  (cackling in triumph, an unsettlingly evil noise coming from the
  mouth of what appears to be a young boy)  That was just the first-

  The boy/vampire/wizard's eyes widened suddenly, even as his ears just
now registered the slight whistling sound that had just happened, and
his body registered a strange and intense pain.  A thin red line became
visible at his neck...a precise and perfect line, made by a precise and
perfect attack.

Cagan:  (his body remains standing as his head rolls off)
Yuki:  (behind him, she turns slowly, her deadly sword dripping with the
  vampire's blood)
Cagan:  (his body finally follows his head to the ground, as both change
  into mist and float away)
Janus:  (having not reached the dropped urn yet, he just gets to his feet
  as a vampire runs him through with his sword)
vampiric guard #2:  Hah!
Janus:  Urk.
Rezzik:  Stay away from him!  (he pounces fiercely, his sword and dagger
  moving in tandem and quickly driving the vampire away)

  Janus had no tangible body inside the bandages, so the wound was not
lethal, but it was disruptive, and ruined the spell he'd been casting.

Varnath:  (switches targets for his next effort, dropping a thin but
  fierce column of flame on Hrothgar, Bram, and three vampires unlucky
  enough to be in the way)
Hrothgar:  (yells in rage and pain as his skin and flesh are burned away)
  GRAAAAARR-  (he goes silent and collapses, burning)
Bram:  (partially protected from the flames due to the magical armor he
  wears)  Argh!
vampires:  (as they were all wounded already, they are now all forced
  to assume mist form)
Varnath:  (spies the holy water elemental completing the process of
  seeping through the wall of bones)  Aie!  (he begins to waddle away)
Elias:  (having been moving around to flank the high priest, he charges
  forth and tackles the heavy vampire, both of them falling hard to the
  chamber floor)  Oh, no you don't.
Varnath:  What?!?  Nooooo!
Elias:  (grimly holds the flailing vampiric priest in place as the holy
  water elemental fulfills the last command it was given, and flows onto
  both vampire and golem with a tremendous wet splash)
Varnath:  (utterly surrounded by the holy liquid, his flesh begins to
  melt away, and he flails with desperate strength)
Elias:  (not possessed of the need to breathe, but definitely possessed
  of the strength necessary to hold the dying vampire in place, he simply
  continues to do so as the vampire's struggles grow weaker and weaker)

  There was no mist-form for the high priest - after a short time amidst
the holy water, he was just gone.  As for Cagan, he didn't escape either,
for Janus had recovered and had the urn once more, and was chanting.

Cagan-mist-form:  (almost out of one of the chamber's exits, it is
  abruptly pulled back toward the urn, and moments later ceases to exist
  as a burst of green flame, a bit more powerful than the previous ones,
  shoots from the urn's open top)
Janus:  When I kill them, they remain dead.
Rezzik:  That's the spirit!

  Despite the disintegration of Melancon, and the huge charred form that
had once been Hrothgar, the vampire hunters were triumphant.  While the
spells had been traded back and forth, Yuki, Bram, and Rezzik had been
dispatching vampires as fast as they were able.  Most of these had been
consumed by the urn that Janus held, though a few had gotten away.

Bram:  Damn.  (shakes his head)  It's never easy to lose people.
Janus:  One might then question why we do this.  (he uses a spell to
  repair the two holes in his covering of bandages, holes through which
  a blue vapor is leaking)
Rezzik:  What of the minotaur?
Elias:  (checking the body)  Dead.  We might be able to bring him back
  to life if we had a priest.
Bram:  We'll look into that later.  Bring him with us.
Elias:  (picks up the smoking corpse, whose hand still clutches the big
  battleaxe in a death-grip)
Janus:  (unfolds and opens a portable hole, into which Elias deposits
  the body)
Yuki:  (checking the rough map they made, with Belphanior's help, before
  embarking on this mission)
Bram:  So we are down to five.
Rezzik:  (gestures toward the holy water elemental)  Six, if that thing
  can be convinced to come with us.
Janus:  (turns suddenly, eyeing one of the large chamber's exits)  Aie.
Bram:  What?
Janus:  Something is coming...something very, very powerful.
Yuki:  (without a word, she calmly puts the map away and draws her sword)





  Meanwhile, one floor below, Belphanior's party was still locked in
battle with Count Ossok, his rats, and the newly-arrived vampiric guards
who were covered in the mud that used to be the section of ceiling above
them.

Count Ossok:  (frees his battered, bloody body from the indention made
  in the wall by Mongo's hammer-strike)  Eh?
Razor Charlie:  (standing nearby, a throwing knife in each hand)
Count Ossok:  (shuffles toward the warrior, clawed hands raised and
  long fangs bared)  Your blood ssshall...ssshall...(he stops advancing)
Razor Charlie:  Surprise, motherfucker.  (he throws a knife, hitting the
  vampire in the chest)
Count Ossok:  Argh!
Razor Charlie:  (quickly puts another knife in the vampire's throat)
Count Ossok:  Urgh!  (he reels, blood spurting from the ghastly wound)
Razor Charlie:  (already has two more knives in his hands)
Count Ossok:  (suddenly changes into a large bat, flying up toward the
  high ceiling of the dining hall)  Squee!
Razor Charlie:  (doesn't miss a beat, sprinting toward and then jumping
  onto a table and hurling another knife at the fleeing bat-form)
Count Ossok in bat form:  (hit in one wing, he loses control and flaps
  his wings madly as he dips toward the ground)  Squaaark!
Razor Charlie:  (throws a fourth blade, slicing the bat's side)

  As the four-foot-wide giant bat spun crazily in the air, Razor Charlie
tensed and then leaped, landing atop the creature's back and getting one
corded arm around its thick neck.  His other hand held his most powerful
magical knife, and as bat and man descended to the floor, Razor Charlie
stabbed the thing again and again in its body.  Blood sprayed everywhere
and the bat screamed and fought, but it was weakening fast.

Count Ossok in bat form:  (changes form again, becoming a large rat and
  slipping out of Charlie's grasp, hitting the floor, and scurrying off
  to blend in with all the other rats)
Razor Charlie:  Damn it.  (he eyes his blades, which drip with the foe's
  blood)  Heh.

  The lithe warrior had leapt to the attack without thinking, but that
didn't really matter.  Some time ago, he had gotten Neera to figure out
the exact properties of his amulet, and they had learned something quite
useful:  not only did the item actively repel vampires, but this effect
wasn't negated if the wearer willingly approached a vampire.  This meant
that Razor Charlie could, in theory, keep attacking a vampire and rather
than fight back, the creature would be compelled to try its damndest to
flee from the amulet.  Of course, this had needed to be put to the test,
which he had just done, and with resounding success in his professional
opinion.

Razor Charlie:  (reverses his grip on the blades in his hands, and heads
  in the general direction that Ossok fled)
Bosco:  (fighting off a vampire in bat form, his sword swinging madly)
  Ack!  Stay away from me!
wispy thing:  (comes to the halfling's assistance, flying down into the
  vampire-bat's face)  sssss!
Otto:  (having given up on using his crossbow and resorted to the sword,
  he fights with a vampiric guard, then staggers as another vampire
  grabs him from behind)  Aaaargh!  (he weakens, struggling to hold onto
  his weapon)
Skektek:  (fires a sheet of flame at the vampires who are emerging from
  the mud Hope dropped on them, setting several ablaze)
Ys:  (cuts a vampire in two with a single blow, causing it to change
  into mist)
vampiric mage:  (summons an ice storm within the dining hall, blasting
  all within in freezing ice and snow)

  That move evened the odds somewhat; all of the giant rats perished,
Bosco and Hope were knocked unconscious, while Skektek was stunned and
covered in snow.  The vampires, on the other hand, were barely injured
by the powerful cold; now, they moved in on their weakened foes.

Mongo:  Enough!  (he sets his hammer aside and brandishes the holy torch
  of Darius)
Victoria:  (recognizing the powerful item, and being right next to an
  exit, she leaps through that doorway and out of the room, knocking an
  unsuspecting vampiric guard aside in the process)

  The unremarkable-looking torch instantly ignited of its own accord,
burning with a fierce white light that meant death or serious damage
for any undead in the vicinity.  All of the vampires within twenty feet
were instantly reduced to ashes, while the ones in a further thirty-foot
radius were seared as if by the sun's rays.  This caused about half of
them to change into mist and seep away, seeking safety.

Mongo:  (touches Otto with the torch, restoring the life force he'd lost
  to the vampire's touch just moments earlier)
Otto:  (revitalized)  Whoa...thanks!
Belphanior:  (finally not having to worry so much about protecting Neera,
  he darts forth and stabs a wounded vampire in the heart, beginning the
  process of transforming him back into a human)
Razor Charlie:  (spots a single giant, smoldering rat weakly making its
  way toward the nearest exit from the hall, and sprints over there, a
  blade in each hand)

  If there was a positive side to the ice storm, it lay in the fact that
the intense cold had killed off all of the normal rats, meaning the one
that remained was something more than a normal rat...

Count Ossok in rat form:  (badly wounded from knives and holy torch, he
  simply seeks to escape, that he might live to fight another day)
Razor Charlie:  (leaps atop the creature, stabbing it repeatedly with
  the two knives)

  After five or six blows, the rat-thing changed into mist, which then
floating away weakly.

Razor Charlie:  (takes a few experimental swipes at the gas, without any
  luck)
Ys:  Why do you hate that one so much?
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)

  The remaining vampires here were finished off, by blade or by torch.
It was interesting to note that some methods of physical death (weapons,
spells) forced them to assume gaseous form and leave, while others (the
light of the holy torch) seemed to destroy them outright.  This train of
thought led to another question...

Belphanior:  Where's Victoria?
Otto:  (helping Hope get to her feet)  Beats me.  She was fighting the
  other vampires, last I saw.
Neera:  (to Belphanior)  She actually did help me, more than once.  She
  protected me a couple of days ago, then freed me today, then protected
  me again when the other vampires confronted us.
Belphanior:  Noted.
wispy thing:  (flying wildly around the elf)
Belphanior:  What?  Do you know where Victoria is?
wispy thing:  yrrrp!  (it flies toward a particular exit, then pauses
  when it realizes that everyone's not quite ready to follow)
Belphanior:  (to the others, including the wounded who have now regained
  consciousness)  Let's go.  (as an afterthought)  Mongo, it might be
  best if you put that torch away.  If we do have an ally in Victoria,
  we don't want to burn her to ash.
Mongo:  Gotcha.  (he stows the holy torch, which extinguishes itself,
  and grabs his hammer again)

  In short order, the wisp led them out of the demolished dining hall,
down a couple of passageways, and into some sort of meeting chamber that
was almost as large as the dining room had been.  This hall had a number
of large windows that overlooked Skava-Ra, facing the city gates.  A tall
woman stood at one such window, watching the events outside.

Victoria:  (turns to face the others as they enter the chamber)  I was
  right, you know.
Belphanior:  How so?
Victoria:  Stupidity brought foes to this city, and further stupidity
  made the city unprepared for what was inevitably coming.
Belphanior:  (looks at her sternly)  Victoria...they killed Jenna and
  took Neera.  What else was I to do, except retaliate with every single
  means at my disposal?
Victoria:  Oh, I understand.  It's just a shame.  They had a good thing
  here, at least for those of my kind who simply wanted to live in peace.
Belphanior:  Some would debate whether that was acceptable, given that
  living in peace still means draining the blood of people.
Victoria:  Granted.  I guess that debate matters little now.  (she again
  faces the window, beholding the dozen battles happening outside)  Oh,
  look.  A red dragon.
Otto:  (looking around wearily, wondering what happens next)
Belphanior:  So...what now?
Victoria:  There's a fight coming, more than you or any of your allies
  could possibly expect.  The ruler of this city is the oldest of our
  kind...a demigod, to be sure.  His powers were beyond compare before,
  and now he has the Sacred Shard of Nyyx-
Neera:  Sacred Shard of..._THAT'S_ what it was?
Belphanior:  (confused)  The what?
Victoria:  (sighs)  That jawbone you found in gods-only-know what deep
  dungeon or tomb.  It's an unholy relic, the last remnant from the very
  first vampire, and will give Yegyar even more power.  You will regret
  the day you found it, I can assure you of that.  The coming battle is
  one that I have no intention of participating in.
Belphanior:  You're fleeing the city?
Victoria:  All of you should remember something:  the only difference
  between any of you, and me or any like me...is one bite.  Most who
  become vampires have no choice in the matter.  Tomorrow, perhaps, it
  could be one of you who finds yourself a vampire.  (she eyes the ring
  on her left hand...and abruptly vanishes)
Neera:  What the hell?!?
Belphanior:  It's a very special, very powerful ring that can whisk her
  away to a predetermined safe place of her choosing.  She's used it in
  the past, to survive vampire hunters, to survive sunlight...and now to
  survive this, apparently.
Otto:  You've got to give her that - she's a survivor.
Belphanior:  Yeah.  (he absurdly wonders to himself why he didn't offer
  to use the moonsword to change Victoria back to a regular person, then
  shakes his head and walks over to the window, surveying the mass chaos
  outside)

  It was almost too much to comprehend.  The city was aflame in a dozen
places, and golems assaulted its walls at several points.  Each of the
constructs was under attack by multiple vampires and their minions, but
there was little they could do against such foes.  The huge adamantine
golem had long ago broken through into the city proper, and was wreaking
all kinds of havoc.  In fact, some of the fires and collapsed buildings
were the result of defenders' spells ricocheting from its invulnerable
body.  The vast majority of the city's vampires were not tasked with any
defensive role and never had been; although each of these undead beings
possessed immense strength, few of them had the wherewithal to use it.
  This was not to say that the attackers were immune to the vampires'
efforts.  A number of them had fallen to spells, swords, or life force
draining, and the dozens of ongoing, individual fights were quite fierce.
In addition to that, mighty magic was everywhere:  fireballs, lightning
bolts, meteorites, and the like danced across the artificial sky and
amongst the myriad towers and sky-bridges of Skava-Ra, and every few
moments it seemed like something exploded somewhere.

Otto:  What now?
Belphanior:  We could go out there and join the battle, or we could find
  and free the slaves from their pens-

  The conversation was interrupted by a rapid series of heavy impacts
from the floor directly above, impacts which collapsed parts of this
chamber's ceiling, causing rubble to fall on the companions.  A moment
later, the entire structure shook, and a tremendous impact knocked them
all from their feet as a large section of the tower - including part of
this chamber's exterior wall and the attached ceiling - suddenly exploded
outward, driven by an unimaginable force from above.  Along with the
jagged rip in the outer wall of this room, part of the ceiling was now
gone.  A cold wind blew in from outside, along with the assorted sounds
of battle, and the adventurers were reminded that they were a couple
dozen floors above the ground level of the huge cavern.

Belphanior:  (watches in amazement as Elias, the flesh golem that was
  part of Bram's crew, falls past the rip in the wall, limbs flailing
  silently)  What the hell...?

  A wizened figure, cloaked in black robes which were wrapped in blacker
shadows, floated out of the gaping hole in the tower.  Its chalk-white
skin was visible here and there as the robes fluttered in the wind, and
in one of its bony claws was clutched a familiar-looking jawbone.  It
seemed absurd that such a slight, pale individual could have caused the
damage to the tower's outer wall, but at the same time, it was somehow
immediately and inarguably apparent that this was exactly what had
happened.  The thing radiated overwhelming auras of power and evil, and
merely from looking upon it, Belphanior inadvertently shuddered.

Belphanior:  (shakes his head to clear it, as the being slowly floats
  away, toward the main battle)
Rezzik:  (falls through from the level above, somehow landing on his
  feet in the midst of the adventurers)

  The warrior was somewhat the worse for wear; he bled from several bad
gashes, and one of his arms was bent at an odd angle.

Belphanior:  What's happening?
Rezzik:  (spits out blood)  That's the vampire god-king, Yegyar.
Belphanior:  I know.
Rezzik:  He set Janus on fire...blasted the holy water elemental out
  of existence...froze Bram solid in a block of ice...swatted the rest
  of us aside like we were insects, and knocked out the side of the
  tower.  Elias fell, I think.
Bosco:  (peering over the edge of the broken tower wall)  Yep, he sure
  did.
Skektek:  We've got to go after him!
Belphanior:  Agreed.
Rezzik:  I don't know how.  Fighting him is impossible...we couldn't
  get close, not even Yuki.
Mongo:  (preparing to hurl his warhammer at the foe, who is gradually
  getting further away)
Belphanior:  (stops the dwarf)  No.
Mongo:  What?  But-
Belphanior:  We have wounded or dying here, and we need to regroup.  We
  can't do that if he turns around and comes back here to fight us.
Mongo:  Grrrrr...okay, fine.  But let's get our crap together and get
  back into the fight, fast!
Otto:  How are we going to get out - down - there?  We can't all fly.
Bosco:  (helpfully)  I can.
Janus:  (floats down into the room)  Leave that to me.

  The strange wizard's wrappings were burnt and blackened, but he had
obviously survived Yegyar's fiery attack.  While others attended to the
wounded or otherwise prepared, Janus opened his portable hole.

Janus:  I require assistance...(to Mongo)  Can you grab that roll of
  cloth, within, and pull it out?
Mongo:  Uh, sure.
Janus:  It is heavy-
Mongo:  (pulls the thing out with one hand)  No problem.
Bosco:  Is that a carpet?
Janus:  It is indeed.  If some of you can help unroll it...

  This wasn't just a magic carpet, it was perhaps the grandfather of all
magic carpets.  There was room enough on its surface to carry everyone
present.

Janus:  We can use this to join battle with that foe.
Rezzik:  (having chugged a powerful healing potion, he flexes his arm)
  Good.

  Bram was, as had been noted, encased in a large block of ice.  This
presented a problem, as thawing him out would take some time.

Mongo:  (eyeing the block critically)  I could hit it with my hammer...
  that would crack it open.
Belphanior:  And maybe crack Bram open too.  No, that won't do.  (he does
  some quick thinking, and comes up with the best compromise)  Skektek.
Skektek:  Eh?
Belphanior:  Since you have fire magic and can also fly, you'll stay up
  here and get Bram out of this ice, then the two of you can join the
  battle.
Skektek:  But-
Belphanior:  No buts.  It's the only way.
Skektek:  Fine.  (he begins working a fire spell of some sort, grumbling
  as everyone else gets onto the magic carpet)

  Moments later, Janus guided the strange platform out of the tower and
toward the city's gates.  Several of the passengers - those who had never
taken such a trip - gripped the carpet with white knuckles.  Others just
sat back and enjoyed the ride...

Bosco:  Wheeeee!  This thing flies a lot faster than my winged boots.

  It wasn't hard to spot their objective, as the vampire-king was between
the main city and the gates, hovering about ten feet above the ground and
engaged in battle with multiple foes...and apparently winning.  A mighty
bolt of lightning rebounded without ever touching the godling, streaking
back at its caster and blasting him into char.  Numerous arrows and bolts
were repelled by some invisible barrier before they could hit the thing,
and a barrage of magical missiles were also reflected, careening away in
random directions.  Belphanior could see Parekh, Dexitheseus, and others
engaged in these attempts to attack the vampire king, which didn't bode
well.

Belphanior:  Damn.
Neera:  I haven't ever researched the Shard of Nyyx, but I'd venture a
  guess that when held by a vampire, it turns back all attacks.  Hell,
  we're lucky if that's all it does.
Rezzik:  I can tell you that the Yegyar who plowed through us earlier
  was nothing like the old, weak, slow Yegyar that we expected.
Neera:  Perhaps the relic revitalized him in some way.
Janus:  That would be putting it mildly.
Rezzik:  It was like we were barely there - he didn't consider us worth
  his time.  He seemed intent on getting out into the battle down there.
Otto:  I'd say he achieved his goal, then.
Belphanior:  Bosco, when we get close, I want you to divert...fly away
  from the carpet, go off to the side, and use that chess set of yours
  to summon reinforcements.
Bosco:  I can do that.  (he frowns)  How many of the pieces do you want
  me to use?
Belphanior:  (grimly)  All of them.
Mongo:  (to Janus)  Can you take us directly over where he is right now?
Janus:  (nods)  I was going to do that anyway, until we can figure out
  the best approach and landing point.
Mongo:  Good.  (he hefts his hammer, eyeing the foe as the carpet draws
  nearer)

  Meanwhile, nearby and below...

Parekh:  (completes a spell whose purpose is to draw the victim down into
  the earth, but can only watch helplessly as nothing happens)  What's he
  got?  Magic resistance?  Or are we just not trying the right spells?
Pallin:  (having just tried and failed with a spell to send the vampire
  lord to another plane of existence)  I'm not sure.  Nothing we've tried
  has worked.  It could be the relic, or he could just be that powerful.
Dexitheseus:  I doubt he'll give us time to figure it out.  (he summons
  a fiery cloud around Yegyar, but it quickly fizzles out with a series
  of sparks and pops)
Alindyar:  (uses his magic to uproot a stalagmite from the cavern floor,
  hurling it at the undead foe)

  This attack actually had some effect, the makeshift spear of stone
glancing off of the vampire king's arm and getting his attention.

Parekh:  Good shot!
Alindyar:  Nay.  (he frowns)  I was aiming at his head.  Some sort of
  deflection occurred.
Yegyar:  (glances at the wizards, and raises his arm to invoke some
  horrific power)

  Just then, a small but powerful armored form dropped from above like
a bomb, hitting the vampire lord with tremendous force and knocking the
jawbone from his hand!

Mongo:  (stands amidst the small crater he just made, then rears back
  and hits Yegyar with his hammer, actually staggering the godling)
  That'll-
Yegyar:  (suddenly backhands the dwarf, knocking him back thirty feet)
  UNHAND ME!
Mongo:  (smashes into a boulder, cracking it, and slumps to the ground)
  Whoa...(he wipes his nose, from which a line of blood now trickles,
  and smiles grimly)

  The dwarf's surprise attack had given the wizards time to regroup, and
they launched another series of magical attacks.  Parekh conjured into
being a gigantic mallet of force, and used it to strike the vampire king;
this assault was followed by a prismatic spray from Dexitheseus, which
unfortunately had no effect.  Pallin then hit Yegyar with a barrage of
blazing meteorites, which were mostly deflected, though one did strike
the foe and detonate, appearing to stun him.

Yegyar:  (points at Pallin, and the grey elf is suddenly struck blind)
Pallin:  Aie!  (he flails about in panic)
Alindyar:  (uses his wand to summon up a Bigby's crushing hand, which
  grabs the vampire in an iron grip)
Yegyar:  Aaargh!

  The vampire lord focused his attention, and the jawbone-relic, which
was lying on the ground ten feet away, leaped into his hand!

Yegyar:  (touches the gigantic force-hand with the relic, dispelling it)
Alindyar:  Perhaps we should have focused on that thing instead of its
  owner.
Lyra:  (blasts Yegyar with a massive lightning bolt)
Yegyar:  (laughs as the electricity dissipates around him)

  By now, dozens of vampires from the city had flocked to their king's
aid, and approached from all directions, complicating the battle.  The
others who approached - various members of the attacking force who were
still in the fight - would surely complicate it further.

Yegyar:  (addressing his people)  TO ME, DENIZENS OF SKAVA-RA!  TODAY
  WE DESTROY THESE IMPUDENT FOOLS WHO DARE ATTACK OUR CITY...AND THEN
  WE SHALL-
Mongo:  (hurls Stormcrest, knocking the foe to his knees)  You're damn
  tough, I'll give you that.  (he catches the hammer as it returns to
  his hand)  Good.  I've needed a challenge for a while now.
Yegyar:  (turns to regard the dwarf, furious)
Mongo:  (throws his hammer again)
Yegyar:  Enough!  (he drops a hemispherical bubble of force around the
  hammer, sealing it behind the invisible barrier, where it ricochets
  around wildly)
Mongo:  Hey!  What the hell?
Yegyar:  (stands once more, and turns his attention away from the dwarf
  and onto the horde of assorted foes that now charge him from multiple
  directions)
Bosco:  (flying somewhere nearby)  Behold...the Legions of Bosco!
Yegyar:  (waving his skinny arm, he bombards the majority of that force
  with driving sheets of snow and ice, halting or driving back many of
  them)
Bosco:  (staring in disbelief)  B- but...
Yegyar:  (eyes blazing, he whirls about, intending to deal with the rest
  of the magi)
Mongo:  Don't you ignore me, fucker.  (he brandishes the holy torch of
  Darius, which ignites in a blaze of white light, destroying a few of
  the nearest vampires, burning a dozen others, and causing all the rest
  who can see it to recoil...all save one)
Yegyar:  (blinks, as if the light hurts his eyes but nothing more)  You
  have interesting toys, dwarf.  (he brandishes the jawbone and speaks
  a few words in a long-dead language)

  To Mongo's shock and amazement, the torch was extinguished and also
instantly covered in a thick layer of ice!

Mongo:  B- but...that's the sacred torch...of-
Yegyar:  (smirks)  Yes, I know.  Who do you think slew the holy man, all
  those ages ago?
Ulruk:  (leading a small wedge-shaped force of vampiric warriors, he
  steadily plows through all opposing forces as he makes his way toward
  his king)
Drak:  (moves to intercept this group, swinging his hammer in a great
  arc and taking out several vampires)
Ulruk:  (moves to engage the gigantic warrior, ducking under his next
  blow and then stabbing him in the side)
Drak:  Argh!  (taken by a powerful icy chill, he staggers)
Parekh:  Drak!  (she looks at her fallen lover, then at Yegyar, then
  back at Drak)
Dexitheseus:  Go to him.  We'll handle ugly there.
Parekh:  (nods, already working another spell)

  A few moments later, there was a great detonation all around Drak, as
a powerful wave of force hit all around him - but spared him utterly -
and radiated outward.  Everyone and everything around Drak, including
rocks and such, was instantly and forcibly pushed away to a distance of
about thirty feet.

Ulruk:  What the hell?
Yod Ironbeard:  (reins in his gigantic war-lizard, right in the vampire
  general's path)  Don't worry about that lad who think's he's a giant.
  (he hefts his ancient axe)  Worry about me.  (he dismounts)
Ulruk:  Come, then.  (they close to melee range, even as both of their
  retinues of warriors close with each other, dwarves against vampires)

  Others, such as the paladin twins, Rob, and St. Wilhelm, had also made
their way over to this area, and their efforts had turned away countless
vampires since the beginning of the fighting.  Indeed, they still were...

Rob:  (confronts and quickly repels a half-dozen foes)

  In this great arena of battle, no vampire was safe; they never knew if
one moment they might be locked in battle with an invader, only to be
turned by one or another holy man the next moment.  The battle wasn't
one-sided, though, for Yegyar had numerous wizards and high priests who
contributed spells to the fray.  A number of the allied attackers had
already fallen or were out of the fight:  Limbor, Spikey and Sparkey,
and several of the golems.  And the battle continued...

vampiric wizard:  (hits the flying carpet with a lightning bolt, knocking
  it from the sky and sending everyone tumbling)

  Fortunately, the thing hadn't been too high above the cavern floor, so
death wasn't assured for those who fell...

Rezzik:  (manages to land atop a couple of vampiric warriors, using them
  to break his fall)
Ys:  (lands heavily, and lies there unmoving)
Neera:  (caught by the astute Bosco, who was nearby after unleashing his
  chess set)  Whoa.
Bosco:  (finds that his winged boots can barely hold them both)  We're
  going down.  (they land with a slight bump)
Hope:  (having cast a protective spell shortly after getting on the magic
  carpet, she simply floats to the ground like a feather)
Otto:  (hangs onto the carpet as it spins down and lands, avoiding harm
  other than a couple of bumps and bruises)
Janus:  (drifts down to the ground under his own mystical flying power)
Razor Charlie:  (falls to the ground and hits pretty hard)  Unf!  (he
  lies there, bleeding and barely conscious)
vampiric warrior #33:  (approaches, thinking to kill this helpless foe,
  but suddenly finds himself unable to get closer than about ten feet)
  What?
Yuki:  (having somehow landed safely nearby, she dashes over and strikes,
  severing one of the vampire's legs at the knee)
vampiric warrior #33:  Aaargh!  (he falls)
Yuki:  (her silver sword flashes as she finishes the vampire off, causing
  it to change to mist)
wispy thing:  sssss.  (flits about right in front of a vampiric wizard,
  distracting it enough to ruin his spell)
vampiric wizard #11:  What the hell?!?  (he swats at the wisp)
Belphanior:  (having landed safely, he sneaks around behind the foe and
  impales him with the moonsword, effecting the change from undead to
  living)
vampiric wizard #14:  (casts a petrification spell on the bandage-wrapped
  wizard)
Janus:  (resists the powerful magic, and retaliates with a sheet of fire
  that torches the vampire)

  And on it went.  Here, a group of vampires were kept out of the action
by a carefully-placed bubble of force.  There, a swarm of black tentacles
took a priest and some dwarves out of the fight, even as their companions
rushed to help free them from the tendrils.  Nearby, a blade barrier kept
some vampiric spellcasters from plying their magic...until one of them
rendered it useless by surrounding it with a wall of stone.  Elsewhere,
a large swarm of maggots and worms was summoned by a vampiric priest,
these foul things creeping toward the living foes.  Beset by vampires,
the high priest Rob summoned a sunray, obliterating the undead nearest
to him and driving back all others.  In the air nearby, a symbol of pain
appeared, doing its evil work until it was wiped out by an opposing
spellcaster.  A short distance away, a forcecage had been summoned, and
was trapping Bosco, Yuki, and Neera within.

Bosco:  (pulling in vain at the magical bars of the cage)  We're sitting
  ducks in here - we've got to get out!
Neera:  I'm working on it.
Yuki:  (trying, without success, to fit between the bars)

  Closer to Yegyar, two great generals did battle, trading blows that
landed on their shields with enough force to incapacitate a normal foe.
Of course, neither of them were normal...

Yod Ironbeard:  (catches a sword-blow with his axe, then sweeps out with
  his shield)
Ulruk:  (moving amazingly fast for one of his size, he leaps up and over
  the attack, and brings his sword around in a backhanded slash)
Yod Ironbeard:  (deflects the attack with his shield, and swings his axe
  again)
Ulruk:  dodges the blow by inches, the axe smashing into the ground and
  leaving a great jagged hole)

  As for Yegyar, the vampire-king was surely holding his own, although a
half-dozen spellcasting vampires had rallied to his side and were making
significant contributions...

vampiric wizard #17:  (launches a prismatic spray at the attacking
  wizards)
Pallin:  (already blind, and unable to avoid the rays given their large
  area of effect, he falls)
Parekh:  (avoids going insane, but is poisoned by another ray)  Urgh...
Dexitheseus:  (vanishes, sent to a random plane of existence)
Alindyar:  (resists the beam that hits him)
vampiric priest #11:  (moves in to touch Belphanior, its hand glowing
  with a black light)
Belphanior:  Whoa!  (he steps back, flicking his sword and slicing open
  the priest's hand)
vampiric priest #11:  (recoils)  Argh!
Otto:  (shoots the foe with his crossbow, burying a bolt in the side of
  its head)
vampiric priest #13:  (wallops the dwarf with a summoned force-hammer)
Otto:  (knocked away ten feet)  Ungh!
iron golem #3:  (swings its huge iron sword, taking out three vampiric
  warriors in one great blow)
vampiric priest #19:  (changes the rock beneath the golem into mud,
  sinking the construct and taking it out of the fight)
Rezzik:  (leaps onto the priest, both blades slashing madly)
vampiric wizard #23:  (about to unleash some terrible magic, he whirls
  about just in time to see Mongo's armored fist, and is pulverized by
  the single blow, changing into mist)
Mongo:  I don't need my hammer to beat the shit out of anybody.  (he
  heads for Yegyar)
vampiric priest #11:  (in the way, he gets hit with another punch from
  the dwarf, and sails back twenty feet)
Mongo:  (to Yegyar)  I'm coming for YOU!
vampiric wizard #17:  (using an advanced spell of telekinesis, he picks
  the dwarf up and hurls him as far away as possible)
Mongo:  (lands on the floor fifty feet distant, where he is immediately
  beset by a half-dozen vampires)
vampiric priest #13:  (uses a spell of slaying to take out Rezzik)
Yegyar:  (about to launch a great bolt of dark energy, that attack goes
  awry and arcs off into the cavern wall as the vampire lord is forcibly
  picked up and carried into the air)

  After dealing with dozens of vampires (and wrecking almost that many
of the city's towers) the archmage Wu, still in the form of a great red
dragon, had decided to take the fight directly to the enemy leader.  As
the use of his potent breath weapon wasn't possible with so many allies
around Yegyar, Wu had chosen to remove him from that area.

Wu-dragon:  (having carried his prey high into the air in a matter of
  moments, he grips the much smaller Yegyar in both clawed hands and
  unleashes a great gout of blazing, fiery breath directly on the foe)
  GRAAAARRRRRRGGH!
Yegyar:  (screams in agony, his robes burning and his flesh charring)

  When the inferno of deadly dragon-flame finally ended, the vampire lord
was blackened and smoking in the beast's grip.

Yegyar:  (opens his eyes)  My...turn...

  The undead lord had held the sacred jawbone in a death-grip throughout
the entire fiery assault, and he now touched one of the dragon's clawed
hands with the relic.

Wu-dragon:  (instantly changes back into his human form, and plummets
  from the air)
Yegyar:  Heh.
Alindyar:  Not so fast, dead one.

  The dark elf was hovering in the air nearby, and had been waiting for
the right moment to attack.  He knew that vampires generally disregarded
even the most powerful of illusions, and this one was much more powerful
than typical vampires.  This meant that Alindyar had to reach deeper into
the fabric and bonds of reality, and wreak real and potent change instead
of illusion.  He had done this already today, several times, but not to
the extent that he now attempted.

Alindyar:  (closes his eyes, concentrating)
Yegyar:  What are-  Eh?

  The artificial night sky over Skava-Ra shimmered, a giant glowing line
now present in the middle of the air high above the city.

Alindyar:  (utterly focused on this, his nose begins to bleed with the
  effort, but he grimly carries on, determined to succeed)

  The thin line widened into a ragged rip, a tear in the very fabric of
physical space...and through this aperture shone what seemed to be the
brightest sunlight ever!  The bright ray shone, seemingly from the very
sky itself, and bathed one end of the city of of Skava-Ra in its rays.
The horrific screams of vampires, dying by the hundreds, could be heard
throughout the gigantic cavern.

Yegyar:  Aieeee!  (too close to the light in the sky, he flees, flying
  in the opposite direction)

  The sunlight-filled gap widened until it covered the entire city, at
which point Alindyar overloaded his capacity to utilize such magic, and
fell unconscious.  He also fell from the sky, plummeting toward the
cavern's floor...

Lyra:  (uses a spell to catch him, lowering him gently to the ground)
  I've got you-
vampiric wizard #17:  (blasts both dark elves with a massive cone of
  cold, taking them out)

  The gaping portal to the world above, no longer sustained by Alindyar
and his magic, quickly began to close.  The damage it had done, however,
was catastrophic:  from the time its rays had first bathed the city, the
screams of hundreds of dying vampires had been audible above even the
sounds of battle.  The dark elf had singlehandedly slain a large portion
of Skava-Ra's populace, and driven back its king.

Yegyar:  (back amidst his magi and priests, he cackles as he watches the
  bright gash far above close into a line, and then vanish entirely)
Skektek:  (having finally freed Bram from the ice back in the Imperial
  Tower, and dropped him off below, he eagerly joins the battle)  Chew
  on this.  (he hits the vampire-king with a chained bunch of lightning
  bolts that leap to other vampires, staggering several and forcing one
  into mist-form)
vampiric wizard #29:  (hits the wizard with a lightning bolt of his own)
Skektek:  (saved from death thanks to the properties of his thunder ring,
  he is nevertheless knocked unconscious)
Otto:  (unfortunately standing near the wizard, he too is felled)
Janus:  (working a spell)
vampiric wizard #17:  (covers Janus in thick webs, pinning him to the
  ground)
Hope:  (fires a green beam at this particularly annoying foe's back,
  scoring a direct hit)
vampiric wizard #17:  (disintegrates, leaving behind only a few motes
  of dust)
Parekh:  Well done.  (she bathes Yegyar and all those around him in a
  great wave of scorching flame)
Yegyar:  (resists the fires, although some of his underlings do not)  I
  tire of this.  (brandishing the jawbone, he unleashes an arc of bone-
  numbing dark energy)
Parekh:  (staggers, suddenly weak and shivering)
Hope:  Ack.  (lapses into unconsciousness)
Yuki:  (having been freed from the forcecage thanks to the efforts of
  Neera, she charges at the vampire lord from his rear flank)
Yegyar:  (senses her, and turns, but still finds her blade buried in
  his throat)  <glurk>
Yuki:  I loathe your kind, and as their king, you can bear the full
  brunt of my hatred.  (she twists the blade, causing black blood to
  spew from the other's throat)
Yegyar:  (gurgling as he talks now)  Quite a speech, young lady.  (he
  grabs the sword-blade in one hand and uses the other to smite her
  with the jawbone, knocking her back violently)
Yuki:  Ungh!  (she lands in a heap, swordless and stunned)
Yegyar:  Bah.  (he turns his attention to the remaining heroes, who have
  loosely regrouped nearby to face him...then blinks, and remembers that
  there's still a sword in his neck, and pulls it out, tossing it to the
  ground)

  There were surprisingly few of the attackers left, at least those who
were both alive and able to fight...

Belphanior:  (raises the moonsword)  It's time to end this.
wispy thing:  (floating near the elf)  frrrp.
Bram:  (recently freed from the block of ice, and freshly healed, he
  tightens his grip on his silver-tipped cane)  This won't be easy.
Mongo:  Nothing we do ever is.  (he hefts someone's dropped battleaxe,
  a fine weapon that's almost certainly magical, and cracks his neck)
Razor Charlie:  (having recovered from his earlier fall thanks to his
  toughness and magical items, he has his two most powerfully-enchanted
  throwing knives in hand)
Janus:  (having escaped from the webs earlier, he is somewhat the worse
  for wear, but still ready to fight, a bluish glow coming from the eye-
  holes in his wrappings)
Parekh:  (weak from poison damage, but fiercely determined)
Sir Drexel:  (raises his holy avenger sword, ready as always to engage
  the forces of evil)
Rob:  (holds his glowing holy symbol in one hand, and generally looks
  very calm)
Skektek:  (having regained consciousness after being blasted by the
  lightning before, he holds a wand in each hand, as these produce their
  effects faster and easier than actual spellcasting)
iron golem #2:  (under Cespedes' control from afar, it lumbers along in
  the heroes' ranks)
stone golem #4:  (ditto)
Yegyar:  (looks over these foes, even as a dozen remaining vampires, the
  only ones who remain anywhere in the vicinity, move to back him up)

  Ulruk and Yod's battle had carried them elsewhere in the cavern, and
though its outcome wasn't clear at this point, they had destroyed quite
a few buildings (and other combatants) as they'd battled back and forth.
St. Wilhelm, Sir Dremel, and several allied priests and warriors had
fallen prey to a reverse-gravity spell and were currently stuck on the
ceiling of the cavern, far above.

Yegyar:  (holding the jawbone-relic aloft, he chants in a low tone)

  Something most unexpected happened then:  all of the other vampires
began to writhe in pain!  The warriors dropped their weapons, and the
spellcasters' spells were interrupted.  Belphanior and the others looked
at each other, assuming that one of their number had done something to
cause this, but everyone looked equally surprised.

Yegyar:  (laughs maniacally)  Yessssss!  I have not felt this wonderful
  in decades!

  The vampire king had somehow grown in physical stature, and at about
fifteen feet he now towered over both the vampires and the living.  The
mere fact that he was still skinny and frail-looking even at that height
would have been humorous, but the power radiating from him in black
wisps wasn't at all humorous.  He was obviously absorbing power from
the other vampires to augment his own, for they were shriveling and
dying at his feet.  The nearest ones had already perished, and were now
small piles of dust.

Yegyar:  More...I need more...(he expands his power-draining effect,
  and the rest of the vampires throughout the city and cavern, those
  few who survived Alindyar's sunlight portal due to being indoors or
  otherwise under cover, begin to weaken and perish, wherever they are,
  as their king uses the unholy relic to absorb their energy)

  None could say why the vampire-king was destroying his own people to
boost his own power.  It was most likely some combination of seeing the
supposedly-invincible city get attacked and badly-damaged, and watching
the great sun-beam wipe out the bulk of the city's populace, and then
doing battle with foes who could actually hurt him.  Whatever the cause,
Yegyar was clearly insane, his red eyes glowing madly as wisps of dark
energy danced about his body.

Yegyar:  (taking in all of this negative energy, he trembles with power)
  YES...YESSSSS!
Rob:  (steps forth, holding up his holy symbol)  Away with you-
Yegyar:  (fires a beam of black energy, melting the high priest's holy
  symbol and knocking him back about thirty feet)  STOP BOTHERING ME,
  INSECT.
Rob:  (hits the ground, cuts and bruises appearing all over his body
  as it wracks with spasms)  Arrrrgh...
Parekh:  (completes a powerful spell of temporal stasis, directed at
  the huge foe)
Yegyar:  (ignores the spell)  BAH.
Parekh:  Impossible!
Yegyar:  NOT FOR ME.  (he brandishes the jawbone, and a wave of pure
  force lashes out at the foes)

  Bram, Razor Charlie, Janus, Parekh, and Skektek were hit with enough
force to break bones and knock them unconscious, if not worse.   Sir
Drexel's armor (not to mention the man within) was badly dented, but
he yet stood.  Belphanior had gotten lucky; already leaping to one side
before the vampire-king acted, he escaped the attack unscathed.  Mongo
and the golems, being unnaturally strong, were barely moved by the wave
of force.

iron golem #2:  (closes with the foe, as does stone golem #4)
Yegyar:  (simply rises into the air, out of the reach of the constructs)
Sir Drexel:  Get back here, coward!
Yegyar:  (laughing)
Mongo:  If only I had my hammer...
wispy thing:  (sails up and confronts the vampire king)  brrrf!
Yegyar:  WHAT IS THIS?  (he swats at the wisp, without effect)

  The floating godling reeled suddenly, as a sharp axe sailed through
the air and buried itself in his back!

Yegyar:  AAAARGH!
Yod Ironbeard:  (holds up his hand, and the axe rips itself out of the
  foe's body with a spray of blood, returning to his hand)
Yegyar:  ULRUK...
Yod Ironbeard:  He's gone now.
Yegyar:  I SHALL-  (he screams in pain as a certain warhammer slams into
  him from the other direction)  AAAARGH!
Mongo:  (catches Stormcrest, and looks to Belphanior)  Thanks for popping
  that force-bubble for me.
Belphanior:  My pleasure.

  Yod and Mongo began trading blows, hitting the vampire lord several
more times and keeping him off-balance.  Belphanior kept his eye on the
jawbone, hoping that the foe would drop the unholy relic, but so far
that hadn't happened.

Yegyar:  (bloody and bruised, he finally strikes back, turning the rock
  beneath Mongo's feet into black tar)
Mongo:  (sinks instantly, hammer and all)  <glub>
Yegyar:  (turns and points at Yod, and the dwarf-king sails away to
  slam into a building, collapsing the entire structure onto himself)
Belphanior:  (having prepared while the two dwarves were attacking, he
  uses his hourglass)
Yegyar:  (roars with laughter)  SUCH TRINKETS CANNOT AFFECT GODS, FOOL!
  (he blasts the elf with ten consecutive magical bolts, all of which
  hit, knocking Belphanior down)
Belphanior:  (coughs up blood)
Sir Drexel:  (having given up on reaching the airborne Yegyar, he helps
  the elf to his feet, healing some of his wounds)  There, there.
Yegyar:  (blasts the paladin with a beam of cold, knocking him away in
  a blast of snow and ice)  HAH!
Sir Drexel:  (half-conscious and now badly wounded himself)
Yegyar:  AND NOW-

  The vampire-king was still floating high enough to stay out of the
reach of the golems, but with everything that was going on, he hadn't
noticed the approach of a foe tall enough to reach him...

adamantine golem:  (hits the vampire with his huge sword, a blow that
  should have cut him in two but instead just knocks him down to the
  ground)
Yegyar:  URGH!  (he sails back into the air, narrowly missing being
  slashed by a charging Belphanior)  ENOUGH!  (he uses some sort of
  super-telekinesis magic to push the iron golem into the adamantine
  one, knocking both down)  ENOUGH, I SAY!  (he then uses that same
  magic to rip a huge stalactite from the cavern's ceiling and bring
  it crashing down on the golems, burying them for now in a gigantic
  heap of rubble)

  With that, the vampire lord turned his attention back to Belphanior.

wispy thing:  (eyes Belphanior)  sprrd.
Yegyar:  PREPARE TO MEET YOUR END-  EH?

  The vampire lord had noticed the strange rod of dull black metal in
the elf's hand.  About a foot long, its tip narrowed and then curved
around in numerous odd directions.  Even though he didn't know what the
thing was, Yegyar could feel its power, and he frowned.

Belphanior:  If I were you, I'd think very carefully about what you do
  next.  This is the Hand of Oblivion; it can destroy anyone I aim it
  at, the cost being my own life.  I obviously haven't ever tested the
  thing, but apparently all I have to do is will it to happen.
Yegyar:  YOU WOULDN'T DARE.
Belphanior:  Woudn't I?  (he raises the artifact)
Yegyar:  (uses his telekinesis to try and grab the item out of the elf's
  hand, but doesn't account for Belphanior's strength)
Belphanior:  (ends up getting lifted into the air as well...then slammed
  down into the stony ground, repeatedly, until he drops the rod)  Ungh!
  (he watches helplessly as the artifact rolls away)
Yegyar:  MY VICTORY IS NOW ASSURED!  (he cackles in triumph...until the
  item ends up in someone else's hands)
Rob:  (picks the rod up)  Just will it to happen, eh?  (he points it at
  the vampire-king, and closes his eyes)

  Instantaneously, both the giant vampire-king and high priest (along
with everything on their persons, including the Sacred Shard of Nyxx)
ceased to exist.  One instant, they were there; the next, they were not.
The aptly-named Hand of Oblivion fell to the ground with a dull metallic
"clunk" noise.

Belphanior:  What?!?  No.  Nooooo!
wispy thing:  (sadly)  snrrr.
Cespedes:  (riding an invisible disc of force, he approaches silently)
Belphanior:  (looks up, still in shock)
Cespedes:  (notices several of the wounded heroes stirring or getting
  painfully to their feet, as well as the now-complete lack of a single
  vampire in the entire cavern)  The battle is over, it would seem.
Belphanior:  But at what cost?





next:       aftermath and fallout
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   12/25/2013
notes:      As you know, between episodes 990-991 I released a Skava-Ra
  mini-module, which helped me (and you) get a clearer picture of the
  city prior to writing an episode in which a bunch of clearly insane
  people actually attacked it.  Trivia:  when designing the basic layout
  and dimensions for Skava-Ra, I used Georgia's own Stone Mountain as a
  model; standing near it and looking up at it, I thought "well, a big
  underground city could certainly fit inside this thing, it looks about
  right, so I'll use its dimensions as a rough guide."  At about 1700'
  high and five miles in circumference, it seemed to make sense.  Never
  let it be said that I'm not willing to do real-life research for the
  writing!

    Here's a brief timeline (which I used while writing this one) of the
  events leading up to it:
    4/17/581 C.Y. = events of 986 (dungeon wrap-up, travels)
       - Belphanior returns home that night to find carnage
       - details from the victims' POV shown in 987
    4/18 = events of 988 (Victoria warns Ulruk) and events of 989
       - new vampire hunters introduced and recruited
       - Belphanior first speaks with big group
         - ends that talk with need for a hell of a plan
    4/19 = events of 990
       - Belphanior gets visited by Istus and told to use loom
       - Belphanior goes to see Kronos and looks into Skava-Ra's past
         to learn the best way to attack it
       - Belphanior talks to small core of key people, reviews overall
         personnel, suggests some basic ideas, states that the key is
         finding another way in
    4/20 = planned re-convening for final attack strategy by Belphanior
           (morning) and events of 991 (midday)

    The biggest single barrier to getting this one done...was simply
  STARTING it.  It took me longer than it should have because for a while
  I was dreading it.  I was intimidated by the large cast of characters,
  the plotline itself, and the expectations that I felt I'd built up.
  This is the problem with really ambitious storylines.  One part of the
  end solution to this was that I had to realize I couldn't show every
  part of every fight with every vampire...instead I opted to instead
  show portions of many of the fights.  The intention was to give the
  reader dozens of glimpses into different pieces of the overall conflict.

    The second biggest single barrier to writing this one was figuring
  out (i.e. deciding) exactly how vampires would function in physical
  combat.  If you watch ten different vampire movies, you'll get ten
  different types of vampires, each of which fights differently.  Then
  there's the canon vampire information in the TSR/WotC material, which
  could be abused badly.  To point:  the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual
  states that vampires can change to mist at will.  No data is given for
  the time this takes to happen.  So...can a vampire swing a sword and
  then change into mist as the foe tries to fight back?  And then change
  back into physical form to attack again?  What are the limitations of
  this power?  I had to think about stuff like this before I could start
  writing this episode.  For the record, what I decided was that in game
  terms, a vampire could either attack - weapon or touch - in any given
  round, or it could change to/from mist form, but not both...in other
  words, transforming consumes one combat round during which nothing
  else can be done.  In game terms, then...in the time it takes someone
  to do all of their melee attacks, or cast a spell, or use an item, a
  vampire can fully change from solid form to mist form, or vice versa.
  But nothing else.  This seemed to be a reasonable baseline for dealing
  with mass battle involving a lot of these creatures.
    Naturally, a corollary of this is the answer to the question "and
  what happens to all of the vampire's possessions when it changes into
  mist form?"  I ruled that by default, a vampire's possessions do not
  (and cannot possibly) change to mist along with their owner, and so
  get left behind.  I'm sure this contradicts something I wrote sometime
  in the past, but common sense has to prevail at some point.

    Above all, I wanted this episode to be fun.  Not 100% logical, not
  100% realistic, not 100% airtight as far as the action and such.  Just
  FUN.  I hope you feel that I achieved this goal!
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



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