Vampire Neighbors, part II
The party debates how to convey the sad news to Lady Floressa, ranging from empathy to scientific proof of vampires to simple intimidation (“How dare you question my word!”). In the end they settle for a business-like approach. In the Count’s throne room they present him with the swords of Viscount Godard (the leader) and Sir Jared (the son) of the Tower.
“Your vampire problem is resolved. We regretfully bring you these tokens of fallen heroes.”
They also hand over the keys to the tower as a sign that they are forgoing any claim on the building or its land.
Lady Kalyn is devastated and retires for the night. Count Forianus is grief-stricken, but duty calls. He explains that it is not just the loss of his son that hurts; but also, the loss of the Tower, which has been a bulwark against the Wild and Varsoulou and its demons.
At this the Bard digs in his heels. “There are no demons,” he repeats. “Just vampires.”
The Count chooses not to argue. “Regardless; the threat from Varsoulou remains real. Many times their raids have been blocked by the strength of the Tower. If the Hammer of the Desert (Varsoulou’s famous troop of high-ranked knights) comes to knock on my door, I will be hard-pressed to answer. And your own lands lie exposed to the East; you too may find yourself disturbed at odd hours.”
He proposes an agreement: should Varsoulou move against either of them, the other will come to their aid. He also suggests that the party travel to the remaining counties, both to introduce themselves as new peers of the realm and to warn of the danger from Varsoulou. His bard Margaretha, however, asks them not to travel to the capital at present, as she wishes some time to best frame the news about the Tower in a way that will not diminish her lord’s influence.
The party finds this accords with their own plans. The Cleric heads home to their keep in Irlyd, as he has no desire to encounter the zealous Vicar again (and also because the player couldn’t make this session). The rest slip north through the hinterlands of County Edersarr to the sea, where they hire House Marconi’s boat again. This time they are welcome to keep their weapons on hand, though, their reputation still intact from their previous dealings. The fee for a quick jaunt up to Ieppyxoox and then Dearl is only 100 gp, a small sum compared to their last travel fee but one the Druid still tries to haggle over.
However, at the port of Ieppyxoox, the crew refuse to dock, doing no more than pulling alongside a pier. The docks are empty of life, to all appearances abandoned. The party investigates first a warehouse and then the town, finding nothing living in the fresh snow. A few clues are uncovered: a headless body that the Druid determines died of smoke inhalation, a wolf-print in a garden, and the tracks of what could be zombies at a battleground with more headless bodies. A barn on the edge of town is stacked with headless peasants; the entire county seems to have been carried off by a series of raids from indeterminate sources over the last year. The party spends the night in the keep, expecting an attack at any moment, but finding nothing but emptiness.
They return to the dock and signal their boat, which comes in to pick them up. A day at sea gives the Druid time to try a new spell: scrying, the art of spying on your enemies. After an hour of intense concentration over a bucket, the water suddenly stills and reflects the image of a beautiful woman in a fine evening gown lying in a satin-padded coffin. The lady does not open her eyes, but she does make a rude gesture with her fingers; for this is Lady Night, and she knows that she is being observed. The Druid is disappointed at how little information his spell reveals, aside from the brute fact that the vampiress is still an active foe. And also that she’s doing quite well for herself, judging from all the jewellery.
In Dearl they receive a more normal welcome. Hustling off the boat at dusk, they march south to the town by midnight, mindful of the King’s Curfew. Announcing themselves as the new rulers of Irlyd, they are greeted by the Vicar, his retinue, and a room full of knights.
As the Bard recounts their warning about vampires, the Vicar’s face turns to stone. It comes out later that someone suggested King Ragnar might be somehow be associated with vampires, and the Vicar considers such talk treasonous. However, a contemptuous mention of alleged demons energizes the Vicar immediately.
“The Varsouloueans are demon-lovers, always have been. We all know that. And now they send the monsters against us!”
“There are no demons,” the Bard repeats with exasperation. “The courts we cleared out were vampires.”
The Vicar is astounded. “Varsoulou can use their demons to turn people into vampires? We are truly beset by evil! And with the loss of the Tower, I fear they will raid my lands even more.”
A little quizzing discovers that while Dearl has suffered some losses, the Vicar has not in fact actually seen a demon yet. However, he says that every night he and his retinue camp in a different village, hoping to interrupt a demon attack. He invites the party to do the same, offering the tael of the foes they destroy without tax, in addition to his appreciation and a tentative alliance against Varsoulou.
The party, sensing an Adventure Hook, agree. Soon they are standing in a village square, enjoying a small fire against the cold night, with bottles of holy water in their hands. They are certain they will soon be attacked by vampires: the only question is whether the vampires will turn out to be Vicar Dearl and his court.
A scream from the edge of the village sends them dashing to the rescue. What appear to be half a dozen zombies are trying to break into a house. The Ranger begins firing arrows while the Bard and Barbarian rush into battle.
They quickly discover these are not zombies, as their weapons are strangely ineffective and the creatures keep emitting clouds of poisonous gas. The Ranger is rendered helpless almost immediately, and three of the monsters tackle him to the ground, biting and clawing. The Barbarian does enough damage to cut through their strange resilience, but the Bard finds himself also on the ground, sickened and grappled.
The Barbarian destroys the creatures around him. Ignoring both their stench and the danger, he begins chopping at the pile swarming the Bard. He dispatches one, but then his next strike goes awry and he almost kills the Bard!
The Druid turns into a bear. Much to his surprise, his claws bypass their defenses and he begins decimating them at will. The Ranger realizes that innate goodness is the only effective weapon, and promptly punches a monster to death with his bare hands.
And then the real monster shows up. A winged demon drops from the sky and attacks the Druid-bear from behind, unleashing a fury of attacks and ton of damage. When the Druid and the Barbarian attack back, they are discomfited to find the monster is protected by many shifting images. Worse, it breathes spores instead of poisonous gas, and now the two heroes are covered in a web of viny growths that burrow into their skin. They shrug off the damage and its attempted stunning attack, but the images absorb many of their blows. Once they finally dispatch all the images, the monster shrugs and summons more. And then tears huge bloody chunks out of the bear.
Despite all of this, the two of them are successfully inflicting pain on the monster. After only two rounds of combat it decides to retreat, flying out of reach. The Barbarian jumps after it, trying to catch it, but it shrugs him off. However, thirty feet above them, it stops fleeing. Instead it glares at the Barbarian, and he begins to rise into the air!
The Druid catches him by the ankles, stopping his ascent (though the Barbarian was not particularly concerned, as a simple fall from 1,000 feet would probably not kill him). Both the Barbarian and the Ranger hit the monster with arrows, and do damage despite its formidable defense. This is enough; the creature flees into the night. The few remaining lesser monsters are quickly dispatched. A dose of holy water cures the viny growths, though the Bard delays telling the Barbarian this for several rounds, due to a grudge over his indiscriminate swordery.
The party gains little treasure from this encounter as the main foe has escaped, but they have learned much. Lady Night is indeed still a danger; County Dearl is still among the living; and there really are demons that can fly in, summon a horde of lesser demons, and lay waste to whole villages. This was the fate of Ieppyxoox, apparently, and may soon be the fate of Dearl.
Belatedly they realize that the Nightmare-flying vampires of the Tower may have actually protected Aechoamoapp from actual flying demons. The status of the throne is now more urgent than ever. Demons and vampires threaten the realm; is King Ragnar a friend or foe in this existential fight?