After the ominous voice called out “That’s what you think,” a dark shape plummeted from the opening in the ceiling to fall in the center of the room. It resolved itself into the form of a human male, visible for only moments before he threw his head back in a feral scream, and was engulfed in a column of thick black smoke.
“You break into my home,” he growled. “You kill my children. You murder my pets. Damn you. Damn you all. You will be years in the dying. With exquisite slowness I will drain the blood from your bodies and the thoughts from your minds until you are dessicated husks. When you die and are damned and go hurtling down to Hell, it will seem a mercy after what I have done to you.”
The party scrambled to attack this new vampire, but found it to be a nearly impossible task. The smoke completely concealed his form, and even those hits that did connect rang harmlessly against his armor or were bashed aside by his shield. The vampire was having a much easier time of attacking the party, as he would lash out from within the vapors with vicious headbutts and punches to the throat. The vampire needed only to land a glancing blow against the heroes to inflict grievous damage, and to leave them feeling disoriented and confused, and also leave a permanent scar upon their souls. While Terra and Atu-Sinda attacked the vampire with all of their skill, and while Rhyken did his best to dispel the vampire’s defenses and Kell attempted to take the beast down with spells, their efforts seemed to have little effect. Even when one of the heroes hit the monster, its rapid healing closed over the wounds almost as quickly as they formed, and it would sap their strength with its every attack and steal it for its own use.
Kell was the first to fall. Seeing the holy symbols engraved upon her armor, the vampire made her the first target. Every attack from the monster left Kell feeling drained and disoriented, and her divine spellcasting ability was soon all but crippled. One last blow sent her spinning to the ground, and the vampire turned on Terra. The warblade landed a solid hit that overcame the vampire’s supernatural defenses and nearly killed the creature, but the vampire responded by reaching out to Terra and flooding her system with his own pain, and healing his own injury with her life force. The attack left Terra unconscious on the ground, and locked in a nightmarish trance after her brain’s sensory centers were completely overwhelmed and shut down. Rhyken was next. The wood elf wizard’s spells had stripped away some of the vampire’s enchantments, but failed to disperse the concealing cloud of smoke. Even without his psychic powers, though, the vampire was still a terrible opponent, and it took him only a few hits to drop Rhyken, as well. Atu-Sinda was the last to go. The valiant crusader, wearing only a psychoactive skin, channeled the power of Luxis through his sword to slay the evil creature. The attack hit and Atu-Sinda’s sword plunged through the vampire’s chest, but soon the crusader was slipping into a blind trance as the vampire stripped more and more of his soul away. He, too, crumpled helpless to the floor. Freith could only watch from behind the walls of her invisible prison.
It seemed as though the vampire had triumphed, as all of the party lay unconscious on the floor of his lair. He was preparing to finish them off when Kell struggled back to her feet. The vampire had not completely severed her connection to the physical world, and Kell’s persistent Vigor spell was sufficient to bring her back from the brink of death. Knowing that she had but one chance left to kill the vampire, she utilized all of the remaining orbs of holy energy that floated around her person and fired them at the vampire in one desperate attack. The bolts of positive energy connected, and the damage was sufficient to temporarily destroy the vampire’s physical form. The column of smoke dissipated, and a cloud of foul-smelling greenish fumes appeared in its place and went drifting back to the chamber above the ceiling.
Kell did what she could to revive the party. She was unable to heal all of the wisdom drain that the vampire had done, but had the capability to cast enough restorative spells to at least get everyone semi-conscious. She then borrowed Terra’s dimension stride boots and warped up into the master vampire’s chamber above the ceiling. She found him there in a steel coffin, his eyes open and staring.
“If you kill me,” he said, “You destroy a thousand years of experience. You kill a millennium of history, and ten centuries of knowledge and lore. Are you sure you want to do that?”
In response, Kell drove a wooden stake through his heart and used Terra’s jovar to strike off the monster’s head. She stuffed the mouth with holy wafers, and then put the vampire’s corpse to the torch. It went up quickly, with great blisters of blood forming and bursting on the vampire’s body. Kell leapt down the hole to return to her companions, forgetting that she had not come up the same way. If she had, she would’ve been familiar with the trap that caused the earth around the entrance to constrict and crush any solid matter that passed through it. The trap knocked Kell senseless, and the thirty foot fall nearly finished her off, but the dimmest spark of life remained within Kell’s body to be nurtured back by the Vigor spell, and in a couple of minutes Kell was staggering back to her feet once again.
It turned out that the force cage that held Freith did not block teleportation, and Rhyken was able to switch places with the trapfinder by means of a Benign Transposition spell and then warp back out again with a dimension door. Made somewhat reckless by their wisdom drain, the adventurers urged Freith to disarm another door. She did so, with somewhat better results than the first time, and opened the door onto a small chamber lined with lush tapestries and filled with velvet pillows. A decaying figure stood in one corner of the room, dressed in a black suit that was stained with earth and covered in bits of decaying flesh. The adventurers moved about the room, stripping it of anything of value, but the zombie never once reacted, and they left it intact. Encouraged by their haul, the party exhorted Freith to try another door. She did so, but proved unable to disarm the fiendishly difficult spells, and was trapped in a force cage once again, with a monster appearing out of thin air right next to her. The creature was a Hamatula, or Barbed Devil, a lizard-like fiend covered in barbs of steel-hard bone. Terra used her dimension stride boots to teleport into the cage next to Freith, and, after a swift but vicious battle during which the agile warblade struck abject fear into the Hamatula’s devilish heart, causing it to call into question its most fundamental beliefs regarding the inferiority of the Prime Material Plane, the two of them had sent the thing back to the Hells it came from, although not without severely gouging themselves on the spikes in the process. Rhyken warped them both out again, using the last of his spells, and the battered party decided to head on back to Hopetown to recover.
In the absence of the beneficent aura of Atu-Sinda’s Cloak of Comfort, the party felt the full bite of the unnatural winter for the first time upon leaving the vampire den. The wind carved through their flesh as though it was mere paper to chill their very bones, and every breath was an agony as the icy air burned their lungs. The Vigor spell prevented them from being seriously frostbitten, though, and they were able to get back to Hopetown, and Cab’s church, without much more incident.
The heroes let their guard down, and went about licking their considerable wounds. Cab and Kell did what they could to patch the party back up, and were able to tend to the spiritual and mental wounds of the party as well as the physical ones, although they could not completely undo all of the depravity that the party had incurred in its exposure to evil. Such healing could only come through direct divine intervention, or through the expurgation of sin by means of selfless service. The heroes resolved to serve Cab so that these last traces of evil might be expunged from them, although Atu-Sinda was concerned about the fate of Drogue and wanted to rush back to the Dwarven city. After all, they had been away from Drogue for weeks, and had learned in Rodion Labs that there might be some sort of insidious attack even now being perpetrated upon the Dwarves and Gnomes that lived in that last bastion of civilization. But such concerns were for another time. Without making a final decision, the heroes busied themselves with healing and recuperation.