Having dispatched the three vampire warblades, Sergei gave the party grim warning that the vampires would soon regenerate and come for those who killed them, and that they would be pissed off. The party had no choice but to send the vampires into final death, which was no easy task. Annihilating the vampires involved staking them through the heart, decapitation and stuffing the mouths with holy wafers, and then either immolation or immersion of the dismembered corpses.
As Terra, Paeael, and Rhyken were discussing the purchase of the necessary equipment, they were interrupted by a small figure wearing a bright green robe slashed through with purple who looked like a shrunken old man, wrinkled and bald but for the tufts of white hair that sprouted from behind his ears (which meant that, as a gnome, he could’ve been either a young adult or of venerable age). “Did you say you were looking for magic weapons?” he asked. “I’ve got just the thing! Fine magic items, enchanted by the most skilled of gnomish artisans, brought to you by Maester Magics Unlimited! Need to custom order an item, or upgrade an existing item? Never fear! We can create or upgrade items for you in half the time of our competitors, at no extra cost to you! Special ten percent discount on orders over ten thousand gold! Support your local magical craftsmen!” The adventurers were a little astonished at this development, and purchased several scrolls of magic weapon that Chupoclops the gnomish merchant just happened to have on hand.
They were beginning to negotiate for some larger purchases when Arronax appeared in back of the small convocation-even though nobody had actively summoned him. With all of his typical forced politeness, he asked Chupoclops to step outside, where they might have a discussion, one businessman to another. Chupoclops seemed eager to talk to Arronax and was about to go, but the heroes insisted on accompanying the gnome. They didn’t trust Arronax any farther than they could throw him-which wasn’t very far, indeed, since he interacted with gravity in such a strange way. Reluctantly, Arronax agreed. Once they had all left the tavern and found a relatively secluded corner of the street, Arronax tore the gnome’s aspirations apart.
“So, you would offer magic items at a discount, and at half the normal delivery time, would you? I admire your drive. But it just so happens that Arronax Incorporated, in its relentless quest to offer the best goods and services to consumers at the lowest prices, has recently established operations in certain planar regions that exist outside of the normal chronological flow of the Prime Material plane, meaning that we can now offer instantaneous creation or upgrades of magical goods on demand. Even your maesters can’t offer such a service. Isn’t the free market a wonderful thing?”
Chupoclops was crestfallen. His constant smile was now crooked and marred by sadness. Seeing his opponent thoroughly beaten, Arronax vanished back into where ever it is that he comes from-but not before he advised everybody to take in a show at the Arronax Amphitheater as long as they were in Hopetown, and enjoy the drama of life and death combat, and enjoy a tall Arronax Lemonade or a savory Arronax Foot-Long Frankfurter as long as they were there.
After Arronax had vanished, Chupoclops recovered somewhat. “Well, Arronax is nothing if not resourceful. You’ve got to give him that. This will come as a sore blow to Maester Magics Unlimited. Just the same, I think we can offer goods that Arronax cannot, or will not, and I firmly believe that once people see the value of contributing to their local economies rather than giving their gold to some faceless multiplanar corporation, they’ll be lining up to get their hands on our goods.”
Terra asked just what goods Chupoclops did have available that Arronax did not-specifically, if he had any Truedeath crystals. She had previously tried to purchase them from Arronax, but found that they were conspicuously missing from the merchants otherwise limitless supply of magic items, probably because certain parties had paid Arronax large sums of money to remove them from his inventory. Chupoclops, however, had made no such compromises, and pulled a small crystal from out of his belt pouch. Superficially, it resembled a marble, but the interior of the tiny glass sphere was filled with something like smoke or mist that swirled and twisted as if warped by a wind.
“There’s plenty more where that came from,” Chupoclops assured them. “Maester Magics Unlimited has representatives across the region; make us your first stop when shopping for magical goods.”
The adventurers-Rhyken in particular-promised that they would do just so.
Now that they had secured the means of enchanting their weapons to hurt the vampires, the adventurers set out to find the stakes and holy wafers necessary for taking out the vampires once and for all. They found the town’s church of Luxis. It was a large stone dome surrounded by a wasted garden; inside the dome were pillows surrounding a central firepit full of cold ashes. Sergei opted to stay outside while the others went inside to search. Several cabinets in one corner of the church had already been looted, and broken glass and shattered candles lay strewn about the floor. The adventurers rifled through the cabinets again, searching for holy wafers but finding only trash and a few undamaged copies of the Holy Words of Luxis that had been missed in the looters’ search for fuel. Terra drew her jovar and set to carving the cabinets into stakes. Drawn by the noise, the ragged figure of a beggar appeared in the doorway of the church, and began excoriating the heroes for their desecration of the house of Luxis. They told him that they were only doing so in order to destroy vampires, who were surely the enemies of Luxis.
At this, the beggar grew contemplative. He straightened up, standing quite tall, and threw back his hood. The once-handsome face beneath had been eroded by age and worry, but the brown eyes were clear; he had the aura of one who was accustomed to being heard, and being taken seriously. He told them that his name was Cab, and that he had been the cleric of this church, and had once been a High Speaker and Most Blessed in Guia, although those days were long past. He offered to help destroy the vampires; he would make the wafers if the heroes could bring him some flour, and he told them that they would have better luck with stakes of sacred mahogany wood taken from the tree out back than the teak that he had used to make the cabinet. The party brought him the flour (at 50 gold for a half pound), and he went off to make the wafers. At about this time, Sergei returned, cursing loudly and swearing that he would put a bullet in that (expletive deleted) cleric who had turned him. The other heroes dissuaded him from this course of action. After an hour or so, Cab returned with the wafers, and bid the heroes good luck in their mission. If they survived, he advised them to return to him, and he might be able to do something about the evil that had corrupted their flesh and sickened their souls.
Knowing only that the vampires in mist form had fled to the west, and that they had to hurry and find the vampires before they had fully regenerated, the heroes left the city and entered the surrounding wasteland. It was a trackless waste covered in snow. Clusters of boulders were scattered over the plains, like so many giants hunched up against the wind and the cold.
Paeael had employed one of his supernatural abilities to search for the vampire’s distinctive armor, but knowing that this ability was blocked by a relatively small amount of intervening material, he switched to scanning for any object that was suggestive of a door. Knowing that the vampires couldn’t be too far away from their food sources in the township, the heroes set out searching for their lair, riding from one kopje to the next. After a while, Paeael’s supernatural senses detected something like a door at the base of one of the rocks. Sergei went ahead to investigate and found a depression in the snow. He cleared more snow away with the blade of his bayonet to reveal the mouth of a large tunnel that descended into the earth at a severe angle. This seemed to be as likely a place for a vampire lair as anywhere else, and the heroes went down the throat of the tunnel into the chthonic darkness.
The Mordent ranger went on ahead to look for traps or hidden enemies, while the others tagged behind at a safe distance. The party moved down into a sunken basin, edging towards the tunnel at the far end. In addition to smelling of deep earth and raw rock, there was a strong and unmistakable reek of cat urine that saturated the air in the area. All of a sudden, the cavern was flooded with tens of thousands of bats, their wings beating the air, and their sharp, tiny teeth puncturing armor, skin, and veins alike. That was hardly the worst of it, though, as five enormous forms leapt down from a ledge on the far side of the room. These were lions; lions a good fiften feet in length and eight feet tall at the shoulder, with lean muscles rippling beneath their coats. Their eyes blazed a bloody red color, and when they opened their mouths to roar in challenge, they showed off saber-like fangs. The vampiric lions charged the party members, their claws wounding soul as well as flesh. They used their great weight to bear down on their victims, holding the heroes helpless. The party fought back valiantly, but was at a great disadvantage. Rhyken expended his last spell to blast one of the lions, and soon both he and Paeael had fallen beneath the lions’ claws. Terra lasted a little longer, but she could not hold off the lions attacks indefinitely, either. Only Sergei managed to escape being grappled by one of the lions, and he was hampered by all the intervening bats that were fouling his shots. But he fell upon the lions, coming right up to them as they were distracted by their meals, and shot them from mere inches away. He was barely able to destroy the lions before they had set about draining the blood from their victims, but luck was with the party. As the vampires were dispatched, their supernatural hold over their bats was destroyed as well, and the creatures flew out of the cave.
What followed was a desperate attempt to stop the fallen members from bleeding to death as they lay there on the floor of the cave. Sergei was the only member of the party who remained conscious, and it fell to him to rush from one teammate to another, using their healing belts and making desperate attempts to stem the flow of blood from their wounds, which were all the more deadly for the anti-coagulant saliva of the bats, bleeding at twice the normal rate. But he managed to revive the party, and as Paeael set about healing the wounds of the living party members, Sergei started hacking apart the corpses of the lions and gathering the severed bits into a pile. Paeael remembered that he had some cleaning fluid in his pack, and he poured this over the pile of bodies-it just so happened that the fluid was flammable, and the lion bodies began to go up in flames, reeking of burnt fur and charred flesh.
Sergei went on ahead again, calling back that there was a large pit in the next cavern that was filled with some kind of dark liquid. None of the adventurers knew what to make of this, especially when the black stuff surged out of the pit in a living wave and started flowing towards them. Sergei fired upon the black mass, which had the curious effect of causing the wave to shiver and split apart. Nevertheless, the black wave continued to advance, and the party continued to retreat. Paeael struck at the mass with gusts of wind and Rhyken lobbed a grenade, although it was hard to say what attacks were affecting the creature, and what was not. For all of his speed, Sergei was soon engulfed, and the other adventurers saw him struggling as though covered in tar. Paeael fired off another gust at the stuff, which was enough to free Sergei, but not before all of his equipment had been dissolved by the ooze’s acidic enzymes. He emerged from the black mass naked and unarmed, covered in blackened chemical burns. It was a noble effort on Paeael’s part, but it cost him his life as the ooze now engulfed him, and also flowed over burning corpses. Rhyken and Terra fled out of the cave, they saw Paeael, covered in black tar, and then his form losing its humanoid definition to become assimilated into the ooze around it. They saw Sergei grabbing up rocks from the floor of the cave and hurling them at the black ooze that had flowed over Paeael, and throwing stones at the sea of black acid that was flowing backwards in his direction.
Once they were able to gain their mechanical mount, the two survivors were able to flee from the ooze that pursued them. They rode hard for several minutes until they could be sure they were safe, and saw the ooze retreating back into the cave from whence it had come.
They did not see Sergei or Paeael emerging from the cavern.