Fleeing alone from the vampire lair, Terra returned to Hopetown. The guards, who had seen her leave with four companions, mocked her as she returned, but still insisted that she pay 100 gold for the privilege of returning to the city.
Despondent over the loss of her friends, Terra went to The Sultan’s Sigh II, intending to get hammered. While at the bar Terra tried to engage with the Hellbred known as “Bob,” but he was too busy being drunk and hopeless to answer any of her questions. Not to be outdone, Terra started pounding Tariq’s finest firewater. She quickly became nauseous and disruptive, such that Tariq sold her a bottle and strongly suggested that she remove herself to a private room. Wanting only the finest, Terra paid for Tariq’s “Honeymoon Suite”: red satin covers on the bed, a mirror on the ceiling, and a washtub large enough to accommodate two medium creatures. She staggered into the room and drank herself into a stupor. When she woke up the next morning, it felt as though somebody had taken the brains out of her head and replaced them with caltrops. She also found that she was not alone-a male half-elf slumbered next to her, wearing only the satin sheets. One very embarrassed move silently check later, Terra had made her way out to the main room of the tavern. She asked Tariq for some water, but was informed that Tariq did not serve that “shit” in his bar. He did give her some tea, though, and suggested that she might wish her hangover away [or, if he forgot to suggest that, he should have]. Terra decided to seek no more aid from the Ifrit bartender, and headed back to the church.
There, she met up with Atu-Sinda, who had returned from the Ethereal plane, and Garon, who had returned from whatever goofy extraplanar battlefield it is he goes to when he responds to a Summon Humanoid IX spell-apparently, he had been spending his time helping the axiomatic sparrows seize a birdfeeder from the anarchic squirrels, or something equally nonsensical, and let us not forget that the fiendish octopi sorcerers are involved in there somehow, too. Cab was there, as well, and he was able to nullify Terra’s hangover with a cure disease spell, and remonstrated her that she not open her body and her soul to such poisons in the future. The aged priest promised to light a candle for the fallen heroes, and the party gathered together a while to say some prayers for the departed. Then, Cab suggested that the party meet with two individuals of his acquaintance, both of whom might prove to be allies in the coming struggles. It would take the combined efforts of a great many souls to beat back the evils that now assailed the world, and the remaining three party members agreed to meet with these potential friends.
The first of these individuals was a soft-spoken dream dwarf cleric, Kell. She preferred to let her pamphlets and holy tracts do her speaking for her, and she took every opportunity, appropriate or not, to disseminate information on the love of Luxis. Nevertheless, it seemed she was well-prepared for the break-down of negotiations. She carried a G4 assault rifle slung across her back. The weapon was not unlike the one that had belonged to Sergei, although this one was somewhat smaller and covered over with seemingly extraneous gnomish gears and gadgetry. The party accepted her quickly and without question.
The second ally was a bit more problematic. When calling her out from the darkened edges of the church-where she had apparently been lurking all the while, unseen-Cab could not help but sigh. The creature emerged from the shadows-a small thing, the height of a human child, wearing dark padded clothing that covered her from head to toe. Her face was hidden behind a pair of dark goggles and a black cloth wrapped over her mouth. Cab asked her to remove these. She did, exposing a mouth that was locked open in a rictus grin, the greyish gums receding from the long yellow teeth. Her eyes, too, had withered away, a spark of unnatural blue light illuminating the empty orbits. She looked over each of the party members, and seemed quite disappointed when they didn’t respond to the name “Caedo.”
Cab apologized for her, saying that the recent loss of her betrothed had left Freith Falath, the whisper gnome daring outlaw, somewhat unhinged. Whether Caedo’s disappearance was due to unavoidable circumstances, death, or out-and-out disgust at the corruption creeping through her wasn’t quite clear. In spite of her appearance, she was not an undead creature-although she was well on her way to becoming one, as the evil that afflicted the land had concentrated in her, consuming her flesh and her spirit. Treating Her current condition was beyond Cab’s abilities. Indeed, she had refused treatment, saying that she drew strength from the evil within her and that she would use that strength to fight back against the living dead. Cab’s hope was that, in traveling with the party, Freith might be inspired by the heroes’ example and recover something of her former self.
Freith listened to all of this, her face frozen in an expression that was equal parts the smile of a genial child and the bare smile of a skull. From time to time, she would rub at the simple gold ring on her right hand. Sometimes this gesture was an absent one, as though she was unaware of it, and at other times she would wring her fingers, attacking the ring as though to polish away a scrape or a stain through an application of excessive effort.
Atu-Sinda wisely questioned whether the evil that had afflicted Freith would not manifest itself in ways that would be detrimental to the party. Cab promised that, in his observations, Freith’s more malignant tendencies were largely directed towards undead and other evil creatures, and as such should not prove threatening to the companions. Reassured, the party welcomed the suffering gnome into its ranks, a gesture for which she seemed genuinely grateful in her rather confused way.
After a brief prayer-in which Freith participated with a somewhat unhealthy enthusiasm-the party set out again to deal with the vampires. In the time it took for the party to regroup, the vampires would surely have regenerated, and the heroes were well aware of the danger of an ambush.
But it was not to happen-at least not yet. The party had hardly left the door of the church before it was stopped by the sight of a tall Mordent in black steel armor, the unholy symbol of Skura burned into his breastplate and a giant sword thrust into the ground at his feet. Terra could recognize the deeply scarred face, hard eyes, and close-cropped white hair of Vassily Dolohov, the crusader she had encountered in Guia who had sworn to seek out and kill Atu-Sinda.
The two crusaders walked forwards to face each other in the ruined gardens of the church. Vassily Dolohov formally identified himself as a crusader of Skura, and an adherent of the Stone Dragon school of swordsmanship. Atu-Sinda was ready and willing to face down this enemy of life and light in single combat. The duelists agreed that the fight would commence after a brief moment in which each fighter might call upon his deity for divine assistance. They also agreed that the fight be to the death without the possibility of resurrection. To this effect, Vassily called up an extraplanar creature from Mechanus to referee the fight, and this being appeared as a man made out of steel, his limbs being pistons wrapped around a core of steel and his face an unsmiling mask. The Marut asked for a good, clean, fight, and the Crusaders went into position. Atu-Sinda stared into the Mordent’s blank eyes, and the Mordent stared back-even though the undead creature could feel no fear, his doubts caused him to look away for the briefest moment, which was enough to give Atu-Sinda the knowledge that Luxis was with him.
Atu-Sinda charged forward and landed a telling blow that would have felled a lesser creature. Vassily responded by bringing his huge adamantine greatsword crashing down on Atu-Sinda’s sacred sword. Atu-Sinda’s blade trembled with the impact, and the blow left a deep notch in the blade, but the spirit of the saint inhabiting the blade held firm, and the sword did not shatter. Atu-Sinda lashed out again, driving the Mordent back. Vassily swung directly at Atu-Sinda, hoping to kill the crusader if he could not kill the sword, but the heavy blade went wide, and it was easy for Atu-Sinda to shunt the blow aside with his shield. Atu-Sinda drove forward again and buried his blade up to the hilt in Vassily Dolohov’s chest. The Mordent’s lost his grip on his weapon and lost the strength in his legs, crumbling to the ground. No sooner had he fallen than the ground erupted around his body, spewing forth a host of tall, shadowy creatures, who wore the very darkness about them as tattered black robes. They circled around Dolohov, spinning faster and faster, only to vanish moments after they had come, leaving Dolohov’s armor empty and abandoned in the dirt.
Charged with victory, Atu-Sinda completed the ritual that unsealed his weapon’s powers, and could now make the blade glow with brilliant white light in memoriam of the lost sun. Once he had finished, the party set out again to meet with the vampires.
They had not gone far before the vampires accosted them in the streets of Hopetown. In all likelihood, the creatures would have attacked sooner, but were deterred by the sanctified ground of the Luxan church. The vampires threw themselves into the battle without any prelude or parlay. Once again, the heroes were hard-pressed to land any kind of hit against these unnatural foes. The battle was going poorly, each furious heabutt or roundhouse kick from the vampires damaging mind as well as body. It was all Kell and Garon could do to keep the restoration spells coming, and so prevent Atu-Sinda and Terra from falling into a dream-wracked stupor. Desperate, Atu-Sinda called upon the power of Luxis and made his sword glow with the burning light of the sun. The vampires recoiled, and made to flee into the sheltering darkness of Hopetown’s alleyways, only to return again and assail the party when their guard was down. But Garon called forth a small army of huge fiendish centipedes, and interposed these nasty creatures between the vampires and escape. Blocked, the vampires were held in the light, which immolated them into ash and blackened bones in a matter of seconds.
The three warblades were dead, but the heroes felt that there might yet be threats present in the vampires’ lair, and made their way back there to ensure that it would be the source of no more evil. They found it easily-there were plenty of tracks leading to the lair, although only one set of tracks leading back. They reached the chamber where they had fought the lions and bats before. These were gone, and the only evidence of their presence was an enormous black stain on the floor.
The adventurers knew what lay in the hallway beyond, and were prepared for the fight this time. Kell edged forward until she could just see the pit filled with tar-like sludge at the edge of her darkvision and assaulted the stuff with a flamestrike. The ooze surged forward, seeking the source of its pain. It sent out pseudopods, searching for the party members, but they drew back, and continued to pepper the ooze with spells, alchemist’s fire, and sling bullets. Moving randomly, at last the ooze was within its sensory range to find the party members, and it fell upon them. Atu-Sinda stood in its way, protecting the more vulnerable party members. The adventurers had underestimated the ooze’s resilience, though, and the thing swallowed up Atu-Sinda within its mass, and refused to fall, even though the party members had exhausted their supply of spells and alchemist’s fire. The other members could see Atu-Sinda struggling within the ooze, and were at wit’s end to rescue him. Kell fired upon the ooze with her rifle, Freith chucked rocks at the ooze, and Terra bravely ran away. It was clear that these efforts were doing little to kill the ooze, which was digesting Atu-Sinda alive. Kell switched to trying to heal Atu-Sinda, who was rapidly exhausting his repertoire of defensive abilities. Then, Freith went up and started punching at the ooze with her small, bare fists. What might’ve otherwise been a pathetic gesture turned out to be devastating when combined with Kell’s mastery of the Shadow Blade Technique, and several charges from her Deftstrike bracers which allowed her to inflict sneak attack damage on the ooze. Moments later, the ooze’s cellular membrane ruptured, and the creature expired in a flood of denatured acid. Atu-Sinda emerged from the tar, his flesh still slippery and falling off of his bones. The ooze had devoured all of the crusader’s armor and clothing, leaving him only his extraordinarily resilient sword. Kell did what she could to patch him up. Under normal circumstances, the party might have returned to town to recover, but the heroes knew that they had to make sure that the threat of the vampires was ended once and for all, and so they resolved to penetrate deeper into the lair.
At some point, Terra came running back, and the adventurers pressed on. They came to the pit where the ooze had lain; by holding onto Terra as she leapt across, they were able to overcome it. Terra easily crossed the twenty foot pit, but came down hard into a field of broken glass. The vampires must’ve used the shards of glass to prevent the ooze from rolling back into their dens. In any case, the party carefully made its way through the shards and entered into another large chamber at the far end. This one had been reinforced with concrete pillars and steel beams, and there were four doorways leading off from the central room. Some of the adventurers also noticed that there was a hole in the high ceiling, but it was too high for any of them to reach, and so they ignored it for the time being. Freith searched the doors and reported that they were all ensorcelled with magical traps, and also that there was warm air seeping through one of the door sills. Terra groaned and guessed that this was the vampire’s pantry. The party decided to crack that door first, and Kell stood by with a dispel magic at the ready in case Freith erred in her attempt to disarm the trap. Freith slipped and accidentally activated one of the invisible triggers of the spell. The form of a devil covered in barbs of bone began to materialize next to Freith, but Kell was quick with her spell, and it vanished back into nothingness.
When Freith attempted to rejoin the party members, she found herself slamming face-first into an invisible wall of force. Kell tried again to dispell the trap, but Freith was still slamming her fists against the invisible barrier and screaming for the others to get her out. Atu-Sinda made the observation that at least they didn’t have to deal with any other vampires while they tried to extricate their new ally. A voice responded, calling from above and reverberating across the chamber: “That’s what you think.”