Children of the Night

Into the Sinkhole
excerpt from Sulayn's journal

Oathday, 17th of Rova, 4707

This morning I woke up with a headache. I can’t believe I let Ecaeris talk me into that third glass of wine. It was so good to see him. It must’ve been almost a decade since we got the chance to catch up like that. I’m afraid the “sighting” of mother turned out to be one of his eccentric fancies but given she died twenty years ago that is most likely for the best. This world is full of strange mysteries and very few of them are kind. After breakfast I took Ecaeris up to meet Elias as he had been trying to arrange a meeting with the Redcliffs for some time unsuccessfully. I wasted the rest of the day talking with traders attempting purchase a few pounds of adamantium. It’s all on contract. Back at the Hearth an invitation from Vali was waiting for me so I’m off to meet him for dinner.


With the exception of Elias, Vali had gathered the whole of our group from Vauntil. After warming us up with wine and good food he revealed he wanted help with another job. Apparently, he is working directly and unofficially for the crown, or at least believes he is. I’m not sure what I think but as long as the coin keeps coming and the job is fair it’s a better way to make a living than killing rats. His interest in this collection of misfits confuses me though. Just motivating everyone tonight was difficult, let alone keeping them focused on the same job. His tongue must have been as honeyed as the sweet rolls because he managed to steer all of us towards the manor where everyone agreed to “take a look”.

A well placed shot by Vali gave us the distraction we needed to jump down onto the roof of the manor of a minor lord. Yeah, I wrote that correctly. The lord of the manor had recently been on an archeological expedition and the Crown wanted some dangerous property of his removed on the quiet. No one had seen or heard from the lord for a couple weeks and then sometime yesterday his home had sunk into the earth and everything started getting creepy. Not the creepiest but a good start was that the two soldiers guarding the gate to the place had been killed and mutilated. Each had his nose sliced off, smiles cut deep and wide across their faces, and a lidless eye carved onto their head. There was some debate about this being either some child killer called the Smiling Man or some cult to Gee the Magnificent. I’d never heard of either but decided whatever was doing this deserved what our murderous, mentally unbalanced group was about to inflict on them. I felt a weight lift off me I hadn’t realized I had been carrying.

Sinking under the ground had done some minor damage to the manor and we found a drop of about a dozen feet that would put us onto a marble floor below. As the others made the simple climb I leapt down intending to roll up and guard their descent. I must have hit a hidden beam in the darkness. Needles of light exploded in my head and blood filled my mouth shattering my thoughts. Seconds or maybe minutes later I heard heavy boots getting louder and then Vargan’s voice “I got this”. Terror rose in me as my fuzzy head slowly realized he meant to ‘help’ me. “noo.. no.. no..” I tried to protest but my lips slurred the words as the brute engulfed my head in his beefy moist hands. With a twist and quiet pop I felt my head yanked and another jolt ran through me. Dumbfounded, I could suddenly see and think clear again. I rose and stretched, amazed all my limbs worked.

At this point we were on an upper floor of the manor. All around us was dust and debris from the crumbled roof and gilding but the walls seemed intact. In a side room we found a servant sweeping in the pitch dark. The others thought her possessed or a monster in disguise and to be honest I did see that possibility after the vampire horrors that attacked Elias a few weeks back. But I’d seen survivors like this before, mostly in war torn villages. Usually it’s the innocents overwhelmed by the brutality of what a common soldier is capable of. But I once saw a hardened captain obvious to his body which had been shorn and cauterized neatly at the belt line by sorcerous fire. For several minutes he stared blankly checking and rechecking his pocket watch but never registering what he was seeing. He was muttering about the carriage being late and worried he would miss the opera. Finally my sergeant stepped forward and put a bullet in his head. We were all horrified and I think also grateful. They hung the sergeant a few days later.

We left the woman sitting at a small round table oblivious to the water and food we set in front of her. Persephone had picked up the trail of a group that had come before us, probably the ones responsible for the gruesome murder of the guards outside. We descended down the winding stairwell following our hunter. Below was a large room with several doors and hallways. Vargan ran into a foyer that ended with large double doors and pounded on them. When he looked down he saw restless dead rousing beneath the foyer’s glass floor. Further away Persephone opened a door triggering an ambush. Darkness engulfed her and poured across the room followed by the sounds of sharp steel being drawn. As the darkness faded and respawned we fought a hulking warrior and handful of dark clad cultists. The apparent master of this crew was a tall thin man capable of casting spells. It took the concentrated focus of Aetherton, Persephone, Halda, and I to finally kill the bloodlusted warrior. He shrugged off several nearly lethal blows without slowing. In fact his face seemed more in ecstasy rather than pain. Under assault from Vali’s arrows, Halda’s sorcery, and Vargan’s howls the surviving lesser cultists fled. Vargan pursued them with a vengeance. The thin man eluded our best efforts although I believe Aetherton did draw blood from him. With gestures and a whisper he disappeared.

While Vargan was occupied carving up a cultist and ripping apart the manor’s furnishings the others began exploring some of the rooms. Vali and I interrupted a crowd of servants chanting to some dark god. We killed a few before I had the thought that the servants may be unwitting victims. I switched up my spear grip and began to beat them down. Better maimed than dead. Fighting with spear and bow proved difficult in the kitchen crowded with prep tables and hanging pots and while the servants couldn’t hurt us they were surprisingly difficult to stop. Adding to the chaos Vali managed to shoot me in the back for the second time that night. Yes, that’s twice in the same night! Had it not been for my salvaged goblin chainshirt I may have been killed. Arrows are for firing en masse into troop lines, not for shooting in close quarters with your allies engaged. I’ll need to teach him how to use a melee weapon the next chance we get. After a few minutes of this I noticed Aetherton standing in the doorway chuckling as he watched us flail and fumble. He remarked something about bringing his cooking staff on our next adventure as these servants seem to be quite formidable foes. My face twisted from a scowl to a smile. As we finally dropped the last of the servants I heard new voices coming from the other room.

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Mother of Monsters
Wealday, 2nd of Rova, 4707

Vali hurried along to The Serpent’s Milk, a bar overlooking the dim western docks of the Hawthorne Rows, breathing through his upturned coat collar as he passed the filthy brine of the Traitor’s Drop.  He quickly checked in with the bar and ordered a plate of mushrooms and hashed potatoes, and settled into a table.  Diaudin  took his time showing, he noticed, but used the time to make some notes in his black tome of recipes about the substance he’d secured from the twisted mercenaries that night.

An old man came out of the kitchen in a soiled apron, chewing his gums and carrying his plate of hash.  Dropping the plate on to the table he grumbled in northern Taldane, “Here you go.  Tell me what you think of that now.”  He sat at Vali’s table. 

It wasn’t until Vali got a good look at the man’s eyes that he recognized Diaudin.  He blinked and tried a bite. “Salty, but the mushrooms are done well.”

“Ya still haven’t thrown that rot of an accent out like the garbage itis.  How you goin’ to pass for a person a’ coin if ya can’t even hide your own pox laden birth,” grumbled Diaudin in a low voice, and he noticed Vali narrow his eyes a little at the slight.  “Harumph, so sensitive. Like a newborn babe.  No, you’re not ready to hunt the true evil that wears silk like lambskin.”

Vali took a bite of the hash, seeing the game for what it is. “Maybe, I’m guessing you’re stuck with me.”

“Not a chance.  You’re a pinch in a bag peach.  But I like your fire.  Give me somethin’ else to like or not.  My time’s a wastin’.”

Vali nodded.  Right to business. Between mouthfuls, using the hash to hide the conversation from lip-readers and muffle his speech, he tried his own Taldane, choosing the more sophisticated southern Taldane for its aptitude for precision.

“You were right about Avach Wine Distributors.  They had a vermin problem, of the worst kind.  It’s been taken care of, and I checked the barrels.  They’ve been untouched, so it should be safe for the guests.”

Diaudin watched him with sharp eyes, looking for signs of lies or truth omitted.  His expression remained unchanged, except for his constant chewing on his gums.  Vali had to admire his commitment to the part.  No one but Vali would get to enjoy the private performance.

“There’s a mess there, but we tried to clean up the bodies at least.  From what I can tell you were dealing with cultists to Lamashtu.  There was a merc group, competent but unremarkable from what I could tell.  Persephone climbed the building like a cat while the rest of us took the back entrance.  Elias made quite the racket, but the guards were half asleep.  Next time we need stealth I’ll know to prepare a dose of Soft Step.  I let them in easily enough, and it’s worth noting that Sulayn has some working knowledge of lock mechanisms.  Once inside we met the mercs.  They seemed more surprised than we were.  Spoke a few words and glowed with a warm light.  It was like the moonlight hit him and reflected, but it was a warm glow – like a hearth.  That is magic.  And he does not seem the religious type.”

Vali thought he noticed the slightest nod from Diaudin.  “You broke your dialect.  Continue.”

Vali winced, knowing Diaudin’s criticism was true.  If he didn’t get the hang of this he’d be instantly recognizable as Sczarni and that would make it next to impossible to pass for a minor noble if the need arose. 

“I noticed the mercs drink a substance I recognized.  Lamashtu’s gift.  It’s a loose family of alchemical recipes that have varied effects, but followers of Lamashtu count on its boons to provide support in battle.  Unfortunately, they don’t have the advantages of an alchemical lab.  They do however soil the substance so non-followers who drink it would be cursed.”  Vali chose not to show the vial he’d secured and hid this bit of subterfuge underneath another mouthful of potatoes.

“I warned the others of that and their devotion to Lamashtu.  Persephone acted fast.  I couldn’t tell if she just hates followers of Lamashtu, was unconcerned with killing, or remembered the details of the job.  I followed her lead and took aim, and Sulayn reluctantly took up a guarded attack stance.  He had none of those reactions Persephone might have – no disinclination to Lamashtu, some concern for killing, and maybe a little reluctant to connect followers of Lamashtu to cultists.  I suppose one man’s religion is another man’s cult.”

Diaudin cackled softly. “Sharp.  Ya’ know I like to feed the man that has an eye for detail.  Go on.  Don’t hold back compliments now.”

“Right.  Well we wasted no time and loaded the bodies onto the elevator, not wishing to leave them where they could be found by anyone attracted to the noise.  As we lowered Sulayn interrogated me about the substance I described, unhappy about the bloody encounter I think.  I didn’t do a very good job explaining, especially since we found a creature, a mother of monsters, the black milk mother, fat with her corrupt young.  She had just birthed half a dozen of them: hyenas.  That put an end to Sulayn’s doubts in my judgment – at least about these …folk.  I think it was Halda who recognized them and warned the others, or maybe it was Persephone.  I can't remember.  I was too busy already drawing and aiming, careful with the last of my Flametouch Ointment flaking off my arrows.  In my haste I forgot to use the mithril, but I had a shot and I took it, striking the thing directly in the eye.  I kept going, Desna’s light.”

Diaudin hissed at the Sczarni aphorism. 

“Ahem.  Well, Aetherton, Elias, and Persephone cut down half a dozen rabid dogs.  Halda concentrated and pulses of energy burst from her eyes – mental energy if I’m correct, since they didn’t arc like lightning and didn’t have a flame or coldness about them.  The beast took it all, stumbling.  Sulayn recovered, leapt between barrels and dogs, and finally drove a spear deep into its belly making it scream dreadfully.  That gave Persephone the opening she wanted.  She came at the thing with a feral violence.  I suspect she’s got a score to settle not unlike mine, though probably for different reasons.”

“We took the bodies out and found nothing of interest on them besides that. I made sure to check the barrels for tampering, odors, odd taste, punctures or spills.  Found nothing.  How's that for a review?”

Diaudin smiled in his wrinkly mask.

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From the pages of Elias' Journal, Part 4

Toilday, 1st of Rova, 4707 AR,

What an exhausting pair of nights it has been. Hardly a wink of sleep till now, but well worth the effort! The machinations of a fell vampire discovered and thwarted, the lives of an entire party saved, long deserved rest for lost souls, and a whole new arena of entertainment discovered. Hard work though it may be, this is just what I set out to find. I suppose I must step back to where I left off however, that you might catch up with my exploits.

After court I quickly caught up with Aetherton at the meeting place, only to find that the rest had all run off to some rat catcher's hovel. On arriving we found the place a terrible mess of both bodies and glass (most troublesome), and them all winded from exertion. It seems he set a horde of zombies loose on them before fleeing the place.

Thankfully, I was able to deduce his destination through quick examination of the notes he left behind, and led us towards the cemetery where he was to meet his master. This rat catcher, it turns out, is a member of the long fallen Korinsky family, and was quite convinced that the key to reviving his house's fortunes lay with the fell vampire Dominicus, a servant of none other than the Whispering Tyrant!

On our swift arrival we found Dominicus had already fled before us, and the skeleton's he left to stand by Korinsky were no match for our prowess. The Lowls Estate proved a ready place for questioning the subdued Korinsky, but unfornately some of my companions fell into bickering over what should be done with the defeated and disgraced noble.

While some, gold clearly addling their thoughts, simply wished to slay him, or turn him over to the watch so that they might, they missed what this truly was. The poor Korinsky, mind shattered by the influence of Dominicus, was a man in need of rescue, not slaying. He saw his salvation in transformation, and who can deny a man that? True, handing him over to Dominicus to become one of the undead would be unwise, but he might find redemption in another way. Whatever the case, it was clear that Korinsky was on the verge of a transformation, and it was our duty to allow and direct that change, not snuff it out.

 

TO BE CONTINUED WHEN PEOPLE STOP BEING SICK INSTEAD OF WORKING

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The Rat Catcher's Fever Dream, Part II
Conversations with Vali After the Fact

It had been a long night for Vali, the strings of his violin weary from tightening and loosening, the ceaseless movement of his bow.  Mila slept soundly, long since bored with his playing, though Vali knew her well enough to know it was only a cat nap.  She’d waken with a moment’s notice, or the sound of the cat food tin cracking open.

When Persephone came in, he promptly put away the violin and turned to the stove to brew a fresh pot of Korvis leaf tea.  “Persephone,” he said, welcoming her despite the hour, “what can the Lady’s Bedstraw do for you?  Or have you come bearing those stories you promised?”

The bitter tea making them sharp for the coming dawn, Persephone discussed the creature she followed from the Dawn’s Requiem – how it moved lithely, slipping along cobblestones, hardly touching them, and seemingly unconcerned with anyone shadowing it, as if she were mere chattel, unworthy of attention.  She described the bald, gray, creature hovering at the second story window which met eyes with the creature, and the low predatory growl that came from her quarry.  And how it turned towards Brookman’s Alley and slipped out of view. 

Vali pretended to drink his tea nonchalantly.  Mila crept closer to the conversation, staring at Persephone.

“Tell me, Persephone, how did you find this Dawn’s Requiem?  It’s quite the story. I’m not sure I believe it.”  Vali smiled in mock challenge.

Persephone described going to the Cloak and Fangs, a costume merchant just down the street, and which items she expressed interest in, then how she simply asked about the Dawn’s Requiem and tickets to “the ball.”  Vali stared at his tea leaves to hide how he committed the details to memory.

“You’re clearly a huntress of many kinds.  What happened afterward?” he asked, filling her cup with more tea.

Persephone described returning to the Dawn’s Requiem, where Halda learned that her aunt had passed through and gotten involved with the city’s undead.  But having learned no more information, the group decided to investigate Brookman’s Alley.  The full moon shed ample light on them as they turned down the alley, but they found their way blocked by a brick wall.  Not one to be stopped so easily, Vargan peeled the bricks from the wall with his calloused hands, chipping at the old mortar with a masterwork axe. 

Inside they found the ghosts of two children, Yarri and Yvette.  “Their grinning façade and hollow eyes spoke of insatiable hunger for the living and for torment, trapped in those little bodies.”  Vali took careful note of how Persephone shuddered, appeared trapped in the memory, eyes wide.

“Take a drop of this,” he said, dropping a spoonful of warm honey in her tea.  “Continue, continue,” urged.

 

Vargan struck up conversation with another unnamed boy of Kellid descent.  Apparently he’d been stoned to death by Yarri and Yvette many years ago, labeled “monster” and killed by local children just as bloodthirsty as their parents, and unchained with adult caution.  Some years back he’d died, alone, beaten to death by their words and their stones, in an unmarked grave, in a city that did not want him there, and unable to run to the comforting arms of the “old Kellid woman, Brynran Khoraseid.”  Vargan took his fear in and met it with courage.  Large grotesque hand folded over small ghostly hand, he turned to face Yarri and Yvette and he took their first stones with pride.  More came, and from all sides, but he took it stoic, as if all his life he were stoned, and though it brought him down to a knee at one point, he merely winced and stared at the two girls – or rather, looked past them, as if looking at something far in his past.

Or so it was, as Vali pictured it.  Persephone described Halda’s enraged blast of electric that vaporized the two ghostly girls.  Vali nodded, thoughtfully.  “I wonder why she did this, since Vargan appeared to already confront them.  I wonder what Halda was thinking about when all this was happening.”

Persephone shrugged and moved on with her tale, impatient to get on with it.  She explained how the Kellid ghost put them back on the trail of the vampire.  Apparently the elder vampire they sought came into the alley in a gaseous form, like a sticky mist, and slipped through the alley to an alley facing Ipston’s Cathedral.  It was there the group tracked the vampire to. 

 

Outside the cathedral there were graverobbers, apparently in service to the undead lord, collecting bodies.  They did their grisly work for the money temporarily, but they’d all once been mercenaries under the leadership of their captain Dornwald Harban who’d been cleaved knave to chops by Persephone.  She took a moment to describe the scene with a small measure of satisfaction.

 

“A pretty coin they must have been paid to do this work,” remarked Vali.  Persephone shrugged again.  They fell easily enough, and all that coin didn’t do much for their courage.  Soon enough, Aetherton had acquired a new mercenary from the turncoats named Rollin Griptrains, “The Grippa,” whose name seemed to match his heavy metal gauntlets, and Elias had acquired another man, Kesey, a knife wielder.  Against their will they dragged these two “converts” into the undead lord’s haven in the dead of the night.  At the steps of the cathedral Sulayn caught up to them, having had some conversations to finish up at the Dawn’s Requiem.

 

Inside they fought half a dozen skeletal guardians made from the bodies of the poor dispossessed the graverobbers dug up from their eternal pits.  Kesey passed out in fear, and screamed in fear when he awoke toward the end of the fight.  On the other hand, with Aetherton’s guidance, The Grippa acquitted himself nicely. 

 

Sulayn climbed the withering stone pillars the hallways framing the main hall.  He called down to his companions that the coast was clear.  The group quickly investigated the passageeways above, discovering what must have bene living quarters for the Pharasmin monks that once lived here. Elias remembered and relayed to the others that Ipston’s had once had a healthy following half a century or more ago, but those were anxious times.  It was said that the Pharasmin church held regular firey sermons on the evils of vampires who subjugated the denizens of Caliphas.  After one such sermon the main altar and the floor above it collapsed onto the bishop, killing him instantly.  The cathedral has stood empty since, with rumors that it remains cursed.

 

Just as Elias finished his story two large bats flew from the collapsed section straight at the group in a rage or in fright – none could say.  Vargan and Persephone stuck at the winged creatures of the night in the dark, the leathery wings beating their faces ineffectually.  Finally Halda directed a precise bolt of electricity which sprang from her eyes.  And at the same instant, Sulayn ran down the hall and kicked off the collapsing wall to strike with his spear and impale the other bat.  Nerves a little shot, but none the worse for the wear, they pressed on.  It would be morning soon, and they were all exhausted.

 

They circled back on the second story of the cathedral to investigate the other side.  Here they a moldering library.  Halda touched a bookshelf with her hand to examine the quality, and the entire shelf collapsed, crashing into another, and then another. 

 

Meanwhile Persephone and Sulayn crept down the hall to the last rooms. Inside they discovered half a dozen women, faces to the blank wall, dark hair hanging limply over their eyes, gibbering to themselves.  Persephone recounted how she noticed the creatures levitating off the ground, unnaturally twitching, just hanging there like puppets.  Elias approached, clueless to the evil he faced, and offered a gloved hand to one.  Persephone tried to call out a warning while drawing her weapon but the fool ignored her and brazenly spoke to “the being, a thing of the night.” 

“He glowed, as if a tiny dawn came from his skin, and this made the thing pause, but then its true nature showed.  It cried out for his beautiful blood, and would have drank from him until it left a dry corpse had I not intervened and Sulayn taken up the other half. We were trapped in deadly combat against those creatures.  Even Vargan froze against that nightmare in the doorway.  For a brief moment I thought my hunt was over, and I looked over at Sulayn and could see the same thought crossed his own mind.”

 

But they had prevailed, if it was all to be believed.  And Vali was inclined to believe Persephone, if not for her dhampir heritage, then her simple Varno mannerisms, and if not for both of those, then perhaps it was the intuition that told him here was someone who had the will to face what terrors the night brought in Ustalav. 

 

They had successfully vanquished the fledgling vampires but the true source of evil was still somewhere within.  There was only one small door at one side of the boarded room and the stairs that led to the cathedral’s basement.  They had to pursue the creature to its subterranean haven.

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From the pages of Halda's Journal, Part 5
ghosts

“We don't serve Valmae's Elixir right now,” the dwarven bartender said.   “That's a discontinued drink. What else can I get you?" 

“So you have heard of it,” I said, leaning over the rich mahogany bar.  “Why did you stop serving it?”

The bartender fidgeted and glanced at his manager, who was busy with another customer.  “It was a drink in limited supply.”

“Where did you first hear about it?  What was in Valmae’s Elixir?”

He winced.  Then he leaned over the bar, obsidian eyes glinting like dark pools.  “You shouldn't be asking about that drink. What could possibly have you so interested in a drink that badly?  And what else can I get you?"

“Listen I – I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

“Magrat.”

“Magrat, Valmae is the name of my aunt.  We last received a letter from her almost four years ago.  It came from Caliphas.  We tried contacting her several times since and she never responded.  I’m trying to find her.  And I can’t imagine there are many people in this city named Valmae.  It’s a dwarven name.  So this drink must be named after her.”

Magrat dropped his eyes.  “I last saw Valmae here about a year ago.  She didn’t patronize The Dawn Requiem for long.  She got what she needed and left.”

“She was here?!  Is she mixed up with vampires somehow?  What about the drink named after her?  By Torag, was she letting these vampires feed on her?”

Magrat gave me a hard look and said nothing.

“Do you have any idea where I could find her?”

“I don’t think she wants to be found,” he replied.  Then he walked away.

-————

Our hunt for Dominicus led us to a boarded over alley which supposedly was haunted.  As we broke our way in, Vargan told us a tale about a young beggar boy who had been stoned to death in the alley.   

We walked down the alley, the heaps of refuse casting ominous shadows.  Suddenly, six children materialized out of the shadows.  Each one gave off a faint and eerie glow in the darkness.  Their transparent, intangible forms floated through the piles of trash as if they were not there.

I had never encountered ghosts before, but I recognized that is what these children were.  They were led by a pair of similar looking girls with white-blonde hair.  Their pretty white dresses looked like something upper-middle class or noble girl children would have worn.  I eyed them cautiously.  Ghosts were not necessarily malevolent, although some were.  “Where is he?”  they asked.

As Elias moved over to speak with them, I saw Vargan talking with another figure behind a pile of crates.  It was another child ghost, but this one was not well-dressed like the others.  He wore rags.  Large bruises and wounds marked his body, including a terrible dent on his head which I guessed had killed him.  “Please don’t let them find me,” he whispered.

“Who?  The other children?”

“Yes.  They want to play the stoning game.  They want to hurt me.”

His words brought back an old memory.  As rumors about my psionic ability began to spread in Highhelm, a group of dwarven youths began bullying and attacking me.  Taunts of “witch bitch” and “duergar whore” filled the air as stones came whizzing in my direction.  I suffered my share of nasty hits in those days.

The other children walked straight through Elias and toward us.  They carried rocks in their hands.  Their eyes glowed with a sinister red light as they shouted, “Kill the Kellid boy!” 

Vargan stepped in front of him.  “Leave him alone, you little shits!” he shouted.  He threw a rock at one of the girls.  It passed through her transparent form with no effect.

The children began to throw their rocks at Vargan.  To my surprise, they struck him as if real.  His eyes widened as the rocks struck with strength greater than any child should have possessed.  He fell to his knees, blood dripping from his wounds.

Persephone swung her sword at one of the children.  But like Vargan’s rock, it passed through with no effect.

I felt fury building in my mind.  I had encountered these hateful people in my life and I was sure Persephone and Vargan had too – those who attacked others because they were different.  My anger thundered forth in the form of psychic lightning.  The screams of the ghost children echoed against the alley walls as their forms vaporized.

The Kellid ghost boy thanked us.  He said the well-dressed man in the top hat (which fit Dominicus’ description) came this way most nights.  Sometimes he took the form of smoke.  The man usually went down a sewer grate but tonight he had headed toward the abandoned cathedral to Pharasma.  We asked the boy why his spirit could not rest and what his name was.  He said he could not remember but the “old woman” might know.  We headed toward the Pharasman cathedral.

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From the pages of Halda's Journal, Part 4
lightning strikes

A search of Karinsky’s house revealed a stash of his personal writings.  Much of it was insane gibberish about how he was destined for immortality and an evil power which would usher in a new age of darkness.  But we discovered that he met regularly with his master “Dominicus” at the shrine of a saint in the Caliphas Cemetery.  It seemed a logical place for him to go in a situation like this, so we headed there.

Throughout I said little.  To the others I must have seemed lost in thought.  So many changes had happened in the last year I had spent almost no time exploring the limits of my psionic powers.  I had progressed very little since the training I received at the Temple of Irori.  Truth be told, I had gotten complacent.  And that complacency had now come back to bite me in the battle against the zombies.  Perhaps my deity, whose domain included self-improvement, was trying to tell me something.

I focused on the psychic energy pulsing within my mind.  Rather than simply projecting it, I tried to shape it.  With a little practice I found the energy could be molded, compressed or stretched.  I began to believe I could transmute it into physical form.  That required a different mental pathway from what I was used to. 

After Atherton and Elias talked the guards into letting us pass, we attempted to stealth through the cemetery.  Sulayn, Persephone and I were quiet.  As for the others – CLOMP CLOMP CLANK CLANK – the less said the better.  There was no chance we would gain the element of surprise with all the noise Atherton, Elias and Vargan were making. 

Sure enough, Karinsky was prepared.  We spotted him talking to an ominous shadowy figure which the shrine obscured from our view.  Upon seeing us he cackled and uttered an incantation.  A half-dozen armed skeleton warriors appeared.  They advanced on us, their empty eye sockets glinting with malevolence. 

The time had come.  My mind strained as I tried to channel psionic energy through an unfamiliar mental pathway.  Arcs of psychic lightning shot from me and slammed into two of the skeletons.  The first began to convulse as if in shock.  The second shattered into hundreds of bone fragments.

Success!  Using The Power this way felt crackling, tingling and dynamic — different from anything I had done before.  The sensation was almost addictive. 

I saw that Persephone and Sulayn had advanced on Karinsky.  Blood dripped from the hits they had landed on him.  He turned and began to run.  Not so fast, I thought.  I channeled more bolts of lightning in his direction.  But hitting a running Karinsky was not as easy as the slow-moving skeletons.  My bolts struck the ground, missing Karinsky by several feet.

Karinsky whirled around and seeing no one between us, charged me.  Fortunately this necromancer was not a very strong warrior.  His attack bounced off my leather armor. 

I responded by transmuting the strongest bolts of lightning I could.  But I channeled more energy than I could handle.  Pain spiked through my head and for a few seconds I was aware of nothing but the burning feeling that accompanied a psychic backlash. 

When I came to I saw Karinsky lying in the grass.  Black scorch marks lined his skin from which faint wisps of smoke rose.  The scent of ozone was mixed with the smell of burnt flesh. 

A quick medical examination showed Karinsky was still alive.  Vargan stabilized him and we carted him off to the wine cellar of the Lowls Estate.  After a prolonged argument, we agreed to not kill Karinsky.  We would put him in a sanatorium in exchange for telling us the location of The Dawn’s Requiem.  He agreed to this.  I would rather have turned him over to Whiteshaw and collected the reward for the Hawthorne Murders, but Atherton said some bullshit about defrauding the crown.  Whatever.  Vicar Moldenhauer would have agreed with me that the wounds on the bodies were consistent with the Hawthorne Murders.  Nobles don’t understand what it is like to have to work for a living.

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From the pages of Sulayn's journal, Part 3

Caliphas

 

30th of Arodus, Sunday

It was very bad tea. Turns out my meeting with Korinsky was meant to be a death trap. The rat catcher had planned to drug me and turn me over to some vampiric master. I was only saved by the timely interruption of my friends from Vauntil. Actually it was Vargan that saved us all. I’ve never been so thankful for the big brute. He shrugged off poison and managed to keep his wits enough to feed us the antidote, a springy, yellow herb Korinsky had been chewing. By the time I came awake the room was spinning and full of walking corpses. Halda had taken a bad hit and was cursing up a storm in dwarven. Reaching out my fingers closed on spear and I struggled to stand. One of the monsters lumbered past me and I impaled it. As it flailed about stuck Vargan split its head apart with his axe. With all of us on our feet now, albeit shakily, we cut down the walking dead and went down the stairs following the fleeing Korinsky. Downstairs we were stopped by more fresh zombies, their chests ripped open and still dripping gore. The sickly sweet decay was overpowering but marginally better than the sewers. Quickly the dead fell to the flashing blades of Persephone and Vargan. Not wanting to seem useless I leaped forward and skewered the final one.

Gagging on the rotten stench we rifled through the rooms looking for survivors and especially for Korinsky. He was clearly as dangerous as he was mad. The desecrated corpses that had attacked us bore were disemboweled in a manner that matched the description of the Hawthorne murder victims. This left me puzzled as those victims had been left where they died and these had clearly been captured, killed and animated with dark magic. A small chest held a handful of possessions, probably from these unlucky victims. Under some boards in the farthest room from the stairs a hole in the floor dropped a half dozen feet into a tunnel. In the dim light my eyes could just make out that it stretched off in two directions. As I bent to listen we heard noises coming from upstairs.

With the arrival of Elias and Aetherton the night was beginning to feel like a play. The corpse strewn dining room of a murderous rat obsessed bachelor was an odd place for a reunion but I have to admit I was quite happy to see them. Apparently they had followed some message from the others that led them here. Gathered together Elias and Persephone translated Korinsky’s notes and we pieced together a little more about him. As I noted above he was planning to sacrifice me to his master, someone or something named Dominicus. Persephone believes it is a vampire, but based on a few other things she said I’ve started to think she sees vampires in everything. Korinsky also knows how to get into an underground club called the Dawn’s Requiem. For some reason I’m still not clear on Persephone, Vargan, and Halda have been trying to find its location and visit it. I would have guessed it would be more Aetherton’s thing.

The notes revealed that the rat catcher meets frequently with his master at the shrine of a certain saint. It was not one I had heard of and in the chaos that followed I’m afraid I’ve already forgotten it. Whoever it was, Aetherton knew the place. Halda pointed out that since Korinsky had poisoned me tonight he may have been planning to meet his master there just after. This sounded at least as good a lead as delving into more tunnels following a trail gone cold.

We found the shrine in a patrolled and well maintained graveyard in the Eskcourt district. Elias talked our way in and as we approached the shrine we spotted first Korinsky, then something shadowy rippling in the air behind him. As we crept closer the rat catcher howled and was joined by another clutch of animated dead. These were skeletons, better armed and better coordinated than the fresher corpses we had fought just hours earlier. I don’t think they were intelligent exactly. Perhaps something was manipulating them or maybe they retained some memories from a past life. Their clothes had long since rotted away but could have been military garb. They hit hard and fast and nearly dropped a few of us. Elias moved in front of me closing tight with the spear fighters stealing their advantage and taking the worst of the hits on his shield. Aetherton was a dozen feet away facing a pair by himself. Having little effect stabbing the fleshless things he pummeled one with his rapier’s basket guard. Persephone rushed backwards appearing to flee the fight but I knew by now that she was more eager than any of us to put these abominations down. As we fought off battering blows from spears and swords she turned and sprinted using her momentum to leap and pull herself up to the roof of the tallest crypt, all without dropping her crossbow. She was hunting for Korinsky and she spotted him. But even at her new height she was unable to get a clear shot as he crouched behind moss covered stone.

It was then that Halda surprised all of us, maybe even herself. In her frustration and fury she expelled crackling bright bolts blasting the skeletons into smoking blackened bone shards. Persephone used this distraction to drop down and close the distance between her and Korinsky. In one fluid motion she raised her weapon and buried a bolt in the rat catcher’s chest turning his cackle into a shriek. His horrified expression was brief though as he broke off the bolt and glared at her licking his dirty cracked lips. Struggling to keep awareness of my comrades in the battle I was surprised when Vargan came crashing up from behind us to slice his axe into one and at the same time slam a second into the stone wall in front of us. With his arrival I didn’t feel so bad leaving Elias and Aetherton with the remaining dead.

I could say anger drove me towards Korinsky but the truth was it was probably more fear. He had nearly killed me and I was determined not to let him flee to try again. Springing over the nearest skeleton I ran joining Persephone to cut off Korinsky from fleeing. Like a rat he ducked and found an opening but instead of running the madman charged towards the heat of the battle. It was quick work for Aetherton to step forward and pierce him clean through. Korinsky gurgled and, still smiling, dropped to the ground as Aetherton pulled his rapier free. Regrouped now, we cut down the rest of the skeletal fighters quickly.

Our struggle had drawn the cemetery patrol. They were initially very suspicious but the honeyed and moneyed tongues of our nobles managed to talk their way out of our mess. We retired to the wine cellar of the Lowls House where Aetherton dismissed a nervous looking butler. We had Korinsky prisoner couldn’t decide what to do with him. He was nearly oblivious to his predicament ranting about his immortality and his Master’s imminent rise to power. In his ranting he did say something about his master’s master. With threats and bargaining Korinsky finally told us how to find and enter the Dawn’s Requiem. In return we took him to be locked up in the city’s sanitarium. We assured him as important as he was his master would surely come for him, and who knows, maybe that’s true.

With the sun well overhead I headed back to the Hearth and Trail where I had just missed breakfast. My stomach growling I tried to beg at least a little something from Gosti but he just pointed me to the sign hanging above the kitchen alcove. Written in both Taldane and Varisian it read “No Seconds, No Exceptions, No Princesses”. Not quite sure what that exactly means except that I won't be getting anything to eat. Too tired to walk the block to ‘Soups of Yore’ I climbed the stairs, keyed opened my door, and collapsed onto the bed.

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From the pages of Sulayn's journal, Part 2

Caliphas

 

27th of Arodus, Oathday

Not in the damned Hooktongue Slough  or in the dingiest brothel in Thornkeep have I ever felt so filthy! After a week of dealing with bureaucrats I had actually been looking forward to getting to work hunting the non-human variety of rats. That was before I had seen the bowels of this vile city and waded, quite literally, knee deep in its shit. The bounty on my one lousy giant vermin head barely bought enough cleaning solvents to salvage my leathers. After tonight’s hunt I tiptoed through the yard of a fancy manor in West Cushing, stripped off my gear before taking a good, long dip in the freezing waters of Lady’s Harbor. A lone guard dog lifted his huge head to follow my progress back out of the yard before lying it back down to snooze away the last of the predawn hour.

Back at the Hearth and Trail in time for breakfast I happily gorged on the big pan of slimy eggs and broken biscuit. Tumis looked suspicious of the mixed in shriveled peppers but when she opened her mouth a murderously silent scowl from Gosti closed it before she could voice her complaint. Exhausted as I was I got talked into one game of dragon bones before I retired and of course that turned into three or four. Perhaps this city isn’t all bad.


28th of Arodus, Fireday

Korinsky was an odd man. A mutton chopped constable at the Whiteshaw Eskcourt office pointed me to him as the local rat catching expert. While a few tips couldn’t hurt I’m hoping he may know something about either the Hawthorne murders or the Ispton Gentleman. I’m especially unclear on the later. There is a large bounty on information about him but the constable seemed to scoff at the idea he was connected to the murders. The general feeling I got from the local constable was that I ought to busy myself hunting rats and leave the real work to them. Doesn’t seem like that has been working out for them though given the rising number of murders in the area.

I found Ioseff Korinsky sipping a pint at the Skinny Cat. A dingy man with patches of grey hair sprouting mismatched across a balding dome, one hand gripped clawlike around a pint of something dark. The other rested protectively on a large, beatup pack dangling with rat traps. Reeking of the sewer he was given a lot of space at the bar. Korinsky was immediately suspicious of me and but invited me to a pub a few streets over where I purchased him an expensive wine sampler. He was very talkative but I got the impression he was mostly talking to himself. Going on at length about wine vintages he would abruptly interrupt himself to suspiciously demand clarification on some small detail from me, but was never patient enough to hear the answer. I was about to write the whole night off as an expensive mistake when Ioseff’s face became serious, then slid into a wide smile that revealed all half dozen of his teeth. For a brief moment I saw goblin in the crooked, ancient face and a chill went down my spine. Ioseff told me to visit him at his home tomorrow night where he would show me his collection of extensive maps of the area.


29th of Arodus, Starday

After my meeting with Korinsky last night I spent a little time looking around Valpole. The district lies just a couple streets from my boarding house, the Hearth and Trail. Valpole houses mostly migrants to the city and includes some buildings that have been converted to a scale more comfortable for the sizable dwarven and halfling population that have gathered there. As it’s a poor neighborhood it would seem a good hunting ground for the Hawthorne killer but I haven’t heard of any reports of murders from there. Maybe they just aren’t being reported or maybe there is a reason for that. If I was a killer I wouldn’t hunt my own backyard.

Later in the afternoon I stopped by Lowls House and the Renishaw estate. I was hoping to speak with either Elias or Aetherton but couldn’t get past underlings at either. I left word where i could be reached. Hopefully I can speak to one of them about a getting less disgusting work.

I’m finishing dinner in my room tonight as I write this. I’m to meet the crazy old man Ioseff to see his maps and try to pry some useful information out of him about the murders. Before leaving last night he made me promise to bring a bottle of “the good stuff” as payment. The bastard will bleed me dry. First stop is that winery we drank at last night. There was a rich red he loved, muttered something about it reminding him of the eyes of master or some such ranting.

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From the pages of Elias' Journal, Part 3

Sunday, 23rd of Arodas, 4707 AR,

Ahh, how events can sweep one away. Well, now that I've returned to Caliphas I suppose a bit of catch up is in order.

The rescue did indeed come together quite heroically. I believe not a one of the poor peasants found lost their life after the assault on the town, and all thanks to our unflinching resolve. Of course, it was not an easy task. Frankly I don't quite recall how many nights without rest we went, but in the end we caught the monsters within spitting distance of their lair and cut the lot down. Of course, we did run into some trouble along the way. First a gang of goblin dogs staking out an ambush at a campfire, then a gang of bandits – forget the affiliation – tried to waylay us. Both turned into brawls, though we came out just about uninjured. Much more bark than bite in those lowlife types it seems, though I must remember to speak to the master at arms about proper grip on these rapiers.

Of course, the confrontation with the bandits did inspire a rather more difficult issue, While discussing our approach Vargan spat some rather crude words at Aetherton, and I believe I may have rather impetuously let my newfound abilities take charge of me in putting him in his place. In any case, the incident seemed to push Persephone off the deep end, for she ranted at my quite insensibly for several minutes and stormed off, leaving Sulayn and myself to present a front against the thugs. Thankfully she and the others did come to their senses after the fighting started, but it is clear that she is struggling with some sort of prejudice.  Sadly, it is likely due to the weakness of others of my class, but I am quite confident that all shall be right between us in the end. Vargan continues to intrigue though. He is certainly uncivilized, but seems to acknowledge strength and good leadership readily.

On the way back I had a chance to spend another excellent evening with Shaelynn at the Dancing Bear, and enjoyed a few of the leftovers from the festival. Though the village was certainly exuberant about the return of their fellows, the festival itself seems to have fallen into a bit of a mess. Uproar is the nature of it though, and tales of the goblin assault are likely to serve as inspiration for many next year. Whatever the case, this has served as an excellent beginning.

 

Starday, 29th of Arodas, 4707 AR,

Thank the ancestors that is done with. After the festival and goblin hunt this last week has been terribly boring.  Father was of course pleased by my contact with Halda, and is thankfully eager to have me continue to grow the relationship. That should provide more opportunity to get out into the world. I really must devise a proper plan of how to get away from business more permanently. The old man still seems to have some illusion that I'll turn out like Gregor. No fear of that!

I did do a bit of poking around about the Black Blade, since that could provide both adventure and excuse, but had little luck. Perhaps a tomb near the Amaans, but that is far too vague to be of much use.

I suppose I should mention what little of interest there has been though. I saw that alchemist again, Vali was the name I think, at a guild party. Obviously quite poor, but I snagged a card. He may not have had much success in money, but if that potion and the samples he left are any indication, he does have some real skill. Perhaps the family can bring him in. I could certainly use a steady supply of those potions in my new line of work.

The Venianminov's was a real event I suppose. The dancers were absolutely marvelous, and Adja gave some excellent insight into the details. Must remember to visit the Barbed Boot down by the docks again. Altain Fenglove invited me boar hunting, which should be a decent enough diversion, especially since the others seem to be invited as well. I wonder how they impressed old Altain? Perhaps his libido getting away from him again, Persephone is not without a certain dangerous charm. Also possible that he put Vargan up to whatever he did to that noble though, that fellow really does need someone to take care of him.

Well, it's about time I'm off to court, and then to see if I can extract what old Altain is up to, I heard that some of the Barstoi are to give a report on possible demonic incursion so things should not be too dull.

Till next time!

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From the pages of Halda's Journal, Part 3
a cup of poison

Persephone, Vargan and I showed up at this flophouse because Persephone had gotten a tip that the man who lived here, Ioseff Karinsky, could get us into The Dawn Requiem, a bar which supposedly was frequented by vampires.  Going there sounded like a shitty idea to me, but Persephone was determined.  She is a vampire hunter and particularly keen on killing her sire.  I can’t blame her given that sire killed most of her family and turned her into a dhampir (half-vampire).   Her status as a dhampir left her as much an outsider in her community as my psionic powers did in mine.  But I was concerned her thirst for vengeance would push us into a situation we could not handle.

 Ioseff cracked open the door.  I could see the thick door chain lock which was still preventing our entry. He was a small man with an oily complexion, greasy hair and a chin which looked like a rat’s.  Which was pretty funny given he caught rats for a living.  He looked like someone who would pimp out his own daughter for two copper pieces.  

“What do you want?” he hissed.

“We heard you can get us into The Dawn Requiem,” Persephone said.

“Go away!”  Ioseff barked.  But then we heard a familiar voice from somewhere in the back.  “Who’s there?”

“Sulayn?  What are you doing here?”  Persephone said.

“You know these people?”  Ioseff said.  The door shut for a minute and there was muffled conversation I could not hear.  Then the door opened.  “Come in,” Ioseff said.  “You can wait in the living room.  I will make tea for everyone.”

We talked with Sulayn as we waited.  He said he was investigating the Hawthorne Murders.   Ioseff reappeared.  “A cup of tea and a glass of wine for everyone,”  he said.  “Drink one, then the other.  You will find the flavors blend wonderfully.”

So I did, not wanting to appear rude.  Coming from a merchant family, I knew it was bad manners to refuse refreshments from a host.  But I should have considered why Ioseff had suddenly become so friendly.  The room began to spin.  I saw Sulayn collapse.  Before I blacked out I heard Ioseff shout “You will make fine meals for the master!”

-———————-

I was awakened by a loud cracking sound.  Vargan was shouting something I could not make out.  I tried to stand up and vomited blood instead.  Nausea swept over me like a tide.  What had been in those drinks?

Vargan was engaged in fierce combat with Ioseff.  Persephone was on her feet, but she looked almost as bad as I felt. 

Ioseff threw open the basement door and ran down.  The foul stench of rotting flesh filled our noses as zombies poured out of the basement door and into the room.

Vargan, Persephone and Sulayn engaged the zombies in melee.  Struggling against my nausea, I pushed my psychic energies into the minds of the zombies in an attempt to stun them.  But it was like firing a blast into empty space.  There was nothing there.  One of the zombies rushed forward and landed a blow on my side.  I felt my ribs crack and vomited more blood. 

Through the pain I desperately tried to mentally stun the zombie again.  Nothing.  The creature had no mind to affect.  The zombie raised its fist – and then it collapsed.  One of my companions had struck it down from behind.  In the confusion of the melee I was not sure who saved me.

We destroyed the rest of the zombies.  Vargan did a surprisingly good job of patching my wounds.  I was grateful to have been accompanied by three warriors but frustrated and embarrassed that I had been useless as tits on a boar hog.  This was the first time I had fought undead creatures.  If they were immune to my psionic attacks, how was I to deal with them?

As we headed down into the basement after Ioseff Karinsky, I still had not answered that question.

 

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