Chapter Five: Ashes at Dawn I

Excerpt from The Tools of Desna by Lord Evard Tremage, Caliphas, 4851
Chapter 4, Dieter Morgen

Madame Ivanja lay beside Dieter, her head nestled just under his chin with her free hand following the tattoo on his chest. His arms were folded behind his head and his legs were crossed over, still within his grieves. His eyes were firmly fixed on the mirror opposite his bed; it was a grand mirror, occupying a considerably large section of the wall. He was beginning to relax; the day had proven to be strenuous and he was in need of rest. His eyelids had begun to fall heavy and his breathing began to slow. Peace… With the hand that was on his chest she grabbed him by the jaw, pulling his face down to meet hers and demanded, “talk to me!”

Dieter was entranced by her Varisian eyes; it was like falling in love and realizing it. The hag was beautiful beyond belief but her heart was not for the taking. She was not for any mortal to have, yet she was his to hold.

“Dieter Morgen… tell me something.” She pushed.

He could barely muster the strength but felt compelled to respond, so he did.

“It’s been almost three months since the incident and I still see her face whenever I close my eyes to sleep.”

“She was just a girl,” whispered the hag.

“I can’t help think that maybe, just as you have chosen me as a plaything, she was also your plaything. When will I be faced with my replacement?” Although questioning the hag, he was tactful with his tone.

“Forget these things… tell me about yesterday… tell me about the dark rider.” Her voice was almost childlike and inquisitive in nature.

“Yesterday I tore through an agent of darkness as though it was nothing; the power I wield is titanic.” A smile grew on his face; he lay there proud of himself. “Now I have no more doubt, no more fear, my arrogance is for once now rightly placed. There is no retreat, no surrender, and no remorse. When I’m the beast, there is only me.”

“Careful Dieter… I may ask you to bring me the head of a Tarrasque…” she chuckled playfully; running her fingers through his hair.

There was movement outside… Dieter quietly leapt from his bed and moved toward the door. By the sound of things and much to his relief, it appeared Lorinthor was about to rendezvous with a certain thief. “She steals hearts too,” he said to the hag. Feeling a bit athletic himself, he turned to Ivanja… But she was gone. Not a sound made, not a window open… no trace.

“A Tarrasque? Now you want me to chase fairy tales?” his laughter resonated throughout the Bountiful Catch. “Tarrasque… I am the Tarrasque,”

Caliphas Courier, 14th Erastus 4711

ANOTHER MYSTERIOUS MURDER!

Another body was found this morning in Restoration Park. Like the previous one, it was missing its head and drained of all fluids. When Captain Boverde Hoptler’s men moved the body it crumbled to dust.

Captain Hoptler said “It’s clearly students playing a prank. We’ll catch them soon enough and they’ll pay for what they’ve done. There’s absolutely no chance this has anything to do with vampires.”

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 14th Erastus 4711

Until today, the ride around Avalon Bay from Thrushmoor to Caliphas had been uneventful. We were a day away from Caliphas, riding along a pass between wooded hills, when we came to a low bridge over a small stream. Guarding this bridge was a headless man in black armour and a purple cloak sat on a black horse with red eyes. He offered us 40,000gp to find an item for his employer, but didn’t care to tell us who his employer was. Inevitably, the encounter ended in violence and the headless knight summoned four ghoulish direwolves. Rustin responded with a bear. The horse was clearly smarter than its rider and disappeared through a portal. The knight had been wearing a bronze medallion with arcane symbols and moveable parts. Dieter hung it around his neck and said that he was struggling not to allow it to weaken him.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 15th Erastus 4711

When we arrived in Caliphas we talked to the locals and learnt that The Order of the Palatine Eye has a meeting house here at the Harroway Theatre in Constance Street. They have an extensive library we could use but to gain access we needed to get to Edjureus Modd. The theatre is in need of some repair and you’d think the aristos in the Palatine Eye could afford to sort that out. Sigmund and Lorinthor talked to the servants at the front door and were told to come back the next day at nightfall.

We checked into the Ye Olde Travel Inn and stabled the horses. Lorinthor’s magical shelter is fine for when we’re on the road but occasionally I like to sleep in a building that isn’t going to just disappear in the morning.

Caliphas Courier, 16th Erastus 4711

THE NIGHT-DRINKER STRIKES AGAIN!

Three more bodies found early this morning, in the same condition as the previous ones, confirm that Caliphas has a serial killer. Whoever the killer is likes to prey on well-dressed men who are wandering the streets in the early hours of the morning. None of the victims are known and all have been drained of all fluids.

Captain Hoptler was unwilling to comment but now seems to think that the students are also wizards.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 16th Erastus 4711

I picked up the Caliphas Courier in the lobby of Ye Olde Travel Inn to find that Caliphas had a serial killer with some vampiric tendencies. As we couldn’t speak to Modd until nightfall we went to have a nose at the crime scene. In between a tavern and an inn was the desiccated body of a well-dressed man. It had no head. Lorinthor offered our services to the Captain of the Guard, Boverde Hoptler. Until Sigmund showed his paladin symbol it looked like we would be shooed off.

There were two piles of ash on the roof of the inn and it appeared the body fell from there. As Hoptler’s men dragged the body out of the shade of the tavern it also crumbled to dust. Each pile of ash came with a stake. Lorinthor told Hoptler that it looked like he had a vampire problem but the Captain seemed to think that it was students or wizards. Which is so blatantly ridiculous he’s either taking bribes or an idiot. I can’t decide.

Razien and Silver then got into a spat with Hoptler’s men, who demanded our names. Some of us gave fake names, except Sigmund who cannot lie, the Publican who clearly doesn’t give a damn, and Silver who told Hoptler to fuck off. We all got arrested. There was a lot of shouting; Dieter and Lorinthor were up for killing everyone and I figured I could bust us out easily enough. In the end we were fined 2000gp each and the Captain told Silver that her parents would hear about it.

By the time we got out it was a hour before sunset so we returned to Constance Street. There were several carriages arriving at the front door. With Sigmund and Lorinthor leading the way (the rest of us aren’t posh except Silver and it’s probably best she’s kept away from other aristocrats). The meeting house was busy. There was a trophy hall lined with valuable paintings leading into a large lounge area. Doors led off to a couple of book rooms. In a sunken space below was an iron platform with chains.

Sigmund asked for Modd and was told he was in the conservatory. We found him surrounded by followers and sycophants, who melted away when we approached. Lorinthor told Modd that Judge Daramid had hired us in Lepidstadt to follow the Whispering Way and find out what they were up to. Modd wasn’t prepared to let us into the vault. Silver started to get threatening but the Publican took her off and had a word to her. Modd muttered about speaking to her parents. Sigmund’s paladin diplomacy eventually got us into the vault.

The vault was a large room stuffed full of scrolls and artifacts. The party returned to the Inn to rest, leaving Lorinthor and I to research. We spent many hours going through the dusty parchments but we discovered much useful information. Dieter’s medallion is worth a lot of gold. Oh, and, is also some sort of key which the agents of the Whispering Way use to get into their sanctuary.

We learnt a little more about the Raven’s Head mace and that the poem is actually a formula. It seems they need a person to sacrifice. We need to find a gargoyle that will show us the way to the Whispering Way’s hideout. On our way out we spoke to Count Lucinean Galdana and asked if he knew about any gargoyle statues. He didn’t and told us to speak to Abraun Chalest. Caliphas doesn’t go much in the way of manners, that’s for sure. It was nearly dawn and we were exhausted so we returned to the Inn.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 17th Erastus 4711

We’d just had breakfast and were planning our next move when there was a commotion in the foyer. Someone was looking for us and it turned out to be Abraun Chalest. Desna must be watching over us. He was nervous and confused, which doesn’t seem an unreasonable reaction to encountering this party. We give off a very confrontational vibe. Apparently Count Rude sent him. The gargoyle statue we want is in the vaults of the Meeting House so we went back to take a look at it.

The statue was made of black granite and was a ten foot high winged beast with teeth and claws of iron. Lorinthor confirmed it was magic. A medallion was carved on its chest and Dieter hung his medallion around its neck. We saw a vision of ancient Caliphas, a building with an eerie green light, and four liches demanding the fifth catechism of the Whispering Way. Chalest told us the building was the Quarterfax Archives and he would take us there.

When we arrived at the Archives we made our way into the basement. There was an ancient fresco depicting a man holding a book bound with symbols that matched those on the medallion. Dieter turned the key so that it matched the symbols on the wall and a secret door opened. The haven hadn’t been used in some time but there was something moving in the shadows. There were no doors out other than the one we’d came in and we were about to leave when the something came out of the shadows.

The man said he was called Quinley Basdel and he was searching for the Whispering Way. Sigmund confirmed that he wasn’t evil. He said someone was murdering vampires, among them his mother, and that the elder vampire was older than the Whispering Tyrant so could help us. Quinley claimed the vampires of Caliphas had lived in peace since the Tyrant fell but that these killings could disrupt the balance of power.

People will keep asking us to do things for us and then refusing to pay. Still, we didn’t have any better ideas so we went to Restoration Park with Quigley. Seems the vampires live under Caliphas in a city below a city. On our way through the park we noticed three standing stones and Quinley told us this was a feeding area. He took us across the park to a vast glasshouse full of flowering plants and said we would have to fight our way through the guardians.

I went up to the doors and picked the lock. A path led round to either side, curving as though it formed the edge of a circle. Some mushrooms started squeaking and Dieter stamped on them. Quinley told us to take the right-hand path to the guardian, but all we found was a table and some pruning shears. Figuring the guardian was probably keen on the plants I picked up a set of shears and hacked at the leaves. A vampire woman wearing armour of vines appeared in front of us. Rustin recalled his bear and we defeated the first guardian.

Buried in the ash was a small, metal key. Quinley took it and ran outside where there were two grates. He unlocked them and dropped down into the sewers. We heard a wail of disappointment and anger and followed him down. There were no exits from the room and I couldn’t find any secret doors, but our magic users could tell the walls were a strong illusion. We could pass through if we believed no wall was in front of us. It took some doing. They were very convincing walls.

We found ourselves in a series of large, circular chambers. At the end were some iron gates that let off a blinding flash when I unlocked them. We went single file along a path by the sewer, past some storerooms and over a bridge until we came to a room in which a great deal of blood had been spilt. Presumably by the enslaved vampire spawn stood looking at us. We backed out past the door we’d come in so that Lorinthor could cast a fireball into to the room.

Taking the door to the left we entered a long corridor full of sarcophagi and a stone door at the end. We walked for hours down a featureless tunnel. We came to another stone door around which were more spawn. The Publican noticed these had a weird, glazed look to their eyes, as though they were drugged. After another hour walking we came to a small room with more spawn and we killed them.

Past this, we came into a guard room. Quinley said we wanted to see Luvick and they agreed to let us past with a warning not to draw our weapons. They lead us further into the stronghold and brought us to a wide audience hall filled with many beautiful and costly things. Many vamps stood around, chatting, and Luvick sat on an ornate throne. He also had Caliphas’ trademark rudeness. He is fearsome, but then, so are we.

After some back and forth we agreed to help with the vampire serial killer in exchange for him telling us where the Whispering Way have gone. It seemed like a poor deal to me and I thought that we may have to compensate ourselves. Luvick said they had a nosferatu in custody and that we could talk to some of his people; Lady Eve who believed she would be next, Desmond Kote, and Luvick’s servant Radvir Giovanni who believed the Caliphas nobles were behind it all. To be honest, if they treat each other like they treat us, it’s a wonder there isn’t a war.

We found Lady Eve dancing. There was a band playing in her quarters and she demanded a partner. The Publican acquiesced and pleased her with his graceful moves. Eve asked if we were there to protect her and we asked why she thought she might be a victim. The killer has a preferred victim; vampires who hunt in Restoration Park and who control a large number of spawn. Those spawn now act as though they have a new master. She fit the type.

Next we questioned Desmond Kote in the underground cathedral. It had a shrine to Zyphus and Desmond was in the middle of a ritual. Lorinthor discussed religion with him and he agreed to talk to us. He had been collecting the stakes from the murders and noticed they appeared to have come from the same piece of furniture. They were identical to the ones we had seen yesterday.

Giovanni had gone on an errand so we approached Ramoska Arkminos in his cell. Naturally, he claimed to be innocent and begged for our help. Unfortunately for him, he had no money and we only help those with something worth stealing. He told us that he had been working for the Whispering Way, testing their elixir which would provide the path to lichdom. It needs to be given to a specific person and that it is coded for Prince Aduard Ordranti III. The Whispering Way stiffed him and he knew where they’d gone.

Then we caught up with Giovanni the tailor who had a shop in a buried basement. He was sitting at a sewing table, working, but was very keen to tell us of the nefarious schemes of the human nobles. He had papers with the stamps of noble houses that listed vampires and their haunts. Something was off, though. The papers looked genuine but Giovanni seemed dodgy.

The owner of the furniture shop across the street was able to tell us that the stakes came from a table made by him for Giovanni. When we went back, the vampire tailor was gone, but we learnt he has a shop above ground in one of the smarter areas of Caliphas.

Returning to Lady Eve, we asked her if she would be prepared to be the bait in a trap for the serial killer. Dieter appealed to her sense of drama and suggested she stage a recital; some of us would be her audience and the rest would hide in the trees. She agreed and we planned it for the next evening.

Rustin staked out the furniture shop, disguised as a small animal, and the rest of us went back to the Inn for some sleep.

Hello Caliphas, 18th Erastus 4711

THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER RETURNS!

Lady Astrea is back in Caliphas and she’s making a splash as usual. The glamorous heiress to the Ithilkir fortune left months ago following some scandalous associations and a rift with her father, the financier Lord Ithilkir.

The beautiful Lady Astrea is rocking a warrior look and a new name. Currently staying at the shabby Ye Olde Travel Inn as Silver Ravenwolf, she’s keeping a low profile, presumably to enjoy some privacy with her new beau. Who is the mysterious elven lordling escorting Caliphas’ most eligible woman?

Trend-setting as always, Si-Ra returns to Caliphas with this season’s must-have accessories: a Paladin of Sarenrae, a Cleric of Pharasma, and an unaligned Monk. It seems Si-Ra is exploring her spiritual side.

Ceris Athiri’s journal, 18th Erastus 4711

We slept the morning away and then went to the Nobleman’s Stitch to look for the table the stakes were made from. It was a very fashionable shop catering to the wealthy and run by humans during the day. The saleswomen gave us attitude from the minute we walked through the door, correctly assuming we couldn’t afford their wares. Dieter, Silver and I gave it right back to them and it got a bit heated, and the next thing we know Lorinthor had dimension doored out with a rack of skirts and dresses. Ha. The staff couldn’t tell us anything about Giovanni.

We returned to Restoration Park, picking up Lorinthor on the way, and set up our trap. Lady Eve sang and danced around the standing stones while Dieter and Silver played her admiring audience. The rest of us hid and waited for the killer to show himself. After an hour of Eve’s show we saw a drunken reveller wandering through the park in our direction. Eve launched herself at him, we raced through the undergrowth, and the reveller removed his hat and became Giovanni.

As the two vampires collided out jumped four vampire enforcers. Attacking from the bushes, I got the drop on one. The Publican noticed Giovanni had a stake and wrested it from him. Lorinthor summoned an angel and Rustin called his dire-bear. We took down the enforcers and then turned to see Giovanni and Eve trying to kill each other. I gave Lorinthor a jar of pickled garlic cloves and he smashed it on the ground between them, driving them apart. Dieter staked Giovanni, and before he could kill him in his uncontrollable rage, Lorinthor dimension doored him away.

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