Prelude and Chapter 1
487th layer of the Abyss (Unknown)
Sirahani, once Lady Sirahani Irithyl of Cormanthyr, gazed out the stained glass windows of her lord's endless manor, distracting herself in the hypnotic swirl of molten clouds consisting the atmosphere holding his tortured realm together. Like writhing currents, they formed intricate patterns that vaguely resembled screaming humanoid faces, backlit by flashes of ochre lightning.
Charming. Like everything in Kanchelsis' domain.
Thankfully, she was alone; others of her kind wandered lonely corridors and haunting chambers distant to her, for she was in an uncommonly occupied wing of the manor. The hall, lavishly decorated, was filled with mirrors and framed portraits, the former being somewhat incongruous, as none of the manor's denizens were possessed of reflections.
She turned to appraise one, looking away from the ghastly scene, studying the elegant silvery filigree before its smooth surface, and the reflection of the chair beneath her, seemingly unoccupied.
Sirahani wondered distantly...was she still beautiful? It had been well over a thousand years since she had seen her own face; her angular, imperial bearing, full lips that never knew a smile, her once blue eyes, now a deep maroon.
She ran a clawed hand through her dark hair, momentarily despondent; so much time had passed. Her adoptive clan, Irithyl, had risen and fallen in her time, as had her home, desecrated by demons and currently in a state of rebirth. Everyone she had ever known was dead, for not even fellow Tel'quessir could endure as she had.
She had survived. She had taken at that time new, uncertain avenues of magic most had deemed...unfit. She had bargained and forced her way to powers that her kin could never have dreamed of.
And they had come to fear her...
The rune of banishment still ached where it marred her left forearm. With it active, and no living Irithyl to revoke it, she could never again return to her homeland.
Sirahani scowled, and her melancholy degenerated into boiling rage. With a deft pass of her hand and a short passage of the dark speech, the mirror splintered apart, its silver frame melting into the marble tiles of the floor.
Her banishment, unlike her life, would not prove to be quite so eternal. She would fulfill her lord's task. And she would walk again among her people, if not in Cormanthyr, in the Seldarine itself! She would make her former king scream apologies...
Sirahani rose, collected herself. Many had died for her pleasure, hundreds, thousands perhaps. Thousands more would die. So be it.
"It is time to return to Toril..." She said calmly, "The twelfth hour is come, and there is work to be done."
Calling upon her psionic abilities, for she was skilled in both the visible and invisible arts, Sirahani manifested a dimensional door, and willed her body to compress into itself. There was no pain, and the smaller the matter that was pushed through, the less taxing it was on her. Cognizant only on a limited basis, she pushed through the breach, leaving the abyss and her patron behind, to set into motion the events that would bring about his downfall...
Cormyr (10th of Eleint, 1366 Dalereckoning)
This was the place. It had to be.
The worked stone littering the grounds, likely a husk of an adjacent farming village, was unremarkable, save for a small carved pillar inscribed with dwarven runes.
Ryuu hissed, excited, crouched in a field of long grass near the southeastern rim of the Stormhorn mountains, Selûne a mere crescent swimming in a sea of her tears. He checked and double-checked his map of the Cormyrean countryside, bought at a hefty price from the Sembian smuggling ring based along the southern edge of the country. The map proved well worth it; he was very, very near to the lost catacombs named, rather unimaginatively, the Haunted Halls. He might not have found them without the map.
The halls had been built by the Dwarves for the bandit lord Rivior over a century and a half prior. The poor bastard had later been slain by the Warrior-Queen Enchara and the Halls had been deserted for years. Eventually the Halls became home to a cult of necromancers, followed inevitably by adventurers, seeking coin and glory, who had added to the undead obstacles at least as much as they had cleared them away. The place had a grisly reputation, the more so unsettling being based in a land as heavily policed as this.
It would be a good place to start his tour of Cormyr.
There were said to be several hidden tunnels leading into the multi-leveled structure, dug up by adventurers of days long passed. Thanks to the map, Ryuu knew that he stood over one such tunnel, marked by the weathered signpost. Whatever might he find inside? Ancient undead, perhaps created by the original coven, to test himself against? A few necromancers to slaughter? A big, fat pile of research notes, spellbooks, and treasure?
He rolled up the map and stuffed it in his pack, and readied the other item he had procured from the smugglers. A simple scroll of unassuming vellum, it contained a powerful spell; a narrow but highly concentrated beam of intense heat that would puncture surfaces for almost two full bowshots. Intended for use on a battlefield; piercing through scores of armored soldiers one after another, it would allow an arrow formation to easily push through a fortified enemy line. He planned to use it more like a pickaxe...
Waving his hand through the arcane passes, Ryuu concentrated on the reagent tucked into a pouch in his belt, and intuited, more than felt, the ingredients dissolve in the bag, leaving only dust.
He closed his eyes, pressed the scroll against the ground, angling it diagonally, and paused as it discharged a single pulse. Shaking his hand as he dropped the expired parchment, hissing at the blisters dotting it, Ryuu studied the narrow shaft he had created. Lined with black glass, the shaft was roughly the width of his fist, useless to a casual infiltrator.
Good thing for him he was anything but casual.
Gasping, Ryuu activated his latent vampiric nature, and felt his body grow...lighter. The wind passed through him, sound deadened, and his darkvision attuned sight became cloudy, objects becoming indistinct. As a pocket of dense fog, he pressed himself into the shaft, contracting himself into a narrow coil and slithering down its length.
For about twenty seconds he descended, before emerging into a wide hallway and reforming. Landing on all fours, he scanned his surroundings. Pitch black, he could see clearly enough. Ahead was an intersection, behind, there was a closed metal door. To his right and down was the continuation of his improvised shaft, reaching ever deeper into the Haunted Halls. There were no odors in the air that made him presume there were others nearby, living or dead.
Ignoring the shaft for the present, Ryuu turned to face the door, and approached it, eyeing the ring on the index finger of his left hand; a simple band of bleached bone. A ring of spell storing, it contained a simple aura enchantment that indicated when he was in the presence of magical fields. It was not powerful enough to show him the exact nature of the energies, but in a place like this, he could safely assume it was not benevolent in nature.
Then again, benevolent spells were far more hazardous to him than anything its current occupants might conjure up. As a Vampire, Ryuu was highly resistant to illusions, extreme cold, or necromantic spells, but comparatively vulnerable to fire, the wizard's standard weapon, as well as any clerical spell harnessing the power of the divine. And with the hall's reputation as a common romping ground for adventurers, either could potentially be present, so he was better off stepping lightly.
Palming a small dagger, Ryuu covered his face with his cloak, enchanted to deflect some spells, and jabbed at the door. Nothing. Setting it aside, the Vampire pressed the tip of a fingernail against the door, and again, remaining unfazed by the inevitable magical backlash, he pressed the palm of his hand against its cold metal surface, applying more and more pressure in an attempt to push it open.
Not a contact trigger, definitely, or perhaps it was a specifically set condition. Magical traps to repel only certain beings were common in Faerun; a necromancer's wards would no doubt allow undead thralls to pass through their defenses. If that was the case, he was lucky for his curse, for it would likely allow him to bypass most necromantic wards.
Now relatively convinced he was not at risk of disintegration or being turned into a frog, Ryuu kicked the door open, tiring of all this skulking about. As a Vampire, he could briefly infuse himself with unholy might, striking with the sheer kinetic force of a battering ram. No immediate discernable effect was observed, so he eyed the other side of the door, studying the odd engraving etched near the knob.
It was no conventional trap; it probably had triggered something across the hall. He had a minute or two. Whatever the trap was, it stank of necromancy. A practitioner himself, though not entirely by his own choice, Ryuu could easily identify similar crafts to his own.
Still, a necromantic rune. Exotic, if apprentice quality. He mentally noted its shape for future reference, and studied the contents of the room.
There was nothing to illuminate it; no tapered candles or wall-mounted torches. Dust lay in fine sheets over every surface. There were signs of a struggle; scorch marks lined the ground, and some of the stone tiles were chipped or gouged, but these scars seemed old. Against both of the far walls there were bookshelves, most of their contents relatively preserved in the cold, dry air, save a few shelves that had collapsed, spilling their contents across the floor in untidy heaps. Nothing magical about them; nothing so provincial as a spell book. He might study them when he had cleared this section, but honestly, reading was not his hobby. He might well pass.
The desk opposite him, however, was something of interest. He could tell that it was enchanted without even checking his ring; not a speck of dust marred its rosewood surface. Running a hand along its length, Ryuu paused as he noticed that all but one of the drawers was missing. His ring flared brightly as he reached to touch it.
So, some adventurers had looted this room. They had recognized another warding spell, but had failed to penetrate it. Grinning, activating the ring on his other hand, a carved circle of adamantine adorned with intricate glyphs, he struck the lock with the back of his hand.
Definitely a contact trigger.
The desk exploded outward in a hail of splinters, most of which passed right through him.
"Piss and Hrast!" he swore, digging a few choice pieces out of his hand and shoulder as his protection faltered momentarily. Thankfully, none of the wooden splinters had pierced his heart, or he might have been reduced to dust. His ring of evasion had allowed most of the damage to be avoided, but it was not a certain enchantment. And he could only use the blasted thing one every now and then...
Shrugging, for the wounds, as well as those sustained by activating the scroll some time ago, were already healing, a fortunate byproduct of his condition. After Vampires reached a certain age, they became harder to kill. He was of that fortunate variety. His skin, and the coat of scales over it, reformed flawlessly, assuming its (relatively) healthy pale grey sheen.
He eyed the drawer, now hanging loosely, and claimed it, ripping it off its hinges with a grunt. Inside was a beautiful, ornate rod. It was smooth, delicate; a shaft of silvery metal, coiling about itself into a slender pair of hands, which held a dollop of rosy quartz. Its opposite tip, in contrast, terminated into a tapering point, very sharp.
He accidentally pricked his finger just trying to lift the thing.
It was the power from this item, and not the explosive trap, that the ring detected, for it still flared with enchanted light. "A focal rod." he noted, "Of fine craftsmanship. A powerful, and no doubt valuable, piece, and it will go for a fine price".
He hadn't come to the Haunted Halls specifically for treasure, but it would do to claim a few trinkets to sell later. He attached it to his weapon belt, and finding nothing else of note, returned to the hallway, heedless of any trap he might had activated.
They had passed. Finally, they had passed.
"The One Who Endures preserve me..." Alexander Mallyth sighed, daring to open the door a crack. Peering from his chamber, a room no doubt meant for the necromancer he had cornered and slain, Alexander studied what he could of the corridor.
Turning back, eyeing the remains of the wizard, a plain-faced Sembian man of middling age, the Priest of Ilmater considered it ironic that the fellow looked more like a coin lender than a necromancer. He would have been perfectly at place among the denizens of his own native Westgate.
Alexander had not come here for a fight with the living, indeed, none of his party had known there would be anything in the Haunted Halls but basic undead, as there always tended to be with old abandoned keeps.
The adventuring permit had included this location, and the census officer had described it as a desecrated tomb, the rights to it bought at a hefty price and the promise that their goals were of a more scholarly inclination than most adventuring parties. Indeed, he, a Priest of Ilmater, Lamona, a Half-Elf novitiate studying Cormyrean history, and Zoran, an assassin once allied to the defunct Night Knives, had not come to the Haunted Halls for treasure.
Rholf and Olav, the two sellswords they had hired in Suzail, had been a different story, but to their credit, their immediate payment had been more than enough to prevent any petty looting. The undead on the first levels of the catacombs had been daunting, but manageable. His clerical spells had kept them at bay where sword and spell could not...until...
Until there had been a crash somewhere above, some sort of alarm spell being triggered, perhaps.
He shivered, remembering the thing that had approached them.
A husk, one unlike any he was familiar, had attacked with a wave of magical fear. Olav had crumpled under the attack, torn to pieces by the skeletons that followed it. Lamona, dearest Lamona, had perished by a trap spell in the next chamber, her tiny, almost childlike body rotted from the inside out by negative energy. He had managed to patch Zoran up enough to continue on, having pushed the fiend away with a hastily scrawled sealing circle, but a trap door had sent him down into the lower levels.
He had lost his torch in the blind tumble, and been forced to light his spare with the frantic strokes of a tindertwig. Its light extended about seven paces, no more. He'd lost his knitted red skullcap as well, a unique vestment of his faith.
He had hidden away from a trio of gauze-wrapped corpses, mummies, perhaps, when he had stumbled into the necromancer's room. A quick strike to the head had taken him before he could climb out of bed.
Safe as could be expected, Alexander dared to venture beyond the door, seeking a stairway that might return him to his friends, whether they lived or not. Circling around the intersecting corridors, mentally plotting the layout and hugging the wall lest he betray his position, the priest carefully noted each closed door. From the looks of things, the living denizens of the halls were not privy to his companion's advance into their territory.
Or perhaps they did not care, so used to adventurers that they were merely dismissed as a nuisance.
Rounding a corner into a wider hallway, the priest stopped before an unusual door. It had no knob, indeed, he had nearly mistaken it for a wall, were it not for the barely perceptible border linking it to the surrounding walls and floor.
Seeing the familiar markings on the door's lining, he sighed. He had unintentionally reached their shared goal; the resting place of Lord Rivior, bane of the free peoples of Cormyr, and found its sealed door to be nigh-impenetrable. That was good; it meant none of the undead of their masters had managed to breach it, and its contents would be safe. But without poor Lamona, he wouldn't be able to recover Rivior's sword or armor, a valuable historical find to donate to Suzail and posterity. His friends had died for nothing, perhaps were dying for nothing.
He swallowed his grief, focusing on the task of locating them, and continued on, brandishing his torch like a shield.
As Ryuu passed down the hallway, he grinned fiercely, for the trap had been far more formidable than that protecting the wand. Two skeletons shambled towards him, their limbs long and narrow, their skulls elongated and oddly small compared to the rest of their body.
"Trolls." Ryuu chuckled, "Skeletal Trolls. Why? They do not regenerate when they are nothing but bones!"
Behind them was another figure, much smaller, but also a much greater cause for concern. It flowed more than walked, keeping pace with the skeletons with ease. It looked almost as if a Human male had been skinned, and that skin had been animated into a semblance of life. Its empty eye sockets wept blood, as did the body-wide gash that opened it from the nose all the way down to the groin, parting its legs into ribbon-like strips.
It was a Bodak, a husk left behind when a soul was destroyed utterly by the touch of absolute evil. If that evil was still skulking around somewhere, it could be a genuine threat even to him.
"Flee..." The Bodak moaned, flitting forward like a drapery loosed by the wind, "Flee..."
Chuckling, albeit uneasily now, Ryuu drew his twin thinblades, Hyosho and Kaminari, light and eminently sharp sabers forged of fine elven mithril and enchanted to deal grievous damage to the undead, himself included, were he ever foolish enough to cut himself. Their handles were uniquely elongated and weighted at the pommels, the balance resting closer to the guard than normal, a special request on his part, because his unique style of martial arts involved spinning the thin, slightly curved blades in tune with his acrobatics to disorient and confuse his prey. Not unlike swashbuckling, it was extremely effective on the weak-minded, though it would do him little good now.
He cast a quick spell, consuming a pinch of sulfur and a slice of wax candle from one of his belt pouches, and with a few incantations and short, ambidextrous movements, Ryuu erupted into ghastly pale blue flames, a powerful necromantic ward fashioned by the legendary practitioner Azaer.
Striding forward, his aura making him highly resistant to both spells and attacks, the Vampire spun Hyosho and Kaminari in little circuits as he lunged between the skeletons, snapping his elbow up and striking the skeleton on his left in the jaw as it tried to bite him, while kicking out at the other, breaking its femur like a twig. Both skeletons wavered, then fell upon him, unmindful of the flames blackening their bones.
Laughing, Ryuu became as a swarm of bats, each one bearing the aura of blue flame, and passed through them without harm.
The Bodak shrieked, and Ryuu felt a fragment of the swarm of bats shrivel and die, drained by a burst of potent negative energy. Reforming several paces forward, bloodied, Ryuu began a new incantation, unwilling to close distance again until the Bodak was dealt with.
Normally, necromantic spells of such devastating potency as he was planning took time to cast, but having memorized his most powerful repertoire in advance, he was able to recall instantly all that was needed as he drew a slim vial from his belt. The vial, a rare potion he had recovered from an Alhoon's phylactery chamber, accelerated one's mental acuity for a short time, allowing rapid comprehension and casting of a single spell.
"Flee..." The Bodak cried, moaning as it drifted towards him. Ten minutes of delicate invocation were accomplished in seven seconds, just as the Bodak shrieked a second time and withered his left hand up to the wrist. Dropping Kaminari with a grunt, Ryuu bit into his other hand, speeding his latent regeneration by self-cannibalizing.
His spell began to warp the air about him; airborne particles such as dust and dirt broke down and reformed themselves into proteins, and water vapor still present around the fleshy Bodak congealed into plasma and lymph. He grinned, picking up Kaminari and motioning rudely to the advancing skeletons. The plasma and lymph began to cling to the airborne proteins and changed its composition, coalescing into small, stunted blood cells surrounded by pockets of lymph and being fed warmth and life through Ryuu's sheer willpower.
He brought his thinblades up just as the skeletons reached him, double-parrying their long arms and, moving back with the momentum rather than resisting it, the Vampire reverse-gripped his swords and pommel butted each of them in the forehead, more playful than aggressive.
He was dancing now, not fighting. He just wanted to occupy them for a time.
He then rolled past them, swatting a skeleton idly with his tail, placing himself between them and the Bodak, giggling.
As his spell progressed, Ryuu fed the airborne blood with surges of negative energy from his own being. Undeath gave one plenty of that to replace their life spark. The air began to actually grow cold as the blood sucked warmth from the immediate area. Hoarfrost, pink in color, lined the walls, and if he drew breath, Ryuu would not doubt it would have frosted.
The spell was meant for a large, open area. He'd never tried using it in a confined space. It would be fun to watch, certainly.
A dark red cloud formed in the chamber as he sliced the Bodak on the shoulder, his Ring of Evasion's reduced charge allowing him to suffer its shriek without withering, though it rattled him and sapped away some of his undead essence.
Moisture surged from the red cloud, boiling over the skeletons and the Bodak, the entire chamber, and, despite feeling no pain, each of them faltered. His cloud of metabolizing blood passed around him harmlessly; if anything, its touch felt energizing, akin to feeding, though actually consuming the blood in this stage would have grievously harmed him.
The Bodak sank to the ground, immobilized, its weight increased exponentially by the blood coating it. The skeletons corroded almost instantly, liquefying as the living cells of the blood consumed their bones to feed itself. Their long skulls drooped in grim parodies of a frown, before sinking back into their spines.
They impacted more than collapsed, into little mounds, bubbling from the heat of the blood cells as they reproduced thousands upon thousands of times, forming expanding pools around its food source. His blood cloud would leave nothing left. The walls melted, almost caved in. An uncomfortable shift occurred in the chamber...
The Bodak moaned, its hollow face sinking into the void of its chest. It melted more slowly than its comrades, but, unable to move, it could do nothing at all to prevent its fate.
It offered a final shriek, a fear spell that had no effect on him, then went silent.
"Consider it a mercy killing." Ryuu said with a shallow bow, watching in fascination as the husk began to display little rips in its material, like tattered cloth. It said nothing in its throes of second death, but the Vampire distantly though he felt a sense of relief, then nothingness.
When the cloud ran out of material to easily feed on, Ryuu halted the spell, preventing further expansion, but did not terminate it. Perhaps when he was finished with the place he would allow the artificial blood to consume further, weakening the support structure of this part of the Halls, collapsing it. It would not bury the Haunting Halls in its entirety, but it sure could make a mess.
He would have to be sure to destroy it after, though. If he was not careful, the blood might collect and become a carnivorous ooze. That might do some damage if it ever got out.
The threat erased, Ryuu considered matters as they were.
Necromancers could raise undead of such complexity if they were powerful enough, but few indeed could wield the touch of absolute evil, as was needed to create a Bodak.
He had to know if whatever had created the Bodak lingered, and exactly what it was. A Lich? Or worse?
More excited than fearful, completely past any disappointment in having to use his only acceleration potion, Ryuu became as a swarm of bats, and scattered them. Becoming many, he saw through many eyes, able to focus on each individually or as a whole. Thus, he could cover more ground in the halls, mapping out the demesne and, hopefully, locate more appetizing targets.
He was getting thirsty...
Alexander retreated back up a flight of stairs, increasingly confident of the layout of the catacombs. Despite the occasional bat (and how did the things roost down here?) he had encountered no threats, living or otherwise, and he took this time to renew his connection to Ilmater.
It was a gift he had developed in his time in the cloister; he could concentrate without pausing to meditate, and likewise not interfering with his perceptions of what was happening in the now. It was a useful skill, especially when times would not allow for a proper communion with his god.
Strength suffused him, the holy presence of Ilmater, bestowing powerful spells that burned themselves into his mind. He could rebuke the undead, as well as banish incorporeal spirits. He could ward himself against cold and life-draining spells, as well as those fed by dark magic or negative energy. If needed, he could cast a powerful healing spell, on himself, or, gods be praised, any of his party should he find them. For a short time, he could also channel the might of Ilmater, doubling his size and strength. He might need it to force his way free of this cursed place.
Renewed by his brief connection to the Crying God, Alexander returned fully to himself and the matters at hand, his torch leading the way.
Interesting... Ryuu saw the priest, poor fellow, and the hints of a room behind a wall. A vault, maybe. Some more trinkets to pluck away? Or maybe something bad? Something that might be fun to cut into tiny little pieces?
Either would work for him.
He would deal with the priest when the time came, but for now he would do some more exploring. Ryuu commanded himself, all of himself, save the lone bat that had been ground into paste by a flying blades spell cast by a mortal necromancer, to gather by his initial entry point. When all was ready, each of his bats evaporated, becoming fog, and formed into one coalesced body.
Thus whole again, if a little pained by the lost fragment, the Vampire delved further down the shaft and reformed in a large chamber, a crypt.
End of the line; his shaft penetrated about a hand's breadth through its far wall, but no more.
Not wanting anything to follow him down, Ryuu closed the shaft with a thick fleshy membrane summoned by a quick necromantic spell, then hardened it into a calcified sheet of cartilage. The crypt, possibly the final resting place of Lord Rivior himself, bore inspection, and he made out what details he could. Along three of the four walls, there were deep alcoves with curving arches and engravings in a language he could not read without taking a closer inspection, packed with stone sarcophagi. It was a dead end; the only door was a sheet of solid stone, intended to permanently inter its occupants without any means of ingress or egress.
That didn't seem to stop the chamber's other occupant from entering either. She rose from the ground itself, sliding through solid stone without resistance. She looked rather pretty for a mammal, even from behind, with a long, slender neck, shapely pointed ears from which hung many rings of white gold, smooth black hair that reached to the back of her waist, and robes that flattered her figure nicely. One of the fair maidens from his romance chapbooks, at first glance.
But he could also smell one of his own kind. That diminished beauty oftentimes more than enhanced it.
His tail flicked in agitation.
"Well hello, lass..." Ryuu purred, "Interesting trick, there."
The woman startled, turning to face him. Her skin was pale, even for a Moon Elf, and her maroon eyes burned with their own inner light. The exact shade reminded him of a nice full-bodied Sembian Red he'd enjoyed alone in a nobleman's parlor over a decade prior. A Vampire, younger than him, but well passed the point of ancient. An even fight, if she had his proficiency in the art.
"You should not be here." she replied coolly, her pouting lips pursed, her fangs poking through slightly. "Your point, milady?" Ryuu parried gently, oozing sensual magnetism into each word, "This seems to be a tomb, sealed that others may not pay their respects. I would say that you should not be here, pretty little thing that you are".
She stared blankly, unaffected by his flirtation, then, "It does not matter. What I seek is not here. But you are here, dark brother. You should accompany me".
"Oh? So soon? Okay, where to?"
"Odd name for a bedroom. Where's that?"
"The Demonweb Pits."
"I thought you were a Moon Elf, not a Drow. What are you doing in Lloth's realm?"
She shrugged, "You know nothing, then. It would mean that he is not interested in you, nor are you interested in my work."
She did not reply, and he grimaced as he saw something flash in her hands. White onyx.
"You want to play me, Elf?" he snapped, less than amused, and she slipped through the floor again, leaving the gems behind. They broke apart into dust, and the sarcophagi bled darkness in the outline of men. Five of them. Several more cracked and split open, and armored skeletons issued forth. He cared not for them. The shadows, however, were going to be a problem.
"Shit." he cursed, then indulged in more inventive expletives. Shadows were tricky; they needed to be attacked with sunlight, or clerical magic. And he was fresh out of any of that. He tried to cast a charm to command the Wraiths, but faltered instantly. Whoever that elf was, she had someone backing her. Someone at least quasi-divine.
"Off I go." Ryuu shrugged, softening his barrier of cartilage and slipping back up the way he came, trying to outpace the dim moans gravitating up from the shaft... If he made it, he could seal the exit with a ward. Maybe it would hold them...for a while...
He passed dozens of chambers, many of them sealed by heavy iron barricades. A few impacted with pounding fists from the other side, muted inhuman shrieks and less wholesome sounds echoing through. These chambers he did not spare a second glance; perhaps, with scores of faithful, the Haunted Halls could be purged, but not now. The best he could do was find his friends, or their bodies, burning them if it proved to be the latter.
At least then they would not be risen anew. He would see to it.
Alexander heard a crash in the catacombs above him, then cursed, stumbling right into a mass of undead. Humanlike in appearance, they gnashed yellowed teeth, and clawed hands reached out to seize him.
"The Crying Lord take you!" he bellowed, bringing to bear his holy symbol and rebuking them with Ilmater's light. Their flesh seared black in fist-sized patches, but they pressed him, smoking but unmindful of the damage his prayer was inflicting. They must have been empowered by a skilled necromancer; they resisted his clerical magic.
Calling upon the raw power of his god, Alexander felt that the room was shrinking for a brief moment. This spell was sometimes disorienting. His sanctified Morningstar in hand (it had grown proportionally to him), Alexander snarled, snapping his weapon forward, braining the first Zombie as it closed the distance. It pulped, its brain cavity impacting, but still it continued forward. With speed to match his new strength, Alexander dodged its attacks, backpedalled, and struck low, pulverizing its kneecap, while pinning what remained of its jaw with his torch. Its teeth raked his knuckles, but did not penetrate his gloves. Empowered by his god, he wouldn't be infected with the diseases such a bite would carry anyway.
The Zombie collapsed, but he was quickly pressed back by its allies. The priest struck them with a burst of holy light, then attacked the weakened areas with his Morningstar. Where a limb would have been crushed, its broke apart into ash; soon, many of his attackers hobbled or limped as he slowly retreated. He was hardly unscathed himself; the sleeves of his robe were sliced open and stained red from the deep cuts where the Zombies had clawed him. His knuckles were bruised and swollen. Sweat beaded his forehead, dripping into his eyes, forcing him to squint.
As the gruesome scene continued, and he counted his foes, Alexander cursed. At some point, six more had entered the fray, replacing those he had struck down. Dark shadows enveloped the room; man-shaped but lacking features.
"No..." Alexander moaned, seeing in them the faces of his friends and allies; Lamona, Zol, Rholf, and Olav. But wait! There was a fifth, who remained indistinct, and the priest of Ilmater sighed; his friends might be dead, but their death was a final one, for now. The Shadows were simply using his fears to imbalance him.
"The light take you!" he cursed, invoking his banishment spell. Three fled, moaning, parts of their incorporeal bodies flaking off. The rest lunged forward; two flew directly through him, and he gasped as part of his vital essence was drained away.
Alexander cast the banishment spell a second time, returning to normal size. The three he had rebuked earlier sank into the flesh of the advancing Zombies. The two orbiting Shadows, too far away to seek shelter, broke apart into streamers of smoke, dispersing harmlessly. Panting, drained by the Shadows and his spell casting, the priest cast a minor healing spell, refreshing his stamina and counteracting the essence stolen by his attackers.
As he charged in with his Morningstar, the Shadows reached out of their hosts, and he stumbled back, feeling more of his vital essence absorbed by their attacks. Having expended his directly damaging spells, he was forced to retreat.
He cursed them. It was a clever strategy, one that he could not counter; the Shadows, inside the corporeal undead, could not be affected by his banish spells, and likewise, he could not damage the Zombies because the Shadows protected their hosts. He would have to take another route, evading the undead while preventing himself from attracting more.
He cursed again, realizing he had taken the wrong turn, into a dead end, but he faced his death with dignity, twirling his Morningstar in preparation for another swing. The Zombies shambled towards him, slow but inexorable, hiding the real threat. Gulping, Alexander, the black sheep of Clan Mallyth of Tethyr, readied himself for his final charge and an eternity of service in the House of the Triad. What would be left in this mortal realm would be too little for the necromancers to make use of.
He would make sure of it.
A new Shadow reached across the chamber, larger than the others, much larger. The undead guardians paused, moaning, before they turned to appraise a rasping whisper.
The Shadow became more tangible, and the Zombies tried to attack it, their claws passing through harmlessly. As the audible spell completed, they tensed, as if struck, and stared sightlessly at their fellows.
In a gruesome display, the Zombies suddenly attacked each other, their clumsy strikes raking dried blood and flesh in furrows. In mere moments, each of them collapsed into a gory pile, torn to writhing, moaning pieces. The Shadow laughed softly, becoming thicker, more tangible.
As this happened, the others, wailing in anger, emerged from their vessels. Calling upon Ilmater's light, Alexander struck with his final banishment. The large Shadow that had come to his aid wavered, hissing, but remained. The other three dissipated, their parting wails sorrowful.
He drew his Morningstar, though he knew it would do little good. The Shadow was a powerful undead, for it had to be undead, to be unfazed by his spells. The Shadow eyed him; though he saw no eyes, he felt the weight of its gaze.
In a flash of crimson light, a dark-garbed figure took its place, appraising him.
The creature, perhaps a Demon, stood opposite to him calmly. It walked on two legs, and was just a little over five and a half feet tall. It had a coat of pale grey scales and a roughly triangular, reptilian head. Its tail, long and thickly muscled, lashed from side to side. It was clothed in black; a layered sleeveless tunic and leggings, with leather sandals and ankle plates, bracers, and a torc about its neck that gleamed like polished steel. It had a pale white cloak and hood, lined with fur and clasped with a brooch that depicted a rose, almost like those worn by Lathander's faithful.
There was something lithe and graceful about this creature, serpentine, though its figure was thick and stocky, Human-like. Something in its poise, its posture. Refined and yet savage. Predatory. Its eyes, blood red, bored into him beneath a brow of small, horn-like protrusions, though they contained more mischievousness than malice. Its tail now darted to and fro lazily.
"Hey; easy, friend. You look a little out of sorts. Maybe you should calm down a little..."
Alexander startled, then snarled, "What are you? Speak!"
The Demon shrugged, nonchalant, "My name is Ryuu."
It crossed its arms, clearly unconcerned of the threat he posed. Judging by how easily it had neutralized the Zombies, it was no small stretch of imagination...
"And what are you?!"
"Lizardfolk, among other things."
He paused, dumbstruck, "Lizardfolk? Like those from the Vilhon?"
"You are undead, as well. I can sense it."
It smiled, revealing its teeth, a pair of upper and lower canines more pronounced than the rest.
"Aye?" Alexander paused, incredulous, "What do you mean, aye?"
"I am a Vampire, Sunathaer." the creature replied simply, balancing on its ankles with a toothy grin.
"You are a Vampire."
"So, we must battle."
Ryuu laughed, The "Yes, why? I stated no such intentions. By Kanchelsis, you are a thick one."
"And so you mean to enslave me to your will, instead? Ilmater will protect me from such charms, even here, even now."
"And why would I do that? I came here to hunt necromancers. A favorite pastime, might I add."
"You hunt necromancers?"
Ryuu grinned, "Certainly. It was a necromancer among other things that turned me. I repay her in kind by slaughtering her peers. If I have to feed, and I do, I prefer to feed on those whose being is saturated with magic, especially magic I can use. Hence, necromancers."
Vampires were creatures of deceit. Alexander struggled to recall what he had read of them from the cloister archives. What he did remember was not encouraging...
"And who else do you feed on?"
"Bandits, marauding monsters. What is available among the lowest of the filth. Preferably someone who would fight back. I prefer it that way."
Ryuu shook his head, "Certainly not."
"Why do you care on whom you feed?"
"I am no mindless undead, priest. I have my own tastes and eccentricities. I do what I do because I enjoy it; it is the reason I cling to this mortal coil. Life is too enjoyable for me, even now, to end it."
"You are an abomination. Allow me to end it for you."
The Vampire laughed again, still having refrained from drawing the twin short swords or the wand belted to his waist, "Such aggression, such ill-informed aggression. Tell you what, since you look like an interesting distraction; I plan to run a marathon all over this country, hunting down covens of necromancers and other sorts. Normally, I'd personally slaughter everything hostile in this half-abandoned little slice of the hells, but...things got a little weird for me. Not really sure exactly how. And I plan to depart once I have a bite to drink. Follow me if you must, and maybe by the end of it, I might be weakened enough for you to fight me on even terms. Until then, toodle-oo".
"Stop!" Alexander yelled, calling upon Ilmater's light, but the Vampire turned into fog and floated up through the cracks in the ceiling, his laugher trailing behind him like a miasma, "Your friends are dead. I spotted them earlier and was considerate enough to burn their remains. You need to leave. Two floors up, along the right-most chamber. You will find a tunnel to the surface there. Maybe you and your party used it to get here, maybe you did not. It is stable and unguarded all the same. Better hurry though...just because I'm leaving doesn't mean I won't leave behind something to finish my work for me. By dawn's light, there won't be anything left of this place to pose a threat to anyone."
Hours passed, and the black skies turned a deep, dark blue, a brightening line across the horizon promising the coming dawn. As the lonely corridors and empty rooms broke apart in the red cloud that consumed mortal and undead alike, as true silence descended upon the Haunted Halls of Cormyr, a swarm of bats carried away into the fading night, their high pitched cries echoing throughout the plains. A lone figure, robed in grey, stumbled out soon after, his face pained but his strides purposeful. In one hand, he held a Morningstar. In the other, he held a token of Ilmater. After him, rising from the rubble itself as the halls perished, was another figure, that lumbered into the wilds on fours...its skin blistering even in the pre-dawn twilight...