Daerlun, Sembia (24th of Eleint, 1366 Dalereckoning)
After all the drama settled over, Ryuu had decided to take his growing little flock down the mountains, south and east, back into Sembia, to Daerlun.
After some difficulty with the gate guards, who hadn't seemed very amiable to four armed travelers arriving unannounced and by moonlight, one of them being a red-eyed reptilian creature, they'd bunked in one of the nicer taphouses along the western wall.
He hadn't bothered to read the sign. All he cared to notice was the visible quality of its material and engraving. Inside, it was a lively place, with many full tables and a floor lined with straw. There were a few brawls, but the patrons were subdued at the sight of him.
Ryuu decided he would acquire lodgings before one or more of them inevitably decided to pick a fight.
They had taken a seat in the corner, the better to avoid such a confrontation. And to make a show of it, and ensure the barkeep would be willing to offer a room, he'd decided to order a dinner course and libations.
"I've never been in a taphouse before." Haidée noted, surveying the interior curiously, "I imagined traveling merchants and sellswords. Everybody is really taking to the drinking, aren't they."
Ryuu shrugged, "I was originally thinking we'd try the House of Firehair, but I've never heard of a temple of Sune that wasn't also a...umm, never mind. Anyway, this seemed like a good choice."
"I still don't understand why we came all the way back into Sembia." Alexander protested, frowning at the sight of the tankards he'd ordered for his flock, and the glass of wine he'd procured for himself.
"No good ale in Cormyr." Ryuu replied, "And I want my followers well attended, so I ordered a woman for the priest, since Esmer will no doubt be occupied."
He sipped his wine; a fine aged vintage tasting of elderberry and plum, poignantly ignoring the incredulous stares of three belligerent Humans.
He laughed, "So serious. All of you. I'm disappointed. You have so little time on this world and you restrain yourself from life's pleasures. Haidée, you're exempt, since it won't be an issue."
She blanched at that.
"Hmph. I'll take the woman. Shame, Sunathaer, since she gave you the twice-over when I accosted her. Actually, never mind. I hate smooth skinned mammals."
He clapped his hands, "Okay, so... Thunderholme."
He let the silence stretch for emphasis, then, "Ancient dwarven keep. Pride of their underground nation, actually. Wiped out after the high priest unveiled his magnificent new temple in a grand dedication ceremony attended by every dwarf in the city. Too bad it was a temple to Null, and the priest used the ceremony to call down a dragon, which promptly slaughtered all of his subjects. Aurgloroasa, they called her. The Sibilent Shade."
He poured emphasis into the "s" sound, producing a reptilian hiss.
"How do you know this?" Alexander asked, to which he pouted, "Little priest doesn't think I take the time to read. Well fine, you have the right of it. I tried scrying it repeatedly before my sojourn into Cormyr, and eventually succeeded."
"Why are we going there?" Haidée asked around her ale, trying not to make a sour face at the no doubt flavorless swill.
"I hunt undead, remember?" Ryuu asked, grinning, "Dwarven Wraiths, skeletons...maybe the shade of the Priest Regent himself. I'd love to take a crack at that one, if he could call down a dragon. And it'd serve him right."
He scowled, "Betraying your own kin. That's the lowest of the low. In a world that's this foul and treacherous, you should be able to depend on the goodwill of the tribe."
The Vampire took another draught, snapping his fingers at the barmaid, "So we're going to hit Thunderholme tomorrow night. Same way we got to the peaks, and the same way we got here. But first, Esmer..."
He sized him up, before offering a heavy satchel with what remained of his wealth, "I'm sure we can find some nice armor for you. And for the priest. And the girl, actually. Those leathers were supposed to be a temporary attire. I want you all geared up, so I'll draft up a list, and you'll get everything on it come morning. You can sleep for the afternoon, if you want. Here's for the expenses."
The Human looked into the pouch, and his eyes went wide, "You would offer us all this?"
"Obviously." Ryuu derided, "And get yourself a better sword. And a shield. You look slow, so it would be a good idea to have something other than your pretty face to take the hits for you."
He blinked, "I thank you for this gift. And for...for saving Haidée. I shouldn't have assumed."
The food arrived, and another glass of wine, and another round of ales.
A little misconception was that, drinking blood, Vampires couldn't eat too. Sure, there was no need to, but it helped to pass among mortals. He tasted the stew, potato, dipping a half-loaf of bread in it and taking a large bite.
"Just don't go wasting it by dying. I'm going to train you like I will the girl. Waste of investment otherwise."
The soup was actually quite good.
"You, Alexander...you seem to hold your own well enough. Since I'll be training these two on the road, maybe you could fill in when I'm occupied tomorrow evening. It might take a few hours to break through the wards surrounding Thunderholme. I was originally going to become fog and slip through, like before, but as is..."
The priest of Ilmater nodded, "Of course. It will be a good exercise for us all to get to know each other. Since you insist on battling halfway across Cormyr, we will need the insight."
"It will bring us together." Haidée added, "A good thing, since we are coming to be your tribe, Master. Isn't that so?"
The notion struck a little deeper than she, or Ryuu himself, would have initially thought.
Troubled, but not willing to let them know that, he shrugged, "We'll see. Dawn is only an hour or so away, and I could use some time to study my tome before taking to the dreamless sleep. Leave a modest tip and tell that floozy with the red blouse there that the deal's off. She can take the initial half and shove it, preferably while I watch."
Alexander did not sleep well this night, in the small hours before dawn. After they'd taken rooms, and he wound up sharing his with Ryuu, the Lizardfolk having taken to his spell book; a heavy tome of black leather and bronze filigree. He was deep in concentration, so much so that he hadn't jested at all, and took no notice of his attention.
He eyed the creature, tormented as he had been since entering this peculiar alliance.
He recalled every ministration he'd heard in Ilmater's cloister and anywhere else, from Sune's temple in Selgaunt to Tempus' mead hall in Luskan. He sought his answer in the hundreds of tomes he had read, the thousands of stories he had heard. The people he had met. The heroes of old that he admired; Archmage Elminster and the Seven Sisters, the Knights of Myth Drannor, and all the rest.
All sources pointed to the same conclusion; Vampires, as all other forms of undead, were irredeemably evil, only fit to destroy.
As a vessel of divine power, opposed to undead, Alexander had been forced to resist the call to violence just as much as his fledgling companion, driven by his dogma to destroy evil.
And time and time again, Ryuu defied the conventions of vampirism. As did Haidée.
They spat in the face of that convention, and everything he'd been led to believe.
He held his head in his hands. How many might have been like them, but were never given the chance to prove it? How many might have been slain outright, for no fault of their own, nay, as reward for resisting the temptation for violence?
What was a greater indication of goodness? To be born of a goodly nature, or to resist, being born of evil?
What was he to do? These creatures, these Vampires, remained inexorably Human!
Ryuu hid it well, but Alexander sensed his inner turmoil. To be separated from those you love, not by the gulf of distance but death itself. And such a love!
But he endured, to serve the world by hunting undead and those that trafficked in them. Through justice or base revenge, Ryuu performed acts of good, despite his nature.
What was he to do? How could he live with himself if he slew such a being, for something they had no control over, for the mere act of living?!
"He who endures preserve me..." Alexander thought to himself, stirring in his bed.
In the swirling sea of his doubt and confusion, it struck him in singular notions that built upon each other, leading him to the truth.
Ryuu, despite appearances, was no monster. Alexander knew this already, and his actions today had proven it.
He did not deserve to die.
He did not deserve Alexander's scorn.
He was a sufferer; a poor and downtrodden creature, a beloved subject of Ilmater. For it was his god's portfolio to aid those in need, those in pain.
As was Haidée; a poor, innocent girl who fell victim to circumstance, and had chosen to live rather than to die.
It was his duty to his god and his conscience, to help them. It was his duty to protect them, from those who assumed evil in them. It was his duty to follow them, to act as their guidance, their beacon, their shield. It would his duty to bring them peace, should they ever prove themselves the monsters the world assumed them to be.
Ilmater had spoken. Alexander opened his eyes, and they fell upon his charge.
"Thank you. I know now. I accept this task."
Ryuu opened an eyelid, lazily. His irises were wide in the low lighting.
"What was that? I'm not chasing down that woman if you've changed your mind."
"It was nothing."
Ryuu closed his eyes, as did Alexander.
He would need to be rested for the morrow.