Having benefited from healing, Lana felt like she might last more than a few seconds in the battle to come. Drewen had been better but had been worse too. Piotr was still in good shape compared to his companions.
Koriszegy Keep - Down the Well
"Rest assured - I do. A whole handful of useful spells, in fact."
The dwarf smiled in response. "Just think - only six years ago a single magic arrow exhausted you."
Lana allowed herself a moment of reflection, then answered sternly. "We'll need to stay close together down below..."
Shamefaced, Drewen nodded to convey his understanding - that there should no more flying off on his own.
"... we'd best secure a rope too," Lana went on, staring down the well and remembering how deep it went, "in case we find ourselves unable to fly back out."
Drewen slapped his head. "Of course! You're right. What's it coming to when you have to be the one to think cautiously Lana?"
He set about securing a rope. Lana put a hand into her pocket and brought out a handful of kopeks. She whispered to them and they took on a glow which increased until each was as bright as a lantern. Piotr had a torch in his hand but decided against lighting it and returned it to his pack, slung across one shoulder.
Then, picking up his hammer and shield from where Lana had deposited them to cast her Ice Storm, Drewen flew up and over the edge of the well.
Down into the dark they went, pausing only to secure a second rope to the end of the first. Lana's nose crinkled as she detected a whiff of something unpleasant.
Glancing down, Piotr thought the water at the bottom of the well had a hint of red to it.
Reaching the bottom, Drewen peered through the gap into the chamber beyond and immediately retreated slightly.
"There's livin' folk in there," he whispered, somewhat unnecessarily in Lana's view as she doubted they still had the element of surprise on their side. In any case, the confines of the well caused Drewen's whisper to echo and distort into something that didn't sound at all like her dwarven friend.
"Livin'..." Lana echoed in bemusement, "actual living people?! Do they appear warm?"
"Yup. It's faint but I can see red about them. Smells too." There was no need to say so - the stench of rotting meat mixed with excrement had grown undeniably strong.
Drewen proceeded through the gap and Lana followed, willing the coins in her hand to emit maximum brightness. The light filled the chamber with a warm glow that seemed completely incongruous in such an evil place.
Seated around the long table were eight elves. They were pale, dirty and clearly malnourished. Rotting meat sat on plates in front of them. Two elves reluctantly picked at the food.
All heads turned, blinking in the light, as the three companions entered.
"Good people," Lana greeted them, bewildered by their presence. She advanced into the cave, making sure Drewen and Piotr remained within arm's reach. "What has brought you here? Are you here against your will?"
Beside her, Piotr concentrated.
Lana was about to repeat herself in Elvish when one of the elves rose to her feet. She might, in other circumstances, have been considered especially beautiful. She was dressed in an old faded gown which was slightly too big for her.
"Friends," she said in Elvish, "it is as we were warned - the green robed human wizardess has returned. Prepare yourselves!"
The other elves rose and reached for their weapons.
Already tense, Lana nearly gasped in alarm as her companions readied themselves for combat. She tried to remain calm, knowing the vampire could only be using the elves as a shield. It would serve ill to engage them in battle. She wondered how they had been stripped of their wits. Spells? Or the vampire's innate magic? Judging that the vampire's influence would be too strong for her to push through merely by talking, she raised her hands and began a chant.
As she did one of the female elves cried out: "No, please don't. They're …"
By then Lana had completed her spell and all the elves were looking around at each other as if they had just awoken from a dream ... into a nightmare.
"... enchanted," finished the elf in a small voice. At that moment more elves emerged from the shadows bearing trays - shuffling, with an even less healthy tone to their skin.
Lana wondered whether she had made the right decision, however she hadn't the luxury of time to dwell on such matters. What was done was done. "Get behind us, quickly!" she shouted to the disorientated elves in their own tongue. "We are protected!" She flung two of her coins in separate directions to illuminate as much of the cavern as possible.
Piotr hovered, ready but reluctant to attack anything. His expression indicated that the scenario unnerved and appalled him. Lana saw that by simple good fortune her spell of negation appeared to have reduced the number of zombies lurking in the shadows from seven to five - two corpses lay inanimate on the floor amid the remnants of once-fine furniture.
Lana, Drewen and Piotr were gathered in the northeast corner. Two reanimated elves had approached from the northwest corner and three from the southwest corner. None were able to draw closer than ten feet. The southeast corner was illuminated by a glowing coin and there was nothing hiding there.
"Don't attack them yet," Lana instructed her companions, aware that their weapons were twitching but would disrupt the scroll's protective aura, "throw holy water." She hefted a vial and lobbed it at an oncoming ghoul - causing its flesh to sizzle and smoke. One of Drewen's vials sailed forth alongside Lana's and found its mark in another ghoul.
Piotr extended his holy symbol and intoned words of prayer; all five creatures turned on the spot. Two of them - those hit by Lana and Drewen - shuffled back into the concealing shadows of the northwest corner. The other three headed into the far cave from which a quartet of ghouls had just emerged.
The elf who had shouted out earlier was now expressing her gratitude. "Thank you for releasing my companions. I thought you were going to kill us all."
"Think nothing of it, good folk. You were bespelled and -"
It was then Lana noticed not only the ghouls entering the cave but dozens of rats pouring into the chamber out of every nook and cranny. Possibly the most disconcerting thing about this was that the rats were the reason there were still concealing shadows - for they were returning the coins Lana had thrown, carrying them back to her in their mouths.
Furious, and facing a surging tide of vermin little more than five feet away in every direction - the little beasts were swarming atop the table and spilling from the well opening - Lana wondered how she might protect herself and the others. The quarters were so close she had little room to manoeuvre without impeding the others or the elves. In a split second decision she spun on her heels and spoke words of magic. Gluestrands shot from her fingertips to plaster themselves across the well opening and the surrounding wall, blocking the entrance and swallowing a dozen or so rats. She had been careful not to catch her companions in the effect, which meant she hadn't trapped as many rats as she would have liked but she hoped it would keep more vermin from entering.
To her surprise she noticed Piotr's turning ability hadn't failed yet. Another handful of the undead turned on the spot and lumbered back toward their lair. Repelling the ghouls clearly seemed to test the paladin's resolve moreso than the skeletons and zombies had done. It also occurred to her how none of the zombies or ghouls in the cave had exhibited glowing eyes. For a heartbeat her thoughts strayed to the fireplace, up above, before she re-focussed on the task in hand.
Seeing an opening, Lana and Drewen hurled more holy water. Both vials hit and Drewen's was enough to destroy its target.
Then good things and bad things seemed to happen all at once.
Piotr's faith was strong and he repelled four ghouls, however as they turned to depart the same number entered from the cave beyond.
Drewen was squashing rats.
After initial hesitation and confusion the elves had gathered near the newcomers and were doing their best to help with the rat situation.
Lana heard what were unmistakably words of magic coming from the shadows at the end of the chamber. Her heart sank as she realised there would be no opportunity to interrupt the casting.
A handful of quickened heartbeats later and the spell was completed. They felt the levity and magical speed vanish from their bodies. The coins in Lana's hand had their light extinguished as did one in the jaws of a rat. One coin - also in the possession of a rat - retained its glow leaving it the only light source remaining. Lana noted with interest that her webbing remained intact also.
She thought to summon a blizzard within the dark, knowing the chamber did not extend far beyond her field of vision, although she had no idea where to focus her casting.
"Where is he?" she asked Piotr, gripping his forearm with more than a hint of desperation. It took the paladin a moment to grasp her meaning; then he closed his eyes and concentrated.
Meanwhile Drewen and the elves focused their attention on killing rats. Some of the elves had been knocked down by the flood of vermin but only one had been seriously bitten. Drewen squashed one rat - leaving another fifty or so to go.
Responding to Lana's desperate cry, Piotr scanned the darkness, seeking the deeper darkness within. To his eyes the stain of evil was everywhere in this place - the rapidly approaching ghouls, the rats, the walls, the floor ... even the broken furniture was tainted. He flinched as the intensity of the evil threatened to blind him but he was a servant of light and his gaze was unfaltering. He saw a seated figure lurking in the dark and pointed.
Lana had already begun her incantation. Seeing Piotr point to roughly where that ominous seat had been located on her previous visit, she completed her spell - blasting a large portion of the room with cold. Piotr saw a second figure stiffen and fall aside - the blizzard had engulfed a ghoul as well as its liege. Lana frowned all the same, aware that over time the injury her storm had inflicted upon the vampire would lessen and lessen.
The elves now felt ready to strike back with righteous fury at what had been done to them. Some, including the one who appeared to be their leader, were casting spells. The centre of the room was illuminated with the soft, warm glow of a Light spell and a large number of the rats were put to sleep. The other elves used whatever they could lay their hands on to keep the remaining rats at bay.
Unfortunately, lost in the concentration required to locate Koriszegy, Piotr had been unable to repel the ghouls. With the scroll's protection cancelled, three of the creatures had drawn close and four more were seen entering from the south.
One elf, who had already been bitten, screamed as more rats launched themselves from the table to clamber over him. He killed one but the rats were biting with an evil and supernatural ferocity. The elf thrashed and then lay still, covered in a multitude of tiny wounds. Drewen was surrounded on all sides by rats, including some that had just missed being caught in the web, but his armour kept him safe. The rat carrying the last of Lana's glowing coins scurried into a gap in the wall, taking the coin with it.
Piotr attempted to force back the ghouls but was more rattled than he had thought by opening his mind to the evil of the place. The undead did not so much as flinch. At least no more would join the fray as Lana concentrated on another of her spells and conjured an impenetrable Wall of Stone, sealing the entrance to the ghouls' lair.
Chanting on the far side of the cave indicated Koriszegy was casting a spell of his own.
Drewen and three elves were steadily whittling away at a cluster of rats. Three other elves - near Piotr and the three ghouls - struggled to rescue a fallen companion from another pack of rats. This left them open to the attacks of the ghouls however and one was torn apart by the bloodthirsty undead.
The four ghouls that had entered before Lana managed to erect her Wall raced across the cave, scrambling and leaping in an ape-like fashion over the table to get to their targets on the far side. Drewen turned to face this new threat. Piotr's hand went to his sword. Lana considered what move to make next… then, as quickly as it had been brought into existence, the elf's light was extinguished and all present were plunged into darkness.
The sudden darkness disorientated the side of the living. Lana cursed aloud and set her sights on the glow emanating from a crack in the wall.
Fortunately Drewen's eyes quickly adjusted and the dwarf could be heard taunting his opponents - "Come on! Only four of you? I can take five! Done it before; can do it again. Why don't you three come over here an' all?"
Lana choked a bit hearing that, remembering bygone times. Good old Drewen, she thought. He did have past form with ghouls.
Robbed of sight, Piotr tried to rely on his ears to locate the enemy but the ghouls were as silent as they were deadly and all the brave paladin heard was the terrible screams of the dying elves and the sounds of the rats' gnawing. Piotr felt warm blood spatter his face as another elf was torn apart by merciless undead claws. Some instinct told him to raise his shield and he interposed it between himself and unseen talons.
Lana meanwhile was on her knees, peering into the crack where the rat had scarpered along with her coin. She could see a nest and the little beast with its prize still clenched in its mouth. She reached in and snatched the coin free, narrowly avoiding the rat's nipping teeth. Rising triumphantly with the coin in her hand, light returned to the cave allowing Lana to take in the situation.
Whether by the enchantment on his armour, the skills picked up after countless hours of training with the Order of the Griffon or the miraculous intervention of the Immortals themselves, Piotr had come through the terrifying darkness unscathed. He calmly separated the head from the shoulders of the nearest ghoul. Drewen also appeared to have suffered no fresh wounds. He struck a ghoul hard in the chest but not hard enough to kill it.
The elves had not been as fortunate as the three friends. All those to Lana's left lay dead. Rats were chewing the face of the female who but a few moments ago had been thanking Lana for her assistance.
And there HE stood... just a few feet from Drewen, skin as white as bone and eyes as red as the blood now covering the floor of the foul place. Drewen seemed well aware of the vampire lord's appearance but Piotr, almost as close, had his back turned.
"Piotr!" Lana gasped loudly to alert the paladin to how dangerously close their foe was.
Nodding to acknowledge Lana's warning, Piotr did not take his eyes off the pair of ghouls before him. Picking his moment to perfection, he cut down one of them and easily fended off the attacks of the other.
As Koriszegy raised a hand it occurred to Lana that they were all standing close together.
"Wait your turn Core o' Saggy, I'll get to you!" spat Drewen, reversing the swing of his hammer and felling a ghoul before disappearing from view as the other three leapt on him at once. Something appeared to light in Piotr's eyes; hearing Drewen speak he seemed keen to engage the vampire once an opening arose.
Lana forced herself to remain calm and completed her most powerful protective spell not a moment too soon as Koriszegy's magic caused terrible noxious fumes to fill the air. One of the three remaining elves collapsed, coughing out her final breath. Lana watched aghast, believing she did not possess any means to dispel the gas cloud. It occurred to her that the undead - unbreathing - would carry on unhindered however by his own doing Koriszegy had exterminated most, if not all, of the remaining rats.
"Keep pressing the attack!" she called to the others, realising how pathetic she sounded despite being the only person present who could breathe clean air. The others coughed and hacked loudly. It was a spell Lana was unfamiliar with and did not much care for though she found herself thinking she might have questioned Karnus more about his use of it. It was too much to hope that killing Koriszegy would cancel the effect. All they could do was to persevere.
She realised then she had used her three vials of holy water.
Hunkering to assist the fallen elfmaiden, it was clear she had coughed out more than just breath - there was a good amount of blood and tissue spattered across her front. It took Lana a second to realise nothing could be done for her. A lone surviving rat - a large one - crawled out from under the elf's body. Quick as a flash, Lana drew her dagger and impaled it.
Piotr fought on grimly, set on taking as many of the evil creatures with him as he could. Koriszegy began another spell. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawled forth from the sleeves of his robes and out of his mouth. Drewen was struggling to reach him but was hindered by two ghouls clawing at him. A third ghoul turned from Drewen to pounce upon the kneeling Lana. She frantically rolled away and scrambled back to her feet.
Glancing around she saw Drewen, in an act of desperation, realising he would not get to Koriszegy in time, hurl his hammer into the vampire, disrupting the fiend's magic.
The surviving pair of elves had fled to the far end of the room. One called back, "This way! The air is... agh!" By the light of her coin Lana saw the forgotten zombie lurch out of the shadowy corner and grab the elf.
Piotr thrust his sword through a ghoul's chest. As he pulled it free and the creature collapsed he did not permit himself a moment to enjoy the victory but immediately set his sights upon Koriszegy.
Drewen pushed aside a ghoul with his shield and headed straight at the vampire. The doughty dwarf stooped and snatched up his hammer. Koriszegy was casting yet another spell. Drewen swung but the vampire calmly moved aside with a terrible inhuman grace, raised his hand to point at Piotr and completed the spell.
Lana saw the two elves fighting their undead former companion. She mustered all the strength she could, shoved her dagger into the ghoul's belly and twisted. For a moment it seemed as if there was something akin to fear in its ghastly yellow eyes but then the long tongue flicked out just inches from Lana's face and claws dug into her side. It was her turn to feel terrible fear as her muscles began to stiffen.
Piotr saw Lana in trouble but stumbled as his vision became obscured by tears of blood filling his eyes.
As she succumbed to an inanimate state, Lana recalled a theory she had read on how ghoul paralysis resulted from the victim being confronted with an intense awareness of their mortality (hence the reason elves were immune). She could do little more than reflect on this as events continued around her.
Piotr intoned prayers and blinked away the bloody tears. There was a ghoul between him and Lana. Badly injured by an earlier blow from Drewen, it offered little resistance as the paladin cut it down without breaking his stride.
Turning his back on Koriszegy, Drewen quickly finished off the ghoul that had injured Lana. That left only one ghoul for the dwarf to face. Piotr too was within striking distance but Drewen growled, "Leave it to me lad! Help Lana!"
Piotr heard the dwarf but appeared to waver for a moment - torn by competing priorities.
On the edge of the coin's light, the elves had come through their struggle with the zombie however Koriszegy was approaching them in a manner that managed to be simultaneously glacial and rapid.
Once the ghoul had futilely tried to penetrate Drewen's armour a few times, the dwarf dealt it a resounding 'thwack' with his hammer. Piotr carefully tipped his priceless potion into Lana's mouth and at the first sign that she could move again pressed vials of holy water upon her. Instantly his attention snapped back to Koriszegy. Lana's heart sank as it dawned upon her that the paladin didn't want Drewen beating him to the prize. Or, that he would sacrifice himself to ensure the others' safety.
The elves backed away from Koriszegy into the corner but there was nowhere for them to go. Contemptuously, the vampire turned his back on them, raised his hands and erected a Wall of Ice running north to south, just beyond the end of the table. On the western side were Koriszegy and the two elves. On the eastern side were the three companions, the sole remaining ghoul and the wall-to-wall Cloudkill.
Her mobility restored, Lana offered Piotr her thanks although his attention was elsewhere. Coughing and hacking, he saw the Wall spring into being, removing Koriszegy from sight, and reacted with enough anger to startle Lana - taking out his frustration on the last ghoul. Drewen was swinging his arm back to finish it off however Piotr was quicker and cleaved the undead creature near in half with the ferocity of his blow.
Lana stared at the Wall, imagining Koriszegy was buying himself time to regenerate most if not all the damage her blizzard had inflicted. Not to mention whatever would become of the frightened elves.
"Hmmph," went Drewen before giving a half-shrug, turning and charging full tilt at the ice barrier.
Lana glanced at Piotr. She was accustomed to Drewen's tremendous fortitude but, given the physical trauma the paladin's body had suffered two months earlier in the poltergeist encounter and the subsequent journey through the Ethereal Plane, it was remarkable that the paladin was still going strong after more than a minute in the midst of a gas cloud. Were it not for the protection afforded by her own spell, she knew she would be hovering at Death's door by now.
For his part, Piotr was thinking of only one thing. He freed his sword from the remains of the ghoul and followed Drewen. Lana followed too, a blessed vial in her raised fist.
Drewen did not slow when he reached the frozen barrier but swung back his hammer - enchanted by Teldon - and brought it forward in a mighty blow, throwing his whole body behind it.
"Huh-ARRGGH!" he bellowed.
The ice never stood a chance.
The wall shattered into a thousand pieces as Drewen powered through into breathable, if fetid, air beyond. Koriszegy had the two elves cornered. One was slumped on the floor, injured, with seemingly all fight gone out of him. Koriszegy paid him no heed; he was speaking soft words in Elvish to the leader. She stared transfixed at the vampire but defiantly shouted, "No! I won't! Not again!"
Lana allowed herself a moment to feel impressed at the elfmaiden's resolve.
Drewen meanwhile was struggling to remain standing. Breaking through the wall had taken almost everything he had left. He had been badly cut by shards of ice and his nose and cheeks showed signs of minor frostbite. Lana imagined it was only his redoubtable dwarven constitution keeping him conscious.
Koriszegy turned from the elves and Lana tossed a vial of holy water at him. It hit and splashed its contents, causing the vampire's bloodless face to smoke, and a brief look of irritation flickered across his feral features but then he laughed - a high pitched insane laugh.
He took a few steps towards the intruders with arms spread as if to embrace good friends.
"Ah!" He spoke in Traladaran with an almost sing-song tone. "Rabbits enjoy the dance but have forgotten there must be a feast. Oh such a feast! There shall be griffon again - a grown one to sate the appetite, not like little lost hatchlings so quickly gone."
"You have feasted your last, Koriszegy," Lana replied in Traladaran which was more hesitant than she would have liked, despite having thought ahead of time about what she might like to say to the vampire. She dared meet Koriszegy's gaze, trusting in her hunch that her powerful protection spell would keep her safe. "We -"
Piotr interrupted her, speaking Traladaran loudly and clearly despite what sounded like waves of enmity threatening to overwhelm him. "Your time is at an end, fiend. You have cheated death for too long and too many innocents have suffered by your hand." He raised his sword, ready to bear down upon the vampire. "You WILL pay for your wrongdoings."
Beside him, Lana worried that Piotr was presenting himself as too much of an obvious target. It seemed he WANTED what was within his grasp. She pushed her last vial of holy water into her pocket and clutched her dagger in readiness to defend herself. "The fact of the matter," she lapsed in Elvish, accepting that she hadn't the fluency in Traladaran, "is that the land which was Traladara has a bright future ahead. You do not. The land changes. You do not. Your time has passed which is why we are here."
She adopted a tone which was softer, almost kindly. Pitiful. "We are going to deliver you from your sorry state."
Drewen was breathing hard and slowly lifted his head. "I don't understand a bloody word anyone is saying. Can we kill him now?"
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