Koriszegy Keep - Showdown
Lana had meant to answer Drewen's question by flinging her dagger at the vampire lord's chest. Unfortunately, her hands were coated in sweat despite the chill lingering in the air therefore the dagger slipped awkwardly from her grasp to skitter across the cavern floor.
Koriszegy lunged at Piotr but the paladin shoved him roughly back with his shield and followed up with a swing of his sword that bit into the vampire's arm.
Satisfied that the answer to his question was 'yes' Drewen hit Koriszegy and then, because he enjoyed it so much, hit him again - harder.
Cursing herself in several languages, Lana set about locating her dagger.
Piotr loomed over Koriszegy. Up close it was apparent how physically frail the vampire seemed. He was not much taller than Lana and looked like he would blow away in a strong wind. Piotr raised his sword high and brought it down in a tremendous blow - much more powerful than his first.
Koriszegy hissed and dissolved into thick black vapour. Lana sucked in a breath and held it, waiting to see what the dark cloud would do. Was this an involuntary shift or not, she wondered. She edged cautiously towards her dagger, keeping an eye on Koriszegy's gaseous form.
Likewise Piotr tensed. He and Drewen swiped their weapons through the evil mist but it made no move to depart, only swirled around them. They both wondered whether they imagined the mocking laughter they heard in their minds.
Lana scurried and retrieved her dagger, wary that the vampire's wounds would be mending all the while. "This is pointless!" she said breathlessly as Piotr's sword sliced through the cloud in a determined but futile manner. "We can't hurt him in this state but we can attract his attention by other means."
Pressing her radiant coin upon Piotr, she turned and stepped into the gas, hurrying to the section of the north wall which had been significant the last time she explored the Keep. It had concealed a secret chamber. The vapour seethed and rolled around her but she could just about make out what she sought… yes! The wall contained a deep fissure.
She retreated back to her companions' midst. "Stay close by me," she told them, realising she could hear her own heart beating loud and fast, "we're hitting him where it'll hurt the most."
Quickly she retreated from the gas. Steadying her nerves before willing her protection to drop, she drew a large circle in the air with her finger and carefully spoke words of magic. The fissure widened as if the rockface were yawning. And there it was - a way through for those unable to transform their material state.
Unbidden, a memory of her master Valtanivark making an unnecessarily spectacular entrance into Tarnskeep came to Lana's mind. If only he could see her now, she thought before pushing the distraction aside.
"Let's go." Lana followed by Drewen followed by Piotr advanced toward the newly created tunnel. Lana paused to wave her wand however nothing in the area ahead seemed amiss. Unseen by either of his companions, a worried look crossed Drewen's face before he reentered the noxious gas cloud.
Coughing and spluttering they all made it through. It hadn't done their health any good. The elves remained behind. Koriszegy did not.
They entered a cramped chamber - roughly ten feet across and packed with old possessions which might once have been worth a fortune but, like the furniture in the main chamber, had gone to ruin in the dank and oppressive surroundings. The scenario put Lana in mind of a dilapidated bric-a-brac shop or a forgotten hoarder's den. At the centre sat Koriszegy's coffin - simple oak, crudely constructed and without ornament; not what one might have expected for the head of a once powerful noble family.
Koriszegy hovered over it but remained in gaseous form.
Lana gave the others a dark look. "We must destroy it."
She gestured at the lid, ready to hurl holy water inside. Piotr went to raise his sword, meaning to cleave the wooden box into pieces, but realised the confines of the space were too tight to swing without risking injury to a companion. Vexed, he slid his blade back into its scabbard.
Under Lana's command the lid rose. Inside was a black book. She froze.
Koriszegy circled above the trio's heads like a storm cloud.
Thoughts shot through her mind of what the book might be. Koriszegy's spellbook? His account of what had happened, centuries before? Perhaps more... Such a rare and ancient treasure should not perish, she told herself - surely this was an opportunity to learn... to grow... to transform...
With Piotr already holding the glowing coin she pressed her dagger upon him as well.
Pocketing the vial of holy water she reached both her hands into the coffin.
"LANA NO! What are you doing?" yelled Drewen.
The book felt heavier than it looked. A trembling ran up her arms. She stared in fascination at the demonic visage on the cover - a malign goat-like face with ram's horns. She stared at Drewen, half thinking he'd taken leave of his senses, half not appreciating the distraction.
She did not notice that Koriszegy had resumed human form and was reaching out for her.
She vaguely noticed when Piotr stabbed the vampire in the arm with her dagger but somehow it didn't seem as important as opening the book. The next thing she knew, Piotr had shoved her roughly aside.
The paladin stabbed Koriszegy again, as he interposed himself between the vampire and Lana, bundling the distracted magic-user half into the coffin in the process. The small space made it awkward to manoeuvre. Drewen hurled the last of his holy water in Koriszegy's face.
"Lana, get out!" The urgency in the dwarf's voice was unmistakeable. "We can't fight him in here!"
Talon-like fingers raked shrilly across Piotr's breastplate.
Disorientated, Lana blinked then hefted the volume under one arm and scrambled toward the opening. What Drewen shouted had registered with Piotr also and he made a fighting withdrawal backward through the tunnel - attempting to lure the vampire with him. He continued slicing with Lana's dagger, itching to draw his longer blade as soon as there was space to do so.
Once again Koriszegy's talons raked across Piotr's armour. Clutching the book, Lana scrambled over assorted obstacles to stand in the entrance. Satisfied that she was on her way, Drewen headed back into the cloudkill.
Piotr backed away from Koriszegy. If Lana had been able to watch him fight with the dagger she would have seen someone unused to fighting an opponent in such close quarters. Accustomed to the reach afforded by his spear or longsword, he had been relying on his great strength to make up for the rather uncontrolled nature of his blows. He scarcely managed to keep the vampire from getting at Lana but neither of his blows was particularly telling. In fact his first wound to the arm had almost closed already.
At the opening Lana hopped from one foot to the other - willing Piotr to draw nearer. Through the wool of her robe the tome throbbed and pulsed against her chest. The stalemate with the vampire was no good, she knew. The longer it dragged, the more strength Koriszegy would regain. The longer Piotr would be exposed to harm. She considered hurling holy water but realised she couldn't risk missing and her final vial going to waste.
Instead she pointed the open palm of her free hand at the coffin and made a wrenching gesture. The coffin lurched forward several feet across the cluttered floor. As it did there was the sound of metal scraping against stone.
The vampire's face was still smoking from where the holy water hit.
Lana gestured again and the coffin edged closer. She saw now that moving it had exposed a sword underneath.
Valiant to a fault, Piotr did his best to stay in the way of Koriszegy getting at Lana whilst keeping out of the way of her attempts to move the coffin. The awkwardness this entailed led him to drop his defenses for a moment. A moment was all Koriszegy needed. With an animalistic snarl, the vampire grabbed Piotr under his jaw and hoisted the heavily armoured warrior off his feet as easily as if he were a child's toy.
Lana did her best to stifle a scream; it emerged all the same, sounding wracked and guilt-tinged.
Piotr's head swam as a terrible cold seemed to pierce his very soul but still he drove home Lana's dagger for a third time. With a cry of pain, Koriszegy released him.
Pressing herself against the wall of tunnel to make space, Lana managed to manoeuvre the coffin beside her.
"Come on!" she heard Drewen gasp in a desperate tone.
Piotr tried to pull himself back together. His head was swimming from the intensity of the vampire's assault however he desperately clung to his focus, wanting to see through what he had begun. With the coffin and his companions out of the way, he found himself with room to draw his sword.
"The storm! The storm!" The vampire's words still bore the sing-song, whimsical quality. "He comes to answer the question and speaks with wind and lightning."
Koriszegy went for Piotr again but the shaken fighter drew his sword just in time to deflect the outstretched arm. His counterattack was slow however and Koriszegy contemptuously knocked the blade aside as if swatting an insect.
"With wind and lightning but no rain to wash the halls."
Lana channelled all her frustration into smashing her final vial of holy water into the coffin with as much force as she could muster. The wood smoked as if the water were acid burning through it.
"Agggh. No rain, but blood."
"Lana..." said Drewen in a voice just above a murmur.
"Yes Drewen?" She had the awful, ominous, creeping suspicion that something was badly awry. She kicked at the coffin but found its oak was too solid for her foot to do any good.
She turned. Tendrils of gas had coiled around Drewen and clung to his beard. The cloudkill was ready to claim him, he looked ready to expire. Being Drewen, he was never going to just head back to the area of cleaner air and sit twiddling his thumbs, wondering how his comrades were getting on. He was stubbornly waiting and dying in the process.
Piotr deflected another strike from Koriszegy and scored a glancing blow in return.
"Get back in the tunnel."
"There's no room for us both." The dwarf sounded drowsy but obstinate nevertheless.
Lana made a clenching gesture with her ringed hand resulting in a tug on his hammer.
"Get in here NOW," she jabbed her finger angrily in a way it struck her that she had never addressed Drewen before. Whiskers definitely. Threy more than likely. "Or I'll go out in the gas. I mean it!"
A pained expression crossed Drewen's features and he reluctantly stumbled into the tunnel, most of its length taken up by the coffin.
"Hammer," she instructed, while wondering whether he possessed the strength to land even a single blow. "Coffin." She remembered her manners. "Please." To her relief she saw something light in Drewen's eyes - a reserve of grit - and he raised his weapon.
Instinctively Lana withdrew toward the chamber where Piotr and Koriszegy were clashing still. She hunkered so as to not get in the way of the paladin's blade or the vampire's chilling touch. None of her few remaining spells would be of any use, nor was her wand. The melee continued fiercely. It vexed her that there was nothing she could contribute, no way she might tip the odds in her friend's favour.
Or was there?
Piotr swung at Koriszegy but the vampire evaded. Piotr deflected the counter. The close quarter struggle was accompanied by a cacophony of bangs, crashes, smashes, splintering and tearing as the hideaway's contents were trashed.
Excitedly Lana patted herself down, trying to remain calm and remember where she had stowed what she was seeking. She found it embedded in lint at the bottom of a pocket. Without pausing she dug it out and flicked the tiny red bead at Koriszegy. She could scarcely believe it when it struck his chest, flashed and adorned his robe with a motif of concentric circles.
The vampire looked startled too.
Piotr did not hesitate when he saw an opening and struck a blow. Koriszegy responded with ferocity but Piotr blocked two strikes with his shield and then delivered another wound to his opponent.
Meanwhile - KERACK! KERUNCH! - cracking and crunching noises indicated that Drewen had gathered his last reserves of strength and was laying into the coffin. Lana saw the first splits start to appear in the wood.
With a great cry Piotr swung his sword in an arc and for a moment it looked like he might cleave Koriszegy in two at the waist but at the instant his blade connected the vampire lord again dissolved to mist and Piotr's blade passed through air rather than undead flesh. Whether or not the blow had hurt Koriszegy was difficult to tell.
Piotr stood his ground - tense, covered in cold sweat and breathing hard. Koriszegy swirled in the air around Piotr and Lana before sweeping past Drewen - amid cursing and ineffectual hammer swipes - and into the dark.
Lana shuddered as Koriszegy passed her. "Destroy the coffin," she told Drewen hoarsely, "he might run but he'll weaken."
The dwarf nodded and kept going. Splinters began to fly from the coffin.
Lana gave Piotr a look of guilt and sorrow and appreciation. "I am so sorry Piotr, if I'd -"
Less than steady on his feet, the fighter shook his head. "We can talk later."
Crestfallen, Lana wondered whether she detected a reproachful tone.
"I'm going after him," the fighter went on as he stooped to lift Lana's glowing coin and wedged it into one of the gouges left by Koriszegy's claws in his shield. He hefted sword and shield before barging past Drewen and out of the 'hideaway'.
Leaving Drewen to persevere with the coffin, Lana pulled out her crystal ball and watched Koriszegy reform near the elves. The vampire paid them no heed but rather pulled a bone wand from within his robes. As Piotr emerged from the gas cloud Koriszegy pointed the wand and a horrible green light hit the determined warrior full on. Lana saw a tremendous internal struggle rage across Piotr's face...
Piotr felt a terrible sense of doubt overcome him. He deperately longed to flee to the far end of the chamber. It would be better to die there, he thought, in the thickest depths of the evil cloud than at the hands of Koriszegy...
"Come on Piotr!" Lana screamed at the crystal ball. "Fight it!"
Reaching deep inside - to the heart of his being - Piotr found the courage to throw off the fell influence. He pushed forward but Koriszegy escaped again, fleeing past Piotr into the cloudkill in the direction of the well.
Swallowed by darkness, Lana wondered what to do. Part of her was desperate to keep away from the vampire's fell touch... but would she sacrifice Piotr for her own safety? As the smashing and splintering continued by her side she realised she couldn't leave Piotr to it. Not alone. She put a hand to the unnaturally smooth rock and began feeling her way back through the tunnel. Drewen and the coffin were in her path, she knew.
The light beyond the entrance hole grew brighter then dimmer as Piotr passed by in pursuit of Koriszegy. It took a few seconds for Drewen to move out of the way allowing Lana to squeeze past the coffin. Those seconds possibly saved her life.
Lightning shot past the hole in the wall, a mere foot in front of Lana.
Piotr staggered as the energy wracked his weakened body with a pain beyond any he had experienced before. He clung to consciousness by his fingertips as Koriszegy began to cast another spell.
Hearing the cries of pain, Lana stepped out of the tunnel and reached for her dagger, desperate to fling it and disrupt Koriszegy's casting. Her fingers groped empty space - Piotr had dropped her weapon on the floor of the hideaway. She kicked herself for wasting precious moments. The gas pushed its way into her lungs and burned her skin.
Koriszegy completed his spell and vanished.
"Piotr fall back!" she shouted, coughing and hacking while backing away from where the vampire had been standing.
Lana's steps took her out of the cloudkill. She filled her lungs with less harmful air and began a spell. Piotr meanwhile took refuge in the tunnel leading to the hideaway.
Lana completed her incantation and Koriszegy was revealed to her eyes. Under a cloak of invisibility he had overtaken Piotr and closed to within feet of Lana. Without hesitation Lana unleashed a furious bolt of lightning that tore through the vampire lord, striking the eastern wall to rebound towards her. As it doubled back along its path she realised she had a good six inches to spare.
Koriszegy toppled into her, pulling her to the ground. As he did so he became visible. His face was now more beast than man. Huge bat wings sprouted from his back. He babbled and howled incomprehensibly.
Lana fought to wriggle free from his grasping talons, managed to do so and backed up against the wall.
The vampire was staring at her but did not seem to be seeing her. He staggered this way and that. Lana observed that parts of his body seemed insubstantial. It was as if he was struggling to keep his form together.
She wondered whether to speak, fearing that to do so would alert him to her presence. Moments passed. Ultimately her curiosity won out as she watched his form shift in and out of focus.
"What ARE you?" she breathed, readying herself to bolt.
Piotr's head peeked out of the hideaway before he emerged, struggling to remain lucid, and was incensed at the manifestation.
Koriszegy's response was to throw back his head and utter an utterly inhuman sound that seemed to come not from him but some hellish pit of barely imaginable torment. He lurched away, crashing into the feast table, wings flapping wildly.
"Do you remember your mortal life?" Lana persevered, demanding loudly. "The choices you made? What of your heir?"
The thing that was the vampire Koriszegy ignored her and headed straight at Piotr, passing through the warrior and descending upon a startled Drewen.
Piotr whirled and drew his sword.
The beast fell upon the splintered coffin. Drewen and Piotr both struck at it but their weapons passed through as if it were a phantom. They stared at one another, each as confused as the other.
"Piotr," Lana spluttered, appearing at the tunnel entrance having staggered back through the gas. Her vision was awash with colour and she thought she was about to drop. "There was a sword beneath the coffin..."
Piotr turned to where the coffin had been found. Throwing aside a tattered tapestry and the shattered remains of an urn he saw a longsword. Its hilt was fashioned like a tower. There was an inscription on the blade - 'The Light of Traladara.'
Koriszegy seemed to have regained some control. He had resumed his human form and was on his knees, clutching with frantic desperation at a large piece of his coffin like a child might cling to its mother's skirts.
"No!" he screamed. "The light must remain in darkness!"
He rose and swung the wood at Drewen who smashed it to splinters with his hammer.
Piotr raised the longsword with an expression Lana could not fathom. He tested its weight in his hand before regarding Koriszegy quizzically. His ire and laboured state seemed to slip away - suddenly no longer important. His tone altered as if he too were reverting to a childlike state.
"Don't you know?" He spoke with eerie simplicity. Like one child might inform another in a playground. "The smallest light banishes dark entirely."
With that he moved with purpose, driving the blade home, through the chest of Koriszegy.
It emerged, glowing on the other side.
The vampire looked down at the hilt and whispered, "Always powerful, always strong, always ……"
His eyes rolled up in his skull and as the flesh melted away that inhuman noise from some other place again escaped his lips.
Piotr wrenched the blade free and with a single clean sweep took the head from his shoulders, silencing Koriszegy once and for all.
A great gout of black smoke, blacker even than the vampire's gaseous form, erupted forth from the headless torso but the paladin raised the newfound sword and its light grew brighter until Lana's coin seemed dim by comparison and the dark cloud dispersed.
Koriszegy's remains turned to dust before the companion's eyes.
Lana convulsed once, then again. Later, with a decanter of wine in one hand, she thought she would begin to consider the adequacy of her existing views on the power of Faith and perseverance.
Piotr's gaze moved from the space where the blacker-than-black cloud had been, to the fading glow of his blade.
Having regained her senses and pinched herself twice, Lana grabbed Drewen and embraced him fiercely.
"Mmmhmm?" the dwarf mumbled into Lana's chest.
"Sorry?" She withdrew.
"Ah. Didn't hear you through your beard... yes let's look around." She eyed the ragged tapestries, dented candelabra and faded paintings which surrounded them - canvas and frames alike had succumbed to ruin. She imagined with sadness how resplendent they would have looked, adorning the walls of the feasthall and their master's quarters in the Keep all those years ago, before everything had yielded to the ravages of the years. So many masters... "There's bound to be something of interest among all these old curiosities."
While his companions rummaged through the wreckage, Piotr stepped into the tunnel beyond which the greenish gas persisted, Koriszegy's true death having done nothing to negate the malevolent vapours. He watched them coil and roll with what might have been a longing to reach into the tunnel and encircle him.
"Piotr don't go out there." Concern was audible in Lana's voice. "You won't last another breath."
He seated himself in the tunnel. With the Light of Traladara across his lap he stared into the distance feeling more than a little unsure of himself.
"Drewen, look, a diamond."
"By my beard..."
The waves of adrenaline began to subside, leaving him weak. Breakable. Less than he had been. First the poltergeist... For a handful of moments he had felt unquestionable purpose. Had it been his own? Or had the sword bolstered him. He might never know... the way ahead seemed shrouded in dark.
The events of the Battle of Darokin had brought with them an ascension, literally a new perspective on the world. Never before had he been able to look upon Evil and see it so plainly. A closer connection to the Immortals had been his. He knew without doubt that it had all been stripped from him. The creature's fell touch had tainted him, diminished him and had rendered him... unworthy.
There came the sound of coins pouring into a bag... Lana's enchanted sack, most likely.
The undead were many. Beyond counting. What role did he have if not to oppose them? What other life could he know? If the price was a little of him each time...
"What a fetching amber."
"It's a big one."
... then it would be paid.
After a while Piotr's eyes raised and the heaviness upon his heart shifted a little.
"There is more to be done." He mouthed the words to the dark. Never before had he spoken to shadows, it occurred to him. Now things were different. Now they owned a part of him.
Read the concluding instalment - Epilogue
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