:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - The Rugalov Vampire ::

The Rugalov Vampire

Night had fallen in Glaston. Lana was alone in her father's cottage reading by the fireside. Construction of her tower had been put on hold to allow for the New Year festivities. She had thought about funding a mass village fete but given her depleted finances she had settled for a quiet meal at home with her father, who was now away on business in the western capital of Specularum. Trade in the Minrothrad Guilds was proving slow at the moment though she felt sure her father would pull through, as he always did.

The call for help

Knocking roused Lana from her reverie. A lad of no more than seventeen years fell through the cottage's front door, his clothes soaked by the rain which was doing its utmost to turn to sleet amid the freezing Karameikan winter. The lad introduced himself as Nicolai, whose sister Anna was an aide of Vladd Lutescu of Rugalov. Lana was aware that Vladd, like her father, had spent the New Year period in Specularum. As such, and since Nicolai's teeth refused to cease chattering despite the heat of the fire, Lana guessed all was not well in Rugalov. Her suspicions were confirmed when Nicolai produced a letter from his sister, indicating that the villagers sought aid in their time of need. The letter spoke of a threat at large within Rugalov village. At the date of writing three men had lost their lives within the space of a week, their corpses found dry of blood and bearing puncture wounds to the neck. An involuntary shudder ran along Lana's spine. A vampire. One which, it seemed, she was being asked to face alone.

Journey to Rugalov

The next morning Lana and Nicolai mounted horses and rode east, knowing it would take a full day to reach Rugalov. At sundown the village roofs came into view but not before a spinechilling howl tore through the twilight. Moments later three wolves emerged from nearby woodland. The lead creature was enormous, almost as big as a horse and easily the match of a dire wolf. The beasts' attention turned without hesitation toward the newcomers and they closed the distance within a heartbeat, fangs bared and snarling. Lana dismounted quickly and sent a salvo of amber shards into the wolves' midst. The smallest beast was slain, however the leader kept coming and pounced upon Nicolai's horse. The steed reared in fright, hurling its rider against a tree with a sickening crunch. The lad moaned and slumped as the remaining wolves, seemingly perturbed by the demise of their fellow, turned and retreated into the forest.

Concerned for her fallen companion Lana knelt and attempted to assess his injury. Blood was flowing from an ugly gash along one side of his head; the head itself was at an unnatural angle. Lana laid her frozen hands upon the lad's neck but as she did, something slipped and gave way at the base of his skull. She withdrew at once, aghast as Nicolai's breathing ceased. Had she caused this? Her eyes brimmed with tears as she hastily cast a Fly spell and hefted the lad's body aloft. Perhaps if she sought help, the boy could still be saved. She was in no doubt about where to turn... the fortified church atop the rocky crag which overlooked the village, home to Vladd Lutescu.

Lana tore up the hillside but found all entrances to the church locked and barred. Her need was pressing, thus she flew to the top of the bell tower and used her ring of telekinesis to sound the clanger within the heavy church bell. As she alighted moments later a small window opened in the church's front door. After a hasty introduction the acolyte Anna ushered Lana inside but was griefstricken at the sight of her brother's broken body. There appeared little hope of saving him, especially since Anna had only recently been granted use of magic by her patrons, the Traladaran Immortals. As her warm tears fell upon her brother's frozen face however a miracle took place. Her hands began to glow and move with purpose. Words of prayer came unbidden to her lips. Lana's eyes widened as she saw Anna channel magics which her own clerical companions could not yet harness. Lana's memory went back years to a plea made by Threy, when he had been close to death, for divine intervention when battling the black dragon Falaryx... Threy had been obliged to sacrifice part of his lifeforce but had been granted salvation. Then as now, the Immortals heard the call of their servant and decided to reward the faithful. Nicolai drew breath anew, as his sister swooned and fainted at his side.

With fraught nerves, Lana heaved a sigh and left the pair to rest while she returned to the bell tower to survey the village below. Somewhere down there, a powerful undead creature was terrorising the villagers. In her letter, Anna had termed the creature "Nosferatu", a term which Lana was all-too-familiar with from her Traladaran upbringing, denoting a more ancient vampire craving the taste of warm blood.

The vigil begins

Throughout the night Lana kept a watchful eye on the village for signs of disturbance, though none came. The sun finally rose; Lana found herself fighting to remain awake though she felt it reasonable to assume that the town would be safe through the daylight hours. As powerful as the undead creature might be, surely he would not be foolhardy enough to risk exposure to sunlight. Returning downstairs Anna had woken from her trance and was preparing a modest breakfast (of water and unleavened bread) which the two shared before Lana was shown to quarters where she might rest after her day's ride and night's vigil. Sleep came uneasy as her dreams were tormented by visions of Nicolai, whose life had almost been forfeit due to her intervention...

Rising later that day, a few hours before dusk, Lana ventured into the village to ensure that every household's front door was marked with a holy symbol or garlic, or both where possible. This required a visit to the local herbalist, utterly depleting the man's stock of garlic. While delivering garlic to one dwelling she observed a cloaked man hammering on the door of a locked and shuttered property, seemingly without response from within. It transpired that this gentleman, named Boris, was one of several guards from Rugalov Keep currently staying at the Goblin’s Head Inn, many of whom called to this house to pay their respects to a lass by the name of Sonia. Sonia, it seemed from the silence within the house, did not wish to receive visitors thus Lana escorted Boris back to the Inn where he was met with ridicule by his dozen or so companions. As dusk was falling Lana returned to the streets and began to patrol the village perimeter.

The enemy makes an appearance

Little happened until around midnight when Lana saw two shadowy figures making their way through the streets, seemingly toward Sonia's house which was on the outskirts near the forest. Lana followed at a safe distance. She thought she was doing a good job of keeping concealed, until a swarm of vermin streamed forth from a nearby alley without warning, their movements co-ordinated as if under magical control. A spread of Amber Shards eliminated over a dozen rats but within moments twice the number rose to take the place of the fallen. A Dispel from the Staff of Lucinius achieved nothing, causing Lana to curse before taking to the air. She extended her hands toward the ground below and sent an Ice Storm into the midst of the swarm which squeaked and died.

Realising that whoever controlled the rats could not be far away, Lana withdrew her Wand of Enemy Detection and expended a charge. From down a nearby alleyway came a glow, as if something had caught ablaze. Pausing to afford herself protections such as Shield, Mirror Images and Haste, Lana rounded the corner and surveyed the scene before her. Five cloaked figures were huddled in the alley, while beyond them a tall and slender figure had its back turned. Lana realised that if these were undead she would have to act quickly, but she could not take the risk of hurting innocent townsfolk. Bringing out her hutaakan bead from a pocket she whispered ‘Awaken’, causing the image of an eye to appear in sphere’s centre. With telekinetic assistance the bead floated off through the shadows, Lana seeing through the third eye as her gaze fell on the five stooped figures from the front. They were unmistakably undead - their skin grey and taut, their tongues long, black and forked. And they were feasting…

As the beady eye dropped to the gutter, Lana outstretched her hands and flooded the alley with lightning. Three of the ghouls as well as the lone furthermost figure were engulfed. A trio of magic missiles ensued, followed by twin dagger strikes which saw the end of the ghouls. Meanwhile however the lone figure had strolled casually along the alley to stoop and lift the beady eye, through which Lana could still monitor the alleyway. Lana’s mouth fell open in shock realising what this might mean. ‘Sleep!’ She screamed the command word to cut off the vampire’s line of attack but too late. Her mind reeled as if it had been physically struck, two immense malevolent eyes burning themselves into her mind’s eye. Lana attempted to shake the image but to no avail. Words of magic failed her as the human form shrank and coalesced into a rat which scarpered away into the underneath of a building. Looking up Lana took note of the sign hanging above the establishment's front door - the Lady of the Woods inn. For the time being there was no choice but to return to the Church of Traladara.

To Lana’s great relief the haze cleared the next morning, her resolve to eliminate the undead foe increasing as news reached her that the guards she had followed had been slain, their bodies ripped asunder by claws and teeth. Lana lost no time making her way to the Lady of the Woods, where she entered a less-than-packed barroom in which the innkeeper was nowhere to be found. Instead, two men in the unmistakable attire of the Black Eagle Barony were seated at a table downing ale, shouting lewd remarks as Lana passed by wearing what they felt was too much clothing for a serving wench. Disgusted, Lana located the innkeep and disclosed her reasons for coming to the Inn. The innkeep assisted in searching the basement lest a coffin had been concealed but none was found. As Lana made her way back through the barroom the Hattians’ heckling resumed. The innkeeper beseeched Lana not to anger the two men as they were providing his establishment with excellent custom, and were escorting a Lady of the Court by the name of Petra van Colos.

Lana’s eyes went glassy for a moment as she heard this name, trying to place it. Petra van Colos... As a Court Lady herself she had heard the name before, though she could not recall the context. Bizarrely, it made the back of her neck tingle. Lana asked to be shown to the lady’s room and was, though following a surreptitious break-in it was uncovered that the chambers were unslept in and void of belongings. Finding this suitably odd, Lana decided that a distraction would be required if she were to inspect the rooms belonging to the Black Eagle soldiers. Could they be harbouring some dark secret on behalf of their mistress? Could she be the vampire whose coffin might be concealed in a nearby room?

Returning swiftly to the Goblin’s Head, mindful that sunset was less than a couple of hours away, Lana explained her suspicions to the (now) eight or so men and two women who comprised the patrol from nearby Rugalov Keep. These soldiers had no intention of making a stand against a life-draining undead, particularly having lost two of their fellows the night before, but when Lana placed a substantial amount of gold on the table they agreed to distract the Hattian guards. In the course of discussions it became apparent that another of their number had been missing for some days now. Their commanding officer Alexei had left several nights ago to call upon Sonia, and had not returned. Lana decided to investigate.

Arriving at Sonia’s house, whose lintel had borne no garlic before Lana’s first visit the previous day, the windows and front door appeared fastened and secure, though no amount of rapping roused any sound within the dwelling. Murmuring words of magic, a bar fell out of place on the far side of the door allowing Lana to enter. By the light of her glowing dagger she made her way into the first room of the small dwelling, which appeared bare. The room beyond was pleasantly furnished, a seating area, though also empty. Through a third and final door now the dagger’s light fell upon a macabre scene, the bloodied body of a comely maiden in a torn nightdress. No doubt Sonia. Her blood was everywhere. As Lana shone light around the room's dark recesses she realised she was not alone; a wretched creature skulking in one corner recoiled, hissing, as amber light flooded across his features. This was Alexei, former sergeant of the Rugalov soldiers, who had been visiting Sonia when a lady in red called to the property, killed Sonia for pleasure then with purpose sank her teeth deep into Alexei’s neck, changing him forever. He had lurked here since, all too aware of what he had become but powerless to escape the prison which his liege bid him inhabit until she returned...

Her suspicions confirmed, Lana took leave of Alexei and returned to the Lady of the Woods Inn where a violent clash had arisen between the Hattians and the Rugalov soldiers, resulting in one of the former group being slain and his companion being trussed and deposited on the barroom table. The way was clear to inspect the men’s rooms, though to Lana’s dismay no coffin turned up. After interrogation (with assistance from bystanders) the surviving Hattian let slip that his mistress had been transported from the Black Eagle Barony to Rugalov by means of a wagon stationed in the adjoining stables. Lana made her way out to the stables, engaged a bystander to kick through the wagon's locked door and there inside was a long wooden box… the lady’s coffin.

SHOWDOWN

Quivering with excitement and trepidation Lana attached horses to the wagon and without delay it was wheeled away from the Inn, coffin and a small chest inside. The sun was dipping in the west; a crowd had amassed and was following the wagon despite Lana’s calls in shaking tones for the villagers to maintain a safe distance. After what seemed an eternity of trekking along the village’s dirt tracks the throng arrived at the riverside, where Lana concentrated through her Ring of Telekinesis to lift the coffin and set it down on the bank beside the river. Then she lifted the lid, drawing gasps from the villagers as a woman's form was revealed within - her skin ivory, her hair raven-black and her slender body bedecked by a sumptuous red gown. Lana too gazed in wonderment for a short while before noticing the woman’s features contort into a smile. Moments later a chittering came from the sky as bats swarmed over the rooftops. Raising one hand Lana invoked an Ice Storm and the bats fell frozen to the ground.

One village woman heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Petra be blessed,’ she mumbled, though her words appeared to rouse the vampire. Petra van Colos rose from her coffin, just as Lana managed to complete a protective ward. A short exchange ensued between the two females, Lana keeping her eyes lowered just enough to avoid meeting the creature’s gaze, which had debilitated her on the previous night. A clash was inevitable however. Without warning a glint of steel appeared in Petra’s hand and she flung the dagger at Lana. The weapon was deflected by Lana’s Shield however at that precise moment Lana concluded another incantation. Lightning crackled and tore through the vampire’s form though she managed to evade the full impact of the blast. Amber shards and magic missiles followed before Petra’s form vanished to be replaced by that of an enormous dire wolf which bounded into the crowd causing shrieks of havoc all around. Lana paused to Haste herself, then pressed vials of oil and holy water into the hands of an onlooker with instructions that the vampire’s coffin should be destroyed.

She sped on her way to catch up with the wolf back in the barroom of the Lady of the Woods Inn. Having reverted to human form Petra gave a satisfied smile as she hefted a broadsword and shield taken from her deceased bodyguard. Wielding both items with accustomed ease the two females locked in battle, Petra benefitting from superhuman strength, regeneration and weapon mastery while Lana was glad of her protective wards and Haste. After several rounds of fierce fighting Lana’s dagger sank deep into the area which she knew housed the vampire’s still heart. The sword fell from Petra’s grasp as her body assumed the misty form which meant she would need to regenerate before she could wreak further havoc. The smile faded from the vampire’s face however as she realised something was amiss. True to their word, the villagers had destroyed the coffin, sealing the vampire’s fate. Her gaseous form was caught in a dark maelstrom then fell to the floor at Lana’s feet as stinking ash. Petra van Colos was no more.

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