Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 4
Chapter 5 - The Vampires of Espar (1359DR, 9th-10th Uktar)

The Purple Dragons, led by Baynar’s personal guard headed east along the promenade while we turned our horses to the west and made for the Horngate. It was a cold morning and I could smell rain on the prevailing winds, there would be rain before the end of the day and quite a bit of it. Thoughts of the weather brought a memory to my mind; our tents and bedrolls had been destroyed in the Yuirwood. Our departure was delayed while some of us visited the market to buy thick winter blankets and four, two-person tents. Faergil entertained the notion of buying a marquee tent but was finally dissuaded when he realised the practicalities of transporting it.

Our detour over we headed for the Horngate and was just about to quit the city when we heard a voice calling out for us to wait. Reining in the horses we turned and spotted a red-faced Mrs. Stringfellow. She had come to say goodbye to her son, wish him luck and scold him one final time about his current state of invisibility. Since dinner the previous evening she had visited a local herbalist who had given her an ointment that she believed would help cure his “condition”. This she passed on to Primrose, wisely not trusting her son to make us of it. Millicent asked her son for a goodbye hug and Bazil obliged only to fall into a trap; Mrs. Stringfellow clamped a no-doubt painful grip on Bazil’s ear and, in a whisper loud enough for us all to hear told him never, never to use an enchantment on her again.

Finally we were off. Thanks to the miraculous powers of Brother Baldric our horses ate up the miles, overtaking everything on the road from merchants to Purple Dragon patrols. To our right was The Starwater and to our left The Stormhorns. Ahead was the black line of the King’s Forest, a line that seemed to grow nearer and more defined with each passing second. Within a few hours we were in the forest. As we were in early winter most of the trees were barren, only a few had managed to cling on to a few browning leaves.

At about lunchtime we came upon the settlement of Waymoot. Built in a large clearing it was the largest settlement within The King’s Forest. The sight of it brought back memories for myself and, I imagine the longer serving members of The Company of the Silver Coin. It was here during the dark days of the Wolf Lord War that The Queen of Unicorns announced her entry into the conflict when we liberated the city from occupation. Victorious we had marched south to confront the forces of The Wolf Lord and his allies outside the walls of Suzail. The settlement’s defensive wall, breached in the war, had now been rebuilt and life had returned to normal. While our horses were still fresh we were all a little saddle sore and it had started to drizzle so we decided to stop at “The Moon and Stars” for lunch. While my friends tucked into a meal of good wines, hot buns, pickles, pate and (of course) Waymoot’s justifiably famous cheese-stuffed-mushrooms I headed out of the settlement and, after ten minutes or so, found an oak tree that still stubbornly hung on to a few leaves. If we were going to fight a vampire I had decided that a little precaution was in order and, as I picked a leaf and tucked it way in a pocket, I intoned the miracle of Oak Heart. I got to The Moon and Stars just in time to catch the end of lunch and yet another argument about Bazil’s invisibility. The latter had mostly been between Primrose and Bazil, sparked by the concerned remarks of the barkeeper when he had realised that there was an invisible patron in the inn. Though the rest of my companions had no doubt chimed in with helpful, or not so helpful, suggestions and opinions.

Lunch over we remounted and continued our gallop. I took the opportunity to compliment Baynar on his choice of mount, a fine horse clearly bred for battle. I was a little surprised to learn that the lionar hadn’t named his horse. This was, if the stories were to be believed something of a tradition amongst chivalry men. It was raining hard now; hard enough to reveal the presence of an invisible hobbit if you were keen eyed enough. Even with the rain we were sure that we could make Espar by nightfall. Indeed by late evening we were out of the forest and could see the red peaks of the Stormhorns ahead.

Espar seemed to be tied to Cormyr’s adventures; not only was it the birthplace of Brother Baldric but also two of the famous Knights of Myth Dranor. It was also the home of the swordsmith Quiriel ’O’ The Blades and Lord Hezem, who was the settlement’s leader and a priest of Helm. The promise of adventure and treasure in the nearby Stornhorns drew adventures from across the kingdom. Like Waymoot it brought to my mind memories of The Wolf Lord War almost a year previously. It had been here that we had found Brother Baldric, whom we had believed killed during our raid on the Darkhold, alive and well. It was also here that we had first met Colatto while defending the village from orcs allied with The Wolf Lord.

Espar didn’t appear to have changed much since our last visit with one noticeable exception. A little to the south of the town was a large, half built, circular building. This was Baldric’s temple. We rode past it and into town. It was evening and, perhaps not surprisingly, the streets were empty. The houses were shuttered but there was enough light seeping out from each one to suggest that they were all well lit inside. The deserted streets, lashed by wind and rain, had a heavy sense of foreboding about them. We hitched up outside of Espar’s only inn, “The Watchful Eye”. Inside it was empty apart from the innkeeper. The common room was well lit and smelt strongly of garlic, an herb that folklore tells us can drive of vampires, particularly around door and window frames.

As we drank the only beverage that the inn served, Battlestorm Beer, we spoke to the innkeeper about what had been happening in the area. For the townsfolk each night was now a nightmare and each morning revealed a new victim. Three days ago Lord Hezem had set of for “The Watchtower”, which was believed to be the lair of the vampire who had once been Tassin but had not returned. A watch had been mounted at Hezom’s home on Sentinel Rock but hope was dwindling. The Watchtower was a fortification about fifteen minute’s ride out of Espar. Years ago a rich vein of emeralds had been found in the area and mined but this had drawn monsters out of the mountains. The Watchtower had been built to protect the town but was now little more then a ruin.

The innkeeper recognised Baldric easily enough and mentioned that Venda; the leader of the congregation who had come to build Baldric’s temple had been attacked in the last few nights though he had survived. Understandably Baldric wanted to see Venda and visit his temple and congregation straight away. When he told us to wait in the inn we were quick to point out the danger and whole The Company went with him. It was a little odd that the building site was not surrounded by tents but the mystery of where the congregation slept was revealed once they let us in; they had pitched their tents within the temple. The temple, roofless and with it’s vast circular wall, reminded me of a large theatre. The interior of the ring was cluttered with tents, campfires and building materials. A vast, stained-glass window depicting Tymora dominated the temple. It looked impressive enough in the firelight but originated as it was to the raising sun would no doubt look spectacular during morning mass. There were about fifty people here, including children, and as Baldric went off to see Venda we got to meet some of them. I learnt that construction had pretty much finished for the winter. When I asked how the congregation supported themselves I was informed that small groups, entrusting themselves to The Lady’s grace, went looking for adventure and treasure in The Stormhorns. We proved to be quite fascinating to two of the congregation’s children, particularly Bazil. I took the opportunity to acquire some clay, the nessary component for one of Silvanus’s miracles.

After a while Baldric returned looking both worried and determined and we made our way back to the inn. Over eveningfeast I asked Primrose if I could have a look at the ointment that Mrs. Stringfellow had given her. After carefully examining the oily, yellow substance I came to the conclusion that it was no herbal potion that I was aware of and would probably have no beneficial effect on Bazil. Quite the opposite in fact as, when it dried, it would give off a strong odour. An honest mistake by Mrs. Stringfellow or a deliberate act of revenge for his using the powers of The Scout’s Blade on her? I handed it back to Primrose saying that it probably wouldn’t help. Never the less she insisted on rubbing some on the back of Bazil’s hand.
We decided to head for The Watchtower the next day and, for safeties sake we would sleep together in the Watchful Eye’s common room while keeping a double watch. Even so I took the opportunity to cast the bones to see if we would be safe during the night and Faergil used his Art to summon an invisible watchdog.
I hadn’t been sleeping long when I was awoken by the voices of my companions. As my eyes opened my nose was assailed by the most appalling smell that could only be described as being that of a dead cat. It appeared that the ointment on Bazil’s hand had dried out. Already he, aided by Baynar and Faergil, had attempted to scrub it off with first water and them beer (the bar didn’t sell spirits) but with only minor effect. Despite her attempts to be sympathetic Primrose was clearly amused, even when Bazil pointed out her hand stank as bad as his. Baldric, also awake by then, came up with what was the most effective solution, coating the offending hand in charcoal.

This small distraction aside the night passed without incident. Since we had decided that we would all be on our full strength of miracles and spells before going to the Watchtower we wouldn’t be departing until about lunchtime. This would also give Brother Baldric time to conduct a service at the temple. As Colatto and I left the inn that morning, he to check on the horses and I to find a quiet spot to pray to Silvanus, we noticed a crowd gathered around one of the houses. With a dreadful certainty as to what we would find the pair of us headed over. Enquiries of the crowd confirmed our fears, the vampire had struck again killing a young woman called Mallisa. Mallisa’s father, Jeramia, had been slain by the terror that plagued the town only a few nights previously. Taking me aside Colatto suggested that I use the power of Silvanus to call back and question the woman’s soul. I saw the logic in the plan but was concerned that the town’s folk wouldn’t let us. Colatto spoke elegantly to the town elders and we were granted permission to try. We had the body moved to a private area but, just in case, left in the sunlight. Venda brought incense from the temple. I had not seen the priest the night before and in the pale light of dawn the terrible drain of his encounter with the vampire was clear in his pale skin and watery eyes.
I undertook the long ritual to call back Mallisa’s soul, when the ceremony reached its climax her deathly white face became animated and her eyes snapped open to stare at me. These were the eyes of a creature from The Pits; they practically blazed with evil and contempt for everything that lived, an evil that was mirrored in her snarling voice. If it had been night I was in no doubt that she would have pounced on me like a wild cat but it was the day and she was bond by the power of Silvanus. Since I had not used true mistletoe I could only ask her two questions. First I asked her to describe her assailants though I was a little concerned that she would say it was too dark to see. Instead she said that the man who had attacked her had first looked like Lord Hezem but then had changed to appear as a tall man with black hair, a pockmarked face and cold, horrible eyes. My second, and last question, was whether he had said anything to her. Mallisa replied that he only called out her name. The miracle over animation left Mallisa and Colatto and I let Venda go about his grim task of making sure she didn’t return as one of the foul undead.
By a little after noon we were ready for the short ride to the Watchtower. From Primrose I learnt that Baldric had given a powerful sermon and encouraged his flock to find courage in The Lady to withstand the evil that persecuted them. We confirmed with Brother Baldric that Mallisa’s description matched Tassin though we found his apparent ability to change his appearance hard to satisfactorily explain, though we knew vampires had many dark powers including the ability to beguile the minds of the living.

Getting to the Watchtower took no more then quarter of an hour. It was perched on the edge of a escarpment with a narrow track winding up the incline to a gateway that had long since lost it’s gate. The structure in fact consisted of not one tower but three arranged in a triangle with a courtyard between them. Apart from this it was a rather plane design, purely functional. One of the three towers had collapsed into itself and was no more then a pile of stone. With Baynar taking the lead we rode up to and through the gate into the courtyard. Looking from the inside out we could see that a second tower seemed to be nothing but a hollow shell but the third, the closet to us as we entered looked mostly intact. It even had a door. The door was twenty feet or so above the level of the courtyard floor and could be reached by a set of stone stairs. If the vampire resided in the Watchtower it seemed likely that this third tower was where we should look. In the courtyard, against one wall, were the remains of a wooden structure that could once have been stables.
It was then that we noticed the armoured figure, kneeling as if in prayer, on the threshold of the second tower. Baldric and Baynar went over to investigate, the figure acknowledged their presence and as all seemed well the rest of us joined them. As we drew nearer we could make out the Ever Watchful Eye of Helm upon the brow of the man’s helm. It was Lord Hezom. Over his shoulder we could see into second tower. Judging from the debris it looked like it had once served as the Watchtower’s kitchen. The floor was sunken towards the centre and a stagnant pool of green water had collected there. Hezom repeated to us what he had told Baldric and Baynar; he had arrived at the watchtower three days ago believing that it was the vampire’s lair but had found no trace of him. What he had discovered was that the intact tower seemed to have a magical ward stopping him from entering. We had discovered Hezom praying to Helm for guidance as to how to proceed. Colatto told Hezom about the attack on Mallisa the night before and how Tassin had appeared as the priest. Lord Hezom told us this was a trick for the vampire to gain entry to the poor young ladies home, as vampires could not enter a house unless invited in.
Bazil was impatient to investigate the intact tower but I asked him to wait; I wanted to do a little divining first to detect any dangers that lay ahead. The first miracle that I invoked was not, however, directed at the tower. Something about Hezom’s story had just sounded false to me so I invoked a miracle I had never used before, one that would reveal to me if someone were under the effect of an enchantment. Sure enough someone, almost certainly the vampire, had beguiled Hezom. I considered simply confronting the priest but I didn’t know how he would react; if he became violent he might injure one of us or force us to hurt him, alternately he might run to his “master” and alert him to our presence. Hoping that Hezom couldn’t speak gnomish and keeping my voice as neutral as possible I informed Brother Baldric of what I had found passing it off as a gnomish proverb. The second miracle that I invoked was one that would reveal traps to me; everything seemed safe. The third and forth allowed me to first summon and then speak with a handful of rats that lived in the ruins. From them I learnt that there were not one but two dead things “living” in caves beneath us but the rats didn’t know how we could get down to them or how to get into the warded tower. I paid them for their service with a few berries I had picked in the Yuirwood. While I had been talking to the rats Bazil had mounted the stairs to the intact tower and managed to open the allegedly warded door. Peering inside he reported seeing a staircase that ran the length of the tower but warned us that the wooden floor looked a little weak.
I strongly believed that we had to do something about Hezom before we started our vampire hunt and Baldric rose to the occasion admirably. He told The Company that he was going to invoke the power of Tymora to protect us but instead called upon the Lady to dispel all the magics on Hezom, freeing him of the enchantment. Lord Hezom was rather confused to see us. His last memory had been arriving at the Watchtower three days previously and then all was a blur. Now restored to himself he was more then ready to help. Brother Baldric really did have a miracle that could help against certain types of undead and he cast it upon Baynar. I also mentioned the rosemary ointment that I had mixed while in Suzail, while its effects didn’t last long they could drive any undead that got too close. I also suggested that Primrose take Dragathil but unsurprisingly she preferred to use The Tears of Tymora against the Fiends that had preyed upon the faithful of The Lady.

Steeling ourselves for the task that lay ahead we proceeded up the steps with Baynar in the lead and Colatto close behind. Baynar had barely stepped across the threshold when he fell through the floor as if it weren’t there; he didn’t even leave a hole. Colatto tried to jump back out the doorway to safety but over balanced and, in a heartbeat he too had disappeared. From the moans of pain it was clear that our companions were alive but what had happened to them? Despite the evidence of our senses there had to be a pit trap directly behind the door covered by an illusion. I focused my mind in an attempt to overcome the illusion but it was too strong. Instead I pulled out the magical lens, yet again thankful that Elminster had given it to me. When the lens revealed the extent of the illusion I was astonished. There wasn’t a pit in the tower as I had thought because there was no tower, just a set of stone steps that stopped twenty feet above a heap of broken stone into which were driven dozens of sharpened stakes. It was onto one of these stakes that both Baynar and Colatto had fallen and were now impaled. Removing then from the stake proved to a gruesome experience. Now that I had seen through the illusion it had no power over me and I could walk through the phantom walls to where the pair lay. Removing them from the stake wasn’t easy, particularly Baynar, and made their injuries even worse but luckily they had Baldric on hand to soothe their wounds. Bazil began to pick his way through the rubble looking for a trap door. As he did so it occurred to me that the tower might not be the only illusion around and so used the lens to re-examine our surroundings. I found what we were looking for in the ruined kitchen, perhaps Lord Hezom in his beguiled state had been guarding it, the pool of algae filled water was another phantasm covering a circular hole some five feet in diameter.
Heading over to investigate Bazil tied a safety line around his waste, the other end of which he gave to Colatto, and then carefully stepped into the hollow at the base of which was the hole. Presumably the invisible halfling lowered himself headfirst over the edge. At first all he could make out was water about thirty feet below but after Faergil threw in one of his Light Stones he could see a large cavern with the water, which he estimated to be a few feet deep, taking up the middle third or so. At one end he could see a passage leading off into darkness while at the other, which we determines to be under the courtyard he could see what looked like a small sink hole and two coffin-sized boxes.

Using two ropes, one to climb down and one as a safety line, we descended into the cavern. The operation didn’t go completely without a hitch, Faergil would have fallen without the safety line and Baynar managed to get himself temporarily stuck in the hole. The water proved to be about two feet deep but most of us felt a lot safer standing in it as sunlight shone down from above. Silvanus was still granting me the ability to see traps and a glance told me that the passage had some kind of magical trap while both caskets had mechanical traps that would be triggered if they were no opened in the correct way.
While most of us stayed in the sunlight, despite the water, Bazil and Colatto inched towards the caskets. It seemed very unlikely considering the cunning they had shown so far that the vampires would leave their true resting-place so exposed but we couldn’t overlook any eventuality. After Colatto first sprinkled lamp oil over the caskets, so he could torch them if nessary, Bazil began to set to work disarming the trap on one of the boxes. Before he could finish we all noticed Faergil moving in a most mysterious manner.
Ever since his brush with death in Sembia Faergil had been very nervous about repeating the experience and in this instance had gone to the far end of the cave in case Bazil and Faergil disturbed something. Now he was dodging about as if trying to evade the blows of an invisible foe. Judging from the look of barely contained terror in the mage’s eyes whatever he could see must have been something out of a nightmare and, even as we watched, he cast a Mirror Image spell creating seven, illusionary decoys. Baynar was already in that end of the cave, guarding the passage I believe, and ran over to Faergil in a flash ready to defend him…but against what? As Faergil launched an ineffective volley of magical darts at his unseen assailant I pulled out the lens once more. Later he told us that he could see a creature that seemed to be the distillation of all his fears, an impossibly huge monster that filled the entire cave but I never saw it. However what the lens did reveal made my blood run cold.
A section of the cave’s wall no more then ten feet from Faergil was an illusion covering an extension to the cave some twenty feet square or so. In that alcove were two more caskets and two figures. One matched Baldric’s description of Tassin, a powerful, dark warrior. Mallisa had been right about his eyes; nothing living could have had eyes like that. The second vampire was a women, cowled in a dark cloak, her face hidden beneath a hood, and was stalking towards Faergil. In a way that I cannot describe I could “see” that the two vampires were invisible.

For a spilt second the sheer, unnatural power radiated by the pair made me hesitate rather then draw their wrath. Steeling myself I shouted out what I could see. Retribution was quick, in a flash Tassin had brought up a crossbow. He seemed to aim and fire in the same instant and a instant later a bolt struck me. An adventurer’s instinct had prompted me to twist and the injury, though painful, missed anything vital but a second later I found myself on my knees in the cold water as all my strength deserted me; the bolt had been poisoned.
As the others readied their weapons Bazil ran over to check on me. Colatto used his Art to dispel any magics in the area I had indicated revealing the hidden alcove and the two vampires as well as dismissing Faergil’s unseen attacker. Luckily for the elf it didn’t dismiss his decoys, one of which was attacked by the female vampire. Gathering his wits Faergil ran from the vampire joining the bulk of us in what we hoped was the safety of the patch of sunlight from above.
Colatto followed his anti-magic spell with a fireball that filled the alcove for an instant; Tassin was singed but still whole. I had hoped to trap Tassin in the alcove with a wall of flame but before I could gather my muddled wits the vampire was running across the room with unnatural swiftness straight towards Baldric. Not wanting to hurt my friends I tried a simple miracle of light to blind the vampire but he was too quick for me. Tassin reached Brother Baldric just after the priest had finished calling out to Tymora. The prayer seemed to have no effect and the vampire struck his target with a bone-crunching blow delivered with inhuman strength. The blow didn’t however leach away any of Baldric’s life-force, the priest’s prayer had temporally severed the vampire’s link to the Negative Material plan. Grabbing the jar of rosemary ointment from my pouches Bazil dashed over to help Baldric. I found the oak leaf I had picked the day before and crushed it, triggering the miracle; for the next few seconds the tree near Waymoot would be the recipient of any attack directed at me. Now all I had to do was get up.
Baynar had moved to engage the female vampire. He drove his sword into the vampiress, she screamed but stood her ground. A second later she counterattacked, slipping past his shield and clawing at him with her talon-like fingers. The protective blessing that Brother Baldric had cast on Baynar activated when the vampire had tried to steal away part of his life-force, the second she touched the knight there was a blast of intense white light and she snatched back her hand which looked burnt. Baynar seized the advantage and drove his sword home. The vampire fell but before she had hit the ground transformed to a mist that began to streak in a most unnatural motion towards the caskets.
In an aura of green light Captain Stringfellow appeared beside Tassin as he tried, unsuccessfully, to hit the fast moving vampire. Faergil had no such problems as he unleashed a barrage of magical darts into Tassin.
Perhaps Tassin was now starting to worry for his unlife. He locked Baldric’s gaze with his own, in an attempt to overpower the priest’s will but at that moment I doubt that any force on this plane or any other could have deflected Baldric from his goal. Tightening his grip on Twin-Death Baldric brought both heads crashing down on the abomination that had killed his friends and preyed upon his congregation. Tassin seemed to explode into mist under the force of the impact, a mist that snaked back across the cave in the same, unnatural motion as the other vampire.
By now I was back on my feet, though I doubt that I could have stood without the aid of my staff. I began a prayer of cleansing fire with the intention of destroying the caskets but before I could finish Hezom was standing beside one with a wooden stake in one hand. Angrily I manifested to fire elsewhere rather then hurt the priest.
Opening one of the caskets Hezom found the female vampire, which Brother Baldric identified as Physilia, another one of his resistance force and illusionist (though I think we had all guessed that part) inside and apparently asleep. He explained that to truly destroy the vampires we would not only have to drive a stake through their hearts but decapitate them. Lord Hezom, Baynar and Bazil did the grim deed with Baldric blessing the remains and, at my suggestion, we dragged what was left into the light. While I didn’t witness it myself Bazil and Baynar told me that after they had been staked them the vampires had been awake but helpless, their eyes blazing with rage and malice.

I must admit that I wasn’t in a good mood at that point, even after Baldric purged the last of the poison from my system. I felt that, when it had come to the pinch, I had let my companions down. Old demons of self-doubt, which I thought I had laid to rest, came back to torment me in force. This had just been a diversion; the real test lay far to the east. Would I fall short there too? All I wanted to do was leave that stifling, death filled cave and get back into the life-giving rays of the sun. Some of The Company, however, wanted to explore the caves further starting with the passage with it’s enigmatic trap. I used the lens to confirm what I suspected, that there was no passage just another illusion. This one covered a shaft in the floor that fell some thirty feet into water. As the only other way out, the sinkhole by the first two caskets, wasn’t big enough even for a hobbit to go down we decided to leave. Stopping only to torch the remaining caskets we headed back up the rope out of the cave’s dark embrace and back into the freedom of the afternoon air.

Chapter 6...

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
Volos Guide to Cormyr, Realms Boxed Set- Info on Cormyr and Suzail

We started our Forgotten Realms in Cormyr and the group have travelled the length and breadth of it. This was all before TSR (at the time) released a number of sourcebooks covering the land. Though I do use these I have to be very selective about what I use, so that it doesn't contradict my own previous work. According to Volos guide to Espar there is a 'secret college' of War Wizards there. Yea Right, not in my Cormyr.

The game itself is a bit of a diversion from the main plot. It was an opportunity do a 'bit of adventuring', fight the undead (Hurrah!) and for Baldric to visit his Church. I think the evening went quite well.

Travelling. Baldric used 'Easy March' spell on the horses allowing them to easy travel the distance to Espar in one day!
The ruins I made up completely, adding the illusions to complicate things.

Hezom's story didn't really hold much water, but the Detect Charms spell, followed by Dispel Magic really helped, as I'm sure it would have complicated the fight had he remained beguiled by the Vampire.

As far as the fight is concerned, it wasn't actually that difficult - though thats not really the point. The characters are all mid-level now and well prepared.

As I think most of the players realised Faergil was targeted by a 'Phantasmal Killer' spell - which would have killed him had it hit (as 4HD monster). Faergil is in AC 0 so that 'Killer' was looking for a 17+ to kill him...

Baldric used Dimensional Translocation on the Vampire - severing his Negative Material Plane connection and removing his feared level draining ability! Luckily, as he was hit immediately following the casting!

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