Mol – Therendor 2nd, 999 YK
Monday – March 2nd, 999 YK
The long corridor is filled with the smell of rot. A procession of torches march along the stone walls, but their flickering light is dim, cowed by the chamber’s dancing shadows. Two shapes shamble into view as the party proceeds: ghouls dressed in the black uniform of Karrnath, though their tabards are tattered almost beyond recognition.
“Who goes there?” asks the stouter of the two. Its gleaming yellow eye, surrounded in a bed of pus and viscera, falls on Moyshanna, who remains in the lead.
Moyshanna endeavors to deepen her voice into a suitably male tone: “Step aside. We have Lord Torin’s sister. He has asked to see her.”
The ghoul regards Moyshanna for a moment, then looks to Taveah, whose eyes are downcast. A gruesome smile parts it’s drooping, decayed face. “Proceed.”
The party marches forward into the blackness. The corridor is not long, but it has bulges along its length and each of them is filled with all manner of undead: More ghouls, skeletons, zombies, and other horrors only half-glimpsed in the shadows. They snap and hiss at the visitors as they pass by, either seeing through their disguise or simply not caring who they menace.
This is a mistake, Kohl. Taveah sends to her cousin. We cannot fight our way out of this. I am still weak, and I doubt any of you are much better off.
What do you suggest? Kohl’s voice echoes in her mind.
Let me talk with him, she sends, and awaits for her cousin’s outraged reply.
It doesn’t come. There’s a brief silence, followed by an even briefer, Very well. Then, to the others: Taveah has an idea. Do not attack.
Taveah doesn’t think it’s much of an idea, really. More like a desperate hope, but she doesn’t say anything.
Ahead is a throne, and sitting upon it is Lord Torin Akeo. For a moment, the two Kael wonder if they’re back beneath the ruined monastery in Kithia where they first met their uncle, for the throne and the room it presides over is nearly identical. Even the jeweled glass goblet of blood in Torin’s hand seems familiar. Assembled to the left side of his throne is their lost gear, tossed haphazardly in the corner like a child’s unwanted toys.
Lord Torin looks up from his private thoughts and as the torchlight dances across his features, Taveah sees something horrible in the vampire lord’s face: Herself. It only a flash of recognition — a passing family resemblance — but it chills her to the bone.
“What is this?” Torin says, standing.
Moyshanna turns to Taveah and gives her a “go on” nod.
Taveah steps forward and realization dawn on Torin’s face. He frowns.
Taveah grants the vampire as small a bow as she can. “Hello… brother.”
Torin’s frown transforms into a cool smile. “Brother, is it now? I’m glad to see you’ve come to your senses, Caira. My sweet, tender sister.” But even as he says this, Torin’s eyes shine with naked lust as they look upon Taveah. She suppresses a shudder.
“I see you’ve brought your friends,” Torin continues. “Why? They’re unworthy of you.”
“We must talk,” Taveah says.
Torin’s smile remains: “Must we? Well then, I suppose we should.” He sits back upon his throne. “What shall we discuss, Caira?”
“Our world is behind us,” Taveah says. “And so too, its war. Whatever grievances we had, they await us there. But for now there’s no reason we must be enemies. I know you hate the Dha’arkeshi as much as we.“
“More so,” Torin says as a cold light ignites behind his gaze. “More so. You’ve no idea.”
Strangely, Taveah finds herself believing him. “They march on this world. Even now they gather on its border, hungry. If we do not stop Lady Vol they will eat this place alive. After that, our world will be next. I’m sure of it.”
Lord Torin blinks at her, then he does something totally unexpected: He throws back his head and laughs, his fangs flashing. “Caira, Caira, Caira,” he says, when his mirth is settle. “It’s good I’ve found you. How you’ve danced to their tune. No more. Now, hear the truth: Lady Vol has not been trying to free the Na’vakhti Orcus. She’s been trying to stop the demon’s arrival!”
“What?” Taveah says, flabbergasted.
“Of course!” Torin replies. “Why do you think I have allied myself with her? Myself and King Kaius of Karrnath, both. We are fighting the Na’vakhti’s return as one. And then there’s you and your interfering friends. You’ve disrupted our plans at every turn, hastening Na’vakhti’s arrival!”
Taveah glances back at her companions, unsure. Ahti steps forward and nods his head toward Torin in a cursory show of respect. “Excuse me, Lord… Torin, was it? My name is Ahti. I’m afraid that you must be quite wrong. I work for the Haruspex Assembly. We have analyzed the Game from every angle and know the truth of it.”
Torin barely gives the Drow a glance. “Have you? Then why is it that your Assembly is no more?”
Ahti’s dark face goes ashen. “What?”
“A wraith that was under my control has broken free of it. She learned that the Haruspexs has a means to open the Gatekeeper Seals. Doing so would grant the Dha’arkesh entry to this world. So she paid them a visit. I doubt it was a pleasant one; Allantia never was a gracious houseguest.”
“What?” Ahti repeats, clearly distressed. “But my master, he—”
At this, Torin grins. “…is dead. Or so you should hope. For if not, then he is mad and under Allantia’s control.”
“Allantia…” Taveah breathes, memories of their battle under the monastery flashing back to her. “You no longer control her?”
Torin shakes his head. “No. I don’t understand how she broke free of me, but she has. She’s likely in Breland now, undoing the seals even as we speak. If she should succeed…” Torin shakes his head and downs the remains of his goblet of blood in a single gulp.
“She won’t!” Taveah declares. “Torin, we can stop her. Let us go. We must stop her.”
Suddenly, Kohl can keep his silence no longer. He throws back the helmet that has disguised his face. “Hear her, Torin. Allantia must—”
Lord Torin snaps his head in Kohl’s direction and stabs a bony, accusing finger at him. In a voice that isn’t quite human, he shouts: “Silence!”
Around you, Torin’s undead honor guard react like wild dogs scenting fresh meat. They growl and snarl, snapping at the air, awaiting their master’s command that would set them to feast upon these intruders.
Cousin, please… Taveah sends to Kohl. Stay yourself.
The paladin of Torval grits his teeth: For you. Not for him.
When Torin sees that Kohl has quieted, he turns back to Taveah and resumes his conversational tone. “This world: Why must you save it?”
Taveah falters, “Because… this world…”
“Is not your own,” Torin shurgs. “Could it be you seek redemption for something? Could it be that you are worried for your soul?”
Taveah blinks at him, suddenly understanding. “You know… what I carry?” Taveah voiced sounds suddenly weak to her ears.
“Of course I do,” Torin replies, sharply. “Do you think me a fool? But hear this, Caira, my sweet sister: You are a whisper in the storm. Do not make the same mistakes the Haruspexs did. This game is greater than we know. If you overestimate the value of your piece then you’re likely to be knocked from the board. I don’t want that.”
Taveah is surprised. This actually sounds like good advice. “Is there to be peace between us then… brother?”
Lorin Torin considers this for a long moment. Finally, his eyes go to Kohl, and he bares his fangs. “Will an Ikao bow before an Akeo? For that is my price for peace.”
At this, Kohl — who has suffered this conversation in silence — can stay his fury no longer. He throws away the rotting cloak of his disguise and draws his borrowed blade. White light blossoms from his armor, stabbing into the shadows. The undead scream and cover their faces. Lord Torin emits a snake-like hiss and bolts up from his throne, drawing Kohl’s own axe as he does.
Seeing what’s about to happen, Taveah reacts on instinct. She steps onto the dais, closes her eyes, and kisses Torin on the mouth. The vampire lord is so surprised that at first he yields to her. This only lasts a moment, though. Almost immediately he begins to pull back.
Not enough, Taveah thinks. He knows it’s a bluff.
In her mind’s eye, Taveah conjures an image of Lothar. Lothar, with his curly black hair and lopsided grin. Lothar, the man she’d loved; Lothar, the man she’d forgotten. With all of her thought she imagines kissing Lothar, and not her uncle, a vampire lord of the dead lands of Kithia. She imagines it and — for some long, wonderful seconds — it is reality.
Kohl, Ahti, Morthos, and Moyshanna look on with a mixture of confusion and disgust. The light of Kohl’s armor dims and then dies out completely.
Haltingly, Taveah pulls away from Torin. She opens her eyes, and instantly the illusion is broken. She fights to keep the revulsion from showing on her face and succeeds, though only barely. “Peace, brother,” she says. “Please.”
Torin grins and licks his fangs. “If you say so, sister, then let it be so. You may go, though I cannot give you pardon. That is King Kaius’s privilege, and he will not exercise it. Vol wanted your friends dead for their meddling.”
“We can use the sewers then,” Morthos says. “As we originally planned.” The Tiefling looks to Ahti, expecting protest, but there’s none. Ahti is staring into space, clearly somewhere very distant and very alone.
“And our gear?” Taveah says, placing a gentle finger on the curve of Kohl’s axe.
Torin shrugs. “Of course. Mere trinkets. They’re yours, Caira, to do with as you will.”
“Thank you,” Taveah says and begins to gather her friends’ things.
“There’s something else,” Torin says, almost absently. “When Allaantia is dead, you must return to me. Together, we will find our way home.”
Taveah doesn’t reply. She distributes their gear, avoiding her companions’ eyes, especially Kohl’s.
When she gets to Morthos he says in his dry, gravely voice: “That kiss was very… convincing.”Taveah shoves his enchanted leather armor into his chest. “You owe me,” she declares, and walks away.
They depart Torin’s chambers and head back into the prison, heading for the sewers below.