The next evening, Skald
Much of what I am now about to record was
told to me by my fellow adventurers. Our final (I hope) and dramatic
confrontation with Doctor Dominiani, The Good and Kind Fiend from Hell amazingly
left all of us alive, though I am embarrassed to admit that I slept through some
of it. Even now, I can hardly believe what happened.
After watching Dominiani disappear into the
mausoleum, we hurried back to the chamber where we'd originally fought him to
wait out yet another night. In vain, we attempted to sleep in shifts. Thibor
paced with frustrated rage, periodically kicking at the bits of shattered
sarcophagi. All of us were tense and discouraged, not to mention in pain from
our many wounds.
But we had to rest. Lisha and I took the
first shift, both of us remaining alert and watchful. We'd once again piled the
heavy chests in front of the door, and I was relieved for the precaution when the
flock of bats again attempted to gain entrance. Thankfully, nothing worse
bothered us during those few, nerve-wracking hours.
Later, I awoke from a fitful sleep to hear
Demetrius screaming. As I sat up, I heard a pounding thud against the doorway,
and saw the top chest rock a little.
"Something's trying to get in!" Demetrius
shouted as we all stood and peered sleepily at the door.
"Really?" said Vanth.
Lisha rushed over to where Demetrius was
holding the chests in place and moved to help him.
"We can handle this," she announced calmly
after a moment. "Why don't the rest of you go back to sleep." Demetrius frowned
at her, but said nothing.
Thibor blinked at her in astonishment. I
shook my head, amazed and not a little envious of Lisha's uncanny ability to
handle the most bizarre and frightening encounters with cool aplomb.
"What if you get tired?" Alanna protested.
"We'll yell for help."
"Well, all right," Thibor conceded. He was
obviously uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping while the fighters did all the
work. But they were the only ones strong enough to hold the barrier in place.
So the rest of us lay back down, huddled against the far wall, and tried to
Some time later, we were again awakened by
Demetrius screaming. Looking in his direction, we saw with alarm a
familiar-looking cloud of green smoke pouring in beneath the doorway.
"He's getting in!" Demetrius screamed.
"Attack him!" Thibor cried. "Don't let him
We all rushed towards the vampire with
weapons drawn, attempting to connect with the strange mist. Finally, Lisha
connected with her quarterstaff and the mist dissipated, slipping back out the
THUD! Before we could even breathe a sigh of
relief, something else tried to break down our barrier. Lisha and Demetrius
hurried over, quickly righting the chest that had been about to topple over.
THUD! The door frame shook again, and we
could hear the sound of wood cracking. Lisha shrieked as the chests began to
"We can't hold it!" Demetrius cried.
Hastily, Thibor and I rushed over to help them. As the creature tried to break
in again, the force of the blow nearly knocked us down.
"What the Hell is out there?" Demetrius
"I don't want to know," I said.
"We'll never be able to hold this for long,"
said Thibor. "Alanna, do you have a spell that will block the entrance?"
Alanna considered. "Um, um..."
THUD! The chests shook, and I fell down.
"Hurry!" Demetrius screamed.
The illusionist practically hopped up and
down in desperation as she mentally reviewed her spells.
"Um, wait... Let me think. Um..."
THUD! This time the top chest slipped
forward, and we barely managed to push it back before the other followed.
"I've got it!" Alanna cried at last.
"Got what?" Thibor asked angrily, unable to
spare a glance back at the magic user. "Whatever it is, do it. Fast!"
"Good grief," I heard Vanth say from behind
us. Suddenly, we were roughly shouldered aside as a huge, lumbering creature
with walrus-like tusks moved in to take our place at the barrier.
"What the Hell?" said Demetrius.
"She drank a potion," Vanth explained, "and
turned into that creature."
"Oh," I said, remembering. "The potion of
polymorph." I couldn't even remember what creature's den we'd picked that up
from. But I was certainly grateful that we had it. Alanna the umber hulk was
holding up the barrier with no difficulty at all.
With Alanna blocking the entrance, there was
no chance of anything breaking down the barrier. But we hardly felt secure. It
was obvious that Dominiani had come for us at last, and the fiend would not be
stopped this easily. Thibor, Vanth, the fighters and I arranged ourselves back
to back in the center of the room, weapons drawn and eyes peeled for any signs of
strangely behaved vapors. We waited for many long minutes, our breathing
(especially the umber hulk's) loud in the otherwise quiet room.
Gradually, a foul, rotting smell assailed our
nostrils, and a thick, black smoke began pouring in from beneath the sarcophagi.
Coughing and nearly retching from the odor, we covered our faces with rags and
smothered the sarcophagi with blankets from our packs. Our eyes were tearing,
and I thought the horrible vapors would be the end of us all. But the smoke
stopped pouring in, and gradually the air cleared.
"Whew," said Demetrius, pulling his scarf
from his face, "that's a relief."
"Don't relax yet," Thibor warned. "This
isn't the end of it."
I shuddered, wondering what foul poison
Dominiani would throw at us next. It wasn't long before we found out. With a
hiss like steam, a wispy, yellowish smoke began rising up from the floor. Once
again we covered our mouths and tried not to breathe deeply. But the smoke kept
pouring in despite our attempts to stop it. I felt my eyelids grow heavy, and I
saw Lisha slump to the ground, her quarterstaff rattling onto the floor and
rolling into the far wall.
"Get up!" Thibor shouted, kicking her hard.
"This is no time to fall asleep."
That was the last thing I heard as I lost my
grip on my weapons and slumped to the ground, sound asleep. (But Thibor and the
others were careful to fill me in later, insistent that the truth of our
encounter not be lost to posterity. And so I will record the events as they
Thibor gave up his attempts to kick me and
Lisha awake (I still have the bruises) when a line of familiar-looking green mist
appeared, seeping up from a tiny hole in the wall opposite the umber-hulk guarded
"Quick!" Demetrius shouted, "Vanth -- grab
Lisha's quarterstaff. Chase him!"
Vanth hastily obeyed, grabbing the staff and
chasing the mist back and forth across the room, the wood held up among the mist
so that the vampire could not assume his true form. But eventually the thief
grew tired and stumbled. A moment was all it took. Suddenly, the mist became
solid flesh, and Dominiani stood before us, grinning evilly. As Vanth backed
away, Thibor and Demetrius, standing behind me and next to Lisha, turned to face
There we were, alone in the room with the
vampire, a fully regenerated vampire. All of us were terribly wounded, Lisha and
I were asleep, and Alanna could not cast spells as an umber hulk. The Horn of
Hannah, our most powerful magic item, had its limits. It could only be used so
many times a week, and Thibor had already reached the maximum. We were all
painfully aware of this. But, in a moment of brave desperation, the cleric
decided to gamble that Dominiani was not.
As soon as the vampire took a step forward,
Thibor raised the Horn to his lips. "One step closer," he warned, "and I'll use
The angry red eyes of the fiend met the pale
grey eyes of the cleric. For a long minute, neither blinked.
Still holding Thibor's gaze, Dominiani
snarled. "Drop your horn."
Thibor sneered. "Back off."
"You are trapped here," Dominiani said at
last, his voice soft and sibilant, the sweet promise of death. "Like rats in a
cage. Give me the Crown, and I will let you go free."
Thibor raised the horn threateningly. "Step
back or I blow the horn."
Dominiani's face twisted into a grotesque
mask of rage. Sure that the vampire was about to call our bluff, Demetrius
prepared to strike with Scray. But, still glaring at Thibor, the vampire took a
tiny step back.
Thibor allowed himself a smile, gloating at
the vampire. "We're leaving," he said. "With the Crown."
Dominiani's answering smile mocked us.
"You'll never leave my keep alive. Are you willing to die for something for
which you have no use? I can offer you much for it." His voice became rich,
seductive. "What would you have? Power? Wealth? Immortality ?"
Thibor and Demetrius exchanged glances.
"We're not interested in your promises," said
The vampire hissed. "Are you interested in
"Don't threaten us," Thibor said coldly.
"You're afraid of us, afraid of this ." He shook the horn. "If you weren't,
you'd just kill us and take the Crown. But the fact is, you know you can't."
Dominiani took a step towards the party,
shaking with rage. "This is my keep. You are intruders here. Give me what I
want, and I will let you go free. Refuse me, and I will destroy you."
But Thibor refused to be intimidated. He
gestured to me and Lisha. "Wake my friends. Then we'll make a decision."
The vampire sneered. "Do you honestly mean
that you, a holy man ," he spat out the words like an insult, "rely upon the
opinions of a half-wit fighter and a foolish minstrel?"
"You have a point," said Thibor. "But we
still want them awake."
Dominiani shook his head, began pacing back
and forth. "I can not wake them. The sleeping gas will wear off naturally in an
hour or so."
"How do we know you're telling the truth?"
Dominiani chuckled, a cruel and chilling
sound coming from his long-dead throat. "I don't care if you believe me or not."
He continued pacing, his footfalls eerily silent along the stone floor.
"Fine," said Thibor, still gripping the Horn
in a threatening manner. "But the rest of us would discuss this."
The vampire smiled and spread his hands. "Go
ahead, mortal. I have all the time in the world." He chuckled again and
Thibor, Vanth and Demetrius backed up to
stand by the umber hulk. The cleric kept an eye on the vampire, who continued
pacing back and forth, graceful as a cat.
"What should we do?" asked Vanth.
"I don't want to give up the Crown to that
fiend," said Thibor. "Somehow, we have to find a way to stall him until dawn.
Then we can find a way out of here."
Demetrius was surprised. "You mean you don't
want to destroy Dominiani any more?"
"Of course I do," Thibor snarled. "The fiend
is the blackest sort of evil, and he deserves to rot in Hell. But Alanna and the
crazy bard were right -- we can't risk him getting the Crown. After it's
destroyed, then we can come back and kill him."
"Good idea," said Vanth with his usual
sarcasm. "But what do we do now ?"
"We can't give it to him," Demetrius
repeated. "But if we don't offer him something, he's gonna slaughter us."
Thibor turned to the umber hulk. "Alanna,
what do you think?"
Vanth studied the tusked creature curiously.
"Thibor, I don't think umber hulks are good at charades."
"Oh, right. Alanna, do you think we should
sell out and give the fiend the Crown, forever damning our souls to Hell for such
an evil act?"
The umber hulk rolled its eyes. Then, Alanna
"Yes?" Thibor hissed, appalled. "You can't
Alanna nodded again. Then, leaning forward,
she tapped the sleeping Lisha with her quarterstaff.
"Alanna," Demetrius explained, "she ain't
waking up. We already tried that."
The umber hulk glared at Demetrius, then
tapped the fighter more forcefully. She winced a little when her unaccustomed
strength left a nasty mark on Lisha's arm.
Finally, Vanth realized what the illusionist
was getting at. "I see what she means," said the thief. "We should give him the
Crown." Turning his back to the vampire, Vanth winked at Thibor.
Thibor started to protest, then his eyes
widened as he realized what Vanth was trying to say. We could afford to give the
vampire the Crown -- we had an extra.
As they turned around to face Dominiani,
Demetrius noticed that the vampire's pacing had taken him within inches of the
spot where I still slept. Angry, he reached out to pull me closer to the wall.
"Leave the minstrel there!" Dominiani
shouted, stopping in his tracks and glaring at Demetrius. The fighter glared
back, then reached for me again. The vampire took a threatening step in my
direction and both men stopped moving, gazes locked.
Taking a determined step towards the fiend,
Thibor raised the Horn of Hannah to his lips.
"Back off," he ordered.
The vampire's gaze shifted from Demetrius to
the albino. Thibor met his gaze without flinching, daring the fiend to try his
fabled charm powers, and knowing that his will was strong enough to resist.
Finally, the vampire took a grudging step backward.
"I know what you're thinking," Dominiani
said. "That you have a duty to keep the Crown from me, that I will do great evil
with it. And perhaps I will. Perhaps humans will die. But I ask you, what
concern is that to you? You're adventurers; sell-swords, concerned only with
your own fortunes. As you should be."
The fiend smiled. "Why should you care if a
few peasants die? Why should you give your lives for them? They mistrust you,
fear you as they do not fear me. They will not thank you for your sacrifice.
"But I can offer you much. I can offer you
power. Not the weak power of that accursed horn or your paltry weapons, but true
power. Power that binds mortals to your will, that allows you to rule over them.
Power that lasts forever. Would you give that up for a Crown that you can not
hope to use?"
Stalling for time, Thibor pretended to
consider the offer. It was then that I awoke. Dizzy and disoriented, I stirred
and sat up. Only to find the vampire standing inches away, looming over me like
a wolf before a lamb and gloating with those evil, red eyes.
"Good evening, minstrel," he said as I stared
in shock and stopped myself from screaming. "Your friends and I were just having
a little chat."
I crawled hastily away from him, then stood
up and cowered behind Thibor. Too unnerved to speak, I looked questioningly at
Thibor leaned closer to me. "Don't look him
in the eyes, oh weak-willed one."
I stared at the floor.
"What say you minstrel?" asked the vampire,
his voice cold and mocking. "What would you have in exchange for the Crown? I
can give you life everlasting. Every woman you meet will be helpless before you,
charmed by your power."
Confused as I was, I knew what the fiend was
implying. He was offering to make us vampires, like him. The prospect horrified
"No thanks," I muttered, not meeting his
gaze. "I can charm women already." And I don't have to drink their blood to do
it, I thought.
"All right," Thibor said abruptly. "You can
have the Crown. But we do this our way. We go out to the fountain in your
courtyard, one minute before dawn. You wait across the courtyard. We leave the
Crown there, and go."
Dominiani smiled triumphantly. "You are wise
beyond your pitiful years, holy man. I accept your deal."
"And well you should." Thibor turned to the
umber hulk. "Alanna, take Lisha and carry her out to the fountain. Vanth and
Temmer will follow -- they climb well enough to get down alone. When everybody's
at the fountain, you come back for me and Demetrius. We'll stay here to make
sure this fiend doesn't try anything."
I hesitated, exchanging a glance with Thibor.
The Horn wouldn't be usable again until dawn. If the vampire attacked, Thibor
and Demetrius would have to fight him alone. But Thibor was confident that he
could continue the bluff. It had worked so far. He practically pushed me and
Vanth through the opening after Alanna.
The four of us encountered nothing in the
long and difficult trip to the fountain. As soon as Vanth and I got there,
Alanna dropped the sleeping Lisha and, the potion wearing off, reverted to her
"Nice to see you back to your old self
again," said Vanth.
"Oh, I don't know," replied the illusionist.
"It was kind of fun being an umber hulk. I was so strong."
Nervous, I suggested she not waste any time
in levitating back up for Thibor and Demetrius, and Alanna readily complied. She
returned a few minutes later, explaining that she'd left her boots with the other
two, who wanted to watch over the vampire's descent.
As we waited tensely, Alanna wandered over to
peer at the fountain. "You know, Demetrius said that Scray detected strong magic
from this thing. I wonder what it does."
I frowned. "Probably summons other vampires
to come feast on foolish adventurers." Gloomy, I turned my attention back to
Lisha, who still would not wake up.
Alanna continued to stare at the fountain.
Suddenly, a bright moonbeam shot down from the heavens to strike the red window
in the keep. Terrified, Vanth and I hit the dirt. But nothing else happened. I
turned to Alanna, who was pale and shaking.
"What the Hell did you do?" I asked.
"I -- I looked into the fountain and thought
of Akriel. Next thing I knew, I heard her speaking in my mind. She was asking
for someone named Daclaud."
Vanth and I exchanged glances. "Let's not
tell Thibor about this," I suggested.
Alanna heartily agreed.
Meanwhile, up above in that bat-infested
tower, Demetrius and Thibor bargained with the devil. At the time, the rest of
us had only our own fearful imaginations to tell us what transpired, and our two
friends have yet to speak of the matter. Whatever happened, they bought us the
time we so desperately needed. When the two of them backed into the courtyard,
followed by the vampire, we had perhaps ten minutes left until dawn.
Still holding the Horn of Hannah to his lips,
Thibor glanced over to where we were all gathered by the fountain. Alanna
nervously gripped the onyx lion, and Vanth's pack containing both real and false
crowns rested at our feet. The cleric's eyes flickered to the sleeping Lisha.
"Temmer, get her out of here. Now."
Our eyes met. Thibor had no chance to
explain, with the vampire hovering nearby, but there was no need. Dominiani's
reaction, once he realized he'd been tricked, was easily predictable. And when
all Hell broke loose, we'd need to run -- fast. Nodding at Thibor, I hefted
Lisha over my shoulder (she's heavy, for a woman), and took off.
"Where are they going?" I heard the vampire
demand as I left.
Thibor's reply was cold, mocking. "That's
none of your concern, fiend." He gestured to the far end of the courtyard. "You
will wait there until the appointed time."
The vampire's eyes narrowed, and a sharp hiss
escaped his cold lips as he glared at the albino cleric. But Thibor raised the
Horn, and with a final angry look the vampire stepped gracefully to the far end
of the courtyard.
Thibor glanced up at the sky, where the
faintest rosy hue had begun to stain the horizon. Minutes remained until dawn.
Thibor and Demetrius, eyes still on Dominiani, backed up to stand beside the
others at the fountain.
"As soon as it's time," Thibor whispered,
"Vanth will get out of here... with his pack. Don't stop for anything. I want
everyone else ready to attack. Just in case."
The others nodded grimly. Still gripping her
lion, Alanna unrolled and began studying a powerful scroll that would strike the
enemy with lightning. Demetrius had a mysterious potion that he would hurl at
Dominiani. And Thibor, of course, still had the Horn.
"We're ready," said Demetrius.
The cleric nodded approvingly, then turned
around to stare at Dominiani. The vampire paced restlessly and cast occasional,
hate-filled glances at the lightening sky.
Thibor smiled at his discomfort. "You grow
anxious, fiend?" The vampire stopped pacing to turn cold eyes on Thibor. "Tell
me, how can an immortal being who claimed that time meant nothing suddenly be
growing impatient? I thought that was a human weakness."
The vampire's eyes flashed. "It is time.
Place the Crown on the fountain."
Thibor hesitated a moment, deliberately
provoking Dominiani. "We have a few minutes yet."
Dominiani took a step forward, menacing.
"The time is now ."
Thibor leaned closer to Vanth. "All right,
put the Crown on the fountain," he whispered, "then everyone back up slowly
towards the gate. As soon as we're there, run like Hell."
Everyone nodded. Vanth stepped closer to the
fountain and, with shaking hands, took out the false Crown. Knowing that
Dominiani's eyes watched his every move, the thief made a great show of handling
the item with great reverence as he placed it on the marble fountain. Then he
turned and, picking up the pack that held the real Crown, walked away.
"You stay there until we're out of sight,"
said Thibor, pointing a finger at the vampire as they backed off.
But they'd no sooner passed through the gate
and began running after Vanth when they heard a roar of rage and anger from the
courtyard. Suddenly, a shadow blocked out the light of the half-risen sun.
As they spared a glance over their shoulders,
they were horrified by the monstrosity that greeted them. Wearing Dominiani's
fanged and enraged features was a giant bat, easily the size of a small dragon.
Vanth kept running. But Thibor, Demetrius
and Alanna skidded to a halt as they launched a desperate defense. Thibor blew
the Horn of Hannah, freshly empowered by the new day, and Dominiani shrieked in
pain. Demetrius threw his potion, which bounced harmlessly off the man-bat's
leathery hide, and Alanna sent a bolt of lightning smoking through one huge wing.
But still Dominiani came on, heading for the
cleric with death in his eyes. Desperate, Thibor blew the Horn again, and a
column of flame shot down from the heavens to engulf the giant bat. It would
have been enough to kill most creatures.
But not the vampire. The fiend emerged from
the air-born inferno, trailing smoke and flames and flying straight at Thibor.
Knocked off his feet by a gust of wind from the bat's great wings, Thibor could
only stare up in impotent fury as Death came for him.
But a roar sounded from behind him as the
words Unk, unk bomangani were shouted by a voice nearly choked with terror.
Suddenly, in the few inches that remained between cleric and vampire, a snarling
mass of feline muscle appeared, knocking the vampire to the ground.
Wasting no time to watch the screeching
combatants, Demetrius hauled Thibor to his feet and the three of them ran towards
the rising sun. Reaching the security of a patch of daylight that bathed the
ground like a blessing from above, they turned just in time to see a cloud of
green fog appear around the bewildered and bloody lion.
As the fog turned and headed back towards the
keep, Alanna and Demetrius shouted for joy. But Thibor had to have the last
"For a super-intelligent being of supreme
evil," he yelled, "you're awfully stupid." And then he fell to his knees and
hugged the lion.
Smiling, Demetrius helped Thibor to his
"I love that cat," said the cleric.
"Don't we all."