Thursday, January 25th, BC 736
Monastery of the Willing Sentinel, Lamordia
After a long trek up the snowy pass, the warm and isolated Monastery is a welcome respite for Leif, Ludovic, Kerri, Duffy, Suriana, and Gavin. Gavin in particular seems at home, as he changes into a gray robe identical to that of the monks soon after arriving. With Sister Eleyna's news that Vir stole the information about "The Souldrinker," the group is eager to find out what it is. They tell Eleyna and Dominic that Vir is a powerful man, and that they are in danger if he is coming here. Dominic tells them that the Souldrinker is one of the artifacts guarded at this monastery, but since it is late, and many of the monks are asleep, it would be best to discuss the matter in the morning. A meeting will be called after breakfast at dawn. Dominic instructs Val to see the boys to a guest room, while Eleyna offers to tend to the ladies. Val is startled by Dominic addressing him and nearly knocks over the candelabra he is lighting. He stutters out a response and shows them to a room upstairs.
While taking Kerri and Suriana to their room, Eleyna notices Kerri's whip, and chastises her, in a motherly tone, for not watering it. Perplexed, Kerri tells her that she inherited it from her father and had no idea that it should be watered. Eleyna explains that it is an Elvish Whipvine, the treasured weapon of the Darkonian elves. The leather of the whip is wrapped around a vine of ivy that only grows on the sacred tree of the Nevuchar shrine. The elves soak the whips in water once a week to keep the magic of the vine from going dormant. Some even soak it in a weak tea, broth or, even watered-down wine, to keep the spirits of the woods happy. Curious, that night, Kerri leaves the end of the whip in a bowl of water.
The boys ask Val for a tour of the monastery's defenses, to make sure that they are not attacked by Vir during the night. Val shows them to the front guard tower, which he opens with one of his many keys. Inside, they meet Brother Tomas, a middle aged monk who is on watch that night. From the tower, he has a clear view of the pass up to the front of the monastery. He carries a crossbow, but is otherwise unarmed, which does not inspire confidence in Ludovic, Duffy and Leif's minds. Ludovic checks the area for magic, hoping they have some hidden defenses, but all that shows up is Val's holy symbol, two circles within two squares. Interestingly, Tomas's symbol is that of Ezra, and Gavin's is that of the Morninglord, leading them to conclude that the Guardians accept holy men and women of various faiths. Tomas tells them that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, to approach the monastery from the rear, since this pass is the only safe way up to the mountain peak. There is another tower at the rear which guards that approach, as a precaution. After returning to their room, and bidding Val goodnight, the guys decide to explore the monastery a bit, hoping to find more defenses, or at least learn where the Souldrinker is kept. While the monks seem to mean well, they would be slaughtered if they got in Vir's way. Gavin follows wordlessly, expressing neither approval nor disapproval. Downstairs, they find a promising locked room, but upon opening it to reveal a large library, a loud bell clangs magically until some monks, including Dominic, arrive to silence it with a whispered password. Caught red-handed, the guys are ushered out of the library and scolded for worrying the monks. They claim to be looking for the privy, and are shown to it by the monks. With their only alibi used up, they decide not to risk searching any further tonight, and go to bed.
At the dark heart of the world, lies Falkovnia. At the heart of Falkovnia lies the capital, the walled city of Lekar. At the heart of Lekar, just north of the bridge of jangling chains, lies Castle Draccipetri. These names alone inspire fear across the lands of the mists. And at the heart of Castle Draccipetri lies the man who is the source of that fear. King Vlad Drakov, the Hawk. His rage is legendary, the power at his disposal is unrivalled, and at this moment, he is furious. At Kerri, Leif, Ludovic, Suriana, Gavin, and Duffy. Word has just reached the King of the battle of Refuge and he wants answers. The unfortunate man who must face Drakov’s wrath in their absence is Marcos Vedarrak, ambassador to Dementlieu. Years of loyal service are all that has spared Vedarrak from becoming a scapegoat for the disastrous setback.
"I don’t want assurances from the Lord-Governor, Vedarrak, I want to know what happened there! I want to know how a handful of crippled refugees defeated three platoons of my men!"
"Yes, my lord, we will negotiate the release of the captive Talon; we should be able to get some information from him. We are going through all the appropriate channels..."
"NO! NO MORE NEGOTIATIONS with those pathetic fops. We will not admit failure. You’re going to tell them that that Talon was a rebel agent, a liar, and a thief, who commandeered a small squad of soldiers on his own rogue mission. We did not attack Dementlieu. If we had, they would have been crushed by the might of the Falkovnian war machine. Let the guillotine be his reward for failure."
"Yes, sir. Your will is wise and righteous."
"You are in charge of this investigation, Vedarrak. Someone helped those refugees, and you will find out who. Or your reward will not be as pleasant as the Talon’s." Both men eyed the tall wooden stakes standing empty in the gallery below. One with fear... and one with blood-lust. "Guards, fetch me tonight’s entertainment! Something from the Central Prison, I think, I want one with some fight left in it. Vedarrak, won’t you stay for dinner?"
Friday, January 26th, BC 736
Monastery of the Willing Sentinel, Lamordia
Kerri awakes to see that the water in her bowl is gone, and tiny buds have sprouted from between the woven leather bands of her whip. She resolves to water the whip daily from now on, and considers experimenting with wine, holy water, or even an herbal infusion. After breakfast, everyone gathers in the large, octagonal meeting room, where the "Meeting of the Guardians" is called to order by Brother Juergen, an elderly but forceful monk, apparently the leader of this group. He introduces everyone in attendance to Brother Dominic from the Iron Sanctuary in Hazlan, Sister Eleyna of the Mordentshire Guardians, and Brother Gavin from Haven. He then asks the rest of the "travelers" to introduce themselves.
With the formalities out of the way, Eleyna tearfully recounts her story, starting with Leif, Ludovic, and Duffy recovering the Heart Chamber from Lumley manor. She continues through Vir's theft of the Chamber and killing of Griggory five years ago, and concludes with his return, when he stole the Mordentshire branch's notes on the Souldrinker and killed Eleyna's apprentice. Brother Tomas then takes the podium, and explains that this monastery was founded to protect the Souldrinker dagger, from those who would use it, until such time as it can be safely destroyed. While the history of the dagger is full of both fact and fiction, it is known that it was once a Ba’al Verzi dagger. One of that clan of assassins sought to leave the order and flung his dagger into the misty border. The mists twisted the dagger further, giving it the power to steal a man’s soul with a mere touch. When this order recovered the dagger, it was hidden in the Catacombs beneath their old monastery at the peak of the mountain. Years passed before it was noticed that the aura of evil surrounding the Souldrinker was sapping the life from the monastery. Crops died, then animals, then good monks. It was decided to retreat down the mountain and build a new monastery here outside of the dagger’s aura. The old monastery was warded with traps to deter thieves and has remained undisturbed for centuries. Juergen is adamant that the dagger still remains undisturbed, and he shows everyone a wicker hoop draped in what appears to be a spider's web. He explains that the web is spun of silk dipped in an infusion of Heartrose and attuned to a mystic shroud over the old monastery. If any living thing larger than a rat passes the threshold of the old monastery, this web unravels, as a warning.
When asked to explain the Ba'al Verzi, Tomas says that they are a clan of assassins for hire, centered in Barovia. Each carries a special dagger, with a hilt lacquered red, black, and gold. (Black for the shadows that hide them, red for the blood they spill, and gold for the wealth that guides their blades.) The sheath of the dagger is made from the skin of the assassin's first victim, usually a family member.
Kerri and Duffy(?) then get up to tell their part of story, including everything they know about Vir and who he claims to be. They describe his various feats of strength and endurance that they've witnessed, including taking a hoof to the back of the head without flinching. This culminates in the theory that Vir is no mortal man, but is in fact a machine, built by Gustav. Juergen finds this hypothesis laughable, saying that they have many texts in their library regarding golem construction, and that the process always results in mindless constructs, incapable of independent thought, much less passing as a human. Duffy says that he has seen many things in the world that are not supposed to be, and many creatures that are not supposed to exist, and that any number of them could bypass a warning spell that only detects "living" things. Juergen dismisses such talk as folktale and superstition. Kerri has had about enough of Juergen's skepticism and gives an impassioned speech, detailing some of the horrors that the group has faced, and the evidence that Vir is another such horror. If the monks cannot accept this, when their very existence is dedicated to protecting things that should not be, then they are cowards. (?That was the gist of the speech, but I think there was more to it?) This fiery pronouncement finally shuts Juergen up, and he sits down grumbling.
Brother Tomas, who seems more willing to believe them, says that there is a way to destroy the Souldrinker, through a complex ritual the monks recently crafted, but it requires the powers of the one called the True Innocent, a prophesied figure in Guardian lore, born completely free of sin, corruption and fear. The Guardians believe that Suriana could be this True Innocent. This is the first the others have heard of this (I think?) but it comes as no surprise to Gavin and Suriana. As the other Guardians protect dangerous relics, Gavin is charged with protecting Suriana, in the hopes that she will fulfill these prophecies. Duffy and Ludovic remember seeing the term T.I. in Suriana's journal, but didn't know what it meant at the time. Juergen is against the idea, because if the ritual were to fail, it could strengthen the artifact, or worse. And first, someone would have to brave the old monastery and retrieve the dagger, an undertaking fraught with its own dangers. Tomas believe that Suriana's arrival is a sign that the time is right to try the ritual. But the final decision rests with Suriana. She consults with her new friends briefly, and decides to try. Kerri, Ludovic, Leif and Duffy agree to retrieve the dagger while she prepares for the ritual with the monks.
With the decision made, the group asks what the monks know about the old monastery. It lies two days hard travel up the mountain, but they know very little of what lies inside. It has been decades since anyone needed to enter, and the documents detailing the traps were lost in a fire in their library. They do know that there are poisons, spells, sturdy locks and mechanical traps, all designed to detain intruders until the monks can arrive. Knowing that few of those measures would stop Vir, especially if he is indeed a clockwork man, they plan to leave as soon as possible. Juergen insists that one of their number accompany the group. Duffy(?) replies, "Only one? We were hoping for more." But they need as many monks as possible to prepare for the ritual. Val volunteers to go, and Juergen agrees, saying that it is "appropriate."
The meeting ends and the group makes their preparations to leave, consulting with the monks for as much information as they can remember about the old monastery. They find out that Brother Lockley was the first to die from the Souldrinker's aura, and he is rumored to haunt the place. Leif finds a very old monk who once went inside the monastery in his youth. He finds a set of keys to open some of the monastery's locks and gives them to Leif, along with a few vials of antitoxin in case of exposure to the poisons. He tells Leif to "beware the stairs," but he can't remember why. They also find out that the original monks created a golem of rock to protect the dagger. The maps of the monastery all burned in the fire, but the dagger lies in the catacombs under the monastery, and a small underground stream passes through the chamber where the dagger is kept.
Tomas takes Ludovic aside and asks him if he is an orphan, and if is "of the people." Ludovic is unfazed by the personal questions and says that yes, he is half-vistani, and he is an orphan. Tomas explains that some legends link the Souldrinker dagger to the Bloodknife, a vistani relic. There is a passage saying, "The one who was orphaned shall return during the night of greatest darkness with the bane of the evil one. With the wolf spirit, the one shall claim the birthright of the sun, and the evil one’s shadow will be cleansed from the land. Blood shall turn to water, and shadow turn to light; all will be restored, and day will burn the night." Seeing Ludovic, a half-vistani, traveling with Leif, who has a clear kinship with a wolf, Tomas was reminded of that passage, and wonders if they could possibly be the "one who was orphaned," and "the wolf spirit." He tells them to keep watchful for a knife carved from single giant ruby with two cameos set in it: one of a wolf, and one of a fanged human face. Ludovic also speaks with the resident expert in magic, who sadly knows only a few rudimentary spells. Ludovic wows him with some fancier tricks, and promises to teach him later.
Suriana wishes the others good luck, and hands four potions to Kerri, hoping they will be useful. (One neutralize poison, Two cure light wounds, One cure serious wounds) She also gives them three scrolls. (Two cure light wounds, and a cure moderate wounds.) Leif takes one of them just in case Kerri is incapacitated. Once Suriana is out of earshot, Gavin takes Ludovic aside and speaks in hushed tones. He wishes them luck and lends him his magic boots, two flasks of holy water, and his magical everburning torch. Ludovic asks him why he is suddenly permitted to speak, and Gavin replies that it is complicated, but he may speak to anyone except Suriana herself, because she must find her own path without his influence. Ludovic gives the boots to Leif, thinking he will have more use for them. Val arrives, bundled up from head to toe in heavy winter gear. Muffled by his scarves he tells Juergen he won't fail again. When asked what he meant by that, he sheepishly admits that the fire in library was his fault. His robe's sleeve caught on a candlestick, and before he knew it, the room was ablaze.
By early afternoon, the preparations are done, and they take off on the trail toward the old monastery. The horses slog through the snow, as Kukri trots behind in their wake. The air is bitter cold, shielded as they are by the shadow of the mountain. Along the way, they get to know Val a bit better. He shades his eyes from the daylight, saying he hasn't seen the sun in a long time. He's spent too much time in darkened libraries squinting at old tomes. He studies the creation and lore of magical artifacts at the monastery. He's been there for about five years. Val seems to take an interest in Kerri, asking her about her past, and about her whip.
Towards evening, after passing a switchback and coming around the east side of the mountain, the ascent takes on a new urgency, as they see clear, deep footprints in the snow that Leif recognizes as Vir's boots. The footprints lead from a cliff-face on the side of the trail, up the path towards the old monastery. The snow shows signs that he climbed up from the cliff side, though the drop is steep and high. Leif estimates from the drifts that the tracks are between one and four days old. He has surely reached the monastery by now, but there are no tracks back down, so perhaps there is still time. When it gets too dark to safely climb further, they set up camp in an alcove protected from the wind. Duffy and Ludovic take the first watch, and Val and Kerri take the second, both of which pass uneventfully. During Leif and Kukri's watch, Leif sees something rustling near Ludovic's pack. He cautiously approaches and is surprised to see a hedgehog rooting through the snow. At his approach, the hedgehog rears up, hissing at him, and then runs away. Leif runs after it, pinning it to the ground with the end of his staff, but when he lifts his staff, the little rodent is gone. Leif sees no sign of burrowing in the snow, and poking around reveals only solid ground beneath the snow cover. Extremely perplexed, he tells everyone what happened in the morning, but no one has a definitive explanation for the strange occurrence. Ludovic suspects a spellcaster's familiar, but can't explain how it disappeared.
Saturday, January 27th, BC 736
Mt. Steimschloss, Lamordia
The group finally reaches the old monastery, a crumbling stone building covered in gothic archways and sculptures, built in a crevasse near the mountain's peak. They briefly examine the two stone gargoyles that flank the entrance to make sure they aren't more than statues, and then enter the gatehouse, where Vir's tracks clearly lead. Leif estimates that the footprints are one to two days old. Inside, they can see that the archway leading into the courtyard is covered in a thick webbing, but nevertheless, deep footprints continue in the snow beyond the web. A brass plaque is mounted on the inside:
They decide not to trigger the web, lest it betray their presence to Vir. Instead they climb over the front wall and into the courtyard. Leif instructs Kukri to stay behind and guard the horses. Approaching the front door, they are surprised as several huge tentacles spring out from the frozen surface of the courtyard fountain and attack. During the ensuing battle, Kerri sees the buds on her whip extend into tiny grasping roots that tear at the tentacles, inflicting more damage than usual. After they dispatch the tentacles, Duffy examines the trap and finds a rune inscribed on the bottom of the fountain, which he scratches out. Duffy checks the front door for traps, and sees a fine white residue. He carefully opens the door, disabling the trap, which consisted of a large leather bag full of the white powder that would be squeezed when the door opened. Kerri identifies the powder as Borcan Coma Spores; they can cause anyone who inhales them to fall into deep coma. Kerri saves the bag of spores for future study. Inside the main hall, they see signs of a recent struggle. Benches are smashed, and broken bones lie scattered everywhere.
Soon after sundown, they move into what was once the cloister of the monastery, where they find a doorway that's been completely bricked over. The other three doors are still intact. While the group examines the bricks, looking for a secret door, they hear an ominous scraping from above. Kerri and Val look for another way out while Duffy (?) continues to examine the bricks. Suddenly one of the stone gargoyles from the roof springs down and attacks. Leif and Ludovic cover the retreat as the others file through the far door. When the gargoyle's fists strike Leif, he has the very unsettling experience of watching tendrils of stone extend from the point of impact through his flesh. But before the transformation can extend beyond his chest, his body fights it off, and the hard, gray stone dissolves back into flesh. Leif rushes through the door and they slam it behind him. The unnatural creature pounds on the door, heavily damaged from Leif and Val's blows. Duffy takes aim at the door, and they fling it open, bracing themselves for attack, but hoping the gargoyle is magically bound to guard the cloister, or too large for the door. One pistol bullet puts that question to rest unanswered as the animated sculpture shatters and falls to the ground.
The room they find themselves in appears to once have been a dormitory, with several disused beds. A door leads outside to a snow-covered garden, where several flowerboxes full of dirt hold shriveled and dead plants. While the others look around the garden, Leif searches under the beds, where he finds two ornately crafted jewelry pieces in the shape of small golden beetles. He picks them up to examine them, and they come to life, burrowing into his skin! He runs outside for help, as the beetles visibly claw their way under the skin of his arm. Kerri tries some emergency treatment, but when her healing skills fail to stop the beetles' progress, the others resort to more drastic measures, stabbing, clubbing and smashing at the creatures, wounding Leif in the process. One of them is crushed at the shoulder, but the other continues down toward the heart. Franticly, Ludovic blasts it with a burst of magic energy, destroying the creature and saving Leif's life.
After a brief respite, they continue down the side of the monastery, following a path between the wall and the mountainside. The path leads to a door, near a small culvert that allows a trickling stream of water from under the mountain to pass inside. Nearby is a tower, clearly in the area of the building behind the bricked-over door. Leif searches for any secret way in, but finds something much more disturbing: a single footprint in the snow, exactly the size and shape of a human infant's foot. Ludovic uses his amulet to peer behind the wall, and comes face to virtual face with a dead body. In the darkness, it's hard to make much more out, but he can see several torn up corpses in the room. With no other clues to this puzzle, they move on, uneasy and confused. Behind the door, they find what appears to be a privy. The stream serves as a supply of running water, and an elaborate system of ropes and bells allow signaling for privacy from any of the three doors or from within the stalls. The group goes through one of the other doors, passing through a small bedroom and office before returning to the front courtyard through a door with the same coma spore trap as the front door.
From the outer contours of the building, they determine they will have to go upstairs to get to the walled-off section, so they take the stairs in the foyer. Upstairs is an abandoned library; the shelves lining the wall are all emptied, save for one book chained to a desk and lying open. Kerri detects that the book is magical, so they avoid looking at it, in case it is trapped, and hide behind an overturned desk while Ludovic reads the book remotely with his magic. (?I forget exactly how?) The book appears to be an incomplete record of the artifacts under the Guardians' care. After reading the first page, however, the book explodes in a fiery blast, but behind the desk across the room, the group is uninjured. The trap sprung, Ludovic salvages only the table of contents from the ruined book.
The library appears to be a dead-end, but they search the shelf nearest to the tower they saw outside and find a mechanical secret door, which Duffy manages to open. The bookshelf swings open and reveals a spiral staircase going downward. Duffy goes down first, and triggers some sort of trap. Kerri sees magical runes activate on the walls, and Duffy feels slightly ill. He hurries back up, but oddly, reaches the top one half turn before he expected to. The trap appears to change the length of the stairs when triggered. After some time, the glow fades, and Leif goes down with Duffy to carefully find the exact step that causes the glow and nausea. Once found, they mark it with some scratches and help everyone else jump over it, which allows them to reach the end of the stairs. Everyone makes the jump except Leif(?) who trips, tumbles out the bottom of the stairs onto a corpse, and jumps up to his feet, startled. They find themselves in the room Ludovic saw with his amulet, apparently once a dining room. There are several tables and benches, but they are currently strewn with shattered bodies. The bricked over door from the cloister definitely once led here. The only other exit leads through the attached kitchen and downstairs.
Downstairs is only a cellar, not the catacombs they were hoping for. But one of the remaining wine bottles on the rack is a trigger for a secret door, and when Duffy pulls it, one of the barrels in the room swings aside to reveal an entrance to the underground complex. The first room they see holds several empty weapons racks and two suspicious suits of plate armor flanking the exit to a stairway leading down. When they try to proceed, the armor displays spring to life and attack. (?Did someone try to smash them first, I forget?). The party makes quick work of the eerie automatons, and heads down the stairs, but the first one on the stairs, Duffy, is suddenly paralyzed, locked frozen in mid step, and his momentum pulls him tumbling down to the bottom. With the trap sprung, Leif carefully and slowly walks down to help him, but suffers the same effect on the step after Duffy did. Ludovic (?) has some knowledge of the magic in the traps and expects it won't last more than a few minutes. It seems that each step is discharged separately, so he suggests they clear a path on alternating steps. Kerri jumps to two steps beyond Leif, and freezes in place. Ludovic becomes a bird and flies two steps beyond her, where he lands and freezes in place. Several tense minutes pass, while everyone but Val is helpless. On the floor below, Duffy hears a scraping noise getting closer and closer... unable to move, or even scream, he sees the empty sockets of a skeleton looming over and staring at him. The unblinking stare scans the area, taking in the frozen group, but the skeleton just walks away, dragging a huge scythe behind it along the stone floor.
When the paralysis fades, the group gathers at the bottom of the stairs. They are all concerned that the skeleton didn't do anything to Duffy, and worry that it may be going for help. They follow down the corridor where it went, and find a room full of sarcophagi. Suspecting vampires, they ready stakes and lift one stone lid. A rotting zombie springs out and attacks the group as the other two sarcophagi open from the inside. The three zombies seem weak, but one belches out a stream of flying, biting beetles, and the others explode into similar clouds of vermin when destroyed. Leif slams one sarcophagus shut with the beetles trapped inside, and Ludovic blasts the others with a burst of ice. The hour is getting late, but they decide to press onward a bit more to find the skeleton. In the corridor beyond the sarcophagus room, Duffy plunges into a water-filled pit, and a stone slab begins to rotate shut over the dark shaft. Leif springs forward, jamming his staff into the gap, which stops the slab from locking into place. Down below, Duffy shivers neck-deep in icy water as something slithers past his leg. Val, Kerri, Ludovic, and Leif manage to pry the slab open and lower him a rope. His nearly frozen fingers have trouble gripping the rope, but they manage to haul him to safety. With this close call, they decide it best to rest for the night, and retreat to the dining room above. They clear away the bodies, laying them in a corner respectfully, and rest under the table, cautiously keeping watch through the night.
Sunday, January 28th, BC 736
The Old Monastery, Lamordia
In the morning, they head back downstairs, carefully sidestepping the known traps, hoping that they are not too late to stop Vir. Heading toward the sound of rushing water, they enter a vast room with two crisscrossing stone bridges over a deep shaft. A waterfall pours from a grating on the wall into the shaft below. Duffy ties a rope from a stone statue by the entrance around his waist and carefully walks out on the lower bridge alone. Thirty feet above, Vir emerges on the upper bridge, and says, "I knew you were coming. I felt your approach. It's strange, Merdavoni, do I tingle in your head as you do in mine?" When Duffy answers "no," he continues, "I thought that I was free of that nagging feeling when father was killed. But slowly it crept back. You truly were like a son to him and now I am your inheritance." Duffy tries to negotiate, telling Vir that the Souldrinker won't give him what he wants. But Vir is as stubborn as usual, saying it is not a matter of want, but what he needs and deserves, and cursing his father for not giving him what he needs. Leif deduces privately that it is a soul of his own that he wants. Despite Kerri and Leif trying to restrain him, Val strides defiantly onto the bridge and accuses Vir of stealing the other artifacts housed here, but Vir says he has found nothing so far in this maze. (?I think Leif stayed hidden throughout this, but Ludovic and Kerri may have traded some barbs with Vir as well?). When his limited patience is exhausted, Vir tears one of the stone statues from its perch and flings it directly at the bridge below, smashing a gap in the stone arch, and sending Val plummeting into the chasm below. Undaunted, Duffy leaps after him, swinging on the rope and catching Val in midair. Ludovic takes eagle form and drops down to pull the rope so they don't smash into the wall. Through heroic efforts, they manage to pull everyone back to safety on the shattered bridge. In the commotion, Vir has left.
They hurry across the bridge, up some stairs and in the direction where Vir was seen. The corridor opens into a large, frost-covered cave, mostly flooded by a large pool of water. Duffy slogs through the water while the others wait behind it, but Val rushes ahead into the water, tripping headfirst into the shallow pool, just as Duffy triggers some sort of magical trap that instantly freezes the top six inches of the water, with Duffy's legs and most of Val stuck beneath it! The others smash the ice frantically, while Duffy feels something beneath the ice nibbling his leg. They manage to haul Val out onto the cave floor, but he isn't breathing and has no pulse. Duffy manages to free himself, finding several piranhas attached to his leg. In a desperate attempt to save Val, Kerri pours one of Suriana's healing potions down his throat, but it is too late. He is dead. Ludovic searches his body for anything that might help them complete their quest, and is very surprised to find six arcane scrolls, with three stone to flesh and three dispel magic spells scribed upon them. Puzzled as to why a cleric would have arcane scrolls, and why Val wouldn't have shared this information, he searches further and finds a note that makes his motives horrifyingly clear:
As Ludovic starts to read this dire news, Val's body dissolves into a thick mist, and the mist wafts out of the cave, further into the catacombs. Kerri remembers that Valric was the name of the representative of "The Immortals" who met with Andres Duvall in Skald, nearly thirty years ago. And as Harkon Lukas, or at least Juste as Lukas, had told them, The Immortals were actually The Kargatane, a secretive group loyal to Azalin Rex of Darkon, whose involvement this note confirmed. Could it be the same man? Or considering the evidence, the same vampire?
They head after the mist and enter a room full of ice-covered pillars. There is no sign of Valric, but deeper in the room, they see Vir! An argument ensues, and when Duffy demands that Vir return Gustav's journal, he complies in a spiteful huff, saying that there nothing left of use in it anyway. He throws the book down and disappears behind a pillar. Duffy runs to grab the book, but smashes headlong through a mirror stretched between the pillars, which shatters. It becomes evident that the pillars form a maze of mirrors, and they have no idea exactly where Vir threw the book or where he went. Kerri tells the others to hold their ears, and steps up, unleashing a powerful scream that shatters a group of the mirrors. Within the shards of broken mirror, lies the book, which Duffy scoops up. Some of the pages seem to be missing, but it is mostly intact. The mirror-free region of the maze also contains an exit that seems to be where Vir went. Ludovic shifts to bear form in case of a battle and they charge off down the corridor. As the corridor slopes downwards, Ludovic suddenly feels very lethargic, and then exhausted. They retreat up the corridor and let him rest. They surmise that the air is probably bad down there in some way, but they are unwilling to let Vir escape. So Duffy and Leif decide to hold their breath and take a quick look around the corner. They walk briskly down the snaking passage and come upon a door. Beyond the door, a group of zombies shambles toward them. Appropriately wary of engaging in a fight while holding their breath, they retreat back to Kerri and Ludovic.
They decide to look for another exit to the mirror maze. Leif elects to stay in the flooded cave, watching over Ludovic, who is still recovering from the bad air. Kerri and Duffy leave a rope trail behind them and feel their way carefully through the maze, finding another exit leading into a trapped corridor. Duffy quickly notices the cracks in the floor and, with a bit of experimentation, finds that the entire floor of the hallway is a giant lever. Standing on one end causes the other end to swing up and block the corridor. While Duffy and Kerri work out a way past the device, a hideous undead creature, with huge threads stitching its mouth and eyes shut, shuffles into the cave and attacks Leif. He makes quick work of the creature, protecting Ludovic from its fearsome claws. When Ludovic can walk easily again, they gather at the trap, and have Leif leap to the fulcrum of the lever, using Gavin's boots, and then to the other side of the hall, where he can hold the lever in place as the others cross.
Beyond the lever hall is a vast chamber, with an altar at one end. The altar is behind a flowing stream, with two bridges built over the stream. At the altar, kneels a skeletal figure dressed in rags and covered in cobwebs. It seems to be grasping a dagger that matches the description of the Souldrinker. The whole room is basked in a cold, dark aura that seems to emanate from the dagger. In an alcove, they see many books on a shelf; several of them are magical. Ludovic cautiously lifts one of the non-magical books off of the shelf with his magic, but it triggers some sort of trap and the front of the shelf bursts into flames. Leif pulls the whole shelf forward onto the ground to smother the flames, but then an explosion sounds from inside, throwing scraps of woods out of the back of the shelf. Everyone backs quickly out of the alcove, and turns their attention to the object of their quest.
Cautiously, they approach the altar, weapons trained on the skeleton. They plan to smash it and then take the dagger. Duffy and Kerri stand poised to whip and shoot the skeleton if it moves, and Leif and Ludovic in bear form raise their staff and claws, respectively, ready to smash it on the count of three. As they get into position, the thing comes to life, tearing the cobwebs settled on it, pinpoints of red light flaring in its empty eye sockets. It shouts, “You have no idea what you have just done. Your mortal greed has interrupted a ritual of decades! You fools have inconvenienced me in ways your petty minds cannot possibly comprehend!! Now you will die.” Everyone attacks, as the creature lifts off the ground, crackling with magical energy. During the battle, the impossibly old corpse casts several magic spells, and calls out, "Midnight, come!" In response, a huge withered cat springs out of another alcove, moving faster than its decaying muscles should be able to propel it and savagely mauls Duffy from behind, raking him with all four claws. Duffy falls to the ground, apparently dead.
The others switch their focus to the cat creature, lashing out in anguish, as their friend lays mangled on the floor. Leif's staff smashes the cat, and it collapses. At the same moment, the flying wizard corpse lets out a scream of pain and drops to the ground, shattering into many pieces. Kerri and Leif try to bring Duffy back by whatever means they have. Kerri tries to close his gaping wounds, and they pour water from the Chalice into his mouth, but he remains still. He is dead. As the despair sets in, Ludovic shouts when he sees another skeletal creature enter the room. This one is carrying a huge scythe, and floating across the room, with an eerie glow. (It is not the skeleton they saw while frozen at the stairs. This one is wearing a hooded cloak and drifting ethereally.) Leif and Kerri turn to face this new menace but they see nothing at all. The creature strides toward Duffy, raising its hand, and Ludovic sees a puff of white soul streaming out of Duffy's mouth. Desperately, he blasts the creature with magic. Leif and Kerri see where the magic struck, and stand shoulder to shoulder to block the thing from taking Duffy. They swing at the creature, but fail to connect with its ghostly form. Ludovic lets out another barrage of arcane force and cheers as the thing dissapates. The tendril of Duffy's soul snaps back into his body and he sits up, taking a deep breath! He is still in bad shape, but thankfully, alive.
Searching the pockets of the undead wizard creature, Ludovic finds two scrolls containing spells of see invisibility, magic weapon, and two copies of polymorph any object. On a table strewn with foul and evil looking experiments, he finds a potion labeled "intellect" in Draconic, and a magical three wicked candle, which seems to have been made from a human hand a with two of the fingers bound to the palm. Meanwhile, Duffy is skeptical when the others tell him that he was dead a few minutes ago, but grateful that they saved him. While he was "gone," he saw Gustav, in a room full of ticking clocks, who told him it was not yet his time and that Duffy must go on to stop Talos from getting what he wants, before anyone else gets hurt. Duffy asked him if Talos went by another name, and Gustav confirmed that he named him Talos, "but Talos took the name Vi--" and with that Duffy felt himself pulled back into his body.
Ludovic, being the most knowledgeable in magic, and the most inured to contact with dark forces, volunteers to take the Souldrinker from its stand. With the others ready to disarm him if it somehow controls him, he braces himself and lifts it by the handle. For a moment he wavers, as Taige struggles with him in the moment of distraction, attempting to take control of their shared body and wield the relic himself. But Ludovic's willpower fights off the crazed spirit and he stows the dagger, wrapping it in a thick cloth and putting it in his pack, lest anyone touch the blade by accident. The others are cautious, unable to tell if the moment of wavering was the result of anything sinister. But Ludovic assures them that he is still Ludovic, and still sane, and they trust him warily. With the dagger acquired, the problem now becomes getting safely out of the complex, while wounded, with depleted spells, and with a vampire and Vir looking for the dagger as well. They must rest, but need to find a safe place to do so. After a bit of deliberation, they decide that the safest place is ironically by the evil, defiled altar. Valric needed their help to get the dagger because it was behind running water, which vampires cannot cross, as stated in the note, and confirmed by Van Richten's book. Crossing the lever trap required at least two people, of relatively equal weight. A man of Vir's size would only slam the lever into the ceiling when he stepped on it. He is strong, but heavy, and they are pretty sure he couldn't jump as far as the fulcrum, and there isn't any other visible way into this room.
It isn't perfect, but they should be safe from the vampire, and can at least hear Vir coming if he makes it past the trap. So, keeping careful watch, they try to get some uneasy sleep in the cold, dark cave...