Tankards and Tempers
Chapter 18: Dark Reunion
"Dammit," Laska muttered as she and her friends made a narrow escape from the celebrations at the Order Guildhouse. "They call that a party? Where's the bloody booze?"
"I be tellin' ye," Korgan snarled. "I 'ave never seen a more borin' fest than that miserable specimen."
"Well," Keldorn said apologetically. "For the Order, that was a bit boisterous. A quiet meet-and-greet and a dignified dinner followed by a..."
"Boisterous?" Jan smiled. "I've seen more boisterous parties at family funerals! Although things tend to get rowdy when the turnip wine starts flowing. I tell you, at my great-grandfather's funeral we all had a ball. Quite literally, really. First of all, we were happy the griffin had left us some remains to bury in the first place. He spit out my great-granddad's glasses after his meal, you see. And we never liked the guy anyway, so there... But then, after formal dinner laced with turnip beer, my cousin Hilda, who was a powerful necromancer by the way, decided the place was really dead and did something about it. With a wave of her arms, all the skeletons rose from their graves! And so it happens, a whole band of bards was buried there after they decided to play ding-dong-ditch on a blue dragon, so they started to play music and before too long all the skeletons were dancing the hokey-pokey with us Jansens through the night. But then, the time to say goodbye came, and all the dead returned to their graves, except for the band I think. They now play at weddings and funerals. Just go to Riatavin and ask for 'Skull-and-Crossed-bones'."
"Yes, well," Keldorn shook his head, ignoring the chatty gnome, "the dinner would have been far more dignified if Laska didn't get the brainy idea of starting a foodfight."
"Did you see Lady Skye throw that pie in Prelate Wessalen's face?" Laska raved. "Minsc, you throw a mean roast chicken too!"
"Minsc never retreats from any fight!" Minsc announced. "Though the weapons in this fight were very strange, though. But tasty, right Boo?"
"I also liked it when you showed that roast chicken over Ryan Trawl's head," said Laska.
"Argh," Keldorn sighed. "I won't hear the end of it for years to come."
"Say," Laska turned to Viconia. "The guest for honor was a bit quiet through the dinner, though. Weren't you hungry? It was your party."
"I was too busy dodging pies and gravy," Viconia grinned. "Besides, I feel like I've still got half a turkey lodged in my hair."
"Can't I take you lot anywhere?" Keldorn sighed. "Does every dinner have to turn into a farce when you are around?"
"Most of the time... yeah," Laska grinned.
"I nay be usin' yer longlimb 'tablemanners'," Korgan mocked. "Just be shovelin' it in yer gob and hope ye won't choke. Works fer me!"
"I do not know about you," Viconia added. "But for some reason, seeing all those knights in those full plate gave me the incredible urge to repeat the word 'Ni' over and over again."
"What is this 'Ni'?" Keldorn asked.
"I think it's some kind of trainable attack-turnip! My uncle had one. Very vicious! Could tear up a carrot in less than a second. Great for dealing with competition on the veggie-markets," Jan said. "Teeth this size!" Jan added and held his hands as far apart as he could muster.
"Well, no matter," Keldorn muttered. "Everything worked out for the best. Anarg lies dead, the surviving fallen paladins will be sent on a pilgrimage to prove their worth once more and Viconia is no longer considered a threat to the Order, despite being a Sharran and a drow. All-in-all, it was a good day."
"I agree," Viconia snarled. "No more 'tests' for this despicable drow, then?"
"It wasn't like that," Keldorn tried.
Viconia snorted in response. "Each nonsense," she said. "I expect no more trouble out of them."
"Hey, guys," Laska suggested. "How about a real celebration? We go to a nice tavern, drink ourselves into a stupid and smash up the furniture before we leave! How's that for a slice of fried gold?"
"It's a cracker!" Korgan said while hugging his axe, "I be on!"
Keldorn sighed, while the rest of his friends seemed to agree with Laska's suggestion. "Shouldn't you go home and rest?" he tried.
The tattooed elf glanced over at her beautiful home next to the Guildhouse. "Not, we can always go home after some drinkies!"
"Please get out," the owner of the Mithrest Inn at Waukeen's Promenade pleaded to the last six customers in the place. "Please? I'll give you money?"
It was long past midnight and the boisterous party was well stuffed with proper food and even more proper drinks. They were the last ones in the tavern still up and showed no signs of wanting to leave.
"More drinks!" Laska shouted.
"It is time to go," Keldorn said. "Leave the poor man alone. It's the middle of the night!"
With a sigh, Laska paid her tab and motioned her friends to step outside after a long, but fun-filled evening. After plenty of fun pestering the nobles and faux-nobles frequenting the Mithrest by talking loudly and generally making fun of them behind their backs (and quite often not so behind their backs), drink after drink after drink was being brought to the table, while the friends chatted and dined and generally enjoyed each other's company.
Laska was the first to step outside the door, having some temporary problems remaining upright, but after steadying herself against the doorpost, all went fine. She mused she had downed plenty of tankards, but just not enough to lose all control over her faculties. Her other friends were rather tipsy as well, often with funny and unusual results.
"I tell you, Laska," a tipsy Viconia, who was the second to step out of the inn, said. She stared a little in the distance as she spoke, and she was definitely in a better mood than usual. "If we ever travel to the Underdark, I'll have to take you to Rilauven sometimes. I know a place where the males are so... cooperative and well-trained... And with the right application of certain magics, can grow the size of a..."
"Hmmm," Korgan said, who always waxed philosophical when he was approaching drunkenness. "What if we dwarves never be 'avin' beards? Would we be gnomes?"
Jan came out fourth, and had a tendency to talk even faster than he normally did. "Say, Laska? Ilovedthewayyouhandledthatob senquinouswaiteraskingyoutok eepdownthenoisefortheothergu ests. Remindsmeofastoryaboutmyanti eGladyswhoranasmithyindwarve nlands..."
Oh, yeah, Laska mused, recalling the incident. After a more boisterous fit of laughter, a waiter had stopped by to ask them to show some consideration for the other guests. During this talk, he had placed his hand on Laska's shoulder. After giving him the darkest look she could muster, she had simply told him: 'Touch me and I will kill you.' while taking out one of her throwing daggers and pressing it against his chest.
"Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear," Minsc wailed terrible out of key. "And he shoooowwwwwwsssss them, pearly white!" Laska could swear Boo was humming along.
"Hey, no fair!" Laska said when Keldorn exited last and managed to apologize to the owner of the Mithrest before the door slammed shut behind them. "You counted your cups!"
"Someone has to be in control of their faculties, or we might end up sleeping under a bridge this night." Keldorn grimaced. "But despite my efforts we are now all banned from the Mithrest for life!"
"Let them try and keep me away from their booze!" Laska challenged.
"I be thinkin'," Korgan mused, "therefore I be being!"
"Decent people are all asleep at this hour!" Keldorn added.
"Oh?" Jan asked. "What about those people there? They seem to be up and about just fine."
Keldorn stared over at the spot were six figures were facing each other off in the eerie magical street-light. The three on the left were all wearing leather, and the group consisted of a half-elven girl, a burly dwarf and a tall human man. Facing them were two scantily clad pale figures, which flanked a purple-robed figure who seemed to be threatening the other group of leather-clad people.
"Shadow Thieves," Keldorn said.
"Undead," Laska said as she felt the familiar uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Vampires!" Minsc snarled.
"Let's go!" Laska said while drawing her swords.
Just as Laska and her friends were running up to the group of people, all hell broke loose. The two pale-skinned figures standing next to the purple-robed figure shot forward and attacked the hapless thieves. From the look of it, the thieves were ready to fight bravely, but stood no chance at all. One of the pale-skinned females grabbed the burly dwarf and literally began to tear him apart with her claws. The other two, demoralized by the screams of their companion, tried to engage the other vampire, but without result. Suddenly, the vampire touched the hapless half-elf briefly and immediately afterward, the girl was visibly weakened severely and fell to her knees.
The girl looked death in the face with sheer determination as she looked up to the vampire and saw him getting ready to strike with his claw. Just before she closed her eyes, she saw a flash of a blue blade and heard the agonized scream of the vampire. After forcing herself to open her eyes again, he saw the vampire cradling his elbow, while his arm lay twitching on the floor. Immediately, an elven female treated the vampire to a savage kick.
"Don't let them touch you!" Laska shouted, while Jan took aim from a distance. "Oh, gods, my stomach... I'm going to be sick..."
"Fall back and let us handle it," Viconia said as she stepped in front of Laska.
Viconia, being amazingly agile for someone in a tipsy state, stepped out of reach of the other female vampire and connected her flail to the creature's head, while Korgan slashed the vampire's leg with his beloved axe.
Minsc and Keldorn weren't standing still either. While Keldorn kept the creature separate from the other two with swings from the Hallowed Redeemer, Minsc pummeled the 'poor' creature with twin maces he had taken out for the occasion. Soon, the male vampire yielded to the assault and exploded in a could of dust.
Meanwhile, the purple-robed figure stepped forward and clasped her hands around the head of the male thief. He screamed as the sickening sound of teeth puncturing his neck sounded. His blood spurted from the wound as the vampire drank hungrily. The vampire held the body of the thief with a single hand and threw it almost a fifty yards away, where it landed with a thud. The animals of the circus stirred out of their sleep during the fight and their wails and growls resounded through the entire promenade.
Then, the purple-robed vampire turned around.
And all time stopped.
Viconia's flail dropped from her hand as she stood there with open mouth.
Laska was unable to speak. She did not even notice that the nausea, which had been plaguing her ever since the beginning of this battle, had reached a peak-height. She didn't even care.
Over the sounds of battle, Minsc's wail of denial shook the earth.
The vampire standing in front of them was none other than their missing companion Dynaheir. She looked as if she had in life, completely the same, but her face showed no emotion. That was no sign that she even recognized them. Blood ran from the left side of her mouth, and, in an agonizing spectacle, licked it off her dark skin with the tip of tongue. For the first time, Laska noticed the tattered purple robe was the same one she had worn during their adventures together.
Suddenly, her expression changed. Her eyes were glowing a deep red as she stooped forward in a threatening posture. Her mouth opened, and it seemed to be opened further than was humanly possible. Definitively out of place were the two inch-long fangs still dripping with blood. From her mouth escaped a sound which seemed like a mix of a snarl and a scream that would wake the very dead. Dynaheir only seemed to be a charicature of her former self. But no one was laughing.
"One vampire-filet, comin' right up!" Korgan chuckled, breaking the silence. He snarled a battlecry as he held his axe high above his head. Dynaheir looked on with amusement as a bolt of lightning shot from her fingers and knocked the enraged dwarf backwards against the wall of the Promenade. A part of the bolt, in turn, shot from the dwarf towards Keldorn, knocking him of his feet as well.
"You been practicing, Dyna," Laska muttered in sadness. "Last time we spoke you didn't know that spell..."
"OY!" Korgan shouted enraged. "This dwarf shall not be thrown!"
"This day will be your end, vile fiend!" Keldorn snarled.
"I'll split ye in two!" Korgan added.
"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" Minsc suddenly wailed in anger. "I MUST PROTECT MY WITCH!"
Dynaheir smiled briefly when she noticed the dissent in the ranks of her enemies. Her former protector shot forward and grabbed Korgan before the dwarf could reach her.
"OY!" Korgan shouted. "NOT THE BEARD!" Immediately, the dwarf was thrown against the wall for the second time. "What did I be sayin' about dwarf-tossin' just a moment ago?!" Korgan snarled.
In the meantime Keldorn had nearly reached Dynaheir, but suddenly, a bolt of lighting shot from the air and slammed just before Keldorn's feet.
"Let her be!" Viconia shot to the surprised Inquisitor, while the vampire Dynaheir moved away from Keldorn."We have a bigger problem!"
"Minsc is going berserk!" Jan shouted and avoided the Ranger's weapons flying over his head. Minsc seemed to be venting his anger on anything near him: Companions, enemies, platforms, poles, cages containing the animals. The twin maces he was holding found target everywhere.
Laska tried to subdue the large ranger, while Keldorn clamped his arms around Minsc's huge upper body. To no avail, the ranger was in no way subdued, only slowed down a little. He tossed both the strong elf and heavily armored paladin around as if he was a rabid bull bucking and kicking at a Sembian rodeo.
In the meantime, Dynaheir motioned to her vampire companions that is was time to leave. Together, they shapeshifted into two demonic bats and escaped the scene after swooping over the party one more time.
"Minsc!" Keldorn shouted, while Minsc was dragging him and Laska with him. "MINSC! Stand down and calm yourself!"
Minsc grabbed Laska around the neck with one fist, rolled her over his shoulder and rammed her down into the ground.
"I will fight for fair Dynaheir!" Minsc shouted. "Minsc fights and evil falls! I will... I... Keldorn?"
"Yes, Minsc," Keldorn sighed in relief. "It is us, your friends. She is gone, my friend... She is gone..."
"It's me, Laska!" the elf wheezed. "Let go!"
Minsc do so, and as such, confusion took hold of the gentle giant. All his focus suddenly went to Boo as he held out the small hamster and started petting it.
"Man, what a day..." Laska muttered.
The surviving half-elven girl limped towards the party with a grateful smile on her face. "Thank you for saving my life," the girl smiled. "You know, the Shadow Thieves always reward those who help them, and punish their enemies with..."
A fist to the jaw silenced the girl and she fell unconscious to the floor.
"Sorry," Laska said. "Not in the mood for your bollocks right now."
"I have failed my witch even more!" Minsc wailed as his friends led him into the house. "I am no man and Boo is no hamster!".
"Nice friends ye got there," Korgan muttered.
"Be silent, dwarf!" Viconia shouted and brushed past him into her room.
Keldorn noticed her leave and, after excusing himself, followed her in, leaving the others to deal with Minsc. "Your friend no longer exists," he started. "He soul has been corrupted, infected her like a disease. Why did you stop me from slaying her?"
"I did you a favor," Viconia told Keldorn. "She wasn't the biggest threat anymore. I have seen Minsc go berserk before, and it is never pretty. He would have torn you apart where you stand."
"Granted," Keldorn sighed.
"You say vampirism is a disease? Well, there is no disease without a cure. And do not intend to leave her in this state."
"Curing a vampire has never been done successfully that I know of! In the meantime, she is free to kill innocent people and feast on their blood," Keldorn stressed.
"Don't you think it is rather arrogant to assume, that just because you have never heard of a cure means there isn't one in existence?" Viconia snarled. "She has become someone's slave. Someone's tool! And I will do something about that. I owe her that much!"
"Loyalty to a friend," Keldorn allowed a half smile.
"Yes, spare me your smug smile," Viconia said, while taking out some prayer-books. "When I first joined Laska's party so long ago, I was... less than receptive about the whole thing. I had intended to use them as protection to travel safely through those lands in return to my services, and I had little feelings for becoming a true part of the group. It was not for the lack of trying on their part, though. Laska was constantly offering me drinks, asking me to join them at the dinner-table and such. But I did not trust her. How could I? She was an elf, after all. An ancient enemy of my people. Minsc tried too, but he was a male... a human male, and after my experiences with human males I did not trust him either. Imoen... well, she was jusr annoyingly cheerful. But then there was Dynaheir. Dignified, proper, always in control, but... personable, likable. Despite my best efforts to keep her at arms length, she kept trying to win my confidence, kept trying to force me out of my shell. One day at one tavern or other, she and I were sharing a table while the others had already turned in. She was pestering me with stories from her childhood, and I was hardly impressed... Until she told me the story of one of the males from her village who was trying to impress her by climbing into a bullpen to ride on the creature. Of course, the bull chased the hapless male all over the pen. She described the whole story in such detail and with such a tongue-in-cheek tone, we both ended up laughing. The whole inn looked at us as if we were lunatics, but Dynaheir gave me the first real taste of true friendship. It make me decide to take a risk with the fools I travel with now."
"I see," Keldorn said. "I understand she is important to you, as well as Laska and Minsc, but what can you do? What do you know about vampirism?"
"A great deal, actually," Viconia said. "It is one of the Spider Queen's greatest rewards, reserved for only the most loyal and the most powerful of priestesses. It is a goal every cleric, priestess and matron aspires to but an honor that is granted to a minute few. It is called the 'kiss of Lolth' and female drow vampire clerics command great respect."
"Why would anyone choose to be a vampire?" Keldorn snarled in disgust.
"Oh, eternal beauty, eternal life, boundless power and the never-ending favor of Lolth can be quite appealing to most," Viconia chuckled. "But cases are also known where the gift of Lolth was taken away again if the Spider Queen was displeased enough. I think I will need access to the Order library. I must research the religious texts of many beliefs. I am certain the answer must be known to at least one of the surface-gods."
"Very well," Keldorn said. "The Order trusts you now. Within limits."
"Of course they do," Viconia rolled her eyes. "I will start immediately."
"No," Keldorn said. "It is late. Get some sleep first. Face this problem with a fresh mind, and take some time to recover from what has happened tonight."
Viconia nodded gravely. "I suppose you're right."
"And then, after the evil minions of the wizard-man with the scary face had beaten poor Dynaheir," Minsc sobbed, while Boo squeaked in sorrow, "the scary face wizard-man had her taken to the other room. Minsc and Boo did not see, but heard her scream beyond the door! We thought her dead, but she must have been given to the vampires. Minsc tried to reach her, but the wizard-man froze him with magic!"
"Here," Laska said, picked up a bottle of whiskey she had gotten from the cellar, yanked the cork out with her teeth and handed the bottle to Minsc.
"That's tough, Minscy," Jan nodded sympathetically.
"Aye," Korgan muttered.
"And the only vampire we met was this Bodhi-character," Laska said as she took the bottle from Minsc and stole a moment to gulp down more than a bit of the whiskey. "You think she and Irenicus are connected somehow? Maybe he hired her minions to protect his dungeon or something and Dynaheir was... payment. Her magical abilities certainly have grown."
"IF MINSC WILL MEET IRENICUS!" Minsc suddenly shouted, "he will chop the scary face wizard-man into itty-bitty pieces! And he will chop those itty-bitty pieces into even smaller itty-itty-bitty pieces! And then he will lay those itty-itty-bitty pieces onto a road so many carts will drive over and flatten them! Then he will toss those flattened itty-itty-bitty pieces into the fire for fair Dynaheir!"
"Amen, Minsc," Laska muttered. "We'll tear him limb from limb."
Keldorn watched them with sadness as he stepped out of Viconia's room, and decided not to tell them anything about Viconia's plans yet, as to not give them false hope. He would stay in the guestroom today, to lend some moral support, and he promised himself to say a prayer tonight for the lost companion of his friends.