True Monsters – Act 2 Vine Garden - Chapter 19 – Bones Bleached White
With all the effort involved in fighting Islington and killing the thrall dread bear, they only got two silver each. The local lord did offer several gold pieces, if they could kill Islington. Then on the flip side Islington's superior was probably offering him quite a bit, if he killed them. If Islington had any vampire subordinates left. He would probably keep them close to him from now on, for extra protection.
The past two weeks of almost constant fighting, had taken a heavy toll mentally and physically on the group. Alice was mentally prepared for it with her high wisdom. Physically her legs ached from all the walking. Martin was physically OK with his high endurance and level. Mentally he was not so focused, he could make a mistake. The two mercenaries were trained for this sort of thing for long campaigns or sieges, still they were quite tiered. They slept late and ate a very large meal, that morning.
Father Richard passed more orders from the steward onto them. They were handed some light work, just scouting out some possible vampire locations. They were sites more likely to be abandoned, according to the notes and local records. They might have one or two minions left in them. Or even a few stores put aside. It was unlikely that they would be used at all, it was effectively busy work to give the group a rest from fighting.
They got a map and a short list, three sights. Two were close buy the village, one a bit further out. They made plans they could quickly check the two close by, then return to the village. Have their mid-day meal and finish off the last site. Then ale food and sleep At least that was the plan. Vivian came up with the general outline. No one else had any objections, even Martin had little desire to go and hunt for Islington he was sure that they would get a second chance.
That was there plan and to begin with it seemed that everything would go smoothly. They left the settlement past the militia guards and gate. They soon moved to the edge of the farm area. Along a trail into a sheltered place that shepherds had used, until a vampire had been sighted there. It was a small cave in a hill. It contained nothing, if anyone or anything had lived there it had cleared out completely. The roof had half caved in. the cave had been filled up with dirt and rocks.
The second site was quite a bit further away, they had a slightly longer walk around the vineyards. There was an old farmstead with a cellar, this cellar had been used a long time ago as a lair. It had been substantial extended from the original basement. The entrance was hidden behind some shrubs. A little pulling and cutting and the entrance was exposed. They got torches and explored the area. The place was abandoned, a few half collapsed bits of furniture a few empty barrels that might have held provisions. One wall had partially collapsed, they had to clear it back so that they could pass that took them ten minutes.
They progressed deeper into the abandoned lair, perusing their investigation. They found what would have been a pit trap. It had mostly collapsed in on itself. They found a bear trap half buried in the ground. It was rusted, they still took it seriously. Disarmed it was packed away in Vivian's backpack. later on Martin would clean and repair it so that they could use it in the future. They kept their eyes out for other traps. There was a trip wire across the path, they triggered it remotely with an iron arrow. A few rocks dropped down as the trap activated, it was jammed up and ineffective.
Just before they came to the last few rooms they found a distinct square on the ground. It was covered with dust. It seemed to have warped over time, showing the outline of a trigger plate. David took a rock and prepared to throw it. They took a few paces back and braced themselves. The rock hit the trigger plate, there was a crunch and a click. Four rusty iron spears fell from above striking the ground around the trap. There were a few other rooms, the remains of a desk and bed. They checked for any further traps or magic. They found nothing and headed back to the town for some food.
They went to the village inn, David noticed that there were only three members of the group of mercenaries. He walked up to them and spoke politely, “where is the fourth member of your party?” Their leader fell quiet, he breathed in, “they fell the day before last. They have been given last rites and cremated”. Martin tipped his hat, “you have our condolences for your comrade”, the group nodded.
The Mercenary leader continued, “There ashes and their gear will be sent back to the grey company barracks in grey forge, it takes about eight days I think”. “How did they pass away”? Vivian enquired. “We were investigating a potential lair, we were surrounded our grenadier set off all there ordinance, it killed a lot of ghouls and Wight’s with them. They will be added to the book of honour”. Vivian and David nodded, “they did their duty, even at the cost of their life”. They shared a drink in memory of the dead mercenary, then ate in reflective silence.
Vivian looked at Martin and Alice, “our party composition is better more flexible, magic and holy blessings added to Martial training can really improve our chances”. The other members of the party nodded. Out of the three groups of adventures in the area, they were the only one that had not suffered a fatality yet. They were arguably the best prepared having access to healing magic and a wider array of skills. The hunters had better weapons and the mercenaries had better armour but Vivian preferred their chances.
They headed off to their final target of the day. It had been a series of caves carved out by a small river, it was deep and old with a little pond by the entrance. They lit there torches and went inside. There were signs that at one time a vampire had made this there primary lair. Brackets on the walls where torches could be placed. A place cleared to store water. The remains of a door to a store room.
They found a few larger bits of furniture. There was one place that must have once been cells, to hold freshly captured humans the heavy doors rotted away, there were other bits of wood now fallen apart. Deeper in they found the remains of carpets and furniture, at one point it would have been quite opulent.
Soon they had explored everywhere, apart from one large chamber at the very back of the cave system. The chamber was long abandoned, but not entirely deserted. The chamber was fourteen feet high, in its centre stood a Bone golem, next to a stone throne. It was twelve feet tall, it was made from the bones of ten animals in this case cattle. A bull’s skull sat centrally upon the necromantic construct where a head should be. It had the rough form of a man, though twice as high. There were four extra arms upon its back. They ended in sharpened ribs almost like knives. The extra limbs were added to make bone golems more powerful combatants. It had been set lose to guard a vampires lair, slow and stupid but durable, a purple aura surrounded it.
David considered, “Would there be any reward for killing that thing”? Vivian snapped back, “We kill it or re-kill it or whatever. We would just be sent back hear if we just reported it”. Alice held out her hands sensing the magic “It feels off unbalanced, I don't think this thing is serving any master, maybe it went wrong which is why this place is abandoned”? “It’s an abomination we destroy it, it might be worth a level”
Martin looked at it he warned the group, “Bone golem, conventional weapons can harm them and they have no way to regenerate. Fire seems to work well against them. They are normally slow.” he didn't see any other opponents local. Martin started with his best attack, “chain smite” the arch of electricity from his holy symbol struck the monster. Its purple aura slowly started to diminish. The construct reached down picked up an oak table and hurled it at Martin. He ducked to avoid the thrown object. That broke his concentration, cutting off the attack he had done some damage but not that much. Vivian sent a power attack into the bone golem, it smashed into the aura protecting it, the aura flickered.
Alice duel cast her fire ball spell at the approaching construct, hitting it before it could get closer to her. David charged in a second later, to block the attacking monster. Stopping it before it could get close to those who were not protected by a strong shield. Its fists rained down on his shield but it was held in place. Martin had his long pistols drawn and emptied both of them at the creature, doing a little damage.
The aura around the creature slowly faded, as it continued to attack mindlessly. David was reduced to a purely defensive role in this battle. Each blow sent him back an inch, the shield was wedged into the ground. The power of the blows was still substantial, it tried to get round the shield with its secondary spiky limbs. They were not well suited to the task. Martin drew his triple pistol and delivered three shots, boosting their damage with his wrath blessing. Large chunks of bone and solidified sinew fell from the construct.
Unless they knew exactly where the spell focus was engraved on the construct, then it would take a long time. Vivian hit it with two power shots, shaving off one of its secondary limbs. Alice alternated between acid strikes and fire bite spells. Trying to hit the construct in the joints to disable a limb.
Martin used a blessing that he had not used before, “thy will be done”. Insight was fed into his mind, for a second he could see more. The spell focus that animated the golem was made from a human skull, embedded deep inside the pile of bones. There was no way to get to it easily. He still shared the information, “this golem's weak spot is in the chest on a skull try to pierce it”. Vivian's power attacks were the perfect tool for this, she switched to her expensive bodkin arrows and aimed for the center of the chest. David tried to use an adrenaline block to unbalance the golem, he didn't succeeded it was too massive and could not feel pain. Alice hit it with more acid and fire magic. She was trying to weaken its chest, so that Vivian's arrows would be better at penetrating the golem.
Martin hit it with his last two strong holy attacks, “wrath of the almighty” “smite”. The cold damage from wrath of the almighty didn't do much but the rest weakened it. Vivian put a power attack into its chest and it staggered. They had probably nicked the skull with the spell engraved on it. Alice hit the same spot with her acid strike in preparation.
The golem was without thought, just an instinct bound to the bones. It just kept attacking the nearest person. David delivered a power attack to the knee joint. The bone golem took a second to regain its footing. Martin used a focus reload then shot at its chest with his pistol. Alice hit it again with her acid strike. Vivian used one of her bodkin arrows, it pierced the layers of cattle bones and struck the heart of the spell. The construct stopped lurched then fell backwards, it twitched and slowly started to unravel. David delivered two power attacks but it was a little redundant at this point.
The level up occurred, Martin barely noticed it as his eyes glowed and his body twitched he kept reloading. David and Vivian were starting to feel it less as their overall level was heading close to twenty five. David had his endurance enhancing ring, so he was a little better off than Vivian. Alice was still physically very weak. She still came round from the black out without much effort, her head hurting a little as her mind expanded.
Alice had gained the improved version of the acid strike spell, it was very painful if aimed at a living creature and could wear away the defences of most other monsters. Vivian gained rank three of her critical strike skill, enabling her to find and hit weak-points much more easily. David continued to level up his missile blocking skill, he could protect the rest of the group by using his shield. Martin put more knowledge into his use of grenades. When he got to a good sized town he was going to gear up. Heck, with the knowledge in his head, he could probably build some of the devices, like the silver shrapnel grenade.
They checked around the former lair, it had long been abandoned no supplies no treasure no paperwork. Just piles of old furniture crumbling up with age and rot. The group piled up all the bones from the broken golem. Martin hit it with a “purify” blessing, just encase there was any active magic left. They smashed up a few bits of wooden furniture to start a fire, then doused it in oil then set it alight.
They head back to town, “well at least we destroyed that golem” Vivian mused. “We have gained a level fairly easily, I gather they are normally tougher”! “Bone golem's typically form the backbone of any serious necromancer’s army. With a necromancer they would be healed and buffed and directed. Without leadership they area a spell binding a near mindless spirit to animate a body”. Martin illustrated the difference. They went to the lord’s manor and gave a brief report to the steward. He noted the traps and the bone golem, the rest was of little consequence. They got a couple of silvers for the job done and went to the tavern. They would return to the church later for their meal.
Vivian looked around the group to Martin, “as we are facing a vampire can you tell us how the vampires are organised”? Martin considered, “Generally at the local level a warrior vampire leads around level 50-75. They will have two or three dozen vampires reporting to them and twice that number of thralls, it varies a lot. Larger settlements have more vampires, they are attached or assigned to them.” David was curious, “Are they trying to destroy the settlements”? “No, vampires feed on humans and need humans to reproduce, they want control not destruction”. Martin flatly stated.
He continued, “There will be 3 to 5 warriors of similar stature, reporting to an elder vampire. This vampire can be around level 100 -200. Further up the chain of command 3 to 5 elders will report to an ancient. The ancient will be anywhere from level 200-400. That ancient will then report to a master vampire, who probably has 4-5 ancients working for them, numbers vary a bit.”
Alice wondered, “How are these masters organised”? “They usually form a rough alliance with another master in this country. There are three groups of vampires with their own territories. They spend as much effort fighting each other as the humans, so we are lucky”. David out of a morbid sense of curiosity wondered, “Can you tell us about them”?
Martin tried to remember every aspect of his training, “If I remember correctly the countess of winter is the weakest and youngest of the vampire masters. She has a permanent fortress on top of a large icy mountain on the east coast. She has not ventured from its cold depths for centuries, it is hard to get to. It used to be the dwarves lands, she eliminated them after a decade of open warfare. She has several powerful ancients at her call, preferring quality over quantity. She has a high number of warrior vampires, and a smaller overall number of forces.”
“She is known to work with the thief’s guilds, offer assassination services to mortals. With blackmail and bribery on the side, keeping one hand in the mortal world. She has ice based magic at her disposal. She is described as a thin delicate woman of regal standing. She will often wears a veil. She has several decoys around her to prevent and discourage attacks.”
“That would explain some of the mysterious assassinations that the thieves’ guilds pull off” David added.
“The countess of winter has an alliance of convenience with The Jeweled lord. He is the most economically active of all the vampires. He has hidden mines staffed with slaves and fledgling vampires. He has taken to forming alliances with human bandits. He had several alchemists in his employ, they produce strong illegal drugs. One I have herd of is a purple powder called dusk's embrace.” Vivian spoke “I herd of that stuff before not as common as some drugs like red sand”
“He is a large bald fat man who wears several kings’ ransoms in gold and jewelry. He drinks the rarest of bloods, he has a series of hidden vaults containing his wealth. He still carries a large amount of it on his person, the best diamonds emeralds. He has a strong vampire gaze that compels people to fight against their own allies. He is fond of gambling and has bet an adventure there life if they could beat him in a game of chance.”
“The midnight king is the most fearless, or reckless of the vampire masters. He is known to travel alone, burying himself before the sun rise. He is difficult to track in this way. He wears all black he is known to play the pipes as an accomplished musician. His court is known to reflect his tastes, musician entertain him eternally.
He has an open air court, being a close ally of the wear wolves. He controls a vast area of forest. He can move like a shadow becoming incorporeal for a few seconds. He is strongest at precisely midnight, his power waxes and wanes with proximity to this hour. He has a vast collection of songs and saga’s. He was once romantically linked to the Empress of Shadows, there alliance is very weak but still there.”
“The queen of rats is an old woman, when she was turned into a vampire she was not completely of sound mind. She wears robes of black silk, she carries a powerful necromancy charm that controls a giant bone golem. She makes her home under an ancient defiled grave yard. She breads rats and they form the bulk of the need of blood of her vampires.
Her vampires often kidnap children who are then raised by blood thralls. They are used as spies pick pockets and thieves. She has the power to control rats and can use them as soldiers. She will sell the children to other vampires as slaves. When they get to big to act as pickpockets she keeps them as soldiers. These thralls are nicknamed the grave rats. She has a strong alliance with the king of bones.”
“The king of bones is also known as the necromancer lord. He has many mummified followers called husks, he has extensively studied necromancy. His main line of income is trading servants created by necromancy with the other vampires, even outside this country. He is tall and rail thin wearing brightly colored blue and yellow robes. He has short hair and a short thin beard. He is allied with necromancers and litch's. He seeks knowledge above all things, especially knowledge of necromancy. It is the perfect bait to lure out his servants.”
“The last one is the Empress of Shadows, the most powerful of the ancient vampires. The former lover of the midnight king, she has several sonic abilities. She is the patron to the Archanists, some of their constructs bulk out her army. It is rumored that she spurned all male lovers after the Midnight King fell out of favor with her.
She only takes mortal lovers as she will not accept having her heart broken again by one that could endured as long as she. She is the nominal leader of the vampires, she lead the war between the masters and the regents and was instrumental in forming the masters original alliance. She has the largest number of ancient vampire lieutenants following her. Including one as her personal guard.”
“Her vampires mix their blood with alcohol and herbs to create a red brandy that is both illegal and highly addictive, some of the nobles are enslaved by the stuff. That is a rumor I have herd. With the presence of archanists she is most likely the vampire, ultimately claiming the surrounding lands as her territory.”
David sighed, “So this little conflict is insignificant in the grand scheme of things?” Martin seemed insulted, “No not at all, it helps slowly change the balance. What we did today for example, a vampire that specialized in necromancy could have recovered that creature and used it in a future battle now they can’t.” David seemed to accept that answer, “It’s a war, winning it is a slow process moving things in our favor will take time.”
Alice grinned, “Enough of the larger picture, what are you going to do when we get to a more civilized part of the world. not an armory just to relax.” Marin grinned, “Probably find a bottle of alchemist imbued brandy or scotch that can actually affect me.” David cracked a smile, “I want a barrel of orange ogre ale”. Alice frowned, “ale made from ogre”? David narrowed his gaze, “You didn't get out of the tower much, it’s a name, it’s made from pumpkins or flavored with pumpkins”.
Vivian grinned holding her wounded side, “I want to go to a bath house and have a nice long hot bath, soak for a few hours”. Alice nodded, “yes I want a soft bed, somewhere I can sit and read or snooze an afternoon away”. They all thought of those little luxuries.
Vivian sighed “Now about equipment what do we need”? They could all think of long lists of bits and pieces, she was the first, “Martin could you custom make me a quiver?” He nodded, “yes once I get a bit of time”. Vivian felt her bow, “I should probably be looking for a stronger bow. This one is getting heavily worn. I could use a few enchanted arrows to deal with stronger targets.” Alice nodded, “nothing like magic to bring a monster down”.
David looked at his armor, “some plate armor and a stronger sword is where my purse is going to be invested. This one is starting to suffer, soon I won’t have much of an edge left to sharpen”. Martin and Vivian nodded, David’s sword had seen far better days. “I might get some single use enchanted scrolls so I can access different spells, keep some ice magic and dispel magic ready”. Martin pointed to the two thermite grenades he had left, “I really need a nice selection of explosives for the next time we go up against an elite vampire”. His fingers caressed the explosives, the rest of the group almost took a step back Vivian scowled for a second.
Bio: I have done a few creative things as a hobby I thought that I would give writing another go