Desnus 20th, 4711
On the Trail of the Whispering Way
After the devils had been dispatched back to the Nine Hells, Torquemada called upon the power of his goddess to counter the effects of the Bone Devil’s poison on the two, while Ramirez worked to tidy up the Esoteric Vault where collateral damage had occurred.
The slow climb up the spiral staircase was exceptionally taxing for the duo after the pitched battle, for even though Torquemada’s healing magic had removed much of the poison’s damage, they were still weak and exhausted from that which remained.
As they emerged from the depths of the basement, Abraun Chalest came hurried forward.
“I thought I heard a commotion. Is everything all right?” asked the historian.
“Yes. Well, there may have been a complication or four.” said the inquisitor of Iomedae, “But everything is fine Chalest.”
“Did you find what you were looking for then?”
“We did, of sorts. We activated the gargoyle statue, and an illusion appeared, showing an old map of Caliphas with a location marked. Do you have any idea what building this could have been?”
Chalest examined the rough sketch of ancient Caliphas that Torquemada had made of the programmed illusion, and soon announced that he did indeed know the location – it was part of the Quarterfaux Archives, of which he was the curator!
He explained that the building was one of the museum’s older (and least visited) structures dedicated to the history of the former county of Grodlych, and had been in the hands of the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye for over 100 years. He agreed to personally take the party to the museum tomorrow after the party had a chance to rest.
With that, the tired duo took their leave to return to the Silent Hound, and slept the remainder of the night in the dreamless rest of those who had fought the horrors of Hell itself and survived.
Desnus 21st, 4711
The morning broke with the smell of frying sausages and eggs wafting up from the common room below. After a hearty breakfast, with Haza still nowhere to be found, Ramirez and Torque made their way to the Grodlych archives, where Abraun was waiting for them. Unlocking the massive oak and brass doors, he led the adventurers inside, where four large rooms filled with rack upon rack of books, scrolls, and tablets awaited. There was no one else in the building, so Abraun left the pair to their own devices as they attempted to find some indication of the presence of the Whispering Way.
After much searching, the duo found faint magic emanating from that an ancient fresco in one of the displays depicted the first count of Grodlych, an excommunicated priest of Pharasma named Laudmeir Vandolmayne. The heretic was shown clutching a book whose cover bore eerily familiar, stylized symbols matching those on the moribund key carried by Torquemada. By setting the correct runes on the moribund key, Torque was able to release an arcane lock barring the secret stone door behind the fresco that led to a room below the structure.
However, searching the cramped, musty confines of the bolt-hole beneath the archives turned up nothing more than discarded, battered furniture, broken alchemical equipment, and a few scraps of paper hinting at the Whispering Way’s activities in gathering components for some elixir or potion, though none of these notes contained any specific information or clues as to the cult’s current whereabouts.
The pair seemed to be at a dead end, when a voice spoke from back beyond the secret entrance.
“Good evening. It seems I’m not the only one searching for the Whispering Way. But alas, it appears that they deserted this place some time ago. My name is Quinley Basdel, and I’m searching for my mother’s killer. Perhaps we might be able to assist each other?”
Introductions were made, and it was revealed that Quinley was a sometimes associate of the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye in Caliphas, that his mother was a vampire(!) and had been recently slain in the (suspected) series of vampire murders in the city, and that he suspected that the Whispering Way was behind these events.
Quinley Basdel went on to explain further.
“The vampires of Caliphas might be able to tell you where the Whispering Way went. I can introduce you to them. Someone is murdering vampires in the city, most notably my mother. I have no proof, but I suspect that another vampire is responsible. The killer has been too selective, too successful, and too secretive to be a normal living vampire hunter. I want you to help me find this serial killer, unmask him, and bring him to justice.
“Vampires are monsters, unrepentant villains, it’s true, but they have found a niche in this country. When the Whispering Tyrant fell at Gallowspire, the vampires laid down their weapons and conceded the field in exchange for peace. Since the Shining Crusade, the vampire clans of Caliphas have maintained the status quo. Now Ustalav’s rulers hold court without fear of the Tyrant’s return and the vampires are left alone. But these vampire slayings could create an entirely new war in the city and across the nation. And in a war between humans and vampires, who do you think would win? And who stands to gain the most from that war? The only group who was adversely affected by the vampires and whose presence remains a enduring symbol of their failure in the Shining Crusade.”
Upon further questioning about the vampire presence in Caliphas, Quinley revealed the following:
“My mother was a vampire. I am not, though I have her blood. I’m not affiliated with the clans of Caliphas, but I do work for them occasionally as a free agent as I do for the Esoteric Order. And I know their leader, Luvick Siervage, an elder vampire who predates even the Whispering Tyrant. He rules from the Vampire Underground.
Long ago, the streets of Caliphas were raised to install a proper sewer. The ground floors of many of the city’s buildings became basements, their basements became subbasements, and so on. The vampires claimed some of these areas for themselves. I can take you there, but we may have to get past a few guardians on the way. Once we get past their guardians, I can get you an audience with Luvick. If you tell him you can find help find whoever’s killing his people, he’ll listen to you.”
All agreed that an alliance was in everyone’s best interests, and Quinley offered to lead them to the Vampire Underground that afternoon.
The Vampire Underground
Quinley led the group to the fastidiously manicured gardens and lawns of the city’s largest park – Restoration Park – in the shadow of Castle Stryithe.
The park was officially open from dawn to dusk, though there is was no closed gate to stop nocturnal visitors. Watchmen from the city’s constabulary could be seen passing through this area but they did not seem to venture into the park itself.
Inside a number of pathways wove through the trees and grass past a number of statues and other features.
In one part of the park, a life-sized alabaster statue mounted on a block of granite depicted the austere countenance of Sesasgia Caliphvaso, the countess who refounded the city of Caliphas after the defeat of the Whispering Tyrant.
A trio of seeming innocuous standing stones stood in the park’s center, although close inspection by the group revealed recent and somewhat extensive bloodstains on the menhirs themselves.
Nearby, another massive statue dominated a clearing, depicting Soividia Ustav, the founder of Ustalav, astride a rampant destrier with an upraised blade.
In the back of the park, tall columns lined both sides of a reflecting pool, commissioned by Ilmhost Vheist, a scholar and early leader of Ustalav, in the aftermath of the Shining Crusade as a reminder to the inhabitants of Caliphas of the dangers the nation has faced over its proud history. The tall columns along the pool’s south side were carved in the likeness of Ustalavic soldiers facing a menagerie of threatening creatures carved on the pillars on the far side, including Kellid barbarians, Belkzen orcs, werewolves, and the undead knights of the Whispering Tyrant. This latter group included both a headless dullahan as well as an armored knight covered in blood.
In addition to the reflecting pool, a large natural pool filled with water sat in the northeastern part of the park.
Finally, a large greenhouse filled the southeast corner of the park.
The Glass House was a massive structure, towering 40 feet tall, easily as high as many of the park’s trees. A relatively recent addition to the park, the greenhouse showcased a variety of flowering plants imported from warmer climes, and drew many visitors each year.
Huge glass windows stretched between the greenhouse’s iron frameworks, and small rise of steps led to a wide portico. Two massive pillars of stone supported a roof overhead and flanked a pair of ornate, gold-clad doors inscribed with sun motifs.
The group headed inside, the cloying humidity and heat of an active greenhouse filling the huge atrium. Exotic flowers, creeper vines, shrubbery, and even trees grew throughout the open space. A vaulted ceiling arched forty feet overhead, supported by four thick columns, while a stone-tiled path wound past each exhibit.
Quinley led the party to the left, looking for some access to the sewers beneath the city, which he said was the main pathway to the Underground. An unusual array of exotic plants dominated this part of the greenhouse exhibit, displaying every color of the rainbow. Their hues were made more vibrant by the backdrop of an enormous mass of cactuslike vines covered with white leaves.
Ramirez moved forward to examine the vines, when they suddenly stirred and whipped around him, pulling him into a yawning mouth of leaves!
The giant flytrap plant continued it’s surprise attack, grabbing Torquemada in it’s questing jaws as Quinley peppered the intelligent plant with crossbow bolts. The plant fought tenaciously, but would prove to be no match for the party.
And underneath it’s now-motionless trunk, Quinley spotted the object of their search – an opening leading downward into the sewers.
After healing up from the plant attack, the trio dropped into the sewers below and began looking for a clear path that would enable Quinley to locate the Vampire Underground.
A number of dead ends led the party back to the opening room, but suddenly, sharp stones were stabbing upward from the floor and vines were erupting in a frenzy trying to entangle the trio. A sudden blast of furnace-hot air came blasting down from above, burning everyone as they struggled to escape from the clutches of the vines, and then they were free and fleeing up through the opening… only to be hit by blazing bolts of lightning from the skies above, shattered glass scattering over the greenhouse. The party was under attack, and finally the attacker was revealed – a half-elf woman dressed in what appeared to be vines and brambles stood perched in a nearby tree. But not just a woman, as she grinned at the party’s plight – revealing the long canine fangs of a vampire!
Ball lightning and lightning bolts rocked the party as they shot at the vampire, but it wasn’t until Ramirez was able to down a potion of Enlarge Person and tripped her from the branch that the tide of battle changed. Even so, as she fell laughing under the blades of the party, hers was to be the last laugh as she dissolved into mist and fled into the night. Ramirez’s victory was cut short by the revelation from Torquemada that she was not dead, and in fact would be back in a few hours to enact vengeance, for such was the way of the vampire in cheating death.
With no time to waste, the group returned to the sewers, seeking to put as much distance as possible between them and the likely infuriated vampire druid. After a few more twists and turns, Quinley found a main passageway that led to the sewers proper, and would lead them directly to the Vampire Underground.
It was about thirty minutes later when the vampire spawn appeared, crawling on walls and ceiling and walking on the narrow pathway above the reeking sewer water. There were eight of them, armed with long swords, and they accosted the party, demanding to know why they should let them pass.
Ramirez was less than diplomatic, and the trio soon found themselves in a pitched battle against the undead creatures. Quinley was forced to retreat, when the vampire spawm had had enough and fell back, retreating into the darkness. Torquemada had harsh words for the warrior, and admonished him for making their passage harder than necessary.
Interview with the vampires
A half-hour later, the trio walked into what appeared to be a guard room. Four well-armed and armored vampires challenged them, with Quinley stepping forward to explain that they were there to speak to the leader of the vampires – the 800-year old Luvick Siervage.
Passage was granted, and the group was escorted through the sunked subbasement passageways to the audience hall of the vampire lord.
A grand promenade opened into a wide audience hall, decorated with elaborate tapestries and art befitting a royal of Ustalav’s ancient bloodlines. An immense throne dominates the far wall, while two antechambers stood to either side of the promenade to the east and west.
Well-dressed vampire nobles glared hungrily at the party as they approached a throne at the end of the hall. Upon the throne sat the vampire lord himself. He gestured the party to move closer, and spoke:
“As in the days of old, those of mortal flesh stand before me. Yet you do not cower like most who look upon my undying face. My servants tell me you came of your own free will, even with the knowledge that many here would feast upon the blood surging in your veins. But is it bravery you possess, or foolishness?
I respect your boldness… for now. Why have you come here, mortals?”
Torquemada stepped forward and explained why they had come, as Luvick listened through his story.
" I am no friend of the Whispering Way," the vampire Lord concluded, " and I would prefer to see the Whispering Tyrant remain confined in Gallowspire, as he has been these last fourscore decades. If you find me the killer, I will tell you what I know of this cult, and where they might have gone."
When asked about his current knowledge of the murders, Luvick replied, “My people are being killed — what more do I need to know? My agents are still gathering information, but in truth, we know little. We have someone in custody, a nosferatu named Ramoska Arkminos. He claims to have nothing to do with the slayings, but that one has played a mysterious game for many years. In addition, one of my retainers has acquired evidence suggesting that Caliphas’s nobility are behind these attacks. Perhaps the two are related.”
He continued on, "I grant you permission to interview your people and see this evidence. Speak with Lady Evgenya — she knew many of the victims, and is convinced that she is next. Her apartments lie west of here. Desmond Kote, in the cathedral to the north, may have some insight, as well. If you wish to see the evidence we have gathered so far, speak to my retainer Radvir Giovanni in his store to the east. Ramoska Arkminos is being held in the old pump room, also to the east. You can question him as well, if you wish, though I doubt you’ll get any more out of him than we have.
“Take this signet—any vampire who sees it will know you are my creatures, and leave you unharmed. But take care — vampires are a fractious lot, and even my most loyal subject would not hesitate to drain your blood if provoked. Remember always that to them you are prey, and show them the respect accorded to predators.
“I demand only one thing. When you find this killer, you bring it to me. Anyone who strikes down vampire elders will face judgment from one as well.”
With that, they were dismissed and set off to question the other vampires.
First visited was the tailor Radvir Giovanni in his shop to the east. He explained that he believed that the human nobles of Caliphas were hunting down vampire elders, and revealed a number of documents purportedly taken from several minor members of Caliphas’s aristocracy. These missives identify specific vampire elders and their lairs, and commissioned their deaths in an attempt to deprive the vampires of leadership. Radvir claimed to believe that it was the nosferatu Ramoska Arkminos, who was indeed a known servant of one of Ustalav’s nobles, that was contracted to carry out the killings.
The trio thanked the vampire for his help and made their way to the cell containing Ramoska Arkminos. He looked up from where he sat as they entered the room.
“Good evening. More of Luvick’s spawn, are you, come to gloat some more? No, I can see you’re no vampires. His loyal slaves, then, fawning over ‘His Grace’ while your true minds scream silently and helplessly inside.
No? Then what business do you have with me?
Perhaps you came to free me. If so, I can assure you I would be most grateful.”
Introducing themselves, the nosferatu spoke freely.
“I am Ramoska Arkminos, a servant of the count of Varno.”
“Why are you here?” demanded the inquisitor.
“Luvick Siervage suspects I might have something to do with the murders of vampires in the city, but he is sadly mistaken.”
“Why does Luvick suspect you?”
“He is scared. And my kind and his, though similar in some ways, are actually quite different. I am an outsider who serves a powerful master, and Luvick feels threatened by this. He needs a scapegoat, and I fit the role well. I suspect my recent work with the Whispering Way might have something to do with it as well.”
And just what is your relationship with the Whispering Way?"
“I am both a student of the arcane and an alchemist by trade. The Whispering Way hired me to test the potency of a potion they’re creating, a powerful admixture providing a path to lichdom. I hasten to add that I am no supporter of their goals, but the opportunity to test my expertise on such a concoction proved too enticing to resist.”
“Why do they want such a potion?”
“Obviously, they mean to administer it to someone. Judging by the formula I studied, someone of great importance, as it was crafted for a specific person. My personal favorite for the potion’s recipient is Prince Aduard Ordranti, ruler of all Ustalav.
I do not believe the cultists created this elixir at the prince’s request. It’s meant to poison someone, to force such a transformation, even against the unwilling. You could save him, or whoever it’s meant for, if you help me.
“I am an innocent man. If you clear my name by finding the real vampire murderer, I’ll tell you all I know of the Whispering Way and their recent activity. I’m sure you already know that they’ve left Caliphas. I can tell you where they’ve gone, and perhaps study the sample of their elixir in more detail to see if I can find anything more. All I learn I’ll share with you.”
Next, the party visited the salon of Lady Evgenya Zunaida.
The celebratory strains of lutes and harpsichords filled the air in this well-appointed, if ostentatious, chamber. Several figures dressed in finery befitting nobles of Ustalav’s ancient past danced on a parquet floor.
Lady Evgenya was as haughty as her namesake suggested, but grudgingly she revealed her thoughts to the party. She was clearly upset by the vampire slayings, as many of her friends had fallen victim to the murderer. She’d noticed several things about the murders, however. One thing that the victims all had in common is that they each controlled large numbers of enslaved spawn. These spawn, now freed by their masters’ deaths, have been acting strangely — almost as if they had a new master, though she has no idea who that might be. Given the size of her own undead court, Lady Evgenya suspected the murderer will soon come for her as well. In addition, Lady Evgenya believed she has found a pattern in the slayings — namely, that many of the victims have disappeared after hunting in Restoration Park, which has led many vampires to avoid that area in fear of attracting attention to themselves.
Thanking her for her assistance, the trio left her salon and headed off to their next interview with a vampire.