Chapter 42: Aviatis

Loral sat in a dwarven tavern outside of the city of Kaladim. He drank the thick liquid of dwarven ale, the sweetest and weakest the bartender had available but still far too thick for Loral's taste. He spent very little time in this area nowadays, but rumors of the Wayfarers had him looking for information. This band of treasure-seekers seemed to appear out of nowhere, quickly building camps across Norrath. Rumors spoke of the treasures they promised to any who explored newly discovered dens of evil. Having heard of the location of the Wayfarer camp from a drunken dwarf just before passing out, Loral closed his leather-bound journal, returned it to a pouch at his side, and left for the camp.

On reaching the Wayfarer's camp, he was immediately shocked by the sheer volume and excitement of the people around it. Hundreds of adventurers milled about. Some were young and inexperienced and others were obviously seasoned and powerful. The Wayfarers themselves were as diverse as those who sought them out. Dark elves and wood elves chatted together while barbiarians and trolls toasted each other with giant flagons of mead. It pleased Loral to see such diversity. This breaking of racial barriers hadn't been seen on Norrath since the fall of the Combine empire.

Joining the Wayfarers was not difficult and Loral was quickly given a task to perform. Loral traveled to an exhumed graveyard in the cursed forest of Lesser Faydark where a network of caverns had been found under a lost cemetery. One of the graves had broken into a pit leading into the caverns below. Many adventurers gathered around the excavation and the remains of dozens of bodies were scattered about. The whole hill smelled of death. Loral looked with trepidation into the pit.

A strong clap on Loral's back gave him a jolt and the stout dwarf Stonehewer laughed at the expression of shock on Loral's face. Juror the shaman smiled behind the dwarf with two of his bladeswingers, Llyan and Vamcill by his side. Kaylessa, one of Felwithe's adventuring enchanters and friend to the guild of Healers, approached as well. Their party was ready. With one last prayer to Tunare, Loral and his companions dropped into the pit.

Thick liquids of tainted life and mists of tormented souls seeped into the broken earth, filling the rats, bats, and spiders inside with a lust for blood and fearsome strength. Jointed legs covered in coarse hair dragged the bulk of huge spiders through the caverns. The white sightless eyes of giant rats turned towards the party and lines of diseased drool spattered to the ground. As soon as the mutated beasts sensed the adventuring party, they attacked.

The party fought the masses of tainted beasts for hours. Powerful magics broke open the shells of the huge spiders. Thick lumps of black gore fell onto the ground. Llyan pierced the boated bodies of the giant rats, pinning them squealing to the earth. The chanting of the party's spellcasters was almost continuous as wave after wave of the creatures vomited forth from the infected caverns. As grotesque as these creatures were, the party soon faced a far more dangerous foe.

Standing calmly, the slight female figure could easily have been mistaken for an elf except for the sickly pale skin. She stood and beheld them calmly, her eyes gleaming silver in the torch light. Her grey lips twisted into a smile, revealing long fangs. She attacked with unnatural speed and went right for Loral's throat. Were it not for Stonehewer's quick movements she would have torn it open.

Stonehewer cleaved his firey blade towards her back. She twisted quickly avoiding the blade and swiped a claw at the dwarven knight, tearing four deep gashes into his face. Loral sealed the deep wounds with a prayer to Tunare. Juror cupped his hands and a roar of tiny insects engulfed the vampiress. Vamcill's red-runed scimitar cut down hard, splitting her open from her shoulder down to her hip.

Two caverns away, Aviatis opened his own silver eyes, his telepathic bond to the Scion broken. He turned and fixed his eyes on his two black-robed advisors. They nodded silently and stepped out into the cavern entrance.

As much as the Scion Caretaker's attack had shaken the party, the two Trueborn's were far more sinister. They were a head taller than the party's biggest member and covered in thick black robes deeply embroidered in red and gold. Their gaunt faces peered out from under the deep hoods with sunken cheeks and dead eyes. One raised his palms towards the party and waves of flames roared onto the party. The other drew a wicked blade engraved with skulls and coated with his own black blood. Stonehewer cut at blade wielder but the Trueborn sidestepped faster than the dwarf could see.

Stonehewer grunted, pulled his blade back, and stabbed deep into the vampire's stomach. The vampire smiled, gripped Stonehewer's wrist, and with inhuman strength forced the blade out of his body. Blue waves flowed from the second Trueborn's hands and the mortal wound sealed.

Stonehewer grunted again at this bad turn of luck. With one Trueborn healing the other, they would outlast the party's attacks. Stonehewer fixed the solution in typical dwarven style by smashing the spellcasting vampire in the mouth with his armored fist. The Trueborn reeled, his jaw broken. Black blood and jagged teeth spattered to the ground. Stonehewer looked down to his stained fist and grunted a third time.

"I'll never get this stuff off," he said shaking the dark blood from his fist. With a half turn and powerful swing, Stonehewer swung his two handed sword again. The pale head of the first Trueborn fell into the dirt.

Loral locked eyes with the second Trueborn who held his broken jaw with fingers covered in dark blood. Loral raised his hand and chanted to Tunare. A beam of white light bored into the vampire's chest and ripped out the tormented spirit. The dead corpse fell to the ground in a smoking heap.

While they had vanquished the minions of Aviatis, the lord himself was beyond their estimations. Aviatis had climbed the ranks of the Trueborns for centuries and he did not do it by being either stupid or weak. They saw him standing alone in the center of his inner sanctum. He was even taller than the Trueborns they had faced before. Vamcill strode forward without a word, but they were not prepared for the reaction.

Loral felt his blood become thick. His heart slowed and he became instantly weak. His head throbbed in pain that blurred his vision on every pulse. He was faintly aware that the others were clutching at their chests and falling to their knees. Juror's spear clattered to the ground. Within merely the presence of the vampire lord, they had already lost.

Loral heard the voice within his mind. The demon Xuzl spoke to him, told him to use the power within the shield on his arm. The horrible effect of the vampire's spell lifted and Loral found himself able to concentrate. He rose in front of the surprised vampire lord and with a quick swing, smashed the lord in the knee with his spiritual hammer, Daninulaer. A burst of white fire exploded over the vampire lord.

Aviatis howled with rage and pain. His spell had broken. The others returned to their feet, quickly preparing their most powerful magics or most devastating attacks. Llyan fired arrow after arrow into the vampire. Many skipped harmlessly over the vampire lord's protective spells but some burrowed deep into the vampire's dead skin. A black tendril rolled off of Juror's palm and burrowed deep into the vampire's skin. The skin cracked and oozed black blood. Stonehewer strode in.

The vampire's head snapped up and he punched out. A huge spiritual fist followed the move and blasted Stonehewer back against the rocky wall, crushing the wind out of him and knocking him unconscious. Aviatis whirled again and shards of ice ripped through the party. Clinching his jaw against the pain, Juror strode forward and rammed his spear deep into the lord's chest, piercing its black heart. The vampire and Juror locked eyes with each other. Juror ripped out the spear and the vampire fell dead to the ground.

They had taken what trinkets they had found along the way back to the Wayfarers. Among the treasures of the vampire lord was a worn leather book. It had deep engravings in the thick cover, a cover of some skin Loral preferred not to think about, and on its back was a strange symbol or glyph. The language was old and it would take him much time to translate. He did not yet know that its message held the fate of Norrath within it.