Darvin dreamed that night. A familiar voice called to him and told him he (or we) were needed in Pinefall. We weren’t sure whether it was the singular or collective “you”. From what we knew, collectively, Pinefall is a small village in the middle of nowhere, not far from home.
Knowing we needed to get home swiftly, we elected to head back to Whitehorn via the fastest trade routes we could manage with Dimweir in tow. We parted ways with them at Southreach before heading to Oakhill. Once there, we took care of some kingdom business and set a few holidays. Ahlset had some business for us that we attended to, though the longer I do this, the less certain I am that I can stomach it much longer. The differences in moral focus are… The only word I can think of is insurmountable. We will see what happens.
Leaving behind Oakhill, we headed to Pinefall. Ahlset had informed us there was some kind of undead problem in the town. Dimweir joined us, since I wasn’t going to leave him behind. Ahlset terrified him and with good reason.
We arrived in Pinefall after sundown. Fog filled the streets and forest. What, in most towns, should have been the town commons was a paved expanse with a large column in the center. Seeking the tavern, we entered, finding it what we might expect. It was rife with memorabilia and hunting trophies from a man named Ted.
The bartender spoke to Asakku in hushed tones. “He made it?”
“I would have thought he would have come back with you…”
“We were not present when your man arrived, but…”
“Pity. Theodore’s father was a bit of a legend around here. Expected more from him. Glad we didn’t let him take his father’s axe…”
Asakku raised a brow.
“Nonetheless… every few days a beast comes into the town and seeks out those who commit crimes—petty or significant—and takes them away. They sometimes return pale with sunken eyes and a distant manner, much like the beast himself. There have been twenty-five or so who’ve gone over the years. Always at night.”
“How long has this been going on?”
He looked around, considering what was happening. “Well… fifteen years. It was almost convenient back then, but it’s become something of a problem recently. Even those who commit the most minor offenses vanish.”
“Ted died some time ago, didn’t he?”
“And when did this begin?” Asakku asked.
“Perhaps a year. Though he died far to the south of here. He was uesting for… something. I don’t remember what. He was always doing that.”
Darvin grinned at Erevel. “So… Perhaps you should commit a crime.”
She glared at him. “You want me to be bait? Won’t that cause you trouble?” She looked at me, as though hoping it would.
“It might. I suppose it depends on what you do.” I shrugged. “Though please don’t kill anyone.”
“Kill anyone? Why would I—“
Asakku scowled at us, silencing the discussion. “…And they always are taken to the East?”
“Well, yes. Into the forest—we don’t go there. It is forbidden, after all.”
There were no rooms at the inn, though the group found lodging with some locals. I camped outside since I wasn’t willing to stay and leave my armor untended. It was nothing personal.
In the morning, I was going to make tea, but someone told me I was not permitted to have a fire in town limits, apparently. Well—so be it. Asakku brought me an omelet from inside. I thanked him for it. At least I got breakfast, anyway. I ate and broke down the tent and took care of my armor and so on.
Based on what we heard, I deduced that it was possible we were dealing with vampires, but I was certain they were undead. Often, vampires would recruit or create a guardian for their lair to protect them during the day.
Given what we know of the forest, we sent Darvin in to speak with the unicorn. He was gone for eight hours, so far as we could tell. Erevel flirted with the lumberjacks and lumberjills for awhile before becoming what I assume was bored and heading back to town. I spent most of the afternoon stopping Dimweir from pestering the lumberjacks. Asakku slunk up and down the edge of the woods, examining tracks and… whatever it was he was doing. Nothing I could understand.
Darvin eventually returned, telling us he had mixed news. He could tell us where the creatures were, but not what they were. However, our unicorn friend set us on another quest following this one. Something about nymphs and drow and kidnapping. I stopped paying attention at nymphs. Lovely creatures, those.
We spent another night in town before heading toward the forest. We entered the forest, following the map Darvin provided. Eventually, we found a man seated at the mouth of a cave. He looked to be human so far as we could tell, though he was wearing full plate, and it was hard to tell. A glaive lay on the ground near him along with a javelin and a net.
I studied him and determined that he was not evil. With that knowledge, Triss approached to talk to him, hoping we could talk him away from the cave. He told her he was hired to protect the cave with a nonchalant manner. Erevel fired an arrow, slamming the stone beside his head. Darvin stepped forward and hissed something about being from the blood of dragons or… something. I wasn’t much paying attention.
He threw his hands up. “No, no. This job isn’t worth it. I thought you were good people, but I guess not. Hell.”
To be honest, I was surprised at Triss’s willingness to not slay him where he stood. However, we slid into the darkness in rank and file with me at the front. We slid along through the cavern, though as we passed through the first room, Erevel said there was someone in the room with us, though she seemed disinclined to attack him.
I turned to face him, and saw a man in wearing black with his hands laid on Erevel’s shoulders, a smirk on his face. Triss stepped aside and rammed her sword into him. “Kill the mage!” the vampire roared and then attempted to exert its control over me, though its attempt slid off me like water. I attacked the creature, my sword cutting into its shoulder. Stumbling, it lifted a hand to Asakku. “Your fist would better serve me than these fools, don’t you think?”
Asakku shook his head like he was coming out of a dream, a deep scowl on his face.
Behind me, Darvin retreated to avoid Erevel.
Dimweir let loose a warbling cry and charged forward. “I think this will work!” He threw a vial of some kind of brilliant, glowing, red substance at the vampire. The vampire burst into flames with a roar, and flames spilled over onto Dimweir and Asakku, though neither seemed seriously injured. Asakku thrust his speartip into the vampire twice in quick succession.
Erevel let out a shriek and charged after Darvin. As she lunged toward him, I swung at her with my shield. Unfortunately, she was far too fast for me. Growling a curse, I returned my attention to the vampire, nearly cleaving his leg from his body with a ferocious blow.
The vampire launched at Dimweir with a gurgling hiss and landed on him. Behind me, I heard the sounds of battle as Erevel and Darvin stood off against one another in the shadows. Dimweir—still on fire—yelped and struggled against the vampire’s grip.
Asakku stepped forward and rammed his spear into the vampire. It staggered before vanishing into a fine mist.
Triss called out, “Erevel, you okay over there?”
“Yep!” Her voice came out chipper and pleased. “Just about to kill Darvin!”
“Son of a—“ Triss groaned.
She rushed over toward Erevel, preparing some form of spell. I charged after her, though by the time we arrived, Erevel had lifted her hands. “Kidding! Kidding. No. Just… We’re good. I don’t want to kill him. We’re fine.”
I walked over, studying her. I didn’t trust that the hold had completed. Something in my gut warned me that the influence was not yet gone. “Darvin—step behind me, please.”
Erevel scowled at me. “What, you don’t trust me now?”
I sighed. “It’s not personal, Erevel. But my gut tells me you are still a threat.”
Her eyes sparked with indignation. “This is a great way to repay me for the companionship and friendship we’ve shared until now. I thought we were here to kill vampires. Why don’t we focus on that.”
“Sounds like Erevel to me,” Darvin said with a laugh.