3- The Calling of the Crypt

They watched as the vampire's body crumpled to the ground, an eerid billow of smoke rising as it faded into nothingness.

"That was a close battle," Baden said as he wiped his brow. "The power of the undead is strong here."

"They fall the same way as any foe," the barbarian countered.

"All the same, we should have known the grinnin weren't the source of the affliction," the ranger said. "Their defeat has revealed the true menace, and the clues have led us to this dark place."

Murrar growled. "I still find it interesting that caverns full of vampires could exist so close to the Overlord's realm."

"I don't like what you're implying, kerra," Tayil answered angrily. "My master had no knowledge of this place, nor did any of my people. I heard stories that the cursed forests of the Faydark were infested by these demons, but to think that the sacred beauty of Nektulos could be tainted in such a way is blasphemy."

"Keep your voice down!" the ranger whispered. "There are more ahead."

The four moved slowly and carefully, clinging to the shadows where the ranger's skills could best keep them hidden. Sometimes the passageways would open into larges rooms, meeting places where the vampires conducted strange riruals.

"They look as if they are preparing for something," the Teir'Dal said. Baden nodded.

They crossed bridges of stone, watching carefully to avoid patrolling guards. Far below, dark shapes paced back and forth, as if waiting hungrily for something to fall into their gasp. Above, ghostly forms moved like phantom clouds, drawing near then fading away.

"We're getting closer," Murrar told them. "There is an odd scent in the air, like something I have encountered before, yet somehow different."

"You make no sense," Korodar grunted.

"Murrar's nose has never failed us before," Baden said. "I think it's time to pu our new trinkets to the test."

Each of them touched the small silver cham they carried. Their forms shimmered for a moment as they took on the appearance of the vampires.

"They seem to work," Tayil noted.

"Are you sure?" You look the same to me, witch," Murrar told her.

"Enough. We need to keep moving. I'll try to shroud us again if the illusion drops." Baden led them forward.

The vampires seemed to pay no attention as the group traveled upward, crossing more stone wallways as they neared the top of the cavern. They drew closer to a platform that looked as if it was surrounded by large stone fangs. Around its perimeter stood a circle of vampires that seemed to be watching them.

"Something is happening," Tayil whispered.

"The illusion is dropping," Baden answered. "And we are surrounded."

Korodar drew his weapons as the four resumed their normal appearance, but the vampires behind them only watched and stood their ground.

"Come forward," said a strangely familiar voice.

The four looked at each other, then cautiously moved up the final stone ramp. At the center of the circle stood a figure of darkness and power.

"You!" Tayil hissed.

"I want to thank you for helping me get what I wanted," the voice told them. "But now, I fear your journey is at an end."

The ghostly shapes above took form and flew toward them with blinding speed. As the ranger aimed his bow, he noticed that the vampires were smiling.