Written by Jeff Lee
The two adventurers sat in the temple’s entry chamber, a room of bare stone with an unlit brazier in its center. Magical light shone from the blade of Zara’s halberd, which leaned against the wall beside them. Zara had used her spells to counteract the enuka’s venom and restore her vision. Now, she examined the wound in Suisan’s calf. A simple healing spell was enough to stop the bleeding and close the wound. Suisan stood and tested it, putting weight on that foot and taking a few steps from the wall and back again.
Zara had to smile.
“Afraid the healing wouldn’t take?”
Suisan flashed her wolfish grin. “I’m surprised. I wouldn’t think Makash would deign to heal the likes of me.”
“I deigned to heal the likes of you. The Green Mother deigns to provide me her power, trusting me to be wise about how I wield it. If she is displeased with me healing an ally in a fight against a great evil, I’ll be surprised to find out.”
Suisan shrugged. “I see. Well, I suppose if I get her favored cleric killed, I’ll already be torn to pieces by our quarry, and won’t have to dread her retribution.”
Zara frowned at the response. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re prepared for what lies ahead. I don’t intend to lose.”
“Most losers never do,” Suisan replied. Zara’s frown deepened, but Suisan forestalled the conversation by grabbing her pack and blade from where they sat, slinging the bag over her shoulders and keeping the sword at the ready. Zara swallowed any further rebuttal and stood, taking up the glowing halberd. Suisan strode to the far side of the chamber with the cleric in tow. The room was bare save for the stone bowl of the brazier, a stone block that once served as an altar, and an alcove filled with rubble. Suisan glanced over the tumble of broken stone, probably once a statue of Khayne. The altar, a slab of basalt seven feet long, half as wide, and nearly four feet tall, was angled to one side. Beneath, a set of narrow stairs led down into the depths of the pyramid. Suisan pointed with her blade at the stairs. Zara motioned for her to continue on. As her companion started down, Zara leaned up against the altar stone and gave it a shove. The stone didn’t move. Yet something had slid it aside to reveal the passage down. She hoped it had been the enuka. Several of them.
The stairs emptied into a tall, narrow hallway. If Zara held out her arms, she would be able to place both palms flat against the walls. The hall twisted and turned at odd angles, doorways into small, empty rooms staggered along its length. Suisan followed it, poking her head into the doorways as she reached them. The hall eventually ended at another narrow stair, leading deeper still. The pair descended.
A large chamber opened at the stairway’s end. The air was foul, thick with corruption and rot. Squat, round pillars held up the arched ceiling. Near the center of the room stood three stone tables, placed together in a U-shape. Upon the central table lay the body of an enuka, the skin, muscles, and ribs of its chest cavity flayed and pulled back to expose the innards. On the other tables were a plethora of blades, surgical implements, and various jars and flasks. In the shadows at the far end of the room, at the edges of Zara’s magical light, was another rectangular, stone object, larger than the altar in the temple above.
The two stole quietly across the chamber. Zara looked aghast at the dissected enuka, where Suisan’s face was impassive, save for a wrinkling of her nose at the smell. The antipaladin noted the sigil scarred into its forehead like the others, indicating it with a motion of her sword. Zara nodded.
“The Khaynite’s mark, you think?” asked the cleric in a low voice.
“They like to brand their slaves. Loyal servants, bodyguards, and the occasional subject for his experiments, apparently,” Suisan replied quietly.
Suisan shrugged. “Enukas respect strength and power. This creature has them in abundance. Let’s get on with this.”
From this vantage point, the light revealed the large object across the room as a sarcophagus. Its stone lid bore a bas relief similar to the doors of the temple above: A figure with massive teeth and horns, a demonic visage in repose. They approached, moving to the near side of the sarcophagus. Zara set down her halberd and pack, pulling a stake and mallet from the latter. She looked at Suisan and gave a nod. The other woman set her hands to the lid and shoved. Stone ground on stone as the lid was shoved aside. Zara lifted the stake, mallet at the ready. The lid fell away with a loud crash to the floor, revealing…nothing. The interior of the sarcophagus was empty, save for a thin layer of earth along the bottom. The two glanced at one another, alarm mirrored in both their faces.
The word rasped out, echoing through the chamber. Zara dropped the stake and mallet, reaching for her halberd. Suisan gripped the hilt of her sword in both hands, eyes darting about, trying to locate the enemy. She glanced up.
It was on the ceiling. Facing down, legs and arms bent back and holding it impossibly to the ceiling. Naked except for a kilt of pleated leather, red skin shining in the enchanted light, lips pulled back from a mouthful of sharp fangs, grinning. Suisan let out a yell as it dropped.
The undead Khaynite landed on them bodily, its momentum driving both of them to the ground. It stood swiftly, the impact doing nothing to slow it. The vampire’s movements were smooth but jerky at the same time, reminding Suisan simultaneously of both snake and insect. Something about the joints. The knees and elbows could bend in either direction. Nearly a full head taller than Suisan, its body was whip-thin, corded, wiry muscle and skin stretched over its bones. It reached for them, extending a hand to grasp each by the back of the neck. The Khaynite’s fingers were twice as long as a human’s, with more knuckles, each tipped by a black talon fully two inches long. The hand encircled Suisan’s entire neck, could likely strangle her even gripped from behind, like a band of iron. They were yanked to their feet, then flung apart as it threw its arms wide, sending them flying apart to land hard upon the stone floor. Suisan scrambled to her feet, but the thing was on her before she could even get fully upright.
“Forsaken,” it rasped once more.
Claws lashed out, the vampire’s limbs seeming to blur. Suisan tried to parry the furious strikes, but it got through her guard, once, twice, a third time. Each time the claws tore clothing, mail, and flesh. Blood flowed, and the nostrils on its lean, knife-like nose flared.
“I will flay you, worthless one, then lick your blood, savor every drop as it runs from your dying body.”
From behind the vampire, light shone. Zara had regained her feet and moved forward, chanting a spell. Her fingertips glowed green, as they had when she’d healed Suisan’s leg. Such curative magics were anathema to the undead, unbinding the necromantic energies that gave them unlife and mobility. However, before she could touch the creature, it whirled, catching the cleric by the wrist. Yanking her forward, it used the claws of its other hand to tear away the chain from Zara’s neck. Her holy symbol hung from the end of it. The vampire’s red skin smoked where the swinging pendant brushed it. The vampire flung the jewelry away to clatter against the wall, then twisted and moved. Zara was whipped around with great force and then it released her wrist, sending her slamming into Suisan. The antipaladin managed to move her sword before the impact, lest Zara be impaled on the blade. Both women tumbled to the floor again.
The vampire grabbed Zara by one of her horns with one hand, yanking her to her feet, then backhanding her with its free hand. Held firm by the vampire’s grip, her head was unable to roll with the impact and the blow caused Zara to go slack, eyes glazed. The green glow about her fingertips faded.
“Servant of the Sanguine Lord,” hissed the undead Khaynite, “what blood of yours does not fill my belly will paint Khayne’s altar.”
The vampire’s jaws stretched impossibly wide, like a snake unhinging its jaw. Then Suisan rose up, the fire-hardened stake in her hands. She thrust it into the vampire’s chest with both hands, driving it between the ribs, half its length sliding between cracked bone. The vampire dropped the cleric, clutching at the stake, eyes wide and mouth in a wide “O” of surprise. Suisan reached down to grab her sword and take its head, but then the vampire’s mouth spread into a wide grin as it chuckled, sliding the stake free with remarkably little blood.
“Foolish. I’m Khaynite. Our bodies are ours to change as we will. Why not move my heart to a less obvious place?”
A lightning-quick thrust drove the stake down into Suisan’s shoulder. Then a swift backhand from the vampire sent her over the sarcophagus to the floor opposite. The scrabbled atop the sarcophagus, leering down at Suisan as she lay crumpled on the floor.
“Perhaps I will take you as a servant. You could be a beautiful thing, and useful, with the proper alterations.”
The vampire crawled down towards Suisan, its black tongue licking over fangs and lips in anticipation.
Suisan rolled over, thrusting a hand towards the vampire. Zara’s lost holy symbol clutched in her fist.
“Get away from me!”
The vampire recoiled, its eyes rolling and slobber flying from its mouth. Insect-like, it scrabbled backwards, back up to the top of the sarcophagus, balancing on the rim, one arm thrown over its eyes to shield it from the sight of the green and gold triangle held in Suisan’s grasp. With effort, she rose from the floor, holding the holy symbol out before her, stepping forward. As she advanced, the vampire withdrew, crawling down to the floor on the other side of the sarcophagus, hissing in anger and fear as Suisan strode around to confront it.
The sound of chanting drew Suisan’s attention. She glanced over at Zara, still on the floor, but with one hand upraised. A golden beam of light, like a ray of sunshine, sprang from her hand, striking the vampire in the side. Its flesh blackened and cracked, smoke rising as the beam of light lanced through from one side of the vampire’s chest to the other. A howl erupted from the creature as it sprang to its feet and turned on the cleric. Then Suisan brought her sword around in a wide arc, punctuated by a wet, slicing sound. Then the vampire’s head separated from its neck and dropped to the floor, its body following a moment later. Suisan dropped to her knees, her eyes meeting Zara’s. She tossed the holy symbol and its broken chain back to its owner.