Adventures of the Cohort Ch. 01bySoebek110©
Mikael and his Sisters continued on their journey. He wondered how his other Sisters were doing, heading east towards the wizard's tower. Their task was no less dangerous than his, although they undertook it with slightly more information available to them. The wizard was powerful, not secretive, unlike the coven of vampires that threatened Habbrant.
"How do we find out anything about these vampires?" Mikael asked, curious. He knew very little of the investigative arts.
"We ask around," Lucinda shrugged. "And stay outside at night."
Mikael laughed. "I look forward to it."
Habbrant did not have any gates, which surprised Mikael somewhat. It was only a small town - not much larger than a village, in fact - situated on the edge of a great forest, but nonetheless it was an uncommon sight. Even the smallest hamlets tended to have some sort of protective wall around them, if only to keep wild animals out. Some of the houses had fences around their property, but most did not, and that made Mikael wary.
He looked around. The houses were not large, but they were not small, either. The town seemed to lack any poor quarter, though this did not surprise Mikael much. Habbrant was a distinctly middle-class town, founded and run by merchants. It was situated on the main thoroughfare between the mountains of the Great North and the Sea of Shells in the south, and as such did not attract much of the peasant class. Indeed, it had to import all of its food, as no farmers grew crops nearby, and this was beginning to worry the populace. No caravans would stop at the town as long as a coven of vampires was known to be attacking the residents within.
The three companions strode in, huddled against the cold in long cloaks. Their armour was concealed beneath the dull cloth, their packs strapped tightly to their backs. Mikael shielded himself from the glare of the afternoon sun as he pulled his cloak more tightly to him. He may have been further south than the Sanctuary here, but it was still cold.
"Remember, we are here as travellers. If anyone asks, we are here merely to spend a few nights on our journey south from the frigid Wastes," Lucinda said, turning to face the other two as they trudged along the main road.
"Of course," Melissa agreed.
"What if they want to see proof of our journey?" Mikael asked.
"They won't. And if they do, we say that it is none of their business."
They resumed walking, before stopping again as they reached the main square. It appeared normal at first glance, the usual provision-selling shops accounted for, but there was something not quite right. It's the people, Mikael realised, watching the sparse groups. They were subdued and scared; they hugged their cloaks into themselves and rushed about. There was no aimless wandering, no shopping, no joyful chatter. The few people that were outside were outside for a purpose, and it seemed they wanted to be back inside as quickly as possible.
The party stood watching a moment, before heading off to the local inn to rent a room. Vampires would worry any town, but Habbrant had almost become deserted, even during daylight. Something needed to be done.
The Horse and Merchant was a pleasant enough looking inn, with a large central room that was used as the tavern. It was, however, surprisingly empty when the three companions entered. Normally a place like this would have been very busy indeed in the early evening, but instead there was merely the bartender, a barmaid and two men drinking. They approached the bar in order to speak to the tavern owner as the men ogled Lucinda and Melissa. Mikael could understand their surprise; two gorgeous women didn't often stride into a tavern like this.
"Good evening," Lucinda said, taking the lead.
"Evenin', lady," the bartender said back, seemingly surprised by the arrival of potential customers. "What can I do for you?"
"My companions and I are travelling south," Lucinda responded, gesturing to Melissa and Mikael. "We need a place to stay for the night."
"I wouldn't recommend you be staying 'ere, ma'am," the bartender warned. "I 'ate to turn away business, but this town's been 'avin' some... problems. There've been sightin's of vampires, y'see. No one's safe, and you'd be better off leaving 'ere than stayin'."
"That's quite ok," Lucinda smiled. "We've come across our share of monsters before; I'm sure we'll stay unharmed. Besides, what are the chances of these 'vampires' picking on one of us?" she laughed. The bartender looked rather gruff back, obviously not taking too kindly to Lucinda's feigned show of disbelief.
"Well, if you insist, lady," he said. "But don't you go laughin' at our problems too much. You might wake up with two bite marks in yer neck."
Lucinda smiled again and handed him four gold coins. The bartender took two and handed the rest back. Mikael took them.
"Barkeep?" he asked, looking up.
"Yes?" came the response.
"I've noticed that the people seem a little... subdued. Is it all to do with the vampire problem? I mean, how severe is it?"
"Heh, they're more than a little subdued," he grunted. "People are terrified. Do all their business at day and they do it as quickly as possible. The shops are open only at day and for short hours at that. I'll be shuttin' soon, just as I'd normally be at my busiest. People don't wanna leave their 'ouses."
"It's that bad?"
"Yeh. It's not some fancy story that folk 'ave fallen prone to, y'understand. There really are vampires 'ere. Three men have been found... murdered. With bite marks in their necks. And two women have disappeared too, poor souls. One o' them was the Mayor's niece, a pretty girl she was too, and the man's distraught."
"Two girls have disappeared?" Melissa interjected.
"Yes, ma'am," the tavern owner replied. "People 'ere are terrified that not only are there vampires about, killin' an' all, but that they're numbers is growin', too."
Mikael nodded and turned back to his Sisters.
"Thank you for your time," Lucinda said to the barkeep.
"No problem, ma'am," he responded. "Thank you for your patronage."
With that, the party left the bar and made their way to the room that they had rented.
It was not particularly luxurious, but it had the basics. A few chairs in front of a roaring fire and three large beds against the far wall which looked comfortable enough. The windows opened out onto a small balcony which stood over the main square.
"Well, that was interesting," Melissa said, breaking the silence.
"It certainly was," Lucinda agreed. "I think we need to pay a visit to the Mayor, don't you?"
Melissa nodded. "I do."
"Then we go now, before night hits and all the doors lock," Lucinda announced. The group dropped off their packs and made for the town centre.
The town hall was an ornate building which stood out from its surroundings. Habbrant was very middle class and not particularly large, and the white marble façade contrasted greatly with the town's general look. Lucinda, Melissa and Mikael hurried inside, hugging their cloaks against the wind. It had begun to darken, and the few people who remained outside were swiftly making their way back to their houses.
Entering the main hall, the group were taken aback by the elegance with which it was crafted. Marble statues stood at the sides and great works of art adorned the walls. It was evident that important meetings took place here, but this was not their concern just at the moment. They wanted to see the Mayor, and his office was further in.
They reached it with no conflict. It appeared that all of the regular staff, and even the guards, had retired home for the night when they would normally still be working. Only the Mayor still sat in his office, staring at sheets of parchment. Lucinda gently knocked, and he looked up with a start.
"Hello?" he asked warily.
"Good evening, sir," Lucinda replied. "I was wondering if I could speak to you with my companions."
"Of course," he said, gesturing them into his office. "Forgive the mess; I have much work I should be doing. It's just that I find it hard to... concentrate, at the moment."
"And that is precisely what I wanted to talk to you about," Lucinda said. The Mayor narrowed his eyes slightly.
"Yes?" he questioned.
"Well, sir, we are a group of adventurers returning from the Northern Wastes, and we are currently staying in your town before we continue south. It has come to our attention that you have somewhat of a vampire problem, and we think we may be able to help. We have a certain level of experience when it comes to hunting down monsters, vampires included, and want to offer our services."
The Mayor's eyes brightened. "You do? Then excellent! We are in need of help; the situation is dire. The vampires are killing and taking indiscriminately and we have no way to stop them. As I'm sure you are aware, they have taken my niece from me."
"That we are, sir," Lucinda replied. "The reason I mention this is not because I am looking for payment. Consider this a public service; we truly wish to help. No, we come to you merely so that you know we are doing it. The townspeople seem understandably nervous, and if they see us sneaking around - particularly at night - then they may well become suspicious. I thought that if we made clear our intentions to you then the chances of something ill befalling us due to a misunderstanding would be drastically reduced."
The Mayor nodded furiously. "You have my word that we won't interfere with your work, ma'am. All the help that we can get is welcome, and we certainly won't get in your way."
"Then we are agreed," Lucinda said, standing. "We will do what we can."
"May the Gods be with you, brave folk," the Mayor said as they turned to leave.
The party bowed low and left the room.
The moon had risen as Mikael patrolled the town, and it cast its luminescence over the entire scene. It looked quite eerie, Mikael realised, despite his usual affection for its dull white glow. Being potentially surrounded by vampires will do that to you, I suppose, Mikael grimaced as his hand flickered to the pommels of his swords.
All around him the sounds of night were thick; the hoots and howls of animals in the great forest at the town's borders, the rustling of the trees and bushes in the wind. There were no noises from the townspeople -- they had locked their doors and extinguished their lamps in an effort to keep the vampires out -- but a nocturnal cacophony still buffeted his ears.
His Sisters were in the tavern; Lucinda and he having decided to take it in turns to patrol the night. Melissa's forte was not combat, and though she could fight if she needed to, it did not seem sensible to send her out alone. Indeed, it was decided that it was best for all of them if she remained somewhere they could easily find her, in case either they or someone they came across required her expert aid.
He lingered on the main road a moment longer, his eyes roving over the darkness. He had no need for torches on this night, bright as the moon and stars were. Besides, he could always cast a minor cantrip to allow him to see in the dark. Whilst he may not have been a master of the magical arts yet, he still had learned in his brief time in the Cohort how to cast some of the easier spells.
He was enjoying his new home immensely. He felt at peace for the first time since his parents had died, as if renewed purpose had imbued him. His acceptance into the ranks of the Gods' elite warriors gave him an aim in life, and he intended to do their bidding as best he could. That I'm surrounded by stunning, sexually voracious women is merely a bonus, he grinned to himself as a cold breeze washed over him.
A noise to Mikael's left broke his reverie, and he whirled on the spot. A shadow disappeared down an alleyway, flitting into the darkness beyond, and Mikael pursued it without a moment's thought. He reached the alleyway in mere moments, his footsteps light despite his pace, and stared into the inky blackness. The darkness was near-opaque, two reasonably sized houses casting a great black shadow between them, the moon's light all but blocked by their high roofs.
Mikael slowed as he reached out, his magical senses tingling somewhat as he edged down the alleyway. He did not draw his swords, not wanting to reveal himself as a powerful warrior just yet, but his hands drifted to their hilts beneath the flaxen cloak that he wore nonetheless. The dank stone of the alley echoed his hushed footsteps, and his muscles twitched, ready for combat.
After a minute or so of silent progress he came across a broken window, and paused to peer inside the blackness within. A muffled whimpering was all that he heard, and he deftly slipped through the window and landed on a thick woollen rug.
He stopped a moment as he adjusted to the light. Moonlight streamed in from the windows facing the street, and he took his bearings from the room. It was sparse, but large. A kitchen stood apart from it, its door wide open, and a staircase climbed the far wall. Glancing inside to make sure that the kitchen was empty, Mikael silently climbed the steps to the building's upper floor.
The whimpering was louder now, and his eyes narrowed as he identified the noises as ones of distress. Standing at the top of the staircase, he located their source, and moved quickly to the appropriate doorway. He pushed it open, the thick wood creaking loudly.
Hunched figures crouched within, and spun round to face him as the door opened. The moonlight was bright, and Mikael could clearly see what was taking place. A man and a woman lay in bed, pinned in place through magic and fear. Two other figures stooped over them, the moonlight glinting off their sharp fangs.
"Hi," Mikael said, his voice loud, breaking the silence. The bondage magic that held the couple in the bed broke suddenly, and they sprang from the covers and screamed.
The vampires turned to him with an angry hiss, their eyes glowing red as they further bared their fangs. Daggers were withdrawn from their cloaks as they leapt towards him, the unholy aura they emanated battering his senses.
With a cry Mikael withdrew his longswords, and they shone brightly as their magic radiated outwards. The vampires seemed taken aback, and Mikael took the opportunity to thrust one blade into the closest beast's heart. It disintegrated with a strangled scream, turning to dust as its howl rend the night. The other stumbled backwards, clearly stunned by Mikael's attack, and with one last growl leapt deftly out of the window. The glass splintered as the monster crashed through, and yet it seemed unharmed. By the time Mikael had reached the shattered pane, the vampire had already disappeared.
Mikael stood there a moment, surveying the room and catching his breath. With a final pulse of magic, he was satisfied that the vampires were gone and sheathed his swords. He made his way downstairs, talking loudly as he did so in order to calm the two figures that had forced their way past him, terrified.
He found them in the living room, hiding beneath the woollen rug, their eyes displaying their abject horror at what had just happened. He stepped towards them and they shrank back, so he sank to his haunches and smiled.
"It's ok," he soothed. "They're gone."
"W... w... were they vampires?" the woman stammered, her fear obvious.
"I'm afraid so, yes," Mikael nodded, a grimace on his face. The man yelped in terror. "But they're gone now," he quickly added.
The woman seemed to relax slightly. "W... what did you do?"
"I killed one, and the other fled."
"You didn't get them both?" she cried, shrinking back underneath the rug.
"Indeed not, but do not worry," he comforted. "They will not return tonight. You are safe, though I suspect you would feel better if you spent the night with a neighbour."
Mikael waited, continuing to calm the terrified couple as the town began to wake up around them. Clearly the commotion had woken the settlement, and despite their fear, their concern for their neighbours was greater. Mikael was impressed by their community spirit.
A moment later the door knocked, and Mikael heard a woman's voice calling his name. He smiled, reassuring the couple -- who still cowered under the rug -- that it was safe, and opened the door. Lucinda and Melissa hurried in, having heard the smashing glass.
"Are you ok?" Lucinda asked, a concerned look on her face.
Mikael nodded. "I am. There were vampires here, two of them. I killed one, but the other escaped me."
"And the occupants?" Melissa said, worried. "Are they ok?"
He gestured to the rug. "They are, though I am sure they'd appreciate your aid. They are very scared."
His Sister hurried over, crouching in front of them and calming them down as her hands glowed with a faint white light. The couple relaxed, yet were still clearly very shaken by events -- the man did not even once stare down the impressive valley of Melissa's cleavage.
"How did you find me?" Mikael asked at last, turning to Lucinda.
"Melissa located you," the rogue replied. "She could feel your magical essence radiating from this house. Even I could sense the emanations from your swords."
After a brief moment, Melissa stood, a small smile on her lips. She reached down, helping the couple to their feet, before turning to her companions.
"They're fine," she said, walking with them towards the front door. "Though they will spend the night at their neighbour's house."
"One thing before you leave," Lucinda called, walking quickly over. "Where did you get these?" Mikael watched as she plucked a clove of garlic from the front door.
"Old Hammond sold us those," the man said, looking upon her with disdain. Not disdain at his Sister, Mikael realised, but disdain for the garlic. "Fat lot o' use that did us," he added, spitting on the floor.
"Where is this Hammond? We must speak with him." The rogue clearly did not want to keep them, but she was also determined to reach the bottom of this.
"The large 'ouse in the middle 'o town," the man responded, before bowing and opening the front door. Mikael watched as Melissa left with the couple.
"You want to pay this Hammond a visit?" Mikael asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Indeed," Lucinda replied. "He needs to know that these wards do not work, and whatever his motives for selling them -- even if he genuinely think he's doing right -- he needs to stop."
"Then let's go," Mikael said, moving towards the front door.
"In the morning," Lucinda replied with a pleasant smile. "You need to get some sleep."
The next morning brought with it a rainstorm, and Mikael and his Sisters hurried along the main road with the cloaks clasped around them. The daylight struggled feebly to break the ominous clouds, and largely failed. Water fell in great fat droplets around them, thumping onto their heads and soaking them through.
Luckily, the large house was not difficult to find. It stood on its own, quite apart from its surrounding houses, set back in large gardens. Lucinda hammered on the door as Mikael and Melissa shivered, and after a short wait the great oak entrance swung open.
"May I help you?" asked a pretty young woman, who looked upon them rather quizzically. "I'm afraid my master isn't taking any requests for items at the moment."
"We must speak with Hammond," Lucinda responded insistently. "Now."
"As I said, I'm afraid he cannot sell any more wards at the moment," the maid said quietly. "He is asleep."
"Then I am afraid you will have to wake him," Lucinda replied. "We are not trying to purchase any of his wards -- we must speak with him directly about the vampires."