Into the Keep
The Blades quickly discovered the upper levels of Secomber’s keep were abandoned and had been for years. Boot tracks in the dust led to the basement and they cautiously followed them down. The dungeons below the keep were very recently occupied: doors were unlocked, traps unarmed, dust unsettled.
Motion could be heard in the rooms ahead, doors opened and closed. They were not alone. As they entered a torture chamber complete with skeletons still on the rack, a ghost materialized. It was a victim of the Lady of Shadows, and the spirit asked if they were here to finally slay Cala.
The ghost explained that the Lady of Shadows was once known as Duchess Cala, a just and good ruler of Secomber. The Duchess sought eternal youth and bargained her soul to the Zhentarim. Now a vampire, she still ruled her city through appointed mayors for decades, never preying on its inhabitants. Instead she fed elsewhere, ensuring she was not seen as a threat to the town.
This continued for decades, the old ghost explained, until very recently. Cala turned away from the Zhentarim as they fell out of power. Instead she turned to the upstart, Asmodeus. She now summoned infernal powers into her keep and began the kidnapping of townsfolk for fel rituals. Recent disappearances in Secomber are a result of this power grab. The Blades wondered if the slave trade they stopped in Loudwater and Llorkh had funneled victims to Secomber for the same purpose.
The Blades never asked of the ghost’s identity, and it is well enough they did not learn of the long-dead Zhent adviser. He desired only rest now. Rest and the permanent death of the Duchess that betrayed him and the Zhentarim.
The ghost offered one bit of advice. Vampires could easily flee if threatened, by turning to mist. However if the Blades gathered the skulls of her victims, including his own skull on the rack, their undying hatred could contain her and allow the Blades to slay her forever. The Blades took up his skull and thanked the spirit, moving further into the dungeons.
Moving beyond the torture chambers they came upon a prison with cells loaded full of townspeople. The Blades were too late to save them, the lot had already risen as fledgling vampires.
Their jailer was not of this world – a Pain Devil of the Hells. So the ghost had been right, Cala had sided with Asmodeus. The devil controlled an animated abomination, a massive zombie formed of multiple limbs and heads. The Blades crashed into them, slaying the devil first while holding back the swarming vampires. As the risen townsfolk were slain, the huge zombie bashed anything within reach. After a brief battle it too was slain. The Blades gathered any intact skulls for the final confrontation.
Though victorious, the sounds of battle had alerted anything else lurking in the dungeons. As the caught their breath the closed door leading onward burst open. Six plate-armored Legion Devils stood in formation with two more Pain Devils, led by a man they recognized as the town mayor standing behind them shouting orders. The mayor looked a bit different now; with no need to keep up a magical disguise they recognized him as a cambion. The mayor carried a greatsword on his back.
“You will not reach Cala alive!” he shouted, charging. The devils fought as a military unit, guarding one another and setting up attacks for their allies. The cambion died swiftly, leaving the monsters leaderless. It was not long until all the devils were slain, corpses turning to dust and ash as they fell.
The Blades quickly pressed onward, eager to end Cala’s unlife. They descended another set of stairs into a natural cavern beneath the keep. Fibbit scouted ahead and reported back that none other than Lady Moonfire, the leader of Loudwater, stood ahead with a contingent of Legion Devil bodyguards and more of the massive zombies.
The Blades had long distrusted Moonfire and were not entirely surprised to see her allied with the leader of Secomber. After all, she had turned a blind eye to the slave trade in Loudwater, which doubtless supplied sacrificial victims to bring more devils into this world.
After concocting a plan of attack, Fibbit creeped forward, keeping to the shadows. Moonfire stood ready with her minions, peering into the darkness and waiting for an attack from the Blades. She never saw the blow from Fibbit coming and crumpled unconscious to the floor. The other Blades rushed out from hiding, quickly slaying some of the devils. Fibbit again attacked Moonfire while she was out cold, nearly killing her with a coup de grace.
The devils shouted for aid…and the door behind Fibbit opened, releasing a flood of fledgling vampires. The halfling was now trapped between undead and devils. Behind the vampire swarm stood their true enemy. Cala, the Lady of Shadows. She called for her zombie minions to awaken and watched in amusement as her trap was sprung.
Fibbit quickly glanced in Cala’s room and noticed a shimmering portal with a brick building on the other side. No telling where that led to, but it could be an escape route for Cala. A coffin sat nearby the portal.
Moonfire awoke, stood and threw off her half-elven form. Shifting into the form of a succubus, she charmed Fibbit to prevent his attacks. The halfling turned and stabbed at Kriv instead, as the dragonborn paladin tried to fend off attacks from the massive zombies now barreling towards him. Fibbit shook off the charm and together they quickly slew the succubus that had taken the form of Lady Moonfire. Whether it had truly been the leader of Loudwater or a devilish trick would have to wait.
As her minions fell Cala decided to end the fight. She called out “Make yourself useful, Bax!” and a new foe stepped from the portal and entered an already desperate battle: the skeletal form of Bax, a Zhentarim leader the Blades had killed outside of Llorkh. Now unthinking and undead, Bax raised a greatsword and attacked. Cala entered the fray as well, eager for blood.
The Blades were trapped between Cala and Bax on one side, and the massive zombies to their rear. The minor vampires and devils had already been defeated, as had the Moonfire-succubus.
They focused all remaining effort on Cala, determined to slay her even if it meant their deaths. As she was wounded, the Blades dropped the gathered skulls of her victims around her. The effect was not apparent until she tried to move away – and found herself frozen in place by the ghost’s magic. Unable to flee in mist form or on foot, she was quickly cut down.
The Blades fell back into the room containing the portal, forcing the huge zombies to squeeze through after them as they fought Bax. In moments Bax died, again. The zombies fell soon after and the keep fell silent.
The victorious but nearly dead Blades took stock of the situation. The Lady of Shadows was dead. Moonfire as well, possibly. That meant Secomber and possibly Loudwater were ungoverned. Two isolated towns without leadership, just like the situation in Llorkh a few months ago.
A portal still loomed before them, leading to parts unknown. Before exploring it the Blades decided to settle the situation in Secomber and tell the people of their newly-won freedom (and who won it for them!). The portal could wait for another day.