OOC: Once again, thanks to Shim.
Vaclav received word that he was needed to help the Professor with protecting his family, and headed off to join in with the research – to “fish all of the bats out of Mother’s head”, as he said. A mild side-effect was that the Barthory family no longer had any representatives in the palace, and their political rivals did not waste any time in making a move. It was quickly decided that further investigation of the dungeon was unwise at this juncture, since the immediate area seemed safe, and there was concern that Things may be stirred up that would be difficult to put down if investigation continued. The party found themselves at a bit of a loose end.
Vana was contacted by the Temple of the Smith, who had been investigating the Laughing Wolf cultists. They had heard from the Temple of the Burning Judge that they may have some relevant information. Unfortunately, due to some disagreements long ago, solemn vows were made that left the local Smiths refusing to set foot in the rival temple until certain reparations were made, whilst the Judges insisted that the letter of the law did not require any reparations whatsoever. As a priest from elsewhere, Vana was well-positioned to handle the negotiations. While no obvious treachery was expected, it seemed sensible to bring bodyguards anyway, as the value of law-abidingness depends rather on the chosen laws.
Having (on Scabbard’s suggestion) obtained some more holy water, the party wondered if there were any rules they should be aware of in the Temple. Could you take weapons in? (“You can take my halberd when you pry it from my mysteriously-restored, divinely-granted fingers. Or I can put it against a rock outside or summit, that’d probably be alright to be honest,” suggested Jack.) The Temple seemed not to have any rules against that as such, since within the Temple they could probably just mob anyone daft enough to try any funny business. It’d be polite to be careful with weapons, though. Being lawful, they typically liked to know people’s social position and station to understand the situation. The cultists were elitist and hierarchical. They wouldn’t take very kindly to Jack or Oswyn due to their station, considering them inferiors to Vana. Vana was likely to receive cordial respect for her position, whilst Scabbard’s reception would be questionable if they knew anything of his work.
Due to their status as legal but socially unacceptable, the Temple of the Burning Judge was in a back alley with no obvious markings. Inside, the party found a makeshift private prison, rather than a conventional place of worship. The guards wore the traditional hoods and garb of torturers and executioners. A high priest greeted the party and bade them take a seat. He explained that he had heard they had encountered a deviant cult of the Laughing Wolf – one noted for their particular antipathy to the Burning Judge – and had decided that therefore he and the party had common cause. To explain why, he had to briefly discuss the history of vampires…
Long aeons ago, before the dominance of the mortal races, sovereignty over the world was given unto the Burning Judge in her aspect as the Shining Judge, over which she dispensed perfect justice, with many punishments, of course. The power to enact such punishments was a valued privilege. One of the most revered positions was that of the Exsanguinators, those given the responsibility of enforcing punishments that required the taking of blood. This was of course a complex matter, far more subtle than being a simple headsman, since it required them to take precisely the required amount of blood and no more. When the Shining Empire fell, the Shining Judge in her new aspect as the Burning Judge decided that her sovereignty over the mundane world had ended, and all of her noble servants obeyed and respected this decision, and adjusted to life in the new order. The exception was the High Exsanguinator and his underlings, who were unwilling to give up their position to serve the Judge in a new fashion. In fact, they rebelliously declared her a criminal for daring to abdicate, and attacked the Sun itself, her new dwelling, in an attempt to capture her and bring back the Empire by force. She cast them back down to the world and turned her face from them, leaving them incapable of bearing the light of the sun. They became creatures of the night, stealing blood that was not due to them, and initiating others into the mysteries of their kind, which only the Judge had the lawful right to bestow. These were the first vampires, and the high priest believed that the one known as “General Blood” was either the High Exsanguinator himself, or someone masquerading as him – “General Blood” being a mistranslation of the original title.
Vana was deeply concerned by someone who would fall so far from the wishes of the gods. The high priest continued his explanation…
Because they had rebelled, not from true regard for the law but to preserve their own power, they became drawn more and more towards the service of Chaos and the Laughing Wolf. They became like other predators that serve that power. Not all vampires follow that particular debased cult, but the behaviour of the cult the party had discovered suggest that they may well be in contact with the High Exsanguinator.
In possession of the Temple of the Burning Judge were maps which indicated the location of a Shining Empire record house. Amongst these would be chronicles of the Empire’s aristocracy, including details amassed by the secret police regarding the High Exsanguinator himself. They might contain information that could be used against him. Unfortunately, as the depository is far into no-man’s land, the Temple had never managed to mount an expedition there. But they would be willing to support the party in doing so – providing the party agreed to retrieve a number of ancient volumes for them.
Vana asks the nature of these tomes, and was told they are philosophical and theological tomes on the nature of Law and punishment, and so on – of great interest to the Order, but not necessarily to others. The party ask for information to help find the correct tomes, as none of them can read the Shining Tongue.
While the men decided to head to the pub to try and learn about the wastelands from some guides or hunters, Vana decided to report to the Temple of the Smith. They agreed that following this lead was a decent idea, but advised caution, particularly on the grounds that the wasteland is, of course, lawless – an ideal place for the Judge’s followers to betray them. The Judges were usually highly jealous of their secrets, and visiting this depository would allow the party to learn many things about the Empire that they might otherwise prefer to remain unknown. If they were concerned about this, they might decide in a fit of paranoia to try and kill the party.
Between the Smith library and various guides, the party learned quite a bit about possible routes. They can travel either by sea or by land.
The depository is in the northern marshes. They could take a ship north, but that would be quite noticeable and leave the ship vulnerable to attack. They could take the canal west, then the roads to the north. They could even go further west and then up via the forests.
Oswyn suggests taking a ship out, then paying them to come and collect the party, but actually to head back overland to avoid ambushes. Scabbard prefers to just keep watch. Vana seems to support the Out Sea, Back Land approach. Eventually, though, they decided on an overland journey, hoping to spot or foil the cultists on the way back.