Like most grand halls, the ceiling is high and arched, with a giant wooden chandelier holding what must be a hundred lit candles. There are subtle warpings to the arches and walls though, which sometimes distorts the visual sense of scale or distance. Two large hearths blaze at either end to provide warmth, and raised circular dais dominates the center of the room.
A curved table surrounds the dais, save for a gap large enough to accommodate the host: a moderately sized dragon. Blank-faced servants clear away the dinner dishes (and goblets for those on liquid diets) of those seated at the table.
The repast itself was well done, rather than sumptuous. There was plenty of meat and bread, and various spices and other additives to liven up the blood, but it was all simply prepared. As for the dragon himself, Vorgulremik merely nibbled on a hog leg.
Alptraum spent most of the remaining meal quiet and withdrawn from the others. His ears flick out of nervousness, occasionally tracking and listening to the breathing and heartbeats of those around the table.
War and undeath never stopped Arkold from eating, and to most peoples' minds not even the Apocalypse could stop him from drinking. So Arkold ate. A lot. With much peering over his wineglass or a meaty leg of animal flesh at the dragon.
Tulani leans an arm on the table, staring into her cup of drink… not having eaten much, but not very hungry in the first place and not very interested in food as things stand. She glances occasionally at the two other women seated at the table, and their draconic host.
Lilith and Ravenia also seem afflicted with the silence of the others, often appearing ready to say something but never going through with it throughout the meal, and sometimes casting worried glances at their guests.
"Well, that was tasty," Vorgulremik declares, and notes Tulani's barely touched meal. "I apologize for the meager fare, but as you probably noted on your way here, times are hard."
"I've had worse and lived on less," Alptraum comments quietly as he starts into that glass that he's swirling slowly in his hand.
The black and white Sphynx blinks at the dragon's comment, replying slowly, "No, it's not that… I just don't feel very hungry." She actually smiled at him, though the smile didn't quite reach her eyes.
"Things will get better once the sorcerer is gone," Lilith says, almost defiantly. "Then there won't be anybody to torment us."
"A meal's a meal," Arkold remarks noncommittally. He shrugs and leans back in his chair, one hand on his wineglass and the other resting on his stomach.
"Heh, yeah. Then you'll get to be the tormenters," Alptraum mutters to himself and finishes off his glass.
"A very practical-minded sentiment, dear Arkold," the dragon rumbles. "And being practical beings, I feel we should get on with the task at hand," he says, and gestures to one of the servants. Soon a group of them begins to dismantle the table, leaving the chairs and their occupants in place.
Waiting with interest, Tulani glances around at those seated, before focusing her attention back on their host, commenting as well, "Yes, let's to business… "
Arkold eyes the dragon with barely checked suspicion. "Alright. Dessert, then," he agrees with a nod.
Two more servants arrive, dressed in mismatched pieces of armor, and bear a large wooden post to the dais. They plant it in a hole in the center, so that it towers nearly eight feet tall. A stone hook extends from just below the top. Another servant carries a small open chest and sets it down before the dragon. "Bring in the prisoner," Vorgulremik commands.
Alptraum remains quiet. He continues to watch and scan the area with his ears.
Tulani waits and watches to see what manner of person or creature the 'prisoner' will be.
"Very dramatic," Arkold remarks as he eyes the pole. "And I still want to know why everyone who serves you looks like they've 'ad one snort too many of Achtung."
It takes eight guards to bring in the prisoner. Even bruised and bound hand and foot (a bridle-bit is even strapped to his head to keep him from biting) the human struggles to attack his captors. They manage to get him onto the dais, and bind his ankles further by tying them to the base of the pole, while attaching his bound wrists to the hook above. The man has been stripped down to a loincloth, showing many dark bruises from his capture, and is practically foaming at the mouth in rage.
Arkold leans towards the dragon, pauses as if thinking better of leaning towards something with a mouth as big as his head, then continues. "Eight men? Who, or, eh, what, is he?" he inquiries in a whisper. Even then he still manages to sound suspicious enough to make the words seem almost like an accusation against the dragon.
Alptraum flicks his ears forward to listen to the man's heartbeat and breathing rate. "Interesting. He really doesn't like you," he comments.
"Quite the berserker, isn't he?" the dragon says. "The earlier minions could at least pass as rational beings. Some were even hesitant about killing themselves on command to become blood golems. This one doesn't seem very hesitant at all." Vorgulremik dips a claw into the open chest, and pulls up a chunk of raw chalk big enough for his hand to handle easily.
A blank look on her face, the Sylvanian Sphynx looks the prisoner up and down as the guards leave. She looks him in the eyes for a brief moment, a little surprised by his rabid viciousness. She flicks an ear in their host's direction as he withdraws the chalk. "What are you going to do?"
As the dragon begins to draw a magic circle around the edges of the dais, Lilith and Ravenia rise and remove other supplies from the chest. They set out the ritual candles and light the incense. "First, we must determine if this condition is due to some form of spell," Vorgulremik answers as he works. "If it can be removed, things would be much easier."
"As long as it's not a necromantic ritual. Performing such in my presence may be … dangerous," Alptraum comments warily. He stands up and walks to the edge of the dais and looks directly at the man, trying to look into his eyes.
Once the preparations are completed, Vorgulremik returns to his spot and begins to chant, tuning out his guests. Lilith and Ravenia, however, return to their seats. "It is a ritual of Mind," Lilith whispers to Alptraum. "To see if the man is enchanted or cursed."
"Mmm," Alptraum mutters. He spends a moment longer staring at the man, then returns to his seat as well.
The ritual doesn't appear to affect the prisoner any. He still twists and snarls, meeting everyone's eyes at least once with his own bloodshot, animalistic ones.
"And what a twisted mind it is, too, heh," whispers the wolf to the Sphynx.
Tulani blinks as Arkold speaks to her, looking seriously in his direction, before watching the ritual proceed with wary interest, half paying attention to the others in the room.
Raven fidgets nervously in her chair while the ritual progresses. Such things tend to be dull for mundane observers, and even having a dragon perform it does little to change this.
"I don't suppose there's wine to accompany the music," asks Arkold of Raven.
"What?" Raven asks, nearly jumping out of her seat. "Oh, of course, I'll go fetch some," she offers, quickly retreating from the room.
"You have such a way with women," Alptraum comments toward Arkold.
"Could be worse," Arkold says, gesturing at the dragon's back. "Could have that sort of way, eh?"
Noticing Ravenia's nervous twitching, Tulani watches her leave, before turning to Lilith and asking her, "Is something wrong?" One of her ears flicked towards the Eeee, the other still tuned in their host's direction.
"Raven is not comfortable around magic," Lilith says, with a bit of pity in her voice. "She had bad experiences with it as a child."
"Point taken," Alptraum replies. He glances toward Lilith at well.
The nearly naked vampire Eeee seems to be perfectly comfortable with the ritual, and even raises her hand to her muzzle to cover a yawn.
"I wonder if this was what it was like for them to keep my 'mother' and myself alive," Alptraum comments idly. "Mistake that that was."
By the time Raven returns with the wine, the ritual has begun to wind down. The prisoner still thrashes about with undiminished vigor when the dragon stops chanting.
"You were violent?" Lilith asks Alptraum, looking confused.
"Violently angstful," Arkold confides in a mock-conspiring whisper to Lilith.
"My mother was a woman caught between life and death. Her body was sustained through magic to keep me alive," Alptraum replies and shrugs. "And to assist with my birth."
Lilith's features perk up at the confession. "Wouldn't that make you… " she begins to ask, then snaps her mouth shut and looks back towards the dais.
"Make me what?" Alptraum asks flatly, eyes focused on the dais.
Tulani glances over at Alptraum, mulling over this new piece of information in her mind… but deciding not to think on it too much, just keeping one ear turned towards the conversation.
Arkold reaches out to accept the wine, and thanks Raven as well. "I suppose it ain't quite the question," he says gesturing vaguely at the prisoner with his goblet, "but even if it was I doubt he'd shift. He's got a look of madness in those eyes. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to somethin' like you, Vorg."
"No sign of magical enchantment," Vorgulremik announces. "Yet… there is a trace of something." The dragon blows out the candles near him.
"Was he wearing a medallion?" Alptraum inquires.
"Yes, and carrying a dagger," the dragon admits. "Both cursed. I've examined plenty of them before."
"Have you tried destroying the medallion? The symbols I dealt with before were the mage's focus. Destroying them broke his spells," Alptraum says. He glances over at Lilith again.
Lilith seems to be deliberately not looking at Alptraum.
Alptraum cants his head, trying to get a look at Lilith's eyes.
"Bring in the artifacts," Vorgulremik calls, and a servant quickly appears bearing a cloth-wrapped bundle, which he lays at the dragon's feet.
Tulani tries to record some of the information she's gaining in her mind, currently with little to no experience with these things of her own.
Not being versed in these sorts of things Arkold manages the one topic he is versed in here: drinking. He sips his wine and watches with ears perked and eyes alert.
The female Eeee turns her face away further, and appears to be watching the dais in fascination. "He never seems to tire," she comments.
"And may I have a look at the medallion?" Alptraum asks the dragon. "I could verify it's the same person; I remember quite well what they looked like."
Unwrapping the bundle, Vorgulremik exposes a familiar looking amulet and dagger. He meets Alptraum's gaze, and says, "I would prefer if you did not touch the items, but are welcome to approach and examine them closer."
"Why? I've touched them before," Alptraum comments and walks over to the items. He crouches down near them.
"Indulge my cautious nature," is the dragon's reply. This close to him, Alptraum can almost see his reflection in the shiny scales, although they make his face look grotesquely distorted.
"Never tires? Now it may not be the same thing, but, eh, in the military when a man never seemed to tire he was on somethin'. And he seemed possessed of unlimited energy … until he burned out. Then he was lucky if he got up and saw another sunrise," Arkold remarks.
"Afraid of what I might do, then?" Alptraum asks flatly. His eyes focus on the medallion and he thinks back to his first encounters. A moment later, Alptraum says, "Yes. Same man. These are the focus. We stopped one of the blood demons by tearing this from his neck."
"You think this man has been drugged?" Raven asks the Jupani.
Leaning forward in her chair, getting closer, the black and white Sphynx looks at the two items with interest as well, glancing back to the still bound man watching him carefully.
"Very well then," the dragon says, and suddenly brings a clawed fist down on the amulet, smashing it. The man on the post stops thrashing almost immediately.
Arkold shakes his head. "No' drugs so much literally. But he's on somethin' That's not mortal, not tirin'. I doubt he can survive like that," the wolf explains.
Once again the prisoner starts to struggle against his bonds, but this time in a more methodical manner. Some of the wildness has left his eyes, but the rage remains.
As the man stops struggling, Tulani leans forward looking him in the face, and immediately asks, "Who are you?"
Alptraum doesn't even flinch. He stands back up and nods his head. "Avralie. You may be able to talk to him now. The only two I dealt with, I had to destroy," he comments and walks back toward his chair. His gaze drifts to Lilith.
The prisoner jerks his head towards Tulani, and tries to spit through the bit in his mouth.
Arkold jerks almost to standing as the prisoner tries to spit on Tulani. His fist clenches and slowly, deliberately, he lowers himself back to sit.
"He doesn't look very talkative yet," Lilith comments. She doesn't go out of her way to avoid Alptraum's gaze, but doesn't exactly return it either.
"Dose him," Arkold growls.
Tulani ignores the prisoner's movement, looking calm, she seemed to have been expecting him to try that. She makes a curious noise in her throat… hrrmm…
"What with?" Raven asks, and looks to the bottle she carries. "Wine?"
Alptraum settles down in his chair. In a higher range, he comments quietly, "I'm not a monster." He then looks back toward the man, then Arkold. "Calm down, Arkold. Let's pull the bit and see just what he says, eh? Spit will harm no one," he says.
"Wine. I'm sure my ol' friend can get creative too," the wolf says. He works his jaw a moment and then nods to Alptraum. "Try it your way."
"He is still too vigorous to remove the bit," Vorgulremik says. "We lost the last captive because he bit through his own tongue and bled to death."
"Do you know who I am?" Alptraum asks of the man. "You can nod your head."
The man glares at Alptraum, as if his gaze alone could somehow overcome the Eeee. In reply, he neither nods nor shakes his head. Instead, he snorts derisively through his nose.
"My magic will not pierce his rage," the dragon says, and steps back away from the dais. "Perhaps that of my daughters will."
"What are you going to do?" Alptraum asks the man, meeting his gaze firmly. "You have no hope of hurting any of us. You might as well just work with us. You think your master will help you here?" Alptraum then blinks and looks toward the dragon.
Vorgulremik gestures to the quartet who have been supplying chamber music. All but one fall silent as the violinist begins to play a variant of a tune recently heard by the visitors in a dream-world.
Turning to Look at Lilith and Ravenia, Tulani wonders what they are going to do, waiting to see how it will effect the prisoner, cocking an ear at the Vaguely Familiar tune…
Standing up, the two women step up onto the dais, and begin to dance. It isn't exactly the Tarantella, but it is about as close as one can get with one partner tied to a pole. It doesn't take long before the bound man's interest focuses on Lilith and Raven.
Alptraum snorts lightly, amused. "And she said she'd never done it before," he mutters to himself.
"And you said I was cruel," Arkold remarks, laughing.
Whenever the human begins to come out of his trance and start to test his bonds, Lilith closes in and scrapes her claws across one his bruises. Raven follows up with a caress, making it almost impossible for the man to sort out his reactions and focus.
Tulani blinks at the new use of the dance, a little amused… wondering if she should try asking a question again, quietly saying, "Who are you?"
"I feel like I'm too young to be seeing this," Alptraum mutters.
"Not me," Arkold insists.
The prisoner doesn't even notice Tulani's question, but he does seem to be calming down more. Once the girls wrap their arms around him, one on each side, he stops struggling altogether.
"Bet you wish that was you, eh, Arkold?" Alptraum inquires with a glance toward the wolf.
"I'm considering committing a crime right now," Arkold agrees.
"Figured," Alptraum quips in reply.
With a sudden lunge forward, Vorgulremik sinks his teeth deep into the man's neck!
Tulani almost falls over out of her chair at the dragon's sudden movement, resisting the urge to cover her mouth with her hand she asks in a voice so quiet as to be almost non-existent… "What are you doing?"
"No!" Alptraum replies and jerks from his seat. He heads straight for the dragon and sets his hand on him. "You will not."
The dragon twists his horned, scarred head, and the snap of the human's vertebra echoes through the hall.
A white blur launches itself at Alptraum, but the Eeee is able to sidestep before Lilith can barrel into him. "Alptraum, don't!" she cries as she tries to recover from the miss. As for Vorgulremik… the dragon doesn't appear to notice Alptraum at all.
"Uh," Arkold murmurs as he's still blinking probably the mix of wine and women addling his senses. He puts a hand on his chair and begins to rise, hand drifting towards sword hilt. "Hey, ah, Vorg, you're part is off. That cue comes later, eh? After we have the information?"
Alptraum's eyes narrow and the Eeee's muscles all start tensing up at once. "Do you think I cannot feel what you did," he says in slow, deliberate words. "I have walked the Sea of Souls, and touched the minds of those long gone. I know." His hand pulls back slowly and drops down to the hilt tucked into his belt.
The Sphynx's face goes completely blank as the loud crack echoes through the room, her claws dig into the palms of her clenched hands… Watching, her eyes hold mixed emotions, looking sickened, angry and a bit confused. But she waits, rising out of her seat watching as Lilith moves forward.
Raven steps away from the corpse, but still has blood soaking into her silk wrap. Against her dark skin, it's nearly invisible save for the way it reflects the light.
Lilith grabs onto Alptraum's arm, trying to keep from drawing the bladeless dagger. "Stop, you mustn't! He'll eat you too!" she pleads. The dragon still remains frozen, his jaws clamped onto the human's neck.
"Are we going to kill people now Alp?" The wolf has his hand on his sword and the other on his wineglass looking for all the world ready to drink and fight.
"What did he do? Alptraum… " the Sphynx asks quietly, staring at the scene before her. She suddenly says more loudly, "Everybody stop!"
"He can try," Alptraum replies coldly. "You may not be able to see it, but I can. His scales… the souls of those he has destroyed. You may not be able to feel it, but I can," Alptraum says and turns to look at Lilith, his expression one of pain. "Don't you understand? I can feel what he did to him; I can see those he has hurt. Don't judge me, until you have to sit up with the dead, or see their lives through their eyes."
Tulani looks ready to fight as well, but is holding it in well, waiting for someone else to take action first, feeling out her own confusion about the situation. She turns to look at Raven, Lilith, and Alptraum, speaking slowly, deliberatly, "What is going on?"
"Woah wait … he eats souls?" The wolf puts his glass down unsteadily. "He wasn't that bad before, I mean, I don't think … uh … " He takes another look at the dragon as if seeing him for the first time, and steps back.
"You can't, Alptraum," Lilith pleads, her eyes tearing. "If he knows what you are, he'll take you to make your power his own." Raven stands by, still a bit out of it, as the blood on her gets sticky.
"He ate his soul, Tulani," Alptraum says, "I felt it." He then looks at Lilith and says, "And what am I? A monster, a half-demon? Something so horrid you can't even look at it?"
Abruptly, Vorgulremik releases the man, who just hangs limply now. "Very… clever, our sorcerer. Too clever by half," the dragon mutters, absently licking the blood from his lips while his eyes gaze off at nothing. "I will need some time to properly digest this. Yes. Too clever by half. See to the guests, my daughters… "
The dragon turns around and walks toward the darkened hallway behind him.
Arkold gives Alptraum a waiting look, as if expecting a signal.
"I need to wash up," Ravenia finally utters, trying to untangle her hair where the blood has fouled it.
"Are you alright?" The Sphynx's tone is softer than it had been a moment before, tinged with a little worry, as she addresses the blank looking Raven, walking over to her to see if she's alright…
Ravenia blinks, then smiles to Tulani. "Oh… that dance goes to my head sometimes… it's like it's all a dream," she tells the Sphynx.
"Don't you know what you are?" Lilith says to Alptraum in shocked tones.
"A creature born from life and death itself, and bound to both," Alptraum replies, still tense. His gaze turns and glares after the dragon. "I cannot allow this to continue. I know what they must be experiencing; what he has done."
"You can't stop him, he isn't like… like anything else," Lilith says, in almost a whisper. "Not yet. You aren't ready yet."
Tulani keeps her eyes on the dragon's back as he leaves and half Listens to Alptraum's conversation. Ready to follow into a fight with her friend if need be, but not sure if that was what they should be doing right then. The Sylvanian Sphynx continues to ask Raven in a quiet, almost helpful tone, "Do you want some help getting cleaned up?"
"I guess … there'll be a time for it, Alp. A time for everything that's due, an' more," Arkold says as he walks over to lay a hand on the bat's shoulder. "No' that I'm scared. I knew him when he was knee-high to a Rhian." He chuckles, but he certainly sounds unnerved at the very least.
"What's wrong with Lil, she's crying," Raven asks, then seems to forget about it immediately. "Oh, yes, I need to clean this stuff off. You'll help me to the baths, Tulani?" she asks, smiling.
"I wish I could show you. I wish I could let you see what it's like," Alptraum says to Lilith, looking pained. "Hearing them, having them plead with you that they want to live again. Or seeing moments of their lives as if you were there … or were them. Their pains. You haven't been through what I have; and what I have caused." He sighs and shakes his head, looks toward Arkold and says, "I felt it, Arkold. I felt him tear his soul from him. I … could see in his scales, all the lives."
"Sometimes he lets them out," Lilith whispers. "But they're all his. He controls them."
"And that is why I have to destroy him, Lilith," Alptraum says quietly.
Tulani nods slowly to the dark skinned human, turning to look at the others, a strangely blank look on her face, but her eyes betraying some of the horror of what had just happened and what Alptraum was saying, speaking slowly, "I'm going to help Raven clean up." She puts a hand on the woman's shoulder and waits for her to lead on.
"And how will you do that?" the female Eeee asks, with a bit more force. "You don't even know what he is, or you are. Try now and he'll kill you without even noticing."
"There'll be a time, Alptraum. Mark my words." The wolf tries to catch Alptraum's eyes to make sure he understands. "My problem too, yeah? I swear it, it'll be handled one way or another." He pats the bat's shoulder and then jerks his head toward the door. "Let's go take a breather an' talk it out."
Raven nods to Tulani, and points down one of the halls. "It's this way. I'll get a servant to heat up some water," she says, and leads Tulani while half leaning on the Sphynx for support.
"Come with me then," Lilith says to the men, while watching Raven's progress with concern. "There are things you need to know."
"Then what am I, hmm? If you know, then say it," Alptraum replies and extracts his arm from Lilith's grip. He then nods to Arkold, "Yes, I think we should."
Helping Raven to the baths, Tulani wraps an arm around the woman's shoulder, allowing her to lean as heavily on the Sphynx as she needs to…