It appeared from our meeting that these Vampires were so removed from humanity that even the ability to carry on conversation had left them. Instead once they responded to us they simply stared into space. We did our best to learn what we could, but they were not the most knowledgeable and we decided to push on to Port Reaver and see what we could learn on the way. The only real knowledge of note we discovered, aside from that Port Reaver was now an undead pirate port, was that there was a similar trade current by Lustria to the well documented one to Cathay and that the vampires were using it to travel swiftly underwater in their submerged ships. Very interesting information, but not immediately useful.
We prepared the crew in the following days for what they were to experience. We had little idea ourselves, but if the other ship was anything to go by it would be unpleasant. I advised Lilith to Restrict crew to the ship unless directly accompanied by a vampire. This was a deeply unpopular opinion, but once we laid eyes on Port Reaver not a soul aboard disagreed with the rule. On top of this we also prepared our ship board safety by planning where we would establish guards and such and generally planning for what scenarios we could imagine.
When we came within sight of Port Reaver a couple of days later I was glad of our planning, and only wished there was another friendly port this side of the ocean. A once grand house manor stood above a crumbling ruin filled with the walking dead of all kinds. Permanent darkness dimmed the sky and the surrounding fields looked like they hadn’t seen the sun in years, which may have been true. They were still worked by the dead, which was my first clue that this settlement was run badly, it would not be the last.
Upon making port Lilith arranged our docking paperwork and the purchase of repair supplies from the dockmaster, who was a wight. Like almost all of the undead in the town aside from other vampires they only seemed animate when carrying out an immediate task or when they in conversation. Otherwise they sat lifelessly staring into space. Obviously they are treated and trained very differently to our crew undead. After arranging the repairs and docking a group of us set out to explore the town. We scouted the market but found little of interest and so headed to a small area where the living were kept to purchase food (as a market of the dead does not tend to keep grain in stock). On the way we passed hordes of skeletons and zombies shambling along, as well as many wights who were as lifeless as the skeletons. Ghouls freely wandered the streets and cowered away from us. Occasionally glowing specters passed literally through us. While disconcerting, they did us no harm and acted as though we were not there. This was a blessing as they would be deadly foes if we were to earn their ire.
As we arrived in the small area set aside for the living we saw the horror of their existence. They tried to act as though life went on as normal in their little market square, but they all looked hungry and hollow eyed. Several vampires stood making jests about the quality of the food. We approached to find out more about the town and discovered that the leader of the town and the sire of this particular group of vampires was one Captain Luthor Harkon, a Lamian from the Old Country. He was currently away with all of his trusted lieutenants digging up a lizardman tomb not far away and wasn’t expected back for a week or so. Taking a personal dislike to this group of vampires and their treatment of the living I decided to make them uncomfortable by buying some fruit from a stall and eating it while making eye contact, they looked disgusted and this brought me great joy. I was not the only one offended by their behavior. Isidore decided to also strike at them, though more overtly and effectively than myself. He insulted them directly left one of them holding the other back. A dangerous move, but I approved.
While we were there I decided to arrange the purchase of food, though most of it was worse than campaign rations. Eventually I found a stall with a huge supply of fine elven grain, but no flour. It appears that the settlement keeps the living fed by foraging and farming with the undead, but not one devoted to grinding the grain they plunder from elven shipping routes. I quickly brought up a party of skeletons and had them fasion basic quers from rocks and begin grinding. We supplied the ship for the low price of a few skeletons grinding the remaining supply to flour. Having seen that we were not like the other vampires the people started approaching us asking us to help their loved ones escape in exchange for stolen plunder. I got permission from Lilith and put a plan into motion. But first we had to introduce ourselves at the manor.
The manor was built to be defensive and it looked relatively formidable, though nothing some artillery couldn’t level in a couple of hours. It was guarded by a large number of heavily armored wights who questioned us and eventually let us in to see the quartermaster, the only person of import left in the town it seemed. He was a small living man who seemed quite surprised to have visitors and tried his best to answer our questions. He was only vaguely helpful to Lilith and eventually she and the others left me to sort out the logistics of the town while they toured the house. I quickly discovered that the plight of the living was not unknown to the quartermaster, or even unconsidered, but “The Captain” liked his subordinates hungry as it kept them raiding, and well fed people meant well fed vampires. The quartermaster had even suggested using the undead to grind grain into wheat, to no avail. It wasn’t till I suggested removing undead from the fields where they did literally nothing that I came up with anything that was new and he seemed hopeful that my suggestion might do something. With that I left and returned to the market to start ferrying escapees aboard the ship.
It was later in my cabin, while in conversation with a lovely girl that I was pretending to have drained, that Jez came to my room. She asked for a private word so I had the young escapee lie down and had the skeletons take her below while she pretended to be a corpse. She would join several folk who had come aboard carrying sacks of flour and never left. Once the room was clear Jez showed me something that put a chill up my spine. It was a chest that was obviously storing the trapped sould that were in servitude to a necromancer. I asked her whose it was and where she had got it. It appeared that during the tour of the house she had gone on she had slipped away and stolen it from under Luthor Harkon’s bed. I told her we needed to talk to Lilith now as what she had was very dangerous. At that moment Lilith knocked on the door to ask my opinion on something.
It appears that afternoon Isidore and William had been scamming idiots out of money at chess and a particularly confident vampire had attempted to attack Isidore when he lost. William had quickly dispatched him with his hand cannon, and not having the money on the corpse they went to reposes the man’s estate accompanied by a vampire as a witness. They had done this successfully, but the vampire’s thrall, now grieved at his death, had followed them back to the Grail and was demanding one of us become her new master. Lilith had accepted her as a crewmate, but was seeking my advice. I learned all of this later as we had more immediate concerns.
Once I had filled in Lilith we also called in Isidore and Bidnae to help us figure out how trackable it was, which it turns out is very if the Harkon finds any of the undead whose souls are in the box. We decided to try to open it and take control as they were likely to be powerful and useful, and the theft was already done. Lilith called in extra teams to work on repairing the ship and we opened the box. Inside were 40 powerful souls. All I needed was 40 lanterns and enough time to cast the correct rituals. it was now a race against time