He watched from the parapet, his only companion sound the hiss of scale on scale as one of his bonded mount shifted in her sleep. Sylfrost was as white as her mate was red, slumbering over a nest of crystal, dark iron and glittering ruby-pearl eggs.
Above him, Sangwynn was keeping guard as well, the flares on either side of the dragon's muzzle wide and open. Both dragon and rider were alert for the same thing, looking for the same quarry, but for very different reasons. The dragon was the more honest of the two. All Sanwynn wanted to do was tear the Elementals apart, ending any threat they might pose to his mate, his eggs or his bonded master.
The master, on the other hand, was no longer as simple in his desires. He was here because he had been called across the multiverse to serve the only being capable of doing such a thing, of compelling him to once again being someone's slave.
It was Tenebrous that had pulled him from the aether, forcing him to leave his private exile and returning him to the terrible state of undeath that had been his Hell for so long before. All Vertrius had wanted was to be left alone. Betrayed by those he'd loved and stripped of his powers, he had just wanted to be away from them... to not be a liability to them... to not have to look at them every day and feel his poisoned adoration curdling into hate.
But no, the Lord of the Undead had not forgotten him and, only a few days after he'd found a small world in Wildspace to call home, Vertrius had been forced by the ancient pact his father wrought with Tenebrous, then Orcus, to leave peace behind and return once more into the fold of evil.
The Shadowed Lord had wasted no time stripping him of the humanity he'd so long wished for and only just achieved. The dark kiss of a pale woman had drained his life and replaced it with the red mockery of unlife eternal. It had amused Tenebrous to make him kill his new sire, moving him like a cursing, cursed puppet to tear out her unbeating heart and suffer through a weeping feast.
But Tenebrous' plans for him, whatever they might have been, were quickly dashed by the plots of Vecna, the Maimed One. Vecna had come to him in dreams during the single hour of day that existed in the Dark Realm. The Lord of Secrets had promised him freedom in exchange for an oath of a year's service and one... small... favor.
Vertruis had been utterly eager to strike such a bargain. At the right moment, Vertrius cast a secret spell to transpose the doomed goddess Kiaransalee with a drow pawn "raised" to godhood by Vecna for the sole purpose of existing just long enough for Tenebrous to think he'd slain his hated rival. What happened to Kiaransalee after the spell, Vertrius neither knew nor cared. His part in the masquerade was done.
Surprisingly, Vecna had upheld his end of the bargain. Pretending to slay Vertrius during a mock raid of Orcus' newly reformed Bone Citadel, the Maimed Lord spirited him away and conscripted him for one soul-ensured year as a general in his lifeless armies.
In a way, Vertrius wished he had been betrayed by Vecna. Now he felt honorbound to serve, to fulfill the rest of his oath. One year of unquestioning service, doing as his master bids, with no magical coercion existing or needed. The Master of Whispers obvious knew him well; Vertrius would never break a vow. Not even to save his own life...
And that loyalty had brought him here, to Cavitus to stand guard at the top of the Bleak Tower. His red dragon was perched above him, scanning the dismal horizon with sight unrivalled by any living creature.
Vertrius, however, was no living creature and his vision revealed things even draconic eyes could not see. He prayed under his breath to no god in particular that as acute as his sight was, it would fail to perceive what he was here to guard against. If the Elementals somehow managed to find the lost portal stone and get to his Dark Lord's godly realm, it was his duty to ensure they never reached the fortress.
"Kill them. Quick if you must but kill them all. When next you meet, either they fall or you do. I will accept no other outcome."
The Maimed One indeed knew him well. Vecna's orders left no room for interpretation. He had hesitated before, something his divine master would not tolerate or forgive again. If those he had once loved made their way here, he would have to fight them.
He would have to kill them. Even Akasha.
For that reason if for no other, he hoped against hope that his vigil would go undisturbed. Let them be on any other world, please. Let them wander, lost but alive. forever. Let the portal stone from Tovag Baragu remain in obscurity, discovered by no one and forgotten until the end of days...
A sharp hiss broke his prayer. He was almost afraid to look, suspecting grimly what he would see.
Sangwynn was pointing with one adamantine-laced talon, snarling in warning to him. "Six come, Whitehair. Six come!"
Vertrius raised his head and let his profane sight show him what he already knew to be true. They were leagues away, moving through the Ashcrags on foot. Clever of them, really; flight would only have made them easier to spot. But they had been spotted and as such his duty was clear. There would be no escaping it this time.
"You are still wounded, Sangwynn. Stay with your eggs. I will take Sylfrost into battle."
Vertrius looked up into the angry eyes of his dragon, letting his own flare with unholy, blood-crimson power.
"If we need you, I will send for you. Be ready to teleport on my command."
The red juggernaut growled again but nodded, cowed by the twin impact of his bond with Vertrius and the force of the vampire's unimaginably strong will. Few could tame a dragon with a thought, but only someone that potent could rightfully tame a beast such as Sangwynn.
By the time the scarlet male was coiled protectively over his precious clutch, his beloved was already taking wing, their shared lord astride her back. Sylfrost was the color of opals, complete with the inner fire that ignited within her scales the first time they'd mated. Hissing the first part of a teleportation spell over and over, Sangwynn waited for the call.
His master was powerful but the vampire was also soft when it came to these foes. Lord Vertrius might have trouble finishing this battle...
...but if any of them harmed Sylfrost, the horror of their deaths would become legend.