Vatex rushes to Emeris side but the tiefling as already dashed away into the north passage with some speed-enhancing magic. An imp becomes invisible above them and tries to stab the elf with its scorpion-like tail. Vatex spins away and strikes back quickly, but finds even the Flame of Elmekia can barely scratch the fiendish creature. The imp laughs, turns invisible, then flies away. They turn back towards the brawl at the ancient structure, where Early trades blows with the remaining venom-shaped thrall on the roof and Dziga and Zophas fight off ratlords.
Early keeps the poisoned thrall stinger from getting him, but the creature hooks into his ribs with a claw and pulls him into its grasp. Fury sets in and Early twists and fights like a wild animal in a cage, and pushes free. He lands on the ground in a crouch, and the thrall attempts to grab him again, but he simply uses the opportunity to cut deep with Cryssaegrym, and fire a pistol round into its face as it stumbles back in terrible pain.
Dziga blocks and dodges the ratlord’s sloppy yet aggressive attacks, but cannot find an opening. Zophas does, and smashes the ratman’s skull against the wall with a swing of his hammer. The paladin turns as the second ratlord lunges in with its blade. The paladin turns and lets the tip bounce off his breastplate harmlessly. The ratlord is off balance and cannot recover, so Zophas quickly crushes its face with a mighty strike. Dziga quickly starts moving away from the ancient structure and drawing a dagger. He hurls it at the thrall battling Early on the roof, but flies wide. Early continues fighting the thrall above, each cut of Cryssaegrym yielding a spray of slimy black blood. More black blood spurts from a terrible gunshot wound and the thrall stumbles backwards, and Early looks over his shoulder and sees the smoking rifle of Vatex below. Emeris runs and leaps into the air, wings spreading carrying him to swoop in on the thrall. He stabs at the thrall’s head as he flies by, the thrall striking back, but they do not hurt each other. With the thrall defenses redirected momentarily, Early strikes a killing blow.
As Early climbs down, Emeris warns the group that his magic power is depleted and he needs rest. The consume healing potions and decide to pursue the tielfling sniper into the north passage. They find a bedroom which may have belonged to Woreron. Inside is a locked chest that confounds Dziga’s attempts to open it. Dziga tells them to settle in, and spends considerable time jamming the tumblers with picks. The others stand around for many minutes, getting anxious when Early smells something coming. The tiefling! She fires an arrow at Emeris but shadows twist around him and deflect it wide. The group rushes her and strikes some serious wounds, but still she manages to flee with whatever enchantment she possesses. They leave the unopened chest for now and pursue, following the trail of blood into another room with two ratbrutes…a trap! Both brutes carry huge weapons, but one of them is unusual as it seems to be wearing a human-sized cape and eyepatch (even though both eyes are intact). The group charges into battle, eager to kill the tiefling and her new entourage. A downward swing of the brute with the axe catches Zophas as he moves in and drops him to one knee. He quickly rises again and leaps forward, swinging his hammer into the brute’s chest, which darkens immediately with a disgusting bruise. Zophas staggers from another blow and the ratbrutes jaws snap at his face, tearing flesh from his cheek which felt like fire, and Early rushes in, clashing blades against the pirate brute. It falls back a few steps but Early follows right up, performing a Soaring Raptor Strike. The brute clutches the resulting wound that gushes blood, and seemingly undaunted, comes in with a furious series of strikes that splashes more blood across the floor.
Vatex finds himself again attacked by the imp which appears. The sniper fires another arrow at Emeris before retreating through an eastern door. Emeris curses her again and the imp flies after her, apparently afraid to be left alone. But even against only the two brutes remaining, a brutal fight unfolds.
Dziga rushes into battle with Zophas, fending off the brute’s blows. Zophas is nearly knocked over when the huge, heavy axe smashes into his shield. Zophas is able to recover more quickly than the clumsy brute and uses the split second reprieve to call upon his holy power, and close one of the wicked gashes across Early’s chest. Dziga flips over another swinging attack and lands behind the ratbrute’s. In a fluid motion he pivots and thrusts Asura into the brute’s back. It howls in pain and twists suddenly which throws the rogue off balance.
Vatex dives into combat with his blades spinning, cutting various Xs into the ratbrute’s flesh although it returns the blow and the rip of its sword catches the elf in the hip, sending him spinning. Vatex rolls with the landing and just misses the tip of the pirate brute’s sword from stabbing through him as he hits the ground. Early, refreshed from the paladin’s magic, strikes with Cryssaegrym and his Varja maneuvers recharge.
Blood falls into Dziga’s eyes from a wound above his hairline, and can barely see the rat brute’s axe as it swings and cuts into him. His mind explodes with pain and he tries to tumble away from the creature. Zophas helps him get away but at great cost – first, the brute swings its axe low and catches Zophas below his shield, cutting through his kneecap and dropping him to the ground. Trying to rise, Zophas is helpless as the follow-up attack cleaves vertically into his skull. Emeris grabs the brute around the wrist and shadowy power jolts it, draining its physical strength dramatically. Its shoulders sag and it no longer swings its weapon with such ease.
Vatex jams the tip of his shortsword up into the pirate brute’s groin and it goes down with a blood-curdling scream. With that, Early moves in and helps Dziga and Emeris finish off the one that killed Zophas. Looking at the broken body of their ally, they are glad it was not them, although it seemed like it could have been. They think if they bring the body back to the Pale Tower they will resurrect Zophas. They find one the pirate-brute a filthy copy of a human children’s book, called “The Quest for Captain Jak Silver’s Legendary Treasure”. It has illustrations that obviously served as inspiration for the ratbrute’s costume. Vatex feels a bit strange about killing the child-like creature.
They hurry after the tiefling, but find she has fled down a slippery tunnel that seems too precarious for most of them to navigate. However, they can see another passage that seems to connect to the area around the ancient structure, so they return there. They find a cavern where a natural underground river to the northeast flows into a massive, man-made pit lined with masonry stone of ancient creation. There is no sign of the tiefling. They return to Woreron’s chamber and Dziga finishes picking the chest, where they find gold, scrolls, and a collection of fancy shivvel pipes.
Moving beyond that, they continue past the ratbrute den and find another large steel door. Beyond is a huge chamber that is clearly newly built, with masonry walls and high vaulted ceiling. Painted and chiselled chaos symbols cover the walls—spirals, multipointed arrows, black handprints, coiled vipers, and so on. Hundreds of candles are placed irregularly around the room, but they are unlit. There is a large stone structure in the center of the room. Adorned with demonic visages and sculpture, it resembles a gothic sepulchre. Atop the structure squats a stone statue of a bloated, misshapen demon. Vatex swears he can hear something slimy shifting inside it, and Early smells something unnatural, but there is no apparent way to open it. That might be a good thing.
To the south is another door so they exit the chaos sanctuary. Beyond Early smells sewage and stale water. They open the door to a chamber of broken masonry. It contains a waterfall that pours down from the ceiling into a small pool. The dirty water comes from the damaged sewer above. Mushrooms and other fungus grow through cracks all around. There they encounter two demons, a fiendish centaur named ASTARED whose hooves and claws blaze with fire, and a babau named NIRECH-THES.
Early and Vatex immediately move to pin Astared up against the wall, so he has less room to bring his wicked spear to bear. Dziga drinks a potion of invisibility and vanishes. Emeris stands back and watches the babau, which just crouches and waits while the others attack the centaur. Finally it acts, and opening a gate to some nether plane and summoning a second babau, which seems hungry for the chance to kill mortals.
Astared’s spear lances out at Early as the warblade closes in with Vatex at his side. Early takes the hit and leaps into the air, and with a flash Cryssaegrym cuts through armor, flesh, and bone. A terrible wound, but Astared seems hardly phased. Vatex drinks a potion of blur then tosses the flask at the demon, who looks down as the flask smashes against its armor. The tempest rushes in, his swords striking repeatedly but Astared’s demonic black platemail proves difficult to breach. Dziga appears behind Astared suddenly, driving Asura in his flank and tearing the blade down and out, ripping vital tendons and muscles. Dziga clenches his teeth as the vicious blade imparts part of the wound upon himself with its strange magic. The wound should have crippled a horse or a normal centaur, and although Astared is badly wounded, he still fights with impossible ease. Vatex sidesteps the tip of Astared’s spear and cuts the Flame of Elmekia across its arm, in the narrow gap between armor plates.
Suddenly swirling shadows that block even Emeris’ darkvision arise around the melee, making it difficult for any of the combatants to see each other. Nirech-thes laughs at the chaotic results of his shadowy conjuration while the summoned babau rushes after Emeris. The shadowcaster tries to fend off the demon with his sword but its wickedly long claws rake across his face and arms. He considers falling back to the others for aid, but in the corner of his eye he sees Nirech-thes moving to flank Vatex. Emeris knows he cannot let the other babau flank the main group so they can finish Astared, so he holds fast. He fights fiercely, but any blow he strikes on the babau instantly heals. He can only hold the demon back as best he can while suffering its wicked claws.
Early curses as he strikes out into the darkness and misses the centaur again, but he grins as he can make out Dziga cutting the centaur’s flanks. Astared attempts to reposition, his fiery hooves slipping on the damp stone, but manages to get room to use his spear. Flaming hooves smash, sparks scattering across the ground as the tip of the spear cuts through Vatex’s shoulder. Suddenly long claws tear into his back as well, Nirech-thes having abruptly entered the fray behind him.
They finally bring down the demonic centaur, who crashes to the ground. Dziga rushes to help Emeris and Early joins Vatex against Nirech-thes. Dziga fends off the summoned babau for a moment and Emeris retreats back to the sanctuary to drink healing potions, leaving a long trail of dark blood spilling from dozens of cuts. Dziga has some confidence with Asura, the most strongly enchanted weapon owned by the group. He nearly feels sick to his stomach when even the vicious dagger cannot seem to get through the demon’s resistance. Early and Vatex are equally frustrated. Nirech-thes accepts their blows is nary a shrug and strikes back with claws and teeth. When the babaus begin to secrete a slimy red ooze, the group calls a retreat. Vatex and Dziga flee to the sanctuary, Early remaining behind only a few moments more, jumping across the room to the corpse of Astared, severing the head, and dragging it along as a trophy.
It takes them some time to flee back to the surface. Until the temple entrance where they fought the Priests of the Outer Reaches, the babaus teleport after them in pursuit, taunting and mocking, but never attacking. When the group reaches the surface, they tell the Pale Tower men-at-arms of Zophas’ fate, which saddens them. They hope the group will be able to recover the body. But they cannot return for at least a day. They must rest, meditate, and sell their loot. They are determined to defeat the Temple of Deep Chaos with their next expedition, and they must be well-prepared.
Next: What lies at the heart of the Temple of Deep Chaos?
Random Elanian Factoid: Anageo Quigg, a strange gnome wizard known for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, has combined both his spellcasting and tattoo artistry into a new business that offers magical tattoos. Unfortunately, business is bad. Rumor has it he owes money to the Killravens.