Sunday, March 28, 2010

Episode XXVIII -- The Destruction of the Ebon Hand

Juliar 22-23

It is early afternoon when the company emerges from the apartment house above the Temple of Deep Chaos. Dziga returns to his apartment, and the other three return to Emeris and Early’s house. They clean themselves off and change their clothes. Seanus informs them that someone from the Holy Order of Vigoor has stopped by on behalf of someone named “Heth.” They know this to be Brother Heth Netherul, the cleric who runs a small temple of the Holy Emperor called the Chapel of St. Thessina, who wanted them to use the legend lore scroll on the Sealed Door in the Banewarrens.

Before visiting the markets, they first stop by the Pale Tower, where they turn over the finger of Zophas, recovered in the outer reaches of the Temple of Deep Chaos and return their borrowed cold iron forged armaments. Although they wanted to speak with Aoska, she will not be back at the tower for a few days. They identify their magic items, two of which are particularly interesting – the bow carried by Gravele, which allows the wielder to make more precise, crippling shots, as well as identify the wielder’s most power foe within sixty feet. Her black leather boots turn out to be the source of her exceptional fleet-footedness, carrying enchantments to augment speed and jumping. All other treasure is liquidated. They return to Emeris and Early’s house to rest.

Later that evening, approaching midnight, Dziga fails to show up at Emeris and Early’s house. Dziga’s strange dreams and behaviour have made him somewhat unreliable as of late, so they decide to proceed without him for now. Considering their next course of action, they consider their leads on finding Khyron. They know of the Mrathrach Machine which exists somewhere beneath the White House, where the Mrathrach Game is somehow siphoning energies of randomness from the city to the machine below. They figure an investigation of – and assault on – the White House may be an effective course of action.

So Early the warblade, Vatex the tempest, and Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster visit the White House, a luxurious establishment known for its high-class prostitutes and gambling. They recall that Phil would often spend his time here and at the Cock Pit, but they do not find him here tonight. Vatex smooth talks one of the waitresses and finds out about how the current owners sealed off the basement, which was supposedly the site of some ungodly crimes many years ago before the building became the White House. Figuring interesting secrets probably lie beneath this establishment that must lead to the Mrathrach Machine, they manage to get a meeting with the proprietor, THURMAN REES, a slight, clean-shaven man with short, dark hair and appears flustered about something nearly all the time. Rumors surrounding Thurman suggest he is extremely skilled with the bow and sword, and in his office, Vatex wears the magic lenses to ascertain his strength, but they find that they underestimated him – his aura suggests he is a much more skilled warrior than Early or Vatex. Pure force seems to be a poor option to get into the basement…

In Thurman’s office, the proprietor is not helpful and accuses the group of representing the Killravens or the Balacazars and wanting to cause trouble. They explain that they have business investigating what is in the basement and would like access to it. Thurman explains the current owner has sealed up access to the subterranean level so not even he can go down there. They push for the identity of the White House owner, but Thurman tells them the owner wishes to remain anonymous due to the nature of the business and its competition with other crime factions. Emeris pushes further, trying to diplomatically get the identity, but Vatex suddenly correlates this need for anonymity with other stories on the streets of Elan and tells him to drop it. They leave the office, and the urban ranger tells Emeris and Early of the obscure rumor that the owner of the White House is actually a lich named AGGAH-SHAN. Tangling with a lich seems to be most unwise.

Vatex suggests they focus their attention on the Temple of the Ebon Hand on Terrock Road. It is said that the Temple is on the verge of being banned in the city, for the mutation worshipping Ebon Hand is said to harbour degenerates and encourage wrongdoings of the highest order. If the city authorities knew what the companions knew, then they would certainly ban the cult, jail its clergy, and raze the building. They enter the small temple without molestation, and the main sanctuary is dominated by a huge ebony statue of a hand with priests in black and red robes tending to the hundreds of candles throughout the chamber.

The walk into one of the backrooms, used for storage and administration, where they find three guards and a priest who seem confused about the visitors. Early demands to know where Khyron can be found. The four Ebon Hand members exchange glances and show apparent ignorance, which leads the group to slaughter them mercilessly with a few well placed strikes and a blast of killing shadows from the half-dragon’s eyes. They pile desks and bodies against the door as other temple inhabitants come to investigate the noise. Vatex can hear voices on the other side instructing someone to go warn “Malek”, whom they know from other references to be the high priest of this cult. Two cultists disappear into a secret passage in the adjoining storage room.

Seeing that no one is coming in, Early pulls down the barricade and steps through, quickly slaying one of the guards. Emeris conjures blackfire at the feet of a second guard, who is badly hurt and tries to flee, only to have Vatex cut him down as he passes. The three companions pursue the others through the secret door and into a surprisingly large complex beneath the temple.

Early, taking the lead, descends some stairs in pursuit of the running footsteps deeper down. He enters a chamber adorned by a large red tapestry with the symbol of a black hand, and a black rug. As he walks over the rug, it animates and attacks him, trying to constrict and choke him. As he fights it off, the tapestry ‘steps’ down from the wall and attacks him as well! By now, Vatex and Emeris are close behind and start cutting into the animated objects. Vatex flaming sword burns away the magical threads of the tapestry while Emeris tears into it with his sword. The tapestry manages to wrap itself around Emeris’ head. He can barely breathe as he fights to tear it off, but its strength surprises him. When the tempest’s flaming blade finally cuts the tapestry clean in half, apparently killing it, Emeris pulls it free of his head and gasps for air with relief.

Down another set of stairs they are ambushed by two bow wielding guards. Two arrows fly at Early, one goes wide but hits him in the shoulder. Hardly slowing, Early charges into the first guard and Cryssaegrym tears off his face. Vatex’s spinning blades cut through the bow which was used feebly by the other in a desperate act of defense, then cut through flesh and the second guard goes down. They find three more sets of stairs, two of which have passages lit by torches on sconces. The other seems strangely dark. At the southern lit passage they find an armory full of unremarkable weapons and gear.

Down the eastern lit passage the staircase descends thirty feet to some kind of large ritual chamber. Inside is Malek, grey-skinned High Priest of the Ebon Hand, dressed like the other priests but with a large, ornate ebony headdress, standing with a priest and a guard. On two ledges over either side of the staircase, two other priests stand waiting for attackers. A young human male, stripped to the waist, is chained to the wall undergoing some type of horrible transformation. Foaming slime bubbles up through his grinding teeth, his skin blistering with pulsing green and black sores and he is covered in blood and pus.

Fearing that the chained human may become some hideous monstrosity they may be forced to fight, Vatex ends the transformation with a well-placed rifle round to his head. The human falls and its spasms end. Slinging the rifle over his shoulder he rushes into the chamber and doubles back up the stairs on the ledge to engage one of the priests. Early attacks the priest on the opposite ledge, burying his sword in his chest. Emeris dashes into the room next, taking a deep breath and unleashing his devastating breath of shadow. The wave of darkness rolls over the priest and the guard, killing them instantly. Malek is blasted against the eastern wall, but is quickly back on his feet, pulling a scroll from his robes. Quickly reading off the incantation at a great, excited volume, a massive column of magical fire strikes down from the ceiling above Early and Emeris. Emeris leaps aside to avoid the brunt of it but Early, pulling his sword free from his latest victim, is caught fully.

Vatex’s blades make short work of the remaining priest, whom he sees has six eyes, and the three companions converge on Malek. Early, still smoking from the flaming strike, demands to know where Khyron is as he cuts into the priest, but he gets no response. Emeris drains his energy with shadow power, and magic steel cuts through his magic protection and armor. Overmatched completely, the high priest goes down. As the body falls, Early spins and cuts off his head.

They find a set of keys on Malek’s body and take them. On their way out of the ritual chamber, six more guards meet them at the stairs. Emeris holds up his hands to tell the others he will handle these ones, and he steps forward as his eyes turn completely black and unleash a shadowy cone of punishment. The faces of the guards contort into voiceless screams and they all die in horrible agony, their armoured bodies falling over each other in a grotesque pile.

Now Emeris, Vatex, and Early explore the darkened passage, where they find what appears to be barracks for the priests and guards. These are empty except for one room where they find a heavily armoured, lithe red-haired woman with a huge red cape bearing the Ebon Hand symbol. She is FREIN AVATHON, commander of the Ebon Hand guards, and she appears to be packing up, perhaps to flee. Two priests are with her, and the battle is on. The priests are quickly slaughtered. Even Avathon, a great warrior by most standards, falls quickly. But in her dying breath, she staggers Early with a series of blows and opens his defenses. With great skill she recovers quickly, and swings her axe. For a split second Vatex and Emeris think they might be carrying their friend’s corpse out of this place, that blow should have taken Early’s head right off. However, Early pushes his spirit into the Vajra the instant before the blade connects with his neck, spins Cryssaegrym around him, and deflects the attack.

In the commander’s chamber they find a map that appears to show the full complex, complete with secret doors. First they use a secret door that connects the barracks with the armory, and explore the door to the west. Inside they find a disturbing room with a large stone slab that is stained with the blood of many sacrifices. It bears the image of a black hand atop it. Black chains, also stained with blood, hang from the ceiling above the slab. Early shudders to think what unholy rites were done here. With a profound urge to disrespect the cultists any way possible beyond even killing them, Emeris empties his bladder on the sacrificial slab.

To the west they find two strange, tentacled serpentine monsters that appear poorly fed and ill-tempered, in a room littered with bloodstains and bone fragments. These monsters are slain quickly with Vatex suffering but a bruise on his cheek from one of the lashing tentacles around a monster’s maw. And south of the sacrificial chamber is a long hallway that ends in a locked iron door. None of Malek’s keys will open the door, and their combined strength is adequate to break it down. They figure they will need to find the key or return later with Dziga.

They return to the ritual chamber where they killed Malek, as Avathon’s map shows two secret doors here on the east walls. Knowing where to look, the stone slabs that mark the secret passages are easy to find, but there appears to be no way of opening them that they can discern. At this time they decide to explore the long hallway that goes east of the barracks, where the map shows many other rooms exist. As they make their way to this location, the thoughtstone pulses in Emeris’ pocket. Saharasahla contacts him, telling him that it is urgent that he speak with the young shadowcaster posthaste. The old man doesn’t even await a response before the connection goes out.

Coming to a fork they go south and enter a guard room, where four cultist guards are waiting on duty apprehensively. The companions slaughter these four quickly, and take a set of keys off one of them. The rooms beyond to the south seem to comprise some sort of prison and torture chamber. The large main room has ten pairs of manacles hanging from spots on the walls. It also has wooden stocks, a rack, an iron maiden , and a large iron cage, as well as a small coal oven for heating tongs and irons. To young human abductees are chained to the wall, overseen by a sickle-wielding cultist with abnormally huge forearms. Vatex kills the guard with a single shot.

Emeris uses the guard’s keys to open one of the cells. They find two men and a woman, badly beaten and tortured, desperate to escape. Emeris tells the group to stay with them and they will be safe, but they are not ready to leave yet. Early goes to open the second cell, and the woman mentions that truly horrible things were done to the child in that cell. No one really makes much of that statement at first, figuring it went without saying, but when Emeris opened the door the truth was hideously clear. The “child” was a now a gross aberration, with a small bulging body on grotesquely huge, sinewy legs, and it had even more disproportionately large arms ending in twisted claws. The face was only remotely childlike at this point, contorted and asymmetrical, with a protruding lower jaw and large, jagged yellow teeth. It was a remarkable 9 feet in height, although it hunched dramatically, and its black and green mottled skin was covered in oozing sores.

Emeris blasts shadow magic at the monster and jumps back, letting Vatex step into his place, face to face with the creature, angry and fighting to get out of its cell. Vatex blades cut various wounds which began to mend at a preternaturally accelerated rate. The child of the Ebon Hand attacks back, grasping the slender elf by the shoulder and pelvis with its crushing clawed grip. With it picks up the elf and with great force and rends its claws from him. Before Vatex falls to the ground he feels claws grinding against bone and strips of flesh tearing away and terrible pain flashes in his mind. Upon landing, he rolls away to avoid the savage bite that goes for his head. Now Early takes the place of the elf, completing the final motion in a Tiger Claw maneuver and disappears into the Vajra. The warblade reappears above the huge creature and descends with lethal velocity, driving the Blade of the Silver Wolf through the collarbone and deep into its chest cavity. The warblade kicks off the monsters chest and lands in a low crouch with his back turned to the monster. He looks back expecting to see it falling over dead, but the monster is still coming despite that vicious wound!

Emeris casts an arrow of dusk which narrowly misses the monster between its bulk and the doorframe. Its wounds healing slowly but surely, the child of the Ebon Hand reaches down for Early, who skilfully fends off the attacks and rises back to a standing position where claws get through to cut four lines across his face. Vatex carefully aims with his rifle, waiting for the perfect moment. He fires. The head of the monster bursts apart as the round takes it clean between the eyes. Although the monster goes down, they can see its unnatural biology taking effect, repairing the head and skull with remarkable speed. Vatex ensures it will not trouble them again by plunging the Flame of Elmekia into his chest and keeping for a long while. Eventually the magical fires leave nothing but a charred husk showing no signs of regeneration.

Next: Only a little of the Ebon Hand complex remains unexplored -- what will they find? And what does the old shadowcaster want now?

Random Elanian Factoid: The Emerald Hill neighbourhood is a favorite of the elves. It is generally considered one of the nicer, safer neighbourhoods in Midtown, if not all of Elan. Unlike the rest of the city, the buildings here are uniformly made only of wood, mostly in the elven style with sloping span roofs and an angular or curved rather than rectangular layout.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Episodes XXVI-XXVII: Night of Dissolution, Act III - The Temple of Deep Chaos VI-VII

Juliar 22

Scorned by their inability to defeat the babau demons in their previous attack on the Temple of Deep Chaos, the companions spend time in meditation and preparation for their next attack. Firstly they need a way to defeat the abyssal fiends. When visiting Rastor, he informs them they will probably need holy weapons or weapons forged of cold iron. He has none, but they figure they could visit the Pale Tower and see if they might help.

They are granted a chance to speak with someone whom they assume to be the leader of the Malkuth at the Pale Tower, the half-celestial AOSKA, who is also one of Elan’s Twelve Commanders. She beseeches them to return Zophas body if possible, and to that end with provide them with cold-iron weapons from the tower’s arsenal. Vatex, Early, Dziga, and Emeris each take their share of weapons as back-ups in case they meet Nirech-thes and his summoned ally.

They gather up their identified equipment and sell off most of the loot, but one thing of interest is Ibulli’s ring – its magic boosts the wearer’s force of personality. Emeris slides it on to his finger and feels his ability to power his shadow magic increase.

A few hours before midday, they finish preparations and descend through the apartment house, go down into the sewer, and find the entrance to the temple. Although they have been gone for a full day, the door has not been relocked and Dziga determines that the alarm has not been rearmed. The group moves into the entry hall and finds the disembodied arm of Zophas, left there as a taunt. They find the entry hall lit up by clusters of hundreds of candles. An earth-bound demon, a rhodintor as Saharasahla had called it, stands there waiting for them. It carries a long staff made of solidified fire. Eight ratlings kneel in a circle around it, as if to honor its presence.

The rhodintor curses them as defilers of the temple, and commands the ratlings to rise and charge while it begins powering itself up. Its muscles surge with magically enhanced strength and it activates a displacer field. Dziga rushes forward and is met by two ratlings. He turns their blades aside easily and tumbles past them to flank the rhodintor. Vatex meets with three more ratlings, but his flaming sword cuts the first down in a single strike. Two more flashes of steel and the others die as well, before the first even hits the ground. Early’s charge is blocked by more ratmen, but he shrugs off their blows and pushes by them. One cuts him along the shoulder but he doesn’t slow down and channels the Vajra through Cryssaegrym and attempts a Rabid Wolf Strike. The rhodintor displaces away and laughs, striking back with its flaming staff. Dziga uses the distraction to slam his blade into the demon’s back, causing it to roar in pain.

Emeris fights off the remaining ratmen, cutting them down one by one as Vatex moves in to join the others against the well-protected rhodintor. Although the Flame of Elmekia’s fires do not burn the foe, Vatex cuts it badly with keen elven steel. Despite these injuries, the group meets only with frustration as the rhodintor continues to displace away from deadly hits or simply repel them with the layer of force that encases its body. Emeris stabs the tip of his sword through the lung of another ratling, but surprisingly it keeps fighting back. He parries a frantic swing and looks over and sees the rhodintor fall back towards the illusory wall. It spins its staff and points the tip at the elf, Early, and Dziga. A cone of raging flames erupts from the staff and engulfs the three combatants. Emeris can hear shouts of pain as the group scrambles out of area, badly burned with clothes and armor charred and smoking. Emeris stabs the last ratling a few times and rushes in to help the others.

The displacement effect fades, but the rhodintor bolsters his defenses with another magic ability, this time creating a floating shield of force that flies around in front of it, intervening between rhodintor flesh and cutting weapons. Vatex, Early and Dziga charge the demon but find their attacks can barely get through the rhodintor’s capable defense. Early manages to pull off a point-blank shot into the right eye of the demon, and it recoils violently, black blood spurting from the socket. Vatex scores a vicious cut across the demon’s back, and Dziga dives past the shield of force, striking a fatal blow to its chest.

Early quickly skins the demon, intending to make a jacket with the hide. The others consume healing elixirs and prepare to move deeper.

The group passes through the ruins of the Old City of Elan and back into the Temple of Deep Chaos. They return to the ratbrute lair hoping to find sign of Zophas’ corpse, but there is no trace of him other than a dark stain on the ground. Dziga discovers he has the acquired the ability to disappear into shadows.

The group holds its ground in the sanctuary with the sepulchre-like structure, and Dziga advances to scout ahead. He disappears into the shadows before their eyes, and he silently moves towards the chamber where they’d fought Astared and the babaus. Dziga clumsily opens the door and alerts those on the other side to his presence. Nirech-thes and his summoned babau teleport suddenly into the sanctuary. They seem quite delighted to defeat the companions again. Vatex and Dziga attack Nirech-thes, while the summoned babau teleports next to Emeris, who is joined by Early. The demons’ confidence is shattered as the scales are scales tilted dramatically in favour of the companions, equipped with their cold-iron weapons from the Pale Tower. Without the protection afforded by their abyssal nature, the babaus are quickly defeated. Vatex cuts down the Nirech-thes and the summoned babau is killed when Early’s bastard sword nearly severs its neck. The demonic corpses immediately begin to dissolve, which disappoints Early as its precludes getting more trophies.

Back in the chamber with the leaking sewer water, on Astared’s dead body they find a letter addressed to Illadras. It says simply that the Fallen in the Dark Reliquary pledge their support to the Society of the Tolling Bell and Khyron. It is signed Shiiva – member of the Keepers of the Faith and wife of Archanfel, the leader of the demons in the Dark Reliquary.

The group proceeds and finds a storeroom and a resting chamber apparently used by Astared and Nirech-thes. They find two iron chests filled with gold and silver coins and other loot. Beyond this, they find an empty guest bedchamber, as another bedchamber that apparently belongs to a larger humanoid. It is full of books on subjects of interest to chaos, and religious subjects with a dark undertone. Emeris spies a copy of the Book of Faceless Hate on the shelf, and flips through it. He finds two letters addressed to someone called RHINNIS.

One letter is from Illadras, the head priestess of the Society of the Tolling Bell. She speaks of an artifact called the Cheilsecaro, which is stored in the altar of the so-called Kaleidoscopic Temple. The cult plans to destroy the artifact. Also, she speaks of Khyron, who is seeking to become a “Vested of the Galchutt”, which will give his followers greater power. The second letter is from Reggaloch, an Ebon Hand cultist. In it, he blames the Brotherhood of Venom for exploiting the Ebon Hand’s resources to create the venom-shaped thralls, but not wanting to share the use of their new creations. In the letter he warns Rhinnis to be careful, and that he is going to the Ebon Hand temple to get help from their leader, Malek. The companions, of course, know that Reggloch never made it. He was killed in the apartment house by two Brothers of Venom, who in turn were killed by the companions.

Past these bedchambers they find two strange daises that appear cursed. When Vatex and Dziga search the objects, Dziga has a strange out of body experience where he seems to be in his apartment for a moment, then snaps out of it. Although the experience was not harmful, something about it was disturbing and he feels it may affect him later. Vatex manages to resist the curse and the group decides to leave the daises alone.

Past the pair of cursed daises, the group stumbles upon a prison. The gaoler is a hideous mutant called LORELII. She was once a human, but is now just a freak with a monstrously huge jaw full of razor-sharp metal teeth. A brief melee breaks out, and Lorelii is surrounded, accepting blow after blow while trying to kill anyone she can. Strips of flesh are torn from Vatex’s arm, and the mutant manages to get her mouth around Emeris’ head. The teeth grind his skull and tear his flesh and he nearly goes down. Vatex strikes the killing blow, then Dziga heals their wounds with his healing wand that he has modified to allow the rogue to operate it.

The group explores the prison’s eight cells. A few contain nothing, another week-old corpse of an elf who was clearly tortured, and in another they find a dire rat which scurries into a hole. In another they meet ELLIAVA, a halfling fighter who was captured by cultists about a week ago. She seethes with the hunger for revenge. They give her a weapon and she joins them, but sees it as a weakness of the companions that they want to explore the other cells instead of run off to kill more cultists immediately. They also meet two human commoners, a female teen and a male in his twenties who seems to be her guardian. The group tells them how to get out but they fear going off on their own, so they join the companions as well. Another cell contains a troll named MURLASH who knows limited common, and it projects its loyalties onto Early for freeing it. The troll too wants to kill cultists. The final occupied cell contains an ogre whom can speak only Giantish, so only Murlash can communicate with it. The group watches as the exchange between the ogre and Murlash gets quite heated for some reason they cannot deduce, and a fight breaks out. The troll makes short work of the ogre, quickly healing the bruises from the ogre’s few punches that hit home.

The prison appears to be the end of the road, so the group which has now doubled in size returns to where they first met the Gravelle, the tiefling rogue, between the excavated ancient structure and the tower in the Old City ruins. They all joke about how badly they want to kill the tiefling, who keeps getting away from them. As luck would have it, they encounter her again, and this time she is accompanied by an impressive looking ally -- a medusa named HERRIAKADAL decked out in full plate mail armor and equipped with a strange chaositech device. She wears an iron mask on hinges to allow her to control her petrifying gaze. Early draws his weapons and yells at the human commoners to get out of there. The man nods dumbly and the two flee back to the surface.

The battle is on. Herriakadal fires a blast of crackling green energy from her chaositech at Emeris, but the shadowcaster ducks low to avoid it. Vatex fires a shot from his rifle that blasts a hole in Herriakadal’s armor and draws the first blood. Gravelle fires back from her short bow, and hits the elven tempest in the shoulder. Gravelle’s imp appears suddenly in front of Vatex and slashes at his face, but the elf dodges quickly as he reloads. Dziga fades into the shadows, disappearing in plain view to the surprise of his enemies, and reappears behind the imp, stabbing it clean through the back and it dies in a burst of flame.

Murlash rushes towards Gravelle and realizes she was standing behind a pit trap hidden with debris. Flailing, the troll plunges headlong down the 30-foot hole and breaks its thumb, but the bone quickly begins to mend itself because of the troll’s regeneration. Gravelle fires another shot, hitting Early as he rushes forward behind the vengeful halfling, who is charging the medusa. In a weird synchronous motion, the snakes of the serpentine crown of the medusa dart forward, stabbing dozens of tiny wounds into Elliava, who collapses, twitching as poison kills her from within.

Emeris rushes forwad, and unleashes a blast of cold shadow from his draconic glands. Cold shadow rolls over the medusa and she screams in agony, but the dexterous tiefling jumps out of the blast. He then conjures up black fire behind their enemies to impair escape. The medusa steps out of the chilling flames and takes another hit from Vatex’s rifle. It tells Gravelle to flee to the Kaleidoscopic Temple, and warn Illadras that the invaders are coming to interrupt “the ritual”. Gravelle looses another arrow at Early, then dives through the line of shadowy flames. Her enhanced speed carries her quickly deep into the darkness and they lose sight of her.Murlash begins climbing out of the pit.

The medusa opens her mask and everyone falls back, fearful of their adventuring being terminated if they all become statues. Emeris conjures more black fire around her; Vatex and Early fire a few rounds they deflect off the heavy plate armor. She fires back at Early with the chaositech – it connects and he feels a powerful wave of nausea sweep over him but he manages to shake it off. They realize they will not bring down their enemy with firearms and spells and must brave the medusa’s gaze in close combat. Dziga, Vatex, and Early rush in and surround Herriakadal, trying to finish her. Dziga closes his eyes completely and has great difficulty inflicting any wounds, while Vatex and Early just try to keep their view downward. Twice Vatex is unlucky enough to meet the gaze of the medusa, but his hearty constitution keeps his cells from undergoing the catastrophic transformation into solid stone. Murlash climbs out of the pit and joins the fight as well. The medusa finally goes down, bleeding heavily and the snakes on its head twitching spasmodically.

Following the battle, the group heads down the southern passage to pursue the tiefling, knowing that if they can follow her trail they should be led to Illadras, and hopefully to Khyron. Southbound, they find a door to an eastern chamber stained with purple splatters. Dziga can find no sign of a trap, but nonetheless they have Murlash enter first as a precaution. It proves to be a wise, for a dozen massive blackish-purple tentacles burst from the walls, ensnaring the troll and crushing the life out of him within ten seconds. They decide to leave this area unexplored and continue south. They find a structure that is mostly collapsed, but a search of the ruined interior reveals a passage leading to a fork, north and south.

Dziga disappears into the shadows and scouts the north passage while the others wait. He comes across a deadly poison gas trap but disarms it carefully, taking his time to ensure minimal danger. In doing so however he triggers a secondary mechanism, although its effect cannot be discerned at this time. Confident it is safe enough to proceed, he moves beyond a series of doors and finds what must been the Kaleidoscopic Temple.

The strange chamber appeared to be a shaft made entirely of multifaceted crystal, glinting and shimmering almost blindingly. Squinting against the glare, still hidden within the shadows of the passage, Dziga can see a rough stone “island” that floats in the middle of the shaft, where there was a horrible altar covered in jagged black spines and spikes of metal, except for a very flat surface in the middle. Next to the altar is a woman, who appears to be naked and on fire, but certainly feeling no pain and suffering no injury. He can tell by her incantations and gestures that she is casting spells on herself. Dziga presumes this to be the priestess Illadras, and next to her Dziga is surprised to see the chaositech gargoyle, which is still as a tombstone, and the tiefling sniper Gravele, who watches the entrance to the temple, where Dziga is concealed, as if anticipating someone. Chains hang from the sides of the island, a few of which hold prisoners dangling from manacles wrists.

Dziga figures that the second trap had been some kind of alarm that alerted them to his approach, otherwise they could not have detected him. He hurries back to get the others and insists they must attack immediately. The group rushes to the entrance to the temple and immediately goes to work to reach the floating island. Gravele fires an arrow that hits the stone wall as Emeris steps aside dextrously. Illadras is prepared for their approach as well, and curses them with a prayer to chaos while conjuring up a wall of blazing flames across the entrance. The group staggers back from the intense heat. Through the flames, they can see the chaositech gargoyle animate with weird, fluid motions imitative of natural movement but eerily fluid for something that seemed comprised of nothing but thousands of jagged, interlocking metallic piece.

Emeris hurls arrows of dusk at the priestess as he sees her consume of potion in a crystal vial. She ignores the shadowy energy and flies straight up, flames swirling around her and forming the semblance of wings, so she appeared as a flaming angel of death. The chaositech gargoyle held up its right arm and it within seconds the appendage had transformed, metallic pieces peeling and twisting into a new configuration. From this gun-like appendage a noxious blast of green energy was fired and hit Emeris directly. Emeris felt his scaly flesh bubble where the blast hit him, but worse than that he quickly became overwhelmingly nauseous, heaving bile onto the ground and his body quivering from a chaositect-spawned affliction.

While Early and Vatex prepare a scheme using rope and the warblade’s preternatural jumping ability, Dziga consumes a potion of levitation, and runs off the ledge into the shaft, relying on his momentum and the potion’s effects to carry him far enough to reach the island. The extreme heat of the flaming barrier causes him to hesitate for a moment and he fails to get enough forward velocity on his jump, leaving him floating helplessly ten feet before the floating island! Gravele fires an arrow at him which takes him in the shoulder. The gargoyle extends his arm-cannon as if to pick off the floating rogue, and knowing its effects on the shadowcaster Dziga recoils and fears the worst. But he hears gun go off, and a grinding metal impact and sees a smoking hole in the gargoyle’s chest as it stumbles backwards.

This round issued from Vatex’s rifle, but now the elven tempest refocuses around his waist that secures him to Early. With the elf’s nod of affirmation as to the knot’s readiness, Early holds his arms up to shield him from the flame and channels his body through the Vajra, leaping gracefully across the gap with ease, landing at the edge of the island, and pivoting immediately to strike a blow against the gargoyle. Cryssaegrym tears through the metallic body with a terribly grating noise. The gun-arm reforms into an arm and the gargoyle attempts to tear the warblade apart with jagged tooth and claw.

Vatex lunges through the fire next, and finds he cannot make the great distance. Early grunts and flexes his legs to brace against the forceful tug as the tempest falls down the shaft and strains the length of the rope. He grabs the rope with one hand, parrying the gargoyle’s attacks with his sword in the other. Dziga abandons hope of reaching the island for now and levitates upwards towards the flying priestess, hurling daggers at her. They sink into her flesh and she attacks back with powerful magic that assails his mind, but he is able to repel the full power of it.

The flaming wall disappears. Emeris, virtually unable to fight toe to toe as he is racked with nearly crippling sickness, flies into the shaft and hurls more shadowy energy down upon the island. Gravele is knocked back and fires back with an arrow that the Emeris avoids by banking sharply to the left. Vatex begins hauling himself up the hope tied around Early’s hips, a precarious climb with the way its anchor is engaged in combat. Dziga draws Asura as Illadras rushes him, her touch burning with fire and withering his flesh with dark chaos magic. She swoops by him, and he throws a dagger which clanks against the crystal temple walls. Emeris flies in behind him and gives him a push, putting him above the island so he can levitate down and join the melee. With that, the shadowcaster retreats to the bottom of the shaft, where he finds another passage that he elects to explore while the battle continues above.

Cryssaegrym sunders the transforming arm, a blow for which Early accepts the other claw raking across his ribs. Gravele joins the chaositech companion, her sword flashing and cutting Early in the back. Early focuses on the tiefling as Vatex climbs over the ledge, and his dancing swords score deep lines in the chaositech monster. Dziga comes down above the gargoyle and the vicious dagger cuts into its head.

Illadras swoops in and touches Early, the flaming sheath of her body burning and blinding him and the destructive power of her touch leaving him weakened and open. Gravele’s sword nearly runs him through. He strikes back angrily at the flying, burning priestess of the Tolling Bell, and the sword of the Silver Wolf spills blood across the island as she flies back. Early curses her as she casts a spell that seals the wound completely.

The gargoyle spins, trying to comes to grips with its two nimble attackers, but the blades continue tearing it apart. Finally, Dziga jumps on its back and pulls the blade of ASura through its throat, almost entirely severing its neck, exposing vein-like black wires and purple jelly. With its head dangling by only a few jagged metal connections, it stumbles about briefly before tumbling off the edge of the island, crashing into a heap below.

Below, Emeris finds Illadras chamber, where four acolytes of the Society of the Tolling Bell have gathered to hide from the battle. They are terribly afraid of Emeris when he finds them, except for one who is particularly aggressive and fanatical. He cannot get any information from them even with threats of violence, finding the boisterous one gives them courage. Emeris fights her and kills her, loosening the tongues of the demoralized three that remain. With his threatening interrogation, Emeris learns much. They explain that the Society of the Tolling Bell has been organizing the other cults. So far, the two main other cults involved, the Ebon Hand and the Brotherhood of Venom, are not getting along. The leader of the Tolling Bell is Khyron and Illadras his high priestess. They speak highly of Khyron, admiring his membership in the mysterious “Keepers of the Faith,” and saying he seems to grow stronger by the day.

Most interest of all is that to the south of the Temple of Deep Chaos, down the “Long Passage,” is a huge chaositech device called the Mrathrach Machine, located beneath a high-class brothel called the White House. It somehow absorbs energies of randomness and chance in the city above, but what this energy is used for the acolytes cannot say. Emeris asks is Khyron can be found at this machine, and they say no, but there are individuals there who would know where he is.

On the island, Early, Dziga, and Vatex fight against Gravele and Illadras, whose strategy of flying in to strike then retreating makes for a difficult enemy against which to strike a fatal hit. Gravele fights with feral viciousness, but against such opponents this assassin, touched by demonic blood and dedicated to killing, could not survive. Vatex’s swords finally cut her down, but the assault of Illadras continues. Dziga and Vatex are forced to fall back, their flesh badly degenerated and scorched from alternating attacks from the priestess, leaving only Early, himself burned and bleeding and near death.

The warblade holds up his sword and lets out a lupine howl that seems to taunt Illadras, and she swoops down with outstretched arms. Early swings at her and cuts deep, but she continues forward, crashing into him. Her slight mass doesn’t move the warrior, who stands solid as a stone wall, but she hangs on, grasping his face with her hands, and wrapping her legs around his waist, her filed nails scratching, her flaming body burning his eyes and skin, and her dark magic flowing through her touch and threatening to take him down. There is a flash of images in his mind—the warblade running alongside a massive silver wolf—an ocean of worms—a strange figure with a waxy face, perhaps a mask—a silver katana stained with purple gore. Early suddenly has a surge of strength, getting his arm underneath Illadras’ jaw and forcing her upper body backwards. He pulls his sword arm free and lifts the blade, reversing his grip in midair to plunge the tip of the blade between the priestess’ breasts. He rips his sword free and the dead priestess tumbles from dead from the island, her aura of fire dissipating with a flaming splash as she hits the ground, like a candle trembling violently before it dies.

The three loot the bodies and search the altar, finding what appears to be the Cheilsecaro, a mysterious artifact imbued with the power of Law. Emeris rejoins them, bearing an unfinished letter in Illadras’ hand, addressed to Andross, that damned Keeper of the Faith who works with Khyron. The letter contains many interesting fragments that encourage some speculation, but the group is too exhausted to intensely correlate its contents for now. With the forces of chaos utterly defeated in the Temple of Deep Chaos, the group trudges back to the surface with a well-earned sense of victory.

Though satisfied with the piles of corpses left in their wake, heavy issues hang over the group. For Illadras’ incomplete letter reveals that the cultists had suspected the pactlord Ibulli’s real affiliation and his relation to the Pactlords breaching the seal of the Banewarrens. The letter mentions the name “Navanna” in connection with something called the “Banewarrens key,” and in different context refers to Khyron and the “Final Ritual,” the location of which remains obscure. This, combined with the Mrathrach Machine, suggests the chaos forces’ operations beneath the city are unimaginably bigger than expected.

Next: The Temple of Deep Chaos has been defeated, but are the companions any closer to their true revenge?

Random Elanian Factoid: Few adventurers have had the fortitude to explore the Serpent Caves, much less the mysterious caverns beyond. On such group of adventurers, a mighty party called the Heroes of Jermyn, explored that subterranean region of dreadful legendry, deeper than any before. Only two of the seven returned alive, but they were insane and before long found themselves in Elan’s asylum. They babbled of nightmarish cities inhabited by otherworldly monsters beyond description, and caverns where the very stone seemed to be alive. To them the place was wholly beyond the pale of sanity. Such stories would usually draw more adventurers, but perhaps due to the reputation of the Heroes of Jermyn, no adventurers are known to have explored far beyond the Serpent Caves.