Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Episode XXXI: Night of Dissolution, Act IV: The Mrathrach Machine II

Juliar 27

Desperately fighting the kython on the fourth level, Vatex sees the two thralls from the third level begin crawling around the outer scaffolding and climbing along the wall to the level below. The elf calls out for assistance, and Emeris and Early begin rushing up the western ladder to join him at level 4.

Vatex falls back as the two thralls begin moving along the outer ring towards him. If he gets pinned between the kython and a thrall, he is not sure he will be able to hold them off. So he withdraws back towards the western ladder to meet his friends coming up. The kython crawls up the machine, maneuvering around shifting parts. It launches blobs of acid towards Emeris. Despite being splattered, the half-dragon shadowcaster moves to intercept one of the thralls on the outer ring. He unleashes his destructive gaze of shadow magic, and the thrall wails in pain. Vatex exchanges shots with the kython, while Earth moves past Emeris at the wailing monster. Vatex curses as another shot deflects off the kython’s carapace, and Emeris takes down a thrall. As a thrall closes in on Vatex the elf is splattered with more of the kython’s acid. Vatex shoulders his gun and slashes at the legs of the thrall, while Early jumps from the outer ring to the catwalk behind the thrall, hacking into its back fatally.

The kython fires acid at the elf and warblade, who dodge aside. Cryssaegrym disappears into its scabbard and two double-pistols enter Early’s hands. He fires off a series of shots that deflect off the kython’s natural armor moves around the spinning mechanisms. Emeris hurls bolts of black energy from his hands, Vatex fires a shot wide, but the creature recoils from the richochet and is suddenly struck by an extended, spinning gear. It falls from its perch but manages to grab onto the edge of the inner ring with two claws. It pulls itself up, to find Early upon it in an instant, Cryssaegrym slashing at its head. Cryssaegrym cuts, but so do the slashing claws of the kython, and Early falls back. Emeris helps him to the outer ring, while Vatex exchanges a final shot with the kython. He ducks as a glob of acid hurtles at him, but through the motion he keeps his rifle’s sights trained perfectly on the creatures face and squeezes the trigger. The contents of the creature’s skull burst through the back of its head and it goes down at last.

Emeris has exhausted his magic, and everyone is badly hurt – they have no choice but to return to the surface.

When the three of them return to Emeris and Early’s house, they find a shadowy figure knocking on their windows. Getting closer, they see it is Dziga! The rogue-cum-shadowdancer looks tired, like he hasn’t slept well in quite some time. They sleep into the early afternoon, and when they awake the group gathers around the kitchen table to exchange stories of what has been happening the last few days.

Emeris relays the latest, including the attack on the Mrathrach Machine and the plot made with Nicalon Regalis to break into the Vladaam’s mansion to get the Banewarrens key. Although the Banewarrens key is of great importance, more urgent is continuing the assault on the Mrathrach Machine before it can bolster its defenses.

Dziga speaks of when he returned from the Temple of Deep Chaos five days ago, he returned home, bloody, burned, and bruised. His girlfriend, Marin, greeted him and he collapsed into her arms. As she guided him to the bed to rest, an image flashed in Dziga’s mind—an image of the cursed dais he touched inside the chaos temple, much in the same way an image of his apartment flashed in his mind when he touched it. Then he felt a strange force within the dais making contact with him across the great distance. Suddenly a blast of chaotic energy exploded around him, blowing apart furniture and bashing him forcefully against the wall. When the dust cleared, he could see Marin on the ground, killed by the blast. When the landlord investigated the noise and saw the situation, he called the City Guard and accused Dziga of murder. The rogue fled, heading to the South Market and taking a room at an inn called the Sleepy Giant.

Over the next few days, he acquired some forged identification papers, began looking for a new place to live, and snuck around the city trying to find his friends. Each time he stopped by their house, he seemed to miss them. When he slept on the first night at the inn, he dreamed again of being visited by Keziah and Jenkins. They wandered the city on the a particularly rainy night, splashing through muddy puddles beneath stormy skies, with Dziga listening to Keziah’s cryptic whispers about the “Emerald Moon,” the rune-bearing children, mathematics, the “Black Man,”and the Night of Dissolution. Eventually they climbed through the second-level window of a residence in Riversgate. There, Keziah and Jenkins snatched up a sleeping infant girl with a rune on the back of its neck. Before the dream concluded, Dziga was left standing outside the Sleepy Giant as the hag walked off into the night with the crying child in her arms. Jenkins, the hideous human-faced fiendish rat, follows her with a perverse smile.

What seemed most alarming at first was not the dream itself, but the fact that Dziga awoke the next morning fully dressed, despite having mostly stripped before going to sleep. Worse still, his boots and pants were covered in mud from the streets and his clothes were quite wet. Was he sleepwalking outside or something? He did not entertain the possibility that the events from the dream had occurred, until the next morning while he explored Riversgate following a lead on what might be Emeris. In one neighbourhood, he hears of a baby girl named GERA FASTUS who was kidnapped from her home the previous night. How could this be?

These were the only details Dziga shared, but in truth he had been visited by Keziah twice more on the last few nights. On the second night at the inn, Keziah came to him, but rather than riding his back, she led him by the hand. At an abandoned warehouse in the Guildsman District, she told him it was time to meet “the Black Man.” Dziga did meet him, or it, inside, and it was an experience so horrible he shuddered to think of it.

The Black Man almost seems human, a tall, lean man of dead black coloration that shimmered like polished steel. Wholly devoid of either hair or beard, with a long thin face, the Back Man wore only a shapeless robe of heavy black fabric. But something about the man was ineffably terrifying. As Dziga got closer, his flesh seemed to deteriorate, slowly at first but then faster and faster. He began to struggle but Keziah’s grip held him tight. She and Jenkins were completely unaffected by the stabilizing aura of the Black Man, and seemed utterly in awe of him. Coughing on his blood, his body wracked with agony, the Black Man spoke in a booming voice of such magnitude that it seemed as if his skull would explode. The words are forever etched upon his memory:


He could not listen any more. Whether this was a dream or not, he knew if he stayed in the presence of that thing, much less go with it as it commanded, he would die. Overcome with horror, he tore himself free of the hag, her claws stripping flesh away as he did, but he barely noticed the pain against the screaming agony of his disintegrated flesh. He ran from the warehouse into the night, then he awoke, drenched with sweat.

After a few days of searching, Dziga ended up finding the perfect apartment on a narrow street called Auray Avenue in Oldtown. The landlord of the old building, SHMEE, asked few questions, and the whole street seemed quite lower class and ignored by the authorities. The only minor issue would be the strange, atonal cello music he could hear being played every few hours in the apartment above him.

The first night sleeping at the new abode, Keziah and Jenkins visited him again in another dream. This time, she brought the rune-bearing infant to his apartment. It cried and cried as Jenkins held it down on the bed. Keziah gave Dziga a curved sacrificial knife and a bowl made of a strange metal. She told him the rune-bearer must die and Dziga must cut out her heart. Dziga did as she commanded, killing the child and dropping its severed heart into the bowl. Then he awoke. Although his room showed no signs of the bloody sacrifice, he somehow could not be sure whether or not it had happened. Yet real or not, Dziga had made the choice to complete the sacrifice. Did that make him truly evil, or would that only be the case if the events of the dream had actually transpired?

The others heard nothing of these two dreams, although they sense something palpably darker about the rogue.

During their discussion, Emeris receives contact from Saharasahla, so he visits the shadowcaster’s library afterwards. The eccentric sage tells him he investigated the symbol worn by the strange visitor from the other day. He says he found it, and it was the symbol of a great wyrm shadow dragon called ASHARDALON who caused great destruction in the regions north of Elan a few decades ago. The conventional history says that Ashardalon bred six half-dragon lieutenants.

However, the druid GILANAEUS and his powerful allies defeated the armies of the great shadow wyrm, hunted down and killed his lieutenants, and dealt Ashardalon a devastating wound, and he fled to the northeast. It is said that the heroes pursued Ashardalon halfway around the world before finally destroying him. Saharasahla also learned that Ashardalon was worshipped by a cult led by a vampire named GARLOTH GULTHIAS. Sometime around Ashardalon’s defeat, Garloth was slain in a seemingly unrelated clash with adventurers. Was the stranger some sort of cultist then? It was hard to say.

Saharasahla also inquires about Emeris’ study of the Book of Inverted Shadows. He helps the young shadowcaster understand some more difficult passages and Emeris begins to comphrehend the complex lore with greater clarity. Then Saharasahla, seemingly pleased with the progress so far, gives the Emeris three shadow orbs that will give him more power from which to draw the power of shadow. The small, pitch black spheres orbit around Emeris and he can feel the different levels of magic they contain. The old sage bids Emeris to get the Banewarrens key, but silently the half-dragon knows the Mrathrach Machine comes first.

The rest of the group sells its loot at the market and gets healing from the Temple of Ashe. Dziga takes Gravele’s magic bow and boots for himself. The city is abuzz with news of the approaching Silmarian horde, which is estimated to reach the city within a few days. Price controls on food and various commodities have been mandated by the Twelve Commanders, and it is said that the Inverted Pyramid will be formally contributing to the city’s defense. Many speak with fear about how no help is coming from the imperial capital Tairon, with the the Holy Empire’s forces stretched too thin throughout its many regional conflicts.

They meet Emeris later that afternoon, and the four companions head down to renew their assault the machine and its defenders. The huge iron door at the end of the long passage is relocked, It takes Dziga several minutes to overcome the challenging lock. It seems Burger is the better security expert.

Back in the huge chamber at the top of the machine, they look around and see no enemies, so they descend the western ladder. Early is blasted by venting steam which reminds them to be careful in this dangerous place. As they move to the next level, Vatex spots a thrall performing maintenance of some kind, crouched down on its legs with its upper body ducked into a hatch on the machine. The group notes that each level seems to have a hatch that accesses the interior of the huge tower. Dziga disappears into the shadows and sneaks down to level 3, where he takes aim at the labouring monster. Using the bow Roguefriend, he fires a perfect shot that hits the monster right between the shoulder blades. It lets out a loud wail and hits its head on the machine as it pulls back. At that moment, arrows of dusk and gunfire are showered upon the thrall from the level above. Blood spurts from various wounds, and the thrall flees down the tower, crawling around the scaffolding and moving around the spinning pieces with ease. Early and Vatex move to pursue it, .while Emeris and Dziga move around to investigate the cavern on the eastern side from whence the thralls came previously.

As the shadowcaster and the shadowdancer towards the cave, another kython and a thrall emerge from it. The thrall moves around the outer ring to charge Emeris who is followed by Dziga. Vatex and Early change direction and head up to join the battle on the third floor. As the thrall rushes Emeris, he throws up a long line of black fire through which the thrall charges recklessly. The cold flames of shadow cause it to wail and stumble, but it continues undaunted. The monster attacks the shadowcaster with stinger and claw, but encased in steel shadows he is protected. Dziga suddenly slips by him and slides under the thrall’s legs and slashes the vicious dagger into its guts as he does. Black gore splatters over him and he jumps to his feet behind the monster. Emeris dodges past a stinging tail and stabs at the thrall with his sword as further crippling hits from Dziga finish it.

The kython moves in the other direction, to intercept Early. In one of its four claws it wields a crossbow-like weapon of cartilage and bony carapace, which it holds ready as Early leaps nearly 40 feet, Cryssaegrym slashing before him. A small shard-like projectile fires from the bone crossbow and the silver katana sweeps across and deflects it with a clang. Early makes the reverse stroke cut across the kython’s extended arm, and he takes off a few clawed digits. Vatex joins him with his slashing swords, and they flank the monster on the catwalk. Chunks are cut from its thick carapace and some blows draw thick green blood. Early fires off a shot from his pistol with one hand, and the round punches through the armor into its chest, while his sword fends off the flurry of attacks.

The kython’s maw snaps at Vatex as he cuts the monster twice more, and Early uses the distraction to lunge forward, dragging his weapon through the Vajra, and he smashes the kython with a Rabid Wolf Strike. Green gore sprays through the shattered exoskeleton in its side. Slow to recover from the aggressive attack, Early is shredded by claws as the kython concentrates on him suddenly with fury. Early is cut across his arms and chest as as Vatex finally it down from behind.

With combat temporarily resolved, the group checks out the eastern cavern on the third floor. A series of connected caves appears to be the lair of the thralls, judging from the long wood trough filled with disgusting slop, the shed pieces of carapace, and the piles of feces in all corners. There is nothing valuable here.

They next explore the western passage off level 5, from which the shapeshifter had joined the battle from the morning assault. There find a few storage rooms, one containing strange machine parts, another containing food, dry goods, and drinks. Behind a locked iron door they find six strange gray cubes on a table. Emeris takes them, curious as to what they are. Beyond the chamber connected to these rooms is a cave full of random objects and large stones arranged like tables and chairs. They search the eclectic collection and find a few crystal and silver items that will catch a good price.

Vatex is caught in a blast of steam on the way to the seventh level, where they find another passage on the southeast side. Dziga picks the locked doors, taking several minutes on each the difficult locks. The first chamber is a bedchamber with a voluminous pile of notebooks, on a desk. Emeris flips through a few of them but they are filled with incomprehensible formulae, equations, and technical data. In the adjacent bedchamber, Vatex is ambushed by a hiding chaositechnician when he opens the wardrobe. The cultist, a human named HAO with a shaved head, and four-inch chaositech claws coming out of his fingers. He swings at Vatex, who dodges him easily. Vatex and the warblade proceed to plunge their blades repeatedly into the open wardrobe, piercing the helpless cultist numerous times until he collapses in a bloody mess. Hao's locked chest contains a box with three flasks of thick, clear liquid, and two glass jars. The jars contains the same liquid with objects suspended inside. One looks like a coil of hemp rope, the other dark-colored fleshy sphere three inches in diamter atop a metal base. The group takes these items out of curiosity. The final room on this level is a workshop of some kind, full of half-finished devices scattered about carelessly.

From here they make their way past the blasts of steam to the tenth level, where the machine is embedded into the stone at the bottom of the cavern. A cavern to the south enters into a chamber with several adjoing passages and two doors, so they take the right passage for the moment, their eyes caught by a trail of dried leaves, bits of wood and metal leading to the right. The goes down the passage and round a corner into a rhodintor’s nest. It holds its flaming staff calmly and looks as if it expected them to walk in.

The rhodintor calls out for its brothers to assist in destroying the intruders, but the companions hurry to ensure aid will be too late to arrive. Vatex rushes the demon and cuts past its spinning staff, but the magic flames of the Elmekian blade seem to snuff out as the blade cuts its flesh. The earthbound demon dodges the stabbing tip of Cryssaegrym and unleashes a bolt of scorching lightning that arcs through the warblade and into Emeris twenty feet behind him. Emeris falls to one knee but Early bites back the pain and continues his assault as Dziga lunges to the side of the monster and drives Asura into its ribs. Emeris casts a gazy of shadowy death upon the rhodintor, but its spell resistance repels the attack. A furious assault of hacking blades overcomes the rhodintor and it goes down, black blood spreading quickly beneath it. Emeris watches the chamber’s entrance, ready to unleash the life-freezing breath weapon at any other monsters that enter.

When the first rhodintor appears, Emeris waits, expecting more attackers and not wanting to hit only one. The rhodintor calmly holds out its flaming staff as it strides down the passage. A cone of raging inferno bursts from the staff and engulfs the chamber. Dziga quickly hit the ground but the others are ravaged by fire that blisters their flesh. The rhodintor laughs as Vatex hits it with a round from his rifle as the flames clear. Then another rhodintor rounds the corner and joins its ally. Emeris takes his shot, blowing a wave of shadowy cold over the rhodintor. The demons seem hardly affected, and Emeris begins to dive when he sees the second rhodintor hold out its staff, but he is too late. Again the chamber is turned into an inferno. Dziga the shadowdancer runs up the wall as the flames roar past. Early and Vatex scream as their exposed flesh burns terribly. No sounds come from Emeris though, and the shadowcaster goes down, unconscious and dying. His scaly flesh is blackened and bones can be seen where the clothing and flesh has burned away around his torso.

Despite every movement being pure agony, Early is first to react and rushes towards the fallen half-dragon. The warblade knows that if Emeris is still alive, he will likely be dead in seconds if he doesn’t get a healing potion. The two rhodintor each begin the arcane gestures of another magical attack…

Next: Will the companions destroy the Mrathrach Machine once and for all? Will everyone make it out in one piece? What will happen when the barbarian horde reaches the city?

Random Elanian Factoid: The Commissar of Elan, IGOR URNST, maintains a regiment of elite troops called the Commissar’s Men, stationed in Dalenguard. He also has a regiment of 2,000 imperial soldiers. Additionally, he keeps a battery of two dozen specially designed cannons, which he used in Rhoth during the Gnoll War. These “Commissar Guns” are very mobile and positioned to bombard a foe from the north, the south, or along the cliffs to fire at approaching enemy vessels.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Episode XXX: The Banewarrens, Act I: The Broken Seal IV; Night of Dissolution Act IV: The Mrathrach Machine I

Juliar 25-27

Having defeated the blue gnolls that occupied Shilukar’s former lair, Early the warblade, Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster, and Vatex the urban ranger consider the portal and the idol in the chamber to the south. Revenge is satisfying itself, but Early wishes to have the portal closed so that no more fiendish creatures can come through. But can they rely on Shilukar’s instructions on how to close the portal? Even if they can, they know nothing of the obstacles they face on the other side.

In any case, they decide to explore the rest of the subterranean complex first. All residents seem to be away or dead, but for two gnolls guarding an exit to the sewer. The group quickly slays them. Throughout various chambers they nothing little of interest until they stumble across Shilukar’s former laboratory. There are nearly two dozen large glass tanks filled with foul smelling chemicals and rotting organic matter. In most vats, rotting creatures float dead, attached to a number of umbilical-like cords. These cords connect to horrid, semi-organic machines, that seem to have once pumped fluid into the creatures when everything was operational. Each creature appears to be a terrible fusion of recognizable animals and a massive spider. There is a spider with bat wings, a dog with spider legs, a ratlord that that is a large spider from the waist down, and other such abominations.

They leave this chamber and return to the entrance of the chamber containing the Idol of Ravaan and the portal. Early leads the way, but the others stop at the boundary of the chamber when they see the warblade suddenly stop and drop his sword. They seem him drooling and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Fueled by the power of the nearby idol, Early’s mind is filled with visions of attacking his friends and tearing them apart with his hands and teeth. A moment later, he acts on his visions and lunges at the others, snarling like a beast. The others step back, and when Early rushes past the threshold power of the idol it loses its grip. Shaken, he asks Emeris to enter the chamber to get his sword, but when he does, even the formidable will of the shadowcaster yields to the idol’s power. He stumbles dumbly towards the idol at the end of the chamber, and Vatex follows. Although his elven blood should make him extra resilient to such mental influences, he succumbs as well. Both he and Emeris are overcome by violent images that flash in their mind, and they both close in on Early with bloodlust in their eyes. Early lures them back outside the chamber and they regain their wits, but it is obvious none of them can enter that chamber without magical intervention. The Glade of Ravaan must wait.

They head back to Emeris and Early’s house to rest. The next morning they head to the Adventurer’s Square and sell loot and identify magical items. Vatex ends up keeping a magical ring that allows the wearer to fall from any distance as gently as a feather. Now it is time to visit Ishara Jare, the loremaster who is researching the strange verse that resulted when they used the legend lore scroll on the Banewarrens’ sealed door.

They get to Ishara’s house and Veston, her short and fat assistant, invites them in and serves them delectable tea. Ishara joins them and explains what she found in the literature. The “noble house that is not noble” refers, she believes, to House Vladaam. This is because in “The Memoirs of ZENITHIAN”, written by one of the heroes who defeated the Dread One, it is said that another such hero, named NARIDIA, had supposedly been corrupted by the essence of Vladaam – one of the Chosen of the Ancients. After the battle where the eight great heroes fought the Dread One through the halls of Jabel Shammar to the Banewarrens, Naridia allegedly took some things from the corpse of the Dread One after he was defeated. Some of these items are said to have passed down through House Vladaam over the millennia. Most importantly, one of them was said to be the mummified hand of the saint Danar, which functioned as the key to the Banewarrens’ sealed doors. This would explain the verse’s reference to “the key that is a hand” and ‘the touch of the saint.” As to the “staff that is a dagger,” Ishara’s theory is that is likely refers to the Staff of Shards, a mighty artifact. Legend says that it was this weapon that smote the Dread One with the killing blow.

The companions considers the gravity of this information. They know of House Vladaam’s dire reputation, for it is said that they are very powerful and demonic blood may flow through their veins. Saharasahla, hearing this information through Emeris’ thoughtstone, sends his voice through the connection and tells the half-dragon that getting this key is their best chance to get the missing page of the Book of Inverted Shadows. But what can they do to get the key from such enemies? Ishara tells them of a man named NICALON REGALIS, a member of the Knights of the Chord who is a well-known enemy of the Vladaams. It is said that he even used to work for them. She suggests if anyone might help them, Nicalon might.

They visit the headquarters of the Knights of the Chord, the Kirii Templehall, and they are referred to Nicalon’s favorite hangout, an unpopular tavern called the Fuzzy Gauntlet. They meet Nicalon there that evening. He is a tall, dark-skinned man who carries a lute and a sword, and he does not hide his hatred of House Vladaam. He confirms that he used to work as a bodyguard for the evil nobles. After he left their employ, the youngest Vladaam daughter, Navanna, killed his family and stole an important relic called the Pyramid of Xagor. They tell him they too want something possessed by the Vladaams, the mummified hand (although they hide its significance), Nicalon thinks this is a perfect opportunity for them to work together.

Hearing the name Navanna allows the group to make a startling connection. Navanna Vladaam? This explains Illadras’ letter to Andross, recovered in the Temple of Deep Chaos. In it, Illadras said the Pactlords of the Quaan were unaware of Navanna and the Banewarrens key. Is Navanna somehow connected to the chaos cults, or the Keepers of the Faith?

Emeris and Early meet again with Nicalon later at the Cloud Theater. There they discuss possible plans of attack while watching to a lame opera starring Dullin Balacazar from their private balcony seating. Nicalon first fills them in on what he knows about the Vladaams. Known to be in the city at this time are ALIASTER, a powerful wizard. There is also the fat sister GATTARA, a sorceress, and the younger brother, GODFRED, who is a warrior with a reputation for stupidity. The patriarch, IRISTUL, a man of decadent and unsavoury appetites, is extremely powerful but fortunately abroad searching for powerful soul-devouring weapons called Hungerswords. The younger daughter, Navanna, is out of the country in Walsta for unknown reasons.

Nicalon suggests they will have to break in somehow, and draws them a map of the Vladaam estate. He thinks the best option is to sneak across the property, break in via the library window, and make their way to the storeroom in the basement. That would surely be the location of important items such as the mummified hand and the Pyramid of Xagor. Emeris thinks they should wait until they can find Dziga, for the rogue is their best asset for a mission such as this. Nicalon is disappointed that they will not act immediately, and angrily tells them to find him when they are ready. With the prospect of getting back his family’s treasure so close, he seems impatient to delay any further. He leaves.

Vatex meanwhile hits the streets to see if they might infiltrate the estate by becoming employees. He manages to find the supervisor of the Vladaam guardsmen drinking at a tavern called the Griffon. Vatex asks if the Vladaam’s are hiring, and the supervisor says no, and says even if they were they wouldn’t hire a stupid elf. Vatex’s blades flash out of their sheathes and he kills the man quickly. Patrons flee the tavern and call for guards, and Vatex flees through the crowd. People point and shout “murdering elf!” He disappears into an alley before the guards show up and makes his way back to the house to escape legal trouble.

On the way back home, Emeris is summoned to Saharasahla’s library. The old shadowcaster tells him that a strange visitor, seemingly human, came to the library asking about the half-dragon. Saharasahla could not determine his identity, and revealed nothing to the stranger, but said he wore a distinct symbol. Saharasahla shows his rendition of the symbol but it means nothing to Emeris. Emeris shows it to Vatex later, and the elf vaguely remembers it from a story involving a mighty dragon and a druid. The details are very fuzzy though.

Early stops by Dziga’s apartment, but unfortunately the rogue is nowhere to be found. When he gets back to his house, he finds Vatex and Emeris awake considering what to do next. Without Dziga, they will not act on their knowledge of the Banewarrens key, and their conversation once again turns to the forces of chaos. They know that there is a long passage in the Temple of Deep Chaos that leads to a huge chaositech device called the Mrathrach Machine, and there they may find a new lead on Khyron. Although it is past midnight now, they head back to the apartment house in Oldtown and descend into the sewers and back into the Temple of Deep Chaos.

The temple’s previously cleared areas have not been repopulated, and most of the bodies of slain enemies remain were they fell. The long passage is found just south of the Kaleidescopic Temple. The tunnel earns its name with a seemingly endless length that changes width, slope, direction, and method of construction numerous times. It is nearly 700 feet of winding tunnel before Vatex hears the sounds of battle ahead. Advancing carefully, they find a minotaur cleric bearing an black hand symbol on his cloak battling two female cultists with symbols of Brotherhood of Venom on their robes. The minotaur bids them to help kill the traitors in exchange for magic scrolls, while the human cultists play the “we are all humans” card, imploring them to join them in killing the monster, who turns out to be Reggaloch, an Ebon Hand cultist of whom they had heard previously.

The companions side with the humans of the Brotherhood. Although Reggaloch’s morning star, its spiked head bigger than Early’s skull, is wielded with devastating strength, the combined forces quickly take him down with steel and shadow magic. Emeris, relying on his exotic appearance and intimidating personality, pretends to be a member of the Keepers of the Faith. The cultists seem convinced by the bluff, and show Emeris a letter they were to deliver to the White House, which supposedly sits above the Mrathrach Machine.

Emeris reads the letter, addressed to Aggah-Shan, the lich that owns the White House, and signed by someone named CALDOR. It informs the lich that progress on the Mrathrach Machine is ahead of schedule, and it should be “complete” in about thirty days. At this time, it is explained, the machine will no longer need to be powered by “the zaug.” No one is sure what a zaug is. Reading on it is said that progress has accelerated due to the assistance of the rhodintor and the kython. Emeris and Early remember the word “kython” from a letter found way back in the Temple of the Rat God, where it was mentioned the cultists acquired a large supply of chaositech when the “vault of the kython” was opened.

The companions allow the cultists to take the letter and go, for it might draw unwanted attention should the two women fail to show up at the White House. They continue deeper down the passage, and after about another three or four hundred feet, come to a massive door of solid iron. The door is carved with elaborate pictures of coiling serpents and plants in a swamp. The door is locked, so they yell at the top of their lungs, and bang on the door, hoping to make a racket and get someone to let them in, as they might be able to continue the Keepers of the Faith ruse. They get no attention, and they resort to using raw strength. Unfortunately, it seemed they might sooner move a mountain than force the door open. Discouraged and annoyed with Dziga’s absence, they rush after the cultists on their way to the White House, but they are too far ahead. They return to the surface.

They stop by the Ghostly Minstrel for a few drinks, and they find the Company of the Blue Lantern drinking merrily despite the late hour. Vatex mentions they need to get past a locked door and the fighter Rando suggests the Company’s rogue, Burger the halfing, go help them out. Burger only agrees on getting a dinner at the greatest restaurant in Elan, Bella Delicious.

The sun will be up in a few hours, but the companions immediately head back down to the door at the end of the long passage. Upon arrival, Burger picks the difficult lock with ease and heads back to the surface, saying he looks forwad to his dinner. Vatex pushes open the massive door, made of metal five inches thick. Early steps up to hold out his torch, but the chamber beyond is lit with a metallic blue-grey light.

They look around in awe as they enter the massive cavern beyond. They are at the top of a massive shaft that seems to go hundreds of feet down, containing a huge tower-like structure that rises from the depths below, coming fifty feet short of the ceiling. This giant tower, they realize quickly, is the Mrathrach Machine. Roughly cylindrical, the machine is fifty feet in diameter, and the shaft is a hundred feet in diameter. Iron scaffolding has been built in the space between the edges of the machine and the sides of the chamber. There are many levels of scaffolding going down, spaced out every twenty feet along the machine’s height. Two ladders on the east and west sides connect the different levels, and the five-foot-wide inner and outer rings of scaffolding are bridged by narrow catwalks.

The machine itself is a dizzying array of movement and noise. Much of it rotates, with different segments moving at different speeds in different directions, with strange arms, mysterious antennae, and spinning machine parts making the inner ring of scaffolding a precarious location. The chamber is also stiflingly hot, with the machine venting copious amounts of steam, often in scalding gouts around in the scaffolding, which makes the whole place even more inhospitable. A cacophony of mechanical grinding and pounding and blasting vapour fills their ears.

It is a few moments before they spot a venom-shaped thrall crawling along the wall towards them. Vatex snaps up his rifle and hits the monster with a well-placed shot, and it lets out a keening wail as black blood spurts from the wound. Despite the racket from the machine, they are sure that unbearably loud wail can be heard deeper down the shaft, likely alerting others. Early fires his double pistols while Vatex rushes to intercept. Emeris gazes at the thrall and ravages it with shadow magic. It lets out another screaming wail as Vatex meets it, cutting through its chitinous plates to be rewarded with chunks of black gore.

Two more thralls have entered the shaft from a passage on the western wall two levels down. Above, as Vatex ducks and cuts at the legs of the thrall, Early bounds over him, disappearing through the Vajra, leaving a transparent afterimage that streaks forward through the thrall neck, cleanly severing its head. Early reappears, landing in a crouch as the headless thrall tumbles off the scaffolding. Suddenly a cone of steam bursts from the machine and engulfs Emeris, burning him badly. The three of them hasten to the western ladder and descend to the third level down, to meet the emerging thralls.

When they get there, Vatex warns them that another monster is coming. It is a strange, xenomorph-like humanoid with an armor-like exoskeleton with an eyeless, carapace-covered head, four clawed arms, and a thin, whip-like tail. It carries a strange crossbow-like weapon that looks to be made of the same organic material as the monster’s carapace. It is quickly climbing up the tower, maneuvering around the numerous moving mechanisms with familiarity. It reaches the fourth level from the top and leaps to the cavern wall, to which it clings with eerie facility. From its angle on the wall which it grips with with three claws, it holds up the crossbow-like weapon with its fourth claw, aiming and Emeris. The weapon seems to convulse and it launches of gob of burning acid which splatters all over Emeris.

The other two thralls scamper along the walkways on the third level down to engage the descending companions. Early intends to intercept the acid-launching creature – a kython, perhaps? – on the fourth level, firing his pistols as he flipps across the distance. He bounds across the gap to the inner ring, then turns quickly to jump to the outer ring below. He miscalculates the spinning parts of the Mrathrach Machine, and is struck by a long, heavy antenna which knocks him off the scaffolding. He falls down five levels before catching himself on a catwalk between the inner and outer rings, cracking some ribs in the fall.

Vatex and Emeris find themselves suddenly outnumbered as thralls close in and the kython takes aim. The kython launches another gob of acid which splatters against the wall above Vatex while Emeris engages a thrall. Vatex fires a shot that hits the thrall while Emeris conjures black fire around it. It scampers forth stings him with the burning poison on its tail, and he feels his muscles grow terrible stiff. Vatex hits it again just beneath the throat, and Emeris presses his hands against its abdomen. He unleashes life fading negative energy, and the unconscious thrall collapses motionless.

A second thrall closes in on it quickly, and Emeris throws black fire around him, freezing the monster as it charges him. The thrall is wounded but hardly slowed. Emeris does not get back into a defensive stance quickly enough, and the thrall lashes him with its tail, and stabs its claws through his ribs, and lifts him up to deliver a thick dose of poison. Instead its tail darts out at Vatex as he rushes to the aid of his friend. The poison-dripping tip hits him in the shoulder. Immediately the wound turns a sickly color and he feels his muscles begin to grow very numb. Nonetheless he hacks the Flame of Elmekia into the thrall’s abdominal cavity. It tumbles off the scaffolding to its death, and drops the bleeding half-dragon to the ground. Suddenly Vatex is splattered with the kython’s acid spitter, fired from the inner ring one level below. Vatex draws his rifle while Emeris gets to his fight and scounges through his pockets for a potion.

Several levels down, Early climbs up the western ladder while trying to dig healing potions out of his pack to mend his broken ribs. A column of burning air washes over him while he grips tightly to the ladder and holds a vial of healing elixir between his teeth. He ascends a few levels when he sees a amorphous ooze-like creature slither out of a western passage on the fifth level from the top. This creature seems to take note of Early and descends the ladder. Early sees it coming and channels through the Vajra to power up his special abilities. They face off on the outer ring of the sixth level.

Early swings Cryssaegrym and the silver blade cuts deep, producing a stream of transparent life-fluid. Different colors within the creature swirl and within the blink of an eye it completely transforms itself into a towering humanoid with charcoal-colored skin and bright orange hair. A…fire giant? The shapeshifter smashes its giant fists into Early, crunching his armor into his chest painfully and glancing off his skull, nearly sending him spinning off the outer ring. Trying to see past the stars in his eyes, Early strikes back and is splattered with blood as the silver blade cuts deep. He narrowly avoids being struck by a fierce kick and strikes again, slicing through leg muscle.

Above, Vatex fires a shot that harmlessly richochets off the kython’s skull plate. As Emeris slugs back another potion, he heads over to the western ladder to reach the kython below. Vatex follows him to the fourth level, and moves along the outer ring. Emeris crosses the catwalk and moves to the inner ring while weaving steel shadows around himself. The kython fires acid at Emeris and he holds up his arm which burns badly as it takes the majority of the glob. As the two close in, Emeris is stuck by a swinging arm spinning on the machine. He grabs on to the ledge and holds, but he sees the kython give him a knowing eyeless look. Before it can take advantage though, Vatex assaults it with a flurry of blades. Emeris looks on as the athleticism and finesse of the elven tempest squares up against the unnatural prowess of the kython in a battle of such speed it is difficult to follow with the untrained eye.

Emeris switches his attention to the fire giant and the warblade on the outer ring two levels down. Early is being battered by huge fists and shows signs of serious injury, so instead of climbing back up, Emeris lets himself fall down a level and lands carefully on the inner ring. He breathes deep and unleashes a blast of freezing cold shadow from his throat that sends shapeshifter in giant form stumbling back. Early leaps into the air and disappears through the Vajra. Time seems to stop for him as his blade explodes through the giant’s skull. When the shapeshifter’s death spasms end all that is left is a pair of giant legs bubbling into a slimy puddle.

The situation is not as good above. Vatex scores a few hits against the kython but finds it difficult to penetrate the monster’s tough natural armor with his muscles so weakened by the thrall’s poison. At the same time, while he has avoided the fierce maw that would easily take off his face, his flesh is scored with half a dozen bleeding wounds from the four-armed flurry of claws. On the level above, he can see another pair of thralls entering from the western passage.

Next: The battle at the Mrathrach Machine continues!

Random Elanian Factoid: The Knights of the Chord are a small knightly order dedicated to upholding freedom and protecting the innocent. The knights all have mastered, to some degree, the art of drawing power from music and song. While many may have at one time been bards, they are no longer minstrels. These knights are a martial order and focus heavily on combat skills. They have strong and ancient ties to the noble House Kath.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Episode XXIX: The Banewarrens, Act I - The Broken Seal III; The Glade of Ravaan I

Juliar 23-25

Vatex the elven tempest leads the Ebon Hand’s prisoners back to the surface to safety, while Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster and Early the warblade check out the unexplored chambers of the underground complex beneath the cult’s temple. In the eastern chambers they find what appears to be Malek’s chamber. Using the high priest’s keys they gain access to his hefty stash of gold coins. In a chamber connected to the ritual room by a secret door Emeris gathers up about a dozen books on history, religion, and other esoteric subjects for possible future interest.

The warblade and the shadowcaster find another passage that leads to another network of tunnels, but they decide it would be most efficient to leave this unexplored. They return to the street level, having effectively wiped out the Ebon Hand cult. The group returns to Emeris and Early’s house to rest.

After a good night’s rest and a ham & eggs breakfast prepared by Seanus, Emeris takes their loot to the market for liquidation and identification, then visits Saharasahla’s library. On the way, a magical sending connects him with Jevvica Norr, who says she has acquired information about the Pactlords of the Quaan and wants to meet with them tonight at the Ghostly Minstrel.

The old shadowcaster censures Emeris for wasting time with petty revenge fantasies while the most important issue of all, the Book of Inverted Shadows, is ignored. He says the situation has become more urgent – Sir Grimlock’s house, the former residence of Derby and Anamethe in Edward Caerleon’s story, was ransacked and the owner murdered. Saharasahla believes it was agents of House Sadar, who also knew that Anamethe’s father, Ephraim, supposedly had a complete copy of the Book of Inverted Shadows. Saharasahla suggests that if House Sadar followed Ephraim’s trail to his daughter’s house, they may find Edward Caerleon or his doctor, Pulser, which may connect them to Emeris which may lead them to discovering the Banewarrens are breached, if they do not know already. This competition from the powerful noble house of Lord Renn Sadar is of great concern to the old shadowcaster. He explains that Lord Renn wants the Book of Inverted Shadows badly, and it is up to Saharasahla and Emeris to ensure he does not get it, but also acquire it before any other factions, particularly the Inverted Pyramid, seal the Banewarrens again.

To this end, Saharasahla urges him to use the legend lore scroll from Brother Heth on the Sealed Door in hopes of finding a way to bypass it. Since Emeris cannot read the scroll himself, the old shadowcaster says he will have his associate, an elven wizard named Zio Starsoul, meet them at the Ghostly Minstrel.

After getting healing from a generous cleric, Vatex heads to the Imperial University with the Cheilsecaro, following up on a recommendation from Myraeth so that he could find out more about the artifact’s mysterious power. He speaks with an expert on the Holy Empire’s history, Professor Juba, who tells him that the Cheilsecaro is said to hold the dying breath of Emperor Rudolf von Tessel. Nearly three hundred years ago Von Tessel reigned, and he held the special title of “Main Purveyor of Law”. The item was meant to be a calamitous weapon against the forces of chaos when broken to release the breath. Or so the story went. But the astonishingly powerful aura of law that radiates from the item, revealed by another professor’s detection spell, seems to validate it to some extent.

Early stops by Dziga’s apartment. The rogue is not home, but the landlord mentions that Marin was found dead yesterday, and no sign of the Dziga. He meets his friends at the Ghostly Minstrel. Emeris reveals Saharasahla’s info and says they should head to the Banewarrens as soon as they meet with Zio. Vatex elaborates on some of House Sadar’s history. They are said to have a strong affinity with shadow magic, and they were nearly wiped out by the Holy Order of Vigoor during the Days of Blood, a time when the clergy made war against arcane magic users. It is said that the Inverted Pyramid helped protect the noble house, and their continued existence was assured when a mysterious figure gave House Sadar an artifact called the Shadowstaff. This is now wielded by Renn Sadar, who is a powerful magic user and member of the Inverted Pyramid himself.

When Jevvica arrives, she is disappointed to here they have no new information, and tells them what she has learned of the Pactlords. They are a mysterious organization of nonhumonoid, intelligent monsters allied through a magical bond, dedicated to the destruction of humanoid races. Their members are known to consist of mind flayers, beholders, yuan-ti, aboleths, lamias, medusas, even dragons. The Pactlords also use various other allies, sometimes even humanoids who are duped into serving an organization dedicated to their destruction. The Quaan is an extradimensional planar island where the organization was pact was originally formed. A few years ago, the Pactlords were responsible for unleashing a magical antihumanoid disease in the capital city Tairon, although that group was defeated by adventurers eventually and the disease stopped.

The reference to the “grail” they found in a note refers, she believes, to the Black Grail, a powerful evil relic that Danar sealed with his mighty vault. Little lore exists on the Black Grail, but it is believed to enslave those who drink from it. It should be somewhere in the Banewarrens called “Tremoc Korin”, which translates from ancient elven to “Baneheart.” It seems the Pactlords are on a mission to acquire the Black Grail for their evil goals. It is becoming more and more urgent that the Banewarrens be sealed, she says. For now it is better if her and her friends within the Inverted Pyramid work through intermediaries (so as not to attract unwanted attention from less scrupulous members of her organization), she offers the companions a new contract, which pays credit at the Dreaming Apothecary for continuing to investigate further and oppose the Pactlords. They accept.

They then meet with Zio Starsoul, a scholarly elf with black hair and reddish eyes, dressed in black. He says he will work with them as a favour to Saharasahla, and is quite nervous about going down into the Banewarrens. Emeris is surprised at his lack of interest in the place, and Zio explains that he is exclusively interested lore about an Ancient known as the Mysterious Infinity Worm, which was said to have been capable of devouring entire worlds. Emeris wonders if it is connected to the Worm that Walks, the elder evil that Early is tasked with slaying by his family’s legacy. Zio thinks not.

The group then heads for the Banewarrens. They enter the manor house and retrace their steps through the umber hulk’s long tunnel. They return to the broken seal area, where Kelerecent and two Holy Order soldiers stand guard at the door. They report an uneventful watch, and Zio uses the legend lore scroll and jots down the strange information that comes to him. It is as follows:

The Seal of Danar! Its Power of Truth
An Arcane Wish for a Moment May Deny It
Only will it Yield Forever to the Touch of the Saint

In the City by the Spire
The Key that is not a Key
A Noble House that is not Noble
The Banewarrens will be opened!

The Key that is a Hand
The Staff that is a Dagger
Find the Key, United the Three
Ancient Magic, Holy Decree

They can make no sense of this extremely vague information, although they suspect that the “Noble House that is not Noble” is either House Sadar or House Vladaam. They return to the surface and Zio parts way with them.

Even as it grows late, Emeris takes the information to Saharasahla that night, while Vatex takes the information to Brother Heth who is found at the Grand Cathedral. Saharasahla can make nothing of it, but tells Emeris to visit a human loremaster named ISHARA JARE. Brother Heth can make nothing of the information, but he thanks Vatex and pays him the promised 1000 gold for the legend lore scroll’s results.

Emeris vists Ishara at her book-filled house in Rivergate District, and hires her to take the legend lore references and find something useful. She tells them to return in two days and she should have some information. She and her assistant VESTON get to work immediately, digging into their massive collection of obscure tomes.

With two days to kill, the group goes to sleep. That night they are visited by an agent of the Dreaming Apothecary who appears in each of their dreams. He asks to take their order as payment for the Inverted Pyramid Banewarrens contract, but they have to think about what they want first. The next day, the companions debate their next course of action the next day over another delicious breakfast from Seanus. One option is to start hunting Dr Feagus, the Shuul scientist Shilukar wants dead. Another is to try to find the Surgeon in the Shadows and kill him. There is also an itch to attack Shilukar’s former gnoll allies, who are probably still holed up in the compex beneath the junkyard. Finally there is the Mrathrach Machine, which may or may not lead them closer to Khyron.

First the group visists Shilukar at Castle Shard to discuss Dr Feagus. Early is interested in the substantial reward the dark elf offered, but has some moral quandaries about should be trying to kill someone who is working to defeat the forces of chaos also. Vatex and Emeris remind him that the Shuul are supposedly financed heavily by the Killraven Crime League, at least if what Shilukar says is true. When they meet the dark elf, he eagerly buys the chaositect weapon they acquired from the dead medusa at the Temple of Deep Chaos. They ask him where they might find Dr Feagus. He is not sure, since the doctor is not seen in public, but he probably works in the Tower of Science in Oldtown, which was supposedly constructed primarily for Dr Feagus’ work. When asked about the Killraven connection, Shilukar explains his conspiracy theory – one of the main patrons of the Shuul is SEGACI FELLISTI, a man who many say would be the mortal Emperor of Vigoor were it not for the existence of the Holy Emperor, a god on earth who resides in the Imperial Palace in Tairon. Shilukar thinks Segaci is extremely power hungry, and in his efforts to advance the Shuul’s projects, helps support Kevis Killraven’s criminal enterprise in exchange for financing. He offers no real evidence for any of this.

They also ask about the blue gnolls, and Shilukar tells them that he found the Idol of Ravaan in the Underdark, and used it to open a portal to the Glade of Ravaan, the extradimensional planar island that is the realm of the Beast God. That is where Brugul and Angash came from. He says that to close the portal in his former lair beneath the junkyard, they must enter it and travel to the center of the Glade of Ravaan, and take the replica of the Idol that is there. They must bring this repilica back through the portal with them which will cause it to close for good.

So the group visits the Tower of Science, a recently completed structure of astonishing architecture. Although they assume they might just easily assault the tower with their great strength, the place turns out to be very heavily protected by gun-wielding Shuul personnel, some in mechanized armor, and clockwork golems. They will have to find another approach that is less direct.

After this, Vatex hits the streets to find some leads. First his investigations lead him to a former bagman for the Balacazar crime family, who tells him of the Surgeon of the Shadows. His real name is Kinion Luth, and for a price he will alter people in horrible ways that grant fantastic abilities. He uses chaositech and magic in his work, and all the major crime organizations use his services from time to time. He seems amazed at the rumor (which Vatex knows is true) about a group of people finding Luth’s lab in Oldtown and burning it down. He is certain the Surgeon has a new lair hidden somewhere in the city, for although he is extremely powerful, he never risks danger to himself.

Vatex then looks into Dr Feagus. He is also interested in why the Killraven Crime League is funding the Shuul – at least if what Shilukar says is true, which is perhaps unlikely. He asks questions around known the Foundry in the Guildsman District and the Temple of Vexander, two known Shuul bases of operation. He also asks around at the Shuul’s firearms shop, called the Smoke Shop, in the North Market. Eventually he finds a man named BALIN who was Dr Feagus’ laboratory assistant about ten years ago. He says Dr Feagus got very sick about two years ago and many believed he was going to die, but a special experiment apparently saved him. He is no longer seen in public at all, and spends all his time working in the Tower of Science. For more information he tells them to find Feagus’ current assistant who gets a special herbal bath at Zel’s Apothecary every Tuesday. Since that’s four days away, the companions will plan to “accidentally” run into this fellow at that time.

As the sun sets, the group pays a visit to the house of Sir Grimlock, to investigate the strange lair beneath, previously used by Ephraim (posssessing the body of his daughter Anamethe, if Edward Caerleon's story was true). They had explored it before, finding assorted notes on alchemy, an incomplete copy of the Book of Inverted Shadows, and a strange key made of shadowy metal. But an attack by the awful chaos beast had driven them out to seek aid for their friend Aelric, who suffered from grave unnatural wounds. Posted on the door of the late Sir Grimlock's house was a notice indicating it was the site of an ongoing investigation by the Commissar's office. They sneak inside and back downstairs to check out the subterranean study, carefully eying the breach in the wall from which the chaos beast had emerged before. In the one unexplored room they find only a desk bereft of interesting things but for a strange map of the continent of Aristalon marked with various strange symbols.

Later on this rainy night, the group heads up to the junkyard and begin their assault on the gnolls. Storming the guard room Early slaughters three gnolls in seconds, gunning the third down as it attempts to flee for help. Pressing into the corridor beyond, Early is caught in a net trap set up by the gnolls, and Vatex cuts down the gnoll who activated it. At the first intersection, the site of their previous battle with the gnolls, they head down the eastern passage and find two more gnolls with pickaxes trying to dig out a new chamber. Although these are not so much warrior types like the others, they are killed quickly and without mercy. Returning to the intersection, they catch sight of Nyrathah, the cleric of Ravaan, who howls a warning as Vatex rushes him. With a shower of sparks the Flame of Elmekia deflects off the full plate mail around the gnoll cleric, who withdraws from the melee and flees to the south towards the chamber there, calling out for Angash and Brugul.

There is a crystalline pool of water that constantly seems to ripple in the southern chamber where Early, Vatex, and Emeris catch up to Nyrathah and assault him. Taking wound after wound, he is clearly relieved when the heavily armoured and magically enhanced Brugul appears through doors to the east, and Angash steps through the doors to the south. Angash charges Early, but the warblade’s skill at fighting large opponents with slow, heavy weapons has improved vastly since the last time he fought. Early proficiently maneuvers around the huge swinging great axe of the demonic blue gnoll or parries it aside. Vatex dodges the swinging flail of the cleric, and stabs repeatedly through the tiny gaps in Nyrathah’s armor with both swords, drawing blood each time.

As the elf locks down the cleric, Emeris steps back from the fight and unleashes his gaze of killing shadows at Brugul as she powers herself up with a circle of protection. He blasts her again with his deadly gaze, and she screams in rage and pain then charges Emeris in retaliation, her huge flail swinging for his head. The protective shadows, hard as steel, arc up before him and deflect the attack, sending the raging blue gnoll female off balance.

Early disappears into the Vajra, and reappears above Angash with his sword extended. He cuts several brutal wounds into the blue gnoll’s face and chest. As three more gnolls come charging down the western corridor, Angash knocks Early’s defenses aside as he lands and crushes the blade of his axe into Early’s chest. Blood sprays from the wound and Early cries out. Vatex drives both blades parallel into Nyrathah’s chest, killing him at last, then steps over to help Early. He cuts several new wounds into the mighty blue gnoll, but Angash keeps fighting. They know from before he can take a lot of punishment.

Emeris blasts Brugul with more shadow magic and she strikes back one last time before fleeing to the southern chamber from which Angash emerged. Emeris stabs her in the back as she flees, and she limps away desperately and he hurries to pursue and finish her before she heals herself or gets more allies or anything like that.

As Vatex and Early fight the berserk Angash, the three other gnolls rush into the fray. Vatex holds up two of them, parrying their amateur battle axe attacks with ease. Early ignores the gnoll advancing on him, determined to take down Angash, and with a bloody Rabid Wolf Strike, the blue gnoll does down. His defenses down, he cannot avoid the blade of the gnoll’s axe connecting solidly with his head. Vatex expects to see his friend go down, but amazingly Early still stands, albeit at the verge of collapse with blood spurting from a disgusting gash in the side of his skull.

Vatex quickly finishes the three gnolls, his blades dancing around their meagre attempts to protect themselves. Emeris catches up with the dying Brugul and puts his hands on her back, draining away the last of her minimal energy and she falls unconscious. The shadowcaster finishes her with a coup-de-grace. Early drinks healing potions to bring him back from the brink of death.

Emeris looks past the corpse of Brugul into the room into which she was intending to flee. On the south wall is Shilukar’s Idol of Ravaan, on a stone pedestal. On the eastern wall is a swirling portal – undoubtedly the gateway to the Glade of the Beast God.

Next time: Will the companions go through the portal and face the Beast God's minions in Ravaan's Glade? What will Ishara learn from the legend lore spell's vague clues? Is there any way short of a Wish to get past the Sealed Door of the Banewarrens?

Random Elanian Factoid: The Dreaming Apothecary is the main source of revenue for the Inverted Pyramid. When someone wants a magic item made, if they have the right connections at least, they arrange to be visited by an agent of the Apothecary. This agent visits the client in his dreams to take the order and arrange for payment and delivery.