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.