As the companions enter the Apocalyptic Sanctuary, Khyron smiles with the confidence that can only come from someone convinced that his plans will reach their fruition. His forces were strong and plentiful, and he was utterly confident he would prevail. He taunts the companions, urging them to fight and die while the ritual reaches its explosive apogee.
Vatex the elven tempest, Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster, Early the warblade, and Dziga the shadowdancer all feel the swell of urgent vengeance within them. Arngrim the Knight of the Pale is likewise filled with desire to carry out brutal retribution on these evildoers, albeit for different reasons. He still hopes that the runechildren taken by the chaos agents can be saved.
The companions begin spreading out and moving towards the stairs to the second level and the three orcs defending them. Khyron waves his left arm in a wide circle and conjures up a spirit of chaos. This thing, an inky cloud of shadowy tentacle-like appendages, begins floating quickly across the chamber to attack.
Early slugs back a potion of strength as he rushes forward and grunts as two lucky ratmen snipers hit him with rounds from their rifles. Dziga slides sideways to dodge a sniper shot as he looses his own attack from Roguefriend. The arrow takes an orc clean between the eyes. The shadowdancer laughs as he takes first blood and the others close in on the orcs. More orcs on the second level take position blocking the top of the stairs and spreading out around their commander, Muallah, who shouts at them in a harsh mix of Imperial Common and Orcish languge.
Banon takes a round in the lower body as he rushes forward with his halberd. The shocking pain of the metal bullet tearing through his stomach cavity causes him to stumble. One of the Toruk-Rul orcs takes the opportunity and, with a swing of the its heavy axe, cuts through Banon’s helmet and into his skull. Amazingly, he still fights as blood pours down the side of his face. Angrim gets to Banon’s side, cutting down the orc with a single stroke of his huge sword Durandal. Vatex evades a sniper round with a subtle twist and drinks a strength potion of his own. Great magical strength disproportionate to his slender elven frame flows through his muscles as he advances towards the orcs.
Emeris’ wings snap out from behind his cloak and the shadowcaster takes flight. Saavia, on the second level, takes note and advances towards the edge overlooking the ground level. She puts a colourfully feathered arrow in her bow and fires at Emeris from across the chamber. He dives a few feet lower suddenly and the arrow misses. Immediately ahead, he can see Khyron’s fast-moving chaos-shadow floating to intercept him. A wispy lash of tentacles reaches for him, but Emeris’ ring of protection seems to force it back. It lashes out again as he flies by, but again the ring’s magic proves effective. He doesn’t look back – let the others fight their way to the second level and kill the incorporeal-thing. Instead, he would rain shadowy destruction upon the cluster orcs on the second level from above.
Following Arngrim’s orders, Mystina and Sancho fire their heavy crossbows upon the rat snipers as the monsters reload. Pankraz moves in to support Banon and get him off the front line of combat, but it is too late. One especially quick-fingered ratlord gets its rifle reloaded with surprising speed and it fires through an opening in the melee to catch Banon in the throat, putting him down in a pool of arterial content.
An orc flails violently as Early’s slashing katana takes it down. Another comes at him, swinging its axe in a powerful overhead chop. At the same instant, a sniper fires at him. He channels the vajra and traces the path of the bullet, bringing Cryssaegrym around to deflect the shot, then sidesteps past the orc’s axe which cracks the stone where he was standing. Early holds out his pistol as the orc’s momentum carries it forward. When its head lines up with Early’s aim, the warblade fires and splatters the contents of its skull across the floor on the other side.
As the bottom erupts into battle, the cultists around the altar on the middle level keep dancing and chanting away, consumed with religious fervour and possibly ritual psychotropics. Andross whispers something to Khyron then moves to the edge of the third level level, and transforms into his monstrous form. Ibard joins him and a wave of energy bursts out around her, giving the blessing of chaos to herself, Andross, Muallah, and the kython. Khyron conjures up a strange… blob… of distorted reality, and his eyes narrow on Emeris as the half-dragon flies above the second level.
Vatex drinks a potion of blur and barely consumes the last drop before a sniper round blasts apart the flask in his hand, just an inch from taking off a thumb and finger or two.
Dziga puts an arrow into the ribs of an orc at the top of the stairs. It lurches to the side a bit but holds its ground, yelling back at him. Before he can fire again, the shadow descends upon him after passing Emeris in the air. The nimble shadowdancer avoids being touched, but he can feel the profound cold that pulses those shadowy appendages, colder than death itself, and he urges the others to help him finish this spirit. Arngrim advances upon the shadow like a tank, ignoring the sniper rounds that deflect off his impressive plate armor. His holy sword partly discorporates the shadow as he cuts into it. Early and Vatex’s magic blades finish it with a flurry of attacks. The group advances towards the stairs.
Dziga stumbles a bit as Muallah, the Dark Blessed, uses dark magic upon him. He can hear the rambling madness of a hundred cultists insane nightmares, but with great strength of will he shuts it out of his mind and the magic fails to take full effect. Muallah then looks above as Emeris flies in. Another one of Saavia’s arrows misses the graceful flight of the shadowcaster. Khyron hurls his chaos ball at Emeris, and it speeds along a strange, curved trajectory before smashing into him. Where it strikes him, on his arm, he can see his very flesh becoming distorted in the same way as the chaos ball.
Despite terrible pain, the half-dragon begins to surge with the power of shadow. A dark wave seems to trail behind him as he rises over the heads of Muallah and her orcs. Emeris’ eyes, suddenly pitch black, open wide and from them bursts a cone of devastating shadow magic. Six orcs fall, blood oozing from their mouth, eyes, and ears. The force of the blast nearly knocks Muallah off her feet.
Dziga cuts down an orc at the top of the stairs while ducking its swinging axe. Angrim decapitates another. Vatex and Early rush up the stairs behind them, followed by Pankraz. Early tells him to cover their back, helping Mystina and Sancho with the rats. Pankraz protests, saying he wants to fight with Arngrim. Early reissues the instruction with practically a roar, and Pankraz starts shooting at the rats with his crossbow.
Emeris lands, hurtling a body on the ground as he does. He stops in a kneeling position, presses his fingers to his forehead and channels the shadow magic back into his mind. This temporarily opens his mind to deeper secets of shadow, and the new understanding thus offered. Patterns and formulae coherently expand before his thoughts. His powers for the duration of the battle will be enhanced. Just as the orc swings its axe down at him, he raises his hand with a calm gesture and steel shadows arc across his front and easily divert the orc’s chop. Standing, trying to ignore the pain of the chaos damage on his arm, he notes all the orcs have been slain but for this one. Ibard suddenly blasts him with a targeted dispel to eliminate the protection of the steel shadows, but much to her anger her magic does not interact effectively with Emeris’ shadow magic and his defensive mystery holds.
Dziga sees Muallah and the kython moving quickly to flank Emeris and he moves to intercept. He goes toe-to-toe with the kython, its twin bastard swords, claws, and teeth all striking with fury and skill. Dziga slashes the vicious blade of Asura, at once fending off the flurry of the kython’s attacks and trying to drive the blade past its exoskeleton into the soft tissue beneath. Dziga notes that this kython has extra chitinous plates, more difficult to penetrate than the kython creatures at the Mrathrach Machine. Dziga accepts the cuts of the kython’s swords and claws, focusing primarily on avoiding the poison dripping maw of the monster, then is forced to roll low when Khyron’s chaos ball arcs towards him. The distorted ball of reality scatters across the stone when Arngrim joins him, his holy sword Durandal cutting deep and leaving a long steak of green blood across the floor. Even then, the multi-armed kython handles the shadowdancer and the paladin with great skill, crossing its swords above its head to parry a swing from Arngrim while its claws slash at Dziga. Arngrim moves to strike again, but he is suddenly blasted by a stream of horrific acid from Andross’ tentacle mouth. Acid splashes across his face, burning away flesh and hair and forever closing one eye. Large chunks of his magic armor on his shoulder and body melt away. Arngrim screams in pain and anger, and Dziga finds all the kython’s attention again focused on him. Claws rake his face and one of the swords cuts his shoulder.
Emeris deflects the attack of the final orc, only to scream at the explosive pain of Muallah’s wicked sword cutting across his back. Then Vatex is there at his side, his swords dancing in bewildering maneuvers, deflecting Muallah’s aggressive strikes. Muallah is an excellent warrior, able to exploit barely perceptible weaknesses and move with perfect grace even in full plate armor. But Vatex is better. Flaming steel cuts through tiny gaps in her armor and his short sword jabs through magic plates into her guts. Before she can recover to retaliate against the elf, Early is there, his sword stabbing into her chest, collapsing a lung. In her final seconds, she counterattacks Early, her sword twice drawing blood. The blade seems to savor human bloodshed, for the eyes sockets of the skull on the pommel begin to glow red and the jaw starts dripping blood. Emeris fends off the orc as he pulls from his belt the rod of empowerment given to him by Saharasahla. With this, he enhances the power of his next mystery, where his hand becomes surrounded in darkness.
The Flame of Elmekia cuts through Muallah’s breastplate and he drives the point of his short short into the side of her head. In a fluid motion he wrenches her body off his swords and dives towards the orc fighting Emeris. Flaming elven steel strikes once, and the orc is dead. But as the body falls aside, Vatex sees Savia approaching with her anarchic sword from the Pythoness House arsenal and he moves to faces her.
Back on the first level, the rat snipers have foregone reloading their rifles and instead and emerged from their defensive positions behind the cell doors, attacking Sancho, Mystina, and Pankraz with their longswords. Three rats engage Pankraz by the stairs. One ratlord’s skull is crushed by Pankraz’s halbard, but the other two overpower him and hurry up the stairs to assist. The other rats gang up on Sancho. One blade cuts the tendons in the back of his knee and he falls to the ground, at which point he is stabbed and slashed to death. One rat stays below to engage Mystina while the others head for the stairs.
For each hit again the kython, Dziga suffers two. Defending against the various limbs is exhausting. With Arngrim shaking off the shock of the acid burns, Dziga cannot withstand this monster’s assault single-handedly. Suddenly Early enters the fray, landing from a long jump some distance away. Early is one with the Vajra, as is Cryssaegrym. The silver flashes into the kython’s back and green slime sprays the warblade’s chest and face as he tears the weapon free. It still fights fiercely, swinging its swords in parallel arcs to strike back, and Early is cut by the lower blade as he ducks at the last moment. Arngrim, badly burned, strikes again, taking off the kython’s lower left arm. Dziga strikes the final blow, with Asura’s curse causing him to pay a price for his bloodlust. He coughs up blood as the kython falls. He is then hit dead on with Khyron’s chaos ball, knocked to the ground.
Emeris cringes as he drinks the healing potions to mend the cuts in his back and heal his arm, and he takes a moment to more closely regard the altar around which the four cultists – who are apparently completely oblivious to the carnage around them -- are dancing madly. It is low, round, made of black stone veined with red streeks. Emeris can see that inside the altar, through some magical violation of spatio-physical laws, there are four children cowering in terror, each with a runelike tattoo on their face or hand. Then there are the five glass boxes containing… humans?... suspended in some fluid. Whatever the meaning of this strange arrangement, the shadowcaster figures it is central to Khyron’s ritual. His focus becomes killing the dancing cultists.
With his hand of darkness Emeris grabs the nearest flailing cultist by the wrist, yanking him from his dance and ravaging him with dark, shadowy energy. The cultist screams and pulls away, holding up his hands and blasting a wave of fire at the shadowcaster. The other cultists continue dancing, and Khyron hurls a pixellated ball of chaos at shadowcaster, hitting him in the back. The wounded cultist resumes dancing as Emeris is wracked with pain.
Andross hits Early with a blast of acid as Saavia and Vatex fight at the edge of the second level. Though Saavia is nowhere near the skill level of the elf, she fights with “Gommueon”, the anarchic longsword which strikes deep wounds in Vatex, whose soul is lawfully aligned, and while she is much slower, her natural scales and chainmail armor make it difficult for Vatex to score a decisive hit. Early then joins him, and the two quickly overpower the lizardwoman. A flaming strike from Vatex ends her life.
Early and Arngrim face the ratlords, cutting down two of them as more come up the stairs, and Dziga joins Emeris in drinking badly needed healing potions, which dramatically slow the effect of the chaos ball. Vatex’s flaming sword hits a dancing cultist, who continues right on dancing. Ibard and Andross fall back towards Khyron and Jerallan, the fiendish ogre who has not moved from Khyron’s side the entire time, and the cultists continue dancing, and the other ratlords come up the stairs. Mystina fights against the ratlord below, parrying its thrusts while her free hand holds in the glistening ropes of her intestines, cut free by a bad wound.
Next: The epic battle continues!