Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EPISODE XXXVII: The Banewarrens, Act II: The Outer Vaults I -- Pactlord Ambush!

Juliar 30-31

The companions finish packing and decide to go with the name “Rosegate Company,” to go along with their new property up in the Nobles District. They hurry to the city registry before it closes, and sign the papers – and that means the Rosegate House is now theirs. With that done, the company decides that it is time to return to the Banewarrens. First, they will need the key from House Vladaam. Vatex is dispatched to find Nicalon, the Knight of the Chord who wanted them to help him break in for his own purposes.

Emeris stays at home, reading Saharasahla’s copy of the Book of Inverted Shadows. Early heads out to once again visit the dwarf Magnus, trying to haggle the dwarf on the price of his six-shooter magnum, a marvel of old dwarven engineering. The dwarf won’t budge from his original price – 16,000 gold coins, or a key to Shadowhearth, the lost dwarven city underneath Elan. Given that legend says only nine Shadowhearth keys exist in the whole world, Early presumes one of those is worth far more than 16,000. He’ll have to keep saving up his money.

Early then feels that he needs a drink. He shouldn’t be drinking of course, but he feels he deserves it after all the action of the past few weeks. But he feels drawn to a seedier type of place than is offered around Midtown, so he heads down to the Warrens. On the way, he finds a starving dog that looks at him pleadingly for food. He gives the dog some jerky from his pocket. After a few hours of drinking, he finds the dog has waited for him outside, and follows him home after that.

Vatex’s night is spent roaming the city, trying to get in contact with Nicalon. At the Knights of the Chord’s chapterhouse, he meets with HALUSIAN EVERFAR, the knights’ leader. Halusian informs the elf that Nicalon failed to show up for mission, and has been missing for several days. No one has seen him at his home, the chapterhouse, or his favorite tavern. Vatex tells Halusian that they’d planned to help get back Nicalon’s family relic from the Vladaams. This worries Halusian, who fears Nicalon has gone and done something terribly rash. Did the fool try to break into the Vladaam manion on his own?

Vatex hits the streets, trying to find any sign of Nicalon’s whereabouts. He finds a shivel dealer in the South Market who claims to have seen Nicalon speaking with KARVIS, an urban werewolf who is known to be one of Navanna Vladaam’s bodyguards, in the last two days. He later finds a loose-lipped thief who sometimes does contracts for the Vladaams, who says Karvis is out of town with Navanna, and they’ve been gone for at least a week, probably longer.

Vatex confronts the drug dealer with the inconsistent information, but he sticks to his story and Vatex is convinced of his honesty. The tempest brings this information to Emeris and Early, and the group wonders: did Nicalon sell them out? His hatred had seemed so profound, it did not seem possible that he would make any deals with the Vladaams even to get back his relic. But why would Nicalon be chatting with this Karvis fellow?

That night, Cryssaegrym imparts visions on Early through his dreams. He sees a lanky, hunched figure in heavy cloak and a silver mask walking determinedly across a grassy meadow, leaving a trail of decaying in its wake. He sees a humanoid seemingly made of metal flying on a massive winged beast across a blood red sky. He sees a massive black obelisk on a faraway island. He sees a stone tablet being crushed to dust by an unseen force… He can also feel the sword instructing him to grow more powerful so that he can soon complete the next legacy ritual of the weapon. He awakes suddenly, knowing that when he gets the chance, he must learn more about Kyuss, “the Worm that Walks.”

When the sun comes up on the last day of Juliar, the group negotiates a salary for Seanus to work as their servant at the Rosegate House. As they are eating breakfast, a message arrives by courier from someone named DANETH SONNEL at Mahdoth’s Asylum. Emeris reads it over, assuming it to be about Edward Caerleon. Instead, Daneth says an inmate named TABAEN FARSONG has been asking about them.

At the asylum, Daneth tells them of Tabaen. He was an elven mage on his way to pay a fine for public drunkenness when Tavan Zith had started running around Oldtown on Juliar 9. The ancient dark elf had triggered the latent divination powers in Tabaen. His mind constantly assailed by visions of doom, he went insane and had to be admitted to Mahdoth’s.

In his moments of clarity, Tabaen has been asking about Emeris, Early, Vatex, and Dziga, all by name. They pass by Edward Caerleon’s cell, and see the young man picking at the hideous growths on his chest. When they see Tabaen, they know he must have deteriorated in his time locked up here. His eyes are sunken and his frame withered. He wears leather restrains that bind his hands and to a strap around his waist – probably because of all the clawed scratches near his eyes. He babbles quietly to himself, but when he finally sees the companions his voice rises:

“The key! The key! The key that was deep under Vladaam. You have to get it back. Navaana has the key. You know the door. You have to get inside to keep people out. Many dangers. So many evils. Great evils. The key is a hand. You must use it so they cannot. Navanna will use the key. She knows the door. You must use it to find the staff that will destroy it. A key that is a hand and a staff that is a dagger.” With that, his voice trails off and he ignores the group.

No further information can be obtained from the madman, but Emeris infers that Navanna is most certainly not out of the city and could be headed out of the sealed door in the Banewarrens right now. The group quickly obtains supplies and wishes that Dziga were with them, but they fear any further delay could be too dangerous. If they are lucky, they can beat Navanna to the door and set a trap. Despite the admonitions of Jevvica from the Inverted Pyramid, Brother Heth at the Holy Order of Vigoor, and Saharasahla the shadowcaster, they had waited too long and now someone else could get into the Banewarrens before they do. One nagging question hangs over them – how did Navanna find out about the Banewarrens door? Did Nicalon tip her off? And how long before more and more factions learned of the door?

The group returns to the abandoned manor and the umber hulk tunnel in the wine cellar. They travel down the long, dark passageway until they reach the broken seal area. It is pitch black everywhere and dead silent, and they’d expected Kalerecent to still be here guarding the door. In the room with the strange tower-like device where the group had fought the Pactlord’s “Grailquest Team”, they find Kalerecent and the three soldiers with him dead by the sealed door, which is slightly ajar. They are too late!

Passing through this door, they enter the an entry chamber with stairs going up to the west. There is relief on either side of the stairs, showing a tall man with a halo in long robes, and a winged white horse rearing. Early recognizes them from his historical studies as Danar and his pegasus Voastra.

Vatex creeps quietly up the stairs, into the next room. There is not enough light to see the chamber, other than another staircase straight ahead going up further. Someone however does see Vatex. An arrow cuts through the darkness on the left and takes Vatex in the ribs. On the right, heavy footsteps are heard rushing towards him, at the last moment he sees a dire ape swing a huge fist that strikes across his face, splitting the skin along his cheekbone. He orders Early up the stairs with the torch, and brings his swords to bear against the wild ape.

Early goes into a stance, contacts with the Vajra, and draws upon power that will give him the right abilities for this battle. Emeris conjures up a web of steel shadows around himself. Vatex curses them for not coming to help, for the ape is pounding him severely and he cannot land a hit. He cannot fight effectively with the arrow in his side. The ape grabs him with its claws, picks him up high off the ground, then tears its claws free and lets the shredded elven body drop hard to the stone floor. Vatex rolls aside and retreats down the stairs, leaving a thick trail of blood all the way down.

Early rushes up the stairs, and dodges two arrows fired from the left. Mindful of the ape closing in on him, he looks south and sees a pair of shadowy figures – one a humanoid with a longbow, and another a larger creature of some kind, around which stand seven mirror images. The dire ape fiercely attacks, knocking Early back, at which time he uses the Soaring Raptor Strike to inflict a vicious wound. As he parries the counterattack, he is hit in the back with two daggers, thrown by the large figure on the stairs. The daggers are the size of short swords, and one of the apes swinging fists unluckily knocks one of them deeper. Astonished by the ape’s ferocity but unafraid, Early uses uses the Death from Above maneuver and strikes another grievous wound on the beast.

Vatex drinks potions while Emeris moves up the stairs, empowering his umbral touch with the shadow rod from Saharasahla. Emeris waits for the ape to lunge at Early again then makes his move, his hand slamming into the ape’s back and blasting it with shadowy power. Emeris’ darkvision enables him to clear see their enemies on the stairs – a gnoll ranger named ERZAK and a female lamia called DERIMACH. It goes down thankfully, but then the lamia conjures up another ally – an umber hulk! It suddenly bursts through the northern wall and comes rushing towards the group. Emeris moves to engage while the others kill Erzak and Derimach.

With the ape down, Early fires off three quick shots from his pistols and eliminates three of the lamia’s mirror images. Vatex joins him, healed up sufficiently to reengage. He fires a shot from his rifle at the gnoll ranger who grunts from the impact. Emeris closes in on the charging umber hulk, carefully avoid its gaze. But as the claw of the monster swings at him, he catches its glance and … realizes it is an illusion meant to keep him out of the fight, for had he not disbelieved it who knows how long he’d have fought it.

Derimach pulls out a sizeable glass bottle and throws it. The bottle breaks apart easily at Early and Vatex’s feet, and from it a powerful cyclone swirls out. Vatex’s lightning reflexes get him safely away, but Early is caught up in the fierce winds, buffeted and wrenched from the ground towards the ceiling.

As he is battered by the fierce winds, Early calls for Emeris to fly up and pull him out of the whirlwind, but Emeris thinks that will just get him caught in the cyclone as well. Instead, he continues rushing towards Vatex and the monsters, readying his powers.

Vatex dodges three of the gnoll’s arrows and spring attacks the lamia, who fights back skilfully with its large dagger. The tempest ducks the stabbing tip and cuts twice across lamia's torso, but finds himself only dissipating mirror images. In exchange he takes a nasty cut across the back.

The whirlwind dissipates suddenly, dropping Early 15 feet to the ground where he lands with a crunch. Erzak lines up his aim with the prone form of Early. As the warblade gets to his feet, he is hit with three arrows, one of which is pierced deep into his skull. The warblade is dead! The gnoll ranger snarls in excitement. Fueled with anger, Vatex increases the fury and speed of his attacks on the lamia and finally cuts away the last of the mirror images.

Emeris joins the battle, unleashing a cone of shadowy destruction upon his enemies. Erzak is slammed against the wall, blood pouring from mouth and eyes. Derimach is badly hurt, and falls back, away from the elf's biting swords. She throws two daggers at Emeris but the shadowcaster's steel shadows defect the attacks. Vatex’s flashing swords finish the monster and the Rosegate Company prevails, but at great cost.

They search the bodies of their enemies, finding both the lamia and the gnoll wearing distinctive bone rings. Pactlords of the Quaan! They must have followed Navanna inside. Although Emeris and Vatex hate to give their competition more of a headstart, they must get Early’s body back to the city immediately.

The Rosegate Company makes a significant payment to the Temple of Ashe in order to get a ritual for Early’s resurrection. This takes the rest of the day. Early is considerably shaken by his experience with death. But this feeling passes, and is replaced with the burning desire for revenge. The Pactlords of the Quaan would suffer his vengeance, swears Early, just like the forces of chaos that fell to his blade.

But now the group is torn between heading back down to the Banewarrens, and waiting for Dziga. They need to hurry, for each moment gives Navanna and the Pactlords more time to loot the Banewarrens, and gives more time for other factions to learn of the situation as well. But the Pactlords have twice now proven to be powerful adversaries, and they know nothing of Navanna’s capabilities, so they will need all the help they can get.

Next time: Will the second foray into the Banewarrens’ outer vaults be more successful than the first?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

APPENDIX A: The Heroic Legend of Drax the Destroyer

In the official history of the Holy Empire, Draxalanon of the Bear Clan is known as King Drax the Destroyer, the evil tyrant who invaded the imperial domain and sacked the capital city, Tairon, before being driven back by a valiant counterattack. Outside the Empire, and even in some anti-government circles and revisionist bardic tales within it, Drax is a beloved hero whose exploits have shaped the history of many nations.

Drax was born in the land of Arsis, a place known to most Imperial citizens as Avondale, the arctic region far north of Old Silmaria before the northern kingdoms and tribes were united under one banner. During the ritual in which he completed his rites of passage into adulthood, he received a vision from the animal spirit to which he was bound. In that vision he saw that he was destined to become a powerful leader. From here he went on a quest to become a great hero to meet his destiny.

It is somewhat ironic that Drax’s first heroic deed was saving the Vigoorian province of Guardia from the evil forces threatening it, including defeating a powerful night hag who had turned the baron into a frog and rescuing the baron’s daughter from bandits, and defeated undead forces threatening a sacred dryads’ grove that had existed for thousands of years.

After this he traveled with far to the south with the Shapiran Abdul, to help in a century-old war between Shapir and Raseir. Drax discovered that this war had been engineered by a deranged immortal alienist named Shadrack, who helped a brutal military dictatorship dominate the people of Raseir and wage war against their neighbors. First he defeated the four mighty elementals Shadrack sent to destroy Shapir. When Shadrack placed a curse upon Shapir’s beloved caliph, Drax found the means to dispel it. Shadrack’s final move was to attempt the summoning of an undead demon prince, who was bound on the extradimensional realm of Ine. Drax killed Shadrack and sealed the portal in a climactic battle on the roof of Raseir’s royal palace. For his heroic deeds, the caliph awarded him an estate within Shapir and a phoenix medallion that would later save his life.

Drax then travelled with the litorian paladin Rakeesh to the kingdom of Tarna, seven years before it was brought into the Empire. There the barbarian was asked help stop a war from starting between the Xerani human tribes of Tarna’s eastern lands, and the lizardfolk kingdoms of Narshe. If a war were to result, the liontaur rulers would be bound to an ancient treaty, never before invoked, to fight with the Xerani against the lizardfolk in a war that would be disastrous.

The Xerani had stolen the Dragon Crystal of the lizardfolk. In order to get it back, he had to earn the favour of the Xerani Grand Master. Drax is given the Dragon Crystal when he saves the master’s son from the mutant dire elephant Gigatusk, completes a pilgrimage to the Eternal Tree (a holy site to Sarnath, the god worshipped by all Xerani and most litorians), and marries his daughter. The lizardfolk had stolen the Xerani’s Spear of Death, a legendary weapon reputedly capable of killing anything in a single attack. Drax earns the Spear from Narshe’s leaders when he ended a terrible curse afflicting the lizardfolk.

After war was averted, Drax discovered that a demonic sorcerer named Balur was bringing legions of demons through a portal in the lost city of Mazamar, deep in Narshe’s jungles. Alone and unafraid, equipped with the Spear of Death, Drax traveled to the lost city, slaying all fiends in his path. Some say a thousand demons fell to Drax as he wielded the Spear that day.

At the portal, the wizard deployed one final guardian, a massive demonic gargoyle whose flesh could not be cut by the spear. The gargoyle grabbed Drax, and threw him into the deep chasm separating the inner and outer city, where the barbarian body was utterly broken and he died.

It was the phoenix medallion, gift of the Caliph of Shapir, which brought him back to life. And luck gods were with him that day for at the bottom of the chasm he found “Final Honor”, the magic axe of great power. Climbing up from the chasm, Drax used the axe to destroy the demon gargoyle. Then, just as Balur prepared to smite Drax with a spell that would surely destroy him, the barbarian hurled the Spear of Death. Such was his strength and accuracy that the spear flew unerring across an impossible distance, killing the demonic wizard. It seemed all was well…

…But at the same time, Shadrack had been scrying across dimensions, and used powerful magic to realign the Mazamar portal. Through this conduit, he cast a spell which pulled Drax into Shadrack’s citadel in the realm of Ine. Though Drax had indeed slain the wizard in Raseir, Shadrack had in place a contingency spell that would transplant his soul into a clone body back at his citadel. Drax escaped Shadrack’s citadel, and Drax found himself in a hostile world filled with undead, and only a few living people

Here, Drax fought legions of undead fiends and engaged in a long struggle against Shadrack’s allies, the Dragona family of vampires. Circumstances eventually had him allying with the vampire matriarch against her husband, sons and daughters. It is said that he destroyed an army of 10,000 undead skeleton soldiers with nothing more than a club. In the end, he returned to the citadel and defeated Shadrack for good, but the evil wizard’s magic was even stronger than before. He managed to summon the undead demon prince Skallathrax, and sent it through a portal back to Enhasa. Drax followed it back, and defeated it in a spectacular battle on the mountains of Avondale.

After this he found himself in the region now known as Old Silmaria, but it was just Silmaria then. The kingdom was under siege by the mighty dragon Norlac, which had taken the ruins of an ancient temple as its lair – a site that happened to be holy ground to the religious Silmarians. Yet only the king was allowed to step into this holiest of places. The king was assassinated with no successor, and the kingdom was thrown into chaos while the dragon levelled devastating assaults upon them on a weekly basis. Hundreds were killed across the region, and property destroyed on a grand scale.

Drax is nominated as a noble hero to complete for the Silmarian crown. Upon earning the crown, he travels to the ruined temple to kill Norlac. Drax was nearly defeated, but in the last moment he used his epic strength to push down one of the only pillars left standing in the ruins. It collapsed a part of the roof and nearly crushed the dragon’s huge head, enabling Drax to strike a final blow to the neck. Norlac’s head is famously mounted in the Silmarian palace.

Under King Drax’s rule, Silmaria opened itself to trade with other northern lands, and the entire north eventually became united under Silmaria’s flag with the Covenant of the North during the Giant Wars.

Through all these adventurers over the years, Drax was constantly followed and tested by a pair of awesomely powerful and enigmatic elves named Dalamar and Dalara. They were not normal elves, but they were “Urthon Aedar,” who always seemed to appear suddenly, perform some inexplicable task (usually conjuring up a powerful monster to fight Drax), and then leave. Drax never discovered their intentions, and was never able to defeat them. Only the rarest scholars on the most esoteric elven lore even knew the Urthon Aedar existed, much less hard facts about them.

Drax was a beloved king, and when war came between the Silmarians and the Empire, his people fought with great passion and love for their homeland. His legendary counter assault culminated in the sacking of imperial capital Tairon.

That is the story of King Drax the Destroyer.

Friday, October 22, 2010

EPISODE XXXVI: The End of the Trail III

Juliar 29-30

The next morning Early disguises the barbarians in heavy gray robes and works on sneaking them out of the city. Vatex, Dziga, and Emeris head to the Adventurers’ Square to have their reams of loot identified.

The staff at Myraeth’s Oddities identifies their many goods. They sell everything recovered from the Pythoness House arsenal, and everything else they looted from their dead enemies at the Apocalyptic Sanctuary. In the end the group collectively has about 40,000 gold coins. Vatex drops every last dime he has on the belt of giant’s strength that he’d been eyeing for weeks at in Myraeth’s shop. It is practically a miracle no one had purchased it already.

The group then heads to the fortress of Dalengard in Oldtown with Drax’s treaty, getting through the bureaucratic layers of security to eventually speak with the Commissar himself and a few members of the city council, as well as other advisors from the Holy Order of Vigoor and the Inverted Pyramid. The companions give a limited account of their recent conflicts with Khyron’s forces, and how their adventurers led them to rescue King Drax. They explain Khyron’s plan to use Drax’s death and the barbarian siege as components in a dark ritual that could have awoken the Ancients sleeping in the caverns beneath the city. A debate ensues among the council members and advisors, some thinking it must be some sort of deception and the clerics wanting to end the bloodshed. The Commissar, an eminently practical man, agrees to sign the treaty and allow the barbarian army to withdraw without interference.

With that, the Commissar bids that the companions return to the barbarian camp to seal the deal with Drax. He also insists that his ambassador, a cheerless old bureaucrat named ARUTHA, accompany them so as to observe the proceedings. He offers a unit of soldiers as well, but Emeris discourages any appearance of a threat. The companions regroup with Early and the four of them head to the barbarian camp with Arutha.

The barbarians greet the companions with open arms and cheers, celebrating them as heroes as the story of King Drax’s rescue has been heard by everyone there. When it is confirmed that the Commissar has accepted the treaty, Drax tells everyone to prepare to return to the portal in the mountains of Willendorf, so they can go back to Silmaria.

Drax thanks them profoundly:

“You have saved my life and saved my people from a needless conflict with the Elanians. If we were at my palace in Silmaria, I would lavish gold and jewels upon you. Here, let me offer you a more personal gift, one that could be far more valuable than any treasure.”

He gives them his last Phoenix Medallion, given to him by the Caliph of Shapir many years ago. When they ask about the nature of its power, he mysteriously answers, “Learn of my adventurers and you will learn of the Phoenix Medallion’s great power.”

With that, they bid farewell to the King of Silmaria, and return back to Dalengard. Along the way Arutha tells the companions that the entire city will regard them as heroes. Although the Commissar would never acknowledge that they “saved” the city of Elan, he will still reward them handsomely.

At Dalengard, the Commissar thanks them and invites them to an impromptu banquet in their honor, to be held that evening. The group is excited about their sudden burst of prestige, and purchases excellent courtier’s clothing so they can fit in with the high-status crowd.

When the companions arrive at Dalengard’s banquet hall, they are heaped with attention and praise. The entire gathering is not huge likely on account of the short notice, but many interesting people are there, including the Iron Mage, who arrives at one point to observe silently. Emeris, the most charismatic of the group, commands the most attention, especially from a couple of gorgeous socialite girls from the Nobles District. But the woman who really catches his attention is SILVARA DALLIMOTHAN. The blood of dragons is known to flow in the noble family’s veins, and Silvara’s draconic beauty is staggering. Unfortunately, his flirting is unable to impress her.

After an extravagant dinner, there is a ceremony in which the Commissar gives the companions some extremely generous gifts. First there is an exquisite painting of the the late Emperor von Tessel’s naval flagship. They are also given the crown of an old kingdom called Vel, long ago absorbed by the Empire, made of pure silver and decorated with black pearls. Their third gift is a set of three beautiful sapphires called the “Ocean’s Daughters”. Their fourth gift is the Amulet of Cassima’s Tears, which can grant the user the ability to stay alive longer in battle.

Lastly, and best of all, they are given the property deed to the Rosegate House, an exquisite mansion in the Nobles District. It had been taken over by the city when the previous owner went delinquent on taxes. The only problem is that the Commissar insists it be signed over to their adventuring company, not them personally. But because they have never done any formal “dungeon delves” they have never registered with the city as such a company. Therefore they will need to come up with a name for their group.

The companions feel like they are on top of the world when they leave the banquet. That changes quickly. Judge Rahl confronts them outside the banquet hall, with a contingent of troops. He says that he is arresting Dziga for the murder of his girlfriend Marin, and the infant girl from the Rivergate District. The Commissar is clearly disturbed and angry by the turn of events, and tells Emeris that if Dziga is innocent of these crimes, he has nothing to worry about. If he is guilty, he will need an excellent lawyer. As Dziga is shackled and hauled away, the others presume their friend is doomed. While Elan’s law enforcement was considered a joke, the same could not be said of its justice system. If charges were being laid against Dziga for murder, they would probably never see their friend again.

From jail, Dziga hires the lawyer LUIGI NONO. Although he is one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the city, when he reviews he evidence he sees that it is impossible to get an acquittal at trial. Judge Rahl has a witness who saw Dziga running from his old apartment, splattered his dead girlfriend’s blood. Even more damning, when Rahl searched the apartment, he found a tiny hidden room that contained children’s bones, an old blanket with dark stains, a sacrificial knife, and a stained bowl made of some unidentifiable metal. With magic, Rahl determined that the stains were from old blood that came from the Rivergate girl.

This seems to confirm for Dziga that the murder of the infant that night with Keziah the hag really did happen. And yet, something did not seem quite right about the whole thing. Dziga was allowed to see the evidence. The knife, the bowl, the bones… they all looked very old, although the murder was supposedly only a week or so ago. He definitely was not consciously aware of any tiny room in his apartment where this evidence was found.

It seems that Dziga will be facing a death sentence, but then a way out comes to mind. Back when they broke into Helmut Itlstein’s house, the shadowcaster had stolen various documents, including esoteric prophecies and political writings. Itlstein was, after all, the high priest of the Watcher of the Skies here in Elan and the leader of the Republican movement. They had information that should be damning to Helmut -- the battle plans accompanying one particular prophecy:

“A test of will, a test of faith, the children of the New Gods are Silenced by the Black Rain.”

According to Helmut’s writings, this meant that on a single night black rain would fall from the sky, and all clerics who draw their power from the “new gods” (that is, virtually all gods commonly worshipped in the civilized world today) would lose their divine magic. Helmut had laid out battle plans with intricate maps and tactical descriptions where he would attack the Holy Palace in the Nobles District. How exactly he planned to do this and with who was not clear, but it might provide leverage for negotiation.

Luigi visits the rented house of Emeris and Early, where the companions are packing up their stuff with Seanus, getting ready to move into the Rosegate House. The lawyer tells them of Dziga’s situation and gets the documents from Emeris. He then returns to Dalengard to meet with Judge Rahl. He negotiates a deal whereby Dziga will be granted full immunity for providing evidence that gets Helmut conviced of treason. As the leader of the Republicans is a major political enemy of the Empire and especially the Elan government, to imprison him for life with treason charges is worth making a deal with the devil. However, Vatex, Early, and Emeris must agree to testify against Helmut at trial as well, if necessary to confirm the documents came from Helmut’s home.

Luigi assures them with this deal Dziga will get out, so long as everyone provides truthful testimony at Helmut’s trial, but getting bail until then for the shadowdancer will take a day or two. Luigi also warns the companions not to leave the city until these legal issues are resolved, for they are considered vital witnesses in a case against one of the city’s most powerful men and failure to fulfill those duties entails serious consequences under imperial law.

As the group finishes packing up the old house, they discuss possible names for their adventuring company so that they can take ownership of the Rosegate House. Many adventurers still await them – the lost page of the Book of Inverted Shadows lies somewhere in the Banewarrens, where powerful monsters seek dark treasures of their own; Shilukar’s contract still stands to kill Dr Feagus so that he cannot build his anti-chaositech machine; the portal to the Glade of Ravaan remains open; and they may have to face more of Helmut Itlstein’s assassins.

Early can feel Cryssaegrym growing more powerful, and as it does so does the fatalistic sense within the warblade that he must someday fulfill the sword’s purpose by destroying “the Worm that Walks”. But first he must grow more powerful and complete two more legacy rituals. This will take much training of mind and body.

In jail, Dziga wonders about his dark dreams of Keziah and the Black Man. Occasionally he thinks of the mysterious star-headed thing, and his gaze sometimes shifts through the barred window to the Spire in the distance, and Goth Gulgamel. Why did the entity possessing the star-headed thing have him go up there?

And Vatex, while washing his face again sees the silver haired elf woman in the mirror. It is the same woman he saw in the mirror in the abandoned manor above the tunnel to the Banewarrens two weeks ago. He gets a better look this time before the image fades, and sees that she is extremely beautiful and looks very sad. Again she seems ineffably familiar and he wonders who she is and why she is appearing to him. Is she some sort of spirit or the image of a living person?

Random Elanian Factoid: The Holy Palace is the home of the Holy Order of Vigoor’s religious leader, Archprelate Ronway. He believes he should be the secular leader of Vigoor as well, above the Circle of Nine and second only to the Holy Emperor himself.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

EPISODE XXXV: Night of Dissolution, Act V: The Final Ritual III

Juliar 28

The barbarian horde from Silmaria saw the appearance of the emerald moon as a bad omen, but only temporarily. By evening they again mached on Elan and clashed against imperial city’s defenses. The Commissar had mustered a powerful force to protect the northern wall of the city, including city guard, elite imperial soldiers, some of the noble houses’ private forces, the Holy Order of Vigoor, and the magi of the Inverted Pyramid. His mighty cannons could decimate a column of Silmarians in an instant. But it seemed the magic of the barbarians had been underestimated. The primal power of the shamans came from the most ancient traditions of the Arsis tribes, bending the elements to their will in spectacular ways, including and bringing down the north wall in two locations. Battle spilled into the streets around the breaches.

Beneath the city’s Temple District, another battle raged on for the Elan’s fate. Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster, Dziga the shadowdancer, Early the warblade, Vatex the elven tempest, and Arngrim the Knight of the Pale with his men-at-arms, fought Khyron’s forces in the Apocalyptic Sanctuary.

Early cuts down a ratlord and guns down another. Arngrim attempts to heal himself with potions and magic. Vatex and Dziga attack the dancing cultists around the altar, who fight back with blasts of flame from their hands and conjured octopus-like chaos creatures. Andross screams at Khyron that the ritual will be interrupted if the dancing priests are slain. Khyron hardly seems to be bothered, saying the Final Ritual can only truly be stopped with his own destruction, for which death itself was no threat because he had become a “Shigmaa.” Wings of lightning flash from Khyron’s back, and begins flying towards the battle with rushing forth on foot Jerallan, Ibard, and Andross beneath him.

Emeris needs healing as the wounds he has suffered are grave, and the chaos ball continues to damage his flesh, so he flies to the bottom level where Banon, Pankraz, and Sancho were killed to get the potions from their corpses. While Mystina trades blows with one of the ratlords, Emeris slays another instantly with his umbral touch. He rummages through Pankraz and Sancho’s body and takes their healing potions. Mystina runs for the last potion, not wanting Emeris to take them all for himself. Emeris kills the last ratlord and takes flight again. Mystina rushes up the stairs to join the others.

Vatex is struck by Khyron’s chaos ball and pain blurs his vision as his flesh is ravaged, but he continues slashing at the desperate cultist. The cultist goes down in a spray of blood and the elf moves towards another cultist who stops dancing and draws a long ritual knife. The aggressive cultist’s fervent slash gets past the elf’s skilled defense and cuts him badly. Dziga fights off the lashing tentacles of the octopus-thing the cultist hurled at him, steps around it and quickly stabs Asura into his throat. Before the body hits the ground, Dziga vanishes into the shadows cast by other combatants. Another cultist stops dancing, looks around for the undetectable shadowdancer, then draws its knife and charges Vatex, stabbing him in the stomach.

As he drinks a potion, Early notices Andross watching him intently, acid dripping from his tentacle-arms. Khyron suddenly casts an enchantment on him that leaves him completely paralysed. While the warblade is helpless and unable to dodge, Andross spews acid on him. He cannot move, and he cannot cry out in pain, but the awful spittle burns terribly. Ibard moves down the stairs to the second level to join the melee, empowering herself with a suite of magic spells that enhance her strength, protection, and fighting ability.

Arngrim raises his sword and rushes the cultists fighting Vatex, his huge sword sweeping across and forcing the cultists back. Vatex is losing blood quickly from the stabwound in his stomach and significantly weakened from the chaos ball. The elf uses the reprieve to step back and consume a healing potion. Dziga, hidden in shadows, does the same.

The helpless Early is struck by Khyron’s chaos ball, to which Khyron laughs maniacally. “What makes you think I will not crush you now like I crushed you before?” he taunts. Enraged, Early breaks free of the paralysing magic with tremendous force of will. With a mighty leap, he lands on the edge of the third level, toe-to-toe with Andross. He finds himself assaulted by Andross’ three poison-dripping mouths, their teeth shearing and burning flesh at once. He is too busy fighting off attacks to strike a blow of his own, and the chaos ball continues to wear him down.

Vatex leaps back into the fray, his slashing blades utterly dismembering the last two cultists in a gruesome display of bloodletting. Arngrim, practically wading through cultist body parts, runs over fight Ibard, knocking aside the Spear of Chaos as it thrusts towards his heart, and swinging Durandal across in an unblockable strike. One of the points is cut right off Ibard’s star-shaped shield and the blade continues into her ribs. She fights well despite the injury, stabbing through Arngrim’s mighty plate mail many times, the power of the spear stunning him with chaotic power. Holy paladin of law against unholy cleric of chaos – despite vicious injuries inflicted upon each other, their mutual hatred drives them to fight fervently beyond any mortal pain.

Dziga emerges from the shadows suddenly and fires an arrow at Khyron. Though unaware of the rogue’s location until the last second, so agile is the cultist leader that despite his hulkish mass he dodges easily. Khyron laughs again, taunting them, and suddenly flies into a killing rage, his muscles surging with even greater proportion. He charges Early, jumping into him headfirst. His huge forehead connects solidly with Early in the face, breaking his nose and splashing blood across his cheeks. Jerallan rushes in behind her master, and the dying Early. A desperate leap takes him thirty feet into the middle of the second level, just as the fiendish ogre’s weapon strikes the stone where he stood a split second ago.

Andross floats down to the second level and blasts Dziga with acid but the shadowdancer easily evades. Dziga strikes back with Asura and a gout of thick purple blood spills from Andross’ throat, but still the monster fights. When Jerallan jumps down from the third level, she swings at Dziga and he dodges easily enough, but he takes note of how easily that weapon would kill him if it connects. It seems the shadowdancer will be quickly overwhelmed. Early quickly drinks a healing potion, then charges.

Vatex is there to follows up on the attack, swords flashing against the Keeper. With Jerallan stunned, choking up blood, Andross is alone against the three attackers, but he fights fiercely. Burned by acid and shredded by vicious bites, Early hits the ground dying.
Emeris sees him go down and starts flying in that direction, powering up his magic as he glides over the second level. Khyron takes to the air on his wings of lightning to intercept him. As Khyron flies by he slams his huge fist into Emeris’ back and nearly sends him crashing to the ground, but he stabilizes and continues on his course. The shadowcaster unleashes a blast of killing shadows that is smashes Jerallan while Andross’ spell resistance blocks the attack. Emeris curses his luck, for stopping Andross’ deadly offensive power was vital and he had hoped that attack would do the job.

Dziga rushes to Early’s aid and drags him away from Andross. Mystina comes up the stairs helps him administer aid to their dying friend. Vatex is left to stand between them and Andross deadly offensive power. In that moment, with his companions struggling on the edge of of utter disaster, Vatex fights as if possessed, hackng with vicious abandon into Andross, with such speed that the Keeper produce any sufficient defense. Vatex is literally showered in gore as is Andross shredded by elven steel. Jerallan thrusts her halberd to gore the elf, but his potion of blur makes it too difficult for her to hit him.

Still bleeding badly but now conscious, Early gets back on his feet against Mystina’s admonition. The enraged warblade’s need to spill blood overrides any immediate health concern. He pushes Mystina back and jumps into the air, disappearing into the Vajra and completing a Soaring Raptor Strike maneauver. The perfect attack severs Jerallan’s head.

Ibard stuns Arngrim with her spear, Khyron lands close by, powering up a chaos ball in his hand. Dziga fires Roguefriend at Khyron who dodges again, unleashing the chaos ball at the helpless Arngrim as he does. It smashes into the paladin who goes down hard. Shaking off the spear’s effects and fighting the pain of the chaos ball, he is back on his feet for only a moment when Ibard’s spear pierces his ribs. Before she can withdraw it he strikes back at her, cutting deep across her face. Then Khyron is upon him in a fury. His fist punches Arngrim in the gut, doubling him over. He then uppercuts the paladin, breaking his jaw. On his hands and knees, spitting out broken teeth, Khyron stands over him and with a twisted smile stomps the paladin’s head like a melon.

Vatex pulls the Cheilsecaro from his pouch and throws it at Khyron. The ceramic object breaks apart on his chest and for a blinding instant the entire sanctuary is filled with blazing white light. Ibard is blasted to oblivion and Khyron staggers back from the blast. Dziga fires arrows that deflect off Khyron’s armor.

The cultist leader charges Vatex, assailing him with crushing blows. The tempest fights back, but Khyron is very powerful. Emeris blasts him with shadow magic, and Khyron resists it with ease. Dziga cuts at him with Asura, and Khyron dodges. Mystina drives her halberd in and Khyron knocks it aside. Early flies into with another Raptor Strike but Khyron’s swinging fist knocks him out of the air the second he reappears from the Vajra.

Two powerful punches to the face send Vatex barely hanging on to consciousness. His swords cut flesh but they seem like beestings to the mighty Khyron. It is Dziga who turns the tide, shifting into the shadows to avoid a swinging fist, then reappearing behind Khyron and driving Asura into his back. He then dives out of the way while Emeris unleashes the freezing shadow of his breath weapon upon Khyron, who howls in pain. It appears their attacks are finally starting to take a toll.

Vatex decides to risk it all in one final storm of attacks against Khyron. His blurry image and incredible agility keep him safe as he strikes not one, not two, but four more wounds into Khyron. But the raging cult leader is not finished yet. He dodges an attack from Early and Dziga and prepares to crush the skull of Vatex at last.

And it is likely that Vatex would have died at that moment, had not Emeris intervened. The power of shadow surges within Emeris, powered by a greater force of will than he’s ever before mustered. A lance of blackness shoots from his outstretched hand and pierces Khyron’s chest. He arcs his back in agony, screaming in agony and falls dead to the ground.


For an instant, they cannot really believe it is over. Their intuitions seem vindicated when Khyron’s body stirs, almost imperceptibly, and a shadowy spectre of Khyron surges from the corpse for Emeris. The ghost touches merely touches Emeris with a single pointing finger, and his lifeforce is drawn away into the body of Khyron, bringing him back to life. Khyron arises, telling them they were fools to think death had any power over someone who has attained power such as his.

Emeris is dramatically weakened by the lifeforce-draining attack and Khyron attacks him with brutal strength unabated by his interlude of death. A blow to the ribs leaves several broken bones, and a second blow to the head puts the shadowcaster on the ground, dying.

Early feels his spirit connected to the Vajra, feels his spirit connected to Cryssaegrym, and the Blade of the Silver Wolf destroys the resurrected Khyron’s blood with a final blow. Khyron goes down again, and Early removes the head with two heavy swings.

Upon Khyron’s true death, the huge hand jutting out from the floor on the third level seems to emit a deep moaning sound, and it begins to melt into viscous black ooze that burns a deep hole into the stone beneath. Emeris examines the altar containing the runechildren and recalls from his early days of studying arcane magic learning of this sort of thing, and knows the children can be freed by simply breaking the altar apart. The five companions grab halberds and chop through the altar, eventually breaking it after several minutes. The runechildren float out, into the air, where Emeris grabs two of them. The other two drop to the ground after a few seconds. Next, the group examines the humanoid figures in the gas-filled tanks. Emeris breaks one open easily and a naked, slime-covered man drops out, lost in absolute disorientation. The break the other four tanks, and all have similar contents.

For now, Early guards Mystina while she gives first aid to the nine people they’ve rescued. Vatex, Emeris, and Dziga check the doors behind the melted hand. They notice black ooze has melted hundreds of feet down into the rock, so they are careful not to step in any drops.

Behind the hand is a dungeon, with a cell containing three barbarian prisoners stuck to the wall with mithril chains. One barbarian is particularly muscular and huge. Standing guard is an elven vampire naked AELINDAI WHISPERSONG, accompanied by four wights. She tells them that this means Khyron must be dead and the Final Ritual ruined, but her orders are to watch the prisoners regardless of anything else, and she says Khyron’s will reaches beyond death. They are forced to fight her. Emeris destroys three of the wights with blackfire. The fourth wight drains life from Dziga. Aelindai uses a magical circle of protection against law to protect herself against her lawfully aligned adversaries, as well as a spell of cat’s grace to increase her speed and agility. With her resistances to all but silver magic weapons and fire, she proves to be a difficult foe. Her icy touch drains Vatex’s energy severely. His flaming sword at last strikes through the circle of protection and she turns into a gaseous cloud and flees through a crack in the ceiling. Dziga finishes the final wight.

They learn that the prisoner in the cell is King Drax the Destroyer, ruler of Silmaria and the united barbarian tribes, and his two bodyguards. Drax speaks excellent Imperial Common and seems extremely knowledgeable for a barbarian. He explains that he was captured by Khyron by means of some chaos enchantment, and brought here to be sacrificed in Khyron’s ritual. He doesn’t even know where he is. Emeris tells him about the situation with the barbarian army attacking the city, the Drax asks that he be freed and brought back to his people to stop this needless battle.

Dziga picks the cell door and the locked chains, and the companions return to the surface. Early is rather in awe of the mighty Drax. Although the average citizen is familiar only with official imperial history would consider him a tyrant, the warblade was well-traveled outside the Holy Empire and familiar with stories of the barbarian king’s heroic adventurers. He admired him greatly.

The group emeries battered and bloodied in the Temple of the Fifty Three Gods of Chance. The priests treat wounds and offer restoration from the undead energy drain attacks. The High Priestess warns against the barbarians going out into the streets as some crazy civilians are roaming around attacking people who look like barbarians. So Emeris proposes that they use a potion of fly, found on the body of Saavia, on Drax so he and the king can fly outside the city and meet up with the barbarian horde. Emeris assumes the barbarian needs help flying but Drax seems very experienced. Emeris does not realize that Drax had done a lot of flying in his adventures over the years.

They fly over the walls of the city and out to the rear-most ranks of the barbarian army. At first the barbarians are confused and look as if they will attack the shadowcaster, but Drax calls out in his language to his warriors. Word begins to spread quickly that the king has returned. Drax takes up one of the battle standards, dropped when its bearer was blasted by a spell. Eventually the battle stops and Drax leads his men back to camp. The defending forces, somewhat confused, do not engage further.

Back at the camp, Drax explains to his people that the city of Elan had nothing to do with his kidnapping. Only the forces of chaos were to be blamed, and they had been defeated, so there was no more need to fight. Then Drax draws up the terms of a truce between the barbarians and the city of Elan, and tells Emeris to deliver the document to the leader of Elan. Essentially, Drax will withdraw his armies back to the waygate through which it came to find him, and the defenders will let them do so without attack. Emeris flies back to Elan with Drax’s letter.

The shadowcaster has been gone several hours by the time he returns and tells everyone about bringing the siege to an end. But before they can visit the Commissar, they decide sleep until morning. It has been a very long day.

Next time: What awaits the companions when vengeance is exacted and the city is saved? Events previously set in motion will determine their fates.