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?

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