Tuesday, December 21, 2010

EPISODE XL: The Banewarrens, Act II - The Outer Vaults IV - Danar's Assistant; Grailquest Team Two

Augustar 3

Over breakfast, the Rosegate Company discusses the events of the last few days. Early listens to the stories of the recent forays into the Banewarrens with great interest, and now feels recovered enough to return to the adventure. Vatex the elf suggests they raid the Vladaam Mansion, but eventually the consensus decides on returning to the Banewarrens.

The warblade asks Emeris the shadowcaster to acquire a book from Saharasahla’s library called “The Coming Age of Worms, and Other Dark Prophecies”. Emeris finds the request peculiar, and Early explains that he walked up to the Imperial University yesterday and spoke with an elven scholar named Shar, who was an expert on ancient history and religion. Early was seeking information about Kyuss, “the Worm that Walks” -- the mysterious entity for which his sword, Cryssaegrym, had profound antipathy.

Shar explains that many contradictions and uncertainties surround the elder evil known as the Worm that Walks. Most historical record points to it being Kyuss, a name that holds dreadful import not because anyone remembers any atrocity committed in his name, but rather the things that serve him still and yet walk the earth to this day. His numerous minions include undead and aberrations. It is these servants mortals have come to revile, and they extend their loathing to Kyuss -- if only because many milennia of persistent, harrowing legendry have attached the name to various monstrosities.

Scholars of the most forbidden lore agree that Kyuss walked the earth before the time of Danar the Saint, a time when primitive humanity dabbled in blasphemous arts and served dark gods. Most believe that Kyuss was either a mortal necromancer or considerable talent or an evil god’s ranking priest. The most common theory claims that Kyuss was so wicked that even his decadent society exiled, casting him out because he dabbled in forbidden magic and spoke ominous prophecies of an impending final age -- the Age of Worms. As an outcast, he became a prophet and drew followers who clamored to hear his grim words. Some believed him to be a god in his own right, and believed he would save them from the horrific age he foretold.

Unfortunately, that is all he knows. However, he refers Early to an eccentric book store owner who possesses an extremely rare tome by someone called “Balgor”, called “The Coming Age of Worms, and Other Dark Prophecies”. Coincidentally enough, the book store owner turned out to be Saharasahla.

Early joins Vatex and Dziga the shadowdancer-rogue, who head down to the Adventurer’s Square for supplies. Dziga purchases the “Boots of Althor” from Myraeth’s shop, which increase his agility when activated. After shopping they wait for Emeris in Oldtown.

The shadowcaster enters Saharasahla’s library and is surprised to see the old man looking terrible, as if had aged 10 years in the last few days. He was very frail, and his voice very weak. He ordered Emeris to get him anti-sleeping pills from the Shuul immediately. Emeris completes the errand with annoyance, and the old sage gobbles down a handful of pills within seconds upon his return. This seems to sooth the old man, who takes two items from a hidden compartment in his desk, gifts for Emeris. First is a smoky glass bottle, stoppered with a strange shadowy stone. When opened, it will summon a special kind of genie from the demiplane of Shadow, called a khayal, that will serve Emeris for 24 hours, then it will become useless. The bottle originally allowed the user to call the khayal, named BALIN-RA, three times, but Saharasahla had already used it twice. The second item is a leather collar with onyx spikes and a tarnished silver clasp. Although completely opposed to the idea of wearing a collar to gain additional powers, the collar of umbral metamorphosis is quite powerful. Saharasahla created it to give the wearer power to become a being of shadow.

When Emeris asks him about the book Early wants, the old man tells him to take it but that him and his friends are foolish for their tendency to “become involved in things [they] cannot understand.” Emeris shrugs and hurries to join his friends at the old manor house in Oldtown.

They head down the umber hulk tunnel without incident, but upon reaching the broken seal area they encounter three soldiers from the Holy Order. Two are completely paralyzed, the third wounded and scared. He tells them a monster -- some kind of troll with a massive brain -- appeared out of thin air, and attacked them. Its touch caused complete paralysis, and a fourth soldier was dragged off to the south by the monster. The company heads off to track the monster, following an obvious smear of fresh blood leading deeper into darkness.

Dziga stealthily follows the trail and locates the body, but no sign of the monster. Suddenly, Emeris and Early, holding up the rear, are attacked by the monster -- the “thought stalker”, a bane sealed away by Danar long ago. It materializes out of the material plane and attacks. Thoughtful of the church soldier’s warning about paralysis, Early repels the monster’s assault with masterful skill until the others join him. A flurry of blades defeats the monster, and they set fire to its remains until there is only a charred corpse showing no signs of regeneration.

They pass through the sealed door and see the staircase is blocked off by thick spider webs. They burn through and return to the freezing trap area. Dziga can find no means of disabling the trap, and the group is forced to suffer the magical ice by passing through one by one. Dziga and Emeris are frozen solid and need to be burned free. Fortunately, Dziga’s studded armor protects him from the flames with its enchantment.

Past this, they find a disarmed trap in a hallway, then In a room full of iron barrels, they find a humanoid made of metal trapped under the clutter. One of his legs mangled and one of his eyes -- a diamond -- is missing. It seems it has been trapped here since the geological upheaval that created the Spire, and over that time it has gone a little mad. The construct not somewhat hostile and distressed, because it says a black-skinned woman with two big furry beasts offered to fix its eye in exchange for information. It told them how to operate the “plug control room” -- then they just left him here. The companions remove it from under the barrels, and it is very grateful. It takes careful questioning to get the construct to speak coherently, and many details are forgotten or clearly incorrect, but they do get some useful information from it.

Geristranomos was Danar’s assistant in the Banewarrens, responsible for mechanical maintenance. It wonders why all these people are suddenly wandering around the Banewarrens, when the Sealed Doors could only be opened by Danar’s own touch. It says that the Inner Vaults and the Baneheart were corrupted when Danar fell. Now they are very evil places. The only evil in the Outer Vaults comes from the long-term residual effect of being near so many banes. The Inner Vaults and the Baneheart were the domain of a number of Darkstar’s lieutenants, some of whom might still be around. The worst of these is THE MALEFICITE, who was once an angel.

They tie the construct onto Vatex’s back. Because the construct is eager to clean the plug control room, which is the room with the pillar, the iron plates, and the many switches, trick it into disabling the ice trap in order to take him there. It tells them the correct order to hit the switches, and upon completing the sequence they find that Navanna must have already done it.

They head to the room where they’d met Navanna, and find the wall of force still intact, but a twenty-foot wide block of stone in the southern wall has risen to the ceiling, revealing a passage beyond. Geristranomos tells them they can bypass the force field through the “drainage pool”, but its damaged memory cannot recall where that is.

Meanwhile, the Grailquest Team Two -- a second, more powerful force sent by the Pactlords of the Quaan, having overheard the machinery in the plug control room, prepare to set up an ambush...

They move to get back to the unexplored passage past where they found the construct, on the west side of the outer vaults. Scouting ahead, one with the darkness, Dziga spots a set of black eyes watching him from the northwest stairs in the room where they’d fought Erzak and Derimach. Dziga signals to his comrades, who hang back on the southern staircase. Dziga advances and uses Tche’deng’s wand to launch a fireball into the corner of the room. The southern chamber fills with flame.

A terrible scream is heard from the direction of the black eyes, when an invisible hieracosphix named WIVER attacks, becoming visible to the shadowdancer only at the last second. The fierce monster’s claws cut only air as the nimble rogue dodges. Dziga repeatedly stabs Asura into its flank and ribs, and he is joined by Vatex, whose blades cut away ribbons of flesh. The two make short work of the monster.

A horribly burned monstrous spider rushes from the northwest stairs into the room, managing to bite and poison Vatex. Then, invisible until now, an ogre mage named OSTARACH emerges from the southwest passage, blasting a cone of wintery cold at the two of them as Wiver falls. He taunts them as pathetic humanoids, and says they are the Grailquest Team Two -- “much better than those chickens like Ios or Erzak.”

Dziga easily dodges, but Vatex is not so quick, feeling the burning cold of blasting ice. The spider is killed in the blast. A second monstrous spider rushes into the fray to take its place. Early rushes down the stairs, torch and sword in his hands, while Emeris flies over him towards the melee. He stabs down at the spider as he flies, dodges a net of webbing hurled at him by the ettercap, NISSLENTAR, who emerges from hiding on the northwest stairs. He then lands and begins to power up his magic.

Vatex cuts down a spider with a spray of green ichor, just as the final member of Grailquest Team Two makes an appearance -- YUINTHU the mind flayer, his deep crimson robes slightly charred from Dziga’s fireball attack when he was invisible in the adjacent corner. He telepathically taunts the companions, specifically selecting Vatex to say how hungry he is, and how badly he wants to eat a fresh elven brain. The tentacles around Yuinthu’s mouth flex and a blast of psionic energy rolls over the entire group. Early is knocked senseless, crumpling to the ground. The others resist the assault with tremendous force of will. Yuinthu’s alien visage seems to show fear that its attack was not more successful! These humanoids are stronger than he'd expected.

Dziga draws his bow, Roguefiend, and looses a poisoned arrow at the illithid. It takes the monster in the ribs and it hunches over, only to be blasted by Emeris devastating killing shadows mystery. Nisslentar is hit as well and is nearly finished. Wheezing and coughing up blood through its tentacle ringed orifice, Yuinthu can barely fight back when Vatex moves in and drives his sword through the Pactlord’s heart. Dziga kills the second spider, stunned by the illithid’s attack.

Ostarach sees there is no escape, and simply makes a gamble to take at least one humanoid down with him -- the helpless Early! His attempt to decapitate the helpless warblade shows embarrassingly poor aim, and Early survives, albeit with a gushing wound in his head. After dispatching the weak ettercap, the group converges on Ostarach. The ogre is quickly defeated by their combined might, with Dziga striking the final blow.

Early regains his wits shortly after the fight ends and curses his weak willpower. After looting the bodies, the group explores the western passages. In an old storeroom containing unused tools, they are attacked by a vengeful spirit. Its chilling touch drains Vatex’s lifeforce, but the group’s magic weapons dispatch the spectre before it can cause too much harm. The elf is weakened considerably, but he assures them he can press onward.

South of this chamber, they come across three more humanoid constructs made of bronze, which Geristranomos calls the Warrenbuilders. The constructs stand to attention but do nothing else. When they ask Geristranomos if they could use one of the Warrenbuilders legs as a replacement for his own, Danar’s assistant freaks out, and it takes some work to calm him down. They consider getting rid of the annoying construct, but Emeris thinks they should keep him. Maybe they can get him fixed in the city.

On a random hunch, Early asks Geristranomos about Kyuss. The construct remembers that name being mentioned by Danar, and the name “Wormcrawl Island.” No other information can be pried from the construct’s memory.

A door to the south leads to what appears to the the drainage pool. The floor is about three-feet below the door, and blue tiles cover the floor and walls up to the point just below the door. Here and there are rectangular gates covering various holes. Near the middle of the room, two tall columns made of glass rise from floor to ceiling. They are filled with water, and each also contains what appears to be a giant, monstrous octopus. Between these pillars is a steel cylinder, the bottom of which has a heavy, hinged metal cap with a circular wheel-valve in the middle of it.

In the southeast corner of the room, the group finds a secret door leading to a passage, at the end of which is another secret door that leads to the area behind the wall of force in the plug room. After some discussion, they decide they should return to town, identify their loot, and get Vatex’s energy restored at a temple before they continue on.

They get back to the surface without incident. The sell all the Pactlords’ loot except the useless Quaan bone rings, of which they have amassed quite a collection. Dziga uses Wiver's magic bracers, which increase his strength when worn. The companions then take Geristranomos to the Temple of Vexander, where specialized dwarven engineers get to work fixing the leg and eye in exchange for a donation to the temple. After a hearty meal prepared by their butler Seanus back at the mansion, the Rosegate Company retires. Tomorrow, it is back to the Banewarrens.

Next time: Will Navanna reach the Inner Vaults before the Rosegate Company? Are the Pactlords of the Quaan's "Grailquest Teams" all gone?

Random Elanian Factoid: Adventurers rarely frequent the Guildsman District, although this is where much of Elan’s real power -- and money -- lies. Many speak of this area as if it belongs to a different city, for its allegiances are primarily to Elan’s tradition of commerce rather than the Holy Empire. It is rife with rumor -- some say the Shuul run secret operations out of the Foundry, an outright violent war is said to be on the verge of breaking out between powerful guilds, and one particularly esoteric rumor says an evil artifact called the “Black Grail” lies somewhere in Ghul’s labyrinth beneath the Darkbirth Madhouse (this last rumor is obviously untrue, for the Black Grail lies in the Banewarrens).