Tuesday, November 15, 2011

EPISODE 61: Kadmiel, the Shade Tower - Part II

Maya 2


At this time, Thurvan Rashong, possessor of the Shadowgeist Reaver and the Box of Shadows, stands at the top of the column in the center of Kadmiel’s third floor. Emeris has trapped him within a curtain of shadow.

Brummelt returns to the third floor after being frightened away by the baying of the shadow mastiffs. He joins the Rosegate Company (Emeris the shade, Early the warblade, Dziga the rogue, and Vatex the the elf) and his companion Daersidian the elven battle mage.

The companions drink healing and restoration potions to replenish their strength after fighting Thurvan’s horde of shadows and shadow mastiffs. Dziga and Early begin running up the staircase to the top of the pillar. Emeris will dismiss the curtain of shadow when they get there, and the two of them will hack up Thurvan.

Then shadows coalesce and Saharasahla arrives! “You made a terrible mistake coming here!” he tells the companions. He explains that he feels deep guilt over betraying Emeris, but he will claim the Box of Shadows and Kadmiel as his own, killing them all if they stand in his way.

Now it is time for Emeris to test his strength against the old shadowcaster, who has also become a shade with the Tenebrous Formula.

Saharasahla conjures up a huge shadow elemental, then throws down a gem of night to conjure up another 9-foot tall elemental. The huge elemental attacks everyone on ground level and the large one makes harrying flyby attacks against Early and Dziga. The elemental attacks them with its reach! Its powerful slams carry cold energy. Dziga fires an arrow and Early activates the Cold Resistance power from his Phoenix Helm. Then he leaps from the stairs, executing a Death from Above attack! He soars right through the elemental, landing forcefully below. Dziga starts heading down the stairs while popping off shots at the elemental as it pursues him.

The huge elemental tries to control the battlefield with its great reach and powerful blows that pass right through armor. Emeris teleports to the side of the room and blasts Killing Shadows at the huge elemental and its summoner. Saharasahla curses him as Vatex rushes the shadowcaster, slashing a deep cut into his side. Saharasahla’s Sharp Shadows mystery lashes out at the elf and rakes him with stinging cuts.

Saharasahla teleports across the room away from the sharp swords of Vatex, and conjures a second huge shadow elemental to attack his the elf. Early and Daersidian attack attack the other one as it stumbles from Emeris’ shadow blast. Brummelt hurls daggers at Saharasahla but is well prepared for this battle. This complex web of defensive mysteries surrounding him deflects all the attacks.

Early and Daersidian continue trying to take down the first huge elemental. Its size is tremendous and its blows are powerful. They keep cutting at it and it looks like they will soon take it down -- but then Saharasahla uses his Soul Puppet mystery against Early. The warblade is dominated! The elder shade sends him against Daersidian!

Daersidian, flanked by the powerful elemental and the warblade, doesn’t stand a chance. He is battered by the elemental’s blows, then Early’s Rabid Bear Strike cuts him in half at the waist. Brummelt looks on in horror!

Emeris advances on Saharasahla again and blasts another Killing Shadows, maximized with his metashadow ring. Saharasahla sees it coming and attempts to warp Emeris’ own mystery and absorb its power! An intense battle of wills ensues -- Emeris and Saharasahla each use Hero Points! In the end, Saharasahla’s greater caster level wins out.

Saharasahla powers up his shadow images, and suddenly there are 9 figures of the old shade standing before the companions. Brummelt hurls a volley of daggers and eliminates a few images, but it barely helps. A shadow elemental pounds on him until he dies.

Vatex fights off one of the huge elementals and dispatches it, but then the dominated Early is upon him, in the Punshing Stance and slashing with martial maneuvers.


As Emeris falls back to heal, Thurvan suddenly teleports out of the curtain of darkness and appears at his side. The corrupted engineer cries about not letting him take his special shadow treasures. The engineer swings the Shadowgeist Reaver... and it hits Emeris with cataclysmic force. “Nooooo!” shouts Saharasahla.

A shockwave of metaphysical energy bursts through the chamber. For a moment the entire universe seems to lose its third dimension and the world seems strangely flat and the perspective weirdly distorted. Reality grinds and churns as it attempts to reconfigure itself.

When the effect seems to resolve itself, the Shadowgeist Reaver’s blade is shattered and Thurvan looks confusedly upon it.

Emeris is completely gone. Somehow, the impact of Thurvan’s strike utterly annihilated both the young shade shadowcaster AND the artifact sword.

Saharasahla traps Dziga in a Prison of Night mystery. Ravaged by the cold aura within the metaphysical prison, Dziga flexes his willpower and breaks free. The old man then teleports most of the way up to the pillar and begins launching shadow evocations, and a maximized Shadow Storm. The old shadowcaster orders his puppet Early to attack Thurvan and get the Box of Shadows.

Vatex and Dziga take down another shadow elemental, but they are both badly hurt from the elemental attacks and Saharasahla’s onslaught. They start rummaging through their bags and drinking every healing potion they’ve got. They close in on Thurvan. Surrounded and desperate, Thurvan kills himself in desperation by unleashing a blast of power from the Box of Shadows. He is destroyed, and in turn damages his attackers.

Early scoops up the Box of Shadows and begins running towards the staircase that goes up the pillar. Vatex intervenes to block him. Early rushes the elf and tries to overrun him. Vatex tackles the warblade and knocks him prone. He beats down on Early with the hilts of his swords and knocks him unconscious.


Emeris’ head clears and he finds himself somewhere other than Kadmiel -- he is standing on a darkened ridge in the Plane of Shadow. It seems when the Shadowgeist Reaver struck him, something happened which shunted him out of the Shade Tower and into this plane. But why? There is no obvious explanation. Here can hear the baying of shadow mastiffs all around him in the darkness. Lots of shadow mastiffs.

Then Emeris notes that from his right arm extends a spectral blade in the same jagged shape as the Shadowgeist Reaver that had hit him. It seems that he has _merged_ with the shadow sword... or at least its metaphysical aspect.

Then a dark figure appears, with smoky skin and a long beard. The figure identifies himself as Dadga Hazareth, legendary shadowcaster. Or at least... a fragment of Hazareth’s essence. He says that he mastered the Tenebrous Formula to such a great degree that he actually achieved apotheosis with the Plane of Shadow. He explains that something just happened, and it was felt deep in the core of the Plane of Shadow, to which Hazareth is intimately connected. He says that this metaphysical cataclysm is such that he feels the Plane of Shadow -- and possibly the entire universe -- has been affected. So dramatic is this event, that even the “Lord of the Dead” has taken notice... and he is sure to appear shortly.

A large pack of shadow mastiffs attacks, and Dagda Hazareth disappears. Emeris feels the Plane of Shadow like never before... he draws upon the Plane of Shadow to recharge his magic. Rabid mastiffs close in on him, lunging to attack. Cone-shaped blasts of shadow magic burst from Emeris’ eyes and hands, splattering more than a dozen of the monsters in mere seconds. He keeps his wits against their insane baying, and uses the spectral blade attached to his arm to cut down others. The spectre of the Shadowgeist Reaver does not cut normal wounds in the flesh -- it cuts the very lifeforce of living foes, and transfers some of that lifeforce back into himself with every hit.

More shadow mastiffs climb up the ridge and emerge from the treeline. They are not individually strong, but there are so many... Emeris prepares to unleash more shadow magic, but then the ground begins to rumble violently and he fights for balance.


Suddenly SAMHAIN, the Lord of the Dead -- one of Enhasa’s oldest gods -- rises from the ground. He is a massive figure, bound to his massive throne, which forms a huge wall behind him that fills Emeris’ vision horizon to horizon. Misshapen visages are carved into this wall, subtly shifting expressions of horror. The emergence of the throne and wall knocks most of the mastiffs off the ridge and sends the others fleeing. The visages in the wall call out in uncanny unison -- “Behold, Samhain... Lord of the Dead... he speaks!”


As if to answer his own question, Samhain seems to look into the distance. His face shows no emotion, but in his eyes he can see the god unravelling pertinent information related to his divine portfolio of death and souls. Emeris is paralyzed by the divine aura of the god as he looks upon the shade after several moments. His eyes narrow accusingly, but though he looks upon the shade, he does not seem to address him when he speaks.


Emeris feels a chill at these words. Ashardalon... Saharasahla’s bookshop had been visited by a mysterious stranger bearing the symbol of that ancient dragon, who was destroyed long ago. What was the connection?

Then, as if to answer Emeris’ thoughts, Samhain speaks again.


What the fuck is this guy talking about?



Samhain’s wall and throne begins to sink back into the earth of the Plane of Shadow. Emeris calls out, “What are you saying? What happened to me?”

Samhain replies, “GO NORTH, LITTLE SHADE... JOURNEY TO NIGHTFANG SPIRE. NORTH IS WHERE YOUR ANSWERS LIE.” The Lord of the Dead wills Emeris back to Kadmiel.


Back in Kadmiel, Dziga and Vatex fight alone against the last huge shadow elemental as Saharasahla hits them with more shadow evocations. The rogue strikes a final decisive blow that destroys the elemental, but do they have enough strength to defeat Saharasahla?

Then Emeris reappears. Saharasahla’s powers have been too severely depleted, and the old man never takes extreme risks. He is confident that he still has the required resources to defeat powerful foes like these three. But only barely. Bad luck could swing things against his favor. How could he be so close, and risk losing everything after all this time? He decides to play it on the safe side. He vows to return to the Shade Tower and claim the Box of Shadows, which he warns is “virtually useless” to anyone but him -- because he possesses the special key. He holds up the key that Emeris had found long ago in the hidden lair of the mysterious alchemist Ephraim... and with that, he vanishes.

The companions know that Saharasahla will be back soon, with his magic fully recharged. But they cannot remain here, so they gather up their loot and Emeris uses his shadow powers to shift them out of the Kadmiel back onto Ridge Road in Elan. They have all their loot, except they find that the Box of Shadows has disappeared from their bag, presumably back into Kadmiel. Perhaps without Sarasasahla’s key, it cannot be removed from the Shade Tower, or some similar restriction?

Emeris finds he can make the spectral Shadowgeist Reaver appear and disappear at will. It is bound to his soul completely. Although he feels it is a powerful weapon, he wonders at the implications of its connection to him and Samhain’s words. Is this weapon a gift or a curse?


Back at the Rosegate House, they are visited by Mystina, the man-at-arms, err... WOMAN-at-arms (?) from the Knights of the Pale, who’d fought with them against Khyron last year.

Mystina brings grave news and is asking for the Rosegate Company’s assistance. She says she has been trying to hunt down the vampire Aelindai Whispersong, a follower of Khyron who’d been the sole escapee of the battle at the Apocalyptic Sanctuary.

Mystina reveals that when she finally tracked down Aelindai, she learned the vampire was working with the Forsaken -- undead worshippers who’d been allied with Khyron, and helped him become a “shigmaa” as part of his quest to achieve ultimate power. Now the Forsaken working with Aelindai were trying to bring Khyron back to life at their hideout in the Necropolis. Based on intelligence, this resurrection ritual was supposedly taking place... tomorrow!

Mystina wants the Rosegate Company to accompany her and a squad of Knights on an assault to ensure Khyron is not brought back. The Rosegate Company is glad to help -- not for any particularly noble reasons, but simply because there are few people they hate more than Khyron.

They will rest from their battle at Kadmiel, and join the Knights of the Pale in tomorrow’s attack.

Next time: The companions fight to stop Khyron’s resurrection! What exactly are the Forsaken planning?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EPISODE 60: Kadmiel, the Shade Tower - Part I

Apri 16-Maya 2


Vatex, Early, and Allustan arrive back in Diamond Lake. Allustan no longer has a home, so he decides that he will head for Limberry to see if his former mentor, the archmage Manzorian, can help him find a new place to live where he will be safe from dragon attacks. Allustan says he will continue his work on learning about Kyuss and the Age of Worms, and Early should come visit him in Limberry some day.

Before Vatex and Early head back to Elan, Allustan reveals the location the Tolstoff family’s Blackfall Keep, supposedly Jakter’s last known location. He also tells them that although the Black Triad cult does not seem to be directly following Kyuss, he has learned that for some reason they seek something called the “Apostolic Scrolls” -- ancient documents that speak of the Age of Worms.


Emeris establishes a proof uniting seemingly disparate equations within the Tenebrous Formula. This provides a breakthrough that enables him and Saharasahla to put the last pieces of understanding into place. They are now quite possibly the living people to know the ultimate secrets of the mighty shadowcaster Dagda Hazareth, who penned the Book of Inverted Shadows. Deeper insight into the metaphysical nature of things and the twisted laws of shadow magic are revealed.

Saharasahla says they can now undergo the transformation into shades, where they draw upon the essence of the Plane of Shadow into their own soul’s. Then, the old man says, they can go to Kadmiel.

Saharasahla prepares a few “ingredients” for the transformation -- as always, he does not explain much about what he is doing. When the time comes, Saharasahla gives Emeris three strange shadowy potions to drink, and some course black powder to sprinkle in his eyes. First Saharasahla casts an unknown mystery modified with the power of the Tenebrous formula, which starts to channel the essence of Shadow into them. Emeris drinks the potions and applies the powder, which feels like putting glass particles in his eyes. Saharasahla does the same. Emeris starts to feel weird then starts throwing up blood everywhere then he falls into a coma.

After several days of a dreamless coma, Emeris finds himself in the Dreamscape. He is surrounded by a sea of copycats of himself. Saharasahla appears, looking healthy as a shade. The old man says that Emeris must sacrifice his draconic nature and become a being of shadow. For days, Emeris walks among the crowd of Emeris copies, before finally locating one that looks like Shade-Emeris. Emeris merges with the Shade-Emeris.

When he awakes, he is alone in Saharasahla’s library. The old man is nowhere to be found, and Emeris feels a deep affinity with darkness -- even more profound than before. He has become a shade.


Early and Vatex get back to Elan in about 10 days. Early feels like he hasn't seen the end of the cyber-ninja. He wants to get some light shed on some of the cyber ninja's unique martial maneuvers, which match no known school derived from the Book of Nine Swords. There isn't much organization among the variegated and rare martial initiates in the city, so Early just asks around town, trying to find a martial lore expert. He finds RYU KAWASAKI WANG, who is a confusing amalgamation of every Asian martial arts stereotype. This man was a powerful warblade until he lost his arms in an ugly incident. Kawasaki tells Early to speak with EIJIN, a man who runs a cuttefish diner -- and who just happens to be a retired warblade himself. No one in the city knows more about the Vajra and the techniques of the Bo9S, supposedly. But he procrastinates for now.


Vatex is contacted by Daersidian and Brummelt, the elf battle mage and halfling rogue who he’d met on the road back from Moonsilver Forest.

They want to hire Vatex to find their friend -- if possible, saving him, and if necessary, killing him. They elaborate on their earlier story -- their friend Thurvan Rashong, a structural engineer, was one day approached by a man who seemed to charm him with supernatural powers, and gave him two dark items -- a box of shadowy metal, and a big shadowy sword with a jagged blade. The man then told Thurvan to go to a place called “Kadmiel”.

Thurvan did not obey, but eventually he became corrupted by these dark artifacts he possessed, and he did indeed abandon his family and home and travel to Elan to find this “Kadmiel” place. They say that Thurvan must be found and restored -- but if he is corrupted beyond hope, he must be killed.

Vatex refuses the contract because Daersidian and Brummelt simply don’t have enough money to hire him.


Emeris finds a note left by Saharasahla. It apologizes for betraying Emeris, saying he had to be the first to reach Kadmiel and he could only do that by making sure the “hounds” would not attack him. The old man apologizes, saying that he feels deep regret because he could not have mastered the Tenebrous Formula. Even so, the old man warns Emeris not to follow him. When Emeris leaves, he soon discovers that he has some kind of illusion cast upon him that makes him appear to be Saharasahla.

He gets back to the Rosegate House and convinces everyone what has happened. Then they are attacked by the hounds -- more specifically, the “Hounds of Dharculus”, aberrant predators from the Ethereal Sea. Three of these terrible monsters attack with grim, alien efficiency, but the powerful companions defeat them swiftly. However, they soon discover that more hounds are closing in.... lots more hounds. Hoping that the library still repels the monsters, Emeris shadow steps back to the library and finds himself safe once again. The hounds do not bother the others once Emeris flees.

After another day, the illusion on Emeris fades, allowing him to leave the library and not be attacked by the Hounds of Dharculus. By now, Emeris presumes Saharasahla has reached Kadmiel.

He searches Saharasahla’s library top to bottom. The old man left almost everything. Emeris finds valuable scrolls and potions. One thing that is gone, however, is that strange shadowy key that House Sadar wanted. He also finds a discarded “first draft” of the letter to Emeris, which reveals more information.

It says Saharasahla had been hunted by the hounds of Dharculus for years. His plan was threefold, he says -- become a shade to deal with his dying physical body; enter Kadmiel to live forever in perfect safety and comfort; and get the Box of Shadows. He says that the Book of Inverted Shadows was always the key, and it allows one to modify a shadow jump, shadow step, plane shift, or similar power to allow one to enter Kadmiel, which is otherwise inaccessible.


Emeris reaches out to Lord Sadar to see if he can ally with the powerful wizard to get back at Saharasahla. After all, Renn Sadar hates Saharasahla and vice versa. Lord Sadar reveals that he wants to get the Box of Shadows for himself. However, he doesn’t believe it is inside Kadmiel at all. But, if he had the complete Book of Inverted Shadows, he believes he could make a Box of Shadows for himself.

He says that Kadmiel, the Shade Tower, was the home of a powerful elven sorcerer who created the Shadowstaff and the Box of Shadows. Renn Sadar already possesses the Shadowstaff. As for the Box of Shadows, it is said that its dark power was so great it utterly corrupted the elf that he became a being of pure shadow and utterly disappeared into the darkness. The power of the box also transposed the elf’s tower into the Shadow of Elan -- a gloomy half-world that exists at a specific vertex of the boundary between the Prime and the Plane of Shadow specifically overlapping the great city.

Then 200 years ago, an adventurer named Thaddeus Koll entered the Shadow of Elan and acquired the Box of Shadows somehow. He turned it over to the Malkuth, who in turn entrusted it to a powerful loremaster. Unfortunately, the powerful frost giant Ymrik killed the loremaster and took the Box of Shadows for his own. At that point its location becomes lost.

Sadar tells them they have killed his elite Shadow Blade Squad, except for the ninja Zuuma, who has disappeared. He wants the Rosegate Company to become the new Shadow Blade Squad. This is declined. Eventually the only agreement that is made is Emeris will release the info, word by word, from the 751st page at a ridiculously slow pace. In exchange for a non-aggression pact and cooperative information sharing. Sadar accepts the deal, although his motivations are unclear because the deal seems ridiculously bad.


When Vatex puts together his information about Thurvan together with Emeris’ information, it looks like the Rosegate Company will be heading to Kadmiel to get Saharasahla. And furthermore, the Box of Shadows must have returned to Kadmiel as well, if Thurvan has it. They have to get it before Lord Sadar. But to do so, they may have to face Saharasahla himself. How powerful is the old man anyway???

So the group speaks again with Daersidian and Brummelt, who say they have found a necromancer who lives in the Necropolis who claims he can get them into Kadmiel for 10,000 gold, and they accepted the offer. Vatex, with Emeris, can get them into Kadmiel also, so he negotiates the price down but they say they want to accompany him into Kadmiel. Part of the job is protecting them so they can try to turn Thurvan back “to the good side.”

That night, in an empty lot on Ridge Road in Oldtown, the group -- Emeris the shade, Vatex the urban ranger, Early the warblade, Dziga the shadowdancer, Daersidian the battle mage, and Brummelt the rogue -- stand in the shadow of a tower that does not seem to exist. Emeris uses one of Saharasahla’s plane shifting scrolls and uses his knowledge given by the Book of Inverted Shadows to twist the effect of the magic to bring them to the “real” Kadmiel.

They find themselves in a shadowy landscape dominated by a single feature -- a tower of dark gray stone. The big doors are open, and inside on the first floor they find someone has already killed the guard dogs -- a dozen shadow mastiffs -- many days ago. Shadowy light pervades the place, and even Early’s goggles, Vatex’s flaming sword, and Dziga’s darkvision cannot penetrate it. Only Emeris sees clearly, a byproduct of his shade powers.

Emeris feels like this place is strangely familiar, but he cannot explain why. He certainly has never been here before. Or has he? There are gaps in his memory that he has never been able to explain. But surely he would remember a place like this...

Up on the second level, they find a tenebrous abode much larger than the tower that seems to hold it. The shadowy expanse have unknown size that surely holds many secrets. Could Saharasahla be out there somewhere? Or is he above?

They ignore this for now and ascend to the third level. Emeris gets a strange rush of deja vu when he sees the distinct layout. The chamber is massive, with a roof 100 feet off the ground. A single thin pillar rises from the center of the room, to a point 80 feet up. An 18-inch wide stairway circles the pillar all the way to the top -- where Thurvan Rashong awaits.

“Visitors, how do you like my home?” says Thurvan. In his left hand, he holds a box of shadowy material, and in his right hand, he holds a massive sword with a jagged blade. The man is clearly mad, and when he sees Emeris, a look of panic appears in his face and he clutches his sword and box so tightly his knuckles turn white.

“You...!” he says to Emeris. “He told me you would come... that was so long ago, I was starting to think he was wrong. But then I reminded myself that he had been right about everything else, so I had to trust him.”

“Who? Who told you I would come?” demands Emeris.

“A very helpful man. A GREAT man. The man who gave me the Box of Shadows and the Shadowgeist Reaver.”

Daersidian and Brummelt plead with their friend to give up his dark treasures and return home with them.

“But I _am_ home! Kadmiel is my home now. And I have the only friends I need!” Thurvan holds up the box and the sword. “And I will not let him--” he points the sword at Emeris --”take what is mine!”

Emeris interjects, “Damn you! What was the man’s name? What did he say about me?”

“His name was Garloth Gulthias!” The name is familiar to Emeris but he can’t remember where he’d heard it before. Did Saharasahla mention that name at one point? “He gave me these items and told me to wait at Kadmiel. And he warned me that one day you would come to take my treasures, but if I defeated you, then the box, the sword, and Kadmiel would be mine... forever!!!”

With that, Thurvan opens the Box of Shadows and a swarm of lesser and greater shadows surges from within. The swirl around Thurvan like a shield. “Die!!!!” yells the corrupted engineer, and he commands his undead minions to attack. He then summons more shadow mastiffs who appear and attack as well.

Emeris quickly casts a mystery that encases Thurvan and one of his shadows in a cage of shadowy energy, as the other shadows fly towards the group. A furious battle breaks out with Dziga and Vatex and Early fighting fiercely against the strength-draining touch of the shadow swarm. Brummelt uses his necklace of fireballs, Daersidian fires magic missiles, and Emeris fires enhanced umbral rays. The shadow mastiffs unleash their terrible baying that sends poor Brummelt fleeing back down to the second level in supernatural panic.

The companions work together and hold back the undead and mastiff assault. Early and Vatex suffer some serious strength damage but ultimately the assault is repelled. All the shadows are destroyed and the mastiffs butchered.

Their next challenge, whatever its true nature, is the engineer with powerful magic items trapped (?) inside Emeris’ curtain of shadow at the top of the pillar.

Next time: Will Emeris _really_ discover why Thurvan was expecting him? Will the Rosegate Company face off with the powerful shadowcaster, Saharasahla, and be utterly destroyed?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Episode 59: A Gathering of Winds

Apri 15-16


It's been five days since the Rosegate Company battled House Sadar's Shadow Blade Company in Shara's Park. Although the companions were victorious, Early was quite shaken by being knocked into a coma by the mighty combo attack of Duclis and Lambert. He needs to become stronger! He takes the Taforashian glass armor of Duclis as his own, and likewise the Tri-Elemental Magnum. Vatex keeps the Chaositech Visual Field Enhancer. When he wears it, a tiny needle sticks into his temple and connects to his optic nerve.

It is uncertain how or if the companions can go up against House Sadar directly. Renn Sadar is reputedly one of the city's most powerful wizards. But perhaps the death of Duclis, Virania, Lambert, and Zumbletwick Sadar will think twice before messing with them again.

Emeris has been at Saharasahla's bookshop studying the Book of Inverted Shadows, day and night. Apparently they are on the edge of a breakthrough the with Tenebrous Formula. Dziga, on the other hand, has not been seen in four days. He left without a trace one night while the others were sleeping. So it's just Early the warblade, Vatex the urban ranger, Early's dog, Early's dog's cat, and Seanus the butler. Although Seanus' cooking is as good as ever, he hasn't been keeping the house clean. It looks like a college frat house. Good thing Emeris has been gone.

They have lunch at tavern in Midtown. Early marvels at the high price of beer. The elf and the warblade reviews the contents of Jakter's journal, trying to see if there is more they can learn about Cryssaegrym or the Age of Worms. They decide to travel to the Walstan mining town of Diamond Lake and speak with the sage Allustan, a wizard who'd helped Early's father uncover lore about Kyuss, Cryssaegrym, and the Age of Worms. It was Diamond Lake where Jakter had found Cryssaegrym, in a place called "Tomb of the Wind Duke", and fought against cultists of the Black Triad who'd been creating worm-infested undead.


Early and Vatex arrange teleportation services to Diamond Lake. From what they know, they expect a dingy old mining town that, while still important to the Empire, is past its glory days. But it's much worse than that. Upon their arrival, they see the town in a state of ruin. They learn from the local garrison that an adult black she-dragon called ILTHANE attacked the town two days ago. The dragon razed many buildings, starting with Allustan's house. The dragon said it would keep killing people and destroying the town until it found the wizard, so the retired adventurer AURIC told the dragon that Allustan had been spending time at the Whispering Cairn -- the cave that led to the Wind Duke's tomb. The imperial guards from the garrison ask these obviously powerful warriors to help them in case the dragon comes back. The companions say it frankly isn't a priority, but they contribute some healing supplies to help restore health to those wounded in the attack.

Early and Vatex speak with Auric at a local pub where patrons play a lot of the "Dragonscales" game. They question why he revealed Allustan's location. Auric defends his actions, saying they couldn't defeat the dragon so it was best to spare as many lives as possible by giving up the sage's location. Turns out Auric is a retired adventurer and champion of Elan's own Tournament of Champions.

The pair eat dinner and then head out to the Whispering Cairn, hoping to find Allustan before the black dragon can get him. They walk up the mountain trail and turn east at the abandoned mine office. On the path, they encounter squirrel with who Early speaks using his deeper connection to nature. The squirrel tells them the dragon is still hiding in a copse of trees by the Whispering Cairn.

They approach carefully but nonetheless stir up the dragon which bursts from the trees with a cacophony of snapping branches. "In the name of DRAGOTHA, the wizard is mine!" she screams as she takes flight. Vatex and Early dash for the entrance to the Cairn, as the dragon would have to squeeze to get inside. From the mouth of the cave they can hear a susurrus of ghostly wind coming from within. "I will be waiting for when you emerge! There is no escape," warns the dragon.


Early and Vatex proceed deeper into the cave, entering the complex within. They are attacked by four belkers, smoke-like air elementals, but the expert adventurers dispatch these foes with ease. Deeper within the complex, Vatex uses a comprehend languages spell from his god the Grim One to understand the meaning of the ancient Auran language carved into the walls. The story says how this complex hides the Tomb of Wind Dukes. The Wind Dukes were powerful beings of elemental air, representing Law, who fought an intense war with Chaos Queen and her armies of demons and slaadi in an age long before even the most ancient recorded history. The leader of the Wind Dukes was the "Supreme General" Icosiol, who led the "Incomparable Army" of air elementals, djinni, wind warriors, and other air-based beings, and won the decisive victory on the "Fields of Pesh". There seems to be no reference to anything like Kyuss -- in fact, this whole thing seems to predate Kyuss by several thousands of years.

With no sign of Allustan, Vatex deactivates a few traps by using Icosiol's name and the companions proceed deeper. They come across a group of 13 orcs who have been hacked apart by an ultra-sharp, precise weapon. One of the orcs seems to have survived, barely, and in his dying words speaks of a "ghost" that killed him (they were a bunch of losers who were going to go loot an old observatory when they saw Ilthane and fled for the Cairn to hide).

Proceeding further down into the dungeon, they find this "ghost" -- an orc is suspended in the air, apparently pierced through the chest by an unseen implement. With a violent motion the orc is flung to the ground. WIth this, the "ghost" de-cloaks -- revealing a female cyber-ninja equipped in a chaositech biocrystal suit and a high frequency mercurial sword.

When she sees Early she seems to have found what she's been looking for. "Now I understand. It seems we have miscalculated. Jakter already retrieved the sword and passed it along to you," she says, "No matter. This is the moment I have been waiting for."

"Who are you?" asks Early.

"I am neither enemy nor friend. I come from a place where such distinctions are meaningless. I will claim Cryssaegrym as my own."

"Like hell! Why do you want it?" demands the warblade.

"To save the world," she says. "I have been engineered for this specific purpose. Now I will kill you, or you will kill me. If you win, we are damned. If I win, then there is still a chance."

"I'm not afraid -- I've already died once!" Early says, somewhat confused by the whole thing. This statement seems to resonate with the cyber-ninja, who replies with an unexpected empathy, "Then you are like me. I have two names and I have come from another world to do battle here. Will the elf fight with you? It makes no difference to me. I will remove all obstacles."

Early says he will fight her by himself, but if he is hard-pressed then Vatex will have to join in.

Suddenly Early feels a tremendous force in the Vajra coming from the ninja, greater even than what he'd felt from Phaeton! Early makes the first move, rushing forward with Cryssaegrym. "RABID BEAR STRIKE!!!" He aims for the weakest visible point in the ninja's biocrystal chestplate. The sword pierces cleanly through the ninja's heart -- victory!

But to Early's great surprise, the ninja twists off his blade and steps back. She explains that he pierced her human heart, but her creators had installed a Secondary Heart Organ to serve as a backup. She seems largely unharmed by the attack, and he lashes out with a quick unexpected blow that cuts her shoulder.

Vajra courses through the cyber-ninja and she attacks with a form of martial maneuver and stance he has never seen before. "BRUTAL BURST SLASH!!!" Early barely, BARELY pulls off his Wall of Blades maneuver to counter the attack, which would have nearly crippled him. A literal shower of sparks erupts from the high-frequency vibro-mercurial sword as it hits Cryssaegrym and sends Early staggering back from the force of the blow.

Early continues his intense assault. Her speed is great, but Early too is fast, especially with his new armor allowing better agility. "Elder...Mountain... HAMMER!!!" The power of earth channels through Cryssaegrym and slashes through her armor with a spray of warm blood.

"You are stronger than I expected. I am surprised you can cut through my biocrystal suit," the cyber-ninja says. "No matter. It is time to show you my Zhu Khen Technique." With that, she quickly slashes her sword through the air in a triangular pattern, and Early feels the Vajra compress around him as the cyber-ninja's mind shadows extend dramatically. "ZHU KHEN TECHNIQUE...SPACETIME CUT!!!"

To Vatex, observing this mortal combat with anxiety, he sees Early suddenly freeze. From Early's perspective, the warblade can see nothing but the void of his own mind shadows. "What?" He feels himself...separating from head to crotch, as if cut by some fissure in spacetime itself. He realizes that his embodiment in the Vajra has been completely cut in half! "What's...happening to me??"

Then Early snaps back to reality intact, and not exactly understanding the nature of this attack, he instinctively tries to dodge at the last moment, but too late. Spacetime cuts through him and he suffers a devastating wound. Blood explodes from the warblade in a line cutting from his face down the line of his torso.

Early backpedals to regain his senses and wipe blood from his eyes. Although he has never seen or even HEARD of a martial maneuver like this, he is beginning to understand the situation. The cyber ninja's power that controls the Zhu Khen enables a function that establishes a coordinated space. The technique delimits the area where she cuts the continuance of space using the Vajra. If three points connect from three separate cuts, a gateway is opened. When an object comes into contact with the triangle created by the cuts, the opposite side of the triangle becomes separated. Then when the maneuver is completed and the gate is closed, it causes the effect of an invisible blade that cuts anything!

But even if the Zhu Khen is activated and his body appears to be cut, the target does not at first receive any damage. There is a short dead lapse of time as the technique channels the Vajra wind, before the gate is closed and before the cut is carried out. If the object introduced to the gate manages to free itself from one of the two sides -- then the cut will not have any effect.

The problem then becomes that Early cannot know with any precision how long is required before the effect is complete, and how to deduce the formation of the triangle quickly enough to evade the attack.

The only solace Early finds is that the cyber ninja should only be able to carry out a given maneuver once per combat unless the attack is recharged. Another such attack would definitely kill Early unless he can flawlessly avoid it.

"How do you like my Zhu Khen, warblade?" the ninja says confidently. "Get up... let me end you pain!"

Reinvogorated by the chance of stopping her from using the attack again, Early rushes the cyber-ninja and leaps into the air to complete a Death from Above strike. He will simply kill her before she can recharge the attack! As he flies towards her, she goes into a low stance than slashes three more cuts into the air. "Zhu Khen Technique... SPACETIME DECEIVER!!!"

Suddenly Early is not flying towards the cyber-ninja... he is shunted completely through the Vajra and is is flying towards the wall thirty feet behind her! He smashes into the wall, burning his maneuver uselessly. It seems the Zhu Khen is not restricted to attacks only -- unfortunately the cyber-ninja seems capable of creating it wherever she wants and set the opposite point at any other coordinates. This can be used to shift attackers, and he speculates she could use it to teleport herself as well.

Vatex sees the situation escalating and activates his skirmish vest, rushing the cyber ninja as she prepares to attack Early again. Her armor is formidable but with two well-placed strikes he cuts her seriously enough.

"Good!" she cries. "Hurt me... I feel so alive!" She then seems to spazz out, and she activates her Gravity Orb and flies away.

Early's magnum rounds deflect off her armor then he loses sight of her as she activates her cloaking field. They see Allustan the wizard hiding in the chamber behind the battle, but they ignore him for now and give chase. Alas, the ninja's flight speed is too quick to keep pace. She seems to fly out of the Whispering Cairn, gaining the notice of Ilthane who still waits outside. "Is that you, wizard?" They hear an intake of breath then a hissing stream of acid burst from the dragon's gullet. A female cry of pain suggests the fleeing ninja is hit by the line of acid but she escapes into the night beyond the dragon's blindsenses.

Ilthane realizes it was not the wizard who flew invisibly from the cave, and pokes her head into the cavern to see Early and Vatex. It tells them that if they get the wizard for her, she will let them leave the cavern with their lives. "BAD DEAL!" says Vatex. "Stupid humanoids, so capricious..." She gets angry and fills the cavern with acid as Vatex and Early run back down to Allustan.


The wizard says he has been working in the dungeon of the Whispering Cairn, and when he tried to leave two nights ago, Ilthane was there waiting for him. So he's been hiding in the dungeon since then, hoping for a miracle. Allustan says Ilthane is a nasty black who normally lairs in Dezolis, north of the city of Alhaster. The reason he knows of her is because she is a servant of the dracolich Dragotha -- an immensely powerful undead dragon that served Kyuss in ages bygone.

"Wait a second..." says Vatex. "If Dragotha is still around, that makes it a dracolich that's more than 20,000 years old, so basically a god itself... and that thing is one of Kyuss' _servants_?? So how powerful is Kyuss himself?"

Early swallows hard. "What have I gotten myself into?"

Allustan explains that the "keep on the borderlands" to which Jakter went and never returned was Blackfall Keep, owned by the Tolstoff Family that is somehow connected to the Black Triad's cultist activities in Diamond Lake. Allustan says he never got a chance to tell Jakter that the Black Triad -- a cult dedicated to merging three dead evil gods' essences into a single evil overgod -- did not seem directly connected with Kyuss or the Age of Worms at all. He also said that Allustan's mentor MANZORIAN, an archmage in Limberry, was trying to uncover secret lore about the Age of Worms as well. He recommends that Early someday visit Manzorian.

More urgent situation for the moment is getting out of the dungeon. Do they try to fight the dragon, or sneak past her? Or do they try to go deeper into the complex, and hope they get lucky and find another way to escape? Allustan has never gone much deeper than this into the complex, so it is a gamble.

They decide against certain death at the hands of the dragon, and choose uncertain death deeper within the dungeon. They bypass traps and guardians of the Wind Dukes' tombs, and descend a massive hole in the earth where the "Blood River" (named so because of the volume of sediment in the water that makes it look very red) falls into the depths of the earth.


The treacherous descent down the hole in the earth, full of jagged rocks and violent waterfalls, is dangerous and arduous. Eventually the group sees a ledge on the opposite side with a set of stairs heading up to huge adamantine plated 50-foot high doors with various Auran and Vaatan symbols upon it.

Allustan dispels the powerful magic sealing the door. Beyond is a strange chamber with various stone columns suspended in a room that swirls with blue misty and crackles with electricity. Across is another set of huge doors. Allustan tries to fly across with magic but is blasted by lightning. It seems the only way to cross is to jump from column to column. This is some sort of puzzle room, as some columns are covered in greasy tar-like substances, other shrouded in arcane illusion, and others that are collapsible. Although it is tricky, they get to the other side. Early nearly slips from the tar-covered column and is hit by lightning. When they examine the huge doors, they realize they are fakes and touching them conjures up a pair of wind warriors who attack the party. Allustan fires an empowered scorching ray at one, and Early hits it with three rounds from his magnum. Elemental energy freezes, burns, and zaps the wind warrior who flies in and strikes with its two swords. Early accepts a hit and strikes back with a Rabid Bear Strike and kills it. The elemental warrior explodes into a gust of wind and its armor and weapons are reduced to dust. Vatex's blades flash in a flurry and he cuts down the second one with brutal speed.

They reexamine the columns and find a small circular indentation in one of them. Vatex examines it with his choasitech visual decoder, and finds conceals a panel that can be rotated, which causes the column to rise up towards the ceiling... pushing Vatex through the illusionary stone into the Tomb of a Wind Duke called Sciansciol.

Vatex finds that the tomb is protected by a demon bound by the Wind Dukes, an occulus demon. Its flesh is covered in hundreds of eyes that open and close randomly. The demon wields an unholy longsword and wears a broken crown. The demon says it was one of the Chaos Queen's most powerful servants, and it has been enslaved here alone for what seems like a million years. It is excited for mortal flesh to cut and bones to break.

All of the demon's eyes flash open suddenly and mirror images spread around the demon for defense. Then three beams of energy fire from different eyes, smashing Vatex with negative energy and sapping his power. Vatex rushes forward, entering the sword dance technique he'd learned from Heth's book about Xerani dervishes. Vatex spins around the demon, hacking viciously against strong demonic resistances and armor-like flesh when he doesn't simply hit a mirror image. While Early rises up on the column during its second ascent, Allustan flies into the tomb and blasts another scorching ray to dissipate two more of the images.

Early comes up the column/elevator firing a volley from his magnum, wiping out that last of the images. The demon roars and slashes at the sword dancing Vatex. It fires another blast of eye rays, one at each opponent. Early’s katana snaps from its sheath and cuts away the ray, but Allustan at his side takes a hit and has his energy diminished. Vatex continues dancing around the demon, swords striking again and again and again. The stings of the Rudeus of Vazdah and Diem Wing is dulled by the demon’s resistances, and the eye beam has made him weaker, but that just makes Vatex push himself harder. He keep dancing, cutting harder and harder, taking note of any and all weak spots.

Early rushes the demon with Cryssaegrym held high, adopting the Punishing Stance style. Allustan has virtually no spells that can harm the demon (immune to his fireballs, too strong to be slowed by a web spell, and too potent to be sedated by a deep slumber enchantment), so he resorts to his wand of force darts, hoping to get lucky and crack its spell resistance. The gleaming darts of force zip past Early as he swings his weapon with great strength, using the Elder Mountain Hammer to break its resistance to blessed cold-iron weapons, then makes a sneaky second attack when the demon expects him to be recovering. Allustan gets lucky and breaks through with his magic missiles. The demon howls, hacking away at Vatex with its unholy sword but the elf is in perfect form, parrying or spinning around each blow.

The demon fires more eye rays. A portion of Early’s power is drained away by the hit. Allustan takes a second hit from the beam and seems overcome with supernatural panic. The wizard cowers and flees for the exit. Vatex grunts as the beam hits, burning with necrotic pain, but he resists and dances faster. They won’t be able to take many more of those negative energy eye lasers. The demon has to go down, and fast, or they will lose simply from attrition. Then the demon complicates things further by again generating mirror images. Suddenly there are 10 images of the demon.

Vatex curses. He will be able to maintain his dance for only a few more moments, and they are running out of time. Scimitar and longsword slash faster than can be seen, cutting down a half dozen images. Early scatters magnum fire at point blank range, shooting down more images, then slashing with his katana which erupts on contact with wolf howl from the blade, a burst of sonic energy that is one of the few things to which the demon is not resistant, and scores a lucky hit through tangle of illusory figures. As Early melees the demon head-on, Vatex spins around the monster. More and more wounds are opened as the clock ticks.

Finally the last image goes down and Vatex focuses on the demon. The sword dance spins around Early exchanging blows with the demon in a gruesome ritual of violence. Blood sprays everywhere. Vatex takes a hit from the unholy sword across the back but cuts out the monster’s hamstring. As it falls to one knee, Early dives forward. Now! “RABID BEAR STRIKE!!!” A fury of slashing brutality erupts from the warblade and the demon goes down. Dead at last, it swiftly dissolves.

The party helps Allustan shake off the panic caused by the second eye ray hit and explores the room. There is no way forwad. That means the only way else to go is back to the dragon, if they can even get back up the waterfall without climbing gear, or farther down the waterfall, into who-knows-what. Hmm, well first they need to check out the Wind Duke’s sarcophagus. Surely there must be something good inside? They feel a profound wave of anger and jealousy pass over them as they open the mithril sarcophogus. Inside there are magnificent mithril swords and an exquisite ring, as well as a big pile of dust.

The feeling of jealousy manifests as the spirit of the dead Wind Duke Sciansciol. It looks just like an incorporeal mini-tornado vaguely in a humanoid shape. It looks upon them, then finally they feel a wave of reasoned acceptance. Then it says, “These are the Lawful implements of I, the Wind Duke Sciansciol -- the Storm Sword, and the Sword of Aqaa, and the Ring of the Wind Dukes. I love my treasures dearly, but our war is over. Now I can sense the impending doom that is to come -- an eternal age of death and horror. If the weapons of the Vaati can be used against the encroaching darkness, then let it be so.”

Vatex whispers to Early, “Hey, how much do you think we can sell that stuff for?”

Early says, “Shut up!”

The Wind Duke says, “Perhaps you are fools, but you cannot stay here. You must fight for Law! Begone!” The mighty spirit casts teleportation magic.

Suddenly the companions find themselves somewhere in the mountains in the middle of the night. They chill out until morning when the sunlight lets Allustan figure they are about three hours from Diamond Lake. And no sign of any black dragons. Not bad!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

EPISODE 58: Revolution Dawning


Dziga falls into a state of metaphysical depression at the loss of his shadow. He cannot sense his incorporeal companion at all on this plane of existence, yet his lifeforce has not been diminished to signify the shadow’s death. Dziga rarely leaves his room at the Rosegate House. He complains of rats in the walls, but no one else notices anything. He says there is a fresh rat hole in his room, and unusual looking paw prints, almost like little hands, in the dust on the floor.

Emeris spends most of his free time working with Saharasahla on mastering the secrets of the Tenebrous Formula.

After completing his job for Shilukar, Vatex awaits word on Early. He continues to investigate the identities of the burglars who’d robbed the Rosegate House, but finds no leads.

One day, the group receives a message at the Rosegate House from Shilukar. He reports that he has found Early! Excitedly, the group travels to Castle Shard and visits Shilukar’s laboratory. He explains how he used a chaositech device to find Early’s location. He is in an extradimensional place known as the “Beast Run”. That is the good news -- the bad news is that, although the device is capable of bringing Early back, it only works on a willing subject. Shilukar reports that he attempted to shift Early back to Elan, but it failed because the target was unwilling. So they will simply have to wait for Early to come back on his own someday, somehow.

Still, there is some comfort in knowing that, at least, their friend is alive and was not killed in the Staff of Shards explosion beneath the city.


Still haunted by visions of the beautiful silver-haired elf that intermittently appear in reflective surfaces, Vatex correlates this with what the diviner from the Tempe of Calethon had said -- according to Vatex’s birthsign, the diviner had believed Vatex had a twin sister. Vatex had never known of any sister in his youth -- but could it be true?

Vatex buys a horse and travels beyond the Holy Empire’s borders to Moonsilver Forest, the land of his birth. It is a long journey, and he finds that none of his relatives still live there in the end. Before he is too disappointed, he does find an elven druid elder, called the “Speaker of the Trees,” who supposedly knows all about the elven community of the forest. And remarkably, the Speaker reveals that Vatex did have a twin sister -- uniquely born with silver hair that gleamed like burnished metal.

Vatex’s parents had never told him anything of this sister. What happened to her? The Speaker informs him that before Vatex’s first birthday, unidentified dark forces appeared and attacked the caravan of which Vatex’s family was a part. The silver-haired infant was taken by these dark agents and no trace of her was ever found again. Wherever she was taken, it was powerfully shielded from divination magic -- even the insight of the gods could not reveal her location, or even if she was still alive.

His heart heavy, Vatex returns to Elan. On the last day of travel, as the city comes into view, Vatex encounters an interesting pair of travellers on the road. DAERSIDIAN RINGSIRE, a human warrior from Alaria, and BRUMMELT AIRMOL, a halfling rogue from. Together, they ride the powerful wyvern called THORNTAIL.

These two explain that they are heading to Elan to find and help their friend, a structural engineer by the name of THURVAN RASHONG. They are reluctant to reveal too much information, but they say Thurvan “changed” somehow and travelled to Elan to find something called “Kadmiel”. Vatex knows only a little of the local legends surrounding Kadmiel. People aware of local legendry say that Kadmiel, aka “the Shade Tower,” is a magic tower that does not really exist. Only its slender shadow appears in a long-empty lot on Ridge Road in Oldtown.

Once they get into town, Vatex recommends a decent inn for them to stay at, and wishes them luck on their quest to find their friend. He wonders though... if this Thurvan fellow was trying to “go to Kadmiel,” is Kadmiel more than just a strange supernatural effect on moonlit nights in Oldtown? It is a place a person can actually “go”?


Early spends his days, of which he has completely lost track, in the strange realm of the Beast Run. He lives off the land, wearing only a loincloth and wielding Cryssaegrym. He has grown a big beard like Osama. When he is not running with the Silver Wolf through the jungles, he is sitting around eating raw meat with a massive, 30-foot tall bear with four-arms called “Old Bear”.

The Silver Wolf, who is apparently some sort of animal god, lacks any overt means of communication. Old Bear is different -- he is quite talkative, well-spoken, and seems to be philosophically minded. Old Bear seems to be the speaker for the Silver Wolf’s strange philosophy of nature.

“Man is part of nature. His civilization is inherently part of nature. How is a city different from a beaver dam? No difference in principle, only in kind. But man can make choices like most animals cannot. If man rejects his nature, civilization then contains the seed of its own destruction. What is unnatural cannot persist -- it will eventually succumb to natural forces. The danger is that civilization severs man from his instincts. Not having this elemental aspect, one cannot hope to survive.

“The nature surrenders its treasures and feeds man. Man dies and feeds the earth. The earth in turn feeds more creatures still. Thus there is a perfect balance. All the natural beings of our world are part of this eternal cycle, this perfect balance. To exist within the cycle of nature, to follow one’s true purpose in a system of balance.

“Civilized men speak of ‘rights’, but there is only nature. The wolf does not respect the sheep’s rights. But nor does man respect another man’s rights. Whether they work together or kill each other is both compatible with man’s nature. The is only life and death, and survival along that continuum. On a long enough time scale, everything’s survival rate falls to zero. That is good and proper. Nothing should live forever. The only constant should be the _system_ which lets nature’s children live and die.

“Kyuss is corruption and eternal death. What he will bring is not natural. He would destroy the natural cycle. The Age of Worms is the end of nature. The end of everything living and natural.”

Early considers the words of Old Bear, but he does not exactly understand the Silver Wolf’s special enmity towards Kyuss. He considers Uncle Vegard’s words in the letter he’d written to Early. “But what makes Kyuss so special? Why is the ‘Worm that Walks’ so much worse than any other dread elder evil that exists in our world?”

Old Bear seems confused. “Gee... I don’t know. I suppose you’d have to ask the Silver Wolf that yourself.”

The only problem is that when Early runs with the Silver Wolf, there are no questions or answers. There is no dialogue. Only emotions and visions are imparted to him, but nothing in a clear language. Early sees a forgotten ziggurat with a jarring, abstract sculpture mounted upon it -- an ancient shrine in a similar setting -- an frighteningly armored warrior mounted on a metallic flying monster, leading an army of undead and aberrant horrors -- a lurching, cloaked figure with a nondescript white mask walking across a grassy plain -- and a solitary island surrounded by blue ocean, whose dominant feature is a dark fissure which goes deep into the earth, and from this fissure profound evil emanates.


The Holy Empire’s wars had brought great strain to food supplies, and imperial wizards fabricated additional gold to pay for the war effort led to substantial inflation. Tremendous shortages developed, and the poor and middle-classes of Elan found it harder and harder to put food on the table. Impromptu protests erupted throughout the city, but they tended to be nonviolent. Many clamored for price controls to keep the prices low, but the Commissar understood how this would compound problems of shortages and continued to let the market set prices.

Concurrent with the deteriorating economic conditions through the winter, Republican terrorists waged a violent campaign against the government of Elan. Before the new year, they conducted three attempted assassinations on city council members -- in one case, that of well-known fighter and blacksmith, Boren Darshal, a noted Guilder of the iron industry, they successfully killed their target.

In addition to these targeted assassination attempts, another Republican terrorist tactic consisted of detonating big wagons full of gunpowder next to City Guard watchtowers throughout the city. Many city guards and innocent bystanders were killed in these explosions. The City Council passed a law that allowed guards to randomly search any and all people and wagons in the city. This was a considerable affront to the civil liberties of the Elanians. As Imperial citizens, it would generally considered an unacceptable violation of liberty to randomly detain and search citizens (although that was considered legit when it came to non-citizens). Now _everyone_ could be searched. Various security checkpoints were set up at all major thoroughfares. Furthermore, the City Guard conducted many nighttime raids on suspected Republican homes or hideouts -- sometimes suspecting correctly and finding terrorists, and other times getting things completely wrong and creating an extreme state of fear and distress in innocent families or business owners.

At least thirty known Republican agents were arrested, tried, and executed for treason since the first attack in Decembar. A few others were simply shipped down to the Undercity Prison on executive order from the Commissar without trial and without a hearing before a judge.

Now while some people accepted this for the sake of security, many Elanians had a more steadfast connection to the Holy Empire’s general respect for the rule of law. The attack on civil liberties by a government that was draining the people with high taxes to pay for wars was too much for some people. Elan already had the highest taxes in the entire Empire.


Through the cold winter, Emeris and Saharasahla attempt to master the Book of Inverted Shadows. From the original copy recovered in the Banewarrens, they find that even the most faithful translations featured many mistakes from its conversion.

Emeris also becomes more acquainted with Saharasahla, and learns that he is far sicker than he ever let on. The old man can barely lift the heavy tome without his arms trembling violently. He hacks and coughs all day and night.

Saharasahla continuously alludes to the fact that if can, as he suspects, use the complete Book to gain access to a place called Kadmiel, he will finally be able to have “freedom,” at least in a sense, for then he will be able to leave his library at last. But furthermore, he would be able to perform a dark ritual that would use the essence of the Plane of Shadow to merge his body and soul into a single unit -- he would become a shade.

Emeris wonders if he should complete the transformation as well. Obviously Saharasahla’s condition meant that not transforming would be a death sentence. But what of himself? It would grant him agelessness, immunity to disease, and the ability to regenerate wounds, among other fantastic shadowy powers. But a shade is not a dragon, and Emeris’ nature was fundamentally closest to that of his shadow dragon father. The transformatoin would cause him would lose his draconic nature, and become an outsider -- literally, that’s the creature type he would be.

But even more than that, the thing that dominates Emeris’ thoughts while they work on the equation all this time is the strange, ineffably familiarity of it all. Bafflingly, Emeris had the strangest feeling of deja vu about the text on the he’d read on the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows. But... how could that be???


The Silver Wolf crashes through a canopy of trees with a mighty leap, and lands before Early and Old Bear as they eat. Old Bear says, “Looks like its time for your last run. When you get powerful enough, you’ll have to go to the Shrine of the Silver Wolf. Maybe you can find your answers there?”

The giant bear gives Early a hug, and the warblade runs off with the dinosaur-sized wolf. After running continuously for a few more days, or weeks, or months (Early’s can’t tell)... the wolf brings him to a portal in the middle of the plain. Through the portal, Early can see the grasslands around the City of Elan. They run towards it, and at the last moment the wolf veers away and Early continues alone.

He finds himself decked out in all his gear, Cryssaegrym in hand, and still with his huge beard just a few miles away from Elan. He’ll have to shave when he gets home.

Immediately he can sense greater power within Cryssaegrym. Then at that moment Early realizes that it is not just Cryssaegrym that is growing in strength on its own -- instead, its power feeds off Early. No one wonder Cryssaegrym needed the wielder to be so strong.

Early now feels that the sword is the "bane of the favored of Kyuss," meaning it is extra powerful against aberrations and undead. But Early can also feel that his olfactory sense has gone crazy -- he has scent like a wolf constantly active, and when he enter his Hunter's Scent martial stance, his senses become heightened even further by the Vajra augmentation. Additionally, the warblade feels a deeper connection to the natural world -- so much so, that he can commune with nature.

Early reenters Elan. It’s damn cold and he is still dressed like its summertime, so he heads home. Along the way Republicans blow up several cases of gunpowder at one of the North Market’s watchtowers. Many people are injured or killed. At this point Early speaks with a few bystanders and learns that it is Marca 17, 755 YE. Early has been gone nearly six months it seems, and the city has gone to hell with high food prices and terrorist attacks and that sort of thing.


Early returns home and finds Vatex and Emeris. He hears about what they’ve been up to the last few months. They report that Dziga seems unwell. Since New Year’s, the rogue has been spending near all his time out in the cold at Keziah’s wall in Tent City. There he sits, staring at the crude drawings, the complex mathematical formulae, that astronomical diagrams, and strange curvilinear symbols. Somehow he thinks it will help him get his shadow companion back. But Keziah never shows up, nor does she seem to add anything while he is away.

During this time, Dziga returns home only to sleep and eat. When he sleeps, he finds that his crazy dreams have returned, more horrible than ever. On many nights he has vague, incomprehensible dreams of floating through an abysss of utter madness. As far as he can tell, it consists of insane non-euclidean architecture of twisted, semi-organic looking substance. This place seems inhabited by strange things to which he can ascribe no motivation or comprehension because of their utterly alien nature. Some seem to be like masses of bubbles, others clusters of tiny cubes, others like misshapen octopuses covered in prismatic barbs, and all manner of other crazy things. He floats among them, and whenever one of them seems to notice him (in its strange way, as it is utterly incomprehensible in a behavioristic sense), Dziga feels an intense grip of terror and awakens covered in sweat.

Beyond horrible were these dreams, but it is arguable that the _other_ dreams were even worse. In these dreams, far more vivid and clear than the others, Brown Jenkins -- Keziah’s human-faced rat familiar with little feet like that of a tiny man -- would emerge from the rat hole in the corner of his room. Sometimes he would only poke out his head. Other times he would crawl into bed with Dziga and nuzzle him. This would always cause Dziga to awaken in utter disgust and horror.

In other dreams, the most vivid of all, he could hear someone with very heavy shoes walking down the hallway outside his room. He could remember the distinct sound of those heavy shoes, for he’d heard them when the Black Man had shifted his feet in their first meeting. Thank goodness the Black Man never entered his room in these nightmares, for even in dreams Dziga feared the Black Man in a profound way.

Then, one night, while dreaming of the sea of madness, Dziga is approached by three figures. Two indistinct, ghostly figures -- one large, one small -- followed by one of those weird cube-clusters. Dziga knows immediately that the spectral things are Keziah and Brown Jenkins. When they are close enough to touch, Dziga feels a strange pulling sensation and finds himself in a familiar environment -- Elan. It is like his earlier dreams, with Keziah riding on his back. She whispers madness in his ear as he follows Brown Jenkins down various streets with no discerable direction.

But then, Brown Jenkins gestures towards a particularly dark alley. Indeed, an alley so dark even Dziga’s supernatural vision does not reveal much. At the edge of the alley, he finds his shadow companion, cowering as if it had been subject to some great trauma. Dziga hears sound of heavy shoes deeper in the impenetrable darkness of the alleyway, and then awakens.

The shadow companion is there in Dziga’s room. It seems emotionally battered, in a way that Dziga would not have thought possible for a creature of its nature. It doesn’t even seem to know what happened to itself. But the rogue-shadowdancer is glad to have his companion back.


The dawning of spring comes late. By the time Apri rolls around, there is still snow on the ground in the city.

Sitting in the bar one day drinking a mug of ale, Early is confronted by DUCLIS the catman duskblade-swordsage-fighter from Taforashia. It appears this is the catman who was part of the crew of burglars who’d robbed the Rosegate House.

Duclis explains that he and his crew were simply trying to find that shadow key Emeris had found in the basement of Richard Derby’s house. Early says it was given to Saharasahla for safekeeping. Duclis asks if there is any way Early might be interested in getting it for Duclis’ employer. Early rejects the offer -- before Duclis leaves, they are a hair away from drawing their weapons and fighting each other. The catman hisses and Early growls. As Duclis leaves, he tells Early to consider the request, and meet in Shara’s Park in Nobles District at midnight tonight with the key.

Early reports this encounter to his comrades. Emeris wonders what was the purpose of that strange key made of a shadowy metal substance. Saharasahla had never explained to him what it was. Hmm... In any case, the group decides to kill Duclis. They will go for the midnight meeting in the park, but they will simply kill Duclis and anyone else who shows up with him.

Vatex takes a sniper position on the art gallery rooftop overlooking the park. Emeris takes wing and circles the sky overhead. Early stands by the park’s fountain, while Dziga hides nigh invisibly in the nearby shadows.

Duclis shows up, with his entire crew. VIRANIA, human shadow warrior and lesbian lover of Nika Drendol, the human shadow blade they’d killed in the Banewarrens; XUMBLETWICK, the chaos gnome warlock; LAMBERT, a human knight; and ZUUMA, human ninja supreme.

What follows is a battle against difficult opponents, that is well controlled by the Rosegate Company. Dziga tries to bring down Zuuma immediately with a sneaky surprise attack, but the ninja is impossibly quick to react and throws down another cloud of mist to obscure his movement as he flies upwards.

Zuuma unleashes volleys of flaming shuriken at Vatex who fires back with his gun. Xumbletwick conjures up cold tentacles from the ground that grapple Dziga, but the rogue triggers his blinking armor and phases through them, firing arrows from Roguefriend at Duclis. Xumbletwick flies to intercept Vatex and blasts raw arcane energy at the elf.

Virania and Lambert stay close together. Emeris hits them with a blast of killing shadows, its deadly power maximized by the shadowcaster’s new ring of metashadow. Lambert is nearly killed, but Virania avoids the brunt of it. Virania, who seems to fight with no weapons, suddenly grows several shadowy appendages -- whipping tentacles and razor-sharp claws of hardened shadowstuff, which course with negative energy. Early tries to hit her with his gun but she dodges like Keannu Reeves in the Matrix.

Duclis fires a few shots from his tri-elemental dwarven magnum, hitting Emeris with bullets that crackle with flame, frost, and electrical energy. Then, with a couple of Dziga’s arrows protruding from his chest, he sees the rogue escape the tentacles and uses a Shadow Hand maneuver to teleport behind Early, putting him between the shadow warrior and the knight on one side, and the catman on the other.

Dziga helps Vatex fight against the flying gnome and the ninja. Dziga shifts in and out of shadows -- enemies cannot be sure where he will appear. And when he does appear, he blinks in and out of the ethereal plane. Several shots from Dziga’s arrows hit the gnome who goes down while blasting Vatex with arcane energy.

Zuuma flies over Vatex, spinning his kusari-gama and trying to trip the elf prone. Vatex catches the kusari gama as it twists around his left arm, and he twists with great strength and nearly pulls Zuuma to the ground. The ninja lands near the art gallery wall and the elf is upon him, blades flashing furiously -- the magic of his skirmish vest triggering a flurry of attacks.

Early finds himself surrounded. Lambert designates the warblade with his “Mark of Shadow” power. A dark twisted symbol appears on Early’s chest -- at this moment, black energy begins to infuse Lambert’s longsword. If Early does not hit Lambert with an attack, all that black energy can be released on Early in a devastating blow. Early understands the tactic -- Lambert is a protector, and his mysterious technique is meant to draw attacks to him. Duclis unleashes two bolts of powerful magic that leave nasty scorch marks on Early’s plate mail, burning flesh beneath. At this moment, Virania rushes forward, putting herself between the wounded knight the warblade.

Negative energy infused shadow claws slash at Early but he dodges easily, and rushes the female shadow warrior with a brutal howl. The warblade strikes with Cryssaegrym channeling the power of a Rabid Bear Strike, which hacks into Virania’s chest. Early follows up with an unexpected blow that cuts right through Virania. Her torso falls left and her legs fall to the right, her guts spilling across the ground.

Duclis sees his chance. He calls upon the power of the Vajra with a Diamond Mind technique. His keen catman eyes pick out the slightest imperfection in the warblade’s defenses. His weapon becomes a tool of his mind. At the same time, he channels raw arcane energy that would otherwise power his duskblade magic into his sword -- and begins speaking the words of a spell. He charges Early, and swings his elven thinblade at the warblade as Virania goes down. White arcane power swirls around the duskblade and is released at the moment the sword connects. Early is cut by the keen elven steel and engulfed in a torrent of arcane energy that burns him like magic fire.

At that moment, Duclis completes his spell, causing Early to dimensionally translocate -- right before Lambert, who is ready for Early. Still the Mark of Shadow is on Early’s chest, and suddenly the warblade regrets targeting Virania. The horribly wounded Lambert strikes with two mighty blows that flare with dark shadow power, drop the warblade in a shower of blood.

Zuuma fights aggressively with Vatex. The ninja marvels at the elf’s skill. But when he realizes Virania and Xumbletwick have been killed, and Lambert nearly dead, he figures it’s best to leave the battle and not risk absolute defeat. Zuuma turns invisible and flies away, promising he will meet the Rosegate Company again. Vatex curses all corwardly enemies who will not fight to the death.

Back to back, Lambert tells Duclis to flee. But instead the catman resolves to fight to the end. Emeris attacks Duclis through the catman’s own shadow, assaulting his mind with dark magic. Lambert struggles to fish a healing potion out of his pack, when Dziga suddenly appears only 30 feet away and looses another arrow at the catman. Lambert leaps in front of the shot with surprising reflexes and dies from the arrow meant for the catman.

Duclis realizes he is doomed. He hisses as Vatex closes in on him, swords flashing. Duclis parries a few attacks with his darting thinblade, but the assault is too much. The elf’s swords plunge into Duclis’ body and he dies.

As Early lays on the ground dying, he laments that perhaps he was not strong enough to be the Silver Wolf’s champion against Kyuss. Damn, how could he be killed now? In his final moments, he has a vision of the shrine in the jungle, and he feels Cryssaegrym communicate to him that the ultimate power of the sword can only be unlocked at that location. With superhuman determination, Early seems to stabilize his dying condition with will alone. While hovering at death’s door, his friends pour a healing potion in his mouth to bring him back to consciousness.

As the group walks back home, they hope Lord Sadar gets the message -- you fuck with the Rosegate Company, you get fucked.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

INTERLUDE: Republican Meeting


Novembar 28, 754 YE

Faric Selor stepped out of the swirling snow and biting wind in the city streets and into the Hunter’s Club, quickly closing the door behind him. He was instantly warmed by the fire in the hearth and the warm ambiance as he scanned the common room -- it was suddenly very easy to forget about the fierce winter storm that had come to Elan like an ice god’s curse.

He spotted Okoral’s olive skin and thick crew cut near the fireplace. The man sat staring vacantly into the dancing flames, with an untouched bowl of beef stew before him.

Faric slipped across the room, nodding a greeting to another Republican who sat in the back corner, Bravosi Henim. Faric sat across Okoral but said nothing. He waited awkwardly for a minute before Okoral shifted his gaze from the fire and acknowledged him.

“Thank you for coming,” Okoral said. The man normally looked much younger than he really was, but at the moment he seemed very worn by stress and exhaustion.

“What is it, Okoral?” asked Faric anxiously. “When I did not hear from you last week, I feared--”

“All the pieces are place. Raknian wishes to launch Phase One immediately.”

Faric’s eyes narrowed as he considered this information.

“What is the problem? You are not ready?” asked Okoral.

Faric shook his head. “I am ready, but why so soon? I thought we were going to wait until Januar because of the--”

“The Elanian people are suffering, Faric,” Okoral said solemnly. “Food stores are at their lowest levels in forty winters. Shortages are worse than I have ever seen, and I’ve lived here since I was a boy. Tairon’s wars are suffocating the people, and Elan must get out from under its yoke. Let the Empire plunder its own people for its wars, and let Elan be free once more.”

Faric knew the situation was bleak. Every day seemed to bring worse news. Secessionary wars in Yudora, rebellions in Gargaston and Walsta, combined with the the Silmarians successful occupation of Vigoor’s northern Guardia province, had put great hardship on the people of Elan. Food prices had tripled in the past 12 months, and combined with increased taxes to fund the wars, many people were under serious financial strain. It was also widely known that imperial wizards in Tairon were using fabricate magic to simply replicate gold coins, causing inflation which disproportionately affected the poor. Faric’s own mother had been unable to pay her rent and would have been thrown out on the street had he not intervened with some of his own money.

“Yes, Elan must be free,” Faric agreed. “I am ready.”

Okoral produced a sealed envelop from a pocket in his vest and pushed it across the table. Faric opened it and read it quickly. When he finished, he was more than a little surprised.

“Ashby Gerard... Talus Riverrun... Boren Darshal... These are members of the City Council!” he exclaimed.

“Quiet, you fool,” hissed Okoral. “This might be a Republican establishment, but we cannot be sure the Commissar does not have spies here.”

Faric looked around, thankful that no one suspicious seemed to have overheard. He said, “My men and I will take care of this, I promise. When the mission is complete, will we proceed with Phase Two?”

“No, Phase Two will proceed simultaneously. You will not be handling that. Raknian has forged some new relationships, and our new allies will take care of that.”

“New allies?” Faric had a lot of confidence in Raknian’s leadership, but was concerned about some of the new friends he’d made for the sake of Elan’s liberation. “What does Rebel Four think of all these new allegiances?”

“Rebel Four supports Raknian’s plans wholeheartedly,” Okoral said. “Sometimes you must work with the lesser of two evils to achieve the greater good.”

Okoral must have seen the concern in Faric’s expression. He said, “Itlstein was slow to act. He had staked his entire plan upon one obscure prophecy, which foretold an event that never materialized. Raknian is much more proactive and will not sit idle while our city is exploited for the sake of those bastards in Tairon.”

Okoral’s devotion to Raknian knew no limit, of course. He would never doubt his boss. He had worked for Raknian for nearly 20 years. Faric too had a lot of respect for Raknian, but he sometimes wished Helmut was still alive, to lead the Republicans with his more rational temper. Helmut would not have outsourced a vital mission such as Phase Two. Then again, Helmut probably would have never planned and executed a scheme like the three-phase scheme Raknian had concocted.

“That’s it, then?” Faric said.

“That’s it,” Okoral replied. “Contact me on Decembar 2 when the job is done.”

As Faric stood to leave, Okoral said, “This will be the winter of revolution -- our puppet-tyrants will meet justice, and Elan will be free! The dawn of spring will see the birth of a new government. And you will be regarded as a hero of the people.”

As Faric left the Hunter’s Club, his doubts were drowned out by Okoral’s words. “Hero of the people.” Faric liked the sound of that.

INTERLUDE: Just Business

Part I

Inside the seemingly empty, polished stone hallways of Castle Shard a figure quickly padded his way past several large oak doors, his features obscured almost completely by the cloak that clung tightly to his slight frame. He cut a path straight towards the end of the hall, where the ample light of Castle Shard's braziers seemed to be repelled and unwelcome. A door was there, left open only by the slightest of margins, suggesting carelessness - not invitation. The cloaked elf made his way to the side of the door and without breaking stride, flung it open to it's maximum, a loud crack resounded as it struck the thick rock behind it. Unconcerned, the visitor strode boldly into the room beyond the doorway, his stance betraying his impatience as he halted and stood unmoving in the middle of the room.

"I heard you were looking for me." The man spat, aiming his words somewhere towards the rear corner of the room.

A lithe shadow was there, sprawled almost horizontally in an over-stuffed, silken chair. A glass of ruby liquid seemed to dangle from its hand, and the figure seemed unfazed by the abrupt entrance of the elf. It lazily responded, "Ah Vatex! Come, I've poured you a glass of the finest wine to ever be stolen from Ul-Drakkan. Please, I've been told it's a bad thing to only drink alone."

"I've got…Things happening, Shilukar. Out with it already."

"What sort of 'things' would those be, my dear and heroic friend?" Shilukar asked, his stance almost feline. His curiosity seemed somewhat insincere, since Shilukar always seemed to know more than he let on. He enjoyed acting ignorant of the recent events of the Rosegate Company, playing with the lunar elf, fearing no repercussion.

"Speak. Now." Vatex barked as he pulled free the hood of his cloak.

Seeing that there was little room for fun in this exchange Shilukar sighed dramatically, lolled his head over the back of his chair and stared at the ceiling."Fine, be that way. I've got a job for you.

"As I believe I mentioned when you brought that drow crossbow bolt to me, I was once affiliated with House Vrama. It was several lifetimes ago and I assure you that the details are both mundane and inconsequential, so I will forego the hows and whys of my involvement with that house. You also know that I have been covertly involved with the Temple of Calethon, supplementing the security of the special chaositech device in their vault. The request I have of you involves both of these in the form of one Haskur Arame of House Vrama.

“Through my role as 'benefactor' at the Temple of Calethon,” the dark elf continued, “I am privy to some of the administrative happenings there. Last week, a dark elf by the name of Haskur covertly applied for the sanctuary and protection of the Temple of Calethon, claiming that he flees from his evil kin and wishes to know the feeling of the sun on his face.” Shilukar laughed creepily. “Hilarious, don't you think? Evoking the sun and the feeling of warmth in a plea for protection from the church of an elven sun god - How could they ever refuse?

“Doraedian Mythlord, being the confused and goodly type who believes that evil can be overcome, gave his approval and soon after the application was accepted by none other than the high priestess herself, Darnesha Dreamwatcher. It's entirely possible that Darnesha is as foolish as Doreadian - or perhaps she's simply given into the pressure from the elves of the Emerald Hill district. They are a gang of pampered children, having never known the lash of Gorgoth-lol’s whip, nor the fear of 'the elves that come in the night'. Their attempt at inclusion and redemption has put that special piece of chaositech at risk and I will do what is necessary to protect it from House Vrama's greedy, idiotic hands."

Vatex held up a palm to Shilukar, halting the first flares of anger he had ever seen in the dark elf. "You'll have to give me some of these 'mundane' details about Haskur Arame. His arrival is too convenient and your request is too suspect for me to go in blind. Start with how you know him."

"I became acquainted with Haskur at the Academy of Arcane Arts in Ul-Drakkan; we shared a forbidden lust and fascination for those rare chaositech artifacts that would trickle in from surface raids. We were colleagues in many experiments on these objects and I'd like to think there was some mutual respect, that we recognized each other's passion for the chaotic. We continued our study through the decades at the Academy and into our roles at House Vrama. I believe that he facilitated my enlistment to the house to keep an eye on me from his superior position as house mage - Time after time stealing away my beloved tech from the raiding loot before I could even set eyes on it. Gods below, how I hate that man. I'd murder him a thousand times if I could.

“Apologies, my dear Vatex. It seems I've forgotten the taste of these memories and my thoughts of Haskur are clouded by the misery of having one of the few joys in this world taken from me again and again. Rest assured, I enjoy the thought of letting you loose upon this man but my primary concern is to deny him the vault - luckily for me, I will get both this night. Do you have any questions?"

The figure in the middle of the room, having stood intent and still for the duration of the dark elf's speech, suddenly swept towards the table in front of Shilukar and picked the untouched wine glass.

"A house mage of house Vrama huh? You know I don't really 'do' elves, right?" Vatex pondered, downing the glass in a fluid motion.

"Ugh, your manners are horrible, you've been around these humans for far too long," Shilukar responded, seeming unconcerned with Vatex’s question.

A long pause followed, Vatex all but halting the conversation until Shilukar recognized that an answer was still forthcoming. A moment more and Vatex uncharacteristically broke the silence.

"The church has wards, sentries, alarms and divine protection. You need an assassin-thief, not me."

"The defences have been muddled. Having paid for almost all of their more powerful of deterrents , it wasn't hard for a certain 'Shaelukar Darkfingers' to arrange a clear path for you." The shadow in the chair practically giggled, pleased by its own wit.

"Doraedian Mythlord keeps his own. If you've got pointy ears and die on Emerald Hill, chances are you come to his attention. Even if you are a drow. I don't think either of us need that."

"If my identity is exposed, I'm as ruined as you are,” Shilukar reminded. “At least you have the option to slip out of the city if need be - I'm still not trusted completely by Castle Shard and my goings and comings are almost always courtly business. I'll have no chance for escape. Let's just ensure Doraedian does not find that it was us."

A smirk slowly grew on both elven faces.

"So you'll do it then? I realize you command a higher market price than you did previously, so I'm prepared to release a good majority of my liquid funds for this task, perhaps 20 thousand?" Shilukar leaned forward, fingers steepled in front of his face.

"I do not want your money, Shilukar. I will name my price after the deed is done and no sooner, I assure you it will be reasonable and within your means. I've got two dark elves on either side of this job and you - of all people - can understand my need for... Flexibility." Vatex calmly returned, eyeing something on the table. Everyone knew that if he accepted a job, it was completed in almost obsessive fashion.

"That is unacceptable. Every drow child is taught stories of those foolish enough to make pacts without knowing the costs. Faustian deals are not my style, you see. To use your phrase, I do not 'do' them." A crease appear along the dark elf's angular cheek as he spoke.

"You want it done because you can't afford not to. Perhaps I ensure that Haskur gets his chance to access the vault unmolested, what will you do then? Perhaps he makes me an offer instead?" Vatex stood, his silver eyes communicating a viciousness that few had seen more than once, "You brought me here and now you quibble over what it may cost. That is what is unacceptable."

For a moment Shilukar’s charcoal face twisted as if to express rage, but he quickly regained his composure. Shilukar stood up and narrowed his eyes on the urban ranger. “Damn you. Just get it done - To hell with the consequences. I cannot have Haskur anywhere near that vault. Let me know what his screams sound like."

The moon elf returned his empty glass to the table, staring quizzically at the bottle it had been poured from. He picked up the crystal vessel, presumably for closer inspection.

"That wine is the finest in the underdark, dozens of gnolls lost their lives protecting it during my journey to the surface and I suspect it would be wasted --"

"Consider it a down payment. I'll find you when it's complete." Vatex interrupted, moving towards the wide open entrance.

"Maybe you've got a bit of dark elf in you after all. Enjoy your hunt." Shilukar looked wistfully at the bottle in moon elf's hand, watching it slowly leave the room in the possession of someone who would probably never appreciate it. "And close the door on your way out, you oaf."

Vatex returned the cloak to his head and paced down Castle Shard's empty hallways. He was off to Emerald Hill, locked into a job he wasn't sure he wanted anything to do with. Compromising on a contract was out of the question and so, with practiced ease, he began to run through scenarios and possibilities. Dark elves meant deceit, priests meant idealist zealots, and wizards usually meant lots of pain.

"You better appreciate this, you idiot." Vatex spoke to no one in particular as he ran down streets and avenue, towards the Temple of Calethon.

Part II

Vatex clung to the corners and shadows as he skulked through the echoing chambers of the temple's basement. His way was clear, Shilukar had deactivated the doorways and floors where there had presumably been wards or traps. Vatex knew his target Huskur Arame of House Vrama sat somewhere within this building; purposeful and singular, the urban ranger was honing in. He squatted, concealed and flat against the corner of a main hallway and imagined a floor plan for the basement - One wing eliminated upon his entry and two more in the last 15 minutes, leaving just one large branching hallway, north of the entry staircase. Vatex heard shuffling, too soft to be boots but not not the distinct scraping of the open-toed sandals the attendant priests were prone to wearing. Flexing his back and chest, the moon elf held his position and tensely waited for the sound to drift closer.

A form loomed into the main chamber from one of the branching hallways, its femininity muted by yellow khaki robes, a silver half-plate and a thick belt that cradled an iridescent mace. The woman was an elf, her delicate features accented by a mane of yellow and orange hair that ended below her waist. She gracefully strode her route, scanning left to right every time she passed a doorway. Vatex recognized the priestess as Darnesha Dreamwatcher, who had been in attendance when he had come to the temple for the Star Ceremony back in early Augustar, hoping for answers to the visions he saw whenever he passed a mirror. At that thought, a bolt of anger worked its way through his core and into his finger, his hand dug painfully into the rough-hewn stones of the wall and it was all he could do not to grind his teeth.

"Damn them and their lack of answers!" He thought to himself, "Presumptuous asses, behaving as though they've answers beyond themselves. I came to them, fearing that I've become mad and they present me with riddles. The whole of them are cultists in everything but name. To hell with them."

Vatex released the tension in his body and like a whisper, drifted into the center of the room, pulling back his cloak and boldly facing the priestess' outline. Noting the unusual absence of her paladin protector, Calorean Whitesong, Vatex left his blades sheathed, content that he would be prepared for any action the priestess took. Secretly he hoped she chose to fight; to ring an alarm, bring the dozen or so sleeping gentry into his slashing blades.

The elf sat on his surprise and subsequent disappointment when Darnesha noticed him and, instead of taking a defensive stance, lazily angled herself towards him. As she crossed into the radius of light from the roof-mounted lantern above him, she spoke in the sing-song tone familiar to elves but rarely used in front of humans.

"What bring one of Elan's greatest heroes to my humble temple? Do you need healing? Or perhaps you are still troubled by those waking dreams?" Darnesha's opening salvo put the moon elf off-balance; twice her behaviour had been too relaxed, too confident.

"I knew Calethon was a fan of simplicity but if this temple has resorted to having the priestesses patrol the ground, I am troubled only by the gold that is not yet in my pocket," Vatex returned. The conversation was not in his control and he strained to keep from reacting to her dream comment; he did not wish to threaten her. Not yet.

"Who better to protect a treasure than those whose meals it pays for?" Darnesha shrugged. She was inching closer now, but not so close as to disadvantage herself against the lightning quick blades she had heard whispers of.

"I've been informed your temple is sheltering a dark elf by the name of Haskur. I've come to put an end to him before he can sew any chaos in the city,” Vatex stated as plainly as he could. It was one way to of interpreting what he was doing, but the misdirection made him too careful with his words, too tense with concentration and control.

Darnesha's unease at the mention of the drow was obvious but it did not keep her from catching the ranger's obtuseness. The priestess peered behind Vatex, mockingly lifting her hand to her forehead and miming a confused look.

“Haskur is our concern, not yours, not the city’s. He is sincere in his desire to renounce his evil past, and he is secure on temple property. If the Brotherhood of Redemption can convert ogre-magi, beholders, nagas, and trolls by brainwashing them, why can we children of Calethon not respect a humanoid’s autonomy and sponsor their willing conversion to goodness?”

“Elan’s laws mandate that dark elves be killed on sight,” Vatex retorted, leveraging his cover story.

"You work for the city guard now, then? Where then, are your companions? Are they constables as well?" She continued her irony, "They must share in this glory -- the lynching and murder of a man whose heritage is dark, but who now seeks the light of the Sunking. Step into the light, Rosegate Company and allow me to gaze upon your righteous forms!"

Vatex's grey eyes flashed to silver and his body seemed to vibrate the air around him with force, his hair drifted up and out around his shoulders as if buoyed some isolated breeze. He whispered menacingly to her, his words angry and over-enunciated, "Rosegate built itself on the corpses of fools like you, Darnesha. We have smote Arch-demons, murdered small towns worth of cultists, brought destruction to fiendish dragons, halted prophecies and walked the beneath Jabel Shammar itself. Do not invoke our name. I am the one before you and understand that I will fucking end you before a prayer escapes your lips."

The priestess shakily took a step back. She was unaccustomed to such pointed threats and for the first time since joining the order of Calethon, began to fear she truly may die. Gathering her courage and reassuringly running her fingers along the powerful mace at her side, Darnesha tried to regain her ground. "You come to commit murder - to do evil. This is my realm and you have made an error so vast that history itself will know of your foolishness. You face a high priestess of Calethon and will find his divine wrath to be unrivaled by your petty list of conquests."

The ranger composed himself, ignoring the challenge as best he could. He had not wanted it to go this far. He tried to remind himself that she did not need to die here. "Evil is to cause suffering of the innocent, with foreknowledge of the suffering it will cause. This is business that just happens to involve a dark elf, which I know you know is not innocent in action nor in nature. Allow me to handle my business here, for in this matter I am only an instrument."

Unmoved, Darnesha pushed her advantage. “I will not surrender someone who seeks the protection of Calethon -"

"Your unease is written plainly on you," Vatex cut in tersely, " I know that despite your role and your beliefs, you cannot help but distrust Haskur. You cannot help your belief that nature cannot be overcome and that his nature - drow nature - is to kill and deceive. I ask you again to step aside, to allow things to occur as they should. Do not sacrifice yourself for anything but what your god asks of you, Doraedian be damned for asking you otherwise."

The armoured woman seemed to deflate with those word. She had not expected her feelings about dark elves to be that evident. She was struggling to keep her resolve and the effort completely alien to her. "I believe...” she spoke slowly, as if to emphasize her conviction. “...that redemption is possible and --”

"Not for this one," Vatex cooly announced. "Besides, it's not exactly my choice. I would murder every dark elf in the city if that is what it would take to accomplish my goal."

"And what is that goal, Vatex? Riches? Noteriety? What has gotten you involved in the craven murder of a man who has not harmed you?"

The moon elf did not respond. He knew his task was necessary and because of that, it was good.

"May I pass, Darnesha?"

Time hung there in the basement of the temple of Calenthon. Slowly, Darnesha eyes wandered off to her left and a nod was returned. The ranger turned and padded off into the hallway, menacingly unsheathing his swords as he went. The woman stood there, alone and quiet; perhaps praying, perhaps regretting.


Vatex found his quarry at the end of a tucked-away hallway, sitting crossed legged on a worn mattress. Haskur Arame, his breathing steady and deep, placidly half-opened his eyes at the presence. He wore the plain brown robes of the temple's monkhood, his hair had been cropped short and he lacked the traditional accents and jewelry that dark elves were known for wearing.

"Can I help you…Moon elf, isn't it? I saw some of your kind a hundred or so years past. Kindly folk and charming... In a strange way." The mage blinked through an array of memories as he spoke.

The ranger boldy approached and sat beside the dark elf. He leaned over and quiety spoke."You remember them from the end of your blade no doubt. Tell me Haskur… Of House Vrama… of Ul-Drakkan... Of the Underdark, do you remember one of your kind named Shilukar?"

Unpreturbed and through hooded eyes, Haskur stared straight ahead and sighed, almost longingly. "I remember him. Power hungry, manipulative, cunning - An exemplar of dark elf virtues. I also recall hearing of his battle with a house matron and his subsequent escape to the surface. He has sent you here then? To placate his ego no doubt."

"I ask because I hear you share his preoccupation with Chaositech. It must be some kind of 'dark elf' thing, this lust for chaos. A compulsion so strong that it could lead someone to say, I don't know, travel to a distant land and pretend they're someone else just to get close to it," Vatex posited, shifting to face the still cross-legged mage.

Haskur seemed uncomfortable, his breathing became a bit more erratic and he began to sweat, "We -shared- the love of chaositech, but it has cost me dearly. As has rejecting my people, my house and my ways. I was as much a slave to the forces of chaos as I was to my Matron Mother, never questioning if the cost of the things I did were worth what it gained me." He sighed again, heavier this time. "It was necessary and so…it was right."

The dark elf stared deep into Vatex, his ebon eyes hard and wide with emotion, "I am tired of killing, of being told to kill, of being singular in a purpose that I'm not sure was ever my own. For the glory of myself, of my house, of Ul-Drakkan and of Gorgoth-lol; I've done my duty with no contentment or pride, I simply moved to the next task." Huskur's eyes softened then, as he turned to face the wall. "An empty life, you know?"

The grey-eyed elf stood, pulling back his cloak to show the swords on his belt as he walked to the side of the bed. "I know you are a drow. I know that you know there is a significant chaositech device here, in this very temple. I know that people do not change suddenly, and rarely do they change completely."

"Do you know what that life has really cost me? Look then. Look and know the cost of chaos." Haskur unfolded his legs and in the room's faint light Vatex saw the mangled wreck of feet, saw pustules and knobby growths and skin withered with necrotic taint. "I have given enough. I am done."

The ranger continued his lap around the bed, halting somewhere in the darkness behind the deformed mage. Huskur made no motions, his breathing returned to the deep rhythm of meditation.

"Don't you ever question it, moon elf? Why you do this and if it's worth it?"

The blades spun out of their sheaths. Like great arrows, they sunk into the mage's back, one went deep into his lung and through the heart while the other haltered inches below the surface of the neck, shearing the spinal cord in two.The standing figured leaned and hissed into his target's ear a single word - "No."

Jerking the swords free, Vatex instinctively moved to sever the ear from the corpse. Catching himself, he thought it best to instead pose the scene as a dark elf hit - People would not be surprised that a turncoat had been repaid by his brothers and that meant fewer questions would be asked. The elf moved instead to the small wooden box that presumably served as the mage's footlocker. Finding no lock nor trap, he snapped open the lid and slid out a piwafwi, a cloak of the underdark with a bejewelled clasp. Underneath the garment sat a small sack, ostensibly for gold and several large gems. The moon elf turned to leave, the urge to simply grab the treasures gnawed at him so fiercely that he turned back twice before he finally exited the room.


Exhausted, Vatex leaned against the wall outside Haskur's room. Dark elves were bred to guile the mind, to make their opposition question themselves, to plant doubts and to attack the driving force behind their enemy's actions. He told himself this but he could not shake his anxiety; He feared that he may have just been tricked into killing an innocent man. He stood there in silence and in darkness, motionless for a long, long time. "The job is not over," he reminded himself. "Move. Go. Finish it."

The ranger briskly rounded the corner to the exit staircase, resisting the urge to move too quickly, when he met the gaze of Darnesha Dreamwatcher who stood poised upon the bottom stair. He slowed a step or two, loosing the liquidity of his pace as he slid his cloak to hide the hilt of his blades.

"I know you do not honour Calethon," the priestess started, her form now wrapped in a thick, pearlescent coat. "But you must have a belief in something. A higher cause, noble or profane. Troubles and times such as these can't be eased or made sense of by a single mortal's facilities."

The moon elf continued towards the woman, looking not at her but straight ahead. "The Grim One watches, he may even be listening; I am not sure. What I do know, is that he does not judge."

"Perhaps judgement is ours alone. If so, how will others look upon you - Upon me?" Vatex could see Darnesha was wracked by her choice and role in the night's events but he had no words for her. A choice had to be lived with.

He made his way past her, launching up the steps two at a time and before pausing. Pivoting, he hesitantly walked back to her, sliding an object free from his pack which he placed in her hand. "Here. If your conscience cannot bear your actions, take this to Doraedin and let judgement be on those who are truly responsible." He paused, his eyes downcast. "Goodnight, Darnesha."

As the man silently marched up the stair, Darnesha turned the object over in her hands. As she pondered it's meaning, she was tempted to down what was left in the half-empty crystalline wine bottle.

Part III

Shilukar lounged on an over-sized, tasseled pillow that occupied the middle of his light-less chamber. He made a point of keeping the room as dark as possible, it provided no end of entertainment to watch the humans struggle blindly as the groped about for a a place to sit when they came to visit. The dark elf smiled as he thought on this; perhaps fear of the dark was instinctual in these surfacers and if so, that made him something of a nightmare to them. Shilukar enjoyed this thought and rolled it around in his head, stifling a giggle as he poured another glass from his second reserve of wine.

Taking a long drink of the warm ruby liquid, his ear twitched as someone closed a door somewhere which Shilukar guessed to be about fifty feet down the hall - Perhaps a midnight triste among a few of Castle Shard’s guests? Perhaps Lady Themoine receiving a visitor, he hoped. The wizard prepared a spell for spying and mentally sent for a mephit he had bound when he was still a house mage in the underdark. He would be rather amused to find Themoine in the throws of passion; He also longed to add her to his list of potential blackmail targets, for she had a bountiful inheritance in her name. Castle Shard’s guests tended to be interesting and rich.

The dark elf rubbed his hands together and began to sub-vocalize an incantation when a hand touched his shoulder - it was only the concentration of casting that saved Shilukar from yelping in surprise like a child the moment he sensed someone else in the room. He swung around to see that damned moon elf, his form barely discernible inside the dark cloak that hung around him. Shilukar flared with embarrassment and rage, he had not detected the ranger nor had he been prepared for any kind of intrusion and right now- He could not afford to appear weak. Instantly, the wizard reminded himself that Vatex's appearance was a good thing and that fortunately, the elf had not caught him in a more… compromised position.

Shilukar opened his mouth but the moon elf already had an answer to the unasked question. From under his cloak the ranger produced proof of termination, a piwafwi folded neatly with a clasp on the top, if Vatex had the eyes for such things, the bejewelled clasp would have identified the garment as the property of house Vrama.

"No ears this time, eh surfacer? You're learning." Shilukar buzzed with excitement as he spoke, "Tell me, did he beg you? He bartered at least, I know the great Haskur would at least try to make you an offer, some kind of cunning gambit of riches tomorrow for a life today?"

The ranger grimaced, dropping the bundled cloak unceremoniously at Shilukar's feet. "He did not beg, he did not scream, he did not barter. He didn't even try to protect himself."

Shilukar raised an eyebrow quizzically, and Vatex said, “The man was genuine." The urban ranger he loomed over the drow, a bestial mask covered his face and exposing his canines as he spoke, "I may have murdered an innocent with no good to show for it!"

"I pity you sometimes, Vatex. You cannot seem to keep yourself from believing dark elves! You all but demand I pour some lie into your ear, to give you some absolution - and from what? The contract you accepted. The killing of a drow who was somewhere he didn't belong. The job is justified by default. Simply being a dark elf in this city is a capital offense!" Shilukar was unaccustomed to smiling this much, his cheeks felt numb and he struggled to wipe the grin from his face.

With humbling speed the ranger sprang, reappearing a foot behind the still prone dark elf, his blades tensioned to strike deep into the wizard's body. Shilukar innocently held up his hands, still failing to contain his amusement. "Alright. Justifiable for me, at least."

Relaxing and snapping his blades back into their scabbards, the moon elf stalked back around the pillow and squatted, his face an uncomfortable inch from Shilukar's. The ranger's eyes were terrifying, unwavering and absolutely predatory as they bore into the wizard.

"I was not born to this life. I had to learn it despite my family's plans for me. The first things I learned is that power trumps cooperation - People will do what they must to stay alive and to go lengths they may not otherwise if the prize is something as trivial as gold. I also learned that you need a plan. Would you like to hear my plan, dark elf?"

Nonchalantly, Shilukar went over the possibilities,"I doubt you will kill me. Even if you could, you still do not have your thus far unnamed payment. Likewise, I doubt you will turn me in, it would reveal that you executed a man for money. You have very little to hurt me with, very little I cannot handle. You are unaccustomed to the world of intrigue and currently, I'm a much bigger fish in that pond than you are. Remember Vatex, assassins do not get trials - but they do get public executions. The Rosegate Company could never save you from the mob. I know you remember Helmut Itlstein's execution - The peasants just wanted a show and the Republicans impotently sat by and watched it."

Vatex, unblinking, kept his intensity."Here is my plan, Shilukar. Doraedian Mythlord may, depending on a certain priestess' conscience, receive a very special crystal wine bottle. Being adept as he is, there's no telling what kind of information he could glean from that sort of possession. It's shared proximity with your for what, a hundred years or more?"

The bottom fell out of Shilukar's confidence, pouring scenes of horror all over his mind. And still, the ranger continued, augmenting the scenes he already imagined and dragging new terror into the light.

"Shaelukar Darkfingers would be exposed within the church. I'm sure someone at House Vrama or whoever you pissed all over in Ul-Drakkan would hear of the whole affair and would love their chance and vengeance, to gain favor by ridding someone of the lose end you've become. Emerald Hill would bay for blood, their modern sensibilities cast aside in the name of 'justice."

Vatex came just a little bit closer, enveloping more and more of Shilukar's view point, "Someone might even hire me to find you. Where on this continent, above or below, do you think you could run from me?"

Easing, the elf slowly withdrew from the sitting drow. "As for murder for pay; No one could openly call for the death of one of the 'Heroes of Elan' without casting suspicion on themselves. What's more, everyone would see that situation in simple terms: I was the weapon - but you are the one who wielded it.

"Regarding payment; I haven't even named my price. I have no gold to show for what I've done and could easily walk away right now. We both know where I would go first and neither you nor any of your resources could stop me. Then it would be all over for you. I know you would panic, start running without even so much as a day's head start. If I did not find you, you would probably meet your end in some backwater at the hands of a gang of townsfolk, the kind that lack lack Elan's cosmopolitan sympathies for 'evil' races. "

Flustered, the wizard snapped back at Vatex, "You fool! You only reveal how little you know of me. I've escaped Ul-Drakkan! Elan - hell, this whole damned landmass, is nothing to me."

The moon elf talked gently now, easing the prone man back onto his previous train of thought."You are doomed on my say so, Shilukar. Accept it so we can move forward."

With that the wizard dropped over the edge of his own rage. He stood, electricity sparking out of every cell on his body. Fire clung to his fingers, fields of blue energy shimmered in an orbit around him as he drew to his hand a slender chaositech contraption from some some hidden pocket. Shilukar pointed it, his intent unmistakable. Then, at the peak of his tantrum, he instead threw his wine glass at the ranger. The red liquid splashed harmlessly down the front of Vatex's cloak.

Then Shilukar laughed, laughed so long and hard after a moment his eyelashes shimmered with tears. Vatex was somewhat taken aback by the tricky drow’s emotional fluctuations, but he maintained his tense demeanor.

"You are quite a character,” Shilukar said simply as his laughter receded. “Name your price, and begone. Quickly, before my mood darkens further and I put this wand to use!" Shilukar wore a crooked smirk, but Vatex could not tell whether the chaositechnician was joking or not.

He didn’t care. Vatex shrugged and wiped away from of the spill from his cloak.

"Well?” Shilukar’s patience was becoming strained. “Tell me what has cost me the death of my enemy?" The wizard huffed, relenting to what now seemed untenable. He knew he had to position himself better, to move the ranger to where he could regain the upper hand. Mostly, he needed Vatex to take something in return for his actions.

The question was simple yet Vatex was silent, persisting in cleaning the remnants of wine from his cloak. Shilukar began impatiently tapping the gleaming rod-like chaositech device on his knuckles, galled by what he saw as adolescent posturing. "An answer sometime today would be just wonderful, elf. That is, if it does not pain his majesty."

The lunar elf could not help himself and burst into laughter as he turned to leave the room. "You're going to help me find something, Shilukar."

"Riches? Lost relics? Your imaginary mirror woman?"

Pausing at the door from to collect himself, he glanced over his shoulder at the row just in time to catch the wizard dramatically rolling his eyes.

"Early.You're going to help me find Early.”