Sunday, January 30, 2011

EPISODE XLIV: The Banewarrens, Side-Story: Rosegate Company vs. House Vladaam; A New Quest

August 8-9

Dressed in their finest attire and uncommonly well groomed, the Rosegate Company heads out to the Temple of Calethon in the predominantly elven community of Emerald Hill. On the way, Early drops off Heth’s plate mail at the Bull & Bear, hiring Itumar to get the armor refitted for himself. He also finds that when he puts on the Bracers of the Tiger Claw Scholar he took from Heth, five of the nine jewels in the bracers light up. The Bracers increase his contact with the Vajra. His power grows and Cryssaegrym is pleased.

Many people in the elven community have gathered for the so-called “Star Ceremony.” At the temple, they are greeted by the priest Kurail who’d extended the original invitation to them. They meet a variety of individuals, DARNESHA DREAMWATCER, the resident high priest of Calethon the Sun King, and her bodyguard, the elven paladin CALORAEN WHITESONG. They also meet JEFFREY MATHERS, a human cleric of Maduin who spends much of his time in Emerald Hill. They meet MARLIYA, the half-elf leader of the lay community, and DORAEDIAN MYTHLORD, an elderly shoal elf who is the unofficial “leader of the elves” of Elan. He runs the exclusively elven sanctuary called “Iridithil’s Home.”

Doraedian acknowledges the company as the city’s heroes, who used power and wits to drive back the barbarian horde. He notes that Vatex does not worship Calethon, and invites him to worship any other elven god at the Skylord’s Temple on the sanctuary’s grounds. That temple has has small shrines dedicated to all good elven gods. Vatex, however, reserves his prayers for the mysterious deity known only as “the Grim One.”

The Star Ceremony itself consists of various elven children receiving a blessing from a priest of Calethon, and having his destiny assessed according to birthsigns by an old elf diviner. One particular elf boy, named ANDARIS, seems to get a reading that implies great future importance.

After the ceremony, the Rosegate Company speaks with “Shaelukar Darkfingers” about his relationship with this temple. Why, they ask, does he apparently donate a lot of money to the temple? He dodges the questions, but by threatening to reveal his true nature as a drow, he relents and admits the reason for his level of support.

Shilukar explains that within the temple’s vault is a very formidable piece of chaositech. He says this item is of no use to himself, but he wants to make sure the temple is well protected -- he knows there are many others who could cause a lot of trouble if they were to get the chaositech. He tells the company that the temple clergy seems not to truly know what the thing is. But he encourages the tempel to use a good portion of his donations for improving the overall protection of the church’s items

When Vatex meets the elf diviner, he is asked about his birth date and his age. Vatex answers, and the diviner seems to consider the information, perform a series of mental calculations, then state, “Ah, you were born under Serpentarius and the Southern Cross -- so you must have a twin?” Vatex shakes his head -- elaborating a bit on his background, he says he grew up with traveling merchant parents with no siblings. The diviner persists, “You must have a twin, otherwise you are wrong about your birthday.”

Meanwhile, Early moves from person to person, asking if they know anything about “Kyuss.” Everyone says no and is quite annoyed by the bluntness of the question, minus all social formalities. Emeris tries to flirt with a lovely elven woman named ELANIA who had too much wine. He manages to get a kiss before the night is through, and possibly a future date.

Vatex asks Darnesha if she knows any reason why he might be seeing an elf woman in a mirror. She shrugs, saying perhaps he is hallucinating, or perhaps he is affected by a strange magic? After the eating and drinking following the Star Ceremony, the Rosegate Company stays behind at the temple so Darnesha can see if Vatex is effected by some kind of spell. With all his magical gear removed, Vatex shows no auras of magic. Unsure of what to think, Darnesha speculates that it could be some form of communication -- perhaps the elven woman in the mirror is trying to communicate with Vatex, and that is the only way she is able to do so. Unfortunately, none of this gives Vatex any more information than what he had before.

The next morning, the party eats breakfast then heads out to visit Saharasahla’s library. On the way, a woman who works at the Cloud Theater down the street chastises Early about his dog digging up the flowers on the theater’s lot. Early frightens her off with a wolf-like howl and she runs away. Early feeds the dog some leftover bacon from breakfast. The party has a moment where it realizes they are probably the worst neighbors to have in the entire Nobles Quarter.

Saharasahla pays no attention to them as he seems completely fixated on an ancient, leather bound journal. Saharasahla reports that he has just acquired the journal of the lich Sokalahn, who 1200 years ago attempted to breach the Banewarrens. The journal contains many fragments of his research and exposition on various theories. The old shadowcaster says that he will pass along any useful information he reads in it.

As for his research into the Quaan, Saharasahla reports that it should be hospitable enough to travel there, but it is a swamp-like place of difficult terrain and hostile animal life. He recommends the plan as if they were going on an overland journey, with appropriate supplies.

Suddenly Yaeshla speaks, saying she cannot hide the fact that the portal at the Chapel of St. Thessina is actually only a one-way gate. She was originally afraid to reveal this for she thought that the companions might not go to the Quaan and get the second piece of the staff. For the actual portal that returns from the Quaan to the chapel is in the Tower of Charch-Pahn. Now the situation is more complicated, as they cannot simply assault the Black Manor and get the other piece of the staff, then return to the portal and back to the chapel. Instead, once they get the staff they will have to go to Charch-Pahn’s tower and possibly face the ancient beholder himself.

This worries the group. A beholder! Furthermore, if their foray into the Quaan goes bad at any time, they will not have an easy means of retreating back to the city and their home plane. Emeris proposes they hold off for now -- he feels that in the future, as that as his mastery over shadow magic improves, he should be able to transport the group to and from the Plane of Shadow. This would give the group a reliable means of escape.

To the Banewarrens then? Navanna Vladaam likely has a good lead on them. Vatex raises the idea of assault the Vladaam estate itself -- if Navanna is there, they can kill her where she leasts expects the attack, and get the Banewarrens key. If they clear the place of villains entirely, including that wizard of renowned skill, Aliaster Vladaam, that would eliminate one of the factions competing with them for Banewarrens loot. Early likes the idea -- systematically eradicate all their competition! If the Quaan must wait, why not the Vladaams now?

So the group is in agreement. An assault on the Vladaam Estate, tonight.

Emeris takes to the sky and flies over the Nobles Quarter, scoping out the Vladaam property with every pass. He sees various pairs of guards patrolling the grounds, the mansion on a hill in the middle. There are other smaller buildings on the property within the high stone wall, probably kennels, stables, and guard houses. Various clusters of trees provide terrain for cover.

That night, the group stealthily climbs over the north wall and moves carefully through the woods that lead up to the base of the hill on which the Vladaam mansion sits.

At first, everything goes perfectly. The group skillfully neutralizes two groups of guards on patrol, alerting no one else around. Emeris and Dziga pass through shadows and move to the window at the kitchen, building’s north wing. Dziga begins working on the lock that bars the window. Meanwhile, Vatex and Early, wearing the dark tunics of the slain guards, manage to get close to the front doors, guarded by two more Vladaam goons who promptly transform into werewolves when they see through the disguises!

Dziga opens the lock, and sets off a magical alarm that is heard blasting inside the mansion, and can be heard for a considerable distance around. Damn! Everyone from here to the city streets can hear the siren-like magical alarm. He and Emeris silently and nigh-invisibly move into the shadowy kitchen, which is empty at the moment. They check the adjacent storeroom, and see another werewolf and three guards coming from the guard room to the south. Supernaturally hidden in shadows, neither Emeris nor Dziga are noticed, and prepare they prepare their ambush.

Meanwhile Vatex hacks apart the first werewolf at the front door, He and Early then team up against the second wolf, who fights more fiercely, but is taken down rapidly nonetheless. Early and Vatex can see another dozen guards rushing up from the guardhouse to the west, led by two more werewolves. Vatex slams into the front door, trying to break it down. No luck.

Dziga bursts from the shadows and Asura spills blood from the surprised werewolf. The three guards charge Dziga but he impressively fights off all of them, and the wolf. Then Emeris appears from the shadows, blasting all five combatants with the freezing shadows of his draconic breath. Dziga easily dodges, as the half-dragon expected. The three guards are not so lucky, and all die quickly. The werewolf survives and attacks with claws and teeth, but is now badly wounded.

Despite the alarm, their assault still seems to be going well.

Vatex and Early fire their guns at the enemies coming towards the mansion. Werewolves fire from dragon pistols and guards fire a storm of arrows. Dziga and Emeris finish the werewolf in the kitchen.

Past the storeroom, Dziga and Emeris move through a guard room to a door adjoining the grand entryway. Within, they can hear orders being shouted. Many lined-up guards can be seen through the keyhole. Dziga pulls open the door and tries to activate his fireball wand, but he makes a mistake it is fails to work. Emeris blasts freezing shadow breath into the chamber, killing five of the eight guards instantly and wounding the rest severely.

Emeris scans the entry hall. Flanked by two particularly bulky werewolves is a tall, powerful, but dumb looking man who he figures to be Godfred Vladaam. Up the stairs on the landing, is the obese eldest Vladaam sister, Gattara. She is Aliaster what is all the commotion. Aliaster Vladaam, who looks like a man in his fifties with pure black eyes, tells her to go back to her room and stay out of danger. She walks off into the southern wing of the mansion, and Aliaster whispers a spell and vanishes, probably due to an invisibility effect.

One of Godfred’s werewolves draws his pistol and rushes past the fallen guards, firing off a shot that takes Emeris in the shoulder. Having heard Vatex pound against the entrance to the mansion, he rushes over to the door and unlocks it, giving access to the warblade and the elf.

At Godfred’s command, the three wounded guards charge Emeris. Shadows, hard as steel, fan out around him and deflect all three swords. Early steps up and cuts down two guards and blasts another dead with his shocking pistol. The confident Rosegate Company, victors in many dire battles, was ready to slaughter the Vladaams here and now.

Suddenly events take a turn for the worse. Godfred draws his enchanted longbow and aims it at Early, but then the invisible Aliaster shouts, “No Godfred, shoot the wizard!” -- a somewhat mistaken reference to Emeris. Four magical arrows, burning with arcane fire, are fired towards the half-dragon. Godfred, though showing little intelligence behind his eyes, is not only an exceptional swordsman, but an archer with few peers. His aim is perfect and the magical arrows devastating. Emeris falls with four burning arrows sticking from his chest, dead before he hits the ground.

Vatex, Early, and Dziga are shocked as their friend goes from almost perfectly healthy to dead in seconds, and they reconsider their ability to see this assault to completion. Godfred, though dumb, is clearly no slouch, and Aliaster has not yet demonstrated his true power. Vatex scoops up the body of Emeris and flees out the mansion, running towards the cliff. Werewolves pursue and fire at him as he flees, but his desperation gives him a burst of speed that keeps him ahead of them. He leaps over the edge of the cliff to the Oldtown district below, relying on the magic of his ring for safety. He floats like a feather to the ground below. The werewolves curse his escape.

Dziga retreats back through the storeroom, out the kitchen window, through the woods, and over the north wall, appearing as little more than an odd shift in the shadows along the ground. He waits for Early, disappearing into the shadows along the outside wall.

The warblade runs around the north wing, following the shadowdancer’s path, trailed by 10 guards. His armor is too heavy to heavy and restrictive for him to outrun them, so he turns to face them, Cryssaegrym in one hand, and one of the shocking pistols in another. He cuts down three guards in seconds, and the others are shaken but continue the attack. When three more guards fall, the last four flee back towards the mansion despite the orders of the werewolves coming behind them.

Early leaps over the wall and meets with the Dziga, and they head to the Ghostly Minstrel -- a decided meeting place for whenever the group gets separated unexpectedly and when it might be unwise to return home (in case they are followed).

Vatex carries the dead half-dragon through Oldtown, enduring comments like, “Oh that guy doesn’t look good, better get him to a priest,” from concerned but dim-witted passersby. The elf heads to the Grand Cathedral of the Holy Order of Vigoor. He needs to get the half-dragon resurrected, and he knows how he might be able to extort such a divine ritual from the Holy Order.

Although it is late, Vatex learns that a Sister MARA VON WITTEN wants to meet with him. She tells him that she knows of his group’s actions at the Chapel of St. Thessina, and the defeat of the traitor Heth. Vatex says he needs Emeris resurrected, and in return he will not reveal that Heth was a traitor and that the Pactlords were working within the church. She rejects the offer of blackmail, saying that the information will get out anyway. Vatex reveals Yaeshla to Sister Mara, she is impressed. He offers to trade the dagger for Emeris’ resurrection. He suggests that it might be used for sealing the Banewarrens. Mara surprises him by saying she doesn’t want the Banewarrens to be least, not yet.

She describes an obscure prophecy known only to a few in the Holy Order of Vigoor. The prophecy states that one day the “Sword of Truth,” a truly ancient artifact of goodness imprisoned within an evil curse, will be recovered and help the Holy Order fulfill its destiny of bringing light to the world in the name of the Holy Emperor. The some elders of the Holy Order believe this prophecy speaks of the “Sword of Lies,” a weapon that was put inside the Banewarrens by Saint Danar by mistake. Mara’s studies have led her to believe these elders, and furthermore she believes the Holy Order can transform it back into the sword they seek.

She says that if the Rosegate Company will agree to recover the Sword of Lies, she will arrange for the Holy Order to perform a true resurrection ritual upon Emeris, bringing his soul back from the realm of the dead without losing any power. Vatex says they will need access to church resources when required. Mara says she is not a high-ranking member of the church, which is disarray in the Heth aftermath. The mission she is proposing is not a sanctioned question by the higher members of the Holy Order. She agrees that she can provide the party with 10,000 gp in divine spellcasting services, but no more. She says if the Rosegate Company does not accept the mission, then she will have to send other agents.

Vatex takes the mission. He does not reveal to Sister Mara that he already knows of another faction seeking the Sword of Lies for its own purposes -- the cult of Vazdah. Although it had seemed the Rosegate Company had slain the cult’s expedition into the Banewarrens, led by Aelrich the favored soul of the Demon of Destruction, the fact that Aelrich’s body was missing when they’d returned to the site of the battle at a later time suggested that perhaps they hadn’t seen the last of Vazdah’s servants...

The elf heads to meet the others at the Ghostly Minstrel, leaving Emeris’ body at the cathedral to be treated by clerics in preparation for the resurrection ritual.

At the Ghostly Minstrel, Dziga and Early sit down with the Company of the Blue Lantern, which is enjoying a few drinks after yet another daring adventure. When Early asks them if they want to join up to fight against House Vladaam, Rando, Jarlo, Burger, and Gandorf all laugh at him. Gandorf says. “Haha, Godfred is a regular winner of Elan’s annual Tournament of Champions! And the wizard Aliaster can snuff out a man’s lifeforce with an single spell! And even if you were successful in killing them, what would you do when Iristul returned home? He would bring you such pain you’d prefer Hell itself!”

When Vatex meets them later, they all concede that they may have bitten off more than they could chew when it came to House Vladaam.

Next time: Back to the Banewarrens! The Inner Vaults have been breached!

Random Elanian Factoid: The Vladaams have been a menace to the world since day one. The members of this ancient family have descended from a being called Vladaam, one of the Chosen of the Galchutt, who was defeated over 20,000 years ago by powerful heroes. Today, the family funds a number of criminal organizations, profiting from theft, extortion, smuggling, illegal gambling, assassination, and trade in slaves, drugs, and evil magic items.

While the head of the noble family, Iristul Vladaam, is a vile man, it is probably his daughter Navanna who possesses the darkest depths of evil. For she is secretly a member of the Keepers of the Faith, the mysterious organization dedicated to discovering the darkest secrets of the Ancients.

Monday, January 24, 2011

EPISODE XLIII: The Banewarrens, Act III: The Battle at the Belfry

Augustar 6-8

The Rosegate Company sits down for lunch at the Fiery Lizard Cafe, minus their half-dragon ally Emeris. They discuss their plan to rescue him -- have Early pose as a drunken homeless person and cause a ruckus in the Chapel of St. Thessina’s sanctuary. Meanwhile, Dziga and Vatex will sneak around the back and climb the chapel up to the belfry, where they presume Emeris is still strapped to the strange machine as reported by Lady Rill’s scrying.

They notice an elf fellow watching them from across the room. Could it be a pactlord spy, or some other malefactor? Early walks over and sits beside the elf and asks about all the attention, who seems to be fairly innocuous. He says his name is KALIB, and he asked them if they were really the Rosegate Company. They confirm this, and he asks if he can have the “real” story about how they stopped the Silmarian siege on Elan. There are a lot of rumors, he says, and no one seems to know the truth. Dziga leans forward and tells Kalib it was all a prank. Hearing this from the sinister-looking man with the X-shaped scars on his cheek, the elf gets creeped out and rapidly hurries out of the cafe, shouting “you guys are weird!”

Vatex pays a street urchin to follow Kalib and report where he goes. The boy meets with Vatex later, telling him he met with a few people at different taverns, then went to his apartment in South Market.

The group finishes its drinks while discussing their company’s cash flow situation, then heads out to the Adventurers’ Square. Firstly, they acquire a bag of “joke coins,” leads coins painted with a lustrous platinum coating. They fill the bag with tanglefoot glue and leave the bag behind the Bull & Bear Armory, the location specified by the Pactlords’ message.

They acquire invisibility potions, to facilitate their infiltration into the chapel. They also get a good deal on darkvision potions, useful for when they return to the Banewarrens. Early buys some bum rags from a homeless man who lives near the ghetto. The group reconvenes and heads to the chapel.

Emeris, strapped to the Pactlord’s Dreaming Probing machine, drifts from a dreamless near-coma like state, to strange dream-spawned vistas of wild imagination and weirdness. At one point, he dreams of being stuck in a complex of three small rooms. Here, he is visited by Saharasahla, who says this is the “Dreamscape.” Emeris’ consciousness makes contact with it intermittently while he slumbers within the machine. Saharasahla’s dream form tells him that they may be able to transfer his consciousness onto that of another, in order to assist with the rescue of the half-dragon’s body. They must act quickly. “I am hunted here,” Saharasahla says, although he does not elaborate as to WHAT is hunting him.

The old shadowcaster leads Emeris outside the room through a door that leads into the ether of the Dreamscape. Saharasahla explains that a bard named ADMAH SHERON once borrowed a book from his library. The old shadowcaster says they will now have Admah repay that debt by providing his body for this mission. Saharasahla tells him that his friends are making haste to the Chapel of St. Thessina, and he must hurry to aid them. Suddenly, Emeris can see his field of vision descending upon a sleeping human, and then he awakes.

But he is not in the belfry of the Chapel of St. Thessina, he is in a small house, within the body of the bard Admah! Although his mind is his own, he finds that he has all of Admah’s powers (including an amazing singing voice that possesses eldritch power), and none of his own. He gathers up the bard’s gear and rushes to the Riversgate District.

Emeris in the body of Admah finds his friends stalking the neighborhood around the chapel as the sun goes down. When the well-dressed human bard, with darker skin suggesting Shapeirian or Raseirian heritage who tells them that he is Emeris, they think the man is utterly insane. Emeris proves his identity with an explanation of Saharasahla’s body snatching through the Dreamscape, and an inappropriate joke about the collar of umbral metamorphosis that only the real Emeris would understand.

Sundown. With his dirty hobo jacket and pants, Cryssaegrym wrapped in a potatos sack, and his magic gauntlets covered with filty mittens, Early pours ale on himself to complete the costume with olfactory effects. He stumbles into the chapel’s sanctuary, obnoxiously calling out to be given “sanctuary.” The place is quite remarkable, particularly the many statues of saintly figures, the huge relief of the human St. Ajora Lothian crucified on an ankh, and relief of the divine Holy Emperor himself.

He encounters Brother FELDON, a halfling in the blue and white robes, who says all services are over for the day, and the chapel must be closed right now for various reasons, etc. He tries to get the ostensibly drunk Early to get out with dialogue, when Admah comes in to further the ruse. He says this drunk stomped on his flowers and stole his stuff.

As Early and Admah yell at each other, Feldon warns them to get out before he gets the chapel’s guards to throw them out. They cannot cause this disturbance in a “holy place.” Early heads towards the doors behind the reliefs, saying he wants to see whoever is in charge. Feldon, as the last straw, pulls a dragon pistol from within his rose and orders Early to halt.

Vatex and Dziga sneak to the back of the building and realize they’d overestimated their ability to climb the smooth wall, which is wet no less due to the rain. Instead, Dziga picks the lock to the back door and the sneak into the chapel’s back office. They silently search a secret compartment in the desk and find a silver tea set and a clerical scroll. Suddenly, they hear a good number of footsteps entering the adjacent room. The move to the door and listen to the figures on the other side settle down on the other side of the door and prepare for an ambush.

Early stops and turns around with Feldon’s gun aimed square at his chest. The warblade begins throwing off the mittens and rags hiding his weapons and rushes the halfling. Admah comes in behind the halfling and puts the tip of his rapier his back. The halfling wails in pain, and fires off a shot as Early closes in, shrugging off the hit which takes him in the shoulder. Cryssaegrym cuts the halfling, who drops the gun and quickly draws a hidden sword from his robes. The truth is, Feldon is no cleric -- he is a skilled rogue who merely serves to ensure the chapel looks like a regular, functioning place of worship for worshippers of the Holy Emperor.

In the back office, Dziga fishes out his wand of fireballs while Vatex opens the door to the next room, a storage area filled with supplies. Inside are red-headed quadruplets, each wielding an exotic double sword. Fortunately, they were all watching around the corner of the L-shaped room, listening to the disturbance in the sanctuary, and were not paying attention to the door opening behind them. Dziga activates the wand and a burst of flame erupts inside the storage room, scorching the quadruplets as Vatex slams the door shut. When the blast settles, they hear the four enemies scamper around the corner away from their ambushers.

Feldon fights desperately against Admah and Early, but there is no chance. Bleeding severely, he dives under Early’s swinging sword and lands, rolling dexterously to his feet and running towards the storage room. Early’s Pyrnese-made repeating crossbow slows Feldon to a crawl, but he still tries to escape. An arrow from Admah’s bow pierces the halfling’s skull.

Vatex opens the door to the storage room again, and Dziga launches another fireball. With that, Vatex rushes into the room, blades drawn, and sizes up their foes around the corner.

The leather-armor clad quadruplets, in a rehearsed, synchronous way, introduce themselves as the “Amazing Eight-Bladed Rissard Brothers,” and they proceed to demonstrate a coordinated routine with them spinning their double-swords every which way around their bodies. Somewhat impressive...if you are used to fighting orcs and goblins, the elf thinks. Vatex taunts them, and the first two Rissard brothers charge. Vatex is driven back to the wall, each blade fighting off a different double-sword. The Rissard brothers aggression pays off more than their skill, and Vatex suffers a pair of injuries. When the third Rissard brother joins the melee, Vatex skillfully fights off two of them with his short sword, and the third with his longsword. No other blades break through his perfect defenses. One Rissard goes down, cleanly decapitated by a fiery elven blade. Another flops over his dead brother, his throat pierced fatally. The other is mortally wounded but continues to fight. Shadows bend behind him, and Dziga appears to end the third Rissard’s struggles.

Early attempts to smash through the door to the storage room from the sanctuary, using his heavy flail. Admah quickly intervenes and opens it, to see the fourth and last Rissard brother waiting for their attack. Early puts two crossbow bolts in his chest, and Vatex sunders his skull from behind with his longsword.

Together now, the group heads up the spiral staircase to the belfry. On the second level, they are attacked by the greatsword wielding female dwarf, NORSU, who accompanied the phase spider that kidnapped Emeris, along with a half-orc barbarian named BARROL, who reeks of body odor and wields a massive axe. They hold the line at top of the stairs to the next level, and fight bravely. Barrol, in his frenzied rage, leaves the companions stinging from several wounds, but keen blades strike through his soft leather armor and he dies painfully. Norsu is cloven in twain by Early’s devastating jump attack.

On the third level, the company encounters the chapel’s “guardians”, meant to impair attacks more than kill them -- two rust monsters, bound by long robes of intricately braided troll hair. As soon as Dziga reaches the top of the stairs, the insect-like monster’s antenna reorient towards him and the monsters move quickly to attack. The touch of the rust-monster’s antennae causes metal to disintegrate but he snatches away Asura and sheathes it quickly, retreating down the stairs. Since the ropes do not allow the monsters to reach the stairs, the group carefully slays one of rust monsters with ballistics. Early uses his heavy flail to kill the second one, smashing it to a gory smear on the rust-coated floor. The hit causes such damage to the flail so as to make it useless, and the warblade discards the thing.

In an adjacent room they find a room empty but for a pile of pillows and a short, plump man, who is bound and gagged. It is Vesto! He is the assistant of Ishara Jare, the loremaster who had helped them decrypt the results of the legend lore spell cast on the Sealed Door in the Banewarrens! Emeris in the body of Admah tells him to wait until they clear out all the enemies, but he squirms so fervently he changes his mind.

Vesto explains that he and Ishara were captured. The Pactlords are using a machine to extract information about the Banewarrens from Ishara’s mind. He demands they give him a weapon, but they doubt his ability to help fight given his poor physique and obvious habit of excessive eating. Vatex uses his magic lenses of creature assessment on the halfling and they see he is only a fighter of minor skill, not much better than a newbie sword-swinger on his first dungeon crawl. They concede only at the man’s continued insistence and sincere desire to fight for Ishara.

In truth, a misdirection spell had been cast on the man. And they would soon discover what it was meant to conceal...

They encounter no challenges on level four, and ascend to the top of the belfry, where they hear the rumbling of some large machine. Early consumes two potions, and suddenly he is an invisible, ten-foot tall version of himself. Vatex casts magic on his gun, Dziga vanishes into shadows, Admah prepares his invigorating songs of courage, and Vesto casts a spell on himself, giving himself a layer of magical force armor -- which is strange, since they’d assumed he was a fighter of some kind, not a spellcaster.

At the top of the belfry, 100 ft above ground level and 200 ft above the bottom of King’s River Gorge, the bell has been removed to make room for two large machines provided to Brother Heth by the Pactlords of the Quaan. One is the Dream Probe, to which Emeris is currently attached. The other is a strange oven-like thing attached to a huge, complex apparatus that fills the corner.

Brother Heth has heard the huge Early coming up the stairs, although he cannot see the invisible warblade even as he steps up to the fourth level. The battle preparations of Heth and his bugbear cleric ally, TROLGIR, were underway already. Heth had already consumed potions of strength and barkskin, and received Trolgir’s blessing in the form of a layer of protective energy around his armor. Trolgir powers up with a suite of four spells, bolstering his endurance, weapons, and protection.

Dziga, hidden in shadows, and the invisible Early have already entered the top of the belfry. Behind them is Vatex, who drinks a potion of haste when he sees Heth. Heth does likewise. The bugbear cleric drinks its own potion of invisibility, and provides a further blessing that strengthens him and Heth.

Heth is ready for them and shows no fear. In fact, he taunts them. He is equipped in a full set of custom-fitted magc plate mail, and bolstered by many magical effects. He lost his connection with the Holy Emperor long ago, and no longer receives clerical spells. However, he has intensely studied the art of combat and has refined is two-weapon technique of longsword paired with light mace into its own deadly artform.

Vatex fires off a shot from his rifle. The aim is perfect and hits Heth square in the chest, but he takes it with merely a grunt despite the spray of blood. The invisible bugbear responds by casting a healing spell that largely mends the wound. Dziga appears from behind Heth, having moved there undetected. With Asura he stabs for the kill but actually BENDS slightly against the divinely empowered plate mail. Admah begins singing a rousing song that magically empowers his allies, and fires off an arrow but both it only breaks against Heth’s armor.

Heth retaliates against the shadowdancer, with a magically accelerated assault of sword and mace. Dziga suffers four devastating hits and falls back, leaving a thick trail of blood. Heth stabs at him but he disappears into the shadows as Early appears. Having heard clanging of the charging invisible warblade, Heth is not much surprised by the attack, although he is surprised by the magically heightened size of the attacker when he appears! The enlarged Cryssaegrym cuts deep.

As Admah sings, Vesto suddenly transforms into a serpentine monster with a bone-ring around its tail -- a naga Pactlord called EPHITAS. She uses sorcery to blast Admah with energy bolts, then casts a defensive mirror image effect upon herself. Admah finds himself facing seven images of the naga, and he continues singing his rousing song while striking at the images with his rapier.

Vatex draws his swords and joins Early against Heth, who proves to be more than a match for both. More often than not, his armor turns aside blades meant to inflict mortal wounds. He fights as though he has eyes in the back of his head, thwarting any attempt to flank him. His magic speed combined with his exceptional skill causes him to strike terrible wounds against Vatex and Early both. Vatex crosses his blades to parry Heth’s mace, only to have the former cleric’s longsword slash across his abdomen. Before he can recover, the mace smashes into the side of his face. He loses most vision in his left eye as his face swells up. Early is battered and slashed, but in his rage he fights on, storming Heth with blows. Heth does fail to turn aside each attack, but he is supported by the invisible Trolgir, who continues to cast healing magic upon him.

Ephitas fires an arc of lightning which blasts towards Early. The warblade makes a split second move to avoid the brunt of it, but finds himself assault by Heth. Admah pierces more mirror images but it not lucky enough to hit the true naga. Dziga supports him with arrows from Roguefriend.

Vatex takes some of the pressure off of Early with a flurry of blows against Heth. As Early falls back to drink healing potions, Heth concentrates on the elf. The two masters of two-weapon combat fight with brutal fury -- though both are remarkable examples of their respective forms, Heth has the edge at the margin.

At last the final mirror image is dissipated, and Admah stabs two deep wounds into Ephitas. She blasts him with more energy bolts. Trolgir appears across the room, throwing javelins at Vatex’s back as he fights Heth. He sees the blood spilling around Heth, and tells him they should retreat back to the Quaan -- it is not worth it to die! He gestures to a blurry distortion in the air off the belfry’s balcony -- a portal! But Heth seems afraid to go to the Quaan -- he’s never actually been there. He says will defeat the companions, lest he will die trying!

Trolgir disapproves of Heth’s choice but he does not abandon his companion. He continues throwing javelins at Vatex who has to fall back from Heth’s bludgeoning and slashing barrage. Heth’s haste effect finally wears off, mitigating his furious attacks and making him somewhat easier to hit. This gives the hasted Vatex a slight edge momentarily, but then Trolgir prays to whatever strange god he worships, and dispels Vatex’s magic speed!

Early rejoins the melee, trying to finish Heth but he cannot get Cryssaegrym through Heth’s defenses. His restored health is quickly in jeopardy again -- Heth’s blows still come fast and hard, hasted or not. Vatex curses as Heth turns aside each of his blades again and again. Early steps back, with the elf holding off Heth, and meditates deeply for a few seconds... the power of the Vajra returns to him, and he lunges at Heth with a Death From Above maneuver, striking a decisively blow that is only partly turned aside.

When Trolgir’s last javelin is used up and Vatex is still standing, he charges with his morning star and smashes it into the elf’s back with a sickening crack. Vatex strikes back, nearly eviscerating the bugbear, who retreats quickly after feeling the string of the tempest’s strike.

Heth is so badly hurt that he should fall any moment, but the same could be said of Vatex and Early. All three are badly wounded and near exhaustion. Again Trolgir pleads that Heth flee with them, and Ephitas makes a move for the portal off the balcony. Trolgir, badly wounded, does so as well, no longer caring whether Heth joins them or not.

Dziga disappears into shadow and makes a rush for Heth, driving Asura into his chest and into his heart, finally killing him. Early moves to block the portal, hitting the naga with a Soaring Raptor Strike that sprays green blood across the room. The naga uses magic to enchant Dziga and have him protect her. He fires arrows at Early, who is already nearly unconscious from blood loss. The bugbear runs through Early’s threatened area but avoids the opportunity attack, diving through the portal and disappearing beyond.

The naga attempts to do likewise, but Vatex hits it with a round from his rifle, then Early cuts it clean in half with the enlarged Cryssaegrym. The battle is finally won, but one of the Pactlords did manage to escape...for now.

When the companions remove Emeris from the Dream Probe, his consciousness automatically returns to his body, and the disembodied consciousness of Admah Sheron returns to his body. The bard is extremely confused, wondering what has happened and why he was watching himself do all these things with no control over his actions... They mention Saharasahla and he walks off, saying he’ll have to speak to the old man.

They take all the gear they can get their hands on from vanquished foes, and thoroughly search all the rooms in the building. They find Emeris’ stuff in Heth’s chambers, and he is glad to have it back. In the same room, they also find Heth’s various books on exotic fighting techniques, focusing on two-weapon fighting. Vatex finds these interesting, and takes “Fighting Techniques of the Pirate Kingdoms,” “Some Observations Concerning the Combat Traditions of the Xerani Tribes,” and “The Martial Protocols of the Granseal Phoenix Brigade.”

Heth’s chamber also contains myriad weapons of nearly every variety, including remarkable twin double pistols with silver lightning bolts etched into the barrels. Early fits these into his holsters. He also finds that Heth kept a martial script from Pyrna, although he probably couldn’t read. If read, Early could unlock a powerful new maneuver within the Vajra.

Nothing is particularly unusual in the chapel other than a stinking, empty room coated with slime. The group takes its loot and returns to the Rosegate House for a well-deserved rest.

The next day they get their reams of loot identified and liquidated. Emeris takes a magical headband from the naga that increases his intellect. Vatex takes Heth’s magic longsword to pair with the Flame of Elmekia. Early considers keeping Heth’s magical plate mail for now, but he will have to get it refitted by a skilled armorsmith.

Early takes Heth’s silver Bracers of the Tiger Claw Scholar, which increases his contact with the Vajra. He also takes Heth’s twin pistols, which carry an enchantment that produces electricity-infused ammunition. He also takes Heth’s magic belt, which granted limited healing powers to the wearer.

Dziga takes Heth’s Crystal of Steel Warding, a rare form of Elder Elf magic that attaches to any piece of armor and absorbs some damage to the wearer.

Vatex also sells his magic sniper rifle and acquires a repeating rifle from the Shuul’s Smoke Shop. Such weapons are rare and considered state of the art, being able to fire six shots before reloading. Even better, the weapon carries a minor enchantment for extra strength.

Most interesing of all is a strange dagger that was also carried by Heth, with an unusually long half, and a silver-and-blue hilt with white diamonds set around the pommel. The mage at Myraeth’s Oddities says there is an aura around the dagger, preventing identification. They will need to find a powerful wizard to dispel an aura of such strength.

The company visits the only powerful spellcaster-for-hire they know -- Dick Sparklewand, who knows them as the adventurers who needed his Stone to Flesh magic to restore Emeris and Early when they’d been petrified by the breath attack of the gorgon of Aggah-Shan. Though busy working on new spells, he says he is happy to dispel the aura around the dagger for the right price. He tells them to return in the morning when he has the appropriate spells prepared.

After dinner, Vatex and Emeris travel to the cliff overlooking the rest of the city, remarking on the 150 or so Republicans protesting the imprisonment of Helmut Itlstein. Emeris says he would like to see revolution, but Vatex doubts its likelihood. Emeris counters that these things just have a way of exploding all of a sudden, and the death of beloved leader like Itlstein can sometimes push radical people over the edge.

Due to a botched spell, it ends up taking all the next day for Dick to finally dispel the evil aura around the dagger and identify it. The group is somewhat disappointed when he reports that it is not a powerful weapon, but they are interested when he says it contains an intelligence of some kind.

When they touch it, the spirit within the dagger speaks for the first time since the evil aura was placed upon it an unimaginably long time ago. The spirit says it is called YAESHLA, and it is happy to tell its take -- she was once the haft of an ancient magical staff called the Staff of Shards, a weapon sundered in the final battle against the Dread One, Eslathagos Malekith.

Originally, Yaeshla was an elf child, ailing from a magical disease that consumed her very soul. To save her, the finest elven mages and artisans imbued her spirit within the staff. Now she seems quite content to live on in this form, but she longs to regain her true destiny as the staff of shards. After the staff was broken in the battle against the Dread One, her owner, an elf wizard named Maeritha Moonrise, fled with Yaeshla and one other piece of the staff, a rodlike midsection. For even though Eslathagos Malekith had fallen, powerful contingent magical wards threatened her and her comrades. The bottom tip of the staff was left in the deepest portion of Jabel Shammar -- the top of the Banewarrens. The whole place was sealed behind them. Maeritha believed there was no way to reunite all the portions of the staff.

Yaeshla wanted to stay useful, so Maeritha gave her to her apprentice, a half dragon mage named Thurnuin. Thurnuin added the blade in Yaeshla’s current form. Many years after Maeritha passed away, Yaeshla witnessed Thurnuin’s gathering of some rather surprising comrades in an extradimensional realm he created -- the Quaan.

Thurnuin’s companions were a beholder named CHARCH-PAHN, a mind flayer named Ilaprisarol, and a black dragon that called itself Father Claw (now known as a minor draconic deity). Together, the four of them swore a Pact to work together to eliminate the hated humanoids “infesting” the world. Yaeshla does not know if Thurnuin had always been evil, or if he was corrupted towards the end. In the end he aligned with his ‘monstrous,’ draconic heritage against humanoids.

Over the thousands of years that passed, the Pactlords’ power went through peaks and valleys. Father Claw left, and many of the original members died. As far as Yaeshla knows, only Charch-Pahn still lives, a shriveled ancient husk of a beholder. Yaeshla was passed down from owner to owner among the Pactlords of the Quaan until she was given as a “gift” to Brother Heth for his service. In reality, the aura upon her allowed the Pactlords to spy on their humanoid servant as they sought the Black Grail.

Now free of her enchantment, Yaeshla wants nothing more than to rejoin the other portions of the Staff of Shards. She knows of the portal to the Quaan that exists at the top of the belfry, and she knows that one-third of the staff lies in “the Black Manor” in that extradimensional realm. She feels pretty sure that the other part remains in the Banewarrens, close to Jabel Shammar, the fortress at the top of the Spire.

Emeris deduces that the Staff of Shards, if assembled, should provides a means to destroy the Banewarrens key -- the mummified hand of Danar -- which is now carried by Navanna Vladaam. That fact, along with the reference to the “sealing rod” mentioned by Geristranomos, puts a few more pieces of the puzzle in place.

They get ready to attend the ceremony at the Temple of Calethon that night, they discuss their next course of action. Saharasahla contacts Emeris via the thoughtstone, and says they basically have two options ahead of them -- one, return to the Banewarrens and try to get ahead of any other competing faction; or two, assault the Quaan now, for the Pactlords will continue to hunt the Black Grail and endanger Emeris’ quest. Also, getting the middle piece of the Staff of Shards could be useful. For if the companions figure out how to reseal the Banewarrens before anyone else and even gain the means to do so, they can more easily control if and when that happens, enabling them to acquire the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows before it is too late. Saharasahla says he will research the Quaan to find out what it is like there.

Meanwhile, the bugbear cleric Trolgir brings ill tidings back to his comrades in the Quaan...

Next: An evening with Shaelukar Darkfingers at the Temple of Calethon!

Random Elanian Factoid: Sometimes a retiring adventurers or the relatives of a slain adventurer will set up a table in the Undercity Market’s Great Hall to sell used equipment, maps, and so forth. Sometimes such sales even include minor magic items. Many sell for 75 percent of
normal value—any less, and they could just sell them to a shop for half value; any more, and the buyer might as well purchase the gear new.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

EPISODE XLII: The Banewarrens, Act II - The Outer Vaults VI: Elemental Summoning Chamber; Kidnapped!

Augustar 4-6

After a cold, uncomfortable rest in the airlock, Emeris the shadowcaster, Vatex the tempest, Early the warblade, and Dziga the shadowdancer feel ready to proceed. Outside the airlock, Early pulls a heavy iron chain that activates a secret door elsewhere in the complex. Vatex locates a secret door to a passage that leads back to the chamber with the pegasus statue.

Near the chamber with the cyclops-things, they find the chain has opened a secret passage into a long corridor with three bane vaults. The first vault is already opened and apparently plundered. When the group enters the chamber to investigate, a gust of wind from down the corridor signals the conjuration of a huge air elemental that attacks them. It kicks and punches at them with arms of slamming air. As sword and shadow magic wear the thing down, it makes a desperate punch at Early, then reaches down to snatch up Emeris, trying to crush him. Dziga’s magic dagger finally kills the thing before it squeezs the life from the half-dragon.

When they reenter the room to investigate, they find themselves facing another air elemental, conjured up somewhere in the darkness down the northern corridor. The massive elemental transforms into a whirlwind and sweeps through the passage, battering and tossing the Rosegate Company. By the time it is finally defeated, it has taken its toll. Early and Emeris had been badly battered.

The second vault has also been opened. Inside, they can see a transparent orb of force holding a swirling green mist. When they enter the room to investigate, a third huge elemental is summoned from the north. Blasted by magic, and cut by a flurry of blades, the elemental is defeated. All but Dziga are significantly injured, and they leave behind a veritable pile of empty potion vials by the time they are done healing.

The third vault has not yet been unlocked. Dziga gets it open and they see that there is a little recess in the far wall, with a human skull tattooed with strange arcane markings. It is held behind a grate with iron bars. Emeris wants the skull, but the party is now wary of entering these vaults. They proceed north and find the apparent source of the conjurations -- a large, wood-and-cloth folding screen on which are painted whirlwinds. At Early’s suggestion, they burn the screen.

They now safely enter the vaults. The orb containing the green mist is immovable and impenetrable with their resources. The skull is acquired by a feat of tremendous combined strength, whereby Vatex, Emeris, and Early pull the grate right off the wall. They take the skull and proceed north, discovering a secret door behind the air elemental summoning chamber.

Dziga and Vatex move into the passage beyond to scout the long, eastward passage. Early and Emeris, waiting by the entrance to the passage, are suddenly attacked by Pactlords of the Quaan appearing from the ethereal plan -- a phase spider, and a female dwarf carrying a piece of paper.

Emeris is lucky enough to see the appearing enemies at the last second, and gets off a blast of killing shadows buys that him a few extra seconds, but it is not enough. The phase spider extends a long leg and touches him. At the same time, the dwarf drops the paper and touches the spider. Early watches in shock as the three of them disappear back into etherealness.

Dziga and Vatex emerge from the secret passage, to find Early alone. They read the dwarf’s dropped paper, which says: “If you ever want to see your comrade alive again, you will leave the Banewarrens. We will contact you again once you are out. Do as we demand, or your friends dies a slow, agonizing death.”

On the ethereal plane, the phase spider and the dwarf try to subdue Emeris, along with their brutish Pactlord ally, a 18-foot tall athach named CHAST. With ease, the three-armed brutish abberation grapples Emeris and pummels him into submission. The Pactlords take their unconscious captive back to the city.

The warblade says its time to do to the Pactlords of the Quaan what they did to the chaos cults -- strike a blow from which they would never recover. Dziga and Vatex agree. But their first priority must be finding Emeris and getting him back. The group makes haste back to Elan, fortunate enough to encounter no adversaries on the way back.

Back at the Rosegate House, Vatex, Early, and Dziga consider any resources available that might help them find the shadowcaster. Vatex heads to Saharasahla’s library, and Saharasahla is distressed to learn that Emeris has been captured. He says he will use all his resources to find him, and disappears into his bedchambers upstairs.

Dziga and Early head to Castle Shard to ask for magical assistance. Lady Rill says she will scry and attempt to find Emeris that way, and they should return in the morning.

Emeris regains consciousness, his vision blurry and his head pounding. He finds himself strapped to a large machine, and something heavy attached to his head. He tries to look around and sees a steepled wooden roof and stone walls, like a bell tower or similar place. He sees a vaguely familiar, stern-looking bald man talking a brutish, brown-furred humanoid wearing an unidentifiable iron holy symbol. He cannot make out what they are saying before he slips into a deep, sleep-like trance.

Meanwhile, Vatex has hit the streets, prodding his contacts in the seedy underworld, trying to find information about Pactlord operations. After all, they must have a base of operations in the city. He learns of various unusual monsters being sighted in the dark alleys of Riversgate District, particularly around the Chapel of St. Thessina. Strange, he thinks.

Before calling it a night, he also speaks to a fortune-teller about seeing the silver-haired elf woman in mirrors. The fortune-teller has heard of the phenomenon of “mirror seeing,” and tells him to speak with the Fate Weavers, an organization of prophers and seers who claim the ability to see others fortunes.

The next morning, Dziga and Early visit Lady Rill for the results of the scrying. She reports that she could not discern the exact location, but she saw Emeris strapped to a huge machine and apparently unconscious. In the background, she could see an open balcony, overlooking what appeared to be King’s River Gorge.

They then visit Myraeth's Oddities to have the tattooed skull from the Banewarrens identified. They are informed it is a legendary item called "the Lying Skull" -- once per week, it allows the possessor communion with the servant of an evil god.

Vatex can learn nothing from Saharasahla, who is in a deep slumber when the elf visits the library that morning. So the elf heads to Riversgate District and tries to get some information about the Chapel of St. Thessina. He speaks to a man who runs a bakery across the street, who reports that Brother Heth runs the place. The baker says he knows a lot of people but doesn’t actually know anyone who worships there, even though there always seems to be a lot of activity there -- including lights on in the belfry in the middle of the night. The baker hadn’t seen any monsters though.

Vatex also leaves a message the Ghostly Minstrel for Jevicca Norr. He figures since the Inverted Pyramid and the Holy Order are enemies, perhaps he can get aid in an assault on St. Thessina’s chapel. She later responds with a sending to meet for lunch the next day.

The party regroups at the Rosegate House, seeing all signs pointing them to the Chapel. Before they can get down to planning, they are visited by an elf priest named KURAIL from the Temple of Calethon. He says the temple wanted to extend an invite to Vatex to join the elven community for a star-signing ceremony. This was because he had developed a bit of a reputation for his involvement in stopping the barbarian siege. Vatex is reluctant to accept, generally feeling only disdain for religious types, but then Kurail mentions “Shaelukar Darkfingers” said they should attend. Kurail explains that he is one of the temple’s most generous donors. Shilukar?! Why is he so interested in giving money to a temple for surface elves? The Rosegate Company agrees to attend the ceremony in two days hence, if only out of curiosity.

They decide to hold off formulating a plan for attacking the chapel until they speak with Jevicca and see if the Inverted Pyramid will commit resources. The groups wonders about Emeris’ current condition...

Lastly, they visit Geristranomos at the Temple of Vexander, and see it is fully repaired. It makes a hubbub about how it must return to the Banewarrens to close vaults, reset traps, and keep people from plundering that place. He also mentions something called “the sealing rod,” and it is intimated that this item could be used to seal the place up.

The next morning they receive another sending, this one apparently from the Pactlords of the Quaan. They say they will turn over Emeris, alive and well, in exchange for 100 platinum coins, to be placed in the alley behind the Bull and Bear Armory after midnight, that night.

At the Ghostly Minstrel, they enjoy a tasty lunch while speaking with Jevvica. The sorceress says she finds them unreliable and she has hired the “White Wizards Three” to be the Inverted Pyramid’s new agents. Their mission will be to enter the Banewarrens and seek a way to seal the place up. She has also heard that the Holy Order is preparing to send a team down into the Banewarrens.

She does not believe them when they tell her the Pactlords are working with Brother Heth. Nor does she believe them when they say they know how to seal up the warrens, but they do not mention the sealing rod. The two parties each refuse to be the first to give up information or assistance, so it looks like the business relationship between the Rosegate Company and the Inverted Pyramid is dead.

It looks like Dziga, Emeris, and Early will have to take on the forces inside the Chapel of St. Thessina alone, but at least they have acquired enough intelligence to plot a good assault-and-rescue strategy. They return to the mansion and begin to make their plans...

Next time: The Rosegate Company brings the battle to the Pactlords!

Random Elanian Factoid: It is said that the Chapel of St. Thessina has been denying healing services to needy worshippers, even those with money. If true, such actions are likely to get Brother Heth get a strong reprimand from the Holy Order.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

EPISODE XLI: The Banewarrens, Act II: The Outer Vaults V - Encounter with Navanna; The Water Tank

Augustar 4

Dziga awakes in the middle of the night in terrible agony, his flesh peeling away by the presence of a familiar, disruptive aura. Blood is splattered all around his bed. The room seems stretched out and distorted, like everything is far away from him. In the corner, he sees the familiar robed figure of “the Black Man” sitting in the shadows. He suddenly stands, and his voice is like thunder when he says:


Dziga screams in agony and knows he will be dead in moments... but then he awakes, and it is morning. He is alone.

When Dziga tells his friends of this dream, the group is concerned for his sanity. Emeris in particular wonders, didn’t they stop the Night of Dissolution when they stopped Khyron’s ritual? Or was that just an attempt to bring about that dread event earlier than it would otherwise take place?

The Rosegate Company gathers its gear and heads to the manor in Oldtown. Emeris gets everyone committed to staying down in the Banewarrens as long as possible, to make as much progress as they can. They were still playing catch-up on the competing factions.

Upon arrival at the manor, they see soldiers from the Holy Order guarding the entrance. They say they were ordered by Brother Heth not to allow anyone inside. Talking their way past them does not work, so Early scares them away by drawing his Cryssaegrym from its sheath, which produces a frightening roar. The soldiers hurry back to the cathedral, saying the companions will regret their assault. Down in the cellar, another soldier guards the entrance to the umber hulk tunnel. Emeris and Vatex punch the guard out, and tie him up. Emeris suggests they kill him and dump his body in the umber hulk lair. Early strongly opposes such a murder. They decide to tie and gag him, and leave him in one of the bedrooms upstairs.

They return to the location of the plug without incident, although along the way they do notice that Aelrich’s body no longer among the fallen of the dead Vazdah followers. Beyond the plug, they find three open vaults, their evil treasures already looted. Down a long corridor they are attacked by a will o’ wisp that casts bolts of greenish-yellow lightning at them. Early and Dziga bring it down with bullets and arrows.

They navigate past another trap that casts spears of force at them, Vatex and Emeris taking hits. Dziga cannot be convinced to be blasted by the trap while he disarms it, so they resign themselves to getting blasted by it each time they pass. Past this is a stairscase leading to level two of the outer vault area.

In a room with a pegasus statue, they find a secet door that cannot be opened from this side. An adjacent room contains a marble statue of Saint Danar. North they find another vault already opened by Navanna, containing an ancient suit of plate mail held by black chains, suspended above a deep pit. The others cannot approach the suit because of an electricity trap Dziga is unable to disarm, but Emeris flies towards the pit. When he approaches, the spirit of TIRRANTH, an ancient, despicable, cruel old despot from ancient times. He introduces himself as “the Tyrant of Moldonon, the Despoiler of Galboria, the Butcher of San’Rativa, the Bloody King of Vuldoza...” and the list goes on. Emeris finds it hard not to mock the old spirit, which is apparently shackled to this place. Tirranth says that he should not be disrespected, for he knows many secrets about the Banewarrens. However, he says that unless they have a cleric with them, they are useless. Emeris cannot get the contemptuous, arrogant old spirit to reveal any useful information. They leave the spirit of Tirranth. They don’t want to be bothered getting a cleric, but they might be able to have Dziga use divine magic scrolls to use the desired effect.

Exploring northern passages, they encounter four, four-armed, cyclops like creatures with horns sleeping near a shrine to Kiiri, goddess of life and sustenance. A combination of magic and blades takes down the monsters, but Dziga is hurt badly. After healing his wounds with potions, the group backtracks and Vatex’s keen ears detect people talking somewhere ahead.

The group stealthily advances and identifies Navanna Vladaam and her two werewolf henchman in a room with a ceiling shrouded in darkness even the darkvision of Dziga and Emeris cannot see through. They were pondering what the darkness above might hide and how they might search the high area. Vatex casts a spell on his rifle, and Early drinks a potion of strength. Dziga and Emeris fade into the shadows, and the Rosegate Company launches its ambush.

Undetected, Dziga suddenly appears from the shadows, firing an arrow from his bow, Roguefriend. Navanna twists an the arrow glances her shoulder. She fires back with two well aimed shots and Dziga takes an arrow in the leg and in the abdomen. Early charges down the corridor, his sword glowing from Emeris blacklight magic. Navanna’s werewolf guards draw dragon pistols and fire off shots, and the rushing warblade dashes side to side to avoid the bullets.

Emeris appears from the shadows, blasting waves of shadowy destruction from his eyes and mouth. Navanna and the werewolves are smashed by magic, then Vatex takes aim at Navanna and pulls the trigger. The shot takes her in the side, a grave wound. As Early engages the werewolves, Cryssaegrym in one hand, silver dagger in the other. Navanna uses her bow to defend against Vatex and Dziga as they come at her, blades flashing.

Unwillng to fight under such poor circumstances, Navanna activates her magical headband and disappears to an unknown location, saying as she vanishes they were lucky this time and she would meet them again.

This leaves the urban werewolf henchman very outmatched. Their resistance to all but weapons made of alchemical silver gives them some survival power, but Early’s fierce blades eventually cut them down.

In the darkness shrouding this room’s ceiling, Emeris carefully flies around and finds an iron ladder hanging from the ceiling. Dziga climbs the ladder and searches the ceiling carefully, finding a switch that reveals a secret door in the south wall. This leads to a water shrine, with a glowing statue of the nymph ESTALADA, one of Danar’s allies.

West of the shrine they find an airlock connecting to a huge water tank, which they estimate to be above the drainage pool. Fish swim about the water, occassional snatched by the monstrous octopuses in the glass tubes beneath the tank. They can see there is another airlock on the other side of the tank. Getting there will be a challenge.

The company figures they can fill the airlock, then hopefully get across the water tank to the other side without being snatched by the octopuses. They pull the lever to let water into the airlock. Taking deep breaths, they pull the second lever to open the glass door to the tank and head out.

Emeris and Dziga slip into the darkness. Early and Vatex remain visible targets, and each are snatched up by the tentacled monsters. Early fights desperately, slashing with Cryssaegrym and filling the water around him with bloody mist, but each time he pulls free he is grabbed and constricted again. Air is squeezed from his lungs, his ribs crack. Again he breaks free after a bloody slash, but his equipment is so heavy, he can only slowly walk along the tank floor, and he his easily scooped up again.

Vatex situation is similarly dire. His belt of giant’s strength helps him right off the lashing, grabbing tentacles, but his equipment too encumbers him too greatly. He is repeatedly snatched up until Emeris makes a desperate gamble and blasts the octopus and the elf with shadow magic. Both his friend and the monster are wounded, but Vatex fights his way free, struggling to hold his breath against the pain of broken ribs.

As Early keeps fighting, Dziga quickly ties a rope around one of his arrows. The second octopus attacks Emeris, grabbing him and crushing him. The half-dragon shadowcaster breaks free and blasts more shadowy energy at the monster, destroying it. Early is still a problem. They can see he is losing his fight against the octopus. Dziga fires the arrow with the rope attached at the monster, hitting it in the eye. Early grabs onto the rope and Vatex yanks repeatedly, trying to pull the warblade free of the tentacles’ grasp. With a tremendous gust of strength he does so. Early kicks away from the monster as Emeris fires an arrow of dusk, which miraculously puts the thing into a coma. Dziga finishes it with a point blank arrow through the head.

Desperate for air, the companions get into the far airlock and activate the levers. The glass doors seal on both sides, and the water in the airlocks drains out. Exhausted, wounded, and badly shaken from their encounter in the tank, they decide to rest.

In the glow of shadowy blacklight, sitting on cloaks laid over puddles on the cold floor in the small room, Emeris the shadowcaster, Early the warblade, Dziga the shadowcaster, and Vatex the elven tempest drink potions, bind their wounds, meditate for strength, and rest for many hours. Navanna has been driven off for now and there is not yet any further sign of the Pactlords. It could be that they have taken the lead.

Meanwhile, the Pactlords of the Quaan have lost both their Grailquest Teams to the Rosegate Company. If their hunt for the Black Grail is to succeed, it seems they must get rid of the companions. To that end, they put a new plan into motion...

Next: Will the companions reach the Inner Vaults?

Random Elanian Factoid: Assault upon Holy Order officials or soldiers is generally known to carry a penalty of 1-20 years imprisonment, depending on the circumstances.