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.

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