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.

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