Sunday, February 13, 2011

EPISODE XLV: The Banewarrens, Act IV: The Inner Vaults I - House Sadar's Agents; Sanctuary of the Betrayed

August 10

Early the warblade, Vatex the elven tempest, and Dziga the shadowdancer spend the day killing time while they await Holy Order’s resurrection of Emeris the shadowcaster, killed in the ill-fated assault on the Vladaam estate. That morning they shop for gear, as when Emeris is back, they will be heading back to the Banewarrens. In the Undercity Market, Early purchases a magical helm whose powers include allowing the wearer to speak with animals, cast a feather fall effect, and create a barrier of energy resistance. Dziga purchases an amulet that makes his skin tough like bark, similar to one Early already wears.

Back at the Rosegate House, Dziga spends the day in his room in isolation, and Vatex reads the fighting technique books acquired from Heth. He finishes the first, about the pirate kingdoms’ fighting methods, and doesn’t learn much, but he notes how Brother Heth had effectively adapted many of these techniques to his own fighting style.

Early reads the dark prophecy book from Saharasahla’s library. The book of prophecies reiterates various details already known to Early, but elaborates a bit further as well. It seems that Kyuss, who lived twenty thousand years ago, discovered the ruins of a dead civilization. The structures bore many strange writings about human sacrifice, and strange six-armed tyrants ruling over all with their brutal whims. Kyuss claimed this site as his own, and ordered his people to rebuild the city. Now Kyuss hungers for conquest. Trapped within his prison, his fractured mind is said to conceive and discard innumerable plots to escape. No idea is sufficient to break his bonds, no trick shrewd enough for him to get free. Instead, he beats against the walls and howls with a thousand voices.

Upon completing the book, Early heads back to the library to return Saharasahla’s book. After doing so, he has a strange encounter with a street preacher in Midtown, who is rambling about... “the coming Age of Worms!” Over and over, he repeats:

“Listen to me, of people of the Free City of Elan, and hear of the doom that builds before your pitiful blind eyes! You in your houses of gold, and hovel of mud and even in your armor of metal, none of you are safe from the doom... none of you are safe from the Age of Worms! It is coming. Our world is like a worm-infested apple. Have you not heard the dead dragons roar? Have you not smelled the rot festering under your very nose? Have you not had nightmares of the worm that walks, bringing decay to all he touches? Fools, you are all fools! The end is in sight and none of you will be spared. Decay is the future -- OUR future! -- and the future is here!”

Early tries to speak with the man, who is a crazed-looking homeless man in ragged, dirty robes. The man pauses from his rant only to say he is the “Speaker of the Golden Eyes,” and all must hear his words. A local shopkeep tells Early not to pay attention to anything the crazy man says -- he’s yelling about different crazy, meaningless prophecies every day! But Early thinks this prophecy may not be meaningless...

That evening in the catacombs of the Grand Cathedral, after public religious services are done for the day, a Sister Mara and a group of clerics calls back Emeris’ departed soul, restoring him to life. At the same time, they cast a quest spell upon him. Sister Mara explains that the quest spell will harm and sicken him if he spends 24 hours away from the hunt for the Sword of Truth. Emeris curses the situation, but it’s still better than having lost precious life energy as with a normal resurrection ritual.

Sister Mara explains to Emeris that they have researched the Sword of Lies, and learned that it is located somewhere in the Baneheart. Furthermore, research indicates that Danar had it protected by a powerful iron golem. Golems are immune to most magical effects, and impervious to most weapons not forged of adamantine. Emeris departs and meets with his friends outside the Grand Cathedral, and the group heads immediately for the Banewarrens.

Moving down the umber hulk tunnel, Dziga reveals that he has a special ally -- an undead shadow from the Plane of Shadow. When they ask him how he got such a strange companion, the shadowdancer does not explain. It seems he wants to keep this information secret for now.

Upon reaching the outer vaults, the group overhears a party of Banewarrens explorers, who turn out to be agents of House Sadar. They are looking for the Book of Inverted Shadows’ missing page, much like Emeris. RAX NETHERYL, the shadow adept and apparent leader of Sadar’s agents, tries to be diplomatic but his offer -- basically, leave the 751st page to Lord Sadar or you’ll regret it! -- is rejected and a fight breaks out.

Rax and his allies, a half-orc shadowdancer named ORZAG, a half-elf swordsage called KIRRINATH, and a shadowblade called NIKA DRENDOL, were unable to properly prepare for combat before they were found by the Rosegate Company, and find themselves at a considerable disadvantage. Blasted by powerful shadow magic and overcome in terms of martial abillity, they are dispatched with relative ease -- Orzag almost manages to escape but his shot down while fleeing into the drainage pool. Dziga an amulet of natural armor from Orzag, which is even more powerful than the one be bought earlier that day!

After looting the Sadar agents, the company makes its way back to the air elemental summoning chamber, and the secret door where Emeris had been kidnapped by the Pactlords. Down the long passage into darkness beyond the secret door, are are blasted by a section of the corridor protected by a forbiddence spell keyed to lawfulness and goodness. The entire group is blasted by the divine magic as they pass through the area.

Beyond, they find another Sealed Door, in front of which is an image of the Saint Danar. “Please, go no further,” the image says in a gentle voice. “You risk letting loose some of the greatest evils the world has ever known.” It seems Danar had thought that if the monsters and traps did not stop intruders from plunging deeper into the Banewarres, an impassioned plea might. But the Rosegate Company is determined to continue -- the Sealed Door is ajar, meaning that Navanna had probably already been this far.

They ascend a set of staircases into the first level of the Inner Vaults. Saharasahla contacts Emeris through the thoughtstone, warning him and his companions to be fully prepared -- “for now it was time to explore the true depths of this dungeon.”

At the top of the stairs, the entry fall of the Inner Vaults, is a fresco showing two angels, each with the tip of their wings touching to form an arch. Under them, within the arch, blades a sun symbol -- a symbol of Danar. The entire fresco, however, has been marred by what appear to be large handprints, whose touch burned the wall. These black, smeared prints appear very old.

Through the hall’s north door they find a fountain full of greenish-gray sludge, which gives off an acrid aroma. Next to the pool is a toppled statue of a winged lion -- the slime is about a foot deep all around the room’s floor. When Dziga enters the room, the slime on the floor and into the fountain is drawn together into a massive fiendish ooze that attacks the party. Arrows, bullets and blades merely split the ooze into multiple weaker oozes, leading to Early getting swarmed by nine of the creatures! Fighting fiercely, he avoids the acidic slamming blobs of ooze, as the strikes again and again, eventually getting up to nine oozes. Emeris finishes the monsters by blasting cold shadows from his throat, filling the room and killing the many weakened oozes in a single blast.

South, the party finds an old sanctification chamber, with the bodies of two dead wights. Exploring past the eastern door, they find themselves in a desecrated temple -- the sanctuary of a horrible vampire-like creature called “the Betrayed” It looks like a feral human with white skin, adorned in heavy plate mail, broken holy symbols, and has a halo of broken holy symbols orbiting around its head. The Betrayed claims Danar imprisoned him here because he discovered the truth about the gods -- that because the Elder Gods had abandoned the world, there were no true gods any longer. It revels in blasphemy, eager to belittle his living foes, attacking with supernatural fear, and mocking all deities in disturbing and very profane ways. It also remarks how it enjoys having so many visitors after so long, alluding to how it fought a “tiefling woman” a few days ago -- Navanna was here!

Four wights, two wielding sword & axe, two wielding spiked chains, enter the temple from another door to the west. Two more flank around through the sanctification chamber and attack from behind. Emeris blasts the first wave of wights with waves of shadow energy and shadowy cold breath attack. Dziga and Vatex fires arrows and bullets at the Betrayed, but the vampire seems to be barely scratched by the volley.

Early rushes into combat, blasting rounds from his shocking double pistols. Electricity cackles around the wight fighters as he closes in, slashing with Cryssaegrym and hacking away chunks of desiccated flesh. The Betrayed blasts a bolt of negative energy, hitting the shadowcaster and elf.

Vatex rushes forward and engages one of the spiked chain wielding wights and the Betrayed, who suffers vicious wounds from the Flame of Elmekia, its magical blade forged of alchemical silver and sheathed in magic fire. But when he strikes true with Heth’s sword, the blade is turned away as if the elf were attacking a wall of stone. The vampire’s skin is like granite, but to weapons of magic and silver!

Dziga and Emeris fight off the two flanking wights while Early engages the other three. The wights are undead creatures, skilled warriors in their past lives, and fight very effectively, but eventually the group puts them down.

They converge on the Betrayed, now without allies, spilling his vampiric blood across the marble floor. When the final blow is struck, the Betrayed takes to his mist form, floating away in retreat, down the hallway to the southern chamber. Vatex pursues in haste, and hits a series of traps protecting the hallway -- first, he is caught by an electrified floor. The second trap is a burst of dark blue light that he resists, and the third trap teleports him back to the electrified floor!

The Betrayed’s gaseous form retreats into a desecrated reliquary to restore its physical form. At this time, Dziga carefully disarms the magical traps built into the hallway. The time required to do so allows the Betrayed to have healed itself almost fully, and it reforms outside the gold and white box, blasting another bolt of negative energy which Dziga nimbly dodges.

A concerted, aggressive assault by all four companions -- with Vatex’s sword being particularly damaging to the unusual vampire -- causes the Betrayed to discorporate into its gaseous form again. This time, the group attacks the reliquary and shatters it. It seems the box was like a normal vampire’s coffin -- but instead of containing the vampire’s grave soil, it contained various broken holy symbols. In any case, without the reliquary to reform its physical body, it seems the Betrayed is vanquished for good.

The group gathers various valuables from the Betrayed’s sanctuary, including aromatic incense, the magical weapons of the wights, a crystal flask, and they also find 60 holy wavers on silver plates that seem to be completely fresh.

They decide to camp in the room of the desecrated reliquary. It seems defensible enough, which is important as if they do alternating shifts on watch, 16 hours will be needed before everyone is ready to go. Comfort does not come easily, for the areas seems to echo with evil-sounding whispers that come from no discerable source...

In this creepy milieu, splashed with the blood of the Betrayed, they rest. When they are ready, there will be a lot more of the Inner Vaults to explore.

Next time: More dangers to be faced as the Rosegate Company explores corrupted Inner Vaults...

Random Elanian Factoid: House Sadar is an Elanian noble house known for its long line of mages. Some call this house the "House of Shadows," and it is very powerful. Its leader, Lord Renn Sadar, has a strong association with the Inverted Pyramid arcanist guild and shadow magic. They are enemies of House Nagel and the old shadowcaster, Saharasahla. Lord Renn Sadar is considered one of the most powerful wizards in the city, and wields a powerful artifact called the "Shadowstaff."