The Rosegate Company proceeds to explore the area beyond the deactivated prismatic wall, fighting incorporeal spectres whose touch drains life, and a formidable mummy cleric-monk called Histephet whose fists hit like sledgehammers and inflict the curse of mummy rot. The companions prevailed, but at no small cost -- a third of Vatex's life force had been drained by the spectres, weakening him dramatically. And Early had suffered a wicked blow to the side of the face from the mummy, and within minutes his face began to rot away.
Vatex is committed to continue despite his weakened life force, but when the remove disease potion fails to heal the mummy rot, Early says he must return to town for healing. The elf accompanies him back to town for some treatment of his own, while Dziga and Emeris stay behind to explore a bit more.
Along the way, Early and Vatex pass by Saggarintys, who continues his meditative "analysis" of the Banewarrens at the Outer Vaults' warding generator. They ask the dragon for healing but the silver dragon says he cannot provide the divine magic they need. He says he is deeply troubled by his analysis so far. He reports the following:
> The Baneheart has not been breached, but it appears as though a new section or something was added after Danar and Saggarintys built the complex originally. Early suggests that it might be Goth Gulgamel, the fortress mid-way up the Spire, built long ago by Ghul, the Skull King, who claimed to be the half-fiend son of the Dread One and a demon queen.
> Although the Baneheart is not currently accessible without the hand of Danar / Banewarrens Key or a wish spell, it appears there are 11 vaults currently open already. Saggarintys says that the other, unopened vaults' keys are probably stored away in Jabel Shammar somewhere...
> The Sealing Rod, the item necessary to permanently shut the Sealed Doors, is somewhere in the Baneheart. Saggarintys needs it, but cannot get into the Baneheart without the key or a wish, and even if he could get in, if he were to be killed while trying to get it, _no one would be available to seal up the Banewarrens_. For Saggarintys used mysterious of ancient dragon magic to help build the warding generators,
Yaeshla, the dagger and one-third of the Staff of Shards, speaks up. She implores the dragon to allow them to progress to the Baneheart, get the piece of the staff there, AND possibly get the Sealing Rod as well. Win-win situation? But they also need the Sword of Lies (the Holy Order wants to transform it into the Sword of Truth, and the Rosegate Company just wants to be free of the quest spell cast on Emeris, requiring him to acquire it.)
And so at last Saggarintys is reluctantly but decidedly convinced that he must work with these folks. He will allow them to take the Sword of Lies unmolested, if they will acquire the Sealing Rod for him. He also tells them he needs five diamonds worth at least 500 gp each to start repairs on the warding generators, which will take at least a few weeks. He informs them that the Sword of Lies can be found at the level 120 feet from the bottom of the Baneheart. But even with the Sealing Rod's magic, one loose end will remain -- the Banewarrens key can still be used to bypass Sealed Doors between the Banewarrens' different sections.
Now finding and killing Navanna is ever more critical. As far as anyone knows, she still has the key and they need it to reach the Baneheart. But where the heck is she? No sign of her since the fight against her back on Augustar 4. There is no way they are inclined to launch another attack on the Vladaam Estate... their bums still ache a bit from the last ill-fated assault.
As they sleep back in their beds, the Dreaming Apothecary delivers some special orders that are completed from the other day -- Vatex gets a magical skirmish vest that makes him deadlier while attacking in motion, and Early gets some darkvision goggles.
Dziga and Emeris explore, reasoning that they should be careful about rummaging around through locked vaults, as Saggarintys may be able to detect this. They avoid a few vaults with strange banes that suggest great danger, including a glass cylinder full of swirling gas, and a strange pit from which an aura of cold emantes...
They camp in the Banewarrens, waiting for Vatex and Early to return.
The evening before, Judge Rahl had contacted Early and chastised him for being unavailable the last few days. He says Helmut's trial is on Augustar 16, and the Rosegate Company's testimony must be prepped. Rahl commands them to meet at the Dalengard courthouse the next morning, but Early blows him off to go to the Banewarrens instead.
Vatex and Early identify their stash from the White Wizards Three and the followers of Vazdah. Most is liquidated, but Vatex claims Aelrich's sword as his own -- the demonic-looking weapon is the Rudeus of Vadaz, a magical weapon of ceremonial importance in the cult of the Demon of Destruction. It's purple blade produces bursts of abyssal flame on critical strikes. The Flame of Elmekia is retired from service and put above the mantle at the Rosegate House.
The next morning they are scried on the way to the old manor in Old Town, but resist its effect. They assume it is Judge Rahl. On the way through the umber hulk tunnel back to the Banewarrens, they are scried again, and receive a magical sending that claims to be from someone, an "anonymous supporter," within the Inverted Pyramid. This stranger reveals he is not working with Jevvica Norr and wishes to stop allies of the late Brother Heth -- from finding the Sword of Lies! WTF?? Either this guy doesn't know what's going on, or he knows something the companions do not. The stranger says he is teleporting a friend to help on their quest, and with that... a capable eldritch warrior named AVACH UR-TESTRIN shows up.
The elf and warblade rejoin Dziga and Emeris close to lunch time, bringing fresh supplies of potions and snacks and fresh water. There is a debate about bringing Avach along, because no one wants to trust the guy. When they ask, "Who is your boss?" He replies that... he cannot remember! He seems as confused as they are. Is he under a spell of some kind? Avach convinces them that he will be useful because of his skills, and so, with their new 'ally,' the group continues on...
Past the Dragonlock that imprisoned Saggarintys, they find a fountain depicting an elf woman. The stone elven visage turns to them and asks, "What does it mean to be good?"
The group debates how they should answer -- it is obviously a trap of some kind. After a minute, Emeris answers sarcastically, along the lines of, "It means sticking your nose in everyone's business!" The answer is not what was sought, and four hound archons, bound long ago as guardians, appear in the chamber and attack. Emeris gets the first move and blasts killing shadows, eradicating one instantly and wounding the others. Softened up by shadow magic, the rest of the group dispatches the others swiftly.
Though they failed the "test" of the fountain, they find a secret door and force it open. It reveals a staircase going up... way up. Before they can ascend, they hear a terrible beast like roar to the east, somewhere in the darkness back towards where they fought the mummy and the spectres...
They follow the sound stealthily, and find a pair of down-on-their-luck adventurers, a human male warrior named THAMAS and a elf wizard named ERIETA. The elf woman's hands are...gone! Only stumps remain. No blood though, which is strange. Thamas says a beast attacked them, and its bite dissolved flesh, and they had to retreat, but they had to leave their friend "Fertistrin" behind. They think he might still be alive.
They beg for the Rosegate Company to help them slay the beast and save their friend. Everyone tries to tell them to just GTFO, especially Vatex who finds the whole thing very suspicious... but they accede to the pleading adventurers, who say they can't leave anyway because that beast will kill them.
The group backtracks to where the two adventurers lost Fertistrin, and they find the "beast", just outside the Sealed Door from the Outer Vaults. Then at that moment, the Pactlords' trap is sprung.
"Thamas" was really a Pactlord phasm named LI. Originally, Li had been brought to Elan to infiltrate the Rosegate Company when Emeris had been captured. The plan was once the Rosgate Company paid the ransom to get their friend back, Li-disguised-as-Emeris would take his place. He'd then hoped to get everyone alone one by one, polymorph into a mind flayer, then eat their brains. Alas, it was not to be -- the Rosegate Company had too quickly discovered where the captured Emeris had been taken, and their rescue was completed before the infiltration plan could be initiated.
"Erieta," the elf wizard with no hands, was really SARRACHK, a female aranea sorcerer.
The "beast" was really just a minor illusion prepared by the green hag sorcerer and Kikanoile, who was actually the last surviving member of the original Grailquest Team that was mostly slaughtered a month ago.
Dziga moves through shadow into the chamber, firing off an arrow from Roguefriend at the image of the beast. When he recognizes it is a mere illusion, he warns the others. Avach and Emeris attack Sarrachk, still in the elf woman form, and she retreats while transforming into her arachnid form. Kikanoile fires a burst of arcane webbing that separates Dziga from the others. The shadowdancer maneuvers through the sticky webs and takes on the green hag himself, Asura and Dagger of Venom slicing viciously. She retaliates, simultaneously firing wands of lightning bolt and glitterdust. Dziga avoids the bolt easily, and the blinding effect of the glitterdust, but is covered by golden particles that make hiding impossible.
Vatex and Early fight through the webs, as Li transforms into a war troll, giving him powerful natural armor and uber-strength. Li rips into them with claws and teeth, shredding flesh and dazing victims with his mighty blows. Early tears free of the webs and extends his mind through the Vajra, executing a devastating Soaring Raptor Strike that leaves Li badly bloodied. Blood sprays from his jugular, covering the walls and stairs and combatants alike. The phasm-troll shows no sign of slowing. Li retaliates with a storm of blows, leaving Early dazed and unable to act.
Sarrachk, nearly dead, tells Emeris that even if they die, "Ferendis" will be "arriving soon," and when he does, the Rosegate Company will not stand a chance. Apparently Ferendis is the Pactlords' trump card, and he is brought in when all other options have failed. Ferendis never fails.
Sarrachk makes one final attempt to finish off the shadowcaster, calling upon a phantasmal killer spell to hopefully slay him outright. Fortunately for Emeris, his strong willpower resists the effect even as darkness takes the form of a nameless horror around him... With that, a final umbral blast defeat the aranea.
Though Early struck a critical blow, he is now basically stunlocked out of the fight. Avach and Vatex take up the fight against the phasm-in-troll-form. Avach cuts into Li's back while Vatex's spinning swords cut myriad bleeding wounds. Finally the troll goes down, after having dished out quite a beating.
Kikanoile uses glitterdust again and weakens Dziga with her magic touch, but the blind rogue keeps fighting, stabbing brutal wounds into the green hag. The Dagger of Venom stabs cleanly into her guts and pumps in dire venom, weakening her dramatically. With her allies dead, she knows she's finished. She hits Dziga with a web spell to slow him down. She starts to retreat, down the corridor into the Outer Vaults. Emeris uses magic to slide between shadows, reappearing in the corridor to cut off her retreat. She charges the shadowcaster, ready to run him down with her greater size and strength. Just as Emeris braces for impact, he hears a gunshot and Kikanoile drops dead at his feet. He looks past her corpse to see the smoking barrel of Vatex's rifle.
After this battle, they loot their enemies and return to the fountain area, and the stairs that lead up. After a steep ascent, they come to a huge cavern that seems to have been formed naturally. An 80-ft chasm separates them from the other side. Emeris shifts through the shadows to cross the chasm with Dziga and Avach. The two of them set up ropes while Emeris circles in the air above, watching for potential monsters or ambushes.
As Vatex and Early set up the ropes at their end, and start climbing across, Avach and Dziga sit in darkness, watching them make their way by the limited light they give off. Dziga hears footsteps... lots of footsteps... and grunts and gibbers... coming from the staircase ahead of them. Dziga disappears into shadow, leaving Avach to think he is alone. The eldritch warrior gropes around in the darkness, trying to find the shadowdancer, as the creatures' noises grow louder...
Dziga can see ten shaggy, bestial humanoids with wicked black claws and ape-like gaits rushing down the stairs, in quite an uproar. They run down the stairs, or climb along with walls with equal speed. Dziga pulls out his fireball wand and launches a blast at the stairs, burning up the bulk of the creatures but failing to kill any. They continue charging down. Avach channels magic into his shocking bastard sword, sheathing it with flame. The torch-like light allows him to see the flood of saggy bodies hustling towards him. He rushes forward and hacks the lead banebrute in half.
Seeing one of their number fall, the brutes converge on the eldritch warrior, ultimately bull-rushing him right off the ledge, to crash 80 feet below amidst the smashed rocks and stalagmites. This leaves Dziga fending off the attackers alone, as Emeris repositions himself overhead and Vatex and Early make their away along the rope over the chasm.
The first two banebrutes charge and Dziga puts them down with two rapid thrusts of his daggers, with one's momentum carrying it off the ledge to crash with a bloody splatter below. Two more bodies pile up at his feet. A fifth brute slashes with wicked black claws at his face, but he ducks and puts his daggers in its guts. Now pressed agaisnt the ledge against four of the brutes, getting pushed off the ledge is looking pretty likely... as a gamble that will compromise his friends on the rope, Dziga activates his fireball wand at his feet -- he flips over the blast as it expands beneath him. The rope holding his friends burns away and sends them falling (Vatex activating his feather fall ring, and Early activating the feather fall effect from his Phoenix Helm). They float lightly to the bottom and help the wounded Avach.
Two more brutes are incinerated in the flames or blasted from the ledge to a flaming crash in the chasm below. Before the last two can try to force him off the edge, Emeris swoops in with a blast of icy shadow breath, killing them.
With the coast clear, they set up new ropes again and get Early, Vatex and Avach to the ledge. The groups advances up the stairs from whence the banebrutes came, eventually coming to another large natural cavern. This one is even bigger, with the bottom of the yawning chasm even deeper. The opposite ledge is 30 feet above the one they are currently standing on.
This time, Emeris flies across the chasm to set up ropes. As soon as he steps off the ledge, all his magic items and active magic effects shut down. An antimagic field! Were they using potions of flight or some such means of crossing the cavern, they would have been treated to a nasty fall to the bottom...
On the other side, Emeris rigs up the ropes so everyone else can get across. Everyone crosses, and is relieved that the antimagic field exists only in the cavern, not the worked corridors beyond.
But something interesting happens when Avach goes through the field. The area suppresses a powerful enchantment affecting his memory, and he panics about where he is and why he's dangling from a rope 150 above the ground!
It turns out he was not sent by a sympathetic supporter within the Inverted Pyramid. He was not sent to help stop the allies of Brother Heth. He was not sent to stop anyone from getting the Sword of Lies. Instead, he was magically brainwashed by Renn Sadar and sent to infiltrate the Rosegate group to make sure they don't get the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows.
There is a debate about now killing Avach. As an agent of Lord Sadar who is direct competition for the exact item Emeris wants above all -- the original 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows -- Avach obviously cannot stay with them. Dziga and Emeris are on board with killing. Early not so much. Vatex, the only one who has taken any liking to the guy, is torn, but ultimately convinces Avach to just leave the Banewarrens for good and avoids bloodshed. Avach wants to say, arguing that he has proven real commitment, as himself, and not Lord Sadar's puppet. He bled in battle alongside them against the archons and the banebrutes and the Pactlords. He says he doesn't care about the Book of Inverted Shadows and he is not working for Renn Sadar anymore.
He wants to work with them, but it was not to be. Eventually Avach concedes and crosses the cavern, bidding them farewell... then heading for the surface.
And he almost made it.
Next time: The companions have almost reached Tremoc Korin, the Baneheart. Will they find Navanna and claim the Banewarrens key? Who is Ferendis, and when is he going to show up and supposedly slaughter the companions with ease?
Random Elanian Factoid: Who are the most powerful characters in the City of Elan? Many adventurers speculate on this, saying how much they'd like to find the most powerful x and stab him/her in the face. Depends who you ask. What follows is a non-comprehensive list of names that people mention most often, many of which are retired:
Kragas (barbarian, unaffiliated, Midtown)
Andach (druid, unaffiliated, Necropolis)
Kynn Ys (psi-warrior monk, Order of the Psionic Fist, Temple District)
Twin Lords Keper (assassins, the Vai, ???)
Dorant Khatru (warblade-fighter, House Khatru, Nobles Quarter)
Adlam Garland (cleric, Holy Order of Vigoor, Oldtown)
Peryn Bravemoore (ranger, Viridian Lords, Oldtown)
The Lonely Ghost (rogue, Longfingers’ Guild, Undercity)
Terra Branford (crusader, Church of Gaen, Temple District)
Shir of Kamarek (bard, Knights of the Chord, Oldtown)
Iristul Vladaam (blackguard, House Vladaam, Oldtown)
Galen Autumnsong (sorcerer, Inverted Pyramid/Castle Shard, Oldtown)
Nasir Heartblade (paladin, Holy Order of Vigoor, Temple District)
The Iron Mage (wizard, unaffiliated, Oldtown)
Archanfel (???, the Fallen/Keepers of the Faith, Dark Reliquary)