Tuesday, May 31, 2011

EPISODE 52: Vermillion and the Death Busters; The Trial of Helmut Itlstein

Augustar 15-17

The Rosegate Company exits the Banewarrens without encountering drow or Pactlords or Sadar agents or anyone else.

The group decides that they should attack the Quaan, but since Helmut’s trial is tomorrow, they don’t want to get stuck in another demiplane and cause problems. After they sell loot they decide to hang out in town for a day or two, wary of potential assassins sent by the Republican leader...

Vatex visits the Fateweavers headquarters to ask about his visions of the elf woman in the mirror. He speaks with a man named ORLAS who is a “mirror seer”. He says the “mirror seeing” talen is extremely rare and difficult to control. But he explains that the vision seen by the seer is always something inextricably tied to his destiny -- whether it be an object, a place, a person, or whatever. Vatex says he sees an elf woman every week or two, and Orlas perhaps his comrade ORLANA (no relation) can teach him how to learn more from his visions. He says she will contact the elf soon as she will be interested in this ability.

Emeris doesn’t want to miss the trial, but doesn’t want to become ill from the quest enchantment that binds him by getting. So he decides to go to the Imperial University with Early to look for books about the Sword of Lies. Hopefully that suffices to qualify as continuing to quest for the spell, which it seems to. Early searches various texts and searches for info about “Kaluth-Mar.” Apparently it was a great city in a ancient human kingdom that existed more than 20,000 years ago. Its ruins should lie beyond the Holy Empire’s borders, in the jungle kingdoms of Narshe. That is now lizardfolk territory. Early borrows the book “Ancient Histories of the Border Kingdoms, Volume VI: Narshe,” which has a few chapters about Kaluth-Mar. Perhaps there are references to Kyuss.

The group reconvenes and heads to the White House to celebrate their victory over Navanna and the iron golem. Emeris gets the most expensive elven prostitute, and Early gets a tough biker chick prostitute. Dziga gambles on the Mrathrach game, and recalls adventures below in the cavern with the Mrathrach Machine. Emeris gambles as well, becoming quite a spectacle as he gambles away piles of gold coins, and walks away a few thousand coins richer. Vatex keeps a careful eye on anyone who might be an assassin.

Before the group departs the White House, they learn that someone outside it waiting for them. Dziga’s shadow companion, viewing the street from the adjacent alley, reports a couple of suspicious looking cloaked characters across the street. When the company leaves the White house, they attacked by the gun-wielding Vai assassin, Vermillion, and his elite team of chaositech wielding assassins -- the Death Busters!

Dziga sees Terquad and Varimer across the street, and fires his bow at the woman with short blond hair and a scar on her face. The arrow is true but she is quicker than he expected, and draws strange, small spikey balls from her belts. Varimer deploys her quickly, and it transforms into an man sized, angular, lithe constructs with bodies made gray-black metal, its joints flaring into jagged edges. The chaositech bot charges Dziga and smashes him with its metal fist which is surrounded with a disorienting aura. Vatex steps up against the chaositech bot, hacking and slashing, his magic blades shearing through metal but still the bot fights with mindless abandon.

On the rooftop of the costume shop across from the White House, the warforged psionic warrior R17 takes aim at Early and Emeris with his wicked looking chaositech gun. It fires a line of metal shards that tears through their flesh. The late night folks in the street, like hookers and drug dealers and scoundrels and, start running away from the carnage.

Emeris channels the power of shadow and dark energy swirls swirls around his hands, and Early rushes forward with a feral growl, rushing towards Terquad, who is trying to deploy his own chaositech bot. He is not fast enough. Early dashes across the street and Cryssaegrym cuts through the man from hip to hip. Varimer sees her comrade go down and tries to fall back as other allies appear down the street from behind a wagon -- Bartoli the half-ogre barbarian, wielding a nasty huge club covered in twisting spikes and small spinning blades, and Dorath Kir, the fighter and Vermillion’s second-in-command.

Bartoli charges Early who is smacked by the wicked club, the the warblade counter attacks with a Soaring Raptor Strike. Vatex’s blades finish the chaositech bot and he moves to join the warblade. Then Vermillion appears, from his invisible sniper position, firing a well-aimed shot from his sniper rifle at the elf as he runs past the fallen chaositech bot. The elf feels eyes on his back at the last second and turns a fatal shot through the neck into a serious chest wound. He coughs up blood but he’s still ready to fight and kill.

Vatex continues into combat with Bartoli, then takes a shot from the chaositech blaster on Dorath’s left arm. The blue beam of hissing energy burns his armor into his flesh around his ribs. Damn! The elf doesn’t relent, and despite injury nimbly ducks under two of Bartoli’s swings, and drives his blades into the ogre’s guts. He expects Early to finish the ogre at that moment but then Enchilios, the elven sorcerer, appears overhead, using magical flight to attempt to dominate from the skies. He casts a quick spell with a few words of power and a greasy slick appears beneath Early. The warblade slips with a crash as he attempts to evade Bartoli’s backswing. It appears that the ogre has the advantage and stands to crush his fallen enemy’s skull, but Early quick draws his two double pistols and fires unloads their four barrels of rounds cackling with electricity into the ogre’s chest, dropping the brute dead.

Vermillion takes his rifle in one hand and a modified six-shooter dragon pistol in his other hand, and fires the street with gunfire. Vatex and Early take several gunshot rounds. His bodyguard R17 fires those shrieking rays of metal shards beside him, filling Early’s body like porcupine quills.

Dziga slashes at Varimer with Asura. The disruptive field around the dagger dissolves her flesh and she tries to fall back, firing spinning blades from the device on her arm. Dziga dives through the swarm of blades, which he escapes unharmed. Emeris rushes down the street to cut her off, blasting shadow energy from his hands which smashes her against the wall. Dziga vanishes into shadow, reappears behind Varimer and cuts her down while fending off her slender chaositech ooze sword.

Emeris takes to the sky and uses the magic of shadow to imitate a arcane fireball, blasting the rooftop containing Vermillion and R17. Although the fireball seems made only of shadowstuff, it still burns still seems to light up the street in the night.

Enchilios casts magic webs at Vatex and Early, entangling them while Dorath Kir produces his own chaositech pokeball and rolls it towards the elf. It becomes another chaositech bot, but before it can get any advantage Vatex it free, fighting past it to attack Dorath Kir, who readies his gleaming longsword. Vatex stabs Dorath quickly then jumps 10 feet back. He realizes that Early is still trapped in the webbing, and R17 has jumped from the rooftop of the costume shop and is preparing to attack, powering up with an array of psionic powers. He turns against the chaositech bot to make sure it cannot flank Early, and sets his blades to work. He takes a hit from the disorienting chaos punch, but the bot loses its arm in the process as Heth’s blade severs its elbow. The rudeus splits the bot’s head but still it fights. Vatex looks over his shoulder and sees Dorath closing in on him.

Then Dziga’s shadow is there, grasping his head and draining his strength. Dorath swings his sword, which now seems much heavier. The shadow is cut, its negative energy bleeding into the Prime, and it falls back. The delay however gives Vatex time to cut down the chaositech bot.

Dziga can’t seems to dispel the webbing to free Early more quickly, so he uses his dispel wand and fires it at the flying Enchilios. Although the sorcerer’s shield and mage armor stay up, his flight is dispelled and he falls 60 feet to the ground. The impact breaks his ribs through his flesh and he gasps for life as blood fills his lungs. Emeris drives down towards him, hands extended with columns of shadow magic erupting from his fingers. Enchilios’ body simply explodes, with bloody chunks of meat splattering all along the street.

Early fights his way out of the webbing at last, just as R17 charges him, his acid dripping spear extended towards him. Early roars and lunges foward to meet him. R17’s spear bends aside against Early’s enhanted plate mail. Powered by psionics the warforged bodyguard recovers very quickly and attacks again, but Early’s katana slashes the haft of the spear, knocking it aside. Another step forward and Early’s Elder Mountain Hammer explodes the warforged’s head.

Emeris flies up and sees Vermillion go invisible and fire a shot as he jumps across to the next rooftop. Emeris takes the hit and then sees Varis, the mysterious gentleman stranger who accompanies the Death Busters, become visible on the custume shop roof. The exquisitely dressed fellow seems to have no weapons or armor at all and seems quite out of place. Varis uses an enchantment to influence Emeris’ mind. “This is all just a big mix-up. Stop fighting, come on down here with him, and we’ll talk.”

Crazy as it should sound, Emeris seems overcome with the amazing REASONABLENESS of that request. For some reason, Varis seems like a really nice guy and maybe this whole assassination thing is a big mix up. He lands on the rooftop, arms held out in a sign of peace.

Then the magic fades, but Varis is already quick to act. He quickly produces an exquisite pistol from his cloak and fires two quick shots at Emeris. Even as Emeris stumbles back from the two hits, Dziga teleports through the shadows of the nighttime street to appear behind the gentleman stranger. He drives his Asura into Varis’ back three times and he is dead before he even realizes what happened. But instead of collapsing dead, he dissolves into silver wisps of energy. Weird.. or somethig?

Vatex faces off against Dorath, and is joined by the shadow companion of Dziga. Vatex had hunted many generic human fighters in Elan and Dorath was really no different. He slashes wound after wound into Dorath as the shadow continues draining his strength. Dorath has become so weakened he can barely stand in his heavy suit of armor. He can barely swing his sword... he can’t breathe, he tries to get his helmet off, but the elf is attacking again. He musters the last of his strength to swing his sword, but the elf blocks easily and the blade slides along the rudeus of Vazdah to the hilt. Vatex then turns the blade down and aside, and brings Heth’s sword across to cleave through the helm and into Dorath’s head. Blood sprays out from the visor.

Vermillion jumps from roof to roof, and using his assassin magic, he remains invisible and silent even as he moves with great haste. Emeris blasts many rooftops with freezing breath magic, hoping for a lucky kill. Unfortunately, the group loses the assassin and curses his cowardice. As they loot the assassin bodies, the city guard shows up and seems quite happy about the whole slaughter when the group of dead bodies is identified as Vai assassi

Although Vermillion escaped, the good news is that he probably won’t be coming after them again... at least not for awhile, and now they can probably sleep easily tonight. .

As long as Aliaster Vladaam doesn’t teleport into their house while they sleep or something crazy like that! … Well okay maybe they can’t really sleep easy, but they can still go back to their house because if Aliaster can get them, he can get them pretty much anywhere.

Back at the Rosegate House, they walk in on Seanus having intimate relations with some halfling floozy on the sofa in the living room. Turns out Seanus told her the mansion belonged to him! The girl is quite displeased when she finds out Seanus is just the butler.

That night everyone gets some items delivered from the Dreaming Apothecary. Emeris gets a new vest that makes his subtle dragon scales hard like steel, and Vatex gets some augment crystals to attach to his weapons. Dziga finally gets his custom rapier, called “Gozu Vrow”, an ancient term that has something to do with corrosion. The surface of its blade looks dark and pitted, and it looks strangely fragile, as though the first blow might break it. But it is actually forged of adamantine, and can be sheathed with acid at Dziga’s will.

The next day, the trial of Helmut Itlstein goes poorly for the leader of the Republicans. In one particularly grotesque courtroom spectacle, Emeris empties a sack containing the Death Busters’ severed heads onto the floor as he mocks Helmut’s failed attempt to have them assassinated. Although Helmut’s lawyer attempts to impeach the Rosegate Company, mainly due to Dziga having taken a plea bargain on child murder charges, it is to no avail. The judge finds Helmut guilty of treason for conspiring to commit terrorist acts against the Holy Vigoor Empire, including the attempted takeover of the Holy Palace and assassination of the Holy Order’s Archprelate on the “night of the Black Rain.”

And so Helmut is sentenced to be publicly tortured until he begs for the Holy Emperor’s mercy, at which point he will be beheaded, three days hence. Helmut gives an impassioned speech, saying that he was burdened with difficult choices because of the prophecies revealed by his god, the Watcher of the Skies. He justifies his actions saying that everything he did (including, presumably, killing children) he did for the good of his beloved city.

The group decides to go out for drinks to celebrate Helmut’s conviction, and decides to visit a known Republican hangout -- a small tavern called the Hunter’s Club. A few patrons, Republicans likely, seem to recognize the group and try to avoid their gaze. They spend a few hours in this establishment, observing the patrons react to the news of Helmut’s conviction.

There are many Republicans in there that night. They listen carefully to one particular group, consisting of an unnamed man, and two other men named Bottalogie and Ezar. They seem to know something about Republican internal politics. They refer to a man named RAKNIAN and how, whoever he is, he will be furious. They speak of how much Raknian hates Elan’s city council. And how he is more aggressive than the ever-careful, meticulous machinations of Helmut.

They also speak of another person, or maybe a group, called REBEL FOUR, and how they wonder what Rebel Four’s reaction to Helmut’s conviction will be. Who or what is Rebel Four? No one in the group, not even Vatex, has ever heard the term.

On the way home, they speak with many people and eavesdrop on others about their thoughts on the whole “Trial of the Year” thing. So say how they like the Republicans but they are disheartened that Helmut was convicted on terrorism charges, because he always spoke publicly about bringing change with non-violence. Others are very pro-Republican and furious, talking about how the whole trial was a big sham. Others, pro-Empire types, are glad to see a traitor executed for his crimes. It is surprising though, overall, to hear how Helmut was commonly thought to be a decent, respectable guy in the religious and secular community and many people did indeed believe that the trial was a big joke based on various rumors they’d heard, both true and false. Of course, many others just don’t give a damn one way or another. The justice system is corrupt, what else is new?

Next time: An attack on the Quaan to retrieve the second piece of the Staff of Shards? Or back to the Banewarrens?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

EPISODE 51: The Banewarrens, Act V: Heart of Banes I -- Get the Key! Crush Navanna and Her Henchmen; The Iron Guardian of the Sword of Lies

Augustar 14

Early begins running from the cavern floor back to the stairs, chugging healing potions and channeling energy from his Healing Belt to mend the terrible cuts inflicted by Phaeton's massive sword. It will take him quite some time to get back to the fight, where Vatex, Dziga, and Emeris are about to faceoff with Navanna and Relegin.

Coils of darkness begin weaving around the half-dragon shadowcaster. Power floods his mind, and the new perceptions of umbral mysteries that such power offers. With this shadow mystery, his magic will be even more potent than ever.

At the moment, Relegin and Navanna are waiting on the upper ledge. Dziga disappears, and Relegin is surprised that his blindsense cannot detect the rogue, who draws from the power of shadows around him to remain concealed. He stealthily advances as Vatex draws his rifle and fires off a well-aimed shot. The round pierces Relegin's natural armor with a bloody spurt, but Relegin just laughs. Dziga looses an arrow as he slips between shadows, surprising Relegin but hardly provoking any distress. "You'll have to do better than that, Rosegate Company!" he taunts. Navanna stands at his side, ready to drink a potion of invisibility and get sneak attacks on her foes.

Relegin crouches low, then bounds with surprising agility forward and down the stairs. Stabbing tentacles burst from his claws and thrust towards Vatex who is pierced through the leg from thirty feet away. Vatex spring attacks, evading the onslaught of tentacles and claws. Tentacles drive down towards him and he weaves around the attacks. Gaping six-inch deep holes are left in the stone staircase from Relegin's attack, and Vatex swings the Rudeus of Vazdah with all his might. A slender line is scored in the chitinous natural armor, and purple flame splashes against the Keeper's body only to fizzle harmlessly. Relegin merely takes the hit and laughs -- a chilling, metallic insect-like sound.

Emeris takes to the air, arcing through the cavern on his draconic wings, lining up a strafing attack on Relegin before he brings his awesome might to bear against the elven scout. Waves of tenebrous energy burst from Emeris' eyes and mouth with a ululating cry. Relegin disappears within the swirling maelstrom of deadly shadow magic, empowered by the Metashadow Rod and the Thoughts of Shadow mystery Emeris put on himself. Vatex steps back, and waits for the effect to dissipate as Emeris flies past.

When the blast clears, Relegin is still standing. Lines of tattered flesh and ravaged armor plates mark the damage from the shadow magic attack, but the amused, mocking tone in Relegin's response suggests it is not nearly enough. "Haha, is that all you can do, Rosegate Company? You don't stand a chance!"

Dziga rushes forward and again tentacles stab forth to stop his advance. Pierced by one through the abdomen, Dziga backsteps warily, hand to the wound, blood spurting through his fingers, he focuses on the darkness around him and shifts through space, and appears behind Relegin to flank him with Vatex on the other side. “Your tricks don't impress me! Prepare to die!”

As Navanna fires arrows at the flying Emeris and the suddenly repositioned shadowdancer, Emeris takes an arrow in the ribs and Dziga takes on in the back. Vatex attacks Relegin with a flurry of steel. Several blows are turned aside, but two well-aimed slashes cleave through natural plating and through tender organs behind flesh and bone, but Relegin does not relent. The Keeper's claws rake his flesh and his tentacles pierce his body.

Early continues running up the connecting staircases, watching Relegin dish out serious punishment to Dziga and Vatex. Can he get there and help before it's too late? He sees Emeris swoop overhead and unleash a blast of cold shadow breath. Relegin's demon-like resistances leave him coated with hoarfrost but showing little damage. Dziga is joined by his shadow companion. With flanking positions, Dziga and Vatex work synchronously to try and take Relegin down with the shadow supporting.

Bleeding terribly, Vatex scrambles under a lashing tentacle spike and drives his Rudeus of Vazdah into Relegin's leg. Only a minor wound is inflicted, and the elf is forced back by a fierce kick. He powers up his torque of displacement and swings his swords again and again, fighting carefully to not open his defences too much to the vicious attacks of this awesome foe. It does him no good. Though he is splashed by the Keeper's blood with a few connecting hits, an equal number of strikes are turned aside. Relegin's resistances are too strong, and his armor is hard to penetrate.

Relegin moves against Vatex -- full attack! Tentacles burst from nodules on his back and strike downwards towards the elf. More tentacles snap free of the clawed hands and a pair of lashers are diverted by the magic torque, but a third pierces clean through Vatex's guts and out his back. Blood spews from the elf's mouth as another tentacle angles downward to strike the already impaled warrior, piercing through his shoulder.

Relegin retracts the tentacles with a nasty gout of elven blood. Vatex barely stands at this point, and Relegin finishes him with hateful brutality. He swings a huge claw which hooks into Vatex's ribs and picks his bloodied body ten feet off the ground. Relegin's second claw closes around Vatex head and upper torso, and then with a violent motion he rends Vatex's body apart.

Early sees the broken body of Vatex splatter against the ground and tries to run faster. Damn, his armor is heavy! He sees Dziga take up the fight single-handedly against Relegin, his shadow companion slowly draining away Relegin's massive strength with its undead touch, and Dziga's daggers stabbing for gaps between armoured plates. Dziga can see fiery light swirling within the gem of the Phoenix Medallion. This gift from King Drax of Silmaria, if it works as advertised, should fully restore Vatex to life. But will it be fast enough to help Dziga against the powerful foe towering over him? Early will certainly not make it in time!

Emeris swoops towards Navanna to allay her archery attacks. He blasts her with cold shadow breath and forces her back into the cavern for the moment. Unfortunately, this cannot help Dziga. Early sees the rogue face Relegin's full attack. Tentacles pierce Dziga's torso repeatedly as he tries futilely to dodge. Relegin's huge claw slashes across Dziga's face, exposing the bone of his skull. The second claw sweeps across and takes out Dziga's entrails. Though he is not dead, he is dying rapidly and unconscious.

When Early sees his second friend fall, desperation fills his heart. Have they lost? Relegin is so powerful. And if Navanna transforms...?!

But hope blooms as the magic of the Phoenix Medallion takes effect, and Vatex's torn corpse is restored fully alive, fully healed and rejuvenated admidst a large bird-shaped blast of flame. The medallion is transformed into a useless lump of metal, but its magic will allow the Rosegate Company to regain its precarious footing in this struggle.


“What?!? That's impossible!” screams Relegin as Vatex reappears before him. The elf, wielding the rudeus and Heth's sword, resumes his slashing assault on Relegin with renewed vigor. Blades slash at every angle. More Keeper blood spills but Relegin is undaunted, and hits back with awesome force. Slashed and battered by massive claws and stabbed over and over by lashing tentacles, Vatex must concede he is outmatched by this thing. He cannot help Dziga, who is dying on the other side of the monster. Rather than die twice in one day, Vatex borrows Early's prior tactic and jumps off the stairs. His feather fall ring allows him to float gently to the ground below without injury.

At this moment, Early rounds the corner on the landing and begins ascending the last flight of stairs. The Keeper’s tentacles burst and strike forward at the warblade. Cryssaegrym arcs over Early’s head and turns the dexterous appendages away. Energy flows from Early into his blade and he strikes with the force of a mountain. Coughing gouts of blood, Relegin stumbles backwards and makes Early pay for his vengeful attack. A flash of claws and tentacle spikes and Early’s blood stains the stone steps. Through his dimming vision, the dying Dziga can see the white of Early’s ribs through jagged tears in armor plates, and blood flowing down his back and legs.

Early grits his teeth and hits back at Relegin with all his strength. Blood fills vision and Relegin’s cry of pain fills his ears, and thankfully, the Keeper retreats rather than slay Early in retaliation. Early lets the Keeper retreat, though how he would savor to strike the killing the blow! He helps Dziga with a healing potion, and the rogue gets back to his feet with a heroic surge. Early administers more first aid to himself and waits for Vatex to rejoin them.

Trailing rivers of blood, Relegin runs after Emeris, who is chasing Navanna. Relegin can easlily detect the shadowcaster, but Navanna cannot. Rather than hit the flat-footed Navanna, Emeris turns at the last moment to hit Relegin with his icy shadow breath. The Keeper ignores the blast, and Emeris retreats while taking a hit from Relegin as he does.

Dziga reaches inside a hidden pocket in his sleeve and produces a magic missile wand. He triggers the device and fires four bolts of energy at Relegin. Smacked successively by each, the toll of the energy attack brings the Keeper down at last, before he can heal himself.

Navanna now faces the Rosegate Company on her own. “You do not realize the importance of what we are doing,” she says, her hand moving towards her jeweled headband -- the one she’d used to escape before! “You attacked my family. Your killed my allies. You stand between the Keepers of the Faith and resolution to the greatest of all mysteries! This ends now...”

Navanna teleports from her position, but does not flee. Instead, she appears 60 or 70 feet in the air, off to the west of the great staircase. When she appears, her intent is not clear. Gravity takes hold and she falls -- but in that moment, she rapidly changes. Her white hair thickens and extends and becomes colored like burnished silver. Prehensile cords of interlocking armor plates burst from her back and wrap themselves around every line of her body. Bat-like wings spread out of her back, and huge scythes of metallic bones extend from her forearms. This is Navanna’s unleashed form. For both sides, it’s now or never!

Navanna watches them hatefully for many seconds which seem to last for hours, simply powering herself up with magic, so Emeris makes the first move -- soaring into the air, blasting shadowy energy upon her. Emeris veers away from her as the blast clears, and she streaks after him with a dire wail, flashing those huge wicked scythes like an angel of death. One of those blades cuts through his flank and he nearly crashes into the wall, but he regains his control and turns 90 degrees at the last moment. Readjusting, he notes that Navanna is not pursuing him. She is flying towards Early, Vatex, and Dziga, who watch her in their combat stances on the stairs.

In the space of two seconds she crosses the distance between them, and then she among the combatants in melee, massive scythe aiming to sever heads. Navanna fights coolly and skilfully despite her desperation. As scythe-like blade nearly decapitates Vatex, Cryssaegrym cuts into Navanna’s back. She lashes back at him on the backswing, and Early is forced back as the blade cleaves into his chest. Another scythe slashes Dziga and he maneuvers closer with his twin daggers, and he lunges to the side as the blade smashes into the ground. He steps onto the blade as a platform to jump over Navanna, and lands behind her, his daggers punching gaping bloody holes all down her back. Vatex cuts into her side as she focuses on the rogue, who falls away with blood gushing from his neck and hip. The blade of the rudeus and Heth’s sword tear through armor-like plates into flesh. Blackened blood spurts and Vatex raises the sword of Heth to strike a fatal blow, but Navanna reacts too soon. Wicked blades slash at his arms and chest, and clawed wings tear at his eyes and face.

Down on one knee, Vatex prepares for the killing blow to finish him. Emeris blasts magic at Navanna but she ignores it. But then Dziga is there, daggers crossed above his head, to block and turn away the descending blade that aimed to split the elf’s head like a piece of firewood. The rogue pushes aside the blade with all his strength, forcing it to the ground. Vatex seizes the opportunity. Heth’s sword slashes Navanna’s throat, and the Rudeus of Vazdah pierces her chest with a blast of lavander flame. Tendrils of purple flame lash out around her lips and eyes as the abyssal flame consumes her from within. Nothing more than a torn, blooded and burnt husk, Navanna collapses, dead at last.

Relieved, the group heals and loots the corpses of Navanna and her crew. Emeris takes Relegin’s powerful ring of protection. They keep the silver leash and bracelets that were used to control the super warrior Phaeton, and they take Phaeton’s Crown of Normalization as well. This item will allow somewhat mentally handicapped people to operate with normal intelligence. It might be useful. They strip Navanna’s transformed body of the plates that surround her body, as they are very strong, very light, and could be good if used to create armor. They also take a bane she’d plundered from a vault earlier -- an evil looking box. Finally, the group claims the mummified hand of the Saint Danar -- the Banewarrens Key.

Emeris touches the hand to the Sealed Door at the top of the stairs, granting access to the final section of the Banewarrens -- which Danar called Tremoc Korin -- an elvish phrase that translates roughly as “Baneheart.” It is here that they will find the objects of their manifold quest a piece of the Staff of Shards (which Yaeshla says should be near the top), the Sword of Lies (which Emeris needs to eliminate the quest spell put on him by the Holy Order), and finally the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows.

They pass a massive statue of large metal blades and serrated plates fashioned to form a foreboding, tall and demonic humanoid -- the Dread One himself. It seems this is not the iron golem they are expecting -- just a lifeless statue that marks this section as having been dominated by Darkstar in ages bygone.

Emeris can feel something strange in the cold, thick air of the Baneheart. There is a tang of charged energy that hangs in the atmosphere. Emeris understands the nature of this strange force -- the close proximity to so many banes created this aura unto itself. This aura corrupts and shapes that which is in contact with it. Emeris understands this to be the source of the black pool and the banebrutes that is spawned. Although not sentient, this incredibly evil and powerful energy source could be used by Emeris himself to power his shadow magic, although it would damage him to do so.

The group enters the Baneheart’s central core. A dull bluish-purple glow pervades here. They are at the bottom of a massive circular shaft that rises up 2500 feet to the top of the Spire. Strangely, the fortress of Ghul -- Goth Gulgamel -- does not seem to intervene with the structure of the inner core, although the fortress’ its architecture would seem that it should. When Saggarintys referred to a “new section added to the Baneheart”, was it something else that he detected?

At numerous even intervals all the way up the shaft, there are ledges lined with Sealed Doors. Most of these doors would be imperious to the hand of Danar, requiring special keys that Saggarintys had suggested would probably be stored in Jabel Shammar. Nonetheless, about a dozen of them, the silver dragon had reported, were in fact still left open. Some of the ledges are connected with arched bridges or walkways, but others are not. There are no ladders or walkways connecting different levels -- it is obvious that this place was constructed with flight or levitation in mind.

The Rosegate Company is noticed by a vrock on the ledge second from the bottom. This demon, named DUKKET, was a loyal servant of the Dread One, and trapped here when his master was defeated and the Banewarrens sealed. Over the thousands of years, he has grown quite mad. Being immortal, he could survive without eating but was still delirious from hunger. Nonetheless, Dukket kept his wits enough to realize that these strangers to the Baneheart must have gotten here somehow. They might provide information before he took one of them to eat!

Dukket calls down at them various questions, “Who are you? What are you doing? How did you get in here?” The group simply ignores the demon, much to Dukket’s extreme annoyance. Instead, the group focuses on the one ajar Sealed Door on the bottom level. All it seems to contain is the platform that once held an important item, long ago taken by the Dread One’s servants, and some broken weapons that marked the battle against the original vault guardian.

When they exit to deal with the demon, they see Dukket has already flown down to hover about 60 feet above them and await their reappearance to attack. Emeris steps out and Dukket dives at him, deflecting the arrow of dusk that is cast to divert him. Dukket crashes into Emeris and easily overpowers him, simultaneous shaking numerous poison spores from his skin which begin burrowing into the shadowcaster’s flesh. Dukket clamps a hand around Emeris’ head and uses another to pin his hands and attempt to escape and feed, but he cannot take flight quickly enough to not feel the pain dished out by the others. The Rudeus of Vazdah, Asura, Cryssaegrym, Heth’s sword, and the Dagger of Venom spill black demon blood across the ground, hitting vital areas as the wings keep flapping. Dukket keeps his hold on Emeris and lets out a supernaturally piercing scream that stuns Dziga, but Early and Vatex resist the effect and continue hacking at the demon until it goes down dead and finally releases their friend.

Emeris flies to the first level 60 feet up to attach grappling hooks for his allies. Once the group reaches this ledge they head to the next level, where three of the seven Sealed Doors here are currently open. They locate Dukket’s lair and steal the demon’s random collections of valuables, and bypass a dangerous series of pit traps and magical traps to acquire the Phylactery of Forsaken Souls, an evil bane box with graven images to be identified later.

The group wonders if Saggarintys will be able to detect their taking of this bane, for the door to it was already opened. Didn’t he allude to something previously about being able to detect such takings, in addition to detecting the status of doors...?

On the other side of this level, they enter a short-wide hall that leads to a larger room, where a hulking iron statue of an armored man seems to stand watch. This must be the iron golem, and the Sword of Lies must be nearby! As they advance the statue indeed comes to life and charges to attack. Vatex fires the opening shot, an adamantine bullet loaded into his rifle. Surprisingly, the bullet causes the golem to completely explode!

The threat is ended, or is it? The group wonders if they’d overhyped the iron golem. Maybe that’s all it takes -- a perfectly aimed adamantine bullet. Or maybe that was not the true iron golem...?

This latter suspicion is confirmed as they proceed and find a long-dead half-orc skeleton at the feet of yet another hulking iron statue, also humanoid in shape but this one made of jagged iron plates and bearing wicked blades for in the place of hands.

This was the true golem, Iron Protector of the Sword of Lies. With eerie grace it begins to move and advance towards the Rosegate looters. Despite their preparations, the companions face a tough battle.

Dziga blasts his lightning bolt wand, the electricity effect causing the golem to become extremely sluggish but inflicting no damage. Vatex and Early fire away with their adamantine ammo from respective guns. Bullets ricochets through the corridor, as even their keen adamantine tips do not penetrate the arcane strength of the construct. The shocking bullets of Early’s pistols slow the construct further, and Vatex’s gun leaves a smoking hole, but the golem is closing in on them!

Vatex falls back and fires again. Dziga fires arrows from his bow and Emeris blasts waves of cold shadow breath. Early strides foward, putting himself between the golem and his friends, and unleashes the Elder Mountain Hammer maneuver. Cryssaegrym tears through the magical iron, but it is only a minor setback to the golem, which continues its inexorable march forward. A panel in its face opens and a cloud of green gas bursts forth and envelops the warblade. He coughs up blood as the poison ravages his throat and lungs. The golem then swings a massive bladed arm and sends Early flying and bleeding.

Then, as several more bullets and arrows deflect off the golem’s iron body, the slow effect expires. As it accelerates, the golem makes two brutal attacks against the wounded Early, nearly finishing him. Dziga fires his lightning wand again, and the golem grinds to slow-mo.

Vatex’s rifle and Emeris’ breath attack aren’t hurting the golem fast enough, and Dziga finds only the most exacting hit with Asura can harm the construct at all. Dziga is pierced through the upper torso by a vicious strike of the golem’s blade and nearly felled. Early’s Elder Mountain Hammer seems to be hurting the golem most substantially, but he cannot recharge this maneuver quickly enough to tilt the battle in their favor, and at this rate it is entirely a possibility that the poison he’d inhaled would make him drop dead before this golem went down. A Rabid Bear Strike leaves his arm numb as Cryssaegrym cuts only a small gash into the iron body. Cryssaegrym, though mighty, seems no better than trying to cut flesh with a spoon when its blade hits the powerful golem.

Early falls back as Vatex tosses his rifle to Dziga, giving him a weapon of the adamantine property. Early tosses his pistols to Vatex, and the warblade begins powering back up his Elder Mountain Hammer attack. Dziga, nonproficient with firearms, gets a pair of shots off with the rifle -- one hits the golem in the chest and seems to hurt it a bit. Emeris blasts shadowy power at the golem and it staggers about. Vatex takes the two double pistols and leaps atop the golem to stand on its shoulders. He points the two guns down into its face and fires all four loaded shots, with cackling electricity and a shower of sparks. Most bullets deflect harmlessly away, but one manages to sink deep into golem’s head, leaving a molten pinprick hole. The golem staggers about more, and Vatex backflips away from the monster, and says “Now, Early!”

The warblade feels the stone floor seem to ripple beneath his feet as he draws the power of the earth. He channels this power through his body and into Cryssaegrym, lunging for the off-balance golem. The silver katana streaks down and across. A blast of sparks and shrapnel bursts from the golem as the sword cleaves through its chest. The mighty iron giant stumbles into the wall to the left, then collapses. Victory!

While the Sword of Lies must be nearby, the combined battles against Navanna & co and this iron golem have left the party exhausted, wounded, and low on resources. They cannot risk another challenging encounter. Hopefully no one gets the Sword before they do!

Next time: The Sword of Lies is there for the taking. The trial of Helmut Itlstein approaches. The city’s shadows hide the Republican leader’s elite assassins. The Inverted Pyramid prepares its next move. The Pactlords await the arrival of Ferendis. Lord Sadar goes to “Plan C.”

Random Elanian Factoid: City authorities have arrested thirteen members of an obscure cult called the "Black Triad." Contrary to initial reports, this is not a new band of "chaos cultists." Cult documents obtained by the Elan Herald show that the cult's beliefs involve the goal of unifying the essence of three dead evil gods to create a new Ultra God, and they hold a dim view of the philosophy of "deep chaos." The Herald also reported that various contraband worm specimens were confiscated and destroyed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

EPISODE 50: The Banewarrens, Act IV: The Inner Vaults, Act VI - Slaughter of the Banebrutes; Super Warrior Phaeton, Slave of the Keepers

Augustar 13-14

With Avach gone, the Emeris the shadowcaster, Vatex the urban ranger, Early the warblade, and Dziga the rogue-shadowdancer head higher towards the Spire. They hope to get lucky and encounter Navanna Vladaam, kill her, and loot her corpse for the Banewarrens key.

They pass a locked vault that they leave be, and reach another big staircase. Vatex hears gibbering and gabbering and ape-like noises up ahead. Early stays back, stealth not being his strong point, and the others quietly make their way up the stairs.

A huge cavern rises up into the darkness, and not even Emeris can see the ceiling. The floor, 30 feet below the ledge, is swarming with the banebrutes. There must be nearly a hundred of them. There is a stone staircase going down to the floor, and another staircase heading 60 feet up from the ledge, to a landing where another staircase provides a path higher yet heading south. The staircases appear to have been hewn from natural rock formations at one time.

The steps continue another 60 feet to a higher landing, then 60 up to another ledge -- obviously the way to the Baneheart. Yet it seems the Banebrutes must be dealt. Emeris uses shadow magic to telepathically inform Early as to the situation, and the warblade storms up the stairs as the Rosegate Company launches its assault.

Fireballs launch from Dziga’s wand into the cavern below, blasting apart half a dozen clustered brutes. The cavern briefly illuminates with the explosion, revealing a horrible tentacled aberration in the southern end of the cave for a brief instant. Vatex positions himself at the stairs to the cavern floor, ready to slay any brute that charges up. When he draws the Rudeus of Vazdah, the purple flames spill an eerie light over the cave. Dozens of pairs of glowing banebrute eyes look back at him with an appetite for violence. Emeris takes flight off the ledge and blasts freezing shadow breath and killing waves of shadow magic into the banebrutes.

Early reaches the ledge and scans the for landing with his darkvision goggles. He fires off a few electrical rounds from his pistols, putting down a few more brutes. Banebrutes have begun to pile up the stairs from the cavern floor, leaving Vatex and Early to fight them off while Emeris supports by casting black fire beneath them. Banebrutes howl as the die from the freezing shadow flames, and the warblade and urban ranger fight side by side, slaying the others with the efficiency. To the right, Dziga fights off the blasts more fireballs at the brutes climbing up the wall to the ledge. Many die, but more are coming. Other groups of brutes are climbing up the stone landings to reach the staircase and charge down to the companions.

Vatex and Early tear through a few more ranks of charging brutes, who try to get over the black fire but get damaged as they try. Brutes are climbing up around Dziga faster than he can put them down. Another dozen is rushing down the great stairway.

The aberration -- a somewhat handicapped deepspawn wielding wands, an axe, and a greatsword along with its mawed tentacles -- fires magic missiles from its wand and begins to slowly pull itself out of the fetid, bubbling black pool where it resides. Emeris is jolted by the bolts of energy as he blasts away more brutes into bloody shreds. More magic missiles strike Early as the warblade hacks and shoots away at brute after brute. Vatex meets the charging brutes coming down the stairs and his efficient blades kill brutes with each strike. Bodies continue piling up, and more brutes climb frantically over their companions to strike down the elf. Black claws find no flesh to rend as Vatex weaves around, using their numbers against them. More brutes fall.

On the right, Dziga’s flurry of striking daggers piles up dead brutes around him. On the left, Early fights more brutes climbing up the wall to avoid the black fire on the stairs. Lightning pistols and Cryssaegrym reap their toll in monster blood. In the end around 60 banebrutes are dead, and the rest, stupid and brutish and primitive they might be, their hunger for blood has been replaced completely by the need for self-preservation. The pool from which the deepspawn crawled seems to be the source of the brutes, as slime-covered half-born brutes claw at the air and twist with the agony of their evil genesis. With most of their population dead and an awkward lifecycle, they submit to the dominant predator of the cavern.

The group now moves against the deepspawn. Dziga loses arrows from Roguefriend, and the aberration howls. Moving forward more quickly now, firing more magical missiles, it is devastated when the swooping Emeris’ killing shadows blasts flesh from its body. Vatex’s rifle hits true, and blood sprays across the cavern floor from a smoking gory hole as Early moves in to make the kill.

The deepspawn charges the warblade and swings its greatsword. Early easily deflects the attack despite its force, and advances closer, evading the swinging axe then allowing himself to be scooped up by the biting tentacle. He ignores the pain of its jaws biting through flesh and into his ribs, and feels the Vajra in his mind. As the deepspawn pulls Early in to bite him with its huge primary mouth, Early wrenches Cryssaegrym free and raises it high. The other companions could swear that for an instant they saw a silvery, spectral image of a great beast, maybe a dire bear, appear behind their friend in the clutches of the monster.

Early strikes, and a geyser of green blood sprays from the wound, a literal crevice in the monster’s body. The warblade, covered in gore, falls away from the aberration as its tosses him away in its death throes. It writhes and twists a few more times then dies.

There is nothing in the cave other than the weird pool which seems to spawn banebrutes, and bones and debris. The group climbs the great staircase, then comes to another cavern, the eastern half of which is worked and finished stone. There is a huge staircase going up to a Sealed Door that has not been breached.

This means Navanna has not gotten this far, but they cannot proceed any further without a wish spell or the Banewarrens key. They resolve to leave Dziga’s shadow companion behind to watch for her -- when the shadow sees her, he is to report telepathically to Dziga immediately.

The party returns to the surface. On the way, they find a group of dead adventurers Vatex recognizes as mid-grade company called “the Blue Hand.” They have been killed by drow weapons. What the hell? Drow in the Banewarrens? Vatex takes on the tiny crossbow bolts as a curiosity. And in the umber hulk tunnel, they find new tunnel, smoothly carved with magic, has connected to the original tunnel from below. This must be where the drow came from. What are they doing? Looking for evil magic treasure, the groups figures. Which seems reasonable, because they are basically doing the same thing, but having to deal with another faction -- and dark elves of all things! -- just complicates things too much.

The guards from the Holy Order watching the abanadoned manor say that no one matching Avach’s description came this way, so the group figures he did not make it out. But they did not find his body either. Did the dark elves kill or capture him somewhere?

It is only late afternoon so they can get to the Adventurer’s Square and buy potions before the shops close. After doing so, Early is suddenly scried. Must be Judge Rahl, they think, since they ignored his summons from the other day.

They are wrong. It is the powerful wizard, Aliaster Vladaam. After casting an array of defensive and utility spells on himself, he teleports into the street adjacent to the Adventurers Square. A man shouts, “Hey, something just appeared beside me!”

Aliaster unleashes an empowered fireball in the moment of surprise, engulfing the companions. Dziga escapes unscathed, but the others scramble away, smoking and burning. Vatex dives through the flames and rushes the space beside the man who yelled before, and hopes to strike true. He activates the magic of his skirmish vest and strikes twice, both swords hitting flesh and spilling blood across the cobblestones.

Next Emeris lunges foward, blasting the cold shadows of his draconic breath at such an angle that it will hit the wizard and miss the elf. But, he does kill a couple of civilians. Oh well, collateral damage, he figures. Aliaster roars in pain as shadows numb his flesh. He’d not expected to get hit back so hard! He takes flight upwards, propelled by magic, and unleashes a maximized fireball and a quickened fireball within five seconds. Emeris is smote and nearly killed. Early and Vatex are badly hurt. Dziga avoids the blasts again with peerless agility and reflexes.

Dziga lands deftly after avoiding the second fireball, and pulls his dispel magic wand from his belt. He targets the flying wizard and gets lucky enough to dispel the invisibility, but all the other wards and effects remain in place. Early and Vatex try to gun down the wizard, but he teleports away, promising that he will make every day of the rest of their lives miserable until they are dead.

Fuck House Vladaam! everyone thinks collectively. They promise they will win this war against the Vladaams, but for now Emeris reminds them they should visit Judge Rahl at Dalengard. After all, their testimony is going to be vital in making sure Helmut Itlstein gets convicted of treason, and Emeris wants that guy dead. At Dalengard, Rahl chastises them and explains the situation. Prepping testimony is not the most pressing concern it seems -- it is just keeping witnesses alive. A whistleblower in the Republicans who’d agreed to testify against Helmut at trial was found murdered. Not only that, but Hitomi, the warrior woman from Pyrna who’d been hunting the assassin Vermillion and Methul Watcher aka Helmut, was found murdered as well. She was originally going to testify about her little brother’s murder to corroborate the whole Helmut the “traitor and killer of runebearing children” aspect of the case (which has nothing to do with treason per se but will be introduced for context). These killings seem to be the work of the gun-wielding assassin Vermillion, Helmut’s hired killer from the Vai. Rahl tells them to be careful, for they are obviously targets as well.

Saharasahla summons Emeris to the library, where he provides the young shadowcaster with a device he has prepared. When set up in a location, it will allow teleportation between that point and the storage closet of the library. This will make it easier to move in and out of the Banewarrens quickly, without having to hike down the umber hulk tunnel each time.

While Emeris and Dziga receive this item, Vatex and Early ask around the elf’s various contacts, trying to find information about Navanna’s whereabouts on the one hand, and information about Vermillion on the other hand. All they can find about Navanna is that she is “actually in town” but it seems rumors were deliberately set to make it seem like she was out of the city. No one they talk to knows much else, and everyone assumes she hangs out at the Vladaam Estate. One man alludes to the fact that she has been seen exiting the Dark Reliquary.

About Vermillion, the mysterious assassin, it takes many hours to find concrete information. But one man, a former member of the Vai, reveals much to them over a bottle of mediocre elven wine at a shady tavern in the Warrens district. He says that Vermillion has crack team of assassins with a super dangerous reputation. Due to deals made with the enigmatic Surgeon in the Shadows (whom the companions had encountered briefly once), Vermillion and his team are all equipped with chaositech augmentations and weapons and tools. Vermillion in particular has wielded chaositech for so long that he has mutated in many strange ways. He has strange, charming red eyes and dark green hair, and although he is a human male over the age of 40, he looks no more than 16 or 17 years old. It is said Vermillion studied with an obscure sect of killers from a monastery in Dezolis’ Ozar Plateau, who reveled in the thrill of the hunt.

Vermillion’s team, as far as this guy knows, consists of the following:

> Dorath Kir, Vermillion’s lieutenant. A fighter.
> Terquad and Varimer, nasty and cruel human rogues, male and female respectively
> Enchilios, taciturn elven sorcerer
> Bartoli, a half-ogre that Dorath rescued from the streets and molded into a vicious barbarian. Usually only used on kill missions that require little stealth.
> Varis, a mysterious gentlemen said to tag along with the group but not directly fight. Rumored to be a wayward aristocrat from a northern province.
> R17, Vermillion’s warforged bodyguard. Wields psionics.

A visit to the Temple of Calethon is made so Vatex can again ask about the silver-haired woman he sometimes sees in mirrors, as he again saw her briefly in the mirror behind the bar while they had talked to the former Vai agent. One of the priests there says the Fateweavers speak of “mirror seeing” ability with some divination aspect. It is this particular priest’s opinion, however, that the Fateweavers are all charlatans and phonies.

It is nearly midnight, but Vatex and Early head to Castle Shard to ask Shilukar about dark elves. Shilukar actually recognizes the crossbow bolt as that of House Vrama. It has a tiny hidden compartment. Shilukar says he “associated” with House Vrama once, and they have a weird, neurotic obsession about hiding things. Vrama drow have hidden compartments in their armor, in their weapons, and in their everyday items.

To keep away from assassins, Early and Vatex hang out at Castle Shard that night. Dziga and Emeris stay at a dive of an inn down at the Docks to get some rest.

At about 4 am, Dziga is awoken telepathically by his shadow companion, who is still in the Banewarrens. He reports that Navanna has arrived at the stairs, along with five henchmen. Emeris relays this news to Early and Vatex with shadow magic. Everyone gathers their things and heads to the Banewarrens in a rush.

Indeed, Navanna had brought new henchmen to the Banewarrens. Her last encounter against the Rosegate Company had gone extremely poorly for her. This time she was better equipped and had, in addition to two urban werewolf lackeys, three special allies from the Dark Reliquary -- two Keepers of the Faith named RELEGIN and SHINOA, and a giant of a man named PHAETON with an exotic, 8-foot long sword that was a full 10 inch blade. No normal man should have been able to wield such a thing.

Phaeton, however was not “from” the Dark Reliquary and not really an ally at all. He was from Yama, specifically the mythical mountains of Darlath-Poi. A warrior of legendary strength and rage among his people, he was captured and psionically enslaved by Relegin to be the ultimate “meat shield” -- as Phaeton’s abillity to enter a berserk frenzy made him nearly impossible to defeat in combat. He wore a twisted magic crown that made him lose all sense of identity and purpose, and was led by a thin silver leash being held at present by Shinoa.

When the Rosegate Company gets back to the great staircase and the brute cavern, they find that Navanna and her crew have been taking a break for the last couple of hours, as if in anticipation of their arrival.

Relegin is boastful, and exchanges trashtalk with the companions. Everyone on both sides is itching to kill. He tells Shinoa to make sure Phaeton stays calm until the battle starts, as his rage is starting to bubble through the Vajra and when his anger explodes, everyone nearby will be threated

Rosegate Company exchangs trash talk with Relegin who speaks with confidence about how Phaeton will slaughter everyone and he was brought here specifically to hack them to bits. Phaeton's expression suggests that is not a thought in his head, but Early can feel the super warrior's mind's tremendous presence within the Vajra, like nothing he's ever felt before. The super warrior begins to twitch and eye Early menacingly. Relegin tells Shinoa to try and keep him calm until the right moment...

Navanna orders the two urban werewolves to attack, surely a deadly order for these lackeys don't stand a chance. They protest, "But, but Lady Navanna!...!", but she points her sword to one of their throats and says if they don't attack, she will kill them herself. So they rush down the stairs, firing with their dragon pistols, grazing Early who is rushing up to intercept. But it is not the wolves Early has his sights -- it is Phaeton.

Navanna moves back towards the stairs, keeping her henchman between her and her enemies. Let them soften up the Rosegate companions, she thinks. They were lucky last time. Now with her crew from the Dark Reliquary, she is very confident.

Emeris draws power from the umbral collar, and becomes a dark entity, fading into shadows. He then weaves shadow magic around him, ephemerally passing through the darkness and reappearing on the ledge at the top of the stairs behind the group of villains looking over the ledge down to the others. No one detects him except for Relegin, whose sense of vision seems strangely augmented. The bald Keeper looks over to him, and calls upon the dark power they had seen Khyron and Andross use before...

Relegin's flesh bursts and he grows to nearly 14 ft tall. His body is heavily armored in carapace and covered in hundreds tiny maws. The head of this monstrous form is an eyeless dome of chitin and bone, ending in a terrible mouth full of sharp teeth. The massive arms of Relegin's new body end in sharp talons, which extend and retract in a flash on long tentacles. Four additional tentacles extend from the monster's shoulders. One of the talons bursts from Relegin's claws, spearing Emeris across the 30-foot distance with ease, spearing him through the shoulder.

Shinoa drops the silver leash, commanding Phaeton to attack. She then undergoes a transformation herself -- she becomes an awful creature with vulture-like wings, the hind quarters of a lion, and a somewhat demonic looking upper torso and head. Sharp bony bony spurs on her left forearm twist through her flesh and into her hand to function as a wicked sickle. Her right hand reaches to another bony spur in her right leg, and pulls it out to produce a sword of sharp and gnarled bone.

Shinoa takes to the air, maneuvering clumsily on her awkward wings aroudn the cavern to charge Vatex and Dziga. Dziga vanished into the shadows, and Vatex draws power from the magic pearl in which he'd stored a spell to power up his rifle. He aims carefully and fires at Phaeton, who is closing on Early. Phaeton is hit right in the neck. Dark arterial fluid sprays across the steps. A second shot sinks into his chest. Phaeton seems utterly unfazed. Vatex turns his attention to Shinoa, who is swooping in for the dive attack.

The super warrior moves down the stairs hastily, drawing his mammoth sword, an exotic Yama fullblade that hangs across his back. Phaeton's gaze meets Early's, and the super warrior begins to gather his power. First his primordial rage is activated, which causes his musculature to grow dramatically. Then he enters the berserk frenzy that made him a legend in his homeland -- and he grows quadratically bigger, and stronger still! He is practically foaming at the mouth! He wears practically no armor, but for Phaeton that has never mattered -- no one has ever stood against him long enough to score a decisive hit.

Emeris flies off the ledge into the cavern to escape Relegin's spearing tentacles, and strafes killing shadow energy from his eyes along the staircase, the Rod of Metashadow Empowerment filling his soul with additional power. One of the werewolves is blasted to a bloody paste of splattered meat, the other nearly dies but keeps advancing due to Navanna's instruction. Phaeton, although visibly hurt by the blast, seems utterly unfazed.

The last werewolf is cut down by Early with ease, and he kicks the body aside as Phaeton finds the tranquility of the Vajra within the storm of his rage, and a warm breeze swirls around him and boosts his speed down the stairs. Within a split second Phaeton is face-to-face with the warblade, setting aside all regard for defense as a dexterous lunge carries him forward with a devastating sweep of his massive sword. Phaeton could have cut adamantine with that blow. It was only by the width of a hair that Early missed that blade by sidestepping at the last moment. A animalian roar escapes Early’s lips as his strikes back with the Rabid Bear Strike. Cryssaegrym slashes across Phaeton’s torso, a shocking injury -- but if Phaeton was bothered, he did not show it. He then lunges behind Phaeton and cuts across the right tricep, noting that the frenzied super warrior’s arm was almost as thick as the warblade’s own chest.

Shinoa descends upon Vatex, but Dziga appears from the shadows, loosing an arrow from Roguefriend that catches the Keeper unexpectedly in the chest. She does not slow, but it buys the elf an extra second to try and pull free his swords. Not enough time. Shinoa is upon him, but so skilled is the elf, he avoids the slashing bones blades of the Keeper and only takes a cut above the eye from the stinging slap of her tail. He accepts another hit as Vazdah’s Rudeus and Heth’s Sword enter his hands, and then Shinoa -- even with the mighty protections afforded to her by the Keeper transformation -- feels pain like she never before had conceived. Her lower jaw is cut away by flaming steel, and her left arm crippled when Heth’s blade slashes through the bicep. She fights back, skilled but not as skilled as the urban ranger. He easily deflects her inferior assault, cutting grievous wounds in split-second openings.

Relegin and Navanna have positioned themselves near the base of the stairs to the Sealed Door. Phaeton roars, his mouth red with blood, and brings his fullblade across in a horizontal swing leveled at Early’s neck as he crouches low. Cryssaegrym arcs overhead and knocks the blade high, and Cryssaegrym howls like wolf when the blades clash with a flash of sparks. Phaeton recovers more quickly than the warblade, and spins 360 degrees and brings his massive sword across at a lower angle which flashes through Early’s abdomen. Reeling from pain, Early adjusts his grip on Cryssaegrym as he twists away from a third attack. With the Vajra he uses the power of the earth to give his blade the might of an avalance -- the Elder Mountain Hammer. The right portion of Phaeton’s lower jaw is torn away, and bones of his chest exposed by the cutting magic steel.

Vatex shows Shinoa the meaning of brutal combat. The Keeper’s damage resistance to his weapons just drives him to strike harder, more vicious blows. Though skilled in her own right, Shinoa cannot land a blow. Vatex can anticipate all her attacks. His reflexes are too fast, his expertise too refined. The blood at their feet is almost all hers... at least until the gushing river of Phaeton’s blood flowing down the steps reaches them.

Blood sprays across Early’s vision, but still Phaeton acts as if possessed by the god of death himself. Phaeton should have been taken down by the Elder Mountain Hammer! he thinks. Dziga’s arrow sink into vital points in Phaeton’s body but nothing seems capable of putting down the super warrior. Still he fights with no dampening of ferocity. Emeris flies overhead and blasts freezing shadow from his gullet upon Phaeton. He might as well have brushed the Yama berserker’s face with a tranquil summer breeze.

Early defends against the super warrior’s onslaught, knowing that each swing of the huge man’s sword puts his life on the line. All he needs is one more opening -- an opportunity to take off Phaeton’s head. If that doesn’t stop him, nothing will. Early sees one chance, but Phaeton recovers too quickly yet again, and a devastating blow is stuck across Early’s chest that sends blood spraying. Phaeton follows up again, all too quickly, but this time Early reads the technique perfectly. With a perfectly angled slash from Cryssaegrym Early deflects the fullblade just right, so that it merely grazes the shoulder of his plate mail. Now! Early gets close and launches off the ground. The Death from Above attack unfolds as he jumps into the air, and his descent is marked with a flash of Cryssaegrym and a warm plume of crimson rain. It all happens so fast he can’t even be sure that the attack killed Phaeton, so without looking back he steps off the edge of the stairs to fall gently to the cavern floor below (due to the feather fall magic in his helm). But then Phaeton’s severed head falls past him.

The headless body of the super warrior Phaeton goes down.

Relegin is surprised by Phaeton’s defeat. He turns to Navanna, saying “Why don’t you transform?” The youngest Vladaam daughter replies that she will only do it if she absolutely must, because for some reason left unexplained she cannot transform back to “normal” without first returning to the Dark Reliquary.

A final thrust of Vatex’s swords finishes Shinoa, who dies with a scream of rage and agony and a gout of blackish red blood. The elf joins Dziga at the headless body of Phaeton, as Emeris circles above and Early rushes to rejoin them from below. Ahead, they must still face the still-confident Relegin, and Navanna herself.

Next: Will the companions kill Navanna, get the key, and reach the Baneheart? Or will Navanna and Relegin end their adventurers once and for all? And if Navanna can transform as well, what powers does she have in store?