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.