The Rosegate Company -- Dziga, Early, Emeris, and Vatex -- decide it is time to attack the Quaan. Specifically, they wish to attack the Black Manor and acquire the second piece of the Staff of Shards. They should be able to enter the Quaan through the portal at the Chapel of St. Thessina. When they get there, they will either need to use the portal in the Tower of Charch-Pahn, the ancient beholder, or find their own way home. Beholders have a dire reputation, so they decide to acquire a scroll on which is a spell that will allow them to shift through dimensions. Dziga, with his various tricks, should be able to reliably activate the scroll if Emeris enhances his skills with magic.
Seanus talks about how he doesn’t really like being a butler and might return “home” to live close to his family. No one cares.
Early discovers that his dog has a new friend -- a cat! The relationship is quite curious -- the dog carries the cat around by the scruff, pins it down with a heavy paw and licks it playfully. The cat purrs and purrs. The cat seems clean and healthy, so it is probably not a stray. Is it... an enemy disguised as a cat? Is it... Aliaster? The little kitty shows no magic effects when Emeris scans it.
The group needs to wait for magic item deliveries from the Dreaming Apothecary, so they kill time for a day. Vatex reads about the Xerani dervish warriors from the grasslands of Tarna, in a book he’d taken from Brother Heth’s quarters. After reading many of Heth’s books that didn’t really suit his fancy, he is quite taken with the detailed observations and commentaries on the Xerani fighting style, and he decides to adapt the “dervish dance” for his own.
Early reads his book on Narshe’s ancient history, mainly the few chapters on Kaluth-Mar. It speaks of Kyuss, a man who found horrible secrets and prophecies found on strange metal plates, in the ruins of a civilization many milennia older than the primitive societies of that age (which was before the time of Danar -- nearly 22,000 years ago). Kyuss declared he would usher in an “Age of Worms” and protect those who followed him from the time of death and decay to come. Kyuss became the ruler of Kaluth-Mar, a city built on the ruins of that ancient civilization ruled by mysterious six-armed tyrants.
Emeris researches more about the Sword of Lies to make sure he doesn’t get sick from the quest spell on him. In one controversial, obscure book, he reads that the Holy Order’s ancient predecessor (pre-Holy Emperor, worshippers of the old Vigoor diety Castain) used the Sword of Truth in a time called “the Age of Blood,” when religious fanatics sought to kill all users of arcane magic The Sword is described as especially powerful against arcane enemies. For those in the know, the Holy Order and those of arcane power have frequently had, uh, violent relations through history. But the Age of Blood was practically a genocide. Fortunately almost no one remembers any of that extremely ancient history, and much of it happened while people were worshipping Castain. All that stuff basically ended with the reign of the Holy Emperor -- but the more recent conflicts are still a source of tension and embarrassment for the modern, more tolerant church. Many arcane organizations in the Empire, such as the Inverted Pyramid and the Accreditation Council of Magic Colleges, deeply distrust the church.
The next day, the party has its gear and suits up in winter clothing to handle the swampy, cold Quaan. They had to the belfry where they meet CHARLES ROSENCRANZ, a cleric of the Holy Order who seems to be “in” on the Sword of Lies operation. He guides the group to the portal, reminding them of its one-way nature, and they takes turns jumping through.
Beyond the portal is a cold, desolate swamp. The ground is like a bumpy, mossy sponge and there are fetid pools of stagnant water all around. Occasionally, pockets of hot air burst through the ground in random places. A perpetual twilight glow and misty air limits visibility to about 200 feet. Large bugs fly around, but otherwise there is no sign of anyone or anything anywhere.
Although the dagger Yaeshla cannot see, she knows approximate directions to the Black Manor from her time in the Pactlords possession -- eastward, to the “Font of the Pact”, then south. She says the Black Manor is one of the Pactlords’ main hideouts, and depending on who is there when the Rosegate Company arrives, they could be in for a brutal fight. The companions merely think, “Bring it on.”
Their journey takes them past dismal lakes of black water inhabited by huge crocodiles, massive walls of dangerous green slime that punctuate the landscape, an escaped slave of the Pactlords (who runs off into the mist, likely to die), and a dire bear fighting giant centipedes. After about 9 hours they locate the Font of the Pact, a strange foundation on a small hill that rises from the southern black lake like a little island. Yaeshla says the Font has something to do with the Pact that binds the myriad evil aberrations, dragons, magical beasts, and others together in their rock-solid alliance.
The group continues along the shoreline to the south, and after about 3 more hours circles around the body of water to the location of the Black Manor -- a single story, nondescript structure of black stone, built with the intent of accommodating creatures of all sizes.
The party observes the manor for a while, seeing no one enter or leave. They do see one silhouette fill the glow in the window on the east side of the entrance. Could they have been spotted? The group powers up -- Dziga speeds up with his haste boots, Vatex charges his rifle with a prayer to the Grim One, Early feels the Vajra wind flow through his mind and his Bracers of the Tiger Claw Scholar, and Emeris weaves a thick web of interlocking black shadows around him for protection.
The group decides to be ironic and knock on the huge double doors that serve as the only entrance. No one answers... because no one knocks on the Black Manor’s door! If you’re a Pactlord, you just walk in. If you’re not a Pactlord... you are not supposed to be there!
Opening the door, the Rosegate Company peers down a massive black hallway lined with doorways and weird painting depicting wicked monsters doing unspeakably violent things to humanoids of all sorts. Various recesses contain disturbing sculptures featuring all sorts of dark monsters -- black dragons, beholders, mind flayers, grell, xill, ogre magi, etc.
At the end of the hall in a massive board room with a long table surrounded by various strange chairs and thrones, is cleric who escaped the battle at the belfry, Trolgir! With him is the Black Manor’s guardian monster, a huge behir! At Trolgir’s command, the behir’s serpentine body surges forward, running across its 10 legs and climbing along the western wall, with lightning around its snout. Trolgir powers himself up with divine magic, in between frantic shouts to any and all comrades in the manor that they are under attack.
Vatex, Dziga, and Early fire their ballistic weapons at the advancing monster, but they do little damage. Emeris begins to prepare his magic when his suddenly hears a surge of activity in behind the door to his right. Shadow swirls around him, and blackness seeps from his eyes like smoke. As he stands ready to blast anyone that comes through... but then he hears more activity from the door to the left! A team of four club wielding ogre Pactslaves bursts from each of the rooms, and Emeris unleashes killing shadows upon the first group as the monsters close in on him, trying to crush him with their clubs. Though flanked and surrounded, Emeris weaves skilfully away from attacks and proves to be an impossible target.
The behir scuttles along the wall of the hallway, and blasts of forked burst of lightning from its mouth, catching blasting Early, Dziga, and Vatex. Early leaps at the behir as Vatex and Dziga continue firing arrows and bullets at it. The behir extends its neck suddenly and snaps at the warblade. He cannot deflect the attack and the behir grasps him in its great jaws, crunching the warblade. The behir, with its lower half still grasping the vertical surface of the wall and its upper half twisting around the grappled warblade, Dziga sees what it is trying to do as it shifts Early around in its mouth -- it’s going to swallow him!
Dziga aims carefully, eyeing the soft sports behind the monster’s curved horns. As it is so focused with trying to swallow Early, it does nothing to dodge the three arrows that soar from Roguefriend. The three arrows pierce the monster’s braincase, and as it dies it falls heavily to the floor, allowing Early to twist free of its bulk before it rolls over him in its death throes.
Emeris continues to evade the clumsy ogre attacks, unleashing umbral rays from his hands that blast smoking holes through several weakened ogres. He dashes to the side and releases a cone of freezing shadow breath drops even more ogres, and then the last one goes down when an umbral ray blasts its head apart.
Vatex sprints down the hallway into melee with Trolgir, who fights desperately and with rage and spews curses to all humanoids, but his intense indignance doesn’t make his death any less pathetic -- the elven tempest-scout-ranger makes short work of the bugbear, stabbing him through the heart with precise twin attacks activated with his magic vest. No escape this time! An ooze mephit Pactlord named VERDI briefly appears, throws a blob of corrosive slime at Vatex which the elf dodges easily, then flees the building through a window.
At that, it seems the battle is over -- but when ZSAVARI, the powerful yuan-ti abomination druid of the Pactlords (who really living in a place such as the Quaan), heard sounds of invaders, he fled outside the manor through a window in his chambers, and united with his huge crocodile companion Krau.
When the yuan-ti druid returns to the manor about a minute later, he sees Emeris standing amidst the slaughtered ogres in the main entrance. Zsavari summons a swarm of tiny poisonous vipers that fills the area around the shadowcaster, riddling him with numerous small burning bites on his legs as the small snakes slither up his pants legs. Yeccghfghccahskjhdaksj!!!!!
Emeris dashes out of the swarm and blasts it with shadow breath but it continues to surge after him, giving him more stinging bites. Early chugs back a couple of healing potions and fires his shocking pistols into swarm -- the bullets themselves are insignificant to so many tiny critters, but the coils of electricity around the discharged ammunition blasts the last of the vipers to bits.
Zsavari assaults Emeris with an array of psionic attacks, but the shadowcaster’s will is tremendously resilient. The others gather around Emeris, and continues his assault but cannot overcome his enemies’ determination for revenge.
Vatex draws power from his magic pearl and charges up his rifle for a super shot again, this time aimed at Zsavari. Despite the druid’s array of magic defenses and masterwork darkleaf armor, the shot hurts him badly. Other shots deflect harmlessly aside, so Dziga tries to beat his defenses with his dispel wand. Zsavari’s barkskin goes down and his scaly flesh softens, allowing more shots to wound him.
Krau moves forward to intercept Early, who is rushing out the door like he wants to kill everything in the world.
Krau snaps its jaw but Early evades and strikes back, cutting the croc’s top jaw clean off. A blast from Emeris’ umbral ray destroys the crocodile and Early moves in on the druid, who is still being weakened with gunfire and arrows.
Zsavari conjures up tendril like vines to come alive beneath the warblade and slow him down, but it does not good -- Early fights his way free, roaring like a beast, and hitting the druid with the Rabid Bear Strike. Warm green blood washes over him but Zsavari fights back with his wicked, magically enhanced spiky scimitar.
That vicious blade cut hideous wounds into the warblade, and his friends -- held back from the melee by the entangling plants outside the door -- fear for Early’s life. The yuan-ti and the warblade trade blows, yielding geysers of red and green.
If Early doesn’t fall back he will be killed! But the warblade, face to face with his enemy, can see the defeat in Zsavari’s eyes, and makes his final attack. If Zsavari doesn’t go down, then Early knows he will die... but Zsavari _will_ go down.
The Vajra wind blows through Early’s mind, and he leaps in the air, completing the Death From Above attack. Then he lands behind the yuan-ti, then completes an unexpected follow-up blow that pierces the monster’s heart from behind.
With victory claimed as their own, the Rosegate Company searches the Black Manor for the piece of the Staff of Shards. They find it in a disgusting slime filled room that was inhabited by the ooze mephit. When the two pieces of the staff are touched together, the ends fuse. Emeris takes Zsavari’s serpentine amulet of wisdom.
They find a few notes and letters that refer to that “Ferendis” character, the ultimate Pactlord who is supposedly coming to kill the Rosegate Company and get the Black Grail. They read of someone called QUAGGO’THOOL whose help is apparently NOT desired for the Black Grail quest. And finally they learn of someone called “SARTH”, writing to someone named “S’KYRRYT” saying he will be away training for a few days, because he needs to be ready for when Ferendis arrives.
Their quest complete, the party sets the Black Manor ablaze. With the burning black structure as their backs, they activate the scroll of plane shifting and travel back to Enhasa.
The inherent lack of exact precision with plane shifting causes the companions to appear NOT in Elan at all, but in an open grassland. It takes a few hours and some references to obscure geography lessons to eventually realize they are about 250 miles from the city, somewhere in the prairie lands between Elan and the Holy Empire’s border with Zeltennia.
They are going to miss the execution of Helmut Itlstein! It will takes days to get back to the city. Damn! Their only hope is to find a town nearby with a wizard powerful enough to have teleportation magic. In the companions’ opinion, it didn’t matter if it had to be done with a pleasant business transaction or an exercise in coercion -- they were not going to miss that execution!
The first small town, Redbrook, has nothing for them. It’s a dipshit little town inhabited by losers. The next town is Willowfield, outside of which is the farm of a retired necromancer. Well... that might work! And it all proves quite fortuitous -- NEPHRONIUS, the “Great Necromancer” [sic], offers to teleport them all to Elan in exchange for some of their magic wands. DONE!
The party stays the night in the little Willowfield Inn. The next morning Nephronius teleports them to the Adventurers Square. Supposedly Helmut’s execution is set for 2pm -- they will head to the gallows by Dalengard after lunch!
Next time: Helmut Itlstein, High Priest of the Watcher of the Skies and leader of the Republican movement – his execution will set into motion events that will change the city of Elan forever. Meanwhile, dark forces move into Tremoc Korin, ahead of the Rosegate Company, seeking the evil treasures within...
Random Factoid: In Danar’s time, the most dominant religon in the land now known as the Holy Empire of Vigoor was that worshipping the former god of life, Castain. This old “Holy Order” survived in various forms through thousands of years and was the predecessor of the modern, Holy-Emperor-worshipping Holy Order of Vigoor. When the Holy Emperor appeared 650 years ago, he killed the human emperor of Vigoor and then killed Castain. The Holy Emperor revealed to his worshippers through visions that Castain had long ago been killed and replaced by an evil entity who manipulated the Holy Order towards darkness.
It is said that from the “old Holy Order” emerged an esoteric sect that always survived the many upheavals within the church. It is said that the highest ranking members of the High Conciliator Enclave -- the group that maintains the Core of the Imperial Palace in Tairon, where the Holy Emperor resides -- are followers of this sect. It is said they know dark, forgotten secrets about the history of the Holy Order, the full history of Jabel Shammar, and even the location of the Caverns of the Ancients...