Tuesday, July 12, 2011

INTERLUDE: Meeting of the Keeper Overlord Council

OVERLORD SEVEN - Our Lord Archanfel acts most mysteriously... What does he do in these long periods of absence? Especially at a time such as this?

OVERLORD THREE - Your curiosity can get you in trouble, Ashtar.

OVERLORD TWO - Archanfel is aboard Demonwing. He will be returning to us soon.

OVERLORD NINE - Am I then to presume the Sea of Eden Project is nearing completion? Draconas, you will have earned a much needed rest.

OVERLORD THREE - Indeed. I will be back at Mount Bervenia before the onset of winter.

OVERLORD FIVE - So soon? Your work is nothing less than extraordinary, Draconas. To think that we will have recreated the entire Ark in just a few months!

OVERLORD ELEVEN - What of the Holy Emperor? After what happened at Mount Ordeals, how do we know that he will not destroy the new Ark?

OVERLORD SEVEN - Indeed, is it even possible for Archanfel to defeat the Holy Emperor, even if he were to battle on Demonwing itself?

OVERLORD TWO - You forget that Archanfel is also a god.

OVERLORD SEVEN - Then why did we lose the first Ark?

OVERLORD NINE - Yes, how will it be different this time?

OVERLORD TWO - You fools! The Holy Emperor had not been outside the Core of the Imperial Palace in over a century! His attack could not have been anticipated. This time, Archanfel will be ready. And remember, he need not defeat the Emperor entirely -- he need only repel him.

OVERLORD EIGHT - You see? You have too little faith in our divine leader.

OVERLORD TEN - Even so, Ashtar’s and Pashkarl’s lack of faith conceals an important question, does it not? How will Archanfel both raise the Ark and defend against the Holy Emperor at the same time? For surely we must assume he will attack again.

OVERLORD THREE - My friends, we must be united in our resolve and faith. Remember that the sole purpose of the Overlord Council is to serve Lord Archanfel.

OVERLORD TWELVE - The Holy Emperor must realize that he cannot simply defeat Archanfel, otherwise he would attack him at the Dark Reliquary, would he not?

OVERLORD EIGHT - The resulting battle would probably destroy the city. And for some reason, the Holy Emperor wants to protect the City by the Spire.

OVERLORD TEN - Perhaps we cannot truly understand the Holy Emperor anymore than we can truly understand Archanfel.

OVERLORD TWO - Rest assured Archanfel will succeed. He will be ready this time, and the Ark will be raised.

OVERLORD FOUR - Shiiva, what of the Banewarrens operation? Have you found anything?

OVERLORD TWO - We dispatched powerful agents, including Navanna Vladaam, but they were killed by the Rosegate Company.


OVERLORD FIVE - Were they not the ones who defeated Khyron? You were supposed to deal with them, Shiiva!

OVERLORD FOUR - How can they still be alive?

OVERLORD TWO - I simply underestimated their capability. They defeated three Keepers in battle form, including Navanna and Relegin.


OVERLORD ELEVEN - A-class battle forms?! They must be quite strong.

OVERLORD SEVEN - Have things gotten... a little out of hand?

OVERLORD TWO - No matter. They will be dealt with. In fact, Drusii is going to take care of them, unless one of their myriad other enemies gets them first.

OVERLORD THREE - Excellent, but how much do they know of us?

OVERLORD TWO - They know nothing yet. They appear to think they stopped the Night of Dissolution when they killed Khyron and exterminated some slack-jawed cults. They don’t even seem to know what the Night of Dissolution really is.


OVERLORD FOUR - Who then will explore the Banewarrens?

OVERLORD TWO - Gragyne is still in Dezolis, yes? He could accomplish this task quickly. Plus we can control him, unlike Navanna. Duumacrothe?

OVERLORD TEN - I will dispatch him at once. He will arrive at the Dark Reliquary within the hour.

OVERLORD TEN - What of the treasures within the Banewarrens? Isn’t the Tablet of Shallamoth in there somewhere?

OVERLORD SIX - Only the Book is important.

OVERLORD FIVE - Vazferdanos! You have not spoken in--

OVERLORD SIX - Only the Book. The Book is in Jabel Shammar.

OVERLORD THREE - Indeed, we cannot be bothered with the trifling artifacts of Danar’s age. Besides, we have the transcript of the Tablet from our work on the previous Ark. So it is true, we care only about the Banewarrens insofar as it provides a way inside Jabel Shammar.

OVERLORD SEVEN - And Sokolahn believed the Banewarrens also held a passage to the Caverns of the Galchutt?

OVERLORD THREE - Yes. While in my opinion that is unlikely, that would be the only other suspected way of way of reaching the Throne, short of recovering the Signet.

OVERLORD ELEVEN - Ha! So long as the Iron Mage possesses the Signet, we will never recover it.

OVERLORD THREE - Precisely. As for Jabel Shammar, if we cannot enter through the Banewarrens...

OVERLORD TWO - There is another way--the prisoner.

OVERLORD FIVE - I thought Archanfel gave up on her?

OVERLORD TWO - I still believe she holds an important secret. We need only a way to unlock it.

OVERLORD THREE - I hope your are right. For if we do not find a way in the Banewarrens, the prisoner could very well be our last hope...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

APPENDIX B: The Book of Inverted Shadows, page 751

...thus the light is nothing more than that wintry landscape of memory whose absence is all shadow and a profound awareness of the infinite spaces surrounding us on all sides. Within this space we remain suspended only with aid of strings that quiver with our hopes and our horrors, and which keep us dangling over the dark void. To seek the light is to defend such puppetry, condemning any efforts to strip us of the strings. The reason is nothing more enticing, and more vitally idiotic, than the desire to have a name -- even the name of a pathetic little puppet -- and to hold on to this name throughout the long ordeal of our lives as if it could be held onto forever. To keep those precious strings from growing frayed and tangled, if only we could keep from falling into an empty sky, we might continue to pass ourselves off under our assumed names and perpetuate our puppet’s dance through all eternity.

And so it should be that after undergoing certain ordeals -- whether ecstatic or abysmal -- we should be obliged to change our names, as we are no longer who we once were. Instead the opposite rule is applied; our names linger after anything resembling what we were, or thought we were, has disappeared entirely. There was nothing much there to begin with -- only a few questionable memories and impulses drifting about as snowflakes in a grey and endless winter. But each soon floats down and settles into a cold and nameless void.

I walked the Lands of the Dead until I reached the Sea of Eden, and then I discovered the secrets of the Tenebrous Formula, and then I was Dadga Hazareth no longer.

In the next chapter we shall discuss the Signs and Thresholds.

EPISODE 54: The Death of Helmut Itlstein; The Banewarrens, Act V: Heart of Banes II - At Last! The Lost Page of Shadow and the Sword of Lies

My struggle to free myself becomes my very shackles.

-- Dagda Hazareth
The Book of Inverted Shadows (Ormus Edition), p. 754

August 19-21, 754 YE

After eating a delicious lunch at a tavern called The Last Dragon Killer, the Rosegate Company moseys over to the square around Dalengard. People of all sorts from around the city have gathered to behold the torture and execution of Helmut Itlstein, leader of the Republican movement.

When Helmut is brought out, the overseeing priest from the Holy Order offers Helmut mercy, i.e. a swift death, if he pledge’s loyalty to the Holy Empire. Helmut says his loyalties are only to the freedom of the people of Elan, and his god, the Watcher of the Skies. The torture is not pretty. Helmut’s hands are broken and his legs hobbled, and still he stands by his principles. His body is flayed by scourging. His body pounded by huge hammers.

The group is distracted from a few other tortures when they run into none other than the assassin Vermillion! He says Helmut paid him to kill the Rosegate Group as a “Class B” group, but they were actually “Class A” so he was ripped off. Since Helmut is going to die, Vermillion proposes a professional truce, but the offer is declined. The Rosegate Company holds grudges. The assassin doesn’t seem overly concerned. He tells them Helmut, though he was basically a terrorist, was relatively moderate compared to a few folks in the Republican movement, and the the results could be good for the assassination business -- then he slips away into the crowd, saying that he’ll have to watch his back for grudge-carrying Rosegate members.

Near the end, Helmut is given another chance for swift death -- but with his body broken and slashed to ribbons, he gives his final words to the crowd, He says that this spectacle of violence and injustice proves that the Empire is tyrannical and wicked. He says that the people of Elan must decide whether they want to be ruled by a god in Tairon, or by themselves -- vox populii! Because, he says cryptically, the time will soon come where they will _have_ to act upon that choice! He is then intoxicated with Devil’s Flower and then slowly dismembered. Then his head chopped off.

Many people in the crowd thinks this goes too far. The whole thing is grotesque. Many support it in any case. Helmut was planning to attack the Holy Palace and kill priests, after all. Gotta send a message -- perhaps that is why so few people actually cheer for Helmut, and most of these are beaten or chased away by City Guardsmen. But really, the fact that anyone cheers for Helmut is strange -- how many supporters does he really have in the city?

After the execution, the party heads to Saharasahla’s library, and uses the teleporter in the storage room to reach the Inner Vaults. They then progress upwards back to Tremoc Korin. But first they try and stop by the Warding Generator and see the silver dragon -- but strangely, there is no sign of Saggarintys. He must have gone to another generator.

At the base of the Spire they find two dark elf bodies. It appears that they fell from somewhere high above. When they return to the site of the iron golem battle, Dziga dismantles a compex series of traps and locks to get into the vault with the Sword of Lies. They find 8 identical floating images of swords matching the Sword of Lies’ description. Vatex takes a gamble and grabs the first sword that strikes his intuition as being the fortuitious choice -- and is rewarded! All seven other images disappear. The Sword of Lies is now in their hands.

Now if they can turn it over to Sister Mara at the Holy Order, Emeris should be free of the quest spell binding him. Emeris examines the sword, and realizes the complex dweomers is has must be analyzed by comprehensive magic.

The group progresses upwards, exploring a new empty vaults whose Sealed Doors were left open. At nearly 600 feet up the Baneheart, the group comes to another opened Sealed Door. Beyond is a hallway that ends in a normal steel door, untrapped and unlocked. Dziga sends his shadow companion through to scout -- and he feels a tremendous psychic assault on the shadow from the other room. There is a powerful pulling sensation, then Dziga loses telepathic connection with his shadow. Yet, he can sense the shadow is still alive... however, it seems he has been sucked off this plane of existence.

Everyone but Dziga backs down the hall as the rogue opens the door, bracing for danger. There is an empty room beyond, with strange blue-ish steel plates covering the walls, and a floating star-shaped medallation floating in the air. The instant the door opens, a wave of shadowy power bursts from the amulet, flowing over Dziga and down the hall, over his companions.

Only Emeris resists the tremendous power of the shadow wave, and he finds himself alone when the wave flows past him. Where are his friends? He approaches the amulet...

Vatex, Early, and Dziga appear under a starry sky, standing on a 80-foot-across glass surface shaped like a huge star. Dziga’s shadow is there as well... and Dziga can sense his great fear. The source of this fear is ALLUZAR, the Greater Shadow Demon, who flies overhead, proclaiming his dominion over this realm. This is the extradimensional realm that exists within the Shadowstar Amulet. When the companions’ eyes fall to a glass pedestal at the center of the star-shaped surface, and the thick, ancient-looking tome there, with a symbol they’d seen on one of Emeris’ books... they realize that this is where Danar had place the Book of Inverted Shadows. They note a dead drow who obviously got sucked up into this place.

Alluzar says that Early and Vatex must die, but Dziga has the choice to serve him because he has been touched with the power of shadow. The shadow companion pleads with Dziga to take the offer, because Alluzar is too powerful to fight.

In that moment, Emeris picks up the Shadowstar Amulet which floats in the air. On the back is the word “Shadowstar”, written in the old Vigoorian language. When Emeris speaks this word, everyone within the Shadowstar realm is suddenly teleported into the room -- including Emeris’ companions, the shadow companion of Dziga, and a very angry shadow demon whose large size becomes frightfully obvious in the 30x30 room.

Alluzar offers Emeris and Dziga a chance to rule him as a god within the Shadowstar Amulet, an offer not-so-politely refused. This fiend will not give up the Book of Inverted Shadows short of dying! “Let’s do it, master!” says the shadow companion, but Dziga responds by firing from his bow. The arrows pass right through the incorporeal form as Alluzar sizes up his opponents, looking for the toughest warrior. He fires a black ray of avasculating black energy at Early, but he knocks the blast aside with the Vajra. The shadow demon flies towards Emeris with such speed he is only a black streak, and generates a field of supremely dark shadows around him and the shadowcaster.

As Alluzar tries to grab the Shadowstar Amulet away from Emeris, the shadowcaster blasts killing shadows but Alluzar is unaffected. Early charges and hits the demon with a powerful maneuver. He is joined by Dziga who cannot strike any vital points on the insubstantial fiend.

Vatex fires at the demon but it resists and flies back towards him. It fires a cackling bolt of black energy that Dziga nimbly dodges but smacks Emeris directly in the chest, burning his flesh. Vatex drops the rifle and lunges towards the demon, blades flashing. Alluzar mocks his attacks as the elf fails to strike any telling blows.

It flies back towards Emeris, who tries to paralyze it with a shadow mystery, but it fails. Terrible claws and teeth tear at the half-dragon, spilling blood everywhere, but still he fights free of the demon’s grasp and clings to the amulet. The Vajra flows through Early’s mind and he strikes again, but his blade passes through the demon who lashes out of him, scoring wicked cuts that turn the shredded flesh black and vile. Dziga and Vatex join the fray, trying to allay the demon’s wrath upon the shadowcaster, but to no avail. Its defenses are tremendous, and the fields of darkness it creates around itself make battle chaotic and rife of wide hits.

Early manages to strike the final blow with a powerful Rabid Bear Strike powered by his magic bracers. Alluzar screams as it explodes in a burst of shadow. The wounds sustained by Emeris and Early, from the claws of the demon, will not heal with normal potions. They will need to head back to town and seek healing by means of a special ritual. But first, the Book!

By speaking the command word, the Rosegate Company teleports back into the Shadowstar realm and retrieves the Book. Emeris confirms that it is a complete copy, with the legendary 751st page intact. The page contains strange philosophy and an insanely complex set of shadow symbols called the “Tenebrous Formula”. It is this knowledge that shadowcasters have sought so desperately to no avail for thousands of years. Emeris will not be able to deduce the meaning of all the symbols without more study.

When the group returns to town, the old shadowcaster is delighted that the lost page has finally been recovered. He and Emeris retreat to the study, where the old shadowcaster reveals that Dagda Hazareth discovered the Tenebrous Formula, and so visionary and advanced was his mind that no other shadowcaster since was able to deduce the Tenebrous Formula. But he says that if they can master the formula (which would likely take months of intense study), then they would be able to do three things:

1) becomes shades
2) enter Kadmiel
3) control the Box of Shadows

Emeris is all, WTF is “Kadmiel” and WTF is the “Box of Shadows”? Saharasahla reveals only one nugget about Kadmiel -- he gives him the address of a vacant lot in Oldtown that, if visited on a moonlit night, will reveal Kadmiel to him. He also alludes to the fact that the city of Elan has many strange connections to shadow-related things...

Saharasahla says with this, he will finally be able to leave the library and escape the “hounds.” What these hounds are remains a mystery, but Emeris wonders how and why they keep the old man trapped in this building.

A strange, creepy kid reading a book about dark magic in Saharasahla’s library catches their attention. He asks nosy questions about the group so Vatex and Early chase him away. Who was that dumb kid?

The next day while Emeris and Saharasahla pore over the Tenebrous Formula, Early wishes to learn about “old gods”, i.e. about the gods contemporary with seemingly forgotten powers such as Kyuss or the Silver Wolf, dealing with nature and cultures of a ‘pre-civilized’ era. His only leads within the city (not the most natural environment for those disposed to natural type things). First, there is a strange old woman living in the Warrens, supposedly a member of the “Chaos Tribe” -- a group of savages who have been known to speak of “old gods” and such. The other is a Toruk-Rul orc named MUZOG-OM, an old shaman. He lives in tent city.

Early heads outside the south wall of the city to visit Muzog, with Dziga and Vatex. As Dziga passes through the clusters of tents and makeshift shops, he thinks for a moment he spots a familiar face... Jenkins, the familiar of Keziah! But it is not him, only something that kind of looked like his fat rat body. But looking past it, he sees the wall, where the hag Keziah had brought him one night and showed him complex mathematical equations and astronomy figures.

The rogue breaks off from the other two and examines the wall. New drawing and equations have been added to it. A disturbed, starving and insane drifter sits cross legged before the wall, staring at the images, mumbling with hands in his lap. He talks about sometimes the “old lady” comes and adds to the wall. The pictures depict a crude spire with tentacle like things swirling out from beneath. A reference to the Ancients sleeping beneath the city, of course. A green circle -- the Vallis Moon -- floats above. There is what appears to be a castle floating close to it. The insane man explains that newly added are images of a dark triangle shape, “the Emissary,” and a silvery stick figure, “the Silver Elf.” These are shown around a newly drawn object that looks sort of like a house. Various new equations and charts have been added.

Muzog doesn’t have much to tell Early that is useful. He speaks of animal spirits, “old gods,” “Elder Gods,” and Toruk-Rul creation mythology. He says that since Enhasa was created by the Elder Gods (who exist “beyond the veil” which is impassable to those within the Enhasa cosmology), many lesser gods have come and gone.

Yaeshla asks if everyone will give up on her now that they have the Book and the Sword of Lies (which they decide to hang onto for now). They assure her they will not. Especially Early, whose sword Cryssaegrym has a strange affinity to the dagger, and he must restore her to unlock the next level of Cryssaegrym’s power.

It turns out that when Yaeshla was carried by the great elf wizard Maeritha Moonrise, in the age of the Dread One, she came across a warrior named TIRUS who carried Cryssaegrym. This warrior says he acquired the sword from a celestial magpie who’d stolen it from a place to which it needed to return in order to “defeat the Wormgod.”

They take the Sword of Lies to a Black Market wizard, but he refuses to be associated with it because it is too powerful, and if they keep it they will probably get everyone killed by someone more powerful. All they can deduce from magic thus far is that it protects the user arcane magic, and is particularly potent against wielders of arcane power.

That night, the group gets some magic item deliveries. Vatex in particular is delighted by his new adamantine psychokinetic scimitar, called DIEM WING. With their new gear, the groups return’s to Saharasahla’s and passes through the teleporter back to the Baneheart, having repositioned the beacon near the Sword of Lies room.

Advancing upwards, the group finds a strange opened Sealed Door containing a naked young girl in a huge glass tank that swirls with thick mist. She seems ageless and sleeping, or comatose. At the base of the tank is a long-dead humanoid, who looks like he died hugging the glass.

Higher still, at 1200 feet, they reach a cross-bridge section where the drow fought 10 gray-skinned ogres. All the ogres are dead, and they recall the two casualties splattered against the ground below. In an open Sealed Door, they find a mighty advanced kyton known as the Master of Chains. This chain devil was a loyal servant of the Dread One, and remained trapped here after his defeat. He used a bane called the Diabolus Configurator and ruled over the tribe of gray ogres.

It is a difficult battle, for the Master fights in a room filled with thousands of dangling chains over a 60 foot deep pit, the floor of which is all chains. The Master’s chain dance power allows him to control any of the chains in the room, and all of them are covered with sharp, jagged edges. Emeris is lashed by a flurry of chains and he falls back, bone exposed through his torn flesh. Dziga tries to maneuver through shadows to sneak attack the kyton, but the amazing senses of the devil keep Dziga in his sights.

Vatex and Early rush the devil across the chain bridge spanning the pit and attack. The Master of Chains takes their attacks and begins to regenerate the wounds. When Early and Vatex look upon the devil’s face, they see the faces of long-lost loved ones, or sometimes an old bitter enemy, and it distracts the fighters.

The kyton wraps himself in chains and uses his chain dance ability to collapse the chain bridge at the point closest to the entrance, pulling himself upwards as the warblade and the elf fall away. Early activates his phoenix helm and falls safely to the writhing sea of chains below, and Vatex floats with his feather falling ring, grabbing on to the falling bridge and swings to the other side of the chamber.

Early begins climbing up the dangling chains, firing his guns to support Dziga, who is swinging from chain to chain and firing his bow. Emeris flies through the hanging chains firing umbral rays. Vatex climbs to the ledge and comes under attack from the kyton. Chains swirl around him and flay him with their heavy jagged strikes. Two blows in particular nearly put the elf down, but he persists and begins climbing up the chains towards the Master. He can see Dziga becoming visible through the chains, close enough to strike. But he cannot sneak up, even with the power of shadow, given the Master of Chain’s supreme vision and hearing.

The kyton is so strong, and surely Vatex will be killed. Then the Master will move on killing them easily. Then Emeris sees one last chance -- he channels shadowstuff into the Master of Chains’ shadow, trying to weigh him down... it works! But the kyton attempts to shake off the power, calling upon his Baatorian heritage to drive back the shadow magic. Emeris yells out, a crown of shadowy energy flaring around him, fighting against the devil’s power. With a final gust of effort, he breaks the devil’s will and weighs him down so badly he is effectively paralyzed. Dziga, hasted by his boots, fires three arrows from Roguefriend, aimed perfectly and hitting the kyton directly in the chest. Vatex clings to the chains with his legs and unleashes storm of swords that cuts the devil apart. Nothing cuts worse than Diem Wing, to which is attached a Crystal of Diabloness that cuts through the devil's resistances, wounds that cannot regenerate.

The group claims the Diabolus Configurator, a large iron bracer with wicked hooks and barbs that is worn around the torso. As they treat their injuries, they can hear noise outside...

Emeris sneaks to the door and looks outside. Outside, there are drow... lots of drow, nearly a dozen, who seem to be heading downwards as if to leave the Baneheart.

The leader of the drow, who is a 12-foot tall drow woman levitating downwards, carries an evil looking black chalice. Is that... the Black Grail sought by the Pactlords? It seems the drow got it first. Now the Rosegate Company has an opportunity to try and seize it, if they want.

But do they stand a chance against an big, elite drow adventuring party, blessed by the dark elf goddess Gorgoth-lol?

Next time: Even if the Rosegate Company defeats the drow, they will soon there are far greater challenges to be faced...