Thursday, August 11, 2011

EPISODE 55: The Banewarrens, Act V: Heart of Banes III - The Elite Fighting Force of Gorgoth-lol

If a skilled telepath were to look upon an individual mind from an elevated plane of consciousness, several distinct “shadows” would begin appearing. These are sometimes called ‘mind shadows’. Within these shadows there exists a para-spiritual dimension that is coexistent with all things, and a wind called “the Vajra” flows through it. In theory, one’s mind shadows could become infinitely long and harness an infinite amount of Vajra’s power...

-- “An Inquiry into the Powers of Martial Initiates” 2nd edition
De Garma of Dezolis

Augustar 21, 754 YE

They were possibly the most elite fighting force the Underdark had ever seen. They would now face their greatest challenge -- the Rosegate Company!

Six months ago, the High Priestesses of the drow House Vrama were visited by a powerful outsider servant from the Spider Goddess’ Abyssal realm -- the Envoy of Gorgoth-lol. She revealed that House Vrama was chosen to carry out an unholy mission in the name of the Spider Queen -- to claim three treasures from the surface world: the Chronoweb, the Black Grail, and the Godspike.

To fulfill this mission, the Envoy assembled the finest force House Vrama could muster.

> The priestess Yylonia, master of the Spider Queen’s Summoning and Trickery domains.
> Gir Jagi, a brutal knife-fighter from the Scorpion’s Grasp Academy.
> A formidable drider cleric named Xola.
> Zelkeeph and Moqtuar, fighter-magi who had been ‘blessed’ by “kissing the Fangs of Gorgoth-lol in the Ceremony of Corruption”
> Shindura Vrama Dracos, a half-green-dragon half-drow crusader of Gorgoth-lol.
> Kaltaren, a drow vampire psion
> A fiendish dragonne named Valtrex
> A clan known as the Stings of Gorgoth-lol, consisting of 21 drow ninjas highly skilled in the Vajra Shadow Arts.
> 12 elite Underdark scouts, a unit called the Dark Snipers

First, they penetrated the haunted ruins of the dwarven kingdom of Shadowhearth, which lies beneath the City of Elan, and claimed the Chronoweb -- an ancient drow artifact lost during the Dark Elf Wars. They then proceeded to breach the Banewarrens through the Pactlord’s umber hulk tunnel, and seek the Black Grail from Tremoc Korin. Next, there was only the Godspike -- which was anticipated to be the easiest item to acquire. But there was one thing they did not count on when exiting the Banewarrens with the Black Grail in hand -- the Rosegate Company.

(Note that by this point, the drow had already once encountered the Silver King, Saggarintys, while the dragon was repairing the Warding Generators in the Inner and Outer Vaults. Moqtuar had been killed, as well as many ninjas and scouts. Other scouts and ninjas had been killed by the Master of Chains and his clan of gray ogres, and another had lost his life when he got sucked into the Shadowstar Amulet and killed by the demon Alluzar. Much earlier, back in Shadowhearth, the psion Kaltaren was killed by a trap that emitted a blast of positive energy that reduced him to dust. Other scouts and ninjas had been killed by Shadowhearth’s ancient mechanical guardians. The expedition had only two scouts and 4 ninjas with them at present to accompany the more powerful drow. Eight more ninjas and a scout stood by in the cavern beneath the umber hulk tunnel, guarding the entrance to the Banewarrens.)

As the group gathers by the door to the Master of Chains’ chamber, the light from Vatex’s flaming sword is spotted through the door and the drow take defensive positions. The Envoy makes an unappealing offer -- since the drow have what they want and wish to leave, they say that if the Rosegate Company sacrifices one of their number to the Spider Queen, the others can leave unmolested. The offer is, naturally, refused. This rejection is met with a series of impressive sounding boasts from the dark elves, emphasizing how powerful they are.

Does the Rosegate Company stand a chance?

The companions decide to hit the drow hard and fast. The gather quickly around Emeris who channels shadow power and draws them all into the darkness. They feel and strange pulling sensation, and suddenly appear in the midst of the drow force. With his companions in the heart of their enemies’ formation, Emeris takes to the air.

Early feels the power of the Vajra flow through Shindura, whose aura of power swirls around her adamantine-armored figure. He rushes to face her, crashing the keen blade of Cyssaegrym against her shield. The force of the blow sends her back a few steps, and her eyes go wide from Early’s ferocity. Early channels the power from the martial script he’d read previously, unleashing a savage blow. The blade sweeps across in an arc, catching the smallest gap between the adamantine plates, but cuts four lines -- like the claw of a bear -- into the half-dragon crusader. Blood sprays across the stone floor.

A ninja disappears then reappears to flank Early, but the warblade focuses his attention on the half-dragon. Shindura strikes back at him, using her powers to redirect some of the damage back towards the warblade. Her longsword channels the power of Gorgoth-lol and as her blade cuts him, she heals a a portion of the wound he’d inflicted. But Early unleashes another Rabid Bear Strike, and so devastating is the blow that the powerful crusader of the Spider Queen drops dead.

The drow look on in shock as their mighty warrior is felled so quickly. However, Shindura had put a baneful effect upon the group earlier that day -- the Blood Ritual of Gorgoth-lol. Upon her death, the attacks of the remaining drow became deadlier!

Another ninja vanishes completely, then reappears to flank early with the other ninja. Early discovers that they too use the Vajra -- they strike with maneuvers that Early recognizes as a variation of the Rabid Bear Strike. The ninjas draw upon their ki pool and intermittently turn invisible, frustrating the warblade’s attempts to strike back. The slender ninjas swords plunge into his flesh but he fights on in a fury.

Vatex and Dziga, back to back, consider the enemies surrounding them. Zelkeeph the fighter-mage boasts about how the Ceremony of Corruption made him “much more than just a normal drow,” and he draws upon his most powerful spell and fires it at Vatex. The purple light of the Rudeus of Vazdah is suppressed as shadow deepen and gather around him, and then arc towards Vatex to ensnare him. The elf puts his blades before him and deflects the spell, then lunges forward -- his two blades stab into the guts of the fighter. The blessed crystal of Diem Wing cuts easily through the armor-like flesh of the drow, and he chokes up blood as the Rudeus strikes a second blow. Zelkeeph begins to flee.

The other two ninjas are closing in, but the knife-fighter Gir Jagi makes the next move. He advances towards Dziga, stabbing him in the stomach with an enchanted blade that leaves his abdomen withered and dessicated. Gir Jagi’s free hand snaps out and grabs the rogue around the neck, grappling him and stabbing him repeatedly in the back. The pain is excruciating, and Dziga is not strong enough to overpower the vicious fighter. Gir Jagy feels Dziga relax in his grasp. “Giving up already, eh?” he mocks. But then Dziga vanishes from his grasp, much to his surprise, and reappears 25 feet away to cut off Zelkeeph’s retreat. A well-placed blow from Asura ends the fighter-mage’s life and he crumples to the ground, immediately dead.

As the drider cleric, currently standing on the vertical surface of the Baneheart’s wall, begins powering up with divine magic, Yylonia, the priestess, draws a scroll from an ebony tube, and the sigils flare with purple flame as she speaks the words of power in a booming voice. The spell is completed, and the scroll fades to dust -- and appearing to her summons in a Handmaiden of Gorgoth-lol -- a yochlol, a demon that looks like a melted column of wax with one eye and a eight tentacles. This demon appears right behind Dziga.

The Envoy of Gorgoth-lol’s expressionless face carefully watches Emeris, and remarks that his rare shadowcaster powers are no match for the power of the Spider Queen. She draws upon a powerful spell that will utterly destroy Emeris’ mind and strip him of his magic. A black bolt of energy fires from her hands, and is consumes Emeris as he flies through the air. Emeris his mind under attack like he’s never felt before -- miraculously, he resists the assault, but only with great mental strain, much to the surprise of the Envoy.

The two dark snipers on the south part of the cross bridge begin firing to provide ranged support. They try to take down the flying Emeris but the web of shadows, hard as steel, protects him. Emeris turns and unleashes a blast of shadow power at them and the flying Valtrex. The fiendish dragonne, an awkward flier, slowly changes course and flies over Emeris, snapping a bite at him and tearing away from flesh from his shoulder.

Early cuts down one of the ninjas, but another one of the tricky opponents takes its place. The fourth ninja moves to support Gir Jagi as he taunts Vatex and Dziga, standing before them in a seemingly careless stance.

Vatex makes his move, his blades flashing in dizzying patterns -- Gir Jagy simply accepts the hits and counterattacks each one. The knifefighter’s flesh is in ribbons as he slashes the elf across the chest and grabs onto him, grappling him. The ninja takes advantage of the occupied elf’s situation and hits him with a Deadly Spider Strike and the slender blade pierces his guts. Gir Jagi whispers in Vatex’s ear, “You’re dead, elf!” but then he feels Dziga’s hand grab onto his shoulder -- and Asura is thrust into the base of his skull.

Vatex pulls free of the dead knifefighter’s grasp but is hit with a powerful spell fired at him from the Envoy. It is likely that only his elven heritage kept him safe from the mind-affecting spell of the Spider Goddess’ servant. Yylonia conjures up a couple of monstrous spiders -- one as big as a bear, and the other twice as big as that! Xola the drider continues powering up. No fewer than five active spells empower her now, and she will be entering combat soon with max strength.

Emeris maneuvers away from Valtrex and conjures up a 25 foot high wall of shadow, cutting off the line of sight of the snipers, the priestess, and the Envoy. One of the scouts, already injured, takes a stupid risk and jumps through the curtain of shadowy energy -- he comes out on the other side stripped of all flesh and the lifeless skeleton that remains collapses into a heap. The other scout mutters about what an idiot that guy was, and he jumps over the gap to reach the eastern side of the cross-bridge section.

The yochlol advances upon Dziga, its lashing tentacles battering him. Vatex protects him as he swallows a healing potion and feels some of his wounds close. The elf feels the holy crystal in the hilt of Diem Wing pulse with strength in the presence of the evil outsider of Gorgoth-lol’s abyssal realm and he strikes. Those watching him are barely able to follow what is happening. His blades are a blur of purple fire and silvery light. They can hear the screaming of the yochlol and magic blades tear through waxy demon flesh. The whipping tentacles batter the elf, but he does not relent despite the damage. A final blow from Diem Wing slashes through the singular eye of the demon and its waxy body folds over and disintegrates as it perishes.

Yylonia and the Envoy begin levitating to regain their view of the battlefield. The launch their most powerful spells, this time trying to confuse Early or break the mind of Emeris. Both attempts fail against the incredible willpower of the warblade and the shadowcaster. When the Envoy sees the yochlol go down, she again tries to hit the elf with a mind-wrecking spell, but to no avail. Finally her otherwise expressionless face begins to show signs of consternation.

Another Sting of Gorgoth-lol goes does with a smoldering hole blasted into its skull from Early’s lightning pistol. Cryssaegrym cuts through the other one and he moves to regroup with his friends. Emeris does the same as Valtrex lands on the cross-bridge, preparing to charge the group.

Finally Xola seems to be powered up to her satisfaction. She scuttles along the wall and reaches for Vatex with a lethal spell that will slay nearly any living creature on contact. Vatex resists most of the attack, but with the ninja, spiders, and drider now assaulting him, he must fallback. His blades slash at the drider’s legs then he springs back to join with Early. One of the spiders bites at Dziga, and the poison burns badly.

Valtrex rushes forward and hits Emeris with a flurry of claws and teeth. Most attacks are repelled by steel shadows, but he still bleeds from those that get through. Dziga vanishes into shadow to consume more healing potions as the drider advances on Emeris from the other side. The heavy warhammer of the drider smashes down and cracks his head. Early’s Raptor Strike slays the largest of the summoned spiders, but only after suffering a poisoned bite himself. Emeris blasts magic at their enemies as another dog-sized monstrous spider appears, conjured by the priestess. The fourth ninja is killed in the ensuing chaos, and the finishing blow against Valtrex is a blast of shadow power from Emeris' hand.

Yylonia throws down a field of unholy power that catches the entire group, but its dark magic affects only Early and Vatex, who are moderately hurt by it. The dark sniper on the east side fires an arrow at the unsuspecting Vatex and it takes him in the back painfully. Then the Envoy hits Vatex with a powerful blast of divine magic, throwing his mind into utter chaos. The elf cannot discern between friend and foe! After muttering incoherently to himself for a moment, the elf lunges at his shadowcaster companion, slashing at him with his swords. It appears for a moment that Emeris will be killed by his own friend, but then Vatex’s mind seems to go off on a different tangent and he looks at the Envoy with horror and tries to run away in the opposite direction.

The drider continues its fight against Emeris and Dziga. Its heavy armor and divine energy shield make it a battle of attrition, but green ichor spills across the ground as the wounds pile up. Still, the drider is powerful and is taking quite a beating. Dziga vanishes into the essence of darkness as the drider's big hammer crashes into the stone where he stood. Emeris blasts a hole of blackened flesh through its chest but still it fights on. Then, with her ranged spells mostly depleted, Yylonia casts a spell to allow her to walk on air. She rushes Early from above and her hand brushes the back of his neck, imparting a curse that drains his strength. Flanked by the powerful drider and now the priestess with his strength diminished, Early renews the ferocity of his assault. Dziga appears from the darkness to support the warblade -- killing the priestess with a series of lethal strikes.

Emeris kills the last of the conjured spiders. As the priestess' body crunched into the ground at his feet, Early recharges his Vajra maneuvers with a well-placed strike. He reverses his grip on his blade and leaps forward. With a defeaning wolf howl emitted from the Blade of the Silver Wolf as it cuts effortlessly across, a Soaring Raptor Strike kills the drider with a geyser of blood.

The Envoy, with the Black Grail still in hand, realizes the battle is effectively lost. She bottles up her rage and takes flight down the Baneheart, hoping to make her escape with the artifact.

The confused Vatex fires off a shot at the fleeing Envoy but it does no harm. The scout sees Early closing in on him, and he fires a few shots from his bow but the arrows break against the warblade’s armor. Cryssaegrym ends the scout’s life with a brutal sweep.

Emeris takes flight after the Envoy -- his magic is nearly depleted, but he fires a volley of dusk arrows which slow the servant of the Spider Goddess slightly. Emeris is the faster flier, so the Envoy turns and hovers -- firing another spell! Emeris fortunately resists and continues his pursuit.

Early jumps off the cross-bridge, free-falling down the spire and he waits until he is only a little above the bottom before he plans to activate his feather falling item since it will not work for a fall from the 1200 foot height of the cross-bridge section.

Unfortunately, the Envoy sees him coming, and upon landing at the bottom, hits him with a powerful enchantment that makes him unable to do anything other than laugh maniacally. Emeris sees his free-falling friend, and realizes that the warblade is going to splatter like a tomato dropped off the Elan city wall. He changes course sharply and grabs the falling Early. The weight of Early with all his gear and armor nearly pulls Emeris’ arms out of their sockets, but the shadowcaster hangs on and saves Early from a messy end.

The Envoy feels towards the Great Stairway leading back towards the inner vaults. It seems they may not be able to stop her... but as they lose sight of her, they hear her cry, “No, not you! Not now! We should have finished you before...!”

When they catch up on her, they see she is referring to Saggarintys, who blocks the path to the Great Stair in his human form. The Silver King looks exhausted and carries a few wounds himself. “Looters of evil, now you die!” he yells in a booming voice. As Saggarintys begins transforming into his dragon form, the Envoy makes a desperate gamble and tries to hit him with the same maniacal laughing enchantment. The dragon is unaffected, and makes short work of the Envoy. His claws tear her through her flesh, and his final attack has his jaws snap closed on her upper body. He tears her in half and she begins to dissolve into purple fire. Saggarintys picks up the Black Grail.

The Rosegate Company regroups and speaks with the Silver King. He reports that he went to check the generators in the Inner and Outer Vaults, and reveals that the Banewarrens has a big problem -- the dread osyluths have been released, either by the drow or some other faction. They have multiplied over the course of several skirmishes with the dragon and others, and now they have completely taken over the Outer Vaults. If they continue to fight and multiply, then the entire world itself would be in grave danger, to say nothing of the city of Elan.

He says that he feared the Rosegate Company had failed to acquire the Sealing Rod, so he came to try and recover it himself, despite the risks (he is, after all, apparently the only one who can repair the generators). The Rosegate Company turns over some of the evil artifacts they’d recovered, showing the Silver King their good will. They confirm that they have recovered the Sword of Lies and will take it to the Holy Order so it can be restored to its original form, the Sword of Truth. They also provide him with the diamonds they’d bought in town, which the dragon had said he’d need for the repairs.

The Sealing Rod must still be recovered, and it is more urgent now than ever -- for if the osyluths get out of the Banewarrens, the outcome will not be good at all. But the Sealing Rod will not work if the Generators are not also repaired. But that task might be impossible with the dread osyluths on the loose.

The only hope now is to get the Sealing Rod, repair the generators, and close the Banewarrens. Then, even a wish (like the Pactlords had used originally) will not be able to open the Sealed Doors. Only the Banewarrens key will be able to do that. So, to ensure this dungeon of banes cannot be reopened at all, they must use the restored Staff of Shards to destroy the key.

According to Yaeshla, the Sealing Rod should be found with the third piece of the Staff at the top of the Baneheart, where the legendary heroes defeated the Dread One in ages bygone. Saggarintys will head to the Warding Generator halfway up Tremoc Korin to check its status. The Rosegate Company will retreat back to Elan temporarily, recover, and then return to finish their mission.

The end of the quest is near!

Next time: The stage is set for the grand finale -- but a final twist in the tale will lead to an unexpected showdown... a showdown that will be the Rosegate Company’s ultimate test!

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