Tuesday, August 16, 2011

EPISODE 56: The Banewarrens, Act VII: The Dread One’s Path

We lost Zakaras forever in our battle against the Dread One. No known spell could restore his life. But I sincerely believe he would say that his sacrifice was worth it, if it meant saving the world from the ultimate evil of Eslathagos Malekith -- let all curse his name!

-- The Memoirs of Zenithian, Vol 3

Augustar 21-22

The Rosegate Company retreats back to Saharasahla’s bookshop through the teleportation device. Saharasahla tells them it is time to deactivate the teleporter and leave the Banewarrens for good. Too dangerous to leave it open, he says, now that they have the 751st page. Who knows who might come walking through. The company protests vehemently -- the only compromise they can reach is that Saharasahla will keep the teleporter active until midnight tomorrow. If they cannot use the teleporter, they will have to enter through the tunnel at the Old Manor -- which will force them to move through the spreading dread osyluth’s nest in the Outer Vaults.

They haul their loots to the Adventurers Square and earn a huge haul from the dark elf party’s exceptional gear. They even keep a few things for themselves. Early gets Itumar at the Bull & Bear to work all night on refitting the half-dragon drow crusader’s adamantine plate mail so it will be ready in the morning.

They return to their mansion, and are greeted by Early’s cheerful mutt... and find they have been burglarized! Seanus reports that a group of five -- a catman, three humans, and a gnome -- showed up this morning, walked right in, turned the place upside down, and left. Apparently they did not find what they were looking for, whatever it was, and they left empty-handed (except for the gnome, who stuffed his pockets full of coins). They interrogated Seanus about the whereabouts of the companions, but Seanus declined to reveal any info and roughed up a bit.

Vatex heads out on the town to try and find the identities of these burglars. None of his contacts produce any information. There is not even any word of the catman, who would presumably stand out given that the catfolk of Yaforashia are rarely seen, even in a cosmopolitan city like Elan.

Who are these burglars? One thing is for sure -- when the companions learn their identities, it will be bloody.

Seanus also announces that a package was delivered to the house earlier this morning. Is addressed to Early, from his Uncle Vegard - the man who'd given him the sword, Cryssaegrym.

That night various special orders arrive from the Dreaming Apothecary. Early visits the Temple of Ashe to remove the curse put on him by Yylonia. Early peruses the package from Vegard. It contains a letter from his uncle, and a bunde containing the surviving fragments of his father's journal.

After a good rest, the group eats a hearty bacon & eggs breakfast and returns to Saharasahla’s bookstore. They find that Zio, the magic-user who’d aided them early in the days of the Banewarrens quest, is present. He has heard they are going into the Baneheart, and he wants to come along.

They reject his offer to accompany them, but he insists. He explains that he is a necrotheologist, meaning he studies the deaths of gods. Some say the Dread One was a god, and Zio would like to see the site where he was destroyed. He says he can offer useful magic on their quest. They concede to let him come along, although they warn him of extreme danger to be faced.

Back in the Baneheart, the group visits Saggarintys, working on Tremoc Korin’s warding generator. He explains that if they can acquire the Sealing Rod AND he can get to the last warding generator in the broken seal area, they can seal the Banewarrens, and the dread osyluths can run wild for the rest of eternity. The difficult part of this is getting that last generator back online. The silver dragon hopes it is in decent shape so that it doesn’t take long to fix.

The group begins the long ascent to the top of the Spire. Emeris flies up level by level, setting up ropes and grappling hooks for the other to climb up. The group’s curiosity is piqued by more open Sealed Doors, but they are on a tight schedule.

Finally, they reach the top level, 2450 feet from the bottom. The ambient glow of the Baneheart seems bright here, and the vertigo-inducing height makes the group dizzy. To think, the dread fortress of Jabel Shammar is right above them!

There is only one opened Sealed Door at this level, and it looks busted, and the remnants of mark scorching blasta marks this level. Chunks of stone have been blasted out of the wall. A great battle took place here. Yaeshla reveals that she senses their close proximity to where the Staff of Shards was broken. Yaeshla says the battle between the eight great heroes and Darkstar began in Jabel Shammar and moved down to this place. The group finds the hilt of a holy sword that shattered in that battle.

There is also a twenty foot wide hole in the ceiling, that goes about 20 feet up into a larger chamber. They ignore it and follow the signs of battle past the half-open Sealed Door.

Beyond they find another battle site. Two doors have been blasted from their hinges. The other doors are blackened and scorched. The stone walls bear similar marks, and some are even blistered and melted in spots, as if heat by incredibly heat or acid. The room feels cold, and the air seems to vibrate.

There is a vault door that they examine. Dziga sends his shadow companion through and it is sucked away into another dimension. Dziga completely loses contact with it, but he senses it is alive somewhere. They open the door and see a hallway pulsing with swirling, violet energy. At the end of which is another vault door. Two dark elf corpses float in the hallway. The power of this energy is obvious, and there appears to be no way past without risking the same fate as the shadow companion or the dead drow.

In another room, the cold tension in the air is even stronger. Broken bits of equipment and armor lie on the floor, rusted and decayed. A skeleton juts out of the wouth wall, as if hurled into the wall and imbedded there. Broken stones lie at its feet. Black bloodstains mar the floor near the door. Yaeshla explains that this is where Zakaras Hedron, one of the eight heroes, was killed by the Dread One’s magic. The unique spell ensured that Zakaras could not be raised, like the other heroes who’d perished here.

The next room features walls that are a horrible reddish-black color, stained by some unknown cataclysm. The cold presence here resembles nothing the companions have ever felt before. It claws at their souls and numbs their whole body like the deepest winter. Sprawled against the collapsed wall opposite the door lies a tatter of black rags and a few charred bits of metal.

“This is it,” says Yaeshla. “This is where the Dread One died.”

The rags are all that remain of the Dread One’s form. When Vatex and Dziga search the rags, they stir up a swarm of wraiths, each just a fraction of the Dread One’s evil essence that lingered still after all these years. They scream and moan as they attack, mourning the death of Eslathagos Malekith and cursing all that is good and just.

Early stands guard by the door to protect Emeris and Zio in the room behind him. Three wraiths surge forth and attempt to grasp him with their life-sucking claws. Limbs of black vapor plunge through his corporeal armor and into his chest, drawing strength from his soul. He fights back with Cryssaegrym as they swirl about, taunting him.

Dziga clicks the heels of his boots together, becoming supernaturally quick, then draws the darkness around him, becoming invisible to the wraiths, and he begins to reposition. This leaves nine wraiths surrounding Vatex, and they unleash their assault. Their deathly cold undead grasp drains his life energy. His swords flash, tearing through their vaporous forms. His soul shrivels as more wraiths grasp at him. They are everywhere, reaching from all sides and even from above.

Early too is hard-pressed, even against just the three by the door. An incorporeal hand pierces his chest and touches his heart and for a moment he half expects to drop dead, but his hearty constitution and rage keeps him fighting. Zio steps forward, drawing a holy symbol created from a dozen other holy symbols, and he shouts words of power that cause two of the wraiths fighting Early to cower and flee to the corner, where they stare at the holy symbol with profound terror. Early’s sword sweeps across and cuts off the wraith’s head, and the undead dissipates.

Dziga emerges from shadow behind one of the wraiths assault Vatex, and activates his Deathstrike Bracers. A symbol flashes into existence on the wraith’s back, and Dziga drives his blades into the target. The symbol is pierced and imparts the effect of having its vital organs destroyed into the wraith’s incorporeal form, and it dies. Vatex hacks away at the swarming wraiths, but he cannot kill them quickly enough. Zio tries to turn more of the undead but fails. There are too many, and they are stronger than the average wraith!

Emeris rushes past Early and Zio, and unleashes a blast of destructive shadow that destroys most of the remaining wraiths. The group then dispatches the turned undead in the corner.

Victory is achieved, but Early and Vatex have lost much of their power to the wraiths’ touch of death. Fortunately, Zio has a scroll of restoration, and Emeris has a special ointment with a similar effect.

The battle had caused the rags to shift slightly, revealing a handle to some kind of rod or something. Early pulls it free, becoming cursed by the vile rags in the process. The platinum and gold dragon head of the scepter is familiar from a depiction of Saint Danar -- this is the Sealing Rod, at last.

The group searches through the rags, but there is no sign of the third piece of the Staff of Shards. Yaeshla is practically weeping. “It was supposed to be here!” she cries. “Someone must have taken it... it must be somewhere in the Banewarrens!”

But Vatex suggests that since they have the rod, they can leave. Sure, they may not be able to destroy the Banewarrens key without the completed staff, but so long as they can seal the place, they could probably ensure that the key is safe (maybe leaving it with Castle Shard or the Temple of Calethon). Early can feel Cryssaegrym’s anger in his heart. The sword... well, _likes_ Yaeshla for some reason, and seems to want the staff restored. Early knows that if he restores the Staff, Cryssaegrym will be so pleased it will fulfill the requirements of the second legacy ritual of the sword. Early says he will continue the quest for the staff alone, if he must.

Dziga, Vatex, and Emeris agree to help their friend. So they will continue upwards, hoping to find the final piece. Zio says he wants to stay behind and check out the site of the Dread One’s death, but they will not allow him to hang out alone.

Emeris flies into the hole and sets up climbing gear. Above, they find big room with a big iron panel in the floor with a black skull emblazoned on it. There is a door into a strange control room. Along the eastern wall are various dials and switches on a long low table. There are six cushioned chairs before the table, and before each chair on the table is a silver helmet that covers the wearer’s entire head and face. A red cord connects each helmet to a strange device hanging from the ceiling. The strange device is bejeweled with diamonds and rubies and set into a silver mesh. The mesh wraps around a hollow glass core that is shaped like a big cylinder. Hanging on the wall above the table is a framed picture depicting a 20-foot tall metal statue of bronze and steel.

Dziga looks more closely at the framed picture... and sees it is not a painting at all, but an actual live feed to a real place. Could that be what’s on the other side of the eastern wall?

With a bit of experimentation, they discover that the six helmets are meant to be used to control the huge statue outside -- this is the Doomwalker, which the Dread One had used to explore the treacherous area beyond. When the helmet is worn, the wearer can see through the mech’s “vision.” Each helmet controls a different part of the mech -- the head, the arms, the legs, and the chest. Various weapon systems are equipped in this construct, including flame throwers, spear launchers, acid jets, a poison gas emitter, a grappling claw, and a smashing hammer fist.

Although there are only five of them, the head-user can also control another part of the body, giving them 99% effective control over its systems. They can also teleport items from the grappling claw into the control room. Crazy technology! everyone thinks. The group wishes they could bring this thing with them back home!

They turn the Doomwalker around, and beyond two massive doors is a long pathway, nearly 100 feet wide and tall. Only in a few places is the bare stone fllor visible here, as fungi grows as thick as a forest, including mushrooms and puffballs and other growths. There is a prodigious amount of a strange, purplish fungus and that to writhe and twitch. Spores float through the air. The path is filled with strange ambient light, and extends farther than should be physically possible -- at least a quarter-mile, probably more. On a few places in on the walls and ceiling, the stone seems almost transparent, revealing a void of nothingness beyond. This place should extend beyond the spire, but instead it seems to extend into some kind of planar oblivion -- what the heck is this place? Obviously it is inhospitable, hence the need for the Doomwalker. What was the Dread One trying to do here?

The companions guide their lumbering giant mech down the path. Each step into a mass of fungus unleashes a cloud of spores. Various meters and gauges respond, but they use weird symbols and notation. Vatex uses his comprehend languages spell, discovering that they measure toxicity and other dangers.

About a quarter-mile down the path, they come across a 50-ft across shelf that hosts a number of huge, purplish cocoons.

Vatex fires one of the spear launchers and pierces the thing, and a wyvern-like creature begins to break out. Five of the other cocoons begin to open, containing more fungoid-wyverns. Their bodies are covered in weird growth and fungi. The group fires more volleys of spears and slays the first wyvern before it can get free.

The other five soar forward in a rage, as if to guard something farther down the path. The doomwalker lumbers forward to get the enemies in the range of more weapon systems. Dziga pulls a switch and unleashes a massive cone of flame that engulfs three of the wyverns. Like flaming comets they continue their advance, trying to strike the Doomwalker with their tails, claws, and bites. The Doomwalker’s adamantine-enforced body is nearly impervious to their attacks and it suffers only a few scratches. Vatex manipulates the left arm and grabs one of the wyverns in its claw. Emeris then activates the right hand and smashes the held wyvern twice. Its ribcage collapses and a second blow crushes its inner organs. It drops limp to the ground.

Early, in the chest seat, fires a line of acid. It blasts through a wyvern at point blank range, and extends to dissolves the left wing of another wyvern as its swoops in from above. Unable to fly, it crashes into the ground and breaks its neck on impact, releasing a big cloud of spores. Vatex manipulates the claw-arm and crushes the life out of another wyvern. The wyverns keep attacking desperately, but mostly just leave scratches on the mighty mech. Another strike of the right arm and a wyvern’s head is crushed. Another grasp of the claw arm and the last wyvern is choked to death.

Such power! The Doomwalker is incredible. When the flamethrower is ready to fire again, Dziga unleashes it upon the other cocoons, which are all small and apparently at an earlier stage of development. Then the Doomwalker strides through the flames, continuing along the Dread One’s Path.

After a few more minutes of walking, about 200 away from them they can see the end of the path. There they see a small three storey stone house. The walls are straight and finished with masonry-cut blocks. Above the house and to the right floats a large, charcoal black egg. The lusterless and dead-looking egg floats on its end. It is about 40 feet tall and half that width at its broad base. Carved into this huge egg is what appears to be an angelic figure with two pairs of wings and a huge sword.

The companions move the Doomwalker closer, but after advancing about 50 feet, a bald, ebony skinned angel with four wings of blood-red feathers, emerges from the house’s front door. He is about 13 feet tall. He yawns and rubs his eyes, as if he just awoke from a deep slumber.

The Maleficite!!!

When he sees the mech advancing, he shouts, “Who the hell is operating the Doomwalker? I should have destroyed that piece of trash a long time ago.” He reaches out his hand and conjures up a massive, black-bladed greatsword, and prepares to attack.

Suddenly, a vortex of swirling black energy opens near the ceiling. The Dread One’s Path trembles. Lights and gauges flash in the control room, indicating tremendous magic is active. At first they think this is the Maleficite’s doing, but when they regard his expression they see only surprise and confusion.

What the hell is happening?

Then, flying out of the vortex like a horror from an adventurer’s nightmare, is a huge adult red dragon -- yet some of its dull red scales are darkened with streaks of blackness. Demonic horns jut out around the dragon’s neck frills. . Detailed analytics come up in the Doomwalker’s HUD with dragon info. This is no ordinary dragon -- it is a half-fiend. And it wears a Quaan bone ring.

“Now you face the strongest of the Pactlords of the Quaan... I AM FERENDIS!!!” the dragon lets out a roar. A blast of feedback carries through the silver helmets into the control room, hurting the ears of the companions.

Ferendis... the Pactlords' “trump card”... is a DRAGON!

Riding on the dragon’s back is a Pactlord bugbear fighter, who wields a magic longbow. “I am Sarth!” he declares.

Ferendis circles above the Maleficite and the Doomwalker, and shouts to the angel, “Where is the Grail, angel?”

Maleficite responds with both anger and annoyance, “What are you talking about?”

“We’ve used a Wish spell to be teleported to _the most powerful artifact in the Banewarrens_. So the Black Grail must be close -- where is it?”

The Maleficite bursts out into hysterical laughter. “Hahaha, you fools! The Black Grail is but a shadow compared to the total eclipse of... THE ANTITHESIS STONE!” he gestures to the massive floating black egg.

“Enough of your elaborate metaphors, angel! You will take us to the Grail, or we will crush you!”

“I have outlasted even my master, Eslathagos Malekith... The Dread One, Darkstar,” the Maleficite replies with a low growl. “You will learn to tremble before my awesome power!”

“So be it,” Ferendis declares. “Then I will be forced to destroy you along with the humanoids! Now--”

“But Ferendis, wait!” Sarth interrupts, choking on the omnipresent spore clouds. “Where are our companions? They should have arrived with us.”

Companions? the Rosegate Company shares the same thought. Uh oh...

Suddenly they hear noise outside the Doomwalker control room. Emeris pulls off his silver helmet and runs to the door, opening it halfway and looking outside. More Pactlords!

There are two familiar Pactlords in the group -- Chast the athach, and Vo-Nul the phase spider. They were both involved with the kidnapping of Emeris back in the Outer Vaults two weeks ago. They are joined by the harpy archer, AZZ, and the lizardwoman cleric of Remora named Skyrryt.

“DIE HUMANOIDS!” yells Azz at the sight of Emeris in the doorway.

Emeris explains the situation. If they abandon the Doomwalker controls to fight against the Pactlords’ attack squad, it will probably be destroyed. However, they cannot ignore the other Pactlords outside the control room. Everything is at stake!

Vatex, Dziga, and Zio remain at the Doomwalker controls, while Early takes off the chest-operating helmet and joins Emeris by the door. The warblade and the shadowcaster will defend the control room -- the rogue, the ranger, and the necrotheologist will try to operate the Doomwalker themselves and fight against the corrupted angel and the half-fiend dragon.

S’kyrryt fingers her wooden wand and Emeris is becomes frozen in place. Azz fires a volley of arrows at Emeris but only one breaks through the protective shield of shadows. Early rushes out the door to protect the shadowcaster, and is in turn hit by the wand and Chast begins to advance and the phase spider disappears in the ethereal plane to make a sneak attack. He growls as the effect attacks his mind and he resists.

oomwalker.jpgDziga switches his controls to the left leg, aiming the left hip mounted spear launcher at Ferendis, who begins turning widely to make a strafing run. Vatex and Zio lock in their launchers as well and the three of them fire a volley. Two of the spears pierce Ferendis’ armor-like scales but the dragon seems to ignore the huge spikes jutting from its flank.

The Maleficite launches a scorching column of celestial fire at the Doomwalker, nearly knocking it to the ground. Damage reading fill the HUD and the control room fills with red and yellow lights from the glass cylinder. The angel then conjures up a ring of swirling blades, made of pure force, trapping the Doomwalker within.

The companions make the Doomwalker leap through a gap in the swirling ring of blades that appears momentarily, but the mech is hacked up badly in the process. The three drivers try to get the mech to its feet after clearing the spinning blades, while Sarth the bugbear fires arrows flame arrows that break against the mech. Ferendis completes his arc, inhales deeply, and unleashes a devastating inferno from its gullet. Dragon fire engulfs the Doomwalker. Panels in the control room burst with sparks. Data scrolls down in the HUD reporting damage to the mech, which is clearly not invulnerable. The force of the blasting flames knocks the Doomwalker back several steps. Vatex chokes on the smoke that fills the control room as systems overload and regains control of the left arm claw. He reaches up at Ferendis -- the clumsy flier cannot pull up quickly enough to get out of reach -- and grabs the dragon around its hind leg, pulling him into a grapple.

Early rushes out of the control room to engage Chast. The aberrant giant, carrying two giant morningstars, reaches with its third hand into a pouch at its waist, and pulls out a big rock which is hurled at the warblade. It smashes into him, breaking into a hundred pieces and knocking the warblade to the ground. Early wipes blood away from his lips and gets back to his feet, continuing his charge.

Emeris draws upon his deepest reserves of willpower and breaks free of the lizard cleric’s wand’s enchantment. He reaches into his bag and pulls out the bottle containing the shadow genie Balin-Ra. He pulls out the stopper and the khayal emerges with a plume of black smoke, celebrating that this is the third and final time it will have to serve the owner of the bottle. Emeris commands Balin-Ra to attack the harpy, who fires another array of arrows at the warblade.

The warblade knocks aside a few arrows and accepts hits from the others. The 18 foot tall athach swings a morningstar at Early as he closes in -- Early deflects the attack with Cryssaegrym and roars. The Vajra fills his mind and he leaps upon the monster, hacking with the fury of a beast.

Ferendis twists and fights violently against the Doomwalker’s grasp. Great is the strength of the dragon, but Vatex, controlling the left arm, reallocates power away from the right leg and into the claw... just enough power to maintain the grip. Dziga takes control of the right arm and punches Ferendis repeatedly in the side. Bones snap and internal bleeding spreads quickly. The fiendish dragon coughs up blood. It relents against trying to break free and tries to rip the Doomwalker apart. Its jaws close around the head and try to rip it off, but to no avail. Claws and wings slash at the mech, with hind legs kicking violently but only scraping against the mech’s body. The mighty Doomwalker suffers minimal damage. The mech continues pounding on the dragon.

Sarth stands up and runs along the long neck of Ferendis to stand on the dragon’s head. Balancing carefully as the two giants wrestle, Sarth pulls out his big magic axe and begins hacking at the Doomwalker’s head. He cuts off an antenna before he is tossed to the ground in the violent struggle.

Early fights valiantly against the onslaught of Chast. The athach kicks and swings his morning stars, and uses his free hand to try and flatten the warblade. Early dodges the first swing of the morningstar but his ferocity has come at the expense of his defense, and the swinging fist smashes across his head. He spins and lands on his feet, only to be kicked in the gut, doubling him over. The second morningstar crashes down on his left leg, and were he not wearing the adamanatine armor, he is sure his the bones of his leg would be shattered. He rolls to the side and comes up in a crouch, firing his pistol into the stomach of the monster then swinging Cryssaegrym wildly. Pactlord blood spills across the ground.

Balin-Ra draws his scimitar and flies across the room. He slashes at the harpy Azz, who drops his bow and pulls his sword from its sheath, hovering in a defensive stance. The two exchange blows but it is obvious that the harpy is more of an acher than a swordsman. Azz strikes a quick blow then dives towards the ground to grab his bow. Balin-Ra pursues and flies through a storm of arrows from the fleeing harpy. The genie looks like a porcupine as it closes on Azz and cuts two more deep wounds.

Vo-Nul exits the ethereal plane behind Early as Chast falls to his knees as Cryssaegrym cuts the muscles in his legs. The phase spider flanks him and sinks poisonous fangs into his hindquarters. The warblade feels poison spread through his blood, and he makes a retaliatory slash against the beast, but the monster has retreated to the ethereal plane already. Chast is dying, but Skyrryt rushes to his side and channels healing power into his body. The most serious wounds close and the three-armed athach renews his assault.

The Maleficite watches with amusement as the mech and the dragon fighting desperately against one another. He flies up to stand on the roof of the house and evokes another blast of celestial fire that hits both combatants and Sarth. He then conjures up another ring of spinning force blades -- creating a sort of battle arena around Ferendis and the mech! Ferendis pushes the Doomwalker away with his hind legs, and breathes another blast of fire over the mech. More panels explode as they overload in the control room. Lights flash on various instruments, and smoke fills the room. Ferendis roars with a premature sense of victory as the Doomwalkers systems briefly fail... seconds before emergency backup systems kick in and the fight continues.

The metal body of the Doomwalker glows from the intense heat of dragon flames, and keeps punching Ferendis. Dziga pulls the switch on the flamethrower but the dragon is competely immune to the intense fire. Vatex holds down the switch for the claw, and manipulates the controls to aim the spear launcher at the same time. He fires it at point blank range. The spear embeds in the dragon’s crotch, yielding a dragonic roar of rage and pain.

The dragon gets its tail wrapped around the Doomwalker’s legs, pulling it down, but the mech maintains its grip. At this moment, the Maleficite uses one of his mightiest powers and generates an earthquake centered upon the grappling dragon and construct. Huge fissures appear in the stone floor, revealing the dark void beyond. The rocking of the Dread One’s Path pulls the grappling combatants apart as stone fall from the ceiling around them. The Doomwalker is battered and smashed, and Ferendis’ left claw is crushed beneath a particularly large falling block. As a fissure opens beneath the Doomwalker, Dziga and Zio coordinate their controls and the mech jumps clear at the last moment from falling into the void of no return.

Ferendis recovers quickly as the earthquake subsides, and takes this chance to fly away, but the Doomwalker pilots are quick to recover as well. The clawed left hand strikes and grabs the dragon by its back leg as it attempts to flee, pulling it back down and into the mech’s grasp. Dziga uses the right arm to smash into the dragon’s skull, breaking off one of its horns. Blood gushes from between the broken scales around its head.

Sarth climbs out of one of the fissures generated by the earthquake and begins hacking at the Doomwalker’s legs as if he was a lumberjack and the mech was a tree. Zio’s HUD fills with damage reports. Sarth’s axe does only a little damage with each strike, but if left unattended, it is very possible that the persistent, fearless bugbear could cut off the mech’s leg.

Dziga keeps operating the right arm of the mech, pounding on the dragon’s head again and again. Claws and teeth slash at the Doomwalker, tearing away chunks of metal plating and tearing apart the copper wiring underneath, but the blows keep coming. Eventually it cannot muster the strength to fight any longer. Ferendis’ skull caves in with a final, bloody crunch, and Vatex tosses the broken body to the ground with the left arm. Vatex then scoops up the bugbear in the left hand, but Vatex slightly miscalculates the pressure and the bugbear is crushed to death instantly. Oh well, now it is time to deal with the Maleficite -- if that is possible, since the Doomwalker is severely damaged and the angel has suffered no damage at this point.

Early parries one swinging morningstar but the second clips him on the shoulder, sending him spinning through the air. He rolls to the side as an athach foot comes down to stomp his skull, and with a swing of his sword he severs three of the athach’s toes. An Elder Mountain Hammer maneuver sends Chast stumbling back. Early dodges the last of the flailing monster’s attacks and strikes the final blow -- a Soaring Raptor Strike that takes off the monster’s head.

Skyrryt runs to avoid the giant monster as it crashes to the ground. Balin-Ra cuts again and again at Azz, drawing his attention so that Emeris can hit him with a perfectly aimed blast of umbral energy. Azz’s head explodes like a melon as a ray of dark energy blasts through his brain.

The Maleficite scowls as the Doomwalker tosses aside the battered corpse of Ferendis. The Doomwalker jumps through the blade barrier ring and fires spears and poison gas at the angel as it lands on the other side. The Maleficite is hit with one spear but pulls it free with a gout of blood. Immediately the wound begins to heal. It takes flight to avoid the poison gas and flies high past the Doomwalker, speeding down the path. As it does, he hurls another blast of divine fire. The Doomwalker survives but begins emitting smoke and sparks flare around various joints.

Dziga and Vatex and Zio direct the mech after the fleeing angel, but when the angel puts enough distance between them, they realize it was not trying to run away -- it was merely getting enough distance to use another power. An aura of dark energy flares around the Maleficite, and both his height and muscular build begin to expand. Soon he is twice his former size, standing nearly 25 feet tall -- even taller than the Doomwalker!

Vo-Nul continues to disappear into the ethereal and re-appear, making surprise attacks against Early who chases the Pactlord cleric throughout the room. Poison burns in the warblade’s system, but he suppresses its effects with amazing fortitude. Skyrryt keeps firing his wand to try and stop Early, but the warblade resists each paralyzing ray that hits him. Beams of shadow magic lance from Emeris’ hands, knocking the cleric to the ground. The lizardwoman raises her mace feebly in defense as Early descends upon her. The warblade cuts her arm off at the elbow, and she scrambles desperately to safety. Balin-Ra cuts her off and slashes at her, while Emeris fires a fatal ray of energy that strikes her chest.

The Doomwalker charges down the path towards the enlarged Maleficite. The angel takes three steps then leaps into the air, spreading its wings to soar down the path with amazing speed. The rush of air scatters bursts of fungal spores behind him. His black sword is raised as he draws closer ot the charging mech, and he swings, cleaving into the the neck of the mech. Dziga is jolted through the silver helmet on impact, and his control panel goes completely dark. He slams it with his fist and it reactivates thankfully. “Vatex, grab him!” he yells as he takes control of the right arm.

Zio throws a lever and the Doomwalker lunges forward and Vatex extends the claw. The Maleficite swings his blade and cuts a chunk from the Doomwalker’s hip, but the mech’s momentum continues forward and the angel is clasped in the powerful claw. Dziga pounds the angel with the other arm as fast as he can. The angel’s left arm which holds the sword snaps, and his skull cracks and his ribs break under the pressure. Dziga then shifts control the poison gas emitter, and a green cloud spreads around the combatants. The Maleficite hacks up blood but keeps fighting despite the lack of air and despite its broken arm. With his free hand he punches the Doomwalker with such force the outer plates crack and interior components are crushed. Even as the Maleficite suffers horrible wounds, his incredible celestial endurance and regenerative abilities make fighting him a losing proposition, even with the Doomwalker’s superior raw strength. If they cannot kill him quickly enough, eventually he will break get lucky and break free. The biggest risk would be if he tried to break through the wall to the control room, unleashing the deadly spores upon them. The Maleficite continues pounding on the Doomwalker, this time hitting its head and causing severe damage to the mech’s systems.

Only one enemy remains to deal with the control room -- an enemy that stalks its prey from the ethereal plane, and appears to strike the victim flat-footed with poisonous fangs. Early begins the Death from Above maneuver, but leaves the final step uncompleted. Then he waits. He knows the spider will appear, and he waits. His muscles are tense and ready to snap. When Vo-Nul appears, the spider’s fangs flash and Early completes his maneuver in a fraction of a second. The final burst of Vajra rushes through him and he releases it through his blade. He launches into the air and thrusts the tip of the katana into Vo-Nul’s cluster of eyes as it lunges to strike. The spider collapses, with a blood-choked curse to humanoids as it dies.

With the Pactlords dead outside the control room, Emeris frees Balin-Ra from his indentured servitude, and the genie vanishes into the Plane of Shadow with a smile. He and Early then replace the silver helmets to join the fight against the angel.

With the Doomwalker nearly fully operational now with five pilots, the battle is tilted against the dark angel servant of the Dread One. The Maleficite keeps slamming the head of the Doomwalker, but now the combined companions are able to inflict punishment much faster than the Maleficite can heal and inflict damage. Emeris triggers the poison gas cloud and the self-repair protocols, Dziga fires the flamethrower. The angel gasps for air as blood streams from his mouth and nose, and the fire burns him badly despite his celestial resistances. Vatex and Zio keep firing the spear launchers which sink deep at such close range. Early, operating the right arm, smashes the angel again and again.

Even as the control room goes up in smoke around them and the Doomwalker reaches critical alert, the companions continue their assault. The Maleficite’s blows grow weaker and weaker, and eventually cease altogether. The blood-splattered Doomwalker continues pounding the angel’s body, reducing it to a bloody paste. Even then they can see it regenerating. It is possible they have no means to truly kill the angel, but they have bought themselves time.

The Doomwalker stomps over to the small house and pulls off the roof. Inside is the Maleficite’s pile of random treasures -- gold and platinum coins of an ancient minting; a splendid silver and gold crown; a weird magical nunchuku; and most importantly... the final piece of the Staff of Shards.

As for the Antithesis Stone, the group doesn't want anything to do with it. It seems reasonable to assume that this thing turned Bastion the angel friend of Danar into the Maleficite. Perhaps it was even the thing that corrupted Danar himself. They joke about tossing Emeris into it, and possibly making him into a nice morally righteous fellow, and they have a laugh.

Dziga presses a switch and the treasures in the hand of the Doomwalker appear within the control room. The party scoops them up. When touched to the other two pieces of Yaeshla, final piece is fused on and the Staff is complete. Yaeshla is overcome with joy, but she somberly says that it is not over -- “I must be used against the Hand of Danar.” Indeed, but for now Vatex, Dziga, Emeris and Early must rejoin Saggarintys and seal the Banewarrens for good.

Before it is too late!

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