Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EPISODE 60: Kadmiel, the Shade Tower - Part I

Apri 16-Maya 2


Vatex, Early, and Allustan arrive back in Diamond Lake. Allustan no longer has a home, so he decides that he will head for Limberry to see if his former mentor, the archmage Manzorian, can help him find a new place to live where he will be safe from dragon attacks. Allustan says he will continue his work on learning about Kyuss and the Age of Worms, and Early should come visit him in Limberry some day.

Before Vatex and Early head back to Elan, Allustan reveals the location the Tolstoff family’s Blackfall Keep, supposedly Jakter’s last known location. He also tells them that although the Black Triad cult does not seem to be directly following Kyuss, he has learned that for some reason they seek something called the “Apostolic Scrolls” -- ancient documents that speak of the Age of Worms.


Emeris establishes a proof uniting seemingly disparate equations within the Tenebrous Formula. This provides a breakthrough that enables him and Saharasahla to put the last pieces of understanding into place. They are now quite possibly the living people to know the ultimate secrets of the mighty shadowcaster Dagda Hazareth, who penned the Book of Inverted Shadows. Deeper insight into the metaphysical nature of things and the twisted laws of shadow magic are revealed.

Saharasahla says they can now undergo the transformation into shades, where they draw upon the essence of the Plane of Shadow into their own soul’s. Then, the old man says, they can go to Kadmiel.

Saharasahla prepares a few “ingredients” for the transformation -- as always, he does not explain much about what he is doing. When the time comes, Saharasahla gives Emeris three strange shadowy potions to drink, and some course black powder to sprinkle in his eyes. First Saharasahla casts an unknown mystery modified with the power of the Tenebrous formula, which starts to channel the essence of Shadow into them. Emeris drinks the potions and applies the powder, which feels like putting glass particles in his eyes. Saharasahla does the same. Emeris starts to feel weird then starts throwing up blood everywhere then he falls into a coma.

After several days of a dreamless coma, Emeris finds himself in the Dreamscape. He is surrounded by a sea of copycats of himself. Saharasahla appears, looking healthy as a shade. The old man says that Emeris must sacrifice his draconic nature and become a being of shadow. For days, Emeris walks among the crowd of Emeris copies, before finally locating one that looks like Shade-Emeris. Emeris merges with the Shade-Emeris.

When he awakes, he is alone in Saharasahla’s library. The old man is nowhere to be found, and Emeris feels a deep affinity with darkness -- even more profound than before. He has become a shade.


Early and Vatex get back to Elan in about 10 days. Early feels like he hasn't seen the end of the cyber-ninja. He wants to get some light shed on some of the cyber ninja's unique martial maneuvers, which match no known school derived from the Book of Nine Swords. There isn't much organization among the variegated and rare martial initiates in the city, so Early just asks around town, trying to find a martial lore expert. He finds RYU KAWASAKI WANG, who is a confusing amalgamation of every Asian martial arts stereotype. This man was a powerful warblade until he lost his arms in an ugly incident. Kawasaki tells Early to speak with EIJIN, a man who runs a cuttefish diner -- and who just happens to be a retired warblade himself. No one in the city knows more about the Vajra and the techniques of the Bo9S, supposedly. But he procrastinates for now.


Vatex is contacted by Daersidian and Brummelt, the elf battle mage and halfling rogue who he’d met on the road back from Moonsilver Forest.

They want to hire Vatex to find their friend -- if possible, saving him, and if necessary, killing him. They elaborate on their earlier story -- their friend Thurvan Rashong, a structural engineer, was one day approached by a man who seemed to charm him with supernatural powers, and gave him two dark items -- a box of shadowy metal, and a big shadowy sword with a jagged blade. The man then told Thurvan to go to a place called “Kadmiel”.

Thurvan did not obey, but eventually he became corrupted by these dark artifacts he possessed, and he did indeed abandon his family and home and travel to Elan to find this “Kadmiel” place. They say that Thurvan must be found and restored -- but if he is corrupted beyond hope, he must be killed.

Vatex refuses the contract because Daersidian and Brummelt simply don’t have enough money to hire him.


Emeris finds a note left by Saharasahla. It apologizes for betraying Emeris, saying he had to be the first to reach Kadmiel and he could only do that by making sure the “hounds” would not attack him. The old man apologizes, saying that he feels deep regret because he could not have mastered the Tenebrous Formula. Even so, the old man warns Emeris not to follow him. When Emeris leaves, he soon discovers that he has some kind of illusion cast upon him that makes him appear to be Saharasahla.

He gets back to the Rosegate House and convinces everyone what has happened. Then they are attacked by the hounds -- more specifically, the “Hounds of Dharculus”, aberrant predators from the Ethereal Sea. Three of these terrible monsters attack with grim, alien efficiency, but the powerful companions defeat them swiftly. However, they soon discover that more hounds are closing in.... lots more hounds. Hoping that the library still repels the monsters, Emeris shadow steps back to the library and finds himself safe once again. The hounds do not bother the others once Emeris flees.

After another day, the illusion on Emeris fades, allowing him to leave the library and not be attacked by the Hounds of Dharculus. By now, Emeris presumes Saharasahla has reached Kadmiel.

He searches Saharasahla’s library top to bottom. The old man left almost everything. Emeris finds valuable scrolls and potions. One thing that is gone, however, is that strange shadowy key that House Sadar wanted. He also finds a discarded “first draft” of the letter to Emeris, which reveals more information.

It says Saharasahla had been hunted by the hounds of Dharculus for years. His plan was threefold, he says -- become a shade to deal with his dying physical body; enter Kadmiel to live forever in perfect safety and comfort; and get the Box of Shadows. He says that the Book of Inverted Shadows was always the key, and it allows one to modify a shadow jump, shadow step, plane shift, or similar power to allow one to enter Kadmiel, which is otherwise inaccessible.


Emeris reaches out to Lord Sadar to see if he can ally with the powerful wizard to get back at Saharasahla. After all, Renn Sadar hates Saharasahla and vice versa. Lord Sadar reveals that he wants to get the Box of Shadows for himself. However, he doesn’t believe it is inside Kadmiel at all. But, if he had the complete Book of Inverted Shadows, he believes he could make a Box of Shadows for himself.

He says that Kadmiel, the Shade Tower, was the home of a powerful elven sorcerer who created the Shadowstaff and the Box of Shadows. Renn Sadar already possesses the Shadowstaff. As for the Box of Shadows, it is said that its dark power was so great it utterly corrupted the elf that he became a being of pure shadow and utterly disappeared into the darkness. The power of the box also transposed the elf’s tower into the Shadow of Elan -- a gloomy half-world that exists at a specific vertex of the boundary between the Prime and the Plane of Shadow specifically overlapping the great city.

Then 200 years ago, an adventurer named Thaddeus Koll entered the Shadow of Elan and acquired the Box of Shadows somehow. He turned it over to the Malkuth, who in turn entrusted it to a powerful loremaster. Unfortunately, the powerful frost giant Ymrik killed the loremaster and took the Box of Shadows for his own. At that point its location becomes lost.

Sadar tells them they have killed his elite Shadow Blade Squad, except for the ninja Zuuma, who has disappeared. He wants the Rosegate Company to become the new Shadow Blade Squad. This is declined. Eventually the only agreement that is made is Emeris will release the info, word by word, from the 751st page at a ridiculously slow pace. In exchange for a non-aggression pact and cooperative information sharing. Sadar accepts the deal, although his motivations are unclear because the deal seems ridiculously bad.


When Vatex puts together his information about Thurvan together with Emeris’ information, it looks like the Rosegate Company will be heading to Kadmiel to get Saharasahla. And furthermore, the Box of Shadows must have returned to Kadmiel as well, if Thurvan has it. They have to get it before Lord Sadar. But to do so, they may have to face Saharasahla himself. How powerful is the old man anyway???

So the group speaks again with Daersidian and Brummelt, who say they have found a necromancer who lives in the Necropolis who claims he can get them into Kadmiel for 10,000 gold, and they accepted the offer. Vatex, with Emeris, can get them into Kadmiel also, so he negotiates the price down but they say they want to accompany him into Kadmiel. Part of the job is protecting them so they can try to turn Thurvan back “to the good side.”

That night, in an empty lot on Ridge Road in Oldtown, the group -- Emeris the shade, Vatex the urban ranger, Early the warblade, Dziga the shadowdancer, Daersidian the battle mage, and Brummelt the rogue -- stand in the shadow of a tower that does not seem to exist. Emeris uses one of Saharasahla’s plane shifting scrolls and uses his knowledge given by the Book of Inverted Shadows to twist the effect of the magic to bring them to the “real” Kadmiel.

They find themselves in a shadowy landscape dominated by a single feature -- a tower of dark gray stone. The big doors are open, and inside on the first floor they find someone has already killed the guard dogs -- a dozen shadow mastiffs -- many days ago. Shadowy light pervades the place, and even Early’s goggles, Vatex’s flaming sword, and Dziga’s darkvision cannot penetrate it. Only Emeris sees clearly, a byproduct of his shade powers.

Emeris feels like this place is strangely familiar, but he cannot explain why. He certainly has never been here before. Or has he? There are gaps in his memory that he has never been able to explain. But surely he would remember a place like this...

Up on the second level, they find a tenebrous abode much larger than the tower that seems to hold it. The shadowy expanse have unknown size that surely holds many secrets. Could Saharasahla be out there somewhere? Or is he above?

They ignore this for now and ascend to the third level. Emeris gets a strange rush of deja vu when he sees the distinct layout. The chamber is massive, with a roof 100 feet off the ground. A single thin pillar rises from the center of the room, to a point 80 feet up. An 18-inch wide stairway circles the pillar all the way to the top -- where Thurvan Rashong awaits.

“Visitors, how do you like my home?” says Thurvan. In his left hand, he holds a box of shadowy material, and in his right hand, he holds a massive sword with a jagged blade. The man is clearly mad, and when he sees Emeris, a look of panic appears in his face and he clutches his sword and box so tightly his knuckles turn white.

“You...!” he says to Emeris. “He told me you would come... that was so long ago, I was starting to think he was wrong. But then I reminded myself that he had been right about everything else, so I had to trust him.”

“Who? Who told you I would come?” demands Emeris.

“A very helpful man. A GREAT man. The man who gave me the Box of Shadows and the Shadowgeist Reaver.”

Daersidian and Brummelt plead with their friend to give up his dark treasures and return home with them.

“But I _am_ home! Kadmiel is my home now. And I have the only friends I need!” Thurvan holds up the box and the sword. “And I will not let him--” he points the sword at Emeris --”take what is mine!”

Emeris interjects, “Damn you! What was the man’s name? What did he say about me?”

“His name was Garloth Gulthias!” The name is familiar to Emeris but he can’t remember where he’d heard it before. Did Saharasahla mention that name at one point? “He gave me these items and told me to wait at Kadmiel. And he warned me that one day you would come to take my treasures, but if I defeated you, then the box, the sword, and Kadmiel would be mine... forever!!!”

With that, Thurvan opens the Box of Shadows and a swarm of lesser and greater shadows surges from within. The swirl around Thurvan like a shield. “Die!!!!” yells the corrupted engineer, and he commands his undead minions to attack. He then summons more shadow mastiffs who appear and attack as well.

Emeris quickly casts a mystery that encases Thurvan and one of his shadows in a cage of shadowy energy, as the other shadows fly towards the group. A furious battle breaks out with Dziga and Vatex and Early fighting fiercely against the strength-draining touch of the shadow swarm. Brummelt uses his necklace of fireballs, Daersidian fires magic missiles, and Emeris fires enhanced umbral rays. The shadow mastiffs unleash their terrible baying that sends poor Brummelt fleeing back down to the second level in supernatural panic.

The companions work together and hold back the undead and mastiff assault. Early and Vatex suffer some serious strength damage but ultimately the assault is repelled. All the shadows are destroyed and the mastiffs butchered.

Their next challenge, whatever its true nature, is the engineer with powerful magic items trapped (?) inside Emeris’ curtain of shadow at the top of the pillar.

Next time: Will Emeris _really_ discover why Thurvan was expecting him? Will the Rosegate Company face off with the powerful shadowcaster, Saharasahla, and be utterly destroyed?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Episode 59: A Gathering of Winds

Apri 15-16


It's been five days since the Rosegate Company battled House Sadar's Shadow Blade Company in Shara's Park. Although the companions were victorious, Early was quite shaken by being knocked into a coma by the mighty combo attack of Duclis and Lambert. He needs to become stronger! He takes the Taforashian glass armor of Duclis as his own, and likewise the Tri-Elemental Magnum. Vatex keeps the Chaositech Visual Field Enhancer. When he wears it, a tiny needle sticks into his temple and connects to his optic nerve.

It is uncertain how or if the companions can go up against House Sadar directly. Renn Sadar is reputedly one of the city's most powerful wizards. But perhaps the death of Duclis, Virania, Lambert, and Zumbletwick Sadar will think twice before messing with them again.

Emeris has been at Saharasahla's bookshop studying the Book of Inverted Shadows, day and night. Apparently they are on the edge of a breakthrough the with Tenebrous Formula. Dziga, on the other hand, has not been seen in four days. He left without a trace one night while the others were sleeping. So it's just Early the warblade, Vatex the urban ranger, Early's dog, Early's dog's cat, and Seanus the butler. Although Seanus' cooking is as good as ever, he hasn't been keeping the house clean. It looks like a college frat house. Good thing Emeris has been gone.

They have lunch at tavern in Midtown. Early marvels at the high price of beer. The elf and the warblade reviews the contents of Jakter's journal, trying to see if there is more they can learn about Cryssaegrym or the Age of Worms. They decide to travel to the Walstan mining town of Diamond Lake and speak with the sage Allustan, a wizard who'd helped Early's father uncover lore about Kyuss, Cryssaegrym, and the Age of Worms. It was Diamond Lake where Jakter had found Cryssaegrym, in a place called "Tomb of the Wind Duke", and fought against cultists of the Black Triad who'd been creating worm-infested undead.


Early and Vatex arrange teleportation services to Diamond Lake. From what they know, they expect a dingy old mining town that, while still important to the Empire, is past its glory days. But it's much worse than that. Upon their arrival, they see the town in a state of ruin. They learn from the local garrison that an adult black she-dragon called ILTHANE attacked the town two days ago. The dragon razed many buildings, starting with Allustan's house. The dragon said it would keep killing people and destroying the town until it found the wizard, so the retired adventurer AURIC told the dragon that Allustan had been spending time at the Whispering Cairn -- the cave that led to the Wind Duke's tomb. The imperial guards from the garrison ask these obviously powerful warriors to help them in case the dragon comes back. The companions say it frankly isn't a priority, but they contribute some healing supplies to help restore health to those wounded in the attack.

Early and Vatex speak with Auric at a local pub where patrons play a lot of the "Dragonscales" game. They question why he revealed Allustan's location. Auric defends his actions, saying they couldn't defeat the dragon so it was best to spare as many lives as possible by giving up the sage's location. Turns out Auric is a retired adventurer and champion of Elan's own Tournament of Champions.

The pair eat dinner and then head out to the Whispering Cairn, hoping to find Allustan before the black dragon can get him. They walk up the mountain trail and turn east at the abandoned mine office. On the path, they encounter squirrel with who Early speaks using his deeper connection to nature. The squirrel tells them the dragon is still hiding in a copse of trees by the Whispering Cairn.

They approach carefully but nonetheless stir up the dragon which bursts from the trees with a cacophony of snapping branches. "In the name of DRAGOTHA, the wizard is mine!" she screams as she takes flight. Vatex and Early dash for the entrance to the Cairn, as the dragon would have to squeeze to get inside. From the mouth of the cave they can hear a susurrus of ghostly wind coming from within. "I will be waiting for when you emerge! There is no escape," warns the dragon.


Early and Vatex proceed deeper into the cave, entering the complex within. They are attacked by four belkers, smoke-like air elementals, but the expert adventurers dispatch these foes with ease. Deeper within the complex, Vatex uses a comprehend languages spell from his god the Grim One to understand the meaning of the ancient Auran language carved into the walls. The story says how this complex hides the Tomb of Wind Dukes. The Wind Dukes were powerful beings of elemental air, representing Law, who fought an intense war with Chaos Queen and her armies of demons and slaadi in an age long before even the most ancient recorded history. The leader of the Wind Dukes was the "Supreme General" Icosiol, who led the "Incomparable Army" of air elementals, djinni, wind warriors, and other air-based beings, and won the decisive victory on the "Fields of Pesh". There seems to be no reference to anything like Kyuss -- in fact, this whole thing seems to predate Kyuss by several thousands of years.

With no sign of Allustan, Vatex deactivates a few traps by using Icosiol's name and the companions proceed deeper. They come across a group of 13 orcs who have been hacked apart by an ultra-sharp, precise weapon. One of the orcs seems to have survived, barely, and in his dying words speaks of a "ghost" that killed him (they were a bunch of losers who were going to go loot an old observatory when they saw Ilthane and fled for the Cairn to hide).

Proceeding further down into the dungeon, they find this "ghost" -- an orc is suspended in the air, apparently pierced through the chest by an unseen implement. With a violent motion the orc is flung to the ground. WIth this, the "ghost" de-cloaks -- revealing a female cyber-ninja equipped in a chaositech biocrystal suit and a high frequency mercurial sword.

When she sees Early she seems to have found what she's been looking for. "Now I understand. It seems we have miscalculated. Jakter already retrieved the sword and passed it along to you," she says, "No matter. This is the moment I have been waiting for."

"Who are you?" asks Early.

"I am neither enemy nor friend. I come from a place where such distinctions are meaningless. I will claim Cryssaegrym as my own."

"Like hell! Why do you want it?" demands the warblade.

"To save the world," she says. "I have been engineered for this specific purpose. Now I will kill you, or you will kill me. If you win, we are damned. If I win, then there is still a chance."

"I'm not afraid -- I've already died once!" Early says, somewhat confused by the whole thing. This statement seems to resonate with the cyber-ninja, who replies with an unexpected empathy, "Then you are like me. I have two names and I have come from another world to do battle here. Will the elf fight with you? It makes no difference to me. I will remove all obstacles."

Early says he will fight her by himself, but if he is hard-pressed then Vatex will have to join in.

Suddenly Early feels a tremendous force in the Vajra coming from the ninja, greater even than what he'd felt from Phaeton! Early makes the first move, rushing forward with Cryssaegrym. "RABID BEAR STRIKE!!!" He aims for the weakest visible point in the ninja's biocrystal chestplate. The sword pierces cleanly through the ninja's heart -- victory!

But to Early's great surprise, the ninja twists off his blade and steps back. She explains that he pierced her human heart, but her creators had installed a Secondary Heart Organ to serve as a backup. She seems largely unharmed by the attack, and he lashes out with a quick unexpected blow that cuts her shoulder.

Vajra courses through the cyber-ninja and she attacks with a form of martial maneuver and stance he has never seen before. "BRUTAL BURST SLASH!!!" Early barely, BARELY pulls off his Wall of Blades maneuver to counter the attack, which would have nearly crippled him. A literal shower of sparks erupts from the high-frequency vibro-mercurial sword as it hits Cryssaegrym and sends Early staggering back from the force of the blow.

Early continues his intense assault. Her speed is great, but Early too is fast, especially with his new armor allowing better agility. "Elder...Mountain... HAMMER!!!" The power of earth channels through Cryssaegrym and slashes through her armor with a spray of warm blood.

"You are stronger than I expected. I am surprised you can cut through my biocrystal suit," the cyber-ninja says. "No matter. It is time to show you my Zhu Khen Technique." With that, she quickly slashes her sword through the air in a triangular pattern, and Early feels the Vajra compress around him as the cyber-ninja's mind shadows extend dramatically. "ZHU KHEN TECHNIQUE...SPACETIME CUT!!!"

To Vatex, observing this mortal combat with anxiety, he sees Early suddenly freeze. From Early's perspective, the warblade can see nothing but the void of his own mind shadows. "What?" He feels himself...separating from head to crotch, as if cut by some fissure in spacetime itself. He realizes that his embodiment in the Vajra has been completely cut in half! "What's...happening to me??"

Then Early snaps back to reality intact, and not exactly understanding the nature of this attack, he instinctively tries to dodge at the last moment, but too late. Spacetime cuts through him and he suffers a devastating wound. Blood explodes from the warblade in a line cutting from his face down the line of his torso.

Early backpedals to regain his senses and wipe blood from his eyes. Although he has never seen or even HEARD of a martial maneuver like this, he is beginning to understand the situation. The cyber ninja's power that controls the Zhu Khen enables a function that establishes a coordinated space. The technique delimits the area where she cuts the continuance of space using the Vajra. If three points connect from three separate cuts, a gateway is opened. When an object comes into contact with the triangle created by the cuts, the opposite side of the triangle becomes separated. Then when the maneuver is completed and the gate is closed, it causes the effect of an invisible blade that cuts anything!

But even if the Zhu Khen is activated and his body appears to be cut, the target does not at first receive any damage. There is a short dead lapse of time as the technique channels the Vajra wind, before the gate is closed and before the cut is carried out. If the object introduced to the gate manages to free itself from one of the two sides -- then the cut will not have any effect.

The problem then becomes that Early cannot know with any precision how long is required before the effect is complete, and how to deduce the formation of the triangle quickly enough to evade the attack.

The only solace Early finds is that the cyber ninja should only be able to carry out a given maneuver once per combat unless the attack is recharged. Another such attack would definitely kill Early unless he can flawlessly avoid it.

"How do you like my Zhu Khen, warblade?" the ninja says confidently. "Get up... let me end you pain!"

Reinvogorated by the chance of stopping her from using the attack again, Early rushes the cyber-ninja and leaps into the air to complete a Death from Above strike. He will simply kill her before she can recharge the attack! As he flies towards her, she goes into a low stance than slashes three more cuts into the air. "Zhu Khen Technique... SPACETIME DECEIVER!!!"

Suddenly Early is not flying towards the cyber-ninja... he is shunted completely through the Vajra and is is flying towards the wall thirty feet behind her! He smashes into the wall, burning his maneuver uselessly. It seems the Zhu Khen is not restricted to attacks only -- unfortunately the cyber-ninja seems capable of creating it wherever she wants and set the opposite point at any other coordinates. This can be used to shift attackers, and he speculates she could use it to teleport herself as well.

Vatex sees the situation escalating and activates his skirmish vest, rushing the cyber ninja as she prepares to attack Early again. Her armor is formidable but with two well-placed strikes he cuts her seriously enough.

"Good!" she cries. "Hurt me... I feel so alive!" She then seems to spazz out, and she activates her Gravity Orb and flies away.

Early's magnum rounds deflect off her armor then he loses sight of her as she activates her cloaking field. They see Allustan the wizard hiding in the chamber behind the battle, but they ignore him for now and give chase. Alas, the ninja's flight speed is too quick to keep pace. She seems to fly out of the Whispering Cairn, gaining the notice of Ilthane who still waits outside. "Is that you, wizard?" They hear an intake of breath then a hissing stream of acid burst from the dragon's gullet. A female cry of pain suggests the fleeing ninja is hit by the line of acid but she escapes into the night beyond the dragon's blindsenses.

Ilthane realizes it was not the wizard who flew invisibly from the cave, and pokes her head into the cavern to see Early and Vatex. It tells them that if they get the wizard for her, she will let them leave the cavern with their lives. "BAD DEAL!" says Vatex. "Stupid humanoids, so capricious..." She gets angry and fills the cavern with acid as Vatex and Early run back down to Allustan.


The wizard says he has been working in the dungeon of the Whispering Cairn, and when he tried to leave two nights ago, Ilthane was there waiting for him. So he's been hiding in the dungeon since then, hoping for a miracle. Allustan says Ilthane is a nasty black who normally lairs in Dezolis, north of the city of Alhaster. The reason he knows of her is because she is a servant of the dracolich Dragotha -- an immensely powerful undead dragon that served Kyuss in ages bygone.

"Wait a second..." says Vatex. "If Dragotha is still around, that makes it a dracolich that's more than 20,000 years old, so basically a god itself... and that thing is one of Kyuss' _servants_?? So how powerful is Kyuss himself?"

Early swallows hard. "What have I gotten myself into?"

Allustan explains that the "keep on the borderlands" to which Jakter went and never returned was Blackfall Keep, owned by the Tolstoff Family that is somehow connected to the Black Triad's cultist activities in Diamond Lake. Allustan says he never got a chance to tell Jakter that the Black Triad -- a cult dedicated to merging three dead evil gods' essences into a single evil overgod -- did not seem directly connected with Kyuss or the Age of Worms at all. He also said that Allustan's mentor MANZORIAN, an archmage in Limberry, was trying to uncover secret lore about the Age of Worms as well. He recommends that Early someday visit Manzorian.

More urgent situation for the moment is getting out of the dungeon. Do they try to fight the dragon, or sneak past her? Or do they try to go deeper into the complex, and hope they get lucky and find another way to escape? Allustan has never gone much deeper than this into the complex, so it is a gamble.

They decide against certain death at the hands of the dragon, and choose uncertain death deeper within the dungeon. They bypass traps and guardians of the Wind Dukes' tombs, and descend a massive hole in the earth where the "Blood River" (named so because of the volume of sediment in the water that makes it look very red) falls into the depths of the earth.


The treacherous descent down the hole in the earth, full of jagged rocks and violent waterfalls, is dangerous and arduous. Eventually the group sees a ledge on the opposite side with a set of stairs heading up to huge adamantine plated 50-foot high doors with various Auran and Vaatan symbols upon it.

Allustan dispels the powerful magic sealing the door. Beyond is a strange chamber with various stone columns suspended in a room that swirls with blue misty and crackles with electricity. Across is another set of huge doors. Allustan tries to fly across with magic but is blasted by lightning. It seems the only way to cross is to jump from column to column. This is some sort of puzzle room, as some columns are covered in greasy tar-like substances, other shrouded in arcane illusion, and others that are collapsible. Although it is tricky, they get to the other side. Early nearly slips from the tar-covered column and is hit by lightning. When they examine the huge doors, they realize they are fakes and touching them conjures up a pair of wind warriors who attack the party. Allustan fires an empowered scorching ray at one, and Early hits it with three rounds from his magnum. Elemental energy freezes, burns, and zaps the wind warrior who flies in and strikes with its two swords. Early accepts a hit and strikes back with a Rabid Bear Strike and kills it. The elemental warrior explodes into a gust of wind and its armor and weapons are reduced to dust. Vatex's blades flash in a flurry and he cuts down the second one with brutal speed.

They reexamine the columns and find a small circular indentation in one of them. Vatex examines it with his choasitech visual decoder, and finds conceals a panel that can be rotated, which causes the column to rise up towards the ceiling... pushing Vatex through the illusionary stone into the Tomb of a Wind Duke called Sciansciol.

Vatex finds that the tomb is protected by a demon bound by the Wind Dukes, an occulus demon. Its flesh is covered in hundreds of eyes that open and close randomly. The demon wields an unholy longsword and wears a broken crown. The demon says it was one of the Chaos Queen's most powerful servants, and it has been enslaved here alone for what seems like a million years. It is excited for mortal flesh to cut and bones to break.

All of the demon's eyes flash open suddenly and mirror images spread around the demon for defense. Then three beams of energy fire from different eyes, smashing Vatex with negative energy and sapping his power. Vatex rushes forward, entering the sword dance technique he'd learned from Heth's book about Xerani dervishes. Vatex spins around the demon, hacking viciously against strong demonic resistances and armor-like flesh when he doesn't simply hit a mirror image. While Early rises up on the column during its second ascent, Allustan flies into the tomb and blasts another scorching ray to dissipate two more of the images.

Early comes up the column/elevator firing a volley from his magnum, wiping out that last of the images. The demon roars and slashes at the sword dancing Vatex. It fires another blast of eye rays, one at each opponent. Early’s katana snaps from its sheath and cuts away the ray, but Allustan at his side takes a hit and has his energy diminished. Vatex continues dancing around the demon, swords striking again and again and again. The stings of the Rudeus of Vazdah and Diem Wing is dulled by the demon’s resistances, and the eye beam has made him weaker, but that just makes Vatex push himself harder. He keep dancing, cutting harder and harder, taking note of any and all weak spots.

Early rushes the demon with Cryssaegrym held high, adopting the Punishing Stance style. Allustan has virtually no spells that can harm the demon (immune to his fireballs, too strong to be slowed by a web spell, and too potent to be sedated by a deep slumber enchantment), so he resorts to his wand of force darts, hoping to get lucky and crack its spell resistance. The gleaming darts of force zip past Early as he swings his weapon with great strength, using the Elder Mountain Hammer to break its resistance to blessed cold-iron weapons, then makes a sneaky second attack when the demon expects him to be recovering. Allustan gets lucky and breaks through with his magic missiles. The demon howls, hacking away at Vatex with its unholy sword but the elf is in perfect form, parrying or spinning around each blow.

The demon fires more eye rays. A portion of Early’s power is drained away by the hit. Allustan takes a second hit from the beam and seems overcome with supernatural panic. The wizard cowers and flees for the exit. Vatex grunts as the beam hits, burning with necrotic pain, but he resists and dances faster. They won’t be able to take many more of those negative energy eye lasers. The demon has to go down, and fast, or they will lose simply from attrition. Then the demon complicates things further by again generating mirror images. Suddenly there are 10 images of the demon.

Vatex curses. He will be able to maintain his dance for only a few more moments, and they are running out of time. Scimitar and longsword slash faster than can be seen, cutting down a half dozen images. Early scatters magnum fire at point blank range, shooting down more images, then slashing with his katana which erupts on contact with wolf howl from the blade, a burst of sonic energy that is one of the few things to which the demon is not resistant, and scores a lucky hit through tangle of illusory figures. As Early melees the demon head-on, Vatex spins around the monster. More and more wounds are opened as the clock ticks.

Finally the last image goes down and Vatex focuses on the demon. The sword dance spins around Early exchanging blows with the demon in a gruesome ritual of violence. Blood sprays everywhere. Vatex takes a hit from the unholy sword across the back but cuts out the monster’s hamstring. As it falls to one knee, Early dives forward. Now! “RABID BEAR STRIKE!!!” A fury of slashing brutality erupts from the warblade and the demon goes down. Dead at last, it swiftly dissolves.

The party helps Allustan shake off the panic caused by the second eye ray hit and explores the room. There is no way forwad. That means the only way else to go is back to the dragon, if they can even get back up the waterfall without climbing gear, or farther down the waterfall, into who-knows-what. Hmm, well first they need to check out the Wind Duke’s sarcophagus. Surely there must be something good inside? They feel a profound wave of anger and jealousy pass over them as they open the mithril sarcophogus. Inside there are magnificent mithril swords and an exquisite ring, as well as a big pile of dust.

The feeling of jealousy manifests as the spirit of the dead Wind Duke Sciansciol. It looks just like an incorporeal mini-tornado vaguely in a humanoid shape. It looks upon them, then finally they feel a wave of reasoned acceptance. Then it says, “These are the Lawful implements of I, the Wind Duke Sciansciol -- the Storm Sword, and the Sword of Aqaa, and the Ring of the Wind Dukes. I love my treasures dearly, but our war is over. Now I can sense the impending doom that is to come -- an eternal age of death and horror. If the weapons of the Vaati can be used against the encroaching darkness, then let it be so.”

Vatex whispers to Early, “Hey, how much do you think we can sell that stuff for?”

Early says, “Shut up!”

The Wind Duke says, “Perhaps you are fools, but you cannot stay here. You must fight for Law! Begone!” The mighty spirit casts teleportation magic.

Suddenly the companions find themselves somewhere in the mountains in the middle of the night. They chill out until morning when the sunlight lets Allustan figure they are about three hours from Diamond Lake. And no sign of any black dragons. Not bad!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

EPISODE 58: Revolution Dawning


Dziga falls into a state of metaphysical depression at the loss of his shadow. He cannot sense his incorporeal companion at all on this plane of existence, yet his lifeforce has not been diminished to signify the shadow’s death. Dziga rarely leaves his room at the Rosegate House. He complains of rats in the walls, but no one else notices anything. He says there is a fresh rat hole in his room, and unusual looking paw prints, almost like little hands, in the dust on the floor.

Emeris spends most of his free time working with Saharasahla on mastering the secrets of the Tenebrous Formula.

After completing his job for Shilukar, Vatex awaits word on Early. He continues to investigate the identities of the burglars who’d robbed the Rosegate House, but finds no leads.

One day, the group receives a message at the Rosegate House from Shilukar. He reports that he has found Early! Excitedly, the group travels to Castle Shard and visits Shilukar’s laboratory. He explains how he used a chaositech device to find Early’s location. He is in an extradimensional place known as the “Beast Run”. That is the good news -- the bad news is that, although the device is capable of bringing Early back, it only works on a willing subject. Shilukar reports that he attempted to shift Early back to Elan, but it failed because the target was unwilling. So they will simply have to wait for Early to come back on his own someday, somehow.

Still, there is some comfort in knowing that, at least, their friend is alive and was not killed in the Staff of Shards explosion beneath the city.


Still haunted by visions of the beautiful silver-haired elf that intermittently appear in reflective surfaces, Vatex correlates this with what the diviner from the Tempe of Calethon had said -- according to Vatex’s birthsign, the diviner had believed Vatex had a twin sister. Vatex had never known of any sister in his youth -- but could it be true?

Vatex buys a horse and travels beyond the Holy Empire’s borders to Moonsilver Forest, the land of his birth. It is a long journey, and he finds that none of his relatives still live there in the end. Before he is too disappointed, he does find an elven druid elder, called the “Speaker of the Trees,” who supposedly knows all about the elven community of the forest. And remarkably, the Speaker reveals that Vatex did have a twin sister -- uniquely born with silver hair that gleamed like burnished metal.

Vatex’s parents had never told him anything of this sister. What happened to her? The Speaker informs him that before Vatex’s first birthday, unidentified dark forces appeared and attacked the caravan of which Vatex’s family was a part. The silver-haired infant was taken by these dark agents and no trace of her was ever found again. Wherever she was taken, it was powerfully shielded from divination magic -- even the insight of the gods could not reveal her location, or even if she was still alive.

His heart heavy, Vatex returns to Elan. On the last day of travel, as the city comes into view, Vatex encounters an interesting pair of travellers on the road. DAERSIDIAN RINGSIRE, a human warrior from Alaria, and BRUMMELT AIRMOL, a halfling rogue from. Together, they ride the powerful wyvern called THORNTAIL.

These two explain that they are heading to Elan to find and help their friend, a structural engineer by the name of THURVAN RASHONG. They are reluctant to reveal too much information, but they say Thurvan “changed” somehow and travelled to Elan to find something called “Kadmiel”. Vatex knows only a little of the local legends surrounding Kadmiel. People aware of local legendry say that Kadmiel, aka “the Shade Tower,” is a magic tower that does not really exist. Only its slender shadow appears in a long-empty lot on Ridge Road in Oldtown.

Once they get into town, Vatex recommends a decent inn for them to stay at, and wishes them luck on their quest to find their friend. He wonders though... if this Thurvan fellow was trying to “go to Kadmiel,” is Kadmiel more than just a strange supernatural effect on moonlit nights in Oldtown? It is a place a person can actually “go”?


Early spends his days, of which he has completely lost track, in the strange realm of the Beast Run. He lives off the land, wearing only a loincloth and wielding Cryssaegrym. He has grown a big beard like Osama. When he is not running with the Silver Wolf through the jungles, he is sitting around eating raw meat with a massive, 30-foot tall bear with four-arms called “Old Bear”.

The Silver Wolf, who is apparently some sort of animal god, lacks any overt means of communication. Old Bear is different -- he is quite talkative, well-spoken, and seems to be philosophically minded. Old Bear seems to be the speaker for the Silver Wolf’s strange philosophy of nature.

“Man is part of nature. His civilization is inherently part of nature. How is a city different from a beaver dam? No difference in principle, only in kind. But man can make choices like most animals cannot. If man rejects his nature, civilization then contains the seed of its own destruction. What is unnatural cannot persist -- it will eventually succumb to natural forces. The danger is that civilization severs man from his instincts. Not having this elemental aspect, one cannot hope to survive.

“The nature surrenders its treasures and feeds man. Man dies and feeds the earth. The earth in turn feeds more creatures still. Thus there is a perfect balance. All the natural beings of our world are part of this eternal cycle, this perfect balance. To exist within the cycle of nature, to follow one’s true purpose in a system of balance.

“Civilized men speak of ‘rights’, but there is only nature. The wolf does not respect the sheep’s rights. But nor does man respect another man’s rights. Whether they work together or kill each other is both compatible with man’s nature. The is only life and death, and survival along that continuum. On a long enough time scale, everything’s survival rate falls to zero. That is good and proper. Nothing should live forever. The only constant should be the _system_ which lets nature’s children live and die.

“Kyuss is corruption and eternal death. What he will bring is not natural. He would destroy the natural cycle. The Age of Worms is the end of nature. The end of everything living and natural.”

Early considers the words of Old Bear, but he does not exactly understand the Silver Wolf’s special enmity towards Kyuss. He considers Uncle Vegard’s words in the letter he’d written to Early. “But what makes Kyuss so special? Why is the ‘Worm that Walks’ so much worse than any other dread elder evil that exists in our world?”

Old Bear seems confused. “Gee... I don’t know. I suppose you’d have to ask the Silver Wolf that yourself.”

The only problem is that when Early runs with the Silver Wolf, there are no questions or answers. There is no dialogue. Only emotions and visions are imparted to him, but nothing in a clear language. Early sees a forgotten ziggurat with a jarring, abstract sculpture mounted upon it -- an ancient shrine in a similar setting -- an frighteningly armored warrior mounted on a metallic flying monster, leading an army of undead and aberrant horrors -- a lurching, cloaked figure with a nondescript white mask walking across a grassy plain -- and a solitary island surrounded by blue ocean, whose dominant feature is a dark fissure which goes deep into the earth, and from this fissure profound evil emanates.


The Holy Empire’s wars had brought great strain to food supplies, and imperial wizards fabricated additional gold to pay for the war effort led to substantial inflation. Tremendous shortages developed, and the poor and middle-classes of Elan found it harder and harder to put food on the table. Impromptu protests erupted throughout the city, but they tended to be nonviolent. Many clamored for price controls to keep the prices low, but the Commissar understood how this would compound problems of shortages and continued to let the market set prices.

Concurrent with the deteriorating economic conditions through the winter, Republican terrorists waged a violent campaign against the government of Elan. Before the new year, they conducted three attempted assassinations on city council members -- in one case, that of well-known fighter and blacksmith, Boren Darshal, a noted Guilder of the iron industry, they successfully killed their target.

In addition to these targeted assassination attempts, another Republican terrorist tactic consisted of detonating big wagons full of gunpowder next to City Guard watchtowers throughout the city. Many city guards and innocent bystanders were killed in these explosions. The City Council passed a law that allowed guards to randomly search any and all people and wagons in the city. This was a considerable affront to the civil liberties of the Elanians. As Imperial citizens, it would generally considered an unacceptable violation of liberty to randomly detain and search citizens (although that was considered legit when it came to non-citizens). Now _everyone_ could be searched. Various security checkpoints were set up at all major thoroughfares. Furthermore, the City Guard conducted many nighttime raids on suspected Republican homes or hideouts -- sometimes suspecting correctly and finding terrorists, and other times getting things completely wrong and creating an extreme state of fear and distress in innocent families or business owners.

At least thirty known Republican agents were arrested, tried, and executed for treason since the first attack in Decembar. A few others were simply shipped down to the Undercity Prison on executive order from the Commissar without trial and without a hearing before a judge.

Now while some people accepted this for the sake of security, many Elanians had a more steadfast connection to the Holy Empire’s general respect for the rule of law. The attack on civil liberties by a government that was draining the people with high taxes to pay for wars was too much for some people. Elan already had the highest taxes in the entire Empire.


Through the cold winter, Emeris and Saharasahla attempt to master the Book of Inverted Shadows. From the original copy recovered in the Banewarrens, they find that even the most faithful translations featured many mistakes from its conversion.

Emeris also becomes more acquainted with Saharasahla, and learns that he is far sicker than he ever let on. The old man can barely lift the heavy tome without his arms trembling violently. He hacks and coughs all day and night.

Saharasahla continuously alludes to the fact that if can, as he suspects, use the complete Book to gain access to a place called Kadmiel, he will finally be able to have “freedom,” at least in a sense, for then he will be able to leave his library at last. But furthermore, he would be able to perform a dark ritual that would use the essence of the Plane of Shadow to merge his body and soul into a single unit -- he would become a shade.

Emeris wonders if he should complete the transformation as well. Obviously Saharasahla’s condition meant that not transforming would be a death sentence. But what of himself? It would grant him agelessness, immunity to disease, and the ability to regenerate wounds, among other fantastic shadowy powers. But a shade is not a dragon, and Emeris’ nature was fundamentally closest to that of his shadow dragon father. The transformatoin would cause him would lose his draconic nature, and become an outsider -- literally, that’s the creature type he would be.

But even more than that, the thing that dominates Emeris’ thoughts while they work on the equation all this time is the strange, ineffably familiarity of it all. Bafflingly, Emeris had the strangest feeling of deja vu about the text on the he’d read on the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows. But... how could that be???


The Silver Wolf crashes through a canopy of trees with a mighty leap, and lands before Early and Old Bear as they eat. Old Bear says, “Looks like its time for your last run. When you get powerful enough, you’ll have to go to the Shrine of the Silver Wolf. Maybe you can find your answers there?”

The giant bear gives Early a hug, and the warblade runs off with the dinosaur-sized wolf. After running continuously for a few more days, or weeks, or months (Early’s can’t tell)... the wolf brings him to a portal in the middle of the plain. Through the portal, Early can see the grasslands around the City of Elan. They run towards it, and at the last moment the wolf veers away and Early continues alone.

He finds himself decked out in all his gear, Cryssaegrym in hand, and still with his huge beard just a few miles away from Elan. He’ll have to shave when he gets home.

Immediately he can sense greater power within Cryssaegrym. Then at that moment Early realizes that it is not just Cryssaegrym that is growing in strength on its own -- instead, its power feeds off Early. No one wonder Cryssaegrym needed the wielder to be so strong.

Early now feels that the sword is the "bane of the favored of Kyuss," meaning it is extra powerful against aberrations and undead. But Early can also feel that his olfactory sense has gone crazy -- he has scent like a wolf constantly active, and when he enter his Hunter's Scent martial stance, his senses become heightened even further by the Vajra augmentation. Additionally, the warblade feels a deeper connection to the natural world -- so much so, that he can commune with nature.

Early reenters Elan. It’s damn cold and he is still dressed like its summertime, so he heads home. Along the way Republicans blow up several cases of gunpowder at one of the North Market’s watchtowers. Many people are injured or killed. At this point Early speaks with a few bystanders and learns that it is Marca 17, 755 YE. Early has been gone nearly six months it seems, and the city has gone to hell with high food prices and terrorist attacks and that sort of thing.


Early returns home and finds Vatex and Emeris. He hears about what they’ve been up to the last few months. They report that Dziga seems unwell. Since New Year’s, the rogue has been spending near all his time out in the cold at Keziah’s wall in Tent City. There he sits, staring at the crude drawings, the complex mathematical formulae, that astronomical diagrams, and strange curvilinear symbols. Somehow he thinks it will help him get his shadow companion back. But Keziah never shows up, nor does she seem to add anything while he is away.

During this time, Dziga returns home only to sleep and eat. When he sleeps, he finds that his crazy dreams have returned, more horrible than ever. On many nights he has vague, incomprehensible dreams of floating through an abysss of utter madness. As far as he can tell, it consists of insane non-euclidean architecture of twisted, semi-organic looking substance. This place seems inhabited by strange things to which he can ascribe no motivation or comprehension because of their utterly alien nature. Some seem to be like masses of bubbles, others clusters of tiny cubes, others like misshapen octopuses covered in prismatic barbs, and all manner of other crazy things. He floats among them, and whenever one of them seems to notice him (in its strange way, as it is utterly incomprehensible in a behavioristic sense), Dziga feels an intense grip of terror and awakens covered in sweat.

Beyond horrible were these dreams, but it is arguable that the _other_ dreams were even worse. In these dreams, far more vivid and clear than the others, Brown Jenkins -- Keziah’s human-faced rat familiar with little feet like that of a tiny man -- would emerge from the rat hole in the corner of his room. Sometimes he would only poke out his head. Other times he would crawl into bed with Dziga and nuzzle him. This would always cause Dziga to awaken in utter disgust and horror.

In other dreams, the most vivid of all, he could hear someone with very heavy shoes walking down the hallway outside his room. He could remember the distinct sound of those heavy shoes, for he’d heard them when the Black Man had shifted his feet in their first meeting. Thank goodness the Black Man never entered his room in these nightmares, for even in dreams Dziga feared the Black Man in a profound way.

Then, one night, while dreaming of the sea of madness, Dziga is approached by three figures. Two indistinct, ghostly figures -- one large, one small -- followed by one of those weird cube-clusters. Dziga knows immediately that the spectral things are Keziah and Brown Jenkins. When they are close enough to touch, Dziga feels a strange pulling sensation and finds himself in a familiar environment -- Elan. It is like his earlier dreams, with Keziah riding on his back. She whispers madness in his ear as he follows Brown Jenkins down various streets with no discerable direction.

But then, Brown Jenkins gestures towards a particularly dark alley. Indeed, an alley so dark even Dziga’s supernatural vision does not reveal much. At the edge of the alley, he finds his shadow companion, cowering as if it had been subject to some great trauma. Dziga hears sound of heavy shoes deeper in the impenetrable darkness of the alleyway, and then awakens.

The shadow companion is there in Dziga’s room. It seems emotionally battered, in a way that Dziga would not have thought possible for a creature of its nature. It doesn’t even seem to know what happened to itself. But the rogue-shadowdancer is glad to have his companion back.


The dawning of spring comes late. By the time Apri rolls around, there is still snow on the ground in the city.

Sitting in the bar one day drinking a mug of ale, Early is confronted by DUCLIS the catman duskblade-swordsage-fighter from Taforashia. It appears this is the catman who was part of the crew of burglars who’d robbed the Rosegate House.

Duclis explains that he and his crew were simply trying to find that shadow key Emeris had found in the basement of Richard Derby’s house. Early says it was given to Saharasahla for safekeeping. Duclis asks if there is any way Early might be interested in getting it for Duclis’ employer. Early rejects the offer -- before Duclis leaves, they are a hair away from drawing their weapons and fighting each other. The catman hisses and Early growls. As Duclis leaves, he tells Early to consider the request, and meet in Shara’s Park in Nobles District at midnight tonight with the key.

Early reports this encounter to his comrades. Emeris wonders what was the purpose of that strange key made of a shadowy metal substance. Saharasahla had never explained to him what it was. Hmm... In any case, the group decides to kill Duclis. They will go for the midnight meeting in the park, but they will simply kill Duclis and anyone else who shows up with him.

Vatex takes a sniper position on the art gallery rooftop overlooking the park. Emeris takes wing and circles the sky overhead. Early stands by the park’s fountain, while Dziga hides nigh invisibly in the nearby shadows.

Duclis shows up, with his entire crew. VIRANIA, human shadow warrior and lesbian lover of Nika Drendol, the human shadow blade they’d killed in the Banewarrens; XUMBLETWICK, the chaos gnome warlock; LAMBERT, a human knight; and ZUUMA, human ninja supreme.

What follows is a battle against difficult opponents, that is well controlled by the Rosegate Company. Dziga tries to bring down Zuuma immediately with a sneaky surprise attack, but the ninja is impossibly quick to react and throws down another cloud of mist to obscure his movement as he flies upwards.

Zuuma unleashes volleys of flaming shuriken at Vatex who fires back with his gun. Xumbletwick conjures up cold tentacles from the ground that grapple Dziga, but the rogue triggers his blinking armor and phases through them, firing arrows from Roguefriend at Duclis. Xumbletwick flies to intercept Vatex and blasts raw arcane energy at the elf.

Virania and Lambert stay close together. Emeris hits them with a blast of killing shadows, its deadly power maximized by the shadowcaster’s new ring of metashadow. Lambert is nearly killed, but Virania avoids the brunt of it. Virania, who seems to fight with no weapons, suddenly grows several shadowy appendages -- whipping tentacles and razor-sharp claws of hardened shadowstuff, which course with negative energy. Early tries to hit her with his gun but she dodges like Keannu Reeves in the Matrix.

Duclis fires a few shots from his tri-elemental dwarven magnum, hitting Emeris with bullets that crackle with flame, frost, and electrical energy. Then, with a couple of Dziga’s arrows protruding from his chest, he sees the rogue escape the tentacles and uses a Shadow Hand maneuver to teleport behind Early, putting him between the shadow warrior and the knight on one side, and the catman on the other.

Dziga helps Vatex fight against the flying gnome and the ninja. Dziga shifts in and out of shadows -- enemies cannot be sure where he will appear. And when he does appear, he blinks in and out of the ethereal plane. Several shots from Dziga’s arrows hit the gnome who goes down while blasting Vatex with arcane energy.

Zuuma flies over Vatex, spinning his kusari-gama and trying to trip the elf prone. Vatex catches the kusari gama as it twists around his left arm, and he twists with great strength and nearly pulls Zuuma to the ground. The ninja lands near the art gallery wall and the elf is upon him, blades flashing furiously -- the magic of his skirmish vest triggering a flurry of attacks.

Early finds himself surrounded. Lambert designates the warblade with his “Mark of Shadow” power. A dark twisted symbol appears on Early’s chest -- at this moment, black energy begins to infuse Lambert’s longsword. If Early does not hit Lambert with an attack, all that black energy can be released on Early in a devastating blow. Early understands the tactic -- Lambert is a protector, and his mysterious technique is meant to draw attacks to him. Duclis unleashes two bolts of powerful magic that leave nasty scorch marks on Early’s plate mail, burning flesh beneath. At this moment, Virania rushes forward, putting herself between the wounded knight the warblade.

Negative energy infused shadow claws slash at Early but he dodges easily, and rushes the female shadow warrior with a brutal howl. The warblade strikes with Cryssaegrym channeling the power of a Rabid Bear Strike, which hacks into Virania’s chest. Early follows up with an unexpected blow that cuts right through Virania. Her torso falls left and her legs fall to the right, her guts spilling across the ground.

Duclis sees his chance. He calls upon the power of the Vajra with a Diamond Mind technique. His keen catman eyes pick out the slightest imperfection in the warblade’s defenses. His weapon becomes a tool of his mind. At the same time, he channels raw arcane energy that would otherwise power his duskblade magic into his sword -- and begins speaking the words of a spell. He charges Early, and swings his elven thinblade at the warblade as Virania goes down. White arcane power swirls around the duskblade and is released at the moment the sword connects. Early is cut by the keen elven steel and engulfed in a torrent of arcane energy that burns him like magic fire.

At that moment, Duclis completes his spell, causing Early to dimensionally translocate -- right before Lambert, who is ready for Early. Still the Mark of Shadow is on Early’s chest, and suddenly the warblade regrets targeting Virania. The horribly wounded Lambert strikes with two mighty blows that flare with dark shadow power, drop the warblade in a shower of blood.

Zuuma fights aggressively with Vatex. The ninja marvels at the elf’s skill. But when he realizes Virania and Xumbletwick have been killed, and Lambert nearly dead, he figures it’s best to leave the battle and not risk absolute defeat. Zuuma turns invisible and flies away, promising he will meet the Rosegate Company again. Vatex curses all corwardly enemies who will not fight to the death.

Back to back, Lambert tells Duclis to flee. But instead the catman resolves to fight to the end. Emeris attacks Duclis through the catman’s own shadow, assaulting his mind with dark magic. Lambert struggles to fish a healing potion out of his pack, when Dziga suddenly appears only 30 feet away and looses another arrow at the catman. Lambert leaps in front of the shot with surprising reflexes and dies from the arrow meant for the catman.

Duclis realizes he is doomed. He hisses as Vatex closes in on him, swords flashing. Duclis parries a few attacks with his darting thinblade, but the assault is too much. The elf’s swords plunge into Duclis’ body and he dies.

As Early lays on the ground dying, he laments that perhaps he was not strong enough to be the Silver Wolf’s champion against Kyuss. Damn, how could he be killed now? In his final moments, he has a vision of the shrine in the jungle, and he feels Cryssaegrym communicate to him that the ultimate power of the sword can only be unlocked at that location. With superhuman determination, Early seems to stabilize his dying condition with will alone. While hovering at death’s door, his friends pour a healing potion in his mouth to bring him back to consciousness.

As the group walks back home, they hope Lord Sadar gets the message -- you fuck with the Rosegate Company, you get fucked.