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.
VATEX TRAVELS TO MOONSILVER FOREST
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 AND OLD BEAR
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.
WINTER OF STRIFE
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.
DREAMS BEYOND THE PALE OF SANITY
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.
ROSEGATE VS. SADAR AGENTS
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.