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!

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