Friday, September 23, 2011

Blood and Gold

Sar, Sypheros 17, 998 YK (Day 91).

The group is awakened with a start as Talbot enters the barracks almost exactly six hours later, announcing loudly and clearly that the "time has come." They quickly equip themselves, and Elyas receives instructions from Talbot to remain outside Glyphstone once the party has breached the keep to prevent any reinforcements flowing in from outside, or to Wroat from within. With this, he brings them downstairs, where a portal awaits in the monastery's central chamber. They give him the Chaos Gear, which he assures will be taken care of the organization he works for, and tells them to look for Mr. Artauche in the "old workshop" located in the keep. After this, one by one, they proceed through the portal.

It leads to the bottom of a very tall cliff. Glyphstone Keep is just visible at the top, and they are on a sort of ledge a few feet above a river (a branch of the Dagger River), with a narrow pathway leading along its banks. They are surprised by a familiar presence awaiting them here: Zan-kyri, the genasi artificer. He indicates that he was in Wroat (headquarters of Cannith South) when the invasion broke out, and came here as part of a personal investigation. He was examining the prepared portal exit when the Collective passed through it. They explain the situation to Zan-kyri, who decides to come with them to stop Artauche. With this, they begin ascending the cliff face.

Marlamin and Zan-kyri are the first to begin climbing. Marlamin attempts to use extruding vegetation to climb, while Zan-kyri alters his form to be more akin to liquid, and goes up a waterfall emerging from the Keep. The first branch Marlamin reaches for snaps in his hand, however, and Zan-kyri finds the pressure too much; both begin to fall, and though they are injured somewhat, Stahlstrauss rescues them with a herculean effort of strength. He grabs both of them, and Zan-kyri is placed on his back while Marlamin is carried the rest of the way up the cliff. Zil'dejin goes looking for a more convenient way of getting up to the keep from their position, but finds nothing, and Garmeth clambers up top independently.

At the top of the cliff, they find the battlements of Glyphstone to be covered in strange looking defective warforged. Their limbs are oddly proportioned, and they seem to be far less intelligent than normal examples of their race. They are equipped with arm crossbows, and immediately open fire on the party as they come into view. Marlamin leads a charge at the portcullis, the only visible entry to the Keep. Zan-kyri and Garmeth follow in his wake, but are hit by crossbow bolts. Zan-kyri attempts futilely to kick the portcullis open, and then Marlamin lifts the gate, with Garmeth assisting. At this point, Stahlstrauss is able to use the telepathic powers of his command circlet to broadcast a message to the defective warforged, and convinces them that he is their commander and to cease fire. They do, and move into the keep somewhere around the same time that Zil'dejin finally climbs the cliff and catches up to the party.

Stahlstrauss takes the burden of the portcullis from Marlamin and holds it open long enough for the party to move through. They find themselves in a small courtyard leading to an open doorway, going inside the keep. Zan-kyri first attempts to track down the magic of the Rod of Order and the Chains of Balance, to orient the party, but their presence is so strong he cannot pick out their direction. The party then goes inside the structure, finding themselves in an entry chamber with many doors. Zil'dejin recalls a battle of historical significance fought here a very long time ago, and uses that knowledge to reconstruct a rough mental map of the keep. He recalls the approximate direction of the workshop, and they head here at once when they hear heavy, metallic footsteps coming rapidly closer from multiple directions. They are soon pursued by a different squadron of defective warforged, these ones equipped only with armblades of different shapes and sizes. Garmeth uses the phantom soldier artifact he carries with him in an effort to distract the warforged, but they cut through the illusion and envelop him. Marlamin attempts to save him with an elaborate maneuver intended to trip up the squadron, but he too is caught up in the fighting. They both sustain some injuries before the warforged Stahlstrauss spoke to earlier arrive and engage in combat with the other detachment. Because of the jury-rigged nature of the constructs, this battle ultimately culminates in a mass of exploding defective warforged in the cramped halls.

After this, the party arrives in a barracks-like area. Zil'dejin explains that this immediately precedes the workshop, and was where artificers within Glyphstone lived in between shifts at the workshop after Cannith took control of the place. It forks in two directions, each hall lined with small bedrooms, but both evidently lead to the workshop. They go left, and are soon assailed by an unusual construct made of stone and metal dropping upon them from the ceiling. It spins around with whirling blades, while another, electrified construct approaches from the rear. Finally, some of the doors to the barracks rooms open, and horrible amalgamations of corpse and machine emerge. They fight a battle with these enemies in very close quarters, but eventually bring them all down. They take a breather here, in an effort to gather all their strength before proceeding to face Artauche himself.

After a while of this, they enter the workshop. It is a ruined area, but has recently been restored to some extent. There is rubble everywhere, and in one area, it is burning. Once their eyes have adjusted to the change in lighting, the party notices a figure on top of some wooden crossbeams: it is Remelius Artauche. He speaks at length to the Eclipse Collective. He discusses Stahlstrauss' origins in an illegal Creation Forge in the Lhazaar Principalities, which was one of the Artauche family's illicit facilities. He talks about Garmeth's inability to reconstruct his monastic order, his failures as a monk and the horrible abominations that are his race; he promises to enslave Garmeth and sell him back to the daelkyr after he has been defeated. He also mentions the changeling assassin that killed Balin, Zil'dejin's former mentor, and his association with the organization that conducted this murder. He does not recognize Marlamin or Zan-kyri, but promises them a swift death.

With this, he fires magical flares from his cane, which is a powerful device he has created as a weapon, and tears off his left sleeve, exposing the Chains of Balance which are wrapped around his arm. This signals the start of the battle. The party eventually makes their way to the top of the crossbeams to do battle with him, and despite his many attempts at slowing them down - including using the Chains of Balance to slow time for them while he moves at a normal rate - he is injured enough that he must retreat. He throws his cane down, and it explodes in a blinding flash. With this, he jumps down from the beams, using a kind of thruster in his prosthetic metal leg to slow his descent, and a pillar rises from its position to reveal a hatch leading downwards. He enters this, and disappears. The party takes just a second to recuperate, having sustained many injures in the fight, before following him.

After a short trip, they find themselves in a large, cylindrical room. It is mostly stone, though root-like tubes run throughout it, and a massive pillar of stone and metal hovers in the center of the room. Beneath it, a large concave dip in the floor is illuminated with bright white light, which is also mimicked by smaller platforms arranged around the room in a circle. This is recognized immediately by Stahlstrauss as a Creation Forge. It looks to be in some disrepair, but is functioning anyway. They arrive just in time to see Artauche climbing up the pillar in the middle of the room, opening a kind of hatch, and disappearing inside.

Immediately after he does, the luminous platforms shine brightly, and more defective warforged materialize. After a moment, they attack the party. While fending off the warforged, who are perhaps a bigger threat when destroyed (due to their instability and tendency to explode) they try to climb up and attack Artauche, who is in the pillar. Silvery beams of energy occasionally emerge from the hatch to fend off attempts to attack him, however, and it is not until all the warforged are defeated that the bright lights all fade, the pillar falls to the ground, and the hatch opens.

Artauche emerges, holding a brightly-glowing Rod of Order in his right hand while the Chains of Balance shine on his left arm. He is hovering now, and on his back are luminous wings. He announces that it is "time to end this," and the room begins shaking and falling apart. The party soon realizes that it is not really the Creation Forge that is crumbling; rather, they are being transported elsewhere.

They arrive in the middle of Wroat. Defective warforged bodies are everywhere, and chaos is rampant. Buildings are burning, and the air smells of acrid smoke. Screams are audible in the distance. Artauche begins using the Rod of Order with reckless abandon, and unlocks the full potential of the Chains of Balance, anchoring his own life to the souls of the Eclipse Collective and "consuming" their souls to recover his own wounds.

One by one, each party member falls to him. Garmeth is the first to go, shot down by the silver beams of the Rod of Order, and Zan-kyri is soon to follow. Stahlstrauss is next, and then Zil'dejin. Artauche is showing some signs of injury, but thanks to his use of the Chains of Balance he has been able to keep himself sustained. He lands from his hovering position for a last confrontation with Marlamin Tarmikos, their souls tethered by the Chains of Balance. Marlamin takes the risk of making one great attack against Artauche, but the pain is transferred back to him, and he blacks out. Before he descends into total unconsciousness, he is able to witness Artauche's body becoming "cracked" with the same silver light from the Rod of Order, and eventually bursting in a great nova of light.

* * *

The party later awakens in a grand temple to the Sovereign Host. King Boranel ir'Wynarn, the king of Breland, and Baron Merrix d'Cannith, baron of Cannith South, greet the Eclipse Collective. Garmeth and Zan-kyri, who were physically killed in the melee, are restored to life, and it is revealed that the Chains of Balance did not allow Artauche to actually destroy their souls; instead, he only used them to hold his wounds together, and they were released upon his death.

Merrix and Boranel congratulate the party, and thank them extensively for their service. Merrix mentions that Glyphstone Keep has fallen back into Cannith hands, as the last living Artauche heir has died, and offers it to the party once the Creation Forge within has been totally dismantled. They accept, and choose to rename it "Eclipse Keep." Boranel extends an offer of reward as well, and dispatches men to clean up and repair the poorly-repaired stronghold. The two public figures then escort the Eclipse Collective out to the streets of Wroat, where a parade is held in their honour.

After all the festivities are over, the party heads to the Eclipse Keep, where reconstruction is already under way. Though they last left it virtually unknown, they have returned to it as heroes.

This is the end of Heroic tier!

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