06:05 – 06:08 – With the titan drawing ever closer, its deep roaring pressing the air tight, the ground shuddering with increasing strength as it stamps closer, the group keep something akin to calm. Whilst Varracuda quickly shoves the bodies of the slain 'forged into the enchanted chest (all the while trying to ignore the horrified New Forge civilians who watch him; too scared to take action to stop him or to raise the alarm), and Schnecke and Emmiven stand guard, Jaeger, Grigori and Seren turn their attention to the forge.
Seren analyses the glyphs carved into it, and after a few moments finds that they operate on two levels – the most obvious one (enchanting items on the forge) and on a level apparently tied in with another function. Jager examines the anvil, and finds similar irregularities in the form of empowering runes cut into the inner surface of the Hardy Hole. Grigori notices that there are faint scratches on the floor; two oppositely curving semi-circles, that sweep outwards from the forge's vertical midline, and looking more closely at the forge itself he spots the faint suggestion of a sealed opening along its middle. Could the forge open out somehow? Seren continues to examine the magical symbols, and realises that the second layer of glyphs is tied to the ones carved into the anvil, and that there are other runes apparently linked to some kind of warding spell – a trap most likely. She calls to Jaeger, and the assassin joins her, running his thieves eyes over the scribings, aided by the drakven.
“I know how to open this.” he states suddenly, “We need the hardy hammer. It's the key.”
By this point the entire smithy is jumping with the thunderous footsteps of the approaching titan, and a moment before he slams the door shut and throws the bolts across, Varracuda sees it roll into view; a magnificent, monstrous nightmare of whirring artifice engines, gleaming deadly blades and drizzling, alchemical flame.
“We need that hammer!” Yells Jaeger, “And we need it now!”
Varracuda looks around the smithy, and at once spots the worn handle of a hammer almost hidden completely by a small pile of ashes close to the forge.
“There!” he yells pointing, his voice almost lost as the titan, now closer than ever, emits another thunderous bassy roar, the sound of it rattling tools from their resting places, and shaking each adventurer with its fury. Jaeger grabs the hammer and slams it into the hole on the anvil. At once a deep resonance, different from that generated by the approaching titan, thrums through the ground, and the forge swings open at the middle, revealing a semi-circular space beneath in which can be seen a flight of spiral stairs, plunging into the darkness.
06:09 – 06:13 - “Let's go!” Yells Grigori as Schnecke runs towards this exit, the warlord hot on his heels. “Barbarian, you first.”
“Gladly,” answers the Ulnyrr as he steps onto the stairs, “But don't forget I am about as observant as a brriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick....”
The last part comes as the massive barbarian simply vanishes through the steps and into the space below, coming to an agonising and damaging halt some 50' beneath, the sound of his massive bulk striking the floor an echoing solid slap and pained whooshing of expelled air that draws sympathetic winces from everyone. Emmiven, about to follow him waves his arms almost comically as he desperately pulls back from the edge, and Grigori flows towards the space, his eyes boring into what he now recognises as an illusion of a stairwell covering a pit.
Outside, and a shadow now falls across the windows, lightened slightly by a flickering, rutilant glow. Ferrus Flamma has arrived.
Seren grabs rope out of her backpack, and with the help of Grigori secures it to the anvil. The rope is thrown down the pit, and whilst Schnecke clambers up it, the rest of the group head down, for Grigori's sharp eyes have spotted a corridor in the eastern wall of the shaft – dimly lit by a faint reddish glow.
Schnecke is first to enter that corridor, some 25' below the level of the smithy, and finds it runs straight ahead, coming to an abrupt stop some 30' down in a magical wall of blazing scarlet and violet flames. He can feel the heat coming from it from the end of the corridor, and beyond can make out the forms of several warforged and a couple of dog like constructs, similar to the one he battled outside the shop. He is joined soon after by the rest of the group, and they carefully move towards the wall of flame, noting the large increase in heat as they get closer. By the time they are close enough to see through its warping heart with enough clarity to make out details of the chamber beyond and its inhabitants, the front line warriors (the barbarian and warlord) are literally starting to singe slightly; the aroma of burning hair gathering in the dry, volcanic atmosphere.
Beyond the veil of fire is a large octagonal chamber, lit by the wall's radiance and the light of several spells set in its high ceiling. The walls are carved with impressive symbols of power, and a large, well crafted rune circle dominates the centre of the chamber. At the far end of the chamber stand two forging flame soldiers, their mauls resting against their armoured shoulders, their blank faces turned towards the middle of the circle. Directly across the circle from the group, stood just outside it facing in, is another warforged. It is dressed in ceremonial robes of brilliant vermilion, gold and orange, and has a shiny skullplate on its head. Its arms are outstretched towards the circle's centre, and It holds a hammer etched with glowing golden runes in its left hand, and an orb implement in the other. It seems to be engaging in some kind of ritual with the two other warforged who surround the circle, forming a perfect triangle with their arrangement. Moving clockwise from this 'forged, the next one taking part in the ritual is dressed in the robes and symbols of a forging flame adept. Like the other it is clearly working some kind of ritual with its two allies.
The third warforged directly involved in the ritual stands to the left of the corridor, at the bottom left hand side of the triangle formation. It is a very tall warforged that bears a strangely sculpted rod of steel, vothniir and Durium in its right hand, and what appears to be a bloody humanoid heart in its other – the former owner (who the group realise with numbing shock and horror is Balskus) lying dead and dissected within the circle. Its body plates are highly polished and every inch of them shimmers with delicately crafted runes and symbols of gold. Across its back rests a curious artifice weapon; a white metal bladed sword, with an edge of what seem to be viciously sharpened, floating shards of some metallic crystal. A symbol depicting a warforged's skull plate is stamped onto its blade, and it seems to be covered in fresh blood.
This impressive looking warforged is clearly deep into the ritual, and the group can feel as well as see the effect it is having, a growing distortion forming in the middle of the circle, above the empty shell of Balskus. “He's opening a portal” exclaims Grigori with a snarl, his voice carrying over the ritual moaning of the three warforged into the chamber beyond where the last two creatures in the room immediately hear it, turning to regard the group with unblinking, unfeeling eyes.
Each beast is a customised Iron Defender, clearly modified to suit their owners needs, and bearing evidence of inbuilt lethality through their appearance alone. To the right of the tall warforged stands a slender beast of bronze, copper, adamantium and Durium. The air around it shimmers with a heat haze, and a ruddy, molten light can be seen oozing from between its armoured exoskeleton. It regards the group with glowing orange eyes, and gives a liquid growl as warning to the others. The other defender is twice the size of its companion; a massive thing who's heavy armour can barely restrain its corded muscles and augmented skeleton. Its head is disproportionately large, due to the bear-trap like jaws it houses, and the modified musculature and skull needed to house and operate them. It has pale green eyes, which seem somewhat squeezed by its huge mouth, and it begins to snaps and drool oily fluid at sight of the group.
Seeing the defenders reactions, the two soldiers begin to move forwards, their mauls coming to the ready position, whilst the three spell casters continue undisturbed.
“Shit.” growls Emmiven, “They're on to us. You up for doing something stupid big fella?”, this last comment to Schnecke, who is already breathing hard as he allows his battle rage to fill him; the air turning cold around him as he channels once more the frozen fury of his homeland's spirits. Taking the Ulnyrr's pose and reaction as a “Yes” Emmiven gives a roar, and with his hammer held high, charges through the wall of flame, swiftly covering the distance between him and the smaller of the two Iron Defender's, and landing a solid, crushing blow against it. The barbarian is right with him, his battle cry thunderous as they both dive through the flames and he too lands a devastating blow on the same creature, smashing it to the ground.
Despite their speed, both warriors are burned as they charge through the inferno, though Emmiven's shield soaks up a good amount of punishment. The same cannot be said for Grigori or Varracuda, who both come through a moment later, each howling with pain as the flames sear them. Jaeger activates his boots and calls upon their magic to teleport into the chamber, whilst Seren, gritting her teeth against the agony, runs through the blistering barrier, emerging engulfed in fire, her yells of pain ringing through the air.
06:14 – 06:16 – Watery green flames, ghostly and fluid, erupt in a cone from the swordmage's blade, engulfing both the Iron Defenders, the tall warforged (who continues chanting despite the flames that flicker – apparently with little effect – over him), and one of the soldiers, followed a moment later by an invisible wave of power from the priest, who has taken up a position between Emmiven and the chamber's wall. The two soldiers plough into the group, and the larger defender fastens its hideous jaws around the priest's thigh, its scalpel like teeth sinking into the meat and grinding painfully on the bone. Grigori howls in shock and pain, and struggles to free himself, but is rewarded only with more pain when the hulking beast shakes its terrible head from side to side, further lacerating his leg; blood pouring like a steaming river from the wounds.
Seren works her spell that summons a brilliant field of blinding radiance, dizzying and disorienting those enemies caught within it. At the same time, the vermilion robed spell caster charges the assassin, hammer raised, magic crawling over its hand. However, suddenly he finds himself flying through the air towards the knot of creatures engaged with Schnecke, Emmiven, Varracuda and Grigori – including the tall warforged. Propelled by unnatural shadows, the robed 'forged smashes into the creatures and knocks them all over. Schnecke follows this with a roar of fury, which temporarily weakens the defences of those piled before him, rendering them vulnerable for a time to the group's attacks.
The smaller of the two defenders rises shakily to its feet, and is struck a massive blow by Emmiven which shatters its external armour and opens its burning guts to the air. Whilst this is reassuring in that it shows how badly wounded the beast is, it is also a problem, for its innards are a cauldron of elemental fury substantial enough that all within a spears reach of it are actually burned by its heat. The monster gives a piercing howl, like steam bursting from a burning log, and it attempts to launch a blast of fire at the tightly packed party. Unfortunately, something within it has been bent out of shape, and the blast erupts harmlessly from the monster's neck, engulfing its head, temporarily distracting it and making it an easy target for the group.
It is smashed to the floor a moment later by the warlord's hammer, its internal fires guttering and dying.
The first first maul wielding soldier meets a similar fate moments later, and the group begin to think this battle may be over sooner rather than later. Jaeger is smashed across the room by the maul of the other soldier, and Seren screams as she finds herself too close to the wall of fire, and begins to burn. She spits a blast of lightning which curves around Varracuda (who is now engaged with the second defender, who still dutifully chomps down on the screaming priest, whilst he works frantically to keep the rest of the party alive), but bites into the others – finally getting the attention of the tall warforged, who gives an outraged scream in a strangely human voice.
“DOGS OF THE UNIFIED ORDER! YOU SHALL PAY FOR THIS OUTRAGE IN BLOOD AND FIRE! YOU, WITH YOUR CLOSED MINDS AND FEAR OF ALL THAT IS NOT BOUND BY THE SUFFOCATING DOCTRINE OF THE ORDER! I PISS ON YOU!”
“Merriel's tits!” exclaims Jaeger, his blasphemy making the others flinch, “That's bloody Balskus!”
“Remember, we need him alive!” Yells Varracuda.
Balskus gives up on his ritual and at once the air slackens, a ghostly burst of eldritch corposant arcing over the rune circle as the energies discharge. He draws his strange sword from his back, and with a flick of a small rune on its handle, sets the floating, triangular blades to spinning around it at a terrible speed, the air resonating with a tooth-aching whine.
“None of you are leaving this place today.” he promises, before flicking his wrist and sending a whip-like strand of the sword's whirling teeth towards Schnecke, Grigori and Emmiven, the flashing line tearing through their armour and flesh as if it were paper. Blood, flesh, bone and meat explode into the air from their wounds in grim, pinkish puffs of tissue, and the weapons shriek drops several octaves as it goes about its bloody work.
The air around Balskus and his allies (everyone except the forging flame adept, who has stayed some 30' away, throwing magic at the group and his allies) is suddenly filled with a thrumming wave of darkness, within which can be heard their screams. Those members of the party within this sudden darkness are unharmed, for the source is the assassin, who has worked his shadow magic and created a swarm of bolts, envenomed and charged with his dark sorcery, which now thud into his foes, poisoning them and leaving deep, ragged wounds.
Balskus is temporarily stunned, the attercop venom blazing in a wave of painful, psychic effervescence through his nervous system, and things only get worse for him and his when Seren calls upon her magic and summons a whirling cyclone of frozen force, which rips through the armour of the remaining soldier, and decapitates the vermilion robed spell caster; a half frozen burst of hemolymph erupting in a melted column from his severed neck. The same spell also slices off the back of the hulking defender's skull, and Grigori yelps in shock and pain as its jaws retract, and the huge bulk of it crashes, lifeless, to the floor.
Schnecke leaps towards the remaining forging flame soldier and buries his terrible, massive axe in its face. The razor edge, hardened by magic and driven down with all the Ulnyrr's strength, spits its head open, carves a splattering path down through its thick neck, deflects to the left off its clavicle and ends its move embedded within the soldier's chest. The warforged is dead, and Schnecke is forced to kick the body off his axe, so deeply is its blade embedded in its guts. The barbarian, who is bleeding from a multitude of wounds, is suddenly enveloped in a golden mist of healing magic, send forth by Grigori as he leans, panting and shivering, against the far wall, blood still spurting from the horrible wounds left by the defender's bite. Grigori then chants another prayer of restoration, and sends a flickering beam of blessed light towards Seren, removing all her wounds and enveloping her in a protective aura of divine light. Finally, he unleashes a burst of flickering faith-fire towards Balskus, though this barely touches him, rolling like oil over his runic plates.
Varracuda charges Balskus, his blade twisting towards the artificer come warforged. He aims a lethal blow at his side, his sword edged in green fire, but is shocked when his target steps to the side swiftly and utters a thunderous word of planar distortion, sending him on a teleportive journey to the other side of the wall of fire, his body slammed by the dimensional pressures of his unwilling move. Spitting ichor, the swordmage has to lean against the wall a moment to catch his breath, before he realises what just happened.
“Sneaky bastard.” He growls, his head spinning, “I can do that too.” He spits an inky gob, and then nearly swoons as dizziness sweeps over him.
Balskus is healed somewhat by the adept (who still lingers away from the main melee), and Emmiven, his curious dice like artefact in hand, lands a denting blow against him, calling on the enchanted die to enhance his attack. Alas, as is the way with items devoted to Leorn'Aerbrin, God of Luck and Gamblers, fate can sometimes conspire against those trying to ride its currents, and although it sends a pulse of crackling lightning into the warforged, it also sends a wash of power back into the warlord's face, burning off what remains of his eyebrows, and raising welts on his shifting, amorphous flesh.
Spectral colours erupt from the drakven's clawed hands as she shapes a small ball of chaotic energies into a coherent missile, and launches it towards the spell caster, burning a tiny hole in his body plates. Jaeger, flowing like a living shadow at the edge of the main melee, suddenly appears next to Balskus, his blade punching deep into his body. Then, in a burst of darkness, he teleports back out of the melee to the side of the chamber.
A flickering seal of divine power appears above Balskus' head, called into existence by Grigori, its presence weakening him, and with a roar of fury, he leaps – not towards the priest, but towards the sorceress – his blade revving venomously. His blow strikes her at a critical location, biting hungrily into her long neck, ripping through the meaty pipes and sending a jet of gore spurting out, pulsing in time with her heart. Seren screams and staggers to the side, her mind a whirl as blood loss begins to immediately take its toll, whilst Balskus calls upon his own internal resolve to lock down some of his own bleeding and shock, and to regain strength.
For a moment it looks as if the sorceress may fall, until Emmiven, his voice dripping with scorn yells at her, “Come on your dozy bitch! I've had worse wounds than that when I've cut myself shaving! Stop being such a pussy and get on with it!”
His words have the desired effect, cutting through her haze of crushing pain and hopelessness, and filling her with blazing, invigorating fury. Her golden eyes, which were closing wearily snap open, and with a snarl she straightens her back and prepares to blast Balskus (and then, maybe, Emmiven) out of existence.
On the other side of the wall of fire, Varracuda desperately searches for some way to bring it down, reluctant to risk its deadly fury again. He locates several foci within the corridor's walls that are sustaining the blaze, but sees no immediate way to drop it – though further study will probably let him find this. However, he is able to teleport into the room moments later courtesy of marks of power he laid down within Balskus with his earlier attacks; using them as a focus for his own transdimensional travel; appearing next to him, his blade slashing into his plate.
All this time the warlord has been waiting for a perfect moment to strike. As Balskus' attention is on the drakven, he moves in, his hammer crushing into a crack he has seen in the artificer's runic body plate. With a battle cry he slams the heavy weapon down, and he is rewarded with a high pitched scream from Balskus as the crack widens and scalding hemolymph explodes out. However, Emmiven's cry of victory turns to pained confusion, as do those of his allies, when everything is drowned in painful blinding light, his mind suddenly alive with an echoing, snarling, malevolent yelling – Balskus' hatred flowing into him in painful, dizzying waves of psychic torment. Balskus, his body radiating both blinding magical light and his own hate, takes advantage, despite his own agony, of the distraction, and works his most potent spell. The air, which smells of charred flesh, burned hair, salty hemolymph and coppery blood, spent magic and musky aggression, suddenly stinks of ozone, and with a dread crepitation, a vast field of blazing electrical flame covers almost all the chamber; burning and dazing everyone within it. Only Grigori, Seren and Varracuda avoid its lashing power, the others burning in its fury, their limbs twitching spastically as the current plays painfully through them.
And now the battle enters its end game. Those caught within the lightning field's confines are severely punished by its magic, and Emmiven would have been killed were it not for a prayer of protection from Grigori that immediately restores him in a wave of colourless flame. Worse, the radiant and psychic energies pouring from the wounded Balskus blind those too close and curdle their minds with rupturing mental trauma, leaving the already seriously wounded and disoriented adventurer's even more vulnerable. However, far from making them give in, the adversity drives them on. They work together to pinpoint the artificer, and working as a team, surround and eventually finish him - Jaeger's enchanted crossbow sending two bolts splintering across his face, overwhelming his artifice systems and knocking him out cold (but alive, as was required by Saul).
The darkness, silence and lack of pain - both physical and psychical – that follows Balskus' defeat is almost overwhelming, and it takes the group a moment to realise that they are not finished yet.
Cowering now, the remaining adept tries to bargain for its life.
06:17 – 06:22 – The group spend a few moments applying dressings, gathering their wits, catching their breaths, and accepting a little magical healing from the priest. Jaeger grabs the strange weapon Balskus used, testing its weight and finding it to his liking; revving its chain of teeth with barely disguised glee, whilst the rod implement he used is given to Grigori for safe keeping and later examination.
Seren and Emmiven take a teleport gem they were given by Saul, and place it upon the unconscious artificer, muttering the command phrase. At once both crystal and body vanish; whisked away to the Unified Order holding cells at the Durance Occulta. However the shard can only carry one, and back along the corridor leading from this place they can hear the echoing roaring of the titan, and the unmistakable sound of approaching warforged. A metallic rattling announces that there was a way to summon real stairs from above – a way the approaching 'forged apparently know – and the group realise that they have a lot more fighting yet to do, for there is only one way out, and their enemies block it.
The wall of fire lost when Balskus went down, there is nothing to slow the approaching 'forged, and grimly, the group raise their weapons and gather their influence, ready, if necessary, to kill anything and everything that comes between them and escape - a strange sense of peace and power flowing through them, invigorating them.
“Make them suffffffer....” Whispers a cold voice in Grigori's mind...
...”Here they come”, growls Schnecke.
The first wave charges...