11:05 – 11:10 – It is decided that Thatari will work on removing the warding glyph, whilst the rest of the group protect him from the next wave of monsters. The warlock nods wearily and turns his attention to the shifting, shimmering wards before him, and at once notes that they are worked in a way that causes them to re-align constantly. This, he realises, makes them potentially very difficult to erase safely.
“This could take some time.” He warns.
No one is listening however, for another wave of monsters have clambered through the ruined doors at the far end of the hall, intent on attack. There are eleven of them; eight more of the common oni with their huge two-handed clubs, and three brutes that tower over them; armoured monsters similar in form to their lesser kin, but wielding massive iron blades and a clear advanced grasp of combat.
“Watch the big ones.” Growls Lia, “They clearly know how to do more than just smash dumbly...”
“CHAAAAARGE!” Roars Shnecke, his huge axe held high.
One of the larger monsters – a Go-Zu Oni – sees the barbarian, and with its own thunderous bellow, charges. Jaeger seems to flicker like a dancing shadow, disappearing and reappearing instantly a few feet away, his crossbow clicking as he materialises, and the huge brute roars as a quarrel suddenly thuds into its chest.
The monster keeps coming.
This action seems to suddenly activate the entire hoard of fiends, and as one, they charge, leaping over the scattered arms and armours of their fallen comrades, making it halfway along the hall.
Back at the door, Varracuda helps Thatari with a particularly knotty configuration of the polymorphic glyphs, before moving to join Lia, Grigori and Shnecke in the “front line”.
Grigori enacts a potent spell, and launches a bolt of almost blinding energy at the lead Oni, denting its armoured breastplate and causing it to emit another pained roar. Lia holds, her shimmering, crystalline blade held high, waiting for an opening.
It arrives moments later.
Panting gustily with rising battle lust, the undead barbarian's eyes are wide and crimson. His waxen flesh becomes even paler than normal, and his eye-teeth have fully extended giving him an animalistic, nightmare appearance. As the hulking, 12' tall Oni comes closer, he suddenly gives a terrible howl, and throws himself, axe descending, towards the horror. The Oni responds with a deft, twisting, rising strike, that rides painfully along the inside of the Ulnyrr's arm, and sends his axe flying out of his two-handed grasp to clatter some 20' away. Growling, the barbarian draws his trusty thunderous axe, determined to kill the monster and get his best weapon back. His blade thunks into the Oni's chest, ripping apart the armour, and slashing a wide, fuming wound in its blue skin. With a scream, the barbarian's massive muscles flex, and he heaves the monster across the battlefield, hurling it towards the waiting ardent, who coldly and clinically decapitates it, its body immediately dissolving into black, oily smoke, its sword and armour clanging to the ground.
Moments later the main weight of the force smashes into the group's front line.
Chaos ensues, and another of Shnecke's axes sails gracefully overhead to land in the middle of the monster's ranks – deftly smashed free by another of the Go-Zu Oni. The monster's ranks are thinned significantly by a withering rain of shadow duplicate quarrels, spat forth from the assassin's weapon, whilst the barbarian manages – after landing several devastating blows – to lose his third and final axe to the twisting strikes of another of the larger monsters.
Lia, Varracuda and Grigori form a base in the maelstrom; the ardents sympathetic psychic powers shrouding her allies in protective energies, clearing their minds allowing them to strike harder, and accelerating their natural healing so that wounds that would weeks to heal normally close in moments. Grigori uses his prayers to confound, scatter, blast and control the enemy, all the while sending arcing beams of healing energy into his allies, whilst the swordmage jumps from foe to foe, slashing and burning them with fiery blades and jagged, snapping lightning.
Shnecke wades through the enemy, desperately trying to get to his axes, and were it not for his allies potent healing, would likely be cut down. He lobs several throwing axes at those that get too close, and manages to inflict some reasonable damage with them – though nothing compared to the harm he can inflict with one of his signature weapons.
Jaeger finds himself toe to toe with two of the common oni, and is seriously wounded as both land heavy blows on him; his ribs smashing under their power, his body sliding almost 20' across the corridor. Agonised and unable to breathe properly, he opens a dark portal beneath himself, and teleports to the top of the one of the shattered Foo Dog statues that flank the corridor. There, a tendril of healing power finds him from the cleric, and he winces as his bones snap back into place, and his lungs painfully re-inflate.
Able to function again, the shade rolls to his feet, and brings his crossbow up. Taking aim, he fires a precision shot at one of the Go-Zu Oni, the bolt sinking entirely into the clavicle, sending the monster reeling in agony.
“GOT YOU MY LOVELY!” Screams the Ulnyrr as he scoops up his beloved executioner's axe. To celebrate, he swings it up two handed and lodges it deep in the groin of one of the remaining common oni. The monster howls deafeningly, and promptly bursts apart in a shock of stinking, oily smoke.
Back at the door, and Thatari is getting worried. After a relatively easy time deciphering the peripheral glyphs, the whole thing shifted weirdly and formed a new overall glyph – though individual hexagramic components continue to alter and mutate before his weary eyes. His last few attempts to manipulate the magic within the symbol have backfired quite painfully, and the warlock knows that one more mistakenly placed application of arcane pressure could trigger the deadly ward.
Behind him, the battle has come down to the brutal five on one attack on the last Go-Zu Oni. Despite being seriously wounded, the massive monster is still a deadly threat, and manages several times to inflict almost fatal wounds on the group, its huge blade scything around it in a blur, leaving massive cuts wherever it makes contact. Each time someone tries to close with the beast, its superior reach comes into play, and it chops at them, striking more often than not. However, each time it strikes at Varracuda, the swordmage manages to flick a counter attack against it, and so, little by little, the battered adventurers take it apart, the final blow coming from Varracuda; his emerald flamed sword opening the monsters throat in a burst of black smoke and rippling fire.
As the final enemy falls, an eerie stillness comes across the hallway, the constant winds moaning and sighing through the piles of stained and dented armour and broken weapons that now litter the floor. At the inner door, there is a sudden burst of agitated magic, and everyone feels pins and needles creeping under their flesh. Turning round rapidly, half expecting to be blasted by whatever magic the glyphs hold, the party are relieved to see the massive warding symbol fading in a series of tiny, electrical bursts, its magic finally unravelled by the smiling warlock.
11:11 – 11:12 – The massive doors, now safe to open, are pulled back by Shnecke and Lia, whilst everyone else prepares to launch an immediate attack. As they open hot blue smoke pours out on the wings of a strong wind, smelling of seared wood and spent magic.
Beyond is a vast chamber, illuminated by several huge lanterns. It is built of red lacquered wood, its wooden floors covered with deep, crimson carpets. Eight massive red wooden pillars, decorated with golden serpentine dracani, support the vaulted, pagoda ceiling, and hanging from this are numerous cages within which sit bleached human skeletons.
However, no one really sees them, for in the middle of the chamber is a giant throne of gold and jade, carved to resemble two serpentine dracani coiled around each other, their faces meeting at its backrest's top. Before this stands a true monster; an ornately armoured Oni with white skin, brilliant electric blue hair and sparking, blazing eyes. Its face is hidden behind a hideous mempo, but all can see the long tusks that curve from its wide, black lipped mouth, and can hear its insane, booming voice as it draws a deadly spear of lightning faster and faster around its body.
Suddenly, before anyone can act, the Oni – almost certainly Gasharo – points the spear at the party, and the air ignites as lightning bursts forth; missing the assassin, but earthing through the Ulnyrr, setting fire to his hair and blasting him back.
He is about to charge, when Grigori suddenly gets a strange sense of something being amiss.
“Wait a minute!” He almost screams, “Just hold still!”
Shnecke seems like he will ignore the priest a moment, but manages to keep his anger in check. Reaching out with his mind, the priest begins to explore the chamber before him; the floor, the pillars, even the huge lightning spitting monster before him, searching for something that could be the source of his concern.
He finds it moments later.
With a jolt, Grigori sees through the powerful illusion shrouding the chamber. Everything vanishes in a moment, the power of the spell undone by his insight, and everyone suddenly reels with vertigo as they see how close they stand to a deadly drop.
Where there had been carpet, there is now only a void. The vaulted ceiling is gone, replaced by a badly burned and blasted mess of wood and stone, pierced by a massive hole that seems to bear hundreds of deep scrapes along its edge. A single mass of rock hangs in the middle of the chamber where the illusion of the Oni and his throne had been, upon which stand two white stone pylons carved with brilliantly illuminated runes, which flicker and dance with lightning. These it seems are the true source of the deadly magic that has blasted the poor Ulnyrr.
Holding this rock in place are four thick chains which stretch under massive tension from each corner of the room. Hanging down from these, five to each length, are vertically hung chains; taut with tension, which stretch down 100' to a large mass of rock studded with stalagmites - perfect spikes for anyone unlucky enough to fall through the non existent floor and onto the mass below. Built into these chains are cages, whose hinged bars are locked tight by the tension in their support. Inside most of these sit silent, skeletal people – unmoving and barely alive, their flesh papery and wind burned. However, in one, what appears to be a large tailless fox with silver and white fur paces back and forth.
It also appears to be swearing at the group in Low Yassanian, though only Varracuda knows that.
“Heeeeey! You up there! Yes you, the ugly one with the stupid face! How about getting my tail so I can get us all out of here? Heeeeeeeey! Yooooou! Are you deaf or something?”
“We need to rescue these people.” Gasps Grigori, looking at the half-dead people in the cages.
“What's that animal going on about?” Asks Lia, “And is it me or is it talking in the Yassanian tongue?”
The geansai nods. “His names Nendenaki, and he says he is a powerful Kitsune mage. Apparently he can get us out of here.”
The stones in the middle of the chamber begins to roar as more lightning prepares to leap from them.
“But first we need to climb over there and get his tails.”
He points to a mass of golden fur that flaps and dances in the winds from another chain hanging down at the other side of the chamber.
Lightning barks from the stones, but misses the group, scouring burning lines in the wood of the door behind them.
“Oh, and apparently Gasharo isn't an Oni at all.”
“He isn't?” Snarls Shnecke, disappointment rising within his chest.
“No. He's a T'ien Lung.”
Everyone glares at the suddenly quite downcast swordmage, wondering what the hell a T'ien Lung is. Varracuda raises his head, and tells them.
“A great dracani of incredible power.”