Rise of the Runelords

OK, so THAT's a Runelord!

Pharast 21, 4708

After equipping themselves with choice selections from Viorian Dekanti, Most High Ceoptra, and Khalib, the Avengers search around for signs of Karzoug. Exploration of the Pinnacle is largely fruitless. The unexplored rooms are either bedchambers for the Rune Giant wardens, or empty stone cells.

The only mysterious site is a large, barren room at the end of the curving halls overseen by Khalib. Behind the double doors of this stone chamber lies a strange sight. The area which should comprise the outer wall of the room instead is a wall of swirling, golden mist. Vague shapes can be seen looming in the golden mist, but no details can be made out. The Avengers are mystified by the strange field of golden light, but, given the fact that even Viorian Dekanti declined to make a stand here, the heroes reason that, whatever the golden mist is, it is not particularly important to Karzoug or his release.

Instead, the Avengers focus on the immense orb of gold within the chamber guarded by Most High Ceoptra and her allies. The immense sphere radiates powerful transmutation magic, but the pillar of light which emerges from it to illuminate the vaulted ceiling radiates conjurational magic instead. Zendo tries shooting an arrow through the light, with no effect, and cautiously reaches a hand out to the slowly flickering flames bathing the golden sphere. Though he does not touch the flames themselves, the bard notes that the heat, while apparent, is much less intense than one would expect from the flames licking the evidently molten gold.

While Corvus examines the entire construction with his magesight, Hikage carefully ascends the stairs to the platform at the meridian of the globe, and then climbs the stone ramp that arches to the top of the structure. Though he senses nothing amiss as he climbs the ramp, when he steps onto the platform atop the golden sphere, Hikage is momentarily dizzied by a strange sensation. His view of the room and his allies is overlain by a vision of a massive darkened cavern of some sort, lit dimly by a reddish glow emanating from the floor. Gripping his temple sword tightly, Hikage can feel the presence of Karzoug ahead of him in the cavern, from the waves of antipathy coursing through the hilt of the weapon. The monk also feels strangely light-headed, as if his spirit was being tugged upwards out of his body towards the ceiling.

Quickly stepping off the platform, Hikage’s sight is still blurred by the overlay of the weird vision. Facing away from the north, the dark chamber seems to open up and brighten, but is still illuminated by a glowing redness. Blinking his eyes and shaking his head do nothing to free him of the double vision, but Hikage does notice that the swirling flames of the golden orb, unlike everything else in the room, remain unblurred and in focus.

The men are at a loss on how to proceed, but Ayruzi offers a solution. As an angel, he can speak with the recently deceased, if they are not unwilling to discourse. Ceoptra and Viorian both refuse to speak with him, but one of the Cloud Giant Warden’s spirits proves to be more amenable.

The cloud giant tells Ayruzi that the chosen ascend to the platform and touch the flames. They are instantly consumed by fire, but Most High Ceoptra says that such devotees go to serve Karzoug beyond. He says that none have returned from such a passage, but Most High Ceoptra says that no one shall return from beyond before Karzoug the Claimer, when he returns in triumph. The Avengers are dubious of this information, and Hikage voices his concerns that Ceoptra is simply duping others into a sacrifice to power Karzoug’s return. The spirit of the Warden says that Wardens of Thunder and Wardens of Runes have passed beyond during his time in the Pinnacle. Ayruzi asks the spirit why he served Karzoug, and the giant tells him that the Rune Giants have within them the magics of the giant race of old, and can ensnare and command the will of lesser giants quite easily. Freed in death, he knows this, but in life, he was enspelled and had his will bent to another.

The heroes now realize why the spirit answered in such dubious tones, himself not fully trusting the words of Ceoptra. However, they know of no other way to pass beyond to Karzoug. Zendo and Gellius ask Ayruzi if he will accompany them on this quest.

With evident embarrassment, the angel demurs. He has been entrapped upon Golarion for many days, unable to enact his duties or return word to his allies. Now he is free to return to his place in the heavens and take up his own mission again. The chamber beyond which traps Karzoug may be another prison from which he cannot escape. Though he recognizes the importance of their mission, his own duties are clear, and he cannot shirk them, particularly not when, in so doing, he may be further estranged from his calling. Hikage and the others thank him for his assistance, and the monk requests an unexpected service from the planetar.

The Sword of Greed, Chellan, is beyond the capacity of the Avengers to destroy, and, filled with malign intent, it is too dangerous to entrust to a museum. Though some of the others may argue that it should be remanded to the Pathfinder Society, Hikage requests that Ayruzi take Chellan with him to the Great Beyond, where it may be safely held outside the reach of Karzoug or his adherents. Ayruzi is honored by the task entrusted to him, and agrees to vouchsafe the sword from mortal men. With a few words, the angel fades from view, hand raised in farewell.

The Avengers quickly ascend the ramp and crowd onto the small platform. Each readies his Runeforged weapon in one hand, and, taking care to coordinate with the others, thrusts the other hand into the flames.

After a moment of intense, agonizing pain and searing brightness, the Avengers find themselves standing in a tight knot beneath an arch of metal and stone. The stone platform on which they now stand leads, up stairs to the left and right, to a larger, stone alcove, where Karzoug the Claimer sits on a throne of gold! Taking in the chamber at a quick glance, the platforms of stone drop a hundred feet or more into a sea of lava. To the right and left, other stone platforms are suspended from columns of red-hot gold which rise form the lava below. On the platforms to the east and west stand glowering Wardens of Thunder, while ahead, but below Karzoug, a massive Warden of Runes stands watch. In front of the Rune Giant, a runewell of molten gold rests atop a raised dias, and an immense green-glass lens is supported on an armature high above it. Karzoug is seated nonchalantly on the throne, but a bejewelled ranseur with a blade sheathed in flames rests beside him. A huge blue dragon coils to his right, like an obedient cat.

Karzoug smiles. “Truly, I am surprised that you have arrived so promptly! Your futile peregrinations have sped my return immeasurably. Your juvenile vandalism of the Leng Device has altered the schedule, but, ultimately, the timeline is not yours to alter!”

He incants a spell and a quartet of blazing meteors streak from the sky, slamming into Ragnar with brutal force, their burning aura scorching most of the Avengers quite badly. He then grips a silver rod with one hand, and his outline blurs slightly. Suddenly, a shield of force protects him and the Avengers find themselves engulfed in a pool of boiling hot tar! A few of the men find their footing readily, but Ragnar and Corvus stagger to their knees in the burning mess. Corvus calls out to the others, “He stopped time! He can stop time for himself!”.

Hikage struggles free from the tar and activates his ioun stone, lifting himself over the tar pool. He frees a potion of haste from his pack and prepares to quaff it. Before the others can react, the Wardens of Thunder unleash their control over the storms. Each of the Storm Giants hurls a coruscating blast of lightning at the Avengers. Though the men weather the blasts, most are wounded to some extent or other. The blue dragon unfurls its wings and swoops over towards them men, unleashing another gout of lightning breath, further wounding the heroes.

Corvus desperately dimension-doors the men to one of the side ledges, seeking to avoid the onslaught of Karzoug and his minons, while Gellius heals the worst of Ragnar’s wounds. The wizard and druid conjure up magical protection from the heat and electricity, while Ragnar drinks a potion of healing himself.

Unfortunately, though his wounds had knitted, they are soon unwoven, as the Rune Giant moves up and unleashes a mighty blow from his sword, battering through Ragnar’s defenses. Hikage drinks his potion and flies towards Karzoug, but before he can reach the Transmuter, Karzoug imprisons his allies in a tomb of ice. Zendo and Corvus are able to leap out of the way before being fully encased in ice, but are still losing vital warmth to the freezing ice that clings to their limbs. Gellius and Ragnar are completely encased in ice nearly two feet thick, and may suffocate before they can freeze to death!

Karzoug again utilizes the small silver rod and stops time, summoning a mass of writhing tendrils around Hikage and transporting himself across the chamber. The storm giants close in on Hikage and Zendo as the monk curses in frustration. The runelord laughs and fells Corvus with a barrage of magic missiles, the wizard dropping a healing potion as he passes out on the floor.

Zendo unleashes a finely modulated Great Shout, injuring the rune giant, but shattering the ice encasing Gellius and Ragnar without injuring either of his comrades at all. He then dashes forward and heals Corvus of the worst of his wounds, restoring the wizard to consciousness. Ragnar slashes his blade at the Rune Giant, but the cold and his wounds numb his limbs, and he fails to land a telling blow against his huge foe.

“We have to retreat!” shouts Corvus. “I think I can get us out of here, Hikage!”.

The monk reluctantly abandons his pursuit of Karzoug, twisting his way out of the black tentacles with the blue dragon snapping at his heels. He attempts a contemptuous kick at the Rune Giant, but is dismayed when the Giant’s immense greave absorbs the force of the blow. Corvus, still laying prone, fumbles a scroll out of his pack and quickly recites the arcane syllables, parting the ways between the worlds and depositing them in the snowy rocks outside the Pinnacle of Avarice, within the Occluding Field that enwraps the heights of Karzoug’s palace.

Comments

A truly humbling encounter…

OK, so THAT's a Runelord!
Butcharthur

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