Rise of the Runelords

Knocking on the Runelord's Door
19 Pharast, 4708

Cautious after their unnerving encounter with the Spiders from Leng, the Avengers resume their long climb up the Golden Stair. While Ragnar helps the unathletic Corvus up the icy golden stairs, Zendo slips and falls, sliding across the unyielding surface and nearly tumbling off the face of Mhar Massif before catching himself on a jagged spur of rock at the last minute. After the half-elf’s close call, the remainder of the perilous climb upward proceeds without incident.

The heroes find the Golden Stair deposits them upon a broad, windswept ledge. Across the ledge are five tall pyramids of ivory hue. Each structure is a squat stone base, square in shape, with a wide, cavernous mouth, but each such base is topped with a pyramidal peak of cut alabaster rising roughly four hundred feet above the ground.

The ledge is terminated on the eastern edge by a narrow triangular fortress. Three slender towers rise from the ledge and the stone above to a height of eight hundred feet, dwarfing the ivory teeth of the ledge beyond. The three towers are connected by thick walls that rise up most of the height of the towers, creating what must be a dark pit of a courtyard, where the sun would scarcely shine save when directly overhead. A single, cyclopean iron door serves as the only visible entrance to the southermost tower from the ledge itself, though a crenelated wall connects the eastern tower with the compound above.

To the east, the broad ledge leads to three immense spires, each rising over twelve hundred feet into the thin air. Each spire is decorated with an intricate facade pierced with hundreds of arches and studded with hundreds of balconies. The three opulent towers surround an inner compound shielded from the wind by a sturdy curtain wall. A winding path, cut from the sheer rock of the Massif itself, winds from the northernmost tower up the face of the mountain, climbing over a thousand feet into the air through numerous switchbacks.

Both the winding path and the curtain wall lead to the most breathtaking structure on Mhar Massif, under the stern stone gaze of Karzoug. Perched atop the sheer face of the mountain, a few low stone buildings form a compound dwarfed by a single, spectacular structure: the Pinnacle of Avarice itself. An immense stone tower perhaps two hundred feet across rises fully two thousand feet into the air before blooming into a single round disk perhaps five hundred feet across. Sixteen slender pillars rise from the ground to support the tower before joining with the disk overhead. Even Ragnar realizes that such an architectural feat is impossible, and the immense structure must be supported almost entirely with powerful, ancient magics.

The men cautiously investigate the nearest alabaster pyramid, but find nothing but signs of long abandonment. No calls of alarm or greeting ring from either the spires to the west or the fort to the east, and, indeed, only the shrill whistling of the everpresent wind can be heard. The men mull entering the lavish compound or the foreboding keep in order to advance to the Pinnacle overhead, but, in the end, the weary Corvus decides the issue by using his magic to step through the dimensions to deposit the Avengers at the foot of the Pinnacle of Avarice.

There, they find that the central tower is composed of massive stone blocks, with only tiny mortared seams between the masonry. The interior of the tower is accessible through any of dozens of fifty foot tall arches that pierce the pinnacle’s base. The howling wind whistles and shrieks through the arches, shifting in pitch and tone as it eddies around the mountain. The heroes enter with trepidation, but find little inside, other than a polished stone circle in the floor, fully two hundred feet across, and a broad ramp that spirals up the interior of the tower. The stone ramp is smoothly sloped, and rises steeply with no rail or bannister, disappearing into the darkness overhead.

The Avengers begin another long clamber upwards, striding up the spiralling ramp as it rises thousands of feet. As they near the top of the tower, they can see that the ramp terminates inside the huge stone disc at the top of the tower. Hikage disengages from the others and quietly ascends by himself to investigate. The monk glides silently across the ramp, but an interior stone curtain prevents him from seeing much further inside. As he nears the top of the ramp, and the end of the interior curtain wall, the monk notes that the stone floor transforms smoothly into a polished checkerboard of highly polished gold and onyx. Everburning torches of ivory inlaid with ruby and encased within sconces of silver and jade provide illumination.

As Hikage rounds the corner of the curtain wall, he silently strolls into the gaze of a watchful Cloud Giant, who raises the alarm with a thunderous cry in Thassilonian. Hikage can see glimpses of a room beyond between the immense figures of three other Cloud Giants who fill the chamber, their massive frames obscuring the vibrant murals of Xin-Shalast upon the walls. Two huge doors of gold and silver, sparkling with gemstones, lay beyond, but the monk beats a hasty retreat to join his comrades.

The heavily armored giants advance towards the party, the lead guard hurling a huge stone which clips Corvus in the arm, badly jarring the wizard. The giants call out eagerly to their foes, anxious to defeat the intruders and gain the approval of their lord Karzoug. They scoff at their tiny foes. However, after a magical hastening from Zendo, Hikage and Ragnar move up to block their large foes in. Hikage’s ki techniques render the nimble monk nearly untouchable by the frustrated giants, though Ragnar’s rusty defensive techniques spoil his own lethal attacks as much as those of the murderous giants.

Gellius’s blasts of lightning, Corvus’s streams of fire, and Zendo’s deafening blasts of sonic energy badly burn and batter the huge giants, and Ragnar’s bloody sword and Hikage’s blisteringly fast (and caustic) fists lay them low, with the final giant being cut down by an unexpected swipe of Gellius’s scimitar. Before the men can rest on their laurels, or heal their wounds, the guilded doors swing wide and a coal-black rune giant appears, bellowing “Who dares disturb the rest of Karzoug the Claimer?!?”

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The Hidden Stairs, a Strange Opponent, and Unlikely Allies
19 Pharast, 4708

After Gellius and Corvus prepare their spells for the day, the Avengers travel cautiously across the breadth of Lower Shalast to the tower near the west wall which Morgiv had told them about. Unlike their previous journeys, the trek across the ancient city is uneventful. Perhaps being scryed upon by a Runelord was not conducive to safe travel!

Within the abandoned tower is little sign of life. Though still largely intact, the massive tower seems desolate and unkempt. Climbing down the spiral staircase into the depths of the structure, the heroes find a wide passage leading upwards in a winding fashion. The stairs are in good condition, protected from the cold and wind outside, and show little sign of use. They are, however, achingly steep, and proceed upward for an interminable distance. The men begin their trek, and find the going monotonous and exhausting. Though they stop to rest several times, there is little rest to be found on the steep, cold stone stairs in the darkness. By the time the men climb to a point where they can see light at the end of the passage, they feel they have climbed a mile or more up the hidden stair, and Corvus is limping from pulled tendons.

As Gellius treats the wizard’s fatigue and muscle strain, Hikage peers out the tunnel-like opening. Outside is a windswept ledge, perched on the edge of the mountain, bordered on all sides by six weathered boulders, with another poised in the center. One one side, the ledge drops off the sheer cliff of Mhar Massif, and, on the other, the Golden Stair is visible, climbing steadily towards the Peaks of Avarice. Once the others are ready, Hikage steps out first, and notices a strange alteration of the central stone, as if a door or crevice in the stone had snapped shut.

The men step out warily, and are aghast when the tall boulder opens a wide, staring eye, then a broad mouth ringed with serrated, triangular fangs. Long tendrils emerge from slits in the stone and whip towards the Avengers!

Ah! At long last, delightful visitors, to converse and devour!, the strange abomination mutters in a deep, Thassilonian tongue.

As the sinewy tendril contact the men, they stick like glue, pulling their victim closer, as a poisonous weakness drains their strength. Hikage leaps at the creature but finds it difficult to strike a vulnerable spot on its rocky hide before he sprints away to a safe range. Ragnar steps towards the stony beast to smite it, but despite its rocky hide, it proves flexible enough to reach past his guard and bite him viciously before his sword cuts chips away from its hide. Neither Corvus nor Gellius recognize the strange beast, but they discover, to their dismay, that it is completely immune to lightning. The creature lashes out with tendrils again, seeking to weaken Ragnar and drag him closer, but his cautious stance fends off the gluey tendrils. Though wary of its sharp teeth, Ragnar’s parry is brushed aside by the creature and it sinks its fangs deep in his flesh. The men are shocked by the amount of blood pouring from the wound A blast of fire proves more efficacious than lightning for Corvus, and Gellius entreats the earth itself to swallow the strange predator. Burned by fire from the wizard and monk, the stony beast calls for parley in Giantish, but Ragnar growls, “Call parley before you sink your fangs in me, devil!” and buries his sword deep in the monster’s single eye, slaying it gruesomely before the earth itself grasps the corpse and drags it down into a stony grave.

After their strange encounter with the unknown being, the men take stock. Gellius uses the Staff of Healing to mend Ragnar’s wounds and restore his strength while Zendo plies his wands and words to treat the lesser wounds of the others. The bard and the mage, though weakened by their encounter with the paralytic fluid on the creature’s tendrils, decide to press onward as is. As the heroes move towards the Golden Stair, they find that the hidden stairs have put them above the palaces and towers of High Shalast. The grand pagodas and mansions of the Upper City now lie below them, but the immense towers and colossal spire of the Pinnacles of Avarice still wait above, under the stony gaze of Runelord Karzoug. Ragnar pulls Corvus aside and straps his own crampons over the wizard’s boots, explaining that the bookish mage may need more than just the Ulfen’s assistance in the arduous climb ahead. ‘Stairs’ they may be, but the Golden Stairs are steep, sized for giants, clad in gold, and coated with a thin rime of ice. A fall on them would, at best, result in a tumble against gold-shod stone, and, at worst, a fall from the steep face of Mhar Massif.

As they make the arduous climb up the Golden Stairs, the men are startled and unnerved to see immense spiders, big as mastodons, clambering over the ice and rocks towards them. The arachnids robust abdomens are dark blue, and their eyes glow sapphire. Each spider has a glowing stone orbiting their fanged, many-eyed heads. The spiders each possess an uneven number of long, serrated limbs, and each twirls a silk-wrapped stone like a bola or flail. The immense spiders stop a safe distance away, and, to the men’s amazement, one calls to them in fluent Taldan:

Opportune bipeds! In recompense for your continued survival, a service is required of you!

The men look askance at each other, and Corvus recalls an old poem written by a Thuvian pesh-addict, which tells of the denizens of nightmarish Leng, and the spiders which waged war upon them unceasing. These must be the fabled Spiders of Leng, though Corvus ruefully admits that, from his memory of the poem, he cannot recall whether they, or the men of Leng, were the villains of the tale. Bravely, Zendo steps forwards and greets the spiders, asking them how the heroes may be of assistance.

Though the Leng Spiders are horrific of appearance, and their manner is cool and dismissive, they speak to the bard forthrightly, so far as Zendo can read their alien psychology. The ‘men’ of Leng, who ape the distressingly symmetrical appearance of the group, have returned to this world to honor an ancient pact with the recrudescent lord. Corvus realizes that the spiders mean the Men of Leng have returned to work with Karzoug. The ‘men’ have returned to repair and activate a device they have fashioned for Karzoug. The device, when operational, would allow the Runelord to bolster his armies and quicken his plans for conquest. The Leng Spiders can offer little details on the operation of this device, as it is irrelevant to their interests, but the destruction of the device, and the demise of the Men from Leng, is pleasing to them. The plans of Karzoug are petty and obscure to the Spiders, but they would find it satisfying to dash the designs of the Men from Leng, particularly since these plans have waited thousands of years to come to fruition.

The spiders require the Avengers (or the bipeds, as they persist in addressing them), to slaughter the Men from Leng, and would view it as ideal if they could also destroy the device, which is housed in the Pinnacle above. Zendo and Corvus admit that their own plans would include the defeat of any allied to Karzoug and the destruction of his machinery of conquest. The spiders offer details of the laughably frail (to them) physiology of the Men from Leng, and their predilection for embracing their foes with their moist appurtenances. They assure the heroes that even their limited sense will be able to discern the Leng device once within the pinnacle, and the spiders allow that they assume the heroes have relieved Karzoug’s lieutenants of the tokens necessary for passage through the field of occlusion. Zendo concurs and agrees to the services required by the Spiders.

When Corvus attempts to press the Leng Spiders for more information, they inquire as to whether any of his limbs may be safely removed to motivate him more expeditiously. The other Avengers take the hint and swiftly climb the stairs away from their erstwhile allies (?) from Leng.

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Revelations and a Rune Giant
18 Pharast 4708

Given the ease with which their ‘camp’ was found, and the ambush by the blue dragon Ghlorofaex, Corvus begins to ponder the cryptic warning of the Revelation Quill. After conferring with his allies, the wizard uses his magical abilities to examine the Sihedron Medallions and realizes that the necklaces have hidden powers, beyond the protection they have offered him and Zendo over the course of their adventures. The Sihedron Medallions allow a Runelord to see the world through the senses of their wearer, and even attempt to take over the wearer’s speech for a limited period. The heroes are appalled to realize that Karzoug may have been scrying on them ever since their early encounters with Nualia Tobyn. Corvus thinks that the Runelord would have to be aware of the bearer, and cognizant that the amulet was being worn, before he could have extended his senses this way. Nualia was certainly a twisted and vengeful foe, but nothing in the Sandpoint Aasimar’s history suggested that she herself was allied to Karzoug. However, the lamia sisters of Xaliasa and Lucretia certainly seemed to be, as they wrote about gathering souls for their master. Karzoug’s knowledge of the Avengers runs long and deep if he has been watching them since the battle in the old Clock Tower of Magnimar! Their friends and relatives may all be known to the awakening Runelord!

The men decide to risk a quick sojourn to the Old Treasury, where Morgiv and the other Spared say that Ghlorofaex has laired for many decades. Removal of the Sihedron Amulets should allow them to travel there unobserved, and, indeed, the careful trek across the ruins of Shalast is much less fraught with peril than their previous explorations. Perhaps Shalast is not fully on a war footing after all, but the Sandpoint Avengers had entered it under the scrutiny of a Runelord.

The heroes approach the massive, but largely ruined old Treasury, and Hikage, donning his ring of Invisibility, creeps closer to investigate. The monk is startled by the appearance of a huge, blue-skinned giant within the building, and inadvertently scrapes a foot across a loose stone. The giant, alerted by the noise, does not see Hikage, but bellows a warning at the sight of the other Avengers nearby. Gellius threatens the giant, declaring that “We defeated the dragon!” The giantess, unphased, replies that she knows.

Corvus discovers that Storm Giants are immune to lightning by the experimental method, as his wand proves ineffectual against the huge guard. The same cannot be said for the Avengers, as the angered giant unleashes a storm of lightning bolts against them, burning several of them.

Gellius summons massive spears of ice which slice the giant, and topple her to the ground, where she is easy prey for Hikage and Ragnar. However, the giantess is not alone, and other giants begin emerging from within the stone blockhouse. Wizardly fire, monkish acid, and Ragnar’s helm, which spits a gout of icy breath, quickly account for another of the storm giants, and the druid and bard soon neutralize the third, Zendo incapacitating her with magical nausea while Gellius summons a magma elemental to batter her to death.

The elemental is useful in restraining the gravest foe of all, a Rune Giant which commands the others. Hikage is wary to approach the immense giant, choosing to channel his ki to strike it, while Ragnar braves the massive longsword of his foe to join the Magma Elemental in defeating the belligerent titan. The giants’ immense weapons and armor prove of little use, but the Rune Giant’s Sihedron ring provides each of the Avengers with one of these dubious boons.

Having made quick work of their huge foes, the men explore the Treasury and are puzzled to find it largely empty, save for the clear signs of draconic inhabitation. Most of the rooms, though shielded by heavy stone doors, show no sign of use or habitation. The men are relived to find the dragon’s treasure secure behind another stone door, in the remains of a collapsed hallway. In addition to meticulously piled gold, silver, and copper, the men find a golden coffer containing fine gems, a silver bracelet, a jade comb, and red silk gloves within a glass case. Masterwork mithral half-plate, a fine breastplate, and enchanted banded armor all rest on display racks. More immediately useful is a wand of lightning bolts and a leather bag full of potions, which, although frozen, still retain their magic. Most are potions of healing, but one contains a concoction to boost the wisdom of the imbiber. An unfrozen flask proves to be magical oil which temporarily enchants armor, and a bejeweled ivory scroll tube contains not only a scroll of foresight and another of mass heal, but also a ring of evasion and a rod of extending magical spells.

Unsatisfied by the abandoned building, Hikage retraces his steps and searches the raised dias at the north-west corner of the room, finding a cunningly hidden secret door which leads to a hidden tunnel exiting the building. As the door and tunnel are human-sized, the men reason that the giants were unaware of them, and Corvus creates the entrance to his magical mansion within the confines of the escape tunnel, allowing the Avengers to rest and heal, in preparation for scaling the heights of Mhar Massif on the morrow.

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Lamia lurkers and Draconic Ambush!
Pharast 18, 4708

After their encounters with the Hidden Beast, the Rune and Cloud Giants, and the sinister Scarlet Walkers, the Avengers have had their fill of exploring the ‘deserted’ city of Shalast and take refuge in Corvus’s magical mansion. They scout out a deserted, unassuming ruin and shelter there, entering the magical portal inside the tumble-down stone hall, concealing themselves from prying eyes.

After a period of rest within the mansion, the men emerge and make their preparations for the day. Gellius wards them from the biting cold and thin air of Xin-Shalast and Corvus plies his wand to bolster their life force. Donning his ring of invisibility, Hikage steps out of the ruined building to check his surroundings and is startled to see a hideously obese, lion-like lamia sprawled on the pavement nearby. The corpulent creature is so massively bloated that its limbs are almost concealed in the folds of fat and flesh, and the normally humanoid torso that rests upon a lamia’s leonine lower half is marred by a grotesquely distended jaw that rests on the creature’s flabby chest. Lamias of the leonine sort are normally huge and impressive, but this gluttonous monstrosity is impressive only for its mass.

The morbidly obese creature does not seem to sense Hikage, however, and he carefully creeps down the street past the creature. The monk sees two other lamia, serpent-like, rather than leonine, apparently hiding in wait to ambush the group. These serpentine lamia, in form much like Lucretia and her sister, Xanesha, wield twin scimitars, but also seem not to sense the invisible monk. Through the magic of Zendo’s spells, Hikage is able to whisper a warning to his comrades, and Corvus attempts to peer out the door to identify the bloated creature.

The wizard’s effort at stealth is in vain, however, and the obese monster drags its fat carcass across the cobblestones towards the Avenger’s lair. It burbles to the wizard, attempting to charm him into emerging and approaching, but Corvus recognizes the true menace of the grotesque freak. It is a lamia hungerer, eternally cursed by Lamashtu with an insatiable hunger. Instead of the sleek, predatory grace of a normal lamia, the hungerer suffers an appetite that can never be filled, but that same curse endows the hungerer with jaws that can crush stone and teeth that can shear steel. Regardless of their pathetic, clumsy exterior, the hungerer retains the cunning and magical prowess of all lamia.

Resisting the spell, Corvus summons a powerful disintegration magic and casts it forcefully, seeking to overwhelm the magical resistance of all lamia-kin. Corvus stammers on the spell, but masters his casting, and unleashes it successfully. To the amazement of his allies, and the chagrin of the other lamia, Corvus’s spell coruscates across the blubbery behemoth and disintegrates it utterly! Only a pall of dust and a glinting magical ring are left behind!

The other Avengers swiftly emerge from hiding to assault the remaining Lamia. Blasts of fire and balls of lightning rain down upon them, while Hikage swiftly disarms the nearest enemy and finishes her off with a flurry of strikes. Ragnar charges the other lamia and nearly kills her with a transverse slash of his sword, but the serpent-bodied woman slashes him with her sword before she is slain by a blast of fire from Corvus’s wand. The ‘lesser’ lamia bear swords of minor enchantment, but Corvus identifies the ring worn by the hungerer as another Sihedron Ring.

As the dust clears, Morgiv calls to the Avengers. He is pathetically apologetic. He and the other Spared attempt to watch over the Avengers in Shalast, but when the Avengers made their camp, the lamia approached the area directly. He was unable to contact the heroes while they were ensconced in their magical mansion, and the presence of the lamias meant that he could not approach and enter the portal himself.

A great deal of lamia dwell in and about the House of Divine Consumption, with ‘common’ lamia (those with lion-bodies) and ‘matriarchs’ (those with serpentine torsos) dwelling within the walls, and lamias which are disfavored, such as the cursed hungerers and the malformed kuchrima, lairing in the rubble and ruins thereabout. Something has agitated all of the lamia-kin around the House of Divine Consumption, and Morgiv fears for the safely of the Avengers if they approach it too closely. However, he also brings better news.

The Spared have identified a tunnel, hidden in an old tower in the north-east corner of Shalast, which appears to wend upwards, potentially linking lower Shalast with Upper Shalast. That tunnel might allow the Avengers to approach the upper city without traversing the Golden Stairs in plain view. However, the Spared are wary of the tunnel, as it appears in good repair, but abandoned. The Golden Stair is sized for giants, and arduous to ascend, even for them. The tunnel seems much less steep and perilous, but appears to see little use. Morgiv fears that it may harbor some unseen menace or trap.

The Spared have also pooled their resources in an effort to reward their liberators. Morgiv presents the Avengers with a small leather bag. The inauspicious seeming bag actually contains far more within than without, and several potent scrolls of healing and restoration are within, including a powerful scroll which can restore even those long dead to life! Hikage thanks Morgiv with a deep bow, and the other Avengers show their gratitude as well.

Wary of approaching the House of Divine Consumption, given Morgiv’s warning, the Avengers cut across the eclectic architecture of the Temple District to investigate the hidden passage located by the Spared. As they make their way down a promenade flanked by extravagant, if dilapidated temples, Hikage and Zendo hear a disturbance in the howling winds, prompting both to look around warily, and prepare for attack.

Suddenly, behind them, an immense blue dragon appears from thin air, shedding the invisibility that cloaked its approach. “”/characters/ghlorofaex" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ghlorofaex is upon you!", it roars in Taldan, before unleashing a bolt of lightning that burns and blasts Zendo, Ragnar, and Corvus.

The men wait for only a second to receive spells of haste from Zendo and protection from lightning from Gellius, before scattering to avoid the deadly lightning again. Hikage, too far from the others, receives no such protection, but harnesses his ki to protect him. The blue dragon soars lazily overhead and casts a fireball at Gellius and Corvus, burning them both!

Hikage moves around, trying to position himself to attack the dragon with his own draconic ki, but the huge beast flies too high overhead. Gellius summons razored discs of adamantine and slams them into Ghlorofaex, cutting the dragon’s leathery wings. Thus provoked, the dragon casts a spell that threatens to encase the druid in an icy prison. Though Gellius avoids the worst of the blast, the druid is immobilized by ice that wreathes his legs and saps his warmth. Wary of provoking another attack, Corvus takes cover and bestows flight upon Ragnar, before warning Zendo of the dragon’s immunity to paralysis. Thus forewarned, Zendo blasts Ghlorofaex with deafening bolts of sound, injuring the dragon and deafening it as well, though the bard finds it difficult to cast the spell without stammering. Hikage maneuvers fruitlessly on the ground as Ragnar slowly climbs into the air, the bulky Ulfen not as fast as the huge dragon or as nimble as Zendo’s winged boots.

Gellius summons a mighty roc to fight the dragon, as Corvus conjures of a cloud of flames to burn it and confuse it. Ghlorofaex seems to have some magical protection from fire however, and ignores the wizard’s attacks, instead circling and dropping in the air, casting a powerful spell to transform the druid into a duck! However, the ringing in his ears spoils Ghlorofaex’s incantation, leaving the druid unaltered.

Zendo blasts the dragon with songbolts again once again overcoming a momentary lapse of concentration, as the spell-resistant hide of the creature is no protection from them, and Gellius’s roc tears into the dragon with beak and claws. Though the roc’s attacks are deadly, they are nothing compared to the fury of the dragon, and Ghlorofaex tears apart the immense raptor with fangs and claws, sending it falling to the ground, lifeless.

The Roc has slowed down the dragon, however, giving Hikage the opportunity to sprint up the stairs of a nearby temple and fling himself from the parapets, attempting to find purchase on the back of Ghlorofaex. The monk’s heroic leap into space, however, ends ignominiously, as he cannot find purchase on the jagged, electrified scales of the huge dragon and he falls onto the coppery pyramid below.

As the dragon has flown with ease across the landscape, raining down lightning and spells, Ragnar has been forced to slowly follow, steadily gaining altitude until he is in a superior position. Now, the Ulfen’s steady pursuit bears deadly fruit. Ragnar dives down at Glorofaex, unleashing his sword in a deadly arc.

The dragon’s keen senses do not allow the Ulfen to approach unnoticed, and Glorofaex savages Ragnar with a murderous bite from his tremendous jaws. The grievous wound, however, is a grim price willingly paid by Ragnar to allow him to close on his foe. With a dolorous stroke, Ragnar’s greatsword licks out and severs Ghlorofaex’s horned head from his body, ending the threat of the great dragon forever.

As Ghlorofaex slams into the pyramid below, the men gather to bask in the healing power of Zendo’s magical ‘bardic accompaniment’. While their wounds knit, Ragnar and Corvus search the huge dragon’s carcass, finding two magical rings fitted to his claws. One, claimed by Ragnar, gives the wearer great protection from cold, while the other is another of the Sihedron rings, identical to those worn by the Hidden Beast, the hungerer, and the ice devil.

As Zendo and Gellius tend his wounds, Ragnar muses, “I don’t mean to seem mercenary, but don’t dragons usually have a lair?”. Corvus prepares to cut a hank of skin from the dragon’s corpse, in order to utilize one of his more macabre necromantic spells to locate Ghlorofaex’s demense.

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Cloud Giants and Scarlet Spiders, Man!
Pharast 17, 4708

As the Avengers move through the streets of the Jotunburg district of Shalast, the immense buildings and broad avenues make it difficult to avoid the notice of the looming Shahlaria, the fortress of the soldier-giants of Shalast. The men hug the walls of the crumbling buildings, and use the elevated causeways connecting to the Golden Road to mask their advance as much as possible. Navigating through a narrow (for giants) road, the Avengers are alerted by the echoing calls of the Spared to the advance of an enemy.

Hikage quickly moves out to scout, and sees several huge, pale-skinned giants advancing towards the group. They are armed and armored in similar fashion to the giants the men encountered on the Golden Road outside the city, each wielding a bronze morningstar oversized even for their huge hands. As the other Avengers move up into position, the giants spot them and take action.

One of the giants summons a billowing cloud of fog between the Avengers and the giants, spoiling the aim of Corvus and Gellius, while another giant summons a second cloud of fog directly around the other giants, wreathing them in shrouds of mist. Some of the giants advance in the cover of the fog, their heavy footfalls thudding against the cobblestones.

Hikage and Ragnar advance, while Corvus holds back as Gellius retrieves his fog-cutting lenses. Zendo inspires the others with a stirring battlecry, and Hikage summons his ki to burn the giants. The lead giant swings his morningstar to smash Ragnar, but his glancing blow does little to stop the murderous advance of the Ulfen, who slays the impetuous giant with a single deadly stroke of his greatsword. Soon, the Ulfen is among his foes, who prepare to beat him lifeless.

The timely intervention of the fire wizard, Corvus, changes the equation. Using the lenses to pierce the fog, Corvus burns off the heavy mist with an incandescent fireball, also injuring the giants severely. Before he casts the spell, Corvus stumbles over the words a bit, strange, given his familiarity with the incantations for a fireball. Hikage’s ‘dragon breath’ finishes off several of the giants, and the others, who fail to capitalize on their opportunity to kill Ragnar, are sliced apart by his bloody sword.

The cloud giants are ended before they can retreat, and a quick search of their bodies turns up little aught the immense weapons too big and bulky to carry as loot. The Avengers quickly bind wounds, largely Ragnar’s, and advance towards the House of Divine Consumption, eager to avoid any further guards the battle might have alerted.

As the men move cautiously under the shadow of the Shalaria itself, they are forced to cross under one of the immense causeways that connects the giant fortress with the Road of Gold overhead. The causeway looms several hundred feet overhead, and the wide road, with its stout supporting arches, casts the buildings underneath in shadow. As Hikage scouts out a passage across the shadowy expanse, he is startled to see two immense, crimson spider-like beings!

The ghastly creatures seem to be huge spiders with sharp pincers on their foremost, attenuated limbs. Their faces, however, appear a horrible mixture of skull and spider, with long, sinuous tendrils waving about where a spider’s mandibles would be. The creatures hang in midair, standing on the air itself as if it were solid ground, and a screeching, raspy voice sounds in the minds of the Avengers:

You are the interlopers who injured our companion, Gamigin. Your assault has provoked him to depart. Our displeasure requires your death.

The strange scarlet spiders advance, using their mind magics in an attempt to confuse Hikage and Ragnar, who fight off the maddening compulsions. However, the spiders have other abilities, which Hikage and Ragnar learn first hand. As the two men near the spindly creatures, stinging tears of blood well up in their eyes! Hikage and Ragnar fight off the painful sensations for the most part, but the red arachnids seem to be able to draw blood directly from the bodies of their enemies, pulling it through the air and into the eyelike pits on their faces!

Their claws are wickedly sharp and strong, despite being attached to such long, slender limbs, and the wounds they cause bleed profusely, with that blood, too, being pulled through the air towards the spiders. The beings long tentacles, however, are coated with a numbing poison, which threatens to paralyze those foolish enough to combat them.

Gellius summons a huge air elemental to fight the spiders, as it is immune to blood loss, not having any blood, and paralysis, while Zendo and Corvus wrack their brains to identify the foe. Corvus’s concentration on the mystery proves to be his undoing, as the spiders invade his mind and confuse the wizard. He turns and unleashes his wand of lightning directly at Zendo. The bard, taken by surprise, takes the full force of the blast, and the lightning scorches a deep burn into the enchanted darkwood buckler he wears. Aghast at the possibility of the wizard unleashing more spells against his allies, Gellius leaves his elemental to the fight and dispels the magical confusion plaguing his friend.

While Hikage summons his ki to smite the spiders, he struggles to penetrate their resistance to magic, and Ragnar, reduced to using his bow against the air-walking monsters, does little damage to them. However, Zendo realizes what the creatures are, from his discussion with the nymph Svevenka! These are scarlet walkers, blood-drinking fiends from the nightmare dimension of Leng! The strangely erudite monstrosities feed on blood like fine wines, and toy with the minds of their foes. Zendo also retrieves a crucial piece of information: scarlet walkers hate and fear lightning!

Thus educated, Gellius turns and unleashes a massive blast of lightning against the walkers, exterminating one utterly. When he taunts the other walker, it replies:

You overestimate my attachment to my companion. Gamigin was a sparkling conversationalist, but my comrade was drearily pedantic. He shall not be missed.

However, the scarlet walker underestimated Gellius’s own companions. Corvus and Hikage both blast the remaining creature with bolts of lightning, slaying it as well. Given that the men have just unleashed three crackling bolts of lightning directly under the Shalaria’s causeway, the Avengers quickly flee the scene, not even taking time to bind wounds, to avoid the attention of Shalast’s giant police force.

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Devils and the Giant
17 Pharast, 4708

As Morgiv breathlessly chatters on to his saviors about Lower Xin-Shalast, he leads them through the warrens and tunnels under the city back to the surface. When the Avengers suggest that the Spared might be able to lead them to tunnels leading up to the Upper City, Morgiv is apologetic.

High Shalast has been unapproachable by the slaves since time immemorial. Even after the cataclysm that befell Shalast, the arcane barriers that separate it from Low Shalast have remained in place. The Spared have made no effort to establish hidden routes to the Upper City, as it remains a place of blinding pain and inexorable death.

Within Lower Shalast, the Spared have spent thousands of years carefully eking out a furtive existence. The small size of the tunnels below Shalast are one of the things that protects them from discovery by the great Lamias and giants, but the disjointed nature of their warrens does so as well. Even when an insidious evil like the Hidden Beast had wormed its way into their domains, the fragmentary nature of the tunnels meant that his thralls were unable to move freely in the darkness underground. Morgiv can lead them through tunnels which wend throughout the city, but those passages were never linked to allow swift transit to places on the surface, but rather, to provide ample living space without contact to the dangerous city above.

He leads them up a sloping stone passage, the remains of a ground floor which has long ago collapsed, and the men squeeze through a narrow gap, created when the level above collapsed. The dark chamber has no doors or windows, as a long-cooled lava flow has engulfed most of the lower level, but Morgiv points out a crack in the wall created by the building’s collapse. Hikage dons the decapus’ ring of invisibility and emerges into the sunlight to scout out the terrain.

He finds himself in a broad street, fronted on either side by huge buildings. The building to the left is an immense hexagonal structure, with giant-sized steps leading up to a pair of ten-foot wide doors. To his right, a smaller, though still huge, building has three sets of alcoves. Two smaller pairs of alcoves shelter narrow columns of bronze, while the larger, deeper alcove is cluttered with the shattered remains of narrow columns of jade. A collapsed obelisk blocks most of the road ahead, though the broad thoroughfare to the west is open past the point of the obelisk. A humanoid statue, weathered beyond recognition, lies in the middle of the road, having evidently been dislodged from the roof of the porticoed structure in centuries past. A narrow alley to his right is blocked by the crumbling, grainy remains of the ancient volcanic eruption.

Though Hikage moves around cautiously, he can see no visible threat, and, using Zendo’s magics, communicates this to the others. They emerge cautiously into the sunlight themselves, making their way around the fallen statue. Hikage hears a faint, incongruous sound to his right, and warns the others. No sooner than he has done so, two ogre-sized monsters appear from thin air! Each is composed of sinewy flesh that resembles bone, and both resemble human skeletons with tattered batwings and long, scorpion-like tails. Corvus recognizes them as bone devils, summoned from Hell itself!

One of the devils conjures a wall of ice across the street, blocking passage save for a narrow exit to the right. The other conjures a green energy into its bony grasp and hurls it at Corvus. As the arcane forces wash across the wizard, he realizes that the devil has locked him to this dimension, preventing him from teleporting even the shortest of distances. Though Hikage is focused on these fiendish foes, he cannot avoid hearing a faint clatter, as of boot on stone, in the alcove opposite. A third foe must rest there unseen!

Though the bone devils possess a powerful poison within their scorpion tails, and a disconcerting immunity to fire, the two fiends are no match for the Avengers. The bone devils cloak themselves in invisibility to evade the heroes, but are ultimately no match for the five men.

However, the true threat emerges from the alcove of jade pillars. A towering fiend, resembling nothing more so than a bipedal praying mantis, shifts into view as it summons a pounding storm of ice, battering Corvus, Gellius, and Zendo with hail and cold. Ragnar moves to engage their enemy, identified by Corvus as an Ice Devil, or Gelugon, as it regards them with multifaceted insectile eyes set in an inscrutable mask of blue-white carapace. The last of the bone devils flings itself into Ragnar’s path, sacrificing its life for what is now confirmed to be its master.

Harried by the spells of Corvus and Gellius, the ice devil teleports towards them, avoiding the fists and blade of Hikage and Ragnar, to their frustration, and blasts the wizard and druid with a cone of pure cold as Gellius summons a Fire Giant to protect them. When Ragnar steps up to engage the Ice Devil, it rakes a freezing cold trident across his body, but the Ulfen shakes off the numbing cold. Cornered by the Avengers, the ice devil fights resolutely, but cannot stop the relentless onslaught of spell and blade.

However, the devil’s crushed body continues to knit itself together. Even the hottest flames and the stoutest blows from the Fire Giant do not stop the horrid reweaving of its flesh. Finally, Corvus attempts to banish the devil back to the Nine Hells, but he falters. He almost stumbles in the incantation, and the magic itself washes over the infernal ‘soul-stuff’ of the ice devil with no effect. Unable to stop the ice devil’s corpse from knitting back together, the men leave the Fire Giant here with instructions to bludgeon the corpse into fragments, as they quickly move on, hoping to escape the attentions of the fiend upon its return.

Ragnar seizes the devil’s icy spear as loot, and Hikage pries a second of the Sihedron rings from one of the fiend’s segmented fingers before they move on.

As the Avengers move cautiously through the vacant city of Xin-Shalast, they proceed steadily to the north, towards the House of Divine Consumption, and, eventually, the golden road to the Upper City. As they near the spur of rock that holds the Shalaria, the men notice the immense buildings assuming even larger dimensions. The structures themselves have not become more gigantic, but the proportions of the buildings have lost all connection to human scale. They seem to be in a quarter of the city sized entirely for giants, designed and constructed solely for beings of a grander scale than men. The echoing hoots of the Spared disorient the heroes for a moment until they realize that their hidden allies are warning them of peril!

At a huge crossroads, the men can hear the thunderous footsteps of an approaching giant, but are unprepared for what emerges into view. A gargantuan giant, towering over all the frost giants and stone giants they have defeated, rounds the corner. His skin is coarse and black like rough iron, and many Thassilonian runes glow dully from his skin. He has a topknot of red hair, and deep-set eyes that glow like his runes. Curved tusks protrude from his mouth, and the giant is clad in ornate armor reminiscent of Tien design. He clutches a massive hooked sword pierced by rings larger than manacles.

“Intruders to the City!”, he bellows, in deep, accented Taldan. “Your presence is forbidden, and merits only death!”

Taken aback by the towering, terrifying giant, the men do not rush into battle. Corvus quickly catches the Rune Giant off guard with a spell of suffocation. Though the immense warrior is not slain by the spell, the powerful magic staggers the monster, giving the others a space in which to act.

Ragnar clasps his drinking horn and sups deeply from the magical draught within, fortifying himself and swelling in size and power until he resembles a frost giant himself. Zendo casts magics upon his allies as Corvus turns invisible and moves to catch the giant in an enfilading fire. Gellius bravely steps forward and summons the wrath of Gozreh. The druid is surrounded by a coruscating wreath of lightning, which crackles through the air and shatters the flagstones.

“Fool!”, bellows the Rune Giant, “I command the thunderstorm!” It is unharmed by the lightning entirely.

Corvus launches molten rays of fire at the Rune Giant from the safely of his invisibility. The giant mocks him, “Magma flows in my veins, little man!”. The runes on its skin glow briefly, and the giant turns to look directly at Corvus. “You cannot hide from me, trespasser!”.

Zendo, after summoning a magical replica of himself to further augment the Avengers, intones a mournful dirge to panic the giant, but it seems resolved for the fight. Gellius intones a prayer to Gozreh and massive spears of ice erupt from the flagstones. Though the sharp ice scrapes the Rune Giant’s legs, the numbing cold has no effect on him, and he bellows once more:

“I was born of the glacier, interloper! It holds no threat to me!”. As Ragnar approaches it, sword drawn, the Giant squints, focusing its attention. A rune on his coal-dark skin erupts in sparks and flames. Ragnar and Gellius dodge aside frantically, and dodge the worst of the sparking explosion of molten metal. They pat the embers from their clothes as Hikage summons his ki and blasts the Rune Giant with a torrent of draconic acid.

“Not immune to acid, are you?”, he wryly notes.

Gellius conjures up spinning, bladed discs of pure adamantium and slams them into the Giant’s midriff. “Not immune to this either, it seem.”. As the Rune Giant doubles over in pain, the last disc catches him in the forehead, drawing a deep cut across his brow.

Before Ragnar can even unleash a stroke, Gellius intones a powerful incantation, though he falters for a moment in doing so, and the Rune Giant, surprised by the onslaught, cannot resist the magic. It turns into an immense stone statue. “Better break that up now, Ragnar,” Corvus advises, “He’ll only be stone for a few hours.” Ragnar scorns assaulting a defenseless foe, but the practical Hikage, certain that the Rune Giant would not afford them any such respect, shatters the immense statue into pieces with hammer fist strikes.

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Confronting the Hidden Beast
Pharast 17, 4708

In the morning, the Avengers make ready to confront the Hidden Beast, which they are confident is some sort of vampire. After readying spells and prayers, the men remove the Revelation Quill from its case and Hikage sets the ancient stylus to parchment.

Foes unseen and beasts unrevealed pale beside the constructed doom weighted round your necks like a millstone.

This is not the sort of useful information that the heroes were hoping for about the confrontation, but with Morgiv in the lead, they press forward. The trepidatious skulk leads them through wending passages under Shalast, moving between collapsed buildings, constructed basements, and long lava tubes quietly and carefully. Morgiv stops short at a seemingly innocuous tunnel and points forward hesitantly. He whispers to Zendo in Thassilonian:

“Beyond is the domain of the Hidden Beast. It is not safe. The Spared do not return, or if they return, they have been changed. The prophecy says that the Wandering Strangers shall free us. I will wait for you here and trust in fate.”

The Avengers move on, single file, through the ancient, winding lava tube. Hikage, with his obsidian wayfinder, leads the way, peering through the darkness, as the others move in the light of Corvus’s ioun torch. Eventually, the monk sees the tunnel broaden out into a larger chamber. He stops the others and ventures forth to peer into the room. It appears to be some basement gallery, buried under the weight of the collapsed city above. To the left is a raised balcony with a stone balustrade, accessible by two stone stairways. Pillrs along the perimeter rise to a vaulted ceiling, while in the center of the room is a low dais holding an ornate throne. Seated upon the throne is a skeletal humanoid figure shrouded in musty robes covered with arcane symbols.

Hikage’s darkvision can penetrate no further into the room, but he is startled when a grave, dry voice hisses at him in Thassilonian. He hesitates on the threshold as the others prepare protective spells behind him in the tunnels. Then, a ray of black light flashes out at him from the throne! He narrowly dodges the beam, and springs forward to strike down the bony corpse which curses at him from its throne. When the monk strikes the seated figure, it collapses in a heap of bones and dust, a jawbone clattering across the room into the darkness. Hikage realizes the nature of the trap, as vampiric Spared peel away from their hiding places on the walls to menace him.

Ragnar joins Hikage near the dias as Gellius, Zendo, and Corvus remain near the tunnel. The skulks leap forward menacingly, slashing with their sharp daggers. One lands a lucky cut across Hikage’s torso, the wound bleeding freely, though their aura of unlife is the most damaging to the monk. Gellius steps forward to help the monk as Ragnar cuts down one of the skulks with a overhead chop, leaving it lifeless on the floor.

Gellius’s wand of healing cannot penetrate Hikage’s spell-resistant aura, but the monk bravely steps forward and lays about him with fists and feet, disarming two skulks and leaving a third sprawled on the floor. Suddenly, a hideous apparition appears at the other end of the room!

Resembling a greenish octopus with a maw of thin, needle-like teeth, the strange creature is the size of an ogre! Some of its ten tentacles pull it across the floor, while others wave menacingly. Its gestures cause skeletal arms to erupt from the stone floor, grasping at the heroes and tearing at their flesh! Hikage dodges the flailing limbs, but the other Avengers are rent by the bony claws. Corvus recognizes the strange beast as some sort of decapus. The ‘cave octopus’ is a rarely seen ambush predator, known to hunt in the Underdark, but this aberration is much larger! It is surrounded by a blurry aura, making it hard to see clearly.

The decapus hisses at them in Thassilonian, urging the Avengers to throw down their arms and serve him here in Thassilon. The skulks continue to harry the Avengers, and Gellius’s warning about vampires brings an unwelcome fact to Hikage’s attention. The skulks are healing from their wounds, even those lying seemingly dead upon the floor. Zendo moves to put one down, but his rapier is ineffectual agains the dead flesh. Ragnar slays it and moves to threaten the “Beast”. Hikage unleashes a blast of dragon’s breath that burns the decapus, as well as several of its vampiric minions, and retreats to the balcony when the menacing Beast unleashes a phantasmal killer at his mind, which penetrates his magical resistance, but founders against his iron will. Corvus’s scorching rays, launched from his wand, burn several of the vampiric minions, but Zendo’s song bolts, though cast unerringly, pass harmlessly through the magical aura around the Beast, though one does succeed in ringing against its dry, scaly hide.

The decapus stares deeply into Ragnar’s eyes and the Ulfen suddenly turns and strikes at Corvus with his greatsword, giving the wizard a vicious cut. Corvus, unable to survive another strike such as that, dispels the magic dominating Ragnar’s mind, but the decapus twists a ring on one of its tentacles and disappears from view. Corvus uses his magic to reveal the decapus to his eyes, and guides the others. He unleashes a devastating ray of disintegration at the creature only he can see, but the wavering aura of displacement spoils his aim entirely.

Though Gellius cannot see the vampiric creature, he conjures a serpent of flame, burning down the last of the vampiric skulks, and sends the flaming coils across the area, burning the Hidden Beast. Ragnar steps forward, slashing his sword around, and clips the decapus with one swing, but otherwise slashes at the air. Zendo heals Hikage, and the monk and the wizard both unleash powerful gouts of dragon’s breath at the suspected location of the decapus.

Though invisible, the decapus is an ambush predator, and cannot move quickly to avoid its fate. The scorching gouts of acid and fire wash over it and consume its undead flesh. Its ghastly form is revealed in death, smoking and blistered. The men assure themselves it is truly dead, and loot the bizarre corpse. They find the ring of invisibility which caused them so much irritation, and a plain golden band, engraved with a simple sihedron rune. The vampiric skulks were all equipped with vicious magical daggers, and enchanted bows, as well as simple rings of protection. Corvus, despite the pain of his injuries, is able to identify the golden Sihedron ring as a powerful protective item, which wards the wearer from attacks, spells, and other injuries, as well as extremes of temperature. It can further alter the appearance of their garments, though the change is merely an illusion and does not affect the properties of armor.

After tending to their wounds as best as able, the men trace back their footsteps to find the anxious Morgiv. Though he is first cautious that his ‘saviors’ may be under the control of the Hidden Beast, it is easy to convince Morgiv that the Avengers were successful, as his faith in the prophecy is strong. Morgiv is abjectly grateful, and assures the men that he will spread the word of their deeds, and the fulfillment of Mesmina’s prophecy, to the other Spared as well. The Spared know the city intimately, and will watch over the heroes as they explore Shalast, warning them of danger or enemies.

As Morgiv and his brethren are so knowledgeable about the city, the Avengers question him at length about the layout of Shalast. The skulk eagerly shares his wealth of knowledge and folkore with his saviours, sketching out a rough map of the city on the tiles of an underground chamber.

To the north is the Tangle. It is an immense jungle within the ruined city, and the skulks avoid it. Weird cries emerge from it at night, and even an expedition by the giants, led by the lamia, disappeared into the jungle and did not return. The lush, tangled greenery is intimidating to the Spared, and seems to change from day to day, making them reluctant to explore it.

As the Lower City turns toward the mountain, past the tangle, is the Heptaric Locus and Vomarck’s Circus. The Locus is a massive covered arena and amphitheatre on a foundation shaped like a Sihedron. It is covered with a crystal dome and illuminated with magical spells. The Spared shun it, not only because of the bright illumination, but because many of the slaves were brought here to the coliseum to die in gladiatorial fights. However, despite the good condition of the Locus, the giants and lamia shun it as well, for reasons that Morgiv does not understand.

Vomarck’s Circus is an immense racetrack and amphitheater, capable of seating a quarter-million spectators. It has always been a place of dread to the Spared, both since it is entirely open to the sky, and because the Tangle has slowly expanded to claim the southern portion. The vines and creepers have consumed the massive walls over the many years.

To the north of the Circus and Locus is the Spolarium. These buildings were used as crematoriums for the dead of the games, and the city’s dead as well. No one dwells here, but restless spirits roam the halls, as well as terrifying burning corpses.

The valley narrows as it passes the Heptaric Locus, and overlooking the valley on the western wall is the Shahlaria. This fortress rises over the northern edge of Jotunburg, or the Giant’s quarter, and the majority of the cloud and storm giants who dwell in Shalast live here. They are overseen by the Wardens of Wind and Thunder, who are called to serve in the Pinnacles in the mountain. Even the mighty Wardens fear their Rune Giant overlords, who descend from the Upper City on occasion.

Past the Shahlaria is the huge House of Divine Consumption. The high priestess of the temple, called the Most High, has always been a lamia harridan, and her word is law, save for Karzoug or his retainers. Most High Ceoptra has not lived in the temple for years, dwelling in the Pinnacles above, but many of Xin-Shalast’s lamia-kin dwell within, or in the surrounding ruins, if they are out of favor. Of course, the Spared avoid this area studiously, as the lamia are known to crave manflesh, particularly the accursed hungerers.

The Temple of the Sihedron lies to the west of the House of Divine Consumption. This ziggurat devoted to Lissala has declined over the many long years. The ziggurat is partially collapsed, and none have reoccupied it after the fall of Shalast. Morgiv says that growls echo through the chambers, and shadows reveal beasts around the corners. Simply entering the temple gives one the sensation that you are being stalked, and several of the Spared who explored the temple were only found as smears of flesh on the walls, recognized only by their gear.

The stone blockhouse near the northern wall of Lower Shalast once housed the tax collectors, but fire and ash claimed the building, leaving behind little but partially collapsed ruins. Morgiv says that five generations ago, a huge blue dragon entered the city. It has dwelled there ever since, exploring the ruins (to the terror of the Spared) and returning here to lair. Though it does not seem to serve Karzoug like the lamia and giants who pass back and forth between Lower and Upper Shalast, it has some accord with them and flies over the city, and even to the Pinnacles above, without disruption. The open spaces of Xin-Shalast make the Spared nervous in the best of times, but five generations of watching the skies for the dragon overhead has made Morgiv and his people positively agoraphobic.

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The Spared and the Ancient Prophecy
Pharast 16, 4708

The yeti emerge from crevices within the pile of rubble and drive themselves into a screaming, berserk fury. As they break from cover, Gellius sends a swarm of ball lightning to shock the nearest ones. A yeti charges Zendo and Hikage, clawing at the bard and chilling him with the intense cold surrounding his fur.

HIkage wraps his limbs in flame and trips the yeti, beating him brutally with flaming fists, but suffering frostbite on his arms and legs as the yeti’s unnatural cold aura drains the warmth from his body.

Corvus unleashes an impressive new spell, summoning a blisteringly hot wall of lava to shield the men from the charging yeti, as Zendo retreats from the melee and lends magical speed to his comrades. The others are surprised as Ragnar is suddenly sheathed in flames! The Ulfen has unleashed the fires from the Mark of Wrath, and he moves to the opposite end of the lava wall to cut off the yetis. He readies his greatsword, as Gellius wards the others from cold, save for the magic-resistant monk.

The yeti who charges Ragnar meets an untimely demise. Not only does the Ulfen smite him with a grievous, burning wound before the creature can claw him, but Corvus reveals a hidden facet of his new spell, as the wall of lava erupts and magma engulfs the yeti, immolating it!

The other yeti, wary of the wrathful flames unleashed, decide to assault the other side of the lava wall, where their tribesman fell to Hikage unseen. The first yeti through the ‘breach’ is paralyzed by a spell from Zendo. Hikage circles around the helpless yeti to unleash the flames of the dragon against its brethren, and Corvus lines up two of the yeti for a coruscating bolt of lightning from his wand, before unleashing more magma from his wall of lava!

Zendo assaults his immobilized foe, while Hikage suffers the wrath of the yeti’s assault, but drives them back with fire. Between the monk’s fiery ki, and the lava bombs and lightning bolts of the wizard, the yeti are killed before the druid’s ball lightning can even return to electrocute them.

The men quickly take stock of the chamber and the bodies of their fallen foes. Zendo tends to the wounds of Ragnar and Hikage with his bardic magic as the others watch the dome warily. Hikage hears a faint footstep to the north and east, and sees a glimpse of motion against the stone. The monk treads closer quietly, and can make out a manlike figure camouflaged against the stone walls. The being, perhaps one of the ‘Spared’, looks much like a man, but his form is rounded with a thick layer of blubber, like a seal.

The Spared appears pensive and fearful, wringing his hands fitfully and shifting uncertainly from foot to foot. Zendo, still wearing the appearance of Nualia, hails the creature in Thassilonian, startling it and causing it to step back a few paces in fright.

“Are you alone?,” it asks. “Didn’t anyone else come with you?” The roly-poly humanoid looks hopeful and plaintive.

Taken aback by the strange questions, Zendo tries to reassure the shy spectator while Corvus translates for the others. The diffident being warns Zendo that it is unsafe to linger within the Dome, as Voorgoor, the immense, brutal chieftain of the yeti within Xin-Shalast, or other tribesmen, will return to the caves within the rubble. The skittish creature seems dejected, but refuses to be drawn out by Zendo, though it does identify itself as Morgiv. He seems to want to be helpful, but mistrusts the Avengers.

Before the disappointed skulk can retreat, Hikage has an inspiration and orders Zendo to remove his hat of disguise, which has been cloaking him in the guise of Nualia, complete with demonic arm. Morgiv seems almost beside himself with joy, and tells the Avengers that he had faith in the prophecy that they would come. He explains that "the one with locks of copper’ was not present, so he feared that the heroes were not the liberators foretold.

All of this is greatly confusing to the Avengers, but Morgiv assures them that he will explain, and urges them to follow him quickly to safety. As the plump, but nimble skulk leads them through a collapsed passage, and thence to narrow, winding lava tubes, he tells them the history of the Spared.

Many, many years ago, after Thassilon fell, the volcano to the east of Xin-Shalast erupted, burying that quarter of the city. In the confusion, many of the slaves of Xin-Shalast found their freedom, but lacked the resources and experience to flee the city into the surrounding terrain of Mhar Massif. They fled into the structural levels and caves beneath the city, hiding in cysts formed by the collapsed structures above. Mesmina, a priestess of Lissala, who abandoned her loyalty to Karzoug when he failed to save Xin-Shalast, led the survivors and guided them with the wisdom of her goddess.

Mesmina named them the Spared, telling them that they were meant to survive, no matter the cost, and find their freedom in the city that enslaved them. She foretold that the Spared would live free in Xin-Shalast, until one day, when they would once again be enslaved. At that time, strangers to the city would come to free them. Morgiv insists that the Avengers are the strangers foretold by Mesmina and pictured on the tunnel walls by his ancestors. He describes the five wanderers: crowned in flame, copper-tressed, clad in furs, tall and bearded, and small and clean-shaven.

Morgiv explains that the Spared have dwelled in Xin-Shalast, free and safe, living cautious, furtive lives beneath the notice of the monsters that dwell in Upper Shalast. They have dwelled in the caves and tunnels for generations, using the heat of the volcanoes and the humid air to grow plants beneath the ground. They lived as foretold in Xin-Shalast, surviving in obedience to LIssala, until a few decades ago, near the time of Morgiv’s birth. Unfortunate explorers tunnelling through the pyroclastic flows near the Hypogeum broke through into an undisturbed chamber, and released the Hidden Beast.

Morgiv can give the Avengers few details of the Hidden Beast, for very few of the Spared survive such an encounter. Many Spared who go missing in the tunnels never return, but those that return are changed, or traumatized. Some of the Spared who return are emaciated and exhausted, but have no memories beyond being surprised in the tunnels. Other Spared seem to return, but they are cold and thin, surprisingly strong and fast, and wickedly tricksy. They can command the wills of others, and the Spared have watched more than one of their brethren follow the ‘Enslaved’ back into the darkness willingly. Some of the Spared who escape are still under the thrall of the Enslaved, and mislead their rescuers and family back into ambushes.

The Spared are now furtive and cautious even among their own people, an occurrence unknown by the clannish skulks. Any Spared who ventures out on his own is viewed with suspicion, as anyone could be in thrall to the Enslaved, or the Hidden Beast himself. Morgiv was terrified to wander the upper reaches of the tunnels alone, but he believed fervently in the prophecies, and feared that the Strangers would not find the Spared and free them.

Morgiv begs the Avengers to free his people from the Hidden Beast. He promises them that the Spared will be in their debt, and that he will render any aid he can to them in return. He explains that he does not know, precisely, where the Hidden Beast lairs, but that sections of the undercity near the Hypogeum have been shunned as few have returned from there. Those places where the Spared cannot safely travel must be the domain of the Hidden Beast.

The Avengers, realizing that the Hidden Beast must be a vampire of some sort, exerting his will over the skulks and his vampiric minions. They agree to help Morgiv; some to free his kin from bondage, and others to destroy this vampiric menace. However, they inform him, they are in need of rest and recuperation, and they invite the timid skulk to accompany them into the opulent safety of Corvus’s magical mansion. Morgiv is astounded by the light and airy rooms conjured up by the wizard, and eagerly samples the rich and unfamiliar foodstuffs provided.

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Skulking Bloodsuckers! Yowling Yeti!
Pharast 16. 4708

The strange, pallid, red-eyed skulking ‘Spared’ waste no time leaping onto Hikage and Ragnar and stabbing them with sharp knives. The emaciated creatures ply their blades skillfully, stabbing each of the men in vulnerable areas, and painfully twisting the blade, leaving open, bleeding wounds. More worrisome, the wounds seem to drain Hikage and Ragnar of vitality, feeding it to the treacherous sneaks.

Hikage quickly kicks the dagger from his assailant’s hand, before thrashing the vicious backstabber with his fists and elbows. Though quick and hard to hit, the strangely aggressive ‘Spared’ suffers greatly from the monk’s retort, with bones cracking in his face and ribs. The injured ambusher retreats and attempts to use some sort of magical mind-control on Hikage, but the monk’s resistance to magics foils this plan.

Before Ragnar can respond, his assailant has stabbed him again, leaving another deep, bleeding wound. Quickly, Gellius steps forward and unleashes a writhing snake of flames. It chars the injured ‘Spared’ into fine ash, but the other sneak neatly sidesteps the flames entirely. Zendo and Corvus advance cautiously, staying out of the reach of the remaining assassin. It cannot evade the blade of an annoyed Ragnar, however, as he clefts it apart in a welter of blood and offal. As the bloodthirsty humanoid expires, however, it falls apart into a mass of clumpy, black ash.

Gellius and Zendo tend to Ragnar and Hikage’s wounds, while Corvus examines the strange attackers.Hikage collects the daggers, sure that they must be powerfully enchanted, given their fell effects. Ragnar and Hikage both still feel weak, with Ragnar suffering the most. Gellius and Corvus tell the others that regardless of what the Thassilonian surviving “Spared” have become, these two creatures were vampires! The men have all heard tales of the deadly undead, but to encounter them here in the ancient citadel of Xin-Shalast seems even worse. If Ragnar and Hikage can recover their strength overnight, they should be fine in the morning, but if their weakness persists, then the two men would only recover with very powerful magical aid, aid that will not be easy to acquire here in Xin-Shalast. Ragnar and Hikage assure the others that they will rest and recover. Though the daggers each carry a vicious enchantment, the skills of the vampires, and their inimical necromantic energies, caused most of the damage.

The heroes spend some time trying to investigate the strange, shadowy interior of the obsidian ziggurat, but the immense, tripartate structure seems needlessly complex and maddeningly cavernous. Finally, they abandon their attempt to navigate through the recursive complex and exit into the streets again.

The men warily make their way west via a broad avenue, alert to signs of giantish activity, and decide to advance north along the western wall of the valley, avoiding the Golden Road as much as possible, and the travellers upon it. They pass by many remarkable structures in the seemingly abandoned city, marvelling at the immaculate white marble of one huge building, and the brazen domes adorning another. As they move farther north, the architecture, though still grandiose and eclectic, becomes less cyclopean, and takes on a more human scale, though still of giantish proportions, if not dimensions. This area, though habitable by giants or ogres, is not on the outlandish scale of other parts of the city, and individual buildings, though easily the size of the largest structures in Sandpoint, do not stretch for hundreds of feet in each dimension. From the organization of frontage along promenades, this may have been a bazaar of some sort in Shalast. The men make good time in the streets and shadows of this area of the city, until an ominous fortress overhanging the valley wall draws them up.

A titanic tower, unmoored from the earth below, clings to the sheer wall of the western cliff, inaccessible by stair or ramp. The tower is capped with a pointed copper roof, and tapers to a similarly capped point at the bottom. The heroes, wary of the guards that may be posted in such a structure, cut into the narrower streets of the district as they continue north, but find that the dense buildings thin out and taper off as they approach an immense stone dome to the north. Only a magnificent colonnade crosses a barren, windswept field that leads to the dome. The huge domed structure is pierced by many arches, both at ground level and above, and the men hug the minimal cover of the gigantic columns as they approach.

After discussion, the Avengers decide to enter the dome, as daylight is parting. Inside the gigantic structure, fully the size of the colosseum in Magnimar, they discover something incongruous. The walls of the dome itself are a vast structure, with spiraling ramps of giant dimensions rising from the interior to access hidden rooms through immense arches. However, the open center of the dome is filled with a large pile of stony rubble, stained with dirt and other, fouler material. Hikage and Zendo warn the others, as their keen senses pick up the sounds of shuffling feet on stone before the inhabitants of the rubble reveal themselves.

Yeti emerge from crevices within the tumble of stone, but their appearance and demeanor is much different from those ‘snow men’ the Avengers encountered only days before. The Yetis that creep forth have matted fur stained with blood and offal, and their cries are wild and bloodthirsty, unlike the deep, mournful howls and hoots of their brethren!

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The Lower City of Xin-Shalast
Pharast 16, 4708

The Lost Coast Avengers ride their Phantasmal Steeds along the Golden Road leading to Xin-Shalast, the smoky, translucent hooves of their steeds clattering on the glittering, golden cobblestones of the broad thoroughfare. As they crest the rise of the narrow mountain pass, the men behold an immense glacial valley which extends north and turning west to the base of a vast mountain.

Filling the valley is an ice-capped city of enormous proportions. The near end of the valley mostly blocked by a huge fortress of smooth black stone, with multiple towers rising from its high walls.

Exiting from the bailey of this fortress is a massive causeway of gold that dominates the city as it travels down the center of the vale. Huge towers and spires of many-colored stone pack both sides of the thoroughfare, rising to prodigious heights and giving the illusion that the elevated road is itself a valley.

The eastern slope of the valley has been subsumed by an ancient volcanic flow—nearly a quarter of the city appears to have been buried. That area of the city is now little more than a great mass of ice and snow, with the jagged angles and peaks of structures poking through the topmost layer here and there.

Where the huge valley curves to the west, the structures grow even larger, becoming truly gigantic as they climb up and over the rocky spur. At the far end of the valley, the city abuts the lower slope of a truly massive peak, but the city builders seem to have taken no heed of the slope.

The great causeway merely elevates at a steep angle and climbs the incline in a straight line, transforming into an immense stairway. Buildings cling precariously to the mountain face along the causeway, growing larger and more impressive as they ascend. The gigantic buildings give way a few thousand feet above, but the mighty road continues to wend its treacherous way to just below the mountain peak.

There, a spired citadel looms, its size and proportions truly magnificent, though it too, fails to summit the mountain. Instead, its topmost spires end just below the dominant features of Karzoug, carved into the peak of the mountain and surveying the city below.

The otherworldly quality of this strange panorama is further reinforced by the sound of the cold winds slicing across the high peaks, making strange cries and shrieks in the thin mountain air.

Examining the near end of the valley, some of the Avengers can see pale shapes moving around the walls of the black stone bailey, and Hikage reports to the others that the guards appear to be man-sized but birdlike. After some discussion, Zendo utilizes Redshiv’s hat of disguise and assumes the appearance of Nualia Tobyn. The Avengers ride forward boldly, carefully observing the fortress as they approach.

The ancient gateway to the city is flanked to the north and east by a flow of gritty, rocky ice; the ancient lava flow barely stopped by the stone walls. The walls of glossy black stone rise to 75 feet, but the square towers rise to 200 feet or more. Beyond the walls, steam and deep lowing sounds rise in the chill air. Gellius identifies the sounds as a herd of aurochs. The guards on the walls are hideous, twisted combinations of man and condor, which Corvus identifies as kuchrima, the lowest order of cursed lamia-kin.

The freakish creatures smash a thunderstone against the stones to raise an alarm, and three of them flap down on tattered wings to accost the intruders. The kuchrima clutch large bows in their filthy, but dextrous, lower limbs, and menace the heroes as they call out in Thassilonian.
Zendo displays his Sihedron Medallion, and identifies himself as an operative of Karzoug from Thistletop, far to the south and west. He demands entry to the city in order to make his reports. The kuchrima seem taken aback by this strange woman’s audacity, but chuckle at her claims to have Karzoug’s ear. The foul-smelling creatures insist that all orders come from Khalib or Coeptra, and none speak with Karzoug directly.

Mustering all of his acting skills, Zendo feigns deep offense and indignation. He intimates that Karzoug’s plans are deep and secret, and that the kuchrima risk painful punishment if they interfere with ‘her’ mission. The kuchrima seem unconvinced, but wary of bringing harsh punishment down on their heads. They squawk indignantly and agree to let the group pass, but refuse to open the massive gates, ordering them to go around a narrow route to the west. Zendo belatedly tries to convince them to keep this mission a secret, but the kuchrima flap back to their fortress leaving the heroes to advance into Xin-Shalast.

The men move cautiously through the immense, abandoned city. The buildings are uniformly huge, largely composed of stone, with many being constructed of dense green marble that resembles emerald. The wooden doors and accoutrements still exist, having have been essentially freeze-dried to a silvery hardness.

In an attempt to avoid the giants within the city, the Avengers hug the western wall of the city, avoiding the elevated Golden Road. Here, they can see the valley walls as they rise above the buildings. The sheer gray rock rises hundreds of feet above the nearest buildings.

As they move carefully from building to building, the men can hear an increasing din as they move deeper into the city. They have moved perhaps a mile into the gigantic valley when the din is joined by the sight and smell of smoke. Hikage creeps forward, hiding in the rubble and disarray in the streets, to investigate. He sees a section of the ruined city cleared of rubble, leaving a courtyard perhaps a quarter-mile in diameter. Many huge huts and crude shelters have been erected there, turning it into what appears to be a giant refugee camp. Hundreds of hill giants, frost giants, and stone giants mill about in the area. Some appear to be resting in exhaustion, while others come and go through the passageways to the east and north.

The Avengers, so alerted, decide to move nearer to the elevated road to avoid conflict with the giants. Moving to the west, they pass through the buildings adjacent to the Golden Road. As they move deeper into the city, they find their passage blocked by an immense stone structure perhaps a quarter-mile across. One side of the structure is exposed to the clearing, and the other is buried in the ice-choked lava flow to the west. They decide to enter a huge, forty-foot tall door to pass through the building itself.

Once again, Hikage scouts ahead. His uniquely-enchanted wayfinder allows his eyes to pierce the darkness, and he enters the darkened chamber in silence. Even his magically augmented eyesight cannot penetrate the darkness far enough to perceive the contours of the immense room, but Hikage remains wary. As he watches carefully, he sees several stone giants moving silently across the room, evidently crossing the dark space from west to east. He waits until they have passed, and emerges to warn his friends.

Forewarned, the Avengers decide to clamber across the ice-strewn lava flow to the west. Clambering across the wind-blown slopes is arduous and slow, but the Avengers persist, finally able to return to the level ground of Xin-Shalast. Ahead, across a wide thoroughfare, rises a strange, triple ziggurat of black stone. Atop the stepped pyramids rise several columnar towers. Hikage again scouts out the strange structure, and peers into narrow arrow slits that pierce the front of the structure. He sees two pale humanoids within, each with a narrow belt and dagger. The two creatures see the movement at the arrow slits, and react with alarm, moving quickly away in the structure.

Hikage quickly informs the Avengers, and the men decide that these secretive creatures may be some of the ‘Spared’, the strange skulking inhabitants of the city. The men quickly rush to the door at the front of the structure, which enters the building from a road rising to join the Golden Road. Inside, the stepped structure of the building is repeated, as the stone floor lowers in regular levels, and the hallways to the left and right narrow with mathematical regularity.

Hikage and the others rush into the corridor to the right, heading towards the area where the ‘spared’ were seen. The corridor narrows twice, then begins to open again. At the opening, the two pale creatures spring at the men, having laid in wait. Their mouths open to reveal needle-like fangs, and their eyes glow a disconcerting red!

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