Rise of the Runelords

The Otter, Xin-Shalast, and the Giant watchmen
15-16 Pharast, 4708

Concerned about Corvus, the men decide to seek out the knowledgable otter and try to pry some useful information out of her, in hopes of assisting their friend. When Gellius speaks to the otter she chirps sadly, regretting that their friend has disappeared in the bad lands. She is insistent that the land will confuse him. If he is lucky, he will wander back outside the area of bad lands, but if he finds the city, the land will confuse him and trap him inside. The men try to convince the otter that she must help them, as they have to rescue their friend, but she refuses to help them become lost in the bad lands. When questioned, she tells the men that ‘big two legs’ sometimes wander into the ‘bad lands’, and other ‘big two legs’ leave the city, but only to lead the lost ‘big two legs’ into the city. None of the ‘big two legs’ ever leave the areas of the bad lands.

Zendo is suspicious of the otter’s knowledge of Xin-Shalast, as is Hikage. Hikage believes that the otter might be a transformed victim of Karzoug, but the otter thinks this suggestion is funny. She has never even seen Karzoug, other than the big stone face.

When Zendo suggests some questions to the druid, the otter becomes interested in the sound of his voice. She asks Gellius the name of his friend, but seems crestfallen when the answer is ‘Zendo’. Zendo asks about this response, and the otter replies that he seems like someone else to her, but that person has a different name. Zendo tells the otter his name is actually Aneurin Zendronil, provoking a starting response.

The otter dips her furry head below the surface of the icy water, as she has done several times, but when she emerges, she emerges as a lovely woman with flowing hair, sharply pointed ears, and faintly purple skin. The ‘otter’ reveals herself as Svevenka, a nymph who dwells here in the Icemists. Myriana was her cousin, and she has learned of her death, torment, and release through fae of the First World. She knew that one named Aneurin Zendronil was the final recipient of Myriana’s inspiration, though she knew little else of the circumstances.

Zendo tells Svevenka the touching tale of Myriana’s heartbreak and passing, which both saddens, and moves Svevenka, though the moment is somewhat spoiled by Hikage’s judgemental appraisal of Myriana. Since Myriana had favored Zendo, and the men had put her to rest, Svevenka opens up to the group.

She explains that the region to the north is ‘not right’, and they would be safer to avoid it. She loves the peace and stillness of the Fen of the Icemists, but has ventured into the regions of Xin-Shalast from curiosity. She knows that evil giants and yeti dwell there, as well as lamia and twisted, bird-like lamia-kin. An immense blue dragon sometimes overflies the city itself, and must probably dwell somewhere within.

The region near Xin-Shalast is corrupted by proximity to some other dimension, which twists space and confuses the mind. Svevenka, being a nymph, lives within this world and the First World, and does not experience the confusion, but natives to Golarion are affected by it strongly unless their wills are very strong.

Svevenka does not know which otherdimensional land lies in proximity to the region, but she says that she has seen denizens from that realm in Xin-Shalast. They dress like men, but their clothes cover their bodies, and they do not seem to be entirely ‘manlike’ under those robes and turbans. From their previous research in the Thassilonian Library under the Black Tower, Zendo surmises that this dimension is Leng, and the emissaries are the enigmatic denizens of Leng.

While talking with Svevenka, the men are gladdened and surprised to see Corvus returning on a phantasmal steed. He is similarly surprised to see the others conversing with a beautiful, naked woman who is resting in the freezing waters. Corvus tells the others of his discovery of the golden road, and of the strange, distorting aura of the lands beyond which sapped his teleportational magics. Svevenka concurs with him, and explains that because the region is not wholly within Golarion’s dimension, the magics that transport one across a dimension are difficult to muster there. She says that, if it is any comfort, the magics can still be used within the reaches of Xin-Shalast normally, but only seem to falter when crossing into, or out of, that region to the safer lands beyond.

She urges them to avoid the region, and the evil creatures within, but Gellius tells her that Karzoug, who has rested quiescent inside Shalast, is beginning to stir, and his evil reach will soon extend beyond Xin-Shalast. Indeed, the druid tells her, Karzoug already has operatives outside the city, and it was the work of one of these operatives that killed Myriana.

Sensing their determination, Svevenka pledges her aid. The Icemists can serve as a safe haven for the men, and she resolves to assist them with her own nature magics if possible. She is afraid to abandon her beloved Icemists, especially now that she knows they may not be safe from the dwellers in the city, but she will tell the men what she knows of Xin-Shalast.

The city is accessible through a narrow mountain pass, which opens into a glacial valley, which runs to the vast mountain of Mhar Massif. The valley is filled by the immense city of Xin-Shalast. Though ancient volcanic eruptions have buried parts of the eastern city, for the most part, the city is intact. A huge stone gatehouse guards the entrance to the city, and there, the twisted, vulture-like beings roost and guard a flock of mountain oxen for food. Beyond the gates lie the huge buildings of Xin-Shalast, and the golden road serves as a causeway within the city. It leads throughout the city, then ascends steeply up the sides of Mhar Massif, where even larger buildings cling to the sides of the mountain. After those structures peter out, the golden road continues on towards an immense citadel, which lies under the glowering face of Karzoug carved out of the face of the mountain itself.

Svevanka has not ventured beyond ‘Upper’ Xin-Shalast, towards the citadel, as she experienced extreme vertigo when she tried to explore this area. Worse yet, when she was there, she experienced blinding pain and maddening visions, and was unable to dimension door out of the region.

She has explored the Lower City in the form of a bird, but doing so is risky, as few natural creatures willingly wander within the region. Inside the lower city are many hundreds of stone, frost, and hill giants, most living within a large encampment nearer the city gates. Other cloud and storm giants dwell within the city, and the upper towers, but all the giants are cowed by immense, black skinned giants with curving tusks, covered with runes. She has seen few of these giants, but they obviously command the respect or fear of the others.

Brutish, feral yeti also dwell within the city, gathering in a huge domed structure near the middle of the valley. In addition, immense lamia are sometimes seen. Both these creatures and the strange ‘rune giants’ sometimes tread the golden stairs to the fortress, so they must possess some means to bypass the painful, vertiginous field.

Svevenka also tells them that there are timid, manlike creatures dwelling within the city. They are blubbery like seals, but can change their skin color rapidly to conceal themselves. The creatures seem to be quite skittish and shy, and seem to avoid any contacts with the giants or lamia. Svevenka was unable to talk to them, but she can identify their language when Zendo speaks some words of Thassilonian. She says that the creatures, for the most part, appear to be peaceful, if easily frightened, but she has encountered one which was emaciated and cold, which was stealthy like the others, but vicious and aggressive. It leapt at her and tried to bite her. However, all of the others she has seen have been non-aggressive and quick to retreat into small spaces and hidden warrens. She thinks the skulking creatures must be living below the city itself, as she never sees them crossing the streets or the golden road overhead. If they live within the city, they may know secret passages that she has not discovered.

The men talk for a long time with Svevenka, and stay overnight in Corvus’s Magic Mansion, before preparing themselves the next morning. With Zendo’s blessing, Corvus uses his spells to teleport them to the golden road, to the spot where he saw a cave overlooking the roadway.

This proves to be perilous, as the men surprise a squad of giants who have hidden within the cave! Before they can react, Corvus burns the two larger cloud giants, and the smaller Frost giant, with burning chains of fire.

The smaller Frost giant orders the other two giants, who have taken cover behind immense boulders, to ‘target the red one’, before hefting a huge axe and leaping down from the ledge. Some magic protects him from the fall, and he advances on the group.

Gellius summons ball lightning, which shocks the giants, and continues to dance around under his direction, confounding them. After summoning the lightning, the druid summons a fire elemental, then transforms into an eagle to advance.

Ragnar advances on the frost giant, holding his sword until the giant attacks, and then slashing him badly. Though the Frost giant chops him with his axe, Ragnar cuts down the giant with his return strokes. He sheathes his sword and readies his bow for the distant giants.

Though the cloud giants hurl rocks at Corvus, they are unprepared for his response, and a furnace-hot blast of wind rakes across them, knocking one to his knees.

Hikage rushes across the immense golden road and leaps up the cliff, advancing on the giants. He fells one with a flurry of blows before another advances out of the darkness at him. The second giant is forced to squeeze between the boulders and the cliff wall, and is unable to club the monk with his huge morningstar.

Zendo activates his winged boots, and soars towards the giants. He uses his magic to become invisible, but learns, to his dismay, that Cloud Giants have an acute sense of smell. Though he takes a stout blow from a morningstar, Zendo defeats his oppnent, who cannot see the bard and avoid his rapier.

One of the cloud giants abandons the ledge, levitating down to attack the men, but he is peppered with arrows by Ragnar before Gellius’s fire elemental wreathes him in flames and kills him.

Burned by the sirocco and shocked by the lighting, the final giant to emerge from the cave is easy prey for Hikage and goes down quickly.

View
The Fen of the Icemists, the Otter, and the missing Wizard
14-15 Pharast, 4708

After several hours of following the River Avah as it cascades down from the Kodars, the Avengers arrive in a strange, freezing fen. All around the swamp rise the high, volcanic peaks of the Kodars, but the fen itself is obscured by a mist of glittering ice crystals. Hummocks of earth and boulders protrude out of the ice-covered surface of the waters, blocking any view of the opposite side of the bog. The men are protected from the icy air, but the waters of the swamp are not, and seem to have frozen solid. Ragnar warns the others to beware, however, as the steaming volcanic cones around the Fen of the Icemists warn him that the molten blood of the earth lies near the surface here, and may warm the waters of the swamp, robbing the surface ice of strength.

No trees or shrubs endure in the ice and damp of the fen, but strange pale fungi and mats of lichens spring up from the soil and coat the rocks. Ragnar does his best to discern a safe path through the fen, but the slippery, irregular terrain and unpredictable ice force the men into a crawl. Hikage steps through a weak spot in the ice, and finds himself plunged into the bitterly cold water. The monk can find no purchase on the glassy ice, and Ragnar tosses him a rope, but even then, Hikage must be careful to climb out of the jagged rent in the ice without breaking it any further. As the Life Bubble warms him again, the men watch with amazement as the bitterly cold air refreezes the hole in the ice in less than a minute.

Moving even more cautiously across the strange landscape of the Fen of the Icemists, Hikage notices an inquisitive otter observing their passage. The persistent watcher seems odd even to the monk, who’s knowledge of animal behavior is limited, and he asks Gellius about the otter’s strange behavior. The druid assures Hikage that otters are quite inquisitive, and fairly intelligent, but he agrees to attempt to speak with the otter if it should reappear.

Some time later, Hikage points out the persistent otter to the druid, who casts a spell and converses with the furry little creature. Though the others cannot understand the otter’s squeaks, chirps, and barks, they get some idea of the conversation from Gellius’s own questions and responses. The otter seems quite gregarious, and covers her face with her paws on several occasions, shaking her head rapidly in what appears to be bemused frustration. After a lengthy conversation, Gellius announces that the otter has agreed to lead them across the Fens to the lands beyond, and summarizes his conversation with the woodland creature.

The otter has warned Gellius that the lands to the north are ‘bad’, and she urges the ‘two-legs’ to avoid them. She is aware that there is a great city to the north, full of ‘big two legs’, who are mean and cruel. The otter is insistent that she cannot lead them through the bad land, or give them directions to the city. She claims that the ‘bad land’ will trick people and lie to them, getting them lost no matter how careful they are.

Gellius asks the otter about the River Avah, and she says that anyone who can see the river can travel through the bad lands, but anyone who cannot see the river will be lost in the bad lands. The otter says that two short ‘two legs’ wandered here in her fen, and they could see the river when the moon was full, but when they found the city they were too hungry and scared, and had to run away from the bad city. She is insistent that anyone who is not wise and powerful enough to see the river should not go into the bad lands, because they will be lost there.

Gellius tells her that he and his friends have to find the bad city, because there is an evil two legs there who they must stop. When he tells her that they wish to stop Karzoug, the otter laughs at him, explaining that no one who cannot find the river could stop Karzoug. The otter explains that she knows Karzoug, because his face is on the mountain in the city.

She tells them that the lands to the north are bad and wrong, and no animals go there. No amount of reassurance or questioning from Gellius can persuade the otter to offer her assistance there, as she remains convinced that the two-legs are not wise and powerful enough to venture through the bad lands.

However, she does reluctantly agree to lead the men through the swamp to the rocky slopes beyond. Gellius helps Ragnar to navigate through the icy fens, but Hikage manages to slip and fall into the ice once more. The druid treats his frostbite with healing spells, and the arduous trek across the icy swamp takes the better part of the day. The sun is starting to set as the men make their ‘magical camp’ at the edge of the Icemist Fens. Gellius even invites the otter inside the mansion for a treat of fish, which she chews enthusiastically before slipping back outside.

Corvus casts his prying eyes, attempting to find the river, or the city. The magical sensors fly off into the bad lands to the north. The sensors return in darkness, but their magical senses have recorded little of interest but snow covered lava flows and steep, craggy ground. Not even a bird or ground squirrel is spotted by the eyes. One of the sensors shows a brief record of two huge, pale-skinned giants, clad in chain and bearing immense flails. Corvus recognizes them as Cloud Giants, but from the brief sighting of them he cannot discern much more about their nature or intentions. Some cloud giants are aloof but benevolent dwellers in high altitudes, while others are capricious, sadistic raiders. The wizard cannot discern any magical aura surrounding the ‘bad lands’, either.

Ragnar and Hikage remain outside the magical mansion for several hours. The protection of the druid’s spells have lapsed, and the two men must endure the thin air and the freezing cold. Wrapped up within his heavy coat, Ragnar seems untroubled by the temperature, but Hikage runs through his katas in an effort to remain warm. After the sun has set behind the Kodars, the waxing moon glimmers on the powdery ice crystals in the air, but neither man can see any ‘ghostly river’ anywhere. In a voice rendered hoarse by the thin air, Ragnar suggests they retire, and Hikage concurs.

In the morning, Gellius and Corvus prepare spells. Gellius protects the men from the cold and thin air with life bubbles again, and Corvus has a daring plan. He intends to use his powerful spell of true seeing in an attempt to discern the ghostly river, and then to follow it using his phantasmal steed. To avoid notice, he will travel cloaked in a sphere of invisibilty. Once he has located the city, he will trigger his teleportation rituals to bring him safely back to this region. Then, he can gather with his allies and use a powerful teleportation spell to bring them all safely back to the city.

Before he does so, Hikage gets Ragnar to rope them together, and the monk ventures past the swamp into the ‘bad lands’ which the otter warned them of. When the monk passes into the rocky ground, he senses nothing different. Hikage wanders to the north as far as the rope will allow, but can see no evidence of the ‘lies’ of the bad lands. He walks back to Ragnar along the rope without any difficulty.

Corvus casts his true seeing, using the arcane rod of extension to prolong the spell, and can see the ghostly afterimage of a river superimposed over the rockslides and lava flows to the north. He summons his steed and vanishes from sight, his invisibility similarly prolonged. Unseen by the others, Corvus flies northward. He is unable to ascend to any great height, as the limits of his enhanced vision prevent him from wandering too far from the ghostly river below. As such, he is forced to wend his way over the rugged terrain, diverting around the volcanic activity of ten thousand years to follow the sacred River Avah northwards.

As he begins to approach the limits of his magical senses and protection, Corvus discovers something: a wide, golden road running adjacent to the river. The broad causeway is fitted with huge flagstones which glitter with a faint golden sheen. He follows the river (and the golden road) farther forward, until he notices an ominous cavern mouth overlooking the road. Though he can see no signs of life, the cavern’s mouth is shielded by two huge boulders, which look suspiciously deliberate. Loathe to linger past his invisibility, Corvus retreats out of sight of the cavern. Once his true seeing and invisibility have faded away, he lands and examines the golden road, which remains visible to him even now. The flagstones appear to have been painted or otherwise coated with gold long ago, and the irregular fading and patches suggest to the wizard that the long exposure to the elements has stripped away all but the faintest hint of gold from the stones.

Corvus studies his surroundings carefully, and triggers his teleportational getaway. He struggles against a sudden vertiginous confusion, and finds that the spell’s energies have dissipated, but have not brought him out of the ‘bad lands’. With mounting unease, Gellius casts another spell of teleportation, and again experiences a wave of confusion which expends the spell, but fails to bring him back to safety. He quickly mounts his steed and climbs into the air, hoping to retrace his path back to his comrades, without the benefits of his augmented perceptions.

At their ‘camp’ in the Fens of the Icemists, the other Avengers grow increasingly worried. Corvus’s protective spells have expired by now, and the wizard has not returned. Moreover, they are uncertain what good options they have to locate him, as the wizard was the one who commanded most of their magics of this type. Gellius offers to venture into the northern mountains in the form of a bird, but Hikage expresses concern that such an action might strand the druid in the bad lands, and rob the Avengers of any options for magical travel at all. The monk patiently explains to the others that if Xin-Shalast has remained hidden for thousands of years, then it must be hidden from most ordinary searches, even those of powerful wizards and druids. Inspired by Hikage’s chain of thought, Ragnar muses that it must be nearly impossible to teleport to Xin-Shalast (or wizards would already have done such), and thus, it might be similarly difficult to teleport from the hidden city. He suggests that the group should at least wait for Corus to return before exploring other options.

View
Shantaks and Yetis
Pharast 13-14, 4708

The Lost Coast Avengers mount up, and climb into the freezing cold air of the Kodar Mountains atop Corvus’s phantasmal steeds. They ascend but remain relatively close to the ground, allowing the mounts to follow the track of the Kazaron River below as it winds deeper into the mountains. The warmth of spring has not penetrated here into the Kodars, and Pharast remains bitterly cold and blustery in the peaks. Their horses move swiftly through the air, and the heroes make good time as the river wends upstream.

As they pass the first tributary, the Kazaron begins climbing from the foothills to the true mountains of the Kodars. The cold air is increasingly buffeting against the horses as it blows through the peaks. At the second tributary of the Kazaron, the men urge their steeds to follow the sacred River Avah, as it flows down a narrow channel cut deep into the granite of the Kodars. The Avah climbs steeply into to the Kodar range, and the men rapidly climb from the low foothills to steeper peaks. The Avah rushes between rocky banks, tumbling over cataracts sometimes several hundred feet in height. Despite the icy cold, the swift whitewater never freezes, as the Avah leads them upwards. The Kodars climb from a few thousand feet over the course of the day to peaks approaching fifteen thousand feet, and the air grows bitingly cold, though Gellius’s magics protect them from the chill.

As the men follow the Avah below, they spy something approaching on the horizon. A group of immense, bat-winged creatures seem to be approaching. As they flap towards the Avengers, Zendo recognizes them as creatures called Shantaks. Old folk tales tell that the horse-headed shantaks came from another world to Golarion, and can fly up from the world to the moon and beyond. A would-be traveller must be wary, however, for the shantaks, though they look like bird, bat, and horse, are clever as men, and canny as devils. Tales tell of the wily negotiator who thought to trick a Shantak into giving him passage to the moon, only to find that return passage was not granted.

The huge winged beasts rise into the air, assuming an attack pattern, and Corvus warns that they are deadly predators, inured to the cold, and capable of living without air. The mage warns the others that Shantaks are not of this world, and their capricious thoughts are hostile toward men. The Shantaks stoop to attack the heroes, but find that the Avengers are not easy prey. First blood goes to Ragnar, who braves the shantak’s talons to slice one from the air, but Gellius and Corvus do the most damage to the flapping monsters, unleashing blazing chains of lightning and burning brands of fire to sear them. After their magical onslaught, the panicked shantaks that remain are easy prey for Hikage and Zendo.

Their strange encounter above the Kodars impels the heroes to hug the terrain as much as possible. Flying too high above the mountains may draw out other menaces that dwell in these strange, high places. The rest of the day’s travel proceeds undisturbed, though the men realize how impossibly rugged the terrain would have been for the Vekker brothers, trekking through it on foot, rather than carried through the air overhead.

Camp is set up on a relatively flat space of stone and snow a ways from the River Avah, where some few trees cling to the rock and the blowing snow gathers round them. After a peaceful, restful night in the warmth of the magical mansion that Corvus conjures for them, the men prepare to step out into the Kodars again, after having been warded from the chill and thin air by Gellius.

Hikage, first out of the magical door that connects the Mansion to our realm, hesitates as he senses something amiss. The mounds of snow that lie in heaps around the hardy pines seem far larger than before. As he assumes a wary fighting stance, the snowdrifts explode into white powder, revealing massive apelike figures covered with white fur. The broad, bipedal creatures have stocky legs and long, thick arms that terminate in clawed hands. The skin of their palms and ringing their glowing, ghostly eyes is the flat black of a polar bear. The yetis, for even Hikage recognizes them as such, hurl their clawed mitts into the air and bare sharp fangs as they howl a bloodcurdling cry.

Though the yeti seem menacing, the Avengers have faced more monstrous horror, and Zendo senses something about the yeti’s intimidating howls. The creatures are not advancing on the men, but are engaged in some sort of deliberate threat display, a show of feigned aggression, rather than actual rage. Cautiously, Zendo steps out from the mansion and begins a soothing, wordless tune, seeking to calm and reassure the yeti. The others step out warily, but the yeti seem to be captivated by the bard, lowering their arms, and crooning a deep, soft warbling from their barrel chests. Zendo cannot speak to the snow-men, and even Corvus admits that he knows nothing of their speech, only of their proclivity for the cold mountains, and stories of their bloodthirsty rampages in the foothills. However, as the bard continues to sing at them soothingly, the yeti make no aggressive motions. Corvus summons his phantasmal steeds, careful to manifest them safely away from the yeti, and the others mount up quickly. Zendo stops his gentle lullaby to creep away and mount his own steed, but the ghost of his song echoes across the rocks, and the strange, inscrutable snow-men listen calmly as the Avengers guide their steeds into the skies. None of the men can fathom the peculiar purpose of the yeti, nor what guided them to the hidden portal here in the trackless mountains, but all the Avengers felt relief that their brief encounter with the snow-men did not lead to violence and bloodshed. The yeti were clearly more than beasts on two legs, but even the Avengers did not have the ability to bridge the gulf between them and men.

View
The River Avah and Xin-Shalast
Pharast 12 & 13, 4708

As the howling wendigo is slaughtered, Zendo notices a change in the atmosphere of the cabin. The two Vekker brothers are no longer embroiled in a spectral conflict. Karivek Vekker looks calm and somber. His face is no longer twisted in a cannibalistic rage, and his teeth no longer trail to sharp fangs that protrude from his mouth. His legs, though translucent and phantasmal, no longer trail off to twisted, blackened stumps, but end in stout, dwarven boots. With a doleful look at his brother, Karivek begins to fade from view.

Silas Vekker still looks mournful, but his face no longer shows the wasting signs of emaciation and fear. As the others gather in the room, he speaks to them.

You have saved my brother. You have saved me. I should reward you by taking the secrets of Xin-Shalast with me, but I sense that you still harbor a desire to gaze upon those domes of gold. Take then, the way to Xin-Shalast, and may Torag watch over you in this world, or the next.

As Silas fades away like his brother, pages torn from his ledger flutter to the cabin floor.

As Zendo and Gellius tend to the wounds caused by the wendigo, Corvus examines the pages from the ledger. Though terse and business-like, the ledger recounts the fateful exploration of Silas and Karivek.

Having played out their placer mines throughout the reaches of the Kazaron River in the Kodars, the two brothers explored far upstream. They made the fateful decision to follow the second tributary of the Kazaron, though the winding route was hard going. The river had etched a narrow channel, virtually bereft of banks, through the dense rock of the Kodar mountains. Following it upstream necessitated navigating up the steep cataracts of the river as it climbed steadily into the mountains, rising thousands of feet into the cold, thin air. The river itself was freezing cold, but never froze.

Eventually, the Vekkers reached a frozen swampland shrouded in clouds of ice crystals, which they dubbed the Fen of the Icemists. The freezing cold waters of the river were warmed here by the volcanism of the mountains. No plants could grow in the frozen region, but strange fungi and mats of floating lichens grew across the hummocks of ground and protruding rocks, and concealed deep tarns of freezing water. Travel across the fen was arduous, as solid ground could turn suddenly to a thin crust of hidden ice, plunging the traveller into water that froze in contact with the icy air. The Vekkers, inveterate explorers, were sure that the discovery of strange, high fen was a portent and they carefully portioned out their rations as they assayed the surrounding area.

Chilled to the bone, and desperately hungry despite their hardy constitutions, the Vekkers were amazed when the full moon revealed a spectral vision to them in their camp. The river, which seemed to end here in this remote swamp, appeared as a ghostly image, overlaid across the volcanic flows to the north. Instead of seeing the current river, they beheld the ghostly image of a previous river, a river that they would realize, in time, to be the River Avah. The Vekkers could not believe their luck, and, buoyed by their excitement, they scrambled across the mountains following the River Avah, able to easily discern it even by day.

Days later, the travel made more arduous by the persistent lack of game, the Vekkers stumbled into the seemingly deserted lower city of Xin-Shalast. Cowed by the massive scale of the city, and uneasy about their precarious condition, Silas and Karivek dared not to venture within the epic ruins, but turned and retraced their steps, vowing to return to exploit the riches of the lost city of gold.

Gellius and Corvus confer. Considering the difficult, mountainous terrain, and the cold, the druid and wizard estimate that the ‘Fen of the Icemists’ could not be more distant than perhaps 100 miles. Knowing to follow the Kazaron until the second tributary will allow a directed search of the wild Kodar range, and Corvus can summon his phantasmal steeds to speed the Avengers through the air, rather than forcing them to tramp across the mountains like the Vekker brothers. Corvus summons his magical mansion, and the group enters to heal and eat; a good night’s rest will allow the druid and wizard to prepare the spells they deem essential to the success of the search for Xin-Shalast.

On the morrow, Gellius and Corvus prepare their spells, and Corvus uses the site of the Vekker cabin as the destination for a ‘getaway’ spell in case of dire events. Though the full moon is almost two weeks away, the search for the River Avah and Xin-Shalast has begun!

View
Frost worms, ghosts, and Wendigo
Pharast 12, 4708

The mansion behind Corvus’s magical door is luxurious and relaxing, warm and with plenty of delicious food. However, Corvus still sleeps fitfully, waking frequently from nightmares he cannot fully remember.

In the morning, the men exit the mansion to find that a heavy snowfall has blanketed the Kodars. Silas Vekker indicated that his brother’s body lay on a ledge to the north, near the site of their last mine. The ledger of the Vekker brothers indicates that mine should have a trail leading to it through the mountains, but the decade that has passed, along with the deep snow, will make it very hard to find. Rather than trudging through the cold mountains, Corvus reveals a powerful new spell and summons a school of magical sensors. He directs them to move along the areas noted by the map, looking for the trail, ledge, and mine, as well as the body of a dwarf. The magical ‘eyes’ zoom off on their appointed task, while the others wait for them to return. In about an hour, as the men are eating breakfast, the sensors begin to return to Corvus. He gathers the information from his sensors, and reveals to the others that a few of the spies have located a likely spot, a ledge high in the mountains to the north, concealed by a freezing mist.

Gellius summons a life bubble to protect the men from the cold and thin air, and Corvus conjures up his phantasmal steeds, which can stride over the snow itself. The men mount up and quickly travel across the rugged terrain on their arcane mounts. As they ascend the narrow ledge towards the location where they expect to find Karivek Vekker’s body, the heroes decide to dismount. If they encounter any trouble, the ledge is too narrow to allow more than one steed to ascend, and few of the men are confident enough in their riding skills to fight from the saddle.

On first inspection, the area is bleak, but unthreatening. A cold mist rises from the ground of the ledge, obscuring the ground itself, but not rising above the knees, before rolling down over the edge of the cliff face, which drops away from the ledge itself. The ground, covered by mist, is rocky and uneven, making footing unsteady. The ledge widens out in a crevice in the mountains, and the small clearing contains several headstones, as well as a stone firepit. Inside the raised stones of the firepit, the icy corpse of a dwarf in padded armor lies motionless. The dwarf’s body looks broken and twisted, as if dropped from a great height, and the blackened stumps of his legs contrast with the waxy whiteness of his frozen flesh.

Hikage moves cautiously across the scree to examine the scene, but a sudden, loud crack and a spray of stones reveals a new threat as it heaves itself up through the frozen ground. An immense, bluish-white worm, easily fifteen feet tall or more, rears up from a hidden tunnel underground. A single, black eye stares down at Hikage as the worm lunges at him, serrated mouthparts opened widely. The worm bites the monk fiercely, the blistering cold almost as painful as the sharp bite itself.

Hikage wreathes his fist in flame and smites the worm back, his powerful blows cracking the exoskeleton and releasing a blue ichor which crystallizes immediately. However the flames of his attack seem to pain the worm even more than his strength. Gellius immediately begins to summon a fire elemental, as Corvus steps forward, lashing the beast with lightning from his wand, though the mage nearly slips off the edge of the cliff, hidden by the dense mist as it is. He warns the others that the Frost worm’s blood is incredibly cold, and only the magical aura of the creature keeps the ichor from crystalizing instantaneously. The Frost Worm lunges at Hikage again and seizes him in its jaws, dealing him a painful, freezing bite that staggers the monk.

Before Zendo can react, a spirit rises up from the frozen corpse of Karivek Vekker! It is the ghost of the dwarven miner, though sharp fangs protrude from his mouth, trailing freezing vapor from their tips. The spectral figure soars over Hikage and thrusts a claw-like, emaciated hand through Gellius’s chest—but is surprised when the druid is merely surprised and unharmed. Hissing his displeasure, the cannibal ghost snarls at the approaching Ragnar.

Before the Ulfen can swing his sword, Zendo steps forward and unleashes a burst of flame from his wand of scorching rays. The flames burn the Frost Worm severely, and with a wailing trill, it begins to collapse. As its immense form begins to go limp, however, a sudden crackling noise grows in intensity. The worm shatters into huge gobbets of icy flesh as its freezing blood spatters all over the men! The ghost is unaffected by the cold, and his insubstantial flesh is barely disturbed by the massive chunks of frozen worm, but the men are not so lucky. Hikage quickly dodges the explosive demise of the frost worm, but the others suffer. Some are splashed with more of the icy blood, instantly suffering frostburn, while others, like Zendo, are pelted with rock hard lumps of the worm’s corpse.

Ragnar chops through the ghostly form of Karivek, his enchanted sword doing some damage to the spectral flesh, and the ghost slashes at him in return, its claws passing through his armor to sink deep into his flesh. Ragnar mutters in pain as the ghost’s corrupting touch necrotizes his tissues, though he shrugs off the worst of the pain. The ghost is somewhat penned in, however, by the appearance of the fire elemental, which burns his dead flesh and even sets him on fire! Corvus and Zendo fight with fire as well, the wizard magically immolating the ghost, while the bard attempts to use the wand to burn him as well. Zendo fails to fry his foe, as he has to avoid setting Ragnar ablaze, and the Ulfen slices deeply into the ghost again, while steeling himself against the malign specter’s painful response. Between the blazing fists of Hikage and the elemental, the ghost’s ectoplasmic form is banished, at least, for a time.

As the ghost’s malevolent spirit dissipates into the freezing mist, an unearthly wail echoes through the mountains. Although Ragnar is enraged at the feeble attempt to startle him, Zendo and Corvus feel an icy finger of dread course down their spines. Both recognize the strange call as the howl of the Wendigo, a cannibal spirit from the outer planes. The wendigo are drawn to the lonely, cold heights of the world, and their presence drives mortals to madness and cannibalism. Once driven mad, a victim is snatched up by the Wendigo into the air. If the mad wretch escapes, he usually plummets to his doom, perhaps as Karivek has done. If the victim does not, then the headlong flight through the freezing air plucks away the mortal spirit and turns them into another Wendigo.

Ragnar fetches the frozen corpse of Karivek while the others debate on a course of action. Dark clouds are gathering and the wind is whipping up fiercely, suggesting that bad weather, perhaps even a blizzard, is on the way. Before returning to the cabin, or the mansion, Zendo uses his bardic arts to heal himself and his friends of the worst of their wounds. Rather than taking the phantom steeds back, racing against the unseen Wendigo, Corvus triggers his magical getaway, and instantly teleports the men back to the Vekker cabin. Concerned about the incoming storm, Gellius resorts to his druidic magics to calm the weather, but he has to fight against another magical force that is summoning the oncoming blizzard. The powerful druid prevails, and while the weather remains cold, the winds calm and the dark clouds begin to disperse.

Once inside, the men see the spectral outline of Silas Vekker reappear, but are surprised when the frozen corpse of his brother, Karivek, crumbles into dust, leaving only his padded armor behind. The maddened, cannibalistic ghost reappears, but instead of attacking the heroes, his swirling, ectoplasmic form entangles with that of his mournful brother. While the insane ghost snarls and strains at the communion, his brother’s pale, lined face displays only calm acceptance. The men stand back in confusion, but Hikage ventures an observation. Ghosts are not full souls of the dead, but the trapped remains of those who died in the throes of powerful emotion. The struggle between the two is not between two estranged brothers, but between the madness and hunger of the afflicted dwarves, and the grief and shame at their demise. If Silas can ‘reconcile’ with his brother, then his forgiveness can give them rest.

As this transpires, the source of their madness makes itself apparent! The wendigo smashes a bloodstained claw through the shutters next to Zendo! The cannibal spirit manifests as a huge, elk-headed humanoid, floating on a pair of burned, withered limbs, its mouth full of bloody fangs and hollow eyes filled with madness. Gellius smites the wendigo with a strike of holy flame and the beast screeches as the flames lick its icy flesh. Hikage focuses his ki into a blast of fire, but the otherplanar horror shrugs off the magic like powdery snow, and looses a terrifying howl into the confines of the cabin. Most of the men are steeled against the awful sound, but the proximity drives Zendo into despair, and he collapses onto the ground, cowering in terror.

The unearthly wail seems only to enrage Ragnar, and he steps forward, chopping through the thick log walls, cursing at the wailing bansee. As the logs are rent asunder by his adamantine blade, he turns it upon the wendigo, slicing through its matted fur and into it’s black flesh. The wendigo turns in the air and whirls out of sight. Hikage can hear its sharp talons scraping across the walls of the cabin, and he rushes down the hallway and throws open the door to the bedroom, revealing the ghoulish creature floating in the air outside the unshuttered window. Ragnar rushes down the hall and smashes his sword through the broken glass, striking the wendigo a mighty blow, but the ravenous monster seizes him with both hands, tearing and rending his flesh as the icy cold of its body drains him of vital warmth.

Corvus launches a blast of fire at the beast, knowing its vulnerability to flame, but the wendigo’s resistance to magic allows it to escape unharmed. Hikage vaults through the window and over the beast, but even his speed is insufficient to land a telling blow as the creature bobs in midair. Ragnar chops another gaping hole in the cabin walls to get at his foe, but his sword swings go wild as the wendigo dances past his steel and sinks its blackened talons into his flesh again. Gellius launches lightning and mud at the beast, with little effect, while Corvus rushes outside through the side door to get line of sight to the creature. Hikage lauches a whirlwind of attacks at the creature, but finds the lightning-fast creature equally difficult to hit. However, he weakens and staggers the creature, before a shivering, bleeding Ragnar buries his sword to the hilt in its stinking, frozen pelt.

View
Cabin of Cannibal Carnage!
Pharast 11, 4708

The men decide to explore the cabin further. They open the wooden door leading from the landing into the cabin proper, finding that it leads to a small hallway. A door is on the right wall, while another hallway leads off to the left. A blanket hung across the passage blocks the remainder of the hall. Gellius enters the room to the right, and finds it cold and empty.

The window in this room is unshuttered, and the pane of glass is broken, allowing a cold wind to whistle into the room. Hikage looks out and finds that a snowstorm has broken, bringing huge flakes of snow whirling through the air. The room has two sets of bunk beds with straw mattresses, and a large leather trunk and a iron coalbox. Gellius lights the lantern suspended overhead, while Hikage inspects the crossbow, hand axes, and other items suspended on pegs on one wall. Corvus examines the small chamber at the opposite corner of the room, hidden behind a curtain, and finds only a privy with some sheets of paper impaled on a brass hook. Gellius checks under the moth-eaten elk hide rug, but finds nothing of interest, while Zendo examines the trunk, finding only some old, dry-rotted supplies. However, Hikage’s inspection of the pegs on the wall finds something of interest. One of the pegs is not simply a wooden dowel driven into a hole, but actually a wooden lever attached to something inside the wall. He fiddles with it and as he depresses it, he hears a dull, metallic clunk. The monk theorizes that this ‘lever’ might have something to do with the suspiciously loose step that he found on the staircase.

Leaving the bunkroom, Ragnar pulls aside the blanket to reveal a bench in a small hallway. Another blanket covers a doorway to the left, while cloaks and coats hang from pegs on the right wall. Boots, climbing shoes, and leather waders, all dry-rotted, rest under the bench along with a liberal coating of grimy dust. Hikage goes to examine the area, and realizes that a huge maul is resting underneath one of the coats. Corvus identifies it as powerfully enchanted, but Ragnar, the only one of the group likely to be able to wield such a top-heavy weapon, dismisses it as a graceless Shoanti earthbreaker.

Hikage pushes aside the blanket to the left and finds a small room beyond, with a chair in one corner and a threadbare fur rug on the floor. A door leads from the room to the right, evidently to the outside, as it has slats for barring, but no bar is found. Rather than exploring the exit, Hikage rejoins the others.

Zendo has been eyeing the room down the hall with disquiet, so the men move to examine it. It is a large room, with a shuttered window on the opposite side, and doors on the left and right walls. A large stone fireplace, compete with an iron cookpot, fills one corner, and a slightly crooked portrait hangs on the opposite wall. Scattered across the floor are cooking utensils and implements, as well as tin plates and mugs. The chairs and table in the room have also been strewn across the area, and the brown stains of old, dried blood, have soaked into the wood. The painting depicts two dour looking male dwarves standing in front of an elk. The men recognize one of the dwarves as the apparition in the workroom below! Though the dwarf in the picture is less balding, the resemblance is obvious, down to the twin braids of his beard. The other dwarf in the portrait strongly resembles that dwarf, but has darker, grayer hair and a fuller beard.

Hikage has been examining a smaller room off the hallway, finding it full of dusty, brittle old supplies and equipment, though there is no sign of any comestibles. A pair of snowshoes, their laces fallen apart and brittle, are about the only equipment not ruined from long neglect. As he abandons his fruitless investigation and enters the ransacked living room, pangs of hunger was over the men, before growing into an intense, racking wave of starvation. Though some of the Avengers are able to ward off the wracking pains, Zendo and Hikage hold their sides in anguish as intense, overwhelming starvation gnaws at them. The two feel almost overwhelmed by the sudden, unbidden sensations, and shudder as horrible, unwelcome thoughts of leaping on their friends and gnawing at their faces and arms race through their minds. “Something horrible happened here,” Hikage warns, voicing the thoughts of all of the men. “This place wasn’t abandoned by the Vekkers.”.

The door leading into the remaining area of the cabin is fitted snugly against the sill, so snugly, in fact, that Hikage cannot easily force it open. He motions to Ragnar, who rather smugly sets his shoulder against it. After the door resists him as well, the irritated Ulfen extricates his trusty crowbar and cracks the door open like a walnut shell. Beyond is a chilling sight, both literally and figuratively.

The room beyond has a window with neither glass nor shutter, but only a narrow metal grating, allowing the icy air to chill the room. Metal hooks hang from the ceiling, but a mass of bones is piled up in the far corner. From the doorway, they look similar to human bones, but the squat thickness of the bones suggests to the men that they must be dwarf bones. Hikage enters to examine the pile of bones more closely, and is startled to realize that his own golden prayer beads are looped around one gnawed set of vertebrae. He suddenly leaps into a fighting pose as the whistling wind is filled with moaning whispers. The others watch in amazement as Hikage suddenly is lifted into the air and twists as if struggling with an invisible apparition. Bloody bite marks appear on his flesh as the monk writhes against an unseen force, before he drops to the ground, almost exhausted. Hikage explains that a dozen, emaciated dwarves appeared around him and tried to gnaw his flesh from his bones!

Gellius uses his wands of healing to treat some of Hikage’s wounds, as well as to relieve the fatigue and soreness of Zendo and Corvus. The men decide to leave this ‘most haunted’ part of the cabin and go into the small ‘mud room’ to exit there. They find themselves on a large, wooden porch, amply decorated with numerous skulls of bear, deer, wolf, and other animals, as well as many racks of antlers. Examining the porch, they find a sign in dwarven above the other entrance, denoting the cabin as the Vekker Company Mining Headquarters. Snow is falling briskly, and has covered the ground in a white blanket. The flakes are so large and fluffy that visibility atop the cliff is greatly reduced, but Hikage swears that he can see a man-like figure staggering out in the distance. He points it out to the others, but only Zendo can pick out the broad, short form of a dwarf staggering towards the cabin in the gathering darkness. As the figure nears their magical lights, it is revealed to be the fork-bearded dwarf! He rushes unsteadily towards the light, blood streaming from cuts and bites on his face and hands.

“Run for your lives!,” he cries. “They’re going to eat you! Run!”.

Each of the men is suddenly seized by the irrational conviction that the others, here in the wildnerness, have become cannibals, and are about to leap upon them and devour them. Though the fear is frighteningly intense, the men all fight it off, recognizing the paranoia as a lingering residue of the spirits haunting the remote cabin.

Though the men now have a good idea of what fate befell the Vekkers and their team, they are no closer to finding any clues as to where Silas and Karivek stumbled onto Xin-Shalast. Retracing their steps, the Avengers realize that the only areas they did not thoroughly search were the cold, bone filled meat locker, and the landing at the top of the cabin’s staircase. Reluctant to revisit the site of the cannibal ghosts, the men decide to search the landing first. Hikage soon notices a hidden lock behind one of the wooden panels. Zendo attempts to pick the lock, but it is quite well-made, and, in the end, Corvus casts a spell to unlock it.

Behind the hidden door is a small, fortified room, containing only a writing table with a ledger, a stool, and several canvas sacks. Corvus selects one of the sacks at random to inspect and finds it very heavy for the small size. Within the sack is forty pounds of fine golden flakes and dust. The wizard quickly examines each of the other sacks, and finds that five sacks contain a roughly equivalent amount of gold dust, while two of the others contain nuggets of gold! Evidently the Vekkers were not unsuccessful miners! In moving the heavy sacks, he also finds a small wooden coffer concealed behind them, which Zendo examines with mage hand, finding it to contain numerous uncut gems, apparently spoils of the mining enterprise.

Finally, Corvus inspects the ledger. It contains detailed maps and entries on each of the Vekker’s placer mines. Corvus begins to read it in detail, searching for information on the location of Xin-Shalast, before he stops and mentally berates himself. The dwarves would not have continued to dig and pan for flakes of gold if they had discovered a lost city paved with it! He quickly turns to the back of the ledger, seeking the last entries, but is chagrined to find that the last few pages of the ledger have been torn out entirely!

Gellius quickly hurries into the privy to inspect the papers there, but finds those on the hook are old, faded broadsheets from Korvosa, dating back a decade or more.

As the men gather in the landing, Hikage can hear a faint pounding sound drifting up from the stairwell. None of the others can hear it, but they all agree that it needs to be investigated. The men head down the stairs, though Corvus steps gingerly over the area of stairs that Hikage thought were wobbly earlier. However, none of the stairs gives way, or even seems particularly loose. As the heroes descend, the pounding sound grows louder, until even Ragnar can hear it. It seems to be coming from outside, perhaps at the doors. The men gather at the doors of the room haunted by the ‘generous dwarf’, and Zendo bolsters their will, before they dart through the room, shouting at the relentless spirit to be silent. Hikage arrives first in the lower entry, and opens the door, but the knocking has stopped. Looking out into the blowing, gathering snow, he can see no one who could have caused the knocking, nor any footprints. Gellius, using his scimitar for light, ventures out into the snow looking for a culprit.

Hikage is startled when an immense, grey limb stretches out from the darkness to clutch at Gellius, who only narrowly dodges the jagged, bark-covered limb. Gellius turns and cries out in dismay. The lichen-covered, windblown old pine tree has pulled itself up by the roots and the wooden being is striding through the snow towards him menacingly. As it does so, there is a deafening crack and the walls of the cabin begin to shake as if the entire structure is about to collapse off the cliff. Gellius would say that the creature is a treant, but he has never seen one of the sylvan guardians looking so unhealthy, nor so aggressive. The druid quickly casts a spell allowing him to speak with the wood spirit, asking the being who it is, and what it desires from them.

Once, I was life, and sought light and water. Only poison and death did I find. Now, I am death, and all I seek is life, blood and life. Your blood, druid!

Before the massive, diseased treant can strike him again, Gellius’s friends spring to his aid (and to get away from the violent tremors of the cabin). Hikage unleashes a burst of cleansing flame from his mouth, which sets the dry wood of the horrific tree ablaze. Ragnar steps into the reach of the monster, brushing aside its sharp wooden claws, to hack deeply into its side. Corvus summons a roiling ball of flame, but cannot safely direct it against the entity without exposing himself to its grasp as well. The groaning and creaking of the deathly treant blends with the crackle and pop of its burning wood as it shambles forward. The undead treant is immense, and Hikage, Zendo, and Corvus cannot avoid the lumbering bulk as it tramples towards them, crushing them painfully. Gellius and Ragnar do not even try, choosing instead to chop away at the beast. Gellius’s scimitar is deflected by a wayward branch, but Ragnar chops deeply into the trunk of the murderous tree. Hikage weaves around the flailing branches of the treant and, wreathing his fist in flames, smites it another burning blow. Though the dry wood absorbs much of the force, the flames crackle to life. Corvus plows the flaming sphere into the center of the horrific treant and the entire creature goes up in a blast of fire, collapsing into the snow to burn fitfully.

The men look uncertainly back at the Vekker cabin. The strange pounding is almost deafening, and the very timbers of the cabin seem to shudder under the unseen force. Gellius and Hikage urge Corvus to turn his flaming sphere onto the cabin itself, and burn the accursed place down to the ground. Corvus reminds Hikage that solution seemed to work on Foxglove Manor, but turned out to be ultimately unsuccessful. Ragnar cries out, over the pounding, that only by braving Foxglove Manor did the Avengers truly understand their enemy. With a mixture of determination and resignation, the men re-enter the cabin of the cannibal dwarves. As they do so, they can hear anguished dwarf voices calling out faintly, lamenting their hunger and their fate. In the corner of their eyes, they can see the emaciated spirits, which seem to notice them as well and pool around them. The men make their way to the stairwell, intending to return to the evident epicenter of the haunting, but the violent shaking of the cabin makes even climbing the stairs difficult. The acrobatic monk clamber up the shaking stairs with ease, while Zendo attempts to assist Ragnar. Corvus, despairing of making the climb, teleports himself and Gellius to the clifftop cabin, while Ragnar struggles to keep his footing, eventually making his own way up the stairs.

At the top of the cabin, the hungry ghosts seem to gather closely around the men, though they can only be glimpsed indirectly, and no sooner than Ragnar alights on the top step, the violent pounding subsides. The moans of the doomed dwarves still drift through the air, but the ghosts seem to have lost their focus on the men, and drift strangely away. The Avengers return to the living room, wary of the crippling hunger that seized them earlier. In front of the portrait, a strange vortex of dust and ash seems to be manifesting. As the men watch warily, the nebulous cloud coalesces into the dwarf with the forked beard. Unlike the previous apparation, this manifestation seems cloudy and indistinct. The dwarf’s face is inchoate, his eyes a smudge of darkness in his flesh. The dwarf’s voice drifts across the room, though his lips only waver faintly:

You…You are alive? You do not hunger? Ah…That is what I sense in your blood. Greed.

Shreds of the ghost tear off as reddened strips, leaving a patchwork of raw flesh as it speaks. Hikage starts to deny their greed, but remembers the men’s haste in seizing the bags of gold in the safe room.

You seek the City of Greed. You should abandon your quest, lest you end up like me. Cold. Dead. Eaten

But I suspect you cannot be swayed. Know then that I know the way to Xin-Shalast. I can show you the way, but only if you bring me my brother. He died on a ledge in the mountains, a mile’s walk north from this cabin, near the site of our last mine.

I can feel his soul out there, still hungry, still insane. Bring his bones to me so that I might reconcile with Karivek. Once he is at rest, I will show you the way, then I might rest as well…

As he speaks to the men, Silas’s form diminishes in bite-sizes fragments, leaving a growing patchwork of red, until his form becomes indistinct, and fades away into the air. Hikage vows to the dissipating dwarf that the men will retrieve his brother.

After the unsettling ‘talk’ with the spectral remains of Silas Vekker, the men are in no mood to sleep in the cabin. They walk out onto the front porch and find a blanket of snow has covered the ground. Tromping through the snow, with a cold wind blowing the flurries across their vision, the men huddle around Corvus as he conjures up the gateway to a magical, other-dimensional manor, warm and bright in contrast to the cold, dark mountains around them. The heroes eagerly step through the portal, hoping to find some rest and respite within.

View
To the Vekker Mines in the Kodar Mountains
Pharast 11, 4708

Thanks to Ragnar’s undiplomatic, but effective, visit to Janderhoff, the Avengers have learned where the Vekker brothers had been prospecting in the Kodar Mountains. Their placer mines are undocumented in Janderhoff, both due to the two dwarves propensity for secrecy, and to the wild, uncharted nature of the mountain range, but their mining outpost itself was located on the east banks of the Kazaron River, deep within the foothills of the Kodars. As Karivek and Silas Vekker claimed to have found Xin-Shalast, perhaps some information can be found at their mining camp to help retrace their steps.

The Avengers have been preparing for departure for some time, but everyone says their last goodbyes to friends or loved ones on the morning of the second Toilday of Pharast. Rather than teleporting blindly into the mountains, the men decide to journey across Varisia with the help of Gellius’s magics. Vesnutt Parooh‘s map of Varisia should be detailed enough for them to navigate through the sky back towards the massive quarry-lake of the Storval Deep, which is fed by both the Storval and Kazaron Rivers. Then, they can follow the course of the Kazaron across the Storval Plateau and the Cinderlands, to the foothills of the forbidding Kodar Mountains. The men will be vulnerable in the misty, insubstantial forms of the druid’s wind walking spell, but their great height and speed will hopefully allow them to avoid incident. Once there, Corvus plans to summon phantasmal steeds to carry them through the air, allowing them to swiftly follow the course of the Kazaron into the mountains while searching for the Vekker outpost. Though the shadowy mounts are not as fast as the swift transportation of wind walking, the heroes will remain substantial, and can more easily respond to any threats they encounter.

Corvus offers to cast a spell allowing them to swiftly retreat to Sandpoint, but the men demurr, assuring themselves that nothing so dire will befall them on the voyage to the Kodars, and not wishing to waste more time in retracing their journey. The men take to the air, swiftly leaving Sandpoint behind as they whirl towards Nybor and across Ember Lake, gaining height as they pass over the Malgorian Mountains and descending again to fly across the mysterious Sanos Forest. The hamlet of Turtleback Ferry is faintly visible to their right as the heroes soar up and over the ancient dam of Skull’s Crossing and flit across the still waters of the Storval Deep. Angling eastward, the men begin to follow the Kazaron as it flows down into the Deep. Rather than dallying by tracing the sinuous contours of the river, the men ascent higher into the air and cross overland, seeking the junction of the Kazaron and Stalak Rivers in the Storval Plateau. From there, they head directly east, skirting along the foothills of the Kodars until they see the Kazaron flowing swiftly down from the mountains. There, they descent and rest again for a bit.

The Kazaron flows fast and cold here, fed by the early snowmelt from the Kodars. The channel is deep, but the riverbanks are narrow to nonexistent. The dense volcanic rock of the Kodars resists the weathering force of the water and does not surrender ground easily. The passage would be grueling on foot, but Corvus’s summoned steeds can alight easily in the air, or simply tread across the surface of the river like a smooth road. Gellius also protects the men with spells giving them resistance to the increasingly cold weather, though all are dressed for the climate, even Ragnar for once. Following the icy waters of the Kazaron is simple for the experienced druid, though the men must be watchful that a stand of trees or an outcropping of rock does not prevent them from overlooking the Vekker cabin and passing by it unaware. The sun is beginning to dip behind the mountains when Zendo finally calls out that he has spotted a cabin near the river.

The split rail cabin is covered with a profusion of lichen, making it almost appear to be part of the rocky ground. The Vekkers had constructed it perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the river. A wooden shaft of some sort descends the cliff face and joins with a second building at the base of the cliff. This lower portion has a gently sloping roof over its main section, and a steeply sloping roof over a smaller portion to the left. The faint traces of a footpath, made more visible by the absence of windblown snow, rises up the slope and towards a probable entrance on the left side of the lower structure. The lower structure has no windows, but the upper cabin appears to have several, some of which are shuttered closed, and one set which seems free of shutters. The right side of the structure features some sort of sluice or spillway which terminates in a large mound of faded black grit. The grass and scrub that grows wild over the area that descends towards the river is absent here. A large, wind-blown pine tree does grow on this side of the building, although the blackened bark, scraggly needles, and profusion of lichen suggests it may actually be dead.

The men approach around the right side of the building, finding two entrances. One single door is padlocked and leads into the larger structure, while the other entrance is a set of double doors, also padlocked, that lead into the small side portion with the steeply sloping roof. Zendo tries to pick the very rusty lock on the set of double doors, but eventually Hikage is forced to smash the rusty chain apart with a sharp kick. Within, there appears to be only a dirt-floored shed filled with rusty and dry-rotted equipment. Old wheelbarrows, picks, shovels, sacks, and panniers are strewn about under a thick coating of dust.

The single door has a lock which is less rusty, but the interior corrosion has jammed the mechanism shut. Hikage strikes it a peremptory blow, but the metal remains strong, and it falls to Ragnar to remove the lock with his trusty crowbar. Inside is a wood-floored room with a ramp rising towards a set of double doors to the left. Beyond the ramp is a hanging curtain concealing some space beyond. Hikage investigates behind the curtain and finds a cot with a straw-filled mattress showing signs of long disuse. Under the cot are a pair of muddy boots, but when Hikage examines them, he finds that one boot conceals a hidden punch dagger. After consultation with Corvus, the dagger is revealed to be powerfully magical—a sign that the Vekkers must have had some success in their mining ventures, and Ragnar, the only one familiar with such a brutal weapon, claims it, passing off the razor-sharp fang dagger of Lucretia to Gellius.

The men cautiously move up the ramp and open the double doors, revealing a room that looks to have been used for ore separation. A door leads out of the room to the left, while a grate in the floor to the right must connect to the chute outside. Corroded panniers and tools rest on tables abutting the cliff face itself. However, Hikage and Zendo notice a shadowy figure in the far right corner of the room which should not be able to conceal itself in the magical lights of the heroes weapons! Hikage quickly assumes his Dragon Stance and Zendo bolsters the courage of his friends with a few choice words.

The shadowy figure turns and reveals itself to be a male dwarf, with brown hair running to baldness, but a thick beard split into two forks held by rings of gold. He proffers a double handful of gold dust to the men, urging them, “You have to try this. It’s so delicious!”. To their disgust, the dwarf’s mouth is slathered with ropy strands of gold-flecked drool.

To the amazement of the others, Corvus seems intrigued by the offer, and quickly steps forward, seemingly eager to partake. Gellius quickly restrains him, but Corvus protests. Hikage tries to question the strange dwarf, but he will only respond with a cheerful urging to try the golden dust. Ragnar yells at him that he is a fool, but suggests they allow Corvus to eat gold if he’s that curious. Gellius quickly pulls Corvus out of the room with a firm grasp on his sleeve, while Hikage, in frustration, tries to seize the strange dwarf, only to find his hands pass through the miner as if he were not there at all.

Remembering their experiences in Foxglove Manor, Hikage and Zendo realize that the dwarf is not truly present, but must somehow be connected with what transpired here in the Vekker cabin. Zendo notices that the dwarf is scooping up black dust from the ground, which appears golden in his hands, while Hikage stoops to examine the grate and opens it, confirming that it does lead to the sluiceway outside. Once out of the room, Corvus tells Gellius that he feels much better, only to dart past him when the relieved druid releases his friend. Zendo realizes that the black dust must be poisonous arsenic, left over from the process used to separate gold ore, and cries out an alarm to Hikage. Unable to deter his friend, Hikage strikes Corvus, trying to shake him out of his daze, but Corvus simply seems shocked and angered that the monk would strike him over something so minor as a snack. Exasperated, Ragnar seizes Corvus in a two-handed grip, lifting him into the air. Gellius rushes in and conjures a whirling globe of water, hurling it at Ragnar and the pile of black grit. Ragnar stands firm, and the watery orb sloshes into the arsenic, washing it down the grate and out onto the sluiceway. The burly Ulfen slams the wizard none too gently onto the wet wooden floor before pinning him through the simple expedient of sitting on his back. Corvus protests angrily at his uncivil treatment for a few breaths, then seems to regain his good senses and confesses that he cannot understand why he was so determined to eat the proffered meal. Ragnar helps him up, and the men examine the equipment in the room, hoping to find some clue, when the shadowy figure of the dwarf reappears, along with the mound of poisonous dust. Hikage quickly opens the door leading out of the room, and most of the others swiftly depart before the dwarf can offer his poisonous treat again, though Ragnar remains behind to bawl expletives at the apparition in irritation.

The room beyond, once the door is shut on the ghostly host, is revealed to be largely a stairwell, with steep flights of steps leading upwards. There are no windows in the stairwell, but the light of the Avenger’s magical weapons reveals a large metal bucket hanging from a chain roughly thirty feet overhead. A wheelbarrow lies discarded against one wall. The men decide to ascend, Hikage in the lead. As they approach the top of the stairs, they can see that the bucket and chain are attached to a winch at the top of the staircase. Evidently, the assembly is used to raise or lower materials from the cabin to the worksheds below.

Hikage suddenly stops, motioning the others back. His keen senses have noticed a give in the stairs above, and his finely honed reflexes have allowed him to arrest his movement quickly. The stairs ahead, easily fifty feet above the floor below, have been rigged in some manner. Hikage is sure that any substantial weight will cause them to give way He uses his supernatural balance and ki to clamber across the walls of the stairwell instead, moving up onto the landing, where, in addition to the steel winch, he also spies a long pole with an iron hook and doors leading to the cabin beyond.

No sooner than Hikage has scampered to safely, the iron bucket and chain clatter to some form of life, swinging around dangerously in the stairwell, threatening to strike both Ragnar and Gellius. The druid, conscious that the long chain could entangle one of the men, quickly casts a spell allowing them to cling to the walls like spiders. Hikage seizes the winch and tries to reel in the chain, but it resists him like a python. Zendo and Corvus quickly clamber along the walls to safety with Gellius, but Ragnar waits behind, moving up only a slight distance. When the iron chain swings towards him again, Ragnar licks out with his sword and slices it apart. The chain retracts suddenly under Hikage’s strong grip, while the iron bucket plummets down the shaft to smash into the floor below. As Ragnar moves to rejoin the group, they take stock at the top of the stairs.

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Sandpoint and safety, for a time.
Calistril 8-Pharast 10, 4708

After their adventures in Runeforge, the Avengers (thanks to Corvus) teleport back to the coastal town of Sandpoint. Their magical arrival startles folks traveling up and down Market Street, and soon the town is abuzz with the news that the Heroes of Sandpoint have returned!

Zendo quickly cuts through the narrow alley beside the Rusty Dragon to get to Vernah’s Fine Clothing, hoping to surprise Rynshinn Povalli before the gossipy villagers can announce his arrival. The other heroes are left to lug the immense piles of pillage and loot which would not fit in Ragnar’s bag of holding into the Rusty Dragon, before settling themselves down in the common room to the eager questions of the curious Sandpointers. Ragnar, however, scowls at the attention, and the Mark of Wrath upon his forehead glows as he glowers at the villagers. He brusquely shoos them out of his way, and makes his way to the bar to drink with Ameiko.

Bereft of their storyteller, Corvus, Hikage, and Gellius do their best to answer the eager questions of the townsfolk, while dodging the larger, more frightening issue of Karzoug as best as possible. Boudra arrives soon after word has spread throughout the town, and greets Gellius warmly. The shapely Shayliss Vinder also makes an entrance and seems irritated to find her boyfriend absent from the crowds When she sees Ragnar, she questions him about the strange rune on his forehead, but the Ulfen snarls back a curt response. Chastened, but annoyed, Shayliss tries to make amends while attempting to draw him out from the darkened corner of the bar towards the others in the center of attention.

The remainder of Calistril, and the first few weeks of Pharast, find the Avengers pulled in many directions.

The heroes make an early call on Vesnutt Parooh at The Way North, hoping to wheedle a map of the Kodar Mountains out of the gnome cartographer. Vesnutt’s eyes widen in wonder and excitement when he learns of their destination, but he is forced to admit that he has no maps of any quality of the mountains known to the Shoanti as the World’s End. He tells them that the Kodars are a forbidding and strange place, rumored to be the home of ‘abominable snowmen’ who carry off hikers and explorers from their camps, never to be seen again. He tells them tales of huge, horse-headed wyverns which nest in the peaks, but are said to fly between the world and the moon. Vesnutt says that the Kodars are home to Frost Giants, and even larger giants, as well as strange worms with burning blood, or perhaps blood colder than ice, that burrow through the glaciers. He shyly asks the men for any maps they might sketch of the mountains, if they please.

In hopes that the Old Sage might help them narrow down their search of the Kodar Mountains, the Avengers pay a visit to Brodert Quink as well. Their fellow Pathfinder is eager to hear the tales of their recent adventures, and is agog and astonished at their accounts of a functioning Thassilonian magical conclave within Rimeskull. The men take Quink into their confidence, telling the sage that their recent misadventures are not the result of some mere cult, but have been actively opposed by Runelord Karzoug himself, surviving these ten thousand years and seeking his own return! The old scholar is astounded and dismayed, having thought that, for all their power and influence, the Runelords had passed into history, with only their magics and their legends left to corrupt and inspire the ambitious.

When the men press him for any knowledge he might have of the true location of Xin-Shalast, Brodert wryly reminds them that such knowledge has been the object of many a Pathfinder and madmen for many, many years. However, he admits that, in their absence, he has wracked both his brain and his personal library for any information that may have been useful. Quink carefully extracts a letter from his desk, offering it to the Avengers. “I apologize that I cannot bring myself to give you this, but Redwing has always been one of my favorite authors. I could not bear to part with it.” The letter is a missive from Cevil Charms, a noted Pathfinder and author of several popular works, including Eidolon:

LetterToBrodert.png

Brodert explains that the Vekker brothers, Silas and Karivek, were known to him during his years studying with the dwarven engineers of Janderhoff. Though he never met either of the two, the Vekkers were known as adventurous, if not entirely respectable, prospectors, famed more for their ambitious prospecting than their successes. Brodert worked with the Janderhoff engineers more than three decades ago, so this disreputable escapade with the Vekker brothers must have occurred more recently. The sage suggests that, while the unconquered wilds of Varisia do not lend themselves to formal claims, the dwarfs of Janderhoff might have some records that indicate, even tangentially, where the placer mines that the Vekkers dug could be found. Presumably, the last mine would have been worked immediately prior to their claimed discovery of Xin-Shalast, and would represent the ‘last known location’ of the Vekkers and their exploratory party.

Zendo seems to have turned into quite the homebody, spending little time with the other Avengers who jaunt off to Magnimar and other locales. The bard spends a great deal of time regaling the locals with tales of their exploits. He ‘tones down’ the most gruesome and salacious aspects of the time spent within Runeforge when he tells stories to the children of the town, but his ‘night time’ stories at the Rusty Dragon are full of the salacious, bloody details. Despite these stories being wholly inappropriate for children, Zendo finds that many of the town youth have overheard them somehow, and beg him for the secret details.

His relationship with the elegant Rynshinn hits a little bit of a rough patch, as Zendo has made no secret of his success and wealth, nor his intentions of establishing a fine mansion in Sandpoint. It comes to a head when the impulsive bard acquires a magical golden lyre in Magnimar capable of whisking together buildings and other structures in no time by magic. Rynshinn has spent a lot of time since her mother’s passing establishing herself as a successful merchant in Sandpoint, even starting a guild for the tailors and weavers of the town, and she feels her efforts to be overshadowed by the extravagant wealth of her paramour. She had hoped to even establish a shop in Magnimar! It seems like much of Zendo’s personal time is spent in reassuring her that she will not be simply riding his coattails through life.

The bard does spend a good deal of time in private speaking to Niska Mvashti and Risa Magravi, as well as many of the other elder Varisians about Xin-Shalast and the sacred river Avah. Some of them, like Risa, insist that the old folk-stories are not to be taken literally, but are parables that teach us to be satisfied with simple pleasures rather than grasping at unearthly delights. Others, like Madam Mvashti, insist firmly that the old tales are truth entirely, not parable, and suggest that the Varisian love of family, simple pleasures, and freedom stems from the dark days spent in the shadows of those cities and their rulers.

Corvus and Hikage make early forays to Magnimar, both to contact the Pathfinder Society, and to sell and buy the rare and exotic goods that only adventurers seem to need. Corvus offers the spellbooks of the enigmatic stone giant Mokmurian and the ‘lesser’ wizards of Runeforge to the Pathfinder Society, as well as the extensive research libraries on necromancy and magical constructs. Though it pains the young, curious wizard, he even offers up the journals of Vraxeris, detailing his creation of an improved clone spell. Along with Azaven’s grim Staff of Hungry Shadows and the Staff of Mithral Might once held by Ordikon, these rare and valuable tomes help grease the wheels of the Society, enabling the Avengers to acquire resources and cooperation from others within the Society and without. Several of the powerful enchanters in Magnimar ply their time weaving spells for their benefit.

Corvus is dismayed and a bit embarrassed to find that the Efreeti Bottle which he grandly entrusted to the Society is actually nothing more than an Eversmoking Bottle, a discovery occasioned by copious billowings of said smoke. He is more chagrined by his unintentional generosity when he receives a fulsome letter of thanks from the Church of Abadar. He had entrusted the vile torture manual of the lamian priestesses to the care of that church, but discovered that, having failed to examine the book in any depth, he did not notice a scroll which removes curses secreted within. The priests of Abadar thanked him warmly for the donation without comment.

Corvus also makes many unusual purchases in Magnimar, causing a bit of consternation to Hikage when revealed to him. The young wizard commisions several odd bits of art, including a miniature platinum sword and a gold-rimmed ruby lens, but the monk is most bewildered by his friend Corvus’s purchase of an ivory statuette of himself, as well as several small tin wizard toys, painted to resemble Corvus in every regard.

Hikage himself visits his parents dutifully, and spends much time in the company of other monastic members of the Society, including time with Lady Sheila Heidmarch as she is available. The monk is able to exchange many of the belts enchanted to boost the wearer’s physique for several esoteric magic items of interest to monks, or those of Tien heritage. He also finds a very different perspective on his patron, Irori, through his interactions with Vudrani adherents to the Houses of Perfection.

Corvus does not spend as much time visiting his mother and father, but his mother reminds him pointedly of the upcoming Golemwalk parade on the first Sunday of Pharast, and he assures her he will attend. Once the wizard returns to Sandpoint, his peculiar behavior and studious demeanor is the subject of much rumor-mongering within the town. Not only does he purchase several large, unmounted gemstones from Maever Kesk, he requests that some diamonds and rubies be crushed into powder! When he also purchases gold dust and pellets of cold iron and adamantine from Nisk Tander, some in Sandpoint say that he is going to blow up the Rusty Dragon with his alchemical experiments, while others whisper that the wizard has gone mad and is now eating precious metals and stones. The rumors around town are no milder when he obtains an oak branch from the Pauper’s Graves outside down, and a varnished reed from the Turandurok River, in order to enchant them into wands of False Life and Air Bubble, respectively. Even when not enchanting, Corvus remains studious, committing many of the spells of Runeforge into his own books. All told, the young wizard spends the better part of two weeks poring over the Thassilonian Tomes.

On a few of the days that he is not engrossed in study in Sandpoint, Corvus disappears entirely from town in the early morning, vanishing from his room at the Rusty Dragon without coming downstairs. The halfling maid cautiously cleans his room and makes the bed on each of those days, and prays silently to herself when the wizard emerges from his room late in the evening for dinner. Corvus teleports himself to the ancient Therassic Library in the Valley of the Black Tower for research. He learns that the clockwork librarian cannot provide him with any detailed geographical information on Xin-Shalast. All such materials were requested by a prior user of the Library and withdrawn from the collection. The librarian identifies this user as Mokmurian. All that remains within the Therassic Library are popular artistic works on the beauty and grandeur of Shalast. Corvus does find some disturbing, if not particularly useful, readings on Mhar Massif, which insist that the Massif is not (or, at least, was not) an actual mountain, but instead an immense extraplanar entity transformed into stone in the process of manifesting in our reality!

Once back in Sandpoint, Hikage spends a good deal of time in meditation, or in training, with Sabyl Sorn, at the House of Blue Stones. He visits with his good friend Ameiko Kaijitsu regularly, and expresses an interest in investing his profligate wealth in the Glassworks one day. Despite the renown and fame of the Avengers, several of the local Varisian rowdies insist that Zendo has exaggerated some of their exploits, claiming that Foxglove Manor still stands, and has not burned to the ground. While Zendo dismisses their idle japes as little more than sour grapes, the honor-bound Hikage is dutifully offended, and convinces Corvus to accompany him to the former estate on a day when the wizard isn’t otherwise occupied. The two are appalled to discover that Foxglove Manor indeed does still stand at the edge of the Varisian Gulf! The manor seems strangely half-formed however, with some walls and roofing of stout, if damp wood, and others composed of brittle, mushy pulp, sometimes of scant, almost papery thickness.

Gellius has an unsettling experience when he first enters the courtyard of the Sandpoint Cathedral on his first Sunday back in town. Though the seven standing stones within the courtyard have represented the seven towers of Desna’s castle to the Varisians since long before the town’s founding, the druid momentarily imagines them as the seven Runelords facing the Sihedron at Rimeskull. Though the connection is only in his memories, Gellius finds himself unable to shake it, along with a sense that the devotion of the Varisians is misplaced at best. He finds worship of Gozreh in the Cathedral to be filled with distraction as a result, and shares his misgivings only with his friends in the Avengers, unwilling to disturb the parishioners or the good folk of Sandpoint.

While spending time in town with Boudra, Gellius also finds time to scribe a scroll with spells to extend a bubble of life-giving energy around his companions. Though Boudra is affectionate, she eventually intimates to Gellius that she is growing frustrated that, despite his growing influence, fame, and wealth, he continues to drift in and out of town, forcing her to still make a living as a humble laundress. To her shock and dismay, the druid neither apologizes nor offers amends. Gellius tells Boudra that he feels that she does not, and has not, understood, or supported, the path that Gozreh has set for him to follow. He firmly ends their relationship and she runs out of the inn, tears streaming. Gellius confesses to the other Avengers that the girl has felt like dead weight to him for some time.

Gellius decides to take this time to visit his family farm outside Sandpoint. His parents and brother are surprised to see him, but quickly welcome him back into the fold. Though his family is warm and supportive, Gellius quickly feels the contrast between their prosaic, day to day concerns and the momentous, if unseen, struggles he has engaged in. While his parents listen with rapt attention to his stories of dragons, giants, and demons, their concerns still turn inevitably back to the mundane chores of the day. “I’m sure that this Ker-zoog has to be stopped, son,” his father explains one day, “and I’m proud that you want to do it. But, at the end of the day, those cows don’t feed and water themselves, either.”

When Gellius returns to town, the druid expresses interest in several of the local girls, trading on his reputation for heroism and daring deeds. Though the girls are flattered to be approached by a real hero, particularly Arika Alvertin, most of them are disconcerted when an indignant Boudra Fullona confronts them after a pleasant dinner or a cheerful dance. “He seems nice, but he’s a firepelt tom! He’ll take you to dinner and dances, and to meet the mayor of Magnimar, but you’ll still have to wash down codpieces for coppers!” Gellius doesn’t even realize why several of the local woman are so hesitant for a second ‘date’ for quite some time.

Ragnar spends his first week back in Sandpoint giving his battered physique a chance to recover, through a rather bizarre regimen. With Ameiko’s bemused permission, he pays some of the local carpenters to erect a tiny shack in the back alley of the Rusty Dragon Inside, he places a small stove, as well as several cobblestones. He pays a local boy to fetch some birch branches, and makes the staff tend the stove inside until the smoke is thick and choking. Ragnar strips down naked and takes a bucket of water inside the tiny hut after letting out the smoke. Not even Shayliss is quite sure what he is doing inside, but when he emerges, he rolls in the snow outside! Afterwards, the Ulfen enters the Dragon (clad only in a towel) and eats some sausages and beer, or smoked fish and a strong, spicy liquor, before repeating the process. Ragnar calls the process the savusauna, and Ameiko tells the others that the strange alcohol is ‘linje akvavit’, some weird Ulfen liquor that is sealed in casks and sailed from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings to the Shackles and back before opening. “It’s as expensive as hell and they put caraway and dill in it! Don’t know why the hell you’d sail it to the Eye and back.”

Initial missives to the dwarves of Janderhoff are unhelpful, as the Avengers evidently recovered the crown of one of the dwarven noble houses from the hoards of the giants, and sold it to an antiquities dealer in Magnimar. The dwarves are more than a bit peeved that the Avengers treated this royal gear with such mercenary disregard. Ragnar, surprisingly, offers to travel to Janderhoff to rectify matters. This seems to be an excuse for avoiding Shayliss, who has been insistently trying to convince him to have the Mark of Wrath removed, a suggestion which has been ill-received. When Shayliss expresses her unhappiness with the arrangement, Ragnar offers to take her with him, which she seems disinclined to do, until he invites Ameiko instead.

Shayliss makes a scene at the Dragon, or would have done so, if Ragnar did not whisk her into the air and plop her down on a barstool with a painful smack on the bottom. “No merchant am I and no merchant shall I be! Your sire never thought you suited to the task til the Skinsaw Man ended your sister. Will you go and adventure, like Ameiko here, or stay home and mind the shop, woman?” Shayliss sputters to be put on the spot in such a manner, but agrees to go rather heatedly. Ameiko pats Ragnar on the shoulder and says “Just as well. I have an Inn and a Glassworks to manage, you know.” Corvus summons black steeds and sends the two on their way to Janderhoff. When they return, more than a week later, Ragnar has the necessary information, and only volunteers that his diplomacy was successful. Shayliss exclaims that he insulted the guards, got himself arrested, and then paid the dwarven soldiers to drill with him for a week before they agreed to release him. However, her possessive demeanor seems to have relented.

Things proceed along in Sandpoint. Some are unhappy that Titus Scarnetti has decided to increase the price of his lumber, though everyone concedes that it was a generous gesture to lower the prices at his mill after the other sawmill in town burned down last year. Titus explains that the discovery of Banny Harker‘s embezzlement, combined with the expenses of renovating Scarnetti Manor after the assault of the Stone Giants, simply forced his hand, the rising costs preventing him from operating the mill at such low profits. Loyalty Day, on the 19th of Calistril, sees some ill-will between some of the staunchest Chellist villagers and some of the more outspoken Varisians and Shoanti in the town, who find any celebration of the ’thrice-damned’ House of Thrune in the poorest of taste.

Hikage notices grumbling at the Rusty Dragon, and finds that crowds of inebriated louts from the Feedbag have been causing commotions in the streets near the Dragon, making the White Deer Inn the preferred destination for many Sandpoint residents wary of a little trouble. Though the Sheriff and his men have responded to break up any altercations, the drunken traffic seems persistent. The monk brings his concerns to Zendo, and the bard utilizes “Redshiv” Bilger‘s hat of disguise to enter the Feedbag unrecognized and monitors the situation. Though the owner of the Feedbag, Gressel Tenniwar, is pouring out the free beers for many malcontents, Zendo notices that all of the louts initially are approached by his old friend, Jubrayl Vhiski. Zendo approaches the swarthy Sczarni and doffs his cap, revealing his true identity. He sits down for a serious chat with Jubrayl, who, with some diplomatic urging from the bard, reveals his complaints. Zendo and the other Avengers have upended the balance of things in the town, with their support of the mayor and the sheriff. While the Avengers haven’t made any effort to root the Sczarni out of the town, Zendo has not always been willing to help out an old friend either, choosing a lot of troublesome honesty instead. Furthermore, the Avengers and their patronage of the Rusty Dragon has diminished the clientele of the Feedbag directly, making the Dragon a more popular location. Vhiski admits that the Heroes of Sandpoint are too popular, and powerful, to make a move against, but the nuisances against their favorite haunts are a suggestion to the Avengers to move on to greener pastures and bigger cities. Jubrayl suggests that ‘famous heroes’ like the Avengers should be relocating on to Magnimar, Cheliax, or even Absalom, rather than playing the big fishes in the small pond of Sandpoint. When Zendo’s diplomatic overtures fall on deaf ears, the bard shifts tactics. He leans in close to Jubrayl and warns his old friend, “We’ve been places and fought things right out of your nightmares. I’ve banished demons with the power of my voice and a wave of my hand. We’ve defeated wizards ten thousand years old. You think I’m supposed to be inconvenienced by you? My friend Ragnar would kill you and anyone who likes you and not lose sleep over it. Maybe you are the one who needs to wake up and make some changes, Jubrayl.”

Corvus is pleased to find that Hikage and Gellius are eager to accompany him back to Magnimar for the annual Golemwalk Parade on the second of Pharast. The wizard is a bit embarrassed to find that his mother is one of the judges of the procession, but he and Gellius enjoy the spectacle of the magical constructs. Hikage, being of a more practical mind, is disappointed, as he had thought the procession would consist of powerful golems and automatons, giving him some insight into their construction and vulnerabilities. However, the Golemwalk is an opportunity for nascent enchanters to demonstrate their novice constructions, in an attempt to impress the wizards of the Golemworks and secure a lucrative apprenticeshift. After the parade, Corvus reunites with some of his fellow former apprentices, who are, universally, amazed at the wealth, experience, and prestige he has obtained in such a short time, while most of them have worked as diviners, minor enchanters, or accompanying adventurers to cull swamp goblins in the Mushfens. His friends are agog at the rare and expensive artifacts he carries casually, but Corvus explains, “When everything you meet keeps trying to kill you, you get good really quickly, or dead really quickly.”

In Sandpoint, on the Day of Bones, the priest of Pharasma, and many of the more devoted (or distraught) Sandpointers carry tokens and remembrances of those who have died in the last year in the sombre procession through town. Ven Vinder and his wife, Solsta carry a remembrance of Katrine Vinder, while Ibor Thorn carries a token of his partner Banny, despite the damage to his reputation. Ameiko carries a glass lamp as a remembrance of her father, Lonjiku, and borrow’s the silver flute back from Zendo to remember her brother, Tsuto, in spite of their evil actions against Sandpoint. Though Amele Barrett and her son Aeren have left the town to dwell with her sister, their former neighbors carry a token of remembrance for Alergast Barrett as well. Hikage joins the processional as well, mindful that he or his friends could easily be remembered in this ceremony next year, depending on how their encounter with Karzoug proceeds.

Preparing in a different way, Corvus casts a carefully worded spell of contingency on himself before the Avengers prepare to leave Sandpoint, using his enigmatic icon of himself to do so.

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Out of the (Runeforged) Pool!
Calistril 7-8, 4708

After healing their wounds, the Avengers decide to examine the Runeforged Pool to see if they can figure out the method of enchanting Runeforged weapons. Reviewing the extensive notes from Vraxeris and the speculations of Jordimandus, the men decide that the mirror taken from Vraxeris and one of Delvahine‘s ’toys’ must be the ‘sinful’ components necessary to create a weapon opposed to Greed, and thus, to Runelord Karzoug.

When they remove the mirror from Gellius’s haversack, they discover it glowing with a faint golden light, and feel it vibrating with some inner energy. Removing one of Delvahine’s ‘devices’ from Ragnar’s bag of holding reveals that the bejeweled tool is behaving similarly.

Cautious of the mishaps with the pool of elemental arcana, Zendo uses mage hand to carefully hold the mirror over the bubbling, prismatic fluids roiling within the Runeforge pool. When this has no effect, he slowly dips the mirror within the liquid, and finds that the glow begins to spread from the object through the pool itself. Zendo then uses the spell to transfer the sexual toy into the pool as well, and the glowing devices seem to melt into the waters of the pool, transforming the entire, multi-colored pool into one reservoir of glowing, golden liquid. The pool has ceased to bubble and roil, but a faintly glowing mist emerges from the golden waters and extends questing tendrils that reach out towards all of the exposed weapons of the Avengers.

Knowing from Vraxeris’s notes that the Runeforge pool likely contains only enough magic to enchant a limited number of weapons, the men decide to prioritize their weaponry. They decide to try Ragnar’s greatsword first, then Hikage’s temple sword. After that, they hope to be able to enchant Gellius’s scimitar, and Zendo’s rapier. Corvus is a bit skeptical of his need for a weapon, but agrees to an attempt to enchant his master-worked dagger.

Ragnar steps forward and holds his greatsword level over the surface of the pool. When he does so, the tendrils of mist multiply, and swarm over the blade, but there appears to be no further effect. Holding his sword tightly, Ragnar tips the blade into the golden pool, and the glowing waters flow up the sword’s blade, seeming to etch spiky runes into the adamantine as they travel upwards toward the hilt.

As soon as the blade’s surface contacts the golden pool, a beam of intense golden light erupts from the pool, and water that feels both icy cold and boiling hot spatters over the heroes. Momentary flashes of memories, or visions, cloud their sight for an instant, but then they behold the golden shaft of light playing over the stone statue of Karzoug.

The immense statue suddenly shifts with a groan of stone over stone, and animates, transforming from a lifeless representation of the Runelord into an immense simulacrum of him.

You. Again. I cannot help but be inspired by your optimism, but alas, your weapons will never reach Xin_Shalast. Your fate is death, here in Runeforge.

Hikage whirls into action before the massive stone golem can move, leaping around it and striking at what appears to be a vulnerable spot, but the stone of the Runelord is dense and hard, and his blow has no effect. Karzoug ignores the monk and advances heedlessly upon Ragnar, smiting him a dolorous stroke with the huge stone glaive he carries, sculpted with flames. The blow is immensely powerful, nearly driving the Ulfen to his knees, but worse, the stony weapon seems to carry a powerful magical effect, and Ragnar can feel his muscles stiffen painfully. Even with Zendo’s magical assistance, Ragnar is barely able to fight off the deadening sensations moving through his limbs. He bravely moves up to retaliate against Karzoug, and the stone Runelord strikes him again, even harder. Ragnar wrestles with the magic that threatens to petrify him, and strikes the golem with his greatsword, the adamantine edge slicing through the stone with ease, but the Ulfen is gravely wounded and staggering.

Corvus seizes both Ragnar and Zendo, teleporting them to a position of safety in the hallway behind the voluptuous statue of Sorshen, and the bard uses his magic to heal some of Ragnar’s injury as Gellius transforms into an immense air elemental, whirling away from Karzoug’s weapon.

Hikage springs into action, striking the golem with a blazing acidic fist which cracks and eats away at the stone surface of Karzoug’s robes. The golem ignores the monk, who retreats out of its reach, and advances upon Ragnar, seemingly intent on bringing down the bearer of a Runeforged weapon. Corvus’s positioning is clever, however, and the huge golem cannot charge directly at the warrior, having to step around the Runeforge pool and the intervening pillar, earning Ragnar a moment of respite.

Few of Gellius’s prayers, or Corvus’s spells, will have any effect on the immense stone construct, so Ragnar, unwilling to wait for his doom, grimly advances on Karzoug, accepting another crushing blow as the price to pay. He ignores the leaden feeling of his body and whirls his greatsword in a sweeping stroke which smashes the Runelord into stony rubble.

Even wrought asunder, the magic animating the golem persists, allowing Karzoug to utter one last threat:

This…is not the last…come then, heroes. Seek me atop Mhar Massif, if you value life so poorly. You should be honored to be the first fools executed under the banner of Shalast in ten thousand…

The magic dissipates, leaving the heroes alone with the glowing Runeforge pool. They enchant their weapons while the glow persists, as Zendo heals Ragnar’s battered frame. Afterward, they rest within the safely of Gellius’s faerie ring retreat within the elegant halls of Greed, before re-entering the bloody halls of Wrath, using the teleportation circles to pass from one battlefield to another, before emerging into the blazing, smoky Hall of Testing. Corvus summons a minor teleportation spell to power the Greater Circle, and the men find themselves standing amidst the windswept snow on the Sihedron circle outside Rimeskull, the seven Runelords staring mutely at them in stone. The biting cold and blistering wind rush over them, a shock after the carefully controlled atmosphere of Runeforge, but the young wizard musters a greater spell of teleportation and whisks the Avengers back to the safety of Sandpoint again.

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Battle with Athroxis
Calistril 7, 4708

As the heroes rush through the dense, but illusory smoke to reinforce their friend Hikage, Highlady Athroxis spits a curse at him in Thassilonian. “For Wrath and Hellfire!,” she cries, as she swoops in low to attack.

Corvus, who thought himself safe under a veil of invisibility, finds that he is quite vulnerable, as Athroxis intones a word of power and renders him blind! The massive Glabrezu snaps its immense claws menacingly, but gestures with its smaller set of upper limbs and strips Hikage of his magical protection from evil! He realizes he is now vulnerable to the mighty pincers of the demon. Hikage and Ragnar direct their attacks at the huge glabrezu, injuring the demon slightly, but the monster’s supernatural durability protects it from the brunt of their force. The foul, vulture-like vrock swoops low and utters a dreadful screech; the tremendous noise momentarily stunning the keen senses of the monk.

Athroxis incants a powerful spell as she circles through the air, and a clashing spray of prismatic rays washes over many of the heroes. A virulent green ray of poison strikes Gellius, but the druid’s connection with nature protects him entirely, while Ragnar’s hearty constitution lets him shrug off the venomous magic. Zendo fights off the maddening effects of another ray, while Hikage heroically resists the petrifying effects of another blue beam.

Before the men can react, the Glabrezu gestures upwards, and, in defiance of nature, Hikage and Ragnar are suddenly flung upwards to smash against the ceiling overhead, though Gellius’s wards protect them from the burning flames. Hikage clambers across the ceiling to escape the magical field, then slides gracefully down one of the pillars to the floor again. Ragnar, less gracefully, crawls across the burning ceiling, only to fall heavily to the ground again as he frees himself from the reversed gravity. The glabrezu looms over Ragnar as Athroxis conjures a magical sword to attack Hikage from afar.

Gellius summons an immense mud elemental to combat the vrock, hoping that the sticky brute can pin the winged demon in its muck, while Zendo trusts to a short-lived invisibility for protection and exhorts his friends to their best efforts. The vrock, though unable to see the bard, can easily hear him, and approaches the druid and Zendo, shaking a mass of spores from its tattered wings, before burying its talons in the huge elemental. Gellius and Zendo cry out in pain and dismay as the spores burrow into their skin and send demonic vines coursing through their skin.

Hikage take a painful strike from the magical sword before darting away from it to attack the Glabrezu, which has injured Ragnar with its massive claws. As Gellius prepares to fight the vrock with his elemental, Zendo rushes to Ragnar’s aid, before tending to Hikage’s wounds with his magics as well.

The mud elemental smashes the vrock with heavy bludgeoning fists, but cannot destroy the demon, as the vrock tears into it with its own sharp talons. Corvus, his vision finally clearing, provides unexpected assistance as he deftly dispels Athroxis’ flight, causing the wrathful evoker to plummet to the ground. Ragnar, sensing his opportunity, rushes through the melee, taking more painful attacks from the Glabrezu and Vrock in order to corner the prone Athroxis. She crouches warily and unleashes a blast of lightning, which badly scorches the elemental before arcing to Gellius and Ragnar. Unfortunately for her, the two men are both well-warded by druidic prayers, and are safe from harm.

The glabrezu is annoyed at the little bard undoing his damage, and, focusing clearly on Zendo despite his invisibility, the demon utters a single word of power and stuns Zendo thoroughly. However, he underestimates the threat of Hikage, and, seeing Zendo knocked senseless, the monk summons all of his ki and smites the towering demon, stunning it before rending its demonic form apart with a series of powerful strikes.

Corvus, thoroughly irritated with the entire affair, unleashes a devastating ray of disintegration at the vrock, which disappears in a cloud of dirty feathers. Before Highlady Athroxis can even incant another spell, Ragnar unleashes an assault of blades upon her. As each sword strike cuts into her flesh, lightning crackles across her form, leaping into Ragnar, though Gellius’s magic protects him from her trap. His final stroke, however, is not accompanied by the actinic discharges, as it spills her lifeblood onto the ground. As Athroxis falls, however, Ragnar curses in pain as a glowing brand appears upon his forehead. As foretold by the Quill, the Mark of Wrath has passed from the HIghlady to her slayer!

After the battle, Gellius quickly tends to Zendo’s wounds, as the bard writhes in pain from the vines piercing his flesh, but is unable to aid himself. After Zendo recovers from the glabrezu’s word of power, he then tends to the many injuries of his own allies. Corvus, who has survived largely unharmed, examines the massive Sihedron rune engraved into the center of the chamber, and recognizes that the ‘greater circle’ which Vraxeris constructed here is an interplanar teleportation circle! Not only could Athroxis and the other wizards of Wrath use it to summon otherplanar entities for battle, a spell-caster could activate the circle with teleportation magics, transporting all within the circle to the linked stone circle outside Rimeskull. Ironically, the Thassilonian wrath wizards, unable to master conjuration magics, were unable to operate the arcane construct which could have freed them!

After Zendo and Gellius patch up the Avengers, the men carefully search the Halls of Wrath. Each of the warriors of wrath, and their hideous sinspawn minions, are each equipped with a magic weapon and armor, and Corvus assures the others that the spellbooks of the Wardens will be valuable as well, despite their limited selection of magics. Athroxis herself has a powerfully enchanted mithral breastsplate, as well as magical belt that enhanced her speed and stamina. Her flaming adamantine ranseur and her enchantedl ring, cloak, amulet, and headband will also be prized by collectors or adventurers, perhaps Society members. Corvus finds Athroxis’s own extensive spellbooks more interesting, and a final survey of the demolished iron golem reveals that one of the construct’s eyes is a valuable diamond, and the other a magical gem of brightness.

The heroes plan to exit the blood-stained, smoky halls of Wrath and puzzle out how to ‘runeforge’ a weapon to fight Karzoug before returning to the halls one final time to return to Rimeskull and Varisia.

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