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:
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.