Rise of the Runelords

Hello, Fodder!
Calistril 7, 4708

As Corvus advises his comrades, more of the spell-casting warriors of Wrath, and more of their axe-wielding sinspawn servants, move through the teleportation circle. Gellius sends his Lightning Elemental through, and follows the crackling entity. Zendo and Corvus, himself still invisible, folllow soon thereafter, though not before Corvus smites some of the warriors of wrath with a judicious lightning bolt. Hikage and Ragnar remain behind to finish off the wrathful guardians, before joining their colleagues in the teleportation circle.

Beyond the blazing light of the circle, the men find a large, open chamber. Passages to the left and right lead into smaller chambers, each with a set of teleportation circles. Numerous wizard/swordsmen fill the room, with a seemingly endless supply of additional soldiers emerging from the teleportation circles to the right. The Thassilonian evoker-soldiers are warlike and determined, but their powerful magics of destruction wash over the overlapping layers of magical protections woven by Gellius with little effect. Though some unleash blasts of lightning and fire, or streams of acid, the spells cast by the druid protect the men from damage. Some of the eldritch knights fall back upon magical missiles, which prove effective, but do little other than annoy and enrage Ragnar. Others ward themselves with spells of might, endurance, or haste, and launch into the fray with greatsword in hand.

Ultimately, however, the sword-slinging wizards are simply outmatched by the Avengers. Though their magics and enchanted steel would prove deadly against most soldiers and civilians, the Avengers have been tempered by their death-defying exploits and have little trouble dispatching their almost suicidally determined foes. The elemental dispatches many of the warriors, though, unprotected, it takes the brunt of their spells as well. Hikage strikes down his opponents with a flurry of blows, or an unexpected blast of elemental ki. Once within the reach of Ragnar’s greatsword, many of the wrathful warriors die immediately, and those who cling to life are swiftly put down by Zendo’s rapier or Gellius’s scimitar. Still invisible, Corvus ends several with blasts from his wand of lightning.

Only the last remaining warrior of wrath does aught but fight and die, and she does not retreat, but advances through the gauntlet of her enemies towards the quiescent teleportation circles on the opposite side of the room. Running away from a fight is perhaps the gravest insult to Ragnar, and she does not live to regret it.

The men quickly move to investigate the teleportation circles from whence the eldritch knights emerged, and find beyond them a large room filled with many tables. Each table is cluttered with magical research notes, though all Corvus can derive from a cursory glance is that the notes are concerned with magical constructs of flesh. Hikage examines a huge cauldron at the far end of the room, between two alcoves. He is disconcerted to find the immense pot filled with a roiling morass of flesh. Eyes, mouths, and other distinct body parts emerge from the swirling mass of undifferentiated flesh, and the entire contents seem hideously alive, if insensate. The monk expects his wizard companion to be morbidly fascinated by the sight, but Corvus, still guarded by his powerful invisibility spell, wants only to move on, to confront the mistress of this fell hall while still protected.

The men pass through the other teleportation circle and back into the central hall, littered with the bodies of their foes. They quickly cross the battlefield and assemble before another blue-limned teleportation circle. The Avengers pass through the enchanted area and find themselves in a large, octagonal chamber, lit only by the flickering, flamelike glow of swords and ranseurs held in alcoves in the walls. One side of the room is a solid wall of billowing black smoke, though the dense smoke seems to recoil from entering the chamber proper, possibly concealing a passage or chamber beyond. The polished granite walls are finely carved with spidery Thassilonian runes that Corvus recognizes as associated with evocation and energy. Twenty-five feet overhead is a mural depicting a red-headed woman holding a flaming ranseur, standing atop a burning tower of stone. Ragnar advances and examines the black smoke cautiously, but can see nothing beyond it. Hikage, however, can hear the crackling of flames from within the dense smog.

He advances cautiously into the smoke, and realizes that it is, in fact, a mere illusion, neither truly choking, nor hot, but sufficient to obscure his vision. However, this does not deter the monk, and he carefully treads the hall briefly until the smoke dissipates. When he emerges from the smoke, he calls out to his allies to join him quickly!

Hikage has entered a huge hall, flanked by crimson stone pillars rising sixty feet to a ceiling that seems to be composed entirely of flame. At the center of the room is a huge Sihedron star of silver, engraved into the floor, and encircled by a low ring of flames, as if from a shallow moat of oil. However, more troublesome are the inhabitants of the room. A huge, six-limbed glabrezu demon looms menacingly in the center of the circle, while overhead flaps a scabrous, diseased vrock demon, and Highlady Athroxis herself! She grips a flaming ranseur of dark metal, and her close-cropped hair reveals both her serious mein, and a glowing rune on her forehead. As his allies rush to his aid, Hikage readies himself for battle with the Aztlani evoker and her allies!

View
Freedom, death, and the Disciples of Wrath
Calistril 6-7, 4708

As the men heal up and examine the goods looted from the bodies of Delvahine and her daughters, Ragnar takes his adamantine greatsword to the gilded cage containing the living slave and shatters it in quick order.

The tall, naked slave emerges cautiously. His entire body is covered in the thin, pale lines of long-healed scars. He blinks in confusion, and then falls to his knees, babbling in Thassilonian. Although only Corvus and Zendo understand his words, the slave’s attitude quickly becomes uncomfortably evident. He wraps his arms around Zendo’s ankles in supplication, thanking ‘the lords’ for freeing him from his prison. However, his posture is not simply one of gratitude, and the men are shocked when his desperate gratitude turns to a sexually submissive surrender.

Zendo attempts to assure the prisoner, who identifies himself only as “Mutt” (as near as can be approximated from the Thassilonian), that he is free and does not need to prostrate himself (or prostitute himself, as the case may be), before them. Instead, the bard’s attempts at reassurance seem only to terrify Mutt that his gratitude is insufficient, and his sexual offering becomes even more overt and frantic.

Though the men find the behavior pathetic and uncomfortable, Zendo senses that Mutt’s behavior is actually some sort of ploy. Though he is suspicious of the grimy supplicant, the bard soon realizes that Mutt’s ‘act of gratitude’ is actually being done not to fool the men, but because the slave thinks it is what they expect. When Zendo tries to question Mutt about his captivity and his captors, the half-elf notices that the slave never speaks ill of his enslavers, referring to them as ‘the queen’ and “her princesses”, and more telling, does not even refer to them in the past tense, despite seeing the men cut down the alu-demons in front of him!

While warding off the clumsy, desperate attempts of Mutt to ‘reward’ his rescuers, Zendo conveys his suspicions to the others in Taldane. He thinks that Mutt doesn’t really believe that the men are his rescuers, but thinks that Delvahine and her daughters have staged an elaborate illusion, as some sort of twisted sexual game. The succubus and the alu-demons can change their appearance at will, and Zendo believes that Mutt thinks that the Avengers are really the demoness and her daughters in disguise. His frantic attempts to please them are actually the efforts of a slave to appease his masters. The men’s own confusion and aversion to Mutt’s gratitude is frightening and bewildering the poor slave, as he is not sure how to behave ‘properly’ in this unexpected ‘game’.

Zendo’s best efforts to convince Mutt of his freedom seem to fail, and the men despair to think of a way to free the slave of the mental prison he is still trapped within. Mutt’s delusions do nothing but put him at risk in Runeforge, and some of the heroes suggest that they should leave him here in the Halls of Lust while they continue onward. However, when the men discuss leaving the Halls, Mutt meekly, pitifully suggests that he might be allowed to accompany them. This suggestion is made with such wincing and cringing that Mutt seems to expect a physically violent refusal, but the men cannot bring themselves to refuse him. Mutt seems surprised by their agreement, and hangs back from the others, shuddering and shivering as he accompanies them. Zendo gets a sense that the collared man has some ulterior motive, but truly cannot understand what scheme the slave is concocting, though he remains on his guard.

As the men near the threshold, Mutt suddenly stands upright and bolts. He twists between the others and springs towards the opening as if his life depends upon it. Taken aback by his wild-eyed grimace and maddened rush, none of the men attempt to stop him. Mutt hurls himself through the threshold as if the hounds of hell pursue him, and, as he does so, his skin desiccates and flakes off, turning to dust before it hits the ground. His muscles crack and slough off in similar fasion, and, as his body falls forward, even his bones evaporate into dust. From his standing position, his entire body crumbles away to fine powder before it can even land on the marble floor. Even the dust that remains boils away into ash and vapor in mere seconds.

The men are aghast. Hikage, who, as usual, was on point, was closest to the freed slave, and stands mutely, mouth open in astonishment and horror. Though freeing the captive had not gone as expected, none of the men imagined anything like this. Corvus notes gravely that this may have been the escape that Mutt really sought. “If he was Thassilonian, he would have been captive here for ten thousand years. Death might have been his only escape.”

After leaving the Halls of Lust, the men retreat through the central hub of Runeforge, past the pool, back into the fountain-filled Hall of Greed. Gellius casts a Faerie Ring Retreat, and the heroes enter the twilight half-realm for security and sleep. In the morning (or what passes as morning in the strange faerie realm, Gellius consults the Revelation Quill for clues to what to expect in the Halls of Wrath. Knowing that the mistress of these halls is the fearsome Athroxis, he envisions the men confronting her in her lair. The quill pens an unexpected rhyme:

Blazing on her brow her right to rule;
she vanquished all who her drew her ire.
He who would fell her in a duel
shall ever be branded with Wrath’s fire.

So forewarned, the men make preparations for assaulting a trained, drilled army of evokers. Corvus focuses his magics on dispelling the magics of others, while Gellius prays for protection from all of the energies magic can evoke. Before they enter the Halls of Wrath, the druids wraps his comrades in magical protection from fire, cold, acid, lightning, and thunder. He also wards them within protective life bubbles, while Corvus wards them from evil. While there are likely no summoned creatures in the Halls of Wrath, the spell defends against any evil opposition. As they draw near to the entry of the Hall, Zendo lends his allies a burst of magical speed, then dashes into the chamber.

Zendo sees a brightly lit, extremely tall chamber. The far wall is decorated with a mural of an armored woman with crimson hair wielding a burning ranseur and riding a red dragon. A smooth outcropping of marble juts out from the far wall, rising thirty feet from the floor. Atop this marble outpost stands a iron statue of an archer twice the height of a man. Behind the statue is an opening, leading deeper within the chambers. As Zendo takes in the scene, the statue animates and sounds a metallic, ringing alarm, which is soon echoed by a deeper ringing of metal on metal which fills the air. The iron golem draws back its bow, and an arrow of pure flame appears, which it launches at Zendo!

Protected from fire, Zendo is unharmed by the flames. Corvus, Gellius, and Ragnar soon join him, though Hikage speeds by them to spiderclimb up the marble wall and engage the golem. This proves to be a painful tactic, as the golem strikes him a stout blow with an iron fist after exhaling a noxious cloud of poisonous gas upon him. Fortunately, Hikage is well protected by Gellius’s bubble of air, but his return strike is less damaging to the golem than the monk had hoped. However, his lightning-wreathed fist proves to inhibit the iron golem, slowing it’s response. Despite this, its iron-fisted strikes seem unstoppable, and Hikage retreats down through the poisonous fog to quaff a potion.

Meanwhile, Gellius summons an elemental of lightning to fight the golem, and sends it crackling through the air. Zendo wafts upward on his winged boots, but finds his rapier incapable of penetrating the iron hide of the construct. Corvus transports himself, Ragnar, and Gellius from the ground into the passageway behind the golem, and they witness two figures materializing in a flash of blue light from a magical circle within the room.

One appears to be a grim-faced warrior-wizard, who clutches a greatsword before incanting a spell, sending a fireball burning towards the men-who remain unharmed, thanks to the protection of the druid. The other, however, is a familiar, if freakish, monstrosity. A long-limbed sinspawn, akin to those summoned in the temple under Sandpoint, accompanies the wizard, clad in armor and clutching a double-bitted greataxe. It charges forward on back-jointed, two-clawed feet, before perishing to a vicious swipe of Ragnar’s sword.

Zendo and Hikage call Ragnar to help against the implacable golem, while they maneuver around it to engage softer foes, but before Ragnar can do so, more enemies appear. The blue flash of the magic circle reveals another warrior-wizard and a second sinspawn, then a third of each. Before Ragnar can disengage, one of the eldritch warriors is upon him. Though she tries to combat him, the Ulfen outclasses her, and Ragnar nearly slices her apart, before Gelius blasts her with lightning. As the others move up to engage with these new threats, Corvus becomes invisible, and Ragnar moves towards the iron archer.

The warrior-wizards of wrath find that their spells have little purchase on the heroes, protected as they are, though they themselves are vulnerable to Hikage’s dragon-inspired acidic gouts, and Corvus’s wand of lightning. Only the wizards casting magical missiles have much success, but each wizard falls back when injured. The sinspawn fearlessly fling themselves between their masters and the heroes, but prove little threat to the mighty Avengers. The eldritch warriors fall back in good order, retreating to disappear in the reddish flare of a second magical circle, though several fall before they can retreat.

Behind them, locked in battle, Ragnar unceremoniously disassembles the iron golem before it can even lay a crushing fist upon him.

As the Thassilonian mages retreat, the men move up quickly. Corvus recognizes the magical circles as teleportation circles, and steps through the red one invisibly. However, he emerges into an antechamber with a flash of blue light, alerting those within. Quickly, he takes stock of the situation. Within the chamber is another blue circle, and two wizards and two sinspawn are advancing upon it. The injured wizards are retreating towards a much larger central room, and he sees additional evoker-knights emerging from a passageway to the right in that room. Before the Thassilonians can react, Corvus beats a hasty retreat through the blue circle, breathlessly informing his comrades of what he has seen.

View
Delvahine and her Shining Children
Calistril 6, 4708

The others quickly move up to support Ragnar, but the acrobatic succubus twists past him and shouts a command to some unseen allies as she flees. Her unknown allies soon reveal themselves, as two being resembling emaciated children shining with an internal light float into the room. They shriek telepathically, in voices like rending metal, and begin to glow with a blinding light. The ‘shining children’ emit beams of scorching fire which burn Ragnar and Zendo as they try to approach. Corvus launches an immense ball of fire at them, only to discover that they are entirely unharmed by the flames.

The men steel themselves against the blinding flares of light, and hurl themselves into combat against the strange glowing beings, but one of the shining children summons an impenetrable wall of force, cutting them off from the heroes. Zendo and Gellius decide to bypass the impenetrable wall by slicing through the sheer silk of the pavilion, only to discover the filmy material is incredibly strong and resistant to punctures. The shining children are strange entities, Corvus warns, of unknown origin and motivation. The children teleport past their own wall of force to continue their attacks on the heroes. One grasps Hikage and Ragnar with his burning hands, and ignites their flesh in incandescent flame.

Corvus, Hikage, and Ragnar contest with the shining children as Zendo and Gellius finally make their way into the boudoir of Delvahine, only to find that she is not there. The room is filled with pillows and cushions, but shows no signs of the succubus. After a costly battle with the blinding entities, Hikage enters the room and spies many golden ‘sexual devices’, to his distaste, but can find no signs of their foe.

Delvahine reveals herself, however, by launching an attack at the rear of the heroes. Evidently having teleported outside the pavilion, she has re-entered while invisible, and she removes Corvus’s protection from Evil by dispelling the magic. He responds with a deadly disintegration, but the lithe demoness dodges the green ray. She attempts to dominate the mind of the wizard, but Corvus wrestles free of her control. As the others close in upon her with violent intent, Delvahine vanishes again!

The men fan out to search for her. Hikage quickly runs outside, while Ragnar methodically slices apart the silken walls of the pavilion with his adamantine greatsword. Finally, Hikage spies the demoness flying about the columns in the corner of the Hall. Though he cannot reach her, Hikage harnesses his ki and smites her from afar with a gout of acid from his draconic aura. Zendo activates his boots of flying to pursue her, while Gellius summons an immense mobat to hunt down the demoness. Corvus satisfies himself with using his magic to send Ragnar flying through the air, and the Ulfen doggedly climbs through the air after his more nimble foe.

Delvahine moves to avoid the dangerous Ulfen, and uses her magic to remove Hikage’s protection from Evil as well. The monk, undeterred, pursues her on the ground, continuing to summon draconic acid to blister the demoness.

Delvahine flaps her batlike wings to gain altitude, and incants a spell to rob Ragnar of flight, to send him plunging down, but Corvus leaps into action, using his own magics to counteract her spells, keeping the fighter aloft. Though Delvahine has nimbly shot straight up into the air to avoid the lumbering Ragnar, he makes a surprisingly nimble move and stays on target, cutting the acid-scarred succubus apart with a single, deadly stroke.

After felling the demoness, the men search the pavilion and the bodies of Delvahine and her daughters. Each of the alu-demons wore a magical ring of protection and an enchanted belt. Each also was evidently armed with a masterfully crafted pole-arm, but the half-demons evidently preferred to use their life-sapping claws over the bladed weapon. Delvahine’s diaphanous garb is revealed in death to be a fine shirt of enchanted mithril chain, and her magical whip was also enchanted to weaken the will of her foes. Her belt and bracers are also powerfully magical, and the men find a trove of potions within her boudoir. Within the bedroom also rest her ‘toys’, evidently usable as lustful components to craft runeforged weapons. Being the very personal possessions of a succubus for ten thousand years, the devices are steeped in sin in more ways than one. Within the locked casket holding the potions the heroes also discover a magical tome, which purports to impart pragmatic and practical wisdom to the reader.

Now that the immediate threat is alleviated, the men tend their wounds as Corvus examines the forcecage imprisoning the emaciated captive. He advises the others that it would be very difficult for him to penetrate the invisible prison with his magics, but he admits that, given time, Ragnar’s very sharp sword should be able to crack apart the enchanted prison.

View
Into the Iron Cages
Calistril 6, 4708

In the ‘morning’ of the endless twilight within Gellius’s faerie ring, the men awaken (other than the deeply comatose Hikage). Corvus consults with the Revelation Quill, which warns them:

Within the Iron Cages, Devalhine is guarded by her children, including her brightest.

He prepares his spells, focusing on warding off fell enchantments, as does Gellius. Corvus prepares a powerful spell to break the liche’s curse which has befallen Hikage, and frees his ally from the deathlike state in which he has languished. After explaining to Hikage what has happened (and insisting to the offended monk that all other magics had been expended prior to his condition), the men prepare to enter the Iron Cages of Lust.

Traveling down the long corridor into the Runeforge wing of Lust, the men enter a grand cathedral. The floor is covered with polished red and white tiles, while the domed ceiling is covered with a gargantuan mural depicting men and women in all manner of carnal acts. Near the center of the expanse is an immense tent of opaque silk, while ornate cages of flimsy silver decorated with golden birds and flowers ring the walls. The men’s eyes are drawn however to the twelve pillars supporting the ceiling, each carved into the likeness of the same beautiful nude woman with long flowing hair. More worrisome, the large ‘birdcages’ appear to hold corpses in some cases, and at least one emaciated and weak prisoner.

Fluttering about the heights of the chamber are four scantily clad women. Each is strikingly beautiful, save for the horns on their brows, fangs, taloned feet, and batlike wings. Each of the four wears little more than magical jewelry and flimsy garments. They react to the arrival of the heroes with interest and delight, making frank and lewd comments about the Avengers. Though the women make no hostile movements, Corvus recognizes them as Alu-demons, the abyssally tainted offspring of humans and demons. He surreptitiously prepares to ward the men from evil with a spell, but Gellius steps boldly forth to confront them. The demoness’s suggestion that he remove his weapons and armor to play is backed by a magical compulsion that the strong-willed druid shrugs off, and he hurls a sticky blob of blinding mud at her, causing her to shriek with dismay.

Seeing their sister, Eryalla, unceremoniously accosted by Gellius, Voivod, Lelyrin, and Zevashala, make to incapacitate the interlopers. However, Corvus quickly moves to ward his companions from the demonic women’s enchanting powers and life-sapping touch. Though Hikage’s powerful Chi resists the warding, the others are protected. Unfortunately for the sisters, none of them recognize the spell cast by the wizard, so the four spend their efforts fruitlessly attempting to dominate the Avengers with their spells. The Avengers, however, waste no such time. Though Corvus and Gellius find their choice of offensive spells a bit inhibited by the demonic resistances of the alu-demons, Zendo’s sonic bolts and Hikage’s tempered fists find no such restrictions. Though Ragnar’s sword slows when cutting through demonic flesh, the Ulfen’s strength is sufficient to the task. Gellius summons a massive Air elemental which traps Voivod within its whirling embrace, and Corvus incants a spell to send his friends through the air to face the bat-winged women. Before the four can even fully realize how badly outmatched they are by the Avengers, the men have swiftly defeated them.

Examining the silver cages reveals that the delicate metalwork is simply gilding on the true cages, magical cubes of force. The shivering, scarred man within one cage pounds frantically but soundlessly against the impenetrable walls of magic which contain him. Corvus knows that shattering such a powerful spell will be challenging, and the walls of the forcecage will resist even the adamantine blade of Ragnar’s sword. Zendo gestures to the man within, seeking to calm the tall fellow, clad only in chains and a leather collar. He and the others must urgently search the Hall of Lust for its mistress, Devalhine, while their magical protections and augmentation still endures, but he tries to get the prisoner to understand that he is not being abandoned to his fate.

Ragnar pushes aside the silk slit of the huge pavilion, and finds within the brightly colored tent a chamber of rugs, cushions and pillows,, scented by smoldering braziers and censers at the corners of the room. Five stone giants, eyes ringed with kohl and skin glistening with oil, stand alert within the room, and make to attack the invader. However, Ragnar is an inveterate giant slayer, and any of the brutes who ventures within his blade’s reach is soon dispatched. More devastating, if possible, is the holocaust of flame unleashed by Corvus and Gellius, who combine a murderous fireball with a divine flamestrike, nearly incinerating most of the giants before Ragnar can kill them.

Zendo hastily enters the tent, perhaps in search of glory or loot, but discovers an alluring she-demon concealed behind a partition leading deeper into the pavilion. He recognizes her, as the succubus is a perfect match for the demoness-simulacra within the Halls of Pride. This must be Delvahine herself. The alluring, but dangerous looking beauty curses at Zendo. “Slaying my pets is rude and presumptuous, but murdering my lovely daughters is unforgivable!” Zendo hurls back a retort, but suddenly is forced to lunge aside as Delvahine cracks a whip at him before retreating hastily deeper within the voluminous tent.

Hikage moves like lightning to keep track of the mistress of the Hall of Lust, but when she retreats into what appears to be a huge bedchamber, he hesitates. Though the boudoir looks comfortable and inviting, other than the distressing ropes and straps attached to each bedframe, the air within is unusually close. It seems almost to shimmer with pleasant smelling mist.

Ragnar, slower of foot than the monk, shows no hesitation, and tramps into the incense-choked air. He shakes his head and tells the others that some drugged smoke is pouring from a censer in the far corner. The incense saps the will, making one suggestible and pliant, but whether from his aggressive demeanor, or his robust constitution, the Ulfen seems unaffected.

View
Azaven, Xerriock, and the perils of Necromancy
Calistril 5, 4708

The heroes of Sandpoint were facing grave threats on three fronts; Ragnar was hacking through a horde of mummies to reach Azaven’s second-in-command, Xyoddin Xerriock; Zendo and Corvus faced down an enormous Devourer amidst a room of dissected corpses, and Hikage stood alone against the Thassilonian necromancer and lich, Azaven, trusting his magic resistance to protect him.

In the central chamber, Zendo blasted the immense undead with a powerful sonic attack which ignored the Devourer’s own magic resistance, before Corvus incanted a finger of death at the foul creation, dissipating its necromantic energies and freeing the vaporous soul energies trapped within. Though they defeated the deadly monster quickly, the two were unable to totally avoid the rending claws of the creature, though Gellius’s protective spells warded them from the worst of the effects.

Ragnar continued to chop forward through the shambling mummies, his iron constitution protecting him from their insidious mummy rot. Gellius plied his wand of healing to boost his friend, but the wand’s magics were unable to overcome the cursed clay of the clay golem, which thwarted any magical healing. Once the last of the mummies had been cut down, Xerriock sprung into action, plying his twin daggers in a blur of motion. The swift ghoul feinted to the right, then buried a viciously enchanted dagger deep into Ragnar’s side. The Ulfen roared with pain and responded with a powerful slash into the ghoul’s leathery hide. As Zendo rushed forward to assist the druid in keeping Ragnar alive, Gellius put aside his wand and used his own more powerful magics to cleanse the cursed clay and heal his ally. The bard also added his magics to the effort, healing Ragnar of his worst wounds. Seeing the vulnerable bard as the weakest link, Xerriock dodged and wove through the scrum, seeking to bury his blade in the bard’s flesh. However, Ragnar was on his guard this time, and cut short the ghoul’s tactics with a devastating sword strike.

While his allies fight against the lich’s minions, Hikage faces down Azaven alone. Having dodged the lich’s claws, Hikage launches a flurry of blows against the withered necromancer. He quickly realizes that the wily old wizard has cloaked himself in an illusion, preventing him from reacting quickly enough to stop the necromancer from casting his spells. Since the illusion protects the lich’s spell-casting, Hikage decides to confound Azaven in another way, and strikes the bone staff from the undead’s cold, dead hands. Azavan snarls with dismay, and shuffles towards the staff, reaching out his bony grasp. Hikage moves to strike down the wizard, and realizes with dismay that Azaven is only an illusion! He can hear the lich’s skeletal feet tapping on the stone nearby, but the real Azaven has become invisible! Hikage satisfies himself with kicking the staff off the edge of the bridge into the dark abyss.

A muttered spell and Azaven’s staff floats back up from the depths, only to disappear as it is surely grasped by the invisible wizard. Hikage feels a deathly chill fall over him, as Azaven attempts to slay him invisibly, but the monk struggles off the worst of the spell. He can hear the lich’s skeletal footsteps pace away, and sees the black curtain of negative energy flare and roil. Azaven must be using the negative energy of the iron plated room to ‘heal’ his undead form!

Corvus arrives and magically creates a yawning pit of spikes beneath the negative energy curtain. However, Hikage nearly tumbles into the chasm himself, and neither man hears the lich fall to his doom. Hikage focuses his chi and scrambles across the walls of the pit, bypassing the deadly negative energy, before striking out at the invisible form of the necromancer, attempting to grapple the wizard to restrain his spells. When his strong arms lock around the bony wizard, Azaven suddenly vanishes from his grasp, whisked away by some triggered spell!

Corvus is suddenly blinded, as a powerful magic overcomes him. He cries out in pain as the lich’s skeletal talons tear into his side, vampiric magics draining his life force to feed Azaven’s needs. Zendo launches a flurry of sonic blasts into the area where the lich must stand, and Ragnar attempts to slash into the invisible wizard, though many of their attacks miss wildly as they cut through the air instead of the wizard.

With a muttered spell, Azaven removes himself from the scrum of heroes, and Hikage can see the black ‘lightning’ crackle as the lich undoubtedly stands in its midst, having teleported himself back into the narrow tunnel end of the iron-shod chamber. Gellius summons a huge, flaming elemental to block off the retreat of the wizard, though the elemental suffers greatly from the draining effects of the strange crystalline columns and the energy playing over their surfaces. As Azaven retreats towards a strange black globe hovering in the air, Hikage braves the wracking pains of the negative energy to pursue him. The fire elemental also surges into the room, but the combination of the powerful rays of negative energy and the invisible claws of the lich send the summoned elemental back to its own plane.

Azaven hurls a familiar green ray at the monk, but Hikage avoids the most lethal effects of the deadly disintegration. He launches himself at the source of ray and grapples with the necromancer. Azaven tries to escape, but Hikage moves to pin the writhing undead as Ragnar approaches with sword drawn. As the Ulfen’s eyes widen in understanding, Azavan’s claws finally find purchase in Hikage’s flesh and the monk rolls over, seemingly dead. Before Azaven can make his escape, Ragnar slices him apart, the wizard’s skeletal head rolling to one side.

Ragnar carries his friend’s lifeless body out of the room, but Zendo realizes that Hikage is not actually dead, but so deeply paralyzed that even his shallow breathing is almost unnoticeable. Healing the monk’s wounds does nothing to help Hikage, and Corvus has already expended his own magics to remove Azaven’s curse of blinding. The fire wizard warns the others that, if they choose to withdraw to muster the magics necessary to restore Hikage, there is a slim chance that Azaven’s undead form may be able to return to unlife. A lich’s life spirit is sequestered in a phylactery, and unless this container is destroyed, the lich will invariably reform. While this process may take several days, it is not impossible for a lich to reform sooner. Though it is undoubtedly dangerous to continue on with Hikage in such a vulnerable state, to retreat is to risk facing Azaven again.

Despite Hikage’s deathlike state, the heroes press on, with Ragnar sheathing his blade and carrying the vulnerable monk. A quick search of the research room where Xeriock laired finds alchemical apparati, books, and scrolls. The room to the left contains a vast collection of tomes and scrolls, as well as preserved flesh and organs within jars. A dissected torso rests atop a table arrayed with delicate glass lenses. To the right of the research room is a catacomb lined with burial niches. Each niche contains a stone urn, but all the urns are empty. After an extensive search, Zendo finds a false wall in the back of one niche, revealing a narrow, darkened alcove beyond. Bringing ample light into the narrow grotto allows Zendo to locate another hidden door within, revealing a large chamber, well-lighted by hanging lanterns. Three tables are contained within, and two of the tables are covered in preserved human body parts, stitched together with strong thread. The third table holds numerous trays of delicate silver equipment. However, even to Corvus’s magical senses, nothing in the room could possibly be the phylactery of such a powerful lich.

Finally, a careful search of the entire chamber reveals a loose flagstone, underneath which rests a small crypt containing three stone sarcophagi, each bearing detailed carvings of hundreds of capering skeletons and corpses. Zendo uses his ring of featherfalling to enter the crypt, but when he touches one of the sarcophagi, the carvings animate and shriek. From their outstretched hands emerge hundreds of beams of negative energy, Zendo swiftly flies out of the deathtrap, but after its activation, only one of the sarcophagi still seems to have a magical aura. Gellius and Corvus attempt to inhibit the magical powers of each of the sarcophagi, and Zendo, Ragnar, and Gellius enter the crypt after being granted the power of flight by Corvus.

The enchantments prove very powerful, however, and two of the sarcophagi emit their deadly rays again, as Ragnar’s adamantine sword slices into the stone of the central one. Corvus attempts a more powerful dispelling as Zendo and Gellius lift the stone lids on the other coffins, revealing a trove of spellbooks and a store of jewelry, gems, linens, as well as a brass bottle and more spellbooks. As Ragnar hews apart the slabs of stone with his mighty blows, the trap activates once more, though the destruction of the central sarcophagi and the dispelling magics inhibit much of its dangerous energy.

The men quickly retreat from the accursed crypt, and utilize mage hand to retrieve the valuables from the two intact sarcophagi. After healing their wounds, the heroes leave Hikage under guard by Ragnar and search the Halls of Gluttony thoroughly, inspecting all of the valuables they have encountered. They pry the valuable sapphires from the eyes of Lord Mankray, and the amethyst grapes from their fittings, as well as taking his ancient bottles of wine. Within the strange chamber of negative enegy, careful searching finds a hidden cache of magical scrolls and a slender box containing a tuning fork attuned to the unique magical aura of Runeforge. The alchemical supplies in the research room are valuable, but easily stored within the bag of holding, and the extensive books contain a wealth of horrifying, but very detailed, information about the undead. Xerriock’s corpse holds magical chain mail, as well as an amulet and an enchanted cloak. His serrated dagger proves to be enchanted to be particularly deadly against humans. The crystalline lenses look quite valuable, and are also stored in the magical bag. The immense library seems to hold a wealth of information on both the undead and necromancy in general. Azaven’s own withered corpse is clothed in more powerful magical artifacts, including powerful bracers and a ring of protection, as well as a headband to enhance the wearers intelligence. His gruesome bone staff is a powerful magical item, able to summon the undead, such as the devourer they faced earlier. The lich also bears a bone statuette of himself, carved in such intricate detail that it certainly must be the locus for Azaven’s contingency spells. His surgical equipment is of pure silver and richly ornamented, and the gems and linens in his sarcophagi are equally opulent. The spellbooks contain many powerful spells, both of necromancy and other schoools, and Corvus identifies the copper bottle as being an enchanted bottle containing a powerful efreet.

After Gellius conjures up a safe hideaway with his prayers, the men retreat into the faerie glade. Corvus consults with the Revelation Quill, finding that the goal of the Avengers would be soonest met by venturing within the Halls of Lust. After his divination, Corvus studies the fell tomes of necromancy they have looted, and quickly discovers a significant section of the tomes devoted to the final tasks of the Runeforge necromancers. Runelord Zutha set his agents in the Runeforge to discover a way to split his phylactery, an exacting task which would normally result in the permanent destruction of his soul. The Gluttonous Tome, as his phylactery was called, was split into three pieces and hidden in the world beyond Thassilon. Once reassembled after the fall of the empire, the reconstituted phylactery could summon him back into existence. The tomes indicate the necromancers were successful in this task, but make no mention of the whereabouts of the portions of the Tome.

View
Into the Halls of the Hungry Dead
Calistril 5, 4708

After resting for a time in the magical faerie retreat conjured by Gellius, the men prepare for an incursion into the Necromantic Halls of Gluttony. Corvus prepares several spells allowing him to immobilize and destroy the undead, while Gellius prepares powerful protective spells to guard himself and the others against death magic and negative energy. As the heroes exit the halls of Vanity, they discover a wide trail of blood smeared across the central hall of Runeforge, smeared between the Halls of Sloth and the Halls of Gluttony. Following this grim omen, the men find that the trail of blood leads down the entire corridor of the halls of Gluttony, though the trail appears to end at the iron doors leading into the hall. Gellius casts his protective spells over his friends, using the magical energy stored within the rod of absorption to fuel some of his prayers.

Cautiously opening the cold iron doors, the men find a circular chamber with a domed ceiling rising to thirty feet overhead, decorated with frescoes of sleeping people tended by cherubim and angelic musicians. The walls of the room are decorated with ten grinning stone skulls, each gripping sculpted bits of flesh in their teeth. A flight of steps leads up to two iron doors in the opposite wall. Cautiously making their way across the chamber, the men are taken aback when the stone skulls part to reveal narrow funereal biers, opened by tall, silent mummies from within. HIkage quickly smashes one apart before the desiccated corpse can infect him with the corpse rot. Zendo lends magical speed to his comrades, Corvus immolates two of the mummies with a carefully placed fireball while Zendo hurls a flame strike down upon others. The men exert themselves heroically to defeat the lumbering undead, before the foul curse of the mummy can take hold upon them.

Exiting the crypt through the iron double doors, the Avengers find themselves on a stone walkway suspended over a pit of unknown depth. The ceiling rises to a dome overhead, decorated with similarly soothing frescoes, while the four curved corners of the room are decorated with incredibly detailed bas-reliefs. To the right are carvings of a man holding a sprig of grapes and a loaf of bread, as well as another of a woman holding a wedge of cheese and a haunch of meat. These two bas-reliefs are labeled, in Thassilonian, Inib and Gorryan, respectively. To the left are depicted a man lifting a platter heaped with candies, labeled Aanastrin, and a man standing with arms crossed, smiling to reveal a mouth filled with teeth filed to points, labeled Xerriock. Below the carvings, the walls plunge into darkness, but dozens of burial niches holding stone sarcophagi are visible in the walls as far as the light penetrates. The stone walkway crosses the pit, leading to iron doors on the other side, and the walkway also has crosswalks leading to other iron doors to the left and right.

Hikage quickly crosses the bridge to the doors to the right. Opening them, he can see only a bit of a long chamber, but the area illuminated by his temple sword reveals stone alcoves on either side of the room, each carved with dozens of narrow niches containing what appear to be wine bottles. As the others advance in support, a metallic clanking and a gritty rasping noise reveal a massive armored golem approaching Hikage from the darkness. The golem is composed of heavy clay, shaped in the form of a human woman with the lower body of a serpent, but her head is the familiar seven-pointed Sihedron. The golem’s crushing fists batter Hikage and Ragnar, who is so startled by her appearance that his sword misses the bulk of the construct. The red-gray clay burns the wounds like acid, but Hikage smashes the golem into a misshapen lump with his mighty blows.

Penetrating deeper into the room, Zendo’s dancing lights reveal a single sarcophagus of gold sitting atop a white marble plinth at the far end. The lid of the sarcophagus depicts a handsome man holding a sprig of grapes and a bottle of wine. The sculptures eyes glitter in the light, as do the grapes in his hands, each appearing to be gemstones. The men wonder what undead might lie within the sarcophagus, but Ragnar advances on it fearlessly, and shifts the lid with a powerful shove, sending it clattering to the floor. He announces that the tomb is empty, but he sees spiky Thassilonian runes carved onto the edge of the lid.

Not wishing to waste their magical protections, Gellius leaves the crypt and crosses the walkway to the doors opposite. He flings them open, and stops, dismayed by what he sees within. Hikage and Zendo quickly join him. The room beyond is shockingly cold; its walls plated with iron, each segment bearing a single rune, that of Gluttony. Two ten-foot-tall crystal pylons stand in the center of the room, and a curtain of shimmering blackness spreads between them, unaffected by their magical lights. On the opposite sides of the pylons, strange black ‘lightning’ crackles in slow motion, spreading branching tendrils as it extends towards the ends of the room, hidden in darkness. None of the three choose to venture into the unnaturally cold chamber.

Corvus quickly examines the lid of the sarcophagus. He finds that it reads:

Lord Anklerios Mankray Inib of the House of Inib: master vintner and beloved husband and father. An assassin’s blade accomplished what hundreds of duels could not

He quickly crosses the bridge to examine the strange chamber with his comrades. Though he does not know the purpose of the room, he warns that the room is infused with negative energy, explaining the unnatural chill. The curtain of blackness is composed of negative energy, and the crystal pylons are associated with controlling it. They might feed the black lightning to sustain the curtain, or siphon it off to something hidden out of sight. Gellius summons a morose fey mite, instructing the malicious sprite to contact the curtain. It does so with a doleful look, and the mite cringes in agony as the blackness seems to drain both color and life from its body, before the magically summoned faerie disappears.

As the others appear to be engaged with some rather boring spectatorship, Ragnar crosses the bridge and opens the unexplored set of iron doors. He calls to the others when he sees the carnage within. A half-dozen brutally savaged human bodies, dressed in light blue, bloodstained robes, lie sprawled across the large, octagonal chamber. Several seem to have had limbs or organs removed. Single iron doors are set into the left and right walls. After the others have joined him, Ragnar opens the left-hand door, and is chagrined to find several more, tall, cadaverously thin mummies awaiting him in the narrow hall beyond.

However, the mummies stand mutely, and a whispery voice in Thassilonian drifts out through the darkness. The speaker identifies himself as Xyoddin, the servant of Azaven, and tells the men that his master wishes to have words with them. The men are mistrustful, but await Xyoddin’s words. He explains that he and his master are greatly pleased with the death and destruction wrought in Runeforge, as such is the only source of the valuable components necessary for the practice of the magic of Gluttony. Azaven wishes no conflict with the heroes, and only wills them to seek out the Halls of Wrath and Lust and expend their bloodshed there.

Zendo demands to know why the mummies and golem attacked them, if Azaven has no ill intent. Xyoddin explains that the golem was constructed solely to defend the tomb of Lord Anklerios’s tomb, and can not be expected to act in any other fashion. He explains, wryly, if apologetically, that even his master cannot be expected to assume that such bloodthirsty and violent explorers would enter his demesne in peace, and so must leave, at least, a token guard at the door.

The men confer in Taldane, hopefully a tongue unknown to the ancient Azaven, and share their mistrust of the necromancer. When Zendo asks what Azaven offers them if they spare him and focus their wrath on the other halls, Xyoddin responds. “There is no escape from Runeforge. None have left since its creation, and none in the ten thousand years it has been sealed. Azaven will spare your lives until we have expended the bounty of bodies you have reaped for us. You are free to roam the halls and struggle futilely against your fate. When he comes for your corpses you shall have tired of life in any event.”

The men roll their eyes at the ‘generous’ offer of Azaven, and Corvus wreathes the brow of his allies in flames. Gellius summons a wall of stone, sealing off the remaining entrance to the room, and Ragnar springs to the attack. Hikage helps guard his comrade from the blows of the mummies, as Ragnar braves their curse to slash them apart with his sword, empowered by cold, fire, and song. As the Ulfen cuts down the mummies, they move fearlessly to engage him, clubbing him with smashing blows from their clasped fists. Behind them, Ragnar can see a cowled, nimble figure, evidently the Xyoddin of the negotiations.

Behind them, the men hear a murmured incantation, and Corvus turns to see a ghastly sight. A withered Thassilonian lich has appeared at the opposite end of the stone bridge, and he is channeling a magical energy through his staff! Hikage drops back from supporting Ragnar, and moves to engage this new threat, though Gellius quickly moves up in support.

The monk fairly flies across the stone platform, smashing the staff from the grasp of the withered necromancer. Azaven grimaces in annoyance, but informs Hikage, in perfect Taldan, ’You are, perhaps, a bit late, my friend." He gestures beyond the monk, and Hikage sees a massive undead being take form in the cold air of the halls. The creature appears to be a decaying giant, but trapped within the flensed bones of his rib cage there glows a faint spirit form. Azaven casts a spell before Hikage can react, then lashes out with one blackened, clawlike hand, which the monk dodges cautiously.

The massive, floating undead wafts through the air towards Corvus, clawing at him with hands tipped in jagged shards of bone. Though the wizard summons a ward of stone to fend off one attack, the devourer reaches past it to cause him pain. However, Corvus realizes, the protection of Gellius’s spell has prevented the undead monstrosity from draining away his life force as well.

View
Books, Bodies, and the Bedroom
Calistril 4, 4708

The men search the simulacrums (as Corvus identifies them) of Vraxeris, finding that each wizard is equipped identically, with a rather sparse spellbook, a magical cloak of protection, an enchanted headband to increase their intellect, and a masterwork dagger and fine nobles’ clothing. However, as each of the wizards is a clone of the ‘real’ Vraxeris, their ‘master’ must be somewhere in the study beyond. However, none of the men can see any exits to the mirrored chamber. Even Ragnar, with his true seeing, does not see any concealed portals. Finally, after searching the dais of the giant peacock, under the watchful eyes of the illusion, the men consign themselves to a long, careful search of the room’s mirrors. At length, they discover a hidden door concealed behind a mirror on the far side of the room.

Beyond the hidden door is a library, with bookcases full of tomes and scrolls. At a table in the center of the room slumps the figure of a man. The blonde man lies face down on the table, motionless. He wears fine robes and a cloak of peacock feathers, and his hand clutches a mirror. On the table beside him are a book and a quill, and a golden peacock statue sits in the center of the table. A single exit is to the right, beside a bookcase.

The men move cautiously around towards the motionless figure, until they are satisfied that he is dead, and not sleeping. Rolling the body over, they recognize the dead man as Vraxeris, though he appears substantially older than his ‘duplicates’. There is no sign of injury on his body, and, though it is cool to the touch, he may have died only moments ago, as there is no signs of decay. Corvus examines the journal for any clues, focusing on the most recent entries. He finds several salient entries, though the brevity of each single entry suggests that the thick journal spans long ages of time.

The runeforge pool awoke! I first took this as a sign that Runelord Xanderghul had risen. When I arrived at the pool to investigate, it seemed that the others had come to the same conclusion. The foolish Wardens of Envy thought to disrupt the recrudescence and with the aid of Azaven, Ordikan, Athroxis, and that lovely creature Delvahine, we were able to defeat them utterly. Their Abjurant Halls lie in ruins. Our treaty was short lived, though. Azaven absconded with the bodies and that treacherous wench Athroxis nearly burned me to death before I made it back here.

I was mistaken.Runelord Xanderghul still slumbers. It is that monster Karzoug who quickens and nears rebirth. Damnation! He must not be allowed to precede Xanderghul into the world, for he would rebuild Thassilon in his own inferior image, a testament to his own greed rather than pride in the work. He must be delayed or defeated!

I have managed to escape this place, to a certain extent. By astral projection I can explore what the world outside has become. It is a brutish place, yet it pleases me to see Thassilon’s mark endures in the shape of our monuments. Still, the wilderness of the world vexes me. Gone is the empire I knew. Karzoug’s city of Xin-Shalast is now hidden the high in the mountains, and when I finally discovered it, I found the spires where his body is hidden to be inaccessible, warded against astral travelers by the occlusion field around the peak of Mhar Massif. As long as his runewell is active, I fear even a physical approach would be impossibly deadly. I must determine a way to pierce these wardings, and to send an agent in my place. No need to risk my own life before my clone is ready.

I have taken steps towards an alliance with Delvahine. She may be able to escape this place, for she was not of the original blood. At the least, she can call on agents from outside, and perhaps through them we can secure servants in the outer world. She seems uninterested in Sorshen’s return, all the better for Xanderghul, that.

The runeforge pool is the key. As I suspected, the occlusion field around Karzoug’s fortress in Xin-Shalast has a flaw. His lack of knowledge of the intricacies of Sorshen’s and my own lord Xanderghul’s powers have left an opening. My agents must use components infused with our lord’s virtues, extract the latent magics within these components, and then anoint their chosen weapons with this raw power. The runeforged pool seems to have enough reserves to enhance no more than half a dozen or so runeforge weapons, but those enhanced with enchantment and illusion magic will be the most potent against Karzoug’s defenses. They may even be pivotal in his defeat.

The search for an agent goes poorly. Delvahine seems more interested in her own lusts that aiding me. Worse, the lapses and fevers are increasing. I fear that I will be forced to confront Karzoug myself, in which event I will need to use the master circle I built into the Halls of Wrath to escape this place. Yet first, I must set aside my work on delaying Karzoug’s return and turn back to the final development of my 205th clone. I only hope I have time to finish before the dementia takes hold.

After learning from Corvus what the journal says, Zendo becomes concerned that Vraxeris has cloned himself and roams the halls, while this dead body is only his former vessel. Ragnar suggests that the men examine the body, and they find that the corpse is clothed in a powerful robe of the archmagi (though it is evil in the extreme), and wears a valuable ring of wizardry as well as a potent headband of vast intelligence. The gaudy cloak of peacock feathers is actually a cape of the mountebank. The canny Ulfen suggests that even if Vraxeris had cloned himself, he would not leave such powerful magics unattended on his former body. Zendo expresses the fear that Vraxeris might have died while astrally projecting, as noted in his journal, leaving his body behind, while his soul may still roam the halls.

Despite the bard’s cautionary note, the men decide to appropriate the wizard’s loot. The headband and ring go to Corvus, who could also use the powerful robes of the archmagi, but fears the painful curse within them. Zendo takes the flamboyant cloak for himself. Ragnar deposits the golden peacock in his bag of holding while Zendo and Corvus examine the books and scrolls on the shelves of the library.

Some of the tomes on one wall of the library are Vraxeris’s extensive collection of spellbooks, while the vast majority of the books are religious essays on the mysterious Peacock Spirit. Any information on this enigmatic deity would prove to be of interest to historians and the Pathfinder Society, so Ragnar tips the volumes into his bag as well, to the consternation of Corvus.

Listening carefully, Hikage can hear faint female laughter beyond. Perhaps Delvahine, Vraxeris’s ‘ally’, awaits beyond? The men prepare themselves and open the door, only to find confusion beyond. A hallway, bracketed by doors on either side, leads into a larger library. However, the books, and bookcases, seem to have been destroyed by fire and force. Scorched pages and tattered jackets cover the floor, and the shelves themselves have been rent asunder. The destruction seems complete, though some tomes may have survived the destruction, buried under the blackened vellum and splintered wood littering the floor. A single door stands in the library wall opposite the entry hall.

Hikage cautiously opens the nearest door, and, to his dismay, finds that the room beyond is filled with a neatly stacked heap of identical bodies, all naked, elderly versions of Vraxeris. The room may hold a hundred or more of the corpses. Shuddering at the mind capable of such, Hikage closes the door firmly. Gellius examines the door to the right, further into the hall, and finds another, smaller room, equally filled with unclothed corpses. These must be the two hundred clones Vraxeris mentioned in his journal, but what reason would any wizard have to retain the corpses? The men realize that some of these fresh-looking corpes must be almost ten thousand years old, if Vraxeris has been engaged in his cloning project since before the fall of Thassilon. Moving through the detritus strewn ankle-deep across the library, Hikage finds a single, undamaged book, but before the men examine it further, the faint sounds of female laughter from the unopened door. He and Zendo can hear overlapping laughter, though neither can be sure of how many women are in the room beyond. Hikage cautiously opens the door as Ragnar stands near him at the ready.

Within the room are six identical, and largely unclothed, succubi, lolling about on a massive, silk-sheeted bed. They snarl like animals and shriek loudly as Hikage disturbs their pastime. As the succubi stand up, many of them teleport from the small bedroom into various places in the library beyond. One attempts to cast a spell of domination on Hikage, but the monk’s ki resists her magic, while another attempts to dominate Ragnar. The ring of counterspelling he had taken from the Hill GiantRazmus in the Vale of Broken Trees, flares to life and reflects the magic back on the succubus, though she struggles free of the enchantment before Ragnar can even fully imagine having a succubus slave.

Corvus springs into action and quickly casts protection from evil on his allies. This single spell wards the minds of the others from the charms of the succubi, and from their sharp claws and vitality-sapping powers. Being naked and unarmed, the succubi are largely powerless to harm the men now, though several of the demonic women attempt to charm the heroes before realizing the situation. The winged she-demons attempt to focus their attacks on Corvus, hoping that their own Abyssal resistance to magic can pierce his protection, as his death will end the warding for all. However, the other Avengers are not content to allow this to happen.

Hikage’s ki, focused through his fists, proves most effective against the demons, and Ragnar, though their hide resists his blade, still muscles the edge through the supple flesh of several succubi. Mindful of their demonic resistances, Zendo and Gellius ply blades over spells for the most part, though Corvus does unleash a powerful disintegration which nearly kills one demoness by itself. With their foes largely unable to harm them, it is only a matter of time before the Avengers hack down the succubi, still wondering why the winged demons do not flee a hopeless battle. This question is answered when the demons dissolve into slushy ice an snow like the false Vraxerises encountered before. These are not true succubi, but simulacra! Perhaps Vraxeris had made copies of his consort/ally Delvahine, to keep in his own rooms for when his ally was less than cooperative?

Searching the bedroom finds little, other than the large, four-post bed strewn with silk ropes, a plain writing desk, and an armoire with a few suggestive items of clothing. The simulacra have no possessions at all, so the men decide to retreat to the mirrored hall and rely upon Gellius’s faerie ring retreat to seek shelter and rest. Before they do so, they retrieve a shard of the mirror of opposition, to use as a component of the runeforging noted in Jordimandus‘s notes. They decide not to traipse back into the central hall or seek refuge in the Abjurant Halls, reasoning that Vraxeris’s corpse remained undisturbed here, so it must be relatively safe. However, given the blood drops they found this morning, they agree that it is time to investigate the necromantic Hall of Gluttony, as the residents there seem willing to venture forth into the other areas of the Runeforge.

Corvus identifies the tomes found in the Halls of Sloth and Vanity as a Manual of Gainful Exercise and a Tome of Leadership and Influence, each a powerful magical book capable of bestowing increased strength, and charisma, respectively, to one who devotes the time to studying their pages. It seems as if Ragnar and Zendo will be forced to join the bookworm Corvus at a desk in the near future!

During their period of rest, Corvus spends hours poring over Vraxeris’s journal, finding that the bulk of the extensive journal concerns the Illusionist’s studies, and the development of an improved version of the clone spell which effectively granted him immortality. However, this immortality came at a cost, as the transference from one body to another robbed Vraxeris of a portion of his knowledge and experience. Thus, the Thassilonian wizard was forced to dedicate a portion of his new lifespan to re-mastering the knowledge contained in his spellbooks and journal, as well as relearning elements of his own previous existence. Vraxeris was subject to a debilitating dementia which claimed the lives of his clones as they aged, so he had to make certain to master the extensive knowledge necessary to create a new clone before the onset of this dementia made it impossible. It seems as if the illusionist may have been too distracted by the awakening of the Runeforge Pool to devote enough time to perfecting his clone before it was too late.

View
All Vanity, No Fair
Calistril 3-4, 4708

After securing Jordimandus’s spellbooks, as well as his other books and scrolls, the heroes exit the lair of the obese, deceased, conjuror. Gellius calls upon his divine patron, Gozreh, and lowers the stinking waters of the Festering Maze, revealing their filth-choked sluiceways. However, this does allow Ragnar to easily locate his magical dagger.

The men also find a badly decomposed human corpse in one of the more eroded areas of the maze. Though the skeletal figure is clad mostly in slimy tatters of cloth, a sturdy leather sack appears to have resisted the caustic stew, as well as a metallic rod that once was tucked tightly in his (or her) belt. Corvus examines the two items, and finds that the sack is a magical bag of holding and the rod is enchanted to prolong the duration of magical spells. Within the bag, Corvus finds spellbooks! The spells inside seem to indicate a career as a transmuter, and the extensive notes within reveal the workings of the glittering mists the men encountered in the Vault of Greed. The ‘morphic mists’ are magically sustained by the stone golems within the Vault, and transform anyone affected by their magic into goldfish, which appear within the pools of the hall itself. The destruction of the stone golems should prevent the morphic mists from reforming, even after being dispersed by Gellius.

The heroes take their leave of the nauseating halls of Sloth, and retire to the safety of a extradimensional grove created by Gellius within the Abjurant Halls. Within the grove, the men bathe and recover, and Corvus and Zendo pore over the extensive annotations within the spellbooks of Jordimandus. Much of the gossip within is irrelevant now, as it contains salacious rumors about wizards long dead, but the two are able to glean some useful information from the dross.

Jordimandus was one of the least promising of the conjurors within Runeforge, but none of his indolent masters survived long after the fall of Thassilon, whether brought down by infighting or conflicts with other wings of Runeforge. He survived by pledging both heart and soul to Jubilex, and the foul influence of that demon lord corrupted the bathing halls of Sloth as well. Jordimandus records his intention of forging runeforged weapons to use against the other Thassilonian wizards in several places in his spellbooks, but evidently, his own sloth was too great for him to ever exert any effort to do so.

The necromancers of the Ravenous Crypts of Gluttony ran short of their most precious raw material, corpses, soon after contact was lost with Thassilon, and conflict with the other wings, and cannibalism among their own ranks, soon thinned the wizards down to a single, skilled necromancer named Azaven, who outwitted, betrayed, or overpowered his rivals, though Jordimandus does mention that the wily necromancer does have a trusted servant, Xyoddin Xerriock, whose magical talents are minimal, but who is still not to be trifled with. Azaven still greatly craves corpses for his work, so he is amenable to negotiation despite his macabre demeanor.

Jordimandus’s notes indicate that Ordikon had long ago transmuted himself into living mithral, with attendant alterations in his psyche. However, the influence of his master, Izomandakus, had long tempered the “mithral mage’s” insistent delusions. When the runeforge pool ‘awoke’ several years ago, the wizards of the Abjurant Halls tried to seize control of the central pool themselves, an ill-considered act which mobilized the other wings against them. During this violent altercation (and the destabilizing repercussions), Izomandakus was slain, and there was no longer any restraint on Ordikon’s delusional states. Viewing himself (and the deceased Izomandakus) as ‘true men’ of metal, and the other transmuters as poor substitutes, Ordikon slew the other wizards of Greed and led a paranoid, antisocial existence in the huge and opulent halls.

The warlike evokers who commanded Runelord Sorshen’s wing of Runeforge maintained a small standing army within the Halls of Wrath. After the severance of the links with Thassilon the evokers continued to drill their soldiery, and, alone among the wings, continue to breed and train servants. The Halls of Wrath are ruled by the High Lord of Wrath, who claims his (or in this case, her) position through combat. The current Highlady Athroxis is vicious and domineering, as well as warlike and aggressive. She is a difficult ally, as she brooks little discussion or negotiation, but she is focused and determined.

The Iron Cages of Lust were once ruled over by a coterie of female enchantresses, but long ago they were tricked and betrayed by one of their servants, an alluring demoness known as Delvahine. Despite not being a wizard, or even a human, Delvahine has long ruled the Runefore Wing of Lust, largely by her own skill with enchantments, and her own considerable charms. Indeed, the demon is skilled at brokering alliances, and her own alliance with the powerful master of the Halls of Pride has been a key factor in her longevity.

The master of the Halls of Pride, Vraxeris, is one of the few personalities that Jordimandus writes of with a bit of fear and respect. Though the conjuror holds the illusionist in contempt for his obvious vanity and fawning affection for Delvahine, the fact remains that Vraxeris is the only wizard in Runeforge who has maintained control of his Halls since their construction. Vraxeris has ruled over the Halls of Pride for ten thousand years, without the aid of a demonic patron, and without the inhuman transformations of necromancy or transmutation. Despite his wariness of the powerful illusionist, Jordimandus is also exasperated by Vraxeris’s own grossly inflated estimation of his own importance and brilliance.

After a restful night in the faerie grove, the men awake refreshed and talk among themselves as Corvus and Gellius prepare their spells. Having decided to brave the Halls of Pride, despite the fearsome reputation of Vraxeris, the heroes consult the Revelation Quill, with Hikage focusing on the dangers that they might confront within. The peacock quill scratches out a long stanza on parchment, leaving the men confused:

Pride goeth before a fall,
Our undoing lies within us all.
The master’s deeds bred within
disdain for others, Vanity’s sin.

Corvus and Gellius prepare many spells to counter other magics, as well as powerful spells to pierce all illusions and pierce the veil of invisibility. Once outside the faerie ring, Corvus casts a spell allowing the men to return here safely, and the group moves from the ruined Abjurant Halls towards the Halls of Pride behind the statue of Xanderghul. However, the keen eyes of Zendo and Hikage spot several tiny brownish-red specks on the floor. On closer examination, the spots appear to be blood, though it appears that the drops have been wiped up hurriedly. Only the tiniest trace of blood remains in the grain of the stone. The drops appear to lead between the Halls of Greed and the Halls of Gluttony, though the direction of ‘travel’ is unknown. The men are concerned about the necromancer within the Halls of Gluttony, but consider that, being unprepared to take on such magics, it might be better to proceed against the illusionist within the Halls of Pride, and retreat if attacked by Azaven and his servant Xyoddin. As they enter the Halls of Pride, Corvus wards the men against evil, and bestows a powerful boon of True Seeing on Ragnar, while giving himself the ability to see the invisible.

The men move cautiously into the tunnel leading to the halls of Pride. As the rooms ahead appear to be brightly lit, Hikage takes the lead and quietly pads forward. As he nears the terminus of the tunnel, the monk can see that the way ahead is lined with mirrors. Carefully looking at every angle, he can see the reflection of what appears to be a large, mirrored room beyond, with an immense, lustrous peacock standing atop a dais. Heading back to report his scouting, the monk worries the others with his account. Is the Hall of Pride home to some unknown avatar of the Peacock Spirit? Was this enigmatic deity associated with the Runelord of Pride? Finally, the men decide that there remains nothing to do but investigate. They move up to the junction of the runeforge access and the hall of mirrors separating them from the Halls of Pride. Hikage steps around the corner, finding himself in a mirrored hallway with exits leading deeper into the Halls, behind and before him. However, when he sees his reflection in the mirrored wall in front of him (and again, in the mirror behind him), he is startled to see his reflections snarl menacingly and step out of the mirror towards him!

Hikage calls a warning to the others, but not before Ragnar has also stepped into the hall, spawning two duplicates of himself as well. The monk is badly surprised by his duplicates, and is quickly surrounded by these ‘false Hikages’, who spring to the attack, though he ducks and avoids their most dangerous, elemental, blows. Ragnar, though not able to check his motion into the room, is forewarned enough, and bellows in fury as he charges one of his ‘duplicates’ and slashes him grievously across the torso. Though he has drawn first blood, his duplicate weathers the strike and ripostes when Ragnar is over-extended, injuring the Ulfen greatly. Fortunately for Ragnar, his second ‘copy’ cannot easily reach him, and is forced to divert around Hikage to flank him.

Afraid of unleashing more duplicates, the others hold back in the hallway. However, Gellius sees Ragnar’s peril and unleashes a blast of chain lightning. Though the ‘false Hikages’ dodge it with Hikage’s typical ease, it hurts both of Ragnar’s duplicates, and the clever druid sends the snaking bolts of electricity out to shatter mirrors throughout the Hallway. Seeing the sense of this, Corvus follows suit with leaping gouts of flame, which consume one of Ragnar’s evil twins, and blast many of the mirrors into shattered ruins.

Hikage is standing his own against his doubles, but despite Zendo’s encouragement, he is finding the experience of being double-teamed injurious. As he retreats towards the others, Corvus notes that neither ‘false Hikage’ makes any attempt at harming any of the others. It is as if the duplicates are consumed with destroying their original source. Ragnar cuts down his second copy with ease, staggered as it was with lightning and flame, while Hikage wears down his duplicates to the point that he and the others can put them down. Each of the strange duplicates shatters like glass and dissipates when killed, leaving no traces behind.

Zendo and Gellius tend Hikage’s many minor wounds, as well as Ragnar’s gaping torso cut, expressing surprise at how badly injured the tall Ulfen is. “You see what I do to someone with this sword?,” he bellows. “I just did it to me!” After they have been healed, the men examine the hall cautiously before sending Zendo stepping gingerly into the hallway. No duplicates step out of the few remaining mirrors, so the others follow the bard, and enter an immense, mirrored chamber.

The chamber spans hundreds of feet, and rises in an arched ceiling to a hundred feet or more. The walls are entirely mirrored, and the floor is paved with ivory tiles. At the center of the room, atop an ornamental wooden dias, stands a peacock the size of a wyvern! Ragnar snorts and dismisses it as a cheap parlor trick, but Zendo and Hikage are moved to awe by the profound intelligence they perceive in its eyes. Gellius is convinced that no ‘real’ animal would be so quiescent, and Corvus discerns a programmatic pattern in its movements, but the bard and monk remain convinced that they are in the presence of the manifested Peacock Spirit. As the men move through the room, some tread reverentially towards the huge, magnificent bird, while others remain alert.

Suddenly, six identical-looking wizards step around the edge of the wooden dais. Each is handsome, with sandy blonde hair and blue robes. “The master is in the study,” they each intone, slightly overlapping each other. “Please keep your screams to a minimum so as not to disturb him as you are destroyed for daring to approach his greatness so closely.”

Each of the wizards is faintly blurred, as if viewed through a haze, and each wizard is surrounded by overlapping mirror images. Obviously, these illusionists are well-protected by their spells! Several of the wizards are suddenly protected by defensive spells, veiling themselves in confusing glamours, or shielding themselves behind crackling wards of electricity. Ragnar warns the others that the wizards are casting spells, but none of the other men see them do anything but glare menacingly. First Gellius and Hikage, then Zendo and Corvus, are confronted by terrifying apparitions. The druid, bard, and monk fight off the horrifying specters, sure that they are merely illusions, but Corvus shrieks and collapses. The phantasmal killer has nearly scared him to death, but the youthful wizard still draws breath.

Gellius quickly rains down fire and ash on the illusionists to the left, though the volcanic storm is more to block their line of sight to his allies than to kill them outright. Hikage quickly advances on the wizards to the right, but finds, to his dismay, that their ‘mirror images’ are not merely illusory, but contain a powerful electrical shock. Ragnar, able to ignore the illusory images entirely, slices through the protective spells and cuts down two of the illusionists before Hikage can slay his own target. Seeing that Ragnar is unphased by illusions, the wizards try to strike him down with bolts of lightning, but, despite some burns, he is undeterred.

Zendo goes to assist his friend, while Gellius transforms the very floor of the hall to burning obsidian. Not only does this hurt the remaining wizards, but the molten glass pins them in place! Corvus, now bent on vengeance, summons a stinking poisonous cloud over the illusionists, who cannot flee the vapors! Ragnar circles around one edge of the cloud, catching a retching wizard as he flees the choking fumes, and slices him apart. Hikage stands at the edge of the cloud, where he tries to pummel another wizard into unconsciousness, but the wizard’s illusions, and the dense mist, cause many of his blows to go awry. Gellius dons his Fog-cutting Lenses and, immune to the poison, strides into the cloud to dispatch that wizard with his crackling scimitar. Corvus dispels the cloud and Ragnar advances on the last wizard, helplessly immobilized and retching, and makes swift work of him.

To their surprise, the slain wizards collapse into bloody heaps of snow and ice, though their clothing and possessions remain!

View
The Warden of Sloth
Calistril 3, 4708

After Gellius and Zendo treat Ragnar’s wounds and injuries as best as they can, the Avengers prepare to breach the double doors which, presumably, lead to the ‘heart’ of the maze. Corvus gathers them around and wards them against evil, though his protection can only last for a few minutes. Hikage advances on the rusty, moss-encrusted doors and carefully listens. The doors are faintly ajar, but all the alert monk senses is a strong, caustic chemical smell, and the sounds of gushing water.

Zendo opens the door and is aghast to find an immense, toad-like demon! The demon’s foul stench wafts outward towards the heroes, but Gellius’s protection wards off the noxious vapors. However, the demon is huge, and coated with a crusted layer of seeping filth. It lunges towards the bard, seeking to engulf him in its fanged maw, but the half-elf leaps out of the way.

The room beyond is largely a set of metal catwalks suspended above a churning whirlpool of sewage below. Pipes below the doorways drain waters from the maze to fill this reservoir. Four large pipes rise out of the foamy waters to pierce the catwalks in all four corners of the room. These pipes are filled with different liquids, and a fountain of each fluid jets out of the pipes and cascades into the whirlpool below. The liquids are a virulent yellow (to the left of the doors), then a deep, dark red, then a light brown, and finally a tarry black fluid to the right of the doors. A massive pipe rises through the catwalk on the opposite side of the room, and a greenish, glowing liquid bubbles up within, providing illumination for the room. Hovering over this glowing pool is an immense iron throne, occupied by a morbidly obese man.

He introduces himself grandly asJordimandus , and says that he has been awaiting the heroes for some time. His silk robes part to reveal an immense gut, but more horrifically, a gaping wound in his chest is filled with a huge, inhuman heart, which pulses with unnatural life, surrounded by slender, quivering tentacles which probe the edges of the wound. He chuckles moistly, as if delighted by the company!

The heroes spring into action. Zendo dances around the demon to threaten Jordimandus, but finds that the yellowish fluid, rather than being some sort of fountain, is somehow alive, and a stream of it splashes towards him, though he is able to dance out of the way. Hikage and Ragnar move up to rip apart the demon with sword and fist, as Corvus identifies it as a Hezrou, and warns Hikage that it is immune to lightning (and resistant to much else!). The wizard casts a cloud of glowing glitterdust at the beast, seeking to blind it, but the bloated toad demon simply licks off the glowing dust from its eyes with a long, pink tongue. However, the cloud of sparkling dust does reveal a tiny invisible demon fluttering in the air over the pool below. " Sobloch how incautious!", chuckles his master. Jordimandus waves a hand lazily and a field of rubbery tentacles spring up, growing out of the metal and stone of the walk itself! Most of the men avoid the crushing grasp of the black tentacles, but Corvus finds himself entangled and painfully compressed. Jordimandus then begins another spell, evidently summoning an ally. Gellius also begins to summon aid, a huge mud elemental.

To their dismay, the men realize that each of the fluids is both animate, and a pool of one of the bodily humors. Gellius is burned by the acidic yellow choler, and Ragnar and Hikage are both splashed with the brownish phlegm, and the Ulfen is also spattered by the blood of the northwest pipe.

Despite the sharp claws and fangs of the Hezrou, Hikage and Ragnar are able to quickly dispatch the huge demon, but before either man can advance towards the seated wizard, Jordimandus has summoned a large, vulture-like demon to cut off their advance. Sobloch casts spells ineffectually at the men and claws fitfully at Hikage, before Ragnar nearly cuts the quasit in half with his sword, causing it to retreat, cursing. Zendo launches a blistering series of sonic blasts at Jordimandus, but the obese wizard absorbs them with a rod clutched in one hand, chuckling at Zendo’s discomfort. Gellius tries to help Corvus free himself from the black tentacles while his huge mud elemental rains down a series of painful, damaging, blows on Jordimandus and his throne, forcing the conjuror to forestall more summoning and magically transport himself out of reach of the dangerous entity. First he blinds Gellius with a spitefully cast mudball, then casts a powerful spell to dispel the magics protecting the group, and brings down their protective life bubble, as well as banishing the mud elemental which has pursued him doggedly across the room. Gellius abandons his attempts to free Corvus to wipe the thick mud from his eyes. Jordimandus then follows up that spell with a specially prepared stinking cloud, which sets Zendo to coughing and choking. Ragnar runs through the dense mist with Gellius’s fog-cutting lenses, and then the druid disperses the cloud by summoning powerful winds within the room. Hikage smites down the vrock as its spores wither and die in his purified flesh, and then lunges out and smashes the quasit, which falls lifeless into the pool below.

Hard pressed, Jordimandus magically retreats from the room, but pierces Zendo with a painful arrow of acid. He complains that the men are rapidly growing tiresome. Hikage quickly pursues the fat conjuror, while Corvus beckons Ragnar and teleports them both into position to cut off Jordimandus’s retreat. The canny wizard has prepared for this, and his body erupts with a blistering cloud of acid, burning both the wizard and the warrior, though Hikage dodges the caustic spray. However, no matter the damage, this has put Jordimandus too close to an angry Ragnar, who nearly kills him with his greatsword. The obese wizard begs for mercy, promising to help them in any way he can, but a wrathful Hikage knocks him unconscious brusquely, replying that Jordimandus himself has grown tiresome.

Their creator unconscious, the black tentacles vanish, and Zendo regains his composure. Though both Ragnar and Hikage do not deign to finish off an unconscious foe, Gellius, perhaps appalled by the corruption of Jordimandus’s flesh and realm, cuts out his demonic heart with his scimitar. Examining the wizard’s lifeless form, the men find his rod of absorption, as well as a ring of protection and a handy haversack, which Hikage commandeers to replace the one destroyed by the malfunctioning rod within the Abjurant Halls. Within the haversack are a valuable silver mirror and an ivory plaque, both components for scrying magics. Disgusted by the filth and corruption of the Halls of Sloth, most of the men move to take their leave immediately, but Ragnar protests. Not only is his magical dagger still somewhere on the bottom of the river of filth, but the men have not searched the wizard’s sanctum at all!

The men return to cautiously examine the room. The massive iron throne, though it floats in the air over the glowing pipe of bubbling green fluid, does not detect as magical to Corvus’s surprise. Hikage vaults into the seat to examine it further, and finds a hidden latch on one armrest which opens a secret drawer on the right side of the throne. Concealed within are several scrolls, Jordimandus’s many spellbooks, and a manual of exercises and calisthenics which detect as magical. The men are still confounded as to how the iron throne can hover over the water without magic, until Corvus walks across the surface of the fluid (thanks to Gellius’s spells) and peers underneath the throne. Hidden within two deep recesses are two immovable rods, magically suspending the throne in position. However, the men are flummoxed as to how to deactivate the rods without releasing the heavy throne to drag them into the green waters. Finally, at Ragnar’s suggestion, Gellius transforms into a long-limbed orangutan and grasps each rod carefully with his long, probing hands. Then Corvus clutches Gellius and uses his magic to dimension door both of them, and the rods, well away from the plummeting throne.

Ragnar queries Gellius as to whether the druid can do something with the waters of the Maze, to help him find his magic dagger. While the druid and warrior discuss their options, Gellius quickly looks through Jordimandus’s spell books. He discovers that the wizard has scribbled gossip throughout the margins of his spellbooks, revealing much about the day-to-day interactions between the inhabitants of Runeforge, though the endless variety ensures that Corvus will have to spend some time poring over the books to discern anything of use. More importantly, Corvus discovers a series of notes scrawled on the inside cover of the largest spellbook:

RUNEFORGED WEAPON COMPONENTS

Sloth———-admixture of the four humors
Greed——-waters from the pool of elemental arcana
Envy————vial of ethellion
Lust————one of Delvahine’s personal toys, perhaps?
Pride———-shard from any of the mirrors Vraxeris has looked in
Wrath———ashes from the Hall of Testing
Gluttony—-some of that delicious Inib wine

Realizing that the blue liquid from the Hall of Greed and the silvery fluid from the Hall of Envy are components for forming Runeforged weapons, the men decide to consolidate their ‘ethillion’ in Ragnar’s canteen and use Zendo’s glass vial to obtain a small amount of the green, glowing fluid here, which is almost certainly the ‘admixture of the four humors’.

View
I think I got some in my mouth...
Calistril 3, 4708

Taking the hints of the Revelation Quill to heart, Corvus and Gellius prepare their many spells for the challenging day ahead. The men move into the tunnel leading to the Halls of Sloth, past the smiling statue of Runelord Krune. As they near the end of the passage, Gellius stops the men and suggests that he might cast protective wardings upon them. The druid prays to Gozreh and confers upon the men the ability to breathe water, as the halls are (or were) a series of baths. He also gives them all the ability to walk upon water, as the Quill suggested that the baths are (or contain) a maze of some sort. Corvus also uses his wand of false life to protect the life force of his comrades, and reminds them that he can magically ward them from evil and summoned creatures, but they must be close by, and his protection will only last a short time.

When the men finally enter the Halls of Sloth, they are dismayed to see that the luxurious bathing halls have been defiled. The waters of the flowing baths are choked with muck and sewage, and foamy scum swirls across the thick surface. The walls are streaked with grime and slime, and the stone floors are slippery with ooze and filth. Diseased rats, pale spiders, and tangles of worms writhe in the corners and crevices of the structure. The smell is so overwhelmingly foul that Zendo is overcome with nausea. Gellius calls upon his god to protect his friends, and the foul taint in the air is replaced by freshness, as a magical aura of life-giving air clings to each man. Zendo is still choking and gagging on the foulness in his mouth and nose, so the druid uses a minor spell to ease the bard’s distress.

Moving through the maze appears to be difficult. The stone walkways are slippery, but the walls of the maze themselves appear to have collapsed in areas, blocking easy passage. In addition, many of the twisting ‘waterways’ are spanned only by slender metal bridges, which are encrusted with slime and grue. In most cases, it seems easier to walk suspended over the scummy water than to chance slipping and tumbling into it. The foul fluid flows slowly only inches below the level of the walkways anyway.

Hikage can hear the sounds of flowing liquid ahead, though even this sounds unwholesome. Since the source of the effluence seems to lie in that direction, the men make their way towards it. As they negotiate a filthy tunnel in single file, the men come upon a large, open chamber. Several stone platforms span the room, linked by the slender, metal bridges. Grated pipes release churning, foaming streams of filthy water into the room, and occasional blockages interrupt their flow until the semi-solid masses in the water are forced through the bars. To their left, another platform holds three corroded metal rods embedded in the walls. They appear to be levers, with two in a raised position. Gellius and Zendo step onto the platform and examine the levers. They appear to be labeled with metal plaques, but the plaques are so coated with corrosion and filth that neither man can read them.

As the two examine the plaques, reluctant to touch the filthy walls, hideous, skull-faced slimes erupt from the foaming sewage below. The stinking nightmares seize both Gellius and Zendo, their gooey skin burning the men like acid. More horrifying, however, is the fact that the creatures do not merely grapple the men, but ooze into their mouths and noses, suffocating them with filth as they burn them with acid! Neither man can speak nor escape their grip! Corvus recognizes them as Omox, demons of filth and corruption, and plies his wand to burn one off Zendo, but the demon appears resistant to fire. The wizard warns the others that the demons are immune to electricity and to fire, as well as being resistant to magics! He tries to use the magics of the staff of Mithral Might to free Zendo with telekinesis, but the omox shrugs off the spell.

On the nearby platform, Hikage rains down blows on one of the omox, and though its oozing form resists his strikes, he succeeds in battering it into releasing Zendo eventually, though it burns the bard badly before retreating. Ragnar strides across the water towards the other demon and slices deeply into its foul flesh, finally provoking it into releasing Gellius as well. The demons do not swim across the sewage, but flow into it, and then emerge elsewhere in the chamber. One lobs a gooey bolus of muck at Ragnar, but it spatters harmlessly across his breastplate. The other summons forth a billowing mass of acid vapor, which would burn the eyes and skin of the men, had not Gellius warded them with his life bubble. Even with that protection, however, the thick fog both clings to the men, slowing them down, and blocks their sight, each one scarcely able to see another. The omox use the confusion to flow throughout the room. One flows through the pools to flank Corvus, and when the wizard fights off the poisonous magic it plies, the demon engulfs him and attempts to smother and burn him like the others. The other demon, more badly disrupted by Hikage’s attacks, retreats to the narrow channels of filth. It hurls a glob of foulness at him, but the monk swats it out of the air to splash into the waters beneath his feet.

Gellius uses his magic to inhale the acidic fog, trapping it safely within his lungs so that the others can see and move more easily.

Hikage and Ragnar advance upon the retreating demon, as the struggling Corvus blocks any attempts to attack the demon suffocating him in the narrow tunnel where he stands, striking it feebly with his magical staff. Ragnar hurls a dagger at the creature, but it barely grazes the demon before tumbling into the foul liquid below. The omox hurls another glob of filth at Ragnar and it spatters across his flesh, burning him and tangling his legs. Hikage strikes it down and rushes to assist the struggling Corvus, but Ragnar lags behind, the sticky muck slowing him down as it clings to every surface. Gellius exhales the acidic mist into the pipes feeding sewage into the pool and rushes to assist his allies with his scimitar. Before Ragnar can close on his beleaguered friend, Hikage’s fists, Gellius’s scimitar, and Zendo’s powerful sonic magics have disrupted the demon.

After their disgusting ordeal, the men heal their wounds, and turn their attention back to the strange levers. Already coated in filth, Gellius uses the hem of his cloak to swipe clean the metal plaques, revealing three labels in Thassilonian, reading, from left to right: Portal Control, Access Control, and Warning! Cleaning Cycle. Though a thorough cleaning is certainly in order, the men are not sure exactly which levers are already activated, and decide not to experiment at the present.

The heroes, now covered in filth (other than the fastidious Hikage), explore the dank and noisome maze further, finding several dead ends. Ahead, the men can hear the foul sewage pouring noisily into a pool. Rounding a bend in the tunnel, which opens into a wider cavern, Hikage feels uneasy, an oppressive atmosphere pricking at his senses. Given that this is the way that Ragnar and Zendo have been feeling the entire time they have spent in the Halls of Sloth, he presses onward, but his everburning torch reveals a horrific sight!

Suspended above the churning waters of the cavern, a large, tentacled entity stares unblinking at the party. Several whiplike tentacles coil around a rounded, sluglike body, while longer, thicker tentacles open to reveal toothed mouths at their ends, like arm-thick lampreys. The entire creature is either coated with a thick layer of clear slime, or its outer flesh itself is glassily translucent, as a rubbery inner flesh stretches and bulges with movement. The monstrosity has a huge, fanged maw at the base of its body, and a single, reddish-orange eye the size of a dinner plate stares at them avidly.

Within their heads, each in his own native tongue, the men can hear the voice of the creature:

“Mortal meat-people visit Chernobue. Bring flesh to play and eat!”

Corvus recognizes the name, and warns the others that the chernobue is a quippoloth, an Abyssal predecessor of the demons, and deeply vulnerable to bright light. However, the shocking appearance of the chernobue alarms all who see it, and Gellius stands, horrified, as the monster draws nearer. The presence of the creature is so disturbing that Zendo and Corvus do not even dare to come closer, so afraid are they of setting eye upon it.

The unnatural entity is not alone, however, and a second chernobue heaves into the light shed by Hikage’s torch. Not merely weird monsters, the chernobue also possess magical powers, and one of the beasts unleashes an arcane wave of mind-distorting magic. Most of the heroes shrug off the spell (including the horrified Gellius), but Ragnar is seized by confusion and stares warily, seemingly unable to distinguish friend from foe.

Corvus steps forward and breaks the enchantment confusing his friend, as Hikage lashes out with his fists against the rubbery hide of the beast. The monk finds that his lawful ki is inimical to the chaotic substance of the chernobue, and he causes great damage to it’s slippery, glassy flesh. Ragnar steps up to slice it apart, but a whip-like tentacle latches onto his arm and drains him of blood and vitality. Hikage smashes apart the first Chernobue as Ragnar fights the second. It siezes the Ulfen with its lamprey-like mouths and drains more blood from him, but its whiplike tendrils and slobbering mouth cannot find purchase in the monk’s flesh. Ragnar slices it again, but it succeeds in biting him deeply on the leg, and injects a virulent orange poison into the wound. Though the Ulfen fights off the painful, burning poison, it is no mere venom, but some strange, semi-living fluid! The orange poison emerges from Ragnar, pouring painfully from his eyes, nose and mouth, as well as from his wounds. With a gasp of pain, Ragnar falls unconscious, and his body plunges into the foul waters of the pool.

Hikage smashes apart the chernobue with his powerful strikes and selflessly dives into the foaming muck in search of Ragnar. Scarcely able to see within the septic waters, but protected from them by his life bubble, he is able to find his friend and drag his limp body back to the surface, where the others help him pull Ragnar to safety. The large warrior is deeply injured, and dreadfully pale, but Gellius’s magics have protected him from inhaling any of the filthy water of the pool, as well as from any infection from those same waters.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.