After defeating the Mithral Mage, Ordikon, the men heal and recover before searching his metallic corpse for treasure. Ordikon possessed a magical cloak, as well as a rod of metal and mineral detection. As well, Corvus finds a pearl of power, which he adds to his set. However, the most important find on the transmuter’s corpse is the wizard’s Staff of Mithral Might. This powerful metal staff possesses several magical abilities, most notably, the capacity to transform flesh to stone! Corvus relinquishes his quarterstaff to Hikage to wield the powerful magical staff.
The men proceed to explore the Vault of Greed. Gellius uses his druidic magics to speak to the goldfish within one of the fountains of the Vault, hoping that perhaps, those fish might be transformed prisoners who can tell him more about the wizards of greed. However, the fish all seem to be no more than that, and none has any memories of being anything else. They all loudly beg for food, though none appear to be starving, and greedily swarm around the bits of rations Gellius leaves within the pool. Gellius is disappointed his magical spell revealed no insights, but the men discuss the situation and realize that, most likely, any fish within the pool might have been transformed so long ago that they no longer remember being human (or dwarven, or elven, or, as Hikage points out, possibly goblins or bugbears).
Further exploring the expansive Vault of Greed, the men happen across several incongruous rooms. Each large room contains no furnishings or decoration, but planks of wood, ingots of metal, sheafs of fabric, and other materials strewn across the floor. The men explore them cautiously, as the rooms each radiate powerful transformational magics, but even their careful explorations do not reveal any ‘triggers’ for the magics contained within each room. Finally, Corvus uses his wand to identify the magical aura of one of the rooms, and finds that each of the rooms is enchanted with a powerful spell that allows any wizard (or indeed, anyone) attuned to the sin of Greed, to cast a fabrication spell at will, transforming the raw materials within the room into any sort of substances desired. The heroes eyes light up with avarice, but Corvus points out that the enchantment is bound to the room, so any such transformed objects would assume their original form when removed from that location.
To permanently bind such powerful magics to each and every room seems profligate, but the men muse that such a spell would have allowed the transmuters of the halls to live and experiment in comfort without the need for additional resources.
After finding another elaborately decorated fountain room (the former ‘home’ of one more of the stone golems), the men discover a large library and laboratory. Hundreds of books and scrolls rest in the shelves covering one of the long walls of the chamber, while a monkey, a snake, several rats, and two cats pace restlessly in small cages on the many tables in the center of the chamber. A recently deceased dog lies on one of the tables, its hindquarters transformed into metal. Crates of various dry goods and materials are scattered underneath the tables, and sets of double doors lead out of the room in two other directions.
Gellius transforms into a huge dire gorilla and communicates with the monkey in the cage. After Gellius agrees to release him, the monkey tells him that the ‘metal man’ kept him captive in the cage, along with other animals. That ‘metal man’ was mean and hurt and scared the animals, and never fed them. The monkey has no memories of a time before being captive in the cage, but he does remember that there used to be other men (not metal, however) who worked with the metal man, but they have been gone for a long time. The monkey also remembers that Ordikon sometimes spoke to someone in the room beyond the laboratory. The little monkey does not know who dwells in the halls beyond, but Ordikon has spoken to him recently. After freeing the monkey, Gellius feeds him a bit of food, and the men debate freeing the other animals. Gellius is insistent that even if the animals can’t venture out of Runeforge, it is better to let them free here than keep them caged up, but he agrees to leave them in the cages while they explore the mysteries of the ‘voice’ in the rooms past the laboratory.
The heroes carefully open the double doors leading deeper into the Vault and are aghast to find an immense boar-like demon awaiting them within the room inside! However, the huge monster speaks to them, telepathically, and assures them that it means them no harm! Zuvuzeg tells them that he is bound to guard the rooms beyond, but that he wishes to be free, and he will reward the men greatly if they can do so. Though the demon is immense and hideous, the room within is ornately decorated. The floors are marble, and the walls are wood and gold. The halls are illuminated by crystal lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and golden warrior statues line the walls.
Zuvuzeg is very gregarious, and very willing to talk. He explains that Izomandakus, the master of the Vault of Greed, bound him here ten thousand years ago, only to be free when he had made the wizard laugh, cry, and shriek, using only his stories. Zuvuzeg had succeeded in getting the taciturn mage to laugh and cry, and had only needed to trick Izomandakus into shrieking to earn his freedom, before the wizard was killed, preventing Zuvuzeg from being freed.
Izomandakus was Ordikon’s master for a long, long time, but a few years ago, the runeforge pool ‘awoke’, and during some confrontation spurred by that event, several of the wings of Runeforge came into conflict, with the Abjurant Halls being destroyed. During that conflict, Izomandakus was killed, though Zuvuzeg knows not how, as he was confined here.
The demon explains that the room beyond holds the Pool of Elemental Arcana, constructed by the wizards of Greed. He offers the men a valuable boon if they will only free him from the spell binding him to the room. When Corvus steps into the room to examine the statues, he realizes that they are incredibly lifelike and hollow. Zuvuzeg explains that the ‘statues’ were once gilded soldiers of the wizards, paralyzed by spells and held immobile as molten gold was applied to their bodies. The corpses decayed long ago, before the demon had even been summoned.
Zuvuzeg bargains with the men, saying that he will tell them all he knows of the Runeforge, and the Vault of Greed, and Izomandakus, and Ordikon, and the Pool of Elemental Arcana, if they will agree to free him. He tells them that he will grant them a wondrous prize if they can free him, a prize so valuable any mortal would value over any amount of gold. When they press the demon as to the nature of his gift, he chortles, and soberly responds, “If you free me, I will grant you the greatest gift you can receive from a demon: my indifference. Set me free and I shall pay you no more mind.”
Despite the obvious evil of the demon, the men agree that this is, indeed, a valuable gift, and, given Zuvuzeg’s obvious familiarity with the Vault, they discuss the merits of his offer. However, as Corvus appears to be wrestling with the arcane minutia of freeing the powerful demon, he attempts to inobtrusively step back through the threshold of the chamber.
Alarmed at the possibility of his ‘liberator’ fleeing beyond his reach, Zuvuzeg stretches forth one massive, taloned claw and seizes the wizard, though he does not crush Corvus. “I will not hurt you, wizard, but I do not trust you to keep your bargain when I am trapped within!”. Though Corvus insists that his intention was not to flee, the others take this as a hostile action and surge to attack Zuvuzeg. Corvus struggles to use his spells to escape from the demon, but the powerful monster jostles him, spoiling his incantations. Zuvuzeg attempts to magically slow down the heroes, perhaps to buy him time to negotiate with them, but they shrug off his magics. As Zendo uses spells to hasten their steps (and swords), Hikage leaps around the demon. As inky tendrils of blackness writhe around Zuvuzeg, Hikage smashes him with powerful strikes, Zendo’s spell lending speed to his fists. Ragnar takes a painful smash from one of the demon’s giant hands before slashing his sword across the demon’s wide belly. Zuvuzeg releases the coils of darkness around him, seeking to destroy the resolve of the men by driving them mad with hallucinations, but each of them stands firm, and he crushes Corvus in his fist as he bites and claws at the monk, whose own fists have caused him so much pain. The huge demon uses his own magics to retreat from Hikage and Ragnar, but his bindings prevent him from fleeing the chamber, and Ragnar steps forward and slices the boar-demon into messy viscera with several slashes of his sword.
After banishing Zuvuzeg, the men explore the hall behind him, leading to the Pool of Elemental Arcana. When Hikage and Ragnar open these doors, they find a huge, domed chamber, housing a forty-foot wide pool of blue liquid. Gouts of flame and flashes of lightning dart across the surface of the pool, and it ripples and swirls as if stirred by something within the depths. Hikage steps closer and feels waves of exhaustion and nausea washing over him. Though he withstands long enough to gaze into the pool, the monk quickly retreats, telling the others that the pool radiates some sort of fell aura which tries to sap his energy.
Corvus examines the pool carefully with his magics, standing behind Ragnar and Hikage’s wary forms, and the wizard can see that the pool is not enchanted water, but seems to be composed of magic itself, distilled down into some strange fluid. Zendo takes out a vial and Gellius, still in the form of a dire ape, agrees to venture into the room and fill the vial with a portion of the pool. Gellius feels the same malignant draining as Hikage, and he carefully fills the vial and rapidly retreats from the room.
Unsure what the Pool is, or why the transmuters would have guarded it so strongly, Zendo feels compelled to investigate further. He tosses a copper into the pool, but it does not react at all. He then uses his mage hand cantrip to carry his wand of silent image (long ago taken from the goblin bard at Thistletop) into the pool. It glows brightly, and, upon examination, seems to have recovered a few spent charges! No one today knows how to recharge a wand!
In excitement, Zendo again dips the wand into the swirling blue pool. This time, the wand emerges coated in a thick rime of ice, freezing cold to the touch, and seems to have been drained of most of the additional charges. Zendo convinces Corvus to allow him to immerse the wand of identify (long ago taken from the hidden necromancer Cairlazu Zerren) into the pool, and it is drained of all magical energy, turning into no more than an unremarkable stick. Despite this unfortunate event, Zendo convinces the unimpressed wizard to allow him to experiment with his wand of magic missiles, but it suddenly explodes, swollen with an uncontrollable influx of magical power. Hikage leaps out of the way, exposing Ragnar to the icy blast, and Corvus takes the brunt of the explosion, nearly knocking him senseless.
After retreating to a safe distance, Zendo heals his comrades and apologizes sheepishly. However, he cannot resist experimenting with another wand. The others move safely back into Ordikon’s library, but Zendo crouches carefully behind the corner of the hall and meddles with the pool further. His own wand of magical missiles glows brighter than a torch, and regains all of its spent charges! With curiousity sated (at least for the moment) , Zendo joins the others and helps Corvus explore the plethora of books and scrolls in the library. The library is a valuable archive of many wide-ranging topics of transmutational magic, including the transformation of lead into gold.After several hours of poring over the many works, however, the wizard and bard find material of more interest to the Avengers. Izomandakus and his mages were tasked with research to help Runelord Karzoug survive any sort of cataclysmic end to Shalast, or Thassilon. By constructing a ‘runewell’ larger than any ever created, Karzoug could place himself in a sort of magical stasis between our reality, and the nightmare realm of Leng, where he could survive indefinitely, existing outside time in a manner. Once any crisis had ended, his apprentices could enact rituals to enable Karzoug to emerge from this stasis back to Golarion. The men remember that Mhar Massif, the supposed location of Xin-Shalast, was rumored to be a place where the veil of reality between Golarion and Leng was thinnest. Perhaps, this ‘runewell’ was constructed on the Massif itself, somewhere within the heights of the Kodar mountains!
After their long research, the men decide to retire back to the hopeful safety of the abandoned Abjurant Halls. When they emerge from the Vault of Greed back into the center of Runeforge, Hikage notices that he can no longer see the bright, coruscating light at the end of the tunnel which connected Runeforge to the halls within Rimeskull. The men go to explore the tunnel, and Zendo realizes that the tunnel seems much longer that it was before. Hikage draws his glowing sword and rushes forward in the tunnel. As he runs through the dark tunnel, lit only by his magical sword, he swiftly sees a light looming before him and runs up to the group from behind! The tunnel appears to be some sort of magical loop! Zendo explores forward with his dancing lights as well. The lights never seem to stop hovering in front of him, but when he moves forward far enough, he (and the lights) reappear behind the group. The men realize that they might be trapped within Runeforge!Corvus explains to the men that he could possibly banish the men from Runeforge magically, forcing them, as extraplanar visitors, back to their home plane. However, such a strategy would only work for the others, who would have to return to Rimeskull to reopen the gate to free him. More troublesome, banishment only returns a traveler to his home dimension. The men might find themselves on Golarion, but might find themselves in the middle of the Thuvian desert, or the Worldwound, or the Mwangi Expanse! Indeed, if the moon or the wandering stars in the sky are inhabited, as some claim, they might find themselves on another world entirely!
The men are worried about their plight, but are resigned to exploring the remainder of Runeforge in any event. Zendo suggests that they might clamber up a rope into the small, but secure space afforded by Corvus’s rope trick, but Gellius suggests that he might be capable of producing something a bit better. With a few words and hands clasped in prayer, Gellius creates a small ring of toadstools on the shattered flagstones of the Abjurant Halls. While the others are unimpressed, the druid wryly suggests that they step within the fairy ring. As each man does so, he vanishes from sight! The Avengers find themselves within an idyllic twilight meadow, bounded on all sides by an impassible grove of fruit and nut trees. Shyly, small humanoids with the features of rabbits, deer, squirrels, and racoons appear to help the men divest themselves of their armor and otherwise make them comfortable, even bringing them delicious fruits and nuts from the trees. Gellius explains that the meadow is unreachable from the outside, so all within are safe, and it will last long into the next day.
The men sleep soundly in the tranquil meadow, not even needing to set a watch. In the morning, after being timidly awoken by the woodland creatures, the men prepare themselves, as HIkage offers to consult the Revelation Quill. The monk grasps the arcane implement warily, and focuses his mind on exploring Runeforge. The quill dances within his hand and scribes out a long passage:
In the luxuriant baths of the Halls of Repose
The least of the Wardens of Sloth
traded soul and heart for unending indolence
and he festers like a canker
in the center of the maze