Rise of the Runelords

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.

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!

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:


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’.

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.

The Demon, the Pool, and the Exploding Wand
Calistril 2, 4708

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

The Vaults of Greed
Calistril 2, 4708

Gellius magically controls the winds within the area and sends them forward to disperse the magical mist. Once the men can see clearly through the greenish mist, they hear high-pitched complaints.

“Oh, no! More fleshies coming to slobber in our pool!”

The whale is revealed to be a massive ice sculpture within a large silver basin. Also within the basin are several water mephits, minor elementals with long, drooping ears, pointed noses, bat wings, and generally irritable demeanors. They moan and complain about the presence of the heroes and lament the absence of the pretty green mist. However, the room itself is magnificent. The floor is paved with ivory tiles, each one engraved with a silver rune depicting a claw grasping a gemstone. The walls and ceiling are of polished marble, and the water flowing from the sculpture seems clear, cold, and refreshing. There are two exits from the room, but the men despair of getting any useful information from the rude and exuberant mephits, who mock and berate them. Gellius, tiring of the encounter, draws himself up and warns the mephits that he serves a powerful storm god, and he will smite them with lightning if they don’t cooperate!

This cows the mephits entirely, more than might have been expected, and they meekly hide under the water, begging his pardon and peeping over the edge of the basin nervously. Irritated by the disrespectful little elementals, the men move into the left passage, and follow the intricately decorated hallway until it turns a corner. There, they can see another elaborate chamber, decorated with a large fountain filled with goldfish. The fountain features a tall stone statue of a wizard, with one hand grasping a staff and the other producing a spray of water. However, the water soon stops, as the statue reveals itself to be a stone golem, and it advances menacingly on the men!

Zendo can hear other heavy footsteps echoing through the hallways, and Hikage is sure that he hears stone footsteps not only ahead, but behind them! He quickly advances on the golem and strikes it a stiff blow, for the golem’s durable stone body to absorb much of the force of his strike. Ragnar follows behind him more slowly, and, unable to dodge, takes a stout blow from the stone staff of the golem. However, Ragnar’s sword proves more capable against the stone skin of the construct, and his angry retort shatters the statue in half.

Ragnar and Hikage move up quickly to the hallway on the other side of the fountain room, while Gellius quickly summons a stone giant to guard their rear. Corvus uses his wand of false life to grant the others a bit of magical protection, as they can all hear the sounds of approaching stone golems. Hikage again takes the lead in striking the next one which appears, and Ragnar again suffers a nasty smashing blow before he can get a clear shot at the golem. However, he falters slightly, and this second golem is not so easily cloved in twain. Though the golem is no match for his adamantine sword, Ragnar is not sure he can survive another such hit, so Zendo shatters the golem into rubble with a blast of magically created sound.

The third golem has approached from the rear and trades blows from its stone staff with the stone club from the stone giant. However, the giant protects the rear of the party, until the others can redeploy. As the giant fights the golem, a strange looking wizard appears from thin air. Standing a safe distance behind the golem, the bald wizard appears to have skin made from some shiny, supple, silvery metal! He identifies himself as Ordikon, and threatens the men with magical destruction. “You inferior men of flesh might have ambushed my master Izomandakus, but a true man of metal cannot be bested without such trickery!”. When the giant smashes apart the stone golem with a mighty blow of his club, Ordikon is prepared. He unleashes a bolt of lightning which blasts the stone giant to death, and badly injures Gellius, though Hikage dodges it deftly. He then casts a spell and flies into the air, lifting himself above the fourth and final stone golem, before landing safely on the floor.

Zendo protests that they wish to talk, but the stone golems attacked them, but Ordikon insists that any who invaded the Vault of Greed should be regarded as intruders, particularly those of lesser perfection. As Hikage and Ragnar try to shift forward to engage the wizard, he unleashes another bolt of lightning, which burns Ragnar and nearly kills Gellius. No wonder the mephits were so afraid of lightning!

Gellius falls back to heal and summon assistance, while Hikage, Ragnar, and Corvus try to move forward to press the advantage, though the golem stops their advance. The stone guardian is no match for Hikage’s speed and Ragnar’s sword, but it gives Ordikon time to unleash a third coruscating blast of lightning, which nearly kills Corvus, and destroys the quivering mephits huddled in the fountain! Corvus casts a spell of disintegration towards the wizard, but it only grazes the metallic mage and injures him.

Having finished off the final golem, the men menace Ordikon, but he threatens to unleash his greater magics if they do not retreat. Zendo senses he is bluffing, and urges his allies to press onward as he heals Gellius, who has summoned a wooly rhinocerous to the fight. Ordikon, menaced by the speedy monk, who he cannot seem to strike, summons a bevy of mirror images to confound Hikage’s fists, and pierces the monk with a bevy of magic missiles. Zendo and Gellius ignore the illusory duplicates and pierce Ordikon with their own series of magic missiles until the wizard quickly summons a magical shield to absorb them and thwart other attacks.

He then wraps a defensive spell around himself which shocks anyone who strikes him, though Hikage steels himself against the jolts. Corvus realizes that Ordikon is not a golem himself, but appears to have magically transmuted himself into metal, perhaps even mithral, and warns the others not to use fire, as it might heal the wizard in the same way that fire heals an iron golem. He then uses a powerful spell to destroy several of the magical wards protecting Ordikon. Though the mage’s mirror images remain, his most powerful protective wards have been stripped away. Most of Hikage’s blows only shatter the mirages, but the monk does land some painful strikes on the wizard, while Ragnar’s deadly blows slice through the illusions alone.

On the defensive, Ordikon retreats, but transforms the floor into burning hot obsidian! The rhinoceros, Ragnar, Corvus, and Zendo are all trapped and burned, though the fire wizard takes but little damage! Zendo, in his frustration, unleashes a powerful Resonating Word against Ordikon, staggering the mithral mage. Sensing his enemy’s vulnerability, Hikage springs forward and destroys the last of the wizard’s illusory duplicates, before hitting the wizard several times.

Imperiled, Ordikon unleashes a powerful blast of magic at Hikage, attempting to transform him into a frog! Hikage unleashes a final killing stroke, which not only brings down the mithral mage, but also stuns himself as the energy of the mage’s defensive spell courses through his arms.

Entering Runeforge
Calistril 2, 4708

In the morning, the Avengers awake and prepare for the day. Corvus hikes back up to the circle of stones outside Rimeskull to cast a spell allowing the men to magically retreat there if they are overmatched, and the others make preparations.

Once the heroes are prepared, they experiment with the keys to Runeforge. Gellius selects the key of Envy and inserts it into the pillar marked with similar runes. Consulting the Scribbler’s rhyme, the men decide to turn it twice clockwise. As Gellius does so, the pillar glows and gives off a soft tone. They key also glows, but disappears. Slivers of ice shiver off the stone column as it vibrates gently, but nothing else happens immediately. Gellius had theorized that the key would reveal the real contents of the nearby stone chamber, but this appears to not be the case.

Quickly Corvus, Zendo, and Gellius use the other keys on each pillar, clockwise, as Hikage and Ragnar watch the stone hallways for signs of life, but nothing happens. As the final key is turned in the last pillar, the large central pillar begins rippling with a spiraling rainbow of light. As the lights spiral up and down the twisted pillar, it begins to shift and straighten, becoming a seven-sided obelisk and revealing a oval portal within, though the bright lights of the pillar make it difficult to see far into the tunnel revealed. Cautiously, the heroes clamber through the portal and explore the stone tunnel.

The tunnel proceeds for roughly 150 feet before opening up into a large, circular chamber, engraved with an immense Sihedron rune across the center of the floor. The center of the sidhedron is occupied by a raised dias with a pool filled with bubbling, prismatic fluid. Tall stone statues of the seven Runelords stand around the pool, each in front of an arched passageway, similar to the one through which the heroes entered. Karzoug is represented as a tall man with gems set in his forehead and hands, wielding a burning glaive. Krune is depicted as a short, smiling man with a hooked nose, wielding a spear. Belimarius is carved as a heavyset, sneering woman wielding a halberd. Xanderghul is represented as a handsome man with a closely cropped beard, wielding a lucerne hammer. Alaznist is depicted as a gothic beauty with wild hair and wielding a thorny ranseur. Zuth is carved as an obese man with rotten flesh, wielding a scythe. Sorshen’s statue is the only one depicted in the nude, and the seductive, voluptuous woman depicted is wielding a double-headed guisarme.

The men carefully examine the bubbling, glowing liquid within the pool, but other than determining it is magical, they find out little. Corvus dips the end of his staff within the pool, but elicits no reaction from the many-colored waters.

Zendo wishes to explore the halls of Greed, assuming that this will be where Karzoug awaits, but Corvus chooses to consult the Revelation Quill, focusing his mind on exploring Runeforge. The quill seizes control of his hand and scribes:

The Abjurant Halls hold but a singular foe,
but Envy’s fall holds magic’s woe.

Realizing that the Halls of Envy must hold but a single enemy, the men finally decide to explore that area first. They use several enchantments to protect themselves as they enter, with Corvus guarding them from evil, and Gellius boosting their stamina with his wand of bear’s endurance. As they enter the passage behind the statue of Belimarius, a graven mouth appears on the ceiling of the shaft. It booms a warning in Thassilonian, which Zendo and Corvus translate as “These are the Abjurant Halls of Eager Striving! YKnow that your powers will be crushed and you shall die! You are not worthy!!” Dismissing it as little more than a boastful parlor trick, the heroes proceed down a long corridor before a strange sight stops them from descending a short flight of stairs.

Ahead of them, they can see a large, partially caved-in chamber. The murals and bas-reliefs on the walls appear to have been blasted and shattered by some magical cataclysm. Sooty bones are scattered across the floor, and flames flicker across the walls and floor intermittently. These flames serve to illuminate the room, as do the lightning sparks sputtering from a silver rod protruding from the floor of the room. The rod appears to be fused with the floor, and the men approach it carefully as Corvus uses his spells to detect the type of magic it is emitting. The wizard can recognize the magic pulses as abjuration magic, but does not recognize what type of spell or effect the sparking rod is emitting. Zendo explores to the left, finding a largely intact room illuminated by lanterns past a crumbling, collapsed tunnel. Hikage explores forward, keeping near the bard, but only finds blasted walls and collapsed tunnels. Ragnar explores to the right, and finds a hallway ending in a T-junction, but reports a powerful, vinegary smell in the area. Gellius approaches the strange rod and gingerly touches it.

Immediately, a bright, spherical pulse of magic passes through the room. The heroes protective spells immediately collapse, and several of their magic items ‘short out’ and cease to function. Zendo’s wand of enervation crumbles to powdery dust in his bandolier (as does one of Corvus’s more powerful scrolls of True Resurrection, as they discover later). Hikage’s haversack, suddenly disenchanted, rips apart under the strain of the items contained within. The rod has suppressed, or even disenchanted, many of their magic items! As the men groan with dismay, a new threat approaches with a slopping burble.

Rangar is suddenly beset by a hideous odor, as an immense, yellowish goo squishes forward towards him from the darkness! Corvus recognizes it as a mustard jelly, a dangerous dungeon ooze related to the lesser ochre jelly, but Zendo sees that the jelly is not merely a mindless ooze, but is acting with a fiendish intelligence. The bard warns the others that the jelly has been corrupted by the foul powers of the Abyss, and might be resistant to fire and other forms of attack. The stench of the beast is sickening, and Ragnar and Zendo gag and retch. Ragnar slices deeply into the jelly, which, despite its oozing form, does appear to have some sort of skin which can be cut, but he is suddenly grappled as the mustard jelly extrudes several long tentacles and wraps them around his body. He cries out as the yellow ooze burns his skin like acid.

Zendo quickly casts a spell of haste, which helps fight off the incapacitating smell, and Corvus unleashes a greenish ray of disintegration, which makes almost half of the ooze simply disappear into thin air. The others are concerned for Ragnar, clutched in the grip of the ooze, but the Ulfen simply drops one hand from the hilt of his greatsword and draws the dagger in his leg sheath. He drives it into the center of the remaining bulk of the jelly and slashes hard from one side to the other, slicing apart the ooze and scattering its remains.

The men quickly retreat from the chamber and heal the worst of Ragnar’s wounds, as Zendo carefully strips down to his non-magical clothes and takes his masterworked ‘tools’ with him. Thus bereft of magic, Zendo carefully approaches the rod and examines it. Though the device appears to be physically merged with the floor, the bard can carefully pick and saw away at it, disassembling it into fragments and removing it, without triggering another pulse.

Now that the rod is removed, the men explore the chamber more thoroughly, after Zendo re-equips himself. In the direction where the mustard jelly had lay in ambush, they find a stinking chamber caked in (non-animate ooze. The keen-eyed Hikage notices a hidden panel in the wall, and finds a rusty lever and a small stash of useful potions. Examining the rusty level reveals nothing, and even Zendo is at a loss to determine what it triggers (or triggered). Perhaps it was used to deactivate the silver rod?

In the other direction, Gellius is the first to explore the room lit by lanterns. Within, a tiled floor leads down to a silvery surface. As the others come to examine this find, Hikage notices that their footsteps cause the surface to ripple slightly. The room contains a pool of silvery liquid! Corvus can tell that the liquid is magical, and it radiates abjuration magic strongly, though it is only a shallow pool of liquid spread across the floor. Unwilling to touch the strange, silvery fluid, Zendo uses a bit of twine to fill an empty vial with a small amount of the liquid. Ragnar, a bit less wary, kneels down and fills his empty hip flask with the silvery substance, shaking it off his hands where it contacts them, but he seems to suffer no ill effects.

Unsure what to make of the blasted rooms, the men are at a loss. Ragnar suggests that someone must have attacked these wizards, but no one has claimed their hall. Since the Runeforge was a wizardly workshop, the silver rod may have kept them away. So long as no one knows that the rod has been removed, perhaps other intruders will stay away. The men might be able to use the Abjurant Halls as a convenient muster point, if the other inhabitants of the Runeforge avoid it.

After a bit of preparation, the men decide to explore the Halls of Greed (or Transmutation). At the end of another long stone corridor, Zendo sees an iron door glittering faintly at the edge of the group’s lights. He approaches it stealthily, and sees that the door, mounted to the left side of the tunnel, is studded with dozens of colorful gemstones. Though it appears to have no latch,a depression in the center contains a keyhole. Zendo moves up to the door to listen, but when he presses his ear against the door, the entire door shoots outward at him!

The bard tumbles backward quickly to avoid injury as the iron door shoots forward, stopping only a hairbreadth from the opposite wall. The ‘door’ is not a door at all, but an immense iron slab mounted on a piston. The slab retracts into the wall after being triggered.

Now much more cautious, Hikage examines the dead end of the tunnel, and notices a faint pattern in the stone. Moving up carefully, he opens a secret door in the end of the hall which reveals a beautiful tunnel of polished wood inlaid with gold and silver runes. The men move through the hallway, marveling at the extravagant nature of the woodwork and inset precious metals. The hall stretches for a hundred feet before it is obscured by a greenish mist sparkling with silver motes of light. Beyond the mist, the men can faintly see a huge, glassy sculpture of a whale, spraying water from its blowhole, in the center of a large fountain.

Corvus intently examines the green, sparkling mist, and determines that it is some sort of bound transformational spell, polymorphing those who breath the mist into goldfish!

Ancient Tien secrets, indeed!
Calistril 1, 4708

Trapped in the jaws of Arkrhyst, Gellius unleashes a blast of lightning from his wand, which miraculously penetrates the ancient drake’s spell resistance and coruscates across the dragon’s body.

Sensing his vulnerability, Gellius whirls to the attack in elemental form and grapples with the dragon, seeking to use the whirling winds of his assumed shape to bring the beast down to earth. HIkage hovers in midair and meditates upon his course of action, as Ragnar laboriously climbs through the air towards Freezemaw. Zendo flies upward to Gellius and heals the transformed druid, who braved the dragon’s claws in his attempt to pull him from the air.

Struggling to avoid crashing, Freezemaw wrests himself free of the grip of the air elemental and, seeking to remain aloft, flies towards the nearby monk and warrior, who have struggled to even lay a hand upon him so far. However, Hikage’s meditations prove insightful, and the monk deftly slides through the air, evading Freezemaw’s fangs, and lands a blazing strike upon the dragon! A series of swift strikes follows. Though most fail to harm the immense dragon, Freezemaw cannot evade them entirely, and Hikage strikes him twice more, painfully.

Freezemaw is taken aback by the sudden turn of events, with the minute monk suddenly escalated to a major threat, but before he can reply, the enraged Ulfen finally reaches his target. Though Ragnar endures a vicious bite before he can ply his blade, he buries the greatsword deep in Freezemaw’s vitals, dealing him a dolorous stroke. Arkrhyst recognizes his position is untenable, surrounded in the air, but suddenly Gellius soars through the air and buffets him violently on the snout. Corvus, tiring of the drake’s resistance to magic, uses his wand to conjure an arrow of acid, which buries itself in the dragon’s wing, burning him painfully.

Arkrhyst has had enough, and turns tail, to flee these airborne marauders and retreat to his lair. However, his serpentine coils do not confuse Hikage. The stances and strikes of his ancestor’s martial brushwork align perfectly with the tableaux before him, and the monk strikes sure and true. A fist spears out, cracking Freezemaw’s scales and bones like brittle ice, and the ancient foe of the Shoanti plummets from the air, stone dead before he hits the ground with earth-shaking force.

Though they have triumphed against an ancient, epic foe, the Avengers do not even pause to dress their wounds, but make for the yawning maw of Rimeskull itself. Hikage alights on the icy landing in front of the cavern entrance, while Ragnar and Zendo fly towards the massive stone stair. Gellius assumes the form of an eagle and wings towards the stairs as Corvus, the only Avenger bereft of flight, strides quickly towards the base of the steps. When he steps upon the stone stairs, the icy rubble piled upon the landings shudders, and tossing off a crust of rime and bones, two massive earth elementals appear! They begin to stride down the stairs, but the men quickly unleash hell upon them. Corvus sends coruscating bolts of lightning at the elementals, as does Gellius, to lesser effect, while Hikage flies about the head of one and sends clumps of rock and stone flying with his powerful kicks. Zendo uses his wand to burn the one which approaches to threaten Corvus, but the group is puzzled when the elemental peers down at the wizard and turns away to retreat. Ragnar chops the other elemental apart with his adamantine greatsword and the ‘retreating’ elemental is kicked into harmless clumps of stone by Hikage.

Finally ascending the stone stairs, the men find that the ‘cavern’ of Rimeskull is the terminus of a long tunnel, wending deeper into the mountain. Zendo uses his bardic talent to heal the men with only a magically invigorating story. Using Zendo’s dancing lights to explore ahead, the men tread cautiously into the dark tunnel, finally coming upon two statues, each with one arm upraised in warning, and the other clutching a sword.

Warily, Hikage explores the statues, and finds that the stone floor beyond them is coated with a sheer layer of black ice, and slopes slightly and inexorably downward. A dozen yards away, the tunnel floor drops away entirely, vanishing over a sheer chasm. However, the keen-eyed monk spots a strange sight: flecks of snow and ice seem to hover over the floor on the left side of the tunnel. Exploring further, Hikage finds that an invisible ledge of stone hides here, allowing a safe passage that spirals down into the darkness. Rather than risking the slippery ice, the others leap across the slope and join him on the invisible ledge, allowing the monk to guide them down the steep, but traversable ramp, down into a massive chamber.

Within the chamber below, the walls glisten with ice. Seven pillars rise to a height of twenty feet at the perimeter of the chamber, each coated with ice and graven with Thassilonian runes. A larger spire rises in the center of the room to twice that height, though its seven sides spiral upwards without rune or other marking. Eight passages lead out of the chamber, though one portal is blocked by a massive mound of glistening coins, tapestries, jewelry, and other treasure!

Though the hoard of Arkrhyst seizes the attention of Ragnar and Hikage, the others insist on examining the pillars and scouting out the silent passages first. Corvus finds that each of the smaller pillars is inscribed with arcane formula relating to a single school of Thassilonian magic, but he and Zendo can find no distinguishing marks or illuminating aura on the central spire. Gellius suggests examining the pillars for keyholes, and Hikage is perhaps chagrined to find a small keyhole on the nearest pillar, roughly four feet above the ground. It appears that each pillar has such a keyhole.

Gellius is eager to insert the keys into the pillars, but Zendo and Corvus insist on examining the passageways (and not the massive hoard of treasure, weapons, and armor!). Ragnar strides into the nearest passage with some irritation, but finds that it proceeds roughly 150 paces before opening up into a substantial, but empty cavern. The walls of the cavern do not appear to be natural, but they are too smooth and irregular to be carved from the stone. While the cavern is a single chamber, there are irregular dips in the floor and ceiling, and uneven bulges in the walls. The men can find no purpose in the strange room, and each of the other passages leads to a similar, featureless cavern. Gellius proposes that the chambers might be empty at the moment, but magically ‘fill’ with rooms when the keys are turned.

Caution satisfied, the men now indulge their curiosity about Arkrhyst’s hoard. Though it is filled with substantial amounts of copper, silver, and gold, as well as casks of jewelry, tapestries, and even valuable furnishings, it is clear that a substantial portion of the hoard is composed of the gear of previous bands of heroes who journeyed here to slay the beast. Sets of mithral chain for halflings or gnomes lie with a fine suit of plate, emblazoned with onyx ravens, and an enchanted suit of half-plate with a wolf motif. A darkwood buckler from Kyonin lies beside an enchanted cloak of white fur, and a belt of giant strength rests beside ivory bracers of archery. Numerous vials of holy water, as well as a trove of healing potions, have all frozen solid in the cold, though two potions of cold resistance remain liquid. Wands of magic missiles, bear’s endurance, and curing light wounds are partially expended, and three magical scrolls remain unread. A magical adamantine warhammer, and a flame tongue longsword give mute testimony to past failures to kill the dragon. Zendo finds a teak box, padded with silk, with mysterious smooth stones inside. They are non-magical, but none of the Avengers can identify them until Corvus remembers Abstalar Zantus using a similar Thunderstone to signal the start of the Swallowtail Festival, a cherished memory that seems long past, though less than a year has passed. After distributing some of the gear, the men decide to make camp here in the main chamber, depending on Gellius’s powerful magics to create a magical grove to provide warmth, comfort, water, and food.

Lord of Rimeskull
Abadius 26-Calistril 1, 4708

Beginning seven days before their intended voyage to Lake Stormunder, the heroes decide to ply the Revelation Quill for hints to their future, though none dare to utilize the full power of the quill to contact the enigmatic Peacock Spirit.

On the 26th, Corvus focuses his mind on the arrival of the Avengers at Lake Stormunder, and his hand, clutching the quill, quickly scratches out a brief phrase in an unfamiliar hand:

Magic frees the keys and awakens the sleeper.

The men are concerned, as they understand that magic is necessary to obtain the ‘keys’ to Runeforge, but all are uncertain who the awakened ‘sleeper’ would be? Is this Karzoug?

On Moonday, still alarmed about the ‘awakening’ that magic might bring, Corvus again grasps the quill and concentrates on a mental image of casting spells at the stone heads said to be at Lake Stormunder. Again, the Revelation Quill controls his hand, and scribes a short phrase on paper:

The lords shall sup of magic close, ere that be your intent or no.

The brief phrase worries the group, as perhaps the stone ‘lords’ can drain enchantments from their magic items, or even from their minds! Gellius, a bit more calm, suggests that the phrase may simply warn that any spell cast near the stone heads will be absorbed, even if that was not intended.

On Toilday, Corvus focuses on a more disturbing image. He envisions the heroes fighting a risen Karzoug, imagining the Runelord from his statues, and the magical image of him at Thistletop. The quill, clutched in his hand, writes an enigmatic phrase:

A lord in stone, bathed in gold, reaches from his throne

This sends the men into a fury of speculation. Clearly, Karzoug, being the Runelord of Greed, could be bathed in gold, and his rule over the stone giants could indicate a ‘lord in stone’, but how does he reach from his throne? Is Karzoug already ruling in Runeforge?

On Wealday, still worried about the prospect of fighting Karzoug, Corvus decides to seek a revelation about forging runeforged weapons. He envisions a massive forge where rune-carved weapons are created, but the strange couplet he scribes while holding the quill suggests something else:

Steeped in sin, the pool glows gold; steeping weapons in runes of old

On Oathday, Gellius decides to use the quill, and imagines the men embroiled in combat at Lake Stormunder, fighting against an imagined foe on the banks of the lake. The quill, clasped in his hand, writes of its own accord:

Ancient stone slaved to guard the stair, but death alights into the air.

This couplet is entirely unexpected, though the true import of it shall soon become evident to the heroes.

On Fireday, before the heroes depart on the morrow, Corvus makes one more attempt to gain some insight into the nature of Runeforge. He envisions the men exploring a massive forge complex, with a golden pool, perhaps to quench the weapons forged there. The Revelation Quill supplies a rather different image:

A nest of wizards astir like ants, by a lord now awakened, return to projects long forsaken.

With their questions heightened, rather than answered, by the Revelation Quill, the men make their final preparations and say their goodbyes to friends and loved ones in the town.

On Starday, the first of Calistril, Gellius gathers his friends together and weaves a spell upon them, turning them all into insubstantial wisps of themselves. So transformed, the men find that they can move slowly about in the air by themselves, but are able to summon a strong wind to speed them along in the sky faster than any horse could run. Alighting into the skies, the Avengers whisk themselves out above the Varisian Bay. In less than an hour, the heroes can see Windsong Abbey passing swiftly beneath their feet as they fly across the sky.

Within the hour, the men perceive the Fogscar Mountains on their right as they speed across the sky like scudding clouds before a storm. The coastal range hides the Churlwoods from view, however, and soon vanishes from sight as the men fly across the Varisian Gulf and towards Riddleport. The Cyphergate looms over the natural cove of the town, made more ominous by the men’s knowledge of Runelord Karzoug’s role in its creation. Life goes on in the busy port despite the presence of the mysterious runic arch, however, and the men land briefly to take a meal at a handy pub, before taking to the air once more. At their rate of travel, Gellius’s powerful spell will see them to Lake Stormunder long before the enchantment will expire.

The men follow the Velashu River northward until it curves away to the west, then they make for the modest heights of the Red Mountains, careful to avoid the unsettling Lurkwood to the east, with its trees mysteriously showing the full bloom of spring in the depths of winter. Several hours pass between their departure from Riddleport and the men’s passage over the last of the Red Mountains range, but eventually the heroes begin to fly over the stony plains known as the Nolands. Bandit activity here is everpresent, but the Avengers, far above, pass unnoticed and unremarked as they soar towards Lake Stormunder, faintly visible on the horizon.

Arriving in late afternoon, the men alight on the cold banks of the steaming lake. The geysers which roil and churn the waters of the lake send clouds of steam billowing across the surface, but that water soon chills and freezes, coating the dead grasses in a brittle cloak of ice. To the north and east, the Kodar Mountains rear up, but the men’s attention is drawn to the nearby features of Rimeskull. Though visible from miles away, the scale and features of the mountain are more starkly evident from here. The entire side of the mountain has been carved away into a single, enormous face, though time has weathered away all detail save eyes and mouth, leaving an ice-encrusted visage akin to a grinning skull. Stone stairs carved from the bones of the mountain itself wend down to a tall stone arch. This arch lies to the east of a nearby hill, on whose strangely flattened top rest seven massive stone heads.

The men approach the top of the hill in the fading daylight, and look over the stone heads from a safe distance. They recognize Karzoug and Alaznist from their statues, and identify the visages of Sorshen and Zutha from the descriptions provided by Lady Heidmarch. Belimarius is the only remaining female runelord, so her likeness is identified by elimination. There is some confusion between the smiling visage of Krune and the handsome features of Xanderghul, but Corvus soon identifies the close-trimmed beard of the Runelord of Pride.

Ragnar and Hikage take up defensive positions as the spell-casters approach a chosen statue to cast magic upon it. When the first spell is cast upon the stone head of Belimarius by Gellius, a bell-like tone rings through the air, so strong and loud that it seems to vibrate the very ground. As the note fills the air, the statue glows with a greenish-golden light, and a golden key, marked with the Thassilonian rune of Envy, appears within the open mouth of the statue. Gellius takes the key, and Corvus and Zendo hasten to cast their minor cantrips upon the visages of the remaining runelords.

Each spell brings forth a similar note, though Zendo notices that they descend in half-tones counter-clockwise across the circle. Each note is accompanied by the blazing light, and the light reveals a key within each mouth. Before Zendo can seize the final key, marked with the Rune of Pride, from the mouth of Xanderghul, a terrifying shriek fills the air.

The men are appalled to see a massive white dragon swoop down upon them, screeching in wrath. This can only be Arkrhyst, known to the Shoanti as Freezemaw! The subject of the ballads is alive, and angry! As the dragon checks its dive, its wings billow outward, and it roars a query in Shoanti that only Corvus understands: “What nomads disturb my sleep?”, though it does not wait for an answer and unleashes a blistering blast of icy cold, numbing the limbs of Ragnar and Zendo. Corvus is unnerved by the massive dragon, though he holds his ground, and Hikage masters his fear, focusing on his own ‘dragon style’.

Knowing the peril they are in, the men scatter, some running towards Gellius, who offers magical protection from cold, while others head to Corvus, who prepares a similar enchantment. Ragnar hurls a dagger at Arkrhyst, but the blade slides across the dragon’s facial scales without marking the beast. Though the wizard and druid protect their friends from harm, Freezemaw casts a spell and creates a huge wall of ice, splitting up the heroes from each other. Zendo becomes invisible, and Corvus rushes to the bard.

As Gellius summons a fire elemental, Corvus sends a blast of fire at the dragon, knowing the whites are normally vulnerable to heat. However, the ancient dragon shrugs off the spell, and the flames curl harmlessly around him. Ragnar draws his bow, but his arrows bounce off the thick scales of the drake without causing any harm. Freezemaw, swooping overhead, summons a blinding cloud of sleet, which turns the ground into an icy mess and blinds the men, as the freezing rain coats their eyelashes and runs into their eyes. Unable to see, the men blunder around, hands against the icy wall, as they feel their way out of the icy maze. Zendo hears the dragon land behind him, though he cannot see in the sleet storm, and he and the wizard flee from the dragon, but not before the half-elf is bitten.

Freezemaw dives down and seizes Gellius in his fanged maw, injuring the druid greatly. Zendo alights into the air, while Corvus brands his companions, wreathing their weapons in fire and their brow with flame. Zendo grants his friends haste, though he is unable to assist the distant Gellius. Arkrhyst bathes the captive Gellius in freezing cold, but the druid is able to transform into a huge air elemental before he plummets to the ground from a great height.

As Arkhryst circles again, Zendo quickly heals Gellius of the worst of his wounds, as Corvus grants flight to Hikage, only to see the dragon swoop down to snatch at him with his jaws. Though the monk is torn by Freezemaw’s bite, he is too quick for the dragon to seize. Gellius calls down a divine flamestrike on the dragon, but even this patters harmlessly against the dragon, unable to best the resistance of the monster. Hikage flies through the air, fists wreathed in mystic flames, and strikes the dragon, but the wily old drake has compensated for his vulnerability to fire with a magical spell which resists the flames. Corvus finally has time to grant flight to Ragnar, but the burly Ulfen is unable to climb into the air fast enough to charge the dragon before it circles and dives again, seizing Corvus painfully in his jaws and climbing into the air again. Fortunately, Gellius is able to unleash a powerful abjuration, negating the dragon’s protection from fire, as well as breaking the protective spell which helped to shield it from blows.

A long, restful Abadius
Abadius 3-31, 4708

For the cold, wet month of Abadius, the Lost Coast Avengers spend a great deal of time in their (mostly adopted) town of Sandpoint, though the powerful magics of Corvus Albus ensure frequent trips to Magnimar and even the empty halls of Jorgenfist.

Of all of the Avengers, Corvus is perhaps the most enterprising during their unexpectedly long respite. The slight wizard has brought powerful artifacts and much lost knowledge to the Pathfinder Society, and is the only one of the Avengers with a ready means of journeying the lost distances involved. His teleportations to Longtooth’s lair and the chambers of Jorgenfist (assisted by the less sophisticated, but extensive lifting capacity of Ragnar) ensure that a steady stream of valuables and enchanted items (most of giantish proportions) flow into the markets of Magnimar. Though Zendo’s clever words and winning disposition certainly help seal many deals, the magical talents of the young wizard make what would otherwise be an arduous caravan journey to the Storval Plateau a matter of a few days work.

However, exercising his arcane talents for transportation utilizes little of Corvus’s attention. He spends long hours poring over the spellbooks of Barl Breakbones and Mokmurian, mastering many of the spells within. When he feels he has gleaned all the insights he desires from Barl’s tomes, Corvus contributes them to the archives of the Pathfinder Society, for generous compensation, but he retains the copious librams of Mokmurian, as the elder Stone Giant’s knowledge of magic was quite prodigious. Rather than coin, the Society remunerates Corvus with access to several other spellbooks, allowing the unquenchably curious wizard to further expand his mastery of arcane lore. Despite spending a substantial amount of his own considerable portion of the loot, Corvus finds it difficult to locate anyone within (or without) the Society who will acknowledge having mastery of several fell spells, though he does succeed in learning several powerful dweomers.

Corvus also spends many hours crafting a powerfully enchanted wand, capable of evoking bolts of lightning. Not content with crafting even the ‘basic’ version of such a powerful weapon, Corvus spends additional time and exotic components to infuse the wand with more powerful electrical energies.

In addition, Corvus spends much of his ‘free time’ in the Library of the Therassic Monastery, sending the clockwork librarian scuttling around the stacks in an effort to glean more information about the ancient dominion of Thassilon. Ironically, the problem is too much information, rather than not enough, and the wizard spends a great deal of time skimming over fawning hagiographies and boastful travelogues in search of concrete information. All in all, Corvus spends the least time in Sandpoint, and, even when in town, tends to isolate himself in his rooms for study.

In contrast with the bookish wizard, Zendo remains the most outgoing of the Avengers. His steady courtship of the aloof Rynshinn Povalli has persisted, to the point where most of the town dandies consider ‘the most beautiful woman in Sandpoint’ to be spoken for, and many of the gossipy women of the town are already nattering about the date of a wedding, or even a baby! Zendo does nothing but fuel the fire with his inquiries about town for property for sale, enough to build a mansion. His casual way of talking about sums of gold and gems that few Sandpointers would see in a lifetime fuel many stories about the fabulous wealth that the “Heroes of Sandpoint” have acquired on their fantastical exploits.

Those exploits form the basis of several packed audiences at the Sandpoint Theatre. Cyrdak Drokkus is happy to have the charismatic bard regale the villagers at his establishment, rather than ‘giving away’ a performance for drinks and dinner at the Rusty Dragon. Many of the town’s female population, hopeful that the aloof Rynshinn might once again dismiss a suitor, are a bit rueful about the situation, but both men and women turn out to hear the half-elf’s rousing tales of derring-do and adventurous exploits, though the bard is careful to edit out much of the demonic and necromantic details from his tales, focusing his stories more on the panoramic vistas, ancient sites, and fantastical magic and monsters that the Avengers have encountered.

Zendo does not spend all of his time rubbing elbows with the folk in Sandpoint, however. He makes several trips to Magnimar, speaking with Venture-Captain Sheila Heidmarch, and assisting Corvus in preparing a coherent narrative of the explorations of the Avengers. Zendo makes a subtle visit to the Lord-Mayor, and several less-subtle visits to taverns and Varisian camps in the City of Monuments, spreading word of the deeds of the Lost Coast Avengers, and keeping one pointed ear out for helpful rumors. He learns from several of the Shoanti outcasts in the rough-and-tumble gangs of Magnimar that the Shundar Quah, or Spire Clan, of Shoanti, have old legends of the Kodar Mountains near Lake Stormunder. The disaffected youth know that the quah called the mountain there Rimeskull, but long ago stopped wandering there, despite the presence of the warm springs even in the cold of winter. None of the surly Shoanti know precisely why Rimeskull was regarded as ill-omened, but those who abandoned their clans and traditions can hardly be expected to be the most well-versed in that lore.

Zendo also spends a little time assisting Corvus in doing research in the Therassic Monastery. Though the bard is fascinated with the idea of the realms of Thassilonian lore contained within, he has little patience for the long stretches of reading required, and is disappointed to find the Clockwork Librarian a poor (and literal-minded) conversationalist.

While Zendo focuses on the social, Gellius spends most of his time on the spiritual. The druid spends most of Abadius in Sandpoint, though he does accompany the others to Magnimar, but more to entertain Boudra Fullona than for any specific purpose. Gellius visits at length with the priests of the Sandpoint Cathedral, informing them of the dark temple lurking beneath the town, and of his own encounters with the monstrous priests and priestesses of Lamashtu in his adventures. His command of earth and stone grants him access to the malevolent shrine (thanks to some strenuous spadework from Ragnar) and Gellius invites the clergy to accompany him as he summons the powerful divine magics of Gozreh to cleanse and reclaim the evil temple.

The druid also spends a great deal of time in prayer and contemplation at the cathedral, seeking to reconnect with a quieter, gentler aspect of Gozreh, as provider and protector, than the fierce, implacable storm-god which has empowered his prayers of late. Though the cold, wet winter means that Hannah Velerin spends little time gathering herbs under the crust of snow, Gellius devotes time to assisting his old mentor in drying, smoking, and otherwise preserving the bounty of nature she has gathered in the autumn.

Gellius spends a lot of time with Boudra, making a concerted effort to share his ways and experiences with her, perhaps to broaden the provincial horizons of his small-town girlfriend. He sends word to his parents on their farm, telling them little of his harrowing exploits, but reassuring them that he is well, and successful.

Though not the social butterfly that Zendo is, Gellius also queries many of the well-traveled in Sandpoint about Lake Stormunder. Though he has never ventured there, Garridan Viskalai knows a bit of Shoanti lore about Lake Stormunder and the region. The Kodar mountains begin here by the Steaming River, and the nearby peak, named Rimeskull, is visible from miles away. Vesnutt Parooh even has a tinted etching of the moutain, which vagely resembles an ice-crusted, yawning skull. Garridan can barely remember a few snatches of an ancient Shoanti ballad about tribal heroes who rode upon Rimeskull to defeat a great beast named Freezemaw that raided the Velashu Uplands. The innkeeper apologizes for not remembering more, but explains that it is an old song, hundreds of years old, that his grandmother sang to him in the winter, and one she learned from Shoanti of another quah, who placed greater importance on the tale.

Being a bit more adept than the others with geography (with the possible exception of Ragnar, who seems to eschew maps in favor of constellations), Gellius also assists Zendo and Corvus in the preparation of several maps of their exploits, sketching out the location of Skull’s Crossing, the Hook Mountain Clanholds, and the extent of Jorgenfist in the Valley of the Black Tower. Gellius gets some supplies, and some helpful advice, from Vesnutt, who also encourages him to sketch his impressions of Lake Stormunder when he travels there.

Hikage spends a great deal of time in the company of women during his hiatus in Sandpoint and Magnimar, to the surprise of his comrades. In Sandpoint, Hikage visits with Ameiko Kaijitsu. As a long-time friend, he feels obligated to inform Ameiko about all the particulars of his encounters beneath Sandpoint, as ‘her’ Glassworks are connected to the fell temple, and Hikage hopes that the property can still be restored to the Kaijitsu family. Ameiko is frustrated and horrified that Malonial’s men looted the catacombs and (might have) awakened the Scribbler, but Hikage cautions her that there is still much about the situation that his friends do not fully understand. The recent earthquake and collapse may have happened regardless of whether the temple was disturbed, and though Amander is a disingenuous eel, he seems to have no connection to the cult of Lamashtu or to Karzoug.

Hikage also presents the monastic tapestry to Sabyl Sorn in a formal, almost ritualized ceremony. He praises Sabyl’s commitment to carrying on her father’s work at the House of Blue Stones. Though the tapestry predates the Sorn legacy, and, indeed Sandpoint itself, its recovery, and indeed, all of Hikage’s exploration, is due to the influence of her monastery and Sabyl herself. In presenting the tapestry to Sabyl, Hikage is not only acknowledging his own debt to her, but the debt which all monks owe to their monastic mentors and traditions.

In Magnimar, Hikage spends more time with Sheila Heidmarch than the other Avengers. While he is surprised to learn that the statuesque noblewoman herself is a student of the martial arts, Hikage is pleased to discover that another monk has thrived within the seemingly anarchic organization of the Pathfinder Society. However, Lady Heidmarch’s journey could not have been more different that Kibagame Hikage’s path to the Society. Daughter of a Thuvian merchant and a Korvosan aristocrat, she was fascinated by the battles and legends of Varisia from childhood and a chance meeting with Pathfinder Carnayvan cemented her goal to join the society. Sheila Heidmarch joined the Society in Absalom as an initiate during a business trip to Absolom, and her commission took her to Thuvia, and eventually to Mwangi, where she met Carnayvan again.

Unlike Hikage, Lady Heidmarch has little interest in the more esoteric disciplines of ki, but her own training as a warrior and monk has focused instead on a study of tactics and personal discipline. Although normally dressed as befitting a noblewoman, Lady Heidmarch is not averse to sparring with the curious monk. During their session, Hikage is aware that the Venture-Captain’s form is defensive, and her strikes are lacking the force of his own. However, her footwork is precise, and he is aware that while she might struggle to find an opening in his defenses, her own defenses are quite strong for her skill level. It appears that Lady Heidmarch may approach an opponent as an obstacle to be avoided, rather than as a challenge to be bested, or perhaps she has trained to fight as part of a group, delaying the enemy to allow another to defeat them.

Sheila Heidmarch confesses her regret that she herself was never able to indulge her childhood desires of exploring the hidden history of Varisia, but she is driven as a Venture-Captain to see that her homeland receives proper recognition as worthy of exploration, rather than as a wilderness filled with goblins and nomads. The extensive Thassilonian ruins documented by Quink and the Avengers fill her with satisfaction that her youthful suspicions were correct, though she does admit disappointment that each Varisian ruin uncovered reveals a Thassilonian heritage of cruelty and tyranny, rather than the enlightened golden age she had hoped to document. Even the fabled Therassic Monastery seems to have been ruled with an iron-fisted discipline rather than a humble devotion, if the Black Monk is any indication, That final guardian was not only denied entrance to his own sanctum, but was so slavishly devoted to his orders that he clutched the Emerald Codex for ten thousand years without even gazing upon its content, long after his order had disappeared.

Perhaps inspired by Lady Heidmarch’s interests, or possibly driven by a new-found sense of duty to the tenets of the Society, Hikage returns to Sandpoint eager to assist. Once the temple of Lamashtu has been sanctified, he approaches Brodert Quink for assistance in mapping and documenting the newly discovered layers of the structure, freeing Corvus and Gellius to spend more time documenting Jorgenfist. Quink is delighted at being granted access to the site again and his bristly demeanor at the vandalism quickly vanishes as Hikage shares their additional discoveries with him. The old sage seems eager to visit the library at Jorgenfist, but seems content enough to putter around the partially collapsed rooms of the Hellfire Flume for now, explaining, “That library’s not likely to collapse in the next earthquake, now is it?”

After speaking to Zendo about what the bard learned from the Shoanti gangers in Magnimar, and learning from Gellius about the Shoanti ballad of Freezemaw, Hikage makes determined use of the historical records collected in the House of Blue Stones. Though Corvus can find nothing about Freezemaw in the ancient archives of the Therassic Monastery, Hikage finds several accounts of Shoanti nomads. A white dragon, called Arkrhyst, but named Freezemaw in the Shoanti tongue, plagued the nomads of the Velashu Uplands and western Storval Plateau for hundreds of years. His raids were legendary, and many of the quahs still sing songs of lament for those dark times, and the many bands of heroes who sought him out near Rimeskull to end his menace. The last of Freezemaw’s raids on the Shoanti appears to have been about two hundred years ago, judging by the age of the surviving songs, though Hikage can find no records of a heroic dragonslaying warband returning in triumph.

Of all the Avengers, Ragnar seems to suffer the most in his inactivity in Sandpoint. Although willing to assist with the physical labor involved with the clearing of the temple and the emptying of the coffers of Jorgenfist, the Ulfen seems to find himself adrift. At first, his companions, only partly in jest, suggest to each other that Ragnar might be suffering withdrawal symptoms from his sword, currently being plied with fell enchantments in Magnimar.

At first, Ragnar seems fine, knocking back mead and ale, and coupling so vigorously with Shayliss Vinder that several lodgers at the Rusty Dragon express concern for the structure, as well as their sleep. After a fortnight or so of such (mostly) nocturnal activity, however, even the famously licentious Shayliss starts to appear a bit peaked.

Though town gossip holds that Sheriff Hemlock had already delivered an ultimatum to Amander Malonial, Ragnar engages the suave merchant in a heated argument that escalates to a shouting match, ending with a vigorous headbutting that breaks Malonial’s nose and sees Ragnar banned from the Hagfish for a month, further irritating the sullen Ulfen, who complains that no one else serves ‘proper fish’. Uttered, as this was, in front of Ameiko, it might have insulted the Tien bard more had she not been so pleased that Ragnar delivered an “Ulfen kiss” to her antagonist. As it was, she only emptied Hikage’s tea, rather than Ragnar’s mead, over his head for the insult.

Evidently exhausting even the lusty Shayliss, Ragnar returns to employing the girls at the Pixie’s Kitten, to their evident delight (though whether at his performance, or his coin purse, the girls are too professional to clarify). Though her own reputation in town was quite scandalous, Shayliss takes this poorly, leading to heated confrontations all over town. Though the hot-blooded redhead seems willing to forgive Ragnar for each of an increasingly long stretch of ‘lapses’, Ameiko finally confronts him after a mug-throwing tirade at the Dragon.

“What are you playing at, Ragnar?”
“Shayliss has always run sails off her looks. The girls at the Kitten tack harder.”
“Then why go back to her? You’ve got the gold, I know.”
“She’s better when she’s angry.”
“What about my mugs, you lout?”
“Put it in a proper tankard. She can’t cast that hard.”

After a few weeks of walking into (or quickly walking away from) such incidents with Ragnar, Zendo finally confronts him about it, asking the Ulfen why he is so damned moody.

“There crept a beast; kill it. There sits mead; drink it. There prances the whores; screw them. There struts a fine beauty; bed her. I’ve killed and drank and screwed and bedded. What else am I to do in this town? I could do with a hard day’s work, but I’ve no need for small gold any longer. I could do with a proper knife fight, but the law is too fine. This whole month’s too long and this winter is too soft. Calistril comes, promising vengeance, and none too soon. What use have I for peace—what use has peace for warriors?”


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