Rise of the Runelords

Cloud Giants and Scarlet Spiders, Man!
Pharast 17, 4708

As the Avengers move through the streets of the Jotunburg district of Shalast, the immense buildings and broad avenues make it difficult to avoid the notice of the looming Shahlaria, the fortress of the soldier-giants of Shalast. The men hug the walls of the crumbling buildings, and use the elevated causeways connecting to the Golden Road to mask their advance as much as possible. Navigating through a narrow (for giants) road, the Avengers are alerted by the echoing calls of the Spared to the advance of an enemy.

Hikage quickly moves out to scout, and sees several huge, pale-skinned giants advancing towards the group. They are armed and armored in similar fashion to the giants the men encountered on the Golden Road outside the city, each wielding a bronze morningstar oversized even for their huge hands. As the other Avengers move up into position, the giants spot them and take action.

One of the giants summons a billowing cloud of fog between the Avengers and the giants, spoiling the aim of Corvus and Gellius, while another giant summons a second cloud of fog directly around the other giants, wreathing them in shrouds of mist. Some of the giants advance in the cover of the fog, their heavy footfalls thudding against the cobblestones.

Hikage and Ragnar advance, while Corvus holds back as Gellius retrieves his fog-cutting lenses. Zendo inspires the others with a stirring battlecry, and Hikage summons his ki to burn the giants. The lead giant swings his morningstar to smash Ragnar, but his glancing blow does little to stop the murderous advance of the Ulfen, who slays the impetuous giant with a single deadly stroke of his greatsword. Soon, the Ulfen is among his foes, who prepare to beat him lifeless.

The timely intervention of the fire wizard, Corvus, changes the equation. Using the lenses to pierce the fog, Corvus burns off the heavy mist with an incandescent fireball, also injuring the giants severely. Before he casts the spell, Corvus stumbles over the words a bit, strange, given his familiarity with the incantations for a fireball. Hikage’s ‘dragon breath’ finishes off several of the giants, and the others, who fail to capitalize on their opportunity to kill Ragnar, are sliced apart by his bloody sword.

The cloud giants are ended before they can retreat, and a quick search of their bodies turns up little aught the immense weapons too big and bulky to carry as loot. The Avengers quickly bind wounds, largely Ragnar’s, and advance towards the House of Divine Consumption, eager to avoid any further guards the battle might have alerted.

As the men move cautiously under the shadow of the Shalaria itself, they are forced to cross under one of the immense causeways that connects the giant fortress with the Road of Gold overhead. The causeway looms several hundred feet overhead, and the wide road, with its stout supporting arches, casts the buildings underneath in shadow. As Hikage scouts out a passage across the shadowy expanse, he is startled to see two immense, crimson spider-like beings!

The ghastly creatures seem to be huge spiders with sharp pincers on their foremost, attenuated limbs. Their faces, however, appear a horrible mixture of skull and spider, with long, sinuous tendrils waving about where a spider’s mandibles would be. The creatures hang in midair, standing on the air itself as if it were solid ground, and a screeching, raspy voice sounds in the minds of the Avengers:

You are the interlopers who injured our companion, Gamigin. Your assault has provoked him to depart. Our displeasure requires your death.

The strange scarlet spiders advance, using their mind magics in an attempt to confuse Hikage and Ragnar, who fight off the maddening compulsions. However, the spiders have other abilities, which Hikage and Ragnar learn first hand. As the two men near the spindly creatures, stinging tears of blood well up in their eyes! Hikage and Ragnar fight off the painful sensations for the most part, but the red arachnids seem to be able to draw blood directly from the bodies of their enemies, pulling it through the air and into the eyelike pits on their faces!

Their claws are wickedly sharp and strong, despite being attached to such long, slender limbs, and the wounds they cause bleed profusely, with that blood, too, being pulled through the air towards the spiders. The beings long tentacles, however, are coated with a numbing poison, which threatens to paralyze those foolish enough to combat them.

Gellius summons a huge air elemental to fight the spiders, as it is immune to blood loss, not having any blood, and paralysis, while Zendo and Corvus wrack their brains to identify the foe. Corvus’s concentration on the mystery proves to be his undoing, as the spiders invade his mind and confuse the wizard. He turns and unleashes his wand of lightning directly at Zendo. The bard, taken by surprise, takes the full force of the blast, and the lightning scorches a deep burn into the enchanted darkwood buckler he wears. Aghast at the possibility of the wizard unleashing more spells against his allies, Gellius leaves his elemental to the fight and dispels the magical confusion plaguing his friend.

While Hikage summons his ki to smite the spiders, he struggles to penetrate their resistance to magic, and Ragnar, reduced to using his bow against the air-walking monsters, does little damage to them. However, Zendo realizes what the creatures are, from his discussion with the nymph Svevenka! These are scarlet walkers, blood-drinking fiends from the nightmare dimension of Leng! The strangely erudite monstrosities feed on blood like fine wines, and toy with the minds of their foes. Zendo also retrieves a crucial piece of information: scarlet walkers hate and fear lightning!

Thus educated, Gellius turns and unleashes a massive blast of lightning against the walkers, exterminating one utterly. When he taunts the other walker, it replies:

You overestimate my attachment to my companion. Gamigin was a sparkling conversationalist, but my comrade was drearily pedantic. He shall not be missed.

However, the scarlet walker underestimated Gellius’s own companions. Corvus and Hikage both blast the remaining creature with bolts of lightning, slaying it as well. Given that the men have just unleashed three crackling bolts of lightning directly under the Shalaria’s causeway, the Avengers quickly flee the scene, not even taking time to bind wounds, to avoid the attention of Shalast’s giant police force.

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Devils and the Giant
17 Pharast, 4708

As Morgiv breathlessly chatters on to his saviors about Lower Xin-Shalast, he leads them through the warrens and tunnels under the city back to the surface. When the Avengers suggest that the Spared might be able to lead them to tunnels leading up to the Upper City, Morgiv is apologetic.

High Shalast has been unapproachable by the slaves since time immemorial. Even after the cataclysm that befell Shalast, the arcane barriers that separate it from Low Shalast have remained in place. The Spared have made no effort to establish hidden routes to the Upper City, as it remains a place of blinding pain and inexorable death.

Within Lower Shalast, the Spared have spent thousands of years carefully eking out a furtive existence. The small size of the tunnels below Shalast are one of the things that protects them from discovery by the great Lamias and giants, but the disjointed nature of their warrens does so as well. Even when an insidious evil like the Hidden Beast had wormed its way into their domains, the fragmentary nature of the tunnels meant that his thralls were unable to move freely in the darkness underground. Morgiv can lead them through tunnels which wend throughout the city, but those passages were never linked to allow swift transit to places on the surface, but rather, to provide ample living space without contact to the dangerous city above.

He leads them up a sloping stone passage, the remains of a ground floor which has long ago collapsed, and the men squeeze through a narrow gap, created when the level above collapsed. The dark chamber has no doors or windows, as a long-cooled lava flow has engulfed most of the lower level, but Morgiv points out a crack in the wall created by the building’s collapse. Hikage dons the decapus’ ring of invisibility and emerges into the sunlight to scout out the terrain.

He finds himself in a broad street, fronted on either side by huge buildings. The building to the left is an immense hexagonal structure, with giant-sized steps leading up to a pair of ten-foot wide doors. To his right, a smaller, though still huge, building has three sets of alcoves. Two smaller pairs of alcoves shelter narrow columns of bronze, while the larger, deeper alcove is cluttered with the shattered remains of narrow columns of jade. A collapsed obelisk blocks most of the road ahead, though the broad thoroughfare to the west is open past the point of the obelisk. A humanoid statue, weathered beyond recognition, lies in the middle of the road, having evidently been dislodged from the roof of the porticoed structure in centuries past. A narrow alley to his right is blocked by the crumbling, grainy remains of the ancient volcanic eruption.

Though Hikage moves around cautiously, he can see no visible threat, and, using Zendo’s magics, communicates this to the others. They emerge cautiously into the sunlight themselves, making their way around the fallen statue. Hikage hears a faint, incongruous sound to his right, and warns the others. No sooner than he has done so, two ogre-sized monsters appear from thin air! Each is composed of sinewy flesh that resembles bone, and both resemble human skeletons with tattered batwings and long, scorpion-like tails. Corvus recognizes them as bone devils, summoned from Hell itself!

One of the devils conjures a wall of ice across the street, blocking passage save for a narrow exit to the right. The other conjures a green energy into its bony grasp and hurls it at Corvus. As the arcane forces wash across the wizard, he realizes that the devil has locked him to this dimension, preventing him from teleporting even the shortest of distances. Though Hikage is focused on these fiendish foes, he cannot avoid hearing a faint clatter, as of boot on stone, in the alcove opposite. A third foe must rest there unseen!

Though the bone devils possess a powerful poison within their scorpion tails, and a disconcerting immunity to fire, the two fiends are no match for the Avengers. The bone devils cloak themselves in invisibility to evade the heroes, but are ultimately no match for the five men.

However, the true threat emerges from the alcove of jade pillars. A towering fiend, resembling nothing more so than a bipedal praying mantis, shifts into view as it summons a pounding storm of ice, battering Corvus, Gellius, and Zendo with hail and cold. Ragnar moves to engage their enemy, identified by Corvus as an Ice Devil, or Gelugon, as it regards them with multifaceted insectile eyes set in an inscrutable mask of blue-white carapace. The last of the bone devils flings itself into Ragnar’s path, sacrificing its life for what is now confirmed to be its master.

Harried by the spells of Corvus and Gellius, the ice devil teleports towards them, avoiding the fists and blade of Hikage and Ragnar, to their frustration, and blasts the wizard and druid with a cone of pure cold as Gellius summons a Fire Giant to protect them. When Ragnar steps up to engage the Ice Devil, it rakes a freezing cold trident across his body, but the Ulfen shakes off the numbing cold. Cornered by the Avengers, the ice devil fights resolutely, but cannot stop the relentless onslaught of spell and blade.

However, the devil’s crushed body continues to knit itself together. Even the hottest flames and the stoutest blows from the Fire Giant do not stop the horrid reweaving of its flesh. Finally, Corvus attempts to banish the devil back to the Nine Hells, but he falters. He almost stumbles in the incantation, and the magic itself washes over the infernal ‘soul-stuff’ of the ice devil with no effect. Unable to stop the ice devil’s corpse from knitting back together, the men leave the Fire Giant here with instructions to bludgeon the corpse into fragments, as they quickly move on, hoping to escape the attentions of the fiend upon its return.

Ragnar seizes the devil’s icy spear as loot, and Hikage pries a second of the Sihedron rings from one of the fiend’s segmented fingers before they move on.

As the Avengers move cautiously through the vacant city of Xin-Shalast, they proceed steadily to the north, towards the House of Divine Consumption, and, eventually, the golden road to the Upper City. As they near the spur of rock that holds the Shalaria, the men notice the immense buildings assuming even larger dimensions. The structures themselves have not become more gigantic, but the proportions of the buildings have lost all connection to human scale. They seem to be in a quarter of the city sized entirely for giants, designed and constructed solely for beings of a grander scale than men. The echoing hoots of the Spared disorient the heroes for a moment until they realize that their hidden allies are warning them of peril!

At a huge crossroads, the men can hear the thunderous footsteps of an approaching giant, but are unprepared for what emerges into view. A gargantuan giant, towering over all the frost giants and stone giants they have defeated, rounds the corner. His skin is coarse and black like rough iron, and many Thassilonian runes glow dully from his skin. He has a topknot of red hair, and deep-set eyes that glow like his runes. Curved tusks protrude from his mouth, and the giant is clad in ornate armor reminiscent of Tien design. He clutches a massive hooked sword pierced by rings larger than manacles.

“Intruders to the City!”, he bellows, in deep, accented Taldan. “Your presence is forbidden, and merits only death!”

Taken aback by the towering, terrifying giant, the men do not rush into battle. Corvus quickly catches the Rune Giant off guard with a spell of suffocation. Though the immense warrior is not slain by the spell, the powerful magic staggers the monster, giving the others a space in which to act.

Ragnar clasps his drinking horn and sups deeply from the magical draught within, fortifying himself and swelling in size and power until he resembles a frost giant himself. Zendo casts magics upon his allies as Corvus turns invisible and moves to catch the giant in an enfilading fire. Gellius bravely steps forward and summons the wrath of Gozreh. The druid is surrounded by a coruscating wreath of lightning, which crackles through the air and shatters the flagstones.

“Fool!”, bellows the Rune Giant, “I command the thunderstorm!” It is unharmed by the lightning entirely.

Corvus launches molten rays of fire at the Rune Giant from the safely of his invisibility. The giant mocks him, “Magma flows in my veins, little man!”. The runes on its skin glow briefly, and the giant turns to look directly at Corvus. “You cannot hide from me, trespasser!”.

Zendo, after summoning a magical replica of himself to further augment the Avengers, intones a mournful dirge to panic the giant, but it seems resolved for the fight. Gellius intones a prayer to Gozreh and massive spears of ice erupt from the flagstones. Though the sharp ice scrapes the Rune Giant’s legs, the numbing cold has no effect on him, and he bellows once more:

“I was born of the glacier, interloper! It holds no threat to me!”. As Ragnar approaches it, sword drawn, the Giant squints, focusing its attention. A rune on his coal-dark skin erupts in sparks and flames. Ragnar and Gellius dodge aside frantically, and dodge the worst of the sparking explosion of molten metal. They pat the embers from their clothes as Hikage summons his ki and blasts the Rune Giant with a torrent of draconic acid.

“Not immune to acid, are you?”, he wryly notes.

Gellius conjures up spinning, bladed discs of pure adamantium and slams them into the Giant’s midriff. “Not immune to this either, it seem.”. As the Rune Giant doubles over in pain, the last disc catches him in the forehead, drawing a deep cut across his brow.

Before Ragnar can even unleash a stroke, Gellius intones a powerful incantation, though he falters for a moment in doing so, and the Rune Giant, surprised by the onslaught, cannot resist the magic. It turns into an immense stone statue. “Better break that up now, Ragnar,” Corvus advises, “He’ll only be stone for a few hours.” Ragnar scorns assaulting a defenseless foe, but the practical Hikage, certain that the Rune Giant would not afford them any such respect, shatters the immense statue into pieces with hammer fist strikes.

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Confronting the Hidden Beast
Pharast 17, 4708

In the morning, the Avengers make ready to confront the Hidden Beast, which they are confident is some sort of vampire. After readying spells and prayers, the men remove the Revelation Quill from its case and Hikage sets the ancient stylus to parchment.

Foes unseen and beasts unrevealed pale beside the constructed doom weighted round your necks like a millstone.

This is not the sort of useful information that the heroes were hoping for about the confrontation, but with Morgiv in the lead, they press forward. The trepidatious skulk leads them through wending passages under Shalast, moving between collapsed buildings, constructed basements, and long lava tubes quietly and carefully. Morgiv stops short at a seemingly innocuous tunnel and points forward hesitantly. He whispers to Zendo in Thassilonian:

“Beyond is the domain of the Hidden Beast. It is not safe. The Spared do not return, or if they return, they have been changed. The prophecy says that the Wandering Strangers shall free us. I will wait for you here and trust in fate.”

The Avengers move on, single file, through the ancient, winding lava tube. Hikage, with his obsidian wayfinder, leads the way, peering through the darkness, as the others move in the light of Corvus’s ioun torch. Eventually, the monk sees the tunnel broaden out into a larger chamber. He stops the others and ventures forth to peer into the room. It appears to be some basement gallery, buried under the weight of the collapsed city above. To the left is a raised balcony with a stone balustrade, accessible by two stone stairways. Pillrs along the perimeter rise to a vaulted ceiling, while in the center of the room is a low dais holding an ornate throne. Seated upon the throne is a skeletal humanoid figure shrouded in musty robes covered with arcane symbols.

Hikage’s darkvision can penetrate no further into the room, but he is startled when a grave, dry voice hisses at him in Thassilonian. He hesitates on the threshold as the others prepare protective spells behind him in the tunnels. Then, a ray of black light flashes out at him from the throne! He narrowly dodges the beam, and springs forward to strike down the bony corpse which curses at him from its throne. When the monk strikes the seated figure, it collapses in a heap of bones and dust, a jawbone clattering across the room into the darkness. Hikage realizes the nature of the trap, as vampiric Spared peel away from their hiding places on the walls to menace him.

Ragnar joins Hikage near the dias as Gellius, Zendo, and Corvus remain near the tunnel. The skulks leap forward menacingly, slashing with their sharp daggers. One lands a lucky cut across Hikage’s torso, the wound bleeding freely, though their aura of unlife is the most damaging to the monk. Gellius steps forward to help the monk as Ragnar cuts down one of the skulks with a overhead chop, leaving it lifeless on the floor.

Gellius’s wand of healing cannot penetrate Hikage’s spell-resistant aura, but the monk bravely steps forward and lays about him with fists and feet, disarming two skulks and leaving a third sprawled on the floor. Suddenly, a hideous apparition appears at the other end of the room!

Resembling a greenish octopus with a maw of thin, needle-like teeth, the strange creature is the size of an ogre! Some of its ten tentacles pull it across the floor, while others wave menacingly. Its gestures cause skeletal arms to erupt from the stone floor, grasping at the heroes and tearing at their flesh! Hikage dodges the flailing limbs, but the other Avengers are rent by the bony claws. Corvus recognizes the strange beast as some sort of decapus. The ‘cave octopus’ is a rarely seen ambush predator, known to hunt in the Underdark, but this aberration is much larger! It is surrounded by a blurry aura, making it hard to see clearly.

The decapus hisses at them in Thassilonian, urging the Avengers to throw down their arms and serve him here in Thassilon. The skulks continue to harry the Avengers, and Gellius’s warning about vampires brings an unwelcome fact to Hikage’s attention. The skulks are healing from their wounds, even those lying seemingly dead upon the floor. Zendo moves to put one down, but his rapier is ineffectual agains the dead flesh. Ragnar slays it and moves to threaten the “Beast”. Hikage unleashes a blast of dragon’s breath that burns the decapus, as well as several of its vampiric minions, and retreats to the balcony when the menacing Beast unleashes a phantasmal killer at his mind, which penetrates his magical resistance, but founders against his iron will. Corvus’s scorching rays, launched from his wand, burn several of the vampiric minions, but Zendo’s song bolts, though cast unerringly, pass harmlessly through the magical aura around the Beast, though one does succeed in ringing against its dry, scaly hide.

The decapus stares deeply into Ragnar’s eyes and the Ulfen suddenly turns and strikes at Corvus with his greatsword, giving the wizard a vicious cut. Corvus, unable to survive another strike such as that, dispels the magic dominating Ragnar’s mind, but the decapus twists a ring on one of its tentacles and disappears from view. Corvus uses his magic to reveal the decapus to his eyes, and guides the others. He unleashes a devastating ray of disintegration at the creature only he can see, but the wavering aura of displacement spoils his aim entirely.

Though Gellius cannot see the vampiric creature, he conjures a serpent of flame, burning down the last of the vampiric skulks, and sends the flaming coils across the area, burning the Hidden Beast. Ragnar steps forward, slashing his sword around, and clips the decapus with one swing, but otherwise slashes at the air. Zendo heals Hikage, and the monk and the wizard both unleash powerful gouts of dragon’s breath at the suspected location of the decapus.

Though invisible, the decapus is an ambush predator, and cannot move quickly to avoid its fate. The scorching gouts of acid and fire wash over it and consume its undead flesh. Its ghastly form is revealed in death, smoking and blistered. The men assure themselves it is truly dead, and loot the bizarre corpse. They find the ring of invisibility which caused them so much irritation, and a plain golden band, engraved with a simple sihedron rune. The vampiric skulks were all equipped with vicious magical daggers, and enchanted bows, as well as simple rings of protection. Corvus, despite the pain of his injuries, is able to identify the golden Sihedron ring as a powerful protective item, which wards the wearer from attacks, spells, and other injuries, as well as extremes of temperature. It can further alter the appearance of their garments, though the change is merely an illusion and does not affect the properties of armor.

After tending to their wounds as best as able, the men trace back their footsteps to find the anxious Morgiv. Though he is first cautious that his ‘saviors’ may be under the control of the Hidden Beast, it is easy to convince Morgiv that the Avengers were successful, as his faith in the prophecy is strong. Morgiv is abjectly grateful, and assures the men that he will spread the word of their deeds, and the fulfillment of Mesmina’s prophecy, to the other Spared as well. The Spared know the city intimately, and will watch over the heroes as they explore Shalast, warning them of danger or enemies.

As Morgiv and his brethren are so knowledgeable about the city, the Avengers question him at length about the layout of Shalast. The skulk eagerly shares his wealth of knowledge and folkore with his saviours, sketching out a rough map of the city on the tiles of an underground chamber.

To the north is the Tangle. It is an immense jungle within the ruined city, and the skulks avoid it. Weird cries emerge from it at night, and even an expedition by the giants, led by the lamia, disappeared into the jungle and did not return. The lush, tangled greenery is intimidating to the Spared, and seems to change from day to day, making them reluctant to explore it.

As the Lower City turns toward the mountain, past the tangle, is the Heptaric Locus and Vomarck’s Circus. The Locus is a massive covered arena and amphitheatre on a foundation shaped like a Sihedron. It is covered with a crystal dome and illuminated with magical spells. The Spared shun it, not only because of the bright illumination, but because many of the slaves were brought here to the coliseum to die in gladiatorial fights. However, despite the good condition of the Locus, the giants and lamia shun it as well, for reasons that Morgiv does not understand.

Vomarck’s Circus is an immense racetrack and amphitheater, capable of seating a quarter-million spectators. It has always been a place of dread to the Spared, both since it is entirely open to the sky, and because the Tangle has slowly expanded to claim the southern portion. The vines and creepers have consumed the massive walls over the many years.

To the north of the Circus and Locus is the Spolarium. These buildings were used as crematoriums for the dead of the games, and the city’s dead as well. No one dwells here, but restless spirits roam the halls, as well as terrifying burning corpses.

The valley narrows as it passes the Heptaric Locus, and overlooking the valley on the western wall is the Shahlaria. This fortress rises over the northern edge of Jotunburg, or the Giant’s quarter, and the majority of the cloud and storm giants who dwell in Shalast live here. They are overseen by the Wardens of Wind and Thunder, who are called to serve in the Pinnacles in the mountain. Even the mighty Wardens fear their Rune Giant overlords, who descend from the Upper City on occasion.

Past the Shahlaria is the huge House of Divine Consumption. The high priestess of the temple, called the Most High, has always been a lamia harridan, and her word is law, save for Karzoug or his retainers. Most High Ceoptra has not lived in the temple for years, dwelling in the Pinnacles above, but many of Xin-Shalast’s lamia-kin dwell within, or in the surrounding ruins, if they are out of favor. Of course, the Spared avoid this area studiously, as the lamia are known to crave manflesh, particularly the accursed hungerers.

The Temple of the Sihedron lies to the west of the House of Divine Consumption. This ziggurat devoted to Lissala has declined over the many long years. The ziggurat is partially collapsed, and none have reoccupied it after the fall of Shalast. Morgiv says that growls echo through the chambers, and shadows reveal beasts around the corners. Simply entering the temple gives one the sensation that you are being stalked, and several of the Spared who explored the temple were only found as smears of flesh on the walls, recognized only by their gear.

The stone blockhouse near the northern wall of Lower Shalast once housed the tax collectors, but fire and ash claimed the building, leaving behind little but partially collapsed ruins. Morgiv says that five generations ago, a huge blue dragon entered the city. It has dwelled there ever since, exploring the ruins (to the terror of the Spared) and returning here to lair. Though it does not seem to serve Karzoug like the lamia and giants who pass back and forth between Lower and Upper Shalast, it has some accord with them and flies over the city, and even to the Pinnacles above, without disruption. The open spaces of Xin-Shalast make the Spared nervous in the best of times, but five generations of watching the skies for the dragon overhead has made Morgiv and his people positively agoraphobic.

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The Spared and the Ancient Prophecy
Pharast 16, 4708

The yeti emerge from crevices within the pile of rubble and drive themselves into a screaming, berserk fury. As they break from cover, Gellius sends a swarm of ball lightning to shock the nearest ones. A yeti charges Zendo and Hikage, clawing at the bard and chilling him with the intense cold surrounding his fur.

HIkage wraps his limbs in flame and trips the yeti, beating him brutally with flaming fists, but suffering frostbite on his arms and legs as the yeti’s unnatural cold aura drains the warmth from his body.

Corvus unleashes an impressive new spell, summoning a blisteringly hot wall of lava to shield the men from the charging yeti, as Zendo retreats from the melee and lends magical speed to his comrades. The others are surprised as Ragnar is suddenly sheathed in flames! The Ulfen has unleashed the fires from the Mark of Wrath, and he moves to the opposite end of the lava wall to cut off the yetis. He readies his greatsword, as Gellius wards the others from cold, save for the magic-resistant monk.

The yeti who charges Ragnar meets an untimely demise. Not only does the Ulfen smite him with a grievous, burning wound before the creature can claw him, but Corvus reveals a hidden facet of his new spell, as the wall of lava erupts and magma engulfs the yeti, immolating it!

The other yeti, wary of the wrathful flames unleashed, decide to assault the other side of the lava wall, where their tribesman fell to Hikage unseen. The first yeti through the ‘breach’ is paralyzed by a spell from Zendo. Hikage circles around the helpless yeti to unleash the flames of the dragon against its brethren, and Corvus lines up two of the yeti for a coruscating bolt of lightning from his wand, before unleashing more magma from his wall of lava!

Zendo assaults his immobilized foe, while Hikage suffers the wrath of the yeti’s assault, but drives them back with fire. Between the monk’s fiery ki, and the lava bombs and lightning bolts of the wizard, the yeti are killed before the druid’s ball lightning can even return to electrocute them.

The men quickly take stock of the chamber and the bodies of their fallen foes. Zendo tends to the wounds of Ragnar and Hikage with his bardic magic as the others watch the dome warily. Hikage hears a faint footstep to the north and east, and sees a glimpse of motion against the stone. The monk treads closer quietly, and can make out a manlike figure camouflaged against the stone walls. The being, perhaps one of the ‘Spared’, looks much like a man, but his form is rounded with a thick layer of blubber, like a seal.

The Spared appears pensive and fearful, wringing his hands fitfully and shifting uncertainly from foot to foot. Zendo, still wearing the appearance of Nualia, hails the creature in Thassilonian, startling it and causing it to step back a few paces in fright.

“Are you alone?,” it asks. “Didn’t anyone else come with you?” The roly-poly humanoid looks hopeful and plaintive.

Taken aback by the strange questions, Zendo tries to reassure the shy spectator while Corvus translates for the others. The diffident being warns Zendo that it is unsafe to linger within the Dome, as Voorgoor, the immense, brutal chieftain of the yeti within Xin-Shalast, or other tribesmen, will return to the caves within the rubble. The skittish creature seems dejected, but refuses to be drawn out by Zendo, though it does identify itself as Morgiv. He seems to want to be helpful, but mistrusts the Avengers.

Before the disappointed skulk can retreat, Hikage has an inspiration and orders Zendo to remove his hat of disguise, which has been cloaking him in the guise of Nualia, complete with demonic arm. Morgiv seems almost beside himself with joy, and tells the Avengers that he had faith in the prophecy that they would come. He explains that "the one with locks of copper’ was not present, so he feared that the heroes were not the liberators foretold.

All of this is greatly confusing to the Avengers, but Morgiv assures them that he will explain, and urges them to follow him quickly to safety. As the plump, but nimble skulk leads them through a collapsed passage, and thence to narrow, winding lava tubes, he tells them the history of the Spared.

Many, many years ago, after Thassilon fell, the volcano to the east of Xin-Shalast erupted, burying that quarter of the city. In the confusion, many of the slaves of Xin-Shalast found their freedom, but lacked the resources and experience to flee the city into the surrounding terrain of Mhar Massif. They fled into the structural levels and caves beneath the city, hiding in cysts formed by the collapsed structures above. Mesmina, a priestess of Lissala, who abandoned her loyalty to Karzoug when he failed to save Xin-Shalast, led the survivors and guided them with the wisdom of her goddess.

Mesmina named them the Spared, telling them that they were meant to survive, no matter the cost, and find their freedom in the city that enslaved them. She foretold that the Spared would live free in Xin-Shalast, until one day, when they would once again be enslaved. At that time, strangers to the city would come to free them. Morgiv insists that the Avengers are the strangers foretold by Mesmina and pictured on the tunnel walls by his ancestors. He describes the five wanderers: crowned in flame, copper-tressed, clad in furs, tall and bearded, and small and clean-shaven.

Morgiv explains that the Spared have dwelled in Xin-Shalast, free and safe, living cautious, furtive lives beneath the notice of the monsters that dwell in Upper Shalast. They have dwelled in the caves and tunnels for generations, using the heat of the volcanoes and the humid air to grow plants beneath the ground. They lived as foretold in Xin-Shalast, surviving in obedience to LIssala, until a few decades ago, near the time of Morgiv’s birth. Unfortunate explorers tunnelling through the pyroclastic flows near the Hypogeum broke through into an undisturbed chamber, and released the Hidden Beast.

Morgiv can give the Avengers few details of the Hidden Beast, for very few of the Spared survive such an encounter. Many Spared who go missing in the tunnels never return, but those that return are changed, or traumatized. Some of the Spared who return are emaciated and exhausted, but have no memories beyond being surprised in the tunnels. Other Spared seem to return, but they are cold and thin, surprisingly strong and fast, and wickedly tricksy. They can command the wills of others, and the Spared have watched more than one of their brethren follow the ‘Enslaved’ back into the darkness willingly. Some of the Spared who escape are still under the thrall of the Enslaved, and mislead their rescuers and family back into ambushes.

The Spared are now furtive and cautious even among their own people, an occurrence unknown by the clannish skulks. Any Spared who ventures out on his own is viewed with suspicion, as anyone could be in thrall to the Enslaved, or the Hidden Beast himself. Morgiv was terrified to wander the upper reaches of the tunnels alone, but he believed fervently in the prophecies, and feared that the Strangers would not find the Spared and free them.

Morgiv begs the Avengers to free his people from the Hidden Beast. He promises them that the Spared will be in their debt, and that he will render any aid he can to them in return. He explains that he does not know, precisely, where the Hidden Beast lairs, but that sections of the undercity near the Hypogeum have been shunned as few have returned from there. Those places where the Spared cannot safely travel must be the domain of the Hidden Beast.

The Avengers, realizing that the Hidden Beast must be a vampire of some sort, exerting his will over the skulks and his vampiric minions. They agree to help Morgiv; some to free his kin from bondage, and others to destroy this vampiric menace. However, they inform him, they are in need of rest and recuperation, and they invite the timid skulk to accompany them into the opulent safety of Corvus’s magical mansion. Morgiv is astounded by the light and airy rooms conjured up by the wizard, and eagerly samples the rich and unfamiliar foodstuffs provided.

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Skulking Bloodsuckers! Yowling Yeti!
Pharast 16. 4708

The strange, pallid, red-eyed skulking ‘Spared’ waste no time leaping onto Hikage and Ragnar and stabbing them with sharp knives. The emaciated creatures ply their blades skillfully, stabbing each of the men in vulnerable areas, and painfully twisting the blade, leaving open, bleeding wounds. More worrisome, the wounds seem to drain Hikage and Ragnar of vitality, feeding it to the treacherous sneaks.

Hikage quickly kicks the dagger from his assailant’s hand, before thrashing the vicious backstabber with his fists and elbows. Though quick and hard to hit, the strangely aggressive ‘Spared’ suffers greatly from the monk’s retort, with bones cracking in his face and ribs. The injured ambusher retreats and attempts to use some sort of magical mind-control on Hikage, but the monk’s resistance to magics foils this plan.

Before Ragnar can respond, his assailant has stabbed him again, leaving another deep, bleeding wound. Quickly, Gellius steps forward and unleashes a writhing snake of flames. It chars the injured ‘Spared’ into fine ash, but the other sneak neatly sidesteps the flames entirely. Zendo and Corvus advance cautiously, staying out of the reach of the remaining assassin. It cannot evade the blade of an annoyed Ragnar, however, as he clefts it apart in a welter of blood and offal. As the bloodthirsty humanoid expires, however, it falls apart into a mass of clumpy, black ash.

Gellius and Zendo tend to Ragnar and Hikage’s wounds, while Corvus examines the strange attackers.Hikage collects the daggers, sure that they must be powerfully enchanted, given their fell effects. Ragnar and Hikage both still feel weak, with Ragnar suffering the most. Gellius and Corvus tell the others that regardless of what the Thassilonian surviving “Spared” have become, these two creatures were vampires! The men have all heard tales of the deadly undead, but to encounter them here in the ancient citadel of Xin-Shalast seems even worse. If Ragnar and Hikage can recover their strength overnight, they should be fine in the morning, but if their weakness persists, then the two men would only recover with very powerful magical aid, aid that will not be easy to acquire here in Xin-Shalast. Ragnar and Hikage assure the others that they will rest and recover. Though the daggers each carry a vicious enchantment, the skills of the vampires, and their inimical necromantic energies, caused most of the damage.

The heroes spend some time trying to investigate the strange, shadowy interior of the obsidian ziggurat, but the immense, tripartate structure seems needlessly complex and maddeningly cavernous. Finally, they abandon their attempt to navigate through the recursive complex and exit into the streets again.

The men warily make their way west via a broad avenue, alert to signs of giantish activity, and decide to advance north along the western wall of the valley, avoiding the Golden Road as much as possible, and the travellers upon it. They pass by many remarkable structures in the seemingly abandoned city, marvelling at the immaculate white marble of one huge building, and the brazen domes adorning another. As they move farther north, the architecture, though still grandiose and eclectic, becomes less cyclopean, and takes on a more human scale, though still of giantish proportions, if not dimensions. This area, though habitable by giants or ogres, is not on the outlandish scale of other parts of the city, and individual buildings, though easily the size of the largest structures in Sandpoint, do not stretch for hundreds of feet in each dimension. From the organization of frontage along promenades, this may have been a bazaar of some sort in Shalast. The men make good time in the streets and shadows of this area of the city, until an ominous fortress overhanging the valley wall draws them up.

A titanic tower, unmoored from the earth below, clings to the sheer wall of the western cliff, inaccessible by stair or ramp. The tower is capped with a pointed copper roof, and tapers to a similarly capped point at the bottom. The heroes, wary of the guards that may be posted in such a structure, cut into the narrower streets of the district as they continue north, but find that the dense buildings thin out and taper off as they approach an immense stone dome to the north. Only a magnificent colonnade crosses a barren, windswept field that leads to the dome. The huge domed structure is pierced by many arches, both at ground level and above, and the men hug the minimal cover of the gigantic columns as they approach.

After discussion, the Avengers decide to enter the dome, as daylight is parting. Inside the gigantic structure, fully the size of the colosseum in Magnimar, they discover something incongruous. The walls of the dome itself are a vast structure, with spiraling ramps of giant dimensions rising from the interior to access hidden rooms through immense arches. However, the open center of the dome is filled with a large pile of stony rubble, stained with dirt and other, fouler material. Hikage and Zendo warn the others, as their keen senses pick up the sounds of shuffling feet on stone before the inhabitants of the rubble reveal themselves.

Yeti emerge from crevices within the tumble of stone, but their appearance and demeanor is much different from those ‘snow men’ the Avengers encountered only days before. The Yetis that creep forth have matted fur stained with blood and offal, and their cries are wild and bloodthirsty, unlike the deep, mournful howls and hoots of their brethren!

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The Lower City of Xin-Shalast
Pharast 16, 4708

The Lost Coast Avengers ride their Phantasmal Steeds along the Golden Road leading to Xin-Shalast, the smoky, translucent hooves of their steeds clattering on the glittering, golden cobblestones of the broad thoroughfare. As they crest the rise of the narrow mountain pass, the men behold an immense glacial valley which extends north and turning west to the base of a vast mountain.

Filling the valley is an ice-capped city of enormous proportions. The near end of the valley mostly blocked by a huge fortress of smooth black stone, with multiple towers rising from its high walls.

Exiting from the bailey of this fortress is a massive causeway of gold that dominates the city as it travels down the center of the vale. Huge towers and spires of many-colored stone pack both sides of the thoroughfare, rising to prodigious heights and giving the illusion that the elevated road is itself a valley.

The eastern slope of the valley has been subsumed by an ancient volcanic flow—nearly a quarter of the city appears to have been buried. That area of the city is now little more than a great mass of ice and snow, with the jagged angles and peaks of structures poking through the topmost layer here and there.

Where the huge valley curves to the west, the structures grow even larger, becoming truly gigantic as they climb up and over the rocky spur. At the far end of the valley, the city abuts the lower slope of a truly massive peak, but the city builders seem to have taken no heed of the slope.

The great causeway merely elevates at a steep angle and climbs the incline in a straight line, transforming into an immense stairway. Buildings cling precariously to the mountain face along the causeway, growing larger and more impressive as they ascend. The gigantic buildings give way a few thousand feet above, but the mighty road continues to wend its treacherous way to just below the mountain peak.

There, a spired citadel looms, its size and proportions truly magnificent, though it too, fails to summit the mountain. Instead, its topmost spires end just below the dominant features of Karzoug, carved into the peak of the mountain and surveying the city below.

The otherworldly quality of this strange panorama is further reinforced by the sound of the cold winds slicing across the high peaks, making strange cries and shrieks in the thin mountain air.

Examining the near end of the valley, some of the Avengers can see pale shapes moving around the walls of the black stone bailey, and Hikage reports to the others that the guards appear to be man-sized but birdlike. After some discussion, Zendo utilizes Redshiv’s hat of disguise and assumes the appearance of Nualia Tobyn. The Avengers ride forward boldly, carefully observing the fortress as they approach.

The ancient gateway to the city is flanked to the north and east by a flow of gritty, rocky ice; the ancient lava flow barely stopped by the stone walls. The walls of glossy black stone rise to 75 feet, but the square towers rise to 200 feet or more. Beyond the walls, steam and deep lowing sounds rise in the chill air. Gellius identifies the sounds as a herd of aurochs. The guards on the walls are hideous, twisted combinations of man and condor, which Corvus identifies as kuchrima, the lowest order of cursed lamia-kin.

The freakish creatures smash a thunderstone against the stones to raise an alarm, and three of them flap down on tattered wings to accost the intruders. The kuchrima clutch large bows in their filthy, but dextrous, lower limbs, and menace the heroes as they call out in Thassilonian.
Zendo displays his Sihedron Medallion, and identifies himself as an operative of Karzoug from Thistletop, far to the south and west. He demands entry to the city in order to make his reports. The kuchrima seem taken aback by this strange woman’s audacity, but chuckle at her claims to have Karzoug’s ear. The foul-smelling creatures insist that all orders come from Khalib or Coeptra, and none speak with Karzoug directly.

Mustering all of his acting skills, Zendo feigns deep offense and indignation. He intimates that Karzoug’s plans are deep and secret, and that the kuchrima risk painful punishment if they interfere with ‘her’ mission. The kuchrima seem unconvinced, but wary of bringing harsh punishment down on their heads. They squawk indignantly and agree to let the group pass, but refuse to open the massive gates, ordering them to go around a narrow route to the west. Zendo belatedly tries to convince them to keep this mission a secret, but the kuchrima flap back to their fortress leaving the heroes to advance into Xin-Shalast.

The men move cautiously through the immense, abandoned city. The buildings are uniformly huge, largely composed of stone, with many being constructed of dense green marble that resembles emerald. The wooden doors and accoutrements still exist, having have been essentially freeze-dried to a silvery hardness.

In an attempt to avoid the giants within the city, the Avengers hug the western wall of the city, avoiding the elevated Golden Road. Here, they can see the valley walls as they rise above the buildings. The sheer gray rock rises hundreds of feet above the nearest buildings.

As they move carefully from building to building, the men can hear an increasing din as they move deeper into the city. They have moved perhaps a mile into the gigantic valley when the din is joined by the sight and smell of smoke. Hikage creeps forward, hiding in the rubble and disarray in the streets, to investigate. He sees a section of the ruined city cleared of rubble, leaving a courtyard perhaps a quarter-mile in diameter. Many huge huts and crude shelters have been erected there, turning it into what appears to be a giant refugee camp. Hundreds of hill giants, frost giants, and stone giants mill about in the area. Some appear to be resting in exhaustion, while others come and go through the passageways to the east and north.

The Avengers, so alerted, decide to move nearer to the elevated road to avoid conflict with the giants. Moving to the west, they pass through the buildings adjacent to the Golden Road. As they move deeper into the city, they find their passage blocked by an immense stone structure perhaps a quarter-mile across. One side of the structure is exposed to the clearing, and the other is buried in the ice-choked lava flow to the west. They decide to enter a huge, forty-foot tall door to pass through the building itself.

Once again, Hikage scouts ahead. His uniquely-enchanted wayfinder allows his eyes to pierce the darkness, and he enters the darkened chamber in silence. Even his magically augmented eyesight cannot penetrate the darkness far enough to perceive the contours of the immense room, but Hikage remains wary. As he watches carefully, he sees several stone giants moving silently across the room, evidently crossing the dark space from west to east. He waits until they have passed, and emerges to warn his friends.

Forewarned, the Avengers decide to clamber across the ice-strewn lava flow to the west. Clambering across the wind-blown slopes is arduous and slow, but the Avengers persist, finally able to return to the level ground of Xin-Shalast. Ahead, across a wide thoroughfare, rises a strange, triple ziggurat of black stone. Atop the stepped pyramids rise several columnar towers. Hikage again scouts out the strange structure, and peers into narrow arrow slits that pierce the front of the structure. He sees two pale humanoids within, each with a narrow belt and dagger. The two creatures see the movement at the arrow slits, and react with alarm, moving quickly away in the structure.

Hikage quickly informs the Avengers, and the men decide that these secretive creatures may be some of the ‘Spared’, the strange skulking inhabitants of the city. The men quickly rush to the door at the front of the structure, which enters the building from a road rising to join the Golden Road. Inside, the stepped structure of the building is repeated, as the stone floor lowers in regular levels, and the hallways to the left and right narrow with mathematical regularity.

Hikage and the others rush into the corridor to the right, heading towards the area where the ‘spared’ were seen. The corridor narrows twice, then begins to open again. At the opening, the two pale creatures spring at the men, having laid in wait. Their mouths open to reveal needle-like fangs, and their eyes glow a disconcerting red!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shantaks and Yetis
Pharast 13-14, 4708

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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