Rise of the Runelords

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!

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