Arcanearth

Session 21: Warrenpoint

AE-session21-AifonSpiritGuide_20180902.jpgLeelo and Mesmer climb hundreds of steps to reach the ‘Reliquary’ where they are met by the Elohim monk from the Chancel. Within the vast airy structure are wide colonnades, vestibules, practice rooms, lecture theaters and other spaces of less obvious purpose. Monks, sages and clerics move about the dim spaces like ghosts. Some of the faculty are in fact spirits from across millennia of Elohim history. Spectral shades of Elohim scholars, monks and other learned beings return to the Reliquaries and pass on their knowledge to subsequent generations. Some appear in archaic dress from the Age of Dragons, others are contemporary, and every age in between. Some spirits return only for a short time, others remain to guide the living for much longer. Herein lies the secret of Elohim cultural and intellectual continuity across three different ages, a feat only the long-lived elves of Sucellus come close to matching.

Lower and lower within the vaults of ancient knowledge the silent monk leads his guests. The journey ends in a natural cavern filled with blue-green water. The pale shade of an Aifon, extinct since the Age of Dragons, steps forth from the lonely grotto. The monk speaks, “This child of Danalin was once a living Elohim of great wisdom and power. She has been with us since the Age of Dragons when her people became extinct, for what reason we known not, since she has never spoken in living memory.” Nor does the beautiful Aifon speak now, instead indicating five relics in niches around the shimmering grotto: collars of silvery blue-green metal. The monk presents these to Leelo. “These are ‘Torcs of the Aifon’. The wearer will assume the submarine form of an Aifon when in water, able to swim quickly over long distances and breathe water as well as air. Use them well, and after the fate of Syzimondo and the green pearl are sealed, return them to this reliquary.”

The translucent form of the Aifon approaches Leelo, passes into her and disappears. Leelo feels the silent presence of another joining her own soul. The monk is surprised by this turn of events, “the Aifon has chosen to be your Spirit Guide, a rare honor. This quest must be of even greater importance than we first thought. Whatever happens, do not let the pearl fall into the tentacles of the Overlords. Perhaps it can be destroyed, but the consequences cannot be foretold, if indeed this node of depravity is the prison of Blikdak’s soul.”

News of widespread crop failures come in from the lands around Cahir Abbey. Indeed, the loss of the summer crop is repeated in all the provinces west, north and east. Already the most vulnerable members of the empire are starving. What is worse, plague is reported in the lower quarters of the capitol. The few clerics and healers are unable to cope with the sudden mysterious appearance of disease in all the cities of the land. Charnel houses soon fill with corpses. Mass graves and huge pyres for the dead appear outside Cahir Abbey. Similar plague and starvation is reported by travelers from far lands. The Infernals and Mercurians are least affected. The Blood Comet is widely blamed.

After two months in Cahir Abbey, Mesmer, Leelo and her henchman Xar take passage east back to Trinity where they will consult with the Luchuirp remnants and await the completion of the commissioned white dragon shield and armor. At Trinity they learn of the fall of Ithralia. Bannor and Elohim mages entered the High Keep to rescue King Gyr and his retinue, but the old gnome refused to leave and perished hours later in a last stand. In the weeks that followed the cities of Mutanbo, Tia’ran and Val’ran fell, marking the end of the Luchuirp empire in the New Age. A large part of the population is already enslaved and put to work in the Deadlands repairing roads and bridges connecting the Sheaim empire with their newly-acquired provinces east of the Dragonspines. The rest can look forward only to a dismal existence under the rule of cruel sorcerer-kings.

Mavriy, Krag and Finch, with their henchmen Thothra and Grenl, board a coastal cog for the 5-day trip to Warrenpoint where the party is supposed to meet Syzimondo when the winds change later in the year. The island city of Warrenpoint is only a tenth the size of Cahir Abbey 100 miles to the east, but hosts important trading and commercial concerns that feed wealth to the rest of the empire. A great lighthouse, harbor and shipyard dominate the seaward side of the city. Though relatively small, the importance of the city is belied by the presence of a Guardian’s Chancel and Order of the Elohim Reliquary atop the highest elevation. Just off the docks are extensive markets, money changers and taverns.

The taverns in particular are famed across the myriad ports of Earthsea. Hundreds pack the most popular to hear the declamation of entertainers and skalds from cities as far as Midgar, Prespur, Tolero, Evermore and Thariss. The rune-heroes find temporary accommodation at ‘The Laughing Sun and Crying Moon’. Using treasure from Frostbite’s hoard, they soon purchase title to a ramshackle tower of three stories with attached barn and outbuildings. The seller and new neighbor is a peg-legged old pirate, complete with eye-patch and squawking parrot. ‘Jackdaw’ is always willing to regale adventurers with tales from his decades sailing the shores of the Earthsea.

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Krag

In less than two weeks Krag is able to trace the source of certain glyphs and sigils found in public areas around the city. In the back of a distant warehouse the half-orc finds a small chapel to his lord Aeron, god of war, serving a diverse clientele hailing from ports across the Earthsea. Krag takes over management from a lowly acolyte and is soon receiving alms and administering benedictions to a small but steady trickle of supplicants. The number and variety, and coin-purse contents, of those seeking favor in battle increases steadily over the summer. It seems that times are good for the god of war! Religion is always a good money-making proposition, the ‘Church of Krag’ exceptionally so. By the fall Krag has amassed an offering pot exceeding 400 gold pieces! All for the cause, of course…

Finch

Finch quickly discovers that Warrenpoint is the entry point for black market goods from all corners of the world including pearls, sugar and dyes from the Lanun archipelago, usually considered hated foes of the Elohim. Contraband goods are brought in by smugglers of all stripes, including more than a few outright pirates, who work by night and in bad weather up and down the long convoluted coastline of Warren island. The Elohim constabulary and navy make a desultory attempt at policing this lucrative trade, but in reality look the other way most of the time: the profits are spread far and wide, high and low. Finch soon embroils himself in this activity, first arranging deals and slumming-it with small-time shore smugglers. Soon he graduates up the ranks and finds himself aboard a 50-foot sloop running contraband across the 24 miles of open water between Warrenpoint and the mainland. The profits for a newcomer are small at first, but the half-elf learns the basics of seamanship and sailing, especially at night and in poor weather.

Warrenpoint is a hive of activity for herbalists, alchemists and potion-makers. Finch pays a good amount to get his hench-goblin Grenl into an apprenticeship (disguised as a halfling). By the end of summer Grenl has concocted a laboratory of sorts in the tower’s top story. The neighbors are annoyed all night long by muffled explosions, foul smells, colored lights and the occasional shriek. One day soon Finch and Grenl will be able to make true potions of power, assuming the equipment and arcane ingredients can be assembled.

Mavriy

Mavriy determines that Warrenpoint hosts a small temple of Esus. As expected, the temple is well hidden and changes location from time to time. Only those familiar with the secret paths of Esus have much chance to locate the temporary meeting places. Communication and coordination are accomplished through cryptic messages left at dead drops around the city. The priesthood, if there is any, remains hidden behind an impenetrable veil of anonymity. The demonling paladin soon begins providing services through this network and makes a not-inconsiderable sum of coin, though failing to approach the profit-margins of Krag and his war-god.

The power of the Council of Esus is small here, not large enough for the customary ‘Nightwatch’. The Nightwatch serves as a secret militia and guards any city where the Council of Esus has a significant presence. While there may be a few Esus assassins, shadow monks and other candidates in Warrenpoint, none have the leadership needed to form a ‘Nightwatch’.

Through the Esus grapevine, Mavriy discovers the holy city is located in Thariss, capitol of the Svartalfar empire. There the great shrine of Nox Noctis reveals current events in many empires, all the while shrouding the activities of Queen Viconia in a cloud of fog. Mavriy learns much of the world through a connection with Nox Noctis. For example, the Grigori have historically allowed Calabim slavers passage through their lands to take slaves from the Clan of Embers, on condition the vampires refrain from poaching Grigori lands. This agreement has enriched the Calabim greatly over recent decades, along with their lucrative ties to the Lanun sea-empire, and now a huge army of conquest led by Losha Valas is assembling on the eastern border of the Malaki desert. This has prompted the Grigori to end the prior arrangement and sever relations with empress Alexis and emperor Flauros, twin rulers of the vampiric aristocracy.

In other news, the Elohim and Bannor are infuriated by the Khazad tribute to the Hippus. Though all four empires are nominally members of the Overcouncil, the Elohim and Bannor have recalled their diplomats from Khazad and severed all trade, believing that the dwarves will be forced to pass any new wealth and knowledge on to their overbearing Hippus neighbors. This acrimony and bickering within the Overcouncil can only benefit the Calabim and Sheaim empires.

Mesmer

AE-session21-TheBluePrinciples_20180902.jpgIn the middle of summer Mesmer and Leelo return from Trinity with magic created by gnome artificers and enchanters. Warren island is the site of ‘The Blue Principles’, a Mage Guild that keeps a low profile, but has great importance to the Elohim. The guild is almost unique in having no central keep or stronghold. Instead the cabal’s board of notables maintain various manses, towers, keeps and residence of all sorts across the island and along the nearby mainland coast to north and east. The Blue Principles are named after their guiding document, a constitution of bylaws ensconced within a blue crystal ‘Perciplex’ protected by the Wi’ih, a mindless being from the 9th dimension. The guild controls a wide range of mana including Law, Nature, Spirit, Water and finally a node of ‘Mind’ mana on Warren island itself. Mesmer pays his dues and joins the guild as a full member. The tumble-down tower in Warrenpoint is listed as his ‘manse of residence’. He soon finds a wizard willing to do business and gives over a little-used spell in exchange for phantasmal-force.

Earlier in the spring, Mesmer determined that Thothra, the Amurite archer captured from Syzimondo, has a small knack for magic. Not too unusual among a race descended from the greatest and first archmage Kylorin. Mesmer apprentices Thothra over the summer. The young Amurite excels and masters not one, but three powerful cantrips of magic! Perhaps one day Thothra could even become a full wizard. In the meantime, Mesmer has gained a faithful henchmen and apprentice.

Late in the summer Mesmer notices a dim spot appear on the horizon, visible only to himself and always located slightly east of due south from Warrenpoint. By day the spot is smoky gray, by night a dimly glowing ember. The rune-heroes theorize this is a guide provided by the Lich Asmoday to gather his minions from all across Arcanearth. Apparently the dreaded Lich-King counts Mesmer among his servants. A chilling thought! As the summer passes, the wizard finds his gaze wandering more and more often toward the spot.

Mesmer soon detects other more disturbing changes within himself: 1) a circular tatoo of untranslatable glyphs appears on his chest, at first barely visible, but growing more pronounced as the summer wears on; 2) a waxy pallor to the skin; 3) fingernails forming into long pointed claws. These physical changes will become very obvious by next year, at the current rate of change. Mesmer declines to have Krag use the old Luchuirp scroll to immediately remove the curse, if indeed it can be removed, on the chance this curse can somehow be turned to the group’s benefit. Talk about playing the long game!

Later in the year, during the voyage across the Earthsea aboard the Sea Hag, the spot slowly shifts to the southeast then finally slightly north of due east.

Leelo

Leelo steps onto the dock wearing reconditioned and newly-magicked black dragon armor, courtesy of grateful gnome expatriates in Trinity. She finds Krag at his shrine and gives over a magic shield: a circular warboard of bronze covered with a rosette of iron-hard white-dragon scales. On Finch’s instruction, his new suit of magical leather armor was left at the Luchuirp embassy vault in Trinity. This armor is fashioned by gnome craftsmen from the white hide and scales of Frostbite (dyed gray by the gnomes…it resists all attempts to turn it black). The warlock currently lacks facility with armor, but plans to gain this skill soon so that he can cease using the unfortunately-obvious protective enchantment provided by the ‘Voice from Beyond’ (a swirling gray-blue field of arcane force).

Voyage of the Damned

When the prevailing winds shift to the northeast with the coming of winter, a snaggle-toothed agent of Syzimondo contacts the rune-heroes at ‘The Laughing Sun and Crying Moon’. The Warrenpoint tower is left in the care of the ice-gnome Xar, Thothra the newly-minted Amurite apprentice, and Grenl the goblin shamaness. This unlikely trio have somehow established an uneasy accommodation during their months together. In the dark of the moon on a stormy night the adventurers row out from a smuggler’s cove along the windswept western shore of Warren isle. Out of the dark emerges a familiar frigate of four masts: the Sea Hag.

AE-session21-PirateCrew_20180902.jpgSyzimondo has instigated major changes. The ship is fully refitted for a long voyage. The previous boatload of cutthroats is reduced to a skeleton crew of hand-picked pirates. The 1st Mate and Bosun are recognized as two of Syzimondo’s companions who also escaped the melee in the jungle long ago. Armament has been reduced from eight to four ballistae to make room for extra provisions.

Syzimondo has deceived his crew with a plausible tale of slave-taking as a cover for his real purpose. The crew are comfortably familiar with snatching island barbarians and selling them at the Calabim ports of Nubia and Araia. From there slaves go to serve the great estates of the vampiric nobles, or contribute their blood to one of the ‘feastings’ held on public not-so-holidays…

During the voyage southwest the rune heroes watch the crew carefully for any possibility of future advantage. Should Syzimondo be killed outright and the ship taken over, or charmed by magic? Leelo stealthily inventories the contents of his cabin and those of his officers, but finds nothing useful. The wily pirate has apparently memorized the missing half of the tablet. At no time does he sneak off to a secret location to retrieve or consult the missing half.

By the second week of the voyage, Finch has used his eerie powers to divine that the 2nd mate is definitely susceptible to the charms of mutiny and would love nothing more than to supplant Syzimondo. Possibly useful, though his knowledge of navigation seems lacking compared to Syzimondo and the loyal 1st mate. Syzimondo knows how to use the stars, moon and sun, the currents, the winds and weather, and even the color of the sea to somehow divine his location and sail on with purpose toward the mysterious destination of ‘Zencotan’, supposedly somewhere far south of the southernmost Lanun isles. The warlock is rapidly improving his knowledge of wind and wave by working with the officers and crew, and surreptitiously observing Syzimondo as he navigates. The fat black-bearded rogue chuckles at Finch’s attempted seamanship, but is clearly nettled by the eavesdropping. Syzimondo begins concealing important aspects of his calculations.

Near the end of a third week with nothing but ocean in sight, overt grumbling sets in among the crew, but they are uncertain whose side these adventurers are on. Some barbarian islands better appear on the horizon soon. Leelo and Mesmer hatch a plan to assassinate Syzimondo and take over the ship with the help of the 2nd Mate. Before they can execute the plan, a strange storm blows in from the north.

AE-session21-GiantTentacle_20180902.jpgFrom the storm emerges a black copper-plated ship with bronze-armored crows-nests atop three tall masts. Shades of Scylia, but the banner of Saryin Nures is not in evidence. By skillful sailing Syzimondo is able to keep the Overlord warship well to stern, until the wind and waves seem to conspire against him. The ship lurches to a stop as the sea boils with unnatural activity all around. A great black shadow moves in the waters beneath the ship. The timbers creak with strain as something grapples the hull. Shouts of ‘Overlords!’ and ‘Kraken!’ are heard among the crew. Even these hard-bitten pirates begin to panic. The officers desperately lash them back to their positions.

As the great warship looms close, the rune-heroes race to take strategic positions for the coming encounter. The green pearl on Syzimondo’s remaining ear glows fiercely, attracting stares of superstitious dread from the 1st mate and other nearby pirates. The situation looks grim. The scope for action has narrowed to a few desperate choices. Is now the time to take the pearl, possibly to destroy it? The adventurers whisper urgent plans as they sidle into position near the wheelhouse and atop the poop deck.

The Lanun warship halts as it approaches within 100 feet. Monstrous tentacles rise from the roiling waters around the doomed Sea Hag. Some pirates scream in terror. Others prepare to fight to the last. Syzimondo’s bulging countenance exhibits a horrid mixture of human and perhaps alien emotion: terror, outrage at the fate befalling him, and a sort of avid urgency or hunger. Familiar figures appear along the rail of the Overlord warship: Laerlith, Priestess of the Waves, and four green-hooded ‘Hands of Hastur’. Laerlith’s expression is obvious even from this distance: hateful vengeance mixed with gleeful expectancy for the impending completion of a task long-delayed.

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Session 20: The Blood Comet

AE-session20-TheBloodComet_20180826.jpgA blood red comet appears in the southern sky on the last days of the evacuation. According to the holy men of the Luchuirp, the ‘Blood Comet’ is the first sign of the End Times and presages widespread drought and famine across Arcanearth. Under this bloody illumination the last terrified refugees clamber aboard the ramshackle flotilla led by the Elohim Shield of Sirona.

The adventurers meet with Tor a final time. They tell of the rune-curse, though as always none are able to draw or so much as describe the rune floating above. In the past 12 hours the runes have changed back from blue-violet to blue. What could cause such a change? The wise High Runekeeper has heard whispered tales of heroes brought together across the ages by such an invisible rune, but the legends are vague, widely separated and inconsistent. Few but the most sagacious have even come across more than anecdotal accounts of these mysterious ‘rune-heroes’, and fewer hazard any guesses as to their origin or purpose. Tor does say that if anyone knows the answer, it will be one of the fallen archangels currently intruding upon creation, especially Cassiel, immortal leader of the Grigori people located a world away south of the Hippus steppes and north of the blood-sucking Calabim.

Tor relates other news of the war. Mutanbo east along the coast is still free, but a large Sheaim army has appeared out of the desert south of the eastern city of Tia’ran and is even now investing the city. The defenders do not expect to last long. Refugees are flooding east to Val’ron and from there along the coast road to the Malakim port city of Naucratis. Many are expected to perish during the brutal march across 150 miles of desolate desert coast.

In the far south, the Malakim have been routed by Hyborem’s infernal legion and an army of undeath led by the resurrected Lich King Asmoday. At this Leelo recalls the events of a year ago in the tomb-prison of Asmoday. Mesmer recalls Asmoday’s sibilant hiss promising a future reward in exchange for standing aside….a chill runs down the wizard’s spine.

Now the question of Asmoday’s fate can be considered answered with horrible finality. Thousands must have perished when the Malakim city of Nubilar was overrun by the Lich-King’s undead legions. It is said the isolated defenders held out for five days, destroying hundreds of undead and barbarian warriors before falling to a fate literally worse than death. The rune-cursed struggle to look anywhere but Tor’s piercing gray eyes.

Many gave thanks that Hyborem turned south after crossing the Dragonspires, though all know this can only be a short-lived respite. The archangel of Agares easily conquered the Luchuirp desert outpost of Nubilar. The infernal legion appears poised for a thrust east across the desert into the heart of Malakim lands. The Bannor have landed a large army at the mouth of the great Nilus river led by two of their greatest paladins: Valin Phanuel and Donal Lugh. This army, along with the main Malakim army led by Chalid Astrakein, is reported to be moving east along the coast rather than west to confront the Sheaim. The reason soon arrives by magical messenger from the High Luridus Astrakein: the Calabim have assembled a large army of conquest on the eastern borders of Malaki. Though Alexis and Flauros are not technically at war with any of the Overcouncil member states except the Elohim, it can only be assumed they are planning to take advantage of the situation and annihilate the hated Malakim once and for all. The Malakim are caught between infernal anvil and vampiric hammer.

When told of the green pearl and Syzimondo’s plans, Tor encourages the adventurers to accompany the freebooter wherever the pearl leads him. Perhaps this will reveal the source of the pearl’s evil power? Tor says the Elohim are likely to know more about this pearl and it’s purpose.

A few hours before the next dawn, Tor will depart for the Mercurian capitol of Trinity aboard the Elohim Shield of Sirona with only a small entourage. Many more will remain behind to die defending Castle Larchspur from the oncoming tide of Sheaim undead, fiends, archers, lancers and far stranger creatures summoned from the far realms of existence. Hundreds of thousands of Luchuirp will be overtaken by the advancing Sheaim. Many will die or be incorporated into the ranks of the Sheaim slave legions. Those who don’t escape can look forward to a dismal future under the heel of the Sheaim.

The rune-heroes take their leave of Tor and sail north with Syzimondo’s crew of cutthroats aboard the Sea Hag. The pirate captain has packed his ship with nearly a hundred unsavory rogues and a hundred more Luchuirp refugees stuffed into the bilges like sardines. He plans to dump them off on a rocky beach 20 miles from anywhere, but the rune-heroes force the grumbling pirates to transport the refugees all the way to Trinity, 150 miles north across the Ligurian Sea.

The great Maelstrom rotates counterclockwise off the port bow, at odds with all other drains and whirlpools in this part of the world. Since the cataclysm that ended the Age of Magic, this colossal whirlpool, 50 miles across at times, has provided a challenge to all mariners who would cross between the inner Ligurian Sea and the outer Sea of Meditor. Legends tell of ships entering the Maelstrom intentionally or more commonly, by accident. Years later bedraggled sailors would return to their home port telling wild tales of being dropped into a far ocean by a giant waterspout. On the rarest occasions ships are said to have survived the experience in marginally sea-worth condition. Syzimondo proves to be a daring yet skillful navigator, one of the rare few willing to dance with the Maelstrom and be sped along their way, in this case gaining 4-5 hours over more cautious sailors. The rune heroes are treated to a close look into the abyss.

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After 26 hours running downwind, the fast frigate completes the voyage north across the western Ligurian and arrives at the mighty capitol of Mercuria. Trinity is named in honor of the holy triumvirate of The Order: Junil, Nantosuelta, and Arawn. The city is still significantly Bannor in culture and mortal population, but in the 20 years since the Mercurian Gate was opened, resurrected spirits clothed in raiment of mortal flesh have joined the population in growing numbers. The angelic Host, normal-appearing men and women but for wings, glowing eyes and faint halos, are a common sight everywhere in the city. Valkyries watch over the huge arch of the Gate, shepherding recent recruits from the spirit world to join the Host of Basium. Fiery Seraphs illuminate the city with holy fire all night long. Rarer angels such as Messengerii and Ophanim occasionally streak through the sky above or ride down the wide boulevards. Rarest of all are Heralds, Repentants and the horrifying Angels of Death. These terrible angels are normally the right hand of Arawn, tasked with enforcing the law of mortality across creation, but a few have seen fit to join Basium’s rebellion.

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The mortal population consists of the original Bannor citizens joined by a minority of Elohim, Amurites and Malakim drawn to Basium’s cause. Dwarven Umberguard crusaders of The Order arriving from Khazad now constitute a sizable minority in the capitol. Basium is more than anything a practical fallen angel: a small contingent of Hippus mercenaries camp outside the city. The rune-heroes learn that the newly-united Hippus have conquered the Doviello barbarian empire to their north and now rule all the lands between the Khazad hills and the shores of the Earthsea. The Khazad dwarves, in a bid to retain some measure of independence, have been forced to pay a recurring tribute to Emperor Tasunke in the form of iron, gold, gemstones, and most significantly, finished weapons and armor of high quality steel. Rhoanna, Hippus representative to the Overcouncil, has gone underground and not been seen since the triumph of Tasunke.

All but Mavriy and her new pirate ‘friends’ disembark and head straight for the Luchuirp embassy. This is the site of chaos barely held in check by a ring of angels on the ground and in the sky above. Luchuirp refugees crowd around the small compound, seeking audience or simply accommodations. Using a seal provided by Tor-kra’hom, the rune-heroes gain quick entrance and audience with the ambassador and a glowing six-winged messengerii. They recount the same tales told to Tor. As with Tor, the Mercurians advise the rune-heroes to seek out Elohim wise men of the west, who are sure to know more about the green pearl.

The Messengerii sends a Valkyrie to the Sea Hag moored offshore. The terrified pirates are treated to an unusual meeting between the demonling Mavriy and a rebel Valkyrie of Basium. Mavriy is led through the spirit realm to the embassy and her companions. During the trip through the ethereal city, Mavriy sees many more Valkyries guiding souls of the righteous fallen through the Mercurian Gate to be clothed in mortal flesh and join the Host of Basium. Most often these spirits arise as lesser Angels of the Host. Some few exceptional fallen are resurrected as angels of higher ranks, such as Valkyries or Seraphim. Mavriy must now be counted among the very few mortals or immortals to have ever visited both Hyborem’s Iron City of Dis and Basium’s capitol Trinity.

The rune-heroes have 24 hours in the city before Mavriy is no longer welcome. The party deals with expatriate Luchuirp smiths, leather-workers and enchanters to begin the long task of turning Frostbite’s white hide and iron-hard scales into magical armor. The refugee artisans are glad for the custom and charge their new customers half the usual fee. But it will be many months before these wondrous works of magic and craft are completed. Krag obtains a number of healing potions from the human and gnome priests at the Temple of Kilmorph within the city. Several of the rune-heroes deposit gold and magic for safekeeping in the vault beneath the embassy.

Leelo attempts to insinuate herself into the Ljosalfar embassy, a quiet tower shrouded in transplanted Evermorian oaks, but has little success. No one is on hand from the days of her infamy except a few cooks and housekeepers. Seeing no advantage in renewing the acquaintance with underlings, particularly if they know any uncouth tales from her last days at the embassy years ago, she tries to ingratiate herself with the new ambassador. He proves unwilling to divulge any significant state secrets to this wayward elf dropping in out of nowhere, but does volunteer some startling news: the Winter and Summer Courts are at war. A large Svartalfar army led by General Alazkan moved south through the heart of Ljosalfar lands, unable to break into any major cities, but looting and pillaging along the way. Finally, through illusion, guile and betrayal, Alazkan opened the gates to the southern city of Skyweir. The crystal domes and tree-palaces of the city are now in the hands of cavorting dark-elf warriors, priests and illusionists. The ambassador does not believe the occupation will last long, as the Winter Court lacks the stomach for lengthy commitments. More worrisome are the new Illian allies of Queen Viconia. Thus far, Auric Ulvin’s priests of winter have not intruded upon the Summer Queen’s territory. How long will this untoward leniency continue? Soon the legions of Mulcarn must come tumbling down from the frigid north like a white wall of doom.

Syzimondo is happy to depart the harbor of Trinity. “These glowing, flapping monstrosities make my guts roil. I don’t know how red-blooded mortals can tolerate their insane strictures. For me, it’s freedom on the high seas or nothing!” Courtesy of the Elohim navy, who still maintain a fragile peace with the Sheaim, passage through the straights between Cafes and Bourne the Gleaming is relatively uneventful. Bourne, on the northern shore of the straight, is the camp of Basium and his angelic Host. The presence of Basium is indicated by a glowing pennon flying high above the citadel. Few voluntarily seek audience with Basium, who is said to be notably short of patience, and often mercy as well.

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The superstitious pirates of the Sea Hag peer up toward the Blood Comet, whispering powerless spells against both angels and devils. Mavriy well knows the cause of the sparkling motes and trails of fire illuminating the dark skies over the straights. The glow of her demon-infested home town is barely visible on the horizon off the port bow as the Sea of Meditor comes into view.

Three days sailing west on a beam reach brings the Luchuirp-flagged freebooter to the mighty cliffs of Cahir Abbey, a city steeped in memories of the Elohim dating back to the Age of Dragons. The party is put ashore at night by launch. Syzimondo dares not even show the profile of his ship in daylight at the harbor of the Elohim capitol, somewhat-tattered Luchuirp flag notwithstanding. In the morning the rune-heroes see no sign of the Sea Hag. They must seek their own way onward to Warrenpoint, an island city notably more friendly to ‘alternative income’ sailors, there to meet with Syzimondo at the beginning of fall when the prevailing winds blow from the east-northeast.

The party is given the freedom of the city. The Elohim are tolerant to a fault and spies from many empires infest the capitol. Mesmer, Krag and Finch seek arcane knowledge about the mystical whistle Nightcaller, recovered by Mesmer from a Patrian ruin in the jungles between Nininsnal and Kuldevind. Finch knows the libraries, sages and academies of Cahir Abbey well. After several weeks effort they are successful in determining this type of magical prison became popular toward the end of the Age of Magic when the mages and sorcerers spawned by Kylorin reached the worst of their depravities. The whistle is a prison for other-planar entities, but without the long-lost controlling spells, such imprisoned entities are free to destroy their summoner and must be dealt with cautiously. Nightcaller’s current inhabitant can be replaced only through release by the owner of the whistle, or if defeated by another alien entity. In this case the victor unwittingly assumes the place of the vanquished. This means Azariel the Succubus might now be a prisoner of Nightcaller, but only if she managed to destroy the shadow-demon that terrible night in the apartment of Lady Shaunicca.

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Mesmer and Finch discover information about the copper tablet given over to them by Syzimondo. First, the tablet is recently broken in two and useless without the missing half. Undoubtedly the whereabouts of the missing half are known to Syzimondo and serve as personal hazard insurance. Ancient Patrian and Elohim texts indicate the barbarian empire of Zencotan and the capitol of the same name were never conquered, but fell into decay for undocumented reasons. Most importantly, a sage is able to translate the Zencotan calendar inscribed upon the copper tablet into the modern Elohim calendar. A sea-going captain such as Syzimondo should be able to use calendar and dates to locate the long-lost capitol.

The trio of knowledge seekers dare further in trying to find out what happened to Finch after disappearing into the dungeons of Os-Gabella last summer in Galveholm. Here they come close to falling into an arcane trap laid for such investigators. This in itself is quite revealing. The agents of Os-Gabella anticipate such intrusions and work to derail, discomfit or destroy those who verge upon the deepest secrets. Finch also tries to find information about his patron, in the city where he first heard the Voice from Beyond, but runs into a blank wall here as well.

Leelo and Mavriy find an ‘Altar of the Luonnotar’ in the city, similar to another such edifice recently constructed in Trinity. These rather unassuming shrines each house a broken piece of white marble. The Luonnotar, a small cult of natural philosophers, claim these are pieces of the white stone slab where the one true god stood when he came into creation before the fall of Agares. The great religions of the day hold that this is a fable and only the 21 gods who grant power and protection are worthy of worship. The Luonnotar hold that the gods worshiped today are nothing but petulant children squabbling over the spoils of creation. Some of the Luonnotar believe that if the fragments of the slab can be found and reassembled, the one true god will return to creation.

Leelo finds no one in authority. Indeed, no obvious priesthood is in evidence. Asking a random passer-by, she chances to meet an elderly human with eyes full of experience, who introduces himself as ‘Elder Methyl’. Over tea the Elder regales Leelo with the history of his association. Methyl seems to have been everywhere and seen everything. How can feeble humans accomplish so much in so little time?

Leelo reveals the problems of the green pearl and the ‘rune curse’ to the kindly old gentleman. Elder Methyl tells a seemingly unrelated story involving Cassiel, archangel of Dagda, the spirit of an murdered child and her father. “Like the other archangels of the One, Dagda is a pretender, but also an arbiter of the Balance, instigator of the Compact, and keeper of the Godslayer, so worthy of respect.” The elder advises Leelo and her companions to seek wisdom from Cassiel, fallen angel of Dagda and spiritual center of the Grigori empire. Cassiel maintains his earthly abode in the Grigori capitol of Midgar, on the other side of the world. Regarding the green pearl, Elder Methyl can only advise caution and recommends consultation with the Order of the Elohim.

At the ‘Chancel of the Guardians’, a fortress dominating the southern cliffs, Leelo and Mavriy gain audience with a junior paladin of the Elohim Order. Their story soon brings a monk of more senior position. The unnamed monk advises Leelo to deal carefully with Syzimondo. The green pearl is likely the soul object, or prison, for the spirit of an elder demon of Mammon imprisoned beneath the waves in the Age of Dragons. The soul of “Blikdak” is likely inhabiting a weapon of the hated Overlords and their Lanun allies: Saverous. Rather than allow the pearl to fall into Overlord hands, it could perhaps be destroyed by sufficient magical force, but such an act could have dire consequences if the green pearl is indeed a prison for the soul of Blikdak. Nevertheless, it could be worth the risk to track the deluded pirate to his ultimate destination on the chance this place is related to the origin and fate of Blikdak. Once the pirate has met a well-deserved demise, whoever brings in his head will win a sizable bounty.

Leelo asks for any magical assistance the Elohim can provide. The monk asks Leelo to meet him a week hence at the ‘Reliquary’. This structure is a huge unadorned marble palace at the highest point of the city that seems to serve no useful purpose either as a fortification or temple of one or many gods. What could be the function of this mysterious building?

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Session 19: Frostbite's Doom

AE-session19-Frostbite_20180819.jpgThirty hours remain until sunset of the next day, when the elderly Mesmer and Mavriy become permanently aged. After a much-needed rest, the rune-heroes explore the chapel where gnomes worshiped Kilmorph centuries past. The small temple is now a charnel house. Next to the once-sanctified altar are yellowed bones of slain ogres and shriveled remains of an orcish wight that look to have collapsed only recently. Perhaps minions of the cursed spirit of Arun-da’til? Carefully arranged atop the altar is the prone skeleton of a gnome in rusted plate armor with hands folded over a rusty battleaxe. Marks on the axe and armor indicate these must be the remains of the gnome lord Dur-ge’tin laid to rest by the cowardly Arun-da’til.

Assisted by Krag’s knowledge of religious practices and temple construction, Leelo carefully searches the shrine. Within hidden compartments are vellum scrolls still resonant with the power of Kilmorph: chants to cure disease, remove curses and purify water. The party makes haste to depart the dusty temple-turned-tomb.

Time enough remains to go dragon-hunting. Evidence that ‘Frostbite’ has slithered through much of the fortress is everywhere: scratches in the stone of floors and walls; a few scales lost squeezing through narrow halls; gouges at the corners of bronze-and-stone doors. After lengthy deliberation and consultation with Zaugrum, who glimpsed the beast on two different occasions, the party concludes that Frostbite is likely a young dragon. Still, they are taking no chances.

Zaugrum is favorably impressed by the rune-heroes exploits so far. The priest of Agares still hopes to convince them to return to Galveholm and commit themselves to the side of the Sheaim in the coming struggle. He agrees to support the party as best he can if they will restore his armor and staff. The party believes his ability to heal from afar may be sorely needed in the upcoming hours and agrees to give him one more chance to prove his worth. Zaugrum takes up position at the far end of the throne-room.

Rather than descend the frosty pit to confront the deadly beast in it’s lair, a plan is hatched to lure the dragon up into the throne-room and trap it there. The magic carpet-of-smothering is laboriously dragged to the center of the throne-room using ropes, grapnels and climbing gear. Varthor’s twisted corpse will be used as bait. Krag breaks loose the mounting bolts from two of the iron forges in the golem factory. Pushing and pulling from opposite sides with makeshift rope and tackle, the heavy drums are finally rocked from the stone furnaces. They crash onto the floor and are carefully rolled, positioned and blocked in place at the edge of the windy chasm.

Mavriy and Krag consume the mountain-gnome potions of frost protection found in the caves above. Leelo likewise drinks the potion of warmth, much weaker but still helpful. Those skilled in protective magic fortify their friends as best they can.

Everyone but Leelo and Finch take up ambush positions behind columns in the throne-room. For good measure a roaring fire is set in one of the drums using fuel carried in by the Sheaim expedition. The alfar rogue and half-alfar warlock remove the chocks and roll the massive iron drums over the edge. Enormous clangs like the tolling of bronze bells sound from the pit as the drums bounce from the frozen waterfall and stone ledges. Finally a resounding crash thunders from the chasm when one forge finds a hard surface at the bottom. The second forge, this one a flaming ball of fire, explodes in a fountain of steam and broken ice when it plunges through the frozen surface of a pool 120 feet below, being extinguished in the process. Neither Leelo or Finch see this as they are already vaulting the stream and racing toward the open doors of the throne room.

The minutes tick past. The party remembers they tossed ten edible corpses into the chasm a few days ago. Perhaps the dragon is well fed and torpid? After nearly an hour, when patience is almost exhausted, a scaly slithering and curious snuffling sounds from the open doorway to the golem-workshop. Leelo sees the head of a monstrous ice-white lizard cautiously poke through the doorway, sniffing the air. But the beast seems wary and a trifle sluggish. It backs out of view.

Leelo fears the dragon will return to a frigid lair where no doubt conditions are to its advantage. She rushes forward. The dragon gives a coughing roar, but continues backing toward the pit. Leelo vaults forward to take cover behind a yard-high slag pile. The none-too-intelligent dragon is tricked into thinking Leelo is alone. With a roar that chills the blood, Frostbite lunges forward behind a torrent of frosty breath. Leelo is coated in frost, surviving only due to the potion of frost resistance and meager cover from the slag pile. The dragon comes in to claim it’s kill. Leelo dodges to the side. A huge scaly head darts past her and slams full into the cave wall (rolled a 1). Frostbite is momentarily stunned.

The other rune heroes arrive from the throne room. The dragon gives up it’s wounded prey and backs away, raging at the tricks of these tiny creatures. Finch casts his spell of hideous laughter. The dragon’s mind is infected with the deadly mirth of the warlock’s unknown patron. It begins to thrash about the cavern in a paroxysm of choking, roaring laughter. Mavriy, Krag and Leelo use this brief respite to beat past buffeting wings and take positions all around the serpent. Mesmer prepares his most potent spells of fire from behind the cover of a remaining forge. Xar takes up position across the factory, marks the dragon and prepares his bow. Zaugrum observes in wide-eyed wonder from the entrance to the throne-room.

Before Frostbite can recover it’s admittedly dim wits, Leelo shrieks “STRIKE NOW!!!” and drives her rapiers deep into the beast’s haunches. Krag calls on the aid of Xrarog. His whirling warhammer scribes an arc of purple fire in the air before slamming down onto the neck and flank of the dragon. Frostbite screams as adamantium crunches through iron-hard scales. The monstrous hunter is no longer laughing. Mavriy dares the snapping jaws to strike with her pole-scythe and deliver a smiting blow of psychic energy. The demonling is weakened by age, but still charged with the dark power of Esus. Mesmer sears the ice-wyrm along it’s entire length with multiple rays of scorching fire.

The dragon fears and hates fire beyond all other hurts inflicted by this swarm of horrid little monsters. With a bellow of rage the dragon breathes forth a blast from the coldest region of hell. Mesmer sees death looming large before him. Luckily the Amurite’s arcane skills are up to the task and he manages to cast a spell of misty-step. The wizard slips through the spirit-realm to appear 10 paces distant, coated head-to-toe in a frosty rime of icicles, but still counted among the living. Zaugrum hastily casts a powerful spell of healing from his position at the doors. Black and blue frostbite slowly recedes from Mesmer’s extremities.

Frostbite sees it’s doom through a haze of frosty rage. The desperate wyrm turns to flee, batting Mavriy aside as it does so. The paladin is raked by deadly talons inflicting scars she will long remember. The dragon stretches out it’s wings and surges past Leelo toward refuge in the chasm. Mavriy and Krag mercilessly smash the fleeing wrym with pole-arm and hammer. Finch blasts Frostbite’s feeble mind with dark corruption. Leelo sees her opening as the hissing beast blunders past. Her rapiers scribe twin arcs of silver in the gloom before intersecting with a scaley neck. Purple blood gushes over Leelo as the dying dragon thrashes back and forth across the cavern. The severed head plunges into the icy stream where it is carried over the edge into the windy dark of the chasm.

Xar sets to work taking hides, scales, claws and other potentially-usable bits from Frostbite’s carcass. After a short rest and further healing from Krag and Zaugrum, Leelo and Finch climb down the bronze ladder descending from the north ledge of the pit. At the bottom is a freezing cold natural cavern. Frostbite’s horrid head lies staring at them from the icy floor nearby. The waterfall is almost entirely frozen, along with the pool and stream nearby. The remains of one of the forges is already trapped in new ice. The other lies in pieces nearby. The stream is frozen 6" thick, but it seems Frostbite swam in the frigid waters as one section has been broken open from below and refrozen recently. Smears of frozen blood mark where Frostbite dragged the bodies of dead Sheaim soldiers, cultists and sorcerers into the frozen stream.

A pair of gnome-constructed stone arches cross the frozen stream in two places. Apparently this is an escape path prepared by the gnomes hundreds of years ago. No other evidence of improvement or construction is seen. The explorers discover the second arch is structurally unsound and safely avoid a plunge into the ice. Beyond the last bridge is a huge cavern covered with a frozen subterranean lake. The cold here is intense beyond even the coldest night in the Dragonfang mountains.

In the center of the frozen lake is a small island covered with a forest of ice bent and spun into fantastical shapes. Much of the ice in the island is crystal clear. The rune-heroes find the glitter of gold and silver encased within the ice, and much else dragged from the runes above. Entombed in glassy ice and arranged for display is the perfectly preserved body of the Sheaim captain, snatched from the expedition by Frostbite as he crossed the mountains. Being none too fond of the Sheaim officer-class, Zaugrum gazes upon the hideous trophy with satisfaction, occasional chuckling to himself. Everyone sets to work with ice picks and fire-spells to get at the treasure.

The source of the intense cold is quickly identified. Gaps into another realm open now and again in the air above the island. All are small and remain open for unpredictable periods ranging from seconds to a few minutes. Blasts of horrible cold shoot from the openings. Beyond the openings are swirling ice and snow. Through one larger portal Finch glimpses a far horizon of gray and black, as if from a high mountain ledge. Krag identifies this realm as the first of the seven hells, the domain of Mulcarn. White dragons are creations of Mulcarn, just as the parents of all dragons today were creations of the other 20 gods. These beasts once raged freely across creation during the Godswar, before the Compact and subsequent rise of mortal civilizations. No one feels like venturing into Mulcarn’s icy hell or waiting around to see if any frostlings come through. Before departing, Finch tosses in a written note.

Leelo explores an ice cave leading from the frozen lake-cave. After hundreds of yards Leelo steps from the cave into the intense glare of afternoon sun reflecting from snow. Behind her looms the great hill dominating the south end of the valley. Below her spreads the frozen lake. The walls of Fang Valley are visible to the east and south.

Four hours later all the loot that can be retrieved is piled upon the solidly-frozen lake. Without Mesmer’s magic floating disc, much less loot would now be piled upon the ice. Only a few hours remain until the sun sets for Mavriy and Mesmer. Eighteen days ago six climbers entered the Dragonfangs. Will the base camp still be waiting?

The rune-heroes decide to release Zaugrum in recognition of his assistance during the fight with Frostbite. And perhaps an ally within the Sheaim empire could be useful in the future. Not enough time remains to execute a plan to drop Zaugrum off at Ithralia. There Zaugrum could link up with his agents of the Ashen Veil and presumably make his way home. Zaugrum is relieved to hear this risky plan is cancelled. Instead Zaugrum is allowed to take refuge with the orc mercenary cadre in the Fang. The priest is confident he can control the orcs, at least until a supply column arrives and he can depart this hellish place for good. After all that he’s seen in the past 48 hours, Zaugrum’s opinion of the rune-heroes has permanently changed.

“I now believe you to be great heroes destined to take part in the battle for creation. Will you not reconsider my offer and join the righteous side? Together we can be heroes of Agares, god of renewal. The traitorous gods and their flawed works will be cast down to make way for a new and better world! No? Then here we part ways. I will acknowledge your assistance, though by your actions you have thwarted the Emperor and probably my liege-lady as well. I fear when next we see one another it will be from the far sides of a terrible battlefield.”

Leelo takes out a large rusty-brown feather from her dragon-leather armor and snaps it in twain as instructed by Thessa. For thirty minutes the rune-heroes scan the sky. Finally a clap of thunder shakes the valley. Far above, a great chasm opens in the darkening blue vault. God-rays stream through at an angle quite different from the westering rays of today’s setting sun. This must be a gap into the air above the sacred mountains east of Evermore, capitol of the Ljosalfar and host to Queen Phaedra’s court. There roost the last remaining rocs employed by the gods as mounts and hunting birds during the fabled Age of Dragons.

Moments later a vast bird of prey soars through the opening and begins to descend in a great spiral. As the minutes pass, the size of the great roc becomes apparent: it’s wingspan must be well over 80 paces across. The titan of ancient times casts a shadow covering the entire east end of the frozen lake. The noble bird lands in a cloud of snow only fifty paces from the huddled rune heroes. Atop the bird is a magnificent palanquin of mithril and Evermorian oak, with seating for a dozen and stowage for a thousand pounds or more. A stair leads from the fore of the palanquin to a lofty seat perched above and behind the head of the Roc. With some trepidation the lilliputian heroes begins carrying equipment and treasure up the mithril chain ladder dangling 40 feet below the palanquin. The benign roc looks down upon the tiny beings with a fiery orange-red eye probably ten feet across.

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After an hour all is ready. Leelo feels a wordless connection with the great being. She ascends the silvery gangway and straps into the seat atop the prow of the palanquin. The white lake lurches and retreats in a cloud of snow as the roc buffets his passengers with hurricanes of frosty air. The roc rises higher and higher. The sun once again comes into view as the mountains retreat far below. Slanting rays of orange fire strike from west to east, recasting the Dragonspires in miniature chiaroscuro of orange, white and black. The roc rises to a height of perhaps 5000 paces where the air is thin and cold. The rune-heroes are saved from freezing by their mountain-gnome parkas and the clever design of the palanquin, which directs winds to left and right such that one could almost play a game of cards.

After not much more than an hour, Leelo directs the Roc back down to earth where the base camp should be located. She is able to commune with the Roc and share it’s incredible vision. A tendril of smoke rises from a single small hut. The rest of the base camp is completely gone. As the Roc lands, an elderly gnome steps out, struggling against the gale-force wind generated by the Roc’s mighty pinions. Upon seeing the giant bird, the gnome flees for his life. Leelo catches him and the rune heroes are soon recognized. This single gnome was apparently left to give any returning mercenaries the bad news: ten days ago the Sheaim legions stormed through Dragonspire pass, crossed the Deadlands largely unopposed, and invested Ithralia. The capitol is completely surrounded and under seige. The High Runekeeper Tor-kra’hom and his entourage are organizing a desperate evacuation at Larchspur castle. Even now the armies of the Sheaim push north toward the coast! Leelo is not able to get much more out of the terrified old man.

Larchspur castle is little more than an hour away on the wings of the mighty bird. In the dying light, a dirty brown smog is visible along the southern horizon in the direction of Ithralia, 100 miles distant. On the coast and in the harbor below the castle are scores of ships, small and large. Streams of refugees arriving from the south are being shepherded aboard the ships. The rock alights near the castle. After the party throws their gear off, the great bird rises into the air once more and disappears into the growing darkness.

Tor-kra’hom and his party of several hundred loyal acolytes, priests, stonewardens, enchanters and warriors are defending the castle and helping organize the evacuation. The High Runekeeper makes time to meet with the returning adventurers and is pleased to find them carrying the lost secrets of stone and iron golem manufacture. First, and without more than an hour to spare, the mighty cleric calls upon Kilmorph to lift the weight of false decades from Mesmer and Mavriy. Both are restored to their original age within minutes.

“I am sorry to say that we are too late to save my people, but I will carry the golem-secrets across the Ligurian sea to Mercuria and Bannor lands where hopefully we can make use of this knowledge in the future. Unfortunately the reward promised by King Gyr will die with him in Ithralia. The old King has refused to leave despite entreaties from our enchanters, not to mention the wizards of the Elohim, Bannor and Mercurians. The King and a host of loyal defenders have withstood six days of continuous assault to buy us precious time. The enemy is now into the middle city and about to assault the Upper City and from there, the High Castle. The last defenders could fall tonight. Scouts, pyre zombies, and archers have bypassed Ithralia and are within 45 miles of the coast.”

Tor rewards the rune-heroes as best he can with 500 gold pieces each. A surviving adept scribes copies of the various conjuration and enchantment spells discovered in the Fang. One copy is given to Mesmer for safekeeping. Tor plans to leave two days hence for the Mercurian capitol of Trinity where there is a major temple to Kilmorph and a Luchuirp embassy.

An unexpected acquaintance is on hand: Syzimondo the freebooter, still in command of his Luchuirp-flagged frigate, the Sea Hag. He’s being paid to ferry refugees across the Ligurian and is taking on his last load from the rocky beaches below. Syzimondo sends a messenger to the rune-heroes. At an abandoned dock-side wineshop, Syzimondo makes the rune-heroes a far-fetched proposition. The first and most obvious change is that Syzimondo has lost an ear. Only an ugly scar remains. But the green pearl has changed homes to his other ear. As Syzimondo speaks, a curious green flicker lights his eyes, “That bastard illusionist was an agent of the Overlords, who seem to want my beautiful pearl. He’s now taking a long swim with the fishes, while I still stand before you!” Syzimondo seems swollen with unusual personal force and presence.

The freebooter brings out a green copper tablet for the inspection of his guests. “This is an ancient tablet from the fabled city of Zencotan, capitol of a pre-Patrian empire from the time before Kylorin united the barbarians under his rule. Fables tell of the wealth of this lost city, the unlooted wealth of a lost empire never brought low by the Patrians! One of my mates stole it from a reliquary in Cahir Abbey years ago and I never thought to make use of it…but now something tells me this is the key I have been looking for. With wealth like this I could fund a fleet of pirates and wrest control of the southern Lanun islands. I will found a new sea-rover kingdom and strike fear into the slimy heart of Hannah the Irin!” Syzimondo waxes rhapsodic about the tremendous wealth in store for whoever first reaches the remote southern island where Zencotan is indicated on the copper plate.

“That’s where you landlubbers come in. I’ve seen your mettle tested time and again. My scurvy pirates are a superstitious lot. They would never dare a chancy venture of this sort, so I have to keep it secret. But you, my lovely friends, are not so easily scared away from a wet road with a pot of gold at the end!. Also, I need your skills in Cahir Abbey. We need more information about this tablet and Zencotan. Alas, I am not favorably thought of in the streets of the Elohim capitol and dare not show my horrid face. First I need to dump off this cargo of landless midgets and collect my pay before the diseased maggots I call a crew slit my gizzard for the gold in my teeth.”

The rune-heroes cautiously agree to explore the situation. Syzimondo hoped for nothing better at this stage and leaves for his ship.

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Session 18: The Wages of Fear

AE-session18-animatedtable_20180812.jpgVarthor has avoided death or capture at the hands of the rune-heroes. In a desperate move, the sorcerer seems to have escaped by feather-falling down the frigid chasm into the white dragon’s lair. His fate is uncertain.

Zaugrum is captured after failing to escape with part of the golem-secrets. The death-cleric is more than willing to tell the rune-heroes all they would know. In fact he is eager to insure the demise of his erstwhile ally, Varthor, in the unlikely event he escapes a frozen death and returns to the orc garrison in the hill above. Zaugrum’s steel breastplate and staff are returned after agreeing to help the rune-heroes as best he can.

Against Zaugrum’s warnings (he wants nothing to do with investigating non-essential parts of the ruins), the party investigates kitchens and larders beyond the southwest door after resting for the night. Even Mavriy and Xar are feeling well enough to participate. Zaugrum warns of magically animated furniture. Finch, Krag and Mavriy identify the smashed remains of a cast-iron stove distorted into a bizarre shape.

Finch is surprised by the thundering notes of a heavy trencher table galloping across the room like a wooden warhorse. The warlock is slammed against the wall with the wind knocked out of him. While Finch crawls from under thrashing hardwood legs, Krag and Mavriy dismantle the ancient trencher. Mavriy is knocked across the room before Krag is able to smash the thing to quivering splinters with his magic warhammer.

During the brief fight, Zaugrum attempts to hang back from the fighting. He appears to be unused to hand-to-hand melee. Leelo and Xar try to force him into the kitchens where the table gallops back and forth. In desperation Zaugrum magically holds Leelo, thinking to escape these insane adventurers while they are distracted. Xar tackles the cleric, slamming him to the floor and breaking his concentration. Leelo and Xar again strip Zaugrum of armor and staff, then bind him securely.

The large kitchens contain only rusted pots, crockery and broken furniture (never looted for firewood). In the expansive larders are desiccated remains of ancient foodstuffs in sufficient quantity for a hundred or more residents. Judging by the remains, this place was abandoned centuries past, well after the end of the age of ice. Perhaps the gnomes who took refuge in this high place never realized the fimbulwinter ended, even long after Mulcarn was banished by the Amurites. Until returning orcs finally rediscovered the valley and tunneled in from below.

After a short rest and healing courtesy of Krag and a somewhat-surly Zaugrum, the party breaks into the small secret portal in a water-closet within the apartments adjacent to the library and drafting room. Zaugrum is left bound and gagged in a closet with Xar on guard. Previously, Mesmer used magic to read crumbling documents found in the library. Those taking refuge here were led by the gnome lord Dur-ge’tin and powerful archmage Arun-da’til. Finch checks the rubbings he made from the iron golem/statue and finds these names are included there as well. Two of the open and empty tombs were also chiseled with the names of this gnome lord and archmage. Apparently the leaders of the enclave never found their intended resting place.

A pair of secret adits are discovered in the narrow tunnel beyond. Leelo finds the south door opens to a natural cave with flagstone-floor, giving access to a rusted bronze chain ladder dropping into the depths of the chasm. The cave and ladder are not visible from waterfall at the east end of the golem-works. The elf closes the door against a blast of frigid air.

The north door opens to a large chamber of finished stonework with a large well or cistern opening in the center. The skeletons of orcs and gnomes lie about the floor. Except for a few broken weapons and split shields, everything was looted hundreds of years ago, presumably by victorious orcs. As the bodies were left where they fell, it seems the orcs abandoned the gnome halls soon after.

Just to the right of the secret portal is a door inscribed with a very old pentagram in gold ink. Mesmer determines the door was magically warded long ago to prevent the escape of some other-worldly entity. Finch tries to reach out with his awakened mind and is successful in contacting another entity trapped beyond the seal. The voice identities itself as Idalla, ‘angel of the host’, trapped here for ages by the mage who summoned her.

AE-session18-Ghost-of-Arun-da_Til_20180812.jpgJust as Leelo ventures forth to cautiously explore a hall leading west, a wave of cold washes over those within the chamber. A skeleton levitates into the air, still prostate, then half a minute later drops to the floor in a clatter of bones. What restless spirit lurks these halls?

A silvery twilight illuminates the dark chamber outside the study. Leelo witnesses a ghostly apparition emerge from the adjacent wall. A hollow moaning fills the room, “I will defend my murdered lord and family until the end of time…the debt incurred by my cowardice will be repaid!” Leelo, Krag and Finch attempt with some success to converse with the ghost. All suspect this is the ghost of Arun-da’til. It seems he fled during the orc assault, returning only to find his kinfolk dead. After that he kept a lonely vigil, slowly losing his mind. Eventually he died, but his tortured spirit could not depart the mountain.

Krag knows the closure of the Well of Souls by Ceridwen and Tebryn Arbandi prevents any souls from escaping the ethereal purgatory between creation and the vaults of the gods, even if Arun could be freed of his curse and laid to rest. Nevertheless, Leelo and Krag manage to convince the restless spirit they are here on a quest ordained by the king of the present-day Luchuirp empire. Arun-da’til agrees to let the rune heroes pass on the condition they depart the ruins immediately. The spectral form of the ancient mage fades away. This is not happy news for adventurers intent on looting! Despite the warning, Leelo, Mavriy and Mesmer begin investigating various adjacent rooms. All are empty save for a few skeletons. It appears everything was looted centuries ago, even furniture for firewood.

AE-session18-Idalla_20180812.jpgFinch abruptly breaks the golden seal and opens the door to reveal a study lined with books and scrolls. A dim light illuminates the chamber. At mention of scrolls and books, Mesmer overcomes his fear and peeks inside. He and Finch see a pale-skinned angel looking up from many open books and scrolls spread out across a table: “Thank you for breaking the seal. I have read the entire library of Arun-da’Til many times over.” The angel strides toward the door in haste.

Meanwhile, Krag is watching from the secret passage. He hears a rasp behind and turns to see a wet and freezing Varthor attempting to sneak past. Krag gives chase with a roar. The desperate Varthor casts spells, first a green ray embalming Krag with poisonous energy, then a second causing multiple images of the sorcerer to float before Krag’s eyes.

Just then, the ghost of Arun-da’til appears over the dark cistern, this time warped and bloated with rage. “You have freed the she-demon! My curse falls upon you with full force!” Leelo and Marviy feel the cold embrace of Arun-da’til. Mesmer is frozen in horror at the secret door. His face ages before the eyes of Finch. Streaks of silver appear in his long black locks. Leelo strikes with her silvered rapiers but they have little effect. Mesmer gibbers a spell of freezing cold, but this has no effect on the ghost.

A horrible scream fills the hall as Idalla transforms into a terrible demon. It rushes past Finch into the chamber where Arun is intent on leeching life from Leelo. The ghost and succubus both disappear from the realm of the living. The echoes of wails and screams reach the chamber for a moment longer, finally fading.

Krag has chased the sorcerer into the water closet. Xar hears the commotion and runs to block the door, leaving Varthor trapped with Krag. Even after a freezing sleepless night above the chasm, Varthor proves difficult to take down. He must have climbed back up via the bronze ladder and crouched in the freezing cave all night. Finally he surrenders to be bound and gagged, then tossed into the closet with Zaugrum.

Most of the day is spent searching the mostly-empty halls

  • 1. In a looted armory, Krag’s greed gets the better of him. The half-orc is surprised by an ancient automaton constructed long ago by the gnomes. Truly an amazing artifact of steel, brass and myriad interlocking parts, animated by some elemental force summoned from far realms. Unfortunately the machine must be pummeled to bits, though even the assorted gears, springs, spindles, pulleys and camshafts probably have substantial value to the gnomes of today.
  • 2. Mesmer is surprised by a half-dozen gnome skeletons animated by Arun-da’Til long ago, but escapes by a hairs-breadth using his spells of shield and misty-step. The skeletons are blocked in and left to rattle around in the bunk-room.
  • 3. An untouched chamber is discovered with floor covered by a great 25-foot rug woven with gnome symbols. Mesmer determines the run is magic. Carefully avoiding the rug, Mesmer loots a goodly amount of silver and a pair of gems from a heavy chest beneath a small pallet next to a writing desk: the only other furnishings. Krag tries to burn the rug, but the burning oil only makes a single black spot. Varthor and Zaugrum are carried from their prison. Krag and Mavriy then throw the hog-tied sorcerer out into the center of the carpet as Zaugrum looks on with obvious satisfaction. The magical rug wraps the sorcerer like a sausage in a skin. A minute later the struggles finally cease. The rug relaxes to reveal the broken body of Varthor, eyes and tongue bulging from his head. No one wants to venture out onto the rug to retrieve his corpse, so this becomes Varthor’s resting place.
  • 4. While listening at various doors, Finch sometimes hears very faint wails, hisses and howls. Nothing is found beyond most of the doors in the ruins. The sounds of a ghost and succubus grappling in the ether close by?
  • 5. The two wells are found to open into large cisterns. Light from Zaugrum’s ever-burning torches reveal the cisterns are filled with the bones of scores of skeletons, both gnome and orc. Even those dying of thirst might think twice about drinking from these cursed wells.
  • 6. Leelo finds secret doors leading to a chapel. Two piles of large bones sit in the far corners. Atop the altar is laid the skeleton of a gnome in rusty full-plate armor with a broken battleaxe upon his breast. The gnome lord Dur-ge’tin?

Before the party can investigate the chapel in more detail, a silvery light shines behind Mavriy. She makes the mistake of turning to look into the hideous countenance of Arun-da’til, now reduced to a barely recognizable blot of malice and rage. The half-demon sentinel of Esus drops to her knees as the decades fly past. Now a horned hag with prune face and frightful wig of iron gray crouches upon the slimy flagstones next to the cistern. The elderly Mavriy attempts a wild swing with her heavy pole arm. The weapon flies from her arthritic grasp and clatters across the flagstones. Mavriy stumbles away blinded by terror and crushed with age.

Mesmer, Leelo and Finch use all the magic at their disposal to finally destroy the spirit-form of Arun-da’til. The unbound demon Idalla watches from the ethereal border. Seeing Arun finally destroyed, the fiend reappears over the cistern and commands the rune-heroes to drop their weapons and surrender. In a final extreme effort using all their remaining magic, the party manages to force the shrieking fiend to retreat back into the spirit-realm. This is bad news, as Idalla is now unbound and can travel between the material and spirit-realms at will. Will it choose to stalk the rune heroes? Hopefully Idalla is not owed any services by other fiends. If so, it may be able to call on their aid.

Speaking of demons, who now resides in the crystal prison of Nightcaller? The unnamed shadow-demon originally bound in the whistle, or the succubus Azariel? The rune-heroes seem to be collecting an assortment of fiendish acquaintances.

The still-bound Zaugrum confirms the help of a powerful cleric will be needed to restore the lost youth of Mesmer and Mavriy, and this must be accomplished by sunset of the next day (around 30 hours from now). Zaugrum urges the party to return to Sheaim with the next mercenary supply train that should reach the valley in a few weeks: ”Commit yourselves now to the Ashen Veil, become catechumens in the legion of Agares. I see now that you are great heroes destined to bring about the renewal of creation. Join with us and your friends will be returned their stolen decades. We will all share in wealth and honors from Os-Gabella and the Emperor!"

Leelo still possesses the feather given her by the Ljosalfar Archmage Thessa. The feather can summon a mighty roc from the holy mountains above Evermore. Such a giant of the godswar could transport the rune-heroes anywhere they wish. The mountain base-camp is only 30 miles distant, castle Larchspur only 60 miles. Presumably High Runekeeper Tor Kra’hom waits there for the party’s successful return. Undoubtedly this mighty cleric of Kilmorph could banish any curse or wound, perhaps even death itself. Ithralia and King Gyr lie perhaps 120 miles to the south. A good deal of time remains before the final curse of Arun-Da’til becomes permanent.

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Session 17: Throneroom Throwdown

AE-session17-Varthor_20180805.jpgAfter shouting the command to attack Varthor, Zaugrum casts a spell toward the dais. Varthor is frozen into immobility. The armored half orc bodyguard does not seem to notice that his master is enspelled.

Varthor’s apprentices cast spells toward Finch, who avoids a dart of fire, but is chilled to the bone by a spectral hand. A pair of confused cultists charge from behind the nearest column and attack the warlock with poisoned blades. Finch dodges one but is slashed by the second. Fortunately the poison fails to take effect. Another cultist has heard Zaugrum’s order and charges screaming toward the dais. The last pair move to attack the soldiers who just fired arrows at Zaugrum.

Leelo sneaks up through deep shadows along the right wall. Mavriy charges up the center. As she passes, the bemused guard at her feet is stabbed to death by a cultist. Finch whispers dissonant music into the mind of the nearest apprentice. Blood gushes from eyes, ears and mouth as the stricken sorcerer flops about the floor like a fish. Krag follows close behind. Mesmer casts magic fire from the doorway, missing his target.

Finch convinces the fanatical cultists that he is on their side. Both turn and run up the left side of the hall with Finch and Krag close behind. Mesmer steps fastidiously over the corpse before the door and takes cover behind a nearby column. Mavriy is hit by arrows from the soldiers and magic from a surviving apprentice. She charges to confront the enemy spell-caster.

The soldiers and cultists fight hand-to-hand. The minions of Agares wear no armor, but are fast and deadly with their poisoned blades. Two soldiers are poisoned or cut down with no loss to the cultists. Varthor’s half-orc bodyguard makes a heroic cast with his spear, but Zaugrum takes effective cover behind a column.

Zaugrum commands a soldier to surrender: the chainmail-clad warrior promptly drops his sword and raises his hands without quite knowing why. With the exception of one blood-mad cultists, the death-cleric of Agares gains control of his followers, who begin to form a defensive perimeter around him. They fail to notice as Leelo flits behind them and up the hall like a ghost.

Varthor finally overcomes the spell of holding and immediately casts an overcharged ray of poisonous green energy into Finch. The ashen-faced half-elf crawls behind a column. Krag was expecting this and is ready with a spell of healing. Varthor performs the amazing feat of casting yet another spell on the heels of his first. Now instead of one sorcerer there is a revolving kaleidoscope of three!

Mesmer hurls a sphere of magical ice diagonally across the hall. It explodes, framing the last apprentice in a ring of ice, but she miraculously survives. Seconds later she drops to the floor spouting blood from the nose after a voice from beyond invades her sensorium. Finch is back in action! Mavriy vaults over the corpse and casts her spear up the dais toward the half-orc, who hasn’t once stepped from his master’s side. The bodyguard’s heavy armor and shield deflect the spear.

Varthor throws a clutch of glass globes across the dais. Where they break, vortexes of sparks and smoke erupt. Three dretches from the infernal realm appear to defend the dais. The rune heroes saw many of these foul little creatures working to complete a huge demon temple in Galveholm, sustained by the flesh and blood of sacrificed deviants, morons, beggars and worn-out slaves. The lowest ranks of Hyborem’s infernal legions are made up of these pathetic creatures, but in groups they can certainly threaten even well-armed mortals. Each dretch is reckoned to be the equal of two or even three mortal soldiers.

Leelo has been observing Varthor from the shadows of a column only 20 feet away. Thus far she has had no success purloining the sorcerer’s belongings, but now her mage hand manages to snag the pouch from whence came the crystal spheres. Varthor makes an unsuccessful grab for the pouch as it floats away. The sorcerer knows immediately what has happened, but can’t identify where the trickster is hiding. He turns to cast another ray of glowing green into Krag, who is briefly exposed as he runs to back up Mavriy. The cleric takes the full brunt of the poisonous blast and is fortunate to stagger back into cover. He bolsters Mavriy from a distance with a word of healing.

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Despite his broken leg and many contusions, Xar creeps up to the edge of the stairs and fires a few ineffective arrows across the 100-foot hall. An out-of-control cultist makes the mistake of charging up the steps toward Varthor’s champion. The minion’s head is cleaved from his shoulders by a steel battleaxe.

Zaugrum and his cultists slowly retreat toward the west end of the hall. Two poisoned soldiers and a murdered apprentice rise and shamble over to join the death-priest’s defensive circle. Powerful necromancy indeed, to animate corpses so rapidly!

Mavriy shouts a word of command. Varthor’s champion pushes his master aside, opens the door behind the throne, and disappears from view. The paladin of Esus charges up the dais to attack Varthor with her pole scythe. Varthor retaliates with a somewhat-weak ray of sickness. Dretches rush to their master’s defense, inflicting wounds with blacks claws and crooked fangs.

Varthor takes stock of the deteriorating situation. He charges down the dais toward the bronze double doors behind the column where Leelo hides, driving the gibbering dretches before him. Krag leaps over the campfire to intercept them. The last Sheaim soldier gets in his way only to have his head shattered by a backhanded blow from the warhammer.

Mesmer tries to sling a spell, but the sorcerer counterspells him. Leelo allows the dretches to lurch past, then stabs the real Varthor in the side, bypassing his floating mirror images. The Sheaim summoner screams and staggers forward. Finch hits him with his final spell: Eldritch blast.. The dretches engage Krag and Leelo. The elf trickster risks breaking away to pursue Varthor and is wounded by one of the Dretches. Krag sends one of the demons back to hell with a solid hit from his magic warhammer. The dretch expires in a cloud of smoke and sparks. A pool of oily black spreads across the flagstones to mix with the red blood of dying mortals.

Mavriy rushes through the door behind the throne to confront the confused orc champion in a large torch-lit library. The half-orc regains his senses and jumps up onto a huge marble table, roaring a challenge to all comers. Mavriy is happy to accept and the two armored warriors begin exchanging mighty blows. Finch follows Mavriy into the library. Mesmer rushes in behind Finch. In the foyer of the library Mesmer notices three satchels. Spoils culled from the library by Varthor and Zaugrum?

Zaugrum and has eight servitors have taken up positions in the western entry to the hall. Presumably they will wait to see who is victorious. Xar has retreated and is nowhere to be seen.

Varthor desperately pulls open one of the huge bronze portals. Before he can escape, Leelo puts his weakened mind to sleep with a spell. The sorcerer slumps halfway through the door. Beyond the bronze portals Leelo sees a small factory filled with scaffolding, forges (at least one burning) and metal golem-parts lying all around. A swift stream of water bisects the space, flowing east into a large natural cavern. A pair of small stone bridges join the two halves of the factory.

Krag destroys another dretch. Hearing the shouts of combat from the space behind the throne, he runs to assist. The last dretch latches on to his leg and takes a chunk out of his rump. Krag ignores the pain and struggles up the dais. In the library behind, Finch and Mavriy are fighting a losing battle with the axe-wielding half-orc champion. Mavriy lies on the floor bleeding after striking her enemy a blow that should have felled him. The champion turns to finish off Finch, who has jumped up on the table to flank him, but slips on the bloodstained marble. The surprised half-orc waves his arms frantically then falls backward off the table to be impaled upon Mavriy’s pole-arm. Finch renders aid to Mavriy just in time to save her life.

Leelo finishes off the last dretch with her silvered rapiers. After removing all of Varthors equipment, she attempts to bind His arms and legs. Normally this would be no large task, but it seems Varthor is a light sleeper. He wakes and the two struggle. Varthor is the stronger and throws Leelo to the side, then flees through the half-open portal into the workshop.

Leelo is now alone in the corpse-strewn chamber. Zaugrum and his guard have advanced back across the hall and are even now climbing the steps. For what purpose? Leelo disappears into the shadows unseen. Cultists and zombies take up positions atop the dais. Ignoring all else, the cleric and several of his allies take up the satchels in the foyer and begin to retreat. These must contain the ancient secrets of golem manufacture!

Mesmer gambles on a web spell. The alcove is packed with sheets of sticky webs. One cultist and the animated corpse of a sorcerer are trapped. Zaugrum manages to dodge the webs and break out into the throne room, leaving behind one satchel and two minions. Leelo sees what is transpiring and casts another sleep spell. Two cultists collapse into magical slumber upon the dais. Zaugrum kicks one awake as he passes, grabs a dropped satchel, and sprints into the corpse-strewn hall. Before making it too far he is intercepted by a dragonskin-clad elf darting out of the shadows.

Meanwhile a comedy of errors ensues as the rune heroes trapped in the library attempt to hack and burn their way through the mass of magical webs. All become stuck at first. Finally , Mesmer and Krag force through to join Leelo in the throneroom. On the way past, Krag splatters the brains of a sleepy-eyed cultist crouching behind the throne.

Finch is hanging upside down next to a zombie struggling to reach Mavriy where she lies unconscious. He manages to hack the zombie in half, disabling it and saving Mavriy again. A shower of entrails and lukewarm blood rain down upon the pallid warlock. Finch will spend the rest of the battle hanging upside down between the glassy-eyed corpse of a cultist and a twitching collection of zombie parts. Which is probably for the best since he has no spells left and is bleeding from numerous wounds.

Zaugrum’s remaining three minions are massacred by Krag, Mesmer and Leelo. The priest is weakened by wounds and thus vulnerable to Leelo’s sleep magic. The unconscious death-cleric is quickly bound and gagged. Five battered rune-heroes finally stand victorious in the silent throne room.

Just inside the workshop are several piles of metal parts. Mesmer and Finch recognize these as important tools, molds and parts described by the Luchuirp engineers. Mesmer finds a number of powerful spells packed inside the satchels, ready for transport out of the ruins. These are the spells sought by the Luchuirp enchanters.

Krag finds that the northern exits from the throne room have been sealed with silvered wax and bear both pentagrams and thaumaturgic circles painted in glittering silver, gold and ruby pigments. A similar seal is found on a secret door in a suite of living quarters east of the library. Records found in the library and chambers beyond indicate these were the spartan quarters of a gnome lord who ruled this isolated bastion at the end of the Age of Ice: Dur-ge’tin. The name of a gnome archmage who inhabited the redoubt is also recorded in the library: Arun-da’til. Many of the spells and documents were signed by Arun’s hand. Zaugrum later admits to sealing these passages, as they are haunted by a fearsome ghost and possibly infernals as well.

Leelo, Xar and Finch search high and low for Varthor, but find no trace. Despite this, there can be no question that the sorcerer must have fled east to the end of the workshop cavern where the stream plunges down into a vast pit more than 60’ deep. During interrogation, Zaugrum confirms that Varthor knows the feather-fall spell (useful for mountaineering expeditions) and so could have floated down the freezing chasm. Zaugrum also confirms that the white dragon, Frostbite, emerged from this icy pit several days ago to ransack the workshop. Fortunately the Sheaim were able to prevent the dragon from entering the hall. The expedition planned to leave on the morrow, but of course those plans have been vetoed by the rune-cursed. It is questionable if Varthor could survive for long in those chilly depths where the dragon seems to lair.

Zaugrum takes his capture philosophically and proves more than willing to answer any questions and even help the rune-heroes, as long as some part of the plan involves his returning alive to the Sheaim empire. Finding and killing Varthor would be a big plus.

Interrogation results

  • 1. What will the sorcerer do if he gets back to Sheaim?

Varthor will likely seek refuge with the orcs above to wait for the next resupply expedition (2-4 weeks), since he cannot possibly survive the mountains alone. If he makes it back to Sheaim, Varthor will likely report me as lost during the expedition, and everyone else killed by the dragon or Luchuirp mercenaries (yourselves). However, this will look bad for Varthor (much worse if I return later to contradict his story), so he may try to use the orcs to regain the golem-technology, assuming he can somehow make it back to the upper caves.

  • 2. Describe the detailed power structure in Sheaim.

You guys already know this from your previous adventures in the Sheaim empire (and the wiki: http://arcanearth.obsidianportal.com/wikis/sheaim). The empire is ruled by two major factions, Os-Gabella the ‘Queen of Storms’ and Emperor Arbandi. There are other factions, notably the Ashen Veil religion (whose holy city is in the capitol).

Zaugrum represents Os-Gabella, but also the Veil. Varthor is an agent of the emperor. Once the captain leading their expedition was carried off by the dragon (see below), Zaugrum and Varthor began to scheme against one another in earnest: neither planned on sharing glory with the other.

  • 3. What do you know about the dragon?

Frostbite is reported to have moved in only 6 or 8 weeks ago (the orcs are unclear). Since then the lake hasn’t thawed with the arrival of spring. The dragon previously ambushed us in the mountains during the climb up to the valley where it killed three soldiers/guides and carried off the Sheaim officer in charge of the expedition (resulting in us having to bribe the orcs with most of our supplies and gold). Four days ago the dragon climbed up the frozen waterfall and ransacked the golem-forge, eating an apprentice and two acolytes, but we were able to block the doors and deny it entry into the hall. I advise against camping in the forge room…In fact we should leave soon…

Loot

  1. 75gp, 140sp, 7×50gp gems, 4×100gp gems, magic stiletto (d3 damage; 15/30 thrown range; DC12 con save or slowed for 1 hour), potion of warmth (8 hours: prevents hypothermia and -1d6 cold damage per hit), 6 ever-burning torches, calligraphy tools (quills, powders, waxes and inks – 5lbs, from Zaugrum)
  2. 2 steel breastplates, 3 chainmail shirts, 4 shields, 6 leather armor, 1 battleaxe, 9 short swords, 3 short bows, 50 arrows, 5 daggers, 40 man-days rations (~200lbs weapons and armor, 80lbs rations)
  3. 60 lbs of folios, tomes, spells and schematics for golem creation along with folios containing the Wizard spells Mending (cantrip), Conjure Minor Elementals (4th), Animate Objects (5th) and Conjure Elemental (5th) (total weight: 60lbs).
  4. 30 lbs of specialized tools and parts needed to manufacture stone or iron golems.
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Session 16: Zaugrum and Varthor

AE-session16-Xeloid_20180729.jpgThe rune heroes begin a cautious exploration of the great starry vault before them. Xar is able to confirm the twilight garden of fungus may once have been cultivated, but has since gone wild for perhaps centuries. Most of the varieties look similar to what deep-dwelling mountain gnomes grow in their delves beneath the Dragonspines. Mesmer’s snow-owl familiar flies a short circuit around the cave to determine it’s basic dimensions.

The corpses of several huge worm-like insects are discovered a short distance from the entry-tunnel. The nine-foot long segmented worms feature large green eyes and clusters of yard-long tentacles around their chitinous mouth-parts. They were stabbed with spears, hacked with swords and shot with arrows. Strange black pustules are also in evidence. Krag determines these are poisoned wounds, but they appear to have started from inside the creature rather than inflicted from the outside.

The tracks of a dozen or more man-sized humanoids crash back and forth through the patches of fungus. A wild melee took place here, but no other corpses are found. The tracks least west to east where they end at a pair of locked bronze doors. The lock is heavy, designed for a massive key or cranking tool. Leelo determines the door has been opened with the key recently, then locked again from the other side.

Mavriy and Krag explore west a short distance while Leelo tinkers with the bronze portal. A high ledge comes into view at the far end of the cavern. Suddenly Mavriy falls to her knees, head split by a blinding white pain. The paladin stands and staggers forward to seek out her assailant. Krag follows close behind. Finch and Mesmer briefly linger behind a stalagmite near the entrance to see what transpires.

AE-session16-cavern_20180729.jpgMavriy glimpses a shadowy form floating high in the great cavern. The brain-like creature trails long barbed tentacles. Her vision is blotted out by another savage psychic attack. Krag thinks better of proceeding and begins backing away. Mavriy staggers back down the path, stunned and unable to see any target for a spear-cast.

Finch and Mesmer flee to the bronze portal. There Mesmer happens upon broken shards of a crystal sphere the size of two fists. While in Galveholm Mesmer saw these spheres used to imprison summoned creatures for later use, but the Sheaim conjurers guard their secrets carefully. The methods of construction and the activating spells for these ‘summoning spheres’ are not generally known.

A terrifying game of monster-and-mouse begins. Krag and Finch are both stunned by powerful psychic attacks before the party regroups at the narrow constricted east end of the cavern. Mavriy reaches her friends in time for Finch to pour a healing potion down her throat. This returns Mavriy to her senses. She quickly heals Krag. In turn Krag heals Finch, who has collapsed head-first into a bank of man-high mushrooms. Just then the monstrous lurker comes into view, spotted first by Mesmer and Xar. The gnome ranger uses Maseach magic to mark the creature as hunted. Fire, lightning and magic arrows strike into the floating horror. The creature proves immune to lightning, but is quickly scorched and blackened with magical fire. The monster retreats back into the darkness after Finch responds with a dose of it’s own medicine.

After an hour the rune-heroes finally track the beast to it’s lair. Leelo directs Xar to climb the wall up to the ledge where a trail of ichor leads. The beast ambushes Xar as he pulls Leelo up with silken rope. Both tumble down the wall. Xar lies stricken upon the stone floor. While Krag revives the gnome henchman, Mesmer casts spider climb on Finch, who scuttles up to the hidden cave. Finch sends the beast reeling back into it’s lair with another blast of psychic power. Mesmer, Leelo and Mavriy are soon on hand. A minute later the bizarre creature lies in a heap of gristle and ropy tentacles within what appears to be the lair of the worm-creatures found dead in the cavern below.

Mesmer inspects the corpse and determines it is a Xeloid, one of the horrors summoned from far realms by the Sheaim conjurers in Galveholm and a few other cities featuring the permanent planar gates of bronze, glass and marble. These giant clockwork engines are driven by magic, worked day and night by Sheaim wizards, sorcerers, warlocks and clerics to conjure assistance from across the multiverse.

A good deal of treasure has accumulated in the worm-creatures lair including three magic potions carried in by gnome explorers decades past. Xar recognizes frost resistance and climbing potions created by mountain gnome enchanters. Leelo takes possession of a mithril-and-bone short bow of Svartalfar origin. Mesmer determines the bow is highly enchanted.

After a rest the rune-heroes explore the mushroom-forest top to bottom over a period of five hours. Mesmer finally homes in on a magic ring of protection worn by a skeleton mired deep in the fungus beds. Finding this rare item would have been impossible without the ability to detect magical energies from afar. After lengthy discussion, the ring finally ends up with Krag. The party retires to the carrion crawler’s lair for a much-needed rest.

The next day Leelo picks the lock on the bronze portal. Marble and stone stairs climb to a small dark chamber high above. Leaving this for later, the adventurers return to explore the west end of the great cavern. Here they find steps leading up to a broad ledge encompassing the western fifth of the cave. The trail of recent explorers leads down from the steps, undoubtedly the Sheaim party who bribed Yarrack and Ulfe weeks ago to gain entry into the undermountain ruins. But for what purpose beyond mere treasure hunting? Mesmer first has his familiar fly up to have a quick look.

23 tombs of carven marble stand around the periphery of the ledge. Only three are sealed. The remaining 20 are empty, the heavy lids slid back uniformly two feet from each end, as if in readiness for the arrival of their future occupants. All bear Luchuirp names and symbols from antiquity. Xar notes the names of mythical warriors, engineers and mages who were known to be present at the final battle below the walls of the Illian capitol at the end of the Age of Magic.

The southwest corner of the ledge is frigid in the extreme. A plug of translucent ice blocks a narrow tunnel. The ice seems solid, probably very thick. Could ‘Frostbite’ the white dragon be the source of the intense cold emanating from this area of the undermountain?

At the north end stands a huge iron statue 12’ high, of a stylized gnome warrior in archaic armor bearing a giant hammer, all strangely un-rusted. Close inspection reveals that the statue is complex, with articulating parts and internal mechanisms, toothed wheels, spindles and camshafts. Mesmer determines the iron warrior radiates very faint enchantment, abjuration and evocation magics. An iron golem? Enough to make the strongest adventurers pause to consider. In the end the rune-heroes determine that the golem may well still be functional. The three sealed tombs are left untouched.

The party cautiously ascends the steps behind the bronze portal. Tracks of the Sheaim interlopers precede them and give away the location of a secret door within a blue and gray marble octagon at the top of the stairs. Beyond the not-so-secret door is a short flight of polished marble stairs climbing to a single door of bronze and stone. Two obvious doors in the octagon-chamber prove to be triggers for traps: three stone statues slam bronze axes down upon the floor when the first door is opened (from a safe distance using Mesmer’s mage-hand). Beyond the false doors are blank faces of stone. More of the quirky Luchuirp love of craft, machines and traps for their own sake.

Unfortunately this makes a colossal noise that reverberates through the floor and walls. Leelo hears scurrying and hushed whispers beyond the door at the top of the steps. The elf is able to detect light from a space beyond, possibly torchlight. Also, a thin wire attached to pots, pans and cans. She is able to disarm the noise-maker, though it likely doesn’t matter at this point.

AE-session16-Zaugrum_20180729.jpgAfter debating various stratagems including sending a tiny spider familiar under the door (such creatures have a very limited range of vision, usually measured in a few yards), Mesmer cracks the door open. Beyond is a columned hall of dressed stone and marble, like a feast hall or royal audience hall with a dais and gnome-sized throne at the far end. Then someone shoves at the door from the other side, but Mavriy holds it open. At this point Mesmer hears a voice inside his head, a magical message: “How many are you? This is our domain and our claim, we can flank you at any time, so beware!”. A series of magical communications follow, finally leading to an impasse when both sides prove unwilling to give any substantive information about their motive for coming to this remote place high atop the Dragonfangs.

Finally Finch steps out in full view. He recognizes Zaugrum, the Veil cleric from Nininsnal and Kuldevind. Zaugrum in turn recognizes Finch, who has intentionally adopted the disguise he wore at the time of their first association. The two exchange pleasantries and mutual lies about their purposes for being here.

AE-session16-Varthor_20180729.jpgAn unknown Sheaim sorcerer hides behind a half-orc champion atop the dais. Other soldiers, apprentices and Veil cultists hide around the hall ready to ambush intruders. The sorcerer, naming himself ‘Varthor’, uses another message cantrip to whisper a traitorous offer into Finch’s mind:

“Help me destroy this foolish tool of Os-Gabella and we will return in triumph to Galveholm together, to enjoy wealth and honor from our lord and emperor Tebryn Arbandi!”

Clearly things are not all roses within the Sheaim expedition. In a classic double-cross, Finch uses his awakened mind to send a message to Zaugrum warning him of Varthor’s immanent betrayal. Zaugrum does not seem at all surprised. He decides to leverage the possible help of these new arrivals to finally be rid of Varthor. The Veil death-cleric thunders, “Varthor has betrayed us! In the name of Agares, slay the traitor!”

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Mavriy bursts through the door, knocking down the soldier who was attempting to hold it closed. A nearby Veil cultists draws a poisoned blade and advances on her previous comrade. Chaos erupts in the ancient hall as screaming cultists charge with poisoned blades, soldiers attack erstwhile allies, and sorcerers sling spells in every direction.

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Session 15: Yarrack and Ulfe

AE-session15-Yarrack_20180715.jpgLeelo again negotiates the crooked chimney, but the orcs have abandoned the cook-cave and blocked the exit tight with rocks, timbers and earth. A week would be required to tunnel through and the orcs would no doubt be well-prepared on the other side.

While the rune-heroes debate strategies for entering the mountain, an orc waving a dirty white flag shows up around the hillside. The lone orc extends an invitation from the orc chieftan Yarrack, “Two of you come visit us without weapons and bring wine, food and coin! Maybe Yarrack, Ulfe and Burdug let you through like the other weaklings from sorcery-land”. Leelo and Finch agree to attempt the parley, though they have precious little gold or food and no wine at all. The emissary leads them up the long switchback trail and into the mountain. Orcs with crossbows and spears lie waiting for uninvited guests that might attempt the climb. Within the roughly worked cave beyond the top of the trail are arrow slits pierced through the stone, some visible, probably many more hidden among the cracks, nooks and crannies in the natural stone.

At the top of the cave is a squared chamber with steps climbing toward landings above. A huge orc in bronze plate armor waits at the top. Behind him a pair of half-open Luchuirp portals allow a glimpse of the chasm and rope bridge. At the first landing is a monstrous mountain ogre in bronze armor. A huge great-axe leans against the wall nearby. Two pony-sized dire wolves snarl and tug at a pair of chains held by the grinning ogre. “I am Ulfe…you like my pets?”.

Finch and Leelo are forced to dodge past one wolf to approach the chieftain. Finch makes it past by a hairs breadth, but Ulfe maliciously lets out a few links for Leelo. A snapping fang nips her heel, drawing blood. These savage mercenaries are even more insufferable than the Mercurians, without the manners.

AE-session15-negotiation_20180715.jpg

Despite the intimidation, Leelo and Finch manage to con Yarrack into giving them passage through their areas and into the ruins where ancient gnomes once took refuge from Mulcarn’s fimbulwinter. Half of all treasure retrieved from the ruins is promised to the orcs. A promise Leelo and Finch certainly have no intention of keeping. Leelo and Finch are forced to run the humiliating gauntlet of fangs on their way out, to the immense humor of Ulfe, Yarrack and many orcs hidden behind arrow slits. This is a rare treat for orcs and ogres assigned to this isolated outpost with little to do between rotations of new mercenary trainees. Leelo seethes with suppressed rage. She vows these insulting orcs will die on her blade before all is said and done.

Finch is forced to carry all the weapons, aside from a few hidden examples the orcs can’t identify. The rest of the disarmed party is led by separate paths through the orc quarters wearing ineffective blindfolds, so they get a good look at some of the common areas. The orcs unblock a rusty iron gate giving access to a long and wide hall carved top to bottom with scenes from the Luchuirp kingdom at it’s height. The scenes date to before the Luchuirp defeat at the Illian capitol, an event which marked the start of Mulcarn’s reign. In the center is a natural fissure leading down into dark depths. The orcs re-block the passage behind the rune-heroes.

Finch is led by a different route through secret doors and what seems to be a Shaman’s lair connected to the hall with the iron grate. Perhaps this shaman is the unseen ‘Burdug’ mentioned by the emissary and Yarrack? Finch is able to observe how the secret doors are opened, but only from the outer side. The orcs leave Finch alone in the empty shaman’s quarters. There seems to be no way to open the secret door from this side, though Finch discovers a small socket or keyhole near the floor.

After Leelo picks the rusty lock in the iron grate, everyone inspects the hall. Below the fissure comes the distant sound of running water and a curious buzzing sound. The buzzing soon resolves to a flight of four squeaking stirges flying up from the cave. They are quickly dispensed with, though Krag loses a goodly pint of blood first. Seeing the orcs have abandoned the area, Finch and Leelo scour the shaman’s lair for valuables or additional secret doors. No doors are found, but two bags of Sheaim silver are looted from beneath a lose flagstone.

To the north end of the massive hall is a 7’ high gnome face carved in stylized angles upon a stone door. The long-burned remains of a few orcs lie nearby. Above the door are a series of stone spouts. The rune-heroes are unable to determine the operation of the trap or how to disable it, so Leelo uses mage-hand to pull the door’s bronze lever from far beyond the burned remains. A shower of liquid fire shoots across the floor where the fissure leads down below the hall. Grinding sounds signal the operation of a counterweight resetting the trap. After a few more such displays, the power stored in the ancient weights is finally expended. Inside is a small space with an intricate mechanism of brass pipes and tanks, unfortunately these contain only the dregs of a sticky flammable substance.

The rune-heroes descend down the fissure by means of steps carved into the native stone. After 40 paces the cave narrows and the temperature drops. A rushing stream of water bisects the cave and runs down one of two passages. Beyond the dry passage is a large cave with steps carved along one side. Other passages exit the cave, including one where the stream passes beneath a low wall. Ice and frost rime this opening and the entire south end of the cave. The temperature in unnaturally cold there, surely well below freezing. Could Frostbite lair somewhere beyond?

A glimpse into a large cavern reveals a number of large rectangular stone blocks arranged around the walls. The explorers choose to head down one of the other caverns after spying a 12’ high iron statue towering over the tombs or shrines.

While exploring various caverns a huge cave bear is slain, providing ample food and a huge bearskin as well. Soon the entry to the cave-bear’s lair is discovered: a very long siege tunnel just wide enough to admit one warrior. The long tunnel exits near the pile of ancient tailings on the north side of the mountain. The tunnel is partially collapsed in places, requiring some tight squeezes to pass. This looks to have been driven by orcs or other humanoids perhaps centuries in the past and subsequently used by various denizens of the valley to gain access to the caves below the Fang. Perhaps this is the answer to the fate of the gnomes who took refuge here during the Age of Ice?

AE-session15-luchuirp-warhammer_20180715.jpgA cave carpeted in golden-brown mold is discovered farther into the network of natural caves. The mold partially covers a number of skeletons, either explorers, ancient orcs who dared too much, or gnomes. Using fire magic, mage hand and other tricks, a magic warhammer and helmet chased with gold and silver is retrieved from the deadly yellow mold covering the farthest cave. The fantastic weapon is made of glittering gray adamantium chased with gold. A rare find! The hammer bears the inscription “Gyr-uth’kaliz” in archaic Luchuirp script. Krag takes possession of the magic hammer as he’s skilled with these type of weapons, not to mention a blacksmith.

After resting the night in a hidden camp outside the old sapper tunnel, the heroes again descend into the caves. The narrow tunnel at the end of the cave network expands out into a huge vault outlined by thousands of dim pinpoints, like stars flung across a night sky. While the general extent of the huge cavern is discernible, the phosphorescence provides only the dimmest illumination even for those with dark-vision. To those without, such as Mesmer, the cavern is a giant starry void. The floor is crowded with fungus and mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, some almost five feet tall, but several paths clear of fungus are visible. What could create pathways so far from the surface where the orcs fear to tread?

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Session 14: Valley of the Fang

AE-session14-MtOgre_20180708.jpgThe Valley of the Fang seems within reach, but weather and mountains conspire to thwart the rune-heroes. On the fourth day in the Dragonfangs an avalanche roars toward the explorers as they cross a broad snowy slope. Mesmer has time to open a portal into a small extradimensional closet (a trick he learned in Galveholm). Finch and Mavriy sprint for the window hanging in mid-air where Mesmer beckons frantically. Finch tumbles inside as Mesmer closes off the portal. A tide of snow blots out the world beyond.

Krag and Mavriy are nearby but unable to reach the portal in time. Both half-orc and demonling are swept away by a thundering wall of snow. Xar and Leelo are too far to reach Mesmer’s magical shelter. Xar doesn’t run. Instead the mountain gnome tucks into a ball. Leelo follows his example.

Krag feels himself lifted and buoyed along by the unstoppable wave. The tumbling hurricane of white finally comes to a stop. Dark silence envelops Krag until he conjures some holy fire to melt away the ice and form a cavity of sorts. The half-orc exerts himself to dig. Which way is up? The killing cold quickly returns. Krag drifts off into a pleasant lassitude.

Silence returns as the snow finally settles. Leelo and Mavriy are lucky to be only lightly buried. Both dig out of the snow widely separated and 200 yards from where Mesmer’s disembodied head and arm wave just above a new layer of virgin snow. Mesmer and Finch climb out of their magical refuge and look around. Measured by the portal opening, almost seven feet of new snow covers the slope! Xar and Krag are nowhere to be seen.

Using a rope left trailing from Mesmers lifesaving null-space, the adventurers are able to quickly orient themselves and begin searching for Xar and Krag. Mesmer is the first to locate Xar buried not far from his original location. The mountain gnome’s natural resistance to cold serves him well. Xar emerges fit and ready to help search for Krag.

When the rune-heroes find Krag an hour later, he is blue and stiff, his extremities blackened with cold. Krag will be unable to function effectively for the next few days. The next day Mesmer carries him along on a floating disc of force, arms and legs hanging over the side as he’s towed along above the snow. Having a wizard in the freezing mountains is proving to have value after all! Never mind that it’s likely Mesmer or Finch who triggered the avalanche.

Xar’s run of bad luck continues. While guiding Finch across a narrow ledge, he’s struck by falling rocks. Finch wards away the hail of blows using a blue-swirling sheath of magical force. The rest of the day is spent in a camp below a cliff judged safe by Xar. Unfortunately it is not too be. Leelo is guarding the camp later that night when she spots a hulking shape moving along the cliffs above. Mesmer is simultaneously woken by the ‘ping’ from magical alarms placed around the camp and along the cliff.

Krag and Finch are pummeled by head-sized rocks cast down from the cliff by a pair of huge mountain ogres. Both manage to stumble half-asleep toward cover. Finch sends one ogre stumbling back holding it’s head in club-like hands. Leelo runs about the snowfield below the cliff sending arrow after arrow up into the beasts, but the individual darts seem to have little effect.

Leelo catches sight of a 3rd ogre moving down the slope between two massive boulders. The brute is obviously trying to sneak up behind the party. She can only afford to keep one eye on it as the main focus is the pair of ogres atop the cliff.

Finch again employs his eerie powers. The second Ogre succumbs to gales of insane laughter. Mavriy shadow-steps up to the cliff behind the prostrate ogre and attempts to roll if off the cliff, but the bellowing monster is simply too huge. The other ogre recovers and approaches Mavriy undetected until within only five paces. Mavriy gives up trying to roll the laughing ogre off the cliff. She wades the partially-frozen stream right at the brink where it plunges down the cliff and stands with her back to the edge with the second ogre bearing down on her. Mesmer conjures the illusion of a shouting dwarf warrior to distract the stupid ogre, saving Mavriy from at least one murderous blow. A second is deflected by her shield and heavy plate armor.

AE-session14-MountainOgres_20180708.jpgKrag has healed himself and Finch of their wounds. He turns his attention to healing Xar, who was also hit by a rock. Before Mavriy steps off the cliff to be caught by her companion’s feather-fall spell, the ogre accidentally flings his giant club off the cliff! Mavrey summons the power of Esus to smite the disarmed ogre with both shadows and wrath. The mighty ogre finally slumps dead into the snow.

Meanwhile the laughing ogre finally recovers, only to be simultaneously blasted with globes or raging fire flung by Mesmer and arcs of eldritch power from Finch. Mavriy uses her pole-scythe to reach across the steam and decapitate the burning ogre.

Thinking to take advantage of the confusion, the ogre lurking down the slope rushes forward in an attempt to grapple Leelo with outstretched arms. This was a serious miscalculation. The spritely elf rolls nimbly away from the clumsy beast. Leelo, Xar and Krag pummel the raging ogre mercilessly. Finch and Mesmer turn their attention from clifftop to slope. The lone remaining enemy is quickly hacked, burned, stabbed and pummeled into ogre tartar.

The weather turns bad. Exhaustion threatens and several party members are still wounded. The explorers hole up that night and all the next day in a snow-shelter constructed by Xar. Around mid-day Krag and Mesmer are on guard duty outside the shelter when Mesmer spots a winged white shape through a gap in the flurries of snow. A great serpentine beast is circling the camp! Both attempt to sneak back to the shelter unseen. Krag panics and becomes stuck for a critical moment. Inside the shelter the pair tell of what they saw. Xar’s pupils dilate as he begins a monotone chant. A death song, or a ward against evil?

A few seconds later the mountain-gnome snaps out of it and rushes from the ice shelter. After trading dubious glances, the rune-heroes follow. Over the next hour a chase through the snow plays out. Above beat the wings of some terrible beast hunting the party. Finally refuge is found within a deep cave where the party passes the rest of the day and night as well. Here Xar identifies the beast as a dragon, one of the children of Drifa, creation of Mulcarn and first mother of all white dragons still haunting the high frigid places of the world. Outside the weather has cleared. Tentative exploration reveals the dragon seems to has given up its quarry. The rune heroes are able to sneak away with carcasses still thawed.

A fall on the seventh day is rendered moot by Leelo’s feather fall spell. Xar was helping Mesmer negotiate a crevasse when the wizard panicked and pulled him off the edge. It’s obvious by now that this expedition would be impossible without an interlocking web of magic and skill. Should a key member be lost, leaving the mountains may become difficult or even impossible. Leelo fingers the magical feather given to her by Thessa, archmage of the Ljosalfar. Unfortunate that Thessa (the real Thessa…) left Ithralia before she could receive the promised green pearl in exchange. What could have caused Thessa to leave so precipitously? Could the Svartalfar and their new Illian allies already be threatening the Light Elf borders?

Fortunately, Leelo’s magical feather is not needed just yet. A successful day of climbing brings the explorers to the edge of a five mile long by three mile wide valley high in the northwest corner of the Dragonfangs. The valley is filled with pines, tall, spindly and widely spaced, but trees nonetheless. The air is warmer in the valley below, perhaps 50 degrees at mid-day. A mile from the south edge is a 500’ tall hill surmounted by a fang-shaped tor of bare stone 100’ high. This must be ‘The Fang’ of legend.

There is very little snow here other than around a small frozen lake at the eastern base of the hill. Unlike the rest of the valley, the lake is completely frozen and surrounded by a border of snow several hundred yards across. The western shore of the lake is concealed from view by an icy cliff. Small rivulets of thawing water trickle toward the hill and lake from the valley walls, but refreeze before reaching the lake. Other streams disappear from view around the base of the Fang.

There is a deserted camp just west of the Fang, recently occupied for an extended period of time by hundreds of humanoids. The remains of barrels, casks, shelf-halves and campfires are everywhere. Several hundred of the tall spindly pines have been chopped around the camp. A clear trail leads through the damp turf to the southwest end of the valley. No sign of occupation is evident, other than plentiful small game which Xar is able to catch, affording the party a hearty meal of stew. A welcome change after nine days of the insipid magic berries!

In the failing light the party verifies the camp was used by orcs, hundreds of them, over extended periods. The discarded bits of broken equipment are all of Sheaim manufacture. Mesmer summons forth his snow owl to scout the area. From on high a switchback trail becomes apparent on the west slope of the Fang, terminating at a roughly-worked cavern entrance. Also visible is a pile of ancient mine tailings along the north side of the hill. Any mine shaft or other opening is concealed by brush and clusters of spindly pines.

The next day the party heads toward the base of the switchback trail, but smells cook-fire smoke on the way. The day is spent searching high and low for the source among tumbles of rocks jutting from the turf along the southern base of the Fang. Finally Finch stumbles upon a deep crevice between two boulders jutting from the hillside. A trace of smoke weaves and wends up from a narrow opening at the bottom. The party chokes off the chimney with rolled-up turf then hides and waits to see who arrives to investigate. Hours pass. Just as the rune heroes give up and unblock the chimney, Leelo spots a group of orcs moving along the hillside. All are well-equipped with Sheaim mail and armor.

Everyone attempts to resume their ambush positions, but Finch is spotted while in the process of urinating down the chimney…seemed like a good idea at the time. The orcs seem well-trained and equipped. Four begin launching quarrels from crossbow, while four charge forward swinging bronze greataxes. Krag and Mavriy take glancing hits. A few seconds later, three orcs lie burned or bleeding upon the rocky turf. Krag knocks a fourth unconscious. The four crossbow-orcs immediately turn tail and flee back toward the west side of the hill. The fleet-footed Leelo leads the chase, but the orcs know this terrain well and slip away. Xar identifies clear tracks leading around to the west side of the hill where the switchback trail leads up to the cave opening spotted by Mesmer’s owl.

AE-session14-orccave_20180708.jpgThe party hurriedly returns to the chimney, where the smoke has dwindled to nothing. Mesmer conjures up a new cat familiar and sends it exploring. Unfortunately the cat makes a bad step and tumbles down the chimney for some distance before dying. Next Leelo is magicked with spider-climbing ability and invisibility. The invisible rogue climbs quickly down the slippery, sooty chimney. After 80’ of crooked twisting squeezes, Leelo reaches the ceiling of a roughly-worked cave. A bed of coals with spits and pots sufficient to feed dozens, perhaps scores, spreads out below the chimney. Looks like the last meal was probably served before the chimney was blocked.

Leelo creeps through the passage beyond, passing by a wicker-and-wood grate blocking a cell where two small figures hunch miserably. The caves are filled with stacks of barrels and crates of provisions, most broken open and emptied. A long hall of worked stone ends in a pair of heavy bronze-bound stone doors. These are obviously ancient Luchuirp craft. Similar architecture is common in the Luchuirp capitol today. Peering through the lighted crevice between the doors, Leelo glimpses one, perhaps two orcs in scale coats lounging in the shadows cast by natural stone columns. Beyond the orcs a wood and rope bridge spans a wide chasm. A pair of truly massive portals are half open at the other side. A pair of glowing braziers flank the portal.

The invisible elf returns to the wicker prison wall and silently opens the simple lock. Not much time remains before both magical climbing and invisibility expire. Leelo reveals herself to the two prisoners, each not much larger than a halfling or small elf. They turn out to be a male and female mountain gnome with white hair filthy and matted. Both are wounded and hungry but young and strong, still able to move and climb. Leelo leads them back to the cooking cave and boosts them up into the crevice. Both are skilled climbers and make way for Leelo quickly. Not a moment too soon as the sound of orc voices echo through the caves. Other than a minor slip halfway, the three are able to make it back to the surface safely.

The rescued gnomes cry out and run forward to embrace Xar. For a moment Xar’s icy veneer of calm is cracked. He stares at Leelo, unable to speak. After the party relocates to a different area in the valley (with Xar carefully concealing their tracks), Xar reveals that finding these gnomes was a personal motive for joining the expedition. “Xar-uth’tir and Xar-ryn’tan are my kinfolk, captured last month by an orc raid. I must see them safely beyond the valley. Will you spare rations and climbing gear to give them a chance of reaching home?” Xar-ke’rin learned of their capture from a wounded orc in the aftermath of the raid. Orcs are rarely seen on the east side of the Dragonspines, but have been making a comeback in recent years. Like the orcs in the valley, these renegades were also equipped with Sheaim gear, armor and weapons.

Meanwhile, the captured orc wakes. He speaks first in Ember, which both Krag and Xar know well. Krag recognizes caste-marks from an Ember tribe, but an attempt has been made to burn or cut these off. This orc and his fellows are renegade mercenaries lured by good pay, victuals, weapons and the promise of future loot. Over the past few seasons battalions of 200-500 orcs have trained and equipped secretly in the Valley of the Fang, then trooped off southwest through the mountains to join the growing Sheaim army on the west side of the Dragonspines. The orcs inhabiting the the Fang are a cadre responsible for maintaining the place and training rotations of new orc recruits.

Finch charms the captive with magic. The orc freely relates a great deal of intelligence. Not two weeks ago the orcs allowed a group of Sheaim to pass through their area into the depths of the mountain in exchange for a sizable payment of silver and gold coins and three pack mules loaded with supplies, including much wine. “It was some Sheaim devil-priest and cultists, a necromancer or summoner, and some other weaklings.” Apparently the orcs of the valley only answer to the Sheaim officer class, not whoever was in charge of this group, so a big bribe was required. The orcs don’t know or care what they wanted and haven’t heard from them since they disappeared down into the depths of the mountain where the orcs fear to tread.

The white frozen lake is the domain of ‘Frostbite’, a young white dragon who took up residence only one moon past. The orc warrior doesn’t know what his chief or the Sheaim plan to do about this problem, but knows that it’s a good idea to keep under cover when the dragon ventures forth to hunt. A number of orcs were lost last week when caught in a surprise snowstorm. It seems the valley is not cold enough for the dragon outside the vicinity of it’s frosty lair, except during bouts of exceptionally cold weather.

“Ulfe, our pet mountain ogre, would love to meet you. I’m sure Ulfe and my orc-chief Yarrack would let you into the ancient midget ruins…just bring plenty of gold and wine!” Krag gives his new friend a ‘goodbye hug’. The orc’s neck snaps like a wet branch.

The party is happy to heal, feed and equip Xar’s rescued kin. After guiding the pair out of the Valley, Xar returns. He says nothing of why he bothered to return. Leelo persuades Xar to speak of his motivation: “The elder rangers sent me out on a mission of indefinite length to gather knowledge of the world outside the mountains. And if the Sheaim triumph over the lowland-gnomes of King Gyr, I am to carry the lore of the Maseach to new shores.”

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Session 13: Climbing the Dragonfangs

Spring of 390 AR (Age of Rebirth) AE-session13-frostlings_20180624.jpg

In early spring the rune-heroes travel 170 miles north with a large train of Luchuirp pack-mules, wagons, carts and soldiers. The High Runekeeper of the Runes of Kilmorph accompanies the expedition. This ancient gnome is carried on a palanquin attended by twenty lesser Stonewardens and Acolytes including Tir-na’don (Erki). The priests of Kilmorph appear to have taken a special interest in this undertaking. King Gyr has no obvious representation among the expedition.

At Larchspur Castle on the coast the party makes ready to journey southwest through the foothills of the northern Dragonspines, known as the ‘Dragonfangs’. In the subterranean cove where Luchuirp privateers take on supplies and discharge loot, the rune-heroes spy an old acquaintance from the far jungles between Kuldevind and Nininsnal: Sizymondo ‘the Great’. The former pirate turned brigand once again has a sturdy ship beneath his feet, a capable frigate of Sheaim origins. The Luchuirp gnomes, who have no substantial ocean-going navy, pay a small fleet of privateers to protect their interests on the high seas. Unlike many such navies, the Luchuirp insist that all privateers fly the Luchuirp flag rather than conceal their identity. Sizymondo appears to have ventured a hazardous journey through the Straights of Aduro and past the Maelstrom to find profitable employment with the desperate Luchuirp.

The newly-empowered pirate captain converses confidently with Leelo and Finch from the deck of his ship while two-dozen pirates look on from the decks and the rest of the rune heroes likewise observe from the dock. Leelo immediately notices a familiar green pearl dangling from Sizymondo’s left ear. How did this cursed gem make it into the hands of Sizymondo?! The pirate hints that he has acquired the services of a certain illusionist who may or may not have been on hand at the recent Overcouncil Conclave in Ithralia this past winter. Later inquiry with the Luchuirp reveals that Thessa left the conclave along with her party the day before Leelo gave her the green pearl. Sizymondo is not forthcoming regarding how he learned of the Conclave, the pearl or the rune-heroes presence in Ithralia. Could he have learned this from Laerlith, Priestess of the Waves and agent of the Overlords? Even if Sizymondo is now an agent of Laerlith, it seems unlikely she would willingly allow the pearl to remain in Sizymondo’s possession this long.

Finch and Leelo both attempt to delay Sizymondo and influence his thinking with magic. Though unable to sequester the pearl, it becomes obvious that the pirate is now under the influence of the curse and is unlikely to willingly part with the evil gem (purportedly the soul-object of Blikdak the sea-demon). As Luchuirp guardsmen and Kilmorph stone-wardens look on, both parties back off from the tense encounter. Mesmer thinks to spy a distinctly non-piratical individual on the poop deck of the frigate, but they quickly disappear from view. The rune-heroes have no more time to spare on Sizymondo as the Luchuirp urge them forward on their mission into the mountains.

A much-reduced party travels southwest from the coast across thirty miles of foothills. The High Runekeeper and his entourage risk the trip. No longer is the journey an easy one as the poorly-maintained road climbs hill after higher hill. Along the way a silent figure joins the AE-session13-Xar_20180624.jpgexpedition. The local Luchuirp guides advise the party that this is one of the mysterious ‘Maseach’ rangers, guardians of the Dragonspines from Cape Farewell in the north as far south as the fabled City of Gold. The Luchuirp are as mystified by the appearance of this ranger as are the rune-heroes. Eventually the party learns his name but not much else. The diminutive ranger is taciturn in the extreme and will say nothing of why the Maseach would see fit to dispatch one of their own to this mission, if indeed this mountain-gnome is an agent of the Maseach. Xar-ke’rin spends most of his time scouting ahead and apart from the main body. The expedition quickly learns the benefits of following whatever path is wordlessly indicated by the white-haired shadow.

The journey ends at the base of the Dragonfangs where the old journal indicates the start of a path documented decades past by ill-fated adventurers. The Luchuirp guides set up a base camp where they will wait for a month. That night the High Runekeeper emerges from his wagon to finally reveal why he has made this arduous journey. The hills shake. From a great crack in the rock emerges a carven golden table 15 paces long. The fantastic trencher is heavily laden with all manner of drink and victuals gleaming like soft jewels. As the heroes partake of this feast they exist partially in creation and partially in the Vault of Kilmorph. Silent shadowy angels glowing with all the hues of a rainbow dine beside the party, but cannot be conversed with. They exist in their own world and in turn perceive the rune-heroes only as silent ghosts.

The High Runekeeper does not dine with the party. He and the rest of the mortal world exist only as vague gray shapes beyond the walls of the magical feast-hall. As the stars begin to dim with the coming of dawn, the table fades away. The feasters leave the table charged with the Earth-Mother’s holy power. Nothing is impossible for them…the snow-capped mountains beckon!

Sadly, Erki, Thothra and Grenl must be left behind as they lack any skill or ability at mountaineering and would therefore be a heavy liability. A team of climbers is only as strong as it’s weakest link. It will already be difficult enough lugging the warlock Finch and wizard Mesmer up the mountains. Though physically gifted, neither possess the skills that will be needed for this venture. The guides distribute mountain climbing equipment and cold-weather gear. It is not too cold here, in fact well above freezing, but high in the mountains the fimbulwinter of Mulcarn still lingers. Strangely, no food is provided. The guides whisper that the Maseach Ranger can use earth-magic to turn mountain berries into sustenance for even so large a party as this one. Regardless, the rune heroes pack a few days food just in case.

The first day is a cakewalk for heroes magically charged with the holy power of Kilmorph. Even so, Xar-ke’rin proves to be a mountain climber with skills far beyond even Leelo’s acrobatic ability or Krag and Mavriy’s sheer athletic acumen. Everyone quickly learns that survival requires closely watching and following the lead of this mysterious mountain-gnome.

Before night falls the party ascends several miles of rocky scree-covered slopes and scales the first in a series of high alpine ridges. As promised, Xar-ke’rin produces a handful of berries which completely assuage all hunger. Now it becomes clear how these rangers survive alone for so long in the mountains. Mesmer and Krag can use magical fire to melt the drifts of snow still found behind shadowed slopes. Higher up, snow and ice appear to exist in abundance, so water should not be a problem as long as fire magic is available.

The second day dawns clear and cold. This day the climbers must face the high mountains without the advantage of Kilmorph’s faded blessing. Both Xar and Leelo must take extra risks to assist Mesmer and Finch, who otherwise would surely bring not only themselves but the entire party to harm. Mesmer is able to somewhat lessen the risk by using a spell of spider-climbing during the tricky bits. Similarly, Krag relies on Xrarog’s divine power to temporarily increase his already-substantial physical strength. Near the close of a hard-fought day scaling saddles, cliffs and finally near-vertical walls and chasms, Krag is nearly toppled from a cliff by falling rocks knocked loose by Mesmer. Finch escapes injury by warding away the rocks using a blast of magic.

On day three the mountaineers enter a high region of glaciers, snow fields and icy crevasses. The latter are often concealed beneath thin crusts of snow and ice. Many close calls finally end in a long fall for Mesmer while bridging a deep canyon of ice. Though the wizard has a spell of feather-falling ready, so does Leelo. Rather than risk fumbling the spell he waits for Leelo to cast it instead…now is the time to be rid of unwanted comrades, but Leelo comes through and floats down alongside Mesmer, grinning at his obvious discomfiture. As Xar looks on with a stony face, the two return from the bottom of the 80’ crevasse using ropes lowered by Krag and Mavriy.

AE-session13-frostlings-start_20180624.jpgA few hours later while crossing a wide glacier of hard-packed ice and snow, unnatural fog envelops the adventurers. Through scraps of swirling mist leaping shadows are glimpsed, but no one is able to get a clear shot. A dozen small figures of pure ice leap out of the fog to attack. Xar has time to shout only one word, “FROSTLINGS!”. Later the rune-heroes will learn from Xar that these are creations of Mulcarn. They appear spontaneously in the highest regions of the Dragonspines where the Age of Ice still clings. To most who live in the lands alongside the mountains, frostlings are merely fairy tales used only to frighten misbehaving children.

The fight lasts less than a minute. Initially chaos reigns as icy elemental goblins leap upon the backs of isolated individuals. Finch flees to the questionable refuge of small boulder, leaving Mesmer surrounded by five enemies. Krag and Mavriy are also separated and surrounded. The half-orc is nearly frozen solid by howling gusts of ice vented straight from the first and coldest of the Seven Hells. Nevertheless, he smashes first one then a second frostling into shattered piles of ice. These creatures seem to be pure elemental ice without mortal blood or bones, but especially vulnerable to bludgeoning.

Mesmer uses mist-magic to transport himself from near-certain icy death to a spot near where Xar fights with his back to a boulder. The wizard casts magical webs to trap four frostings. Krag is able to stagger away from the trapped frostlings. After inexplicably falling from a slippery boulder where she initially took refuge, Leelo races around the battlefield attempting to lure frostlings into chasing her, with limited success. The healing potions acquired from her brother Keelo prove effective in healing the cuts, bruises and frostbite inflicted by Mulcarn’s minions.

Finch is isolated atop a boulder accosted by a number of enemies. Mavriy issues a magical challenge that compels several frostlings away from Krag and Finch. The paladin’s steel armor and shield deflect the assault of icy hammers and swords, but she is nearly laid low by torrents of freezing hail and frost breathed forth by the small elementals.

AE-session13-frostlings-end_20180624.jpgFinch finds the frostlings have minds of a strange alien sort, yet still vulnerable to whispers of psychic doom. Ice elementals stagger away only to be attacked ‘en-passant’ by both Finch and Mavriy. Mesmer hurls orbs of arcane flame to transform frostlings into clouds of exploding steam. The tide has turned.

Leelo and Xar work together to destroy the remaining frostlings: Xar trips them from behind allowing Leelo to smash them by surprise with her dual steel rapiers. With a grim nod, the near-mute ranger seems to acknowledge a unique synergy with Leelo. From that point on the mountain-gnome begins to address Leelo with sometimes 3 or 4 words at once, on rare occasions even an entire sentence.

Tomorrow will require scaling vertical faces of icy stone, high ridges and snowy saddles northwest along the top of the Dragonspines. Beyond lies a small valley hinted at by the scrap of a map recovered in the Patrian ruin last year. Not even Xar-ke’rin has journeyed so far into the mountains, though he mentions having heard other more senior rangers of the Maseach whisper about a ‘Valley of the Fang’ somewhere high in the northern Dragonspines. This place and the faint circle on the map must be one and the same.

Route of Recent Travels

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Session 12: Ithralia

The Cursed Farmstead

AE-session12-Ghoul_20180401.jpgIn the dead hour of a lightless night, Mesmer is awakened by multiple chimes as alarms are tripped in several places around the courtyard wall. Everyone jumps to their stations atop the crumbling farmhouse to peer through the swirling fog.

Erki shepherds the shivering gnome refugees to the center of the second story where the floor is still mostly intact. The elderly matron, girl and boy whimper in a desperate huddle. The young man grips a chair-leg in shaking hands, but will probably be useless in a fight of this sort. Erki remains close by his terrified charges.

Waves of animated skeletons swarm into the courtyard through the many gaps. These wear the remains of corroded bronze mail and bear strange weapons: curved bronze swords designed for chopping. The great Nilus river of the Malakim lies half a continent away across a vast desert. What could bring their soldiers so far west? Leelo, Finch and the archers rush back and forth shooting through holes in the floor to break spines and leg-bones, but arrows are relatively ineffective against the clattering undead. Mavriy stations herself at the top of the stairwell to bash skeletons that find their way up. Krag and Mesmer set several ialight with magical fire. These run back and forth across the courtyard like animated torches before collapsing into heaps of charred bone.

Finch spots a grayish humanoid loping through the fog. Whispers of doom send the ghoul away howling with black ichor spurting from mouth and eyes. Mesmer screams that another ghoul is scurrying with hideous dexterity up the south wall. He and Krag set it ablaze with magic. Mesmer comes face-to-face with the charred ghoul just before it is spitted by a flight of arrows from across the house. The destroyed undead forms a burning heap upon the wet sward below.

Screams of warning sound from around the besieged farmhouse. Yet more skeletal warriors and ghouls swarm into the courtyard to roam freely about the floor below, threatening to overwhelm the besieged defenders above. Krag senses the time is at hand and positions himself near the quaking huddle of gnomes at the center. Red radiance flashes forth from the bronze circlet of Xrarog upon Krag’s forehead. Numerous undead begin to shamble off into the misty darkness.

Thothra, Erki and Grenl continue to hunt skeletons through gaps in the floor and walls. Mavriy and Finch concentrate on holding the stairwell, which is still packed with evil dead. Finch notices a stealthy figure climbing the wall. Leelo and Mesmer abandon their positions at the front to peer into the dark along the back of the farmhouse. They spot the dim figure and begin to launch arrows and spells.

AE-session12-Shadow_20180401.jpgKrag stands near the center, alert for incursions from any quarter. Erki’s warning shout is frozen in his throat by fear. An ooze of liquid shadow seeps from the cursed timbers of the farmhouse to clasp the half-orc in a cold embrace. Krag slowly drops to his knees as strength is sapped from his bones. The gnome girl flees screaming and the young man gives chase. Erki staggers forward, torn between protecting them or the grandmother and little boy that still lie in a trembling heap at his feet.

Mesmer, Leelo and Finch must turn their attention to this new horror. Leelo sends a magic fire arrow into the darkness enveloping Krag. Fire from the ancient Patrians explodes with apparent effect. Mesmer uses his last spell to lash the shadow with flame. Finch entreats his patron to destroy whatever spirit motivates this foul being. The shadow flits away and disappears into the dark fog at the front of the house.

Mavriy is suddenly confronted by glowing yellow eyes leering from a grinning skull-face. She stumbles back as the ghoul leaps over the broken wall with clicking claws and snapping fangs. Leelo and Finch return to hack apart the ravening creature with their swords. Mavriy escapes the creature’s evil lust unscathed. She pushes it back over the edge with her pole-scythe. The ghoul falls in a grisly tangle of severed limbs.

Meanwhile, the gnome girl reaches the front side of the farmhouse where she cringes against the burned remains of the 2nd story wall. A shadow reaches from dark mists to pluck her approaching uncle from the house. The man’s cry is quickly hushed. Grenl the goblin shamaness is on guard nearby, but flees shrieking when she sees what still lurks along the wall. The girl crouches frozen with terror, her eyes round and white as eggs. Erki makes his decision and runs toward the girl, but too late. He falls to his knees in horror when the girl is enveloped in a shroud of darkness. Erki wails and grinds his tear-streaked face into the sooty floor. The acolyte of Kilmorph will be no more use this night. Krag evokes a flare of radiant flame and the shadow is seen no more.

Morning sunlight burns away the mist to reveal a charnel landscape littered with gnawed bones, poorly-covered mass graves and a dozen destroyed Luchuirp farmsteads. In the front yard Erki discovers the pale shrunken remains of two gnomes. He lays them gently upon a pyre of broken timbers piled up within the ruined house. The rune-heroes make haste to depart the cursed farmstead as smoke flies across the windy sky.

Quicksilver River Bridge

The rune-heroes race north through abandoned hamlets and salted fields. By midday the Quicksilver river comes into view, not the raging torrent of spring but a formidable obstacle nonetheless. A temporary trestle of timbers spans the swirling flow a few miles downstream from the tumbled remains of a mighty stone span constructed in a kinder age. The clever wood and bronze box-bridge looks to have been constructed in sections then towed upriver and assembled on site.

AE-session12-QuicksilverRiverBridge_20180401.jpgAs the party approaches, a multi-colored blob erupts from the cracked ground. Krag is struck once by the pulsating horror before retaliating with holy fire. Mesmer and the archers help to quickly destroy it with magical fire and a flurry of arrows. Leelo dances away, only to be accosted by a second tar-demon fragment hiding beneath the old roadbed. She strikes home with both of her newly-silvered rapiers. Both weapons are stuck fast in the tar-like blob. The weapons are jerked from her grasp as the demon perambulates away. Leelo gives chase and steps on yet another hidden tar-demon, dodging away just in time. Arrows and magic destroy both before they can do much damage. With help of fire, Leelo is able to retrieve her weapons from the poisonous goo. Fortunately both can be cleaned before suffering terminal corrosion.

Mavriy shouts a warning. Dust raised by approaching cavalry appears over the southern hills. The party races forward toward the bridge. As Leelo and Finch approach the near end, a huge minotaur skeleton erupts from a jumble of boulders at the far shore. Goblin archers ensconced in high rocks above the boulders begin peppering the party with darts. Apparently the Luchuirp lack control of lands even this close to their capital Ithralia.

The boney behemoth pounds across the trestle bridge. Finch drops his weapons and staggers back in a catatonic stupor, visions of recent horrors dancing before his mind’s eye. It seems his unwanted sojourn in the Storm-Queen’s catacombs at Galveholm have left some scars. Even now a dozen Sheaim lancers crest the rise behind their quarry. They form up line abreast for a charge. Erki and Thothra urge their charges forward. The gnome matron and boy stumble through the dust toward freedom.

The skeletal minotaur stops at the south end of the bridge with massive bronze great-axe held at the ready. Leelo retreats as Krag moves up for an all-or-nothing cast of the dice. In a stroke of luck, the half-orc priest is able to render the enchanted skeleton neutral toward the rune-heroes. Ten fugitives sidle past the minotaur and race across the timbers through a hail of goblin arrows.

From the northeast appear a trio of gnomish knights riding giant armored boars. Shrieking goblins flee from the rocks. All are quickly ended by lance, axe and tusk. The charging Sheaim lancers turn away from the river in disappointment. The exhausted travelers finally reach safety north of the Quicksilver.

Ithralia

The party is escorted north across 40 miles of verdant countryside between the arms of the Quicksilver and Glitterfall rivers. Gnomes till the fields and raise all manner of livestock, but especially swine and the domesticated boars used as mounts and beasts of burden. Small numbers of humans also inhabit the region, living in their own hamlets and farms but apparently on an equal footing with their gnome countrymen.

A great stone bridge of five arches crosses the Glitterfall to the mountain city of Ithralia, capitol of the new Luchuirp empire since the ice retreated north after the departure of Mulcarn from creation. The city consists of four levels. First and most populous is the Lower City spreading out from the base of the mountain proper. Here it becomes obvious that humans do not quite live in economic parity with the gnomes. There are borderline-slums where humans make up the greater part of the inhabitants. Most disturbingly, Krag sees signs of worship of the Ashen Veil among these people, even among some gnomes hungry for faster access to arcane and divine power. The Luchuirp do not even seem entirely in control their own capitol.

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The Middle City is inhabited mostly by a middle class of gnome artisans, merchants and tradesmen. Above this is the walled Upper City dominated by the High Temple of Kilmorph where resides the senior priesthood and High Runekeeper Tor Kra’hom. Embassies and facilities for the conduct of diplomacy can be found in the Upper City. The seat of Luchuirp government is located here, currently a limited monarchy with a parliament and high court.

Erki, acolyte of Kilmorph and then slave for 10 years, has miraculously survived to reach his homeland. He proves a great asset to the rune-heroes in the capitol. Through the priests of Kilmorph, Erki is able to arrange entry into the Upper City, and from there, an audience with old king Gyr ensconced in near-total isolation in the High Castle atop Ithralia.

Ithralia

- Imperial Capitol
- Population: 120,000
- Major foreign trade: Elohim, Bannor, Lanun, Malakim
- Major religions: Runes of Kilmorph, The Order (mainly Arawn), Ashen Veil (Ithralia), The Empyrean (Val’ran), Overlords (Mutanbo)

- Notable features

  • Academy of engineering, metallurgy and physics
  • Alchemy labs, shops and schools, making Ithralia a center of potion-making, inks, metallurgy and craft
  • Mage Guild: Enchanters of Erda. Mana: Enchantment, Earth, Law
  • Sculptors studios and workshops for the crafting of golems: wood, clay

AE-session12-OldKingGyr_20180401.jpgGarrim Gyr ascended to the throne 60 years past by royal fiat of his predecessor, King Beeri Bawl, rather than line of descent, for none of the king’s sons survived the incessant wars and intrigues with the Sheaim. Unfortunately Garrim inherited an empire on the decline and increasingly subject to the growing power of it’s mighty neighbor to the west. Now King Gyr sits embittered and virtually powerless within his mountain fortress while below parliamentarians squabble and Sheaim raiders render his southern marches uninhabitable. The Luchuirp lands west of the Dragonspires were lost decades ago. The cultists of the Ashen Veil infesting the Lower City barely bother to conceal their activities. All recognize that soon the Sheaim sorcerers and their conjured legions must sweep down from Dragonspire Fortress to end the Luchuirp empire. King Gyr’s only hope is that the Bannor will land a great army at Mutanbo, or the Malakim in the south will rouse themselves to threaten any Sheaim advance from the flank, but neither case appears probable at this point.

With the help of Erki Tia-na’don, the rune-heroes reveal the journal looted from the Patrian ruin at the southern fringes of the Sheaim Empire. Luchuirp sages are on hand to verify the authenticity of the journal and map. King Gyr is willing to grasp at even the shortest of straws and promises a talent of gold (40 pounds) to each rune-hero who returns alive with spells, schematics, tools and tomes bearing the lost knowledge needed to create the greater types of golems, especially those made of iron. The gray metal is plentiful in the hills north of Ithralia, but the secrets of large scale smelting and forging were lost during the Age of Ice. Furthermore, returning heroes will be made ‘Wardens of the March’ and collectively awarded a small seagoing vessel with crew, or a keep and small garrison, or a lesser construct such as one of the small wood or clay golems common throughout the Luchuirp empire.

The expedition cannot be undertaken until spring, still three months away, due to the unnatural cold in the northern arm of the Dragonspires. The tattered hand-drawn map indicates this is the location of the forge and workshops where the ancient Luchuirp hid their secrets from Mulcarn’s legions. The high Dragonfangs are one of those fabled locales dotting Arcanearth where the Age of Ice still clings with an icy grip. Only a few madmen and criminals venture beyond the foothills, thus little is known about this region in the New Age. King Gyr promises full support from Ithralia to Larchspur Castle on the coast, then up to a base camp on the northeastern slopes where the map indicates a hidden route. After that the adventurers will be on their own.

The Overcouncil Colloquy

As it happens, the rune-heroes have arrived at Ithralia only ten days before a meeting of the Overcouncil, an association of like-minded empires organizing themselves for a common defense and the promotion of trade, law and the commonweal. The Overcouncil more often than not acts in opposition to the Undercouncil, another association of empires with goals far different than those of the Overcouncil. Over a week’s period the Overcouncil delegations assemble in the High City. The rune-heroes are privileged to be lodged in the Upper City where they can witness the deliberations of the council at close quarters as well as rub shoulders with the delegates.

The Bannor send a large delegation across the Ligurian Sea including 20 paladins, clerics and warriors of The Order. The ambassador is Cristof Bluestride, High Paladin of The Order. The Bannor talk largely of their readiness to send an expeditionary force to succor the Luchuirp, but the army is already committed to assist their recently summoned Mercurian allies in the struggle against Hyborem. The other delegates evince at best only lukewarm support for such an expedition. Even the Elohim, who have an extensive coastline to defend west of the Maduro Straight. All hope the Sheaim will tarry another season or otherwise be distracted from their obvious goal. The Bannor are disgusted by what they see as weakness and remain in attendance only that they might witness what else transpires.

From the Malakim come a large delegation including 16 Lightbringers of the Empyrean, warriors and the hero Teutorix. Unfortunately the Malakim cannot come to the aid of their doughty gnome allies at the present time due to the Calabim threat to their eastern flank. Teutorix calls on good king Gyr to hold out “for just a short while longer”. A junior diplomat relates to Finch rumors of a ‘Witch King’ inciting savage tribes to threaten their city of Ultigar to the far south of Ithralia and Dead Mans Land.

The sagacious Elohim commit a medium size delegation including 12 monks, clerics and paladins from Cahir Abbey. The importance attached to the colloquy is signified by attendance of none other than Corlindale, Archmage and Ambassador to the Overcouncil. Should hostilities ensue, the Elohim promise to smite the Sheaim along their northern coastline, after first clarifying certain disagreements with the Ljosalfar on their northeast marches and securing their long coastline against the incessant raids of the Lanun corsairs. But it is the avowed policy of the Elohim never to strike first.

The Mercurians send six paladins of The Order, six fiery seraphim and 21 angels of the host. The ambassador is Uthiel, a high-ranking Messengerii of the Host. The Mercurians are yet small in power and still building their strength toward retaking Cafes. Uthiel is unable to promise any immediate assistance to the noble Luchuirp.

Three of the Mercurian paladins are Umberguardians, spiritual followers of Maros. These are Khazad dwarves who have dedicated their lives to fighting enemies of The Order. Many have arrived at Bourne the Gleaming to join the Mercurian’s crusade against Hyborem’s Infernals. The Umberguardians argue forcefully for immediate aid to their gnomish brethren, but are overruled by Uthiel.

The Ljosalfar arrive with a small delegation using no obvious means of transport. As Archmage Thessa is the ambassador, it is assumed the elves arrived through magic. The Light Elves report that the Svartalfar (Dark Elves) have been pressured into an alliance with the Illians, their powerful northern neighbors and heirs to Mulcarn’s legacy. Auric and the Priests of Winter are working toward a return of fimbulwinter. With Mulcarn barred from creation, It is whispered that Auric seeks to become the god’s avatar or even ascend to godhood in his own right. There can be no question of assistance to the Luchuirp since the formation of this powerful new alliance on the Summer Queen’s northern border.

Leelo tells the story of the cursed green pearl and their encounters with Laerlith, Overlord Priestess of the Waves. Leelo agrees to give the Green Pearl to Thessa for safekeeping in exchange for a means of magical travel and other considerations. A priest of leaves performs the rites and blessings necessary to divest Leelo of the curse (back in force after Leelo reneged on her promise to Laerlith). Thessa personally invites Leelo back into the fold on behalf of Queen Phaedra. Either the elves are overlooking past events in the Mercurian capitol, or Leelo somehow escaped blame for the murders. Leelo provides a tentative assent without volunteering any details about her flight from the embassy..

The next morning Leelo finds a large feather beneath her pillow. Leelo recognizes the feather of a giant Roc, the legendary giant birds said to roost in the mountains above the ancient forests of the Ljosalfar capitol. Burning or breaking the feather should summon one of the Rocs to provide swift transport to Leelo and her comrades. At a secret meeting later that morning Leelo gives over the cursed pearl to Thessa, who departs in haste. It seems the Ljosalfar delegation left Ithralia the previous day. Thessa remained only long enough to take possession of the pearl…

The Amurites send a large seaborne delegation of 23 led by ambassador Dain the Caswallawn. They must brave the Maduro Straights to reach Larchspur Castle on the Ligurian coast south of the great Maelstrom. The Amurite’s primary concern is the growing influence of the Octopus Overlords in Lanun sea-rover empire. The Sheaim/Infernal alliance is not seen as much of a naval threat at this point. Unfortunately the Amurites can commit no ground troops to a conflict so far from their home, but they wish king Gyr the best of luck.

From the Clan of Embers arrives a very large and chaotic delegation of over fifty, including orc warlords, nature priests, shamans of Bhall, and even a few priests of the Veil. They are led by their most modern thinker, Sheelba, who grew up under the tutelage of a Bannor wise man, but eventually escaped and fled back to her native people. Sheelba is clearly pro-Overcouncil, but her voice is drowned out by the largely negative shouts of her boisterous delegation. The other ambassadors tolerate the Clan of Embers mostly in hope of keeping them out of the Undercouncil.

Four dwarves from the far mountains of Khazad arrive on the final day, led by none other than Maros, the last Umberguard and one of the 300 original dwarves given life by Kilmorph the Earthmother over 800 years past. Officially the dwarves chief interest is in guarding their lands from depredations of the Doviello and Hippus. But Maros is a paladin of The Order and flouts the instructions of his liege lords Kandros Fir and Arturus Thorne by urging immediate action against the Sheaim. Maros has many friends among minority factions within the Bannor and Mercurian delegations.

Last and least among the delegations is a small party of four led by Rhoanna, chief of the eastern Hippus clans. Unlike most of the horseclan chiefs, Rhoanna believes in the mission of the Overcouncil. But it is obvious Rhoanna was designated ambassador mostly to temporarily eliminate her influence on the steppes, where she often opposes Tasunke, her greatest rival and chief of the western horseclans. The Hippus must be counted among the least reliable Overcouncil members. Their main goal in joining the Overcouncil seems to be marketing their mercenary services to member states. Even in extremity of need, King Gyr will tolerate no Hippus mercenaries in his lands, so this is a forlorn hope.

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