During the exchange between Sizymondo and Finch, Lodermulch and Grenl sneak through the jungle in search of bandit archers. Grenl finds nothing, but is now positioned a short distance behind the bandits flanking Sizymondo. Lodermulch reaches a tumble of ruins, the remains of some ancient fane. A twig snaps…within the ruin an archer with drawn bow turns to see Lodermulch coming up the tumbled steps. The arrow released point blank whistles through the trees.
Meanwhile, the pirate-turned-bandit notices Finch whispering a spell. With a signal, arrows fly from the nearby ruin, but only a paltry six rather than the promised scores! Sizymondo shouts with false bravado to urge his fellow rogues forward to the attack. However, the bandit lord turns tail and flees with surprising agility for one of his girth. Looks like this is not Sizymondo’s first such rodeo. Grenl gives chase and off through the jungle they run.
Finch’s spell fails when he is caught in the middle of the short, savage melee. The warlock suffers three serious cuts and one arrow puncture before dodging behind a tree. Mavriy, Leelo and Krag duel with the three rogues. Mesmer uses magic to send several archers off to dreamland. Lodermulch dances past recumbent forms to stab a wakeful archer in the back. No wizard is found hiding in the ruin.
The rogues notice their great chief has scarpered, decamped and skedaddled with such alacrity that one wonders if he was ever there at all. One flees north. Two flee west, using the tumbled ruins and their own slow-footed archers as interference. Leelo and Lodermulch pursue, teaming up to slay first one rogue then an archer. One archer and a rogue evade the elf and halfling after a short chase through the jungle. The rogue who fled north also escapes. No one else among the rune-heroes has the speed needed to catch him. Grenl returns some time later. Sizymondo ‘the Great’ has disappeared into the depths of the jungle without a trace.
Two of the archers waken to the unpleasant reality of interrogation by Finch and Leelo (the classic bad human / bad elf routine). The first is Thothra, an escaped slave who joined Sizymondo last year. He was a marine assigned to the crew of an Amurite merchant ship. Unfortunately his captain failed to pay certain fees to the portmaster in Kuldevind and a percentage of his crew became subject to capture and slavery per the laws of the Sheaim empire. Thothra divines that Mesmer is also an Amurite and begs for mercy.
The second archer is Goran, another escaped slave. He found his way into bondage by way of the sack of Cafes a decade past. With a shock, Mavriy recognizes Goran as the son of a family she knew well during her youth in the Elohim colony. She knows his family is gone and tells him as much. Goran throws himself on her mercy.
From the captured archers the rune-warriors learn that Sizymondo controls a veritable rebel army of ex-slaves, pirates, bandits and other assorted outlaws. The bandit king has numerous boltholes and hideouts within the extensive jungle wilderness between Nininsnal and Kuldevind where the Sheaim patrols fear to tread. As the goblin porters do not return, Thothra and Goran first serve the rune-heroes by carrying their burdens dropped beside the trail.
The party crosses a stretch of jungle to reach the High Road where they will make better time. After two days uneventful travel the jungle begins to thin. On the 3rd day the party approaches a familiar signpost where the low and high roads merge. A large encampment of tents occupies the nearby field, with a red silk tent near the center. Heraldry indicates this encampment is associated with the Storm Queen. The rune-heroes think to skirt around the camp but guards have already seen them. It appears they were expected.
The small host of horsemen, elephants, skeleton archers and pyre zombies are led by Zaugrum, Priest of the Ashen Veil and special agent of Os-Gabella. Zaugrum is accompanied everywhere by Zaria, a sullen young woman in a hooded robe of red silk. Leelo and Mesmer speak with Zaugrum in his tent. Zaugrum was on his way to Nininsnal to deal with the party. It turns out Yandroon, aka ‘Todos’, was taken up by Os-Gabella’s agents upon his return to Kuldevind. At the Storm Queen’s palace in Galveholm the merchant lord babbled all he knew.
Leelo and Mesmer have little choice in telling Zaugrum about their recent activities in Nininsnal and at the sinkhole ruins. Os-Gabella has taken a “casual interest” in these affairs, as they bear upon the Emperor Arbandi’s recent activities. It seems that Os-Gabella and the Emperor might not always be on the same page. Finch and Grenl agree to guide Zaugrum’s expedition to the sinkhole ruins where Belak met his end. In return, Zaugrum ‘invites’ the rune-heroes to travel on to the capitol Galveholm and there make themselves convenient should their services be needed. Mesmer is given a gold and blood-red magical document, a writ of safe conduct within the imperial capitol Galveholm, signed by the Storm Queen herself.
Finch and his hench-goblin Grenl accompany the host of Zaugrum south on the High Road back to the Sinkhole ruins. Leelo, Mesmer, Krag, Keelo and Lodermulch continue on to Kuldevind to wait for Finch at the famous ‘Dead Man Inn’ where a zombie hangs from a pole above the doors, jerking spasmodically whenever patrons pass below. Kuldevind is not a place for the squeamish, but worse lies ahead in Galveholm.
Finch and Grenl guide Zaugrum’s party through the ruins beneath the sinkhole. The remaining Durbuluk gobins quickly flee the swordsmen and undead soldiers. The ruin is all but deserted now. Zaugrum and Zaria take careful notes about Belak’s activities. They are especially impressed to discover this was the ancient stronghold of a dragon cult led by none other than six of the original 21 archmages trained by Kylorin himself. Even Zaria becomes interested. Zaugrum seems agitated upon learning the wight of Asmoday was allowed to escape into the wilds. What could be Asmoday’s destination? The necromantic priest and fire-mage babble enthusiastically about the wonderful possibilities!
After a day spent sacking the ruins, Zaugrum’s company returns to the high road. Finch elects to accompany the troop onward to Nininsnal, after which he parts ways with Zaugrum and Zaria on amicable terms. The warlock begins to exploit contacts made by the rune heroes to find out what has transpired in the past weeks.
Finch learns from Draven of the Black Star assassins guild that agents of the Overlords have been searching the city for a ‘green pearl’ and two individuals fitting the descriptions of Mesmer and Leelo. They arrived aboard the Lanun galleon Tethira only a week after the rune-heroes left Nininsnal. Finch shadows them for two days. They are led by a beautiful priestess in sea-green robes and complicated vestments: Laerlith, Priestess of the Waves. She seems to be an agent of Saryin Nures, Speaker of the Tide for the Octopus Overlords, whose banner was seen at the sack of Scylia.
Up to four anonymous, identical men in black and purple hooded robes accompany Laerlith. They are not obviously armed. There may be several other less obvious agents, but they are stealthy and Finch is not able to identify them. Laerlith is the voice of sweet reason until crossed. At such times she becomes almost demented with vindictive rage and spite. The Overlord agents leave at least 3 bodies behind before departing Nininsnal: a tight-lipped gem-dealer, a dockworker who saw something he shouldn’t have, and an overly-inquisitive officer of the Marquesses garrison.
Something she discovers in Nininsnal sends Laerlith back to her ship and north up the coast. Finch pays good money to arrive at Kuldevind ten hours ahead of Laerlith by way of the Sheaim war galley Stormcrow. There he warns his comrades of the danger. All agree that for now it would be best to stay one step ahead of Laerlith. The rune-heroes depart Kuldevind for the terrible black jewel of the Sheaim empire: Galveholm.