Arcanearth

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 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. This 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

AE-session13-SheaimLuchuirpBorders_20180624.jpg

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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 are forced to 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.

The morning sun 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 or dragged upriver and assembled on site recently.

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 rises from behind the hills to the south. 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 bronze-armed behemoth pounds across the 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 only 100 yards behind their quarry where 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 and raises a massive bronze great-axe in a defensive posture. Leelo runs back 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 who squeeze past and race across 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 but are quickly ended by lance, axe and tusk. The charging lancers turn away from the river in disappointment. The exhausted rune-heroes finally reach safety north of the Quicksilver.

Ithralia

The rune-heroes are 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 by Luchuirp cavalry. 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: 12000
- 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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Session 11: Dead Mans Land

AE-session11-DragonspireFortress-s_20180325.jpgAt least sixty miles of desolate hills and abandoned fields lie beyond the 3rd wall at the base of Dragonspire Fortress. Every year the hardpressed Luchuirp try to reoccupy these lands, reopen abandoned mines and till the fallow fields. The Sheaim garrison sends out regular parties of skirmishers, light horsemen and goblin mercenaries to destroy any new roads, farms, mines or farmsteads they find.

With the Sheaim army in Skadistad on the west side of the pass are several powerful Mages and Ritualists. These send out packs of conjured or undead beings to insure the Luchuirp get no use out of their lands below the Dragonspines. The Sheaim captain at the 3rd wall gate calls it ‘Dead Mans Land’, “good luck getting through there alive. Once those gates close this becomes a one-way trip for you, outlanders. If the pyre zombies don’t get ya, our lancers probably will”.

The ox-cart and all non-essential equipment is sold to lighten the load and hopefully make the run to Ithralia in 3-4 days. Mavriy will wear only her steel breastplate. Her squire Goran will carry the remaining pieces of plate armor. The rune-heroes set out at a run through the foothills leading down to the upland moors. Abandoned farmland, broken walls and burned hamlets dot the desolate landscape. Here in the open country vision reaches far, so the party adopts a more sedate pace as they scurry between shadowed swales and isolated thickets of mountain cedar. A cold cheerless night is passed within one of the many hidden box canyons where trickles a thin cold stream of mountain water.

At midday a group of goblins bearing spears are sighted crossing a bald hilltop. The goblins soon catch sight of the party and flee north toward an area of jagged boulders jutting forth from the earth. Mesmer sends a written message of parley scrawled in common via his owl familiar. Goran assists Mavriy in donning additional armor. Leelo, Finch and Grenl head around the east side of a long escarpment to search out any ambush. Mesmer, Krag, Mavriy, Erki, Thothra and Goran head north around the west side of the hill. A pack of jackals appear in the distance, alert to the possibility of new carrion.

The flanking team passes two huge shaped stones pulled aside years ago to expose a shallow tomb (later investigation reveals only the desecrated bones of gnomes). Grenl shrieks a warning. She’s spotted a half-dozen well-hidden goblin archers. Finch encourages Grenl to negotiate, but the goblins reply with a volley of arrows, piercing Finch in the arm and shoulder. The trio flee to nearby boulders before the goblins can loose another volley, where they reply with spells and arrows of their own. Several goblins fall, one by Leelo’s arrows and another driven mad by Finch’s magic.

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The rest of the party makes it to the northwest side of the hill and begins crossing east, led by Mesmer the over-brave wizard. Mesmer is unable to spot the spear-goblins even with his owl-familiar’s sharp eyes. Lacking any direction from Mavriy or Krag, the ex-bandit archers hesitate until Erki takes them in hand. Mesmer nearly steps on a goblin hiding among the rocks, who stabs him in the foot. Other goblins appear and charge forward, thinking Mesmer is alone. They are soon pierced by arrows from the archers led by Erki. When Krag and Mavriy appear, the goblins panic and run screaming. Only two escape, the rest shot by arrows or burned by magical fire.

Leelo, Finch and Grenl outflank the goblin archers and climb the rocks. Grenl flings necromantic power across the hilltop. A goblin instantly collapses into a tangle of blackened bones and rotting flesh. Only one goblin escapes to the east. The jackals slink up and begin devouring dead goblins, but keep their distance from those not yet crippled or mortally wounded.

A tremor in the rocks indicates the arrival of four Sheaim lancers riding armored warhorses. Mavriy is slow to reach the cover of the rocks and obviously spotted, probably Krag as well. The lancers keep their distance as they trot across the hilltop. Not seeing anyone in the open, the horsemen decline to approach the rocks. For an hour they circle the hill watching for any attempt to escape across open ground, then ride off in search of easier quarry. To be caught in the open by a group of these lancers could spell disaster.

After a short rest the rune-heroes cross a high ridge of hills. Beyond the last ridge spreads a godforsaken landscape of abandoned farms and destroyed homesteads illuminated by the tragic light of orange rays slanting beneath darkening clouds. A thread of silver water meanders across the land far to the north. Barely visible above the mist-shrouded horizon is a tall mountaintop city set afire by the westering sun. A cold mist of rain begins to fall.

AE-session11-farmstead-dusk-s_20180325.jpgOnly a few miles ahead are remnants of a walled homestead shrouded in the wild remains of an apple orchard. The party makes haste to reach this sanctuary. An hour later in the depths of the tangled wood, Leelo spots a pair of crooked forms shuffling through the darkness. A wild melee ensues with the animated remains of gnomes and humans. The hideous corpses are an indiscriminate mix of settlers, soldiers and bandits of various races and ages. Rotting hands reach from the loose soil of a mass grave to grasp at Mavriy’s ankles. Mesmer tangles a number of the zombies in magical webs. Krag turns a few back, causing them to wander aimlessly. The rune-heroes desperately try to make order out of chaos and fight forward to the stone wall just ahead.

AE-session11-PyreZombies-s_20180325.jpg.jpgFlickering flames and foul smoke announce the arrival of a trio of pyre zombies, set loose upon the land by Sheaim necromancers. Finch breaks free first and rushes forward with zombies close behind. Unable to reach the crumbling wall, Finch takes refuge in a nearby well by means of a log and rope someone placed across the top. Moans and flickering light come from above. Burning ash ignites the rotten rope. Finch braces himself cross-wise in the narrow space. His muscles begin to tremble with strain. Below lies not water, but a fetid ooze.

The screams of Goran sound through the dark woods. Leelo calls to him, but her voice is drowned out by the hollow moans of approaching pyre-zombies. The ex-slave from Cafes is not heard from again. Unfortunately Goran was carrying some of Mavriy’s plate armor pieces. Leelo sees scores of shadowy forms moving up through the woods behind.

Leelo breaks out of the melee, leading an unlikely trio of archers single file behind her: Erki the gnome, Thothra the Amurite, and finally Grenl, goblin of the defunct Durbuluk tribe. This tactic from the Alfar Woods proves extremely effective. Two pyre zombies are pierced by magic from Mesmer and a continuous fusillade of arrows from Leelo’s group. One explodes, setting off the second in a chain reaction. A great fireball rises skyward, illuminating the woods and nearby wall. Mavrey had staggered clear and so avoids incineration. A dark opening is clearly visible in the wall ahead.

Meanwhile Krag selflessly charges into a pack of zombies crowding around a crumbling well. Weak cries sound from within. Krag smites several zombies then disappears beneath a mass of bodies. Finch makes a last desperate effort and somehow reaches the top of the well. The exhausted warlock tumbles over the side. Mavriy smashes the pyre zombie at the well, causing it to explode. No others are in the area so a chain-reaction is avoided. A burned and bloodied half-orc emerges from beneath the pile of body parts.

Everyone staggers into the courtyard around a small farmhouse. All are accounted for except Goran. By some miracle the house is still standing. Even The 2nd story is partially intact, though most of the roof and walls are burned away. Krag begins to chant his death song, then realizes he’s not dying, and switches to a prayer of healing for the rune-heroes.

AE-session11-TarDemon_20180325.jpgLeelo spots a pulsating blob of shimmering colors lurking within the structure. She lures it out into the yard. The pulsating tar-like goo shimmers with a rainbow sheen of poisonous green, purple, pink and blue. This is a small fragment of the huge tar-demons seen at Dragonspire Fortress. Krag stumbles away in terror, his phobia of black puddings rising, but manages to complete his chant and revitalize the worn-out party. The tar-demon fragment is slow and easily destroyed at range by spells and arrows from Leelo, Mesmer, Finch and the henchmen. The demon-blob proves resistant to mundane weapons, but not invulnerable.

On the second floor a small group of starved and shivering gnomes are found hiding beneath a tarp under a corner of surviving roof: two children, a young man and an elderly matron. Erki discovers they are the survivors of an ill-fated and ill-advised group of settlers from Luchuirp lands farther north, beyond the Quicksilver river. Finch attempts to chivvy the terrified gnomes over to where they will be eaten first should undead find the stairs. Erki stands in the way with readied axe and short sword.

Mesmer averts an ugly scene by announcing he learned a spell of magical alarm over the summer in Galveholm. In less than two hours the work is done: anything entering the courtyard or the windows and doors of the ruined house will trigger a silent alarm indicating to Mesmer which area is threatened. Orchards and fields beyond the crumbled courtyard wall are soon blanketed in a swirling shroud of cold mist blown down from the high moors. The resulting dead silence does nothing to calm the nerves of those who lie shivering within.

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Session 10: Galveholm, Black Jewel of the Empire

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Galveholm

- Imperial Capitol
- Population: 40000
- Major foreign trade: Svartalfar, Infernal, Illian
- Major religions: Ashen Veil
- Holy City of the Ashen Veil. Pilgrims from many lands arrive daily to marvel at the wonders and relics, and pray their children will be granted the Boon of the Stigmata.

- Notable features

  • Scores of shrines and statues line the Imperial Way, dedicated to the heroes and rulers of Sheaim such as Tanaris, Uzgalia, Ezeryka, Rosier, Os-Gabella and Tebryn Arbandi.
  • A fantastical bazaar encompassing 20 acres, stocked with goods from across the world and beyond.
  • Granaries guarded by a sect of blind and mute monks.
  • A 30-mile aqueduct delivering fresh water from far hills.
  • A college of herbalists and poisoners.
  • A great academy of learning, staffed by some of the best sages from across the world.
  • The Great Library of the Sheaim, unique in all of Arcanearth. Home of Zanthar Temulchus, the world-renowned sage.
  • Palace of the immortal Queen of Storms, Os-Gabella: High Commander of all Sheaim military forces. The high-ranking General Uzgalia, a powerful succubus, executes the Queen’s orders. Uzgalia commands an elite legion of soldiers summoned from the farthest reaches of existence.
  • Mage Guild: Scions of Arbandi, the largest guild in the Sheaim empire. This guild controls sources of fire and death mana. The guildmaster is none other than Emperor Tebryn Arbandi, Supreme Strategist and Ultimate Arcanus Magisterum with authority over all arcane matters.
  • The Great Veil Temple, holy center of the Ashen Veil. Here the Veil High Ritualist Keiyark Tanaris administers the Ashen Veil and interprets visions of the Prophets.
  • A permanent planar gate of bronze, glass and marble. This giant clockwork engine is driven by magic, worked day and night by wizards, sorcerers, warlocks and clerics to conjure assistance from across the multiverse. The chief ‘mobius witch’ Ezeryka, herself summoned from some far realm, leads the effort. Several times weekly a clap of thunder announces the arrival of some new horror. Similar gates have been constructed in several other Sheaim cities at colossal expense.
  • A great stepped ziggurat of obsidian and infernal iron with a glowing red sigil hovering high above: the Prophecy of Armageddon. This is home to Malventhar, Prophet of Doom, who relates the Prophesy daily to hordes of pilgrims from across the world. All those born in or summoned to Galvehom are marked with the ‘Stigmata of the Unborn’. A glowing red rune hovers above the ‘Unborn’, visible only to others so afflicted. Also to the rune heroes, though the Unborn seem unable to sense their purple rune in turn. With each new war, disaster or sacked city, power is channeled directly to those born with the Stigmata, granting them unusual physical strength, hardiness and cunning.
  • A huge demon altar is under construction. Once completed, the Ritualists claim secret knowledge from across the multiverse will be theirs for the taking, instigating a new golden age for the Sheaim. Various fiends from the Infernal empire assist in the construction, paid in blood and souls by the nightly sacrifice of a hundred slaves, criminals, deviants, morons and gypsies. You could be next, so take care to observe the curfew…

Leelo

Leelo spends her first months in Galveholm getting to know the criminal underworld, which is extensive. Those with the skills she craves most are present in abundance: thieves knowledgeable in the arcane arts, for Galveholm is a city of sorcery like nothing beyond the Amurite isles. All her profits during these first months go toward paying the arcane tricksters of Galveholm. Armed with her first spells, Leelo embarks on a moderately successful program of low-risk skulduggery including spying, information-trading, blackmail and other intrigues netting around 300 gold pieces profit. She spends most of her hoarded wealth on a stunning suit of black-dragon-leather armor fashioned from the discarded hide of Calcryx.

Keelo

Banderhobb.jpgUnable to stomach the horrors of Galveholm, Keelo passes the summer in jungles bordering the farmland north of the dreaded capitol. He has little if any contact with the rune-heroes. The good druid develops a bond with the farmers and woodsmen working close by the jungle. He prepares doses of poison curatives that will be his parting gift to the rune-cursed.

Late in the summer a local village is assailed by a banderhobb set loose by some irresponsible or simply uncaring Sheaim mage. Keelo marshals a few capable villagers to hunt down and exterminate the aberration, but at great cost to himself. Keelo is terribly wounded when the banderhobb is finally cornered. He survives, but suffers the loss of an arm. Thereafter he does not seek out the rune heroes until his sister finally leaves the city at the end of summer.

Finch

After getting the lay of the land, Finch begins to implement various cons, frauds and scams. The warlock is last seen in a bone-white carriage with hell-horses driven by an eerie, faceless hag. Months later Finch is found wandering the streets, haggard and hollow-eyed. He can recall only disassociated slivers of nightmare…worn stone steps descending into a black void…hulking minotaurs in bronze armor…choirs of screams ranging the scale from shrill to abyssal…a ghostly pale woman with eyes like pits, her powerful form rocked by thunderous laughter. On other occasions the ghost-woman marches back and forth, angry and disappointed, shouting soundless invective while occasionally jabbing an accusatory finger at something just beyond Finch’s view.

Krag

Upon arrival at Galveholm Krag seeks out the high priests of the Ashen Veil, who are said to worship an aspect of the great orc war-god, calling him ‘Aeron’. Unfortunately, worship of Aeron seems to be on the decline for reasons no one can quite explain. One old acolyte with a fondness for Aeron shows the half-orc a hidden shrine. Krag swears an oath at the dusty bronze altar. He will rekindle the faith by leading a great pilgrimage to the giant petrified stone titan of Odio, archangel of Aeron, who was unjustly imprisoned for refusing to obey the foolish Compact of the gods. Reaching the holy site will require a journey from Galveholm to Tongurstad, then into the deep jungle far beyond Fort Velkyr. Much gold and months of planning will be required to make the great endeavor a reality.

From the theologians and clerics in the Priest’s Quarter, Krag learns of a fact not generally known by the lay folk or lesser acolytes: for some years, the exact period is unknown, souls of the dead have been unable to reach the vaults of heaven and hell established by the gods after the sundering of creation from the one true heaven. Ever-increasing numbers of lost spirits roam ethereal perdition, trapped between creation and the 21 vaults of heaven and hell. Basium and his rebel angels offer suitable souls the chance to join the crusade against Hyborem. Such souls are reborn as angels through the Mercurian Gate. Similarly, Hyborem’s fiends harvest trapped souls to fill the Infernal empire’s ranks. At the soul-forges of Dis these unfortunates are hammered into the forms of demonic citizenry and soldiery.

The gateways to the vaults of the gods consist of two mythical locations: the Fane of Lessers, gateway to the Seven Hells, and the Well of Souls, gateway to the Fourteen Heavens. The Fane of Lessers is thought to be located somewhere in the far north of the world, atop the unnamed mountain leading to Mulcarn’s hell. The guardians of the Fane, if any, are unknown. Legends describe the Well of Souls as a lagoon of infinite blue at the center of a ring-shaped island. The archangel Gyra, twin sister of Basium, watches over the Well. Belak the Twisted Druid spoke of the Well before his death at the hands of the rune-heroes: “…the dead Tree of Life at the Well of Souls, where Emperor Arbandi cast Ceridwen’s mighty spell consigning this world to it’s doom.”

Krag makes the pilgrimage to Odio’s prison and there receives a vision from Aeron. The god of war has secretly withdrawn from the alliance with Agares, god of despair and leader of the original rebellion in heaven. For one of the lords of the Seven Hells to break this ancient alliance constitutes a seismic shift in the cosmology of creation. It is unclear if Aeron will take any side at all. Or perhaps the god of war simply acknowledges that if Agares and his confederates reduce all to dust and ash, the virtues of war and heroism must come to an end as well. Either way, the coming battle for Creation may see a feasting of the crows sufficient to sate even the god of war.

Mesmer

Mesmer pays over 300 gold to join the Scions of Arbandi mage guild as a full member. The wizard divides his time in Galveholm between wheedling his fellow guild-members for spells and assisting Lodermulch with various hiests, scams and robberies, mostly petty. The pair’s larceny nets them a good living before fate deals Loder a bad hand at the Silver Eel inn.

Mavriy

Mavriy experiences an existential crisis after her recent adventures in the Sheaim empire. The madness and terror of Galveholm surfaces traumatic memories suppressed since Cafes. She resolves to make a pilgrimage back to the site of her greatest shame. The former Elohim colony is now a dour fortress inhabited by demonic citizens of Hyborem.

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A contingent of the Nightwatch still hides in Cafes right under the noses of the Infernals…“keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” There Mavriy learns that the warlock who opened the nexus was an Infernal mole. The paragons of deception themselves hoodwinked by Hyborem is a painful lesson that will not soon be forgotten. On a personal note, Mavriy discovers information about her mysterious lineage. Though her immediate parents remain unknown, her grandfather was none other than High Councilor Arian Kothrax of the Undercouncil. Mavriy’s very existence is a product of infernal deception.

That night angels of Basium duel with fiends of Hyborem in a blazing display of aerial combat over the narrow straight separating Infernal and Mercurian territory. Explosions and streams of colored fire reflect back to heaven from the dark waves below. There the young warrior experiences a vision of the apocalypse.

The Compact is destroyed. Agares, Ceridwen, Camulos, Bhall and Mulcarn stand over the ruins of civilization. Lacking the true power of creation, but unwilling to suffer the existence of something beyond their control, they reduce the world to smoking ash and black ice.

At the docks where Caradel Bluestride made his last stand, Mavriy swears a mighty oath heard by the gods. She joins the cosmic struggle against nihilism, but on her own terms. Caradel’s mistake was to fight without guile and thus die a useless death. Mavriy will deceive the deceivers, strike from the shadows, hit them where they are weakest. Today begins the struggle to preserve Creation and all of lawful civilization from the rising tide of chaos and entropy.

The world-destroying Sheaim and their Infernal allies must now be counted among Mavriy’s greatest enemies, though as befitting a paladin of Esus, she can walk through the valley of the shadow with a smile.

Lady Shaunicca

During Mesmer’s efforts to buy, trade, and swindle additional spells in Galveholm, he attracts the attention of Lady Shaunicca, a beautiful wizardess and fellow Scion of Arbandi. Her comfortable suite of 3rd story apartments in the mage quarter indicates moderate if not fabulous wealth. Their first evening goes well enough, but Lady Shaunicca successfully deflects Mesmer’s over-hasty efforts to fondle her spellbook, and much else besides.

AE-session10-LadyShaunicca_20180318.jpgBefore their next assignation, Mesmer’s brain briefly re-engages. He does some background checking around the mage quarter. Lady Shaunicca is well-known among the guild-members and widely regarded as a lady of taste and sophistication. She recently returned to Galveholm after a lengthy sojourn in the southern city of Tongurstad close by the Infernal border. Upon her return, Shaunicca began severing relations with her old social circle and even discharged a prior paramour. The consensus is that Lady Shaunicca has experienced a life-changing event in Tongurstad and is seeking to make a fresh start in life. Further muck-raking reveals that a young wizard by the name of Zorquin has gone missing after being seen with Shaunicca several times. Hmmm…

The next evening Lady Shaunicca exhibits a much more flexible attitude toward Mesmer’s advances in both the amatory and occult realms. The luscious fruits of spells and even warmer sentiments appear ripe and ready for the plucking! Mesmer proceeds apace, his lust blinding him to various tell-tales. The room is lit only by candles and flashes of purple lightning from the open doors of Shaunicca’s expansive balcony. While in the throes of passion, Mesmer feels bony pinions and tufts of feathers. Most odd! The grunting wizard is distracted by the sight of Shaunicca’s spell book lying open on the dresser nearby, “It’s not too far to…grasp…just a few more seconds!”

AE-session10-Azariel_20180318.jpgA flash of blood-red radiance fills the darkened bedroom. With a bloodcurdling laugh, the beauteous Lady Shaunicca assumes a new and startling form! Mesmer finds himself conjoined to a thrashing succubus. Incredibly, he delays a moment more to fully sate his lust before disengaging. This is almost the lecherous wizard’s undoing. His new beau is eager for satisfaction as well, in the form of vital essence. Black lips wreathed in purple fire edge closer to their struggling victim.

Mesmer remembers Nightcaller. Fortunately the crystal whistle still dangles around his neck. According to previous research, the whistle summons an uncontrolled shadow-demon, but now is the time for desperate measures! In a welter of terror Mesmer blows the whistle again and again. A violet flash and flap of ethereal wings announces the arrival of a dark being wreathed in shadow. The legless torso of the demon floats on wings of darkness. From the evil visage echoes a hollow voice, “So mortal, have you a soul for me? My master Hyborem is in need of new recruits. Perhaps I shall take yours if nothing better is in the offing. Ah, I see the succubus Azariel was about to consume your soul. A deal then! I help you survive this night, and you owe me not one, but two souls.” Mesmer screams “DEAL!” Azariel drops Mesmer and hisses, “you dare come between me and my prey? I will send you whimpering back to Agares!

At Mesmer’s request, Lodermulch stationed himself at a comfortable tavern across the street below. Just as he’s about to dive into a second hunter’s pie and fourth mug of ale, flashes of light and horrid screams fill the street outside. Loder groans. After pausing to drain his last mug, the halfling staggers out of the tavern to observe a shadowy form landing on the balcony of Lady Shaunicca’s suite. The apartments ornate facade is child’s play to climb. Just as he reaches the balcony, a flapping book comes flying out of the darkness.

Mesmer disengages himself and leaps for the spellbook. In twin feats of dexterity and wizardry, the frenzied mage manages to toss the spellbook to the balcony where Loder has just appeared, turn Loder invisible with magic, run five paces out upon the terrace, and end by casting misty-step to transport himself to the street below. Mesmer flees down the dark street naked for a few minutes before remembering to clothe himself with a disguise spell.

Bearing the spellbook of ‘Lady Shaunicca’ in a sack, Lodermulch climbs down even faster than he went up. Above rages a battle beyond imagination. Before escaping into a maze of alleys, the invisible halfling spares a glance back. Purple lightning and red fire flash from the balcony. “I wonder who will win? I guess it doesn’t matter, when your choice is between shadow-demon creditor and jilted succubus. It’s good not to be Mesmer!”. Some time later Mesmer notices a tiny purple flicker reappear in the depths of the crystal whistle. Who has been dispatched to hell and who has returned to Nightcaller’s prison?

The Silver Eel

Laerlith catches up to the rune-cursed soon after Mesmer’s affair with ‘Lady Shaunicca’. Leelo is slumming it at the Silver Eel, a riverside tavern popular with smugglers and river pirates. Among all her associates, only Lodermulch and Goran the ex-bandit happen to be on hand. The halfling is soon to discover he is once again in the wrong place at the wrong time. Goran is watching a cockfight at the other end of the common room.

A beautiful woman wearing sea-green vestments enters unannounced and takes a seat at their table as if meeting with old acquaintances. Leelo nods politely. Laerlith introduces herself, “I believe you have something of mine. You’ve led me on a not-so-merry chase. I’ve had to travel a long and inconvenient distance! May I see it?

During the tense conversation that follows, Laerlith happily admits she is an agent of Saryin Nures, Speaker of the Tide and high priest of the Overlords. Scylia was sacked only to regain the green pearl. Mesmer’s father foolishly stole the pearl from a secret place beneath the waves and the Overlords want it back. The green gem is in fact the brain-egg of Blikdak the sea-demon, who’s submarine tomb was raided by Baron Almeriaq. The Speaker of the Tide can detect the general location of the pearl, so there is no escaping the Overlords in this matter. Once close by, Laerlith can divine it’s exact location.

Four identical men with no obvious weapons, wearing hooded robes of black and sea-green, appear at the entrances to the common room. The patrons begin to take notice. Goran moves towards Leelo and Loder’s table, but hesitates when one of the robed men turns silenty toward him. Goran returns to his seat. The innkeeper begins to remonstrate with one of the sinister figures.

These are Hands of Hastur…best not to annoy them.” Laerlith offers to remove the curse if Leelo will hand over the pearl. Leelo accepts and the curse is lifted. But she is reluctant to give up the gem, if for no other reason than something wanted this badly must be extremely valuable. Or perhaps from sheer perversity. The Overlord priestess grows increasingly impatient. She offers a sack of pearls, easily ten times the worth of the green pearl!

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Leelo makes a sign to Lodermulch, who signals in the affirmative. The elf dashes across the room, leaping a table and diving through the window. Lodermulch scurries under the table as Laerlith stands and screams, “Kill everyone here, let no one leave alive!”. While Laerlith is distracted he snags her pouch. She notices and shrieks in outrage, but Loder is already fleeing across the room to leap through the shattered window after Leelo.

The four Hands of Hastur produce swords out of thin air: great black blades etched with glowing green runes. One cuts down the innkeeper and proceeds to cause general havoc . Three whisper spells of supernatural speed and give chase. A madcap game of hide and seek ensues among the warehouses, taverns and docks of the riverfront. Leelo escapes back into the city proper, but Loder is cornered in a fish-market. The black-robed warlock erupts in a writhing mass of flailing tentacles. Loder is knocked across the slippery floor. Goran appears behind the warlock, but slips on a flounder when he lunges with his shortsword. Loder suffers a cut from the green-glowing blade before scurrying down a small hatch. This opens to a long chute finally depositing Loder into a vat of fish guts outside the market. Goran likewise escapes.

A few hours later Leelo and Loder find Mesmer. The illusionist quickly identifies the pearls in Laerlith’s pouch as illusions given a temporary permanence by shadow magic. Loder is able to locate a fence who can sell the pearls quickly for a small profit without incriminating the rune-heroes when the gems fade to nothing. Unfortunately the fence turns out to be a wizard of the Scions of Arbandi working undercover for the city guard and Loder is nabbed. The luckless halfling disappears into the bowels of the mage guild dungeon. In exchange for freedom at some unspecified future date, Loder agrees to serve undercover in the city guard. Mesmer is able to send a message informing Loder of the rune-heroes next destination (Ithralia, capitol of the Luchuirp kingdom). He leaves 150 gold for Loder at the mage guild. Mesmer doesn’t mention that he’s spent the bulk of his friend’s gold on spells!

Departing Galveholm

The end of summer approaches and with it the expiration of Os-Gabella’s writ of safe conduct. Not wanting to find out if this writ is the only reason they are alive and sane after a season in Galveholm, the rune-heroes prepare to depart. All the heavy gear is piled aboard a cart and ox team stolen by Finch. On the road east, Keelo appears and bids farewell to his former companions. Tears spring to Leelo’s eyes when she sees what has become of Keelo. “Dear sister, as you can see I am no longer whole. At least the creature of nightmare that did this to me is no more. I must now part company with the rune-heroes, but I may never stray far thanks to the curse that binds us. Here are herbs that will ward you against poison. May Amathaon and Cernunnos watch over you.

The party journeys east across the wide lowlands of central Sheaim dotted with ricefields, towns and farms. At the city of Steinvik they turn northeast and climb the basalt hills to Vargastad. Erki sadly observes that his home city of Tia na’dom, conquered by the Sheaim a decade past, lies on the shores of the Meditor Sea only five days north. Mavriy would have passed through here on her way to Cafes earlier in the summer. She reports the former gnomish city is now a major Sheaim naval installation harboring dozens of frigates, caravels and galleons. These patrol the Meditor Sea and Straights of Aduro where six kingdoms intersect: Mercurian, Infernal, Elohim, Bannor, Sheaim and Luchuirp.

At Vargastad the travelers board a canal boat taking them sixty miles east upriver and across Lake Kaldor to Skadistad at the foot of the towering Dragonspine mountains. The small city is now an armed camp swollen to ten times its normal population. Thousands of arcane, undead and summoned troops are massed here at the west side of the pass to Luchuirp country. Smoke from a thousand pyre zombies blankets the city and surrounding countryside in a pall of stinking brown smog. Among the minority of living troops are Rosier the Fallen, Dread Lord of Vargastad, with his elite regiment of heavy cavalry.

Twenty days and 400 miles after departing Galveholm, the rune heroes climb the pass to Dragonspire Fortress, captured from the Luchuirp gnomes 25 years ago. The Sheaim have labored these past decades to convert the castle into a truly imposing fortress. A high keep perches above the pass and two lower fortifications, the Second and Third walls. The outer third wall is far below the higher second wall and keep, extending out far enough to physically block the pass. Between the second and third walls is a wide area of traps and dead-falls crawling with monstrous tar-demons summoned from the first of seven hells, the domain of Mulcarn. Beyond the third wall lies a windswept high moor with no permanent habitation…Dead Mans Land.

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Session 9: Kuldevind to Galveholm

AE-session9-SyzimondoTheGreat_20180311.jpgDuring 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.

AE-session9-Zaugrum_20180311.jpgThe 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.

AE-session9-Kuldevind_20180311.jpgFinch 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.

AE-session9-Laerlith_20180311.jpgFinch 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.

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Session 8: Belak and the Tree

AE-session8-Belak_20180304.jpgMesmer sends his newly-conjured familiar, the black rat ‘Dweezil’, into the eerie violet twilight of Belak’s subterranean grove. After a half-hour of nosing about, the rat passes through the remains of a keep wall. In the center lies a large tree of twisted black limbs, presumably the ‘Gulthias Tree’. At the base of the trunk is a wooden chair where sits a man in gray robes holding a staff in one hand and a burning book in the other. The rat’s poor vision can make out no other details.

Mesmer and the rest of the rune warriors inch forward through the tangle of briars, weeds and bushes. Leelo thinks to see the face of a twig blight in one of the thickets, but upon moving to a different angle can no longer make it out. A trick of the imagination? Unlikely. Lodermulch scouts ahead along the far wall of the cave to come up within 30’ of the tree and the robed man.

The rest of the invaders creep into the crumbled shell of a stone tower to survey the scene. All the while the man has moved not an inch. His face is mostly concealed by a hood, but Keelo recognizes his skin has the appearance of hard wood or bark. The burning book is clearly magical. Moreover, a glowing symbol burns upon the trunk of the tree, identical to the rune-heroes own in all but color. Ethereal forms drift among the dark branches. Finch recognizes the ghostly faces of the Hucrele siblings, Talgen the elder warrior and Sharwyn, his wizardly sister. Perhaps their late companions Sir Pelor and Karakas should be considered fortunate to have died relatively clean deaths.

Finch steps forward to address the silent druid, “Belak, what do accomplish here with this tree and grove? And what of the glowing symbol…we know it well”. Belak briefly turns to look up at the tree, for the first time exposing his pallid and shrunken countenance. He speaks without looking up:

“I see no symbol…I have been gifted with this child from the dead Tree of Life at the Well of Souls, where Emperor Arbandi cast Ceridwen’s mighty spell consigning this world to it’s doom. I do Arbandi’s bidding by giving the tree’s fruits to fools who unknowingly spread Armageddon across creation. Interfere with my work at your peril!”

The rune warriors conduct a whispered discussion. What could this reward be? In any case, it appears that Emperor Arbandi and Os-Gabella might not be on the same page in all respects. Further attempt at negotiation elicits an ultimatum from Belak,

“Submit and you will share in the reward after the remaking of the world. In the meantime, you will survive to serve me, after a fashion…”

The spirits of Talgen and Sharwyn enter two stunted saplings to the left and right of Belak. They quickly swell and grow into demonic-appearing trees complete with arms, legs and evil visages, not unlike twisted versions of treants Keelo would be familiar with from his time in the alfar forests. The 9’ tall tree-demons stride forward with creaking limbs. At the same time, everyone near the tower shell is entwined and held fast by masses of living vines and roots. Mesmer was hiding behind a wall and escapes the vines. Lodermulch is still hidden behind Belak and thus far avoids notice. Mavriy was already moving toward Belak. Ten stick-creatures animated by evil spirits emerge from the tangled briars all around the cavern: more twig-blights.

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Mavriy takes up her shield and pole-scythe and strides forward to confront the huge tree-demons. The young paladin is quickly dashed to the ground. Her shield arm is broken. She crawls away from the looming monsters, back toward where Krag and Keelo are held fast by twining branches. The half-orc and elf druid heal her quickly, restoring the use of her arm just in time. Then both are swarmed by approaching twig-blights. Erki the gnome ex-slave is cut off on the other side of the wall. Leelo fires magic arrows retrieved from the ruins above. They burst into magical flame which proves to be highly effective against the demon-trees, but perhaps not enough to save her companions. Finch attempts to charm Belak but the evil druid resists his voice with ease. Grenl fires arrows but they have little effect

Lodermulch steps forward and throws a dagger into Belak with accuracy, slashing one arm. The druid now stands to pull his robe free of the dagger embedded in his chair, still holding the burning book and staff. Mesmer torches an approaching twig-blight with fire magic, then drinks the smoking orange liquid extracted from the dragon-fountain in the ruins above. Smoke and fire begin to belch from the nostrils and mouth of the wizard! Finch destroys a twig-blight with dissonant whispers from his unknowable patron.

Leelo escapes the grasping branches and dances past the smoking tree demons. Lodermulch leaps over an approaching twigblight. The pair confront Belak, who has now lost his protective skin of bark. Leelo trips as she draws her mithril daggers and slams into Belak. The dark druid loses concentration and the animated vines return to normal, freeing the rest of the rune-heroes. He casts his staff to the ground nearby. The black wood twists and writhes, expanding into a 10’ long black viper which strikes at Loder. The halfling dodges nimbly aside. Belak conjures a man-sized ball of fire nearby…the heat is intense.

Mesmer breathes forth explosions of flame from across the cavern, turning Talgen the tree-demon into a raging pyre. Sharwyn tree-demon is likewise set alight and then chopped apart by Mavriy. The screams of Talgen and Sharwyn echo through the cavern as their immortal souls are freed from whatever hellish bond was keeping them from passing on.

Belak is stabbed to death by Leelo and Loder. He dies soundlessly. As the dark druid’s emaciated form slides to ground, the flaming book winks out of existence. Loder finds nothing at all within the bloody folds of Belak’s robe. The snake transforms back into a staff of black wood. Grenl is on hand to snatch it up. She runs screeching around the cave back toward Finch. Leelo gives chase and intercepts the goblin, who concedes defeat and hands over the staff, “I was getting it for my master!” The now-mobile heroes quickly save Erki from encroaching twig blights.

The glowing rune upon the tree shimmers and changes to violet hue, then disappears. The color of the symbols above the rune-warriors heads also changes to violet. The Gulthias Tree begins to shrivel and die. Within five minutes it is reduced to a black stump. Likewise, the glowing fungus and various other plants crowding the grove begin to go dim and wilt.

The group retreats from the dimming grove, gathers up all the items from Belak’s study and heads back up to the entry ruins, where much has transpired in the short time since Finch played his drinking game with Ballsack the bugbear. The kobold prophet Yusdrayl received a last vision from the wight of Asmoday, “Your service to Ashardolon is complete, you may return to the jungles whence you came…” Yusdrayl and her people plan to depart within the day.

The black dragon Wyrmling ‘Calcryx’ escaped its handlers for the last time, eating Meepo on the way out. The kobolds report the dragon reached the sinkhole and departed on black wings into the jungle night. Leelo is bitterly disappointed. She had plans for Calcryx’s hide, including a custom suit of dragon-leather armor. As a consolation prize the party discovers the scaly hide discarded by Calcryx after molting the week before.

After threats from Grenl, the goblins provide porters to help carry treasure from the ruins. As the Durbuluk tribe is not well-liked by the encroaching Sheaim civilization, they refuse to travel the high road or actually enter any human settlements, but do greatly reduce the party’s burden in the meantime. The rune-heroes deem Nininsnal too small to serve their purposes and decide to head northeast toward the city of Kuldevind. After covering a good 15 or 16 miles along the low-road, a very large man with a great black beard steps out onto the trail, flanked by four rogues.

“As you have no doubt correctly surmised, Syzimondo the Great stands before you. Now don’t tell me you’ve gone and killed my golden goose?”

The bandits are richly equipped and dressed, wearing shirts of iron mail and bearing both poniards and rapiers of precious steel. Clearly these rogues have benefited greatly from their association with Belak and Yandroon Kuldevind. And now they are looking for compensation. Farther back on the trail, Mavrey, Krag and Keelo notice that the goblin porters have dropped their loads and disappeared without a trace.

Finch steps forward to contest Syzimondo’s claim. The bandit chief observes, “Yer shenanigans have cost me a run of easy living, to be sure! It’s only fair me and my lads are justly compensated, don’t you agree?” The overbearing ex-pirate then instructs the party, “Kindly deposit your conveniently transportable wealth on the trail and you can be on your way.” Leelo sees her profit from this venture going up in smoke and urges immediate attack. The party conducts a hasty colloquy. During this conversation, Lodermulch disappears into the jungle unnoticed. Likewise, the crafty goblin Grenl sneaks off in the other direction.

Syzimondo grows impatient: “What?! All I get is grumbling and sullen looks for my trouble? Stand and deliver you dogs, or be spit by a score of archers in the trees yonder, not to mention burned by my wizard!”

Finch accedes to the murderous whispers of Leelo, who believes the bandit chief is bluffing. The warlock chants a spell of charming toward the odious black-bearded buffoon standing on the trail.

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Session 7: Asmoday's Sepulchre

AE-session7-AsmodayWight-detail_20180218.jpgAfter a much-needed rest in goblin-town, the rune-heroes return to the dragon-sculpture chamber. Lodermulch climbs the nine foot high marble statue. The large rubies pried from the bronze dragon golem fit perfectly into the empty eye sockets. A puff of stale air blows dust from the secret door as it slowly swings open into a green-lit space. Beyond the door is a wide hall flanked by alcoves where stand red-veined blue marble statues of ancient nobles in archaic dress and armor. A pair of stone kobolds kneel in supplication before each alcove. At the end of the hall is a pit and archway giving access to a mausoleum lit with flickering green. In the center stands a massive bronze-bound sarcophagus of black marble.

While Finch and Leelo watch from the door, Loder carefully inches his way around the hall. His route is marked by a trail through the dust of long centuries. Five of the alcoves are occupied by statues, each one subtly different than the next. The sculptures are stylized but clearly depict unique individuals. Bronze name-plates above each alcove bear names in Patrian. Finch and then Mesmer enter to decypher the ancient letters: Paimon, Dylantyr, Leucetios, Kezef, Asmoday and Greysun. Mesmer realizes these are the names of famous archmages from the Age of Magic. Here stand statues of six of the 21 wizards trained by Kylorin, the father of magic and ruler of the first great empire of man. Each of the 21 became powerful mages and discovered a unique source of magical mana. Many lived for hundreds of years. One statue is missing: Asmoday. From this alcove a trail of tiny clawed feet meander across the dust to the edge of the pit, where they disappear. Subsequent centuries of dust cover this trail. There is no sign of anything at the bottom of the deep bronze-spiked pit blocking entry into the mausoleum.

Grenl and Erki, an odd couple if there ever was one, fetch boards from goblin-town. Mavriy crosses the pit first. As soon as the demonspawn’s armored boot touches the far side, a high tittering voice sounds from about the chamber: “You broke the binding. My watch over Asmoday is complete! Heeehahahaa…”, followed by a brief flapping of leathery wings. Mavriy and Loder are close by, but still unable to pinpoint the source of the sound. Krag, Loder, Mesmer and Leelo cross the rickety footbridge. Finch was made wary of ancient tombs by his time in the catacombs beneath Cahir Abbey and maintains watch on the far side. His henchman Grenl stands close by.

Mesmer retrieves an ever-burning green torch from a bronze sconce in one corner. The other three sconces are empty. The sarcophagus is huge, almost twelve feet long including the massive dragon-head at the north end. The round-edged lid is six inches thick and fastened to the box with massive hinges of greenish bronze. Krag, a skilled blacksmith, estimates it will require ten minutes each or one hour total to cut through all six clamps.

Leelo and Lodermulch carefully inspect the room for hidden adits, traps, doors or spaces. By sheerest luck Leelo spots the faint outline of a narrow trapdoor. Loder finds the latch and lifts the heavy stone panel on hinges of bronze. Below is a secret escape-passage leading to a secret room just south of Asmoday’s empty alcove. A well concealed door opens into the back of the alcove. On the far wall of the chamber are inscribed the words: “An Archmage entombed alive for transgressing Kylorin’s Law still retains the honor of his position.”

A shout is heard from the secret door where Erki maintains watch. Finch glimpses a small winged atrocity attacking Erki. The gnome rolls and scrambles away, but is scratched the length of his face and neck by long black claws. The apparition disappears as quickly as it appeared, leaving only a tittering laugh and snap of leathery wings in it’s wake. It seems a tiny demonic guardian now stalks the party. Erki quickly cleanses the wounds with water. This and a native resistance to poison saves the gnome’s life. He hastens to join Keelo in the hall of alcoves. The druid quickly heals the ugly scratches.

Everyone takes positions as Krag and Mesmer prepare to break the last seal. The combined strength of Krag, Mavriy and Mesmer is required to get the massive lid moving. Suddenly the lid flips over and slams to the floor. The ever-burning torch dims to a feeble coal of green as a dark presence rises from the tomb. The form is indistinct save for eyes like points of glowing fire and a fantastical suit of bronze armor sculpted with stylized dragons. Mavriy recognizes the apparition described by Yusdrayl in her visions. Is this the fruition of Asmoday’s attempts to free himself from a prison established in the Age of Magic? What law of Kylorin could Asmoday have broken to deserve such a fate?

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All but Mesmer, Leelo and Keelo are overcome by terror and flee. Even the brave halfling dives for the secret trapdoor and hides quaking beneath. Krag and Mavriy nearly trip each other into the spiked pit as they flee across the creaking footbridge. Leelo sees the dark wight fix Mesmer with pinpoints of glittering light, “Mortal wizard, do not interfere with my passage and you shall be rewarded!” Mesmer stands aside, not daring to oppose the wight since most of his companions lie curled in fetal positions in whatever dark corners they could find. With that, the remnant of the great archmage strides forth across the conveniently-laid footbridge, leaving a trail of swirling darkness in its wake.

The hideous being pauses briefly to turn its lambent gaze upon the uncowed Keelo. A low ironic chuckle issues from Asmoday-wight: “Thank you for your service, priest…” Leelo cautiously trails the apparition, eliciting a hiss of vexation, “trouble me not, alfar!” Leelo continues to shadow the wight until it ambushes her at the dragon-door beyond the room of blue-spheres. She dances back just in time to avoid the dark grasp and sweeping stroke of a bronze sword. Asmoday is allowed to exit the ruin without further inconvenience. What destination might this foul wight have in mind? More to the point, what new horror have these tomb-raiders unleashed upon creation?

Within Asmoday’s tomb, or prison, lie scattered copper coins and worthless trinkets. A last parting insult from his fellows? Perhaps research at a great library or institution of learning could reveal more about what went on here.

AE-session7-Ergza_20180218.jpgThe rune-cursed take a breather and recover their wits, then head back down into the domain of Belak. Grenl guides the party through a series of galleries festooned with fungus and twisted surface vegetation cultivated by the mysterious druid. Finally they happen upon the rumored female bugbear, “Ergza”, only slightly less offensive than her mate. Finch is magically disguised as the late Ballsack and attempts casual conversation. Unfortunately Ergza is not responsive to Finch’s advances, nor does she seem to even be aware of Ballsack’s unpleasant fate. It seems she is (was) estranged from her recently-demised hunk of bugbear man-love. The formidable bugbearess swings her bronze glaive with violent intent, all the while streaming a spate of invective sufficient to curl the ears of an ogre. Finch beats a hasty retreat.

When Ergza bursts through the door, the warlock is ready with a charm spell. Once again all is well in the house of Ballsack and Ergza. Finch pleads lassitude and declines the incipient nuptials with surprising fervor. Ergza is left to her own devices, but as the recently-dead bard might have quoted, “hell hath no fury like a she-bugbear scorned!”

Not long after, Leelo and Lodermulch discover a bronze-bound stone door, much like the others found throughout this area of the ruins, but this time fitted with a heavy lock of bronze. Naturally the door is locked. Another similar but unlocked door gives access to a partially-collapsed chamber. One wall is broken open to reveal the end of a vast cavern lit by luminescent fungus. The cave hosts a ‘twilight grove’ crowded with sickly briars, bushes, saplings and other woody plants normally foreign to caves. Low remains of ruined walls and collapsed tower shells protrude from the briars at various points. In the distance can be seen the twisted limbs of a dead tree reaching like clawed hands toward the lofty ceiling. The eerie grove is still and silent as death.

Opposite the collapsed wall is another locked stone door. Leelo and Loder cooperate to defeat the ancient mechanism. Beyond are the private chambers of a herbalist or druid, undoubtedly Belak. Shelves are crowded with scrolls, dried herbs, wood bottles, powders, pastes, shrunken heads and every other kind of smelly oddment. While the others keep a watch outside, Finch, Mesmer and Keelo quickly search the place.

A folio of notes, cycles, charts and observations of the countryside around Nininsnal is found, of the type a druid would record for the benefit of farmers and others living on the land. The records go back 12 years, but end suddenly about two years ago. It seems that until recently, ‘Belak’ was shepherding a flock and caring for nature as would be typical of any druid in the wilds around a frontier settlement.

A valuable book of great age titled ‘Druidic Theories on the Cycle of Life and Death’ is found lying open on a wooden table. A second folio titled ‘Tome of the Fire Lords’, this one bound in exotic red-scaled hide, is packed away for later examination. These heavy tomes should fetch good prices in a city if they can be hauled out of the jungle. A heavy box contains several hundred gold coins and a few minor gems. Tucked away among the mundane scrolls are two inscribed with useful druidic spells: Entangle and Protection from Poison.

Beyond lies the twilight grove of Belak, presumably absorbed in the study of his ‘Gulthias Tree’.

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Session 6: The Passing of Ulfmar

AE-session5-Bugbear_20180204.jpgMesmer and Leelo climb down the two rope ladders first. In the purple-lit grotto beneath the well they face two skeleton ‘gardeners’, now hostile, and a trio of savage jungle-hyenas. Leelo retreats to a corner and spits one with an arrow from her longbow (recently acquired from the dead half-elven ranger Karakas). Krag and Ulfmar climb down next. Krag fails to diminish the skeleton’s evil fervor. Ulfmar and Mesmer destroy the first with battleaxe and obsidian maul.

After several failed attempts, Finch finally succeeds in charming the recovering bugbear. ‘Ball-sack’ hears the sounds of a fight outside his cave and shouts a command to his jackals. Finch runs close behind in a vain attempt to distract the enraged bugbear. Ball-sack calls ‘Durnn’ to his aid without bothering to look back.

Krag, Mesmer, Leelo and Ulfmar make quick work of the jackals and skeletons. Mavriy and Lodermulch arrive from the rope ladders. Loder races across the fungus-laden turf and hides near the cave opening. Mesmer tries to hide opposite Loder. Mavriy is slowed by her new heavy armor and doesn’t get far before Ball-sack charges into the chamber looking for a fight. He stops to survey his enemies and command his remaining jackals to the fray. The shaggy bugbear fails to notice Loder, but quickly spots Mesmer who has unwisely boxed himself into a corner. Fortunately for the wizard, Ball-sack strikes the nearby wall. The iron morningstar cartwheels up and over the bemused bugbear to land right at the feet of Finch. Ball-sack attacks with a dagger, but Mesmer shields himself with magic. Finch, Ulfmar and Lodermulch quickly bring down the enraged bugbear after he is blinded by a spray of prismatic light from Mesmer’s hand. Leelo, Krag and Mavriy finish off the few jackals that fail to turn tail back up the cave and out into the jungle. A sizable number of gold and silver coins are discovered in the filth of Ball-sack’s lair.

Grenl guides the party through a long hall with chambers occupied by fellow goblins, workers earning coin and food from Belak in exchange for assisting with his ‘gardens’ and experiments. Within the various chambers are all manner of herbs, dried plants, poisons and tools. Belak seems intent on twisting nature to his evil purposes. Evidence of partially-grown ‘twig blights’ are found. Giant rats lie dead or barely alive, mutilated by bizarre experiments causing their hide to harden and erupt in woody boles. According to Grenl, Belak will be engaged in solitary study or worship of the ‘Gulthias Tree’ so soon after transacting sale of a magical fruit with the hobgoblins and bandits (perhaps ‘Syzimondo the great’?), so there is little danger of the human happening upon the recent scene of carnage. She commands her goblins to carry on as normal.

AE-session6-BlackPuddings_20180211.jpgBehind a barricaded stone door, Lodermulch discovers a narrow crack in the stonework leading to a long natural rift in the earth. A shadowy form moves slowly in the dim space. Light reveals a small pulsating blob of black jelly. The freakish pudding seems to detect Loder’s presence and picks up speed. Loder is just able to outdistance the beast.

Leelo manages to singe the dog-sized specimen with burning oil and attract it into Belak’s experiment chambers. Her companions quickly stab and burn it to death. The blobs seem to have internal organs subject to injury from piercing weapons.

Mesmer and Loder investigate the other stone door in the purple-glowing ‘garden’ chamber below the well. Grenl volunteers that Belak sends skeletons through this door to dump unwanted corpses and other garbage, but the goblins were warned never to venture here. Beyond the narrow stone door is a long passage ending in a 10’ drop to a natural chasm that looks to have been created by ancient floodwaters. It obviously connects to the crevice in the barricaded chamber 80’ to the northeast. Thrown torches reveal the presence of more black puddings. At least two are almost 5’ high and 7’ in diameter…true monstrosities of the underdark.

AE-session6-stirge_20180211.jpgMesmer sends his crow-familiar flying into the torchlit hall and crevasse. Mesmer sees that the other end of the brick hallway has been shifted a full forty feet southwest, or perhaps the floods that tunneled through this area obliterated the ancient connecting passage. Another bronze-bound stone door, this one somewhat larger, is glimpsed at the end of the far hallway. On the way back, the crow is hit by something and tumbles out of control. Mesmer attempts to recover the familiar only to discover it no longer exists. Loder peers around the corner to glimpse a weird bat-like creature flit away into the darkness.

Mesmer and Loder beat a hasty retreat behind the stone door. A horde of jellies large and small crowd the hallway behind them when the door is slammed shut. The bar creaks as something heavy pulses against the trembling stone.

Ulfmar devises a fateful plan: he and Krag will let one of the puddings through the door, then shut it, allowing the entire party to destroy them one at a time. Before everyone is quite prepared, Krag lifts the bar. The stone door flies open with enough force to slam a surprised Krag against the corner wall. A huge blob forces through the narrow opening and immediately strikes at the half-orc with a black pseudopod. The massive blob smacks the wall as Krag slides away. Stone smokes and sizzles with burning acid. The desperate half-orc puts his shoulder to the door and shoves with all his might, but another massive jelly already blocks the opening. Rather than flee and leave Krag to his doom, Ulfmar tries to help shut the door.

AE-session6-DeathofUlfmar_20180211.jpgMesmer unleashes fiery magic, Leelo drives arrows home one after the other, Loder casts his dagger, and Mavriy attempts magic to compel the next pudding toward her, all to no avail. Finch retrieves the corpse of a hyena and rushes forward thinking to lure the second pudding away. Grenl gibbers in terror. Erki is frozen in fear and shock.

A glistening mountain of black goo envelops Ulfmar, crushing him to the moldy turf. Only the dwarf’s arms and head are exposed. Lodermulch darts forward and pulls him free, but too late, far too late. Nothing remains of the brave dwarf but burning flesh and corroded bones. Mavriy steps forward and casts her spear with accuracy. The first pudding is now a smoking, quivering wreck. The second senses Krag and unleashes a flurry of blows. By sheer chance Krag escapes death though his armor smokes with burning acid. With nowhere to run, Krag exerts himself to the utmost and manages to close and bar the door against a third somewhat smaller pudding.

Mavriy strikes the remaining pudding with her pole-scythe. The huge mound is neatly split into two smaller but still active specimens! Her precious iron scythe is corroded by acid. The plan finally comes together, though too late for Ulfmar. The remaining smaller puddings are dispatched one after the other as they squeeze through the doorway controlled by Krag.

After the last jelly is burned, Krag gathers up the sad remains of his friend: a few corroded bones, a silver scroll-case, and a gold clan-symbol carried over 700 leagues from his birthplace in Mazark at the foot of the Pristinus Mountains. The silver case protects a scroll wherein Ulfmar chronicled his experiences since leaving Mazark, presumably including his final adventure with the rune-cursed. Perhaps one day Krag can somehow return these artifacts to the dwarf’s people. But will the Khazad be able to overcome their ancient prejudice against half-orcs, as did their wayward son? Perhaps Ulfmar’s chronicle will sway them, though it is written in Khazad script unreadable to the surviving rune-warriors.

The party investigates the crevasse and far stone door. A few stirges dive bomb the explorers but they are quickly dispatched with arrows. Krag and Mavriy force open the ancient stone door, which is twisted and jammed in it’s stone frame by tectonic forces. Beyond is a square chamber covered with scattered tiles that once adorned the cracked and broken walls. Magic is the only explanation for the continued existence of this chamber. In the center is a man-sized bronze sculpture of a three-headed bronze dragon sitting upright and holding an empty tray. Two red ruby eyes of exceptional size gleam from the central head. The eye-sockets of the other two heads are bare, though it is clear they once held large gemstones as well. Lodermulch creeps around the circumference of the room. After almost a full hour of checking for traps and hidden portals, Loder dares to pry the fabulous gems from the dragon’s greenish sockets.

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Nothing happens.

Erki the gnome is able to identify the sculpture as originating from the Age of Magic, when the open-sky dwarves were a mighty empire of engineers and enchanters able to manufacture powerful golems of all types. This sculpture is in fact an ancient magical robot. Fortunately for these treasure-hunters it’s magic has died with the passing of untold centuries. Only gnomes with skills unknown in this callow age could hope to disassemble, transport and repair such a fantastic machine.

Leelo leads the party back through goblin-town to the other end of the ruins. In the ‘room of blue spheres’ eerie music still reverberates. Several rune-cursed are overcome by the dirge and begin to wander back out of the ruins toward the sinkhole. All regain their senses without revealing anything new about the ruins, except for Finch. The warlock’s connection with voices from the outer darkness leads him back into the ruined entry-tower. He awakens staring at a wall.

Lodermulch checks the wall again and finds a very well-concealed brick lever. The still-recovering Keelo is called forth from goblin town. He detects magic originating a short distance beyond the curved stones. Everyone prepares weapons and spells as the halfling triggers the lever. A small 3×4 stone portal swings out and away to reveal a dark cramped space beyond. Arrow slits packed with rubble line the far walls. A trio of ancient skeletons in corroded brass armor lie along the walls. Evocation magic radiates from arrows in brass quivers, though the ancient bows have collapsed into dust.

AE-session6-PatrianSkeletons_20180211.jpgFinch is overcome by greed and acts quickly, before his avaricious companions can interfere. The reckless half-elf darts into the dusty tomb to snatch at the arrows. He fails to notice as red points of fire illuminate the eyesockets of long-dead Patrian archers. Krag and Lodermulch scream a warning, but too late. In unison the evil spirits stand, draw corroded green blades, and stab the screaming warlock repeatedly. Krag uses his authority to placate two of the undead, but the third ignores him and continues stabbing. STAB STAB STAB!

Krag and Loder grab Finch’s feet and drag the dying half-elf out into the tower. Erki the gnome ex-slave saves Finch with the divine magic of Kilmorph (spare the dying). Leelo screams as the third skeleton crawls from the opening. Mesmer smashes the last evil dead into a fountain of splinters with a single tremendous blow from his antique obsidian maul.

Finch was lucky. His wounds were flesh rather than mortal and his friends got to him before he could bleed out. After a day of rest and healing the warlock should be back on his feet. Tonight in the camp of the rune-cursed there will be much discussion of tactics, planning and the wages of uncontrolled avarice.

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Session 5: Dragons and Drinking Games

AE-session4-Grenl_20180204.jpgGrenl gives the rune-warriors a grand tour of ‘goblin-town’. She’ll soon find a new push-over goblin chieftain she can control from behind the scenes. In the meantime, the grotesque little shamaness uses her new liberators as muscle to reassert authority over the tribe. Grenl is overawed by Finch’s strange connection to otherworldly powers and soon agrees to serve him as a henchmen in exchange for magical secrets in the future. She helps the party avoid a number of traps and break into Durnn’s poison-trapped treasure chest.

The druid was sorely wounded and will require days of rest and recuperation before he’s again able to move and fight with competence. Mavriy will stay behind to watch over Keelo. After food and a night’s sleep everyone else is ready to continue exploring.

The adventurers find a goblin prison holding three emaciated kobolds hanging from manacles. Grenl ‘forgot’ to include this location on the ‘grand tour’ yesterday. A broken chain trails from a bronze rod driven into the stone floor, formerly attached to Calcryx, who escaped a few days ago and rampaged among the Durbuluk tribe before being corralled in the trophy room. In the corner a gnome is crammed into a tiny bronze cage. The party doesn’t immediately free the gnome, interrogating him first. The prisoner turns out to be an escaped Sheaim slave. ‘Tir-na’don’ goes by the nickname Erki to non-Luchuirp. He was carted away to a future of servitude along with thousands of others after the conquest of the Luchuirp city of Tia-na’dom by the Sheaim a decade past. The war continues to this day despite various short-lived truces and cease-fires. The Luchuirp empire has not fared well. The Sheaim now control the mighty Dragonfang fortress overlooking Luchuirp lands east of the Dragonspires.

AE-session5-Erki_20180204.jpgErki worked 8 years as an engineer in the Sheaim slave-legions. Finally he and five others saw their chance. They escaped from their road-crew working the High Road between Nininsnal and Kuldevind. The fugitives were unaware that home was over 900 miles distant on the other side of the Sheaim empire. Not two days later, all six were captured by the Durbuluk tribe. All but Erki ended up in goblin cookfires. The goblins still hold Erki in the far-fetched hope of a ransom sometimes paid for escaped high-caste slaves. Erki pleads that he is an acolyte of Kilmorph and can help the party survive. For now the desperate gnome is left in his cage. The feeble cries of the kobolds are ignored.

AE-session5-Calcryx_20180204.jpgThough Grenl is terrified by the trapped dragon Calcryx, she agrees to the adventurer’s plan to bust in to the trophy room and kill or capture the beast. Two goblins directed by Grenl wait nearby with chains ready. Finch unbars the heavy door and peeks into the dark space beyond. Ancient furniture, pots, vases, trophies and other brick-a-brak are piled up toward the back of the room. A broken bronze chain lies nearby. The black dragon wyrmling peeks out from behind an overturned table. Calcryx has grown on his diet of goblins, kobolds and other corpses, and is now almost the size of a horse. The wyrmling also appears to be molting. Its scaly hide is a blotchy pattern of black, purple and gray.

Finch tries to communicate using his secret voice, but the barely-articulate dragonling only hisses and demands food in response. Finch begins to whisper a spell of hideous laughter. The dragon knows enough to recognize magic, probably from seeing Yusdrayl and Grenl cast spells, and charges the door. Finch is faster and Calcryx stumbles, rolls over and begins heaving and trembling. A staccato series of choking roars burst from the dragon’s fanged mouth. A dragon incapacitated by gales of laughter, perhaps a sight never to be witnessed again!

Warriors flood into the trophy-hall. Finch and the goblins begin to throw chains over the thrashing dragon. Leelo, Ulfmar, Krag and Mesmer pound on the writhing monster with the flat of their weapons. Before the dragon can be fully subdued it recovers and launches a random blast of acid from it’s snapping maw. Leelo suffers only light burns as she deftly tumbles away. Finally Calcryx is beaten into submission.

The victors take possession of the few paltry valuables instinctively scraped together by Calcryx. Among the meager loot is a yellowed bone scroll case inscribed with Luchuirp (gnome) characters. Inside is a decayed scroll written in Luchuirp. A barely legible map depicts a location somewhere high in the northern arm of the Dragonspire mountains. Mesmer remembers Erki and returns to free the gnome. Erki experiences a glimmer of hope that he might one day make it back to his distant homeland. He agrees to translate the Luchuirp scroll if he is allowed to accompany the party on their travels. The scroll chronicles an expedition to a long-lost Luchuirp fortress and golem-foundry thought destroyed during the Age of Ice. The expedition turned back with losses after repeated attacks by mountain ogres and orcs in the high passes. The ancient Luchuirp empire during the Age of Magic created mighty golems of all types. Much of this knowledge is lost to the gnomes of today, who can manufacture only simpler golems from primitive materials such as wood or clay. Erki says there are sages in the Luchuirp capitol of Ithralia who will likely be able to glean more information from the tattered scroll…

The party quickly drags and coaxes the hissing, spitting wyrmling back to the Kobold halls. Yusdrayl is thrilled to have ‘her’ dragon back. Meepo is reprieved from his pending exile. The witch-doctor/prophet rewards the party with a number of artifacts her people recovered from the ruins. Among them is a heavy mithril ‘dragon key’ which Yusdrayl says opens a vault or treasure room at the other end of the ruins, a place she fears to tread as it seems holy to the long-gone dragon-cultists who built this place.

The party immediately heads to the other end of the ruins to explore mysterious chambers south of their original entry point. The dragon-cultists may be long gone, but their magic still lingers. A dragon-carved stone door accepts the mithril key and opens to a series of rooms and halls still in quite good condition despite the passage of centuries.

When Finch disturbs a glowing blue sphere of crystal, dark chanting music fills the nearby chambers. Mesmer is overcome by the ancient magic latent in the music. The rest of the party follows the ‘mesmerized’ wizard in hopes he will reveal some secret location, but Mesmer regains his senses when he reaches the nearby ruined entry-tower. The glowing sphere dims when taken outside the sealed areas. The intact sphere and three other broken examples are taken as loot.

Lodermulch finds a trap in the next corridor, a wide pit or pressure plate. Unfortunately the trap is triggered before it can be disarmed. A swarm of darts fly from scores of holes on the opposite wall, striking the halfling multiple times. The ancient poison coating the darts has lots it’s efficacy and Loder survives. The party skirts around the trigger-plate to reach the far door.

AE-session4-DragonStatue_20180204.jpgBeyond the trapped corridor is a wide and long hall. Against all reason, the white and blue marble masonry is in near-perfect condition. In the curved nave at one end stands a large dragon sculpture of blue and red marble almost eight feet high. The sculpture has only dark gaps for eyes. Mesmer boosts Loder up to inspect the eye-sockets. Clearly these once held large faceted gemstones, but there is no evidence of damage from prying tools. The entire chamber is searched top to bottom, but no secret doors, buttons, levers or traps are found. A detect magic spell reveals an aura of illusion magic on the dragon statue, but Mesmer can’t find any obvious illusion. The dragon seems real enough. A spot on the wall opposite the entrance glows with faint abjuration magic. Detailed inspection reveals an extremely faint seam delineating a four by eight foot rectangle of stone, very much the shape of a door. Another hour of noodling, poking and prodding provides no indication of how the door might be opened. The somewhat-deflated explorers head back to goblin-town.

After a short rest, the party plans to descend the wide and deep well leading to a deeper area in the ruins. Grenl warns this is the beginning of Belak’s domain. Goblin’s from the Durbuluk tribe work here in Belak’s various fungus gardens and chambers where the weird human conducts experiments with herbs, monstrous plants and unfortunate captives. The Durbuluks delivered the captured Hucrele siblings to Belak. Their subsequent fate is unknown. Grenl doesn’t really understand Belak’s ultimate motivations, but she covets his control of a monstrous tree growing in his domain, referred to as the ‘Gulthias Tree’ by Belak. He and the tree were here when the goblins arrived six months ago. Belak paid the goblins, then their hobgoblin masters, for various services including an important once-per-season transaction: transporting and selling the powerful fruit of the Gulthias Tree to human bandits. At this time of year, so soon after the spring fruit, Belak is certainly holed up in a huge cavern with the tree. There he spends days, sometimes weeks, studying and perhaps worshiping the magical tree.

Grenl agrees to guide the explorers through the areas she knows and provide safe passage past her goblins and a few skeletons controlled by Belak. Unfortunately a pair of bugbears working for Belak may be less than cooperative. The male, named Balsag but quickly re-christened ‘Ball-sack’ by the party, controls a pack of savage jackals at the mouth of a cave leading to the surface (where the goblins originally entered the ruins). The female could be anywhere in the ruins below.

Finch uses his creepy powers to take on the appearance of the recently-demised chief Durnn. The warlock has been practicing the hobgoblin’s harsh voice and mannerisms. He smears himself with goblin blood and wears a smelly cloak retrieved from Durnn’s corpse.

Mesmer sends his crow familiar flapping down into the purple-lit space to perform a reconnaissance. The wizard can see and hear through the crow’s senses. Below the well is a large room covered with soil, filth and fungi of various types, much of it glowing lavender and purple to provide a dim illumination. Two skeletons in rotting robes turn the soil with wooden trowels. These are servants Belak found in the ruins and somehow learned to command. Two jackals, more like hyenas or wolves, begin howling and barking at the mouth of a wide tunnel broken through one wall.

AE-session5-Bugbear_20180204.jpgBallsack, a huge shaggy bugbear armed with a massive iron morningstar, rushes from the tunnel and casts a javelin at the crow. The monstrous humanoid shouts up the well, “Drunn, what in the Seven Hells are you and your little shaman up to? You know Belak doesn’t like you down here between deliveries!” Finch shouts down in his best Durnn-voice, “Just seeing how you are holding up down there fleabag!”. Ballsack invites ‘Durnn’ down for a drink, on the condition that Durnn’s buying. Grenl sends a goblin to fetch beer.

It is questionable if the illusion will fool Ballsack for long. Nonetheless, Finch climbs down the rope ladder armed with a keg of goblin-beer. Everyone else stands ready to descend the two rope ladders when needed. The two skeletons ignore ‘Durnn’, but the jackals set up a chorus of howls and run around in mad circles. Ballsack whacks them until they shut up. Inside the bugbear’s lair Finch is forced to endure an unexpected challenge: apparently Durnn and Ballsack have an ongoing drinking game, of which this is the next round. Finch must quaff a full half-gallon horn of sour goblin beer.

Using slight of hand, Finch simulates drinking but pours most of the foul swill out over his own head, concealed by Durnn’s massive illusory chest. In a stroke of incredible luck, Ballsack chokes on a dead mouse floating in his beer and doubles over gagging. Warned by Mesmer’s crow-vision, reinforcements begin to descend the rope ladders. Will Finch subdue Ballsack before he manages to cough up the beer-soaked mouse? If not, he may be in need of rescue very soon indeed.

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