Arcanearth

Session 76: Across the Polar Sea

AE-session76-Drifa_20221023.pngOnly hours after setting a new course for Paradera, disaster strikes. Mesmer looks out over the ship from where he stands next to Dorn on the stern deck. A terrifying shape materializes amidships directly behind Mavriy. It is the mobius witch from the destroyed Star of Ceridwen! The unsuspecting paladin is enveloped in grotesquely long arms and instantly paralyzed. Mesmer has time only for one strangled cry before the hovering horror disappears with its helpless captive into another dimension, or a new strand of time, or perhaps both. In the hours and days that follow, neither return. The Rune Heroes can only hope that Mavriy somehow escapes or defeats the witch and returns to arcanearth.

Week 4

Captain Dorn and his crew navigate the unforgiving waters of the polar sea. Deadly icebergs emerge without warning from freezing fog-banks taller than the ship’s main-mast. Leelo’s sharp eyes and Krag’s divine intervention are crucial in spotting them in time. Clouds and fog frequently obscure the Zephyr. The Amurite airship is sometimes unable to maintain the same course as Dorn and the ships are often separated for hours at a stretch.

Five days later Leelo spots a pair of ships beached upon a mountainous iceberg. The nearest is clearly the Scythe of Hyborem. The heavy frigate is smashed with gaping holes from bow to stern, the masts broken and sails ripped away by some elemental force. Dead half-demon sailors hang from tangled rigging or bob in the icy water along the stern. There is no sign of the greater Infernals identified by Leelo during her previous visit off the Candaba coast.

The other ship lies beached at a steep angle hard against the east side of the ice. The burnt remnant of a Lanun flag hangs from the stern. The fast frigate is half-burned to the waterline. Only the mizzen-mast and bowsprit remain intact. As the Dagda’s Balance cautiously creeps forward on quarter-sail, the burned remains of sailors become visible on the wreck and in the shallow water nearby. It looks like both ships battled to mutual destruction only days earlier and were intentionally run onto the ice by their crews.

Leelo casts her spell of invisibility, assumes aifon-form and dives into the water, protected by her white dragon armor and cloak of the winterlands. The frigid water would soon paralyze anyone not so equipped. The alfar first conducts a stealthy exploration of the Infernal wreck. Large holes in the waterline could only have been made by water elementals, while spirits of the air must have likewise destroyed the topside and masts.

In the forecastle Leelo finds a ten-foot tall vulture-demon perched motionless above broken treasure chests overflowing with coins and gems. Clearly a trap for the unwary. Creeping back to the captains cabin Leelo hears leathery flapping and a bored yawn. A wavering shadow and claw-marks give away the invisible imp’s position above the doors. It seems the demons left behind a few guardians to ambush unwary looters, but there is no sign of the other three vrocks, Azariel or the unknown balor. Did they escape into the sky?

AE-session76-beached_wrecks_20221023.jpg

Leelo thinks better of pressing her luck and slips back into the steel-gray water, only 3-12 feet deep where the greater part of the iceberg lurks just beneath the surface. Swimming around to the east side, Leelo climbs through smashed stern casements. The bronze name-plate survives: it is the Lanun Myrmidon described by Dain aboard the airship Zephyr. But where is High Priestess Miria Goldpetal? In the sooty cabin Leelo finds evidence the captain’s sea chest was dragged away. Indeed the entire ship has been carefully looted of choice items.

AE-session76-miria-dead_20221023.pngEmerging onto the stern-deck, Leelo is greeted by a horrible sight. The desecrated remains of Miria Goldpetal hang upside down from the mizzen-mast, burned, tortured and armless. So the mighty cleric of Danalin and her crew met their end at the hands of Infernals from the Scythe of Hyborem. Leelo gently lowers her to the deck. The Myrmidon was boarded and attacked by fiery weapons and claws, burned by infernal fire and shattered by hellish thunderbolts. The remains of a score or more half-demons are present, but none of the greater Infernals. If any perished in the battle, their remains must have been entirely destroyed.

Back at the Dagda’s Balance, Mesmer magics the Rune Heroes with water-walking and water-breathing, just in case. Leelo, Mesmer, Krag and Dorn take one of the ship’s boats back to the Myrmidon, thinking to return Miria’s remains to their ship and investigate the possibility of resurrecting the fallen cleric. She would certainly be a useful ally in the coming struggles. 1st Mate Jank is left in charge of the ship.

As the Rune Heroes prepare to lower Miria, Dorn finds the long-boat has disappeared. Only a swirling current gives any indication of where the boat floated alongside the Myrmidon. Leelo dives beneath the water. She spots the broken boat rapidly disappearing into the gloom beyond the edge of the submarine iceberg. There is no sign of tentacles, but something with monstrous strength is to blame. The Myrmidon creaks and rolls as titanic forces move beneath.

The Rune heroes must leave Miria for the moment. They climb down to the iceberg and begin walking along the edge. Dorn signals to the Dagda’s Balance and 2nd Mate Ralmevik departs with a crew in the second long-boat to meet up at the other wreck. This plan soon goes awry as the Rune Heroes are attacked by a trio or water elementals halfway around the iceberg. Ralmevik turns about and hastily returns to the ship. Miria’s rogue water elementals are proving troublesome!

Leelo is briefly entombed in a column of living water. Fortunately her human form can breath water so she’s able to escape without the inconvenience of changing into a mermaid. After taking a beating, the Rune Heroes dispatch Miria’s misguided servants.

AE-session76-beached_wrecks-2_20221023.jpg

Leelo chances to look upwards. The vrock has been alerted by the noise of combat and now wings overhead toward the Myrmidon…and Miria’s body! Leelo gets a lucky shot and puts an arrow through the demon’s brain-case causing it to spiral in a crazy circle. This gives Mesmer time to open a dimensional doorway to the Myrmidon, grab Miria’s corpse, and drag her through a second doorway to the deck of Dagda’s Balance. The vrock shrieks in rage and wings away to the north. Leelo and Dorn are unsuccessful in bringing the demon down before it escapes into the darkening sky. This is unfortunate, for undoubtedly the demon will bring news of the Rune Heroes to Azariel.

The Rune Heroes retrieve Miria and meet up with Ralmevik’s long-boat at the Infernal shipwreck. The invisible imp still lurks fretfully above the stern cabin doors. Leelo stealthily dispatches it and investigates Azariel’s cabin. The she-devil or her minions have removed anything useful including charts and logbook, but at least the treasure in the forecastle remains. Here Krag finds a diamond of great size which will come in handy very soon. The remaining treasure returns with Ralmevik to be distributed among the grateful crew. Krag and Mavriy use their unique talents to search both ships for hidden magic, but the Infernals were thorough and removed or destroyed any other noteworthy items before they abandoned the iceberg.

AE-session76-mira-resurrected.jpgDorn sails away from the scene of battle and onward into the dim north. Krag rests and prays. The next morning all gather as Krag begins a series of incantations. First the cleric searches for Miria’s spirit among the few lost in the spirit-realm this far north. Her spirit is quickly located wandering forlorn not far from the site of her death. As with all other souls, Miria’s way to the gates of heaven or hell is blocked by Tebryn Arbandi and Ceridwen’s armageddon spell. Being a follower of Danalin, Miria is not drawn to the Mercurian’s Gate or the Soul Forge at Hyborem’s Iron City. She seems distant and vague, but willing to return to the land of the living.

An hour later the miracle is complete and Miria’s soul returns to arcanearth, the poison and disease inflicted by the demons expunged, and her missing arms restored. She arises pure as a newborn, but something is amiss. The great cleric is crushed by the loss of her comrades and the unimaginable agonies of body and soul inflicted by her captors. She wanders aimlessly about the deck, speaking softly only when directly addressed, and gazes long hours across the dark sea. Leelo and Krag do their best to comfort her, but at present she is beyond the reach of even Krag’s miraculous healing. Perhaps only time or some specific event will mend Miria’s broken spirit.

Week 5

The dark polar night descends. For six hours each day the southern sky is illuminated by a sun that never rises. Wavering curtains of cold fire paint the northern sky in shades of blue, green and violet. Once these lights burned red, orange and yellow directly below the polar star, but with Krag’s freeing of the former archangel Brigit, the ‘Ring of Carceri’ is no more.

One stormy night three days later, sailors high atop the masts shout and point. A trio of winged shapes glide above a layer of low clouds close overhead. One is gigantic, possibly larger than the _Dagda’s Balance, and the others no bigger than the stern-deck. They are clearly headed for the Zephyr now visible through a gap in the clouds a half-mile to the west.

The Rune Heroes conduct a hasty conference. To intervene or not? A minute later all are agreed and Mesmer casts his single spell of teleportation. Mesmer, Leelo, Krag and Dorn appear on the pitching stern-deck of the Zephyr with a flickering image of Govannon standing nearby. The archmage seems surprised by the appearance of the Rune Heroes. “It is Drifa, Titan of Mulcarn! Prepare for…” The rest is lost in a roar of noise. A gargantuan white dragon approaches from starboard, only seconds away!

Krag staggers across the deck and attempts to tie himself down with one of the unused safety lines, but does well to merely hang on to the railing. Mesmer makes it to the nearest handrail and casts a spell of feather falling on everyone nearby. Dorn’s sea-legs save him from flying off the ship. Leelo sees Dain running toward the whirling machine amidships and leaps across the twisting deck to meet him. Ignoring Leelo, Dain begins fiddling with something at the stern end of the engine.

AE-session76-Drifa-Attacks_20221023.jpg

Drifa blasts the ship with a shower of icy splinters and freezing frost. Most of the crew is instantly entombed or swept off the deck to dangle by their safety tethers in the howling wind. The airship plunges downward as it takes on a heavy load of ice. Krag and Mesmer are frozen within an inch of their life. Leelo dodges behind the massive engine but to her surprise, the killing cold is inescapable. The elf is saved only by her white dragon armor and cloak of warmth. Dorn survives the blast thanks to sheer toughness. Krag stumbles amidships and heals himself and others as best he can. Mesmer surrounds everyone with a sphere of impenetrable force. But it is clear the airship is a lost cause.

As Drifa roars overhead he rips off the fragile float-bladder suspending the hull. The ship is now free-falling. Leelo screams at Dain. The engineer glances up, but Leelo can’t read the expression on his frost-rimed face. A door opens at the back of the silvery vessel and Dain pulls forth a somnolent Govannon. At the same time Govannon’s projected image disappears. Dain shakes the archmage awake and screams “Get us out of here!” Govannon speaks six words and both he and Dain disappear from the doomed airship. Wherever they went, it wasn’t to the Dagda’s Balance. Leelo expected to be included in Govannon’s spell and is more than exasperated to find herself still aboard. As she dives away from the falling airship she screams, “I’ll remember this treachery!”

While Drifa and his wing-drakes are busy finishing off the Zephyr and plucking her frozen crew from midair, the Rune Heroes drift down to the sea. Mesmer casts a charm of water-walking and all flee for the Dagda’s Balance. Dorn speeds the ship east assisted by Mesmer’s conjured elemental swarm. Drifa doesn’t pursue, but after a rest, how easy will it be for the Titan to locate the Rune Heroes?

Week 6

Dorn sails on a beam reach east for two days before tacking back to the north. The ploy seems to work, or perhaps Drifa has bigger fish to catch. The ship enters a misty region of placid gunmetal-gray water. Icebergs drift past like mysterious giants stalking through the fog. A few days later the Rune Heroes glimpse a distant sheet of ice spanning the northern horizon. This will be the end of the line for Dagda’s Balance.

On the fortieth day out of Kaldoros, a silent warship emerges from a bank of fog close off the port bow. It is the rumored Calabim Blood Queen and her crew of vampires, moroi blood warriors, ghouls and who knows what else! Leelo peers through her spy-glass. A few of the figures on the stern-deck seem familiar. One wearing a cape of emerald feathers can be none other than Tloques Popolocas. Even more surpising, a transformed Syzimondo stands close by. Apparently the old pirate’s luck ran out and he’s been called to account by the vampires. Also present are Ramas and Pavel, still vampiric slaves of Tloques. Krag recalls ancient lore regarding freeing a vampire thrall, should the opportunity arise and any be worth saving.

The Rune Heroes have spotted the Blood Queen in the nick of time. Will they be able to make the most of this brief advantage?

AE-session76-shipofvampires.jpg

View
Session 75: Dagda's Balance

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance_20221009.jpgThe frigate Dagda’s Balance embarks from Kaldoros in a race against similar missions dispatched by Calabim, Sheaim, Lanun and other empires seeking to intervene in the ascension of Auric Ulvin, avatar of Mulcarn and God-King to the Illians. The Rune Heroes recall the last advice of their mentor, Cassiel:

“Near the end of the Age of Ice, Kylorin returned. He gathered scattered tribes under the Amurite banner and taught them secrets lost in the cataclysm that ended the Age of Magic. Kylorin found and reforged the broken pieces of the Godslayer, instrument of the Compact, and carried it into battle against Mulcarn. The God of Winter was banished and Kylorin lost to the world. But the Godslayer was saved.”

“I myself received the Godslayer from Circia, the last daughter of Kylorin, and carried it back in time to a place of safekeeping: the city of New Patria. Here in the last centuries of his rule, Kylorin consolidated the 21 mana-spheres into today’s eight schools of magic. In this way Kylorin hoped to better regulate the practice of arcane magic wherever Patrian authority could still reach.”

“And so it was until the Age of Magic ended three centuries later. In the midst of disaster, the nine archmages of New Patria joined forces to perform one last earth-rending magic. They tore their guild-city Ythrin from the very foundations of New Patria and lofted it high into the upper airs. Our sages believe Ythryn finally crashed back to arcanearth somewhere in the far north of the world. If so, and the laws of time allow, the Godslayer may still exist in the ruins. In case you fail in your mission and Auric ascends to the Avatar of Winter, finding the Godslayer could be your last hope.”

“Paradera is your first goal, the gateway to arctic lands locked in eternal ice. The seas around this far-flung Lanun whaling port are likely already frozen solid. The frigate carries sled-teams to continue the journey when your ship can sail no further.”

Days 1-4

Dorn sails the heavy frigate east along the northern Lavrentine coast. In favorable conditions the ship can cover 50 leagues a day, 40 leagues in moderate conditions, and 10-20 leagues sailing close-hauled to the wind. Mesmer experiments with some success at summoning a gang of lesser air elementals to increase speed in critical situations. As they pass by the isolated Lanun Air Mana fortress jutting from the seaside cliffs, the illusionist reconsiders the value of certain ‘world rituals’ able to influence wind and waves over many miles and days. Perhaps such unwieldy spells could be valuable even to an adventurer such as himself.

Three days later the Dagda’s Balance approaches the strategic Lanun port of Bolans. Seven years ago these coastal waters hosted a three-way nautical encounter between the pirate Syzimondo, his erstwhile employer Azariel, and the Rune Heroes aboard their old schooner Witches Brew. All parties survived the encounter, but the Rune Heroes won the prized ‘Key of Zubakhan’ and went on to defeat the arch-lich Asmoday.

Mavriy appears over the coast riding a gryphon and joins the expedition. As usual, the dark paladin speaks little of her recent travels. Regardless, everyone is glad to have her aboard. She is still recovering from the battle with Acheron, but with Krag’s help should be back in fighting shape within a week.

Hoxton-small.jpgShortly after putting into port at Bolans, Hoxton relays disheartening news. “I’ve been called away by my Order to investigate the Broken Sepulcher in connection with recent developments regarding the Staff and the Eye of Barbatos. Within his old prison may be knowledge or artifacts we can use to combat the renascent archmage.” Should Hoxton later be able to rejoin the expedition, the Order will send a message through the spirit-realm with a sigil-sequence or other guidance for Mesmer, now familiar with the risky art of dimensional transfer. The kobold heads west into the swamps accompanied by his companion Serlatha. As a native of this region, she is quite familiar with the Candaba Peninsula and might even be able to locate Thogma the barbaric lizard-man guide. The Rune Heroes wish their old companion luck on his new mission.

Mesmer and Leelo spend the day in port investigating for word of expeditions from other empires. They soon learn of a likely Sheaim candidate: a large war-trireme crewed by undead that anchored in the harbor three days prior, the Star of Ceridwen. A priest who might or might not be the Sheaim cleric Zaugrum came ashore, likewise searching for news of other expeditions. Even more interesting, a fabulous ship of the air appeared only yesterday and lowered a party of Amurite wizards down to the city. Never before has such a marvel been seen in the Age of Rebirth! The wizards took on supplies and also inquired about any unusual expeditions afoot. The magical ship departed north into unfavorable winds within hours of arrival.

Days 5-8

Sailing north up the coast beyond the last Grigori city, Zbolub, lookouts sight a fast frigate flying the black and red Infernal flag. The Infernals are allied with the Sheaim, but they don’t necessarily have identical long-term goals. While the Sheaim seek armageddon and a remaking of the world, Hyborem and the Infernals work to incorporate arcanearth into the dominion of Arawn. Perhaps at the end of the world they will have a falling out. Lookouts aboard the Infernal ship quickly identify the Dagda’s Balance. Neither Rune Heroes nor opposing captain are eager to force a confrontation and both ships keep their distance.

Azariel.pngUsing magical invisibility and her Aifon Torc, Leelo investigates the ship and discovers an elite crew of half-demons, four horrible Vrock fiends, and a familiar captain: the black-armored she-devil Azariel, last seen fleeing through the sky off the coast of Bolans years ago. Hunched at the fore of the ship is a huge winged demon crowned by a nimbus of fire and lightning, a dread Balor of Hyborem. There is something oddly familiar about this demon, but Leelo never gets the chance to see it’s face.

At the stern a black iron plaque bears the ship’s name: Scythe of Hyborem. Leelo risks opening a casement to survey a sumptuous cabin strewn with furs, charts, jewelery and empty wine bottles. Something hidden is watching! The elf drops into the ocean to jet away beneath the waves like a silver-green torpedo.

Dorn succeeds in shadowing the Infernals throughout the day, but loses contact soon after dark. A tense night passes. The devil-ship is sighted again shortly after dawn, this time astern and slightly east. It appears flying devils from Azariel’s ship tracked their ship through the night and now seeks to shadow them in turn. Dorn has trouble shaking the fast Infernal ship. Mesmer declines to expend further spells to propel the ship faster, thinking a battle may be at hand.

Once again Leelo dives overboard, but this time sounds the Horn of Danalin beneath the waves to summon a water-elemental Myrmidon. She guides the formidable elemental to the ship’s rudder and departs. Soon after, the Infernals begin turning crazy circles as their rudder gains a mind of it’s own. Avoiding running aground is all the crew can manage! Dagda’s Balance speeds away and the struggling Scythe of Hyborem is soon lost astern.

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-FirstHorseman_20221009.pngThe shores of the Hippus Horselords and the southernmost coastal city of Feiss Mabdon appear off the port bow. Dorn widens his distance from shore. The Hippus are now thralls of the First Horseman, Stephanos the Conquerer. What reception the Rune Heroes might receive in a Horselord port is unknown, though numerous ships of other nations are sighted coming into port. Stephanos apparently tolerates trade so as to better enrich his new empire. But ultimately the First Horseman is a harbinger of the End Times so can’t be dealt with on the same basis as other mortal kings.

Days 9-18

The days grow shorter and noticeably cooler as Dorn sails the Dagda’s Balance northeast up the vast coast of the Hippus Steppes. Sailing past Conrond Mor at the mouth of the great Radonnor river, the Rune Heroes sight a massive three-tiered war galley of black wood and iron flying the Sheaim purple dragon. It is none other than the rumored Star of Ceridwen! The two-masted galley is sailing close ashore almost lost in the haze of amber dust blown from the steppes. Dorn is able to track them for some time before they react. Leelo hesitates to risk a submarine inspection given the Sheaim skill with magic. Who knows what terrors guard the sorcerer-king’s ship.

Suddenly the massive galley turns across Dorn’s bow and speeds away into the open ocean propelled by 300 tireless oars. Dorn attempts to follow, but the galley is soon lost in a bank of mist. Six hours later the galley appears astern, their captain having completed a full circle to pull in behind Dagda’s Balance. The Rune Heroes see no benefit to an encounter with foes of unknown strength and try their best to shake the tail. Towards evening the wind freshens from the northwest, allowing Dorn to outpace the galley on a speedy beam reach. The Sheaim captain gives up and turns back up the coast.

The Dagda’s Balance sails close-hauled into a north wind, reaching the easternmost Hippus port of Clair Marrachir on the eleventh day. Now Dorn must break away from the coast and head out across the open ocean. The period of daylight grows shorter still. A chilly wind blows variously from the northwest or north. Just off the port bow flies the new constellation of seven stars that is the Rune Heroes ultimate goal. But first the arctic whaling port of Paradera lies five hundred leagues east by northeast across the northern reaches of the Earthsea.

Two days after losing sight of land, Leelo spots a magnificent flying ship drifting far above in the calm night air. The violet flag of the Amurite magocracy flies from the stern. The Zephyr hails the Rune Heroes with signal lights. Though the Grigorians are not members of the Overcouncil, they are on good terms with the Amurites. Mesmer, Leelo, Mavriy and Krag accept an invitation to come aboard. Dorn remains with the ship in case of trouble from any quarter. A large wicker basket is lowered to lift the visitors up to the mysterious airship.

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-Zephyr_20221009.jpg

Archmage_Govannon.pngMesmer instantly recognizes the world-renowned archmage of Amuria, Govannon, but through his mastery of illusion divines the green-robed wizard is merely a projected image. Regardless, the archmage must still be aboard ship as the range of such a spell is unlikely to reach from any landmass, let alone the Amurite islands far to the south. Govannon reveals he is creating a teleportation circle within the airship, but the daunting task won’t be complete any time soon. Handy for avoiding the need to use a powerful seventh level teleportation spell!

Mesmer marvels at the engine powering the floating ship. The center-deck is dominated by a silvery contrivance of whirling spindles and hissing steam not unlike the fusion of magic and technology achieved by the Simic scientists of Tanelorn. Various tell-tales confirm parts of this engine were indeed manufactured in that fabulous world city at the center of the universe.

Dain_the_Caswallawn.pngWhile Mesmer and Govannon exchange arcane knowledge, Leelo, Krag and Mavriy speak with another notable personage aboard, Dain the Casswallawn, viceroy and confidant of Valledia the Even, Queen of the Amurites. Two very important individuals dedicated to the same mission! Mavriy inquires as to Queen Valledia’s disposition. Dain assures Mavriy the Queen would never be risked on such an expedition as this. “That would be one egg too many in the basket!”

Over a lengthy dinner under a canopy of stars high above the sparking sea, Leelo and Dain exchange various intelligence about competing missions. Leelo learns of a Lanun expedition aboard one of their fastest ships, the Myrmidon, captained by none other than High Priestess Miria Goldpetal and crewed by Lanun Evokers. Both agree the Myrmidon has likely far outpaced the competition by this point. The Amurites know of a fourth ship, this one dispatched by the Calabim, though they haven’t caught site of it yet.

In exchange, Leelo relates her recent encounters with Sheaim and Infernal ships. Leelo and Dain agree to a cautious alliance, at least until Paradera. The Zephyr will sail the skies above the Rune Heroes, alerting them to danger whenever possible. Dain lets on that his ship, while a marvel of the Age, is highly vulnerable to damage. Leelo offers refuge to Dain’s crew in case the airship suffers a catastrophic malfunction. Despite this alliance, the alfar spy isn’t above taking careful note of the Zephyr’s deck-plan and defenses. A flying ship might be a nice trade up from the Dagda’s Balance

The two ships sail onward into the polar ocean. The Zephyr proves slower than the Rune Heroes fast frigate when sailing close-hauled, the typical condition over the next week, and somewhat faster on a broad reach or running downwind. The Zephyr has nothing to fear from icebergs and fog-banks, which appear ever more often, but is bedeviled by ice accumulation, turbulence and any threat of gale force winds.

Days 19-21

Sheaim_Zaugrum.pngSheaim_Daganth.pngThe Zephyr signals down to the Rune Heroes on the nineteenth day at sea. The Sheaim frigate Star of Ceridwen has been sighted! The huge galley appears out of a morning fog-bank close off the port bow. Leelo identifies familiar figures on the stern deck: Zaugrum, Priest of the Veil of Ashes, and his sorcerous companion Daganth. This time neither bears the Red Rune of Agares. The Rune Heroes are able to attack with devastating surprise.

Mesmer somewhat rashly transports himself by magic to the water alongside the enemy hull and casts a spell of disintegration. The hull begins to take on water, but many such spells would be needed to put a large ship in real danger. Now the lone wizard bobs in the waves alongside the great black hull.

Krag quickly anoints Dorn, Mavriy and Leelo with the blessing of his fire goddess. Mavriy calls forth her gryphon steed and takes to the air. Leelo dives overboard and streaks beneath the waves alongside her summoned myrmidon. Dorn shouts FIRE!” and two heavy ballistae launch ten-gallon crocks of oil bound in tarred ropes. Four light ballistae fire iron shot wrapped with pitch-soaked cordage. Flaming projectiles impact the Star of Ceridwen, cracking timbers and splashing fire across deck and rigging. The few human sailors on board have their hands full with damage control.

AE-session-75_eyetyrant.pngMesmer swims around the back and begins climbing up to the stern deck. A familiar globular shape rises from the trireme’s hold: an eye tyrant with a single great eye and ten more on the ends of waving tentacles. Is this yet another aspect of the unseen extra-dimensional entity boasted of by Belchorzh in the Tomb of the Nine? In any case, the Sheaim seem to have spared no expense in equipping their expedition.

AE-session75.jpgLeelo-aifon comes to the surface and begins firing arrows as she swims, a feat no normal form could accomplish. Mavriy alters course to intercept the hovering eye tyrant. As she descends, a gray-faced shape of horror materializes out of the air nearby. It is a mobius witch like those encountered at the battle for Dragonspire Fortress. The strands of time begin to part, one strand for Mavriy and her mount, another for the rest of the world. Both the half-demon and her eagle-lion mount escape the strand intended for them. Mavriy retaliates with a spell of banishment and the other-worldly witch disappears from arcanearth. But can Mavriy concentrate on holding the witch at bay while fighting the eye tyrant?

Dorn’s crew unleashes another volley of flaming missiles. Most strike home. Zaugrum shouts commands and must waste his effort casting spells to drench the fires. Daganth casts unknown spells, probably various protections and summons.

Now catapults from the Sheaim galley reply. Several large stones and firepots strike the deck. Men must run to and fro putting out flames as best they can. Fortunately for the Dagda’s Balance this will be the one and only time the enemy can manage a return volley.

The Zephyr risks descending within attack range. Bolts, balls and arrows of fire rain down from the Amurite flying ship to strike the galley from bow to stern. The doomed Star of Ceridwen is defenseless against this barrage from the air.

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-2_20221009.pngKrag runs to the port bow and gauges the range. Just close enough! The cleric summons a mighty wave that rolls across the gap between Dagda’s Balance and the Star of Ceridwen. The galley takes the wave broadsides and pitches over 60 degrees! Crew and weaponry are tossed overboard. Both Daganth and Zuagrum disappear over the port side. The massive square sails and rigging become hopelessly tangled while a hundred oars are broken or lost. The trireme is dead in the water. Dorn’s crew hammers this easy target with another volley of stones and firepots.

Zuagrum, Dagath and Mesmer are sent tumbling head-over-heels beneath the frothy waves. Mesmer manages the difficult task of burbling forth a spell of waterbreathing while still submerged. When he surfaces the Sheaim cleric and sorcerer are nowhere to be found. It must be assumed both escaped by means of some spell of far travel or spirit-realm transference. The waterlogged wizard struggles back to the foundered galley and climbs up the stern.

The eye-tyrant has escaped the wave and now pelts Mavriy and her mount with multi-colored rays. The doughty paladin suffers a grievous necrotic wound and loses her concentration on the spell of banishment, but the mobius witch doesn’t immediately reappear. Mavriy lands devastating blows with her new battleaxe of thunderbolts and Leelo’s arrows strike home with telling effect. Krag summons a fire guardian and cast a spell of water walking. The fire-priest strides and springs effortlessly across the waves by means of his new magic boots.

Mesmer peeks over the gunwales to observe the vengeful eye tyrant about to destroy Mavriy and her gryphon. A quick spell transforms the monstrous creature into a weird nine-eyed turtle. After Leelo and Krag arrive, all hammer the turtle with everything they have. The flattened reptile mutates into a deflated wreck of tangled eye-stalks and one great staring eyeball. Another of Belchorzh’s alien protuberances dealt with!

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-3-1_20221009.jpgA round of heroic speeches and back-slapping is interrupted by moans and slimy squelching. Hundreds of undead galley slaves are squirming from every orifice of the ship. As everyone else vacates the premises, Mesmer casts a mighty spell of gravity reversal: scores of undead fly up through the burning rigging. Mesmer dives overboard and snaps his fingers. All the undead land in the sea or splatter upon the deck. Among them are a dozen incendiary ‘pyre zombies’. These explode in a chain reaction that turns the galley into a flaming torch. A tower of stinking black smoke rises as the massive trireme burns to the waterline.

Leaving the Star of Ceridwen behind, Dorn takes a sighting of the stars and sets a course for Paradera. At least 500 miles of freezing ocean lie ahead. Sailors must work daily to remove ice from the deck, rigging and sails of Dagda’s Balance. A growing collection of icebergs appear out of the mists, necessitating vigilant lookouts and slower sailing. How long until the ocean itself surrenders to Mulcarn’s winter?

Route of the Rune Heroes: Kaldoros to Clar Marrachir

AE-session75-Dagda_s_Balance-4_20221009.jpg

View
Session 74: The Once and Future God-King

AE-session74-godking_JonasEndain_20220925.jpgAnother Titan has fallen, this time Acheron the all-father red dragon and avatar of Agares. How many such beings yet remain in Creation? Acheron was lured into destroying Mulcarn’s tomb of ice and freeing the fallen archangel of Dagda. A grateful Cassiel awards the Rune Heroes with precious magical artifacts from the vaults of the Catacomb Libralis.

Krag chooses a pair of brass and leather boots, the fabled Boots of Striding and Springing. Each brass toe is adorned with the face of an unknown dwarf, likely the master-craftsman and mage who collaborated on their making. These dwarven boots speed the wearer over any type of ground and enable leaps across impossible distances.

Dorn now wears the Mariners Armor, a suit of blue-green half-plate bearing the makers mark of legendary Aifon archmage Trenton Majosi. This treasured artifact enables the wearer to swim bearing any load at double the speed of a typical landlubber. If incapacitated beneath the waves, Dorn will pop back up to the surface like a cork.

Leelo gains the Cloak of the Winterlands. This fur-lined cloak feels snug and quite warm. The wearer is protected from frigid temperatures, even to some extent from unearthly cold such as from ice elementals, white dragons and other creatures of the god of winter. Possibly even better, Leelo finds she can glide effortlessly over the most treacherous ice and snow.

Mesmer dons the Robe of Useful Items, a creation of Magen, archmage and disciple of Kylorin during the Age of Magic. The robe appears mundane to all but the wearer, who notes a dozen or more patches sewn into the sturdy fabric. Among these are iron doors, magical pits, rowboats, lanterns, ten-foot poles, and all manner of other ‘useful items’.

The inscrutable paladin Mavriy selects a fantastic weapon of great power: Skalagrym. This double-headed Battleaxe of Thunderbolts bears the mark of Bambur, legendary Khazad weaponsmith and one of the few surviving dwarves breathed into life by the Earth Mother sixteen centuries past. The power of the storm accompanies she who wields the axe. Mavriy gifts the adamantine-and-gold axe of Gyr-uth’Kaliz to Dorn, who is well-versed in both fighting styles afforded by the ‘Axe of Reaching’: single-handed battleaxe and two-handed halberd.

AE-session74-godking_Cassiel-ltor_20220925.jpgFinally, Cassiel gifts the Rune Heroes a 3-masted frigate well-suited for a long voyage across the open ocean. The ship waits in Kaldoros at the mouth of the Midgar river. Cassiel asks the Rune Heroes to embark on a race against similar missions dispatched from Calabim, Sheaim, Lanun and other empires seeking to intervene, for good or ill, in the ascension of Auric Ulvin.

“You have no more than ten days from today to embark upon the voyage from Kaldoros, if you hope to beat your opponents and be first to Letum Frigus, the gateway into the far north where the Fane of Lessers crowns Mulcarn’s mountain. For I suspect this is where you will find Auric Ulvin’s proto-divine chrysalis, in whatever form it might take.”

Cassiel departs south to lead his armies against the expected Calabim assault. The situation must be dire, for never has Cassiel left his palace to intervene directly in the affairs of his people. Thus even those fallen angels with the purest purpose are slowly corrupted by the many conflicting demands of the mortal realm. With Cassiel’s palace and base of power destroyed, should the archangel be slain his spirit will depart arcanearth and be unable to return for at least five years.

DRAGHAR, MAGUKAN AND CHRYSANTHE

AE-session74-godking_Draghar-profile_20220925.pngChysanthe is wounded and severely exhausted after the fighting at the capitol. Dragons must rest after any period of intense activity, which for dragons means several weeks or even months of rest and sleep. Chrysanthe will be absent for the remainder of the year in order to fully recover. Makugan and Draghar are fatigued but able to press on if needed. With continued activity both will eventually require a long dragon-sleep as well.

LADY FREYA

More Khazad refugees arrive over the mountains before ice and snow blocks the high passes. Lady Freya soon becomes the somewhat reluctant leader of nearly three thousand dispossessed dwarves, gnomes and men from the eastern Khazad cities of Mazark, Glulynn, Stormhold and Wercer. With the blessing of Cassiel, Freya resolves to make the hills and mountains above Midgar their new home.

XOLBRYS AND LUKANU

A few days after the victory at Midgar, the ancient alfar bard Xolbrys arrives, drawn by news of the Rune Hero’s return and impending Calabim invasion. Xolbrys has been traveling arcanearth accompanied by Lukanu, centaur champion of the extinct Kuriotate empire. Now they rejoin the Rune Heroes to defend Midgar and Grigoria from encroaching doom. Xolbrys settles in to chronicle subsequent events and lend his harp where needed.

THE KHAZAD DELEGATION

Through magic, Toric notifies Kandros Fir at Khazak, mountain capitol of the Khazad empire. The dwarf High King immediately dispatches a delegation by means of the teleportation circle still functional within the tumbled columns of Cassiel’s palace. Arturus Thorne, Grand Duke of Hallowell, arrives forthwith to represent the Khazad empire and his majesty King Kandros.

AE-session74-godking_ArturusThorne-GrandDukeofHalowell_20220925.jpg“Rune Heroes! We have heard of your deeds in Mazark and know you to be true Heroes of the Khazad. First, by the will of High King Kandros Fir the Magnificent, your new title shall be ‘Saviors of the Khazad’ and your stipend doubled. You have dispatched our greatest enemy of old, Acheron, who in recent years has laid waste our capitol and murdered our great hero Arthendain. Now thanks to you, we will reclaim our ancient seat of power, Underhome, and all the treasure stolen across the ages by Acheron and his Cultists of the Inferno. I will return to Hallowell with the choicest scales and horns of Acheron where the great smith Bambur will labor for a full year to fashion the legendary Dragonscale Aegis, a suit of plate armor and shield giving the wearer knowledge of all dragons and protection from even the hottest fires.”

King Kandros asks only one boon: “Grant us the right to return with the head of Acheron as a memento of this turbulent Age and a warning to future generations of dwarves, should the Earth Mother will them into being.” The Rune Heroes grant this request after only a brief discussion.

Leelo treats with Arturus, eliciting a knowing smile at the approach of various requests for aid, riches, etc. The elf asked for the construction of a suit of red-dragon-leather armor in addition to the promised Dragonscale Aegis, and repair of Dorn’s magic cutlass, shattered in the battle with Acheron. The Grand Duke is swift to grant these requests and extends an invitation as well, “If Auric Ulvin’s fimbulwinter be avoided, we look forward to your arrival at the King’s capitol, the holy city of Kilmorph, where the celebrations will continue for five days and five nights without end! You will experience the true gratitude and underappreciated munificence of the Khazad as we share the bounty of Acheron’s hoard.”

At least for now, the Grand Duke is unstinting in his praise and promises of riches to come. A grateful Khazad nation promises to send master artisans and stonemasons to rebuild Cassiel’s palace using the finest marble and granite, mithril and steel. But what awaits the Rune Heroes in the dwarven capitol should they survive to accept the High King’s invitation? The influence of Mammon is still strong in a dwarven empire ruled by the lust for gold.

KRAG

PC_Ulthmar-RIP_profile-s.jpgAs a priest of the 13th circle, Krag now has the power to resurrect long-dead heroes. He considers options for visiting Mazark where Ulfmar is buried. Krag inquires about the state of the Khazad empire after the triumph of Stephanos the Conquerer and his Hippus thralls, specifically about the state of Mazark where rest the bones of his old companion. Arturus Thorne confirms that all the southern and eastern cities bordering the Hippus Steppes are abandoned. The dwarves have retreated into their underground domains to escape Stephanos the Conquerer, First Horseman of the Apocalypse, and his Hippus thralls. A harrowing flight 350 miles over the frozen Pristinus mountains is beyond the tired dragon’s abilities at this point. Mesmer volunteers to transfer Krag and himself, potentially others, via the secret Sigil-Circle beneath Ironhelm House.

Krag magically messages the Rune Heroes old contact in Mazark, Oledar Goldhammer, and verifies the dwarves have indeed retreated into the Undercity and blocked all entrances. The Lower City is abandoned to the predations of bandits and the First Horseman’s troops, but the Upper City is still protected by magical wards at the gate and along the walls. Oledar confirms the exact location of Ulfmar’s family mausoleum. Otherwise it should be possible to enter the city by magic, defeat whatever guards and curses protect the tomb, and acquire Ulfmar’s bones. The Rune Heroes elect to wait on this trip until matters of greater importance are resolved.

MESMER

With a lewd grin and overly-loud voice Krag inquires about Mesmer’s latest ‘lady of the night’, the Lady Avurnix of Nubia. Krag’s knowledge of the spirit-realm has enabled Mesmer to send brief messages over the years, but it’s been quite some time since last the wizard asked for his help. Mesmer’s messages have always been non-committal but polite in an effort to ‘keep his options open’.

AE-session74-godking_LadyAvurnix_20220925.pngLady Avurnix unexpectedly contacts Mesmer first. Always in the past it was Mesmer who initiated the messages with Krag’s help. It appears the vampiress has gained access to some means of magical communication. Hopefully without magical scrying!

“My wayward wizard, I stand with my regiment north of Junon among the invincible legions of General Valas. It would be such a pity for your talents to be wasted in the blood pits of Prespur. Now I offer you one last time the boon of my friendship, and perhaps something more.” Then in a pouting voice, “Do you not remember our tryst from years past, my indulgent caress, your fervent vows?”

Mesmer makes an attempt to divert the conversation to other topics, but Avurnix sees through his gallantries and will not be denied. “How can you spurn my largess, my affections, my lo…” The she-vampire cuts herself short before uttering the word, then seems briefly confused. With an audible effort the Countess regains her composure. In a voice cold and hard, “We will meet again, mayhap over the burning ruins of Midgar, and there I will make you mine. You shall serve me in pain, if not in pleasure!”

Truly, hell hath no fury like a vampiress scorned. Mesmer looks on the bright side. “Fortunately, I will soon be sailing into the far north well away from this flaming she-vampire. A problem delayed is a problem solved!”

LEELO AND RHOANNA

AE-session74-godking_rhoanna_20220925.jpgRhoanna faces difficult choices. Should she hazard a risky trip across the high passes to Candaba peninsula where her landless people languish in the jungles and swamps? Or accompany her ally and savior Cassiel into battle against the Calabim? Or travel 100 leagues overland to attempt a risky negotiation with Jonas Endain, God-King of the Clan of Embers?

Leelo easily sways Rhoanna back to her original plan of traveling to the Ember Empire. The other Rune Heroes sense this may well be a mission of great moment and all volunteer to accompany the pair. Mesmer now commands powerful dimensional magic, but lacks intimate knowledge of Ember lands, making any such transfer exceedingly risky. Though tired, Draghar and Makugan should be able to make the two-day flight bearing Rhoanna, Leelo, Krag, Mesmer, Dorn, Hoxton and Mavriy aboard the ancient Kuriotate palanquins.

The first day sees the dragons crossing the Dragonfall river border just north of the mysterious Dolmenwood. Captain Dorn shudders with dread. Far below lies the tiny hamlet of Drigbolton where he led the Rune Hero’s henchmen on a quest to prevent reconstitution of the fallen daemon-star Wermuth. In case they don’t return this way again, the Rune Heroes elect to descend and assist Dorn in confronting his inner demons.

CODA: DORN AND DRIGBOLTON

Prevented from merging with the Spiralstar Concrescence and Psychometric Lobe, the daemon-star Wermuth becomes quiescent in the crater upon Bolton Moor. After a week the great black globe is dim and silent. A few days later the jelly dries into a brittle crust which soon decays into dust. Droves of jelly-besotted fauna slink, shamble or slither back into the wilds where they either recover or perish. Under Captain Dorn’s leadership, the Rune Heroes henchmen proved their mettle in most difficult circumstances and prevented the star-demon Wermuth from regaining its full eldritch power. Who knows what havoc such an entity might wreak if unleashed upon arcanearth?

AE-session74-godking_drigboltonandsurrounds_20220925.png

The quixotic folk of Drigbolton eventually recover from their addiction to the star-jelly. Ultimately they concoct a story blaming outsiders for the tragic disappearance of St. Gretchen’s ‘mana from heaven’. Specifically Dorn, Thothra, Jank, Beebop and Jafros. Except for one old crone that no one believes, the villagers will never appreciate how near they approached a fate horrible beyond imagining!

The Hearth-Laird Alhoyle Spinnewith IV still resides at the ramshackle Oath-House, now repaired but still missing the family silver taken by Dorn in payment for services. The man-servant Godfried has been replaced by another lad from Drigbolton. Godfried was last seen fleeing into the countryside chased by a horse-monstrosity transformed after licking a piece of ‘star-metal’. Dorn breaks out into a cold sweat. Leelo hands over ten pounds of silver to replace Alhoyle’s lost cutlery. The Rune Heroes depart on good terms, confident that the hapless Hearth-Laird was not the cause of Wermuth’s descent after all.

The Rune Heroes find the nearby hamlet of Drigbolton prosperous and at peace (no sign of the ‘wobbly’). That is, until elderly Pastor Gwyne appears, somehow still under the influence of the star-jelly and inveighing mightily against Dorn. Only Griya the Crone hobbles forth to intercede on Dorn’s behalf. Led by Griya’s example and overawed by dragon-riding Rune Heroes, the villagers are willing to let bygones by bygones and forgive Dorn for depriving them of St. Gretchen’s ‘mana from heaven’. Pastor Gwyne’s secret stash of star-jelly is brought out from the church basement and burned to a festive clamor of hooting pipes, pounding drums and screeching fiddles.

Dorn has confronted his innermost terrors and emerged the stronger for it. Never again will the captain be afflicted by irrational fears or uncontrollable rages in stressful situations. A comforting development given that he will be responsible for captaining the frigate gifted by Cassiel!

A few hours later the dragons wing unchallenged over farms and forests inhabited by various humanoid tribes. These are the lands of the Ember Clans! Still 30 leagues short of Braduk the Burning, Jonas Endain’s seat of power, the dragons must land and rest to avoid becoming dangerously exhausted. That night, surrounding humanoid settlements dispatch hundreds of goblins, orcs, ogres and hobgoblins to observe the Rune Hero’s hilltop camp, but none dare approach too closely.

The dragon-riders arrive at Braduk the Burning in the middle-evening. The walled capitol surrounds a mile-wide caldera of dimly-glowing coals and ash crossed by numerous elevated walkways. This is the fabled eternal conflagration where Bhall fell from heaven 800 years ago to transform the citizens of ‘Braduk the Shining’ into bestial humanoid races known today as orcs, ogres, goblins and hobgoblins. Thus was born the Clan of Embers and their god-king Jonas Endain, signalling the end of Bannor hegemony in the region. The unholy fire of Bhall warmed her new followers throughout the Age of Ice. But now the profane fire is all but extinguished. In its stead a golden glow like the rising sun blazes thirty miles north of the capitol.

AE-session74-godking_Braduk-the-Burning_20220925.jpg

PYRE OF THE SERAPHIC

The unnatural beacon can’t be the sun, which set in the west only a few hours past. A brief detour reveals a three-hundred foot torch of holy flame rising from a massive ziggurat ten leagues north of the city. This can only be the fabled ‘Pyre of the Seraphic’, one of many sacred or profane sites of power scattered around arcanearth. The victorious Ember Clans inherited the Pyre along with Bannor lands captured after Bhall fell from heaven at the end of the Age of Magic. The small eternal flame atop the ziggurat now flares with divine brilliance, illuminating the countryside for miles around. The humanoid inhabitants have abandoned towns and villages in every direction and hardly a soul remains to be seen.

The Rune heroes bring Draghar and Magukan in for a landing at the base of the ziggurat. Leelo remains with the dragons while Krag, Mavriy, Dorn, Mesmer and Hoxton scale 300 steps to the pinnacle. As Krag approaches he senses the spiritual presence of his goddess. A burning figure steps forth. Those Rune Heroes present that night long ago in the desert west of San’ta’ron recognize the Seraphim Nevena, rebel angel and mother of Mavriy, but changed in some fundamental way. “Rune Heroes, we meet again. I have ascended to archangel of the new goddess of fire, Brigit the Shining.”

AE-session74-godking_Nevena-ArchangelofBrigit_20220925.jpg

Turning first to Krag, “These past five years I followed your quest and helped where I could, yet was unable to reveal myself until now. Prophet, you must go forth and spread the word! The precept of Bhall has passed on to Brigit. The Clans must kneel to their new goddess of light and hope. They must be made to see this is their only deliverance from slavery to the approaching Calabim shadow. Seek out the god-emperor Endain and anoint him with the blessing of our goddess.”

Nevena next turns to Mavriy. “I am sorry for the wasted years you spent in Tanelorn. I would have joined you if I was able. Even we rebels are not truly free, are we? Aiding Krag in his quest to free Brigit from the Ring of Carceri was my calling and…my duty.” Nevena spirals upward into the column of holy flame, leaving a rain of burning tears in her wake. One drifts down to touch Mavriy’s forehead where it flares briefly then disappears. The celestial/infernal halfbreed is now protected against all cold, effectively negating the vulnerability gained when she fell victim to the wraith-horde in Os-Gabella’s temple above the City of Gold.

Hoxton notices ethereal steps leading up into the sky from the summit. Steps to a hidden monastery of the Elohim, guardians of sites profane and sacred since the beginning of history. Hoxton resolves to pay the resident Master a visit, whoever they might be, but first dons the Eye of Barbatos for a better view of the spirit-realm monastery. When last Hoxton used the Eye of Barbatos, it appeared normal: a 6 pointed black diadem with eldritch eye-symbol etched into the center. Now the kobold monk is startled to observe two new points for a total of eight. Even more alarming, an arcane eyeball stares back at the monk, following his every move and taking in the surroundings with interest. Mesmer seeks to quietly step outside the purview of the new Eye. The wizard notices Hoxton’s attention and pretends to study a scroll.

AE-session74-godking_EyeofBarbatos_20220925.pngThe Rune Heroes are quick to link the ‘Eye’ to the Staff of the same name acquired by Mesmer in the crypt of Asmoday. Mesmer uneasily volunteers that he traded the Staff of Barbatos to Zegana, archmage and Prime Speaker of the Simic Scientists, for “a very important spell…such topics are beyond your understanding.” Hoxton detects the wizard is holding back key information. WHAT did you DO?” Mesmer finally mumbles something about the Staff being a prison for the spirit of Barbatos, one-time apprentice to Kylorin. “Not to worry, my fretful monk! Zegana lacks the capacity for planar travel and is trapped in Tanelorn, as are most of the inhabitants.” Cold, hard stares are the Rune Hero’s only reply. They have dispatched one legendary foe only to gain another within the space of five days! Mesmer concludes without much conviction, “Bah! No doubt Barbatos is senile and powerless after eight or more centuries confined to the Staff. I’m sure he poses no threat…”

Hoxton places the Eye back in it’s sack. His companions notice that Hoxton has frozen in place, eyes fixated on the bottom of the black felt bag. Suddenly he unfolds the Fan of Tali and rockets skyward, then turns toward the capitol. All stand stunned for a moment, then Krag sends a message to Leelo that all is not well. The elf jumps into Draghar’s palanquin and urges the bronze dragon upward. Hoxton has only a small lead and the dragon closes the distance steadily. Ten miles later Leelo spots the tiny figure and tries to intercept, but the flying kobold is too nimble. A spell of holding also fails. Hoxton dives to the ground and loses his pursuers among the river, woods and brambles of the countryside. After an hour the frustrated Rune Heroes give up and resolve to head back to the capitol. It appears powerful sorcery from the Eye has enslaved the wise monk to its purpose.

BRADUK THE BURNING

AE-session74-godking_QueenSheelba_20220925.jpgAE-session74-godking_FieldMartialRantine_20220925.jpgThe exhausted dragons land a few hundred yards from the nearest gates. After a short delay two figures emerge along with a thousand or more humanoid soldiers. Queen Sheelba and Field Marshal Rantine come forward. The Rune Heroes last encountered these notables seven years ago at Costa del Sol after its conquest by the Clan of Embers. In a private audience the two leaders confide in the Rune Heroes. “Bhall has deserted us, though the God of War yet remains powerful, thanks to Krag’s efforts in past years. Unbeknownst to the Clans, our God King Jonas Endain lies on his deathbed. He has lived long centuries thanks to the blessing of his goddess, but now his time is at an end.” An audience is quickly arranged.

Atop a massive bed of stone and fur lies the shrunken form of the God-King. The ancient theocrat’s power and longevity have clearly passed into memory along with the divine precept of Bhall, former goddess of fire. When Krag enters, Jonas’ eyes flutter open, filled with a strange new light. The new prophet of fire anoints Jonas with the blessing of his goddess Brigit the Shining. To the surprise of all, the seven foot tall orc staggers erect, his burning eyes never leaving Krag. In a thundering voice the once-and-future God-King calls for armor, shield and axe. Torpid servants spring up in terror and make haste to obey. The God-King lives!

“It is good,” Jonas says slowly. “I was made for battle, and mine is the age of the warrior. Let others rule when the struggle is over. I will ride the howling tempest and perish in the last great storm.”

The God-King departs the capitol by nightfall, heading southeast along the coast with all who can lift a sword. Orcs, ogres, goblins and hobgoblins join the horde by night and by day as it slowly progresses toward the delta city of Shazak. By the time the horde reaches Costa del Sol it might well achieve a size never before seen in the annals of Ember history, possibly exceeding one hundred thousand savage humanoids. Field Marshal Rantine will have his hands full organizing the unruly mob into companies, batallions and regiments according to the new ways. But in truth Ember armies have always relied more on élan and savage strength than organization and discipline. The Calabim vampire lords will be getting more than they bargained for, but the Rune Heroes must return east where their new ship awaits.

AE-session74-godking_EmberHorde_20220925.jpg

The Rune Heroes and dragons rest and recover their strength until nightfall, but Hoxton is still unaccounted for. Krag uses magic to search the city for the familiar Eye of Barbatos. He locates the artifact in the fortress-temple guarding the entrance to the once-burning caldera of Bhall. The Rune Heroes glimpse Hoxton and the chase is on. After an hour they find Hoxton standing in a market square with a bad hangover, no memory of what happened the last eighteen hours, and missing the amulet. The city gates have been closed tight since resurrecting the God-King from his death-bed. Jonas Endain and Field-martial Rantine left the city only hours earlier with all who could lift a sword.

Dragon-mounted Krag leads the Rune Heroes down the coast to catch up with the nascent horde. Again using magic, he locates the Eye in the wagon train of Bhargesh Udrank, a powerful arch-shaman of the Fire Clans. Rantine intervenes and organizes a meeting. Bhargesh openly wears the Eye, which is awake and watchful, but is willing to bargain with the Rune Heroes. Apparently she was dominated only for a short time and doesn’t remember how she acquired the amulet. Immediately recognizing the value of the Eye, Bhargesh demands magic in exchange. Leelo tries and fails to get her to accept gold. Hoxton gives up a precious Lesser Shadow-ring captured from a Calabim vampire he and Chrysanthe assassinated only last year. Bhargesh happily gives over the Eye in exchange, which seems to have at least temporarily lost it’s ability to dominate. Leelo quickly tucks the dangerous item into her lead-lined box next to Laerlith’s Diadem.

The dragons are relatively rested and capable of making the flight to Kaldoros in two days. There the Rune Heroes hope to set sail three or four days ahead of schedule. The schooner Witches Brew sailed downriver from Midgar and arrived three days ago. While Dorn organizes the crew of the new frigate and makes ready for departure, Hoxton flies with the dragons back to Midgar to check on Chysanthe and leave orders for the Rune Hero’s henchmen and followers. The exhausted dragons will overwinter in caverns near the Catacomb Libralis. Hoxton uses the Fan of Tali and all his Ki to quickly rejoin his companions at Kaldoros.

Sometime during all this frenetic activity the shadow-paladin Mavriy quietly slips away. She has spoken barely a word since the recent encounter with her mother, Nevena. Where will the paladin of Esus go and what are her plans? Likely none but the gods know.

Route of the Rune Heroes 399AR

AE-session74-godking_RouteoftheRuneHeroes399AR_20220925.jpg

View
Session 73: Acheron's End

AE-session73-Acherons_End-1_20220905.pngAcheron dives across the glacier toward the hidden Rune Heroes. A roaring blast of flame erupts from the ancient dragon’s yawning maw, instantly melting a broad swath of ice. Mesmer’s magic igloo rolls across the water with three Rune Heroes tumbling around inside like hamsters in a ball. Dorn and Krag are slightly cooked despite the normally-impenetrable magic protection. Mesmer uses his comrades as a shield against the heat. The white sphere comes to rest in the ice above the new lake.

A dozen fire elementals spring up in the wake of Acheron’s breath. Ten instantly disappear beneath the freezing water, plunging into the hundred-foot thickness of ice. Two survive and stagger unsteadily across the frigid glacier. Almost instantly the new water begins to freeze over.

Ice elementals rise from steaming vents opened in the glacier by Acheron’s attack. Fire and ice spirits grapple in clouds of hissing steam. Mulcarn’s elementals have the advantage here, though the Rune Heroes must take care to avoid both. A geyser of steam erupts from the center of the refrozen lake. What goes on beneath the ice? The battle between Titan’s fire and Mulcarn’s ice gives birth to a giant cloud of fog rolling outward from the new lake.

Leelo dances lightly across the crusty surface beneath the shadow of Acheron’s hundred-foot wing. Still invisible, she winds the Horn of Danalin to summon an elemental myrmidon riding a ten-foot column of water twenty paces from herself. She casts the dancing sword Nidarchus ten paces in a different direction. Both myrmidon and sword appear as if out of thin air, thus distracting the Titan long enough for the still-invisible Leelo to make significant progress across the ice. The alfar readies her longbow and knocks a magic arrow.

AE-session73-Acherons_End-2_20220905.jpgThe Titan lands with a crash, gouging out a furrow fifty paces long. A resounding boom sounds from deep within the magic glacier. Rune Heroes are tossed several feet in the air as something gives way underfoot. Cracks radiate out through the ice in every direction.

Hoxton flies from beneath a frozen cornice of ice and darts above and behind Acheron in a dramatic curvet. The monk unleashes his most devestating ki-attacks. The Titan shrugs off the stunning blows one after another, but does not escape unscathed. One giant rib is broken and a bone in his collossal right wing shattered. Hoxton darts high up to survey the battlefield. With alarm he notes Chrysanthe is surrounded by two dragons and a dozen dragonborn at the foot of Senate Hill. Hoxton forgets Acheron and dives down to help Chrysanthe and the dwarves hold off the assault. The odds shift noticeably in Acheron’s favor.

Unbeknownst to the embattled heroes, a grim figure in rust-red dragonscale armor clambers over the eastern edge of the glacier and begins charging across the ice. It is Mavriy, the halfbreed infernal/celestial paladin of Esus, not seen for years but drawn to this region by the approach of Acheron. She wears armor fashioned from the scales of Acheron’s daughter, Scorchbringer. No doubt Acheron will take a special interest in the paladin, who was instrumental in the death of his favored progeny at Kamarkhar.

Mesmer steps forth and conjures an angled wall of force to protect himself, Krag and Dorn from the expected second blast of flames. Dorn steps forth to distract the dragon while Krag sends forth motes of holy fire. Leelo makes it behind the massive dragon without being noticed and unleashes sword, bow and myrimidon together, inflicting grievous wounds. Acheron retaliates with deadly tail strikes, but is unable to connect with the magic sword or Leelo.

Just as Mavriy reaches the force-wall, Acheron rears and bellows in rage. Mavriy’s unholy energy fires the spirits of Krag and Mesmer, but Leelo, Dorn and the myrmidon all cower in fear. Leelo continues to fire arrow after arrow into Acheron’s flank. The fey rapier Nidarchus is immune from fear and weaves a web of deadly force as long as Leelo can stay within ten paces.

Captain Dorn is stopped cold in fear of the looming Titan, but still manages to shout commands, warnings and advice across the field of battle. This enables Leelo and Mavriy to strike with greater effect, also insuring his crew has the initiative at any given moment. The dragon is confounded and unable to put an end to the battle-captain’s strategies. Both Krag and Dorn take cover as the dragon seeks to grind them into the ice. The wall of force shudders under the strain but does not fail.

Krag summons a dark cloud of horrid insects. The swarm descends upon Acheron causing the dragon to waste effort trying to sweep them away. Mesmer casts spells of lightning, force and thunder, inflicting noticeable harm on his enemy.

The Rune Heroes quickly spread out and surround the Titan to insure only one or two could be caught in another blast of fire. The infuriated Acheron flaps his mighty wings to produce a thunderclap sending his hated foes tumbling across the ice. Leelo is savaged by massive claws and barely escapes the jaws as they snap shut, literally escaping between two huge teeth.

AE-session73-Acherons_End-3-large_20220905.jpg

Mesmer and Mavriy cast caution to the winds and shadow-step onto the dragons back. Mavriy extends her magic battleaxe into halberd form and plunges downward point first. Acheron roars in pain and anger. This brings Mavriy close by leelo who is thereby freed from her fear. She again launches Nidarchus skyward to weave a web of force between herself and the raging dragon, then shadow-steps onto the dragon’s neck and fires two arrows point blank into the giant skull. Dorn spots an opening and shouts to Mavriy, who cripples Acheron’s left rear leg with a backhand stroke from her halberd/battleaxe.

Acheron shakes off his assailants, but they soon recover and again magically transport themselves atop the dragon. One by one Acheron picks them off with his tail and flings them away. Leelo dodges this way and that, but Acheron is intent on making a kill. Great jaws clamp down on the slight elf. Mavriy projects herself into the spirit realm and diverts Leelo’s mortal wounds upon herself. Blood suddenly springs from ugly gashes and punctures appearing all over Mavriy. Mesmer in turn uses a spell of life-transference to gift some of his life force to Mavriy, but the paladin is still sorely wounded. Krag unleashes his most potent healing spell to keep Mavriy alive as long as possible. Meanwhile the fire deity’s blessing aids his comrades in both defense and offense.

How long can Acheron sustain the punishment meted out by his enemies? While he swats one or two away, the others inflict damage with spells, blades and bow. Mesmer briefly draws Acheron’s ire, but escapes the mortal strike through his incredible mastery of illusion. Dorn finally struggles within striking distance and slashes off a third of Acheron’s right wing with his magic cutlass. In a bad turn of fate, the precious mithril blade lodges in a bone and snaps in half!

Now Acheron realizes the Rune Heroes have lured him into a trap, but rather than escape, resolves to fight on even if it means his destruction and banishment from the mortal realm. What use is all the treasure and slaves in the world if these murderers go unpunished? The dragon roars and briefly takes flight to shake off his oppressors. Rune Heroes fly this way and that in a cyclone of ice and snow, landing all over the place. Nidarchus falls inert to the ice when Leelo is knocked well away, but miraculously the elf lands on her feet. With an evil grin, Acheron places one giant foot over the sentient blade and grinds it into the ice.

Only Mesmer’s legs are visible protruding from the crusty glacier. The wall of force fails as Mesmer’s concentration is broken. Krag tries to advance but terror turns his legs to jelly. He tosses his flying hammer but the dragon’s armor proves more than a match. Mavriy lands directly below Acheron’s jaws. Dorn tumbles far across the ice where he lies stunned.

The dragon’s triumphant laugh rocks the glacier. Fissures widen as another thunderous boom shakes the giant slab. Now a hundred-foot geyser of steam and water blasts upward from the frozen lake, growing larger by the second.

Acheron mauls Mavriy. The dying paladin’s arms and halberd are gripped in massive jaws. Thirty feet above the ground she manages to pull free and fall back to the ice in a tangle of broken bones. Magic darkness surrounds the paladin but the great dragon can sense anything nearby without fail. Leelo races forward, hoping to snatch up Nidarchus while Acheron is busy devouring Mavriy.

Acheron is in no better shape than the Rune Heroes. Burning blood, fire and smoke jet from a dozen wounds. Perhaps the Titan could still escape, but he chooses to fight on.

Krag remains stricken with fear and unable to reach Mavriy. The cleric urges Mavriy’s spirit to hang on just a moment longer and calls down another insect plague to torment the dragon. The dying paladin remains incapacitated and could well be eaten at any moment, for Krag has used the last of his spells.

AE-session73-Acherons_End-4_20220905.jpg

Without Mavriy’s aura of courage to bolster the Rune Heroes, Leelo realizes Acheron has but to roar one more time and the survivors will likely be paralyzed by fear, allowing the dragon to deal with them at his leisure. Leelo scampers forward and manages to grasp the protruding hilt of Nidarchus from between Acheron’s giant claws. She drives the rapier upward with her remaining feeble strength.

Mesmer extracts himself from the ice and lies flat on his back staring at the smoky sky, gasping, bruised and broken. The wizard glances over to see his companions about to die. “No! They are entirely too useful to be let go so early!” As Leelo rolls and tumbles to retrieve Nidarchus, he projects a final orb of thunder and lightning.

With a rumbling groan, the ancient Titan settles to the ice, his time in Creation at an end. Cracks widen as the glacier comes apart and crashes down the steep slopes of Senate Hill. Rune Heroes stagger, slide and tumble away in every direction. Krag and Leelo drag Mavriy’s broken form to relative safety and together ride a huge slab of ice down the hill. Mesmer and Dorn escape off the ice to north and south respectively.

Cassiel explodes from the exposed rubble of his palace, now grown to ten times his normal size. Together Cassiel, Rune Heroes, henchmen, dragons, dwarves and hippus horse-archers route the demoralized remnant of Acheron’s dragon-army. Only a few escape into the mountains, there to skulk and foment trouble in future years.

Midgar is perhaps a third destroyed, but the outer defensive walls remains intact. Cassiels palace is only rubble. It may take years to rebuild, assuming the city does not fall to the Calabim or some other enemy before then. The Rune Heroes risked the city to lure Acheron, but have prevailed and removed a dire threat from the world. Surely the Khazad nation will be more than appreciative.

Shortly after the battle with Acheron, the dreaded Blood Comet reappears, small at first but growing larger by the day. What new catastrophe does the evil star portend? In short order the answer arrives in the form of a lone chariot from the river kingdom of the Malakim. Both rider and horse are long dead, killed by some purulent affliction and reanimated by foul magic. Senators and servants stumble back in terror as the chariot clatters into the relatively intact Senate Hall. The putrefied Empyrean Light-bringer dismounts to deliver his message in a moaning voice:

…and the second of the four shall be known as Nergal, though mortals in throes of death name him Pestilence. He shall spread sickness and disorder across the lands, the armies of men will fall before they lift the sword, and soon all the empires will languish beneath his rotting fist…

With these words the remains of rider and mount collapse in a cloud of swirling embers.

AE-session73-Acherons_End-Nergal_20220905.jpg

View
Session 72: Midgar Besieged

AE-session72-Midgar_Besieged-TheNive400x_20220821.pngA behemoth of ice and fire explodes from beneath the street with a screaming roar. The Rune Heroes spring into action. Mesmer conjures a glassy wall of magical force between the nive and his comrades. Hoxton runs across a rooftop and strikes the insectoid head a number of crushing blows with the Fan of Tali, but is unable to stun the beast. Even worse, each wound projects a rain of blazing blood scorching anyone nearby. The smoking monk is forced to retreat after he narrowly avoids being engulfed by the plunging jaws. Leelo sneaks around behind the creature as it rages against the magical wall. Dorn fires his crossbow from around a corner.

Krag feels the ground shudder as two ice elementals emerge from the freezing mist behind the party. Before he can react, the elementals open cavernous maws and coat the entire street with freezing ice and snow. Krag, Dorn and and Leelo take the brunt of the frigid blast. The two remaining animated skeletons collapse. Given that his new goddess frowns upon destroying souls to animate undead, the former war-cleric bids his old friends a bittersweet farewell. The new cleric of fire retaliates with a ball of raging flame. The elementals begin to crack and melt.

Mesmer lashes the nive with a newly-acquired spell of psychic power. Leelo unleashes her flying sword Nidarchus and fires arrows with her bow, well away from the resulting eruptions of flaming blood. The nive fights on despite tremendous punishment. Dorn is still rattled after his recent attack of star-metal poisoning and his bolts fail to strike home. Krag finishes the elementals off with another fireball before they can strike him down. Only hissing pools of water remain.

The enraged nive tramples nearby buildings to get around the magical wall. Splintered structures burn like matchsticks. Hoxton races across one of the elevated walkways that span the streets of Midgar. He’s found a long wooden pole among the rubble and drives it down the rearing monster’s gullet. Unfortunately the pole snaps and burns away immediately. Krag unleashes a pair of radiant motes into the nive and throws his magic hammer as well. But it is Leelo who finishes off the nive by simultaneously spitting it with arrows and slicing it into fragments with her flying rapier. The frightful beast collapses into the burning rubble.

The Rune Heroes and their allies hunt down the remaining creatures of Mulcarn roaming the streets. By dawn the last of the fires are extinguished. So far the city has escaped serious damage, but the massive glacier still looms above.

Mesmer risks opening a gate to the teleportation circle in Cassiel’s frozen palace. His snow-owl familiar flies through the brief gate. Almost instantly the owl pops back out. Mesmer catches the frozen familiar before it can shatter against the ground. It is a perfectly sculpted replica of the sad-eyed owl, exact in every detail. Leelo remarks “It would have been a sad end to the Rune Heroes had we been stupid enough to attempt the same.”

AE-session72-Midgar_Besieged-Rhoanna_20220821.pngA large troop of six-hundred Hippus horse archers are encamped outside the city walls across the river. From the standards flying above their tents Leelo can discern that this is the elite Household Guard of Rhoanna, chief of the eastern horseclans and Hippus delegate to the Overcouncil. Leelo last saw Rhoanna nearly a decade ago at the Overcouncil Conclave in the doomed city of Ithralia. The camp is in a state of turmoil. Apparently they are preparing to make a hasty departure.

The Rune Heroes approach to parley, making a fine display as they land near the camp atop Draghar, Makugan and Chrysanthe. Leelo is now a diplomat of legendary repute and leads the negotiations. Rhoanna relates a sad tale: the Hippus empire now toils under the heel of Stephanos the Conqueror. The First Horseman of the Apocalypse has accomplished something no one thought possible by conquering the largest empire of arcanearth. The lands of the Hippus Horselords measure over 600 miles north to south and almost twice that west to east. Rhoanna’s rival chief Tasunke now willingly serves Stephanos. Cassiel swifly extended an invitation to the refugees. Rhoanna was able to brave the Pristinus Pass with her household guard, but most were forced to flee into the Candaba peninsula where they eke out a living from the unfamiliar swamps and jungles.

With the fate of Cassiel unknown, Calabim armies preparing to attack, and the triumph of the First Horseman, a dispirited Rhoanna judges Grigoria to be on the verge of collapse. She plans to head west into Ember lands where she hopes to convince King Endain and Queen Sheelba to enter the war on Grigoria’s side. During the feast in Rhoanna’s tent, Leelo hazards a few lewd suggestions. Mesmer attempts to overhear their conversation but trips over a chamberpot and is forced to make a swift retreat. Rhoanna smiles but remains aloof. Looks like old fashioned diplomacy will be the only option this night!

AE-session72-Midgar_Besieged-Freya_20220821.pngLeelo agrees to accompany Rhoanna on her mission to the Clan of Embers, but just as they are about to depart, a troop of dwarven refugees arrives from Khazad lands after braving the icy mountain pass. To the surprise of all, Lady Freya of Ironhelm House leads the dwarves. She bears shocking news: Acheron has once again erupted from his lair in the Ruins of Underhome.

The legendary Titan and father of red dragons made his way east accompanied by a small army of dragonborn, half-dragons and lesser dragons. The dwarves, hard-pressed by Stephanos and the Hippus horselords, have retreated into their underground strongholds and don’t bother to contest the surface. But rather than slaughter and treasure, Acheron seems to be searching for something or someone, making brief stops at Kamarkhar Mine, Wercer and Stormhold. Agents of the dragon search the dwarven and hippus enclaves but fail to find what they seek. The great dragon was last seen flying east for the city of Glulynn only 120 miles west of Mazark. By this time Acheron has probably left Mazark and turned south for Midgar, if indeed Acheron is following the old path of the Rune Heroes from years past.

In a legendary feat of statecraft, Leelo convinces Rhoanna to delay her mission west and help fortify the city against Acheron’s expected assault. Against all reason, Rhoanna now believes the Rune Heroes will somehow manage the twin miracles of freeing her ally Cassiel from Mulcarn’s icy tomb while also defeating Acheron’s horde. With possibly only hours to spare, Rhoanna stations her elite horse arches across the city in groups of 50 to 100 riders. They will keep to boulevards, plazas and wider streets of the capitol, showering their enemies with arrows and riding off before suffering reprisal, just as on the limitless steppes of their lost homeland. Freya stands with her few Khazad warriors at the gates of the road climbing up Senate Hill. The Rune Heroes direct their henchmen and dragons, all stalwart heroes in their own right, to bolster the few city guard, militia and students of magic remaining in the city. Leelo directs evacuation of as many non-combatants as possible.

A twinkling mote of fire appears over the snow-clad peaks. The mote soon resolves into a dragon of gargantuan proportions, exceeding even the Titan Abashi in size and scope. A score of lesser dragons appear bearing followers of Acheron, father of all red dragons and Titan of the gods born in the Age of Dragons millennia past.

The Rune Heroes climb atop the glacier in the hope of luring Acheron to accidentally or intentionally attack the indestructible ice. The dragon-army approaches and strikes the city from above with fire. A horde of half-dragons, dragonborn and kobolds disembark and attack the city in random and chaotic fashion. Disciplined bands of horse archers ride up and down the burning streets dispatching shoals of arrows at the invaders.

The bronze dragon Draghar tackles a young red dragon when it lands to unload a score of kobolds. His son Magukan chases the scattered kobolds to and fro. Chrysanthe, last surviving offspring of Eurabatres, defends Senate Hill alongside Freya and her dwarves. The red dragons quickly discover Chrysanthe is immune to their fire and attempt to close in, but she deftly avoids being cornered.

Now Acheron descends into the fray. The size and power of the ancient dragon quickly becomes apparent and certain Rune Heroes begin to consider ‘alternative’ courses of action. Fire elementals spring up in the wake of Acheron’s fiery breath. They roam about the city burning everything in their path. Chrysanthe sees the danger and hunts them relentlessly, but must take pains to avoid coming to grips with Acheron. Hoxton previously asked Chrysanthe to hang back from the fight and now must watch helplessly as his old friend risks herself time and time again.

A swirling cauldron of flame and smoke now blocks the sun and most of the city from the Rune Hero’s view. They make last minute preparations as Acheron circles the burning city. Hoarded potions, spells and magical defenses are expended without a second thought. Leelo, Mesmer and Krag cast numerous spells of protection and arcane power.

Acheron bursts through the wall of smoke to fly low across the ice. He immediately spots the unnatural-appearing dome conjured by Mesmer. Krag, Dorn and Mesmer crouch within the opaque hemisphere. Leelo hides invisible in a crater just to the north. Hoxton hides beneath a cornice of ice to the west. Can the greatest heroes of this Age triumph over the Titan or will they be scattered to the four winds?

AE-session72-Midgar_Besieged-Acheron-glacierto_20220821.png

View
Session 71: Fire and Ice

AE-session71-FireandIce-1_20220807.jpgMotivated by a familiar compulsion, four adventurers make their way to Dragonrider castle on the shores of the Lavrentine Gulf. Leelo, Mesmer, Krag and Hoxton take mournful note of the deep purple-blue rune dogging the shadows of their old companions. The god of balance has once again called forth his champions. But where is Mavriy? Perhaps the half-demon Sentinel of Esus now serves another patron, or no patron at all. In an unexpected turn of events, Captain Dorn discovers a Rune of his own. The old sea-captain accepts the bad news with admirable stoicism.

The circle of stars said to foretell Auric’s ascension to the Avatar of Winter sink ever-closer toward the polar horizon. How much time yet remains to intervene? Judging from the motion of this new constellation in recent months, no more than a season. As the Rune Heroes consider the import of this sign, news of momentous events arrive through messengers mundane and magical.

By some subterfuge the vampiric armies of the Calabim have thrown back and utterly defeated Basium’s expeditionary army holding the eastern pass between Grigoria and Calabimia. The Mercurians isolated in Myrea are soon annihilated and the city returned to Calabim hands. Remnants of the angelic host and their allies stream across the Grigorian highlands in disarray. The Grigori city of Edge lies only a few days north of the pass.

Far more concerning is the movement of general Losha Valas’ Grand Army from San’ta’ron to Grigoria’s southern frontier. The desert outpost of Junon falls quickly and soon hosts a vampiric army of astounding proportions. It appears the long-feared Calabim hammer is dropping.

Hoxton and Chrysanthe spent most of the last five years working against the bloodthirsty empire of Queen Alexis and her brother King Flauros. They are able to relate many details about the army of General Valas. Vampire lords enveloped in magical shadow command legions of lesser vampire spawn, half-human moroi caste-warriors, hordes of ghouls and human slave-soldiers. Even worse are the brujah, barbaric vampire warrior-chiefs fueled with blood-rage. The intent is made clear by uncounted siege engines trundling slowly across the desert. Two old associates of the Rune Heroes, Tloques Popolocas and Lady Avurnix of Nubia, accompany the army of conquest.

Before the Rune Heroes can effect a response to this new threat, Cassiel’s major-domo Toric arrives with news of disaster at Midgar. The palace of Cassiel, fallen archangel of Dagda, is entombed in a mountain of magical ice that appeared after a mass of freezing fog enveloped the capitol. There is no word from Cassiel himself, though Toric was outside the palace when the ice arrived and thus escaped the fate of his lord. Toric begs the Rune Heroes to intercede and discover what has befallen Cassiel.

Captain Dorn sails the Witches Brew upriver with Krag, crew, henchmen and allies aboard. Leelo, Mesmer and Hoxton ride their dragons: Draghar, Makugan and Chrysanthe. The remaining might and magic of Grigoria has been thrown southward to stem the expected Calabim advance from Junon, leaving the capitol undefended and in a state of panic. Order is quickly restored with the arrival of the Rune Heroes and their entourage.

The capitol is wrapped in frigid sub-zero temperatures yet without snow or ice save for a huge crystalline glacier dominating the city center. Cassiels palace is completely entombed, while the nearby senate house and hall of state largely escaped the ice. The frozen mountain has thus far resisted the attacks of picks, bonfires and even magic fire conjured by the few apprentices and sages remaining in the capitol. The outline of the palace and it’s south-facing portico can be seem dimly within the blue-white depths, but Cassiel’s throne is hidden. So quick was the ice that the last actions of guards, servants and officials close by the edge are immortalized in the frozen gloom.

The Rune Heroes set to work. Krag shatters a pick against the ice. The glacier is proof even against the holy radiance of Krag’s new faith. Hoxton’s Ki-powered blows inflict only small scratches. The monk risks donning the Eye of Barbatos. The unnatural ice persists even into the spirit-realm, so no access will be possible from that direction. Mesmer decides not to risk magical transference into the unknown gloom. The wizard strides forth to blast the glacier with a fireball. When the steam clears the ice yet stands. Leelo directs the dragons to pour fire and lightning into the ice, but the ice reappears faster than it can be melted. She is forced to tumble away as Draghar’s first bolt is reflected. Now a chilly blue fog seeps from wherever the ice was attacked. Xar follows the fog and soon returns to report the fog flows into the river without breaking up. Citizens flee the streets as the numbing clouds creep down to the docks.

In the growing twilight a sage arrives from the Catacomb Libralis with robes flapping. “My lords, I have observed your efforts and consulted with my peers. We believe the ice is Mulcarn’s doing and therefore can only be defeated by an equivalent power, such as another god, the avatar of a god, or a titan from the Age of Dragons.” Stars and moon illuminate an eerie scene: increasing quantities of icy fog flow down from the glacier and through the streets toward the riverfront. Now cries of terror echo from below. Eldritch shapes move through the fog. Oddly, crackling fires appear within the miasma. Dragons and henchmen spread out through the city to rescue citizens and put out the fires. The Rune Heroes plunge down the hill to confront whatever lurks within the fog.

AE-session71-FireandIce-2_20220807.jpgHoxton spots a strange creature before it burrows beneath the cobblestones: a wyrm-like monster about the size of a horse. The scurrying horror has a score of legs, wings and a long spine glowing like hot iron. Some surrounding houses have already caught fire. Soon enough the creature is identified as one of the nive, servants of Mulcarn’s hell not seen in Creation since the Age of Ice.

Dorn and Hoxton begin rescuing people from the nearby houses. Hoxton is able to follow the nive’s progress for a brief period using the Eye of Barbatos and by means of tremors in the earth. Leelo and Mesmer race forward to bypass an oncoming fog-bank. They run into a gaggle of frostlings which Mesmer dispatches with a fireball. Unfortunately the nearby buildings are set ablaze. Feeble cries are heard from women and children trapped within. More work for Hoxton and Dorn!

The Nive erupts from beneath the street just behind Krag who is separated from his companions by a drift of freezing fog. Krag’s new Guardian of Faith, now in the form of a fiery seraphim, strikes the Nive with a radiant sword, while he summons a half-dozen glowing balls of holy fire that wait to be dispatched to their targets as needed. The fire-cleric’s trio of skeleton warriors set upon the Nive with rusty bronze swords. How will his new deity, Brigit the Shining, feel about her prophet enslaving souls from the spirit-realm to animate undead skeletons?

The building next to Krag explodes as a huge ice elemental charges through. The elemental, deterred by Krag’s sanctuary spell, turns toward Leelo and Mesmer. The wizard grips the charging behemoth in a massive fist of arcane force, holding it in place and slowly crushing it. Leelo avoids entering the fog and instead fires a precious Patrian fire arrow from her magic bow. These prove highly effective against the ice elemental.

Dorn appears from a burning building covered in soot with a wailing child tucked under each arm. After handing off the children to their thankful mother, he begins firing accurate crossbow bolts into the trapped elemental. But the strain of the current crisis triggers a latent insanity inflicted by his handling of arcane ‘star metal’ recovered during adventures five years past. These metal fragments are splinters of a fiery star that fell from a gap in the heavens said to be where the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, Stephanos, entered Creation. Where Mesmer stands, the addled sea-captain sees one of the star-beings haunting his nightmares. He draws his saber and charges, but the Amurite is quicker and polymorphs Dorn into a turtle. Looking deep into the turtle’s eyes, Mesmer confirms the rage is dispelled. Dorn’s humanity is restored forthwith.

Meanwhile Krag and Hoxton combine forces to destroy the nive wyrmling. Here Hoxton discovers striking the Nive with his fists results in explosions of flame that singe him from head to toe. Leelo, Mesmer and Dorn finish off the ice elemental in short order. Leelo sees a break in the fog and sprints through with her companions close behind. No one wants to find out what happens to mortal flesh inside those banks of swirling mist. The ground rocks as a behemoth Nive erupts from the street in a column of bricks, fire and steam. The head of this hissing horror is larger than the entire nive wyrmling.

AE-session71-FireandIce-3_20220807.jpg

View
Interregnum
The heroes of late rune-cursed fame travel their separate ways for a period of five years

PC_Leelo_portrait_Brian.jpgLeelo dedicates several years to infiltrating the Sheaim and Infernal empires as an agent of the Overcouncil, or at least what remains of it after the gutting of Elohia by Mardero. To facilitate these intrigues, she assumes the identity of a Svartalfar diplomat who suffers misfortune during the perilous journey to Galveholm. There she learns of the existence of a second Soul Forge at Dis and confirms Hyborem and Mardero are indeed trapped in the Iron City for a period of five years before they can once again walk arcanearth in corporeal form. The famed ‘Storm Queen’ Os-Gabella has disappeared from view.

Leelo receives a cryptic message from her long-lost brother Keelo: “the ascension grows near…” Leelo quickly returns to Evermore, capitol of Ljosalfia, again disguised as the missing Svartalfar diplomat. Queen Phaedra is not fooled but keeps Leelo’s subterfuge a secret. The Summer Queen, Prince Amelanchier and Viconia the Winter Queen are likely the only living beings aware of Leelo’s true heritage. And of course Leelo herself since the revelations of Nidarchus in the lair of Belchorzh.

While roaming the woods of her homeland Leelo gains the friendship of a tiny red, gold, and blue pseudo-dragon, one of many fey creatures roaming the ancient woods around Evermore and the Pool of Tears. This new familiar is able to travel alongside his master in a hidden pocket dimension. Very useful for Leelo’s forthcoming travels in Svartalfia and Illia!

From Evermore Leelo journeys north to the lands of the Winter Queen. Indeed, Svartalfia is now shrouded in a permanent fey winter where green plants somehow grow rimed with frost and fantastic crystal blankets of ice span the living trees. The dark elves’ pact with the Illians and Auric Ulvin seems to suit them well. But at what cost to the other peoples of arcanearth?

Her mother was well aware of Leelo’s true identity. But like Queen Phaedra, Viconia chooses to keep this information to herself. As before, Faeryl showers Leelo with gifts and patronage but no formal acknowledgement. Finally, the cryptic warning uttered by Nidarchus years ago deep beneath the Vault of the Nine is revealed. With the aid of her mother, Leelo outwits the dark elf hero Alazkan to retain possession of Nidarchus.

During her years in Svartalfia, Leelo ventures into the frozen lands of Illia but discovers nothing more of her brother. Instead, her efforts yield alarming information. Os-Gabella is working to aid the Illians in their great project, the ascension of Auric Ulvin to the avatar of winter. This presages the return of Mulcarn and a new Age of Ice, something not even the dark elves would welcome. In but a few short years, arcanearth will be divided into equally unpleasant hells: Mulcarn’s ice in the north and Hyborem’s fire in the south.

s70-1_interregnum.jpg

PC_Mesmer-portait.pngMesmer looked at the spells organized on his desk. Each one was stacked neatly and arranged by level and importance. He had more experience now and a better understanding of the world he was forced to endure. “I need a grimoire that truly arms me for the perils ahead!” He could barter and trade until he amassed an acceptable collection of spells. However, one spell stood out from the rest.

Mesmer picked up the parchment directly in front of him. It was this he would concentrate on first. He had brushed the shoulder of death too many times to dismiss it as mere chance. Should the accursed rune once again impinge itself upon his existence, he would undoubtedly find himself in situations that could lead to an untimely demise. “If only I can accomplish this task and not die in the process, I will have the edge needed to survive any eventuality.” True, it wasn’t immortality, but after contributing to the demise of Asmoday, the wizard wasn’t about to go down that route.

The journey would require a visit to all the guilds of arcanearth and no doubt squander much wealth and magic in the process. This alone was the work of years, but the other arrangements would require a bit more effort and help from a source not immediately apparent. He carefully placed the parchment into the special protective container and sealed it with a spell, placed it on the desk, and began packing for his journey. While not otherwise sentimental, Mesmer would bear with him the silver sword of his father, reforged after its destruction in the Vault of the Nine.

At long-last free of the cankerous rune-curse, Mesmer embarks upon a five-year quest to augment his power with the greatest magical incantations available in arcanearth and beyond. Along the way he visits every known mage guild from the southernmost isle of the Dremmenstad Shadowlords to the remotest crag of the Chaoticists and all points in between. Whether by trading, buying, begging, or stealing, the universe of spells flows into Mesmer’s ever-growing arcane library. But one spell eludes him, a charm that will grant him the secret of life itself without the unseemly corruption of lichdom.

In his researches Mesmer delves too deeply into the secrets of dimensional magic and thereby comes to the attention of Os-Gabella, the Immortal Storm Queen and possibly the last surviving apprentice of Kylorin. In the chaotic flight that follows, the desperate wizard randomly leaps into a plane of existence entirely encompassed by a single great world-city contested by ten powerful factions. But fortune is with the lost wizard. Among these factions are the Simic Scientists who fuse magic with a novel technique known as ‘science’ to produce wonders undreamed of in arcanearth. After much haggling and finally a trade of great consequence, Mesmer comes away with his most treasured and hoped for prize. Zegana, archmage and Prime Speaker of the Simic Scientists, decrypts the stubborn spell and will deliver to him a most precious vessel nine fortnights hence.

Mesmer returns to a world in far worse shape than he left it. Hyborem and Mardero will soon reform material bodies and march forth once more. A strange yet all too familiar chill blows from the north. The Illians and their god-king Auric Ulvin are up to no good. Stephanos the Conqueror now controls the entire Hippus empire. At this rate, the First Horseman will soon have company.

s70-1_interregnum.jpg

PC_Krag-older_profile_Chris.pngKrag gazed out over the sparkling waves below Dragonrider Castle, home of the late Rune Heroes. All had departed save himself. Much time had the war-priest ruminated upon recent years, the carnage, the untold destruction and pain wrought by his enemies…and by himself as well. He could not deny the change which came over him in the vault of Asmoday. The rose of fire had not returned but he would forever seek it out.

The Ember half-orc considered his decision, but it was final. No longer would he serve the god of war. Xrarog’s bronze circlet flew over the crashing surf to disappear beneath the blue waters of the Lavrentine Gulf. In that moment Krag fell to his knees, struck by a bolt of divine thunder only he could feel. All the greater powers granted by his former deity were gone save those of the lowest rank.

A few days later, Krag stored his warhammer, shield and breastplate in the castle armory and took up a sturdy walking stick carved by Rabat, alter-ego of the titan Eurabatres. Armed only with his staff and clothed in the simple robes of an itinerant priest, Krag stepped out onto the dusty road. In his travels he had many adventures, helped many in need and always worked to repair the harms visited upon innocent people.

After five long years of wandering, Krag found himself standing alone upon a high cliff above the northern verge of the Earthsea, now frozen solid by the oncoming Illian winter. His frigate the Witches Brew lay anchored in the Gulf of Tiranis three hundred miles south. Krag’s heart leapt as he glimpsed a far curtain of scintillating fire above the polar horizon. This could only be the Ring of Carceri, a legendary prison created by the fallen goddess Bhall to imprison her most loyal archangel Brigit the Shining. The former priest of war set out at once, a tiny speck struggling across the vast expanse of ice. He would free his rose of fire from her icy prison or die trying.

Months later, the Witches Brew lay trapped in the icy grip of Aurin Ulvin’s unnatural winter. From across the windswept waste marched a burning figure. Krag had returned a priest of fire and first prophet of the new goddess of fire, Brigit. A jet of flame from his holy symbol, a golden censer, burned away the ice. Without a word the mighty cleric put his shoulder to the anchor chain and pulled his ship toward the open sea.

s70-1_interregnum.jpg

PC_Hoxton-portrait-interregnum.pngHoxton bids his former rune-cursed companions farewell shortly after returning to Dragonrider castle. Serlatha the purple-kobold thief and Beebop the rogue monodrone will accompany the monk on his travels. Chrysanthe, now alone in the world and perhaps the last golden dragon in arcanearth, agrees to fly Hoxton’s party of ‘shorties’ four hundred leagues across the continent to Ljosalfia and the Pool of Tears. There Hoxton plans to renew his acquaintance with his human foster-father and mentor, Master Cosmas.

Ethereal steps spiral upward to the invisible Guardian Monastery situated between the colossal trunks of three mighty cypresses. The still waters of the Pool of Tears glimmer in the shadows far below. Only three young monks attend the silent sanctum and halls. Hoxton finds that many left to fight the Infernal armies during the sack of Elohia but few returned. Most of those who survived now watch over the narrow channel between Warrenpoint Isle, captured by the Infernals, and what is left of the Elohim mainland.

Among those lost is Master Cosmas. Inquiries reveal that Cosmas perished fighting scores of Os-Gabella’s shadow-monks and vampiric assassins during the successful attempt on archmage Corlindale’s life. Nevermore will the master’s diamond soul ride the Seventh Wind down the mountain as was his custom.

There are many such Elohim Guardian Monasteries scattered about arcanearth for the purpose of watching over sacred places of power, such as the Pool of Tears, or keeping vigil over some latent danger like the Broken Sepulcher. Should he so choose, Hoxton can don the mantle of ‘Master of the Pool of Tears’, there to stand vigilant and train a new generation of monks. However, such a pedestrian fate does not accord with Hoxton’s innate tendencies.

After a few years training Serlatha in the ways of the Elohim Order and placing Beebop in the care of expatriated gnome artificers, Hoxton meets Chrysanthe on the snow-clad peak above Evermore. The young gold dragon has learned one of the tricks of her extinct elders and now appears as a slim, golden-haired maiden with eyes of luminescent topaz. Such a skill will be more than useful in the upcoming intrigues and escapades. Together they resolve to dedicate their lives to a project the late Master Cosmas would have heartily endorsed. The blood-sucking children of Os-Gabella will soon gain a new perspective on terror, this time as victims.

s70-1_interregnum.jpg

PC_Mavriy_profile_interregnum.jpgMavriy stood atop the old Patrian ruins in the hills southwest of Junon. Below spread the wastes of the great eastern desert separating Grigorian, Ember, Calabim and Malakim borders. Four empires perched like vultures over a crippled peace with the threat of hellfire looming in the west and icy doom creeping from the north. Isolated yet strategic, this crumbling keep would make an ideal stronghold. Nor would she change its outward appearance to alert friends or enemies. They would live underground and travel in the extensive tunnels and caverns of glass carved out by her companion.

Nebotus exploded from the sand in a plume of dust and lightning, being sure to accidentally cover his half-cambion mistress in sand up to her chest. The booming laughter of a sixty-foot blue dragon never got old. Even the grim agent of the Nightwatch shrank back involuntarily. “My lady, our agents are active in Amarna, San’ta’ron, Costa del Sol and Edge. Should anyone make a move we will be adequately informed.” Now that things were settled here, she could focus her attention on other matters.

Arcane sages of the Catacomb Libralis quickly solved the riddle of the gold spectacles. “These artifacts were crafted by Kylorin himself and make visible certain intra-planar doorways, both ancient and more recent. One such door undoubtedly exists in the crystal caverns above the fabled City of Gold.” Ten days later Nebotus landed in the alpine valley above Thonis. The Museum of Man was empty and silent, its magic departed along with the Titan who created it. Mavriy donned the spectacles and stepped through a misty gateway where Nebotus could not follow.

For years Mavriy remained entangled in the intrigues and machinations of Tanelorn’s ten guilds. As an unavowed agent of the Azorius Senate she was privy to all kinds of useful and interesting information. Such as the fact that the Guildpact was now a toothless slogan. And Hyborem maintained a ‘summer residence’ in Tanelorn where he was worshipped as ‘Rakdos’ by a cult of entertainers and hedonists. But still the whereabouts of her mother remained elusive.

Just as Mavriy was about to abandon the city, she received a message from the Boros Legion. This guild was led by Aurelia, one of the few survivors of the four hundred forty angels who rebelled against Bhall’s fall from heaven at the end of the Age of Magic. “Bhall’s dominion has ended. Your mother now serves the new goddess of fire, Brigit, who has just been freed from the Ring of Carceri. By one of your late companions, I believe…”

The paladin of Esus quickly returned to arcanearth where loyal Nebotus had made himself at home in the caverns above Thonis. The former Museum of Man was now decorated in barbaric style with treasure from the ruins and bones from the dragon’s victims. Nebotus swallowed up the treasure, then both flew directly back to their desert stronghold.

The hills below Junon were covered with a dusting of snow, something she had never seen before. Mulcarn’s impending return was heralded by a new constellation of stars edging closer to the polar horizon with each passing day. Nebotus shivered in the cold, whimpered once, then disappeared beneath the sand with finality. Mavriy turned and marched alone into the north.

View
Session 70: Return to Dragonspire Fortress - III
Rune Heroes Victorious

AE-session70-Eidolon-3_20200419.jpgTwo hundred eidolons wreathed in swirling shadow advance uphill toward the broken walls. This appears to be the main effort led by the Death Lords and two hell knights. Three more hell knights lead two companies toward a seventy-foot breach in the second wall. Living eidolons march alongside reanimated corpses of recently dead comrades, fallen Luchuirp rebels and Maseach rangers. The priests of Agares have been hard at work these past few hours.

The fortress defenders are nearing the end of their tethers. The brief respite falls far short of restoring full fighting capacity. Krag still suffers from a crippling leg wound, having used the last of his divine magic to heal Leelo, Mavriy, Hoxton and Nebotus. He will command the reserve force at the high-keep consisting of forty-six exhausted Luchuirp rebels, Xar and the four surviving Maseach rangers, Grenl, Beebop, Xolbrys and the young bronze dragon. Draghar’s son was crippled in the last attack and can no longer fly. Despite her protests, a battered and bloody Lukanu is also assigned to the high-keep. Krag stands ready to fight off any flying undead or mobius witches attempting to take the high keep by coup de main.

The defense of the crumbling middle-keep falls to the remaining battle-worthy Rune Heroes, their dragons, and allies. Hoxton and Mavriy take up positions in the angle between the second wall and middle-keep. Draghar, Nebotus and Eurabatres’ surviving daughter Chrysanthe crouch close by. Erki positions the two earth golems next to the broken gate and wall.

Leelo snipes at the approaching enemy with her alfar bow, moving from one hiding spot to the next between shots. Her first arrows are wasted on the shadow magic protecting the eidolons and hell knights. Hellish rebukes of swirling flame and swarms of crossbow bolts soon force her back from the battlements.

AE-session70-1_20200419.jpg

Krag peers out over the unfolding spectacle. He spies Mesmer hiding in the tumbled battlements atop the ruined middle-keep. The wizard’s first fireball consumes thirty eidolons marching behind the hell knights. A fair blow! The Dread Lords instantly retaliate with an orb of swirling black and red hellfire. The east side of the keep disappears in a roaring blast of fiendish energy. Krag holds his breath. Seconds later Mesmer staggers from the oily black cloud with robes and gear ablaze. Thank Dagda for backup spell-books!

AE-session70-2-2_20200419.jpgLeelo creeps along the south battlements observing the approach of the secondary attack. The hell knights and eidolons are making fast progress parallel with the slope and will shortly reach the gap in the second wall. She screams down to the dragons. Draghar and the young gold dragon Chrysanthe catch the hell knights in a crossfire as they charge across rubble-filled craters. All three are destroyed by fire and lightning.

Three-score eidolon soldiers drive the dragons back from the rubble with a hail of heavy crossbow fire. Mavriy and Nebotus charge through the gap to trample and rend dozens. The eidolons are immune to fear and climb onto the raging dragon. Mavriy is forced to deal with them one by one in a swirling melee amid the rubble. She briefly loses control of the great blue dragon who roars down the slope trampling everything in his path.

Meanwhile, the Dread Lords have reached the middle-keep. They stand upon the mountain of rubble as hundreds of eidolons and animated dead flood across the bailey. Mesmer limps forward to risk another fireball. Missiles crack against the battlements all around but none find their mark. AE-session70-3_20200419.jpgNearly fifty of the enemy wither and char in magical flame. Mesmer jumps from the friendly side of the forty-foot wall to avoid a fiery retribution and floats safely to the ground by means of magic.

The hell knights and Dread Lords lead over a hundred eidolons to the broken gates of the inner wall. Leelo winds her horn to summon a myrmidon from the vault of Danalin. The watery giant advances toward the gap with a Luchuirp earth golem at either side.

Hoxton leaps ten yards over the elementals into the midst of the enemy formation. The kobold monk transforms into a whirling mote of destruction dealing death in every direction. Mavriy steps through the realm of shadow directly behind the Death Lords. Her first strike lays low one of the trio. Then she issues a challenge the remaining pair cannot refuse. Both turn to rain down murderous blows with their black blades.

Mavriy’s sacrifice buys precious seconds for her companions. Dragons and elementals now block the portal. Hoxton, Leelo and the elementals smash the remaining hell knights. The bodies of eidolons fall in piles. As it disintegrates, the last Dread Lord unleashes a final hellfire orb upon the melee. AE-session70-4_20200419.jpgElementals, eidolons and undead all disappear in the conflagration. Minutes later Leelo, Mesmer, Erki and the dragons pull Mavriy and Hoxton from the smoking pyre of rubble and ash, all that remains of the keep. Both will survive but long bear the scars of this battle.

The Rune Heroes meet in the high keep to deliberate. Mardero’s army is broken and leaderless. The Sheaim mages and Veil priests accompanying the supply trains will not hazard any direct attack, preferring to wait for the arrival of additional armies from west or east. But arrive they will, this time in the thousands. It is clear there is no further benefit in holding Dragonspire fortress. The Sheaim-Infernal alliance has suffered a devastating setback with the loss of Hyborem in the east, Asmoday in the south, and Mardero in the west. Having achieved all that is possible, the Rune Heroes take wing north across the Dragonfangs then over the Aduro Straight to the safety of Mercuria. From here they fly east back to Grigoria.

Along the way, the hovering runes fade from blue to gray, disappearing entirely by the time the Rune Heroes reach their freehold on the shores of the Lavrentine Gulf. Does Dagda have no further need of heroes to right the balance? Or is this merely a temporary reprieve?

The dragons are a source of wonder to all. Cassiel formally establishes a new guild, the Dragon Riders, of which the Rune Heroes are the founding members. But Leelo, Mesmer, Krag, Hoxton and Mavriy are no longer cursed by the runes. The geas that drove them onward across the years is gone, its absence like a strange hole in their souls. Slowly but surely, the five surviving heroes part ways to undertake their own personal and long-delayed quests.

View
Session 69: Return to Dragonspire Fortress - II
The Fall of Mardero

AE-session69-Mardero_20200412.jpgThe rising sun illuminates Sheaim troops massing below the third wall. A thirty-foot beast of Agares smashes through the outer wall in less than two minutes. This is bad news, for surely the remaining fortifications will fare no better. The siege-demon pounds up the slope toward the middle keep, closely followed by companies of eidolons and skeleton warriors.

Another two hundred eidolons advance along the road behind the second and third infernal siege-beasts. Mardero accompanies this force personally, leaving behind a reserve of one hundred fifty eidolons, hell-knights and the Dread Lords. They soon enter a cross-fire from gnome arbalesters on the walls and catapults moved by dragons to towers along the second wall.

Mardero floats low over his troops. The infernal prince raises his hand and gnomes on the wall char and die in exploding flames. A second fireball destroys twenty archers firing from the gatehouse battlements. A young gold dragon, daughter of Eurabatres, rashly flies from cover and makes a run for the demon prince. The heroic dragon is quickly paralyzed by Mardero’s powerful magic and destroyed by crossbow bolts and boulders thrown by the Agares-beast. Erki and the two golems wait behind the gatehouse as a last line of defense. Leelo nervously surveys the battle from her dragon-mount atop the high keep’s tallest tower…things could be going better!

A company of eidolons follow one of the Agares-beasts through a gap previously blasted in the third wall by Sheaim mages. They advance up the slope toward the second wall where Krag commands skeleton archers and Luchuirp rebels. The massive beast quickly passes inside minimum range of the catapults. Krag summons a seething plague of insects but still the raging demon charges forward!

The surviving gnomes and men of the gatehouse employ a defensive feature built by the original Luchuirp engineers and never discovered by the Sheaim occupiers: the stone bridge can be demolished by a hidden charge of Khazad explosives. The first giant siege-demon plunges into the crevasse amid a rain of broken stone where it is finished off by an inexhaustible swarm of infernal tar-puddings. Mardero retreats with his assault troops back up the road to rejoin his reserves, apparently leaving the rest of his committed forces to succeed or fail without further help.

AE-session69-1-edges_20200412.jpg

Seeing the gatehouse is secure for now, Krag signals Erki to reinforce the second wall and middle keep, which are already coming under attack. It will be some time before the plodding golems can traverse the steep and winding road. The first Agares-beast has already obliterated the middle keep’s southeast corner. A dozen Maseach archers lay broken in the tide of rubble. Ten more are swept from the walls by a rain of arrows and bolts. A single golem makes a brief stand but is quickly smashed to bits by the advancing Agares-beast. Now only Mavriy, Nebotus, Lukanu, and a handful of rangers defend the middle-keep, lynchpin of the fortress.

A bronze dragon appears over the northern peaks. It is Draghar, bearing Xar and Hoxton! Mavriy launches from her perch and flies Nebotus on a strafing run. The two huge dragons inflict heavy losses on eidolons and skeleton warriors clambering over the rubble, but the inner gate will shortly be burst asunder by the advancing Agares-beast. Mavriy sees trouble farther down the wall and flies to assist. Nebotus thunders along the second wall, cutting a swath of destruction through the advancing Sheaim troops.

AE-session69-defend2ndwall-2_20200412.pngKrag is knocked off his feet as the wall and tower rock to the impact of a charging Agares-beast. Now the war-cleric is staring eye-to-eye with the titanic demon ten yards above the ground. While the Agares-beast is entangled in collapsing masonry, Krag smashes its skull with his magic hammer.

Mesmer finally reappears from the mobius witch’s alien dimension and joins the fray! He and Leelo land their bronze and gold dragon-steeds on the other side of the swaying tower. Streams of fire and lightning concatenate upon the demon. Finally, it explodes into a two-hundred-foot mushroom cloud of sparks and ash. The surviving eidolons below the second wall are quickly dealt with by spell, sword and bow.

Mavriy and Xar fly onward to join Leelo. The three continue south to the gatehouse which is now occupied by Mardero. It seems the demon-prince took note of the empty gatehouse and has decided to force a confrontation.

Back at the middle-keep, Hoxton, Xar and Draghar attack the last Agares-beast just as it smashes through the inner gates. Lukanu charges into the ragged gap with lance leveled. Not even the mighty siege-demon can long resist the combined punishment meted out by these heroes. Another explosion of sparks and smoke boils into the sky. Krag and Mesmer join Erki who has just arrived with golems and troops from the south towers. A wraith and pack of spectres materializes from the spirit-realm and begins to decimate the rangers defending the keep. Scores of Sheaim troops stream through the middle keep bailey to join battle.

AE-session69-defendmiddlekeep_20200412.pngA mobius witch appears atop the wall above the smashed gate. Hoxton and Mesmer combine forces to sorely wound the weird being before she can cast anyone into another dimension. The witch abandons the battle and disappears before she can be destroyed. The monk-and-mage team move on to deal with the undead spirits before they can wipe out the Maseach rangers. Krag, Lukanu, Erki and the arriving rebels shatter the enemy in a short but brutal melee around the broken gates. Few survive to rejoin their masters watching from the hill below the fortress.

Meanwhile to the south, Mavriy, Leelo and Xar approach the gatehouse where Mardero patiently waits. The demon prince deals the first blow, paralyzing Nebotus with infernal magic. The eighty-foot dragon crashes to the ground, alive but seriously wounded and out of the fight. Mavriy dives for the battlements and manages to avoid falling another thirty feet to the rocks below. Leelo circles around and swoops in from the east as Mardero launches a fireball at Draghar and Xar. A circle of flames erupts around the ten-foot-tall demon, but Leelo’s gold dragon is immune, as is her dancing sword Nidarchus. The alfar rogue fires a stream of magic arrows through the wall of flames.

In a rage, Mardero realizes he has badly underestimated his enemies at Dragonspire Fortress. The burning iron sword scribes whirling arcs and infernal fireballs explode all around, but to no avail. Mavriy arrives and leaps through the flames with battleaxe held high. Mardero soon realizes his position is hopeless. With a thundering curse he joins his master’s soul at the Iron City.

A brief respite ensues. Krag and Erki heal the wounds of men, gnomes, and dragons as best they can. The third wall and gatehouse are abandoned. Mesmer utilizes his guards-and-wards spell to fortify the gatehouse against any attackers that might somehow gain entrance. The Rune Heroes and their dragons reposition to defend the shattered middle keep and wall. The ancient alfar bard Xolbrys still stands upon one of the high keep towers eagerly recording all that transpires.

An hour later, five hundred surviving Sheaim troops advance up the bloody slopes in a final last-ditch assault, this time led by a half-dozen hell-knights and the Dread Lords. These are Ashen Veil paladins dedicated to the destruction of Creation. The Dread Lords no longer exist entirely in this world and owe their continued existence to the gods of the outer darkness, much like the recently-destroyed lich Asmoday. The Sheaim hero Rosier the Fallen is one such ‘Dread Lord’. This nameless trio appear bound together by some hellish curse and never move more than a few paces apart.

AE-session69-assault-6_20200412.jpg

View
Session 68: Return to Dragonspire Fortress - I

AE-session68-DragonspireFortress-ThirdWallGate-s_20200209.jpgThe mountainous horizon curves away far beneath a formation of six dragons led by the mighty Eurabatres. A pall of smoke hangs over the desert at the edge of the world thirty leagues to the east. The hell-terrain follows the Sheaim and Infernal advance into Malakia. Late in the day a dour fortress passes below nestled high in the mountains overlooking conquered Luchuirp and Malakim lands. Dark smudges on the horizon must be the southern cities of Nubilar and Ultigar.

Keen-eyed Leelo and the mountain ranger Xar locate a secluded valley where the dragons can take their rest. All through the night, infernal couriers and wagon-trains make their way north and south along a road snaking through nearby foothills, but the Rune Heroes cannot spare the time to attack these paltry if tempting targets. Another day’s flight will bring the expedition to Dragonspire fortress, last visited by the Rune Heroes when they passed east through the Deadlands to Ithralia, capital of the doomed Luchuirp empire. Now they return accompanied by a retinue of powerful allies, so things might go rather differently.

In the morning Eurabatres informs the Rune Heroes that here they must part ways. The ancient gold dragon and his son will fly east to aid the Malakim, if indeed they still stand. There Eurabatres hopes to force a confrontation with Hyborem and break the strength of the Infernal legions. Lukanu and the others find places aboard the palanquins of Nebotus and Draghar. Eurabatres and Sephirius disappear into a curtain of smoky haze. Without the Titan’s assistance, conquering and holding Dragonspire fortress becomes a much more serious proposition.

Halfway through the second day, Xar spots one of his old haunts, a mountain fort of the Maseach Rangers accessible only by secret ways, or by air. Within the hour Xar contacts several of his comrades who know the lay of the land both north and south of Dragonspire pass. The news is promising: the fortress is only lightly guarded and unprepared for defense against an aerial attack. Even better, the rangers inform the Rune Heroes that more of their fellows lurk near the fortress, along with hundreds of desperate Luchuirp renegades thirsting for revenge against their cruel masters.

Morning sun illuminates the high keep when five dragons dive down upon the unsuspecting fortress. A storm of fire and lightning sweeps the stunned garrison from keep, wall and tower. Luchuirp rebels flood into the high keep through secret ways. Three-score Maseach Rangers emerge from the mountains to storm the middle keep. Hoxton and his young gold dragon drop from the sky. The lightning-fast kobold monk stuns the keep commander before he can rally his troops. His monodrone companion Beebop buzzes overhead launching firebolts and lightning. Between Hoxton, dragon and rangers, the second wall and middle keep are quickly overcome and the surviving defenders clapped into their own dungeons.

Leelo and Mesmer descend with their dragon-mounts to conquer the third wall gatehouse barring the pass connecting the Sheaim homeland to their eastern conquests. Leelo reaches the controls that will release a horde of confined tar-demons onto the slope between the second and third walls. A guard dies with his hand on the lever. For now the tar-demons remain confined to the chasm below the stone bridge. Mesmer assesses the many labyrinthine passages, stairs and doors of the gatehouse. “Here I will make excellent use of my new guards-and-wards spell!”

Krag leads Xar and Grenl into the high keep where they join arriving resistance fighters, a rag-tag bunch numbering less than two hundred gnomes and men but now equipped with the finest weapons and armor from captured armories. The rebels are led by none other than the gnome cleric Tir-na’don, known as ‘Erki’ to the Rune Heroes. The priest of Kilmorph left Trinity with the departing Luchuirp refugees after the fall of his homeland. While most of the gnomes found new homes with the Khazad or Elohim, Erki led a small group back to the Dragonspire mountains to join the resistance fighters. For years they fought on with dwindling numbers and little hope, but now all is changed! In the deepest cells beneath the high keep Erki and Krag discover three imprisoned earth golems who respond to their commands. The massive Luchuirp-made automata are a welcome addition to the defense.

Nebotus dives down upon the third wall bearing Mavriy and Lukanu. The 70-foot blue dragon breathes devastating bolts of lightning along the battlements. Lukanu the centaur champion alights and charges along the wall sweeping terrified guards before her. Mavriy steps through the shadow realm down upon the north end of the wall. Terrified defenders jump from the thirty-foot walls rather than face the advancing sentinel of Esus. Mavriy and Lukanu meet halfway: the entire 300-yard length of the low wall is completely cleared of defenders.

Over the next week the Rune Heroes and their allies consolidate their forces and organize a defense. Sheaim reinforcements and supply trains meet ambush in the narrow pass between Skadistad and the lower Gatehouse. Messengers and troops returning from the conquered territories beat a hasty retreat after meeting a hail of missiles from the wall above the eastern road. Dragons and Rune Warriors strike out from the captured fortress to scour the Deadlands as far north as the Quicksilver river bridge within sight of Ithralia’s upper city. Sheaim and Hyborem troops flee pell-mell across the moors but few escape.

AE-session68-approach4-Mardero-small_20200209.pngNews of distant events arrives from rebels and Maseach spies roaming the length of the Dragonspire mountains. The Elohim homeland has fallen to a surprise attack by the Sheaim. A hundred warships and arcane battlebarges first captured Warrenpoint town and island. Before Corlindale could return from the north with his armies, the capital and surrounding mainland fell. The infernal prince Mardero strides triumphantly through the burning streets of Cahir Abbey. Eidolons, pyre zombies, beasts of Agares, mobius witches, ritualists and mages defeat the Elohim monks, champions, clerics, and wizards. After sacking the Elohim homeland, Mardero retreats to his ships.

corlindale_bw.pngCorlindale advances into a well-laid trap. The ancient archmage is slain by Os-Gabella’s shadow-monk assassins, leaving the empire in chaos. The Elohim recover the smoking ruins of their cities and mourn the loss of their greatest hero. The Infernal alliance now maintains a permanent stronghold in Warrenpoint just ten leagues from the Elohim mainland.

A thousand miles east, Eurabatres and Sephirius arrive at the Nilus river valley and turn the tide of the war for Malakia. The clash of the ancient dragon and demon lord will long be recounted in story and song. Hyborem was destroyed and his soul returned to the Iron City of Dis, capital of his empire on arcanearth, there to fester and devise new plots. Tragically, the titan’s mortal dragonborn son Sephirius was also slain in the cataclysmic battle. Eurabatres considers his work in Creation complete and returns to the Vault of Junil whence he came in ages past, bearing with him the Kuriotate treasure-hoard from the Museum of Man.

Maros_bw.pngIn the preceding months much had been won and lost in the see-saw battle for Malakia. At Lamneth Hill between the cities of Naucratis, Xenaria and Amarna, Maros was slain in a desperate battle with the undead legion of the lich Asmoday. The Khazad arch-paladin’s surviving followers retreated in dismay bearing the body of their great leader. But Asmoday’s material form had in turn been destroyed and his soul returned to the Vault of the Nine where he was subsequently cornered and destroyed by the Rune Heroes. Now a stalemate holds sway in the east: Sheaim sorcerers and Malakim lightbringers face off across a no-man’s-land of burning hell-terrain spreading outward from the infernal portal at Dis.

Acherons-Eye_transparent_small.pngIn the Khazad Ruins of Underhome far to the north, Acheron was disturbed from his long slumber by the death of his favorite offspring. The vengeful dragon gathered an army of cultists, dragonborn and lesser dragons to conquer Khazak, seat of the dwarven empire on arcanearth. A coalition led by the dwarf hero Arthendain and elf hero Kithra Kyriel drove off Acheron and reclaimed the capital, but at great cost: Arthendain was slain and the treasure-hoard of the Khazad empire carried back to Underhome by Acheron’s minions. How will the dwarves pay to keep the Hippus barbarians at bay? Acheron survives to recover and foment new evil. The memory of those who murdered his daughter serves to keep the ancient red dragon wakeful despite his recent meal of a hundred or more dwarves.

That event which the Order of the Elohim fought long ages to prevent has come to pass. The first Horseman of the Apocalypse appears in arcanearth, heralded by the second appearance of the blood comet. Stephanos the Conqueror splits the Hippus empire in half, pitting the western and eastern horselords against one another. Soon much of the northern continent labors under the Conqueror’s merciless rule.

Returning to current events at the captured fortress, messengers bring word that Mardero has sailed east from Warrenpoint to Castle Larchspur on the coast forty leagues north of Ithralia. Even now the demon-prince leads a small force south with the obvious intent of retaking Dragonspire fortress. Leelo, Mesmer and Hoxton fly their dragons into the mountains to observe the approaching army.

AE-session68-approach2-beastofagares-small_20200209.jpgThree Dread Lords, infamous Eidolons of Agares, lead a column of five hundred heavily armed and armored soldiers shrouded in twisting shadow. Each company of one hundred is led by a hell-knight officer. Three gargantuan demons stride across the countryside accompanied by packs of hell-hounds. These are the legendary ‘Beasts of Agares’ standing over thirty feet tall, war machines created by Agares and the other fallen angels. Following behind are twenty armored wagons carrying the retinues of two Ashen Veil ritualists and three Sheaim mages capable of casting powerful magic across many miles. A column of three hundred armored skeletons march behind the ritualists who animated them. Eerie mobius witches fly above, masters of time and dimensional magic conjured from Sheaim planar gates, accompanied by several hundred specters and wraiths dragged from the spirit-realm. At the head of this small but powerful arcane army strides Mardero himself, resplendent in flame-red raiment and bearing a massive sword of burning iron.

Mesmer identifies the Sheaim mages as the biggest threat. These wizards and sorcerers control magic that can destroy fortresses from many miles away by means of flaming meteors, lightning storms and other world-spanning magics. No doubt they played a major role in the recent sack of Elohim cities.

The three hatch a harebrained scheme to assassinate the mages. Hoxton buries himself in an old well where the advancing army is likely to camp on the way across the Deadlands. That night Leelo sneaks into the camp concealed by Mesmer’s magic and her own considerable abilities. She locates the mage-tents and hides nearby.

Mesmer kicks off the operation by dimension-dooring into one of the mage tents. He quickly dispels the sleeping mage’s magical fortress and attempts to destroy him with animated objects and a disintegration ray. Though terribly wounded and mercilessly hounded by a vicious swarm of animated cutlery, the mage’s life is saved by the timely intervention of his henchmen. Mesmer utilizes all the illusions and protections at his disposal to evade pursuit and return to the mountains where his bronze dragon waits.

By chance Hoxton’s old well is located within the camp. Unfortunately, he is discovered by one of the mages and does well to escape with his life. He is forced to use the magic of his Fan of Tali to fly far and fast pursued by a horde of supernatural enemies. He won’t be able to return to Dragonspire fortress for several days.

Leelo surprises a mage hastening to the aid of her fellows, this one a shriveled gray-faced crone riding a magical carpet low above the ground. The sorcerer is sorely wounded by Nidarchus and wastes her first spells on the near-indestructible flying sword. The carpet is sliced in twain and the screeching crone tumbles to the ground where Leelo waits in the shadows with dagger and small-sword. To guard against the mage being raised from death by one of the ritualists, Leelo takes her head. The slim black-clad assassin slips away into the darkness. An hour later she rejoins Mesmer and the two fly back to Dragonspire fortress wondering what fate has befallen Hoxton. One mage dead and another injured…not a bad night’s work!

Mardero’s small legion approaches Dragonspire fortress the following evening. Groups of spectres and wraiths float above in the darkness. Still higher are the mobius witches, appearing and disappearing at will. Marching down the Deadlands highway, built upon the bones of countless slaves, come ordered ranks of eidolons in halfplate armor and armed with swords, halberds, and heavy crossbows. Alongside march clattering companies of armored skeletons led by lesser priests of the Ashen Veil. Mardero appears on the eastern hill to observe and direct his forces. The giant Beasts of Agares stalk forward, ready to smash walls and towers at Mardero’s command.

AE-session68-meteorswarms-small_20200209.jpgOut of the dark sky appear fiery meteors growing larger by the second. Nearly a hundred roaring missiles strike down in groups of twelve upon fields and fortifications. A tower and thirty-foot section of the third wall collapse. The defenders perish in flame and rubble. The same fate befalls a tower along the second wall. A third meteor shower collapses the tunnel giving tar-demons access to the area between third and second walls. The remaining five strike empty fields though one impacts not ten paces from where Xolbrys stands atop the high keep observing the battle. How many more meteors would be coming if not for the attack on the mage-camp last night?

Krag and Lukanu rush to assist a platoon of gnomes and men attacked by spectres and a wraith. Half the defenders are dead before Krag can drive off or destroy the undead. Krag’s skeleton archers, Xar, rangers and gnomes defending the third wall fire volleys of missiles at the flying spirits. Krag’s flying hammer is more than effective against any approaching too closely. The undead are soon forced back into the darkness.

Nebotus-fighting-wraiths.pngMavriy with Nebotus and a riderless Draghar drive off another platoon of undead flying toward the middle keep. Mavriy dares fate and attempts a solo attack upon Mardero. The advancing eidolons stop to fire heavy crossbows. Repeated volleys force Nebotus to retreat before reaching the infernal prince. The dragons, while powerful, prove vulnerable to massed attacks. After this example, the Rune Heroes attempt to protect the dragons until they can be employed decisively.

Clouds of spectres and wraiths fly toward the gatehouse. Mesmer sallies forth upon his young bronze dragon, the son of Draghar, to strike with fire and lightning. A mobius witch appears out of nowhere to fracture the planar medium with a mighty spell. Mesmer finds himself flying high above a plain of gray ash illuminated by the pink and blue light of two crescent moons. Jagged outlines of destroyed cities jut from the horizon. Nearby spectres and wraiths also made the trip into this unknown dimension. After dealing with the undead, Mesmer and dragon return by means of a successful counterspell. AE-session68-approach8_20200209.jpgUnfortunately, twelve hours have passed in arcanearth after only a few minutes beneath the alien moons. Mesmer doesn’t reappear until early the next day.

Three hundred skeleton warriors and eidolon infantry assault the third wall with hooks, grapnels, and ladders. Within the hour Krag is forced to concede the position and order a retreat to the middle keep by means of a secret tunnel. The defenders suffer eighty casualties but inflict triple losses upon their enemy. The wraiths and spectres lose half their number to dragonfire and Krag’s mastery of the undead. A crossfire of catapults and archers directed by Leelo pummel one of the Agares-beasts who ventured too far into the killing zone between third wall and gatehouse. The bulk of the third wall is lost to the enemy, but Leelo and forty rebels still hold the gatehouse and adjacent wall up to the first tower.

Mardero spends the remaining hours of night reorganizing his forces for a deliberate assault. Dawn reveals one thousand living and undead troops arrayed below the fortress. An Agares-beast lumbers forward to smash a gap in the third wall. The other two move up the road toward the gatehouse.

Xar mounts Draghar and flies off to search the nearby mountains for Hoxton. Three hundred surviving defenders bolstered by three Rune Heroes and three dragons wait to receive Mardero’s assault. Will Mesmer and Hoxton return in time?

AE-session68-approach1-withText_20200209.jpg

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.