The rune-cursed heroes go their separate ways for a few days. Each has business to attend to and contacts to exploit. Additionally, none want to be seen together given the forged promissory note and expected reappearance of Yandroon.
Mesmer embarks on a voyage to the Isle of Shadows and city of Dremmenstad forty leagues to the north. There he becomes an associate member of the Shadowlords, a mage guild specializing in illusion and necromancy. They are responsible for guarding the nearby node of shadow mana. The guild has access to both shadow and death mana. Like all major guilds of mages in Sheaim, the Shadowlords are a branch of the ‘Scions of Arbandi’ in Galveholm and pledge fealty to the great Arch-Mage and Emperor.
Food, common lodging and secure locker are available to associate members free of charge. Full membership gives access to private chambers, library, alchemy laboratory and once attaining a high rank, the coveted shadow mana and death mana energies. The yearly dues amount to 100 gold pieces per level.
Dremmenstad itself is small and the population largely devoted to providing services to the Shadowlords and the necromantic academics who teach at the nearby Tower of Necromancy. Sheaim necromancers who attend a term or two at the Tower come away with knowledge and power over the dark arts unknown anywhere else on arcanearth, as well as direct access to the death mana produced therein. A keep and tower is built over the nearby shadow-mana node located 20 miles to the southwest, guarded by wizards and sorcerers of the Shadowlords. A small order of shadow monks, the Darkwardens, protect the guild, shadow-mana node and the Tower of Necromancy in Dremmenstad.
At the grim tower of the Shadowlords, Mesmer commits himself to a study of illusion and shadow-magic. Mesmer trades the magic potion stolen from his father’s chambers for an additional spell. After learning all he can, Mesmer takes ship back to Nininsnal. He arrives rich in spells but poor in gold.
Leelo solidifies her knowledge of the local assassins guild (the Dark Stars) and thieves guild. Both are informal associations with no permanent headquarters that anyone is aware of. The high-ranking assassin ‘Draven’ teaches Leelo how to make the most of her fantastic natural dexterity and speed, at no charge. Who knows what rank Draven really holds among the criminal underworld of Nininsnal? Perhaps he sees in Leelo a potential new recruit for his dark enterprises.
The stealthy elf also looks for traces of Todos/Yandroon but comes up short. Leelo and Finch’s paths cross on a few occasions. Both attempt to track agents recently arrived at Nininsnal looking for Finch’s former ‘merchant prince’ pseudonym.
While lurking the streets and docks of the city, Leelo spots a thinly-disguised half-demon mercenary with the familiar blue rune above her head. With help from Finch’s otherworldly voice the vagrant hero is made aware of her unique curse and new companions. Mavriy is a demonling of few words and admits to no particular origin. Various signs give away the dour warrior as either a paladin, eidolon, or forsworn sister of exceptional potential. Since the rune-heroes are in dire need of a fighter, no one questions her background too closely. Best of all, she brings her own equipment: iron-studded armor and a fantastic steel pole-scythe. Not a small consideration for this cash-strapped group.
Finch quickly ditches the carriage and servants. He adopts the disguise of a simple tradesman. The warlock attempts to discover more information about the whereabouts and identities of Yandroon, but is unable to determine anything significant. A trip to Kuldevind 200 miles to the north will probably be necessary to learn anything new. He does however determine that agents of an unknown power are actively searching for his recently discarded identity. Thus far neither he nor Leelo are able to determine who these agents work for. The three identified so far are disguised as a dancer, dockworker and merchant.
Ulthmar & Lodermulch
Both ply their respective trades in an attempt to ease the relentless drain on the rune-cursed bankroll. Ulthmar recites poetry and sings songs of distant lands along the dockside taverns. He even makes it into a few low-class inns and taverns in the town proper, but fails to make much coin.
Lodermulch entreats the local criminal syndicate and is able to engage in some low-risk thievery, mostly pick-pocketing and shoplifting, and has somewhat more success than Ulthmar.
Keelo uses his knowledge of field and stream to rough it among the farms, fishing villages and hunting camps outside the city. Also, he is penniless. Thanks to survival skills and locals appreciative of his talents, Keelo avoids disease and similar unpleasantness. In the nearby jungle Keelo identifies and harvests materials to concoct a single dose of general purpose anti-venom.
Krag remains in residence at the ‘Succubus & Incubus’ inn on the chance Todos/Yandroon returns. The scarred war cleric ranges the city looking for other followers of Xrarog. He finds that his lord is referred to as Aeron here, one of the 21 ‘Angels of Creation’ who defied the unjust decree of the One and rose to greatness during the Age of Dragons. Unfortunately, worship of the feeble god Junil and cowardly goddess Nantosuelta is common in Nininsnal.
Ambush on The Low Road
Five days later the rune-heroes regroup and set out for the Low Road to explore rumors of bandits (possibly Syzimondo?), goblin raiders, and a huge sinkhole recently opened to reveal long-buried ruins. After crossing the Black River ferry, they head north where a signpost points out roads in three directions: High Road (to Kuldevind), Low Road (
to Kuldevind ), and East Road (to Fort Velkyr). The Low Road is rough going. In places the flagstones are completely washed out. The jungle is quickly reclaiming the works of man. The hooting and ululating calls of mandrills and even stranger beasts echo through the jungle pressing on either side of the narrow path. No slave-crews or patrols are encountered during the three day trek.
Late afternoon of the third day, the party scouts Leelo and Lodermulch spot rustling among the dense undergrowth. Lodermulch, Krag and Keelo quickly take cover around a large boulder near the trail. A half-dozen shrieking goblins driven forward by two armored hobgoblins storm out of the jungle from the north. Arrows shot from the south whistle past Mesmer. A black bolt of necromantic energy aimed at Mesmer blasts a nearby tree, reducing it to smoking black goo.
Mavriy quickly proves her worth by drawing first blood. The grim half-demon casts a bronze spear six paces through the chest of one onrushing goblin, dropping it instantly. Krag directs a bolt of divine energy toward a hobgoblin but instead splinters a tree. A goblin leaps at Finch in an attempt to pin him to the ground, but succeeds only in grabbing one leg. The goblin suddenly gibbers in terror and staggers back toward the jungle. The wretched little humanoid pulps its head against a rock in an attempt to silence the terrible whispers.
These humanoids are well armed and armored. In an ominous turn of events they attempt to trip, disarm, grapple and subdue their victims, rather than kill them outright. Mavriy wages a terrible struggle against two opponents. The hobgoblin is a seasoned and clever warrior. Soon Mavriy is both disarmed and knocked down. The hobgoblin turns to finish Finch, who is still standing. A grinning goblin prepares to gut his downed victim, but in a desperate move Mavriy twists around and plunges her bronze dagger into it’s throat.
Finch attempts to draw his daggers but accidentally cuts through his belt, dropping his scabbards and pants down around his ankles. Luckily for Finch, cameras are not yet invented. Unfortunately the hobgoblin doesn’t die laughing and raises a bronze morningstar to finish the stumbling warlock. Mavriy intervenes just in time, swinging her recovered pole-scythe to send the hobgoblin’s head flying from its body. A goblin sees his chance and stabs Mavriy through the back. As Mavriy collapses, Finch kills the goblin with his recovered obsidian dagger.
Meanwhile, Mesmer and Lodermulch have identified the goblin shaman and several goblin archers down a side trail. As Mesmer prepares to blast them with magic, four thorn-covered plants animate and shamble forward. Keelo notes that they resemble awakened plants such as he has seen in the woods of his homeland years ago. They are obviously inhabited by evil spirits or the will of an evil shaman, having taken on vaguely man-like characteristics including a misshapen face, twisted legs and clawlike arms. Two succeed in pulling down Mesmer. The other pair attempt to pin Lodermulch and Ulthmar against the boulder. Ulthmar quickly shatters one with his iron battleaxe. Lodermulch is dragged down by the second. Ulthmar sees Mavriy fall and instantly shouts a word of healing. Leelo watches from up the road to observe how her compatriots handle the situation. She shoots a goblin in the back with a well-aimed arrow, then runs south through the jungle.
A roaring, cursing Krag is pulled down by two goblins. A leering hobgoblin shouts in triumph as it slams a morningstar down upon the half-orc’s helmet. Krag slumps to the ground with blood streaming down his face. Keelo scrambles atop the boulder while Lodermulch wrestles with the monstrous twig blight. Another necromantic bolt streaks from the jungle, narrowly missing Keelo to paint the boulder with eerie black phosphorescence. Keelo reaches down and heals Krag with magic. Krag breaks the legs of the hobgoblin standing over him, then staggers unsteadily back up the road toward Mavriy and Finch.
Mesmer briefly escapes the grasping twig-blight and uses magical fire to turn one into a blazing torch. The second pulls him down again, but he succeeds in waving an arm to the south. Leelo runs past, toward the spot indicted by Mesmer, but the shaman and archers appear to have already fled the scene of battle. Leelo sprints back and slices open the back of the second-to-last goblin. She races fleet-footed across the road and into the jungle after the last goblin. Unfortunately the nimble little humanoid gives Leelo the slip after a short chase. No one will be taken alive this day.
Mavriy and Krag suffered near-mortal wounds. Both will require a few days of rest. Fortunately both were healed instantly so their recovery should be faster than normal. Leelo and Keelo search the area abandoned by the goblin shaman and discover a clear goblin-trail leading south.
Why did the goblins court disaster by attempting to capture their enemies? How did the shaman know the party was coming? Had the ambush not been spotted in time, the goblins might well have been successful and the rune-heroes dragged away to an unknown fate.
- 2x medium-sized suits of bronze-studded leather armor (22gp/16lbs)
- 2x shields (10gp/6lbs)
- 6x buckers (small shields: AC+1/light/3gp/2lbs)
- 6x small-sized leather armor (1gp/5lbs)
- 6x bronze short swords (5gp/2.5lbs)
- 2x bronze spears (5sp/4lbs)
- 2x bronze morning stars (7gp/6lbs)
- 2x bronze daggers (1gp/1.25lbs)
- 34 coppers
- 19 silvers
- 5 gold