Another 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.
Finally, 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
Chysanthe 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.
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.
“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.
As 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.
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’.
Lady 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
Rhoanna 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?
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.
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.”
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.
The 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
The 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.
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