Only 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.
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?
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.
Emerging 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.
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.
Dorn 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.
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.
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?
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?