- Imperial Capitol
- Population: 400,000
- Major foreign trade: Svartalfar, Infernal, Illian
- Major religions: Ashen Veil
- Holy City of the Ashen Veil. Pilgrims from many lands arrive daily to marvel at the wonders and relics, and pray their children will be granted the Boon of the Stigmata.
- Notable features
- Scores of shrines and statues line the Imperial Way, dedicated to the heroes and rulers of Sheaim such as Tanaris, Uzgalia, Ezeryka, Rosier, Os-Gabella and Tebryn Arbandi.
- A fantastical bazaar encompassing 20 acres, stocked with goods from across the world and beyond.
- Granaries guarded by a sect of blind and mute monks.
- A 30-mile aqueduct delivering fresh water from far hills.
- A college of herbalists and poisoners.
- A great academy of learning, staffed by some of the best sages from across the world.
- The Great Library of the Sheaim, unique in all of Arcanearth. Home of Zanthar Temulchus, the world-renowned sage.
- Palace of the immortal Queen of Storms, Os-Gabella: High Commander of all Sheaim military forces. The high-ranking General Uzgalia, a powerful succubus, executes the Queen’s orders. Uzgalia commands an elite legion of soldiers summoned from the farthest reaches of existence.
- Mage Guild: Scions of Arbandi, the largest guild in the Sheaim empire. This guild controls sources of fire and death mana. The guildmaster is none other than Emperor Tebryn Arbandi, Supreme Strategist and Ultimate Arcanus Magisterum with authority over all arcane matters.
- The Great Veil Temple, holy center of the Ashen Veil. Here the Veil High Ritualist Keiyark Tanaris administers the Ashen Veil and interprets visions of the Prophets.
- A permanent planar gate of bronze, glass and marble. This giant clockwork engine is driven by magic, worked day and night by wizards, sorcerers, warlocks and clerics to conjure assistance from across the multiverse. The chief ‘mobius witch’ Ezeryka, herself summoned from some far realm, leads the effort. Several times weekly a clap of thunder announces the arrival of some new horror. Similar gates have been constructed in several other Sheaim cities at colossal expense.
- A great stepped ziggurat of obsidian and infernal iron with a glowing red sigil hovering high above: the Prophecy of Armageddon. This is home to Malventhar, Prophet of Doom, who relates the Prophesy daily to hordes of pilgrims from across the world. All those born in or summoned to Galvehom are marked with the ‘Stigmata of the Unborn’. A glowing red rune hovers above the ‘Unborn’, visible only to others so afflicted. Also to the rune heroes, though the Unborn seem unable to sense their purple rune in turn. With each new war, disaster or sacked city, power is channeled directly to those born with the Stigmata, granting them unusual physical strength, hardiness and cunning.
- A huge demon altar is under construction. Once completed, the Ritualists claim secret knowledge from across the multiverse will be theirs for the taking, instigating a new golden age for the Sheaim. Various fiends from the Infernal empire assist in the construction, paid in blood and souls by the nightly sacrifice of a hundred slaves, criminals, deviants, morons and gypsies. You could be next, so take care to observe the curfew…
Leelo spends her first months in Galveholm getting to know the criminal underworld, which is extensive. Those with the skills she craves most are present in abundance: thieves knowledgeable in the arcane arts, for Galveholm is a city of sorcery like nothing beyond the Amurite isles. All her profits during these first months go toward paying the arcane tricksters of Galveholm. Armed with her first spells, Leelo embarks on a moderately successful program of low-risk skulduggery including spying, information-trading, blackmail and other intrigues netting around 300 gold pieces profit. She spends most of her hoarded wealth on a stunning suit of black-dragon-leather armor fashioned from the discarded hide of Calcryx.
Unable to stomach the horrors of Galveholm, Keelo passes the summer in jungles bordering the farmland north of the dreaded capitol. He has little if any contact with the rune-heroes. The good druid develops a bond with the farmers and woodsmen working close by the jungle. He prepares doses of poison curatives that will be his parting gift to the rune-cursed.
Late in the summer a local village is assailed by a banderhobb set loose by some irresponsible or simply uncaring Sheaim mage. Keelo marshals a few capable villagers to hunt down and exterminate the aberration, but at great cost to himself. Keelo is terribly wounded when the banderhobb is finally cornered. He survives, but suffers the loss of an arm. Thereafter he does not seek out the rune heroes until his sister finally leaves the city at the end of summer.
After getting the lay of the land, Finch begins to implement various cons, frauds and scams. The warlock is last seen in a bone-white carriage with hell-horses driven by an eerie, faceless hag. Months later Finch is found wandering the streets, haggard and hollow-eyed. He can recall only disassociated slivers of nightmare…worn stone steps descending into a black void…hulking minotaurs in bronze armor…choirs of screams ranging the scale from shrill to abyssal…a ghostly pale woman with eyes like pits, her powerful form rocked by thunderous laughter. On other occasions the ghost-woman marches back and forth, angry and disappointed, shouting soundless invective while occasionally jabbing an accusatory finger at something just beyond Finch’s view.
Upon arrival at Galveholm Krag seeks out the high priests of the Ashen Veil, who are said to worship an aspect of the great orc war-god, calling him ‘Aeron’. Unfortunately, worship of Aeron seems to be on the decline for reasons no one can quite explain. One old acolyte with a fondness for Aeron shows the half-orc a hidden shrine. Krag swears an oath at the dusty bronze altar. He will rekindle the faith by leading a great pilgrimage to the giant petrified stone titan of Odio, archangel of Aeron, who was unjustly imprisoned for refusing to obey the foolish Compact of the gods. Reaching the holy site will require a journey from Galveholm to Tongurstad, then into the deep jungle far beyond Fort Velkyr. Much gold and months of planning will be required to make the great endeavor a reality.
From the theologians and clerics in the Priest’s Quarter, Krag learns of a fact not generally known by the lay folk or lesser acolytes: for some years, the exact period is unknown, souls of the dead have been unable to reach the vaults of heaven and hell established by the gods after the sundering of creation from the one true heaven. Ever-increasing numbers of lost spirits roam ethereal perdition, trapped between creation and the 21 vaults of heaven and hell. Basium and his rebel angels offer suitable souls the chance to join the crusade against Hyborem. Such souls are reborn as angels through the Mercurian Gate. Similarly, Hyborem’s fiends harvest trapped souls to fill the Infernal empire’s ranks. At the soul-forges of Dis these unfortunates are hammered into the forms of demonic citizenry and soldiery.
The gateways to the vaults of the gods consist of two mythical locations: the Fane of Lessers, gateway to the Seven Hells, and the Well of Souls, gateway to the Fourteen Heavens. The Fane of Lessers is thought to be located somewhere in the far north of the world, atop the unnamed mountain leading to Mulcarn’s hell. The guardians of the Fane, if any, are unknown. Legends describe the Well of Souls as a lagoon of infinite blue at the center of a ring-shaped island. The archangel Gyra, twin sister of Basium, watches over the Well. Belak the Twisted Druid spoke of the Well before his death at the hands of the rune-heroes: “…the dead Tree of Life at the Well of Souls, where Emperor Arbandi cast Ceridwen’s mighty spell consigning this world to it’s doom.”
Krag makes the pilgrimage to Odio’s prison and there receives a vision from Aeron. The god of war has secretly withdrawn from the alliance with Agares, god of despair and leader of the original rebellion in heaven. For one of the lords of the Seven Hells to break this ancient alliance constitutes a seismic shift in the cosmology of creation. It is unclear if Aeron will take any side at all. Or perhaps the god of war simply acknowledges that if Agares and his confederates reduce all to dust and ash, the virtues of war and heroism must come to an end as well. Either way, the coming battle for Creation may see a feasting of the crows sufficient to sate even the god of war.
Mesmer pays over 300 gold to join the Scions of Arbandi mage guild as a full member. The wizard divides his time in Galveholm between wheedling his fellow guild-members for spells and assisting Lodermulch with various hiests, scams and robberies, mostly petty. The pair’s larceny nets them a good living before fate deals Loder a bad hand at the Silver Eel inn.
Mavriy experiences an existential crisis after her recent adventures in the Sheaim empire. The madness and terror of Galveholm surfaces traumatic memories suppressed since Cafes. She resolves to make a pilgrimage back to the site of her greatest shame. The former Elohim colony is now a dour fortress inhabited by demonic citizens of Hyborem.
A contingent of the Nightwatch still hides in Cafes right under the noses of the Infernals…“keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” There Mavriy learns that the warlock who opened the nexus was an Infernal mole. The paragons of deception themselves hoodwinked by Hyborem is a painful lesson that will not soon be forgotten. On a personal note, Mavriy discovers information about her mysterious lineage. Though her immediate parents remain unknown, her grandfather was none other than High Councilor Arian Kothrax of the Undercouncil. Mavriy’s very existence is a product of infernal deception.
That night angels of Basium duel with fiends of Hyborem in a blazing display of aerial combat over the narrow straight separating Infernal and Mercurian territory. Explosions and streams of colored fire reflect back to heaven from the dark waves below. There the young warrior experiences a vision of the apocalypse.
The Compact is destroyed. Agares, Ceridwen, Camulos, Bhall and Mulcarn stand over the ruins of civilization. Lacking the true power of creation, but unwilling to suffer the existence of something beyond their control, they reduce the world to smoking ash and black ice.
At the docks where Caradel Bluestride made his last stand, Mavriy swears a mighty oath heard by the gods. She joins the cosmic struggle against nihilism, but on her own terms. Caradel’s mistake was to fight without guile and thus die a useless death. Mavriy will deceive the deceivers, strike from the shadows, hit them where they are weakest. Today begins the struggle to preserve Creation and all of lawful civilization from the rising tide of chaos and entropy.
The world-destroying Sheaim and their Infernal allies must now be counted among Mavriy’s greatest enemies, though as befitting a paladin of Esus, she can walk through the valley of the shadow with a smile.
During Mesmer’s efforts to buy, trade, and swindle additional spells in Galveholm, he attracts the attention of Lady Shaunicca, a beautiful wizardess and fellow Scion of Arbandi. Her comfortable suite of 3rd story apartments in the mage quarter indicates moderate if not fabulous wealth. Their first evening goes well enough, but Lady Shaunicca successfully deflects Mesmer’s over-hasty efforts to fondle her spellbook, and much else besides.
Before their next assignation, Mesmer’s brain briefly re-engages. He does some background checking around the mage quarter. Lady Shaunicca is well-known among the guild-members and widely regarded as a lady of taste and sophistication. She recently returned to Galveholm after a lengthy sojourn in the southern city of Tongurstad close by the Infernal border. Upon her return, Shaunicca began severing relations with her old social circle and even discharged a prior paramour. The consensus is that Lady Shaunicca has experienced a life-changing event in Tongurstad and is seeking to make a fresh start in life. Further muck-raking reveals that a young wizard by the name of Zorquin has gone missing after being seen with Shaunicca several times. Hmmm…
The next evening Lady Shaunicca exhibits a much more flexible attitude toward Mesmer’s advances in both the amatory and occult realms. The luscious fruits of spells and even warmer sentiments appear ripe and ready for the plucking! Mesmer proceeds apace, his lust blinding him to various tell-tales. The room is lit only by candles and flashes of purple lightning from the open doors of Shaunicca’s expansive balcony. While in the throes of passion, Mesmer feels bony pinions and tufts of feathers. Most odd! The grunting wizard is distracted by the sight of Shaunicca’s spell book lying open on the dresser nearby, “It’s not too far to…grasp…just a few more seconds!”
A flash of blood-red radiance fills the darkened bedroom. With a bloodcurdling laugh, the beauteous Lady Shaunicca assumes a new and startling form! Mesmer finds himself conjoined to a thrashing succubus. Incredibly, he delays a moment more to fully sate his lust before disengaging. This is almost the lecherous wizard’s undoing. His new beau is eager for satisfaction as well, in the form of vital essence. Black lips wreathed in purple fire edge closer to their struggling victim.
Mesmer remembers Nightcaller. Fortunately the crystal whistle still dangles around his neck. According to previous research, the whistle summons an uncontrolled shadow-demon, but now is the time for desperate measures! In a welter of terror Mesmer blows the whistle again and again. A violet flash and flap of ethereal wings announces the arrival of a dark being wreathed in shadow. The legless torso of the demon floats on wings of darkness. From the evil visage echoes a hollow voice, “So mortal, have you a soul for me? My master Hyborem is in need of new recruits. Perhaps I shall take yours if nothing better is in the offing. Ah, I see the succubus Azariel was about to consume your soul. A deal then! I help you survive this night, and you owe me not one, but two souls.” Mesmer screams “DEAL!” Azariel drops Mesmer and hisses, “you dare come between me and my prey? I will send you whimpering back to Agares!”
At Mesmer’s request, Lodermulch stationed himself at a comfortable tavern across the street below. Just as he’s about to dive into a second hunter’s pie and fourth mug of ale, flashes of light and horrid screams fill the street outside. Loder groans. After pausing to drain his last mug, the halfling staggers out of the tavern to observe a shadowy form landing on the balcony of Lady Shaunicca’s suite. The apartments ornate facade is child’s play to climb. Just as he reaches the balcony, a flapping book comes flying out of the darkness.
Mesmer disengages himself and leaps for the spellbook. In twin feats of dexterity and wizardry, the frenzied mage manages to toss the spellbook to the balcony where Loder has just appeared, turn Loder invisible with magic, run five paces out upon the terrace, and end by casting misty-step to transport himself to the street below. Mesmer flees down the dark street naked for a few minutes before remembering to clothe himself with a disguise spell.
Bearing the spellbook of ‘Lady Shaunicca’ in a sack, Lodermulch climbs down even faster than he went up. Above rages a battle beyond imagination. Before escaping into a maze of alleys, the invisible halfling spares a glance back. Purple lightning and red fire flash from the balcony. “I wonder who will win? I guess it doesn’t matter, when your choice is between shadow-demon creditor and jilted succubus. It’s good not to be Mesmer!”. Some time later Mesmer notices a tiny purple flicker reappear in the depths of the crystal whistle. Who has been dispatched to hell and who has returned to Nightcaller’s prison?
The Silver Eel
Laerlith catches up to the rune-cursed soon after Mesmer’s affair with ‘Lady Shaunicca’. Leelo is slumming it at the Silver Eel, a riverside tavern popular with smugglers and river pirates. Among all her associates, only Lodermulch and Goran the ex-bandit happen to be on hand. The halfling is soon to discover he is once again in the wrong place at the wrong time. Goran is watching a cockfight at the other end of the common room.
A beautiful woman wearing sea-green vestments enters unannounced and takes a seat at their table as if meeting with old acquaintances. Leelo nods politely. Laerlith introduces herself, “I believe you have something of mine. You’ve led me on a not-so-merry chase. I’ve had to travel a long and inconvenient distance! May I see it?”
During the tense conversation that follows, Laerlith happily admits she is an agent of Saryin Nures, Speaker of the Tide and high priest of the Overlords. Scylia was sacked only to regain the green pearl. Mesmer’s father foolishly stole the pearl from a secret place beneath the waves and the Overlords want it back. The green gem is in fact the brain-egg of Blikdak the sea-demon, who’s submarine tomb was raided by Baron Almeriaq. The Speaker of the Tide can detect the general location of the pearl, so there is no escaping the Overlords in this matter. Once close by, Laerlith can divine it’s exact location.
Four identical men with no obvious weapons, wearing hooded robes of black and sea-green, appear at the entrances to the common room. The patrons begin to take notice. Goran moves towards Leelo and Loder’s table, but hesitates when one of the robed men turns silenty toward him. Goran returns to his seat. The innkeeper begins to remonstrate with one of the sinister figures.
“These are Hands of Hastur…best not to annoy them.” Laerlith offers to remove the curse if Leelo will hand over the pearl. Leelo accepts and the curse is lifted. But she is reluctant to give up the gem, if for no other reason than something wanted this badly must be extremely valuable. Or perhaps from sheer perversity. The Overlord priestess grows increasingly impatient. She offers a sack of pearls, easily ten times the worth of the green pearl!
Leelo makes a sign to Lodermulch, who signals in the affirmative. The elf dashes across the room, leaping a table and diving through the window. Lodermulch scurries under the table as Laerlith stands and screams, “Kill everyone here, let no one leave alive!”. While Laerlith is distracted he snags her pouch. She notices and shrieks in outrage, but Loder is already fleeing across the room to leap through the shattered window after Leelo.
The four Hands of Hastur produce swords out of thin air: great black blades etched with glowing green runes. One cuts down the innkeeper and proceeds to cause general havoc . Three whisper spells of supernatural speed and give chase. A madcap game of hide and seek ensues among the warehouses, taverns and docks of the riverfront. Leelo escapes back into the city proper, but Loder is cornered in a fish-market. The black-robed warlock erupts in a writhing mass of flailing tentacles. Loder is knocked across the slippery floor. Goran appears behind the warlock, but slips on a flounder when he lunges with his shortsword. Loder suffers a cut from the green-glowing blade before scurrying down a small hatch. This opens to a long chute finally depositing Loder into a vat of fish guts outside the market. Goran likewise escapes.
A few hours later Leelo and Loder find Mesmer. The illusionist quickly identifies the pearls in Laerlith’s pouch as illusions given a temporary permanence by shadow magic. Loder is able to locate a fence who can sell the pearls quickly for a small profit without incriminating the rune-heroes when the gems fade to nothing. Unfortunately the fence turns out to be a wizard of the Scions of Arbandi working undercover for the city guard and Loder is nabbed. The luckless halfling disappears into the bowels of the mage guild dungeon. In exchange for freedom at some unspecified future date, Loder agrees to serve undercover in the city guard. Mesmer is able to send a message informing Loder of the rune-heroes next destination (Ithralia, capitol of the Luchuirp kingdom). He leaves 150 gold for Loder at the mage guild. Mesmer doesn’t mention that he’s spent the bulk of his friend’s gold on spells!
The end of summer approaches and with it the expiration of Os-Gabella’s writ of safe conduct. Not wanting to find out if this writ is the only reason they are alive and sane after a season in Galveholm, the rune-heroes prepare to depart. All the heavy gear is piled aboard a cart and ox team stolen by Finch. On the road east, Keelo appears and bids farewell to his former companions. Tears spring to Leelo’s eyes when she sees what has become of Keelo. “Dear sister, as you can see I am no longer whole. At least the creature of nightmare that did this to me is no more. I must now part company with the rune-heroes, but I may never stray far thanks to the curse that binds us. Here are herbs that will ward you against poison. May Amathaon and Cernunnos watch over you.”
The party journeys east across the wide lowlands of central Sheaim dotted with ricefields, towns and farms. At the city of Steinvik they turn northeast and climb the basalt hills to Vargastad. Erki sadly observes that his home city of Tia na’dom, conquered by the Sheaim a decade past, lies on the shores of the Meditor Sea only five days north. Mavriy would have passed through here on her way to Cafes earlier in the summer. She reports the former gnomish city is now a major Sheaim naval installation harboring dozens of frigates, caravels and galleons. These patrol the Meditor Sea and Straights of Aduro where six kingdoms intersect: Mercurian, Infernal, Elohim, Bannor, Sheaim and Luchuirp.
At Vargastad the travelers board a canal boat taking them sixty miles east upriver and across Lake Kaldor to Skadistad at the foot of the towering Dragonspine mountains. The small city is now an armed camp swollen to ten times its normal population. Thousands of arcane, undead and summoned troops are massed here at the west side of the pass to Luchuirp country. Smoke from a thousand pyre zombies blankets the city and surrounding countryside in a pall of stinking brown smog. Among the minority of living troops are Rosier the Fallen, Dread Lord of Vargastad, with his elite regiment of heavy cavalry.
Twenty days and 400 miles after departing Galveholm, the rune heroes climb the pass to Dragonspire Fortress, captured from the Luchuirp gnomes 25 years ago. The Sheaim have labored these past decades to convert the castle into a truly imposing fortress. A high keep perches above the pass and two lower fortifications, the Second and Third walls. The outer third wall is far below the higher second wall and keep, extending out far enough to physically block the pass. Between the second and third walls is a wide area of traps and dead-falls crawling with monstrous tar-demons summoned from the first of seven hells, the domain of Mulcarn. Beyond the third wall lies a windswept high moor with no permanent habitation…Dead Mans Land.