The Cursed Farmstead
In the dead hour of a lightless night, Mesmer is awakened by multiple chimes as alarms are tripped in several places around the courtyard wall. Everyone jumps to their stations atop the crumbling farmhouse to peer through the swirling fog.
Erki shepherds the shivering gnome refugees to the center of the second story where the floor is still mostly intact. The elderly matron, girl and boy whimper in a desperate huddle. The young man grips a chair-leg in shaking hands, but will probably be useless in a fight of this sort. Erki remains close by his terrified charges.
Waves of animated skeletons swarm into the courtyard through the many gaps. These wear the remains of corroded bronze mail and bear strange weapons: curved bronze swords designed for chopping. The great Nilus river of the Malakim lies half a continent away across a vast desert. What could bring their soldiers so far west? Leelo, Finch and the archers rush back and forth shooting through holes in the floor to break spines and leg-bones, but arrows are relatively ineffective against the clattering undead. Mavriy stations herself at the top of the stairwell to bash skeletons that find their way up. Krag and Mesmer set several ialight with magical fire. These run back and forth across the courtyard like animated torches before collapsing into heaps of charred bone.
Finch spots a grayish humanoid loping through the fog. Whispers of doom send the ghoul away howling with black ichor spurting from mouth and eyes. Mesmer screams that another ghoul is scurrying with hideous dexterity up the south wall. He and Krag set it ablaze with magic. Mesmer comes face-to-face with the charred ghoul just before it is spitted by a flight of arrows from across the house. The destroyed undead forms a burning heap upon the wet sward below.
Screams of warning sound from around the besieged farmhouse. Yet more skeletal warriors and ghouls swarm into the courtyard to roam freely about the floor below, threatening to overwhelm the besieged defenders above. Krag senses the time is at hand and positions himself near the quaking huddle of gnomes at the center. Red radiance flashes forth from the bronze circlet of Xrarog upon Krag’s forehead. Numerous undead begin to shamble off into the misty darkness.
Thothra, Erki and Grenl continue to hunt skeletons through gaps in the floor and walls. Mavriy and Finch concentrate on holding the stairwell, which is still packed with evil dead. Finch notices a stealthy figure climbing the wall. Leelo and Mesmer abandon their positions at the front to peer into the dark along the back of the farmhouse. They spot the dim figure and begin to launch arrows and spells.
Krag stands near the center, alert for incursions from any quarter. Erki’s warning shout is frozen in his throat by fear. An ooze of liquid shadow seeps from the cursed timbers of the farmhouse to clasp the half-orc in a cold embrace. Krag slowly drops to his knees as strength is sapped from his bones. The gnome girl flees screaming and the young man gives chase. Erki staggers forward, torn between protecting them or the grandmother and little boy that still lie in a trembling heap at his feet.
Mesmer, Leelo and Finch must turn their attention to this new horror. Leelo sends a magic fire arrow into the darkness enveloping Krag. Fire from the ancient Patrians explodes with apparent effect. Mesmer uses his last spell to lash the shadow with flame. Finch entreats his patron to destroy whatever spirit motivates this foul being. The shadow flits away and disappears into the dark fog at the front of the house.
Mavriy is suddenly confronted by glowing yellow eyes leering from a grinning skull-face. She stumbles back as the ghoul leaps over the broken wall with clicking claws and snapping fangs. Leelo and Finch return to hack apart the ravening creature with their swords. Mavriy escapes the creature’s evil lust unscathed. She pushes it back over the edge with her pole-scythe. The ghoul falls in a grisly tangle of severed limbs.
Meanwhile, the gnome girl reaches the front side of the farmhouse where she cringes against the burned remains of the 2nd story wall. A shadow reaches from dark mists to pluck her approaching uncle from the house. The man’s cry is quickly hushed. Grenl the goblin shamaness is on guard nearby, but flees shrieking when she sees what still lurks along the wall. The girl crouches frozen with terror, her eyes round and white as eggs. Erki makes his decision and runs toward the girl, but too late. He falls to his knees in horror when the girl is enveloped in a shroud of darkness. Erki wails and grinds his tear-streaked face into the sooty floor. The acolyte of Kilmorph will be no more use this night. Krag evokes a flare of radiant flame and the shadow is seen no more.
Morning sunlight burns away the mist to reveal a charnel landscape littered with gnawed bones, poorly-covered mass graves and a dozen destroyed Luchuirp farmsteads. In the front yard Erki discovers the pale shrunken remains of two gnomes. He lays them gently upon a pyre of broken timbers piled up within the ruined house. The rune-heroes make haste to depart the cursed farmstead as smoke flies across the windy sky.
Quicksilver River Bridge
The rune-heroes race north through abandoned hamlets and salted fields. By midday the Quicksilver river comes into view, not the raging torrent of spring but a formidable obstacle nonetheless. A temporary trestle of timbers spans the swirling flow a few miles downstream from the tumbled remains of a mighty stone span constructed in a kinder age. The clever wood and bronze box-bridge looks to have been constructed in sections then towed upriver and assembled on site.
As the party approaches, a multi-colored blob erupts from the cracked ground. Krag is struck once by the pulsating horror before retaliating with holy fire. Mesmer and the archers help to quickly destroy it with magical fire and a flurry of arrows. Leelo dances away, only to be accosted by a second tar-demon fragment hiding beneath the old roadbed. She strikes home with both of her newly-silvered rapiers. Both weapons are stuck fast in the tar-like blob. The weapons are jerked from her grasp as the demon perambulates away. Leelo gives chase and steps on yet another hidden tar-demon, dodging away just in time. Arrows and magic destroy both before they can do much damage. With help of fire, Leelo is able to retrieve her weapons from the poisonous goo. Fortunately both can be cleaned before suffering terminal corrosion.
Mavriy shouts a warning. Dust raised by approaching cavalry appears over the southern hills. The party races forward toward the bridge. As Leelo and Finch approach the near end, a huge minotaur skeleton erupts from a jumble of boulders at the far shore. Goblin archers ensconced in high rocks above the boulders begin peppering the party with darts. Apparently the Luchuirp lack control of lands even this close to their capital Ithralia.
The boney behemoth pounds across the trestle bridge. Finch drops his weapons and staggers back in a catatonic stupor, visions of recent horrors dancing before his mind’s eye. It seems his unwanted sojourn in the Storm-Queen’s catacombs at Galveholm have left some scars. Even now a dozen Sheaim lancers crest the rise behind their quarry. They form up line abreast for a charge. Erki and Thothra urge their charges forward. The gnome matron and boy stumble through the dust toward freedom.
The skeletal minotaur stops at the south end of the bridge with massive bronze great-axe held at the ready. Leelo retreats as Krag moves up for an all-or-nothing cast of the dice. In a stroke of luck, the half-orc priest is able to render the enchanted skeleton neutral toward the rune-heroes. Ten fugitives sidle past the minotaur and race across the timbers through a hail of goblin arrows.
From the northeast appear a trio of gnomish knights riding giant armored boars. Shrieking goblins flee from the rocks. All are quickly ended by lance, axe and tusk. The charging Sheaim lancers turn away from the river in disappointment. The exhausted travelers finally reach safety north of the Quicksilver.
The party is escorted north across 40 miles of verdant countryside between the arms of the Quicksilver and Glitterfall rivers. Gnomes till the fields and raise all manner of livestock, but especially swine and the domesticated boars used as mounts and beasts of burden. Small numbers of humans also inhabit the region, living in their own hamlets and farms but apparently on an equal footing with their gnome countrymen.
A great stone bridge of five arches crosses the Glitterfall to the mountain city of Ithralia, capitol of the new Luchuirp empire since the ice retreated north after the departure of Mulcarn from creation. The city consists of four levels. First and most populous is the Lower City spreading out from the base of the mountain proper. Here it becomes obvious that humans do not quite live in economic parity with the gnomes. There are borderline-slums where humans make up the greater part of the inhabitants. Most disturbingly, Krag sees signs of worship of the Ashen Veil among these people, even among some gnomes hungry for faster access to arcane and divine power. The Luchuirp do not even seem entirely in control their own capitol.
The Middle City is inhabited mostly by a middle class of gnome artisans, merchants and tradesmen. Above this is the walled Upper City dominated by the High Temple of Kilmorph where resides the senior priesthood and High Runekeeper Tor Kra’hom. Embassies and facilities for the conduct of diplomacy can be found in the Upper City. The seat of Luchuirp government is located here, currently a limited monarchy with a parliament and high court.
Erki, acolyte of Kilmorph and then slave for 10 years, has miraculously survived to reach his homeland. He proves a great asset to the rune-heroes in the capitol. Through the priests of Kilmorph, Erki is able to arrange entry into the Upper City, and from there, an audience with old king Gyr ensconced in near-total isolation in the High Castle atop Ithralia.
- Imperial Capitol
- Population: 120,000
- Major foreign trade: Elohim, Bannor, Lanun, Malakim
- Major religions: Runes of Kilmorph, The Order (mainly Arawn), Ashen Veil (Ithralia), The Empyrean (Val’ran), Overlords (Mutanbo)
- Notable features
- Academy of engineering, metallurgy and physics
- Alchemy labs, shops and schools, making Ithralia a center of potion-making, inks, metallurgy and craft
- Mage Guild: Enchanters of Erda. Mana: Enchantment, Earth, Law
- Sculptors studios and workshops for the crafting of golems: wood, clay
Garrim Gyr ascended to the throne 60 years past by royal fiat of his predecessor, King Beeri Bawl, rather than line of descent, for none of the king’s sons survived the incessant wars and intrigues with the Sheaim. Unfortunately Garrim inherited an empire on the decline and increasingly subject to the growing power of it’s mighty neighbor to the west. Now King Gyr sits embittered and virtually powerless within his mountain fortress while below parliamentarians squabble and Sheaim raiders render his southern marches uninhabitable. The Luchuirp lands west of the Dragonspires were lost decades ago. The cultists of the Ashen Veil infesting the Lower City barely bother to conceal their activities. All recognize that soon the Sheaim sorcerers and their conjured legions must sweep down from Dragonspire Fortress to end the Luchuirp empire. King Gyr’s only hope is that the Bannor will land a great army at Mutanbo, or the Malakim in the south will rouse themselves to threaten any Sheaim advance from the flank, but neither case appears probable at this point.
With the help of Erki Tia-na’don, the rune-heroes reveal the journal looted from the Patrian ruin at the southern fringes of the Sheaim Empire. Luchuirp sages are on hand to verify the authenticity of the journal and map. King Gyr is willing to grasp at even the shortest of straws and promises a talent of gold (40 pounds) to each rune-hero who returns alive with spells, schematics, tools and tomes bearing the lost knowledge needed to create the greater types of golems, especially those made of iron. The gray metal is plentiful in the hills north of Ithralia, but the secrets of large scale smelting and forging were lost during the Age of Ice. Furthermore, returning heroes will be made ‘Wardens of the March’ and collectively awarded a small seagoing vessel with crew, or a keep and small garrison, or a lesser construct such as one of the small wood or clay golems common throughout the Luchuirp empire.
The expedition cannot be undertaken until spring, still three months away, due to the unnatural cold in the northern arm of the Dragonspires. The tattered hand-drawn map indicates this is the location of the forge and workshops where the ancient Luchuirp hid their secrets from Mulcarn’s legions. The high Dragonfangs are one of those fabled locales dotting Arcanearth where the Age of Ice still clings with an icy grip. Only a few madmen and criminals venture beyond the foothills, thus little is known about this region in the New Age. King Gyr promises full support from Ithralia to Larchspur Castle on the coast, then up to a base camp on the northeastern slopes where the map indicates a hidden route. After that the adventurers will be on their own.
The Overcouncil Colloquy
As it happens, the rune-heroes have arrived at Ithralia only ten days before a meeting of the Overcouncil, an association of like-minded empires organizing themselves for a common defense and the promotion of trade, law and the commonweal. The Overcouncil more often than not acts in opposition to the Undercouncil, another association of empires with goals far different than those of the Overcouncil. Over a week’s period the Overcouncil delegations assemble in the High City. The rune-heroes are privileged to be lodged in the Upper City where they can witness the deliberations of the council at close quarters as well as rub shoulders with the delegates.
The Bannor send a large delegation across the Ligurian Sea including 20 paladins, clerics and warriors of The Order. The ambassador is Cristof Bluestride, High Paladin of The Order. The Bannor talk largely of their readiness to send an expeditionary force to succor the Luchuirp, but the army is already committed to assist their recently summoned Mercurian allies in the struggle against Hyborem. The other delegates evince at best only lukewarm support for such an expedition. Even the Elohim, who have an extensive coastline to defend west of the Maduro Straight. All hope the Sheaim will tarry another season or otherwise be distracted from their obvious goal. The Bannor are disgusted by what they see as weakness and remain in attendance only that they might witness what else transpires.
From the Malakim come a large delegation including 16 Lightbringers of the Empyrean, warriors and the hero Teutorix. Unfortunately the Malakim cannot come to the aid of their doughty gnome allies at the present time due to the Calabim threat to their eastern flank. Teutorix calls on good king Gyr to hold out “for just a short while longer”. A junior diplomat relates to Finch rumors of a ‘Witch King’ inciting savage tribes to threaten their city of Ultigar to the far south of Ithralia and Dead Mans Land.
The sagacious Elohim commit a medium size delegation including 12 monks, clerics and paladins from Cahir Abbey. The importance attached to the colloquy is signified by attendance of none other than Corlindale, Archmage and Ambassador to the Overcouncil. Should hostilities ensue, the Elohim promise to smite the Sheaim along their northern coastline, after first clarifying certain disagreements with the Ljosalfar on their northeast marches and securing their long coastline against the incessant raids of the Lanun corsairs. But it is the avowed policy of the Elohim never to strike first.
The Mercurians send six paladins of The Order, six fiery seraphim and 21 angels of the host. The ambassador is Uthiel, a high-ranking Messengerii of the Host. The Mercurians are yet small in power and still building their strength toward retaking Cafes. Uthiel is unable to promise any immediate assistance to the noble Luchuirp.
Three of the Mercurian paladins are Umberguardians, spiritual followers of Maros. These are Khazad dwarves who have dedicated their lives to fighting enemies of The Order. Many have arrived at Bourne the Gleaming to join the Mercurian’s crusade against Hyborem’s Infernals. The Umberguardians argue forcefully for immediate aid to their gnomish brethren, but are overruled by Uthiel.
The Ljosalfar arrive with a small delegation using no obvious means of transport. As Archmage Thessa is the ambassador, it is assumed the elves arrived through magic. The Light Elves report that the Svartalfar (Dark Elves) have been pressured into an alliance with the Illians, their powerful northern neighbors and heirs to Mulcarn’s legacy. Auric and the Priests of Winter are working toward a return of fimbulwinter. With Mulcarn barred from creation, It is whispered that Auric seeks to become the god’s avatar or even ascend to godhood in his own right. There can be no question of assistance to the Luchuirp since the formation of this powerful new alliance on the Summer Queen’s northern border.
Leelo tells the story of the cursed green pearl and their encounters with Laerlith, Overlord Priestess of the Waves. Leelo agrees to give the Green Pearl to Thessa for safekeeping in exchange for a means of magical travel and other considerations. A priest of leaves performs the rites and blessings necessary to divest Leelo of the curse (back in force after Leelo reneged on her promise to Laerlith). Thessa personally invites Leelo back into the fold on behalf of Queen Phaedra. Either the elves are overlooking past events in the Mercurian capitol, or Leelo somehow escaped blame for the murders. Leelo provides a tentative assent without volunteering any details about her flight from the embassy..
The next morning Leelo finds a large feather beneath her pillow. Leelo recognizes the feather of a giant Roc, the legendary giant birds said to roost in the mountains above the ancient forests of the Ljosalfar capitol. Burning or breaking the feather should summon one of the Rocs to provide swift transport to Leelo and her comrades. At a secret meeting later that morning Leelo gives over the cursed pearl to Thessa, who departs in haste. It seems the Ljosalfar delegation left Ithralia the previous day. Thessa remained only long enough to take possession of the pearl…
The Amurites send a large seaborne delegation of 23 led by ambassador Dain the Caswallawn. They must brave the Maduro Straights to reach Larchspur Castle on the Ligurian coast south of the great Maelstrom. The Amurite’s primary concern is the growing influence of the Octopus Overlords in Lanun sea-rover empire. The Sheaim/Infernal alliance is not seen as much of a naval threat at this point. Unfortunately the Amurites can commit no ground troops to a conflict so far from their home, but they wish king Gyr the best of luck.
From the Clan of Embers arrives a very large and chaotic delegation of over fifty, including orc warlords, nature priests, shamans of Bhall, and even a few priests of the Veil. They are led by their most modern thinker, Sheelba, who grew up under the tutelage of a Bannor wise man, but eventually escaped and fled back to her native people. Sheelba is clearly pro-Overcouncil, but her voice is drowned out by the largely negative shouts of her boisterous delegation. The other ambassadors tolerate the Clan of Embers mostly in hope of keeping them out of the Undercouncil.
Four dwarves from the far mountains of Khazad arrive on the final day, led by none other than Maros, the last Umberguard and one of the 300 original dwarves given life by Kilmorph the Earthmother over 800 years past. Officially the dwarves chief interest is in guarding their lands from depredations of the Doviello and Hippus. But Maros is a paladin of The Order and flouts the instructions of his liege lords Kandros Fir and Arturus Thorne by urging immediate action against the Sheaim. Maros has many friends among minority factions within the Bannor and Mercurian delegations.
Last and least among the delegations is a small party of four led by Rhoanna, chief of the eastern Hippus clans. Unlike most of the horseclan chiefs, Rhoanna believes in the mission of the Overcouncil. But it is obvious Rhoanna was designated ambassador mostly to temporarily eliminate her influence on the steppes, where she often opposes Tasunke, her greatest rival and chief of the western horseclans. The Hippus must be counted among the least reliable Overcouncil members. Their main goal in joining the Overcouncil seems to be marketing their mercenary services to member states. Even in extremity of need, King Gyr will tolerate no Hippus mercenaries in his lands, so this is a forlorn hope.