Spring of 390 AR (Age of Rebirth)
In early spring the rune-heroes travel 170 miles north with a large train of Luchuirp pack-mules, wagons, carts and soldiers. The High Runekeeper of the Runes of Kilmorph accompanies the expedition. This ancient gnome is carried on a palanquin attended by twenty lesser Stonewardens and Acolytes including Tir-na’don (Erki). The priests of Kilmorph appear to have taken a special interest in this undertaking. King Gyr has no obvious representation among the expedition.
At Larchspur Castle on the coast the party makes ready to journey southwest through the foothills of the northern Dragonspines, known as the ‘Dragonfangs’. In the subterranean cove where Luchuirp privateers take on supplies and discharge loot, the rune-heroes spy an old acquaintance from the far jungles between Kuldevind and Nininsnal: Sizymondo ‘the Great’. The former pirate turned brigand once again has a sturdy ship beneath his feet, a capable frigate of Sheaim origins. The Luchuirp gnomes, who have no substantial ocean-going navy, pay a small fleet of privateers to protect their interests on the high seas. Unlike many such navies, the Luchuirp insist that all privateers fly the Luchuirp flag rather than conceal their identity. Sizymondo appears to have ventured a hazardous journey through the Straights of Aduro and past the Maelstrom to find profitable employment with the desperate Luchuirp.
The newly-empowered pirate captain converses confidently with Leelo and Finch from the deck of his ship while two-dozen pirates look on from the decks and the rest of the rune heroes likewise observe from the dock. Leelo immediately notices a familiar green pearl dangling from Sizymondo’s left ear. How did this cursed gem make it into the hands of Sizymondo?! The pirate hints that he has acquired the services of a certain illusionist who may or may not have been on hand at the recent Overcouncil Conclave in Ithralia this past winter. Later inquiry with the Luchuirp reveals that Thessa left the conclave along with her party the day before Leelo gave her the green pearl. Sizymondo is not forthcoming regarding how he learned of the Conclave, the pearl or the rune-heroes presence in Ithralia. Could he have learned this from Laerlith, Priestess of the Waves and agent of the Overlords? Even if Sizymondo is now an agent of Laerlith, it seems unlikely she would willingly allow the pearl to remain in Sizymondo’s possession this long.
Finch and Leelo both attempt to delay Sizymondo and influence his thinking with magic. Though unable to sequester the pearl, it becomes obvious that the pirate is now under the influence of the curse and is unlikely to willingly part with the evil gem (purportedly the soul-object of Blikdak the sea-demon). As Luchuirp guardsmen and Kilmorph stone-wardens look on, both parties back off from the tense encounter. Mesmer thinks to spy a distinctly non-piratical individual on the poop deck of the frigate, but they quickly disappear from view. The rune-heroes have no more time to spare on Sizymondo as the Luchuirp urge them forward on their mission into the mountains.
A much-reduced party travels southwest from the coast across thirty miles of foothills. The High Runekeeper and his entourage risk the trip. No longer is the journey an easy one as the poorly-maintained road climbs hill after higher hill. Along the way a silent figure joins the expedition. The local Luchuirp guides advise the party that this is one of mysterious Maseach Rangers, guardians of the Dragonspines from Cape Farewell in the north as far south as the fabled City of Gold. The Luchuirp are as mystified by the appearance of this ranger as are the rune-heroes. Eventually the party learns his name but not much else. This ranger is taciturn in the extreme and will say nothing of why the Maseach would see fit to dispatch one of their own to this mission, if indeed this mountain-gnome is an agent of the Maseach. Xar-ke’rin spends most of his time scouting ahead and apart from the main body. The expedition quickly learns the benefits of following whatever path is wordlessly indicated by the white-haired shadow.
The journey ends at the base of the Dragonfangs where the old journal indicates the start of a path documented decades past by ill-fated adventurers. The Luchuirp guides set up a base camp where they will wait for a month. That night the High Runekeeper emerges from his wagon to finally reveal why he has made this arduous journey. The hills shake. From a great crack in the rock emerges a carven golden table 15 paces long. The fantastic trencher is heavily laden with all manner of drink and victuals gleaming like soft jewels. As the heroes partake of this feast they exist partially in creation and partially in the Vault of Kilmorph. Silent shadowy angels glowing with all the hues of a rainbow dine beside the party, but cannot be conversed with. They exist in their own world and in turn perceive the rune-heroes only as silent ghosts.
The High Runekeeper does not dine with the party. He and the rest of the mortal world exist only as vague gray shapes beyond the walls of the magical feast-hall. As the stars begin to dim with the coming of dawn, the table fades away. The feasters leave the table charged with the Earth-Mother’s holy power. Nothing is impossible for them…the snow-capped mountains beckon!
Sadly, Erki, Thothra and Grenl must be left behind as they lack any skill or ability at mountaineering and would therefore be a heavy liability. A team of climbers is only as strong as it’s weakest link. It will already be difficult enough lugging the warlock Finch and wizard Mesmer up the mountains. Though physically gifted, neither possess the skills that will be needed for this venture. The guides distribute mountain climbing equipment and cold-weather gear. It is not too cold here, in fact well above freezing, but high in the mountains the fimbulwinter of Mulcarn still lingers. Strangely, no food is provided. The guides whisper that the Maseach Ranger can use earth-magic to turn mountain berries into sustenance for even so large a party as this one. Regardless, the rune heroes pack a few days food just in case.
The first day is a cakewalk for heroes magically charged with the holy power of Kilmorph. Even so, Xar-ke’rin proves to be a mountain climber with skills far beyond even Leelo’s acrobatic ability or Krag and Mavriy’s sheer athletic acumen. Everyone quickly learns that survival requires closely watching and following the lead of this mysterious mountain-gnome.
Before night falls the party ascends several miles of rocky scree-covered slopes and scales the first in a series of high alpine ridges. As promised, Xar-ke’rin produces a handful of berries which completely assuage all hunger. Now it becomes clear how these rangers survive alone for so long in the mountains. Mesmer and Krag can use magical fire to melt the drifts of snow still found behind shadowed slopes. Higher up, snow and ice appear to exist in abundance, so water should not be a problem as long as fire magic is available.
The second day dawns clear and cold. This day the climbers must face the high mountains without the advantage of Kilmorph’s faded blessing. Both Xar and Leelo must take extra risks to assist Mesmer and Finch, who otherwise would surely bring not only themselves but the entire party to harm. Mesmer is able to somewhat lessen the risk by using a spell of spider-climbing during the tricky bits. Similarly, Krag relies on Xrarog’s divine power to temporarily increase his already-substantial physical strength. Near the close of a hard-fought day scaling saddles, cliffs and finally near-vertical walls and chasms, Krag is nearly toppled from a cliff by falling rocks knocked loose by Mesmer. Finch escapes injury by warding away the rocks using a blast of magic.
On day three the mountaineers enter a high region of glaciers, snow fields and icy crevasses. The latter are often concealed beneath thin crusts of snow and ice. Many close calls finally end in a long fall for Mesmer while bridging a deep canyon of ice. Though the wizard has a spell of feather-falling ready, so does Leelo. Rather than risk fumbling the spell he waits for Leelo to cast it instead…now is the time to be rid of unwanted comrades, but Leelo comes through and floats down alongside Mesmer, grinning at his obvious discomfiture. As Xar looks on with a stony face, the two return from the bottom of the 80’ crevasse using ropes lowered by Krag and Mavriy.
A few hours later while crossing a wide glacier of hard-packed ice and snow, unnatural fog envelops the adventurers. Through scraps of swirling mist leaping shadows are glimpsed, but no one is able to get a clear shot. A dozen small figures of pure ice leap out of the fog to attack. Xar has time to shout only one word, “FROSTLINGS!”. Later the rune-heroes will learn from Xar that these are creations of Mulcarn. They appear spontaneously in the highest regions of the Dragonspines where the Age of Ice still clings. To most who live in the lands alongside the mountains, frostlings are merely fairy tales used only to frighten misbehaving children.
The fight lasts less than a minute. Initially chaos reigns as icy elemental goblins leap upon the backs of isolated individuals. Finch flees to the questionable refuge of small boulder, leaving Mesmer surrounded by five enemies. Krag and Mavriy are also separated and surrounded. The half-orc is nearly frozen solid by howling gusts of ice vented straight from the first and coldest of the Seven Hells. Nevertheless, he smashes first one then a second frostling into shattered piles of ice. These creatures seem to be pure elemental ice without mortal blood or bones, but especially vulnerable to bludgeoning.
Mesmer uses mist-magic to transport himself from near-certain icy death to a spot near where Xar fights with his back to a boulder. The wizard casts magical webs to trap four frostings. Krag is able to stagger away from the trapped frostlings. After inexplicably falling from a slippery boulder where she initially took refuge, Leelo races around the battlefield attempting to lure frostlings into chasing her, with limited success. The healing potions acquired from her brother Keelo prove effective in healing the cuts, bruises and frostbite inflicted by Mulcarn’s minions.
Finch is isolated atop a boulder accosted by a number of enemies. Mavriy issues a magical challenge that compels several frostlings away from Krag and Finch. The paladin’s steel armor and shield deflect the assault of icy hammers and swords, but she is nearly laid low by torrents of freezing hail and frost breathed forth by the small elementals.
Finch finds the frostlings have minds of a strange alien sort, yet still vulnerable to whispers of psychic doom. Ice elementals stagger away only to be attacked ‘en-passant’ by both Finch and Mavriy. Mesmer hurls orbs of arcane flame to transform frostlings into clouds of exploding steam. The tide has turned.
Leelo and Xar work together to destroy the remaining frostlings: Xar trips them from behind allowing Leelo to smash them by surprise with her dual steel rapiers. With a grim nod, the near-mute ranger seems to acknowledge a unique synergy with Leelo. From that point on the mountain-gnome begins to address Leelo with sometimes 3 or 4 words at once, on rare occasions even an entire sentence.
Tomorrow will require scaling vertical faces of icy stone, high ridges and snowy saddles northwest along the top of the Dragonspines. Beyond lies a small valley hinted at by the scrap of a map recovered in the Patrian ruin last year. Not even Xar-ke’rin has journeyed so far into the mountains, though he mentions having heard other more senior rangers of the Maseach whisper about a ‘Valley of the Fang’ somewhere high in the northern Dragonspines. This place and the faint circle on the map must be one and the same.
Route of Recent Travels