Pharast and Gozran 4708 AR
During the days following their return from the otherworld which was once the Thasilonian university of Runeforge, the Sihedron moved quickly by mystical means between their home at Oaktop, their townhouse in Magnimar and their library at Jorgenfist with a few stopovers in other familiar haunts. In Magnimar they approached friendly clergy, craftsmen and merchants in hopes of trading their newly acquired loot for commissioned items they’d need for the next leg of their mission.
To Jorgenfist they delivered the lot of ancient tomes they’d brought back with them from Runeforge along with fresh supplies for the scribes and scholars currently residing there. The former was entrusted to the tireless clockwork librarian to catalog and integrate into the library’s permanent collection. To the latter was introduced the more than 10,000 year old Nelevetu Von, ffollowing the revivification of his torpid body by Aubrey. Now being kept alive by the library’s life-prolonging magics, everyone was aware that the library’s newest resident might never be able to leave his new home. It was the Sihedron’s hope that the former soldier and prisoner could find some measure of happiness in scholarly pursuits within the library. Brodert Quink, himself a scholar on all matters Thassilonian, was eager to meet with this latest arrival. To further secure the library, Elshbeth set the iron golem she’d acquired within the Halls of Wrath to guard the ancient chamber.
At Oaktop, the Sihedron clustered together around the relocated Runeforge so that Aubrey could finish inscribing mystical runes of Inspiration on Kivu and Treana’s bows, Ton’s fist, Ainsel’s wispy substance and his own fey flesh. Later, beneath the ever-vigilant gaze of the stone golem, the spryte mystic spent many late evenings in the crypt; continuing his ongoing questioning of the recalled spirits of the lamias Xenesha and Lucretia, the stone giant Mokmurian and the human traitor Xaliassa. To these he added the spirits of the crypt’s latest additions: the lost headmasters of Runeforge — all in a bid to learn ever more about Karzoug and his holdings within the lost city of Xin-Shalast. Aubrey compared their answers to the lore contained in the Sihedron’s library and to the memories of the group’s living Thassilonian allies; Erylium the penitent quasit in the Hells prison of Magnimar and Nelevetu Von at Jorgenfist. Calling upon his magical Ring of Revelations and his own potent glamour, the spryte further mused over the sum of this precious lore while formulating his plans to defeat the ancient Thassilonian Runelord of Greed.
Plateau of Leng
Sunday the 20th of Gozran 4708 AR
Eventually, his research having plateaued, Aubrey set forth out of Jorgenfist heading east with his companion Ainsel. Together they swiftly rode the winds high above the Storval Plateau and up into the towering Kodar mountains in search of the fabled city of gold; Xin-Shalast. Following the directions laid out for them by the deceased spirits, the pair found and followed the sacred river Avah to a place once known as “the Top of the World”. There, at the Avah’s headwaters, the pair paused to fast while waiting for the full moon to rise. During the lunar conjunction, as the barrier between worlds thinned, the pair crossed over into the twisted otherworldly realm known as the Plateau of Leng.
Flying over the frozen mountain lake known as the Fen of the Icemist, the pair were hailed by a friendly nymph who introduced herself as Svevenka. Claiming to be a cousin of the late Myriana, she and Aubrey discussed the state of nearby Xin-Shalast, her hate of the giants that dwelt within and what she knew of the Pinnacle of Avarice. Parting on good terms, Aubrey and Ainsel continued on their way while studying the area’s topography and multiplanar nature. The pair were witness to a great range of mountains with breathtaking sheer cliffs and blossoms of stone dotted with both glaciers and smouldering volcanoes; all lying in the shadow of the world’s tallest peak: Mhar Massif. The spryte concluded that the mountain’s towering peak had pierced the barrier between worlds into the dark and twisted landscape of Leng and beyond into a third plane of menacing shadows known as darkest Kadath. The three realms had bled into each other and so formed a unique planar nexus in which the earliest Runelords of Greed had chosen to found their capital city.
Flying over the surprisingly intact city itself, the pair were witness to enormous towers and spires of many-colored stone nestled in a narrow valley and flanking a great central thoroughfare of paving stones with a golden sheen. The eastern slope of the valley had been partially subsumed by an ancient glacial flow—nearly a quarter of the city appeared to lay buried beneath it. Rising ever higher, the city’s northernmost districts were dotted with great structures of truly titanic proportions. At its far end, the city abutted the lower slope of Mhar Massif itself with its Golden Road rising up the mountainside, leading to the final and grandest buildings of all. The top-most of these structures was a magnificent 2,000-ft tall tower-palace fashioned of white stone and perched high upon the mountainside: the Pinnacle of Avarice. Its topmost spires ended just below the great face of Karzoug himself—carved into the peak of the mountain and overlooking the city far below. The city streets seemed largely devoid of life except for a few lurking giants, a lamia, a blue dragon and an ice devil squatting in the ruined buildings; all of whom Aubrey and Ainsel avoided for the time being.
Ascending up the slopes of Mhar Massif, the pair eventually found their path blocked approximately a mile away from the palace’s base by an immense invisible dome of force which appeared to encompass the entire mountaintop. Experimenting, Aubrey easily circumvented the barrier by passing beneath it in his earth elemental form. Doing so, however, immediately subjected the earth-spryte to a potent occlusion field of mind-and-body-twisting torment. He remained inside the field for some few minutes, enduring the horrors as best he could in a bid to discern its nature and how he and the Sihedron might eventually overcome it. The earth-spryte collected a few stone and ore samples from within the mountain for later study before finally exiting the occlusion field in haste. A few successive magical experiments revealed that the occlusion field further prevented teleportation and scrying magics from penetrating within. After musing on the matter, the wily spryte concluded that the force dome was likely a defensive feat of wizardry while the occlusion field was a natural planar phenomenon of the Plateau of Leng which the ancient the Runelords of Shalast had merely exploited. Unable to safely reach the Pinnacle of Avarice at that time, Aubrey and Ainsel retreated to the lower city to discretely observe some of its residents before abandoning the Plateau of Leng for their own world.
Morning, Wealday the 7th of Desnus 4708 AR
After roughly a month and a half of preparation following their return from the now defunct Runeforge, the Sihedron awoke early and sat down together to share a faerie feast magically conjured by Aubrey. After the delicious meal, at Treana’s suggestion, the spryte pulled his grandfather’s Harrow deck from his stocking cap to perform a Harrowing. He began with the Choosing, drawing cards from the suit of Charisma to reflect the sovereignty which they sought to deny Karzoug in their imminent quest.
Elshbeth first drew the Tyrant, an ominous card reflecting the crucial need for her to prevent the evil Runelord from further harming innocents. Ton drew the Unicorn, an enlightened card highlighting the monk’s resourcefulness and ability to provide them the key to success during their upcoming challenges. Treana drew the Betrayal; a shrewd card hinting that the ranger should remain vigilant against a duplicitous person who might seek to betray them. Kivu drew the Courtesan, a cryptic card that, like Treana, suggested she’d best keep watch for an ingratiating person seeking to hide their true self or purpose. Ainsel next drew the Marriage, a card highlighting her dual nature as a air elemental dwelling in a material world and the special gifts she brought to the Sihedron. Finally, Aubrey drew the Theatre; a prophetic card revealing that Aubrey’s insight into unfolding events gave him the ability to orchestrate the group’s success should he act wisely. And with that, the Choosing was at an end.
An ominous Harrowing.
That done, Aubrey reshuffled the deck and began the Harrowing in earnest. In the left-hand column, reflecting the set and unalterable past, he drew the Twin in the positive position, the Forge (truly aligned) in the neutral position and the Keep in the negative position. The spryte interpreted the cards to reflect elements from Thassilon’s ancient past. The Twin represented the corruption of the seven Virtues into Sins; the philosophy to which Karzoug had wholly dedicated himself. (The Keep) represented the white tower of the Pinnacle of Avarice within which the Runelord had long ago sought refuge from the empire’s fall. (The Forge), most importantly, was the Runeforge itself; the ancient source of magical artifice from which the Sihedron had forged disparate elements into weapons which could, in part, pierce the evil wizard’s magical defenses.
In the center column, reflecting the evolving present, the spryte drew the Locksmith in the positive position, the Survivor (in partial alignment) in the neutral position and the Sickness (truly aligned) in the negative position. It was Aubrey’s belief that each card represented a different facet of Karzoug current state of being. At the center of all was the Survivor; the Runelord personified as an enduring remnant of a lost empire. The Sickness; his adherence to the debased philosophy of wanton Greed. And, The Locksmith; the corrupt power of the Runewell through which he hoped to reclaim his ancient glory.
In the right-hand column, representing the malleable future, Aubrey drew the Liar (in partial alignment) in the positive position, the Foreign Trader (also in partial alignment) in the neutral position and the Unicorn (Ton’s role card and also in partial alignment) in the negative position. The familiar lamia of the Liar card revealed that the Sihedron would need to confront one or more of the beguiling creatures in their quest for Karzoug. The Foreign Trader hinted however that the Sihedron might encounter a person who could offer them some crucial aid in the challenges ahead though, as per their role cards, Kivu and Treana should remain vigilant against deception and betrayal. And finally, during the Sihedron’s darkest hour Ton, embodying the Unicorn, would deliver unto his fellows that which they’d most need to prevail; though possibly at great personal cost. And with that, the Harrowing was at an end.
As a follow up, Aubrey asked the Revelation Quill they’d claimed from Xaliasa whether their entry into the Pinnacle of Avarice would prove fortuitous for the Sihedron. The Peacock Spirit’s written response was elusive and ultimately nonsensical; possibly due to the nature of the occlusion field shrouding the white tower.
Plateau of Leng
That done, the Sihedron girded themselves and entered the chamber into which the Sandpoint catacombs’ triangle-shaped scrying pool had been relocated. Reaching out mystically to the pool, the spryte attempted to link it to a similar master pool which Erylium the quasit had lead him to believe lay within the Pinnacle of Avarice. Whether due to it being inactive or non-existent, Aubrey’s efforts failed. Undeterred, the tiny spryte drew a pair of magical scrolls along with a copper tuning fork he’d had fashioned from the ore collected from within Mhar Massif. The group joined hands as the spryte read the eldritch scrolls and rung the fork; thereby transporting them all across the gulf of worlds and into the Plateau of Leng itself. They appeared together atop a nondescript outcrop of rock overlooking the fabled city of Xin-Shalast below and to the east; untouched by the cold thin air of the realm. After studying the view for a few moments, Elshbeth, Kivu, Ton and Treana settled inside the group’s portable hole while the spryte clambered into his stocking cap. Taking up both, it was the folletti who carried the Sihedron swiftly across the mountain valley and up the slopes of Mhar Massif.
Ainsel barely paused as she plunged through the force barrier (inured to it by the Rune of Inspiration inscribed upon her gaseous form) and into the occlusion field (adapted as she was to the hazardous effects of Leng thanks to the magic scroll which Aubrey had had commissioned for just that purpose). Arriving swiftly at the base of the Pinnacle of Avarice, the air elemental saw through countless archways that most of the tower’s massif interior was empty save for a winding staircase rising thousands of feet up into the darkness above. Continuing ever upwards, Ainsel spiraled around the central shaft until it narrowed to a curving ramp and finally ended at an enclosed landing of sorts. Inching cautiously around the curving corridor, she spied a handful of hulking cloud and storm giant sentinels.
Remaining discreetly out of sight of the giants, the folletti traded places with Aubrey in his stocking cap. Adopting his earth elemental form and rendering himself invisible, the earth-spryte stealthily circumvented the guards by plunging himself directly into the tower’s interior walls. And so, navigating the walls themselves as if they were a hidden series of pathways, Aubrey swiftly reconnoitered the massive tower’s single habitable floor. Inside were a collection of some sixty lavishly appointed and decorated chambers, alternatively large or truly vast; all adequate in size to accommodate even the most massive of giants. This was fortunate for its residents for, all told, Aubrey counted eight mountainous rune giants, eight towering storm and sixteen cloud giants and seventeen house-sized feline lamia harridans. Aside from these were a single heavily armoured human woman in the Runelord’s throne room and a dozen industrious alien beings toiling away at some strange device in a relatively small side chamber. Aside from a handful of illusionary figures and a trio of representative statues, the Runelord himself was nowhere to be found.
Taking refuge in an unoccupied side chamber, Aubrey opened the portable hole to brief his waiting companions on all that he’d seen thus far. Together, the Sihedron then discussed their next move.