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Rise of the Runelords #12 (Finale to Chapter 1): The Most Dangerous Evil

27 May

malfeshnekor

19th day of Lamashan, 4712 AR

As Skaroband struggled to escape the giant crab’s death grip, a goblin chew toy shaped like a human fell out of her backpack. She clenched her teeth in agony. The crab’s pincer clamped more tightly, causing a spray of blood to burst out of her mouth as she fell still. Desperately, Courage laid his hands on her to stop her from bleeding.

Galadriel tossed a bomb at the beast, and Sanguinia charged in with her rapier and landed a blow. But the crab’s armor blocked many of the party’s attacks. Eventually, Garinn’s eidolon, the minotaur Brutus, gored him with his horns, scooping out a chunk of crab meat!

Courage speedily used a wand and brought Skaroband back to consciousness.

After they recovered from the harrowing battle, they surveyed their surroundings. They stood in what was once an ancient Thassilonian treasure chamber, now flooded with seawater. Scouring the chamber, they found thousands of coins in addition to the huge golden helmet the giant crab had been in. Garinn said this must have belonged to one of the giants Runelord Karzoug used to rule over his Empire of Greed. Although the helmet was only covered in gold leaf — not made out of solid gold — it looked very valuable.

Courage took off his armor and swam in the water. The party waited for him to return. But after a while, a large gush of blood burst back into the water of the chamber.

giant-crab “The crab’s pincer clamped more tightly, causing a spray of blood to burst out of Skaroband’s mouth as she fell still. “

The party stood in shock. What happened to Courage? They exchanged worried looks; it was probably wiser not to follow. They set to figuring out how to return the giant helmet back to Sandpoint, the chamber echoing with their sniffs. They kept a wary eye on the water. A while later, Courage appeared from behind them, on the stairwell.

“So that’s where you are!” Courage yelled.

“What?!”

“I found a tunnel that led outside into the water! I started exploring, and this giant shark swam out and attacked me! I killed it with my bastard sword, came back to the surface, and returned here from the entrance!”

The party teamed up and lugged the giant helmet out of the complex. With the help of Sanguinia’s horse, they lugged it back down to their boat and journeyed back to town.

Looking Forward

That evening, one of Sheriff Hemlock’s guards summoned Courage from the party’s beach house to the Sandpoint Town Hall. There was Larson Paine, the lead cleric of Courage’s Temple to Sarenrae, arrived from Magnimar! Paine clapped Courage on the shoulder.

“Sheriff Hemlock has told me much about your heroics here in Sandpoint,” Paine said. “It would seem to me that you’ve taken a liking to this town, yes?”

“Yes, and to the people I now journey with,” Courage said.

“And so it is with consternation that I bring you this news. You are a valuable warrior for the Temple. I think you are worthy to be my second-in-command.”

“I… I don’t know what to say,” Courage said.

“Yes, I know you’d rather not leave your friends,” Paine said. “But I do have one last mission for you here in Sandpoint, that does involve them. You see, divinations are a strange thing. They say much, but reveal little. I sense a strong presence within that island you are exploring. Something terrible, with immense power. It needs to be confronted and slain, or at least better understood. I believe you are capable of this mission.”

Courage nodded.

“My divinations suggest to me that this is a barghest, a creature from a nightmare plane that has visited ours with an insatiable desire to feed.” Paine handed Courage a gleaming sword. “Use this magic sword. It should prove useful against the beast.”

“Thank you,” Courage said. He returned to the beach house to relate to the party their next mission.

Meanwhile, Jaden had gone shopping in Sandpoint. He returned to the beach house, where Galadriel was engaged in conversation with the party about her plans to attend alchemy school in Magnimar.

Jaden presented two magical rings — one for him and one for her — and asked her to marry him.

Galadriel asked Courage what were some good places to hang out in Magnimar.

“I just asked you to marry me!” said Jaden angrily.

“Oh that,” Galadriel said. “Yes.”

Skaroband rolled her eyes.

“Before you start planning out your lives, we have this little business of slaying a great evil within Thistletop,” she muttered. “There’s no use in planning a wedding if you’re dead.”

sarenrae “Sarenrae’s voice only came through in segments as she struggled to say something. A shadow covered her, shielding her head from sight. ‘The most dangerous evil lies within…'”

That night, Courage went to bed, feeling uneasy about the party’s expedition the next day. After tossing and turning for a while, he went to sleep.

Within his dreams, he felt a deep feeling of peace, and felt as if his body were being lifted up. Before him was Sarenrae herself. But her image faded in and out, and her voice only came through in segments as she struggled to say something. A shadow covered her, shielding her head from sight.

Courage could only make out a few words: “The most dangerous evil lies within…” He woke up in a cold sweat.

He did not know what to make what of the strange dream, nor of its message. He wondered if he would have the courage to face what they would meet tomorrow.

The Secret Chamber

The party returned to Thistletop and once again descended the long spiral stairway. After searching the rest of the leaning complex, the party returned to the column that appeared to be a stack of coins. Jaden could just barely see another chamber beyond it. They noticed two coin-sized slots to either side of the column. When they inserted a gold coin in each slot, the column grinded downward into the ground. Gingerly, the party stepped through the narrow opening and found a room with three sets of doors leading out of it.

They first took the left set of doors. Behind it, they saw a dark chamber with a throne. Projected onto the throne was a glowing image of Runelord Karzoug himself. He was addressing an unknown audience in Thassilonian.

“I can barely make out what he’s saying,” said Garinn. “Something about ‘it’ being upon us, and that people are to remain. He will use ‘his power’… something about taking his work to our graves… something about “the last”… Then the projection repeats itself, over and over.”

“Well, that’s not very helpful,” said Courage. “Let’s pick another door.”

They returned to the previous room and picked the central set of doors. Here, at the top of a short flight of stairs, sat three tables topped by gruesome knives and saws. One table had the skeleton of a human man, with what looked like a smaller man growing out of the small of his back.

“Creepy,” Courage said. Sanguinia jumped into the room and started rummaging around.

“What are you doing!” said Courage.

On one table lay a silver-and-gold seven-pointed star. One of its sides was studded with nodules and blades, and the other had a thin, curved handle. Courage and Sanguinia party gathered all the tools and the star and headed back out.

They returned to the last, unopened set of doors to the right. In place of handles was the indented outline of a seven-pointed star, covered by hollows and slits.

Garinn took the seven-pointed star they had just obtained, placed it in the opening, and turned it. A cacophonous set of loud clicks echoed through the chamber, as the ancient mechanism locking it gave way.

The doors swung open.

“Are we ready?” Sanguinia said.

Courage nodded, holding forth the glowing sword Paine had given him. The rest of the party stayed behind and readied their weapons, as he walked into a chamber containing an open pit that burned with hot flame. Nothing else seemed to be in the room.

malfeshnekor “Suddenly, a massive force ripped through Courage’s armor and flesh and nearly knocked him over. Turning around and bleeding from his wound, he saw a huge, four-legged canine beast snarling at him!”

Suddenly, a massive force ripped through his armor and flesh and nearly knocked him over. Turning around and bleeding from his wound, he saw a huge, four-legged canine beast snarling at him!

Bellowing the name of Sarenrae, he took his sword and swung it straight toward the beast’s chest. But somehow, unexpectedly, the sword swerved awkwardly, refusing to strike it!

He tried to attack it again, but again it jerked aside. He cast it away in disgust and grabbed his bastard sword, as the beast hit him again. Stumbling, he backed out of the chamber. Jaden shot arrows at the beast and Sanguinia stabbed it with her rapier, but their weapons seemed to do little to harm it. Only when Galadriel threw a bomb at it did it roar in pain. It fixed its fiery eyes upon Jaden, who felt it trying to control his mind. He was able to resist its thrall.

The party realized they were overmatched. Some yelled that they should retreat behind the opening where the coin column used to be, which looked too small for the beast to fit through.

Courage thought of an idea.

“There is no reason to attack us!” he yelled.

The greater barghest hesitated.

“Why did you attack us?” said Garinn.

“You invaded my sanctum,” it growled. “You must die.”

“We’re sorry,” said Garinn. “We won’t do it again. What should we do?”

“Leave,” snarled the beast, breathing heavily and glaring at the party with its glowing eyes.

“Okay!”

The party scooted back out through the column door in single file. They did not plan to bother the barghest again.

Final Rites

The party returned to Sandpoint, humbled for the first time in their young adventuring career, but relieved they had survived.

They returned to the beach house. That night, in his dreams, Courage was again visited by Sarenrae.

“Some dark force kept from me reaching you last night,” she said. “As I told your new friends when I appeared to them, there is a great evil rising. From where, I do not yet know. And it is one I do not fully understand. But what I do suspect is that it already knows about you, and the role you might play in events to come. And it is crafty and deceptive. I know — and I have known for a while — that Larson Paine is a traitor.”

Courage was not surprised, having already suspected after discovering the cursed sword.

“Paine speaks falsely. He has done unsavory deeds in Magnimar, all under my name,” she said with disgust. “I would have him destroyed, but I suspect a greater evil working behind him. It is of no use to dispose of him, when we have an opportunity to find out more. He seems well-connected with forces you and your party are not yet prepared to take on yourselves.

“I need you to find out more about him and who — or what — lies behind him. I need you to return to Magnimar, but not as who you are. Were you to return healthy and well, Paine would know immediately you have reason to suspect him after surviving his trap. But… if it looked like the barghest broke you spiritually, you would not create suspicion, and you could be close enough to discover more about him. He is an arrogant man, and his arrogance will be his undoing.”

“So I am to cease being a paladin?” asked Courage.

“Ah. You would still be a paladin, but you would appear to have lost your powers… to them. It is I — not those who purport to follow me, no matter what they say — who grant you your powers. And I trust you will know the right time to reveal yourself.”

Courage looked at Sarenrae grimly.

“I will do it,” he said.

He discussed the plan with the party the next morning: they would present a broken ex-paladin to Sheriff Hemlock and tell him that Courage fled from the beast and had renounced his paladinhood. Hemlock would send immediately for agents from the Magnimarian Temple of Sarenrae to take him back to the city.

What his new name would be, he did not yet know.

Jaden and Galadriel — now fully realizing she was to be married — made elaborate arrangements for their wedding and set it for the 4th day of Neth, inviting the entire town.

The party, after leaving Courage with Sheriff Hemlock, discussed future plans. Skaroband and Sanguinia planned to move into the beach-front home, and Garinn and Shayliss planned to move into Thistletop.

fireworks-heart “Shalelu Andosana shot the rocket with her bow, which split into several other rockets that in turn exploded, bursting forth streams of colorful fire that formed a heart shape in the sky.”

About a week later was the 29th day of Lamashan: the night of the full moon. That day, Garinn and Shayliss Vinder arranged to meet at the Fatman’s Feedbag before nightfall. They met and walked outside to a secluded area. The rest of the party waited nearby, in hiding, just in case Garinn was unable to prove he could control his lycanthropic “gift.” When the sun set and the full moon rose, Garinn felt his blood begin to run hot. He summoned all his strength to resist the transformation. His teeth began to sharpen, and hair began to grow out of his arms…

Then they receded! Shayliss, seeing that Garinn could control his lycanthropy, embraced him with tears of joy!

The 4th of Neth arrived with great anticipation, when Jaden and Galadriel held their grand wedding. It drew nearly the entire town, who relished every opportunity to see the town’s new heroes. Ameiko Kaijitsu once again prepared her popular curry-spiced salmon, and a band of halflings played merry tunes. Sheriff Hemlock and Mayor Deverin congratulated the young couple personally. Garinn and Shayliss found chances to sneak away from Ven Vinder’s watchful eye. When the ceremony began, Father Zantus made no effort to hide his disappointment he was not chosen to conduct it. From his seat of honor on the stage, he folded his arms as a grippli pronounced the young couple husband and wife with a frog-like croak.

Galadriel launched a rocket into the air and kissed Jaden passionately as the town applauded. The loud revelry prevented them from hearing a deep rumbling from beneath the ground.

Shalelu Andosana shot the rocket with her bow, which split into several other rockets that in turn exploded, bursting forth streams of colorful fire that formed a heart shape in the sky. In unison, the bride and groom pointed their new rings toward the ground. Out from their rings shot jets of fire that propelled them high into the air.

Skaroband shielded her goblin baby’s eyes from the bright lights. Shayliss and Garinn were too distracted and did not notice any of this. Sanguinia, the maid of honor, wiped tears from her eyes as the town exclaimed in awe and joy.

“Too bad Courage wasn’t here to see this,” she thought. Soon Garinn walked over. They were joined by Skaroband who was holding her goblin child with one hand, and her injured side with the other. They stood around in a circle.

“Are we done?” asked Skaroband, looking around.

Garinn grinned.

“Yes. We’re done.”

——————————————————-

XP at the end of Chapter 1:
Courage: 11,627
Galadriel: 9,440
Garinn: 10,782
Jaden: 10,952
Sanguinia: 9,540
Skaroband: 11,052

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