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Human on Flying Carpet

MrVergee's page

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber. 1,047 posts. 1 review. No lists. No wishlists.


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The new Gray Maidens in the shrine to Irori do not only prove highly resistant to Quint’s mind-affecting tricks, they also possess superior fighting skills. One of them challenges Balian and hits him extra hard, while her colleague makes her sword burn with black flames which bite at the ranger. Moreover, the two women fight in perfect unison, putting up a shield wall when the get attacked. Balian also finds that his special sense to fight ‘humans’ does not kick in when he faces these guards; his new sword’s holy damage on the other hand flares up when his swings connect. With Spyder blocking off the third of these special maidens, Sjo and Quint are left with the two guards they encountered initially. These girls are definitely of a different kind than the three new Maidens, more within the limits of what you’d expect a Gray Maiden to be: human soldiers who possess some skill at battle, but who are by no means superwomen. This gives our friends the chance to cast some spells first: Sjo mumbles a prayer, while Quint enhances the party with haste and starts up a satire performance to debuff the enemy. Puk tumbles behind one of the super maidens, but sees his first stab deflected by her neighbor’s shield. When he manages to get a cut in, he also finds that his tiny blades are partially resisted. Balian exchanges more blows with the supermaidens and is happy to learn that Sjo’s magic of shield other gives him much more staying power. He delivers a tremendous critical blow to the maiden on his left, just as Puk’s many vicious slices take down the woman on his right. When the halfling delivers the final blow, the creature inside the elegant full plate splashes out in one huge burst of blood. The various pieces of her armor drop on the floor, soaked in red fluid … but no body remains.

This brings back memories. The party recalls Dame Nesia, the naked girl they found in the streets, who had lost any and all recollection of who she was or where she came from. As it turned out, the girl was some kind of blood simulacrum or blood clone. Balian suspects that these women are the same, albeit of a perfected nature. Sjo, who is badly hurt from taking half of Balian’s damage, heals himself as Quint tries out his new rapier’s powers on one of the ordinary maidens. The weapon’s inspire ability allows him to use his bardic performance to enhance his swings with his charisma rather than his strength, making the bard a more formidable fighter in melee. Just when the companions seem to be getting the upper hand, the door ahead swings open and three more maidens join the fray, two of which fight like twins again. The third acts as somewhat of a tactician: she can guide her fellow soldiers in battle. Sjo recognizes a good opportunity when he sees one: the new and old opponents are all on the far side of the room, with only Puk in their midst. A perfect chance for a fireball! The explosion tears through the enemy, while the little halfling rogue manages to evade all the flames, laughing as another clone bursts out in a splash of blood. His joy is quickly suppressed, however, when a red skinned devil appears behind the fresh forces, in the next hall, with Lady Eliasia Leroung in his clutches. “There they are, milady, your rebel friend! I knew they would show up! I knew it”, the creature cackles, just before slicing his knife across Lady Leroung’s throat. Her dead body drops to the floor. Quint is furious and shouts out threats to the murderer: “You filthy leprechaun, you’re gonna wish you’d never left Hell!”

In the meantime Puk and Balian take out another blood clone, Sjo continues healing and Quint cuts down one of the ‘normal’ Maidens. The devil zaps behind Sjo, but cannot do much damage before falling to Quint’s wild attacks. The bard even makes sure the creature is truly defeated, by stabbing the corpse through the neck once more. Balian and Puk’s efficiency takes care of the rest: two more blood clones and two human Gray Maidens bite the dust. One of these real maidens is still bleeding and Sjo makes sure she survives by stabilizing her. The victory does not grant joy, however, since Lady Eliasia lies truly dead and her children now run down the stairs to mourn her loss. Christina Leroung, her eldest daughter, is enraged at the companions. She lashes out at Quint for invading her home and getting her mother killed. When Balian mutters something about a possible resurrection she starts hitting him. This was an assassin devil, its victims cannot be brought back! She is also desperate about her family’s future. Where should they go now? They will certainly be punished for this! The noblewoman keeps slapping Balian frantically, until he grabs her in a big bear hug to calm her down. Her sisters, Siri and Aisha (the opera star) and her aunt Sirtane (the alchemy professor) kneel down by Eliasia’s body. Aisha and Siri are crying with great despair over their dead mother, while Sirtane does her best to whisper words of comfort. Cyril Fordyce, Eliasia’s husband, the history professor and editor of the Herald, is staring with blind apathy.

Quint whisper some apologies, but Sirtane take shim to the next room to talk to him, as she is the only one who is in control of her emotions at the moment. Quint explains why they were here, they need to locate an ancient Shoanti grave somewhere under Korvosa. The tomb holds the corpse of a shaman who fought the evil that has now taken hold of Queen Ileosa. If they want to face her, they will need the shaman’s aid. They were hoping to find clues in the library as to where the tomb might be situated. Sirtane understands and takes Quint to the ‘history’ room in the library, selecting a good number of books that the bard tucks away in his bag of holding. She also reveals that the library section on the ‘planes’ has been overrun by devils, imps, who are destroying a lot of the books. Still the companions deem it unwise to attack the critters; if one escapes it could warn the enemy of the party’s involvement and bring down hell on them, both in a figurative and literal sense. Quint and Balian also take a peek in the printing room, where Ileosa’s new seneschal Togomor has already been preparing the next issue of the Korvosan Herald, an edition that lauds the queen’s efforts to save the city and serves as royal propaganda.

The companions decide to hide the Leroung family in the abandoned fishery that used to be to Gaedran Lamm’s hideout. It is nearby and safe. They travel there under the cloak of invisibility, taking the corpse of Lady Eliasia with them. Afterwards they return to the Leroung residence to interrogate the surviving Gray Maiden. She seems to be one of the soldiers who came from Cheliax a few months ago. She sees no evil in working with devils, as these creatures are summoned to serve, not to command. When Quint gets mad at her for being blind to her malevolent acts, she returns the argument by calling him a rebel who refuses to accept the rightful ruler and as such being the cause of all this unpleasantness. Quint’s anger gets the best of him: he draws his rapier and runs the woman through. His hope for finding redeemable Gray Maidens diminishes again, although he realizes that there must still be several women in their numbers who started out as good, normal Korvosans and who might only be misguided. Still, the uniforms and masks make it almost impossible to distinguish between the soldiers. How will he be able to tell who can still be saved and who deserves to die?

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Erik Mona wrote:

I dunno, there are still a bunch in this set.

I won't stop until I've done all of them, or until someone makes me stop. :)

Go on, go on. Keep it coming. I'm happy about the two in this reveal.

I'm also hoping for a handmaiden devil, although there is no real great art to base a mini on, I'm afraid. A contract devil would be great as well. The other devils at least have (had) a version in other miniature lines, or can be bought in a Reaper version, which makes them slightly less urgent in my book.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The companions consider what to do. Should they dive into the library and look for more information on Shoanti graves? Is there a way they can bring Zellara back? Should they try and contact the resistance? Are the many young girls who are being recruited for the Maidens in need of rescue? And what should they use for an excuse if they need a good cover story? Mixing truth with fiction, they decide upon a tale that they have to return the ancient bones of a mythic shaman to the Shoanti to keep them from invading Korvosa with a huge army.

Maybe it is best to start with something easy first: suspecting that Vencarlo is hiding in Old Korvosa, the party heads for the island in the north of the city. When they cross Jeggare Circle, they happen upon the construction of a gigantic statue of the queen from black stones. The laborers seem little motivated, as do the members of the Korvosan Guard who have been tasked to watch over the site. The stone reaches twenty feet already, and it looks like it only goes up to Ileosa’s knees so far.

The only bridge over the Narrows of Saint Alika has a guard detail of Gray Maidens and all who want to cross are given a thorough inspection. The party goes west, wanting to get over the water at the westernmost point of the Narrows with the Dimension Door from Puk’s cloak. When they get there, they find out where the big black stones for Ileosa’s statue come from: the Great Tower is being torn down. A magic jump brings the companions to the other side of the water, to some of the poorest quarters of Old Korvosa. The upside of this poverty-stricken neighborhood is that it is almost free of Gray Maidens, making it easy for the party to get to House Arkona.

Glorio Arkona welcomes the heroes with open arms, once again offering to aid them in their quest to fight the evil in Castle Korvosa and inviting them to stay in his house, since their villa has been compromised. Sjo thanks him for his kindness, but says they have their own place to lay low. Lord Arkona denies being involved with the resistance, claiming the rebels are hiding somewhere in the south of the city. He hasn’t seen Vencarlo since he left the city and didn’t even know the fencing master had returned. When Quint tells him about the Red Mantis attacks, Glorio is worried. The assassins are not known for giving up, once the mantis are on your tail, they do not relent. The heroes confront Glorio with their own dilemma: they need to recover the bones of an old Shoanti shaman who was buried somewhere in the city long ago. What would be the best way to find his grave: magic or research in the library? Lord Arkona is not sure, but reckons that magic would definitely be easier. Still, Quint cannot think of an effective spell that would lead him to his goal in due time.

Finally the companions decide to check out the library. Quint tries to come up with a plan to infiltrate the occupied building, perhaps in the guise of some official who is on a royal mission. That might suffice to fool the Gray Maidens. The best course of action would be to stake out the place first. When darkness has fallen, Lord Arkona has the party taken back to the mainland in a small boat, but not after hosting an exotic dinner party and extending a helping hand once more for the future. By the light of the moon the party walks past the Acadamae; nothing can be seen beyond its great walls, except for the imps who flutter in the air above.

House Leroung is situated in the heart of Korvosa, on the university grounds. The splendid manor in gothic style houses the city’s biggest library on one side, and the family’s living quarters on the other. Since the nobles are under house arrest, they might have ample time to do research for the companions, so Balian wonders if they would be able to contact one of them and enlist their aid, like Aisha, the star from The Passion of Saint Alika, or professor Sirtane, the alchemist who cured the plague.

Puk circles the building, picking up noise and laughter from the corner room. Balian activates his flying boots and peeks inside, but the room is unlit, so the ranger cannot see a thing. Sjo remembers that Sirtane Leroung’s laboratory led out into a small patio area. This might be the perfect way inside. Balian flies everyone over and Puk tries to pick the lock, but finds it too hard to open. Quint pulls out the Key-Lock Killer’s bell and manages to get the way in unlocked. The heroes sneak inside and reach the central library, where books on history are stored. Quint wonders whether they should look through the books themselves rather than bother the family, but the party’s conversation alerts the two Gray Maidens who are guarding the public entrance. Apparently our friends forgot that you always have to keep quiet in the library. The female soldiers are not pleased at finding the nightly intruders, but Quint uses his bardic power of persuasion to convince them that he and his friends are on an important mission. They need to talk to one of the Leroungs urgently. His deception works and the guards lead the party to the other side of the building, where the Leroungs live. Unfortunately there are even more Gray Maidens in this part of the house, who do not succumb to Quint's mind games. They draw steel, threatening to drown the room, a private shrine to Irori, in blood.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Guide to Korvosa is a must-have. It will allow you to make the city come to life.

All the other books mentioned in this thread are interesting as well. If you want to do more with the Hellknights, I'd also recommend Castles of the Inner Sea, which contains a write-up of Citadel Vraid.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Using a newly acquired teleport scroll the companions magically travel to the gates of Janderhoff, the dwarven city. The guards recognize them and show them in, leading them to a beautiful manor house, where Neolandus Kalepopolis is now staying. The former seneschal is overjoyed to see the heroes again and offers them the hospitality of his dinner table. He is interested in every little detail of what has happened to them since they last met. Quint spins an enthralling tale, leaving out nothing. Kalepopolis delights at the party’s success, but the impending war with the Cinderland Shoanti causes him distress.

Kalepopolis has news as well. Although the Gray Maidens in Korvosa have been thorough in their efforts to root out the Sable Company, twenty-eight of the marines have escaped persecution and have been granted sanctuary in the city of Janderhoff. Some of them are even staying in the very manor where the young friends are now. The situation in Korvosa has greatly deteriorated over the last couple of weeks. The queen has tightened her iron grip on the city. Her maidens are ever-present and enforce the law without any measure of leniency. Anyone who even dares to utter a word of doubt concerning the new government is suspected of rebellion and immediately arrested. Most arrests quickly end in execution, often without a proper trial. Cadavers of these so-called traitors hang all over the city as warning signs. The common man is scared out of his wits and hardly comes out of his house, fearing the cruelty of the Gray Maidens. The queen’s guard terrorizes everyone without discrimination, whether they be low-born or of noble blood. Apart from the merciless manhunt for surviving Sable Company marines, the Maidens invade every house to demand taxes, look for young girls to bolster their own ranks and – a consequence of the Janderhoff dwarves’ decision to cease trade with Korvosa – to confiscate any and all objects made of iron, to have them reforged into ever more gray maiden suits of armor. The churches of Asmodeus and Abadar have openly proclaimed their support for the queen, while the temples of Sarenrae and Pharasma remain neutral. Vencarlo Orisini has returned to the city and stays in contact with Kalepopolis via carrier pigeons, sending him short messages in code. These updates are sparse and concise. Apparently Vencarlo has joined some kind of rebellion movement, but cannot provide details out of fear that his notes might fall into the wrong hands.

24 Arodus 4708

The next morning the companions are summoned to the palace of clan lord Ragnar Ironfist. Quint explains that an ancient evil has taken hold of queen Ileosa, and that he and his friends will try to fight this malevolence before the Shoanti come down from the Storval Heights to invade the Korvosan lowlands. He also reveals that his party has been to the great city of Koldukar, or rather Urgir as it is known now. Ironfist is excited to hear about the formidable dwarven sky citadel, but cannot hide his sadness at learning about the place’s decline. The dwarven lord offers his guests the chance to stock up once more in the temple of Torag, leaving them in the capable hands of its high priest, Bardin Bronzebeard. The companions buy some scrolls of heal and breath of life, and invest in some extra wands of cure light wounds. This might be their last chance in a while to do so. Their biggest buy, however, is an adamantine holy greatsword for Balian.

Another teleport scroll takes the companions straight to Zellara’s little parlor in Korvosa. Sjo immediately pulls out the Varisian fortune-teller’s Harrow cards and summons her spirit. Zellara claims that it is getting ever harder for her to manifest in the city. It is as if a dark veil hangs over the city, clouding and smothering her mind. She offers to read the cards again for the companions before starting her search for the remains of sun shaman Coja Eyes-Aflame. This time the reading is centered around the star cards. During the choosing, Balian’s hand falls upon the Winged Serpent, who cautions him to use more tact. The queen-mother tells Puk to aid the helpless and hopeless, while the carnival card warns Quint to plan ahead. The owl ushers Sjo to combat the unnatural state of things that has taken hold of the city.

The reading tells Balian to be careful of sinister and dark pacts that he will come across. Puk is told that he has been making the right decisions so far, though he is warned not to doubt too much and just act. The empty throne in Sjo’s cards is a hint that fighting the ‘powers that be’ should not lead to a vacuum at the top, but the courtesan clearly tells him that masks will have to fall. Finally Quint is shown that what once seemed beautiful, might be rotten at its core. The peacock teaches him that he should do well to stand aside when this thing of apparent beauty passes by, lest he be petrified by it.

After the Harrow reading, Zellara opens her mind to try and find a mental trace of the sun shaman. She spreads her arms and closes her eyes to expand her mind. Although spirits do not breath, she starts gasping and shaking uncontrollably. When she opens her eyes again, they have turned white. “Oh, no!” she heaves, “they have found me!” The next moment the Varisian spirit is sucked into the deck of cards, which falls lifeless on the floor. Using detect magic Sjo notices that the cards do not radiate magic anymore. When he picks up the deck, he doesn’t even feel a trace of the Varisian spirit. It seems as if she has disappeared completely. This turn of events is a huge set-back for the party, since Zellara was to be their guide to Coja Eyes-Aflame. How will they find his remains now?

Sjo is eager to see how his fiancé is doing and heads to the shrine of Shelyn. Walking up to Five Corners in North Point the party gets to experience the ominous atmosphere of Korvosa’s streets for themselves. Very few people are out and about, and those who are, hurry along with their heads hanging low. A patrol of Gray Maidens is making ‘house calls’ forcing their ways into people’s homes to collect taxes and confiscate iron goods. Since the queen’s guards have drafted so many new members lately, one would expect at least some of these female soldiers to look inexperienced, but Balian feels they all seem more than comfortable in their full plate armor. Perhaps the new recruits are still in training somewhere, leaving their more seasoned colleagues to patrol the city.

Larella is very happy to see her future husband alive. She can update him and his friends on the current situation in Korvosa. Fortunately the plague has been cured, even in Old Korvosa. The quarantine of the island has been lifted as a result, but that does not mean that things are going well in Korvosa’s oldest district. Big parts of Endrin Island have always housed some of the city’s poorest inhabitants, and the recent plague and quarantine have worsened their plight considerably. Moreover, current circumstances of fear and oppression offer little hope of improvement.

Balian wonders about the state of the noble families. Larella says that the Arkona’s have been even more withdrawn from society lately than the normally are. After commander Marcus Endrin’s failed attempt on the queen’s life, his family has been outlawed. His wife was executed. Larella has no idea what became of his three children. House Bromathan has paid dearly for its support to Endrin and the Sable Company. Lord Valdur IV rots away in the city’s dungeons, while his wife Lady Merisse and son Valdur V have been placed under house arrest. His daughters were both drafted for the queen’s forces. Like all recruits they have not been heard of since. Jeggare is still in place, but being one of the richest families in the city, they’ve had to pay huge amounts of taxes to the treasury. Members of House Leroung have also lost the queen’s favor. They showed quite a lot of criticism for the new government in the latest issue of the Korvosa Herald and have been placed under house arrest as well. Their university has been closed until further notice. Sjo wonders if they would still be able to consult the school’s extensive library, hoping he might come across more information that might lead to the discovery of the Sun Shaman’s grave.

House Zenderholm is still around, but Larella suspects that the extremely lawful nature of its head, Hanging Judge Zenobia Zenderholm, will not mesh well with the queen’s policy of playing judge and jury at the same time. House Ornelos is the only family openly supporting queen Ileosa. As a result none of the Ornelos girls have been forced to join the Gray Maiden army.

Explaining to the priestess of Shelyn how an ancient evil from the bowels of the mastaba under Castle Korvosa has taken control of the queen, it suddenly dawns on Quint that the ‘Teeth of Midnight’ might also have been the mysterious ‘muse’ that inspired several Korvosan artists in the past. These open, creative minds would probably have been quite susceptible to the dragon’s feeble influence, which would explain why the Korvosan art scene has always been so morbidly and sinisterly inspired. When queen Ileosa discovered the evil artefact, it must have shifted focus to her completely, suddenly leaving the artists without a muse. Quint fears that Ileosa might be beyond saving: if the ‘abandoned’ artists already felt so desperate that they took their own lives, how could the queen ever survive a hundredfold stronger hold on her mind being broken? This new insight does not bode well for Ileosa, leaving her virtually no chance of a future.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
DropBearHunter wrote:

is that clear plastic for the green sword?

looks very versitile as any barbarian type

Paint his sword metalic and you can have him double up as a Shoanti.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I trust you've seen this thread as well.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

A messenger arrives at the campfire, saying that the council has its answer. The party is guided back to the war-yurt, which is now almost empty, except for the leaders of the Quahs and Thousand Bones, who are still seated by the bonfire. Valkur has good news; the companions have convinced the council of their good intentions and are tshamek no more, they are now nalharest, brothers of the Shoanti who will be treated as friends for as long as they do not choose to oppose the tribes. The great chief goes on that he cannot reveal the Sklar-Quah’s biggest secret to the party, because even he does not know what it is. Only the mightiest shamans of his tribe share in this privilege. However, with all that is going on in Korvosa, the Shoanti have agreed to make an exception for the heroes and inform them. At that the Quahjothka points at the bonfire in the center of the war-yurt. “If you want to learn what is truly plaguing your city, you will have to step into the fire”, he states. Sjo is the first to step up. Staring in the flames he picks up the outlines of a humanoid shape, that beckons him closer. The healer does not hesitate and walks into the blazing fire, followed by his friends. The heat burns them hard, but then the pain resides and they feel only warmth.

The burning figure appears before them: “My name is Arunan Lives-Of-Fire, Sun shaman of the Sklar-Quah. Your tales of the jothka-woman in the stone yurt-camp Korvosa confirm our suspicions that she has unearthed the ancient ‘evil’ from Mashka-saht-puyuhoke, the great mastaba, an evil that was interred there by my predecessors many generations ago. The knowledge of what lies hidden in the mastaba has been handed down over the ages, from one Sun shaman to the other. Now I will reveal the secret to ‘others’ for the first time in history, for the need is great and you offer one of the best chances to stop the threat.

Hundreds of years ago, when my people still walked the lush meadows of the lowlands and lived on the shores of the great water, Sun shaman Coja Eyes-Aflame left his tribe to fight at the side of a legendary hero from the distant lands of Lastwall against a formidable ruler who was known for his unparalleled cruelty and thirst for conquest. When armies failed to halt his advance, the hero from Lastwall assembled a small and secret cabal of warriors, magic-users and mystics, Coja Eyes-Aflame among them. Using power and stealth the heroes infiltrated the tyrant’s stronghold. The atrocities they found there tested them to their limits, and when they reached the enemy’s throne room, a terrific battle took place. It was during this battle that they stripped away the tyrant’s human disguise, revealing a powerful blue dragon who had been empowered by the blessings of his dark god. Assuming his true form, the monster attacked the cabal, and a long and bloody battle ensued. His scales deflected most of their attacks and his claws and lightning breath made short work of many of their best and bravest warriors. In the end it was the hero from Lastwall himself who was able to slip through the dragon’s guard and deliver the fatal blow.

Yet even in death, the tyrant’s body shuddered and grasped. Fire and acid destroyed much of the dragon’s corpse, yet seven fragments proved impossible to destroy. These grisly relics were so suffused with evil and malignancy that they refused to burn or melt – and even as the heroes watched, the bones twitched and writhed as they tried to return to life. The cabal’s leader ordered his surviving brothers and sisters to each take one of these seven relics out into the world and go into hiding. None would know where the other members went, least of all their leader, who would remain in the tyrant’s stronghold to guard it against ever being used for evil again.

And so it is that my predecessor returned to his people, carrying the burden of the Fangs of Midnight, the blue dragon’s teeth. Coja was a changed man, his hands shook and his eyes bore an ever-terrified gaze. At night he often screamed out in horror. He shared his story with his fellow shamans and together they opted to hide the Fangs in the ancient Thassilonian monument on the shore of his people’s ancestral lands. They spent the rest of their lives guarding the monument, seeking to ensure that nothing dared enter the hidden chambers within, and when they died, they passed the task down to their successors. And so, for hundreds of years, the descendants of this now forgotten Shoanti mystic guarded and protected the Fangs of Midnight from discovery, teaching their people that it was their sacred duty to stand watch over the mastaba. During these centuries the Sun shamans learned much about the power of the artifact. Part of the dragon’s soul endured and tried to force its will on those around it. But the Sun shamans were aurochheaded and well-trained, and their strong minds resisted the dragon’s temptations. As long as no one actually handled the teeth, they lacked the strength to truly dominate anyone and cause further harm. But now I fear that, for the first time since they were entombed in the holy site of Mashka-saht-puyuhoke, the Fangs of Midnight have been touched by human hands, with unspeakable consequences.

The fragment of the dragon’s soul is like a plant: it seeks to take root in fertile soil, where it can blossom and grow to become a potent tree. Hearing your stories, I believe that this has happened to the Jothka-woman who you call Ileosa-Queen. If I understand you correctly I’d even say that she is wearing the Fangs of Midnight on her head. Her own cruelty and strength have been multiplied thousand fold by the evil artefact. On top of that the teeth will have given her supernatural powers. But the worst thing is that she now carries two souls in herself, which gives her tremendous control over her own vulnerability and mortality.

Knowledge of how Coja’s cabal defeated the dragon will be key to fighting her as well. But what my foregoers handed down to me is vague and fragmentary at best. I cannot give you the weapons to combat this evil, because I do not know them. Still, the fire of my predecessors burn within mel, just like it burned in the chest of Coja Eyes Aflame. Find his bones and rekindle his fire, then he will give you the insight you need to defeat his old nemesis.

I am unsure of where the Sun shamans from the days of yore lie buried. The ancient shores have been lost to us for so long that I cannot even begin to imagine what they looked like. I do know that they were not entombed in Mashka-saht-puyuhoke out of fear that the unnatural tendrils of evil would disturb their voyage to the eternal hunting grounds. Lore says that they were laid to rest in burial mounds within sight of the great mastaba, so they could guard over it even in death. Coja Eyes Aflame’s bones must lie there as well, somewhere, but if I understand correctly, your people have filled the shores with stone yurts, so it will be hard to locate the Sun shaman’s remains. I also fear that I cannot guide you any more than I have done just now. Still, my inner flame tells me that Coja’s bones have passed the test of time. Finding them will be your task.”

Then the burning shaman reaches into his own chest and pulls out a white glowing flame. He motions for Sjo to open his mouth and then places the ball of searing fire on his tongue. “Breath this flame into the glorious mystic’s remains and he will help you”, Arunan assures. “I’m sorry I cannot be of more help and that I cannot send the great spirits of my ancestors with you, they would only get lost in the maze that the mastaba shores have become. Only a spirit that knows the place as it exist today would be able to guide you.”

Upon hearing this, Sjo pulls out the deck of Harrow cards and summons Zellara’s spirit. “Maybe she can help?” he offers. Arunan looks pleased as Zellara’s ghost appears. “I find myself in strange lands,” she says, “far from the streets and alleyways I call home. But I feel you are among allies. Though no bonds of friendship have formed yet, mutual respect hangs around your shoulders like a warm blanket. How can I be of help?”

Sjo explains that they will need Zellera’s help in recovering the whereabouts of a buried Shoanti shaman, somewhere in the city of Korvosa. Arunan fills in as many details as he can. The Varisian fortune-teller is happy to oblige, but recommends patience: “The secrets of the Shoanti lie buried under three centuries of Korvosan history and hatred. Locating the remains of a long-gone mystic will be like finding a needle in a haystack. But I will do my best to help you, although I should warn you not to expect a speedy result. The search will be hard and might prove long. I can only hope that I can provide an answer in time. When we get back home, place my deck of cards on Korvosan soil, so I can begin my search.” The next moment Zellara’s spirit fades.

Arunan looks positively surprised. “You are truly blessed by those who have left us. You walk with the spirits, who honor us still with their presence and friendship. Go now with the strength of the spirits and the friendship of the tribes.” After these words Arunan disappears as well, his burning body melting into the bonfire. The companions step from the flames and face Valkur and the council again. The big chief regards Sjo carefully, nodding his head in respect when he catches a fiery glimpse in the healer’s milky eyes. “Now the might of the Sklar-Quah is truly with you. I wish you a speedy journey back and good fortune at the end of your path. We will follow in two weeks, to pick up the fight if you fail. But if you succeed, you should contact us, so we can discuss our people’s future together.”

Quint suggests they use magic to stay in touch during their mission. Thousand Bones will be happy to serve as a medium. Depending on the heroes’ progress or failure, the Shoanti might have to expedite or postpone their war movements. The companions certainly feel that now there is some room for flexibility on this front. The Quahs are placing a lot of trust in their hands, they hope they can live up to the challenges ahead.

23 Arodus 4708

Balian spends the night in the arms of D’ari Firehair, Saamesh’s sister, learning how hot Sklar-Quah women can actually be. The next morning the companions leave for Kaer Maga in horseback. They reach the cliff-top city by the afternoon, which gives them some time to sell off the loot they gathered over the last couple of days and invest in some scrolls and new equipment.

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An hour after the Red Mantis ambush the companions leave the Skull Clan camp, joined by both Thousand Bones and Saamesh. After about half a day of traveling the party comes across another group of Skoan-Quah warriors, who are making their way to the shadow of the Great Flame as well. Like the members of Thousand Bones’ tribe, they are following the call of the Sklar-Quah. The Burn riders who recruited them are still with them and do not seem overly pleased with the presence of Korvosan tshamek, but they accept the company of the strangers when Thousand Bones and Saamesh vouch for them.

22 Arodus 4708

Over the next two days the group traveling with the heroes grows even more, to about 250 men and women. By the end of the afternoon on the third day they finally reach their destination: an imposing pinnacle of red rock that rises from the earth to a height of more than 200 feet. Millennia of erosion have shaped the stone like a big flame. In normal times this landmark would be an eye-catcher, but now Balian finds his gaze being drawn to the enormous encampment at its foot. Hundreds of tents and campfires cover the landscape.

Upon approaching the camp the companions see a delegation of Burn Riders moving in to welcome the newcomers. Puk immediately recognizes the giant that leads them: Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills. When he spots the companions, the barbarian gives them a small frown, but as soon as he picks out Saamesh in the crowd, the towering Shoanti jumps off his horse. With big strides he closes the distance between himself and the former spy. Grinning widely, he pulls his much smaller friend in a bear hug: “Brother, have you come to join us in battle? My heart rejoices, you are more than welcome!” he smiles. “Although I see you have not brought the best of companions”, he continues, nodding at the Korvosans.

Saamesh returns the heartiness of the hug, but when he frees himself from the giant’s grip, he replies: “On the contrary, brother, my business in Urgir did not end well. These men saved me from the deadly clutches of the orcs. With the exception of you, perhaps, I cannot imagine being in finer company.”

Krojun grins at the party: “Then I welcome you as well, welcome to the brave warriors who will crush Korvosa and see justice done.”

Krojun leads Thousand Bones, Saamesh and their Korvosan guests to a huge tent, bordering the foot of the Great Flame. While they make their way through the camp, the companions feel the hostile gaze of hundreds of Shoanti. The forces that have gathered here are truly impressive: there must be over two thousand warriors here, if not three; hundreds of horses and Puk even spots a number of mastodons, immense eliphants. The halfling stares at the titans in awe: “Look, oliphaunts, no one at home will believe this!”

The war-yurt is the biggest tent the companions have ever seen, fully covered in animal skins and leather hides. In front of the entrance there are two rows of totems, decorated with different animals and symbols. A plume of smoke rises from a hole in the center of the tent. Quint quickly cleans up everyone’s attire with prestidigitation, casts glibness upon himself and tongues on Puk and Balian, who do not speak Shoanti. Krojun motions for the newcomers to enter. Inside a few dozen men and women are gathered around a bonfire. Most of them look like experienced warriors, but others bear the symbols and ornaments of mystics. Upon entering Krojun’s loud voice booms out: “Honored jothka’s and wise fathers and mothers, we have welcomed many guests in our midst of late, but these visitors will surely draw your attention!”

Everyone inside eyes the Korvosan heroes with a mixture of surprise and contempt. A broad-shouldered warrior with gray hair and a proud beard seems to share these feelings, but when Saamesh steps into the tent behind Balian, his face lights up. He walks up to the young man, places his hands on the spy’s shoulders and calmly speak in a very low voice: “So, son, you have finally turned your back on that stinking orc pit. Your father’s heart leaps at your return.”

“Jothka”, Saamesh answers with the same calm, “the orcs of the Hold of Belkzen are strong and many, but their eyes are not aimed at the Quahs right now. I was less lucky, however, and personally got to experience their false gazes and sharp claws. If it wasn’t for these men, you’d be short one son.”

The bearded man turns to the companions, looking each of them in the eye: “I offer you my thanks, tshamek. My name is Valkur Burns-In-His-Veins, the Quahjothka of the Sklar-Quah. I am the one who has called together the Shoanti to drive your people back into the sea. I take it that is why you are here. Speak, and we will listen.” Quint recognizes the word Quahjothka as the ‘chief’, not just of a single tribe, but the ‘chief of chiefs’ of a complete clan or Quah. This man is the head of all the Sun Clan people.

Valkur points to an empty place next to the fire where his guests can sit down. He squats on the ground a few yards further, between four other important-looking Shoanti: Laaron Strongbow, Quahjothka of the Lyrune-Quah (the Moon Clan), Fidru Glides-On-The-Wind, daughter of the Quahjothka of the Shriikiri-Quah (the Hawk-Clan), Akbat Whose-Tongue-Gives-Life, Quahjothka of the Shundar-Quah (the Spire Clan) and Durbeth Lifebreath, Quahjothka of the Skoan-Quah (the Skull Clan). The other Shoanti inside the war-yurt sit down as well, curious to witness this intriguing encounter. Krojun, Thousand Bones and Saamesh are among them, as is One-life, the chief of Thousand Bones’ tribe.

The companions also introduce themselves and Quint explains why they are here. After the death of King Eodred, the ‘Quahjothka’ of Korvosa, his wife Ileosa took control and has been showing ever more apparent signs of evil and madness. The party has tried to counter this malevolence, but they found themselves insufficiently equipped or skilled to succeed, especially after Ileosa displayed virtual immortality when she was shot in the head by an accomplished warrior who had discovered her evil as well. The arrow to her temple should have felled an auroch bull, but instead it hardly phased her, as she simply plucked the bolt from her head and attacked the warrior with it. The ‘feeble’ Korvosan woman grabbed the seasoned warrior by the throat and lifted the 200 pound man off the ground as if he were a twig, killing him with one single blow. The companions now suspect that the queen is under the influence of the ancient ‘evil’ that was supposedly buried under the mastaba. If she is not stopped, queen Ileosa will destroy both of their people, Quint continues, referring to Thousand Bones’ spirit quest and the vision of the shadow dragon swallowing the Shoanti horses and Korvosan wolves alike, leaving no one alive. “That is why we have come: to learn more about this evil and find out how they can fight it.”

Quint also knows that the Shoanti are wary of outsiders and only truly accept their own: other (full-blood) Shoanti or – on very rare occasions – non-Shoanti who have proven themselves worthy. That entails that the companions will have to try and acquire enough of the Shoanti’s respect through their past deeds. So the bard spins a story of who the party is and what they have achieved. Sometimes he finds it hard to explain, because many urban concepts are foreign to his audience. The Shoanti do have a word for children who’ve lost their parents, but the words lacks the undertone of being abandoned as the term ‘orphan’ does, because the tribes always take care of such children. His listeners also frown when Quint describes the many excesses of ‘corruption’ he and his friends have fought over the last couple of months in Korvosa, probably reinforcing the wildlings’ prejudice that so-called civilized society is actually anything but civilized and definitely not honorable. Throughout his tale Quint makes sure to point out that his party does not seek to cause conflict, but they do not avoid it when it slaps them in the face. Although they prefer a peaceful solution, they will resort to violence if necessary.

Sjo supports Quint’s story by singling out the deeds he and his friends have accomplished that involved Shoanti. He shows the token of friendship they received from Thousand Bones when they provided aid in dire circumstances in the city of Korvosa, he recounts the time they freed an ancient Shoanti tumulus of vile bugbear intruders and offers the medallion they retrieved from that tomb to Akbat Whose-Tongue-Gives-Life, the Quahjothka of the Shundar-Quah, whose ancestors were buried there. He also points out that he and his friends took the shape of natural animals in their journey to the spirit world, which indicated that their hearts were in the right place, and connects that vision quest to the rescue of Saamesh from the orc city of Urgir. He ends his intervention with the defeat of the Cinderlander and hands the Shoanti killer’s vicious weapon, his repeating crossbow, to the Quah’s leaders as a sign of closure. Balian also adds an argument by reminding the council that the companions recently accepted Krojun’s tests and – even though they did not beat the Sklar-Quah champion in these challenges – they did prove themselves capable. The broad-shouldered warrior confirms this claim with a smile of respect on his face.

When they have finished their plea, Valkur asks the companions to leave, so the council can deliberate what to do. He offers them the camp’s hospitality until the council comes up with an answer. Saamesh leads the companions out and takes them to one of the many campfires. There he is greeted heartily and the tribesmen around the fire immediately offer him and his guests a place by the fire and food. A sassy young girl with bright red hair and white paint around her eyes hugs Saamesh for a long time. When he introduces his rescuers to her, she is very grateful that they saved her brother. “My name is D’ari Firehair”, she says, as she turns to the fire and tears off a chunk of meat from the roast. She offers it to Balian: “Here, put some meat on those bones, you look like you enjoy a good piece of chow.” The ranger gratefully accepts and sinks his teeth into the savory flesh. “Seems like it has been a long time since you had yourself some fine meat. Don’t they like flesh in Korvosa?” she smiles, bowing forward and offering Balian a clear view into her cleavage. Then she reaches for the ranger’s shoulder, letting her hand glide to the hilt of his greatsword and pulling it out of its sheath. She weighs the heavy weapon, lets her eyes glide over the blade and then wields it in grand archers with apparent ease. Her final swing ends just under Balian’s chin. She pushes the tip against his skin: “Sklar-Quah women are as hot as fire, Korvosan, and as deadly as the rays of the sun.” With the gentlest of pushes she draws a single drop of blood from the ranger’s throat. Then she flicks the sword around and hands it back to its owner, hilt first. “Still, for my brother’s savior, I’m willing to make an exception”, she smiles. As Balian reaches for his greatsword, she pulls him closer and presses a fiery kiss on his lips. “Don’t ever say that D’ari Firehair knows no gratitude”, she teases, and gives the ranger a light slap in his behind. The other Shoanti laugh. Apparently this little show has served perfectly to break the ice.

During the meal Saamesh expands on his time in Urgir and explains how the party saved him from certain death. By the time the meal is done, the Korvosan heroes feel right at home. None of the Shoanti around this fire show any hostility, on the contrary, they seem to welcome the strangers in their camaraderie. D’ari remains at Balian’s side and continues to tease him the whole time. When the final rays of the sun almost sink behind the horizon, the camp bursts out in commotion. Three dark shapes in the sky close in fast against the dying of the light. Each of the giant eagle-like birds carries a rider on its back. These are the mighty rocs of the Tammir-Quah, the Wind Clan. Some enthusiastic young boys cry out in rapture: “The rocs are coming, the rocs are coming!” D’ari explains that they are expecting at least four thousand warriors and healers. Everyone should be here in two weeks’ time. That is when the army will leave for Korvosa.

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20 Arodus 4708

The next morning the companions gather for breakfast. Thousand Bones greets them and asks if they are ready for the journey. Off to the side, an older Shoanti woman is cooking up something hearty in a large pot. Suddenly a screech tears through the air. The sound seems to be coming from the north and ends close to the breakfast circle. The elderly cook buckles and tumbles to the ground, a bolt sticking from her neck. Out of thin air two red mantis assassins appear and attack the unwary party. Wicked-Claws, the wingless dragonne that protects the tribe, rears its scaly head when it sees a big leopard charging from behind one of the tents.

In no time the Shoanti camp is in complete chaos. Puk tries to get the people to hide in the tents, but panic has taken a hold of them, which makes some of them run around wildly instead of hide. The scarlet-clothed assassins are both joined by giant-sized red mantis insects and a few seconds later two other large monsters burst from the sand: these abominations have the upper body of a human, while their lower half is that of a humongous scorpion. Their deadly claws and poisonous stingers flash left and right, damaging Balian, but also making some casualties among the Shoanti commoners. Sjo tries to pinpoint the source of the ranged attack and finds it when three screaming bolts plant themselves in his chest, causing grievous wounds: a hitman is hiding behind a big rock off to the north. The pin-cushioned healer already has to resort to his magical cures. Thousand Bones’ venerable age has made him a fragile man, but he still possesses some powerful magic, and attempts to dispel one of the summoned mantises. The insect pops away as suddenly as it appeared. Quint takes up his support role and casts haste. Meanwhile Balian, Spyder and Puk launch their melee attacks and dish out serious damage. Puk already manages to slay one of the assassins and sees him poof away in red smoke as he falls. Saamesh, the rescued spy, also joins the fray, but his defenses are far inferior to the party’s, so he suffers greatly. Balian confronts a scorpionman, bearing down on him again and again with his greatsword. The creature loses three limbs in the attack, but still has enough legs left to stand and return the attack. It is aided by the sudden appearance out of nowhere of yet another Red Mantis assassin, a killer whose armor’s shape suggests that she is female. She delivers a vicious blow to the ranger. The surviving giant mantis turns on Saamesh, who bears the beating stoically, but falls to the ground when a bolt from the mysterious archer hit him hard. Another shot takes down Balian.

With two fighters out of the game, it is time for some battlefield control: Sjo freezes the female assassin in place with hold person, but the archer resists a similar spell and a cacophonous call from Quint. Next the bard makes the campfire explode in a bright flash, which blinds the male assassin, a scorpionman and the leopard, who is locked in combat with Wicked-Claws behind the main tent. Spyder suffers the same fate, but uses his instinct to continue his attacks anyway with surprising ease; naturally the blinded opponents try to do the same. Thousand Bones moves closer to the source of the deadly bolts and recognizes the Cinderlander hiding behind a rocky outcropping. The old medicine man finally manages to neutralize the danger by casting another hold person on him, which finally succeeds. Meanwhile Puk takes out a first scorpion creature and deals heavy damage to the frozen female assassin. The wingless dragonne leaves the sight-robbed leopard groping in the dark and turns on the second giant mantis. Gushing blood from one of his wounds, unconscious Balian is in danger of bleeding out, so Sjo helps his friend with a cure critical wounds. Quint and Thousand Bones provide further healing for the ranger, who tries to regain his feet. Despite his blindness Spyder manages to kill the female assassin next, who disappears in a puff of red smoke as well. Puk presses the final Red Mantis murderer, who takes down Sjo in turn. Fortunately Thousand Bones is close to lend assistance, one healer to another. Spyder continues his streak of good luck and finishes off the final assassin. Apparently the outdoor environment of the Cinderlands agree with the city dog. As the assassin pops away in red clouds, the giant mantis he summoned disappears as well. The only immediate threat left is the second scorpionman; the Cinderlander is still frozen in place and his blinded leopard pet is trying to find its way back to its master. Puk and Balian turn on the foul scorpion critter, drawing blood from many wounds, but still the creature persists and snaps and stings at the ranger with success as well. Fortunately Balian possesses enough fortitude to resist the poison. Puk is no big fan of the almost spiderlike way in which the giant scorpion creeps about, but with Balian providing flanking, he can duck between the creature’s many legs and deliver the final blow.

Wasting no time, Balian charges over to the Cinderlander before the man manages to regain control of his movements. Wicked-Claws is close behind, chasing the leopard back to the archer, who finally breaks out of the hold person, but is laid low by another of Thousand Bones’s spells. The old Shoanti commands the Cinderlander to ‘grovel’, making the enemy fall prone in the dirt. A storm of attacks from all sides ends his life. By the time Sjo arrives it is already over, the Cinderlander is dead. So this deadly opponent was his biological father, was he? The healer cannot muster any pity for the man, but still sends him off with a short prayer to Pharasma. That is all the mercy this killer deserves.

Quint turns to Thousand Bones and says he is very sorry. This attack was aimed at his party, and it cost five innocent Shoanti bystanders their lives. Thousand Bones accepts his apology and says that at least one good thing came of it: the Cinderlander, who has been plaguing the Shoanti for almost two decades, is finally defeated. It is a sad day for the tribe, but a good day or all the clans in general. The victims will be honored as heroes and their names will live on in song and legend.

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Kobold Cleaver wrote:

So it's pronounced "JAM-ees juh-COBS", right?



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Quint tries to make the most of the time he is given. He ushers his friends over to the other half of the room, where they can proceed unnoticed. Using Quint’s wand and Sjo’s curing spells the companions patch up again. Quint also hands Puk the bag of holding and the halfling picks out a number of Blackjack’s masterwork daggers for himself and Sjo. Since the enemies still haven’t returned, the party decides to set a trap. Puk drops back to the floor where he went down in battle. Since he is the one who will be in immediate view when the bad guys come back, they might not notice anything is wrong until they are close. Spyder, who has been healed as well, also lays down in a pool of his own blood and plays dead. Sjo hides next to Puk, behind a pillar, while Quint waits just around the corner.

The plan works! When the enemy casters come back a few moments later, chatting merrily about their victory, they remain relaxed and unalarmed until they reach Puk’s position. Sjo launches the attack by cleverly casting silence on a coin, while Quint casts haste on his friends from just outside the silenced zone. Spyder and Quint get behind the enemies, closing off their way of escape and Puk proves that a rogue does not need magical daggers to deliver serious damage. The figure in the purple robes draws his rapier and returns the favor, giving the halfling a nasty cut. Sjo finds out that wielding a dagger is not really his thing and misses his mark. The orc mage realizes that there is nothing he can do, being surrounded in melee in a zone where he can’t voice his spells, so he tries to make a run for it, but Quint trips him. His attempt to get back up is foiled and Puk’s quick little stabs make short work of him. It is astounding how much of a difference the circumstances make. Where the mage proved a formidable and illusive opponent in the last fight, he now turns into a complete push-over. The enemy bard lasts a few breath longer, as his defenses are actually quite decent. He also seems to have some skill with his rapier, slicing a few more gashes in Puk, but then the halfing gets lucky and finds three gaps in the man’s guard. The purple figure drops to the floor.

Sjo reclaims his heavy mace from the enemies’ sack of loot, and hands back Puk’s daggers as well, while Quint pulls off the Purple Worm’s mask. His face is human. He wonders whether this might be Arnois Belzig, the Pathfinder in Grask Uldeth’s service. Detect magic reveals that the men carry some potent magic. The party moves over to the next room, a large round chamber with a floor that drops into the darkness, deeper than Sjo’s 60 feet of darkvision. There is a stone platform that stretches across the room, leading to a blank wall on the other side, but a lever in the middle of the platform can make the whole construction turn 90 degrees to reach a stone door with a small porch in the left wall. Balian’s body lies on the platform, while another bound and unconscious figure lies on the porch in front of the door. The companions quickly restore Balian to full health and turn the platform to reach the prisoner on the porch. It is Saamesh, the Shoanti spy they were looking for. When Quint frees him and nurses him back to consciousness, he recognizes the companions from their previous encounter in the spirit world, even though they were all in animal form then.

Saamesh has been beaten and tortured, not just as punishment for being a spy, but also to extract information. The Purple Worm was after two things in particular: he wanted to know where the Koldukar key was and who Saamesh’s allies were. The Shoanti could only answer truthfully by denying that he had either of those: no key and no allies! His torturer obviously did not believe him and kept on tormenting the spy to get him to talk. Saamesh tried using an old Shoanti trick to detach his spirit from his body. That is how he entered the spirit world and was able to get a message to the heroes. But the Purple Worm quickly succeeded in breaking his mental escape.

The door behind Saamesh is made of stone and radiates strong magic. It is one of the Koldukar doors that can only be opened with the Koldukar key. Saamesh marvels at how absurd life can be sometimes. He came here looking for the Purple Worm, believing that man had the mysterious key, while the Worm captured him and was convinced that he knew more about this notorious dwarven unlocking device. The Shoanti also admits that he had seriously underestimated the Purple Worm’s forces. The man had more troops than expected and was actually quite powerful, as was his magic-wielding orc ally. In hindsight, that might not be such a bad thing, Puk jokes, as he glances over the mighty loot he gathered from the two casters’ bodies.

Anyhow, the spy realizes that his cover in Urgir is blown and that his role in the orc city has come to an end. He is happy to be alive and rescued, and now he just wants to return home. He does wonder, however, how four Korvosans came to save him. From his visit in the spirit world, he knows that he can trust his rescuers, but he does not understand why they came for him: the Shoanti and Korvosa are not exactly on friendly terms. Quint explains that Korvosa’s new queen is under the influence of something evil that she unearthed in the great mastaba, and they need the Shoanti’s help and insight to fight it. Saving the son of the Sun Clan’s most influential chief might go a long way with the people of the Cinderlands, who only accept non-Shoanti if they prove themselves worthy. Saamesh promises that he will aid their cause and plead to his leaders to help his rescuers. Sjo also has a question of a more personal nature. He wants to know if Saamesh knows his mother, Aithné. The young spy nods affirmatively. She is one of the famous burn riders, a proud and capable warrior. Her father (and Sjo’s grandfather), Sun shaman Yundur Firestorm, passed away some years ago, unfortunately. She has no children, though, at least, not in the tribe, the rescued Shoanti sighs.

While Saamesh begins to formulate plans how to get out of the orc city and travel back to the Cinderlands, Quint pulls out the scroll of teleport he got from Jasan Adriel. Saamesh is delighted: traveling home overland could take up to three weeks and the journey would be fraught with danger. This magical short-cut could both figuratively and literally be a life-savior. Quint decides to take the Skull clan’s encampment, where they found Thousand Bones’ tribe, as his focus point. The magic does its work and the next moment the heroes and their new friend are back in the Kallow Hills.

The camp is still there, but it looks emptier then when the party left here six days ago. Most of the able-bodied men and women have left for the meeting in the shadow of the Great Flame. Only the elderly, children and some women remain here. Even jothka One-life and shaman Ashdancer have joined the warriors. Thousand Bones, however, is still here, waiting for the companions. He is overjoyed to see them and find out that they succeeded in their quest. Now he wants to follow his tribesmen to the gathering as quickly as possible, suggesting the party joins him there. The companions agree and take the rest of the day off to recover and distribute the loot they recovered from the orc magic-user and the Purple Worm. There are two mighty cloaks of resistance, both caster were also wearing headbands of alluring charisma, which were more powerful than the one Quint is wearing at the moment. There are other magical upgrades as well: a good amulet of natural armor, mithral buckler and chain shirt, better rings of protection for some of the party members, but the nicest item is the Purple Worm’s silver rapier. The blade has small holes that whistle in a high pitch when the weapon is wielded and deliver sonic damage. But its most wonderful property is the fact that it allows a bard to use his bardic performance to charge the weapon, allowing him to use his charisma instead of his strength to guide his strikes and deliver damage. Quint is usually the last to join melee, but with this rapier he will much better at it.

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Quint presses his back tight against the wall. His heart pounds furiously. How could everything go wrong so fast? He had not seen this coming: two powerful casters who could so easily dictate the course of the fight. And they are just around the corner, still under the influence of an improved invisibility spell, standing over the bodies of Quint’s fallen companions: one a magic-user who was mighty enough to conjure a cone of cold, the other one a bard who wielded greater power than Quint.

Quint casts an invisibility sphere on himself. Fortunately his voice is still being blocked by Sjo’s stone of silence on the floor, so the enemies can’t hear him. Then our hero quickly makes for the spot where Sjo dropped the stone and picks it up. From this position he has a clear view of the battlefield in the second half of the crypt. The two caster figures turn visible again. The first one is an orc dressed in gray robes with a red hand painted on his chest. Huge fangs jut from his jaw, mirrored by two fang-like pieces of bone sticking from his earlobes. He glances about cautiously, expecting the last surviving infiltrator to appear at any moment. At the same time he gathers Balian’s, Sjo’s and Puk’s weapons and checks their bodies for a pulse. He calls out something to his companion, the enemy bard, who is dressed in purple robes and whose face appears to be covered with a mask. Quint suspects this is Wyrnan Koch, the ‘Purple Worm’, whom he read about in Saamesh’s secret journal. This person pulls out a wand and moves over to the four orcs who went down in the battle. Two of them are still alive and the Purple Worm restores them to full health with the wand. The other two are beyond saving, it seems.

Quint repositions himself in the mouth of the stairwell. He still has a good view on the orcs from there, but can easily make his escape if he has to. He sees how the two orcs that have just been nursed back to life pick up their weapons and search the first half of the tomb, where Quint was hiding initially. Meanwhile the casters do another spell and focus on the bodies of Quint’s friends. They start stripping them of all lose magical items, from spare weapons to jewels and cloaks. Judging from the way the handle his friends, Quint can tell that they are probably still alive.

By now the two orc minions reach the end of the crypt and, having discovered no one, are about to return. Before they do so, Quint slips back into the crypt and hides behind a ruined dwarven grave. The orcs walk back - past the bard - and take the stairs leading to the next floor. Now only the two caster remain, who are still plundering the fallen heroes of anything but their armor.

Realizing that his invisibility will not last forever, Quint decides to find a better place to hide. A big sarcophagus sits in the overflow of the first and second half of this crypt. It stands a few feet from the wall, leaving just enough space for the bard to hide. It also provides a perfect view of both parts of the crypt and allows Quint to hear his enemies as well, as he now steps out of the silence zone. The casters are talking in Orcish, a language that Quint masters as well. They seems to be very pleased with the ‘fat loot’ on the intruders’ bodies, even though they will have to examine the items further to determine their exact powers. At the same time they are disappointed, because they can’t find ‘the key’. They wonder if the ‘one who got away’ might have it. The Shoanti ‘spy’ always denied having the key, but the men were never sure if they could believe him. Just imagine what they could do with that key! Open ancient doors and discover Koldukar’s hidden treasures!

Once the two casters have finished stripping down their opponents, they pull out some rope to tie them up. They obviously don’t feel like lifting up a heavy bloke like Sjo to wrap the ropes around him, so they settle for rolling him over and tying his hands behind his back. They also bind his feet together. The other fallen companions get the same treatment. The orc with the large fangs also jokes about cooking and eating Spyder later on, although Quint seriously doubts it actually is a joke. He’s seen dog on the menu in the market square.

Quint’s invisibility wears off, but he chose his hiding place well, so the two figures do not notice him and continue their tedious work. When they’re done securing the prisoners, they attach a length of rope to Balian’s feet and start pulling him to the end of the gallery, towards a set of double doors. The floor is covered in stone rubble, and even though they advance slowly, the casters laugh over the unconscious ranger’s rough ride through the debris. When they disappear through the exit, Quint finds himself alone in the crypt. He jumps to action, hurrying over to Sjo and Puk while pulling out his wand of cure serious wounds. Two gentle touches with the magic timber restore his friends to consciousness.

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Thanks for putting these up before you left, Erik. Enjoy your holiday.

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Heroclix has several version of 'Aquaman' with a trident. A rebase and possible repaint might get you what you need.

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Nice job. Very well done.

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Helel13 wrote:

Thanks MrVergee your input is always appreciated.

I have said that the player's last sidequest was all that was necessary for the cure to be complete. I would feel a little bad going back on that statement by getting another call from Cressida saying "actually, it's not done quite yet..." haha.

I could always develop a sidequest hook based on an individual character's backstory. The Bloodsworn Vale module seems interesting, about how many sessions did it take to get through it? Also might I pick your brain on hooks aside from a cure that could be used to implement the module? Something that could be interesting is assigning the PCs to work with a Grey Maiden contingency deployed to the Vale for X reason or another. Could help flesh out that faction a little bit, and a PC has been brainstorming an idea of the Field Marshal having a sister in the Maidens that could show up as an NPC.

Well, if you'd like to use the Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale module, employing Gray Maidens as well, here's an idea.

Field Marshal Cressida Kroft approaches the PCs with a personal request. She has a younger sister, Amelia, who was recruited into the Gray Maidens some time ago. The girl was sent to the Bloodsworn Vale with her company to reclaim the wilderness, because the queen has decided to reopen the trade route to Nimrathas through the vale.

Cressida Kroft hasn't heard from her sister since she left. She sent two letters, but never received an answer. Now that things have finally settled down in Korvosa, the field marshal has asked the church of Pharasma or Abadar for help, by having one of their priests cast a sending on her behalf. The cleric who cast the spell did not receive an answer. Naturally, Cressida Kroft is worried and she asks the PCs to travel to the vale to make sure her sister is safe.

You could fill Bloodsworn Vale with any threat you deem interesting, either as suggested in the module or by your own making. It would make sense if Amelia has gone missing, so the PCs would have to search the vale for her and fight its many dangerous denizens in the process. They could actually work side by side with some of the Gray Maidens and develop a closer bond with some of the female soldiers.

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Inspectre wrote:
Okay, we’re back!

Glad to see you back on your writing horse.

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I see that you have been working around finding a cure for the plague. I used that in my campaign as well.

I sent the PCs to Bloodsworn Vale to find blood cap mushrooms, a key ingrediënt for the cure. I based it vaguely on the module Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale. I you want to know what I did with it, you can check my journal and my deviantart page for the 'map' I made of the lizardmen village in the Vale.

I haven't read The House on Hook Street module yet, but that might provide a great add-on source as well, since your players will be going to Old Korvosa next.

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roloz wrote:
I stole an idea from somebody on Obsidianportal (sorry, don't remember whose). My party witnessed the whole thing as part of a vision from Zellara during her harrowing. Any other way would have most likely ended with at least a few dead PCs.

That is definitely a smart way to handle it.

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James Jacobs wrote:

So! Now that the cat's out of the bag, and the hardcover version of Curse of the Crimson Throne is announced, I just wanted to thank everyone who took the time to post feedback and criticism and suggestions in this forum. When I first started working on this project many, many months ago, I combed through all of these threads and extracted a LOT of really helpful and useful advice. Now, I'm about a week away from being done with the development of the book, at which point it gets handed over to the editors and opportunities for significant new revisions or additions are more or less cut off, but I'm confident that what folks have observed and reported on over the past nearly 10 years have covered the critical parts and lots of the other warts and blemishes as well.

And it wouldn't have been possible without all your feedback, so thanks again, everyone! And I hope you check out and enjoy the new book when it's out later this year!

I'm very excited to hear about this. I'm looking forward to finding out what has been revised and added and possibly sniff out which ideas from these messageboards made it to the new edition.

We're currently playing (my modified version of) book 4, but at the rate we're playing (slowly), I hope to get the hardcover before we finish the AP. And even if I don't, I will still get this book. Now we can start dreaming about a miniature line to accompany the new hardcover (even though I'll have to store this dream next to my Hell's Rebels miniature line dream).

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Hayato Ken wrote:
Did you consider the option of people in the process of playing an AP, but not being finished yet?

Yes, I missed that option too. Still, it is a very interesting initiative. Every AP rated on some of the same topics, but only by people who played them. So everyone speaks from personal expericience, which makes me believe in the results more.

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Skeld wrote:

I haven't run CotCT yet, but it's going to be my next campaign after we finish up RotRl in a few weeks. So... soon as my players see a picture of the Queen and realize she's a redhead, they'll assume she's the BBEG of the campaign. To date, I don't think my players have encountered a female, redheaded NPC that didn't betray them in some way.


Good luck and enjoy! It is a great campaign.

So, you have been type-casting redheads as false and conniving? No real-life inspiration, I should hope. Anyway, there is a quick fix: add a redhead that isn't evil. In my campaign, one of the PCs is engaged to Larella Semyr, the high-priestess of Shelyn. I made her redhead as well and she's been nothing but good to the PC.

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The song definitely fits the theme. Here's my take on the lyrics:

Do you see the Raven fly
Singing the song of Silver Men
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of his wings
Echoes the beating of your heart
And the Silver Song he sings
Hails a brand new start!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
No longer be afraid
Of Thrune abuse and tyranny!
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right
To be free!

Do you see the Raven fly
Singing the song of Silver Men
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of his wings
Echoes the beating of your heart
And the Silver Song he sings
Hails a brand new start!

With Kintargo under siege
Will you find the strength inside?
To practice what you preach
And no longer be denied
The right to be free
So come on and fight at my side!

Do you see the Raven fly
Singing the song of Silver Men
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of his wings
Echoes the beating of your heart
And the Silver Song he sings
Hails a brand new start!

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The party slips away from the market district before the orc guards notice them. Some passers-by definitely recognize Sjo and Balian for humans, but since they are still in a ‘pinkskin-allowed’ zone, their presence does not immediately raise suspicion. Making their way down a street in the direction of the temple district, the heroes resume their search for a hide-out for the night. Quint spots a ruined building in a street that veers off to the left. A recent earthquake took the house down, taking its now half-rotted owner with it. There are signs that the place was plundered afterwards, which comes as no surprise in this inhospitable orc city. The back kitchen of the building miraculously survived the quake and is still standing. Its door has been kicked in, but enough of it remains to block the bottom half of the entrance. The companions take refuge in the ruined room and rest up, making sure to keep watch all night.

19 Arodus 4708

It is still early in the morning when the party members have regained their energy and spells and leave for the temple district. At this hour of day (or rather night) the city seems to be at its quietest. Quint uses his make-up skills to give everyone a half-orc appearance. Although it will probably not pass scrutiny, it might suffice to fool anyone who casually glances at the heroes. Following the directions they received yesterday, the companions find a broad lane that leads them out of the tunnels to a grand square. The first rays of the sun light an impressive cathedral, obviously a feat of dwarven architecture. The massive building of marble stone rises over a hundred feet into the air. Still, orc interference has had its effect: rusted metal plates with spikes and barbed spears adorn the front of the temple. The walls above these plates bear crude paintings of orcs in battle. Various statues have been defiled and remodeled to look like orcs or vile beasts. A broad set of stairs provides access to the immense front doors. Six orc soldiers stand at attention at the entrance.

Checking the map in the spy’s notes again, the companions figure out that they have to get to the back of the temple. Keeping to the far edge of the square, the party circles the cathedral, easily making it to the other side. The focal point of a smaller square at the back side of the temple is a large fountain that must have been beautiful once. Various animals and creatures of stone lie at the feet of three central statues. These one-time dwarven heroes have been resculpted into hideous orcs. A dozen spouts spew out reddish-brown water that smells of rust and sewage. Fortunately this corner of the city is quiet at this time of day. Puk jumps over the statues to the central figures and starts looking for a secret door. Quint joins him, but their first quick search does not reveal anything. Then Puk gets into a dwarven mindset. Where would he hide a secret mechanism if he was a dwarf? A burrowing animal perhaps? Checking the different animal statues, the halfling discovers a small mole figure. When he presses the blind creature’s eyes simultaneously, a slab of stone behind the central sculptures slides up. Squeezing between the statues and the wall, the heroes reach the entrance, which leads down into the dark.

The stairs take the companions to a small dwarven crypt. Quint casts light on a coin to allow the party to see. All the graves have been plundered a long time ago; only broken stone, dust and bones remain. A second set of stairs in the center of the room leads further down. Puk’s keen ears pick up orc voices from below. Quint performs a round of heroism on the party before they dive deeper into the earth. A second, slightly bigger crypt holds a troop of ten orcs, half of whom carry an axe, the other five wield swords. Sjo opens combat with a fireball, while Quint casts haste and starts satire to debuff the enemies. Balian swings his greatsword with great fervor, cutting down one orc in the first moments of combat. He forms a line with Puk to shield his friends, but the two of them get completely surrounded by enemies. Spyder blocks off another orc who tries to circle around the back pillar of the room. Sjo calls forth a prayer to aid his friends and debuff the orcs even more, while Quint summons six mirror images and draws his blade to assist Spyder. Balian and Puk take down two more orcs, but the ranger suffers some grievous wounds himself and requires healing. Sjo jumps to the rescue, giving Balian enough breath to cut down another orc with one mighty blow. The healer is now in the thick of battle as well and gets dealt a bloody cut. Puk and Balian push the attack and skewer two more opponents. Still the remaining orcs show no sign of backing down, dealing a few more wounds before they too fall to the heroes’ weapons. After patching themselves up and storing some loot in their bag of holding, the companions take a spiral staircase that descends even deeper in the earth.

Once more Puk hears the sound of orcs grunting and arguing below. Sjo fears the rattling of his heavy plate will give him away and enspells a coin with silence, so he can move down unheard. The heroes reach a third, even larger crypt where they spot some light coming from behind the corner. Puk scouts ahead and sees four orcs down the hall. Quint decides to pull them in and uses ghost sound to simulate the noise of a skeleton rising in one of the plundered tombs. The orcs take a few moments before they move in to explore. Puk, who is hiding behind a pillar near the orcs, hears someone casting a few spells first and someone else starting a bardic song of inspiration. When the orcs storm past, the halfling stabs one of them in the back, continuing his attacks until the creature goes down. Quint casts haste on the party, but notices that the orcs have been similarly enhanced. An axe-wielding orc bears down on Puk now and delivers a tremendous blow. Sjo attacks the orc fighter, while Quint lashes out with his whip and trips one of the orc rogues. The creature gets back up quickly, suffering two attacks of opportunity from Balian and Spyder in the process, but in turn he gives the ranger a vicious cut as well. Puk realizes that the three remaining orcs he and his friends are currently targeting are nothing but cannon fodder for two invisible casters who are coming up from deeper in the crypt. One caster’s slow spell lifts both his and Spyder’s haste, while the other one keeps bolstering the skirmishing orcs with his song. Once more the axe-wielder hits the halfling with incredible strength, knocking the unfortunate halfling unconscious. The creature continues his attacks on Sjo and survives Quint’s trip attempt. Spyder senses that one of the invisible casters has crawled up close and suddenly sees how a cone of cold seems to appear out of thin air, catching all standing heroes in its blast. The orc rogue backstabs Sjo and the healer goes down as well. Balian stands the hero and cuts down the visible orcs in quick succession, but gets covered in glitterdust by one of the casters and cannot see anything anymore as a result. A moment later three scorching rays take the ranger out, while one of the invisible attackers – the singing bard – now targets Spyder with his blade. Although the dog smells where the assailant is, it does not succeed in biting him. Quint hides behind one of the pillars around the corner and casts mirror image on himself, while the unseen bard presses the attack on Spyder and defeats the dogs as well. Four down, one to go! Now where is that annoying human bard hiding?

This is where we left the session, everyone in the party has been knocked into their negatives, except for Quint, who is tucked away behind a pillar around the corner. Two powerful casters, hiding under the cloak of improved invisibility and having suffered no wounds yet, are eager to face him. Let’s see if the bard manages to squeeze out of this one, so we can continue our group’s famous mantra: “Give thanks to the bard!”

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I included this scene in my game and I'm glad I did. It is a cut-scene, that's true, so no intervention is 'allowed'. But the effect of the scene is much bigger when you have the PCs present.

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My wish for James' secret project: he's planning a long trip in a place cut off from the outside world, giving him time to recover from all these years of hard work and dedication to Paizo and its audience without having to check the boards and answer all our cries for help and insight. We'd surely miss you, James, but it would be worth it, knowing that you'd get the chance to recharge those batteries and be there for us for many years to come.

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To a man dressed in shiny armor rust monsters inspire a fair amount of fear, more so than a mantidrake or three terror birds, who are in fact fiercer opponents. Quint hastes his friends and makes for the stairs at the end of the room, drawing away the invisibility from anyone but himself. Waiting at the top of the wooden steps is another nasty surprise: orcs! Meanwhile Sjo, Puk and Spyder take care of the rust eating beasts with ease, while Balian tanks the terror birds. Uri, the little orc guide, hides under the table and just watches what happens. Quint presses up against the wall as the orcs from above charge down. Still, one of them, who looks the smartest and probably has the keenest senses, spots the invisible bard on the stairs and stabs him with his dagger. “You see,” he screams, “the purple worm was right, he wasn’t alone!”

Sjo rushes past the mantidrake to give Puk flanking, allowing the halfling to cut down the creature in a matter of seconds. By now two orcs have joined the fight on the ground floor, one is engaging Quint on the stairs, while two more archers appear and fire upon Sjo. Their arrows fail to pierce his armor. Despite the number of opponents, the fight turns out to be easy. The enemy has a hard time wounding the party and one by one the birds and orcs go down. The dagger-wielding leader of the orcs tries to make a run for it, but is literally held in place by Sjo’s magic. The heroes disarm him and lock him up in a small cage.

After a few rounds of healing the party explores upstairs. There is no sign of the building’s proprietor Hobar, his bedroom has been ransacked and a small book lies open on his desk, with several sheets of scribbled notes on the side. The book itself is written in code and the notes are someone’s failed attempt to make sense of the secret writing. Quint relishes at the challenge to decipher it and starts studying the strange letters. It takes him little over an hour to break the code and read the notes, obviously the work of the Shoanti spy.

The log contains all kinds of data on the orcs in Urgir. It confirms that Grask Uldeth, the orc overlord, is seated firmly on the throne, in a way that few of his predecessors ever did. He’s been in power for over two decades and has used these years to plant his own pawns in the other orc clans to strengthen his influence. His many, many children have been married off to countless sons and daughters of other orc warlords. He controls an army of over 7,000 strong in Urgir and can call to arms at least double and likely even thrice this number from the other tribes in a relatively short amount of time.

The book also focuses on Uldeth’s decision to allow pinkskins in the city. This policy started about nine years ago and has proven very successful: the coffers have never been so full and there is a steady supply of weapons, magic and knowledge. The orc leader has also appointed a human pathfinder as his councilor recently, probably to aid him in his efforts to unearth hidden dwarven treasures and secrets which might still be buried under the former sky citadel. The pathfinder’s talent for exploration and keen archeological insight will certainly be useful in this endeavor.

The most recent notes in the book mention someone named Wyrnan Korch, the Purple Worm, a person of some interest in the church of Rovagug, the Rough Beast, god of the orcs. Korch has been spending more time in the seedier parts of town lately, gathering mercenaries and allies. According to the log he is searching for the Key of Koldukar (the ancient dwarven name of Urgir). This key is rumored to provide access to unknown and unopened dwarven tunnels under the city. In the hands of a spy such a key would be of immense worth, allowing him to move about unseen from one side of the city to the other. The writer of the log decides to shadow Wyrnan Koch. His final notes includes a sketch of the temple of Rovagug; an arrow points to the southern corner of the building. It reads: “Purple Worm entered here through secret door”.

When the companions head back down to question the prisoner, they notice that little Uri has disappeared without a trace. The front door stands slightly ajar. Quint addresses the caged orc, pretending to be an agent of Arnois Belzig, Uldeth’s new pathfinder advisor. The orc admits that he and his men were stationed here after they helped ‘arrest’ the spy who lived here. They were to ambush any of the spy’s contacts, so when a group of pinkskins walked in, he naturally assumed that they conspired with the spy. When Quint asks the prisoner where the temple of Rovagug is situated, he wonders why Belzig’s agents would not know something so trivial. Balian thinks the orc has served his purpose and silences him.

The companions return to the streets, feeling ill at ease at the thought that Uri might have betrayed them. The orc child knows where they are staying and witnessed how the killed several orcs in Hobar’s house. If he has decided to snitch to the guard, the party is not safe here anymore. As they retrace their steps through the city to the market square, they scout for a good place to lay low for the night, but no obvious hide-out turns up. At one point, while still walking through the all-orc district, a passer-by notices Balian, shouts at him and moves in to pull back his hood. The ranger reacts immediately by punching the assailant in the face. Only then does he see that the orc was actually a woman. The ranger pulls his hood even closer over his head and picks up the pace before other bystanders join in. When they finally get back to the market, Puk sneaks ahead to assess the situation. The rogue notices several Urgir guards at the Pinkhouse, asking questions. Other guards are making inquiries on the market square. The heroes try to blend in for a while, but when the guards come too close, they decide to move. Quint addresses a random orc servant at one of the stalls and asks him for the way to the temple of Rovagug. After receiving directions the bard casts memory lapse on the orc, so he won’t remember the conversation.

Much of this adventure was inspired by In the Shadows of Spinecastle from Dungeon magazine # 148.

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That is exactly where my party is at: they still doubt that Ileosa is the real evil and suspect her new seneschal Togomor might actually be pulling the strings. Now, in part 4, they'll find out more about the teeth of midnight, which might even strengthen their conviction that Ileosa is a puppet - which, all things considered, is not too far from the truth.

Anyhow, what I like most about my players' point of view, is that it allows me the option to make Ileosa redeemable. We'll see how things go and how the players' ambitions evolve. If they want to make it their goal to save Ileosa, I could still give them that opportunity.

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Paizo caters to a lot of customers, so some of its APs are right up my alley (Hell's Rebels blew me away), while others are not for me. Since we take years to finish just one AP in our group, I can afford to cherry-pick my favorites. Still, I'd probably cancel my subscription for a Tian Xia AP.

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18 Arodus 4708

The next morning, at breakfast, Sjo does not feel inclined to explore the city further. He fears that wandering about the city blindly and asking questions might raise more suspicion than answer questions. He trusts that the Pinkhouse is probably the best place to find the information he needs. Looking around the taproom he sees the same people who were here yesterday morning. The tall weapons dealer from Sandpoint is at one of the tables, as is Brugo, the cloth trader from Nimrathas, who is having a meal with his two men who look like his assistants. Puk, Quint and Balian visit the market with little Uri again, but do little more than stretch their legs. The most daring thing they do, is try a local specialty: bulette on a stick.

After spending a couple of hours watching his pitcher of beer grow warm, Sjo sees the empty barroom fill up with a handful of customers again during lunchtime. Brugo returns, although he has left his assistants at the market. Sjo follows the trader to the toilet and starts a casual conversation. Brugo discreetly asks Sjo if he is a Shoanti, because the tribesmen from the Cinderlands are generally made to feel even less welcome in Urgir than other pinkskins. Sjo explains that he is a halfblood, but he still appreciates the warning. He wonders if Brugo knows about any remarkable incidents with Shoanti in the past. The trader says that he has heard some tales about Shoanti barbarians whose pride got in the way of … surviving, and he adds that he actually knows of a Shoanti who lives here, but the man does his best not to look like one of the wildlings, in fact, he wears a clever disguise that makes him seem like a halforc. It’s a daring, but sensible move, Brugo explains, especially for a man who does business in the all-orc districts. Brugo met him in The Pit of Doom, one of Urgir’s fighting pits, where the man delivers monster for death matches.

When his friends return, Sjo gets Uri to lead them to The Pit, but only after they have cast some long-term buffs, like heroism. The orc boy proves his worth again by cleverly guiding the party through throngs of orcs, avoiding the meanest and toughest hotspots in the crowd. Using the hoods of their gray cloaks to hide their faces, Balian and Puk try to keep from being noticed, while Sjo and Quint imitate an orcish way of moving about to blend in. Uri keeps the pace high enough to prevent little mishaps. By the time a more perceptive orc suspects something fishy about the group, they have already moved on.

The Pit of Doom is situated in a part of the city that must have once been a warehouse district for the dwarves. The buildings here are bigger and more basic in design than the fancier neighborhoods the travelers have visited until now. Still, the orcs use most of these storehouses as apartment block in what feels like the run-down corner of town. One such barn-sized stone building bears a wooden sign above the entry, depicting a simple pit. The double doors stand ajar, allowing raucous laughter, curses and grunts to filter out to the street. Inside the depot serves as a massive taproom, with a ceiling that reaches a height of 20 feet. Thick stone arches support the slightly cracked roof and have chains hanging down from them with burning lanterns. The smell of cheap alcohol, blood and urine permeates the air, but does not seem to bother the many patrons, for indeed, despite the early hour, the place is already quite packed with orcs and a handful of half-orcs. The only humans in here are slaves who serve drinks and while none of them looks like fighters, they all bear signs of being beaten.

The arrival of the gray cloaked party draws enough attention for one of the orc patrons to peek under Sjo’s hood and recognize a pinkskin. The creature spits on the ground in front of the healer and growls: “Hey, slave, fetch me a drink!” The others at his table burst into laughter, which makes even more orcs in the tavern aware of the company’s presence. The heroes of Korvosa chose to ignore the provocation and pick a table at the far end of the room. The chairs have been nailed back together so many times that they look like the final failure of a dying one-handed carpenter with a blind eye. The whole bar is set up around a cave-in in the center of the hall, which has been filled with earth to create a flat surface for the fighting pit. A stone pillar rises in the middle of the arena, heavy chains hanging from its sides. The bartender operates the place from a large caged bar at the back of the common room.

A human slave takes the party’s order, eying them with a mixture of amazement and fear. His visit at the table is quickly followed by a burly orc who walks up with a broad smile of confidence on his scarred face. His hands rest casually on the pommels of two short swords, hanging from his belt. “Tough pinkskin, come here looking for a fight, hey?” he spits in Orcish.

“We heard about this wonderful place”, Quint replies, weaving the power of fascination in his words, “and the spectacular fights that it hosts. We wanted to see for ourselves, as spectators, of course.” Next the bard mixes a suggestion in his exposé: “Why don’t you get us a drink and tell us about it?”

“Har, har, I’ll get you a drink all right, little man, while you think about who you’re going to send into the pit to face me!” the orc shouts for the whole bar to hear. “One versus one, or two versus two, your choice!” Next the orc does indeed get the companions some ale, expecting an answer to the challenge he issued upon his return. Sjo and Balian accept, having just learned from Uri that these death matches have no rules, so any magic is permitted. As the two of them descend into the arena, Puk joins the betting pool at the caged bar, matching all the orcs’ money with 400 gold. The crowd gathers around the pit and starts shouting: “Arrodok! Arrodok!” The orc gladiator jumps in as well and waits for his partner to arrive: a humongous troll with a hefty warhammer in his left hand and a cruel blade in his right. The onlookers purr with delight as the monster glides in the ring.

The troll is the first to strike: he lunges at Balian and glances the ranger’s shoulder with his hammer. From the crowd Quint attempts to influence the fight with satire, but the loud cheers from the orcs around him drown his word of mockery. Arrodok and Balian exchange blows while Sjo surprises everyone by throwing two fireballs in rapid succession at his adversaries, having them wonder how the hell a fully-plated warrior casts spells like a wizard? Especially the troll seems shocked, obviously harboring a fathomless fear for fire. The flames of Sjo’s fireball even blow over the edge of the pit, taking out three spectators in the crowd. Balian has a harder time impressing the bystanders and sees his swings parried. The troll has no doubts about who his biggest threat is and focuses his attention on Sjo. He rages with fury and knocks the fire-wielding warrior off his feet. Arrodok is likewise inspired and slices at Balian with swift strikes. Sjo, who is still on the ground, seeks to freeze the orc gladiator in place with a hold person, but the fighter miraculously summons enough willpower to resist. Balian struggles to keep to his feet and counterattacks, cutting a deep gash in the orc with his first strike, but seeing his second blow go wide. Using heroic inspiration he attempts another hit, but threatens to miss again. From the side of the pit Quint interferes by having his bardic magic guide the ranger’s attack true; the crowd’s cries are so loud that they easily mask his meddling. Balian’s corrected arch hits Arrodok hard in the head and the orc goes down. The troll grunts, but continues his furious charge on the prone fire-wielder and gets two more hits in. Sjo encloses the brute in a wall of fire, making the creature’s morale drop even more. The troll’s instincts tell him to run, his fear forcing him to give up his rage and making him flee to the other side of the pit, where he takes a few breath to compose himself. Sjo uses the opportunity to get to his feet and cast a powerful cure critical wounds on Balian, steering the ranger away from the edge of death. Balian now takes a defensive stand in front of Sjo, blocking the troll path to his friend. The troll is still a bit shaky on his feet, but rejoins the fight and tries to cut Balian out of his way to vengeance, but the ranger deflects almost all of his hits. In the meantime Sjo throws fireball upon fireball at the monster, until finally, he succumbs to the burns. The crowd around the pit suddenly goes quiet. Uri is the first to break the silence, as he yells out in victory and even urges the other orcs to applaud the companions’ triumph as well, without success however. The shame of losing to pinkskins combined with the loss of money in the betting pool compels the patrons of the Pit of Doom to muteness.

While Sjo uses his powers of healing to patch him and Balian up, Quint and Puk head to the bar to pick up their winnings. Quint sees how the bartender reluctantly reaches for two pouches of coin. The bard inquires about the ‘monsters’ that are rumored to be an attraction in the pit, as he would love to see such beasts for himself. The barkeep says that he hasn’t heard from his supplier in several days and when Quint prompts him to elaborate, he reveals that he normally buys his pit monsters from a half-orc named Hobar, who lives only two blocks away. His house is easy to spot, someone has painted a message on the barn door: “Pinkskins out, orcs first!” Quint tips the orc and motions for his friends to leave.

Uri has no trouble locating Hobar’s place, which has two points of entry: a big barn door and a set of double doors into the main building. Puk tries the lock and finds it open already. He pushes in, stepping into a peculiar place of business, a monster dealership. The room behind the counter houses two big cages: one with a dragon-like creature – a mantidrake - and another one with three large birds. There is a wooden door behind the dragon cage and a set of stairs leading up. Quint covers his friends in invisibility, but when they advance into the room, something behind the wooden door reacts to their presence. At that exact moment all doors open simultaneously, releasing the mantidrake and terror birds, and revealing two rust monsters behind door number three, their antennae feverishly reaching for the metal of the companions’ arms and armor.

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17 Arodus 4708

At breakfast Balian and Puk study the other humans in the inn more carefully. One of them seems to be a bit taller, six feet four at least, and he sports a broad pair of shoulders under his grey cloak. He might be a Shoanti, though his face does not immediately look very barbarian-like. Guide Uri returns and when Quint asks him if they can go and see the palace, the boy advises against it. Admittedly the palace is marvelous to behold, but it is not located in a quarter that is not frequented by pinkskins. Grask Uldeth does not appreciate strangers snooping about, unless he invites them himself, like that one human who is rumored to stay in the palace at the moment.

“A human at the palace?” Quint wonders.

“Yes, a … how you call that … pathfinder, you know, those fellows who like looking for old things.”

The Pathfinder Society, Quint explains, is a globe-spanning organization based out of Absalom, the world's largest city. The membership consists primarily of Pathfinders, adventurers who travel throughout Golarion - usually inconspicuously - and explore, delve, and otherwise experience the lesser-seen parts of the world. They send journals documenting their travels back to their venture-captain, who also assigns them new missions and suggests new places to explore. The most exciting and illuminating of these journals are compiled in the Pathfinder Chronicles, an ongoing series of books which collect the history and mystery of Golarion for their membership.

The day-to-day management of the Pathfinder Society is in the hands of so-called venture-captains. These are usually older or accomplished Pathfinders who have settled down and claimed a Pathfinder lodge for themselves. They maintain no permanent presence in Korvosa, Quint concludes, although several members of their organization have certainly been in the city in the past, usually hailing from the lodge in Magnimar. Still, the bard has never knowingly encountered a pathfinder himself.

When the ‘six feet four’ tall trader leaves the inn, the companions follow him out. Quint approaches him as he is unloading his wares from storage. He is originally from Sandpoint, but he has been in Urgir for some time now to sell weapons, something the orcs are very interested in. Quint recognizes a Varisian accent in the man’s words, ruling him out as a Shoanti. The companions join the man to his stall and after he has set up shop, they go explore the market for themselves. Again Quint shouts out to Sjo regularly, calling him ‘Saamesh’ instead. The healer sometimes swears out loud in the language of the Shoanti as well, but no one reveals himself to them as the real Saamesh. Balian also spots something nasty: the rooftops surrounding the market are crowned with strange features, no stone gargoyles, though, but pale orc heads impaled on spikes. Uri clarifies what the ghastly crenellations are about: Lord Grask Uldeth has declared that no one bearing a token is to be touched without good cause. Orcs who want to harm token-protected pinkskins anyway, had better do so in a dark alley without witnesses, or they will suffer Uldeth’s wrath. Puk is unsure whether this grisly display of merciless force should make him feel abhorred or relieved.

Suddenly the earth trembles! Balian immediately calls out for Spyder to stay calm, while Sjo is already searching for a good spot to look for shelter. Then the companions notice that the quake hardly startled anyone. When Quint asks Uri about it, he confirms that tremors like this are quite common. No one really cares about them, unless their own home collapses, he states casually.

The companions decide to widen their search by having lunch in another tavern. They can chose between several dozen pubs, inn and taverns that surround the market and could possibly feed the occasional pinkskins. Yet, they pick poorly; the only human in the bar of their choice is a slave who serves food. He strongly advises against drinking the wine, but even the beer he brings tastes awful. Going through all the establishments in the district will not only be a lengthy, but also gruesome process, Sjo concludes. There must be a better way to find the mysterious Shoanti.

In the afternoon the young men from Korvosa hang around the marketplace some more. Sjo starts asking around about the Pathfinder in the palace and learns his true name: Arnois Belzig. Still, no one has actually come across the man in person, they have only picked up rumors that the adventurer-explorer serves as the Great Warlord Grask Uldeth’s advisor. Upon their return to the Pinkhouse later that evening, another human customer stumbles into Sjo and slips him a note.

Be careful. The walls have ears. Don’t ask too many questions or the orcs will start wondering about you as well. Keep your heads low and your voices under control if you want to live. Distrust everyone, the orcs, naturally, but also members of your own kind.

The man slips out of the drinking hall and makes for the toilet; where Quint joins him on a long wooden bench hanging over a reeking pit. Despite the public nature of these facilities, there is no one else around.

“Good evening, young sir”, he greets in a steady, monotonous voice and with an even face. Quint senses that the stranger’s measure of control is deliberate. The bard returns the hello and identifies himself as Quint from Korvosa.

“My name is Brugo, from Nimrathas. I deal in cloth and fancy dresses for the occasional uptown orc lady or the frilly frolics in the local brothels. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise”, Quint tips his head.

“If I might be so bold as to offer you some advice”, Brugo continues in his hushed tone. “Do not draw too much attention to yourself. Asking about Grask Uldeth’s business too adamantly will sooner get you troubles than answers. Orcish honor and loyalty only extends to their own, and even then it is not assured. But no such qualms exist about us pinkskins. Literally anyone and everyone might tell on you if he feels he can benefit from it. Make no mistake, little brother is watching you at all times, unless you are truly alone, as we are in here, for the moment.”

“Thanks for your kind councel”, Quint replies, considering whether he should ask the man about Shoanti in Urgir, or someone named Saamesh. But the bard decides against it for now. Perhaps he will see this Brugo again tomorrow. For now he judges it wiser to heed the man’s warning and remain silent.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

This tale contains even more inspiration from Eando Kline's adventure in Urgir.

Walking through the gates of Urgir, the companions immediately see for themselves that this was once one of the greatest cities in the world, bearing a grandeur that not even a hundred generations of orcs could completely tarnish. Having witnessed the Sky Citadel of Janderhoff, the travelers thought they had seen dwarven architecture at its best, but the splendor of ancient Koldukar, as Urgir was formerly known, must have been truly breathtaking. A huge boulevard paved with marble fit for queen Ileosa’s throne room stretches into the city, winding between monumental buildings and imposing statues that seem to grow from the stone itself. Supported by vast arches and buttresses edifices are crowned one atop another in a seemingly endless heap. Some of the grand avenues soar up this hill, while other thoroughfares become tunnels that dig into the city’s heart, where the architecture is so dense as to become subterranean. This is the lifework of generations of dwarven master builders, a triumph of engineering and imagination.

Still, this wonderful city also bears undeniable signs of degradation: statues have been crudely defiled, a line of crumbled buildings sloughs down the mountain like a landslide, stonework meant to last millennia is cracked and buckles under the weight of ancient wounds. Sewage flows down the streets and gives the city entry a reek that clashes with its awe-inspiring glamor. And everywhere, truly everywhere, throngs of orcs, grunting, fighting, pushing and shoving, shouting and groping! There even seem to be some orc kids groping at Sjo’s cloak, checking out how good it would look on them. Automatically the healer lifts his hand to strike the closest youth in the face, when another orc boy pulls the overconfident pest back and urges Sjo to keep his calm: “Mister, mister, you are in Urgir, you not hit orc!” Next the kid tells the other teens off in Orcish.

“Thanks, I guess,” Quint says, “and what might be your name, lad?”

“I’m Uri, mister.”

“You think you could show us around town, Uri?”

“Sure, mister, you give me a hundred gold and I help you.”

“One hundred gold? How about one?” Sjo screams.

“Uri not stupid, mister, one hundred gold for me being your guide”, the boy answers.

“Let’s split it in half, twenty gold and you have yourself a deal”, Sjo suggests.

“Okay, mister, you pay me now and twenty gold it is.”

Sjo digs up the cash and hands it to the little orc.

“I take you to market, where all pinkskins go”, the boy says while putting the money in his pocket. “You follow.” At that he takes off and slinks through the crowd, looking around for possible threats and steering the party from left to right to avoid trouble. He might be small, but he definitely seems to know what he’s doing. He leads his customers down some tunnels to a large underground square that buzzes with activity. Everywhere merchants haggle and hawk at their stalls, the only difference with other markets the companions have seen before, is the amount of aggression and violence. The best traders seem to be the burliest and most scarred. There is also a fair number of humans in the crowd, although they keep a relatively low profile and move with purpose. They mostly dress in dull colors made to blend in. Puk does spot one particularly well-dressed pinkskin trader, though, an elf at a stall with magic products, flanked on either side by an especially bestial orc guard.

Sjo and Quint walk up and ask him about his wares. He is in the business of arcane potions, he explains. Sjo ends up buying a potion of blur and a potion of fly, realizing how costly these magical brews actually are on the open market. As the companions conclude the trade, a firm hand suddenly closes on Quint’s shoulder.

“You, come along!” a deep voice barks. The bard spins and looks upon six orcs, armed with spears, in a ragged semblance of military formation. Upon their chests hangs the same black-fisted icon that the guards at the gate bore. The largest of these soldiers is the one with his nails biting in Quint’s flesh. He is obviously in charge, not looking like the smartest one, but definitely the strongest. Yeah, orc logic!

“You come now”, he demands, “if you fight, you will be broken, and then you come!”

Uri eyes the offended bard with a look of submission and nods for him to follow this orc’s command.

“Lead the way”, Quint replies in fluent Orcish. “As you ask, we will come.”

The unit marches the party deeper into the city, down a stretch of narrower tunnels. While the streets here are populated with nothing but orcs who clearly do not appreciate the passage of pinkskins, the swine-faced creatures move aside quickly when recognizing the emblem of the Empty Hand on the guards’ dirty uniforms. Before long the group arrives at a squat, bunker-like building with a shield bearing the black fist above the door. Several orcs in guard garb mill about throwing dice or wrestling, briefly interrupting their activity to eye the new arrivals.

As they walk into the near perfect darkness of the building, Quint and Balian find themselves almost blinded. Sjo has no trouble observing the Spartan room and the ironclad door in the back. The leader of the unit knocks and is answered by a rasping voice from the other side: “Come in.”

A single candle illuminates this new chamber, which is furnished with a table and a few chairs. Several pages of parchment scatter across the desk’s surface. Looking up from his seat behind the table is a bizarre figure. While obviously once tall and broad-shouldered, the orc’s thin frame is hunched and bent. Long, stringy white hair hangs around his hollow face. This is the first time the heroes set their eyes upon a truly aged orc, realizing that this harsh culture does not normally support long lifespans. This orc must be quite gifted if he managed to get so old.

“Newcomers?” he inquires in Orcish. In response the handler nods and points at Quint’s pendant: “Broken Spine”, he grunts.

“Good, go.” The guard turns and walks out, leaving the companions alone with the old orc.

“Sit … or stand”, he gestures at the chairs in perfect common. “Tell me, how did you got these badges?”

While taking a seat, Quint coughs in his hand, hoping to murmur the word of an innocence spell to boost his skill at bluffing, but when he catches the gleam of intelligence in the eyes of the person across the table, he abandons the idea. Instead he informs his questioner of the truth how he and his friends helped the warlord of the Broken Spine clan retrieve some golden bracers from a disobedient underling, taking out a nest of harpies in the process.

“And why, do pray, are you in Urgir?”

“We here to check out the market, hoping to do some trading in the future”, Quint replies.

“Really”, the old one says in a tone that makes it sound more like a word than a question. Meanwhile he toys with a small pebble that glides like water up and down his wiry fingers. “What kind of goods?”

“Well, we’re adventurers,” Sjo adds, “we pick up some trinkets along the way. Urgir seems like the perfect spot to turn them to cash, without too many questions being asked … except by you, of course, constable.”

“Just Ardax”, the orc interjects. “Ardax the White-Hair. Titles are for those without reputation.” His eyes shift from one companions to the other, then he tosses the pebble in the air, catching it without taking his gaze of Sjo. “Very well, then I bid you welcome in Urgir. Good luck and … be careful. Stay among your own kind. Ad if you ever bring interesting loot to these walls, don’t be afraid to look me up. Just ask anyone for me, I’ll know.”

Next the old one calls out to the guards and orders them to take the party back to the market district.

Exiting the all-orc zone, the companions feel almost relieved to be back in the merchants’ square. At least here they don’t stand out as much, although Sjo deems it safer to pick up some gray cloaks and mimic the behavior of other pinkskins: look as regular as possible. Uri takes his charge to the Pinkhouse, an inn that caters to pinkskin newcomers. Marlo, the bartender, looks almost human, but upon closer inspection Puk spots some half-orc traits in his features and teeth.

There are about two dozen patrons in the room: four half-elves, two elven mages with orc bodyguards, a handful of half-orcs … the rest are humans. Sjo secures a room for three nights and orders a bread and meat platter for his table, along with some pints of stale ale. Quint tries to lighten the mood in this small hall with a bawdy song, but he quickly understands that the crowd finds his singing more troubling than relaxing. “Don’t stand out,” the bard reminds himself, “that has to be my new motto here.”

After sending Uri home for the night, Balian muses that he hasn’t seen a single dwarf or Shoanti in the city. He can understand dwarves, their hatred for orcs is legendary, and the ranger can only imagine how furious and ashamed the stout fellows must feel at their archenemies’ violation of dwarven culture. Sjo adds that in this corner of the world Shoanti and orcs hate each other almost as much as dwarves and orcs. Still, he would have preferred to spot a Cinderland wildling or two in the crowd, he admits. So the question remains: how do the heroes find a Shoanti in a city that does not welcome his kind? How can they locate this Saamesh character? Quint comes up with a brilliant idea. He suggests calling Sjo ‘Saamesh’ in public from now on, making sure bystanders pick up the name. Maybe that will draw out the real person.

The bard walks up to the bar and calls back to his friends: “Hey Saamesh, you wanted another beer as well, didn’t you?” Then he orders another round from Marlo, while inquiring whether dwarves or Shoanti ever visit the city. The bartender chuckles at the idea of dwarves in Urgir and claims not to know any Shoanti either. Quint realizes this search might prove harder than expected. He and his companions quickly finish their second drink and retire to their room.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

15 Arodus 4708

The companions return to Kroghut’s court. Ark’ch, the warg rider, rejoins them on their way back. When the party reappears before Kroghut, the mighty warlord listens to their tale. Quint tells the story with gusto, making sure to underline Brugar’s lack of willpower to resist the harpies and working up to a worthy finish in which he displays the gold bracers and fills his audience with awe for the beauty, power and value of these items. Such potent arm bands can only decorate the wrists of the most worthy, and who in these lands is more worthy than Kroghut the mighty? The warlord is pleased with the pinkskins’ show of respect and rewards them with his clan’s tokens: simple round disks of white wood with a crude rendering of the Broken Spine crest. He informs his guests that these medallions will allow them to get into the great city of Urgir, but he warns them not to dishonor his clan’s name and also offers a word of caution. Pinkskins are not well liked in Urgir, even when wearing a token. They should do well to be respectful and even submissive to the orcs there if they want to stay out of trouble. Quint already realizes that this will prove to be a challenge.

Kroghut also invites the pinkskins to spend the night in his hall and travel to the city with one of his men tomorrow, Makpok the trader. The companions agree. Quint honors his host with some music, while Sjo practices his menacing grunts on the orc children who eye his gear too greedily.

16 Arodus 4708

The trip to Urgir takes about six hours. The heroes join a small caravan of five grain wagons under the supervision of Makpok. A dozen handlers and guards watch over the convoy. Makpok looks somewhere in his forties, quite a respectable age as far as orcs go. He turns out to be the friendliest orc Quint has ever met. The trader does not seem to mind dealing with pinkskins and proves to be a very good source of information on the party’s destination. The Hold of Belkzen has no central government. Instead, the region is populated by dozens of orc tribes of various sizes, constantly warring amongst themselves or forming strategic alliances. Each tribe is ruled by a chieftain or warlord and some lucky clans have a savvy leader who has managed to gain hold of a fortress, like Kroghut of the Broken Spine. The mightiest of all warlords takes control of Urgir, the unofficial capital of the Hold of Belkzen. This formidable city is situated in the south of the Hold, along the central highway in the region, the Flood Road. This Riverbed lies dry for most of the year and only fills with water and mud for two months during the spring, when the snow on the Tusk Mountains melts.

Urgir itself is a mass of stone buildings and spires, dwarven monuments and deep warrens, held aloft by giant pillars of stone and iron deep beneath the earth. These supports suffer from a rust monster infestation, which leads to ever more frequent tremors and collapsing structures in the city as the columns are devoured by the metal-eating pests. Originally built as one of the Sky Citadels by the dwarves upon their emergence on the surface of the world and known as Koldukar, Urgir was conquered by orcs under the rule of the great warlord Belkzen in the Battle of Nine Stones, who renamed the city Urgir, meaning "first home" in his native tongue. Over the years, the masterful stone and metalwork of the city’s dwarven builders has been defiled by its current residents, yet despite this defacing, Urgir remains a testament to its creators' talents and vision.

Since orcs find it difficult to maintain any stable government, the metropolitan Urgir proves hard to rule. Throughout the years, control of the city has shifted from one powerful warlord to another, and the ruling tribe has shifted more times than most orcs have the intelligence to count. The current ruler is Grask Uldeth, chief of the Empty Hand tribe, who has implemented a new, more accepting way of life. Envious of the human cities in neighboring and distant nations, the city's chief has opened Urgir up to foreign traders and travelers in the hopes of increasing the settlement's status in Golarion as a whole. His rule has proven quite successful, as Uldeth has held the city longer than any warlord in recent history.

The population of Urgir is almost completely comprised of orcs, with fewer but still numerous half-orcs nearly completing the city's demographics. In recent years, since Grask Uldeth opened the city to "pinkskins," a small number of humans, elves, and half-elves can be seen within Urgir's walls, primarily in the more trade-friendly sections of the city. Each of these non-orc inhabitants must carry and display a token from a tribal chief indicating that they have the protection and permission of that tribe to exist within Urgir's limits, and these tokens generally provide safety for the vulnerable minority races. That said, taunting and discrimination are prevalent from the orc natives, and while a pinkskin's safety may be guaranteed, they tend to stick mostly to themselves to avoid mistreatment from their hosts.

Using the famed dried riverbed of the Flood Road themselves, Makpok’s caravan and traveling companions make good time. The closer they get to their goal, the more travelers they come across. Finally the heroes behold the wonderful city. Looming out of the rolling grasslands, a vast and white-walled city rises from the earth like a many-layered cake, tier upon tier of stone buildings and monuments, forming a mountain that glimmers in the afternoon sun. There is a long queue in front of the North Gate, awaiting permission to be allowed in. Makpok patiently gets in line and tells his fellow travelers that they will be on their own from now on. When they finally reach the gate, Makpok gains entry quickly, but the companions are hailed to the side for closer inspection. The orcs guarding the gate are dressed in breastplates bearing the image of a black hand. Although they lack the cleanliness of the Korvosan Guard, their gear looks in much finer shape than the arms and armor the companions saw on the Broken Spine warriors. Quint gets ready to address these orcs, when his gaze is drawn to a large shape breaking from the shadows.

An ettin, nearly as tall as the fortifications themselves, walks up, towering over the orc guards. The creature is naked, safe for a loincloth, and has vaguely porcupine features, seeming a grotesque blending of orc and giant. More disturbing than its stature, however, are its two heads – one (apparently the dominant) stares at the companions with rheumy eyes, while the other stares off into space and simply drools. Around the neck of the first head swings a pendant bearing the black hand symbol. The beast carries two spiked clubs, each thicker than a man’s chest.

“Whassup?” it gurgles.

“Pinkskins come to make trouble, Wargus”, one of the orcs calls.

The ettin towers over the heroes: “Token?” it grunts.

Quint quickly shows his Broken Spine pendant. “Broke Neck”, the giant observes. “What yer bizniz here?”

“We come to trade. We are adventurers, looking to sell some interesting loot to our orc brothers”, Quint smiles confidently. “We hear that Urgir is not for the faint of heart, and since we are nothing of the sort, we feel like we need to honor your great city with a visit. We also have some nice things for sale, so it will definitely be worth some orc’s while, I can assure you.”

“Big words, pinkskinner”, the ettin growls. “But good token, you pass!” At that the mountain of meat moves back into the shadows of the gatehouse and the orcs step aside, clearing the way for the companions to enter Urgir.

This entry to my journal drew greatly upon some fine sources: the Urgir page on the Golariopedia (pathfinderwikia) and Pink like me from the Eando Kline Pathfinder’s journal in Crown of Fangs.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Damn those flying creatures! With no powerful ranged attacks at their disposal, the companions learn the hard way that only being strong in close combat has its limits. Balian is still holding down one of the harpies, but this leaves him vulnerable to sneak attacks from the other birdwomen’s claws. Quint pulls out a scroll of blur and casts it on the ranger to safeguard him from these vicious attacks. Doing so, the bard singles himself out as the next target of Circeis’ arrows. She shoots away his last mirror image and fires another arrow in his shoulder. Balian finally manages to squeeze his prey into unconsciousness and seeks shelter against the rocks, turning the next swoop he is subject to into a miss. Meanwhile Puk realizes he has been mostly idle in this fight. He has barely damaged his opponents and his small frame keeps the harpies from targeting him, so he is the only one who hasn’t suffered any wounds, while his friends are struggling to remain standing. The halfling climbs on Quint’s shoulders, both to gain a better reach and offer himself up as a potential target. Sjo sustains even more damage from the next harpy’s flyby attack and exhausts his last fourth level spells to heal himself and Balian. Quint buys himself and his friends some more time by covering everyone in an invisibility sphere, allowing them a few precious moments to patch up further and study the battlefield. The top of this peak, which serves as the harpies’ home, holds two extra rock formations. A small needle rises to the right, while a more robust rock rests to the left. An cave opening, about 30 feet from the ground, serves as the entrance to the harpies’ lair. Between the two rock masses, a wooden fence has been constructed to contain the imprisoned orcs. The companions find themselves in the open ground in front of the fence, where they are at the mercy of the harpies. Puk contemplates climbing the needle, but quickly decides against it. His adversaries’ superior maneuverability would put the rogue at even more of a disadvantage there.

With the heroes invisible, the winged witches change their tactics. One of them launches a new captivating song, but Quint’s lingering countersong saves his friends from her bewildering influence. Another harpy flies into the cave and reemerges with a sack, which she tears open above the veiled party. Grain rains from the sky and gives away the position of the cloaked heroes, heralding a new series of swoop attacks on Balian, who has returned to the open ground to retrieve his greatsword. Meanwhile Circeis has flown to the orc prison camp, where she now orders her ‘minions’ to climb out and locate the enemy. The invisible heroes stand at the ready, prepared to grab the next harpy who flies over, but the creatures refuse to attack blindly and take on a similar approach, biding their time until better opportunities present themselves. Quint takes this chance to recast his mirror image and is forced to launch another countersong when Circeis sings her captivating melody once more. Trying to lure out his enemy, the bard summons a silent image of Sjo, but Circeis arrows reveal that the newly reappeared figure is just an illusion.

The first orc has made it over the fence by now and blindly runs into the area where the invisible party is standing. He bumps into Spyder and starts shouting that there is something unseen in front of him. Sjo feels frustrated and breaks the standstill by throwing yet another hold person at Circeis, but again she resists his magic. This action turns the healer visible, triggering a new swoop attack from Circeis’ three surviving sisters. Balian grabs the first harpy as she passes, but suffers her sister’s claws in return and is forced to let go. Sjo heals his friend, but has to receive a touch from Quint’s healing wand himself when Circeis resumes firing at him. The orcs who made it over the fence fall back when one hero after the other turns visible again. In the fray that follow Puk gets hit for the first time in this combat by a claw and Sjo goes down when Circeis’ next volley hits him hard. Again Quint has to use his wand of cure serious wounds to heal Sjo. Balian fails to grab a harpy on her next dive, but Quint, who is the only one that hasn’t turned visible yet, can snatch her by surprise and holds her down for Puk to finish her off. Circeis keeps on peppering the party with her nasty arrows, forcing Quint to renew his invisibility sphere. Sjo depletes his level three spell as well healing himself and Balian, while Circeis makes for the cave and hides inside, just out of sight.

This is the opportunity Puk has been waiting for. Using the power of his cloak of the pixie king he dimension doors the party into the lair. Circeis’ eyes tumble with surprise as she realizes she is suddenly cornered. She calls out to one of her sisters, who tries to provide some back-up by assaulting the companions from the back, but these enclosed quarters work to the party’s advantage and finally the swerving witch and a third sister fall to their weapons. The last surviving harpy understands that the fight is lost and bolts. After all, with her sisters out of the way, she might return one day as queen of the mountain.

The companions take a few breaths to heal up. A detect magic reveals that Circeis’ gold bracers hold quite a bit of power. Sjo pulls out Zellara’s harrow cards to have the arm bands identified as greater bracers of archery. The witch’s bow is magical as well and – as the heroes found out over and over in the fight – bolster arrows fired from it with frost. Sjo makes another very interesting discovery in the back of the cave. Hidden underneath one of the beds is a pouch of gems and jewels, a runestone of power (level 2) and a tome of leadership and influence (+1). These treasures will prove very useful for either him or Quint!

Quint addresses the orc survivors and tells them they are free again. As the heroes join them back to their village, they learn that their ‘leader’ Brugar – who the companions were forced to kill in battle – was not really one of their own. In fact, he was warlord Kroghut’s nephew who had grown a bit too ambitious for his own good. His acting lord removed him from court by ‘promoting’ him leader of his own tribe, a ragtag bunch of lowly shepherds. Quint suspects the family tie between Kroghut and Brugar was also the reason why the Broken Spine warlord sent pinkskins to take care of the problem, rather than his own men, whom he did not trust with his rabble-rousing nephew. Also, if things got out of hand and Brugar did not survive (as is the case), Kroghut would have perfect deniability. Honor prevented him from killing his own nephew before the young orc had actually undertaken a coup, but by having pinkskins take care of the problem before it came to fruition, Kroghut managed to remove a future threat without losing his honor.

The companions see the orc shepherds safely to their homes and take the rest of the day off to rest, while the orcs bury and mourn their dead. The heroes are assigned one of the dead orc’s huts to spend the night.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If the PCs escape, they might indeed warn the field marshall and get the Korvosan Guard involved. In this case you could have the PCs execute their second raid on the temple with some Guard back-up. Kroft will probably insist on quick action, as she does not want the cultists to abandon their operation - which works in your advantage, for you won't have to make the cultists move base.

As for the Grey Maidens in the Hospice: they are only present in the hospital upstairs. None of them are down in the underground temple and there is no reason for them to know about the Urgathoan operation. They only know that the doctors use the elevator to the cellar, where they have their sleeping quarters. They might not even know about the secret temple and the foul experiments that take place in the underground lair. So, whether or not the Grey Maidens know the truth (that's for you to decide), they have perfect deniability. That is how I played it. In my campaign the heroes decided to keep their involvement in taking out the Urgathoans a secret (wanting to keep a low profile), which gave the Grey Maidens the chance to claim the honour of uncovering the Urgathoan operation and taking it out for themselves. This excused their involvement in protecting the doctors in the eye of the public, since the Grey Maidens were betrayed by the Urgathoan cultists and took care of business as soon as they discovered the truth.

If your PCs manage to escape Urgathoan revenge, but somehow delay their own reaction too long (I'd say, if they don't react the next day), the cultists will kill everyone in the hospitaland flee the city. That would constitue as a failure on the part of the PCs with some dire consequences: all patients in the hospital are dead and the Urgathoans take all documents with them. Since the PCs find no notes on the experiments that the Urgathoans performed, it will take longer to find a cure for the plague and the number of plague victims will be higher. You could even add to the horror by turning the killed patients into zombies who flow out into the city and make even more casualties. Still, I'd have the cultists disappear, as this makes your players feel their failure more than just having them kill the Urgathoans after they have relocated to another hide-out. You could also use key-villains as recurring characters: Doctor Davaulus, Rolth and Lady Andaisin mgiht be back in the future for some sweet revenge ...

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Well, if the Urgathoans feel they have the upper hand, they will want to keep their hide-out safe. That means that they have to take care of the PC problem. So if the PCs escaped, they should go after them (which means they send out a decent force to take care of the PCs).

There are several ways this scenario could play out:

- the PCs make sure they hide somewhere where the Urgathoans cannot get to them or find them and thus they are safe;

- the PCs somehow manage to fight off the strike force, despite their low resources;

- the PCs lose the fight and are taken prisoner. They are transported to the temple's prison, where they are subject to torture and experiments. This should serve to underline the cruelty of the Urgathoans and heighten the PCs' hatred for these cultists even more. Of course it should finally lead to a prison break scenario. In that case you should definitely consider having at least one of the torturers be absent (Lady Andaisin?), so you can set him/her up a hated recurring villain.

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Porridge wrote:
--Hell's Rebels: For an AP that's just coming out, and so one that relatively few people have had an opportunity to play, this is doing remarkably well.

Well, my vote goes to Curse of the Crimson Throne as well, which was my absolute favorite until Hell's Rebels came out. I can't give a final verdictt on HR yet, since I am still waiting for the last two modules (the printed version, that is). But from what I've read in volumes 1-4 of this AP, I can only conclude that it is the best I have ever read from Paizo. I'm truly impressed with many aspects of this scenario and it has surpassed my (high) expectations. As written, I'd have to place it above Curse, I guess, but since I also like converting material to my own style and preference, CotCT - which we are still playing - has been a pleasure so far.

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Shiver me timbers, Angry Waters, how wonderfully exciting. You gotta love those Richard Pett stories! Excellent, simply excellent. It sounds (and reads) like a blast.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There are no official or unofficial maps of the Longacre Building in Korvosa floating around. However, if you use a search engine or check on Pinterest with keywords like dnd map or rpg map + courthouse, prison or garrison, you'll end up with some nice possibilities. I'm reluctant to post any links here, since it is hard to tell whether the results of these search are 'legal' of 'illegal' maps.

I'll be using the courthouse map from Carrion Crown for the building itself, adding several underground levels to hold the prison cells. If you want to place the Grey Maiden trainees in here, those prison levels would probably be the place to do it.

To Steelhead: although Longacre in Cheliax will be more detailed in the Hell's Vengeance AP, the Longacre building in Korvosa will obviously not be part of that. Still, it will be nice to know what the Longacre building is named after. I have to admit that I didn't know that before.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

"The Crimson Throne is not a prize to be won — it is a curse. No monarch of Korvosa has died of old age, and none have produced an heir while ruling."

So, since queen Domina did not break the curse, she didn't die of old age. It hasn't been stated how she actually died, or even how old she was at the time of her death. All we know is that she ruled from 4667 AR to 4686 AR and that her son(s) was (were) already born before she came to Korvosa.

We don't know when Eodred was born either, so we can't tell how old he was when his mother came to Korvosa. Still, he only ruled for 22 years and he was at least sixty when he died, so it is safe to say that he already was a young adult when he followed his mother to Korvosa, which would likely have made Domina at least 40 when she took the throne, making her at least 60 when she died.

The cause of her death is up to you, which is a good thing if you want to do something special with it. If not, it doesn't really matter, as long as it wasn't old age. In that case any disease will do. You could also have her be crushed by her own ambition: a big stone tumbled down on her from her Great Tower project while she was visiting the site to discuss whether or not it should be continued (since it was draining the city's coffers). Divine intervention, coincidence or foul play? You decide.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The six warg riding orcs come closer. Balian makes out a banner with a skull, surrounded by a spinal cord. Quint searches his memory and attributes the symbol to the Broken Spine Clan, one of the more notable orc clans in the region. Sjo takes a seat on one of the slain bulettes’ heads, where he casually starts cleaning his mace. Quint greets the wolfriders in Orcish and introduces his party their leader, Grimgort. He pleads with the head scout to be taken to Kroghut Bloodaxe, the clan warlord, because he needs a token to get into Urigir. He promises to make it worth his while. Impressed by the bulette cadavers, Grimgort agrees. He orders his men to give the pinkskins a ride. Quint shares a warg with an orc named Ark’ch and questions him a bit about orcish females.

The Broken Spine orcs make their camp in an old castle ruin. Quint is sure it dates back to the last great war against the orcs, in which it was part of a larger defense line. Most of these bastions have fallen into orcish hands, though. Inside a big meeting hall, which is missing about half its ceiling, the companions meet the Broken Spine’s warlord, Kroghut Bloodaxe. Seated in a marble makeshift throne this mighty orc has a large doubleaxe leaning against his right leg, while his head lazily rests on his left fist. Several dozens of orc warriors fill the room. When the companions enter his hall, the warlord cries out in Orcish: “What are these armed pinkskins doing in Kroghut Bloodaxe’s throne room?”

Grimgort, the head scout, explains that he picked up the party and brought them here because they are looking for a token to get into Urgir. Quint is careful to treat the imposing orc with the necessary respect, while painting his own party as fearless and accomplished adventurers. In the end he offers his companions’ assistance to the warlord in exchange for a token. Kroghut seems convinced of his visitors’ qualities and proposes a deal. One of his vassals, an orc named Brugar, has failed to do his duty. Word reached Kroghut that this Brugar found a pair of golden bracers, which he didn’t offer to his lord as is the custom. Brugar wants to know what is going on with his subordinate and would like the companions to investigate. He also wants the bracers, of course, and any other treasure that Brugar might have found. He agrees to send one his men as a guide and appoints Ark’ch, the warg rider, to the task.

Ark’ch takes the party farther east into the hills, where the dry landscape gives way to small grassy valleys. En route they pass some basic orc farmlands. When Ark’ch draws to a halt, he points his pinkskin guests to a hilltop. Brugar’s village is just across the hill, he says, but Ark’ch won’t be joining the companions there. The party crosses the hill and finds an abandoned orc settlement. There are about twenty huts, but there is no sign of life, apart from some crows who are flying about. In the dying light Puk spots a number of lifeless shapes on the ground. Moving in to examine the halfling first discovers some sheep cadavers, who have been slashed up by big claws. Next he detects three orc corpses, who have been slain with arrows. In all the companions find eight dead orcs and about a dozen dead sheep. The crows are feasting on the cadavers. At the other side of the settlement a scrawny dog is trying to keep the carrion birds away from an orc body. This orc is still alive, though unconscious. He has been bound to the ground like a prisoner. While Balian and Spyder try to calm down the dog, Sjo examines the bound victim. He uses some of his healing magic to bring the poor soul back to consciousness. The orc opens his eyes with a dreamy stare: “Where is the music?” he sighs. "Where is the wonderful music?”

Quint tries to find out what transpired here, but when he senses that the orc sheepherder, whose name is Skabog, is hiding things, he uses his power of suggestion to get him to talk. Skabog testifies that he wondered into the Broken Peaks a few days ago, where he came upon the ‘swerving witch’ who was bathing in a stream. While she was occupied cleaning herself, Skabog snuck up and stole her gold bracers, because he wanted to give them to Shura, the girl he loves. His chief, Brugar, found out about the theft and punished the sheepherder for his betrayal by tying him to the ground. On the following night the swerving witch attacked the village with her minions, killing some of the orcs, but leading most of them away with her heavenly songs. She also reclaimed her bracers. Being tied down, Skabog was unable to join them and finally passed out from dehydration. Fortunately his dog Scabby was around to keep the crows away, or the orc might not have survived. At Sjo’s behest, Quint inquires whether the swerving witch is a harpy, which turns out to be the case. The party sets up camp, deciding to wait until daylight to find the harpy.

14 Arodus 4708

The next morning Balian tracks the orc trail deeper into the hills. A few dozen orcs came this way, so their tracks are easy to follow. They lead to a tall rock pinnacle, with a small ledge crawling up the side. On top they are surprised by a murder of crows, who raise the alarm. A big orc, obviously more skilled than a simple shepherd, draws two shortswords and charges at Balian, while an enchanting song resounds from atop a high peak to the companions’ right. The heroes all muster the strength to resist the call of the harpy and Balian opens the fight by hewing his greatsword with great strength into the charging orc. From a cave in another rocky outcropping four harpies take to the air and attack. Sjo catches one of them in a fireball, making sure to include the sword wielding orc and the crows in the flames. The swarm of carrion birds doesn’t survive the fire. Quint activates a countersong and casts haste on his friends, but the heroes soon learn that flying opponents are hard for them to hurt. While the swerving witch peppers the adventurers with arrows, her harpy minions swoop over the companions and tear at them with their claws. Balian sustains wound upon wound, while Sjo summons his wings of fire to engage the harpies in the air. Quint buys his friends some time by casting cacophonous call on the witch, who orders her troops to retreat for about a minute. This gives the party the opportunity to heal up before the birdwomen attack again. Sjo attempts a hold person on the swerving witch, but this time she resists the magic. She returns the favor by firing two arrows in the healer’s chest. Next she also survives another cacophonous call by Quint, but she gets seriously burned by Sjo’s next fireball. One of the other harpies launches a captivating song, affecting Balian, who starts walking towards her. Quint starts a new countersong to free the ranger’s mind. On the next harpy swoop, Balian manages to grab one of the birdwoman, holding her down so Puk can finally do some damage. Grappling the winged creature does leave Balian vulnerable to the other harpies’ attacks, who strengthen their claws with sneak damage. Using his burning wings, Sjo has flown up to the swerving witch and is now trying to engage her in personal combat, but she eludes him and shoots even more arrows at him. Both Sjo and Balian are severely hurt by now. The healer lands again and casts a cure critical wounds on himself. With only the sword wielding orc and one harpy down, this fight is far from over.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

12 Arodus 4708

In the traditional Burn Run young aspiring Sun Clan warriors have to stay ahead of a wildfire. Krojun advises the ‘tshamek’ to do the same in the auroch run, because “once those beasts catch up, you’re lost”, he claims. Sjo has prepared by removing his full plate and Quint and Balian get ready by casting a few spells. Quint enhances everyone’s general performance with heroism and his own speed with expeditious retreat. Balian whips out his longstrider to be a bit faster.

The three companions and their Shoanti challenger are waiting at the mouth of a one mile long rift through the Kallow hills. Their goal is a standing stone at the end of the canyon; they have to reach the top safely before being overrun by the aurochs. Krojun’s own companions have left early in the morning to locate the great herd and drive it towards the rift. A big cloud of dust over the hills heralds their arrival. When the proud animals finally pop into view, the race starts. Sjo calls down his blessing of fervor to hasten himself and Balian. Krojun uses his barbarian speed and immediately breaks into a sprint. Still, the companions’ magically enchanced speed sends them all in front of him. Quint decides to play the game for maximum effect and waits for the mighty barbarian, trying to hang around his position during the entire race. In the meantime Balian chooses to get the most out of his magical velocity and runs as far ahead as he can, while Sjo attempts to slow the herd by throwing a fireball in front of it. The panic slows the animals only for a second, before sending them into a wild bolt down the rift. Now the stampede has truly begun!

Sjo runs off again and renews his blessing of fervor, for its powerful pace lasts only a few dozen heartbeats. Now he can close in on Balian again, who successfully jumps over a wide pit that spans the floor of the canyon from left to right. Sjo summons his fiery wings to cover the distance. Behind him Krojun has little trouble leaping over the gaping hole, but Quint does not make it to the far side and loses a handful of precious seconds to crawl out. Still, the bard is not worried, his superior expeditous retreat speed easily allows him to play a game of catch and release with Krojun. He catches up again, bluffs his face into a “wheh, that was exciting” look and continues the race. Sjo has to renew his hastening magic twice more, making sure to cover Balian in the spell as well. The two companions have a nice lead on the two other runners, until they have to slow their advance to a hustle - continuing to sprint would only result in exhaustion. This allows Krojun and Quint to close the gap between them. The trampling herd follows hot on their heels.

Finally the standing stone pops into view. By now Quint and Krojun have overtaken Balian, and the bard bolts ahead to reach the finish first. Sjo is the second to arrive, summoning his wings once more to reach the top of the stone. Krojun and Balian arrive seconds later, just in front of the thundering herd. From the top the finishers witness the impressive wild herd storm past. When the dust settles the burn riders and the Skull Clan members arrive, cheering at the runners’ success. Krojun smiles broadly at Sjo and his friends. While he doesn’t yet see the companions as true nalharest, his gaze glazes with respect.

The companions spend the rest of the day basking in the glory of their victory. They learn that the Sun Clan has sent out many riders to gather all Shoanti tribes in the shadow of the Great Flame, an immense rock pinnacle in the heart of the Cinderlands. Krojun continues his efforts to enlist new warriors for this army, while Sjo and Quint try to sew doubt in the minds of the Skull Clan members, telling them about the might of Korvosa’s new ruler.

In the evening Thousand Bones informs his guests that he has prepared the teleport ritual. He will send the party to the Hold of Belkzen tomorrow.

13 Arodus 4708

The next morning Thousand Bones leads the companions deeper into the Kallow Hills, to a rocky hilltop with a circle of menhirs. The majestic stones have been decorated with intricate patterns. A large flat stone lies in the center of the circle. Thousand Bones tells the party to stand on it. “Remember, you need a token to get into the city”, he says, before bursting into a chant. He squeezes two small bird skulls to dust and sends the pulverized bone over the standing stones, which start to glow with magic. A big flash ensues and the heroes feel like their stomachs are being turned inside out and their eyes are pushed deep into their sockets. The next moment they have arrived in a desolate plain. The landscape definitely resembles the Cinderlands: dusty and dry, full of rocks and a handful of shriveled bushes and dead trees. The only feature on the horizon is an elevation to the northeast, so the party decides to head that way.

The sun seems even hotter here than it did in the Cinderlands. Fortunately Sjo’s magic can provide an endless stream of refreshing water, while his magic keeps the companions from suffering any ill effect from the heat. A few hours into the afternoon Quint hears a feeble rumble and feels the earth tremble ever so slightly. Before his friends can react, the ground tears open and four bulettes burst through the sand. These mighty monsters are known as land shark, but are at least ten times as deadly as their marine counterparts. Balian suffers the frontal assault of the biggest and meanest specimen and Sjo struggles to keep the ranger on his feet with his healing magic. A smaller bulette leaps through the air to Quint, who has taken a few steps back to cast haste on his friends. A mirror image saves him from the worst attacks, while Balian and Puk exchange blows with the other three beasts. They barely manage to take out the leader, kept alive by the grace of Sjo’s cure critical wounds. Quint turns the tide of the battle by taking out another bulette with his cacophonous call, sending the monster back into the earth. While his friends take care of a third land shark, the bard successfully repeats his magic on the smallest beast, which flees the scene as well. He thanks the gods that the creatures did not resist his spells, realizing that his friends might not have survived if they had.

While the companions nurse their wounds, they notice a cloud of dust closing in. Balian squeezes and makes out the shapes of running wargs: big, bad wolves with riders on their backs.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

11 Arodus 4708

When the party rises the next morning, Krojun and his Burn riders have already left camp to go auroch hunting. They have taken a number of Skull clan warriors with them. The heroes spend the day in the company of their young friend Lerrim, and Fartshek, another youngster who turns out to be Thousand Bones grandson – or son-son, as he calls it himself. While the tribe’s shamans are preparing a hut for tonight’s spirit consulting ritual, Fartshek tells the visitors from Korvosa more about the legend that is Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills.

The imposing tribesman is the son of Chief Ready-Klar of the one of the numerous Sun clan tribes. He is one of the Sklar-Quah’s most fearsome warriors, specializing in the klar and earthbreaker technique. As a young men he saw his tribe suffer several brutal attacks at the hands of orc champion Kyrust Chief Killer, a Rotten Tongue marauder from Urglin. Desperate to help his people, Krojun sought the aid of a reclusive Shoanti sorcerer who lived alone deep in the Mindspin Mountains. The hermit sent Krojun on several punishing tests, promising him that if he succeeded he would earn a great reward that would help him defeat Kyrust. The tests were harrowing indeed, designed in part to train Krojun in the ways of the Thunder and Fang fighting style, and it took Krojun many months to complete them. In the end, he stood before the sorcerer in triumph. When Krojun demanded his reward, however, the sorcerer responded only that he had no reward to give and vanished. Krojun’s rage was great, and when he returned to his people empty-handed, he found that his entire tribe had been enslaved by Kyrust. Krojun tracked the slave caravan for days, finally catching up to it a few miles from Urglin’s gates, and in a fantastic display of rage and power, single-handedly defeated the orcs and their leader Kyrust. It was only as Krojun claimed the orc’s belt of giant strength as both a trophy and a symbol of the Sklar-Quah’s power over the orcs that he realized the truth—that strange old sorcerer had indeed given him a gift: the gift of rage. Without the skills and strength Krojun honed in completing the tasks the sorcerer had set him to, he would surely have fallen in such a combat as he had just won. Today, Krojun is at the forefront of the Sun Clan’s efforts to strike back at the orcs and tshamek who have hammered away at the Shoanti for centuries.

Sjo also wonders about the strange golden-hued wingless dragon creature he has seen roaming around camp. Right now the wonderful being is lying on a big rock, enjoying the warmth of the sun. Fartshek explains that this is Wicked-Claws, a dragon-like beast known as a dragonne. It lost its wings in a fight with a ferocious bulette some years ago, before chief One-Life saved it from certain death. No longer able to soar the skies above, Wicked-Claws adopted the Skull clan as her family and now protects the tribe from danger.

By the time the sun sets Krojun’s hunting party still hasn’t returned yet. All preparations for the ritual are ready now. Thousand Bones, Ashdancer and jothka One-Life invite the visitors to strip down and join them in a small hut that radiates waves of heat. Smoldering hot rocks have been heaped up in the middle of the tent. Once everyone has found a place around the stones, Ashdancer takes a large wooden spoon and pours water on the hot rocks. Scented steam fills the hut and immediately everyone breaks out in a sweat.

Thousand Bones hums in a low tone and then speaks: “Tonight we consult our ancestors. Great spirits from the past, show us whether we can truly trust these tshamek and show us what we have to do to achieve peace for both their people and ours.”

Ashdancer joins Thousand Bones in his humming and then changes the tune to a mesmerizing tribal chant. Ever so often she spills another spoon of water over the searing stones, filling the hut with boiling smoke. One by one the companions succumb to the heat and slip into unconsciousness. Sjo suddenly finds himself in a lush, green meadow and sees that his arms have turned into the mighty forelegs of proud red brown stallion. A massive, noble tree draws his attention. As he trots up to the stately plant, he sees other animals approaching. A nimble puma darts through the high grass and without hesitation Sjo knows it is Puk. Then he sees the snout of a fox peaking up which is undeniably Quint. A few moments later Balian arrives as well, in the shape of a massive bear.

Walking under the tree Sjo sees a black panther lying lazily on one of the branches: Ashdancer. Two birds swoop in as well, an owl and an eagle: Thousand Bones and One-Life. Looking around Sjo realizes that there are other animals about, not in real physical form, but in an outline of light blue energy. These must be the spirits of the forefathers. It also dawns on the healer that this world does not inhibit his sight and he can see well into the horizon.

The owl turns its head around and regards the heroes in their animal forms with its milky-white eyes. “The ancestors find in you no treacherous intent towards my people, since you all appeared as animals of the natural world”, he hoots. “Now behold what they have to tell you!” He takes to the air again and swoops closely over the companions. The next moment he is gone, as are Ashdancer and One-Life. The majestic tree suddenly pulls away to the horizon and mountains come into view, from where a light rumble swells into a loud thundering. The earth itself starts to tremble when a herd of wild horses appears over the closest hilltop. Some of the mounts have small round plaques of gold dangling from their necks, others bears medallions of silver, while others bear a dreamcatcher-like emblem made of tiny bones. An imposing stallion clad in multiple golden circles leads the herd. Having reached the last hill, the animal pulls to a stop, rears and whinnies loudly. When its hooves hit the ground, sparks shoot up. The rest of the herd start trampling impatiently. Quint wonders what the horses are looking at. He shifts his gaze across the plain and sees a large gray mass making its way through the long grass. One wolfish howl fills the air, quickly joined by the overwhelming howl of massive pack of wolves. The horses leap forward and storm into the plain, racing at the charging pack of canines. A few heartbeats later the two armies tear into each other. Wolves growl and snap at everything equine, while the horses use their hard hooves to kick around, showing no mercy for their enemies. The battles turns into a veritable bloodbath with no one gaining the upper hand.

Then a deafening bang burst from the dark clouds at the horizon. Wolf and horse cease their animosity for a second, before a shockwave reaches them and throws them all to the ground. The clouds pull together and swoop closer, slowly taking the shape of a terrifying dragon made of shadow, her wings are a living curtain of darkness that falls over everything within sight and swallows the complete landscape. The battlefield disappears in blackness and then the dark sweeps over the companions, drawing them in an endless plummet into the great nothing. As he falls, the big bear that is Balian, suddenly sees a small sparrow batting its wings furiously, trying to catch up and grab a hold of his fur. It bites and scratches in Balian’s shoulder, struggling to hold on, but then it loses its grip and it is forced to let go. As it tumbles away in the dark, a humongous hyena mouth appears on top of it and swallows it whole. Then Balian’s fall suddenly ends as he jumps to his feet, having returned in his own body inside the steam hut. His friends awake as well.

Thousand Bones asks the companions what they witnessed. When they tell him about the horses and wolves, he believes they represent the Shoanti and Korvosans going to war. The shadow dragon could be Ileosa or whatever evil that is controlling her. The vision proves to him that waging war with Korvosa will end badly for both sides. When Balian informs the others about the sparrow clinging to his fur, he notices that there are tiny scratches in his shoulder, forming Shoanti runes. They spell out: “Saamesh Urgir help”.

The ranger has heard of Urgir, a great orc city controlling the lands known as the Hold of Belkzen. Quint recalls stories of a legendary orc warlord Belkzen who managed to unite all the orc tribes under his banner and lead his people to victory over the dwarf army stationed at the sky citadel Koldukar. After crushing the dwarf army in the Battle of Nine Stones Belkzen seized control of the mighty citadel and renamed it Urgir, meaning “first home” in Orcish. He expanded his holdings and constructed a small empire for his people which survived the centuries and lasts until today. No successor of Belkzen ever succeeded in truly uniting all orc tribes again, making the Hold of Belkzen a hodgepodge of dozens of orc tribes, all vying for power. The most powerful tribe controls the city of Urgir and by extension the rest of the orcish lands, but this control is tenuous at best.

Thousand Bones has more to add. He knows what the word ‘Saamesh’ refers to, it is the name of a young Shoanti warrior from the Sun clan who resides in the Hold of Belkzen as a spy. Much like the Korvosans to the south, the orcs of the north are the Shoanti’s archenemies and it is Saamesh’ task to evaluate the threat. Saamesh is not just any Shoanti either, he is the youngest son of Valkur Burns-in-his-Veins, the chief of the biggest Sklar-Quah tribe and therefore the first among all Sun clan jothka’s. Thanks to Saamesh’ intelligence, the Shoanti have learned more about the current leader of Urgir, Grask Uldeth of the Empty Hand. This mighty orc warchief has been at the head of the Hold for over a decade now, making him somewhat of an exception in a long line of orc rulers. He has proven himself a much more clever leader than his predecessors, because unlike them he is surprisingly accommodating to foreigners in Urgir. He allows humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes and halflings into the city to trade, because he has come to realize that wealth from trading with non-orcs is more profitable than simple raiding. This progressive thinking is frowned upon by many of his kin, but none of them can deny the wealth the pinkskins have brought to Urgir.

Thousand Bones believes the spirits have granted the heroes this information to allow them to go to Urgir and save Saamesh, who obviously needs help. It would give the party the chance to gain the Sun clan’s favor, for the Shoanti crede says that you can be accepted either “by blood or deed”. Anyone who is not of pure Shoanti blood can still become a ‘nalharest’, a brother, by proving himself worthy through his actions. Thousand Boens has already accepted the companions as his ‘nalharest’, but his only extends to his own tribe. If the party wants to attain the same level of recognition with the Sun clan, they’ll have to find a new way to achieve that. This Saamesh business might just be the perfect opportunity.

The old shaman also tells his guests that in order for ‘pinkskins’ to get into Urgir, they need the patronage of one of the many tribes’ chiefs. Only when carrying a token or badge from a tribal orc commander can minority races exist in Urgir. These badges signify that the bearer has the protection and permission of that tribe to reside within Urgir’s limits and consequently provides some safety in the orc city, but it does not avoid mistreatment and discrimination. To facilitate the party’s travel to the distant lands of Belkzen, Thousand Bones offers to prepare a teleportation ritual, which will be ready by tomorrow evening. For now he bids them good night.

When the heroes return to the camp, they see that Krojun has returned from a successful trip. A big roast is being prepared while warriors are boasting their prowess in today’s hunt. Krojun bursts into a hearty laugh when he notices the visitors. “Well, if it isn’t the lowlanders. How are we today? No stiff neck? I must admit that I missed you at the hunt. I’m curious to see how you would fare against the mighty aurochs. Seeing the auburn manes of these great beast waves like flames today really reminded me of a great Sun clan tradition, the Burn Run, our infamous rite of passage. Brave youngsters have to prove their mettle by outracing a wildfire, bolting for the safety of the great Yondabakari River before they are overcome by smoke or consumed by flames.

If only there were a river and grasses here, then I would like to see you prove yourself in your own little Burn Run. But no such luck, although we could swap out the fire for the auroch mane. I have never tried to outrun an auroch stampede, but I rejoice at the thought. What do you say? Are you up for the challenge of a special auroch run?”

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Sjo and Balian both accept Krjoun’s challenge. Sjo enters the game of Sredna first. He removes his armor and steps up to his opponent fearlessly. Although the healer is of impressive height, Krojun still towers over him and the barbarian’s chest is as broad as an ox’s. Krojun gets on all fours and signals for Sjo to do the same. Next both men swing a loop of leather behind their necks and crawl back until the thin cord is pulled tight between them. Sjo already feels the leather dig in the back of his neck and skull. He fears this will get quite uncomfortable.

One of the Sun clan burn riders explains that the opponents have three breaths to try and stare each other down before they start pulling. Krojun lets out a deep growl and gnashes his teeth, but Quint mocks his effort, giving Sjo the upper hand in this first part of the battle. Then the tugging part begins. Krojun tries to go for a quick victory, but his hasted attempt fails as the sand on the ground slips underneath his hands and Sjo manages to withstand his force. Frustrated the barbarian slips into rage, fuming at the mouth and pulling like a madman, but still Sjo resists and the healer is actually the first to drag his adversary forward. He sees a glimmer of respect in Krojun’s eyes, who now flexes all his muscles and claws his fingers deeper into the ground to get a better grip. Now the barbarian pulls Sjo backward, but our friend tugs him right back and it seems that their tug-of-war competition does not budge far from its starting point. In the end it is the towering barbarian’s natural stamina that wins out, as the bite of the leather strap in his skull forces Sjo to bow his head and relent. Still he resisted Krojun much longer than expected and the great burn rider has to catch his own breath after the game. “You fought like an auroch calf, you should be proud”, he compliments Sjo.

Next up is Balian. Quint gives him a quick pep-talk and throws in a heroism spell to boost his friend’s power. Although the ranger is broader than Sjo, he does not stand as tall, so standing opposite Krojun, he looks almost dwarfed. “It is a good thing we’re getting to the ground for this,” Balian smiles, “won’t be as much of a height difference.” The staring competition gives him a slight advantage over the barbarian, but when the tugging starts, Krojun manages to pull the ranger back a couple of steps. Again the hulk activates his raging powers and pulls Balian even further. Fortunately the ranger has better luck resisting the sting of the leather in his neck than Sjo and as the match continues he regains the territory he lost in the beginning. Both men’s heads turn red and purple as they growl and pull like great beasts of burden. The excitement of the spectators grows as the contest lasts and Balian even gets some cheers from several Skull clan warriors. The cord tears into the back of both contestants’ skulls, drawing blood on either side. Sweat runs wildly over their backs and foreheads as they try to bite down the pain. The ranger is hoping to hold out until Krojun’s rage wears down, but a final cut of the leather cord forces him to admit defeat right before the barbarian’s frenzy runs out. Exhausted Krojun rolls over on his back to recover from the effort, before getting up again. He offers his hand to Balian to pull him to his feet as well. “Congratulations, lowlander, it must have been five years or more since I came across an opponent like you”, he sighs with a gleam of true respect in his eyes. He pats the ranger cheerfully on the shoulder and then returns to his own men, who hail him for winning this formidable match.

Sjo’s and Balian’s valiant show of force has gained them the admiration of several Skoan-Quah warriors and Quint takes advantage of the fact that he has their ears to convince them of the fact that Korvosa is far from defenseless. In fact, the number of warriors in the city grows day by day, for the new queen is building her own great army. At the end of the evening, the companions are given a yurt in which they can sleep.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

10 Arodus 4708

As the journey continues, the travelers come across a gruesome sight. Three Shoanti heads have been shoved on a pike, with two crossbow bolts sticking from their eyes. Derdra says that this is the work of the Cinderlander, a lone wolf who has devoted his life to hunting and killing tribesmen. Some think he is a ghost, but Derdra has heard more plausible tales of a man from the Korvosan lowlands whose family was butchered by a Shoanti war party and who is out for a lifetime of revenge. Sjo gets goosebumps when she tells this story, for it matches the tragedy he recently learned about his mother. The warriors that executed this raid came from her tribe. Being too young to join them, she followed them instead, with her best friend Shaoban. The two youngsters were surprised by a single survivor, who killed Shaoban and raped the girl, which would make this Cinderlander Sjo’s father!

After many hours the heroes reach the Kallow Hills. Derdra finds mounds of stone with animal skulls on top: they have entered the domain of the Skoan-Quah. The guide describes how this clan fulfills a special role in Shoanti society. The Skull clan is devoted to the memory and protection of the dead. Its warriors cover themselves in a mixture of mud and white ashes, giving them the color of smoke. This is rumored to protect them from the undead, whom they have to destroy out of tradition and duty. The Skull shamans travel between all the other tribes to bless their dead and carry the most honorable deceased to these hills, to ensure a safe passage to the eternal hunting grounds. This makes the Kallow Hills one of the greatest burial sites of the Shoanti.

Half a mile into the hills, the companions notice four warriors covered in grayish white paint. Quint waves at them, showing no sign of threat, and hails them over. They greet the visitors with caution: “Sharatok tshamek” – be received, strangers. Sjo pulls out the amulet Thousand Bones carved for them back in Korvosa and says in Shoanti that they are here to talk to the wise shaman. The warriors relax and lead the party to their camp.

Dozens of tents have been set up around a central totem. This camp must house at least a hundred people. Derdra explains that the Shoanti are divided in seven great clans, but each clan in turn is divided in smaller tribes, as the Cinderlands are too inhospitable to support massive groups of people in the same place. The tribesmen regard the visitors with great curiosity, but when Thousand Bones steps out of the central tent he immediately recognizes the companions and gives them a heart-warming welcome. He also introduces them to his chief, jothka One-Life, and Ashdancer, another shaman. Balian also notices a large wingless dragonlike creatures lurking between the tents. Suddenly a cry of happiness resounds: “Sjo! Sjo!” Little Lerrim, the Shoanti child the heroes saved from Gaedran Lamm’s clutches, flies around the healer’s neck. It looks like he’s been doing well since he joined Thousand Bones and his men.

Thousand Bones invites the visitors in his yurt to talk to them. Quint clarifies that they are here to find out more about the evil that houses under the great mastaba in Korvosa. He fears that queen Ileosa has unearthed it and is now firmly under its influence.

“My friends, I have indeed heard speak of such an evil, and although I will not be able to tell you anything about it, I am glad you came to me first. You see, unlike our brethren in the other tribes, the Skoan-Quah are a peaceful people. Our willingness to talk to tshamek is not followed by the other Quah, who even think it brings shame to us. Still, they accept us as we watch over the souls of their dead. My words of peace do not reach their ears, instead they talk of war. They have heard stories of a city in flames, a king dying and a terrible disease decimating the people of Korvosa. They believe the time has come for them to reclaims the lands of their forefathers and descend once again to the green pastures in the south.

Yet I say, war will not be good for us. My brethren refuse to see that even a crippled Korvosa is a formidable opponent. I deem it wiser to make friends of one’s enemies, but the Sun clan only sees weakness and demands action.

As to your question about the evil under the mastaba, know that my people were once part of the Sklar-Quah – the Sun clan. But since we were willing to forgive our enemies, we were no longer welcome among them. Over many generations our fathers found peace in these lands, but that does not go for the Sklar-Quah, who still believe that the lowlands of Korvosa are their only true home. Apart from guarding over the dead, my people also watch over the Shoanti’s history. As such we know many tales from days past, but the knowledge of what was buried in the great mastaba is known only to a select few, the guardians of the word from the Sklar-Quah: the Sun shamans. In my long life I have only heard two of them mention this evil in what you call Korvosa. They called it the Teeth of Midnight, but that is all I know. If you want to learn more, you will have to ask the Sun Shamans yourself.

Although I can speak to the Sun clan on your behalf, I will never be entrusted with their deepest secret, only to spill the information to you afterwards. Being tshamek you will never learn this secret either, even less so since you hail from the one place they hate most in the world. So if you want them to tell you, you will have to earn their respect and trust by throwing off your tshamek mantle and becoming true nalharest, not only to me, but to them as well! Only then will you stand a chance of learning about the evil under the great mastaba.

We will reconvene tomorrow to ask the spirits for guidance. Until then you are welcome in our midst.”

After the meeting with Thousand Bones, the companions join the tribesmen around the fire to share in a hearty meal and some stories. Sjo inquires whether the fact that he can call Sun shaman Yundur Firestorm his grandfather will earn him any favors among the Sklar-Quah, but the Skull people tell him that his non-Shoanti heritage is too much of a shame to make it so. Then he wonders if there have ever been people who have been freed of great shame and indeed, there is a legend of one who achieved just such a feat. His name was Skurak, a mighty Shoanti warrior, who stood accused of having murdered his own brother. Since family is sacred to the Shoanti, he was banished from the tribe and declared a tshamek. Skurak insisted that his brother’s death was a hunting accident and swore to prove the truth by reclaiming his position among his people. He left for the hunting grounds of the deadly Cindermaw, the Clan-eater, a humongous sand worm who can swallow whole tribes at once. Skurak walked up to the beast, armed only with a dagger. Without fear he dove inside the monster’s maw and carved his way out. Having been cleansed by the fires of the Cindermaw’s acid belly, he was once again accepted by the Sun shamans, who declared he had been redeemed. The word tshamek was never spoken to Skurak again, who passed into legend as Skurak the Reborn.

Suddenly a new commotion stirs the camp. Seven Shoanti riders arrive, their red, orange and yellow colors identifying them as Burn Riders from the Sun clan. One very large and imposing tribesman leads them. “That is Krojun … Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills”, Lerrim whispers. His rippling muscles are heavily covered in tattoos and war paint. He carries a mighty warhammer, an earthbreaker, and a Klar blade.

Several of the younger warriors from the Skull clan gather around these newcomers, regarding them with great respect. Krojun greets them with great gusto and welcomes their attention. Then he notices the companions and his body language changes. “Why do the Skoan-Quah harbor tshamek intruders?” he growls in Shoanti.

“These men are guests of Thousand Bones and thus guests of the tribe”, jothka One-Life answers him. The look in the giant’s eye does not show any acceptance, so Thousand Bones himself steps forward.

“Tell me, Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills, since when do the Sklar-Quah decide who is or who is not an intruder in the Kallow Hills where the ashes of our forefathers rest?”

Krojun snaps back at him: “Those words do not change my question, old shaman. These tshamek bring trouble to the Cinderlands, you know that as well as I do. The future will reveal soon enough which of us is right, but to me they are just that: intruders.”

“You may be right, but I fear that the one bringing us trouble today is standing right in front of me. Tell me, Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills, why are you here?” Thousand Bones replies.

The great barbarian’s face glides into a wide grin, as he addresses not only to Thousand Bones, but all tribesmen: “Why indeed am I here? You all know why. For you are not only the guardians of the dead, but also of knowledge. 82 winters our forefathers fought against the tshamek from Che-lee-axe (he spits on the ground) before being driven to these unhospitable lands. More than 200 years we have bided our time here, but now our enemies are weak. At last the time has come to strike back! I am here to gather your warriors. Once more the blood of our enemies will flow in honor of our forefathers, in honor of our totems, in honor of our sacred duty! (Some of the Skoan-Quah around Krojun let out a cheer.) We are SHOANTI and each quah will have to earn its own honor in battle or be doomed to live out its life as cowardly dogs! We have barely stretched our muscles and already tshamek are here, begging for peace.”

This time Quint speaks up: “Although we do not consider you our enemy and we wouldn’t mind being friends, we are not here for peace, and we’re even lees here to beg! You are mistaken, Burn Rider.”

“But it looks that I was not mistaken at all, Krojun Stormcrow”, Thousand Bones takes over. “You are the one who is here to bring trouble with your talk of war. How can you believe that spilling more Shoanti blood can ever honor our forefathers? Or do you think you can simply walk into Korvosa unopposed? The tshamek might be weakened, but that does not mean they are defenseless. Much blood will flow if you carry out your plans. We are indeed the guardians of the dead, but we do not invite death into our yurts.” Then Thousand Bones turns to his own tribesmen: “I will not stand in your way if you want to join this warmonger on his insane quest. Each of you has to make his own decision and follow his own totem. But my totem tells me to walk the way of peace and these tshamek (he points at the party) are my guests on this road. You, Krojun, who are also a guest in our midst, will do well to remember that!

At first Krojun’s muscles in his enormous neck tighten, as Quint warns him: “Heed the words of your elder, warrior; listen to the shaman’s wisdom.”

Once more Krojun’s face changes to a charismatic smile, as he answers to all gathered around him: “As always the insight of age trumps my youthful enthusiasm and fire. I will honor these tshamek as your guests, Thousand Bones, as tradition requires. Who knows, they might even possess some courage since they are willing to travel so deep into Shoanti territory. Still, you will not mind that I test this courage in an innocent game of Sredna, now will you?” At that the barbarian digs up a leather strap from his pouch and dangles it before the companions. Thousand Bones gives the heroes a look and then shrugs, leaving it up to them to accept or refuse.

Lerrim explains to Sjo that Sredna is a game similar to tug-of-war. Two opponents tie a leather strap behind their heads and try to pull each other down until one of them falls of gives up. The game is innocent enough, as no one really gets hurt in it, but refusing the challenge would be considered a sign of cowardice, more even than losing.

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Although The Flame that Binds offers a nice array of magical goodies, the party has no real money to spend, so Quint just buys a handful of scrolls and the remainder of the budget goes to some extra wands of cure light wounds from the local temple of Pharasma. Balian is also curious about the troll prophets in the augur temple and decides to have his fortune read. The temple is a vast and columned affair of stone, with wide steps too tall for a human. Balian sees an ugly troll wrapped in coarse linen clothes. She beckons him over and gestures to a small bowl for a donation. The ranger throws a handful of coins at her and wonders about Korvosa’s future, at which the augur draws a knife across her own belly and pulls out her steaming entrails, studying them carefully. Then she speaks:

“Who beats who in this hodgepodge revue?
You get things going, you set the tone.
With both skill and knowledge you defeat the shrew.
But who will be next to sit on the throne?”

When she has finished her prediction, the troll shoves her bowels back inside her abdominal cavity, waiting for her natural regeneration to heal her. Although her words are short and cryptic, they ring true. She does not know the heroes and yet she can tell from her own bloody insides what they are up to … so the augur’s abilities must be real! Quint approaches another soothsayer and asks her about their future in the Cinderlands. She replies:

“No help without trust, no trust without friends, no friends without help.”

After this mystifying experience in the augur temple the companions return to the inn, where Derdra rejoins them. She has news about the Shoanti: apparently the Cinderland tribes are gathering for war on Korvosa, having learned that recent troubles have weakened the city. The biggest of the clans, the Sklar-Quah or Sun clan, leads these war efforts.

9 Arodus 4708

The next morning the party leaves on foot, since Derdra cautions against using horses. She claims that the Cinderlands’ treacherous undergrowth and shifting sands will prove too dangerous for inexperienced riders. The first stretch of the trip leads through the most fertile parts of the wastelands, in the proximity of the Yondabakari River where rough grasses and small bushes grow. The further away the party moves from the river, the more desolate the landscape becomes. Since the companions are looking for the Skull clan, Derdra takes them east, to the Kallow Hills, where the Skoan-Quah live. The dry prairie and the beating sun make for a tiring journey. Dusty winds of sand and ashes give everyone a burning throat.

In the afternoon a big cloud of dust and a thundering rumble of hooves breaks from the horizon. Derdra explains that it is a great herd of aurochs, big, horned oxen that live here. The animals are dangerous, but make for a great source of food and leather skins for the local tribes. Fortunately the beasts of the prairie do not cross paths with the travelers.

In the evening Derdra looks for a good place to set up camp. She gathers some tumbleweed and bushes to make a fire, for nights here get quite cold. During Sjo’s shift in the night watch, a group of four large beetles makes straight for the camp. The tall half-Shoanti shouts out to his companions and throws up a wall of fire to halt the vermin’s approach, but the creatures seems unaffected by the flames. Quint casts haste on his friends, who quickly learn that the jewel beetles are not much of a challenge, but then the bard notices that one of the large insects has a bony spike sticking through its carapace. Suddenly four more of these spikes soar through the air and plant themselves in Derdra and Puk. The attack came from the dark sky above! Quint covers the party in an invisibility sphere, which gives them the opportunity to heal and grab their ranged weapons. Derdra recognizes the spikes as the weapons of a manticore: a winged lion with a humanoid head. The creature swoops over the camp a couple of times, doing serious damage with its volley of spikes, but Sjo manages to heal these wounds in time. It is hard for the companions to hurt this creature that just flickers in and out of sight to fire off another set of bony arrows. But since the heroes do not appear fazed by its attacks either, the manticore quickly abandons its offensive. The party moves camp, this time without the warmth of a fire, and makes it through the rest of the night unharmed.

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Inspectre wrote:
So we're taking a bit of a break over the next month or so due to DM burnout/stress failure. I've been tired out in general, but recently work has been really stressful on top of it and so I've just had to take a step back and focus on survival.

Wishing you a natural 20 on that survival roll!

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Hear! Hear! I can't wait.

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8 Arodus 4708

The next morning the heroes gather at the Twisted Door, the ancient set of double doors at the foot of the cliff, which serves as the entry to the Halflight Path. The doors are covered in strange runes in an unknown language. They also exhibit a strange optical phenomenon: the doors’ edges appear perfectly straight, but an observer who follows an edge with his eyes somehow finds that was once an outside edge is now an inside edge. It is this effect that gives the door its name.

Derdra introduces the party to Tanack, a bearded man in a distinctive brown and gray uniform, the right breast of which bears a badge with a golden arch on a midnight blue background, representing the Twisted Door. He’ll be taking them up as the first group. The guide hands the companions pendants that provide light in the darkness and beckons them to follow him down the tunnel.

Tanack explains that the complete height of the cliffs below Kaer Maga is riddled with huge complexes of natural and artificial tunnels and rooms, most of which have never been charted. Everyone in Kaer Maga maintains a healthy fear of these deeper levels, for they know that those who travel too often or too far beneath the surface return with tales of unspeakable horror -- if they return at all. From the earliest days of the city, its residents were under continual threat from the incursions of subterranean creatures that would occasionally make their way to the surface, which proved inadequately protected by its volunteer militia. Eventually, the city's residents decided that a small, specialized group could protect the city more effectively, and the first Duskwardens were commissioned. In the first years after their formation, the Duskwardens aggressively sought out and sealed as many entrances to the deeper levels as they could find, although they left a few select, easily-patrolled entrances accessible. Over the centuries that followed, the Duskwardens have patrolled the highest levels of the Undercity, maintaining the seals that prevent further attack from below and dispatching any creatures that manage to break through. So successful have they been in their mission that most residents of Kaer Maga are able to live their entire lives without ever encountering the denizens of the deeper Undercity. The Halflight Path is a carefully selected route through these tunnels. Tanack warns his clients not to stray from it.

The way up sneaks through endless tunnels. While the companions quickly start to feel the muscles in their legs burning, Tanack is light on his feet and often scouts ahead to make sure the dark holds no unwelcome surprises. Most side passages have been bricked up and sometimes Tanack warns the party to keep quiet, as he does not want to attract the attention of creatures who might finds these walls a mere inconvenience. At one point the companions hear a deep growl from behind one such wall, which is followed by a high-pitched death rattle. After two hours of traveling, the party reaches a round tunnel with gleaming walls that looks like glass. The tube is so smooth that only the sand spread out on the floor keeps travelers from slipping. At other points the tunnels turn into majestic hallways with ornate masonry and elaborate frescoes decorating the walls. The doors here are barred with locks and chains. When they are about halfway up, the companions pass three groups that are traveling down. Judging from the looks on those travelers’ faces, Sjo concludes that going down must be more pleasant than making your way up, especially while wearing a full plate.

After five hours the heroes see sunlight at the end of the tunnel. Their hope that they have already reached their destination is quickly tempered by Tanack, who tells them that the tunnel emerges onto the cliff-face, becoming a ledge barely wide enough for a cart. The view is breath-taking, but one look over the edge at the sheer drop down is enough to keep the heroes hugging the wall. Tanack dances off ahead again to scout for danger, but when the party catches up to him, he is just standing on the ledge with his back towards them, as if he’s waiting for them. He trembles as he turns around. Balian spots a line of blood coming from the corner of his mouth. Then he sees the three arrows protruding from the Duskwarden’s chest. Tanack’s legs buckle and he topples over the edge, plummeting down in the deep. Quint immediately reacts by throwing an invisibility sphere over the group, which is answered by a threatening howl from a fierce gnoll warrior who emerges from the rocks up ahead and storms down the path, into the invisible party. The hyena-headed humanoid is wielding a spiked whip. Two spear-bearing gnolls follow in his wake and a fourth warrior with a flail clears the bend as well. These creatures move fast; their speed has obviously been enhanced by magic. Sjo swings his heavy mace at the whipmaster, becoming visible in the act and revealing himself as a target to a gnoll archer who is hiding above the road. The healer gets two arrows in the chest. Puk tries to move into a favorable position by tumbling around the gnolls, but his enemies are not so easily fooled and the rogue suffers two attacks of opportunity: a lash from the whip and a stab from a spear. Balian orders Spyder to attack while Quint casts haste on his friends and tries to take the archer out of the fight with a cacophonous call, but the creature resists his magic. Balian jumps at the gnoll with the whip and brings down his greatsword with a force that could kill an auroch. The brute stumbles, but remains on his feet and counterattacks. Sjo pulls the arrows from his chest and heals himself with his most powerful spell, cure critical wounds. In the meantime Puk slashes the wavering whipmaster in the back and brings him down. Spyder sinks his teeth into one of the spear wielding barbarians, who is now raging like a madman and stabbing at anything in reach. A final enemy reveals herself, as she appears from behind the archer and casts a spell that allows her to walk through the air. Then she suddenly blips out of plain sight, having turned invisible. Although Balian lacks the rage power of his opponents, his blade hits them with the force of a thunderstorm. But these gnolls fight smart, and focus their attacks on the ranger. As Sjo forces the enemy caster to reveal herself again with an invisibility purge, Balian learns what it feels like to be a punching ball. A final arrow and a hit from the flail suffice to knock him out. Puk still dances around like a dervish warrior and takes out one of the raging spear fighters.

The gnoll cleric calls upon the power of her damned god to confuse her opponents, but through sheer force of will, all companions and Derdra can bite off her foul magic. This seems to be the turning point of the battle. Puk gets knocked to the ground by the surviving barbarian’s spear, but he keeps fighting from his prone position, barely clinging to life. Quint attempts another cacophonous call on the archer, which takes hold this time. Another enemy has been taken out of the fight. While Sjo pushes back the assailants with a fireball and heals his halfling friend, Puk kills off the last gnolls on the path. The air walking cleric notices the battle is lost and flies off, signaling her archer ally to get out as well.

The party heals up and waits for the next group up to arrive. They explain what happened to the Duskwarden guide; who informs them that the Halflight Path houses many threats, but gnolls are not usually among them. This ambush must have been planned for the heroes in particular. The man takes the companions along with his group and after three more hours they arrive at the end of the last tunnel. They are now standing at the foot of the massive wall that does not only circle, but actually houses most of Kaer Maga. The hexagonal ring of eighty-foot high walls is imposing indeed. The residents have chiseled out doors and windows at every height. There is no great gate into the city, but a giant breach in the northwest wall provides easy access through a district called the Warrens. The breach also allows the heroes to peek inside the hollow wall, which has been filled to the brim with layer upon layer of small buildings. Ropes, nets and wooden ladders weave their way between these houses like the rigging on a ship.

Derdra takes the party to an inn and leaves them there for the night, while she slinks off into the city to pick up the latest rumors on the Cinderlands and its Shoanti tribes. Quint urges his friends to join him to The Flame That Binds, the ‘magic shoppe’. An amiable, but incredibly corpulent bloatmage welcomes them there, introducing himself as Carthagos. He offers to sell them magic components, scrolls and magical items. He is also willing to take interesting items off their hands, but having spent most of their fortune in Janderhoff, the companions have little left to barter with.

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