To the Face!

Seeing signs of giants inhabiting the ancient city, the party decides to do reconnaissance before making a direct move for the mountain, which they assume is their ultimate destination. Sneaking into an unoccupied house near the edge of the city, they wait until dark. Without enough magic to protect against the weather, Taeva, Haggor, and Shayliss have a hard time sticking out against the freezing cold, as the party does not wish to make a fire and draw attention. By the time darkness falls early in the evening, the rogue and monk are very happy to start moving.

From Balekh’s divinations earlier, they know that the western edge of the city closest to them has been set up as a tent city for various giants that appear to be engaged in construction projects around the city. Taeva and Veshenga set out and skirt the edge of this city, passing between in at the foreboding fortress that guards the main road through town. Past the giants, they find little sign of life in the southern half of the city. After seeing some of the sights, including a building guarded by what could only be abominable snowmen, Taeva decides to return to camp, as she is feeling the chill profoundly in the open air. Veshenga, protected by magic against the cold, continues on. Shortly thereafter, she sees the glacier to the east give way to a tangle of giant fungi and strange plants running right up to the main road, and the air warms. She figures these are likely benefiting from some kind of volcanic hot spring, and sneaks forward across the main road to cast magic that will let her communicate with the plants. From them, she learns that the tangle runs deep and is deadly to those that venture too deep. The plant, however, does clue her in to the native inhabitants of the city, which it calls Skulks.

As she continues on into a section of the city featuring even more massive construction than the rest, likely the abode of giants, she begins to sense that she is being followed. She hides in an alley and waits, and is soon rewarded by another shadowy, humanoid figure moving after her. After it appears to give up on finding her and turn back, she creeps up on it and grabs ahold. The flabby creature struggles then gives up, and once Veshenga introduces herself and promises not to harm him, he introduces himself as Morgiv, indeed one of the denizens of the city called Skulks. However, on getting a better look at him, Veshenga recognizes a similarity in appearance and language to the strange man that makes her feel that he is, if anything, from an aeons-lost tribe of Varisians. These individuals, who Morgiv calls “Providers” must have adapted to the city over the last ten-thousand years. He seems happy to see adventurers that want to defeat the “god-king” and make the city once again safe for his people to roam, as they have retreated into their glacial tunnels.

Meanwhile, Haggor is exploring exactly these tunnels. He found that the glacier only goes so deep, and conceals an ancient lava flow that must have wiped out half of the city during the fall of Thassilon. He passes warning glyphs without knowing what they are warning against, and then quickly finds that they indicate sections of tunnels still swarming with the angry dead from fallen Xin-Shalast. Fortunately, Haggor has been preparing his magical gear precisely to handle the undead, and after he bodily tears several wraiths and spectres apart, they begin to leave him alone. He further explores the tunnels, finding evidence of inhabited sections guarded by pairs of humanoids (who he will later learn are the same Skulks as Morgiv). He remains hidden and doesn’t bother them, instead exploring the rest of the dangerous tunnels and then heading back to camp.

He arrives at about the same time as Veshenga and Morgiv, and introductions are made with Veshenga translating the Skulk’s strange patois of Thassilonian and Varisian for the rest of the group. The creature tells them that he can easily lead them to a secret way atop the mountain to Karzoug’s seat of power, but that the mountain is protected by a powerful obscuring field that none can penetrate without the right magics. He indicates that the Sihedron rings that three of them wear, gathered from various lieutenants and dungeons of Greed, are the required tokens. However, they do not have enough for everyone. According to Morgiv, most of the emissaries that dwell on the mountain have the rings, and they could be assaulted when they leave the mountain, but they usually do so in great numbers. The only denizens of the lower city that he believes have the rings are a dragon and a demon that are tentatively allied with Karzoug. The party, after some deliberation, believes that these will be the targets whose defeat will be least likely to immediately raise alarms.

Sneaking into the tunnels with Morgiv, he provides them a safe area nearer the north of the city to rest during the day. The next evening, they enter an ancient coliseum shaped as a Sihedron star where they are told the “demon” lives. After bypassing a number of traps and minor threats, they come upon the being’s dwelling in one of the boxes for nobles of the city. Instead of a demon, they find that he is instead an Ice Devil, guarded by two Bone Devils, and is prepared for them. Negotiations very quickly fail. Amidst ice storms and walls of ice, the party batters through the guardian devils and charges the lead devil, who teleports away, realizing he is outmatched, after threatening to remember their faces. Balekh immediately follows him with a scrying and teleport, emerging only seconds behind him. The party finishes the being off to realize that they are still inside the city in an abandoned house on the mountain not far away. They dimension door back to the creature’s lair and gather up its ring and various other treasure before heading back to the tunnels.

The next night, they sneak into an ancient tax collector’s treasury, emerging on the lair of an ancient blue dragon. Negotiations go longer than with the devil, but the dragon is not at all swayed by their suggestion that the world would be better off without Karzoug, instead deigning to lecture to them about the grandeur of the renewed Thassilonian Empire that is soon to commence. Deciding that they are unlikely to win this particular argument, the party attacks. The dragon unleashes lightning and phantasmal duplicates, nearly crushing Veshenga and dealing terrible wounds to Haggor and Taeva. However, like most of the party’s foes without time to prepare or room to maneuver, the fight is over quickly and decisively. As Haggor stashes the creature’s neatly organized hoard into their portable hole, Taeva skins the beast (Haggor insists that the skin go in a bag of holding that will not result in it rotting on top of the rest of the treasure).

With sufficient rings on hands, the next evening the party takes Morgiv’s secret route up the mountain, dispatching a guardian roper on the way. Reaching the top with the aid of the rings, they find a nearly abandoned set of buildings, with signs of life only in the immense tower that soars nearly half a mile high, nearly to the face on the mountain itself. After scouting the main route into the tower, Balekh finds that it is heavily guarded by giants. Instead, they decide to enter via a hole near the top of the tower, at it at least appears to not be immediately guarded and to allow them some control over the terrain. The party flies up and enters the small (by giant standards) side room. Just as they’re getting their bearings, an emanation of Karzoug appears in the room, spectral as he forces his way into this dimension. He asks them once more if they will set aside their foolish quest to defeat him and nods sadly when they once again reply with only impudent remarks and insults.

The vision fades and the party begins to prepare for battle, assuming that the alarm has been raised. Sure enough, less than a minute later sounds of armored foes are heard rushing down the hallway. As Haggor throws open the door to attack the threat, he finds three foes. The first is, though enlarged and covered in massive armor, by her sword and face clearly Viorian Dekanti, the pirate queen from Riddleport last seen driven mad by the sword of the champion of Greed. Flanking her are two immense giants, covered in runes, that appear to be the evolved form the creature that emerged from the cauldron in the Therassic Monastery. The battle is furious, with Karzoug’s champion and the giants cutting into Haggor again and again with thunderous blows. However, Balekh is on hand with healing magics and the rest of the party is giving better than Haggor is taking. Viorian is pummeled, disarmed, tripped, and stabbed with a bleeding wound, rolling away to try to save herself only to be finished off by Veshenga. The first giant fires a massive shower of mystical sparks from its runes before it falls, and the second tears into the party before it, too, falls to a focused assault.

However, as the last giant falls, the party has only a moment to breathe, as the next wave of foes is howling down the hallway. Forming up for the new threat, they see a quartet of giant-sized, armored women with the lower bodies of lions. They are clearly another kind of Lamia, and Balekh wastes no time trying to thin them out with a synthesized spell of holy fire and arcane lightning before fleeing around the corner. The creatures respond with twin columns of holy fire of their own and a wall of gnashing blades. However, most of the front line easily avoids these spells (though Balekh takes nearly as much punishment as he dealt), and charges forward to destroy the beasts. Haggor smashes two into the walls to make room for the rest of the party to unload a barrage of arrows and spells down the hallway at their sisters. As they fall, everything becomes momentarily quiet. Apparently, there were no other tower guardians immediately nearby.

The party takes the reprieve to recover, loot the bodies, and explore. They find an immense throne room, dwellings for dozens of giants, and, most importantly, an ornamental sepulcher for Karzoug that faces a very ornamental emerald and gold lens illuminated by a magical brazier. Suspecting that they’ve found the way into Karzoug’s sanctum, they consult the divinatory quill they found in the Scribbler’s lair and determine how to enter the domain. Balekh uses the last of his spells to wall off and arcane lock the entrances to the room, and they all hope that it will be enough to allow them to grab enough rest to assault the Runelord fresh. This proves to be a good plan, as they have just finished their morning studies when they hear pounding begin on the newly created walls. They steel themselves and prepare to face their ultimate battle.

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