Saturday, February 23, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 12: Demonbane

It seems, for the moment, that the strange conspiracy wrapping its tendrils through Magnimar has been slain. Its leaders lie dead, its plans smashed. Sandpoint is safe, and all of the troubles appear to have come to an end. But this was the same sort of calm our heroes felt after Nualia died, and it wasn't over then, either. Still, great deeds call for great rewards... though some rewards are stranger than others.

To bring yourself up-to-date, check out the previous parts of the story:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower

With the monsters slain, and lives saved, the only logical thing to do is, of course, to raise a glass!

The Gratitude of Lords

Through deft explanations and saving those who pull the levers of power a great deal of face, the Lord Mayor and many others were able to take some of the credit for stopping the heinous actions of the Skinsaw Cult. With the lamia lying dead, the Lord Mayor hosted a dinner in honor of the heroes who had come from the north to stop this menace. An affair that had more than a few rewards planned by the night's end.

Not all cults have treasure in their vaults, after all.
The night's notables swirled around the heroes, eager to brush up against the greatness of the hour. Zordlan told the tales of their adventures, embroidering them as he sipped his wine to the delight of his audience. Mirelinda was hung on by young men and women alike, all of them curious as to how one of Varisia's native people fell into such unusual and eclectic company. Zhakar was approached enthusiastically by many, but more than a few felt the strange, pulsing emanations crawling through him... like the fever twisting his hand was growing worse, instead of better. Bostwick avoided the spirits, as well as the finery, but was still given his share of thanks for his part in protecting the city. And Thok, who had chosen to garb himself in more traditional clothing, found himself being treated more like an exotic animal than a man.. particularly by one noblewoman who felt a night with him would be well worth the scandal.

It was as the meal was finishing, though, that the Lord Mayor drew everyone's attention to the head of the table. In exchange for the companions' service, he felt it was appropriate to show gratitude in the way that Magnimar felt was most genuine; with coin of the realm. An expensive bounty was given to each companion, an iron-bound chest holding the gold. Enough to prove that the city of statues did, indeed, value what they had done.

Echoes of a Dead God

With no demands on their time the following day, Zhakar found himself accompanying Mirelinda as she headed through the massive marketplace of one of the biggest cities in the nation. With his own gold locked firmly in a vault in the church of Abadar, and noting that Zordlan and Thok were both otherwise occupied, he wanted to be sure the young sorceress didn't fall afoul of any cut purses. Or worse, ardent admirers.

It was in the midst of the marketplace when Zhakar's eye fell on a strange structure. The stone was old, and the stairs worn from use, but the building looked all-but-abandoned. Above the single door he could just make out a winged, all-seeing eye... the Eye of Aroden, worn away to nearly nothing. Much like the dead god's worship.

A place of worship... now little more than a tomb.
Without thinking, Zhakar stepped between the stalls, and found the old path. Mirelinda, confused, followed him. They stepped into the dimly-lit interior, and saw the hollowed-out husk the church had become. Like a riverbed in a drought, it had been carved by belief and faith, but now it was empty. A few ragged tapestries still hung on the walls, but the floor was thick with dust, and the air with silence. The place had been a path to the divine, but it was no longer a place where the divine could be felt.

Mirelinda had her hand on Zhakar's arm, about to say they should go, when a figure emerged from the rear of the church. Older, with a gray beard and a single, blind eye, the priest smiled at them.

"We see few enough in these troubled times," he said, leaning against the stone that had once been the altar. "And rarely heroes who save the lives of the city's wealthy."

A Forgotten Weapon

The old priest offered a wry smile, and shook his hand to dispel the air of mystery. He lived in Magnimar, and though he was half-blind, there was nothing wrong with his ears. He recognized the swordsman with the iron gauntlet, and the jewel-bedecked companion with him. It wasn't until Zhakar mentioned he'd felt a pull into that place that the old man's smile grew sad, and he nodded.

"They have waited long to find a new champion," he said. "But if they were to call one, it would probably be one such as you. Wait here."

You will not be the first to wear them... and I hope you are not the last.
The priest ducked into the back room for a moment, and emerged carrying a rosewood box, with a strange lock on the front of it. Removing the all-seeing eye from around his neck, he placed it into the aperture, and turned slowly. The lock opened, and he carefully lifted the lid. Sitting on a blue velvet cushion were a pair of vambraces. The steel was dull and worn, the leather straps dark and supple. There was a hum about them, though, that made Zhakar's hair stand on end.

"Your arm, young man," the priest said. Zhakar extended his left arm, and the priest reverently lifted one of the vambraces out of the box. "They have had many names. The Devil's Lash, when they were worn by Sharai Trentwater in the days when Cheliax stood as a bastion of righteousness. The Crucible when they were given as a gift to Conran Skullsplitter for his friendship and aid in our cause."

The old man fastened the vambrace smoothly, as if it were a task he had performed a thousand times. It was snug, but not uncomfortable, hugging Zhakar like a second skin. A shine went over the steel, and it began to alter. A pattern of feathers etched into it, bright light shining from between them. A steel plumage that turned into a smooth grain that shone with a mirror polish. The priest beamed, nodding.

"But when I wore them to the Worldwound, they were known as Demonbane," he said.

He reached for the second vambrace, but before he could touch it, the steel flew out of the box, wrapping itself around Zhakar's right forearm. The steel blackened as if it had been blasted by fire, the straps snapping around his arm. The steel twisted and ground, the pattern of feathers turning into a kind of dark membrane, run through with deep red veins. Zhakar stared at it, horrified. The priest backed away, tears running from his blind eye. Zhakar slowly raised his left hand, making a placating gesture. He slipped a brass key from his belt, and laid it on the altar.

"For your generosity," he said, quietly. The priest said nothing, his pulse beating hard in his neck. Zhakar nodded, and left the church. As he walked, the vambraces seemed to mold tighter to him. As much a part of him as the strange changes happening just beneath his skin.

"What just happened?" Mirelinda asked as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

"You're the one with the cards," Zhakar murmured, idly touching the blackened steel embracing his right arm. "You tell me."

What strange adventures await Sandpoint's companions? Are they being guided by a force greater even than themselves? Or is there darkness at the end of their journey? Stop in next time on Table Talk to find out!

And if you have a guess as to what magic item it was that sought Zhakar out, leave it in the comments below! It is in the core game.

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