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Tag: epic

Valley of Nightmares Part 2: The Lair of the Creeping Flesh
After about another day of travel the heroes reached the ruined city of Celik. As they approached the outskirts of the ancient city, the heroes saw a handful of scattered farms with high, thorny fences being worked by slaves. The overseers all bore the mark of House Mareneth, an inverted crescent set over a pair of crossed stalks or blades of grass, and a few questions were enough to reveal that they were taciturn to the point of being unapproachable. Most simply directed the heroes on towards the city itself rather than engage them in conversation or answer any of their questions. Drawing closer to the city proper, the heroes saw that the outer wall was mostly intact, though it appeared to have been re-built in several places. The gates were open but guarded by a squad of armed men bearing the house's mark, and they stopped the heroes to make a cursory examination before allowing them admittance to the city. One of the guards explained simply, “The laws and customs of Celik are very simple. First, all are welcome to trade here. Second, violence and theft are not allowed and will be met with severe punishment. Third, any who wish to stay and settle may do so provided they abide by the terms of servitude as set forth by House Mareneth. Food, water, shelter, and pay will be provided for work and loyalty. Fourth, the ruins are off limits to all save those who have permission to enter. Anyone else caught entering or leaving them will be considered to be a thief and dealt with accordingly.” After that warning was given, the heroes entered the half-ruined city of Celik.

While a good portion of the city was in ruins, the heroes saw that much of it had been rebuilt and appeared to be a thriving community. All of the local buildings showed signs of having been repaired, or even completely rebuilt, using material from the ruins. Crude walls stood on the far side on the inhabited area, and they were constructed of the same combination of old brick, stone, timber, and debris. As the heroes make their way through the resettled portion of Celik, they saw a large number of slaves working on clearing debris, rebuilding walls and other structures, tending to small gardens, and so on, all under the watchful eyes of the noble house's guards. A few small establishments were scattered around what passed for the market square, and they included a handful of taverns, gaming halls, and market stalls, all of which appeared to be run shifty-looking elf tribesmen. A small inn named the Broken Wheel sat near the gates, and its proprietor was an auburn-haired half-elf woman named Samirah, and the heroes would find lodgings there shortly.

After milling about the market square and asking a few questions, the heroes learned that Korsun's house was a noble villa that had been turned into a small fortress near the heart of the city's re-settled portion. Taking a chance the heroes approached the villa, and soon they had secured an audience with the nobleman.

The house guards escorted them to a courtyard at the center of the fortified estate that was decorated with checked blue and white tiles, a small, bubbling fountain, and several miniature fruit trees. Despite the heat outside the courtyard was cool and refreshing. A stocky, middle-aged man with graying hair, swarthy skin, a thick mustache, and bright, blue eyes sat there on a small, marble bench. He was dressed in a simple toga of fine cloth and enjoying dates proffered to him on a silver tray by an attractive slave.

“Ah,” he said with a smile as the heroes entered. “So you are the ones who wished to see me, yes? I have heard of you. The defenders of Altaruk are most welcome here in Celik. Your descriptions do not do you justice. Please sit, and I will have wine and food brought for you.” He clapped his hands once, and a pair of slaves by one of the doorways leading into the courtyard hurried off. “I would imagine types such as you are not here to settle or seek employment. My guess is that you wish to enter the ruins and hunt for artifacts or knowledge of the lost ages, yes?” He nodded, his mouth curled up in a wry smile. “I am glad you came to see me first. The ruins are forbidden to all, on pain of death, save that I grant them special dispensation to enter. I am willing to do so, for the right price.”

He nodded to the returning slaves, who were carrying pitchers of wine, cups, and a tray set with skewers of sizzling meat and flat bread. “Please, help yourselves.” He cleared his throat. “Yes, as I said, for the right price. Mere coins or goods are not what I seek from you. No, as I said, your reputations have preceded you. A group of savage gith have moved into the ruins and they have been harassing what caravans and traders come here. Eliminate them, bring me proof that they have been dealt with, and you will be free to come and go from the ruins as you please. I will also expect you to bring me news of any unusual or valuable treasures or places of interest in the ruins. I will be quite willing to buy any items you find. I warn you though, the ruins are dangerous. Many other savage humanoids have moved into them, and other creatures lurk in the abandoned buildings. The dead do not rest easy in Celik either. Should you enter and fail to return, none of my guards will enter the ruins to find you. Some have entered and returned with great wealth. Many more have never been seen again. Do you agree to my terms?”

The heroes agreed and after being warned of the bands of gith and tareks holing up in the ruins, and of clutches insects, large vermin, and monstrous creatures lurking among the rubble, they made their way to the wall that protected the settled portion of Celik from these threats. Toranda opted to When the heroes reached the crude, inner wall that divided the city, they were allowed to enter by the house guards positioned at the rough gate. The streets of the ruined portion of Celik were bare and broken in places and choked with debris and rubble in others. Some of the buildings were intact while others were no better than crumbling ruins or hollow shells gutted by fire ages ago. Sparse weeds and dry brush dotted the ruins, though nothing larger grew in the dry climate.

Moving down the broken streets of ruined Celik, they passed by the shell of what must have once been a huge building or warehouse of some sort. Patches of loose earth and rubble dotted the old thoroughfare, and they could see open sinkholes and crumbling walls to either side. The buildings cast long and strangely-shaped shadows that covered the length of the street. A few odd-looking crystals were scattered about, and they shimmered slightly in the dim illumination. A strange tittering of clicking echoed off the collapsed walls and the heroes heard, or rather felt, a low rumble from somewhere. Suddenly they saw sandy earth and broken rubble erupt up from the surrounding street, and a half a dozen hulking figures with thick claws and armored carapaces emerged. A large, insect-like creature with feathery antennae could be seen lurking in the nearby building, a cold, malevolent intelligence reflected in its glossy black eyes.

A savage contest followed as the creatures, anakores by the look of them, charged the heroes by burrowing under the ruined streets. The smaller creature, a gaj, Chuka-Tet would later point out, goaded them forward with its telepathic abilities. Gurthmore was surrounded by the anakores initially, but the mul gladiator used this to his advantage and struck out with impunity. Jin vanished and reappeared, his icy blade piercing thick hide as he moved to engage the strange insect that held the creatures in its thrall. Khossus stayed back, his sword and shield defending Arshaka and Chuka-Tet. The obsidian bard's song made his enemies dance around the impromptu field of battle as the thri-kreen druid's staff and scorpion crushed and impaled the surrounding creatures. The anakores attempted to grab the heroes and drag them under the surface where the choking soil and their tearing claws would finish them, but it was not to be. Blades flashing, the heroes put a swift end to the brutes and the loathsome insect-like creature which commanded them. Catching their breath, the heroes soldiered on. Khossus's keen eyes, Chuka-Tet's tracking skills, and Jin and Arshaka's knowledge of the streets put them on the trail of the gith, and ere long they had tracked the humanoids to an ancient hospice.

The heroes quickly discovered the ruins were not empty. Ahead they saw the remains of what appeared to have been a large bathhouse. Two long pools ran nearly the length of the arched, columned hall, and each was coated with a thin layer of blue slime that seemed to be seeping up from the stones below. Rubble was scattered about the huge chamber, though an area had been cleared around the far side of the room. A camp was set up there and the companions could see its inhabitants, a group of savage-looking gith, stand up and grab spears as they entered. A large, muscular humanoid figure with blank eyes and, disturbingly, no skin came up some stairs at the rear of the room . It bellowed a challenge in some garbled language as the gith jabbered and raised their weapons. A second humanoid, pale and bloated with blank eyes, followed on its heels, a twisted bone staff clutched in its hands.

Battle followed swiftly as Chuka-Tet and Gurthmore ran ahead. The Crown of the Sun flashed and unleashed a beam of blinding sunlight, striking the two strange, aberrant creatures sightless for a moment. Two of the gith hurled their javelins, pinning Arshaka and Khossus in place for a moment. The foulspawn with the staff unleashed a psychic storm that engulfed Chuka-Tet, nearly driving the thri-kreen to madness. Although things looked bleak for a moment, the heroes quickly rallied as Jin took to the air and flew towards the hulking foulspawn while Arshaka and Khossus tore free of the javelins that pinned them in place. Back and forth the ebb and tide of combat went, as the foulspawn hulk picked up the mul barbarian with one hand and slammed him into the obsidian bard. The foulspawn seer vanished, evading attacks as it warped space and minds alike, bedeviling the heroes at every turn. The gith struck with savage blows from their spears, nearly running Khossus and Chuka-Tet through. But Jin unleashed his wintry blade and Gurthmore swung his axe with a butcher's hand, carving a path through flesh. The last of the gith fell, slain alongside their aberrant allies. After examining the ruins, the heroes headed down the stairs into the lower level of the ruin.

The room at the base of the stairs was large and there were a number of tables and shelves set with strange, alchemical gear. One table looked like it had been used to either dissect specimens, butcher meat, or possibly both. Strange growths extruded from the walls in places, writhing of their own accord, and the air was hazy, thick and uncomfortably moist. The room smelled like an abattoir soaked in ammonia. A stone pool of viscous reddish fluid sat near one wall, and a brain in a crystal jar was set on a stone plinth next to it. The heroes saw two humanoids with blue-gray skin, sinister sharp-toothed grins, and four, clawed arms moving about one of the tables with obsidian knives in their hands, cutting away at what appeared to be a large quantity of raw meat that, disturbingly, twitched of its own accord. The humanoids turned their eerie blank eyes towards the heroes as they entered, and begin to cackle with mad glee. Something in the pool moved, and a mass of slimy flesh pulled free with a horrid, sucking sound. Chuka-Tet saw two other humanoid figures lurking near an archway on the far end of the room. They might have been gith...once. Their skin was pinkish-gray and they were eyeless. Tentacles sprouted from their shoulder blades, grasping at the air spasmodically.

Desperate, close-quarters combat erupted in the chamber. The heroes cut down the crawling flesh as it lashed out with sickly pseudopods. The four-armed foulspawn danced around the chamber, slashing with their knives, only to be met by powerful blows from the two gladiators, staggering them. The once-gith lashed out with their flailing tentacles, grabbing the heroes and pulling them close. The brain in the jar impossibly rose from the stone plinth, hovering in the air, and lashed out with its own mad thoughts. Sword, staff, and axe hewed through aberrant flesh as the heroes took up the slaughter. Arshaka and Chuka-Tet kept the heroes together, words and primal evocations staving off the depredations of the creatures that circled them. Despite serious wounds and psychic trauma, Khossus and Jin finished off the last of the foulspawn as Gurthmore's axe shattered the crystal jar and killed the still-living brain within. Steeled by a moment's rest, the heroes made their way through the arch at the end of the room and down a set of stairs into the darkness beyond.

At the base of the stairs, a wall of writhing, living flesh barred their way. The horrid living wall parted under a touch from Jin's icy blade, revealing a nightmarish chamber beyond. Part of the room beyond was raised, and the platform was encircled by glowing runes in some strange script. They provided the only light that the heroes could see. A chair fashioned from bone sat up there, along with a small table. A small pool could be seen on one end of the room, and tables and shelves lined the walls. The whole room was covered by strange, fleshy growths and slime oozed from gaps in the stones. The air was thick and hazy, and smelled of ammonia. Clouds of reddish-purple mist boiled up from the pool, which was filled with thick, red liquid. Two eyeless creatures with pinkish-gray skin and writhing tentacles growing from their shoulders milled about attending to some arcane task, while two other large humanoids with gray skin and blank eyes stood near the stairs to the platform, and each had a large, bone sword clutched in two hands. They moved menacingly forward, raising their blades. A strange, humanoid creature with glistening, mauve skin and writhing tentacles where its face should be sat at the table above. It gibbered and hissed madly as the heroes entered. “You! You will not interfere! I need flesh, flesh for the gate! This is not my home. I must make it as my home, in order to punch through the walls of reality. I will use your flesh!”

A nightmarish battle followed, as the warped gith vanished and reappeared seemingly at will, their tentacles flaying flesh as they lashed at Gurthmore, Chuka-Tet, Khossus, and Arshaka. The large foulspawn moved in, bone blades slashing wildly, and the heroes were gripped by a desperate frenzy in their presence. As their attacks went awry, they began to slash at each other as much as the gray-skinned berserkers. The hideous creature on the platform, which Arshaka would later name a mind flayer, blasted them with psychic energy. Jin flew across the room, ran up the stairs, and engaged the creature directly. He had been wounded, and the pale-skinned warlock was barely on his feet, but somehow he managed to stay alive as he struck at the creature time and again with his icy blade. Time and time again it turned his blows aside, but he kept its full attention as the rest of the heroes dispatched its minions. Their lungs burning and their heads swimming from the choking fumes filling the chamber, they advanced up the stairs and surrounded the foul humanoid. But it blasted them all with a wave of psychic energy, stunning all save the obsidian bard. A song of hope, of resistance, and of victory sprang from Arshaka's mind and as one the heroes shook off the mental onslaught. A blow from Gurthmore's axe finished the job, and the many-tentacled head bounced down the stairs into the pool below.

Chuka-Tet called on the power of the land itself and as the heroes rested in the one, clean spot in the chamber, he cleansed the ruin of the foul, fleshy growths that choked its halls. Refreshed, the heroes set out through the ruins. They opted to avoid returning to speak with Korsun, for fear of treachery, and set out in search of the ruined library instead. Jin, a product of the city-states, put his instinctive feel for the urban landscape to good use. Moving down broken streets and through collapsed buildings, the heroes eventually came upon their goal. Ahead they saw the many-columned edifice of Celik's great library. The ancient structure was mostly intact, and it consisted of a columned, marble structure with a peaked roof and three wings. Cracked and worn stone steps led up to the main entrance, whose bronze doors were green with verdigris and sagged with age. The great valves were slightly ajar...

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Tags: Boss Battle , Epic , Recap
Island of the Lost Temple Part 8.2: Into the Labyrinth Part 2 (or: Serpents of the Earth)
The heroes woke after a few hours of rest in the white dome at the heart of the ruined city. It had not been an easy rest, though their flagging strength had returned. Though Gurthmore had pushed ahead and come back wounded and poisoned, the mul had shrugged off the worst of his injuries and was ready to press on once again. “I can take you back to where I went,” the burly mul said as Khossus and he slid back the bar on the door that led to the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the ruined city, “but there are more snake-men to kill down there.” With that the heroes descended into the darkened tunnels below.

After passing through a number of tunnels and galleries shrouded in gloom, the heroes reached the large hall with the brackish pool where Gurthmore had slain several yuan-ti. Wary for the sounds of movement in the dark corridors beyond, the heroes moved silently through the eerie, green light emanating from the strange crystals overhead. They reached an intersection in the hall beyond, and the mul barbarian pointed to the north. “That's where I slew the wizard and his ghosts.” Realizing that there was nothing to find that way, the others decided to head down the passage to the southwest. Jin crept ahead of the party and the warlock quietly opened the brass-sheathed doors at the end of the hall. The silence was split by the slightest squeal from the ancient valves' rust- and verdigris-covered hinges. The chamber ahead was lit by the same, strange gems that shined in the depths of the labyrinth. A gilded throne sat at the far end of the long room on a marble dais. A sunburst design was inlaid into the floor in elaborate detail. On further examination, the heroes realized that it is the image of a feathered serpent coiled into a circle. But the chamber was not empty. A figure was seated on the throne, a scaled woman with a crown of serpents in place of her hair. She was gaunt and her eyes gleamed with cold hunger. A trio of mummified yuan-ti warriors armed with bronze khopeshes stood at attention at the corners of the room.

“Trespassers,” she hissed, “you will not leave this place alive. Your lives and souls are forfeit.” With that, her eyes began to glow with cold light. From beneath the throne, a swarm of vipers slithered into view. Gurthmore charged into the room, his massive axe swinging a wide arc as it bit into the shoulder of one of the mummies. Chuka-Tet and Jin followed as Ashaka's rousing song lifted their spirits. While the thri-kreen druid and his scorpion engaged another mummy, the pale-skinned warlock ran up to the throne – only to have the floor give way beneath his feet! Tumbling deftly to one side he glimpsed a nest of vipers writhing at the bottom of a fifty-foot deep pit. His relief turned to shock as he inadvertently met the medusa's gaze, and the look of shock did not leave his face as he turned to stone. Khossus moved ahead, his sword and shield keeping two of the mummies at bay as the swarm of vipers slithered around Gurthmore, Chuka-Tet, and Arshaka. Toranda moved into the room and unleashed a single, brilliant thought that wrapped the medusa in burning light. She hissed, blinded by the adept's power, but was still able to hurl ghostly serpents at both the tiefling and the obsidian bard, infecting them with supernatural venom.

Jin shook off the effects of the medusa's gaze following an infusion of primal power from Chuka-Tet. He vanished and reappeared by the snake-tressed fiend and though his icy blade bit deep into her side, her gaze locked the warlock in place again. He shrugged off the stony curse as Gurthmore leaped over the pit and his axe slashed the medusa deep along one arm. But she did not bleed, and they both realized this medusa was already dead. Gurthmore caught her gaze as he fell, and only his axe saved him from doom as it caught on the lip of the pit, supporting his stony body over the drop-off. The mul's vitality allowed him to overcome the medusa's cursed gaze and he scrambled up from the pit. He and Jin slashed at the medusa as Toranda burned and blinded her again with the power of his mind. Khossus, Chuka-Tet, and Arshaka managed to dispatch the mummies as the warlock and the barbarian slew their undead queen. The rest of the vipers slithered away, directionless at her demise, and the heroes were able to catch their breath. After searching the medusa, Toranda purloined a fine robe from her throne while the rest grabbed a few precious jewels that her now-headless body still wore. A small chamber beyond held a large sarcophagus topped, bizarrely, by a fresh pomegranate. Chuka-Tet realized that it was no ordinary fruit, but rather one that had been infused with a degree of necromantic power, enough to enable any who ate it to resist deathly energies and poisons, for a time. Inside the burial cask they found an ornate object, much like an ankh, made of entwined metal serpents. While Arshaka could not find any religious significance to the item, Jin realized that it must be some sort of key.

Backtracking down the corridor, the heroes made their way down the passage to the south. Once again, Jin moved silently ahead. And once again, ancient hinges squealed as he opened the door, betraying his presence. He saw roaring flames burning in massive stone braziers set at the corners of the large chamber ahead. A short flight of steps led down into the large room. Its floor was scribed with ancient glyphs that surrounded a serpentine mark scribed into the floor at the heart of the room. A huge, snake-like form rested there, but it raised its human-like head, hissing a low warning as the warlock and his allies entered, and it spread its large, cobra-like hood displaying its fearsome countenance in all its glory. A trio of yuan-ti moved into view. Two were armed like warriors, each with a bow in hand and a curved blade at their side. The third was an abomination – it had the body and head of a snake and two muscular arms, though one of its scaled arms was flexible and ended in a second serpent's head that stared with blind eyes and hissed madly. Two large snakes emerged from the writing flames of the braziers on the far side of the room, each seemingly composed of molten rock rather than scaled flesh.

Again, Gurthmore leaped into the room, axe in hand with an oath on his lips. He was splashed with burning venom as both the fiery snakes spat at him, but the mul gladiator chopped away at one of the snake men, driving him back. Jin followed on his heels, engaging the naga and then vanishing before it could strike. Arshaka sang a song of victory and death as Khossus moved in to meet the naga, a snake-man soldier, and the yuan-ti abomination in battle. Toranda blasted the naga with a brilliant thought as it sprayed venom over Khossus and Chuka-Tet's scorpion. The druid bashed one of the snake-men with his staff as he used his primal powers to invigorate his allies. The naga was knocked prone by powerful blows from Jin, Khossus, and Gurthmore, though it rose time and again, slithering out of reach with lightning speed. It rained burning venom down on the heroes and blasted their minds with a magical word of pain. The berserk abomination lashed about with its tail, bowling foes over, as its snake-headed hand struck time and again to deliver venom. The fiery snakes darted around the room, leaving a trail of flame in their wake. But the heroes proved too fast and strong for the serpents, and ere long cut the naga down alongside its servants.

Recovering a pile of ancient coins and jewels from among the chamber's recesses, the heroes also discovered a sealed door. Jin realized that the key he had found would open the sealed, stone door, and after opening it the heroes discovered a tunnel that wound down into the depths beneath the ruined city. Jin took the lead and this time the stone doors at the end of the darkened tunnel opened silently at his touch. A vast chamber opened up in front of him. A large pool of brackish water lined by serpentine columns dominated the center of the sanctum. On the near end, at the foot of the pool, he and the others saw two statues. Both were of young men, one with a serpent-like appearance and the other with the look of a bird of prey. On the far side of the pool they saw two other statues, one of a man with a hawk's head and one of a woman with an owl's body. A circle of sigils surrounded an altar with serpentine designs located between the statues. They could all see a single pedestal rising from the center of the pool. An object there glowed with a rosy light. “The Crown of the Sun,” Arshaka whispered, “or at least another piece of it. The statues are of Ral and Guthay,” the obsidian bard said as he pointed at the statues by the door. “The twin moons of Athas. And the other statues are their parents, the ancient gods Ur and Ne, day and night. I am not surprised to find their images once again associated with this broken crown.”

As he whispered, Toranda crept ahead. “I think I can get this without too much trouble.” The tiefling psychic concentrated and the fragment of the artifact began to rise from the pedestal in the pool. As he turned back to the others with a grin on his face, a figure rose from the altar, a magnificent winged serpent with radiant feathers. The creature slid through the air with grace, light radiating from its eyes. “You cannot have the crown,” it hissed in a strange language that all understood,, strangely enough. “No, you shall not, for it is mine. I have guarded it for uncounted ages, and no one else may claim it! A huge shape could be seen moving in the murky water. As Toranda turned back towards the pedestal, a look of shock and horror crossed the tiefling noble's face. Four huge, serpentine heads broke the surface of the water, and all of them were attached by long necks to a single, reptilian body. Venom dripped from fanged maws, sizzling where it hit the stone floor.

A fierce struggle followed. Chuka-Tet moved in to protect his ally as the creature bit at them and spat poison at Khossus and Arshaka, knocking them from their feet with the impact of the venom alone. Gurthmore, and Jin moved to engage the beast, the wily warlock vanishing and reappearing on the pillar behind the creature. He clutched the fragment of the Crown of the Sun in one hand, only to hear the artifact whisper in his mind. “I can give you power,” it said, “feel my warmth.” He realized that even his blade of ice could be made to burn with the light of the sun with this object in his possession. But his realization was short lived, as the feathered serpent winged through the air. It let out a cry of rage and vengeance, its shriek hurting and dazing some as it became naught but a trail of rainbow light and flashed through Gurthmore, Arshaka, Toranda and Khossus, burning and overwhelming them. The mul barbarian and the warlock battled the feathered serpent as the rest held off the many-headed terror before them. It snapped at them, its venomous fangs biting through armor as its poison seared flesh with a touch. The couatl lashed out with bite and tail, but its rage was no match for the two warriors as axe and icy blade felled the creature. Despite the failure of one guardian, the other had yet to fall. The heroes slashed away, heads severed by sword and axe blows, only for two more to spring up in their place. “Fire,” Arshaka yelled, “it's the only way to prevent the stumps from growing new heads!” Jin tossed the fragment of the crown of Khossus.

“Use this! Light your blade!” Instinctively the gladiator let the piece of the Crown of the Sun fill him with its warmth, and his blade erupted into shining fire. The warrior and the barbarian moved to flank the beast as Arshaka distracted it with his song. Toranda tried to overwhelm its mind, but was only partially successful as it had too many brains for even a psi of his caliber to dominate at once. But it gave the heroes the moments they needed to surround the beast. Blade, staff, and arcane power all struck home. The beast struck one last time, its three remaining heads lunging forward, only the heroes had its mark. They dodged, and blade, axe, and staff slew them as an icy skewer reached its heart. Exhausted, the heroes slumped by the pool, gathered their strength, and prepared to leave. Arshaka realized that the heart of the couatl still pulsed with power, and he consumed it in a single swallow, rainbow light infusing his obsidian form. Though Chuka-Tet was disturbed by this, the druid said nothing and the heroes left the labyrinth, and then the city itself.

While the journey back through the thick, island rainforest was exhausting but uneventful. The heroes returned to the treant's grove where the ancient, talking plant thanked them for helping lift the dark shroud that had cloaked the ruined city for eons. Shepherded back to the giant's village by the walking trees, the heroes were met by a handful of giants with shouts of welcome. Ere long they stood before Mearedes. The half-giant druid appeared impressed by the fact that they had returned from the ancient ruins alive. The “little grandmother” was also in awe of the Crown of the Sun, incomplete as it was, and realized that its fate was not to lie on the island of Shault. She knew the heroes were bound by both their word and the magic of her ritual, and that the secret of the island would be safe with them. As captain Minron and his crew never came close enough to Shault to see the lush forest that covered it, they would be free to sail on – as long as they did not seek to return. Mearedes promised that a member of her tribe would wade out across the silt to bring the Silver Zephyr close enough for the heroes to be ferried to it come the morning. The heroes ate well and slept even better that night.

Come the morning, the young giantess sent by Mearedes ran back into the village, nearly out of breath. “We are under attack,” she shouted, “giants from another island! They have come ashore and destroyed the settlement at the rocky cove. They are led by one of their chiefs and...and....a defiler! The very land burns at his footsteps! He was shouting something about a gem and a crown.” The other giants began to shout as they dropped what they were doing, their hands reaching for nearby clubs and spears. “Hold!” Mearedes yelled, the word carrying like the note of a bell. Cold fury burned in her eyes, her voice as resolute as a mountain, as she strode to the center of the village. “We must defend this island! But we cannot rush blindly ahead! Break into small groups and head towards the shore. We will use surprise and our knowledge of this island as weapons. But we must be cautious of the magic they have brought with them.”Mearedes turned towards the heroes. “This cannot be a coincidence. For this defiler,” she spat, “to come here seeking a crown when you have found this,” she gestured to the fragment of the Crown of the Sun in their possession. “This is your responsibility. But I cannot make you fight. I can only ask. Will you help us defeat this evil and save Shault?” As one, the heroes agreed and set out for the shore...
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