The Acts of the Lords of Rannick, LXXXI

The party emerged from the rooms beneath the arena’s walls and seating to find themselves a short flight of stairs away from an expansive arena floor and a Rune Giant, pacing around, waiting, swatting at the air with a sword the size of a windmill sail. They took a moment to compose themselves or at least recompose themselves with some healing spells and make sure all the blood is where it is supposed to be and that the skin had knit back up etc.
 
Then they went out to meet it.
 
As usually happens, half of the first round of interaction was of a cautious, conciliatory tone, at least until it gets to the first person who thinks that isn’t a great idea and initiates combat. After which, it is a whirlwind of violence. In for a penny, in for a pound once the first person has thrown down. I was going to write something snide about how I don’t ever recall this party organizing some kind of signal (“We all attack when I do this…”) or even a cogent plan before initiating combat, but I’m not going to because I’d be proven wrong within the space of this entry. Shows what I know. Knew.
 
Anyway, first thing that is noticeable about the arena is that it is big, but right after that would be its revolutionary Osteoturf flooring with the bones of countless gladiators ground into a coarse sand with teeth, orbits and spurs of bone still visible amongst the older, yellowing grains. No one was pausing to admire the groundsmanship that goes into keeping all that shit level when presumably people tend to die all over the place.
 
Perhaps more attention grabbing was the Rune Giant who had noticed the puny hu-mans and elf approach. I don’t think he could see the gnomes, Tersplink and Kerplak favouring a more stealthy approach. Dagfinn, Arradin, Ron and Halvard advanced and Torgor (finally!) joined them, having lain just beneath the surface of the arena in a bone-camo Ghillie suit for weeks, waiting to spring this attack on a giant. He rose from the beach of former combatants and triumphantly directed everyone to shoot the thing in the balls. The Rune Giant, meanwhile, announced in a voice like a seismic shift that he was Gamigin; Margrave of Blood, Tyrant of the something Marches, Usurper of the thingy Throne, Despoiler of … you get the idea. He ran through his list of terrible accomplishments with considerable gusto and pride, even when Dagfinn told him that no-one remembered any of those achievements. I can’t remember who kicked off the violence, but once they had started, they were off to the races. 
 
Everyone gave it a good try, but as they did, several of them became aware that their attacks weren’t having precisely the effects that they should be having. “It is an illusion!” someone shouted when they had a chance, amidst Dagfinn yelling about how he disbelieved it, which successfully defeated all of the 2nd edition illusions in the arena, of which there were none.
 
Cue sardonic golf clap echoing around the arena. Gamigin, the real one, was looking forward to toying with these mortals and evidently he thought of his illusion as a delicious appetizer before the main meal. The Gelugon lounged in the VIP box of the arena, feet up on the chairs as he watched the efforts of the party against his false Rune Giant. An Ice Devil of considerable age, his insectoid form teleported to an area in retrospect far to dangerously close to the party. But he thought he had everything in hand… proboscis… mandible… whatever.
 
 
He opened by encasing Ron and Arradin in a Wall of Ice dome. Dagfinn immediately set about trying to melt it with his Flametongue, while Arradin just bashed her way clear. Gamigin summoned a Bone Devil to deal with the back row, at this time Torgor, Kerplak and Halvard, with Tersplink staying out of everyone’s way. Halvard called the might of Gorum one too many times for the Bone Devil.

Gamigin’s Order’s Wrath and Slowing attacks failed to cause any havoc whatsoever and even his Cone of Cold was easily dodged as the melee specialists closed on him. And then, it must be said somewhat suddenly, he was dead. After some softening up by just about everyone, Arradin and Ron unleashed a six-second tsunami of hurt on the former Tyrant Despoiler Usurper and put an end to his current stay on Golarion. I suppose if Mantis-headed devils can convey surprise in their facial arrangements he would have looked surprised.
 
As heals were distributed, the VIP was rifled for magic items and treasure, of which there was a considerable amount. Perhaps most crucially, Gamigin wore a Sihedron Ring. Retreiving their well earned booty, they made their way into the stands, out into the hallways that ringed the arena, down the stairs and to the back of the enormous doors they had seen earlier. Pushing the doors open they made their way across the broad plaza that surrounded the crystal domed arena and slunk back into the tangle of the Entertainment District.
 
From here they made their way back into the territory of the Skulks, who guided them with hoots to their warren of underground passageways. They travelled far enough in to find a place to rest, which the Skulks are all very helpful about arranging. And they rested…
 
 …for a while. Halvard was rested and prepared for the day ahead when he became aware of a kerfuffle. What began as a hushed increase in passageway traffic began to take on a nervous clamour when horns were heard in the Slave District’s streets. Eventually it turned into a full scale evacuation as the Skulks began to withdraw from the shallow tunnels near the thoroughfares. Halvard grabbed a hurrying Skulk and demanded to know what was going on. Search parties, led by Rune Giants were combing the Slave District and so the Skulks were heading deeper into the cysts and crevices below the basement levels of the lower city. Their sentries were withdrawing last; this obviously wasn’t the first time the Skulks have carefully removed their population from danger.
 
Kerplak, up and ready while the fighters put their armour on, went to one of the sentry posts at a storm drain to take a peek at the business going up at street level. He saw, marching under the cold night sky, parties of Stone Giants with torches searching nearby buildings, driven and directed by a towering Rune Giant. He reported in and the party agreed, with some careful wording to appease Halvard, that they should also withdraw from the area. Since the Giants  were almost certainly searching for the party, by leaving the Slave District and reappearing elsewhere they reasoned that they’d be able to draw the search away from their timid allies. To that end they informed the Skulks and travelled the length of the safe passages northwards towards the plant choked edge of the Entertainment District. There they re-emerged and waited for a patrol to happen along.
 
And then an amazing thing happened – they planned an ambush. Everyone had a role, everyone knew what the timing would be. Through Tersplink’s Message spell they stayed informed even when behind cover. That was some Rainbow Six shit right there and the results were suitably effective.
 
The Dropwads took up Invisible positions above the street level, with Kerplak waiting for sneak attack opportunities and Tersplink waiting to spring a Wall of Ice once the Stone Giant patrol had advanced far enough into the party’s kill zone. Ron and Arradin sheltered in the doorway of one of the large buildings and Albedon and Halvard hid behind the far corner of the same building.
 
The Stone Giant patrol appeared, the rumbled directives of the nearby Rune Giant driving their search. They rounded the corner, torches aloft, searching doors and windows of the nearby towers. Kerplak spotted that several Giants wore some kind of backpack, with several poles sticking out if the back. More Giants rounded the corner, their torchlight casting the vast shadow of the Rune Giant against the building.
 
Albedon cast Dancing Lights nearby and the Stone Giants rushed forward. He followed up with Contagious Fire and Halvard stepped out and cast Flamestrike. I think both the dwarvelven mage and the cleric of Gorum then ran into spell problems at this point. There was a pair of wooshing noises as the Stone Giants with the bulky backpacks activated their fireworks. The rockets soared high above the towers and burst into a dazzling cloud of lights.
 
Kerplak sniped from the roof top and then turned invisible, moving back and forward along the rooftop to preserve his hiding spot. Arradin and Ron engaged the Giants in melee, bunching them up. Several giants fell and others rushed in to fill the gap between the two buildings. Which made it perfect for Albedon’s Chain Lightning which shocked most of the rest of the remaining Stone Giants into a quivering pile. But by that time the big fella had appeared.
 
The Rune Giant strode into sight and let a couple of spells from Albedon and Tersplink wash over him fruitlessly before stepping up into the air and striding over the mound of his erstwhile charges. Rune Giant doesn’t give a fuck. Rune Giant does, however, detonate his runes, showering everyone nearby in superheated electrical death. The blast was big and jarring, but his runes dimmed and he didn’t persist with this kind of attack for a while.
 
The combat elucidated several important features of Rune Giantdom: they do not care about electrical attacks, even in the form of Shocking Prostate Exam; they do not care about fire attacks; they do not care about gravity a whole lot either, being capable of walking into the air; they do rely on their swords for their most effective attacks – by happy, happy chance the huge sword slid from his grasp and by clever, clever genius, Tersplink grabbed it. While the sword was waaaaay to big for the gnome to lift, since he was invisible at the time, the sword also disappeared, robbing the Rune Giant of his preferred method of combat.
 
After a few rounds of shenanigans that put not too many hit points on anyone, the Rune Giant’s runes brightened and exploded in another devastating burst of plasma. It detonated and filled the night with brilliant energy, but the wave of death never made it to the adventurers. Arradin, wincing ahead of the imminent flash fry, opened one eye to find the cone of plasma sailing slowly towards her. So she stepped back out of it to find the rest of the party similarly extracting themselves from the Rune Giant’s blast. The Rune Giant was similarly trapped in time, his hand moving almost imperceptibly towards another of his spears. Arradin took the opportunity to attack the giant, but found that she was unable to damage it.
 
The others turned (not being fans of attacking helpless opponents I guess, Arradin) to find a portal having opened in the middle of the street. It looked, to Albedon and Tersplink like the door created by a Dimension Door spell, but modified and just… different. Different in a way that I’m sure none of us could possibly understand, but they understood it.
 
From the magical doorway stepped the turbaned and bescarved figures of three Men of Leng. Behind them, a blasted plateau under strangely starred skies. One of the men carried some manner of short pylon, a stunted tripod bearing a copper rod topped with glowing canisters and bronze tubes. The others struck conciliatory poses and one said the magic word “Par-lay?”.
 
Obviously, the party was paralyzed without its Bard.
 
 
No, I’m kidding, things went well in Dagfinn’s absence.
 
Keeping an eye on the slowly encroaching plasma storm, the party conversed with the eerie men. The Men struck a bargaining tone, as they wanted something from the party and the party heard them out. The city was abuzz, the Men said, as the Rune Giants had been tasked by Ghlorofaex, the lieutenant with overall control of the Lower City with finding the party and eliminating them. Which made it a good time, they reasoned, to go to Ghlorofaex’s lair. Ghlorofaex the blue dragon was a scholar of some sort, one who had pried too deeply into the plans of the Men of Leng. Pried and intruded – having stolen a vital piece of equipment, he had crossed the Lengites to the extent that they felt that they must move against the dragon. A neutral third party suddenly arriving presented them with a perfect opportunity to retrieve their vital equipment without directly drawing the ire of their “ally” Karzoug. They were still at the citadel to provide a vital service for Karzoug. The party, they said, did not appreciate the power of Karzoug and by way of an illustration, they used their portal door to show the party exactly what they were doing for the Runelord.
 
The view of the blasted mesa shifted, moving across the landscape to another plateau, this one crowded with Rune Giants, hundreds upon hundreds of Rune Giants, standing in ranks as though on parade. Having witnessed the considerable power of ONE Rune Giant, the off-dimension storage of so many powerful beings, just waiting to resume their business of being the Runelord’s personal legions caused some trembling colons.
 

What I always think of when I read these sections in the book.

 
In return for this precious piece of equipment, the Men of Leng would assist the party in their attempt to get to the citadel. They knew of a secret way through the Rising District, bypassing the entirety of the upper city and delivering travellers just shy of the preposterously steep stairway that leads up to the Citadel. This they would reveal in return for this vital service. They also gave the party some information about getting through the citadel’s occlusion field. The feat would only be possible to those bearing the emblems carried by Karzoug’s lieutenants. Arradin has carried one such talisman since the party defeated Xanesha the half-snake Lamia in Magnimar, Kerplak bears the ring worn by the Hidden Beast and there was the ring they had just recovered from the gelugon Gamigin. Ghlorofaex, they were sure, bore another ring as did Karzoug’s apprentice who they referred to only as The Apprentice. These were the only Lieutenants that were routinely present in the Lower City, there were, of course, others within the citadel worthy of bearing the Sihedron tokens.
 
I’m going to retcon something here, which was whether or not branding or marking yourself with the Sihedron will allow passage: no, it wouldn’t. If it did, any old Hill Giant could wander on up to the Citadel to bug Karzoug, since they are all marked with the Sihedron rune. Karzoug uses the Occlusion Field as a way of keeping the riff raff out, so it would not be that easy. Sorry for the waffling, it should have occured to me at the time. I feel bad now knowing that Kerplak’s Sihedron tramp stamp is forever. 
 
 
Anyway, the party agreed; a secret passage up through the Rising District would be of condsiderable use. All they need to do for the Men of Leng is recover the piece of equipment from the dragon’s lair near the Ziggurat in the , which resembles the pylon the Men brought with them and bring it to the House of Plums. The party has no idea where the House of Plums is but the Men insisted that they had given the party the means of finding it already. The party was interested in finding Ghlorofaex’s lair anyway because a) it is where a dragon lives and those places tend to be tits deep in treasure and b) that ring Ghlorofaex is wearing would allow one more person in the Away Team.
 
The men of Leng withdrew through their portal, urging the party to leave before their temporal disruption wore off and the Rune Giant bug-zapped them all into oblivion. The party withdrew the way they had arrived, slinking back beneath the streets.
 
We’ll pick up next time with the journey to Ghlorofaex’s lair…
 
 
I haven’t awarded the Compleat Adventurer for a while, but on reflection both of the Dropwads were strong contenders again. But I’m going to give it to Tersplink, because as well as being a fun character watch interact with everyone else, the trick with turning the sword invisible was great and also, he is Aunt Chumplug’s favourite. Don’t tell Kerplak.
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