A Rise of the Runelords campaign journal that turned into a book

Sins of the Saviors

56. Simple avarice

Date: unknown

Somewhere

Saffron, a full-fledged if young witch, was full of surprises. My anxiety about getting out of Runeforge was apparently overstated, as she took us with little apparent effort through planes into place of rest, rolling grasslands, clear skies and a hell of a many pixies. YapYap, the pixie boy that had accompanied us from Shimmerglens, had thankfully absorbed himself into Harsk’s armor (or his beard, I could not tell nor wasn’t that interested anyway) and hadn’t made his presence known for some time, but being suddenly surrounded by a dozen yapping and chirping pixies made my head hurt. Somebody was even playing the pan pipes somewhere.

I checked my compass, and the needle was circling madly, unable to find north. I sighed, removed my death’s head mask and rubbed my eyes.

The witch was happy to be there, and it was obvious she had been there a lot of times before. The tiny butterfly people brought us refreshments and food, and we lied down on the cool yet soft grass to catch a breath and restore our energies. Everything was perfect. Or seemed so. Saffron kept blabbering about herself and her plan for Harsk to Alice – the two of them were like long lost friends, so well they had been mingling together since the fight. I imagined they shared a common love of knowledge, and magic. The red-head however behaved so nicely, so absurdly politely, that it was suspicious.

“What do you think of her”, I whispered to Alfred who was sitting next to me, gulping wine straight from a pitcher. He lowered the jug, burped and shrugged. “I think she’s fine.” I frowned. “Fine?” I almost started a rant when Alfred gestured me to hold on. “Alpharius, have some faith for once, will you?” He told me, unusually serious. Harsk was lying next to us, resting on the green, hands clasped together over his chest like he was enjoying a nap. But his sleep was of the permanent sort. “I’m not giving her the benefit of doubt.. until he’s alive and breathing again.” I replied and nodded at the corpse of our friend.

“I’ll get him back, Master Alpharius, do not worry”, Saffron commented as she paced towards us. If she had heard me, she made no sign of being insulted. She was all confident smiles. You’re dead, if Pharasma won’t let him return to the living, I thought to myself, but decided a scowl would suffice. “Now, if you may, I must rest before I can initiate the ritual. It is a considerable effort, so that you know.”

Alfred nodded, while I grunted something resembling an approval. She went past us, found a nice spot in the grass and set herself down. Have your rest, red-head.

Her man-faced rat, Mister Jenkins, eyed me curiously from her shoulder as her mistress fell asleep like a baby.

**

“Gah! Hmmhppph. What. Where!” Harsk spat and growled and bolted up to a sitting position. Saffron was still holding her delicate hand on his chest, and she was beaming proudly. “Welcome back Master Harsk. I hope the transition was not uncomfortable.” The pixies around us were yapping happily, but gave us space.

“Did you see your mother again”, Alfred joked with a guffaw. Harsk was still baffled, touching his beard, face, armored pauldrons and chest, slowly realizing he was really here and not somewhere else. “I saw.. my mistress, beloved Iomedae, or her beautiful face.. she told me it was not yet my time.”

I sighed, deeply, feeling the fear of losing Harsk melt like spring snows in the sun. Alice was just smiling.

Harsk murmured a thank you to the witch, and Alfred helped the dwarf to his feet while beginning to explain what had happened. Satisfied, Saffron turned to me and Alice. “I hope you can trust me now. I mean you no harm.”

“What were you doing in Runeforge, then?” I asked, watching Saffron intently for any sign of falsehoods. “Like I told Ms. Alice here, I am after a very old tome that I have learned of from my old master and mentor. Though I’ve looked from too many places to count, the legends I’ve recently uncovered tell it can be found in the ancient library of Xin-Shalast!”

Xin-Shalast? It was the capital of Karzoug’s empire, and where we were aiming to after obtaining the weapons required to defeat the runelord. What a happy coincidence.

“What’s in the book?” I added the question sharply. She expertly evaded the core of it. “I am a keen learner, and the tome hides secrets and long-forgotten wisdoms.” I was not happy with the response. “And..?”

“I require the tome to uncover a specific mystery.”

I frowned. If I had learned anything in the past months was that magic was a dangerous, two-bladed tool, and knowledge and secrets fueled magic. Who knew just what kind of magic-wielder this young woman was.

“I’ve been talking with Saffron and we both feel that she should come with us, given that we share a common destination. And we could use any help we can get”, Alice suggested.

“What? Absolutely not!” I growled. Had the magus lost all her wits? The Runelord knew we were coming and we did not knew anything about the red-headed magician. “She could be an agent of Karzoug, cleverly planted among us!”

Saffron raised her palms before her. “Master Alpharius, only a short while ago I only knew of the Runelords from history books. I am definitely not their agent.” I paced to her, stopping a feet from her, staring down on her. Who are you, I asked in my mind. Her expression was blank and it betrayed nothing. But she could’ve been using tricks to hide her intentions, something to ruse my skill of reading people and uncovering their lies.

“I don’t trust you”, I hissed between my teeth.

“You don’t trust anyone”, Alfred snorted behind me, now back to relaxing on the soft grass. “I am comfortable with her coming along”, he went on. “If she were an enemy, she could’ve teleported us into a trap anyway instead of this nice place.”

“And she returned us Harsk”, Alice added. “It was Iomedae’s will”, Harsk commented, neutrally. Given that he had been awake for just a minute, he wasn’t taking sides. It was just like when Alice had joined the party. “Gods curse you all”, I spat but relented.

Saffron tut-tuted. “Please Master Alpharius, mind your words. Curses are real and have power. I should know.”

**

Saffron’s magic brought us back into Delvahine’s pavilion of carnal pleasures, and we found everything as we had left it. Burnmarks on the marble, marking the deaths of shining children. Shredded and stabbed bodies of fragile-looking succubi around Delvahine’s throne. And the bitch queen herself, lying sideways at the middle of the throne room, a gaping wound where her other eye should have been, black blood mixed with brainmatter still oozing from it. I felt nothing for her, the succubus mistress’s power having faded the moment her reason had escaped her. It had been Mister Jenkins, Saffron’s familiar, that had pulled the mind-effecting trick at the last second. I admitted, to myself only, that a duel with Delvahine would have been a challenge without the rat-man’s help.

We took whatever valuables Delvahine was carrying, and retrieved a few “magical components” that were lying around here and there in the boudoir adjacent to the throne room. Then we set off towards the runepool. We now had everything we needed to forge the runeweapons.

The entire way there Saffron and Alice kept blabbering about their arcane arts, and managed to lure Harsk into their conversation as well. The sellsword and I were happy to take point.

We were almost out of the wing of Lust when Saffron, walking last with Alice, suddenly stopped. “Bugger, I seem to have forgotten something. Excuse me, I will come back momentarily”, she chirped and vanished with a buzz and zap of immediate teleportation. “What the nine hells”, I groaned, expecting trouble at any second. But nothing appeared to attack us. “She’ll come back”, Alice stated confidently and continued onwards. I kept my mouth.

The familiar domed chamber opened before us, lighted by the faint gloom that spilled from the waters in the runepool. The seven pompous and 25-foot tall statues of the runelords still stood motionless, each guarding their own wings with an intimidating presence.

Alice sighed of relief and paced over to the runepool. It’s side was low, only a feet or so, so we had to bend to reach its surface. But we had little intention to touch its contents with our hands.

“I’ll go first”, Alice informed us and tossed a shard of looking-glass into the pool. Immediately upon impact, the surface started to ripple, and the bubbling liquid itself change its colour to silver. The wooden phallus went second soon after, and the silver turned to gold. Sparkling fires erupted from the pool and began to swirl up, like flowing tiny meteors from the heavens. Alice did not hesitate and plunged her scimitar tip first into the rippling waters. A light flashed in the pool, emanating from the tip out towards the sides, and the scimitar itself began to pulse with the golden light. Alice chuckled, sensing the magic and its power. “It’s.. working”, she managed without taking her eyes off her weapon. The flickers were circling the blade slowly, like bees around a hive. “The ritual should be over right ab-” she was telling us when a much larger ball of energy suddenly rose up from the center of the pool, and without warning, flashed across the space and into the statue of Karzoug, disappearing within.

In reflex, Alice pulled the scimitar out of the water. It was completely dry, but it was still radiating the golden light, as if it was hot, recently forged. “Well that was odd”, she said, looking first at her enchanted weapon and then at the stone statue of the Runelord of Greed.

The silence was broken by rocks that began to grind against each other. To our right, something was shaking loose its constraints and we witnessed the statue of Karzoug animate into life.  Dust and pebbles showered to the ground as the statue unhinged its massive mouth to address us.

“You. Again. I can’t help but be inspired by your optimism, but alas, your weapons will never reach Xin-Shalast. Your fate is death, here in Runeforge.” The voice was familiar, the same we had heard the animated corpse of Mokmurian use when we had slain the stone giant sorcerer. It was Karzoug himself.

The golem bane scarab around Alfred neck burst into a glow, warning us of our foe. But we needed little warning. The stone golem, eight strides tall, stepped out of the podium it had stood for millenia and with a loud crash landed on the floor. It was carrying a glaive, Karzoug’s chosen weapon, in its hands, and it didn’t look slow or ham-fisted.

Alice’s free hand was pulsing with magical energies as she launched into action. Alfred went the other way, running behind the statues of Belimarius and Krune to flank the creature. The golem’s heavy steps made the entire chamber quake, and its route took it directly towards the magus. Its tiny eyes shone like stars and they hungrily stared at the woman. It had to be the weapon – it focused on the one with the runeforged weapon, I realized.

“What an abomination”, Harsk watched wide-eyed behind me. “We must help Alice”, he yelled, quickly recovering his wits and started to a run. “Don’t get killed!” I howled after him but knew it was a futile effort. That left me. Should I anoint my weapon, or try my luck without the enchantment? Ultimately, the choice was simple. I pulled my necklace of adaption off my neck and replaced it with the golem bane scarab, which began to radiate light immediately.

Earth and stonework split with a horrible crack as the golem’s glaive struck, shattering one of Alice’s mirror images as it missed its target. All the six remaining magii gasped in unison, and evaded a follow-up slash. Alfred charged into the thick of it, hacking wildly with the battle-axe and the edge of his shield. A piece of rock size of a child’s head was detached, and it landed on the ground and went tumbling away. The damaged golem did not utter a sound, but turned in a flash and stomped down viciously, trying to pulverize the sellsword. But Alfred was too agile – only for a moment. A magical aura of some sort blazed from where the creature’s foot landed, and suddenly the sellsword was moving awfully slowly, as in a dream.

Harsk screamed a battlecry and holding his shining god-blessed sword, ran into the melee. He almost got his head chopped off by a nasty swing of the glaive. Alice, roaring too, ravaged the creature with magic and slasheds of her scimitar. The latter seemed to be working better, but was doing all too little to truly harm it.

I focused twenty feet higher, to its cold, unmoving face. I put shafts after shafts into its bulk, and chipped away parts of it, while melting others into lava with the wildfire of my arrows. But it was not tiring, or feeling pain. We had to break it, literally. Another inconceivably rapid cut of the glaive smashed two of Alice’s mirror images, and the force of the strike sent the magus flying across the chamber like a discarded puppet. Next to my feet Dûath growled in anger but I held it back with a stern command. The panther could do little and I wasn’t willing to risk his life. The golem turned to the men at its feet, towering above them like man stands over toddlers. They gave it all they could, hammering, slashing, anything that could hurt it. Still, the glaive rose to strike once more. I called all the elemental powers I had, willing them to guide my hand and strengthen my arrows.

Three in rapid succession left my bow and pierced its head, finally breaking it. The gemstone-decorated face cracked into five different parts, and the golem stopped in mid-movement. Both the cleric and the sellsword had to raise their shields above them as the remains of its head fell unto them like a hailstorm. Then the rest of the golem came down and crumbled to pieces as it hit the floor.

From the corner, lying in a heap but still very much alive, Alice gurgled blood, spat some to clear her mouth and sighed. “Somebody else.. anoints his weapons next.”

 **

I dropped the magical components into the liquid and thrust the other end of the Carmine Avenger after them. The liquid transformed again, and the sparkles rising from it embraced the longbow. Tiny, black runes began to appear along its length, and the bow hummed and glowed red, as if it was pleased. Eager for more power. Even I felt the difference, and I only held the weapon in my hand.

“I don’t like this”, Harsk whispered behind me. We were tampering with magic associated to the most horrendous sins, and I couldn’t blame our righteous cleric for his doubt. I felt none, however. Sometimes you need to fight fire with fire. Means give way to ends.

I pulled my chosen weapon out of the waters, and no bolt of energy followed. No other statues came to life to challenge us.

Alfred washed his battle-axe in the runepool, and its black edge gained a slight golden hue. Alice stepped closer, watching the liquid ripple and ebb. “Its reservoir of power is diminishing. There is very little magical energy left in it.” I glanced down to my gladii, resting in their sheaths, one’s blade adamantine, the other cold iron. They would not feel the touch of rune magic. A pity, in a way. “Harsk”, Alice called, patiently. “You need to do this.”

“I know, I know”, he growled in response. From his back, he pulled the Flametongue, the long lost sword of a bold knight who had tried to slay Freezemaw the ice dragon, but was now re-purposed to Iomedae’s war against evil. Harsk would have never imbued with sinful magic the sword Iomedae herself had touched and blessed, but Flametongue was an option. The cleric muttered a prayer to his goddess and let the sword’s blade sink into the waters with the last of the magical components. For the fourth time, the transformation process took place, and as it completed, the liquid calmed and became clear.

I watched the others as they examined their runeforged tools of war, and noticed how each looked different. There was a distinct aura of confidence and defiance in them, like each was only a bit more prone to start an argument and try to force their wills unto others. Even I felt more extrovert, more keen to dominate lesser people, when I held the Carmine Avenger in my grip, but the feeling went away the moment I shouldered the bow. Great. Four bossy people trying to work together, I groaned inwardly. Another thing that surely will get us killed, for good.

The first argument brewed up quickly, and we didn’t even need the weapons to escalate it.

“Great! Now, into the next wing”, Alfred cheerfully stated and started towards the mouth of the tunnel leading to the ruined wing of Envy.

“You have got to be kidding me”, I shouted after him, and made him stop. “We got what we came here for. Time for us to go.” I still not feel any more better being trapped in the extra-dimensional prison that was Runeforge. Alfred had no such constraints.

“And leave all the untold riches of the remaining wings behind?” We had accumulated a king’s ransom of loot during our search for the runeforged weapons, I had to admit. But enough was enough. “Yes.” I flat out told him. “Bah! Coward”, the axe-wielder sniffed. “Foolishness”, he added, turning up his nose, his considerable moustache only accentuating the gesture. “Foolishness?” I hissed. “To walk into a room full of electrical discharges?”

“We’ve faced worse”, the old sellsword shrugged and sneered. I responded with my own. “How come such a chaotic, self-serving thrill-seeker wants to systematically go through dangerous places?” Alfred laughed lightly at that. “Well it is like when you prepare a pig. First you slaughter it, then you skin it, only then you roast it, not the other way around.”

“.. and then you suffocate when you try to eat the whole thing at one go”, I snarled.

“I’d be interested in the wing of Greed”, Alice interjected, missing the irony, “if only to gain more insight into the powers of Karzoug, and what he can throw at us.” She tried to appear the reasonable woman in the middle. Alfred guffawed. “Now that I can approve.” I frowned at Alice, then turned my attention over to the god-touched. He had not said a word, and was still examining the blade of Flametongue, scowling at the tiny runes of Pride and Lust that had been burned to it.

“What do you have to say, Harsk”, I asked him gruffly. His eyes never left the blade. “We might as well start with bringing the wrath of my goddess to his subjects here.”

**

“Behind us!” I yelled the warning, hearing the steady beats of heavy footsteps echoing past a corner fifteen strides away. “Before us, too”, Alice replied laconically. The destroyed golem smoked between us, water running over its body from a massive crack it had made when it had fallen on the fountain. A lone tiny goldfish flapped uselessly on the tiles, having been tossed off the fountain by the fleeing water.  “Yes, bring it”, Alfred howled and grew in size and turned his skin into steel before me,  as an emptied potion bottle fell from his hand to the ground and shattered into pieces. His laughter grew and became a bass rumble as his bulk suddenly filled the mouth of a narrow route. He brandished his weapons, similarly grown in size, and taunted the golem approaching him along the corridor.

In our midst, a ball of blue energy appeared and crackled momentarily, before disappearing and revealing Saffron within. “Hello friends”, she began with a happy smile, “I was wondering where you were.” She realized she had arrived into a middle of a fight, and her smiled died. “What is going on in here?” She asked Harsk who was standing behind the enlarged sellsword.

“Several golems try to block our path”, he informed her. I let loose a shaft at one who had appeared behind the corner. It was a big one, as massive as the largest giants in Jorgenfist, but not as big as the Karzoug statue. The arrow hit home with a twang, burrowing deep into the human-form golem’s chest. The golem continued, unhindered, towards us. “You try something too”, I hissed at Alice and Saffron. The latter vanished first, followed by the former. “Figures”, I growled. The stone golem kept coming, and I kept raining arrows, their number in my quiver quickly dwindling. Harsk ran to me, cursing. “Alfred’s blocking the way”. I risked a glance to the other side of the fountain room and saw Alfred locked in combat with a golem of his own. I stepped backwards as our golem came and lifted its halberd for a strike. “Be my guest!” I offered the enemy to the god-touched, who charged past me without a word, and metal rasped against stone as their weapons connected. Alice had managed to sneak behind the behemoth using her invisibility trick, and slashed freely across the golem’s back with her scimitar. Our opponent was outnumbered and outmatched, and two more arrows of mine, strengthened by the golem-bane scarab I was wearing, finally brought it done. Alfred finished his foe with similar ease. A third golem, having trudged from gods knew where within the wing of Greed and horribly late to the party, was overwhelmed by our combined might a moment later.

Of all the wings of Runeforge we had searched, apart from the Ravenous Crypts of Gluttony, the wing of Greed looked like it had actually been used to study magic. After regrouping from the fight with the golem guardians, we traveled farther, and ran into a series of storage rooms full of raw materials; different metals in various forms, wood, bones, fabrics, and so on. They were no ordinary rooms however, but imbued with strong spells – magic that had been used to research how the effects of the fabrication spell could be harnessed and modified.  I already got my hopes up as Saffron explained the basics of the spell to manufacture almost anything – my arrows were running dangerously low, and the witch even agreed to put together a few for me. I made it clear that a trick like that did not buy her my approval and trust. As if to underline my words, the moment I left the room, Saffron’s arrows crumbled to their original components, thus rendering themselves useless to me. I shot a suspicious glance at the witch and opened my mouth to issue an accusation, but Harsk was quick to defend Saffron, noting how the magical effect was limited only to the rooms. Nothing that was manufactured within could sustain itself on the outside.

I tossed the arrowheads and splinters of wood to the floor but I had little time to vent my frustrations. From somewhere deeper in the halls of Greedwe heard Alice’s distressed yell. She and Alfred had foolishly continued on their own, and ran into something. A foe. The alarm in her voice brooked no doubts or discussion, so I launched into a run with Dûath, Harsk and the witch.

I led the way with the panther, past a few corners and along narrow corridors. A lone door stood open, and within I heard an axe slam against metal and the grunt of the sellword. It was followed by the familiar klang of Alfred’s shield, it too hitting something metallic, and timbers cracked and splintered as if giving way to someone falling against them.

When I reached the door, I saw the mess of a study room. Books, small cages holding animals, crates and assorted items, ropes, metals, tools and the like lied everywhere between upturned tables and fallen chairs. The walls of the long chamber were lined with bookcases too many to count. Alice and Alfred were standing next to a prone figure – a man covered in what looked like mithral, from his face to his bare toes. Blood was dripping from his mouth and he was frantically trying to keep his assailants at bay with swings of his staff. The air shimmered around him, pulsing with magical energies, but Alice shouted something at him and held her hand up. Swirling runes formed into the air and calmed the air around the mithral magician. Alfred, ten feet tall, his hide steel as well, pummeled the creature with all his might. There was really nothing the keeper of the study room could do.

Harsk’s burst of holy fire was a release to the mithral man, a mercy really. He died with a agonised, manic howl. “That was sad”, the sellsword chuckled as he examined the charred, half-molten and steaming corpse. I walked up to them, scowling. “You didn’t consider taking him as a prisoner, if he was such a pitiful foe?”

Alice cleared her throat. “Actually, I sense he was quite the wizard. He tried to cast powerful spells against us”, she told me. “But we were too much for him”, Alfred added and nodded approvingly to the mage, who gave a firm nod in return.

“How nice”, I commented and paced away, kicking one small crate out of my way and leaving them to search the corpse for valuables. I was more interested in the massive double-doors that commanded one side of the study chamber.

I carefully planted my palms on the sturdy doors and let my gloves reveal what awaited us within.

I flinched as I saw the monstrosity. Part humanoid, part boar, with sickening, frail bird’s wings sprouting from its back and two thick, ogre-like arms that could crush a skull with ease, the towering demon in a way reminded me of a glabrezu demon, but it was something else, another type of beast. Still, a very daunting sight. It was sitting on the bare, polished wooden floor, breathing heavily, holding its boar’s head down. Around it were golden statues, each depicting a person in distress, as if terrified of something or someone. I was about to let go of the doors when it snapped its head up and our stares locked. How nice. Despite my bluster, I took a sensible step back.

“A big fucking demon”, I snapped in a low voice at the others, who were talking and curiously looking at the animals caught in the cages. My eye caught a dead dog on one of the tables, half its body covered in gold, but I disregarded it. It was a laboratory for transmuters, afterall. “Well?!” I hissed.

“We say hello, of course.” Alfred guffawed and jumped past some cages and crates, and was coming towards me and the double doors.  The others got the gist of his intent, and prepared for more violence. With the sellsword, we pushed the doors open, and immediately, the smelly demon reared to its legs. It smacked its lips and snorted, sounding like a gigantic hog. “Hmmh. Shhtop!” It rumbled and lifted one of its arms, palm forward. Drool hung from its tusks. I took me awhile to realize I understood its Thassilonian.

For what it was worth, we stopped. Even Harsk, the demon slayer, did. “Mmmhhmm. Gooooood”, it rumbled and the feathers on its tiny wings waggled. Alfred pointed at it with is battle-axe. “Urgh. Filthy bastard. Tell us why we wouldn’t kill you on the spot?” The massive demon began to chuckle, and its whole body trembled. “Oooohh.. I like that… a man of.. action.” It snorted. “I am the great Zuvuzeg and I will.. offer you a deal..”

Alfred did not lower his weapon. “Keep talking.”

Some spittle flew from the demon’s mouth. “Your lives.. for my freedom.”

“Most peculiar”, I heard Saffron comment to Alice behind me. Alice just snorted. I was amazed at the demon’s lack of sense. Had it just threatened us? Alfred was as baffled. “Excuse me, demon, but did you just want us to free you, so you wouldn’t kill us?”

A long, red and pointed tongue circled around the demons tusks and teeth. “Yessssss. My reward for you.. is your livessss..”

I stepped forward, an arrow at the ready across my bow, not feeling intimidated by the 20-feet tall monstrosity. “I have a better deal to offer. You help us by telling how to get to Runelord Karzoug, and we consider sparing your wretched life.” The demons eyes darted to me and it snarled. “Little mortal… such trivialitieshhh…. are beyond me…”

“Then you, and your life, are worthless to us”, I told it and drew back the string of the Carmine Avenger. It let out a wild, angry squeal, realizing my intent. Two demon-bane arrows burrowed deep into its chest and it howled and squealed, taking a step back. Alice had been ready, and began to pepper rays of fire against it, but the magical flames only licked the creature’s hide and did not harm it. It raised its oak-like arms, and tiny specks of light began to circle around it, in an increasing speed. Then it smashed its meaty fists down, towards Alfred who had been at point. He barely got out of the way in time.  The demon gurgled, and let out a throaty bellow in anger before trying to bite the sellsword’s head off with its boar’s fangs. Again, the old soldier expertly parried with his shield, grunting with the effort of holding a mammoth-sized demon at bay.

Saffron began to cackle like a maniac and took to the air riding her broom, gesturing wildly. The laughter died and she frowned. Something was amiss. Harsk chanted a prayer and willed a pillar of light to strike the demon down. Nothing happened and the cleric roared in fury and dismay. Alice frantically drew runes into the air, trying to cast a powerful spell. Nothing happened. “It is resisting our magic!” She shouted. I let loose another arrow. “Well try to be useful in another way, then!” I spat the reply to the trio. All the while, Dûath and Alfred were holding the line, fighting for their lives. I was surprised to see the magus start to a run towards the monstrosity, and she went invisible a second before the specks of light circling the demon exploded in a wealth of colours. I managed to shield my eyes with my hands and mask, but as the lights died, I saw Alfred and my panther had not been so lucky. They were shaking, walking backwards in a daze, helpless. The demon just laughed a terrible chortle of spittle and drool and raised its fists to end their lives.

It was a game of quickness and momentum, and the quickest of us were already in the move. I had nocked two bane arrows, and I wasted no time in taking aim – it was so close, I could not miss. Alice, coming out from the safety of invisibility, next to the demon, leaped into the air and with her free hand, grabbed a hold of its fat side, pulling herself dextrously up to its back. My shafts pierced the air and struck at the center of the demon’s sweaty throat. Alice screamed incomprehensibly, riding at the shoulder of the demon, and reversed the grip of her scimitar with a flick of her wrist before driving it down into the ugly face of the demon. The blade sank deep and the entire form of the magus crackled with mythic energies as she gave it all she had, transmitting every shred of power she wielded into the unholy being, willing it to perish.

Despite having a scimitar rammed into its head, the demon managed a long squeal of agony. Then, unceremoniously, it collapsed to the floor. The magus leaped off its back and came down neatly before it.

“Not bad”, I told her and lowered my bow. “Thank you”, she replied and let out a deep breath and sheathed her weapon. “Went better than with the Karzoug statue”, I added. She just snorted.

“That was truly exciting”, came Saffron’s gleeful voice from the back.

**

With the creature, called a nalfeshnee demon, slain, the Vault of Greed fell into a peaceful silence. Our bookworms spent a moment examining the area, finding a secret pool of gouting flames and dancing lightning, very much akin to the runepool at the center of Runeforge, beyond the study chamber. I remained in the wide hall of golden statues, wondering at their origin. They were, according to Saffron and Alice, been real humans once , but they had been gilt while they still had been alive. Their withered remains were still inside the statues. Who’d want to be covered in gold? I thought, baffled. Maybe they had not been willing, and their transmutation had been forced upon them, like a curse. Given all that I knew of Karzoug, I wouldn’t have been surprised if that had been the case. The pained expressions in each statue at least supported the possibility. Too much greed, and it will consume you.

Satisfied with the spoils of war, if not finding any clues and knowledge how to defeat Karzoug, we left the place in good order. I was considerably pleased to see the others finally willing to depart from Runeforge, so Saffron offered to send us through the planes back to Golarion.

It was a teleportation like any other, and we found ourselves in a smelly, thick bog, surrounded by chirping, rattling and croaking and a very thick jungle-like forest. I reached to a pocket and pulled out my old compass. The needle turned to north like it was supposed to and I sighed, wanting to kiss the mossy, wet earth under my feet. Dûath sounded its throaty call, resembling a plank being sawed, informing the forest’s denizens of the predator’s arrival. At a distance, covered by a think blanket of tree branches, was a small, homely if uninspiring cot. “I bid you welcome to my home”, Saffron stated and began to lead the way towards the cot.