Preparing the Menu
Having dispensed with the Red Reaver that had nested in the House of the Moon, the Crimson Blades spend the night in the Desnan temple to await the arrival of the rest of the Lyrune-Quah the following evening. Small bands of Shoanti slowly gather around the silver structure all afternoon, pitching yurts and building corrals for livestock. By the time the sun sinks below the horizon, several hundred people are camped in, out and on top of the House of the Moon.
Tekra’Kai introduces the party to Akram, Truthspeaker to the Lyrune-Quah. A spry old man in his late sixties, he is eager to witness the adventurers’ attempt to reenact the legend of Skurak and be reborn in the fires of the Cindermaw’s belly. Akram tells them that in order to be welcome among the Sklar-Quah, only one of them need succeed in cleansing himself of tshamek status.
Arlynn is quick to volunteer, with Irabeth only a step behind her. Ashla also tosses her cowl into the ring, where she is soon joined by Egan. After reviewing the party’s options for inoculating themselves against fire, Slim grudgingly decides that he should volunteer as well, while Zandu, Kyra, and Remmy opt out. They plan to set out at dawn, though Arlynn takes some time out to trade valuable gems for a custom saddle for Egan to wear in roc form.
Akram warns that the trip to the Feeding Grounds of the Cindermaw will take six days. On the first day, the party treks back through the ashes left by the emberstorm, where already green shoots are poking up through the dust. That night, Akram refuses to enter the Kuthites’ bone house and instead camps outside, where Slim and Remmy join him.
Akram asks Slim why he is going on this quest and the rogue explains about the danger that the queen’s artifact poses to both Korvosa and the Shoanti. But Akram asks why he, a Varisian not native to the city, is taking this risk rather than moving on. Slim notes that sooner or later one has to just play the hand he is dealt.
“You collect hands?” Akram asks. This leads Slim to teach the Truthspeaker how to play a Varisian card game, though the winner that night is Remmy—she’d become a bit of a card sharp after playing endless games during her off-hours at the Citadel.
The next morning, Slim awakens to discover a pair of man-sized redback rattlesnakes nosing around the horse enclosure. After sending Akram to rouse Egan and ordering Remmy to guard the perimeter, Slim tries to keep the snakes busy. He manages to kill one while the druid commands the other to leave.
That night, Akram teaches Slim and Remmy a Shoanti game of chance involving sheep’s knuckle bones. Slim proves a fast learner and wins the evening.
On the next day, they come across another grisly token of the Cinderlander, this one only a week old. Akram cuts down the head, burns it, and buries the skull under a cairn.
The following day, Roc-Egan and Kyra are scouting ahead when they spy a glint of emerald green from the desert floor below. When the Crimson Blades investigate, they discover the charred and cracked skeletons of two orcs, much to Irabeth’s delight. Still stuck on a loose finger bone is a strange ring with an emerad gem—when Slim takes the ring, the gem changes shape and color to match the pattern of his kapenia, the traditional Varisian scarf. Zandu identifies the trinket as a ring of arcane signets.
On the next day, the party has to take refuge in a lava tube for several hours to wait out a tremendous ash storm. To pass the time, Slim puts his training to the test with a shadow puppet show. Akram tells a tale from early days of the Shoati, describing how they once served as warriors in service of the “Azghat,” only to be forced to destroy their masters after the fell into corruption and now work to restore the honor of the Azghat that lives on in them. Zandu then tells a few tales of the party’s earlier exploits.
The Feeding Grounds of the Cindermaw lie on the edge of the Ash-Blown Lands, a particularly volcanic region of the Cinderlands home to cindercones, methane vents, and other dangers. As they approach the area, Egan uses commune with nature to navigate a safe path in to the hunting grounds.
However, the Crimson Blades are drawn off-course when they hear the sound of shouting in Shoanti. Investigating, they find a pair of Sklar-Quah burnriders being circled by a band of cinderwolves. With the predators distracted, the party is able to position themselves for a devastating ambush. Slim strikes from the shadows, Roc-Egan and Kyra strike from the skies, Arlynn, Irabeth, and Remmy charge with lances, and Zandu mops up with magic.
The lead burnrider, Sefah, is indignant at being rescued by tshamek. She scoffs at hearing that the adventurers seek to recreate the legend of Skurak. When Slim tries to convince her to come witness the event, she says she has no time to watch a few foolish outlanders get devoured. She and her companion were investigating reports of strange tshamek stalking the Ash-Blown lands wearing the shells of red ankhegs, but they lost the trail and must try to pick it up elsewhere.
After trekking across the Feeding Grounds for a day, there is little sign of the Cindermaw—aside from the occasional low hill that Egan realizes is a mounded burrow left by its passage. The entire party, including Akram, spend the night in the bone house for safety. The following morning, a tremor shakes the earth as they prepare to head out.
“We are being hunted,” Akram announces.
Roc-Egan and Kyra scout the area and see the creature creating mounded burrows in a wide arc around the party. The Crimson Blades decide to lure the creature away from the tower and into an open area, while Zandu and Akram fly overhead to watch. Slim and Remmy, who is staying behind, trade well-wishes before he departs.
“Slim, stop flirting and come get eaten,” Ashla cuts in.
The monster takes the bait, circling around in a slow spiral, breaching the surface to give then a glimpse of its immense bulk, before diving into the earth. As the last tremors die away, everything goes still. Slim worries that they’ve lost the beast’s attention and need to make noise. Irabeth tells him to be silent and listen instead to the low rumble from beneath the earth.
The Cindermaw bursts up from the ground beside them and belches fire, but their resistance spell protects them from the worst of it. Egan transforms into a fire elemental and tries to dive into the Cindermaw’s cavernous mouth, but the great worm snaps its mouth shut.
Slim does his best to make himself look tasty. Irabeth is less successful. When the worm tries to bite the rogue, Ashla and Arlynn also leap in to get snapped up. The Cindermaw’s mouth is full of jagged teeth that stab at the three adenturers. Arlynn’s spiked armor stabs back, but is a pinprick in comparison.
“Why isn’t it swallowing, damn it!” Ashla cries out.
While she and Arlynn stumble are held up by the monster’s gag reflex, Slim is able to squirm down its throat and into its belly.
Outside, Irabeth clangs her sword against the Cindermaw rocky hide and shouts “You’ve had the appetizers, now try the main course!”
Circling overhead and unsure of what else to do, Fire-Egan and Zandu slam the creature with magical lightning as a storm cloud gathers overhead.
Belly of the Beast
Eventually the Cindermaw swallows the two remaining adventurers in its mouth and they find they have traded the frying pan for the millstone. Though their fire resistance shield them from the intense heat rippling out of the creature, its constricting innards threaten to crush them all to death.
Arlynn works to heal the other two, while Ashla struggles to cut her way out. Sorely battered, Slim makes use of a scroll of dimension door to stagger out of the monster fifty feet away. He calls out a warning about the dangers of the creature’s interior.
Searching for some way to help the others, Zandu spies an ancient scar on the monsters hide that he suspects was left by Skurak. He blasts the blasts the weak spot with his last lightning bolt, opening a hole that Ashla is able to climb through. The ranger finds herself dangling off the side of the great worm, but loses her footing as she attempts to climb down and falls 20 feet to the ground, where she plays dead.
Irabeth continues to hammer the creature with her sword, shouting with each blow. “Stop! Ig! Noring! Me!”
Slim warns her that it’s no cakewalk inside.
“That’s the point!” she calls back.
Her persistence seems to have paid off, as the worm bends down to bite her up.
“Finally!” she cheers. Once inside the creature’s mouth, she swan dives down its throat and greets Arlynn in its fiery belly.
The Worm Turns
Fire-Egan uses the thunderstorm to super charge his call lightning spells. The Cindermaw responds by eating him. As the flames from the druid’s elemental form bathe the inside of the worm’s mouth, the creature’s wounds begin to close.
Fire-Egan swiftly flies down its throat and out through the hole Zandu blasted. Irabeth sets to cutting her own way out, while Arlynn slices out an amazon-sized chunk of the creature and stands on the threshold of the gaping hole in the monsters side.
This allows her to brace herself as the Cindermaw contorts and retches. Irabeth, however, goes flying. Despite his injuries, Slim is manages to leap up and tackle her in mid air. They tumbles to the ground and roll to a gentle halt. Gentle for Irabeth, at least. She awkwardly climbs off of him and helps him up while offering her thanks and her apologies. Then she claps him on the back in gratitude, causing him to wince again.
The Cindermaw dives over the prone shape of Ashla and as it sinks into the ground, Arlynn casually steps off it and walks over to Slim and Irabeth. The senior paladin is glad to see they both made it, noting how Slim had a particularly hard time.
“Well, Slim is very soft,” Irabeth says, “I mean, not in a bad way . . . err . . . rad azizish.”
Outlanders No More
The paladins drawn on the power of Iomedae to heal Slim and the others, as Akram and the rest of their companions come to join them.
Shadowcount Sial gives them a slow clap and admits their display was “impressive.”
“I am sooo glad I sat this one out,” Kyra says.
“That was amazing!” Remmy blurts out. “You guys are spectacular! I’m so glad to be a part of this. Together we’ll save Korvosa and rescue the Queen!”
Slim insists that heroism has its price, groaning that “Not being a tshamek never hurt so much…”
“Oh, stop whining,” Arlynn chides him. “The goddess has mended your bones and closed your wounds.”
“That doesn’t mean they don’t still fucking hurt!” Slim moans, rubbing his shoulder.
Akram tells the Crimson Blades that such a feat has not been performed in seven generations. Not just one, but five have followed in the footsteps of Skurak and together they managed to drive the Cindermaw away, something none had ever accomplished before. Akram says that they have shed their tshamek status and can walk the Cinderlands freely as Shoati—and he would be honored to speak on their behalf to the Sklar-Quah.
As the rain continues to pour down, the adventurers celebrate their triumph. But the saga of Korvosa was far from over . . .