Curse of the Crimson Throne

Epic Barbeque Party
A History of Ashes, Part 8

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.

Cultural Exchange

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.

Pack Hunters

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.

The Clan-Eater

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 . . .

Far Beyond the Stars
A History of Ashes, Part 7

Bad Astronomy

With the creature in the pool quiescent again, the Crimson Blades descend through the illumacone to the lower level of the complex. They arrive in a wide hallway, with an exit at the far end and a chamber to their right that appears to have been barricaded with an enormous stone plug. While Slim scouts on ahead, the rest of the adventurers set about finding some way to get past the plug, which is far heavier than their combined strength could shift, even with magical enhancement.

They settle upon having Egan seep through the crack in the stone as an Air Elemental to scout. The druid finds a small chamber with five human skeletons and several niches in the wall full of miscellaneous items. Elemental-Egan then uses soften earth and stone to turn the plug into mud and uses his elemental whirlwind ability to keep the mud from sliding into the chamber while Zandu vanishes it one cubic foot at a time with prestidigitation. Once the path is clear, the Blades thoroughly loot the chamber, finding a number of useful magical items.

Meanwhile, Slim has ventured up ahead to find the chamber with the globe. The walls have been painted over with murals depicting a star field interspersed with blue butterflies, both symbols of Desna. After checking for traps, Slim approaches the globe, an enormous stone sphere that floats in the air above three rods. The rogue lays his hand on the sphere, to no effect. He removes his glove from his hand and tries again.

But it is only when he begins to concentrate on the starry mural around him that he feels something happen, as the walls of the room fall away so that he feels as if he is floating—disembodied—in the sky above Golarion. He is then drawn further and further away from Golarion, passing other strange worlds and briefly glimpsing life on their surfaces as he speeds past until he approaches the last planet in the star system.

As he draws near, his psyche is assaulted with strange, impossible visions, shapes, and sensations. Panicked, he tells himself “This isn’t real, this isn’t real” and tries to think of Desna. Concentrating in this fashion, he is swiftly drawn back to his body in the Acropolis on Golarion.

From Zandu’s perspective as he watched from the chamber doorway, Slim placed his hand on the globe and suddenly vanished, only to reappear a minute later. Zandu takes his own cosmic voyage and is able to resist the attack on his mind—which is reminiscent of his experience grasped by the tentacle—and return to Golarion in a controlled fashion. He deduces that the orb was an astronomical device used originally to seek out, contact, and perhaps summon being from other world or even the maddening spaces between the stars.

Zandu tells the other that so long as they concentrate on Golarion before they approach the final planet, the trip will be safe enough. The rest of the Crimson Blades each take a turn, though Remmy needs some coaxing first.

“My dad always told me never to touch strange magic orbs,” she explains.

Irabeth, eager to seek out new worlds and new tests of her mettle, stays in the globe five times longer than anyone else before returning. She is seemingly none the worse for wear, but describes the spaces between the stars as beyond mortal comprehension.

Zandu takes extensive notes on everyone’s experiences, while Slim draws a map of the globe, which depicts Golarion as it was more than 10,000 years ago. Everyone who traveled through the globe now bears a blue tattoo-like holy symbol of Desna on the back of their left palm.

The Count and His Castle

Their task at the Acropolis complete, the party takes the illumacone back upstairs, where the boneslayers tell them that Krojun and his followers left as soon as the emberstorm moved on. The Shoanti are distrustful of the two Kuthites and quickly take their leave of the party, having completed their task of escorting the adventurers to the Acropolis.

Shadowcount Sial then takes this opportunity to suggest a lengthier alliance with the Crimson Blades. He is willing to offer his services as a priest, as well as lodging for the party, if they permit him and Asyra to accompany them for additional observation.

Slim says that if there’s something he needs to know, he could just ask them. Sial says that if it were as simple as that, he would have done it already. Slim then tries to barter information about the party’s quest in return for knowledge of what the Kuthites hope to learn and why, but Sial says he cannot share that information at this time. After another quick pow-wow, the party agrees to Sial’s initial offer, noting that like Laori he has kept his word thus far.

“So, about this lodging?” Arlynn asks.

Outside, Sial produces a palm-sized bone carving of a tower with an enormous skull on top. Upon speaking a command word, the carving expands to life size. Sial orders the doors to open and welcomes the party inside, telling them they can make the first two floors their own. The entire structure has a sinister, unsettling atmosphere to it and lacks much in the way of furnishings. There is not enough space for the party’s horses, so Egan uses wall of stone to fashion a corral for them.

Traveling the Scenic Cinderlands

It takes three days of travel northward through the foothills of the Wyvern Mountains to reach the Lyrune-Quah camp, with the party settling into Sial’s bone house each night. On the first day, each step their horses take kicks up a small puff of ash left in the wake of the emberstorm. The hills have been stripped clean of scrub brush, but here and there a short, hearty lotra tree has weathered the flames unharmed.

Roc-Egan floats high above the mess, scouting ahead for the rest of the Crimson Blades. He spies a trio of strange, man-sized lizards near the party’s path and returns squawking. While Zandu flys off to take a look of his own, Arlynn suggests that the party look into getting a custom saddle for Egan’s bird form that Kyra could ride in so that the halfling could describe any discoveries for them.

Zandu recognizes the lizards as harmless giant geckos, a species sometimes used by smaller races as mounts. The party considers acquiring some in the future for Egan and Kyra.

In the House of the Moon

On the third day, the House of the Moon comes into view, a silvery tower standing atop a low promontory in the foothills. It looks nothing like the Thassilonian ruins they have encountered previously and seems untouched by time, every angle of its architecture infused with Desna’s symbols.

The Crimson blades are swiftly confronted by Tekra’Kai, leader of a band of Moon Maidens, the warrior women of the Lyrune-Quah. Her hostility turns to joy when the party displays their Spherewalker’s Marks, however, as she believes these outlanders have been sent by Desna to help her.

“Here we go again,” the Blades groan in unison.

The House of the Moon is a temple to Desna and a seasonal gathering place for the Lyrune-Quah, but Tekra’Kai explains that in their absence a dangerous red reaver has bonded with the site and won’t be budged. The enormous beast has already killed several of her Moon Maidens and the rest of the clan is expected to arrive tomorrow. She asks for their help in driving the creature away.

Conferring with Tegra’Kai about the layout of the House of the Moon, the party develops a plan based on Egan’s knowledge of the creature’s weaknesses. Noting that red reavers are prone to being distracted by beautiful sights and sounds, the adventurers determine that Zandu will capture the monster’s attention with a display of oratory while everyone else surrounds the beast and attacks together in a pincer.

The first part of the plan works well. Zandu is able to enrapture the enormous brute with tales of the Crimson Blades’ exploits while everyone else begins taking positions. Before the hammer can drop, however, the red reaver catches on and lets out a terrifying bellow that rattles the very stones of the building and drives panic into the hearts of Ashla and Kyra. The halfling drops everything and hides in a corner while Ashla retreats up a ladder to the second floor.

The red reaver then pushes Irabeth out onto the balcony and slaps Zandu off the building—he casts fly as he feather falls to the ground. The creature’s leathery hide proves difficult for event the sharpest sword to pierce, but even so Slim, Remmy, and a super-sized Arlynn are slowly able to cut through it while Egan and Zandu pummel it with spells from afar.

After a devastating strike from Arlynn, the monster lets out another frightful bellow that Slim cuts short, jabbing his rapier up through its chin into its skull. He and Remmy then have to scramble to avoid being crushed as its massive bulk tumbles forward, dead.

The Moon Maidens reclaim their dead from the red reaver’s scrap pile and thank the party for their help. Tekra’Kai invites them to spend the night within the House of the Moon, an offer the Crimson Blades accept but Sial declines. The Moon Maiden leader believes there will be no difficulty convincing Akram, the clan’s Truthspeaker, to witness their quest when he arrives tomorrow night.

Day of the Tentacle
A History of Ashes, Part 6

Tourist Trap

Arlynn steps out onto the balcony overlooking the pool to investigate the raised voices. She spies several additional figures among the Shoanti waiting with the horses, including the looming shape of Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills. She hollers her discovery to the others and asks them to join her in speaking with the barbarians.

Slim and Zandu, however, are eerily obsessed with translating the runes and spend a moment bickering with one another over who should go back. Arlynn impatiently calls for them to join her and a confused Irabeth shouts back that “There appears to be some disagreement.”

Finally giving up on the others, Arlynn starts to walk towards the Shoanti when two figures in chitinous red armor drop from the ceiling to either side of her.

“Guys, you should really get out here!” the paladin calls.

Steel clangs against steel as the two Red Mantis assassins lash out with their sawtoothed sabers and Arlynn’s blood spills on the black granite floor.

Do Not Disturb the Water

As the sounds of battle ring out across the darkened Acropolis, Slim and Zandu remain unable to pull themselves away from the enrapturing runes. Remmy gives them a concerned look, but instead dashes down the hall in her clanking armor towards the fighting.

Out in the main chamber, Kyra slides out to flank one of the assassins. Egan attempts to baleful polymorph their foe, but the red-clad killer manages to shake off the spell. As the chanting and clashing echoes around the chamber, the entire Acropolis rumbles and shakes and the water in the pool begins to churn.

From across the room, Krojun chastises the meddlesome tshamek for awaking the evil that dwells in this cursed place.

“I fear no monster,” Arlynn declares.

“Then you are a fool!” Krojun retorts.

Kyra stabs one of the assassins in the thigh, then leans around him to look at Arlynn and put a finger to her lips.

Riddles in the Dark

In the rune chamber, Irabeth attempts to rouse Slim but grows frustrated by his lack of response. Finally, she just grabs him.

“Sharamûl tarbûrz!” she groans as she hauls him out of the room. “Story time’s over.”

“No, let me go, I almost have it figured out!” the rogue protests, squirming against her kraken-like grip. Once he’s in the hall out of sight of the runes, his senses return to him and after thanking the half-orc, he begins to move stealthily down the hall.

Irabeth next drags Zandu out into the hallway to get him free of the runes as well. Just as she sets him down, Ashla coughs and gestures at the ceiling.

“It looks like we’ve got a bug problem,” she says. Looking at the two Kuthites, she adds “You want to do something about that?”

Then Ashla turns and runs down the hall.

Sial nods at Asyra and the chain devil casts a spell that causes one of the two assassins clinging to the ceiling to clutch at his throat. The Shadowcount’s own magic is less effective against the other one. Both retreat out into the hall to attack Slim

Fingers of an Unseen Hand

Two long, green tentacles emerge from the water and begin groping blindly around the chamber. A Red Mantis Assassin is nearly grabbed by one tendril and all the combatants edge away from the balcony overlooking the pool. The second tentacle brushes up against the Sihedron rune on the the double doors facing the rune chamber hallway, causing the doors to slide open.

Reaching inside, the tentacle snares Zandu. Gripped in its slimy embrace, the sorcerer’s psyche is suddenly bombarded with impossible imagery of noneuclidean geometry, threatening to rend his mind apart. But amid the meaningless chaos, he is able to latch onto a pattern and peer into a deeper understanding of the weave of magic that runs through the world. Though the pattern begins to fade as soon as he sees it, for the next while he is able to imbue his spells with a degree of power beyond his natural ability.

However, it is Asyra and Sial who free him from the tentacle, lashing it with spiked chains until it releases him and slithers back into the dark water. Unfortunately, as Zandu backs away from the open doors, a fifth Red Mantis assassin emerges from a side corridor and shanks him in the back. Irabeth turns to confront the new threat.

While Arlynn, Kyra, and Remmy kill one Red Mantis and gang up on the other, the remaining two assassins attack Slim in the narrow corridor. Remmy races up the corridor to assist him and together they are able to turn the table on the killers. When the assassins try to move down to support their beleaguered sister to the south, Remmy knocks one of them flat and finishes him off. Slim returns to the hall in front of the rune room to help Irabeth and Zandu against their foe.


More tentacles erupt from the pool, fumbling about the chamber in search of targets. One of them grips Arlynn, whiled another stretches out to the other side of the chamber and snags hold of Slim’s horse. The boneslayers try to evacuate the other horses back up the stairs, but they can’t take them too far because the emberstorm is still raging outside.

It’s at this point that Egan begins using his druidic magic to start systematically sealing off the pools. He rescues the horse by casting wall of stone over the southern end of the pool, forcing the tentacles there to retreat back into the water. Next, the druid casts spiked growth around most of the northern end of the pool, forcing the majority of the tendrils into retreat.

With the last of the mantids finally dispatched, the party hunkers down to wait out the tentacle beast, with Slim and Irabeth safely in the west hallway and everyone else in the Illumacone room to the east. After about twenty minutes, the last of the tentacles sinks below the pool and the party (quietly) regroups.

Let’s Check the Map

Slim takes the opportunity to confer with Krojun. The hulking Sklar-Quah warrior says that he and his companions took shelter in the ruin to avoid the emberstorm. He asks what the Crimson Blades are doing in this dark and accursed place, aside from waking its unfathomable horrors. Slim says that they are exploring it as part of a quest that no tshamek before them ever dared undertake. Krojun snorts dismissively, but won’t stand in their way if they want to keep poking around the Acropolis “like those stargazing Desnans of the Lyrune-Quah.” He does ask them not to stir up the creature in the pool again.

Back in the Illumacone room, the party has Slim assemble the map of the facility. When the wedges are aligned correctly and the circle is placed in the illumacone, the emerald light rising from below projects a diagram onto the ceiling. Examining the map, the Crimson Blades realize that the chambers they have seen so far were once part of a much larger facility. Looking closely, they see that the illumacone shaft descends 70 feet to a smaller set of rooms below. One room appears to be the home of the sacred globe they are searching for, while the map depicts another room that looks like it has been sealed shut by a heavy stone plug.

Acropolis Now
A History of Ashes, Part 5

Around the Bone Council Fire

Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills and his companions depart soon after the last sredna match is concluded. The party spends the rest of the afternoon lounging around the guest yurt provided to them by their Skoan-Quah hosts. Finally, as twilight descends, Thousand Bones calls them to the Bone Council Fire. The rest of the Shoanti have retreated into their yurts, leaving only Thousand Bones, Chief One-Life, and an elderly shaman woman named Ash Dancer.

Thousand Bones begins by warning that the Sklar-Quah are preparing for war, having concluded that the death of King Eodred and the reports of a plague-ravaged city are a sign that the time has come to retake the green lands from the tshamek. The old shaman believes this war would be disastrous for both the Shoanti and Korvosa. But he knows that the party has not come here because of the Sklar-Quah war chants.

Arlynn and Slim warn that Queen Ileosa has acquired an artifact of terrible power and ask Thousand Bones what he knows of Midnight’s Teeth. The shaman admits he knows little about the artifact, though he has heard it mentioned by Sun Shamans of the Sklar-Quah. Unfortunately, the Sklar-Quah are unlikely to share this information with tshamek outsiders. Thousand Bones stresses that while individual tshamek might win the respect of the Sklar-Quah, the Sun Shamans would not share this information—the very heart of their clan—with anyone tainted with tshamek status.

When asked about ways to shed this status, Thousand Bones tells the story of Skurak, a legendary Sklar-Quah warrior who was cast out from his tribe after being accused of a great crime. Skurak sought out the terrible monster Cindermaw the Clan-Eater, allowed the creature to swallow him, then cut his way out of its burning belly. He returned to the Sklar-Quah and said that he had been cleansed of his tshamek status in the fires of the Cindermaw and been reborn. If at least one of the Crimson Blades could repeat this feat, it would be enough to shed them of the tshamek taint and allow the Sun Shamans to share their knowledge.

Arlynn asks about the Cindermaw and learns that it is a legendary creature of immense size that hunts in the northwest Cinderlands, where the territories of Shoanti, orcs, and giants intersect. Few have witnessed the creature and lived to tell the tale.

But the Sklar-Quah will not accept a story from the adventurers, they must have a credible witness. Ash Dancer suggests that the Crimson Blades recruit a Truthspeaker, a Shoanti of unimpeachable integrity who is bound by oath never to tell a lie. Unfortunately, the Skoan-Quah have no Truthspeakers among them and the Sklar-Quah Truthspeakers won’t give the party the time of day. But Thousand Bones says that there are Truthspeakers among the Lyrune-Quah, the Clan of the Moon, who also dwell in the Cinderlands near the Wyvern Mountains to the west. At this time of year, the tribes of the Lyrune-Quah gather at the House of the Moon. However, they are unlikely to trust tshamek, much less offer the services of one of their Truthspeakers.

Thousand Bones says that unlike most Shoanti, the Lyrune-Quah do not venerate their ancestors but instead worship Desna, goddess of dreams, stars, travelers, and luck. A Shoanti priest of Desna discovered an artifact sacred to her—a globe—deep within an ancient Thassilonian ruin known as the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers. Those who follow in the priests footsteps and touch the globe are said to receive the Sphereseeker’s Mark. The mark is considered so sacred to the Lyrune-Quah that they would welcome even their most hated enemy were he carrying it.

Zandu nasally asks if there’s any way to simply pay off the Sklar-Quah for the information instead of jumping through all these hoops. Slim takes a different approach, producing his Thassilonian medallion. He gives it to Thousand Bones, asking the Shoanti shaman what he thinks of it.

The Skoan-Quah elder inspects the medallion and hefts it in his hand. “It is very shiny. May I keep it?”

Slim explains that the medallion could give its owner claim to Korvosa and all its holdings. He asks if that would be enough to sway the Sklar-Quah. Thousand Bones is skeptical that the golden disk could have such power, noting that the Shoanti have been presented with false baubles before, and says they will have to return to the medallion later.

Off to the Acropolis

Arlynn speaks up, saying “We need to have a little pow wow among ourselves to discuss this.”

“A pow wow?” Slim and Egan snort.

Stepping away from the fire, the Crimson Blades huddle together to consult over whether to take up the Shaman’s offer. Kyra notes that the Shoanti outcasts she’s dealt with always want to do things their own way, according to their own schedule, but when they make a promise they keep it. Zandu grudgingly acknowledges that there doesn’t seem to be a way to bribe the barbarians. Arlynn then offers her own view.

“It seems like the only way to help the people of Korvosa,” the paladin says. “While I’d like nothing more than to drive my sword through the Queen—”

At this point, Remmy leaps forward to confront Arlynn, hand on her sword, prompting Irabeth to reach for her own sword. Before matters can escalate further, Slim intervenes and manages to persuade Remmy that Arlynn merely misspoke and that the Crimson Blades are committed to freeing the Her Radiant Majesty from the evil crown. Having averted a duel, the party concludes that they will follow the course Thousand Bones laid out for them.

The shaman does not know what awaits them at the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers, but he presents them with gifts to help them make their way, including five pots of enchanted Shoanti war paint. He also assigns four boneslayers, the warrior-priests of the Skoan-Quah, to act as their guides through the Cinderlands. In return, he asks only that when they speak to the Sklar-Quah that the adventurers try to persuade the clan that war is not in their interest. Slim and Arlynn assure him that that they will.

Roc’s Fall

After a night spent in the Kallow Mounds village, the Crimson Blades set out on what their guides say will be a six day journey across the Cinderlands.

Late on the first day, as the sun sinks low on the horizon and the party is looking for a place to camp, Arlynn sees a shadow moving across the landscape. Looking up, she sees an enormous shape swooping down towards them with the sun at its back. Kyra seizes the reins from Zandu and takes their horse to the other side of the caravan. The enormous roc, its wings 80 feet across feather tip to feather tip, dives out of the sky and grabs the horses out from under Slim and Remmy.

The creature then begins to fly off with its prey. Egan tries to cast dominate animal, the words pouring out of him at remarkable speed, and ensnares the mind of the great bird. At the gnome’s command, the roc gently sets down the two horses and then flies away, never to return.

The Shoanti say that a roc hunting this close to the Kallow Mounds is a bad sign. It must have been driven from its usual territory, which means the emberstorm season has started early this year.

A Crowded Desert

On the second day, Slim briefly glimpses a distant group of riders who appeared to be trailing the party. The boneslayers are not concerned. They believe the riders are other Shoanti, who either mean them no harm or will attack and be killed. The Crimson Blades, however, are unsettled at the thought of being followed.

The boneslayers also pause at one point to gather leaves from a galtroot bush. Slim surreptitiously gathers a few leaves for Egan as well. The leaves contain a powerful narcotic, with uses both medicinal and recreational.

On the third day, the caravan approaches the Yondabari River, the same river that spills over the side of the Storval Rise by Kaer Maga and the same river the party sailed up to reach that city. The boneslayers led the party to a ford, but even so it would require swimming the horses across. Instead, Egan uses wall of stone to create a bridge across the murky water—leading to grumbles from the Shoanti about tshamek using their foreign magic to build things in the Cinderlands.

On the fourth day, the boneslayers stop abruptly to inspect a grisly totem. The severed head of a Shoanti brave, two red crossbow bolts jammed in each eye, has been mounted on a pole that is wedged in a cleft between two rocks, jutting out like a flag from a building. The boneslayers say it is the work of a “tshamek devil” known as the Cinderlander, who for the past few years has stalked the wasteland killing lone Shoanti braves with a “sideways, screaming bow.” These severed heads are his signature. The Skoan-Quah think he might be the ghost of a Korvosan general seeking vengeance for the soldiers he lost to the Shoanti. Based on the head’s state of decay, the Cinderlander has not passed this way in some time.

The boneslayers cut the head down. As they don’t know the name of the brave, he cannot be interred at the Kallow Mounds. Instead, they hold a different ceremony, burning the head, scattering the ashes and burying the skull under a cairn of stones. After the ceremony, Arlynn asks the boneslayers how far they will be escorting the party. The Shoanti braves say that they are willing accompany the party as long as they are needed. Concerned about the warriors’ safety, the Crimson Blades ask the boneslayers to return to the Kallow Mounds once they reach the Acropolis.

A Trap is Set

On the fifth day, as the party comes within sight of the Wyvern Mountains, Ashla spies the strange riders in the distance, still following them. That night, the Crimson Blades decide to set a trap. The party sets up camp as normal, but has Egan burrow through the floor of their shelter, emerging at a vantage point some ways away. While the rest of the camp beds down, the non-spellcasting Blades—Slim, Kyra, and Remmy—take turns standing watch to see if anyone approaches the false camp.Towards the end of Slim’s watch, he sees two figures approach the camp, but stop well short of Zandu’s alarm spell. One of the figures is dressed in robes, while other one cuts a feminine figure that glints in the moonlight. The two appear to confer for a moment, then proceed to walk westward past the camp in the direction of the Acropolis. Slim attempts to follow them, but their tracks abruptly end about 150 feet away from the camp.

Kyra and Remmy witness no further activity during their watches. The following morning, the party reemerges in camp and Slim tells what he saw. The boneslayers note that the two people on foot could not be the Shoanti riders who were following them, because the riders would leave no tracks.


On the sixth day, the party approaches the foothills of the Wyvern Mountains, but the boneslayes grow alarmed at a dark cloud rapidly growing on the horizon.

“Emberstorm!” Hargev shouts. “We must seek shelter in the Acropolis!”

With an added sense of urgency, the party rushes towards the ruins. Above ground, all that remains today is a partially collapsed tower bearing the mark of the seven-pointed star—the Sihedron Rune. Just to the side of the mark, a pair of 20-foot-wide stone doors stand ajar.

Below, the acropolis is lightless, its black granite walls inscribed with intricate rune patterns of Thassilonian writing extolling the virtues of Runelord Karzoug and the power of Lissala. After descending down a grand staircase, the party arrives at a wide hallway that opens onto a large vaulted chamber with a great pool of murky water at its center. Egan and Zandu cast light on the two paladins’ armor.

Meet the Kuthites

Leaving the boneslayers with Majenko and Badger to guard the horses, the Crimson Blades venture deeper into the chamber. Arlynn suggests splitting into two groups to investigate the stone doors to either side of the hall. The senior paladin, Kyra, Ashla, and Zandu explore the narrow northern hallway and come across a side room featuring a brilliantly colored bas-relief carving of an alluring mermaid. Arlynn believes the figure is connected in some way to the faith of Lissala, the now dead goddess of Thassilon. Zandu and Kyra, meanwhile, are more interested in the tiny shards of gemstone scales embedded in her tail.

Slim, Irabeth, Remmy, and Egan, meanwhile, investigate the southern hallway, where they hear the sound of someone walking on the other side of the door. The paladin enters first, her armor shimmering with a light spell, and slowly strides up the hallway before stopping after half a dozen paces to challenge something lurking in the far darkness of the hallway.

“Who goes there?” Irabeth shouts, her half-orc eyes piercing the dark. She relays her discovery to the others. “I see a robed man with a spiked chain and a woman wrapped in chains.”

“You have keen eyes, ser knight,” says the man, stepping forward into the dim glow from Irabeth’s armor. “I am the Shadowcount Sial of the Umbral Court of Nidal. This is my bodyguard and companion, Asyra. Do not fear, we mean you no harm.”

More Kuthites?” Irabeth grumbles.

Slim asks Sial if he knows Laori. The Shadowcount admits that the cheerful elf woman is “a colleague” of his. He notes that she drew a sketch to identify the party, which he dismissively displays for them. Slim asks whether the two of them were the figures he spotted last night. Sial admits that it was them; they had been led to the Acropolis by divination magic and were trying to pin down the party’s location. Finding no one in the camp, they left to wait for the adventurers to arrive at the ruin.

Alerted by Irabeth’s shout, Arlynn and the others arrive. The senior paladin asks what Sial and Asyra are doing here. The Shadowcount says that the party may be involved in matters of interest to the Church of Zon-Kuthon. He has come to observe them to determine whether this is so. He insists once again that he means them no harm and urges them to simply ignore him and Asyra and proceed about their business in the Acropolis.

Irabeth is wary of working with the Kuthites, particularly after identifying Asyra as a chain devil, but Arlynn notes that Laori kept her word. Slim, Egan, and Ashla are also willing to tolerate the priest’s presence and so the adventurers continue to explore the ruin while the Kuthites watch them from the shadows, occasionally scribbling notes.

The Cursed Whip

In the adjacent chamber, the party discovers a five-foot-diameter hole in the center of the floor, surrounded by a ring of wavy runes. Inside the hole, a shaft filled with brilliant emerald light drops into the depths. Translated by Slim, the runes invite supplicants to step into the “illumacone” to descend to the lower level.

In a smaller nearby room, the Crimson Blades find a strange bronze statue depicting a half-snake, half-human creature with the lower body of a serpent coiled about a stand and the upper torso of a slender human woman. Her hands are crossed over her chest to clutch two objects at her shoulders—the right hand holds a large quill, while the left holds a jade-handled whip.

The runes identify her as Lissala and commend the Acropolis to her protection. Searching the statue and its base, Slim makes two finds. The first is that a hidden compartment in the base contains a 4-foot-diameter circular frame containing several wedge-shaped metal plates, each punched with its own intricate design. Slim deduces that assembling wedges in the correct fashion and placing the circle over the illumacone will reveal a map of the Acropolis. He doesn’t test this theory, having become fascinated his other discovery.

The jade-handled whip in the statue’s hand looks as if it could be pried free. Slim asks Irabeth to help him take it, but the half-orc thinks stealing the goddess’ weapon is a bad idea. Slim says that Lissala is a dead god of a dead civilization.

“Even dead gods can still exert power over the world—save Aroden, of course,” Irabeth warns him.

With a great deal of effort, Slim wrests the whip free of the statue and quickly has Zellara identify it through her Harrow deck. He learns that the whip is a powerful magical item infused with the essence of Order—but that it is also cursed and if not returned to the statue’s grasp, will slowly drive its bearer mad with paranoia. Irabeth gives him a knowing look.

Slim decides to hang onto the whip for the time being, figuring it might come in handy deeper into the facility. He plans to return it to the statue once they are ready to leave, but Arlynn floats the idea of trying to get the curse removed.

Writing on the Wall

Leaving the statue and the illumacone behind, the Crimson Blades and their Kuthite observers venture into a chamber whose walls are decorated with six life-sized bas-relief carvings that depict a diverse collection of priests, each adorned in billowing robes draped in Thassilonian runes. An intricate scripture winds around each carving, coiling around them and along the walls like an immensely long tangle of ribbons.

Slim and Zandu attempt to decipher the runes, but the text proves devilishly difficult to parse, though they get the sense that it’s a warning of some kind about a great danger within the Acropolis. As they spend the next half an hour trying to puzzle out the runes, Arlynn eventually decides to swing by the mermaid and Lissala statues again, hoping to find some secret passage or other connection between them. She is joined by Kyra and Egan.

As the paladin reexamines the bronze statue, the quiet of the Acropolis is shattered by boisterous Shoanti voices near the entrance.

Into the Cinderlands
A History of Ashes, Part 4

Rumors of War

While the rest of the adventurers were chasing after Raven and foiling Rolth’s ambush, Kyra was chatting up the locals at the Sorry Excuse. Once the Crimson Blades have reunited, she shares what she’s learned.

There are three Clans (or “Quahs”) of Shoanti inhabiting the Cinderlands. Thousand Bones belongs to the Skull Clan (Skoan-Quah), which is considered the friendliest. Though they are nomadic, there are always at least a few Shoanti camped at the Kallow Mounds year round. The Moon Clan (Lyrune-Quah) are a reclusive bunch who should be somewhere in the western Cinderlands this time of year. Finally, there’s the Sun Clan (Sklar-Quah), the most warlike of the bunch, who are said to be massing somewhere in the Storval Plateau for an attack on Korvosa. The Kaer Magans have been bystanders in fights between the barbarians and the lowlanders before, so their primary concern is that this might disrupt trade.

But angry savages aren’t the only dangers. Rumor has it that there’s something new stalking the Cinderlands, something that displaced a flock of gargoyles from their territory in the Ash-Blown Lands to the southwest. And of course the blasted landscape is treacherous enough to navigate on its own.

Kyra made a few discrete inquiries and reports that so far, no word of the various bounties on their individual and collective heads has reached the good people of Kaer Maga—though that’s only a matter of time.

The party returns to the Common House, where they hire a priest of Cayden Cailean to cure Slim of his blindness. The rogue’s letter gets dispatched with Shar and Ser Arlynn Farima makes a few quick purchases before the party beds down. At dawn, the party rides out, heading east towards the Kallow Grounds.

Across the Blasted Desert

Though it is only late spring, the parched and broken flats of dark volcanic soil already radiate heat as the sun glares down like a stern and watchful eye. Yet Ashla and Egan conclude that it is still wiser to travel by day. The main concern is emberstorms, fiery gales that can sweep across the scrubland without warning, although the height of fire season is still more than a month away.

On the second day, the Crimson Blades find a range of low black hills slicing across their path. Strewn all around them are teardrop shaped stones of volcanic slag, which the gnome and the half-elf recognize as “Sarenrae’s Tears,” dangerously volatile debris ejected by volcanic vents known as Cinder Cones. The party spends the day circling around the cinder cone field. They finally make camp by the side of a rocky hill, where Egan uses shape stone to carve out a hut for them from the volcanic rock.

Things That Go Bump in the Day

The next morning, Slim sleeps in while the two paladins pray in the shade and Egan and Ashla commune with nature. Zandu pokes around outside while Remmy trains in her armor and Kyra prepares a hearty breakfast. It is Egan who first notices the horses whinnying with fright, while Arlynn catches a glimpse of a mysterious dark beast moving among the rocks near the camp.

In a calm clear voice, Arlynn calls out: “I hope that big pineapple breakfast is almost ready!”

“Just opening the can now,” Kyra replies.

Ashla rises up and draws her swords, casually calling Remmy to join her for some sparring practice. Kyra cheerfully fusses around the campfire, not missing a note as she draws and loads her crossbow. Arlynn and Irabeth shift their prayer stances so that their swords are ready in hand. Slim sleeps on and has a disturbing dream about horses.

The cinder wolves stalking the camp begin to creep forward among the rocks. Egan decides enough is enough and throws up a barrier of spiked thorns between the main group and the camp.

“Slim! Get up! Things have gone all pineapple!” the gnome shouts.

One of the cinder wolves sees an opening and charges Kyra, but she is able to fend them off. As Ashla and Remmy move to help her, the rest of the pack circles around the other side of the thorns. Zandu starts dishing out magic missiles while Arlynn draws her bow and Egan wildshapes into a dire tiger. Soon, Ashla is chasing after a wounded wolf to the southwest while Tiger-Egan and Slim have moved to the southeast.

That’s when the other half of the wolf pack comes over the hill, dragging Zandu down and biting him with their fiery mouths. But will a few well-placed arrows from Remmy and Kyra and some well struck blows by Arlynn and Irabeth, the wolves are driven away.

The Skull Clan

After healing their badly singed sorcerer, the party continues on their journey eastward. Towards the end of the day, they come across four riders garbed in the blacks and grays of the Skoan-Quah. Initially suspicious, the Shoanti’s concerns are allayed when they learn that the tshamek have come to speak with Thousand Bones. The warriors agree to accompany the party to the Kallow Mounds, which they say are still a day’s ride away.

That night the party camps and Egan builds a new stone structure. The Shoanti refuse to take shelter in it and the gnome overhears them chuckling about the frail and frightened outlanders cowering in their stone house. The warriors clearly seem uncomfortable with their presence in the Cinderlands.

The next day, the four braves are mounted and ready while the party is still preparing breakfast and praying for divine guidance. By midday, the odd procession has reached the Kallow Mounds, a series of cairns that have held the remains of Shoanti ancestors for the past 300 years. A camp of several dozen yurts and a temporary paddock has been pitched at on the western edge of the barrows.

Their escorts lead the Crimson Blades through the camp, while barbarians of all ages gather and gawk at them as they pass by. All of the Shoanti have the same ruddy complexion, while the adults are also bedecked with tattoos and all the men and women of fighting age have their heads completely shaven.

On the far side of camp, the adventurers spy a wingless dragonne sunning itself on a cairn overlooking the chieftain’s yurt. They meet Chief One-Life, leader of the Skoan-Quah, who greets them rather stiffly as “tshamek” (outlanders/intruders). Thousand Bones arrives soon after and welcomes them more warmly. Zandu and Arlynn present the shaman with Rolth’s body and he is pleased that justice was done to the defiler of his grandson’s corpse. The Shoanti drag the body off by the ankles, promising to display it as a warning to other enemies of the Shoanti such as “that devil tshamek.”

Thousand Bones says that they can take up their business at the Bone Council that evening. In the meantime he has the guest yurt prepared for them and offers to take them to the cairn where Ghaeken is buried. They accede to his request and Zandu delivers a short statement of respect in the Shoanti language, while Arlynn holds her tongue so as not to offend her hosts with any reference to a foreign goddess.

Returning to the camp, Zandu delivers a compelling story of the party’s adventures since their recovery of Ghaeken’s body, speaking in Shoanti and using his disguise hat as a prop/special effect. He attracts a sizable audience and afterwards is praised as the rare tshamek who practices the true art of storytelling rather than merely locking tales away in lifeless ink and paper.

The Gauntlet is Thrown

As Zandu is wrapping up, a troop of seven riders approach the village from the north. These braves, led by a giant of a man with an enormous warhammer slung over his shoulder, are burnriders dressed in the bring reds and oranges of the Sklar-Quah. They are accompanying an eighth horse, which carries the body of a deceased Sklar-Quah warrior, Belak, for burial. They hand the body over to Skoan-Quah bearers, but the group’s enormous leader spies the Crimson Blades and his eyes flare with rage.

“That one is Krojun Eats-What-He_Kills,” Thousand Bones whispers, “a great hero of the Sklar-Quah and one of the loudest voices for war against the tshamek. He wishes to confront you, but stay your hands. Spilling blood in this place could unravel the frayed threads that bind the Quahs together.”

Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills spends a few moments sizing up the adventurers with a sneer before turning to address Chief One-Life: “Why do the Skoan-Quah harbor tshamek trespassers?”

As Chief One-Life struggles to find an explanation that won’t further enrage the towering visitor, Thousand Bones nods at the giant’s words as though considering them carefully, but then responds sharply, “Tell me, Krojun, when did the Sklar-Quah become judges of who trespasses on the Kallow Mounds where the ashes of our fathers lie?”

“Your words change the question, Thousand Bones,” answers the Shoanti hero with a snort. “These ones bring trouble to the Cinderlands, and you know it. The coming days shall reveal to us all who is right about them.”

“Perhaps,” answers Thousand Bones. “But not today, and not here. Would you have word of Berak’s burial tainted by bloodshed get back to your Sun Shaman?”

Krojun pauses, the cords in his neck straining, but then he exhales and grins. “You misunderstand me, Thousand Bones. My grief has wounded my words. But see to it that no tshamek defiles our memories here.” His smile broadens as he pulls a thin leather loop from one of his packs. “Certainly, though, guests of the Skoan-Quah must be brave to come this far. You wouldn’t mind if I tested the courage and strength of your guests, would you?”

“I never refuse any trial,” Arlynn volunteers, stepping forward.

Recognizing the strap, Zandu explains it is a prop for a Shoanti game of strength and fortitude known as “sredna.”

“Ha!” snorts Krojun. “So there is one among you with courage! Are there any others, or do you worry that your soft tshamek hands will get dirty?”

Slim takes a look at the barbarian and recalls seeing the same brash pose on the Paladin card he drew during Zellara’s Harrow reading. Confident that he has the measure of the man, the rogue steps forward. “I’m in.”

Irabeth steps forward to stand beside Arlynn. “As am I. Servants of the Inheritor do not shrink from a challenge.”

“Good, good!” Krojun shouts with a grin. “Are there any more brave souls among you?”

Zandu begins to decline, citing his preference for magic over strength of arms, but when Krojun suggests that it’s a wonder that a “little man” like him survived this far in the Cinderlands the sorcerer changes his mind. “I’ll do it.”

“This one has the heart of a warrior after all!” Krojun laughs.

Let the Half-Orc Win

In sredna, two opponents face one another on their hands and knees with their foreheads spac