Title: Rise of the Runelords Author: MasterGhandalf Fandom: Pathfinder RPG Genre: Fantasy, action/adventure, drama, epic Characters: OCs, Rise of the Runelords NPCs Timeframe: Canonical Summary: When a sleepy coastal town comes under attack by goblin raiders, a band of unlikely heroes finds themselves thrown together to get to the bottom of the threat. But ultimately the goblins are only one strand in the plans of an ancient evil rising from its long slumber to extend its dominion over the lands of Varisia once again... Rise of the Runelords By MasterGhandalf Adapted from Pathfinder Adventure Path #1-6 By Paizo Publishing EDIT: I've been working on a glossary of important terms for people unfamiliar with the Golarion setting; I try to make things clear in-story, but it can be helpful to have it all in one place. I'll keep updating it as the story advances, and it may be found here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/10957896/chapters/43243211 Prologue: The Awakening The mountain was called Mhar Massif, and there were few taller or more foreboding upon the face of Golarion. Legend said that it had been the site of a failed incursion from another world, that a strange and terrible being called Mhar had attempted to emerge from the peak that now bore his name and been caught there, frozen in stone for eternity so that no sign of his passage remained save for a face that stared out from the mountainside, reshaped over the millennia by mortal hands and the wear of time, and yet an eternal reminder to any who would gaze upon it that there are things in the cosmos older and stranger than mortal thought can imagine. Yet though Mhar was the eldest and most alien of the powers tied to the ancient mountain, he was not the only – far from it. For in elder days when mankind was young, and in a great and terrible empire that legend named Thassilon stretched out across the lands below, a city had been built in the mountain’s lap, a city of wealth and wonder – and terror. For this city had been ruled by wizard-kings given over completely to the cause of avarice, stripping the wealth from conquered peoples to be borne upon the backs of slaves here, to this place upon the very edge of the world. And atop the mountain peak itself there was built a many-spired palace of opulence and magic, home to those whose legacy of power endured long after they themselves had passed into myth and been forgotten. It was the lure of that legacy that brought the one who now stood at the heart of a great chamber near the palace’s very pinnacle. Mokmurian was his name, and he had been born to the stone giant clans who inhabited the Storval Plateau in the land that was now called Varisia far below. A runt among his kind – even now, decades into his adulthood, he stood barely more than ten feet tall – his birth had brought joy and honor to his family, for among his kind, those who were born with unusual physical features often had magic in their blood. Yet as Mokmurian grew, he came to understand that no such power lay dormant within him; desperate to prove himself, he had turned in secret to the study of wizardry. Magic was his birthright – this he knew in his heart. If it would not come to him naturally, he would master it with spellbooks and items of power. Yet the stone giants had not forgotten the long-ago wizards who had enslaved their ancestors, and when the clan elders had learned of Mokmurian’s pursuits, they had exiled him, cursing him as a fraud and a traitor to his race. For years he had roamed the desolate plateau alone, driven above all by a desire to plumb ever greater depths of arcane power, that he might return one day and make his people regret the day that they had cast him out. He pursued the secrets of the past with a fervor; his power grew vast. His studies lead him at long last to Mhar Massif, to the city of Xin-Shalast that lay below it, and finally to the many-spired palace atop the mountain’s peak. Xin-Shalast was lost, but not abandoned, inhabited by the feral descendants of the creatures that had once served the one who ruled here, but by that time Mokmurian had become no small power in his own right; none of the ruined city’s denizens could withstand him. He penetrated the palace, using his magic to burrow directly through the rock, and so at last he came to stand here, in this chamber which he was increasingly certain was the heart of this strange and forgotten place. Even in decay, the palace was opulent, and this chamber was no exception. The roof was upheld by pillars of gold; upon the northern wall was a mural depicting the city of Xin-Shalast as it had been at its height. Yet to Mokmurian’s eyes, these wonders paled in comparison to that which dominated the room – a vast sphere of gold three times the giant’s height which rotated under the influence of some unseen power, as pristine now as it must have been when it was forged, ten millennia and more ago. Flames licked across its surface in an eternal, yet almost sluggish dance. A stone staircase led up the sphere’s side, and from it a ramp lead to a platform that balanced perfectly atop the sphere, from which a shimmering column of golden light rose to the ceiling. Mokmurian stood now upon the ramp, regarding the platform with hooded eyes as he rubbed his craggy chin with the fingers of one hand. The giant wizard had seen many strange things in the course of his studies, and many more in his journey through Xin-Shalast, and he was certain that this sphere and its platform represented an artifact of tremendous power – but what was its purpose? Was it a weapon or tool that could be harnessed, perhaps granting dominion over both the palace and the city below? Or was it merely a trap, a lure for the unwary that would consume any who dared to step onto the platform? The stone giant was no coward, and he had not come this far to be stymied now. Already he had profited greatly from his time here, and he determined that though the risk of stepping onto the platform was considerable, the potential reward it offered was greater still. The magic of the ancients was almost at his fingers – who would turn such a chance down out of timidity? Not Mokmurian. His decision made, he roused himself from his contemplation and stretched out one long leg, lightly touching the tip of his toe to the rotating platform. When nothing untoward occurred, he stepped fully onto it. At once, Mokmurian stumbled at fell to his knees. A sense of vertigo overwhelmed him, and as he blinked rapidly to try and clear his eyes, he thought he saw the image of another chamber, yet more lavish than the one in which he stood, overlaid across his vision. This place, he knew somehow, was real, and it was there that he could sense the presence of the mighty power he sought – and of something else, more ephemeral, roused from a long slumber that regarded him with curiosity. The giant shook his head slowly, trying to clear his vision and thoughts, but they resisted. His hand slipped to the edge of the platform and then over it, brushing against the slowly writhing flames from the sphere below – the flames that some part of his mind recognized remained in perfect focus. At once, the fire raced up onto the platform and wrapped itself around Mokmurian’s body. The giant barely had time to cry out in alarm before his world vanished in a blast of heat and light – and then, just as suddenly, the fire vanished, leaving him standing in an altogether different place. Different – but not unfamiliar. For as Mokmurian stood and gazed about himself, and saw the stone floor and the roof upheld by pillars of fire, he knew that he had somehow found himself in the chamber which he had glimpsed when he first set foot upon the platform. At the opposite end of the chamber from where he now stood was a great and empty throne, and before it was a great well, above which was mounted some sort of large lens of green crystal. This, the wizard knew, was the source of the power he had earlier sensed, and that the well and the lens between them represented an almost unthinkable source of magical might – a power he felt drawn to possess, that he desired as he had few things in his life. He took one step towards it, but before he could take another he was frozen in place. For as he had realized earlier there was a second power in this chamber, one that was old and vast and cruel beyond measure, and now it had turned the full weight of its attention upon him. Slowly, silhouetted and indistinct, a figure appeared upon the throne – a man who sat and regarded the stone giant over his steepled fingers. Mokmurian was a wizard of no small skill, but the one who dwelt here was far greater still, and now he was pinned by the force of his attention as if by a basilisk’s gaze. A voice spoke into his mind then, soft and composed, yet filled with an undercurrent of triumph. At long last, after countless centuries, one has come, the voice said; though the lips of the image on the throne did not move, there could be no doubt as to its source. Not one of those I had intended, perhaps, and yet one that will serve my purposes nonetheless. Tell me, giant – what transpires in the world beyond? Who rules the lands below us now? What has become of my realm across the ages – what has become of Shalast… and Thassilon?