While the party didn’t know where the green tower was, there didn’t appear to be any immediate reason to rush to it, as there had been with Windsong Abbey, so they took a little time patching themselves up and copying spellbooks (and restoring Scratchy to his original form) before heading back to Magnimar. Once there, they took some more time buying new magic items with the loot they’d acquired, but of course they also went to Heidmarch Manor to brief Sheila on the latest events. A few days later, she had information for them as well.
“Thank you for the report,” Sheila told them. “And I trust you were able to use the library to determine the location of the next shard?”
“We were indeed,” Theodora replied, “It’s in Guiltspur!”
Guiltspur was a Thassilonian ruin that sat high upon the Storval Plateau, a massive geographical feature that dominated northeastern Varisia. The tower itself sat in a section of the plateau known as the Cinderlands, a burning plain of ash and sand whose sparse population consisted mostly of giants and the barbarians known as the Shoanti.
Milacent sighed, “I guess it’s time for more travel.”
“I can help with that,” Sheila said, “but before we get to it, Andel has something to say to you.” And she waved him forward.
Andel Gesseran, the mousy clerk who always handled the party’s reports, stepped forward and laid said reports on the table. “Um, I’ve been going over the reports, and I’ve noticed something strange …”
What Andel had noticed was the remarkable number of coincidences that had accompanied the party’s quest. First, a shard had just happened to fall into the hands of Natalya Vancaskerkin, a petty thief, at about the same time that her comrades had found a previously undiscovered way into the Crow. When the party thought the shard had been lost, it was miraculously brought back to them by Kieran the Magnificent. It led them to the second shard, which just happened to be just past the area of the Crow that the Tower Girls had only recently uncovered. Then the party departed for the Lady’s Light, arriving at the perfect time for the false Sorshen to be both distracted by the Gray Maidens and confident enough in their ability to defend the complex that she took no action herself, even as the party moved deeper into her lair. At Kaer Maga, their arrival was immediately preceded by the caulborn reaching out to directly contact the librarians of the Therassic Spire, an event that had not happened in any of that illustrious city’s recorded history. And of course, at Windsong Abbey, Ardathanatus was kind enough to bring the last shard back to Varisia from wherever he had found it, just in time for the party to come and take it from him.
“And that’s not even the most surprising part,” Andel said with a flourish, “The most surprising part is that almost all of the scholarship regarding the shards is very recent, taking place only within the last 50 years or so, particularly the knowledge that the ioun stones nullify their curses. Without that, you wouldn’t have been able to collect the shards at all, as their curses would’ve driven you all insane!”
Andel had by now gotten very excited, but Scratchy was less impressed. “So?” he shrugged, “coincidences happen.”
“They do, but when so many of them happen together, you have to wonder if they’re really coincidences. It’s quite possible that something or someone very powerful wants them to be found, and is subtly using us to collect them. It’s even been suggested that sometimes powerful artifacts themselves want to be found … ” At the mention of this last idea Andel seemed to catch himself, and ended with, “but that’s crazy.”
Sheila had been shooting him sidelong glances the whole time, and now decided his speech was over. “Yes, crazy,” she admonished, “now that you’ve had your say, I have one last thing to show to our friends before they start making their travel plans.”
She brought them into an adjoining room and pulled aside a curtain to reveal the Sihedron Shrine that they had found the Shard of Greed in.
Everyone expressed mild surprise, but Sheila beamed with pride when she announced, “We brought it up from the bottom of the Crow. When you have all the shards we’ll assemble them right here, in front of the city council, and the Pathfinder Society will be the toast of Magnimar!”
The party left the meeting in less upbeat spirits. “Sheila was awfully dismissive of Andel’s theory,” Theodora asked when they were out of earshot, “You think she’s up to something?”
“Well, she did recruit us to find the shards,” Scratchy replied, “Maybe she’s the evil force Andel was talking about!”
“He didn’t say ‘evil’, just powerful and subtle” Helanda reminded everyone, “And if she is that force, and she is evil, then we’ll deal with her when the time comes.” And with her right hand she gripped the hilt of her sword.
Whether or not there was any truth to Andel’s conjectures, a more pressing problem was how they would get to Guiltspur, hundreds of miles away in the middle of a blasted wasteland. Luckily, most of the way could be covered by traveling up rivers, provided they could move against the current at a decent speed. And they knew just the guy for that.
A few days later the party was once again boarding the strange ‘paddle-wheel’ craft of Othlo Janke for a trip up the river inland from Magnimar. When Theodora boarded he informed her that his offer to pay her for serving drinks in skimpy clothes still stood.
“Sorry, I have to study spells,” she answered, with somewhat less disdain than one would otherwise expect.
The journey started out similar to the one they had taken to Kaer Maga, winding up the Yondabakari River. Along the way they passed Whistledown, the gnome community where Zelcor had last bought a riding dog.
“Hey, how’s that dog we sold you?” the local animal seller asked.
Zelcor struggled to recall which dog he had bought from this person. When he remembered that it was the current (still alive) dog he replied, “Fine, just fine! As of course it would be!”
Soon after Whistledown the journey veered northward, away from Kaer Maga and up a waterway known as the Skull River. After several days’ travel, the party found the origin of the river’s ominous name: at the point where it descended from the Storval Plateau the river had been blocked by an enormous stone dam. A giant skull had been carved into the face of this dam, giving a name to both the river and the dam itself: Skull’s Crossing.
Here they said goodbye to Othlo, for as capable as his paddle-wheel barge might have been, it was not going to ascend the dam and cross into the lake beyond. With a cheerful wave he dropped them off at Turtleback Ferry, the town at the base of the dam, and headed back downstream to Magnimar.
Turtleback Ferry was a rough little town, mostly serving as the place for the Shoanti to go when they had the rare need to trade with the ‘soft southern folk’. It was filled with enormous men with enormous muscles boasting about their prowess in combat, and the one pub in town went utterly silent when a goblin, a gnome, and three human women walked in.
“Greetings,” Theodora said to the man behind what passed for a bar. “We’re in search of accomodations, horses, and boat passage over the lake.”
“I’ve got a boat I can sell ya,” the barman drawled back with a leer. Helanda and Milacent smacked their faces. The two of them were dressed in armor, and were appropriately left alone. Theodora, on the other hand, was decked out in one of the outfits they had recovered in the Lady’s Light. And Sorshen had not been a modest dresser, to say the least. After twenty minutes of sexual harassment the party finally walked away with the names of people who could provide them with what they wanted.
“You know, you could wear more clothing,” Milacent admonished Theodora.
“Why would I do that?” Theodora asked. Milacent just shook her head and turned away.
Harassment notwithstanding, Theodora had gotten the information they needed. They got their horses, then made their way up the winding path beside the dam to the fishing village on top. There they found the few bold (some would say crazy) fishermen who made a living from working the Storval Deep, the purportedly haunted lake behind Skull’s Crossing. They asked one how much it would cost to take them and their horses across the lake to the center of the Cinderlands beyond.
The old man wrinkled up his face and stuck out a single leathery finger at them. “I’ll take ya,” he croaked, “but it’ll cost you one gold piece each. PER DAY!”
“I’ll give you ten,” Theodora answered, and the deal was done. Away from the dam, the lake current was weak, so they made good progress, but still it took several days to traverse the lake in their rickety fishing boats. About halfway through, there was a large storm, and in the distance they saw giant tentacles arcing out of the water.
“Auugh!” shouted Scratchy, “Qlippoth! Turn around! Run away!”
“No, It’s not blocking our path!” replied Theodora, “We can just keep going forward and we won’t meet it! Besides, it’s probably not a qlippoth, just a regular giant tentacled sea monster!”
“Oh, well that’s alright then.”
Eventually they hit the far side of the lake, where they said goodbye to the fisherman. The remaining water route was upstream, but Zelcor had something for that. He drew a feather-shaped token from his robes and proclaimed, “Behold! A Swan Boat!”
He tossed the feather into the water and it transformed instantly into a swan-shaped boat large enough to hold the entire party and their horses. He had picked it up in one of the treasure hoards they’d looted, and he’d been saving it because it only lasted for a single day before disappearing. Now, however, was the perfect time for it.
The party piled in and spent the next 24 hours riding the boat as it magically conveyed them upstream. When it ended, they got out and proceeded on horseback, guided by the visions from the Shard of Envy. After a few days, they crested a low ridge and saw a tower of green stone rising in the distance.
“There it is,” Helanda muttered, “Guiltspur.”