AoA 07: Session Intros 38-45

[Author’s note: What are these “AoA” tags? Check out this post to know why I’m writing these and why they don’t have anything to do with superheroes. After writing only the occasional cut-scene, I decided to do a quick narrative before every Pathfinder session instead of a recap. We already had someone in the group writing recaps, so mine felt redundant, and there were too many opportunities for fiction writing that I was letting pass me by. Below are a collection of intros from our sessions. I don’t love using present tense, but it’s what fits best into these tabletop roleplaying sessions.]

Session 38: The Cult of Cinders Epilogue

As soon as you’ve entered the fetid swamp water at the fortress’ entrance, you hear the dragon’s bellow. You know that Kyrion is injured near death. Exhausted. Drained. The force of his rage, then, is a surprise. There is some part of you that recoils at the explosive sound–maybe it’s physically flinching, maybe your emotional defenses harden, whatever–there is a lifetime of anger, hurt, and humiliation in Kyrion’s roars as he tears into the fortress with a frenzy.

You make your way across the water. Somewhere below you are the corpses of Sweettooth and of charau-ka butchers. You pull yourself onto that ring of trees to the south, standing on the giant roots, as the destruction of the fortress continues. You are each scorched and weary, leaning against each other and the damp tree trunks as sounds within the structure echo to you across the water. For minutes this goes on, and you all don’t speak, silently bearing witness to the end of the Cinderclaw terror, and the violent rebirth of a dragon.

Eventually, at long last, the roof at the far end of the fortress explodes, and Kyrion soars into daylight. Again, he’s young, and nearly crippled by the damage he’s taken. But it’s a friggin’ red dragon. There is a majesty and awe to him as he spreads his wings. You will never forget that brief moment when Kyrion’s form seems to hang in the air, blotting out the mid-morning sun, as he roars into the jungle sky.

And then, with several flaps of his leathery wings, he’s gone, disappearing over the canopy. The fortress seems to list in the water, and you can hear it slowly but steadily collapsing from within.

Session 39: Back to Breachill

It is mid-morning on Moonday, the 14th of Abadius. Jacques du Tank, sweating heavily in his plate armor, stands near Jethro Vermillion, the cleric’s white glove gripping his staff. On the other side of Jethro is Obedience Fletcher, flexing his hands. Glennhall Granndyr, face stoic and lips pursed, takes in the scene around him with his large, yellow eyes. And Pit of Unbearable Lightness, the mushroom leshy, holding a staff topped with a dragon’s head, soaks in the sounds of their home one last time.

Your motley crew stand in the middle of a ring of stone arches, amidst an open-air temple. You all can still see the soot smears, the charred branches and pit of charcoal that mark the Cinderclaw activity here months ago, but there is new growth too. Plants push out of the earth, attempting to reclaim the site on behalf of the verdant jungle.

Within one arch, its stone carved with phases of the moon and birds, a curtain of gold-and-silver mist churns.

Jacques looks back at the small crowd outside of the ring: Ose Panin and Ose Apsu, the twin leopard leaders. Nketiah with her arm of twisted wooden branches and bone. Jahsi in his multicolored tunic, adorned with gold. Akosa, his normally scowling face softened. Sayir, with the opaque veil covering the top half of his face. And a dozen Ekujae archers. All elven eyes watch the champion of Sarenrae. He nods once at them, then at Jethro, and steps through the mists.

What first hits Jacques is the change in temperature. The cloying heat and humidity of the jungle is gone, replaced by dry, crisply cold air. The bright light of day is replaced by silent darkness. It feels like stepping into a grave.
For a moment he panics, but as the others push their way through the portal, a sudden light flares. Jethro’s staff now glows with warm, magical illumination, revealing the elegantly carved and spiraling designs of a large circular chamber with a domed ceiling. Six statues of elves all face outward and are arrayed around a dry fountain. Huntergate is to your back. You are in Alseta’s Ring. There was no waystation, no lava tunnel with a vision of Dahak prowling it. With one step, through the mists, you are home, and the portal closes.

Session 40: Eclipse

Renatta Gilroy blinks awake. Drool has run down one side of her face, and her nightcap has fallen over one eye. She flails spastically for a moment, tangled in her thin blanket.

“Wazzat? What? Who’s there?” she sputters into the cold darkness, but no one answers.

For a moment she thinks it must have been a dream, and she pats the hay mattress beneath her to get comfortable. But then she hears a crash, something breaking.

Renatta holds her breath, very still, and listens. She hears a goblin voice, singing. Hadn’t there been a goblin singing, right on her fence, as she fell asleep? She hadn’t thought much of it at the time. Renatta lives in one of the more hardscrabble places in Breachill, and across from a tavern to boot. She had long ago learned to sleep through drunken singing. But if that is indeed the same goblin, he’d moved. The voice seems more distant now, like it’s coming from within the Pickled Ear. But she dismisses that idea as unlikely. The tavern is closed, after all, and Roxie–

Another crash, and a bellow of pain. “What in Desna’s name is going on across the street?”

Renatta reaches for the candle on her nightstand. Well. Hardscrabble or not, she can’t abide with tomfoolery, not on her street. Not at this hour. With a groan, she pulls her feet over onto the cold floor, toes questing for her slippers.

Meanwhile, the interior of the Pickled Ear currently looks nothing like a tavern. Tentacles flail threateningly from the floor in the center of the room, toppling furniture and currently clutching Jethro Vermillion in their black, oily grasp. Beside the cleric is his ever-present bodyguard Jacques du Tank, fighting off two street toughs flanking him with jeers, rapiers, and manacles. The toughs have clearly not yet recognized that the man who called the Redeemers to this trap lies dead across the room.

The tavern’s bar is half smashed, wood splintered across the floor by two hulking, skeletal giants. Coxsackie, the goblin bard, faces both skullbrutes from atop what’s left of the bar, a mace in one hand and a bright red shield in the other. Behind him, Pit the winged mushroom leshy’s hands crackle with magic.

And behind her skeletal minions, the necromancer Voz Lirayne clutches her head in pain, blood trickling from one nostril. Fury fills her black eyes.

Session 41: Preparing for Dreamgate

Tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Jethro Vermillion screams into the morning darkness, the dragon’s roar still echoing in his ears. It is the first such dream he’s had in months and comes amidst a scant two hours of sleep. His eyes burn with fatigue. His sweat chills him in the wintry darkness, so different from the jungle.

Mr. Fletcher, uncharacteristically, is not at his bedside offering a glass of water. Ah, Jethro realizes. He is instead across town, at the haberdashery.
Wincing, Jethro swings his feet out of bed, and then jumps in surprise. Pit is there, staring up at him from the bedroom floor, the leshy’s eyes illuminated by the moonlight.

“You had a dream,” Pit intones.

“More of a haunted vision, but yes.”

“Tell me, in all its details, and I shall write it down.”

“Alright. It began–”

“No,” Pit says with surprising force. “Tell me in Druidic.”

Across the hallway, Jacques du Tank sleeps with a pillow over his head, an effort to protect himself from the buzzsaw snore of the goblin sprawled on the floor of his room. Coxsackie, murmuring happily between snores, clutches an empty bottle of Roxie’s Finest to his chest.

And, across town, Obedience Fletcher is at the bedside of Winthrop Finney, offering a glass of water as the haberdasher wakes from his own screaming nightmares.

Session 42: Introducing Robin Sterling

The Breachill town council holds a public Call for Heroes once per month to expressly hear petitions from residents who wish the town to hire adventurers on their behalf. At the end of the residents’ address to the council, the council members discuss the petition before voting whether to expend public funds on it. For petitions that are approved, the council then opens the floor to adventurers in attendance of the meeting who wish to tackle the challenge.

Five months ago, the Call for Heroes was interrupted by a fire in the town hall. The adventurers in attendance saved the structure and all forty or so residents who’d come to see the event. The group then proceeded to catch the arsonist, expose the local bookseller as a necromancer, and clean out the nearby Hellknight Hill castle of monsters before settling into it as a home.

The group has become local legend, and rumors fly that they have toppled tyrannical governments all over Golarion, found the secrets of eternal youth, slain armies of giants and dragons rampaging in the Isgeri countryside, hunted cultists in the Mwangi Expanse, crushed the next Goblinblood War before it could begin, and spoken with Desna herself.

Since the Breachill town council has been holding monthly Call for Heroes for decades, a fair number of local traditions have built up around the event. One of those local traditions is to gather mid-morning at the Wizard’s Grace, a popular tavern close to the town hall. The deeds of the Hellknight Hill crew, who some call the Redeemers, has noticeably increased the number of adventurers who show up each month to the Call for Heroes.

Today, on the 7th of Calistril, a dozen outsiders have answered the Call along with a handful of locals inspired by tales of the Redeemers. The Wizards Grace is packed this morning, nearly standing room only. As tradition dictates, they’re eating boar stew and lentils and drinking ale. Toasts have begun, and each toast ends with a floor-shaking cheer from the crowd. There is an electricity to the air, an unseen feeling of anticipation and ambition.

A broad-shouldered man in a cloak stands in the corner, watching the festivities with a mix of amusement and vigilance. A lock of bright red hair has escaped the hood he has pulled up to hide his features. One calloused hand rests casually on the pommel of the sword at his belt.

“A toast to the Redeemers, heroes of Breachill! And may we find more heroes among you today!” the inn’s proprietor, Trinil Uskwood, says with a bright smile. The crowd roars in response, pounding mugs to tables and yelling in approval.

Little do they know that today’s Call for Heroes will be one of the most talked-about moments in Breachill’s long history, rivaling even that day five months ago…

More than a mile away and two hours earlier, Jethro Vermillion is in his room, readying for another day building the chapel in Citadel Altaerein’s courtyard. For two weeks he has done little else but oversee the labor of its construction, working with an almost feverish intensity.

His head snaps up at a knock at his door. Jacques du Tank stands in the doorway and clears his throat to speak.

Session 43: Dreamgate

Everything about this place feels wrong to Jethro Vermillion. It is spoiled milk, a stillborn baby, a profane devil crouched in worship.

This place had clearly once been lovely, built by the elves to honor the goddess Desna, the Tender of Dreams. Mr. Fletcher had said, moments ago, that the soft lighting, the ethereal quality to the air, the lavender smells, and the muted sounds were likely meant to induce sleep for weary travelers. Perhaps, but now it is an abomination.

Take the sculpture in this very room. A willow tree carved of pale, polished marble. Exquisite craftsmanship. Beds at its base. But as he steps nearer the tree groans, tortured. Its limbs do not look like comforting boughs, but rather the grasping hands of a skeleton. The beds at its base are shadowed, making them resemble empty graves.

His companions, so many new faces, fan out behind him. Mr. Fletcher, his one constancy, with his elven cloak slung over his Sunday suit. Pit, the leshy who is perhaps more ancient even than this tree before them. Coxsackie, whom the locals have begun to call “the Pied Piper of the Pickled Ear,” is already beginning to sing, his goblin voice cutting through the wrongness of this place. And then Robin Sterling, the bird who his dreams named a fellow dragon… the man and his capabilities a mystery.

Jethro’s vision the previous night was unmistakable in its direction. These were to be his companions through Dreamgate. They must be more than capable for this task.

But as the marble tree’s limbs reach out, grasping, it has become clear without a shadow of doubt that he has led them into a living nightmare.

Session 44: The Secrets of Dreamgate / Into Ravounel

Robin Sterling, rusted armor hanging from his muscular frame, has chased the annis hag into the other room. Jethro can’t hear the hag’s final scream in this muted place, but he knows the precise moment when the deed is done. As when clogged ears suddenly clear, Jethro’s apprehension and dread about this cursed place evaporate. He inhales slowly and deeply, not realizing until now how shallow his breath had become.

He holds the air in his lungs, now exhales, scanning the room. The hag Rusty Mae’s body sprawls on the marble floor, matted red hair and blood spread out like a pyre beneath her. Two gold pieces lay incongruously nearby, dropped by Mr. Sterling. A bookshelf, four large chairs, and a cauldron are the room’s only adornments. The exit out of this nightmarish waystation is nothing more than a stone plug, marked by bloody runes and scorched marble.

Of the bone devil, there is no trace. Jethro takes as an ominous sign that his celestial companion has not returned with information from his pursuit of the fiend. The last member of the hags’ coven, a night hag and her nightmare steed, are similarly gone. Jethro’s used to his group utterly purging evil from a place, ensuring it cannot return. He knows too well the price of letting foes like Voz Lirayne escape. Yet there is no denying it… more than half of Dreamgate’s inhabitants have disappeared rather than perished, and that fact does not sit well.

But at least for a moment, peace. Peace and silence.

Session 45: Welcome to Cypress Point

The human man being dragged by chains and shackles does not seem like a criminal. He is painfully thin, his long neck encased in a muzzle-like collar, wearing clothes both simple and practical — long-sleeved shirt, roughspun pants ending mid-shin, and no shoes. The man’s eyes are wide and fearful, and as he tries to see you all, a human woman pulls on the chain, whipping his head away. He grunts in pain.

The woman sneers and squints at the figures rushing along the beach towards them.

“Oy! Ulkin! We got ourselves some company.”

Their group pauses, and the woman and her two human companions draw their rapiers almost in unison.

A dwarf, face scarred and beard tangled, wears battered chainmail. A complex, red symbol of a triangle, circle, and three points is imprinted upon his pauldron. He swings the flail in his hand casually, a motion that seems almost unconscious, as habitual as hooking a thumb in a belt loop.

“Well, it looks like this shitty little town has some bite to it after all. Let them come and take them when they get here. Buttercup!” the dwarf yells.

The large boar, taller than the dwarf, squeals and shakes its head. Blood-red eyes, ashen fur, and unnaturally sharp tusks frame hundreds of pounds of raw muscle, the veins of which can be seen through the boar’s ghastly pale flesh. Blood drips from its tusks and the creature’s spiked nose ring.

“You get the scent of their blood, yeah sweetness? In case they try to run.”
The boar squeals and shakes its head again in response, red flecks pattering the sand.

“Careful. They don’t look like pushovers,” the woman says over her shoulder.

“Good. I’m bored.”

Robin Sterling, out of breath not at all, is the first to arrive.

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