[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 122: Transitions
We begin with a montage of scenes all in silence. We see Jethro Vermillion, wings spread wide, standing with charred bones all around him, his golden eyes looking down on the injured form of Coxsackie. Obedience Fletcher stands at his side. Jethro kneels, hands glowing, and the goblin’s eyes flutter open.
We see a group of Sunknights gathered around Jacques du Tank, all wide-eyed and talking over each other, gesturing wildly. The wounded, blind, and weary champion is ignoring them as he turns to look with sightless eyes out over the field of bones. We see beyond the field the distant forms of Jethro, the two goblins, Margaret, and Sabine walking away, headed south. Jacques’ mouth is set in a grim line.
We see our five heroes picking their way across a path churned from thousands of skeletal feet. Scattered every so often is a stray bone or scrap of armor. Obedience is pointing out a grisly splatter of blood and gore along the path as the others look on.
We see the same heroes moving up low foothills. In the background lies a broken cart laying on its side. On the horizon, the sun is low in the sky and near sunset.
We are now in a dungeon of some kind. Margaret steps forward in the darkness and spikes leap from the walls, clattering against her shield and armor. Sabine is saying something we can’t hear as she studies the many glyphs on the walls.
Still in the dungeon, we see the party battling two skeletons. One is Dmiri, the hobgoblin leader of the Bloody Blades from Book 1, scraps of flesh hanging off her bones. The other is the plate-armored figure named Law from our side quest session, the only reason we know it is a skeleton is because the full suit of plate is shattered below one elbow, a skeletal arm protruding, and of course that purple glow of undeath from within Law’s helmet. And finally, we are in a square stone chamber. A stone dais, covered in runes, sits in the middle of the room. Atop the dais is a long, curved dagger pulsing with violet light to the rhythm of a heartbeat. You all are there, and sound returns to the scene, a low hum of power in the chamber.
Session 123: Into Duskgate
As you step through the gold and silver curtain of mist, you enter a remarkable place. The rooms within the waystation are tall, perhaps 15 feet tall at the walls, with delicately arching ceilings that peak at a height of 20 feet at their centers. The walls are magically-smoothed hewn stone decorated with shallowly carved friezes, fading frescos, or intricate mosaics consisting of thousands of precisely cut tiles in a breathtaking display of artistry and detail.
The entire place radiates dim lighting, as if lit by the setting sun, but other than the curtain of mists, there is no obvious source for the illumination.
Session 124: The Duskgate Waystation
Session 125: Promise of Fire
A town is burning, its residents running with arms shielding their heads. The sky is a deep red and black, choked with smoke and crackling with bright red lightning. Along with the sounds of flames and human terror, there is a low rumble punctuated by larger crashes and booms. In the first few moments, you can’t tell what these other noises are, but then an enormous boulder the size of two humans, glowing red and trailing flames, hurtles out of the sky and hits a single story building a block away.
It is Jethro who first notices the fountain, cracked and charred, maybe fifty feet away. Recognition floods him and his golden eyes open wide.
This is not Katapesh. This is Breachill. You are standing outside the town hall, and even as understanding fills you the great structure groans and collapses. You hear cries from within.
Obe is the one who looks out and up, where normally the comforting presence of Castle Redemption stands sentinel. But there is no castle there. In its place is a volcano, scattered rubble at its base, and spewing smoke, ash, and molten fragments into the sky.
Session 126: Finderplain
Session 127: Help For Finderplain
The heavy door to the Stove and Cupboard inn booms shut, muffling the howling winds and sand outside. The five of you, crowded near the door, find yourselves in the large common room of the inn. Nearly two dozen gnomes, dwarves, and humans stare at you, a mosaic of worry, fear, curiosity, and hope.
A voice speaks out over the crowd. It is a middle-aged dwarven woman with jet black hair pulled back into a braid, showing a round, sun-worn face with long sideburns. She crosses thick arms over her chest.
“Well, we’ve let you in. But we aren’t leaving zis blace.”
Session 128: The Storm Ends
[dialogue fragments with Satla]
“Well, we’ve made some grim discoveries, I’m afraid. More than one hundred people dead or missing, though the exact number is difficult to determine because we never really knew how many people lived here. Several cargoes have gone missing as well. It’s all a mess, but it could have been a lot worse if you all hadn’t arrived. Soluk believes you were sent by Sarenrae herself. Where did you say you came from again?”
“There is an upside, though. Now we can make several committees to repair the damage and enumerate the victims. I do love committees. I’m good at planning. It’s the reason I took over as soukmaster.”
“So, you’re still determined to take on the Scarlet Triad, eh? I had rather hoped you’d stay in Finderplain, maybe live here for a few years at least. Any chance of that? We… uh. I suppose we have plenty of houses for you!”
“Alright then. One of our other grim discoveries concerns the Triad. Several days ago, Triad agents and one of Finderplain’s antiquities dealers, a gnome named Benneb, apparently engaged in a verbal altercation. There were several witnesses. As the dust storm gathered, those same witnesses saw the Scarlet Triad agents pack up and leave on the road to Katapesh, moving they said quickly, like they’d done something wrong. Benneb is one of those missing after the storm, and now we’ve found his wagon ransacked with broken locks.”
“Look, this isn’t the first time the Scarlet Triad has harassed our residents. They’re pushy negotiators, opportunists, and slavers. But the evidence looks as if they simply took Benneb! That is simply egregious! Unacceptable!”
“You can’t enslave anyone in the city of Katapesh itself, but anyone enslaved outside and brought in remains a slave by law. The Scarlet Triad has been, if rumors can be believed, abducting people more and more. There’s even a vicious rumor that they recently enslaved the head of the Jeweler’s Guild when negotiations didn’t go their way! People say the Scarlet Triad’s foreign operations have been suffering, which is making them desperate.”
“Look, we put up with all of it because the Scarlet Triad is untouchable. I mean, they operate openly out of the Red Pyramid, but because they function as a legal and legitimate consortium—and have done so for decades–they’ve got the Pactmasters’ protection. Attack the Scarlet Triad, and you’ve basically attacked the city. You’re tough, but that’s not a fight you can win.”
“But you’ve shown me something. You’re strong and capable, and maybe Soluk is right and you do have the gods behind you. So I’ll tell you how I would get rid of the Scarlet Triad. I’m a planner, remember?”
“Okay, on the first Sunday of every month, there is a Council of Guilds meeting. That meeting is where all of the major trade organizations gather, vote on new policies, punish misdeeds, and revoke charters, that sort of thing. So my thought is that if you could get the Scarlet Triad’s charter revoked at that meeting, then anything that happens to them is on their heads and the Pactmasters won’t retaliate. I’m starting to believe you could convince a camel to drink sand. So convince the guilds to stand against the Scarlet Triad! At that point, even the Pactmasters would rescind their protection… or maybe even expel the Scarlet Triad entirely. Anyway, that’s what I would do if I were you. But it’s just an idea, and who knows if it would work? There are probably other ways to get at them too.”
Session 129: Welcome to Katapesh
We begin with sitar music playing as our camera pans across a desert landscape. A line of camels is snaking their way across the sand, the sky clear and blue.
The scene shifts as the camels stop in front of an amazing sight. An enormous, cracked, headless stone torso lies half-buried in a dune. One of the torso’s arms remains attached and juts out from the sands, its granite hand hollowed around a now-missing weapon.
The music fades as we get a close up of your guide, Haleh. She unwraps her head wrap to speak, her pierced, sun-withered face now visible. It is late afternoon on the first day of your travel, and this is the first time Haleh has spoken.
“Behold Selkelas, so named because it is the word engraved on the statue’s back between its shoulder blades. None living know its origins. Legends and myths abound at to what weapon the statue held and where it is now. When we get to Katapesh, beware anyone trying to sell you the Sword of Selkelas, for you will find many such items. Come. We go.”
Session 130: Legwork for the Auction
[overheard in tavern 1]
“Some of the guildmasters need to be replaced, seriously,” one of the Scarlet Triad pair says too loudly over his beer.
“I don’t disagree, but like who?”
“That fat Breeders guy, for example.”
The second man spits his drink. “Aldane Zulran?”
“That’s the one. Imperial Union of Breeders. Led by a buffoon.”
“I don’t disagree, but why?”
“You haven’t heard? For more than a year, he’s spent a fortune trying to capture a wild camel known as Duneshadow. It’s all he talks about.”
“Exactly. Talks about it like it’s a mythical beast. Hell, maybe it is. Or maybe he’s just old and crazy.”
[overheard in tavern 2]
“What do you think of this gig coming up? The one in a few days.”
“The private event? Seems like a lot of trouble and coin spent on security. Must be something important. I wish Apsis had assigned me, actually. Sounds swanky.”
“Seems weird, though, the Scarlet Triad hiring the Aspis Consortium for security detail on their own event.”
“Why? We’ve worked together before. Loads of times.”
“Sure, but rumor is that their heavy-hitters are spread thin. A lot of them doing damage control in other lands, or dead. So they need us. That’s what Ytrim Azas says.”
“Oh yeah. Like you talk to her.”
“Fuck you. I’ve heard she’s starting to mistrust the Scarlet Triad. Expecting to get back-stabbed or undercut on payment.”
“Ytrim is a suspicious, cold-hearted bitch.” “That’s why we like her, yeah. She’s lined our pockets enough times.”
Session 131: A Conversation with Sarenrae
Jethro, you are sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, facing the bright sun of Katapesh, on the fifth straight day of prayer, when suddenly, everything around you darkens and goes quiet. It’s not a sinister darkness, but a gentle one. A simple absence of everything. A sigh of serenity and void surrounds you.
You don’t know how long you’re in that peaceful nothingness. Maybe seconds. Maybe hours. But eventually there is the flicker of light, somewhere just beyond your perception. The light grows brighter and brighter and brighter and brighter and brighter, and even though your eyes are closed you are nearly overwhelmed by the sudden, inescapable glare.
And there, in the bright glow, is a figure. It’s impossible to tell exactly, but with your eyes closed you think it may be the figure of a woman, with angelic wings and hair aflame. The brightness behind her gets so intense that it’s painful, and you feel your skin begin to burn and smell the smoke of your robes.
A voice whispers gently in your ear. “Jethro, open your eyes.”
You are sitting in your childhood home, in a sturdy chair built by a much younger Quentino Posandi. A happy flame crackles in the fireplace. The window shudders are drawn, but you get the sense it is in the wee hours of the morning.
And there, across from you, with a lopsided grin, is a woman. She is a young, lean, and dark-skinned Kelish woman in colorful robes, perched atop a stool with perfect posture. Her ears are adorned with dangling yellow gems that catch the firelight.
“Ah, that’s better. I’m pleased that we finally get this opportunity, Jethro Vermillion.”
“Get up, please. None of that here. It’s why our conversation is in such a setting, so as not to worry about such things. Let’s chat. Have a seat and be comfortable.”
“Tell me: What had you hoped to gain from these fervent prayers?” Once again she gives you that lopsided grin.
“Failed? What have you failed, Jethro? Did you not discover the secrets of the auidara in the bowels of an abandoned castle? Did you not then find a key to take you to the Mwangi Expanse, where you not only thwarted a cult to Dahak and saved an elven people but also disrupted the Scarlet Triad’s gold mining? Did you not then head to Ravounel to save countless innocents from the Scarlet Triad and free the city of Kintargo from their underground slaving efforts? Yes, you died. But did you not return, continuing your quest of truth and purity? Who of your companions has died since that return? No, I don’t see a string of failure, child.”
“So, tell me. These past days, your companions have hunted information about this auction for the missing Jeweler, an auction attended by devils and demons. Truly an evil lot, smelling of perfume and expensive oils but rotten to the core. Yet for all of their information, your companions will look to you to tell them the plan. They will follow your word. What will you tell them?”
“I will not tell you what to do, but I will say this: Imagine that you announce yourself to the Scarlet Triad, yet they are still protected by the Pactmasters. The entire city of Katapesh, all of its laws, protectors, bounty hunters, assassins, and every guild in the Scarlet Triad’s pockets bend their collective will to stop you. Thousands upon thousands against you, upheld by the laws of this land. Many innocents will die. At best you will rot in a sunless prison. At worst you will die again, painfully, and this time permanently. Either way, the Scarlet Triad’s evil runs free and Uri Zandivar plays with powers he cannot hope to control. An Age of Ashes is poised to descend upon Golarion if you fail, Jethro.”
“This auction is a tipping point, and how you handle it may determine the fate of the world.”
“That’s the wonder of mortals and their free will… no outcomes are certain by any one action. I can only advise that you approach each circumstance with compassion, generosity, mercy, and honesty. Perhaps honesty most of all. Let the light of truth guide your way, Jethro. For a word of truth spoken at the right time can do more good than any sword. Or, I suppose in your case, fireball.”
“Ah, which reminds me. Do you still have that necklace?”
She rolls it around in her hands, and her eyes twinkle. “Mengkare’s Roar. That’s a good name, is it not? Mengkare is a powerful gold dragon, very powerful. Well. Here you are.” She hands it back, with two bright golden beads.
“Jethro, one last thing, and forgive me if this sounds somewhat contrary to our conversation to this point. Sometimes words fail, even if truthfully given. And in those cases, the best battle is a battle you WIN. If you die, you can no longer fight. Fight fairly when the fight is fair, and” she looks Jethro directly in the eye, “STRIKE QUICKLY AND WITHOUT MERCY WHEN IT IS NOT.”
“Now,” she stands gracefully, smoothing out her robes with long-fingered hands. “May the light of truth shine within you, Jethro Vermillion. And let’s hope we can talk again sometime. Good luck, child.”
There is a flash, and for the briefest of moments you see that angel-winged figure with the flaming hair, an impossibly bright radiance drowning out everything. And in that briefest of moments, you feel the skin burned from your bones by that radiance. And then the moment passes, and you open your eyes to the bustling street sounds of Katapesh. It is sunset, the golden rays of sun bathing your perch.
Session 132: The Ambush
Orand laughed into the night, a dry, raspy laugh.
“I will tell you something, my friend. Evil? We are not evil. We are members of the Scarlet Triad, a legitimate consortium in the city of Katapesh. The slaves we have are legitimate property, and we are on our way to a legitimate auction of our property. Everything we do is legal in the eyes of the Pactmasters and the city.”
“Evil? You are the ones breaking the city’s laws. What we do we do for profit. Katapesh is a city for profits. You cannot say the same.”
“So I will give you until the count of three to move your barricade or we will kill every one of you. One…”
Session 133: The Jeweler and the Djinni
Session 134: Margaret the Skewer-Rat
Margaret, is in the section of the Grand Coliseum where the gladiators get ready, pray to their gods, throw up or urinate with nerves, and bleed out after matches. To say it smells rank is a vast understatement.
You are checking the straps of your armor and shield. What else are you doing as your fight draws near?
A muscled, middle-aged human man with a pitch-black beard that is so large and thick that it seems like a black hole covering his neck and upper chest approaches you. You met this man yesterday and know him as a veteran of the Gladiators’ Guild, but you never got his name.
“Ser Margaret. Please, forgive me. I do not wish to interrupt. I only wanted a word before you enter the arena. When you are able.”
“I am Hajir. Out there I am known as the Black Bear, heh. I have been fighting in this arena for a long while.”
“Times, they are not good for the gladiators. Our guild leader, the Sand Claws, she attempts to make the fights as deadly as possible for the entertainment of the crowd. The crowds are no doubt larger than before, but the gladiators are fewer, eh? Those of left fear for our lives.”
“In you I see a true champion. Do well today, and I believe you will be asked to the main event on Sunday. Do well there, mmm, and perhaps you can challenge Sand Claws herself. I see you fight. I see her fight. It would be a close thing, but I believe in you. We,” and he looks around and you realize that many eyes are on your conversation. Hard-scrabble warriors of all ancestries and age are watching. “We believe in you. May your gods bless you today.”
You walk about to a roar of cheers. The arena is about half-full, which you’re led to believe is really good for one of the warm-up acts before the headliner of the day.
A voice is echoing across the arena floor, and you peer around and locate a goblin in lavish robes speaking into what basically amounts to a brass megaphone.
“And here she comes, Ser Margaret, the Rodent of Valor! Such an impressive display only yesterday and is back for more!”
“Now that we know of Ser Margaret’s fierce prowess in battle, we have arranged a more formidable opponent. And I think you’ll find it quite appropriate.”
An enormous iron gate begins lifting on the other side of the arena. A giant steps out into the light. He looks like an enormous beggar, tattered hood and cloak covering dirty skin. But as the light hits him you realize two things. First, he is draped in chains beneath the cloak. Second, it isn’t dirt all over him, it is open, weeping sores. He’s dragging behind him an enormous flail, and looks like this.
“You all know that rats bring pestilence to any city, so we were able on short notice to find a fighter who is a plague giant. Will the rat or the pestilence win? Place your bets, children of Abadar, and let’s find out!”
Parnoosh is a doe-eyed young half-elf woman dressed fashionably in bright colors. “Ah, Sabine! I am glad you’ve returned. I so enjoyed our conversation yesterday. What is it you want to discuss today?”
The two talked of elven lore, dimensional portals, and the college. Parnoosh seemed rapt with attention, asking questions and generally fascinated with the dragonscaled sorcerer. Eventually, after long hours, the conversation turned to Sabine’s true purpose: An audience with Parnoosh’s mentor, a Dean of the College of Dimensional Studies.
“You wish to meet Behfar?” she makes a sour face. “But he is so old and trapped in history. Antiquated. Not like you, Sabine, a true student of the world who wishes to experience life rather than read about it. You will learn nothing from that dusty, white-haired fool. Let us just keep meeting, you and I.”
But Sabine insisted that her earlier visit to the school had created such a negative impression that she felt the need to vindicate her image. She wanted only to show that she, too, was a scholar who could both learn and contribute a great deal to the college.
Parnoosh stared long and hard at Sabine, her eyes narrowed. Something seemed to be turning in her brain, and that something eventually clicked into place. In a flash, the large eyes returned and her smile was radiant.
“I see. Of course, Sabine. I will arrange a meeting for tomorrow. We will go see Behfar together. I’ll be there to ensure you are not misunderstood this time. And you, you will find your redemption.”
A smile curled at Parnoosh’s lips briefly, and Sabine couldn’t help but think it mischievous. Then they were saying their goodbyes and setting a time to meet. Sabine, for her part, felt as if once again she had missed something socially important in this strange, foreign city.
Session 135: Parnoosh and Duneshadow
Sabine, meets Parnoosh outside of the college. She is, as always, bright-eyed and eager to see you, giving you a hug when you arrive.
“Are you sure you still want to see the Dean today, Sabine? We could just talk as we’ve done the past two days. Behfar is such a bore.”
“Alright, then. Let us go and see if you might improve your reputation here at the College.”
She takes your hand and leads you past the college entryway. You’ve been here before, but she tugs at the sleeves of your robe and leads you more deeply, through the winding halls and up curved staircases. You see a dozen things you might want to explore, including a painting that might have been of an auidara and a glass-walled library filled with books and maps.
Eventually the two find themselves in a wider hallway with marble-tiled floor, facing a large wooden door. Parnoosh takes a deep breath.
“Well, here we are. He should be expecting us,” and she knocks three times.
Parnoosh opens the door to reveal a large office. And there at a desk facing a large window is an old, white-haired man.
“Ah, Parnoosh. Yes, I had almost forgotten–” and his voice falters as he sees Sabine. “What is this? Isn’t that the woman we’ve banned?”
“Yes, Dean. She insisted on speaking with you.”
Creakily, he gets up from his chair and comes around the desk, looking worried.
“What is this? You were banned from the college!”
[while Sabine explains, Parnoosh reveals a dagger stained with some sort of black tar]
“I don’t like this, Parnoosh. You should not…”
Parnoosh’s face has transformed into a mask of hate and rage. She plunges the dagger into Behfar’s side.
“Refuse to advance me in the order, will you? Keep me an apprentice?! Die, old fool!”