AoA Session Intros: 122-135

[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

[player-written intro]

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

[no intro]

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.”

“A… camel.”

“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

[no intro]

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]

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!”

AoA Session Intros: 111-121

[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 111: Demons and Dead

[no intro this session]

Session 112: Small Forge, Big Forge

Margaret Arodeni’s keen, beady eyes roam over the mausoleum floor. So many weapons. So many scraps of armor. Dozens, no hundreds, of each litter the cracked stone floor. Margaret searches for the inscription of runes, something pristine amidst the piles that would suggest magic. But everything looks ravaged by age. Hammers are rusted. Axe blades are chipped and broken. Armor is pock-marked and dented. Everything in the room appears to be the refuse of a fallen army, an army that fought valiantly but had ultimately lost.

Still, Margaret holds faith in Iomedae to guide her way. She steps into the room, scanning left to right. Hundreds upon hundreds of small stone or metal urns line narrow shelves along the walls, like silent sentinels to the discarded, ruined armaments that had failed to save their dwarven hosts.

Coxsackie, ever curious, follows at Margaret’s heels. Both of their footsteps echo in the chamber.

The ratfolk paladin grunts in disappointment and opens her mouth to say something, then stops.

An axe is vibrating, wobbling on the floor. In an instant, everything on the floor is shuddering. Then, as Margaret and Coxsackie’s eyes widen, the pieces of armor and weapons begin sliding noisily towards the center of the room as if dragged by invisible hosts.

As they join in a mountainous pile, blood begins pooling. It is thicker than blood should be, more like sap or clotted gravy. And as it gathers within and between the pieces of metal and split leather, the blood takes on a solidity of form. Margaret has seen many people’s bodies torn asunder, their organs spilled onto the battlefield. That is what she is seeing now, she realizes, as if a giant has been turned inside out, its insides congealed around the axes and hammers and armor into a single, undulating mass of terror.

That mass rises, towering over the two small figures in the room.

Session 113: The Battle with Ilssrah

[player-written intro]

Session 114: Ilssrah’s End

If you’re reading this, it means that I was not in fact worthy under Droskar’s eyes and have been cast into the Dark Smith’s embrace to work tirelessly and endlessly under his watchful gaze.

I have no family with which to give my worldly possessions, nor do I have a desire to see my hard work perverted in such a way as to undo what I have managed to accomplish in my ceaseless attempts to exact revenge in the name of my god.

With that in mind, any wealth that I have obtained should be distributed to the Scarlet Triad’s coffers. I do not believe in everything Uri and the Triad do, but they have proven aligned enough to my goals to make good use of my hard-earned coin.

My weapons and armor, on the other hand, including my holy chain Fleshroaster, should be given to the duergar slave lords of Hagegraf. I hope that a champion among them will find strength in these armaments to rise up to the Five Kings Mountains and subjugate every member of the dwarven race they can find.

It is my final wish that my body be consumed in the fires of a forge, with my holy symbol adorning my corpse. It is the only possession with which I will face my god and atone for the weakness that led to my demise.

Ilssrah Embermead’s last will and testament

Session 115: Get Ready for the Dragon

The duergar slave lord that Ilssrah had called Innika scans the room, squinting in the bright light. Every single one of her allies now lies dead, dying, or destroyed, while her five opponents yet live. Impossible, yet undeniable.

She drops her longbow clattering to the stone floor.

Innika raises both hands and says to Margaret in broken common, “I surrender.”

The armored, ratfolk champion nods once and begins to sheath her sword. Coxsackie, seeing Margaret’s gesture shrugs and relaxes, the fight over.

And that is when Leilani Greyara, the curse of her mystery plain across her corpse-like, rotting features strides forward. She mutters and gestures violently toward the duergar.

Innika’s eyes go wide and she screams a pain-wracked, existential scream. Her spirit blasted from her broken body, she falls dead to the ground.

Session 116: The Dragonscarred & Kradolai

As you open the heavy iron door, the temperature rises, not dramatically but noticeably. You’re faced with a square chamber with no defining characteristics at all–no furniture, no carvings in the walls, no hint at its purpose.

You get the sense that the five skeletal figures within the chamber had been utterly still until the door opened, yet now their eyes glow with inner flame and limbs move fluidly.

Recall that in the notes from the room upstairs with the treachery demons, you discovered that the dragon Veshumirix has several guardians in his realm, including a group of valiant dwarven heroes from Highhelm who attempted to slay him 50 years ago. The notes said that Veshumirix admired their tenacity and spirit and ensorcelled their souls to guard the entrance of his lair.

These are clearly those vanquished souls. Each has the stocky dwarven build, obvious despite the lack of flesh. Each is armed and armored differently [describe], but their weapons are wreathed in identical flames. And, as I said last week, they speak with identical voices, almost like some creepy, undead hivemind.

“Who is this?”

“Not the cleric.”

“There are intruders in Veshumirix’s domain.”

“We must destroy them for our master.”

Session 117: Veshumirix

The pile of treasure shimmers and dances in the superheated air. And then, large bubbles begin to appear on the magma’s surface, expanding and popping in slow motion.

What at first you think is a large rock begins pushing out of the lava. And then it rises, up and up and up, until you are confronted with this: [show image] [roll frightful presence]

“Ah, so the cleric is dead. She saw you all as a test of her faith. Apparently it is a test that she failed. What do you want here, small ones? What quest has led to the destruction of my guardians and allies? Are you treasure hunters or simply mad for power?”

Session 118: The Queen of Saggorak

Little Margaret Arodeni, mechanically small, is flying fifteen feet above a lake of bubbling magma, her armor and longsword gleaming in the orange light. She is miniscule compared to the dragon made of molten rock, mechanically huge, directly in front of her. Veshumirix glows with an inner light, cracks in his rocky scales an eerie burnt orange. That inner glow begins to expand in the dragon’s chest as Veshumirix rears his head back, positioning his maw right before the champion of Iomedae. And then, with a roar, lava floods out in a wide cone.

[later in the session…]

When he sees the crown in Obe’s hands, everything about the room changes in subtle but noticeable ways. The graveknights step back, and you realize the vague air of menace is gone. King Harral’s face transforms, his glowing green eyes going wide.

“Ah… You, you brought it back. Despite my behavior earlier, despite my mistrust, you bring me back the crown of Saggorak. Well. That is something.”

He takes the crown reverently but doesn’t put it on his head. Those glowing eyes turn to regard each of you, lingering on Sabine longest, and eventually settling on Margaret.

“Lady Knight, I do request of you a private audience with Leilani. I vow to you on my undying protection of this city that she will not be harmed in my presence.”

When the rest of you are gone, King Harral turns the crown wonderingly in his fingers.

“Leilani Greyara. My attendant tells me you worship Pharasma, not Magrim.”

“I am not much of a theologian, truth be told. I didn’t wonder at matters of afterlife until I found myself unable to perish in the protection of this city. But I have spent countless hours since wondering and praying. Perhaps you can help me. What am I, Leilani? Am I force for Good in this dark place, or am I a perversion, shaped by its Evil?”

Session 119: Jethro’s Almost-Rise

We have a montage of scenes as you all exit Kovlar, with no Leilani Greyara but with Archmage Hromgar Nalruven, who has a travel sack brimming with scrolls. This is not an end of Return of the Jedi scene where everyone is partying and music is blaring. Instead, there is an awe to it. You have done things that only the dwarven heroes of legend have done, if rumors can be believed, and you all I’m imagining are radiating confidence and power whether you mean to or not. The entire city has turned out, all wanting to see you one last time. But as you walk from the city’s walls and into Saggorak, there is also an air of uncertainty and fear. Leilani Greyara has announced a time of change, and they don’t know what that change means for their safety.

We then see you all picking your way through the ruins of Saggorak. There are less undead than any other time you’ve been there.

Did you all want to make a last stop to see Leilani, or have you made your goodbyes?

We then see you in the bejeweled caverns outside the waystation, carefully avoiding the patches of lifeleech crystals (which Hromgar wants to investigate as you pull him along).

And finally, you are standing outside of Jewelgate, on the cavern side.

“Oh, well. This is quite exciting, indubitably. Fascinating, even. What happens next?”

***

You emerge into Alseta’s Ring, a large circular chamber with a domed ceiling. The walls and ceiling are elegantly carved with elven script. To the north are twin double doors in a squared-off column, doors that you know animate to become door wardens. In the center of the room stand six statues of elves, all facing outward and arranged around a pleasantly-burbling fountain. The statue facing you is Yuelral the Wise, the elven goddess of magic, crystals, and jewelers.

As you emerge, the person who was clearly napping on one of the western benches rolls off with a yelp and a start. He is a halfling, his hair overly oiled so that it looks sort of stylish, but actually kind of gross. He’s wearing what appear to fine clothes, but Obe’s eyes quickly pick up that they are faux imitations of nice clothes, badly rumbled. He rubs at his eyes.

“Oh Gods! You came back! On my watch! What luck!”

“Oh, right.” He rubs his palms on his pants and when he shakes yours it’s still super sweaty. “My name is Lucky, Sunknight trainee. Picked by Jacques du Tank himself at the last Call for Heroes!” “And of course I know who you are. Oh wow, Jacques is going to–Oh! Jacques! He’s going to want to see you! Well come on then! No time to wait!”

***

Lucky scampers through the citadel, and though it’s a bit of a blur what you note is that it is unusually empty. There are laborers and artisans clearly there for some kind of work, though Obe you don’t spot Amera Lang among them, and there are various people, mostly elderly and teens, sweeping or cleaning. They all startle at seeing you, gasping and freezing with hands to mouths, eyes as big as saucers. But there are no other Sunknights, no sounds of practice swords clattering together or other noises you’d become familiar with before heading through Jewelgate.

Almost before you can take it all in, you’re exiting the castle and heading down the road east towards Breachill. Suddenly, for the first time in a month, you experience… sunshine. The weather is perfect on this mid-summer day: Upper-70s, with wisps of cloud scattered across the glorious dome of blue sky overhead. I imagine that despite Lucky’s urging, you all pause for a moment a lift your faces to take in the fresh air and outdoors.

Eventually you enter town from its northeastern edge, back in Breachill. There is a mix of familiar local faces and newcomers, all going about their lives, and you’re struck at the diversity of ancestries, so different from your time underground. Those people who see you have the same reaction as those in the citadel, people jerking to a stop. Some run away to go tell friends or family members. Heads dip together, whispering feverishly. You’d felt your growing fame in this small town, but it’s on a whole new level now. It’s like people looking up and suddenly seeing Oprah Winfrey, or the Pope. As Lucky keeps jogging forward, you pass by the renovated Pickled Ear on your left and, eventually, you cross the northern bridge over Breach Creek, and out of the small town (once again, the contrast from the ruined metropolis of the 1300-person Breachill, I imagine, strikes you).

About a mile south of town you find several erected tents, flying flags with the Sunknight emblem. Standing outside one of the tents is Ik-Topis, the monk, doing forms in the sunlight. He sees Lucky and then his eyes raise to you all coming behind and he quickly ducks into the biggest tent.

Of course, you’re all distracted by what’s beyond the tents.

Thousands–and I mean thousands–of skeletons. A field of them taking up your full field of vision. They are skeletons of all sizes, all ancestries, some wearing scraps of clothes, others in tattered armor and carrying rusted weapons, and some simply bones and clawed fingers. There are animal skeletons too, horses, bears, mountain lions, and the like. Scattered here and there are larger skeletons, like the hulking brutes some of you fought in the Pickled Ear at the beginning of Book 3.

And dwarfing all of them are two enormous (mechanically Huge) zombies. They look like they might have been trolls once, but they have over a half dozen heads each crowding their shoulders, and slabs of putrefied flesh hangs limply off parts of their torsos, arms, and legs.

The skeletons and those two towering zombies are facing you, maybe a half mile away across a large grassy field. But none of them are moving. Their eye sockets glow with a violet light familiar to Obe and Coxsackie. But they are stock still.

The tent flap is pushed aside and Jacques du Tank, Betsy Jadefingers, and Ik-Topis exit it. Jacques and Betsy are armored and armed to the hilt. They don’t look like they’ve slept much in the past several days.

The wind shifts momentarily and the strong stench of rot hits you. Then it’s gone as quickly as it was there.

Session 120: Jethro’s Rise

I imagine everyone in the courtyard is panting, slightly wide-eyed at what just happened–the crazy cast of characters in a chanting circle, seeing Jethro with angelic wings for a moment before he cries out in pain and then of course him deconstructing into pieces of sunshine Tron-style–looking right into Obe’s eyes as he did!, and then of course the confused but quite scary Angel of Justice that attacked you and definitely could have killed some of the NPCs present if not for some excellent diplomacy rolls.

And as the angel fades into the daylight and as the sight returns to the eyes of those blinded, Chioma, angel of Sarenrae looks rattled. They speak in dual voices, one a lovely female soprano and another equally lovely male bass.

“I– I do not understand. The ritual should have succeeded. What could have possibly gone wrong?”

Session 121: Voz’s Last Stand

The huddle of tents, each flying the Sunknight banner, are empty and still.

The Nose is back at Castle Redemption, tending the signal fire there and likely in talks with Breachill’s town council on the situation. Octavius has taken the shift at Guardians Way.

The rest of the Sunknights are here, outside the tents, standing agape, pacing, or fidgeting as they watch, transfixed by the scene playing out before them.

An undead army shakes the ground with their advance, led by what seems to be the necromancer Voz Lirayne, though none of them had understood her to wield this kind of power.

And the newly resurrected Jethro Vermillion and his Redeemers are facing them, six against thousands.

“Jacques shouldn’t ‘a gone with them,” Betsy Jadefingers says, twirling her daggers nervously and shifting from side to side. “He’s almost dead already, and the horde isn’t even upon them yet.”

“Perhaps we should charge down into the fray! Stand with our fearless Captain, and what not?” Gerhard fondles his generous moustache with one finger, his other hand holding his blunderbuss across one shoulder.

“You’re all bluster, Pendergrast, but you know as well as I that we’d be more hindrance than help down there. We’ll be lucky if Jacques– Oh gods! He’s dropped.”

“Never fear, my dear Betsy. Jethro will save him. He’s quite good. Inspiring, isn’t it? Seeing him back?”

“Look at that champion of Iomedae charge that behemoth,” Dirk Rattlejaw rumbles. “It’s like the stuff of legends.”

“What do you think this is, boyo? The gods themselves are watching what’s happening today!”

“I say, can anyone see the goblin with the hat? It seems perhaps he’s fled. No wonder he’s survived this long, what?”

“No, he’s there. I saw a flash of him in the grass. Never imagined someone could hide in broad daylight in an open field, but it’s fucking breathtaking is what it is.”

The cacophonous roar of the multi-headed troll carries across the field. Several of the Sunknights scream. Lucky the halfling faints.

“Well, it’s come to it then. Either Jethro and his heroes end this now, or…”

“Or we’re dead, added to that bitch’s army.”

“I believe in Jethro,” Gerhard says aloud, seeming almost to surprise himself with the words. “It’s why we’re all here, what? It is the stuff of legends, Betsy. Let us all watch and appreciate what comes next.”

AoA Session Intros: 99-110

[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 99: Back in Saggorak

The black-clad duergar dashes into the room on short legs, her pale eyes taking in the wall of wind across the dining hall’s doorway. She curses in Undercommon, draws her shortsword, and plunges ahead, past one of the dwarves. Wind tears at the cloth around her armor and she’s through to the other side, where the pitched battle is underway.

“The alchemist–” she begins in Undercommon, then looks to her allies, frowns, and switches to Dwarven. “The alchemist is dead. Their invisible assassin killed her with a single shot. We can’t run, so either we kill them now or die.”

“We kill them, then!” one of the dwarves bellows, and swings his flail wide over his head.

Session 100: King Harral

Sabine Sterling picks her way around the apparently former-palace of King Harral. To Sabine’s wide, yellow eyes the structure–the very stone–has been reduced to slag from extreme heat. Undoubtedly the heat of a magma dragon’s breath, she thinks. Yes, see there? Those vertical slashes in that bit of unmelted stone may very well be claw marks. She studies the place, walking slowly in her perimeter study. The moans and wails of Saggorak’s undead have faded to the background. Indeed, she is concentrating so thoroughly that she hardly notices her surroundings at all, including the other structures nearby.

So it is a great surprise when a voice interrupts. “Sabine Sterling… Seeker of knowledge and arcane lore. Wisdom hoarder. Enter this place, Sabine… Come.”

She glances around to see who else had heard the voice, but Obedience is inspecting another part of the rubble, the closest but still too far to hear a whispered voice. None of her other companions are looking up from their own inspections. Only her. Only she had heard it. And the voice had called her by name, hadn’t it?

“Come Sabine. Important knowledge. Vital. Things you must know. In here…” She examines the structure from which this beckoning call seems to be emanating. Like most of Saggorak, the stone is crumbled by age and battle, its original purpose difficult to discern. But its pillars and towering walls are impressive, and relatively untouched by whatever had destroyed the palace. And is that the image of a book in the fresco there, worn away? She takes a step forward, King Harral’s palace momentarily forgotten. What is this place?

Session 101: Dead Man’s Party

The difficult-to-discern form of Casper the wraith appears and bows low to you all.

“Honored allies. My mighty King asks that I escort you to the regalia he wore in life. It is not a long journey. Please, follow me.”

While he escorts you, anything you want to say to each other or Casper?

“Powerful magics surround the King’s regalia. It is also the site of Old King Harral’s death, and where members of his personal guard made a last stand to protect him. As a result, powerful members of the Bound guard the robes, and they will attack anyone who enters without parley or discernment.”

“Only someone with Good in their heart may wear the King’s regalia. Indeed, Old King Harral has often said it is why he has not returned to that place – for fear that his undeath has twisted him in some way so as to prevent him from even touching the robes. He often worries about such things. It says quite a bit about what he sees in you that he suggests you obtain it.”

And after some travel through the ruined streets of Saggorak, you come to a once-great manor. It is two stories, and once supported six small towers, designed to echo the architecture of a castle in miniature. One of these towers has utterly crumbled, while another has collapsed, falling across the building and heavily damaging it. In contrast to the majority of the building, the southernmost room and towers are in relatively good repair, and stone doors seal up the place in several places, though the doors only hang loosely in their frames.

“Good luck, honored allies. I shall see you when the task is done.” And with that he blinks out.

Session 102: Saggorak Poltergeists

The foyer of this haunted hall had been a welcoming place. Falsely welcoming, it turned out, yet still a brief respite from the decaying ruins of Saggorak.

Beyond the foyer, you are back to decaying ruins. The most alarming feature of this once-great hall is the shattered ceiling, where one of building’s six towers has fallen long ago, crushing the second floor and sending pieces of the ceiling everywhere. Bits of broken and desiccated furniture mix with the rubble, making the original purpose of this place difficult to discern.

You all take in the sprawling hall through black-and-white darkvision. Between cracks in the walls and doorways leaning in their frames to the outside, the screams and moans of Saggorak drift into the interior.

The party begins to fan out, Coxsackie and Margaret taking point. But then Sabine’s voice echoes within the ruins to stop, as her arcane sight takes in the room. The dragon sorcerer warns of several unseen ghosts, just as they raise their clawed hands to attack.

Session 103: The King’s Regalia

[player-written intro]

Session 104: The King’s Fury

As you exit the once-great halls of King Harral’s former residence, the outlined form of Casper appears and bows low to you all.

“Oh. My. It is– I apologize. It is difficult to find words seeing someone in the King’s regalia. I did not believe that I could be moved this long after my death. Well done, honored allies.”

And he stays silent, bowing, until you believe he may be frozen like the poltergeists inside. With his head down, though, he speaks again.

“Perhaps you will defeat the usurper after all. You are truly sent by the gods. You have my thanks and respect, and if I may say so, elf, the robes suit you. Where may I escort you now?”

Session 105: Sanctum of the Starved

“Three days.” Commander Grokar Hammersong sighs heavily and smooths his black, thick beard with a calloused hand.

“Yes sir.”

“What do you make of it, Sergeant Arna? Three days and we have heard nothing. Still believe that it means the threat is simply not yet handled? Not that they’re dead?” His thick fingers absently move from his beard to the hilt of his warhammer.

The sergeant shrugs. She still has the black line painted from the left side of her forehead, down through her eye to chin.

“It’s not as if an enemy has emerged from the tunnel either, sir. And other than the continued tension and guild skirmishes in the city, we don’t have evidence that any new acts of terrorism have occurred. So they’re not dead, I reckon.”

“Indeed. Your faith in our outsider friends remains… bolstering, Sergeant.”

“Yes sir. I try, sir.”

Hammersong’s hand strays back to his beard, smoothing it. “Still, it does not strike me as a good sign. Organize a scouting party to send in at first torch tomorrow. I want to know what’s happening out there.”

Both dwarves’ eyes are locked on the tunnel entrance within the Hidden Forge. It is a dark, rough-hewn hole into the earth. Our camera zooms slowly in on that hole until it is simply a black screen. And we pull back, with many sets of eyes locked on another dark, rough-hewn hole into the earth. But this one has old, battered ties and tracks leading into it, and the sound of moans and shrieks echoing in the air.

Session 106: Falrok Denied

Wump, wump, wump–The sound we described last time as a subwoofer–fills the mines’ caverns as a crudely-made stone golem pounds relentlessly on an invisible wall. Veins of lazurite glow along cracks and joints in the golem, filling the chamber with an eerie light akin to a blacklight.

Wump, wump, wump.

Behind the golem, swaying but otherwise still, is a skeleton so enormous its head almost touches the marrowstone ceiling. The glowing pits of its eyes roam from figure to figure, studying you all like a hungry tiger behind glass. Its huge, clawed hands flex and relax repeatedly. Whatever noise it may be making is lost behind the enchanted wall, and the constant barrage of the golem’s fists.

Wump, wump, wump.

Sabine knows that any moment her spell will have run its course, and the wall will cease to exist. And when it does, the tiger will be free.

Wump, wump, wump.

Session 107: The End of the Starved

Only minutes ago, when Sabine’s first wall of force had dropped, you all were ready for the golem and gashadokuro. As soon as the barrier disappeared, you swung into frenzied action.

This time is different. The wall vanishes with a whispering puff of magic, and the only sound rushing in to fill the space is… silence.

You’ve come to this place, deeper into the earth than you’ve ever traveled–miles below ground with tons of rock above you–to find and destroy a ghoul named Falrok. Yet last you saw he was loping deeper into the mine before he disappeared. And now, no sign of him remains.

Session 108: To the Temple

You had noticed it from a distance but not realized it was your destination until you are practically there. An enormous natural pillar of stone, maybe a full quarter mile in diameter, reaches from cavern ceiling to floor. Its enormity is difficult to comprehend until you approach, like ants walking up to an ancient redwood tree.

And built into the base of this natural stone giant is the Temple of All Gods.

Although worn by the thousands of years since its construction, Obe you see it is still a breathtaking marvel of stonemasonry. As you get closer you can make out that the façade has images of a single dwarven hero in various acts of defeating all manner of strange monsters, single-handedly building huge structures, and forging powerful weapons. A pair of curving stone stairs rise up to meet a looming iron double door in the middle of the building, and these doors are flanked by identical enormous statues of armored dwarves kneeling. All along the approach to the Temple and the colossal stone pillar, there is rubble, bloodstains, and bones that have been picked clean. Other than that, though, it is silent and empty and waiting.

Session 109: The Mukradi

As you approach, the pillar towering over you, something begins shifting all along the stairs. What you first assumed were deep shadows resolve themselves into black, chitinous scales of a gargantuan centipede as it untangles itself from the structure. It had apparently been wrapped all through the stairs, and as it moves and moves and moves you are like, holy shit how long is this thing? Then it rears up you and see that not only is it friggin’ huge, it has three giant heads.

Session 110: Temple’s First Floor

Jacques du Tank drums his fingers on the rough wood of his desk in a tuneless, distracted rhythm. His other arm lays tucked away on his lap. He doesn’t consciously realize that he hides the handless limb out of sight as if behind a shield. Yet he does, and these days his mighty shield is the large, functional desk of his office.

With this shield, the battle he wages is with the mounting administrative tasks of Castle Redemption. Every week, more would-be adventurers show up to Breachill to join the Sunknights, and each person must be housed, screened, trained, and found a role. Increasingly, fights break out among the recruits that need settling. The tension between the townsfolk and their would-be defenders increases every week as well. The result is that these days he finds himself arbitrating conflict within Breachill even more than addressing threats beyond.

Yet his work is more than simply a growing militia. Every week, the renovations of the citadel increase in complexity, and town artisans must be paid, listened to, or reminded for the hundredth time of the purpose behind each construction. In addition, Councilwoman Gardenia has deferred to Jacques more and more on civic matters, and recently he has become a voting member of the Breachill Town Council, the town’s representative from the growing presence of Castle Redemption.

The result is piles upon piles of scrolls needing to be read, needing to be signed, needing to be changed, or worse of all, requiring a meeting. Jacques has grown to hate administrative meetings most of all.

He can’t honestly remember the last time he was in the training yard, with his actual shield upon his handless arm.

Jacques frowns, his fingers still drumming out the distracted beat. Memories plague him, of being at Jethro Vermillion’s side, in this very citadel, uncovering the first signs of the Cinderclaw cult. Signs that would lead him to the Mwangi Expanse, sweating beneath heavy armor as a giant crocodile dragged him into the swampy depths.

Wondering plagues him as well. He is wondering for the thousandth time if he should have accompanied Jethro into Dreamgate after the Mwangi, and whether Jacques might have somehow saved his friend’s life. It is a thought that visits him constantly, day and night.

He is also wondering if he should have traveled through Jewelgate after Jethro’s death. He is wondering whether the almost three weeks of silence forebode any doom for Obe and the others. But at least on this last thought, he reminds himself, that is why he sent Tak. Jacques trusts the fighter to keep his friend safe.

Increasingly, he is wondering whether these castle defenses are the best way to uphold Jethro’s ideals, to keep the world safe from the cleric’s haunting visions. Is this mountain of administrative work the best and highest use of his skills?

After almost an hour of remembering and brooding and wondering and worrying, his fingers stop their drumming.

His eyes flick to the piles of scrolls littering every inch of the desk’s surface. He sighs, shakes his head, and reaches for the quill.

A quick knock on his door precedes it opening with a rush. The pale halfling woman with bright, braided red hair is out of breath, her eyes wide.

“Captain!” Betsy Jadefinders says. “We’ve got trouble, to the South. Big friggin’ trouble, sir. Get your armor, sword, and shield, sir. We need you, sir. Right. Now.”

AoA Session Intros: 88-98

[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 88: Theft in the Regents’ Vault

[player-written intro]

Session 89: Brigven and the Cops

“Is that them?” a voice in the shadows asks.

“What in the bowels of the Darklands do you mean, ‘is that them?’ They aren’t dwarves, for Torag’s sake! I see two humans, a goblin dressed like a human, a silver-skinned elf, and a rat in armor. That’s all five of them.”

“Do we get ‘em now, then?”

“No. The Regent wants us to merely watch them for now. So stay hidden and eyes open.”

“Right. You think we can take ‘em?”

“They look tough and battle-hardened, and it would be two on five. No, I do not. But, always remember that we have the law on our side. We will be saving the city by taking these five off the streets.”

“Right. Don’t see why we wait to take ‘em, then.”

“The Regent said watch, so we watch. The time to act will come soon enough.”

Knuckles pop in the darkness of the alleyway. “I think I could take ‘em. At least a couple of ‘em.”

“No. We do this by the Regent’s wishes. The city is at the precipice and about to topple. We are the law that will set things right.”

“We’ll be heroes, then.”

“Quite right.”

“Alright. We watch.”

“It looks like they’re moving now. Stay hidden, and let’s see what they do next.”

Session 90: The Earthfire Prison

In a dwarven city deep underground, before a heavy, squat, stone structure, we have ourselves a situation.

A half dozen dwarves, all bearing identical seals of the Guild of Arms, surround the party. Obedience has disappeared. Leilani looks wary. Margaret blurs with defensive magic. Tak has both swords out in a defensive position.

And a strong dwarf grapples with the taller Sabine amidst them all.

“Tell your friends to drop their weapons,” she growls, so only the elf can hear. “We had planned to just take you off the streets for a few days, but you’re about to land in a dwarven prison for years.”

“Marda!” one of the dwarven city guards says, panting as he runs up. “What’s this all about then?”

Marda raises her voice to the gathering crowd of guards. “These outsiders seemed to be breaking into this building! When we questioned them, they drew their weapons!”

“Aren’t they the ones Hammerson deputized?” another dwarf asks.

“I don’t care who they are! They’ve drawn weapons on Guardsmen!”

The squat, ugly dwarf with Marda has paused from blowing his heavy brass whistle. In the break you can hear other City Watch whistles blowing in the distance.

Session 91: Confronting the Alljoiner

Since it’s been TEN FRIGGIN’ DAYS, let’s briefly recap where we are, a la Troy in GCP:

As part of gaining the Court of Regents’ favor in the dwarven city of Kovlar, you all were doing several mini quests for the various guild leaders. You ventured out into the lake for the Guild of Arms and Commander Grokar Hammersong, discovering lower doses of the same poison that wiped out Cypress Point.For the Guild of Coins and Goldhand Wuldi Irontemper, you investigated a theft from the vault of the Regents, exonerating Fortunate Algera Kord of the Gamblers’ Guild and uncovering that she too had been the victim of a theft, but not yet finding the true culprit. You helped Adorned Stosk Dolgindir and the Guild of Finery explore a missing tailor, Algret, who you realized disappeared somewhere in the Earthfire District.

And finally, before she would agree to get the Court together to address what you (particularly Obe) believed was a threat from the Scarlet Triad, you helped Forgemaster Kelda Halrig and the Anvillers’ Guild settle a dispute with some merchants who claimed that they were receiving shoddy weapons. You traced the forged weapons back to a disgruntled dwarf named Brigven, who revealed three things:

  1. There is a secret cult to the evil dwarven god Droskar somewhere in the city, and they were the ones paying Brigven to replace good weapons with shoddy forged ones.
  2. Though he doesn’t know where it is, the cult is operating out of someplace called the Hidden Forge.
  3. They are being led by a fearsome woman named Ilssrah Embermead, the first name of which matches the name in Laslunn’s journal as a higher-up in the Scarlet Triad.

Convinced you now had enough evidence for the Court to act, you implored Forgemaster Halrig to gather the Regents and she agreed to do so the next morning. That night–last night, in game terms–Leilani also became convinced that her mentor, Gwenryl Longbraid, had gone missing, and you searched her empty house to no avail.

You woke up this morning ready to meet with the Court, but on the way two members of the Guild of Arms accosted you and told you to follow them for questioning. You did so, all the way to the Earthfire District and to a squat, stone building. There a tense standoff ensued that could have gone a lot of different directions, and eventually ended with you agreeing to be escorted back to the Court of Regents to sort out what was happening.

There you found that the Court had broken up when you didn’t show, but not before those who didn’t trust you–led by Mountainheart Kolarun Chiselrock of the Stonemasons’ Guild–cast suspicion on YOU. Thankfully, Forgemaster Halrig and Commander Hammersong remained on your side and vowed to help you. Indeed, Hammersong said that he’d question the two corrupt guards who accosted you and ensure no patrols went through the Earthfire District for a couple of hours so you could investigate. He warned you, though, that you were no longer deputized, and if you were caught breaking the law you would be imprisoned.

Back to the Earthfire District you went, and through a hole in the ceiling at the back of that squat, stone building. You discovered Gwenryl and Algret, both of whom had been taken captive by some corrupt faction within the Guild of Arms. You freed them both, and now find yourself in pitched battle with those corrupt guardsmen. There is a wall of hairy, fleshy, baby arms to the east, and a patch of grease in the hallway. One of the guards is dead, three remain. Margaret and the southernmost guard are currently Grabbed by the hairy baby arms. Tak is currently Restrained by them.

Session 92: Entering the Hidden Forge

There is no sun to signal dawn in Kovlar. Instead, members of the Physic Guild make their morning routes throughout the city, lighting the “dawn torches” to announce a new day.

Those lights shine upon a city in disarray, brimming with tension. And as a dwarf lights the torch outside of the Sleep Like A Stone inn, we are transported inside.

There, in a bed too small for his frame, is a warrior from Tian-Xa. His sleep reflects the city outside, full of disquieting dreams. One such dream visits him often…   

[player-written dream sequence]

Session 93: Tak Revealed, Coxsackie Returned

“Well, well, well. So the children have finally arrived. You all have caused quite a ruckus. I don’t suppose it’s a surprise that you found this place, but I do find myself fascinated that you have surived to do so. Kralgurn, though admittedly annoying, was no slouch. I suppose he’s dead now, ‘cause that’s what you all do, bodies piled everywhere. You would have made powerful allies had you not been so…” and she makes a sour face, “chaotic. I just can’t rely on wildcards.”

“Speaking of which, allow me to introduce my associates. Folks call this charming human here The Anarchist, our own agent of chaos like you all. But unlike you, she is adept at preparing places the be ready for a new order. Despite her moniker, she is 100% a servant of Order. Isn’t that right, The A?”

The A looks around nervously, the blowgun at her lips.

“And that hulking fellow over there is called an Accursed Forge-Spurned, a rare dwarf whose failure to Droskar in life was so profound that he has been consigned in undeath to gorge endlessly on others’ suffering. I’m sure he’d love to see you slavin’ away here, but as I’ve explained to him, you’re too dangerous to be allowed to live.”

“They don’t look dangerous to me. They look small, and fragile.”

“Oh, I think you’ll find them quite the chore, my friend. But let’s be polite and finish our introductions. I am made to understand you’ve been tellin’ folks in Kovlar that the Scarlet Triad takes over a place quietly, and that’s right on. We are, truth be told, less inclined towards blood and death than you lot. Butcherin’ gets you meat but wastes labor, in my view.”

“But when threatened, we do our best to put down the threat. Allow the seeds we’ve planted to weaken a place to rise up and snap shut like a purple worm’s jaws. And you all are definitely a threat that needs to be put down. Isn’t that right, Toshifume-san?”

Session 94: The Battle of the Forge

Ilssrah Embermead pauses in the rough, stone tunnel. Even above the sounds of battle and the spinning blades of her spell, she hears the forge-spurned, undead giant roar and expel its fiery breath.

Perhaps I should stay, she thinks, ensure these children are put down with finality. The forge-spurned, Tak, The A – these are valuable game pieces with unique skills. She grips Fleshroaster, and the black chain begins to glow red-hot. It would be delicious to watch them suffer and die in Droskar’s embrace.

Damn the timing! No. I may already be late for my negotiation, and the dragon was quite clear on the importance of manners. Within the Hidden Forge, temple to the Dark Smith himself, my allies must prevail. There are only four of the children, after all.

Saying a quick prayer and with a grimace, Ilssrah pivots and storms into the darkness.

Session 95: Hidden Forge Aftermath

Obe’s arrow appears mid-air, sails twenty feet, and vanishes into the accursed forge-spurned’s open mouth. Ice crackles from its lips and the creature groans. Its head swivels ponderously slowly towards the molten lava of the forge, then to the cowering, chained dwarves, and finally, back to Leilani. Its burning eyes lock onto the necromancer-hunter as its flesh begins to flake away like ash. And then, a puppet with its strings cut, the undead giant’s form collapses in on itself. The warhammer and chains clatter to the stone floor first, followed by sections of its plate armor. Kthunk, kthunk, kthunk.

As the last piece of battered iron falls, the forge in the room suddenly blazes. Fire erupts, flowing upwards and spilling across the ceiling. Sabine finds herself scrabbling to get away as the heat washes over her. For all of you, the already sweltering room becomes oppressive in moments. And, somewhere in the roar of the flames, you distinctly hear a deep, male voice, bellowing in anger.

As suddenly as it began, the fire dies, taking the unseen voice with it. The room cools to merely hot. There is only the quiet of low, crackling flames. No distant, echoing hammers. No haunting groans. You hadn’t realized that there was an unseen presence with you in this place until now, when it’s gone. Yet there can be no doubt, even for those of you blinded by the forge-spurned’s stinging embers… something has changed. You are more alone in the Hidden Forge now than moments before.

Session 96: Getting Ready for Saggorak

As Obedience and Sabine are finishing the dismantling of the machine in the southernmost room, the echoes of dozens of dwarven boots fill the Hidden Forge. Commander Hammersong’s voice rings out.

“Fan out! I want this place picked clean, and any remaining survivors tended to. Someone find me one of the outsiders!”

Session 97: Entering the Old Workshop

As you make your way to the Earthfire District, you are aware that all dwarven eyes are on you. People point and whisper. Some scowl and make fists, their hard eyes following you. Mothers with babies turn and shield their children from you with their bodies. People cross the street or duck into buildings to get out of your path. It is clear that although some people may see you as the saviors of this city, no one feels particularly safe in your presence. And of course it is also clear that many people in the city see you like predators stalking their streets.

Eventually, though, you are back at the alley on the edge of the Earthfire District, through the short door into the basement of an abandoned warehouse, through the secret entrance, down the stairs, and back into the Hidden Forge. There is Commander Hammersong and around a dozen of his Armsmen. Many don’t look like they’ve slept.

As Hammersong approaches, you see dark circles under his eyes. “Ah, you’re back. Good. What news from the city?”

Session 98: The Old Workshop

Commander Grokar Hammersong sighs heavily and smooths his black, thick beard with a calloused hand. For the thousandth time, his eyes wander to the dark tunnel.

“You look exhausted, Commander.”

He blinks slowly and turns to the speaker, a middle-aged dwarf with brown, wavy hair pulled back from her broad face.

“Ah. Sergeant Arna. You snuck up on me.”

Arna grins. She has painted a long black line from forehead to chin on the lefthand side of her face, something she always does when on duty. She had explained the significance years ago, but in the moment Hammersong can’t remember it.

“Actually, Commander, I’m wearing chainmail and clanked over here making quite the racket. I believe you’re going on a third day without sleep, sir. Perhaps you should take a break. Leave this guard post to us while you get some rest.”

He sighs again, his ornate black and gold platemail feeling impossibly heavy.

“I appreciate the concern, Sergeant. I had only hoped…” his voice trails off. “It’s been, what? Almost three hours since they went in?”

Arna nods.

“Well, I suppose I hoped they would be back by now. That this whole business would be behind us. What does it mean, do you think, that we have heard nothing?”

The dwarf shrugs her shoulder, chainmail clinking. “They are the most powerful force I’ve ever seen, Commander. The stuff of legends if I’m honest. We found the bodies of those lake serpents washed ashore, giant things. And it looks like they carved through these forces here like a hot knife through butter. What I guess I’m trying to say is that they can handle whatever’s out there, sir. If it’s taking awhile, it just means the threat is far away or there’s a lot to handle.”

“Yes, that’s precisely what I’m afraid of. If they fall…”

“They won’t, Commander.”

“You sound quite sure.”

“I feel quite sure, sir.”

Hammersong smiles wearily. “Alright. I suppose your faith will have to be enough for now. You’re right that I am not doing anyone any good here. I’ll go get some sleep, be back in six hours.”

Arna nods.

He groans as he stands, slinging his warhammer across one shoulder. “I’ll bring with me a change of guard so you too can get some rest when I’m back.” He glances at the silent tunnel again and purses his lips. “And Sergeant?”

“Yes, Commander?”

“If three more hours pass and they haven’t returned, send for Archmage Nalruven. The Guild of Spells can begin to ward this tunnel. If you’re wrong and our enemies break through, we’ll need to weaken them if we stand any sort of chance.” Hammersong drags himself heavily towards the staircase in the Hidden Forge. He has none of Arna’s faith in his chest. Instead, a cold dread has filled him, a feeling that he and everyone here are falling through darkness, and that the only question left is when the impact will kill them.

AoA 13: Session Intros 79-87

[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 79: Book 4 Begins

Our scene opens in the hustle-bustle of a tavern.

“We’ve got three tables waitin’ for ale!” Roxie Denn shouts. “Move yer asses, ladies!”

Despite the words, Roxie is beaming. The Pickled Ear has never been more crowded. Every table full, standing room only, with the crowd spilling out into the street. She takes a deep breath and savors it. Alcohol, sweat, and a hint of vomit… the smell of success. She thwacks the shoulder of the enormous half-orc next to her.

“Ulgar, help me up, would you now?”

“Oh, uh. Sure Roxie. Is it time?”

“Of course it’s time,” she laughs.

Soon she is standing on one of her tables, banging an iron spoon on an iron mug.

“Alright, shut up, the lot of you!” she cries. “I said shut up!”

The room quiets to a murmur.

“You’ve heard the rumors, and I’m here to say the rumors are true. Tonight we have ourselves not one, but two performers, vying for yer love and coin.”

The crowd bursts into banging mugs on tables, wordless cries, and applause.

Into the noise Roxy shouts, “So let’s get it started!”

For more than a full minute, the cacophony persists, Roxy standing on the table with her spoon, mug, and satisfied smile. She waits, dramatically, until the crowd finally settles.

“They’re each gonna perform two songs, and yer noise is gonna determine the winner. Whoever you choose stays the rest of the night. So you ready to make some noise?”

The tavern erupts again.

“Alright then, you’ve been enjoyin’ ‘em the past month. So let’s see what they brought for a battle of the bands. First up we’ve got… the Drunken Dwarves!”

As cheers and good-natured insults fill the space, five dwarves in furs and studded leather take the stage in the far corner. Four of them have long, unkempt hair the color of dirt, their beards long and untamed. The fifth is as wide as he is tall, head shaved into a neat mohawk and beard braided. They gather their instruments and begin to play…

[song. roll Performance check]

“Alright, alright, settle down,” Roxie’s voice carries from the other side of the tavern. “You newcomers may not know our second performer, but he’s responsible for building the Pickled Ear back up when a bunch of awful villains trashed the place. Thank the gods, he’s now back from his travels. Give a Pickled Ear welcome to Coxsackie!”

[song. roll Performance check]

As you sit to begin his second song, you see a familiar face in the sweaty, raucous crowd. She is half-elven, armored, and beautiful, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She has a serious face with a strong jaw, but when she catches Coxsackie’s eye she smiles brightly and winks.

Session 80: Crystals Crystals Everywhere

“Ah, visitors! I am Talamira. Welcome to the Jewelgate waystation, designed as a tribute to Yuelral! We have not had visitors in some time. I must warn you to beware the far end of the chamber, something… wrong… is…” and her face begins to look anguished and confused.

Session 81: The Purple Worm

While you all battle carnivorous crystals in a cave deep underground, we see Greta Gardania staring at a blank sheet of parchment lying on the desk in front of her. A knock on the door causes her head to snap up.

Standing in the open doorway is a gray-bearded dwarf with deep smile lines around his eyes and mouth.

“Greta? I’m sorry if I startled you.”

“No Jorsk. I was merely lost in thought. What can I do for you?”

“I was just wondering if you had word from Obedience and the adventurers?”

Greta grins. “You ask after them quite often, Jorsk Hinterclaw. Pining for your own days of adventuring back in Nirmathas?”

The dwarf chuckles. “Maybe some of that, sure, but that was many years ago. So, has there been word?”

“Well they’ve only just left this morning…”

“Ah, I hadn’t realized. Thought it was a day or so ago.”

“They were waiting for Sabine Sterling to return. She apparently did, finally, though I didn’t get a chance to see her. Then they were off. But you’re in luck. There has indeed been word already. Jacques just let me know.”

“Is that right?”

“Indeed. It seems there was a ghost and some accursed crystals in the waystation, and several ancient elven tomes besides. Jacques says they’ve cleared the danger and have stepped into wherever that portal leads.”

Jorsk’s gray eyebrows are bushy and wild and have climbed up his forehead.

“Ghosts and accursed crystals, you say? Well, isn’t that something.”

“Let us hope they discover the Scarlet Triad threat on the other side and are as easily able to deal with that. I grow quite tired of feeling in constant danger.”

“Well, cheers to that. Which reminds me, has that group Captain du Tank sent south to clear the roads returned?”

Greta frowns. “No, in fact. I’d forgotten about them.”

“Must be going on two weeks now, eh?”

Greta grunts. “Yes. I don’t like that at all. I’ll talk to Jacques.”

“Good, good. We don’t get many visitors from that Five Kings Road, but something seems surely to be keeping them away. Sorry to give you another thing to cause you worry.”

“There’s as much hope as worry, Jorsk. I said the same to Obedience Fletcher before they left. I’ll be sure to let you know as I get further updates.”

“I do appreciate it, Greta. It’s somewhat fun to imagine. Ghosts and cursed crystals! Ancient tomes! Sounds exciting, eh?” “Not for me, my friend. I’m afraid that, unlike you, I have no stomach for adventuring,” Greta answers, but she’s speaking to open air, as she hears Jorsk muttering happily to himself down the hallway.

Session 82: Back Into The Breach

Before we dip back into the crystal caverns, let’s peek back into the very Town Hall you all saved from fire…

“Jorsk! Jorsk! Jorsk, a word!” a voice echoes down the hallway.

The gray-bearded dwarf blinks and looks around. “Hm? I say. Whozzat?”

A goblin scurries towards him, hampered by a long white robe with blue trim dragging behind her. She wears a flat-topped black hat as big as her head, along with ostentatiously large earrings. Around her neck, bouncing as she runs, is an enormous silver butterfly on a thick chain.

“Ah, Ms. Bumblebrasher. Nice to see you this morning. How are you, Warbal?”

Her red eyes squint. “You getting deaf in your old age? I almost had to use my goblin screech.”

“My apologies, Warbal. I was… lost in thought is all.”

“Well, you’re smiling so it can’t be too bad. What’s on your mind?”

“Ah, just heard word that our famous adventurers have begun another adventure! Fighting ghosts and accursed crystals everywhere they turn! Has me pining for my youth, I suppose.”

“Oh my! Are they okay? Is– Is Obedience Fletcher hurt?” Her eyes have gotten impossibly large.

“They’re fine, from what I hear. But such concern, my friend. Might that be a bit of a crush on our local hero, eh?”

Warbal waves the idea away. “No, no. It’s Helba who has the crush. Asks after him almost every– Oh! Helba! That’s why I was hollering after you!”

“Yes?”

“The Bumblebrashers are out of food.”

Jorsk sighs. “Again?”

“Well, there are more of them now. More every week, actually. Have to feed the babies, you understand.”

“I see, well. Fine. I’ll talk to the Council and ensure more food gets to the caves.”

“Much appreciated, Jorsk! And they say especially more pickles! Seems to be a tribe favorite these days.”

“Of course, of course. We’ll make sure pickles are part of the delivery.”

“Desna’s grace upon you, Councilman Hinterclaw!” Warbal smiles, and begins waddling away down the hallway.

Meanwhile, back in the Crystal caverns, we find a bit of a situation on our hands…

Session 83: Welcome to Saggorak

As Obedience describes in whispered words the chamber beyond, a thought passes through the party. This thought takes different form in each mind, expressed in as diverse ways as the members themselves. But the essence of this thought is the same, tickling at the back of each person’s neck.

With miles of earth and rock above them, a crystal chamber untouched by society for ten thousand years behind them, and a fortified stone wall twenty feet thick before them–The thought each of you ponders silently settles into your bones, and that thought is this…

You were meant to find this place. It somehow, some way, fits into the larger tapestry. What looks like a crevasse formed by time or ancient siege begins to feel divinely crafted. You may deny this thought, this nascent belief. You may choose not to share it with the others. But the thought is there, nonetheless.

The horrors beyond are calling to you.

Session 84: So Much Eating

Margaret’s small, round eyes penetrate the darkness of this ancient, dwarven hallway. A black, mold-like growth spills out of the cracks in the stone everywhere, connecting in a web of tendrils accented with twitching bulbs. Doorways line the hallway on either side, one to the left and four to the right.

The hallway ends in what appears to be a large room. There, lounging in clear view, are two gugs, seemingly oblivious to the sounds of the earlier combat. At first Margaret thinks the monstrosities are talking in low whispers, but then she sees it clearly – they are eating, slowly and contentedly. She watches as a small hand disappears into one of the gugs’ serrated mouths, while the other carefully peels the flesh from what appears to be a leg. They are murmuring happily, like lovers taking lunch on the edge of a pond.

Session 85: Grikkitog and Xevalorg

As Leilani approaches the ancient hearth, Obedience Fletcher speaks up from the hallway.

“I wouldn’t touch it if I was you, Leilani. Something is not right.”

The oracle pauses mere feet from the hearth. The spectral eyes in its depths narrow, and the entire room seems to… growl. It’s a low, deep sound, a mix of an animal’s predatory warning and the rumble of an avalanche.

Every wall in the kitchen begins sprouting more pairs of spectral eyes, like bubbles escaping to the water’s surface. Dozens of them watch Margaret and Leilani, surrounding the pair of adventurers.

And that is when the jagged, rocky mouths begin to appear…

Let’s roll for initiative!

Session 86: Welcome to Kovlar

The enormity of Saggorak surrounds you. Scarred stone buildings of all sizes stack through the underground cavern endlessly. You can hear movement in the ruins, plus shrieks, moans, and roars. For Obedience, there is a strange similarity between Saggorak and the Mwangi Expanse in that way, a sense that untold life is teeming beyond your vision.

Standing not twenty feet from you, though, is a startled and very alive dwarf, her eyes wide in the darkness. She wears white, padded armor over dark pants and boots. Her round face is framed by a silver headband, matching the silver in her buckler and warhammer.

“Greyara? Is that you? By Magrim’s hand, child, how can it be?”

Session 87: The Regents’ Requests

[In the last session, someone made a joke that I should do a Public Radio show with my honeyed (okay, I may have inserted that adjective) voice, so I decided to ham it up for this intro]

Hello and welcome to session 87 of the Age of Ashes campaign. So glad you could join us this evening. I’m your GM Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, and as always I have with me Dylan (playing Margaret A-ROH-den-ey), Jared (playing Obedience Fletcher), Marcus (playing Leilani Greyara), Ryan (playing Sabine Sterling), and Owen (playing Toshifume Takakiyo, or Tak).

Tonight we’re back at the Court of Regents in scenic Kovlar. In our last session, Leilani’s mentor, Gwenryl Longbraid, hustled you, the party, to this little-known dwarven settlement after encountering you in the horror-strewn ruins of Saggorak. Gwenryl advised you enlist the help of the Regents, who each represented powerful guilds in the city — she also let it be known that Kovlar had its own problems, and maybe they were linked to yours.

Thus began ten interviews, one by each Regent, as the Court determined if they could trust these outsiders. You’ve completed 7 of the 10, and by your estimation four now trust you, while three remain skeptical. We will begin tonight’s session with the eighth Regent’s interview.

Before we jump back in, let’s take any questions from the audience about our current situation. Remember the toll-free number is 1-888-AGE-ASHS, that’s 1-888-243-2747. You can contact us on Twitter or Instagram at @ageofashescampaign.

Alright, let’s get started…

AoA 12: Session Intros 71-78

[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 71: Jaggaki’s Revenge

Sun is finally beginning to break through the days of cloud cover overhead, and it shines down upon the Summershade Granite Quarry. There, atop the quarry’s ridge, we see Leilani Greyara standing quietly, almost as if in meditation. Near her, Obedience Fletcher nocks another arrow in his shortbow while Sabine Sterling banks through the air on silver wings. Both Obe and Sabine look down, and the camera follows their gaze to a cave entrance seventy feet below.

There we see Margaret, her platemail gleaming in the sunlight, with shield raised and sword drawn. The ratfolk warrior stands on a ledge across from Coxsackie, swinging his thundering mace with a wild grin. Between them, skeletal, undead stone giants push past the shredded corpse of a rotting bear and crowd the entrance. One giant has fallen and reaches up to Coxsackie with a single, clawed hand.

The camera moves into the cave, past the skeletal hulks and into the darkened interior. The scene slows dramatically as a figure strides into view.

He is taller than the other giants, a perfect skeleton of dark gray bones wrapped in a brown, hooded robe. In the darkness, his eye sockets glow faintly with a pale blue light. His leering skull takes in the scene as he raises a skeletal hand to the bright cave entrance.

“Thieves! You cannot have the secrets of Minderhal’s Shrine! Begone from this place, desecrators!”

Session 72: The Great Escape

Two clear voices, one a male bass and the other a female soprano, speak as one.

“Calm yourself, Jethro. I know it is difficult to watch and yet be unable to act. And doubly difficult, I suspect, to see your killer gain the upper hand. Come. Stand with me. Close your eyes if you must.

“These next moments are critical. Hunting the lich was borne out of revenge from your friends and aligned with Leilani’s mission. Now that the necromancer hunter has fallen, will their resolve fall away as well?

“Can you feel it, Jethro? Can you feel the other gods step backwards? These moments are for Pharasma alone, and all bow to her will. The Lady of Graves is also the Lady of Mysteries, and none can know her final judgment. But there she is, leaning close. Bearing witness, just as we are. How will she judge these souls?”   

Session 73: Jaggaki Strikes! …and Falls

[player-written intro]

Session 74: The Quarry Aftermath

We see an aerial view, camera circling your campsite.

In the predawn darkness we see oily, black tentacles crawling over a wide area. They scatter your belongings and the embers of your campfire, frantically searching for something living to grab and crush. The flopping, writhing tentacles are one of only two sounds.

The other is a jaunty humming. Coxsackie, last of the Scuttlestouts and naked as the day he was born, raises his voice in a magical song that soothes Margaret Arodeni from unconsciousness. The ratfolk paladin gasps and looks around with eyes as black as night. She is once again blind, unable to see the ravaged forms of dead stone giants on either side of her.

Sabine Sterling strides across landscape that is frozen, churned, and blasted to examine Leilani Greyara. Sabine steps back, recoiling from the sight as the necromancer hunter appears dead and rotting.

And, standing twenty feet from Leilani’s corpse, back to everything and everyone else, is Obedience Fletcher. The goblin looks down impassively, his hands flexing into fists and then relaxing almost rhythmically as he stares down at the broken bones of the lich Jaggaki.

Session 75: Welcome to Whiterock

The tall grass near the dock rustles, and a human girl of perhaps ten years old darts out. She wears a simple, shapeless green dress and only one sandal. Her thin brown hair is braided on one side and free on the other, and she is breathing hard. Her wide, wild eyes fasten on the modest riverboat at dock.

She hisses in a sharp whisper. “Why are you here? Go! Before it’s too late! The giant!”

Captain Coke has been slowly chewing a piece of grass he’s pulled from the riverbank. He loudly spits it into the lazy current.

“Now, now,” the halfling answers. “I brought some people who should take care of that giant.”

“It’s not just him, though,” the girl has gotten closer, her head whipping around to look behind her constantly. “There’s others too!”

“Well, I suspect they’ll take care of them too, lass. Where’s your parents?”

The girl looks down. “I was getting dressed and my ma–” She stops speaking, petrified for several moments as she stares at her one shoe. When she finally looks up her lip is trembling. “I don’t think they made it. They– I saw. They didn’t make it.”

Coke grunts and levels a hard stare at the waif of a girl.

“You got someplace to go, then?”

She sniffles and shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

“Get in the boat. If the people I brought come back, it means vengeance for your parents and we’ll go to Kintargo. If we see one of the others, we’ll shove off and get away.”

Without hesitation the girl jumps into the boat, getting as far to one side as she can away from the shore. She pulls her knees up to her chin and hugs them tightly.

Captain Coke rocks the boat as he moves to get a blanket and rest it next to the girl. He then pauses and pulls another long blade of grass that’s protruding from the water.

Settling back in his seat, he begins to rip the grass slowly, methodically into pieces, fold them, and tuck them into his mouth. The girl watches him silently with wide eyes.

“I don’t mean to scare you, mind, but how did you know I wasn’t with the giant and the rest of that crew?”

The girl pulls her knees closer, seeming to fold in on herself.

“You’d know if you saw them,” she says in the barest of whispers.

Session 76: Laslunn and the Interlocutor

[Notes on Laslunn’s dialogue with the party at the start of the session]

[hyena laughter]

“So. You’ve finally done it. You’ve killed us all and come for me. Your organization is quite impressive. Quite… thorough.”

“But I find myself asking the same question, day after day, night after night: Why? For what reason do you assassins hunt us and spill our blood? So if you would do me the courtesy before we must inevitably fight, I would ask you: Why?”

“Oh I’ve heard of you, little goblin in a suit, who sneaks through the shadows, sometimes invisible, and tears out our throats. Like a tiger in the jungle, eh?” [laugh]

“I’ve heard of you as well, the singing goblin. Master of disguise and deception, with his mighty thunderous mace!” [laugh]

“The rest of you are new to me, I admit. I do not know you.”

“Ideals? Morals? Where I come from slavery is quite legal, and our government turns a blind eye when we bring shipments from other lands, not asking how they came to be there. I was born into a small gnoll tribe in western Katapesh. Very poor. Very savage. I survived because I waited. I watched. I planned. And, eventually, I built a craft. Slavery is that craft. It is my business. So to hear that you have done all of this, just to thwart the very essence of my business dealings? For no professional gain? Well. You’ll pardon me but that sounds insane. Would that I hunt you in the night and slit your throat because you wore the wrong color… that is how it sounds to me.”

Session 77: Goodbye Aadrushian. Hello, Kintargo.

In a hand both calloused and scarred, Obedience Fletcher holds a large, black gem. The Eye of the Wise, an aiudara key and ancient elven artifact, pulled from Laslunn’s empty armor.

No doubt in the coming days the spellcasters of the group will uncover its secrets and abilities, and no doubt the very presence of the Eye will mean yet another journey into incalculable danger. Voz Lirayne is still out there. The Scarlet Triad is still out there. If Jethro’s dreams can be believed, the threat of Dahak is still out there.

There’s probably even more danger than that, Obedience thinks grimly… and the deeper he finds himself in this complicated web of dangers, it all seems less and less like the grand stories he was read as a child, and much more horrible. Much more tragic.

He looks around the small room in the Jhaltero manor at his companions. Coxsackie, grinning and sifting through Laslunn’s possessions. The ratfolk Margaret, blood-spattered but still gleaming in her shining platemail. Leilani, smelling like a half-buried corpse and with that freaky-voiced dragon on her shoulder. And behind them all, a large, gleaming, honest-to-Erastil silver dragon. Four companions and himself, same as always. But what a different group.

Obe sighs.

[When they arrive in Kintargo…]

Captain Coke nods to the party.

“Before you go, I wanted to tell you that the Bellflower Network here in Ravounel thanks you for what you’ve done. You’ve saved a number of people and put down a threat we were struggling to handle ourselves.

“But,” he continues. “You also cost us Nolly Peltry.” For a moment he can’t go on, struggling with tears. Eventually he clears his throat. “I’ve watched you lot closely since then. And if you don’t mind my saying, you seemed more interested in revenge and killing these villains than actually trying to save as many people as you could. I suspect a lot more would be alive, both at the quarry and here in Whiterock if you’d shifted your focus to protecting the innocents.” He spits into the river.

“Again, we’re thankful for what you’ve done, but we don’t much like how you’ve done it. Good luck to you, but you won’t be hearing from us again.”

And with that, he shoves off from the pier and heads on down the river.

***

Back at Castle Kintargo, an escort brings you back to the now-familiar office of Vors Eivensor, Captain of the Kintargo City Watch. As you pass into the room, the relief on his face of seeing the two goblins is evident.

“You really have survived. Thank the gods. I don’t mind telling you that there were quite a few rumors flying around about what happened to you lot. So what did happen?”

[party explanation]

“That fits more with my expectations. When a riverboat carrying survivors showed up, wouldn’t you know it but Boblin was there. He’s claiming that he put down the threat all on his own and saved those people, and that you lot had died. His popularity’s never been higher, and it’s giving me no end of headaches. I had to give the fucker a medal to make him go away.”

“Well, now that I know the truth, I suspect the Silver Council will want a word with you. Will you be staying a day or two here in Kintargo?”

“Excellent. I’ll send someone to get you when it can be arranged. Enjoy the city, and try not to get arrested or killed, eh? I’m glad you made it, Mr. Fletcher and the lot of you. I truly am.”

***

[Obedience 1:1 role-play scene]

We are in the embassy of Nidal, where Obedience Fletcher has been before, and the goblin is sitting in a waiting room. The architecture here is dramatically gothic, dark wood that seems to suck up the light, and intricate details everywhere. The longer you look at the décor, the more you see it contains lots of creepy-but-subtle gargoyle and monster imagery everywhere.

The door opens and Halleka Shadeborn enters, a bright smile on his young, thin face and a bundle of cloth in one hand. He gives Obedience an awkward hug immediately.

“Thank you so much for coming. It is good to see you! Thank you. Thank you for visiting. Why has it been so long? How have you been, Obedience?”

“We are heading back to Nidal, but the delegates believe the negotiations vent quite well. They were near disaster, but the news you brought of someone setting the people’s sentiment in Kintargo against Nidal changed everything.”

“Unfortunately,” and he clenches his free hand into a fist. “They still do not see the wisdom of the veltrac. They could provide such order to this wild land. I will return and continue to plead my case.”

“The Umbral Court themselves have sent word of praise to you. This is a great honor, you must understand. They cannot outwardly show you too much attention, or they say it might bring suspicion on you somehow being agents of Nidal. But, they have asked me to give these gifts…”

[He gives Obe the Fearsome rune stone and Coxsackie the potions of Retaliation.]

“You are a good friend, Obedience. I am glad to have met you. Please, come visit Nidal sometime, ya? Your friends are welcome as well. There you can see what true LAW AND ORDER looks like, and perhaps we can even witness the effects of the velstrac together! Show these wild lands what is possible!”

“Well, good luck to you, friend.”

Halleka again awkwardly hugs you, and we fade out.

***

[Sabine 1:1 roleplay scene]

We are in the austere waiting room of Lady Mialani Docur, who sits in scandalously tight breeches with her legs crossed at the knee. Across from her in a high-backed wooden chair is Sabine Sterling.

“I was sorry to hear about your sister,” she says, sipping tea. “Tell me, did the rest of the party ever discover that she was a she? It seemed they did not know, even though I thought it was quite evident.”

“I must confess, it ruins the offer I had planned for her, to stay and study at this school. She seemed quite eager to do so, and I would have enjoyed seeing what she would both learn and teach. And now you are here and I cannot make the same offer. We only train half-elves, as you know. Alas.”

“I do not know you, Sabine Sterling, so I will ask you the same question I asked the others when I first met them. Why are you here? Why stay on this path that has already killed your sister and threatens your life every day?”

“Ahhhh, quite a mystery you are. Perhaps I can help you after all.”

She tinkles a little bell and a well-dressed, attractive half-elven woman arrives, the same woman who had let you into the school. She hands Lady Docur a small box.

“Thank you Arlethi.”

“I see that you too are a spellcaster, yes? Perhaps the gift I had planned to entice your sister to join us can still be put to good use.”

[Lady Docur offers small box to Sabine – Ring of Wizardry III with school’s logo on it.]

“Use it for good in the world, eh? Even if a Sterling is not officially part of Lady Docur’s school, it does not mean our influence cannot spread.”

A bell tinkles in another room. “Ah, I am sorry. Duty calls me to another meeting. Good luck to you, Lady Sterling. If you ever find yourself again in Kintargo, do drop by to say hello.”

As Sabine stands to leave, we fade out.

***

[Leilani 1:1 roleplay scene]

Leilani Greyara has decided to take a night walk in the city of Kintargo. Maybe you didn’t actually get a chance to visit the Silver City as you were tracking Jaggaki, so this is your chance to look around.

So you’re strolling through the streets, still vibrant after dark. Again, think of the energy of a new nation within a couple years of its freedom from tyranny. There is music and laughing behind closed doors, still audible in the streets. Couples walk hand in hand, huddled together on the cool spring night.

As you pass in front of a building, a voice hails you. Actually, it’s two voices–one of a deep bass male and one of a clear female soprano–speaking together in harmony.

“Leilani Greyara. Might I have a word?”

You turn and, standing in an outdoor stairwell is an angel. They are tall, dark-skinned and hairless, with eyes of the glowing light of dawn. The angel wears bright orange robes, and their wings are a vibrant orange and red, almost fluorescent.

“My name is Chioma. It is an honor to meet you finally. There are precious few of your kind, and I admit this is my first time speaking with one.”

“I am curious, Leilani. What will you do now? Where will your feet take you from here, duskwalker?”

“You serve the Lady of Mysteries, of course. I am but a singer in Sarenrae’s chorus, here to lend my voice so that it might move others towards love, kindness, patience, and redemption. I cannot tell you your fate or what path to walk.

“But if I may, in my observation there is a divine hand that brought you to these people. That you arrived just as the light of Jethro Vermillion had been extinguished feels beyond the realm of chance. Perhaps Pharasma sees what Jethro saw so clearly, that an Age of Ashes is threatening this world. Perhaps she sees a role you might yet play.”

“Well, think on it. Allow these people into your heart. Sometimes it is better to walk a path together than alone. Surely your time at the quarry made this lesson clear.”

“Regardless of your decision, I have a gift.” Chioma reaches back to one of their wings and when their hand appears again it is holding two fluorescent feathers. “I know that you do not wield weapons in combat, nor are you specifically in a fight against Evil. Perhaps you will find a use for these, perhaps you will find someone worthy to use them, or perhaps you will find profit from selling them. As with all things, the choice is yours.”

The feathers are hot to the touch.

“May your Lady watch over you, Leilani Greyara. May you find peace in this life and the next.”

“’Scuse me!” someone barks at you from behind. It’s an older man, obviously irritated, squinting up at you on the stairs. “You gonna just stand there or can I get through?”

The man pushes past you, past the empty space where Chioma had been moments before, and into the building beyond. You are alone on the stairway, in darkness. As your eyes travel up, you see that the building is a mortuary. And we fade out.

***

[Margaret 1:1 roleplay scene]

We find Margaret asleep in her room at the inn. Her armor and sword are neatly arranged next to her bed, and without them she looks tiny in the covers as she tosses and turns. The cat Lymi sits curled at the foot of the bed, a black lump in the night.

Margaret gasps loudly, waking Leilani. Lymi raises her yellow eyes and stares at the paladin. Margaret’s own eyes open wide in the darkness. To Margaret, bees begin to fly within the room, some crawling along the curtains, some landing on the bed, some just making lazy circles in the air. The sound in the room begins to distort, echoing like it’s a much smaller space, and we hear water sloshing and moving around.

“Well well. My dearest Margaret. You have been up to quite a lot, haven’t you? New adventures and new friends. Tell me: What do you make of these friends you’ve found?”

“I was right to choose you, Margaret. How you stood toe to toe with that fiend, trading blows! So fierce. So brave. You are delightful in every way, my dearest Margaret. I could not have wished for better.”

“Remember, my dear Margaret: I have given you all of this for one moment. One moment when you can be my hand in vengeance. In the name of love. Can you feel it approaching? Can you feel us getting closer to that moment? Closer to each other? One thing leads to the next and our paths are intertwined, my shining paladin. Our moment together is not imminent. But it draws ever closer. And these new friends will help you find your way to Breachill and then you’ll find your way to me.”

“Ah, ah. It is too soon for another question. Now is not the time.”

“Well, I merely wanted to check in on you, my dear Margaret. It has been too long, and so much has happened with you since we last spoke. I do fear that you will forget about me if I don’t remind you from time to time.”

“Oh! Silly, silly me. I had almost forgotten. I bring to you a gift. Something like Lymi, to ensure you never forget I’m there with you, my dear Margaret, always and forever. Iomedae is your deity, dear Margaret, but always remember that I hold your soul. Sweet dreams, my fierce little paladin…”

Margaret blinks, and the bees and water sounds fade, the room returning to normal. Lymi puts her head down and curls up back to sleep.

[dialogue between Margaret and Leilani]

And you, Margaret, feel something in your hand. You open it to find a pink stone, shaped sort of like a parallelogram.  

And we fade out.

***

[session end]

You find yourselves in a section of Castle Kintargo where none of you have previously been. It is almost entirely the silver-threaded white marble that is the city’s signature, and incredibly lavish. Wide pillars reach up to high ceilings in this open-aired hall. You can imagine great crowds gathering here for formal gatherings or matters of state.

Yet today the great hall is empty except for you five, a smattering of guards, a few attendants, and seven well-dressed nobles. These are the Silver Council, a group of Kintargan noble houses and power brokers who now rule the new country of Ravounel.

At their head is a human woman with pale skin and dark hair in an elaborate robe. Though she looks to be in her late 30s or early 40s and attractive, her wise eyes make her appear as if they belong to someone much, much older.

“I am Domina Jilia Bainilus. My understanding is that you have waited in the city until we could become available and would otherwise be on your way back to Isger. We appreciate you pausing your long journey home to speak with us.”

“Though we have never met, it seems the entire nation of Ravounel is in your debt. Captain Eivensor has explained your thwarting of a budding slaver ring beneath our very noses within the Silver City and beyond. Further, he has handed over the notes of both the wizard Barushak il-Varashma and the slaver Laslunn. These notes outline a plot not only to take our citizenry, but to sow discord between us and our neighbor nation of Nidal. The Captain takes no credit whatsoever for these slavers’ defeat, nor the mended reputation of our Nidalese delegates. He says these are due to you and you alone. Is this true?”

“And why, may I ask, have you done these things?”

“We thank you. We are still recovering from our liberation from Cheliax, both emotionally and financially. I wish that we could give our thanks in more meaningful material ways. As it stands, we hope this token will aid you on the roads to Isger.”

On cue, two men in livery who had been standing behind the Silver Council step around and forward, placing a heavy chest at your feet.

“Ten thousand Kintargan silver pieces. You’ll pardon the symbolism. Gold would have been easier to carry, but we are the Silver City after all.” Those old-soul eyes crinkle at the edges. “In any case, our nation thanks you.”

And she and the other members of the Silver Council bow.

Session 78: End of Book 3

As you get within a mile or so of where you know the bend of the road takes you to Cypress Point, you begin to see the birds. Black ravens and white seagulls. They fill the sky, circling in a wide column.

When you arrive, their cawing is ever-present, mixing with the steady waves pounding the coastline. And as you wander into the town, you begin to see the bodies. Men, women, children – all of them curled into a ball as if protecting their stomachs.

It seems whatever poison the Scarlet Triad introduced into the water system had a delayed onset, but then acted quite quickly. Those of you trained in Medicine deduce that these people were likely walking along when they were struck by severe abdominal pain, followed quickly by death. There are a couple of living people as well. Scavengers, just like the birds. They’re picking through the homes and corpses, looking for loot.

***

The party steps through the portal to Breachill. Fade to black.

[Book 3 Epilogue]

We fade into the sound of dirt crunching under two pairs of boots.

“I didn’t join the Kintargo City Watch to travel three fucking days out into the middle of fucking nowhere, I can tell you that. The Silver City is the greatest fucking city in the world. What are we doing out here in the fucking country?”

“For the love of Desna shut up. I’ve had to listen to your filthy mouth complaining for three days. I should get hazard pay. Captain Eivensor sent us here to see if there were any survivors and to make sure there’s no threat to the city. How many times do I have to say it?”

“Just a weird fucking task for a City Watchman, right? Just look around an abandoned fucking quarry?”

“Let’s just do it, alright? An assignment from the Captain is an assignment needing to be done.”

“I just saying that… What the fucking pit of hell is this?”

And the two City Watchmen gape as they crest the Summershade Granite Quarry, confronted with a giant Coxsackie’s bare ass as he pisses over the edge.

We fade out.

***

We fade in on a stone chamber devoid of any furnishing. In the center of the room is a large rectangular structure, over ten feet in length and made of the same heavy stone as the walls. The structure might be a tomb, except it has no religious iconography at all. It is simply a stone box in a stone room, and very dark.

Suddenly, we see a single rune flare to life on the structure. Like a pebble dropped in a pond, more runes begin to glow a pale, blue light. Soon the entire rectangular block of stone is glowing with runes across its surface. What meager light shows that the walls, floor, and ceiling are also inscribed in meticulous runic symbols, though these stay dark and dormant.

There is a groan as the top of the structure begins to move. The heavy stone slab grinds as, inch by inch, it is pushed aside from within. After long minutes, the slab teeters and crashes to the rune-inscribed floor, cracking into three pieces. The glow on the structure winks out, leaving the room in darkness once more.

That is, until a pair of pale blue eyes rise. Jaggaki’s skull takes in his surroundings as he stands.

“Steal from me,” he says to the darkness. “Mortal fools. Goblins and rats. I am inexorable. You think me stopped? A tree cannot stop the fire. A heart cannot stop the arrow. Steal from me, will you? We shall see. We shall see…”

We fade to black.

***

And we fade in once more.

We see a woman on the bow of a ship. Behind her, sailors call out to one another and scurry about the deck performing tasks. They are a rough crew, mostly half-orcs, humans, and dwarves, with an occasional halfling or gnoll. All of them are dressed in loose-fitting pants and either simple sleeveless shirts or, more commonly, bare-chested.

In contrast, the woman is wearing a bright blue robe, with red scarves around her waist, neck, and head. The material is fine, but quite below her usual standards. Indeed, she had to quickly sell off her finer wardrobe to afford this journey.

Sedranni Vashnarstill looks different than Jethro Vermillion and the Redeemers would remember in more ways than simply her attire. She is noticeably thinner, largely from frequently forgetting to eat. Though still beautiful, dark circles gather below her eyes from lack of sleep. Far from the solicitous smile of a merchant, Sedranni’s mouth is now most often in a grim line, her eyes narrowed.

“You should get belowdecks, Lady,” a voice says behind her. That would be Captain Qadi, one of the few other women upon the vessel, dark-skinned, tattooed, with arms thicker than Sedranni’s waist. “We’ll be in Katapesh soon and the crew needs the full deck to work.”

“Alright. Thank you Captain.”

Qadi grunts, and the wood creaks as she leaves. Sedranni takes a long look out at the sea, smells the salty air, and exhales.

The Vashnarstills can no longer operate in selling goods. Her reputation ruined, her staff murdered, her goods destroyed, the door has closed on the generations that built Sunset Imports. She is desperate and alone. And in that desperation, Sedranni has clung to the hope of a new profession: that of selling information.

For the thousandth time, she pulls a dirty, rumpled parchment from her robe, one of many correspondences between her and Katapesh. One name clearly stands out, signed at the bottom of the letter:

Uri Zandivar. Sedranni has said this name day and night like a mantra. Uri Zandivar.

With shaking fingers, Sedranni folds the paper and slips it for the thousandth time in her robe. She turns her back on the sea and, with dark determination, prepares herself for this next journey. The sun has begun to set over the waves.

Blackout.

And you have officially finished Book 3! Congratulations!  

[start of Book 4]  

You step through the gold-and-silver mists of the portal and into the lowest level of Castle Redemption. As your eyes adjust to the darkness and scenery, you see two very different figures. One is a tall, wiry, tan human man in studded leather armor that’s black with orange tiger stripes. He’s basically a bad-ass samurai. He has a katana drawn and is facing you, though you notice a black silk blindfold covering his eyes. The other is a pale halfling woman with bright red hair tied into a braid hanging over one shoulder. She is wearing matte, dark-green leather and twirling a curved dagger deftly in each hand.

The halfling squints at you. “Halt right there! Please kindly hold while we sort out if you’re friend or foe. Tak, will you be a dear and go get Captain du Tank?”

“Of course,” the blindfolded man answers. “Be careful.” He spins on one heel and disappears towards the staircase on hurried steps.

“Now some of you are matchin’ the descriptions but not all. You just go ahead and keep waitin’ there and be patient if you please. No sudden moves.” “Betsy Jadefingers, at your service, and Sargeant in the Order of the Sunknights.”

AoA 11: Session Intros: 66-70

[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 67: Barushak’s Fall

[Note: Session 66 intro was a cut-scene written by a player]

“They are quite brave, aren’t they?”

Two voices said these words in unison. One was a male voice, deep and resonant. The other was a female voice, clear and melodious. Yet both originated from the same being.

The angel Chioma sat unseen atop a ledge in the Summershade Granite Quarry, brown bare feet swinging over the edge. Their feathered, fluorescent, red-orange wings spread out behind the angel in repose, their robes artfully draped. Chioma’s unblinking eyes glowed with Sarenrae’s light as they took in the scene spread out before them.

“I’m sorry, Jethro. I will not ask you questions since I know that you cannot answer until they have freed the tether of your mortal shell. But look! You wondered about Coxsackie when you first met him. Yet now he charges across the sky to do battle with a giant, to avenge not just his fallen comrades but his lost tribe. Quite brave indeed.

“You have not met them, but these new companions are no less brave. Flying upon those silver wings is Sabine Sterling, sister to the Robin you knew. If you ever gain an audience with Apsu, I suspect he will share his plans for that one.

“And that faerie dragon there is the familiar of the necromancer hunter Leilani Greyara. She stands over near Obedience, you see? I will be interested to see Leilani’s decision once her prey here is vanquished. Will she link her fate to this group, or continue her lonely borderwalking? One path certainly leads to redemption, whereas the other path… Well, let us focus on the present moment.

“Poor Obedience. Look how in turmoil he is next to Leilani, pacing like a tiger, full of rage and purpose, fighting between his ancestry and his upbringing. The story of Obedience Fletcher has so many chapters left to write. You can rest well that you have set him on his path, Jethro. You have taught the lessons you were meant to teach him. Now we both must see what he does with those lessons. His story is one many of the gods are watching, I assure you. The fate of Golarion rests on those narrow shoulders.

“And do you see that small figure, shining like a beacon, standing with them both atop the cliff? That is Margaret, and I must say that I am thrilled to finally see her here. With you gone from this plane, she is my muse, Jethro Vermillion. I have not seen her since her birth, but… What is this? Oh dear. Margaret does not understand what forces work to shape her own story. Poor Margaret.

“From here, they look like pieces on a gameboard, do they not? Or perhaps actors in a play? I know you cannot speak, Jethro, but sit with me and watch this next act, however hard it might be to do so. I have faith in this group. But, alas, something difficult is about to occur. Here it comes now. Watch…”

Session 68: Shadows and Elves

Iavva looks to her sisters, slogging through the rushing waters towards the sluice mechanism.

“Lemma! Evlin! Be quick about it and shut off this flood!”

Lemma pulls on one of the levers, her pale face turning red. “Oof! They are not easy.”

“Sister, I found Laslunn’s journal! Her letters are scattered across the water! She is not coming back, I think.” Evlin yells over the water and the shriek of the lever as Lemma finally pulls it closed.

“What are you waiting for? Help them! Get the water stopped!” Barushak yells at her.

“Of course,” Iavva says, as she makes her way towards her twins. Her eyes narrow. Why would Barushak speak to her so? If Laslunn has truly left, why is the wizard still here? Wasn’t the plan to flood the quarry and leave if things with the assassins turned sour?

As Evlin begins struggling with her own lever, she catches Iavva’s eye. The two share a brief look.

Something is not right here.

Session 69: Laslunn’s Quarters

Evlin inwardly curses. She should have surrendered. She had fully intended to when she had walked around the corner, responding to that fake Barushak and his league of assassins. But then she had seen Iavva’s body–pierced through her chest and laying in shallow, bloody water–and something within her had broken. Evlin may have fired an arrow and said something stupid, but the world had gone red and she couldn’t remember.

Regardless, she had doomed both herself and Lemma. There is no escape from Laslunn’s quarters.

“What do we do?” Lemma hisses, eyes darting and hands twitching. Poor Lemma. Something had broken within her sister as well, and she was clearly panicked beyond reason.

Evlin curses again. How had she been such a fool? She had sensed something was wrong with Barushak. All three of them had.

But it is too late. She and Lemma are both going to die. Just like Iavva died.

Evlin’s teeth grind. She scans the rooms. Her eyes settle on the sluiceway mechanism, and a wild, desperate idea seizes her.

“Assassins!” she yells, her voice echoing in the caves. “You wanted the water turned off, yes? You tricked us into closing the sluices, yes? It is you who wanted the slaves alive, not Barushak! Well we are opening them again! Go save those worthless slaves if you must! We will leave and you will never hear from us again!”

And to her sister she whispers fiercely, “Go! Pull the levers!”

Session 70: The Lich’s Lair

A riverboat pulls away from the shore. The stern halfling pilot does not speak as he busies himself with his craft, moving with a creak from one side to the next. Here he tugs a rope. There he pauses briefly to peer ahead and behind. All the while he maintains a hand on the craft’s rudder, steering them through the lazy waters.

A goblin, red eyes peering through the tall grass, is flanked by an elven woman and a ratfolk in armor. The three watch silently from the shore. Thirteen pairs of haunted eyes stare back.

It is an eerie moment, in an otherwise pleasant setting. Birds and insects chirp in the late morning. Clouds gather overhead. Level plains of grass stretch out from both sides of the river. Behind the rapidly shrinking figures on shore are the majestic Menador Mountains.

As the river bends and the goblin, elf, and ratfolk disappear, it as if a spell is broken. The thirteen pairs of eyes blink and look around.

They are packed onto the small riverboat, these thirteen. They all bear the marks of their weeks at the Summershade River Quarry. They are near skeletons from lack of food, with angry welts and cuts everywhere. Their clothes, whatever colors they had been, are now uniformly a filthy brown and torn to scraps. And while some have taken the opportunity to wash themselves in the river, most have not. The boat reeks of misery.

“Why aren’t they coming with us?” asks a boy, the only child in the boat.

No one answers him.

“Why?” the boy asks again.

“They are staying to kill the giants,” a woman says finally, her voice flat and emotionless.

“Oh,” he frowns, sounding disappointed. “They are going to die, then.”

No one in the small, crowded riverboat speaks. The pilot moves from side to side, one hand on the rudder. After almost a full minute, the woman says. “Yes. They are going to die.”

AoA 10: Session Intros 61-65

[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 61: Into the Quarry

When dawn breaks on the twenty-fourth of Pharast, Jethro Vermillion is praying. His campsite is small, modest, set out in the gently swaying grass of the Ravounel countryside, in the shadows of Summershade Mountain. The air is crisp and pleasant. Scattered around him, sleeping on the hard earth, are his four companions.

It is a Sunday, an auspicious day for a follower of the goddess Sarenrae. As the dawn’s light first touches his white-gloved hands, Jethro thanks the Dawnflower for the power of healing the wounded.

May Sarenrae’s light bring peace to the desperate souls a mile away, trapped beneath iron grates. May the dawn’s light banish the shadows, Jethro prays.

Suddenly, Jethro is struck by the image of another dawn nearly three months ago. There, in the Mwangi Expanse, it was the first day of this new year, and he was similarly praying for the strength to find light in the darkness ahead. It was a much different group: Mr. Fletcher was of course there, but so was the faithful Jacques du Tank, the mysterious Owl, and the imposing Nemora the Shepherd. That dawn, half a world away, Jethro prepared to storm the Temple of Sorrow, last stronghold of the Cinderclaw cult. He felt his devout purpose course through him then, ready to face the worshippers of Dahak.

This morning has a similar feel. He and his new companions–the bard Coxsackie, the crusader Robin Sterling, and the druid Pit–prepare to face the Scarlet Triad, the organization who funded the Cinderclaws. This place, Jethro has concluded, is the Triad’s last stronghold in Ravounel. They will storm the Summershade Granite Quarry as they did the Temple of Sorrow.

May the dawn’s light protect my allies on this day, may it provide aid to the innocents trapped and alone, and may it offer redemption to all who will take the Goddess’ hand.

And yet… Jethro pauses in his prayers. His foreboding dreams have left him, and with them the trail to Dahak. The Scarlet Triad are in some ways a more insidious threat than the Cinderclaw cult, but in other ways more mundane. In the verdant jungle of the Mwangi, Jethro was battling beneath the bones of an ancient, evil dragon. Here he is ready to unlock the shackles of Kintargo residents forced into slavery. A noble purpose, to be sure. But somehow lesser.

The image of the dawn’s light in Jethro’s mind is replaced by a roaring, cleansing fire. Ever since defeating the Cinderclaws, another god has been with him. Jethro’s focus on the Dawnflower fades, replaced by prayers to Apsu, the Waybringer. The early morning light grants him an almost fever warmth. Jethro can feel a sharper, more savage purpose flow through him.

Evil must be destroyed in all its forms, and there can be no doubt that the Scarlet Triad is an evil force in this world.

May the great dragon’s claws crush their spirits, may he burn their very existence away with cleansing fire. May he leave only ashes behind. Ashes and light and Good.

And, earnestly, Jethro prays, within the Scarlet Triad’s ashes may he find the path back to Dahak.

Session 63: Where the Stone Giants Dwell

[Note: Session 62 intro was a cut-scene written by one of the players]

Robin Sterling’s enormous body slumps to the stone floor, his armor dented and misshapen. His bastard sword clatters, discarded.

Coxsackie looks at the stone giant who felled the warrior. She grips her wicked club, a weapon that is simply a smoothed column of wood with jagged rocks pounded into its head. The giant turns her murderous, white eyes to him and snarls something in her tongue.

The other stone giant answers angrily, and Coxsackie’s head spins to track his movement. His club is even less subtle than his companion’s–apparently the brute merely uprooted a tree, shook out the dirt, and started swinging it.

Their weapons and primitive fur attire do not give the impression that this lot is particularly smart. And, Coxsackie wonders, do they even speak Common? In hindsight, his opening gambit was doomed. It’s too bad, too. That opening was going to be fun. Yet all this lot seems to understand is strength and violence, throwing heavy rocks and swinging heavy clubs.

A bloody grin splits the Last of the Scuttlestouts’ mouth. Alright then. Time to show these big brutes that goblins speak violence just fine.

At that moment, a deep, chest-shaking growl echoes within the cave. The male giant says something to the other, and both of their faces–painted to look like skulls–grin back at Coxsackie.

The goblin glances over to the impressive barrier stretching between him and his remaining team. Swordblades spin and dance magically in the air in a dizzying display. Robin’s abandoned sunrod shines off the metal crazily, making frantic spots of light everywhere. Coxsackie briefly glimpses Pit’s wide-eyed face through the riot of blades and light.

The growl echoes again, closer. Coxsackie can hear heavy, shambling footsteps. Whatever is coming, it will be here in moments.    

Session 64: Jethro’s Demise

To Robin Sterling, the cave is suddenly and completely dark. He’d seen a giant skeleton in robes raise its bony hand and release a black, shadowy globe. A numbing chill had spread throughout the cave. And then the light was simply… gone.

Robin can still hear the spinning blades of Jethro’s wall. He still hears the snuffing, wet grunts of the undead cave bears.

The skeletal giant speaks in its language, followed by a thud near him where he’d last seen Jethro. Pit speaks a druidic incantation, casting some spell that Robin cannot see.

Amidst these many sounds, Robin’s keen ears pick up the distinct voice of a stone giant. In broken Common he hears the giant’s shout echo outside and across the quarry walls…

“THEY ARE HERE! THEY ARE HERE!”

Session 65: Too Much Death

Coxsackie is the first to see it: some sort of light source around the corner of the tunnel, back the way they’d come and getting closer. He gapes as suddenly a translucent, golden dragon flies into view. It is utterly silent and majestic, its spread wings disappearing into the cavern walls on either side. Neither the undead cave bear nor the stone giant seem to notice as it passes through them.

Robin Sterling blinks in astonishment as the dragon glides over Coxsackie’s head, straight towards him. The warrior can’t help but flinch at first as it passes into him, but the dragon leaves Robin with nothing but a slight, soothing warmth. Its tail lashes silently to one side as it flies onward, and the dragon continues down the stone tunnel.

Pit, injured and eyes wide, can hear the growling of what Barushak had called a guardian devil, a hamatula, in the next chamber. They can still see in their mind’s eye the blue, barbed creature. Thoughts spinning and plans forming, the mushroom leshy is astonished when the ghost-like dragon emerges from Robin’s back and continues down the corridors and over their capped head without a sound.

Obedience Fletcher is around a darkened corner when he sees the light approaching. He crouches down, hiding in the diminishing shadows as he’s practiced endlessly, when the gold dragon flies into the room. It silently flaps it wings, banks, and heads off down the corridor. The dragon’s translucent form disappears around the corner and the light steadily fades. In mere moments, the room is once again dark.

None of the companions speak at the sight. But each knows the same inexorable, undeniable fact as they see that spirit dragon, glowing like a new dawn…

Jethro Vermillion is dead. 

AoA 09: Session Intros: 55-60

[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 56: Nolly’s Last Stand

One of Nolly Peltry’s eyes has swollen shut. Her muscles on the left side of her body spasm, almost dropping her to one knee. She tightens the grip on her trusty hoe and braces herself as the huge golem before her–a monstrosity made of wood with a floating brain in green liquid for a head–pulls back its hand to strike her. The golem’s fingers each end in syringes as long as Nolly’s forearm. She’s been stabbed… twice? Three times? She’s lost track. But Nolly isn’t sure she’ll withstand another hit.  

Then she sees movement behind the construct. It’s Coxsackie, that crazy goblin. Except there are four of him, shimmering and dancing in a pattern that makes her already pounding head swim. He’s humming a madman’s hum, bringing his mace overhand like he’s chopping firewood.

For a surreal instant, Nolly’s good eye darts from those five syringes, pulled back and ready to impale her, to Coxsackie’s multitude of faces. All images of the goblin wink at her, and then brings down the mace.

There is a thundering boom, and the sound like several barroom chairs breaking at once. Electricity explodes on and around the golem. Nolly turns her head away from the sharp, bright light, then staggers. When she regains her footing, she looks up to see the images of the goblin dancing a little jig. What’s left of the construct is a heap of cracked wood and spilled chemicals. The thing’s brain floats impotently in a vat now cracked and leaking across the floor.

“I don’t know how you got past that barrier back there but thank the gods you did. Wasn’t sure if I was going to last much longer, truth be told. Well met, Coxsackie. We might get these people… to freedom…”

Her voice falters and her gaze wanders to the back of the room. Figures begin fanning out from the staircase.

“…after… all.” Nolly sighs. “Well, bloody Hell. Look alive, my friend. Our fight isn’t done yet.”

Session 57: Boblin the Goblin

The springtime weather is not glorious today. High, wispy clouds cover most of the sky, making the sun a bright blur. Midday, the temperatures have climbed to not requiring a coat, but still recommending long sleeves. It is one of those Spring days struggling to break free from the gloom of Winter.

Yet and still, a group of carousers have decided to take tea at an outdoor patio. They are surrounded by the silver-streaked, white marble of Kintargo, across a cobblestone road from the once-great Alabaster Academy, and they are alone in choosing to dine outdoors.

They are an odd bunch–a couple of humans, a halfling, and a dwarf, all boisterously loud, sitting in a circle around a blue-skinned goblin. Their clothes are garish colors, pushing past the limits of fashion. Ears, lips, and noses are pierced with abandon. They sip tea, pretending to be posh, interrupted by loud, crude humor. Which is to say that the members of the group are young and insecure and full of life. The various people passing on the streets of Kintargo give them annoyed looks and a wide berth.

“I say,” one of the humans, a teen with half her head shaved and a chain linking her nose ring to her ear, says in an affected accent. “I do believe we’ve made that woman there uncomfortable. See how she looks at her toes while crossing the street away from us.” She sips her tea with a pinkie finger outstretched from her cup.

“Indubitably,” the young halfling man tries to say seriously, then the group bursts into laughter.

“Don’t want to join us for lunch, lady? We’re too good for you anyway!” the dwarf bellows, and the group laughs again.

Once the prim, middle-aged woman has hurriedly disappeared around a corner, the teen asks the goblin, “Whaddaya wanna do after tea, Boblin?”

The blue-skinned goblin has not been partaking in the obnoxious banter of the group around him. He only smiles lazily at their jokes, watching passerbys casually and seemingly without interest. He is taking up two chairs in the outdoor patio, one for his body and another for his outstretched feet. Unlike the rest, the goblin’s artfully-placed piercings make him look daring. His clothes–a bloused white shirt with three-quarter flared sleeves with tight, navy pants–are right in line with Kintargan trends.

Before the goblin can answer, a seagull makes a dive for the table. (I picture this as the same seagull Pit gave drugs to the day before) The young group gasps as it lands, clutches a hunk of cheese in its beak, and takes flight.

“Bloody bird!”

“Should kill that thing!”

“That was my piece of cheese!”

Amidst the fervor, the goblin merely arches an eyebrow, seemingly amused by both the bird and the consternation it’s caused.

The dwarf grabs for one of the daggers used to slice the meat and cheese that lay scattered on the round, outdoor table. “I swear, if any other bird tries that bloody nonsense I’m gonna–”

“Look!” the teenage human gasps.

All eyes turn, following the seagull’s flight.

“What? My cheese?”

“No,” the girl points with excitement. “Look at the tower!”

Past the seagull is one of several towers at Alabaster Academy. A tall, round structure of silver-streaked marble with skinny stained-glass windows dotting its length.

Four figures are climbing the tower like ants. From this distance it looks like two goblins, a halfling, and a human warrior in armor. Two other figures fly past them without even touching the tower, a human glowing with warm light and some smaller creature they can’t see clearly.

“Is that–? Amazing!”

“What do you think of that, Boblin?”

The blue-skinned goblin stands, suddenly and gracefully, squinting at the tower like the rest of his group. An eager, genuine smile touches his lips.

“I think,” Boblin the Goblin says, his fashionable attire blurs and begins to change. “You should hand me my mask and cloak.”

Session 58: Purging Kintargo

Jethro, Pit, Robin, and Coxsackie are ushered through the heavy gates into an imposing stone castle. Whereas the rest of Kintargo is silver-streaked white marble and gentle spires, Castle Kintargo is a reminder that imperial Cheliax once ruled Ravounel with an iron fist. Its towers are still beautiful and striking, but the thick, tan walls are clearly more functional than aesthetic. In fact, as you wander through you can’t help but see the discolored patches on the stone where devils and gargoyles have been pried from the façade since the city proclaimed its freedom. As of today, in this new nation, no new decorations have yet taken their place.

City Watch members are swarming over the castle grounds, and all pause to regard you as you pass. Some grip cudgels or saps, frowning and narrowing their eyes. Many bring their heads close to whisper to one another. A sparse few simply watch appraisingly and with curiosity. But make no mistake: All eyes are on you within Castle Kintargo.

The young member of the Watch who leads you through the grounds is a skinny, bird-boned young woman with short-cropped black hair. Without commentary she nods to guardsmen at doors and gates as they open before you and shut behind you. There’s clear sweat on most of the doormen’s faces. The tension seems to grow as you go deeper into the castle.

Thus far, you’ve experienced Kintargo as a burgeoning city of hope and energy. It feels like something new and untamed. But here, in this heavy fortress surrounded by mistrusting soldiers, you are aware that it is also a city ravaged by war and uncertainty. The indignation of Cheliax rule still hangs in the air.

Finally, you come to two large, double doors flanked by well-armed guards. As you approach, they nod to your young escort and, as one, pull open the doors.

“Go on in,” the young guard says, voice surprisingly steady. “He’s waiting for you.”

The room you enter is large, square, and spartan. Whatever wall decorations were once here have been pulled down, replaced by only a couple of modest maps of the city. Two windows at the far end look out onto the inner courtyard, letting in the late-day sun. There is a bookshelf, a work desk, and a large, heavy rectangular table. Several sheafs of paper lay across the table’s surface. Your eyes take in all of these details briefly before focusing on the two figures in the room.

Obedience Fletcher sits at the table, looking impossibly small in the high-backed chair next to the enormous table. He looks none the worse for wear, but his expression is difficult to read as you enter.

Across from him is a dark-skinned, older human man in full platemail. Even without the armor it’s clear that he is heavily muscled despite his age (played by a Idris Elba, because I’m giving him another chance). Heavy shadows beneath his eyes suggest that this is not a man who sleeps well or often. But his eyes are clear, and intelligent, and hard.

“Come in, please. My name is Vors Eivensor. I’m the Captain of the City Watch here in Kintargo, which means I am responsible for the defense of this city and its inhabitants.”

As you come in, the heavy doors BOOM! behind you and echo across the stone walls.

Vors picks up some of the paper, squints at them, and sighs. “In the past two days, I have seventeen murdered citizens at Kite Hill by what witnesses say was a devil that appeared out of thin air. Witnesses also report of a group of armed people matching your description who defeated the devil.”  

He picks up another sheet. “At Sunset Imports, based on an anonymous tip, we found the establishment heavily damaged, with a dead human male whom we could not identify as a known resident of the city. The owner of the establishment is missing, but we found eleven Sunset Imports dock workers, starved, drugged, and beaten at the Alabaster Academy today. The ones who are coherent are at least able to express that they have been kidnapped and tortured.”

He sighs again, heavily, and reaches for another sheet. “Speaking of the Alabaster Academy, in the same abandoned tower where we found the dockworkers, we also found nine dead bodies. Several of these were also unidentified as residents, but two were apparently teachers at the school. The living teacher said she had been manacled to a bed with her dead colleagues, but otherwise has been incoherent and it’s been frankly impossible to understand her story.

“We also identified Corra Dianthe, a beloved halfling of the city who’s known as a kite enthusiast on Kite Hill, running a small kite stand there. Both Corra and the unidentified corpses appeared to be armed and killed with battle, along with the remains of multiple golems.”

“My City Watch members say that there were reports of figures that match your description climbing the outside of the tower, along with flashes of magic and signs of combat. They organized a group of five Watchmen to enter the tower midday today. We found their corpses on the third floor of the tower. The Watchmen guarding the tower’s entrance say a group of four armed humans and an armed halfling assaulted them, leaving two more dead. The group escaped about five minutes before members of your group also attempted to leave the tower. Mr. Fletcher here allowed himself to be lawfully arrested, while the rest of you…” His face hardens here. “Did not. We’ll come back to this matter in a moment.”

He reaches over to another sheet of paper. “Your other goblin friend here exited the tower with five halflings. These were Laria Longroad, owner of the Long Roads Coffeehouse, and four employees of said establishment. We have their full statements. We have also since investigated the coffeehouse, where we found ten MORE corpses. Several of these appear to be residents of Kintargo. Three others match the dress of the corpse at Sunset Imports and the unidentified bodies at the Alabaster Academy. There were two other bodies,” he sighs and a vein throbs in his forehead. “One with the head of a tiger and other with the head of a fox.

“Witnesses of nearby establishments said that a City Watch member and someone who matches the description of your human friend here,” he nods to Robin, “discouraged anyone from entering the establishment. I’ve since taken roll call of City Watch members of the area of the Long Roads Coffeehouse yesterday and none of them claim to have been there. There was also some confusing reports of two people flying and fighting in mid-air.

“Laria and her employees, however, insist that you freed them at the Academy and had not met you before then. She did not know if you had or had not been to her coffeehouse since she was captured and insists that you were opponents of her captors and not responsible for any wrongdoing.”

Vors sets the parchment aside and folds his heavily calloused hands together. He tries to meet each of your eyes. “Rumors are raging across the city. Most seem to think Nidal has something to do with the massacres happening. Some others think it’s some secret slaver organization, which is what Mr. Fletcher here insists. Boblin, a local, well I suppose he would describe himself as a celebrity, exited the tower with you all and is claiming he’s already solved the problems and that there is no need to worry. From experience, I trust Boblin’s word not at all.

“By my count, that is forty-four known corpses in less than two days, many of them unarmed Kintargo citizens. We have not seen anything like this since Barzillai Thrune’s bloody rule, and I don’t need to tell you that those are days we’d like to put behind us.

“Based on all of these reports, I’ve come to a few conclusions. The first is that there is something insidious, murderous, and disturbing in the Silver City that must be expunged immediately. The second is that you have something to do with it, though you seem to be opposed to whatever’s going on. That is the only reason you’re not sitting in a jail cell right now, though your vigilante tactics are leading to death and destruction everywhere, and I am fairly sure that with a bit more evidence we will have enough to convict and imprison you all. And finally, I’ve concluded that I have no bloody idea how to make sense of this or whether to trust you at all.”

Vors’ voice nearly shakes with rage. “So. Talk. What is happening in my city?”

Session 59: Last Days in Kintargo

Gelb Freeland is a skinny man with a long neck and a beak-like nose, making him look somewhat like a human stork. He has a habit of swallowing constantly, which makes his Adams apple bob distractingly. Indeed, the only aspect of his character more distracting than the constant swallowing is that Gelb’s watery eyes blink, ceaselessly and almost violently. He is, everyone agrees, a naturally nervous fellow, prone to seeing the most dire of consequences in every moment.

Right now, he is wringing his hands and pacing. His Adams apple dances and eyes flutter as he watches the front door of his tavern, the Bearded Hollow.

“Do you… I say. Do you think everything will be all right in there?” he asks the City Watchman next to him. She is a tall human with a jagged, puckered scar from forehead to cheek.

“Well, they’re capable warriors.”

A window from the second floor shatters and something heavy hits the ground, out of sight. It is now easier to hear swords clashing. The Watch officer looks to her companion, nods, and the two go to investigate.

“Oh dear,” Gelb swallows.

The windows to the street illuminate briefly as lightning crackles within the second floor of the inn. Moments later the windows glow with fiery light and someone screams.

“Oh dear. Dear, dear, dear…” Gelb Freeland swallows again, blinking in distress.

Session 60: Welcome to Summershade Granite Quarry

We begin the final chapter of Tomorrow Must Burn with a montage of scenes. We see a close-up of Canton Jhaltero’s face as he says, “If there are truly slavers, giants, and whatever is haunting the quarry, it seems the five of you are doomed.”

The scene changes and Jhaltero is spreading maps out across a large dining table in his manor, with you all arrayed around him. We zero in on the map and Canton’s finger traces the path from Whiterock to the Summershade Granite Quarry. The journey looks to be about 70 miles along small trails used by stonecutters. It is a very remote location, sitting in the shadow of a place called Summershade Mountain.

We next see a crude map that shows the quarry as a large square cut into the foothills ground. The camera pans around at your frowning faces as you ask questions. It is clear neither the map nor Canton’s explanation are overly useful. He knows his own operations less than you’d like, and it’s something you’ll need to see for yourselves.

The scene fades to dinner, then to drinks, as Canton hosts you for the evening. He seems pleased to have guests, and we see him giving you a tour of his manor before showing you to your rooms.

Now we see the early morning light peeking through a window, where Jethro Vermillion is praying. Pit sits on a bed next to the cleric, unblinking and looking impassively out at the window as the modest town of Whiterock begins its day.

Now we see Robin Sterling going through sword forms outside in the morning, working up a sweat. We see Obedience Fletcher doing calisthenics, then dressing carefully and meticulously.

Finally, the camera pans to Coxsackie, snoring and still asleep as daylight plays across his face. He is having a conversation with someone in sleep, smiling and talking animatedly.

AoA 08: Session Intros: 46-54

[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 46: Cypress Point Continues

The second drake, a blur of ashen red, gray, and yellow, roars as it arcs overhead. Suddenly a blast of fire, the second in as many heartbeats, rocks the town street. Scarlet Triad corpses burn and scatter. Helgi, the dwarven thug, screams briefly before falling backwards into the dirt, body smoking next to that of her beloved boar Beauty.

As the chaos clears, you see that Jethro Vermillion lies dying, his robes blackened by fire.

And from atop the town’s smokehouse, booming laughter echoes across the empty streets.

“Ha! You are formidable, I admit, even if you are not man enough to face me in hand-to-hand combat! But no match for my pets, eh? Ha!

“With your healer down this fight is over. Surrender! Better life as a slave then no life at all. So you stand down, yes?”

Session 47: Genie’s Smile

Vavienne angrily closed one nostril with her thumb and blew snot upon the wooden planks of the dock.

“Purple skinned, cocky fuckwad,” she muttered. “Not your fucking handmaiden you fuck.”

Vavienne paused and looked back the towering, dark sides of their ship, the Genie’s Smile. Its gunwales were too high to see anything up on deck, which was part of its design.

It also meant that Bullbutcher couldn’t see her. She raised her middle finger where she imagined he was sitting and then hocked up something juicy to spit.

A voice echoed in her head and made her jump. She swallowed the ball of phlegm.

“Do hurry,” Bullbutcher growled. “Tell One-Eye we’ve overstayed our welcome and to finish his fun. We should shove off.”

“Shove off, you piece of in’uman fucking garbage,” Vavienne said, but with her voice lowered, just in case. “I’ll tell One-Eye, a’ight. I’ll tell him you’re a sadistic fuck what gets completely out of control when he’s not around. Makin’ the rest of our bloody lives miserable.”

She rubbed one hand up the side of her shaved head, where the demon had cuffed her. It was still bruised, tender.

One of the blood boars approached her on the dock, snorting.

“Piss off, piggy. Ugly fucking animal. Stay here. I gotta go get ‘e boss.”

Still muttering, she stomped with a purpose down the wooden planks, towards the makeshift barricade they’d assembled after getting most of the cargo onboard. Crates, an overturned fishing boat, and lobster cages stacked at the end of the dock. Vavienne made for the only place she could squeeze through. She was determined to find One-Eye, to get back to Kintargo, and to put this whole fucking voyage behind her.

Session 48: The Boathouse

Jethro Vermillion is lying on a stone bed beneath an enormous, marble willow tree. Stars wink and glint overhead, like diamonds on black cloth. A slight wind stirs, fluttering his hair. He is both relaxed and uneasy, a paradox that does not bother him on this night and yet bothers him greatly.

As he shifts his focus dreamily from the night to the tree, he sees that what he first thought were leaves are actually pale butterflies, their wings stirring slightly in the breeze.

A butterfly detaches from a limb and begins dancing in the air, down, down towards his face. Jethro can see the pattern of small stars on its wings, lovely and terrifying. More butterflies detach, and then more, and in moments Jethro’s vision is filled with a cloud of butterflies descending upon him.

The butterflies coalesce into a young, robed elf maiden, beautiful and filled with innocence. She looks at you kindly and rests a hand upon your chest.

“You are fortunate your gods are with you, young priest, otherwise you might have succumbed to the cursed stone. Beware the dreamstone with the star, which has been corrupted by hags. Carry with you the dreamstone with the butterfly and I will always watch over your sleep. Be well, now. Rest.”

A great, metallic dragon soars overhead, and as it passes the night sky turns into the brilliant light of dawn.

Jethro awakes, feeling refreshed.

Session 49: The Road to Kintargo

“May your gods watch over you, Heroes of Cypress Point,” Xerelilah trumpets, her voice clear and strong in the morning air. Villagers all around her cheer. Two young women awkwardly jostle each other, both crying and attempting to catch Robin’s eye with their frantic waves. Children laugh and run alongside the wagon, waving and calling after Coxsackie and Pit.

At the front of the wagon on the buckboard, largely oblivious to the surrounding commotion, Jethro and Obedience sit next to one another in silence. The cleric looks more refreshed than normal, the shadowed circles beneath his eyes faded. Those eyes fix on the horizon over the ocean, deep in thought.

Obe’s red eyes, meanwhile, stare straight ahead. He clicks his tongue reflexively and snaps the reigns, guiding the two mares and wagon down the ramshackle road.

The two companions have known one another half a year and shared a lifetime of adventure in that span. Yet right now, at this moment, on the road to Kintargo, they seem almost strangers.

At the back of the wagon, essentially a simple wooden box open to the sky, Coxsackie cackles and flexes to the fading crowd, standing with one foot resting on the wagon’s side. Robin smiles and tells the out-of-breath, scrabbling children to return to their parents and to be well.

And Pit, the mushroom leshy, sits calmly, eyes trained on the newest member of the group, Halleka Shadeborn. The man has piercing, unnaturally green eyes and slightly pointed ears, suggesting some distant ancestry other than human. He clutches both hands tightly in his lap, staring stiff-backed at the road ahead, seemingly willing the horses to hurry.

As the wagon turns a corner, Cypress Point disappears from view. The six of you are on a coastal road in Ravounel, clouds scattered across a clear blue sky. For a moment, the only sounds are the ocean breeze, the clop-clop-clop of horses’ hooves, and the rhythmic creak of wagon wheels beneath you.

Session 51: Kite Hill

For a moment, he was ignored and left alone. Hundy Vosht looked down at his hands, resting limply in his lap. They were caked in blood and grime, his fingernails almost black. What skin he could see was raw, his knuckles swollen like knobs on a willow branch. All in all, he could not deny that his hands looked like the hands of a tortured prisoner.

And yet, they were again hands. The human cleric–had he learned their names? The last couple of days were shadowed ghosts in his mind. Hundy shook his head, focused again on his hands. The human cleric had quickly and masterfully healed him.

He flexed his swollen fingers, all ten at once experimentally. It hurt, but they responded. Earlier that morning–or had it been at night? How would he know? Hundy squeezed his eyes shut. Earlier, he had glanced over at his manacled wrists and not recognized the misshapen lumps of flesh as anything belonging to a body. He shuddered at the memory of those melted wads of wax where his hands should have been. Soon afterwards he’d broken, telling the demon and the human brute everything he knew about the Bellflower Network.

The Bellflower Network! The name made Hundy’s head snap up and eyes open. The cleric was healing his companions, working with murmured words and practiced, confident movements. His nameless saviors were a strange bunch — two humans, two goblins, and a walking, talking fungus the likes of which Hundy had never seen. And yet formidable. The corpses of his torturers and chunks of inanimate stone all around him attested to their skill.

Could this group undo his misdeeds? Might they save the Bellflower Network where Hundy had doomed them? For a moment hope fluttered deeply within his chest like a butterfly.

The halfling’s eyes roamed the cavernous warehouse, with its broken containers. Bolts of brightly-colored silk lay across bloodstains.

Within the silence of the warehouse, the hope in Hundy’s chest died. No. Capable or not, these newfound heroes were too late. Hundy’s doom could not be undone. He choked down a sob, his eyes falling back to the blood caked onto his aching hands.

Session 52: Long Roads Coffeehouse

The two figures rise from the bloodstained coffeehouse floor.

Both are identical–the upper torso of a middle-aged human man, partly encased in ornate, ceremonial armor and partly in ragged and torn vestments. Each carries an elaborate mace, burning with spectral fire and dropping ghostly embers from the weapon’s length. Below the waist, each figure’s form dissolves into shadowy scraps, the fabric waving slowly as if underwater.

Several members recognize the ashen, angry face of the twin ghosts as belonging to Barzillai Thrune, the recent, tyrannical, and quite dead ruler of Ravounel.

As those identical pairs of cruel eyes scan Jethro and his companions, the spirits sneer in unison.

“Who dares disturb Barzilai Thrune unannounced?” they say in Common as one, each voice echoing as if in a much smaller room than the coffeehouse. The spirits blink and look momentarily confused. Their language then switches to Draconic. “And lo, what are these metallic dragons doing within Ravounel where they clearly do not belong? Begone, infidels! You are not welcome in Cheliax.”

Session 53: Lady Docur’s School for Girls

The human woman who climbs down the broken, bloodstained ladder does not look like a member of the Scarlet Triad. Indeed, she is unremarkable in most ways. Tall, but not overly so, with a thin, pinched face, pale skin, and short orange hair. She wears a simple robe of dark blue cloth. Her green eyes widen as she turns to face a grim-faced Robin Sterling and Obedience Fletcher. She glances at their drawn swords, and then to the serious eyes of Jethro Vermillion, standing behind Obe. No one speaks.

The human man who follows her down the ladder is even more unremarkable. Considerably shorter than his companion, his white robe strains against his prodigious belly. A red scarf entwines his neck, more haphazard than fashionable, revealing a somewhat flat, smashed face and balding pate.

Before he is even off the ladder, the woman pulls at the man’s robe. He too glances at Robin, Obe, and Jethro, his eyes then noting Pit through the open door. He sighs loudly even as Cocksackie, disguised as a City Watchman, cackles from the top of the ladder.

“Vikmanther, it appears the jig is up,” the woman says matter-of-factly in quite a different voice and accent than she had used before.

“Indeed it does, Zimora,” the man agrees, his voice and accent also changed.

He tugs his robe once to straighten it as he fully steps from the ladder. “So,” he asks to the crowd of adventurers, “If you don’t mind me asking, what gave us away, then?”

Session 54: To Tanessen Tower’s Top

Arlethi Soumaila arranges the slices of blueberry bread carefully in a fan-like pattern across the plate. Blueberries are out of season in Ravounel, of course, but Lady Docur insisted the school always keep a store on ice. “No one can be unpleasant with the smell of fresh-baked blueberry bread in their nose,” the headmistress often said. A breakfast tea sits steaming in its decanter on a small table, adding to the welcoming aroma in the room.

Two entry bells ring, one after the other. Arlethi winces at the discord of the two sounds together, out of sync. The Visitors bell has been tugged once with assurance. That would be the cleric, Arlethi presumes, the apparent leader of the odd band of adventurers Lady Docur is backing. She remembers him as a young human man, one whose eyes hold the conviction of purpose and confidence. She could immediately see why the others followed him.

The other bell, the Pupils bell, is still ringing, the cord outside tugged like a six-year-old child playing with a new toy. That would be the infuriating, uncouth goblin with the offensive name. Arlethi suppresses a growl deep in her throat and composes her face. Last night Lady Docur had been quite clear on the matter of the goblin: Treat him as an honored guest. Do not let his uncivility rankle.

Arlethi tucks a strand of hair behind one pointed ear and scans the waiting room. She nods, straightens, and walks, gracefully and soundlessly, to the front doors. She opens the Visitors door, and blessedly the Pupils bell ceases ringing.

She greets the five of them in turn as they enter.

“Good morning, cleric of Sarenrae. May this morning’s Dawn greet you with glory.”

“Good morning, honored leshy. I have set aside special refreshments for you on the small side table. Please do let me know if you would prefer something else.”

To the less-onerous goblin, “Good morning, sir. May I take your hat or coat? I see. Well, you’re looking quite handsome today.”

Arlethi fights down the heat that rises to her cheeks as the half-elf warrior enters. “Good morning, sir. Please make yourself comfortable in the waiting room. And let me know if you need anything. Anything at all.”

And finally, “Good morning, honored goblin. May I ask why the Pupils bell this morning?”

“We’re here to LEARN some information. Is the lady here? We’d like to LEARN about a nefarious plot to steal little people and enslave them. We hope the lady can pupilize us.”

Without a hint of sarcasm, Arlethi nods. “Quite clever. Exactly right. Please enjoy the refreshments. Lady Docur will be joining in a moment.”
And with that Arlethi leaves you in the waiting room.