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. 

Official Flash Fiction for Paizo!

My last several entries have been intros to my tabletop role-playing sessions. It’s a game I’ve been playing for a year now, Pathfinder 2nd Edition (basically a different–and in my opinion better–version of Dungeons & Dragons). Not just playing, actually. I’ve been the “Game Master,” which means I am the one guiding the players through our mutual story, controlling the actions of everyone in the world except each player’s character.

In the Summer, a representative from Paizo, the company that makes Pathfinder, asked on Twitter if anyone would be interested in writing fiction for them. He was immediately flooded with responses, including mine.

Imagine my surprise when Mark Moreland, the Brand Director for Paizo, sent me an email a few weeks later. Mark was a fan of some web fiction I’d written a loooong time ago, and asked if I would be willing to write for them. I think my exact response was “HECK YES!”

On Wednesday of this week, my first story for Paizo went up on their site.

Fingers crossed there’s more to come!

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.

AoA 07: Session Intros 38-45

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

Session 38: The Cult of Cinders Epilogue

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

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

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

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

Session 39: Back to Breachill

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

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

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

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

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

Session 40: Eclipse

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Session 41: Preparing for Dreamgate

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

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

“You had a dream,” Pit intones.

“More of a haunted vision, but yes.”

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

“Alright. It began–”

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


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


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

Session 42: Introducing Robin Sterling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Session 43: Dreamgate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session 44: The Secrets of Dreamgate / Into Ravounel

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

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

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

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

Session 45: Welcome to Cypress Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good. I’m bored.”

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

AoA 06: Mad Magetha’s First Vision

[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. It’s obviously been awhile since my last post of any kind… with the global pandemic, my Saturday writing group evaporated. I’ve done some plotting on my novel and a whole lot of Pathfinder game-mastering–we have gone from weekly in-person games to 3/week video sessions–but not as much prose writing. I miss my Saturday crew 😦 ]

(We fade to black, and when we fade in, typeface along the bottom of the screen says, “Sometime in the past…”)

Magetha Vashnarstill pushed her way through the dense jungle foliage. Her pale skin, hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat and dark green robes, suggested that she was clearly not a native of the Mwangi Expanse. Yet her movements said otherwise. Sure-footed and confident, the elderly human traversed the difficult terrain with practiced ease. All around her, the jungle chirped and hooted and trumpeted with life.

Magetha paused near the base of a wide ojobo tree, its roots digging into the jungle floor like thick, gnarled fingers. In one hand she held her staff, a polished walking stick of dark wood topped with an uncut, vibrant chunk of amber. With her other she fished into a belt pouch and removed a cloth rag, wiping it across the back of her neck. The heat today was oppressive and inescapable, worse than she could remember in years.

“Or perhaps I’m just old,” she said aloud, and chuckled. Magetha often talked to herself, finding long ago that she was excellent company. The habit had been one of several reasons the locals had dubbed her Mad Magetha, a name she quite liked.

Her pale blue eyes scanned the jungle, and her lips pressed together thoughtfully.

“This is Ekujae land. Leopard Clan, if I’m not mistaken. Quite odd. Now why would I be here?”

Just then a figure unfolded from the limbs of the ojobo overhead, clinging with talons each as long as Magetha’s hands. Green, mottled wings spread wide as the jungle drake’s sinuous neck unwound from its body. The creature’s fanged mouth yawned open, large enough to engulf her head, as it hissed menacingly.

Magetha didn’t flinch. She rapped the creature on the end of its snout with her staff, causing the drake to snap its jaws shut and rear back in surprise.

“Stop that,” Magetha said sternly. “Shoo.”

The drake stared for a moment with its yellow, pupilless eyes. Then, almost sulkily, its wings folded against the scaled, green body and it wound itself back up into the ojobo’s limbs. In moments its shifting mass had disappeared into the canopy above.

Magetha thought furiously, eyes darting as she did so. She was still several days away from taking her monthly hallucinogens, and she couldn’t remember being poisoned recently. The Ekujae were more than a hundred miles from her home, and she hadn’t been traveling. How could she possibly be here? Except…

“Ah!” her weathered, wrinkled face broke into a grin beneath the wide brim of her hat. “It’s a dream then.”

Of course. Then she saw it. The jungle drake had been the closest, but now virtually every tree and bush around her held the menacing, shifting bulk of dragons. Many were jungle drakes, blending into the green mass of vegetation with their snake-like bodies. But what she had originally thought of as bright flowers were now clearly the red eyes of flame drakes. Several wyverns cracked branches above, their poison-tipped tails thrashing. The other, more normal, sounds of the jungle had disappeared, replaced by minor dragons of every color and imagination hissing and growling as they watched her.

“A nightmare of dragons,” Magetha mused. “How original. Even in old age, I didn’t think my mind would grow as simple as this. Alright then. Show me whatever mortal horrors you need to show me so I can awake and be on my way.”

As if in response, the jungle shook with a mighty earthquake, drakes and trees falling away before Magetha. The sound was thunderous, drowning out all thought. She dropped her cloth rag and steadied herself with two hands on her staff, the tip digging into the earth.

The earthquake faded, rumbling to silence. The jungle had gone still as a grave. The old woman briefly scanned her surroundings. To her left and right, drakes still littered the landscape. But they had all stopped moving, their heads and eyes trained on the wide, open expanse now in front of Magetha. She followed their collective gaze.

Trees had bent or fallen for a hundred yards, revealing an enormous skeleton half buried in the earth. Magetha’s eyes widened. She had never conceived a dragon so large. Its skull alone was fifty feet long, bristling with many wicked, curled horns.

And then the skeleton began to move. Slowly, as if waking from a long stupor, the claws of the thing began digging into the jungle floor. Slowly, slowly the skeletal bulk of the dragon pushed itself up and out of the ground, debris falling from the yellowed bones. Nothing else moved in the jungle, including Magetha herself. All stood transfixed as the mighty dragon rose. As it did so, red, scaly flesh began growing across the bones like rapidly expanding mold.

“Oh no,” Magetha breathed, her eyes like saucers, her pupils fully dilated. “Oh no no no no.”

The enormous dragon was half-flesh now, the corpse of a titan. When it fully freed itself from the jungle, its bulk filling Magetha’s vision and blotting out the sun, the horned head tilted back to the sky. Its massive jaws opened wide. The roar was the sound of a thousand, furious dragons in concert, echoing across the Mwangi and shaking the earth. It was the sound of an angry god.

 

Tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Mad Magetha screamed into the morning darkness, the dragon’s roar still echoing in her ears.

Zundar and the Booker

[Author’s note: I got the flu and then started working on the novel again, so there’s less to post here. But I am starting a new Pathfinder 2nd Edition game in which I get to play instead of GM and wrote up this sketch of my character.]

Giovani sat hunched over an Osirian scroll when the little bell at the front of his bookstore tinkled happily. The old man groaned, then painfully straightened, his back and joints popping. One day he would get a real chair instead of this damned, unbalanced stool he’d been using for decades.   

His gnarled finger, black from ink, pushed Giovani’s spectacles up his bulbous nose. The eyeglasses were round and thick, and made his eyes seem impossibly large on his face. Giovani glanced to the doorway with those owl eyes, blinked, and squeaked in alarm.

The thing that had pushed itself into his little bookstore was enormous — almost seven feet tall at first guess, with broad shoulders and elongated arms that hung almost to its knees. It had to crouch to avoid bumping its head on the ceiling, which made it seem even larger amidst the cramped shelves. Its skin was a ruddy, cerulean blue and hairless, with a bald head that was wide and pointy-eared. If it had been half its height it would have looked like a blue-skinned goblin. But at this size… 

“Hobgoblin!” Giovani blurted, his voice cracking. 

The thing grunted, seeming to notice the old bookstore proprietor for the first time. Crouching, it shuffled towards Giovani, clearly taking care not to knock over shelves as it approached. 

Giovani expected to be hit by the stench of the creature. But, though its scent was undeniably strong, he was surprised to find the hulking brute smelled something like a fresh Spring breeze. Giovani blinked again behind his eyeglasses and licked his lips nervously.

“I say. Um, quite unusual. May I– may I help you?” The old man’s voice squeaked out the end of the sentence. 

The hobgoblin grunted, looking around the bookstore with its menacing, all-white eyes. Giovani swallowed and his brow began to sweat.

“You the booker?” it asked, a voice low and growling.

“The– the what?” Giovani’s eyes blinked several times, lashes fluttering behind the spectacles.

“This,” the hobgoblin waved a hand the size of Giovani’s torso absently. “Bookstore, yeah? You the booker? You know books?”

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat. “This is indeed Giovani’s Rare Books and I am its proprietor, Giovani.”

The creature stared hard at him. 

Giovani’s voice quivered. “Yes, okay. I’m the–”

“Booker?” 

“If you say so, yes. I know books. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Dunno. Think so, yeah? See, I had a dream.”

“Dream?” Giovani asked, confused.

“Dream,” the hobgoblin nodded. “First time ever. Hopin’ you can tell me about it.”

“By the gods, man. Why would I be able to–”

The creature pounded one meaty fist into his other hand. “Gods! Knew a booker could help. Gods is what I need to know!”

“Please don’t hit me!” Giovani threw up his hands in defense and the crooked stool overbalanced. The old man fell backwards with a clunk, worn shoes flailing in the air.

“Hit you? Why would–” He looked down at his hands, one fist still wrapped in another. “Oh. Sorry. Scared you, huh?”

The creature shuffled around the small desk and loomed over the fallen Giovani, picking him up like a doll and standing him up. The puffs of white hair on either side of the bookseller’s head stood out crazily.

“Unhand me! I’m fine! Please, get off!” the old man grumped, pushing those giant hands away.

Giovani regarded the hobgoblin, who looked almost comically apologetic. It backed up a step and bumped into a bookshelf. The shelf swayed but stayed upright as the creature steadied it carefully. 

“Sorry, sorry.” That scent of Spring breeze rose up again pleasantly from its blue skin, filling the room. 

The old man sighed. 

“Most unusual, most unusual. Apologies. Perhaps I have misjudged you, my large friend. Please, let’s start again. From the beginning this time. What is your name?”

It was the hobgoblin’s turn to blink. He stared at Giovani for two heartbeats and finally rumbled, “Zundar.”

Giovani waved his small hand as the creature tried to reach past him. “No, no leave the stool please. The cursed thing can barely stand on its own anyway. You and I can just talk here.”

The hobgoblin settled back into place, looking huge and out of place in the bookstore. 

“Where are you from, Zundar?”

Zundar grunted. “Here. Cheliax. I, uh… made chains. For the Hellknights.”

“In the dungeons?” Giovani’s wild eyebrows rose. 

Zundar grunted ascent.

“Well, that’s honest labor, I suppose.” Giovani tried not to let his distaste for the Hellknights or their barbaric prisons show on his face. “How long have you been doing that?”

Zundar shrugged a massive shoulder. “Always. Born in the dungeons. Just saw the sky yesterday.”

“My goodness!” Giovani squeaked again. “Just yesterday! For the first time? How? Why?”

A lopsided grin touched the too-wide mouth on Zundar’s too-wide head. “Some guy talkin’ about it. Never seen it. Thought I should.”

Giovani was suddenly entranced. He smiled. “And what did you think of your first view of the sky, Zundar?”

“Pretty,” the hobgoblin said. His grin vanished. “But then… dreamed.”

“Ah, good. Yes, now we’ve come to it. Please, tell me about this dream. Was it of the sky?”

Zundar grunted, thinking. “A lion, yeah? Lightning in the hair around its head. Body a long snake. Lots of legs. Swam through the clouds. Talked to me. A lot. Said he was an old god.”

“Lion with a snake’s body,” Giovani was muttering to himself, tapping an ink-stained finger to his lip. “An old god, you say? Yes, well. Unusual. That sounds like Ranginori.”

“RANGINORI!” Zundar bellowed, and Giovani almost jumped out of his wrinkled skin. The hobgoblin seemed to notice the reaction and said, “Sorry, sorry. Not gonna hit you. That’s what he said his name was. Ranginori.”

“He… You say he spoke to you? In your dream?”

Zundar nodded his oversized head.

“And what did he tell you?”

The hobgoblin grunted. “Lotta things. Break all the chains. So I did. Broke all the chains. Let a bunch of people go. Right thing to do, yeah? People shouldn’t oughta be chained.”

Giovani blinked again in rapid succession. “I see. Zundar, when was this that you broke people’s chains in the dungeon?”

“This morning. Before I came here.”

The bookstore was silent for several heartbeats.

“And,” Giovani licked his lips, voice cracking again. “How many people did you free?”

Another shrug of an enormous shoulder. “Dunno. All of ‘em.”

Giovani swallowed. “I say, Zundar. That’s quite an extraordinary tale. Did the Hellknights try to stop you?”

“Yeah.”

“And what happened?”

Zundar shrugged.

“I see. Well, I believe I may be able to help you after all. Perhaps you can sit and make yourself comfortable on the floor there while I go close up the shop and find a book or two?”

“Okay,” the hobgoblin said in his monstrous growl. “Hey, uh… You’ll read ‘em, though, yeah? Don’t read.”

Giovani blinked. “Of course. Yes. I can do that.”

The lopsided grin returned. “Okay. Thanks, booker.”

 

AoA 05: The Bloody Blades

[author’s note: With all of these “Age of Ashes” posts, check out this blurb to explain what I’m doing. This is a quick scene showing Yoonla, our goblin bard who took a vow silence when her wife died prior to the campaign. Nehi was an adventurer, while Yoonla stayed at home. Here we see one of Nehi’s adventuring partners sharing the tough news with her, right before the players meet the Bloody Blades, the mercenary group who killed Nehi. It played out really well in game.]

Fade to black.

When we fade in, the scene has no sound.

Yoonla the goblin sat on a chair in her living room. Bowls of all sizes scattered around her, and she kicked them to an unheard beat. She plucked away at her banjo and sang, energetically and with a smile on her face.

She paused and set her banjo aside. Standing, the goblin practically skipped to the front door and threw it open with a shout.

Yoonla’s face transformed from exuberant delight to pleasant confusion as she found a male dwarf in battered armor at her doorstep, ornate axe slung across his back. The dwarf, though clearly a warrior, looked uncomfortable and unsure of himself… he shuffled his feet and looked at the floor instead of Yoonla’s face when he spoke. She stepped aside and let him in.

The two of them sat. Yoonla offered him something and he, still refusing to meet her eyes, shook his head. She reached out and placed a small hand on his, asking a question.

Red-faced, the dwarf began to speak. As he did, Yoonla’s eyes went wide, then filled with tears.

Then she screamed.

Even without sound the scream was primal and raw. The goblin pulled at her ears, kicked her feet against the floor, and rocked back and forth. When her lungs had emptied, she sucked in a ragged breath and screamed again. The dwarf was looking at her now, sorrow in his deeply wrinkled eyes.

Yoonla rolled onto the floor of her living room, curled into a ball, her face a mess of snot and tears as she cried. Her small body shuddered and heaved.

The dwarf gently knelt and gathered Yoonla in his arms, carrying her to the red loveseat in the room. He placed her and pat her shoulder awkwardly.

As he stood to leave, Yoonla’s skinny arm shot out to grab the dwarf’s wrist. Her tear-streaked face looked up imploringly, and even though no words came out, the dwarf knew her question.

“How?”

The dwarf frowned and dug into a pouch at his belt. He pulled out a cloth patch that had been crudely ripped from wherever it was sewn. He unfolded it and showed to Yoonla the image of a red sword.

 

 

The image fills the screen, and then we zoom out, seeing that same image of the emblem reflected in Yoonla’s wide eye here, now. We pan out and around to see the crude, red sword, the image clear on a flapping banner atop the lead watchtower in Guardian’s Way.