4 Gozran, 4720 AR
After spending the evening with Lira attempting to make sense of the notes in the unfamiliar language, Nasti takes the map and sketch to Chendrea the White, hoping the wizard will be able to translate. Amaya tags along against the tiefling’s protests. The white-haired half-elf smiles warmly as she looks up from the counter of the Scrivener’s Guild storefront.
“Nastassia, darling! Good to see you again, luv.”
“Been a minute, I know,” Nasti replies, blushing just-perceptibly. “I have a missive in a language I just cannot crack and was hoping you might at least know what it is.”
“A language YOU don’t know? Never thought I’d see the day. Let’s have a look, then, shall we?”
“Even the alphabet is odd, yes.” She reaches into her bag to retrieve her journal.
Amaya finds a corner and pulls out a snack. Chendrea casts a smoky gaze over at her. “Don’t think I’ve got no love for you, Yaya.” When Amaya does not respond, Chendrea continues. “Not sure why you insist on being so quiet, though. Is she really this shy?” she asks Nasti.
“Sometimes? She’s the quiet one out of the three of us, for what that’s worth,” says the tiefling. She draws the two pieces of parchment from where they are tucked into the pages of her journal and hands it over.
Chendrea the White glances over the documents for a moment, her face squinching up adorably. “Remind me, darling. You know Elven, obviously. And didn’t you tell me you also learned Aklo – the gods know why?”
“Because evil fey speak it sometimes, right.”
“That’s right. I forgot.” The half-elf smiles.
“You did no such thing.”
The smile turns smirky and Chendrea stretches like a cat. "It’s funny that you missed this one in your linguistic collection because it’s basically the bastard cousin of those two.
“Then you recognize it? What is it?”
“A tongue known as ‘Undercommon.’ “Don’t ask me how I’M familiar with it. Misspent youth. Mum’s the word.” She winks.
Nasti’s eyebrow raises of its own accord. “I’ll tell you about the drow I met yesterday if you tell me the story… later, anyway.”
“You don’t say,” she says. “It’s a date.”
“Ooh,” says Canter.
“STOP that,” Nasti grumbles, but with a laugh in there somewhere.
“But for now, to business. Not much here, of course.” She pushes the sketch of the shattered gate over and points at the writing. “Ruined! No salvageable sigils,” she translates, glancing up at Nasti to see if that means anything to her.
The tiefling nods. “This was a gate that demons tried to use to … swap part of the Abyss with part of Golarion. Lucky for us, the people who want to open it again are having difficulty doing so.”
Now Chendrea’s eyebrows crawl upward slightly. “Now that IS something.”
“My cousins and I are trying to find out what flavor of something it is, exactly.”
“I see.” Her brow furrows in concern. “Do be careful, darling. All three of you.”
“We’ll try, anyway. Does it say anything else?”
She shakes her head in the negative but proffers the map. “This is marked … that doesn’t look like a word, but the rest of it is something like ‘hunting lodge,’ as best I can tell. It shows a path through a forest to a square marked ‘cabin,’ then a scrawled ‘trapdoor hearthstone,’ with stairs leading down to this … demon arch?” She puzzles over the weird word for a long moment.
“Could it be ‘Slaughtergarde’?”
“What is Slaughtergarde?” Chendrea asks casually. “Sounds icky.”
“The Abyssal fortress that the demons brought into our world; now it’s the Slaughterscar.”
“Gracious. I do look forward to hearing a story of yours that doesn’t have horrible twists. Alas, not today.”
“I may have one. It’d be somebody else’s, but I may have one.”
Chendrea nods, considering the word for a moment more. Then she snort-laughs. “My gods, that’s silly. This is – apparently – a phonetic approximation of a name: Surrinak.”
“Like the castle.”
Chendrea nods. “Or the family. Since this seems to refer to their Hunting Lodge. So, does that help?”
Chendrea beams radiantly, which sets Nasti’s tail into an involuntary, lazy swish.
“Indeed. Is there … anything else I can interest you in before you go? Either of you?” she amends, glancing over at Amaya.
“Nothing I can afford today,” says Nasti. She is visibly sweating.
The wizard’s gaze threatens to set Amaya slowly ablaze. “Yaya?” She seems to delight in saying it. Amaya blushes and nearly chokes on her snack. After a long moment, Chendrea relents, smiling normally once again. “Tomorrow night too soon, Nastassia?”
The tiefling makes a growl that’s more animalistic than usual. “That sounds fine. Shall I find you here?”
“Absolutely. I’m so dreadfully predictable,” she lies deliciously. “Don’t be a stranger, Yaya. And keep up the good work. I love it so.” She winks.
“Uh, later Chendrea,” Amaya manages. Nasti flicks out her Tien fan and gives the wizard a wink over it before departing.
Once they’re outside, Canter tells Nasti, “You should have said ‘Not soon enough.’”
“Crap, you’re right. You’re a telepath, you puffy little jerk. Help a sister OUT next time.”
“And miss the show? Pffft. PFFFT I SAY.” To Amaya, the familiar says, “This has been going on for TWO YEARS.”
Amaya picks up Canter, “Does Nova know? If not we need to tell her everything?”
He makes a little trill noise. “You’re right. Humiliation like this means nothing if it isn’t shared.”
“Yup. I see why you wanted to come here alone, Nasti.”
“So, Surrinak,” says the tiefling.
“Yeah…” says Amaya.
* * *
The cousins spend the next several days more or less going about their daily lives.
Nasti disappears into her tiny apartment with the Abyssal texts trying to find anything pertinent to Slaughtergarde. She surfaces occasionally to visit the family, who comment that she seems a little twitchier than normal. She waves them off, citing lack of sleep.
Nova consults the omens, which consistently give her the distinct impression that something bad is coming soon. Anticipating she will need more powerful magic in the near future, she meditates and reaches more deeply into her Mystery, tapping Amaya to monitor her health throughout the process. The oracle also helps her mother out with fortune-telling during the days and spends her time with the band during the evenings, either practicing or gigging.
Amaya sticks with her daily regimen of exercise, meditation, and reading. She regularly has dinner with her folks, who comment about her living in a flophouse. She mildly mentions that they told her she couldn’t just live with them for the rest of her life and she was staying in accommodations she felt she could afford. Tajic holds his tongue about the expensive magical equipment his daughter owns, belying the statement.
* * *
7 Gozran, 4720 AR
Amaya pulls some night shifts as security for various taverns, sometimes overlapping with one of Nova’s shows. One such evening, she notices an elven woman speaking with Jamil, and Nova introduces her to Naryalla.
“An old friend and fellow bard,” Jamil says, “down from Silvermont to visit and compare notes." He winces at the accidental pun.
“Greetings,” says Naryalla, her voice mellifluous. “I love what Calamity is doing to the scene.”
“I appreciate the feedback from another artist,” Jamil says. The two peel off to talk shop, leaving the cousins with a Dren, passed out on the table.
“Are those two…?” says Amaya.
Nova shrugs. “Maybe? I don’t know. They’re both very … into themselves, as far as I can tell.”
“Right. I guess Lira should be more worried about Jamil’s self-involvement standing in the way of her delusions.”
* * *
10 Gozran, 4720 AR
“You must be Tajic’s daughter, Amaya?” says a lilting voice, approaching the half-elf’s street-side café table, where she was enjoying her regular afternoon cup of tea.
“Yup, that’s me,” she says, turning to see a well-dressed human woman wearing a breastplate.
“Armin Harrak, Knight Luminous,” says the woman, offering her hand. “A pleasure.”
Amaya stands and shakes her hand. “Will you join me for some tea?”
“Of course. Thank you.” She orders black tea and settles herself into the chair opposite Amaya. “I was hoping to speak with you and your cousins about the report your father filed. It landed on my desk, you see.”
Amaya nods. “So how can we help you?”
“I wanted to hear your firsthand account of the Laboratory ruins and anything you may have learned about the ‘Temple’ he mentions. The written word is well and good, but as your father taught me when I was just a recruit, primary witnesses are better.”
“Understood.” Amaya tells the story of the excursion to the Laboratory, starting with Vintra Marktunsel hiring them to recover Chicane Guild goods. She details the initial encounter with Fiznip and Oznog, which led to the cousins striking a deal with the lesser denizens of the facility against their new boss, the demonologist hobgoblin Nambrakh.
She talks about the strange shape-shifting hyena-man, the undead crafted from “weak” hobgoblins, and Nambrakh’s frustrated attempts to tap into the magic of the broken gate. She discusses the second trip, slaying the yeth hounds, and what they learned about Slaughtergarde from speaking with the doorwarden. Then she backs up to talk about the encounter with the dark elves.
“Nasti got the drow talking enough to confirm the existence of the ‘Temple’ mentioned in Nambrakh’s notes. Then we found a sketch of the shattered gate in the Laboratory and a map, each labeled with notes in Undercommon. So, we have a pretty good idea where we might find another piece of Slaughtergarde.”
Armin grins. “You are refreshingly forthright, Amaya. I like you.”
“No sense in hiding anything about this. Especially if it can bring harm to people I care about.”
“Well said. I think I have enough to send knights to investigate the Laboratory on behalf of the Order and prevent undesirables from taking up residence … again.”
“I would still like to speak with the other two, in case they – somehow – remember something in addition to everything you’ve said.” Her smile is self-abasing.
“Of course. I’ll be meeting with Nova shortly to help with her combat training.”
“Oh? Would it be too much trouble for me to accompany you? Or would you prefer to speak with your cousins first?”
“Oh, it’s no trouble. We can go now if you’d like.”
“Well, let’s finish our tea first.”
“Sounds good to me.”
* * *
Nova is on the ground reading the cards when Amaya approaches the training ground with Armin. “Hey, I brought a friend. This is Armin. Armin, these are Nova, Nasti, and Canter.”
“Hello!” says Nova, standing up and dusting herself off. Nasti’s staff clatters to the ground as she seizes even this excuse to stop exerting herself.
Armin issues a half-bow. “Charmed, ladies. And … winged cat?”
“Hiya! I’m Canter.”
“He’s a ferocious beast,” says Amaya, Amaya picks up Canter and gives him skritches.
“In his own mind, for sure,” says Nova.
“You said it, ‘Yaya.’ Rawr,” says Canter.
Armin covers a smile, “I see. Then I shall be on my best behavior.” She introduces herself more formally and reiterates why she has come, explaining that Amaya has done a thorough job of describing their adventures in the Slaughtergarde Laboratory.
“You are a little far from home, Armin. It’s a pleasure to meet one of your Order.”
“Thank you. Though the circumstance may yet prove dire, it is good to feel like we might serve a greater purpose once more.”
“Interesting,” says Nasti. “We have come across a little more information since that report was filed.” The tiefling provides additional information gleaned from the Abyssal compendiums, and Armin listens diligently.
A thousand years ago, a sorcerous demon prince named Mu-Tahn Laa set his sights on the millions of souls on the Material Plane. As he gathered demon hordes and depraved mortals to his layer of the Abyss, known as the Mountains of Sorrow Beyond Measure, he began plotting. Mu-Tahn Laa’s initial plans quickly reached an impasse. The energy required to sustain a gate to Golarion large enough to march an army through was incalculable. Even if he could accumulate enough power to create such a gate, the forces of good could quickly thwart his invasion by attacking the gate in the world, where defending it would be difficult. Mu-Tahn Laa’s frustration was so great that even the screams of the innocent provided no succor. He brooded on his black throne, contemplating other means to reach the Material Plane.
Mu-Tahn Laa consulted with various advisors and eventually conceived a fiendish plan. He cast off his despondency and started a series of eldritch trials, using his rival’s minions (and sometimes his rivals themselves) as experiments. After decades of research, Mu-Tahn Laa’s efforts bore fruit. If his cults could provide enough energy in the form of souls who were honored and then sacrificed, Mu-Than Laa could actually transpose part of the Abyss and Golarion. Several square miles of the Mountains of Sorrow Beyond Measure could become part of the Material Plane. The corresponding territory on Golarion would be part of the Abyss forever.
The transposition would be a one-way trip, so Mu-Tahn Laa began to hollow out a mountain, packing it with his armies and enough supplies for an extended campaign on the Material Plane. Mindful of the risk of failure, the demon prince thought it prudent to build some smaller gates connecting the mountain-fortress to the Abyss. He couldn’t retreat an army back through those gates, but he and his personal retinue should be able to travel between the two planes unimpeded.
After years of toil, Mu-Tahn Laa’s mountain fortress, which he named Slaughtergarde, was ready. Mortal cults, responding to whispered promises of dark power, began gathering in a remote mountain valley where the barrier between worlds was weaker. The demons were coming to Golarion, and they were coming to stay.
“The doorwarden provided a little more information about what happened after the demons came across,” Nasti concludes.
“Right, I told her what it said,” says Amaya.
Armin nods. “Thank you for that information,” says Armin. “It fills in a few gaps in what the Order knows about the time before Mu-Tahn Laa attacked.”Slaughtergarde was indeed a bold plan, preceding the opening of the Worldwound by seven centuries. It seems Deskari learned from some of Mu-Tahn Laa’s mistakes. Fortunately, that situation has since been rectified.
“Could you tell us a little more about the Order?” says Nova.
“Of course. The Luminous Order is an offshoot of the Knights of Ozem, now known as the Knights of Lastwall. It was founded specifically to defend against the impending demonic threat in the Valley of Obelisks at the time, as indicated in the portents received by so many at the time. If you are interested, I can share a little more detail from the historical texts the Order has regarding Slaughtergarde.”
Nasti rushes to her pack to get her journal and sits in front of Armin, ready. “No apple for teacher?” Canter teases, but she shushes him.
“You have informed me of what transpired in the Abyss before the invasion, and the doorwarden you encountered shared mortal preparations to this threat, but the Order has detailed records about the battle itself. It is written that as the sun set on the first day of the Battle of Slaughtergarde, the black obelisks began their work – siphoning away the power of the demon prince’s magic, threatening to throw his entire fortress back to the Abyss.”
“So THAT’s what the obelisks do. Did,” says Nasti.
Armin inclines her head. “Indeed. We were blessed to have them. And the forewarning that presaged them. Perhaps seeking power to stanch the eldritch bleeding, Mu-Tahn Laa crossed the valley to where Firestorm Peak blazed beneath the Dragon’s Tear. Mortal heroes met him there as the obelisks drew more of Slaughtergarde’s power away, and the fortress began to break apart. At first, it crumbled around the edges, but as the forces of good redoubled their efforts, the entire mountain began to quake as if about to erupt. Before sunrise, in an upheaval loud enough to be heard across a continent, Slaughtergarde exploded.”
“Did Mu-Tahn Laa fall at that moment as well?” asks Nova.
“It is believed so,” says Armin. “At any rate, there is no record of him having been seen nor heard of since. At the time, satisfied that Golarion was safe, most mortals returned to their homes. The celestial host, aided by a few brave mortal natives, including the Luminous Order, turned its efforts toward tracking down stragglers from Mu-Tahn Laa’s horde.”
“Now, eight centuries after the Battle of Slaughtergarde, most have forgotten all about it. The only reminders that it ever happened are a sinister crater where the transposed mountain briefly stood – the Slaughterscar – and a network of crumbling black obelisks.”
It was thought that all of its wreckage hurtled across the void between the planes to its proper place in the Abyss, though thanks to you, we now know that not to be true. Slaughtergarde was not destroyed in total, nor was its return to the Abyss complete. A few chunks of Slaughtergarde must have retained enough of Mu-Tahn Laa’s transposition magic to embed themselves in the Material Plane – perhaps permanently. And if two parts of Slaughtergarde survived, perhaps others did too,” Armin muses.
“I was thinking about checking out that hunting lodge,” says Nasti. “About asking these two if it’s the sort of thing we ought to do.”
“Dangerous thoughts. Drow are not to be taken lightly.”
“I’m in,” Nova says as she summons a small pocket of deep space around a target about fifty feet away then holds it for as long as she can.
“Oh, wow,” says Nasti, impressed at the display of power.
“Yes, indeed,” says Armin solemnly. "Your lead on its location is an unfortunate political snag, actually. Members of our order can’t strike directly at the Surrinak holdings without possibly arousing other nobles against us. But if independent agents such as yourselves could prove something’s rotten in Surrinak country, we can safely become involved and clean it up.
“Any idea what we can expect to deal with in that area?” says Nova.
“The Surrinaks are an old and insular family. Their castle overlooks rich farmland and is protected from the west by Redbark Grove, so the Surrinaks are collectively some of the most powerful landowners in the Valley of Obelisks. Trespassers are treated harshly on Surrinak lands—their house guard is the law for miles beyond their castle. You may be challenged merely making it to the hunting lodge.”
Nasti nods. “I wonder if we can invent a reason to visit that might hold any water. Are there any tainted objects you specifically know about that are unaccounted for? That we should keep an eye out for?”
“None, unfortunately,” says Armin. “Until your report about the Laboratory and the Temple came to light, no one had heard of pieces of Slaughtergarde still on Golarion. So. Congratulations, I suppose. You’re pioneers.”
“I wonder if they like good music,” says Nova with a grin.
“You would be hard-pressed to get a chance of audience,” says Armin. “Stealth may well be the safest and most successful approach.”
“We can be sneaky. Well, sneaky enough,” says Nasti.
Armin nods. “If you find another part of Slaughtergarde beneath Surrinak lands, which I suspect you will, I implore you to destroy any tainted objects you come across. If you find something you can’t destroy yourselves, bring it to the Shining Citadel when you’re done exploring the situation and the site. If worse comes to worst, on your return, tell me about objects you had to leave at the site. I’ll make arrangements in such a case, and for your work, I am authorized to pay you upon your return. In addition, I’ll give you a commendation to the Luminary champions, the leaders of our order.”
“That all sounds pretty good to me,” says Nasti.
“We appreciate that,” says Nova. “Although I have a feeling we would have been heading down there regardless.”
Armin smiles, then turns to the half-elf. “Amaya, you have remained quiet. What are your thoughts?”
“I’m in,” she says simply.
Armin nods, once. “I will take lodging in Sumberton for the time being. I thank you. The Order thanks you. The Valley thanks you.”
* * *
“You want me to lead you WHERE??” says Amaya’s sister Marwyn incredulously.
“The Surrinak hunting lodge,” Amaya repeats blandly.
“Are you out of your minds? You are. You’re out of your minds.”
“I know, it’s bloodseeker-shit crazy, but here we are,” says Nasti.
“I think it’ll be fun,” says Nova.
“No offense, Jen, but your ideas of fun have always been a little neeehh,” Marwyn makes a vague hand gesture.
“Maybe, yeah. But I’m usually right!”
“And when you’re wrong, someone ELSE has to drag you back out of the mess.”
“That’s why we’re going,” Nasti says, indicating herself and Amaya.
“Oh, c’mon… That was just ONE time. And look,” says Nova, pointing at her hair. “No one has to hold my hair anymore.”
“Convenient!” enthuses Canter.
“One time that I am PERSONALLY aware of, yes. I’ve NO reason to think that was the only time.” Marwyn glares at them all silently for a long moment. “Well, OBVIOUSLY, I cannot do this in any official capacity. I’d be court-martialed. And hanged. Well, assuming I survived the Surrinaks. Wait. You haven’t told Dad about this, have you? The Surrinak part, I mean.”
“Yessss,” says Amaya.
“WHAAAAT?? Well, now none of us can go. You idiot.”
“No?” says Amaya.
Marwyn holds up a hand to forestall any more words from her sister and looks at Nasti. “Tell me the truth. This one has decided to be a butt.”
“Well, MY dad signed my permission slip. I don’t know if she talked to hers. I can’t keep eyes on her ALL the time, even if I can see through Canter’s, too.”
“GAAAHHH!” says Marwyn, casting her gaze over to Nova.
“I have not told your father,” says the human.
“Very helpful wording, Jen.” Marwyn sighs.
“I’m pretty sure that if she HAD told him, we wouldn’t be out here being left to our own devices right now.”
Amaya puts her arm around Marwyn, “Come on, it’ll be fun. Just like old times.”
Marwyn very pointedly removes her sister’s arm from her. “Old Times were TERRIBLE! But okay, okay. For the sake of argument, let’s say Nova has a point about not being tied up in sacks for our own good by an over- nay, in this case – APPROPRIATELY protective father.”
“In all seriousness, this IS important. Our home is in danger. And WE have a chance to do something about it. Please help us.”
“Jenova, you idiot,” Marwyn says fondly. “You know I was never going to not help you. If I did, you’d all die, and then I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Now THAT’s what I like to hear,” says Nova.
“I love it when a plan comes together,” says Amaya.
Marwyn’s shoulders slump. “You are all still crazy. And jerks. Except Canter, who is a scrumptious victim of circumstance. Nom nom nom,” she says while petting the familiar.
“Yes,” says the familiar.
“Charming jerks who love our extended family very much," says Nasti.
“Fine. When are we leaving on this madwoman’s errand?” says Marwyn.
“First light is traditional, innit?” says Canter.
Nova leans over to Amaya and quietly says, “You didn’t really tell your dad, right?”
“Of course not. I value my skin.”