15th of Arodus, 4718 AR
The young elf looked out the window, toward the crowd gathered around a crier outside. The City of Kenabres, being a border town hugging the edge of The Worldwound, was in great distress. The crier was relating the latest news from the front — days ago, the capital Nerosyan had come under a massive attack from the demons, possibly signaling the start of a new war.
“Stop standing at the window! We don’t have much time!” yelled her brother.
Hayaku was standing nearby, holding her robe and symbol denoting membership in the Eagle Watch, the crusade order they were training for. For two years, Sophia and Hayaku had been training to join the crusaders’ army. Today, they would undergo the Final Review, and then take the Crusaders’ Oath during tomorrow’s Armasse festival.
But instead of the usual joy and anticipation, Armasse this year brought worry to Sophia, Hayaku and their family.
“Hurry up, you two,” said a female elf to them, coldly. “When you come up against actual demons, seconds will matter.”
Sophia thought their parents would finally be proud of them on this day. When she was a child, her older brother Thennaeus was a rising, promising officer in the army, but he died in a great battle during the Fourth Crusade. Soon after, their parents adopted Hayaku, a human made into an orphan by the war. As they grew up, Sophia and Hayaku constantly heard stories from their parents about their legendary brother, always with a hint of disappointment in their voices.
Their mother, Lyana, hesitated and said, “Your father won’t be at Armasse tomorrow.”
“Of course,” said Sophia. Their father, a decorated ranking officer, always said they weren’t fit to join a war against demons.
“You know your father,” she said. “And besides, I think we all know why he really doesn’t want to see you join the crusaders…”
They heard an abrupt knocking at the door. Lyana pressed out the wrinkles of her alchemist’s robe before opening the door. There stood an old lady with a toothless grin.
“Here he is!” Granma shoved a young man wearing a monk’s robe into the house.
“Rudis!” Hayaku and Sophia ran to the door to greet him.
“My little Rudi is going to take the Oath, tooo!” the old woman said as she pinched Hayaku’s and Sophia’s cheeks. “Just like my Pervus did, back when he was a young whipper-snapper.”
“Tell us another story!” said Hayaku.
“Why! Back during the Third Crusade…”
Lyana sighed and retreated into the house to finish preparing Sophia’s bag. She returned to the room.
“… And then he came back from the Abyss, and stepped through my front door dripping with blood, holding an intestine that he’d ripped out of—“
“Must you speak of such things?”
Granma furrowed her eyebrows with disapproval.
“Well, they’ll be seeing far worse things, once they go to war.” She turned to Rudis: “Oh, you will be so happy when I give you your Big Surprise tomorrow!”
Rudis grinned. Sophia looked at her mother.
“Do you have a gift for me? Like a potion or something?”
“No,” Ayana said. “You know how we are about gifts. Everything you get—“
“—I must earn. Yes, I know.”
“It’s time to go!” Granma said, and they left out the door.
They headed outside and walked toward the training academy located on the hill at the center of town. The sunrise was glorious this morning — the proud spires of St. Clydwell’s Cathedral stood atop the hill, dappled in golden light.
Half a mile away, in a fortified stone inn called Defender’s Heart, a tiefling sat at a bar drinking strong spirits. She had striking, angular features, and a tail that extended out along the bar stool. Other patrons of the bar looked at her suspiciously.
“So what brings you ‘round these parts, young lady?” said the innkeeper Kimroth Otai, as he refilled her glass with his one remaining arm.
She surveyed him with her reddish pupils and looked away.
“Well, you’ll need to better them manners of your’n since you’re in a crusader town, if you gets my meanin’,” he said, before walking over to a table of soldiers to hear latest news.
Sophia, her family and friends entered the grandiose, arched portal leading to the Training Academy. A regal-looking paladin was leading other recruits through their final training exercises. He welcomed the group and shook their hands. He turned to Hayaku.
“So our big day is tomorrow!” Ezuri said. Although his talent and experience had already earned him the responsibility of training other recruits within the Eagle Watch, he had yet to be reviewed by the central command and had not yet taken the Crusader’s Oath.
“Lord Hulrun has arrived! Prepare for The Review!” yelled an officer. All the soldiers — Sophia, Hayaku, Rudis and Ezuri included — lined up and stood at attention. Hulrun, clad in resplendent golden plate mail, clasped his hands behind his back and walked past the line, eyeing the initiates.
An old man in a hooded robe arrived soon later and also walked down the line, surveying the recruits. Upon seeing Sophia’s friends, Enomir’s eyes lit up. He reached the end of the line and whispered in the ear of Lord Hulrun. Hulrun yelled, “You all have passed The Review. Congratulations.”
Sophia was shocked — was that it?
“All tender-hearted souls of the nation of Mendev — of all of Golarion — will honor you for generations to come, for the grave duty you will undertake,” continued Lord Hulrun. “I am honored to welcome you to take the Crusaders’ Oath tomorrow. At ease.”
The recruits turned to each other and began to share the latest news about the war. Enomir shuffled over to Sophia’s group, and asked them to walk with him to an adjoining room.
They followed, only to stumble a scene: a group of crusaders were taunting a young woman with reddish eyes.
“A DEMON fighting demons!? Absurd!” one of the crusaders yelled, spitting in the tiefling’s face. “We can’t have more things like you sabotaging the army!”
The Eagle Watch leader — a half-orc officer named Irabeth — walked in between.
“This is a war, Everbright Crusaders,” Irabeth said. “And surely you know we must welcome with open arms all individuals who are committed to closing the Worldwound.”
“Who are you to speak, you who defile the morals of this Crusade!”
Irabeth narrowed her eyes, struggling to not retort.
Enomir walked amongst them, which caused all of them to step away at once.
“Captain Irabeth is right,” he said. “We need the talents of all our warriors. After all the Everbright Crusaders are the fiercest of our number, and so we tolerate you and your arrogant attitudes.”
The Everbright Crusaders turned and walked away, and the tiefling chuckled. Enomir introduced her to Sophia and the group.
“This is Oblivia,” he said. Ezuri, an aasimar, looked at her with suspicion. “Do not mind her appearance. I have selected the five of you for special mission, for I sense that you are destined for great things, and you warrant my personal attention. My first piece of advice to you: do not trust all who present themselves as crusaders. In fact, what I will ask you is in regard to a traitor I am certain is in our midst… Speak to me tomorrow, after the Crusaders’ Oath, once it is proper to receive your mission. For now, I will arrange to have your weapons enchanted.”
He asked them to hand over their best weapons to be enchanted by arcanists.
“And after you speak with me, you will have an audience with Terendelev himself.”
They gasped and looked at each other, surprised they would have the rare honor of speaking to the silver dragon.
“Oh, and one thing,” Enomir said. “And when you are at the ceremony, tell me if you notice anyone on the stage who is not all that they appear. I should like to know who among you can tell.”
Ezuri and Hayaku chatted excitedly in the line of recruits waiting to take the Crusaders’ Oath. Sophia warned them against pulling a prank during such a solemn ceremony, but they were undeterred.
Before them, on the stage, was Lord Hulrun giving the ceremonial speech, flanked by other officers of the Kenabres crusaders. Behind them stood St. Clydwell’s Cathedral under the noon sun. Toward the back of the line of recruits, Sophia examined her pack to make sure she had all her things. She stumbled upon something she had never seen before: a bottle, with a note attached: “With love, L.”
Sophia looked for her mother in large assembly. There was Lyana, sitting next to Granma… and Sophia’s father! He looked uncomfortable in his plate mail armor and was constantly shifting, as Granma snapped at him to stop moving.
“This morning a great blow was dealt to the demons around Kenabres,” declared Lord Hulrun, to the sound of cheers. “Aponavicius’ forces are now preparing to lay siege to the capital. But as we know, we must prepare for a long war. As a border city, Kenabres–”
A booming explosion rent the air. Sophie, Hayaku, Ezuri, Rudis, and the rest of the crowd looked westward toward the sound. Where the city’s magical wardstone had once stood and held off the entrance of the demons, a gigantic pillar of blue fire now stood, heavy, black smoke wafting toward the sky.
“Prepare for battle!” yelled Hulrun. The crowd, filled with soldiers and citizens, filled with the ringing of steel has blades left sheaths. Emerging from nothing, several red dragons now floated around the crowd. They belched forth fire, reducing much of the crowd into cinders. People, some of them in flames, began to scatter and flee from the plaza. Rudis desperately looked for Granma in the scattering crowd. The frail old man, Enomir, began to change as if made out of liquid, growing into a gigantic silver dragon. Terendelev’s large shadow loomed over the plaza, as he clamped his jaws around the neck of one the red dragons.
A dimensional rift appeared, a vertical sliver toward the back of the plaza. A horned balor demon, crackling with lightning stepped through it. The rift opened a fissure into the ground that ran through the ground Sophia and many others! People fell into the deep fissure, a few of them desperately clinging to the edges. The balor demon, Khorramzadeh, lashed his fire whip through them, and then leaped onto Terendelev’s back wielding an crackling greatsword. Terendelev flew into the air…
Sophia, Rudis, and Ezuri scrambled to help people climb out of the fissure. Rudis heaved out a large man wearing noble finery and looked for more survivors.
Suddenly, they heard a sickening tearing sound. Above, Terendelev was falling through St. Clydwell’s Cathedral. The stone spires crumbled and rained down upon the plaza. When the great dragon fell, debris scattered all over, making it difficult see. His head fell near Sophia and the others. They looked up at his eyes, which looked terrified. The rift opened wider beneath them, the suddenness of which caused Sophia, Hayaku, their friends, and many around them to plummet. Khorramzadeh heft up a crackling greatsword, as the dragon extended a claw — suddenly, Sophia felt herself floating slowly downward.
With a giant heave, the demon sliced clean through the dragon’s neck. His eyes showed no emotion as the party floated downward. The rift above them closed, and all was dark.
Sophia found herself lying amongst rubble, with sounds of coughing around her. Dust filled her throat. She cast light and found herself in a cavern. Around her lay bodies, crushed by the impact of the fall. Some had survived somehow — gratefully, she found her brother Hayaku, Rudis, and Ezuri. Several others had survived, including the tiefling Oblivia and Horgus Gwerm, the nobleman Rudis had rescued.
“Ow!” yelled Horgus. Rudis stepped back. There was an abrasion on his left temple. Otherwise, Horgus looked relatively fine. “I need healing!”
Hayaku found a woman named Anevia among the rubble, a large rock on her leg. After the party helped her out, she tried to stand up and yelped in pain — her leg had been broken. Hayaku used his substantial healing skills on her, and found some wooden splinters and improvised a brace for her leg.
Hayaku also helped an elven wizard who had horrible burns all over his face — his eyes had burned been the the balor’s fire whip. His name was Aravashnial. After Hayaku gave him some magical healing, Aravashnial said that he, too — seemed to be held aloft during the fall, as if by magic. In fact, all eight of them reported the same experience.
Aravashnial thanked Hayaku for his healing and stood up, an improvised blindfold hiding his eyes. He asked the group what their various talents were, assigning roles to the party.
“Look!” said Ezuri.
Before them was what looked like a gigantic spider, but it lay motionless. Ezuri stepped forward to examine it. The thing seemed to pulsate, before two giant maggots erupted out of it.
The party dealt with the threat quickly — although their best weapons were not with them, Ezuri smashed them with his warhammer and Rudis, who needed no weapons, pounded them dead with his fists.
The group, searched the rubble for more survivors. Among the rubble were several glowing silver scales. When Sophia touched one, she had a sudden intuition: this was a scale imparted to her by Terendelev. It would give her the ability to float above the ground when she commanded it. Ezuri found a scale that imbued his weapons with holy power. Hayaku found a scale that offered protection against the elements. Rudis found a scale that allowed him to be magically disguised. Oblivia found a scale that ____.
“Bah!” said Horgus. “Luck be cursed. My scale does nothing!”
“It would seem that Terendelev did not like you, either,” muttered Anevia. Horgus glared at her.
“We are blessed with good fortune,” said Ezuri. “First, Terendelev protected us from a fatal fall. And now we have these scales, imbued with his blessing.”
He muttered a prayer of thanks to Terendelev and wished him good fortune in the afterlife. The cavern had two adjoining tunnels leading outward. The party pocketed their silver scales and ventured further into the black…
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