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A century ago, the death of Aroden transformed the culture and politics of the Inner Sea nations. In the distant north in a land once known as Sarkoris, it changed the world itself, knocking Golarion out of metaphysical alignment in the direction of the Abyss, a nightmare realm in the Great Beyond, screaming with wicked souls and vicious demons. While many attribute the Worldwound to the machinations of Deskari, the Lord of the Locust Host, in truth another ancient demon lord was long established in Sarkoris.
Tsar, the great temple-city to the Demon Prince of the Undead, stood for centuries as a bastion of evil and hate. Foul beings of all kinds flocked to its mighty walls and found succor and purpose within. At its heart stood the great Citadel of Orcus, the black heart of Orcus worship on Golarion. Countless evils were perpetuated in those corrupt precincts, and equally countless wicked plots were hatched and carried out therein. Far from the reaches of civilization, Tsar flourished unchecked like a great blight on the land.
When the Worldwound erupted, Sarkoris was destroyed nearly overnight. As word of Sarkoris's swift and dramatic fall spread, the church of Iomedae was equally swift to react. Still reeling from the loss of their deity's patron, an obvious threat like a demonic incursion was precisely the thing that the Iomedaean faithful needed to stave off true despair—her champions and priests threw themselves into the crusade against the Worldwound with an almost reckless abandon, not only to blunt their own horror at Aroden's death, but also because they believed it was their responsibility to pacify Sarkoris and seal the Worldwound.
To this end, the leaders of Iomedae's church and those of several other religions decreed the First Mendevian Crusade, as well as the three that followed. Zealous followers of the Inheritor from throughout Avistan still travel up the Sellen River to Mendev in an attempt to support the crusaders. The first efforts to pacify the Worldwound met with considerable success: the demonic hosts were driven back and the crusaders stood sentinel over the land.
Then, the crusaders turned their attentions to the long-standing city of Tsar. This crusader army, raised from all nations and almost every non-evil faith marched for Tsar. In command of this army the church of Iomedae placed the archmage Zelkor. Supported by innumerable knight commanders, wizards, church patriarchs and scores of heroes of renown, Zelkor quickly advanced his army from its staging ground of Nerosyan, through Tsar's outermost defensive positions and into the great plain that surrounded the temple-city itself. Flush with their many quick victories, the First Crusade suddenly found arrayed against itself seemingly endless legions of every sort of vile warrior-race and fell outsider imaginable called up from all over the multiverse and lining the battlements and fields before their redoubt—one of the greatest fortresses and citadels ever erected in that time. The beginnings of doubt seeped into the ranks of the First Crusade.
However, hope was not lost as the heavens opened up and flight upon flight of angels and celestial beings descended from on high to swell the ranks of the Crusade. With grim determination in both camps, battle was joined on the plain before the gates of Tsar. The war raged for over a year, the Crusade advancing to the very foot of the walls and then being pushed back by a new surge of demonic power. The disciples of Orcus led by the Grand Cornu, Orcus's single highest-ranking priest on Golarion, threw every vile attack they could at the Crusade in defense of their city. Rains of horrific fire and acid fell from the skies or belched from fissures in the ground, great constructs crushed their foes before them, terrible clouds of poisonous gas choked entire regiments, and heretofore unknown plagues swept through the troops causing thousands of horrible deaths among the Crusade. Nevertheless the forces of the crusade persevered and fought on.
Finally, though the battle seemed no closer to victory, the fates seemed to smile on the Crusade. Unexpectedly the city fell. In a single night in 4638 AR the entire city virtually emptied of defenders as they all were magically transported to a point several miles outside the city's walls, complete with baggage train and mounts for many. The magical expenditure necessary to complete this miraculous maneuver cost the Grand Cornu his very life in sacrifice to Orcus, but the legions of the demon prince had broken free from the Army of Light's cordon. They immediately took flight before the stunned Mendevian Crusade, heading northeast towards the Worldwound.
Zelkor and his fellow commanders were immediately suspicious of this sudden retreat but could not afford to allow the combined followers of Orcus concentrated in one place to escape and spread their insidious evil again. Then, still with a seed of doubt niggling in his mind, Zelkor ordered his army in pursuit of the fleeing legions. The armies reached northern crusader city of Drezen, which formerly stood within the borders of Mendev. The malign, almost sentient chaos of the Worldwound, however, was not content to stay within its carefully proscribed borders. In an opportunistic counterstroke, the demon-hordes within the Worldwound overwhelmed its guardians and protective enchantments, flowing forth like a black tide. The city of Drezen, caught between the forces of Orcus and the Worldwound, fell under the influence of the Abyss. The combined force turned back upon the armies of the First Crusade. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and warriors drowned in the demonic wave that followed, depleting the armies of Mendev and necessitating the Second Mendevian Crusade.
Venture-Captain Jarina al-Mullam closes the heavy tome with a sigh. The Keleshite woman looks around at all of you with her serene and insightful gaze. "Since that time, staunching the expansion of the Worldwound has been the focus of the crusades, now on its fourth iteration. Tsar was forgotten, and the land around it shunned and remembered only as the Desolation. It is with great gravity that we send you on this mission, Pathfinders. Exploring these ruins and recovering the unimagined artifacts within is of tantamount importance."
"But if we were to send anyone into a situation as treacherous as this, I can think of no one else," interjects Venture-Captain Charlotte DesChamps, who peels herself from a shadowy corner of the room. She blinks a little, as if rousing herself from the long history lesson, "You have proven yourselves, ahem, in many ways during your long tenure in the Society. On numerous occasions you have proven capable, flexible, independent, and able to somehow always come back alive. And amazingly adept at getting out of some very strange situations." Behind the desk, Jarina mutters, "Interesting how those always seem to happen..."
If she heard, Charlotte ignores the comment and drops a heavy satchel on Jarina's lush Qadiran carpet before sitting on the edge of the desk. Jarina barely conceals a look of pained consternation at Charlotte's impropriety. The younger Taldan woman continues, "Your first stop after Nerosyan is to the southern edge of the Desolation, a small settlement of cutthroats and the worst kind of profiteering entrepreneurs sprang up on the southern fringe of the Desolation. This hole-in-the-wall known simply as the Camp will serve as your staging ground. You'll love it!"
Jarina stands and gently moves a chair next to her friend, cringing every time Charlotte's many buckles and weapons scrape the polished wood. "Ahem. Charlotte, we have been going on, but I don't actually think all of our agents have met. Please, introduce yourselves before my fellow Venture-Captain goes on a tangent about the joys of vagabond camps. Please."
|Rivik of Skyreach|
Hallo friends and fellows of Skyreach Following! Booms a giant of a Kellid - nearly 7 feet tall - in a think Hallit accent, grinning widely. Ees good that you have called upon serveeces of Reevik, mightiest of Skyreach Leader Valsin's forces. the man proudly thumps his chest at that.
Long have my peeple known that Worldwound ees source of vile theengs called Mahgic Item Rivik nods sagely.
I huv dedeecated life to stopping all mahgik item spread, and storing them een vault under Following Leader Valsin's expert protection. he continues, seemingly oblivious to the numerous items of obvious arcane make he currently wears.
Meession calls for rat skull, da? He continues, not waiting for an answer and unaware of the odd looks exchanged between his fellows, Crushed rat skulls stop demon from getting eenside gear, makeeng magic. Very eemportant. he looks to the two venture captains, as if he had been speaking of the most obvious matters.
Skyreach Following ees providing skulls, or do we bring our own?
|Tourmolos Ienidor Rivadishi|
Knowledge (planes): 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (19) + 5 = 24
Demons coming from magical items, yes, but rat skulls prevent... for my loyal service I have been condemned to enter the Worldwound accompanied by a delusional lunatic. This is complete—
Tourmolos's eyes narrow and he furtively glances at the two Venture-Captains. My thoughts are my own, honorable superiors! Stay out of my head! he mentally shouts while steeling himself against psychic intrusion and counting the number of exits in the room.
Will save against mind-reading: 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (1) + 11 = 12
Although he is unsettled by the circumstances and the new company, he stands as tall as he can to diminish the Kellid giant's vertical advantage. For these meeting he has donned a fine Taldan suit of deep crimson highlighted by a modest degree of golden scrollwork at the sleeves and collar. It is a ring-bedecked left hand with slightly exaggerated and pointed thumbnails that gently strokes his chin, and his feet softly collide with the half-full bag that he had placed on the floor while awaiting the end to the history lesson. His right hand hangs loosely at his side, weighed down slightly by the considerable spiked gauntlet of scorched iron that encases its digits. In contrast to his well-matched jewelry and garb, two iron needles pierce his left earlobe.
Thought the outfit makes the man, Tourmolos' physical sufficient to attest to some supernatural heritage. In the artificial light of the room, his eyes hold a touch of warmth in their gamboge irises, and his hair's ivory hue seems both naturally opaque and healthy. In sunlight, the eyes fade to a pale jaundice yellow, and the hair takes on an eerily translucent pallor. Although a dhampir, long hours toiling under orders from the Pathfinders has left his skin fairly tan, though a few flecks of dead, peeling skin near his neck attest to a history of burning easily. His height, normally sufficient to tower over all but the orc- or elf-blooded, is diminished by his new partner's boorish gigantism.
Bearing a mixed sneer and smile, he levels his head back slightly to peer at Rivik over the bridge of the former's nose. "A pleasure, Reevik," he says in acknowledgement, pausing as if to consider which hand to extend in greeting. Dismissing the Kellid as a dense oaf, Tourmolos extends his right hand, which is sheathed in a spiked gauntlet. "I am Tourmolos Ienidor Rivadishi, also of the, ah, Skyreach Following. Yes, absolutely. Your scholarship of magical items is intriguing, certainly, and I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities to hear about it later."
|Magnificent Monty and Dexter|
”Aaaaaaahhhhhheeeeeem *cough* *COUGH*” An incredible amount of noise comes from the other side of the room, and all eyes turn. There appears to be a disembodied pair of comically oversized eyebrows and moustache embedded in a floating pile of books, cushions, alchemical vials and general clutter swathed in (and in some cases, hanging via ribbons and buttons) garishly bright fabric. Incredibly, a diminutive male gnome extricates himself from the hoard and nimbly lands on the ground. He is dressed (if it can even be called that) in a bright purple set of robes over a highly patterned emerald green vest studded in sequins, mustard yellow leather boots (complete with tiny silver spurs), and a brilliant crimson oversized turban that has been wrapped around a tall blue velvet top hat. Behind him, the collection of items tilts precariously and rocks to and fro, many of the items rolling off the sides. There appears to be some sort of ingenious system of strings however, and while the various hookahs, alembics, wine bottles, and vials clink against each other like a shaken off-tune wind chime, none hit the ground.
“I...am...THE...Fantastic Bombastic Ludicrously Phantasmagorical Whimsical Trimsical Flim-Flamsical Superbly Visionary Quixiotic Utopian AND Magnificent Montesquieu!!!” The gnome produces an amazing amount of noise, his shrill voice practically echoing off the walls of the study. He bows low and sweeps his hat-turban off his head, bald and polished to a mirror shine. Despite his prominent potbelly, he practically skips to Charlotte’s side planting a sloppy kiss on her hand and then leering up to just above his eye-height. Behind him, the jangling pile follows close behind, and starts to move of its own accord. Out of the fabric, a gnome-sized long-eared white donkey rat emerges (with much effort), who immediately begins to slowly and sarcastically clap. The gnome stops smooching Charlotte’s hand and turns to squint at the rat. “Oh yeah,” he mumbles, “and this is Dexter.”
He then turns his attention to the other two men, hiking up his robes to trot rapidly up to each in turn. “You may call me Magnificent Monty, if my full name is too chimerical for your limited cognitive faculties.” He emphasizes this while looking at the big Kellid man’s knees. Finding that his hat keeps falling off while trying to inspect the giant, he grabs on to the many straps of the floating pile and heaves himself up. Now eye level with Rivik’s chest, he attempts to examine the barbarian again. ”You will do nicely. I nominate you for the tenticular task of standing in front of me, for which you are woefully and wonderfully under-qualified in understanding, but surely have the necessary brawn. Just keep all of those comments about magic items to yourself, capiche? If there are any rat skulls that need finding, then I will...I...will......” Slowly the import of Rivik’s words dawn on the gnome and he gapes at the kellid in horror. He quickly looks down at Dexter and then rapidly back to Rivik, and then waves his hands back and forth frantically. With an arcane word, he jabs the rat with a finger, and with a shrill squeak, Dexter disappears. Monty hops off his floating platform again and begins to slowly back away to the far corner of the room...the obvious void that is Dexter squeaking loudly the whole time.
A quick glance to the Venture-Captains shows two very different countenances. Jarina, sitting at her desk, has her head buried in her hands. She heaves a sigh and looks up at the ceiling, perhaps to the sky beyond, for guidance. Charlotte on the other hand, has a terribly satisfied smirk on her face, and has somehow produced a biscuit from a side pouch. Much to her delight, an invisible Donkey Rat leaps off the floating platform, dashes across the plush carpet and starts to noisily consume the biscuit.
Wiping her hands of both gnome slobber and cookie crumbs, Charlotte addresses the group. ”Back to what we were saying...this is a long-term prospect. You will be largely on your own out at the edge of the world and must be self-sustaining. So, no, we will not be providing the rat skulls, dear Rivik. But I did pick up a few things that I’m sure Ambrus won’t miss from the vault for you all.” She hands over the heavy bag that’s at her side.
Restorative ointment, two scrolls of teleport, silver raven figurine, five empty journals and a scribe’s kit, all inside of a bag of holding (type II)
|Tourmolos Ienidor Rivadishi|
Tourmolos' countenance grows increasingly grim as the pot-bellied gnome bumbles about and proclaims his own intellectual superiority.
Nobody looks down on me like that, gnome — especially not if he is shorter than I he thinks while reassessing his traveling companions. I am to work with a delusional lunatic and a delusional lunatic, and I am being sent to the Worldwound by a pair of empowered lunatics. Hells, I'm the only sane one here!
The dhampir's glower consumes his thoughts, and he remains standing as he was when extending his hand to shake that of Rivik. Monty's shaken retreat from the gathering and any implication of rat skull harvesting improves Tourmolos' mood somewhat.
I may have found a degree of respect for you, Kellid.
|Rivik of Skyreach|
The enormous Kellid looks down at the gnome with a bemused grin ”Of course Reevik stands in front of the tiny man!” He grin grows into a broad smile. “Who would leave mere tiny scholar to fight in battle? Scholar cannot fight battles, especially a scholar so tiny!” His laughter booms off the walls, loud and jarring.
“And you need not hide your dog from me, tiny scholar. Reevik knows the deeference between dog and rat.” The enormous man nods, more to himself than anyone else. “Dog can come out from blanket or wherever you have heedden heem”
Rivik then turns to Charlotte, his face growing concerned, ”From vault? Has following leader removed the demons from items? Or are we to do that as well? “ he begins counting with his left hand’s fingers as he hefts the bag in his right.
“Two, three, four… four.” He nods with certainty “Four pounds of salted cod should extract demons from bag”
|Magnificent Monty and Dexter|
"Dog? DOG?!? Magnificent Monty does not have a *dog*. Dexter is a superior breed of rodentia Hydrochoerus taldorias, his bloodline extends from pedigrees from the most prestigious throughout Avistani history. His great-great maternal grandfather belonged to the Cassomiri Admiralty as a gift from the Velduran Druids! His father's line can be traced all the way to Decklepaw the Great, the white donkey rat that saved the duchy of Lornelos from fire! He...he...what are YOU looking at, Tourmolos Ienidor Rivadishi? It's not like YOU have a creature as magnificent as Dexter, so don't you try and hide your greedy covetous parsimonious niggardly looks from me!"
The gnome huffs and puffs for a second after all the exertion of yelling. As if a light went off in his head, he suddenly turns back to the Venture-Captains. "Wait, what do you mean by 'long-term'? Are we talking about a week? I don't want to go to the Worldwound for a week. I hear there's no Vudrani restaurants there. And there's demons. Demons like this ignoramus thinks he knows. But he doesn't know. I *KNOW* what kind of things are there. TERRIBLE THINGS."
|Rivik of Skyreach|
"Very complicated way to say 'I do not haeve dog, I haeve special dog.'" the giant man shakes his head, bemused. "Does special dog want deer jerky? Reevik has a great deal of deer jerky", he says as he holds out a dried piece of meat retrieved from a pouch
"Gentlemen. As enlightening as this conversation is, let us attempt to move this along. Charlotte and I have another mission briefing this afternoon. As you know, the recent developments in Magnimar have left us very busy. Montesquieu, by long term, we mean a mission that could perhaps take months, a departure from your typical Society tasks. That is why the three of you have been selected in the first place. Monty for your arcane expertise and skills at crafting and analyzing magical items. Sir Rivadishi for his eloquence and tactical acumen. And of course Rivik for his extraordinary bravery in combat. The Worldwound is not a place for just any inexperienced agent. However, if any of you feel you are not up to such a monumentally important and high risk mission of exploration, then by all means...you are free to decline." Jarina looks at Monty levelly before continuing, "Now, you are entering into an ancient land of great evil. But powerful artifacts, both holy and damned, as well as the unchronicled stories of the ages are just waiting to be reclaimed at Tsar and the Desolation that surrounds it. Do you have any more questions?"