Designer Liz Spain continues her sirocco-swept preview of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Mummy's Mask set, here summoning the intrigue of Adventure Deck 4: Secrets of the Sphinx. Read on!
Through the distant heat shimmer, the small oasis appeared abandoned, though greenery peeked over its walls. Even if the well were dry, it looked like a place Channa Ti could find respite in. The cooling shade of the limestone structure could perhaps will together enough moisture to fill a canteen or two. As the water druid's camel plodded wearily closer, Channa noticed a pair of sphinx statues standing sentinel on either side of the gate. The male one turned his head toward her and she caught the glint of gold in the sunlight. Not statues, no. Winged leonine humanoids. Wearing jewelry. Their swords were long and polished to a mirror gleam. Proud then, Channa thought, and dangerous.
Maftets and sphinxes are all about recharging and resetting your hand, which can be great… sometimes.
The camel grunted in complaint as Channa pulled back gently on the reins. A wiser traveler might avoid this place altogether, but she was curious about the sphinxlike people. Mysterious creatures are rarely hospitable. Approaching slowly was the least she could do. With a flash of swift grace and golden feathered wings, the male guardian leapt from the wall, swooping down and then rising the moment his bare chest kissed the sand. Channa's breath caught in her throat at the stunt. Four heartbeats later, she still had not taken a breath when the leonine man landed in front of her.
"State your business here," he boomed with a growl from his deep chest.
She stuttered a moment. "Ah, I don't know where I'm going." The maftet scowled at her, raised an eyebrow. "That is," she reassured him, "I'm looking for the Sightless Sphinx." And with that, he took to the air. He landed next to the other guardian at the wall. They spoke. She could not hear what they said, but when the male guard jumped down behind the wall, the female nodded and turned to watch Channa warily.
Channa waited, biting her lip, while the sun reached its zenith. The heat of the day bit into her skin, and the camel chomped at the bit, restless. Yet she waited. The guard on the wall had not moved so much as a tail flick the entire time. Her armor was beautiful. Crafted from the brilliant feathers of the steel ibis, it made it seem that her skin glowed with reflections of scattered sunlight. "Drop your weapons," she barked suddenly. Channa froze, confused. Nature was her weapon. Then she remembered the blade the Pharasmins had gifted her was tied to her belt. It was a ceremonial thing: used to sever the connection between mother and child to mark the entrance of a new life into the world, for preparing the dead, and for dispatching the undead. Setting the blade on the sand, Channa watched as the weapon was consumed in a small torrent of dust. The heavy wooden gate creaked open. The male guard appeared in the entrance, gesturing her forward.
That cost, "shuffle into your location deck," shows up elsewhere in this adventure, in a big way.
Channa tutted the camel forward. With the promise of fresh water, it charged, kicking up clouds of sand in its wake. She stumbled though the dust and felt something rigid and hot beneath her foot. Lightning fast, there was a sickening metallic twang and searing, sharp pain as a blade hit her leg. Blood and toxic ichor soaked through her leg wrappings, darkening the cloth. She felt the pathways of the lifeblood running through her leg, sensed the incursion of poison. It was a simple matter to separate the deadly fluid from her veins, but it took all her concentration to cast the protective spell. The steel scorpion had her trapped, unable to move. Her eyes darted back and forth, desperately seeking someone to help. She found no one. Instead, the sands below a scrub tree shook away from a huge arachnid thing. Black metal legs skittered toward her, drawn by the smell of blood.
What if basically everything was made of fire and steel?
Panic swelled in her chest and her breath became erratic. A hot gust hit her back and she felt strong hands encircle her thigh. It was the male guard from before. Her heart skipped a beat as the mechanical arachnid reared back. Channa tightened her grip on her staff, holding steady the protective spell around them both. The bilious venom that sprayed from the construct's mouthparts pattered gently like raindrops on their skin. The maftet wrenched the tail of the steel scorpion from her flesh. Her leg numb, she collapsed into his arms as he stretched his powerful wings, launching them both into the air, away from danger.
∗ ∗ ∗
The air inside the tent was cool and musky with the scent of fur. The voice of the silver-haired maftet tribe elder was gentle. But his eyes shined with suspicion and, if Channa was not mistaken, sadness. He would not tell her where the Sightless Sphinx could be found.
"Too dangerous," he said with a voice edged in regret. Outside the tent, a roar of alarm pierced the lazy rattle of cicadas. "The janni must be back. Stay here with the children," the elder urged, worry creasing his eyes. Instead, Channa threw her bag over her shoulder and followed the elder out of the tent. Scaling the oasis wall, she could see a small army of earth elementals were moments from reaching the gate. At the head of the horde were two imposing janni, one horned and wreathed in fire, the other flint-sharp with footsteps that cracked the earth beneath her.
You knew we would get around to Defensive Stance eventually, right?
Channa Ti raised her hands, ready to bathe the attackers in ice.
"As you wish, magic one," the elder's voice growled behind her. "Help defend us, and I may be able to help you find the Sphinx after all."
Adventure Card Game Designer