“Are you lost, child?”
Hioba stared up at the golden leaves and the large golden trunk of one of Forest Agoyben’s famed Crackling Trees. The voice startled her, and she spun to face it. A small but powerful woman whose face she could not fully see in the shadows leaned against a tree a dozen paces away.
“I’m... uh, no. Actually, I was here to study these trees. You see, I am a student at the Magaambya and—”
“And you thought you’d learn something about these trees that might just explode out of nowhere?”
“Yes.” Hioba again marveled at the tree before her. The trunk had the same luster as actual gold and felt almost metallic when she touched it. She’d heard about it in school, but it seemed impossible to imagine such a hearty tree would simply... break.
The woman nodded. “Knowledge is good, but experience is truth. You know how the trees came to develop their ailment, yes? They taught you that at school?” The woman came closer but still hid most of her features in the forest’s shadows, where the light failed to penetrate fully. Hioba opened her mouth but stopped when the woman raised her hand.
“What they don’t teach you is this: Agohbindi the Splintering Child emerged from under the Vanji River twice as tall as that tree you’ve been staring at for the last hour.” Hioba leaned back, hands on hips, trying to envision the scale of the monster.
“It rose from the river and grasped its way to the sky. It had a beetle’s iridescent carapace but the hungering face and maw of a fiend. Its pincers could crush several blocks of Nantambu’s splendid buildings. It sought a meal and Nantambu was the closest, tastiest dish it was likely to find.
“Rovagug’s murderous progeny crashed through the forest. The Tempest-Sun Mages almost learned of the threat too late. Lucky for them a Magaambya student just like yourself tended to his herbal studies and witnessed the beginning of Agohbindi’s rampage. He sent a message to companions nearer to the city who relayed to the Tempest-Sun Mages what occurred.”
The woman paused. “Are you taking notes, my child? You are receiving quite the education here.” Hioba snatched a quill and her scroll from her pack and started writing. The woman chuckled and continued.
“Fewer than a dozen Tempest-Sun Mages responded, confident in their abilities, just as Azure Leopard had taught them to be. At first their confidence seemed well placed! Their first battle ritual created a storm, pulling the lightning out of the clouds and hurling it at Agohbindi. The gigantic bolt of electricity cleaved the Spawn of Rovagug cleanly in half.
“The mages congratulated each other for the quick victory, but their celebration was cut short, for the two halves of the beast’s foul body instantly formed into two smaller but identical versions of Agohbindi. The mages hurled bolt after bolt from their battle circle. Each bolt split its target in slightly smaller versions of the original spawn until they could get no smaller, at which point they simply continued to multiply.
“The last act that group performed was sending a magical message to Azure Leopard and Old-Mage Jatembe, a plea for help. Then the teeth and magic of a thousand Agohbindis overwhelmed them.”
The woman paused and murmured something that sounded to Hioba like a prayer.
“Azure Leopard and Old-Mage Jatembe answered the call and arrived with nearly one hundred Tempest-Sun Mages. They all thought they were ready for the threat, but they were so incredibly wrong!
“Your books and your teachers will tell you they fought Agohbindi, but what they tell you is insufficient. Yes, they fought, but it wasn’t a mere battle—it was a grueling war. They fought with the Rough Beast’s monstrous child for days on end. The Tempest-Sun Mages fought at first from within the forest, but soon the forest contained as many Agohbindis as the plains hold blades of grass. So the mages took to the sky, harnessing the storm and the wind and the rain to at least slow the advancement of the ceaseless monstrosities. They used fire magic to melt the spawn, but the spawn simply reformed moments later.
“Azure Leopard and Jatembe spent most of their energy coordinating the Tempest-Sun Mages’ defenses, erecting powerful barriers that would take the creatures many hours to penetrate so that the group could search for solutions. Trying to protect the warriors in their care left them precious little time for strategy, but their dedication to protection prevented any other warrior mages from dying. Even then, many suffered severe wounds and none were the same.”
Hioba cleared her throat and looked up from her notes. “When did Jatembe trap Agohbindi? What do you know about that?”
The woman chuckled again.
“By accident! After several days of fighting and containment, the mages ran headlong into that fact we all now know: magic is infinite, but our capacity to wield it... is not. The Tempest-Sun Mages had tapped into their reserves and beyond. As they grew more exhausted, they became sloppy. Old-Mage Jatembe and his pupil found it progressively more taxing to protect the weary mages. In hours, Agohbindi in his multitude would have overwhelmed the amassed mages and moved onward to consume the Song-Wind City... and likely the entirety of Mwangi Expanse!
“Jatembe and Leopard were in the middle of conjuring a barrier of elemental ice for a group of mages retreating from the Agohbindi splinters in the forest. Out of exasperation, over the noise and rage of combat, Azure Leopard shouted to Jatembe: ‘Fighting Agohbindi is not like fighting an opponent, Old-Mage! It is like fighting a tide, like fighting water!’
“Just then, the teacher and pupil paused and looked at each other, each knowing what the other would say next. Child, what do they teach you about water at Magaambya?”
“You... don’t fight it?” Hioba answered nervously.
“Exactly! You don’t fight water. You help it flow, and then you let it flow into a container where you hold it. Leopard and Jatembe had been so busy fighting and defending that they had missed this obvious point. Jatembe let out such a loud and hysterical laugh that everyone who could hear it became anxious for him.
“‘My own teachings, remembered in the last hour, amazing!’ He laughed some more while weaving the spell he knew he needed to cast. People would have been surprised by his humor, except it was Old-Mage Jatembe. He was always a little unpredictable.” The woman shrugged.
“After a moment, Azure Leopard saw her teacher’s intent, and joined in with no prompting. Together their magic augmented the roots of the forest’s trees, which burst free from the soil. The pair sent out magical messages to the Tempest-Sun Mages to direct their energies into these roots. The magic roots stretched out of the soil, wrapping around each of the thousands of Agohbindi shards, holding them in place. Jatembe directed all the other warriors except Azure Leopard into the sky as he prepared the next stage.”
Hioba had stopped writing, absorbed in the mysterious woman’s story.
“Jatembe stretched his arms like a yawn, letting the earth’s energy flow into his body. He inhaled a breath bigger than Balumbdar, building up the energy in his hands and his staff. The other mages worked on a battle ritual to summon the largest bolt of lightning ever seen… before or since.
“When Jatembe finally exhaled, he sent magical fire into and through the roots. At that moment the Tempest-Sun Mages and Azure Leopard released their lightning, which snaked over and through the spawned multitudes. Before they could grow again, the fire melted the spawn fragments into ooze as they screeched in fury. The ooze seeped into the soil, where the web of roots covering the entire forest drank it up.
"When the screeching abated, Jatembe stopped the fire. He and the other mages drew the roots back into the earth. Agohbindi, which could not be destroyed, which flooded the forest like water, was absorbed, like water, into the soil.” The woman pointed at the tree Hioba had been studying.
“Into that tree, and the others like it.”
Hioba turned around to look at the tree again. “Is there something about the evil trapped within that makes the tree gold?”
“Ha, no. Jatembe just thought it might make Agohbindi furious to be trapped in something so beautiful.”
“Also... wait... how do you know so much about this? How do you know this story?” Hioba turned back to face the woman, who was donning an ornate leopard mask. Once the mask was on, she stepped out of the shadows and into the light.
“Aaaaah, and here I was, holding out high hopes for your powers of observation, child. I’ve given you the start; now keep with your studies. Agohbindi will surely need to be contained once more, someday.”
Hioba tried to speak, but Azure Leopard was gone.
About The Author
Quinn Murphy has designed and written for many game systems during more than a decade of freelancing. Since the age of 11, he's dreamed up imaginary worlds with friends, and he has no plans to stop. He writes adventures and fiction for Pathfinder and Starfinder and can be found talking about those games and RPG design in general on his Twitter, @qh_murphy.
About Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.