“This may be it,” Aliyama stated carefully, consulting her wayfinder.
The jungle was oppressively hot and humid, yet the elf showed no signs of it. She wore a purple, quilted doublet over silk sleeves, her cerulean cloak held by a golden pendant. Her hair, immaculately braided, was pulled back from her angular face revealing pointed ears adorned with yet more gold. She looked as fresh as if she were off to a meeting at the Grand Lodge.
“’May?’” Reynold sputtered. In stark contrast, his brown hair was plastered with sweat, his Taldan finery wrinkled and stained. “’May!?’ There is no ‘may’ about it! Fola said the lost Pathfinder would be in a serpentfolk ruin in the middle of the bloody Mwangi Expanse. Sigvard sent us here to find the ruin. What do you bloody think this is?!”
Aliyama looked up, arching an eyebrow. Her human compatriot was gesturing insistently with outstretched hands to the towering stone archway in front of them. It was flanked by enormous statues of hooded cobras, and the stonework was mas-terful, full of whirling, intertwined lines ornately framing an entrance into the overgrown hillside. If doors had once stood in the archway, they were long gone. Only a darkened rectangle of shadows stood between them and the interior.
“Much as I hate to admit it, I agree wit’ Reynold here. This has gotta be the place,” Thri said, planting fists on hips. The fresh-faced dwarf’s topknot barely came to her companions’ ribs. “Let’s get in and find our missin’ Pathfinder, yeah?”
“Quite right,” Reynold nodded. “In we go! Then back to Sigvard and her endless chores. And then, blessedly, a ship back to glorious, civilized Absalom.”
Aliyama held up a hand. “Abadar says that the world is filled with two kinds of people: the impulsive and the wealthy,” she said calmly. “We must examine the facts and think.”
“I think,” Reynold pointed, rolling his eyes. “That the big overgrown temple with snakes outside is a serpentfolk ruin.”
The elf sighed. “Perhaps. But consider: the serpentfolk were one of the oldest civilizations in Golarion. They preceded even the Azlanti. Yet do these carvings appear worn away by the ages? Do they look as if they survived Earthfall?”
Reynold opened his mouth, then snapped it shut, frowning.
“Recall that I grew up in the Mwangi,” she continued. “Left unattended, the jungle claims everything. Everything. Were this truly an ancient serpentfolk temple, it would be nothing but vines. The Pathfinder agent that Sigvard originally sent here was a serpentfolk scholar and would have known this. No, surely this is not the place.”
“So what’re ya sayin’?” Thri asked, cheeks flushing with anger. “What’s this, then?”
Aliyama turned to face her. “Most likely the remnants of a misguided dragon cult of Dahak. Kobolds, charau-ka, boggards, or somesuch. These cults are common here, spawning and dying off constantly. Nasty business. But most certainly not some-thing actually created by the serpentfolk.”
Thri exhaled, disappointment flooding her voice. “So we haven’t found it yet. No chargin’ in to rescue a lost Pathfinder.”
Aliyama lay a gloved hand on the dwarf’s broad shoulder. “Do not worry, young one. I know this is your first excursion with the Pathfinder Society and you wish to make your mark. Yet take heart! This is the life of an adventurer. We explore, thoughtfully and with consideration. Abadar himself is a traveler, yes? Yet he is not hasty. He is slow and relentless, as the gears of civilization are slow and relentless. So too must we step carefully, always moving forward. We will find our missing Pathfinder agent, Thri Redbarrel. With patience, and by Abadar’s hand.”
Thri accepted the lecture with a short nod, then shrugged. “Let’s keep lookin’. I hope we fight somethin’ soon, though. This heat is makin’ me cranky.”
Aliyama smiled. “Battle too is an inevitable part of adventuring. Though this structure is not our destination, we are close. Let me consult my wayfinder again.” The elf flipped open the circular lid and began peering down at its face.
A full minute passed, the elf consulting her wayfinder and muttering. The dwarf watched her, then scanned the surround-ings. All around them the jungle hooted and sang with life.
“One more moment, please Thri.”
“Thri, please. Patience.”
“Okay. It’s just that Reynold’s gone.”
“I see. Well... What!?” Aliyama looked up, startled. “Where is he?”
“I, uh. I’m thinkin’ maybe he went in.”
They both stared at the ten-foot, darkened doorway.
“Ridiculous, infuriating, impulsive, sneaky, dandy of a human,” the elf muttered. “He is always—”
A cry echoed from deep within the hillside.
“Yep, that’s him.” Thri pulled the double-bladed battle axe from her back.
“Just hold a moment. We must—”
Reynold burst from the shadows, wide-eyed. In one hand he held his shortsword. In the other, a coiling, golden figurine of a snake.
Illustration by Iana Vengerova from Lost Omens: Pathfinder Society Guide
“This is it! Bloody help!” he cried.
“What did you do?” Aliyama demanded.
“No time! Help!”
Three tall, scaled humanoid figures in green robes spilled from the dark opening. At first Aliyama thought they might be iruxi. But instead of lizard-like heads, these figures bore the heads of hooded cobras. Long, whip-like tails thrashed as the figures moved sinuously into fighting formation. One of the creatures hissed and drew a curved blade the length of its forearm.
“Impossible,” Aliyama breathed.
As Reynold scampered past one of the large, hooded statues, a sound of grinding stone filled the clearing. The mossy, guardian cobra turned its head, following the fleeing thief.
Reynold dove to one side and rolled. The cobra’s head snapped its jaws together with a sharp CRACK! where his head had been. Reynold continued his roll smoothly and was back on his feet in an instant.
“There are no more serpentfolk in the Mwangi,” Aliyama stated numbly. “They are in the Darklands, not on the surface. Kline’s report was thorough…”
With an enthusiastic cry, Thri stepped forward and met the lead creature. Battleaxe and curved dagger clashed.
“Our scholar is in there,” Reynold said, panting. “Pinned to the wall in the entry like some sort of warning. These figurines are in the nooks in the walls. I only snagged one before those things noticed me.”
Aliyama glared at him. “Why are you grinning, thief?”
“It just occurred to me that when this is over, you get to tell me I was right and you were wrong,” he winked. With a whoop, he dashed to flank the serpentfolk battling Thri.
Shaking her head, Aliyama snapped her wayfinder shut and raised her arms, beginning a prayer to Abadar, Master of the First Vault.
A single bead of sweat trickled down her forehead.
About the Author
Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar was a founding columnist for Magic: the Gathering’s official website, which he wrote weekly for five years (along with various other gaming columns). During that time, he also penned several Kamigawa block web stories for Wizards of the Coast. He is a lifelong tabletop roleplaying gamer, frequent GM, and currently part of a fiction-writer’s group in Oakland, CA. This story is his first for Pathfinder or Paizo.
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.