Hey, Pathfinder fans! It’s Mark Moreland, your friendly neighborhood Director of Brand Strategy, with a bit of exciting news about web fiction over the next few months. Today, to celebrate the release of the second-edition Pathfinder Beginner Box next week, we’re launching the first chapter of a serialized novella by fan-favorite author, Liane Merciel (Nightglass, Nightblade, Hellknight).
The Shroud of Four Silences takes place in the town of Otari, pictured here, which serves as the setting for not only the Beginner Box, but also the Troubles in Otari adventure and the Abomination Vaults Adventure Path. Like new players taking their first steps into the game and world of Pathfinder with the Beginner Box and our other Otari content, the heroes of this tale are new to adventuring, but quickly find themselves embroiled in a plot that could threaten the entire town.
This return to long-form Pathfinder fiction also gave us another opportunity to try something new, so after this week, you won’t see the remaining chapters of The Shroud of Four Silences here on the Paizo Blog. Instead, you can get each week’s chapter emailed directly to you by ensuring you have opted in to receive “Products, Offers, News, and Events” emails in your account privacy settings. We’ll still have Otari-related blogs coming out on Wednesdays for the duration of The Shroud of Four Silences’s release, but they’ll be encounters, No-Prep Characters, and other content you can use at your table. If they happen to also be relevant to the current chapter of Eleukas, Wendlyn, and their companions’ story, I’m sure that will be entirely accidental.
So without further ado, I present to you: The Shroud of Four Silences.
Come on,” Eleukas coaxed. “Just one more load and you’re done.”
“’One more load,’ he says,” Wendlyn muttered, flexing her scratched and sawdust-smeared shoulders. “’One more.’ My arms are about to fall off, and he wants me to cheer up because there’s ‘just one more load.’”
“You were the one who opted for a work detail over a night in the cells.” Otari’s lumber companies gave away their split, hollowed, and beetle-weakened discards for firewood, provided people used their own carts to haul the loads away. Wood splitting was one of Captain Longsaddle’s favorite punishment details, since the Otari Garrison was in perpetual need of firewood, and whatever they didn’t use could be given to townspeople too ill or infirm to chop their own. The need never ended, which meant the work never ended.
“Well, obviously A night in the cells is a night in the cells. Rats, damp, terrible food. Whereas with this, I’m out in the fresh air and sunshine, plus you end up doing all the work.” Wendlyn dragged another hollow log over to Eleukas’s stump and dropped it.
“You could always stop stealing things,” Eleukas pointed out, heaving the log into position and hefting his hatchet. A maul would have been more efficient, but efficiency wasn’t the point of punishment details. “What’d you get this time? A handful of coins from some drunk sailor? Was it really worth it?”
It was the closest he’d ever come to openly chastising his friend for her unending larceny, and Eleukas held his breath for a beat, afraid he’d pushed their friendship too far. To fill the silence, he began hacking at the log, splitting it neatly with a few sharp blows.
But Wendlyn just shrugged and went back to the reject heap for another log. “When else do I get to see my oldest friend? Seems like these work details are our only chance to catch up.”
That stung. Eleukas contented himself with splintering the new log as he tried to think of a response. It was true that since he’d joined the Otari Guard, he hadn’t had much time to sit around in taverns with his friends, even though—or maybe because—he was only a raw recruit and felt so far behind in his training. There was always some new technique to learn, or another bit of wisdom to pry from some grizzled veteran, and he was so full of questions about his new life that sometimes he forgot to keep up with the old one.
It really was only on these work details, when Eleukas contrived to get himself assigned to guard duty after Wendlyn’s latest arrest, that he saw her anymore. And it was true that he volunteered to do most of the work, partly because he felt so guilty about letting their friendship lapse, even though she was the one who was supposed to be improving her character through labor.
“Maybe I could—” he began, but Wendlyn cut him off with a sudden, intent look at the tree line beyond the lumber yard.
“Did you hear that?” She rose up on her toes, leaning toward the forest like a hound casting for scent.
Eleukas mopped his brow, pushing sweat-soaked black curls aside. He hadn’t heard anything over the thunk and thud of splitting wood, but her half-elven ears had always been better than his.
“No,” he started to say, cautiously, when a scream split the sap-scented air.
It was a howl of raw rage, and although Eleukas couldn’t have said whether it was made by person or beast, he knew it was a battle cry.
“Come on.” Wendlyn was already running toward the trees. “Bring your axe.”
Eleukas didn’t waste any more time with questions. Otari was a close-knit town, where you helped your neighbors if they needed it, and the forest could be dangerous. Kobolds, wild animals, worse. There were even rumors of saboteurs targeting the log flume that was Otari’s economic lifeblood, and though Eleukas didn’t like to credit such tales, that cry had come from the direction of the flume.
Gripping the sweaty hatchet, he ran after her.
Branches whipped Eleukas’s face and undergrowth snarled at his feet as he charged through the wood, trying to keep Wendlyn in view. The half-elf darted through the trees as easily as a shuttle through thread, and if it hadn’t been for the bright blaze of her red ponytail waving through the greenery, he’d have lost her. Wendlyn never remembered to wait for anyone slower than she was.
Ahead, the clattering bulk of Giant’s Wheel loomed over the treetops, creaking and grinding and throwing a rhythmic rain up to the sky as it harnessed the Osprey River’s power to carry logs down to the sea. Its immense clacking rush drowned out anything as small as a human voice, but Eleukas didn’t need to listen for screams anymore. He could see the person who’d made them.
No, not person. Corpse.
Even as he crashed through the forest’s edge and heaved for breath in the clearing beyond, Eleukas registered the unnatural angle of the neck, the blood that drenched the clothes, the terrible gaping wounds in throat and torso. He’d never actually seen a person murdered before, but he knew immediately that it was too late to save this man. And he knew it would be scorched onto his memory forever: a thing he had trained for, a thing he had expected, and a thing for which he could never have been prepared.
The fight wasn’t over, even if its first victim was dead. Two patchy-furred rats, each the size of a large dog, were menacing Wendlyn with loud hisses and bared fangs. The bright afternoon sun didn’t cow them, and neither did the darting thrusts of her short sword. The rodents worked with uncanny coordination, one feinting at Wendlyn to draw her attention while the other lunged in to bite.
Eleukas had never seen Wendlyn fight before, and was surprised by how deftly she handled her blade. He’d always assumed she just carried it as an affectation, but it was clear she’d had some real training. She was holding her own against the rats. One was bleeding from its jaw, and the other bore a deep cut along its ribs, although they’d torn their share of ugly scratches across Wendlyn in return.
“I’m here!” Eleukas shouted, hoping to distract them. One of the rats turned on him, snarling. He swung at it but missed. The rat snapped at him, sharp teeth grazing the hair on his forearm. Its spittle flecked him like warm rain.
Adjusting his footing, Eleukas tried again. This time he read the animal’s momentum and chopped low in the other direction, misjudging the aim a little—the hatchet was designed for splitting firewood, and was considerably shorter and smaller than the battle axe he normally used—but catching the rat hard in the forequarters all the same.
Bones crunched, and the rat fell squealing. Yet the other one, to Eleukas’s astonishment, didn’t run. Its greasy brown fur puffed up higher, its spine arched stiffer, and its hisses grew louder. Despite the posturing, it seemed oddly reluctant to commit, hopping back and forth just out of reach instead of coming at either of them.
A second later, Eleukas realized why. It wasn’t alone. Something stirred in the underbrush, creeping toward them as the rat spat and snarled in distraction.
“You take the rodent,” Eleukas said, standing back-to-back with Wendlyn so he could focus on the new threat.
It was hard to pick out from the leaves. He glimpsed a gaunt, clawed black hand, its skin hard and glossy as polished leather, its nails curved into sharp talons. The body was a shapeless mass of damp fur or filthy rags, blending into the brush so that Eleukas couldn’t guess its size. And the face—
When he saw its face, he froze. There was no face. From the stump of its neck rose a vortex of shadow, sucking inward to an infinitude of nothing.
The emptiness at the core of that non-face dragged Eleukas’s consciousness into its chilling depths. He felt, in some place beyond rational thought, that if he let it pull him in, he would be torn apart and devoured so completely that nothing of his mind or soul or awareness could remain.
Terror closed cold around his heart. Fear swallowed every shred of reason in his mind. And then, just as Eleukas braced himself to try, somehow, to pull away from the deadly grip of the whirlpooling dark, a plume of soft black powder blew up from the depths of that devouring emptiness into his face.
Blindness seized him. He couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. A thick warm wall choked the air away from his gasping mouth. Eleukas tried to scream, but that heavy, blanketing warmth buried the cry in his throat.
He fell, suffocating, into oblivion
About the Author
Liane Merciel is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Nightglass, Nightblade, and Hellknight, and a contributor to other books including Nidal: Land of Shadows, Faiths of Golarion, and the Lost Omens World Guide. She has also written for Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two dogs, and an adventure toddler who is extremely into Spider-Man.
About The Shroud of Four Silences
The Shroud of Four Silences is the first long-form Pathfinder fiction in more than 3 years. The serialized novella follows a band of fledgling adventurers as they rise from simple origins to uncover and (hopefully) stop a terrible threat to the town of Otari—the setting of the Pathfinder Beginner Box, Pathfinder Adventure: Troubles in Otari, and the Abomination Vaults Adventure Path. To receive each weekly installment of the novella, please join the paizo.com mailing list and/or ensure that you have opted in to receive emails regarding products, offers, news, and events in your account privacy settings. (We’ll send you the next chapter once a week after signing up, regardless of where we are in the series, so you can always catch up!)