I’m sorry, but that painting isn’t for sale. This particular item I’m keeping for myself.
Why, you ask? Well, there’s certainly worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon than in sharing a story with friends like you, so if you’ve got the time to listen, I can tell you a little bit about Crookcove, the Xarwins, and the house in that painting.
I’ve got my own reasons to be interested in the place. There, you see? At the top of the manor? A dome. A rotunda. An observatory. I’ve had dreams of converting that manor’s observatory into a temple, a place where anyone can come to observe the wonders of the Cosmic Caravan. But there’s a problem. The manor itself is located at the remote southwestern corner of Ravounel, and its ownership is kind of a tangled mess, one made worse by Ravounel’s secession from Cheliax. No one seems to know who rightfully owns the place. There was a sort of incident long ago, back when it was part of Cheliax, and the Chelish practice of redactions did a number on the legal documents that hold the building’s fate.
Doesn’t help that Crookcove’s so far off the beaten path, or that the government’s still got its hands full with more important things involving keeping their independence, or that the closest point of civilization is so many miles away.
Oh, and it certainly doesn’t help that they place is haunted.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The town itself wasn’t called Crookcove at first. It was founded by hellknights—the Order of the Gate, to be precise—as a staging ground for the initial construction of Citadel Enferac, way back in 4599. They called it “Crooked Cove,” on account of the shape of the cove itself. Hellknights aren’t the most creative folks. In any event, Enferac’s construction isn’t the story I’m telling.
The hellknights abandoned their presence in Crooked Cove a few years after it was founded, and for a handful of decades, the town was left to its own devices. The locals made a fair living for themselves continuing to tend the mines and lumber operations the hellknights started, but it wasn’t until the Thrunies took over the nation that Crooked Cove attracted outside attention once again.
In the days following the end of the Chelish Civil War, House Thrune began appointing minions into positions of power throughout the nation. Most saw Ravounel as something of a backwater, but not so a certain minor nobleman named Ioseff Xarwin. Details on how he managed to secure the title of paracount are unclear, but what remains a matter of record (in the few records you can find that aren’t redacted to the point of illegibility) is that he was granted Crooked Cove as his seat of power.
Crooked Cove had been largely untouched by the war, and according to my research, the locals were initially wary of this new paracount and of the sprawling mansion he’d started constructing on a bluff just outside town, but it wasn’t long before their opinions changed. The people of Crooked Cove soon came to value the influx of protection and support having a paracount provided, especially since Ioseff allowed the townsfolk to largely retain their traditions and independence. He saw to the construction of a church of Asmodeus, a tavern, a set of piers built around a town hall that doubled as a shipyard, and a smelting house to support the town’s trade, and in the span of a decade, Crooked Cove grew into a modestly successful mining concern, and as long as the iron, lead, and copper in the hills north of town continued to flow, Ioseff Xarwin left the townsfolk to their own designs. In return, the flow of tax money and exports to Cheliax’s heartland continued to guarantee Xarwin’s privacy.
As a result of this pursuit for privacy, further details were tough to track down, but I was able to determine that Xarwin hadn’t chosen the site of his home idly. In one fragmentary letter I regrettably wasn’t able to make copies of (and that was one of countless documents lost in a fire a few months later), Xarwin himself hints that his “dreams were instrumental in selecting the site, for the views of the night skies above seem particularly inspiring.” He also mentioned in his letter that his “observatory’s construction has surpassed all expectations.”
I did a bit more digging and learned that Ioseff had a family as well—a wife and twin children. His wife, Asethanna, was something of a well-known sculptor and painter, and by all accounts the family lived their first many years in Crooked Cove in peace. But that didn’t last. Something happened a decade and a half later. Again, details are hard to come by, but from what little I’ve been able to piece together, the marriage crumbled from within. Ioseff became more and more obsessed with his astronomical observations, while Asethanna’s art started to grow darker and more sinister in theme.
It all came to a sudden end in 4657. Story goes that Asethanna fled the manor one night with the twins, and that Xarwin grew increasingly hostile and deranged. He let none visit his manor, and forbade the house servants from setting foot off the manor grounds—at least, according to the account of one such servant who claimed to have escaped from the manor. This unnamed servant apparently begged for the local authorities to intervene, but they had no time to act on his claims. The weather turned violent, with storms and floods devastating the town. And it didn’t stop with violent weather. The people themselves turned violent as well. Nightmares plagued the townsfolk when they slept, and when they woke the nightmares pursued them in the form of brutality, cruelty, and suicide. It wasn’t long before the townsfolk pulled up stakes and abandoned the place. Some say it was the storm that damaged the town’s sign, others claim it was the last citizen to flee who vandalized it, but to this day, those rare few who visit the place are greeted by a sign welcoming them to “Crookcove.”
That’s about it, I’m afraid. Other than stories of bad dreams by those rare few who stayed the night in the region over the past several years, and some likely apocryphal tales of people vanishing entirely after daring to enter Xarwin Manor itself, there’s little more to learn about the place. There’s apparently no surviving heirs to the Xarwin estate, and with Ravounel’s secession from Cheliax, the building’s been in government escrow, pending whatever steps they need to take to unravel its legal status. The manor itself is the only structure still standing in the region, with little more than hollow shells of structures hinting at what was once a bustling mining town down the hill below.
And all that brings us back to the painting.
I started having my own dreams about Crookcove and Xarwin Manor a few weeks after I picked up this painting, in any case. I’ve learned to trust my dreams—they’re not always accurate in what they foretell, but they’re always worth paying attention to, and there’s something in these dreams in particular that compel me. Are they perhaps related to the same source of compulsive dreams that first inspired Xarwin himself to build his home there? I can’t say other than that the manor itself feels to me to be a place of power. A place of importance. A place that should be restored and watched over. I’ve been saving up since then, and one day soon I hope to be able to make the trip out to Ravounel, secure ownership of the manor myself, and restore it. To rebuild it into a shrine to the Cosmic Caravan. To find out what happened there.
I assume that you’ve deduced by now what this painting depicts. Yes, here we see Xarwin Manor, in all its ruined glory. I’ve had the fortune to interview no fewer than four people who visited the ruins of Crookcove. None of them dared set foot in the manor proper, but they all agree that the painting is spot-on in its accuracy in capturing the gloom and menace the manor exudes today.
The part that bothers me about it isn’t the brooding stance of the birds who seem to stand guard at the edge of the frame, or the eerie glow that rises from beyond the central dome, or the twisted reaches of the dead trees in the yard, or even the mysterious light in the upstairs window.
The part that bothers me the most is the signature and date on the painting’s reverse. The signature of Asethanna Xarwin, dated 4653 AR, four years before whatever doom came to Xarwin Manor and left it abandoned over the ruins of a forgotten town.
—Wrin Sivinxi, owner of Wrin’s Wonders in Otari
About the Author
James Jacobs is the Creative Director for Pathfinder. He's been helping to shape and create the world of Golarion and the Pathfinder RPG from the very start, with his adventure, "Burnt Offerings," introducing gamers around the world to the joys of goblin songs, the lurking menace of the runelords, and the dangers of drinking hagfish water. James maintains an ongoing AMA thread on the paizo.com forums which currently contains more than 75,000 posts.
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.