At least this isn’t in Ustalav, Mios thought, smiling wryly to themself as they approached the Lily Lounge. It hadn’t taken much investigating into the recent mysterious disappearances in Augustana to find all signs pointing to this new luxury lounge, famous almost overnight. If this were Ustalav, Mios figured, the lodge would be full of vampires. Or werewolves. Or some kind of vampiric werewolves like those vukodlaks from last winter.
The Lily Lounge’s clientele, at least the ones who hadn’t been disappearing, tended towards the wealthy; after all, it advertised itself as a luxurious resting place for valiant hunters returning from their hunts. Though Andoran claimed to not have any nobles (technically true), many of these clients were just that in all but name. The real trouble is that the lounge was reported to also let in the less well to do… who would then go missing. Not at the lounge, though, and not right away. Whoever was responsible, likely the owners, weren’t that sloppy. No, these poorer clients were always seen afterwards for some time but mysteriously disappeared within a fortnight, often alongside reports of erratic behavior. Even odds it’s enchantment magic forcing the victim to kidnap themselves, Mios thought, or maybe this is the one time it actually IS a doppelganger replacing them at the lounge.
Regardless, the place was highly suspicious. Though Mios could tell that the lounge’s secrets were rather well-hidden by anyone else’s standards, little things gave it away to their trained eye. Heliotrope planted at the four corners of the lot, to divert close attention. Structure offset slightly from cardinal directions, subtly separating building from external expectations to decrease guard. It even extended to the proprietors—thought of highly, but only ever in the vaguest of terms—even Mios couldn’t discover much about one Gilbert Zoon (the lounge’s founder) or his business partner Sabricia (last name unknown). They’d been seen out during the day, though, so at least they weren’t vampires. And nothing was timed around the full moon…. Mios reflexively reached out and touched the old wound on their leg, another reminder of the past, and what it meant to let down one’s guard. Memories like these were why Mios never regretted leaving Ustalav behind. Here in Andoran, what was the worst it could be? No, Mios thought as they reflexively formed a turning-away sign, better not to jinx it. Some of the old superstitions died hard.
Their reminiscence was broken by an incoming party of young hunters—just the chance Mios had been waiting for. They waited until the hunters had just entered, then adjusted their wolf pelt, held their back straight, and walked forward like they owned the lodge. They’d seen enough nobles in their life that it was easy to put on airs. At the door, Mios made some small talk with the staff before being invited in. Pupil dilation normal, good recall of earlier events, able to respond to abstract questions. The staff didn’t seem to be under any form of direct mind control, though they did seem a bit tense.
After a day or two casing the Lily Lounge, Mios had decided the front door would be better than sneaking in a window or cellar, which would almost certainly be trapped or magically defended against break-ins. Threshold magic—versatile, but dependent on intent. If the owner’s intent was toward privacy, the magic could help reinforce a boundary between the outside and inside. It was the same principle when creating a circle of salt to ward off a ghost—create a boundary, then give it authority. But you can’t bar a door that you’ve opened yourself, like the front door. Let alone put greeters at. Even vampires can freely enter a public building. The staff smiled at Mios, and they walked in.
As Mios entered, two beads on their wrist pulsed once with subtle light, and a tarnished coin on their waist spun slightly. The building had been highly warded, then—but Mios had made it through easily. They absconded down a hallway, away from guests and staff, and reached out an empty hand. Ownership is never broken by mere distance, only a change in relationship. As Mios concentrated on the truism, they felt a familiar weight through their glove. When they looked down at their hand again, their lantern shone in it, and in its light, once-invisible defenses crisscrossed the walls and doors. Mios peered at an especially warded door. Sarkorian abjuration, but corrupted. Strange to see that so far south. It suggested demonic influence, or someone familiar with the Worldwound and its closing. Mios shifted their usual silver blade to a back sheath, replacing it with one of cold-forged iron, just in case. With a bit of effort—more than it usually took—Mios dismantled the wards, opened the door, and crept down the hallway beyond.
Passing nondescript private suites, Mios’s lantern light eventual fell upon a door covered up entirely by an illusion. Curious, since there was no sign of this wing from the outside. Extradimensional, or just a massive illusion? Mios slipped into the room to find out. Ah, the classic trapdoor leading down. That explained it. Maybe just mundane architectural tricks then. The chamber below was furnished in fine silk, imported wood, and elegant paintings, easily the most grandiose and opulent part of the lounge… but in the lantern’s light, the facade melted away. The entire place was a dismal cavern with clear demonic magic coursing through it. Well, clear to Mios. Surely the victims had been fooled. The thaumaturge drew their iron blade.
As Mios turned the corner, their light shone on two figures who must have been the owners, though no sooner did the light reach them than their true forms were revealed. The man, now a hideous creature with claws and a carapace, shrieked in pain and flinched backwards from the light. Weak to light… no, not to light. Treachery demon. Harmed by truth. An incredibly dangerous threat for the unsuspecting citizenry of Augustana, but Mios began to grin; they were just about the worst possible match-up the demon could face. The thaumaturge reached into one of their many pouches, riffling for a bit before settling on a dried chrysanthemum. They passed the flower through the flame of their lantern and smeared the ash on their pick. They felt the concepts align, felt the tension of forces coming to oppose each other: against an unnatural creature of treachery cloaked in falsehoods, present an object of the natural world, symbolizing honesty, tempered in the light of truth. Three properties from the demon, three from Mios.
Their pick thrummed with power as the creatures howled. Time to get to work.
About the Author
Mark Seifter is the Director of Game Design for Roll for Combat, the former Design Manager at Paizo, and one of the four leads on the creation of Pathfinder Second Edition. He is the author of the thaumaturge class in Dark Archive. You can see him on Arcane Mark with Linda Zayas-Palmer Tuesdays at 7 PM Pacific, and Saturdays at 10 AM Pacific at https://www.twitch.tv/arcanemark, and Roll for Combat Live with Stephen Glicker at https://www.youtube.com/c/RollForCombat/." @markseifter on Twitter.
About Iconic Encounters
Iconic Encounters is a series of web-based flash fiction set in the worlds of Pathfinder and Starfinder. Each short story provides a glimpse into the life and personality of one of the games’ iconic characters, showing the myriad stories of adventure and excitement players can tell with the Pathfinder and Starfinder roleplaying games.