After securing horses, gear and supplies, the Crimson Blades prepare to leave Harse. They aren’t the only ones, either. Their host Jasan Adriel and his family are already packing up their belongings, preparing to flee to Magnimar before word of their connection to the adventurers reaches Queen Ileosa.
Vencarlo, Neolandis, Trinia, and Vittora are also saddling up for the journey to Janderhoff. Vencarlo takes Ashla aside, telling her that he had hoped to reveal his identity as Blackjack in a more discrete fashion. He says that the folk hero has protected Korvosa for two hundred years, the role passing from one person to the next. Vencarlo admits that he has been slow to train a successor, with his two most recent proteges having fallen out with him. But he insists that Ashla has already exceeded his wildest expectations. He offers her his cloak and gear, but she insists he hang onto it for now.
“I will keep it safe until your return from the Cinderlands,” Vencarlo promises.
Three separate processions set out from the Blackbird Ranch, one going west towards Magnimar, one turning east towards Janderhoff, and the third making northwest along a path Slim recommended that will take the party to the community of Abken.
During their first day riding through the prairie land of the Varisian interior, the Crimson Blades pass by several flat-topped hills that Zandu identifies as the Shoanti cairns where Trinia and Vittora had stumbled onto a nest of ettercaps.
After taking shelter for the night in a cave along a rocky range of hills, the adventurers begin following the Runtash River north upstream towards Abken. That’s when Egan jumps up in his saddle to stand on the back of Reno the riding dog. The gnome’s keen eyes spy a grassfire racing towards them across the plains.
The party charges into the shallows of the river for safety. As the fire hurtles towards them— driving hares, ground squirrels, and other small animals before it—Egan casts quench, shielding a 190 foot square around the party from the flames. An hour later, after the embers have cooled down, the adventurers continue on their way.
Dave’s Not Here, Man
Abken is a walled compound along the Runtash River and as the Crimson Blades arrive, its doors stand closed. After some aggressive knocking, a voice calls out from the walls: “Whoa.”
Slim recalls that Abken was settled by peace-loving riff-raff from Korvosa whose commune has been a persistent nuisance for city officials, particularly its tendency to pay taxes on intermittently and often in the form of goods including illegal drugs such as cabble-weed and flayleaf.
Using this knowledge, he strikes up a rapport with their interlocutor, Iozif, convincing him that the party is just trying to get away from the “bad vibes” in Korvosa. After deciding that the adventurers won’t harsh the commune’s mellow, Iozif lets them inside the compound. It’s a slightly shabby, well-lived space, where the people dress in bright (if somewhat faded colors) and everyone moves about with a sense of cheerful lethargy.
The adventurers set up in a barn, where Zandu offers to tell fairy tales from distant Cheliax (to the delight of children and their parents), while Arlynn seeks out the local healer. Convinced that the matronly woman is competent enough, the paladin shares a few tips on treating injuries and poisons. Slim, meanwhile, asks about hiring a boat to take them further north. He also learns that tax time has come and gone, but no one from the city has arrived to collect, though he suggests that the authorities have other matters on their mind.
Slightly woozy from spending an evening entertaining the Abkenites, Zandu tries to chat up Kyra, but the Halfling woman just gently sends him to bed. Egan, meanwhile, finds a quiet corner and curls up with Reno.
In the morning, the party boards one of the Abkenite boats, have agreed on a deal to ferry them up to the village of Sirathu in exchange for providing the commune with goods to take back home once they arrive.
The Seer of Sirathu
While the Abken was merely worn and a little shabby, Sirathu is simply destitute. A few dozen ramshackle buildings cluster around a central fountain. Made of the same black marble as the major landmarks of Korvosa, the rough-hewn fountain sports a half-finished statue of Field Marshal Jaktion Korvosa. A pool of crystal clear water fills the fountain basin, catching the reflection of the drab and sullen buildings around it.
It doesn’t take long for the Crimson Blades to notice how the scrawny townsfolk keep shooting them furtive looks and whispering to each other excited tones. The party rolls into the nameless excuse for an inn and after securing lodging, Arlynn and Irabeth take a casual stroll around town to scout the place. They notice that the best kept building in Sirathu sits on the outskirts of town and is built in the fashion of a Pharasman chapel, but sports no religious symbols on its exterior.
Zandu asks the apathetic barkeep whether he can perform, while Slim gets one of the locals talking and learns that the party’s arrival has been foreseen by a local oracle. After Zandu delivers a spectacular recitation of the Chelaxian epic “Three Hearts and Three Lions,” the party is approached by the local and a Pharasman priest, who invites them to see the oracle.
They are taken into the back room of the Pharasman chapel, where a slender, dark-haired girl of about en waits for them. She introduces herself as Pontia and says she has been blessed with visions from the Lady of Graves. She says she saw the party in her visions as peacebringers. A war is brewing, she claims, one that only they can halt with a few brave deeds and some well-placed words. If they do not act, the Shoanti will sweep down from the Storval Rise and lay waste to everything from Sirathu to Korvosa.
Pontia also shares a special message with each of them before they go.
Enemies in High Places
Her words to Slim trigger a startling epiphany and afterwards the rogue gathers the party in his room at the inn to warn them of his situation. He explains that Ambassador Amprei and two Chelaxian nobles, Viscount Myrenos Stylexes and Archdeacon Kalemnos Porphyria, are after him for the Thassilonian medallion, which Slim believes could give its owner claim over Korvosa’s territory. Slim fears that the Ambassador has been scrying on him, explaining how the letter was waiting for him in Harse.
Zandu is able to fill in a little more detail on the two nobles. Stylexes is a commoner elevated to nobility thanks to his efforts to establish a Chelaxian version of Korvosa’s officially-sanctioned thieves guild. Porphyria has substantial influence in the Church of Asmodeus despite coming from a minor house—a house which briefly held the Crimson Throne fifty years ago before being driven from Korvosa.
Slim further explains that an agent of Amprei’s, Raven, is expecting to meet him at the Sorry Excuse in Kaer Maga to negotiate the acquisition of the medallion—which he has no intention of handing over. The Crimson Blades are willing to back him up, but the rogue hopes that he has enough leverage that it won’t come to blows.
Into the Halflight Path
Towering 3,000 feet high in places and never dipping below a thousand, carved with the faces and forms of vanished kings and gods, the cliff face of the Storval Rise separates the lush lowlands of the coast from the arid and pitiless badlands of the Storval Plateau. Already visible on the horizon from Sirathu, it takes just a half a day’s ride to bring the adventurers within the shadow of the rocky bluffs.
Before setting out, Ashla had explained that there were three ways to reach Kaer Maga. They could take the winding trade roads to the ease that follow the Yondabakari River up its cataracts to the top of the Storval Plateau, they could take a longer route northwest to the giant-sizes Storval Stairs, or they could follow the most direct but most dangerous approach: the Halflight Path. The adventurers had agreed that the third option was the best for their purposes.
So the half-elf leads them to the Twisting Door, a set of enormous bronze doors set into the face of the cliff directly beneath the city and covered in inscrutable runes. They are met by a Duskwarden, one of the keepers of the Halflight Path and their guide on the journey up. After they pay their fee, he provides each of them with a small glowing charm that will light their way through the darkness and can also be used to summon aid from nearby Duskwardens.
Traveling single file, the party is led up the winding tunnels—some the product of elaborate stonework, the others seemingly natural chambers—and occasionally out onto the cliff face itself. Everywhere, the brickwork of the Duskwardens can be seen walling off side passages and alternate routes. But the masonry cannot block the distant—or not so distant—sounds of screams, snuffling, and scratching that echo up from the depths. At one point, Zandu’s horse spooks, but Egan is able to calm it before the terrified beast can do any real harm.
The party emerges in a bunker-like structure just outside the city, where their Duskwarden guide immediately sets to rounding up a group of waiting travelers for the trip back down.
Everything Has Its Price
From a distance, Kaer Maga appears to be an enormous outcropping of gleaming, white stone extending straight up from the cliff ’s edge, its 80-foot-high walls forming a seamless, six-sided ring. Upon closer inspection, however, the great walls are riddled with holes at every level, doors and windows carved by its residents.
The gateway to Kaer Maga is the Warrens, a slum district built amid the wreckage from an enormous hole that was blasted out of the enormous wall in ages past. As they ride through the dank and ramshackle neighborhood, several street urchins approach to volunteer their services as guides, but are turned away.
Past the warrens, Ashla leads them through Downmarket, one of the open-air districts at the center of the city’s hexagon. An enormous bazaar of tents, stall, carts, and awnings, it is a cacophany of colors, sounds, odors and flavors from every corner of Golarion and beyond. Humans of every type rub shoulders with all manner of creatures from the raven-headed tengu to full-blooded orcs. Irabeth growls at the site of slaves being auctioned off, but Arlynn lays a calming hand on her shoulder and reminds her that there is a time and place for justice.
Slim and Ashla talk Remmy into shopping for a new eye patch, though the Gray Maiden insists she doesn’t want anything too gaudy. They stop at the stall of Chew the Cyclops, who claims to offer fine accessories for the discerning oculus, everything from eye patches to spectacles to actual eyes in various sizes and colors. Slim is initially curious about purchasing an eye and having it enchanted to act as an artificial eye for Remmy, but is dissuaded by the cost. Ultimately, the Gray Maiden picks out a crimson and silver embroidered patch—and then picks up a black and silver patch to get the store discount.
Ashla leads them on through Downmarket and the gaudy Hospice District and into the working class neighborhood known as the Bottoms, a district under the protection of a democratic anti-slavery group known as the Freedmen. The half-elf takes the party to the Common House, a sprawling structure that serves triple duty as headquarters for the Freedmen, temple to Cayden Cailean, and the best bar in town. Ashla notes that any divine caster willing to provide healing at no charge gets free room and board.
Irabeth ponders the madness of a city where slavers and escaped slaves both do business openly within its walls. Ashla explains that the Freedmen and the slave mongers have “an arrangement” that keeps the peace. A few denizens of the Common House, meanwhile, give Ashla strange looks. Slim asks what caused her to leave Kaer Maga in the first place and she admits that “There might have been a fire.”
Arlynn turns to Irabeth. “Forgive me if I overstep my bounds by asking, but when you were sold as a slave here, how much did your captors pay for you?”
“Do not worry about giving offense, Ser Arlynn,” Irabeth says. “I was auctioned off for 3,000gp, the going rate for gladiators.” She glares into her ale mug. “When the orcs took me captive, they said I was too ugly to despoil—”
“What do orcs know of such things?” Arlynn snorts.
“Aw, Irabeth, you’re beautiful!” Egan pipes up.
The points of her ears reddening, the half-orc continues. “They thought instead to get some sport from the little female half-breed and they threw me into their beast pit with only a blunted sword. But they forgot that goddess was with me. After I had slain the last of their menagerie, the only way their chief could be rid of me without losing face was to sell me off. So I was marched across the Cinderlands in chains to this gâdhûmûrz city, where the Bekyars purchased me and dragged me down to Korvosa.”
An Offer They Can’t Refuse
Getting down to business, the Crimson Blades work out how they will deal with Slim’s friend Raven. Deciding it is better not to tarry, they plan to head over to the Sorry Excuse, where Slim will meet with the Ambassador’s man.
“I’m going to give them an offer they can’t refuse,” the rogue says, a glint of excitement his eye.
“I dunno,” Kyra says, “I don’t think we can afford to lose any of our horses.”
The Sorry Excuse is a dilapidated two-story building in the Ankar-Te District of Kaer Maga, sporting few windows. The dingy common room is lit only by a single sullen fire pit that casts dark shadows on the far side of the chamber. The adventurers enter in a few discrete groups, taking up positions around the fire. Zandu asks permission to perform and is told by the barkeep that he can—for a fee and a percentage of any tips.
Slim seeks out the darkest corner and finds Raven already waiting for him there. The masked and cowled figure tells him that the Ambassador is willing to pay the equivalent of both bounties on his head in exchange for the medallion and put the word out that Slim no longer has it.
Slim is insulted by this paltry sum and insists that he knows full well what the medallion is truly worth. Raven doubts him.
The Varisian rogue then makes a counter-offer. He holds onto the medallion for now and instead helps bring down the Queen, Stylexes, and Porphyria—all known enemies of Ambassador Amprei. Raven scoffs at the idea that Slim and his companions could accomplish all that—especially given that all three are currently hunting for Slim. The last thing Amprei wants is for the medallion to fall into someone else’s hands.
Slim warns that if Raven tries any funny business, he will leak certain documents revealing the full extent of the Ambassador’s treachery to the Queen, which mean heads, spikes, walls regardless of diplomatic immunity.
As Raven ponders this, another cloaked figure across the room begins casting a spell. Raven whirls around. “Wait, what are you doing?”
Slim feels something tugging on the chain of the medallion beneath his shirt, but he is able to keep the amulet from flying away. The spellcaster then suggests that Slim remain seated, but the rogue doesn’t take the hint.
Slim rises and vanishes into the shadows while the rest of the party comes to his aid. Remmy slams the table against Raven, wedging him into his seat, and Egan then uses shape stone to wall him up. Arlynn and Irabeth close in on the mage, while two half-orc grunts rise to his defense. Zandu warns everyone not aligned with the spellcaster to get out of the way.
“You know the drill,” the barkeep adds. “Duck and cover!”
Ashla and Remmy keep the half-orcs bottled up and as the paladins close in on the spellcaster, he dimension doors out of there. Slim brings down one of the thugs and the other surrenders. The party then gathers around the stone cylinder imprisoning Raven. But when Egan parts the stone, they only find shadows inside. However, the agent’s surreptitious escape was bungled when he stepped in a spot of blood which Ashla tracks upstairs.
They spy the black cowled agent attempting to escape via the upstairs balcony and the chase is on. The adventurers—with Slim in the lead—chase Raven past an angry dog, a surly drunk, over a fence, past a brick wall and into a crowded street. Slim is able to nick him with his rapier before the man is disappears into the teeming masses.
Unfortunately, amid all the hustle and bustle Egan gets disoriented an separated from the group. Irabeth and Kyra stay behind at the Sorry Excuse to guard their captive, while Remmy is kept at bay by the angry dog.