Solving the Bug Problem
The Red Mantis assassins weave their sawtoothed sabres in an intricate pattern, attempting to hypnotize the adventurers. Slim calls out a warning, but the Crimson Blades are able to resist the mental lure. Irabeth then calls upon Iomedae’s healing embrace to mend the group’s wounds.
While the assassins’ efforts failed, Krojun remains locked in a death grappled with a furious mountain lion. The Cinderlander continues to wail on the barbarian with a hand axe while trying to edge his way out of the fight.
Egan shields himself from the assassins by building a tower from wall of stone, then commands the treant Woody to destroy the Red Mantis. Meanwhile, Slim gets the drop on one of them trying to sneak around from behind on a yurt-top.
Remmy attacks one of the Mantids, but the assassin catches her sword in his sabre’s sawteeth and twists it from her hand.
“He blind-sided me!” she shouts.
Ashla cuts one of the assassins down, while Woody squashes two assassins flat. The treant then slaps the mountain lion ten feet into a yurt.
“Neverfar!” the Cinderlander cries out and runs towards the cat. He gets cut up by Ashla and Irabeth in the process and stumbles into the tent, tugging it down over him and his animal companion.
On the other side of the communal fire, Cinnabar and Arlynn face off against each other. The Red Mantis commander weaves her swords through the air, casting a spell with no obvious effect.
Though uncertain of Cinnabar’s skill with a blade, Arlynn charges her and breaks through the assassin leader’s defenses. But the paladin finds herself surrounded as Cinnabar’s summoned fiendish giant red mantids appear around her. While the insects distract Arlynn, Cinnabar cuts deep with her sawtoothed blades.
But Arlynn follows up with a devastating, divinely imbued strike. Cinnabar sees it coming and raises her sword in a salute, a faint smile on her lips as the paladin’s blade strikes home. The Red Mantis commander crumples to the ground, causing the gargoyles to scatter and the barbarians to cheer.
Standing over her defeated foe, Arlynn praises her for fighting honorably, but says she had no choice but to cut the assassin down.
The Vanishing Cinderlander
Across the camp, Kyra has finished her hunt for the last assassin who slew Zandu, riddling him with crossbow bolts.
Slim approaches the ruined yurt with sword drawn, intent on finishing off the Cinderlander. But the hunter and his big cat have both vanished, leaving no tracks that Ashla can see. A furious Slim and Krojun pledge to kill the bastard.
“We will kill him together, my brother!” Krojun insists.
Slim demands that Egan scry out the Cinderlander, using his cat “Neverfar” as the target. Krojun helpfully supplies one of the beasts’ claws, prying it out of his scalp.
While Egan prepares the spell, Slim translates a coded message found on Cinnabar. The message from “Mistress Kayltanya” instructs her to put her personal issues behind her and eliminate the Crimson Blades, with an added request that she retrieve Dr. Davaulus’ rapier.
Egan slowly focuses in on the badly wounded Neverfar, learning that Cinderlander has retreated to a cave system used by gargoyles. The gnome overhears him telling Neverfar he never should have taken this job from a bunch of townies who didn’t know what they were getting into. He says burning up his little escape trinket cost more than the entire job was worth. He hopes to look for better clients in Kaer Maga once his cat is well enough to travel.
Through his bond with nature, Egan gets a sense that the cave is about a dozen miles away. Slim urges the others to join him in slaying the Cinderlander.
“I am so down for that,” Kyra says.
The Hunted Hunter
Slim, Kyra, Arlynn, and Krojun ride Roc-Egan to the cave, using commune with nature to pinpoint the hunter’s location. Ashla stays behind to supervise recovery operations, with help from Irabeth and Remmy.
After landing gently outside the cave mouth, Egan sneaks into the cave. Slim follows, nearly blowing their cover. Kyra sidles up beside them. Arlynn clanks in.
The Cinderlander then comes tearing out, as if fleeing something and stops short when he sees Arlynn.
Krojun charges past Arlynn and finishes off the devil tshamek with one blow from his earth breaker hammer. The barbarian lets out a triumphant cheer—and is then immediately pounced on by Neverfar.
While Krojun struggles against this rematch, Slim sneaks up on Neverfar and kills the cat with his dagger of beast bane
Arlynn ventures deeper into the cave to discover what the Cinderlander was running from and notices a ring of teeth around the entrance to one cave. Egan determines that the cave is not natural, and Krojun identifies it as an abnormally large kashur, a shapeshifting ambush predator.
The adventurers proceed to toss a bunch of Egan’s acorn grenades down its gullet, killing it in a fiery explosion.
While his body lies mangled on the ground at the Flameford, Zandu’s soul is plucked from its journey through Pharasma’s Boneyard and drawn into the chaotic plane of the First World. His spirit is brought before the Eldest, the ancient lords of the Fey. They chastise him for squandering his destiny.
The Lantern King reaches deep into his soul and strips away the gleaming thread of fate that was to be his destiny—bringing down the House of Thrune. That accomplishment will go to another, he is told.
Zandu protests that he deserves a second chance, since he was cut down while supposedly under their protection. The Eldest tell him that he will be returning to Golarion soon enough—but when he does, he will be walking a different path in a different life than the one he lost.
The Lantern King extends his whispy hand again, this time holding an iridescent blue egg in his palm, which he jams within Zandu’s soul. The vibrant, shifting landscape of the First World then begins to fade into a mist, as the sorcerer feels the tug of the mortal realm drawing him back as if from a deep sleep.