31st Lamashan, 4710. The Village of Weatherby and surrounding countryside, North-Western Amaans Ustalav:
In the battle with the Black Dragon, as Rastomir and Victor are about to retreat from what they feel is a doomed fight Ursk happens upon a lucky strike against the creature, which results in the breaking of a powerful transmutation spell. The Dragon – so fiercely fighting only seconds earlier – drops to the ground as an unconscious human man; an amulet of transmogrification cracked by the Graveknight’s powerful punch. Unable to control his rage, the Barbarian continues to assault the man who….does not awaken.
As Victor steals away with loot, Rastomir – unhappy as he realises the man is most likely the farmers’ brother – heads back to the farmstead to confront the man, with his brother in tow. Ursk remains behind to begin gathering up the loot.
Victor arrives at the farmstead ahead of Rastomir, and sneaking into the place he confronts the man and warns him to confess for his crimes. Claiming that he and his brother have been using the amulet to dupe adventurers and passers-by to their deaths, when he feigns ignorance, Victor knocks the man unconscious and heads back to Weatherby Village to ensure he pays for what he has done.
Rastomir arrives shortly after, but finding the farmer missing and the farmstead empty, he pockets the money the man was counting previously and decides to make an example of the brother should he return. Mutilating the corpse, Rastomir leaves it sitting at the table, appearing to eat his own intestines. Annoyed that he could not cause any more suffering, the Warpriest takes the Farmer’s cart from outside the property and heads back to the cave where he and Ursk load up all the valuables before heading back to Weatherby Village with their spoils.
Meanwhile at the village, while the Spectral Riders continue to slaughter and kill the villagers, behind a water-trough outside of the Tavern Gregor ducks down and assumes his Deathless Form: that of a Lich. He notices that the screaming subsides and looks back up to find that the riders have stopped and are looking in his direction. Surmising that they somehow detected his transformation, the mage takes a gamble and approaches the three riders he can see, and as he does so a fourth joins them from behind another building as he hears the hoofalls of the fifth coming up behind him.
When Gregor attempts to communicate with them, the riders simply point behind him, to the fifth rider who produces a human skull from under its cloak. Placing it in its mailed hand, the skull – covered in arcane runes – floats inches above the riders hand and an eerie red glow emanates from within the once-empty eye sockets. From the skull comes a voice: that of a pleasantly-spoken and well-mannered human, sporting an unusual but not obtrusive accent.
Claiming to be none other than Tar-Baphon (The Whispering Tyrant) , the Skull says he has a proposition for the group, but that he would like to speak to them in person. Requesting that Gregor (whom he seems to know) collect his companions together, he says he will speak to them again once they are all together within the village, and that his Riders will stand down just outside of the village limits until they are ready to talk.
Agreeing to at least this much, Gregor ends the conversation with the skull, and the Riders do as is intended: turn about face and retreat to the edge of the village, where they remain – motionless.
As Gregor and Vlad (now both back in their mortal forms) tend to the wounded in the Tavern, Victor returns with his formidable cat-companion Jynx, and the unconscious farmer whom he incarcerates with the aid of what remains of the village militia. Explaining the situation to him, Victor is immediately suspicious but agrees to wait for the remaining two members of the group to arrive. Alexandria, removing herself from the mirror-portal she had sheltered the villagers in remains blissfully unaware of the events but Gregor mentions that the Riders are holding off, and that the group will confront them when together.
Satisfied after a few moments that the Riders are remaining where they are, Alexandria keeps herself busy helping tend to the wounded.
When Ursk and Rastomir return to the village (complete with a wagon bristling with goods), Gregor, Vlad and Victor explain the situation out of earshot from Alexandria and, after resting a while, the group head out to speak to the Riders (or rather, The Whispering Tyrant) while Alexandria remains behind.
The conversation between the group and the Skull is as cordial as before, and Tar-Baphon says to the group that he too is searching for the Wizard Zakalov, and asks that they attend his estate in Gallowspire (a tower within the destroyed city of Adorak in Virlych) as his guests as they have much to discuss. He says he understands they may be reluctant, but that he has information that will help them – not only in understanding their new natures, but in helping them find the Wizard and even Gregor’s Wife, Rosalee. Tar-Baphon says he can help them survive their confrontation with who he calls “the mad wizard”, but asks that they bring the Wizard’s daughter (Alexandria). When confronted about why, he is open about the fact he needs her for a ritual, but that there is a possibility she might not survive it. He points out that with her wasting disease she will die anyway, and he might be able to lift the curse – the alternative being a quick and less painful death than the one she is due to suffer.
Victor remains quiet and reluctant to comment throughout, but the rest of the group go along with the ruse and agree to meet the Whispering Tyrant at Gallowspire by weeks’ end.
Once the conversation concludes the Spectral Riders simply turn and gallop away, leaving the group to discuss matters. Rastomir argues the advantages of following up on the Tyrant’s offer, whereas Gregor feels they should carry on to Lepidstadt. Ursk suggests that they speak to Alexandria about what she wants to do, which they do when they head back to the Tavern and the group retire to a private room upstairs.
After having the situation explained to her Alexandria is horrified to hear of the potential return of The Whispering Tyrant and adamantly refuses to go with them to Gallowspire, instead saying she will leave for Lepidstadt in the morning, with or without the rest of them. When she retires for the evening, the group discuss matters and – much to Rastomir’s chargin, the group decide to go with Alexandria.
1st Neth, 4710. The Village of Weatherby, North-Western Amaans Ustalav:
The group head out by Coach the following day, with little-to-no disruptions along their journey. The Carriage continues through the night and the group decide that they should carry on to the walled city of Tamrivena which would likely take another couple of days by coach. Overnight they cross into the province of Canterwall.
2nd Neth, 4710. Rural countryside of Canterwall, Ustalav:
Along the road the following day the carriage comes to an abrupt halt when the road is taken up by the cross-legged form of an old human man carrying a stick sitting in the road. When Ursk and Gregor leave the coach to question him, the man seems confused saying that he is where he is meant to be, but also that he not sure what year it is. Explaining to the characters that he is meant to take them to “The Serene Circle”, he explains they are meant to say no, but that he takes them anyway. Initially the group think he is hostile, then a little crazy, but realise he is talking in both future and past-tense. When they unanimously agree not to go with them, the man gleefully claps his hands and Gregor, Ursk, Rastomir, Vlad and Victor vanish.
Appearing an instant later in a vast and well-ordered city, the group realise immediately than not only do they seem to have teleported, but that their companions are not with them. A city of glistening gold and pristine streets, winged humanoids and horseless carriages fills the sky above them, and both Gregor and Rastomir come to the conclusion they are in one of the Heavens. The Old Man confirms they are on the Plane of Axis, before leaving them in the company of a gigantic white Celestial Tiger called Chem-Chem, and a dour Stone-giant Monk who goes by the name of Sixth Rebirth. The two stand outside of a Temple of Irori, a small and modest building compared to the others that surround and dwarf it.
Chem-Chem asks the group to follow him inside, which they do all except for Rastomir who hits some form of invisible barrier. Recognising a taint upon him, Sixth Rebirth removes it from the Warpriest at the cost of his own left hand, which crumbles to dust.
Entering the Church the group find that is part of an extra-planar space: though small and unassuming on the outside, inside it is a glorious golden cathedral that towers hundreds of feet high; along the ceiling glide all manner of angels and celestial flying creatures. Though magnificent in its grandeur, the group are immediately drawn to the almost impossibly-tall human-looking figure who sits upon a golden throne at the end of the cathedral. At one-hundred and fifty feet in height even while seated, the individual looks to be of Vudrani-Human descent and colouring with a shaved head bar a single long braid of hair. Dressed in robes and sandals, he sits in contemplative silence with his eyes closed.
The group are immediately aware they are in the presence of the God Irori.
When the group are introduced by Chem-Chem Irori opens his golden eyes and stands (towering over 200ft in height) and descends the steps of the throne toward them, shrinking his form as he does so until he stands at eight feet by the time he reaches the bottom step.
Courteous and respectful to the group, the God thanks them for coming and explains to them that they exist in the time between moments, and that nobody knows that they have left the Prime Material Plane. When the group ask why he wishes to speak to them, Irori leads them to another chamber within The Serene Circle and shows them an animated Orrery of the entire Multiverse; including Golarion and the other planets as well of the various planes of existence. He shows them a light to indicate all things in creation and slowly removes the types (Gods, Mortals, Outsiders, Abberations, Undead) one by one until the entire image is devoid of lights. He then asks the group to show him where they are. They cannot, and this is what disturbs the God so greatly. Irori explains that he can see all things that exist in the past, the present and the future, and that the group are not among them. Showing them the point where they died at Dharnic, he points out that they should remain there, but they do not. Somehow, all five of them are working outside of fate, or to put it another way – should not exist.
Irori explains that had one of his agents not seen them and reported their existence to the God he would not even know they were on Golarion, and that is something which is unprecedented. For that reason alone, he warns the group that powerful forces – the Gods included – will soon move to either coerce, dominate or destroy them as they present a uniquely unknown quantity, a power which all others will covet.
While he cannot directly intervene – due to the laws of divinity – Irori offers all of the group a simple token which they can use to ask for sanctuary within The Serene Circle, a token which all but Rastomir accepts. He also answers as many questions as he can, as well as some requests – he replaces magical items of the characters for others of equal value, which includes objects to obscure scrying for Alexandria, Jynx and Faeona. Before returning them to the Prime Material, Irori gives the group two pieces of information: the first is to “beware watchful eyes from the trees” and that Alexandria has a way to speed their journey to Lepidstadt, though she is not aware of it.
Wishing the group well, Irori gets Chem-Chem to return them to their Carriage on the Prime Material plane, asking lastly that they tell nobody – except for his Brothers and Sisters, and only directly – about The Serene Circle.
Moments later the group return to the coach with a flash, less than a second after they had initially left. Though the Carriage had stopped amid an open plain, the edge of a forest loomed ahead of them in their journey and the group remembered the words of the God. Unsure how to get Alexandria to unlock the knowledge she held inside of her, Rastomir prayed to Urgotha for guidance and suggested Alexandria prayed for enlightenment as well.
This proved to be a prudent course of action, as although Alexandria herself was unaware of it, her deep mediation tapped into her latent Oracle abilities and she slipped into a enlightened subconscious state. Leaving the carriage without a word, the group followed her as she walked right into the woods. Sure enough, the group were almost immediately set upon by bandits but Alexandria in her trance-like state simply wandered on while the group – warned in advance of an ambush – were able to make quick work of their attackers.
Eventually Alexandria led them to a bush like a hundred others she had passed, but it magically parted and she stepped through an invisible gateway. Rushing behind her the group travelled through the portal and found themselves on the outskirts of Lepidstadt City.
Gaining entry into the City was remarkably easy, and is was quickly evident why: Nothing living stirred within the city walls. No birds, rats, cats or dogs, and certainly none of the almost ten-thousand citizens.
There were no bodies, no signs of struggle. Just putrid, rotten food that had been left out to decompose….