|The Eye of Eternity|
Here they were, right about to begin their journey into the unknown. Well, they didn't really know they were going to be making the journey, and looking back I'd say that I was a fair bit of a push for them in the right direction. Motivations aside, my coming into their lives changed everything for them forever… just as much as them coming into my life changed everything for me. — The Professor
On a snowy morning in Gozreh, three weeks after the defeat of the Demon of Almas, Birch is rudely awoken from his place of rest in a tent atop the Golden Aerie by the clumbsy descent of a flying man who was not particularly adept at flying. Trapped up on the golden dome at the crown of the tower, Professor Alistair Delgado pleaded for a stool or perhaps a ladder to help get him down from his predicament. Obliging with a stool he'd "borrowed" from the foyer earlier that day, Birch assisted the Professor in climbing down from the tower and was promptly recognized by the spindly Taldan man. Unfolding a copy of the newspaper that bore the first recorded photograph in history, the Professor proudly exclaimed that he had finally "found them."
Introducing himself as Professor of History and Ancient Cultures, Alistair Delgado of the College of Mysteries in Absalom, the stranger claimed to have been looking for Birch for some time after hearing stories of he and the other Heroes of Almas accomplishing such a heroic task. Asking to be introduced to Seriphos and Oniia, the Professor claimed he was about to embark on a grand adventure to find the legendary Cloud Castle of the Storm King and that he was assembling a team of interested parties.
While Birch busied himself collecting Seriphos and Oniia from within the Golden Aerie, the energetic Professor headed off to the Pathfinder Lodge in Almas to prepare information for the Heroes of Almas, instructing them to come by and visit whenever they were ready. After a brief discussion of how strange the Professor seemed, the Heroes of Almas were at least curious enough to meet up with him and see what he had to say. Arriving at the Pathfinder Society, Birch, Seriphos and Oniia were met by Miala Vileen who described how a conference room in the lodge had been taken over by a senior member of the Pathfinder Society. When they asked where they could find Professor Delgado, Miala pointed them to the very Pathfinder who had claimed her studying space.
Reunited with the Professor, the Heroes of Almas were more formally introduced. It was here they discovered that the Professor was a member of the Pathfinder Society and that he had come to Almas to meet the heroes who defeated the Demon of Almas, as he was searching for brave and talented individuals who could assist him with an important journey. The Professor claimed that an artifact known as the Cloud Castle of the Storm King may reside in the Five Kings Mountains on the border of Andoran, a magical castle capable of flying in the skies on a stormcloud and linked to the elemental planes. What the Professor hadn't told Birch earlier, was that he believed the castle may itself be responsible for the unending winter plaguing Avistan and beyond. The Professor posited that the castle may be somehow interfering with weather patterns and "malfunctioning."
Showing the Heroes of Almas on a map where he believed it was, the Professor cited that the castle may have come to rest in the lost city of Anen-Prezscha, an ancient ruin dating back to the empire of Azlant. Further tantalizing the heroes was a symbol the professor showed them, the symbol Seriphos and Lydia wore on their bodies and that the mysterious Master was murdering bearers of. The Professor claimed he had seen that symbol across many ruins on Golarion in his travels, and believed it was linked to the Castle of the Storm King. These leads were all it took for the Heroes of Almas to consider the Professor's proposal, but not before they discussed matters with their superiors in the Eagle Knights.
Agreeing that discretion and planning was likely a good idea, the Professor told the Heroes that they had one week before he would leaves Almas to search for the castle on his own, and that if they wanted to talk with him more they could find him at the Pathfinder Society until that time. With their meeting adjourned, the Heroes of Almas returned to the Golden Aerie.
Later that evening, after Seriphos, Birch and Oniia discussed the possibilities of the mark being tied to an ancient Azlanti ruin, they arranged for a meeting with Knight-Marshall Delacroix. In the briefing, Delacroix agreed that the possibility of finding out more about the Master's plans on top of potentially unraveling the mystery of the endless winter were too high of a priority to pass up. He was given permission to send the three as a special Eagle Knight envoy to research the origins of the winter along with any of their newly appointed subordinates that they so desired. Knowing that they needed to make preparations for their journey, Birch, Seriphos and Oniia split up to take care of personal matters in the time they've been given.
Birch returns to the Church of Gozreh to speak to the cavalier Areilyn but finds that he has moved on from members of the church. While traveling Almas, Birch finds in the back alleys and side-streets of Almas an unusual presence, the ghostly vestiges of a spirit of nature looking lost and forlorn. Huddled in the refuse of the alley, this pale and once verdant spirit appeared to Birch an emaciated figure, with hollow eyes and withered leaves covering its body. Birch identified it as a Kodama, a type of kami that resides in protection of trees.
Birch would speak to the kodama and discover that it came to Almas from the remote Darkmoon wood, where its darkwood tree was harvested for lumber that was brought to the city. The kodama claims that all of the trees of Almas have gone "silent" because of the winter, and it cannot make a home in them, and is disappearing because of it. The piteous kami begs for Birch to release it through the mercy of death. Birch, being such a pacifist, would not harm the kami. Instead, he knew exactly where to bring it.
Birch convinced the kami that there was still a tree in Almas that could receive it, and took the kodama to the living cathedral of Gozreh to speak to the ancient treat that lived there. After revealing the kodama's plight to the treat, the kodama was accepted into the treant as a protector spirit until such a time came when the winter winds receded. The kodama thanked Birch for his deed, and blessed him in the eyes of the kami so that all of his kind with good hearts would recognize Birch for his deeds.
Across Almas, Seriohos returned to Voras Olode's forge and set to work on several crafting projects he had left behind when the Professor showed up. Fate, however, would have other plans for Seriphos. During his work on a new sword, Seriphos fell into a haunted fugue state, where he heard the same whispering voices that he had heard when training with Reinn weeks prior.
????: If you can feel the wind and rain on your face even in the warm sun, you'll know you've come home.
????: From the wall, you can see into the edges of eternity and watch the way it curves right back to where you are.
????: Feel the weight? It's balanced towards the front, the curve is a part of the swing. Move your arm wide, like that, and feel the blade cleave through the air.
????: Feel the weight? It's balanced towards the grip, so don't hack with it. Swing and drag, like a saw. Feel the way it dances through the target.
In what felt like moments, hours had passed. In a few mere hours, Seriphos had forged a fantastic blade in that unclear state of mind. Before him lay a finished sword of gleaming steel, a lacquered scabbard, and a sense of bewilderment and confusion. More so, was that he could hear a voice echoing in his mind stronger than any of his own thoughts. "I am Tenshi no Tenbatsu, the Angel's Divine Punishment, and I am yours." Disbelief faded into wonderment as Seriphos examined the masterfully crafted sword, the voice in his mind, and the sense of familiarity he had with a sword he had never seen before. When asked what it was, the sword affirmed that it was a black blade, a sword with a spirit forged into the steel that has existed in one form or another for countless years. Seriphos asked of the blade if it had served another, and it explained that it had always server Seriphos.
Having heard legend of the black blades in his studies, Seriphos warily lifted the sword he knew was bound to him, and examined the inscription along the edge in the celestial tongue that repeated the name it had told him before. Having felt like he made a remarkable and weighty decision, Seriphos gave the blade a few experimental swings and then sheathed it at his side. He was not sure how to explain this to the others, or if he even would.
While Seriphos and Birch were handling their own tasks, Oniia was visiting with the children from the Winterbrook Orphanage in their new homes, making sure that they were being treated well and revealing to them who she really was. No longer hiding behind the mask of Nuvo, Oniia showed the former Winterbrook residents just who they could be, and that if a lowly orphan girl could become an Eagle Knight, any of them could accomplish great wonders and feats if they just believed in themselves. Oniia became a figure of legend among the orphans, one that would serve as an ideal they could all strive towards, a achievable goal living in the flesh and from their own 'world.'
It was a lesson Oniia would teach again, in the dark times to come.
Entering their lives was one of the hardest decisions I'd made. I took three people who had a destiny, and plucked them from their lives to drag them before the world. I didn't know exactly what was coming, for them, but I knew it would be an adventure the likes of which the world would never see again. But I knew it had to be them, and I knew that no matter how heavy my heart was, it was in the end the right choice. — The Professor
|Previously||The Devil is in the Details|
|Continued In||The Key and the Chain|