|The Eye of Eternity|
|The Best Laid Plans|
In my experience, heroes are not defined by their actions, but by the merit of them when weighed against the gravity of history. A hero's greatness is equally proportionate to the impact that greatness has on future generations. Were you to pute the heroes of Almas against such a measure, their greatness would overshadow us all. — The Professor
The hunt is on!
Birch, Seriphos and Oniia hurry to meet the Demon of Almas head on. Racing their carriage down winding, snow-covered streets, the heroes follow the silhouette of the beast against the cloudy nights sky as it banks and turns, seemingly locked on to some fast-moving prey. When it comes to a stop, crashing atop the Silver Line train, the heroes make a desperate attempt to join it by riding their carriage alongside and leaping into battle.
Atop the train, the heroes confront the demon for the first time — seeing the hideous beast for what it truly is, a disfigured and enormous gargoyle unlike any ever seen in Andoran. Though fighting ferociously, they only seem to drive the demon back, his attacks more aimed to ward the heroes off than harm them. It becomes clear nearly too late that something is amiss.
When the roof of one rail car explodes open and a screaming woman is wrenched from within, the heroes discover that they have not yet realized the full scope of their dilemma. The "demon of Almas" turns to this new threat and engages, fighting a foe that no one else can see.
This time realizing that the thing they thought was a murderous beast may have been misunderstood, the heroes turn their focus on this invisible threat. All the signs match up — the stench of spoiled flesh and decay about it, the considerable strength. When it finally becomes visible, a hideous bone-winged and skeletal creature with a lashing scorpion's tail, Birch comes to quick understanding of what it is. A bone devil, and the true demon they have been chasing all along.
With cunning, strength and intelligence the heroes — alongside their new winged companion — manage to free the captive from the demon's grasp and send it fleeing from the battle. But, not before Oniia realizes that someone else is there. She can hear the sounds of someone else, also unseen, is hiding on the roof of the train. The same sounds of rustling cloth they had heard witnesses speak of in regards to the other murders may be yet another player in this all. But before they can determine what is what, both the Demon and the invisible enemy disappear.
Birch quickly drops into the train to gain control of the situation and stop the locomotive, while Seriphos and Oniia go to secure the young woman who was the demon's target and confirm that she, too, bears the tattoo all of the other victims have bore. The victim is none other than Nadira Basu-Sani, a popular actress of the stage and celebrity from Cheliax to Varisia. Ever grateful for her life being saved, Nadira does not yet realize just how deeply entwined with this she has become.
Moreover, the heroes are presented with the beast that they had blamed for the murders. Kind, humble and benevolent it calls itself Wiirn in crude Taldane. Birch realizes that Wiirn is deaf, and his hideous appearance stems from birth defects that are responsible for his deafness. Wiirn pledges that he is not a threat, and the heroes even discover that he follows a "gentle voice" that guides him. Seriphos recognizes that some of the powers Wiirn demonstrated in the battle could be that of a paladin.
The train is diverted back to Almas, and word of what happened is sent back to the city ahead of their arrival. On finally getting the train back into the city, Birch, Oniia, Seriphos and Wiirn are met by an enormous crowd of Eagle Knights and citizens. Wiirn emerges alongside the heroes, and that he was wrongly accused is announced to all who witness it, including a young Almas-born alchemist who takes this opportunity to test out his latest invention, combinging flash powder and photo-reactive paper, he generates the first photograph of the Heroes of Almas and Wiirn standing in front of the train.
This famous image is circulated in the Andoran Gazette and soon is seen across the Inner Sea as word of still images captured in time spread as a curiosity. For their valor and bravery, the heroes are given great accolade by the city of Almas.
Following the event on the train, Wiirn disappears into the city despite Birch's pleas to stay with the Eagle Knights. That night, after putting Nadira into protective custody, Seriphos, Birch, Oniia, Delecroix and Reinn get to planning how to confront the true demon.
The night after the attack on the train, Oniia has the most lucid dream she has experienced in her life. It is her recurring dream, of running through a field of blue grass, past trees made of frosted glass that shine with an internal light. She is chased by a knight in crystal armor, all the way until she reaches a glass coffin and is sealed within. This time, though, she saw the crystal knight scream and explode in a blast of glowing sand before her eyes. When she awoke from that dream, Oniia felt an ache on her stomach, and found a strange, swirled bruise there. She kept this revelation to herself, for the time being.
In deciding to follow up on his previous encounter, Seriphos enlists Birch and Oniia to investigate the tattoo artist from the previous day. Together they head to the parlor and confront the secretive Taldan owner and the mysterious tattooed woman. After a long, tense conversation the Heroes of Almas reveal to her that she is in grave danger of the Demon, for they believe it has the ability to locate others by means supernatural. The tattoo artist reveals her name to be Lydia Halcress, a woman of little importance — she insists — who was merely caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in all of this madness. It is then that Seriphos discovers his wayfinder his received in the mana wastes vibrating in his pack. Removing it, he finds the needle pointing directly at Lydia, then himself. Curiously, Seriphos questions Lydia about whether she has the tattoo herself, and she confirms that "yes, she got it once." But he can tell she is being evasive, and presses her further about this, though she refuses to budge. Eventually, they are able to convince Lydia and her keeper to allow her to be put into protective custody of the Eagle Knights until the matter is resolved.
The Heroes of Almas bring Lydia to the Golden Aerie, where she is kept in Oniia's room. Here, under the watchful eye of the Eagle Knights, Lydia reluctantly confesses secrets to her protectors that she felt unsafe doing before. Lydia claims to be the daughter of the deposed former Imperial Magistrix of Cheliax, Abrogail Thrune, living in exile. She also confesses that she does have the same mark others have, but that she has had it since she was a young woman when it mysteriously manifested on her body. Lydia then reveals that she can command fire through the mark, and Oniia calls in Seriphos to discuss this revelation. Seriphos, in turn, reveals to Oniia that he too possesses one of the marks — like Lydia, since birth — and that he can channel electrical powers through it.
Oniia likewise revealed that she had only recently possessed one of the marks, bruised into her stomach and becoming clearer and more precise over the day. When she revealed to Seriphos details of the dream she had before obtaining it, he admitted to having that same dream during on that day. Birch, too, would later admit to having that dream the same time as Oniia.
Realizing that there is more afoot than they realized, the three commit to working together to solve the mystery of the murders, for they now fear that Lydia has been the target of the demon all along.
While the others were ensuring Lydia's safety in the Golden Aerie, Birch was researching the legend of the Demon of Almas and its appearance over 100 years prior. Discovering that in the old tale the Demon was not defeated, but trapped under Almas in a collapse of the sea-side tunnels it dwelled in, he set out to find out how much proof of the story was true. Researching at the Pathfinder Society, he pieced together where the tunnels may have been, and combined that with knowledge that Wiirn smelled like sea-water (and observation brought on by Mun'yal's sharp senses).
Through trial and error of known tunnels below Almas, Birch eventually discovered Wiirn's lair. Here in the humble grotto deep beneath the city's streets, he met with the city's unknown protector and discovered a great secret. Wiirn held in his possession a mythical blade that was the source of the "gentle whispers" that guided him along his path. Not knowing its true nature, Birch asked if he could borrow the blade and Wiirn complied after receiving assurance from the sword itself. Birch brought the sword to be inspected by Seriphos, Nuvo and the others and it was quickly determined to be the very blade that a mortal Iomedae wielded before her ascension.
Knowing that Wiirn chose not to use the holy sword, and consulting him on his opinion, the group eventually decided to bequeath it to the church of Iomedae in Almas. The church was quick to take the blade and appoint a rightful owner to it, rapidly presenting the group with a young boy named Iorith who was protected and raised by an organization known as the Scabbard of the Inheritor. Iorith — a young paladin in training — would wield the holy sword in Iomedae's name and aid the heroes against the Demon of Almas in return for such a generous boon.
In the day that followed, scholars were consulted and the powers of the bone devil were laid out. All involved decide that a trap for the demon is best. Choosing the Vilcount Theater as the venue for this trap, Nadira is enlisted to serve as bait for the demon under the guide of practice for her scheduled performance of "Princess Snow and the Seven Keys to Doomsday," a dramatization of Oniia's favorite book from childhood, one that seems to haunt her dreams.
Birch reaches out to the kobolds outside of Almas to create traps to help snare the demon once it arrives, and places them up in the rafters to act as additional support. Reinn puts together a team of twelve eagle knights to attend the practice performance in plain clothes with concealed weapons. Among them are the eagle knight lance-corporals Bradin Tavel and Cerasan Falentini. Even Lydia herself agreed to take part in the trap, having her mark obscured by magic much like Nadira's so that Seriphos was the sole bait to be felt.
With everything set up, the Heroes of Almas waited for their opportunity to strike.
|Continued In||The Devil is in the Details|