Pathfinder Tales: Prince of Wolvesby Dave Gross
- For elven Pathfinder Varian Jeggare and his devil-blooded assistant Radovan,
things are rarely as they seem. Yet not even the notorious crime-solving duo is prepared for what they find when a search for a missing Pathfinder takes them into the mist-shrouded mountains of gothic Ustalav. Beset on all sides by noble intrigue, mysterious locals, and the deadly
- For elven Pathfinder Varian Jeggare and his devil-blooded assistant Radovan,
things are rarely as they seem. Yet not even the notorious crime-solving duo is prepared for what they find when a search for a missing Pathfinder takes them into the mist-shrouded mountains of gothic Ustalav. Beset on all sides by noble intrigue, mysterious locals, and the deadly creatures of the night, Varian and
Radovan must use both sword and spell to track the strange rumors to their source and uncover a secret of unimaginable proportions. But it’ll take more than merely solving the mystery to finish this job, for a shadowy figure has taken note of the pair’s investigations, and is set on making sure neither man gets out of Ustalav alive...
- From fan-favorite author Dave Gross comes a new fantastical mystery set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.
- Paizo Publishing, LLC
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 Years
Read an Excerpt
Pathfinder Tales: Prince of Wolves
By Dave Gross
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Paizo Inc.
All rights reserved.
Forgive me for transporting our correspondence from my customary letters to this journal. In the absence of reciprocal communication, however, I shall keep this record in hopes that I may deliver it personally into your hands. This medium might elicit more informality than you have come to expect, and I hope you shall receive it in the spirit of camaraderie. Yours have been among the most welcome of the reports I compile for the Society.
Naturally I grew concerned upon the return of my undelivered missives, all the more so upon receipt of the report from Doctor Trice, whose dearth of resources leaves him without a clue as to your current whereabouts. Of course I sent inquiries to my personal contacts in Caliphas, but upon discovering that the whispering lilies twinned to the bulbs you carry had all perished in my greenhouse, my concerns became fears. I pray it is a mishap only that has eliminated our last avenue of communication. I shall proceed in the hope and belief that you are awaiting my assistance.
I must admit that my anxiety is heightened by your tantalizing hints as to the object of your expedition. My researches in both the Egorian Lodge and my personal library have uncovered scant references to this Lacuna Codex. It seems to have played a part in the earliest conflicts between the last Kings of Ustalav and the agents of that dread lich known as the Whispering Tyrant. And yet if so, one would expect some mention of the Codex among the catalogues of spoils at Lastwall, but my correspondents there report no such reference.
The only additional information I gleaned before departing Greensteeples was a reference to a similarly named tome, roughly translated from the ancient Thassilonian. If these are two references to the same book, then the knowledge contained within is far older than you might anticipate. Worse, my information suggests it has its origin in the earliest known writings of the cult of Urgathoa, the Pallid Princess. My greatest fear is that you run afoul of a contemporary cell of that awful following, for the atrocities of their necromancers are exceeded only by the depravity of their disciples. It is difficult to know what you expect, of course, since it has been over eight months since your last report.
Such a long silence after such tantalizing hints about your expedition naturally piqued my concern. You can imagine my surprise, however, when the Decemvirate itself contacted me to inquire about your latest report, an inquiry that I was unfortunately unable to satisfy due to my lack of information. Admittedly, my initial reaction was to be cross that you had sent redundant reports that, however unintentionally, offered my superiors in the Society the impression that I have been less than supportive of your endeavors. Coupled with rumors of recent misfortunes in my home city of Egorian, such communications undermined the confidence in which the Decemvirate has held my performance these past sixty years.
It is not my intention to air my concerns outside of the personal rapport we have established in the time since your reports were assigned to my attention, and I assure you that my interest is primarily to assure myself of your safety and success.
Thus have I come to Caliphas, accompanied by only a valet and bodyguard. I shall employ additional servants locally and follow your trail, as I am certain you have marked it well and subtly. When I find you, I shall place this journal in your hands, and you will weigh it as proof of the great value of your work both to the Pathfinder Society and to me, your friend and colleague, Venture-Captain Varian Jeggare.
* * *
Despite lacking experience beyond the borders of Cheliax, my new valet has demonstrated a commendable aptitude for bureaucracy, so I left the tedious affairs of foreign passage largely in his hands. Unfortunately, certain key comforts of travel were lost during an incident about which I still harbor suspicions, and the remainder of the voyage to Caliphas was less than agreeable. I shall leave it at that, for now.
My hope is that time away from our native city will provide respite from the late unpleasantness, and not for myself alone. You may recall that my longtime bodyguard, Radovan, while orphaned, is principally of Ustalav heritage. One hopes that he will find some solace among his people, even if he was born and raised in Cheliax. I wish he could see my inclusion of him on this venture as a reward, as I intended. Let us hope that he does not cause me to regret retaining him in service.
It occurs to me now that the three of us — you, me, and Radovan — share the dubious blessing of mixed parentage. Except in his legacy of the red carriage, my elven father is unknown to me. Orphaned so young, Radovan remembers little of his parents, or so he has told me, and naturally he knows nothing of that infernal ancestor who forever cursed his line as hellspawn. I use the term "cursed" deliberately, for while many might apply it carelessly to you or me, the people of Cheliax, damned as they are for serving the Prince of Lies, reserve an acute disdain for those in whose veins runs the blood of Hell. For my part, I have never felt entirely welcome in human society, even as a child. Not since the death of my mother and the rise of the devil-worshiping House of Thrune, certainly. Perhaps you and I shall discuss the matter further. I doubt the subject would be of interest to Radovan, who often strives to pass for human.
Our ship arrived in Caliphas two days ago, and my first order of business was to interview Doctor Trice at that insane asylum he employs as a Pathfinder lodge. His demeanor suggested that he might be at risk of becoming one of his own residents one day, and I sense that the locals enjoy a certain black amusement in the fact that most of his patients are former Pathfinders. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved not to find you among those in his custodianship.
Trice could only confirm that you had consulted him upon your arrival; he could not tell me where you planned to search next. I shall not reprimand you for failing to share more information with him, for despite the code of our Society, not every member will aid you as I have. I do not know enough about Trice to say whether he can be relied upon, and so I must trust in your judgment in the matter.
After leaving Trice, I considered dispatching Radovan to cull what information he could from the markets and public houses while I reintroduced myself to the nobility of Ustalav. Sadly, Radovan has never exhibited the least interest in the Pathfinder Society, and has in fact come dangerously close to insolence in his jests about what he calls our "little club." Perhaps I am still annoyed with him for the liberties he takes in fulfilling his duties. A bodyguard is not expected to protect one from oneself.
Letters had been dispatched by quick post before I invested the custodianship of Greensteeples to my cousin Leonzio, and I was fortunate enough to arrive just before a grand social occasion including representatives of most of the noble houses of Ustalav. Many were previously unknown to me, since during my past visit most of those human men and women who now rule were children. I had hoped that someone among them had heard report of your visit. Unfortunately, the current generation of Ustalav nobility was less welcoming than the former had been.
Perhaps I am unduly sensitive to the issue, but I could not help but suspect their questions about the rich holdings of Cheliax were veiled accusations directed toward my wholly inadequate gift to Prince Aduard. If not for Radovan's mischief, instead of that ghastly samovar Nicola found in the Gold Quarter, I should have presented His Highness with six cases of the finest wine the family vineyards have yet produced. Certainly no fewer than five cases.
When the evening finally became eventful, I had escaped, however briefly, the relentless pursuit of the Ambassador from Westcrown. She had summoned me to the embassy upon my arrival in Caliphas, whereupon she subjected me to a gratuitous admonishment to avoid embarrassing the throne during my stay. She was a lovely, crass, uneducated thing. She did not even offer me a drink before patronizing me, who traveled abroad in the service of the throne before her grandfather was born.
Thankfully, I saw no sign of her in the portrait gallery on the south face of the Royal Palace, where I had escaped to enjoy a glass of a tolerable local vintage. Behind me, the sharp strains of the Prince's musicians were muted as the servants closed the ballroom doors. I could still discern the melody of a common Varisian folk tune beneath the arrangement created for the occasion of the Prince's sixty-fifth anniversary. Its name varies, but I have always thought of it as "Eyes at Dusk," a song played in my native Cheliax from the long market to the gilt stage of Egorian's Grand Opera, where I last heard it braided into the overture to The Water Nymph.
I relished the music and wine while gazing out over the Royal Square, whose central fountain was dedicated to the nation's founder, Soividia Ustav. The retiring sun cast a halo around the onion-shaped spires of the Grand Cathedral of Pharasma, the most imposing structure in all of Caliphas. Its granite walls absorbed rather than reflected the light, and its narrow buttresses evoked the images of an ashen forest. At the foot of the edifice, a throng of black-robed worshipers lit candles and began the Procession of Unforgotten Souls. In the twilight, their candles blazed brighter than stars as they walked single file down ramps into the waters of the serpentine pool that wound its way beneath the pediment and into the foundations. For a time they seemed only to disappear, each candle winking out one after the other as their bearers entered deeper water. It was impossible to view this solemn parade and not think of the countless dead whose graves lay in the wake of my own life.
Before I could succumb to the melancholia that has ever been the principal fault of my character, the first of the worshipers emerged from the watery passage on the opposite side of the cathedral entrance. The waters had drenched the celebrants' robes, revealing the colors of their festival clothes beneath the thin fabric, and one by one the candles miraculously winked back to flame. Thus in the weeks before the Harvest Feast do the faithful of Pharasma renew their prayers to the Lady of Graves: Let our souls be harvested a different year, not this one. Not this year. Not yet.
As if in answer to their prayers, a flock of whippoorwills rose from the cornices of the Cathedral and swept south, then north, and finally south again to resume their autumnal migration. Their song rained soft upon the square, audible even at a distance and through the leaded glass. How beautiful, I thought.
"Indeed," said a sonorous voice behind me.
I turned to see Count Yarsmardin Senir followed by other prominent counts of Ustalav. A quartet of servants — all exactly the same height — I noted, trailed them bearing trays of dessert wine. It is not often that I find myself surprised, especially by a veritable procession, although in my defense I note that the carpets of Prince Aduard's palace are thick enough to muffle the advance of a Taldan legion.
I bowed, and the gentlemen returned the courtesy in their native fashion, folded hands over their hearts. The ladies of Ustalav do not curtsy, nor do the mistresses of noblemen, but at the sight of my southern manners, one covered her smile with powdered fingertips.
"I beg your pardon, Your Excellency," I said to Senir. "I did not realize I spoke aloud."
Senir waved away my apology. His short gray hair gave him a military aspect, but as a third son, he had been given over to the monks of Pharasma until the passing of his childless elder brothers required his assumption of the family obligations. "Please," he said. "We are peers, Count Jeggare."
"I meant respect to your clerical title, Bishop," I told him.
"Ah," said Senir. "I leave that mantle within the walls of the Monastery of the Veil." Senir tugged at the collar of his purple velvet coat. It looked uncomfortable. "Have you met Count Neska of Barstoi?"
Aericnein Neska and I exchanged another bow, he clicking his heels to punctuate the courtesy. Neska had aged dramatically, as humans do, since I had first met him three decades earlier. Now the sagging wattles of his throat gave him the appearance of a vulture rather than an eagle. It was an apt change, since the vicious but futile wars he had since waged with his neighbors had fattened none but the carrion. The silver lining of his presence was that it would spare me further social intercourse with the loathsome daughters of Countess Solismina Venacdahlia, whose territory had principally contributed to the acres of graves dug by Neska's ambition.
Senir indicated a portly man of forty or so years and said, "Count Haserton Lowls."
Lowls made a quick bow and reached for my hand. I did not recognize him, for he must have been a child when I was introduced to his parents. He pumped my hand twice before Neska cleared his throat, and Lowls withdrew. "I beg your pardon, Count Jeggare," he said. Flecks of spittle clung to his bushy moustache. "I never know the foreign custom, but I wish to impress upon you my excitement that a fellow enthusiast of the arts has come among us. I myself am something of a —"
"Haserton," said Senir. The Bishop's condescending use of Lowls' personal name did not pass unnoticed by the others, each of whom glanced away or hid a smile behind dainty fingers. Lowls turned from Senir to me with a bewildered expression, as though he were a child who had been admonished for choosing the wrong fork at dinner, but he still did not know the right answer. Senir ignored him and said, "May I present Count Conwrest Muralt, the new master of Ordranto?"
Muralt had been distracted, looking over his shoulder through the ballroom doors as the servants opened them to admit Radania and Opaline Venacdahlia, the latter of whom cast me a snaggle-toothed smile as she returned from her stroll along the outer gallery. The pitiable woman had exhausted her prospects of marriage among the local nobility. That she would flirt so openly with a foreign lord of mixed blood was a testament to her desperation.
"Count," I said. Muralt said a few words devoid of charm or interest.
"Forgive us for intruding on your reverie, Count Jeggare," said Neska. "What was it that you found beautiful?"
"I was admiring the ceremony before the cathedral."
"Ever studious, eh Venture-Captain?" said Lowls. His tone was eager, but the eyes of the other men fixed upon me, awaiting my answer. I suspected one of them had manipulated Lowls into this line of inquiry. When I had last visited Caliphas, I learned that the lords of Ustalav saw me less as a scholar than as a thief of secrets that they preferred remain interred with the bones of their ancestors. "Grave robber" and "plunderer" were their synonyms for "Pathfinder."
"Only curious, Count Lowls. The rituals of Pharasma are among the most poetic I have seen."
"And you must know something about that, I imagine," said Count Muralt. "I mean, as a lord of Cheliax, you must have seen some extraordinary rituals."
I did not like the way his mouth lingered over the word "extraordinary," even if his statement fell short of insult. Everyone present, even the most parochial lord, knew that the people of my homeland were sworn to Asmodeus, whom we called the Prince of Law. To revere the Prince of Lies, as he was known elsewhere, alienated virtually everyone outside of Cheliax, yet to admit one did not was certain to send dangerous gossip back home, which was, I had no doubt, the principal function of the young new Chelish ambassador.
Politics aside, it always struck me as a supreme gesture of hypocrisy to condemn one people for obeying the Lord of Damnation when one's own nation revered the Lady of Death.
"I have witnessed many extraordinary rituals," I said.
Neska smiled at my equivocation. "It is on Pathfinder business that you come to Ustalav, is it not?"
I had spent the better part of the evening avoiding that question, and I was growing tired of the chase. "Yes," I said.
The four men awaited an elaboration, but I offered none. Instead, I gestured toward the window. "There they go," I said, nodding at the whippoorwills. "Taking with them the mystery."
"Then you are sure to follow them," said Senir. "Perhaps it would be best if you did. It has long been said that the mysteries of Ustalav sleep late and wake angry. I would not wish you to endure their ire."
"The only mystery I wish to solve," I said, "is that of a missing Pathfinder."
"Indeed?" said Senir. "And this is an errand for the illustrious Count Jeggare? I should think Pathfinders go missing all the time."
"True," I said. "But this one will be found. This one was mine."
"Was?" He had noticed my unfortunate use of the past tense, which I assure you does not reflect my hope and belief. "In that case, Jeggare, why do you bother?"
"A slip of the tongue," I said.
Excerpted from Pathfinder Tales: Prince of Wolves by Dave Gross. Copyright © 2010 Paizo Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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