Tale of an Industrious Rogue, Part III
This is the third and final part of the Tale of an Industrious Rogue, ranging from chapters XLI through XLVIII and the Epilogue.
- 1 The Final Stretch
The Final Stretch
Chapter XLI: A Display of Power
We wrapped up that session and started the next one with the STC sending emissaries to the heads of state of the most important nations in the Inner Sea, asking for a very simple thing: To surrender their treasures to the STC.
"Wait, really?" Said Valanar "All of this so we can steal their wallets? We have a freaking fountain of gold! We have all the money anyone, ANYWHERE, could want!"
Hassan scowled at him "First, no, there is never enough money. And second, I guess I'm a humble man with humble goals. What'd you expect?"
Since I noticed some lack of coordination, I finally gave in to the request of the other players and retconned that part, allowing them to better detail the message.
Which, really, was essentially only changed to "Give us all your money AND bow down to the STC"
Save for an angry response from Nex (which had more to do with the STC's meddling in wizardly affairs more than anything), their emissaries returned empty-handed; a couple just didn't return at all.
That's when Hassan decided it was time to make a demonstration.
They set up some guys on magical flying contraptions and a crystal ball, and sent them to Nex, which the rogue planned to obliterate in order to show the world he was serious. Emissaries were sent back to the other leaders with crystal balls connected to the first one, so everyone could see the evidence.
And without further ceremony, he called Babaganoosh to issue the planetary bombardment order.
Now, Hassan had expected the city of Mechitar to offer some sort of resistance; it was, after all, the capital city of a bunch very powerful wizards. That's why he had 100 aluum cross through a portal into Nex in order to stir problems near the border and make it look like an all-out offensive, playing on the thought that maybe they didn't know the aluum no longer worked for Katapesh.
As it turns out, the ruse worked and while the nexian arclords were busy fighting scores of brass golems and bombarding katapeshi ports with far too many maximized delayed blast fireballs, five iron golems were racing at terminal velocity right into their houses.
The remaining arclords managed to catch on and stop two of the golems, but three still got through their mass spamming of Wall of Force. One of those golems got teleported into a random location 1,000 miles away by a well-placed spell, the bottom of the Obari Ocean to be precise.
Those three that got through, however, ended up being more than enough.
It wasn't so much that the initial release of null matter tore away everything on its path, bringing down mile-high ivory towers and blasting thousands of people into nothingness, or that the golem's crashing down at such tremendous speeds bore craters and turned the whole place into a slab of cheese. It was that Hassan had not properly gauged the problem of not simply releasing explosions of null matter; he had prepared the golems with dozens of portals, gateways that directly connected into what might as well be the most unforgiving region of the Multiverse.
So yes, Mechitar disappeared from the face of Golarion. The arclords retreated, soon realizing there were forces far beyond a mere war with Katapesh. But once the portals had eaten through everything in their path and created a gaping maw of oblivion, they just kept hungering for more. When there was no more earth or stone or wood or people to devour, they started pulling in any matter within reach, namely air. The wind soon went berserk, as if the whole world had been a balloon and the golems had pierced the surface.
And of course, there was this other one under the sea that just now took care of doing pretty much the same thing with the waters.
"I think the point will get through" Said Hassan, a tad worried.
Chapter XLII: Masters of a Dying World
And it did, but not in the way Hassan expected. I mean, this is Pathfinder, which is just D&D with a new suit. And what leaders do in D&D when encountered by insurmountable enemies is simple: Hire other people to handle it, hopefully in groups of five.
It all started with Sir John the Anointed and his rightful band of adventurers sent by none other than the High Hyerophant of Osirion, who after giving a heart-rending speech in the name of goodness and attempting to steer the evil ways of the STC back into the light got thrown into the battle pit and eaten by Monsieur Mangetout, much to the pleasure of the audience.
Then came Molstrom the Destroyer and his steel-clad companions, the envoys from the courts of Cheliax bent on bringing down the evils from the desert that threatened to engulf the world once and for all. Everyone agreed that they made a much better spectacle than Sir John before a tentacle with eyes turned them into goo.
They were followed by Lodenar the Elven Wizard, Arphix the Dark Huntress, Voltazor the Huge, Orphas the Singing Duelist, Barnabas the Pirate and his Bloody Boys, Acamarach the Suntouched, and a long list of heroes with progressively less detailed backgrounds, each lasting less than the previous one.
For a time, it sort of became the new hobby of the party to set up all sorts of traps, mazes, monsters, and puzzles in their palace, just to see how far these men and women sent to end their reign of terror could get.
But, in all honesty, all they were doing was stalling the inevitable. Each day that passed, the darkness in the southern horizon grew larger, deeper, more noticeable. Weather patterns no longer worked as they used to, wind becoming almost perpetually southward. The clouds above lined up, always travelling in the same direction now, and the feeling in the air just wasn't right.
"You all know I dislike stating the obvious, but it might be possible that this plan of yours will end up taking us all down" Said Rakhim during a particularly gloom and silent dinner, during which the gem-encrusted helmets of Ulfmir Hammerbeard and his fellow dwarfs, who had just been killed by an acid-spewing trap set in the eastern wing earlier that morning, served as fruit plates.
Jack nodded in silence. Even Vorgok, usually above the petty matters of mere mortals, seemed to puff from his cigar (from the last box he had. Shippings had stopped entirely a few weeks ago) with certain unease.
Valanar just held his stare firm over Hassan until the rogue acknowledged it.
"What?" The rogue asked "Don't give me that look. This plan was as much yours as it was mine!"
"Mine? MINE?" Valanar exploded, something which, although rare in him, had been happening progressively more often as of late "Care to explain when I made up such stupidity?"
Hassan narrowed his eyes "Quite the hypocrite, are we? Perhaps the original idea was mine, but no one jumped on the bandwagon quicker than you. You wanted it as much as me, perhaps even more"
The priest stood from the table, furious "You imbecile! All you had to do was threaten, not stab! What good is it now, with the realms of man sending everything they have against us and the world itself breaking apart? Nothing, you hear me, NOTHING! All your idiotic schemes, all you useless gold, it is all pointless now. And there is no one to blame but yourself!"
Rakhim took off his diminutive glasses and waited for the mild ground shake to pass -a lot of those had been taking place lately, ever the stronger- "Hassan has a point. Any of us could have stopped him, but we all just went along with it. We are all accountable for what happens now."
Jack and Vorgok sort of agreed/sort of grunted, but otherwise remained silent.
Valanar pointed a shaky finger at the gorillonk "You will not..." His hand closed into a firm grasp, and the control rune in Rakhim's forehead began to glow slightly.
But the purple monkey managed to resist the priest's attempts, and in a fit of frustration, the latter stormed out of the dinning hall.
"What on earth got to him?" Finally asked Jack while chugging down some mercurial water.
Hassan dismissed the point with a hand gesture "I do not know and probably do not care. But I have a plan for what's to come"
Chapter XLIII: Secrets Wrapped in Secrets
At this point I was handed a rather interesting situation, as both Hassan's and Valanar's player discussed secret plans with me regarding, well, how to save their asses.
On one hand, Valanar took a portal back to his homeland, Cheliax, where he managed to hook up a meeting with No One, one of the priests of Sivannah, Goddess of Secrets -and his personal deity-. Turns out no one knows how many members the cult of Sivannah has, and those few priests anyone ever gets to contact all go by the same name of No One.
Through him, Valanar secured passage into the Hall of Veiled Mirrors, a place where supposedly the goddess could be contacted, something which could, at best, happen only once throughout the life of a person, and even then it was a complete gamble and might not happen at all.
He mostly just spoke to cloudy mirrors, not knowing if Sivannah was listening or not. He asked for the following: "The power to save what he had accomplished. In return, I shall bind myself to a life of secrecy."
With literally no signal acknowledging whether he had been blessed, cursed or even heard at all, Valanar went back to Saltspit to wait the right moment.
On the other hand, Hassan kept asking questions about Absalom, the Trial of the Starstone, and all that stuff, to the point I told him that he would need to do some actual ground research to get any more intimate. So he took one of the guys from the Business Enhancement Division as a guide and went there to do some checking.
Everyone at the table was intrigued at his plan, which he was not sharing in whole for dramatic reasons (which is one of the things I enjoy the most about this group. After all, as a DM there's nothing better than having your party surprising you). At this point in the game, you have to understand we were all imagining pretty much all sorts of stuff coming up from a plan that somehow involved Hassan and an artifact known to turn people into gods.
So after I told him everything he seemed to need, he went back to Saltspit. Yet before he could give everyone a proverbial hug, they were confronted with a gnomeful of problems.
Chapter XLIV: Gnome Way Out
"I want it, I want EVERYTHING" Babaganoosh spread his arms in an all-encompassing gesture "The gold, the fountain, the gems, the wenches, the LATRINES! THE STC, ALL MINE"
"Hold on your butt, you little shit" Said Hassan "Do you want Vorgok to chew you away? Because that is exactly what will happen in five seconds unless you explain what the hell are you doing."
The gnome laughed "Ooh, so menacing! I'm scared, indeed I am. But you'll be even more scared unless you give me what I want!"
The barbarian was about to turn him into a digestive element when Babaganoosh took a tremendously delicate crystal bell from his robe "Nah-ah, stop right there. This bell right here is the only thing stopping the command words for golem activation from spilling out and sending the entire network crashing down into the planet."
The gnome continued "Yes, not so wise to trust me with the command words and give me full access to the golems now, eh? Ohh, yes, perhaps you thought I'd be loyal to you because I'd be loyal to money! Well, that's partially true, at least." His tone went down a notch, though still ridiculously gnomish "I do love money so very much."
"Let me get this straight" Said Hassan "If we don't hand you over the company, you will destroy the world?"
"Yes, basically" the gnome responded.
"Aha. And what is there to stop us from killing you and taking the bell once we've handled it?"
Babaganoosh thought about it for a second, and then everyone noticed the sudden surge of panic in the gnomes eyes. That bastard was going to throw the bell down and take everyone down with him.
Everyone sort of locked into a Mexican standoff.
"Hold on, hold on" Jack tried to calm down the situation, "No need to do something stupid we'll all regret."
"Technically speaking, there will be no one left to regret it" Pointed out the purple gorilla.
Jack gave him an urgent stare "Let's settle down and discuss this. Maybe we can come to a compromise."
The gnome took a step back and threatened to drop the bell "Oh, no, no compromise. I've worked for you long enough to know what a 'compromise' with the STC will get me. Perhaps you'll use my head to plant nightmares? Or drown me in molten gold so you can set me as a statue in your desk? Ah, no, no, I know, you'll stuff me with sand and then chop my head off so you can make a lot of magic powder!"
"Hm, never thought of that" Said Vorgok.
"Maybe... maybe if you give me the gold and then I find a way out... maybe on the skyships! Or a portal!" He was clearly falling apart "No, you'll get me anyway! Maybe if I just end it right here. We're all dead anyway! The darkness IS coming! And I'm to blame as much as you, haha! Yes! We did it! We broke the world down!"
So the gnome drops the bell. Everyone gasps. Jack manages to catch it just before it breaks. Vorgok pulls Babaganoosh's head from his shoulders and kicks it out of the window.
Hassan let out a deep sigh "Good. NOW GET THAT SHIT DISENCHANTED!" And walked out of the room, while poor Jack didn't even dare to breathe, holding the impossibly delicate thing between his hands, barely an inch from the floor.
"No, no! If you disenchant it, you run the risk of releasing the command words. After all, that is precisely what the bell does; keep them on hold. We need to find another way to deal with it."
"Where are you going? We do have a crisis here, as you may be well aware" Snapped Valanar.
"Crisis just got averted. Work to do" And stepped outside.
The priest was boiling with anger, but managed to calm down and whisper "I don't trust him. Nor should any of you. He knows the end is drawing close and he'll save himself, even if it means stepping on us."
Vorgok shook his head "No. Hassan might be greedy, self-serving, murderous, and backstabbing, but even beneath all that, he still remembers who his companions are, who he owes his life to, and who owes his life to him" He said, in a rare moment of verbosity.
"You shall see" The priest warned "Sivannah, if I ever needed you, now is the time" He said to no one in particular, while gazing at the looming darkness in the horizon.
"Fear not, my good companions! This is but another step in the way to greatness. We have come this far, and we shall go much further. Persevere!" Went Jack, swinging his sword around and stepping onto the balcony.
Chapter XLV: What the Hell, Jack
I'm not usually a killzone DM. In general I try to always give characters a chance to hurt themselves without my help. But this time I just had to ask "Eh, Jack, what is your character doing?"
"Swinging his sword and making a dramatic speech in the face of almost certain doom, of course. What else?"
"You know, you did hold the key to Golarion's destruction in your hand just a moment ago"'
"What did you do with it?"
"I guess I..."
"Wait, wait, no one would be that careless. Make an INT roll. If you roll 12 or more, your character didn't suddenly forget what he was doing"
He rolls, everyone at the table clearly tense. Manages it by a thread. A quiet "Shit" is heard.
Only to have it kicked out of his hand by Hassan.
"Master" Says Hassan "Remember that portal I wanted to use later on to get to Absalom?"
"Yes, I do"
"I kind of need to use it right about now. I run like hell"
Chapter XLVI: Contingency Plans
Meanwhile, in high orbit above Golarion, 45 iron golems reeking with obliteration start falling down into the planet. It wouldn't be instantaneous (after all, geostationary orbit is about 35,000kms -22,000 miles- from sea level), but certainly catastrophic. Of course, had the party actually tried to be the heroes for once they could have stopped them (I actually hinted it quite directly to them), but at that point other things were in motion.
Initially, the group tried to go after Hassan, but they quickly lost track of him. Just when Valanar attempted to track him with magic, the rogue returned.
"Quickly, through the portal! It's all according to plan!" He said.
It took some convincing, but eventually Hassan got to their senses about what he intended to do: When the golems started hitting Absalom, it would open a tear into the Cathedral and make the way readily available to get to the Starstone, which Hassan hoped would grant them godhood. It was a very long shot (no one knew if the Cathedral could actually be opened that way. After all, if it could, someone else was bound to have tried it. But they weren't thinking so clear at the moment).
Of course, none of them knew that it was Hassan who had pulled the strings to get the bell into Babaganoosh' hand in the first place. Or that he was well-aware of what would have happened if it had been disenchanted. Or that he had tried to bring all the golems down on his own, only to be thwarted by the fact they had specifically designed the trigger to work with all of them present as a sort of nuclear safe key.
So they get to Absalom, where everyone is staring at the five points of light rushing towards the city. Word had already been spread of what happened to the south, how the seas were rioting and the skies were flailing and the land was breaking apart after the "fists from the gods" had come crashing over Mechitar.
"All we need to do now is wait until the golems crash down and obliterate the Cathedral. Then we go in" Truth is, Hassan wasn't completely sure it could work, but he kept telling me he had this "nagging feeling there'd be a way to make it work".
And thus they wait.
Chapter XLVII: Jumping Ship
Riots take over the city eventually as panic spreads. The wizards who remained in the city had no idea how to stop the golems, the others having escaped after knowing that not even the arclords of Nex had been able to stop their doom.
Hundreds if not thousands launched themselves into the Cathedral, in a final attempt to try and find the Starstone themselves and perhaps achieve godhood. After all, if a drunkard had managed it in the past, why not them?
Most of them died falling off the abyss outside the temple, in any case. As for the party, it served to do some end-of-the-world adventuring for good measure (as the first trial of the Starstone is getting across the aforementioned abyss).
Eventually, the golems came into sight. The party had the Wellspring handy in one of their bags of holding, so worst case scenario they would spend the rest of their lives around it, trapped but unharmed.
Then they fell. The land shook with impossible force, throwing everything around like a tumbling wagon. The dull sound of the portals opening and tearing reality apart came soon after, and the city was speedily engulfed in ever-growing pockets of darkness.
Along with those other ones who were trying to get in and managed to cross the abyss, the party headed into the Cathedral, as its ridiculously tall spires were eaten away into nothingness, revealing confounding mazes, changing hallways, and impossible puzzles just before disintegrating them too.
"Go, go, go!" Hassan pushes everyone inside, before a falling block of marble blocks the way.
Chapter XLVIII: Why?
The cool, seemingly endless main hall of the Cathedral extended before them, unsettlingly empty. Then it begins to change and distort, as if the Trial was trying to compose itself but the sheer destruction overtaking it was making it impossible. Eventually even the roof gave away, and the illusion faltered, revealing an empty, featureless hall of dull stone, with nothing but a glowing object standing on top of a small pedestal.
"The Starstone" Everyone said at once, and they all started running.
There must have been two dozen individuals in total, though Hassan made sure to thin that number down to them six before getting to it. Then they all bounced off an invisible shield, and were suddenly confronted with a burning question inside their heads:
They all looked at each other, and they seemed to guess what their companions were thinking.
"Rakhim, you can't let him get it" Said Hassan "He murdered your wife. Nay, he used her as a bag of meat. He made it so your son ate her from the inside out so he could sell her out for power and influence"
Rakhim attempted to keep his cool "It does not matter now. Besides, so did you"
"He is right, Hassan. You are as responsible of this as anyone" Said the priest, his eyes fixated on the Starstone.
"Perhaps, perhaps" He seemed to think for a moment "You know what, why deny it anymore? Yes, I used her. In fact, I'm glad I did. Would have given me some reeeeally nice rubies. Too bad she couldn't take it, the poor wench"
The gorillonk gave him a puzzled look, somewhere between rage-suppression and befuddlement. He tried to keep it down, but eventually the walls he had built around his anger came crumbling down, all along while Hassan kept pushing it. And so he exploded in utter fury and charged at the rogue, who got out just in time.
Valanar gathered his wits and took the chance given by Rakhim's outburst. "Sivannah, if I ever needed your help, it was now. Give to me what was asked and I shall give what was promised"
At that point I asked him how serious he was about his promise, making sure to use the "Are you sure you want to do this?" tone all DM's use when they want to warn a player about dangerous consequences. He said yes. Then I expressly told him "Remember that your standing with your goddess is, at best, dubious. There might be consequences. You know Sivannah is known for her tricks". He still said yes. I suppose a desperate man will hang onto a burning log if there is no other choice.
And so he went blind and deaf all of the sudden. Also, Saltspit disappeared from the face of Golarion and became safely hidden in the perpetual darkness and endless veils of Sivannah's realm. But none of them ever knew that.
Blind and deaf, perhaps, but still had his mind, and remembered Rakhim's loss of composure just in time to will the control rune into activation, making the gorillonk fall under his -admittedly shaky- command. So he used it to attempt to go after Hassan.
Which he almost did, had not the rogue used Jack as a decoy and ended with the poor Bard thoroughly punched. I allowed Rakhim a very difficult Will saving throw when about to hit a companion, but he failed and then discharged his fists all over Jack, whom not all the prose in the world would save now, finally succumbing to the enraged killing machine.
The second time Hassan wasn't so lucky, and Rakhim got him grounded and ready to smash it with all his force (which was no small thing, plus the rogue has the worst luck when it comes to rolling for HPs). However, Vorgok comes in at the last moment and shoves Hassan away, saving him from almost-certain death but receiving the blunt of the attack. They fight it off for a bit, both ending up pretty battered, but otherwise alive.
This gives Rakhim a second try at the Will save, this time succeeding, giving him enough time to turn around, grab Valanar by the neck and, without a single word, crush his spine between his hands.
"Vorgok, help!" Hassan yells when Rakhim, still angry beyond belief and now again free to act, charges at him.
The player behind the barbarian has never been able to properly master the rules, even after all these years, but he has an uncanny ability to survive and get excellent rolls. Not this time, though. Down to very few hit points, he looks at Hassan and says "This is probably as far as I can go. Win this one for us, Hassan" And runs to tackle the purple monster, ending up in a grapple that takes his life away a few rounds afterward.
"Win this one for me" Hassan whispers under his breath, and rises to confront Rakhim.
The duel between the two was quite impressive, but with oblivion closing in around them and what remained of the Cathedral falling as a rain of crushing death in all directions, it was about to draw into a close, regardless who won.
That's when Hassan decided to take his gamble and, after escaping Rakhim's grapple, he ran as fast as he could into the Starstone, only to be confronted with the same invisible field and that ear-shattering question inside his head.
He took one last breath and said "Why? Because I want it"
And with that, the world around them dissipated away into nothingness.
It is said there is a city lost in time, shrouded in darkness and mystery and secrets, where hidden are riches so vast the very word loses all meaning.
It is also said that Greed itself walks through its desolated streets and watches over its empty vistas, knowing nothing but to hoard, wanting nothing but to want more.
Then again, these are but tales, among many other tales, and one does not just take them up for what they say. Not even the tale of one rogue who thought he could have it all, that one industrious rogue...