Reign of Winter

Epilogue

Baba Yaga
Freed from her imprisonment and true to her word, she released the Horsemen from service as her Riders. She granted them a single boon, which they used to banish her and her influence from Golarion forever.

Anastasia
Given the opportunity to return with the Horsemen to Irresen and take the place as the reigning monarch, she declined and instead returned to her home. She, like all princesses, turned out to be kind of a bitch after all.

Dawn (Selene) and Shatha
Having discovered within herself the talent for leadership and self sacrifice and having seen the damage that unchecked evil can reign upon the world, Dawn used her charisma to gather an army to ride alongside her and Shatha into the Worldwound to the east of Irresen. Her time as a Horseman may have simply been prologue to even greater deeds.

Dusk (Fenn)
All he ever wanted was power and safety. The world had been unkind to Dusk as his role models and guardians had been murdered when he was young. That left him without any real sense of security. Now that he had amazing magical power, he had no real interest in what the world had to offer. It was never really a place he could belong. His journey ended much as it had began in a secluded wizards tower, isolated from the threat and fellowship of other mortals. He had come full circle.

Midnight (Nobel) and Seph’endrell
Growing up sequestered in a forest due to his haunting, Midnight dreamed of seeing more. The time as a Horseman had shown him not only this world but worlds beyond imagination, and he now had the power to go anywhere. He returned home briefly to cure his father of his madness wherein his father revealed to him the source of his haunting. However, the family curse remained a mystery with the only clue being that it related to the Green Mother of the First World, something he had picked up in a vision. Midnight and Seph left Golarion in order to destroy the cold collectors that kept Irresen frozen and find answers and adventure along the way. That quest would take them ultimately to the First World itself. None know what happened after that.

The Wolf (Taryn)
The wandering road of fate had led The Wolf to join up with the Horsemen to begin with and that was the road she continued to travel. More devoted to her god then most servants of other deities, The Wolf fully embraced a life lived as Cayden Caillean would have. A life full of bravado, battle, and beer with caution thrown to the wind and destiny as a guide. The Wolf had many more adventures great and small, though the truth or fiction of any of those tales can be hard to determine. Even she can hardly recount the details, circumstances being what they were.

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Winter's End
A bardic tale by Seph'endrell

And so at last the Horsemen came to confront the Witch Queen Elvanna. There she had gathered golems, water elementals, and strange frog creatures to defend her. She saw them coming through a great scrying mirror and was well prepared, but so were our heroes.

Each stood tall and demonstrated why they would become legends in this final moment of their quest. Dawn, always their shield, the bastion and bedrock. She absorbed and deflected injuries that would have otherwise killed the Horsemen. Without her they would have broken before they even began against the Witch Queen’s onslaught of frost and lightning. Dusk, always their fury, the red hot blaze of the candle burning at both ends and nothing left to lose. He countered the witch with hellfire, decimating her minions and leaving ashes in his wake. Midnight, always their wildcard, the paradox of the night’s darkness and the full moon’s light. He shed his darkness for healing light to bring his companions back from oblivion and took the Witch Queen’s sight with umbral magic. The Wolf, always their fangs and speed, the one with the mettle to do what needed to be done, tooth and claw. She single handedly destroyed the golems and forced Elvanna to thrice flee before the threat of her blades. She would ultimately land the killing blow that would end her reign of winter. The Dragon, ever the pillar of support and jack of all trades. He boosted the morale of the Horsemen and provided the tactical insight needed to overcome such a mighty and terrible foe.

Without one, the rest would have fallen. Their harmony was perfect. Their movements divine. The rhythm of that battle a celestial chorus in which we can all rejoice for that was winter’s end on Golarion. Spring returned and with it hope ran anew for all. In our darkest hour the Horsemen overcame themselves and became something more. They showed that even the humblest and most broken of us can become a champion, a paragon of freedom, a symbol of self sacrifice, the best version of ourselves.

Hail the Horsemen! Long may they ride!

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The Shortcut through Life and Death
A bardic tale as told by Seph'endrell

No one could survive as long as the Horsemen in such dire circumstances without being clever, and on the precipice of Queen Elvanna achieving her full power, they put their cunning to good use.

They had recovered the Crone’s fate and power, but they still needed her death, life, and blood. Using the gift given him by the Norn Vigliv’s magical deck of cards, the gift to open any one lock, the Dragon forced open the magical doll one more layer, allowing the Horsemen to avoid wasting time in pursuit of the Crone’s life. This saved valuable time but also meant the Horsemen would not unravel the mystery of her prolonged lifespan.

With each layer they could feel the Crone’s strength and will coming closer to the surface. The next leg of the journey was to recover her death, the very means by which she could be killed. It was to be found in a witch knife, inside a corpse, buried under an oak tree, on a remote island within a demiplane of the Dancing Hut. Layers within layers always with witches!

This task again was made short, this time by Midnight’s powerful magic. He asked Baba Yaga to give him a telepathic impression of the witchknife itself and using that mental image he was able to scan the island to divine its precise location.

He then took the form of an earth elemental and exhumed the knife’s container, a flesh golem run through with metallic spikes. Upon doing so he activated the golem and a hex such that his life force became linked to the golem and he would share its injuries. This did not deter the Wolf who readily felled both the golem and the ever-cursed Midnight with her singing blades. Luckily, Midnight was only knocked unconscious rather than slain outright, and the Horsemen were able to retrieve the witch knife and the Crone’s death.

Returning to Vigliv, the penultimate layer of the doll was unlocked leaving only The Crone’s blood left to retrieve in order to release her. To achieve this, they would need to confront the Crone’s 14th daughter and reigning matriarch of Irresen, the Witch Queen Elvanna, herself.

The moral of today’s tale is to beware the temptation of leaving the path for the shortcut. There may be wolves on the prowl and you may not like the end of the trail to which you hurry.

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The Price of Power
A bardic tale as told by Seph'endrell

With the winter wight defeated the Horsemen were free to loot her treasure room. Among its bounty was an elaborate crown, the symbol of Baba Yaga’s power bestowed upon the former ruler of that decayed queendom.

Upon Dusk touching the crown, all the Horsemen had a vision showing the crown on the head of the creature they had met outside of keep when they first arrived. The friendly being who had told them about this place. His head was crowned…and in a box. Then the vision changed to a road and then to Vigliv. The meaning was clear: in order to return to the Vigliv and continue their quest, the Horsemen needed to put the man’s crowned head in a box.

Once again the Horsemen faced a cruel decision in which there would be no victory for anyone. In order to return from where they came, they would have to compromise their moral character and murder someone. If they didn’t they could be trapped on that desolate steppe forever while Golarion fell to eternal winter. Baba Yaga plays the most wicked games even with those holding her fate.

Midnight recommended simply ambushing and killing him as they needed his head and he wasn’t going to willingly part with it, but Dawn convinced him and the others that the only way to preserve honor would be to allow him to know the situation. Thus the Horsemen came to the creatures tent, and magnificent Dawn did speak such honeyed words that if they could be repeated here would surely convince many of you to give unto her your lives and limbs willingly. Oh the beauty of her soliloquy on the necessity of heinous acts in service of the greater good!

Alas, a div and his head are not so easily parted by words as they are by swords, and when it became clear that he would not acquiesce, the Wolf bore down on him with her blades. The divs allies assailled the minds of the Horsemen, but were fought back by Midnight’s glory. Midnight turned there own trickery against them, enchanting them so that they were unable to even attempt to cause the Horsemen further harm. However, it was too late for the div managed to escape after taking grievous wounds and magically reducing Dusk to cinders after the fiery horseman had unleashed a storm of lightning.

The Horsemen did not even mourn for their lost rider as they knew that death was but a short reprieve and nothing but the completion of their quest would allow any of them to finally be free.

Without the head, the Horsemen tossed into the box the crown and the div’s scattered gore scraped from the ground. It was enough to transport them back to Vigliv. Once again, the Crone had the last laugh. All that bloodshed was unnecessary as only some of the div’s blood was necessary to complete the ritual.

And that was how the Horsemen retrieved the Crone’s power. Her life, death, and blood remained.

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Pursuit of Power
A bardic tale by Seph'endrell

The Horsemen quested into the depths of the Dancing Hut in pursuit of Baba Yaga’s “power”, the second key to unlocking her from the puzzle doll in which she was contained.

They came to an old, decrepit keep teetering on the edge of a great chasm. There they sought an ancient queen, one of the Crone’s first followers who had betrayed her and was punished by being stripped of power and being cast into the Hut to be forever a prisoner.

A spider-like construct met the Horsemen at the gate and was quickly destroyed. Dawn marched forward into the keep and was confronted by 10 bakkoks with bone bows. Midnight shrouded then in mist to hide, while the Dragon spoke words of wisdom that allowed the Horsemen themselves to see through the mist. Teamwork overcame the bakkok.

Dawn again marched forward, a metal colossus crushing door after door. Caged fiendish swarms were made short work by the profane and divine fires of Dusk and Midnight. Dawn and the Wolf devoured the devilish mage that was their master, but not before Dusk and Midnight were touched by the devil’s chilled curse. Dusk retaliated by exploding the creatures head.

Eventually they came to a throne room. Upon the throne sat a crowned, desecated corpse from which frost emanated into the surrounding chamber. Her withering touch nearly destroyed the Wolf who slashed away at her icy frame. The corpse encased the Wolf and Dawn in an icy dome to stop their assault, but it didn’t prevent Dusk and Midnight from reigning magical energies upon her. Midnight snared her in chains of light while Dusk engulfed her frozen visage in flame. Just as the Wolf and the Dragon broke the ice dome, Midnight shattered her bones, killing her.

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Games of Chance
A bardic tale as told by Seph'endrell

Near the end of their quest, the Horsemen found themselves within one of the many worlds contained within the hut preparing to unlock the trap from within which the Crone was contained. There they met the ancient Vigliv, mentor of the Crone. She instructed them on how they could unlock the trap, but she also tempted them with a game of chance.

She revealed a harrow deck, as ancient as one as had ever been seen by mortal eyes. She offered the Horsemen each a chance to draw from the deck and face its consequences for ill or gain.

Midnight was offered first draw for the quest neared to its end and his time had arrived. He hesitated for he had so recently survived destruction at the hands of the Mad Monk, but his fey nature compelled him onward and he drew a single card bearing a dancer. It gifted him with further grace and speed.

Dusk drew second and took 2 cards: the Brass Dwarf and the Tyrant. He became immune to electricity but vulnerable to his own flames; he was also given the power to give any being a single command once in his lifetime. Dusk cherished the potential of this power, for power was what he craved most of all.

Dawn drew third and took 3 cards: the Cyclone, the Foreign Trader, and the Owl. Upon drawing the cards she was caught up in such a torrent of winds that she was obscured from her allies. When the air cleared she was gone.

The Wolf drew 4th and bravely took 3 cards as well, throwing caution to the wind according to the edicts of her god. She drew the Cyclone, the Dancer, and the Midwife. She too became lithe like Midnight and she too vanished into the winds like Dawn. However, when the air cleared the Wolf remained having defeated an elemental of air in single combat. Her power and skill had grown to new heights.

Then it was the Dragon’s draw. Never one to miss out on a legendary tale, he drew 2 cards: the Mountain Man and the Lost. He grew in size, befitting for one of his glory. The second card changed the path of his destiny and awoke in him the true dragon spirit. He would no longer simply retell legends; he would become one.

Midnight retrieved Dawn who had been banished to the Plane of Air, and once again Vigliv offered the deck to each.

Midnight passed. He had seen enough about witches and curses to know not to press his luck.

Dusk drew again and found the power he was seeking in the Bear which transformed him body and soul into a werebear. With this change in form came a change in attitude which may have saved him from himself.

Dawn drew *

The Wolf ran out of luck and drew the Beating. It would drive her to push herself in every fight to the limit of reckless endangerment.

The Dragon drew the final card: the Locksmith. With this last boon, he would be able to open any single lock or mechanism once.

And thus the Horsemen were changed forever by a simple game of chance.

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Resurrection and Resolution
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Despite what Selene thinks, I didn’t die. At least I don’t think I did. I will organize my memories of that time here lest it drift away like a dream long since passed, leaving only the vaguest of memories.

The vampire brothers were laying waste to us. The had captured Taryn’s mind and were using her against us. Fenn had trapped Taryn in a wall of force for our protection, but his offensive magic had otherwise been nullified by Rasputin’s counterspells. Selene and Koyo were going toe to toe with the vampires, when Koyo attempted to disengage. I had made my way to the World Engine and was trying to disable it.

Twice Rasputin tried to disintegrate me. I could feel my flesh trying to come apart but I willed my body to remain collated. Koyo tried to make it to me when her tiny, bloody body finally dropped between me and one of the vampire brothers.

I flew into a rage. I could feel the fey power of the First World well up inside of me and I assumed the glorious shape of a chimera, the great and wonderous beast, an act of worship to Magdh, goddess of paradox. I roared from atop the World Engine and the vampire lunged at me.

When you can’t hear, your other senses become heightened. I could smell the faint odor of death and old blood from the vampires amid the ozone from the World Engines arcing energy crackles. Time seemed almost to stand still as I prepared to unleash my righteous fury on the vampiric fiend. Selene was trading blows with another vampire, Taryn hammered her swords against the force bubble she was trapped in like a rabid dog, Fenn threw a ball of fire at the third vampire that had transformed into a swarm of bats after being blinded by Koyo, and Koyo lay dying 20 feet from me.

Then the world started to collapse. Before I could unload on the vampire before me, Rasputin struck me a third time with destructive energies and I could no longer hold myself together. My form seemed to become malleable and I could see my shoulder and one of my chimeric heads turn to dust. Everything went black.

For the briefest of moments I recall seeing Nesteruk. He walked out of the darkness like a passing stranger on a misty highway. He spoke but his words I cannot remember. He placed something in my right hand before disappearing back into the void around me.

Then light began to break around the edges of what had become my reality. Purple bolts of arcane energies splintered the darkness which seemed literally to retreat into my body as the light grew and consumed it. A silent concussive force rocked my body as the last of the darkness escaped the light and fused with me. The unopposed purple light was so bright that even closing my eyes couldn’t stop it from blinding me.

I felt a familiar weight on my left shoulder. “His shadow and flesh are a perfect union which cannot be undone. The Twilight Prince has returned. Behold. Darkness rises.” It was Seph speaking into my mind.

As the veil was lifted from my eyes, I could see my friends had won the battle. Seph informed me of what had transpired after Rasputin had seemingly destroyed my body utterly. He had stayed with Fenn and used my wand to heal his wounds enough to keep him in the fight. Taryn had broken free of her enchantment at the sight of her comrades falling and helped turn the tide finally killing Rasputin. Seph again acted in my stead and completed my work by disabling the World Engine. In doing so, he had discharged a torrent of energy followed by a coalescing of the darkness that pervaded the room. It was from this that I emerged.

The shock of it all left me stunned for several minutes. Imagine remembering the moment of your birth. There was darkness, then suddenly light. I was somehow alive yet not in that limbo. Where had I gone?

I looked down at my right hand to see what Nesteruk had given me and saw that it was a carved wooden block painted to look like Baba Yaga. My eyes finally glimpsed Koyo, still lying lifeless on the floor, and I looked back at the sculpture in my hand. Was it worth it? For this? I felt like smashing it on the floor, but was interrupted by Selene who blessed me with her healing hands (in part probably to make sure I wasn’t some kind of figment or phantasm).

I scooped Koyo up in my arms. She was braver than I ever would be. She spent years alone and far from home on Triaxus before we found her. She was looking for a way back to Golarion and was willing to aide our quest to get there. When I finally had the power to bring her home, she refused as she felt she owed it to us to see us through to the end. If you had ever met Koyo, you’d understand how hard it was to argue with her. Now she would never get a chance to do that.

But she still had a second chance to go home. By the time you read this, Koyo, you will be back on Golarion and we will be on what I hope is the final leg of our journey. Since I knew I could never convince you to part from us, I apologize for never saying goodbye. Fenn and I plane shifted and teleported back to Golarion with you where we returned you to life in the same manner by which I had resurrected Fenn. I leave you with this journal. Between its account and your living testimony, our story may yet go on, even if we should never see each other again. I will miss you, my dear friend. May we someday meet across the stars once more.

Nobel Black

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A passing in the beyond.
A fancy of the imagination.

As Nobel passes from this existence to the next, somewhere in the swirling chaotic beyond he feels a huge meaty hand come down roughly on his shoulder. He turns to find himself looking in to the eyes of a monstrous half-orc smiling a big toothy grin. The half orc says to him “You no kill Nesteruk, Nesteruk not pay attention, Nesteruk kill Nesteruk.” Then he hands Nobel a sandwich and walks away chuckling to himself as everything swirls away.

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Darkness Falls
Final entry from the Journal of Nobel Black

Midnight has fallen.

I have found this journal amongst the ash that was once my complimentary compatriot and feel it would be of comfort to the soul of my former companion to finish his tale.

As we entered the church that was barren in our initial entrance to the compound we found a figure resembling that of Baba Yaga. Nobel and Fenn were skeptical of this figure as it proclaimed she had defeated Rasputin and we should return to the hut. As usual my trusting nature got the best of me ignoring the caution of my companions. Fortuitously my attempts to heal the figure had the lovely side effect of dropping the illusion it had been maintaining. Once revealed we brought down this apparent Erodemon.

Nobel then proceeded further in an attempt to scout. Beyond a wall of pews was our target the black monk himself with three figures assumed to be the vampires that Fenn saw in our initial attempts at recon. We prepared as well as we could for this final battle.

Fenn and Nobel used some form of telekinesis to fling the pews out of our way and we began our battle in earnest. I found the darkness overbearing as we engaged with our powerful foes an apparent antipaladin nosferatu bastardization led by Rasputin. Our friend the wolf was nigh immediately dominated. Koyo sprung to the front line bringing the battle to the “brothers” This proved to be a great distraction but ultimately Nobel’s playful companion met an untimely fate. I myself found a great challenge in the battle between these antithesis beings in me slowly bringing for the love light and rage of Sarenrae to these undead monstrosities.

Nobel attempted to disable the world machine as Fenn threw his best spells at the monk and brothers. I know not exactly what was the cause of Nobels demise but it happened shortly after I unleashed a daylight like no other in this pit of desolate darkness and despair. With a flurry of spellcraft our friend was gone and the dark of night with him. Fenn dropped yet again, but Nobels companion Seph tended to the fallen wizard bring him back around enough to assist in the destruction of our foes. Nobel’s sacrifice giving way for Taryn breaking free of the vampiric domination and our success in overcoming our foes.

The Dawn comes for darkness has fallen away and it comes brightly, passionately and with redeeming vengeance for the loss of her companion.

The coming day burns and is wrathful, our foes will beg for the Night to return when we are done. May they beg for redemption freely for I may only ask them to repent after the fact.

Here ends the tale of Nobel Black, companion and friend.

-Selene Orashandi, Sarenrae’s Bulwark of Redemption,

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Ambush and Counter-Offensive
An excerpt from the journal of Nobel Black

Selene was able to convince Anastasia and Alexi, the children we rescued from the slaughterhouse, to get into the magic bag so that we could bring them back to the hut for safety. Once Fenn teleported us back to the hut, we brought them to the candy room so that they might be more comfortable while I asked them questions using the translator in my ear. While I was able to get useful information, the children were thoroughly creeped out by a room made of candy. Who would have thought?

As it turned out the kids had seen Rasputin and he had planned on going to “Grandmother’s realm” which could be found within the ruined church. They had met what sounded like Baba Yaga and indicated that we had not been looking hard enough at the church.

It was also apparent that the children were seeing a different version of the camp then we were. Where we saw a slaughterhouse and a monster, they saw a barracks and a doctor. My interest was piqued but before I could explore it further, Alexi transformed into a 3 headed dragon and attacked us. He looked like the animated dream because the real Alexi was already dead and this creature had taken his place.

Despite taking us by surprise, Taryn and Koyo were able to get over and under it respectively leaving it nowhere to go, and it was quickly destroyed. I was able to console Anastasia before putting her in Zorka’s care for the time being.

While we rested, Fenn and I poured over the World Engine and World Anchor schematics. I figured based on what the children had said, that the Engine was meant to superimpose 2 planes, and that the key to finding Baba Yaga was in the church; that perhaps the Anchors were holding another plane over the church. That would mean the real structure was out of our view. By removing the Anchors we might reveal the true state of the church. Fenn and I figured out how we might disable the Anchors by teleporting from one tower to another in rapid succession before the camp knew what was happening.

It was a resounding success (save for Selene taking a few metal projectiles to the abdomen) as within half a minute we had cleared the corner towers surrounding the complex and disabled the Anchors. The camp erupted into chaos below us as a series of arcane discharges emitted from the towers with each sequentially Anchor disarmed.

As hypothesized, the church transformed from ruin to an ornate temple. We stealthily made our way to the doors of the church. A corpse tattooed with alien religious symbols was nailed to the door. As we approached, a spirit emerged from the corpse and fixed Selene with its terrifying gaze. She faultered for possibly the first time in my memory, but Fenn and Taryn stepped up to her side without hesitation, destroying the spectre.

There we stood for a long moment on the precipice, Baba Yaga and Rasputin beyond, the chaos of the mobilizing compound behind us, and as always shoulder to shoulder against it all. Would Selene’s faith and fortitude prove steadfast enough? Would Taryn’s blades and determination be resolute enough? Would Fenn’s arcane might and intellect be powerful enough? Would my trickery and stealth be cunning enough? Would our bond be strong enough to endure the last leg of the Rider’s hunt for Baba Yaga?

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