Our heroes dithered, debated. For certain the Technic League would cross the border to Numeria near Hajoth Hakados, but when? Hoping to cut them off and expand their chances of catching the erstwhile kidnappers, Orin decided to split from the party and travel to Gorum Pots, another river city and potential landing for the Technic League. The rest of the group, meanwhile, traveled to Hajoth Hakados straight away, to begin their own search.
Orin came to Gorum Pots and set up camp on a hill far from the town, with a good view of the riverdocks, and waited for boats to make landfall. Before long, one such boat did arrive – long and flat – and disgorged a host of figures. Among their number, quite clearly, was a black horse.
Meanwhile, the party landed in Hajoth Hakados. A town guard quickly recognize Hudson – or rather, his rifle. The guard claimed it had been made by the town’s old gunsmith, a distinct work of craftsmanship. Puzzling over this, the party nevertheless continued their search, beginning in the place they always begin a search: a local tavern. Making their way there, however, Hudson noticed more attention – this time from a pale man following them.
Once they got to the tavern, Hudson hung back, waiting for a moment to force the pale man into the open. He surprised the stranger, and encouraged him to sit with them in the tavern and share his intentions with them. He did so – with some “encouragement” from Thorgur – and told them he was working for a local herbalist named Cythrul. He demurred further questions, but insisted he could take them to meet his mistress.
Back in Gorum Pots, Orin landed in the docks and found the black horse he had seen before. Using his arcana, he granted the horse the ability to speak. Transporting the animal away from the city with more magic, he attempted to learn what the horse knew.
Stranger in a Strange Land
The boat’s crew were not, in fact, Technic League agents but in fact the opposite: Kellid warriors who roamed the Numerian Plains, hunting robots and the occasional agent of the League.
Orin saw in this chance meeting a rare opportunity. Though they would be of no aid to the party in the coming battle, ultimately, Orin nevertheless returned to Groum Pots to recruit the Kellid. They were pleased to meet another enemy of their enemy, and proved eager to engage the League in battle direct, should such an opportunity ever present itself.
Meanwhile, the rest of the party followed the pale man to the shop of Cythrul, who proved to be a creature unlike any they had ever seen. Tall, with purpled skin, and three pairs of arms, Cythrul was uncanny and utterly alien As the meeting progressed, it became clear just how accurate that assessment was. Cythrul quickly determined that she could trust the party, and revealed herself as an enemy of the League. Hajoth Hakados was, in fact, a refuge for people like her – or the pale man, in fact an android from the Silver Mount – who were strangers to Golarion in one way or another.
Cythrul was sympathetic to our heroes’ search for Malam and his Technic League kidnappers. She sent our heroes to speak to Hajoth Hakados’ leader, Lady Altouna, who Cythrul promised would know of any Technic League agents in the area – or any en route – for it was her business to know.
Taking this lead, Hudson and his companions traveled to Lady Altouna’s manor and there met the city’s leader. Lady Altouna revealed all they needed to know: the League was indeed en route and still downriver, expected to make landfall in the city in only few days.
As they left, Lady Altouna asked Hudson to ensure they succeeded, then requested he return with word of that success. And so Hudson departed for his confrontation with the Technic League and the Riders in Black.
The Second Rider
Orin returned to the group with news of Kellid allies and on word of the League’s sighting near Hajoth Hakados. Our heroes gathered downriver and plotted their next move. A quick scouting trip revealed that the Technic League was not far and would likely pass their way the next morning. An ambush would be necessary – time to turn the tables at last.
Orin delved again into his magicks, using a move earth spell to construct a dam across the river sufficient to stop the League’s barge. And then they waited.
The League appeared only hours after dawn, as expected, and the river barge smashed into the dam, beaching itself. Our heroes engaged the League immediately, whose number included several arcanists, a powerful gearsman of the kind they had faced before – though much sturdier – and the second Rider in Black, the woman who had escaped their ambush outside Kraggodan before.
Orin took the form of a dragon, making short work of the arcanists, while Thorgur attempted to stymie the gearsman only to take a dive off the boat. The Rider exchanged gunfire with Hudson, but was pinned down by Astrid, quick to join the battle. Yet it was Hudson’s shots that put the Rider down in the end. The gearsman, alone and restrained by Orin’s magicks, did not last much longer.
Waiting aboard the crashed barge was an enormous crate covered in runes – Malam’s prison. Orin, still acting as a dragon, retrieved the box and brought it to shore. It took little effort to open the crate now, and within they found Malam, as hoped. The eidolon was weakened, however, and in dire straits – a fact shortly confirmed by Kel, who had rejoined the group now that the battle had ended.
And then it was with a somber tone that Kel relayed the truth of the matter. Malam was dying – his time on the Material Plane coming to a permanent end. And yet Malam’s work, it seemed, was not over. Communicating telepathically with Kel, he asked for Astrid to indulge him in one more dream – confirming her own suspicions that Malam had been behind several of her visions before.
And so Astrid managed to slip into a slumber and a deep dream.
She found herself in a castle, unknown to her, but within eyesight of an observatory – surely the Observatory of Skywatch – on a distant hill. She was in a hall of some kind, and soon realized that her father was there, Urzen Rogarvia, only old and gray, much older than he had been in the pre-Vanishing dream she had before.
Nonetheless, her father appeared to recognize her, even despite her own aging, and startled her with another revelation. This vision, he insisted, would only be possible if Astrid – or someone near her – had possession of the Dragon Watch.
Astrid had little time for her questions, as the vision threatened to fade almost as quickly as it formed. But her father gave her one more task, asking her to bring the Dragon Watch to the Observatory – into the catacombs that lay beneath it, where she could open it and rejoin her family at last. As for Skywatch being sealed, Urzen told her it was no more than a spell, the workings of which were described in the codex left to her.
The vision faded, leaving Astrid with more questions, few answers, and the bitter knowledge that the final piece of the codex was yet missing.
But as he faded, Malam revealed that final answer as well: it was held by the Man in Black.
The Gunslinger’s Return
With the mourning Kelvennan aboard, our heroes returned to the refugee city in the Titanis. While his companions recovered from the battle with the Rider, Hudson returned to the manor to deliver news of their victory to Lady Altouna.
Lady Altouna greeted Hudson warmly, clearly unsurprised at his victory. Beckoning him into her private office, she then stunned Hudson with her own news: she knew his identity, even his parent’s true surname.
The reason for this knowledge was even more startling to Hudson. Hajoth Hakados had been founded by the Gunslingers of the Way, but when the Technic League threatened to raze the city, they turned its rule over to Lady Altouna, an agent of the League who was in fact loyal to the Gunslingers.
Although many of the Gunslingers had turned themselves over to the League’s prisons to buy peace for the people of Hajoth Hakados, Lady Altouna kept many others hidden. Hudson’s parents, Calia and Mathias Stone, were among those granted refuge in the city. Yet when Calia grew heavy with child, the Stone family decided to leave for Torch, hoping to start a new life, far from the dangers of the frontier in Hajoth Hakados.
As he left, Mathias Stone sought to turn his back on the life of violence he had lived to date. Knowing, however, that there might come a day when his child would need to embrace that volence and cast himself against the Technic League, he did not destroy his guns. Instead, he gave them to Lady Altouna, and asked her to keep them safe until such a time as a Gunslinger in need came to Hajoth Hakados. And if that Gunslinger should prove his honor and valor, then Lady Altouna was to give those guns up and pass them along to the next generation.
And so, as Hudson stood in shocked silence in Lady Altouna’s office, he was given his father’s guns in a wooden box, resting on a bed of red velvet. Two revolvers from another time, another age.
Lady Altouna left Hudson with one more gift. The Man in Black, she insisted, was not far – he had been seen fleeing north, towards Starfall, just that day. His trail was still warm. Hudson could still catch him. The Man in Black could still be stopped.
And so the Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.