In the Age of Lost Omens, in the Nation of Varisia, in the city of Magnimar, there sat a peculiar quartet: a human, a gnome, a goblin, and an aasimar. All looking at a box.
“It’s got no seams,” said the human. Her name was Milicent, recently of the wealthy Mindurian family, now disowned.
“Maybe we can break it,” said the goblin. He had a goblin name, but everyone just called him Scratchy. Milicent had adopted him as an infant, and refused to turn him out into the wild when he grew big enough to be considered dangerous, which was the primary reason she had been disowned.
“What do the runes say?” asked the gnome. He was named Zelcor, and he too was outcast from his clan, though why he did not say.
“Something about Wrath” said the aasimar. He was not cast out from his family. Or rather, had never really belonged to a family at all.
The four of them were gathered together in the sitting room of the city of Magnimar’s Pathfinder Lodge. The Venture-Captain, Sheila Heidmarch, had called them there that day “for a matter of grave import”. But first, she had a test for them: open a box.
It wasn’t any ordinary box, of course. The box in question was an ancient Thassilonian paradox box, recovered recently by noted Pathfinder Koriah Azmeren. It had no seams, no hinges, nor lid that anyone could discern, and was covered in runes in the language of ancient Thassilon. Sheila had given her four guests about half an hour to open the box, and twenty minutes had already gone by.
“We should definitely break it,” said Scratchy.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how she wants it opened,” answered Millicent, turning over the box in her hands. “Maybe we should … Wait.” She turned the box over again. “This side is the only one that’s different.”
“Let me see,” said Zelcor, taking the box. She was right: 5 sides had exactly the same pattern of runes, but the sixth had a different set in the center.
“Ah, I see,” said Theodore. “And moreover, I know what those runes mean. It’s ancient Thassilonian for ‘Cruel’.”
“So then what …” wondered Zelcor, running his tiny gnomish fingers across the runes. And then a wondrous thing happened: when he touched two of the symbols at once, they faded from the side of the box and reappeared in each other’s place.
“Magic!” exclaimed Scratchy, grabbing the box, “A magic word puzzle!” and he gleefully began shuffling the letters about.
“You can’t just move them randomly, you have to be systematic about it!” shouted Millicent, and she attempted to pull the box from Scratchy, resulting in a furious tug of war.
“But what words can be formed with those runes? How good is your ancient Thassilonian?” asked Zelcor as he turned to face Theodore.
“Um, Urkel?” opined Theodore. It was an ancient wizard’s name, he had heard. When they tried it and it didn’t work, he suggested several other names. After several more minutes of frustration he snapped his fingers. “Aha! Those same runes will spell out the word ‘money’! I bet that’ll open the box!”
And indeed it did. A light began to shine from it, from where the seams of a lid would be, and then the side with the moving rune popped open. The group’s elation was tempered, however, when two horrible doglike things appeared just above the now-open box.
The group didn’t know it, but the things were called Pugwampis; they were a type of gremlin that the owner of the box had felt would be suitable guardians for his little treasure. A reputable tome of beasts described them thusly: “As if the world’s most revolting lapdog had somehow learned to walk on its back legs”. And these lived up to their reputation.
The first thing the Pugwampis did was split up. One attacked a fine set of books on a nearby shelf, another a painting on the wall. They were exceedingly fast, but goblins are fast too. Scratchy reached out at the one by the books and knocked it over on its side. He was just about to ask if they should try to take it alive when Millicent’s sword came down and sliced it in two.
Zelcor decided he would handle the one on the painting. He mumbled some words of arcane magic, and a cone of multi-colored light shot out from his fingers. The Pugwampi, however, dodged it easily. Millicent turned her attention to it and tried to strike it as well. Unfortunately, she missed and succeeded only in tearing another hole in the already-ruined portrait. The creature jumped away onto the drapes, which it also proceeded to tear at. Millicent looked at it angrily; certainly this thing was fast, but stabbing and slashing were her forte. She noticed it was moving around a lot and hanging on the drapes: not the most stable of platforms. She just had to wait for a moment when it was a little off balance, just one moment when it couldn’t properly jump away …
And the moment came. Millicent’s blade flashed out, impaling the beast and spraying hot gremlin blood all over the window and the drapes. But at least the excitement was over.
And then Sheila Heidmarch came in from the adjoining room and exclaimed, “What? What? What’s going on here?!”