Pathfinder - Carrion Crown
ORGANISATION - Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye
They are the true masters of the old world and the powers behind thrones. In secret they meet to judge the fate of Ustalav in strange whispered tongues. In ritual are they reborn, and in mystery they forever remain. Engraved in keystones of buildings old and new, the Order’s blazing eye sees all. We do not understand their bizarre contemplations, but we know without them all would be lost, as they are the saviors of our lands.
– Professor Breverius Trusdale, On Secret Societies
In paneled salons and dark catacombs, the secret elite of Ustalav assemble in exclusive social clubs known collectively as the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye. What began centuries ago as a cabal of mystics exploring forbidden knowledge has given rise to an organized network of gentleman philosophers who almost universally rise to the most inf luential stations of Ustalav society as judges, deans, landed aristocracy, and even high-ranking clergy of Pharasma’s church. The Order promotes divine enlightenment through participation in secret meetings involving mysterious philosophies and strange rituals. Western Ustalav’s bloodless shirking of aristocratic rule is of course attributed to the benevolent machinations of the Order, and Palatine Eye arcanists are widely credited for their part in the legendary defeat of the dragon Kazavon in Scarwall. But power has its detractors, and such malevolent occurrences as the inexplicable disappearances in Canterwall and the attacks of Lozeri’s Devil in Gray have been attributed to the Order by conspiracy theory broadsides. The elusive Order’s refusal to dignify the stories with responses only exacerbates the rumormongering among Ustalav’s superstitious citizens.
History of the Order
Squandering fortunes on safaris and archaeological expeditions into the dark heart of Garund, Aldus Canter was among the most famous gentleman adventurers of his age. Rumored to be cursed after the disastrous looting of Thutmoset IV’s tomb in 3985 ar, the future count was given up for lost when a pyramid-plundering expedition in Osirion’s Parched Dunes disappeared later that year. Aldus reappeared in Vieland 3 years later a changed man, claiming knowledge of lost esoteric rites and ancient mysticism learned from an angelic mentor. According to his accounts, Aldus discovered a stone sepulcher uncovered by a raging sandstorm, and within found immortal sages who venerated a desiccated angel named Tabris, the possessor of torn scrolls Aldus claimed held the mysterious annals of creation. For 3 years, Aldus learned the cabal’s secret language and communed with the angel, absorbing the knowledge and philosophies of the mystics.
Aldus claimed the sages sent him forth, newly enlightened, to act as their mortal messenger on Golarion. Some conspiracy theorists contest that his story of these “secret masters” is an imaginative fallacy concocted by the count to bring fortune to his ailing estate. Others believe the “angel” was instead a clever devil sent to corrupt mortals with diabolical influence, or that Aldus poisoned a divine warden to claim guarded secrets for himself.
Regardless of the truth of such criticism, Aldus attracted a devout following of young nobles hungry for his esoteric ramblings, and finally published his coded theories in a folio known as the Lost Gospels of Tabris, a curious amalgamation of Osirian mysticisms, Pharasmin catechisms, and Varisian occult traditions. The text outlined the first of nine stations, or paths, to nurture one’s inner divine spark in preparation for a holy communion upon death. Further revelations were carefully disseminated based on a member’s financial contributions to the cabal, and membership was restricted to landed gentry under Aldus’s sway. Many noble sons f led as public sentiment turned against the Order in 3999, when a mob of angry citizens interrupted an orgiastic new year rite at the mysterious ruins known as the Spiral Cromlech, thwarting what some said appeared to be Aldus’s impending sacrifice of a celestial being.
Known as the Lost Gospels of Tabris, a curious amalgamation of Osirian mysticisms, Pharasmin catechisms, and Varisian occult traditions. The text outlined the first of nine stations, or paths, to nurture one’s inner divine spark in preparation for a holy communion upon death. Further revelations were carefully disseminated based on a member’s financial contributions to the cabal, and membership was restricted to landed gentry under Aldus’s sway. Many noble sons fled as public sentiment turned against the Order in 3999, when a mob of angry citizens interrupted an orgiastic new year rite at the mysterious ruins known as the Spiral Cromlech, thwarting what some said appeared to be Aldus’s impending sacrifice of a celestial being.
The shrunken and exclusive Order persisted until 4028, when Aldus disappeared under mysterious circumstances. His nine most devout apostles then gained control of both their founder’s manuscripts and the dwindling organization. This event, known as the Elect of Nine, marked a new era, and under this new leadership the Order opened its doors to invitees willing to follow the organization’s philosophies, and wealthy enough to afford the society’s annual dues. The Order began quietly funding the construction of temples, libraries, colleges, and asylums for war-scarred veterans. With this new benevolent facade, worthy nobles once more f locked to the philosophical teachings of the semi-secret society, and its wealth and influence spread across Ustalav.
Since its inception, Esoteric Order members have enjoyed the benefits of an influential social club with powerful connections. While not all members are landed gentry, all are expected to behave themselves as polite, respectful citizens and contribute meaningfully to society. Weekly meetings are held on Oathday and are known as cathedrals, the term referring to both the assembled group and their meeting hall, whether it be a former church, a hunting lodge, or a tavern cellar. Members are also expected to attend services of Pharasma and pay her homage, although a member’s worship of other gods is not precluded.
To those rare non-members granted audience to Esoteric Order ceremonies, the strange rites, bizarre trappings, and unusual call-and-responses from the assembly can be bewildering. These rituals are elaborate affairs where even mundane business such as tithing, dues, reading of minutes, and regular correspondence with other cathedrals involves a great deal of ceremonial pomp, with each action following strict bylaws related to metaphorical lessons about personal salvation. The rituals have enlivened rumors of occult associations, an observation bolstered by the rule that all members attend in full regalia—fanciful embroidered accoutrements such as elaborate robes, gloves, aprons, and headgear. Meetings are followed by lectures from respected members, such as professional surgeons performing an autopsy on a dead manticore or alchemists demonstrating the Order’s principles through metaphysical experimentation. Typically the cathedral then adjourns to a prepared feast-hall or smoking salon where members congregate and trade favors with an understanding of guaranteed reciprocation, no matter what a member’s profession may be.
During the week, cathedrals host a variety of activities for members, such as philosophical workshops, study groups, or social dinners marking Pharasmin holy days. Most cathedrals have attached private taverns for the exclusive use of members wishing to socialize. Seances are a popular pastime, as are mummy unwrapping parties, where Osirian mummies are slowly unveiled, their dried skin afterward ground into a delicate powder and brewed as an intoxicating tea served to attendees.
Members in higher standing hold secretive, private meetings based on an esoteric calendar cycle meaningful only to those well-steeped in the Order’s history in undisclosed locations, such as the dark catacombs of persecuted and burned cathedrals or the crypts of founding families. Such meetings delve deeper into the Order’s hidden mysteries and guide these elect members toward some divine communion or celestial ascendancy.
Codes & Philosophies
Central to the Palatine Eye’s theology is an ordered path of learning, divided into nine steps of ascendancy, known as stations, emulating a supposed celestial hierarchy of angels. The separation between stations exists to encourage ambition and obscure motivations as well as to conceal the group’s activities in the eyes of conspiracy theorists, unsympathetic religions, and occasionally the law.
While the original gospels recovered by Aldus Canter are only accessible to high-ranking members, the tracts have inspired myriad writings espousing the Order’s beliefs. Aldus’s original Lost Gospels outline immortal philosophies and hierarchies, creating a system for members to seek divine knowledge, prepare their bodies to contain that knowledge, and nurture their lives to release their illuminated souls upon death. Texts such as the Cromlech Catechisms and Issachar’s Mysteries of Order further promote this philosophical self-awareness, and adherents believe that within the human vessel lies a divine spark that craves reunification with the primordial celestial motes of the upper planes. Only through an ordered life path can members ascend to higher stations, both in their mortal lifetimes
and their afterlives. Of course, the influence of membership alone is often enough to promote the idea that a member’s successes are due to these beliefs, further encouraging the member’s continued financial contributions to the Order. These teachings are often illustrated through metaphor and allegory, and the untrained find it almost impossible to understand these writings without initiation in the Order’s ways, even with the use of language-deciphering magics.
The metaphorical path to enlightenment is displayed in cathedrals on 18 tiled mosaics known as Stations Above and Below, nine of which are mounted above eye-level, with the remaining nine worked into the floor. The stations above depict an everyman figure growing in power, wealth, and adornment as the mosaic sequence continues and the character follows the Order’s teachings. The nine stations below begin their sequence with this idealized, enlightened everyman straying from the true path; as the stages progress, he is stripped of powers and gifts, demonstrating the ignorance of the uninitiated, or dire warnings to those who would betray the Order.
Appeal & Initiation
Membership in the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye is by invitation only, with aspirants well-vetted both socially and magically—their potential peers investigate embarrassing dalliances or past transgressions that might reflect badly on the society. Recruits must display a willingness to defer to higher stations, and a desire to learn universal truths of the celestial realms. As a lawful neutral organization, the Order recruits members of sympathetic lawful mindset, although opinions on good and evil vary between cathedrals. Clergy of Pharasma are accepted without exception. An aspirant spends his first 3 years as an acolyte, regardless of outside social station, representing the trial of Aldus Canter in the desert. Acolytes pay the annual dues of the Order’s first full station, and learn the Order’s cryptic codes and the secret language of sphinxes in order to properly converse in the meeting’s intricate preambles.
After indoctrination, acolytes are inducted into full membership in an elaborate ceremony, ascend to the Third Throne, and receive the common title of Most Worthy Angelic Prince, the Order’s first station.
A cathedral’s highest-ranking master orchestrates initiations, also presided over by the sarcophagusbound, mummified corpse of a respected deceased member. After exhaustive scripted exchanges between the master and the acolyte, members spin the blindfolded apprentice about so he may “wander the desert of ignorance” seeking a pair of loosely-chained doors that must be ceremonially opened. The initiate, master, and sarcophagus pass through the portal, where the presiding master uses the corpse as the target of a ventriloquism spell with a ceremonial bone rod and speaks as though he were the corpse. The initiate then asks three scripted questions of the “corpse,” receiving whispered replies. The last question asked is always, “What shall I be called?” and the corpse grants an extravagant society name of dubious Ancient Osirian origin such as “Alexdrandantalus,” “Nebuzaradan,” or “Seaxolomeus.”
The final rite involves breaking off the corpse’s lower jaw, then cremating it in a sacred crucible before the assembled congregation to forever silence the corpse. The acolyte is then clothed in full regalia and rises to take a seat among his new brethren.
The first station affords the Order’s full benefits, and thereafter ambition within the society is limited only by enthusiasm to pursue the Order’s philosophy and the amount of dues the member might afford, although members rarely rise in station more than once annually. The highest levels have reserved membership, with the number of seats fixed and openings occurring only when a seat is vacated by ascension, expulsion, or death.
Such is the complete indoctrination of the Order’s members that any who betray the group
by teaching the Order’s codes, secrets, or sigils to outsiders immediately lose any organizational benefits gained due to their membership. Expulsion from the Order is swift, and former treacherous members are known to have mysteriously disappeared.
Cathedrals & Congregations
Some imposing, others unassuming, the Esoteric Order’s cathedrals are the grand meeting halls where members congregate. While varying in size and opulence, cathedrals typically share common elements of metaphorical significance. Stone sphinxes often flank the entrance, and imposing, golden-chained wooden doors bar entry to meeting chambers by the uninitiated, with the Order’s prominent symbol sometimes serving as a glyph of warding.
Members arrive for meetings led by the highest-ranked member, and the doors are opened from within by a member performing a vigil known as a wake, who is locked within to guard the cathedral between meetings. Blinding light bathes the assembly, who are greeted with the phrase, “Who seeks knowledge within this sepulcher?” The members then enter and begin their congregation.
Historically, the Order held meetings in Pharasma’s churches, and tradition dictates cathedrals do all they can to follow similar f loor plans—though many are restricted by the confines of existing structures and subterranean spaces. When created to the Order’s references, a large, central nave known as the Grand Congregation is a cathedral’s most prominent chamber. Tessellated floors lined with stepped wooden pews give way to nine steps that lead to an imposing, judicial-style bench, behind which preside the cathedral’s nine highest-ranked members. Stout doors lead to the meeting chambers, archives, and
wood-paneled salons that lie beyond, and to the crypts that inevitably lie below.
The Esoteric Order’s symbolism decorates every flat surface of the meeting halls, typically in gaudy, faux-Osirian splendor, with themes of scarabs, pyramids, blazing pharaonic eyes, and sarcophagi being most prevalent, peculiarly mixed with the symbols of Pharasma. Everywhere the blank stares of moldering taxidermied shapes loom, including the stuffed and mounted familiars of noted deceased members. Displayed above the presiding members’ bench is an imposing clock, set one hour ahead of the outside world’s time (which members call plebeian time), not only reminding members to make the most of time’s ticking minutes, but also ref lecting the mentality of the Order that the powerful are always one step ahead of the uninitiated in thought and action.
Cathedrals of Note
The Order’s tremendous wealth has resulted in the establishment of cathedrals across the breadth of Ustalav and beyond, and the society’s philosophies have even subtly inspired the architecture of entire cities, such as the sweeping curved streets of Lepidstadt. Lacking a central meeting hall, members assemble in noble estates, catacombs, crypts, and even taverns.
Haraday Theater: When the Ustalavic capital moved from Ardis to Caliphas, the Order quickly shifted its resources and established a cathedral in Ustalav’s new seat of power. Housed inside a disused theater, the Caliphas cathedral also contains a library of obscure and recondite lore in its basement, known as the Esoteric Archives.
Necropolis of the Faithful: The sprawling catacombs surrounding the High Temple of Pharasma in Sothis host an extremely secretive sect of the Order led by high priest Inebni Andabar, a seraph in the Order. The sect gathers at dusk among the limestone crypts housing the remains of the Order’s founders; these catacombs are said to house a source of divine power.
Ventriloquist’s Pulpit: The seat of the Palatinate of Vieland’s ruling council, this domed administration building in Lepidstadt once served as the offices of the region’s ruling counts, including Aldus Canter himself. Although the building was publicly scheduled for demolition after the land’s move from aristocratic rule, the Palatine Eye halted its destruction, thus saving one of their oldest cathedrals, hidden beneath the foundations. Aside from the meeting halls common to most cathedrals, Ventriloquist’s Pulpit holds numerous hidden chambers constructed to the unusual and exacting specifications of the Order’s founder, with some members even claiming that whole floors lie beneath the currently used cellars, including vaults of scroll-wrapped mummies and a prison for holding creatures with no need for food.
Symbolism by Degrees
The Order’s mysterious symbols represent metaphorical keystones along members’ ascendancy toward divine truth. Clever PCs might learn to spot a member in outside society by the recognition of subtle sigils embroidered onto everyday clothing or worked into jewelry. The most important and pervasive symbols follow.
The Apostolic Tome: This symbol of a large book represents concealed knowledge, a direct representation of Canter’s original gospels. The book’s decayed state represents the inevitable decay of secrecy as time progresses and people’s souls weather. Shown open, this symbol represents shared fellowship, while a closed book represents ignorance or forbidden mysteries.
The Chained Door: Usually depicted as chained doors burst from within by the blinding f lames of enlightenment, this symbol serves as an invitation for all seeking knowledge to enter for guidance. Chained or shut doors represent closemindedness, and mark locations unfriendly to the Order or hint of concealed knowledge within.
The Palatine Eye: The most pervasive of the society’s symbols, the blazing Palatine Eye gazes from the back of a golden scarab upon the breadth of Golarion, piercing all shadow to seek the light of truth. Only with wise scrutiny can hidden knowledge be unveiled, and the staring eye represents the search for fellowship in the desert of ignorance and the ascendancy toward truth. A closed eye represents death and ignorance.
The Sepulcher: Often marking secret archives or storehouses of knowledge sympathetic to the Order, the sepulcher represents the holy houses of information and buildings sympathetic to the gathering of divine insight. A symbol of a ruined sepulcher represents mysteries destroyed by treacherous revelation.
The Withered Hand: Typically shown with various numbers of extended digits, the withered hand reminds members that secrets should be taken to the grave, and symbolizes the trials of learning the Order’s path. Different numbers of outstretched digits denote various stages in the acquisition of forbidden knowledge, and can convey different meanings to members who correlate the number of digits with allegorical lessons, allowing the conveyance of secret messages.