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“And what’s in there?”
“Scrolls of a more…delicate nature.”
“Delicate?  Sounds promising.  Tales of…debauchery.  And Decadence.

The Great Library of Tephu. The greatest storehouse of knowledge in all Assyria.  Our heroes travel from Wati in search of information on The Forgotten Pharaoh and his floating pyramid. But regulars know that wherever these four travel, trouble is sure to follow…

Valeros talks Merisiel into breaking in to the infamous Spiral Archive while he provides a rather obvious distraction.  But then they get caught…

Pardoned by a queen (Charlotte Strevens) who’s hot for Harsk’s body…wait, what?!?

…Anyway, Valeros and Harsk go all Ben-Hur, Merisiel and Ezren play Nancy Drew, and they run afoul of officialdom once again.  There are poisonings and jailbreaks, vengeful bee folk and sympathetic sphinxes and even those damn lamia rearing their serpentine heads once again.

It’s simultaneously busy and languid, character driven and filled with action and happenstance.  And it’s without question the best story of the current season thus far.

“Poor old Harsk.  Taking one for the team.”

Every season of Pathfinder Legends has that one story that pulls all the others into perspective.  You know, the one where some combination of script and performance just clicks with the listener, and makes them finally “get it” and see what the author(s) were going for all along.

Suddenly any minor gripes that arose along the journey to date seem patently absurd, as the story as a whole, and the particular place of each installment therein, finally locks into place.  It’s sort of a linchpin that makes the other parts work, and rarely by design – we’re not talking the grand denouement here, but that one album in a musician’s oeuvre that finally worked for you, and sent you scurrying after previously shruggable albums that become your “new favorites”.  It’s a strange, indefinable process, but at the risk of resorting to cliche, you know it when you experience it.

Last series, it came early, with the what the hell is this – do I like this? does it work? newness of Burnt Offerings coming into crystal clarity (and ongoing affection) with the arrival of The Skinsaw Murders.

This time around, it’s Secrets of the Sphinx that drops the missing puzzle piece into place, throwing the quirkiness and generally unlikeable walk on characters of Empty Graves and The Half Dead City into the proper light.

The already enjoyable portions of those earlier tales – namely our four leads and the dungeon crawl menaces they encounter – are retained, but with what feel like far more forgiveable, even amusing characters among the locals (inclusive of Elizabeth Bower, Sara Powell, Natasha Karp and the aforementioned Charlotte Strevens’ giggle inducing Muminofrah on the distaff end and John Rayment and Ramon Tikarem on the male side).  And perhaps it’s down in part to the fact that we’re no longer restricted to the half dead city” of Wati, but the accents, on the whole, seemed more naturalistic, less gratingly forced this time around.

But even beyond that, it’s with Shifting Sands that matters turn more directly towards characterization, and not merely on the side of the walk ons.  That essential affectionate bantering between friends and travelling companions that makes Pathfinder Legends work so well as it does is at its most pronounced herein, at least in relation to what we’ve seen thus far this season.

“You’re incorrigible.  You know that, don’t you?”
“You wouldn’t have me any other way.”

What’s become interesting is how the actors (and actress) really seem to have grown into their roles over the past 9 installments, with their particular relations from one to the other feeling ever more naturalistic.  Especially given its arrival during the post-holiday afterglow, this feels like an actual gathering of family and friends, complete with all the (generally light hearted) jokes and putdowns, bickering, goading, warmth and laughter that implies.

But just like the real world, it’s hardly all sunshine and light.  There are ever more betrayals, admissions and secrets with each succeeding installment, to the point where the most obvious of bickering duos find themselves admitting they’re probably the only ones they can still trust…

I’ve long championed various of the folks in question for their outstanding performances (and, it should be mentioned, Cavan Scott and – at least last season – Mark Wright’s scripts) for managing to raise the Pathfinder Legends audios well above their tabletop RPG origins.  Just think for a second how cheesy all of this D&D business could have been in other hands!  But the simple fact is that these four drive each other to surprisingly inspired heights.

If you’d asked me in the Runelords days who my favorites were, it’d have been an easy win for Kerry Skinner’s Merisiel and Stewart Alexander’s Valeros, and in terms of pure affection, that’s still true.

But both Ian Brooker and Trevor Littledale* continue to develop their Harsk and Ezren in subtly fascinating and dynamic ways, building what was likely a cardboard cutout of a role into something far more nuanced, and yes, realistic – or effectively what I was saying about Skinner and Alexander last season.  Hats off to all four, who continue to impress me to a greater degree with each successive installment – no easy task.

* There’s a bit of character defining revelation about Ezren in the second half that rings quite true to iconoclasts like myself – suddenly what seemed to be a very surface character trait gets some much needed flesh and bone. Nice job, Messrs. Scott and Littledale…

Despite an ever growing appreciation and affection towards the Pathfinder Legends audios during the first season (which resulted in some later tales getting ever better reviews than earlier ones, when in hindsight, the first three were probably the strongest of the six), both my wife and I had some trepidation with the (long awaited) inauguration of the Mummy’s Mask season.  The dodgy “Egyptian” accents, the unlikeable Wati locals and competitors…  While the leads were both written and acted as good (if not better) than ever, the surrounding business just didn’t feel right.  The nicest thing you could say is, Wati is certainly no Sandpoint.

But this story is the one that finally clicks.  Whether it’s due to whatever module-based source material Scott has to draw from or just an increasing degree of confidence and character development as the ongoing story continues through it’s ninth episode, Secrets of the Sphinx is the one for newcomers to the second season to sample from.

I’d still recommend Pathfinder newbies head back to Burnt Offerings, The Skinsaw Murders or even The Hook Mountain Massacre (though admittedly, those ogres are still pretty hard to get through) – you’ll have a better introduction to the characters and a more welcoming, recognizable feel and setting to deal with, complete with likeable locals (Ameiko Kaijetsu and Sheriff Belor Hemlock are still much missed in the proceedings here).

But for those who want to check out what’s been happening lately, this is definitely a good place to dive in.