Kingmaker

Variel's Diary - Stingers & Roses

I wear my liar’s smile beneath my wine-besotted mask. Stumbling, bumbling, rambling, and always always aiming for my target, my winding road carries me to the bullseye, one stutter-step at a time.

“In pressing into the wilderness, away from Great Houses, Social-climbing Duelists, Mad Committees, and Lawless Despots, the people of the Boar threw off their shackles and proclaimed themselves a free people. They then found new shackles, more to their liking and more comfortable on the wrists, clapping them on with a merry tune on their hearts. We have traded one master for another, desirous of the comfort of servitude, in which our burdens are low for so much is decided for us.”

The Political Republic, Essay #39, “The Burden of Freedom.”

Bloom, Eruption, Disruption, Wild Growth, Penetration, Spread. I know not even precisely what it is she is doing, let alone how she does it. The Swans of Dark Water are dead and the Dark Swan that rested on the Water refuses to rot, lingering and tingling thoughts in my mind. An open door can be entered or exited, though who enters and who exits is simply a question of one’s point of view. She is opening the door and letting the monsters out, letting them in. She also sent her poison, stealing light from the people of Candlemere. But why? For hate’s sake? For her lost love? I don’t know don’t know don’t know.

The money supply should be restricted to keep inflation 0.5-1.0% behind economic rate of growth. Let people get richer and make the money supply chase that wealth. If a bank keeps 20% of its deposits and loans out the other 80%, that 80% goes back into other banks, either through savings or purchases. Then that gets kept at 20% and loaned out again. Thus, does money gain velocity and the true money supply become visible.

Shall I stop chasing the tail that may sting and sting again? Shall I instead pluck the bloody rose and wear it in hope and devotion? Shall we rise up or will John sit down?

A thousand thousand thoughts in my head and on this page, but I cannot forget the enemy is out there, pressing and pushing, testing and teasing. She wants and I know want. But there’s no love nor joy in her want, for these things are here, set across my dining table and shimmering in the light like an opalescent oil was poured over the narrow blade.

“The foundational principles of just war are those of a legitimate authority may employ violence on behalf of a just cause with right intent. This sort of circular thinking is most often sorted out in the aftermath of war, when a new authority declares its intents right and its causes just, thereby granting itself legitimacy.”

Dilose Pierce, “A Cynic’s View of Government.”

Why is it that we’re so agitated by the disposition of this sword, yet no one else seems disquieted by how this sword was made? The eldest pulled her love and joy out of her and made it into a sword. Now they hope we will fulfill their prophecy to bring it back to her, sharp end first. I suppose it is the casual cruelty that appalls me most. The Lady in the Room can be cruel, but only if you provoke her. This is like something out of Nidal.

I put on this big show of being the vengeance-obsessed calistrian before the Council, as that’s the sort of mummer’s show they expect from the elf. Everyone seems pretty sure that Nyrissa needs to go, but I keep asking myself, “What else could she be? How else could she be?” If someone ripped the love from my heart, I’d be different – I’d be a thousand times worse, destroying people’s lives for sport. I’d get Katya and Lem into a threesome that would shred the kingdom, because in the darkest places of my heart, that thought is funny. Could any of us be but wicked without love?

So I told them I was going to kill her. Admittedly, I still might – in the moment, there may be no other option. But no one wants to hear about other options right now. Not with thousands of citizens blinded and no end in sight to potential future disasters.

The Savored Sting tells me to seek vengeance, but the Everbloom asks me to hold out hope. I suppose, right at the moment, it is still a spinning silver coin in the air, and I do not know how it will land.

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Full Moon at Zenith
Leilania Takes Stock of Her Charges

Recorded in early Pharast 4724.

The moon’s pale face hangs directly overhead between the branches of reaching conifers. Her radiance, as soft and warm as ever, bathes me in renewing light. She sings to me, and I to her, our voices combining in a melody as old as time itself. Through it I can hear the songs of her other disciples all around the world, all singing in the same gentle harmony on this wondrous night. Through the magic of our entwined worship, we know that we are one.

Nibbs rests beside in the clearing, preening out his winter coat. I’ll gather his feathers when he’s done and bring them back to Tatzlford as gifts for our friends. Nibbs’s feathers make beautiful quills and fans, or just decorations to hang from the wall. In years past I would be buried in these feathers, with far more to give away than I had people who would be interested. Now I must ration them out to keep from leaving my friends wanting. Urusundova is no longer a country of refugees and dreamers. We are together a Nation.

Ursundova has grown like a weed over the last several years, and with it have come thousands of new people to share the realm. As Marshall, my greatest concern is the protection of the Greenbelt and the fey who predate our settlement. For the most part the newcomers observe the King’s warnings and avoid entering the fey lands without permission or escort. In those cases where they do not, the fey often find ways of their own to make the strangers leave. My Watchers and I do what we can to avoid conflict the two, but there’s always those who invite misfortune on themselves. In those cases, we become peacemakers.

I depend on my Way Watchers now more than ever. Despite rapid expansion of our corps, the spirit of our organization has remained solid. Despite they are from different backgrounds, peoples, races, and creeds, my Watchers have combined into a coherent and omnipresent force for good throughout the Kingdom. To a man and woman, they are dedicated first to the premise that the common good is their highest priority. This includes the good of sapient beings as surely as the beasts of nature. We seek the balance that serves all.

Through this balance we see what others cannot. I know there is something amiss in the wilds, something coming that the fey don’t like talking about. I know not what will come of it, but I am reminded that Narissa was not defeated in our taking of Briar. Her reach from the first world has not diminished. She intends to resurrect her world at the expense of our own. We must remain vigilant for her return.

I must admit that I’ve been distracted of late by Iliphar—my friend, my lover, my teller of stories. Iliphar is not like anyone I’ve ever met before. I never grow tired of his company, never wish I was somewhere else, never make an excuse to be by myself again. Honestly, when I’m with Iliphar I feel a little helpless, a little out of control. I know he could break my heart with a word…but I know he never would. Is this what love is supposed to feel like? If so, is it something I want? I know Iliphar and I are not meant to be together…but maybe we can find something else worth having. The question is what?

The moon doesn’t give me these answers tonight—that’s not her purpose. Tonight is about community and peace. It is about remembering who we are and why. The moon sings and we answer. There is no truer harmony.

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Prepare the forests

Prepare the forests

Three words. Eight hours of candles, prayer, and navigating mind-mazes of prophecy, for three words. Jacek exhaled deeply, and pushed himself to his feet. He was sore from having sat cross-legged for so long. With a wave of his hand he extinguished the remaining candles, cursing under his breath the vagueness of prophecy in this age of the world, while reflecting that they were, after all, lucky to get even that. The future was not set in stone, and some things even the Gods could not – or would not – tell.

He left the small ritual chamber, finding Katja and some of their trusted advisers waiting in the chamber outside, expectant and worried looks on their faces. Hamberly promptly handed his King a towel and glass of chilled water, then nearly stumbled as with a whoosh Kifu magically appeared where the valet had been standing seconds before. Jacek took a long draught and wiped his face. He was drained, exhausted, physically and mentally.

“Prepare the forests.”

“Yer Majesty?” Ulgar enquired.

Kifu turned to look at the dwarf. “I infer that is the result of the prognostication,” he said, “for…”

“You tellin’ me, Cher,” Ray interjected, “he been in that little closet all day and that’s all we getting from the Gods?”

Katja kissed her husband on the cheek and put an arm around him. He visibly sagged into her embrace, nodding weakly. “That is the way of these things,” she said, “and even this much is a blessing.”

“I sought to ask when and where the next Bloom within the realm would occur. This does at least narrow down locations; I would suspect, from the phrasing, that this means it will happen soon. The use of the word prepare leads me to hope that there is least time to avoid a disaster of the magnitude afflicting Candlemere.”

Lem and Ulgar exchanged glances. “Three town sand three forts in forests,” Lem began, “plus isolated loggers and the like. I don’t know that we can evacuate.”

Ulgar tugged on his beard. “We ken move troops to ‘em in a day or two, help wi whatever does gae doon.”

“Very good.” Jacek straightened a little. Having a plan, even the beginnings of one, made him feel better. “One other thought occurs to me; the swans and whirlpool at Candlemere were pictured in Ruddiger’s Picnic. Perhaps the book holds other clues – were any of the other illustrations in forests?”

Kifu had the book in hand, flicking through to one particular scene featuring humanoid creatures made of assorted plant matter. “This may be a depiction of vegepygmies.”

Variel and Leiliania wrinkled their noses in disgust, the latter exclaiming “Ew! Not my kind of plant. They can stick you with mold, which eats you up from the inside, and then one of them grows out of you.”

Jacek nodded, gravely. “Then I agree that we should move some troops to the forest, to guard against any incursion by vegepygmies or other unwelcome visitors. Try and destroy them before they can infect anyone. Ulgar, Lem, I leave that to you. And we should assess how to cure any who are afflicted by this mold, in case the Bloom again mirrors the illustration.”

He looked around. “As to the rest of us, we must be ready to travel wherever it happens at short notice. All the while continuing to attend to the blind of Candlemere. And whatever else assails us. Thank you, all. I will be in my chambers a while.”

The King and Queen turned towards the wing of the Palace containing their private apartments, Hamberly already scurrying off to fetch refreshments and a clean set of clothes for Jacek, the others variously teleporting or walking to see to their own affairs or talk in the Wench. It had been a long day, but was going to get even longer.

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Words, Words, Words

The following essays appear in broadsheets, on posts, and tacked to town hall doors all throughout Ursundova over the next five years. They are all signed “Tribune”

“It is insufficient for the crown to declare it has our best interests at heart – it cannot know us but as a herd, and we are not a herd. Individuals are only available individually, thus the ‘greater good’ all too often becomes ‘what is good for the crown.’ The only rightful and legitimate exercise of power in a free and civilized society is to restrain a citizen from inflicting harm. His own good or benefit is a weak warrant from a parent who never raised us and does not know us. Over herself or himself, the individual must be sovereign.”

- The Political Republic, Essay #4, “Liberty”

“A monarch may make law, but he can hardly enforce it over a nation – his reach is too small and the people too widespread. He cannot act as judge over dozens, to say nothing of hundreds or thousands. Once the duties taken up by ministers, servants, judges, watchmen, and good persons of conscience are stripped away from him, a King does little more than make war or give away places – that is to impoverish the nation or place it into peril and for these things, he is compensated with absolute power and the wealth of working men and women. Nice work if you can get it.”

- The Political Republic, Essay #7 “The Limits of Power”

“The first obligation of the law is to restrain the hands that hold the reins of power. It is all too simple for any power, be it monarch or majority, to enjoy freedom, thus the law must be to shield the freedom of those who cannot simply impose their will.”

- The Political Republic, Essay #18, “Protection of Rights”

“Were we to pile all the crowns of all the Kings and Queens that have ruled over men since the Age of Creation in a single stack, melt them down, and mint from them an ocean of coins, they would not be as dear to a society as the value of a single virtuous citizen.”

- The Political Republic, Essay #22 “The Commonwealth of Citizens”

“There is no religion whose text would not be regarded as blasphemous by some other faith. Prophets and Pontifices may proclaim, with much pompous puffery, the glory of their God’s good graces, but the wise citizen would take neither Erastil’s advice on urban planning nor Iomedae’s on finding a good spouse.”

- The Political Republic, Essay #58, “Freedom of Religion”

“A free people live under law as determined by their representatives, and such law must apply to every person, no matter the gold in the purse or the gold around their brow. If the law does not apply to each and every person in equal fashion, we do not live in a free society, but in one that suffers the whims of those who may ignore or rewrite the rules at their convenience. Such a state cannot be tolerated overlong.”

- The Political Republic, Essay #81, “The Rule of Law”

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Awakening

Garr padded into the child’s bedroom, and settled down on a rug by the fire. He was an old dog, and his scars ached in the cold of the night. Scars gained years past, with his first friend, who’d ridden him and travelled around in a pack with their other, bigger, friends. First-master was dead now, long ago. Garr had not been able to protect him, when they fought the bad ones. But he had new masters now, some big, some small. Life was calmer. He liked being with the big-friend puppies. The small big-friends? They snuggled and chased and gave him food. But he missed first-master. He thought the other masters did too, from time to time; he could see sadness in their eyes. What else could be making them sad?

He drifted off to sleep, dreams of towns and fields and rivers, chasing and sitting with his friends.

But the dream changed, and he was alone, padding along down a path. The sun was setting behind him, and dusk beckoned ahead. The path forked; one way, to the right, curved around and led back, back to the light. The other, to the left, wended its way gradually forward, to a dark forest on the horizon. A sword hung in the air above it; despite the distance, the blade appeared almost alive, as if it were growing from the thorns of a rose. Impossible, but what is impossible in a dream? The image of a boar’s head wavered below it. Did the sword belong to the boar? Or did it threaten to destroy the boar?

Four figures stood at the junction, watching him. They seemed to Garr like his big-masters, only… different, somehow? Both more and less than they should be. One, a golden being, angular, projecting order and solidity. Another, a hunter, horned like a noble stag, scarred and worn like Garr himself. The third, a she-master, silver and strong of focus. And the last, more nebulous, rocking around, laughter and the smell of a tavern. They were watching, judging, waiting.

Garr stopped at the fork in the path. Right was the bright meadow, the play time. The other way, to the left, something darker. But seeing it brought back his instincts, his need. He sniffed the air. Something down that path needed protection. Garr was a good boy; he knew he had to help his friends. He turned left and padded along. Behind him, the figures nodded in unison, satisfied.

Back in the bedroom, a golden radiance settled over Garr. He woke up, feeling a new strength course through him. His eyes shone with the same gold. What was this dream?, he thought. He looked around. The puppy-friend is still asleep. No. Not puppy-friend… child. His rapidly-expanding mind filled with new concepts, stretched for the words. Sveta. Princess Sveta. Of Ursundova. He understood. One of my charges.

Garr stood up, rising on four legs more easily than before. Another thought, and it was two legs, and a human torso. He looked down at his form. Blinked, and back to a dog. Blinked, and two-legged again. Both felt right.

I am Garr. I am… Archon.

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Lem vs. Introspection Round 48
Lem Versus Maturity

Journal,

I turned 33 yesterday.

It was nice. Nina surprised me with a gathering at the castle, just a few friends and the kids, out of the way in the old throne room. Katya and Jacek dropped by with their crew, as well as Isadora, Ibram, Leilania, her weird silver-haired boyfriend, and Variel. And while it was nice to see everyone, I actually spent most of the time chasing little Sasha and Jacek’s boys up on the parapet. Boy can Sasha run. He gives his old dad a workout.

Huh…“Old”. Is that what I am now Journal? No, probably not, though in the stew Ursundova has become I am undoubtedly one of the oldest ingredients in the pot. With how much the Kingdom has changed in the last few years, I sometimes feel like the momentum of what we’ve created is ready to build right over what we started from. The old monuments are still there, the stories are still told, but they’re not the inspiration our people use to take us forward. The inspiration for the Kingdom’s future come from the myriad stories of a hundred thousand families…all searching for a brighter future…all finding us.

After the party, I took Elora down to the waterfront to see Sasha and Dyimi’s monuments in the evening light. We sat on the shore and skipped rocks while the sun moved down behind the tall trees of the Greenbelt. After a while, she got quiet…that way her Mom always gets when she’s really lost in thought. I asked what was on her mind, and Elora asked me if I had to be the Champion forever. I didn’t know what to say to her…so I tickled her. Then I told her forever was a long time.

But her question stuck with me through the night. It took me back to five years ago, when I thought that I would be Champion no more.

You remember this story Journal. Using a preemptive strike in Pitax, we defeated the tyrant Irovetti, and in the process defused a war between four Kingdoms before it began. In the lead up to the attack, I predicted that such an attack would bring only disaster, both on ourselves and the Kingdom as a whole. But I was wrong. I was nothing but wrong.

I went to Jacek after our victory prepared in my mind to resign my title. I couldn’t live with the thought that my conscious would have preferred the death of thousands of soldiers and innocents to the murder of a handful of scoundrels. I went into the King’s chambers fully expecting that Jacek would agree with my assessment. I expected that the Silver Beast would take my role as Champion and I…I would go off to make amends.

But Jacek didn’t accept my resignation. He turned me around and appealed to my sense of honor. He let me return Avenda’s shawl as I had promised. And before I knew it the drama had passed and I was fully the Champion again. There were formations to inspect, territories to scout, and any number of fresh faces to welcome into our armies. I lost myself again in my duties to this country I love.

It occurs to me now that I never heard what happened to the Silver Beast. Jacek seems hesitant to discuss it, and, if I’m honest, so am I. I know that Beast was paid some amount after our attack and afterwards his company of warriors moved on in the direction Pitax. I haven’t heard from him since. I hope, wherever he ended up, Beast found what he was looking for. Maybe it would have been enough for Beast to figure out what that was.

So Journal, I’m left wondering what my fate will be. It’s been fourteen years since I came to the Stolen Lands, thirteen years since we founded Tuskendale on the ruins of the Staglord’s fortress. I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished and the nation we’ve become. I’m proud of Katya and Jacek for being the moral keystone beneath it all. I’m proud that, in a land of strife and conflict, we created a sanctuary of peace and prosperity.

But you know what Journal? I’m even prouder of the way Elora can talk with animals, of Sasha’s little rambling stories, and of course Nina’s strength, perseverance, and warmth. What I do for the Kingdom I do because I am honor bound to serve and protect the realm’s welfare. What I do for my family, I do for love.

That day many years ago when I thought Jacek was ready for me to resign, there was some small part of me who was excited for it. I imagined taking a humble teaching position in Tatzlford. I would spend my days with the Way Watchers, and come home at night to play with my children and dote on my wife. Given Nina’s sometimes transitory patience for my doting, perhaps it is best that it did not turn out this way. But I still long for it sometimes.

Despite my longings, I won’t question the particulars of this life I’ve been gifted with. If it were not for my service to the Kingdom there might not be a Kingdom at all. Iomedae tells us that we must always put service to others before our own desires, and so I will continue to serve as long as she blesses me. I know Iomedae will show me when my work in her name has done enough to please her. Her patience is my patience. Her duty is my duty. Her reward will be my reward.

It’s true: when I first came to the Stolen Lands, I dreamt of a life very different from the one I’ve stumbled into. But I’m glad my dreams did not come true. This treasure is richer. This life is better. This future is brighter.

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Days Gone By
"Iston i nif gin." - In Elvish, "I know your face."

6 Sarenith, 4719

“If the leaders seek only to preserve themselves, that is what they become: preserves, dried preserves.”

- Francois Marcel, Galtan Revolutionary

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess what I heard today.

“And, of course, Ursundova should be arriving…”

Diary, if it had not been an excellent Andoren Red, I might well have spit out my wine. As it was, I had to cover my faux-pas with confusion. “Who?”

“Kingdom just across the eastern border.” Luco was trying not to go through all the refined pesh I’d provided him, so he was taking slow, intermittent pulls on the hookah. I stopped worrying. He hadn’t seen through my disguises, and his current intoxication meant I probably could have stopped being Leonardo Calilli right then and he would have thought it a hallucination of the drug.

“Wait,” I said, turning on my suspicious voice that always made him volunteer more information. “I’ve heard of them, but they’re on the other side of the slough. Some jumped-up camp calling itself a Barony.”

Luco laughed. “For once, my contacts are more recent than my sellsword friend’s! They hit Fort Drelev two years ago and have been expanding eastward ever since. Call themselves a Kingdom now.”

“And who’s King?”

“Some Brevoyan twat. Yarrick or Yancy.”

No. I thought. Would they have…? He was a little sweet on Katya as I recall. “And now they just get invited to the Rushlight Festival?”

“They’re big and aggressive. His Majesty probably wants to take their measure.”

I leaned back in my chair, too many disparate thoughts in my head. “We’ll see, I suppose. You going out there tomorrow?”

“Me?” Luco laughed again. “Not with my benefactor’s most recent gift to keep me company.” He tried to do a little bow from his chair and nearly fell out of it. I dropped a few coins on the table and headed out into the Pitaxian night.

I got several blocks south, to where the houses were still in a state to give the district the “New Ruins” moniker, and slipped into an alleyway. I looked into a moonlit pane of glass and watched as Leonardo Calilli’s face melted away. My ears raised to sharp points, and the dark circles around my eyes pooled and slid into the pupils, filling them, while the dark scar over my left eye appeared like a furrowed line in a garden.

I took two breaths to remember my own face before putting on Gaspar Ibruzzi’s, half-elven actor of little skill but zero fear, which actually goes a long way towards getting one places in the ongoing assault on good taste that Irovetti has cleverly disguised as a theater scene. I had planned to get to the festival during the Wine Festival for the parties, but I had discovered a gap in my information.

I wore Gaspar’s face across the center of town, doing a few loop-backs to ensure I wasn’t being followed, then retired to my room in an inn at the far end of Trouthmouth. I dropped the curtains and put out the lights and let my face be my own again.

Ursundova. I died there seven years ago. Six years ago, Severina and Senubar persuaded Kyonin’s secret service that I might be of use to them. Four years ago, I told the secret service where they could put their endless plans to uproot Treerazer’s demons, but, let’s be honest, diary, that might have had something to do with Severina finding she appreciated Senubar’s stability more than my capriciousness. I have, apparently, been a little too focused on what was right in front of me. Perhaps time to broaden my gaze.

7 Sarenith, 4719

This is what comes from living and working amongst my peers, but Savored Sting preserve me, I didn’t know practically anyone in Ursundova’s tent. One barely recognizes Severina’s former bodyguard now, what with his fine clothes and semi-humble crown. I had known, in an off-handed way, that he was of Brevoyan nobility, but he certainly seems to have stepped into the role. When I mentioned Dyimi to one of the guards, he didn’t seem to know who I was talking about. That bodes ill.

This new monarch carries himself like he’s part eastern ruler, part menagerie collector. I feel certain the enormous half-orc behind his chair was not for show, though his archery left much to be desired. The elf was clearly undergoing human madness – she kept losing her clothes in a delightful manner and bouncing off to the lake. Sometimes the Forlorn get that way, but “Forlorn” is not the word I would use for her. Some Kelish fellow was trying to get people to ignore the skinny-dipping elf and talk about trade, with about as much success as one could imagine such a venture having. I’m pretty sure at least one of the three people besides me in a hat of disguise was also working for Ursundova, but so was one very undisguised man I knew well enough to approach, or, that is, to make myself a target to be approached.

My green plume feather drooping sadly, I sat and muttered about the unfortunate fall of the Cattanei family, wondering why anyone would listen to a poor old sellsword such as myself. Before I could have spelled out “elicitation target,” I was being offered a goblet of fine wine and had a fine new friend with a lilting voice, a sympathetic ear, and a mind for treachery as twisted as my own. I was a perfect mark. I corrected all his misstatements, and held forth at length to show my former importance. I really had no idea how much Eoghan already knew or how dated his information might have been, so I was as thorough as my cover allowed. When he felt he’d gotten all he was going to get from me, he was disengaged as rapidly as he had become my fast friend. I watched him go with a strange mix of emotions. I wanted to drop all pretense and tell him it was me. Glass nin gen achened! -But Ursundova had come to dance with the snakes and I could do better for them if I didn’t compromise my cover.

Better for them – that was my thought, to be certain, Diary. Seven years and I felt the strange pang of loyalty that had dragged me into that troll hole. I lived in Tuskendale but a few months – a bare breath in my lifespan – but for one of the first times in the years since I took my second breath, I felt my old honor stir. Udulen gi nathad.

It was late and the party was certain to get into full swing tomorrow. Clearly, I needed some cheese. I wandered over to where The Turning Wheel had closed its cheese cart hours ago. There was no light from the tent, but the guard was awake and saw me approach. He looked past me, then nodded that I had not been followed. I slipped through the tent flap.

Ingras Quill was brushing her hair and looked up with a start when I appeared. “I thought you weren’t coming up until the wine festival.”

“Small matter of the newcomers.”

“What about them?”

“They might be your key.” Poor Ingras. All she wanted was to make her cheeses, delicious and stinky. Then Irovetti killed her boy at a crime lord’s behest. She still played the cheerful cheesemonger to all and sundry, which meant that, with some help from those who understand such things, she had one of the most successful resistance cells in the city. She was also one of the people who had seen my actual face.

“You know them.”

“Not all of them. I was out that way some time ago, but there’s enough trappings of what has gone before that we might have had treasure dropped in our laps.”

She put down her brush and bowed her head. I was still getting used to how rapidly humans aged and she was still getting used to contemplating revolution, as opposed to cheddar. “I’ll turn a few folks onto it.”

“There a man who speaks with an odd, lilting accent. He’s their whisperer, named Eoghan.”

She nodded. “I’m glad you came out, then.”

I smiled. “Me too. Sleep well.”

And that leaves you and me, Diary. Ursundova is here and it prospers. I have no leads on Dyimi, Anton, or Lem – Katya was mentioned by name in the Ursundovan tent, so she apparently found the time to return Jacek’s affections. Poor Lem.

20 Sarenith, 4719

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess what I saw today.

It was sinfully early in the morning, and I was passing time in Gaspar’s face with a lovely young half-human priestess of Calistria out in front of Her Cathedral. I had dropped a few choice tidbits that Drey Yarnes would no doubt be repeating by afternoon, and she was telling me how Eliste Strocalle’s second-born boy had needed some of the alchemical aids I’d passed her both to last the whole hour beneath her ministrations and to walk home under his own power. We were enjoying a laugh about humans who think us the frail ones when across the Square of the Common Man walked the most uncommon common man I’ve ever met. The Thalionen.

Lem Berrybrook had exchanged his forest colors for, quite frankly, a somewhat unfortunate boar-oriented ensemble, and he’d made some real effort to get his facial hair into line, but that mop of chestnut on his head was as unruly as ever, and, of course, there was that engine of death that he calls a crossbow in his ongoing quest to become the god of understatement.

I almost called out to him before I recalled that I wasn’t wearing my face. It was just as well, for he looked to be moving with purpose and to be more than a little blood-spattered. I tell myself that I was mere minutes from putting it all together when the voice sounded in everyone’s head simultaneously. Irovetti was dead. Soldiers were put on notice to lay down their arms. Like the others in the square, I looked around stunned for a few moments, and then I heard it start.

“The Minstrel Boy to the war has gone
In the ranks of death you’ll find him.
His father’s sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him."

It was Mattrin Aerlie’s friends. The Wardens had snatched him only two days ago, and the musicians of the city were as near to heartbreak as they had ever been. Now, the crowd started to pick up the tune. Everyone knew the song, though no one had sung it within earshot of a Warden in years.

“And he said, ‘no chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery."

After that, the cheering started. Lem returned with the city watch, which probably prevented the celebration from turning ugly (Look who’s grown up and thinking ahead!). People started hugging and laughing and crying. My would-be conversation partner was whisked back inside for celebrations that would likely leave a mark or three. I almost didn’t notice when a note was pressed into my hand.

The Strocalles are meeting at their second warehouse. Leonardo should look into it.

Leave it to Ingras to keep her head about her – what is it about cheese that makes one so diligent? I made my way through the crowd and down towards Troutmouth.

Sure enough, several Strocalle goons were gathered in a small office near the front of the warehouse. Eliste herself wasn’t there, unfortunately, but the group who was there represented a lot of the house’s strategic thinking. And I never could pass up a bulk purchase bargain.

I made myself invisible and lurked near the window. At a moment when they were passing the wine around, I reached through the glass with my mind and twisted their thoughts this way and that. Some of them looked around in panic, others began to babble in the sing-songy way humans do to their young. But enough of them went for weapons that the conclusion was never in doubt.

They slaughtered each other and even when the watchmen came after the noise, the fierceness of the fighting made it easy to seed in them the thought that discretion was the better part of valor. When only two of the criminals were left, I opened the door and slipped in. My invisibility dissipated when I ran Scorpion’s Sting through the first one’s back and out her chest. Her opponent, my power over his mind fading, began to look around in panic. I slashed him once and opened a terrible wound across his thigh. I pushed agony through my gaze and his eyes started to bleed.

“Whu….Wh…”

“Why?” I said softly, casually knocking his blade aside. “Because your house helped put Irovetti in place, which makes you a threat to the fine people that have removed him.” I cut his arm, severing enough tendons that his sword clattered down. “Because Eliste convinced Irovetti to kill an innocent boy who didn’t know whom he was spurning.” His back hit the wall and I ran the point of my blade slowly down his chest. “Because even good people deserve revenge.” My last cut spilled his guts on the floor and he collapsed. I pulled my dagger and relieved him of his jaw, lest someone ask simple questions with complicated answers. Then I rejoined the celebrating throngs.

Nothing gets out blood stains like prestidigitation.

28 Sarenith, 4719

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess what I did today.

I said my goodbyes nearly a week ago, but I didn’t feel like me again until today. I had seen a few vaguely familiar sights on the road to Tuskendale, but nothing had prepared me for what the city had become in my absence.

It would take millennia for my own people to make this sort of progress and I think it was in that moment I understood why we had lost the wars against humanity. The city walls are tall and thick and the city itself has expanded so far beyond whatever meager plans of expansion I had left behind, that I could barely take it all in. I confess that I gawked like a bumpkin for ages.

There’s a fancy new palace that commands a view of the city, a cathedral that everyone seems to think is dedicated to their god, I eventually found the old castle, which triggered a strange wave of nostalgia, and the park where the first and second Barons of Ursundova look out over the harbor.

I paid my respects to Dyimi and added a fancy hat with a black plume to my outfit. I had not noted His New Majesty with a Hat of State, so I felt free to appropriate it for my own style. Suddenly, I missed Duath, who had quite reasonably departed while I was dead, but then I was through missing things today.

From the castle, I had my bearings and found what I was looking for easily enough. They’d made some improvements, but I would have recognized the Chocolate Wench if they’d planted it on Sovyrian (Remember to ask Kaydee about franchising).

I looked at myself in the window of the bar. It was me. El sila erin li e-govaned ‘win.

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Crescent Moon Beyond Leaden Walls
Leilania Fights Alone

As I gather my breath and sponge the blood from my hair, I feel the moon calling to me from beyond the lead-lined walls of Irovetti’s fortress. I haven’t much time to answer her call. In moments I know we will rush off to the next fight.

I admit, my heart is not in this. As much as I want to help Avenda and keep Briar from Narissa, I feel that our party has become so focused on Irovetti’s defeat that all hopes at caution and feelings of compatriotism have been thrown to the wind. Nothing seems to matter now but his demise.

Our initial attack on the palace was successful, if slaughter can be a success. After killing a score of guards, their masters, and the trolls that aided them, we were summoned by Irovetti to the fighting pits at the center of his beguiling fortress. We were told that if we did not go to him, innocents would be killed.

I was asked by Jacek and Beast to teleport directly to the fighting pits with Nibbs to aid in a direct assault against Irovetti. Through the aide of Abadar’s magic we were able to step through directly to the fighting pits, where we found ourselves surrounded by enemies. Before we could act, Nibbs and I were beset by a pair of Hellhounds and a gargoyle with razor fangs and claws. Above us, an ogre mage floated by magic and prepared terrible spells. Together, the fight would have been difficult but winnable. But at that moment, Jacek took Beast and teleported away to Irovetti’s box.

Only through luck, Nibbs’s protection, and the grace of one of my most powerful spells was I able to withstand the onslaught that followed. Had it not been for the timely arrival of Finnegal, Ray, and Lem, both Nibbs and I would have surely fallen. And yes, I must give Irovetti some of the credit for our survival. Had he not fled, had he stayed to fight, I think our welfare would have been forgotten to the prioritization of his death.

I know our mission here, and I know how much hangs in the balance. I know also Jacek’s decision was tactically wise and may ultimately have saved us all. If we cannot stop Irovetti here, there will certainly be war, and perhaps something far worse. The times are so desperate that any risk is necessary and any sacrifice justified…even if it is my own life.

I have no time to write any more, we rush on to follow Irovetti into his dungeons. I sing to the moon a few notes to let her know that I am okay. We will have time to reflect once this is done.

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From the personal notes of Ibram Al-Amin
The Tuskendale Accords (DRAFT - NOT FOR REDISTRIBUTION)

A dream of mine…

The Tuskendale Accords

The signatories of these accords come together to affirm shared principles that will foster a just and lasting peace between the nations of Golarion.

Together, we proclaim our devotion to the following tenets of just rulership:

1. All people should be equal in the eyes of the law. No gender, race, nationality, name, or creed should have primacy over any other.

2. All people should be free to choose their fates. No person should be tied to land or duty against their will, save for the purposes of judicial punishment. All should be free to choose the homeland and rulers that best suit their desires and beliefs. Slavery is an abomination and should never be tolerated.

3. The right of property should be respected. None should be fined or relieved of their holdings except through the public exercise of legal due process. Theft, even theft justified by previous grievance or wrong, is never to be sanctioned.

4. War should not be a tool of diplomacy. War is a last resort, to be used only when all reasonable means of maintaining the peace have been expended. When necessary, war should be limited to conflict between declared forces at arms. Wars for the purposes of conquest, subjugation, or racial purification are never justified.

5. Justice should be done in a court of law. The signatories of these accords pledge to respect the laws of their neighbors and shall offer assistance with the pursuit of criminals for the purpose of a fair trial. Accused persons shall be tried based on evidence of their crimes, not hearsay, implication, or noble decree. Murder and assassination are never to be sanctioned.

6. All nations have the right to govern their own affairs. Nations should not meddle in the affairs of their neighbors. Agents of foreign powers must declare themselves when abroad and should act openly in deed and action. Representatives of foreign powers acting according to these accords shall be protected by the government of the nations that receive them. Representatives of foreign powers shall not be subject to the laws of their hosts with the exception of those that concern high crimes.

7. Treaties and disputes between nations should be brought before international bodies suited to their adjudication and resolution. To this end, the signatories of these accords shall provide representatives to an Assembly of Nations that will serve as neutral ground for these discussions. The signatories swear to utilize the Assembly in all ways practical to reduce the risk of conflict and pursue the common goals of all civilized peoples.

8. The forces of evil should be opposed. The signatories of the accords swear to provide soldiers and funds for the purposes of maintaining a common military force under the authority of the Assembly of Nations. This army will be used to provide a common defense against the enemies of peace, order, and justice.

We sign these accords on the behalf of our nation, its peoples, and their descendants to come, in the hope that our shared values and the blessings of the Gods will lead us to prosperity and peace together.

We shall see where this dream leads. Perhaps nowhere. But dreams that are not worth seeking in the waking world are not dreams…

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In the pit
So close, and yet so far...

Jacek looked around at his companions, the strike force against Irovetti: faces grim in the harsh morning light, covered in blood not their own.

“It’s a trap or ruse all right, but we’ve sauntered through all the other traps the bastard’s laid out for us.” The Silver Beast’s words came out almost as a snarl. Although he had submerged his rage, Jacek could still feel it behind his eyes.

They all knew what they were doing was a risk that could prove lethal. But they also knew it offered the best means to avert a war. A calculated risk, then. The payoff great, if successful. And if they should fall? Katya can rule the realm as well as I can, he thought. If my death is Abadar’s price for this, so be it. I signed His contract years ago.

“Be ready to join us at a moment’s notice, Ray,” the King ordered. “And remember, everyone,” he said, looking around the group, “Irovetti must not escape. He is top priority. Do not let him talk; if we see him, we strike.”

Jacek did not know exactly where they were going, never having seen the fighting pits before. Abadar knew where they were, and that was all that mattered for his spell. He didn’t know, nor particularly want to know, how Ray’s magic would take the rest of the party to the unknown location.

Jacek gathered the Beast, Leilani, and Nibbs, and the four vanished…

… to reappear a moment later in a deep pit, the floor covered with bones and rubble. A pair of hellhounds stalked one side, an ogre mage leering over from the parapet around the pit. One of Irovetti’s lieutenants. Jacek scanned around – no sign of prisoners – to see Irovetti, another of his harem covering beside him.

As the sound of fighting erupted behind Jacek, the self-styled King of Pitax noticed the newcomers and opened his mouth to speak. Shouting an emphatic “No!”, Jacek pulled the Silver Beast once more into the gap between the worlds, reappearing next to their foe, all the while sending a telepathic message to Ray to come at once. The King of Ursundova tried to bind Irovetti with chains of light, but somehow the heel resisted the spell, slithering out of the shining restraints of magical force as they attempted to close around him. That should not be possible, or at least not so easy.

Still, it was distraction enough that the Silver Beast was able to score a deep gash into Irovetti’s side, at which the Pitaxian’s Numerian blade fell from his hands. Jacek rounded, ready to cast another spell of his own, only to roar in anguish as Irovetti spoke a word of translocation and vanished into the ether.

“Well, Your Grace,” Beast sputtered. “We didn’t really expect it to be that easy, did we?”

Shouts drew their attention back into the fighting pit. Leiliani was injured at the hands of some lightning-fast gargoyle, and the Ogre-Mage had risen aloft to begin a casting. Ray and the others had arrived.

They would finish this fight, and then Irovetti would pay.

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