Knee Deep in the Muck
The Beast's Tale, Part 2

The dragon bolted away from me, flying low and whipping the swamp grasses around it before it splashed heavily into the lake. With a roar, I took off after it, and the chill of the water tried to force the air from my lungs as I went under.
Fighting a dragon underwater was a new experience for me, but new mixed readily with the old in our first excursion into Hooktongue Slough. Well, Ursundova’s first excursion – I’d been here before, as had Ray. The swamp had brought some weird peacemaking and this damn dangerous fight. Being a royal guard was going to take some getting used to.

Finnegal and I were walking out of the Tuskendale Castle. Finnegal’s mouth was doing that twitchy thing where he wants to say something, but he’s waiting until others aren’t listening. He managed to keep it in until we crossed the gate.
“Royal Guard?” His voice has what I call the “bell of gold” tone – it’s a sing-songy way he gets to talking when our fortunes turn for the better. “That’s going to be some serious coin.”
“Probably,” I replied. “We do have to keep an adventuresome Duk…well, King alive.”
“You’ve done alright so far.”
“One success does not a triumph make.”
“I should have never let you read On War.”
“We all have our regrets.”
“C’mon, boss. At least you can be happy about this for a little while, yeah?”
I felt a grin start. “Maybe.” I looked around at the burgeoning town, and how they kept looking at me. “Maybe.”

Barely a week later, we’re standing in a Boggard village, and I’ve just been told to stop assaulting the Boggard I’ve nearly decapitated. His newly-promoted Majesty (how does that even work?) has a conversation with the Boggards that, once Finnegal explains it to me, sound a lot like one of those talks where each side hears what it wants to hear. On the one hand, no one gets killed. On the other hand, we talk ourselves into looking for a dragon.

We track the dragon into a swamp where we learn that our evil dragon is a…good dragon? While we discover not to judge a dragon by its scales, it tries to reduce us to crispy bits. This, at least, I know how to respond to. On the other hand, that’s how I end up underwater with an angry dragon.
The rest of the team dispatch the spirit of a hag that was likely responsible for changing the dragon into something Jacek refers to as a “broken soul.” That name seems to inspire a swell of pity for the thing that’s been trying to eat me for the last minute or so, and we’re told not to let it die. I might not have listened as well as I should have, but I don’t quite defy orders today. Jacek and Ray take broken-souled dragon off to some other wiz-bang for assistance on how to…err, un-break its soul? Because that’s a thing, apparently.
Lem, Leilania, Finnegal, Nibbs, and I are left in the swamp…with a small dragon’s hoard. Well, that is a thing.


Katya and I are King and Queen.

I expected that I would find it strange to say, at least for a while, but instead it is… natural. The Builder and Old Farmer continue to smile on us.

And we no longer need be sullied in the minds of other realms by being grouped among the River Kingdoms. We do not belong to that band of outlaws. These Stolen Lands are stolen no longer; we have returned them to civilisation’s grace. Drelev’s fort has joined us and Casmaron returned. The remaining Tiger Lords will be dealt with in one fashion or another, depending on their behaviour, and we turn to the Slough next. Nothing is ever finished, but it is worth pausing and taking stock of one’s accomplishments from time to time.

I sound proud of myself. I am. I think, this time, that I am entitled to it.

Lem vs. Introspection Round 37
Lem looks forward to Unification


Well, we pulled it off. We went back down into that damnable tomb and pushed straight through to the son of a bitch at the bottom of it all. With the help of a merc who calls himself “The Silver Beast”, we recovered Herodes’s remains, finished off the new version of Armag, and took his cursed sword, Ovinrrbane. On the way out of the tomb I couldn’t help but feel a moment of pity for the poor fool— literally repeating history for the sake of a God who only cared how much blood he spilled before someone like us came for him. Hopefully now we’ve broken this circle of violence as we’ve broken so many others. Hopefully now we can show the people of Fort Drelev that there is another way.

Speaking of that Journal, I’ve been trying my hand at being a statesman. Mostly that means standing behind Jacek, showing the colors, and not doing anything too embarrassing, but sometimes it means being diplomatic. And not to brag, but I’ve been damn diplomatic over the last few weeks. Thanks primarily to my efforts (and maybe a little to a few others), It looks like the people of Fort Drelev, abused as they are, are looking to formally join Ursundova. Jacek did pretty well in the convincing department, and honestly, they don’t have much to lose. Better they join with us than wait for the next tyrant to come around to oppress them.

On the other side of the Kingdom, it looks like Casmaron is set to do the same. I know that Isadora (bless her sparkly white heart) has been working for months to kiss every ass in Casmaron in order to convince them that we actually like them. Now, with Gaeren gone, it looks to only be a matter of time before they vote themselves into our Kingdom. Yes Journal, we’ll be a real Kingdom at that point. We’ll have made a King out of Jacek.

It makes me sad when I think about Gaeren. He really did want the best for a country he adopted, not because he had to, but because he couldn’t not do it. He was trying to protect the people of Casmaron, maybe all of us, from ourselves. I respect that. I just wish he could have lived to know that things turned out okay.

Sorry Journal for the melancholia, last time we talked I honestly thought Gaeren would be back. It seemed like had a lot more to do here. At the very least I’m going to try to make sure his family is well-taken care of. It seems only right that the only blood relatives of old Sasha would continue to make their homes here.

But that’s enough looking back, it’s time to look forward. If both Drelev and Casmaron come into the Kingdom, Urusundova will be more than a hundred a fifty miles across. At unification, Ibram tells me that we’ll have close to a hundred thousand people under our flag. That would make us one of the largest of the River Kingdoms by land area, and maybe the most populous of all of them. Not bad for Kingdom that’s barely six years old.

Obviously there’s still a lot to do, first of which is probably to deal with a thousand or so square miles of swamp teaming with Boggards and other undesirables. I think Jacek plans to explore the swamps around Lake Hooktongue over the next few months while we push a road out to connect Drelev to the rest of the Kingdom. However that all turns out, I’m sure Lani’s Way Watchers will be plenty busy containing whatever we stir up. I’m sure I’ll be out being flag-like for a lot of the exploration, but if I’m lucky I’ll get some time at home with Nina and the kid as well. The more I hang out with Jacek the more I think we see things the same. I think he gets me Journal, and that’s good to have in a King.

My King…I could get used to saying that.

Word of Recall

After the day’s final official meetings at Fort Drelev wound down, Jacek took a few minutes in the room he’d been allotted – once one of Drelev’s personal chambers – and cast a Sending to his wife:

Katya, one more hour. Can’t wait to be back with you. Love.

The discussions had gone well; returning with the severed head of the Tiger Lords’ leader, the combination of his party’s physical presence and the divine power of Abadar shining through him had left a strong impression on the inhabitants of the fort. Jacek was confident that, in time, they’d consent to join Ursundova. Which would make his plans to expand his nation to the West over the coming months that much easier.

But now, all he wanted to do was return home to his family and let the realm manage itself for a few days.

Just a short while longer. He went to Lem’s chamber, his champion immediately springing to attention. Jacek still felt, from time to time, like an imposter; recalling his memories of Lem as a veteran of Ursundova when Jacek had been a fresh-faced new arrival. How things had changed.

“Lem, please sit. I feel that things are well enough in-hand here. I will be returning to Tuskendale this evening, via Abadar’s powers.”

“That’s good to hear, your Grace. I’m on it.”

“You are in charge in my absence. The others may want to tarry along the way, but I have a feeling we’ll need to convene the Council in Tuskendale in the coming weeks. I’ll take Sir Herodes’ remains; perhaps Davara can do something for them. Then when you return, we can visit his widow. I will leave Armag’s sword with you, for now; I know it is safe with you, until Abadar and Kifu can provide guidance on what to do with it.”

Lem nodded.

“Good. And… thank you. I know it is as hard for you to be away from your family as I from mine. I’ll see you in a few days, my friend. Now, enjoy your evening.”

The impromptu council of Fort Drelev, along with many of Jacek’s companions, were found soon after in the fort’s tavern. He knew from experience that a display of effortless power at this stage would help reinforce the image he was trying to build with these new allies. He said his farewells to the group, before activating his Word of Recall with the one phrase he’d been waiting to say for days:

“Home, to Katya.”

At this command, a magical door opened in the tavern; the Duke stepped through it, and was gone.

The Fighter
The Beast's Tale, Part 1

I am almost seven feet tall and the sword facing me is only a little shorter. It is held by a howling, bearded man, whose eyes are bulging and whose knuckles are white around the pommel of that sword. The blade slams into my breastplate, and I feel the chain mail shatter beneath it from the force of the blow. My ribs are moving in ways they are not supposed to, but I spit blood into the faceplate of my helm and growl.

“Is that it, precious?” My longsword flashes out once, then twice and I feel the meat of him split. My sword sings with my anger and I laugh. It’s a bit of an act – I very well could die to this howling demon – but fights like this are a race. Which one of us will pour out our life’s blood first?

How the hell did I end up here?

How the hell could I be anywhere else?

My name is The Silver Beast and this is where this chapter ends, but not where it began.

I’m sitting in, amazingly enough, a sitting room. An actual fucking sitting room. It’s a whole room just for sitting, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the only one in this castle. I’m on a couch that I imagine is for two people to sit and have an intimate conversation. It creaks beneath the weight of me and my armor. Finnegal is pacing, and winces each time the wood groans at my bulk.

“I hate it when they feel the need to make a presentation.” Finnegal was my lieutenant, the one that had been with me since the start, and one of only about a dozen that had come with me when we left the wealthier northern kingdom of Brevoy. Worries like your auntie, but can tell a story like you would not believe.

“If you were that worried about it, you wouldn’t have put the damn tusks on the helmet.”

“That’s different!”


The door came open and a servant stood at the doorway. Finnegal and I both heard the outer door open and our new employer, the Duchess of Ursundova, greeted her husband.

“I understand” she said, “that you mean to travel with Lem and the others back to this Tomb of Armag?”

“I do.”

“I agree you should go. But you should take this. Beast?”

I grinned at Finnegal, “Time to make an impression.”

Truth is that I get a kick out of the first time people see me. Even for an orc, I’m big. I’m not fully orc, but that’s quite frankly hard to tell looking at me. The Duke of Ursundova did what I call the “How far up does this bastard go?” His eyes started at my boots, which go over my knees, and went up past the heavy leather belt with the platinum buckle, over my tan shirt, past the green neck as wide around as his pretty wife’s waist, past the little tusks and to my fucking lovely auburn locks. He stopped on my eyes a moment and I saw the recognition that I wasn’t just an orc. Yellow and slitted, my eyes are my gift from my mother. I can’t see in pitch dark the way a lot of Orcs can, but I can see by starlight as well as if it were noon. Among orcs, my eyes are the first thing that starts fights.

“A pleasure to meet you.” He was taken aback, to be sure, but this guy knew how to keep his head. Maybe this wouldn’t suck.


It was later that I met the rest of the company – really weird to have so many folks in the government going out to personally handle danger, but what do I know? Lem is the local flag, but he’s got determination and the weirdest looking crossbow-of-death I have ever seen. Ray was the only one besides me who wasn’t in service to the state. He’s a powerful…something or other, but I get the sense Ray would likely never be in service to anything but Ray. Leilania makes you think she’s one of those useless “All will be one with nature” elves, and then her damn bird, whose mouth drips acid, eats you. The bird is scary. The elf? Well, she’s limber. Tougher than she looks too.

“So,” I said to Finnegal as we were taking watch. “What the fuck is a Derghodaemon?”

Finnegal did not look away from the spot in the darkened woods he was watching. “A demon that goes, ‘durr,’ naturally.”

“You’re going to have a harder time getting girls with no teeth.”

“You clearly don’t know the kinds of girls I do.” When I shifted my shoulders, he raised his hand in truce. “They’re bad, Beast. Spirits brought about by violent murder, usually at the hands of someone gone mad.”

“And this thing could have killed two people the last time?”

“Two of these people? By itself, I’m not sure, but they said it had help – they can summon more of their own kind.”


“It’s a weird thing to be in a sacred place for Gorum – they’re all about murder, not battle. Still, they’re popular as violent guardians, since they attack pretty much anything. They’ve also got a trick that rips enemy brains to bits. So, you know, you’re safe, but the rest of us…”

“Trog not scared of brainy-burny thing.” I put on my best grumble. We both almost laugh, but manage to let everyone else sleep.
The Derghodaemon was a nasty bit of business, but didn’t have a buddy this go-around, so we were able to defeat it._

The party had sorted through many of the art objects, finding the icon of the sword in the mountain, sacred image of Gorum, on a lot of it. I was feeling a little uneasy – this was starting to cut a little too close to home, even though it couldn’t be said that I’ve ever been what you’d call devout or even particularly religious (although Finnegal says, in my way, I’m one of the most devout Gorumites he’s ever met). His Grace had given us an estimate of the gold value of all the treasures, because of course he had, and we came a big set of double doors. I gave them a shove and they slid open easily.

A massive, circular chamber with thick pillars. In the center, the biggest Gorum item thus far: an enormous set of spiked armor. It was perfectly still, but still gave the impression that it watched, waiting. When we started entering, the armor started moving. I felt a grin creeping over my face.

Finnegal looked at me. “Don’t…just don’t.” He might as well have been arguing with a fire not to burn.

I raised my sword, “Will you fight?” I asked the metal monstrosity. It answered, though not in so many words.

The battles with the iron golem and even the bloody skeletons turned out to be most foreplay. I suppose Finnegal saw my face when they told me about the slain warriors’ sigils, how they bound the warriors to the cave, and how they got erased with a wave of the Duke’s hand, because I saw him etching those sigils on the cave entrance later. Undeath is no one’s idea of a good time, but neither is being erased from memory and time by the whims of the banker’s god.

The divine guardian looked at us, appraising, and it was like every time I’ve had to go through an appraisal to join up with some sellsword band, only 1000 times worse. Who were we to tread into this argument between gods for one warrior’s soul? I wanted to fight or run or…well, I don’t fucking know. But one of us knew what to say.

“Who will undertake the test of faith?” the old spirit-warrior asked. While the rest of us wondered at our resolve, Lem simply answered.

“I will.”

We all stood behind him as best we could, but I got see why he’s the damn flag. Under the scrutiny of thousands of years, the ginger beanpole didn’t flinch, didn’t give an inch. For all I know, he could have been a mess inside – Gorum knows I would have been, but that’s courage for you: it’s not fearlessness, it’s mastering your fear in the moment. In that moment, Lem was as strong as we needed him to be.

And that brings us back to me getting my ribs busted. Armag the Twice-Born was as fierce a fighter as you’d expect a Numerian chieftain to be, but he was, at this point, guarded only by the dead, which is usually a bad sign. He glared at Lem, but that crossbow ain’t for show, so I knew my job – keep this guy busy. His allies turned powerful blows on us, and even, so Finnegal tells me, nearly killed Ray. My allies cursed and blinded this new Armag, reducing him to a mess barely worthy of that name. I just did the butchering.

When he fell, something in me…no, not something, my anger…exulted. I snatched up his enormous sword and looked at it, something like lust and anger and more potent than both pouring into me like a cold ale of evil. That was when the sword spoke to me. It told me I could burn the world, that I could put nations at my steel-shod feet and see every useless human noble that ever paid too little coin for my life’s blood quail at the sight of my banners, hurling tribute of gold, women, and anything I damn well wanted at me. I could have all of this. All I had to do was kill the men and women behind me.

I take some small pride in that I told it to fuck off.

When the sword hit the ground, I told the others what the sword had tried to tell me. His Grace secured the thing and said he would consult with Abadar on what to do with it. I wanted to tell him that anything that didn’t show the sword some respect would probably piss off Gorum, and this little nation has enough trouble without an angry God of War, but that’s the kind of advice no ruler welcomes from his Orc bodyguard. I’m not, Finnegal’s protest notwithstanding, an idiot.

As we gathered the treasures, including the wealth of the original Armag, I could not shake the feeling that had chased me out of the Hall of the Slain earlier – that I could have been any of these poor bastards. How easy would have been, when I was younger, to whisper into my ear about power and glory and watch me join their ranks. It took the River Kingdoms and rotted out old Brevoy to beat into me how transient those things are.

So I picked out a nice house in the capital, which keeps Finnegal happy and makes recruiting easier. I decorated it with the objects of Our Lord in Iron. Armag thought that Gorum would make him invincible, but invincible people don’t need to fight. Pharasma thought that she could take what Gorum had without a fight, but for Gorum the reason to fight is never as important as the fight itself. I’ll spend this gold like water and keep looking for the next moment that needs my sword.

Because I fight.

The Second Best Job in the World
Meet the Beast

“So, we lost…”


“30? 30 of those ingrates stayed in…”


Finnegal raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to finish all of my…”

“Sentences?” The Silver Beast lifted his ale, holding it near his mouth thoughtfully for a moment. “Are you going to insist on talking about losing 3/4ths of the company to the comforts of a noble house.”

“Well, you’re in luck, oh captain, my captain. I have found us some work.” Beast stopped drinking and tilted his head to glare at his herald. “Now now. I’ve got the boys doing guard work. We’ve got something a bit more involved.”

Beast put down the tankard. “Is that right?”

Finnegal smiled. “Absolutely.”

“What have you got.”

“Guard work.” Finnegal replied without missing a beat.


“Wait, wait, wait.” Finnegal kept a close eye on his captain’s quite enormous fist. “It turns out that the local nobility has a strong belief in leading combat action from the front.”

“How strong?”

“Third ruler in six years.”

“Figured they would have learned by now.”

“Well, the missus has.”


“The Duchess. Her Grace. The one with all the money. Apparently she’s the sister of ruler number one, got hitched to ruler number three, and has no interest in being a widow under ruler number four. So she’s looking for someone to go with His Grace when he goes out to do something dangerous.”

“And what might that entail?”

“Well…” Finnegal unfurled their map of the region. “There’s the boggards to the west. We’ve met them before. And…” Finnegal made a face.


“Tiger Lords.”


Finnegal scratched his head. “Numerians. Used to neighbor my own tribe when I was a boy. They went wandering into the Stolen Lands in search of plunder. Rumor from the town up in the northwest is that they’re working with the neighboring bandit lord to harass the realm.”


“So, boggards and barbarians – is that not enough for a start?”

Beast grinned. “It’ll do. Good thing I told your duchess lady yes.”

Finnegal’s face fell. “You end-arounded me?”

“Not as such. She just sent a letter. I answered.”

Finnegal’s eyes narrowed. “How…did you answer?”


Finnegal blew out a breath. “Don’t scare me like that.”

Lem vs. Introspection - Round 36
Lem Considers his Friend's Sacrifice


I came home today from Fort Drelev. On my return I kissed my wife and hugged my daughter. Then I gathered my courage to go tell Herodes’s family that he wasn’t coming home.

Herodes’s wife seemed to know immediately why I was there. She offered me a seat in her living room and then sent the children out to play. Before I could find the words to speak, she said plainly, “I know my husband is dead.”

There was shock for a moment, then I began to speak, faster and more emotionally than I would have liked. I recounted the circumstances of Herodes’s fall as clearly as I could remember them. I described the battle against the Tigerlords and how Herodes’s charge had taken our vanguard into their midst even as I and the others fought from afar. I told her how we had entered the cave, defeated further foes, and then discovered a hidden door off the main chamber. Then I told her how the demons had come up out of the darkness like a hideous black storm of claws and teeth, how swarms of insects had poured from the ceiling and walls, and how Herodes had stood as a bulwark against them despite grievous wounds and insurmountable odds. I told her that his sacrifice gave Nibbs the opportunity to pull Gaeren’s body free from the melee. And I told her that I stayed to the last with him, that I had seen him fall, and that I had been powerless to stop them. I apologized to her…and then I wept.

Herodes’s wife had no such breakdown. Instead she crossed the room to me and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. She offered me a smile and told me there was nothing to be sad for.

She told me then that she had been expecting my visit for the last two days, since the very moment Herodes had fallen. She said that she had felt his pain when he was lost and had been visited by his spirit in her dreams that night. Herodes had told her then that he was going on to greater service. She told me that she was happy for him.

I stayed with her as she gathered her children and told them the news. I told the story again for them, this time in clearer tones and without losing my composure. They too seemed resigned to their father’s loss and kept brave faces throughout the tale despite tears forming in their eyes. I saw Herodes’s bravery in their expressions as they took the news. His strength is clearly their strength.

When the children had been sent away again I tried to talk to Herodes’s wife about recovery of the body for the purposes of resurrection, but she would hear none of it. “He died in Iomedae’s service,” she said to me, “He died protecting his friends. There is no greater honor. Don’t think that you will take that from him.”

So instead I swore to her that I would return to the demons’ lair and put them down. I swore on my honor that they would never harm another soul. This almost made her laugh. She said to me, “Herodes would expect no less.”

We parted company as the sun was setting, and I wandered to the waterfront to linger a while beneath the monuments to Sasha and Dyimi. I found myself talking to them as twilight fell, recounting the story again for their stone ears. I told them that I would make sure Herodes’s children were well taken care of, and in so doing I would make sure their father’s legacy in Ursundova lived on through them. That made me feel a little better…but the hollow feeling in my gut remained.

Journal, I know that a call to service would mean nothing without the sacrifices that come with it. Bravery is not bravery without the need to overcome fear. Honor is not honor unless you are willing to pay the price to keep it. I know that Iomedae calls on souls such as Herodes to fight not just to defeat evil, but to serve as examples to the rest of us, to bring her light to the world. And I know that Herodes’s loss, though great, is not the end of his spirit and the good it will do the world. I know all these things as surely as I know my name and the beating of my heart.

But standing beneath the stars that night, I wish I had had more time with my friend. Iomedae teaches that life is a precious gift because we are given so little of it to live. I have never known the truth of this teaching so well as I did that night.

When the moon dipped below the horizon, I came back to the castle and sat with my daughter for a time as she slept. I watched her tiny chest rise and fall and told myself to remember every moment of it. Then I fell into bed to hold my wife in my arms. We embraced one another without words until the dawn.

Soon Iomedae will call me back to service and I will answer. There is still evil to be faced and trials to be overcome. For now though, I will be grateful for the life I have and the example Herodes has left for me. Herodes would expect no less.

Only in death does duty end
Herodes' end

The silence of the tomb was broken seconds after the group found and opened the hidden doorway. Suddenly, the hallway was full of swarms of creatures crawling, skittering, and flying, the sound of buzzing rendering normal speech inaudible. At the back, two huge, lurking figures, an unholy magnification of insect features on a frame ten feet tall. Herodes knew this was some form of daemon, but one fouler even than those he had seen at the Worldwound. The chittering infected his thoughts, the presence of the fiends threatening his sanity; it was a struggle even to think.

A woman’s voice sounded in his mind. One he knew well, yet had heard only a few times in his life.

Focus, Herodes. This is your time.

The swarms spilled from the corridor, engulfing Gaeren and Nibbs as they came rushing toward the rest of the party.

The foe are beyond you. But all is not lost.

Herodes saw Gaeren’s sword slashing at the closest of the daemons, but unable to fend of the attacks of its five claws. The magus was going to fall. A fatal blow stabbed right through Gaeren’s torso and the fiend advanced hungrily, while yet more biting and stabbing and chewing swarms materialised and flooded over the heroes. Herodes knew what he had to do. Divine power flowed into his sword, the blade blazing with grey flame. He charged into the fray, sword grasped in both hands.

“Flee! I will cover you!”

His sword slashed into the fiend’s chest, the holy fire eliciting a shriek from the beast. In response one of the creature’s claws sliced into his abdomen, peeling through the plate as if it were silk. The second fiend roared behind it, impatient to enter the melee but unable to pass its cousin.

You have served well.

Time slowed. Herodes felt rather than saw the passage of bolts from Lem’s crossbow, Springsnap, and heard, over the buzzing, the shouting of his friends. He pressed his attack, trying to drive the fiends back, and all the while beetles crawled over him and pulled at his innards through the wound inflicted by the daemon.

The pain of the swarms distracted him and he stumbled. He looked up to see two of the daemon’s claws crashing down, burying deep in his torso. His sides exploded as the beast tore its claws free, and his arms followed with it. Herodes dropped to the ground and the swarms crawled over him and into him. His last sight was of his sword, still burning brightly, gripped in one of his severed arms.

Only in death does duty end.

Images flashed through Herodes’ mind; he saw his life as if from afar, from above. He saw his actions, all interconnected. He saw that everything had pointed to this moment; his contribution was not his service in Galt or at the Worldwound, but in bringing Lem to fully embrace Iomedae’s faith, and in his sacrifice this day so Lem and the others could escape. He saw what would befall Lem and Ursundova in the coming years, and the part Lem would play in it – a role Lem would only have a chance of succeeding in through his devotion to Iomedae. Finally he felt his wife and family, half a world away, and knew that they would grieve but endure.

Herodes understood, and then darkness overtook him, and he saw no more.

Gaeren's future is considered

Bendithimamau Goodlark was a quiet gnome when he had a mind for it, and he was able to observe Gaeren for nearly two minutes before announcing his presence. The magus had laid out his greatcoat on the ground as a blanket, and was leaning against a tree, taking long pulls from an unmarked bottle. Gaeren didn’t say anything, but he had arranged himself so that he was staring in the general direction of the Tiger Lords’ camp.

Bennie looked back over his shoulder impatiently, then stepped closer to Gaeren and cleared his throat. “Silver for your thoughts.”

Gaeren started and stared at Bennie for a moment. “Blast, I did not even see you there. Have you been here long?”

“Just arrived, actually. What ya drinking?”

Gaeren looked at the bottle, mind furrowed in concentration. “Err…I believe this one is Applejack. Honestly, I lost any keen sense of taste about a half hour ago.” His language was slurred and he seemed to switch gazes from the bottle back to the gnome on some sort of slide. “But you also asked for my thoughts. My dear Bennie, I’ve been thinking strategy.”

Bennie rolled his eyes. “Wasn’t that what you and the others were talking earlier?”

“No!” Gaeren replied in far too loud a voice for a stealthy camp. “That was tactics. Tactics is for the actual assault and killing and how to guide the mayhem. Strategy is how to use the mayhem and what manner of mayhem is ideal for achieving…” Gaeren glared at the bottle, as if it were withholding his words, “…ah, yes, achieving objectives of policy.”

Gaeren shifted to face Bennie directly. “You see, I’ve read several books on strategy lately. They’re halfway interesting, in that most are actually history books, and I enjoy history…almost as much as I enjoy whiskey and a lovely…never mind, not the point. It has occurred to me that this little adventure would make a fine pair of case studies. Perhaps, when all this is done, I’ll go home and write a book of my own.”

Bennie sat down, his gaze intent and his voice quiet. “What would your book say?”

Gaeren did not notice his friend’s seriousness, “Well…it’s the two enemies. Fort Drelev and the Tiger Lords were both complicit in the assault on Ursundova and both represented threats that required some manner of coercion to make them stop. At first, we thought to try and crack Baron Drelev’s will with an undermining of his army. That proved to be a poor decision that cost several innocent people their lives.” At that, he took another long swig, the liquid sloshing noisily in the bottle. “So we switched from Drelev’s will to that of his mercenary army. Mercenaries are, in fact, easy to do this with, because their will is tangible – it’s tied up in coin. That actually made our plan ideal, and far better than engaging the army directly. It was a harebrained scheme, to be certain; however, it turned out to be the right harebrained scheme.”

Gaeren was warming to his topic, but his face was growing agitated, as he stood and tried to pace. It turned into more of a slow, stumbling circle. “The Tiger Lords are something different altogether. Have you ever read anything on the church of Gorum? His only real holy text is a set of epic poetry, but his minions have written several of the books on war that I have had to plod through. Gorum believes in war for its own sake, as though the killing of people and razing of land were an end unto itself. Of the many religions I have encountered, that may be the STUPIDEST ONE I HAVE EVER MET!” His shout was directed at the heavens. “And now…” Gaeren voice croaked slightly, “Now we may have to kill them all.”

Bennie stood slowly, watching Gaeren intently. “Kill them all?”

Gaeren looked down at the ground, seemingly lost in grief, before he switched back to his stumbling lecture. “Well, yes. You see, there’s no coin to cut off and their will looks to be based on an idea, possibly surrounding this Armag bloke and his crazy sword. Oh, bugger off…" this last he said to the ebony blade at his hip. “So, if Chief Lunk the Barbarian wants desperately to be Armag, he’s thinking ‘If I butcher enough farmers and rape enough of their daughters, then Gorum will reach down with his rusty finger and bless me and I’ll drown the world in a tide of blood.’” His tone effected fey delight. “If we were to try and simply find Lunk and remove his poorly functioning head from his shoulders, his able lefttenant, Thunk, would determine, ‘Clearly, Lunk was not big enough and stupid enough to receive Gorum’s blood tide blessing, so I will butcher more farmers and rape more of their daughters, and then I will receive the rusty fingering of glory.’ And so on and so forth. The only way Gorumites turn their back on a battle is if it appears utterly futile.”

Gaeren sat down again, thought it was really more of a collapse to a sitting position. “So, my companions and I must strike them in a way that, if any survive and flee back to Numeria, they’ll tell their children’s children that the only thing waiting for them in the Stolen Lands is a pointless death. I had considered it vaguely unsettling that we had reached the point where we were doing murder calculus – kill the five leaders at Fort Drelev to save hundreds. This…this is so much more. What are we becoming? Bloody hells, what am I becoming? Most men get through their lives without killing another sentient being, and I’ve killed a dozen in the last month, with that number likely to grow exponentially in the morning.”

Bennie rocked back on his heels. “You’ll also save some folk. The ones in the cages.”

Gaeren smiled sadly at the gnome. “Fair point, Benditihi…Ben…” Gaeren cleared his throat and concentrated, “Benditihmamau. See, I do know your name.” He grinned and fell backwards into the grass, snoring almost instantly.

Bennie returned the sad smile and wandered back amongst the trees. He spotted his two friends and walked up to them as the approached, climbing along a tree branch.

“Will he fight?” asked Tyg-Titter-Tut.

“He will fight.” Bennie answered.

“Will he die?” Perlivash asked.

“He might die?” Bennie replied.

“What comes now?” Tyg-Titter-Tut asked.

“Come and watch.” Bennie answered. “Tell them all to come and watch. I expect that the morrow will be…” the gnome smiled in an unsettling fashion, “something to see.”

Lem vs. Introspection - Round 35
Lem tries to deny reality (not for the first time)


I’m back! After a quick trip home and a visit with the family I am rested and rejuvenated. It’s time to get back to meting out justice to the enemies of Urusundova!

Right? That’s still what we’re doing, right? I’ve got to admit, I may have lost my target a little bit on this one. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

Okay, what do we know for sure?

  1. Fort Drelev is liberated. The people that live there are free! They also sort of hate us. Why? Because we ran off the jerks that were killing them and killed the big jerk who lived in the castle. I think hate’s probably the wrong word, it’s more like a thorough disdain. Oh well, Isadora’s here now, I’m sure they’ll be eating out of her hands by the time we get back.
  2. The Tiger Lords are very bad people. As far as we can tell they’re responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in the slough so far. Well, most everything. Some of it. They were at least a contributing factor. They WERE the ones who tried to attack Tatzlford. So one way or another we have to take them out of the game.
  3. Oh right, we also have to rescue their hostages. We said we would. Wouldn’t want to go back on my word (right Io?). So hostages first, then assault the Tiger Lads.
  4. The Hooktongue swamps are apparently filled with very angry aquatic people. And probably also monsters. No wait, strike that, DEFINITELY monsters. The rumors just keep piling up. At least Leilania seems enthusiastic about exploring out in the Slough. I just wish Ray would stop laughing about it.
  5. There are monsters here too! In the hills I mean. The last ones we came across were the strange rat/cat/centipede dealies. Fortunately Gaeren was with us to blow most of them up. I never get tired of being glad he’s on our side (mostly).
  6. My kid is pretty adorable.
  7. My wife is pretty hot.
  8. We found the Tiger Lords camp! Now all that’s left is to push in, slaughter the baddies and save the innocent. Standard Fireday afternoon.

If I may digress for a second, there is something that’s been bothering me. The Tiger Lords obviously need stopping, and being barbarians, there’s probably very little chance that they’ll lay down their arms and agree to talk it out. I know this. I’m not totally deluded, I know there’s no peaceful way out of this for them…

…but man, do I want to try to find one. There’s some part of me that’s convinced that if we showed them the futility of trying to fight us we could turn at least some of them around. I mean hell, we saved a community of kobolds from themselves. Why couldn’t we do the same for a tribe of barbarians?

What really bugs me is that I keep wondering what would have happened if I’d been taken from that slave wagon by the Tiger Lords instead of my Dad. Assuming they didn’t eat me, I’d probably have ended up just like the rest of them—killing, pillaging, and destroying and never knowing any better. How many of them ever had a chance to try another way? How many of them just pulled the short straw?

Now Iomedae is pretty clear that right is right and wrong is wrong and even the worst of us should be able to tell the difference between the two. I agree with that. You can’t be burning a village down, firing arrows indiscriminately into fleeing civilians, and thinking to yourself, “This feels RIGHT.” No, I don’t believe we’re wired up that way (at least most of us). But I do think people can silence that voice of reason if they want to, and the more they do it the more natural it feels. That does make them bad people…but does it make the evil? And even if it does, does it make them so irredeemably evil that they deserve to die for it?

I know what Herodes would say. “YES,” and that’d be it. He’s probably right. The world’s a pretty harsh place and people get killed all the time for far less. I just wish they didn’t have to.

I do know that if it’s a choice between them and me or them or one of my friends, it’s going to be them. I’m not going to hold a shot to save a soul that’s probably already lost. Beyond that, I’m a dad now, I’ve got a family to take care of. I AM going home again at the end of this. I’m not going to let anyone get in the way of that.

Sorry to get all dour at the end journal, but I had to let it out. Thanks for listening. You’re the best friend the Champion of a minor nation state ever had.

Don’t worry, I’ll be safe. Before you know it I’ll be writing in you again.


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