Kingmaker

Lem vs. Introspection - Final
Lem Tells His Story

Hey Journal,

I know, I know, it’s been a while. Sorry about that. I’d go ahead and complain that things have been busy or give some other excuse, but the truth is, I’ve been avoiding writing in you. It’s like, if I put it in writing, if I finish this thought, then it’s really done. I don’t know if that’s what I really want…but here we are, and here I go.

Ursundova is saved. Variel’s crazy plan seems to have worked. Nyrissa has vanished, and with her, the all-consuming threat that has menaced Ursundova for so many weeks, months, and years. It seems that restoring the great and terrible beauty’s love from Briar put her in a charitable mood. So she left us in peace…or at least, she spared us any further attacks.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a price. Before the King’s party could find their way to her in the first world, there was another bloom, this time just outside of New Light. With Kifu’s help, I was there within minutes of the first assault, but by that time the city’s gates had already been breached. New Light’s militia did what they could to stop the attackers—but the abominations they faced were hardly slowed by their attacks. The garrison started the day with a thousand men. By the end of the day, they had barely a hundred.

I saw a lot of blood that day…mostly that of people who couldn’t run fast enough—women and children—common people who tried to defend their homes. I made the monsters pay for what they did, but not without cost of my own.

Journal, I lost Shay in New Light. We were in an alley, pinned in by two of the brutes. I focused fire on one, while Shay drew the attention of the other. Shay gave me my chance, he saved my life, as he had a hundred times before. And then he was gone. A single swipe was all it took.

I buried Shay with the other honored dead after the battle. I know he deserved something else, something greater…but I didn’t know how to give it to him. I try not to regret how he died. I try to think that it was sudden and painless. But it doesn’t help much.

Journal, I see him everywhere. On his old perches, moving against the clouds, out of the corner of my eye when I think I’m alone. Maybe it’s his spirit still watching over me. The tears come at times when I least expect them. I know it won’t feel like this forever. But sometimes I wish it would…because I don’t want to forget him. I don’t want him to be far from me.

But these are selfish thoughts and I push them away. I know Shay is flying in a clearer sky now. He soars on warmer winds. I’m happy we had as much time as we did.

What else Journal? Well, I tried to resign again. I went to Jacek, cape in hand, ready to renounce my vows. But the thing about vows is that there’s two parties involved. Jacek said no…again. He refused to release me from my service, citing the need for stability in “this time of changes.” I learned later that both Variel and Eoghan had disappeared right after Nyrissa. Jacek hinted that they were not the only ones that he expected would be moving on. As conflicted as I am, I won’t abandon my duty.

Who knows, maybe Variel, Eoghan, and Nyrissa are all living it up together somewhere. Wherever they my old poker buddies are, they did their parts. I wish them the best.

So Journal, I guess I’ll be Champion for some months more. Gods know, there’s work to do. We’ve got to rebuild the defenses at New Light for one. We also owe Pitax a couple battalions as part of the mutual defense pact Isadora just talked them into. Jacek says that he’ll need me to go West to oversee the integration of the two forces, as apparently, Ulgar can’t be trusted to stay diplomatic. Maybe while I’m there I’ll see the Silver Beast again. I’ll buy him a drink if he’ll let me.

I saw Mom and Dad yesterday. They came to see the kids, their second trip in as many years. While they were here my Mom met my Mother for the first time. I was worried that they’d be oil and water given how different they came up and their vastly different visions of me. Turns out they were more like beer and crackers. Ellia and Chessa were fast friends in minutes. Now if I could just find a way to keep Nina from making that face…

Speaking of family, Marcelina and Gideon came to see the kids as well. I know it was at Aeda’s insistence, and the visit was clearly uncomfortable for her, but I give Marcy credit for trying. I can’t imagine what the last few years have been like for her, given the constant threat of war with Brevoy and the fall of the house of Lebeda. I want Marcy to see that her future is here, but I know it’s not as simple as that. She carries a lot of guilt with her. I know that’s not something easily shed.

At least our kids got along. Elora loves teaching other kids how to get properly dirty and Sasha taught them how to throw rocks at each other. Can’t say the Marcy was thrilled about that either.

While he was here, Dad offered a home for me and mine back in the valley, and again I told him I couldn’t take him up on it. As much as I would love to have my kids grow up with their grandparents right around the corner, our place is here…our home is here. At this point, Nina’s as much a part of the Greenbelt as Tyg-Titter Tut, Pervilash, or Tiressia. My beautiful wife is constantly called away to negotiate disputes between the fey and the mortals that surround them. She is as much diplomat as she is protector. She can do it all.

And then there’s me. As busy as I am, I still end up with surprising time on my hands, time to think and time to reflect. When I started this journal, it was meant to remind me to stop and think from time to time. Now, strangely, it seems that’s almost all I do.

I find that as I walk the countryside, there’s hardly a tree or stone that doesn’t hold some memory for me. I remember battles won and friends lost, laughter shared and tears shed. I’ve been back and forth across the Kingdom a hundred times. I’ve see what it was and what it’s become.

Journal, there are ghosts everywhere I look. I see Daargan lurking in his tower. Anton practicing in the square. Herodes praying in the Cathedral. Gaeren smiling beneath swaying trees. Dyimi drinking at the Wench. Sasha patrolling the battlements.

But why shouldn’t there be ghosts? We all fought for this country. We all bled and sacrificed for it. The ghosts deserve this as much as we do. Let them stay, lest we forget what they did for us.

I’m sorry if I sound morose Journal. I’ve just had a lot of time to think since Shay died. I keep asking myself, what was this all for? We tamed the Stolen Lands and defended them from evil, but to what end?

I know the answer of course. I see it on every street, at every farm, atop every wagon on the King’s road. We did it for the people, the hopeful masses who came here to start new lives and put their faith in us to protect their dreams.

And now, with the peace finally won, I wonder if I can join them. There was a time that I wanted to be a hero, but I know now that heroes can’t live forever. They either die…or they become ordinary men. I think I’d be happy being ordinary for a while.

It’s strange journal…to think back on all my memories of this place…to see the Kingdom rise again in my mind’s eye. And in my memories are the faces of my friends and companions, so many who gave so much. All had their own stories to tell, all had their own reasons for service. We were a strange lot to be sure…but we did great things together. For all the weight of my regrets, I find the buoyancy of my pride to be greater. Because I was a part of it…I mattered.

So Journal, with the story as it is, I think I’m going to put you away. Gods know, I’ve added way too many pages to you already. But before I sign off, know that I’m grateful. I said things to you that I didn’t know I had to say. You helped me more than you can ever know…

…because you’re just a book, and you don’t know things, even if I write you like you do.

But to my reader, whoever you are, in whatever state you’ve found this journal, I ask a favor. Tell this story for me. Forget the legends, bury the myths. Tell the truth. Remember my friends as they were.

Remember Sasha for the vision and voice that started this all.

Remember Dyimi for his endless bravery (and amazing hats).

Remember Gar as the Kingdom’s most steadfast and loyal defender.

Remember Kaydee and Neddar for the buoyant spirit they passed to so many others.

Remember Akiros for his redemption story.

Remember Eoghan for his good works in spite of himself.

Remember Katya as Ursundova’s mother, the loving foundation upon which the Kingdom was built.

Remember Anton for his courage when standing in the shadow of death.

Remember Ulgar as a grumpy old sod who wielded the hammer that vanquished the Kingdom’s greatest foes.

Remember Leilania for keeping us laughing, keeping us grounded, and keeping us alive.

Remember Nibbs as the giant white moon chicken of doom.

Remember Gideon as the soul of the nation, the speaker for the Gods and the shepherd of the people.

Remember Daargan for his ambition, his power, and his fire.

Remember Gaeren as our chief contrarian, a man that was too smart to be clever, who found honor despite the crimes of his family.

Remember Isadora as the everblooming rose of Tuskendale with the noblest heart of any of us.

Remember Herodes for his tireless devotion to Iomedae and his countless stands against evil.

Remember Kifu as our master of the arcane, the all-seeing eye that showed us the path to victory.

Remember Ibram as a consummate scholar, an unwavering idealist, and an utter bore at parties.

Remember the Silver Beast and his company for the strength they lent us when we needed it most.

Remember Ray as the diplomat who didn’t know he was a diplomat, the schemer savior of Boggard tribes.

Remember Anameade as the woman who stood up for her people when she could have looked away.

Remember Nina as the voice of the wilds and the light that brought me out of the darkness.

Remember Nyrissa for her crimes, but also for her change at the end.

Remember Variel as our truth teller, our realist, and the man who saved the Stolen Lands.

Remember Jacek for his leadership through the brightest days and the darkest shadows.

Remember my little buddy Shay, the best friend of a fool who never learned to look behind him.

And I guess, remember me as well, a boy who went looking for adventure and found a nation of heroes.

This was our story. May it never be forgotten.

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Cycles
Jacek's musings from the First World

The world – both, in fact, the worlds of nature and our own worlds of culture and artifice – runs in cycles.

As the hours turn, dawn breaks and heralds the coming of day, before dusk brings night, to be broken by dawn in turn. Days stretch into seasons as the living world blossoms, thrives, and then falls into senescence. Children are born, grow into their primes and beget children of their own, before in turn ageing and passing, leaving the world for the generations that follow. And peoples, cities, cultures, and empires arise, reach their dominance, and eventually fall into decline.

We are in the First World, and it is different. I write this from a giant’s graveyard, snow thick on the ground and icicles hanging from bare tree branches. Yet scant hours ago I wandered through groves full with the scent and sounds of a summer’s evening. This place is timeless, or, in a sense, outside time. It exists in an instant, and that instant may be endless. Many – including myself, until recently – hold the vague notion that the First World is somehow the natural state of things. I see now that is a misapprehension. By rejecting these cycles, it places itself outside nature; it merely is.

Nyrissa’s presence has been haunting the Stolen Lands since before we arrived, since before Ursundova was even an idea. Yet matters are coming to a head. We are in her realm now, and soon, within a matter of days or perhaps only hours, we will confront her. One way or another, there will be a reckoning, and there will be an ending. But will we find ourselves at zenith, or at nadir?

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A Moment in the Snows

Dear Diary,

We find ourselves in a fairy tale. I suppose I should have expected that both the flora and the fauna would want to kill us.

Having pieced together a means to get us into the First World, we are now tasked with surviving the meander. His Majesty, Ulgar, Leilania, Ibram, and I have encountered murderous trees and laid waste to a four-armed giant. Thus far, at least, we have been more than successful, but in a scenario such as this one, small successes only make me wary. The greater a ruckus we make, the greater the possibility that Nyrissa organizes some vicious hammer blow to finish us off. As much as I enjoy approaching problems asymmetrically, our inability to march directly to our goal here is of great and increasing concern.

I’m sitting in a giant’s graveyard, with snow falling all around, while we consider our next move – probably to the Nightmare Rook to improve our odds of a peaceful sleep. My new giant friend is now the master of a tribe of one. I still hope to broaden his mind a bit on the nature of strength and power before my magic fades and his anger explodes, but such things are best done at leisure, which is not something I’ve experienced since returning to Ursundova.

Speaking of which, I will be leaving when this is done. The less said about Lem and me, the better, but it’s disappointing by any measure. I suppose I can’t go home again.

Between Lem and the Giant and the First World, one would think I have no room left for things that shock or surprise, and yet Briar grows in purpose with each passing fight…no, with each passing death, and that’s a distressing notion. She is feeding on our deliberate destruction of this world (are we destroying it? Something is happening as we clear each grove of threats). When even the blade on my hip seems to roll towards a narrative ending that none of us can truly predict, I feel like I’m a horse that’s out of control as we race through the fog. May the cliffs still be far off.

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A Hero's Departure

Two figures pace around one another in an open field. One male dwarf, clad in a simple leather tunic and bearing a worn training hammer, mirrored on the other side by a red-headed human woman, armed with a blunted longsword and a battered steel shield. The two circle one another, without breaking eye contact, weapons held at the ready.

“So, then.” The dwarf bellows cajolingly. “Which one of us goes first, hm?”

“Remains to be seen.” Comes the reply, soft but with a firm tone.

“Come, now.” The dwarf lowers the hammer to point at his legs. “With these stumpy things, I certainly ain’t chargin’ at you.” The corner of the woman’s mouth lifts into a smirk.

“I know better than to give you such an advantage. The question is, Ironbeard, which one of us will lose patience first?” A few more steps in the circle are the only punctuation in the long silence that follows.

“You were never as stubborn as this before. I’ve changed you, Alla, and I’m afraid it’s fer the worse.” Ulgar’s tone remains light and joking, but he isn’t sure it was entirely untrue.

“I wouldn’t wish it to have turned out any other way.” She smiles at Ulgar, who grins like a drunken fool in return. In a flash, she is upon him, and the grin is gone. He repels two quick bashes from her shield, the second strike flinging the shield wide enough for Ulgar to bring the hammer in towards her stomach. The sword meets it halfway, and the hammer’s head sends a tuft of grass flying as it slams into the ground.

“That was dirty. We’ve trained together fer how many years now? And you resort te tactics like that?”

“Like you said: you’ve changed me, Ironbeard.” Ulgar smiles and rushes at her, unleashing a series of slow but steady strikes and howling in deep, staccato laughter. Alla raises the shield to meet each strike, but is driven several steps backwards. A horizontal slash with the sword meant for Ulgar’s chest ends the barrage. Alla, seeing an opportunity, lunges forwards, knocking Ulgar’s hammer aside with the shield and bringing down an overhand swing that barely misses Ulgar’s shoulder. He steps to the side and tries to sweep the hammer at her calves, but she rolls over it and recovers nimbly several feet away. Beads of sweat are visible on both of their brows.

The fighting continues for several minutes, the two clashing with eachother at intervals. Ulgar’s slow but devastating swings knocking her back some, Alla’s quick retaliatory slashes and maneuverability regaining lost ground.

“Truce?” It’s Alla who first offers. Ulgar’s face brightens into a grin, and he starts to bellow a “hah!” but regains some composure.

“A’ight, truce then.” They both lay down their weapons. To one side of the field is a small wicker basket filled with fruits, cheese, and summer sausage, and the two of them sit and begin parceling out their food. Ulgar’s expression turns from bright to sullen as he watches Alla bite into an apple.

“Alla.” She turns, brow furrowing as she sees Ulgar’s face. “We leave tomorrow.”

“I know.” The reply is soft, and she places the apple down on the ground. Ulgar starts several times to speak, stopping just short of the first syllable at each attempt. Finally, he sighs and pulls the leather gloves from his hands. After rubbing them together in uncertainty for a moment, he offers one across the basket to her. Alla’s face quickly grows to match the apple’s color, but she accepts his outstretched hand. They sit in silence for what felt to the both of them like several hours.

“If we don’t come back—” Ulgar begins.

“Don’t.” Her reply is firm, and Ulgar turns back to considering the sky, his food all but forgotten. “I know the risk you take, and I know that you don’t do it just for me. You do it for your king, for the country he guides, and for your new family in Shrikewatch. It is necessary.” Alla turns to him and places a kiss on his forehead. “Whether or not you return, you will be remembered. I vow it.” Ulgar nods once, then again several seconds later with less bravado, tears welling up from a place inside him he hadn’t seen in decades. Alla wraps her arms around him, and he weeps as the sun starts to set in the distance.

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Crescent Moon in Amber Skies
Leilania Prepares for the First World

Tonight, the moon hangs on the horizon as the sun settles to meet it. From the top of the tall oak west of Tatzlford, I watch her rise and listen to her song with misting eyes. Where I’m going, there may not be a moon. I wonder what it will be like.

Tomorrow, Jacek and Variel will lead us into the First World in an attempt to restore Nyrissa’s love and avoid the apocalypse she has planned for the River Kingdoms. If we are successful, Nyrissa will abandon the rituals that have caused the “Blooms” throughout the Realm, including the final bloom that she intends to use to displace our Kingdom entirely with her own. If we cannot convince her, if Variel’s plan goes awry, we will have to kill her—something no one is sure is possible without Briar as a weapon. Before we can find our way to either eventuality, we will have to fight our way through Nyrissa’s First World minions in a land so foreign from our own that the slightest straying from the path might mean death. Suffice to say, I’m not enthused.

But I’m sure this mission is why the moon has led me here and the quest I must settle before I move on. She has shown me great trust and I must return it. I do hope though that some shade of her can find its way through the veil to guide me in the First World. It’s difficult to consider the alternative.

I spent this afternoon with Iliphar, explaining what had happened and what would come next. In his way, he took it in stride, showing no concern that our mission could result in anything but success. He smiled when I said that I worried that I would not return, in the way a parent would humor a child’s fears. Iliphar is a being of pure confidence. He cannot imagine a world where I do not succeed.

Still, I made him promise that if the worst were to come to pass that he would help protect the fey of the Greenbelt as our two worlds collide. We don’t know how long we will have until Nyrissa’s spell will complete, but we must assume from the acceleration of the blooms that it will be a matter of days at best. Iliphar has said he will help keep peace between the fey and the humans as the evacuation is carried out and will personally see to the safety of my children in the menagerie. I would trust no one but Iliphar with this task.

I spoke also to the Way Watchers elders in the Evergreen Sanctuary, explaining what our plan entailed and the uncertainties I worry on. I am proud to recall how they each rose to the challenge, explaining how they would marshall their charges to defend the people. They were afraid, as I am, but their fear did not conquer them. Their fear became resolve. Their resolve gave them strength. Even if I am lost, I know the Watchers will serve the people to their ends. And so, even if the Kingdom of Ursundova is destroyed, its people will go on and its ideals will live through them. We have built something wondrous here. No force of hatred will easily tear it down.

In the west I watch the moon, I pray to her, and I sing. What comes next will be the greatest challenge of my life. I swear that to her that I will do her service. And no matter where I am, she will hear me…in this world, the first, or the next.

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Lem vs. Introspection Round 52
Lem Makes a Dire Choice

Journal,

It’s come down to this: I can’t, in good conscience, follow my King into the first world. After expressing my concerns to Jacek, I have been given leave to stay here and see to the Kingdom’s defenses should they fail to turn Nyrissa. I feel hollow.

Let me step back and explain, should the reader of this journal be divorced from immediate events. In combating Nyrissa’s “blooms” from the first world, we discovered that the next incursion would occur in the old cyclops graveyard south of the Nomen lands. I headed there with Ulgar to keep watch, and managed to detect the attack just as it was unfolding. We summoned the other warriors of the privy council and faced a band of ice giants on the frozen face of the mountain.

The fight was where things began to go wrong. I suppose that I had known for a while that Variel’s powers had changed since his death, but I had no idea by how much. The battle started with what I was sure was his death. This was revealed to be an illusion when he took mental control of one of the giants and turned him against his fellows. The tide of battle quickly turned, with most falling under the scorching punishment of Leilania’s divine fire magic. But one giant was left held in place, unable to escape or fight back, due to one of Jacek’s spells.

It was at this point that Variel had his dominated Giant kill him. There was no judgment…no order from the King. Only murder.

Journal, I don’t shed tears for the death of villains. This creature, this ally of Nyrissa, had come to our world to sow destruction. The action we took against his fellows was warranted in self-defense. But he was helpless when he died, and the death that was given to him was at the hands of someone he surely called “friend”. When the giant died, it was the favor to the world I serve. But that doesn’t mean it was right.

Iomedae calls on us to serve a higher form of justice. She gives us the weapons of righteousness and implores that we use them to become a beacon to others. She demands that we adhere to her code, follow her example, and in so doing, bring light to the dark places. Iomedae is light, not darkness…so much so that she cannot tolerate even the shadow…even the man who does the wrong things for the right reasons.

Iomedae tells us that we cannot use the weapons the enemy. Murder, slavery, domination — these are the tools of the evil we resist. They are the tools of cowards and tyrants. We cannot become what we fight to prevail, no matter what the odds, no matter what the cost. Iomedae tells us it’s better to die in service of greater justice than to live at the price of a tainted heart.

As my friends go to the first world to fight Nyrissa, they will take the Giant Variel enslaved with them as a guide. I’m sure that when they next face evil, that Variel will again dominate and deceive, using the tools of the enemy in a way he thinks will undo them. I see his logic, but I cannot agree with it. I must follow my lady’s example. I must stay strong and pure.

I admit that I am disappointed in Jacek. I kept hoping that he would say “enough” and hold back these terrible acts. But Jacek is a pragmatist, as his God preaches fortune above virtue. He is content to allow Variel do whatever is necessary to save Ursundova. In a way, I understand. In a way, I envy him. It would be easier to let the means justify the ends. But that’s not me.

So they will go, and I will stay. If they fail, my world will be lost. I will fight until my last breath, I will save as many as I can, but it will not be enough. I should be with them, I should go, but I can’t. I’m torn between my love for this land and the Goddess I serve. I can’t have both. I can’t be both champion and soldier. I can’t stand for justice while I see it trampled in front of me.

When I confronted Variel, he chastised me for not taking the throne for myself after the disaster in which his life was lost. I can’t say that I haven’t thought about it. But the terrible part is, had I been leader, there would be no Ursundova now. A king cannot be beholden to the virtues of a distant god. He must serve his people first…which Jacek has done admirably. I am glad he is King and I am not. I am glad that he can make the choice that serves the people first. Again, it’s not me.

So they will go and I will stay. Perhaps they will succeed. Perhaps they will not. The future is uncertain. The bonds of friendship have failed. Now there is only courage and death.

Today I told Nina what was coming. I told her to take the children and go. She agreed. I had hoped that she would stay, that she would fight to the end as I must. But she too is a pragmatist. I love her for it. I want my children to know their father stayed to fight, even if it was a battle no one could win. Because of her choice, they will know.

I’m sorry Journal. This may be my last entry. I hope it is not. If it is, please forgive me. I found my light, and it showed me a new way. It led me to a new path. It’s not the path my King has chosen. It’s not the way I wanted it to end. But this is how it must.

I love you Nina. I love you Alura. I love Sasha. I hope that you’re reading this together.

I will see you in the next life.

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Preparing for farewell
Difficult words for difficult times

Before the party departs for the First World, Jacek spends a lot of bittersweet time with his family; while Katya knows all of what the party plan, and the risks it entails, they have not told their children the whole story. Just that he’s going away for a few days on a mission for the country; a note awaits them should disaster strike. The King also takes the opportunity to exchange words with close friends: Gideon and Marcellina, Kaydee and Neddar, and Yefrem, among others.

Finally, he prepares a note to be distributed among the populace by the Queen, if their mission fails:

People of Ursundova,

Our nation’s brief history to date shows that we have been no strangers to adversity. From threats such as a troll army threatening the countryside to the machinations of a lich on our eastern reaches to the threat of a barbarian horde to the west, we have faced these threats, and others, emerging strong, united, and prosperous in our victories. Ursundova has been built on the blood and sweat of those dedicated to reclaiming these lands for civilisation, and to defend the ideals for which we stand. We remember them and their sacrifices, and what they have brought us.

I am writing now because we face a challenge of greater severity than any of those which have come before. The strange occurrences in our cities and countryside these past weeks were but a harbinger of a greater threat – a ploy by a creature of the First World to transfer her realm from there to here, to the sure ruin of ourselves, the River Kingdoms, and the region as a whole.

Before I go on, let me take a moment to emphasise one point. Our foe is a fey of the First World, but, just as humanity and the other races of Golarion count good and ill among the hearts of their members, so do the fey. Since the foundation of Ursundova we have been fortunate to count the fey of the Greenbelt among our friends and allies, and these events change nothing. Do not blame them for the events befalling us. They are victims too.

I have led a team of the nation’s heroes into the First World, to confront this threat and seek it put an end to it before it can engulf us. It is a dangerous task but power without responsibility is tyranny or unchained chaos. To be King of Ursundova means that you and your livelihoods are in my care. All of you. I can no more refuse to defend you than I could my own flesh and blood. I do so without hesitation, and whatever befalls, without regret.

If this missive is being distributed, this means that the Queen has lost contact with our party, which may mean that we have failed, or been lost in the First World. I ask you not to panic. As the seasons turn, so also may times grow harder for Ursundova before a new dawn breaks. In these times I ask you to trust in each other, trust in your governance, and trust in your Queen. Long may She reign.

By the Lord of the First Vault and Old Deadeye,

Jacek Lodovka, King of Ursundova, first of his name

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Moments to Reflect; Moments to Remember
Variel makes some decisions

In the course of events, this broadsheet has been a regular and vocal critic of His Majesty and His Majesty’s Government. Even now, as we take a different tone in this particular issue, we dispute the decision to keep the actions of the officers of state a secret, as may be made obvious by our revelations of said actions.

The wine was dark and sweet, its rich purples turned black in the flickering lamplight. Variel sat at a small table, reviewing his writing. Felix sat across from him, quill in hand, anxiety plain on his face.

Felix broke the silence with a soft question. “Are you certain you wish to do this?”

Variel took a long breath, and then another. “Yes. As much as I fear a riot of panic, Lem was correct – we cannot put the fate of hundreds of thousands in our own hands without giving them some capacity to decide for themselves whether they want to trust us with such a responsibility.”

Felix frowned, “Lem could probably do with hearing that, especially after earlier.”

“He’ll live,” Variel cut off the argument. “He’s got a wife and children to care for and wasted enough time hurling arguments at me as it is. Have you found any errors?”

“You know I didn’t. Otherwise, I’d have marked them already.”

“Then let’s be about it. Time is passing.”

“He’ll probably be able to figure out it was you this time. And I expect some will call this treason.”

“Then it’s best that my plans don’t involve an overlong stay in the Kingdom once this is done, isn’t it?”

The facts are these: the Kingdom is under threat by a being from another world. This being intends to tear the Kingdom from the face of Golarion entirely, shunting it to the First World, home of the fey. Such an act would also carry anyone currently present in the Kingdom into the First World, with no guaranteed way home.

Roderick was bored. No one had made a hit on the Ursundovan treasury in…well, since he’d been working here. The most excitement was when the weird dogman (Some folks kept saying it was the old Baron’s dog, but that seemed crazy) came down with an order from the King to gather a stack of gold bars. Roderick had not been on duty, but everyone was talking about it later.

When the Chancellor came down the stairs, he straightened up and faced forward. The Chancellor rarely came down here, though he signed most of their orders. The elf had a vaguely bored expression as he came to the door.

“I need a box. #00012.”

Roderick blinked. “Oh, that would be something brought from the old castle.” The guard pulled his keys and unlocked the main door. The elf shot past him, moving purposefully, and Roderick had to hurry to keep up. Variel finally stopped in front of a dusty shelf. He set off a massive dust cloud by moving the burlap covering and pulled out a box of fine wood, fancy calligraphy declared the box to be from the “Artful Haberdasher,” wherever that was.

“Begging your pardon, my lord.” Roderick gulped before asking the question he knew he had to. “But do you have authorization for this?”

“It’s mine, actually. Well, after a fashion. The purchase of it was part of my will, but the recipient died the same day I did, so it ended up here. Having paid for it, I am reclaiming it.”

Roderick’s mouth hung open for a moment, then simply replied, “Oh.”

While we dispute the decision to keep this matter a secret from the public, we feel compelled to add a caveat to our revelation. First, His Majesty and selected officers of state are well-equipped, perhaps the best-equipped in Avistan, to deal with this threat, and their willingness to do speaks of the highest possible character. We believe that they can stop the forces that threaten Ursundova, as they have done before.

The willowy black feather hung off the back of the hat, floating and fluttering in the breeze coming off of the lake. Variel inspected the hat carefully, flicking a bit of grass from the brim, before he replaced it on his head.

“Your timing was awful, mind.” Variel said to the small bronze statue. “I wrote that will expecting you’d be here to carry on, that your dedication to the nation would be balanced with your sense of whimsy and need for new experiences. I suppose, in the end, I’m just so thick that I had to have the same lesson hammered into me twice before I caught on – we can’t go home again, can we?”

False dawn was starting to subtly alter the colors in the lake, reflecting the distant horizon. “I’m caught between dream and memory. My memories made a dream of a place, and finding that my dream went out without me, and did things that were…quite different than what I had in mind, is at once unsettling and encouraging. Leave it to diviners to think they’re always going to know what happens next. I am forced to admit that this is not my story, even if I might contribute a line or two.”

Variel turned and smiled at the bronze gnome, seated astride a great, fluffy dog. “Even Garr has changed, all full of righteousness as passed on by the God of counting your pennies and eating your vegetables. I don’t know how this is going to end, but if it is within my power, I’ll make this a moment where we remember who we could be: bold, courageous, and perhaps a bit silly at times. I offered you my service and you took it. I’ll try not to fail you now. Goodbye, Dyimi. Rise or fall, we’ll probably not talk again.”

While we believe in the freedom to make informed choices, we also believe in the heroes – for that is what they are – who go to meet this threat. It is your life and your family, so do what you feel you must. As for us, we will keep faith with the King in this desperate hour.

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Waning Moon at Midday
Leilania Loves Nibbs

Today the moon begins her journey into darkness. Her eternal cycle continues as ever, a constant in an ever-changing world. In her permanence, I find solace.

As I watch the moon drift in her orbit, Nibbs takes us back into the forests above Tuskendale. We are both tired from an exceptionally long night, but we’re both too eager to return home to wait for rest. With effort we can be back in Tatzlford by midnight. I know Iliphar will be waiting for me there.

Last night my companions and I fought through an ambush in the dream world. The process of entering these dreams was through means of an arcane ceremony overseen by Variel. In order to serve my part in the plan I had to go alone, leaving Nibbs to wait for me in the waking world. Perhaps it was for the best, but I wish I had had Nibbs with me to face off against the horror I found on the other side. My nightmare would have gone very differently had Nibbs been there to offer defense. Together we would have had the beast cowering.

Since I first held his egg in the light of the moon, Nibbs has been an extension of myself. Now, so many years later, every expression, every tiny sound, every gentle touch and nuzzle carries meaning between us. When I feel joy, Nibbs prances and jumps. When I am despondent, Nibbs stands close and gives me warmth. When I am full of mirth and merriment, Nibbs chortles with laughter. And when I feel like I can’t go on, Nibbs gives me the strength to keep us moving forward.

Many have inferred that Nibbs can’t understand what I say beyond what his animal instinct allows. But I know there is greater intelligence there, I’ve seen it. It’s true, Nibbs doesn’t think like I do, but who does? And even if he could, why would I want him to? He is what he is and I am myself. Our differences are what make us stronger together.

The path ahead will surely become more treacherous in the days to come. We know that Narissa has not finished with her attacks, if anything, her assaults on our world are accelerating. If we are to defeat her, Nibbs and I will have to face the challenge united, as we were meant to be. The moon put us together and together we shall stay. I will not leave him behind again.

As I sing a little song for the moon to hear, Nibbs joins in in his own way. Poor Nibbs cannot hold a tune, but I love him for it. I know the moon does too.

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Lem vs. Introspection Round 51
Lem vs. His Dreams

Journal,

So it’s been a weird couple days, but I guess weird is sorta normal nowadays. Maybe this was weirder than the norm? Hard to tell, my perspective’s always changing.

The day started with Marcy going crazy. I got to save her from herself, which was fun, though I’m not sure she would agree—she certainly didn’t want me sticking around afterwards. We surmised from the incident that Narissa’s minions were working through the dream plane to affect people in Tuskendale. Rather than wait for the worst to come to pass, Variel suggested we go after them on the far side of the veil.

Through some excessively involved machinations, we managed to enter the dream plane as a group. But once there, we were each shunted to our own fractured nightmare and left to fight our way free. I found myself facing a vision of a giant crow, which I did my best to slay. I guess I was successful, because when I landed a hit the beast pitched me back to the waking world.

It wasn’t so easy for Variel or Jacek, both of whom had a harder time escaping from their personal nightmares. But with Kifu’s help we were able to get them back, and once back it seems that the nightmare plague has abated.

Now we’re left wondering where the next attack will come. Jacek communes with Abadar while Leilania sends her Way Watchers to the far corners of the realm. I feel a little bad for our armies, we’ve had them marching constantly for the last month trying to respond to potential threats. I fear they won’t see any rest until Narissa has been finally dealt with.

This whole fiasco has got me thinking about the nature of dreams, specifically what part of them we take back with us when we wake. There was a time when my best dreams featured beautiful women or particularly good nights at the pub. Now, I dream about quiet days with Elora in my lap and Nina and Sasha at my side. I dream about taking off my armor and putting it away, of hanging Springsnap above the mantle. I dream of waking up in the morning without the fear of what the day might bring. I dream of going hunting with Shay in the forest like we used to. I dream of a simpler life.

Shay’s getting old. He doesn’t like to admit it, he tries not to show it, but I can tell he feels it. On cold mornings he doesn’t want to follow me out. He eats less than he should. He doesn’t hear as well as he once could. I’ve had him at my side more than half my life, and now I wonder what my life will be like when he’s gone. No dream is forever. Everything changes.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still fight in us and we will serve as long as we’re needed. We will defend this beautiful place we love. We will make this place safe for those who come after us. We will never run from a challenge. Iomedae demands strength.

Tomorrow I will attend another planning session with the war council to decide what our next steps should be. Our dreams will wait until this is finished.

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