Kingmaker

Dreams of Glory and Ruin

In an instant, Ray’s hunched human form was replaced by a wizened boggard with cloudy eyes, leaning on a gnarled silver branch. He paced in a circle for a moment, then sat down on a beaded mat, laying the staff down beside him and resting his hands on his knees. His misty eyes slowly shut as he breathed a name: “Sepoko.”

His eyes flashed open to reveal a wide expanse of calm green water. Near its center stood another boggard dressed in regal splendor, humanoid skills hanging from its neck in grim trophy. Ray’s boggard form stood slowly and walked across the surface of the water, creating ripples as he went. “Sepoko,” he croaked again. The other boggard turned sharply at the sound of its name.

“Look to your people.” Ray continued, nearing the boggard priest-king. Sepoko cocked its head to the side and blinked.

“My people are seen to. They are mighty. I made them so.” It said.

Ray’s boggard shook with a chuckle, bracing himself with his staff. “Your people embrace a dark god that does you no favors. Your people are hardened into warriors at the expense of education. Your people provoke the pinkskins and others like them for sport and sacrifice.” Visions of what Ray spoke flashed across the surface of the water they stood on. Sepoko stood with its face down, eyes wide at what it saw.

“We do these things because that is what Gogunta demands.” Sepoko’s eyes grew fearful as it spoke the name.

“And what does Gogunta do for you in return? Grants you permission to live? That is for you to decide, not for him to dictate. He keeps you in squalor because you are easy to control that way.” Ray’s tone grew darker. Sepoko hesitated, blinking several times in thought.

“Heresy.” It said after a few moments. Ray croaked a sigh and waved a bony, frog-like hand. The scene around them rippled and changed, the vast expanse of water replaced with a small bluff, overlooking the M’Botuu tribelands on the horizon. Huts and lean-tos were scattered across the peninsula, dotted by a few wispy trails of smoke from cookfires.

“This is what you have now.” Ray motioned his hand across the scene. “And this… is what you would become.” The huts were replaced by houses of stone and wood, trails replaced by beaten dirt and cobble roads. Piers stretched out into the waters of the Hooktongue like jagged snakes, and riverboats of all shapes and sizes brought goods from beyond the swamp. A marketplace, full of the cacophony of trade, sprawled across part of the city like a patchwork butterfly. At the heart of the thriving city stood a tower, jutting from its surroundings like a thorn. Sepoko’s eyes grew wide as it stared in disbelief. Ray allowed the image to linger, admiring Sepoko’s awe. Just as it moved to speak, the image before them was replaced with the boggard village of the present, but this time the scene was chaos. Many of the huts were on fire, boggard warriors lay slaughtered in the mud of the marshes, and a group of humans stood proudly in the center of the village, erecting the Ursundovan flag.

“This is what will happen if you continue on the path you have chosen.” Ray said quietly, as Sepoko dropped to its knees in anguish. The scene rippled again, and the two boggards stood again on the calm waters. “Find the boggard called Slirrkyrt. Name her your new priestess-queen, the first of her kind. She will lead you to the glory that I speak of. Fail to do this, and you sentence your people to doom.”

Over the next several days, Sepoko saw the old boggard with misty eyes that had visited its dreams, always at the edge of it’s vision, and never there when it looked again. Each night, it had the same dream, and each night it watched it’s people burn in horror. On the fourth day, warriors were sent in all directions, with orders to locate a boggard by the name of Slirrkyrt.

Her arrival would forever change the Hooktongue.

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A Bloom Fades
The Bird's Eye VIew

A raven sits among the leaves of a black gum tree, watching green-skinned women argue viciously over the scraps of their latest victim, an unfortunate boggard. Head tilting this way and that, he makes a soft querulous noise. The edges of the marsh are turning to shifting green-tinted fog. A tearing noise rends the air. Clinging to his branch, the raven is the only bird to stick to his perch as a great wind whips the trees into a frenzy, ripping leaves and twigs into the tempest. He hears the women’s screams, oddly melodious, but he cannot see them.

Suddenly, with a sound reminiscent of a blade being returned to its sheath, the wind storm ceases. The marsh that had been there moments ago has disappeared; in its place, the swampy landscape looks as it did before the bloom intruded, rippling green waves—like a water glass just set down—the only indication that there has been a disturbance. Except, of course, that the bog is silent, as though every living thing in it has disappeared.

The raven watches a few moments more and then takes flight, scanning for new oddities in the landscape.

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Crescent Moon over Misted Fens
Leilania Contemplates the Ways of Evil Fey

The moon hangs on the Western horizon above a low carpet of gray mists drifting inward from Lake Hooktongue. We are fortunate to have firm ground beneath our feet after weeks out in the Slough, we stand now in a wooded lowland facing down toward the sodden mire. I am glad to have familiar plants at my feet and trees at my back. As I’ve said before, there is beauty in the Slough, but there is also great danger. It is a place that resists the order of man’s world. It is only natural that such a place would attract those that would defy it.

Again we have done battle against evil fey, and again we have driven them off. This is the third time we’ve seen the Nykes, but the first time we’ve done open battle against them. We are fortunate that the battle went as well as it did, for they had every advantage against us from the first notes of their siren songs. With the moon’s help I transformed myself into a watery vortex to hold the Nykes in place while the Silver Beast and Nibbs rained blows upon them. It seems that they were led in their assault by another evil creature, something Ray referred to as an ‘Amadan’. The creature remained invisible throughout the fight, though I understand that at least one blow was landed against it by Beast. Once injured, the Amadan and his watery host took flight, leaving us to lick out wounds and consider our next steps.

We have agreed to return to the East, headed through the Narlmarches on the way back to Tatzlford. I am hesitant to leave these creatures where they might harm to others, but I see no way to engage them short of opening ourselves up to another ambush. My friends and I are agreed that we should return to familiar ground and consult with others who might have better options available to locate and hunt this threat.

The idea of evil fey is a vexing one to me. It is easy to understand that there must be evil fey as surely as there are evil men. But the idea of entire races born with evil intention frustrates the part of me that seeks balance in all things. Maybe their existence serves to correct scales weighted with the beneficial spirits of the wild, the raw energy that drives life onward and manifests in the kind of fey I know from the Greenbelt. But it seems to me that this balance, if it exists at all, is a precarious one that swings alarmingly from extreme to the other.

There is a part of me that wants to believe that the Nykes and their kin know no better. There is no enmity in the fox as he hunts the rabbit, though surely through the rabbit’s eyes the fox is a monster. It would be easier if it were the same for the evil fey, if the evil actions they took were taken only out of instinct or ignorance. But I have seen these creatures eye-to-eye, and have seen the blackness in their souls. These are not natural creatures, they are abominations, and they must be dealt with. I know this is my purpose here.

The moon has given me her power, not to divide or conquer for the Kingdoms of men, but to face evil and bring balance. These unnatural spirits must be culled to protect others without such intentions. When faced with what looks like a monster, it is difficult for men to see the difference between the malicious and the wild. It is my purpose to draw that line for them. If I am successful, the wild will remain in the heart of Ursundova, where it belongs, where it lived long before the red banner was raised above Tuskendale. With my help, man may yet learn the lesson of balance.

The moon is a great teacher of balance. She is always moving, always changing, but forever at peace with herself, forever balancing her own cycles of light and dark. She sings to me a melancholy song this night and I understand. It is a song I will sing to others, in hopes that it will become the solemn hymn and promise of a new generation.

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Theater of the Mind, Part III - Elixir
Time Runs Out

“You are out of spells, battered, and trapped in your own mind.” Daargan’s spectral form seemed to fill half the sky now, the stars occasionally appearing behind him, but starting to go out behind the two Kifus. “In spite of your current form, you are all alone here.” Daargan’s monstrous head floated down and his burning eyes gazed at the two haggard wizards. “So why are you smiling?”

“Well…” both Kifus began, then they looked at each other. The one-eyed Kifu shrugged and both figures blurred and stretched towards one another. Suddenly, there was one Kifu again.

“As I was saying,” Kifu began to pace a bit, “I am indeed out of spells, out of options, really kind of out of magic – I can’t even feel my many magical devices at the moment. But you…you are out of time.” Another star winked out in the void.

“There is no time here. No real space.”

“Ah, mistake number one! While it is true that most Mindscapes lack reality, you had to add some if you were going to kill me. You needed firm causality, or I just keep getting up again. So there is time and space. There’s just no Daargan Vul.”

“Imbecile.” Daargan muttered. “I am right here.”

“Oh that you are, but you are no more Daargan than I am the prettiest girl in the Kingdom. Daargan struggled with whatever dark part of his mind that you represent and that the Oculus of Abaddon trapped, his whole life, but he died defending his friends. He died a hero, whereas Vordakai died alone and friendless, as is a tyrant’s lot. Thousands of years of bitterness and failure – now that’s more of what I see before me.”

“And yet here I am in your mind.”

“And that’s my mistake for exploring that sinkhole without proper protections in place. A fracture in my mind that left an opening. An opening filled by a malevolence from another time. You could not take your true form because you were stuck with my memories, but the Oculus gave you an out, didn’t it? The millenia of hate in that Lich’s heart, sustained by an artifact of evil, and with a fresh dash of the pain of a good man that no longer had to bear the burden of his past. Oh, I’m sure you thought that day that you had won.”

“But if this place has become more real, I no longer need your memories, do I?” Daargan’s cloak of black smoke stretched and twisted, becoming a mass of tentacles.”

“No, Yog-Sototh, you do not. But you’re still out of time.” The stars began fading faster. “Second mistake – you had to invest this space with reality, which means time passes here, but you’re forging a timeline atop a timeline through a tunnel that connects two timelines. That’s a paradox, and the Material Plane really hates those.”

For a moment, the Great Old One seemed to flicker, his tentacles shifting without corresponding movement. “What is this?”

“Oh, well, time isn’t really your area, is it? Your creations are immortal because you don’t understand time and its functions. Whereas if you spent more years than you ought to have trying to figure out a way to rewind time to a day on the lake that you can never forget, you would have learned that messing with time has consequences, even for you.”

Yog-Sototh now flickered rapidly, the stars vanishing in groups.

“Your time tunnel is broken, and you cannot sustain the connection to me or to Candlemere without it. We’ll have to live with your Shoggoth, but I think I’ll bury it under a few thousand tons of stone.”

“How? How am I undone by a mere mortal?”

“You aren’t. That’s your last mistake – thinking your battle was against me.” Kifu clasped his hands behind him in his best professorial pose. “I am no match for you. A battalion of me probably isn’t a match for you. Rather, you are undone by the same force that has been the end of tyrants and madmen since time began: ignorance.” The mass of tentacles receded into the black of the rapidly darkening sky and was no more.

Kifu sagged, then saw that the rock beneath his feet was begin to erode, becoming dust that drifted away.

He sighed and pulled his slouching form upright and straight, “Not done yet.” He closed his eyes and multicolored light sprang up around him in intersecting lines. The light coalesced into walls that sprouted shelves stuffed to bursting with books and scrolls. A map room bloomed like a flower and hallways stitched the book-stuffed rooms together. It smelled of spice and leather and, of course, paper. Lights blossomed on the walls and Kifu walked from the largest library through the halls to the front door. He stood on the porch, which afforded a view of a restored night sky, the Celestial Caravan all in their places. The building only had a few feet of lifeless ground outside of it, but it was enough for a gray figure in tattered robes to crouch there. It looked up and glared at Kifu with a single baleful red eye and spoke through sharpened teeth.

“You threw away your identity to thwart me.”

“I changed. Humans do that. And I needed to cut you off from Yog-Sototh, because that was an existential threat to the Kingdom.”

“But I am still here.”

“All of us must live with our doubts. Mine simply have form. But I don’t have to acknowledge them.” Kifu did not even raise his hand, but a fierce gust of wind blew the withered husk of Vordakai, now human-sized, into the void.

Kifu looked back at the house of his mind. It was sturdy, yellow-brown brick in several stories. The windows were large to admit light throughout. It was a house meant for a savannah, sturdy, but inviting. It had no wall for keeping out zombies, but Kifu nodded all the same.

“A good foundation and a fine porch. He would be pleased.” Kifu took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The breath blew away the world of his Mindscape.


The blue fire that surrounded Kifu shifted to golden light. It poured out like a sun for a few moments, then receded until it faded altogether, leaving Kifu where he had begun.

He looked around, “How long was I gone?”

Gani answered, “You were gone? The lights were around you for less than a minute. What happened to your eye?”

Kifu raised his hand to his forehead. His third eye seemed to have been replaced by something hard and cool to the touch. He walked out of the circle and into the antechamber, stepping before a mirror. A crystal, catching the light and splitting it, was now nestled in the flesh of his forehead.

“How curious.”

Gani, Tharkun, and Devis all stood behind him.

“Not a bit, but it may reflect that my magic has been internalized…”

The other three looked at each other and Tharkun spoke, “None of us said anything.”

Kifu turned, “Didn’t you? Devis asked if it hurt.”

Devis paled, “Not out loud.”

Kifu blinked several times. “Oh…Oooohh. Oh, that’s unexpected.”

Tharkun folded his arms, “I did warn you.”

Gani scratched his beard, “Psychic magic?”
Kifu sat at the table. “So it would seem. Having to refuse my thoughts and my emotions, as well as rebuild my own mindscape without the benefit of spells to hand seems to have changed the way I interact with magic entirely. This will require some study.”

Bela appeared in the door, “Doesn’t everything?”

At that, the magician smiled. “Usually.”

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Theater of the Mind, Part II - Mixture
Dream and It Will Be

For a moment, Kifu mistook the glare of a noonday sun for a continuation of the magical light of the ritual. The light burned fiercely, but his eyes, so recently under the Ursundovan night sky, adjusted to midday in a small, yet bustling town. Streams of people were all headed in the same direction down several streets, dressed in a panoply of colors. The wizard looked in front of him and saw a partially-finished wall of yellow-brown brick. The mortar was uneven, but the bricks had clearly been set carefully. For a second, a smile spread on his face, but evaporated as he began to put the clues together.

“Not a day I would have chosen to revisit.”

“Kifu, how is your wall coming?”

Kifu reminded himself that this was a hallucination – a memory given power – but the bass rumble of his father’s voice still struck some space in his spine, sending a charge upward into his neck. He turned around.

Erutai was the broad man one expected of a builder, though he had not been a simple laborer since Kifu was a boy. Now Kifu’s father designed the homes he built, and was still trying to get his son to appreciate the work.

Kifu glanced back at his wall and did some calculations. “Probably another day.”

Erutai folded his arms, “You had best hope you have another day to give, then. I told you to start earlier in the morning.”

“I can’t recover my spells without eight hours of rest.”

“Your spells. In what world are the Arclords going to come to our little town? You’re wasting your time.”

Kifu remembered and he smiled. “They’ll come to see your houses.” He felt his throat catch oddly, “They’ll come because a man in a small border town taught himself to build strong homes that would hold zombies back.”

Erutai cocked his head at his son’s reply, but then looked back to the unfinished brick wall. “That won’t repel much of anything but slugs. Still, this is your last year. I expect you’ll get to finish tomorrow.”

“Last year, then today is…Oh, gods. Thadie.”

Kifu’s father stepped closer. “What about her? Have…” his voice dropped, “Have you seen something?”

Kifu looked at his father oddly. “This is an oddly interactive memory. I have seen it. When I was here before. The spirit of the lake will take Thadie today.”

Erutai’s face became ashen. “Why would it take my baby girl?”

Kifu’s mind reeled as his memories of that horrible day clashed with what was happening in front of him. “Because a lazy wizard summoned too powerful a spirit and couldn’t pay the price of binding it himself. So he promised it an annual sacrifice at Midsummer and how are we having a conversation that never took place?”

Erutai seized his son by the shoulders. “Can you stop it?”

“What? No. I can make an alarm spell that lasts an hour at this point in my life. I…but…I…you know, Father. I don’t know. Let’s go.”

The two men ran towards the lake at the center of the town. Kifu glanced at his father and where he had grown into a skinnier version of the man who raised him. Erutai too was bald, but broad-shouldered and thick around the middle. Kifu realized that he looked a bit as if someone had hung his father’s features on his mother’s long frame. As the reached the lakeside, he touched his forehead. He was as physically old as he had been in the ritual chamber, but there was a difference – his third eye was gone.

The lake was the center of the town, with fence lines to keep Nexian zombies from getting through and befouling the water. The whole town only gathered at the lake twice a year. On harvest day, it was a festival, with music and food.

Today, the town had gathered in their fine clothes, but the air was somber. A thousand pairs of eyes watched the water with dread in their hearts. When it began to churn, cries went up, but were quickly stifled.

Kifu scanned the crowd madly for his mother, who was one of the tallest people in town. The churning lake was rising in the center, taking on a body’s shape. The Elder Water Elemental, who helped defend the town from Geb zombies and demanded one life a year in return, found Ayo, Kifu’s mother, and Thadie, his 11-year old sister, before he could.

Ayo began a keening wail that froze Kifu’s blood. She was restrained to keep from holding back Thadie, who started the shaky walk towards the water’s edge. Kifu heard his father bellowing at him, but everything seemed distant as he tried to drink in as much of this image of his little sister as he could. He stood there, still and silent, as her feet splashed on the lakeshore and her dress, all reds and yellows, began to gather on the water’s surface. She stopped to push it down for modesty’s sake and Kifu nearly laughed at the absurdity.

Then the fireball exploded.

That snapped Kifu out of his reverie and he turned to look at the flying figure assaulting the elemental. He was a tall Garundi man in a purple robe. It took Kifu several seconds before he realized he was staring at himself, and several more before he realized the flying version of him had only one eye – the one that was presently missing from his own forehead.

“Oh, for pity’s sake.” The two-eyed Kifu frowned and began a casting of his own. His finger looped through the air several times, severing the mystical bonds that bound the elemental to the lake. He finished the gesture with a cutting motion and the water came crashing back down, the spirit dismissed back to its home plane. The entire exchange had taken less than half a minute, but the explosions, with their gouts of steam, and the angry roar of the elemental had set in a panic. Kifu looked to see his mother had snatched up Thadie and was running from the lake as fast as her long legs would carry her. He ignored it all to glare at his one-eyed doppelganger, who was even now landing near him on the shore.

“Well, that was well done.” the one-eyed Kifu said with an almost cocky smile.

“I have rarely been so disappointed in myself.” The two-eyed Kifu muttered.

“What?” One-eye looked at the lake. “I mean, we’ve triggered a panic, but the spirit…”

“I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about you.” Kifu had to shout to be heard over the growing riot around them, so he raised a hand and clenched it into a fist. The crowd froze in mid-riot and the sudden silence was more potent than any shout.

“We don’t know that spell.” One-eye said.

“We know any spell we want here, it’s our head.” Two-eyed Kifu retorted. “Besides, this is all a hallucination, which explains why my father would respond to me out of character. What I’m disappointed in is that my own sense of self appears to be subject to dreary literary metaphor. My emotional half bound up in a copy of me, but with the mystic third eye.”

“I thought it was rather clever.”

“Oh, you would.”

“Just because the only thing you’ve ever used me for is to develop a dry sense of humor and a healthy love of Galtan wine…”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You ought to.” One-eye swept his arm at the frozen tableaux of panic around the two of them. “You suppress all of these memories so that you can focus on problems that don’t hurt you so specifically.”

“Whereas you waste time rewriting history to make us feel better with a comforting lie. No one saved Thadie that day.”

“But we wanted to. We desperately wanted to.”

“Want and a small stone will possibly break a window.”

“But you forgot! You forgot that we’re supposed to care about people! In all your politics, prose, pronouncements, and prestidigitation, you forgot about the people.”

“Am I really so dreadfully poetic?”

“When I drink.”

“Ah, and in all your poetry, did you notice that Daargan Vul is among the rioting crowd today?”

“Eh?” One-eyed Kifu followed Two-eyed Kifu’s pointing finger to where a dark-robed figure was still, but was certainly not running. He was watching the exchange between the two Kifus with a malicious grin of his filed and sharpened teeth.

“I didn’t put that there.” One-eye said.

“Nor did I.”

“Of course not.” Daargan purred, to the astonishment of both Kifus. “I have always been here.” The sorcerer stretched out his hands and lightning flashed through several of the crowd and into both forms of Kifu. They both screamed and tumbled backwards, shaking from the blast.

One-eye struggled for breath, “Less arguing…”

“…more defending.” Two-eyes finished and both Kifus began layering magical defenses.

Daargan chuckled, “I’ve been in your head for months, Usurper. Watching as your primitive magics continually failed to reach the heights possible in Candlemere, and all out of your fear to simply take what could have been yours. Well, I’m done waiting.” The sorcerer thrust out his hand and a scattering of bolts of light streaked from his fingers and burned into One-eye’s chest.”Now, I will wipe you away and return to glory, albeit in a borrowed body.”

Both Kifus backed rapidly away from the dark-robed figure, continuing to cast spells. “So,” Two-eyes said, “this is a construct of thought.”

“Yes,” One-eye said, bumping into a frozen runner.

“One we can remake.”

“Yes.”

“In any way we wish…”

One-eye looked at his counterpart. “Try it.”

Two-eyes seemed to take a moment to do a calculation, then stamped the ground with his foot. A crack appeared in the earth that immediately began to spread and widen. In a matter of moments, the ground had crumbled and fallen away, swallowing the frozen figures of Kifu’s youth. The daytime sky also evaporated as only chunks of earth swirled in a starlit heaven. Daargan fell through space for several seconds before launching into flight. He planted himself on one the larger rocks and looked around for his quarry.

“Where are you? You cannot leave – it’s your head, after all.”

“Quite right.” Kifu’s voice filled the vastness of space and Daargan turned to look behind him. The Garundi wizard’s head was a glowing blue structure, at least 30 feet tall, and had three eyes once again.

“This is my head – my mind. And you are not welcome here.” A star fell from heaven, streaking at Daargan, who howled when the fiery sphere shattered through him and the rock he had been perched on. The rock exploded in a shower of dust and fire. The blue glowing head of Kifu tracked as Daargan’s body reeled backwards through space. The dark robes took on a smoky character, wisping black fog, and the sorcerer righted himself as he floated, his right eye glowing an ever-brighter red.

“Fool!” Daargan howled. “Your invented events are nothing but phantasms. Let me show you what can be done with real magic. Daargan exploded in a racing swarm of crows and ravens that plunged through Kifu’s giant glowing head, shredding the image. Kifu’s body reappeared, still bifurcated into a one-eyed and two-eyed variant. Elemental blasts of fire and lightning fell on both of them, hammering against an array of magical defenses.

“Magical dog!” Daargan roared as he hurled spell after spell. “You have wasted what chance you had and now you will die! Die here in your own mind!” As he spoke, Daargan became ever larger and more smoky, the tendrils of smoke moving as with a will of their own. He paused in his elemental onslaught to find both Kifu’s at the bottom of a rock crater on a small floating island. They were on their knees, but seemed not significantly harmed.

“Is that enough, do you think?” One-eye asked?

“Oh, I think so.” Two-eyes replied. Together they looked up at the monstrous form in the sky and they smiled.

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Theater of the Mind, Part I - Fracture
Kifu's problem is all in his head

Shadow Tower was a place of power done up in the decor of nightmares. The ritual chamber was lit only by the moon and stars, but the clear sky meant that everything was at least dimly visible.

Two interlocking triangles of gold, overlapping at different junctions, made up the great seal on the floor, with each of the six points of the formed star touching a golden circle that swept around the large ritual chamber. Over top of this gold inlay was a sequence of concentric circles in different colored chalk: yellow at the innermost, then orange, and then red. Each circle served as an arcing underline for symbols in Celestial and Aklo, a language that had never been spoken by a native denizen of Golarion. They referenced the Dimension of Dreams and other semi-mythical realms, intertwined with references to an inner space of the mind.

The nightmare began at the circle’s edge. Six bodies were staked between the points of the star with silver spikes some seven feet in length. The bodies themselves were also not native to Golarion – Six foot by three foot barrels of unnatural flesh, with stalks at one end, a blooming head, like an orchid of meat, at the other. Nearly seven feet of leathery wings dangled from the corpse, brushing the ground. Blood gathered around the end of the spike in the ground, with a set of stones creating a makeshift bowl.

In between the bodies, at the points of the star, were smaller chalk circles, with runes of a diverse array of languages for the international character of the wizards, witches, and sorcerers that stood inside them. A white-haired woman stood impassively, a small monkey chittering about her ankles. A Garundi man rolled back and forth on the balls of his feet, his eyes periodically scrutinizing the runes. An elf in brown leathers crouched in his circle, reading slowly as he turned. An older Taldane man seemed to have simply picked a point in space to stare at, his expression sad. A dwarf stood stock still, his eyes closed and his lips moving ever so slightly within his full white beard. The sixth circle was taken up by a human woman, barely out of adolescence. She fussed with her nails and absentmindedly brushed a small black cat at her feet with her toes.

The subject of all this activity stood in an alcove that led to a set of stairs down. Kifu of Nex was in his purple kaftan, but little else, deliberately avoiding his many magical trappings. The boy standing next to him was headed into the adolescence the girl had left behind, and was clearly the most uncomfortable person in the room.

“Master.”

“Yes, Devis.”

“How will this ritual cure you?”

“It is a variation on a ritual that arcanists use to merge themselves with demons. It pulls apart your physical and mental forms to be mixed with something else. In this variation, I am combining with nothing else, but the hope is that I will be able to exorcise whatever psychic poison is attacking my mind.”

“But why is Bela taking part? Isn’t she still a student?”

“Miss Zagreb is one of our most competent enchanters. We might have considered Master DeChance, but he’s been absorbed in state business as of late.”

“What is the psychic poison?”

“Something that has lingered since my encounter with the Shoggoth. It has continued to plague me until it has started to become dangerous.”

“Oh…”

Kifu waited a moment, then looked at his student. “Something troubles you?”

“The ‘poison’ – that’s your nightmares, isn’t it?”

“That’s correct.”

“But lots of people have nightmares.”

“Not everyone casts magic in their nightmares.”

“Is it bad to cast magic in your sleep?”

“It is if you cast disintegrate.”

“Oh…”

“What will you come back as?”

Kifu tilted his head slightly, “What do you mean?”

“You said you’d take yourself apart and put yourself back together. When I would do that with things at home, it was never quite the same afterward.”

Kifu smiled slightly. “That’s very insightful, Devis. It could prove problematic if I had a piece or two left over.”

Devis’s eyes went wide. “What if you leave out something important?”

“I suppose I had best be thorough, then.”

“Oh…”

“Let’s begin.” Kifu floated into the air and over the chalk circles and runes to alight in the center of the magical panoply. He stretched his arms once and then held them to his sides. The spellcasters around the circle all stood and turned to face the center. Tharkun, the white-bearded dwarf, began the chant, which each spellcaster took up in turn. As they did so, the chalk around their small circle began to glow. The light bled into each of the circles, working their way inward towards Kifu and causing the writing to not only glow, but distance itself from the dark granite floor, floating a few inches in the air. The pooled blood at each of the spikes began to bubble and hiss, releasing a smoke into the air that took on the color of the glowing circles, giving the whole display a vaguely psychedelic air. Finally, as the innermost circle began to glow, Kifu added his own chant as a counterpoint to that of his friends and allies at the outer edges of the circle. They were create a theoretical space that existed outside of space and time, and he was carving a hole in that space roughly the shape and size of his mind. The wizard’s body began to emanate its own light that became a sparking blue fire all around him.

“Why would the Arclords ever come to our little town?”

“Who are you to tell me my business?”

“He’s awfully close to need to breathe on you…”

Kifu’s memories flooded out of him, seeming to scatter this way and that. He felt drained, the pouring out leaving him cold and hollow. Was something wrong?

The blue fire became white light and Kifu was no longer in Shadow Tower.

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Lem vs. Introspection Round 41
Lem has a Crisis of Faith

Dear Journal,

When I needed her most, she wasn’t there. I didn’t see that she had turned away. I didn’t know I was so weak. I should be dead. I fear Iomedae has forsaken me.

Maybe it was hubris. Lani, Beast, Finnegal, Ray, and I were deep in the slough, confident that there was nothing we couldn’t handle. An attack by invisible fey a few days previous had barely been a problem. We must have thought nothing could hurt us. We walked into their trap as if by invitation.

Maybe it was foolishness. When we heard the first notes of the Nyke’s song, Beast was off at a run, determined to catch the creatures before they escaped. We had no choice but to try to keep up. We became separated. Beast was fighting underwater before I could even see what was going on.

Maybe it was a failing of willpower. The Nyke’s song came again, and this time I couldn’t turn from it. I was drawn to the water even knowing it was part of their devious magic. I couldn’t make myself look away. There was a battle raging, beast was drowning, and the only thing I could do was stare.

Maybe it was grief. I don’t know how their song worked its magic, but I know what I saw in the depths – my lost friends, staring up at me, their faces ghostly white. Sasha, Dyimi, Variel, Anton, Gaeren, Herodes…so many…all desperate for my help. All pleading for me to join them. What else could I do?

Maybe it was fear. I leapt into the water. I reached for my friends. And suddenly the Nykes were around me, smiling with their hideous unhinged jaws. There was death in their eyes. I felt their magic rush over me like a cold wind. My heart wanted to stop.

Maybe it was stubbornness. Somehow I resisted the Nyke’s attacks, yet still their song called me downward. Ray plunged into the water to help me. He tried an incantation to teleport us both away. But I wouldn’t let him. My dead friends were still there in the deeps. I needed to be with them. The spell failed.

Maybe it was selfishness. A part of me knew what would happen if I took a breath. I knew that I would drown. But something else said that it was the only way to save my friends. They were dead…and only the dead can care for the dead. I opened my mouth. I took in a gasp of that murky blackness. My body seized.

Maybe it was weakness. I only know what happened next because my allies carried the day. Ray cast his spell again, and this time I was unable to resist. But now, half-drowned and nearly dead, I was nothing but prey to be had. The monster that had sent the Nykes attacked me while the others fought for their lives. Only their combined efforts allowed them to land a blow on the creature as it sought to finish me. Only through their blood and sweat did I survive.

Maybe, on this bleak day, I wasn’t worthy of Iomedae’s strength.

Journal, you know this isn’t the first time I’ve been so close to death. It’s been less than four months since I was nearly slain by a similar spell. But when I fell that time, a vision of Iomedae came to me and demanded that I resist. Clad is silver and crimson, Iomedae told me, “This is not a champion’s death.”

Did I only imagine it?

No. I won’t believe that. I’ve been through too much, seen too many of Iomedae’s interventions to know that she is there—watching, guiding, protecting. She sent Sasha back from the beyond to defend us. She helped Dyimi stand to the last against the trolls. She gave Herodes light enough to hold back the dark while we escaped. She must have a plan for me as well. She must.

I just don’t know where I’ve gone wrong.

I want to believe that Iomedae was the one that kept me from death this day, but I know it wasn’t her—it was my friends who saved me from my many failures. Iomedae does not bless the unworthy. She would have let me drown.

I’ve got to think a while Journal. I have to examine my failures. I have to focus my strength. I have to become something more. I have to prove to Iomedae that I’m the man I’ve claim to be. For years now I’ve worn the flag and said the words, but maybe that’s all it was. I have to change. I have to earn my title. I have to become the champion.

Iomedae, I look to your light and prey for your blessing—not as gift, but as a reward. I will earn your light. I swear I will. I swear.

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Stuck in the Mire
When eating poison, don't forget to lick the bowl

I was lying on my back and trying to keep the murky water out of my ears while my lungs let me know how angry they were with every breath I tried to suck in. My ears were still full of water and muck, so the splashing sounds and the shouts of my companions were muted. In spite of it all – the shackling of my will, the nearly drowning, and even the escape of our enemy, I started to laugh. It burned my worn-out lungs, and and every third laugh was a cough as more river water forced its way back out, but I laughed. We were alive. More than alive, we had won, for whatever that meant today.

I swear to Gorum, if I never have to fight in another wretched swamp or watch my step for bogs that swallow a man whole, I shall not miss it. The bog went after Finnegal twice and even took me unawares once. Finnegal laughed about that one until a band of thrice-damned faeries turned him into a rat while I was trying to pull myself out. I would have laughed at that, but I was too busy trying not to swallow bog mud. The bog proved more dangerous than the fae, who were simply annoying after they stopped trying to turn us into vermin. Finnegal’s choice to forge my new sword out of cold iron proved fortuitous – maybe I’ll even tell him so if he ever stops mentioning how I fell into the bog.

Now here’s the ridiculous part. These little winged bastards really had one chance to do us some real harm. According to Ray, they can only pull of that “turn you into a rat” trick every so often. Their arrows are supposed to have some impact on your mind, but we all seemed to shrug off that magic pretty readily. So why did they keep fighting? If they’re just some sort of skirmishing marauder, why wouldn’t they have fled at the first sign things were going south? That doesn’t make any fucking sense, but…well, faeries, I suppose. Still, when combined with what happened next, it raises my hackles something fierce.

We got out of the bog and spent two weeks wandering through woods. Leilania was, of course, happy as a tripping elf can be. I don’t mind woods so much, save that you just can’t see that far. Large scale fighting in a forest sucks more than fighting in a city – no way to form a line, poor sightlines, and every other step has a trip hazard. But if the faeries of the bog were unusually aggressive, the forest faeries were pretty much nonexistent. The others swear they’re out there – Lem kept inspecting his boots every morning – but they seemed to be keeping their distance.

Having not been threatened with sudden death in almost a fortnight, we resolved to head back into the swamp, exploring a mire at the southern end of the slough. It’s only now, as I reflect to write this down, that I see that we went marching right into a gods-damned ambush. The singing we were already familiar with started and we went to see what was going on. It wasn’t until we were halfway there that one voice became a chorus. I should have realized at that point that this was a trap. Unfortunately for my brilliant tactical mind, I was too intent on drowning myself.

How do I describe what that sort of magic feels like? It’s that moment just before you drink too much wine, or if you’ve spent an hour hanging around Leilania and her friends when they’re smoking. Circumstances vanish and you’re overtaken by a feeling – you just want to go forward, just want to see. I hesitated at the water’s edge, the animal inside me screaming something about death, but the shimmer of the flowing river reminded me of a summer day in Razmiran, when I’d just gotten to go swimming for the day on my own. I felt relaxed and calm. I dove in without considering to hold my breath.

It was when the water hit my lungs that my mind came back to me, driven by my rage to fight for survival. Suddenly, I was back from the reverie the music had put me in. I coughed out water and slammed my mouth shut, my lungs already burning. The Nykes were swarming on me, but Finnegal had, to his credit, cast a spell to keep me moving in the muck before I’d taken off on my own, and now it let me swing and maneuver in the water like I was on shore. This came as some surprise to the nykes, who were expecting an easy meal.

I am no one’s easy meal.

They didn’t like my new sword any more than the little archers of the bog did and I was soon swimming through blood and viscera. A sudden whirlpool triggered a moment of panic, but it fell on the nykes and starting spinning them around. It was all I could do not to laugh and catch another lungful of water. It became clear what was going on when the whirlwind brushed against me and I felt some of the life the river had tried to steal flow back into me. Leilania’s giant bird tromped out onto the water – not sinking, mind – and began snapping up nykes like a chicken eating feed. Between the three of us, I felt like we had a good handle on things. This meant, of course, I didn’t know what the fuck was going on.

I caught a clue when the magic hit us. I was fighting through pain enough, buoyed only by a single healing spell, when I felt a level of tired I don’t think I’ve known since I started wearing a Ring of Sustenance I bought in Pitax a few years ago. I felt like I’d run 40 miles and again I had to struggle not to gasp for air. When the nykes broke off, I rose out of the water to a bad situation: Lem was down, Finnegal was badly injured, and he and Ray were both trying to attack something I could not see. I retched water out of my lungs and staggered towards where the fighting was going on. Like the stupid bog faeries, our unseen enemy discovered I don’t have to see you if I get close enough – I can smell you.

Even through the water in my nose, I could smell it – and it smelled like death. Not like rot or dead bodies, but the way I imagine death smells. It wasn’t a natural smell, but I knew where it was. I brought my sword down as hard as I could and felt it tear through something. Leilania’s giant tree loomed behind me and began thrashing in the space as well. Ray shouted that the thing was deciding to flee, but it made it to the river and none of us were in a condition to follow.

Cursed, exhausted, and battered, we slumped there in the mire, having barely survived. Like I said above, now I can see the ambush as it was laid out for us. The enchantment split us up and prevented us from working together, while the unseen thing – Ray called it an amadan – sapped our strength with curses and magic. And we survived only because, I think, whatever set that trap underestimated us, though not by much. A few more nykes or, Gorum’s back hair, a Marsh Giant, would have been the end of us. It was a decent plan and we helped it along.

Still, we did win out in the end and it was our enemies who quit the field first, though we hied our happy asses back to Tuskendale as quick as Ray’s magic could get us out of there. I’d feel like His Majesty hasn’t told me something about the kingdom’s enemies, but I’m not even sure he’s aware – boggards don’t go in for this level of planning. Looks like it might be time to earn my pay.

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Half Moon Beyond Brambles and Branches
Leilania Wishes for Peace

The moon lays on the horizon beyond rows of twisted brambles and the intertangled branches of sheltering trees. Though I cannot see her, I know she is there, she whispers to me beneath the sounds of the forest. This is a secret place of the Greenbelt Fey, a place no human would ever be allowed. I am their guest here for a single night. I am humbled by their trust.

When the sun sets, we will dine and dance and smoke and sing, and when it is through, perhaps they will agree to the proposition I’ve brought to them. We will build a “Fey Quarter” in Tatzlford, a place where the Fey will be safe and welcome to interact with the people of Ursundova. There, they will be able to voice their concerns and trade their specialties without surrendering themselves to human laws and customs. With Jacek’s blessing, I’ve already marked off the majority of the Narlmarches map as fey lands, and is so doing have barred their use by human trappers and woodsman. With this final step, maybe the fey will know that they will be equals in the realm, a Kingdom within a Kingdom.

Even if I fail, I know that this is the way we were meant to interact with others, not as rivals or competitors, but as friends working toward shared goals. It is true the fey value the world far differently than the humans, or for that matter, the elves, dwarves, or any other race of people. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground to stand on. We are all peoples seeking happiness. And if we can shed our fears and prejudices, I know we will find that there is plenty of happiness to go around.

It seems a hard truth for many to believe. I am just back from “New Light” – the town once known as Fort Drelev. For years the people there were burdened by many woes, not just terror and oppression, but the weight of helplessness, of hopelessness – weights not easily shed. Jacek works now to turn the people from despair and show them the light of hope. I wish him luck, but in the slough there are many dangers yet to tame.

But what saddens me about the whole affair is the fate of the Tigerlords – the barbarian tribes in service of Gorum. With their leader slain and their master’s sword taken, they came to New Light to try to reclaim their pride. A clever ruse traded the evil sword Ovinerbaane for the Silver Beast’s sword, so that the Tigerlords could reclaim what their pride without unleashing Armag’s evil yet again. With this done, the Tigerlords disappeared to the west, presumably to resume their lives of thieving and war.

There were children with the Tigerlords when they left, young men and women who do not understand the choices that have been made for them. I’m sure many, if not all, will discover the price of violence only too late. They too will be ensnared by Gorum’s ageless trap, living only to pull others in as they were.

There were elders among the Tigerlords as well, those that had lived long enough to understand the destructiveness of their own traditions. These were the ones who suggested the ruse we employed, though they understood what it would mean. Yet they do not use their wisdom to change their people, for it is: “The only life they’ve ever known.” How sad…how horribly sad.

I am not so naive as to believe that every fight is unnecessary one and every life lost an evil. But I swear that for me and those who serve me, every fight will have meaning and every life lost will be properly mourned. This is what I teach the Way Watchers, and this is what they teach others. Someday perhaps, this is what the people of Ursundova will teach the rest of the world. Someday…

For now I wait for Melianse, Pervilash, and Tyg-Titter-Tut to welcome me into their circle. As they prepare, I can hear the fairies singing and the brownies warming their tiny drums. Tonight I will cast sadness aside and embrace joy. Tonight I will lend my voice to their joyous songs.

The moon will sing with me I’m sure. What a song it will be…

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Back from the Abyss

Finnegal was still wiping the sleep from his eyes and trying to follow the distant smell of coffee when he saw it and panic seized his heart. The large wooden mount and pair of brass hooks for Ovinrbaane were empty in the central hall of the villa. Finnegal took off like a shot up the stairs and went bursting into Beast’s room. “Captain!”

He came up short as Beast was sitting at his desk, drinking coffee. At the foot of his bed was a very long box that had three locks on it. It looked about the right size. “Is that…” Finnegal started.

“Yep.” Beast answered before another drink. The half-orc poured a cup for his lieutenant and set it on the other side of the desk. Finnegal pulled up a chair and sat down.

“Is this an order or did you change your mind.”

“This is me.” Beast said, eyeing the box. “His Majesty’s magician will be by in a few hours to collect it. He’s not telling me where it’s going.”

“Why not?”

“Because I told him not to.”

Finnegal pursed his lips a moment, then sat down and picked up the coffee. “Alright, can your lieutenant have an explanation now?”

Beast half-grinned. “For every fight, I count the cost. If I don’t, I’m a piss-poor commander. I might win every fight that sword has with me, but it’s like dueling to first blood with a poisonous snake. It only has to win once.”

Beast stood up and walked over to the box. “Even now, it’s still whispering to me, but it can only whisper while I don’t carry it. Belief in myself is great and all, but I’m not perfect, and I’d have to be, at least for a while, to win this fight without getting myself killed by His Majesty’s spell. We’ll get more than enough fights without adding to the pile internally.”

Finnegal looked thoughtful, “You ok with this?”

The half-orc shrugged, “Not really. It still sits wrong with me for people to call themselves civilized and declare that this tribe or that sword has to be changed or destroyed. But I don’t get paid to have political beliefs. And I only consider putting my life or those of my men on the line for them when I’m tired or drunk.”

The bard sat back and frowned. “So what then?”

“So nothing.” Beast’s voice rumbled dangerously. “So I take the King’s gold and I don’t do shit that will break his kingdom. Figure recruiting will go better too, if we don’t have the equivalent of a rabid dragon in the house.”

“I’m sor…”

“Don’t” Beast cut him off. “I realize it may sound like it, but no one’s forcing me to do this. I’ve asked that they don’t destroy it, only lock it up. Maybe there’s someone out there to teach it better. I’ve just got other responsibilities.”

Finnegal smirked, “Thanks, dad.”

Beast laughed. “You don’t even wish, you scrawny Numerian.”

Finnegal stood and saluted. “I suppose you’ll be needing a sword, then.”

“It’d make cutting my hair easier.”

“I’ll see what I can do about that.” Finnegal walked to the door. “Hey, Captain.”

“Remember that we’re on the second floor and I have a big-ass window.”

“Thanks.”

Beast looked at his lieutenant, then simply nodded. Finnegal walked out as Beast turned to look out his window at Tuskendale in the morning.

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