Kingmaker

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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Fearmonger

Diary, oh, Diary,

It should not come as a surprise that I’ve made a study of fear. Figuring out what scares demons and their worshippers turned out to be far simpler than I expected – If they’re not at the top of the fighting hill, they’re terrified of those who are and those who might step on them to get there. If they are at the top of the hill, they’re far less scared, but the nature of the Abyss means no position is any more secure than your capacity and willingness to do terrible things to secure it. Everyone’s frightened all of the time, which is one of the major sources of chaos.

There’s a lot of fear in Ursundova, but it’s the sort of worry that good people ascribe to themselves – mostly worry about other people. The risk in such fear is that any fear is a downhill slope into the valley of hate. It’s easy – let me tell you, so damn easy – to go from seeing something as a hazard to seeing it as something to be destroyed. Periodically, something is so large that we can keep in mind that it’s not malevolent, it just is. In the case of demons, malevolence is their constant state, so that might be a bad example, but it’s also a lesson for me – some things cannot be bargained or reasoned with, they can only be slain, because they will never be anything other than an open and festering wound, pouring in poison.

I am grateful that the council has, at least in large part, embraced hope over fear as a contingency plan. I honestly believe that restoring Nyrissa’s love could work, but I cannot, of course, know such a thing for certain. I shall have to take back at least six unpleasant thoughts I’ve had about our council – well, except for Ulgar, who remains a charmingly racist boor.

And then there’s Nyrissa, who apparently hopes to use our fears against us. This Nightmare Rook of hers was clever, and I, brilliant fool that I am, led us straight into potential disaster. I had hoped that physically crossing over to the Dimension of Dreams might give us some more precise control over the morphic nature of that realm, but that’s what comes from letting book-learning collide with practical experience, as the damn bird trapped us all in our own fears.

Diary, I can only now describe how it felt. For a full year after I was raised from the dead, I could barely trance with blankets on, as the fear of being buried while still alive played out a lively series of theatrical adventures in my head. Elves, of course, don’t go in for those ridiculous dead-body boxes that humans use, so my blankets and pillows turned to loam every night. To find myself back in that earthen tomb nearly made my heart seize and what I desperately wanted to do was cry and shout.

But, as I said, I know fear. Amidst my rising panic, a small voice seemed to shout at me to remember how I got to where I was. The symbols and the chant of the ritual to breach the veil of dreams was still echoing in my ears and my mind’s eye, and I seized upon that like a drowning fool. A memory of what never happened – of that enormous corvid looming as dirt poured down on my paralyzed body – tried to fill in the gaps in the narrative. I’d caught the overgrown bastard in his lie. I’d love to say that I rose up in righteous anger, or some heroic desire to thwart evil, but the truth? I was offended. I’ve spent decades perfecting the ability to study a target, learn its weaknesses, and exploit them to my benefit, and this overstuffed percher thought it could just reach into my brain, yank out my fears, and present them, hoping I’d just play along?

Unfortunately for our feathered friend, I know all too well what scares the manipulator – when they’re caught out. I reached out through the space that was no space at all and let my tormentor know that I knew his chains were phantoms and his implements so much gossamer. Confronted with the truth, it fled.

Only to deposit me in a truly frightening situation, where the consequences of my exuberance were put on display – Jacek nowhere to be found, Ulgar rendered into an invalid, and no way to return to the Dimension of Dreams to hand. I hope it’s a sign that I’m growing up a little that I almost immediately requested help. Magister Kifu was able to retrieve His Majesty, and I was able to undo the damage done to Ulgar. The ebon feathers that clung to several of us remained as the only evidence that anything at all had occurred, but they were sufficient to let us know that we had won again.

It is a testament to a group of people I rather constantly critique that they have been assailed in a variety of different ways and on different battlefields, yet still manage to come out victorious. I cannot help but cynically believe that it will get worse before it gets better. That being said, my confidence…my hope?…in us grows stronger with each triumph.

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Half Moon at Sunset
Leilania Thinks on Narissa’s Fate

The moon rises in the east as the sun finds its rest on the far horizon. She is halfway to new, a perfect split between light and dark. As Nibbs takes us down out of the forest toward the lights of Tuskendale’s walls, I sing to the moon and thank her for her gifts. What could have been a disaster at Elkhorn has been narrowly avoided.

When I first arrived in Elkhorn, I was shocked to find Pervilash going on and on about Tyg-Titter-Tut’s death. He could barely control her fear, and I worried that the foe Narissa had sent might be more than we had skill to defeat. Fortunately, with Pervilash’s guidance, we were able to recover Tyg-Titter-Tut’s body and safeguard it until we could find a way to resurrect her. Then, by tracking her assailants through the underbrush, we were able to corner, contain, and destroy them. Now we wait for the next invasion.

Jacek believes the next attack will come at or near Tuskendale, and so he has marshalled all of our forces to the city’s defense. Unlike Elkhorn or Tatzlford, Tuskendale has strong walls and tall watchtowers to defend it. However, I wonder how much good they will do against the kind of enemies we now face. Surely strong walls would have done nothing to stop the blindness that swept Candlemere. And even the best of watchers would have missed Narissa’s tiny minions scurrying beneath the grass.

It seems clear to me that we have to go on the offensive against these attacks, to use Briar to our advantage before more innocent lives are lost. The problem is mounting such an offensive. No one knows how to find the plane from which Narissa launches her attacks, and even if they could, we have no way of taking the fight to her. She has all the advantages in this fight…save one. The prophecy says that when Briar is returned to her it will bring her death.

I wonder on this sometimes. The prophecy of the first ones says that Narissa will die. It’s possible that she doesn’t know this prophecy, or chooses not to believe it. But it might be more likely that she does know it and does believe. In so doing, she drives herself to her own death, as if her fate were not her own. If true, this is something to pity.

For now, there are more mundane issues to consider. My meal for the night for one, my bed for another. Of course, my first stop in Tuskendale will be the Chocolate Wench, and from there we shall see how the night develops. The moon tells me that this night will be one to abandon my cares and focus on finding my joy. There will be time enough for fear and pity another day.

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Longing for This and for That

Everbloom, I bleed.
May it water the roses and rise red and warning to tyrants forever.

Diary,

I must beg your indulgence and forgiveness. I found you in a pile of books from my shelf, and I am relatively certain I have cleared the dirt from the broken plant that got onto your cover and into your pages. I have made something of a disaster of the house, but that’s what comes from throwing a temper tantrum. I’ve known people who seem to think Elves are fonts of serenity, but, really, no one throws a fit quite like we do. We replaced most of the furniture in my parents’ home twice.

Really, I’m just pouting. I should not have been surprised at the creeping humanocentrism in our little kingdom, to say nothing of the rendering of sentient beings into impersonal threats. I could go to anyone right now and whinge about “Lem sees Nyrissa like a rabid animal that must needs be put down” or that “Jacek doesn’t value the lives of the fey as much as he does the humans” and I would be chided for being the last to get the news. I have no idea if my threat to resign had any impact, but he was, at least, compelled to make the effort.

And so it comes to this – I have to convince a King who hesitated to save a blameless fey to expend treasure and risk his kingdom to save one that’s been trying to devour his realm piece by piece. I cannot cast the spell. I cannot even make the attempt – it is too far beyond me. And that’s before we get to the expense of it. No, it has to be Jacek and I have to persuade him.

And Milani be praised, I finally found something Leilania cares about other than recreational herbs and recreational sex. She cooed at Perlivash like an over-doting mother. I could have dome without the infantilization, but that, at least, makes her look more like an elf to me. She could have at least picked up some paternalism along the way, but no, she’s too elf for that – give her her town, her Way Watchers, and her drugs and lovers, and she’ll happily ignore that the world around her has changed, and not necessarily in ways that benefit her and those she cares about. Funny thing about the moon – it’s the illusion of change. I can see why it might be comforting.

Inheritor, draw those who die with your cause in their heart and your name on their lips close to you in their hour of passing.

Damn it, Dyimi, why did you have to die? You would not have allowed this. I’d make a terrible ruler and I know it, but this kingdom is just so…human now. Did we have our own love ripped from us while we were not looking? No, it’s just the selfish love that makes the world what it is: I against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, and my brother, my cousin, and I against the stranger. That’s how you know Ursundova has become a society – it’s found its other, the group that may be dismissed when in need and battered when threatening.

Diary, I’m exaggerating, but it’s been that sort of day. I am surrounded by wanting as the Savored Sting grows cross with me in her jealousy over my transition to a new faith. My friends want peace and are willing to kill the mad and leave dead the blameless, so long as it gets them some quiet. My foe wants to tear the kingdom apart, because all she can do is hate, and she’s had plenty of time to practice, so she’s very good at it. And then the sword….

The sword has started wanting. I don’t know what precisely (but I can guess), but I know wanting… longing… that anticipation slithering just beneath the skin. She’s singing with it in my mind and I have a new problem I had not considered before – the sword, should it awaken to full sentience, probably wants to fulfill the purpose the Eldest gave it. It, too, wants to kill Nyrissa. I can hardly be mad at it – it’s a sword, of course it wants to kill. I could wish for just one person who felt otherwise, though. Would that be too much to ask?

I suppose it might.

Over the tyrant’s proclamations
Over the coward’s craven wails
Against a sea of troubles
We pray that hope prevails

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