Kingmaker

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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Lem vs. Introspection Round 50
Lem Versus Morality

Journal,

Elkhorn and the fey realms are safe…for now. The King and his entourage drove back an invasion of tiny plant men today, only hours before they would have fallen on the city. Luckily for us, Jacek and Leilania’s magic was lethal enough to destroy the little monsters while Variel’s illusions pinned them in. I must admit, I was little help during this fight, other than to draw their attention for a time. But I know that I’ll get my chance. The invaders from the first world will return.

Every time Narissa’s minions attack, we come closer to understanding her end goal. With two of her assaults now thwarted, our attention turns back to Tuskendale, which from Jacek’s communes seems to be the most likely target. The army returns with us to bolster the city’s defenses. I’m not sure men at arms be much use against the enemies we might face, but minimally, they can assist in shielding and evacuating the people of the city. There are close to ninety thousand men, women, and children who call Tuskendale their home. We owe them every resource at our disposal as a vanguard.

It’s strange that I should long for open warfare as an alternative to the uncertainty we now face. In the dark days before Irovetti’s planned invasion, we postured and planned to fight a war we didn’t know if we could win. But at least it was a battle we knew how to fight. This is something totally different. We read poems for insight on the plans of an inscrutable intelligence. We move soldiers to fight battles described only in visions and prophecy. And if we are successful, as the same visions and prophecies say we must be, then we work only to forward the goals of uncaring gods living in a forgotten world.

Variel suggested that we might try to break the prophecy, to choose our own path to victory. In his mind, Narissa’s punishment far exceeds any crimes she may have committed, and we owe no allegiance to those who would see her punishment. He sees Narissa’s invasion now not as some conscious act, but as a natural response to a heart that cannot love. She plays her part in the prophecy only because she has no alternative, because her broken heart cannot see another solution. Perhaps it is only his contrarian nature that leads him to these questions. But now that I have heard them, they haunt me as well.

I know that my place in this war is where it has always been, as a bulwark between the forces of destruction and the innocents that would feel their wrath. In this role, it doesn’t matter whether Narissa is beyond redemption or not. What matters only is that she is a threat to my country and my people. With the blade hovering above us, I don’t have the luxury of asking why it might fall. I must focus only on being the shield that turns it away.

Still, Journal, I would take another way if we could find one. I have seen enough tragic endings in my time. It would be nice to see one story end with hope.

I pray that Iomedae will show me the way.

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Gibbous Moon in Distant Skies
Leilania Faces a New Crisis

This afternoon, I spied the moon through the branches of the Evergreen Cathedral as I rushed to my next obligation. Her face was still nearly full, but she seemed especially distant as she drifted high above thin white clouds. I stopped to take a moment to commune with her before rushing on, knowing that time is precious.

The Forestmaster Elders and I have been tasked with organizing a defense of the city against an enemy beyond our reckoning. At present, we don’t even know that Tatzlford is atarget, only that something evil will soon appear to threaten the realm. The Royal Knights arrive tomorrow from Tuskendale to reinforce our defenses. Until then, we are on our own.

What worries me is that the attack at Candlemere came in a form that no one one have expected. I saw it myself; Poisoned water, black swans, and a churning vortex that drilled all the way to the bottom of the lake. We investigated and found a greater manifestation of our enemy at the bottom of the vortex. Thanks mainly to Variel’s ability to mentally dominate the beasts, we defeated them. But the havoc they have wrought will not be easily put behind us.

Jacek’s commune with Abadar has convinced him that more incursions from the first world are inevitable and that the next is likely to occur somewhere in the Greenbelt. I’ve put the Way Watchers on high alert and notified our fey ambassadors to pass word throughout the forests. Whatever is coming, the key to averting another disaster will be a timely response.

For their part, the fey do not seem to see the urgency to defend Tatzlford or other human settlements from what they perceive to be a superior foe. Perhaps it is the way of nature spirits to bend before breaking, but they seem content to let Nyrissa work her plans and deal with whatever comes from it. They don’t think they will suffer the same fate as we mortals. For their sakes, I hope they are right.

I’ve discussed the matter with Iliphar as well, but he has no more insight than the others. When the crisis breaks, I want him to help as I know he could, but I know also that it must be his decision to do so. He is here, as he has always been, by his own choice. I will trust in his judgment to do what’s right.

For myself, I know the moon has kept me here all these years because this is where I am most needed. All my life has led me to this point in time, this collision of worlds. As surely as Nyrissa is destined to return, I am destined to stand opposed to her. I cannot go yet.

Tonight I meet with the Way Watcher commanders a final time before dispersing them to our defensive positions. Riders and flyers will take my orders to the far outposts and pass the order of vigilance. When they are away, perhaps I will take some time to rest and sing. The moon will be hidden by then, but I know she will hear me — for it will be the song she put me here to sing.

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Lem vs. Introspection Round 49
Lem vs. Invasion (and maybe catfish)

Journal,

You know, yesterday morning my most prominent worry was whether or not I was going to be forced to eat catfish when I visited New Light this weekend (Seriously, of all the “delicacies” the people of New Light could have chosen, why catfish? I mean, catfish is objectively the worst kind of fish to eat. It’s got all those little needle bones and a texture like a patty of soggy breadcrumbs. Sure, frying it helps, but you know what else helps? Not eating trash fish in the first place. But no, that’s not an option. If you don’t eat the damn catfish, people over there take it as a personal affront. Like I traveled a hundred miles through the mosquito veil just so I could insult them by not eating their greasy garbage fish. Jeez!)

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, all I had to worry about was whether or not the mayor was going to expect me to eat catfish in New Light (Because gods forbid we eat anything else during an official visit. I mean, it’s not like we’ve got farms all over the place. Hells, there’s more cows than people between here and there, but I won’t get to see a steak. Not a slice of ham or a leg or turkey. No! We’re having a “special” dinner for “special” guests. Time to roll out the barf fish battered in old saltpeter. Nothing but the best for the Champion of Ursundova!)

Sorry Journal, like I said, things were different a day ago.

Now we’re back in one hundred percent crisis mode. Everything I know is secondhand, but from what I hear some kind of unnatural disease hit Candlemere yesterday morning, resulting in thousands of people struck blind. The water of Candlemere lake appears to be poisoned and so the only option is to empty the city. Divine casters throughout the kingdom have been called to help, but even working day and night there are only so many castings of cure disease they can manage. This is a humanitarian crisis that will take months or years to correct.

But from what I gather from Leilania’s report, the threat is far from contained to one city. I was there today when Leilania briefed the Way Watchers on what she’d seen, and her descriptions of giant black swans and a great whirlpool gave me chills. Whatever happened at Candlemere, Leilania says that Jacek and Kifu are convinced that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Ulgar has armies moving throughout the Greenbelt to respond to potential invasions, including deploying forces from Tuskendale and Shrikewatch to Elkhorn and Blackwood respectively. Myself, I’m headed to Elkhorn to coordinate the city’s defense when the army arrives. I’ll do what I can there until Jacek finds something more useful for me to do.

I’ve told Nina to sit tight with the kids until we know more about what is happening. She’s doing her best to pretend that she’s not worried, but I know her better than that. She’s confided in me that the fey feel torn in their loyalties. They don’t consider themselves subject of our Kingdom, but they know what Narissa’s kingdom would look like. At some point they know they will be forced to choose between supporting us or submitting to her. But they’re not to the crisis point yet, and they’re too proud to make the decision until forced. I think she feels betrayed by their reticence.

As for myself, this is a fight that I had honestly hoped would never come. Our armies are stronger than ever and our leaders more resolute, but there are a lot of innocent people in the way of Narissa’s return. If Candlemere is any guide, it will be the innocent that pay the dearest price in the incursions to come. Until we have the opportunity to strike at Narissa directly, we fight defensively. I don’t like it, but that’s where we are.

Iomedae show me strength. I fear the real war has just begun.

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Variel's Diary - Stingers & Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Full Moon at Zenith
Leilania Takes Stock of Her Charges

Recorded in early Pharast 4724.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prepare the forests

Prepare the forests

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

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

“Prepare the forests.”

“Yer Majesty?” Ulgar enquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Words, Words, Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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