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.”


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

Lem vs. Introspection Round 40
Lem Versus the Gorumites

Dear Journal,

Let’s talk about Gorumites.

No, you don’t have a choice.

Yes, it’s because I’m the one writing you.

No, this isn’t proof I’m going crazy.

Yes, I agree that this is a weird way for a sane person to start a journal entry.

No, you’re not going to derail me Journal. We’re going to talk about Gorumites and you’re going to like it. I mean, as much as an inanimate object can enjoy things. Hell, maybe someday you’ll get animated, and then you’ll realize you like it. So in a way, I’m doing you a favor. You’re welcome.

Gorum is the god of battle. The god of weapons. The god of hitting other people and liking it. He’s not a very nice guy. In fact, if you were having a dinner party and all the gods were invited, you might want to sit him at the far end of the table. Not because he was the worst god there, but because he was the one most likely to get bored of small talk and stick a fork in someone’s eye. I mean, he probably wouldn’t go straight to that, he’d probably say something first like, “Hey, I’m bored, I’m thinking about sticking a fork in your eye, you want to go?” And he’d probably want you to say back, “Really? That’s just what I was thinking about! Let’s do it!”

See, Gorum’s not really a “bad” guy, he just isn’t very civilized. He’s the first instinct kind of god. To Gorum and his followers, the way through life is the way through that gets you into the most fights along the way. They’re keen on saying: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That, of course, isn’t remotely true. What doesn’t kill you has a very good chance of crippling you or at least making you sore for weeks. This “fight your way to a better you” is an intoxicating concept, but it’s also a load of bull.

I know because I’ve been there. While Herodes and I were at the Worldwound, we got a great chance to see exactly where endless battle leads a person. Most end up on the straightest path to the grave, but others, the “lucky” ones, end up endless orbiting around it. I don’t deny that there can be something exhilarating about battle, something addicting. But fighting for the sake of fighting is like any other circular argument, it spins you in circles until you can’t tell which direction you’re headed.

Man Journal, I’m hitting the metaphors hard today!

I remember a saying from when I was a boy: “Lovers of fighting are lousy lovers.” Granted, that was mostly said to tweak the kinds of people who couldn’t keep their fists put away at the pub. But you know they were right.

Sometimes a fight’s important, sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s the only way. That’s what Iomedae believes. But we don’t fight just to fight. We fight to protect, to defend, to take back. We fight to bring light to dark places. We fight against those that prey on those who can’t. We fight for all the things that are important that aren’t fighting. It is a duty, not a choice. It is a burden, not a blessing.

I say all that to get to this: As you know, we recently came into possession of Ovinrbaane – Enemy of All Enemies –greatsword of the late great Armag the twice-or-more born. This led us into conflict with what remained of our friends the Tigerlords, because they all thought we should give Ovinerbaane back so they could could go back to their fine tradition of pillaging and conquering. My recommendation, that we should just destroy the sword or at the very least, throw it in the deepest ocean we could find, was not taken aboard. Instead, we gave the Tigerlords a fake Ovinerbaane and gave the real one to the Silver Beast. Beast is determined to “redeem” the sword – presumably by taking it out and killing a bunch of things with it.

Surprisingly, I like Beast. He’s a hell of a fighter, but I like him a lot more when he’s off the battlefield. He’s smart, he’s clever, he’s a leader, he’s even a snappy dresser. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk and more than a little cocky, but that’s not altogether a bad thing to be. If I could convert him, I’d give him over Cayden. He’d probably be a better hero than I ever was.

So to me, giving Beast Ovinerbaane seems like the worst possible idea. It puts us all at risk, with none more than Beast himself. I fear the sword will push him even further into the blind rage of battle. And while it may give him greater power, it does so at the expense of far greater risk. As is evident from Armag’s fate, the sword’s curse will endure beyond any wielder. As it did with the twice-born, it will either kill Beast or control him, it’s only a matter of time. Either way, Ovinerbaane wins. And when it does, what comes next? If I fall in battle, no one’s going to pick up Springsnap and conquer a kingdom with it. That’s not true of Ovinerbaane.

But the real tragedy will be Beast’s future. No matter what comes next, Beast’s fate will be inexorably tied to Ovinerbaane’s curse. It makes me sad. He could have been so much more.

This was Beast’s choice, and though I don’t agree, I will honor it. For now, Beast is my friend, whatever his ultimate fate. Gorum may not see value in friendship, but Iomedae does. I will honor that bond.

Sorry Journal, I got serious there for a little bit. It happens. Forgive me.

I think I’ll go play with Elora for a while. She’ll brighten my mood. You be good, I’ll catch you later.

The Sword

The Silver Beast sat in an overstuffed chair in the entryway of his villa. The chair didn’t actually belong there – it had been upstairs in a study, but the massive half-orc had hauled it downstairs and dropped it in front of an elaborate display of Goramite artifacts. Then he’d gone to the kitchen, deliberately ignoring the decorations, and filled a wooden mug from a small barrel of beer. He walked back, still staring at the stone floor until he was seated. He took a long drink from his mug, draining half of it, and only then did he look up at what was hanging on the wall.

It wasn’t really a practical sword. The iron was a dark gray and the hand guard dropped over only one side – it was designed for one side to face the enemy, which was less versatile than a standard sword. The side for the enemy was several inches longer than the backswing side. Both sides had jagged serrations pointing down toward the guard. It was not designed for efficiency or ease of use. It was designed to destroy – to tear its opponents apart while they screamed in fear at this metal monstrosity. Sitting a few feet away from it, Beast could feel anger radiating from it like heat from a low fire.

“Why?” the barbarian rumbled. “Why do I even give a shit about you? You’ve probably killed thousands of innocent people. You’ve helped oppress and enslave. The others are terrified of you.” He stood and approached the blade. “Maybe I should be afraid of you, too. It wasn’t easy to tell you to go to hell before, and this isn’t one of those things that I can come back from, is it? If you win, just once, someone dies, maybe someone who means something to me, maybe me if it’s someone in the court, right?”

“I’ve got a good thing going here.” He started to pace, putting his mug down, “We put the fear of civilization in ‘True King’ Pekalo, and we put the Tiger Lords on the back foot. I gave them my sword – my sword – because I didn’t know what else to do to tell them that I understood, that I knew what they were…” He looked at his feet, “…what they were going through.”

“How many years have I worked for barons and bandits and even kings, killing people mainly because they were just on the other side of the argument? How many more times will I hear people talk about ‘these people need to learn to live in a civilized fashion or we’ll kill them all.’?”

With his back to the sword, Beast looked at a brass plate shaped into the image of a sword plunged into a mountain. “You,” Beast addressed the plate. “You made this thing, and for what? So you could make a point? What point? What point is a sword that makes you fight until you die alone and in pain in a moldy old tomb? His armor is just down the hall now and his name will be murmured by men and women who will never understand. Did he understand? Did he know what you were doing to him? Did you even give a shit?”

He turned back to the sword, walking cautiously towards it, like it was something wild and rabid. “I’m a monster. I’ve always been a monster with no name but what men called me out of fear. I’ve carved a place, inch by bloody inch, in the world of men who’d rather I kill all their enemies and then quietly go away so they can pretend they’re civilized. I’ve brought those who won’t ever be cobblers or coopers to stand in that place with me. My company is cutthroats, heathen, and the bloodthirsty scum of the earth, but they’re mine and I make a place for them because I can. Because I’m strong enough for the fight.”

He reached out his hand and it hovered over the steel, less than an inch from the shining teeth of the sword. “I’ll try and make a place for you. I believe…I have to believe that something can be forged for terrible destruction, but doesn’t need to be locked away when the killing is done. You think about that, and you think about the fact that, if we fail, they’ll break us both.”

“I’ll fight for you. Will you fight?”

Conflict resolution

I endorsed a grand deception to avert a war, a genocide. We and the Tiger Lords have avoided needless death, yet I regret the method by which it was brought about. Was it worth it? On balance, yes. Lives were saved and the stability of the realm remains. Fort Drelev is being slowly brought into the fold, with a new name as it is to be a new start for this New Light.

But still, I feel that my actions were not those that Abadar would have wished me to take. Do the ends justify the means? Not always.

I have always believed that there is strength in the diversity of opinions and approaches. One does not build a city solely out of stone; well, not unless one is a dwarf. There is also the mortar, timber, and countless other materials, with many specialists working towards one goal. I have attempted to form the leadership of Ursundova in the same way, both within the halls of governance and when we make our sorties into the wild. There is value in all opinions, even those of Master DeChance, although he may not realise that I view it so.

In this case, perhaps I allowed myself to be swayed too far. But what was the better option? We needed the Tiger Lords away from Ursundova, and they needed the sword as a way to find their future. As their elders told me, they had nowhere else to go and no other way of life. I could not in good conscience order the wholesale murder of the tribe, and I would hope that if I did, the order would be refused. The alternative would be the trial by combat and subsequent death of many of their warriors, which may solve the issue for now, but could breed a resentment and rivalry that would see a unified Tiger Lord tribe march against us in years to come. Instead, I agreed to be party to deceit in order that these futures need not come to pass.

The land is safe, for now, and the Silver Beast will bear the fell blade himself. We will have much work to do to shield him from its influence, and that puts us in immediate peril. Magister Nex has informed me of how the blade might be destroyed, but I fear that to do that would cause Gorum to marshal his forces against us. Given my representation of Abadar, that would be too tempting a target. Similarly, if we had simply continued to keep it locked away then it would have been too symbolic of celestial conflicts between the Lord of War and Master of the First Vault for Gorumites so resist. This way the weapon will be used, which may salve Gorum’s ire, and the Beast’s conscience, for he pays service to that deity. And while it is in the Silver Beast’s possession, out on the road, it stops Ursundova from being a target. I think Abadar would agree that, given the circumstances, this is one of the better options in a bad situation. Given time, perhaps the sword’s influence can be tempered.

But I digress. Returning to how we got to this point, I am torn.

I am one of the digits of Abadar’s hands in the realms of Golarion; it is through me that His will is worked across the land, and Ursundova is, in essence, a monument to his ethos and creed. Our prosperity is a demonstration of the natural rightness of this creed.

The Builder has been generous in his blessings to me. To have acted against his creed is in essence a betrayal not just of my Lord, but also of the Realm and of myself. I will pray on it.

Lem vs. Introspection Round 39
Lem Gets Frustrated with Frogmen

Okay Journal, I’m doing my very best here. I’m trying to be the good statesman, a perfect Iomedaen, and a proper flag. But Gods, these frogmen don’t make it easy.

So we’ve discovered that the boggards we met are not the only tribe in the Slough, no far from it. The “Rightful King” of the boggards is the leader of only two dozen or so of the little buggers at best, with the real boggard capital on the South end of the Hooktongue. Our leader claims that the other tribe is led by a false king—of course he would—and thinks we should help him take over. And by “help him”, I’m pretty sure he means kill all the other King’s followers and install him on the thrown.

So no, clearly we’re not going to do that. After being thrown into an ambush in an attempt to capture hallucinogenic dragonflies, I’m ready to send old Kingy back to his hut farm on the North end of the lake. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll consider this mercy. If not, well, it’ll turn out badly for him.

Why Journal, why do they have to be so difficult? Why can’t they figure out what to do with a lucky break when it falls in their laps? He could have just said, “Thanks for taking care of that dragon, we’ll be good little boggards from here on out. Send that shiny diplomat lady when you get a chance.” But no, he had to try and play us for fools, which we’re clearly not.

No, I really mean that journal. If we were fools, could we have beaten that trio of swamp giants? I think not. Clearly we’re professional un-fools, un-fools of the highest caliber. No, I’m not being ironic. No really. Really really.

What really bugs me about it, I can’t imagine what Kingy’s play was. He walked us into the Dagonites’ trap, most likely suspecting that they’d mop the swamp with us. But if they had killed us, what good would that have done him? And if they didn’t kill us, which they didn’t, what does he stand to gain by pissing us off? Is Little Kingy really too stupid to realize that he loses either way?

So now that the ambush is over and the boggard line of succession has become clear, the question of what to do with our “allies” has become soupy. We’ll probably send them hopping back home, but, assuming we can talk the other boggard tribe into seeing our way, they’ll almost certainly end up wiping out the “True King” and his minions in due time. So do we let them? Maybe? I don’t know, what does boggard justice even look like?

I’m sure this is how elder dragons feel when they have to meddle in human politics. I’m sure they look around our maps and ask themselves, “What is wrong with all of these people? How many bloody Kings do they need? And what’s with all these stupid borders and walls? Don’t they realize they’re all the same under their skin? Don’t they realize that all this fighting and endless politicking is a just huge waste of time and energy? Wouldn’t they rather get along than keep trying to kill each other over and over?”

Ugh. I guess I can’t judge the boggards too harshly without casting a glance in the mirror to see how we shape up—which, by the way, is not that good—not that good at all. I get it. See? I’m not totally immune to irony.

But c’mon frogmen…let’s get it together. Please do us all a favor and discover the concept of rational self-interest.

P.S. Apparently we’re also being hunted by a green fish lady who sings creepy songs and wants to drag us into the swamp to drown and/or eat us. So now I sleep in a walking tree and pee with friends. This is truly an interesting life I lead.

Quarter Moon at Apex
Leilania and Nibbs

For another night we are deep in the Slough feeling misty rain on our backs as thunder rolls lazily in the distance. Tonight the fireflies are out, they float as ghostly flickers between the knobby trees and the sprawling underbrush. I rest with a great warmth at my back—Nibbs—my truest friend and bravest ally.

I remember clearly the day I was led by the moon to Nibbs’s silver egg and I still giggle at the memory of his tiny form wiggling in my hands—just hatched, but already a handful. He grew so fast, and before I knew it, I was craning my neck up to him, admiring the intelligence I found in his eyes, and wondering at the way they saw me.

Birds don’t think like other animals. They live more on instinct than perhaps any other, moving quickly and decisively where others would show caution. They can be difficult to train, quicker to anger and slower to learn. Perhaps this is due to their deep instincts, the part of them descended from long dead dragons and lizard gods. There, at the core of their being, I find a fierce independence, a resolution to survive no matter what the fight, a raw determination unmatched elsewhere in the animal kingdom. I have seen Nibbs bear burdens that would have broken the proudest quarterhorse. I have seen him overcome obstacles that would have stymied the nimblest cat. I have seen him survive wounds that would have felled mastadons or dire bears. He is a wonder. He is my protector.

In our most recent fight, Nibbs stood as a wall between myself and a swarm of bloodthirsty insects. Using his beak he snapped them from the air one after another, until a more dangerous enemy rose from the depths of the swamp. Within seconds we were facing mound-like golems made of sturdy clay and slippery mud. Still, Nibbs held his ground, refusing to give an inch to the monsters. It wasn’t until an abomination from the swamp called down a rain of blades that Nibbs’s many wounds brought him down.

When he fell, my body froze and my heart screamed. I was lucky the oak was within reach, ready to pull Nibbs into its boughs to protect him from further harm. I ran to him and prayed that the moon would grant me the energy I needed. The moon gave me her power, and with that power I healed my friend.

Now, the battle won, Nibbs is content to rest a while with me cuddled into his side. I find myself swaddled in the silk-soft feathers of his flank, breathing long breaths and singing soft songs for him to hear. I thank him for his courage and praise him for his strength. He doesn’t know my language, but I know he understands.

The moon is hidden by clouds above us, but I can feel her smiling down. It is her blessing that made this moment possible. It is her guidance that will carry us forward.

Wild Forces
As told by Finnegal, Chronicler of the Silver Company

A preface is written in the style of a magical scribing pen atop the story.

(The captain of the Silver Company wishes to make it known that this story is the product of Finnegal, Chronicler of the Company and may or may not accurately reflect events as they actually occurred as pertains to the incidents within the Hooktongue Slough. That the Captain fails to appreciate the liberties one must take with lyric and epic storytelling is no doubt a result of his upbri…hurkk, gaggghhh.)

They were a motley assemblage, and the cold and damp of the Hooktongue Slough gave them a sinister air, which belied the truth that two of them were high officers of state in the Kingdom of Ursundova, that young and vital nation to the east of their current location. Of late, their actions had been less those of statesmen and more those of adventurers or soldiers-of-fortune, in keeping with the hired help that made up the rest of their band. A negotiation with boggards had held some of the trappings of diplomacy, but the diplomat, King Jacek I, had traveled away to seek how to heal a dragon’s soul. In His Majesty’s absence, the remaining members of the company were decidedly less silver-tongued.

Lem Berrybrook was the Champion of Ursundova and the only remaining person who looked as though he served a state or greater cause. His tabard and cloak were festooned in stylized boars, the creature whose tusked face graced his nation’s flag. His frame, lean and lank, spoke of a life of labor, and his unruly tuft of ginger locks hinted at the farm boy who was now a hero to his people and a defender of a Kingdom. At present, the Champion bent over a mad conglomeration of brass and wood that resembled a crossbow in the same way that a palace resembles a lean-to. Of all things in this world, only his wife and child would ever receive such care and affection from the Champion as did Springsnap, bringer of spiky death. The arcane mechanics of the crossbow probably did not require such attention at the moment, but Lem was trying to ignore his fellow officer of state, who was attempting to have an argument.

“But we defeated the dragon. By rights, his hoard is forfeit and now belongs to us.” Leilania Syphaisoma was the Lady Marshal of Ursundova, though she wore neither badge nor symbol. Truth be told, the tall elf wore little more than she found necessary to protect herself in the wild, and that was less than anyone might have presumed. The green and browns of her leggings and armor contrasted with her pale skin as she stretched in the arms of a great tree that curled to cradle her. Where Lem’s woodcraft was hard-won experience, Leilania was a creature of the forest, only ever half-tamed, and she often had more in common with the weather than with anything men would call sentient. In addition to the tree, which would follow the golden-tressed druid into battle, a monstrous bird the size of a horse curled up beneath the tree’s branches. Its cerulean feathers would not lift the massive creature aloft but its beak dripped a sizzling acid. Nibbs had been Leilania’s constant companion since she came to Ursundova, but the tree was a more recent addition to her menagerie. She rolled over in the tree’s branches, curling her curvaceous form around the wood and looked down at Lem with bemusement flashing in the pools of blue so broad and deep that her elven eyes took on an otherworldly quality. “Why should we retain it for a monster that tried to kill us?”

“First of all,” Lem replied, careful not to look up and be distracted by the druid’s charms, “because His Majesty commanded that we do so. Second, because the dragon had been enslaved by the dark sorceries of the hag that we did dispatch. Jacek will consult with Kifu, and if there is any way that the dragon’s soul might be healed, then Jacek’s divine favor and Kifu’s arcane wisdom will find the path. When that happens, we will give this noble creature back what was rightfully his.”

“‘Rightfully’ might be a strong term.” Finnegal the Bard looked little like the minstrels or song-spinners of more civilized lands, for he was from Numeria, where men reached deep within themselves for primordial strength to do battle with metal monstrosities from beyond the stars. The bard’s fierce countenance and garb of chainmail and wolf-hide made him an unlikely chronicler for the Silver Company, that famed warband employed by the crown to protect King Jacek and his family. “The gems and art objects in this hoard are gathered from a diverse array of cultures and places. Even noble dragons are still dragons, and are not famous for asking nicely or paying in a market for the treasures on which they sleep.”

“Then you will content yourself with Lem’s first answer and stop arguing.” The voice that commanded Finnegal was soft, but rumbled like thunder and carried a similar warning. The Silver Beast sat on a stump and carved mud from his boots to make room for the mud that would no doubt gather there in the new day. His boots and breeches were spattered with mud and the blood of the dragon he had nearly slain in a combat that raged from the pond just beyond where the heroes sat into the clearing itself. But he had cleaned his breastplate, which now gleamed in the growing twilight with the sheen that gave the monstrous half-orc his famed moniker. His jade face only glanced at Finnegal as he spoke, but no more was needed. The bard pursed his lips and was silent.

“Well, we will see about that.” Syphacia’s lovely eyes narrowed and her lithe form twisted in the tree to make her more comfortable, stretching like a cat.

Not a moment later, there was a flash of magical fire. Lem and Beast were up in an instant and prepared to fight for their lives, but they relented when they saw the source of the magic. Raymond DeChance was the Company’s guide to the Hooktongue, as it was his longtime home. The sinister witch had conveyed Jacek back to the castle at Tuskendale via magic and had now returned, though he had taken the time to restore the painted skull on his face that contrasted so sharply with his ebony skin. His robes were dark with age and he radiated a terrible power. At present, he looked mildly irritated.

“His Majesty commands…” Ray affected an officious tone in mockery of a royal herald, “…that we are to return to the boggards and inform them that the dragon has been dealt with.” The witch had his own dark designs on the Hooktongue and clearly did not relish the role of messenger for a priest of civilization, but his cunning lay not only in dark arts, but also in seizing the opportune moment. For now, he seemed content to play the role of native guide, but he clearly coveted dominion over the boggards and all the swamp around us.

Lem nodded as he put Snapspring away. “Shall we return to the hamlet where we first encountered the boggards or is there some larger settlement we could seek?” Lem’s question covered an entire adventure in itself – the “hamlet” was actually an ambush point the boggards had used to waylay travelers and porters in the past. Their ambush proved ill-starred when it fell upon the masters of Ursundova, who responded with force the frogmen were woefully unprepared for. The Silver Beast had nearly cleft one in twain while unsheathing his terrible blade, but Jacek had called for calm and a truce was made, complete with healing magic for the poor unfortunate that had found himself across from the Silver Company’s captain. It was these boggards that had asked us to deal with Scorch, the dragon that was even now being ministered to far away in the capital.

Ray smiled, always eager to show his mastery of the convoluted politics of the swamp’s violent denizens. “The boggards at the settlement are a…splintered faction from the M’Botu, who comprise the great tribe of the Hooktongue. They’re little more than a band of troublemakers, but they are the ones with whom we made the deal, so it would be pointless to go elsewhere.”

“Then we’ll head back there in the morning. For now, we should get some rest, as I do not relish traveling the swamp at night.” The company set a watch of Leilania, who would take the first watch, and even then would not sleep, but enter into the strange reverie that was the birthright of her eldritch people, followed by the Silver Beast, who wore an enchanted ring that allowed him to be wholly refreshed after barely a quarter-night’s rest. Both of them could also see by starlight as keenly as falcons under a noonday sun. The dark enveloped the Company, and the sounds of swamp life were all that could be heard. Until…

Wallflowers, Wallflowers
Growing up so high
We’re pretty fairies
And we shall never die
Except for Beast, he’s the only one
Turn him around so he cannot face the sun.

A haunting and sultry voice insinuated itself into the barbarian warrior’s mind, but his will threw it off as it had chains and shackles from here to far Razmiran. A snarl curled his lips and his pointed ears flattened against his hair. With the toe of his heavy leather boot, he cruelly kicked Finnegal awake. “Up.” he muttered. “Do you hear that?”

The bard, struggling from sleep, sat up slowly. “I hear nothing but my rest calling me.”

“I heard it.” Leilania had broken from her reverie and alighted, silent as a leaf, to the ground.

Beast grunted irritably, then sniffed the air. “Something was singing. It tried to crawl inside my mind.” Even low, his voice carried, and Lem and Ray awoke to the half-orc’s explanation. Lem was just about to counsel caution when Beast’s nose, keen as a wolf’s, caught a scent of something in the air and stormed off towards where one of the innumerable streams of the swamp fed into the pond. Leilania followed lightly. They caught sight of a shapely feminine form, green as the tall grass, which was there for but a second before it vanished with a ripple of water that cut the moon’s reflection.

Beast growled in anger that his enemy had fled, then stomped his way back to the camp. The three humans, blind as mole rats in the unyielding darkness of the swamp, had stayed near the guttering fire.

Finnegal, now awake and slightly perturbed, inquired, “Well, did you see what you heard?”

Beast’s teeth clenched beneath his snarl. “I think so. Green as I am, but lovely and female. It was only there a moment, lurking in the water, then swam away.”

“It’s singing was odd, seeming to echo from many places, resonant in the swamp.” Leilania added.

Ray frowned and folded his arms. “That makes no sense.”

Lem looked at the witch sharply. “Why not?”

“Well,” Ray waved a hand, “That sounds like a Naekk, a water fae with the enchanting power of many of their kind. But there are no such creatures that make their homes in the Hooktongue.”

“Perhaps you’re simply unfamiliar with it.” Lem retorted.

“I am familiar with everything that walks, swims, and slithers in my home, Champion, and I am telling you that this lady is not from around here.”

Lem shrugged, “Well, it appears to be gone now and we have several hours before daylight. Never sit when you can lie down.” With that bit of homespun wisdom, no doubt from the agrarian halflings that adopted him in his youth, Lem laid back down near the fire. Ray and Leilania soon followed back to their own rest.

Finnegal would have slipped back away to, but his captain seized his arm. “Not you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know your talents run towards disrupting spoken and sung enchantments like the one that just attacked me, and this seems the sort of attack that only had to strike true once.”

“But I would really like to sleep.”

“Sleep later, so that I do not kill you against my will.” That mollified the bard a little, and he sat with his captain and waited for the dawn.

As the company broke camp and made ready for the walk, slightly more than a day, back to the boggard village, Finnegal approached Leilania with a solicitous smile. The druid was taking slow draws on a long pipe of reed and wood, the smell of her strange pipeweed wafting as the smoke curled around her slender form.

“My lady Marshal. I have a favor to ask.”

Leilania looked at the bard, her mouth almost quirking in a smile as her eyes appraised the Numerian up and down. “Yes?”

“Actually, I was hoping I might borrow your tree for some sleep.”

She giggled, “That would be up to him, but I know you’ve a talented tongue.” Her eyes flashed as she skipped away. Finnegal made an effort at a friendly smile at the tree, whose face was not altogether easy to discern amidst the whorls of bark. But an arrangement was reached and the bard snoozed in the boughs as the party traveled.

Beast broke the silence of the march with a question. “As we did not kill the dragon, how exactly do we convince the boggards that it is dealt with?”

Lem came up short, glaring at a nearby tree as though it might answer Beast’s query. “We have no reason to lie.”

Ray snorted, “I doubt that is how the boggards will see it.”

Leilania smiled slyly, “Let Beast explain. He terrifies them, so they’ll hardly argue.”

“Beast doesn’t speak for the kingdom,” Lem answered sharply. “And I don’t speak their tongue. Leilania, you should explain it to them, and we’ll let Beast stand behind you. If need be, we can show them some item from the hoard as proof.”

Leilania shrugged and skipped on, Nibbs doing an odd prance through the swamp muck to keep pace. Lem watched them go, his face unveiling that his mind was chewing over the wisdom of his proposed course of action.

Finnegal was awake as they entered the boggard hamlet, little more than a set of ramshackle huts by the riverside. Really the huts served as cover for ambushers, rather than any sort of respectable dwelling. As when the company first came, there was no sign of life amidst the huts. Leilania looked up at Beast questioningly.

“Oi!” The gargantuan half-orc’s bark could be felt as much as heard. Boggards began to trickle out of the huts, following one with a thin crown of brass and a makeshift scepter of long reeds and branches. Leilania put on a smile that had dazzled men and women from Brevoy to Mivon, though it remained to be seen if Boggards held to the same notions of beauty as other races.

“We have found the monster, Scorch, and he shall trouble you no more.” Leilania’s words were carefully chosen and had been the subject of several discussions on the march.

“You bring gifts for Pekalo, the True King of the Boggards?” The one with the crown raised his chest and puffed out his neck until it was like the fancy collars of distant Taldane nobility.

Leilania opened and closed her mouth twice, then reached into the large hide sack that Beast had been carrying. The bag, seized from the now dead chieftain of the Tiger Lord Barbarians, could hold many times its size in goods and she took from it an ivory bowl with carvings of various creatures cavorting around its rim. “Behold!” she cried, “Treasure from the dragon’s hoard, seized when the Silver Beast smote the dragon many a dolorous blow.” She gestured with a delicate hand to the immense half-orc warrior and the boggards took an involuntary step back.

King Pekalo took the bowl and gave it an an appraising look-over and an experimental sniff, then his frog-like face broke out in a massive grin. “Yes! This is a fine and kingly gift. We shall celebrate your victory with a journey to gather dragonflies!” At this proclamation, the boggards unleashed a chorus of croaking cheers and Leilania did her best to look pleased, if slightly confused. The king’s declaration seemed to mark an end to the exchange and the boggards set to work gathering weapons and mesh bags of gear.

“Dragonflies?” Lem looked utterly perplexed as the company gathered in a group unto themselves. Lem turned to ask Ray about what was happening, but the witch was seated on a stump, a small doll in his hands. It was a patchwork of burlap and button eyes that Ray referred to as “Little Boo,” and the homespun homunculus had a tendency, when it could be seen, to giggle inappropriately. Now witch and familiar communicated in a languid tongue of vocatives and pursed vowels, occasionally snickering at some joke only the two of them shared.

“Umm…Ray?” Lem finally cut in.

“It’s actually a great honor…after a fashion.” Ray petted the little doll and it slid back beneath the sleeve of his robe to go no one knew where. “They’ll go hunt dragonflies in this grove about two days from here. Some of the largest ones will be ground up into a paste that grants visions.”

Finnegal’s eyes narrowed, “True visions?”

Ray shrugged, “Entertaining visions, at any rate.” Leilania giggled and clapped.

Lem frowned at the marshy earth, “I suppose it would be rude to refuse.”

Ray peered at the boggards, “It’s not exactly a safe journey. The M’Botu hunt the same dragonflies, and Pekalo is certainly not the True King of those boggards. Some of those dragonflies are as large as a man, and their jaws can pierce steel, and that’s before you get to the Marsh Giants.”

Lem looked tired already, “Marsh Giants?”

Ray scratched his neck. “They consider the area sacred to their god, some being called Dagon.”

Finnegal spat a curse that drew everyone’s gaze. “The Shadow in the Sea. He is a demon who breeds sea monsters and is worshipped best by dragging victims to lightless depths.” The bard looked thoughtful, “That might explain the provenance of Hooktongue himself, the monster for whom the Slough is named.”

Lem now looked sad, “Demons? Are there any nice places around here?”

Ray smiled cheerfully, “Of course. You built it. But we’re not going there just now.”

The march to the grove took the company through a terrible and fetid patch of land called the Sinking Bog. The heroes did not wonder overmuch at the name as the watery slime sucked at their boots, making thick slurping noises as larger feet, such as Nibbs’s claws, rose and fell through the mire. When one of the boggards that traveled with us disappeared into a watery hole, vanishing as though he had stepped out over open air, the company became aware that the name was more a warning than a simple description. Leilania seemed to dance atop the muck, the hungry mud clutching greedily at her shapely legs, but she was too deft for the dark waters. Finnegal nearly plunged to his own watery grave, but was snatched from the swallowing darkness by the thick, wooden fist of Leilania’s tree companion.

We had paused to make camp, the boggards with spears out to gather fish and eels for the evening repast. Suddenly, Beast and Leilania looked up sharply, hearing a distant voice carried on the wind.

Wallflowers, Wallflowers
Growing up so high,
We’re pretty fairies
And we shall never die.
Except for Lem, he’s the only one.
Turn him around so he cannot face the sun.

The lovely druid and the fierce barbarian plunged through the swamp, calling out for the Champion of Ursundova. They found him up to his shins in the river, but swiftly backing away towards the shore.

“It sang to me, and I would have…Gods preserve me.” Leilania aided Lem back to the shore, while Beast drew back the string of a massive bow, composed of wood and horn and groaning under the strain of the half-orc’s thick emerald thews. With a twang, the iron-headed arrow raced to a spot in the water and struck true on the green enchantress who had attempted to lead Lem into a watery grave. But the arrowhead found no purchase and skittered from her bare shoulder, tumbling end over end until it splashed in the water. Once again, the green lady disappeared into the depths and Beast growled in frustration.

“I was following its song into the river, but a vision of Iomedae appeared in my mind’s eye and recalled to me my duty to my lord and my family.” Lem looked shaken and shivered slightly, though likely not from the cold.

Leilania’s eyes were narrowed as she looked out on the water. “It is gone for now. We should rejoin the others.”

Beast snarled, “I hit her straight and true. What sort of…”

“She is fae, Beast.” Leilania explained. “If the head of your shaft was not cold iron, she was likely protected by her faerie nature.”

They turned to leave. Beast lingered there, hunting the water for his quarry, before turning to follow.

The Grove of the Dragonflies was walled off from clear sight by tall trees, but the buzzing of thousands upon thousands of beating wings could be heard just yards from where the company now stood. The boggards had gathered for a discussion in their burbling, croaking language, and then King Pekalo approached, neck puffed out in decisiveness.

“Our tribe has consulted. You shall have the honor of harvesting the dragonflies.”

Lem was incredulous after Finnegal translated. “We what?”

“To hunt the dragonflies is a great honor. And we have made our decision.”

The company turned to look at one another.

Beast raised a single eyebrow, “Are we seriously going to bug hunt for these jumped-up thugs?”

Ray shrugged, “I thought we were supposed to make a good impression.”

Leilania looked at a point out in space, “I do like visions.”

Lem rolled his eyes, but hefted his crossbow. “Oh, let’s get this over with.”

“One minute.” Beast slid his grisly helm on, bone tusks jutting from the steel frame, and strode over to King Pekalo, whose inflated neck quavered. “If you and yours have led me and mine into a death trap, rest assured I will live long enough to come back for you.” The barbarian’s deep voice resonated in the helm and Pekalo’s puffy neck deflated into empty sacks of skin.

The company formed up with Beast in the lead, unsheathing his terrible, flanged longsword and setting his heavy shield, oak as thick as an outer door, on his arm. With an inclination of her head, Leilania directed Nibbs behind the barbarian, and Lem came up alongside the great blue axebeak. The walking tree, Leilania, Ray, and Finnegal brought up the back line.

Passing through the trees, the buzzing turned to a sonorous roar, as wings buzzed in every conceivable space. It was as passing into a cloud of living, droning smoke. Amidst the myriad bugs there were maidenflies, dragonflies the size of a man’s finger, greater insects the size of dogs, and then the beasts we had been told of – like angels of a heaven no sane man would visit, they roared through the skies, masters of their domain. But they turned to see what fools had entered their demense without the chitin of their kin.

Ray said over the angry din, “I have few magics for this crowd – insects do not have a mind to properly ensorcell.”

Finnegal began a chant of a rapid march, the spirits of ancient warriors flowing from his words and quickening the limbs of his companions, as well as emboldening their hearts.

Beast watched one dragonfly as it turned and moved into a dive at the company. “Guess we’ll have to stick to older arts, then.” He plunged forward and insect and warrior collided in the grove. Beast deal the gigantic bug a terrible cut from his sword, yellow ichor flopping wetly into the swamp grass, but the bug pressed on, undaunted. Soon others had joined the fray, but their sharp jaws could find no purchase in Beast’s shield or the shining mithral of his armor – light as cork but more unyielding than steel.

With something between a squawk and a roar, Nibbs pounded into the cloud, his flightless wings scattering the lesser bugs and his terrible beak smashing down on the body of one of the large dragonflies. The great tree balled its spindly fingers into great wooden mallets that rained hammer blows down. Seeing the bugs assailed from all sides by his companions, Ray slid up behind the fracas and opened his mouth wide, unleashing an inhuman shriek that reverberated through the glade. The tiny insects fled the terrible sounds and even the large ones turned crazily and lost control of their flight, leaving themselves open for terrible wounds from the monsters, both feathered and armored, that raged amongst them. Shining bolts, steel-tipped, flew through the melee with deadly precision as Lem sent dragonflies crashing to the ground with shots from his crossbow. But even as the terrible droning was subsiding, a new noise pierced the surroundings.

The company barely noticed the tearing and smashing of the foliage over the war cries, a mixture of angry shout and diseased seal bark that was purposed to strike fear into the heart of an enemy. Marsh giants, their slick skin shining in the afternoon light and their bulbous, dark eyes gleaming with malice, pushed into the grove, waving enormous gaffs about and drooling from terrible hungers. Two of them wore little more than breeches, gray and water stained, but the third had a brooch embedded in his blubbery flesh and a large disk with the stylized octopus of Father Dagon hanging between his flabby breasts from a thong of unwholesome leather. This one absentmindedly bit a shocker lizard in half, drawing electricity through his body, as he directed the other two to circle the melee on the other side of the grove. The rapidly dwindling number of dragonflies, driven only by hunger and with no sense that they were outmatched, were suddenly joined when mounds of swamp mud rose and clumped, taking a vaguely humanoid shape and balling dripping fists to do violence.

Beast looked beyond his enemy at hand at the threat coming on. “Can you handle these?” he called to Leilania.

The druid laughed, oddly cheerful amidst the carnage as she said a blessing, causing Nibbs to grow to truly titanic portions. “We can. Go.”

The Silver Beast gave a roar that all knew meant he had unleashed the beast of rage he kept caged in his heart. He bounded forward with the speed of a tiger on the hunt and his blade slashed into the nearest marsh giant, calling forth a foaming fountain of brackish blood. The two minion giants assailed the smaller creature that had dared defy them, but their gaffs seemed to do nothing even when they found their mark beneath his armor or shield arm, for carving the Beast’s flesh when he was enraged was like sawing oak.

Nibbs and the Walking Tree smashed dragonflies to the earth, then turned on the mud elementals that had risen at their dark summoner’s command. The priest, in turn, clutched the unholy symbol of Dagon in his chest and spoke a word of purest evil. The cloying miasma assailed the souls of Lem and Finnegal, so anathema was it to the light in those two men. Their veins blackened and their eyes bulged as they retched from the foul powers hurled in their direction.

Lem called to his companions, “We must clear these monsters before us so as to deal with that dark priest!” Finnegal called upon legends of heroes and giantslayers, empowering Lem with a hint of their greatness. The Champion of Ursundova, with blood on his lips and leaking from his eyes, unleashed a torrent of crossbows bolts that banished the dragonflies from the field. Leilania poured ever more enchantments into her darling pet engine of destruction and Nibbs responded accordingly, shredding the mud elementals, who could not pull away without taking ferocious blows from the great tree.

Ray slid beside Nibbs so that he could see the Marsh giants that were attempting to battle Beast. “Well, not much of a mind, but it will do.” The witch’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he chanted the name of Kalfu, twisting the fortune of one of the giants down the bleak road, so that he tripped and his gaff would swing wide and all would be misfortune and disaster. In a voice not wholly his own, Ray began to laugh at the grim tidings his will had brought forth.

Beast, who, mighty as he was, found two giants to be a test, grinned at his enemies. “When the witch laughs, it usually means a bad day for our enemies.” With that, he drove his sword at the giant that blocked his way to the priest, carving great, blubbery chunks from the monsters and sending it reeling back. The other giant, who had first tasted Beast’s steel, attempted to follow, but a bolt of lightning, summoned from the heavens by the luminous Leilania, struck the bloody creature dead.

The priest saw his other minion fall to a steel-tipped bolt and found himself face to face with the Silver Beast, whose arms and armor were coated with the life’s blood of the others. Nibbs and the Great Tree were smashing their way through the mud creatures and the priest knew time was running out. Beast fell upon him with a ferocious swing of his sword, and the flanged steel, its enchantments blazing with power in response to Beast’s anger, bit deeply. In desperation, the Priest slid back away from the furious half-orc, raised his hands to the sky, and called upon his demonic patron for protection.

In response, a ripple of thunder erupted from the heavens. Rather than rain, though, a great panoply of arms – swords, spears, axes, and all manner of war implements – came crashing to earth. Beast and Leilania managed to dodge or shield themselves from the worst of it, but the giant forms of Nibbs and the Great Tree could have never avoided such a torrent of steel. The Great Tree reeled, pierced all about until it looked like a shrubbery of war. Nibbs poured his blood out upon the swamp, gave a terrible, choking squawk, and fell to the ground. Leilania screamed in agony, for she loved Nibbs above all other things in this world. Though the mud monsters were gone, neither the druid nor her powerful agents would be a part of the combat now.

The priest gurgled a terrible laugh, but heard another chuckle just over his head. He looked up to see Ray, floating like a spectre over his head. “Your god cannot save you here.” With another chant, the armor of the priest began to rust and buckle, opening wide. Beast fell upon the priest with fury, delivering cuts that send blood flowing into the marsh.

Finnegal looked at the scene with panic. “If he is able to call more blades from the heavens, we shall not last long.”

“No.” Lem said with a grim set to his jaw. “This ends now.” He leveled Snapspring and loosed bolt after bolt with unflinching mechanical precision. They flew with terrible accuracy to wherever the priest was unprotected – into his neck, his groin, and the great rends in his armor brought on by Ray’s dark curse and Beast’s fearsome blows. The priest became a fountain of blood that was black in the dim light and reeked of seawater. With a choking gurgle, he tottered and crashed to the ground, and was no more.

In the sudden stillness after battle, the boggards crept into the glade to survey the carnage. Even Pekalo walked carefully among these battle lords who had laid waste to the threat of the grove, but the dragonflies were gathered and the pulping of their bodies began to, ironically, bring everyone back from the madness of violence. Leilania prayed feverishly over the body of Nibbs, and was rewarded with the discovery that his wounds were only nearly fatal. The druid and the bard invoked their distinct healing magics, drawn respectively from the wild and from legend, to staunch the bleeding and damage done to the heroes. Dragonflies of all sizes had fled from the grove and the atmosphere changed to oddly cheerful for the terrain had a wild beauty to it when it was not a battlefield. The boggards were impressed with the heroes of Ursundova, though none present really knew how to parlay that into advantage, save perhaps Ray.

Beast and Finnegal drank from their waterskins while Ray, Leilania, and the boggards prepared the potions to grant visions. “Finn,” Beast said quietly, “I have a concern.”

“I don’t think it’s particularly toxic, though I cannot speak to this mixture’s true potency.”

“It’s not about that.”


“It’s about the Naekk.”

“She seems skittish.”

“She’s unconnected.”


Beast shifted his shoulders, making his points one by one with a knife hand pointing to an invisible line. “No one in the boggards was familiar with her. Ray said that she was not native to the Hooktongue Slough. She forayed carefully, attacking one person at a time, and we never saw her for more than a few seconds.”

“Like I said…skittish.”

Beast looked at Finnegal meaningfully, “Then how did she know our names?”

The color drained from the bard’s face. “That’s not an accident of the magic, you don’t think?”

“You tell me, poet.”

Finnegal swallowed hard. “No. That would be anomalous.”

“I see. So she knew us.”


Beast sat back and took a long pull from his waterskin. The two mercenaries looked at the festivities, a dread gnawing their hearts.

Half Moon Over Sodden Earth
Leilania Talks to Trees

A tree knows the moon better than any man. They feel her pull at all times, despite mist or cloud, in darkness as surely as light. They tell the seasons in her embrace and choose the path of their growth by her guidance. They are as close to the moon as they are to the sun above and the earth below. It is a wondrous thing to hear them speak of her like an old friend remembered fondly.

In the years since leaving Mierani, my powers have grown by the moon’s blessing. I now can speak to the wilderness in ways I could only imagine when I first set out on my journey. I can become more than animals, I can root myself like a tree or recast myself as the elements themselves. And just recently, the moon has taught me a spell that allows me to raise an oak into a friend to travel with us. What a thing to see. What a gift to cherish.

The trees of the forest have always made pleasant company for me. Now though, the forest has become a place of incredible conversation. The voice of a tree is like a soft tremor through the ground. They speak slowly but with great meaning. They know truths that cannot be expressed in spoken words. I could listen to them all day.

Now though, we are deep in the Hooktongue Slough, far from the enchanted forests of the Narlmarches. We have come here to explore and make safe wild lands. I’m not sure I care for the idea of humans coming to settle these fens, but I care less for the idea of Boggard tribes striking out from them to raid and pillage surrounding lands. Coming here we have found and subdued a young gold dragon known as Scroch. The beast had been tormented for years by an undead presence until it had become a hideous mockery of its true nature. Now though, we seek a way to heal the creature. I pray to the moon that we will rediscover the light within him.

The Slough is not what I expected. There is a deeper silence here than at home, a greater peace. There are no human lamps here, no songs at night or braying of husbanded animals. I miss my friends in Tatzlford, but I love this stillness crafted from the twining of frog calls and cricket song. I walk with my feet uncovered, feeling the soft earth yield beneath my feet. The rain falls and I let it cascade over me. The others complain of the cold. I feel only warmth.

Tomorrow we will set out again and my friend the oak will walk beside me again. I will tell him of what I see and he will show me what he feels. Together we will follow the direction of the moon wherever she may take us.

Lem vs. Introspection Round 38
Lem Fights Deep Thoughts

Dear Journal,

Wow. It feels like so long since I’ve been inside you…

Wait, no, control yourself Lem. You’re a dad now. You follow Iomedae. Turn down the raunch. Think pure thoughts. Start again from the beginning…

Hey Journal, long time no lines written. I mean, it’s been what, weeks? Months? Maybe less. It’s difficult to say. Sometimes it seems like everything important happens all at once. I think life is what happens in the time in-between.

So here I am Journal, sheltering under a tree-man-thing (Leilania’s new bestest friend), looking out over the Slough and wondering where we’re headed next. Jacek and Ray have teleported off to do dragon-research (a long story, don’t worry about it). That leaves the Beast, Leilania, and myself to hang out here and brave the mosquitoes.

What have we been up to? Well, over the last few days our focus has mostly been frog people. What a frog person? Generally disagreeable. But I guess they’re not entirely evil—at least not in the traditional sense of drinking baby blood or torturing disembodied souls with flaming whip-swords. I mean sure, I think they eat people if they get the chance, and they tend to fall in with the wrong crowd (usually under various types of soggy bad guys), but I’m not sure they’re beyond redemption. Probably…

You know Journal, I end up thinking about this far more often than I probably should. A few years ago, when we were just staring on this whole Kingdom-making thing, we came across a den of Kobolds. They were having some internal leadership problems, and we helped the more reasonable side prevail over the more evil side. As a reward, the Kobolds joined Ursundova. Since then, relations with the Sootscales have actually been pretty decent. As long as we keep people from bugging them, they seem perfectly content to live in their hidey hole under their own terms. We actually trade with the little buggers to both our benefits.

Similarly, when we first came across the Lizardfolk tribe in the southern Marches, I was convinced that our relations were destined straight for wartown. But instead, with a little diplomacy (and just a bit of violence), we calmed the lizard rage and negotiated a very similar deal. From what I hear, the lizardfolk hardly ever try to eat people anymore. What a world!

So is that where we’re headed with the boggards? They’re definitely a bigger community than the others we’ve brought into the fold thus far. And in a lot of ways, they don’t have the same incentive to try to make nice with us. They don’t want to trade with us. They’re not hemmed in by us (yet). And they seem way less likely to listen to reason.

So are we destined for war? If so, what kind of war would it be? Would it end with us tearing down Boggard villages? Breaking Boggard eggs? Piling up bodies to burn? Gods I hope not.

Then there’s the Tigerlords in the West. In a lot of ways we’re in the same boat with them. They fancy themselves the dominant power in the area, and are very unlikely to accept the rest of us waltzing in, throwing up our flag, and demanding they disarm. And unlike the Boggards, they’re all followers of Gorum, so they LIKE war. They could force our hands, make us destroy them, and enjoy every second of it.

The problem I keep coming back to is that war in many ways is more convenient than peace. Rather than treaties and negotiations, it would be far easier for Jacek to raise a battalion of soldiers and send Ulgar out to purge both the Boggards and the Tigerlords. It would solve the problems forever and afterwards the land would be ours without dispute. Such a campaign would probably make our people proud and put our neighbors on notice. But it’d also be wrong.

Iomedae teaches that evil must always be opposed. Her acts show that there is no greater valor than meeting an enemy in battle. But she teaches also that there is nothing more evil than life taken for personal gain. It would be easier to destroy the Boggards and rout the Tigerlords, but we must try the more difficult path first. We must try to craft peace. We will not tolerate evil, but nor should we use it as an excuse to persecute those that live differently from ourselves.

Someday, when the history of Ursundova is written, I hope they hold up our actions now as examples of how Kingdoms should be forged. And if we fail, hopefully they will still see the nobility of our failure. Better to fail in the pursuit of peace that to succeed on the path to war.

Whoa, heavy stuff journal. You’ve got to take it easy after so much time away. I think you’ve worn me out with all this, so I’m going to put you down for a while and try to get some sleep. You do the same. I love you.

Yeah…that was awkward. Oh well. That’s what happens when you get rusty.

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

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

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

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

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


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