Kingmaker

Days Gone By
"Iston i nif gin." - In Elvish, "I know your face."

6 Sarenith, 4719

“If the leaders seek only to preserve themselves, that is what they become: preserves, dried preserves.”

- Francois Marcel, Galtan Revolutionary

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess what I heard today.

“And, of course, Ursundova should be arriving…”

Diary, if it had not been an excellent Andoren Red, I might well have spit out my wine. As it was, I had to cover my faux-pas with confusion. “Who?”

“Kingdom just across the eastern border.” Luco was trying not to go through all the refined pesh I’d provided him, so he was taking slow, intermittent pulls on the hookah. I stopped worrying. He hadn’t seen through my disguises, and his current intoxication meant I probably could have stopped being Leonardo Calilli right then and he would have thought it a hallucination of the drug.

“Wait,” I said, turning on my suspicious voice that always made him volunteer more information. “I’ve heard of them, but they’re on the other side of the slough. Some jumped-up camp calling itself a Barony.”

Luco laughed. “For once, my contacts are more recent than my sellsword friend’s! They hit Fort Drelev two years ago and have been expanding eastward ever since. Call themselves a Kingdom now.”

“And who’s King?”

“Some Brevoyan twat. Yarrick or Yancy.”

No. I thought. Would they have…? He was a little sweet on Katya as I recall. “And now they just get invited to the Rushlight Festival?”

“They’re big and aggressive. His Majesty probably wants to take their measure.”

I leaned back in my chair, too many disparate thoughts in my head. “We’ll see, I suppose. You going out there tomorrow?”

“Me?” Luco laughed again. “Not with my benefactor’s most recent gift to keep me company.” He tried to do a little bow from his chair and nearly fell out of it. I dropped a few coins on the table and headed out into the Pitaxian night.

I got several blocks south, to where the houses were still in a state to give the district the “New Ruins” moniker, and slipped into an alleyway. I looked into a moonlit pane of glass and watched as Leonardo Calilli’s face melted away. My ears raised to sharp points, and the dark circles around my eyes pooled and slid into the pupils, filling them, while the dark scar over my left eye appeared like a furrowed line in a garden.

I took two breaths to remember my own face before putting on Gaspar Ibruzzi’s, half-elven actor of little skill but zero fear, which actually goes a long way towards getting one places in the ongoing assault on good taste that Irovetti has cleverly disguised as a theater scene. I had planned to get to the festival during the Wine Festival for the parties, but I had discovered a gap in my information.

I wore Gaspar’s face across the center of town, doing a few loop-backs to ensure I wasn’t being followed, then retired to my room in an inn at the far end of Trouthmouth. I dropped the curtains and put out the lights and let my face be my own again.

Ursundova. I died there seven years ago. Six years ago, Severina and Senubar persuaded Kyonin’s secret service that I might be of use to them. Four years ago, I told the secret service where they could put their endless plans to uproot Treerazer’s demons, but, let’s be honest, diary, that might have had something to do with Severina finding she appreciated Senubar’s stability more than my capriciousness. I have, apparently, been a little too focused on what was right in front of me. Perhaps time to broaden my gaze.

7 Sarenith, 4719

This is what comes from living and working amongst my peers, but Savored Sting preserve me, I didn’t know practically anyone in Ursundova’s tent. One barely recognizes Severina’s former bodyguard now, what with his fine clothes and semi-humble crown. I had known, in an off-handed way, that he was of Brevoyan nobility, but he certainly seems to have stepped into the role. When I mentioned Dyimi to one of the guards, he didn’t seem to know who I was talking about. That bodes ill.

This new monarch carries himself like he’s part eastern ruler, part menagerie collector. I feel certain the enormous half-orc behind his chair was not for show, though his archery left much to be desired. The elf was clearly undergoing human madness – she kept losing her clothes in a delightful manner and bouncing off to the lake. Sometimes the Forlorn get that way, but “Forlorn” is not the word I would use for her. Some Kelish fellow was trying to get people to ignore the skinny-dipping elf and talk about trade, with about as much success as one could imagine such a venture having. I’m pretty sure at least one of the three people besides me in a hat of disguise was also working for Ursundova, but so was one very undisguised man I knew well enough to approach, or, that is, to make myself a target to be approached.

My green plume feather drooping sadly, I sat and muttered about the unfortunate fall of the Cattanei family, wondering why anyone would listen to a poor old sellsword such as myself. Before I could have spelled out “elicitation target,” I was being offered a goblet of fine wine and had a fine new friend with a lilting voice, a sympathetic ear, and a mind for treachery as twisted as my own. I was a perfect mark. I corrected all his misstatements, and held forth at length to show my former importance. I really had no idea how much Eoghan already knew or how dated his information might have been, so I was as thorough as my cover allowed. When he felt he’d gotten all he was going to get from me, he was disengaged as rapidly as he had become my fast friend. I watched him go with a strange mix of emotions. I wanted to drop all pretense and tell him it was me. Glass nin gen achened! -But Ursundova had come to dance with the snakes and I could do better for them if I didn’t compromise my cover.

Better for them – that was my thought, to be certain, Diary. Seven years and I felt the strange pang of loyalty that had dragged me into that troll hole. I lived in Tuskendale but a few months – a bare breath in my lifespan – but for one of the first times in the years since I took my second breath, I felt my old honor stir. Udulen gi nathad.

It was late and the party was certain to get into full swing tomorrow. Clearly, I needed some cheese. I wandered over to where The Turning Wheel had closed its cheese cart hours ago. There was no light from the tent, but the guard was awake and saw me approach. He looked past me, then nodded that I had not been followed. I slipped through the tent flap.

Ingras Quill was brushing her hair and looked up with a start when I appeared. “I thought you weren’t coming up until the wine festival.”

“Small matter of the newcomers.”

“What about them?”

“They might be your key.” Poor Ingras. All she wanted was to make her cheeses, delicious and stinky. Then Irovetti killed her boy at a crime lord’s behest. She still played the cheerful cheesemonger to all and sundry, which meant that, with some help from those who understand such things, she had one of the most successful resistance cells in the city. She was also one of the people who had seen my actual face.

“You know them.”

“Not all of them. I was out that way some time ago, but there’s enough trappings of what has gone before that we might have had treasure dropped in our laps.”

She put down her brush and bowed her head. I was still getting used to how rapidly humans aged and she was still getting used to contemplating revolution, as opposed to cheddar. “I’ll turn a few folks onto it.”

“There a man who speaks with an odd, lilting accent. He’s their whisperer, named Eoghan.”

She nodded. “I’m glad you came out, then.”

I smiled. “Me too. Sleep well.”

And that leaves you and me, Diary. Ursundova is here and it prospers. I have no leads on Dyimi, Anton, or Lem – Katya was mentioned by name in the Ursundovan tent, so she apparently found the time to return Jacek’s affections. Poor Lem.

20 Sarenith, 4719

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess what I saw today.

It was sinfully early in the morning, and I was passing time in Gaspar’s face with a lovely young half-human priestess of Calistria out in front of Her Cathedral. I had dropped a few choice tidbits that Drey Yarnes would no doubt be repeating by afternoon, and she was telling me how Eliste Strocalle’s second-born boy had needed some of the alchemical aids I’d passed her both to last the whole hour beneath her ministrations and to walk home under his own power. We were enjoying a laugh about humans who think us the frail ones when across the Square of the Common Man walked the most uncommon common man I’ve ever met. The Thalionen.

Lem Berrybrook had exchanged his forest colors for, quite frankly, a somewhat unfortunate boar-oriented ensemble, and he’d made some real effort to get his facial hair into line, but that mop of chestnut on his head was as unruly as ever, and, of course, there was that engine of death that he calls a crossbow in his ongoing quest to become the god of understatement.

I almost called out to him before I recalled that I wasn’t wearing my face. It was just as well, for he looked to be moving with purpose and to be more than a little blood-spattered. I tell myself that I was mere minutes from putting it all together when the voice sounded in everyone’s head simultaneously. Irovetti was dead. Soldiers were put on notice to lay down their arms. Like the others in the square, I looked around stunned for a few moments, and then I heard it start.

“The Minstrel Boy to the war has gone
In the ranks of death you’ll find him.
His father’s sword he hath girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him."

It was Mattrin Aerlie’s friends. The Wardens had snatched him only two days ago, and the musicians of the city were as near to heartbreak as they had ever been. Now, the crowd started to pick up the tune. Everyone knew the song, though no one had sung it within earshot of a Warden in years.

“And he said, ‘no chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery."

After that, the cheering started. Lem returned with the city watch, which probably prevented the celebration from turning ugly (Look who’s grown up and thinking ahead!). People started hugging and laughing and crying. My would-be conversation partner was whisked back inside for celebrations that would likely leave a mark or three. I almost didn’t notice when a note was pressed into my hand.

The Strocalles are meeting at their second warehouse. Leonardo should look into it.

Leave it to Ingras to keep her head about her – what is it about cheese that makes one so diligent? I made my way through the crowd and down towards Troutmouth.

Sure enough, several Strocalle goons were gathered in a small office near the front of the warehouse. Eliste herself wasn’t there, unfortunately, but the group who was there represented a lot of the house’s strategic thinking. And I never could pass up a bulk purchase bargain.

I made myself invisible and lurked near the window. At a moment when they were passing the wine around, I reached through the glass with my mind and twisted their thoughts this way and that. Some of them looked around in panic, others began to babble in the sing-songy way humans do to their young. But enough of them went for weapons that the conclusion was never in doubt.

They slaughtered each other and even when the watchmen came after the noise, the fierceness of the fighting made it easy to seed in them the thought that discretion was the better part of valor. When only two of the criminals were left, I opened the door and slipped in. My invisibility dissipated when I ran Scorpion’s Sting through the first one’s back and out her chest. Her opponent, my power over his mind fading, began to look around in panic. I slashed him once and opened a terrible wound across his thigh. I pushed agony through my gaze and his eyes started to bleed.

“Whu….Wh…”

“Why?” I said softly, casually knocking his blade aside. “Because your house helped put Irovetti in place, which makes you a threat to the fine people that have removed him.” I cut his arm, severing enough tendons that his sword clattered down. “Because Eliste convinced Irovetti to kill an innocent boy who didn’t know whom he was spurning.” His back hit the wall and I ran the point of my blade slowly down his chest. “Because even good people deserve revenge.” My last cut spilled his guts on the floor and he collapsed. I pulled my dagger and relieved him of his jaw, lest someone ask simple questions with complicated answers. Then I rejoined the celebrating throngs.

Nothing gets out blood stains like prestidigitation.

28 Sarenith, 4719

Dear Diary,

You’ll never guess what I did today.

I said my goodbyes nearly a week ago, but I didn’t feel like me again until today. I had seen a few vaguely familiar sights on the road to Tuskendale, but nothing had prepared me for what the city had become in my absence.

It would take millennia for my own people to make this sort of progress and I think it was in that moment I understood why we had lost the wars against humanity. The city walls are tall and thick and the city itself has expanded so far beyond whatever meager plans of expansion I had left behind, that I could barely take it all in. I confess that I gawked like a bumpkin for ages.

There’s a fancy new palace that commands a view of the city, a cathedral that everyone seems to think is dedicated to their god, I eventually found the old castle, which triggered a strange wave of nostalgia, and the park where the first and second Barons of Ursundova look out over the harbor.

I paid my respects to Dyimi and added a fancy hat with a black plume to my outfit. I had not noted His New Majesty with a Hat of State, so I felt free to appropriate it for my own style. Suddenly, I missed Duath, who had quite reasonably departed while I was dead, but then I was through missing things today.

From the castle, I had my bearings and found what I was looking for easily enough. They’d made some improvements, but I would have recognized the Chocolate Wench if they’d planted it on Sovyrian (Remember to ask Kaydee about franchising).

I looked at myself in the window of the bar. It was me. El sila erin li e-govaned ‘win.

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Crescent Moon Beyond Leaden Walls
Leilania Fights Alone

As I gather my breath and sponge the blood from my hair, I feel the moon calling to me from beyond the lead-lined walls of Irovetti’s fortress. I haven’t much time to answer her call. In moments I know we will rush off to the next fight.

I admit, my heart is not in this. As much as I want to help Avenda and keep Briar from Narissa, I feel that our party has become so focused on Irovetti’s defeat that all hopes at caution and feelings of compatriotism have been thrown to the wind. Nothing seems to matter now but his demise.

Our initial attack on the palace was successful, if slaughter can be a success. After killing a score of guards, their masters, and the trolls that aided them, we were summoned by Irovetti to the fighting pits at the center of his beguiling fortress. We were told that if we did not go to him, innocents would be killed.

I was asked by Jacek and Beast to teleport directly to the fighting pits with Nibbs to aid in a direct assault against Irovetti. Through the aide of Abadar’s magic we were able to step through directly to the fighting pits, where we found ourselves surrounded by enemies. Before we could act, Nibbs and I were beset by a pair of Hellhounds and a gargoyle with razor fangs and claws. Above us, an ogre mage floated by magic and prepared terrible spells. Together, the fight would have been difficult but winnable. But at that moment, Jacek took Beast and teleported away to Irovetti’s box.

Only through luck, Nibbs’s protection, and the grace of one of my most powerful spells was I able to withstand the onslaught that followed. Had it not been for the timely arrival of Finnegal, Ray, and Lem, both Nibbs and I would have surely fallen. And yes, I must give Irovetti some of the credit for our survival. Had he not fled, had he stayed to fight, I think our welfare would have been forgotten to the prioritization of his death.

I know our mission here, and I know how much hangs in the balance. I know also Jacek’s decision was tactically wise and may ultimately have saved us all. If we cannot stop Irovetti here, there will certainly be war, and perhaps something far worse. The times are so desperate that any risk is necessary and any sacrifice justified…even if it is my own life.

I have no time to write any more, we rush on to follow Irovetti into his dungeons. I sing to the moon a few notes to let her know that I am okay. We will have time to reflect once this is done.

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From the personal notes of Ibram Al-Amin
The Tuskendale Accords (DRAFT - NOT FOR REDISTRIBUTION)

A dream of mine…

The Tuskendale Accords

The signatories of these accords come together to affirm shared principles that will foster a just and lasting peace between the nations of Golarion.

Together, we proclaim our devotion to the following tenets of just rulership:

1. All people should be equal in the eyes of the law. No gender, race, nationality, name, or creed should have primacy over any other.

2. All people should be free to choose their fates. No person should be tied to land or duty against their will, save for the purposes of judicial punishment. All should be free to choose the homeland and rulers that best suit their desires and beliefs. Slavery is an abomination and should never be tolerated.

3. The right of property should be respected. None should be fined or relieved of their holdings except through the public exercise of legal due process. Theft, even theft justified by previous grievance or wrong, is never to be sanctioned.

4. War should not be a tool of diplomacy. War is a last resort, to be used only when all reasonable means of maintaining the peace have been expended. When necessary, war should be limited to conflict between declared forces at arms. Wars for the purposes of conquest, subjugation, or racial purification are never justified.

5. Justice should be done in a court of law. The signatories of these accords pledge to respect the laws of their neighbors and shall offer assistance with the pursuit of criminals for the purpose of a fair trial. Accused persons shall be tried based on evidence of their crimes, not hearsay, implication, or noble decree. Murder and assassination are never to be sanctioned.

6. All nations have the right to govern their own affairs. Nations should not meddle in the affairs of their neighbors. Agents of foreign powers must declare themselves when abroad and should act openly in deed and action. Representatives of foreign powers acting according to these accords shall be protected by the government of the nations that receive them. Representatives of foreign powers shall not be subject to the laws of their hosts with the exception of those that concern high crimes.

7. Treaties and disputes between nations should be brought before international bodies suited to their adjudication and resolution. To this end, the signatories of these accords shall provide representatives to an Assembly of Nations that will serve as neutral ground for these discussions. The signatories swear to utilize the Assembly in all ways practical to reduce the risk of conflict and pursue the common goals of all civilized peoples.

8. The forces of evil should be opposed. The signatories of the accords swear to provide soldiers and funds for the purposes of maintaining a common military force under the authority of the Assembly of Nations. This army will be used to provide a common defense against the enemies of peace, order, and justice.

We sign these accords on the behalf of our nation, its peoples, and their descendants to come, in the hope that our shared values and the blessings of the Gods will lead us to prosperity and peace together.

We shall see where this dream leads. Perhaps nowhere. But dreams that are not worth seeking in the waking world are not dreams…

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In the pit
So close, and yet so far...

Jacek looked around at his companions, the strike force against Irovetti: faces grim in the harsh morning light, covered in blood not their own.

“It’s a trap or ruse all right, but we’ve sauntered through all the other traps the bastard’s laid out for us.” The Silver Beast’s words came out almost as a snarl. Although he had submerged his rage, Jacek could still feel it behind his eyes.

They all knew what they were doing was a risk that could prove lethal. But they also knew it offered the best means to avert a war. A calculated risk, then. The payoff great, if successful. And if they should fall? Katya can rule the realm as well as I can, he thought. If my death is Abadar’s price for this, so be it. I signed His contract years ago.

“Be ready to join us at a moment’s notice, Ray,” the King ordered. “And remember, everyone,” he said, looking around the group, “Irovetti must not escape. He is top priority. Do not let him talk; if we see him, we strike.”

Jacek did not know exactly where they were going, never having seen the fighting pits before. Abadar knew where they were, and that was all that mattered for his spell. He didn’t know, nor particularly want to know, how Ray’s magic would take the rest of the party to the unknown location.

Jacek gathered the Beast, Leilani, and Nibbs, and the four vanished…

… to reappear a moment later in a deep pit, the floor covered with bones and rubble. A pair of hellhounds stalked one side, an ogre mage leering over from the parapet around the pit. One of Irovetti’s lieutenants. Jacek scanned around – no sign of prisoners – to see Irovetti, another of his harem covering beside him.

As the sound of fighting erupted behind Jacek, the self-styled King of Pitax noticed the newcomers and opened his mouth to speak. Shouting an emphatic “No!”, Jacek pulled the Silver Beast once more into the gap between the worlds, reappearing next to their foe, all the while sending a telepathic message to Ray to come at once. The King of Ursundova tried to bind Irovetti with chains of light, but somehow the heel resisted the spell, slithering out of the shining restraints of magical force as they attempted to close around him. That should not be possible, or at least not so easy.

Still, it was distraction enough that the Silver Beast was able to score a deep gash into Irovetti’s side, at which the Pitaxian’s Numerian blade fell from his hands. Jacek rounded, ready to cast another spell of his own, only to roar in anguish as Irovetti spoke a word of translocation and vanished into the ether.

“Well, Your Grace,” Beast sputtered. “We didn’t really expect it to be that easy, did we?”

Shouts drew their attention back into the fighting pit. Leiliani was injured at the hands of some lightning-fast gargoyle, and the Ogre-Mage had risen aloft to begin a casting. Ray and the others had arrived.

They would finish this fight, and then Irovetti would pay.

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Spilling Blood
Beast takes lives, takes stock, takes another step

There’s blood pouring from a gash on my arm and seeping out from underneath my breastplate. I’m pretty sure one of the cuts yanked on the armor and now the plate is hiding the wound, making me look like I’m hiding jam. I’m wheezing a little bit, but my injuries are minor compared to some. And, of course, the most important question of battle has been settled.

My enemy is dead and I am not.

So far today, I’ve killed a dozen men and women, four trolls, and…something else that I’m sure Finnegal has some poncy name for. I maimed poor old Velimar Koth in a moment that will likely come up in my employment review at some point, but that jackass practically got away with trying to murder Ibram during the festival. Maybe depending on the kindness of strangers to buckle his belt for a while might clear his head. Maybe I’ll just have to kill him later. Could go either way and that suits me fine.

In this moment, we’re in a fighting pit in Irovetti’s palace – It’s not as big as the one in Tymon, but the seating’s a lot swankier. There’s a dead…whatever Finnegal will call it, a dead gargoyle, and couple of really big hellhounds, also dead. The gargoyle did a pretty harsh job of shredding Leilania, but I could have told him that the elf is tougher than she looks.

But we surprised Irovetti and crew on a number of levels. Gargoyle expected the elf chick to be easy prey, the big war dogs probably hadn’t planned to be murdered by a Thunder Chicken (to be fair, who does?), and Irovetti thought his box was a safe place to gloat. We spend a lot of time worrying that our enemies have these perfect counterplans, as though they had the same level of knowledge of our plans that we do. So far, at least, add this little foray to my list of “Reasons Why The Silver Beast Favors an Adaptable Offensive Plan.”

But better not call it that – Finnegal will mine jokes for years from it.

His Scheming Majesty might try and make a break for it. Honestly, if he did, I wouldn’t blame him, but down one weapon, bleeding, and alone, I don’t know if he’d make it to the city walls without one of the trading houses taking the opportunity to get rid of him. More than that, I’m pretty sure I could run his stubby ass down. He’s prey and if he hasn’t figured that out yet, well, he’s in even more trouble than he thinks.

His girl says she can lead us to his chambers, where he may hole up in the hopes of hiding it out or rallying what’s left of his guard to his cause. Either way, the scent of blood is on the wind and this hunt is nearly over, one way or another.

Dying time’s here.

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Crescent Moon in Azure Skies
Leilania is Pulled in Many Directions

Today the moon calls to me from a thin sliver nearly lost against the monochrome tranquility of a peaceful summer sky. I hear her more than I feel her as she whispers a melody carried on a sweet western breeze. She tells me to enjoy today, for tomorrow will be a day of challenge and choices.

I have been given this day to do with as I please as my companions go off to court the Houses in Exile in Mivon and continue with the preparations for defense of the Kingdom. I considered going to Tatzlford to gather news from my Way Watchers, but I know by the time I arrived at the garrison it would already be time to return. Besides, at this point my watchers know their missions, and most are far afield, patrolling the border with a wary eye turned outward. When the battle comes, I trust they will know what to do.

So that left me with leisure time sufficient to return to the Greenbelt but not much more. I sought out a fey enclave, only to be informed that an elf matching Iliphar’s description had been seen wandering in the woods. I found him in a glade beyond a copse of ash trees, looking as handsome and radiant as when I first laid eyes on him. We did not waste much time talking, which I think was fine by both of us. My only regret is that I had so few hours to dedicate to him.

I’m returning now to Tuskendale bouncing on Nibbs’s back, dreading the conversations and consternation that will come. It’s become clear that our next step must be a direct attack on Irovetti himself. It’s the only way to recover the sword Briar and to rescue Avenda’s shawl. My friends also believe that a strike against Irovetti may keep us from war, but I am less sure. Every action we have taken to this point has taken us closer to war, not further from it. Sometimes I think humans go out of their way to find excuses to fight with one another. The only time they pray for peace is when they’re put on the wrong end of the spear.

I hope I have taught my Way Watchers better. I hope they take their code to heart and put the well-being of the lowest soul as their highest priority. I know Ursundova will need their arms if it comes to war, but it will be a waste of good men and women to have them die on harried battlefields. Any fool can fight…it takes a hero to care.

With luck, when I return Kaydee will have made something out of the blessed water I brought from Avenda’s well. If not, I will have to pass my time with the herb Iliphar had for me as a gift. One way or another, I intend to relax tonight. I will thank the moon for one more chance to celebrate something other than bloodshed.

Now, I thank the moon for her blessing and sing a soothing song to Nibbs. Bless his heart, Nibbs tries to return the melody. He is such a wonderful goof sometimes. I love him so much.

I pray upwards to the moon and ask her a simple impossibility. I ask that love conquer hate and faith eclipse fear…at least for one more day. Her reply feels like laughter.

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Lem vs. Introspection Round 47
Lem Hates Gambling

Journal,

It’s early morning as I write this. I tried to sleep, but there was no point to it. No point, because I know in a few hours we will teleport directly to Pitax to attempt to end this war before it starts by taking the fight directly to Irovetti. We will storm the palace of a hundred doors, kill whoever opposes us, and hunt down Irovetti himself with the hopes of recovering both Briar and the Avenda’s shawl. This is a mission born out of desperation. Only by striking first can we hope to avoid a war that would kill thousands.

I know this is a noble goal. If war begins between Ursundova and her neighbors to the North and West, the battle will inevitably be carried deep into our kingdom. Even if we were ultimately successful in a military campaign, the toll of the conflict would fall heaviest on the common people—peasants run from their farms, soldiers overrun in battle, merchants cut down as they flee. If we were to forsake this opportunity to avoid greater bloodshed, however slim the chance, how could we ever face the widows and the orphans of the battles we chose to bring? How would we explain our choice to stand by and let the war come?

I know also Irovetti is a wicked man—a man who would literally feed his people to beasts to suit his ends. He has shown capacity for great evil, both in the nature of his schemes and the monstrous allies he has called to his aide. Surely there can’t be a place for such a man at the head of a civilized nation. Surely it is our duty to protect the people of Pitax from a tyrant who cares not for their fates or hardships. Compassion dictates that we must act to right this injustice, no matter what side of the border it occurs on. Iomedae teaches that we should face evil directly. We cannot turn a blind eye. Righteous purpose demands action.

I know finally that the men and women Jacek has chosen for this task are the bravest and best Ursundova has to offer. They all go selflessly, not for glory or treasure, but to do what must be done to protect the kingdom and her peoples. In a world plagued by greed, selfishness, and cruelty, Jacek has assembled an order of light to push back the darkness. We are not conquerors. We are not assassins. We are champions—all of us.

I won’t say that I don’t have my doubts. It seems like we’ve been dancing to Irovetti’s tune since the first invitation to the Rushlight festival, and with each new twist, we get drawn deeper into his plot. Knowing that his armies were already in place at the time of the Rushlight Festival, why would he have invited Ursundova at all if not to let slip that they were there? Why wait to invade if not to provoke us into preemptive action, and is so doing pull our armies away from our northern border so that Brevoy would have an easier path of conquest? Why plant information about magical weapons at the monastery if not to invite us to raid it? And why set a trap there that he had to know would fail, if not to let us know that he had Briar? Irovetti had to know how all of these events would play out, conceited as he is, he’s not stupid or careless. I’ve called Irovetti a gambler in the past, and others have interpreted this as some slight against him. No, in my younger days I lost too much money to people like Irovetti. He is a man who knows the odds before he makes his bet. And so far, he’s playing a winning hand.

So now we go, rushing headlong into a demon-infested fortress where Irovetti has all the advantages. It is the one chance he’s given us, no doubt with malicious intent. But we have to act now, despite the long odds, or risk the kingdom to a far worse fate. If somehow we can win, perhaps war can be avoided. And if we lose, perhaps the odds will become so one-sided as to spare brave men the need to lose their lives for a lost cause. Surrender may be the best option.

I don’t like where we’re going or the odds we face, but I have to have faith in myself and my companions. They risk the same stakes as I for the same noble cause. They think this is the best chance. I will trust that they are right.

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Moment of Decision
A recap of recent events

Four Minutes Ago

There’s a whooshing sound that some wizard-type somewhere told me was the sound of air being displaced – first by your absence, and then by your arrival. Magic has its own sounds and that particular one is something I’ve gotten a little too used to in the past few weeks. The smooth stone walls of Tuskendale Palace give way to a blur of colors, mostly blue for some reason, and then a set of double doors. Doors one and two of the hundred this palace is nicknamed for are wide open, with a pair of armored trolls looming like an archway of scaly meat on either side.

I am the Silver Beast, and today my job is to kill a lot of people for money.

Ten Days Ago

“I believe that if there is killing and dying to be done, let it be done in Pitax, not here. But, like I said, my soldiers and I will fight where we are told to fight.”

I sit down and Ulgar picks up the thread. This has been, as per usual, my least favorite part of being a mercenary captain – the endless bickering about the hows, whys, and wherefores of the fighting. Say what you will about my father’s people (and I have), but orcs are not inclined to spend a lot of time worrying about how other people might think of them in the aftermath of a fight that everyone agrees needs to happen. For the life of me, I can’t get a sense of what the flag is on about, but maybe he’s just taking his new morals out to see how they gambol in the hills of hard power politics.

I can see how Ursundova’s narrative is shaping up: Oh, all the people who’ve joined with our glorious nation have done so in this magical wave of self-determination and realization of the power of our ideals and laws. If each of those decisions have come after the gory death of this or that former ruler or bandit lord, well, that’s all surely the luck of timing, right? Even the eastern half of the country didn’t become the eastern half of the country until the agitator they’d put in as Viceroy met with an unfortunate accident in the caves of Armag the Twice-Born. I’m not as “let him take who can take” as my father’s people, I hope, but the stories told of the Stag Lord, Hargulka, Vordakai, Baron Drelev, and Armag make it sound to me like among their many sins was being in the way of an expansionist nation.

And you know what, so what? All the good intentions in the world mean fuck all if you can’t successfully resist those with worse intentions. Beliefs need strength to back them up, and part of that is the strength to make hard decisions. I think Jacek’s got that strength. I’m not so sure about Lem. I am sure most of the rest of them don’t give a shit, so whether they have the strength or not doesn’t really matter.

One Day Ago

We’re making halfway decent time down this road, though I can no longer see the Royal Cavalry behind us – the damn barding is slowing down the horses too much, there’s nowhere to put 100 horses worth of barding that could keep up, and we can’t wait for them. Logistics (and its subcategory, food) win more wars than the sharpest swords. Now it might lose us this one.

Ursundova’s pet three-eyed wizard manifests in front of our column and I get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“His Majesty would speak with you and your Lieutenant, Captain.” I like to look people in the eye when we talk, but that’s just weird to do with someone with a third eye. I hear tell it used to be a real eye that stayed closed, not some weird crystal that just looks kind of like an eye. I don’t know which would be worse.

I give command over to Galiana and Finnegal and I dismount. A whooshing sound and some blue light later and we’re back in Tuskendale.

Finnegal can’t help but roll his eyes, “Didn’t we just leave this party?”

A thousand scenarios go through my head as we saunter our way back to the meeting chambers. Maybe we all get to go home and call it a day…

…or maybe His Majesty has decided that Irovetti needs to go. Turns out King Irovetti is keeping that nereid’s shawl and Briar holed up in his box puzzle of a castle. If it is a trap, he baited it well. Then we learn about the town King Irovetti gave over to a pack of wyverns as feeding grounds. Now I know it’s time to get to killing.

Lem, as expected, is aghast and sure we’re playing into the wily bandit king’s hands. In fairness, he may be right – this might be a trap – but he keeps seeming to think that everyone around us is going to look at this with same set of moral blinders that he’s strapped on his own head.

Jacek’s having none of it today, though, and Lem doesn’t have an alternate proposal. All that remains for us to do is prepare for a fight…and have one last conversation.

Some people never get around to asking about getting paid. We’re all supposed to do it because it’s the right thing, or the just thing, or the thing the King has ordered us to do. Me? I see right things go flying by every day and the right and noble don’t do shit. Justice is of no comfort to the dead. I do what I do because I am paid to do it, and I get paid a lot because I’m good at it. Luckily, I work for a King who is also a priest of the god of wealth, so it doesn’t take much convincing to add a pillage proviso to our agreement.

One Minute Ago

The first group of them are dead. Leilania turned into a pillar of flame and is now merrily dancing on troll corpses. Almost half a dozen guards lay dead around us, their blood spreading fast on the fancy marble floors. We’re inside, mostly unharmed, and have several dozen guards, more than a few trolls, and Irovetti’s hand-picked troublemakers to go. Ray has found a secret door, behind which I can hear the growling voice of an cranky Velimar Koth.

We used to have this fellow from Tian Xia with us for about a year after we left Daggermark. He had this quote tattooed down his back that stuck with me. “The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight, and the only reason a warrior fights is to win. Otherwise, why be a warrior? It is easier to count beads.”

I lift my sword and put my shield into position. To the hells with beads.

I will fight.

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Explanations for the dead
Jacek visits the late Baron Rastilov

Jacek had adjourned, as he often found himself these days, to Tuskendale’s graveyard. The Council meeting had – again, as was becoming a frequent occurrence – been a weighty one, with difficult problems and no entirely satisfactory answers. So he came among the dead, in their peace, to seek his own.

The evening was cold, a wind blowing from the north down and to the west. From my old home to my new, and then to my foe’s, he thought. A reminder that we are all caught in currents not of our making and not under our control.

The King found himself before the memorial to the late Sasha Rastilov, first lord of Ursundova. A stark, severe statue, as befit a start, severe man. Although, there had been warmth too, Jacek knew.

“I know Lem is right,” Jacek begun, knowing the statue would not respond, but wondering if perhaps through Pharasma’s strange ways the dead might hear anyway, “but he is also not right. What would you do in my place, I wonder? You were the first King here, even though you did not style yourself as such, and but for a few twists of fate you might still be standing here, facing the challenges I now face.”

The twilight shadows played tricks with statue’s chiselled features. Sasha’s stony gaze seemed to look down at the King. Understanding, or disappointed?

“If we assault Irovetti in his castle, then yes. We did strike the first blow, in the open. And that cannot be taken back. But our opponent is not like us. He has been there, advancing quietly, for months. Like the water that soaks and freezes to crack wood and stone, not noticed until the damage has started. We can let his cracks widen, or we can replace old timber with new and mortar our seams shut.”

“Lem’s way preserves reputation among those men outside our realm who care little for it. And the Gods know the truth. My way, should we prevail, may yet avert the war in part or whole and preserve the lives of thousands of the common men. I do not like it, but it is what the teachings of Abadar tell me I must do. And the Lady that you and Lem serve… I would hope that she would understand.”

The statue, of course, made no reply.

“I must prepare, now. I hope that we will have a chance to speak again. Gods willing. Goodnight, First King.”

Jacek bowed and walked away, feeling Sasha’s gaze – and Iomedae’s – boring into him as he left.

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Crescent Moon High Above
Leilania Gets More of the Story

A thin crescent moon hovers high above me, her scant light casting the fields around me in shades of melancholy blue and penitent gray. It’s just me and Nibbs here, away from the city, away from the politics, scheming, and bickering. We needed a moment.

Our exploration beneath the monastery did not go as wonderfully as I had hoped. What I had hoped was a water spirit in search of redemption was in fact a vengeful ghost with a band of undead shades as his accomplices. This “Gardener” put up a hellacious fight, one that ended with several of my friends injured and the light of my soul all but extinguished. We all threw ourselves into the battle, but I ended up as a target for many of the apparitions, too many to dodge or avoid. The touch of the shades was like shards of glass reaching into my heart, like noxious acid burning in my blood. I am grateful to have made it through at all, but all the more grateful to my friends for helping to find the magic to restore my lost energy and make me whole again.

After the fight was done, we found what the gardener had been hiding. It seemed that, in life, he had become obsessed with the water spirit that had blessed the monastery with the gifts of enchanted wine—an exquisitely beautiful nereid named Avenda. After the monastery was destroyed in an act of treachery, the gardener took Avenda’s shawl for his own and had used his power to trap her physical form inside a water clock. Once the water clock was opened, Avenda was set free.

But Avenda’s story went deeper. Once free and assured of our intentions, Avenda told us that she had made her home here, beneath the hills, for a time long before the men had come to the River Kingdoms. She told us that she had been given stewardship of the sword “Briar” by the eldest after Narissa’s rebellion. As we discovered from Tiressia, Briar is the only weapon that can prevent the great and terrible beauty from fusing her dark creation to the mortal world. If she can recover it, our world is forfeit.

Unfortunately, it seems Irovetti found the imprisoned Avenda and Briar before we did, killing the Gardener and taking the sword as his own. He now certainly has Briar at his side, and thus, the key to either our salvation or destruction. We assume Irovetti also has Avenda’s magical shawl, an item so closely tied to the nereid that she is all but powerless without it. So now we add two new purposes to our coming war against Pitax—find Briar and recover Avenda’s shawl.

I must confess that Avenda fascinated me, even in her weakened state. It was not just her beauty, it was her otherworldly poise, her effortless grace. Once the shawl is recovered, I’m sure we will be fast friends. She also makes a wonderful bottle of wine. We found several bottles of it in the monastery’s cellars, and while my friends horded theirs, I partook. It was splendid. I also took some of the blessed water for Kaydee to use in her experiments. I can’t wait to see what she makes from it.

Now it seems everything is happening at once. Jacek has returned us to Ursundova, where we must organize a defense against armies from two countries, Brevoy from the North and Pitax from the West. Added now, we must recover Briar and return Avenda’s shawl. And then we will surely face Narissa herself. So many challenges lay ahead, and yet I find there is peace within me.

Looking upwards, the moon shines as my constant guiding light, even when her face is hidden, even when the clouds and rain come to hide her from me, even when she circles to the far side of our tiny green world. Challenge and trial cannot defeat me as long as I have her. Even death could not dissuade me from her purpose. I have faith.

I pray my companions have their own sources of solace to turn when they face the challenges ahead. They will surely need them.

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