Lem vs. Introspection - Round 36
Lem Considers his Friend's Sacrifice


I came home today from Fort Drelev. On my return I kissed my wife and hugged my daughter. Then I gathered my courage to go tell Herodes’s family that he wasn’t coming home.

Herodes’s wife seemed to know immediately why I was there. She offered me a seat in her living room and then sent the children out to play. Before I could find the words to speak, she said plainly, “I know my husband is dead.”

There was shock for a moment, then I began to speak, faster and more emotionally than I would have liked. I recounted the circumstances of Herodes’s fall as clearly as I could remember them. I described the battle against the Tigerlords and how Herodes’s charge had taken our vanguard into their midst even as I and the others fought from afar. I told her how we had entered the cave, defeated further foes, and then discovered a hidden door off the main chamber. Then I told her how the demons had come up out of the darkness like a hideous black storm of claws and teeth, how swarms of insects had poured from the ceiling and walls, and how Herodes had stood as a bulwark against them despite grievous wounds and insurmountable odds. I told her that his sacrifice gave Nibbs the opportunity to pull Gaeren’s body free from the melee. And I told her that I stayed to the last with him, that I had seen him fall, and that I had been powerless to stop them. I apologized to her…and then I wept.

Herodes’s wife had no such breakdown. Instead she crossed the room to me and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. She offered me a smile and told me there was nothing to be sad for.

She told me then that she had been expecting my visit for the last two days, since the very moment Herodes had fallen. She said that she had felt his pain when he was lost and had been visited by his spirit in her dreams that night. Herodes had told her then that he was going on to greater service. She told me that she was happy for him.

I stayed with her as she gathered her children and told them the news. I told the story again for them, this time in clearer tones and without losing my composure. They too seemed resigned to their father’s loss and kept brave faces throughout the tale despite tears forming in their eyes. I saw Herodes’s bravery in their expressions as they took the news. His strength is clearly their strength.

When the children had been sent away again I tried to talk to Herodes’s wife about recovery of the body for the purposes of resurrection, but she would hear none of it. “He died in Iomedae’s service,” she said to me, “He died protecting his friends. There is no greater honor. Don’t think that you will take that from him.”

So instead I swore to her that I would return to the demons’ lair and put them down. I swore on my honor that they would never harm another soul. This almost made her laugh. She said to me, “Herodes would expect no less.”

We parted company as the sun was setting, and I wandered to the waterfront to linger a while beneath the monuments to Sasha and Dyimi. I found myself talking to them as twilight fell, recounting the story again for their stone ears. I told them that I would make sure Herodes’s children were well taken care of, and in so doing I would make sure their father’s legacy in Ursundova lived on through them. That made me feel a little better…but the hollow feeling in my gut remained.

Journal, I know that a call to service would mean nothing without the sacrifices that come with it. Bravery is not bravery without the need to overcome fear. Honor is not honor unless you are willing to pay the price to keep it. I know that Iomedae calls on souls such as Herodes to fight not just to defeat evil, but to serve as examples to the rest of us, to bring her light to the world. And I know that Herodes’s loss, though great, is not the end of his spirit and the good it will do the world. I know all these things as surely as I know my name and the beating of my heart.

But standing beneath the stars that night, I wish I had had more time with my friend. Iomedae teaches that life is a precious gift because we are given so little of it to live. I have never known the truth of this teaching so well as I did that night.

When the moon dipped below the horizon, I came back to the castle and sat with my daughter for a time as she slept. I watched her tiny chest rise and fall and told myself to remember every moment of it. Then I fell into bed to hold my wife in my arms. We embraced one another without words until the dawn.

Soon Iomedae will call me back to service and I will answer. There is still evil to be faced and trials to be overcome. For now though, I will be grateful for the life I have and the example Herodes has left for me. Herodes would expect no less.

Two Guys in a Bar
Gaeren has a drink

The tavern was best described as warm. The fires kept everyone comfortable and the walls and furniture were of a mix of golden and dark browns that invited the imbiber to stay a while and relax. Great tankards were passed with expert precision and the conversation was always active, but never distracting or unpleasant. In a word, it was a drinker’s heaven.

Gaeren leaned back in his chair and examined his ale thoughtfully. The foam head peeked just outside of the wooden mug and he could feel a light chill escaping through the wood. When he drank from it, he could not remember a better ale, and he had made a point to sample several types in all of the many places he had been to. He didn’t look up at first when the voice addressed him.

“Is this seat taken?” It was a resonant male voice and Gaeren thought it sounded familiar.

“I don’t imagine that such a thing is allo…” he looked up at the man speaking to him and his words faded away. He sat and stared a moment, then recovered. “You unbelievable bastard.”

“You oughtn’t speak of our mother that way.”

“How did you even get in here? Doesn’t Iomedae have a curfew or some such?”

“Not as such.” Sasha sat down across from Gaeren. “And I was able to persuade my fellows that this was a family duty.”

Gaeren rolled his eyes. “Piss off, Rhaegar….Sasha…whoever the hell you are supposed to be.”

“Sasha’s fine.”

“Fine. Piss off, Sasha. I died as I expected to. Lost in a dungeon and in over my head. That’s the way these things go.”

“Except that poor fellow with the silver tray,” Sasha inclined his head toward a man in livery, watching the brothers anxiously, “has been waiting for some time for you to answer him. I believe it has to do with a cleric of Abadar seeking to raise you from the dead?”

Gaeren gave the man a sidelong glance. “Jacek, no doubt. As if answering at his call wouldn’t make the whole thing…”

“Stop whining.”

Gaeren looked up sharply, “I’m sorry?”

Sasha looked at his younger brother evenly. “I said ‘Stop Whining.’ You’ve done nothing but make yourself and others miserable with how things haven’t gone your way for months. When no one seemed to take to your idea of self-determination, you pouted. When the Republic seemed to like Ursundova more and more, you went off to your half-built castle and sulked. I hate to tell you this…”

“I’m certain,” Gaeren interjected.

“But…” Sasha spoke over him, “There seem to be plenty of people who are quite happy with strong, but enlightened leadership.”

“They’re happy leaving decisions on their lives up to other people.”


“I’m sorry. Did you just say ‘so?’”

“Yes.” Sasha replied. “If you’re so hell-bent on individual determination, why can’t you get behind the idea that some people want to follow those they admire or respect?”

Gaeren looked back down at his ale. “Fine, it’s not as if I have anything to say about the matter anymore.”

“So you’re not going back?”

“Why should I?”

Sasha leaned back in his chair. “I just didn’t think you were that sort of man.”

Gaeren took a drink of his ale. “Sorry, needed more alcohol before this bit. What sort of man?”

Sasha glowered a bit. “The sort who abandons his friends when they need him. The sort who abandons his family when they need him. In other words…”

“Dad?” Gaeren snapped.

“Me,” Sasha replied.

They sat silently after that for a few moments, then Sasha spoke. “It’s funny you talking about names. When I died, it was a very Rhaegar sort of moment. I was angry because I considered something beneath contempt and I went swaggering off to show how powerful I was. Much like that damned fool crusade, it destroyed who I was. I’m sure there’s been plenty of commentary at my expense about how I died, and I deserve it. But the truth is my pride killed me twice, and Iomedae wasn’t going to make me anew a second time. I only got that second chance because I was willing to accept help. Then I blew it. I didn’t figure even the best beer in the multiverse would be enough to pull you away from being able to say you were more reliable than me.”

Gaeren’s voice was far softer in his reply. “You made a mistake. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“But it was. I was supposed to be the example, and the moment I reverted to form, I couldn’t be that man anymore. You’re not the same sort of man, but you are someone that lots of people look up to. As someone who made that mistake, I implore you not to let them down.”

“Besides,” Sasha grinned conspiratorially. “Men like Jacek and Lem need the occasional thorn in their side. Keeps them honest. Lem was mine, but he’s…he’s different now.”

“Better or worse?”

“Just different.” Sasha looked at the bartender and nodded. “Well, I think I’ve about worn out my welcome. Not much appreciation for my philosophies here.”

Gaeren smiled and cleared his throat. “Clearly, they know you.”

“Funny. You get to answer that summons however you choose, Gaeren. But only some can endure what’s to come. If you stay, you’re passing that burden on to another.” Sasha turned to go.


Sasha turned to look at his little brother.

“I came to Ursundova to find you. You…you surprised me.”

“I surprised me too. Sometimes it takes a real fall to make us appreciate a climb. Goodbye, brother.”

Gaeren watched him go, then looked at the man with the silver tray. The man started to walk towards Gaeren, but the swordsman raised his hand. Gaeren lifted his mug with his other hand and drained it, then waived the messenger over.

On the marble slab in the temple of Abadar, Gaeren’s eyes fluttered open and he looked around at his comrades.

“Well, let’s not keep Armag waiting…”

The Case of the Hall of Remembrance, Part 2
Navigating Clues and Intrigue

Ulgar and Nikolai arrived at Shrikewatch on a pleasant Wealday, coming out of the woods to see the stone hill that formed the cap of the dwarven fortress city. At the hill’s perimeter, a few buildings had been established, but the majority of travelers passed through the large doors that had been carved in the hillside. Ulgar and Nikolai dismounted from the carriage that had brought them and Ulgar led the halfling away from the massive doors and to a narrow set of steps rising along the side of the hill. Ulgar had returned to his stoneplate armor, making him appear to be little more than a boulder with legs.

“This is the heroes’ passage. Purportedly, it is where the folk who came to clear out the place of trolls entered. Master Berrybrook and Her Grace, the Duchess, were among that group.”

“A well-defended spot, to be certain.” Nikolai observed as they reached the top of the steps. There did not appear to be a door, but Ulgar slid a heavy iron key into a crevice in the hill, turned it, and the stone slid to one side, revealing a small alcove. They stepped inside, but stopped almost immediately for the greeting party that awaited them.

They were, at first glance, a mismatched pair. A human female in shining plate armor, her long blond hair pulled back in a club, stood beside an older dwarf with practically no hair on his head, but a full white beard that lay atop his soft robes. Nikolai looked at the both of them and then bowed.

“Master Tharkun Blacklock and Captain Alla Gorski, I presume?” The two greeters looked slightly taken aback, but nodded.

“How did you know?” Tharkun asked.

Nikolai cocked his head to one side. “It was rather obvious, really. Captain Gorski is the Lord Commander’s aide-de-camp, so it would hardly be surprising that she might be waiting for him. Your own robes have touches of Brevoyan silk, marking you as a dwarf of means with local connections. Your golden chain is that of the Most Honorable and Righteous Fraternal Order of Illuminated Brothers, which is, if you will pardon my saying so, a semi-redundant title. Your hands bear the trademark bluish discoloration of alchemical work. A well-heeled alchemist dwarf with ties to the Illuminated Brotherhood and in the august company of the Lord Commander’s most trusted advisor? Who else could you be?”

Tharkun’s jaw moved several times before sound came out. “Well, when you put it like that…”

Ulgar seized control of the conversation, looking at Alla. “I don’t imagine you’re being here is a sign that all is well…”

Alla shook her head, “Konnar has been making accusations in public.”

Ulgar’s face reddened. “Damn him! I told him that I would resolve it and that he needn’t make matters worse by taking them public.”

Tharkun shook his head. “Both Konnar and old Dougal have convinced themselves that you are stalling to protect the Goldshines. You can expect that they will not take the inclusion of an outsider…” he nodded his head towards Nikolai, “…with a great deal of grace.”

“They’ll take what I give them until we’re able to get to the bottom of this.” Ulgar said through gritted teeth. “I presume they’re somewhere now, spitting at each other?”
Alla nodded, “The Steeltusks have formed a small mob outside of the Goldshine Counting House.”

Ulgar was already moving, “Let’s get there.”

They came upon a cluster of people that had progressed well on the road from angry group to angry mob. Four dwarves in heavy armor, swords in their hands, stood across the landing to the doors. At the foot of the steps was a dark-haired dwarf of middle years, his own armor gleaming in the torchlight underground.
“You’ll let us in and I’ll be taking that craven boy of your employer’s, unless you would care to accompany him to a holding cell, you pack of traitors.” The dark-haired dwarf had his hand on the axe at his belt and one foot on the steps.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Ulgar’s bellow carried through the cavern and echoed. Everyone turned to see the Lord Commander of Ursundova passing through the crowd around the building, leaving a wake in which traveled Nikolai, Tharkun and Alla. “Konnar, what in the nine hells do you think you are doing?”

As if in reply to the bellow, the door behind the guards opened and a young male dwarf stepped out. He was dressed in gray robes, with a leather breastplate beneath his short beard. A stone-headed hammer hung at his belt.

The dark-haired dwarf laughed bitterly. “Oh, now you’ll come out, Quinn Goldshine, since your paid protector has arrived.”

Ulgar went straight for Konnar, stopping a mere inch from his nose. “You’ll not question my honor again, boy. Unless you want an answer in iron.”

Konnar, who had been so full of bluster a moment ago, paled and seemed to visibly shrink at Ulgar’s anger. “I…I beg your pardon, my lord. I’m just…”

Ulgar’s features softened in turn, and he sighed. “You’re angry. You love your sister and want her safely returned. So do I. That’s why I’ve brought in an expert.” He gestured to Nikolai, who looked sidelong at the many armed and angry dwarves that were now eyeing him.

Konnar rediscovered some of his anger at that. “An outsider? My lord, I am in charge of law enforcement for Shrikewatch…”

“…and you do a fine job, Konnar.” Ulgar said, placing a hand on his fellow dwarf’s shoulder. “But we are fighters, not riddle-solvers.”

Konnar bristled slightly. “And what sort of riddle is there to solve? My sister went to the Hall of Remembrance to work on the carvings alongside that…” he pointed at the dwarf at the door, “…craven, who says that he left her there to get some rest. The next day she’s gone and the carvings are all of Goldshine glory.”

Quinn did not come out from behind his heavily armored protectors, but his protest was strident. “She was there and she was fine when I left!”

Nikolai stepped forward. “Is there someone here who was standing watch that night?”

One of the guards on the steps raised his hand tentatively. “Aye, my lor…er, sir?”
“Master Podvetov, if you please.” Nikolai answered as approached the stairs. “What is your name and what did you see?”

“My name’s Fergus.” The dwarf answered. “Ulic and I were on the watch that night.” He looked uncomfortably at Quinn, then at Konnar, then spoke. “Much of it is as the Warden says, my l…Master Podvetov. Brother Quinn and Mistress Gemma had gone into the Hall to work. Brother Quinn left a few hours before morning. At first light, our relief arrived and we went in to check on the lady. She was nowhere to be seen.”

Konnar interjected, “And the new carvings? All manner of images of the Goldshines, even the beginnings of their family symbol. Bastard didn’t even bother to clean up the stone dust, which is a violation of tradition.”

Quinn finally spoke up. “We didn’t carve anything new, you bloodthirsty bastard. We were…” he looked at everyone around, then cleared his throat. “We were…adding details to what had already been done.”

Nikolai arched an eyebrow, but looked back at the guard. “Is what the Warden says about stone dust true?”

Fergus nodded, “Aye, sir. All over the place it was.”

Nikolai’s gaze unfocused for a moment, but then he looked concerned. “Lord Commander, I must ask that you take me to the Hall at once.”

Konnar closed on the halfling. “No outsiders may enter. It is a sacred space.”
Nikolai did not flinch, gazing straight up into the dwarf warrior’s eyes. “If what I suspect is true, then the space has been profaned. Even if not, it certainly has not been consecrated. I must see the details for myself if I am to make a proper summation of events.”

Ulgar interposed himself. “He’s right, Konnar. An unfinished hall is hardly sacred, and if he says he needs to see it to find Gemma…”

Konnar gritted his teeth. “Fine, but we don’t keep torches in the Hall. You’ll need to bring your own.”

Nikolai nodded absently as he pulled a flask from his belt. “That may not prove necessary, as I bring my own capacity to see in darkness along.” He tilted back the flask and pupils bloomed outward, turning his eyes a solid black.

The party began moving through the common area, Quinn bringing along two of his guardians and ensuring that they stayed between him and Konnar at all times. Passing the shrine to Torag, they entered a massive chamber, its walls curving in an arc beyond anyone’s line of sight. They followed the curve of the wall for some time before stopping at a batch of carvings.

Nikolai stepped slowly around and through the area near the carvings, looking up and down. Periodically, he stopped and got down on all fours, sniffing like a bloodhound. “Something…something’s not right.”

Tharkun smiled wryly, “That is not new information…”

Nikolai shook his head and drew a sunrod from his backpack. “No, I need to see colors.” He struck the rod against the stone wall and it flared to life, filling the room with light. “Aha!” The halfling pointed at the dark gray dust on the floor. “The dust is not the same sort of stone. He lifted a handful and sniffed it. “This stone is familiar…recently so in my mind.” He sniffed the air and walked over to Ulgar, sniffing his shoulder. “This…this is the same stone.”

Ulgar frowned. “My plate is made of Basalt. But that’s a volcanic rock – there’s no basalt source within a hundred miles of here.”

Nikolai seemed to process that for a moment, then closed his eyes and said softly, “As I feared. Brother Goldshine. Do you think you could shape this dust into a stone pillar, say three feet in diameter?”

Quinn looked at the halfling quizzically, “I suppose. Why…?”

Nikolai raised a hand, “I can explain, should my theory prove correct.”

Quinn nodded and raised his hands, chanting a prayer. The dust started to shift, as if being blown by a wind, then it began to flow and take on liquid properties, gathering and rising. When he was done, the pillar was a hair over four feet tall. Nikolai’s expression was grim.

“Basalt…” the halfling began as he approached the pillar, “…is also a common product of petrification magic. I fear we have found the missing lady.”

Konnar roared and barreled through the two guards, seizing Quinn and driving him up against the wall. “You…YOU…” Ulgar and the two guards pulled Konnar away, but the younger dwarf’s axe was already in his hand. “No, my lord. Do not stay my hand now. He’s killed her.”

Ulgar did not reach for a weapon, but placed himself between Konnar and Quinn. “We don’t know that, Konnar.”

Nikolai nodded, adding quietly, “Indeed, it seems less likely now that Master Goldshine had a hand in this affair – petrification is not magic that comes naturally to those of a Druidic bent.”

Quinn looked at Nikolai quizzically, “How did you…”

Nikolai shook his head, “The stone head on your warhammer and your leather armor, obviously.”

“But the Goldshine boy remains the last person to have seen my daughter alive.” The assembled turned to see an older dwarf entering the room. His beard was as white as Tharkun’s, but more sparse and brittle. “And your theory is incomplete – Quinn Goldshine may not be able to petrify someone with the magic that Torag grants him, but that hardly makes him incapable.”

Ulgar cleared his throat. “Nikolai Podvetov, this is Dougal Steeltusk, father of the…young lady.”

Nikolai bowed solemnly. “My lord.”

The older dwarf favored the halfling with a dismissive glance, and then turned to Ulgar. “Lord Commander, the evidence is certainly enough to warrant further investigation by proper law enforcement, don’t you think? My daughter has been lost to us. There is one person who saw her. And then there are the carvings…” he pointed to the carvings along the wall. “These were not here prior to my daughter’s disappearance, and the suspect, I would say, damn near signed his name. That incomplete disc, with the waving lines. What could it be, but the sunburst sigil of House Goldshine?”

Ulgar’s face grew redder by the moment, but he paused, looking at Nikolai, who turned to the carving, holding the sunrod close. “The cuts are similar to these over here, the same sort of dwarves…”

“Cuts made by Quinn Goldshine. Lord Commander, must I insist on the rights of my house in more…public settings?” The older dwarf was now face-to-face with Ulgar, who took a deep breath.

“I’ll not make such decisions within hours of returning from a long journey…”

“In the morning, then?” Dougal refused to relinquish his advantage.

Ulgar sighed, “In the morning."

Only in death does duty end
Herodes' end

The silence of the tomb was broken seconds after the group found and opened the hidden doorway. Suddenly, the hallway was full of swarms of creatures crawling, skittering, and flying, the sound of buzzing rendering normal speech inaudible. At the back, two huge, lurking figures, an unholy magnification of insect features on a frame ten feet tall. Herodes knew this was some form of daemon, but one fouler even than those he had seen at the Worldwound. The chittering infected his thoughts, the presence of the fiends threatening his sanity; it was a struggle even to think.

A woman’s voice sounded in his mind. One he knew well, yet had heard only a few times in his life.

Focus, Herodes. This is your time.

The swarms spilled from the corridor, engulfing Gaeren and Nibbs as they came rushing toward the rest of the party.

The foe are beyond you. But all is not lost.

Herodes saw Gaeren’s sword slashing at the closest of the daemons, but unable to fend of the attacks of its five claws. The magus was going to fall. A fatal blow stabbed right through Gaeren’s torso and the fiend advanced hungrily, while yet more biting and stabbing and chewing swarms materialised and flooded over the heroes. Herodes knew what he had to do. Divine power flowed into his sword, the blade blazing with grey flame. He charged into the fray, sword grasped in both hands.

“Flee! I will cover you!”

His sword slashed into the fiend’s chest, the holy fire eliciting a shriek from the beast. In response one of the creature’s claws sliced into his abdomen, peeling through the plate as if it were silk. The second fiend roared behind it, impatient to enter the melee but unable to pass its cousin.

You have served well.

Time slowed. Herodes felt rather than saw the passage of bolts from Lem’s crossbow, Springsnap, and heard, over the buzzing, the shouting of his friends. He pressed his attack, trying to drive the fiends back, and all the while beetles crawled over him and pulled at his innards through the wound inflicted by the daemon.

The pain of the swarms distracted him and he stumbled. He looked up to see two of the daemon’s claws crashing down, burying deep in his torso. His sides exploded as the beast tore its claws free, and his arms followed with it. Herodes dropped to the ground and the swarms crawled over him and into him. His last sight was of his sword, still burning brightly, gripped in one of his severed arms.

Only in death does duty end.

Images flashed through Herodes’ mind; he saw his life as if from afar, from above. He saw his actions, all interconnected. He saw that everything had pointed to this moment; his contribution was not his service in Galt or at the Worldwound, but in bringing Lem to fully embrace Iomedae’s faith, and in his sacrifice this day so Lem and the others could escape. He saw what would befall Lem and Ursundova in the coming years, and the part Lem would play in it – a role Lem would only have a chance of succeeding in through his devotion to Iomedae. Finally he felt his wife and family, half a world away, and knew that they would grieve but endure.

Herodes understood, and then darkness overtook him, and he saw no more.

Gaeren's future is considered

Bendithimamau Goodlark was a quiet gnome when he had a mind for it, and he was able to observe Gaeren for nearly two minutes before announcing his presence. The magus had laid out his greatcoat on the ground as a blanket, and was leaning against a tree, taking long pulls from an unmarked bottle. Gaeren didn’t say anything, but he had arranged himself so that he was staring in the general direction of the Tiger Lords’ camp.

Bennie looked back over his shoulder impatiently, then stepped closer to Gaeren and cleared his throat. “Silver for your thoughts.”

Gaeren started and stared at Bennie for a moment. “Blast, I did not even see you there. Have you been here long?”

“Just arrived, actually. What ya drinking?”

Gaeren looked at the bottle, mind furrowed in concentration. “Err…I believe this one is Applejack. Honestly, I lost any keen sense of taste about a half hour ago.” His language was slurred and he seemed to switch gazes from the bottle back to the gnome on some sort of slide. “But you also asked for my thoughts. My dear Bennie, I’ve been thinking strategy.”

Bennie rolled his eyes. “Wasn’t that what you and the others were talking earlier?”

“No!” Gaeren replied in far too loud a voice for a stealthy camp. “That was tactics. Tactics is for the actual assault and killing and how to guide the mayhem. Strategy is how to use the mayhem and what manner of mayhem is ideal for achieving…” Gaeren glared at the bottle, as if it were withholding his words, “…ah, yes, achieving objectives of policy.”

Gaeren shifted to face Bennie directly. “You see, I’ve read several books on strategy lately. They’re halfway interesting, in that most are actually history books, and I enjoy history…almost as much as I enjoy whiskey and a lovely…never mind, not the point. It has occurred to me that this little adventure would make a fine pair of case studies. Perhaps, when all this is done, I’ll go home and write a book of my own.”

Bennie sat down, his gaze intent and his voice quiet. “What would your book say?”

Gaeren did not notice his friend’s seriousness, “Well…it’s the two enemies. Fort Drelev and the Tiger Lords were both complicit in the assault on Ursundova and both represented threats that required some manner of coercion to make them stop. At first, we thought to try and crack Baron Drelev’s will with an undermining of his army. That proved to be a poor decision that cost several innocent people their lives.” At that, he took another long swig, the liquid sloshing noisily in the bottle. “So we switched from Drelev’s will to that of his mercenary army. Mercenaries are, in fact, easy to do this with, because their will is tangible – it’s tied up in coin. That actually made our plan ideal, and far better than engaging the army directly. It was a harebrained scheme, to be certain; however, it turned out to be the right harebrained scheme.”

Gaeren was warming to his topic, but his face was growing agitated, as he stood and tried to pace. It turned into more of a slow, stumbling circle. “The Tiger Lords are something different altogether. Have you ever read anything on the church of Gorum? His only real holy text is a set of epic poetry, but his minions have written several of the books on war that I have had to plod through. Gorum believes in war for its own sake, as though the killing of people and razing of land were an end unto itself. Of the many religions I have encountered, that may be the STUPIDEST ONE I HAVE EVER MET!” His shout was directed at the heavens. “And now…” Gaeren voice croaked slightly, “Now we may have to kill them all.”

Bennie stood slowly, watching Gaeren intently. “Kill them all?”

Gaeren looked down at the ground, seemingly lost in grief, before he switched back to his stumbling lecture. “Well, yes. You see, there’s no coin to cut off and their will looks to be based on an idea, possibly surrounding this Armag bloke and his crazy sword. Oh, bugger off…" this last he said to the ebony blade at his hip. “So, if Chief Lunk the Barbarian wants desperately to be Armag, he’s thinking ‘If I butcher enough farmers and rape enough of their daughters, then Gorum will reach down with his rusty finger and bless me and I’ll drown the world in a tide of blood.’” His tone effected fey delight. “If we were to try and simply find Lunk and remove his poorly functioning head from his shoulders, his able lefttenant, Thunk, would determine, ‘Clearly, Lunk was not big enough and stupid enough to receive Gorum’s blood tide blessing, so I will butcher more farmers and rape more of their daughters, and then I will receive the rusty fingering of glory.’ And so on and so forth. The only way Gorumites turn their back on a battle is if it appears utterly futile.”

Gaeren sat down again, thought it was really more of a collapse to a sitting position. “So, my companions and I must strike them in a way that, if any survive and flee back to Numeria, they’ll tell their children’s children that the only thing waiting for them in the Stolen Lands is a pointless death. I had considered it vaguely unsettling that we had reached the point where we were doing murder calculus – kill the five leaders at Fort Drelev to save hundreds. This…this is so much more. What are we becoming? Bloody hells, what am I becoming? Most men get through their lives without killing another sentient being, and I’ve killed a dozen in the last month, with that number likely to grow exponentially in the morning.”

Bennie rocked back on his heels. “You’ll also save some folk. The ones in the cages.”

Gaeren smiled sadly at the gnome. “Fair point, Benditihi…Ben…” Gaeren cleared his throat and concentrated, “Benditihmamau. See, I do know your name.” He grinned and fell backwards into the grass, snoring almost instantly.

Bennie returned the sad smile and wandered back amongst the trees. He spotted his two friends and walked up to them as the approached, climbing along a tree branch.

“Will he fight?” asked Tyg-Titter-Tut.

“He will fight.” Bennie answered.

“Will he die?” Perlivash asked.

“He might die?” Bennie replied.

“What comes now?” Tyg-Titter-Tut asked.

“Come and watch.” Bennie answered. “Tell them all to come and watch. I expect that the morrow will be…” the gnome smiled in an unsettling fashion, “something to see.”

Lem vs. Introspection - Round 35
Lem tries to deny reality (not for the first time)


I’m back! After a quick trip home and a visit with the family I am rested and rejuvenated. It’s time to get back to meting out justice to the enemies of Urusundova!

Right? That’s still what we’re doing, right? I’ve got to admit, I may have lost my target a little bit on this one. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

Okay, what do we know for sure?

  1. Fort Drelev is liberated. The people that live there are free! They also sort of hate us. Why? Because we ran off the jerks that were killing them and killed the big jerk who lived in the castle. I think hate’s probably the wrong word, it’s more like a thorough disdain. Oh well, Isadora’s here now, I’m sure they’ll be eating out of her hands by the time we get back.
  2. The Tiger Lords are very bad people. As far as we can tell they’re responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in the slough so far. Well, most everything. Some of it. They were at least a contributing factor. They WERE the ones who tried to attack Tatzlford. So one way or another we have to take them out of the game.
  3. Oh right, we also have to rescue their hostages. We said we would. Wouldn’t want to go back on my word (right Io?). So hostages first, then assault the Tiger Lads.
  4. The Hooktongue swamps are apparently filled with very angry aquatic people. And probably also monsters. No wait, strike that, DEFINITELY monsters. The rumors just keep piling up. At least Leilania seems enthusiastic about exploring out in the Slough. I just wish Ray would stop laughing about it.
  5. There are monsters here too! In the hills I mean. The last ones we came across were the strange rat/cat/centipede dealies. Fortunately Gaeren was with us to blow most of them up. I never get tired of being glad he’s on our side (mostly).
  6. My kid is pretty adorable.
  7. My wife is pretty hot.
  8. We found the Tiger Lords camp! Now all that’s left is to push in, slaughter the baddies and save the innocent. Standard Fireday afternoon.

If I may digress for a second, there is something that’s been bothering me. The Tiger Lords obviously need stopping, and being barbarians, there’s probably very little chance that they’ll lay down their arms and agree to talk it out. I know this. I’m not totally deluded, I know there’s no peaceful way out of this for them…

…but man, do I want to try to find one. There’s some part of me that’s convinced that if we showed them the futility of trying to fight us we could turn at least some of them around. I mean hell, we saved a community of kobolds from themselves. Why couldn’t we do the same for a tribe of barbarians?

What really bugs me is that I keep wondering what would have happened if I’d been taken from that slave wagon by the Tiger Lords instead of my Dad. Assuming they didn’t eat me, I’d probably have ended up just like the rest of them—killing, pillaging, and destroying and never knowing any better. How many of them ever had a chance to try another way? How many of them just pulled the short straw?

Now Iomedae is pretty clear that right is right and wrong is wrong and even the worst of us should be able to tell the difference between the two. I agree with that. You can’t be burning a village down, firing arrows indiscriminately into fleeing civilians, and thinking to yourself, “This feels RIGHT.” No, I don’t believe we’re wired up that way (at least most of us). But I do think people can silence that voice of reason if they want to, and the more they do it the more natural it feels. That does make them bad people…but does it make the evil? And even if it does, does it make them so irredeemably evil that they deserve to die for it?

I know what Herodes would say. “YES,” and that’d be it. He’s probably right. The world’s a pretty harsh place and people get killed all the time for far less. I just wish they didn’t have to.

I do know that if it’s a choice between them and me or them or one of my friends, it’s going to be them. I’m not going to hold a shot to save a soul that’s probably already lost. Beyond that, I’m a dad now, I’ve got a family to take care of. I AM going home again at the end of this. I’m not going to let anyone get in the way of that.

Sorry to get all dour at the end journal, but I had to let it out. Thanks for listening. You’re the best friend the Champion of a minor nation state ever had.

Don’t worry, I’ll be safe. Before you know it I’ll be writing in you again.

The Case of the Hall of Remembrance, Part 1
Ulgar reaches out

Just two doors down and across the street from the imposing edifice of the Embassy of the Casmaron Republic is Trevelyan House, named for its architect. Unlike its more official neighbor, Trevelyan House is of that townhouse style that became popular about 15 years ago in Taldor. There is no gate, so the walkway to the door passes invitingly through the low stone fence. The garden is well-tended, with a few ferns and small trees. The door is that dark brown that speaks of solidity, with a pair of gleaming brass knockers, one set far closer to the ground than the other.

Just at that moment, Ulgar Ironbeard considered that door his nemesis. Like most nemeses that he was unable to assault with his beloved maul, it flummoxed him slightly. He had passed through the fence and to the door, had returned to the fence, then back to the door, and then to the fence once more. The stone of the fence was a slight comfort, unlike the many wrought-iron fences in this ostentatious district, but something deep inside told him that, once he knocked on that door, he set into motion a series of events that would be uncomfortable at best, disastrous at worst. The morning sun had crept along unhelpfully during his pacing, a reminder of passing time.

It did not help that he had dressed for the occasion. Rather than his customary stoneplate armor, which he had brought from his home in Janderhoff, he was attired in what he had begun to think of as his dress uniform. His prodigious beard and the sash of his great kilt mostly concealed a shining breastplate, leaving only one quarter of the raised boar’s head in its center visible. The dark green and gold of his kilt was partnered with the gleaming brass of a beard clasp and broad belt buckle. His black boots rose high enough to meet the kilt at his knees.

Finally, he took a deep breath and marched to the door. He very nearly retreated again when the door came open before he could grab the lower knocker. A slim human in green slacks and a white shirt was on the other side and he gave an apologetic nod to the dwarf.

“Apologies, sir.” He was solicitous, but sounded slightly exasperated. “Master Podvetov asked me to escort you to his office.”

Ulgar scowled. “Did he also tell you to be offensive about it?”

The young man blanched. “Beg your pardon, my lord. I didn’t mean…”

“Bah…” the dwarf grumbled, “Just take me to him, if you please.”

“Y..yes, of course, my lord.” He turned and allowed Ulgar into the house, then shutting the door. He led Ulgar up a flight of stairs to the second floor, where Ulgar saw that several of the rooms had been converted for occupants of smaller statures, while some had not. The room Ulgar was led to was, in fact, a mix. Six wing chairs were organized around different small tables, with an even mix of tall and short chair legs. A larger table would had another four chairs, though the shorter ones were on a small platform, allowing those seated at them to sit at an even level with their taller counterparts. It would have had four chairs, but one of the larger chairs had been replaced by a small bench, which Ulgar took appreciatively.

Across from Ulgar, in one of the elevated chairs, sat Nikolai Podvetov. There was not presently anything on the table between them, and the halfling sat back in his chair and regarded his guest. He turned to look at the human guide. “That will be all, Pieter. Please close the door on your way out.” The human bowed slightly and briskly made his way from the room. Nikolai turned back to Ulgar, “My personal apologies, Lord Commander. Pieter does occasionally lose patience.”

Ulgar almost glowered again, but then looked chagrined. “Well, I suppose I can hardly condemn the boy for that. I do appreciate you agreeing to see me so early.”

Nikolai raised his hand, “Not at all. I know the journey to Shrikewatch is a long one. How may I be of assistance to you?”

The dwarf pursed his lips a moment, then haltingly added, “In addition to your…perceptive talents, I have also been given to understand that you have some degree of discretion. I would depend upon this if I am to discuss this matter with you.”
Nikolai nodded, “Lord Commander, you have my word that, whatever I may discover in any matter to which you put me shall be only shared with you and those whom you designate.”

Now it was Ulgar’s turn to nod, “See that this is so. Very well.” He took a long breath before continuing. “Shrikewatch stands divided between the Goldshines and Steeltusks over an age old matter of dues, and there’s blood on both of their hands over it. I normally wouldn’t meddle, they can sort it out themselves, except that matters have recently been made worse by an engagement between members of the two houses.

“Strange, usually that is cause for improvement in relations.” Nikolai remarked.

“And it almost was. Gemma Steeltusk, a Torite priestess, and Quinn Goldshine, a druid of stone, were engaged. For a time things were beginning to look better, the two of them serving as a bandage to help heal over old wounds. But Gemma is missing now. She disappeared in the Hall of Remembrance, currently under construction. There are several servants and workers who saw them both go in, and only young Quinn came out again. Even more puzzling, the Hall has only one entrance.” Ulgar paused, his increasing tension marked by ever fiercer tugs at his beard. “Of course the Steeltusks are throwing accusation at the Goldshines, and the current city Warden, Konnar Steeltusk, has made multiple requests to speak with Quinn, but I’m afraid that letting Konnar interrogate the lad would only make Quinn confess to a crime that I don’t believe he’s guilty of. I see no motive in it, but as it stands, I can think of nobody better suited to deal with puzzles than you, Master Podvetov. We’re the sort that treats every problem as a nail- in this case, we need a non-traditional hammer.”

Nikolai listened to Ulgar’s explanation, his eyes focused on the dwarf and his fingers steepled in front of him. After a few second where the halfling seemed to be turning something over in his mind, he said “It is possible that Gemma has fled – it is not unheard of in arranged marriages.”

Ulgar shook his head, “I would be hard pressed to believe that, though you’re not the first to say so.” He cleared his throat, looking mildly uncomfortable. “Gemma’s and Quinn’s fancy of one another appears to go far beyond mere infatuation. My sister, bless her stone head, makes a hobby out of studying these kinds of relationships. According to her, things were going very well for the two, and she sees no reason for the two of them to balk from it.”

The halfling placed his hands upon the table, a slight smile appearing. “Your matter intrigues me, Lord Commander. It shall be necessary for me to journey with you to Shrikewatch in order to see some things and persons for myself, but I should be happy to do so.”

The dwarf let out a long exhale, but did not exactly look relieved. “I am appreciative, Master Podvetov.”

Quarter Moon at Midday
Leilania Considers a Strange Rumor

A grinning moon smiles down today from a perfect azure sky. She sings a soft song which I think no one else can hear. It is a song of mysterious lands and hidden secrets.

In Fort Drelev (it has yet to be renamed by its inhabitants) I have heard a rumor. It is not the kind of rumor that is easily pinned down, not the kind that is clearly false or simply explained away. Since coming upon it I have asked a multitude about it to little effect. At this point I think I may have to find the truth of it on my own.

The rumor I have heard is that there is a secret cult in the Slough lands, a cult that calls itself Imperare Lepus Flufflay. This cult is apparently quite old, dating back to well before these lands were settled by “civilized” peoples. Formed around the practices and songs of ancient druids, the ILF is said to be carried on by unnaturally long-lived humanoids who are sons and daughters of the founding members. The rumor says that they have been here thousands of years, living in cozy burrows dug deep into the northern hills. They worship the animal god of the pastures, a creature of infinite warmth with a comforting heart.

The adherents of the ILF’s practices are said to be gifted with strange and unique powers. They are said bound easily across the countryside as if their legs were made from springs. They’re also said to be remarkable diggers, capable of building entire communities beneath the dirt. But most interesting of all, the rumors say that the ILF’s adherents are gifted with amazing fertility, such that a single coupling can lead to the birth of six to ten babies. Not all of the children of such couplings live, but such is often the way in the wild places. Enough survive to carry on, that is all the matters to nature.

The men and women of the ILF are said to be quite reclusive in their practices, preferring to keep their own company and dashing away if strangers come to close. Apparently they sometimes disguise themselves to mingle among us, but when they do you can tell them by the twitching of their noses, the long length of their front teeth, and the strange taper and flop to their ears. On their own they are said to grow soft and beautiful fur over much of their bodies in many colors and patterns. With this remarkable fur to cover them they can live without clothes or other protection through even the coldest of winters.

From all that I’ve heard, the ILF is a harmless cult, far more content to eat and frolic in peace than to seek acceptance from the world of man. They are not known to fight anyone, they would rather run from battle, fighting only when cornered with no means of escape. Even then they are not said to be vicious, there are even tales that say they may frighten themselves to death before a battle even begins.

The ILF are also not known for inviting others to join their order, but now that I know of them I must see if I can try to greet them. I must admit the rumors of their ways endear them to me, their fur and features sound adorable, and their entire lifestyle seems idyllic.

Strangely, I can’t quite remember where I heard these rumors from or how they came to be so complete in my mind. I have a feeling that I heard them somewhere far away, as presented by a strange box with a glowing face. Perhaps if I meditate on it, the moon will show me more. She has always been kind with such visions.

Until then, I look for traces of the ILF as we head into the hills, hoping that I might stray across one of their order. If I do, perhaps they might invite me into one of their warrens to talk. I’m sure the discussion would be fascinating. With luck the moon will lead me to them.

About to strike

Patrolling this landscape in search of the Tiger Lords reminds me, in some sense, of my time near the Worldwound. Not those frantic days repelling evil from the fortifications, constant screams and blood, but the long, quiet, and weary work of patrolling further afield. Making sure that no roving bands of fiends had slipped past our guard. I remember the constant alertness; questioning whether each glimpsed movement could be a deer, a branch in the wind, or something worse. Hoping that we will find them before, rather than after, they find weaker prey than us.

And now, in this much less unpleasant realm, we have been hunting again. Our quarry haven’t been trying to hide from us – at least, not so far as we know – but there is still the same need for caution, for watchfulness. We have found the barbarians’ camp and we believe that we have the element of surprise.

I remember those old hunts. My initial enthusiasm and satisfaction at slaying the demonic raiders of the Worldwound quickly gave way to my realisation that there would always be more. A small battle in a larger war. This… may be different. This may be a battle to prevent a larger war. I will dare to hope that I am right.

Lem vs. Introspection - Round 34
Feeling Far Away


I miss my wife and daughter.

Really, missing them is the only thing I can concentrate on right now. I swear I’m trying my best to be responsible, I’m putting every bit of attention I can muster towards filling my role as the Champion of Ursundova. But honestly Journal, I am mightily distracted. I just can’t stop thinking about them. I can’t stop missing them.

Maybe this distraction is why I couldn’t hit the broadside of a blue dragon during the fight in the keep. It’s a good thing everyone else was so far above the top of their games that we made it through with hardly a scratch. Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over. There was a lot of blood up there when we were done. I guess I didn’t remember how sickening it can be to have to kill people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it all worked out, I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. It’s great that the Fort is liberated and we’re the (sort of) heroes. It’s fantastic that Gaeren’s crazy plan worked and we were able to take the fort with the minimum amount of bloodshed. And it’s super exciting that we can now look forward to killing endless hordes of Tiger Lords and gods know what else before we can pretend that Ursundova is reasonably safe again. It’s good to be useful. It’s good to be protecting people.

But really…really really…the only thing I’m excited about is seeing my family again. If all goes right, the day after tomorrow I’ll be back with Nina at my side and Elora in my arms. I know I have vows to upkeep and duties to perform in Ursundova, but at the end of the day it’s my family I’m doing this for. Adventuring for the sake of adventure doesn’t quite do it for me anymore.

I’ve actually done a lot of thinking about this lately Journal. I keep asking myself why I’m still doing this. I mean, why aren’t I focusing my attention on the two people in the world I really want to be with?

Well, the simple answer is because I can. The person I am is someone who can defend others. Whether or not they’re the ones I’ve pledged my life to, I’m still morally obligated to help those who need it.

But it is something more. I know it sounds corny, but I really want to build a better world for Elora. Tragedies like what happened here are reminders of why we can’t be complacent. Good people can’t just look away and hope that things will turn out for the best. Those that can fight, have to. Otherwise the darkness will win.

I know Nina understands this…hell, she probably understands it better than I do. Someday I hope that Elora will understand it as well. And then someday when I’m away from her, fighting another sick bastard in another bloody hall, I hope she’ll still be proud of her dad.

Gods I can’t wait to see them again.


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