Kingmaker

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

Journal,

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.

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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.”

“So?”

“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.

“Rhaegar?”

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…”

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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.

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Strategery
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.”

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

Journal,

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.

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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.

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Hunting
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.

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Lem vs. Introspection - Round 34
Feeling Far Away

Journal,

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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New Moon in Mists
Leilania Reflects on the Liberation of Fort Drelev

The moon lays low above the slough once again, this time with her face hidden in shadow. With Drelev’s tyranny overthrown, the people of the fort wander the streets with guarded gaits and worried faces. They have yet to decide if we’ve come to set them free or force another yoke on their shoulders. We have tried to show them, both in word and deed, that we mean them no harm. But such deep-seated fear is not so easily swept aside. There is much to do here.

In a way, it’s not hard to see how they came to this place. There are enemies all around, barbarians to the north, warrior tribes to the east, and monsters to the south. The incomplete walls of their fortress town and the blades of their master’s hired soldiers surely must have seemed the only possible bulwark against the darkness beyond. I can understand why it came to this. The tragedy is that we did not come sooner to undo it.

I am anxious to return to Tatzlford. I am anxious to see my friends again and sleep beneath familiar trees. I know the others feel the same, I can hear it in their voices and see it in the way they look behind them. They have lives and families that are far away. I don’t begrudge them the desire to be home once again.

But at the same time, I think there is promise here. The people of Fort Drelev have been mistreated, abused, and frightened into a sense of reactive anger. But the land they live in is a beautiful one, and if they were encouraged to regather their strength, I’m sure their minds and spirits could be changed. Not all will stay—some may go to Ursundova, others to the River Kingdoms or North to Brevoy. But a few would remain, and on the foundation of their courage a new country could be born.

I do not take credit for it, but I am proud of what Tatzlford has become. In a few short years my friends have built the town they wanted, a place that they could unreservedly call home. I see something of the same spirit in these people. But before that can happen there are other challenges to overcome and other tyrants to put in their place. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

The moon will begin to show herself again in two days, by which we will have likely returned to Ursundova. I will greet my friends and tell great stories over pipeweed and firelight. And then I think I will return here, to see the task done. The moon’s light will return in time to guide the next battle. And then perhaps to peace. I still hold out hope.

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Off With Their Heads

Gaeren had found himself a quiet spot on Fort Drelev’s battlements. He had a good view of the town and his pipe was sending out tiny smoke signals as he looked down at the shops and homes, turned a blazing gold by the setting sun.
“There have been worse days.” Bennie said cheerfully as he strolled towards Gaeren, Click following behind obediently. “You don’t seem much interested in the talks, though. I thought you liked talking.”

“Depends on the subject,” Gaeren replied. “If Lem throws out the phrase, ‘War Criminal,’ one more time I shall likely say something regrettable,”

Bennie cocked his head to one side, “Well, they did invade Ursundova…”

Gaeren smiled around his pipe. “That they did. But that doesn’t make one a war criminal in the River Kingdoms, it only makes one a failure. River folk may have what they hold, but Courts are for Kings. If I send 100 men to invade Mivon, by the River Freedoms, Mivon can send men to try and kill me, but claiming I broke Mivonian law is a stretch too far. No, Ursundova is less interested in the River Freedoms than they are in notions of sovereignty and a very specific concept of Justice. Well, they’re welcome to it, but I’ll not participate. I did what I came to do.”

Bennie took a seat on Click, who buzzed once, then settled to the ground. “Your strategy seemed to pay off, though.”

Gaeren nodded. “Good to be right. Better to be lucky. We were lucky, insofar as it went. The Tiger Lords are still out there and they, for what it’s worth, are the ones who really engineered the invasion. Dragging Drelev’s wife and mistress before a court will make the forces of law and order feel righteous, but won’t do anything about the threat to the people. This Armag fellow is still out there, and will be coming for us eventually. Best to get ready.”

Bennie sighed, “Can we at least enjoy a victory for a day or two?”

Gaeren looked at Bennie and grinned. “Apologies, my friend. The chit-chat put me in a foul mood. You’re quite right. I do think a bit of celebrating is in order. Not every day you get to overthrow a mini-tyrant, eh?” Gaeren pulled out his flask and Bennie produced a small tin cup. The two of them toasted to freedom and watched the sun go down.

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