We rested until the camp settled down for the night and then went to work, huddling quietly planning our attack. Of course the first thing we did was get into an argument—Lev hoping to talk Akiros, and maybe Auchs, into joining us—Cane arguing to slay them all. I backed Lev on this, wanting to extend amnesty to anyone who would join us, but for the most part my colleagues wanted no part of it.
“Do we really need to kill Auchs?” Lev asked.
“Oh my god!” Cane grumbled, disbelieving.
“Live enemies make armies, dead enemies make graves,” Kelm added with feeling, although without guidance I would imagine Auchs would have trouble making a passable washer of dishes.
“We’re not offering these guys an alternative,” Cane went on. “We don’t have time to dicker with them.”
Lev stared at him for a moment. “Auchs listens to Akiros," he answered stiffly. "If we can convince Akiros maybe we can do this the easy way, and slit the Stag Lord’s throat while he sleeps, then kill the anyone who disagree. Look at it—this fort is on our southern border. We’ll need it and we’ll need men—these men have combat experience, they know the lay of the land . . . “
“They are bandits,” Piea grimly reminded him.
“I like the idea of using this as the southern border post,” Kelm finally allowed, “but if we get men from Kesten won’t they be more reliable?”
“We’re going to need men to go out and break kneecaps for us,” Lev replied, practical to a fault. His generation calls it Realpolitik. In a past life I would have had him drawn and quartered without qualm.
“I’m not against your trying,” Cane said unconvincingly. “Why don’t I sneak upstairs and be ready to give Auchs the old coup de grace if your little palaver with Akiros goes south."
We waited quietly as they departed. Through all this an enormous owlbear sat watching us glumly from its jury-rigged cage nearby. Where the Stag Lord found this fearsome creature, how he captured it, and did he have unnatural relations with it as has been debated for years—now we'll never know these things.
On entering Akiros’s room Lev saw that he lay quietly on his cot in one corner, which was near full with crates and mounds of ill-gotten gain. A lamp guttered dimly nearby as the heavy sound of the Stag Lord's breathing came from the behind a door.
“Step backward real slow friend,” Lev heard Akiros say quietly, without emotion.
“Good evening,” Lev smoothly replied. “There is something I wanted to talk with you about. . . .”
We stood fidgeting outside the door.
“Your master has many enemies,” Lev continued in his wheedling way, “and we're here to end his nefarious career. You would do well to join us lest you fall with him, blah, blah, blah. I'm sure you've heard it all before. Oh, and your Mother sucks eggs.”
Unsure about his strategy, I tensely gripped my sword. Suddenly, the night was pierced by a scream upstairs as Cane disemboweled Auchs, who bawled like a child, calling pitiably for his mama. “I like killing people,” Cane would shrug later in explanation. Immediately Dovan the rogue, who had obviously been biding his time this while, stood dramatically and slashed Piea. “You look good in red, m’dear,” he said with a leer, licking his lips with excitment.
From the back room came a sudden roar. “Raowlerghh! What are you doing out here?” The Stag Lord had awaken from his drunken stupor and was murderously lurching after Lev. To the Stag Lord it must have seemed like just another violent dream.
Lev turned to run, the crates and stacks of ill-gotten gain blocking his path. He felt the wind from a well-aimed dagger brushing his face as it hurtled towards the Stag Lord—Akiros! Et tu, so Lev’s instincts had been right even if his technique was lacking. Let this be a lesson for you, little Pino: "Man’s motivation springs from his heart, not from his head."
I struck a bandit who reeled away while remaining upright, glimpsing Dovan shoving one of his “brothers” into the path of Kelm’s blade. I then heard the creak of the fearsome owlbear’s cage opening behind me as Piea engaged Dovan in combat, having no luck as the wily rogue dodged her attack with a delighted laugh, which quickly became a yelp of pain as Lev—who had left Akiros to the gentle ministrations of his Stag Lord—juiced Dovan with his new wand of magic missiles.
Suddenly Lev slapped his forehead with disgust. “What an idiot!” he moaned. “Once a day I get to reroll a diplomacy check!”
“Suck it up,” I cried frantically. “Look, it doesn’t matter.” We glimpsed Akiros in the next room desperately stabbing at the Stag Lord who reeled lethally towards him, like the infamous Drunken Master of lore. No going back for him, then.
Invoking holy justice I slew the bandit before me just as the fearsome owlbear emerged like a parasite from its cocoon, grappling Kelm (who had been trying to shut the cage) in its fearsome beak, gnawing on him like Auchs would a pork chop. I know, Pino, that your owlbear doll, Fliffety-Fluffers, is cute and cuddly, but believe me the real thing is a bloodthirsty beast, standing well over eight feet tall and weighing three-quarters of a ton.
In the back, Piea was whiffing like a spinball player with heat stroke. Turning on his heal, Lev ran back into the other room, making an unexpected leap past the Stag Lord (as if he thinks he’s the Cordobles of legend), but the Stag Lord wobbled into his path unexpectedly, striking with a ferocity that belied his state, leaving Lev as staggered as his foe. He then whipped out his bow and hit Lev again, but thankfully missing his second, probably lethal, shot.
“Help me,” I heard Lev plead in a weak voice while, nearby, Kelm was more vocal. “Kill it!” he wept from the slavering maw of the beast. “Oh god, you have to kill it!”
Cane, who had finally joined us after dispatching Auchs upstairs, responded to Kelm's plea by striking the owlbear violently with his blade.
In the next room Akiros stood above Lev, hesitantly.
"Kill him!" the Stag Lord slurred. He probably wouldn't have even remembered this in the morning, or Akiros's betrayal. “Eep!” I heard the fetchling squeak in alarm. Has he turned again? I wondered as the owlbear approached me, swinging Kelm like a rag doll.
I struck it with all my strength, giving it a fearsome wound. It realized for the first time that it too can die. Cane wounded it again. He had the distracted look of a surgeon removing an infected limb.
The entire scene was chaotic and I lost track of the action that wasn’t right in front of me. Even so, I was startled by the Stag Lord’s angry slurred voice coming from the next room. “Damn you! Kira-thatsnew gimmin dal hell skonk!!” he roared.
I struck the owlbear again as, with a sigh, its eyes lost focus and it fell grotesquely to one side. Cane lowered our barely conscious friend gently to the floor.
“Thus will justice prevail!” I heard myself say unnecessarily. Tradition must be maintained.
“Old reliable,” Kelm gasped in gratitude, but none was needed. I do what I do to honor your father, my friend Jaquizz, whose dream it was to save this land for Brevoy, for Issia, and for his beloved Erastil!
“Sweet life,” Kelm sighed before hoisting himself up to help Piea in her battle with the wily rogue Dovan, who was no longer sneering or rotating his hips lasciviously.
“Damn you Akiros!” the Stag Lord cried from the next room as Akiros made his decision, plunging his blade deeply into the Stag Lord’s side. “I should have killed you when I had the chance,” he gasped, vomiting gouts of blood. “Grahhurrgh. . . .” Cheers filled the room.
“I surrender! I surrender,” Dovan cried just as I was about to judge him most foul. I hesitated, then commanded him to drop his weapons. “Holy crow!” he exclaimed with surprise.
“What do we want to do with him?” Piea scowled, holding her damaged leg.
“That depends on him,” I answered.
“Are we going to take him hostage? Otherwise I’m going to kill him!” she growled. No denying that her blood was up. Ignoring me she looked to the others where there was no mercy for the unrighteous. So be it.
“Akiros joined our side,” Kelm summed up, “and so Akiros lives. Donovan . . .”
“Dovan, chump!” the helpless rogue cursed. "Dovan of Nisroch!"
“. . . hit us with his weapons and that’s why Donovan dies.”
“He did,” Piea agreed. “He hit me a lot. I don’t like him,” with a swift blow from her axe she knocked him senseless. “I wanted to kill him!” she complained bitterly when she saw that he still breathed, if raggedly.
“Not to worry.” Kelm leaned over, matter-of-factly slicing his throat. The battle was over.
“I couldn’t be sure when you first showed up,” Akiros was saying to Lev as they approached. “You seemed pretty green to me.” He looked up at us. “I was wrong.”
• 7 leather armor
• 7 short swords
• 7 longbows
• 105 arrows
• 1 leather armor
• 2 potions of cure moderate wounds
• 1 potion of lesser restoration
• 1 club
• 8 pieces from a Knights and Dragons game (maybe Little Billee will like these)
• 45 gold
• masterwork studded leather
• +1 rapier
• 3 daggers
• silver Stag Lord amulet worth 20 gold
• 2 turquoise ear rings worth 130 gold each
• 28 gold
• 2 platinum
Lev suddenly appeared with an angel food cake he’d found in the bandits’ kitchen, still warm from the oven, and we shared it hungrily.
The Stag Lord:
• 2 potions of cure moderate wounds
• +1 leather armor
• masterwork longsword
• +1 composite longbow (+2 strength) (to Marquand)
• 17 arrows
• +1 amulet of natural armor (to Cane)
• horned helm of the Stag Lord
2 chests, where we found:
- 1 bolt of burlap
- old clothing (which I think we’ll donate to good Will, the cleric)
- iron ring (Marquand)
- 3 very old crudely stitched leather masks
- 141 gold pieces
- polished azure crystal, 9 gold
- carnelian, 80 gold
- hematite, 13 gold
- shard of obsidian, 14 gold
- red garnet, 100 gold
- pewter belt buckle depicting entwined succubi, 30 gold
- silver charm bracelet, 60 gold
(I expect you to find out about all these jewels and minerals and describe them for me by the next post.)
Will we be sharing any of this with Akiros?” I asked naively.
“No!” Kelm and Cane said as one. “He gets to keep his life, that’s enough.”
“But his help was the balance,” I said, not really understanding why I was pleading for him. “If he hadn’t changed sides they would be the ones stripping our bodies.”
“Or we’d have his gear as well,” Kelm sneered, turning to go.
“Thanks, friend,” Akiros said to me as we followed. “But it’s unnecessary. My life has always been in forfeit to someone.
“Not so fast fellows,” Akiros called to my colleagues departing backs. “There is still the crazy old coot in the basement.”
“What?” they asked incredulously.
“The Stag Lord keeps him down there. I don’t understand it at all.”
“Let’s go down,” said Piea, wearily.
“Behind a large rock we found a passage. “Be careful,” Akiros said. “He’s dangerous. He’s a druid and an insane devotee of Gozreh.”
“I feel that way, too, sometimes,” Cane muttered darkly.
The cellar was as murky and creepy as you might imagine. Piea and Kelm continued arguing, as they had for most of this day.
“Watch out he’s a sneaky bastard,” Akiros hoarsely whispered.
We peered into the dark space below the keep, wishing our torches reached further into the murk. It was cold and damp as the nighttime air blowing off Lake Reykal the summer you visited my chateau with your family. Your father’s wit was sharp as the air that first night. “Marquand,” he said while staring out over the water, a crescent moon hovering red above the horizon—an improvident omen we ignored at our peril.
“Marquand, surely you see that its the worship of Abadar that keeps us under the thumbs of the ignoble families (he refused to call them noble, despite the penalty). Many of them are incompetent and fools yet, there they are, above us thanks to their birthright alone, not their merit. Think of what our nation could accomplish with the best and the brightest in charge.
"And if society’s at fault," he concluded sadly, "then the deity they worship must, too, be at fault!”
How could I answer? I’d sworn to uphold that society. “What do you expect to find in the Stolen Lands?” I asked him, heart sick.
He sighed, inspecting his glass of Radis de Lune ’04 in the pale moonlight.
A sound crept out of the darkness beyond, like a rake over charcoal, and then a deep thrumming as tentacles (covered with tiny parasites about the size of cockroaches) emerged from the darkness followed by one awesome leg after another. An immense head, faceted eyes as stupid as poor old Auchs’s, and fearsome mandible snickering out to bite, sever, and chew, which it proceeded to do to Cane, causing him to bleed like a knackered steer.
Fortunately, it proved easy to dispatch. Then Piea and Kelm bumbled into a spiders’ nest and were swarmed by villianous poisonous arachnids, fast and small, almost impossible to hit. We slapped and punched the two far more than we did the spiders. To top it off a savage wolverine appeared and launched itself onto Piea, razor sharp claws slashing at her guts. Exhausted by blood frenzy we killed everything
The wolverine transformed into the shape of a man. “Pathetic,” Akiros muttered.
Was he referring to the old man or us? I wondered, wishing we had captured the old devil, but truly, Pino, I never thought of it until it was too late.
We found a tremendous amount of assorted tools and weaponry worth 6850 gold. There was also a chest containing:
• 4500 copper pieces
• 2052 silver
• 894 gold
• 20 platinum
A large bag contained jewelry worth 2900 gold.
That’s when Cane and Kelm flanked Akiros, angrily demanding his allegiance, leaving no doubt the alternative was death. Lev then spoke in his favor, saying he might be exactly the guy we’d need to do our dirty work someday. They call it nation-building, little one, and it dirties everyone who touches it. Never forget the sacrifice your elders make for you! With little choice, Akiros agreed, which strikes me as not the best way to win a man’s allegiance
We spent several days burying the dead, inventorying, and packing our bounty onto the bandits’ horses. We then headed north, back to Oleg's. I rode for a time beside Akiros but he had little to say, except this:
“I watched after Auchs from the time the boy first showed up,” he said tiredly, a man beyond caring. “Sure, he was dumb and he had no chance on his own. He’d run away from home after killing someone by accident—his cousin, I think—due to his freakish strength, not meanness. He was bug infested and starving when he turned up at our gates. I put him to work and made sure he stayed out of the Stag Lord’s way. He was too stupid to use on forays so he mostly watched the horses. He was just a big, dumb, goodnatured farmboy and you slit him open like a pig and left him to die calling for his mama.”
He looked at me coldly as righteous words died in my throat. “It’s the company you keep,” he shrugged, spurring his horse, “and whether or not you’ve got a piece of paper from some rich men saying it’s all right.”
We made only one stop, to honor our promise to a dead man by bringing him another dead man. We dumped in what remained of the Stag Lord into the water at Nettles' Crossing, waiting as, like an old crocodile, Nettles rose quietly and grabbed him, taking the Stag Lord to his deserved hell below. A +1 ranseur floated to the surface in payment
We proceeded to Oleg’s where we had the pleasure of returning Svetlana’s ring. She hugged us each in turn as Oleg grumpily allowed us 200 gold apiece in credit. We spent much of the day cleaning up, storing our new possessions, taking care of the horses, and dickering with Oleg over the value of our stuff. Happily I saw that Autolycus had returned safely, feeding him several large carrots to his satisfaction. I also presented Little Billee, who looked fatter and sassier than when we left, with the game pieces we’d found.
That’s when Kesten, looking upon us with sublime satisfaction—the cat that had gotten the canary—read a proclamation from the Swordlords granting us our greatest wish—the right to rule this land as our own, underwritten with 50 build points (worth 200,000 gold). You’re father is truly vindicated at last.
We then retired to Oleg’s dining room to hammer out the boring details of our leadership:
- Secretary (Baron): Lev Davidowich
- Councilor: Akiros Ismort
- General: Piea
- Grand Diplomat: Svetlana Leveton
- High Priest: Marquand
- Magister: Kelm Taslor
- Marshall: Jhod Kavken
- Royal Assassin: Kesten Garess
- Spymaster: Skot Skevans
- Treasurer: Oleg Leveton (making the fox head of the henhouse)
- Warden: Cane Alexson
- Mascot: Little Billee Weaver
The very first thing we couldn’t decide was a name for our realm, so we put that aside for the time. Kelm came up with a plan to finance our startup, counting it as a sixth member of our association when we split up our fund, making 2834 apiece, and 8634 gold in our treasury. You may try adding these figures up for me because it makes my head hurt.
After some time we finally agreed upon a name: The Peoples Union of River Kingdoms—PURK, or "The Union" for short. Apparently, we're still in disguise.
Hope to see you soon,