The Kingmaker

"Enter the Stolen Lands, a wilderness claimed by nobles, bandits, and beasts alike. Into this territory the fractious country of Brevoy sends its emissaries, tasking them with subduing the lawless folk and deadly creatures that have made it a realm of savagery and shame. Beyond the last rugged frontier stretches the home of voracious monsters, capricious fey, wily natives, and bandits who bow to the rule of a merciless lord none dare defy. Can the PCs survive the Stolen Lands, bring their dangers to heel, and lay the foundations of a new kingdom? Or will they just be one more fateful band, lost forever to the ravenous wilds?"

The Stolen Lands, a wild lawless place awaiting the hand of strong justice. A politically ambiguous place where many parties vie for control. Into this cauldron of woe walk five heroes-in-the-making to create their own nation. Patriots—but to what cause?

Kingmaker is a Pathfinder Adventure Path role playing game published by Paizo Publishing under the terms of the Open Game License. It provides a rich backdrop for a group of pioneers as they attempt to bring civilization to a wild, untrammeled land. This website is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing.

This blog represents the letters of one of these characters, Marquand, a bitter, righteous man—an Inquisitor defending his faith in the deity Erastil against all the enemies of civilization.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Letter Eleven—Danse Macabre

Dear Pino,
What I last remember was being picked up by the monster like a child’s toy. Then I was floating in a vast silvery landscape. I looked about myself numbly, as if in a dream. It was uniform sameness everywhere and I was alone. I don’t know how long I was there—a minute or an eternity was the same to me.

Eventually I came to realize that light was brighter on one side of the vastness and was getting brighter as if I was being attracted to it. I noticed faint mist filling the vault and eventually saw there was movement, a shifting amongst the clouds. Soon this movement came to resemble schools of fish swimming through water. At some point I realized that what I was seeing were the souls of the recently departed, like myself, traveling through the Astral Plane to be judged by great Pharasma. In time I joined one of the groups as we continued being attracted towards the light.

So, I was dead. Funny that. I always thought Piea or Cane would be the first to go. I suppose I should have been looking forward to an eternity of bliss in Erastil’s happy hunting ground but without you and Pirna it would seem an empty place. I wished you both a long life but eagerly anticipated you joining me someday. Don’t lose faith in Old Deadeye, dear girl, for I don’t want to lose you for eternity.

By this time I could see Pharasma’s great spire in the distance and more schools of souls moving there. When we finally reached the Boneyard, the tombs of the damned stretched far beyond sight, a vast graveyard where we milled about waiting to be gathered to our final destinations.

After a time I noticed a traveler standing next to me. She was a rare beauty, hair red, jade green eyes, a mischievous engaging smile, and regal bearing—a queen?

“My name doesn’t matter,” she said with a sad smile. “I’ve been called by so many. I lived in Old Korvosa. How about yourself?”

“Marquand of Tuskland,” I declared.

“Ah,” she smiled, “Then I’m probably not responsible for you being here.” She laughed, and several heads turned, grimaced sourly, and turned away again.

“No, dear lady, I was rent asunder by a very angry owlbear.”

I don’t know how to describe what follows, Pino, except as another drear lesson for your ever-thickening notebook. This woman, this infamous Queen—Ileosa, I was now certain—had killed her liege, seduced and murdered his brother, murdered his friends and guard, and half the population of his city—she had me smiling shyly like a schoolboy. Her warm open smile invited me into intimacy that was not natural. I wanted to share her laughter, ask her favor, gain her love. To touch her heart I told her about Lily.

She smiled sweetly, sadness on her face. “Well, there are only two reasons for a woman to ignore a man. The first is if she wants nothing to do with him—and I don’t believe that for a minute,” her hand touched my bicep intimately. “The other is that she desires you but fears the consequences.”

“My Lily fears nothing,” I protested.


A bright smile parted her lips. “There is a third reason,” she said, hand on my shoulder. Pulling me down she whispered in my ear, “If you're brave enough to face it—she wants you bent to her will first.”

I sighed, looking out over the drear tombstones that mottled the landscape. “I don’t suppose it matters now.”

We embraced as the dead shuffled past. “I left someone I loved behind as well,” she said, face buried in my chest. “I always intended to return to him, but,” she shrugged. I brushed the tears away from her eyes. “I met Kazavon instead.” She reached up, placing the palm of her hand to my cheek. It was cold as death.

She felt it, too, suddenly hugging herself, while moving away. “I’m waiting until my true love arrives,” she said huskily. “It might take awhile so, you know, I have to keep moving or they'll find me first." She gestured to the sky, "It was good meeting you, Marquand of Tuskland. I'll see you in hell.”

She turned and walked away, joining a troupe of freshly murdered mimes passing by. "I have to doubt it," I thought.

Not long afterward I heard the rustling of large wings overhead and I saw a creature—creatures—descending. It hovered in front of me, two beings linked, one glowing white and blue and the other orange and ebony. It was Pharasma’s herald, the fabled Steward of Skein. It gestured my forward.

“You’ve been called back to the world of the living, Marquand.”

“But why?”

The blue/white one looked away but the orange/black one laughed out loud. “Piea’s eloped!” it cackled and that’s all I needed to hear. Duty called. The next thing I knew I was coughing up blood in a cleric’s back room, a jagged red scar crossed my naked body from stem to stern.

I slept for most of the week following, but you know that. I want to thank you for the many kindnesses you showed me and the many bowls of broth you brought me, even if they did grow cold eventually and gather flies. The world seems a dream to me.

My first official act was to preside over the dedication of Owlbear City Park. I was pleased to see my old adversary stuffed and leaking feathers on a pedestal in one corner, near the fangberry bushes. My speech was simple, “Et tu, owlbear,” but Lev more than made up for it with his speech. I slept through most of it but thanks to an elixir of eyes seeming everyone thought I was awake. Later, I tried helping with the rebuilding of the waterfront but they wouldn’t let a distinguished man like me haul lumber and I was fit for nothing else.

I was even indifferent to our most recent public scandal where Earle Varginia was arrested for accidentally chopping the arm off a complete stranger. Lev said that people were doubting our ability to keep the peace. I answered by tapping my whip.

Soon after I saddled Autolycus and joined my colleagues on the road south.

“Do we really want to go fight a bunch of big trolls without Piea?” Lev asked as they argued about where we should explore next. Piea and Arven have both disappeared. Perhaps youthful passion had overcome sense of duty. Let this be a lesson to you, Pino. Never fall in love!

I’m kidding of course. I’ve heard that Lily was upset by my death but even more upset by my rebirth. She thinks of me as somehow unclean and I must admit that I feel the same way. Erastil believes in honoring the natural cycle of life and death. I worry that I have failed him. (Not to mention the great cost to the city in resurrecting me, which I vow to repay.)

Bert Askew told me that he wouldn’t be accompanying us on this trip, preferring to stay behind to squire your Mother! I guess they met at a barn dance while I was recovering and now he thinks of little else. He surprised me by asking my permission to try and win her affection. What could I say? Who am I to stand in the path of love’s arrow?

Holy Symbol of Milani
In his stead Lev introduced Vladimir to us, a Cleric of Milani, who has been declared Lev’s aide de camp. He studied at the Everbloom Monastery outside Artume, southwest of here, before receiving his Brothership. As you know, Milani is the patron of those who fight against oppression and unjust rule.

It's also Duke Lev’s deity.

West of the Tuskwater we encountered an old man traveling with a big mountain lion for companion.

“I like your lion,” Cane murmured shyly. “Can we take it in the woods?”

A long silence followed.

“What brings you to these parts?” Lev finally asked.

“I’m just wandering. Seeking out new places and new people to spread the word,” he replied, seeming drunk.

“Word of what!?”Lev yelped as the man suddenly lunged forward, stabbing him in the stomach, but it wasn’t much of a fight as Sizzles and Cane quickly subdued his cat while we disarmed the old man and trussed him up.

We took from him:
•    +1 leather armor
•    +1 whip
•    +1 ring of protection
•    masterwork short sword

“You got manners of a goat,” the man hollered. “I want to kill you! I wanna make soup out of your Mama!”

We looked at him aghast.

“Who put the polka dots on everything? Huh?”

“Have you been eating mushrooms, old man?” Cane mocked.

“Keep away from me with your flaming fingertips! I’ll kill you like I killed my brother and then I will eat you like I ate my father and then I’ll . . .”

Here I must decline to record his words, dear Pino, they are foul beyond imagining and were said simply to provoke us.

“You have problems,” Cane observed.

“You,” his head turned, “are the first of my problems and shall be destroyed and kilt!”

“Can I kill him, please?” Cane pleaded with us.

“You killed my cat!”

“I have killed your cat,” Cane agreed amiably.

“Oah” Putting his hands over his ears he yelled in a whisper, “Shut up!”

Copyright Paizo

We discussed what we should do with the madman as he simpered and raged, fouling himself like an infant. Kelm had no opinion either way, Cane, typically wanted to kill him but refrained in deference to me. Lev wanted to end his life “humanely” and bury him next to his cat. Only I held out for returning him to Tuskland.

Don’t think of it as softness of my heart, Pino, for it would be a blessing to end the man’s torment. It’s because I have a suspicion that he will help us later—madmen have insight where others are lacking.

Cane gagged him

“We could use him as bait for the trolls,” Lev jested.

“Blllaeiiourrgh!” the crazed man shouted through his gag, face red, veins standing out, capillaries popping in his eyes. “Aaaarrrrgggghhh!”

With the sound of his muffled screams in the background we continued our debate.

“He attacked us unprovoked,” Lev said, counting down his crimes. “He is crazy. These lands are soon to be in our realm.”

“I’m okay if he wants to take responsibility for him and take him back to the city,” Cane decided in my favor.

Then Kelm added his vote. “We can put him in the dungeon until we can cure his madness.”

“What’s a dungeon without somebody screaming?” Cane added happily. “He’ll be awesome.”

The others conceded his point and agreed to take him back.

We tied the crazy man on the back of my horse and headed to town. I couldn’t shake the notion that he reminded me of Bokken, our tame crazy hermit.

Once we had him secured in the dungeon we followed my notion by visiting Bokken but he refused to return with us, asking instead, “Did he have a locket? My mama’s on it, my precious mama!” He offered 300 gold pieces or 900 worth of potions. “It’s not worth much to anybody but me," he said unconvincingly. "Where is my brother now?”

"So he is your brother!" I muttered as we told him.

“I hope he rots in hell!” Bokken hissed. “He’s scum of the earth. Good riddance!”

Since he had not been bearing the locket on his person we rode back to the area where we’d first encountered him, quickly finding a hollow oak tree containing his worldly possessions: a few pieces of crude wooden furniture, a wooden bowl and spoon, and a pile of dried leaves that appeared to be his bed.

Under the leaves we found:
•    potion of cure light wounds
•    potion of invisibility
•    164 silver
•    31 gold
•    tarnished silver locket wrapped in a piece of cloth holding a faded portrait of a young woman worth about 10 gold

On the piece of cloth was a crudely drawn map to the Lonely Barrow, which we've explored.

We continued through the rough, wooded area until coming to a ruined circular keep looming out of the forest. It was surrounded by towering ancient trees draped with hanging moss. Four circular towers sprouted from the wall, which was nearly twenty feet high. One had crumbled into rubble. Twisting vine and thick moss covered the walls in verdant green, that would have blended the ruins seamlessly into the surrounding woods if it hadn't been autumn with the hills cloaked in gold and yellow. The overgrown remains of a path led to an open-arched gateway in the keep’s eastern wall, the door long since rotted away. There were ancient worn carvings on the parts of the wall we could see. The southern wall had been breached sometime in the distant past, leaving a rubble strewn opening leading inside

Kelm said that they were Elvin ruins, which brought me back to earth a little bit—Lily's promise. My eyes wandering in thought, I saw that there was a portcullis hanging over the entranceway. We decided it was a trap but Kelm tripped it anyway, lustily cursing as the heavy gate fell on him. We quickly freed him but that way was now blocked.

So we entered over the breached wall, wondering what old stories it could tell. It proved very difficult to get inside, overgrown as it was, and deeply shadowed. Above us a graceful tower rose out of the keep’s central courtyard, vines and creepers growing everywhere, on ledges and in cracks.

Suddenly there was an outraged shriek of pain. From the corner of my eye I saw a flash of color but when I turned my head it was gone. Cane was bleeding from a ragged tear in his arm.

We heard laughter—fey! I might have felt fear, or at least trepidation, but having died once there was nothing left to fear.

Cane and Sizzles "snuggled butts" to prevent anything sneaking up on them. Nevertheless, Cane was stabbed again as Vlad moved in to shield and bandage him.

“Stop this,” Lev called out in sylvan. “Come out and talk.”

“It’s too late for him!” Cane grumbled fiercely.

“Idiots,” came a voice, in Aklo this time. From the sound of it, it was behind the wall, possibly through an arrow-slit.

“Come on,” said Lev in aklo this time. “We don’t want to have to kill you. You’re making it hard on us.”

I cast Shield of Faith while moving in.

A shimmer of light pierced Vlad, stabbing him with poisoned blade. It retreated once more into the underbrush as Cane shot three arrows after it, missing every one as he cursed angrily.

Lev stepped forward. “Come out, come out,” he encouraged.

“So stupid,” came the voice behind the wall while behind us came a titter.

Copyright Paizo

Lev flung a fireball in its direction, incinerating some undergrowth. “I said stop it!”

The shimmering phantom reappeared heading straight for Cane, like a bottlenose dolphin attacks a canoe. It missed him and this time Cane was able to land a fortunate counterblow.

It whizzed toward me like one of Little Billee’s errant bottle rockets, which gave Lev a chance to strike it dead with magic missile. It lay twitching on the ground by my feet.

“It ain’t so funny now, is it?” Cane taunted, spitting on its face.

His name was sewn in his underpants—Rigg Gargadilly, quickling.

On this body we found:
•    +1 short sword
•    3 doses of poison

“Anyone else here?” Lev called.

We continued searching the ruin until only the central tower was left. Inside was a tall vaulted ceiling, the floor of smooth many-hued stone. The walls were painted with faded frescoes of sylvan life showing scenes of idealized elves engaged in hunting, feasting, dancing, singing, and other idyllic pursuits. To the west a graceful filigreed basalt staircase garlanded with flowing vines climbed to the level above.


A violet mist gushed from some internal chamber forcing us all up the stairs, except for Kelm, who found respite in a nearby tree. A graceful elf maiden, white gown flowing like a living thing, emerged on the landing above. Her thin waist tied with a blood-red scarf. She held our eyes for a moment before slowly raising her arms, body moving like a bird in flight. It proved impossible to resist the lure of her pure alabaster skin, the toss of her golden curls, tongue wetting ruby-red lips, the promise in her emerald-green eyes and inviting roll of her hips.

“She’s beautiful,” murmured both Lev and Vlad.

Not hesitating, I blasted her with Searing Light while Kelm pleaded with me to stop. “How do you know she’s an enemy?” he whined.

His answer came with a bellow of rage as a grimstalker emerged.

Cane plunked away at the dancer with an arrow as she focused her attention on me. I looked into her devouring eyes, reminding me of Ileosa (and not in a good way). She begged me to turn my sword on Cane.

Far away I heard Kelm muttering something about it maybe being a bad idea to have sold our cold iron weapon. It proved enough of a distraction that I was able to overcome the dancer's suggestion long enough to make a judgment of smiting. I knocked her back, breaking her spell on the others. She attacked me ferociously then, clawing and biting so frantically that she bit herself!

Fortunately (for me) the grimstalker had attacked Cane and then Lev instead of flanking me. It scooped Lev's kidney like a river clam. Despite his pain Lev hit the failing dancer with a ranged touch attack and she wilted to the floor, muttering a dying curse upon him.

The grimstalker let out a howl of sorrow and rage, standing like an ox in the slaughterhouse as Cane and I finished him off.

The dancing elf-lady had:
•    life-sized alabaster statue of a nude dancing Elvin lady worth 900 gold pieces and weighing, 500 lbs
•    masterwork harp
•    small carved jade statuette of a coiling snake, 75 gp
•    ancient filigreed Elvin waterclock, 1000 gp, weighing 200 lbs
•    bed covered with a snow-white bearskin coverlet, 50 gp
•    finely carved wooden wardrobe holding 2 royal outfits, 200 gp each
•    3 courtiers outfits, 30 gp
•    clothes stained with blood

A small wooden coffer atop a rosewood table contained:
•    3 vials of exotic perfume, 100 gp each
•    gem-studded tiara, 350 gp
•    magic potion

One chest held:
•    431 silver
•    370 gold

One chest held:
•    elixir of love

In the quickling’s lair was a clay urn hidden in a niche:
•    119 gp
•    131 silver
•    27 copper pieces
•    12 gems, 1800 gp total
•    Elvin artifact, a mithral statuette of a beautiful Elvin woman wearing archaic robes framed by an archway of branches—Findelavara, the Elvin goddess of architecture, 1200 gp

The grimstalker had a small locked chest:
•    fine velvet cloak, 10 gp
•    gold necklace, 100 gp
•    silver ring set with an emerald, 300 gp
•    bejeweled masterwork short sword, 500 gp
•    moonstone, 50 gp
•    31 gp
•    76 silver pieces

Kelm mocked my wanting to give Lily the statuette but somehow I feel in my soul that it’s the right thing to do. Unlike Kelm, I can’t prognosticate three months in advance that a woman is going to accept my entreaty.
Holy symbol of Gyronna
Copyright Paizo

We returned just in time to learn that a cult of Gyronna had taken root in our country. Skevins came up with the names of a dozen women in town, and farms nearby, whom he suspects of cultish sentiment. Gyronna is the hag-goddess of hatred, extortion, and spite. "Those attracted to Gyronna’s cult are often adulterous wives, embittered prostitutes, and spurned lovers." Women who have been wronged. Pity them, dear Pino, for “First you must respect yourself!”

Your loving uncle,

Friday, August 12, 2011

Letter Ten—Death Eats a Cracker

Skot Skevens strummed the guitar in front of his rhythm section—a thin long-limbed elf on bass, a kobold on piano, a mite on washboard, and a dwarf on bongos. He let them settle into a long, mournful groove before singing:

Hey, hey
Love, love
Yeah, yeah
Ah, ha
Marquand is dead
That's what I said
Let the rap a plan
Said he'd see him home
But his hope was a rope
And he should've known
It's hard to understand
That there's love in this man
I'm sure all would agree
That his misery was his
Woman and things
Now Marquand is dead
That's what I said
Everybody's misused him
Ripped him up and abused him
Another Inquisitor’s plan
Killin’ owlbears for the man
A terrible blow
But that's how it goes
A gamer’s on the corner now
If you wanna be an Inquisitor, wow
Remember Marquand’s dead
We're all built up with progress
But sometimes I must confess
We can deal with kobolds and fey
But reality, what does it mean
Ain't nothing said
'Cause Marquand is dead
Hey, hey
Love, love
Hey, hey
Yeah, yeah
Ha, ha
Love, love
Yeah, yeah
Ha, ha
Yeah, yeah
Marquand is dead
All I want is some peace of mind
With a little love I'm trying to find
This could be such a beautiful world
With a wonderful girl
Why I need a woman child
Don't wanna be like Marquand now
'Cause Marquand’s dead
Hey, hey
Yeah, yeah
If you don't try
You're gonna die
Why can't we brothers
Protect one another
No one's serious
And it makes me furious
Don't be misled
Just think Marquand
Everybody's misused him
Ripped him up and abused him
Another Inquisitor's plan
Killin’ owlbears for the man
A gamer’s on the corner now
If you wanna be an Inquisitor, why
Remember Marquand is dead
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
Marquand is dead
Hey, hey
Ha, ha
Love, love
Ha, ha...
Many apologies to the late, great Curtis Mayfield

Pathfinder copyright 2011 Paizo Publishing, LLC
Gosh, sorry Pino,

 I’m writing this to tell you that your uncle, Marquand, was killed deader than a skunk-mackerel today. He died bravely, though, and we brought him back to Tuskland packed in ice in my saddlebags on the off chance that the Duke can find someone to put him back together again, just like Humpty Dump . . . maybe that’s not the best example.

While inventorying his personal belongings I came across this unfinished letter to you and thought that I’d send it along posthaste.

Don’t lose heart,
Bert Askew

Dear Pino,
The month of Rova dawned clear and crisp but I wish I could say the same for the politics of the city of Tuskland for I awoke to the news that scandal has visited our little town. You’ve undoubtedly seen the graffiti that’s been defacing walls of late—of a man in open congress with a wolf. You’re too young to know what that means, of course, but I don’t fool myself thinking you don’t. It’s a disreputable act at best and hurts the worse for knowing the two souls involved.

Cane and Sizzles were caught in a corner of the park reserved for illicit love making little half-human-wolflings and the news spread through town like wildfire. We all met to decide our strategy while Cane and Sizzles competed on who could wear the most hangdog expression.

Lev made a long speech in the town square, which was filled with citizens, many hoping for a hanging, or at least a serious scourging, and watching me expectantly.

It was a good speech, full of the milk of human kindness. “It’s alright to be whatever you want to be, that’s what P.U.R.K. is all about,” Lev orated hoarsely, sincerity etching a sigil across his brow. “After all, we left Brevoy to be free—human, fey, beast alike. As long as there is mutual respect amongst us we can join together to create the most powerful nation in all the River Kingdoms. One that will benefit and enrich everyone—every person, every unperson—fulfilling their destiny, fulfilling themselves—everybody giving, everyone taking—without sacrificing individuality or point of view."

"Unless your name is Grigory!" someone yelled from the back of the crowd.

"Freedom's only boundary is the boundary of another's freedom," Lev summed up.

Then a druid halfling called Frulamin Milltall was brought up to publicly question Sizzles. On the dais where Skot Skevins gives his lunchtime concerts we'd set up a desk, chairs, and a waterdish. The old druid asked the wolf a few short questions. Sizzles answered with growls and yips, copious whining, and scratching behind his ear.

The druid turned to the crowd as Sizzles lay beside him, worried eyes watching every move. “Yes,” he reported the wolf saying, “Moochie (his pet-name for Cane) and I go a long way back. He’s been my constant companion since I was a pup freshly weaned from my mother’s tit. We feed each other, comfort one another, and share a den. We're much closer than man and wife. Do you eat the fleas and ticks that inhabit your lover?” she asked rhetorically. “We do. Do you lick their wounds and genitals? We do. Do you sniff each others b . . . ?”

“Ahem,” Lev interrupted. He pointed to the condemned lovers. “As you can see, it was a mutually consenting relationship. Isn’t that the essence of freedom?”

The crowd cheered Lev, carrying him off on their shoulders. “At least he’s not a rapist,” Piea shrugged.

At the Stag Lord's tree stump we found this notice:

Wanted: Troll Blood! One full waterskin of troll blood to use as a catalyst for healing potions. Reward of 1,200 gold pieces in potions. "Help make alchemical history!"

Conveniently, a messenger arrived from Restov with a offer to reward for us for clearing the southern border of a covey of Troll bandits. More disturbing, we also we received a report that a giant owlbear was wrecking havoc to the south, killing travelers and destroying farms. So we quickly mounted our horses and were soon on the road southward. We traveled along the east coast of the Tuskwater, crossing the Murque well upstream where, at this time of year, barely a trickle of water wet the horse's hooves. Finally, we reached a wooded karst, all rimmed crags and deep sinkholes.

I found myself riding next to Piea as we carefully inched along. She asked me how my romance with Lily was coming. I shrugged. Since the night of Lev and Ilse's wedding she has mostly greeted me with indifference. I’ve heard rumor that she’s been seen with a roguish half-elf known as Havain.

“You know my feelings about her,” Piea erupted. “I won’t say it again—yes I will—she’s a b—, a c—, and a w—! You can do better than that. Look, I got a friend I want you to meet, she can do 1000 push-ups with one hand!”

Mostly to distract her I asked about Arven. “We’re doing well,” she replied, brow furrowed. “I’m not going to marry him because I’m too young to settle down—also, I have to kill things, you know?”

Suddenly, we heard voices coming from the rocks ahead. Embarrassingly, it was a couple commingling in love. Piea gasped, for one of the voices we heard sounded like that of her beloved Arven!

She slumped in her saddle. “This makes me lose faith in all love in this world,” she lamented, then suddenly brightened. “I’m going to great-axe him in the back! I’m the jealous type!”

We quietly dismounted and approached the sounds, which were steadily coming more impassioned. Piea could barely restrain herself, such was her urgency to confront the couple, but the rugged landscape made finding them difficult. Then Cane was set upon by a ferocious leucrotta.

Write down the definition of leucrotta, Pino, and then compare it to my description. “This freakish beast has the head of a badger, the hooves of a stag, and a wide mouth with sharp ridges of bone instead of teeth. Reputed to be descended from hyenas and a demon lord, these creatures are intelligent and cruel, using their astounding vocal mimicry to lure foolish and unsuspecting creatures to where it can torment them at its leisure before finally devouring them.”*

They are fearsome clever beasts that stalk their prey until they’ve discovered its weakness, then use their gift of mimicry to exploit it—in this case Piea’s insecurity about her lover. It hoped to make her angry, jealous, and careless. That a creature smart enough to do all this would be stupid enough to attack the six of us is a puzzle we'll save for another time.

“Have we had a fatality in this party yet?” Kelm suddenly asked apropos of nothing—another of his predictions? As Piea and I carefully climbed towards the combatants he stood unmoving nearby, staring at the rocky outcropping with a perplexed look on his face. “Should I climb?” he said, putting up one hand tentatively then lowering it again. “Should I stay?”

Cane had killed the beast by the time we could reach him. “Its brain makes a good pudding,” he said as way of explanation.

We followed its tracks back to its lair, finding:

•    blue dragonhide breastplate
•    blue dragonhide heavy shield
•    tree feather token
•    ivory comb worth 50 gp

Piea made her claim on the comb, coyly batting her eyelashes and asking, “See how long my hair is?”

There were also:

•    86 gold pieces coated in a fowl smelling slime

Bert Askew refused to touch them. “I think they were pooped up!” he shivered.

As we patched Cane up he noted that Kelm had no trouble getting over the rocks once the battle was finished.

“I just didn’t want to climb when there was fighting over there,” Kelm said.

But this was getting us no closer to the owlbear so we next headed along the southern shore of the Murque, then the Candlemere, until we were once again on the plains east of the mudhole where we killed the tendriculous.
We began seeing signs of destruction by a very powerful creature. Trees were broken and ripped from the earth, tufts of dark fur were snagged in the branches, and huge feathers littered the ground. We sent Kelm into the entrance of a dark, gaping cave. While his vision is limited at the best of times it is the same whether it's light or dark. “I have faith in magic,” he said, “and in Nethys, the god of magic.”

Lev followed him inside and soon they were cloaked in darkness. We strained to hear their progress but there was only silence dripping like a faucet at midnight. Then a nerve-jangling shriek!

Cane and I quickly entered as I cast light. We saw that the entire cave was filled with a dark fungi. There was a sea of large, red mushrooms. Amongst them were larger gilled fungi with writhing tentacles atop their glistening purple heads. With a shout Piea charged, lopping the top off the one that was shrieking and the room fell eerily silent. A second one suddenly moved and attacked her, its poison causing the flesh of her arm to shrivel grotesquely, exposing the bone. Worse, several more of the marauding purple morels turned slowly to the attack.

“Think of it as a learning experience,” Bert Askew called from the cave’s entrance.
Copyright Paizo Publishing, LLC.

Cane attacked one while I shot another. Lev handed Piea his morningstar and she fought on one-handed. I don’t know how she withstood the pain. Then Lev unlimbered his crossbow and finished off the one I’d hit.

One of the mushrooms juiced Kelm and his flesh began to rot in front of our eyes, bubbling off the bone, its stench overwhelming. I felt myself slipping exhausted to the floor.

Piea whacked it with Lev’s morningstar, then Kelm killed it with magic missile. “Touch me again!” he taunted the now flaccid creature.

“You’re still rotting, aren’t you?” Cane asked him. “Your arm smells like death.”

“It’s all an illusion, a flesh wound. See?” Kelm waved it at Kane. Ahhh!!!!” he cried in anguish.

We found:
•    5 gold pieces
•    12 copper
•    +2 dagger with a dragon carved in the handle

Suddenly we heard another nerve-jangling shriek, only this time it was Bert Askew crying a warning, “Shambling Mound!” and we turned to see one of the bushy bruisers approaching us from the cave’s mouth.

Lev scored the first hit with a ray of exhaustion, causing the Mound to stagger like an overfed mule. I found that I had recovered somewhat but still needed help standing before I could shoot it with my longbow.

Piea hit it with the morningstar, but it whacked her hard on the head, grappling her like Arven after an evening's drinks. “Why are they always grabbing me?” she cried in frustration. By then I had recovered somewhat, driving my sword home and ending its misbegotten life before it could damage her further.

We had barely caught our breaths when we heard Bert scream again, “Centipedes!” We looked up in time to see three giant black creatures emerging from the Mound’s heart. Fortunately, they proved easy to kill.

In the Shambling Mound’s lair we discovered the week-old tracks of an immense owlbear. Another tunnel led back from there and, to our relief, we found the owlbear’s rotting corpse amongst the bodies of the eight bandits it had killed. We stripped the corpses before giving them cursory burial. Perhaps one of them was a believer.

•    8 suits of studded leather
•    8 light wooden shields
•    8 daggers
•    8 longswords
•    8 shortbows
•    84 arrows
•    96 gold

We were arguing about how to claim the reward when Cane noticed that there were also fresh owlbear tracks amongst the carnage. “It had a mate,” he stated grimly.

“And it’s probably out for revenge,” Lev gulped.

Quickly we limped back to Tuskland, Piea and Kelm, riding downwind, putting on brave faces despite their discomfort. “I like scar-flesh,” Piea insisted. “It’ll heal cool!”

Copyright 2011 Paizo Publishing, LLC.
We heard the frantic approach of a horse and were soon intercepted by Skot Skevins. “Where have you been?” he cried, voice cracking. “A huge enraged owlbear just ripped up the town. It tore everything to shreds!”

We followed him back/ "Make way, make way!" he cried to every cow and hog that we met. Lev was a’twitter, thinking about our potential losses. We saw ripe fields ruined before their harvest; trees uprooted and thrown against houses and barns. A pall of smoke and dust hung over Tuskland and even from a distance we could see that part of the city was in ruin. Citizens walked around with dazed looks, in shock. We learned that five squares had been destroyed. Only a pile of blood-soaked splinters remained.

We lost a:
•    dump
•    tannery
•    graveyard
•    mill
•    brothel

“Maybe it’s a good thing,” Kelm noted hopefully, already planning our new waterfront."

“We’ll see what you say when the taxes come due,” Lev grumbled. “Time for a speech!”

Lev sent for Jhod who took Piea and Kelm off for what he called “Holy scalding,” as the rest of us inspected the damage and quieted the town. Thank you and little Billee for bringing the refreshing mint tea, although I think Billee may have put a tad too much hot sauce in mine.

Lev gave a real barnburner of a speech, promising to nail the owlbear’s ears to the front gate.

“Yahoo!,” the crowd cheered. “We’re going to rebuild better than ever! Tuskland! Tuskland! Tuskland!" the chants resounded.

For a moment I spied Lily, peering from an alleyway that leads to the Stumble Inn. The look of concern on her pretty face quickly melted to feigned indifference when she saw I was watching. I bowed my head to her as I rode past. Did I imagine her mouthing the words, “Be careful”? Or was it, "Get stuffed"?

I felt a sudden rush of despair. I let it go on for a moment, build to a crescendo, and then I took myself in hand and joined my colleagues on the road south. When all else fails there is always duty. “I feel sorry for that owlbear,” I said, morose.

“Aw,” Piea mocked as she and Kelm joined us, their skin red where Jhod had healed them.

“It destroyed a quarter of our city!” Lev protested incredulously."And you're sorry for it?"

It proved dreadfully easy to track, shrieking in the distance and leaving a wake of destruction straight back to its cave.  When we reached it again we surged forward, screaming, “I want to kill this thing!”

“Hold on!” Lev commanded. “I want everyone to shut up! We'll keep our heads and go in order." He took a deep breath. "I’m going to cast Personal armor on Sizzles and myself before we go in.”

I cast Shield of faith.

At the cave we split up. Lev and Cane waited by the flue at the top of the cave while the rest of us carefully approached its mouth.

“That’s a pretty big owlbear,” Kelm mused as he noted the torso of a man who had been ripped in half and thrown against the wall. “Don’t let this happen to you,” he said disconcertingly, milky eyes appraising me closely. As we awaited Lev's signal I passed the time by updating this letter. . . This is where Marquand’s narrative ends.

Hi, Pino, it’s me, again, Bert. I thought I should finish his account before sending it to you.

I was outside with the horses, of course, but once the almighty Lev had disappeared down the flue I hurried over to watch the battle and I’m sorry I did.

Lev did some hocus-pocus to the owlbear and it reeled suddenly as if fatigued. Your uncle approached it slowly, carefully. “Go on and hit the gol-darned thing!” I shouted, unable to restrain myself. Marquand shot an arrow to little effect.

It grabbed Piea violently, blood spurting from her ears. She struggled valiantly to no avail. It then grabbed Sizzles. I covered my eyes at this point until I heard a surprised yelp and saw that Marquand had somehow missed the giant beast, shooting Sizzles instead!

I heard another cry and turned my horrified eyes to Piea, who had been throttled by the beast and was now hanging limply in its ferocious claw. It then brutally threw her to the stony floor. She looked dead as Lev hurried to reach her, pulling a vial from his pack as he ran. I shut my eyes again in horror.

“Get ’em, Sizzles!” I heard Cane cry below to snarls and howls.

How unlike the common citizens are your uncle and his friends. The owlbear had ravaged the town with barely a nick whereas here it was fighting for its life—and knew it. I admit, this frightened me more than anything else—what if they lost? I wanted to run but could not get my legs to move.

I heard Marquand shout in frustration—another miss. Then my eyes flew open against my will when he screamed horrifically as the owlbear clawed and bit him, then held him aloft. Cane and Sizzles continued their assault around its giant bulk as Lev plunked it from afar.

Pino, I don’t want to describe what happened next, so shut your eyes. Your poor uncle was torn in half like a big dog would a chicken. The sound was terrible, like ripping canvas. Even that brave man screamed like a murdered beast. Oh gods above! It sounded like the time Blinky Walker was caught between a milk cart and a stone wall, his blood and guts squirting everywhere.

“Yeeearghh!” it bellowed in triumph even as Cane found it’s weak point and thrust his blade home. It fell with a thud.

You can open your eyes now, little one, it’s mostly housekeeping from now on. Kelm gave me this list of items they found:

•    +2 chain shirt
•    +1 longsword
•    ring of bestial friendship, seemingly fashioned of hair woven around small gemstones
•    2 masterwork throwing axes
•    2 potions of speak with animals
•    a jar of restorative ointment
•    vial of antitoxin
•    2 smokesticks
•    tanglefoot bag
•    2 thunderstones
•    145 gp

The owlbear was wearing barding worth 250 gold.

I ran out to get my bags where we packed your poor uncle’s remains, including all the little pieces I could find, and several sponges filled with blood. “The good news is, we can raise him,” Kelm assured the others. “We have it in the slush fund.”

Let this be a lesson to you, little girl: never get into trouble until you know your way out.

Pray for your uncle,
Bert Askew