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.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Letter 27—Sweet Sugar Cane the Twice Dead

Dear Pino,
Copyright Paizo

Well, I died again. Yes, your dear uncle departed this life for a second time, although I was called back almost before I’d left my body. Still, it’s left me dazed just when I most need my wits about me. Dear girl, if I never see you again remember the lessons I’ve tried, in my inadequate way, to teach. And obey your Mother. In the end (with me gone) she is the only one who truly cares for you, no matter what others say. Just act like every man you meet is like Little Billee in his heart and there will be no misunderstandings.

We considered resting for a moment before entering the caves but if the barbarians’ really have acquired Armag’s sword there is no time for that.

Somehow, at that very moment, a message arrived by crow from Bert Askew. Startled, I recognized the bird as the very same raven that has been following us around since the beginning of our adventure. The one called Stack-o-lee.

Unrolling the paper affixed to the bird’s leg I read Bert’s words to the others—it was as if he were standing here with us. “You guys remember what this ritual is about, eh?” the note started.

“The chief of this barbarian tribe becoming an ancient deity,” Cane mocked.

“Oh, yeah, we probably don’t want that to happen,” Trask agreed, shrugging.

I continued reading. “This, this Tiger Lord is trying to complete some sort of test that will make him the reincarnation of this ancient hero who was favored of Gorum. . . .”

“Gorum doesn’t sound like a good god to me,” Trask grumbled.

As you’ve undoubtedly read in class, dear Pino, Gorum is “a god of battle above all other pursuits; it is said that if there is ever a time with no more conflicts to be fought, he would rust away into nothingness. Known as the Lord in Iron, his faithful believe he is present in every iron weapon of war that is forged.”*

“I think you transported the girls,” Askew’s message went on accusingly. I felt a pang of gratitude for little old Bert, who has assumed we haven’t gotten most of the hostages killed. I read on. “I hope you dumbasses haven’t just hidden them away nearby.”

“Oopsie,” I breathed.

“They’ll be raped and killed by the time you get back!”

“He’s right, you know,” Lev sighed. “OK, forget about resting.”

“Let’s go,” Cane laughed. “I’m always for charging in ill-prepared.”

“And I can always run away,” Lev muttered to no one in particular.

We peered into the dark cave for a moment and, after a quick prayer to Erastil, stepped inside. Cane cast dark vision, taking the point while I made my first mistake by not casting light and so I stumbled along in the wake of the others—as if hiding in the dark would give me advantage!

Three alabaster statues of well-proportioned men stood along the western wall of the large square chamber, each frozen in war-like pose. By their markings I saw they were Kellid barbarians. As you should have learned by now the Kellid’s are of the frigid north and so considered tougher than their southern cousins. I only wish Piea were here to dissuade them of this foolish notion, after all, the great Szechuan is of the south. Finding no traps, we eyed the statues mistrustfully and, sure enough, as we entered the large chamber we heard a deep rumbling sound from behind—our exit was blocked.

“Something is very wrong here,” Lev said as an unnatural hush blanketed the gloom and the rotten smell of desecration filled the air. A chill crawled up my spine as I recognized the throaty laugh behind us—Lily!

Lily Teskertin
From the darkness lunged a babau demon, a sweaty, tough piece of hide stretched over sawtooth bone—babau demons are evil outsiders. Another quickly entered the fray, biting itself in its frenzy to reach us.

“I’m surprised,” Cane frowned, “but not surprised about being surprised.”

“It’s a celebration,” Trask agreed.

“Party time!” Cane raised his sword as Trask lifted his bow with a whoop, releasing a bevy of long shafts.

Like a boy in a schoolyard brawl I attacked the first one I could reach. “Justice!” I cried, slashing at the demon while a wave of fear—easily dismissed—swept over me. I imagined that I heard Bert Askew shrilly castigating me. “You’re not fighting any better than that damned housecat of Cane’s!” he seemed to taunt. What hurt is that he was right. I fought like a man in a dream.

And then there was Lily. Remember, dear Pino, love is a two-edged sword—it cuts both ways and in this case love fully intended to cut off my head. I glimpsed Lily through the dim light leering eagerly as she urged her demons on.
Copyright Paizo

From behind a priestess of Gyronna grasped me with icy-cold hand, her touch nearly paralyzing me as I fell to one knee, striking back desperately, my blows doing little harm. I shrank away in horror as she leaned over with a kiss, cold as death, sickening me physically and emotionally. As you know, priestesses of Gyronna are women who have been wronged in the most brutal manner. Their ferocity is fueled by lust for revenge. They are damaged souls who have given their hearts to a dark mistress, one I've vowed to oppose. As a man I cannot judge them but as Inquisitor of Erastil I must.

But in my heart I felt the betrayer.

I saw little of the battle after that although I heard Trask jeer, “Come back when you’re over 16,” as Lily escaped onto another plane. Meanwhile, Vlad was trying to keep me alive. For a moment I thought I was returning to Pharasma but then hen I heard the grating voice of Bert Askew from above me.

“You didn’t set Lily on this course, Nimrod!” it hectored.

“I know—I didn’t actually throw that fireball,” I began before he cut me off.

“She had already joined a cult of Gyronna!” he shouted, as I felt myself turning back. “That’s why you were investigating her!”

“Lily killed me?” I moaned as my spirit returned.

“Hey, you’re the one who jilted her!” Trask grumbled from across the room.

“That’s right!” Cane remembered. “We let off a fireball in the middle of them.”

“Let’s not say ‘we.’ Trask objected and in truth he’d not joined us yet.

Vlad used breath of life to bring me back but my testing was not yet done for the priestess of the Hag of Steel pursued me single-mindedly as I desperately crawled on my belly like a reptile.

“I live!” I croaked in defiance as she reached for me. Desperately I swung my sword from the ground. “Justice!” I spat as I severed her at the ankles and she fell squealing to the ground. I watched her eyes dull, feeling her spirit move past me, free at last and—I pray to Erastil—bound for a better place.

The room fell quiet. When I looked around I saw that we’d been victorious after all. But we’d suffered quite a drubbing for what may have had nothing to do with the Tiger Lords, but merely part of Lily’s design for me.

“What did his whore have on her?” Cane asked brutally, glaring at me.

“She’s not here. She disappeared.”

Cane snorted his disgust as he called his giant housecat to him, walking to the next set of doors, which opened without complaint. There we found four huge boulders, each larger than the previous. In the darkness beyond four steps rose toward another set of iron doors. In each step was a large round depression, growing progressively larger and deeper.

Cane flexed his muscles expansively, ripping the shoulder of his jerkin but Trask declined to help, sniffing, “I’ve got delicate hands.”

“I’ll help,” I offered stepping forward.

All I can remember of the next twenty minutes is the agony of being rolled over repeatedly by all sizes of boulders before we finally got the last one into its snuggie. Then Cane reached for the door, which thankfully opened.

In this room was a giant iron plate with a large iron wheel embedded in its middle. At each corner iron weapons had been forged into huge columns holding up the ceiling. Searching the room for traps we determined that the iron plate served as the pressure plate for some infernal trap.

Trask tried leaping directly onto the wheel. It made about a quarter turn before he was forced to jump away. He tried again, this time making it a full revolution. A foot thick layer of ice appeared on the walls, the air was so cold it hurt.

Lev’s teeth chattered as he cast a spell of cold resistance that only just cut the edge off the chill, while Trask continued turning the wheel. At the seventh revolution we heard a click and the doors opened. Unfortunately, they were still behind the wall of ice.

“One was a test of strength, the second of fortitude, the next will probably be dexterity,” Trask said as we waited for the spell to dissipate.

The tunnel beyond the ice was full of dark gray fog where we soon stumbled up stairs leading to a large domed room being held aloft by four massive pillars. At the center stood a towering suit of spiked armor—an iron golem.
Copyright Paizo

"Let's go hug it," Cane smirked. He’s been much more in tune with his feelings since acquiring the giant kitty cat. In fact, it was about this time that he started referring to himself as “Sweet Sugar Cane.”

With a creaking moan the armor began ponderously moving. Cane hurled himself upon it but saw, with horror, the damage he’d done heal immediately. The creature hit him with a loud thunk.

Trask casually shot it while I moved in closer, scoring damage twice before fumbling in my haste like little Billy at recess. The golem hit me so hard that my ears bled and I lost my bearing. Lev helped me stand as Cane polished it off.

"Blargh!" the golem groaned, expiring.

There were three doors leading from far sides of the chamber but Cane found another one that was hidden. As he opened it we were once again confronted with fog that made it nearly impossible to see more than five feet ahead. But we could still hear plainly, and what we heard were the sound of claws scurrying toward us across cold stone flagging.
Copyright Paizo

Vlad readied his crossbow as Lev filled the hallway with a wall of flame, yet the sounds continued approaching. Suddenly, a derghodaemon leaped out of the fog at Cane while a wave of fear swept over us.

Trask floated away from the action as he readied his bow while Cane and I threw ourselves into the melee. Then another derghodaemon arrived. In my mind I heard Bert Askew mocking me. "Some doors are best left unopened," he grated.

Not losing my focus I changed my judgments. A divine glow bathed my weapon as I struck and killed the first derghodaemon  Turning, I slashed the second one as it grabbed me and I felt something inside me rip. As Cane and Trask joined in, I desperately struck again. Between the three of us we managed to finish it off.

Limping, I followed the others down the corridor where the scavengers had come. Unsurprisingly, it led to another door opening into a room where an alabaster statue of a barbarian stood against the north wall. It stared at us unwavering, but did not move.

We then chose one of the passages open to either side, coming to a spherical room with a ten foot ceiling arcing above us, the floor highly polished. Trask edged in carefully as the floor pivoted at its center, sinking under his weight. Soon, Lev had joined him from the other side, balancing Trask's weight with his own. When Lev had crossed Cane followed, but the usually adroit woodsman slipped and went tumbling toward the pit below.

"Hey, stop rocking the boat!" Trask cursed as Cane caught himself, scrabbling back onto the disc, which bucked and whirled. After waiting for it to settle Cane finished crossing and I tried my luck. Then Vlad followed. Cane was nonplussed as he described the spikes he nearly fallen onto.

Thinking there might be something valuable impaled down below Lev and Trask returned, carefully tilting the disk until they could see underneath. There they found many chalky white bones, a hand ax, and a case containing three magic scrolls.

Down the next corridor we came to a precipice overlooking a natural stone cavern, its earthen floor thirty feet below. Throughout the chamber pillars of rounded stone rose like uneven stepping stones between us and the tunnel opening on the far side.

Trask jumped (or floated, it's hard to tell which with him—you'd think a guy who could jump like that would just kick his opponents to death) over but as soon as he reached the far side a huge gust of wind ripped through the chamber—sure doom for anyone caught on the top of the rounded and polished buttes between. Lev tossed Trask a rope.

"I don't want to hold a rope!" Trask objected. "That's something suckers do."

"You're too good to hold a rope?" Cane asked incredulously.

"I am too good," Trask assured. "I'll just spike it over here."

We did the same on our side but once again Cane lost his footing.

"Waaaaahh!" His cry turned to shrieks of terror as bright red army ants erupted from the ground about him. The ones that didn't swarm him immediately started up the posts while the rest of us were hurriedly crossing between loud gusts of wind.

"I only laugh when you're dying," Trask called to him encouragingly.

Then Vlad slipped into the swarm.

"Whee!" Trask guffawed. "I love that we can beat the Iron Golem, we can beat Vordakai, but we lose to polished stones and fangberries!"

Lev transported Vlad out of harm’s way before blasting the ants with a bead from his necklace of fireballs. Cane tried blowing them away with a wall of wind but the ants swirled around his head, down his throat, up his nose, and into other places too delicate to mention, before Lev ended the farce with a wind-whipped conflagration that left Cane hairless and smoking like Little Billee behind the barn.

With all that we were staring again at the iron golem slumped in its room. Lev mused, "I guess we didn't have to go through all that after all."

"This, this makes it wonderful," Trask chortled with irony I hope you never understand.

"We passed every test," Cane objected, staring coldly until Trask admitted, grudgingly, "We proved ourselves worthy."

"Um-hmm," Lev agreed.

"We have no spells left and are barely alive but, goddamnit!” Cane yelled.

"We got here."

Passing through the one set of doors we’d yet to open, we followed the corridor into a large cavern held aloft by a huge pillar of stone. To the west rose a twenty foot high ridge capped by a forest of stalagmites. The ceiling rose to forty feet but we did not tarry there, exiting by the nearest door.

Unbidden, my mind returned to an unpleasant conversation we’d had with Bert Askew the night before leaving Fort Drelev.

The battle had tired this old man out, especially as we'd spent the remainder of the day with affairs of state. As we entered an inn I'd said, "I hope there is a bed on the other side of this door."

"A bed full of virgins," Bert cackled lasciviously, "who are into old Inquisitors with contusions!"

"That's gross," Trask replied, either about the insult or what the insult implied.

"I'm saving my virginity," I sniffed like Little Billee’s grandma.

"For Lily?"

"Not anymore. Lily is off my list."

"You may get to redeem her," Lev said, poking me in the ribs.

I patted the +1 whip—old Betsy—hanging at my side, "Yes, you're right, I may yet get to redeem her."

Inside the doors we found the largest cavern yet. On each side a bubbling brook cascaded into a basin beneath the elaborate carvings of the lamentation of women over their dead. The ceiling was held aloft by a dozen columns carved to resemble armed soldiers kneeling in honor of the massive golem statues at the head of the room—at least I hoped they were statues—framing a stairway going down. There, a large slim figure dressed as an eagle barred our way.

We tried several languages before he finally responded to Hallitt. "You have come far," he said haltingly, "but you will go no further."

"You shall not pass," Trask finished for him.

"You . . ." the guardian paused uncertainly. "What you said." Then he pulled himself up to his very impressive height. "Leave the way you came in!"

"Who are you?"

"I am Zorek and I'm the guardian of this temple."

"Has someone else come through recently?" Lev asked, questioning him like a schoolboy.

"I am not here for idle chitchat. You need to leave now!"

"Dude, we passed the tests," Trask pleaded.

"Stand aside and let us pass," Lev added.

"No!" He was very intimidating, even to me, who has died twice and obliterated a race.

But as Lev, Cane, and I surrounded him he quickly melted back into the shadows. “Not so tough now,” Cane snorted.

Taking a deep breath I followed the others into the next chamber where tall braziers cast flickering shadows across a chamber that looked like a butcher’s shop—a vary careless butcher. The walls were spattered with blood and the floor slick with pools of it. The Tiger Lords were hacked and strewn about like so much offal. They were the first victims of the one who now watched us with rabid glare, sword dripping his brothers’ gore—Armag the twice-born!

Copyright Paizo
"Bleargh!" he cried, raising his sword and charging us. Sweet Sugar Cane met him in the middle of the room while Trask concentrated on puncturing him from afar.


I pulled my sword only to have it slip from my hand and fly far from my grasp while Armag turned Cane into chopped liver. "Poor Sugar Cane," Trask lamented from behind. "We knew ye a little too well."

But Vlad stayed with him. "I have a scroll of breath of life," he announced as he learned over the bloody pile that had once been our friend.

"Bleargh!" Armag screamed, but as he turned toward us we suddenly heard a voice from the floor. "I am Cane the twice-dead!" he cried, catching Armag in the buttocks with a brutal thrust from his sword.

As Trask’s arrows struck deeply I pulled out my new keen dagger, stabbing the possessed barbarian twice as he twisted away, cleaving Vlad, Cane, and myself.

"I'm a meat puppet," Cane groaned but somehow renewed his attack. With an unexpected howl of frustration Armag’s soul departed. We looked at at each other, more surprised to be alive than exultant.

We dragged ourselves groaning into the next room where a five foot square alabaster pedestal was bathed in brilliant light from the ceiling. There we found the dried husk of the original Armag in his hide armor. On the far side was a secret door behind which we found great treasure.

"I just want his sword," Cane said.

"It's cursed," Trask replied. "If you hold it you'll start thinking you're Armag."

"Can’t we get that curse removed?"

"No, it's a minor artifact."

"Maybe I want to be him,” Cane then pouted. “Could you guys live with me if I was Armag the thrice-born?"

"Probably not," Lev admitted as Trask added sourly, "We can barely live with you now."

Now we have to dig ourselves out of this place. With luck we will be back in Tuskland as soon as we drop off the hostages. Please have your homework assignments ready for when I arrive.

Your loving uncle,

Monday, August 13, 2012

Letter 26—Amongst Tiger Lords

Dear Pino,
We rested for several days while helping the Drelevsii organize their new government and clean up the mess we’d made. Never stab anyone if you can help it, Pino, blood is just too messy and people contain too much of it.

We escorted a grateful Baroness Drelev and her doggie to the edge of town. “You managed to rid the world of my husband and save my Jewel. I am forever in your debt,” she gushed as the dog enthusiastically licked her face. Lady Quintessa Maray had agreed to escort her back to her estate in the old country. “We’ll put in a good word for you,” she promised smiling warmly as they waved goodbye.

On the second day Terrion Numesti returned with his daughter Kisandra. I was sorry to see how deeply the man has suffered. Oh, he made a show of his old confidence but his eyes betrayed him. He begged us to find his other daughter, Tumary, who is captive of the Tiger Lords. We promised to do our best but—between you and I—I’d rather fight an enraged owlbear than be hostage to barbarians.

Jooquo copyright Paizo
Somehow Bert Askew arrived, borne in by several “native lads” that he swore he’d not enslaved. “Jooquo there is saving for the Acadamae in Korvosa,” he insisted, although Jooquo spoke no language I’ve heard and could answer no questions.

Bert claimed that he was getting “official enquiries” about the destruction of the boggard village and thought that maybe he should take depositions from us. I, for one, hate being categorized as a mass murderer, so I went to a nearby lawyer’s office and browsed his skimpy library for information in my defense. In the annals of the Pathfinder Society I found the following passage about the habit of boggards:
“Acceptance into the clan then depends on the young boggard's successful hunt to kill a sentient humanoid. Those who fail are exiled from the clan.”
That’s the salient difference between the boggards in that village—every one of which had brutally murdered a thinking being—and old Garuum back in P.U.R.K. who lives in lonely exile for refusing to kill. It’s the difference between uncivilized and civilized, between the world we’ve found here in the Stolen Lands and the world we’re making.

“Tell our critics to consider that,” I instructed Askew as he mounted his mule to ride southeast.

“Whatever,” I heard him mutter as they disappeared into the swamp.

The next morning we’d just mounted our horses, preparing to ride northwest to the camp of the Tiger Lords, when they began snorting and backing from the nearby woods. That’s when Cane returned, by his side strode a large tiger!

Tiger Face by Eddie Fouse
“This is Alley,” he told us without preamble.

The creature looked on us as your kitty Sniffles looks on baby rabbits. “I’ll go ahead,” he said as they bounded out of town.

“I hope he’s not sleeping with this one,” Trask grunted while encouraging his skittish mount to follow.

The Tiger Lords were encamped 50 miles northwest of Fort Drelev, but most of the land was unexplored so our progress was slowed somewhat as we made a rough map of the area while climbing from Hooktongue Slough into the rolling plains of the upland.

We came to a narrow valley filled with thorn. I felt unease as I remembered how we’d fared against the fangberries that had nearly bested us so long ago. The trail led to a cave, bones littering the entrance. Alley suddenly backed up hissing. “Speartooth!” Cane mouthed silently, reminding us of the fearsome dire tiger we’d been warned of. That’s when we heard a deep snarl and Alley’s fur fluffed like Sniffles at Little Billee’s approach.

I missed with a sleep arrow as a blur of reddish-brown rushed out snarling and slashing at Cane and Alley who fought back desperately. The others quickly aided them as I said a prayer to Erastil in preparation for the cleansing of his holy searing light. With a screech of agony the creature fell dead as a second blur of fur rushed us. I know what you’re thinking, dear Pino, and you’re right. It’s a shame when your uncle must harm kitty cats of any size or stripe but these had killed and eaten at least 24 citizens according to our instructions—some of them little girls. Besides, we were the next course on their menu.

That said, in the middle of my second prayer I chanted the wrong sequence and instead of castigating the animal with searing light I was staring with befuddlement as Cane fought the second great beast. By the time I’d revived it was over.

We found and buried the remains of their many victims, finding a few keepsakes to place in Erastil’s shrine of the departed.

We continued northwest into the hills. The ground was riven with the burrows of very large animals, like the kind we found beyond the northeast mountains. Sure enough, we soon found ourselves confronted by a pair of hyena aurumvorax, which are creatures with very large mouths, sharp teeth, eight legs, and very sharp claws. It’s hardly worth mentioning, we dispatched them so quickly, except that here, too, we found the remains of many victims.

Erastil asks for peace with Nature, dear Pino, not surrender.

That’s when I noticed that Cane was covered with dust and feces from the battle. He motioned for Alley to lick him clean. As she happily ran her rough tongue over him, purring, he said, “Sizzles was a good dog—I'll never love another.” He turned demurely away.

We continued northwest passing through sprawling savanna broken by low hillocks and scrub. That evening we went without campfire, eating jerky while our horses grazed nearby. I spent my watch under the bright stars, listening to rasping insects and the occasional shriek of wild things.

We had just set out that morning when we came upon the box canyon we were searching for where waited the Tiger Lords. I can’t account for what happened next. We strolled in like we owned the place, fully expecting the barbarians to join us in our great adventure. Instead they sneered and we were surrounded by braying, scantily clad psychopaths. I blame myself, for I had all the things necessary to save the hostages if we’d stopped to think first. Let this be a lesson to you, dear Pino, look before you leap, think before you act.

Cane and Alley took the brunt of the attack but this group of barbarians wasn’t as tough as legend says—although we were fighting mostly inexperienced warriors. Trask had been filling our ears with tales of the legendary Szechuan of the Cinderlands so we were battle shy and hesitant.

Across the campground three men stood watching us outside a tent. We assumed they were sizing us up for the real battle that would begin as soon as we’d polished off their flunkies. Oh, how misguided your uncle quickly proved to be as we saw the warriors enter a nearby tent where the terrified screams of the hostages erupted.

Keeping his head, Lev transported Cane to the tent where he cut through the hides in a desperate attempt to stop the murder. Distracted, I dropped my sword, scrambling after it for what seemed an eternity until Saint Vlad (that’s what I intend calling him from this moment forward) guided my hand.

In the meantime, floating well above the fray, Trask took aim on the far away tent—now torn and roiling violently, putting a couple of the killers to sleep in mid-blow.

While we finished the fight on one side of the encampment, Cane shielded the final hostage with his body as Trask killed the last of the barbarians. In the silence that followed only the sobbing of the two surviving hostages were heard. Thankfully, the Numesti girl was one of them.

“They took us back in their caves and . . . and . . .” she sobbed.

“There, there,” Lev comforted. “There . . . did you say—caves?” he gulped.

She pointed towards the end of the canyon where we found a dark entrance into the side of the hill.

“Uh-oh,” Trask whispered.

I’ll write again if I can,
Uncle Marquand

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Letter 25—What’s Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen

Dear Pino,
By this stage we were tired and spent but decided to push ahead. (To be honest it would have been impossible to get back to Satindar’s establishment unobserved by this point anyway.) I’ll remind you that we were on the second floor of the tower in the mage’s room.

There were trap doors, in the ceiling and the floor, but before we tried one we went out on the balcony to make sure no one was in the courtyard below.

Then we went into the ballroom where great faded tapestries hung on the wall. Dust coated everything except one large table where they were preparing for a party. We split up to enter the two doors leading into the next room, which turned out to be the art gallery we’d seen earlier. I wished you were with us, dear Pino, because there was much to be learned from historical paintings depicting the early days of our people.

We came to a door ajar where a spiral staircase connected to the other floors. There was also a secret door leading out from the hall. We listened at all of them but heard nothing stirring behind them.

One door led to a small bedroom with bare furnishings. A plain bed faced the room’s only window on the north wall. There was a bookshelf of histories and a small table and wooden chair by the entrance.

We kicked the privy door open. There was a secret trapdoor leading upstairs where we found a richly appointed bedroom with a decorative handmade bed, the carved headboard depicting satyrs and nymphs at play. Its lavender bedspread matched the curtains overlooking the courtyard below. In a narrow space there was another secret door.

Behind it was a bedroom with a large bed draped with rose-pink blankets. The hallway led to a bedroom with a large window overlooking a canopy bed with teak endtables. A small desk with cushioned stool stood next to a large fireplace. There sat a middle-aged woman holding a tiny yapping dog in her lap.

“Who are you?” she demanded. “How dare you come into my bedchambers unannounced?”

“I take it you are the Baroness?” Lev asked.

“I don’t speak to ruffians like you! Out! Out! Out!” The dog continued barking. “When my husband finds out about this you’ll be sorry.” She viciously threw her jewelry box at my head. “I’ve got deadly aim!” She announced as it split my head open.


“Jewel, calm down,” she cried as Sizzles entered the room. “Everything’s under control.”

Cane tried to subdue her. “Take your hands off me!” she cried. “Take your hands off me! Rape! Rape!” Cane hit her with the flat side of his great sword.

“You’re going to pay!” she cried. “My brother’s going to . . .”

Cane hit her again, knocking her senseless. Jewel hopped off her lap, nipping Sizzles on the heel. The great wolf eyed it momentarily, then bent and gobbled it up like a sweetmeat. Muffled yaps came faintly from her belly.

“But I could have commanded her to stop,” I said lamely, holding my head to staunch the bleeding.

“You’re a monster!” Trask also protested.

“Sizzles, you shouldn’t eat other people’s pets,” Cane shrugged. “I think demons are less an abomination than little dogs,” he added for the rest of us.

“Do you feel like a big man now?” Trask sneered, but Cane ignored him as he searched the room. We left her fancy outfits in the closet but kept a great deal of her jewelry. “We’ll leave her with the clothes on her back,” Cane smugly said.

“That’s very generous of you,” Trask grunted, unable to drop it.

I expected Cane to call him out but instead the hunter mildly agreed, “It is very generous of me. I’d like to thank my mom for raising me right—oh, that’s right, I’m a bastard!”

The next bedroom we found was the Baron’s. Hunting trophies were mounted on the walls, playing cards strewn on a nearby table, shelves of books looking oddly untouched, and a comfy bed. There was evidence that he was sharing that bed with the Lady Quintessa Maray—a secret door connected their chambers, across the hall from his wife. Great strength, dear Pino, can be derived from the union of man and woman. But this union must be without flaw or it fails under duress. At his core the Baron was flawed.

We returned to the great room on the first floor. Greeting us at the doors was a large man who blocked our way, gut hanging over his belt. “’Ey,” he growled. “I think it’s time you lot hit the road!”

Baron Drelev
I had been using one of the privies and was catching up to the group as I overheard this. Behind the fat man, who turned out to be Baron Drelev himself, I could see all the thugs he’d gathered since we’d entered his compound—mercenaries, hill giants, the mage, Imeckus Stroon, and the bard, Lady Quintessa, crowding behind. “Justice!” I cried as I lashed the group with holy smite (the same spell that wiped out part of the boggard village). Lev followed with a spell of fear and suddenly a large contingent, including Ameon Trask, rushed away screaming.

Cane immediately cut the mage across the brow, blinding him with his own blood. Desperately, Stroon stumbled away as the battle began in earnest. Lev and I held the doorway to keep them from flanking us as the others fanned out.

“Why are we fighting for Fort Drelev?” Trask suddenly asked to no one in particular. “I understand that there are Tiger Lord barbarians involved, but do we really want this place?”

It led me to thinking. We are righting some wrongs here but is this really our place? It’s true, Ameon Trask did try to plunder Tatzlford, but that was before the beleaguered town had joined P.U.R.K. Still, Drelev would have gotten around to us eventually, allied as he was with both Pitax and the rapacious Tiger Lords. Remember this Pino—always nip trouble in the bud!

Cane flung himself on Baron Drelev with a vengeance while a wobbly hill giant tore wildly at him. Fortunately, Vlad was able to lure the giant away to where Trask could riddle him with arrows. He fell with a thud.

The mercenary guards were mostly toughs without much training and easy to kill. Nevertheless, I saw Cane staggering from his injuries, blood gushing from several wounds. Then Trask fell down. “I was trying too hard,” he would explain later, sheepishly.

I heard the Baron squeal, “This is not right!” as Cane stabbed him deep in his bowel.

Watching him writhe and die at his feet, Stroon unexpectantly cackled, “I’ve been waiting for this moment!” paying Cane back for his wounded scalp.

At a word Sizzles leaped to cover Cane’s retreat, snapping and yipping. With an oath Stroon aimed a bolt of lightning at the valiant wolf causing her hair to burst into flame while she howled piteously and burned to death. (It’s okay to cry, sweet Pino, at the suffering of a friend. Only when death has taken them is it time to rejoice.)

“Ah, Sizzles,” Cane moaned as the bolt leaped to the rest of us. I staggered momentarily, every muscle of my body rigid in agony. Vlad somehow cast a healing spell.

Stoon gestured and a wall of force suddenly separated Trask, Lev, and myself from the others. Then the mage turned purposefully back to Cane while the three of us ran back through the building to rejoin them.

“Now you die,” Stoon rasped, blinding Cane who continued fighting him desperately. Avoiding his grasp, the mage became gaseous, disappearing through the floorboards as Trask arrived, unleashing a hasty barrage. Half in and half out of the room, Stroon was trapped within the floor, walls echoing with the sound of his bubbling death rattle.

“You killed my dog!” Cane screamed as several guards attacked him. “These guys don’t give up,” he marveled. Skewering one, a boy of about eighteen, he added, “I like to see a go-getter like that.”

“You’re all hired if you just stop killing us!” Trask yelled.

“We give you jobs and you will live,” Lev, taking him seriously, added in his most sonorous voice. Yet, in the back of my mind, I could hear Bert Askew growling, “You forget who these guys are—the scum of the earth!”

Like an echo I heard Trask say, “The scum of the scum.”

“Then why don’t they run away?” I asked

“Scum don’t run away,” Trask replied. “They float.”

Like a voice from the aether we heard Askew add, “Because they know you’ll kill them if they run away.”

“That’s true,” Trask answered.

“Not if they run,” I scoffed. Killing vermin is for an exterminator, not an Inquisitor.

“When have we ever let someone live who ran away?”

“Everybody so far,” Cane snorted.

“What about that entire village of boggards who tried to run?”

Again with the boggards, I'll never live it down. (Besides, it was only half of them.)

Lev then slapped himself on the ear as a spell went wrong. In the distance we heard a horn and Ameon Trask’s faint voice, “Save something for us!”

“We’ll save you some Justice,” I muttered while finishing off the last hill giant.
Hill giant

We healed, drank our potions, and cast our spells. Suddenly I felt like I was hearing the voice of Bert Askew again, grating, whining, “That portcullis,” he said, “are you just going to leave it up?”

“Any of you still alive you can come out and turn yourselves in,” the voice of Ameon Trask called from out front. “We’ll show you pity.”

In reply we showered him with arrows.

“That’s but a flesh wound!” he sneered, holding up his arm contemptuously as a second arrow sprouted from his flesh, a third, then more, many more as our Trask used him like your Mother uses her pincushion.

The guards and hill giants that had returned with him exchanged dumbfounded looks before quickly turning away. We watched them go with relief. Finally, Lev said to the air, “Come out, little lady, surrender yourself.”

The air shimmered for a moment and then a beautiful woman appeared, Lady Quintessa Maray. “Oh, my, I was so worried for a moment,” she gushed. “I swear I was held veritable hostage in this tower and did what I thought I needed to do to survive.” She looked at each of us in turn, an alluring smile on her face. “You’ll note that I stepped out of combat.”

“We know you were sleeping with the Baron!” Lev primly accused her.

Tears welled in her eyes. “I wasn’t given much choice,” she choked as the rest of us surrounded her protectively, and soon Lev was bossing the residents of Drelev instead.

Hearing a whimper we turned with surprise to Sizzles but the noise was not coming from her but inside her. There was movement inside her belly.

“Was she pregnant?” I asked Cane, who looked as shocked as the rest of us. “I don’t think so,” he puzzled. “How? . . .”

From out of Sizzles slack jaw came a sound, “Yapyapyapyap!” as the Baronesses’ little doggy crawled from the wolf's gut. Covered with gore it stopped just long enough to yap furiously at Cane before running to its master's room upstairs. Cane watched it go impassively before tenderly gathering Sizzles in his arms and carrying her into forest.

Satindar and her girls hosted a victory feast for us. Halfway through the first roundel Kisandra and her father arrived to much joy. The next day we signed an “Intent to Annex Hooktongue Slough,” sending it by the same coach that carried the Baroness and her now clean and perfumed doggie back to Restov.

“He was a pig anyway, darling,” she said cheerfully about the Baron before waving goodbye. “I’ll move back in with Daddy until I find another.”

We watched her leave before returning to our business here. We're planning to visit the Tiger Lords next.

Give your Mother a kiss for me,
Uncle Marquand

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Letter 24—The Lily Coincidence

Dear Pino,
We mounted the stairs, circling upward to an unlocked door. Cane went ahead into a large entryway where he spied two guards and returned to fetch us. Thanks to Lev's spell of invisibility we were able to capture them instead of killing them. There would be no more of that.

We searched several empty rooms, including a kitchen and cloakroom where Cane found two trap doors, one in the ceiling, one in the floor. The one in the floor was locked and we couldn’t open it. We decided to finish searching the level we were on first. Finding nothing we went to the floor above.

Cane went first, finding two doors. There was a low murmur behind one, silence behind the other. Cane dropped a ladder, carrying Sizzles as the rest of us followed. We opened a door leading into a library where three large bookshelves dominated the room. A reading desk and chair sat by the window and a woolen rug reminded me of the weave covering Bert Askew’s head. Three doors exited the chamber.

There was a book open on the desk to a page depicting ooze-like aberrations with notes in the marginalia. We found a folded sheet of parchment below it containing a map of the Hooktongue Slough marked with the campsite of the “Tiger Lords.” There was also written the tale of a barbarian called Armag—twice-born—who terrorized the northern plains during the Age of Destiny.

Leading his people out of the realm of the Mammoth Lords into southeast Numeria, Armag's people clashed repeatedly with other barbarian tribes, pushing through the Rostland plains until butting heads with the Iberian warlords and the centaur tribes of Casmaron. These conflicts earned Armag the favor of Gorum the iron lord and god of war. 

As success begat success Armag became careless and boastfull, claiming that he was beyond Death and would never die. Mock not the gods, Dear Pino! When Pharasma heard of his blasphemes she dispatched the creatures of her Boneyards to aid Armag’s enemies. This in turn angered Gorum. While Armag engaged his enemies on the Material Plain, Gorum and Pharasma engaged in a battle of wits in the great beyond for Armag’s soul. 

A great red dragon finally laid Armag low but Gorum got the last laugh, infusing Armag’s soul into his sword, Ovinrbaane, preventing him from entering the Boneyards. “The blade seeks only war and conflict, protecting its wielder from hostile magic and, it is said, infusing him with a portion of Armag's legendary power.” Gorem then sent visions to a Tiger Lord shaman named Zorek, inspiring him to construct a great tomb for Armag, hidden deep in the barrow mounds of the Tiger Lords. It is guarded by the spirits of the dead who await "the one" to claim it as his own. 

We heard a noise behind us, a dust mephit, a small irritating critter from the Plane of Air with leathery wings and small horns. He was easy enough to disperse but more disturbing was knowing that it was probably in the thrall of some greater being.

We found an empty foyer and another door with a stairway leading upward. Steeling ourselves, we returned to the door where we’d heard sounds and carefully opened it. As Cane entered the room his eyes met those of a very surprised guard who was soon very dead. 

Copyright Paizo
I peeked around a corner to be rewarded with two quick arrows to the leg and the ridicule of my comrades. As Vlad bound up my wounds I cried for Justice! They charged with cries of their own. 

“They’re out for blood!” Trask cried, shooting one in both eyes as Lev released a loud thunderous clap. 

“What’s going on?” Cane said in a confused voice. “Hey, guys, what are we doing?” he cried, slashing himself like a penitant. “I cut myself,” he burbled and then tripped over Sizzles. “Big girls don’t cry!” he sang. “They don’t cry, aye, aye!”

One of our opponents had cast a spell on him.

Another one circled around us, jumping on a dais while giving a rousing speech. Inspired, two others attacked me with such eagerness that one stumbled and killed the other.” “Mama,” the man called as he died. The other was so shaken that I easily put him out of his misery, although missing the opportunity to take another. I was besieged by four more as Trask shot  the wizard, who immediately disappeared. 

Vlad backed me up as I fought desperately, in too deep to retreat. Trask convinced the bard to disappear for her own safety and the tide of battle turned. I cast invisibility purge hoping find them but had to admit that they had transported away.

We stripped the bodies and then went upstairs where we found an art gallery containing a statue decorated with the ceremonial armor of Choral the Conqueror, and another of a two-headed red dragon.

Choral Rogarvia
As every schoolchild knows Choral Rogarvia invaded south of the Lake of Mists and Veils in 4499 AR after forming an alliance with House Surtova, conquering the Aldori Swordlords with his red dragon allies at the Valley of Fire. Afterward,  House Rogarvia  united the nation of Brevoy, ruling from the city of New Stetven until just a few short years ago when they unaccountably disappeared. 

We came to a locked door, which Cane quickly broke down. Behind it was a simple room with plain bed facing a window along the north wall, bookshelf, table, chair—and very angry wizard. 

Trask, yelling “Leave it to the men!” fumbled his attack like an overeager schoolboy, but we fought as a team until, with a flash, the wizard once again teleported away.

We discovered notes describing his interest in the more recent Armag the Barbarian. It turns out our Tiger Lord is claiming to be the reincarnation of the original. He’s being assisted by some priestesses of Gyronna. My partners turned their eyes to me accusingly.

“Is it my fault?” I finally stuttered.

“I bet it’s Lily,” Trask taunted. Now where did he hear about that? He wasn’t even with us when that—incident—occurred. I failed my duty on account of love. 

“I’ve heard of it referred to as a debacle,” Trask said mockingly. “The Lily Coincidence?” 

I hope we're finished with this place soon.

Eat your greens,
Uncle Marquand

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Letter 23—Deep Voikung Maffos

Dear Pino,
Not sure if I'm going to finish this letter before we liberate Fort Drelev, but let me begin.

We returned to Tatzlford to find it bustling with new construction and serious looking citizens hurrying back and forth like hornets at their nest. Mayor Rezbin watched it from the front porch of the Inn with an open-mouthed, gap-toothed smile as Bert Askew emerged from inside where he’d turned a small room off the alley into an office to “organizing the territory.”

“Deep Voikung Maffos,” Bert trumpeted inexplicably as we gathered around a table the next morning to plan our next foray, “makes up the largest body of water in the Stolen Lands, serving as the heart of Hooktongue Slough (the last word said as if choking on a greedily swallowed hard-boiled egg), with countless minor rivers and streams winding through the swamp into the lake.”

“We aren’t even going to be close to the lake!” Trask objected incredulously.

“Yeah, you are.”

“No, we’re going right here!” Trask shook the map at Bert, poking it loudly with his finger.

Bert peered at it nearsightedly. “Oh, that’s right, I’m sorry. It was your map . . . The swamp hesitates here, receives, there is a loud half-orc,” he continued stentoriously before lapsing into giggles, “forming a one hundred foot ring of open water surrounding a heavily wooded island 200 hundred feet in diameter.” (This makes as little sense now as it did then.) “The water is 50 feet deep.”

The next day we left Tatzlford behind, heading east into deep forest, which eventually merged into shallow bog. On the third day we heard something large crashing through the trees nearby. Following the noise we came upon two giant slugs fighting or romancing, we weren’t sure which. Their massive bodies thrashed about the bog spraying acidic juice on the nearby trees, which smoked like breakfast links.

We made short work of them although one did spit a keg-sized wad of acid at Cane while Lev gave his standard “We the happy few!” speech. We squeezed two dozen vials of giant slug acid from the critters to exchange for a like number of elixirs. Even Bert Askew should be pleased.

Courtesy Paizo
We traveled northwest to a landscape as drowned as Askew said it would beit would be. Our horses struggled through the sucking mud as Cane steered us around the quicksand. In one bog we were greeted with loud, angry chirps as a dozen bog striders walked over the surface toward us, puffed up angrily at our bumbling into their territory. They waved their spears threateningly while bobbing on four legs like excited schoolchildren.

These are children of Erastil, blameless and pure, so Lev began waving his arms hypnotically, crying sweet entreaties to them, hoping in this way to convince them that we meant no harm. But as we backed away Lev uncharacteristically faltered so I added my voice to his. They continued grumbling but made no more hostile action as Lev scowled at me. “If you had done that in the first place we’d be out of this by now!” he accused. I could only shrug—an Inquisitor’s first instinct is not for diplomacy. We avoided further mayhem by going around their bog.

Later that day we came upon solid ground, clambering like drowned sailors onto a shore where we found ourselves staring into the mouth of a deep cave. Barely had we time to dismount before a pale yellow chuul lurched out roaring defiance. While we gawked like farmers another one erupted from the nearby water. It grabbed Cane, who twisted free as Trask shot it dead.

Copyright Paizo
The second one proved little more difficult to kill as Cane helped Trask put the kibosh on it. “Let’s search that cave!” Trask cried in triumph as Cane prodded their bodies for treasure. We found little at first except a few gnome bones before turning up a great deal of treasure including a holy symbol of Gozreh, a mithral broach in the shape of a gilded leaf—Gozreh’s symbol—and a leather bound spellbook of zero level spells.

“You want a bunch of useless spells?” Trask sneered, “They’re yours!”

We camped nearby, the swamp fecund with crawling, biting, insects. We woke the next morning covered with big red welts that itched in the humid morning sun.

The next day was more of the same as we struggled through Hooktongue Slough with its countless meandering streams disappearing deep into morass only to reemerge later. We slogged through it the way Little Billy eats his gruel in the morning. One had to be wary because what was shallow one moment became perilously deep the next. The placid waters all drained into Hooktongue’s quiet basin, concealing a fearsome reputation. According to Bert Askew, “Many think it’s the lair of an ancient water haint named Hooktongue, said to resemble an immense black snake with jaws strong enough to carry a bear and a back decorated with razor-sharp scales!” I remembered him saying with a quavering voice as the Inn’s children shrieked in terror.

But to us it sounded very much like the elasmosaurus we were supposed to bring back to Tatzlford. So we revisited the abandoned Boggard village that we’d destroyed earlier, taking some of the ripe corpses we’d left unburied as bait.

“It really was one of our proudest moments,” Trask grimaced as we unfolded our boat and floated back out onto the water.

We watched until one of the corpses was pulled under and then, taking careful aim, Trask fired into the water. A few moments later our elasmosaurus floated stunned to the surface. We pulled it aboard and I quickly preserved the body. We returned it to Tatzlford long enough to change our small clothes before returning to our main objective—freeing Fort Drelev.

Fort Drelev sits at the mouth of the Siltstrand River as it flows into Lake Hooktongue. Much like Tatzlford, there is a keep with a large central tower built of stone. Two roads lead into town, one north, one west. There is a partially constructed wooden palisade and well-developed waterfront.

We watched for a time outside the west gate as a few people entered, much to the evident mirth of the guards who handled the women like greedy men hold their wallets. We debated whether to sneak in or go in as thugs looking for work. We chose the latter.

“Where do you think you’re going?” one of the guards greeted us as his compadres quickly jumped to surround us.

“What’s that big thing?” one of them asked insouciantly, pointing at Sizzles.

Copyright Paizo

“It’s my wolf, dipshit,” Cane replied truculently as Sizzles growled agreement.

“Huh? Who are you calling a dipshit?”

“Enough!” called out their captain, Vardock, who had been listening to our conversation from the doorway of the guards’ shack.

“I have brought my men here because I heard there was chance for employ,” Lev addressed him civilly.

“More?” we heard one of them cry. “Now we got more to share the pickin’s with? Aghh!”

“You’ll have to talk with the Baron about that,” Vardock said as he opened the gate.

“We heard there was a brothel in town,” Lev asked as we entered. Without changing his distracted expression Vardock pointed up the street, “There ain’t much else,” he sneered.

Drelev did have an abandoned look about it, as cities under siege will. We came upon a little girl—about the age you were during the happy time we lived in New Stetven—only she was covered in mud, selling flowers obviously rescued from trash. We bought them in exchange for food and some coin, walking her safely home at the back of a large wooden building where her mother lived. When we walked out front we saw it was the “Velvet Corner,” the very place we were looking for.

“The whores are on me!” Lev cried, disguising our true intent as we entered. It was crowded with rough looking men drinking, gambling, smoking zong, and consorting with equally rough looking women. Even so, one women stood out in the chaos, like the eye of a cyclone as she surveyed her domain, greeting favored guests and whispering instructions to her lieutenants, taking control over sour drunken men spending ill-gotten coin. Seeing us, she quickly walked over. “I’m Satinder Morne,” she said unnecessarily. “I own this place. You’re new? . . .” Lev handed her Kisandra’s brooch embracing one sad rose. She studied it for a moment, face cool.

“I’d like to speak to you in private,” said Lev.

“I think that’s a good idea.” She leaned over to the bartender, her full lips lightly brushing his ear, then disappeared through a back door. Soon, several ladies joined us as we played along, Trask more enthusiastically than the others. They took us to a dark hallway where a bookcase slid out of the way with a rasp, revealing a hidden door.

Inside Satinder awaited us, reclining in her chair like a cat watches a caged nightingale.

Courtesy Paizo

Lev introduced us. “You know Kisandra barely escaped to our kingdom. We helped her destroy the group of thugs following her. She then asked us to help the people here and that you could help us liberate this fort.”

“This place needs liberating,” she replied dryly looking us over closely. She offered Lev her hand.

“At your service, m’lady,” he replied.

“I can’t be gone long,” she warned. “I’ve got to watch these new customers of mine. They’re a rowdy bunch. Rough on the girls.”

“Who do you think we should talk to get the ball rolling?” Lev asked. “And who should we avoid?”

“I don’t think you’re going to get the locals to rise up. You’re going to have to take out the Baron.”

“That’s what we’re good at,” Cane bragged, while scratching Sizzles’s neck. “We were hoping to score points with the locals first.”

“The Baron sold us out to the bandits and the barbarians and now he and his favorites never come out of the Keep. There are 30 or 40 mercenaries. They do what the want during the day and at night he’s got hill giants to patrol the streets. Every week or so shipments of food come in. Most of that goes to the Keep. The people living in town are starving. If you try and leave they don’t ask questions, just shoot you in the back.”

“We can kill them easily,” Cane replied. “What I’m worried about is having enough people left over to rebuild the town.”

“What else do you know?” Lev encouraged after a moment of silence.

“There is a secret escape tunnel the Baron had built beneath the Keep. It emerges on the shore of Lake Hooktongue not far north of town. I can give you precise directions.” She stood up. “I’ve got a number of hidden rooms. You’re welcome to use my home as your hideout.”

“We should probably stay here but we don’t need to hide.” said Trask as she hurried from the room.

“We have a lot of gold,” Cane wondered, “what’s to stop us hiring some of these mercenaries?”

“The fact that I want to spend that gold on other things?” Trask grumbled.

“There is that, but it might make things a lot less bloody.”

They squabbled some more before Lev intervened. “We can hang out for a day and observe the town and get a good feel for it. I’m going for a walk.”

“The only thing I’m going to be feeling is the ladies,” Trask replied, wetly smacking his lips before disapearing in the back.

Lev walked the streets, knocking on doors and encouraging the frightened citizens to talk with him. He discovered that Baron Drelev recently gave shelter to Lady Quintessa, a young foreign noblewoman far lovelier than his wife, the Baroness, who was throwing a birthday gala for herself at the Keep. “She has the gall to celebrate her birthday when there is so much misery going on in town,” an angry one-eyed fishmonger told Lev.

In another shop, shuttered and quiet, its owner told him, “Baroness Paveta’s brother is a magic user who showed up and then disappeared.” Little by little Lev improved their opinion of us. While they had no intention of helping us they weren't going to stop us either.

Meanwhile Cane circulated amongst the mercs, buying them drinks and getting them talking, but all he learned was that they were marking time.

“Do you think the barbarians are going to turn on us?” he asked.

“Why would barbarians need Drelev’s help?” they sneered.

“He thinks he’s going to take over this entire region by himself,” another groused. “He’s biding his time while preparing to take over somehow, but all he’s doing is sitting in his Keep and brooding.”

No one knew where the Barbarian warlord Armag has gone to ground after accepting Drelev’s offer for an alliance by sparing the town. He took several young women as hostages and marched into the hills. He says he’ll return the hostages after the Baron has proved his loyalty to Pitax but most people assume the hostages are dead.

While Trask was mixing it up with the ladies I searched the town for a chapel of Erastil, finding one off a quiet alley near the partially completed wall. I quieted my mind in prayer, damping the doubt that had been growing in me since we first encountered these wetlands. Men like Baron Drelev violate every standard I believe in. They rape the land, rape their own people, and rape honor, all for power. It’s all I can do to stop myself from delivering Justice to them immediately.

That night Lev and Trask led the rest of us out of town and to the hidden door at the base of a 30 foot bluff that Satinder said led into the Keep. Inside a long dark tunnel led to a large cavern where the walls were discolored by flooding. Stagnant runoff collected in a natural limestone basin where an iron gate rimmed with rust blocked a tunnel to the west. After coating the gate with goose grease, Cane pushed it open. Something rose in the dark—two black puddings, frightful black sludge with acidic embrace.

“How do you handle them?” I asked.
Copyright Paizo

“Large spoons,” Cane grinned.

We all plinked at the puddings before Trask finished them off, escaping their acidic stench by going up a side way where we found another large cavern and a bag of holding containing several days trail rations, skunk musk, and various potions.

A staircase was cut in the limestone, reaching the stony ledge where we found a secret door and a dusty chamber containing a  table. On its velvet lined surface were precious stones, pieces of jewelry, and a couple of large ornately carved cedar trunks containing more treasure and a full set of armor. There were also artifacts belonging to the Tiger Lord barbarians.

I kept a ring of evasion made of green wood carved with a snake and lizard locked in a tangle that matched the ring of swimming I’d found long ago of an eel and frog locked in a similar tangle. The two rings interlock like one.

We emerged in a dungeon where we found an someone sitting in a cell—a gaunt, care-worn old man who looked up at us dully as we opened his cell.
Courtesy Paizo

“Who are you?” we asked.

“Terrion Numesti” he rasped after taking a long drink of water.

“Your daughter, Kisandra, sent us. We’re from the P.U.R.K.”

“Well met,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “What of my other daughter, Tumary?”

“That we don’t know. The Tiger Lords seemed to have disappeared.”

He sighed, “Where are my manners?” he rose slowly, only to bend again stiffly on one knee.

The armor and weapons we’d found were his, so we watched with astonishment as he slowly donned it, insisting on leaving immediately to join his daughter. We gave him food and water, watching him totter off through the tunnel.

We then found food and a winecellar of good Taldan Fire Brandy, Andorran liquor, and delicate berry wines from Quonin, the elven homeland. Behind another door we also found what was left of the Baron’s treasury.

Then we readied to go up the staircase into the Keep.

Have a happy birthday, we’ll celebrate when I return,
Your loving uncle,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Letter 22—A Good Death

Dear Pino,
The next morning we continued to debate our situation.

“We probably should land in the village,” said Lev. “Or should we?”

“It’s not like we know they’re hostile,” Trask responded.

“They are boggards. They were born hostile,” Lev replied.

“We let them pull out their bows and arrows and then we kill them,” Trask insisted. “Or they could pull out a bunch of garlands and flowers and say, ‘Thank you for visiting.’”

Copyright Paizo
Nearby a slow moving river emptied into the lake. Thirty yards from its mouth was a small muddy island  twenty feet wide and a hundred feet long sitting low in the water. We unfolded our boat and set off for the island where clean picked bones littered the shore, including several human skulls. In the water by the shore, staring away from us to the north as they watched for intruders, were two large, if not very bright, wardens.

“G’day to ya, boggard,” Cane called to them.

They waved their tridents at us while emitting loud horrifying croaks that did little to intimidate us but it did alert the village across the water.

Cane whipped out his wiener and wagged it at them. “Get a load of this,” he called while reaching for his bow and putting an arrow through one of them. Lev gave a quick speech while casting a spell that hit the other. I felt a dart wing me and missed my first shot, although I hit with the follow-up. Cane stepped off the boat to shoot one warden dead while Sizzles ripped the throat out of the other.

Copyright Paizo

Each one had:
+1 hide armor
masterwork hand axe
masterwork trident
potion of cure serious wounds
We quickly walked to the island's south side while watching boggards run to their waterfront nearly 150 feet away screaming, “Grgh-hoopgrhghgrhaghaghaghagh urmurraaughghrughrughr ahghahagh!” As war darts spackled around us we found a pit with a ladder leading into it.

But before we descended I sent the boggards a message wrapped in a spell of holy smite killing nearly half of them outright. The survivors fled in terror.

“You’re a monster!” Trask cried happily.

“They shot at us first,” Lev said in my defense. But, really, I need no defense. Boggards are born evil, raised evil, and practice evil—what sort of Inquisitor would I be if I didn’t destroy these misbegotten spawn of the demon lord Gogunta?

We turned our attention back to the pit, Cane descending first. There were thick ropes of dripping roots hanging from the ceiling and a large rippling pool of water. Cane immediately dived into the water, finding a tunnel extending to the south and swimming 60 feet before coming to a dry room. From there, two passageways sloped upward. He also saw a pile of gourds by the east wall with several covered baskets and three boggards. He returned without alerting them.

“I think that’s the way to the city up there,” said Lev.

“Leave no boggard behind!” Trask growled with anticipation.

And we didn’t, following Cane to the room and killing them all. The baskets contained several frogs with a violet-yellow streak down their backs, which we carefully packed away.

There was another pool and another tunnel leading to an empty hallway. One way was dark, forking after about 60 feet. The other way led to a dimly lit chamber were we found a dozen boggards leaping excitedly after dragonflies that one of them had released from a cage.

Suddenly one of them stopped, complaining loudly as he held his belly while the others laughed at him. They weren’t laughing long. “I’m starting to feel sorry for them,” Trask grimaced at the slaughter we’d made.

There was a passage to the south where we saw another light. In this room the vaulted ceiling rose nearly fifteen feet toward a leather flap leading outside. A skull decorated throne of leather and lashed wood rested against the eastern wall faced by two braziers emitting cold white light. On the throne was a priest-king boggard attended by two wardens and their giant frog companions.
Copyright Paizo

We fell upon them, Vlad blinding the wardens with holy smite. The king thumped Vlad pretty good in return while one of the blind wardens slashed Sizzles. Lev cast sonic thrust while giving a short speech, although it was hard to tell which was which:
“We shall fight in Hooktongue, we shall fight on the lakes and rivers, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength, we shall defend our land, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!”*
Then it was over. “Yeahhgh!” Trask screamed in triumph after killing the priest-king.

One warden got down on his knees, “Gnurrihurarhr!” it moaned as we killed it.

As we looked around at the carnage I wondered aloud if we should enslave the boggards.

“Boggards are people,” Lev protested. “We don’t enslave sentient beings.”

“We kill them,” Cane said without irony.

“Or we make them our allies.”

“Ah, moral relativism,” Trask laughed, then turned serious. “They are chaotic/evil so clearly this isn’t a crime!”

“Slavery is definitely illegal,” Lev added. “Therefore, only genocide . . .”

“That’s okay,” Trask insisted, “we’ll create corporations and call it ‘trickle-down economics,’ create a bunch of jobs that will concentrate all the wealth, and then slowly disperse some of that wealth to other people and make them dependent on it.”

The only sound in the room was the drip of blood as Vlad healed Cane’s injury but that didn’t lessen Trask’s discontent, complaining bitterly about Vlad’s “wasting” a spell of lesser restoration on Cane’s wound. “A card laid is a card played!” he moaned.

On the king we found:
3 potions of cure moderate wounds
potion of sanctuary
wand of heal moderate wounds 24 charges
wand of poison 9 charges
+2 hide armor
+2 icy morningstar
masterwork light wooden shield
spell component pouch
an unholy symbol of Gogunta
On each of his minions:
+1 hide armor
masterwork hand axe
masterwork trident
The frogs: “We could make good boots out of them,” Cane remarked.

Tunnels went off to each side, Cane choosing the closest to the throne. This narrow passageway led to a long shallow cave with a low ceiling. The earthen walls glistened with moisture and small pools of excess water gathered along the southern wall.

There we discovered wooden crates and burlap sacks containing:
56 platinum
1287 gold
2019 silver
872 copper
5 black opals worth 200 gold pieces each
10 gold bracelets each decorated with a different forest animal motif worth 25 gp each
box of 12 Taldon stamped gold ingots worth 250 gp each
cask containing 3 doses of elixir of swimming
a harp of charming bearing the likeness of Cayden Cailean
There were sleeping pallets in the room made of dried reeds and grasses, a leather flap in the ceiling opening above and a passage to the north. Next to it was a larder where the excited buzz of insects filled the round cavern. Sacks of blue-wing dragonflies, scorched bulbs, guava root, and fangberries hung on sharp hooks hammered into the wall. We freed the dragonflies.

We followed the southwest tunnel to a large dining room where two long lines of matted rushes extended down the center of the floor, between them were large round baskets and a stack of serving platters.

From there we emerged into the village, now deserted. We saw Fort Drelev glittering across the lake. I was surprised they would allow the boggards to live in such close proximity to their town. We then decided to continue our exploration before going to the city and it nearly got us killed—well, for one of us it did.

Later that day we approached a low, finger-shaped marsh cosseted between two forested hills. Water eddied around bubbling plumes of swamp gas where an unearthly chill covered all. We realized that even the constant refrain of insects and frogs had stopped.

Lev remembered that Garrum, the lone, atypical boggard we’d befriended in the early days of our association, once told him about how he had been exiled from his tribe—the very tribe we just attacked. He’d offered Lev a gift, a magic bug, if he brought back the head of his hated enemy, the priest-king.

“Hey, I tossed that into the bag of holding,” Trask said unexpectedly. “Didn’t I tell you? It’s right next to the gouda cheese!”

Before we could answer we realized there were figures rising from the swamp cold fetid waters, green with slime—bog mummies. I used a spell of searing light on one, causing it to falter momentarily. Vlad killed another with holy light.

“Woohoo!” Lev yelled after he’d lightly nicked one, but Vlad fumbled, drawing blood from himself instead. It mattered little, we quickly put the mummies back in there watery tomb.

We continued our explorations as daylight faded, not bothering to disguise our passage or watch for signs of the enemy, after all, who would dare to oppose us? Let this be a lesson to you, dear Pino:  Pride invites a fall.

We came to where an immense foul mound of trees and loam formed a jagged line known locally as the Swamp Scar, the vegetation riddled with burrows and nooks. Suddenly, we were blasted by a destructive cone of cold. I fell to my knees helplessly. That’s when I saw the monster rising slowly from the depths like a serpent rises from a conjurer’s basket—a spirit naga, foul evil beast, fangs dripping venom.
Copyright Paizo

Like me, Vlad was pale and shaken while Sizzles, the smart one, whimpered and ran off. Cane bravely charged it but missed his mark as it writhed backwards while blasted us with cold again. Briefly, I was unconscious. Dear Pino, you very nearly lost your uncle forever, and I returned to my search for Ileosa. As I struggled back to consciousness I heard my compatriots arguing.

“I think we got too big for our britches,” Trask lamented.

“We didn’t have a chance to be too big for our britches,” Lev sulked in reply.

“We were exploring like we were dicks,” Trask admitted, although I might have been hallucinating his words. “Hey, if this thing teaches us a little respect. . . .”

“If it doesn’t kill us first,” Lev replied grimly, before teleporting me outside the creature’s range. I began recovering.

“O Hubris!” Trask moaned. “We should have run,”

“I can’t just leave you guys,” Cane muttered while trying to entangle the monster in his net. He then ran towards Vlad to carry him out of harm's way, but discovered Vlad already dead.

“Should we fight off the assumption that we’re going to win or that we are doomed?” Trask puzzled, then suddenly laughed out loud, “Let’s fight this out!” He pulled out an arrow of aberration-slaying. “It’s called being prepared,” he smirked happily, taking aim and releasing it along with a flurry of others. Most of them missed but important one flew true as a wave of Lev’s sonic spell washed after it. It fell twitching and coiling in the fetid waters. I heard shouts of joy.

“That was a good death,” Trask and Cane agreed, while gazing on Vlad’s waxen features.

Later, Bert Askew would dismissively schoolboy us. “I would have loved to hear that one of you guys caught mummy rot,” Bert Askew grimaced unsympathetically later, adding, "You could have learned all about the spirit naga at the boggard lair!”

We found:
Headband of mental prowess
Then we limped back to Tazlford where Lev had Latricia Evanore use our scroll of raise dead to bring Vlad back to our plane of existence. I could see that, like me, he was disappointed to find that he had returned but Lev, ecstatic at having his friend back, beamed down upon him like a proud papa at the marriage of his son.

Say your prayers,
Uncle Marquand
*apologies to Winston Churchill