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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Letter 33—Entering Thousandbreaths

“How do you find the great iron gates leading into Thousandbreaths?” Evindra asked rhetorically. “You don't—they find you.”

In other words, either Nyrissa wants you to find Thousandbreaths or you don't. So, we'd spent the previous three days wandering the thick forest known as the Thousand Voices looking for a kind of “rusted castle,” a ruin so ancient that the miracle of it is that there is anything left to find.

Copyright Paizo
It rained from the moment we stepped into the woods, which lived up to its reputation—dark and eerie. Erastil seems to have forsaken this place. Even ZzzzzAaaah was skittish. Voices whispered from the woods, their meaning just outside of hearing, leading us ever deeper.

“How did you get the duty of watching over the sword?” I asked Evindra when we'd stopped for a short rest on the third day.

“You know, it's been so long I barely remember, except that they weren't the kind of people you say no to,” she paused, looking at me. “I don't suppose you are, either.”

I laughed, “You'd be surprised.” We sat resting with Lev and Vlad in the shelter of a large tree as Cane scouted ahead, water dripping on our heads from the boughs above.

“I was supposed to keep Briar out of Nyrissa's hands,” she sighed, “yet here I am helping bring it to her.”

“Tell us a little more about Nyrissa,” Lev urged.

“Well, she's not very reasonable. Eons of exile will do that to you, and since they took her inner core away—her capacity to love—she burns for revenge.”

“Great,” I heard Vlad mutter.

“I still don't see what it has to do with us,” Lev mused.

“What it has to do with you,” Evindra replied patiently, “is that her Thousandbreaths is an artifact of the first world that she created here, in the Stolen Lands, for the purpose of breaching the barrier between our worlds. When that happens there'll be nary Stolen Lands nor Tuskland left for you to rule.”

“Yo!” I heard Cane call. “We found it!”

Following, we soon stood before the woeful, misbegotten, “Castle of  Knives.” Surrounded by a wrought iron fence and a gate with a tall statue at each side framing the entrance, depicting a beautiful woman with sword upraised. “Engelidis!” Cane gasped.

“Nay,” corrected Evindra. “That's the lady of this place, Nyrissa. And quite a beauty she is, too.”

Cane stood looking with his mouth agape as the rest of us led our nickering horses under the clasped hands of the arch, an eerie green glow playing like fire about its swords, extending down until it bathed Briar with the glow.

“What just happened?” it said to me.

“You can talk?”

“. . . Maybe a little. Where are we?”

“Ancient Thousandbreaths.”

“Holy. . . ,” it whistled, once again falling silent.

“Who're you talking to?” Cane asked with a look of concern.

I shrugged. “In this place, who knows?”

A disquieting dusk had settled upon the land, a dusk that never deepened nor lightened. Of the castle that once occupied this spot there were only ruined foundations, broken stone walls, and overgrown pits. We looked at one another. “Are we ready for this?” A dark pathway disappeared through the dense forest in the distance.

Remounting, we followed Cane into the forest. “ZzzzzAaaah knows the way,” he winked.

"I destroy the drawers of the brain!" 1


“I didn't say anything.”

Until now the forest had been full of whispers, but now it was full of voices. At first they were random noises, screams, burbling, catcalls, odd fragments of conversation.

“All flowers aren't saints, luckily!” 1

Trying to stay away from the edges of the path, thick with a strange, noxious flowering vines, we carefully made our way. The trees of the forest crowded the trail. With the murky light, it felt closed and claustrophobic. After about an hour we heard a disturbance up ahead and came upon Cane standing in the middle of the pathway screaming, ZzzzzAaaah watching him uncertainly.

“F— you, man, f— you, you deserved to die!” he yelled at the forest.

“For having an opinion contrary to your own?”

“You were a threat to the peace!”

“Of the People's Republic? Where everyone is encouraged to express an opinion? Unless you don't agree with a certain psychotic animal lover, that is.”

“Is that . . .”

“Grigori? That's me, good buddy. What were you doing while he was killing me?”

“Dialectics is an amusing machine that leads us . . . to the opinions which we would have held in any case!” 1 came a shout from the woods.

“I wish somebody would shut that guy up!”

“Like you shut me up? Why don't you just go kill him?”

“He's already dead,” Cane groused with exasperation. Suddenly he started laughing hideously. ZzzzzAaaah backed away, fur bristling. Instead of readying my defense, I felt a prick, like a bee string, and calm possessed me.

“Hey, big guy,” I head a faint reedy voice call, “Come over here, will ya?”

I'd started walking to the edge of the woods when I heard another voice commanding, “What are you doing, you chucklehead? Can't you tell when you've been sprayed with pixie dust?”

“Say, what?”

As if in a dream, I pulled Briar from its scabbard. “That's better, now give me a flat spin north by northeaster there.”

I did what it said with a flick of my wrist, hearing a satisfying thunk as the flat of the blade connected with an invisible object.

“Got you, you runt!” I heard Briar say. “C'mon, Marquand, get it together.”

Shaking my head, I cast invisibility purge, finding myself staring at a small, unconscious, fey with fragile looking wings that glittered with many colors, even in the twilight—a pixie. Looking up, I saw that six others had also appeared. They were aiming their bows at me.

“I owe you one,” I said to the sword as I slowly put it away. The fey relaxed marginally, but remained watchful.

“Can I ask why you attacked us?”

They looked at each other, finally one of them spoke. “That's what we do.”

“Yeah, it's fun, ya know?" added another. "Making people look stupid.”

“Yah, and drinking their blood!”
Public Domain

“Ick!” The others cried, shrinking away from him. “That's sick. What's the matter with you?”

"I was kidding." he mumbled unconvincingly.

“What's that strange smell?” Vlad asked.

“Oh, it's those stupid flowers,” one of the pixies replied. “They're always stinking up the place. They're kinda poisonous, so I'd get a move on if I was you. You got our bud there?” he called to the others, and suddenly they were gone.

Cane and ZzzzzAaaah had also been affected by a pixie spell, and were dancing a fancy jig only they could hear. We freed them and, coughing, hurried up the path until we finally reached a rapidly flowing stream. Soon we were standing by a shimmering round lake, where a score of black swans swam regally a safe distance from a whirlpool lazily circling at the very center of the water. The trees along the forest's edge seemed dead, or dying.

Following the shore, we crossed a bridge covering the mouth of a second stream. Hearing a scraping sound below, we saw that we were being observed by a bent, larvae-ridden, scarred old tree.

“What is that thing?” I asked.

Cane scratched his ear meditatively. “Lightning treant, I think. They're damned powerful and twice as touchy, we better move on.”

We continued following ZzzzzAaaah around the lake until coming to a point where a pathway broke away from the shore, immediately branching in two, one way paralleling the stream we'd crossed, the second going deep into the forest. We spied a treant protecting each way out, so we continued following the great cat along the shore.

“Have you noticed the sky is darker?” asked Lev. In reply, a lightning bolt cleft the air, followed by the rumble of thunder. “Storm coming.”

“They're following us!” Vlad pointed back the way we'd come and we saw the treants laboriously pursuing. One waved at the sky and was greeted with another crack of thunder.

“Keep moving,” Cane urged. “They're slow, they can't catch up . . . unless . . .”

We heard the great cat's howl as a shower of sparks erupted in front of us where the trail once again came to the stream we'd been following earlier.

“. . . unless there's another one,” Lev finished for him.

“ZzzzzAaaah!” Cane cried, running ahead. We quickly followed.

“Let me at 'em!” I heard Briar shout. I pulled it free as we reached the place where Cane and ZzzzzAaaah flanked one moldering treant, hopping, enraged from one stout root to another.

“Let us pass, old man, and we'll let you live,” Evindra called to it in Aklo.

Boom! A powerful bolt of electricity blasted through us, stunning many of the horses. Fortunately, I had passed a judgment of resistance  to that sort of thing when we first saw the treant, but the others weren't so lucky. In the distance I saw the others trundling our way. Worse, a huge wave was sweeping towards us from the lake, flooding the beach. Watery hands grasped Vlad where he'd fallen from his mount, pulling him into the lake as Lev ran after, barely reaching him in time. Close by, the vortexes of several more water elementals began taking shape.

“Cane!” I heard Lev cry as he helped Vlad away from the churning water's edge.

“Yeah?” the singed hunter said from the place he'd been thrown by the blast.
Copyright TSR

“Do you think you can get ZzzzzAaaah to run down by the water's edge and lure those elementals back this way?”

“Probably . . . yeah . . . why?”

They walked off together towards the lake talking intently, ZzzzzAaaah following close behind. Meanwhile, Briar and I lopped a large hunk off the treant.

“That felt good,” said the sword, “Uh-oh.” I felt the creature grab one of my ankles and fell as it tried to grasp the other to rend me. "Not again!" I cried, putting Briar to work frantically chopping wood as Evindra sprayed it with some sort of poison she called her “herbicide.”

“Damn you, little woman,” I heard it grunt right before a huge explosion erupted behind us. As wood chips mixed with water rained down we finished whittling down the treant.

“What happened?” I asked Cane as he and Lev returned with ZzzzzAaaah, laughing.

“Aw, you missed it?" he cried. "ZzzzzAaaah tricked those water guys into thinking they could chase her down and sweep her out into the lake. She dodged at the last instant and they slammed right into those freaking treants!”

“And water and electricity just don't mix.”

“Nope,” he smirked. "It was Lev's idea."

We rested for a moment before moving back up the path. By now the voices had returned. “Morals have a way of atrophying, like every other pestilential product of the intelligence!” 1 one of them barked.

“What does that even mean?” Cane complained.

I shrugged.

“Hey, big boy,” came a woman's voice from the woods. I felt I could almost place her.

“Who is that?”

“Even my killer doesn't remember me,” she lamented bitterly. “Bandit queen, swung two axes. It took two of you tough guys to bring me down? Kressle? Yoo-hoo!”

“We don't kill that many women,” I protested.

“Yes, you do!” came a chorus of voices.

“You slaughtered us like animals in a barn.”

“The cult of Gyronna?” I whispered fearfully, “It wasn't my fault.”

“What did you do to stop it from happening?”

Nothing, dear Pino, I did nothing.

The path was quite narrow at first but soon widened due to a broad sandbar. Bloated animal corpses littered the path and bobbed in the water. The smell was deplorable. “Stay away from them, ZzzzzAaaah,” I heard Cane warn the big cat. “There's a good chance those things carry bubonic plague,” he said over his shoulder. “Try not to breathe.”

Not breathing would have been a pleasure.

Sometime later, as we were rounding a great bend, we saw Cane standing in front of a tree. “Turn your eyes,” I said to Evindra. “Cane's taking a . . .”

“He's not pissing,” Vlad interrupted, “He's . . . kissing . . . kissing a tree!” We stopped next to him to gawp like schoolboys.

That's when a daintily-clothed woman stepped out of the woods, her body seemingly carved from ashwood. “That's my fault,” she smiled ruefully. “He kinda thinks that's me.”

“I can see why he's ardent,” I surprised myself by saying to the beautiful dryad. Her wood darkened, as if blushing. “Can you wake him up?”

“This is a lot more fun,” she giggled.

“Then,” Lev said, walking up, “while we're waiting, can you tell us anything about this place?”

“You're human,” she said, wonderingly. “We don't get many live ones around here—at least they're not alive for long.”

“Stick it in your ear, bitch!” I heard a voice shout from the woods, sounding remarkably like the Stag Lord.

We had all dismounted by now. “Ah, you're very interesting,” she said, inspecting Evindra closely. “You're not one of ours.”

“I just arrived with the boys,” she replied, watching the dryad evenly.

“From the outside?” Evindra nodded. “Ooo, Nyrissa's going to want to talk with you!”

“We're counting on it,” Lev interrupted. “We hope she will talk with us, too. Now, Miss . . .”


“Ashley, can you release our friend? We're kind of in a hurry.”

Sighing, she snapped her fingers. It took Cane a moment to disengage his amorous embrace with the tree, spitting moss from his mouth, painfully aware of his audience.

“Watch out for the worms,” Ashley said as we prepared to leave.


“Yes, in the swamp ahead,” with an elegant turn of her head, she effortlessly stepped into the dense forest where we could not follow. “Watch your step.”

“All right, people,” Lev said after a moment. “Saddle up, it's time to go.”

A voice called from the woods. “Cane!” It was the Stag Lord again.


“You suck!”

We rode for another half hour, the stink of the carcasses nearly unbearable, until we saw the forest clearing ahead, making way for a vast swamp. Cane had stopped, once again, by an outcropping of trees. There we found him sitting at tea with two more elegant dryads. One was stout as oak and the other supple as yew.

“I loved your sister,” I heard Cane saying as we rode up. “But she tricked me.”

“That sounds like Ashley,” the slender one laughed. “Ah, Evindra, so good of you to come calling. We've heard all about you and your handsome friends!”

“News travels fast.”

“Yes, it certainly does, around here, anyway. Would you care for a spot of tea?”

“Uh,” I heard Lev start to object.

“Sure!” the rest of us agreed.

“Just the cure for this malaise,” Oakley, for that was the stout one's name, said while fanning herself languidly.

We sat with them in the murky light while they happily served us. Eunice, the third one, smiling enchantingly as she leaned against me closely while pouring, her breath faint against my cheek like a whiff of fresh air. Their tea was lightly scented and invigorating.

“Whatever you do, stay out of that swamp,” Eunice said after she sat down. “Keep to the right. The trail almost makes it all the way past, but you're going to get your feet wet and when you do you're going to be gobbled up by giant mire worms.”

“Say what?”

“I know, gross isn't it?” Oakley sighed. “They're big enough to swallow you and your horse whole. The lord of the place, the Wriggling Man, leaves them here to keep an eye on things while he's gone.”

“Wriggling Man?”

“He's nasty! I hate worms,” Eunice shivered.

We thanked them for their hospitality. “Makes me wish I was a carpenter,” said Cane waving goodbye.

“There is nothing so beautiful as that which does not exist!” 2 a voice hollered from the woods.

We approached the stagnant glen cautiously. What few trees stood above the water were covered with dusky shrouds of thick dark moss. Deeper in, the round hulks of mire worms stalked us. “Oakley said that we cross where the forest reaches the mire,” Lev reminded us.

“And that's where those gobblers will try to get us,” Cane growled. “To heck with it! I'll cut them a new one! Come on, girl,” he called to his tiger, running off ahead.

“Cane, aw,” we started following.

“Wait,” Evindra cried, “I can help.”

Five minutes later we had caught up with Cane, who was shaking his naked behind at an obviously puzzled mire worm, hovering just out of reach.

“Be careful, man, those things spit poison!”

“I spit at their poison!”

The worm towered in the air, each sharp tooth as big as my bastard sword. Suddenly, it lunged, catching one of our packhorses, which cried in piteous terror as it was dragged into the mire.

“Now, Evindra!” Lev yelled.

With a circling gesture she commanded a creature from the first world, a water elemental, that made a violent whirlpool at the base of the great mottled worm. With a bellow it toppled into the mud.


We led the frightened horses into the bog while the mare worm thrashed and bellowed in the grip of the whirlpool. On the far side, the other worms twitched with frustration, their way blocked. At last the final horse scrabbled across the water and Evindra dropped her arms, hurrying across as the whirlpool returned from wherever she had called it. I followed last, Briar snorting frustrated curses at the worms. “Let me slake my thirst with your blood,” it cried.

“Later,” I said, sheathing it. Then I pulled it half out. “I admire your enthusiasm.”

Suddenly, a hideous shape emerged from the swamp, like a horse and rider combined into one blood-streaked skinless creature, an ungodly stench coming with it. Once more my resistance protected me but Vlad bent over vomiting blood. With a gesture, I speared the creature with searing light, hearing it cry like a slaughtered calf.

“Nice,” said Cane as we watched it flee hissing back into the swamp.

We quickly made our way up the trail, which was no longer following the stream, deep into an  impenetrable forest. Grotesquely, the trees had human parts grafted to them. Arms, legs, torsos—the worst were the ones with mouths. “Marquand!” one of them choked, “You got me killed!”

“How's that?”

“You could have just let me go, I never done nothin' to you. Besides, my bandit days was through. Instead, you was a boy scout and gave me to Kesten Garess.”

“Sneed? Is that you?”

“You know what happened to me after that?”

“Court martial?”

The thing embedded in the tree laughed. “They took me out in the forest, nailed me upside down to a tree, and left me there. I prayed for death a very long time.”

Suddenly, another tree cried,

“If I shout:
Ideal, Ideal, Ideal
Knowledge, Knowledge, Knowledge
Boomboom, Boomboom, Boomboom
I have recorded fairly accurately Progress, Law, Morals, and 
all the other magnificent qualities that various very 
intelligent people have discussed in so many books in order, 
finally, to say that even so everyone has danced according to 
his own personal boomboom.” 1

“Keep moving!” Cane called from up ahead. “If we stop to listen to all these guys' sob stories we'll never get away.”

With curses, pleas, and poetry assaulting our ears, we hurried through the woods. Yet, when the noise finally abated, we were left with a worse thing—a forest of blasted, twisted, obscene vegetation. Rising above us was a conical bluff crowned with a ramshackle structure that looked more like a fun house than a residence. We passed through a yard of giant sharp thorns that quivered as we passed, barely restrained. Tending them were several gigantic three-limbed creatures, who watched us sullenly as we dismounted and approached the house. “Go ahead, knock,” we urged Cane after reaching the door.

“It's open!” a voice called from inside as Cane and ZzzzzAaaah entered, “Oh!” I heard her exclaim, “You're not Arzach!”

“No, M'am, but we mean you no harm,” he held up his palms as the rest of us entered. She saw Evindra. “You're! . . .”

“Yes, M'am.”

“Well, sit down, sit down, I've forgotten my manners. I'll brew up a spot o' tea.”
She busied herself while we shoehorned ourselves into her sitting room.
She brought us a foul and undrinkable brew. Just the smell caused Vlad to turn green.

“Hee hee, you can call me the Knurly Witch.” the old woman croaked as she sat down. “I heard you was coming.” She poured herself a cupful of the noxious concoction. “Down the hatch!” We watched her greedily swallow her brew as I felt my gorge start to rise. Her skin was unnatural, like the black of night, and her hair was a tangle of knots. Her chin and nose were nearly as sharp as the nails she tapped on the table. Her dress was in tatters. “So, who are you folks?” she grated. “We don't get many of your kind around here.”
Copyright Paizo

“I'm Lev Davidowich, first citizen of the P.U.R.K.—People's Union of the River Kingdoms,” he thumped his chest. “We're just south of here.”

“You don't say?” she cackled. “Of course, everything is just south of here. Why did you come?”

“Simple, my lady, we've heard many rumors and wanted to see for ourselves your fantastic land and make the acquaintance of your sovereign, Nyrissa. Perhaps there is something you are interested in? Something to trade? . . .”

The Knurly Witch cackled lowly, “Mayhaps, although your world tends to abrade when it comes into contact with ours.”

“Look,” Lev responded earnestly, “Our philosophy is simple: every citizen is important, whether human, fey, or something else. If you can abide our first dictum—one citizen's freedom ends where another's begins—then we can all live harmoniously in one a kingdom, a kingdom where each citizen rules.”

“And one rules most of all!" she cackled again. “And for this—freedom—you need an Inquisitor?” she nodded towards me.

“Erastil believes in freedom and responsibility,” I replied primly. “I'm the living embodiment of that dichotomy.”

“I've heard many a fancy word from the humans who have passed this way, but this is the first time anyone has espoused freedom and responsibility in the same breath.” She stood, sighing. “I apologize for this next thing but we have to know.” With that she released a blast that knocked me backwards out the door.

I found myself tangled in the thick thorn patch, surrounded by the tall three-limbed gardeners, who snapped capriciously at me with their claws.
Copyright Paizo

Barely able to move, I quickly gathered the materials I needed and ignited a blast of flame strike that rocked them back while obliterating the thorns holding me. Unbelievably, I saw the vines quickly growing back as I unsheathed Briar.

“It's about time, honkie!” it growled, blade sharper than any weapon I've carried before. It sliced through the vines as if they were straw and the nearest athach—for that's what the gardeners were—lost first his claw and then his head.

“That's what being a vorpal  blade is all about, baby!” Briar cried.

“I wish I'd found you a long time ago.”

“No shit—Marquand is it? What kind of name is that? Marquand. Eh, well, I'm glad you ain't my boyfriend.”

The other athachs, wisely (although that's probably a misuse of the word), backed away.

“C'mon, you chickenshits,” Briar continued taunting, “I really want to see the color of your guts.”

That's when the Knurly Witch erupted from the house along with about half her roof. As the pieces cascaded about me, I watched her stop, cursing, “Ye ain't seen the last o' me!” and disappear in a riot of color.

I went over to where the others were climbing out of the debris. Cane was supporting Lev who was supporting Vlad. Only Evindra seemed unruffled.

“What's that witch's problem?” Cane groused.

“It was a test,” Evindra laughed.

“Did we pass?”

“You're not dead,” Evindra replied. “The Knurly Witch has never been defeated except by Nyrissa.”

After a short respite, Cane and I went out to round up our horses. “How come every gardener we meet's after our asses?” he asked forlornly. Nearby, the remaining athachs had forgotten us, complacently returning to their tasks.

We followed ZzzzzAaaah away from the Knurly Witch's manor, down the hill. Coming to a fork in the road, ZzzzzAaaah turned right, large thorns forming an ominous bower overhead. “As if this unending murk wasn't bad enough,” I said to no one and no one replied:

“indigo indigo streetcar sleeping bag bedbug and flee
indigo indigai unbaliska bumm dadai . . . brrs pffi commencer Abrr
rpppi commence beginning beginning” 3

“This is starting to creep me out.”

“Hey!” a voice called from the woods. “Ain't you Cane? Yeah, you is . . . remember me—yor ol' pal Auchs?”

“Aw man, it's that mentally challenged kid you killed just because his boss was the Stag Lord.”

Cane stopped in the middle of the track. “Hey, you get in my way and you die, it's that simple.”

“You don't have much of a conscience,” someone else in the woods called out.

Cane looked over at us skeptically. “A conscience—what good is that? No one took pity on me, except one old woman, my mamaw, and she's gone, murdered. It's a tough world.”

“Cane,” said Evindra in her most enticing voice, “You say your mamaw raised you to be a killer?”

Cane sighed, surprising us by replying calmly. “Mamaw wasn't my mother. She was an old woman who found me in the woods where my real mother had left me to die. She raised me as best she could, but all I wanted to do was live with the beasts. I was hunting the day a thief killed her, for gold she didn't have. I was fourteen and killed my first man when I caught up with him. T'ain't looked back since.”

“I'm crying, Cane, I'm crying,” came a voice from the woods. “I really am. Why, an honest serial killer can't get an even break no more!”

“Shut up!” Cane screamed. “Shut up!”

“Ignore those . . . trolls,” Lev urged him. “They're just trying to get your goat.”

“I'll get their goat, I'll . . .” But the road had forked again. One way was marked with ZzzzzAaaah's spoor to show us the way, the other was blocked by an enormous hungry-looking crag linnorm. Standing on its hind legs, it hissed.

“Holy crap!” said Cane, backing away.

The great scaly beast, something like a flightless dragon with tremendous, poisonous fangs, waved its tripartite tail menacingly above its head.

“Well, we don't have much room to maneuver, but neither does it,” Lev grimaced.
Suddenly, we heard a yowl coming from behind the monster. ZzzzzAaaah!

“Now!" cried Cane and we charged the distracted beast, Briar exultant in my hand. As powerful as it was, it was no match for the five of us.

Afterwards, we rode exhausted along the trail, the jibes of the forest's inhabitants no longer mattering, until we stumbled into a quiet glade where the only sound was that of a waterfall splashing from between two large stone hands. There, blissfully, we rested.

Keep your Mother safe,
Uncle Marquand
 1 Tristan Tzara
 2 Paul Valery
 3 Richard Huelsenbeck

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Letter 32—We Must Protect the Kingdom

Dear Pino,
I left you last time in the midst of battle.

“Which one of you kilt my daddy?” Young Villamor, Jr. snorted. Trask looked up weakly, then read something in his eyes. “Nooooooooooo!” he cried as Koth's greataxe cleft him in twain.

“By the twelve raging gods!” I yelled, flinging myself upon Koth. I wish I could say I beat him, but like his daddy, he soon held the upper hand over me. The only thing that saved me was that, also like his daddy, he paused to gloat over his helpless victim. This gave Cane time to come up from behind and garrote him.

“Tough about Trask,” he said while wiping his hands on a fallen banner.


I could see Irovetti standing on his throne, gesticulating wildly with his weapon, now seemingly empty, as Lev and Vlad slowly advanced towards him. Suddenly, the air shimmered around the throne and he was gone.

“Dag!” said Lev. “We almost had him.”

Irovetti being gone didn't seem to bother our foes, but losing Koth, Jr. took the wind out of the ogre mage. He threw up his hands, “Enough already. I submit.” Soon the others fell silent, dropping their arms. They looked surprised.

“What's your name?” Lev asked him.

“Avinash Jurrg.”

“Well, now you're my Avinash Jurrg.”

The ogre mage bowed to him, followed by the others. “Get the sergeant in charge of new recruits and then you can visit the quartermaster. What next?” He looked at the rest of us.

“Trask,” I replied plainly. We stopped by where the archer had fallen and were deeply shocked to see that what we thought was Trask's mangled body instead looked like a large doll, severed in half, with beady gem eyes.

“Wha?” Lev cried. “Who—or what—made this? How did they make it so lifelike? It must have heard . . . everything about us, all our plans.”

There was no time to consider what that implied, we still had to find Irovetti. Since he'd stepped through a dimension door  there was no reason to think he was nearby, but still we searched the building—do you know how many rooms a palace with a thousand doors has?

Sometime later I went back to the kitchen to slake my thirst when I noticed the house staff preparing an ornate feast. “What is this?” I asked, thinking it was for us. “Oh, nothing,” the butler sniffed. “Routine.”

I watched them for a moment, thinking. “Then you won't mind if I follow?”

The man shared a look with the cook. “Of course not,” he said, nodding to the boys pushing the cart. “What you do is your business. Mine is to serve my master.”

I called the others and we followed them through a grand atrium where a fountain tinkled merrily beneath a large gold statue of Irovetti. The vanity of the man was ridiculous. We then meandered through any number of dark hallways and small rooms until we came to a blank wall where the serving man traced a few symbols and a secret door slid aside. “Please follow me,” he said as his boys gathered enough food and wine for ten large men and clambered down a long, dark stairway leading deep into the rock beneath.

Once we reached the bottom we waited in the dark by the stairs while he served the feast.

“You trust him?” Cane asked incredulously.

Lev shrugged, “Sure, why not?”

“Besides, we've got his old lady,” Vlad whispered after Lev had turned away. Still, his instinct was right, and soon the meal had been delivered and the servants gone.

“We'll let him stuff himself for awhile,” Lev smiled, settling back.

We heard talking, one was Irovetti's nasal whine and the other was a softer voice. “Castruccio, darlink, which of these do you think I should wear?”

You always ask me the hardest questions. You look divine in the peach but the the black has more pockets for your weaponry.”

“Showtime,” Lev whispered, opening the door.

“Ah,” said Irovetti, seemingly unsurprised, ripping off the wing of the roast bird in front of him and shoving it into his mouth. A beautiful fey sat across from him, “Engelidis, this is Cane the butcher, Marquand the genocide, Vlad the impaler, and Lev the working class hero. Which do you suppose is most dangerous, my dear?” He looked us over judiciously. “Ah, comrade Lev, they'll die by the millions before you're through.”

Lev snorted, “That's rich coming from you. You kill for sport!”

Engelidis           Paizo
“And you kill in the name of progress—far more deadly.”

“What do you want?” Lev asked, losing patience.

“Not that much. I've been preparing for this day for a long time, I knew someone—or something—would catch up with me eventually.” He shoved a rich slab of bread into his mouth. “I've got a nice little stash of gold waiting for me in the great city of Korvosa and no reason to return to this backwater. All you have to do is let us walk away and you can add Pitax to your little empire—lock, stock, and teardrop.”

“Why would we do that?” Cane stepped forward, a dangerous low rumble in his throat, like right before he'd killed Grigori. Lev reached out to restrain him. “Let him speak.”

“I have information you need to know,” Irovetti shrugged dismissively, “like Restov's plans for you.”

“They plan an alliance with us.”

Irovetti laughed, picking a chicken bone clean before tossing it into the corner of the room. “And you expect New Stetven to sit by and wait for the P.U.R.K. to ally with Rostland against them?” he snickered. “Who do you think asked me to attack Tatzleford?”

Lev seethed. “What else do you have to save yourself, Irovetti? You're a war criminal.”

“I've got some very special gear. . . .”

“I was planning on taking that off you anyway,” Cane smirked.

“Things I keep in very secret places,” he added smugly. Again Cane paused.
“Anything else?” Lev sounded resigned.

Irovetti gave Engelidis's hand a squeeze. “There's an issue with the first world you should probably know about.”

I could hold my bile no longer. “What about the Justice I promised those poor souls in Tatzleford that your men butchered?” I cried.

His face hardened. “The man responsible for that has already paid your price.”


“Don't take my word for it, look it up in the records, ask anybody in the city. He was proud of what he'd done. He's supposed to have pleasured himself amongst the corpses.”

Lev replied coolly, “If what you say is true, and you turn your treasures over to us, you can leave this region never to return.”

“Aw,” Cane mumbled.

“Don't take it so hard, Butcher,” Irovetti laughed. Now, why don't you all pull up some chairs, pour some wine, and we'll get down to business.”

“You were going to tell us about the political situation up north?”

“Dear,” he said turning to Engelidis, who was busy pouring our drinks, “while we're talking will you get the sword for the gentlemen?”

“I could use some help.”

“I'll go!” Cane suddenly volunteered, sizing her up as he stood. Engelidis towered over him, sharp-featured with mottled green skin—natural camouflage—and taut muscles that seemed almost too perfect. He followed her through the curtain that served as one long wall.

Irovetti took a long drink of wine before continuing. “Basically, why do you think you were sent to the Stolen Lands, why were any of us sent?”

“To secure the southern border and provide trade with Brevoy without getting New Stetven's nose out of joint.”

“Good so far, what then?”

“We form mutually beneficial alliances with Brevoy and everyone profits.”

Irovetti laughed, shaking his head. “I'd imagine your pal Marquand has a better idea of what's going on.”

All eyes turned to me. I shrugged. “The Swordlords probably thought that if our four groups were successful at taming the Stolen Lands, then they would be able to play us off one another until we fell—one by one.”

“Go on.”

“Then they would pick up the pieces, using our resources and soldiers against New Stetven and settle old scores.”

“But. . . .”

“But nothing, Comrade Lev,” Irovetti smirked. “Little did they expect you to unite the region under one banner, much less the way you united it: by appealing to the common people, by ending the distinctions between race and class, by making everyone and everything equal! My gods, both Restov and New Stetven hate and fear you. If this—creed—of yours ever catches on, all their world is at risk.”

That's when Cane and Engelidis returned, dripping wet and laughing, both of them nearly naked. As you know, all nymphs are beautiful, but Engelidis especially so. She was leaving very little for our imaginations.

There was the crash of breaking glass as Irovetti pulled the tablecloth away, scattering dishes, glasses, silverware, and food everywhere. He handed it to Engelidis, growling, “Cover yourself!”

Cane looked up, startled. “Hey,” he protested. “Nothing happened. We just had to swim underwater to retrieve this baby.” His face broke out is a grin as he unwrapped the beautiful, etheral shawl the treasure was wrapped in.

“By Erastil!” I croaked. The bastard sword he unveiled was like nothing I'd seen before. The blade looked as if it had been grown, not forged, and the gemstones embedded in the handle's inlay were of deeper, otherworldly, hues than I've experienced before. It seemed to fit my hand naturally. I tried several cuts in the air.

“Hey, I think we have a winner,” Cane laughed before remembering Irovetti, who sat glowering at him from across the table. Restraining himself, the deposed ruler turned to me. “That blade is very special, you see. It is probably the most important artifact in the River Kingdoms,” he coughed. “There are places where our world meets with other worlds and the realm of Thousandbreaths—her realm—is one of them.

“Nyrissa, that's her name, is a nymph from the old school—before time, before our world existed.” He glared again at Engelidis, who had returned wearing a simple maroon shift, damp hair casually done up, showing the back of her long, thin neck. “Her grip on our world is growing,” Irovetti rumbled on. “This sword you hold, called Briar, an intelligent vorpal blade, is the only means there is of defeating her plans.”

I noticed Cane sneaking shy glances at Engelidis, who ignored him while studying Irovetti in her turn. “Could it be?” I thought. Our Cane has never loved anything but animals before this, although the fey are wild enough to satisfy anyone, I suppose.

“You'll need to stay down here until we can arrange your safe transportation.”

“You're a gentleman, Comrade Lev,” Irovetti sniped, tapping his razor-spitting rod significantly.

We started back upstairs but had barely shut the door when we heard Irovetti break out in abject cursing. Engelidis was silent. Cane turned back but stopped. “No,” Lev warned.

“I can't leave you alone with any man,” Irovetti complained.

“It's all in your mind, Castruccio,” she replied coldly.

“Was your little fling with Koth in my mind?”

“Oh, him.”

“And Koth, Jr.?”

“That was an accident.”

“An accident?” he shrieked.

“He was so sad when his daddy died, how could I not comfort him?”

“Comfort? That's what you call it now? Comforting? I have another word for it!”

“. . . Besides, he wasn't taking no for an answer,” she went on, as if chatting at the fair. “Just like his daddy—ow! Who do you think you're . . .” There was a grunt, the sound of crunching bone, a terrible scream. Cane ripped the door open and what we saw froze the marrow in my bones forever. Irovetti was held in the coiled embrace of a spirit naga twisting off his head.

“I think it's time to go,” Cane whispered, shutting the door. We could hear her slithering after us but, fortunately, the door seemed to be designed for just such an occurrence and we soon had it securely barred. Lev and Vlad hurriedly warded the area as we climbed back upstairs with Engelidis's thumps, shrieks, and curses in our ears.

“She's cute,” said Cane, “but what a temper!”

“Better put some guards in here,” Lev said distractedly when we'd returned to the top. “In case she gets out.”

But she never did, not that way. When we finally got the nerve to enter the underground room again we found Irovetti's moldering corpse, his Rod of Razors and Mindrender Baton, and not much else. The spirit naga that is Engelidis's true form apparently escaped through a long conduit leading down to the river.

We managed to get Pitax prepared to join the P.U.R.K. in about three weeks. Bert Askew showed up one day, in the same caravan that brought Queen Ilse, to inventory the wealth of Pitax. “You gotta pay for this some way,” he scolded. “You think armies run on promises and regrets? It would'a helped the balance sheet if more of your guys had died. What were you thinking?”

“I don't know, Bert,” I replied, seeing Lev and Ilse together in the distance holding hands, chatting with some local burghers about the width of the street.

“It's a shame about Queen Ilse.”

It took a moment to register what he was saying. “What?”

“Oh yes, she's been seeing men day and night, everybody knows it, even while carrying the Comrade's child—if it is his,” he added with a tsk.


“Yeah, they say she was favoring Vlad and Trask around that time.” He looked at me blandly. “Of course, you were always above suspicion.”

I admit, dear Pino, that I wanted to kill him on the spot, but something stopped me—the certain knowledge that Askew could not be the brains behind this conspiracy. I needed to know more.

We dispersed most of the army with as little looting as possible thanks to Comrade Lev's “share the wealth” program. It was mostly Pitax's wealth, but the locals were persuaded once they saw the fortune that would be flowing their way when we opened the borders and free trade commenced. Many of our army veterans he recruited, sending them to the border with Brevoy, just in case.

As soon as we could, we left for Whiterose Abbey, to take the shawl back to the nereid Evindra, parting with Ilse, who was going to Tuskland to finish her term.
Our return to Whiterose was without event, except for the troubling things I'd learned, Trask's mysterious death not the least of them. And what to make of Askew's reckless gossip? Dear Pino, it seems the more problems we solve, the more come our way.

Below the hill, the Abbey grounds had changed little from our previous visit, but the Abbey itself had been cleaned up, even though most of it was still in disrepair. Evindra greeted us near the entrance to her cistern. “We can put you in the Abbot's old quarters, the roof don't leak and it'll keep out the coyotes. Oh, and the Abbey's spirits have been laid to rest, so don't you be worrying about that! I even got most of the bloodstains out!”

Cane and ZzzzzAaaah soon left to make their own place in the wild. “I'll be back in two or three days,” he mumbled as they disappeared into the tall grass.

That evening we presented a delighted Evindra with her shawl. “I saw that ye were carrying Briar,” she said. “I hope you know what you're getting into.”

“Not really,” I replied, “I know that I feel a certain kinship for it.”

“Kinship it is, 'cause Briar was forged of a woman's love and won't be at rest until it lies nestled once more in her bosom.”

As darkness fell, we sat around a campfire and listened to her tale from a long time ago and another place, the one we call the First World. Now the First World is an unfinished place—unfinishable—in constant metamorphosis, dominated by the Eldest, who are spiteful and jealous beings, as close to unknowable as there is.

Nyrissa was just another nymph in that insecure place until she dared love an Eldest. His fecund seed transposed her, gave her power to rival the Eldest themselves and doomed him. Within this chaos she created an island of stability that she called Thousandbreaths, and gave it anchorage in our world, “very near this place.”

Unsurprisingly, the Eldest found Nyrissa presumptuous, sending a powerful dragon, the Jabberwock, to take her down a notch. Then, to control her—and punish her—they took her power of love away, fixing it within the sword Driar. “Yes, the very one you carry, this sword is far more than a weapon. It's an intelligent being and the closer you get it to Nyrissa, the more it'll wake. Yeah.”

The Eldest cast it into our world to keep it away from her, but they didn't consider that her need could last such a very long time, longer than their will to punish. All she wants now is love. “She received the visions and prophecies that would come to haunt her so—that Briar would be returned to her, but only as an instrument of her own death, wielded in the hands of a mortal hero.”*

Once she'd tracked it into our world she set up shop along the southern base of the Branthlend Mountains, in the area knows as the Forest of a Thousand Voices.

“And why should we care?” asked Lev, studying the fire.

“Because she knows you have her sword, you fool! She felt it as soon as you lifted it from the water and unwrapped my shawl. While she may be something of an outcast in her own land, here she has the power to lay waste to everything you've accomplished. You must stop her first.”

Lev sighed tiredly. “We must protect the kingdom.”

Later, before sleeping, we studied the books left in the monastery's library, which was near the rooms where we were staying. “Ah, here it is,” Said Vlad, holding up a copy of Zuddiger’s Picnic. Calling Lev, we read it carefully. It's basically a description of Thousandbreaths as a fable but, if the stories are interpreted correctly, they offer some idea as to the creatures we may encounter there. Also, there's a map, as fanciful as it may be.

Once we'd finished breakfast the next morning, Lev said, “I guess we might as well get going.”


Stopping at Evindra's cistern to say goodbye, we were surprised to find her mounted on a sturdy mule and ready to ride. “You're gonna need my help,” she explained beneath her big floppy sun hat, adding demurely, “Can't let my skin dry out.”

“What about Cane?” I asked Lev.

“He'll find us,” Lev assured me.

And sure enough, about ten miles out, he did,
Sleep well,
Uncle Marquand

*From Kingmaker: Sound of a Thousand Screams, p.7