For the love of order

28-May (Syama)

So here’s my new resolution: when something strange appears, something inexplicable, I will always poke at it personally, even when others have investigated it. I do not understand this ‘ przywrócenie niszczyciel’ business, but it’s clear that there’s something going on which pertains to me specifically. Even if the whole thing turns out to be a mistaken identity, the fact that people (beings?) believe I’m involved, is making some very strange things happen.

Take this most recent development. I clearly wasn’t the best choice to examine the missing road. I don’t have the knowledge of spellcraft that Victor does, I don’t know rocks, I couldn’t even see the middle of it from the edge. When they mentioned the distances, I just thought it was too bad we couldn’t get in. It was interesting, and I’d planned on suggesting that we come back to look at it after delivering the prisoner to Atur. But as soon as I stopped focusing on the anomaly and my thoughts turned toward Atur, something felt wrong. Incomplete, perhaps. I knew that I just couldn’t walk away from this. Thank the Heavens, which saw fit to make me hesitate. When I went to the invisible wall, it gave a little at my touch, as the others reported it didn’t. My intuition confirmed, I realized that this path was for me, and was clearly the reason for the Fulcrum’s gift. Either that or someone was watching closely and took advantage of the Fulcrum’s gift to set a calling for us which would not likely be answered by others. Be that as it may, whatever we venture toward now is my path as decreed by the stars. And I cannot expect such guidance each time. If the mundane and the arcane fail to penetrate a mystery, it is only right to try the divine. I must remember that just as one person may see things another cannot, one person may feel what another cannot. Even something having nothing to do with this przywrócenie niszczyciel might be keyed to a spellcaster, or to one linked to the divine.

That said, I do hope we’re not walking into too much trouble here. Even knowing the alignment of our current plane, I just hadn’t thought about giving Gilly extra protection. I suppose it makes sense that the denizens of such a plane would attack Evil creatures on sight. I just wasn’t thinking. Well that and I don’t really think of her as evil. I mean, I wouldn’t argue the point, but it really doesn’t seem like her defining feature. What matters to me is that I can trust her, and I believe I can. She’s reliable, and dependable, and whether she helps me through general love of people, through knowledge that she will fare well in a solid party of friends, or through a deep need to influence history, is not really a big concern of mine. Obviously I keep in mind what seems to make each person tick, that’s only sensible. But I will be glad to get back to a place where sentient creatures don’t just leap out of ambush and attack with no regard for their own lives, merely because Magic told them that someone walking by had a different philosophy than theirs.

Speaking of home, and not being there… I really ought to write home to Mam. Everything has been moving so quickly that it’s hard to find a spare moment, but I’m sure she’ll be relieved to hear that I have friends watching my back, and that I’ve been able to further my understanding in at least some directions. I gain understanding of the stars, and of the Mysteries of the Heavens, and of many branches of learning. I am no closer to understanding why I am given this power, or by whom. The existence of a prophecy may imply that I was always intended to follow this path… or it may only imply that an Oracle of the Heavens would be made in a particular year, and that one would fill the prophecy’s role. Or now that I think of it, technically it is possible that I would have been thrown into this role even had I remained at home, apprentice herber in the midst of nowhere. If that were the case, the Gods surely saved my life and sanity when they pushed me toward a life which might prepare me. I pray that not be the way of it though, I think only the gods of Chaos would design such a situation, where the outcome of some fated question hangs on an uninformed farmer’s daughter.

Speaking of letters, and prophecies! Once I’ve written Mam, I really must write to Mother Galtha! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. I don’t believe she’s particularly interested in Infernal prophecies, but if this business is alignment- or planes- related, I would imagine the followers of Desna would be interested. It must be difficult, following such a chaotic goddess in the Hegemony. If it were very important to Her, some of Her order may even have dreamed something useful. Either way, Galtha may know someone I could talk to. If I have time, I will try to write both letters right away, so I can post them as soon as we find a way back.

And speaking of finding a way back, I’d best stop writing now and rest, since I suspect we’ll need our wits about us once we reach the village.

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26-May (Gilly)
A Letter to Mosco

Postage factors: person-to-person, 4d (1E→Atur,3N) 2xC1/2xC3, Alac=3
Paid in full, witness my stamp

From: Gilly Tealeaf
To: Mosco Highhill

Dearest Mosco,

I know that when we parted a few days ago, we had said it would be for good, and I do not mean to change my mind (despite how pleasant your company had been), but I simply had to write to let you know of another wrinkle concerning your late uncle’s armor.

Not but a few hours after you left the gates, my companions and I were approached by a moneylender, asking after you. Well, really about the armor. He was somewhat distressed to hear that it had been sold and you returned home, and produced a contract. It said that you’d agreed to turn the inheritance over to him upon receipt, and he would make regular payments against the expected value in the meantime, some three years now. Of course I knew you’d never have done such a thing, and I admit I treated him rudely at first.

But then it occurred to me: if this fellow had been hoodwinked by another, yet only had the ability to locate you, might he end up harassing you instead? To have to make another trip to Atur, and engage legal help, and sworn testimony… even though it might come out all right in the end, I couldn’t bear the thought of you having to endure such drudgery!

I spoke with the lender, and convinced my friends to investigate the case, though there seemed little to go on. If the scoundrel had been as careful in collecting his payments as he was in forging your identity papers, he’d easily get away. But I had to try!

We had one lead, a Guild rogue whose apprentice was sent to stalk us — but it turned out he was just after the armor. (You really did the right thing getting rid of it quickly and with us as guards, if there were multiple plans for stealing it!) But just when it seemed we were running out of options, we found someone with a description of the halfling in question, and a decent idea where he lived! (That is, the village I’m posting this letter from. It’s about a day west of Atur.) We went that way posthaste, and with a good bit of investigation (too long for this paper), and obtaining a search warrant from the authorities, found him! And the forged identity papers! So if you do hear anything disturbing, don’t worry, we’ve taken care of everything. We’re leaving for Atur within the hour with several constables and Mr. Prisoner in tow, and straighten everything out.

Hugs and Kisses,

— Gilly

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An Invitation to Dinner

When Gilly checks the message drop at the rogue’s guild, she finds a message from the hobgoblin she charmed. It suggests that Gilly and her two friends meet him, his master and one other colleague at the Feast of the Dragon, an upscale restaurant in the Civic District.

The suggested time is on the late side for dinner, but the note indicates that the three of them will be dining and suggests that Gilly et al at least be willing to spend some time there.

Gilly (and anyone else with Knowledge(Atur)) recognizes that the restaurant is not the sort that would generally have a close association with the rogue’s guild. It seems likely that the restaurant is neutral ground.

Can everyone make a Diplomacy roll. If you have Knowledge(local) attuned to Atur, add +2 to your roll.

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5-May (Maral)
Tipping Points

A fulcrum is, as everyone knows, a place where opposing forces are held in balance. Like the center of my merchant’s scale, the needle pointing directly up to indicate perfect equilibrium between the polished metal weights on one side, and the chunk of mithril on the other. But it is also the point at which the balance tips from one side to the other. And it is also the point that gives a lever power to effect change.

I have never sought a starring role in the mad schemes of deities and planes, and it does not come easily to me to assist in what might upset the status quo. But as I was preparing to exit stage left, Gilly cornered me, and put it in terms that made the decision obvious. (It’s usually Gilly in these situations, isn’t it? No idea what gain she’d find in strengthening my influence, it certainly isn’t in the direction she’d advocate. Maybe her earnest heartfelt words are actually honest this time?) “Maybe this isn’t the world-changing thing it hints at being. If that’s the case, you don’t have cause to complain, do you? Of course, maybe it is. But if it is, and you’re here, then you’re meant to be here. You, Maral, are important to this, and not just because you’re skilled at fighting. If — and I’m not saying it is — this is a conflict between cosmic forces, those who represent all you deeply love in are counting on you to represent your heart. If you refuse, if you turn away, the things you believe in will come out the worse for it. You don’t need to advocate or make speeches (frankly, if they needed that, they’d have someone else), just be yourself, and be true to yourself.”

So I’m in, come what may.

The next few days give me a rude awakening to holes in my training. I’m sure half the cadets would have been able to identify a rust monster, if not the chaos-spawned ‘mouther’ we found later. Fortunately, I carry an extra suit of armor. I must make a point of getting at least basic understanding of underground creatures.

We returned to Atur, learned a bit more about the prophecy, and a good bit about the Fulcrum, and went to seek it out. It was a reasonably uneventful journey, until we found ourselves followed by a giant metal floating eye-thing. Victor said it was an ‘arbiter’, a sort of lawful outsider construct. It was generally uncommunicative, though it did allow that its mission was to observe and report. At least it is on our side, as much as we have one. Eventually, we spot a silver dragon in the distance, also keeping an eye on us. Apparently the extraplanar interests are generally aware of our intended Fulcrum visit. Which might be a good thing — if they have foresights and prophecies about it, that makes it seem more likely that it’s real? that we will succeed? and then there it was.

The next few hours were a jumble of challenges. The first two were complex — first we fought duplicates of ourselves, and won with surprising ease. Then we exchanged riddles with a ‘sphinx’ (a sort of lion with bird wings, a human woman’s face and torso, and an inordinate love of puzzles). I regret letting the party down there — if I’d been paying better attention, I’d have figured the Mror Holds one, and we’d have won instead of merely coming to a draw. But it seemed a good enough performance. Proceeding, we were tested against a dizzying array of skills useful to adventuring, and repeatedly required to leave one of our group behind to continue (though we could go back to exchange them if needed, which we definitely did). Eventually, we (well, the magic people) passed a grid where you needed to produce various magical effects to advance, and then we were at the end. Or at least, something like an end, a chamber like the one housing our first battle, with alignment-based alcoves on four sides. Very symbolic. It took a bit, but we figured we needed to augment the natural party alignments with summons. Seemed cheating to me, but so did Gilly’s ‘mage hand’ trick in the stealth challenge, so there it is.

This triggered some manner of revelation in Syama, and she discovered the power of making a bridge out of moonlight. Something in me says this will end up being vitally important sometime later when we least expect it. I only hope it’s useful before then as well.

The arbiter approached us afterward, a bit more talkative when we confirmed that we had passed the Fulcrum’s tests, and the dragon approached with somewhat greater distance. Gilly called it something in her dragon-speech, and it seemed pleased. Then we were left to ourselves, and we decided it best to keep our recent activities quiet, as least for now, lest we expose our hand in a game we don’t know we’re playing. Or, as Dolg and I would have it, to not need to trumpet our successes at every chance, but instead take a humble stance and let our nature shine through.

But the strangest part was two nights later. As we pitched camp with a storm approaching, and having actually made a fire for the first time in weeks, we were approached by a human, an elderly man with but a wineskin for supper. He claimed to be a traveler, unversed in magic, having survived difficult places by virtue of friends and luck. We gave him a place by the fire, and some of our food, and spoke of philosophy, history, tales of adventure and such like. Various of the group seemed to not entirely trust him; Gilly even pointedly refused to sip his wine. When the orcs attacked in the night, we feared the worst — was the man in league with slavers? Were we about to be enslaved or killed? I fought with strength and speed born of desperation, the sort of performance you know you can’t rely on reproducing. Though at the brink of collapse for much of the fight, I kept going, and after some tense moments, we had the leader cornered, invisible, a elf-child captive in his arms (or as it seemed, floating in the air). He demanded free passage or the elf would die. Without thinking, I grabbed the hostage, trying to hold my balance at the edge of pit Victor had made to hem him in, trying to cover the elf with my shield and trying not to think about how inaccessible my axe was in this configuration. A thought ran through my head then: was I trying to be lucky? In the last few seconds I had taken extra swings that would normally be unwise, desperate to save my skin. Then I’d grabbed the elf and instead of backing away from the pit as would be sensible, held my ground even though it might mean we both fell in. Yes, that sounded like relying on luck. Immediately after, luck found me again. Struggling to keep my footing, I inadvertently rotated my shield, which caused the orc’s falchion to miss the elf’s throat as it glanced off darkwood instead. We set upon the orc with a vengeance… and then he, the other orcs, and elf melted away like mist before the sun. The old man, suddenly imbued with a divine majesty, proclaimed his approval of our actions, said that he hoped Syama would become the P.N., and give us ‘his gift’, flasks of highly potent magic that we could call upon in our need in future. Then he was gone, Gilly’s cry of ‘Who are you?’ vanishing into the downpour.

We discussed the details of the visitation, Victor writing everything down in the relative comfort of his rope trick space, and came up with no fewer than seven deities our visitor might be (or be the representative of, though as several of us noted, he had offered approval and gifts on behalf of himself, not another — might some gifts only be plausible for actual gods?) Eight if you count my thought that it might just be an “after you think you’re done” test of the Fulcrum, though none of us thought that likely. Syama seemed particularly interested/concerned in the possibility of it being The Traveler, on the account that it is said one should be wary of his gifts. Gilly pointed out that a gift’s hidden effect might not even be negative for us — if our actions resolve the current surfeit of gods into a more reasonable accounting, being tied to one might elevate him over gods of similar domain.

Gilly was in a surprisingly foul mood after this, and threw herself into the work of scouting and being prepared for a fight. We passed over the village with the innkeeper lady she had talked with before, to avoid having to reveal or lie about the Fulcrum, and stopped in another. There we met a young halfling man, who wished safe escort to Atur, as he needed to travel there to claim some inheritance. Gilly sized him up, and must have believed him, as she said of course we’d help him, and we can work out any payment later, etc.

The only actual danger on the route back came from a pair of shocker lizards, reptiles that hunt with electricity, but probably should not have tangled with a party of our prowess. But beyond that, there was the intensity of halfling flirtation. I swear, it seemed like it was only the complete lack of privacy on the road that kept them from sharing a bed. At one point, I pulled her aside and tried to gently broach the subject, and she practically exploded at me. “If a man finds me desirable, if I choose to accept him as a lover or not, what business it is of yours? I don’t tell you who to bed and who not to. You say you’re saying this as my friend? If you’re really my friend, let me make my own decisions! I’m a big girl, I can handle myself. I know which weeks to refrain, I know what tea to make if my course should be late, I’ve got priestly connections if I need them. Don’t you blush and look away, Maral Glorgirn. Oh, and don’t you even dare try to insinuate that I might be doing this for his money.” I hadn’t! I was just… Sigh. I don’t understand Gilly. I really don’t.

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On the road from the fulcrum

On the way back from the Fulcrum, the party encountered an old man, who discussed philosophy, history and other matters with them. During the night, a band of orc slavers attacked, already holding a captive elf. As soon as they were defeated, all of the orcs and the elf disappeared.

The old man, now looking younger and more radiant, gave them offered his approval of them and gave them each a small flask as his blessing. He also indicated that Syama may become the przywrócenie niszczyciel. He then disappeared.

Where he had been sleeping, there was a fragment of a staff. (I think I forgot this during the session.) It does not detect as magical, but has arcane markings on it. However, there is not enough of the markings to determine anything from them. Victor can think of three highly divergent ways to finish the symbols without even a moments thought.

After considering the events of the night, the party reaches several possible conclusions about who the visitor might have been. Either a messenger of the deity, or possibly the deity hirself, for any of these gods are possible:

(Note: the links go to wikis for standard campaign settings. They are mostly correct, but there may be minor inconsistencies, since this campaign has some fundamental changes.)

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24-Mar (Gilly)
There and Back Again (2x)

I hadn’t dared bring my journal into the swamp. It rains a solid hour every day! I’d be miserable if I slipped up and all my notes were turned to inksmears, lost to time. How much can truly be lost? Would those black stains yield to some magic spell that restores their order? Could anything erase the deputy chief’s face from my memory? Or the magistrate’s? I wonder if I rather remember those days, or forget them. Hard to tell…

We traveled to a swamp adjoining Lake Dark, in search of my dear near-twin Felda, at the urging of House Tharashk, who were hired by the city to bring her to justice. I cannot recommend the swamp, it is a miserable place, full of disease, blood-sucking creatures both natural and un-. And the boggards! It turns out this is the special time of years when the adolescents need to go kill someone to get to be full tribe members. Greeeaaat. Brilliant time to go slogging through the muck looking for a fugitive. At least we know she’s somewhere in the hundred square miles of it… oh wait… we don’t. Thank the gods there are only a few parts of it that are much more likely than the rest.

It’s a long story, and most of it uninteresting, so suffice to say: Some bits worked out very well — I still giggle a little when I remember “So, I’m terribly sorry about this!” and that girlish smile. Some parts, not so much — Felda was not buying the ’I’m a sympathetic relative, here to help you’ angle in the slightest. Ah, well, you win some, you lose some. In the end, we carted her off, and Victor’s Prestidigitation is phenomenal at cleaning clothing after an encounter with swamp.

Back in Atur, our wizard friend Kalzan had found several references to the przywrócenie niszczyciel. A pity they didn’t say all that much, but it was certainly interesting, and gave us a link to the Fulcrum. I hadn’t heard of it before, to talk Kalzan and the party, it’s a magic force of Neutral that gives gifts to groups who go there. Sometimes. Maybe if the group has a alignment that will nicely stack the deck in some way in the age-old struggles of good and evil, law and chaos. Hard to say precisely. I love secrets like that. Looking forward to learning more.

He also had a task for us in exchange for his research time, to visit the Ironroot mountains and harvest some weird mushrooms. Most of the details came via Victor, who understands this sort of thing best. With the optimal season for that job being now or quite soon, and the party not wanting to carry debt, it seemed the best choice for our next adventure.

Of course, Maral had to start getting cold feet again. Apparently he doesn’t realize that being involved in a thousand-year-old prophecy is awesome. Oh, he might have to leave, oh, doesn’t think he’s up to traveling with such interesting magical people, oh, oh. I could tell he was weak-willed about it, though. Gave him a little talking-to, worked like a charm. By the time we were halfway to the mountains, he’d apologized to the party and said he’d stick with them. Each case where he comes around to Gilly’s position makes it easier for the next time.

The caving was a bit of an adventure in its own right. We managed to avoid tangling with a group of elves, who thankfully spoke Common. I really need to learn more languages, but there’s so little time! I can barely keep up with the necessities and these ‘suggestions’ from Fortunado. I can understand needing to learn arcana, and thankfully I could learn that, where I’ve only reaped frustration at attempting to learn spellcraft, but why on earth should it be important to excel at picking locks? Any rate, exploring caves was a bit of a mess. Apparently, only Victor knows much about the critters that live in caves, so we were a little slow off the mark in each fight, getting armor rusted or trying to flank the unflankable. Never in serious danger, though the way Maral swore to pick up basic dungeoneering, you’d think we were.

Found the mushroom in the end. Turns out it spits acid, would have been nice to know that beforehand, oops. But all’s well that ends well. Once we were heading back, Syama starts pushing hard to get us all to travel to the Fulcrum next. Maral is not keen on it, and suspicious of her story about getting an urgent prophetic dream some days earlier, but not mentioning it until now. Trying to mediate and triangulate, when bam. Out of nowhere.

“Accepting gifts from unknowable powerful magic forces often comes with strings, with conditions, and they don’t have to be seen or known to be effective. Right, Gilly?”

What. The. Fuck. What does he know? How the hell does he know it? My heart rate goes into overdrive, but the training kicks in and my face doesn’t show a sign. I make a quick pretense of frustration with the intra-party conflict to buy a moment and size up the situation. He’s really just trying to make a reasonable point and looking for support. Poor naive guy. He has no fucking clue what’s going on around him.

I take a long walk, thinking about that. What happens if I get killed by some lucky shot, and Maral still doesn’t know what granddad is up to? I like the guy, I don’t want him to get fucked over like that. Unless of course I end up killing him myself. But that seems less and less likely. Time to write a ‘in the case of my unrecoverable death’ letter. Fortunately, I was paying attention the day they went over the right protocol for such things. Cryptography is hard, I’d probably mess it up thoroughly if I was trying to design this myself. First step, make a pair of alphabet strips so you can ‘add’ letters without messing up. Second step, generate a fuckton of random characters, and write them down neatly on two copies…

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A task for Kalzan

When the party picks up the information about the przywrócenie niszczyciel, Kalzan also has a request for the party.

There are certain fungi that grow in the caves in the Ironroot Mountains that are best picked at certain times of the year. One specific type has just come into season. For the next four weeks, it should be possible to find caves not far into the Ironroot Mountains that contain the fungi. After that, it will still be possible to collect it, but that will require going deeper into the mountains and thus be more dangerous.

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Ancient Prophecies
Among the musty scrolls

When the party returns to Atur, they check in with Kalzan to see what he has learned about the przywrócenie niszczyciel.

He has found three references to the term. All of them are in manuscripts over a thousand years old. (Actually, copies of manuscripts where the original is that old.) None are in infernal, so they are missing the context that would most obviously clarify the meaning of the phrase.

Two of the references are very brief and clearly expect that the reader knows what the przywrócenie niszczyciel is. They seem to indicate that the przywrócenie niszczyciel is a person who will live at some time in the future.

The third has more detail. The przywrócenie niszczyciel will arrive and play a crucial role during some major change or transition. The transition will happen regardless of his (her?) actions, but the przywrócenie niszczyciel will be crucial in determining how the change happens and what direction it takes. There is also a vague reference linking the przywrócenie niszczyciel with the Fulcrum.

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24-Feb (Gilly)
Sleeping and waking

Gilly spread her wings, catching the breeze. Flying was more a matter of Will than flapping, but using the muscles was pleasing enough. The sunlight was delightfully warm, and made her scales shine their burnished gold. Below, a few shepherds gazed up in wonder before running to attend to their flocks, which fled at her approach. < Which of them is the wiser >, she thought. Triumphant in her dominion, she briefly reviewed the array of magics at her disposal, then joyfully breathed a great gout of flame at nothing. Ahead, a tower came into view beyond trees. Ah, home sweet home she thought, and went into a swooping dive. The wind rushed past her, filling her ears with its roar, which woke her up.

Gilly awoke with a start, the darkness and quiet of the darkened room a sharp contrast to the sunlit flight. The dream again. And the words, bubbling up from her throat, words she’d never heard before. Ordinary words, < bread >, < blue-green >, < devour >, and other words, words of power. And her fingertips itched. Why- she glanced down and stifled a gasp. Without a sound, the claws retracted, leaving her fingers as they were. She looked worriedly at her bed companion. Still asleep, thank goodness. Seeji had been kind and … eager to please. Definitely a good choice for last night. Unlike poor Maral, she laughed to herself, who looked bewildered and stressed at the attentions of three different dwarven ladies, and clumsily left the party alone. Perhaps in the morning Seeji would be amenable to…

Stop trying to distract yourself, Gilly told herself. You’ve got to take control of this. First, to keep the claws thing from happening unless you want it. Then to figure out what this language is… probably Draconic? Then…

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17-Feb (Gilly)
A morning conversation

When I found myself awake early, I thought I’d have a chance to write down some of our recent activity. No such luck. Maral was already up, clearly agonizing about something. When I asked him, he explained it was about this helm, and whether he should wear it in the upcoming fight, or Dolg should. And he was obsessing about it! He had twenty arguments both ways, and most of them were psychological instead of about potential town defense strategy.

I listened, cause that’s what I do best, and it was a total mess. I thought he was sticking up for himself, growing a spine, and it deserved encouragement. I should have realized earlier where this was headed. Fortunately, he had several more rambles about the obfuscations of the Corps, which gave me time to collect my thoughts and hit on what would hopefully be the right line of questioning. I could tell he wouldn’t take well to being told what to do, even though he was asking my advice.

“Maral?” ‘Yes, Gilly?’ “You trust your uncle Thosun, right? He’s a good guy, and he’s looking out for you?” ‘Of course.’ “And if you had him here, you’d ask his advice, and take it?” ‘I suppose … yes.’ “Well, remember that he was worried about you, that you would fall in love with a commander, try desperately to impress him, take some crazy unwarranted risk and get yourself killed.” ‘Now, Gilly -’ “AND that’s why he asked me to travel with you, to make that not happen. So you need to ask yourself: is it more likely that you’d go in wearing the helm, feeling like you could take on the whole tribe yourself, and get killed trying to be more of the fight than makes sense? Or that you’d go in next to Dolg wearing it, and overstretch yourself trying to keep pace when he’s taking down ogres, and get killed that way?” ’What’s that supposed to mean? What are you trying to get at here?’ “Calm down, Maral. I’m not saying you should wear it, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I am saying that that’s more important than whether Dolg cares as much about the village as you do, and whether your passion or his collectedness would serve the battle better, and all the rest of it. That’s the question you haven’t been asking, and the one you need to be asking. That’s what your uncle would want.” ‘… You’re right. I should.’

I left him to mull that over and went to fetch a bit of porridge before reviewing the locations I’d been casing for launching sneak attack crossbow shots. And the escape routes, of course. We still don’t know how many ogres are coming, and they just might not blunder into all our little traps. Always good to have a backup plan, even if some of my compatriots don’t want to admit it.

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