The Silver Wolf: A Light in the Darkness
Jared “CruelSummerLord” Milne
Company of the Silver Wolf Book One
Joelmac hardly knew whether he was awake or asleep anymore. He knew it didn’t really matter. He heard the laughter of the wicked ones who kept him trapped in this cell, and the screams and cries of his fellow prisoners, both in his waking hours and in his nightmares. He recalled all too clearly what the wicked ones looked like, and what horrors they had forced him to witness.
The wicked ones took pleasure in making Joelmac and the other prisoners watch, of course, making them know that their time would come. The wicked ones took pleasure in the trauma Joelmac and the other prisoners had endured, and the nightmares they’d suffered. The prisoners would continue to be tortured until their spirits broke, and then they would be the next to die.
Joelmac heard footsteps coming towards the large cage that held him. Realizing the wicked ones had returned, the boy began to shudder, before he retched all over the floor of his cage. The wicked ones had stopped outside Joelmac’s cage, and he knew they were watching him. They could see how far his will had been stretched, and they realized that he was broken.
Joelmac’s time had come, and that made him scream all the more. He continued screaming as the wicked ones unlocked the door to his cage, and two of them stepped in to join him. One of them came over and nudged Joelmac with his foot.
“This one?” one of the wicked ones who had entered the cage asked the other, pointing down at Joelmac. “He doesn’t look like he’s got much meat on his bones.”
“That hardly matters, Humding,” the other wicked one replied. “Tonight they want something more delicate…succulent, if you will. Our little friend is well-rested, and hasn’t overworked himself. They say that he’s extremely young and tender, because of that.”
“Bah,” the wicked one called Humding replied. “They ought to give us more of the choice prisoners, Bruddelmort-we always have to make do with the weak and sick.”
“Then you tell them that,” the wicked one called Bruddelmort replied, laughing under his breath as Humding instinctively flinched. “Now, come on-the witching hour has nearly arrived!”
Humding easily reached out and picked up Joelmac. The boy lay frozen with terror in his arms, completely cowed by the huge creature’s size. Joelmac got a better look at Humding’s fat, unshaven face, and shrank back from it, whimpering in fear. In turn, Humding looked down at him and only laughed.
Humding and Bruddlemort emerged from one of the caves, and Joelmac could see the beautiful starlit sky above him. It was hardly comforting, though-the vastness of that sky made him realize just how trapped he was, and how he would never be able to escape. Joelmac didn’t get to see it for very long, however, as they stepped into another cavern and walked down a series of carved stone steps.
As suffocating and terrifying as the cave that held Joelmac’s cell had been, this one was far worse. Hideous murals and bas-reliefs leered down from the walls. Joelmac shuddered at the sights of vile-looking demonic things and the disgusting things they were doing to their helpless victims. Groaning in horror, he tried to twist around in Humding’s arms so he wouldn’t have to look at the depraved scenes. Humding quickly realized what he was doing and forcibly turned Joelmac over, shaking him hard to force his eyes open.
The boy cried out again, which made Humding and Bruddlemort burst out laughing.
The stone stairs seemed to descend forever, until Joelmac and his captors finally emerged into a large cavern. Everything was just as Joelmac remembered it. In the centre of the cavern were a set of three stone tables drenched in blood. The wicked ones’ former victims were lined up along one wall, forced to remain in silent testament to what their murderers had done to them. There was a large pool of water at one end of the cavern. A depraved altar stood at the water’s edge, with human bones scattered on and around it. The same depraved murals and bas-reliefs Joelmac had seen on the stairs were on the walls of the caverns too, completing the horrific scene.
Two wicked ones rose from the stone tables they were sitting at to greet Humding, Bruddlemort and their prisoner. Their laughter overcame everything else assaulting Joelmac’s senses. He felt as if he would go mad, as he thrashed about helplessly in Humding’s grip. Desperate to escape, he struggled against Humding’s iron grip, although it did him no good.
“Helpless little one, aren’t you?” one of the new wicked ones asked Joelmac, easily taking him in her arms as Humding handed him over. “You’ve seen what we do, and what your fate is, haven’t you?”
“Please…” Joelmac begged, his feet kicking helplessly in the air, as Humding and Bruddlemort turned and left the cavern by the way they came. “Please…”
“Do continue, child,” the other wicked one leered. “Your cries are such sweet music.”
Joelmac tried to silence himself, if only to deny the wicked one her satisfaction. For all his effort, he could not stop his crying.
“Such beautiful pleading. A pity it will not last much longer…are you certain that it is his time?” the wicked one who had told Joelmac to continue crying asked the first wicked one, who still held Joelmac. “This one would make a wonderful plaything!”
“It is his time, sister,” the wicked one holding Joelmac replied calmly. “Nothing more and nothing less,” she finished coldly.
“So be it,” the other wicked one nodded. “Is Ublodine set to return?”
“She knows that it is time,” the wicked one holding Joelmac reproached her. “Be patient, sister!”
Almost immediately after the wicked ones finished speaking, bubbles began to emerge from the pool on one side of the cavern. The bubbles gave way to splashing, as a third wicked one emerged from the pool and stepped onto the stone floor.
“Is it time?” the third wicked one asked eagerly, drool running down her chin. “Is it time?” she repeated.
“Is it time? Is it time? Is it time?” she continued.
“Of course it is, Ublodine,” the wicked one holding Joelmac replied, walking across the cavern to the altar and laying Joelmac down on top of it. “You are prepared, my sisters?” the wicked one asked. All three of the wicked ones stood over Joelmac now, each on one side of the altar. The fourth side of the altar was taken up by an idol of the horrific entity to which the altar was dedicated, which stared down at Joelmac and made him realize just how truly doomed he was.
The wicked one who had placed Joelmac on the altar and held him down by his neck began a chant. It was an obscene, disgusting song that filled Joelmac with fear and revulsion.
He thrashed helplessly, but could not break the wicked one’s iron grip as her sister, the second wicked one, added a second voice to the chant. The wicked ones’ voices seemed to become one, blending together in a way that made the chant even more vile and disturbing. It became even worse when the third wicked one, Ublodine, the one that had emerged from the pool, added her final voice to the chant. The wicked ones’ voices sounded like the gasps of the sick and dying, of victims who knew their time was come and that there was no escape.
Joelmac was in a frenzy now, screaming and crying as he tried to drown out the sounds of the wicked ones’ voices. Those voices brought back the memories of everything Joelmac seen and heard since the wicked ones had taken him, the sight of the idol looming over him, and the realization that he was doomed. He was completely helpless, and yet he tried to fight it, something that only amused the wicked ones all the more.
Despite all of Joelmac’s screams, the chant continued. Perversely, Joelmac’s desperate thrashing became more and more frenzied in tune with the chant. Finally, the wicked one called Ublodine grabbed Joelmac by the throat, pulling him up as the other wicked one released him. Ublodine forced Joelmac to look into her eyes, until they were the only things he could see.
Uboldine’s eyes seemed to pierce through Joelmac’s sight, all the way to the back of his mind. His heart began pounding, the blood roared in his ears, and a crippling tension seized his limbs. Ublodine’s gaze ravaged Joelmac’s body, seizing it with pain before it began to shut down.
It was the last sight he ever saw.
The Long Roads
“Why couldn’t we go to Greyhawk overland?” Seline Roas del Cranden asked her friend Weimar Glendowyr as they sat in Weimar’s cabin, looking at the waters of Woolly Bay. “Couldn’t we have gone through Celene or the Wild Coast?” The young woman was a beautiful sight indeed, with long, strawberry-blonde hair, bright green eyes and a slender, voluptuous figure that meshed well with the bright, vibrant energy she exuded. She was dressed in the deep indigo robes of a wizard, marked with silver signs of stars, moons and planets. Despite Seline’s youth, the magical power she possessed was plain to see, reflected in the intelligent gleam of her bright eyes.
“It would have taken us longer to reach Greyhawk by land,” Weimar replied, “and the lands of Celene are less than receptive to entirely human bands,” he pointed out. “As for the Wild Coast, there’s much competition there, but not so much of the treasure we might seek,” he explained. “Greyhawk is just as competitive, but there’s more wealth there than in the Coast. There’s a reason the Coast is called the Flanaess’s garbage midden, you know.”
Weimar’s unkempt blonde hair, dull green eyes and rakishly handsome face matched his lanky figure. He carried himself with the easygoing confidence of someone who had seen half the world, for all that he was only a few years older than Seline. His confidence came from years of hard living, as evidenced by the bloodshot look in his eyes and the ugly scars that marked his neck and upper arms. His drab beige clothes and leather armor, both stained from the liquor their owner enjoyed consuming, only reinforced the image. Anyone looking at Weimar would know that his confidences was well-earned, given how easily he wielded the dagger he turned over and over in his hand.
“But we’ll still have to disembark at Hardby,” Seline pointed out, “and then travel to the Free City overland.”
“Yes, but the roads are faster there than in the rest of the Coast,” Weimar pointed out, “and direct travel to Greyhawk by ship would have been much more expensive. I had to save our limited funds, you realize,” he finished, turning his dagger over again before sliding it into a sheath on his belt.
Seline just sighed, turning her gaze back to the window of Weimar’s cabin. She was a little unhappy at having to spend her twenty-first birthday aboard the High Tide, sailing out from the Principality of Ulek towards the free city of Hardby, but she knew that much of that came from having to spend more than a month so far at sea. As beautiful as the bright waters and shining spray could be, Seline found that they tended to lose their luster after a while.
“It’s just that there’s so little to do,” Seline said, the frustration evident in her voice.
“So little to do?” Weimar asked in surprise. “You, who’s always interested in poetry and stories? I thought you enjoyed taking the time to write those things.”
“Oh, just ignore me,” Seline replied, smiling wanly as she turned back to Weimar. “I just feel too confined on this ship. The meals we’re served don’t help, either.”
“Too spicy?” Weimar asked expectantly.
“Too spicy,” Seline frowned humorously. Her delicate palate had long been a joke between her and the rest of her friends. She had a distinct preference for sweetmeats and light fruits, and the heavy amount of spices the High Tide’s cook put on the meals he served the passengers did not sit well with her.
“You should just do what I do,” Weimar smirked back at her. “There’s a good reason I-“
“Drink enough stout and mead for all four of us, I think?” Seline’s sister Luna Roas del Cranden said as she walked into the cabin, a boiling kettle in her hands. “Here, try some of this,” she continued, pouring some tea for Weimar and Seline before pouring one for herself. Luna set the sack she was carrying on the floor next to her chair before she sat down, savoring the smell of her tea.
In contrast to the vibrant Seline and the relaxed Weimar, Luna cut a distinguished, dignified figure. She was no less lovely than her younger sister, her dark hair, blue eyes and soft voice enough to set any man’s heart racing. The warmth she exuded complemented her slender frame, blue and gold robes, and the golden pendant around she wore around her neck that marked her as a priestess of the sun god Pelor. In the short time Weimar had known Luna, he had seen how well she channeled the sun lord’s power, a reflection of her worthy service.
“Perhaps I would,” Weimar replied with a smirk, “if they actually had something hard on this ship. “All they have are light cider and wine. You couldn’t get a halfling drunk on that ditch water,” he rolled his eyes in annoyance.
“You, not being able to get drunk on something?” Seline asked in mock astonishment. “I never thought I’d see the day!” she giggled, as Luna joined in.
Weimar scowled briefly at the sisters, but he soon found himself smiling along with them. Helping himself to some of the tea, he savored its fine flavor, before licking his lips in satisfaction.
“Don’t mind the spicy food, though,” Luna said to Seline once the laughter had died down. “You won’t be having it tonight.”
“What do you mean?” Seline asked in surprise.
Before Weimar or Luna could say anything, a fourth person strode into the cabin. The new arrival was almost seven feet tall, with a powerfully muscled frame, and dark skin, eyes and hair. He said nothing as he sat down to join the other companions, his silence matching well with the stony expression on his face. And yet, the man’s visage softened as he looked around at his companions, the cold stare replaced with one of serenity. He seemed to radiate power and warmth all at once, a contrast reflected in the bright gold and dark blue of his multicolored clothes.
We mean, Ma’non’go of the Silver Winds signed to Seline, that we have something special in mind.
“We have a special meaning…” Weimar tried to interpret Ma’non’go’s sign language, before he trailed off in frustration. Weimar was trying to learn the sign language Ma’non’go used to communicate, but he found it hard going.
“Not quite,” Seline giggled, before she correctly translated what Ma’non’go was saying. “But what did you have in mind?”
This, for one, Ma’non’go smiled, as he reached into the sack he was carrying and pulled out a thick leatherbound tome. Placing the book on the table in front of Seline, Ma’non’go sat back, pouring himself a cup of Luna’s tea.
Seline’s eyes lit up as she examined the book. It was a collection of the plays of Heward, the legendary bard who had ascended to godhood upon his death. Seline had always enjoyed reading and performing in Heward’s plays as a teenager, and the book was a wonderful gift.
“I love it!” Seline exclaimed brightly. “How did you-“
Did you think I would forget how much you loved the theatre, especially Heward’s works? Ma’non’go replied, as Luna translated for Weimar. Surely you know better than that! Ma’non’go reproached her.
“And that’s not all,” Luna added, as she picked up the sack she had laid down by her chair. Handing it to Seline, Luna only smiled as her sister examined its contents. Seline exclaimed in joy as she saw the collection of Ulekian sweetmeats and fruits, carefully preserved with special herbs, the sack contained.
“Oh, it’s wonderful!” Seline exclaimed again, this time hugging Luna. “Thank you so much.”
“I contributed too, you know,” Weimar smirked. “Who do you think managed our finances well enough to afford these things? And who do you think knew where we could buy the book of plays?”
Seline’s response was to kiss Weimar on the cheek, an action that he greatly enjoyed.
Now do you feel better? Ma’non’go asked with a grin, Luna translating again for Weimar.
“Much,” Seline said with a contented smile. “And the tea is wonderful, too.”
“It’s a new recipe,” Luna explained. “I was getting tired of your complaining about how spicy my old blend was, so I decided to try something else. Too much of the same thing can get tedious, you know.”
You are not merely talking about the tea, are you? Ma’non’go asked Luna as Seline translated for Weimar. You are speaking about the ship as well, are you not?
“…Yes, I am,” Luna confessed somewhat awkwardly. “The sooner we make port, the better.”
“We won’t be docking in Hardby for another nine days,” Weimar said. “But what do you dislike about the ship?”
“It’s too confined,” Luna frowned, this time seriously. “And all that water…I just don’t…”
“You’re afraid of the water?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“No, I just hate the possibility of getting wet,” Luna replied. “It’s one thing to bathe or take a shower, but I hate getting caught in the rain,” she continued, her voice taking on a decidedly unhappy tone.
“Don’t worry, then,” Weimar assured her cheerfully. “When we make land, you’ll be off this tub, and we can go the rest of the way to Greyhawk by road.”
And how long a journey will that be? Ma’non’go asked, as Seline translated for Weimar again.
“Less than a week, if the weather continues to hold,” Weimar answered the larger man. That’s something else…” Weimar continued hesitantly.
“What is it?” Luna asked.
“Well, I don’t mean to pry, but…” Weimar continued, looking back at Ma’non’go again. Ma’non’go had opened his eyes and was looking once more at Weimar, understanding what the blonde man wanted to ask. Again, Ma’non’go nodded at Weimar, apparently at ease with the question.
“What is it?” Luna asked again.
“Why doesn’t Ma’non’go ever talk? With his voice, I mean,” Weimar asked. “I’ve tried talking to him a couple of times, but he’s never replied to me. Is it something about me, or-“
“Certainly not,” Seline interrupted. “It’s just that…” she trailed off.
“Ma’non’go simply doesn’t speak at all,” Luna picked up the explanation for her sister. “It used to be that he could only speak by writing, until our father taught him a form of sign language he could use.”
“Your father?” Weimar asked in surprise. “But how…”
Weimar frowned at the somber expressions that crossed his friends’ faces. Finally, Manon’go took a deep breath. Looking at Luna and Seline, Ma’nongo signed something with his fingers before nodding solemnly.
“You’re sure?” Seline asked.
Ma’non’go nodded, and signed again.
“So that’s how it is?” Seline asked again, a bright smile crossing her face. “Well then, so much the better!”
“What do you mean?” Weimar asked, now completely confused.
“Ma’non’go gave us permission to tell you his story,” Luna explained. “He said that you’ve earned the right to know.”
“Really?” Weimar asked. “Well then, thank you!” he smiled at Ma’non’go.
The larger man nodded again.
“Our father was Lord Roas Del Cranden, part of a lesser branch of one of Aerdy’s Celestial Houses,” Luna explained, as she poured herself another cup of tea. “Lord Roas was involved in a number of trading ventures, including with the peoples of Hepmonaland.”
“The southern jungle lands?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“That’s right,” Luna continued. “Don’t believe the stories you hear about the people of Hepmonaland being savages-they have civilizations all their own. Different from ours, perhaps, but just as advanced as any in the Flanaess. The people of that land, who call themselves the Olman, produce many of their own exotic trade goods that people in the Flanaess will pay large sums for. Our family was heavily involved in that trade, and so Lord Roas would go down to Hepmonaland at least twice a year to deal with the Olman.”
“So you’re an Olman?” Weimar asked Ma’non’go, who nodded.
Hence my colorful attire, Ma’non’go said with a half-smile. Luna translated the larger man’s words for Weimar, before she resumed her story.
“On one of Lord Roas’s travels to Hepmonaland, Ma’non’go stumbled into his camp. He was half-dead and starved, and so Lord Roas nursed him back to health. Lord Roas was as surprised as you are that Ma’non’go wouldn’t talk, and would only communicate to him in writing. They taught each other how to read and write their languages so Ma’non’go could speak to him. But even then, Ma’non’go wouldn’t tell our father where he came from.”
A haunted look sprang up in Ma’non’go’s eyes, and the large man gripped the table. Weimar could tell that Ma’non’go was clearly angry, although Weimar didn’t sense that the larger man was angry at him, Luna or Seline. Rather, he was probably recalling something unpleasant from his past.
“Why wouldn’t you tell them?” Weimar dared to ask.
Ma’non’go signed something back, the angry glare still in his eyes.
“He said that it involved betrayal and loss, and a past that best remains buried,” Luna translated. “He’s never explained to anyone, not Lord Roas and certainly not us.”
Seline frowned at that, but said nothing.
“…So what happened after that?” Weimar ventured.
“None of the locals Lord Roas was dealing with wanted anything to do with Ma’non’go. They said that his country was apparently hostile to theirs, so they said Ma’non’go could rot for all they cared. Our father offered to take Ma’non’go back with him to Aerdy, and he agreed,” Luna said.
“You just left everything behind?” Weimar asked in amazement.
Ma’non’go only nodded as his shoulders slumped, seeming as if he was forced to bear a very heavy burden. He seemed to age twenty years all at once.
“By the gods…” Weimar murmured sympathetically, reaching out and putting a hand on Ma’non’go’s arm.
“Ma’non’go came back to Aerdy with Lord Roas, and he was taught a type of sign language so he could communicate better with our father. Lord Roas taught it to us as well, so we could talk to him,” Luna continued.
“How did you justify him being in Aerdy?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“Lord Roas explained Ma’non’go as a bondsman who was trusted to guard Seline and I,” Luna explained. “It was a way to save face in Aerdi society without anyone asking too many questions.”
Ma’non’go signed something else, as Luna and Seline nodded.
“Ma’non’go just said that he owed Lord Roas a debt of honor,” Luna translated, “and he intended to keep it. He’s been with us ever since, even after we had to leave home.”
“Why did-“ Weimar asked, before trailing off as he saw how Seline flinched.
“Our father was murdered by House Garasteth in retaliation for House Cranden trying to block Garasteth’s influence at Zelradton with the Chelors,” Luna explained, sadness creeping into her voice. “Lord Roas sent us to friends of his in Sunndi for our own protection, so we would not be claimed as ‘compensation’ for what House Cranden did to them. We adventured in the Iron League states for a while, but the treatment we received was…less than ideal,” she finished, “and that’s when we set sail for the Principality of Ulek. We couldn’t bear the suspicion and harassment anymore.”
“…And that’s where you met me,” Weimar frowned sympathetically. “Are you-“ he asked, before noticing that Luna was humming under her breath.
“That’s a lovely song,” he smiled. “Did you come up with it?”
“No, it was a song of the Flan of the Rieuwood,” Luna replied, a smile returning to her face. “They taught it to me when I was working as an ambassador to them for the church of Pelor.”
“Like I said, it’s a lovely song,” Weimar smiled back. “Better than any tavern shanty I ever heard…and there’s less chance I’d end up in a brawl at the end of it, too,” he joked.
Luna and Seline laughed at that, and even Ma’non’go smiled.
Somehow, Weimar knew he would never have noticed that smile when he’d first met Ma’non’go.
Revafour Greystar was an impressive sight. His coppery-bronze skin and shoulder-length black hair marked him out as a Flan, that group of humans that had given the continent of the Flanaess its name and were its first human inhabitants. Standing more than six and a half feet tall, with thickly corded muscles, Revafour’s formidable appearance was only enhanced by the thick plate armor he wore and the massive two-handed broadsword strapped to his back. His attire was completed by the moccasins on his feet, and the cloak he wore on his back, beaded in the Flan tradition. Revafour carried himself with the calm stoicism the Flan were reputed for, and his movements showed how well he followed his people’s warrior traditions.
Airk Venbelwar, Revafour’s gnome companion, barely reached past the Flan warrior’s waistline. Airk’s appearance was no less formidable, however. Clad in plate armor similar to Revafour’s, topped with a dragon-headed helmet, Airk carried a shield marked with the design of the crescent moons and stars on one arm. A military pick and a spiked morning star hung in easy reach on the gnome’s belt, and it was clear that he knew how to use them. Airk’s hair was blonde, as were the short, bushy beard and the thick, waxed handlebar moustache under his long, pointy nose. If Revafour was calm and stoic, Airk appeared always alert, ready to react at a moment’s notice.
Amyalla Reorsa, the halfling traveling with Revafour and Airk, was a contrast to her more reserved companions. She was a rare beauty, with long fire-red hair and emerald-green eyes and a gorgeous figure most elves would envy. A coquettish smile always seemed to play around Amyalla’s lips, and her eyes gave a thoughtful and penetrating gaze. The halfling projected a sense of knowing charm, reflecting her years of success at stealing coins, gems and hearts all at once. She wore a leather jerkin over a plain traveling gown, with a series of daggers hanging from her belt. That practical attire contrasted with the fashionable new boots on her feet and the elaborate blue hat, decorated with orchids and lilacs, she wore on her head.
“I don’t know why you insisted that we pass through Leukish so quickly,” Airk Venbelwar, was complained to Amyalla, walking beside her as Revafour strode ahead of them. “As it was, we barely had time to replenish our supplies!”
“I’ve…never had much fondness for Leukish,” the halfling, Amyalla Reorsa, replied without looking back as the Leukish city gates receded behind them.
Just the day before, the three companions had arrived in Leukish, capital of the Duchy of Urnst, with the merchant caravan they had been guarding. Amyalla had insisted that they leave Leukish the next morning, only allowing Airk and Revafour time to buy fresh supplies. She hadn’t given any explanation for the haste, only demanding that they leave the city as soon as possible.
“And what’s with your boots?” Airk asked, nodding at the stylish boots she wore. Amyalla had bought them in Radigast City, capital of the County of Urnst and the Duchy’s northern neighbor, and the city where they’d joined the caravan to Leukish. However, Amyalla had refused to put her new boots on during the trip to Leukish. Instead, she’d continued to wear her old boots, which were filthy and worn through. She had only taken off her old, dirty boots once the companions had left Leukish, throwing them back at the city. Amyalla had put on her new boots after that, and she was now distinctly happier, although Airk was still annoyed.
“My boots?” Amyalla grinned innocently. “What, a woman can’t enjoy the opportunity to put on a new pair of shoes?”
“I’d say it was more than that,” Airk pointed out matter-of-factly. “We could have at least spent another night in Leukish, I would think. You do realize that we’ll probably have to make camp tonight, and that there’s a good chance of it raining?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Revafour asked, raising an eyebrow at the scowl crossing the gnome’s face.
“Suffice to say I hate getting wet,” Airk groused, “and I won’t even get to enjoy the sunset.”
Revafour and Amyalla just stared at him in surprise.
“You…needn’t mind me,” Airk continued. “I’m just annoyed at the haste. Do we really need to reach Greyhawk so soon?”
At this, Revafour gave a sigh. He tried to keep it quiet, but both Airk and Amyalla heard it clearly.
“And what’s your problem?” Airk asked Revafour, more curious than irritated this time. “You would have preferred to stay in Leukish?”
“Hardly,” Revafour muttered, looking away briefly. “I am, shall we say, less than pleased about going to Greyhawk.”
“Why’s that?” Amyalla asked curiously. “There’s always work there for adventurers. Plenty of treasure as well, and caravans and ships to almost anywhere you could imagine. There’s a reason my people call Greyhawk the ‘Gateway to Everywhere’!” she said brightly, hoping to raise her companions’ spirits.
“There are too many people there,” Revafour muttered, anger creeping into his voice. “Too many of the same people who-“
Airk blinked in surprise, unsure what Revafour was talking about. Amyalla instinctively understood, however.
“Too many Suel and Oeridians, I take it?” she asked, more gently this time.
Airk understood after that, recalling how Revafour had alluded to the many betrayals and broken promises the Flan had endured from the lighter-skinned humans that had come to the Flanaess during the Great Migrations. He frowned at that, remembering his own bitter betrayals at the hands of the dwarves who claimed themselves to be allies of the gnomes during the Hateful Wars. The Wars had ended nearly six decades ago, but Airk could still clearly recall them, particularly what Kalrek Burunne had done to his people.
Airk did his best to suppress the rage he felt at those memories. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to focus on what Revafour was saying.
To his relief, he managed to keep a calm facade.
“It’s one thing to travel on caravans, as we have,” Revafour explained, “but apart from that, I am not fond of crowded conditions.”
“And yet you wear Oeridian armor and carry an Oeridian sword,” Airk reminded Revafour, something he’d originally pointed out when they’d first met.
Revafour’s eyes flared at that, although he continued to keep calm.
“No one can change the past,” he said uncomfortably, “and if most of this world is now dominated by the Oeridians and the Sueloise, I’ll do what I must to survive. Isn’t that what you do as well?” he asked, with a question that was halfway between a retort and an observation.
“Of course it is,” Amyalla said smoothly, trying to ease the tension in the air. “That’s exactly why I left Leukish.”
“So, what happened in Leukish, then?” Airk asked, not keen on pressing Revafour any further.
“A family who sought to gain from a prestigious marriage, a husband who was not half the hero he seemed, beatings and cuckoldings, a hideous scandal caused by his philandering, and my leaving all of those damned wretches behind so I could be free,” she replied. “I trust that is enough for you to know?”
“Indeed it is,” Revafour said, sympathy in his voice. “Small wonder, then, that you did not care to stay in Leukish.”
“How perceptive,” Amyalla smirked back. “Yes, I have come to enjoy my freedom, and I would not go back to Leukish if I could. Indeed, I found Greyhawk to be a truer home to me than Leukish ever was. It will be a joy to come back-even more so because I’m doing so with a handsome gentleman on either arm,” she laughed, glancing from Airk to Revafour and back. Both man and gnome seemed somewhat embarrassed and looked away, discomfited with the attention Amyalla gave them.
This, of course, only heightened the halfling’s amusement even further.
Thieves In The Night
Dorbella was one with the night as she emerged from the pond, laughing silently under her breath as she surveyed the estate. For a human dwelling, the place was quite picturesque, and well-guarded to boot. The property was largely walled and fenced-off, and the night watch made sure to regularly monitor the walls as well as the thickets around the estate. Pity they didn’t give the same attention to the pond-it was easy for one of Dorbella’s talents to enable herself to breathe underwater and swim into the pond through the underground waterways. She’d also made herself invisible before surfacing. She made ripples in the pond when she surfaced, but in the dark of the night the guards would never notice them.
Dorbella looked around the estate, finding the perfect place to focus her next spell. Closing her eyes, Dorbella concentrated intently, an evil smile on her face as she cast her spell. The spell caused the lights of torches to appear in the distance, accompanied by the sounds of angrily shouting people trying to force their way through the gates of the estate. Just as Dorbella expected, the estate’s guards converged on that point.
Dorbella’s magical distraction made it that much easier for her to steal through the estates, as silent as a whisper. She remained invisible all throughout, and her tracks were completely masked by her sorcery.
The doors to the manor-house were securely locked, but not so the windows. It was a simple matter for Dorbella to scale the walls and force open the window to the little boy’s room. The child barely had time to open his eyes before Dorbella had snatched him up and covered his mouth. Her magic turned the little one invisible as well, and in no time at all Dorbella had slipped out of the room, back down the wall and onto the lawn. She snuffed out her illusions at the gate, leaving the guards hopelessly confused, as she carried the still-gagged child back to the pond.
One final spell was cast on the boy so he too could breathe underwater, before Dorbella entered the pond and was gone.
Pieden Ronard hated this day of the week.
More particularly, he hated this night of the week, since the dreams came while he slept. Try as he might, he could not prevent himself from having them.
Every dream always contained the same thing. Pieden saw a vision of his son Elian, half-starved and crying in the dark pit he was kept in, as a chilling laughter echoed in the background. Shadows danced at the edge of Pieden’s vision, making the entire scene seem like a hazy, half-forgotten memory.
Then, Pieden saw what the wicked ones did to Elian. Sometimes they used their magic to twist Elian’s mind, reducing him to a babbling moron. Other times they left Elian sickly and gasping for breath, as they twisted his body itself. Once, they paralyzed Elian, as if to simply remind the boy just how trapped and helpless he was.
Pieden knew what the wicked ones wanted. He wasn’t sure who he hated more, the wicked ones for what they were doing to Elian, or himself for not being able to stop them. They were demanding more victims, he knew, and if he did not bring them then Elian would die.
So be it, then.
He had not survived on the streets of Greyhawk as long as he had through sentimentality, after all.
The Faintest Of Trails
Just as Weimar had predicted, he, Luna, Ma’non’go and Seline arrived in Hardby nine days after they had celebrated Seline’s birthday. In less than an hour, they had left the city, traveling north to the Free City of Greyhawk along the main roads.
The month of Wealsun had just begun, and summer was in full bloom. The sun shone brightly down on fields of wildflowers and large copses of poplar and elm trees at the side of the road, making for a pleasant view as the travelers passed them by. The adventurers passed the time by discussing what they would do when they arrived in Greyhawk, and telling one each other more about their pasts and homelands.
After three days on the road, the companions were only a few hours’ travel away from reaching Greyhawk. The sun was beginning to set, and the companions were exhausted from the long walk they’d already had. While they might have reached Greyhawk if they traveled through the night, they were more interested in finding some place to sleep.
“Where are we going to stop for the night?” Luna asked, shielding her eyes as she looked further down the road.
“I told you we should have stopped at the last inn!” Seline reproached Weimar.
“With those prices?” Weimar asked incredulously. “The owners of that place were highway robbers! Besides, we don’t need an inn,” he said, gesturing to the walled manor that stood to the right of the road. “Who’s to say we can’t spend a night in their hayloft?”
Seline looked at Luna and Ma’non’go, who all shrugged, before they directed their horses to follow Weimar as he approached the manor.
As they approached the manor, they could see that it was a fine place indeed. Stone walls surrounded a lovingly maintained estate, speckled with copses of trees, flower gardens and ponds arranged in a beautiful pattern. Guards stood at the main gate, gazing at the travelers with intensity but not hostility as they approached.
“Greetings!” Seline said brightly to the guards as she and her friends reached the gate, leaping off their horses and leading the creatures by the reins. “Do you, perhaps, have a place for a group of weary travelers who would be willing to pay handsomely for your hospitality? A rest in your hayloft would be all that we require…”
The guards looked at one another, and then back at the travelers.
“You four seem to be adventurers, are you not?” the leader of the guards asked calmly.
“Yes, we are,” Weimar replied. “Is that a problem? Because if it is, we can be on our way-“
“No, you may in fact be the people our lord is searching for,” the leader of the guards shook his head. “He could use the help of talents such as yours…”
Seline and her friends had expected to be eating their own plain fare in Count Morin Listell’s hayloft. Instead, they had been brought into the presence of Count Morin himself, accompanied by his wife Jacquileene. The Count’s sitting room was tastefully decorated with art objects, ancestral portraits and sumptuous furniture, much like the drawing-rooms Luna and Seline had experienced as members of House Cranden in the Great Kingdom of Aerdy. Count Morin and Jacquileene would have been equally as distinguished in their finely tailored attire, were it not for the haggard and worn expressions on their faces. They looked as if they had not slept in at least two days, and they appeared to have barely eaten for the same amount of time. When Count Morin spoke, it was with a hoarse croak, as if the very act wearied him.
“Thank you for coming,” the count nodded slowly. He couldn’t have been more than thirty-five years old, but his demeanor was that of someone twice his age.
“What’s the matter?” Luna asked quietly, her soft voice seeming to put the Listells at ease. “Is there some manner in which we can be of assistance?”
“Our…our…” the count began, before he fell silent.
“Teddyrun, my boy…what if they…” Countess Jacquileene started, before tears filled her eyes and she began to cough and sob.
“Teddyrun is my son and heir,” Count Morin forced himself to speak again, “was kidnapped not two days ago. Taken from his own bedroom, in the middle of the night!”
The adventurers looked at one another sympathetically, all of them frowning heavily.
“How did this happen?” Seline asked in a gentle tone. “Have you been able to determine how your son was abducted?”
“…No,” Jacquileene shook her head. Luna’s and Seline’s tones had calmed her somewhat, and made her more able to speak. “All our guards mentioned was the sight of torches at one of the gates, and the sounds of people shouting and trying to force the gates. The guards went to confront these intruders, but no one was there when they arrived.”
“No tracks, or anything?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“No,” Count Morin shook his head. “We searched the entire grounds, and there were no tracks at all, anywhere!”
Weimar fell into puzzlement at this, wondering how that was even possible, but Luna and Seline looked at each other, realizing that magic was likely involved in Teddyrun’s disappearance. Luna thought on this for several moments, before she spoke up.
“The monster who abducted your son, whoever it was, no doubt used sorcery to get into and out of your estate,” Luna explained. “I believe that I will be able to track them down,” she continued, as the Listells’ faces rose in hope, “but I will need to prepare the correct spells first. I’ll only be able to do that at sunrise tomorrow.”
“Of course, of course!” Count Morin smiled widely, his hopes now raised by the adventurers’ presence. “Please, enjoy my hospitality in the meantime! If you can bring Teddyrun home, it will be the least of what I owe you!”
Weimar, Ma’non’go, Luna and Seline looked at each other determinedly, as they nodded.
The next morning, Luna sat alone in the midst of the Listell estate, her eyes closed as she faced due east. The sky was still dark, but Luna knew the dawn was approaching, reaching out with her mind to the approaching sunrise. As she waited, she cleared her mind, thinking only of the approaching sun and its god, the god she had devoted her life to.
Finally, the first rays of the sun began to emerge on the horizon. Luna felt rather than saw them, felt them caress her as she began to pray. She reached out to Pelor, the god the sun represented, and prayed to him, asking him to bestow on her the blessings she would need to help those who had come to her for aid. Pelor had always taught her to believe in the light, to believe in the blessings that were meant for all those the light shone on, and she prayed for them now. She needed Pelor’s help to find little Teddyrun, and she knew without Pelor’s help the child might well be lost forever. Although Luna had not yet attained that level of grace that would enable her to commune with Pelor directly, she had gained the power to commune with Pelor’s divine servants.
She asked them for Pelor’s favour, and Pelor’s divine servants, knowing the reasons for her request, granted her desires.
Opening her eyes, Luna saw that the sunrise was shining brightly. The sun’s rays bathed here in their warmth, as if to confirm Pelor’s approval of what she intended to do.
Nodding in thanks, Luna adjusted her seat and began chanting. She was sitting at the bank of one of the ponds on the estate, a small pool about ten feet in diameter. Taking a vial filled with walnut oil out of her pocket, she opened it up and poured three drops of the oil into the pool. Putting the vial back in her pocket, Luna began chanting, waving her hands back and forth in the water as she chanted. The water’s reflections of Luna and her surroundings were distorted by the ripples her hands were making, until they were blurred beyond recognition by the constant motion of Luna’s hands. She continued in this way for more than two hours, until new images began to appear in the pond.
Gazing into the pond, Luna breathed a prayer of thanks to Pelor that the spell had functioned correctly. The Listells had told her all about Teddyrun, which would help her find him with her magical scrying, but even that did not guarantee that her spell would succeed. However, succeed it did, and now Luna gazed upon Teddyrun.
The pond reflected an image of a little boy, eight years old perhaps, wearing fine but dirty clothes, which he’d probably been wearing when he’d been kidnapped. Tears were pouring down his eyes as he lay slumped in the corner of what looked like a cell in an underground cavern. Luna could make out the bars of a cell, the rough walls of a cave, and faint, flickering torchlight. Other screams and cries played at the edge of Luna’s hearing. She thought she could see other shapes moving vaguely in the background, but she could not be sure.
Teddyrun was clearly being held underground somewhere, but where, exactly?
Nodding once, Luna waved her hands through the pond once more, ending her scrying spell. The images in the pond faded, scattered by the ripples her hands were making, and they were soon replaced by the normal reflections of the pond’s surroundings.
From there, Luna began casting her second spell. She pulled out a candle of incense and a tinderbox from her backpack, lighting the candle. Putting the tinderbox back in her backpack, she then retrieved a bright yellow sunstone, holding it one hand. With her other hand, she took up the pendant she wore around her neck. The pendant was decorated with the image of a stylized sun, within which was the carefully worked face of a benevolent, fatherly man, the holy symbol of Pelor.
Holding the gemstone in one hand and her holy symbol in the other, Luna raised them to the sky, chanting even as the incense continued burning. In her mind, she conjured an image of Teddyrun and his surroundings, seeking to find where they might be located. She prayed to Pelor to guide her so she and her friends would know where to go to find him, so they could bring him home from the hell he was trapped in.
The sunstone in one of Luna’s hands crumbled into dust, consumed by the power of the spell as Luna kept chanting. Her holy symbol grew warm in her other hand, telling Luna that the spell was working.
Soon, Luna felt a voice echoing in her mind, as Pelor gave her a sign.
North by north east…
In the hills, built stone on stone like cairn…
The innocent plead for deliverance…
At the giant’s cloven beard…
Luna’s eyes popped open as she repeated the words over and over, hastening to commit them to memory. For good measure, she wrote the words down on a piece of parchment. Finally, she blew out her incense candle, putting her holy symbol back around her neck and gathering up all of her belongings.
Luna marched back towards the Listells’ manor house, knowing now where she and her companions needed to go.
It was time to leave.
The City Narrows
Airk and Revafour were astonished by how well Amyalla seemed to know her way around Greyhawk. She had led them into the city through the Duke’s Gate, and taken them through the city’s wealthier districts. From there, Amyalla led her companions south through the internal Garden Gate into a district she called Greyhawk’s river quarter.
As Airk and Revafour looked around them, it didn’t take them long to understand why Amyalla’s people called Greyhawk the ‘Gateway to Everywhere’. The city’s streets were thronged with more kinds of people than Airk and Revafour had ever seen. They saw fur-clad Frost Barbarians, golden-haired elves dressed in the multicolored robes of Celenese wizards, doughty warriors bearing the distinctive shields of the Knights of the Watch, Baklunish merchants carrying exotic goods from Ket, independent Flan foresters and hunters, even the odd orc and goblin, among others. All these visitors mingled easily among the native Greyhawkers, who seemed to welcome them all, whatever their background.
Airk and Revafour were utterly bewildered, although Amyalla didn’t seem the least bit fazed by it.
“A lot of first-time visitors react this way,” Amyalla smiled, her lips turned up in amusement as she noticed her friends’ reactions. “Matters of race and culture don’t matter much to most Greyhawkers. The only thing they care about is money.”
“So it’s a city of thieves,” Revafour muttered.
“Some are thieves,” Amyalla corrected him, “but most are just rather greedy merchants and craftspeople. You’ve both heard tales of the Wild Coast, I take it?”
The sour looks on Airk’s and Revafour’s faces confirmed to Amyalla that they had heard of the Wild Coast, and also confirmed to her what they thought of the place.
“Now that’s a place of scoundrels and rapscallions,” Amyalla laughed. “But here’s an example of the better side of Greyhawk,” she grinned as they stopped in front of a large, homey-looking building. Airk and Revafour saw a sign hanging above the building’s door, identifying the place as the Wizard’s Hat Inn. Amyalla paid the sign no notice, pushing the inn’s door open with the ease of someone who had visited the place many times before. Smiling, she gestured for Airk and Revafour to join her.
Despite the raucous activity going on outside, the Wizard’s Hat Inn was comparatively calm and peaceful, an island of tranquility in the chaos of Greyhawk. Airk and Revafour glanced around at the clientele, who chatted quietly to one another in low voices. None of them seemed to take much notice of the companions, as Amyalla led her friends up to the bar at the far end. A trim middle aged-woman was tending the bar, and her eyes lit up as she saw Amyalla coming towards her, Airk and Revafour close behind. Grinning, Amyalla leaped up onto one of the barrels lined in front of the bar to serve as stools. Reaching out, she hugged the bartender tightly, embracing her old friend
“Hello, Dwaven,” Amyalla greeted Dwaven May. “How long has it been?”
“Too long,” Dwaven smiled back, before turning her attention to Airk and Revafour. “Your companions, I take it?” she asked.
“Just so,” Amyalla nodded, as she hopped off the barrel and back to the floor.
“Welcome to Greyhawk,” Dwaven greeted them with a bow. “Is this your first time in the city?”
“Just so,” Airk nodded. “It’s certainly…vibrant,” he finished, searching for the right word.
“And noisy,” Revafour added with a half-smile. “Tell me,” he said, glancing up at the menu written out on stone slates set above the bar, “might we have something to eat? I don’t know about you, but I could use a good meal,” he sighed, somewhat weary after all the walking they’d done.
“You make it sound as if it would a chore,” Dwarven tittered. “Now then, what would it be?”
Before Airk or Revafour could answer, Amyalla reached into a pouch at her belt and tossed a pile of coins on the bar.
“We’ll be needing two rooms,” Amyalla said in a businesslike tone, “and whatever these fine gentlemen will want. This should cover whatever they’d like,” she continued.
Nodding, Dwaven gathered up the coins and placed them in an apron pocket, glancing expectantly at Airk and Revafour. Airk was about to order some stout, when he saw Amyalla turning to leave.
“Where are you going?” Airk asked in confusion.
“I’m going to visit some old friends,” Amyalla replied airily, as she headed for the door. “It’s been too long since I’ve been in Greyhawk, and I do so want to catch up with them!”
Revafour and Airk looked at one another, and then at Dwaven, who only laughed.
“She’s always been like that,” Dwaven informed them. “Come now, what would you like?”
“Some of that venison would be good to start,” Revafour nodded, looking up at the menu again, “and some of your potatoes. Is the venison wild, or farm-raised?”
“Wild, of course,” Dwaven nodded, pleased at the wide smile that crossed Revafour’s face.
“It does give the meat that distinct flavor, doesn’t it?” Revafour grinned.
“Why do you think I get it wild?” Dwaven pointed out to him.
Airk requested a similar meal, and it proved to be exactly what he and Revafour had needed after the long day of walking through the city. Airk washed it down with a tankard of fine stout, although Revafour, predictably, only requested water.
Amyalla knew that Airk and Revafour would be in good hands at the Wizard`s Hat Inn. Dwaven May was always a dear, although it had been a while before Amyalla had befriended her. Amyalla had come to Greyhawk after she’d fled the Duchy of Urnst, honing her skills among the lower-born rogues of the city. She so wanted to see her old friends again, and so she knew she would have to visit them in their element. Few of them would ever have come to the Wizard’s Hat Inn.
The Green Dragon Inn was where many of her old friends tended to congregate. While the Wizard’s Hat was one of the best-kept secrets in Greyhawk’s river quarter, the Green Dragon Inn was one of the river quarter’s most notorious hangouts. The Green Dragon Inn’s clientele was tough and crude, made up of thieves, mercenaries, dockworkers, common tradesmen, and other lower-born folk both honest and dishonest.
Even though it had been several years since Amyalla had last visited the Green Dragon Inn, everything seemed the same. The old rogue Ricard Damaris was tending the bar, and the air was filled with drunken songs, curses and threats. The inn was crowded, despite it being early in the evening. Glancing around, Amyalla didn’t see anyone she recognized, but she wasn’t particularly surprised. She had seen evenings when the Green Dragon Inn might have a hundred people or more customers, with people coming and going all night.
Walking up to the bar, Amyalla ordered some beer and roast fowl, before sitting down at a table near the door. Her meal was not fine cuisine, but it was serviceable, at least. Once she had finished, Amyalla, started back to the bar for another mug of beer. Before Amyalla could reach the bar, however, she was surprised to see a burly, huskily-built woman coming towards her.
Louella was perhaps the only female dockworker in all the city, having her husband Royo’s job to support her family after Royo had lost his arm in a work accident. Now, Royo took care of their children during the day while Louella earned the family a living. Louella regularly came into the Green Dragon Inn to relax after a hard day’s work, as she enjoyed the rough atmosphere she could share with her coworkers.
“Saint Cuthbert be praised, it really is you!” Louella said brightly as she recognized the halfling. Louella joined Amyalla in walking up to the bar, before they purchased some beer and sat down at Amyalla’s table.
“Where have you been?” Louella prompted after the two women had toasted and had their first sip.
“Out and about,” Amyalla replied with a smile. “I wanted to see what the rest of the world was like.”
“And what brought you back home?” Louella asked.
“I’ve been seeking some new challenges,” Amyalla replied, “and some new work. I’ve made a few friends who I think can help me with that.”
“The gods know I could use your help right now,” Louella said, an edge of sadness in her voice, “as could several other people.”
“Why is that?” Amyalla asked, now slightly alarmed.
“Sienna’s disappeared,” Louella explained, referring to one of her daughters. “She went to the market to buy some food and just…disappeared a few days ago. I don’t know what happened to her!”
“Have you told the city watch?” Amyalla asked.
“They couldn’t find anything,” Louella frowned. “And I’m not the only one who’s suffered this, either-a number of children have disappeared in the river quarter. We’re at our wit’s end as to what to do, Amyalla-what if…what if they…”
“If they’re still alive, I’ll find them,” Amyalla replied determinedly, her small hand clasping Louella’s larger one. “And my friends will help too,” she added.
Amyalla had no doubt that Airk and Revafour would agree to help her.
If they refused for whatever reason, however, she would have no compunctions about abandoning them then and there.
The next day, Amyalla met Airk and Revafour in one of the rooms they had rented at the Wizard’s Hat Inn, where she told them Louella’s story.
“Of course we’ll help,” Revafour answered as Airk nodded in agreement. “But how are we going to find whoever’s kidnapping these children?”
“Leave that to me,” Amyalla smiled as she adjusted the hat on her head. To Airk’s and Revafour’s amazement, Amyalla seemed to grow in size to just under five feet in height, as her red hair turned chestnut brown. Her traveling attire became something rather more immodest, tattered and revealing in all the right places. Gaudy but cheap jewellery hung from her necklace and ears, and her face was decorated with just the right amount of makeup.
Airk and Revafour just stared askance at Amyalla, who had somehow changed into a human prostitute of the kind so often seen on the streets of Greyhawk, particularly in the lower-class parts of the city. The prostitute simply winked and kissed at them, before adjusting her necklace. She immediately resumed her natural halfling form, laughing at the embarrassment of her male friends.
“It’s amazing what some men will tell the women they’re with, once they get enough liquor or drugs into them,” Amyalla explained. “And of course, my hat proves its value once again,” she finished with a smile, doffing the enchanted hat she was wearing and taking a mock bow.
“…So you have a magical hat,” Airk said suspiciously as Revafour only blinked. “What else don’t we know about you?”
“Never you mind,” Amyalla smiled, as she headed for the door.
Honor Among Thieves
The Hanged Man Inn was one of the lowest dives in Greyhawk. It was a gathering place for many of the city’s murderers, thieves and other criminal scum, many of whom came to conduct business as well as pleasure. The Hanged Man was also a regular stopping point for many of the city’s prostitutes, who visited the place in search of eager clients. The air in the inn’s common room was typically thick with pipe smoke and the smell of alcohol and vomit, the crudely repaired furniture was scavenged from a hundred different places, the carpets were threadbare and what passed for food and drink was decidedly unpleasant at best.
None of this mattered to Amyalla. In her human disguise, it did not take her long to get the attention of many of the male clientele, who were flush with cash from a hard day’s thieving and eager to share their treasure. Glancing over the men with a practiced eye, it did not take Amyalla long to find her mark. The mark was a suave thief whose demeanor was that of a gentleman vagabond, getting female attention as much for his rakish charm as for the length of his purse. The man insisted on buying her a drink, and she immediately complied, as they sat down at a table.
“Are you new in town?” the thief, who had introduced himself as Larroch, asked Amyalla as they sat down.
“New to the profession, but not the town,” Amyalla replied. “There have been…difficulties,” she explained.
“Many who’ve fallen land in these environs,” Larroch replied, sipping his drink. “They usually find their way before long, however.”
Amyalla made sure to flinch at that, temporarily dropping her defenses so that she appeared vulnerable. The wan, despairing look was only on her face for a moment, and when the strap of her gown briefly fell off one shoulder, she was quick to replace it, but those brief moments made all the difference.
“I’ve always gotten by on my own,” Amyalla replied, hesitantly sipping at her drink, “until now, I hope.”
“Of course,” Larroch assured her, taking care to look the gallant rescuer even though the look in his eyes betrayed his intentions. “I know these streets all too well, my dear-well enough to know the dangers they pose.”
“Dangers?” Amyalla asked in her best maiden-in-distress voice, although she made sure not to overdo it.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Larroch replied, “not with me by your side.”
Amyalla smiled at that, once again making herself seem vulnerable.
“Could you please buy me another drink?” Amyalla asked. “The nights are cold, and I could use the warmth.”
“Of course,” Larroch smiled. Amyalla had noted the smell of cheap wine on his breath when she’d approached him. Judging by the number of empty flagons in front of him, he’d already had a fair amount of drink to begin with.
Larroch was falling victim to his own charms now, convinced that he was winning Amyalla over. He didn’t notice how little Amyalla was drinking, paying attention only to how vulnerable and desperate she seemed. The conversation continued as Larroch had more to drink, as Amyalla drew him further and further in.
“I could use a room for the night,” Amyalla finally said. “Not alone, of course-I hate to ask you, but…”
“No sooner said than done, my lady,” he smiled. Leading her up to the bar, Larroch paid some coins for a room. They were soon headed upstairs, Larroch smiling widely at the thought of what was to come.
“I feel safer here, with you,” Amyalla said once she and Larroch were in the room. “I’ve heard stories about what happens out there at night. People…children disappearing…”
“Ah, yes,” Larroch said sadly. “Pieden’s the one behind that. He won’t go after you, though.”
“Pieden?” Amyalla asked in surprise.
“Pieden Ronard, the superior boss in this part of town,” Larroch explained, by now too drunk to fully realize what he was saying. “He’s ‘disappeared’ a number of children,” Larroch continued, “and gotten good coin for it. Part of the slaving business, or something like that. No one around here, though-only in the river quarter. He won’t hurt his own.”
“Indeed?” Amyalla asked in surprise. “And where might we find Pieden?” she wondered.
“No sooner easier said than done,” Larroch slurred, giving Amyalla the directions. “But why do you want to know?”
“I was just scared, and curious,” Amyalla replied, lying down on the bed next to Larroch. “But now, I feel safe. I know nothing will hurt me.”
“You’re always safe in my arms,” Larroch grinned, as he leaned forward to embrace Amyalla. His reflexes slowed by drink, he couldn’t react in time as Amyalla reached onto the table next to the bed and picked up the empty flagon there. Bringing it around, she smashed the flagon over Larroch’s head, knocking him senseless.
Opening the window, Amyalla looked at it and wondered whether she should climb out the window. No, that was probably a bad idea-the Hanged Man Inn was probably watched.
Instead, she took the contents of Larroch’s purse and added them to her own. Splashing some of his cheap wine on herself, Amyalla opened the door and peeked out into the corridor.
No one was there.
Amyalla immediately changed her magical disguise into that of a rough-looking street thug, just another one of the scores of lowlifes who passed through the Hanged Man Inn on a regular basis. She locked the door with Larroch inside, and placed the key in her pocket. Calmly walking down the stairs, she passed through the common room and left the Inn without a second glance. While the night was full, Amyalla knew that she likely wouldn’t be bothered. She looked disheveled and poor, and the wine she’d splashed herself with only heightened her disguise as an impoverished, drunken thug. Changing disguises, too, was a good way of keeping anyone from ever identifying her.
After she’d returned to the Wizard’s Hat Inn and had a proper bath, Amyalla was able to count the money in Larroch’s purse and realized he’d had a very good night indeed.
So much the better for her, Airk and Revafour, she thought with a smile.
The time’s growing shorter, Pieden realized grimly, reviewing his arrangements one more time. How many do those sons of whores want this time? Ten? Twelve?
His men were waiting in the outer room of the warehouse Pieden had rented, where they kept the youths they kidnapped until they could be taken to the meeting place in the Cairn Hills. From there it was often a simple matter to disguise their prisoners as foreign slaves, before taking them out of the city as part of what looked like a legitimate slave caravan. The thugs Pieden had recruited for the job were good, loyal Thieves’ Guild men. They would do what they were told without asking too many questions, and their consciences were untroubled by the abductions they carried out. The arrangements were set for tomorrow evening, and everything appeared ready.
There was silence as Pieden came into the outer room and his men snapped to attention. Pieden opened his mouth to say something, but then all of the sharp-eared kidnappers froze at the sound of the lock on the warehouse’s front door being picked. The person doing the picking was mumbling under her breath, trying to be silent, but the seasoned thieves easily picked it up nonetheless. Readying their clubs and daggers, Pieden’s thugs gathered near the warehouse door. The men looked at each other and grinned, eager to give their own special brand of welcome to whoever was stupid enough to try to rob a warehouse of the Greyhawk Guild of Thieves.
Pieden and his men were so preoccupied by the warehouse door being opened that they were caught completely off guard by the morning star that shattered the dirty window at the other end of the warehouse. Their surprise only increased at the sight of the heavily armored man and gnome that jumped in through broken window. They only managed to react when Airk and Revafour had already closed the distance between them.
Airk lashed out with his morning star, hitting one of the thugs hard in the knee and causing him to collapse, howling in pain. One of the other thugs struck at him with his club, but Airk easily deflected it with his shield. He then used his shield to strike back, hitting the thug in the face and knocking him senseless.
The two thugs advancing on Revafour were forced back by the vicious slash the armored man made with his sword. Before they could react, Revafour brought the blade back and struck one of the thugs in the head with the flat of it. The first thug collapsed on the ground, out cold. As the second thug ducked under Revafour’s next strike, Revafour lashed out with his foot, kicking the second thug viciously in the ribs. The second thug collapsed, the wind completely knocked out of him.
The last two of Pieden’s thugs had had the presence of mind to keep their attention focused on the door, pulling it open before whoever was outside could finish picking the lock. One of the thugs immediately stepped out, preparing to strike with his club, but all he got for his trouble was a vicious cut on his stomach from the dagger in Amyalla’s hand. The last thug lashed out with his own dagger, but Amyalla easily ducked the blow and struck back, slashing the man’s legs just below the knees. Howling in pain, he collapsed as Amyalla pushed her way into the warehouse, retrieving her lockpick from the door and shutting it behind her.
Pieden looked like a trapped rat, glancing from side to side as if searching for a way to escape, as Airk and Revafour gathered up his thugs and set about tying them up. Amyalla advanced on Pieden, her dagger still dripping blood, using to gesture first at Pieden and then at the office he kept in a back room. Swallowing hard, now sweating nervously, Pieden slowly advanced into the office, Amyalla following him in and shutting the door behind him.
“W-what do you want?” Pieden demanded. “Who sent you? Which faction are you from?” he babbled, unnerved by how easily the halfling and her friends had subdued his men.
“I know all about you, Pieden,” Amyalla accused him, her voice icily calm as Pieden cowered against the wall. “Kidnapping children to sell as slaves, lining your own pockets for their suffering. You’re so brave and strong, intimidating those who can’t fight back. How do you deal with someone who is capable of dealing with you on your own terms?” she demanded, her voice rising angrily as she brandished her dagger.
She expected Pieden to beg for mercy, or to angrily try and fight back. Instead, the man sank to a sitting position, tears forming in his eyes as he put his head in his hands.
“Norebo forgive me…” he began to weep. “What else can I do?”
“There are better ways of earning a living, I’d think,” Amyalla replied, her eyes narrowing.
“I’m not doing this for money!” Pieden shouted back angrily, his red-rimmed eyes flashing. “They have my son!”
“Your son?” Amyalla asked in surprise. “Who has your son?”
“The people who I’m doing these kidnappings for,” Pieden muttered. “They took my son, and they’ve shown me, with their magic, what they’ll do to him unless I do what they say.”
“And the way to do that is by depriving other parents of their children?” Amyalla asked, more calmly this time.
“If it’s the only way, then yes,” Pieden spat. “Yes, it is!”
“…And if we were to rescue your son?” Amyalla said after a moment’s thought. “Then you would have no other reason to commit these crimes, would you?”
“Certainly not,” Pieden replied, now calmer himself. “All I would want then would be vengeance on those who crossed my family!”
“I could kill you right now,” Amyalla warned him, “or turn you over to those whose children you have abducted. And yet…I have another idea as to what to do with you.”
Pieden only stared warily back at her, and his eyebrows rose as she explained her plan.
“…Very well,” he finally agreed. “But what am I to say when my men ask me about your attack on our warehouse?”
“Simply that we were enforcers sent by a noble who believed you had stolen something that belonged to him. When we realized that we were mistaken, we let you be. That explains why you’re still alive,” Amyalla said simply.
Pieden sighed and rubbed his face. He didn’t know what else he could do, and realized that this halfling held all the cards. If she betrayed him to the people whose children he’d abducted, his life would be forfeit, and most likely Elian’s as well. If he informed the people who’d abducted his son, they would of course kill Elian without a second thought.
“…Alright,” Pieden finally muttered. “But know this-if Elian dies, I will seek revenge on anyone and everyone who had anything to do with his passing, including you and your friends. I cannot stand against you here and now, but if you do not return with Elian, you will pay…with…blood…” he trailed off, anger smouldering in his eyes.
The next day, Airk and Revafour were at the Wizard’s Hat Inn, preparing for their part in Amyalla’s plan. She’d explained why Pieden was abducting the children, and what she intended to do about it. Airk and Revafour had spent much of the day gathering the supplies they’d need on the road, since Pieden apparently met the slavers in the Cairn Hills when it came time to deliver his “cargo”.
Airk seethed with disgust as he double-checked the supplies of food and water they’d bought.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” the gnome finally spoke up.
“What do you mean?” Revafour asked, looking up from the pile of rope he was coiling.
“The way this wretch betrayed his community,” Airk replied. “One would think he was a dwarf-the only thing missing is his beard!”
“And what’s wrong with dwarves?” Revafour blinked in surprise.
“You never fought alongside them in the Hateful Wars,” Airk explained, referring to the bloody conflict that had ravaged the Lortmil Mountains several decades ago. The humans, dwarves and gnomes of the Lortmils had united to wage war on the orcs, goblins and other humanoid races that infested the mountains like a plague. While the humans and their allies had largely been victorious, driving most of the humanoids out of the mountains, some of the victors had been just as apt to fight each other over the spoils of victory as they were to fight the humanoids.
“So what did the dwarves do in the Hateful Wars?” Revafour asked him.
“I was born in the Lortmil kingdom of Flinthold,” Airk told him, “and I enlisted in the king’s armies as soon as I matured. Many of my siblings joined the army as well, and we fought alongside each other. I saw two of my brothers perish, one to goblins and another to aurumvoraxes. I led patrols, I escorted Flinthold’s diplomats when they traveled to other realms, things like that.”
“And when the Hateful Wars began, you were called to serve, I take it,” Revafour pointed out.
“Just so,” Airk replied. “Flinthold joined with the other gnomish kingdoms and their dwarven and human allies in fighting the humanoids. We lost many of our own, but their sacrifices were not in vain, as we were ready to crush the humanoids once and for all. Many of the allies, including Flinthold, had gained valuable new territory and resources. Flinthold, in particular, had claimed an orc-hold with some of the most valuable silver deposits in all the Lortmils.”
“Of course, that was when the allies began to turn on one another,” Airk continued bitterly. “Many of our dwarven allies, the same ones who had pledged their oaths to gods like Moradin and Clanggedon Silverbeard, turned on their allies and began attacking them in hopes of claiming the riches they’d won. Dwarf turned against dwarf, against human, against gnome.”
“In Flinthold’s case, we fell into a heated dispute with the Steelheart dwarven clan, who also lay claim to our orc-hold and the silver riches it contained. We sent an expeditionary force to claim the hold for ourselves, but we were betrayed-betrayed by one of our own!-who told the Steelhearts what we were planning. That traitor was our lead scout, who led our expeditionary force into a Steelheart ambush. We were massacred by their clever traps-they didn’t want to face us in honest combat yet, you see-and then they attacked us when we were outnumbered.”
“I was one of only three survivors of that little massacre. The Steelhearts seized the orc-hold that we’d paid for with our lives, and prospered from the silver, while Flinthold had paid dearly in blood and treasure, with little to show for it in the end. Perhaps, after having faced death at the edge of a dwarven axe, you can see why I’m somewhat cynical about the bearded race?” Airk finished, an icy gleam in his eyes.
“Perhaps, but the gnome who betrayed your people did so out of greed, not necessity,” Revafour pointed out. “Indeed, Pieden reminds me of myself, in a certain way.”
“What?” Airk blinked, his anger dissipated into confusion by Revafour’s own admission. “How is that even possible?”
“You know how I came from the Duchy of Tenh, do you not?” Revafour explained. “Well,” he continued as Airk nodded, “when I came of age, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, Kathleena Nightoak by name. Unfortunately, I also had a rival for her hand, a warrior by the name of Tuomad Wolf-Slayer. He undermined my family by spreading rumors that we planned to betray our hometown of Atherstone to the Nyrondese, planting false evidence and using lies to enhance his own stature. Our families came to blows, and Tuomad and I were made to duel to settle the matter. Predictably, the coward drugged me, and I lost the duel. I was made to accept the responsibility of my family’s supposed crimes. I was banished from the Duchy, from my home, and I was captured by slavers not long after.”
Sickened by what he heard, Airk only stood in silence as Revafour continued his story.
“I was taken and sold in the Archbarony of Blackmoor. Fortunately, I was bought by Quendamak Running Griffin, a Flan elder who’d signed a treaty with Archbaron Bestmo to let his people live in Blackmoor. Quendamak gave me back my freedom, and Iived among his clan for some time. Life wasn’t easy in the fens of Blackmoor, but with Quendamak’s guidance, we made a new home for ourselves.”
“Of course, if you knew Archbaron Bestmo, you would know it did not take long for him to see us as a threat to his power. That arrogant wretch broke the treaty we had signed with him, and led his forces against us. We tried to resist as best we could, but it was hopeless. Quendamak was murdered, and most of us were massacred. I managed to lead a small group of survivors south to Highfolk, though it was a harrowing journey. We did things to survive that we would never have done were we not fighting for our lives,” Revafour concluded shamefully.
“…And so you see Pieden in the same situation as you once were,” Airk realized. “He does these things because the slavers have his son.”
Man and gnome fell into silence at that, each contemplating what the other had just told him.
Find The Path
Yondalla forgive me, Amyalla thought to herself, sickened by what she was participating in. Would that there was another way…
Using her magical hat to disguise herself as one of Pieden’s thugs, Amyalla was now riding on one of the slave-wagons Pieden and his men were using to transport their kidnap victims. The children in the wagons were carefully disguised with suitable wigs and overly large coats, to make them look older than they truly were. They were cowed into silence with threats of all kinds of dire punishments should they reveal themselves or plead for help. Of course, the children would have gained nothing from it anyway.
Slavery was perfectly legal and common in Greyhawk. The markets were far too lucrative for it to be otherwise.
As much as Amyalla was disgusted by Greyhawk’s slave trade, she had to admit that Greyhawkers were at least open about their lust for hard coin. Other people were more apt to hide their greed behind purer motives, such as her family. When Amyalla had married the decorated halfling noble and adventurer Kivern Goodleaf, the Reorsas had proudly announced Amyalla’s wedding to anyone and everyone who would listen. House Reorsa was quite pleased to support the marriage, as being associated with a name as prestigious as Kivern’s could only better House Reorsa’s commercial prospects.
Amyalla had indeed loved Kivern when she first met him, enchanted by his devils-may-care attitude and air of bravery. Unfortunately, she’d soon come to learn learned about his love of fine wine, and the all too common rages he would fly into when he was drunk.
It was bad enough when he would shout obscenities at her, calling her a no-good whore. It was all the worse when Kivern decided to force his hapless wife to “dance” for him by shooting his loaded crossbow or throwing his daggers at Amyalla, forcing her to dodge his attacks as he laughed like the drunken ass he was.
Even that was not as bad as all the times he cuckolded her with other halfling women. Whenever Amyalla had reproached him, or even just shown her dismay at Kivern’s philandering, he was quite happy to cut her with his sword, or give her a good beating with his mace.
Amyalla’s complaining to her family had done her no good. House Reorsa refused to do anything to help Amyalla, as they had no desire to see Kivern’s good name ruined. A scandal that tainted Kivern’s name would have hurt House Reorsa’s own mercantile profits.
So it was that House Reorsa’s daughter had had no compunctions about causing that hideous scandal herself. Using her wiles and wits, she had publicly exposed Kivern’s philandering. The uproar had ruined Kivern, and nearly taken House Reorsa with him. Amyalla had fled Leukish after that, taking Kivern’s cherished magical hat to help her disappear.
Now, the halfling hated herself for what she was doing, hated herself for willingly letting these children suffer at the hands of Pieden’s men and the slavers who would take them. Every time Amyalla cursed herself for what she was doing, she had to remind herself that it was only so she and her companions would be able to track the slavers down back to their lair. From there, they would be able rescue not only Louella’s and Pieden’s children, but also anyone and everyone else who’d suffered at these monsters’ hands.
Pieden’s caravan was well into the Cairn Hills by the time they met the slavers, and it was nearly dusk when the children were transferred into the new caravan. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much to distinguish the slavers from Pieden’s own men. The slavers were a collection of rough-looking thugs equipped with a large set of horse-drawn wagons. The slavers’ wagons were set with the same kinds of cages as Pieden’s own, and the children were loaded into the new wagons with a minimum of fuss.
The children cried and wailed, their sobs tearing at Amyalla’s soul, and she cursed herself once again, forcing an image of Louella’s pleading to the front of her mind.
Unfortunately, that image fought for space in her mind’s eye with memories of Kivern and all the things he’d done to her.
Once the exchange was done, Pieden’s caravan turned around to return to Greyhawk. After a mile, they stopped briefly to refill their waterskins from a nearby stream. Amyalla took the opportunity to speak up, giving the excuse that she needed to relieve herself in private. Disappearing into the woods near the road, Amyalla hid where she could view the caravan, knowing that the nervous thugs had no intention of looking for her.
So far, Amyalla’s plan was working well, and she only needed to wait for Airk and Revafour. Concentrating for a moment, she used her hat’s magic to shift back into her natural form, even as she watched Pieden rally his men and get the caravan going again. The nervous thugs had no desire to be out in the Cairn Hills at night, and would be returning to Greyhawk even if they had to travel until dawn.
Dozing in the hollow of a large duskwood tree, Amyalla awakened when she heard the sounds of Airk and Revafour approaching up the road a few hours later. Emerging from the hollow and making her way back to the road, Amyalla greeted her companions as Revafour tossed Amyalla her backpack. Airk and Revafour had hidden in the woods as Pieden’s caravan had returned to Greyhawk, letting it pass them by before they’d continued into the hills. Worn out by the long march from Greyhawk, Airk and Revafour were led by Amyalla back into the woods. Laying down, the adventurers ate a short meal and prepared to make camp.
The adventurers planned to set out at dawn, with Revafour tracking the slavers’ caravan further into the hills. From there, they would hopefully find the slavers themselves.
Then they would see how well the slavers, who were so brave against helpless little children, dealt with people who could actually fight them on even terms.
Weimar, Luna, Seline and Ma’non’go did not feel any less worried, even if they knew they were getting closer to their goal. If anything, it only increased their concern, hope they wouldn’t be too late in rescuing little Teddyrun. Luna’s divination spells had given the adventurers a general idea of which way to go, but none of them knew what Pelor’s omen had meant by the “giant’s cloven beard”. The companions had asked many of the farmers, merchants and other travelers they’d encountered, but no one had been able to help them. Now, a day and a half after the adventurers had left the Listells’ estate, they had reached the Cairn Hills.
They’d continued heading north by northeast, and Weimar had made sure they stayed on course, but so far they hadn’t come across any giants. Now, the companions weren’t entirely sure what to do.
“We could ask at some of the mining villages here,” Weimar suggested as the companions rode down a trail that cut through a copse of thick birch trees. “The dwarves and gnomes might know something most of the humans wouldn’t.”
And how much time can we afford to spend asking about, before Teddyrun perishes? Ma’non’go asked, as Seline translated for Weimar.
“Could you cast some more spells?” Weimar asked Luna, shaking his head in frustration.
“They take too long to cast,” Luna frowned. “It’s taken us a long time to get here already, and I don’t know how much more time we can spend-“
Luna’s horse, which was leading the group, suddenly neighed in surprise and recoiled onto its hind legs as an arrow shot out from the trees and thudded into the path in front of it. The adventurers looked around warily as a group of men and women seemed to appear around them as if by magic, emerging from the trees.
The people who had emerged from the trees were dressed in clothes of green and brown to help them blend in with their surroundings. Most of them wore light leather armor, and none of them wore anything heavier than brigandine. Their spears, maces and shields were similarly light, although made of well-crafted steel. They carried themselves with the practiced ease of people whose ancestors had spent countless centuries living in these hills, knowing them as intimately as any dwarf or gnome.
Most of the Flanaess was dominated by countries established by the Suel and Oeridian peoples who had come to these lands during the Great Migrations. In most cases, the Suel and Oeridians had driven away the indigenous Flan who gave the continent their name. Many Flan now lived among other humans as citizens of these new countries, but others continued to live in their own independent communities. Some of them were nomads, others were settled farmers, tradespeople or herders, but they all recognized no outside authority and belonged to no country other than their own. A group of these independent Flan now surrounded the adventurers, their weapons at the ready.
The situation remained tense for several seconds, before one Flan, clearly the leader from the way he conducted himself, spoke to the group.
“What brings you to these lands?” he asked in the common tongue. “Why have you come here?”
Much to Weimar’s surprise, Luna answered for them.
“We come to these lands in search of an innocent who needs our help,” Luna answered in the Flan language. “We mean you and yours no harm-this I swear as a daughter of Pelor,” she continued, displaying the golden sun icon she wore as a pendant around her neck.
The Flan leader rocked back on his heels slightly, surprised at Luna’s answering him in his own language. The other Flan warriors were just as surprised, mumbling to one another and lowering their weapons somewhat.
“All we would seek from you is guidance,” Seline added, also speaking in the Flan language. “We are searching for a child, a child abducted by some evil that could threaten all the communities around it. Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated.”
Once again, the Flan looked at the adventurers and then each other in surprise at the Aerdi women who spoke their language.
Weimar looked at Ma’non’go, who glanced back at him and nodded as if to assure him.
“You don’t hail from the City of Greyhawk, do you?” the Flan leader realized, speaking in the common tongue. “You, do you speak our language?” he asked, this time turning to Weimar and Ma’non’go and speaking in Flan.
Ma’non’go nodded, while Weimar just shrugged helplessly, not understanding anything the leader was saying in Flan.
“An Olman from the southern lands, two women from the east, and…a man from the west,” the Flan leader mused to himself. “Clearly you all have an interesting tale to tell, and very good reason to be in these hills. Perhaps we can help one another after all.”
“Help one another?” Weimar asked in surprise, as the group of Flan turned to walk down the trail, gesturing for the adventurers to follow them. “What do you mean?”
“Your friends have mentioned a great evil,” the Flan leader replied, as the adventurers kicked up their horses to follow. “If my suspicions are correct, we may need your help just as much as those whose child you seek to rescue.”
The Flan village was a collection of log cabins and wigwams, typical for this part of the world. The structure of the buildings was new to Luna, Seline and Ma’non’go, who were more familiar with the pueblos and hogans of the Flan people of the southeastern Flanaess. Weimar was more familiar with them, having seen the elves construct similar buildings in the communities he’d occasionally visited during his days in the armies of Keoland. It came as little surprise, particularly given the cultural exchanges the elves of the Flanaess had had with the Flan for countless centuries.
The village was thronged with laughing and playing children and adults tending to domestic duties, although Ma’non’go and the rest of the adventurers could detect the palpable sense of tension in the air. The village was fairly large and prosperous, but there didn’t seem to be as many people as the visitors would have expected.
Seline was surprised to see how relieved many of the people in the village seemed to be that the adventurers’ escorts had returned home safely. The villagers were more relieved than she would have expected people returning from a patrol to be. They spoke rapidly to one another, and soon there were so many conversations that she couldn’t make out what any of them were saying.
The leader of the Flan patrol, a man who’d called himself Dennine, broke off from the crowd of villagers, gesturing to the adventurers to follow him. They approached a larger longhouse in the centre of the village, and were surprised as the longhouse’s front doors opened and a group of dwarves carrying weapons and sacks emerged. Several of the villagers called out good-byes to the dwarves, who saluted back as they mounted the ponies tied up outside the longhouse and rode away, seemingly satisfied with themselves.
“Who were they?” Weimar asked Dennine curiously.
“Some of our regular traders, who hail from the dwarven kingdom of Greysmere,” Dennine explained as he brought the adventurers into the longhouse. “They were here to drop off some supplies we needed.”
“What do you mean?” Luna asked.
“Our chief can explain it to you,” Dennine asked, as he led them towards a large table at the back of the longhouse. The area was elaborately decorated with fine furniture, while the walls were festooned with hunting trophies, weapons and blankets and carvings depicting war victories. A large table took place of pride in the centre of the room, around which a group of older people were seated. At the head was a lean woman with dark bronze skin. Her long hair alternately gray and white, dressed in a beautiful doeskin gown and wearing a colorful sash that denoted her as the main leader of the community.
The adventurers stood before the table as Dennine explained briefly how he’d met them, before concluding by saying that they would be able to help the Flan with their own troubles.
“Indeed?” the older woman asked, looking intently at Dennine, and then back at her guests. “Very well, then-be seated and welcome at our table.”
“You are…” Luna trailed off, giving their host the opportunity to introduce herself.
“I am Melonanne,” the older woman replied, “current chief of the village of Oakdale. These others are the rest of our council,” she continued, gesturing to all the other Flan sitting around her at the table. “Now then, perhaps you can give us more of an explanation as to why you pass through our lands?”
“We didn’t know these lands were yours,” Seline immediately replied, bowing her head slightly in apology. “We were originally hired by a family from the land of Greyhawk whose son was recently abducted by an unknown evil. Our task is to find the family’s son and bring him home before he can be injured…or worse,” she continued. “The trail has led us here, into the Cairn Hills, and we only passed through your lands because we believe that this is where we need to go,” Seline spoke, deep concern in her voice as she recalled the plight of poor Teddyrun.
“…This is most disturbing,” Melonanne said after a moment, as the other council members murmured to one another. “It means that the evil is far more widespread than we realized.”
“What do you mean?” Seline asked curiously.
“Many of our own children have been abducted in recent weeks by parties unknown,” Melonanne said sadly. “We’ve been stretched to the breaking point trying to find them, as we’re also currently fighting a large pack of trolls that’s come into this territory. Our dwarven allies were just here to give us a fresh supply of oil, and we’re likely to need every drop of it. Because of the gods-damned trolls, we haven’t been able to spare the resources to search for our children, Pelor forgive us. It is all we can do to survive!”
“I know that Pelor would bear you no grievance for fighting for your survival,” Luna pointed out. “Indeed, perhaps our presence here is Pelor’s means of helping you. I suspect that the same beings that abducted Teddyrun, whoever they were, are the same ones who abducted your children as well. If we are to rescue Teddyrun, we can also rescue your loved ones as well.”
“You would do that for us?” Melonanne asked in surprise, a hopeful look on her face. Most of the other members of her council had similar expressions, although some of them did not share their chief’s optimism.
“Of course we would,” Seline assured her brightly, smiling warmly with assurance. “We need your help, however.”
“With what?” Melonanne asked curiously.
“We were led here by a divination I cast to try and find Teddyrun,” Luna replied. “The message from Pelor was that Teddyrun could be found at the ‘giant’s cloven beard’, but I don’t know what that meant. We asked as many people as we could think of on our way here, but none of them could help us.”
“The giant’s cloven beard…” Melonanne murmured, trying to remember where she’d heard that before. “I could swear that…”
“I know what they’re speaking of,” another one of the council members spoke up. “It’s clearly the Bearded Lord’s Hollow.”
“The…what?” Seline asked curiously.
“The Bearded Lord’s Hollow gets its name because it’s at the base of a large hill that vaguely resembles a giant’s head,” the council member explained. “The forest at the hill’s base resembles the giant’s beard, although it’s sharply divided by a hollow. The last we heard, it was previously an orc lair, but the orcs were driven out several years ago. No one lives there now,” the council member finished.
“Until now,” Seline realized.
Back And Forth
Luna and her companions were treated to a delicious meal by their hosts. Most of the companions had gone out to meet with the villagers of, but Luna had remained at the longhouse at Meloanne’s request. Now, sitting with Meloanne in a quiet corner, sharing a flagon of the delicious cider the Flan had served their guests, Luna could only wonder what Meloanne wanted to ask her.
“Tell me, young lady,” Melonanne said to Luna, “how did you and your sister learn our language?”
“We used to live further east,” Luna explained, “and I often worked as an ambassador from the settled church of Pelor to the independent Flan of those lands. Many of them tended to live in pueblos and hogans, instead of the longhouses and wigwams your community uses. How long have your people lived here?” she asked, before taking another sip of the delicious cider the Flan had served their guests.
“We’ve been here some two centuries,” Melonanne replied. “We had to leave our previous home after some…difficulties we experienced with other peoples,” she said, her eyes flashing.
Luna could imagine what Meloanne was referring to. She was quite familiar with the abuses and betrayals many Flan had suffered at the hands of the Oeridians and Sueloise who had settled into the Flanaess. Such betrayals and abuses were all too common even today, as Luna had seen.
“Fortunately, we’ve enjoyed relative peace since we came to these lands. The dwarves have respected the treaties we’ve signed with them, and we’ve dealt well enough with those merchants from Greyhawk who have earned our trust,” Meloanne finished, calming somewhat.
“Many of the Flan in the east tend to live further away from other humans,” Luna noted. “That’s likely because of the greater disruptions the Aerdi caused to the Flan when they founded the Great Kingdom. Things were never the same for the Flan in that part of the world after their country of Ahlissa was destroyed by the Aerdi.”
“A pity, to be sure,” Melonanne sighed. “And yet, how did you come to know of such things? Very few would take an interest in these matters.”
“I’ve long believed that, in order to understand the present, we must also understand the past,” Luna explained. “How past events and decisions lead to the circumstances we see today, and what we may learn from it. Pelor’s light has shone on it all, and that’s one reason I joined his clergy. What other mysteries are out there? What other light can I bring to the world?”
“Suffice to say that’s not the typical answer I would have received from most adventurers,” Melonanne smiled thinly.
“They say you’re an Olman,” Dennine said to Ma’non’go and Seline as they sat conversing with several curious villagers in the village’s main commons.
“Why are you here, so far from home? Are you a slave?” one of the other Flan asked.
“Why don’t you talk?” a third Flan asked. “You’re not allowed to?”
Seline nearly choked on her cider at that, but Ma’non’go’s reaction was all the more striking. He stood up in a fury, casting an enraged glare at the man who’d asked that question, clenching his fists in anger. The Flan villagers started in surprise, as Seline place a hand on his arm in an attempt to calm him down. Ma’non’go signed something to Seline in his hand cant, before he sat down and opened up his backpack. Pulling out a lump of charcoal and a piece of parchment, he wrote something down on it before displaying it for their Flan hosts to see.
You insult my honor with such a question, Ma’non’go’s message read. I am a slave to no man-I protect Luna and Seline because I owe their father a debt for saving my life. And as for why I do not speak with my voice, the reasons are my own and I will not speak of them.
The Flan villagers all looked at one another, somewhat shaken and not quite knowing what to make of Ma’non’go’s angry reaction. Ma’non’go took a deep breath and sat down, taking a drink of cider to calm himself, although everyone around him could feel his anger.
“So where are you from, then?” Dennine asked. “Are you Greyhawkers?”
“No, we’re not,” Seline answered after a moment. “We’re adventurers who’d come to Greyhawk.”
“Yes, but where before that?” Dennine asked again. “Are you from Nyrond? Sunndi? Somewhere else?”
Instead of answering the question, Seline began humming a tune, seeming as if she was thinking about how to reply. Several of the other Flan smiled at Seline’s singing, which was decidedly pleasant. Everyone felt the tension in the air relax, as a smile crossed Ma’non’go’s three sons.
“That’s a pretty song,” a younger Flan boy replied. “Where did you learn it?”
“An elder from another Flan nation taught it to me,” Seline explained, before she began singing the lyrics. Her audience was more than a little surprised at the fact that the song was in the Flan language, although they had never heard it before.
“An elder taught you that? From what nation?” Dennine asked curiously.
“The Rebballah people of the Menowood,” Seline grinned. “They were all really friendly, and I learned a lot of interesting stories from them, too!” she finished brightly.
“Oh, really?” the younger Flan boy who’d asked her where she’d learned the song spoke up. “Like what? Can you tell us one?”
“Sure,” Seline grinned, reverting to the Flan language as she told them the story of the grand chief’s three sons and their quest for the eagle’s blessing. The younger children in the group gathered around, eager to listen to her tale, and it didn’t take long for the adults to join in as well.
It had been a long, punishing day for Revafour and his friends, following the trail of the caravan that had kidnapped the children. The sun beat down on them, causing Airk and Revafour no small amount of discomfort in their heavy armor. The companions could feel a sense of foreboding all around them, of hopelessness and worry that they might not make it in time. All they could do was press on, hoping that they would not be too late. Eventually, however, as the sun grew low in the west they were forced to stop for the night.
“There’s a dwarven village we might be able to find rest at,” Amyalla noted, pointing it out on the map of the Cairn Hills she had purchased from the Greyhawk Cartographers’ Guild before they’d left the city. “Maybe we could-“
“No!” Airk insisted coldly, his eyes flashing. “We’re not staying there!”
“It’s not that far,” Amyalla protested.
“No,” Airk repeated, in a voice that brooked no argument. “We camp, or we press on. What’s it going to be?”
It didn’t take long for the veteran adventurers to find a suitable place to set up camp, or to get a fire going. In the shelter of a small wooded clearing, Airk and Amyalla sat next to one another at the fire, preparing a meal while Revafour went to stare out at the sunset, sitting on a large, flat rock that made a natural chair.
“You really had that many problems with the dwarves?” Amyalla asked her gnome friend softly, her words lacking their usual wry tone. “Was it really that bad?”
“I lost a lot of loved ones in the Hateful Wars,” Airk replied coldly, staring intensely into the flames. “Flinthold shed so much of its blood, and lost so many of its youth, that it’s never truly recovered. It’d have been one thing if our losses came just from the orcs and goblins, but to be betrayed by our supposed allies was another thing altogether. I imagine Revafour’s known some of the same problems, considering what the Flan have endured since the Oeridians and the Suel came to these lands,” he muttered.
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Amyalla sighed, before she noticed that the stew they had been preparing was ready. Spooning it into three bowls, she handed one bowl to Airk before they walked over to Revafour. To their surprise, they saw that the larger man was painting on a piece of parchment. The image he was drawing reflected the sunset they saw before them, which shone beautifully over the Cairn Hills and brightened the mood they felt. Revafour looked up at his smaller companions as they approached, gratefully accepting the bowl of stew Amyalla offered him. The three companions ate in silence for several minutes, before Amyalla picked up the painted picture Revafour was working on.
“This is beautiful,” the halfling breathed, surprised at the skill Revafour had put into the drawing. “How long have you done this?”
“Long enough,” Revafour half-smiled his appreciation. “My father taught me how to do it. He insisted that it was important to learn to respect and appreciate the Oerth, and he said that art was one of the best ways to do it. I also learned how to do scrimshaw and wood sculpture from Quendamak-it was really popular with the southern traders who would sometimes come to Blackmoor.”
“You capture the sunlight well,” Airk remarked. “It’s…yes…” the gnome sighed, seeming to forget his anger as he basked in the setting sun.
“Are you alright?” Revafour asked in surprise.
“Certainly,” Airk replied with a smile. “The sunset just gives me memories of home. I spent a lot of evenings aboveground in my youth, enjoying scenes like these. My brothers would always mock me for being too elven for my own good.”
“And why would that be a bad thing?” Revafour asked with a thin smile.
“It wouldn’t,” Airk replied with a smirk. “Besides, we never got to enjoy the breezes underground.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, before Airk spoke again.
“I have to admit that there’s another reason I wanted us to camp out,” the gnome admitted. “If we were staying at the dwarven village, we’d have never been able to enjoy this sunset, or the stars of the night.”
“Always a beautiful sight,” Revafour agreed.
“To be sure, although there is one greater pleasure,” Amyalla replied.
“And what’s that?” Airk asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Being able to share the sight with two handsome men,” the halfling tittered.
Airk and Revafour only smiled at that.
Two Paths Become One
Airk, Revafour and Amyalla knew they were approaching their goal, and could only hope they would arrive in time.
Weimar, Luna, Seline and Ma’non’go knew there would be a reckoning when they found the evil they sought.
Airk, Revafour and Amyalla were surprised when they saw the four humans approaching on the trail, not knowing what to make of them.
Weimar, Luna, Seline and Ma’non’go were just as surprised to see the large Flan man accompanied by the gnome and halfling approaching the trail they were following.
The seven individuals stood facing each other for several long moments. They all had their hands on their weapons, knowing the dangers lurking in the Cairn Hills. Still, the two groups saw caution, rather than hostility, on each other’s faces.
Finally, Seline broke the silence.
“You’re fellow travelers, I take it?” Seline ventured, briefly bowing in respect. “Be assured we mean you no harm, and seek only our own path.”
Behind her, Luna, Ma’non’go and Weimar looked at one another and back at Airk, Revafour and Amyalla, who returned the gesture.
“We seek many of the same things you do,” Amyalla replied, “and you may be assured that we mean you no harm, either. In what direction are you traveling?”
“North by northeast,” Seline replied, always keeping her tone even and cautious. “And you?”
“The same,” Airk said, adjusting his dragon-headed helmet.
The adventurers glanced at each other, first at the ones they knew, and then again at the ones they did not. Suspicion played on some of their faces-did their enemies know that they were on their trail? Revafour, Airk and Ma’non’go, especially, all showed their wariness.
“I wonder,” Luna ventured, a contemplative gesture on her face.
“Wonder what?” Amyalla asked, raising an eyebrow.
“We’re traveling in the same direction, so perhaps we also seek the same goals?” Luna wondered.
“We seek the return of children taken from their homes, who want nothing more than to be reunited with their loved ones,” Amyalla replied. “What do you seek?”
“Much the same thing,” Seline nodded. “We’ve been tasked with finding several children who was abducted from his home. Their parents are worried sick about them, and want nothing more than to have them brought home.”
The seven adventurers stood in silence for another moment, before Weimar spoke.
“We clearly seek the same goal,” Weimar noted, “Perhaps we might be able to help each other?”
Airk stroked his moustache, before he spoke up.
“You’re clearly magic, considering your clothes,” Airk nodded at Seline, glancing up and down at her robes. “
“And you, that pendant around your neck…you’re of Pelor, aren’t you?” Airk continued, turning to Seline.
“Quite so,” Luna nodded.
“Your timing is rather good, isn’t it?” Revafour asked slowly, a suspicious look in his eyes. “Is it simply a coincidence that we meet one another at such an opportune moment, when we don’t know what we might have to fight?”
“We might ask the same thing of you,” Weimar replied with a disarming half-smile. “Surely there are safety in numbers, my dear fellow? After all, we don’t know what we’re to face. Besides, if both our parties are following these kidnappers for the same reasons, they can clearly strike in one place. Surely that’s not too much to suggest?”
Weimar spoke in his most calm and collected tone, seeming perfectly at ease despite the tension in the air. Luna and Seline smiled at that, although Ma’non’go still had a cold, suspicious glare on his face. Revafour didn’t seem convinced by Weimar’s words, and Airk was hesitant and uncertain.
Shaking her head at Airk and Revafour, Amyalla decided to take things in hand. Striding forward, she smiled widely and bowed to Weimar.
“Surely we could use some assistance, particularly with magic,” Amyalla grinned. “And I suspect that your efforts would also benefit with the addition of some new blades,” she noted. “What say you?” she asked her companions.
Revafour remained silent and still, standing with a look of mistrust on his face.
Airk was still undecided, but he glanced at Revafour. His expression shifted, as if he was about to refuse, but then he turned to Amyalla. His expression shifted again, and he finally nodded his agreement, and Revafour did the same.
Weimar looked hopefully back at his own companions.
Luna was reserved, and it seemed to Weimar that she was still unsure about his proposal.
Ma’non’go’s expression was as suspicious as before.
Seline smiled brightly as she nodded her agreement with Weimar’s proposal.
Ma’non’go turned to look at Seline, and she nodded encouragingly. Finally, the large Olman sighed, and nodded his assent.
The seven adventurers set off, now sharing a common goal, and wondering what horrors they would have to face at the Bearded Lord’s Hollow.
The weird sisters particularly enjoyed practicing their rituals at twilight. While the time of day did not particularly affect the weird sisters’ magic, they’d noted how many humans and their related races found the evening skies and sunset to be particularly beautiful. The weird sisters took particular pleasure in conducting their obscene rites at a time of day the humans would consider most pleasant.
Dorbella began the rite by setting the rhythm of the chant with her harsh, guttural croak. After that, Ublodine chimed in with her high-pitched shrieks. N’arghenn then began to actually chant the spell itself. N’arghenn’s chants blended with the screams and songs of her sisters, melding into a disgusting, bloodcurdling cacophony that sounded as if it came from the bowels of the Nine Hells themselves. The weird sisters felt their visions fade in and out of focus, as a thick white mist obscured everything around them. The weird sisters closed their eyes briefly, and when they opened they all saw the same thing through their six eyes.
The weird sisters saw the seven heroes approaching and learned their motivations, as their foul master granted them a vision. The weird sisters saw the hideous, horned face and large bat-like wings of their master looming at the edge of their minds as the vision faded. The white mist rose before the sisters’ eyes again, and finally their individual vision returned.
Their first ritual completed, the weird sisters fell silent as Dorbella gestured to Bruddelmort, who stood nearby with the rest of his kin. Bruddelmort stepped forward as the weird sisters began another ritual, this time with a different spell in mind. The second ritual was directed at Bruddelmort, preparing him for the next phase of the weird sisters’ plan. That ritual was soon completed, and Dorbella began one final chant of her own, preparing herself for her own role in the coming storm.
“You seem quite the collection of travelers,” Seline said to Amyalla as the seven adventurers continued walking down the trail. “Where are you from?”
“The Duchy of Urnst,” Amyalla replied, “and well glad to be rid of it. Now I go wherever my feet will take me.”
“And you both?” Seline extended her smile towards Airk and Revafour.
“Flinthold, in the Lortmil Mountains,” Airk replied calmly. “And you?”
Seline fell silent, looking back at Luna.
“We’re from further east,” Luna replied, “beyond Nyrond.”
“So, you’re Aerdi, then?” Revafour spoke up, an edge in his voice.
“Where are you from?” Seline asked him in response.
“The Duchy of Tenh, as you may have noticed,” Revafour said, indicating the beadwork on his cloak and the moccasins on his feet. “And I noticed that you did not answer my question. Am I to conclude that you’re Aerdi?”
Seline fell silent, looking to Luna.
“It’s not something we’re proud of,” Luna said quietly, twisting her fingers around the holy symbol of Pelor that hung from her neck.
“I should think not,” Revafour said coldly as he raised an eyebrow. Revafour’s glance met Ma’non’go’s at that moment, and no one missed the disapproving gaze that flickered across Revafour’s face as he considered the other large man.
Ma’non’go only glared angrily back at Revafour, breathing more heavily, as Weimar frowned reproachfully at Revafour.
“What was that about?” Weimar asked, as the adventurers stopped their march.
“I don’t see how it’s your concern,” Revafour replied bluntly, crossing his arms.
“Well, I want to make it my business,” Weimar shot back. “And by the looks of it, so does my large friend,” he noted. Weimar gestured with his head towards Ma’non’go’s face, which was now suffused with an enraged look.
“Very well then,” Revafour replied, his own eyes flashing. “I should like to know why you can call yourself a priestess of Pelor and yet have a slave following you around. A mute one, no less.”
“I somehow doubt that he’s a slave,” Amyalla tried to intervene, as she saw the tension rapidly growing between the two large men. “Surely not?”
Ma’non’go shook his head vigorously, pointing at Revafour and then back at himself, before gesturing that they should step away from the rest of the group. He signed something to Luna and Seline, who nodded.
“You’re sure?” Seline asked, and Ma’non’go nodded. The large Olman then looked at Revafour expectantly.
Revafour glanced back at Amyalla and Airk. He saw that the halfling and the gnome both seemed very uncomfortable with the way things were going. Frowning, he began to follow Ma’non’go. The two men went some distance away, leaving their weapons with the rest of the group, before they finally sat down together on a large fallen tree.
To Revafour’s surprise, Ma’non’go took a pot of ink, a quill and a roll of parchment from his backpack. Ma’non’go set the parchment on his lap, before he dipped the quill into the inkpot and began to write. Revafour sat in silence for several moments as Ma’non’go wrote out on the parchment. Finally, Ma’non’go completed his writing on the parchment, before holding it up for Revafour to read.
Why do you ask such questions? Revafour read on the parchment.
“I should think it obvious,” Revafour replied suspiciously. “You are their slave, are you not?”
No, I am not, Ma’non’go wrote in reply. I protect Luna and Seline because I owe their father my life, and I have pledged my word to guard his children so long as I am able. They fled their homes and lost everything they had, and so they have needed my protection. Why do you jump to such immediate and wrong conclusions about my relationship with them? I can see your hostility-we all can. From what does it stem?
“Surely you know of the betrayals, the mistreatment and the broken promises our people have suffered,” Revafour replied, somewhat incredulous that Ma’non’go would not be aware of them. “Even now, in far too many cases, we suffer the same oppression and abuse.”
In response, Ma’non’go began writing on his parchment once again, before handing it back to Revafour.
I am not of the Flan, Revafour read on the parchment, although I know all about the suffering of your people. I come from the south, beyond the Flanaess, born in the city of X’tandelexamenka in the land the peoples of your continent call Hepmonaland.
“So you’re an Olman,” Revafour realized, handing the parchment back to Ma’non’go.
I am also all too acquainted with betrayal-betrayal by those I thought were my friends and allies, who dishonored me, took my entire life away from me, and left me for dead in the merciless jungles. It was Luna and Seline’s father who found me and nursed me back to health. None of the local people in the part of the jungle where I was abandoned would have me, so I had little recourse but to return to Aerdy with Lord Roas. He gave me a home, and now I repay his hospitality, as is my duty of honor as an X’tandelexamenkan, Ma’non’go wrote on the parchment, before returning it to Revafour.
“And you’ve never returned home?” Revafour asked in surprise. “You don’t seek vengeance?”
There is nothing there for me anymore, Ma’non’go wrote, the bitterness clearly spelled out on his face. I could do nothing against them even if I wanted to.
“Why do you not speak?” Revafour asked, his demeanor softening. “Is it because of…”
It is because of the trauma and betrayal I have endured, Ma’non’go wrote, as a look of sadness crossed his face. Would that I could talk again, but until I can I must communicate by quill and parchment, or by the hand signs that Lord Roas taught me. I have nothing and no one else but those two children I am pledged to guard.
“…How unfortunate,” Revafour finally said. “I should apologize for misjudging you.”
It was not through malice that you do so, Ma’non’go wrote in assurance.
A contemplative look crossed Ma’non’go’s face, as he began to write again.
I should ask, though-why are you so concerned about such matters when you yourself wield a broadsword and plate armor that are so clearly of Oeridian make? If you so abhor what the newer arrivals to the Flanaess have done, why do you continue to use their tools? Ma’non’go wrote curiously.
“I don’t see myself as having much choice in the matter,” Revafour said, shifting uncomfortably. “And I would be a fool to fault everything the Oerids and the Suel have done, particularly when I see the beauty and elegance of their own art and their stories.”
You enjoy such things as well? Ma’non’go wrote with a smile. Then you will surely enjoy the company of Luna and Seline.
“And what of the blonde man, Weimar?” Revafour asked, his brief smile vanishing.
He has proven his courage and his loyalty, Ma’non’go nodded, a businesslike expression on his face. I have seen no reason to doubt him.
Revafour nodded in reply as he and Ma’non’go stood up.
Soon, Ma’non’go had packed up his writing supplies and begun walking back with Refavour towards the rest of the group.
Glancing at Revafour’s face, Ma’non’go was gratified by the expression he saw, which was much more serene and contemplative than before.
“Is he always like that?” Weimar asked Airk and Amyalla as the rest of the group waited for Revafour and Ma’non’go to return.
“Not always, but I can sympathize,” Airk replied before Amyalla could speak up. “I noticed it struck a sore point with you, too.”
“That’s because Revafour was being unfair,” Weimar replied, trying to stay calm as he glanced away from Airk.
“Are you sure that was all it was?” Airk asked sharply, noticing Weimar’s discomfort.
“Please, do we need to be arguing like this?” Seline protested, as Amyalla glared reproachfully at Airk and Weimar. “We have more important problems to deal with, and we need each other’s help!”
Airk and Weimar looked at one another again, before they nodded.
“I mean no insult,” Airk said, more calmly this time. “Rather, I ask more out of curiosity. You seem rather more interested in the matter than I would have thought.”
“Too many people have insulted my Keoish heritage in the past,” Weimar muttered. “It’s not something I appreciate.”
“Few people would,” Airk nodded. “I’ve had enough dwarves looking down their beards at me to know what it’s like.”
“You’ve had dwarves looking down on you?” Luna asked curiously.
“Aye, all too often,” Airk frowned. “I take it you humans have heard of the Hateful Wars?”
They nodded in response.
“Few humans know anything about those wars but what the dwarves have said about it,” Airk explained. “Suffice to say that the dwarves were not always the most faithful of allies. Nor were our fellow gnomes, for that matter.”
“Your fellow gnomes?” Seline’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh yes,” Airk replied, a look of disgust crossing his face. “I know all too well what it’s like to be betrayed by one of your own.”
“So do I,” Amyalla spoke up, as she’d listened to the conversation with interest. “It’s why I would prefer to avoid ever returning to Urnst, if at all possible.”
Luna and Seline looked at one another at that, pained expressions crossing their faces.
“What’s wrong?” Amyalla asked curiously.
Seline looked as though she didn’t want to say anything, and Luna spoke up for her.
“Being Aerdi isn’t exactly something we’re proud of, particularly when our noble house got into a conflict with a rival and our father was murdered. The other noble house tried to claim us as ‘compensation’ for the wrongs they said our family did, and so we had to flee for our lives with Ma’non’go,” she explained, pain in her eyes as she recounted the unpleasant memories.
“And yet, how young are you? No child should ever have to go through that,” Airk shook his head sadly.
Seline only smiled sadly back at the gnome, mouthing her thanks as Revafour and Ma’non’go came up to rejoin them.
“Well?” Amyalla asked promptly.
“I should apologize for my forwardness,” Revafour finally said. “Suffice to say I’ve had some bad experiences.”
“You’re far from the only one,” Amyalla smirked.
“It’s quite alright,” Seline assured him in Flan. Revafour’s mouth fell open in surprise, not having expected Seline to reply to him in Flan.
“Shall we continue?” she asked, this time in the common tongue.
The band resumed their march, each of them thinking over what they had just heard from their new companions.
Dusk was approaching on the horizon, so the adventurers decided to make camp for the night. It did not take long before they had a fire going, and began to prepare a meal.
“Anyone else for a bit of Big Cedar Log?” Weimar asked, as he pulled the bottle of ale out of his backpack. “The dwarves of Gryrax swear by it, or so they say.”
Revafour only raised an eyebrow as he took a drink from his waterskin.
“You only drink water, eh?” Weimar sighed. “You don’t know what you’re missing, my friend.”
“Perhaps you’d prefer some tea?” Luna offered Revafour instead. “It’s a new blend-I mixed in some good Celenese herbs.”
“Also bought in Gryrax?” Revafour raised an eyebrow as he accepted the cup Luna gave him and took a sip of it. “The dwarves are willing to sell something produced by an elven realm like Celene?”
“What can I say?” Luna shrugged, a smile playing around her lips. “There’s quite a lot of demand for it. Is it any wonder the dwarves are always willing to sell it?”
Revafour only smiled as he sipped Luna’s tea.
“What do you think?” Luna asked.
“Good, very good,” Revafour nodded approvingly, licking his lips briefly. “It goes well with supper,” he indicated, pointing at the wild boar steaks that were now roasting over the fire.
“Don’t you think you put too much spice on them, though?” Seline pointed out. “I mean, it seems like rather a lot.”
“You just always say that,” Luna shot back teasingly. “I take it you’re having your tenderloin strips and apples again?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Seline shot back. “You always make dinner so spicy. It’s almost as bad as half the tea recipes you come up with!”
“Are you sure you should be an adventurer?” Amyalla spoke up, raising an eyebrow. “You have the palate of a princess who’s never been out of her castle in her life!”
“Is it too much to ask that at least some of the food we eat doesn’t burn our tongues off?” Seline shot back.
“Yes, yes it is,” Weimar pronounced authoritatively.
Airk merely rolled his eyes at the bantering humans and halfling, smiling slightly as he sat some distance away on a rock, looking out at the sunset as he sipped at the tankard of mead Weimar had been gracious enough to pour him.
Airk was startled out of his reverie when he heard the footsteps approaching from behind him. Looking up, he saw Ma’non’go’s towering form coming to join him. The tall Olman pointed at himself, and then at the rock, as Airk nodded at him. Ma’non’go sat down to join the gnome, before pulling out his familiar quill, ink and parchment.
You do not desire the company of the others? Ma’non’go wrote.
“Of course I do,” Airk nodded. “There’s something to be said for just enjoying the sunset, though. It’s a beautiful evening, especially with the breeze.”
I could do without it, Ma’non’go wrote in reply. I’m not all that fond of the cold, as you can probably imagine.
“No doubt,” Airk nodded. “On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t do as well in your homeland, either. Far too hot and rainy, I presume?”
“You don’t like the rain?” Luna asked as she came over to join them, giving Airk and Ma’non’go each a share of the boar steaks.
“Not in the least,” Airk shuddered. “More particularly, I abhor getting wet.”
“You’re hardly the only one,” Luna assured him. “Seline always used to mock me for hating stormy weather.”
I should say that neither of you realizes what you’re missing, Ma’non’go pointed out, writing once again on his parchment. One of the things I always used to enjoy was the pleasures of swimming.
Airk and Luna only looked at Ma’non’go, then at each other, frowning all the while.
As I said, neither one of you realizes what you’re missing, Ma’non’go finished writing, a smile playing around his lips, before he put down his writing materials and picked up his food.
“You’re sure you won’t take even just one tankard?” Weimar asked Revafour later, once the adventurers have finished their meal.
“I don’t drink,” Revafour shook his head.
“Not at all?” Weimar asked curiously.
“No,” Revafour shook his head again.
“Why?” Weimar asked. “Is it because of…” he trailed off.
“Because of what?” Revafour asked, a chill tone coming into his voice. “Because of the stereotype of Flan as lazy drunkards? I suppose that’s what you were expecting, wasn’t it?” he continued with an angry glower.
“No, it wasn’t,” Weimar replied, his own eyes narrowing. “What made you think that?”
“The voice of experience,” Revafour replied, crossing his arms suspiciously.
“And I suppose that it’s expected of me, given my background?” Weimar asked defensively.
“What is your background, then?” Revafour asked, raising an eyebrow. “Most of the rest of us have told something about ourselves, but you’ve been rather reticent.”
“There’s not much to tell,” Weimar replied. “I’d certainly never disparage any Flan who drink, certainly not when I’m far guiltier of it than any of them could be,” he continued with a smirk. “Like father, like son, though-old Clausen got himself thrown out of the Keoish army for his boozing. I wasn’t much better, mind you-with all the tavern brawls I got into, I got to know just about everyone in Niole Dra’s city watch,” he grinned.
Revafour only blinked in surprise at Weimar’s admission.
“I grew tired of nights in the city dungeons, so I found the Royal Keoish Army might be a better outlet for my energy,” Weimar continued. “Quite the experience, I’ll tell you-learning all about the ways of the weather and the woods…to say nothing of the ways of the elven maidens!” Weimar said with a lewd wink.
Revafour’s jaw fell open in shock, glad that the rest of the adventurers weren’t listening.
“So no, I’m not fool enough to believe the stupid things too many people say about the Flan,” Weimar assured him. “Not when I’m far guiltier than they ever could be of that,” Weimar continued, more seriously this time.
Revafour blinked at that.
“What of yourself?” Weimar asked. “You’ve told us little of your own story so far. And aren’t stories important to the Flan?”
“Fair point,” Revafour said with a slight half-smile, before he related his bitter experiences with Tuomad Wolf-Slayer, his time in Blackmoor and Archbaron Bestmo’s betrayal.
“So you’ve been wandering since then,” Weimar reflected. “Searching for something?”
Revafour frowned at that.
“You’re not alone in that,” Weimar said, “not at all. I’ve often wondered about that myself, and if I’ll ever find it…”
Revafour’s frown disappeared, replaced with a contemplative look.
Dogs Of War
Night came and the adventurers fell to sleep, leaving two of their number on watch. They were camped on a hill so they could get a better view of any potential attackers, but the creatures approaching the camp were skilled at stealth, their black hides giving them all the cover they needed in the dark.
The adventurers were suddenly awakened by a nightmarish howling that cut through the night like a razor. Taking up their weapons, the adventurers saw nearly sixty pairs of eyes glinting in the firelight. The eyes’ owners charged up the hill, and the adventurers quickly recognized them as death dogs.
The death dogs more than lived up to their name. Over four feet high at the shoulder, with hides coal-black in color, the death dogs each bore two huge heads bristling with sharp-edged fangs. There were almost thirty of the foul things, howling balefully as they charged their prey, and they had the adventurers completely surrounded.
Revafour might have been suddenly awakened, but he felt no exhaustion as the battle lust surged through him. Eagerly, he swung his sword at the first dog to leap at him, determined to show his new companions how a Tenha warrior could fight. His strike cut the dog nearly in two, the huge blade coming down between its heads and cleaving its spine. Tearing his sword free, Revafour swung at the next death dog and tore a gash in one of its heads, but the creature managed to avoid the worst of the blow. Snarling, the death dog sunk the fangs of its other head deep into Revafour’s arm as he withdrew his sword. Cursing, Revafour struck again, severing both of the death dog’s heads in a single blow.
Revafour raised his sword for another strike, but winced at the burning agony he felt in his arm.
Ma’non’go stood protectively in front of Seline, slaying the first two death dogs to attack them. Seline chanted and gestured, holding a pile of tallow, powdered iron and sulphur in her hands. When Seline finished her spell, a small sphere of fire sprang to life in Seline’s hands, consuming the materials she was holding. Glaring angrily at the death dogs, Seline threw the ball of flame towards them.
The fiery ball flew past Ma’non’go and blasted into one of the dogs, incinerating one of its heads and badly scorching the other one. The creature yelped and turned to flee, trying to hide behind its kin. Seline’s eyes flashed as she gestured with her hand. At her command, the fiery sphere burned through one of the dogs that came up to protect her first target, killing it instantly before the sphere moved on to kill the first dog it had wounded. Another death dog lunged at Seline from the side, but Ma’non’go got between them, causing the dog to impale itself on his trident. Glaring angrily, Ma’non’go flung the impaled dog back into a group of its kin. The group of death dogs scattered, and Ma’non’go charged forward, killing two of them with quick thrusts of his trident. Two of the other death dogs raced past Ma’non’go towards Seline, but she brought her fiery sphere back to strike them from behind. The fiery sphere struck the death dogs from behind, causing them to howl in agony as they died.
Luna and Airk had been on watch when the death dogs attacked, and so they were fully armed and ready to deal with the creatures. The first death dog to reach Airk lunged at him, but he skilfully blocked the dog’s bites with his shield. Striking back with his military pick, Airk tore out one of the death dog’s throats, killing the creature with the sheer shock of the blow. He then lashed out at the next dog coming at him, but the creature dodged out of the way. Snapping upwards with one head to keep Airk from striking back, the death dog sank its other head’s teeth into Airk’s leg. Airk yelled in pain at the burning agony he felt in his leg. He struck at the death dog again, but he only managed a glancing blow as it dodged his blow.
Amyalla had slashed one of the death dogs attacking her with her dagger, cutting a long gash along its back. Unfortunately, the creatures were well-used to attacking in packs. The dog she was fighting lured her forward, and another dog charged at her from behind, sinking its teeth into her leg. The second dog’s bite was a shallow one, but it caused Amyalla to lose her balance and she fell forward, barely managing to land on her knees as the first dog lunged at her once again.
Amyalla got her dagger up in time to slash both of the first dog’s throats, but as it fell back it took her dagger with it. Pulling another dagger from her belt, Amyalla tried to get up and turn around as the second dog lunged at her. The second dog was immediately halted as Luna came in from the side and bashed one of its heads in with her mace. The dog yelped, and Luna struck it on its other head, killing it as Amyalla finally got to her feet.
Airk’s third strike against the death dog he was fighting finally slew the wretched creature. Before he could even catch his breath, two more dogs came at him, one attacking head on while the other tried to spring at him from behind. The death dog attacking Airk from behind was so intent on him that it couldn’t react as Amyalla sprang onto its back. Smiling wickedly, Amyalla slashed both of the death dog’s throats with her dagger, jumping off the monster as it collapsed. Airk buried his military pick in one of the heads of the dog he was fighting, killing it instantly before he turned to Amyalla.
Airk’s gaze met Amyalla’s, and he smiled in response to her wink.
Nearby, Weimar was chopping away with his axe, smiling as he cut down his third death dog. Unfortunately, the fourth death dog to attack Weimar had more luck. Before Weimar could act, the dog bit him deeply in the leg, causing him to cry out in pain and fall to one knee. The dog lunged at him, ready to rip his throat and face off, but Revafour came charging in from the side. Swinging his blade down on the death dog’s back, Revafour cut the monster almost in two. Weimar grinned at him, and he nodded back stoically.
The remaining death dogs, seeing so many of their number wounded and dying, howled angrily as they began to flee. The victorious adventurers looked around at each other, and Luna frowned as she saw the wounds several of them had suffered.
“Sit down,” she said, gesturing to Weimar, Airk, Amyalla and Revafour. As they did so, Luna walked up to Revafour, placing her hand on his arm as she began to chant. A blue and gold glow suffused her hand, sending a wonderful soothing feeling up Revafour’s arm. Once Luna withdrew her arm, the bite mark was gone, leaving only the faint traces of a scar. She repeated the process with Airk, Amyalla and Weimar in turn, although Revafour, Weimar and Airk still seemed uncomfortable.
“It’s still burning,” Airk said. “I don’t know why, but-“
“Death dogs are abhorrent creatures,” Luna said, a disgusted expression crossing her face. “Their bites can often transmit disease.”
“Damn it all,” Airk said. “How much time do we have?”
“More than it will take for me to heal you,” Luna said. “I’d do it now, but I don’t have the right magic to do it. I’m sorry,” she said, her calm façade breaking with concern. “It’s just that-“
“Do not worry about it,” Revafour said. “It is nothing.”
“I’ll deal with it in the morning,” Luna said, a pained look on her face. “I promise.”
“I don’t need it,” Amyalla said with a grin, “so save your power for the men. Halflings don’t get sick easily, after all.”
“Lucky you,” Airk said, as he moved to take off his armor. “You’ll need all your strength, considering it’s your watch, after all.”
Luna rose at dawn to commune with Pelor and regain her magic, and she was as good as her word in curing her companions’ illnesses. After a brief meal, the adventurers set off once again, now only a few hours’ march from the Bearded Lord’s Hollow.
When the adventurers stopped at noon for a second meal, with the Bearded Lord’s Hollow only a few kilometres away, they heard a child’s sobbing. They began searching through the nearby bushes, wondering if one of the children had escaped the Hollow. It wasn’t long before Seline spotted a little girl hiding in an old animal den. The girl was badly bruised, covered in dirt and wearing rags for clothes. She was hugging her legs, her chin resting on her knees, as she sobbed quietly. As Seline approached, she looked up in fear, before a look of surprise crossed her face. Crawling out of the den, the little girl calmed down as she got a better look at Seline.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Seline asked, ducking under a low-hanging tree branch as she sat down next to the girl. Amyalla approached to join them, coming up behind Seline. The halfling bore an expression of concern, and her eyes flashed with anger as she saw what had happened to the girl.
“Who…who are you?” the girl said.
“I’m Amyalla, and this is Seline,” the halfling said, gesturing to herself and the wizard. “Those other people are our friends. What’s your name?”
“N…Nina…” the girl said, hiccupping quietly. “Are you…are you with the bad people?” she said.
“Bad people?” Amyalla said in surprise.
“The men took me from Greyhawk,” the girl said, gaining more courage as she spoke. “Then they took me and a bunch of other kids into the hills in these big wagons. They sold us to a bunch of other people in robes. The robes were…scary…” she said, her voice falling to a fear-filled whisper as she finished.
“What happened to you, though?” Amyalla said. “Did you escape?”
“Yeah, I did,” the girl said with a slight smile. “I found a tunnel in the dungeon they were keeping us in, and I managed to slip out that way. I don’t think the bad people know about it. I managed to escape, but then I got really hungry. My daddy Brudd’s probably worried sick. I hope he finds me…” she said sadly.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Seline said, hugging the girl tightly. “We’re here to get you and all the other kids back to your mommies and daddies.”
“Promise?” Nina said.
“Promise,” Seline said with a wink.
“And we won’t let the bad people hurt you, or anyone else, ever again,” Amyalla said.
Luna sat with the girl, healing her wounds and giving her some food. Amyalla and Seline repeated to the rest of their companions what Nina had told them.
“What do we do, then?” Airk said with a frown. “We can’t leave her here, and I’ll be damned if she’s coming with us back to that hellhole.”
“We’ll have to find a hiding place for her,” Amyalla said, “close to this tunnel she says we can use to sneak into the lair of these people, whoever they are.”
“They’ve probably noticed she’s missing by now,” Revafour said, “so we’d best get a move on. Who knows what we’ll find waiting for us?”
“But where are we going to hide her?” Weimar said.
“We’ll have to scout the place out and find a suitable place for her to hide,” Revafour said. “Can you think of another solution besides leaving her here?”
The rest of the adventurers shook their heads.
As it turned out, the adventurers did not have to worry about where they were going to hide Nina. They were less than an hour away from the Bearded Lord’s Hollow when they saw a solitary figure approaching them. He was a thick, heavyset swordsman nearly the size of Revafour or Ma’non’go, with a tangled beard and hair that likely hadn’t been combed in months. He carried a large broadsword strapped to his back, and he was dressed in rough-looking forester’s clothes. The fierce glare on his face promised murder to whoever crossed him, and he was clearly looking for someone to take his anger out on.
As the swordsman saw the adventurers, he hailed them and began walking in their direction. The adventurers paused warily, their hands on their weapons, but Nina gave a cry of delight and ran towards the man, her arms outstretched. Almost immediately, the enraged look on the man’s face disappeared and he took the girl up in his arms, spinning her around in the air in delight.
“Papa!” the girl said in delight, as the man laughed out loud.
“Who are you?” said Weimar, approaching Brudd ahead of the rest of the adventurers. “Are you…”
“Me name’s Brudd,” the man said in a guttural voice, hoisting Nina up to sit on his shoulder as he did so. “And who might you be?” he said.
“We found your little girl,” Weimar said, before he explained how the adventurers found Nina.
“Then you ‘ave me gratitude,” Brudd said. “I tracked the villains this far, and I intended to make them pay with blood for what they did to me little girl. I take it that’s your business in these hills too?”
“Of course it is,” Weimar said with a smile. “Would you care to join us?”
“What were you planning to do with Nina when you attacked those wretches?” Brudd said.
“Well…we were going to hide her as best we could, and-“ Weimar said, before Brudd raised his hand to cut him off.
“Don’t worry ‘bout that, then,” Brudd said, shaking his head. “I’ll take Nina home.”
“But what about the other children?” Amyalla said. “We could use all the help we can get!”
“All that matters to me is Nina,” Brudd said, shaking his head.
“You don’t care?” Airk said.
“Why should I?” Brudd said. “You ‘n yours seem as though you’ll have the situation well in ‘and, I’m sure.”
“Your attitude does you credit as a hero,” Revafour said. “Take your daughter, then, and go home, knowing how many you’ve left to suffer.”
“I’m not a martyr,” Brudd said, as he turned to leave. “I’m simply a man who cares for his child.”
Revafour’s eyes flashed, and he wanted to shout something back, but Luna put her hand on his arm. As he looked back at her, Luna shook her head, a calm but determined look on her face. He continued to glare angrily at the departing Brudd, but he forced himself to calm down. Glancing to his side, he saw how Airk shared his anger, and was also struggling to calm down.
At least we don’t have to worry about keeping Nina safe, Revafour realized as the adventurers resumed their march.
Now, all that remains is to deal with these monsters, whoever they are, he thought. Borrowing Weimar’s spyglass, he focused it to take a good look at the Bearded Lord’s Hollow, and determine the best path to take.
It was now fifteen minutes’ march to the hollow, no more.
“Well?” Airk asked Weimar and Amyalla as they returned from scouting the area.
“The main entrance is a group of caves at the center of the hollow,” Weimar said, “and heavily guarded. They’ve got guards patrolling around there, but the hidden tunnel that Nina escaped through is out past their range. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to sneak in through there, and attack from the inside. Apparently the tunnel was connected to some sort of animal den. The orcs who originally settled these caves probably used it as an emergency escape route.”
Nodding to one another, the adventurers set off, determined to see their task through.
The hidden tunnel’s entrance turned out to be a long-abandoned bear den. The adventurers found a badly-constructed secret door at the rear of the cave hanging wide open. They realized that Nina had probably left the door open after she’d escaped, and they saw her footprints in the cave’s dirt floor, leading back outside.
As the adventurers entered the tunnel, they saw that it hadn’t been used in decades by anyone besides Nina. Despite that, the adventurers noticed a subtle feeling of menace in the air. They felt as though something was watching them, eager for any prey it could claim. They felt as though it was something they could not hope to escape, something that would make them slowly suffer before it finally snuffed them out.
The adventurers emerged from the tunnel into a larger cavern, and what they saw filled them with both anger and horror. The cavern was strewn with mangled and half-eaten corpses, likely the victims of whoever had claimed the Bearded Lord’s Hollow as their own. Some of the corpses were of adults, likely the remains of this people who’d tried to free the prisoners. The adults’ corpses were disturbing enough to the adventurers, but the children’s corpses were even worse.
Despite their disgust, the adventurers forced themselves to continue towards the exit tunnel in the far wall of the cavern. When they were halfway across the cavern, they noticed that many of the corpses were stirring. Gasping and hissing, many of the corpses sprang to their feet, striking at the adventurers with swords and knives hidden in the dirt. There were nearly thirty of the horrible things. Some of the creatures were only half-eaten and still strewn with rotting flesh. Others were little more than walking skeletons.
The adventurers joined back to back as they defended themselves from the undead horrors’ attacks. Luna was the first to strike, raising her pendant as she called to Pelor for aid. Channeling Pelor’s power, Luna destroyed many of the undead horrors immediately. Seline struck down several more monsters with a flurry of magical bolts. The remaining undead had little skill with their rusty, broken weapons, and they were easily struck down by the other adventurers.
As the last of the undead creatures fell, the adventurers resumed walking towards the exit tunnel. They were ready for another attack from a tangible foe, but they were surprised when a billowing cloud of fog seemed to come out of nowhere. The adventurers shouted to one another, trying to coordinate a response to this new attack. Their shouts turned to screams as they were burned by the fog, which turned out to be superheated steam. Laughter echoed through the steam, laughter that was soon joined by the adventurers’ screams of alarm as the ground opened up beneath them in a series of pit traps.
The adventurers’ cries faded, as did the laughter. The fog and steam died away soon after that, leaving the cavern as it was, an empty, haunted place inhabited only by maimed and lifeless corpses.
Degrees of Separation
Seline screamed as she fell into the pit. She soon landed on a smooth stone slide, that began carrying her down to the gods only knew where. Raising her staff, she tried to slow her descent by holding it out against the walls of the pit, although it did her little good.
As she held on tightly to her staff, Seline realized that the pits and the slides were not meant to kill. They were meant to divide any invading forces, making it easier for the Bearded Lord’s Hollow’s defenders to kill them.
That was hardly a comforting thought to the young wizard.
Finally, the stone slide dropped Seline into a square room of worked stone. Landing on her feet, she stood up and glanced around. All four walls bore torches, and one of them contained the opening to the stone slide. The wall opposite the one containing the slide opening held a thick wooden door, while the walls to either side contained small alcoves.
Seline was surprised to see Revafour standing in the middle of the room, his huge sword in his hands. She realized that Revafour must have fallen into the same sliding pit she had, landing ahead of her. The tall Flan glanced over his shoulder at Seline as she came up to join him.
“Are you alright?” Seline asked Revafour.
“I’ll live,” Revafour said, his exposed face still red from the scalding steam they’d been blasted with in the cave above.
Seline realized that her face was likely just as red as Revafour’s. She felt as though she had been boiled alive, shaking her head as she tried to block out the pain.
“Do you know what happened to the others?” Seline said.
“They probably fell through some of the other pit traps,” Revafour said. “Damn it all! They knew we were coming and they prepared for us,” he said, shifting his gaze back towards the room’s single door.
“It’s not over yet,” Seline reminded him determinedly. “If we have to do it alone, then-“
“You don’t need to tell me that,” Revafour said without looking back at her. He swallowed once, as though his throat was dry. His voice was ice-cold, and for a moment Seline felt a chill of fear run down her spine.
“I will-“ Revafour said, before the door burst open and three large figures stormed in.
Two of the new arrivals were ugly, hulking things almost ten feet tall, with dull yellow skin and bright glinting eyes. Clad in crudely stitched hide clothing, the two creatures each carried a thick club ringed with sharp, cruel spikes. Seline and Revafour had both fought ogres before, and they would have been happy to never see the cruel, disgusting creatures again.
The third figure was a different matter. He resembled nothing so much as an oversized human, for all that he was nine feet tall and bore an impossibly large moustache. He reeked of alcohol, his nose was reddened from excessive drinking, and his armor and clothes were stained with beer and wine. His eyes also seemed somewhat odd, as his left one was lower than it should have been and his right one higher. It didn’t take Revafour or Seline long to recognize him as a verbeeg. The verbeeg were the smallest race of giants, but they were just as hateful and sadistic as many of their larger relatives.
“Jus’ the two of you?” the verbeeg said with a sneer. His voice was thick with alcohol, as he hefted his axe in his hand. “Whadda letdown. Maybe I shouldn’a brought Plughugh-Bumpahnood’d be quite enough, I suppose. Hell, I coulda taken ya both myself!” he burst out laughing, as his moustache twitched weirdly.
Glancing back at Seline, Revafour gestured with his head to the alcove in the wall to their left. Slowly, she began inching towards it, alarmed by the look in Revafour’s eyes.
“You think it’s that easy, do you?” Revafour replied, hefting his sword in front of him. “Then why don’t you try and see?” he said, his voice never losing its icy calm.
“Oh, we will!” the verbeeg, said, before he laughed triumphantly. “Plughugh, Bumpahnood, kill’em!” he said.
“Aye, Humding!” the two ogres said, leering as they charged forward.
Seline now ran full-out for the alcove. She managed to reach it just before Revafour charged over and stepped between her and the ogres, preventing them or the verbeeg Humding from reaching her. Concentrating, Seline began to cast a spell, as Revafour confronted the ogres.
If Revafour felt any fear, he did not show it.
In truth, Revafour wanted to laugh. There were only three of the monsters, after all-and they thought that they could win against a Tenha warrior? What kinds of fools were they? He heard Seline chanting, and he might have told her not to bother, but his throat was already too dry. He felt the battle-lust rising within him.
Bumpahnood attacked first, swinging its club down at Revafour, but the Flan warrior easily swung his sword up to deflect it. The huge broadsword seemed like an extension of Revafour’s arms, moving with practiced speed as Revafour knocked Bumpahnood’s club aside and struck back. He tore a long gash in the ogre’s arm, his sword continuing on to cleave into the ogre’s chest. Gasping in pain, the monster stumbled back, its hide pants suddenly dark with blood.
Plugugh came in from the side, swinging his club at Revafour’s head. Revafour quickly dodged it and struck back before Plughugh could get its defenses in line. Plugugh stumbled back, managing to dodge Revafour’s attack before the Flan warrior’s sword would have cloven it in two.
“You call that an attack?” Humding said to goad his minions, Revafour and Seline smelling the booze on his breath, although he made no move yet to join the fray himself. “Are you ogres, or halflings?”
That taunt enraged Plughugh and Bumpahnood, and they charged once more at Revafour. However, Seline quickly completed her spell, conjuring a sphere of glowing flames in her hand. She threw the flaming sphere past Revafour and began gesturing to direct it. The sphere burned the ogres’ legs, causing them to howl in agony. Plugugh swung at the sphere, but Seline quickly moved it away from his strike, before bringing it back to burn the monster again.
Bumpahnood ignored the sphere, instead charging at Revafour. The ogre brought its club down in a brutal strike, but Revafour’s sword was there to meet it. Pushing back against the ogre, Revafour held his own against its superior strength, before he suddenly gave way and leapt off to the side. Bumpahnood had a clear path to attack Seline, but it was stumbling forward, completely off balance. Revafour struck before Bumpahnood could recover, bringing his sword down in a vicious slash and taking the ogre’s head from its shoulders.
Revafour brought his sword back up to meet Plugugh’s charge. The ogre had given up trying to hit Seline’s sphere, and struck at Revafour instead. It slammed Revafour in the chest, causing the Flan warrior to stumble. It raised his club to attack again, but before he could Seline’s flaming sphere burned its feet yet again. Seline caused her sphere to roll up Plugugh’s legs, causing it to scream in pain.
Seline’s fiery sphere brought Revafour the time he needed to recover. Striking at the reeling Plugugh, Revafour nearly cut it in two.
Revafour barely had time to catch his breath before Humding suddenly attacked. The verbeeg blocked Revafour’s blow with his axe and struck back, tearing into Revafour’s abdomen. Seline burned him with her fiery sphere, but Humding quickly stomped it and snuffed it out. Revafour tried to strike again, but Humding kicked him aside. The brutish giant turned back towards Seline, who now found herself trapped in the alcove.
“And wha’do you think yer magic can do, lil’ one?” he grinned wickedly, briefly licking some of Revafour’s blood off his axe. “D’you think you can stop me in time?” he leered, as he charged in to strike her down.
Expecting Seline to cast a spell, Humding did not expect her to stick her staff out to trip him. Stumbling over her weapon, Humding fell to his knees as Seline quickly darted past him. Turning around, she hastily chanted a spell. A series of magical bolts streaked from Seline’s fingers, blasting into Humding and causing him to cry in pain.
No longer amused, Humding sprang to his feet and turned around. Murder was in his eyes as he raised his axe and charged at Seline, but her efforts had given Revafour the time he needed to recover. Stepping between Humding and Seline, Revafour swung his sword at the giant in a titanic slash. His sword ripped deep into Humding’s torso, before catching on the giant’s spine.
Humding couldn’t even scream before he fell dead.
Grunting with the effort, Revafour put his foot on the giant’s chest and tore his sword free. Pained by his injuries, he staggered as Seline ran up to him in concern. Hastily reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a bottle of dark-blue crystal. Quickly uncorking the bottle, she poured the contents down Revafour’s throat. He felt a wonderful soothing sensation flow through his body, as he realized that his bleeding began to stop. Even the pain from the steam burns began to fade.
Taking a deep breath, Revafour used Humding’s hair to clean the blood out of his sword, while Seline went to retrieve her staff.
“Are you alright?” she asked in concern. She was alarmed by the dangerous look she still saw in his eyes, but fortunately the look soon began to fade.
“I…I’ll live,” Revafour said. “And you?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about me,” Seline said, although she winced in spite of herself from the scalding of the steam. “I’m more worried about the others.”
“They probably fell down some of the same pits we did,” Revafour said as he headed for the door. “We won’t find them just by staying here.”
Seline quickly followed, although the worries she had felt about the look in Revafour’s eyes continued to linger at the back of her mind.
“Damned clever pit trap,” Amyalla said, as she and Weimar looked around the room the slide had dropped them into. “The orcs probably rigged it like this so they could divide and kill their foes more easily.”
“The old divide-and-conquer trick,” Weimar said. “And they wouldn’t do lethal traps. Why would they when they could butcher the invaders in person?”
“And yet we don’t have anyone here to welcome us,” Amyalla said as she looked around the room. Torches flickered on the walls, and a large wooden door was fitted into the wall opposite the one containing the opening to the slide, but the room seemed otherwise empty. There were no tripwires or pressure plates on the floor that she could see, so the walls…
“What do you know?” Weimar asked Amyalla, tightening his grip on his battleaxe.
“The walls,” Amyalla said, only half-listening to Weimar. “Do you have a lantern?” she said after a moment. “I need the extra light for a better look.”
Nodding, Weimar set down his axe and shield to retrieve the lamp from his backpack. He handed it to Amyalla, who lit it as Weimar retrieved his axe and shield.
“Keep your eyes on the door,” Amyalla said to Weimar as she walked around the perimeter of the room, examining each wall in turn. Finally, she came to the door itself, and studied it carefully.
“They think they’re clever,” Amyalla said, more to herself than to Weimar. Setting Weimar’s lantern down next to her, she lifted up her skirt. Weimar was surprised to see a collection of lockpick tools in padded pockets tied to Amyalla’s garters. The halfling gathered several of the tools, before she let her skirt fall back into place.
In spite of himself, Weimar swallowed hard.
Looking back at him, Amyalla smiled in amusement.
“I didn’t think you’d be the prudish type,” she said, taking pleasure in the way Weimar’s cheeks were flushing in embarrassment. “It’s a suitable hiding place, don’t you think?”
Turning back to the door, Amyalla began picking the lock. She worked for several minutes, before she stepped back and nodded for Weimar to take the lead. She put her tools back in her garter pockets as Weimar reached out to open the door.
“Why were you walking around the room like that?” Weimar asked Amyalla as they set off down the dimly lit corridor. Weimar led the way with Amyalla following close behind, Weimar’s lantern in one hand and a dagger in the other.
“Some of the stones in the walls of that room were actually thin panels with spears behind them,” Amyalla said. “There was a device in the door that would cause the spears to fire if the door was opened. I managed to disconnect it from the door before I had you open it.”
Weimar only harrumphed at that.
“What, you’re not grateful that I just saved you from being impaled?” Amyalla asked.
“Of course I am,” Weimar said, peering into the gloom ahead. “I’m just offended that they didn’t send any of their minions to greet us.”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll get our chance,” Amyalla said. “The torches down here aren’t well maintained-it’s likely that they don’t come into this part of the complex much, and they deliberately rearmed the traps. Speaking of which, you’ll want to stop moving.”
“What?” Weimar asked in alarm, as he glanced down the corridor. He cursed as he saw the tripwires ahead of him.
“Anything else in your bag of tricks?” Weimar said, looking back at the halfling.
“You’ll see soon enough,” Amyalla said with a smirk. She picked up a loose stone lying near the wall and tossed it forward. The stone struck the tripwire and caused it to vibrate violently. Weimar threw his shield up in alarm, but he found he had no reason to worry. A pair of scything blades came tearing out of the walls ahead, before sliding back into the slits in the wall they emerged from.
“If you’ll allow me,” Amyalla said, stepping ahead of Weimar.
“And how did you know that the tripwire wouldn’t have affected us from where we were standing?” Weimar pointed out, as Amyalla set his lantern down and lifted her skirt again to retrieve her tools.
“The trap was meant to activate when someone hit the tripwire,” Amyalla said as she set to work. “It’s hardly likely that a tripwire would activate a trap for someone standing ten feet behind it, especially considering how much room we’d have to dodge. I mean, honestly!” she said with an amused smirk.
Weimar was tempted to shoot something back at her, but he contented himself with an amused smirk of his own.
When Luna and Airk landed in the passage, it didn’t take them long to get their bearings. Looking around, they saw that they were in a corridor of worked stone. The walls were lined with flickering torches that provided light to see by, although it was dim indeed for Luna.
“Where are we?” Luna asked Airk as the gnome got to his feet and picked up his military pick and shield, which he’d dropped when he landed.
“A corridor where the passages are leading in the same direction as the cave above,” Airk said in surprise. “Why in the Nine Hells would they do that?” he said.
The loud stomping sounds and the shadows approaching on either side gave the woman and the gnome their answer. One of the shadows belonged to a large, hulking ogre, coming down the corridor ahead of the companions. The other shadows belonged to yet another huge ogre, as well as a slim verbeeg with sandy-blonde hair and a refined, almost aristocratic look about him.
“The better to surround you with, I should say,” Bruddelmort the verbeeg said, as Airk and Luna raised their weapons. “I take it that you’re not all that pleased at being outnumbered?”
“Not pleased at your being a coward, more like,” Airk said, gesturing with his pick in a challenge.
“Please,” Bruddelmort smirked, as the ogre standing next to him raised his flail. “Do you seriously think me vulnerable to such taunts?”
Suddenly, Luna turned back around to face the ogre she and Airk had first seen.
“Flee!” she cried, as the holy symbol around her neck glowed brightly. Immediately, the ogre looked at Seline, and then at Airk, and retreated screaming down the corridor. Airk’s exchange with Bruddelmort had given Luna the few seconds she needed to cast a quick spell on the ogre, causing it to flee down the corridor.
Shouting in anger, Bruddelmort raised his sword. He charged forward, followed by his lone remaining ogre henchman, as Airk and Luna came to meet them.
Luna deflected the ogre’s first flail blow with her shield, quickly striking back and whacking the ogre in the side of the head with her mace. The heavily built monster hardly seemed to feel it, however, swinging his flail once again and forcing Luna to duck. She struck back again with her mace, this time catching the ogre on the hip, but again her blow didn’t seem to have much effect on the ogre.
Airk and Bruddelmort were caught in a fierce duel, with neither one seeming to be able to gain the advantage. Bruddelmort proved to be remarkably skilled at deflecting Airk’s blows, choosing the best moments for his strikes. Airk cursed, realizing that the verbeeg was all too aware of the disadvantages giants often encountered against gnomes. The gnome swung his pick at Bruddlemort in a vicious sideways slash, expecting the giant to deflect the blow with his shield, but instead Bruddelmort stepped back. As Airk’s blow cut through the air between them, the giant brought his sword down, slashing Airk viciously.
Airk managed to avoid the full force of the blow, but Bruddlemort’s sword tore a nasty gash along his shoulder and arm. Scowling angrily, Airk struck at Bruddlemort’s hip, ignoring the blood that flowed from his wound.
If Bruddlemort displayed finesse with his sword, the ogre Boondoo was simply brutal. It swung his flail wildly in its efforts to crush Luna, but its clumsy strikes left him wide open to her counters. Unfortunately, although Luna was constantly bruising the big lummox, she could not seem to bring its down. Once again, she deflected a flail blow with her shield, but the sheer force of Boondoo’s blows were causing her arm to go numb. Luna lowered her shield arm long enough for Boondoo to strike her painfully in the hip, causing her to reel in pain. To make matters worse, Luna could hear the booming footsteps of the ogre she had force to flee coming back up the corridor. Unfortunately, the spell she had cast was only good for about a minute, and even monsters as stupid as ogres would quickly recover from it.
Airk heard the ogre’s footsteps too, and knew he had to act fast. The gnome smiled inwardly as the blow he aimed at Bruddelmort‘s hip with was blocked by the verbeeg’s shield. Bruddelmort brought his sword down once again, and Airk raised his own shield to deflect it. Sensing his opportunity, Bruddelmort lashed out with his foot, hoping to knock Airk off balance. Airk’s eyes gleamed as he quickly lashed out with his pick and pierced Bruddelmort’s foot. The giant howled in pain and pulled his suddenly bloody foot back, leaving himself vulnerable.
Airk didn’t waste the opportunity. Lashing out again with his pick, he tore a series of bloody gashes into the giant’s torso. Bruddelmort reeled in pain, and Airk sprang straight up into the air, lashing out with his pick and tearing into Bruddelmort’s eye. The gnome’s pick left a long gash down Bruddlemort’s face, and the giant turned to flee.
Spadull, the ogre Luna had cast her spell on, caught up to the melee. Raising its club, it charged at Airk, even as the gnome turned to face it. Leading with his shield, Airk blocked Spadull’s club and quickly struck back, piercing the monster’s foot with his bloodstained pick. The monster cursed in pain and Airk pressed the attack, this time using his pick to pierce the ogre’s knee. Once again, Spadull cried out and swung its club at Airk, but the gnome easily ducked under its pitiful attack and resumed tearing into the ogre with his pick.
Blood and sweat mixed all over Spadull’s body as he tried one final strike. Airk almost casually blocked it and struck out one final time with his pick, ripping Spadull’s throat out. The ogre collapsed like a toppled tree, falling back with a great crash.
Boondoo tried to press his advantage against Luna, but the young woman stubbornly struck back, praying to Pelor for luck. The sun god seemed to answer her prayer, as her mace struck the ogre squarely in Boondoo’s weapon hand. She heard the satisfying crunch of cracking bones, as the ogre dropped its flail and cried out in pain. Taking a deep breath, she lashed out once more with her mace. This time, Luna struck the dumb brute square in the face. Boondoo merely stumbled back before it fell dead, slumping against the corridor wall.
Airk and Luna both leaned against the wall to catch their breath, weary from their exertions. The injuries they had suffered in the fight ached abominably, and they were still scalded from the burst of magical steam they’d suffered in the cave above. Luna felt like she was going to faint, but she remembered her duty. Putting down her shield and mace, she moved towards Airk, chanting softly as her hands began to glow with a golden light.
“Not me, you,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re the one with the healing spells, girl-if you go, then there’s not much the rest of us can do.”
Luna, still chanting, seemed as if she wanted to refuse, but the angry look on Airk’s face convinced her otherwise. She placed her glowing hands on her own hips, welcoming the warm feeling of relief as her injuries healed. Airk looked at her with concern, but she nodded and smiled at him.
“You’re sure you’re alright?” Luna asked Airk as she bent down to pick up her mace and shield.
“I’ll live,” Airk said. “It takes a lot more than that to kill me.”
“Pity about the weather in that upper cave, though,” Luna said to Airk as they began running down the corridor in pursuit of Bruddlemort. “No wonder you hate the rain so much. Just as much as I do, I wager.”
“More than that,” Airk said with a smile.
“I could do without the confined spaces, though,” Luna said, frowning at the passage all around them.
“Oh, you’ll get used to it in time,” Airk said, waving away her concerns. “You don’t need to worry, my dear-this is all firmly worked stone that won’t cave in, I can assure you. In fact, I don’t even think this was built by orcs-more likely it was done by dwarves or gnomes, who the orcs eventually drove out of here.”
Luna relaxed considerably at that.
She mouthed her thanks to Airk, who just smiled back.
Ma’non’go looked around as he rose to his feet, and found that he was alone. He clenched his trident even more tightly, only hoping that Luna and Seline would be alright. Somewhat to his surprise, he found his concern shifting to Weimar, and then to the tall Flan man, the gnome and the halfling who had joined them on this strange venture. The two women he had sworn with his life to guard were still his primary concern, but the idea that any of the others might suffer at these monsters’ hands did not sit well with him.
The torches on either side of Ma’non’go cast long shadows as he walked down the corridor, looking all around him for traps or threats. His ears were what alerted him to the threat, however, as he heard the footsteps up ahead. Raising his trident, Ma’non’go slowed his pace as he saw a large figure emerge from the shadows. The figure was a large verbeeg with a tangle of wild hair and a matching beard, carrying a large sword and clad in chain mail armor. The giant seemed particularly pleased to see Ma’non’go, and a wide, evil smile crossed his face at the human’s arrival.
“Just you and me then, darkling?” the giant Nicknarn said with a smile. “So much the better that I sent the ogres away-not that I need them to deal with a darkling, of all things!”
Ma’non’go felt a seething rage at the giant’s slur, and his eyes gleamed dangerously.
“Got nothing to say, darkling?” Nicknarn said. “I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway, not when you’re going to die. Would you like that, darkling?”
The slurs angered Ma’non’go by themselves, but the giant’s arrogant, condescending tone filled him with rage. He simply gestured with his trident, beckoning the giant to attack.
Nicknarn whooped eagerly and charged, swinging his sword wildly. Ma’non’go twisted out of the way and thrust back with his trident, but Nicknarn quickly stepped back and avoided the worst of the blow. The glancing blow Ma’non’go struck was absorbed by Nicknarn’s mail, and the giant wasted no time in retaliating. Ma’non’go thrust his trident up this time, catching Nicknarn’s sword in the tines, and flexed his muscles as he pushed back. Verbeeg were the weakest of all the giant races, and their strength could be matched by determined humans. Such was the case as Nicknarn kept pushing, but failed to make any headway against Ma’non’go’s resistance.
Finally, Ma’non’go released the pressure and leapt back, causing Nicknarn to stumble forward. Ma’non’go immediately came forward again, raking at Nicknarn with his trident and tearing several long gashes into the giant’s torso. The giant lashed out with his foot, forcing Ma’non’go back. Nicknarn slashed with his sword, but Ma’non’go surprised the giant with his speed. He quickly avoided the worst of the blow, suffering only a small gash in each of his arms. Charging forward again, he plunged his trident deep into Nicknarn’s arm and tore a long line of blood, ripping through the sleeve of his chain mail as if it was made of parchment.
Howling in pain, now holding his sword awkwardly, Nicknarn leapt back and tried another strike, but Ma’non’go was ready. Raising his trident, Ma’non’go smiled wickedly as he drove it into the giant’s chest, impaling the monster up to the handle. The Olman’s muscles rippled as he forced his trident upwards through Nicknarn’s chest, tearing a hideous gash that eventually ripped the giant’s throat out. Nicknarn was already dead by the time he slid off Ma’non’go’s trident and collapsed on the floor.
Ma’non’go could only smile to himself at Nicknarn’s death. He’d occasionally heard similar comments about the color of his skin from people in the eastern Flanaess. More than one of the speakers had then made further lewd comments about his relationship with Luna and Seline. Usually, Ma’non’go only needed to give them a beating to make them realize the error of their ways and apologize for their rudeness. When monsters like giants or werewolves said similar insults, Ma’non’go was quite willing to resort to a more permanent solution.
Sprinting silently down the passage, Ma’non’go only regretted that none of his companions had been there to witness the scene.
The weird sisters were not pleased to see the ogres Droolord and Hahaduh, sent back by that arrogant fool Nicknarn, come back to them. Nor were they pleased to see the badly injured Bruddlemort return, either. The sisters realized that the adventurers intruding on their lair were more powerful than they had at first expected, and that they needed to make preparations.
Nodding to her sisters, Dorbella pulled a scroll from a pouch at her belt. It was an old scroll, the ultimate prize from one of their earliest victims. The scroll was scribed with powerful spells, and the sisters had used almost all of them, save for the most powerful one. This was a crisis, and the sisters knew that they could not afford to take these new threats likely.
The giants and ogres shivered as the weird sisters began their chant, feeling as if they were being watched. Something wrong, not of this oerth, was coming, some horrible thing that sent chills down their spines. They were utterly helpless before it, and they could feel it looming before them, something that promised infinite menace, attraction and horror all at once.
Two of the creatures came at their calling, and the looks on the creatures’ faces showed how eager they were to feed. The monsters could not stay on this oerth for long, but they would last long enough to be able to feed. That knowledge made them all the more eager to fight, and even moreso to kill.
The passage Ma’non’go was following soon led him into a large circular chamber from which several more passages branched off. To his surprise, he saw the rest of his companions emerging from some of those passages. A look of relief crossed his face when he saw that, while the rest of his companions had seen battle, they were still more than capable of continuing.
“That’s the way forward, then?” Amyalla asked, pointing with her dagger at the one passage none of her companions had emerged from. “Where they’re waiting for us?”
“We can’t go just yet,” Luna said. “I need to prepare us.”
Please, Lord Pelor, she thought to herself, as she reached into the pocket of her robe and retrieved a vial of holy water. Show us that your light can shine even down within the recesses of the oerth. Help me help these people, whose goals are the same as yours and who seek nothing more than to bring the innocent home.
Help me…help them, she continued, as she dipped her finger in the flask of holy water. She began to chant, her voice rising gently as she touched her wet finger to her forehead. She repeated the ritual with Seline and Ma’non’go, who both realized what she was doing.
Weimar accepted Luna’s touch with little more than a raised eyebrow. Airk, Revafour and Amyalla looked at one another as Luna turned towards them, their expressions wary. The look in Luna’s eyes did much to dispel their concerns, and Amyalla stepped forward to be blessed as well. Airk and Revafour followed suit, and the joy they saw on Luna’s face was a light indeed in the dim underground tunnels.
Once her blessing ritual was done, Luna began chanting again, this time pointing to Seline’s staff. Its tip suddenly glowed a bright gold in color, and the glow soon expanded into a flash as bright as the sun itself. The caves were brightly lit around the adventurers, as they steeled themselves for whatever was coming next. The light of Luna’s spell all but announced the adventurers’ coming, but they continued on determinedly. They knew the monsters, the villains who had made victims of these children, were waiting for them.
At that moment, the seven people walking down the passage they had not entered yet all shared the same desire.
To make the monsters pay with blood.
The adventurers had expected horror in the large cavern that the passage led them to, but what they saw was something out of a madman’s nightmare. The cavern was filled with dozens of corpses, many of them with rotting flesh still hanging from their bones. The flesh and the bones alike of the bodies were riddled with bite marks, as if something had started trying to eat them and then finished halfway through.
The scene was similar to the one the adventurers had encountered in the first cavern. In some ways, it was worse, as many of the bodies were posed in ghoulish scenes. Some of the corpses were committing lewd and obscene acts to one another. Others looked as if they were conducting some blasphemous religious ceremony dedicated to one of the evil gods, or some devil lord or demon prince. Still others were posed in silent screams, looking as if they were begging for mercy from some unseen monstrosity. Towards an opening in the far wall, there was another line of corpses arranged in a mocking, laughing salute, as if mocking the hopes of anyone who passed into the darkness.
Luna’s light spell exposed the full horror of the cavern for the adventurers, further heightening their disgust and anger. The sickening feeling the adventurers had felt throughout the Bearded Lord’s Hollow grew oppressive now, almost tangible in the air, even as a mocking laughter began to ring out.
Seven creatures stared back at the adventurers, in front of the opening in the far wall. Two of them were the ogres Droolord and Hahaduh. Two more were verbeeg, one of them the maimed Bruddelmort. The second verbeeg was Gnorf, whose drooling face and dull eyes registered an intelligence so slow it was a miracle he remembered to breathe.
The ogres and verbeeg were not the ones laughing, however.
The three remaining creatures in front of the opening in the cavern’s far wall called themselves the weird sisters. They were better known to humans and other races as hags, creatures that resembled decrepit old human women with wild hair. The hags could never be mistaken for elderly humans, distinguishing themselves by the unnatural strength in their limbs, the ugly colors of their skin, the malicious look in their eyes and the sharp points of their talons and fangs.
The greenhag Dorbella had an ugly olive-green hide, with greenish-black hair and glittering orange eyes. She was dressed in ragged noble’s finery that she had no doubt scavenged from her past victims. The annis N’arghenn was taller, with deep blue skin and dull green eyes. Her clothes were those of a peasant, only more ragged and smeared with excrement and mud. The sea hag Ublodine hissed and spat at the adventurers, her ugly, almost fish-like appearance making them physically ill. Her skin was colored an aqua green, and her clothes were made of rotting shark skin and dolphin hide.
Staring at the creatures in disgust and hatred, Seline recalled what she’d read about hags. They possessed formidable magic on their own, but when three of them united in a covey they were far more dangerous. Hag coveys could cast magic that allowed them to animate the corpses of the dead, to haunt the dreams of their victims and to disguise their minions or their lairs.
“How do you like our artwork?” Dorbella asked, as her eyes flashed. She suddenly took on the appearance of a beautiful human woman, which contrasted all the more with the ugly appearance of her sisters, the rags she wore and the horrors with which she’d surrounded herself. “We find it gives a certain poetic beauty to these stark, ugly lands.”
“Kill ‘em and die! Kill ‘em and die!” Ublodine said, drool running down her chin at the thought of fresh meat.
“Soon enough,” Dorbella said with a wicked smile. “You’ll all make fine meals indeed, and indeed,” she said, as her eyes flashed hatred at Amyalla, Seline and Luna, “you’ll need to be prepared appropriately. Should I rip out your hair, or just peel your faces off?”
“You can indulge your vanity later, Dorbella,” N’arghenn said. “Lord Orcus grows impatient, and demands his sacrifice. All we desire from them is their deaths.”
“KILL THEM!” she screamed, as the weird sisters’ minions attacked. The giants and ogres whooped eagerly and charged forward, as the adventurers braced themselves to meet them.
All of a sudden, the light Luna had cast on Seline’s staff was snuffed out, plunging the cavern into darkness. The adventurers were caught off guard, unable to move or swing their weapons too fiercely for fear of hurting each other. They heard still more laughing, this time interspersed with birdlike squawks and the sound of flapping wings, erupting from above them. A chill came over the adventurers, as they felt something otherworldly approaching, showing no mercy as it brought death from above.
Chanting frantically, Seline conjured a collection of multicolored lights. She spread them out so she could widen the area they lit, and gave the adventurers a good look at the source of the birdlike squawks. The sources of the squawking were a pair of horrifying monstrosities that looked like a cross between men and vultures, radiating malice and hatred. They were vrock demons, disgusting creatures from the Abyss that lived only to make humans and other mortal races suffer.
The vrocks not only possessed terrifying strength, but dangerous magic as well. They had cast the darkness had snuffed out Luna’s original light spell, and now used their magic to raise a large stone. Cackling malevolently, the vrocks magically threw the large rock at Seline. Luna sprang over as quickly as she could to try and deflect the rock with her shield. She could only brace herself for the impact, grunting with pain as the rock bounced off her shield, sending her staggering back. The vrock demons squawked in annoyance and came down to attack, hissing eagerly at the chance to destroy one who could channel the holy power they so hated.
Across the cavern, the hags and their minions charged the adventurers, and battle was soon joined.
Airk charged at the heavily scarred Bruddelmort, eager to finish the fight he had started. Unfortunately, as he swung his morning star he was forced to stop short as Bruddelmort vanished. Airk could hear Dorbella’s cackling as Bruddlemort disappeared, and he realized that her magic was no doubt responsible. He tried to determine where Bruddelmort had gone, but he was rudely awakened as the giant hacked at him from the side. Airk took a vicious slash that sent him staggering back, and he would have been finished if he hadn’t turned to face Bruddlemort. Gasping with pain, Airk was fortunate indeed to get his shield up to deflect Bruddelmort’s next few blows.
Revafour swung mightily at the verbeeg Gnorf, who returned the favor with his hammer. Their weapons clashed loudly, and man and giant were soon caught in a shoving match as they each tried to push the other back. A loud cry caused Revafour to turn his head, wondering if one of his fellow adventurers was in distress, but instead he saw Ublodine’s face leering at him. Revafour felt a sick sense of disgust rising up within him, as his heart began pounding wildly. For a moment, Revafour wondered if his heart would tear out of his chest. The sickness Revafour felt was replaced with a deathly chill that caused him to stagger, as his grip on his sword seemed to slacken.
Seizing his advantage, Gnorf pushed Revafour back, and slammed his hammer into the Flan warrior’s chest with a brutal two-handed swing. At that moment, Revafour was grateful for his heavy armor, realizing full well that without it the giant’s blow would have crushed his ribs.
Gasping for breath, he tried to raise his sword and strike back, but his limbs trembled as his heart continued to race.
What had that sea hag done to him?
Weimar grunted, buckling briefly under the blow Hahaduh slammed into his shield, before striking back with his axe. He could only give a frustrated sigh, realizing that his enchanted axe was better suited for battling the vrock demons than most of his companions’ weapons. His heart ached at Luna’s cry of pain, but then a smile crossed his face as he heard her mace struck one of the demons and it wailed in response. His spirits fell again as he heard the alarmed cries Amyalla was making as Droolord tried to chase her.
Angrily, he ducked under Hahaduh’s next blow and charged in, hacking away repeatedly at the ogre’s leg as he tried to fell his opponent. The dumb creature began shifting its defenses to block its leg, which was just what Weimar expected. Changing the angle of his attack, he drove his axe into the monster’s chest.
If Weimar expected that blow to finish Hahaduh, of course, he was badly mistaken, as Hahaduh struck back. Weimar got his shield up to block it in time, but the sheer force of the ogre’s blow made him stagger. Shaking his head vigorously, Weimar gritted away the pain his shield arm felt from absorbing Hahaduh’s blow and chopped Hahaduh in the chest again, knocking him off balance. Raising his shield, Weimar rushed at Hahaduh, driving the shield into the ogre and sending it staggering back.
Luna did her best to ignore the pain from her bleeding side as she struck again at the demon. Her mace glowed brightly with a golden light, and an uncharacteristically wicked smile crossed her face. The mace she wielded had been a sacred gift from the head of a temple of Pelor in Idee, given for the help she, Seline and Ma’non’go had given them some time ago. The mace was specially made to destroy the undead and profane, and Seline intended to show this demon what her weapon could do. Unfortunately, the demon was a canny opponent, swiftly dodging her blow and striking at her again. She managed to stop this latest blow with her shield, but fatigue was beginning to set in for her even as the demon raised its claws for yet another attack.
Beside her, Ma’non’go was having more luck, as he tore his trident through one of the creature’s arms. The vrock howled, and Ma’non’go continued to show no mercy, ripping his trident free and then plunging it into the creature’s gut. Black gore oozed over Ma’non’go’s arms as the creature staggered, but the Olman warrior did not relent. Yanking his trident out of the vrock’s gut, Ma’non’go’s eyes flashed wickedly as he plunged his weapon through the vrock’s beaked face. The vrock screeched and fell back, starting to dissolve into nothing as it began to return to the Abyss.
Luna redoubled her efforts against her own opponent, whipping her mace at the side of the vrock’s head. The creature jumped back and broke off its attack, and instinctively began to prepare a veil of darkness. That was all the distraction Luna needed as she charged in and swung her mace again, this time right at the vrock’s face. Her mace caught the vrock dead on target, causing it to scream in agony as the mace’s sacred power flooded through its body. Luna struck at it again and again, an angry look crossing her face as she pounded the obscene thing with all the strength she had left.
Seline had often been frustrated by the way magic worked. Wizards were generally required to learn and prepare their spells long before casting them, and had to anticipate exactly which spells they would need. Coming into the Bearded Lord’s Hollow, she was not sure what to expect, and so she had not prepared as many destructive spells as she probably should have. She hadn’t yet used her most powerful one, however, and she realized that now was the right time to do it. She held a bit of fur and a tiny crystal rod in her hand, which faded to dust as she gestured and chanted. They were replaced by a bright sphere of blue-white energy as Seline finished her spell.
Amyalla ran in front of Seline as she cast her spell, smiling wickedly as she saw what the mage was doing. Glancing behind her, she saw that she had lured Droolord right into position in front of Seline.
Seline thrust her hand forward and the sphere of energy she was holding roared forth as a bolt of pure lightning, ripping through Droolord and killing him instantly. The ogre Hahaduh, reeling from Weimar’s latest axe blow, was the next one struck down by Seline’s bolt. Finally, the bolt struck Gnorf in the side, knocking him flat on his back.
Revafour didn’t waste the opportunity, hefting his sword with all the strength left to him and slashing Gnorf’s throat. Despite the chilling exhaustion Revafour felt, he raised his sword once again and charged at the hags. Dorbella advanced to meet his challenge, no longer focused on the vicious fight between Bruddlemort and Airk.
The battered gnome bled from several wounds, but he hardly felt the pain as he struck his giant foe in the chest with his morning star. Bruddlemort swung again, but this time Airk was ready as he threw his shield up above him to block the blow. Striking again with his morning star, Airk caught the giant square on the hip. As Bruddelmort staggered, Airk drove his morning star straight into the verbeeg’s already-wounded face.
Howling in agony, Bruddlemort dropped his sword and fell to his knees, clutching at his face. Airk smiled a terrifying grin as he slammed Bruddlemort across the back of the head with his morning star once, twice and then three times, crushing the giant’s skull and leaving him a bloody corpse on the ground.
Amyalla had had all she could handle trying to avoid being crushed by Droolord’s attacks, and she was fortunate indeed to have been able to lure the big lummox into the path of Seline’s lightning bolt. Looking around, she saw that Luna and Ma’non’go had finished off the demons they were battling, and the verbeeg and the ogres were dead. Amyalla also saw that Revafour and Airk were advancing on Dorbella and Ublodine, and Seline and Weimar were moving to join them. The halfling realized that was two of the hags accounted for. Even with their magic and strength, they were badly outnumbered by the adventurers.
That thought made Amyalla pause.
Where was N’arghenn, the annis?
Whirling around, Amyalla could only give a cry of warning to her friends as N’arghenn loomed out of the shadows, swinging at the halfling with her vicious talons. Amyalla shrieked as the claws tore into her shoulder, but she could barely finish her cry before she went flying from N’arghenn’s kick. Landing painfully on the ground, Amyalla saw the annis chanting and pointing a wand at her companions. The hag had taken her time sneaking around though the cavern’s shadows, out of range of Seline’s lights, to reach the place she wanted to be. Now, N’arghenn was ideally placed to cast another burst of steam at her victims, much like the one she’d used in the caverns above.
The adventurers managed to avoid the deadly steam as it flew out from the wand, Weimar dropping his axe and shield as he pulled the bow off his back. Within a few moments, he had released a flurry of arrows at N’arghenn, who stopped to deflect them. Most of the arrows bounced off the annis’ iron-hard skin, but they held her up long enough for Ma’non’go to make his way around the steam cloud and charge at her. Ma’non’go’s trident made contact with N’arghenn’s arm, but then the silver anklets around the annis’s ankles glowed brightly. The trident skipped off N’arghenn’s arm as her anklets glowed, and the blow didn’t seem to harm N’arghenn at all.
Lashing out with her claws, N’arghenn forced Ma’non’go back. Before Ma’non’go could strike again, N’arghenn quickly leaned forward and sank her fangs deep into his shoulder. Growling in pain, Ma’non’go reeled as N’arghenn grappled him, preparing to sink her fangs into his neck.
N’arghenn suddenly released Ma’non’go as a mace of brightly glowing light slammed into the back of her head. Ma’non’go recognized the mace as a creation of one of Luna’s spells. He caught a glimpse of Luna gesturing angrily, using the glowing mace to strike N’arghenn two more times as he regrouped.
Dorbella and Ublodine only hissed as Airk, Revafour and Seline advanced on them. Seline knew the hags would attack with their magic, and realized she had to act first. Luck was with her as she cast a veil of darkness that surrounded Ublodine, preventing her gruesome appearance from weakening Airk and Revafour anymore. Ublodine cursed as she tried to draw her dagger, helpless as Airk and Revafour attacked Dorbella.
Dorbella wasn’t bothered at all by the odds against her, easily using her inhuman strength to slash the weakened Revafour and knock him prone. The greenhag then turned her focus to Airk, casting a spell meant to sap the gnome’s strength. The gnome merely scoffed as Dorbella’s spell failed, his race’s innate resistance to magic enabling him to shrug the spell off. Scowling angrily, Dorbella slashed at Airk with her claws, but the gnome easily blocked the blow with his shield. Airk quickly struck back, slamming Dorbella in the hand with his morning star.
As Airk struck Dorbella, Seline quickly chanted another spell. The young wizard released a series of fiery bursts of energy from her fingers. Some of the bolts ripped into Dorbella, while some of the others blasted the still-helpless Ublodine. To make matters worse for Dorbella, Revafour struggled to his feet and swung his sword as hard as he could, tearing into Dorbella’s hip.
Dorbella’s cry made N’arghenn realize that the weird sisters had to act, and soon, or else they were doomed. Chanting loudly, she caused a thick veil of fog to rise up, before turning and fleeing from her battle with Ma’non’go. The adventurers were forced to give up their attacks, afraid of hurting one another, but they knew they could not afford to let the hags escape. There was no telling what the hags might do to their prisoners, just to spite the adventurers who had so badly wounded them and slain all of their servants. Most of the adventurers were forced to try and call out to each other, lighting lanterns to cut through the fog.
Seline gathered the glowing lights she had cast, using them to guide her out of the fog cloud. She soon caught sight of N’arghenn’s footprints, which led up a set of stairs. Calling out to her companions to let them know which way she’d gone, Seline ran up the stairs, hoping that the rest of the adventurers would be able to follow soon. She knew she was taking a dreadful risk in going after N’arghenn alone, but she also knew that the longer she and her friends took to get organized, the more time the hags had to escape or go after their prisoners.
Seline stopped halfway up the steps, pausing briefly to cast a protective spell, before resuming her run.
If Seline expected to easily find the annis, she was mistaken. The stairway she followed led to a labyrinth of stairways and side-passages, and it didn’t take long for her to lose N’arghenn’s trail. Cursing herself for her foolishness, Seline directed the dancing lights she had cast in the cavern below all around her to try and find the annis’s tracks. The young wizard was unsuccessful, but then she heard a terrified scream.
Looking towards the passage where she’d heard the scream come from, Seline realized she likely wouldn’t be able to sneak in there. The enchanted ring she wore that allowed her to become invisible wouldn’t be much use, as annises could easily see through most illusions. She also still needed her dancing lights to see, and they would mark her approach. Seline contemplated waiting for her companions in case one of the hags had set a trap for her, but she couldn’t bear the thought of one of the hags’ prisoners being killed if they were really in danger.
Running down the passage she’d heard the screaming come from, Seline emerged into a large room filled with locked cages containing screaming children. Seline realized that she had found the dungeon where the hags kept their prisoners. Several of the children sprang up at the sight of her, crying out for help. Some of them also cried out warnings that N’arghenn had just been here, and Seline realized her initial suspicions were right. N’arghenn had clearly come up here to kill some of them, hoping to get some revenge on the adventurers who’d invaded the weird sisters’ lair.
Seline was not surprised as a veil of fog materialized all around her, recalling how N’arghenn had generated a similar fog in the lower cavern. Seline was on her guard, but she wasn’t sure where the annis’s attack would come from. She moved to a position she had noted between two of the cages, hoping that she’d set herself correctly for one of her next spells to work.
The magical protective spell Seline had cast when she was on the stairs saved her from N’arghenn’s first attack. The annis’s wickedly taloned hand loomed out of the fog, slashing at Seline before it bounced harmlessly off the barrier her spell had crafted. Unfortunately, N’arghenn found the barrier’s limits, and she struck with her other hand. This time, N’arghenn’s claws struck home, tearing into Seline’s hip and causing her to cry in pain. Seline sprang back as quickly as she could, dropping her staff as N’arghenn charged after her. The annis’s fangs were bared, and Seline’s barrier could not hope to stop her this time.
Fortunately, Seline completed her next spell just in time, holding up her hands as N’arghenn came in for the kill. Flames burst forth from Seline’s hands, catching N’arghenn full on in the face and causing her to scream in agony. Writhing with pain, N’arghenn did not notice that Seline had begun casting another spell, chanting as she tossed a small glob of spider webbing at the annis. Seline’s spell caused the webbing to burst into a thick mass of gluey fibers that sprang up, sticking themselves to the prison cages Seline had positioned herself between. Caught off guard, N’arghenn could not hope to avoid the webbing and was hopelessly entangled.
Seline gasped for breath as her side ached abominably. Her face and hands stung as well, still sore from being scalded by steam. As uncomfortable as her physical pain made her, Seline felt far worse as she looked around at the caged children. Focusing back on N’arghenn, now struggling to free herself from the web Seline had cast, Seline’s eyes narrowed. The annis was one of them, one of the weird sisters responsible for all this suffering and death.
Picking up her iron-tipped staff, Seline swung it at N’arghenn’s head. The staff caught N’arghenn in the head with a sickening crunch, causing her to howl in pain. Seline lashed out again and again at N’arghenn in a frenzy, pouring out all her anger and pain on the helpless annis for several minutes. Finally, Seline’s webbing spell worn out, and the webs trapping N’arghenn vanished, dropping the annis’s corpse to the floor.
Seline dropped her staff, gasping for breath.
It was only then that she realized she’d smashed N’arghenn’s head to a bloody pulp.
Tears formed in Seline’s eyes as she sat down, her back against one of the cages. Folding her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, she breathed deeply as she tried to overcome her feelings of horror.
“You can’t find her?” Revafour asked Airk, who only shook his head. Even the gnome couldn’t hope to track down Dorbella or Ublodine in the maze of passages and stairways.
The Flan warrior frowned, before glancing back at Weimar and Luna, who were carrying lanterns for them. Weimar and Luna only shrugged in return.
The adventurers suddenly heard chattering cries and footsteps from one direction, and screams and cries begging for mercy from the other. The adventurers looked at one another determinedly, realizing that one or both of the sounds could be a trap…or someone who could die at the hags’ hands if the monsters were not stopped. The hags were doubtlessly trying to split the adventurers up, but the adventurers couldn’t afford to take the risk of letting any more of the hags’ prisoners be killed by the weird sisters.
Signaling with his hands, Weimar motioned that he and Revafour would go down one passage, while Airk and Luna should go the other way. Airk and Luna nodded as Weimar picked up his axe and lantern.
Weimar led Revafour down the passage, his axe in one hand and his lantern in the other. He felt more than a little vulnerable, especially with his shield strapped on his back, but he still considered it better than letting Refavour lead. Revafour struggled to put one foot in front of the other, and his hands trembled violently. Weimar realized that Ublodine must have had some magic in her gruesome appearance, given how badly it had sapped Revafour’s strength.
Shaking his head, Weimar merely pressed on, hoping that Airk and Luna would be all right.
For some reason, he found himself thinking back to some of the street duels he’d fought in Niole Dra. In his first duel, he’d fought on behalf of his sister Holianna against the cad who’d cuckolded her. Later, Weimar fought on behalf of his brother Denrik when Denrik had been challenged by the champion of a woman offended that Denrik had rejected her advances.
Weimar tightened his grip on his axe.
Ma’non’go cursed his bad luck, as he realized he’d gotten separated from his companions once again. Glancing around in the light of his lantern, Ma’non’go tried to find some trace of the hags, or where their prisoners were located. Ma’non’go was no tracker, however, and his search was hopeless until he felt a cool breeze coming from a side passage containing a staircase.
Walking up the stairs, Ma’non’go felt the breeze get cooler, and he began hearing the sounds of crickets and night birds. Finally, the stairs led Ma’non’go to the mouth of a cave, from which he emerged into the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. Ma’non’go saw several cave mouths around him, and he looked around quickly, trying to decide which one to enter.
He made his decision when he caught a glimpse of the repulsive sea hag Ublodine entering into one of the caves, across from the one he had just emerged from. Scowling angrily, Ma’non’go charged silently through the hollow, following Ublodine into the cavern she had just entered.
The cave led down another flight of stairs, which Ma’non’go quickly descended. Glancing from side to side, the large warrior shivered at the runes he saw carved into the cavern walls on either side. Ma’non’go knew nothing of magic, but some instinct told him the runes were evil, sending chills down his spine. As Ma’non’go continued down the stairs, ugly scenes and demonic images began appearing in the cave walls above the runes, heightening Ma’non’go’s disgust and horror. Finally, as Ma’non’go reached the bottom of the stairs, he came into a torchlit cavern.
Glancing around warily, Ma’non’go saw a pool of murky dark water at one side of the cavern, and a collection of stone tables placed at different points in the room. The tables were stained with dried blood, appearing a hideous reddish-black in the dim light of the torches. Ma’non’go felt a sense of revulsion at the stone tables, but that was nothing compared to the horror he felt when he saw the large stone altar at the center of the cavern’s far wall.
The altar was stained with even more blood, and Ma’non’go could see that the demonic runes carved into it were similar to the ones he had seen on the walls of the stairway leading down into this cavern. A horrifying bronze statue loomed over the altar, crafted to resemble something that resembled a depraved cross between a man and a goat, with large dark wings spread behind it.
Ma’non’go recognized the disgusting being the statue was made to look like. He had been fortunate enough to receive a good education during his younger days in X’tandelexamenken, including being taught about the demons of the gods-cursed plane called the Abyss. The goat-headed, bat-winged creature was named Orcus, and his name was hated and cursed in every language. Orcus was loathed as much for his being the Prince of the Undead as for the depravities his cultists wreaked on the innocent and defenseless.
Advancing into the center of the cavern, Ma’non’go set down his lantern and gripped his trident in both hands. The warrior’s eyes flared as he looked around, expecting an attack from any direction. Ma’non’go turned towards the water as he thought he heard a splash, knowing that it was the natural place for a sea hag to hide.
Unfortunately, he guessed wrong, as he heard Ublodine spring out from behind the altar. Turning around to meet Ublodine’s charge, Ma’non’go raised his trident to strike. Ublodine stopped short before she came close enough for Ma’non’go to strike at her, smiling wickedly. Even in the dim light of his lantern, Ma’non’go saw Ublodine’s gaze clearly, and her eyes flashed as they made contact with his.
When Ma’non’go met Ublodine’s glance, he felt his heart skip a beat before it began pounding in his chest. His blood felt as if it was on fire, and his entire body went into convulsions. Gasping for breath, Ma’non’go dropped his trident and collapsed, unable to even move as the cackling Ublodine advanced on him. The sea hag had bested Ma’non’go with a mere look, and for all his efforts he was powerless to fight back. Now, Ublodine stood over Ma’non’go, flashing a fanged smile at him. She raised a wickedly-edged dagger in her hand, glancing over Ma’non’go as if he were a prized hunting trophy and she was trying to decide where to begin skinning him first.
Ma’non’go felt no fear of Ublodine, or even any sadness at the fact he was about to die. All he felt was shame, shame that he had failed in his oath to Lord Roas to protect Luna and Seline. Once Ublodine was done with him, she and the rest of the weird sisters would kill the women he was pledged to protect, to say nothing of the others they had befriended since they had left the Aerdi lands.
Ma’non’go suddenly heard a sudden scream pierce the air. He could see that the scream was not Ublodine’s, as she suddenly looked up in alarm.
Who could it be? Ma’non’go wondered, as he tried desperately to move.
Amyalla had followed Ma’non’go all the way into the cavern, not liking the idea of making her way alone through the maze of passages and stairs in the other part of the complex. She hadn’t been able to catch up with Ma’non’go, given how short her stride was compared to his, but she’d been able to keep him in sight. Now, as Amyalla ran down the stairs leading to the cavern with the altar, she felt her skin crawl at the hideous runes and designs on the passage walls. The designs disturbed Amyalla, but not as much as the fact that Ma’non’go had entered alone.
When Amyalla finally descended the stairs and emerged into the cavern, she saw Ublodine standing over the prone Ma’non’go. The sea hag was looking at Ma’non’go like a particularly juicy piece of prey while he lay defenseless.
Amyalla could imagine how Ma’non’go felt, unable to fight back against a predator, and she knew that feeling all too well. Amyalla screamed in anger as she threw a dagger at Ublodine, catching the sea hag completely by surprise.
Ublodine looked up to see who was screaming, only to scream herself as the dagger caught her squarely between the eyes. Stumbling back from the mortal wound, Ublodine collapsed on the ground as Amyalla came up to her. Glaring hatefully, Amyalla raised her foot and stomped down on the handle of the dagger protruding from Ublodine’s face, pushing it further into the sea hag’s head. Ublodine’s screams faded into nothing as Amyalla yanked the dagger out of the sea hag’s face. Amyalla cleaned her dagger briefly on Ublodine’s clothes, before she turned to consider Ma’non’go.
“Where’s Revafour when you need him?” Amyalla asked Ma’non’go, a sad smile on her face. “I think I’m a bit puny to be getting you back on your feet. But I’ll be damned if anything happens to you-especially here and now. The only kind of person who deserves to die in a place like this is garbage like that,” she said, gesturing contemptuously to Ublodine’s corpse.
“They’ll find us,” Amyalla assured Ma’non’go, sitting down where he could see her. Picking up one of Ma’non’go’s massive hands in both of her own, Amyalla grasped it tightly.
“And until they do, I won’t let go,” she said.
“You don’t see anything either?” Weimar asked Revafour, who only shook his head. Weimar and Revafour had been looking for tracks or signs that something had passed by here, but neither one of them had seen anything. That didn’t sit well with either of them, as they realized that a greenhag like Dorbella could probably magically erase her tracks. Weimar and Revafour could still hear screams coming from up ahead, and they could now see the flicker of torches in the distance. Something was likely happening, and-
Weimar was caught completely by surprise when Dorbella appeared out of nowhere. The greenhag’s claws ripped into Weimar’s back along his shoulders, drawing long lines of blood, before she flung him hard into the wall. Crying out in pain, Weimar bounced off the wall and collapsed to the ground.
Dorbella cackled at her cleverness. When she had fled the battle in the cavern, she’d magically concealed her trail. She had then used her illusion magic to lure Weimar and Revafour here, and hidden herself with her invisibility before attacking. Dorbella raised a foot, intending to crush the prone Weimar’s skull. Before she could, Revafour shouted a challenge and she turned to face him.
Revafour staggered forward to try and attack, but the sickness he’d felt from Ublodine’s appearance made him barely able to raise his sword. He swung his sword as hard as he could, but Dorbella caught it in her hands. A thin line of blood dripped from Dorbella’s hands as the blade cut lightly into them, but she ignored the pain. Pushing Revafour’s sword aside, Dorbella lashed out at him with her claws. Revafour couldn’t react in time, and Dorbella slashed him across his ribs. He swung his sword at her again, but she easily dodged the blow and resumed her attack.
Rage and frustration built up within Revafour as he tried to parry Dorbella’s attacks. He wondered if the sickness Ublodine had inspired in him might be permanent, and the thought drove him to briefly forget his sickness. Revafour swung his sword with renewed effort, tearing an ugly gash in Dorbella’s stomach.
It was Dorbella’s turn to be filled with rage, as she knocked Revafour’s next strike aside. Dorbella grabbed one of Revafour’s arms tightly with one hand, using her other to rip into the Flan warrior yet again with her claws. Revafour staggered from the blow, unable to break free and feeling faint from the blood he was losing.
Dorbella cackled wickedly as she sensed Revafour’s weakness. The greenhag raised her hand for a killing strike, when she heard a cry come from behind her. Weimar charged at Dorbella, swinging his axe with both hands. Dorbella only managed to turn her head halfway, before Weimar’s axe clove into her hip.
Cursing in pain, Dorbella tossed the injured Revafour aside and turned to face Weimar. The Keolander was pale, rivulets of blood dripping down the back of his leather jerkin and his head marked with an ugly bruise from where he’d hit the cavern wall. Despite his injuries, there was fire in his eyes as he lunged at Dorbella again. Dorbella struck back with her claws, but Weimar easily ducked the blows. As Weimar bent down, he chopped into Dorbella’s leg with his axe. When Dorbella staggered from her leg wound, Weimar struck again, this time cutting her arm.
Dorbella gasped in pain at Weimar’s latest blow. The greenhag’s thick hide allowed her to take a great deal of punishment, but she had almost reached her limits. She realized that Ublodine and N’arghenn were likely already dead, and that she was the only one of her covey still alive. Dorbella knew she would have to flee, but she intended to kill these two humans before she did.
The enraged Dorbella kicked at Weimar, knocking him off his feet. She raised her foot to try to stomp him, but he nimbly rolled out of the way. While Weimar had managed to avoid Dorbella’s latest attack, they both knew that he was at a serious disadvantage as Dorbella prepared to strike again.
Dorbella suddenly stopped, whirling around as Revafour struck at her once again with his huge broadsword. Dorbella managed to dodge Revafour’s blow, but the distraction gave Weimar time to recover.
Weimar and Revafour struck at Dorbella with the determination of men who knew they had nothing left to lose. Weimar dodged Dorbella’s next blow, as Revafour swung his sword yet again. This time Revafour’s sword struck home, hitting Dorbella’s arm exactly where Weimar’s axe had hit it. Revafour’s blow clove right through Dorbella’s arm, causing her to howl in pain.
Dorbella stared in horror at the bleeding stump that used to be her arm, before Weimar struck her in the chest with his axe.
Revafour’s sword attacked again with his sword, slashing deep into Dorbella’s shoulder.
Weimar’s axe slammed into Dorbella’s chest a second time, this time tearing into her wicked heart.
The greenhag screamed in horror before she finally collapsed, nothing more than a corpse.
Weimar and Revafour stared at each other for a long moment, gasping for breath. Finally, they wiped their weapons on Dorbella’s clothing, before Weimar retrieved the lamp he’d dropped when Dorbella had attacked. Thankfully, the lamp had not gone out when it hit the floor. Weimar and Revafour both knew that if it had, they would have been helpless against Dorbella.
Revafour and Weimar resumed their search through the maze of passages, and soon found the traces of a halfling and a human. Following the trail, Revafour and Weimar emerged into the Bearded Lord’s Hollow, and entered one of the other caves in the hollow. They were horrified by the runes and the scenes on the walls of the passage as they descended the stairs, but they forced themselves to continue. Soon, Revafour and Weimar found themselves in an even more grisly place, one suffused with malice and horror.
Despite the evil in the cavern, Weimar’s and Revafour’s faces brightened at the sight of Amyalla and Ma’non’go. The halfling only smirked as she looked up at Revafour and Weimar, turning the paralyzed Ma’non’go’s head so he could see them too.
“I knew you’d come, but I think a little help might be in order here,” she said, indicating Ma’non’go.
It did not take Luna and Airk long to realize that they had been tricked by the greenhag’s illusion magic into separating from Weimar and Revafour. Continuing through the maze of passages, Luna and Airk came upon a series of rooms they realized were probably the living quarters of the hags and their servants.
Luna and Airk found everything they expected to in the first two rooms. One of the rooms were likely sleeping quarters for the giants and ogres that served the hags, being filled with a large collection of trunks and crude, oversized bunk beds. The second room was obviously a kitchen, filled with a large cauldron, cupboards and cutlery, and a large closet that served as a larder. The third room was likely the hags’ chamber. It held three elegant beds with silk and satin sheets and luxurious pillows, all of which were filthy and dirty from their previous occupants.
Airk glanced around the hags’ chamber in disgust, not really surprised by what he saw. He was shocked by the furious look he saw on Luna’s face, and followed her gaze to an alcove at the far end of the hags’ room. A large stone idol of Orcus rested in the alcove, seeming to smile mockingly at Luna and Airk.
A look of palpable anger crossed Luna’s face as she walked up to the idol. Raising her mace, she repeatedly struck the idol, breaking it into several pieces. Without a word, she turned back to Airk, who led her back into the maze of hallways.
Luna felt a sense of accomplishment in destroying the idol of Orcus, realizing that she had done right by Pelor. However, destroying the idol had done little to relieve her worries about her fellow adventurers, or the sorrow she felt for all the people who these monsters had victimized.
The children in the cages were begging Seline for release, but there was little she could do to free them. N’arghenn had not been carrying any keys to the cages, and Seline had no spells that she could use to open the cage doors.
The children’s sorrow and frustration echoed Seline’s own, as she cursed herself for her stupidity in abandoning her companions. While Seline had killed one of the hags, it felt to her as though the cost was too high.
Seline’s spirits lifted when she saw Luna and Airk walk into the room. Their relief at seeing Seline and many of the children still alive was palpable. Luna and Airk didn’t have any keys to free the children with either, but Luna and Seline knew they only needed enough rest to recover their magic to start freeing the children from their cages.
Luna, Seline and Airk were still on edge, though, not knowing what had happened to the rest of the adventurers. It was that much more of a relief to them when Amyalla joined them, followed by Revafour and Weimar carrying Ma’non’go over their shoulders.
All of the companions were alive, and they found that more of the children were still alive than they could have hoped. Teddyrun, Elian and Sienna were all there, along with twenty-six others.
That realization lifted an immense weight off all the adventurers’ shoulders.
Luna breathed heavily as she sat down to rest. The adventurers had found more of the children alive than any of them had dared to hope. Unfortunately, they had also found two dead children for every living one, victims of the hags and their depraved henchmen.
Luna wasn’t sure what sickened her more, the ways in which many of the dead children had been killed or the indignities the hags and their minions had inflicted on the children’s bodies.
Luna was glad that the other adventurers had agreed to her plea that they take both the living children and the dead when they left this gods-cursed place. She could only imagine how many parents out there were worried sick wondering what happened to their loved ones. Even if Luna and the other adventurers had to bring the parents the tragic news of their children’s deaths, she hoped the parents could at least get some closure.
Unfortunately, it was likely that the hags had brought some of the corpses with them from elsewhere when they’d come to the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. Luna knew there was likely no way that the adventurers would be able to return all of the dead children to their families, but she still felt better taking them anyway. If nothing else, she knew she could at least ensure they could be buried with dignity, and rest in peace.
The very air of the Bearded Lord’s Hollow sickened Luna now, making her feel filthy and dirty. She had found solace in healing her friends’ wounds and treating the living children’s illnesses. Her only other outlet had been to help destroy and desecrate the hags’ shrine to Orcus, something that gave her a satisfying sense of vengeance.
Despite it all, Luna found herself wondering why Pelor and the other gods of good tolerated the evils of demon princes like Orcus. Was there nothing they could do directly, particularly when evil gods like Iuz and Wastri intervened on Oerth? No matter what, the likes of Orcus, Asmodeus and Nerull constantly returned to cause yet more suffering and death.
When does it all end? Luna wondered, as she cast a healing spell over one of the children who’d been badly beaten by the hags’ servants.
Can it even all end?
What if you simply can’t put an end to it? Luna wondered, addressing her god.
Luna felt ashamed for thinking that, for expressing doubt to the god she’d pledged her life to. Try as she might, however, she couldn’t help but wonder, sickened by all the horrors she’d seen over the last few years.
What was it all for? Luna thought to herself.
Ma’non’go tried to remember if the adventurers had everything they needed. They had used the food in the hags’ larder to feed themselves and the children. They would also be able to use the wagons the hags had used to bring their prisoners to this hellish place to take the children back home. They could even use some of the treasure they’d taken from the hags to pay to bury those children whose parents’ couldn’t be found and who had died here, alone and unknown, so far from home.
If anyone could empathize with that, it was Ma’non’go. He knew that everyone in X’tandelexamenka likely believed that he was dead, lost in the jungles of Hepmonaland when he’d been forced to flee for his life. Perhaps it was for the best-as Ma’non’go constantly reminded himself, everyone in X’tandelexamenka who knew him was either dead or alive but dead to him. He had not spoken a word in the decade since he’d been banished, the shock and the pain proving too much for him to endure.
There’s nothing left there for you now, Ma’non’go told himself as he loaded one of the hags’ wagons with supplies.
He told himself that he didn’t need to think about what had happened all those years ago.
Ma’non’go wondered how many times he’d told himself those things over the last decade.
A hundred times? A thousand?
No matter how many times Ma’non’go told himself those things, and he tried to make himself speak, he simply could not, except through his hands. Try as he might, the words would simply not come. Indeed, even speaking through his hands did not come easily, except to the sisters to whom he had pledged his life. They made his heart lighter, and gave him a reason to continue.
Reminded of his commitments to Luna and Seline, Ma’non’go wondered what would happen once the adventurers had returned the children to their homes. It was quite possible the axeman Weimar would stay with them, but those others, Revafour, Amyalla and Airk-what would happen to them?
Even in just the short time he’d known them, Ma’non’go had seen how the Flan warrior and his gnome and halfling companions had suffered in their own right. Ma’non’go had concluded that they weren’t so different from himself, or Luna and Seline. And then there was Weimar-for all his cheerful demeanor, Ma’non’go doubted that was all there was to it.
To his own surprise, Ma’non’go found that the idea of parting ways with any of the other adventurers dismayed him.
The hags had kept their treasure in a series of trunks in their private bed-chamber, and had hidden the keys so well that the adventurers could not find them. That wasn’t too much of a problem for Amyalla, though. It had been easy for her to disable most of the locks and traps on most of the chests.
She was working on the padlock of the last chest. One final twist of her pick broke the needle in the padlock, and opened the lock itself all at once. Smiling widely, Amyalla tossed the padlock aside and opened the chest. In the dim torchlight, Amyalla found the glittering of the gold and silver coins pretty enough, but not as much as the jeweled goblets or the set of perfectly cut and matching topazes. The hags had accumulated quite a store of wealth, much of it probably acquired from their victims or from would-be rescuers who they’d killed.
Normally, Amyalla would have been quite pleased to see all this wealth. For the moment, though, she was more interested in how much of the treasure the adventurers could use to pay for the burial of those victims who had no families to claim them.
Standing up, Amyalla went to try and find some of the other adventurers to help her carry the hags’ treasure out of here. She was eager to get back outside and far away from this disgusting place. She was too small to help much with gathering up the bodies of the dead children, so she had spent much of her time entertaining the living children instead.
Amyalla had knitted together some puppets, which Revafour had painted to make them much more lifelike. The puppets were the perfect accompaniment to the stories and songs Seline contributed, all set to the music Luna played on the lute she carried. When the puppets were not enough for the story and Amyalla needed something more dramatic, her magical hat allowed her to take on any other roles she needed.
The laughter and smiles on the children’s faces lightened Amyalla’s heart, particularly after the horrors she’d seen. Not that the horrors of seeing caged children were new to her. After having Kivern Goodleaf as a husband, Amyalla was well acquainted with living in cages, metaphorically if not literally.
The halfling had often wondered what it would have been like to have children, to care for them and raise a family. Feeding and caring for the human children she and the other adventurers had rescued was particularly amusing in her case, given that so many of them were just as tall as she was. Being a parent was one thing, but being a nanny was quite another…
That realization made the halfling sigh. She had no regrets about publicly exposing Kivern and dragging House Reorsa’s name through the mud in the process. Unfortunately, being forced to flee the way she did had kept her from ever being able to enjoy the family she’d been looking for. The Reorsa family wasn’t exactly what she’d been hoping for-it had been all about money, rank and military prestige for them. It was the same with all the men she’d rooked and robbed-every one of them were double-dealing snakes who deserved the scandals she’d exposed them to.
At the end of it all, though, I’m still alone, Amyalla realized glumly as she caught sight of Revafour down the corridor.
Whispering quietly in the Flan tongue, Revafour breathed in the cleansing smoke of the tobacco burning in the bowl in front of him. After a few seconds, he picked up the pieces of cedar next to the bowl and added them to the flames, whispering once again in Flan. Praying quietly to Beory the Oerth Mother, Revafour asked that she accept his offering, so that the Bearded Lord’s Hollow could be cleansed of the evil that had poisoned it.
The thought of what the hags had done to the Bearded Lord’s Hollow pained Revafour. These hills offered a special rugged beauty, something to be cherished and until they were tainted and polluted by the corrupting influence of the hags and their minions. The dwarves who had originally carved the caverns of the Bearded Lord’s Hollow clearly recognized that, given the alliance they likely shared with the Flan. Revafour doubted that any of the other companions he had fought alongside recognized the runes of protection and welcome subtly carved into the walls of some of the tunnels, runes that he recognized as having a Flan influence. Those runes showed just how closely the Flan had allied with the dwarves who shared these hills with them.
More the pity, then, that the caverns had been so tainted by evil, first by the orcs that had taken over this place and then by the hags and their foul minions.
Anger welled up in Revafour as he thought of it, despite his best efforts to focus on his prayers. He was reminded of some of the stories of the Flan elders, stories of the betrayal and murder many Flan had suffered at the hands of the Oerids and the Suel. Revafour had heard the stories, and he had seen it personally. His old friend Quendamak, a second father to him, had been betrayed by Archbaron Bestmo of Blackmoor.
Revafour was still pained by Quendamak’s murder, and it served as an uncomfortable reminder of everything the Flan had suffered at the hands of the new arrivals to the Flanaess. Revafour also remembered how the Flan could suffer at the hands of each other-he hadn’t forgotten about Tuomad Wolf-Slayer or Kathleena Nightoak.
What now, then? Revafour wielded a sword of Oeridian make, worn a cloak and armor of Oeridian design, and had fought alongside people of Oerid and Suel descent to destroy the evil infecting this place. He was not certain what he would do once all the children had been returned to their homes. Would he continue on with Amyalla and Airk? Or would he go on to his own devices, working as a hired sword?
Would he find another Quendamak out there?
The thought of striking out on his own did not arouse the same enthusiasm in Revafour that it might have several months ago. He hadn’t felt particularly close to any of the rest of Quendamak’s people after he’d helped them escape from Blackmoor after Bestmo’s attempts to kill them. Quendamak’s people had chosen to stay in Highfolk, but Revafour had been too angry and frustrated to stay with them.
He needed to leave, to be somewhere, anywhere else.
Where else did he need to be?
He thought again about the other adventurers he had fought alongside, and added another pinch of cedar to the bowl.
Weimar smiled to himself as he contemplated the flagon he’d found in the hags’ larder. The flagon was one of the magical ‘flowing flagons’ produced by the legendary Zagig, the mad old demigod of yore. It was able to dispense different types of drink on command. Weimar considered himself especially fortunate to find the flagon, given how badly he needed a drink after everything he’d seen.
Weimar had been reproached for his drinking before, but he just couldn’t help himself this time. He found himself wondering what was it that motivated beings like these hags and their minions to pick on helpless innocents like the children they victimized.
Weimar had never been able to find the answer, not even after all of the duels and tavern brawls he’d gotten into over the years. One day he was defending his brother Denrik against a spurned woman’s champion, the next he was smashing tankards over the heads of low-born street thugs who harassed barmaids and halflings. Weimar’s brawling had gotten him into trouble with his superior officers in the Keoish Army, too. Just as he was ready to attack civilians who bullied people who couldn’t defend themselves, so too would he attack his fellow soldiers for mistreating civilians. Weimar was no better with his tongue, as he gained a reputation for bluntly criticizing military officers who abused their charges.
For all of Weimar’s fighting, he still felt unfulfilled. He felt like he was searching for something, and never really found what it was. Of course he enjoyed himself fighting a new foe every day, spending every night with a new fair maiden and enjoying a new type of ale in every tavern he came to, but he still didn’t feel like he’d found what he was searching for.
Take the adventurers he’d fought beside, for instance. Would Weimar now leave their company, after they had risked their lives for one another?
The idea appalled him.
Weimar suddenly felt his mind fill with the images of everything he’d seen the hags do to their victims.
Those images faded, and then they were replaced with memories of how Weimar and the other adventurers had had to gather up their victims’ bodies to return to civilization.
Weimar realized he needed another drink.
Seline had found that the clasps on the silver bracers N’arghenn was wearing easily opened, and she had no trouble removing them. The bracers immediately shrank to fit Seline’s wrists when she tried them on, and she could feel their protective power. Seline also helped herself to the wand hanging from N’arghenn’s belt, the one that N’arghenn had used to produce the scalding steam.
Seline knew she would be able to make good use of both items.
As valuable as these prizes were, Seline considered them a poor consolation when stacked against all the horrors she’d seen in these caverns. The images of what the hags had done to their prey remained seared in her mind. Judging by the looks Seline had seen the looks in the eyes of her companions as they’d gathered up the bodies of the hags’ victims, she knew the other adventurers suffered the same problem.
Seline was sickened by the memories of what she’d seen, but she knew she would be able to deal with them. What concerned her more was how the other adventurers, the people she’d accompanied on this mad quest, were doing.
Airk was constantly staring off into the distance, as if he was reliving some distant memory. Revafour seemed to simmer with some sort of inner rage, mostly ignoring everyone around him. Ma’non’go looked confused and saddened. Amyalla put on a brave face as she entertained the children with the puppets she’d knitted. Luna was spending more and more time in prayer. Weimar was constantly sampling from that magical flagon he’d found, seemingly unable to stop himself.
Seline felt a keen sense of frustration, wishing she could do something more to help them.
She didn’t want it to end this way.
Airk dutifully worked to help the others gather up the treasure and the bodies of the hags’ victims, and to ensure that the surviving children were well-fed and guarded. Inwardly, though, his mind kept drifting back several decades to the Hateful Wars, and the ugly memories that he simply could not seem to shake.
How many comrades had he and his fellow gnomes had to bury back then? How many times had the gnomes and the dwarves continually betrayed and sold each other out for profit and political gain, allowing the humanoids to regroup? It was one thing to kill the orcs and goblins, monsters who would have enslaved the gnomes and dwarves they did not kill and eat, but it was quite another to face death at the hands of your supposed allies. Even now, the thoughts still filled him with rage, and sometimes it was all he could do to keep himself in check.
Gazing out over the beauty of the hills, which remained unspoiled beyond the borders of the cancer poisoning Bearded Lord’s Hollow, and the dance of the twin moons at night, helped soothe Airk’s soul. So too, did the surviving children-Airk had much more fun than he would have ever imagined playing with Amyalla in her silly puppet shows.
But what would Airk do after he and the other adventurers had taken the children home? Airk had wandered for a long time after the end of Hateful Wars, working as a mercenary and adventurer, but it all seemed so hollow to him. He hadn’t even returned to Flinthold after the war ended. He could not show his face there after the way he’d allowed Kalrek to betray their people.
Now, as for the past five decades, Airk was left wondering what to do with his life. His latest attempt to try and find some meaning had led him to fight alongside a crew of humans and a halfling, people who would eventually go grey and die while he would still be comparatively young.
Airk was struck by the strangeness of the situation, and even more so by the fact that fighting alongside these other adventurers made him more fulfilled and alive than he had been since before the Hateful Wars.
Trail Of Dreams
It took four long, wearying days for the adventurers to gather the children, treasure and provisions from the hags’ lair and load them into the wagons the monsters had used to bring them to the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. From there, it took another three days to drive the wagons back to Greyhawk.
On the way back to Greyhawk, the adventurers stopped at Oakdale and other settlements in the hills to return children who lived in those communities to their families. It was as joyous as it was sad, some parents relieved that their children were safe and others merely saddened as they buried their loved ones.
The caravan was attacked once on the journey back to Greyhawk, by a gang of orc and goblin brigands who were eager for the treasure and food they thought they could gain. It was the worst mistake the monsters could have made. The adventurers were still seething with anger at what the hags had done to their victims, and eager for something to take it out on.
The monsters were crushed like flies and left to rot at the side of the road.
When the adventurers reached Greyhawk, it took them another week to return all of the living children to their parents. Pieden Ronard was reunited with his son Elian, not even thanking the adventurers as he marched off down the street. Louella was beside herself with joy, nearly crushing Amyalla in the thankful hug she gave the halfling for bringing Sienna home. Morin and Jacquileene Listell came to Greyhawk to take Teddyrun home after a joyous reunion, leaving the adventurers a large coffer of gold coins in thanks for their deed.
At the same time, Luna also made arrangements with the temple of Pelor in Greyhawk to give a decent burial to the bodies of the children who the adventurers had not been able to save. Many of those children had no one to claim them, and were likely street children or abducted from faraway lands. The temple of Pelor also arranged for the care of the few living children who had no one to claim them.
Eventually, the adventurers were left on their own, nearly two and a half weeks after the battle at the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. Revafour mentioned that he needed to leave Greyhawk, even if just for a couple of days, and the rest of the adventurers insisted on accompanying him.
The group marched west out of Greyhawk, traveling for almost a day, before they made camp in a forested area just off the road to the city of Dyvers.
The forested area was a common stopping point for travelers between Greyhawk and Dyvers. However, as the adventurers got a fire going and ate their evening meal they felt as if they were the only people in all the world. Shadows crept in around them as the sky filled with a dazzling collection of stars. The stars contrasted with the light of the fire, lending an aura of wonder and mystery to the adventurers’ surroundings.
Finally, far away from it all, the companions felt a sense of peace and relief that they had not experienced since before their battles at the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. The fire grew brighter as the night grew longer, both comforting and warming all at once.
For a long time, they had sat in silence, until Revafour finally spoke.
“Why did you all come with me?” he asked, looking from one to the other of the people who had accompanied him on his journey.
“Because we’re like you,” Seline said. She looked at Luna and Ma’non’go, who nodded in agreement. “We needed to get away from everything, even if only for a while.”
“But you could have gone off on your own,” Revafour said. “You didn’t have to come with me, either,” he continued, turning to look at Airk and Amyalla.
“Why wouldn’t we?” Amyalla asked. “Where else would we have gone?”
“Anywhere,” Revafour said.
“Yes, but what would be the purpose?” Weimar said. “We would just be alone again, would we not? Besides, everyone has to be somewhere, and here is as good a place as any.”
“So what do you plan to do now?” Amyalla asked.
I, for one, am not certain, Ma’non’go signed with his hands. Luna and Seline had begun teaching the rest of the adventurers the sign language Ma’non’go used to communicate, and they could now understand his basic conversations. Will our association end here, as we go our separate ways?
The look on Ma’non’go’s face reflected his disappointment at the thought, and the rest of his companions were following suit.
They sat in silence for several moments, until Airk spoke.
“Who says it has to end here?” he said. “Think of it-I knew little of either of you before we came together,” he continued, looking at Amyalla and Revafour, “and yet here we are. Is there any reason why we should split up? What would it accomplish?”
“Nothing!” Luna said immediately. She seemed rather embarrassed as everyone looked at her, surprised by her outburst. “It’s just…there’s no reason for us to split off, is all,” she said.
“And I’d personally hate for it to end this way,” Weimar said, “particularly after everything we’ve been through together.”
That made Revafour stare up at the starlit sky, a faraway look in his eyes.
“Together…” he said.
“That’s what we all have in common,” Weimar said, glancing from one to the other of his companions. “We’ve all been wandering, alone in our own ways…searching for something. Who’s to say that, together, we might not have found it?”
“Companionship?” Amyalla asked.
“Just so,” Weimar said with a smile.
A company, then? Ma’non’go signed, the expression on his face showing how pleased he was by the thought.
“Just so,” Weimar repeated.
“Well then, what should we call ourselves?” Amyalla asked.
Revafour was thinking about the question, as he resumed looking up at the beautiful starlit sky. He started at the howling he heard in the distance, the songs of the wolves as they greeted the night.
“The silver wolf,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes. “The stars of the sky, and the songs of the wolves. Many of them may start out alone, but then they can come together into a pack.”
“Wolves howl to call their packs together, to locate one another when they’re lost and to communicate over long distances, to remind them that they’re not alone,” Weimar said.
“Is that what we are, then?” Airk asked. “Akin to wolves, come together in a pack under the silver sky?”
“The Company of the Silver Wolf?” Seline said, speaking for all of them.
None of her companions replied to her. They didn’t need to, as they each knew what the other was thinking.
Some of them settled down to sleep, and some of them took the first watch.
The Company of the Silver Wolf prepared at dawn to return to Greyhawk, the sunrise providing a fitting background to the bright new future they saw together.
Dedicated to the memory of Gary Gygax, without whom none of this would be possible.