Luna breathed heavily as she sat down to rest. There had
been more of the children left alive than any of them had dared to hope, nearly
thirty altogether. Unfortunately, for every prisoner left alive the adventurers
had found two more corpses, innocents who had perished at the hands of the hags
and their depraved henchmen. Luna wasn’t sure what was worse, the ways in which
many of the children had been killed or the indignities inflicted on their
Her friends had readily agreed to her plea that they take
the bodies with them when they left this gods-cursed place. Luna could only
imagine how many parents out there were worried sick wondering what had happened
to their loved ones, and if nothing else Luna hoped that she and the others
would be able to bring the parents some closure. Unfortunately, it was likely
that the hags had brought some of the corpses with them from elsewhere when
they’d set up in the caverns, and there was no way the adventurers would be able
to return them to their families. Luna still felt better taking them anyway,
knowing that, if she could not save their lives, she could at least take them
away from this gods-cursed place and let them be buried to rest in peace.
The very air of the Bearded Lord’s Hollow sickened Luna
now. The priestess couldn’t stomach going into those caverns anymore, feeling
filthy and dirty whenever she did. The only exception was when she’d helped
desecrate and destroy the hags’ shrine to Orcus, something that made her feel
cleaner already. She’d spent the rest of the day healing her friends’ wounds
and treating the childrens’ sicknesses and injuries, feeling a sense of relief
as she did so.
Even then, nagging doubts lurked at the back of Luna’s
mind. Why did Pelor and the other gods of good tolerate the evil of demon
princes like Orcus and the gods of evil? 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 did it all end?
Could it even all end?
What if Pelor, for all his power, simply could not put
an end to it?
She felt shame for those thoughts, knowing that she was
expressing doubt to the god she had pledged her life to. And yet she could not
help but feel them, sickened by all the horrors she’d seen over the last few
What was it all for?
Ma’non’go knew that everything was ready. The hags’
larder had provided plenty of food for the children and their guardians to eat,
and the wagons the hags had used to bring their prisoners to this hellish place
could be used to bring them back home. Some of the treasure Amyalla had found
would also help provide burial for those children who had died here, alone and
unknown, so far from home.
If anyone could empathize with that, it was the large
Olman. Likely everyone in X’tandelexamenka believed that he was dead, lost in
the jungles of Hepmonaland when he’d been forced to flee. Perhaps it was for the
best-as he constantly reminded himself, everyone in that city 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
There was nothing left there for him, he kept telling
himself. He didn’t need to think about what had happened all those years ago.
He told himself that, but he still could not speak,
except through his hands. 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
With that in mind, Ma’non’go wondered what would happen
now, once they’d 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?
To his own surprise, he found that the idea of their
parting ways 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-she’d easily disabled the locks and traps on most of the chests, and this
one was the only one left. One final twist of her pick broke the needle in the
lock, and Amyalla easily tossed the now-opened lock aside and opened the last of
In the dim torchlight, the glittering of the gold and
silver coins was 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 she would have been quite pleased
to see all this wealth, but right now all she could think of was how they could
use it to pay for the burial of those victims who had no families to claim them.
More than that, too, Amyalla wanted was 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 victims or the gathering of the treasure, so
she had spent much of her time entertaining the children, instead. The puppets
she’d made were crude, but with some clever application of Revafour’s paints,
they became much more lifelike. They made the perfect accompaniment to Seline’s
stories and songs, accompanied by Luna’s music. Even when the puppets were not
enough, Amyalla’s magical hat allowed her to take the roles on herself.
The laughter and smiles on the children’s faces lightened
Amyalla’s heart, particularly after the horrors she’d seen. Not that they were
particularly new to her-after having Kivern Goodleaf as a husband, Amyalla was
well acquainted with living in cages, metaphorically if not literally. She’d
often wondered what it would have been like to have children, to care for them
and raise a family. Feeding and caring for the children 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. While she had
no regrets about publicly exposing Kivern and dragging House Reorsa’s name
through the mud in the process, 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 looking for-it had been all about money,
rank and military prestige for them-and all of the men she’d rooked and robbed
were double-dealing snakes who deserved the scandals she’d exposed them to.
At the end of it all, though, she was still alone, she
Being back outside, free of those gods-cursed caverns,
was a cleansing feeling to Revafour. They would be leaving soon-all of the food
and treasure they were taking had been loaded onto the wagons, the shrine to
Orcus had been destroyed, the monsters were all dead and Luna had fully healed
them all. In a matter of weeks this whole affair would be over and done with,
and they could leave this hellish place behind.
It all seemed like a tragic waste to Revafour. These
hills were so beautiful, offering a wild, rugged beauty all their own, until
they were tainted and polluted by the corrupting influence of the hags and their
minions. The caverns of the Bearded Lord’s Hollow had not been crafted by
orcs-they were far more likely to be of dwarven make. Revafour doubted that any
of the other companions who he had fought alongside likely 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. More the pity, then, that
they had been so tainted by evil.
Anger welled up in him, despite his best efforts to stop
it. Thinking about these things reminded him of the stories of the Flan elders,
stories of betrayal and murder at the hands of the Oerids and the Suel. The
murder of his old friend Quendamak, his second father, at the hands of Archbaron
Bestmo still pained him, and it served as an uncomfortable reminder of
everything the Flan had suffered at the hands of the new arrivals to the
Flanaess, and at the hands of each other-he hadn’t forgotten about Tuomad
Wolf-Slayer or Kathleena Nightoak.
What now, then? He had wielded a sword of Oeridian make,
worn a cloak and armor of Oeridian design, and fought alongside the Oerids and
the Suel to destroy the evil poisoning this place. Revafour 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 guard or a hired sword? Would he find another Quendamak out there?
The idea did not arouse the same enthusiasm in him that
it might have several months ago. He hadn’t been particularly close to anyone
after he’d led the escape from Blackmoor-the rest of Quendamak’s people had
chosen to stay with the people they’d met in the Vesve Forest. Revafour had been
too angry and frustrated to stay with them-he needed to leave, to be somewhere,
Where else did he even need to be?
Even as he told himself that, he remembered the stories
of what the Flan had suffered, and felt the anger rise up within him.
He tried to fight it, but it was still there.
Weimar smiled to himself as he contemplated the flagon
he’d found in the hags’ larder. It was a magical one, able to dispense different
types of drink on command, one of the “flowing flagons” of the legendary Zagig,
the mad old demigod of yore. He was especially glad for its presence, given how
badly he needed a drink after everything he’d seen.
Weimar needed to be careful not to overdo it, but he just
couldn’t help himself this time. What was it that motivated beings with power
like these hags and their minions to pick on helpless innocents like the
children they victimized? He’d 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 one of his siblings who’d gotten into trouble with a
powerful noble, the next he was smashing tankards over the heads of low-born
street thugs who harassed slim young barmaids and halfling patrons. That nature
had gotten him into trouble with his superior officers in the Keoish Army,
too-Weimar had had no compunctions about attacking his fellow soldiers for
mistreating civilians, or for bluntly criticizing overbearing sergeants who
abused their charges.
It was just one thing he’d been searching for and had
never really found the answer to. 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 wondered when and if it would
end. Take today, for instance-would he now leave the company of the people he’d
fought alongside, people who had risked their lives for him and who he had
risked his own life for?
The idea appalled him, particularly after everything
The images of everything he’d seen the hags do to their
victims, and the way he and the others had had to gather up their victims’
bodies to return to civilization, sprang unbidden to his mind.
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. The wand hanging from N’arghenn’s belt,
the one that had released the scalding steam, was also easily taken, and Seline
knew she would be able to make good use of it.
As valuable as these prizes were, they were a poor
consolation compared to all the horrors she’d seen in these caverns. She’d seen
the looks in the eyes of her companions as they’d gathered up the bodies of the
hags’ victims, and the images of what the hags had done to their prey remained
seared in her mind. The thoughts sickened her, but she knew she would be able to
deal with them. What concerned her more was how the other companions, the people
she’d accompanied on this mad quest, were doing.
She’d constantly seen Airk staring off on the horizon
with a faraway look in his eyes, as if he was reliving some distant memory.
Revafour had that same look of eager anger in his eyes that she’d first seen
when they’d fought the ogres and the verbeeg after falling down the pit trap.
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? 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 these caverns had become, and the
dance of the twin moons at night, helped soothe his 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. They would be leaving soon, and
then he’d be able to put this gods-cursed place behind him.
And what would he do after that? He’d 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 unit-and he was left wondering what to do with his life.
Now here he was, fighting alongside a crew of humans and
a halfling, all of whom would eventually go grey and die while he would still be
Airk was struck by the strangeness of the situation, and
even more so by the fact that it made him more fulfilled and alive than he had
been for more than six and a half decades.
It took four long, wearying days for the adventurers to
gather everything up from the hags’ lair and load it into the wagons the
monsters had used to transport their treasures and their prey. After that, it
took another three days to drive the caravan back to Greyhawk, stopping more
than once 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 loved ones 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 they could have
made, as the adventurers were eager for something to vent their anger and
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, and to
return the corpses of the victims they’d arrived too late to save. Several of
these latter victims had no families to call their own-street children, in all
likelihood, abducted since they wouldn’t be missed-and the adventurers paid to
give them a decent burial. 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
for bringing Sienna home. Morin and Jacquileene Listell came to Greyhawk to take
Teddyrun home after a cheerful reunion, leaving the adventurers a large coffer
of gold coins in thanks for their deed.
Soon, two weeks after the battle at the Bearded Lord’s
Hollow, the adventurers were left on their own. When Revafour mentioned that he
needed to leave Greyhawk, even if just for a couple of days, it didn’t take
long for the rest of the adventurers to insist on accompanying him. Heading west
out of the city, not entirely sure where they were going, they soon made camp in
a forested area just off the road to Dyvers.
It was a common stopping point for travelers between the
free cities, but 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. As shadows crept in
around them, the sky filled with a dazzling collection of stars, even as the
twin moons Luna and Celene began their evening dance. The moon and stars
contrasted with the light of the fire, lending an aura of wonder and mystery to
Finally, far away from it all, the companions felt a
sense of peace and relief that they had not experienced since their journey to
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
“Why did you all come with me?” he asked solemnly,
looking from one to the other of the people he had called his companions for the
last two weeks.
“We were like you,” Seline replied, looking 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
pointed out. “You didn’t have to come with me, either,” he continued, looking at
Airk and Amyalla.
“Why wouldn’t we?” Amyalla asked. “Where else could we
Revafour had no answer to that.
“It’s much the same with me,” Weimar interjected.
“Everyone has to be somewhere, and here is as good a place as any to me.”
“So what do you plan to do now?” Amyalla asked him.
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
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 pointed out. “Think of
it-I knew little of either of you before we came together,” he said, nodding to
Amyalla and Revafour, “and yet here we are. Is there any reason why we should
split up? What would it accomplish?”
“Nothing!” Luna spoke up 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 continued.
“And I’d personally hate for it to end this way,” Weimar
chimed in, “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 muttered.
“Together,” Seline repeated, a determined smile crossing
her face. “That’s the thing, isn’t it? We’ve all been wandering, each alone in
our own ways…searching for something…who’s to say we might not have found
“Companionship?” Amyalla asked.
“Just so,” Seline smiled.
A company, then? Ma’non’go signed, the
expression on his face showing how pleased he was by the thought.
“Just so,” Seline repeated.
“And what, my dear, should we call ourselves?” Amyalla
asked ironically. “The Circle of Seven?”
They all laughed at that, but it didn’t answer the
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 smiled to himself, murmuring as if
he was half-dreaming. “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 noted.
“Is that what we are, then?” Airk asked curiously. “Akin
to wolves, come together in a pack under the silver sky?”
“The Company of the Silver Wolf?” Seline spoke for all
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.
They left at dawn, the sunrise providing a fitting
background to the bright new future the companions saw together.