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The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past, Part Two
Posted on Fri, September 04, 2015 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "

“That was too easy,” Revafour said, voicing what they were all thinking. “These things were just fodder.”

“So now it’s just us and the master, and whatever he’s got waiting for us,” Weimar chimed in. “Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be in a welcoming mood.”

“You never know,” Amyalla quipped as they made their way into the cavern. “Perhaps he’ll be pleased that we decided to deliver his next meal.”




So far, so good, Amyalla thought to herself as she returned to the camp they’d set up. Now we just need to decide how we’re going to do this…

Revafour and Weimar hadn’t had much trouble finding the trolls’ lair after speaking to the Oakdale foresters about where they had found signs of the trolls’ passage. Nor had the two-day journey been at all hazardous, fortunately enough. Once they’d set up camp in a suitable place, they’d sent Amyalla to scout the trolls’ lair. That wasn’t at all difficult for the halfling, who had spent a day and night watching the cavern to try and determine what the trolls might be up to.

Quietly hailing Airk as she marched back into camp, their human friends immediately looked up expectantly, eager for her news.

Once she’d had some of the tea Luna had prepared, Amyalla began explaining what she’d seen at the trolls’ lair.

“There’s almost a score of the wretched things,” she explained, “and there’s always at least two of them standing guard at the entrance. They’ve cleared most of the area around the entrance, so they get a good look at the area around them. They hunt once the moons are high in the sky, always in the same circling routine, just like the tracks confirmed. So, how shall we pursue this?”

They pondered that for several moments, before a thin smile crossed Seline’s face.

“Likely they’re expecting us to come to them, aren’t they?” she asked.

Most likely, Ma’non’go signed back, an intrigued look on his face. What do you have in mind?

Picking up a stick, Seline began to outline her idea, tracing it in the dirt.

Gods, I love this, she thought to herself. We shouldn’t come to the trolls…they’ll be ready for us.

Instead, we need the trolls to come to us…

 ***

“Faces not even a mother could love,” Weimar muttered to his companions as he folded up his telescope. “There’s just the two of them gathered there, neither one inclined to leave his post. You’re ready, Seline?”

“Of course I am,” the wizard smiled, as she raised her free hand. Holding up her free hand, she winked to her companions as she faded from sight, the sapphire stone in her silver ring twinkling brightly.

 ***

Quietly…quietly…Seline thought to herself, as she approached the cavern. Despite herself, she shuddered at the sight of the wretched trolls, who thankfully hadn’t noticed her. They seemed nervous and on edge, peering intently at the woods ahead of them as if expecting an attack. They shook and twitched, constantly muttering to themselves as if eager for a fight.

Taking one of her wands out of her pocket, she began chanting softly, praying that she wouldn’t attract the trolls’ notice. Fortunately, the trolls were too intent on the woods ahead of them to notice Seline’s chanting, only realizing what was happening when the thick fog cloud surrounded them. Raising their voices in alarm, they didn’t hear Seline’s next chant.

In just a few seconds, the air was filled with the sounds of clanking metal and angry war cries, the signs of a war party come to beard the trolls in their lair. Already alarmed by the fog cloud surrounding them, one of the trolls ran back into the cavern, even as the other moved to guard the entrance. The troll who had re-entered the cavern began ringing a loud bell to alert its fellows, who snapped awake and came charging to his aid.

Just as Seline had hoped, the noise and the fog made the perfect cover for Seline’s friends to join her, and she quickly fell back to join them. Luna’s companions held their ground as she stepped forward, her intent chant masked by the sound of the trolls’ angry footsteps and cries.

A flurry of debris emerged from the fog cloud as the trolls tossed everything from tree stumps to giant rocks at their apparent attackers. Smiling to herself, Seline shifted her spell to cries of despair and pain, as the trolls’ missiles apparently crushed their victims. The missiles were soon replaced with cries of delight and eagerness as the trolls rushed out of the cloud, eager to tear apart what was left of their invaders. Drool ran down many of their faces, mixing with the dried blood and gore all over their claws and hides. Murder was in their eyes as their hunger and blood lust overcame them.

Their eager cries were replaced with howls of pain as Luna’s spell now took effect. Thorns sprouted from the grass beneath the trolls’ feet, piercing them and knocking the monsters off balance. Howling in pain, the trolls quickly regained their bearings, knowing their regeneration would heal the wounds they suffered. Heedless of the injuries they suffered, they continued pressing through the field of thorns Luna had conjured, determined to kill the humans they now saw spread out in front of them.

Ma’non’go was the first to meet them, goring one troll on his trident and hurling the wretched creature back into two of its fellows. All three creatures rolled back through the field of spikes, crying out in pain as their bodies were further torn. Revafour chopped one troll down in a single strike, tossing it back at another troll even as Airk hamstrung yet another one with his military pick and forced it back.

A few of the trolls tried to make their way around the warriors, but one of them immediately fell dead, his head consumed by the flask of flaming oil that exploded in his face. The other trolls stared askance at their dead companion, before they too cried out in pain, scorched by the fiery arrows Weimar shot at them, even as Amyalla prepared a second flask of oil.

The trolls’ assault was now bogged down. Badly torn and wounded by the thorn field, and further wounded by the warriors, the creatures were too wounded to move. Forced to regenerate, they were helpless to avoid Seline’s flaming sphere as it rolled towards them, striking them in their faces and hearts and slaying them instantly. The rest of the adventurers joined in, hurling bottles of acid and flaming oil to ensure that the creatures stayed dead.

Soon, it was all over, as Luna dispelled the field of spikes she had conjured. Despite their victory, the adventurers’ faces were grim as they regrouped.

“That was too easy,” Revafour said, voicing what they were all thinking. “These things were just fodder.”

“So now it’s just us and the master, and whatever he’s got waiting for us,” Weimar chimed in. “Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be in a welcoming mood.”

“You never know,” Amyalla quipped as they made their way into the cavern. “Perhaps he’ll be pleased that we decided to deliver his next meal.”

 ***

It was fortunate that Amyalla was leading the way down the passage, and that she spotted the tripwires before they were triggered. It was a simple matter to disconnect them-trolls were not known for their mechanical skills, after all-but the spears they had been poised to shoot, now visible from the entrance to the larger cave chamber, were no laughing matter. No troll would have had to worry about them, but they would have easily run any of the adventurers through if they’d been released.

The adventurers were even more fortunate as they made their way into the cavern, knowing to dodge the hurled rocks and logs that came their way. That was where their luck ran out, however, as they were forced to scatter and split up to avoid being struck down. That was just as their hosts expected, as the monsters leapt down to greet their new guests.

Four of the trolls were just as nauseating and horrible as they’d expected, but they paled in comparison to the fifth. The towering monstrosity was an even more disgusting shade of green than his underlings, if that was even possible, and two heads sprouted from his broad shoulders. One of them chattered eagerly in the mishmash language the trolls used to communicate, while the other one was laughing wildly. None of the adventurers could understand what the troll leader was saying, but his words were all too clear as the trolls struck.

 ***

Revafour scored first blood on one of the trolls, tearing a long gash across its chest, but the creature merely laughed and responded in kind. Crying out in pain, the large man stumbled back, the momentum of his attack broken as he was knocked off balance. Soon, it was all he could do to block the troll’s blows as he struggled to strike back.

 ***

On the other side of the large log separating them, Seline shuddered as the troll crashed into the protective barrier she’d cast between them. Backing up hastily, she chanted frantically, releasing a series of magical bolts into the creature’s face. The troll howled in pain, but simply shrugged off the bolts’ effects as he advanced once again. Lunging forward with his claws, he soon found the limits of Seline’s barrier as one of his arms struck the barrier’s top and the wizard was forced to duck the second. Lunging in to bite her, the troll howled in pain as a burst of flame exploded in his face from Seline’s hands. Stumbling back, the troll held its face, screaming in pain, as Seline raised her wand. Another burst of what seemed like fog emerged from the wand, but the troll screamed in pain at the painful burns the steam inflicted on him. The troll sank to its knees, writhing in pain, before Seline threw a vial of acid in its face, ending its misery.

 ***

Ma’non’go hissed in pain as the troll he was fighting bit into his shoulder, but the silent warrior grimly endured the pain. Taking advantage of the troll’s proximity, Ma’non’go drove his fingers into the creature’s eyes, forcing it back. Raising his trident, Ma’non’go repeatedly drove his trident into the creature, tearing long, jagged wounds in its body. Frustratingly, however, the creature just kept on coming, even as its wounds regenerated. One of its arms lashed out and slashed his with its clawed hand, even as one of its legs lashed out and slashed his with its taloned foot.

Looking around, Ma’non’go saw another option. Raising his trident, he threw it forward, sending the troll crashing headfirst into one of the nearby boulders the creatures had thrown. Its head cracked open from the wound, the creature lay there for several seconds before it managed to rise to its feet. Tearing Ma’non’go’s trident out of its chest, the creature tossed the weapon aside, before looking for his opponent. It soon caught sight of Ma’non’go, and more particularly of the ignited flask of oil that struck it in the chest, splattering burning oil all over its wounds.

 ***

The troll facing Revafour was a cunning thing, constantly ducking and dodging and forcing him to block its attacks from every angle. Unable to mount an effective counterattack, Revafour could only manage minor strikes, most of which were already healing from the troll’s regeneration anyway. Gritting his teeth, he cursed in pain as the troll fastened its jaws on his arm, making him lose his grip on his sword.

The troll began to lash out with its claws at Revafour’s torso, but before it could it suddenly released his arm. Crying out in pain, the troll stumbled off to the side as Revafour saw the long burn mark down his back. He also saw Luna, who smiled at him as she raised the mace-shaped flame in her hand.

Revafour only smiled back as they finished the wretched thing off.

 ***

Weimar was thankful indeed for his shield, which shuddered as it took another blow from the huge troll. While he’d managed to inflict several blows on the creature, it hardly seemed to care about that, brutally striking at Weimar without even trying to block his attacks. So far he’d been able to dodge or block all of its attacks, but he knew his luck wouldn’t last forever.

The wretch is strong, but he’s not too fast, Weimar realized. Perhaps…

Looking around quickly, he soon saw what he was looking for. Jumping back, he turned as if to flee, the blood-crazed troll howling gleefully as it pursued him. It was so consumed by bloodlust that it failed to notice the log Weimar deftly hopped over, and fell flat on its face as it tripped.

Whirling around, Weimar tore a vicious gash in the side of the creature’s right head as it tried to get up. The blow made it shudder and collapse on the ground again, and Weimar moved to strike again. He stopped short at the sight of Amyalla appearing as if out of nowhere, nimbly making her way up the troll’s back with a vial in her hand. The troll’s left head turned around as if to bite her, but she tossed the vial into its mouth, causing the troll’s mouth to slam shut on it.

The troll began crying out in agony, smoke pouring from its mouth as it involuntarily began swallowing the acid Amyalla had been carrying. The troll began to shudder dreadfully, its neck and face turning a disgusting black in color, as the acid began to melt it.

They were hardened adventurers, but even Amyalla and Weimar couldn’t help but shudder.

 ***

Airk felt no sympathy for the troll as it writhed in agony, the flames consuming its torso. He had more experience battling trolls than Amyalla or the humans-as his older brother Tarnek had taught him, the best way to slay a troll was to take out its joints, and gouge out its eyes, and then burn it while it was helpless. His pick had served admirably in that regard, piercing the troll’s knee and allowing him to slash its eyes, blinding it and leaving it wide open to the flask of burning oil he struck it with.

Turning around as the troll finally expired, Airk’s mood brightened as he saw that his friends seemed mostly unscathed. Luna was already healing Revafour and Ma’non’go, while the others were already searching the cavern. The cave was smaller than Airk expected, being simply one large chamber filled with dozens of the stinking nests the trolls made for themselves. There was a pile of supplies haphazardly thrown into one corner by the largest nest, and Amyalla was now digging through it. Airk went over to join them as Amyalla dragged a large iron chest out of the pile, a wide smile on her face.

Not caring to search through the lead troll’s filthy nest for the key to the chest, Amyalla had little trouble dealing with the padlock. Her smile was wide as she considered the large pile of copper and silver coins, and Airk could see a few jewels sparkling among the coins. To his surprise, there was also several sheets of parchment, which he could see were written in the gnomish tongue.

“Let me see those,” he asked, as Amyalla passed the parchments along to him. He read through them intently as Revafour, Luna and Ma’non’go came up to join them, ignoring the humans and halfling as they began gathering up the coins. So focused was the gnome on his reading, that it was a long moment before he realized that his friends were all staring at him expectantly.

“…Are you sure you don’t want your share of this treasure?” Amyalla finally asked him, raising an eyebrow.

Airk didn’t reply, his eyes narrowing.

“Damn them all…” he muttered.

“…What did we do?” Luna asked, concern evident in her voice.

“You? Nothing,” Airk replied. “These parchments show why the trolls were rampaging and attacking the people of places like Oakdale.”

What do you mean? Ma’non’go signed curiously.

“The trolls were being paid to raid and plunder the surrounding communities,” Airk explained, “and bring the treasure to their masters. These parchments give directions to where they were to meet their employers.”

“And the trolls were able to read that?” Seline asked incredulously.

“Larger two-headed trolls are cross-bred with ettins,” Airk explained. “Believe it or not, they’re smarter than your average troll. What I find strange, though, is why this was written in gnomish?”  

“Perhaps we should find out,” Luna said quietly. “Who’s to say they might not attack the Flan and the other goodly people of the hills once again?”

“And we’ll deal with them, won’t we?” Weimar replied, a wicked grin crossing his face. “I have to admit, I like the sound of that.”

 ***

“Farewell, brother,” Dennine said solemnly as he and Revafour clasped hands. “We cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve done for us.”

“We acted only as we should,” Revafour replied with a nod. “Take care, and may Pelor’s blessings continue to shine upon you.”

Nodding back, Revafour turned to join his companions, who had already mounted the horses and ponies they’d bought from the residents of Oakdale. Soon, the adventurers rode off, the waves and calls of gratitude of the Flan villagers following them down the hill.

Dennine sighed as he watched Revafour and the others go, wondering what the future held for the younger Flan. They had had their final conversation in their ancestral language, and Dennine had not failed to notice how much more relaxed and at ease Revafour seemed to be in speaking the old Flan tongue. Even with his fellow adventurers, Revafour was somewhat withdrawn and on edge, uncomfortable with fully opening up.

How many of us have such feelings still? Dennine thought to himself. We cannot change the past, but we cannot help but be shaped by it.

How do we stay true to who we are, while still moving forward, in this new world?

Dennine thought back to the last time the dwarves of the citadel of Greysmere had visited Oakdale. The dwarves had told Dennine about a bitter feud between two of the clans who once lived there, a conflict that had ended with both of them driven out of the mountain fastness they called home. Now forced to wander, they had eventually found new homes, but the pain and bitterness they’d endured from their banishment had taken deep roots among them.

And then there was Dennine’s nephew Belden, who had left Oakdale to find his own way in the world because he found village life intolerable. Dennine’s brother had been less than pleased with his son’s choice, and he’d bluntly accused Belden of abandoning his people and community. Belden had been less than pleased with the accusation, and he’d left in a bitter acrimony, swearing that he would never return.

Dennine thought long about Belden, the dwarves and Revafour, wondering what to make of it all.

He thought long and hard, but he could not find an answer.

 ***

“That’s the place, then?” Weimar whispered to Amyalla as she handed his telescope back to him.

“Just as Airk described from the documents,” Amyalla nodded, confirming Weimar’s own suspicions. Two days of travel had brought the adventurers to where Airk said the directions they’d found in the trolls’ lair were meant to lead the monsters. Now, while the rest of the company prepared back at their campsite, Weimar and Amyalla had gone ahead to scout out the area.

Stealthily, they set off through the woods to get a better look at the cavern up close. As they walked, Amyalla noticed Weimar glancing all around him, searching for any sort of signs of what might be passing through these woods. Focusing her ears, Amyalla herself could hear little but the winds and the occasional twittering of birds. They heard something rustling in the bushes ahead, but they could see that it was simply a moose looking for food. The large beast began munching contentedly on a nearby bush, causing Amyalla to smile briefly as she and Weimar passed by it.

It doesn’t look like there’s much going on here, Amyalla thought to herself. Perhaps-

Glancing at Weimar, Amyalla frowned with concern as she saw the grim look on his face. Clearly, he was seeing something that she wasn’t, but she could not imagine what it was.

She didn’t have much time to ask about it, as they were soon at the edge of the clearing Airk had mentioned. Taking care to remain concealed in the bushes, Weimar and Amyalla caught sight of the dilapidated stone cabin at the base of the hill. They could also hear the roar of a waterfall off in the distance, and knew that they were in the right place. According to the directions, the way into the dungeon ruins the creatures were based in was in the basement of the cabin. The trolls were instructed to wait only in the main entrance, and the “masters”, whoever they were, would come to them.

Nodding at one another, Weimar and Amyalla were about to return to camp when Weimar froze. Turning around and glancing back at the cabin, he and Amyalla saw a group of cloaked figures emerge from the building and set off in another direction. Amyalla did well to muffle her gasp of surprise as she recognized the figures as gnomes. She couldn’t imagine what they would be doing consorting with trolls, and by her glance at Weimar she could see that he was no more enlightened than she was.

They set off once more, decidedly grimmer than when they’d first come out.

***

As Amyalla expected, Airk was not pleased to hear their news.

“Why?” he demanded to himself, as he finished concealing his pony along with the rest of their mounts. “Why would they be consorting with trolls, of all things? What would they have to gain from all that murder and looting?”

“Perhaps they were disguised as gnomes,” Seline offered to him as she handed him his backpack. “They could be anything-goblins, magically altered humans, something else?”

Her words didn’t have the effect she’d hoped, as Airk only shook his head.

“Whoever wrote those instructions wrote like a gnome,” he frowned. “We can usually tell when humans or dwarves write in the gnomish tongue because they construct their words and sentences in a way that’s more in line with their ancestral languages. I imagine that’s how you and Luna probably sound to the Flan when you speak their language?”

The slightly embarrassed look on Seline’s face told him all he needed to know.

“They’re gnomes, all right,” Airk fumed, “and blood is on their hands. That’s not so easily forgiven among gnomekind, any more than it is among any other race. What kind of treachery…” he trailed off, before getting a faraway look in his eyes.

Seline felt an increasing sense of alarm at the look on Airk’s face. He was clearly thinking of something else, something clearly very unpleasant from the looks of it. He flinched at her touch, shaking his head as if trying to shake something off.

“The axes…” he muttered, clearly trying to forget something. “Different peoples…new blood…but always on their hands…”

“Airk!” Seline exclaimed, shaking his shoulder harder.

Airk snapped back to reality, before looking around in a daze, as if he’d awoken from a dream.

“I…” he began.

“…Are you alright?” she asked, genuine concern in her voice as their friends approached.

“Old memories,” Airk muttered absently. “They…it’s nothing. Come, let’s be off,” he continued.

Ma’non’go reached out and grabbed Airk’s shoulder as he passed by. As the gnome turned to look at him, he began signing.

Your words say one thing, your features say another, Ma’non’go said, a pointed expression on his face. Are you certain you’re capable of doing this?

Taking a deep breath, Airk nodded.

“Yes, I am,” he said. “Suffice to say that I have no tolerance for any among my own people who consort with murder and robbery. I’ve experienced more than enough of that to last a lifetime, and not among humans or humanoids,” he continued darkly.

Outwardly, Airk was calm as he led the way, but in his mind he could still hear the sounds of axes clashing on shields, the retching of gnomes dying from poisonous fumes, the laughter of the Steelheart dwarves…

He heard them often, but all the more clearly now. 

"
 
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