It didn’t take Airk long to find directions to Laessar
Bradon’s manor, and he was distinctly impressed by how well his old friend had
done in the intervening years since he’d left Flinthold. While the manor was
not the largest one in Flinthold’s high class neighborhood, it was perfectly
carved and fashioned out of the stone, with bas-reliefs of burrowing animals
and murals of surface hills and woods inscribed on the walls surrounding the
grounds, statues of gnomish heroes and gods like Garl Glittergold and Baravan
Wildwanderer all placed around the grounds themselves, and strategically placed
lights decorating the estate with a combination of warm embracing light and
mysterious, dreamlike shadows.
Walking up to the gatehouse at the entrance to the estate,
Airk took care to advance at a leisurely pace, taking the time to admire his
surroundings as if he had all the time in the world and he was merely admiring
the scenery. The attendant at the gatehouse leaned out to meet Airk, an
officious look on his face as he prepared to deal with yet another visitor seeking
some of his master’s precious time.
“Greetings, sir!” Airk said jovially as he came up to the
gatehouse. “Is Master Laessar Bradon at home today?”
“And who are you?” the gate attendant asked, a skeptical
look on his face as he considered Airk’s heavy armor and weapons. “What is your
“I’m Airk Venbelwar, an old friend of your master’s from the
Hateful Wars,” Airk replied with a reassuring smile. “I’ve come to Copper
Crossing on business, and I thought I might come by for a visit to determine if
he might be able to spare some time for an old friend. Perhaps we might
commiserate over drinks sometime?”
“Indeed,” the gatekeeper replied sourly. “And how am I to
know that my master would have any knowledge of who you are?”
“He and I are friends of one Kalrek Burunne,” Airk
explained. “Perhaps you might at least confirm with Master Laessar’s valet, and
he can convey the message to the lord of the manor?”
The gatekeeper did well to hide his surprise at hearing
Kalrek’s name mentioned, but it had the effect Airk had expected. The
gatekeeper’s ringing a bell caused the servants’ entrance of the manor to open,
and a page boy came running out in response to the summons. He had a hurried
conversation with the gatekeeper before running back to the manor. A few more
minutes passed before the page boy returned, this time with a confirming
message to the gatekeeper.
The gates opened before Airk, and he was soon marching up
towards the grand front doors of Laessar’s mansion, where he was greeted by
Laessar’s valet Borrus. The valet explained that Laessar was just finishing up
with some matters of paperwork, but that he would be happy to see his old
friend very soon.
It was all as Airk had
expected-Laessar had given his servants standing orders to immediately admit
anyone who mentioned Kalrek’s name, although without revealing exactly why
Kalrek was so important.
Everything was so calm on the
outside, so normal and unpretending.
Little did they know the turmoil
under the surface, their master’s true feelings.
Little did they know Airk
“How long has it been, old friend?” Laessar asked Airk as he
led him into his study. “Thirty years?”
“Indeed, but it feels longer than that,” Airk nodded. “And
how is the gem trade? I take it things are going well?” he asked rhetorically,
with a thin smile.
“Of course they are,” Laessar replied, pouring some wine as
they sat down. “And yourself? Are you still burrowing through haunted ruins,
rescuing distressed damsels, and traveling to the four corners of the
They laughed for a moment, although Airk could see the look
in Laessar’s eyes. It was as likely that Laessar could see the look in his eyes
The two gnomes soon fell silent, until Airk spoke again.
“Now that’s an expression I haven’t heard since the Hateful
Wars,” Airk said, more coolly this time.
“Well, it has been some time,” Laessar replied, all sense of
frivolity gone from his voice.
“Enough time to lose contact with old friends?” Airk
demanded, a sharper edge in his voice.
“You were the one who set off on the adventuring life,”
Laessar replied pointedly. “How could I have known where to reach you?”
“And yet, you’re still in regular contact with our old
friend Kalrek, aren’t you?” Airk demanded, his voice starting to rise.
“Maintaining regular correspondence with him, and all that?”
Laessar paled at that, rising from his chair as Airk did the
“Wh-what do you know about that?” he demanded, his face
becoming ashen with shock.
“I know what I saw from those letters written to the
spriggans in the Cairn Hills,” Airk replied. “I know what I saw when I watched
so many of those people die in defense of their homes, died at the hands of the
trolls you and Kalrek sent against them. I know what I saw when Kalrek betrayed
our people to the Steelhearts in exchange for their blood money. I know what I
saw when the Steelhearts nearly destroyed Flinthold! I know what I saw when
Kalrek made the caverns run red with gnomish blood! I know all of it, and I
know that you’re involved with it now!” he continued, his voice rising to an
“Airk, you don’t understand!” Laessar cried out, stumbling
back as Airk advanced on him.
“He shed the blood of his own people, and he received a
king’s ransom in wealth for it!” Airk continued, his eyes flaring with rage.
“He left us all to suffer and die, while he thrived off our pain! And now he’s
doing all again! AGAIN!” Airk shouted.
“Airk, please!” Laessar pleaded.
Laessar turned to try and run, but Airk came forward and
immediately seized him. The two gnomes wrestled fiercely, each trying to
overcome the other, but Airk soon proved the stronger and caught Laessar by the
wrists, pulling him closer until they stared intently into one another’s eyes.
“How much has he paid you, Laessar?” Airk demanded. “How
much has he paid you to consort with spriggans and trolls? How much has he paid
you to send bandits out to rob and murder defenseless innocents? How much has
he paid you to turn your back on everything we fought for in the Hateful Wars?
How much has he paid you?!?”
Panic rose in Laessar as he tried to break free, turning and
twisting around. His fear gave strength to his arms, resisting Airk’s pull long
enough to drag the gnome forward, as they resumed their struggle.
As they passed by a large glass mirror, Laessar twisted to
try and fling Airk into it, hoping desperately to break free. However, his
combat skills had weakened with time, and Airk had little trouble countering
the maneuver. Instinctively, he planted his feet firmly and went with the spin,
twisting around and letting go so that it was Laessar, and not him, who flung
headlong into the mirror, which exploded in a shower of glass.
Blood mingled with glass shards as they spilled all over the
carpet and Laessar’s body fell among them. Gasping for breath, he tried to rise
to his feet, before collapsing again.
His blood running cold with horror, Airk ran forward and
rolled Laessar over, as the valet Borrus burst into the room along with several
guards, alarmed by all the shouting and cries. Anything they might have wanted
to say froze and died in their mouths, however, as they saw their master’s
condition. A large shard of glass protruded from Laessar’s neck, and another
one had pierced his eye, leaving a torrent of blood pouring down his face and
“Laessar…I never…no…” Airk said numbly, cradling Laessar’s
head in his hands and ignoring Borrus and the guards as they stood around him
“My family…” Laessar gasped. “Kalrek has my family…he would
kill them if I did not carry out his bidding…save them…please!...”
“Laessar…I…” Airk stammered.
“Borrus…where is my faithful Borrus?” Laessar continued,
coughing up blood as it became increasingly difficult for him.
“My lord!” Borrus exclaimed as he came down on Laessar’s
“Give Airk…the silver tome in my safe…it contains all
the…don’t call the watch on Airk, please let him…” Laessar continued, now
visibly struggling to speak.
“Laessar, I won’t let him get away with…” Airk continued.
“Save my family…” Laessar said, his voice barely more than a
hoarse whisper, “and may the rest of your days be cursed if you do n-“
It was all he was able to get out, before he finally
Airk sat there for a long moment, staring in numb shock at
the face of his dead friend, now streaked with glass and blood, blood that also
stained his hands a deep crimson red.
It was only when Laessar’s guards pulled him to his feet
that he remembered where he was, and what had happened. Looking across the
room, he saw Borrus opening a safe hidden behind a painting on the wall, which
contained a large collection of books and papers. Opening one tome embossed in
silver, with the emblem of a crown on it, Borrus began flipping through it,
horrified by what he read.
“Oh, my master...” he murmured. “My poor, poor master…you
were truly driven to such actions…the shame of it all…”
“You,” Borrus continued as he looked up from the book at
Airk. “You came here to confront my master about this, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Airk said somberly. “I learned of Master Laessar’s
involvement through the letters I have in my pocket,” he said, gesturing as one
of the guards retrieved the papers and handed them to Borrus. Borrus began
comparing the handwriting on Kalrek’s letters to that of some of the letters
that had been included in the book, and his own face paled.
Putting the book and letters down on the desk, he turned to
Airk, a look of cold anger on his face.
“Know that it is only because of my master’s dying requests,
the certainty of his involvement with this Kalrek person, and the danger posed
to his family that I do not have you executed on the spot for your foul deed
today,” Borrus told Airk impassively. “I have no doubt that tome, which my
master allowed no one but him to peruse, will provide you with the information
you require to find this Kalrek person and retrieve my master’s family. And if
they do not return here, then may Garl Glittergold ensure the curses of a
broken family bring you, and everyone you love and cherish, nothing but misery
and ruin for the rest of your days.”
Airk nodded solemnly, staring at the blood on his hands,
then at the letters and the tome at the desk, realizing what he must do.
“Send some of your men to the Owlbear Arms to retrieve a
group of humans and a halfling,” Airk explained. “They go by the name of the
Company of the Silver Wolf. If you tell them that Airk Venbelwar seeks their
assistance, they will come.”
“Very well,” Borrus nodded, as he gestured for some of the
guards to carry out Airk’s request.
“And damn you to the Nine Hells for what you have done
At that moment, Airk could not
disagree with him.
and the rest of her friends had been summoned to Laessar Bradon’s manor, Luna
had expected to find that Airk had persuaded Laessar to reveal to them where
Kalrek Burunne’s lair was located. Instead, her blood had run cold when she’d
learned the truth, and seen Laessar’s corpse held in state.
sure what horrified her more, the fact that Airk had killed Laessar, however
unintentionally, or the thought of what kind of reproach and torment Airk was
likely putting himself through. With all the anger he had displayed over the
past few weeks, she now wondered whether he would begin lashing out at them as
…or if his
guilt and despair might drive him mad entirely.
nothing you can do?” Laessar’s valet, who had introduced himself as Borrus, had
asked her, a tone of desperate hope in his voice.
not,” Luna could only shake her head helplessly. “I don’t yet possess the power
to revive the dead. We would need the assistance of a priest with enough power
to cast such a spell-unless the magic were inscribed on a scroll that I might
use. As it is, we would not have enough time to find a suitable priest, not
with your master’s family in danger.”
has many contacts,” Borrus replied determinedly, “and it is possible that I may
be able to find someone with sufficient power. You will be on your way, then?”
solemnly, as she turned to go.
“A word to
the wise, young one,” Borrus said, as she turned back to face him.
it?” Luna asked him.
“You are a
daughter of Pelor, judging by the pendant around your neck,” Borrus observed.
Luna replied with a frown.
do well to ask your god whether he would tolerate you sharing the company of a
murderer, who is already responsible for at least one innocent death, and who
will likely be responsible for many more afterward.”
reply, Luna turned and left the room to rejoin her friends.
Borrus just stared after her.
It was an accident, was it not?” Weimar
protested as he finished checking his gear. “Surely he cannot be blamed for-“
“Yes, I can,” Airk replied quietly.
“But, with everything you’ve had to endure
because of Kalrek’s betrayals-“ Weimar persisted.
“That means nothing,” Airk shook his head.
“It’s murder,” Revafour broke in, his eyes
narrowing in disgust as he looked from Weimar to Airk. “And you should-“
Instead of judging
Airk, perhaps we might ask what we would have done in a similar situation, Ma’non’go suddenly interrupted, a
calm but intense look on his face. Have
either of you truly known what it is like to be so consumed with rage at a past
betrayal, especially at the hands of people who professed to be your friends
and brothers, that it was all you could do to avoid falling into madness? Have
you ever been filled with a consuming desire to kill those responsible for the
ruin and misery you endured?
Revafour and Weimar stared at Ma’non’go
incredulously, as did Amyalla, who had stepped into the room at that moment.
“…And what would you know about it?” Revafour
I have spoken before
about the betrayals I experienced in my homeland, Ma’non’go signed, and how I came to be in the Flanaess. But for a very long time, I
entertained the dream of returning to kill those people who violated my trust,
indeed took my very life away from me. The knowledge that I cannot makes the
memories all the more painful for me to bear.
None of the Olman warrior’s friends knew what
to say at that.
“Please make whatever final preparations you
must,” Airk broke the silence. “We leave in an hour.”
Ma’non’go was oiling his trident when he
happened to look down, and saw Amyalla staring intently at him.
You should be
preparing for our journey, Ma’non’go reproached her. Time is
of the essence.
“You said that you could not return to
Hepmonaland to punish the people who betrayed you,” Amyalla reminded him. “Why
Ma’non’go sat in silence for a few moments
There is nothing there
for me anymore, he
signed to Amyalla. I have cut all my ties
to that place.
“If so, then why are you still incapable of
speaking?” she persisted. “Why do you continue to communicate with your hands,
rather than your voice?”
Ma’non’go merely looked away, unable to answer
Reaching out, she took one of his large hands
in her tiny ones, a sympathetic look on her face.
“I know what it’s like,” she continued, “not
being able to go home again. Wishing you could, lamenting what could never
be…you’re not the only one who still carries the pain inside, and neither is
For a moment, Amyalla thought she could see
tears blinking in Ma’non’go’s eyes.
Your sentiment is
signed to the halfling, particularly in
the present circumstances, as is the support of all our companions. Indeed, as
I have alluded, I might have otherwise gone mad without it, much as Airk nearly
“That’s why you’ve come this far with him,”
Amyalla nodded, “why we all have.”
A rare smile found its way onto Ma’non’go’s
face as he rose to his feet, Amyalla racing ahead of him as they left the room
to keep his long stride from overtaking hers.
I know my sins, Airk prayed inwardly, knowing that Garl
Glittergold was listening. Failing to
realize Kalrek’s treacherous ambitions, allowing so many of my friends and kin
to die against the Steelhearts, abandoning Flinthold because of my own
selfishness, suffering Kalrek to live for so long afterward, and now causing
the death of one of my oldest and dearest friends.
I do not come to you now to beg for undeserved
continued. Whatever punishment I am made
to endure will be no less than my just reward. I only pray now for other
I only ask that, before I leave this mortal
oerth, I may deliver Laessar’s family from the monster who holds them in his
twisted grasp. They have suffered already at his hands, and they now have a
long, hard road yet to travel of their own. If ever you showed justice and
mercy, please let it be for them.
As it is for Laessar’s family, so let it be for
my companions, and my friends. They have accompanied me this far, motivated
solely by their friendship and love for me. My friends shall be accompanying me
to Kalrek’s lair, and they shall be facing his minions alongside me. Please
ensure that they return safely from this quest-they have nothing to gain and
everything to lose in accompanying me, and they deserve a better fate than to
die in a corrupted hovel.
Finally, I recognize that I may die on this
journey. But before I face your justice, I ask that I may punish Kalrek for all
his crimes, and avenge all of the blood he spilled. I accept my fate…but before
I go to it, let me ensure that Kalrek faces his as well.
These, then, are the boons I ask of you.
My failings are mine and mine alone.
Let myself, and no one other, suffer for them.
If ever I have proven of any worth as a son,
please grant my prayers.
Airk opened his eyes.