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The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past, Part Nine
Posted on Wed, February 03, 2016 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "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.


 

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 business here?”

“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 himself. 

***

“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 Flanaess?”

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 as well.

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 same.

“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 angry shout.

“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 neck.

“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 in shock.

“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 other side.

“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. “Please forgive…”

“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 expired.

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 today.”

At that moment, Airk could not disagree with him.

 ***

When she 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.

She wasn’t 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 well…

…or if his guilt and despair might drive him mad entirely.

“There is nothing you can do?” Laessar’s valet, who had introduced himself as Borrus, had asked her, a tone of desperate hope in his voice.

“I’m afraid 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.”

“…My master 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?”

Luna nodded solemnly, as she turned to go.

“A word to the wise, young one,” Borrus said, as she turned back to face him.

“What is it?” Luna asked him.

“You are a daughter of Pelor, judging by the pendant around your neck,” Borrus observed.

“…Indeed,” Luna replied with a frown.

“You would 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.”

Unable to 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 asked suspiciously.

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 is that?”

Ma’non’go sat in silence for a few moments before replying.

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 her question.

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 Airk.”

For a moment, Amyalla thought she could see tears blinking in Ma’non’go’s eyes.

Your sentiment is appreciated, he 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 has.

“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 forgiveness, Airk continued. Whatever punishment I am made to endure will be no less than my just reward. I only pray now for other reasons.

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.

So saying, Airk opened his eyes.

It was time, he knew.  


"
 
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