Twisting around, her dagger leading, Amyalla tried to strike back against whatever was attacking them, but all she heard was the twisted laughter of something in the darkness, something more than the doglike creatures that had attacked her.
She heard the cries of her companions in the darkness.
needn’t be so afraid, my lovely,” Kalrek leered as he caressed the human woman
at his feet. “The expression is rather unbecoming of someone so beautiful, and
could upset those around you…”
involuntarily swallowed, knowing full well what Kalrek meant by that. With all
the effort she could muster, she forced a smile onto her face, taking care to
widen it as Kalrek began caressing other areas.
good little girl,” Kalrek smiled. “Worth every copper piece you cost me-and you
can be sure I paid full price for you…”
managed, with every bit of effort she could muster, not to look away or scream,
but she couldn’t stop tears from flowing from her eyes.
means, weep as much as you like,” Kalrek smiled in an almost fatherly manner,
as he brought her forward for a kiss. “As much as I would prefer to continue to
enjoy our time together, I am afraid that we must part for now. I have other
obligations I must tend to, obligations that will enable our little family to continue
gesture, one of his valets led the woman out of the throne room and back to the
harem, while another one helped Kalrek strap on his equipment. He had bidden
Tooktrilk to cast regular divinations to determine where Airk and his companions
were, and the priest had just now warned him that Airk had visited Laessar
Bradon’s manor, and informed him of the struggle between the two friends that
had ended in Laessar’s death. Airk had reviewed the tome that Laessar had
prepared to keep track of his operations for Kalrek, and in all likelihood he
knew where Kalrek’s little home was located.
diviniation had ended as Airk’s companions arrived at the manor, but it was
likely that they were preparing to come after him, almost certainly for the
remaining members of the Bradon family.
course, was quite eager to see his fellow veteran of the Hateful Wars once
again, but he was less keen on having the rest of Airk’s companions pay him a
visit. These people were dangerous-he had already seen what they had done to
his spriggans operating in the Cairn Hills, and the trolls they had recruited
to assist them-and he had no intention of letting them anywhere close to his
Once he had
been fully outfitted, Kalrek dispatched his remaining valet to gather his
lieutenants, and the leaders of the various gangs of brigands and murderers who
had served him so far. It was only a matter of minutes before they were
assembled before him, eagerly awaiting their orders.
Kalrek had made good use of the many different tunnels and caverns that could
be used to reach his gathering halls. By sending different groups out through
different caverns and routes, it became far less likely that anyone would track
them all back to a single, common source. Unfortunately, now those tunnels were
as much a liability as an advantage, since there were any number of routes that
Airk and his friends could take to reach his lair, and strike at him quickly.
might have gathered his supporters to fight them all at once, but he knew that
their loyalty to him stemmed from fear and respect, and the prospects of even
richer plunder and gain. They respected him as a warlord, but they did not yet
admire him to the point that they would fight alongside each other for a
greater purpose beyond that. Indeed, many of his followers hated one another
personally, and they would be as apt to fight each other as any intruders if he
had them all make a stand in his lair.
would only be once he could legitimately call himself a king that they would be
fully, and truly, loyal to him.
So it was
that he unleashed his lieutenants and followers throughout the passages leading
to the gathering hall, bidding them to slay Airk’s followers, but instructing
them all that he wanted the gnome alive. He spoke of the vast riches he would
share with anyone who brought the adventurers’ heads to him, regardless of
whether they were attached to anything else.
followers cheered and laughed eagerly, their twin lusts for blood and treasure
kindled by his words, and they gathered their minions, setting off through
every available passage, murder and riches on their minds.
Burunne smiled wickedly.
Now, he was
a warlord, feared and respected by the bandits and murderers who followed him.
Once he had
settled things with Airk, the Crown of Arumdina would be his.
And then he would be so much more.
Did we ever truly know you? Amyalla thought to herself as she
followed Airk down the passage. Just how
much anger did you hold within you, for all these years? And if you still bear
it within you, how do we know you will not be able to keep from lashing out
halfling was torn over the sights she had seen at the Bradon manor, and she
would have been astonished if their human friends did not feel the same way. She
felt sympathy for Airk-of course she would!-but she was also horrified and
disgusted by what the gnome had let himself do. It was good that Airk had
agreed to submit to the justice of Copper Crossing when they returned with
Laessar’s family-assuming they came back at all-but she had trouble looking at
him with the same eyes that once regarded him as a true and beloved friend.
she heard at that moment sent chills down her spine, seeming to come from
everywhere and nowhere at once. It seemed to come in multiple choruses, some of
the howls low and guttural and others screeching loudly. Raising her daggers,
she whirled around in alarm, looking for an attack that might come from any
direction. She then heard two more screams, a man’s and a woman’s, and soon she
saw Weimar running back the way they came and Seline charging ahead into the
darkness, their eyes wide with fright and their voices crying in terror.
get far, however, as the very shadows around them seemed to come to life. A
horde of strange figures, vaguely resembling large dogs or wolves, seemed to
come out of the shadows, some of them tearing at Weimar and Seline while others
lunged at the rest of the companions, preventing them from being able to reach
their helpless companions.
reacted immediately, slashing at the doglike creatures with his sword. One of
them howled in pain as he cut it down, and then another yelped as his next blow
cut into it, but some of the creatures immediately tore at him from behind,
forcing him to pull back to defend himself. Ma’non’go, on the other hand,
simply bulled his way through the doglike creatures, stabbing left and right as
he tried to reach Seline, who was screaming in pain as the dogs tore at her.
Her blood pounding from the strange creatures’ howling, and scrambling to
defend herself from their bites, she couldn’t hope to get her bearings for a
spell, or even to reach her wand.
Amyalla heard similar cries from Weimar, who was now defending himself with his
dagger, including a cry of pain as one of the creatures fell, its throat cut by
a lucky slash from Weimar. Her eyes narrowing, she darted into the shadows
herself, unnoticed by the creatures as they leapt for Airk and Luna, who struck
at them in an attempt to get to Weimar.
One of the
creatures fell instantly, her dagger plunging into the top of its skull, and
the halfling leapt off its falling body, tossing another dagger into the flank
of one of the creatures still biting at Weimar. The creature recoiled in pain,
and then Amyalla struck at it again as it turned to face her, plunging her
dagger right between the creature’s malevolent, red-glowing eyes. Airk and Luna
struck fiercely, beating down another three of the creatures, and the pained
yelps she heard coming from behind them confirmed to Amyalla that the wretched
creatures were swiftly being overcome.
It was then
that the lights of their lanterns, which Luna and Ma’non’go had put on the
floor behind them, winked out of sight, as the entire passage plunged into
darkness. Stumbling forward in confusion, Amyalla cried out in pain as a
searing pain slashed across her back. Twisting around, her dagger leading,
Amyalla tried to strike back against whatever was attacking them, but all she
heard was the twisted laughter of something in the darkness, something more
than the doglike creatures that had attacked her.
She heard the cries of her companions in the
arms and chest throbbed in pain from the bites the creatures had inflicted on
her, although the panic she’d felt before was now rapidly fading. She could
hear Revafour and Ma’non’go near her, Revafour cursing in pain as he tried to
defend himself, but unable to swing his sword too heavily for fear of cutting
his friends. Fortunately, she had anticipated an emergency like this, and luck
was with her as she found the pocket containing the chunk of phosphorous.
Running her fingers over it, she felt the rune she’d carved into the lump,
confirming to her that it was indeed what she needed. Despite herself, Seline
had to admire the killers’ cleverness-using the shadowy doglike creatures,
whatever they were, to confuse and panic the adventurers before extinguishing
the companions’ light sources and attacking while the companions were blinded.
quickly, praying that she would have the few seconds she needed, Seline felt a
surge of relief as the glowing spheres of light materialized all around her. Flashing
in a rainbow of colors, the lights gave the companions the moment they needed
to fully get the measure of their attackers, and to know where to strike. Their
assailants were a mix of humans and orcs, their bodies marked with scars and
tattoos which matched their vicious, bloody weapons well. They cursed out loud
at the appearance of the lights, but came on anyway, murder in their eyes as
they advanced in the multicolored light.
the companions in the darkness was one thing, but fighting them head to head in
the light was quite another. Revafour clove right through the defenses of the
first orc in front of him, slashing the creature almost in two before tearing
his sword free and gutting the other one in front of him. To Seline’s other
side, Ma’non’go ripped the throat out of one, and then easily parried the
increasingly frantic attacks of the other two, before striking them down as
methodically as if he were a farming tossing hay with his pitchfork.
One of the
men got past Revafour to strike directly at Seline, but the wizard was quicker,
chanting another quick spell that blew the man back with stinging, silvery-blue
bolts of magic. Howling in pain, the man tried to advance again but the last
bolt pierced his eye, and he went down without a word.
over and retrieving her staff, Seline saw several more of the men and orcs
fighting the rest of her companions. Airk easily deflected the blow of one of
the men, and smashed his skull in with his morning star, while Luna beat back
another one of the men. Weimar, his arms running red with blood from his attack
by the doglike creatures, had retrieved his axe and now wielded it against
another man, likely the leader of the bandits by his bearing and his skill in
deflecting Weimar’s blows.
she saw another sight further back, that of a man lurking in the shadows, his
arms waving in an all too familiar chant. He was standing at the perfect angle
for the lightning bolt he was casting, aiming it so that it would tear through
all of them at once. Seline realized he was likely the wizard who had darkened
their lanterns to begin with, and she began chanting frantically, praying that
she would be able to get her own lightning spell off before the other mage did.
needed to, as the man cried out and stumbled, his thigh drenched with blood
from Amyalla’s dagger. The halfling came into full view then, plunging another
dagger into the man’s chest as he tried to stagger back. At the same time,
Weimar finally knocked the bandit leader’s weapon aside, before taking his head
off in a single stroke.
they do that?” Weimar gasped, lowering his axe as Luna came over to heal his
wounds. “How could they see in the darkness?”
could have seen in the darkness just fine,” Seline explained, “and the humans-“
she paused, rifling through the pockets of the man she had struck down and
retrieving a ceramic flask from a pouch on his belt, “-likely took potions to
give themselves the ability to see into the infrared, much the way dwarves or
gnomes can,” she continued, before sighing in relief as Luna healed her
injuries as well.
We may safely assume, then, that Kalrek is
aware of our approach? Ma’non’go signed as he and Weimar came back to join their companions.
his businesses are an essential part of Kalrek’s operations,” Airk reminded the
others as they continued rifling through the possessions of their assailants.
“As I told you back at the manor, he’d have been having diviners, or household
spies, monitoring Laessar and his home in case of any eventuality. Small
wonder, then, that he’s released his brigands to try and kill us.”
such admirable company,” Amyalla sneered, wiping the blood off her daggers with
the hair of the wizard she had slain. “I suppose he seeks to establish himself
as a bandit king, then?”
meant her remark as anything more than a sarcastic observation, but Airk froze
at her words.
you say?” he demanded.
seeking to establish himself as a bandit king…” Amyalla trailed off.
the crown emblem on the book Borrus had found in Laessar’s safe, the one that
had revealed the extent of Kalrek’s operations, flashed through his mind.
of another crown appeared, memories from Airk’s childhood that made him realize
where Kalrek had gotten the design for the crown emblem that he had embossed on
the cover of Laessar’s book.
made sense then.
Horror and rage filled him as he realized
Kalrek’s true goal.