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The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past, Part Twelve
Posted on Wed, April 06, 2016 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "

“How long has it been, old friend?” he smirked. “Six decades and more?”

“Far too long,” Airk replied, “that you continued to draw breath on this oerth.”

“And yet, here I am,” Kalrek grinned. “I continue to live and to thrive, seizing the day, building my reputation and my fortune. What of you, then? How has burrowing through haunted ruins, rescuing distressed damsels, and traveling to the four corners of the Flanaess benefited you? Or has it truly done so?”




Soon afterward, the companions found themselves walking among a breathtaking sight. All around them were carved red, green and golden crystals built into the walls of the caverns, which reflected the lights of their lanterns into a rainbow of colors all around them. Luna felt as though she was almost in the midst of a glowing gemstone, the colors drawing her further in to the gem’s core, even as the colors themselves seemed to radiate warmth and protection all around her.

“Crystals of protection and welcome,” she heard Airk mumble under his breath.

“This complex was built by gnomes?” Luna asked in surprise.

“Yes, most likely…” Airk mumbled, looking all around him, “but it’s likely been centuries since any of us would have lived here…”

They continued through the cavern, and soon came to a junction. Further down the corridor, they could see the same skilled craftsmanship that marked the gnomish work, but now a gaping hole had been torn in the wall to their left. Through it their lights could see broken debris and rubbish, and even Amyalla and the humans, lacking Airk’s knowledge of the underoerth, could see how crudely wrought and worked the stone in the new cavern was.

“The cavern’s occupants have done some remodeling,” Amyalla observed sardonically.

Airk didn’t reply, ignoring the passage and leading his friends further down the corridor.

Soon, they came into an area of smaller, more narrow caverns, which Airk noted would have been the residential areas for many of the gnomes. Significantly, the adventurers noticed the torches that had been placed beneath the colored crystals in these areas, torches that had been clearly recently worked and placed here.

Luna felt her heart beat in anticipation, as she felt a cold chill in the air.

Amyalla raised her hand wordlessly, and her companions stood still.

Now, they heard the sounds she’d detected-the sounds of footsteps, laughter and swords being rattled, the sounds of armed warriors who were expecting a fight, and were on their guard.

The halfling pointed to herself, and then off towards the sounds, as her friends nodded.

Soon, she was gone, vanished among the shadows.

It was long, too torturously long, for Luna before Amyalla finally came back, detailing everything she’d been able to see.

She felt sick at the thought of what they would have to do, but she that the consequences of not doing it would be far, far worse.

***

Durginn and Ludrock had been disappointed at first at not being sent out into the tunnels to kill the intruders along with the rest of their lord’s followers, but they dared not question his commands. They came to realize, however, that Lord Kalrek had merely sent the rest of those brigands and killers into the tunnels because of what they truly were-fodder. Their role was to gather wealth, and to fight and die like the expendable fools that they were, while Durginn, Ludrock and the rest of their kin would exult in the glory that Kalrek would bring them.

Hence it was all the more shocking when the sounds of clashing swords and shouting voices filled the air, seeming to come from further up the main passage linking the part of the complex Kalrek used to the part that was more typically occupied by the various groups of brigands and monsters who had been out gathering loot for Kalrek, as well as other parts of the complex Kalrek had found no use for. They could see several of their fellow gnomes, and the other spriggans and men who had remained here on guard duty, charge forward to assist their allies. Kalrek had posted guards at all of the main entrances to his personal part of the complex, and had directed many of the others to assist their fellows if there was any attack at any one of them.

“Would’t be Lord Kalrek’s enemies, d’you think?” Durginn asked.

“Not likely,” Ludrock shook his head. “More likes some sort of wanderers pokin’ their undersized noses where they don’t belong-derro, or ogres, per’aps. Not that it’s mattering, of course,” he grinned, pulling down on a lever.

Alarm bells began ringing through Kalrek’s part of the complex, as the guards were summoned to deal with the issue. Loud cheers echoed through the complex as the warriors were summoned to battle, followed by the sound of rumbling footsteps as the warriors advanced to meet the challenge.

The first crowd of guards advancing towards the sounds of battle were so eager for bloodshed that they did not pause to consider the bodies of the two guards set to protect that portion of the complex, lying already dead on the floor. The cavern otherwise seemed deserted, with only the sounds of battle all around them.

“Wizard’s trick!” one spriggan howled.

“Spread away, lads! Don’t be marchin’ too close together!” one dwarf warned his peers.

They had to shout to make their voices heard over the sounds of battle, and so they did not hear Seline chanting briefly. A few of the soldiers saw her as she materialized into sight, but they had little time to react except at the blasting cloud of steam that filled the air. Many of the soldiers howled in pain, scalded by the searing heat of the steam, several falling dead from the pain.

Many of the other soldiers angrily charged forward, eager to kill as they raised their weapons. Some of them shot crossbows and threw daggers at the retreating wizard, but they seemed to strike short, falling at her feet as if deflected by some invisible barrier. Some of them managed to get around the steam cloud, but others simply shoved their allies into it, screaming in pain at the scalding burns that emerged on their bodies.

However, it was then that the warriors emerged. Two of them came up alongside the wizard, one a huge dark-skinned man dressed in multicolored clothes and wielding a trident, the other a more slender man with paler skin and hair, this one wielding an axe and a shield. Angry at not being able to reach their prey, some of the soldiers who’d made it through the steam cloud struck at them, but what the two warriors lacked in numbers they more than made up for in skill.

The soldiers on the other side of the steam cloud tried to find a way around it to attack the two warriors, but then two more warriors emerged from a side tunnel. One was a large Flan man, dressed in plate armor and wielding a huge broadsword, while the other was a gnome in similar heavy armor, wielding a bloody morning star. Eager for blood, the soldiers charged forward, only to find that these warriors were no less skilled than their peers at the entrance to the other tunnel.

It was then that the thick fog began to fill the chamber, blinding the soldiers as they tried to strike at the fighters. A few of them recognized the wizard, chanting again with that insidious wand of hers, but she and her warrior friends were soon lost to sight as the blinding fog filled the room.

Soon, all was chaos; soldiers blundered into one another, some knocking one another into the steam cloud that was still in the centre of the room, others striking out at anything that seemed to get too close. Angry shouts and cries erupted as some of the soldiers fell to attacking one another, others were knocked into the steam cloud, or tried desperately to rally their fellows.

It was far too late for that, however, and by the time the steam and fog had cleared the corpses of over two score of Kalrek’s warriors lay dead.

The adventurers looked at one another with grim satisfaction, as Luna reached into her pocket for a vial of holy water. Luna chanted briefly, praying to Pelor to bless their efforts in the coming battle. Each of her friends was daubed in turn by the holy water, signifying the support Pelor would offer them, until she came to Airk.

The gnome shook his head solemnly, the shame all too evident on his face.

“Airk...please…” she pleaded quietly.

“No,” Airk shook his head. “I cannot, and I must not.”

Tears were in her eyes as she ended the spell and put away the holy water.

Picking up her mace and shield, she knew there was little else she could say.

***

The companions passed through the chambers that had served as crude quarters, kitchens and mess halls for the bandits and raiders that made up most of Kalrek’s followers, noting the crude furniture, bad-smelling food, grime-splattered walls and haphazardly strewn boxes and bedding. This part of the complex was deserted, of course, as most of Kalrek’s minions were either dead or still wandering the tunnels in search of the companions’ heads.

It wasn’t long before the adventurers noticed how much cleaner and better organized the complex was becoming. The murals carved into the walls, murals of gnomes welcoming visiting humans, dwarves and other races, of feting and feasting with their guests, and fighting alongside them against orcs, goblins and gnolls, were surprisingly well-preserved, even touched up in some cases. Fresh torches burned in polished wall sconces, and the furniture in these rooms was modest but reliable and solidly built compared to the crude accoutrements in the outer part of the complex. Despite it all, the complex was seemingly deserted, although the adventurers knew better than that.

So it was that they were not surprised when they came into the large common room, they found more than a dozen figures ready and waiting for them. Most of them were gnomes, with a few dwarves and humans among them, few in number compared to the number of enemies the companions had just fought. However, the coordinated way that they marched forward, as well as the brightness of their spiked and serrated steel armor and the swords and axes in their hands, made it clear that what they lacked in numbers, they more than made up in skill.

The spears several of the guards threw scattered the companions, who were forced to defend themselves as the guards assembled into groups and came at them before they could reunite.

Airk hardly cared for any of them, his focus on the corridor straight ahead of them, richly decorated with tapestries, rose quartz chandeliers and silver and copper laid into the walls. Slowly, steadily, he advanced towards the corridor, a look as cold and hard as that of any golem on his face.

One gnomish guard, a bulky-looking warrior with the images of skulls and demons on his armor, leered wickedly as he charged at his fellow gnome. A manic look was in his eyes as he came forward, the bloodlust on his face all too obvious to anyone who looked.

For a moment, Airk’s gaze turned from the corridor to the gnome coming at him.

His shield flashed, easily deflecting the other gnome’s sword blow.

Then, his morning star replaced it, knocking the other gnome’s own shield aside before coming back towards him.

The last sight the other gnome ever saw was the morning star’s spikes flashing down towards him, before he heard the sickening crunch of bone.

Airk's gaze returned to the corridor. 

***

Kalrek Burunne cut a majestic figure indeed. His armor was gold-lacquered and polished to a beautiful sheen, his helmet and the edge of his shield were studded with gems, and his sword sharpened to a razor’s edge. As bright as the gleam of his equipment was, it paled compared to the eager shine in his eyes, a shine that intensified as the footsteps outside the corridor approached.

Soon, the double doors were pushed open, as Airk Venbelwar strode into the room and the two gnomes stared at one another for several long moments.

Airk’s armor was stained with blood, a fitting companion to the look of hatred he bore on his face. His eyes reflected guilt, shame and grief, the knowledge of the crimes his weakness had led him to commit. His ears still rang with the memories of the past, from the screams of his fellow Flintholders to the mocking laughter of the Steelhearts to the dying words of Laessar Bradon.

Kalrek’s armor was brilliantly decorated, a fitting companion to the satisfied smile on his face. His eyes reflected confidence, majesty and power, the knowledge of the greatness he would soon achieve once the Crown of Arumdina was his. His ears rang with thoughts of the future, from the praises he would receive from his fellow Flintholders to the genuflecting of human and dwarven diplomats to the sounds of coins and gems filling his treasury.

Predictably, it was Kalrek who spoke first.

“How long has it been, old friend?” he smirked. “Six decades and more?”

“Far too long,” Airk replied, “that you continued to draw breath on this oerth.”

“And yet, here I am,” Kalrek grinned. “I continue to live and to thrive, seizing the day, building my reputation and my fortune. What of you, then? How has burrowing through haunted ruins, rescuing distressed damsels, and traveling to the four corners of the Flanaess benefited you? Or has it truly done so?”

“You’re going to pay,” Airk warned Kalrek, raising his morning star, “for everything.”

Kalrek merely laughed.

“There you go again, languishing in memories of the past, while I think of the future!” he smiled. “You, the lowly soldier, and me the ascending noble. Even Laessar Bradon strove for more than you did. And how is Laessar, anyway?” he continued.

Airk shuddered briefly, as the memories all came flooding back.

“You concern yourself too much with such things,” Kalrek reproached Airk, still holding his smile. “You let them rule you, instead of tearing through them and seizing what you want. Why do you think I’ve prospered the way I have? Has your reverence for the likes of Baravan and Segojan made you prosper? Or are you simply letting Garl play a particularly sadistic joke on you?”

“Your philosophy is as worthless as your oath,” Airk said with an icy calm, as he advanced, raising his morning star. “None of it will matter when I kill you.”

“Your delusions are all the more astounding and pathetic,” Kalrek laughed as he stepped forward, raising his sword, “and I must say, it’s an honor to be the one to shatter them altogether…” 

"
 
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