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    The Silver Wolf-A Light In The Dark: Chapter Fourteen-Breaking Dawn
    Posted on Tue, October 17, 2017 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    Even in just the short time he’d known them, Ma’non’go had seen how the Flan warrior and his gnome and halfling companions had suffered in their own right. Ma’non’go had concluded that they weren’t so different from himself, or Luna and Seline. And then there was Weimar-for all his cheerful demeanor, Ma’non’go doubted that was all there was to it.

    To his own surprise, Ma’non’go found that the idea of parting ways with any of the other adventurers dismayed him.

    Chapter Fourteen

    Breaking Dawn

    Luna breathed heavily as she sat down to rest. The adventurers had found more of the children alive than any of them had dared to hope. Unfortunately, they had also found two dead children for every living one, victims of the hags and their depraved henchmen.

    Luna wasn’t sure what sickened her more, the ways in which many of the dead children had been killed or the indignities the hags and their minions had inflicted on the children’s bodies.

    Luna was glad that the other adventurers had agreed to her plea that they take both the living children and the dead when they left this gods-cursed place. She could only imagine how many parents out there were worried sick wondering what happened to their loved ones. Even if Luna and the other adventurers had to bring the parents the tragic news of their children’s deaths, she hoped the parents could at least get some closure.

    Unfortunately, it was likely that the hags had brought some of the corpses with them from elsewhere when they’d come to the Bearded Lord’s Hollow. Luna knew there was likely no way that the adventurers would be able to return all of the dead children to their families, but she still felt better taking them anyway. If nothing else, she knew she could at least ensure they could be buried with dignity, and rest in peace.

    The very air of the Bearded Lord’s Hollow sickened Luna now, making her feel filthy and dirty. She had found solace in healing her friends’ wounds and treating the living children’s illnesses. Her only other outlet had been to help destroy and desecrate the hags’ shrine to Orcus, something that gave her a satisfying sense of vengeance.

    Despite it all, Luna found herself wondering why Pelor and the other gods of good tolerated the evils of demon princes like Orcus. Was there nothing they could do directly, particularly when evil gods like Iuz and Wastri intervened on Oerth? No matter what, the likes of Orcus, Asmodeus and Nerull constantly returned to cause yet more suffering and death.

    When does it all end? Luna wondered, as she cast a healing spell over one of the children who’d been badly beaten by the hags’ servants.

    Can it even all end?

    What if you simply can’t put an end to it? Luna wondered, addressing her god.

    Luna felt ashamed for thinking that, for expressing doubt to the god she’d pledged her life to. Try as she might, however, she couldn’t help but wonder, sickened by all the horrors she’d seen over the last few years.

    What was it all for? Luna thought to herself.

    Ma’non’go tried to remember if the adventurers had everything they needed. They had used the food in the hags’ larder to feed themselves and the children. They would also be able to use the wagons the hags had used to bring their prisoners to this hellish place to take the children back home. They could even use some of the treasure they’d taken from the hags to pay to bury those children whose parents’ couldn’t be found and who had died here, alone and unknown, so far from home.

    If anyone could empathize with that, it was Ma’non’go. He knew that everyone in X’tandelexamenka likely believed that he was dead, lost in the jungles of Hepmonaland when he’d been forced to flee for his life. Perhaps it was for the best-as Ma’non’go constantly reminded himself, everyone in X’tandelexamenka who knew him was either dead or alive but dead to him. He had not spoken a word in the decade since he’d been banished, the shock and the pain proving too much for him to endure.

    There’s nothing left there for you now, Ma’non’go told himself as he loaded one of the hags’ wagons with supplies.

    He told himself that he didn’t need to think about what had happened all those years ago.

    Ma’non’go wondered how many times he’d told himself those things over the last decade.

    A hundred times? A thousand?

    No matter how many times Ma’non’go told himself those things, and he tried to make himself speak, he simply could not, except through his hands. Try as he might, the words would simply not come. Indeed, even speaking through his hands did not come easily, except to the sisters to whom he had pledged his life. They made his heart lighter, and gave him a reason to continue.

    Reminded of his commitments to Luna and Seline, Ma’non’go wondered what would happen once the adventurers had returned the children to their homes. It was quite possible the axeman Weimar would stay with them, but those others, Revafour, Amyalla and Airk-what would happen to them?

    Even in just the short time he’d known them, Ma’non’go had seen how the Flan warrior and his gnome and halfling companions had suffered in their own right. Ma’non’go had concluded that they weren’t so different from himself, or Luna and Seline. And then there was Weimar-for all his cheerful demeanor, Ma’non’go doubted that was all there was to it.

    To his own surprise, Ma’non’go found that the idea of parting ways with any of the other adventurers dismayed him.

    The hags had kept their treasure in a series of trunks in their private bed-chamber, and had hidden the keys so well that the adventurers could not find them. That wasn’t too much of a problem for Amyalla, though. It had been easy for her to disable most of the locks and traps on most of the chests.

    She was working on the padlock of the last chest. One final twist of her pick broke the needle in the padlock, and opened the lock itself all at once. Smiling widely, Amyalla tossed the padlock aside and opened the chest. In the dim torchlight, Amyalla found the glittering of the gold and silver coins pretty enough, but not as much as the jeweled goblets or the set of perfectly cut and matching topazes. The hags had accumulated quite a store of wealth, much of it probably acquired from their victims or from would-be rescuers who they’d killed.

    Normally, Amyalla would have been quite pleased to see all this wealth. For the moment, though, she was more interested in how much of the treasure the adventurers could use to pay for the burial of those victims who had no families to claim them.

    Standing up, Amyalla went to try and find some of the other adventurers to help her carry the hags’ treasure out of here. She was eager to get back outside and far away from this disgusting place. She was too small to help much with gathering up the bodies of the dead children, so she had spent much of her time entertaining the living children instead.

    Amyalla had knitted together some puppets, which Revafour had painted to make them much more lifelike. The puppets were the perfect accompaniment to the stories and songs Seline contributed, all set to the music Luna played on the lute she carried. When the puppets were not enough for the story and Amyalla needed something more dramatic, her magical hat allowed her to take on any other roles she needed.

    The laughter and smiles on the children’s faces lightened Amyalla’s heart, particularly after the horrors she’d seen. Not that the horrors of seeing caged children were new to her. After having Kivern Goodleaf as a husband, Amyalla was well acquainted with living in cages, metaphorically if not literally.

    The halfling had often wondered what it would have been like to have children, to care for them and raise a family. Feeding and caring for the human children she and the other adventurers had rescued was particularly amusing in her case, given that so many of them were just as tall as she was. Being a parent was one thing, but being a nanny was quite another…

    That realization made the halfling sigh. She had no regrets about publicly exposing Kivern and dragging House Reorsa’s name through the mud in the process. Unfortunately, being forced to flee the way she did had kept her from ever being able to enjoy the family she’d been looking for. The Reorsa family wasn’t exactly what she’d been hoping for-it had been all about money, rank and military prestige for them. It was the same with all the men she’d rooked and robbed-every one of them were double-dealing snakes who deserved the scandals she’d exposed them to.

    At the end of it all, though, I’m still alone, Amyalla realized glumly as she caught sight of Revafour down the corridor.

    Whispering quietly in the Flan tongue, Revafour breathed in the cleansing smoke of the tobacco burning in the bowl in front of him. After a few seconds, he picked up the pieces of cedar next to the bowl and added them to the flames, whispering once again in Flan. Praying quietly to Beory the Oerth Mother, Revafour asked that she accept his offering, so that the Bearded Lord’s Hollow could be cleansed of the evil that had poisoned it.

    The thought of what the hags had done to the Bearded Lord’s Hollow pained Revafour. These hills offered a special rugged beauty, something to be cherished and until they were tainted and polluted by the corrupting influence of the hags and their minions. The dwarves who had originally carved the caverns of the Bearded Lord’s Hollow clearly recognized that, given the alliance they likely shared with the Flan. Revafour doubted that any of the other companions he had fought alongside recognized the runes of protection and welcome subtly carved into the walls of some of the tunnels, runes that he recognized as having a Flan influence. Those runes showed just how closely the Flan had allied with the dwarves who shared these hills with them.

    More the pity, then, that the caverns had been so tainted by evil, first by the orcs that had taken over this place and then by the hags and their foul minions.

    Anger welled up in Revafour as he thought of it, despite his best efforts to focus on his prayers. He was reminded of some of the stories of the Flan elders, stories of the betrayal and murder many Flan had suffered at the hands of the Oerids and the Suel. Revafour had heard the stories, and he had seen it personally. His old friend Quendamak, a second father to him, had been betrayed by Archbaron Bestmo of Blackmoor.

    Revafour was still pained by Quendamak’s murder, and it served as an uncomfortable reminder of everything the Flan had suffered at the hands of the new arrivals to the Flanaess. Revafour also remembered how the Flan could suffer at the hands of each other-he hadn’t forgotten about Tuomad Wolf-Slayer or Kathleena Nightoak.

    What now, then? Revafour wielded a sword of Oeridian make, worn a cloak and armor of Oeridian design, and had fought alongside people of Oerid and Suel descent to destroy the evil infecting this place. He was not certain what he would do once all the children had been returned to their homes. Would he continue on with Amyalla and Airk? Or would he go on to his own devices, working as a hired sword?

    Would he find another Quendamak out there?

    The thought of striking out on his own did not arouse the same enthusiasm in Revafour that it might have several months ago. He hadn’t felt particularly close to any of the rest of Quendamak’s people after he’d helped them escape from Blackmoor after Bestmo’s attempts to kill them. Quendamak’s people had chosen to stay in Highfolk, but Revafour had been too angry and frustrated to stay with them.

    He needed to leave, to be somewhere, anywhere else.

    Where else did he need to be?

    He thought again about the other adventurers he had fought alongside, and added another pinch of cedar to the bowl.

    Weimar smiled to himself as he contemplated the flagon he’d found in the hags’ larder. The flagon was one of the magical ‘flowing flagons’ produced by the legendary Zagig, the mad old demigod of yore. It was able to dispense different types of drink on command. Weimar considered himself especially fortunate to find the flagon, given how badly he needed a drink after everything he’d seen.

    Weimar had been reproached for his drinking before, but he just couldn’t help himself this time. He found himself wondering what was it that motivated beings like these hags and their minions to pick on helpless innocents like the children they victimized.

    Weimar had never been able to find the answer, not even after all of the duels and tavern brawls he’d gotten into over the years. One day he was defending his brother Denrik against a spurned woman’s champion, the next he was smashing tankards over the heads of low-born street thugs who harassed barmaids and halflings. Weimar’s brawling had gotten him into trouble with his superior officers in the Keoish Army, too. Just as he was ready to attack civilians who bullied people who couldn’t defend themselves, so too would he attack his fellow soldiers for mistreating civilians. Weimar was no better with his tongue, as he gained a reputation for bluntly criticizing military officers who abused their charges.

    For all of Weimar’s fighting, he still felt unfulfilled. He felt like he was searching for something, and never really found what it was. Of course he enjoyed himself fighting a new foe every day, spending every night with a new fair maiden and enjoying a new type of ale in every tavern he came to, but he still didn’t feel like he’d found what he was searching for.

    Take the adventurers he’d fought beside, for instance. Would Weimar now leave their company, after they had risked their lives for one another?

    The idea appalled him.

    Weimar suddenly felt his mind fill with the images of everything he’d seen the hags do to their victims.

    Those images faded, and then they were replaced with memories of how Weimar and the other adventurers had had to gather up their victims’ bodies to return to civilization.

    Weimar realized he needed another drink.

    Seline had found that the clasps on the silver bracers N’arghenn was wearing easily opened, and she had no trouble removing them. The bracers immediately shrank to fit Seline’s wrists when she tried them on, and she could feel their protective power. Seline also helped herself to the wand hanging from N’arghenn’s belt, the one that N’arghenn had used to produce the scalding steam.

    Seline knew she would be able to make good use of both items.

    As valuable as these prizes were, Seline considered them a poor consolation when stacked against all the horrors she’d seen in these caverns. The images of what the hags had done to their prey remained seared in her mind. Judging by the looks Seline had seen the looks in the eyes of her companions as they’d gathered up the bodies of the hags’ victims, she knew the other adventurers suffered the same problem.

    Seline was sickened by the memories of what she’d seen, but she knew she would be able to deal with them. What concerned her more was how the other adventurers, the people she’d accompanied on this mad quest, were doing.

    Airk was constantly staring off into the distance, as if he was reliving some distant memory. Revafour seemed to simmer with some sort of inner rage, mostly ignoring everyone around him. Ma’non’go looked confused and saddened. Amyalla put on a brave face as she entertained the children with the puppets she’d knitted. Luna was spending more and more time in prayer. Weimar was constantly sampling from that magical flagon he’d found, seemingly unable to stop himself.

    Seline felt a keen sense of frustration, wishing she could do something more to help them.

    She didn’t want it to end this way.

    Airk dutifully worked to help the others gather up the treasure and the bodies of the hags’ victims, and to ensure that the surviving children were well-fed and guarded. Inwardly, though, his mind kept drifting back several decades to the Hateful Wars, and the ugly memories that he simply could not seem to shake.

    How many comrades had he and his fellow gnomes had to bury back then? How many times had the gnomes and the dwarves continually betrayed and sold each other out for profit and political gain, allowing the humanoids to regroup? It was one thing to kill the orcs and goblins, monsters who would have enslaved the gnomes and dwarves they did not kill and eat, but it was quite another to face death at the hands of your supposed allies. Even now, the thoughts still filled him with rage, and sometimes it was all he could do to keep himself in check.

    Gazing out over the beauty of the hills, which remained unspoiled beyond the borders of the cancer poisoning Bearded Lord’s Hollow, and the dance of the twin moons at night, helped soothe Airk’s soul. So too, did the surviving children-Airk had much more fun than he would have ever imagined playing with Amyalla in her silly puppet shows.

    But what would Airk do after he and the other adventurers had taken the children home? Airk had wandered for a long time after the end of Hateful Wars, working as a mercenary and adventurer, but it all seemed so hollow to him. He hadn’t even returned to Flinthold after the war ended. He could not show his face there after the way he’d allowed Kalrek to betray their people.

    Now, as for the past five decades, Airk was left wondering what to do with his life. His latest attempt to try and find some meaning had led him to fight alongside a crew of humans and a halfling, people who would eventually go grey and die while he would still be comparatively young.

    Airk was struck by the strangeness of the situation, and even more so by the fact that fighting alongside these other adventurers made him more fulfilled and alive than he had been since before the Hateful Wars. 

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