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The Silver Wolf: Ghosts Of The Past-The Gnome Who Would Be King
Posted on Thu, March 22, 2018 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "Normally, Gangrelen feared nothing. However, this gnome seemed so far above Gangrelen, above every other being that lived in the complex complex, that Gangrelen was relieved indeed that the gnome was glad to see him. The gnome’s mannerisms were those of a king, and indeed Gangrelen could imagine him in the company of the human kinds of Nyrond, Furyondy or Keoland. The gnome radiated confidence and certainty, as well as an aura of power and wisdom that almost seemed tangible around him.

 


 

Chapter Seven

 

The Gnome Who Would Be King


 

The underground complex had once been a great gathering place for the gnomes who used to call it home. The gnomes held meetings, ceremonies and feasts with their elven and Flan human neighbors. That had been millennia ago, before the complex had been invaded by enemies whose identities were now lost to the mists of time, along with the location of the complex itself. Perhaps some of the oldest elves still alive knew where the complex was, although they would believe the place to have been abandoned long ago.

Anyone who came into the complex now would not know its original histories. The artistic design of the complex’s halls and amphitheaters, decorated with warm, welcoming red green and gold crystals, might have given an intelligent observer some hints. Unfortunately, the passage of time had caused many parts of the complex to cave in, despite the skill with which the gnomes had built it.

Some parts of the complex survived, most notably old gathering halls, residential areas and farming caverns. These parts now existed along more crudely built tunnels and caverns, torn out of the stone by the many beings that had come to live in the complex.

Most of these residents were vile, hateful creatures like orcs, goblins, derro, mind flayers, dark creepers, formorian giants and others like them. Each set of inhabitants had driven out the previous inhabitants of the complex before taking it for themselves. In turn, they were destroyed and replaced by the next set of inhabitants.

The newest residents of the ruined complex were unlike anything that had ever come before. Orcs drank alongside spriggan gnomes, who rubbed shoulders with evil-looking human brigands. Trolls exchanged insults with derro, even as they both cursed the formorian giants who sat sulking in one corner. Despite the volatile mix of inhabitants, none of them dared to openly fight with one another. Nor did they pay even the slightest bit of attention to the large crates and chests that were being carried by ogre porters further into the complex.

They might have been sorely tempted to do so, but they did not dare.

Some of the complex’s inhabitants were the leaders of their groups, and received better beer and finer food than their minions. Gangrelen was one of those leaders, a man who was built like an ogre and had the sinuous, weasel-like features typically associated with cowardly thieves and spies. He was anything but cowardly, though. His face was crisscrossed with a misshapen spider web of scars that testified to his years leading his bandit gang and dealing with challengers to his authority in the most permanent way possible.

Gangrelen typically replied to commands with weapons, but he immediately stood to attention as a gnome approached him. The gnome wore immaculately tailored sky-blue clothes and carried no visible weapons. He looked completely defenseless, and would have been easy prey for the men and monsters all around him. They all treated the gnome with deference, looking nervously to one another as the gnome walked towards Gangrelen.

The gnome ordered Gangrelen to follow him, and Gangrelen didn’t need to be told twice. The gnome led Gangrelen through the complex into an area that was part of the old complex, unlike the newer and cruder tunnels where the monsters stayed. Gangrelen was impressed with how clean and well-furnished this part of the complex was, and how many gnomes lived there.

Gangrelen and his gnome guide walked past a room containing a large library, where several other gnomes dressed like the guide sifted through a large collection of books and parchments, making copious notes. Another room served as a large drill hall, where several gnomes dressed in mail armor trained with swords and hammers. Yet another room served as an enormous treasure vault, guarded by an elaborate vault door. The door was open, and Gangrelen could see that the room was filled with a mountain of coins, gems and other valuables. A group of ogre porters added the contents of the chests they were carrying to the treasure pile, escorted by a group of heavily armed and armored gnomes.

Gangrelen knew that treasure would be a sore temptation to the bandits and monsters that lived in the newer parts of the complex. He also knew that none of them would ever dare to try and seize it from the gnomes.

Finally, Gangrelen and his gnome escort came to a large set of double doors.

The doors were studded with finely cut gems and inlaid with ivory and silver in the shape of a beautiful crown, the display of wealth so blatantly obvious that it almost dared anyone to try and deface the doors to seize it.

Gangrelen swallowed hard as his gnome escort opened the doors and gestured for Gangrelen to enter.

The bandit leader took several deep breaths as he walked into the chamber, designed as a lavish throne room. Silken tapestries with gems threaded into them hung at regular intervals from the walls, in between fine paintings and figurines of jade, amber and ivory. A selection of gold-handled and gem-studded weapons hung from a rack on one wall, and a bar and buffet with a selection of rare sweetmeats and fine wines occupied another. The furniture was of the finest oak, beautifully carved to resemble burrowing mammals.

As magnificent as the decorations were, they could not compare to the massive throne at the far end of the room. The throne was hideous, carved into the shape of a nightmarish thing that resembled a cross between a demon, a badger and a raccoon.

The room’s inhabitants were almost as striking as its furnishings. A collection of scantily-clad women of several different races stood at intervals throughout the room, a few of them bearing trays upon which they carried jeweled crystal goblets. Gangrelen heard the snap of fingers. One of the women reacted immediately. She walked to the bar and filled the goblets in her tray with a fine Aerdi white wine, before bringing the wine and goblets to her master, the gnome sitting in the large throne.

The gnome sitting in the large throne was the owner of the fabulous wealth all around him, from the silk tapestries to the jeweled goblets to the slave girls. He was clad in a combination of silk gentleman’s clothes and fluted silvery-steel armor. A wickedly edged sword lay at one side of the throne, and a skull-faced shield at the other. Gangrelen knew that the gnome could easily reach other of them as needed, and that he wieleded them both with deadly skill.

The gnome was all smiles as Gangrelen approached. The elven maiden that had been sitting at the gnome’s feet rose up and quickly walked off to the side, leaving Gangrelen and the gnome staring at each other intently.

Normally, Gangrelen feared nothing. However, this gnome seemed so far above Gangrelen, above every other being that lived in the complex complex, that Gangrelen was relieved indeed that the gnome was glad to see him. The gnome’s mannerisms were those of a king, and indeed Gangrelen could imagine him in the company of the human kinds of Nyrond, Furyondy or Keoland. The gnome radiated confidence and certainty, as well as an aura of power and wisdom that almost seemed tangible around him.

Instinctively, Gangrelen knelt before the lord of the complex, master of everything he saw.

Gangrelen knelt before Kalrek Burunne.

“So nice to see you again, my friend,” Kalrek said as he came down from his throne. Reaching out with his hand, he raised Gangrelen’s face to look into his eyes.

Gangrelen was the same height as Kalrek even when he was kneeling, but he felt small, so very small, compared to Kalrek.

“Good, very good,” Kalrek said with a smile. “Now, tell me…how fares the robbing and plundering trade?”

“It fares…well,” Gangrelen said, unable to stop himself from swallowing hard. “Very well.”

“Well enough to share with a friend, I’m sure,” Kalrek said. “How well, then?”

“Forty thousand silver sovereigns, Sir Kalrek,” Gangrelen said, nodding as beads of sweat began to show on his forehead. “All for your glory, of course.”

“I must say, I’m impressed,” Kalrek said, the smile never leaving his lips. “Indeed, I’m flattered by your generosity-perhaps it is somewhat excessive, considering how much wealth I already possess. Perhaps if you were to share only twenty thousand of those silver sovereigns, as a gesture of friendship of course, you and yours may find yourselves welcome in my house once more?”

“My thanks, Sir Kalrek,” Gangrelen said, bowing his head once more.

“And as a gesture of good faith,” Kalrek said, gesturing to some of the serving girls, “you may enjoy yourself with the pick of my beloveds.”

 

Gangrelen had taken many people as slaves and prisoners in his raids, but he’d rarely seen slaves as submissive as those Kalrek surrounded himself with. The slaves were eager to please his every whim, but the experienced Gangrelen could see the pain and fear behind their subservient smiles. The slaves had lost all hope, resigned to spending the rest of their existences as Kalrek’s playthings…until he grew tired of them, of course, and gave them to the monstrous minions who paid him homage.

Gangrelen felt admiration for the gnome lord.

He also felt fear.


 

According to Kalrek’s precisely timed clock, it was well past midnight by the time he had completed his business. He had collected the tribute from Gangrelen and the rest of the monsters and brigands who served him. As a reward, Kalrek treated them all to a lavish and rich feast and allowed them some pleasure with his girls.

Kalrek’s minions revered him as a bandit king, someone with intelligence and connections far beyond their own limited means. He gave the bandits and monsters knowledge of what communities to raid, what tombs to plunder, which people to hold for ransom, and more in exchange for their allegiance and tribute.

Kalrek’s minions feared him as much as they revered him. A few of them had dared to try and cheat him, or challenge him for a greater share of their wealth, and he’d made them beg for death. It was easy for Kalrek to read his minions, as easy as it was to read his fellow gnomes from Flinthold, or the Steelheart dwarves he’d betrayed the gnomes to.

And yet he was so much more to Kalrek than that. He used merchants like Laessar Bradon to launder his stolen plunder. He used sages to conduct research for the prize he sought. He used spies to keep him aware of what was happening in the surrounding lands, in places like Verbobonc, Dyvers and the Wild Coast.

Kalrek’s minions didn’t know about that. It suited him to make them think he was just a bandit lord who sought nothing but wealth.

None of them, not Kalrek’s minions, not the other people in his employ, knew what he was truly searching for, the cherished prize that would be the ultimate triumph, the ultimate irony, and the ultimate insult to his old kinfolk.

All for his glory, and the glory of the Crawler Below.

The Crown of Arumdina was beckoning.

"
 
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