CruelSummerLord writes "
And please let me punish Kalrek for his crimes. I accept my fate, but
please let me make Kalrek suffer his first for all the blood he’s spilled.
Those are the boons I ask of you. My failings are mine alone-no one
else should suffer for them.
Rivers Of Blood On My Hands
As the companions approached Copper Crossing,
they saw it was an impressive sight. The city walls were ringed with ballistae
and catapults, alarm bells were placed at every lockable gate, and much of the
land in front of the walls was rigged with pit traps, formidable obstacles for
any would-be invaders. Beyond the walls, the companions saw a group of large
clock towers, their bells chiming out the time for the scores of humans,
dwarves and gnomes that called the city home. Gnomes were not as skilled at
pure craftsmanship as dwarves were, but they were the dwarves’ superior at
engineering. The companions saw why human lands such as Dyvers and Greyhawk
paid such princely sums for gnomish technology. Despite his melancholy, Airk
managed a proud smile at the admiring looks on his human and halfling friends’
glance, Copper Crossing seemed more the size of a large town than a city. There
was much more to Copper Crossing than what was on the surface, though. The
surface part of the city was built over a network of underground tunnels that
contained the majority of the city’s population, homes and businesses. The
tunnels also housed the copper, tin and iron mines that generated so much
wealth not only for Copper Crossing, but for surrounding lands as well.
companions were close enough to Copper Crossing’s gates, they dismounted and
led their horses and ponies on foot towards the gate. As they did, Airk began
to speak again.
have any trouble getting into the city,” Airk said, “or in finding lodgings
while I meet with Laessar. We won’t be here more than a couple of days at most,
and then we’ll deal with Kalrek. What say you all?” he asked, his expression
and his tone both calm.
were silent as they followed him.
really sure you want to continue with me?” Airk asked. “You shouldn’t feel like
you have to. This is a personal thing for me-I can’t live with myself until
I’ve put this to rest, for all the deaths and bloodshed Kalrek’s caused.”
over this, haven’t we?” Weimar said. “I’m sure I speak for the rest of us when
I say that. But why are we coming to Copper Crossing? Shouldn’t we go to that
outpost the bandit captain described?”
will know anything about Kalrek’s operations that we could have learned from
the outpost,” Airk said, shaking his head. “If anything, we’re likely to get
more knowledge from Laessar. If we struck at the outpost, Kalrek would likely
get word of it and have more time to prepare for us when we strike at his lair.
Kalrek will have less time to prepare this way.”
companions fell into silence again, thinking about what Airk told them.
the only thing on Airk’s mind.
companions’ assurances, Airk still felt guilty about bringing them along. They
were putting their lives at risk for him and his vendetta against Kalrek, a
vendetta that had festered for longer than any of them had lived.
Six and a half decades…the gnome thought, and all I’ve done is wander, until now. I
left the blood of my fellow soldiers unavenged. Now that I’m finally doing it,
I might just as easily shed the blood of people who’ve already done more for me
than I could have ever asked.
Anger and disgust welled up inside him once
more, but it was not directed at Kalrek this time.
The underground section of Copper Crossing was
just as impressive as the surface. Rotating lift elevators carried people and
vehicles to and from the surface. Sophisticated plumbing systems drew off water
from the two large underground rivers flowing through the city streets. Rothe-powered
bascule bridges were continually raised and lowered to allow the passage of
both pedestrians and underground ships traveling to and from other underground
communities. Caged fire beetles and specially cultivated luminescent fungi
planted in strategically located lampposts lit the city like a starlit sky. The
streets themselves were thronged with gnomes, humans and dwarves, the bustle
and noise they created as vibrant as any city on the surface.
Laessar Bradon conducts all of his underhanded
operations for Kalrek in a thriving community like this? Ma’non’go signed incredulously as
the companions walked down one of the main streets. How could he avoid notice from his fellow citizens?
the perfect place to do it,” Amyalla said. “You saw how many caravans leave the
city on a daily basis, so who’ll notice another one? The bandit captain told us
about one of Kalrek’s outposts. He probably has an entire network of such
places where minions like the spriggans meet merchants like Laessar to deliver
their plunder. The merchants then deliver it to Kalrek. Their caravans look the
same as any other.”
can keep even bandits and spriggans loyal,” Airk said in disgust. “How else do
you think we Flintholders came to trust him, besides our being so blind and
are-“ Seline said.
Owlbear Arms is best suited for humans in this part of the city,” Airk
interrupted her, staring straight ahead. “You all can wait there while I talk
to Laessar. Once I get the information I need from him, I’ll return and we can
discuss our plans.”
“Don’t you want anyone to come with you?”
“No,” Airk said,
shaking his head. “I’ll be less likely to alarm Laessar if I go alone.”
all, though?” Seline said. “You might-“
has spies in Laessar’s household, they’re less likely to notice us if Airk goes
in alone,” Amyalla said. “We just look like another group of travelers, and
Airk’s just visiting an old friend. You’ll be careful, of course?” she asked
“Of course I will,” Airk said, staring straight
His companions looked to one another
The Owlbear Arms more than lived up to its
reputation as one of the finest inns in Copper Crossing. It had thrived for
over a century and a half under the management of Nordick Shimmerstone, a gnome
who prided himself on never letting an opportunity go to waste. Nordick noticed
how many humans came to Copper Crossing, and he capitalized on it by building a
number of specialty suites sized for humans. He continually expanded the
Owlbear Arms by buying up neighboring properties whenever they became
available, and now he was the proud owner of one of the largest inns not just
in Copper Crossing, but in the entire Kron Hills.
The companions had no difficulty getting rooms
at the Owlbear Arms, even with all the other patrons thronging the place. Most
of the companions went to get something to eat, and Amyalla took some time to
catch up on her knitting, so Airk thought he would be able to leave without
He was relieved at that, not in the mood to
talk to any of his friends at the moment. He was heading for the door of the
room he was sharing with Weimar when it opened and Luna walked into the room.
Worry was etched on Luna’s face, and Airk was struck by how clearly it showed.
He’d always thought that Seline was the more outgoing of the sisters, but now
Luna matched her sister’s expressiveness.
“What do you want?” Airk demanded, his ugly mood made clear
by the look on his face.
“We need to talk,” Luna said, shutting the door behind her.
She stood between the door and Airk, making no move to get out of the gnome’s
“We’ve said everything we need to,” Airk said. “Now get out
of my way.”
“Not until I’ve had my say. What are you going to do, Airk?
Throw me out of your way? Threaten me? Or are you so obsessed with revenge that
you’d be ready to attack everyone who’s come to care for you since then?”
“I…how can I let Kalrek go unpunished after everything he’s
done? Didn’t you see what he did to the people of Oakdale, to the people of
Flinthold? Am I supposed to forget all that?”
“Of course not! Never that! But you know how worried we are
about you, and what this quest is doing to you.”
Airk sighed, looking down at the floor before looking at
Luna again, a sombre look on his face.
“Have you ever felt such guilt that it threatened to drive
you mad?” Airk asked. “Have you felt you’ve shamed your heritage and people,
shame made all the worse because you couldn’t bring yourself to punish a
murderer? When you saw the corpses of the people of Oakdale, were you reminded
of your failures and your weakness? Did you feel disgust at your cowardice,
feel that you were just as responsible for their deaths because of your inaction?
That’s what I felt, Luna-and don’t go telling me that I’m not responsible. I
am, and that’s all there is to it. Now please, let me pass.”
Luna’s mind whirled as she recalled the conversation she’d
had with Revafour and Weimar on the Coast
Dancer. She tried to think of what to say.
“I just…I can’t bear to see you this way,” she finally said.
“None of us do, and-“
“-and I know that,”
Airk finished for her. “But this is something I have to see through to the end.
I owe the people of Flinthold that, at the very least.”
Before Luna could answer, Airk pushed her aside and left the
Luna was left alone with her fears, praying desperately to
Pelor for answers.
When Airk looked at Laessar Bradon’s mansion, he was
distinctly impressed by how well his old friend had done since leaving
Flinthold. The mansion was not the largest house in Flinthold’s high class
neighborhood, but it was immaculately designed and crafted. Detailed bas-reliefs
of burrowing animals and murals of surface hills and woods decorated the
mansion’s walls. The grounds were decorated with statues of gnomish heroes and
gods like Garl Glittergold and Baravan Wildwanderer. Strategically placed
lights decorated the estate with a combination of warm embracing light and
mysterious, dreamlike shadows.
Airk walked at a leisurely pace up to the gatehouse at the
entrance to the estate. He glanced all around him, admiring his surroundings as
if he had all the time in the world. As Airk approached, the gatehouse’s
attendant emerged with an officious look as he prepared to deal with the latest
visitor to Laessar’s manor.
“Greetings, sir!” Airk said as he came up to the attendant.
“Is Master Laessar Bradon at home today?”
“Who are you?” the attendant asked, looking suspiciously at
Airk’s heavy armor and weapons. “What’s your business here?”
“My name’s Airk Venbelwar,” Airk said, bowing slightly. “I’m
an old friend of your master’s from the Hateful Wars. I’ve come to Copper
Crossing on business, and I thought I might pay Laessar a visit. It’s been too
long since I’ve seen him.”
“Indeed,” the gatekeeper said, raising an eyebrow. “And what
proof do you have that my master would know you?”
“Laessar and I are friends of one Kalrek Burunne,” Airk
said. “Perhaps you might at least confirm with Laessar’s valet, and he can
inquire of your master?”
The gatekeeper’s eyes widened in surprise at hearing
Kalrek’s name, but it spurred him to action. The gatekeeper turned back into
his gatehouse and rang a bell. The servants’ entrance of the manor opened in response
to the bell, and a pageboy came out to the gatehouse. The pageboy had a
whispered conversation with the gatekeeper, and quickly ran back inside. A few
minutes passed before the pageboy returned, this time with directions to the
gatekeeper to let Airk in.
Once Airk passed through the gates, the pageboy led him up
to the grand front doors of Laessar’s mansion. The pageboy opened the doors and
let Airk into the foyer, where they were greeted by Laessar’s valet Borrus.
“Greetings to you, sir,” Borrus said to Airk once the
pageboy had left them. “Any friend of my master’s is a friend of mine.”
“You honor him, I’m sure,” Airk said. “Will Laessar be able
to see me today?”
“He has some important paperwork to finish, but he’ll come
to see you in a few minutes,” Borrus said. “Would you care for something to
drink while you wait?”
“Just some water, thank you,” Airk said, as Borrus led him
into a sitting room and poured him his drink.
Borrus left after that, leaving Airk to think about the
situation. Everything turned out the way Airk expected. Laessar gave his
servants standing orders to immediately admit anyone who mentioned Kalrek’s
name, although without revealing exactly why Kalrek was so important.
Everything appeared so calm and
normal to Laessar’s servants and family.
Little did they know the turmoil
under the surface, their master’s true feelings.
Little did they know Airk
In a few minutes, Laessar himself came to greet Airk,
leading Airk back into his study where they could speak privately.
“How long has it been, old friend?” Laessar asked as he shut
the study door behind him. “Thirty years?”
“Yes, but it feels longer than that,” Airk said. “How’s the
gem trade? I take it things are going well?”
“Of course they are,” Laessar said as he walked over to the
bar in one corner of the room and poured two glasses of wine. “And what about
you? Are you still burrowing through haunted ruins, rescuing distressed
damsels, and traveling to the four corners of the Flanaess?” he continued, as
he sat down at his desk and Airk sat in the chair facing it.
Airk and Laessar laughed at the comment, but then they fell
silent. Airk could see a hunted look in Laessar’s eyes, and he realized that
Laessar probably saw the intensity in his.
Laessar took a long, hard swig of wine, but Airk didn’t
touch his glass.
“Now that’s an
expression I haven’t heard since the Hateful Wars,” Airk said.
“…Well, it’s been some time,” Laessar said, his expression
“Time enough to lose contact with old friends?” Airk asked.
“You were the one who became an adventurer,” Laessar said.
“How could I have reached you?”
“You didn’t have any trouble reaching Kalrek,” Airk said.
“Still exchanging letters with him, aren’t you?”
Laessar turned ashen at that, rising up from his chair as
Airk did the same.
“What do you know about that?” he demanded.
“I know everything I saw from those letters written to the
spriggans in the Cairn Hills,” Airk said. “I know what I saw from seeing those
people dying at the hands of the trolls you and Kalrek sent against them. I
know what I saw when Kalrek betrayed Flinthold to the Steelhearts in exchange
for their blood money. I know what I saw when Kalrek made the caverns run red
with our kin’s blood! I know all of it, and I know you’re involved with it!”
Airk continued, his voice rising to a shout.
“Airk, you don’t understand,” Laessar said, stumbling back
as Airk began to advance on him.
“He shed our blood. He led us all to suffer and die. He
received a king’s ransom for it,” Airk said, his eyes flaring with rage. “And
now he’s doing it again. Again!”
“Airk, please!” Laessar said.
Laessar tried to run for the door, but Airk was faster and
immediately caught him. The two gnomes wrestled fiercely, each trying to
overcome the other. 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 did he pay you, Laessar?” Airk said. “How much was
it worth to consort with spriggans and trolls? How much was it worth to send
bandits out to rob and murder defenseless innocents? How much was it worth to
turn your back on everything we fought for in the Hateful Wars? How much did he
Panic rose in Laessar as he tried to break free. His fear
gave strength to his arms, allowing him to drag Airk forward as they resumed
their struggle. As they passed by a large glass mirror, Laessar twisted to try
and fling Airk into it. Unfortunately, Laessar’s combat skills had weakened
with time, and Airk had little trouble countering his maneuver. Instinctively,
Airk planted his feet firmly and went with the spin, twisting around and
Laessar crashed 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.
Airk’s blood ran cold with horror as he knelt down and
rolled Laessar over. The door to Laessar’s study burst open, and Borrus burst
into the room with several guards, alarmed by the shouting they’d heard. They
were stunned when 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 upper body.
Time seemed to stop all at once for Airk as he knelt down.
Gently, he cradled Laessar’s head in his hands, ignoring Borrus and the guards.
“Laessar...no…by the gods, what have I done?” Airk said.
“My family…” Laessar said, his breath coming in shallow
gaps. “Kalrek has them…he’ll kill them if I don’t do his bidding…I beg of you,
“Laessar…I…” Airk said.
“Borrus…where is my faithful Borrus?” Laessar said, coughing
“My lord!” Borrus exclaimed, kneeling down next to his
“Give Airk…the silver tome in my safe…it contains all
the…don’t call the watch on Airk, please let him…” Laessar said, now visibly
struggling to speak.
“Laessar, I won’t let him get away with…” Airk said. “Please
“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-“
Laessar’s words ended abruptly as he died.
Airk sat in silence, staring in shock at the face of his
dead friend. He looked at his hands, and saw that they were stained the deep
crimson of gnomish blood.
Over the past several weeks, Airk had felt guilt and rage in
recalling Kalrek’s betrayal. Now, he simply felt numb as he realized what he
had done. He might have remained like that, except that Laessar’s guards pulled
him to his feet. Looking across the room, he saw Borrus opening a safe hidden
behind a painting on one wall, which contained a large collection of books and
parchments. Borrus pulled out one large tome embossed in silver with the emblem
of a crown on it. Walking over to Laessar’s desk, Borrus laid the book on it
and began to read.
“Oh, my poor master…” Borrus said, his face pale as he read
through the book. “The shame of it all…that you were driven to this…”
“Is this what you came to confront my master about?” Borrus
asked Airk as he looked up from the book. “How did you know about this?”
“Because of the letters I have with me in my pocket,” Airk
said. “I came for information about Kalrek Burunne, and how I could find him.”
One of the guards retrieved the letters from Airk’s pocket and handed them to
Borrus. Borrus glanced over them, comparing the handwriting on the letters from
Airk’s pocket to the writing on some of the letters included in the book, Borrus
saw they were a perfect match.
Putting the book and letters down on the desk, Borrus took a
deep breath before he turned to look at Airk.
“The only reason I don’t have you killed here and now is
because of my master’s dying requests, and because his family’s in danger,”
Borrus said. “My master allowed no one but him to read that book. It should
tell you everything you need to find this Kalrek’s person and rescue my
master’s family. If you fail at that, then may Garl Glittergold ensure that 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 looked once again at the blood on his hands, before he
looked back at Borrus.
“My friends are at the Owlbear Arms,” Airk said. “I will need
their help to do this. They go by the name of the Company of the Silver Wolf.
If you give them my name and say I need help, they’ll come.”
“Very well,” Borrus said,
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
At that moment, Airk agreed with
When Luna and the rest of her friends were
summoned to Laessar’s mansion, they’d expected to find that Airk had convinced
Laessar to tell them where Kalrek’s lair could be found. Instead, they’d
learned the horrible truth of why Airk needed them there.
Luna wasn’t sure what horrified her more, the
fact that Airk had killed Laessar, or the thought of what his guilt might do to
them. Airk had been so angry over the past few weeks, and Luna wondered if he
would begin lashing out at them as well…
…or if his
guilt and despair might drive him mad entirely.
nothing you can do?” Borrus asked Luna as they examined Laessar’s body, which
lay in state in a separate bedroom.
not,” Luna said, shaking her head. “I don’t have the power to raise the dead.
We’d need the help of a priest with enough power to cast such a spell, unless
the magic were inscribed on a scroll I could use. As it is, we don’t have
enough time to find a suitable priest.”
has many contacts,” Borrus said, “and I may be able to find someone with enough
power. You’ll be on your way, then?”
solemnly as she turned to leave.
“A word to
the wise, young one,” Borrus said, as Luna turned back to face him.
it?” Luna asked him.
“You are a
daughter of Pelor, judging by the pendant around your neck,” Borrus said.
am,” Luna said.
you should ask your god whether he would tolerate your sharing the company of a
murderer who’s responsible for at least one innocent death, and probably many
more afterward,” Borrus said, his eyes flashing.
reply, Luna turned and left the room to rejoin her friends.
Borrus just stared after her.
“It was an accident, wasn’t it?” Weimar said as
he pulled on his backpack. “Surely you can’t be blamed for-“
“Yes I can,” Airk said.
“But with everything you’ve gone through
because of this Kalrek-“ Weimar said.
“That means nothing,” Airk said, shaking his
“It’s murder,” Revafour said, glancing from
Airk to Weimar. “And maybe you should-“
Instead of judging
Airk, maybe we should ask what we would have done in his situation, Ma’non’go interrupted, an intense
look on his face. What kinds of friends
are we to judge him, especially when he might actually be able to avenge a
Weimar and Revafour stared at Ma’non’go
“We leave in less than an hour,” Airk said,
breaking the silence.
Airk, Revafour and Weimar had already left the
room, and Ma’non’go was about to follow them. He paused, however, when Amyalla
came into the room.
You are prepared? Ma’non’go asked her.
“You said Airk might have a chance to avenge a
betrayal,” Amyalla said, ignoring Ma’non’go’s question. “What did you mean by
that? Is it because you can’t avenge what happened to you in Hepmonaland?”
Ma’non’go stood in silence for a few moments
There’s nothing there
for me anymore, he
signed. I’ve cut all my ties to that
“So why can’t you talk, then?” Amyalla said.
“Why do you need to communicate with your hands instead of your voice?”
Ma’non’go looked away, unable to answer Amyalla’s
Reaching out, Amyalla took one of Ma’non’go’s
large hands in her tiny ones, a sympathetic look on her face.
“I know what it’s like to not be able to go
home again,” Amyalla said. “Wishing you could, lamenting what could have
been…you’re not the only one who carries that pain, and neither is Airk.”
For a moment, Amyalla thought she could see tears
blinking in Ma’non’go’s eyes.
I appreciate that, Ma’non’go signed to her, especially now. Indeed, without you and the
rest of our friends, I might have gone mad, much as Airk nearly has.
“That’s why you’ve come this far with him,”
Amyalla said, “why we all have.”
A rare smile found its way onto Ma’non’go’s
face as he and Amyalla left the room to rejoin their friends.
It was almost time for the
companions to leave, but Airk asked them to wait for a few minutes. Finding a
quiet, empty room, Airk knelt down and began to pray. Tears formed in his eyes
as he reached out to Garl Glittergold, begging his god’s attention.
I know my failings, Airk thought. Failing to realize Kalrek’s ambitions, letting the Steelhearts kill so
many of my friends, abandoning Flinthold because of my own selfishness,
suffering Kalrek to live, and now murdering one of my oldest friends.
I’m not asking for your forgiveness, Airk continued. I know my punishment is coming, and I know
I’ll deserve it. I’m only praying now for other reasons.
Please let me free Laessar’s family from the monster holding them
prisoner. They’ve suffered already at his hands, and they will have a long,
hard road yet to travel.
Please ensure my friends return from this quest alive. They’ve come
this far already, for no better reason than their friendship and love for me.
They have nothing to gain and everything to lose in accompanying me, and they
deserve better than to die in a corrupted hovel.
And please let me punish Kalrek for his crimes. I accept my fate, but
please let me make Kalrek suffer his first for all the blood he’s spilled.
Those are the boons I ask of you. My failings are mine alone-no one
else should suffer for them.
If I’ve ever proven my worth as a son, please grant my requests.
Finally, Airk opened his eyes.
It was time.