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    The Silver Wolf-For Crown Or Country: Over The Hills And Far Away
    Posted on Fri, February 21, 2020 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    Airk knew that seeking the help of burrowing mammals was an old gnomish tradition. He knew that he was trying to return a sacred gnomish treasure back to its rightful home. He knew that, as his adventuring friends had helped him so far, he would help them with things that were important to them.

    But as he walked back to rejoin his friends, he heard that same voice at the back of his mind again, the voice he’d first heard in the Wizard’s Hat Inn back in Greyhawk.

    Chapter Twenty-One

    Over The Hills And Far Away

    “They’re coming,” Luna said to her friends as she came out of her trance. She’d just cast a divination spell to determine whether their enemies were after them, and her expression was grim as she blew out the incense candle she used as part of the spell.

    “Which of them is it?” Revafour asked. “Xavener, or Caradoc’s cabal?”

    “The cabal,” Luna said. “They’ll be here in a matter of hours. Are you sure it was wise for us to take the coach instead of the horses?” she said, gesturing back to where the dappled grey horses were eating the food Weimar and Airk had just given them. “The cabal’s horses can catch-“

    “The coach had more of the feed and supplies the horses needed,” Revafour said. “It’s the middle of autumn. Any horses we took would have a much harder time feeding themselves in the wild. At least this way, we can carry their food with us. The cabal won’t have to travel as far to get back to Zelradton-they wouldn’t need it as much.”

    “I suppose,” Luna said, shaking her head, “but we’re still vulnerable out here. We caught the cabal by surprise last time. How’re we going to fight them when they’re prepared?”

    “More easily than you might think,” Airk said as he and Weimar came up with some of the things they’d found in the traveling coach, “if you’re willing to be creative.”

    Revafour and Luna contemplated the various odds and ends their friends brought them.

    These included fine pewter cups, silken cords and some thick fur blankets.

    And some bottles of high-class absinthe and overproofed rum.

    Caradoc led a group of his fellow cabal members along the path Xeravho said was the fastest way to catch the companions. The wizard used his spells to track the companions, and when he’d told Caradoc where to go he’d fixed the knight with an almost hypnotic look that robbed Caradoc of any desire to question him.

    Caradoc contemplated the forces he and Xeravho had brought with them. There were half a dozen fellow warriors, a respected priest of Hextor and a pair of assassins who would act as liaisons to their spies in Idee once the plot began. Their party wasn’t much larger than that of the Cranden women, but Caradoc also noted the long scroll Xeravho put into his pack before the cabal set out.

    He would have asked Xeravho what the scroll contained, but Xeravho’s cold, serpentine stare convinced him it wouldn’t have been a good idea.

    “Where will you be coming back?” Airk asked Seline and Weimar as they prepared to set out.

    “Right about there,” Seline said, gesturing with her staff at the spot where she and Weimar would return when they teleported. “Are you sure this will work?”

    “We need every advantage we can get,” Airk said as he pulled the Crown of Arumdina out of his pack. “Hopefully there are still enough of them around at this time of year.”

    The companions were making their stand at the top of a wooded hill. As the rest of the companions continued their preparations, Seline and Weimar walked down the hill in one direction, Weimar carrying one of the heavy fur blankets they found in the coach. Airk walked down the hill in another direction, glancing around for the telltale signs. Airk held tightly to the Crown as he walked, praying to Baervan Wildwanderer and Segojan Oerthcaller, the gnomish gods of nature and the oerth.

    Baervan and Segojan seemed to answer his prayers, as he found what he was looking for after only half an hour of searching. He came upon a burrow carved into the side of a good-sized hillock, one with several entrances. Nodding, he set down his shield and held the Crown of Arumdina out in his hands as he started to speak.

    Airk’s speech was nothing his human or halfling friends would have recognized. It was a series of growls and barks that his fellow gnomes would have recognized as a way of speaking to burrowing animals, a gift from Baervan and Segojan to the gnomish race.

    A powerfully built animal with black, white and brown fur, a wedge-shaped body and dangerous-looking claws emerged from the burrow. It growled threateningly when it first came out, ready to defend its den, but then it saw that Airk was a gnome. More than that, it recognized the power the Crown of Arumdina held, power that came from Garl Glittergold himself. Garl and the rest of the gnomish gods had a long affiliation with the world’s burrowing mammals, and the creature instinctively respected them.

    Airk greeted the creature, which any self-respecting gnome would recognize as a badger. The badger returned in kind, asking him why he was here.

    Airk sighed. He was going to ask the badger and its kin for help, but a part of him didn’t want to. He hated the idea of endangering the badgers, but he and his friends needed every advantage he could get. His human and halfling friends were risking themselves for his sake, and it wasn’t fair to expect them to be the only ones to face danger. Airk’s asking the badger for help was well in keeping with gnomish tradition, too. Gnomes and burrowing mammals had always been friends, and helped each other countless times over the centuries.

    The badger listened attentively to Airk’s request. It dismissed his apology for disturbing it, saying how it was honored to help a son of the gnomish gods. Finally, it told him to return to his friends, saying it would join him there with the help he requested.

    Airk knew that seeking the help of burrowing mammals was an old gnomish tradition. He knew that he was trying to return a sacred gnomish treasure back to its rightful home. He knew that, as his adventuring friends had helped him so far, he would help them with things that were important to them.

    But as he walked back to rejoin his friends, he heard that same voice at the back of his mind again, the voice he’d first heard in the Wizard’s Hat Inn back in Greyhawk.

    When the companions slew the gnomish warlord Kalrek Burunne and defeated his minions several months ago, one of the treasures they’d found was a scroll containing several arcane spells. Seline had copied some of those spells into her spellbook, but the scroll also included a couple of spells she didn’t have the power to cast on her own yet. One of those spells allowed the caster to teleport themselves and anyone nearby. Seline lamented that she wouldn’t be able to add it to her spellbook, as she’d need it to get herself and Weimar back to their friends. She could cast it off the scroll, but that would expend the spell’s energy and cause it to fade away for good.

    She stood by anxiously as Weimar scanned the horizon with his spyglass. They stood atop a hillock some distance away from where their friends had set up camp, and Weimar had a fire going with some damp grass. The damp grass smoked heavily as it burned, and soon a steady plume was rising above the hillock. Weimar kept the fur blanket he’d taken from the coach nearby, ready to use it at a moment’s notice.

    Seline was glad she’d cast a spell to shield herself and Weimar from being tracked by scrying wizards. She knew it was likely that Xeravho or any other wizard likely already knew where the companions were, but she also knew those wizards could only scry so many times in a day. Hopefully they’d only spared some of their magical resources for scrying, saving the rest of it for battle when the time came.

    Finally, Weimar reacted.

    “They’re coming,” he said, still looking through his spyglass. “It’s strange, though. There’s just under a dozen of them. You’d think they’d have more support with them, especially since we’ve had time to set our defenses…”

    “May I see?” Seline asked, before Weimar handed her his spyglass and pointed her to where the cabal’s party was gathering.

    She saw Caradoc instructing the party, and she saw Xeravho take a scroll out of his pack before unrolling it.

    Nodding, she told Weimar what to tell their friends.

    After Seline put Weimar’s spyglass back in his pack, she reached into her own pack and took out the scroll containing the teleportation spell. As she did, Weimar picked up the fur blanket and held it out over the fire. He let the smoke build up under the fire before pulling it away and allowing the smoke to plume up into the air. Once it did, he put the blanket back, blocking the smoke again.

    The Flan had been using smoke signals to communicate over long distances since well before the Great Migrations. Depending on the length and patterns of the smoke that was released into the air, the signaller could share all kinds of information. Some Flan still used the technique in the modern day, most notably those who lived in Tenh and various independent communities. They’d also taught it to some other peoples, notably some elves and halflings, and human Suel and Oerids.

    As Revafour pointed out when he suggested it, the nobles of the Aerdi cabal were unlikely to know what the smoke signaling meant, much less take it seriously. He and Weimar both had experience using it as part of their wilderness training, and they used it now. Revafour was back at the companions’ camp reading Weimar’s signals, and they knew what to expect.

    When he was done, Weimar poured a pail of water over the fire. Picking up the pail and the blanket, he walked over to Seline as she read from the scroll and put his free hand on her shoulder.

    They vanished once the spell took effect, returned to their friends.

    It was time. 

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