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    The Silver Wolf-The Honor Of The Crown: Hiding In Plain Sight
    Posted on Sat, June 05, 2021 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "“I honed my craft in the Free City of Greyhawk, remember?” Amyalla said with a confident smirk. “Picking locks is Greyhawk’s national pastime.”

    Chapter Fourteen

    Hiding In Plain Sight

    Two days of travel led the companions back to Flinthold’s capital city, but they didn’t approach the front gates. Instead, Airk led them to one of the city’s escape tunnels, which the gnomes could use to secretly enter or exit the city as needed. The tunnel was connected to the main underground passage by a secret door crafted to resemble the raw, unworked stone around it. Seline and Amyalla were utterly amazed at the skill the gnomes showed at building the secret door. Even though the rest of Airk’s friends had seen the door already, they were still impressed with the gnomes’ tunnelling skills.

    In spite of his anxiety, Airk felt a surge of pride as he led his friends through the tunnel.

    The tunnel exit in Flinthold emerged into a rocky hillside in an out of the way park, hidden from sight by a secret door like the one in the underground passage. The moment the companions left the tunnel, they heard bellowing laughter and shouts. The laughter and shouts became louder as the companions walked into Flinthold’s streets, soon they also heard the sounds of splitting wood and breaking glass.

    The source of the sounds was clear as the companions took in the destruction the Scarlet Woman’s minions were causing to Flinthold. Hobgoblins chopped wooden furniture into kindling that they piled up in preparation for bonfires. Bugbears and goblins used broken pieces of stone in competitions to smash glassware and crockery. Orcs and ogres gorged themselves on crops and herd animals abandoned by gnome farmers. Hill giants and verbeeg got drunk on barrels of ale and mead looted from Flinthold’s breweries. Humans and gnolls arm-wrestled for plundered valuables. Norkers tore up gnomish books and tapestries.

    The companions walked through a sea of debauchery and chaos. They were horrified at the devastation they saw, but they did well to keep calm. Most of the monsters ignored the companions, being more interested in looting and wrecking the gnomes’ possessions and buildings, but soon a mixed group of humans and hobgoblins approached them. They glared suspiciously at the companions, who stopped walking and faced them intently.

    Tension filled the air before one of the humans spoke.

    “Don’t recall seeing your faces around here,” the human said, one hand on his sword as he stroked his moustache. “How long have you all been part of my lady’s forces?”

    “Long enough,” said Weimar, one hand on his axe as he stepped ahead of his friends and returned the human’s glare. He released his axe and held up the pendant around his neck. It was set with a large garnet, cut in the same style as all the other gems the Scarlet Woman’s forces wore.

    Looking past Weimar, the moustached human could see that the rest of the companions were wearing similar jewelry. He didn’t know was that the jewelry the companions wore was some of the treasures they’d won in their previous battles against the Scarlet Woman’s minions.

    “What about him, then?” the human asked, gesturing at Airk. “He’s one of the pointy-nosed stumps we took this place from for my lady. Is he some kind of spy?”

    Airk imagined all the gruesome fates he could inflict on the man with his morning star or his military pick, though he remained outwardly calm.

    “This isn’t any home of mine,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m just a wanderer now, surviving off my weapons and my skill at arms. Serving my lady is as fine a way as any to do it.”

    Airk’s demeanor was calm and his tone plain as he spoke. The humans and hobgoblins exchanged glances and shrugged. The Scarlet Woman’s human minions were a motley collection of people from all walks of life. The humans minions facing the companions weren’t surprised to see a wizard like Seline or dark-skinned warriors like Revafour and Ma’non’go in their lady’s service, and the hobgoblins didn’t question their human fellows.

    “Be off with you, then,” the moustached man said, gesturing dismissively at the companions. He led his group on its way, as the companions continued on theirs.

    Airk’s friends didn’t dare ask him if he was alright, but they were disturbed by how calmly he said those words.

    They wondered how many of his words were a lie.

    “It’s strange,” Seline said after the companions passed through several more streets. “All these monsters are more interested in carousing than keeping watch. There’s hardly any discipline here. You’d think they’d be guarding against the Flintholders’ trying to retake their homes, but they’re not.”

    That might be as much a bad thing as a good one, Ma’non’go said, shaking his head at the hopeful look on Seline’s face.

    “What do you mean?” Seline asked in astonishment.

    This Scarlet Woman, whoever she is, is supremely confident, Ma’non’go pointed out. She might overestimate her intelligence and the hold she has on her soldiers…but she might also live up to her view of herself.

    The thought didn’t comfort any of the companions as they rounded the corner and came upon a group of humans seated around a fire made from broken gnomish furniture. They had the look of brigands about them, having likely joined the Scarlet Woman’s forces simply for thrill and plunder. The companions briefly exchanged glances, before Amyalla stepped forward a few paces.

    “Greetings!” she said to the humans, smiling brightly at their approving looks. “Is there space among you for a few more of my lady’s servants?”

    The human brigands exchanged glances, and several of them made no effort to hide the lewd smiles they gave at the sight of Amyalla, Luna and Seline.

    “Certainly for you, pretty one…but you’d best rid yourself of some of the company you’re keeping,” one of the brigands said, gesturing at the rest of the companions.

    “Oh, but I wanted to show them the splendor my lady won for herself as the new queen of this place,” Amyalla said with a pout. “I take it my lady is preparing for her coronation? I heard of the gnome that challenged her wearing a crown fit for one of her stature.”

    “No, she’s put it in a private hoard along with some of the other baubles we collected for her,” another brigand said. “It’s for her and her alone to brood over. More’s the pity-I think she’d look gorgeous in it.”

    “Where, precisely?” Amyalla asked, a look of disappointment on her face.

    “In the old council palace,” one of the brigands said, gesturing to the manor where the Regency Council met. “But you won’t find my lady there-she’s gone to inspect the jeweler’s guildhall. The stumps have a gift for cutting gems, you know.”

    “My thanks to you, then,” Amyalla said, tipping her hat and hoping that Airk would remain calm at the brigand’s insult to his race. “We’ll likely return soon enough…and I can thank you all appropriately.”

    The brigand returned her smile, not realizing how long he’d be waiting for Amyalla to thank him.

    “The Regency Council’s chambers can be guarded by a reinforced security door,” Airk told his friends once they’d gotten away from the brigands. “You need both keys and combination locks to get though it. This Scarlet Woman probably did it with that magical bell of hers.”

    “And there’s probably a host of monsters guarding the place,” Revafour said, “too many for us to fight our way past. And how long would it take us to get past the door?”

    “Not as long as you might think,” Airk said. “I’m a veteran of Flinthold’s military, and one who frequently guarded the Council manor. I know the numbers to the combination locks, and a secret way to get in. You’ll need to open the key lock, though,” he finished, turning to Amyalla.

    “I honed my craft in the Free City of Greyhawk, remember?” Amyalla said with a confident smirk. “Picking locks is Greyhawk’s national pastime.”

    “I’ll need some of you to distract as many of the guards as you can,” Airk said to the rest of his friends. “The rest of us can sneak in and find the Crown, and then we can get out of here.”

    “And how long will that last before the Scarlet Woman gets wind of it and comes back? Do you seriously think we can fight her and all of her-“ Seline said.

    “We won’t have to,” Airk said, “not when I can get us out of here with this.” Reaching into his pocket, Airk pulled out a plain gold ring, which he held out for his friends to examine.

    …What good will that do? Ma’non’go asked.

    “It’s enchanted with the ability to grant wishes,” Airk said. “Once I have the Crown, I’ll use it to get us all out of here. We don’t all need to be together for it.”

    “Where did you get that?” Luna asked in amazement. “How long-“

    “Arthur gave it to me,” Airk said. “He found it in his adventuring days and now it can only grant one more wish.”

    “Then why did we have to risk our lives coming back here?” Weimar asked, scowling. “You could have just wished to have the Crown back in your hands!”

    “We needed to see what kinds of defenses the Scarlet Woman’s forces have set up here,” Airk said. “We passed by one of the doors to the underground passages when we first arrived here. I noticed its locking mechanism was broken. Some of our soldiers clearly did that once they knew the battle was lost. It’s been a standard procedure for centuries.”

    I see, Ma’non’go said with a rare smile. It’s impossible for invaders who seize the city to block the Flintholders’ attempts to retake it.

    “Exactly,” Airk said. “The lock mechanisms are really complex. The Scarlet Woman’s forces haven’t had enough time to repair them, if they even know how.”

    Nodding to one another, the companions set out for the Regency Council’s manor.  

    “Better at pleasurin’?” the verbeeg said, narrowing his eyes threateningly. “What’re ye gettin’ at, human?”

    “Just what I said,” Revafour said with a shrug. “The humans guarding my lady’s treasures boasted they were given the task because they could pleasure her better than anyone else, including the verbeeg.”

    “That’s bull scat if I ever heard it!” the verbeeg said, his face reddening in anger, as several of the other verbeeg nodded in agreement. “No puny human be matchin’ us, no sir at all!”

    “Hold up a nonce,” one of the other verbeeg said. “Why in Hades would ye be betrayin’ yer own to us?”

    “What makes you think they’re my own?” Revafour said, narrowing his eyes. “A bunch of Oerids? Their kind have treated mine like dirt for centuries. Bragging about all they’ve done, and now this!”

    “Fine then, lads!” the first verbeeg said, turning to his friends. “We’ll show those humans that no one in my lady’s forces can fight or pleasure as well as we can! Have at ‘em!”

    The verbeeg were all so insulted and spoiling for a fight that they completely forgot about Revafour. Raising their weapons, they ran towards the Regency Council’s manor, not noticing the fact that Revafour walked away in the opposite direction from where they ran.

    “That’s the one there,” Weimar said, pointing at one particularly vicious-looking orc.

    Seline nodded as she saw which orc Weimar indicated, and cast her charming spell. The orc didn’t flinch or otherwise react, but Seline knew instinctively that her spell had worked.

    She nodded, and Weimar led her towards the large group of orcs. Several of them glared threateningly at the humans, raising their weapons, but the orc Seline charmed ordered them to stand down. Weimar’s years of experience battling the humanoids threatening Keoland allowed him to identify orc leaders at a glance, and his instincts served him well once again.

    “Oh, but it’s awful!” Seline exclaimed, as Weimar patted her shoulder sympathetically. “The things they claimed they’d do!”

    “Who’d do what?” the orc leader said, speaking in the Common tongue. “What are you getting at?” Seline’s charming spell made him inclined to like and trust her, and he was immediately concerned at her distress.

    “Those orcs from the Bloody Claw clan,” Seline said. “They’re to plunder my lady’s private hoard! All of my lady’s treasures…”

    The orc leader’s pig snout flared as his eyes widened in rage. His clan, the Burning Slime, didn’t have the infamy of larger orc clans like the Vile Rune, Death Moon or Dripping Blade, but they did have a seething hatred of their rival Bloody Claw clan. The orcs of the Bloody Claw and Burning Slime clans only cooperated because they believed that they shared a similar devotion to the Scarlet Woman.

    Weimar knew all that from his time in the Keoish military, and he passed that knowledge to Seline before she cast her spell. It paid off as the orc leader screamed at his fellows to follow him, and they ran towards the Regency Council’s manor while brandishing their weapons.

    Weimar and Seline made a point of going in the opposite direction.

    Amyalla felt a sense of envy as she watched Airk open the combination lock on the door to the Regency Council manor’s secret entrance. Combination locks were the bane of many members of Greyhawk’s Thieves’ Guild. While she was better than most of her peers at opening them, Amyalla always found it a slow, frustrating challenge. Rationally, she knew Airk could open the locks because he already knew the combination, but it still rankled her.

    Airk, Luna, Ma’non’go and Airk were silent as they stalked through the manor’s mostly trashed and abandoned halls. Luna had cast silencing spells to mask the sound of her and Airk’s heavy armor, although she placed the spells below the levels of their heads so that they could still hear everything around them. When they heard the angry screams and clashes of metal outside the manor, and many of the guards of the Scarlet Woman’s hoard ran out to see what was happening, they knew they had to act quickly.

    Some of the guards remained on duty in front of the council chamber door that now housed the Scarlet Woman’s hoard. The companions caught them completely by surprise, and they were quickly slaughtered. In the two minutes it took the companions to kill the guards, Amyalla picked the key lock on the vault door. Airk opened the door’s combination lock, and then the companions all pulled it open.

    The council chamber held a dazzling display of wealth. Everything from chalices of silver and gold to spider-silk tapestries threaded with gems to jade and ivory statuettes to high-class jewelry and gold and platinum bars filled the room, but Airk only had eyes for the Crown of Arumdina. Seizing the Crown, which was kept in a place of honor in the centre of the room, Airk stuffed it into his pack.

    Finally, reaching into his pocket, Airk retrieved the ring Arthur gave him. Squeezing it in his hand, he wished that he and the rest of the Company of the Silver Wolf were outside Flinthold near its surface doors. He saw the ring crumble to dust, its final wish granted, before everything faded to gold around him.

    Gradually, the gold faded away and Airk’s vision returned to normal. Glancing around, he saw that he was standing in the Lortmil Mountains, some two hundred feet from Flinthold’s surface door. To his relief, he saw that his friends were all with him alive and well.

    Nodding to one another, the companions set out to find the Kutunachke.

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