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    The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: Telling Friend From Foe
    Posted on Wed, November 02, 2022 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    Tears formed in her eyes as she tried to whisper a prayer to Pelor. Her friends were all similarly affected, and even Airk had a look of sorrow as he considered what the dwarves suffered. She couldn’t imagine how they were going to search through all this brutality.

     Chapter Four

    Telling Friend From Foe

    “How many different clans does that make now?” Seline said, looking over Airk’s shoulder as he knelt down to examine yet another orcish body.

    “Five,” Airk said as he stood up. “This one belonged to the Night Spear. They were one of the cruelest orc clans in the Hateful Wars. If the Night Spear were involved, it’s amazing that the orc clans all managed to cooperate long enough to overcome the dwarves.”

    It had been an hour and a half since the companions’ fight with the ghasts and ghost. The companions continued exploring the castle, but all they found were wreckage and the corpses of humans, dwarves and orcs. The orcish bodies came from no less than five separate clans, bearing their clan symbols on everything from tattoos to medallions to shield emblems. That confirmed the tales about the orcs’ infighting after they’d overcome the dwarves. Orc clans were often hated rivals to one another. They might cooperate for a larger goal, but there was always the danger their mutual enmity might boil over. When it did, the result was often a bloodbath.

    The companions’ efforts paid off after another half hour when they found the castle treasury. Most of it was looted, but the deepest chamber held a large vault door crafted of pure mithril. It was heavily scarred and battered from the orcs’ attempts to break it down, but it stood as proof of the dwarves’ skilled craftsmanship.

    Amyalla groaned as she got a close look at the vault door. She saw that it had six combination locks, and her mind spun at how complex the door’s locking mechanism likely was.

    “Can you get past that?” Weimar asked, knowing Amyalla’s dislike of combination locks. Many Greyhawk thieves simply couldn’t get past them, and even Amyalla found them a frustrating challenge.

    “It’d take me a day and more…if I actually manage to do it,” she said, shaking her head. “This makes that lock on the Hall’s entrance door look like a piece of thread. It’s a pity we don’t have Lady Babylon’s bell,” she said.

    When Lady Babylon’s forces invaded Flinthold, the dragon used a magical bell that had the power to magically open locks, no matter how large or small, to forcibly open the city’s entrance doors. The bell was claimed by the Kutunachke as part of their share of Lady Babylon’s treasures, and it was long lost to the companions.

    “Could there be any clues to how to open the vault somewhere else in the castle?” Seline said, rubbing her chin. “In all the dwarven myths I’ve read about, they were careful not to let this kind of knowledge be lost.”

    Where could we even look? Ma’non’go asked. We’ve searched most of the castle.

    “Except the dungeons,” Airk said. “The orcs would have taken advantage of the cells and torture tools…”

    A pall fell over the companions as they realized what they would likely find in the castle dungeons.

    Luna felt sick to her stomach at the slaughterhouse the dungeons had become. The bodies of nearly two score dwarves, men, women and even children, were thrown into the dungeon cells or stacked like cordwood in its halls. Many of the dwarven bodies the companions found earlier were marked with injuries, but the tortures the dwarves here suffered went well beyond that. Some dwarves had large metal spikes hammered through their chests. Others had their skulls crushed in the doors of the jail cells. Others were hanged from the ceiling by chains, slowly strangled to death when their necks weren’t simply broken. Still others were vertically impaled on spears.

    Tears formed in her eyes as she tried to whisper a prayer to Pelor. Her friends were all similarly affected, and even Airk had a look of sorrow as he considered what the dwarves suffered. She couldn’t imagine how they were going to search through all this brutality.

    Maybe we should go back and try to open the vault, she thought despondently, and leave if we can’t. I know the others would be disappointed, but-

    Revafour’s cry of alarm jolted Luna out of her thoughts. He was pointing into one of the cells further down, a horrified look on his face. Luna and the rest of their friends ran to join him, when they saw what he was pointing at.

    The image of a dwarf, faded like a half-remembered dream, hung in the cell before the companions. Blood poured from the flayings and knife wounds all over his body, his beard was shredded where it wasn’t torn out, but his eyes shone with a defiant light and he carried himself with a proud dignity.

    “Is that-“ Weimar said, reaching for his axe, before Seline stopped him.

    “It’s not a ghost,” she said. “Don’t worry, it’s harmless…”

    Seline trailed off as the dwarf pried up a loose stone from the floor of his cell. Dipping his finger in the blood oozing from one of his wounds, he scrawled quickly on it before setting it back down. A large orc came into the image, his piglike face bearing a sadistic leer. The dwarf spat in his face, and the enraged orc plunged a dagger into his chest.

    The image suddenly vanished, leaving the cell as bleak and empty as before.

    What was that? Ma’non’go asked, disturbed by what he’d just seen.

    “It’s a phantom,” Seline said. “Rarely, when someone dies a very violent death, some of their mental energies linger. Those energies often contain the memories of the person who died, and shows their last few moments alive. The resulting images are called phantoms.”

    So, does that mean- Ma’non’go said, but Seline ignored him. Kneeling down in the cell, she traced around with her fingers until she found a loose stone. Borrowing one of Weimar’s daggers, she pried it out of the stone floor. Walking back towards her friends, Seline showed them the dwarven runes written in blood on it.

    “Can anyone read this? I don’t read dwarven,” she said. Revafour, Amyalla and Airk all raised their hands, and Seline handed it to Revafour to read. She picked up the lantern she’d set down to search the cell, holding it higher to give Revafour more light.

    “It says…’fourth board from the southwest part of our noble chamber’,” Revafour said. “What on Oerth does that…wait. Was this man the dwarven duke?” he said, gesturing back to where the phantom had manifested.

    “So there’s something hidden beneath the floorboards of his bedroom,” Amyalla said. “Would you be able to tell which part of the room is the southwestern one?” she asked Airk.

    “Of course I could,” he said with a half-smile. “Any gnome worth his gems would know that. Maybe that’s what we’re looking for?”

    “There’s only one way to find out,” Seline said, a smile of her own crossing her face.  

    Luna could tell how forced their smiles were in the middle of all this carnage. Her friends were likely just as eager to be out of this hellhole as they were to find whatever the duke might have hidden.

    It didn’t take long for the companions to find the duke’s chamber. While it was as wrecked as the rest of the castle, the companions could see how well-decorated and lavish it was before the Glimmering Hall’s fall. Finely crafted stone and bronzewood furniture filled the room, while defaced murals depicted everything from the Glimmering Hall’s coat of arms to scenes of iconic figures from the Hall’s history.

    It was the work of a minute for Airk to determine which part of the room was southwest, and to pry the floorboard up with his pick. Once he’d confirmed there were no traps in the resulting hole, he reached into it. He pulled out a leatherbound book and started flipping through the pages.

    “Aye, this is the duke’s journal,” he said. “Could you bring that lamp closer over here?” he asked Seline. As Airk sat down on a wide piece of bedframe with the journal, Seline sat down next to him, holding her lantern above his head. Airk read in silence for several minutes as his friends watched anxiously, before he shook his head sadly.

    “The old story, over and over again,” he said. “It says here that the dwarves of the Glimmering Hall were ruled by House Rightoerth. I thought I recognized those arms,” he said, pointing to the defaced mural on the wall. “They were hard pressed by wave after wave of orc attacks during the Hateful Wars, so they called for aid from the humans of the independent County of Wearith.”

    “The humans of Wearith fought in the Hateful Wars?” Weimar asked in surprise.

    “They were one of the few human nations that did,” Airk said. “The County of Wearith was one of the few human domains in the Lortmils. They paid no fealty to Veluna, Bissel or any other major state. All they ever cared about were themselves and their own well-being.”

    “Allies by necessity during the Wars, then,” Revafour said.

    “Yes, in the same sense the Steelheart dwarves were allies,” Airk said. The companions exchanged glances, knowing what Airk meant by that. The Steelhearts pretended to be allies of Flinthold during the Wars, only to betray and then attempt to conquer their supposed allies when the gnomes were weakened. The incident cast a long shadow over Airk, and his friends, for a long time afterward.

    “The humans of Wearwith didn’t come?” Amyalla said.

    “Oh, they came,” Airk said, “but not in the way the dwarves expected. The orcs somehow found the river that provided the Hall’s water supply and managed to poison it. Most of the dwarves were able to survive the poison, but it left them sickened and unable to fight the orcs as well as they could. The orcs also seemed to know everything they needed to about the Hall’s defenses and how to counter them. I don’t think I need to tell you who told the orcs all that information?”

    But you said the Wearwithians came to the Hall? Ma’non’go said, slightly confused.

    “They did, they just came to help the orcs,” Airk said. “Then they got caught up in the bloodletting that came from the orcs trying to divide up the plunder. The orcs and Wearwithians tried to pursue the duke so they could make him open the vault door. He and some of his retainers boarded themselves up in the upper part of the castle while his family fled through a hidden escape route. He knew he was going to die, so he wrote this journal to describe what happened and give clues to be able to open the vault. Another case of the ‘allies’ in the Hateful Wars caring more about sticking their daggers’ in each others’ backs than their enemies’ hearts.”

    “So what happened to his family?” Luna said, feeling slightly sick to her stomach.

    “Garl only knows,” Airk said. “They were most likely slain in the Wars. Let’s just say the Wars didn’t create many refugees.”

    Luna felt deflated at that, and she found herself sitting down before she knew what she was doing. She was exhausted, both physically and mentally, from everything she and her friends said and did today. They all needed a rest, and she and Seline needed to relearn several of their spells.

    Despite their conditions, the bedrooms of the duke and his family were the most comfortable places the companions had found in the Hall. They bedded down as best they could, with Ma’non’go taking the first watch.

    Luna normally slept easier knowing that Ma’non’go was looking out for her, but she noticed that his anger seemed worse than ever after hearing the dwarven duke’s story.

    Sleep was difficult for her to find that night.

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    Re: The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: Telling Friend From Foe (Score: 1)
    by Sabby09 on Mon, November 14, 2022
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    Fantastic! I think You put a lot of effort to create this article. I appreciate your work.

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