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    The Silver Wolf-Behind The Mask: Actions And Words
    Posted on Thu, April 13, 2023 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "

    “It’s likely someone we’ve previously crossed,” Amyalla said. “It could be House Naelax, or a follower of Kalrek Burunne or Lady Babylon who survived their masters’ falls. It could even be someone allied with that hag coven from the Bearded Lord’s Hollow.”

    The companions fell silent at that, realizing how many enemies they could’ve made in so short a time.

    Chapter Fifteen

    Actions And Words


    Ma’non’go walked through the streets of Highfolk the next evening, looking thoughtfully at the Yatil Mountains as he considered everything that happened that day. He, Revafour and Airk had all attended the second day of the Knights’ meeting as observers, and it hadn’t gone well.

    The delegates were deeply divided over whether Iuz or the Horned Society was the more dangerous enemy. They argued over the roles each of them would play, but Ma’non’go felt many of them were more interested in being in charge than in complementing each others’ strengths. Racial tensions simmered between some of the delegates, particularly the elves of the Vesve and the dwarves of the Yatils. There were disputes over how much of the costs of defense that each of the allies were expected to assume.

    Ma’non’go had mixed feelings about what he’d seen at the meeting. It reminded him of what sometimes happened in X’tandelexamenken, when politics interfered with defense. He knew some of that was inevitable, but after that sort of political bickering nearly cost the gnomes of Flinthold their kingdom, he saw it more as a burden than a blessing. The bickering also made the community it plagued vulnerable to treason. More than any of their other friends, Ma’non’go saw how devastated Airk was at Kalrek Burunne’s betrayals.

    Deep in thought as he was, Ma’non’go was still aware of everything around him. He entered a small copse on the outskirts of town, and he soon realized that he had company. People went armed in Highfolk despite its peaceful reputation, and Ma’non’go had his trident in hand almost immediately.

    A dagger flew out of the trees at Ma’non’go, and he knocked it aside almost immediately. He constantly turned in place, knowing that the next attack could come from almost any angle. Another dagger flew at him, this one from the opposite direction of the first. Instead of parrying the dagger, Ma’non’go dodged it by jumping aside. His course was wise, as a small form in a dark cloak and cowl emerged from the trees, its sword swinging. The man, who Ma’non’go saw was human, would have plunged his blade into Ma’non’go’s back if he’d tried to block the second dagger.

    Cursing under his breath, the man turned and thrust at Ma’non’go. Ma’non’go caught the man’s sword in his trident’s tines and turned it aside, noticing the greenish slime on the edge of its blade. Before the man could bring his sword back to bear, Ma’non’go slashed his arm viciously, causing him to nearly drop the blade as he screamed in pain.

    Ma’non’go might have finished him, but he suddenly had to turn around and prevent a second man, this one a gnome, from plunging another sword, also edged with green slime, into his leg. He brought the butt of his trident right down on the gnome’s head, causing the gnome to cry out and slump to the ground.

    Ma’non’go spun around yet again as the human man charged at him. He thrust out his trident, catching the man just below the sternum. Ma’non’go then shook his trident from side to side, forcing the man to drop his sword before he could strike with it. The man gasped, blood pouring from his mouth, and Ma’non’go slammed him into the ground. He pushed his trident in deeper, putting the man out of his misery.

    Ma’non’go wasn’t in a mood to speak with his attackers, and he plunged his trident into the unconscious gnome. He shouted for the Highfolk watch as he ran back the way he came, hoping they could deal with these bodies.

    Ma’non’go doubted the assassins he’d just killed were the only ones loose in Highfolk. He also doubted he was their only target. He had to find his friends, certain they were targets too.

    First there were the assassins the companions thwarted in Baranford.

    Then, there was the hobgoblin troop the companions killed near Highfolk.

    Now, there were more assassins, these ones targeting the companions directly.

    Somehow, Ma’non’go doubted it was a coincidence.

    Ma’non’go heard the sound of clashing steel and the crackling of magical energy as he ran towards the Bruin Inn, his heart pounding. As he turned the last corner onto the Inn’s street, he saw Weimar and Airk beating back a quartet of armed men as Seline stood behind them. Several bodies lay around Ma’non’go’s friends, and he smiled in admiration at their skills.

    One of the assassins screamed and fell dead, as Airk pulled his military pick out of the man’s gut. Seline finished chanting a spell behind him, and the three remaining assassins staggered. Two of them collapsed, put to sleep by Seline’s magic, but the third shrugged it off. He turned to run, but Weimar threw a dagger into his back.

    Ma’non’go caught up to his friends as the assassin fell dead. Taking some rope out of his pack, he helped Airk tie up the two assassins who’d been put to sleep by Seline’s magic. They slapped the assassins awake, and stood over them threateningly.

    “A pity about your friends,” Airk said to the assassins, glancing around at their dead friends’ corpses, “but maybe you’ll have better luck. Care to answer some questions?”

    “Care to go to the Abyss?” one of the assassins said with a sneer. He opened his mouth as if to spit at Airk, but choked in fear as Airk swung his pick at him, so that the point was just a few inches from the man’s eyes.

    “We’re Abarran,” the other assassin said, shaking his head at his colleague’s foolishness.

    The companions exchanged glances at that revelation. Abarra was one of the Bandit Kingdoms, ruled by a cabal of skilled assassins. It was one of the weaker Kingdoms, having little in the way of resources, and many of its citizens compensated by hiring themselves out as thugs and killers.

    “And who hired you?” Airk asked, pulling his military pick back somewhat.

    “A nameless masked man,” the assassin said, “and I’m not just saying that. A masked man met our master and gave him a large sum to have you and yours all killed. We received our orders…and you know the rest.”

    Airk tightened his grip on his military pick, but the assassin didn’t respond.

    “He’s telling the truth,” the other assassin, the one who’d refused to speak to them, said. “There’s nothing more we can tell you.”

    The Highfolk watch finally arrived to take the assassins into custody. Some of the watchmen hauled the assassins away, while the others escorted the companions back to the Bruin Inn. The companions were worried about their friends, and with good reason. Revafour, Seline and Amyalla were also targeted by assassins, and they were fortunate to have survived.

    The Highfolk watch posted guards at the Bruin Inn and at the lodgings of many of the Knights’ delegates. The watch had heard about the companions’ battle with the hobgoblins in the Vesve and the attempted murder of the Knights in Baranford. They were convinced the previous incidents were related to the attack on the companions.

    The companions shared the watch’s fear.

    They slept in shifts at the Bruin Inn that night, posting watches as if they were in a wilderness camp.

    “I’m afraid we didn’t have any more success than you did,” the watch captain told Weimar the next day in the Bruin Inn’s common room.

    “They didn’t tell you anything?” Weimar said in surprise.

    “They couldn’t even if they wanted to,” the captain said. “We used magical charms, we interrogated the spirits of the assassins you killed…they didn’t say anything more even when we used magic. Whoever hired those killers covered their tracks.”

    “You’re still going to investigate, though?” Weimar said.

    “Of course we are,” the captain said, slightly offended, “but don’t hold your breath. Small groups of travelers come through Highfolk all the time. They don’t attract much notice. You and your friends only stood out because you came with the Velunese Knights.”

    “I see,” Weimar said. “Well, our thanks for your help.”

    “Best of luck,” the captain said, as he and Weimar stood up and shook hands. “Should we learn anything, you and the Knights will be the first to know.”

    After he refilled his tankard, Weimar walked into one of the Inn’s private rooms, where his friends were waiting.

    “The watch didn’t have any more luck interrogating the assassins than we did,” he said, shutting the door to the Inn’s common room behind him. “Somehow I doubt they’ll be able to track whoever hired those killers.”

    “It’s likely someone we’ve previously crossed,” Amyalla said. “It could be House Naelax, or a follower of Kalrek Burunne or Lady Babylon who survived their masters’ falls. It could even be someone allied with that hag coven from the Bearded Lord’s Hollow.”

    The companions fell silent at that, realizing how many enemies they could’ve made in so short a time.

    “Pelor might be able to help us,” Luna said, breaking the silence. Reaching into her pack, she pulled out a tinderbox, a candle of incense and a garnet, one of the gems left from the companions’ battles with Lady Babylon’s forces. Lighting the candle, Luna put down the tinderbox and removed the pendant around her neck. The pendant resembled a stylized sun worked into the image of a benevolent, fatherly man’s face. It was the image of Pelor, the god Luna dedicated her life to. In her other hand, she held up the garnet.

    Luna’s friends sat in silence as she closed her eyes and started chanting. She was casting a divination spell, one she hoped could answer the companions’ questions. The garnet crumbled to dust, consumed by the spell’s energies, as Luna asked Pelor for his help.

    Luna’s eyes flew open as the spell took effect, and the words flooded through her mind. She spoke them out loud, and Revafour wrote them down quickly on a piece of parchment.

    “Masked ones to the west and south…bring layer upon layer of danger…old enemies remain buried as new ones appear…smiling masks conceal darker designs,” she said.

    Amyalla sighed and rolled her eyes. The divinations’ cryptic wording annoyed her, and she wished the gods would speak more clearly. Luna explained that the gods wanted their mortal charges to be able to thrive and grow on their own without the gods solving all their problems for them, but Amyalla considered that nonsense.

    An idea flashed through her mind at that moment. She chuckled briefly, humorously cursing herself for undermining her own point, before she spoke up.

    “All our old enemies are dead and buried,” she said, “so this isn’t about any of them. I’m not even sure it’s about Iuz or the Horned Ones, not when they’re to the east and north.”

    “I was wondering why those hobgoblins we fought had tattoos marking their loyalty to Maglubiyet instead of Nerull or the arch-devils the Horned Society worshipped,” Airk said. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, but-“

    “-but the Society likely wouldn’t have tolerated that,” Revafour said. Hailing from the northern land of Tenh, he’d heard much more about the Society than most of his friends.

    “But someone’s trying to make it look like the Horned Society is encroaching on Highfolk…someone who’s targeting the Knights,” Weimar said.

    The companions frowned to one another, realizing the gravity of the situation. The threats against the Knights implied any number of things, and none of them were good.

    “Should we say anything to the Knights?” Weimar said.

    “We should probably just tell Jolene our suspicions and that we plan to investigate,” Seline said. “I’m not comfortable telling her or the Knights anything else without more proof.”  

    “We can’t tip our hands to these ‘masked ones’ either, whoever they are,” Ma’non’go said.

    His friends felt a chill at the burning anger they saw in his eyes.

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