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    The Silver Wolf: Descending Into The Depths Of The Oerth: A Wretched Wasp's Nest
    Posted on Tue, June 11, 2024 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "The city was nearly as bleak and depressing as the shantytown outside. Signs of poverty were everywhere, from the filth littering the streets to the beggars and street urchins rooting through trash containers and debris piles, to the buildings that were either decrepit, ramshackle hovels or fortresses with barred windows and thick oak and bronzewood doors. People skulked furtively through the streets, regarding one another suspiciously, and the very air itself was rife with tension and fear.

    Chapter Two

    A Wretched Wasp’s Nest Of Scum And Villainy

    When Revafour described the Bandit Kingdoms to his friends, he called them a land of arid plains and sickly woods. They saw how apt his description was when Kashafen’s teleportation spell ended and they found themselves in a small copse. The trees surrounding the companions were stunted and seemed to almost struggle to bloom, even though it was the middle of summer. As the companions left the copse and walked towards the road Kashafen assured them would lead to Stoink, they saw that the grassy plains were an unhealthy mix of green and pale brown, looking almost lifeless and withered.

    The companions reached the road without incident and started walking towards Stoink. Everything was silent around them as they marched east, and they encountered no one else. It was as if they were all alone in the world.

    Finally, after nearly forty minutes of walking, Seline spoke up.

    “Stoink is one of the largest cities in the Bandit Kingdoms, isn’t it?” she said. “Then where are all the other travelers that should be on one of its main roads?”

    “It’s still the week of Richfest,” Amyalla said. “Maybe most of the locals are still celebrating or sleeping one off.”

    Revafour was shaking his head even before Amyalla finished speaking.

    “The bandits of Stoink might have lowered their guard because of the holiday, but they’re still one of the most powerful Kingdoms for a reason,” Revafour said. “Growing up in Tenh, I heard lots of stories about how Stoink targeted foreign countries and other Bandit lands around the holidays. The bosses that rule this hellhole made their choices of raids into a fine art. They’d constantly change which targets they struck, waiting years for them to let their guards down. Those kinds of tactics are how Stoink got its nickname of the ‘Wasp’s Nest’.”

    The companions fell silent at that. Weimar in particular seemed to tighten his grip on his shield and on one of the daggers at his belt, his knuckles almost white with the strain.

    Another half hour of walking brought the companions to the outskirts of Stoink. They got their first look at how many of the local people lived, much to their horror.

    Stoink’s city walls were surrounded by a large shantytown filled with all manner of housing. That housing ranged from ragged tents and lean-tos to mud huts and ramshackle wooden cottages made of whatever wood the inhabitants could scavenge, from river driftwood to broken wagon and boat parts. The buildings were scattered everywhere without any rhyme or reason, set on whatever scrap of land their residents managed to keep hold of.

    Those residents weren’t much better off. The few people the companions could see walking around the shantytown wore tattered, worn clothing, and their general demeanors were no better. They seemed to struggle just to move, their shoulders bent from despair and poverty. Some of the shantytown’s residents lay sprawled on crudely made benches, on porches or doorways and even just flat on the ground, their demeanors clearly showing their intoxication.

    Seline saw Revafour clench his fists, trying to keep his growing anger under control. Several of the shantytown residents were of Flan descent, their suffering a clear indication of what other human groups had done to them. Seline realized that the presence of Oeridian, Suel and even one or two Baklunish people among the residents was little consolation to Revafour. All it did was confirm to him how little the bandits of Stoink cared about anyone, even their supposed kin.

    Passing through the shantytown, the companions approached Stoink’s western gates. The city’s walls were thick and solidly built, which was to be expected, but they were also heavily streaked with grime and soot from the thick plumes of smoke that wafted over the city. The twenty-foot high bronzewood doors that made up the gates, painted with the city’s heraldry of a diagonal blue bar and a spear pointing upwards on a white field, were just as dirty and forbidding.

    “Are the rumors true?” Airk asked Revafour as the companions continued walking.

    “What rumors?” Revafour said, looking over his shoulder at Airk.

    “I think Airk means about how most of the weapons Stoink makes and exports are sold to monsters like orcs, gnolls and giants,” Amyalla said. “That’s what I heard in the Duchy of Urnst.”

    “They’re not just rumors,” Revafour said, turning a stiff glare up at the plumes of smoke, caused by the near-constant work of the city’s many smiths and armorers. “They’re all too true. From what I’ve heard, Stoink makes almost as much coin from its arms trade as it does from raids.”

    “And that’s what makes it one of the most powerful Bandit Kingdoms?” Seline said.

    “Likely second only to Rookroost,” Revafour said, referring to the city-state many people considered the mightiest Bandit Kingdom of them all.

    “Hold it right there!” a loud voice said from above. The companions immediately stopped both their conversation and their movement, looking up at the voice. They weren’t surprised to see that it belonged to a human man dressed in a chainmail suit and a helmet and cloak both decorated with Stoink’s heraldry. He stood on the ramparts of the city walls amidst more than a dozen other men. The other men wore white uniforms with diagonal blue bars across their chests, but what got the companions’ attention was the large crossbows they carried.

    “Let’s have it, then,” the cloaked man said. “Name your spokesman, and tell us your business in Stoink. Hold your tongues or give an answer we don’t like, and we’ll nail you to the road!”

    The companions exchanged glances, before Weimar stepped forward.

    “I speak for my friends,” Weimar said, “and we’re simple travelers. We’re seeking a friend of ours, and we’ll leave once we find him. Until then, all we want is to spend some coin in Stoink’s markets. I take it you’re the gatekeeper?”

    “That I am,” the cloaked man said, “and Stoink welcomes coin from all over the Flanaess. If you want to gift money to worthy Stoink citizens, perhaps you could start with the brave men who keep this city safe?”  

    Weimar wisely held his tongue at the gatekeeper’s demand. Of course the gate guards would want a bribe on top of whatever Stoink’s leaders set as an admission fee. Free cities like Greyhawk were notorious for such practices. He wasn’t keen on parting with more money than he had to, especially since he didn’t know if the companions would have to buy Denrik’s freedom. On the other hand, Weimar knew that trouble with Stoink’s leaders was the last thing they needed.

    “I’m afraid we’re sadly lacking in Stoink’s coinage,” Weimar said, putting an apologetic smile on his face. “Might we thank you and your warriors for your service with gemstones instead? We would also pay the entrance fee the same way, of course.”

    “You certainly may,” the gatekeeper said, beaming. “A mere thirty-five gold coins will cover everything.” He turned to one of his lieutenants and whispered some orders to him, leading the lieutenant to enter the door to one of the guard towers that framed the gates. After about a minute, a sliding panel opened at the base of the tower. One of the guardsmen stood in the ensuing doorway, holding out his hand expectantly.

    In response, Weimar turned to Amyalla and whispered his own request. The halfling walked up to the guard and placed a handful of gemstones into his hand. The guardsman grinned at Amyalla and saluted her with his free hand before he withdrew into the doorway, closing its sliding panel behind him.

    Weimar and Amyalla exchanged glances. They both knew that guards demanding bribes often preferred to take gemstones rather than coins, since the guards could get better exchanges from jewelers than from the moneychangers they’d have to take coins to.

    Another minute passed before the lieutenant emerged onto the ramparts. He held out his hand to the gatekeeper, who rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he examined the gems the lieutenant was no doubt holding.

    Nodding in satisfaction, the gatekeeper took the gems and put them in a pocket. He whispered orders to two of his men, who each went into one of the towers.

    “Welcome to Stoink, fair travelers!” the gatekeeper called out to the companions as the gates began to open. “Partake of our markets, our taverns and our pleasures…and watch your backs and purses!”

    The guardsmen all burst into laughter as the companions walked through the gates and into the streets of Stoink.

    The city was nearly as bleak and depressing as the shantytown outside. Signs of poverty were everywhere, from the filth littering the streets to the beggars and street urchins rooting through trash containers and debris piles, to the buildings that were either decrepit, ramshackle hovels or fortresses with barred windows and thick oak and bronzewood doors. People skulked furtively through the streets, regarding one another suspiciously, and the very air itself was rife with tension and fear.

    The companions found lodging at the Black Boar Inn. Like many of Stoink’s other inns and taverns, it had many private booths and rooms for people who wanted to discuss their business without the risk of being overheard. The companions met in one of those rooms to discuss plans for finding Denrik.

    Weimar was seated at the head of the table, his friends all looking at him expectantly. They noticed that he had a mug of water rather than the ale or stout they’d have expected. Even though the Black Boar served Big Cedar Log, Weimar’s favorite drink, he didn’t give it a second glance.

    “Do you have any ideas on how to find Denrik? He could’ve been taken in any direction,” Weimar said, putting his arms on the table in front of him as he looked from one to the other of his friends.

    “I don’t have the spell prepared right now, but I could cast a divination,” Luna said. “Pelor wouldn’t want Denrik to suffer any more than any of us.”

    Weimar’s lips turned up in a slight smile at that.

    “Didn’t Marcus tell us about a diviner that showed him where to find us?” Seline said. She was referring to Marcus Sorrowind, the warrior who Denrik asked to deliver his letter to Weimar begging his help. Marcus gave Weimar the letter after he flew to Highfolk, but he refused to accompany the companions back to Stoink, saying his life would be forfeit if he did.

    “Yes he did,” Weimar said. “Some of us should try to find him.”

    “Not all of us, though,” Revafour said. “Stoink’s infamous for its slave markets,” he said, his knuckles whitening as he gripped the table the companions sat at. He took several deep breaths and closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down before he continued. “Some of us could make inquiries there.”

    “Won’t they attract attention, though?” Weimar said.

    “No,” Revafour said, shaking his head. “Tenha sometimes come to Stoink to buy the freedom of loved ones captured on the bandits’ raids. It’s likely that people from other lands come to do the same. No one will give us a second look.”

    “So you’ll go, then?” Weimar said, his eyebrows rising.

    “Yes, I will,” Revafour said. “Is anyone else-“

    “Me,” Amyalla said, interrupting Revafour. “I’ve heard similar stories about Urnstmen traveling to Stoink for the same reasons. How about you, me and Airk?”

    Airk nodded in agreement at that, stroking his beard as he looked back at Weimar.

    “Then Ma’non’go, Seline and I will try to find this diviner,” Weimar said.

    Pinching the bridge of his nose, Weimar sighed heavily before he downed his water in one long gulp.

    “I’m sorry if I seem harsh or brusque right now,” Weimar said, his distress clear to his friends. “It’s just…I’m so worried about Denrik…”

    “That’s alright,” Ma’non’go said, clapping him on the shoulder.

    “It means the world to me that you all came along,” Weimar said, grasping Ma’non’go’s hand with his own. “More than you know…”

    “How could we not?” Luna said. “He’s your brother, after all.”

    “It’s not just that,” Weimar said, shaking his head. “I’d rather not talk about it right now, but…”

    He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples, wincing at the headache he felt coming on.

    “…there’s more to it than that.”  

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