CruelSummerLord writes "“You worry too much about foolish things,” Kalrek said, the smile returning to his face. “You let them rule you instead of tearing through them and taking what you want. Why do you think I’ve prospered the way I have? What’s your reverence for the likes of Baravan and Segojan ever gotten you? Or are you just letting Garl Glittergold play an especially sick joke on you?”
Blood And Treasure
After killing most of Kalrek’s soldiers, the companions continued further into the complex. From the room that was a barracks for Kalrek’s lower-ranking followers, the companions passed through rooms that served as the followers’ kitchen and mess hall. In all three chambers, the companions saw crude and rickety furniture, bad-smelling food, and haphazardly strewn boxes and bedding, indicating the status of the minions who used them.
The next set of rooms the companions entered were much cleaner and better organized. The companions saw murals painted into the walls of gnomes welcoming visiting humans, dwarves and other races. Other murals showed the gnomes and their visitors fighting together against orcs, goblins and gnolls, and enjoying a victory feast after the monsters were slain. The murals were surprisingly well-preserved, and even looked like they were touched up in some cases. Fresh torches burned in polished wall sconces, and the furniture in these rooms was tastefully decorated and solidly built. This part of the complex seemed deserted, although the companions knew that it wasn’t.
When the companions came into a large chamber that served as a common room for Kalrek’s inner circle, they were not surprised to see more than a dozen armed warriors waiting for them. Most of the warriors were gnomes, with a few dwarves and humans among them. These warriors were much fewer in number than the soldiers the companions had fought in the lower-ranking minions’ chamber. However, these warriors showed that what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in skill. The coordinated way they marched forward, and the brightness of their spiked and serrated armor and the swords and axes they carried, showed that they were Kalrek’s highest-ranking guards.
The warriors threw a volley of spears at the companions, who were forced to scatter. Before the companions could regroup, the warriors assembled into groups and charged at them.
Airk barely noticed the warriors. His gaze was focused on the corridor behind them, which was richly decorated with tapestries, rose quartz chandeliers and silver and copper laid into the walls. Slowly, steadily, Airk advanced towards that corridor, his expression as hard and cold as any golem’s.
One of Kalrek’s warriors, a bulky-looking gnome with images of skulls and demons on his armor, leered wickedly as he charged at Airk. He had a manic look in his eyes, and the bloodlust on his face was all too obvious to anyone who looked at it.
For a moment, Airk’s gaze turned from the corridor to the gnome charging at him. He raised his shield, easily blocking the other gnome’s sword blow. Then he raised his morning star, knocking the other gnome’s shield aside before swinging it right at the other gnome’s face.
The last thing the other gnome ever saw was the morning star’s spokes flashing towards him, before he heard the sickening crunch of his own skull being caved in.
Airk’s gaze returned to the corridor, his expression remaining unchanged the whole time.
Kalrek Burunne cut a majestic figure fit for a king. He was dressed in gold-lacquered armor polished to a beautiful sheen. His helmet, the edge of his shield and the hilt of his sword were all studded with gems, and the sword’s blade was sharpened to a razor’s edge. Kalrek’s equipment gleamed brightly, but the shine of his equipment paled compared to the eager shine in his eyes, a shine that intensified as the footsteps in the corridor outside his throne room approached.
Soon, the double doors that led into Kalrek’s throne room were thrown open. Airk walked in and locked stares with Kalrek. The two gnomes started at each other for several long moments.
Airk’s plain armor was stained with blood. He stared hatefully at Kalrek with eyes that reflected the guilt and shame of the crimes his weakness had let him commit both during the Hateful Wars and since he had come to Copper Crossing. His breathing was long, slow and heavy, and his expression was cold and emotionless.
Kalrek’s armor was brilliantly decorated and shone with polish. He smiled triumphantly at Airk with eyes that reflected the bright future he anticipated for himself. His breathing was calm and collected, and he greeted Airk with a wide smile.
Finally, Kalrek spoke.
“How long has it been, old friend?” he said, the smile never leaving his face. “Six decades and more?”
“Far too long that we continued to draw breath on this oerth, while gnomes better than the both of us have waited for justice,” Airk said.
“And yet, here we are,” Kalrek said. “I’ve made the most of my life, building my reputation and my fortune. And what have you done with yours? How has burrowing through haunted ruins, rescuing distressed damsels, and traveling to the four corners of the Flanaess benefited you? Or did it really?”
“You’re going to pay,” Airk said, pointing his morning star at Kalrek, “for everything.”
“There you go again,” Kalrek said with a laugh, “languishing in the past, while I think of the future. You, the lowly soldier, and me the rising noble. Even Laessar Bradon strove for more than you did. And how is Laessar anyway?”
Airk shuddered at the memory of his crime came back to him.
“You worry too much about foolish things,” Kalrek said, the smile returning to his face. “You let them rule you instead of tearing through them and taking what you want. Why do you think I’ve prospered the way I have? What’s your reverence for the likes of Baravan and Segojan ever gotten you? Or are you just letting Garl Glittergold play an especially sick joke on you?”
“You worry too much about whether I care what you have to say,” Airk said as he advanced. “None of it will matter when I kill you.”
“Weren’t you listening when I talked about your living in the past?” Kalrek said, his smile growing wider as he raised his sword and shield. “That’s all you are now, as much a part of the worthless past as Laessar. You put that past behind us, and now I’ll do the same to you…”
Weimar gritted his teeth as one of the two warriors he was fighting slammed a massive hammer into his shield, sending a shock up his arm. Weimar struck back with his axe, but the warrior easily dodged the blow and swung his hammer again, forcing Weimar to duck.
The other warrior slammed his flail into Weimar’s knee, making him nearly lose his balance. Cursing at his disadvantage, Weimar swung his shield back and forth to deflect the warriors’ follow-up attacks. Finally seeing an opening, Weimar struck at the warrior with the flail, cutting a deep gash in the man’s hip. Weimar used his shield to block another blow from the hammer-wielding warrior before he rushed at the flail-wielder, leading with his shield. Weimar slammed his shield into the flail-wielder, making him overbalance, as Weimar clove deep into the man’s arm.
The flail-wielder fell back as Weimar turned to face the hammer-wielder. Blocking yet another hammer blow with his trusty shield, Weimar chopped at the man’s vulnerable abdomen, tearing a long gash across it. The hammer-wielder cried out in pain as his flail-wielding companion came up behind Weimar.
Weimar fully expected the move. He dodged to one side and turned to face the two men as they both turned to face him.
Kalrek’s warriors came at Weimar again and he eagerly responded, a wicked grin on his face.
Kalrek struck first with a series of sword thrusts, and the jeweled blade seemed to come from every angle as it forced Airk back. Airk couldn’t find an opening to strike back, and he could only maneuver his shield to deflect the blows. The two gnomes’ weapons clashed loudly, but that sound was drowned out by Kalrek’s mad laughter.
Once Kalrek had forced Airk back, he sprang forward, bringing his sword down in a vicious overhanded slash. Airk quickly dodged aside as Kalrek stumbled, trying to regain his balance. Airk leapt at Kalrek, swinging his morning star at Kalrek’s exposed shoulder. He learned too late that Kalrek expected that move, as Kalrek quickly turned and swung at Airk with a vicious backhand slash. Airk managed to get his shield up to block the blow, but then Kalrek reversed the flow of his sword. Kalrek swung the blade the other way, tearing a long gash in Airk’s weapon arm. He thrust at Airk’s neck, but Airk managed to duck the thrust. Airk retaliated and swung his morning star at Kalrek’s leg, causing him to stumble and fall back.
The two gnomes paused for a moment, staring at each other before they charged in again. They exchanged a long flurry of blows, successfully blocking them all, until they broke off, realizing neither of them could win that exchange.
Airk and Kalrek circled each other warily, each looking for an opening. Airk struck first, swinging his morning star in a flurry of blows that Kalrek dodged or blocked. Finally, Airk struck down low at Kalrek’s legs again, leading Kalrek to bring his shield down to block the blow. Then, faster than Kalrek expected, Airk swung his morning star upwards in a wide arc and slammed it into Kalrek’s face.
Blood streaked down one side of Kalrek’s face, but if he was upset by the blow he didn’t show it. He continued laughing, blocking Airk’s next strike with his shield before thrusting again with his sword. Airk tried to block it with his shield, but Kalrek hooked his sword under Airk’s shield. Kalrek heaved Airk’s shield upwards, throwing him off balance and unable to avoid Kalrek’s sword.
Kalrek didn’t waste his opportunity. He slashed Airk across the chest and down to his leg. Blood poured down the front of Airk’s body, a flow that was only worsened when Kalrek followed up with another slash. Kalrek’s second blow cut deep into Airk’s hip and thigh, causing another well of blood to rise up.
Amyalla ducked and dodged desperately, knowing that she’d be torn apart if she tried to fight either of the two gnomes slashing at her head-on. They were skilled warriors, each reacting to the other’s movements as they forced Amyalla back.
One of them slammed her arm with his mace.
The other one slashed her in the stomach with his sword, and Amyalla only managed to stay standing through pure willpower.
Amyalla was drenched in perspiration as she tried to catch her breath. Her sweat mixed with her freely flowing blood as she threw a dagger at one of the gnomes to force him back.
The gnome simply knocked it away with his shield.
Kalrek’s laugh reached a fever pitch as he easily blocked Airk’s desperate counters and struck yet again at his former friend. As Kalrek’s sword cut deep into Airk’s shoulder, causing another line of blood to well up, it was all Airk could do to block Kalrek’s next strike.
The light in Kalrek’s eyes as he lunged in for the kill would have made any demon or devil proud. His laughter echoed in Airk’s ears, a laughter that brought back memories of their fellow soldiers, dead and dying in in the caverns of the Lortmil Mountains. Airk’s memories shifted to the Flintholders who’d died when the Steelhearts invaded their kingdom, to the people of Oakdale, to Laessar Bradon and his family, and then to Airk’s friends, who were almost certainly going to be killed by Kalrek’s minions.
Airk thought of all the people who’d died because of him and Kalrek, because of his stupidity and weakness, and Kalrek’s greed and sadism.
Airk slammed his morning star into Kalrek’s shield, knocking Kalrek back several steps and breaking his forward momentum. As Kalrek stumbled back, Airk charged forward, swinging his morning star wildly as he struck over and over at Kalrek. Shrieks of metal clashing on metal filled the air as Airk slammed his morning star into Kalrek’s arm, drove it deep into his gut, and slammed it into his hip.
Soon, Kalrek was no longer laughing.
As the gnome who’d blocked Amyalla’s thrown dagger lowered his shield, Amyalla quickly reached into her pocket and tossed something else at him. The gnome, trying to figure out what it was, couldn’t react before it struck him in the face. The flask Amyalla threw immediately shattered, splattering the gnome in the face with oil.
He cried out in pain as glass shards pierced his face and his eyes were covered with oil. Blinded by pain and anger, the gnome began stabbing his sword blindly, determined to kill the wretched halfling. He followed Amyalla’s mocking taunts, and eagerly thrust his sword…
…only to hear the agonized cry of his comrade as he ran the other gnome through. Too late, the blinded gnome realized that Amyalla had moved so his comrade was between them, and then goaded him into killing his ally.
That realization paralyzed the gnome long enough for Amyalla to come up behind him and cut his throat.
For your glory…Kalrek thought.
For the slaughter I conduct in your name… Kalrek repeated.
Grant me your aid, Lord Urdlen!
Kalrek seemed to become indistinct and wavering, as if Airk was looking at him through the haze of an intense heat. He resumed laughing as Airk’s morning star passed harmlessly by him, thrusting his sword in a strike that would have run Airk through if Airk hadn’t dodged in time. Airk swung his morning star again and again, but he always struck short. Try as he might, he couldn’t see Kalrek well enough to hit him.
Kalrek brought his sword across and cut a long gash along Airk’s ribs. Airk felt faint, realizing that another thrust would finish him, but he stubbornly refused to give in.
He saw himself throwing Laessar into the glass mirror, and then he saw himself helpless to watch as the Steelhearts beheaded his kin one by one. Finally, one of the bearded wretches turned and advanced on Airk, his axe raised to finish Airk off.
Airk quickly blocked the dwarf’s blow with his shield and struck back, hitting the dwarf in the chest with his morning star. The dwarf turned and attacked from the side, but Airk brought his morning star down on the dwarf’s weapon hand. The morning star struck home with a sickening crunch, causing the dwarf to howl in agony and drop his weapon. The desperate dwarf tried to regroup, dropping his shield and picking up his sword with his left hand, but Airk hit him again and again. The dwarf seemed vague, fading in and out of Airk’s sight, but Airk continued to strike, surrounded by images of his dying kin.
Everything around Airk seemed to fade away briefly. It came back a second later, and Airk saw that he was back in Kalrek’s throne room.
Kalrek was on his knees, supporting himself with his good left hand. He was covered in hideous bruises and open cuts from where Airk had struck him. Blood streamed down the front of his body, staining his brilliant gold-lacquered armor. His right hand was at a twisted angle, indicating that it was broken. He stared fearfully up at Airk, one of his eyes half-closed in pain.
Kalrek’s expression seemed to beg for mercy, but he didn’t say anything.
Airk raised his morning star as his eyes narrowed with hatred.
“This is for the blood on both our hands,” he said, before he struck Kalrek dead.
The explosion of pain Kalrek felt as Airk’s morning star crushed his skull was mercifully brief. His pain was replaced with a sense of falling into an endless abyss, completely surrounded by darkness. His entire body was on fire, and his agonized screams mingled with the cries he began to hear all around him.
When Kalrek finally landed, it took him several moments to find his bearings. He finally stood up and looked around, until he realized where he was.
Kalrek was in an underground tunnel, one that was suffused with bones and skulls the way other tunnels might be suffused with rocks and roots. A horrible stench, seemingly a mix of suphur and decomposition, filled his nostrils.
The blood froze in Kalrek’s veins as he realized where he was, and who these tunnels belonged to. He heard an angry hissing sound behind him, and realized his doom was at hand.
The nightmare greeted Kalrek as he turned around to face it. It was a huge mole-like creature covered with the blood and excrement of its countless victims. The monster’s claws extended over twice Kalrek’s height in length, able to tear a gnome in half with a single stroke. Its fangs were each the length of a human broadsword, honed to a sharpness no gnomish or even dwarven swordsmith could ever match.
Urdlen was enraged at Kalrek’s failure, and it made him realize just how angry it was.
Kalrek’s soul was a long time being devoured.
He only stopped screaming towards the end.