The Crown of Arumdina was a magnificent piece, every part of it beautifully crafted and assembled with pride. Its cap was made of pure sable fur, its tailoring fit for a king. The Crown’s circlet was of gold and ringed with rubies, while its arches were of platinum, each lined with two rows of diamonds on either side of each half-arch. Each of the four spaces between the Crown’s half-arches bore the image of a separate burrowing mammal, a raccoon, a sable, a badger and a mole, wrought in gold to match the circlet, and bearing bright emeralds for eyes. The monde was of platinum like the arches, and atop it there stood a piece of mithril crafted to resemble a battleaxe. The mithril was said to be a piece of Arumdina, the sentient battleaxe wielded by Garl Glittergold himself. That mithril axe was the source of the Crown’s power, giving a powerful magical blessing to the gnomish king that wore it.
Caradoc and several of the other conspirators
smiled to one another as Theran brought his wagon into the keep through the
tradesman’s entrance. The wagon appeared nondescript, carrying several barrels
and several other large objects concealed under a large sackcloth, with two
lanterns hanging on each side. Three passengers rode in the wagon behind
Theran, each securely shackled. One was a halfling with long red hair, the
second a woman with long brown hair and the third was a large man with black
hair. They each wore hopeless, defeated expressions, realizing they had no
Marching up to the wagon as Theran
climbed down from the driver’s seat, Caradoc shook the wizard’s hand.
“You brought them all?” Caradoc said as
Theran led him to the back of the wagon.
“Of course, my lord,” Theran said as he
and Caradoc pulled the sackcloth away to reveal the four corpses the wagon
carried. Caradoc’s smile widened as he considered the bodies of the second
large black-haired man, the blonde-haired man, the gnome with the blonde
moustache and beard, and the strawberry blonde-haired woman.
“Well, well, well…” Caradoc said,
swaggering past the back of the wagon and towards the front again on the other
side, as some of the other conspirators untethered the horses. “Is House Cranden
that desperate to be acting as mercenaries for House Darmen now?” he said with
a sneer to Luna. “You wanted that badly to avoid being betrothed to the
Luna tried to crawl away from him,
passing by Amyalla. The halfling shuffled past her, and soon Luna was at the
other side of the cart away from Caradoc. She looked up at the ceiling, her
fingers twitching as she muttered something inaudible.
“What, too ashamed to speak?” Caradoc
said with a smile. “Or did working for Xavener leave you as mute as your pet
Olman?” he said, gesturing with his thumb to Ma’non’go.
Ma’non’go glared at Caradoc, and tried
to crawl towards him, but Amyalla stopped him short. She held her hands up to
his, shaking her head.
“Go easy on them, Caradoc,” one of the
other conspirators said with a smirk. “The poor lass has just lost a sister,
All the conspirators burst out laughing,
as Amyalla began breathing heavily. The conspirators laughed even louder,
amused at her despair.
“Please don’t kill us,” she said, her
voice ending in a whimper.
“You needn’t worry about that, pretty
one,” another conspirator said, walking up to the wagon. “You and the Olman
will each fetch a fine price in the slave markets. And as for the Cranden...I’m
sure your new master will take you to her wedding. House Garasteth’s always
been known for its grand ceremonies!”
The conspirators all resumed laughing,
now completely off their guard. None of them could react in time as Ma’non’go
suddenly stood up, his shackles seeming to fall off him. Picking up his
trident, which had been hidden under a second sackcloth, he drove it into the
chest of the taunting conspirator in one swift move.
As the conspirator fell dead, blood
pouring from his chest, the seemingly dead companions in the back suddenly
sprang to life. For a few moments, the nobles were too stunned to react. That
was all the time Weimar, Revafour and Ma’non’go needed to fling the barrels the
wagon contained against the far walls. As the barrels burst, spilling oil all
over the walls, Airk picked up one of the lanterns on the side of the wagon and
threw it into the walls and floors covered with the oil. Seline followed suit,
as did Luna and Amyalla, the shackles seeming to fall off them.
The lanterns shattered as they struck
the walls and floors, igniting the oil into a blazing fire. The flames quickly
spread, reaching the room’s support beams and ceiling, threatening to turn the
entire place into a blazing inferno.
The conspirators finally began to react,
some of them shouting that they needed to stop the companions and others saying
they needed to stop the fire. The companions grabbed their weapons and attacked
the conspirators, who were still too confused to organize an effective defense.
The companions’ plan was inspired by everything
Theran told Seline about the keep. Although the keep was made of stone, its
support pillars, ceiling beams and roof beams were made of wood. A hot enough
fire also risked weakening the mortar that held the walls together, which
risked shifting the walls’ stones and making them collapse.
Seline got Theran, still under the
influence of her charming spell, to write a letter to his master saying he’d
captured the companions. That got Caradoc and the other conspirators to lower
their guard and have Theran bring the companions to the keep. Luna used some of
her magic magic to make it seem as if Seline, Revafour, Airk and Weimar had
been killed, while she, Ma’non’go and Amyalla were shackled. Amyalla had palmed
the key to their shackles, however. When she’d passed by Luna and Ma’non’go
she’d used her skills at sleight of hand to conceal her unlocking their
shackles when she passed by them in the wagon. The companions’ fire was a fine
way of keeping the nobles distracted, and incentive for them to save the false
documents they needed for the conspiracy against Count Fedorik.
The conspirators who saw the fire start soon
became more interested in trying to put out the flames than fight the
companions. They fled, yelling to warn their friends of the fire. Caradoc in
particular cursed and shouted, running from the main hall to a nearby stone
staircase. He was determined to save as much of his precious regalia collection
as he could.
Ma’non’go and Airk determinedly followed
him. They caught up with Caradoc as he shoved open a heavy bronzewood door and
dashed into a room filled with several elaborate glass-fronted cabinets and
display cases. Royal sceptres, orbs and crowns sparkled in the torchlight,
causing Airk and Ma’non’go to both catch their breath at the royal regalia’s
One piece stood out above all the others
to them, though. Airk and Ma’non’go both recognized it from the description
Kalrek Burunne’s researches gave. For Airk, the recognition ran even deeper, as
he knew in his heart he was gazing at the symbol of Flinthold’s proud ancient
The Crown of Arumdina was a magnificent
piece, every part of it beautifully crafted and assembled with pride. Its cap
was made of pure sable fur, its tailoring fit for a king. The Crown’s circlet
was of gold and ringed with rubies, while its arches were of platinum, each
lined with two rows of diamonds on either side of each half-arch. Each of the
four spaces between the Crown’s half-arches bore the image of a separate
burrowing mammal, a raccoon, a sable, a badger and a mole, wrought in gold to
match the circlet, and bearing bright emeralds for eyes. The monde was of
platinum like the arches, and atop it there stood a piece of mithril crafted to
resemble a battleaxe. The mithril was said to be a piece of Arumdina, the
sentient battleaxe wielded by Garl Glittergold himself. That mithril axe was
the source of the Crown’s power, giving a powerful magical blessing to the
gnomish king that wore it.
Airk’s and Ma’non’go’s eyes turned away
from the Crown back to Caradoc, who stared at them hatefully as he drew his
sword. They briefly exchanged glances and nodded, before raising their weapons.
Ma’non’go charged at Caradoc, forcing him back as Airk ran past them towards
the case holding the Crown. Raising his morning star, Airk shattered the case’s
glass and grabbed the Crown. Reaching into his pack, he pulled out a silk bag
that he slipped the Crown into, before returning it to his pack.
Caradoc shouted in anger at Airk, but he
was forced to deflect Ma’non’go’s thrusting trident. Forced back on his heels,
Caradoc managed to parry Ma’non’go’s first few stabs until he regained his
balance. Livid with rage, he swung his sword in a horizontal slash that might
have taken Ma’non’go’s head off, but the Olman warrior skilfully ducked
underneath it. Caradoc tried to bring his sword back for an overhead strike,
but Ma’non’go was faster. Lunging forward, he tore a long gash into Caradoc’s
thigh, causing Caradoc’s trousers to turn a deep crimson as blood poured from
his wound. Caradoc cried out in pain, suddenly falling off balance. Ma’non’go
quickly followed up by slashing his arms, causing him to drop his sword. As
Caradoc reeled from the blows, Ma’non’go brought the butt of his trident
squarely into the side of Caradoc’s head, causing him to collapse senseless.
Ma’non’go might have finished Caradoc,
but he realized he probably didn’t have the time. He was lucky that Caradoc was
upset and distracted by the keep’s flames and the theft of his precious
regalia, and wasn’t wearing all the armor he normally would have, making him
less effective than he’d normally be. The companions’ plan depended on speed,
as they had to find the Crown and the conspiracy’s documents and escape before the
conspirators could stop them.
Ma’non’go only paused to wipe the blood
off his trident before he ran out of the room after Airk.
The other companions were grateful that
Theran had described the layout of the keep to them, and told them where the conspiracy’s
documents were kept. They ran up a second staircase further away from the main
hall, running up to Caradoc’s study, where Theran told them the conspiracy’s
documents were kept. A couple of the conspirators tried to stop them, but
Revafour and Weimar easily cut them down.
The companions emerged into an upstairs
corridor lined with several doors. The corridor had three staircases, two of
them at either end. The third staircase was in the middle of the hallway, which
the companions had come up. Theran guided them along the corridor unerringly to
“Just through there, my lady,” he said
to Seline, pointing to the second-last door to the companions’ right. “Finally,
you can-look out!” he said, stopping in surprise as Xeravho materialized
between the companions and the door they sought. The serpentine mage stared
coldly at Theran and the companions, the way a viper might eye a particularly
juicy collection of mice, before he raised the wand in his hand and began to
A bitterly cold wave of ice shards and
crystalline motes dancing in white light flew towards the companions from
Xeravho’s wand. Chanting frantically, Theran cast a spell of his own, releasing
a wave of gold and black light from his hands. Theran’s light wave collided
with the wave of cold coming from Xeravho’s wand, dispelling it. The wave of
ice and cold vanished, and Weimar and Revafour charged at Xeravho, their
Xeravho hastily backed up as he thought
of what to do. He hadn’t been expecting a battle this day, and most of the
spells he’d prepared were for interrogation, not combat. He might have cast a
spell on one or the other of the warriors advancing on him, but he wasn’t sure
if he could finish it before they reached him. Realizing he was out of options,
Xeravho chanted a quick spell and simply vanished, disappearing before Revafour
or Weimar reached him.
At that moment, Ma’non’go and Airk
emerged from the room further down the hall that held Caradoc’s regalia. They
ran to down the hall to join Theran and their friends as Amyalla walked up to
the door Theran indicated to her. Amyalla inspected the door, and was surprised
to see that it wasn’t locked or trapped. She pulled at the knob, but found that
it wouldn’t turn.
“A wizard’s lock,” she muttered in
Seline chanted a spell, and a magical
sigil appeared on the door, colored a deep green. It suddenly shattered, and
Amyalla looked back at Seline, who smiled and winked. Amyalla returned her
smile as she opened the door and walked into the elaborate study behind it. A
large, elaborate desk took point of pride in the room, with a locked cabinet on
one side of it. It didn’t take Amyalla long to open the cabinet’s lock, or to
disarm the poisoned needle trap that protected it. The cabinet contained a
series of neatly organized papers, which Seline picked up and held out to
Theran for confirmation.
“Right, that’s all of them,” Theran said.
He gave them to Luna, who stuffed the letters into her pack. “Now hurry, we
need to get going!”
Leaving the study behind them, the
companions and Theran hurried down the staircase at the far end of the hallway.
“Do you have the Crown?” Weimar asked
Airk as the companions and Theran reached the bottom of the steps.
“Safe and sound,” he said with a smile, gesturing towards
his pack. “All we have to do now is head for Idee to warn them of the cabal’s
plot. Once that’s done, we can finally return to Flinthold.”
As the companions made their way out of the keep, they saw
how much of it had been damaged by the flames. The surviving conspirators had
managed to get it under control, but many of them were suffering from smoke
inhalation and burns. The only conspirator who could have stopped them was
Xeravho, and he’d mysteriously disappeared.
“No time to waste, then,” Weimar said as he led his friends
across the keep’s courtyard to the stables some distance away. “What are we
going to do with…” he said, lowering his voice as he came up to Seline and
gesturing towards Theran.
“I’ll tell him-“ Seline said, before she and Weimar both
looked up at their companions’ astonished cries. A bolt of livid blue-white
lightning seemed to flash out of nowhere and struck Theran head-on, killing him
instantly. His smoking corpse collapsed to the ground as the companions
gathered back to back, raising their weapons in alarm.
At first, the companions couldn’t anyone who could have
attacked them, but then a single figure came into view. The man was dressed in
black robes threaded with silver demonic runes, a thick purple cloak with
symbols of protection woven into it, jeweled golden wristbands and an amulet
with an opal the size of a goblin’s hand. He was tall and imposing, thickly
built, with a surprisingly gaunt and narrow clean-shaven face framed by a man
of thick black hair. What caught the companions’ attention was the man’s eyes,
which blazed with rage one moment and smouldered with repressed hatred the
next. Power seemed to be almost tangible around him, almost as intent as the
stare he fixed the companions with.
Luna, Ma’non’go and especially Seline paled in horror as
they saw the man, and their friends realized just how much trouble they were
Reydrich Faustin Del Naelax was one of the most powerful
wizards in the entire Great Kingdom, perhaps second only to Xaene, the court
archmage to Overking Ivid V himself. He was widely feared even among the
murderous, manipulative Aerdi nobility. They feared him not only for his terrifying
magical power, but his explosive temper that stood out even among the men of
House Naelax. Rumors flew about the horrific fates who befell those who crossed
him, rumors that Reydrich never denied. Even other Naelaxians such as Chelor
and Ivid preferred not to cross him if at all possible.
“Run…” Seline said to her friends, who glanced at her in
surprise as Reydrich approached. “It’s all you can do…I’ll try to…”
Seline wanted to say that she’d hold Reydrich off, but she
knew she stood almost no chance against him. He had a good two and a half times
her power as a wizard, and the best she could was likely delay him for a few
minutes while her friends ran for their lives. It wouldn’t matter,
though-Reydrich would just as easily track and kill them all too.
Her companions understood it too, and she knew they’d never
leave her to die. Luna and Seline each began a spell as their friends raised
their weapons to charge at Reydrich.
It never got that far. The companions expected Reydrich to
cast a spell at them, but all he did was reach into a pocket and pull out a
small stone. He almost casually tossed the stone at them before any of them
could react. It easily bounced off Airk’s shield and fell to the ground. The
companions were about to attack when the stone suddenly shone with a sickly
green light. Glancing at it, the companions saw a magical symbol on the stone,
glowing with a sickly green light.
As he looked at the symbol, Revafour felt a crushing weight
on his shoulders, even as a crippling tension began in his head and his chest. Dropping
his sword, he sank to his knees, barely able to move. He realized it was futile
to resist Reydrich, and that he was entirely at the archmage’s mercy.
Glancing at his fallen sword, and then up at the slowly advancing
archmage, he began to wonder what the point even was in living. Reydrich was so
much more powerful, intelligent and determined than him.
How could he possibly even try to compare?
Glancing around, he saw that most of his friends came to
the same realization. They knelt passively on the ground along with him,
recognizing the same truth he did.
Only Weimar and Amyalla were still standing. At first,
Revafour thought they were too stupid to realize that they couldn’t defeat
Reydrich, but then he realized they were smarter than he gave them credit for
when they fled. Let them run-it wouldn’t matter in the end when Reydrich caught
Revafour and the rest of his friends sat quietly as
Reydrich cast a spell. Three large, stinking ogres, each seven feet of pure
muscle and power, seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Reydrich cast another
spell, bringing another three ogres into existence. At first, Revafour thought
Reydrich would have the ogres kill the companions-it was no more than they
deserved, after all-but instead the ogres forced the companions to their feet
and placed them in shackles.
Meekly, the companions let themselves be dragged along by
the ogres as Reydrich led them towards a large, elaborate carriage drawn by
four jet-black horses. The ogres forced the companions into a locked cell built
into the carriage, taking their equipment, while Reydrich climbed into a plush,
luxurious compartment containing a fine selection of chilled wines and food fit
for the Overking himself. The ogres put the companions’ equipment in a large
trunk at the back of the coach, and then vanished as Reydrich dismissed them.
Finally, Reydrich rang a bell inside his compartment, signalling the driver to
leave. The driver whipped up the horses, and they were soon on their way.
Revafour knew the companions couldn’t hope to escape, but
it didn’t matter.
Everything was right with the world, as it should be.