Agrin’s Gate – Part III: First Blood, Bugbears and Krenshars

First Blood

Tristan had stopped on the roadside and hitched the horses to a tree. He led the party into the woods, whereupon they arrived at the cave entrance. A large rock jutted out of the ground, leaning over a yawning, inky blackness. Out of the blackness came two things: hard packed earth, evidence of traffic, and a foul stench.

Tristan motioned to the entrance, “they’re in there, I’ll wait here for you to return.  Remember to bring evidence of the Goblin leader’s death, or there’ll be no payment.”  With that, he found himself a dry log to sit on, pulled out a book, and proceeded to ignore them.  Seeing no reason to delay, the party stepped into the cave.

Once they traveled down a few feet they came upon a large chamber, some eighty feet by forty.  In the darkness their eyes adjusted, drawing from the light of two campfires and numerous torches to see.  There were weapon racks with crude metal swords and stone spears, some sort of pit about ten feet across, and another opening of some kind at the back. From where they were it was impossible to see where the hole in the back wall led to.  Around the campfires were six goblins,  three little ones around the nearer fire, and three larger, brutish ones around the one further in.  In the very back near the hole were two goblins with short bows, sharpshooters.  Despite their efforts to sneak up on them, one of the little ones turned from the fire and spotted them. And so it began.

Goblin fighter
One of larger goblins fought (spear not shown)

The fight was brief, but exhilarating for the party.  Each fighter was slow but sure in their method.  Ashar marked the goblins with stares of darkness, compelling them to try and fight him with his broadsword.  Balthazar swung his frozen blade, skewering his green skinned foes, black blood flicking off the tip as it sung through the air.  Drel’s arrows served him well, taking out both of the sharpshooters with ease.  Iltani used his psychic power to teleport two of the goblins high over the pit, dropping them to their apparent doom.  Aelar, preferring the dexterity of fighting weaponless, used his fists and feet to land flurries of blows on the green raiders two or three at a time.  As the goblins lay dead around them, black blood splattered on the floor, each fighter patched themselves up and looked around.  The smell of goblin flesh was rank, and their living habits only added to the smell.  None of the weapons in the room were worth taking, and the bodies carried nothing of value.  Suddenly, a cry was heard.

“Guxn! Mnag! Help!”

One of Iltani’s teleported goblins had managed to survive the fall into the pit, but had broken both legs in the process. Unable to climb out of his prison, he pleaded vainly for help from his dead clansmen. Seeing the faces of his foes staring down at him, the goblin fell silent, knowing his end was near.  The party thought this an opportune time to gather information, and tried to converse with the goblin.  It soon became obvious that the wretched creature could barely understand Aelar’s eloquent words, so Drel and Balthazar tried an alternate approach.

Balthazar stared down at the goblin, his fiery gaze upon it.  The goblin sat transfixed, as Balthazar spoke.

“You die, pain hurt bad, break finger toes, cut eyes nose tongue.  Why fight people, fight in road, attack?  Talk or die bad, very bad.”  Drel pantomimed as Balthazar spoke, and the goblin seemed to grasp the situation.

“Goblin boss come.”  He began in a hissing, gravel-filled voice.

“Boss come bring beasts.”  He shuddered.

“Bad beasts, big beasts, boss bring beasts.  Boss angry beast kill goblins.  Boss hurt goblins stay boss.”  The goblin quivered in fear,

“kill goblin, kill this goblin, no tell boss, boss get angry beast kill this goblin.”

From this the group worked out that a dangerous and cunning goblin had come by their cave with terrifying beasts.  He had used the beasts to intimidate the clan into submission, quelling insubordination with torture or death, a death so terrifying that the goblin begged for whatever end they could conjure instead.

Taking pity on the poor wretch, the group agreed to let it go.  They lifted it out of the pit and walked it to the cave entrance.

“Is this the goblin leader then?” Tristan had been startled from his reading and looked uneasy at the sight of the goblin, though he tried not to show it.

“Doesn’t look like much,” he added.

“This goblin gave us information about a goblin leader and some beasts of his, which we think are deeper in the cave,” said Aelar.

“We’ve taken pity on him and are letting him go for his trouble.”

“But that’s not…”  Tristan began.

“Never mind what it is or it isn’t, both his legs are broken and killing him now would be to act without honour.  For his help he’s earned another chance at life, albeit a small one, but it is no longer for us to decide his fate.”

Aelar looked resolutely at Tristan, proud of the words he’d spoken.  The others nodded in affirmation.  Tristan stared at the group, almost in disbelief.  He’d grown to hate the goblins, and had no sense of the code of honour among fighting men or the like.  He tried to retain a sense of authority as he spoke.

“Well, I suppose he’s no threat anyway with those broken legs,” he remarked with an offhanded air.

“I will allow you to let it go.”

With that, he sat down and returned to his book.  Balthazar and Drel explained to the goblin that it needed return to the wildlands it came from if it wanted to live.  Not needing to be told twice, the creature began dragging its way East, and soon disappeared into the undergrowth.

The party returned to the cave to resume their quest.

Bugbears and Krenshars

After a quick look around to confirm there was nothing else of interest in the cave, the party went to the hole at the back.  It was roughly cut in the rock, tall enough for a man to pass through, Iltani and Ashar had to stoop to protect their heads.  The path led around a sharp bend and deeper into the earth.  The air was stale and moist, exacerbating the rot of the goblins; though it only served to make the party more eager to test their mettle again.  So great was their enthusiasm, they rushed headlong into the cave’s main chamber. There they met a much more formidable match than before.

There was a dais, atop which was a throne and chest.  Seated on the throne was the goblin leader.  Uglier and more intimidating than the rest, it could be seen from its clothes that it had arrived more recently.  Flanking the leader were two bugbears, brutish, hobgoblin-like creatures covered in thick fur, clearly acting as bodyguards.  There were doorways on both adjacent walls, the left one leading to another chamber, the right one boarded up.  Various goblins, about six in all, were going about their goblin business, staying clear of the back of the chamber.  There were scariest things of all.  With goblin bones and blood stains on the floor, bars set in the wall could be made out, forming the front of two cages.  Each cage held a krenshar, a cat-like creature, ferocious beasts that could peel back the flesh on their faces to show dripping fangs in total detail, howling and screeching to terrorize their prey.

Two krenshars in the wild.
Two krenshars in the wild.

This fight was not so simple.  Having rushed in, the party had no surprise advantage, they hadn’t even prepared to fight yet.  The leader barked orders in the goblin tongue, and the monsters rushed at them.  One of the bugbears produced a set of keys and made for the krenshars.  Seeing this, Drel set his focus on stopping him before he could reach the cage.  Everyone laid into the goblins with zeal, though it soon became apparent that they were outmatched.  In the fray Balthazar was knocked unconscious, and Aelar was very bloodied.  Just as things were looking hopeless, the leader took a hit amidst the mayhem.  The leader, even though he was barely hurt, pulled from his belt a vial and drank it, healing himself.

Seeing the effect of the potion, Aelar mustered all of his strength and leapt toward the leader.  In one fluid motion he rushed the leader, swiped the remaining healing potions, drank one himself, and administered another to Balthazar. At this point Drel had managed to kill the first bugbear, but not before one of the cages was opened.  Teeth met throat as the krenshar tore the bugbear’s life away.  The smell of blood had incensed the beast, and the brute was beyond command.  As it turned to rush the group, Iltani summoned his greatest power.

Focusing all of his physical and mental energy, he bound one of the bugbears with a thought, turning it into a living missile.  As the rest of the group continued fighting Iltani sent the brute careening through other opponents, inflicting pain with brutal force, and knocking the colliding foes prone.  When the bugbear finally broke free of the psion’s mental grip, it was killed by the krenshar.  No longer distracted by flying bugbears, the beast then prepared to lunge at Ashar.  Thinking quickly, Drel attempted to commune with the beast, in a desperate attempt to divert its attention to the passageway on the left, filling with the sound of approaching goblins.  Using his ranger experience he managed to get the word “GOBLIN” through, and pointed furtively to the left entrance.  With a flash of excitement in its eyes the creature charged out of sight.  Seizing the opportunity, the party quickly barricaded the entrance as the shrieking of dying goblins echoed from inside.  With his bodyguards and support gone, the leader fell quickly, and the battle was over.  Some more healing potions were found in the chest and, the cries of death having ceased, the party agreed that the task they had set out to accomplish was finished.

They returned to Tristan with the leader’s head.  Looking a little green himself at the grisly sight and the black stains on the fighters, Tristan nodded in acknowledgement and took them back to the Gate.  The group headed to the barracks, and reported everything that had happened to Bryne.  Bryne was pleased to hear that the clan was dispatched, but was still worried that something might come from the barricaded corridor the group had seen in the main chamber.  He offered the group another two hundred gold pieces each to confirm that there was nothing else to cause trouble in the cave.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

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Agrin’s Gate – Part II: The Contract, On Route To The Cave

The Contract

Bryne had been waiting on a response for two weeks. Stationed as Captain of the Gate’s guard six months ago, he’d arrived from the capital with a mandate to protect the wellbeing of the people of the Gate, and had hit the ground running in his new command. In the years since Lord Agrin’s passing the goblins had mostly kept to themselves, and without leadership the bloody campaign Agrin had been waging diminished to a stalwart defensive, and eventually into a stagnant one. Without leadership or imminent threat, many of the militia returned to their former occupations, happy to hide behind the walls at night letting the goblins do as they may. After all, they were few and just as disorganized, unable to muster themselves into a fighting force.

All that changed about a month before Bryne arrived. It began with a couple of goblins banging their shields. Sadly, this was not meaningless posturing: things excalated. A calculated attack was made on a small caravan outside the town, precipitating the people of the Gate to send word of their plight to the capital. That call had brought Bryne to their aide, and he had no intention of letting goblins get the better of him or his new charge. He recognized a change among the goblins; they had a leader, and this new chief had some understanding of tactics. Bryne ordered the caravans stopped until something could be done.

Despite aggressive training schedules, the Captain only felt prepared enough to let the men guard the wall, they weren’t ready for a raid in enemy territory. Besides, none of his men were confident enough to take on the goblins, and Bryne hadn’t earned enough of their trust to order them against their will without risking a bloody retreat. So instead of waiting for the guard to be ready he sent a runner calling for mercenaries to be offered reward in exchange for dealing with this goblin leader. He’d hoped for a group of warriors to answer instead of the few that slowly trickled in.

There were five of them now; useless. All well trained in their craft, but none having seen real battle; he could see it in their eyes. But what did it matter to him? The arrangement was payment after the goblins were dead. If this group couldn’t pull it off, there would be another.

The motley group was bizarre, to say the least. All came from different walks of life, walks that somehow had led them into the guard barracks standing before Bryne. There was Aelar the Wild Elf monk of the forest, and Ashar a swordmage of the Fire Genasi; descendants of Humans and Fire Elementals. Balthazar the Tiefling warlock who, despite his race’s characteristically devilish horns, was surprisingly charismatic. Drel, the only human and a ranger; a traveller of untamed lands looking for a fight. Finally there was Iltani, a Shardmind? What in Prime was a Shardmind doing here? At least that’s what Bryne thought Iltani was. He’d only heard stories of these beings of pure thought, wrought from the Living Gate in the Astral plane, beyond the Prime plane of mortals.

“So Iltani.”

“Yes.”

“You’re a… Shardmind?”

“Yes.”

Bryne paused.

“I’m immortal.” Iltani added.

“Right then,” he continued. “ So you all know why you’re here. Goblins have been giving us trouble forcing me to halt all travel and much trade to this town. The sooner I can start things going again, the better. You’ll be paid 1,000 gold pieces for your service. I’ll send Tristan my bookkeeper, to escort you to the goblins’ cave. He will testify to the success of your task: the death of the goblins.”

The group found these terms acceptable, and left the barracks. Tristan being a timid and pragmatic man, met them outside and dutifully drove the wagon with their company to the goblins’ cave.

On Route To The Cave

Riding out of town, Balthazar could feel the townsfolk eyeing them. It was hard to discern their reaction to him, though he suspected Iltani’s tall crystalline frame was drawing more attention than his horns. Tieflings, the result of human nobility’s lust for legacy being sated through dark pacts made with the devils of the Nine Hells, were a cursed race. Balthazar  like most of his race, could not trace his lineage to any of the original houses; he only reaped the sorrow of being damned from birth by being perpetually bent toward deceit and thievery and feared by all he encountered. He pushed thoughts of his origins from his mind, not wanting to burden himself. When they’d left the town he noticed Aelar looking wistfully into the forest and decided to get to know one of his new compatriots.

“So Aelar, by the look of you, you are a wood elf?”

Aelar, roused from his stare, turned to regard Balthazar. The elf had dark hair, green eyes, and looked to be about thirty by human standards, but all of his kind did until one hundred and fifty or so. His slender frame was set in an open stance; unusual for a people known for reclusiveness and stealth.

“Balthazar is it? I am indeed an wood elf, one from the forests not too far from where we are now.”

A twinge of pain flashed in Aelar’s eyes, subtle but definite. Drel and Balthazar both saw it.

“It is uncommon for wood elves to leave their settlements, even more so for a monk, what brought you to Agrin’s Gate?” Drel inquired.

“Well, that’s a tale long in the telling, but for now you may know that I will not be returning to my people for a time, and in that time I have chosen to wander the world.”

“How interesting.” It was Iltani, now focused on the conversation, as was Ashar.

“I too am wandering the world, though I’ve journeyed more than yourself.” He smirked. The humour was lost on Aelar. Ashar explained:

“Iltani is a Shardmind, a being of thought wrought from the Living Gate in the Astral Plane. The Gate was shattered in a great war waged in ages past, and from that cataclysmic event his people were born. Traveling between planes is no easy task, so coming to the Prime makes him quite the traveller indeed. Fashioned of energy, he need not sleep, eat, or drink. He’ll never age, though he is not past immortality as he suggests.”

As Aelar’s face glowed with wonder, Ashar’s snub caught Iltani by surprise.

“You have a surprising grasp of my people’s history Genasi. What you say is true, though I believe agelessness and immortality to be a semantic concern beyond most mortals. In death my body would become thought once again and return to the ether from whence it came.” Iltani looked haughtily at Ashar.

“So then you’re both right. It is fascinating to have such diverse and learned companions for our task, is it not Drel?” Aelar didn’t like confrontations, at least not among those he liked; and though he barely knew them, he liked this group, and hoped perhaps to have future quests with them after this goblin affair was over.

Drel muttered something in affirmation, and for the rest of the ride the men discussed goblins and what they knew of them. Tristan shared the history of the Gate for the benefit of the newcomers. Aelar looked uncomfortable when he spoke of the lights and music woodsmen had reported, while Drel nodded knowingly. It came to light that the territory Drel ranged was not far from here, and he had traded with the merchants what he found in his travels among the wildlands. He’d seen action before, contrary to Bryne’s assessment, though he admitted it was usually solitary goblins, wanting to avoid groups as much as he could. All of them hated evil things, or at least preferred to see less of them, and were all eager to prove themselves as capable fighters in the cave. The wagon came to a halt.

“We’ve arrived,” announced Tristan.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

Agrin’s Gate – Part I: Foreword, The Gate

Foreword

Agrin’s Gate is a based upon a narration of the Dungeons and Dragons sessions played by Karl Reimer (Dungeon Master), Dave Lenton (Aelar), John Baarda (Ashar), Josh Matthews (Balthazar), Grant Davis (Cordus), Jake Redekop (Drel), Grant Davis (Drull), Andrew Alkema (Iltani), and Rylan Halteman (Vore). I initially wrote this to keep track of the growing list of characters and events that were transpiring, as well as for the joy of writing. In its final form the narrative was over 11,000 words long, and represented the longest piece of writing I’d ever done (and the most fun!)

A few months after finishing it, I’d wanted to revise and expand it, adding more details, lore, and backstory to this wonderful world I helped in creating. I have no excuse to explain my failure to do this sooner, but I’m glad to be doing it now.

A note to the reader: While I will try my utmost to insure that this work remains consistent in style, as a writer I am influenced by what I read, and so my style has changed (hopefully for the better, though reading Tolkien’s The Silmarillion has given me a prosaic long-windedness). Nevertheless, I apologize for any thematic incongruities you may encounter. Please send a note to me if you find a poignant one.

Acknowledgements

My first thanks must go to Karl as DM for our group he was tasked with creating the world we played in and populating it with characters and adventure. Second thanks go to Rylan & Jake, my chief assistants in the editing and enriching of the original narrative, and then to my compatriots whose imagination fueled the personalities of characters I couldn’t begin to flesh out myself. You guys brought this world to life, making the telling of it all the easier for me, thanks.

Prologue – The Gate

Agrin’s Gate, so named after Lord Agrin, a noble with a thirst for conquest, had been founded in decades past. Back then it was nothing more than a motley collection of thatched roof houses by a river. But with the river running deep into the wildlands, trappers and hunters were able to bring in many valuable commodities like furs, timber, and any medicinal plants they could find. Lord Agrin, reaching the autumn of his life, petitioned the capital for support to turn the settlement into a vibrant trading post, to make it a bastion of civilization on the edge of the world; a place where he could live out his days hunting in peace.

In granting his request the capital supplied Agrin with road builders and artisans. Within a few short weeks of his arrival it became clear why the settlement had not been growing in trade and wealth. Agrin had supposed the problem was with the boorish and unambitious nature of the woodsmen, but it turned out to be a far more sinister. Every time wealth had come into the town, whether by a merchant making a large trade, or a nobleman looking to retire where he wouldn’t be disturbed, the village had been attacked by goblins from the hills and wildlands. Like parasites they fed on the work and fruit of the people, raiding at night or on the long, winding paths back to the larger towns.

Agrin was not to be slowed by such a threat. The road builders were immediately put to work making a straighter, safer route to civilization while stonemasons and builders began constructing a wall to protect the people. He trained some of the more capable hunters in the use of the short sword and the spear, and within a few weeks began issuing scouting parties to locate the rank pits in which the foul creatures cowered during the day.

Over the next few years Agrin waged a bloody campaign against the goblins. He found that the growing wealth of the Gate, as it was coming to be known, drew the goblins forth from the wildlands across the river. Many brave men were lost, but they fought with such valiance that each death among men came at great cost to the goblins. Agrin’s wife, Lady Agrin of Chelth, came to join her husband at the Gate and proved a capable strategist in the skirmishes against the goblins. It was she who proposed cutting back the trees along the capital road, and used the wood to build great fires at the mouthes of the goblin caverns, asphyxiating the vile creatures like the cunning vermin they were. The Lord’s heart was glad to have his Lady, and all the people loved her, for her wisdom and her counsel.

One day, while hunting beyond the river, Lord Agrin and his party were set upon by a large company of goblins. They had weapons of capital make, taken from the bodies of slain scouts, and also hideous beasts with the likeness of hounds, but more cruel and filled with malice. Though Agrin’s party defeated them and left none alive, the Lord was mortally wounded by a spear thrown by the company’s leader. When his body was brought back to the Gate, the people mourned for three days and nights, because in his life Agrin had done been good to the people, and made them prosperous, and had drawn much evil from the land like venom from a wound.

Because of Lord Agrin the Gate and it’s people were safely sequestered behind a stout wall of stone, and had a path to the capital much less fraught with peril than it had been. The woods, being now mostly free of corrupting influence, flourished and grew, although men who ventured too deep in the forest returned speaking of strange music and lights, often finding themselves back at the Gate despite being sure they’d never strayed away from the path into the forest.

After the Lord’s passing, the people named the Gate Agrin’s Gate in his memory; and declared Lady Agrin to be their leader for as long as she would stay. Lady Agrin, while honoured by the people, was too grieved to remain in a place so full of memories of her beloved, and returned to Chelth, the land of her fathers.

That was ten years ago. Since then the Gate has continued to flourish, and besides the occasional skirmish the goblins leave the people alone. Businesses, inns, and merchants have come to live here, and the town prospers. In recent months however, the frequency and intensity of raids on the road has been increasing; and Bryne, captain of the town guard, has put forth a request for mercenaries to deal with the problem. It is here that our tale begins.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

Sweeping out cobwebs

Hey all,

As many undoubtedly have forgotten, I made a promise to write stories to people who donated to my trip to NYC this past April. I have not forgotten! Rather my lack of follow through has weighed heavily upon me these past months.

Well, no more. I’m here to announce that over the next few weeks I’ll be writing and releasing as much as possible to bring me up to par. I’ll be beginning with a republishing of my short story “Agrin’s Gate” a tale set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, based on the D&D sessions played by Karl Reimer, Andrew Alkema, Josh Matthews, Jake Redekop, Rylan Halteman, John Baarda, Grant Davis, and myself. This tale will be revised and expanded to make for a more compelling tale, and will include one of my sponsors as a character!

If all goes well, you should see another post sometime later today.