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.
“You’re a… Shardmind?”
“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.