Unlike the portal into Mirehaven, nothing could be seen through it. But, seeing the confidence with which the Shadar-Kai strode through, and not wanting to give them an excuse to call them timid, the party followed without delay.
The change in atmosphere was tangible as they stepped through the portal. What used to be humid, wild, and heavy forest air, had changed into something faintly acrid tasting, and much thinner, as if the air itself weren’t as real. They entered a large, circular room of dark grey stone with vaulted ceilings. The dimness of the room, in contrast to the saturating hues of the Feywild forest explained why the destination of the portal had seemed somewhat, abyssal.
The room was mostly unadorned, save for six engraved black pillars surrounding the teleportation circle, where the party had first stepped, and a painting on the ceiling of a large black raven, the Queen’s sigil. Arrow slits were inlaid along the walls, and peering through them afforded a look across a bleak landscape with char-black trees and a haze of silvery mist. They were on an upper floor of some sort of keep.
“This is the Shadowfell,” explained Iltani to the group. “It is one of the six principle planes of existence. To those who travel them, the ‘World’ is more commonly called the ‘Prime’. I hail from Astral Sea, home to immortals and most Gods. If you consider the world to be a template plane, the Feywild is a hyper-vivified version, full of light, magic, and colour. On the other end of the balance is the Shadowfell, a hypo-vivified version, practically void of life or light.”
“Unlike other Gods, the Raven Queen chooses to reside in this plane, to stay close to death, over which she has dominion.”
“That is only four planes Iltani,” observed Vore, “what of the other two?”
“They are the Elemental Chaos and the Far Realm, but enough of that.”
The Shadar-Kai who had escorted the party exchanged kurt nods with three more waiting to receive them, some murmured brief greetings to each other. A few from the escort immediately headed off toward the keep’s inner chambers.
“We’ve been expecting you,” said one of the receiving officers.
“Please follow me to the audience chamber. It is a more suitable place to recognize your accomplishments and discuss your reward.”
Travelling through the hallways of the keep, the utter lack colour became increasingly obvious. Even the colour on the party’s packs and clothes washed out. Occasionally they caught a glimpse of what appeared to be ghosts gliding purposelessly through the halls, but whenever they turned to look at them, they disappeared. As the companions passed Shadar-Kai in the halls, eyes drifted inquisitively towards them. Some of them decided to tag along in their wake. They kept their distance, but their curiosity had obviously been piqued.
Eventually the guide led them to a hallway with a large set of double doors made of pure black stone at its far end. The hall appeared empty, but the Shadar-Kai who entered performed a rigid salute. Their eyes were fixed on a corner that was darker than the others. Try as they might, not one of the adventurers could fix their gaze as their saluting peers did. Their eyes kept drifting away from it against their will.
Piecing together sideways glances, they could just make out a dangerous looking Shadar-Kai sitting on a stool, idly sharpening his daggers. He practically exuded darkness, or perhaps he was consuming light, it was hard to say. Even after they knew that he was there the party found their eyes slipping off of him and looking anywhere but at the corner in which he was sitting.
“Well I hear you’re the ones who killed the vampire lord. Took you long enough,” he sneered.
“Who are you?” Asked Balthazar.
“I,” he paused for effect, “am Serbahn.”
“Tell us then, Serbahn,” Aelar said, “what is your greatest feat?” Aelar had overheard other Shadar-Kai talking. Their greatest accomplishments were who they were, it was how they measured their greatness. Serbahn’s eyes flashed excitedly before resuming their indifferent look.
“I slew the mighty demon Saulknor,” a cold chill went down the spines of those who knew the name, “and took from him, Kalina Ia: the light eater.”
He stood, “a High Priestess of the Raven Queen will be addressing you personally. Behave yourselves. Speak only when spoken to.”
He walked into the next room, the black doors sliding back silently, opening into a hall with galleries on either side. The Witch and Serbahn walked onto the dais at the end of the hall, standing in opposing corners. The group was ushered forward as the entourage of Shadar-Kai that had been following filed into the galleries. The Witch began a recitation which the assembly continued. Vore knew it and spoke with the assembly, some of the party mumbled along, and the rest kept silent.
The Witch addressed the hall, “why are you worthy to receive the honour of High Priestess’s presence?”
At this the Shadar-Kai took turns either praising their accomplishments or cutting their hands to cover their iniquity. Balthazar, Drel, and Drull all cut their hands, unsure of what to say. Vore, Ashar, Iltani, and Aelar spoke of the demons, Lamia, and Vampire Lord they’d defeated; and the town they’d defended. The Witch nodded with approval.
She took a drink from a pedestal on the dais and muttered under her breath. The pedestal sank into the floor, light vanishing into the space it left, and a blast of cold air rushed out, forcing Aelar and Iltani to shudder. Out of this void stepped the High Priestess.
“You have done well mortals, this ceremony is reserved for acts of great courage and valour. It is our custom to tell the story of the honoured,” said the High Priestess.
“In the beginning you were a motley band of mercenaries, tasked with eliminating a trivial goblin threat. Fate, it would seem, had greater designs for you. A crystal of immense power was discovered, which you took to your captain. When it was activated, the whole town you’d been asked to rid of goblins was thrust through the world to a swamp where you fought Lizardfolk and their kin.
“Your Arcanist determined that the crystal was being drawn by others and their possession would grant you the power to restore the town. Through a swamp fortress, a desert, a frozen wilderness, and the Feywild, you sought out and retrieved these artifacts.
“We found you in a cave in the frozen wilderness. On a different mission we left you to your goal. When we learned of the crystal’s true nature, that it was being used for the designs of Orcus, may he die…”
“May he die,” the hall echoed in unison.
“We tracked you to the Feywild and evacuated the people of your town in exchange for killing the Vampire Lord and his thralls, servants of Orcus, may he die.”
“May he die.” The group chimed in.
“What say you to these things?”
Each member responded in turn. Most gave an, “all in a day’s work,” response; some flowered it up with words about service in battle against Orcus and his forces. Iltani had the unwitting audacity to correct the High Priestess on the nature of his mortality, in that he wasn’t, earning himself a disapproving glance.
“For your service in these days past, you will each receive ten thousand gold pieces, and a selection of weapons and talismans from our armouries. For those who demonstrated the confidence to state their accomplishments before my arrival, you may receive a tattoo to mark your deeds forever. Go now; live to die!”
“Live to die,” repeated the Shadar-Kai, and the High Priestess walked back into the void she came from. As the pedestal rose back to its place, the crowds stood and filed out of the hall. The Witch and Serbahn stepped down from the dais and faced the group.
“You may rest here and select your items and tattoos in the morning, after that we will allow you passage to whatever place you choose.” The Witch said.
It Comes Full Circle
The next day the group discussed where they’d like to go next as they excitedly picked out their new armour and clothing. The Astral Sea, the Feywild (Aelar’s choice), the Prime, so many options. They decided, at Iltani and Ashar’s behest, to return to Agrin’s Gate, or at least where it was, and examine the magical barrier they had encountered in the goblin cave at the beginning of their journey.
For Ashar, that barrier was the magical power source he’d traveled to the Gate in search of. He had hoped the crystal might sate his thirst for knowledge, but it had not. That barrier was powerful, and whatever lay beyond it must be equal, or greater. The others, save Drull, who had never been to the cave, relished the thought of adventure, the satisfaction of seeing what had been beyond their grasp.
After donning their new accoutrements, Drel, Drull, and Balthazar took some time to test their gear by sparring in the barrack’s arena while the others received their tattoos. When the tattooing was finished, they met their companions and went for a few rounds. Panting heavily, the first three called for a break, and as if on cue the Witch entered the arena.
“You have received your rewards, have you found them acceptable?” She asked.
The party gave a cheer, and each demonstrated what they had, banging a shield, setting a target on fire, warping a rock into gravel. The Witch grinned wryly.
“Excellent, then the only thing left is to send you off. Have you made a decision?”
Aelar stepped forward, “yes, a portal to Agrin’s Gate.” The Witch was confused.
“The town is in the Abyss right now, are you certain?”
“Apologies, we mean it’s original location, on the capital road if possible.”
The Witch nodded with a certain knowing, as if that had been her understanding all along.
“Very well, stand back.”
Once again, she create a ring which sank part way into the arena floor, forming an arch. Through it could be seen swaying trees and dappled sunlight. With brief nods they saluted the Witch and walked through.
The air seemed to fill with life again, it was like breathing all over again. Within minutes even the more battle-weary were refreshed and invigorated. They were on the capital road, not far from where the Gate had been. Going to see what was left of it they came suddenly upon a dried out swamp.
In the distance they could see Lizardfolk who had been carried along with the swamp when the town and swamp had switched places. They seemed less at home in the temperate forest clime, but were keeping to themselves. The group ignored them and walked back up the road toward the goblin cave.
“I’m new here, but I can guess that the swamp was a surprise to see. Why?” Asked Drull.
“I think I’ve worked it out,” said Ashar. “I think that whenever the town teleported, everything that got moved switched places with the destination. That’s why when we were in the Feywild there was an enormous ice sphere. In the elemental chaos a floating iceberg isn’t uncommon, the town likely teleported inside it.”
“Oh,” Drull was lost, but that happened to him a lot. Instead of pursuing it he kept quiet and focused on his axe, rehearsing battles.
The road, the path, the cave, it all seemed almost quaint and nostalgic to the companions now. Since their first battle they had become a lethal force, and they had been rewarded handsomely for it. As they passed the pit Vore recounted his outburst at leaving the goblin bodies around.
“While I maintain my position on disposing bodies, which I thank you all for respecting; I was a little hot-headed that first day with you guys.” He admitted.
When they got to the second dirt chamber they found the entrance to the crystal chamber had been boarded up again. Not noticing anything dangerous about it, they broke down the boards and moved onward. Once again they descended deep into the mountainside with Vore telling Drull about the battles they’d had since they first met.
Reaching the end of the passage, Vore suggested they go left to stop by the crystal chamber. Like the entrance though, all evidence of their presence had been erased: the chamber looked exactly like they had first found it before, save for the crystal not being there.
Confused but undaunted, the group doubled back and went to the barrier. Iltani, much more versed in the nature of magic, barriers, and doors than last time, tried his hand at the barrier. After what seemed like an eternity, Ashar stepped in to assist. When the barrier fell, a surge of energy hit both of them.
Ashar’s armour carried it around him, leaving him largely unscathed. Iltani wasn’t so fortunate. His crystal frame seemed to be a perfect conductor, and absorbing most of the shock he burst into a thousand shards. The group was silent.
“I’m IMMORTAL. I can pull myself back together but it will take some time, probably an hour or so. Go on without me, I’ll catch up when I’ve re-corporealized.”
It was then that they noticed the sound of scurrying. Like thousands of tiny feet, or claws, were wandering; chittering about. Taking the cautious route, Drel volunteered to be the vanguard, creeping ahead; but without Iltani’s usual telepathic link Drel was unable to concentrate as he usually did.
The group worked they way down to a narrow corridor with a vaulted ceiling, much like the way to the crystal chamber. The corridor opened up to a great laboratory: the walls were marked with runes and glyphs in various dark tongues, and vats of acid sat in a corner near some towering bookshelves. In the room were three mezzodemons, two immoliths, and a beholder.
Drel was noticed immediately, and the group rushed to assist him. They were making quick work of their foes when one of the Immoliths retreated to a control room and activated a panel.
Suddenly the scurrying they’d heard before became much louder, and a deep roar resonated from the back of the room. As they continued fighting mechanical spiders began pouring in, scurrying up the walls and ceilings and dropping down on the party.
Surprised by the sudden onslaught the party regrouped and redoubled their efforts. They began to hold ground when a crashing noise came from the spider’s entry point. Whatever was back there had reached the door, and was too large to fit through. Aelar signalled to Ashar that he should examine the panels in the control room and see if there was a way to disable these spiders.
Backing into the corner of the laboratory that held the control room, almost seventy spiders had entered the lab as the party covered Ashar. He managed to find the deactivation switch, but it was encoded to only work with the handprint of a mezzodemon or immolith. With a sudden crash the thing that had been breaking the entrance down burst in. It was a bebilith, a great demonic spider that dwarfed its smaller copies, its legs spanning fifteen feet.
Ashar called to Drull to grab the nearest body he could find and bring it his hand. With a dull THUD Drull’s axe came down on a mezzodemon’s wrist, hewing two spiders as it traveled. He hastily grabbed the severed claw and threw it to Ashar who slapped it on the panel.
With a whir some of the spiders began to slow down as the bebilith pinned them in the corner. The party fought to hold their ground as the spiders began to pile around them. The bebilith began spewing flaming webs at the men, their odds shrinking with every shot.
Then with a chug and a sputter, the bebilith and spiders simply broke down. The chattering of mechanical feet gave way to crashing commotion beyond the lab as spiders fell from the walls and ceilings.
The party found themselves up to their waists in spiders. Clambering through to the opposite side of the room the adventurers found a strange glowing orb surrounded by rubble. After some experimenting it became clear that the spiders were used for excavating, and the orb had some sort of nullifying capacity that allowed it to absorb anything it came into contact with. The spiders had been dumping rock and debris into it.
Continuing past the laboratory they came upon a sheer drop. In the darkness spiders could be seen falling by the thousands. Channelling psionic energy through his palms Aelar placed a sunrod between his teeth and hovered into the blackness. Vore cast motes of sunlight on the walls.
They found that the drop they’d encountered was actually a curving slope within a gargantuan sphere, thousands of feet in diameter. In the very center lay an enormous crystal, larger than any they’d ever seen.
Before they could guess the crystal’s purpose, a foul, panged cry rang about the sphere.
“NOO! My spiders! My workers! They will pay with blood for this!”
Agrin’s Gate Chapters
- Part I: Foreword, The Gate
- Part II: The Contract, On Route To The Cave
- Part III: First Blood, Bugbears and Krenshars
- Part IV: Vore, The Crystal, The Incident
- Part V: The Swamp, The Fortress, Cordus, Bryne’s Suspicion
- Part VI: Dinosaurs, Bryne’s Refusal, Dragons (Finally)
- Part VII: Tales of their pasts, The Feywild, The Town
- Part VIII: The Widow, A Change of Plans, Here We Go Again
- Part IX: Drull, Surrounded, Credit Where Credit Is Due
- Part X: The Shadowfell, It Comes Full Circle
- Part XI