The party met the Shadar-Kai next to an enormous dome of ice where the town had been. The townspeople had set up makeshift tents in their wait, as the dome slowly melted, forming icy rivulets and a pool that had fed the streams the men had noticed.
The Shadar-Kai could not have looked more disinterested. Babysitting weaklings had to be the most degrading activity they’d performed in years. Drel chuckled as he thought about the lie of omission they’d make concerning this escapade. Especially since they brought an undead drake with them. It was still circling over the townsfolk, huddled around fires to keep the ice’s chill off. The Witch read their expressions and saw the triumph missing.
“You did not kill the Vampire did you?” She said.
“Now wait just a minute lady.” Balthazar stepped forward. “We have our, or should I say your, crystal right here.”
“But you did not kill the Vampire did you?” She repeated. At this Vore stepped forward, looking somewhat dejected.
“My lady of the Raven Queen.” He began, Drel rolled his eyes.
“The Lamia, the Vampire’s companion, is vanquished. The Vampire Lord possessed an object that shrouded the sunlight Pelor gave me to use as a cleric. With the sunlight concealed, he was able to regenerate more quickly than we could injure him. When she fell, he became insubstantial and risked travel in broad daylight.”
“This was not our agreement,” said the Witch, taking the crystal. “Did he escape with this sun shrouding implement?”
“He did not,” Vore’s expression brightened, “Ashar.”
Ashar stepped forward, producing the object from his bag.
“My knowledge of the arcane is extensive, but the Feywild is an unfamiliar realm brimming with magic. The best Iltani and I can work out, it can do more than shroud light, but neither of us know what.”
Aelar stepped forward to finish the report.
“Without our Minotaur, who has left, I fear the Vampire’s defeat is hopeless,” he said.
The Witch snorted with derision, “I shouldn’t have expected you lot to be able to accomplish this task. Very well, I anticipated this eventuality. We have a warrior with us who owes a debt. Drull?”
A brutish bugbear, not unlike the one they killed in the goblin cave, stepped out from behind a tree. He was a berserker, wielding a *subtle* executioner’s axe, subtle in that its full power was released by wearing no armor, only cloth.
“Drull owed us a debt, so I had him brought here in the likely event that you would fail. Drull!” She barked, “you are to follow this party’s instruction now, do as they do. When the Vampire is dead you will be released from your debt.”
Drull, despite being immense, cowered under the Witch’s glare, and scurried behind the party.
“Now don’t expect this brute to come for free, we’ll be taking that totem from you.”
Ashar handed her the artefact, and taking it, the Witch commanded, “wait here,” and left to consort with the others in a tight circle of trees.
Aelar snuck behind the circle and attempted to listen in. Focusing his mind, he attuned his aural senses outside of the area he was in, and into the tree circle. Oddly, the number of voices among the trees was greater than the group of warriors he’d seen. Focusing harder, he projected his vision into the circle as well.
Looking about, he saw the Shadar-Kai conversing with faintest of shimmers, outlines of even greater Shadar-Kai commanders and mages. They were discussing the artefact, and what to do next with the group. It turned out the Vampire Lord was a servant of Orcus, who had been protecting the town in exchange for dark deeds.
Orcus, a powerful demon lord and god of undeath, is a sworn enemy of the Raven Queen, goddess of death. The Shadar-Kai, as agents of the Raven Queen, took interest in the town’s mage when he had made a pact with Orcus.
When the group first told the Witch of the lost brother and the vampire they found, the town mage become a greater threat, bumping him up the watchlist. This was the real reason Drull had been summoned.
The ‘totem’ as the Witch had called it, was really for communicating with Orcus, who had been fighting the Raven Queen for control of death since she first seized it. The demon god had been using the crystals to move demons in and out of the Abyss, which is why the Witch wanted them.
Aelar left before the end so as not to arouse suspicion, and when the Witch returned she communicated some of this. She added that the vampire’s heading had been located, and that if they started now they could reach him before he regenerated fully. With that the party set off again, uplifted by their reinforcements, even if he didn’t talk.
Following The Witch’s direction, the party walked until they saw a glade. Hiding behind the treeline, they spotted an Eladrin hunter. Being the only person who really belonged there, Aelar stepped out and greeted him. Getting a better view of the glade, he could see that the icy rills from the sphere had reached even this far. There were three or four trees, large and leafy, a wooden shack a distance away, and a great oak on the far side; patches of tall grass were scattered through the field. Looking closer at the trees, Aelar noticed monkeys, big ones, in all of them.
“What brings you here, friend?” The hunter asked, he seemed distracted, but managed a smile.
“I search for a man, a human that ran from a town not far from here.” Replied Aelar, finding his face lacking a certain sincerity.
“Are you alone, friend? Do you search by yourself?” The hunter was scanning the forest beyond Aelar. Knowing he was a terrible liar, Aelar called Balthazar and Iltani forward.
“These are my companions…” It dawned on Aelar. The Eladrin was stalling, the monkeys were moving. Not giving another moment of preparation for his alleged ‘friend,’ Aelar issued a mighty battle cry Cordus had taught him, signalling the others.
In a flurry of foliage the monkeys sprang from the trees and the party rushed to meet them. It turned out that a second hunter had been hiding in the tall grass, and proved difficult to hit. As the monkeys began dying a deep growl rose from the shed. In an explosion of wood splinters and framing timber a shed wall gave way to a Banderhobb, a ten-foot-tall, frog-like creature that swallows you whole and kidnaps you.
By the time the monkeys were finished off the Banderhobb had reached the party, striking and attempting to swallow them. It succeeded in swallowing Vore before bounding off towards the great oak. Aelar and Ashar, the swiftest, gave chase as the others finished off the Eladrin. Despite Aelar’s Elven speed, and his psionic flying powers, the great frog’s head-start was too great to overtake it. The beast ran behind the tree vanishing from sight. When the pair arrived the Banderhobb, and their friend inside, could not be found.
Noticing something off about the tree itself, Aelar examined the striations in the bark while Ashar searched for magical properties. A hidden door was discovered as the others caught up, Ashar opening it cautiously. Aelar went down a spiral staircase and short passageway before stopping short of the entrance to another room. Drel snuck a bit farther and signalled Iltani to connect them.
“The room is small, the frog…” began Drel.
“Banderhobb.” Interjected Iltani.
“It’s not a frog, it’s a Banderhobb. A creature with a history of kidnapping people, usually children, in their sleep. I read about it in a book of bedtime stories.”
“First, that’s just wrong. Second, who cares? Where’s the Banderhobb Drel?” thought Balthazar.
“The far side of the room, it seems to be stuck in an opening. There’s also a coffin. Just like the one from the basement. Hold on, I’m going to cast a mist.”
Using some tricks he’d picked up in his ranging days, he cast a mist in the room, obscuring his allies from the Banderhobb. Ashar moved into the mist and dealt a blow to the Banderhobb blocking the doorway. Drull and Balthazar, still outside, hacked at the earth, hoping to literally shed light on the situation. Iltani hovered above, maintaining a psychic link and facilitating communications between forces.
Aelar squeezed around the Banderhobb, flanking him. This distracted the beast from Ashar’s killing blow. With a disgusting sound, Vore was vomited up as the slimy creature died. The Vampire had risen from his coffin and was trying to land a blow through the mist. With a thundering roar Drull leapt down the hole and with a mighty blow drove his axe straight through the ground above the Vampire, bringing a rain of earth, stone, and steel upon his head.
At this point the Vampire was totally surrounded, with Aelar’s owlbear, Iltani, and Balthazar waiting to strike should he try to fly off. The Lord became insubstantial and made a vain attempt to escape, but as each fighter laid blow after blow as he passed them, he finally dissolved into ash.
Searching his room they found a reserve of gold; presumably this was some sort of safe house. In triumph the group returned to the Shadar-Kai and made their report.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
When they returned, and as they told of their exploits, the Shadar-Kai were visibly impressed. They had not expected the companions to succeed; in fact, they weren’t certain if success was even possible. The Witch, looking less haughty than before, addressed them.
“You have done well warriors, and you have fulfilled your end of the deal. It is time for us to do the same.” She gestured to the huddled townsfolk.
“We will let your people return where they will. The town’s captain, Bryne, has asked that it be Mirehaven where their kin were headed, does this sound suitable?”
The party murmured in acknowledgement.
The Witch recited an incantation that lasted for several minutes, gathering a crowd as she did so. Many marvelled at how such a lengthy spell could be remembered. When she finished, a large spark of electricity flared and grew into an orb. The orb then flattened to a disc, reaching fifteen feet across, penetrating the ground to form the shape of a circular gate.
From one side the disc looked transparent, but from the other, a small town market could be seen, with a thick morning fog not quite burnt off yet. Early rising merchants were taken aback in shock at the sight; but as the first townspeople went through and explained their origin, they calmed down. The people walked through the gate in single file, taking what belongings they could on their back or by horse. When the guard took its turn, Bryne stopped to speak to the group.
“This wasn’t what I signed up for, Gods know I’m getting too old for this.” He sighed. “But I should be grateful, without you all our town would have suffered great loss. Thank you.”
He moved to the gate, taking post next to it, ensuring everyone got through. The Arcanist approached, but before he could say anything he froze. He just stood in place for a few seconds before resuming his motion jerkily. He blinked hard, staring at Iltani, who nodded.
“Thank you, oh thank you all!” and off he went through the gate.
As it closed, the Witch faced them, Aelar noticed the shimmering he’d seen in the tree circle, and relayed this to the others through Iltani.
“You are all deserving of more than praise, follow.” She turned and recited the cantation again, opening a second gate, this one dimmer in appearance than the last. She and the other Shadar-Kai stepped through. Sensing no danger or ill will, the party followed.
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
- Part XI