Agrin’s Gate – Part VIII: The Widow, A Change of Plans, Here We Go Again

The Widow

Knocking on the widow’s door, a beautiful woman answered.

“Yes, hello?”

“Good day, we’ve come in hopes of finding a crystal, and possibly your husband too,” said Aelar.

The widow let them in, her beauty only growing as their eyes adjusted to the dimness.

“That is, if you still want him to be found,” added Iltani.  She gave him a black look.

Aelar frowned and turned back to the widow.  “So, what can you tell us about the night he disappeared?”

“Well, he was out gathering herbs one night for his research.  He was always looking to improve…” her voice fell away as a tear came to her eye.

“And then he… he just never came back,” she sobbed quietly

“We may be able to learn more from his study or laboratory,” Ashar offered.

The widow dried her eye as she nodded and led them to a door in the parlor.  She made an intricate series of motions, her fingers tracing serpentine symbols in the air before the door.  With a shimmer, the face of the door lit up in a pale blue, then the glow withered as if an ethereal wind were carrying off flakes of it.  Vore stood next to the widow as she did this, and kept track of the tracings she’d made.  While he couldn’t be sure, he thought the symbol was that of a beetle, a scarab.

The protective ward dissolved, the door swung open of its own accord, to showcase a staircase leading below the house.  The party followed the widow down the steps, lit by flickering torches, descending for what seemed like an age.  The widow stepped into a large, natural, stone cavern with a dressed floor and raised ceilings.  As the party filed in, they could make out a set of long, stone chests at the end of the cave.  When Iltani, who had taken up the rearguard, reached the cavern, a slam echoed down the stairway from above.  The chest lids made a loud rasping as they were pushed back, stone rubbing against stone.  When the party saw fingers curling around the chest lids from the inside, they realized two things; they were trapped, and those chests weren’t chests at all:  they were coffins.

From the coffins rose three pale figures, one clearly more powerful, a vampire lord.  Behind them they heard an chittering sound that made Balthazar turn and gasp.

“The widow!”  He cried.

As the others turned they saw the widow’s hands and feet were covered in beetles, forming a writhing mass spreading toward her chest.  Balthazar’s first instinct was to warn her, but as a wicked grin twisted across her face, he realized that she wasn’t a widow at all; she was a Lamia; a temptress who devoured foolish men who fell into her snares.

Iltani rallied the thoughts of the party together, coalescing them into a vision, a realization that had eluded each but not all, and formed a story from their individual thoughts.  The chieftain’s brother had not died, but had been turned into a vampire, likely for the increased arcane ability (Ashar).  The widow was a Lamia, and had lured them, and surely others, down here to die (Balthazar).  She keeps the widow story so adventurers come to find her and are never seen again, or missed (Drel).  Everyone in the town is fooled by this (Aelar).  The door upstairs is magically controlled so that prey are trapped without while the Lamia plays the weeping widow, and within when she’s dropped the gauntlet (Iltani).  The only way out will be to fight (Cordus).  As a Pelorian Cleric, I can cast radiant light down here to weaken the vampire lord and his spawn (Vore).

The Widow, or Lamia rather
The Widow, or Lamia rather

All of this flashed by in an instant of thought.

“Iltani works quickly,” thought Aelar.  He looked to his Shardmind friend and, for a brief moment, glimpsed a smile.

As they fought a pile of beetles on one side, Vore cast a mote of sunlight that glowed in the air, taunting the vampires.  Unable to regenerate in the mote’s radiance, the two sides were evenly matched.  In time the lesser vampires fell, being converted more recently than their sire, the vampire lord, the mage, the brother.

The vile couple continued fighting, and held their own through a half dozen rounds of blows before Aelar threw up his hands to call a cease-fire.

“Clearly this is getting nowhere, you aren’t strong enough to overpower us, nor us you.  Let us leave and we’ll simply never speak of this again.”  The couple, seeing that victory was by no means certain, conceded.

Returning to the tavern, battered and bruised, the townsfolk gave the group some odd looks, which the group returned.  The town seemed to be composed on a hodgepodge of creatures that had wandered into the Feywild by one method or another, none of them really belonging.  Likely chased by the Bralani lord while hunting or the hideous, ruthless Fomorian giants, they’d found sanctuary in the town’s walls.  A Halfling named sat at the bar, drinking alone. This gave Balthazar an idea.

A Fomorian Highway Raiding Pair
A Fomorian Highway Raiding Pair

He approached the halfling, “Halfling, what is your name?”

Startled by the sudden interest the tiefling had taken in him, the halfling looked up from his drink.

“People call me Pincher.”  Halflings have a reputation for being light-fingered, and Balthazar’s intuition had paid off.

“I think my friends and I could make use of your talents.”

“Talents eh?”  Replied Pincher mockingly, “state your business Tiefling, don’t waste my time with your riddles.”

“Very well, follow me.”  Leading him back to a table, the group sat and explained to Pincher that there was a crystal they were seeking and that they were almost certain it was in the widow’s house.

“So you want me to get it, fine.  And what would I get, besides this beer you bought me?”

“We would pay you 1,000 gold pieces,” said Aelar.  Drel hung his head in disbelief, mortified.  Paying Vore to join, bribing the bartender with a gold piece when that was enough to rent out the inn for the night, and now offering a few year’s wages for a single theft?  Monk’s should not handle money.

“That,” said Pincher, eyes bulging greedily, “sounds like a fair trade.”

Finishing his drink, he staggered out of the tavern, woozy from downing what for a grown man would have been three pints.  The group ordered dinner and ate in silence, either too sore or too hungry to talk.  Iltani, after smelling a selection of wines, since he couldn’t drink, returned to his watchful thinking position; sitting silently, letting his eyes wander around the room, picking up bits of conversation and piecing them into interactions, needs, desires, and other mortal concerns.  If someone didn’t address him directly, Aelar wondered if he’d ever move of his own accord.  As if on cue to disprove him, Iltani spoke.

“I think the crystal is alive.”

The group stared.  Iltani continued, nonplussed.

“Whenever the town shifts, it’s always on level ground, and level with that ground.  It has never been underwater or underground, in a mountainside, or in the air, ever; at the very least it must have a sentient nature to it.

“Also, the Arcanist said that the crystal was being drawn to these places, so it stands to reason that the town is traveling along this sequence of planes. When the Abyss is reached there will be no more crystals to draw us away from there.”

Ashar considered this.

“So, the best thing to do would be to leave the crystal here, in the Feywild. Otherwise if we fail to control the crystals in the Abyss, we’d be stranded there,” he suggested.

“Precisely,” replied Iltani.

“So what do we do when the Halfling gets back?” Asked Drel.

The group mulled it over, and agreed that the Chief should be given the crystal for safekeeping.  When Pincher returned, they paid him his new-found fortune and gave the crystal to the Chief, “as a gift to your town,” Aelar said.  The chief accepted it, puzzled, and the group left accompanied by Aelar’s Owlbear, making for the Gate.  When they arrived they were surprised to find the Shadar-Kai warriors there, the Dracolich from the winter land flying above silently.  Bryne and the town guard were in formation in the town square, kneeling with their hands behind their heads.  The town was being held hostage.

A Change of Plans

“We’re here for the crystals,” said the Witch as she approached the party.  The group kept their weapons sheathed, they knew too well how powerful the Shadar-Kai were from when the Dracolich was still alive.

“Our superiors have shown interest in the crystals. We’ve been instructed to take them back with us.  Your Arcanist gave them up easily enough, and told us you’d have one.”

Balthazar cursed the Arcanist under his breath as Vore made an appeal.

“We encountered a Vampire Lord and Lamia in a town near here, he was in possession of the crystal when we arrived.  The crystal is now with the town chief.  In exchange for helping the people of this town get home safely,” Vore nodded towards Bryne and his men, who were shaking visibly.

“If you get them home, we’ll get you this crystal.”

The Shadar-Kai considered this among themselves before making a counteroffer.

“We’ll open a gate to a location of your choice, within reason, in exchange for your group getting the crystal, and killing the Vampire Lord,” said the Witch.

“Very well, but you have to stay with the townsfolk while we are gone.”

“Agreed.”

Having nothing more to negotiate, the group took a rest before setting off again. As they laid down in the enchanted forest outside the Gate’s perimeter, Bryne’s voice could be heard ordering the evacuation of the town before it was carried to the Elemental Chaos.  The party drifted into a black, dreamless sleep before waking and making for the town again.

Here We Go Again

Returning to the town, the party went to see the chieftain, only to be stopped at the door to the hall, again.

“Is this really necessary?”  Asked Cordus, growing impatient with the guards.

“What is your business?”

“To see your chieftain, what else?  Have you forgotten me so quickly guard?”  Balthazar stepped forward but before he could utter a threat the guard spat back.

“Our chieftain has taken ill after you gave him that so-called ‘gift’.  He rests now in his home, weak.”

Ignoring the guard’s insolent tone, the party proceeded to the chief’s house. After scouting the basement and main floor, Drel gave the all clear and the party entered. Moving up the stairs, Drel entered the bedroom, dark from heavy curtains blocking the sun.  Seeing the chief, he prodded him gently.  Rolling over, a pale chief opened his eyes and leapt off the bed, fangs bared.

Drel thought one word to the group, “Vampire,” and they were on it.  Eager to use his Owlbear in battle, Aelar sent his companion up the stairs to tear down the curtains and let the sun shine.  It wouldn’t kill the vampire, but it would stop him from regenerating in the darkness.  The poor beast, still new to his master’s commands, misunderstood, and clawed aimlessly at the wall.  Rolling their eyes, the others charged in and dispatched the chief in short order.

Searching the house they found nothing.  Figuring that the chief’s brother, the Vampire Lord, had taken the crystal and turned the chief in the process, they made for the Lamia’s house.  Checking the door for traps they found an ominous one.  Cordus suggested they use the window to get inside instead.  Balthazar checked the window and, finding no trap, gave Cordus a nod.  Head-butting the window, a burst of darkness enveloped Cordus, blinding him and drawing from his life force.

“Was that nod supposed to mean there IS a trap!?  Who does that?,” he roared at Balthazar as he clawed at the darkness in vain.

“I didn’t find any traps!  I guess it was very well concealed.”

“Well concealed my hooves.”  Cordus stood and faced the group.

“You’ve been good companions in these last days, but with this fight I will take my leave, and my debt will be repaid.”  The others nodded respectfully.

Entering the house, Iltani entered the combination Vore had seen the previous day making a point of channeling all magical power as he did so.  Apparently overdoing it, he too was shrouded in soul-sapping darkness.  It seemed that the Lamia had anticipated their return, and changed the tracing pattern.  Proceeding down the stairs they charged once again.

With fewer minions it seemed the fight would proceed faster, but changing the locks in the house wasn’t the couple’s only surprise.  When Vore cast his mote of sunlight, the Lord shrouded it in darkness, making it useless.  Being able to regenerate, the Lord outlasted his companion, and as the Lamia fell into a heap of dying scarabs, he became insubstantial and tried to get to his coffin, but was cut off by Aelar.  With that he fled, flying off faster than the group could run.

Searching his coffin they found the crystal and the artefact he’d used to shroud Vore’s sunlight, and with this partial victory they returned to the Shadar-Kai; Cordus taking his leave along the way.  They were sad to see him leave, but a warden must keep his ward, and Cordus was no exception.  As they got closer to the town, they noticed tiny streams of water building strength along the forest floor, where none had been previously.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

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Agrin’s Gate – Part VII: Tales of their pasts, The Feywild, The Town

Tales of their pasts

On the way back Ashar was deep in thought.  He was still angry at himself for forgetting about the crystal’s reactive property, and for lying to Aelar.  What reason did he have to mistrust his recently made companion?  Then a thought struck him, Aelar was a Wild Elf, and probably didn’t know anything of the politics of Genasi nobility he’d grown up with.  Or did he?  He didn’t really know anything about Aelar other than his talent for flying and naivety of coarser ideas.  Really, he didn’t know any of them; and so, catching Aelar up along the river, he inquired:

“Aelar, what is your tale?”

“My tale Ashar?”

“Your story, where you come from…why did you show up at the Gate?”

“Oh, I see.” Aelar drew a deep breath in the frigid air.

“I was born in the deep forests near Agrin’s Gate, raised in the way of my people, the Wild Elves, living in isolation from all outside influences.  The elders of my tribe educated me in the ways of self-defence and in the lore of my ancestral homeland, the Feywild.”

“Ah yes, that’s where we are going next,” said Ashar.

Aelar beamed, “yes, it is.”  He continued.

“The elders said I was born different from the others.  Within weeks I was speaking, and I was leagues ahead of my contemporaries after a few years.  I did my best not to flaunt it, and choosing the life of a monk, that I might seek solitude as I came to understand the power within me, this gift.

“About a month ago, many days into a prayer walk, I came upon a human youth.  The boy was no more than fifteen years of age, and appeared to have hurt his ankle.  Naturally I was startled, having never seen a person of any race other than my own.  I helped the boy in getting home, to a small town called Agrin’s Gate.  The shock of seeing walls, dressed stone, people?  It almost overwhelmed me.  How could the elders have excluded the wondrous diversity of this world in their histories?

“I hurried home to speak with the tribe leaders.  When the elders found that I had helped a human, an act apparently beneath my kind, I was given the day to pack and leave.  I pleaded with the tribe, with my family, to look past their ignorance, and embrace the vibrance around them.  To cast off the omissive and classist teachings of the elders and come to see these ‘men’ for themselves?”

Aelar looked downcast as he recalled the bitter memory.

“In the end, they preferred the comfort of their seclusion.  I, already seen with some suspicion for my abilities, and shamed by the elders, had no home among my people; and thus, old for a human but naive in spirit, I set out in search of adventure, and greater understanding of the world and its great complexities.  I started by returning to Agrin’s Gate, where I met you and the others.”

Aelar’s face had brightened again.  Smiling he asked Ashar brightly, “so that’s my story, what’s yours?”

“I was raised in some of the harshest wilderness in the Prime, where my family are hereditary rulers over a poor and sparsely settled territory.  Even when I was young I was curious about magic, so when I was old enough, my parents sent me to the one of the most eminent arcane schools in the Capital.”

Ashar spoke with pride, the others had been listening casually to Aelar, with little else to listen to; but Ashar had a more captivating air, his nobility had trained him to command attention.

“At the school I learned much about the magic arts, but my interest in the arcane could not be sated.  I decided to explore the world myself, to find out arcane secrets beyond the knowledge of my teachers.  My explorations took him to Agrin’s Gate, where whispers about previously unknown magic forces led me to volunteer for this mercenary expedition.  It seems now only too true that the rumours were true.”

The group arrived at the Gate before anyone else could share, and presented the crystal to the Arcanist, who thanked them excitedly and scurried off.  With little else to do they went to the last tavern in town, what had become a landing point for the whole town after the days survival measures; today was gathering wood for fires.  Over rounds of ale the companions continued to recount tales of their pasts.  Balthazar had made a Fey pact with a powerful Drow, indebting him to serve later in life, in exchange for power and glory in his youth.  Drel and Cordus were silent, preferring the group to deal in mystery over knowledge.  As eyes turned to Vore, his gaze rested on Iltani.

“I have a story” he said coldly.  Downing his beer, he slammed the stein down, wiped the foam from his lips, and began.

“I was given to the faith as an infant, being born into a family with too many mouths to feed.  I grew up happy, since the priests decided to train me as a warrior when other punishments failed to curb my rough-and-tumble play-style. It was there that I met Iltani.”

Vore shot Iltani a glare before continuing.

“Iltani, being a Shardmind, originated from a gate in the Astral Sea.  Beyond that gate lay the alien Far Realm, and the gate’s destruction during the Dawn War resulted in the rise of the mind flayer empire.  Unlike many of his brethren, Iltani had no interest in rebuilding the gate, but rather sought to understand the nuances of mortal emotions, a concept foreign to his nature.

“This is what he told the head priestess at the temple where I lived, the Temple of Pelor, God of the Sun.  The head priestess placed in my charge.  She said, ‘some responsibility will straighten you out.’  If only she’d known what she’d agreed to.  The head priestess was old and very senile woman, and had gone a bit mad.  But she caused no one any trouble, and we all loved her.”

Vore’s voice faltered, “I loved her,” he whispered.  When he regained composure his voice was angry as he spoke through hot tears.

“One day she decided that to truly dedicate herself to Pelor she must become one with the Sun itself.  And this, this murderer Iltani, attempted to teleport her there.”

Vore’s face was ashen.

“For her death the other elders expelled me, and I never saw Iltani again, until the Gate.”

Iltani spoke, “my actions were misguided Vore, I was trying to help your priestess but I did not know of her frailty, and for that I apologize.”

“Tell that to the elders.”  Vore spat back.

“I did, but I was unable to sway their decision, I am sorry.”

Vore’s expression softened.  “Well I, I hadn’t realized.  Excuse me, I need some air.”

With that he stood and walked out of the tavern.  Drel took note of the long shadows being cast, and with a stretch bid the adventurers good day before returning to his chamber.  One by one the others followed in turn, until Iltani was alone.

“Iltani?”

“Yes Vore?”

“I’m sorry for harbouring such ill-will toward you over these many years, forgive me.”

“Of course.”

Entering the nobleman’s library Iltani began reading from his books, waiting for the town to shift again.

The Feywild

Aelar woke early, his senses tingling with the scents and sounds of his ancestral homeland.  A primal energy vibrated in the air, the morning dew shimmering brightly in the gathering dawn.  He arose and set about finding mice and rats in the pantries and cellars. By the time the others were eating breakfast he’d gathered nearly a dozen in a bag, squeaking and wriggling.

“What’s with the mice?”  Balthazar asked.

“You’ll see,” Aelar replied.

The party got their heading and set off into the wild forests of the Fey realm, taking the runespiral demon-in-a-box with them.  After an hour the group came upon a pair of Owlbears, bears with the head and talons of an owl.

An Owlbear
An Owlbear

Before the group drew weapons, Aelar raised a hand.  Calmly drawing the bag of rodents from his side, he reached in and tossed one near the owlbear.  The female pounced for it, eagerly devouring it.  Aelar continued this, edging closer.  The male didn’t pay any mind to this, he continued to watch the group snarling menacingly. Aelar threw his last mouse behind him and drew a rope, and as the owlbear charged past he bound her swiftly.  This enraged the other owlbear, and as the group dispatched it Aelar whispered an Elven phrase in the female’s ear.

The owlbear’s whimpering ceased and its eyes grew docile.  Aelar had succeeded in taming a Feybeast companion for himself, he turned to the group.

“Thank you friends.  For holding back, we have a new member now,” he said as he unbound the owlbear.

Suddenly a Bralani, an Eladrin noble, and a pack of hunting hounds flew in.  He looked fierce and beautiful, his hounds swift and deadly.

“What are you doing in my forest?”  He demanded.  Aelar stepped forward.

“Noble elf, we are strangers to these lands, and did not know this was your forest.  We came upon these owlbears by chance and defended ourselves when they attacked.”  Aelar could see that, as with his people, the class system was thriving in the Fey as well.  The Bralani looked down on them, both figuratively and literally.

“We, um.” Aelar’s mind was racing.

“Give him the demon?” It was Balthazar, speaking through Iltani.

“We offer a rare creature from beyond this plane, as a gift for your menagerie.”

The Bralani raised a brow, his curiosity piqued.

“Show me this creature, elf.”

Cordus and Ashar stepped forward with the crate, and opening it revealed the demon inside.  The Bralani was furious.

“What in Saulknor have you done?”  Aelar seemed to shrink under the words.

“You would defile my forest with this infernal creature? How dare you!”  Aelar, holding his gaze, whispered to the others, “run.”

The Bralani sicced the hounds on the demon, destroying it in seconds.  The party ran for all they were worth, the hounds giving chase on the ground and the Bralani hovering close behind.  They emerged from the forest into grasslands, and in the distance they saw a town.  As they moved further from the forest edge they could hear the Bralani laughing and shouting taunts at them, before disappearing among the trees.

“Who was that?”  Panted Cordus.

“An Eladrin Lord, they are the high elves.”  Replied Aelar.

“He likely owns these lands, and was hunting when he heard us,” added Ashar.

They made for the town, in hopes of finding the crystal within.

The Town

The town was small, holding a few hundred people, with a wooden hall on the far side.  Approaching the guards of the hall, they gave a gruff “Halt!”

“What do you want?”

“We have urgent business with the chieftain,” said Balthazar.

“Not possible, you’ll need to come back later.”  Balthazar’s eyes blazed.

“Listen fool, we’re going to see your chieftain.  Whether I have to kill you first is your call.”  The soldiers, quivering, stepped back and allowed them entry.

The wooden hall was old and ornate in its carvings.  Banners fluttered lazily in the rafters as the party approached the throne.

“Chieftain, we have urgent business with you,” said Balthazar.

Seeing he wasn’t in a position to argue, the chieftain listened as they explained their quest and desire for the crystal.  Unfortunately, the chieftain was unable to aid them.

“I wish I could help, but since the disappearance of my brother two years ago, protecting the town has been my only priority.  He was a mage who placed protective wards over the town, keeping us safe from Fomorian attack.”

The Fomorians were giants, hideously ugly, that roamed pockets of the Feywild.  If the party hadn’t been in such a rush to get into the city, they would have noticed repairs that had been made to the walls.

Seeing that he was telling the truth, they went to the tavern.  Aelar bribed the barkeeper in hopes of learning more about the mage, but only found out that the missing brother had left a widow.  The widow being their only lead, the group went to her house.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters