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

Advertisements

Agrin’s Gate – Part VI: Dinosaurs, Bryne’s Refusal, Dragons (Finally)

Dinosaurs

The party woke up thirsty, the air sapping moisture from their bodies as they slept. Walking outside the bright morning sun had already dried the ground from the swamp’s flooding the day before, and steam rose to form a lone cloud in an azure sky.  The Arcanist met them in the barracks.

“Good morning!”  He greeted them excitedly.  “I have news for you.”

“What is it?”  Inquired Ashar.

“The crystal is humming again,” replied the Arcanist.

“The same as before?”

“Yes!  It appears that we are going to be shifting through the planes, as your crystalline friend suggested.”

“But that’s not all, is it Arcanist?”  Prompted Iltani, Aelar wondered if he’d read the Arcanist’s face—or his mind.

“Right again!  You really are a clever bunch for mercenaries,” remarked the Arcanist.  He walked over to the crystal and, taking a quick step back he rushed it, delivering a massive kick.

“Augh.”  He winced as he picked himself up, “did you see it?”

“See what?”  Asked Cordus.

“The crystal didn’t move!  I may not be the strongest man, but it didn’t roll, shift, rock, nothing!”

The party gathered round the crystal and, try as they might, could not move the crystal either.

“Well, that is something.  What do you suppose it means Arcanist?”  Aelar straightened himself up.  The Arcanist massaged his leg as he spoke.

“I haven’t the faintest idea, except that the Gate, or what’s left of her, is on this ride for the foreseeable future.  Based on the humming you have about a day to find the crystal that brought us here, and by my instruments you should head in this direction.”

The Arcanist walked outside and pointed to what looked to be Northwest.  Assuming the sun was rising from the East at least.  Putting the sun to their right  and slightly behind, they set off; taking one of the water barrels the town had gathered from the swamp to trade if need be.  By noon they spotted a large column of dust cloud moving ahead of them.  Aelar used his psionic power to see over the sand dunes, but couldn’t make anything out through the dust.  As they moved closer they could make out that the cloud was traveling along a road, of sorts.  Moving to intercept, the party gathered behind a nearby dune as Aelar and Balthazar walked onto the road, carrying their casket of bartering water.

Out of the dust appeared a caravan.  Leading it were two goblins, riding behemoths, great Saurian beasts with armor plated skin and incredible strength.  Behind them was a wagon with arrow slits, adorned with bone plating, wooden spikes, and skulls, being pulled by another Behemoth.  From the dune they were hiding behind the party still couldn’t see the oncoming caravan; but as the look of dread washed across Aelar and Balthazar’s faces, they prepared for a surprise attack.

Bloodspike (Left) & Clubtail (Right) Behemoths, unsaddled.
Bloodspike (Left) & Clubtail (Right) Behemoths, unsaddled.

The party fought well, mostly.  Cordus charged one of the Behemoths only to have his horns glance off the hard plates.  Iltani teleported onto the wagon and scrambled the dimensions inside, terrorizing the goblin archers.  Aelar managed to kill one of the riders and climb onto the Behemoth.  Drel fired with deadly accuracy, sending arrows through the small slits in the wagon itself.  He climbed on the other Behemoth when the skirmish was finished.

Inside the wagon was loot, and a small chest.  Ashar brought the chest outside and opened it.  Seeing the crystal inside he reached and touched it.  A blackness opened up over the crystal, out of which poured snakes, lizards, and other writhing things, until a black wriggling carpet had formed around him, twenty-five feet across.  The behemoths trampled most of the wretched things, Drel content to be deadly with his beast instead of useless with his bow.  After defeating the swarm, Cordus gingerly picked up the crystal and, noticing no more swarms, placed it in his pack.  The group returned, Drel and Aelar riding proudly on their mounts to Agrin’s Gate.

As they walked back, Aelar guided his barely-tame behemoth so that it lumbered in step with Ashar.

“Ashar.”

“Yes Aelar?”  Ashar answered knowing what the question would be.

“Why, after I so brashly summoned a demon to kill us by touching the first crystal with bare hands, would you, in any of the planes of this world, make the same mistake?”

“Well, I..I figured that if there was going to be something to fight, it would be better to fight it outside of town where it wouldn’t be a threat to the people.”  He lied, he’d simply forgotten, but Aelar seemed satisfied and rode over to speak with Drel.  The party returned to the town unhindered.

Bryne’s Refusal

“No.”

“Why not?”  Asked Aelar, tapping Luma’daler’s plates affectionately.  He had named his mount from the Elvish ‘heavy footed one.’

“Well for one, your monster will run amuck and destroy half the town in your sleep. For two, there’s two of them.” Bryne bellowed from the town wall.  He had had any breaches from the incident fixed with barricades of timber from the swamp, and had men stationed along the parapets with lances.

“There’s no way this side of the Prime that those things are entering my town.”

Drel and Aelar looked at each other, then to the group, then back at Bryne. Seeing that his mind wouldn’t changed, and recognizing that their new pets would gore half the town as soon as their backs were turned—behemoths are notorious for being practically untameable, even by a ranger or a wild elf—they rode some distance away before turning them loose, and returned to the group.  The beasts tramped off into the distance immediately, dust clouds following behind them.

Returning to town, the group presented the crystal to the Arcanist, who had made some findings since they’d left that morning.

“Alright, I can’t be certain, but I think if I have all of the crystals I’ll be able to control where the larger one is taking us.”  He motioned to the crystal they’d originally found, immoveable in the barracks, humming as it vibrated in place.  He shrugged at it and looked back at them.

“Anyway, that’s all for now, when I know more I’ll let you know!”  Grabbing the crystal from Cordus excitedly, he returned to his work.  The group decided that their plan would be to travel through the planes and collect all the crystals, that they might guide the town, or what was left of it, back to its rightful place.

Returning to an abandoned nobleman’s house they’d claimed as their quarters, they ate and went to bed, trying to rest before the next planar shift.  Iltani, having no need for sleep, perused the nobleman’s library.

Dragons (Finally)

After getting their new bearing from the Arcanist, the party set off in the frosty morning air.  Heading North, they came to follow a frozen river.  Trudging along the river they were set upon by a pack of white wolves.  The party, having fought goblins, demons, and zombies, found the wolves to be no great challenge.  However, even their great combat skills could not grant them better footing, and when some of the party made the mistake of fighting on the river they slipped embarrassingly on the ice.  To keep the bards from singing of it, their names will not be written; but imagine big men in armour rubbing their rumps daintily, and you get the appropriately comical image.

Moving on, the group came upon a sizeable opening in a mountainside.  With Drel leading cautiously, they entered. They came upon a cavern of some size, reminiscent of the first cave they’d seen in the prime; substituting torchlight for blue-white refractions that captured the entrance’s light and danced it among the icicles in the ceiling.  There was the crystal, on a pedestal to the right. To the left, surrounded by gold, gems, and bones, slept a white dragon. The Dragon was full grown, reaching thirty feet from head to tail; and being a light sleeper, was awake.

White Dragon
A White Dragon
“What are you doing in my cave?”  Snarled the Dragon frostily, eyeing them with suspicion.

“We seek that crystal,” replied Aelar plainly.

“That crystal?”  The Dragon glanced to the pedestal.

“Yes, that one.”  Aelar could tell the Dragon didn’t want the crystal, that there was a reason it hadn’t joined the pile of treasure the dragon was protecting.  But the dragon wasn’t about to let them take it for nothing.  Reaching into his bag, he produced his share of the treasure they’d collected from the desert wagon.  The dragon eyed it greedily.

“I don’t suppose this would be suitable for exchange?”  Offered Aelar.

“And I don’t suppose that’s all you have?”  The Dragon probed.

“And I don’t suppose you’d like to die today.”  Aelar whipped around, it seemed the group thought they could take the dragon, and had their weapons drawn.  The dragon’s demeanor went hostile immediately and seeing no other option, Aelar rushed to land the first blow.  The dragon stunned him magically with his frightful presence, rendering him useless.  The others rolled their eyes as they made attacks from a distance, Drel’s arrows, Iltani’s dimensional scrambles, Balthazar’s eldritch bolt, and so on.

The Fearsome Shadar-Kai Warriors
The Fearsome Shadar-Kai Warriors

Not long after the fight started a group of Shadar-Kai appeared from an entrance at the far side of the room.  Catching a glimpse of them, Iltani asked what they were doing here.  They briefly explained something about wanting to control the dragon, and so the party decided to back-off.  It turned out a Shadar-Kai witch, the leader of the group, wanted to turn the dragon into a dracolich, an undead dragon of terrible power.  The ritual was completed in short order, and turning to the party with a tamed dracolich in tow, the Witch addressed them.

Answer: You don't
Dracolich (Think live dragon only it’s already dead, how would you kill it?)

“What is your business in this cave?”  She had not expected to find anyone in the cave besides the dragon.

“We were brought here by the crystal you see on the pedestal there,” said Aelar.  The Witch’s curiosity was piqued.

“I see, I suppose I can tell you that our purpose here was singular:  to transform the dragon into a dracolich and keep it under our control.”  The party noticed a small box the witch was holding and realized she was actively holding the dracolich in check.

“We had not heard of this crystal, and you are free to it, we have what we came for.  Before we do though, I should like to examine it myself, it is not often that such opportunities come along.”  The group murmured a consent as they discussed it through Iltani.

“If she picks up that crystal we all know it could go sour,” thought Balthazar.

“True, but if we get a hold of that box, we’ll have our own dracolich, who could oppose us?”  Thought Ashar.

“Regardless, if demons do appear, we must act surprised.”

“Agreed,” they all thought.

Like clockwork, four demons materialized around the crystal.  Almost mechanically the party reverted to fighting instead of waiting to see how it would play out.  The party decided to play the part of the rescuers, and rushed in; but soon found their blows ineffective in comparison to the Shadar-Kai chain-fighters and gloom-blades. With the demons dispatched and the party looking even more useless than before, the Witch spoke again.

“We have what we came for, and you’ve given us a humourous tale for the halls of our mistress tonight.  We have no concern for treasure, or desire for the crystal, take both as you please.”

While they found her permissive tone demeaning, they weren’t going to look a gift witch in the mouth.  When the Shadar-Kai had left, the party gathered the treasure and the crystal, and walked briskly back to the Gate.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters