Last time in “Agrin’s Gate”
“NOO! My spiders! My workers! They will pay with blood for this!”
And now, the exciting conclusion.
The cry echoed across the dark expanse. Aelar, hovering near the crystal, rose above to see. Squinting against the light of the sunrod in his teeth, he could make out a faint glimmer opposite the ledge where the party was. As the glimmer grew, so did the ranting and raving of the voice.
Realizing his friends couldn’t see the approaching threat because of the enormous crystal blocking their view, he hurried back. Landing on the ledge, he put the sunrod away.
“Whoever that is, he’s angry, and he’s coming this way,” said Drel.
“He’s coming from an opening on the opposite side of the crystal.” Aelar added.
As he stood on the ledge facing the party, he noticed the shape of the hallway was the same as the one he saw the glimmering light in. The voice cried again.
“All of my spiders, a lifetime of work, whoever you are, you will surely die for this!” The voice cried. There was a hint of age in the man’s voice.
“Where are you? What have you done to my laboratory! I hope you are ready for a fight you fiendish knaves… you monsters!”
The party made sure the ledge was clear of debris and readied their weapons as the sound of mechanical spiders began anew. They prepared for the worst as a peel of thunder rang out.
The crystal lit up like a star and shot lightning in all directions. Aelar and Drel narrowly dodged the bolts as Balthazar, Ashar, Drull, and Vore were knocked to the ground. As they helped their companions up, the crystal went dark once more, but the thunder didn’t subside; instead it shifted, the reverberations of exploding air giving way to a mechanical sound, as spiders whirred to life below.
Below the thousands of drones could be spotted, their dull red eyes a swirl of motion in the blackness. From the far side of the expanse, more whirring could be heard, mixed with crunching metal. Rounding the side of the crystal was a slow-moving wave of spiders, spilling over themselves to form an oncoming platform upon which stood – a wizard.
He was human, shoulder-length hair blowing about his face, jet black with streaks of silver. He wore a long robe of crimson red with gold trimming and a high collar; other than that there he wore no jewellery, held no wand or staff. His hands were flexed as if they were each crushing the life from a small creature as he approached without flinching.
Hundreds of spiders climbed vainly to serve their master, locking together to make the approaching platform. Below it the spider’s dull-red eyes could be seen shifting around, vying for dominance. Drones crippled in the deactivation from falling formed a foundation, crushed to oblivion under the weight of the throng.
Still some distance away, the party worked out a quick plan. Aelar would carry Balthazar on his back to the floating platform where they would battle the mage. Vore would cast light and heal allies when he could. Ashar’s swordmage skills gave him the ability to defend from a distance. Drel would fire with arrows while Drull, the strongest, would hurl what he could find at the mage. Iltani was still nowhere to be seen.
The mage came within range, fire in his eyes. “You will rue the day you crossed the great mage, Rossar Nold!”
Aelar, Balthazar in tow, flew clumsily toward the platform, barely able to keep them in the air. Rossar saw them and fired an arc of lightning at them. Robbed of his usual agility, Aelar was helpless to dodge the attack. The bolt struck him high in the chest, doubling him over and knocking Balthazar off of his back, sending them both to their doom.
Aelar could hardly breathe, but he fought the instinct to panic as he focused to restart the flow of psionic energy. He regained control and directed all of his effort through his palms. In moments his fall was stopped and he looked down.
Balthazar could barely be made out against the abyss, his silhouette shrinking as he fell into the sea of red eyes. With a sickening thud, a burst of flame erupted from him, and then went dark. Himself now furious, Aelar shot upward toward the electromage.
Drel was hiding behind Ashar’s shield as he deftly fired arrows at the mage. The ones that weren’t incinerated by lightning were stopped by drones, leaping to protect Rossar, and tumbling into the blackness. Aelar flew around the platform, keeping low and out of sight. Then rushing from behind, let loose a blood curdling war cry, giving Rossar the moment he needed to sidestep the Elf’s flying kick.
“So, you wish to duel with a master? So be it!” Rossar said as he took on a fighting stance. Aelar matched his stance and they began circling each other, looking for a opening. Then, with a twist of his hand, Rossar fired another bolt at Aelar.
The elf, no Tiefling on his back, dodged it easily and moved to deliver a flurry of blows. Rossar Nold moved like water, shifting and swerving around each blow. It was as if he knew what Aelar would do before he could think it. Drel didn’t dare risk hitting Aelar, and so he, Drull, Vore, and Ashar watched helplessly as they dueled.
Rossar fired more bolts, but Aelar deflected or absorbed them with psionic barriers around his hands. They kicked and punched until finally they locked in a grapple. Aelar thought he had the advantage when one of the spiders reached up and bit his ankle. Wincing, he lost focus and with it his psionic protection. Rossar shot lightning through his palms and into Aelar, who fell limp beside him.
As the Drel strung another arrow, Vore cried. “Look, below!”
In the darkness a bonfire appeared to be moving up the side of the spider column. Balthazar invoked the wrath of the Abyss, and a flaming cloak swirled around him as he clawed above the drones, having orders to climb only. Drull roared with glee and he and the others fought to distract the mage with renewed hope.
Rossar, unaware of Balthazar’s ascent, resumed his defensive posture. “Fools! See now the eve of your destruction, your friend lies dead beside me, a bad omen for yourselves, yes?”
“Not likely.” Balthazar lunged across the platform at Rossar. Once again the mage was too quick, and nimbly dodged his charge as Balthazar tripped and crashed into Aelar’s body. Rossar raised his hands, his eyes looking like a viper about to strike.
“A great deal more likely than you think Tiefling. Die like your fallen comraaaAAAH!”
Rossar’s right hand was being coated in shards of crystal, forming a frost over his fingers. He tried in vain to use his other hand to rub it off, but it only stuck to the frost as it crept up his right arm. His hands stuck together, he watched in horror as the frost thickened into a layer of crystal, shards now gathering around his feet and legs.
Within seconds the shards had formed a thick crust around the mage, rendering him totally immobile.
“Did I miss something important?” Balthazar smiled in spite of himself.
“Iltani, you magnificent bastard!”
“In the flesh, or should I say around it. He’s unable to move for now, he will pass out from lack of air soon enough. How is Aelar?” Inquired Iltani. Balthazar checked for signs of life.
“He’s dead Iltani.”
“Very well, this mage is unconscious.” With that, Iltani dissociated and reformed in his traditional self. Searching Rossar’s body, they found a small vial. Iltani examined it closely.
“Hmm, it appears to be for repairing electrical damage, likely a safety measure for accidents,” he surmised.
Balthazar desperately administered the vial to Aelar; as Aelar had to him on that first day in the Goblin’s den. “Don’t you die on me Aelar. Don’t you dare.”
The Tiefling’s eyes blazed with mixed rage and fear as they looked at Aelar. Black lines traced across the monk’s face, the fluid flashing through his nerves. Then with a sudden convulsion Aelar doubled over, gasping and coughing up blood.
As this was happening the platform of spiders started to sink as the energy Rossar had been supplying them personally had stopped. Picking up Aelar and Rossar, Balthazar and Iltani braced themselves as the column sank into a heap of debris and machinery.
“How are you doing?” Shouted Vore into the renewed blackness. “We’re throwing down a rope!” Drel and Drull quickly took the rope they had between them and fashioned it into two strong cords. Lowering them down, Vore cast sunlight where he’d last seen them.
“We’re alive, more or less. Get ready for some heavy lifting.” Balthazar shouted back.
Balthazar took what rope he had and bound the mage’s hands and feet. Iltani saw the dangling lines, in Vore’s light, and made a sling for Aelar. Giving his rope a quick, double tug, Aelar started to be hoisted up in heaves and hos. Balthazar climbed the other line while Iltani waited with the mage.
Reaching the ledge when the mage did, Iltani sat with him as Vore saw to everyone’s wounds. Finishing, everyone feeling refreshed, they shook the mage awake. The rage in his eyes had subsided somewhat, giving way to fear. Balthazar assumed a wrathful aspect, fire dancing around him and twisting off of his horns as he spoke in a voice that would make a demon quiver.
“You will talk, or you will die.” He growled. Rossar nodded dumbly, trembling.
“Who are you?” He asked.
“I am Rossar Nold, electromage of the Ninth Order, emissary of the Blood Prince.” He stammered.
“You mean Orcus?” Ashar said.
“What is your purpose under this forest?” Vore asked.
“I was constructing the great crystal behind you.”
“Well, that crystal wasn’t always so big, it used to be much smaller, only a few feet across. It sat in a room, acting as a portal between planes. The problem was that my Lord needed it to be much larger. You see, the bigger the crystal, the larger it’s sphere of influence. It’s original size was barely large enough to move a small town, like Agrin’s Gate.”
“So that’s what the crystal was for.” Said Ashar.
“Wait, you are the ones who took the crystal down the hall? It does explain why you are down here…” Began Rossar.
Aelar interrupted, “Rossar, why did demons come out of the crystals when they were touched?” Remembering the demon’s bite sorely.
“The crystals were possessed. For control and defense. If the right hands were laid on the crystal, it would allow them to control their destination to anywhere in the ring. The wrong hands would release the demon to dispatch them and return to its crystal.”
“What ring? Like a chain of crystals?” Ashar guessed.
“Yes, each crystal is tethered to one before and behind it, together forming a ring you can travel along.” Rossar had calmed down somewhat, excited to boast of his knowledge.
“If the demon defending a crystal is defeated, it is designed to travel to its tethered cousin, near enough to lure the foe into another trap, but not so close that the enemy could make a surprise attack. Such was the belief at least.”
“And the ‘spheres of influence’ as you call them, why do they swap places?” said Iltani.
“Well, all of the material you displace, it has to go somewhere. When it’s just a person, and it’s only some air, a brief rush is often felt as it pushes out of the way. But a town or city requires a different solution.”
“Fair enough, and what did Orcus want with this crystal?” Iltani pressed.
“I don’t know.” Rossar said. Balthazar fingered the hilt of his sword.
“I really don’t know! I think he was planning an assault on the Shadowfell, maybe to swap the Raven Queen’s palace with his own. Maybe to move a great army in an instant, but I swear he never told me.”
“Why do this Rossar?” Vore could tell this man hadn’t always been so evil.
“He said… he said he could bring her back.”
“My wife, Elara. Orcus said that once he ruled the dead, he’d restore my wife to her living self.” Rossar, realizing that his dreams were crushed, began to weep.
“She was everything I had, my light, my whole life!”
Vore sympathized. “I too lost someone dear to me, and for a long time I let it rule me, but I’ve moved past it.” He looked at Iltani, who nodded back. “Your loss was terrible, of that I have no doubt; but that demon would have betrayed you, it is his nature.”
“You don’t know that!” Rossar cried through hot tears, “you don’t, oh what’s the point. It doesn’t matter anymore I suppose. Are you satisfied? Are you going to kill me now?”
“No.” Aelar said. Balthazar began to protest, but Aelar lifted a hand. Kneeling in front of the mage sitting on the floor, the elf looked deep in his eyes.
“No Rossar, we aren’t going to kill you, though I’m sure no one would object. We even have an executioner’s axe should we change our mind.” Drull grinned as Aelar continued.
“Rossar, you will pay by restoring the wrongs your actions have led to. You will use your knowledge to control a fragment of that crystal, bring back Agrin’s Gate, and send the Lizardfolk and their patch of swamp back where it came from.”
“Well that’s quite complicated. I don’t…”
“I wasn’t finished,” said Aelar sternly. “After that, we will contact the Raven Queen’s Shadar-Kai and put this whole matter in their hands. As far as I’m concerned it involves them, and their queen, most. The Gate, the townsfolk, us, are all just collateral damage.”
Rossar was silent, thinking. “I can’t promise anything, but I can try.”
– The End
Rossar, with help from Iltani, extricated and duplicated the crystal the party had first found, and through a series of trial and error, restored both the Lizardfolk swamp and the Gate to their proper place. The swamp was easy enough, and the Gate was found, snap frozen, in ice in the Elemental Chaos, unharmed.
The capital was notified with an unofficial report delivered by Drull, who was freed from the party’s service, and went on to other heroics, mostly as a goblin clan infiltrator.
The capital, having also received an official report from The Lieutenant, and an addendum from Bryne himself, notified the refugees in Mirehaven of the Gate’s restoration. Over the next year the wall’s breaches were repaired and the town was put on a path to restore it’s former wealth and renown from trade.
The party handed over Rossar to the Shadar-Kai authorities, who kept him for information and research on crystals and mechanical constructs. The crystal was taken to the shadowfell and sealed away for future use.
For their heroics deeds the party became myths of song and poem across the Prime and the Shadowfell. They were called Keepers of the Gate, Slayers of the Vampire and Lamia, Protectors of the Shadowfell, and servants of the Raven Queen.
The party continued in service of the Raven Queen for many years to come, becoming paragons of justice and might wherever they went.
I hope you enjoyed this revised and expanded version of Agrin’s Gate. It was originally the product of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign run by the dashing Karl Reimer.
A combat-heavy campaign, there was little emphasis on character background, coherence, or conversation. This proved to be a double-edged sword because while it afforded me more freedom in adapting our story into a narrative, I also had much more work to do in terms of filling gaps and making sure things made sense.
Let me introduce the cast:
- Karl, Human Dungeon Master (Karl Reimer)
- Baarda, Human Lieutenant Dungeon Master (John Baarda)
- Aelar, Elven Monk (Dave Lenton, myself)
- Ashar, Genasi Swordmage (Jonathan Baarda)
- Cordus, Minotaur Warden (Grant Davis)
- Drel, Human Ranger (Jake Redekopp)
- Drull, Bugbear Barbarian (Grant Davis)
- Iltani, Shardmind Psion (Andrew Alkema)
- Vore, Human Cleric (Rylan Halteman)
Over the course of nine months, we laughed and fought as members of a rag tag party, hurtling through planes and villains. I tried to keep up but got distracted and rushed to complete the story for a college newspaper.
Fast forward a year, I’m on my way to New York City for a mission trip and looking to raise funds. I offer to write stories featuring donors if they give a prescribed amount. My friend Ross Arnold is very generous and donates… enough. That’s all I’ll say.
Having wanted to re-write the tale for a while, I think to write him in and kill two birds with one stone. Originally part of a band of soldiers who were impressed by the party in the swamps near Mirehaven, Ross opted for a more villainous role. Happy to do it, he became the fearsome Rossar Nold, electromage, and underlying villain to the whole tale. Hope you liked your part Ross.
Now, being an engineer, I have a love/hate relationship with statistics. In this case, love. Before this, Agrin’s Gate was the longest thing I’d ever written. But I wonder, how much longer is the Revised and Expanded (R & E) Edition?
Original Ed. Word Count
R & E Ed. Word Count
|Foreword & Acknowledgements||N/A||309|
|Prologue – The Gate||N/A||815|
|On Route To The Cave||N/A||708|
|First Blood||350||1 019|
|Bugbears and Krenshars||663||818|
|The Crystal||472||1 334|
|The Incident||795||1 005|
|The Fortress||939||1 011|
|Tales of their Pasts||1 259||872|
|The Widow||878||1 450|
|A Change of Plans||194||265|
|Here We Go Again||489||619|
|Credit Where Credit Is Due||241||429|
|The Shadowfell||862||1 375|
|It Comes Full Circle||1 056||1 614|
|Totals:||13 180||23 781|
This is almost longer than every major report or essay I submitted for my university degree, combined. Am I proud? Yes, very.
Don’t forget to be awesome,