Agrin’s Gate – Part V: The Swamp, The Fortress, Cordus, Bryne’s Suspicion

The Swamp

By the smell of it they were in the swamp they’d teleported to first during the incident, only this time the town had come too.  The sound was coming from a battle on the far side of town.  In teleporting, part of the town wall had been left behind, leaving a breach in the ramparts.  The town had landed in a Lizardfolk settlement.  The Lizardfolk are a reptilian race known for their swimming ability and aggressive territorial attitude.

Do not engage if possible
The Lizardfolk of the Swamp

The remains of the unfortunate reptiles who had been crushed by the town’s arrival could be seen radiating outward from the perimeter.  With green-scale hunters rushing the town, the guards around the wall stood and fought them head on.  The hunters were not alone, for they were not the only inhabitants who had suffered from the Gate’s appearance.

Vine Horror
Vine Horror

Crocodiles and vine horrors, sinister plants twisted into vaguely humanoid form, crept and shambled toward the town.  Without pause the group charged into the fray.  The vine horrors pushed their tendrils into the ground and back up under the feet of the guards and party, binding them in place.  Iltani dissociated himself, re-corporealizing on the wall ramparts.  The Lizardfolk fought bravely, but the surprise and loss of fighters from the Incident had them at a disadvantage.  Within a few minutes the hunters fled into the swamp to regroup, disappearing quickly into the brush and bracken.

Water had been rushing into the town from the surrounding swamp, and once the battle was over Bryne and his Lieutenant gave orders for the construction of water breaks, levees, and temporary barricades.  The Arcanist, having stayed in the barracks, far from the battle, now ran out hurriedly to shed light on the matter.  Catching their breath, the party listened as the Arcanist explained.

“The crystal is used as a gateway between realms.  It seems that the reason we were drawn here is because there is another crystal, magically linked with it.  Based on my instruments I estimate that it is nearby, and in that direction.”  He gestured behind them, through the breach.

“Also, the crystal acquired a faint hum when we arrived here.  Since the battle it has grown stronger and more shrill.  I believe that in a day’s time we will teleport again, likely to the next location we saw, a desert.”

“Is there anything we can do to get back?”  Bryne asked.  Any sense of adventure he might have had was being suppressed by his duty to get the town somewhere safe, and preferably where they came from.

“Well, getting that crystal would be a good start to learning more.” The Arcanist replied.

“Very well,” Bryne turned to the party, “go, fetch this crystal and you’ll be paid the usual amount.”

Aelar turned to Vore, “I know you said you were done, but considering the circumstances, would you consider staying?”

Vore was hesitant, but finally agreed.  The party set off into the swamp, hoping to find the crystal that had brought them here.

“Just because I agreed to stay doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.”

Iltani bore Vore’s thought in silence.

The Fortress

The sun climbed high above the swamp, though through the foliage the only proof of this was the added steam in the air.  Walking through the dense muck and mire, Balthazar twisted his ankle and Ashar cut his hand deeply after tripping, forcing both men to heal themselves before moving on.  After nearly three hours, they reached a fortress, of sorts.  It looked like a small castle, stone walls, and a stout keep in the center.  The place was ancient looking, and over the centuries had sunk deep into the swamp, vines and vegetation growing over its surface and pulling the structure down into their domain.  All that could be seen was the tops of the walls and the keep, reaching vainly for its old vantage point.  Seeing that the tower had to be scaled, a grin flashed across Aelar’s face.  Running up to the keep’s base, he turned to the others excitedly and said, “watch this.”

Channelling psionic energy out of his palms, Aelar’s feet slowly began to lift off the ground. Seeing the awe on his companions’ faces, Aelar gave a wink and shot up past the top of the keep, landing lightly among the parapets.

“Hey,” said a voice from behind.  Aelar whipped around.

“Drel! How did you…?” stammering, Aelar noticed the dirt on the ranger’s hands.  He had simply climbed up while Aelar was performing.

“Right then, well I guess we better let down the ropes,” Aelar looked sheepish.

“I guess we better,” shrugged Drel.

With the whole party in the fortress, they began down into the main chamber, the assumption being that the crystal must be inside.  Drel, being a hunter, had the greatest knowledge of traps, snares, and sneaking around prey.  He went ahead of the group, giving the all-clear as they went.  They descending down ladders, then stairs, finally Drel put a hand, silently signaling the group to stop.  Iltani opened a telepathic link between Drel and the others as Drel creeped ahead.

“There is a large chamber down there, full of zombies.  They used to be warriors when they were living.”

“Can you ascertain their clan or creed?  What colours do they carry?”  Asked Vore.

“It is very dark down there, and their clothes have faded too much to have any colour or pattern.”  Drel’s mental voice betrayed an impatience with senseless questions.

“They’re simply shuffling around, haven’t noticed me yet.  Gonna try and pick off some of the weaker ones, get ready for when they catch on.”

Drel took out the first zombie in a single shot, none of the others noticing.  The second one took an arrow straight through the heart, but spilled guts all over one of the larger ones, which roused it from a shuffling stupor to attention.  As Drel moved behind cover his foot slipped and the zombie saw it, making a terrible sound with what remained of its throat.

The fight carried on for a few minutes, both sides inflicting damage, but the zombies eventually fell.  As the party search the area for loot, Iltani and Ashar examined the bodies and discovered that these zombies were once Shadar-Kai, a warrior race whose ancestors made a pact with the Raven Queen, the goddess of death, winter, and fate, in an age long past.  They lived for the glory of battle, tattooing their accomplishments as marks of their prowess.

As they searched, Balthazar pondered, “the swamp is saturated with water, so why is this area dry?”

“Likely the crystal is projecting a protective aura to preserve this area from decay. I would imagine that’s why the zombies were not totally decomposed.” Iltani replied.

The group stopped and looked at Iltani.

“What?”  he said.

“Who were you talking to?” Asked Ashar.

“Balthazar.”

“But he didn’t say anything.”  Probed Ashar.

“No, he thought it.”  Iltani replied.

“Alright, that is not ok,” Balthazar interjected. “You can’t simply go around reading minds, it’s not right.”

“My apologies, I’ll try to restrain myself,” said Iltani.

“Well, good.”

“Psions are dumb!” Balthazar thought loudly, looking at Iltani.  Not a twitch.  Satisfied that he wasn’t listening in, he returned to his searching.

“The crystal isn’t here, it must be lower down.”  Drel motioned to press on.  The stairs continued further down and so, as before, with Drel leading the group, the party crept downward.  Drel signaled again, and Iltani linked the minds.  It was demons and their kin this time, a group of them.  One in the center, the leader, was as tall as two men, and in its grasp: a crystal!  As the wise man said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it:  Drel began his pick-off-the-small-ones-until-I’m-noticed routine once more.  The demons, being more perceptive than corpses, noticed Drel much sooner.  As the fight died down, the leader and a rune-spiral demon, a creature that looks somewhat like a giant hermit crab with demonic runes on its shell, began fleeing.  Balthazar, rather than kill the creature, took on a wrathful aspect.  With glowing eyes and a cloak of red fire swirling around him, he intimidated the creature into submission.  Aelar managed to outpace the leader and hold him at bay while the others finished him.  Taking the crystal, they returned to Balthazar, in the main chamber.

“What are you going to do with it?” Ashar asked.

Rune Spiral Demon
Rune Spiral Demon

“Keep him of course.”  The group was intrigued by the idea of a pet, albeit a demonic one.

As Ashar helped Balthazar find a suitable crate for the demon, Iltani examined a ring of runes inscribed in the floor.  After brushing some of the dirt off, his eyes flashed with recognition.

“I know where we are.  A day’s travel from here is Mirehaven, an outpost not unlike the Gate.  We can evacuate the town to this place, and the people would be safe.”

The group agreed that this was the best course of action and, demon-in-a-box and crystal in tow, left the fortress.

Cordus

Traveling back to the town the group was set upon by a cohort of Lizardfolk, this time more organized.  They had brought a magus with them, and the group profoundly underestimated her.  The party was beaten within an inch of their lives, before managing to fend them off.  As the group patched themselves up, a figure approached from the bushes.  It was a Minotaur, wielding an enormous craghammer.  The group struggled to take a fighting stance as the Minotaur placed the violent looking head of the hammer on the ground and put his hand up.

“Hold!  I mean you no harm,” called the Minotaur.  His voice was deep.

“I am Cordus, Warden of that fortress.  I’d been looking for a way to get rid of those demons for years, and in one day you’ve delivered it from that vile power.  I am in your debt, and I will not rest until it is paid.”

“Well, if you come with us, you’ll have to leave the fortress behind for a time.”  Ashar replied.  Cordus pondered for a while.

“Very well, but when I consider the debt repaid, I will take my leave.”  Finding the terms agreeable, the group trudged wearily back to the Gate, eyes wide for any attacks.

Bryne’s Suspicion

Bryne met the group at the Gate.  Eyeing the box, and Cordus, he inquired,

“You have the crystal?”

“Yes,” Aelar said, handing him the crystal.  Seeing that the crystal wasn’t in the box, he stepped towards it.

“So what’s in the box then?”

“Just a few things we found while we were out…”  Vore offered.  Bryne wasn’t buying it.  Concluding that the situation needed to be diffused, Iltani stepped forward.

“There is a town, Mirehaven, just over a day’s travel from here.  We think it would be best to evacuate the town and relocate them there.  It stands to reason that the next location we go to will be a desert, in keeping with our initial planar shift.  From there, the cycle will continue into the Elemental Chaos, my home plane the Astral Sea, and end in the Abyss.  These people, your people, are unlikely to survive such a journey.”

Bryne thought quickly then spoke, still glancing at the crate, “thank you for bringing this to my attention, I’ll have the town evacuate by nightfall.”

The group went to the shops to convince the keepers of what would be too burdensome to carry.  An hour later, the party was called by Bryne to the Barracks. When they arrived, a cohort of disgruntled citizens had gathered.

“What about our homes?  We cannot simply take them with us!”  Cried a nobleman.

“Look this isn’t ideal, but it’s what’s best for the town.”  Bryne said firmly.

“What if we don’t want to go?”  Challenged a plucky, adventurous young woman.

“Or us?”  A group of guards stepped out behind Bryne.  They had fought with the adventurers and had become enamored with them.  They wished to stay and hear tales of their exploits, and to fight more fantastic creatures.

Bryne looked around him, the crowd was gathering force, they were nearly three hundred in all, mostly nobility and the naively adventurous.  Exasperated, his face remained calm as he prepared to speak; raising his hand the crowd fell silent.

“I cannot force you to leave, but know that you put yourselves in great danger, and I cannot ensure the safety yourself or your possessions.  Those who would leave continue packing, the Lieutenant will escort you through the swamp.”  The Lieutenant stepped forward to back up her captain.  Bryne continued.

“To those who would stay may stay, I will remain with them.  Begin preparing for the desert, gather water from the swamp.”

As the group went to bed for the evening, a trail of lights faded into the swamp.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

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Agrin’s Gate – Part IV: Vore, The Crystal, The Incident

Vore

In search of a much-needed rest, the ragtag group headed for the town Inn.  After a thirstily consumed round of drinks, a man sat down at their table.  Taking a long swig from his stein he looked pointedly at Aelar.

“It seems you are in need of my services.”

Aelar took a long, hard look at the man.  Judging him to be of good character, his look softened.

“What kind of services did you have in mind?”

“It seemed that your group barely survived that little scrape with the goblins.”

“And how would you know that?”

Vore motioned to Aelar and Balthazar’s arms, “Those scratches for one, and I overheard your tale in the barracks.”

“You spied on us?” Balthazar asked, self-consciously crossing his arms to hide the tears in his armour.

Vore looked at Balthazar and winked.  “Aye, only on Aelar here though, no one else seemed very interesting.”  Vore looked back to Aelar and asked, “so what about it then, could you use my services?”

“You still haven’t said what those services are”

“Oh, you know, the kind that gives and gets, if you catch my meaning.”  Balthazar sniggered, Vore glanced his way, rolled his eyes and looked back to Aelar’s confused face.  “I’m a cleric, so I can heal your wounds, shield you from your enemies, and if you ever cross a vampire, or a similar dark creature, I can cause them a world of pain.”

Aelar looked at the group, more aware of their wounds, and saw the looks of agreement in their eyes, tipping the scales in favour of Vore joining.  The feeling of his own wounds, and light-headedness from loss of blood and a drink slammed Vore’s side of the mental scale against the table.

“Okay…well, I suppose that could be useful, what do you want?”

“That’s all I needed.  Bryne already said he’d pay for another mercenary to join the idiots, all you needed to do was agree.”

“The idiots?” Drel prodded.

“His words, not mine,” replied Vore, and reached to accept Aelar’s outstretched hand.  Suddenly Vore froze, his eyes fixed on Iltani who had just returned from the bar with the next round.  Vore’s outstretched hand clenched into a fist, and his voice became as cold as winter when he asked “What is his name?”

Aelar, suddenly very cautious, spoke carefully, “Iltani.”

Hearing his name Iltani turned and stared blankly at Vore.

Vore immediately looked at Aelar, his eyes blazing.  He stood up and as he turned to leave said with a quiet fury, “I’m sorry, but I must rescind my previous offer.”

Aelar looked desperately at Iltani for assistance, but he only muttered something to himself about clerics.  Seeing Iltani would be of no use, and that he didn’t want to be spending all his gold on health potions, Aelar spoke quickly:

“Look, I don’t know why there’s bad blood between you and Iltani, but we still need your help.  We’ll match what we got from Bryne for clearing out the goblins today, that will double your money.  We’ll even pay you now..”

Drel started to complain, but Balthazar smacked him in the back of the head; wincing from the pain he felt in his wounds as he did so.  He knew that if there was anything worse beyond that barricaded corridor, they would need a healer.

Vore stopped and, after a long silence, turned to face Aelar.  “Fine. But after this you’ll have to find another cleric.”  He held out his hand, palm up.

Aelar sighed and tossed Vore the purse he had received from Bryne, he’d collect from everyone else later.  Vore weighed the purse for a few seconds and said “I’ll meet you at the gates at dawn,” and without another word, strode out of the inn.

The Crystal

The next morning Vore met the group at the entrance to the gate and they rode back to the cave.  Bryne, having no reason to send Tristan along for the ride, instructed that they would have to make their own way.

“Besides,” he remarked, “you’re being paid well enough to afford your own horses.”

The group had instead engaged another wagon rider to take them in case there was something to bring back.  Instructing the driver to remain with the wagon, they once again walked to the cave, picking their way through the underbrush.  Entering the first chamber, Vore stopped in his tracks, with Ashar bumping into to him.

“You didn’t take care of the bodies?!” His face marked with incredulity.

He was right, the group, now standing accused of mistreating the dead, looked to each other sheepishly; including Iltani.  As a monk, Aelar stepped forward.

“While I do not relish leaving corpses around, I am only familiar with the burial rites for my own people.  Traditionally, we have left goblins to be reclaimed by their own or by the woods themselves.  I admit that I had not considered the fate of the corpses around us in the heat of battle.”

“I cannot stand for this kind of treatment.  ‘If thy foe lie slain and their kin will claim them not, thou shalt lay them to rest by earth, by fire, or by water.'”  Vore recited the words by heart, etched in his mind years ago at the monastery.  He looked around the chamber and spied the pit.  Looking in and seeing yet another goblin he sighed deeply in disappointment.

“As a cleric of Pelor, God of the Sun, my preference has always been fire…”  His voice trailed off as his eyes moved around the chamber, looking first at the group, then the roof of the chamber, and finally returning to the pit.

“But a fire in here, big enough to burn these bodies, would choke us to death.  We’ll do it by earth.”  He pointed into the hole.

“Let’s bury them in the pit and be done with it.”

It took nearly an hour, but the men eventually dragged all the goblins, save the ones from the left chamber, and piled them in the pit.  Vore spoke a brief prayer of rest, and the group covered the pile in dirt.  Looking satisfied, Vore straightened up, as if shaking off a weight, and strode back to the main chamber.

Returning to the chamber, the party gathered around the boarded up entrance.  It was mostly nailed boards and shored up rocks.  Removing the barrier, the party proceeded inward.  The passage descended further into the ground, as the party went the walls pushed outward at their centre until the path’s cross section became a perfect hexagon.  The air became drier and all scent of the goblins faded away.  The dirt fell away to reveal a polished black surface.  The path ended abruptly, opening into a larger, intersecting hallway.  Hundreds of feet below the surface, the group thought at first that the surface was bedrock, but as they looked to the left and right down the hallway, they could make out fine seams in the masonry.  This passage had been built by cunning hands, carved and hewn to geometric flawlessness.

Choosing first to go right the group was blocked by a magical barrier.  Using his knowledge of the arcane Iltani determined that the wall’s magic came from another plane, that it was ancient in nature, and that there was no way to pass it.

A little disappointed, the group reversed direction and headed down the hallway once more, passing their exit on the left as they went.  This hallway ended in a massive chamber, with high vaulted ceilings.  The chamber had seven sides of equal width, one which included the hallway they came from, and six others.  In the center of the hall lay a large crystal on a platform.  Surrounding the crystal were seven support columns, some crumbling and one collapsed, its remains scattered along the floor like the trunk of a fallen tree.  Scorch marks and pitted holes could be seen on the walls.  Balthazar and Ashar examined the marks and agreed that they were demonic in origin.  The party was unsure how to proceed, as it could be seen that it was no ordinary crystal.  After much discussion Aelar brazenly declared that he would touch the huge gem.

Upon contact Aelar was transported to another place, just for a moment, seeing and smelling as if he were really there, then with a rush he found himself back in the chamber.  Before he could tell the others what he’d seen, a demon, spectral and shimmering, materialized in the room.

Immolith
A foe to be avoided, the Immolith.

The party drew their weapons and Aelar his fists, making for the demon.  It was an elusive foe, vanishing whenever the party thought they had it surrounded. Ashar marked the demon, and called to Aelar, who was nearby.  Seeing the situation Aelar foolishly decided to trick the demon into attacking him, thinking Ashar would intervene with his greatsword.  In his hubris, Aelar ran past the demon exposing himself tauntingly.  The demon took the bait and then some, sinking its jaws deep into Aelar’s backside.  Even as Ashar broke  the demon’s gnashing maw, Aelar felt the idiocy of the plan.  Bleeding badly he ran to cover while the others fought on.  The chase continued until finally, with a terrifying scream, the demon was sucked into a black schism in the air and vanished into the Abyss.

After patching themselves up, the group examined the crystal once more.  Ashar and Iltani examined it closely.

“Where in blazes did you go Aelar?”  Vore exclaimed.

“I don’t know, there was a sudden light, a rush of wind.  I could smell fresh air, plants and trees… I think I was outside?”

“You were teleported,” Iltani stated flatly.  All eyes were on the Shardmind as he spoke.

“The arcane properties of the crystal are not too different from what I used to teleport the goblins yesterday.  As to the crystal’s purpose, what brought it here, or how it is  controlled, that’s beyond my knowledge.”

“I can’t answer those questions either,” added Ashar, “but I did see an Arcanist’s shop back in town, perhaps he can offer more information to us.”

“Should we bring the crystal back to Bryne then?”  Aelar eyed the crystal with caution.

“It’s the fastest way to get to the bottom of this…” began Ashar.

“And to get paid right?” finished Drel.  Ashar shot him a look.

“Correct.”

“Well, best get to it then.”  Drel took off his cloak and draped it over the crystal.  Tentatively he reached out and touched the crystal.  Nothing.  With a satisfied look he moved to one end of the crystal and beckoned for Ashar to help him.  With a lot of grunting and sweating they carried the crystal back through the polished corridors, the cave, and the wooded path to the road.  With a final heave they shoved the crystal onto the back of the wagon.

“Ya canna take no funny business in this here wagon, buys,” the driver protested.

“Not in old Lemuel’s wagon.  No way no how, buys.”

Balthazar looked Lemuel square in the eye.

“You’ll take us back to town old man, or you’ll walk back and pick up your wagon when you get there.”

Lemuel swallowed hard, “all right all right buys, I dant mean nuting by it buys, juss trying t’avoid trouble’s all.”  He motioned for them to get in the back.

“By Beory buys, you’d tink old Lemuel was run off to th’Capital with your money or women or some such nonsense.”  He flicked the reins, and with a curt ‘Giyyap’ the wagon started back to town, a driver, six men, and a magic crystal.

The Incident

The group returned around midday, the warm sun high in the summer sky.  With more heaves and grunts the group hauled the crystal into the barracks hall.  They reported to Bryne their findings:  the hallway, the demon, and the crystal.  Bryne’s stern expression changed at the mention of the demon.  It wove into a knitted brow, a blend of concern, fear, and anger.  He waited for the tale-telling to finish, nodding and grunting to acknowledge points and hurry the story along.  The men finished, and Bryne motioned to his second in command.

“Lieutenant!”  In strode a tall, dark-haired woman with hard features.

“Yes captain?”

“Get me the arcanist and priest, now.”

“Yes captain!”  The lieutenant turned on her boot and marched briskly out of the room.  Bryne directed his attention back to the group.  With a tired sigh he closed his eyes and massaged his temples.  He spoke with a slow deliberation.

“Let me make sure I understood you all correctly.  After touching a crystal that conjured a demon, and almost dying as a result, you thought it was a good idea to bring it here?

“The only way to get to the bottom of things seemed to be having a wise man come to look at it.  To ensure it would not happen again.”  Aelar replied coolly.

Bryne was not impressed, but being a rational man, waited to see what the town’s authorities on large, demon-conjuring crystals would say.  A few minutes of silence passed, Bryne filling out some paperwork while the party stood awkwardly, waiting.

“Guys.”

The group nearly jumped with the suddenness of the sound.  Aelar to see who had spoken.  It had sounded like it had come from inside his head, but how could that be?

“Guys, stop looking for the voice.”

When Aelar stopped, he noticed that the others had been looking too.

“You all scare so easily. It’s me, Iltani.”  Iltani looked at each of his comrades.

“I thought you would like to know I can link us as a group telepathically.  Right now you can only hear me, your minds are too full of babbling thoughts right now.  You can speak when you calm your minds.”

Aelar cleared his mind and focused on Iltani, “Like this?”

“Yes.”

“Fascinating, this could prove useful,” thought Aelar.

“Certainly,” replied Iltani.

Before they could continue, the lieutenant returned with the town arcanist and priest.  The Arcanist was a young man of no more than thirty years, and curious to a fault; though before today fate had never given him such a critical opportunity to demonstrate this.  The priest was good deal older, full of years but less so with experience.  He had spent most of his life as a simple man of the cloth until he was selected to leave his abbey to tend to the people at the Gate.

“What in Beory is this?”  The priest cried.  He had never seen anything like this in his life, and from his countenance, he would have been happy to die that way.  The Arcanist did not share his sentiment.

“What in Beory indeed.  Where did you find this?”

The group relayed the information again, the Arcanist nodding furtively at every detail.  As soon as they finished he made for the crystal.

“HOLD.”  The Arcanist froze, Bryne staring him down.  The Arcanist looked wistfully at Bryne.

“What’s the worst that could happen?”  He asked.

Bryne’s gaze softened, thrown off by the blunt simplicity of the thought.  How bad could it really be? Another demon could be handled, even three or four.  Realizing that despite the danger, the Arcanist wouldn’t leave until he’d examined it, Bryne sighed with foreseen regret, and gave a nod of permission.

With a near squeal of excitement that made Drel and Ashar laugh under their breath, the Arcanist examined the crystal; taking care not to touch it.  He worked silently, deep in thought punctuated by grins of realization or imaginative inquiry.  After several minutes of measuring, thinking, note-taking, and the like, he closed his book and stood back.

“Well, it isn’t Demonic in nature, that is certain.  However, it has strong magical properties, of that there is no doubt.  From this point there is nothing else I can determine, though we will learn more if the crystal is activated, and if my observations are accurate, I can do just that.”

“So, no demons?” asked Bryne.

“Not that I can determine, in my estimation there was a protection spell on the crystal, as a trap for thieves and intruders…” he looked at the group, “but there is no such spell anymore.”

“Very good.  Proceed then, so I can get this thing out of here.”

Bryne stepped back as he said this, while the group gathered round the crystal with the Arcanist.  The young man spoke a series of phrases, and reached for the crystal.

In a flash of light and whoosh of sound the party and Arcanist were carried to another place: hot, humid, the thick air smelling of rotting vegetation, a swamp?  Flash: the air went dry, the wind hot and the sun piercing.  Flash: a frigid gust of snow swept about the group.  Flash: a dense forest, brimming with life; Aelar recognized it as the Feywild.  Flash: icebergs, great mountains, and balls of flame, endless in number, all drift above and below, colliding, cascading, exploding, the Elemental Chaos.  Flash: silence, a breathtaking dreamscape of thought and memory Iltani telepathically communicated was his home plane.  Flash: acrid smoke, sulphur, and hellfire.  An overwhelming sense of evil rested on the group, felt most by Vore.  Seeing a demon confirmed his dread, “this is the Abyss.”  Flash.

The group looked about bewildered, Bryne, the priest, and other soldiers were there, some screaming with surprise. The group had disappeared from sight since the Arcanist touched the crystal.  Before the group could explain what had happened, clashing steel and shouts of fighting could be heard outside, the party rushed out to behold: a swamp.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

Agrin’s Gate – Part III: First Blood, Bugbears and Krenshars

First Blood

Tristan had stopped on the roadside and hitched the horses to a tree. He led the party into the woods, whereupon they arrived at the cave entrance. A large rock jutted out of the ground, leaning over a yawning, inky blackness. Out of the blackness came two things: hard packed earth, evidence of traffic, and a foul stench.

Tristan motioned to the entrance, “they’re in there, I’ll wait here for you to return.  Remember to bring evidence of the Goblin leader’s death, or there’ll be no payment.”  With that, he found himself a dry log to sit on, pulled out a book, and proceeded to ignore them.  Seeing no reason to delay, the party stepped into the cave.

Once they traveled down a few feet they came upon a large chamber, some eighty feet by forty.  In the darkness their eyes adjusted, drawing from the light of two campfires and numerous torches to see.  There were weapon racks with crude metal swords and stone spears, some sort of pit about ten feet across, and another opening of some kind at the back. From where they were it was impossible to see where the hole in the back wall led to.  Around the campfires were six goblins,  three little ones around the nearer fire, and three larger, brutish ones around the one further in.  In the very back near the hole were two goblins with short bows, sharpshooters.  Despite their efforts to sneak up on them, one of the little ones turned from the fire and spotted them. And so it began.

Goblin fighter
One of larger goblins fought (spear not shown)

The fight was brief, but exhilarating for the party.  Each fighter was slow but sure in their method.  Ashar marked the goblins with stares of darkness, compelling them to try and fight him with his broadsword.  Balthazar swung his frozen blade, skewering his green skinned foes, black blood flicking off the tip as it sung through the air.  Drel’s arrows served him well, taking out both of the sharpshooters with ease.  Iltani used his psychic power to teleport two of the goblins high over the pit, dropping them to their apparent doom.  Aelar, preferring the dexterity of fighting weaponless, used his fists and feet to land flurries of blows on the green raiders two or three at a time.  As the goblins lay dead around them, black blood splattered on the floor, each fighter patched themselves up and looked around.  The smell of goblin flesh was rank, and their living habits only added to the smell.  None of the weapons in the room were worth taking, and the bodies carried nothing of value.  Suddenly, a cry was heard.

“Guxn! Mnag! Help!”

One of Iltani’s teleported goblins had managed to survive the fall into the pit, but had broken both legs in the process. Unable to climb out of his prison, he pleaded vainly for help from his dead clansmen. Seeing the faces of his foes staring down at him, the goblin fell silent, knowing his end was near.  The party thought this an opportune time to gather information, and tried to converse with the goblin.  It soon became obvious that the wretched creature could barely understand Aelar’s eloquent words, so Drel and Balthazar tried an alternate approach.

Balthazar stared down at the goblin, his fiery gaze upon it.  The goblin sat transfixed, as Balthazar spoke.

“You die, pain hurt bad, break finger toes, cut eyes nose tongue.  Why fight people, fight in road, attack?  Talk or die bad, very bad.”  Drel pantomimed as Balthazar spoke, and the goblin seemed to grasp the situation.

“Goblin boss come.”  He began in a hissing, gravel-filled voice.

“Boss come bring beasts.”  He shuddered.

“Bad beasts, big beasts, boss bring beasts.  Boss angry beast kill goblins.  Boss hurt goblins stay boss.”  The goblin quivered in fear,

“kill goblin, kill this goblin, no tell boss, boss get angry beast kill this goblin.”

From this the group worked out that a dangerous and cunning goblin had come by their cave with terrifying beasts.  He had used the beasts to intimidate the clan into submission, quelling insubordination with torture or death, a death so terrifying that the goblin begged for whatever end they could conjure instead.

Taking pity on the poor wretch, the group agreed to let it go.  They lifted it out of the pit and walked it to the cave entrance.

“Is this the goblin leader then?” Tristan had been startled from his reading and looked uneasy at the sight of the goblin, though he tried not to show it.

“Doesn’t look like much,” he added.

“This goblin gave us information about a goblin leader and some beasts of his, which we think are deeper in the cave,” said Aelar.

“We’ve taken pity on him and are letting him go for his trouble.”

“But that’s not…”  Tristan began.

“Never mind what it is or it isn’t, both his legs are broken and killing him now would be to act without honour.  For his help he’s earned another chance at life, albeit a small one, but it is no longer for us to decide his fate.”

Aelar looked resolutely at Tristan, proud of the words he’d spoken.  The others nodded in affirmation.  Tristan stared at the group, almost in disbelief.  He’d grown to hate the goblins, and had no sense of the code of honour among fighting men or the like.  He tried to retain a sense of authority as he spoke.

“Well, I suppose he’s no threat anyway with those broken legs,” he remarked with an offhanded air.

“I will allow you to let it go.”

With that, he sat down and returned to his book.  Balthazar and Drel explained to the goblin that it needed return to the wildlands it came from if it wanted to live.  Not needing to be told twice, the creature began dragging its way East, and soon disappeared into the undergrowth.

The party returned to the cave to resume their quest.

Bugbears and Krenshars

After a quick look around to confirm there was nothing else of interest in the cave, the party went to the hole at the back.  It was roughly cut in the rock, tall enough for a man to pass through, Iltani and Ashar had to stoop to protect their heads.  The path led around a sharp bend and deeper into the earth.  The air was stale and moist, exacerbating the rot of the goblins; though it only served to make the party more eager to test their mettle again.  So great was their enthusiasm, they rushed headlong into the cave’s main chamber. There they met a much more formidable match than before.

There was a dais, atop which was a throne and chest.  Seated on the throne was the goblin leader.  Uglier and more intimidating than the rest, it could be seen from its clothes that it had arrived more recently.  Flanking the leader were two bugbears, brutish, hobgoblin-like creatures covered in thick fur, clearly acting as bodyguards.  There were doorways on both adjacent walls, the left one leading to another chamber, the right one boarded up.  Various goblins, about six in all, were going about their goblin business, staying clear of the back of the chamber.  There were scariest things of all.  With goblin bones and blood stains on the floor, bars set in the wall could be made out, forming the front of two cages.  Each cage held a krenshar, a cat-like creature, ferocious beasts that could peel back the flesh on their faces to show dripping fangs in total detail, howling and screeching to terrorize their prey.

Two krenshars in the wild.
Two krenshars in the wild.

This fight was not so simple.  Having rushed in, the party had no surprise advantage, they hadn’t even prepared to fight yet.  The leader barked orders in the goblin tongue, and the monsters rushed at them.  One of the bugbears produced a set of keys and made for the krenshars.  Seeing this, Drel set his focus on stopping him before he could reach the cage.  Everyone laid into the goblins with zeal, though it soon became apparent that they were outmatched.  In the fray Balthazar was knocked unconscious, and Aelar was very bloodied.  Just as things were looking hopeless, the leader took a hit amidst the mayhem.  The leader, even though he was barely hurt, pulled from his belt a vial and drank it, healing himself.

Seeing the effect of the potion, Aelar mustered all of his strength and leapt toward the leader.  In one fluid motion he rushed the leader, swiped the remaining healing potions, drank one himself, and administered another to Balthazar. At this point Drel had managed to kill the first bugbear, but not before one of the cages was opened.  Teeth met throat as the krenshar tore the bugbear’s life away.  The smell of blood had incensed the beast, and the brute was beyond command.  As it turned to rush the group, Iltani summoned his greatest power.

Focusing all of his physical and mental energy, he bound one of the bugbears with a thought, turning it into a living missile.  As the rest of the group continued fighting Iltani sent the brute careening through other opponents, inflicting pain with brutal force, and knocking the colliding foes prone.  When the bugbear finally broke free of the psion’s mental grip, it was killed by the krenshar.  No longer distracted by flying bugbears, the beast then prepared to lunge at Ashar.  Thinking quickly, Drel attempted to commune with the beast, in a desperate attempt to divert its attention to the passageway on the left, filling with the sound of approaching goblins.  Using his ranger experience he managed to get the word “GOBLIN” through, and pointed furtively to the left entrance.  With a flash of excitement in its eyes the creature charged out of sight.  Seizing the opportunity, the party quickly barricaded the entrance as the shrieking of dying goblins echoed from inside.  With his bodyguards and support gone, the leader fell quickly, and the battle was over.  Some more healing potions were found in the chest and, the cries of death having ceased, the party agreed that the task they had set out to accomplish was finished.

They returned to Tristan with the leader’s head.  Looking a little green himself at the grisly sight and the black stains on the fighters, Tristan nodded in acknowledgement and took them back to the Gate.  The group headed to the barracks, and reported everything that had happened to Bryne.  Bryne was pleased to hear that the clan was dispatched, but was still worried that something might come from the barricaded corridor the group had seen in the main chamber.  He offered the group another two hundred gold pieces each to confirm that there was nothing else to cause trouble in the cave.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

Agrin’s Gate – Part II: The Contract, On Route To The Cave

The Contract

Bryne had been waiting on a response for two weeks. Stationed as Captain of the Gate’s guard six months ago, he’d arrived from the capital with a mandate to protect the wellbeing of the people of the Gate, and had hit the ground running in his new command. In the years since Lord Agrin’s passing the goblins had mostly kept to themselves, and without leadership the bloody campaign Agrin had been waging diminished to a stalwart defensive, and eventually into a stagnant one. Without leadership or imminent threat, many of the militia returned to their former occupations, happy to hide behind the walls at night letting the goblins do as they may. After all, they were few and just as disorganized, unable to muster themselves into a fighting force.

All that changed about a month before Bryne arrived. It began with a couple of goblins banging their shields. Sadly, this was not meaningless posturing: things excalated. A calculated attack was made on a small caravan outside the town, precipitating the people of the Gate to send word of their plight to the capital. That call had brought Bryne to their aide, and he had no intention of letting goblins get the better of him or his new charge. He recognized a change among the goblins; they had a leader, and this new chief had some understanding of tactics. Bryne ordered the caravans stopped until something could be done.

Despite aggressive training schedules, the Captain only felt prepared enough to let the men guard the wall, they weren’t ready for a raid in enemy territory. Besides, none of his men were confident enough to take on the goblins, and Bryne hadn’t earned enough of their trust to order them against their will without risking a bloody retreat. So instead of waiting for the guard to be ready he sent a runner calling for mercenaries to be offered reward in exchange for dealing with this goblin leader. He’d hoped for a group of warriors to answer instead of the few that slowly trickled in.

There were five of them now; useless. All well trained in their craft, but none having seen real battle; he could see it in their eyes. But what did it matter to him? The arrangement was payment after the goblins were dead. If this group couldn’t pull it off, there would be another.

The motley group was bizarre, to say the least. All came from different walks of life, walks that somehow had led them into the guard barracks standing before Bryne. There was Aelar the Wild Elf monk of the forest, and Ashar a swordmage of the Fire Genasi; descendants of Humans and Fire Elementals. Balthazar the Tiefling warlock who, despite his race’s characteristically devilish horns, was surprisingly charismatic. Drel, the only human and a ranger; a traveller of untamed lands looking for a fight. Finally there was Iltani, a Shardmind? What in Prime was a Shardmind doing here? At least that’s what Bryne thought Iltani was. He’d only heard stories of these beings of pure thought, wrought from the Living Gate in the Astral plane, beyond the Prime plane of mortals.

“So Iltani.”

“Yes.”

“You’re a… Shardmind?”

“Yes.”

Bryne paused.

“I’m immortal.” Iltani added.

“Right then,” he continued. “ So you all know why you’re here. Goblins have been giving us trouble forcing me to halt all travel and much trade to this town. The sooner I can start things going again, the better. You’ll be paid 1,000 gold pieces for your service. I’ll send Tristan my bookkeeper, to escort you to the goblins’ cave. He will testify to the success of your task: the death of the goblins.”

The group found these terms acceptable, and left the barracks. Tristan being a timid and pragmatic man, met them outside and dutifully drove the wagon with their company to the goblins’ cave.

On Route To The Cave

Riding out of town, Balthazar could feel the townsfolk eyeing them. It was hard to discern their reaction to him, though he suspected Iltani’s tall crystalline frame was drawing more attention than his horns. Tieflings, the result of human nobility’s lust for legacy being sated through dark pacts made with the devils of the Nine Hells, were a cursed race. Balthazar  like most of his race, could not trace his lineage to any of the original houses; he only reaped the sorrow of being damned from birth by being perpetually bent toward deceit and thievery and feared by all he encountered. He pushed thoughts of his origins from his mind, not wanting to burden himself. When they’d left the town he noticed Aelar looking wistfully into the forest and decided to get to know one of his new compatriots.

“So Aelar, by the look of you, you are a wood elf?”

Aelar, roused from his stare, turned to regard Balthazar. The elf had dark hair, green eyes, and looked to be about thirty by human standards, but all of his kind did until one hundred and fifty or so. His slender frame was set in an open stance; unusual for a people known for reclusiveness and stealth.

“Balthazar is it? I am indeed an wood elf, one from the forests not too far from where we are now.”

A twinge of pain flashed in Aelar’s eyes, subtle but definite. Drel and Balthazar both saw it.

“It is uncommon for wood elves to leave their settlements, even more so for a monk, what brought you to Agrin’s Gate?” Drel inquired.

“Well, that’s a tale long in the telling, but for now you may know that I will not be returning to my people for a time, and in that time I have chosen to wander the world.”

“How interesting.” It was Iltani, now focused on the conversation, as was Ashar.

“I too am wandering the world, though I’ve journeyed more than yourself.” He smirked. The humour was lost on Aelar. Ashar explained:

“Iltani is a Shardmind, a being of thought wrought from the Living Gate in the Astral Plane. The Gate was shattered in a great war waged in ages past, and from that cataclysmic event his people were born. Traveling between planes is no easy task, so coming to the Prime makes him quite the traveller indeed. Fashioned of energy, he need not sleep, eat, or drink. He’ll never age, though he is not past immortality as he suggests.”

As Aelar’s face glowed with wonder, Ashar’s snub caught Iltani by surprise.

“You have a surprising grasp of my people’s history Genasi. What you say is true, though I believe agelessness and immortality to be a semantic concern beyond most mortals. In death my body would become thought once again and return to the ether from whence it came.” Iltani looked haughtily at Ashar.

“So then you’re both right. It is fascinating to have such diverse and learned companions for our task, is it not Drel?” Aelar didn’t like confrontations, at least not among those he liked; and though he barely knew them, he liked this group, and hoped perhaps to have future quests with them after this goblin affair was over.

Drel muttered something in affirmation, and for the rest of the ride the men discussed goblins and what they knew of them. Tristan shared the history of the Gate for the benefit of the newcomers. Aelar looked uncomfortable when he spoke of the lights and music woodsmen had reported, while Drel nodded knowingly. It came to light that the territory Drel ranged was not far from here, and he had traded with the merchants what he found in his travels among the wildlands. He’d seen action before, contrary to Bryne’s assessment, though he admitted it was usually solitary goblins, wanting to avoid groups as much as he could. All of them hated evil things, or at least preferred to see less of them, and were all eager to prove themselves as capable fighters in the cave. The wagon came to a halt.

“We’ve arrived,” announced Tristan.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

Agrin’s Gate – Part I: Foreword, The Gate

Foreword

Agrin’s Gate is a based upon a narration of the Dungeons and Dragons sessions played by Karl Reimer (Dungeon Master), Dave Lenton (Aelar), John Baarda (Ashar), Josh Matthews (Balthazar), Grant Davis (Cordus), Jake Redekop (Drel), Grant Davis (Drull), Andrew Alkema (Iltani), and Rylan Halteman (Vore). I initially wrote this to keep track of the growing list of characters and events that were transpiring, as well as for the joy of writing. In its final form the narrative was over 11,000 words long, and represented the longest piece of writing I’d ever done (and the most fun!)

A few months after finishing it, I’d wanted to revise and expand it, adding more details, lore, and backstory to this wonderful world I helped in creating. I have no excuse to explain my failure to do this sooner, but I’m glad to be doing it now.

A note to the reader: While I will try my utmost to insure that this work remains consistent in style, as a writer I am influenced by what I read, and so my style has changed (hopefully for the better, though reading Tolkien’s The Silmarillion has given me a prosaic long-windedness). Nevertheless, I apologize for any thematic incongruities you may encounter. Please send a note to me if you find a poignant one.

Acknowledgements

My first thanks must go to Karl as DM for our group he was tasked with creating the world we played in and populating it with characters and adventure. Second thanks go to Rylan & Jake, my chief assistants in the editing and enriching of the original narrative, and then to my compatriots whose imagination fueled the personalities of characters I couldn’t begin to flesh out myself. You guys brought this world to life, making the telling of it all the easier for me, thanks.

Prologue – The Gate

Agrin’s Gate, so named after Lord Agrin, a noble with a thirst for conquest, had been founded in decades past. Back then it was nothing more than a motley collection of thatched roof houses by a river. But with the river running deep into the wildlands, trappers and hunters were able to bring in many valuable commodities like furs, timber, and any medicinal plants they could find. Lord Agrin, reaching the autumn of his life, petitioned the capital for support to turn the settlement into a vibrant trading post, to make it a bastion of civilization on the edge of the world; a place where he could live out his days hunting in peace.

In granting his request the capital supplied Agrin with road builders and artisans. Within a few short weeks of his arrival it became clear why the settlement had not been growing in trade and wealth. Agrin had supposed the problem was with the boorish and unambitious nature of the woodsmen, but it turned out to be a far more sinister. Every time wealth had come into the town, whether by a merchant making a large trade, or a nobleman looking to retire where he wouldn’t be disturbed, the village had been attacked by goblins from the hills and wildlands. Like parasites they fed on the work and fruit of the people, raiding at night or on the long, winding paths back to the larger towns.

Agrin was not to be slowed by such a threat. The road builders were immediately put to work making a straighter, safer route to civilization while stonemasons and builders began constructing a wall to protect the people. He trained some of the more capable hunters in the use of the short sword and the spear, and within a few weeks began issuing scouting parties to locate the rank pits in which the foul creatures cowered during the day.

Over the next few years Agrin waged a bloody campaign against the goblins. He found that the growing wealth of the Gate, as it was coming to be known, drew the goblins forth from the wildlands across the river. Many brave men were lost, but they fought with such valiance that each death among men came at great cost to the goblins. Agrin’s wife, Lady Agrin of Chelth, came to join her husband at the Gate and proved a capable strategist in the skirmishes against the goblins. It was she who proposed cutting back the trees along the capital road, and used the wood to build great fires at the mouthes of the goblin caverns, asphyxiating the vile creatures like the cunning vermin they were. The Lord’s heart was glad to have his Lady, and all the people loved her, for her wisdom and her counsel.

One day, while hunting beyond the river, Lord Agrin and his party were set upon by a large company of goblins. They had weapons of capital make, taken from the bodies of slain scouts, and also hideous beasts with the likeness of hounds, but more cruel and filled with malice. Though Agrin’s party defeated them and left none alive, the Lord was mortally wounded by a spear thrown by the company’s leader. When his body was brought back to the Gate, the people mourned for three days and nights, because in his life Agrin had done been good to the people, and made them prosperous, and had drawn much evil from the land like venom from a wound.

Because of Lord Agrin the Gate and it’s people were safely sequestered behind a stout wall of stone, and had a path to the capital much less fraught with peril than it had been. The woods, being now mostly free of corrupting influence, flourished and grew, although men who ventured too deep in the forest returned speaking of strange music and lights, often finding themselves back at the Gate despite being sure they’d never strayed away from the path into the forest.

After the Lord’s passing, the people named the Gate Agrin’s Gate in his memory; and declared Lady Agrin to be their leader for as long as she would stay. Lady Agrin, while honoured by the people, was too grieved to remain in a place so full of memories of her beloved, and returned to Chelth, the land of her fathers.

That was ten years ago. Since then the Gate has continued to flourish, and besides the occasional skirmish the goblins leave the people alone. Businesses, inns, and merchants have come to live here, and the town prospers. In recent months however, the frequency and intensity of raids on the road has been increasing; and Bryne, captain of the town guard, has put forth a request for mercenaries to deal with the problem. It is here that our tale begins.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters