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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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 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.