Agrin’s Gate – Part IX: Drull, Surrounded, Credit Where Credit Is Due

Drull

The party met the Shadar-Kai next to an enormous dome of ice where the town had been.  The townspeople had set up makeshift tents in their wait, as the dome slowly melted, forming icy rivulets and a pool that had fed the streams the men had noticed.

The Shadar-Kai could not have looked more disinterested.  Babysitting weaklings had to be the most degrading activity they’d performed in years.  Drel chuckled as he thought about the lie of omission they’d make concerning this escapade.  Especially since they brought an undead drake with them.  It was still circling over the townsfolk, huddled around fires to keep the ice’s chill off.  The Witch read their expressions and saw the triumph missing.

“You did not kill the Vampire did you?”  She said.

“Now wait just a minute lady.”  Balthazar stepped forward.  “We have our, or should I say your, crystal right here.”

“But you did not kill the Vampire did you?”  She repeated.  At this Vore stepped forward, looking somewhat dejected.

“My lady of the Raven Queen.”  He began, Drel rolled his eyes.

“The Lamia, the Vampire’s companion, is vanquished.  The Vampire Lord possessed an object that shrouded the sunlight Pelor gave me to use as a cleric.  With the sunlight concealed, he was able to regenerate more quickly than we could injure him.  When she fell, he became insubstantial and risked travel in broad daylight.”

“This was not our agreement,” said the Witch, taking the crystal.  “Did he escape with this sun shrouding implement?”

“He did not,” Vore’s expression brightened, “Ashar.”

Ashar stepped forward, producing the object from his bag.

“My knowledge of the arcane is extensive, but the Feywild is an unfamiliar realm brimming with magic.  The best Iltani and I can work out, it can do more than shroud light, but neither of us know what.”

Aelar stepped forward to finish the report.

“Without our Minotaur, who has left, I fear the Vampire’s defeat is hopeless,” he said.

The Witch snorted with derision, “I shouldn’t have expected you lot to be able to accomplish this task.  Very well, I anticipated this eventuality.  We have a warrior with us who owes a debt.  Drull?”

A brutish bugbear, not unlike the one they killed in the goblin cave, stepped out from behind a tree.  He was a berserker, wielding a *subtle* executioner’s axe, subtle in that its full power was released by wearing no armor, only cloth.

“Drull owed us a debt, so I had him brought here in the likely event that you would fail.  Drull!”  She barked, “you are to follow this party’s instruction now, do as they do.  When the Vampire is dead you will be released from your debt.”

Drull, despite being immense, cowered under the Witch’s glare, and scurried behind the party.

“Now don’t expect this brute to come for free, we’ll be taking that totem from you.”

Ashar handed her the artefact, and taking it, the Witch commanded, “wait here,” and left to consort with the others in a tight circle of trees.

Aelar snuck behind the circle and attempted to listen in.  Focusing his mind, he attuned his aural senses outside of the area he was in, and into the tree circle.  Oddly, the number of voices among the trees was greater than the group of warriors he’d seen.  Focusing harder, he projected his vision into the circle as well.

Looking about, he saw the Shadar-Kai conversing with faintest of shimmers, outlines of even greater Shadar-Kai commanders and mages.  They were discussing the artefact, and what to do next with the group.  It turned out the Vampire Lord was a servant of Orcus, who had been protecting the town in exchange for dark deeds.

Orcus, a powerful demon lord and god of undeath, is a sworn enemy of the Raven Queen, goddess of death.  The Shadar-Kai, as agents of the Raven Queen, took interest in the town’s mage when he had made a pact with Orcus.

When the group first told the Witch of the lost brother and the vampire they found, the town mage become a greater threat, bumping him up the watchlist.  This was the real reason Drull had been summoned.

The ‘totem’ as the Witch had called it, was really for communicating with Orcus, who had been fighting the Raven Queen for control of death since she first seized it.  The demon god had been using the crystals to move demons in and out of the Abyss, which is why the Witch wanted them.

Aelar left before the end so as not to arouse suspicion, and when the Witch returned she communicated some of this.  She added that the vampire’s heading had been located, and that if they started now they could reach him before he regenerated fully.  With that the party set off again, uplifted by their reinforcements, even if he didn’t talk.

Surrounded

Following The Witch’s direction, the party walked until they saw a glade.  Hiding behind the treeline, they spotted an Eladrin hunter.  Being the only person who really belonged there, Aelar stepped out and greeted him. Getting a better view of the glade, he could see that the icy rills from the sphere had reached even this far.  There were three or four trees, large and leafy, a wooden shack a distance away, and a great oak on the far side; patches of tall grass were scattered through the field.  Looking closer at the trees, Aelar noticed monkeys, big ones, in all of them.

“What brings you here, friend?”  The hunter asked, he seemed distracted, but managed a smile.

“I search for a man, a human that ran from a town not far from here.”  Replied Aelar, finding his face lacking a certain sincerity.

“Are you alone, friend?  Do you search by yourself?”  The hunter was scanning the forest beyond Aelar.  Knowing he was a terrible liar, Aelar called Balthazar and Iltani forward.

“These are my companions…”  It dawned on Aelar.  The Eladrin was stalling, the monkeys were moving.  Not giving another moment of preparation for his alleged ‘friend,’ Aelar issued a mighty battle cry Cordus had taught him, signalling the others.

In a flurry of foliage the monkeys sprang from the trees and the party rushed to meet them.  It turned out that a second hunter had been hiding in the tall grass, and proved difficult to hit.  As the monkeys began dying a deep growl rose from the shed. In an explosion of wood splinters and framing timber a shed wall gave way to a Banderhobb, a ten-foot-tall, frog-like creature that swallows you whole and kidnaps you.

The Infamous, Foe-Swallowing Banderhobb
The Infamous, Foe-Swallowing Banderhobb

By the time the monkeys were finished off the Banderhobb had reached the party, striking and attempting to swallow them.  It succeeded in swallowing Vore before bounding off towards the great oak.  Aelar and Ashar, the swiftest, gave chase as the others finished off the Eladrin.  Despite Aelar’s Elven speed, and his psionic flying powers, the great frog’s head-start was too great to overtake it.  The beast ran behind the tree vanishing from sight. When the pair arrived the Banderhobb, and their friend inside, could not be found.

Noticing something off about the tree itself, Aelar examined the striations in the bark while Ashar searched for magical properties.  A hidden door was discovered as the others caught up, Ashar opening it cautiously.  Aelar went down a spiral staircase and short passageway before stopping short of the entrance to another room. Drel snuck a bit farther and signalled Iltani to connect them.

“The room is small, the frog…” began Drel.

“Banderhobb.” Interjected Iltani.

“What?”

“It’s not a frog, it’s a Banderhobb.  A creature with a history of kidnapping people, usually children, in their sleep.  I read about it in a book of bedtime stories.”

“First, that’s just wrong.  Second, who cares?  Where’s the Banderhobb Drel?” thought Balthazar.

“The far side of the room, it seems to be stuck in an opening.  There’s also a coffin.  Just like the one from the basement.  Hold on, I’m going to cast a mist.”

Using some tricks he’d picked up in his ranging days, he cast a mist in the room, obscuring his allies from the Banderhobb.  Ashar moved into the mist and dealt a blow to the Banderhobb blocking the doorway.  Drull and Balthazar, still outside, hacked at the earth, hoping to literally shed light on the situation.  Iltani hovered above, maintaining a psychic link and facilitating communications between forces.

Aelar squeezed around the Banderhobb, flanking him.  This distracted the beast from Ashar’s killing blow.  With a disgusting sound, Vore was vomited up as the slimy creature died.  The Vampire had risen from his coffin and was trying to land a blow through the mist.  With a thundering roar Drull leapt down the hole and with a mighty blow drove his axe straight through the ground above the Vampire, bringing a rain of earth, stone, and steel upon his head.

At this point the Vampire was totally surrounded, with Aelar’s owlbear, Iltani, and Balthazar waiting to strike should he try to fly off. The Lord became insubstantial and made a vain attempt to escape, but as each fighter laid blow after blow as he passed them, he finally dissolved into ash.

Searching his room they found a reserve of gold; presumably this was some sort of safe house. In triumph the group returned to the Shadar-Kai and made their report.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

When they returned, and as they told of their exploits, the Shadar-Kai were visibly impressed.  They had not expected the companions to succeed; in fact, they weren’t certain if success was even possible.  The Witch, looking less haughty than before, addressed them.

“You have done well warriors, and you have fulfilled your end of the deal.  It is time for us to do the same.”  She gestured to the huddled townsfolk.

“We will let your people return where they will.  The town’s captain, Bryne, has asked that it be Mirehaven where their kin were headed, does this sound suitable?”

The party murmured in acknowledgement.

“Very well.”

The Witch recited an incantation that lasted for several minutes, gathering a crowd as she did so.  Many marvelled at how such a lengthy spell could be remembered.  When she finished, a large spark of electricity flared and grew into an orb.  The orb then flattened to a disc, reaching fifteen feet across, penetrating the ground to form the shape of a circular gate.

From one side the disc looked transparent, but from the other, a small town market could be seen, with a thick morning fog not quite burnt off yet.  Early rising merchants were taken aback in shock at the sight; but as the first townspeople went through and explained their origin, they calmed down.  The people walked through the gate in single file, taking what belongings they could on their back or by horse.  When the guard took its turn, Bryne stopped to speak to the group.

“This wasn’t what I signed up for, Gods know I’m getting too old for this.” He sighed. “But I should be grateful, without you all our town would have suffered great loss. Thank you.”

He moved to the gate, taking post next to it, ensuring everyone got through. The Arcanist approached, but before he could say anything he froze.  He just stood in place for a few seconds before resuming his motion jerkily.  He blinked hard, staring at Iltani, who nodded.

“Thank you, oh thank you all!” and off he went through the gate.

As it closed, the Witch faced them, Aelar noticed the shimmering he’d seen in the tree circle, and relayed this to the others through Iltani.

“You are all deserving of more than praise, follow.” She turned and recited the cantation again, opening a second gate, this one dimmer in appearance than the last.  She and the other Shadar-Kai stepped through.  Sensing no danger or ill will, the party followed.

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