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

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Agrin’s Gate – Part VIII: The Widow, A Change of Plans, Here We Go Again

The Widow

Knocking on the widow’s door, a beautiful woman answered.

“Yes, hello?”

“Good day, we’ve come in hopes of finding a crystal, and possibly your husband too,” said Aelar.

The widow let them in, her beauty only growing as their eyes adjusted to the dimness.

“That is, if you still want him to be found,” added Iltani.  She gave him a black look.

Aelar frowned and turned back to the widow.  “So, what can you tell us about the night he disappeared?”

“Well, he was out gathering herbs one night for his research.  He was always looking to improve…” her voice fell away as a tear came to her eye.

“And then he… he just never came back,” she sobbed quietly

“We may be able to learn more from his study or laboratory,” Ashar offered.

The widow dried her eye as she nodded and led them to a door in the parlor.  She made an intricate series of motions, her fingers tracing serpentine symbols in the air before the door.  With a shimmer, the face of the door lit up in a pale blue, then the glow withered as if an ethereal wind were carrying off flakes of it.  Vore stood next to the widow as she did this, and kept track of the tracings she’d made.  While he couldn’t be sure, he thought the symbol was that of a beetle, a scarab.

The protective ward dissolved, the door swung open of its own accord, to showcase a staircase leading below the house.  The party followed the widow down the steps, lit by flickering torches, descending for what seemed like an age.  The widow stepped into a large, natural, stone cavern with a dressed floor and raised ceilings.  As the party filed in, they could make out a set of long, stone chests at the end of the cave.  When Iltani, who had taken up the rearguard, reached the cavern, a slam echoed down the stairway from above.  The chest lids made a loud rasping as they were pushed back, stone rubbing against stone.  When the party saw fingers curling around the chest lids from the inside, they realized two things; they were trapped, and those chests weren’t chests at all:  they were coffins.

From the coffins rose three pale figures, one clearly more powerful, a vampire lord.  Behind them they heard an chittering sound that made Balthazar turn and gasp.

“The widow!”  He cried.

As the others turned they saw the widow’s hands and feet were covered in beetles, forming a writhing mass spreading toward her chest.  Balthazar’s first instinct was to warn her, but as a wicked grin twisted across her face, he realized that she wasn’t a widow at all; she was a Lamia; a temptress who devoured foolish men who fell into her snares.

Iltani rallied the thoughts of the party together, coalescing them into a vision, a realization that had eluded each but not all, and formed a story from their individual thoughts.  The chieftain’s brother had not died, but had been turned into a vampire, likely for the increased arcane ability (Ashar).  The widow was a Lamia, and had lured them, and surely others, down here to die (Balthazar).  She keeps the widow story so adventurers come to find her and are never seen again, or missed (Drel).  Everyone in the town is fooled by this (Aelar).  The door upstairs is magically controlled so that prey are trapped without while the Lamia plays the weeping widow, and within when she’s dropped the gauntlet (Iltani).  The only way out will be to fight (Cordus).  As a Pelorian Cleric, I can cast radiant light down here to weaken the vampire lord and his spawn (Vore).

The Widow, or Lamia rather
The Widow, or Lamia rather

All of this flashed by in an instant of thought.

“Iltani works quickly,” thought Aelar.  He looked to his Shardmind friend and, for a brief moment, glimpsed a smile.

As they fought a pile of beetles on one side, Vore cast a mote of sunlight that glowed in the air, taunting the vampires.  Unable to regenerate in the mote’s radiance, the two sides were evenly matched.  In time the lesser vampires fell, being converted more recently than their sire, the vampire lord, the mage, the brother.

The vile couple continued fighting, and held their own through a half dozen rounds of blows before Aelar threw up his hands to call a cease-fire.

“Clearly this is getting nowhere, you aren’t strong enough to overpower us, nor us you.  Let us leave and we’ll simply never speak of this again.”  The couple, seeing that victory was by no means certain, conceded.

Returning to the tavern, battered and bruised, the townsfolk gave the group some odd looks, which the group returned.  The town seemed to be composed on a hodgepodge of creatures that had wandered into the Feywild by one method or another, none of them really belonging.  Likely chased by the Bralani lord while hunting or the hideous, ruthless Fomorian giants, they’d found sanctuary in the town’s walls.  A Halfling named sat at the bar, drinking alone. This gave Balthazar an idea.

A Fomorian Highway Raiding Pair
A Fomorian Highway Raiding Pair

He approached the halfling, “Halfling, what is your name?”

Startled by the sudden interest the tiefling had taken in him, the halfling looked up from his drink.

“People call me Pincher.”  Halflings have a reputation for being light-fingered, and Balthazar’s intuition had paid off.

“I think my friends and I could make use of your talents.”

“Talents eh?”  Replied Pincher mockingly, “state your business Tiefling, don’t waste my time with your riddles.”

“Very well, follow me.”  Leading him back to a table, the group sat and explained to Pincher that there was a crystal they were seeking and that they were almost certain it was in the widow’s house.

“So you want me to get it, fine.  And what would I get, besides this beer you bought me?”

“We would pay you 1,000 gold pieces,” said Aelar.  Drel hung his head in disbelief, mortified.  Paying Vore to join, bribing the bartender with a gold piece when that was enough to rent out the inn for the night, and now offering a few year’s wages for a single theft?  Monk’s should not handle money.

“That,” said Pincher, eyes bulging greedily, “sounds like a fair trade.”

Finishing his drink, he staggered out of the tavern, woozy from downing what for a grown man would have been three pints.  The group ordered dinner and ate in silence, either too sore or too hungry to talk.  Iltani, after smelling a selection of wines, since he couldn’t drink, returned to his watchful thinking position; sitting silently, letting his eyes wander around the room, picking up bits of conversation and piecing them into interactions, needs, desires, and other mortal concerns.  If someone didn’t address him directly, Aelar wondered if he’d ever move of his own accord.  As if on cue to disprove him, Iltani spoke.

“I think the crystal is alive.”

The group stared.  Iltani continued, nonplussed.

“Whenever the town shifts, it’s always on level ground, and level with that ground.  It has never been underwater or underground, in a mountainside, or in the air, ever; at the very least it must have a sentient nature to it.

“Also, the Arcanist said that the crystal was being drawn to these places, so it stands to reason that the town is traveling along this sequence of planes. When the Abyss is reached there will be no more crystals to draw us away from there.”

Ashar considered this.

“So, the best thing to do would be to leave the crystal here, in the Feywild. Otherwise if we fail to control the crystals in the Abyss, we’d be stranded there,” he suggested.

“Precisely,” replied Iltani.

“So what do we do when the Halfling gets back?” Asked Drel.

The group mulled it over, and agreed that the Chief should be given the crystal for safekeeping.  When Pincher returned, they paid him his new-found fortune and gave the crystal to the Chief, “as a gift to your town,” Aelar said.  The chief accepted it, puzzled, and the group left accompanied by Aelar’s Owlbear, making for the Gate.  When they arrived they were surprised to find the Shadar-Kai warriors there, the Dracolich from the winter land flying above silently.  Bryne and the town guard were in formation in the town square, kneeling with their hands behind their heads.  The town was being held hostage.

A Change of Plans

“We’re here for the crystals,” said the Witch as she approached the party.  The group kept their weapons sheathed, they knew too well how powerful the Shadar-Kai were from when the Dracolich was still alive.

“Our superiors have shown interest in the crystals. We’ve been instructed to take them back with us.  Your Arcanist gave them up easily enough, and told us you’d have one.”

Balthazar cursed the Arcanist under his breath as Vore made an appeal.

“We encountered a Vampire Lord and Lamia in a town near here, he was in possession of the crystal when we arrived.  The crystal is now with the town chief.  In exchange for helping the people of this town get home safely,” Vore nodded towards Bryne and his men, who were shaking visibly.

“If you get them home, we’ll get you this crystal.”

The Shadar-Kai considered this among themselves before making a counteroffer.

“We’ll open a gate to a location of your choice, within reason, in exchange for your group getting the crystal, and killing the Vampire Lord,” said the Witch.

“Very well, but you have to stay with the townsfolk while we are gone.”

“Agreed.”

Having nothing more to negotiate, the group took a rest before setting off again. As they laid down in the enchanted forest outside the Gate’s perimeter, Bryne’s voice could be heard ordering the evacuation of the town before it was carried to the Elemental Chaos.  The party drifted into a black, dreamless sleep before waking and making for the town again.

Here We Go Again

Returning to the town, the party went to see the chieftain, only to be stopped at the door to the hall, again.

“Is this really necessary?”  Asked Cordus, growing impatient with the guards.

“What is your business?”

“To see your chieftain, what else?  Have you forgotten me so quickly guard?”  Balthazar stepped forward but before he could utter a threat the guard spat back.

“Our chieftain has taken ill after you gave him that so-called ‘gift’.  He rests now in his home, weak.”

Ignoring the guard’s insolent tone, the party proceeded to the chief’s house. After scouting the basement and main floor, Drel gave the all clear and the party entered. Moving up the stairs, Drel entered the bedroom, dark from heavy curtains blocking the sun.  Seeing the chief, he prodded him gently.  Rolling over, a pale chief opened his eyes and leapt off the bed, fangs bared.

Drel thought one word to the group, “Vampire,” and they were on it.  Eager to use his Owlbear in battle, Aelar sent his companion up the stairs to tear down the curtains and let the sun shine.  It wouldn’t kill the vampire, but it would stop him from regenerating in the darkness.  The poor beast, still new to his master’s commands, misunderstood, and clawed aimlessly at the wall.  Rolling their eyes, the others charged in and dispatched the chief in short order.

Searching the house they found nothing.  Figuring that the chief’s brother, the Vampire Lord, had taken the crystal and turned the chief in the process, they made for the Lamia’s house.  Checking the door for traps they found an ominous one.  Cordus suggested they use the window to get inside instead.  Balthazar checked the window and, finding no trap, gave Cordus a nod.  Head-butting the window, a burst of darkness enveloped Cordus, blinding him and drawing from his life force.

“Was that nod supposed to mean there IS a trap!?  Who does that?,” he roared at Balthazar as he clawed at the darkness in vain.

“I didn’t find any traps!  I guess it was very well concealed.”

“Well concealed my hooves.”  Cordus stood and faced the group.

“You’ve been good companions in these last days, but with this fight I will take my leave, and my debt will be repaid.”  The others nodded respectfully.

Entering the house, Iltani entered the combination Vore had seen the previous day making a point of channeling all magical power as he did so.  Apparently overdoing it, he too was shrouded in soul-sapping darkness.  It seemed that the Lamia had anticipated their return, and changed the tracing pattern.  Proceeding down the stairs they charged once again.

With fewer minions it seemed the fight would proceed faster, but changing the locks in the house wasn’t the couple’s only surprise.  When Vore cast his mote of sunlight, the Lord shrouded it in darkness, making it useless.  Being able to regenerate, the Lord outlasted his companion, and as the Lamia fell into a heap of dying scarabs, he became insubstantial and tried to get to his coffin, but was cut off by Aelar.  With that he fled, flying off faster than the group could run.

Searching his coffin they found the crystal and the artefact he’d used to shroud Vore’s sunlight, and with this partial victory they returned to the Shadar-Kai; Cordus taking his leave along the way.  They were sad to see him leave, but a warden must keep his ward, and Cordus was no exception.  As they got closer to the town, they noticed tiny streams of water building strength along the forest floor, where none had been previously.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters