In the Aftermath of Agnoth
The large form of Agnoth, oozing dark blood and already reeling from the long battle, begins to collapse as the porcelain shatters against its skull. The force generated by the enchanted gauntlet drives shards into the horror’s brain, and with a final flailing of its tentacle arms, the creature falls to the stone floor. As they had witnessed each time they had felled some retched piece of the would-be demon god, the bulbous flesh soon disintegrated into the cracks in the floor, leaving only a mist of dark shadow that instantly evaporates.
Laeryth blinks, and sees the body of the dwarf, leaning against the council chamber doors, the telltale sign of his fullblade across the cleric’s abdomen.
High Councilor Osmund begins to stir. His incantations had stopped once the battle began in earnest, as the full might of Agnoth became apparent. Near the balcony’s edge, the form of Sigrid lays still.
“It would seem we have much to thank you for.” The elder councilor groans a bit as he rises to his feet, brushing off a bit of dust from his robes. “I never expected the creature to so easily honor my summons. It was as if I was … expected.” He makes his way over to Sigrid, leaning down and gently raising her head and checking for signs of life. “Oh thank the heavens.” Looking back at you, he seems to notice Khalsig for the first time. “I’m sorry, your ally, is he… “
As Osmund’s voice falls off, Khalsig mutters to himself briefly before opening an eye and saying “A dwarf? Yes, yes I am. Such keen senses you have. You wouldn’t happen to have a sandwich on you? Fighting’s hungry business.” Closing his eye again, the dwarf shifts a bit on the floor, as if trying to find a more comfortable position. In a tone growing both confused and sleepy, he asks “Laeryth, since you were so nice in sharing your sword, do you think you could share something to stop my insides from turning out?” A few more words came from the dwarf’s mouth after, but Laeryth couldn’t make sense of them. What do women, bathing, and egg salad have to do with each other? And no cleric, not even a dwarf, would say that about the god they serve; maybe his head is softer than is normal for a dwarf.
“I am most pleased to find we’ve all survived that. That seemed… doubtful… for a moment there.”
Sigrid begins to stir, having suffered no egregious wounds. “I suppose the only injury is the loss of her favorite tea cup. Somehow I imagine she’ll still find a way to be displeased about that, regardless of the circumstance. She’s always had a soft spot for your kind, friend half-orc, perhaps that will soften the blow.” Osmund groans a bit as he stands to his full height. “You there, friend Eladrin, perhaps you could help assist the lady to one of those couches? She will probably sleep for a while, and my back cannot take much more of this.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turns to face the south. A stiff breeze blows, and the sound of the Tarsin flag snapping in the wind on the parapet above is the only sound in an otherwise silent moment. As the sun begins to set in the west, the clouds in the sky have grown dark and red, and the white stone of the city takes on a ruddy hue. “Sailor’s tales be damned, but that seems ominous, given the circumstances.”
“hmmm perhaps the Raven Queen wished to thank you personally for your bravery. Osmund you were expected. perhaps we should clean this up and talk of what could have transpired. to many secrets have been uncovered and lead to a breaking of a prison realm. We should not let them know how close they have come.” Layerth skulks beneath his vast hood cleaning his blade. if any one else enters he thanks the gods that Osmund had everything well in hand
Lenk gingerly steps off the low table that is slick from his pooled blood, but he pays no mind to the china set that clatters to the ground in his wake. Walking over to the spot where Agnoth most recently died, he kicks some of the teacup shards, noting that they have darkened around the edges. Seeing no sign of any remains, he grunts. “That wasn’t so awesome.”
Seeing that Laeryth is once again skulking in a corner, Khalsig recovering from his latest folly – Lenk had thought before meeting a dwarf that a people so close to stone would have a stronger sense of self-preservation – and Firrian typically silent while Osmund stands around uncomfortably waiting for someone to acknowledge him, Lenk starts tearing bandages with his teeth and binding his wounds.
“We’re here to save you,” he says to Osmund. “And stop you from summoning Agnoth.” Lenk picks up Sigrid and carries her to a couch. “She’ll need a change of clothes,” he says to Osmund now that her gown is covered in his blood.
Osmund is taken aback by Lenk’s abrupt manner. “Yes, errrrr, thank you.”
Lenk joins Osmund and breathes deeply of the wind streaming from the west. This red-cast city suddenly reminds him of home, and he wonders if the red skies have overtaken the vizerai’s garden cities yet. “The spirits are disturbed, Councilor, but they are always restless where Agnoth appears. The world cries for his destruction, for he is like a leech to it.” Lenk turns to Osmund. “Do you think you succeeded in pulling him free from his prison? Is he truly dead?”
Firrian ignores Osmund for the moment, striding quickly to Khalsig and retrieving from his pack healing potions for the wounded dwarf. “I’ll be right back.” Firrian claps the dwarf on the shoulder as he drops the vials in his meaty hands.
As the fog of war continues to dissipate, Firrian stands and turns to the twisted mass of flesh recently felled. He contemplates for a moment, looking upon the horror. From his pocket he pulls the tooth taken from the first encounter with Agnoth, now carved with intricate patterns and inlaid with Eladrin text. For many nights Firrian had carved upon the fang, a secret endeavor meant to help him find … something unknown. Lost in trance once more, his fingers deftly chase the dips and swirls of the carvings, passing over the words and runes of which few have meaning to him. Perhaps the Universe knows.
And while the experience has helped him reconnect with his arcane heritage, this is not the right path for Firrian. He mutters something under his breath and casts the tooth into a fleshy pile at his feet. Firrian’s face is more relaxed than it’s been in some time as he turns back to Khalsig. He kneels next to the dwarf and begins tending to the healer’s wounds as he turns an ear to Lenk and Osmund…
“A prison, you say.” Osmund seems to be staring at the mountains far to the south. “That would help explain the horror’s seeming desire to flee the tower. Our power was all but drained… what you saw upon your arrival was one last desperate attempt at containing what we had unleashed. Perhaps we should have sent word to the Eladrin Host for aid… dealings of a demonic nature are not the strength of the Magisters. We knew this Agnoth being was somehow related to the Artifacts, thanks to your efforts. When Milton presented his theory of the locking stones, we were … intrigued.”
At the sound of Milton’s name, Lenk lets out a loud harrumph which seems to stir Osmund from staring towards the middle distance. He listens intently as Lenk tells him of Milton’s betrayal. With each sentence, his face grows darker, his head lowering until he is no longer gazing at the horizon, but is transfixed on the ground at his feet. Reaching into the folds of his robes, he retrieves a handful of purple silk. Unfolding it reveals dark shards of a shattered stone, its original shape unrecognizable but it could not have been much larger than the pommel of a longsword.
“We’ve known for some time that a few of the Artifacts could be fitted together into large stone spheres, and that those spheres could control passageways to the Fey. They seem to bind the pieces together when placed correctly, through no magic or ritual of our invocation. We took it as no coincidence that the reopening of the border crossings came as the sphere below in the Reliquary was being constructed. The timing was far too precise. It was Milton who suggested that we were doing no such thing; but instead were building portal to darkness. But we could use this knowledge. Perhaps it was the locking stones that would allow us to draw this beast out. When our own attempts at freeing the two prisoners failed, we decided to proceed. When Milton chose the locking stone, it seemed at random, and lo and behold, upon its destruction…” He glances around the room, making eye contact with each of you. “Spare me your looks, please. I am well aware of the price of my hubris.”
“To answer your question, Lenk, no, I do not believe you destroyed Agnoth. If you wish to do that, you’ll need to find the source of the chaos, perhaps the very heart of the prison itself. I can not ask you to do such a thing, nor can I tell you how to go about doing so if you choose to save us all of your own volition.”
“you spend all this time trying desparetly to uncover secrets not meant to be known. you barely have an understanding of them still just enough for the damage done. you have not the power to defend yourselves nor the knowledge to lend aid of any kind muchless to defend the world from this evil your arrogance helped unleash open it. PRAY tell what do the magisters do, what good are you, and PRAY well”
Lenk smirks at Laeryth’s comment but attempts to steer the conversation in another direction. “Something Milton said made me wonder, though. He said Agnoth is a baby among gods. What is his nature, then? Does he already have power over certain domains, like grown gods, or is it still to be decided?”
As Laeryth excoriates Osmund, Khalsig looks down at the potion Firrian left. The dwarf holds it in his right hand, palm up, as if weighing it, while Firrian finishes bandaging the wound left by Laeryth’s fullblade. Khalsig grumbles something about ale under his breath, hands the potion back to Firrian, and struggles to his feet with the aid of Firrian’s shoulder. Together, slowly, the dwarf and the eladrin make their way over to where Lenk and Osmund are speaking.
“There is no doubt that Milton believes this Agnoth to be a god, a belief I do not share. Think on Gorranax the Decrepit, upon whose bones we now stand, in a manner of speaking. Was he a God? No. Had he discovered some means in the Material Plane to make it so? Some way to challenge Tharizdun for his Abyssal throne? Tharizdun is known to prize the mortal realm, and many of his underlings conspire to dominate the will of Man, in the hopes of giving their Lord that which he desires most. Gorranax was certainly among those seeking to rule those weak enough to take power in the embrace of dark magic. What of this Tome, found in the tomb of Telrazad. Before today, I would have asked Milton to research such a thing.”
From the far side of the council hall, the servant’s door slides open. Councilor Einrasa peers into the Hall, surveys the aftermath of the battle, and walks into the room. “It would seem that our heroes have proven themselves the finest champions of Jestril, yet again. At this rate we’ll be replacing all of the statues in the Royal Quarter.”
“We’ve had no time to discuss rewards for their bravery, Einrasa, assuming there is enough gold in the treasury. Please, join us. There is much to discuss.”
“My thinking’s a little slow, and some of me memories are out of place, but I remember someone saying that it seems that the battles of the Last War seem to like they’re being played out again. It’s a foul thing for dead memories to control the living. I remember being in a book as an elf, and, I think, as a woman, which is beyond me to explain, but I also remember that near the end of that time in the book that an Invoker was acting. . .strange, shifty, maybe.” Khalsig doesn’t quite look at the hooded Laeryth as he says this, and continues, “what do you know of him, Osmund? What was his role in that group of heroes?”
“Zylrakas. His origins were clouded in mystery; plenty of scholars have made their bones attempting to piece the tale together. Some believed he hailed from one of the Tyrion Islands, others still believed he was a slave, escaped from the dragonlords of Ky’fal. Either way, a tough life, hardened into pious rage in the name of Bahamut. It is believed that he stood with Tyrowenn as she faced Vecna, and there are those who would tell you that during that conflict, on the slopes of Mount Varthatu, she was first betrayed. Do you have some reason to believe that Zylrakas also still lives? If Hastion still draws breath, I suppose I can believe anything.”
“our presence only shortened what might have been a longer battle of wills. Osmund had the battle well in hand. we were glad to be of any little help” Laeryth half smiles and looks at Osmund, almost daring him to correct Laeryth.
Lenk growls softly in the back of his throat. “I have no need of gold from your treasury. But this is a traditional weapon of my people,” he says, drawing the glaive he so rarely uses now. The supple shaft is carved from birch with some white bark left as a grip. The blade at one end curves slightly, like a talon. “If you have the means, this could be strengthened with magic.”
“And there is one other thing, a favor. We brought some orc prisoners back into the city with us. If they haven’t been executed, I’d like to bring them to the Chamber of Truth. I must learn more of this eastern horde.”
“Let’s not be hasty, now. Any assistance would be welcomed, of course, gold, enchantment or otherwise. It appears that our services are still needed… and besides, any gold would simply find its way trickling its way down to the merchants of fair Jestril, yes?
“Anyhow, while this talk of dead rulers and young gods has me a bit confused, it is clear that the powers that be have been opening holes in the fabric of the universe that were best left closed. The pursuit of knowledge for enlightenment has crossed into the pursuit of knowledge for power. Your inner circles have been corrupted, your center of government stained red with the blood of traitors and demons. Armies gather at nearby borders, entire sections of your city emptied of citizens, many of whom have been called to battle.
“You know all of this of course, and more. Someone needed to speak it out loud, however, for too much has been in the dark. What other truths should we know? Is the corruption in Jestril truly gone? What of the Eladrin? How much of this are they aware of, and are there some that were working with Jestril in this endeavor? As we’ve discovered, Fey blood and magic are integral to these dark affairs… What relation does this have to the city in the Lake of Moons?
“Finally, are there others who would stand against this threat from the West, or are you to send us four alone against Aruth to root it out?
“I apologize if I seem a bit forward Magisters, but I have been holding my tongue for some time while divining some sense of purpose and structure from the various players and their pawns. We four, however, have risked too much and seen too much for the subtle games to continue. Please be direct with us now… not all of this could have been a surprise to you.”
“Yes, yes, yes, friend elf. I believe we’ve lauded your heroics, you will be handed the keys to the treasury, and we’ll erect statues in your honor to keep us safe for all eternity. Now, kindly stay your… “
“Osmund!” The elder statesmen is taken aback by Einrasa’s rebuke. “The time for such behavior has passed. Let us spend a few moments humbly answering questions. It is the least we can do.”
“Agreed, Councilor. Lenk, was it? Soon we will leave the tower. Before taking a well deserved rest, pass your requests to Ingald. If what you ask is within our power, it shall be made so, and delivered to the Horn on the morrow.
And these Orcs. I will assume that this transpired while we were occupied here. In that case, the prison would have been sealed, and Thorvald would have sent them to be held in the barracks. Should they have avoided any unfortunate… accidents… they are yours to question.”
As Firrian speaks, Einrasa moves to Sigrid’s side, drawing a word of thanks from Osmund. He turns to address the eladrin.
“The Eladrin Host was most intrigued by our work in the Reliquary, Master Firrian, expressing gratitude in our assistance in opening their borders once again. I am sure they will be pleased to have that gratitude returned tenfold when word of your heroic reaches them. A messanger will be sent immediately – the Host must be informed of recent developments, assuming they were not already aware of Hastion’s prison, of course. It bears mentioning – if they had seen the like of our stone artifacts, they hid it from us well.”
The sun begins to set over the western horizon. As if summoned by the mere mention of its name, a dark shape begins to materialize far to the south. A city of shadow occupies the center island of the great Lake, faint lights from its towers breaking the darkness. “The city of Thelfiosa was of great concern to them, and yet seemed to symbolize great hope as well. With the crossings open, it is now possible for your kind to retake their great city. The cost must be weighed, as one thousand years submerged in shadow will not be undone lightly. And with the war with the Orcs reaching Quelthalin, they must secure their own home before the attempt, for certain. Approach the dark gates at your peril.
“As far as Aruth is concerned, I’m afraid I must admit another mistake. Seek out Kassavin Willana. His black cloaks were banned from Jestril months ago, and word reached me that he had taken up in Valyn. If anyone can secure you safe passage into those walls, it would be him. Now. I am quite tired and would sit upon my bed before the sun returns, if you’ll allow it.”
And with that, the elder councilor takes to the spiral staircase for his long walk down.
The full detail makes their way down the stairs of the tower, slowly thanks to the presence of Osmund. “I suppose I had taken the platforms for granted.” It’s clear he hasn’t made this walk in quite some time, as he keeps one hand on the stone walls at all times.
At the bottom, a celebration of sorts breaks out as the weary councilors are greeting by the remaining Royal Guard. Osmund can only muster a curt “do as they ask” before disappearing into the waiting carriage. Ingald obeys, and taking a quill and ledger from the ink stained pockets of his tunic, takes a list from you, with a promise that it will be delivered as promised.
Before you leave for the Horn, Thorvald approaches. “While I wish we could celebrate in true fashion, gentlemen, this is still much to be done. I trust we may speak tomorrow, early, on pressing matters. I fear Lord Steelguard will not be found alive, but I can not abandon him. I will send a full regiment if I must, but perhaps your aid can be enlisted. Sleep on it.”
You inquire about the orcish prisoners, and he confirms that they still live, promising to bring them in chains tomorrow. With that, he leaves you to your own affairs.