Fruit of the Fallen

The Gatekeepers

Those Who Watch, Those Who Wait

Part 34 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

One Day Later, 3 Days to Spring Solstice
“Damn Druids,” Jorduna curses, waking up to the pungent aromas and soft terrain of The Shadow Marches. The collection of bogs and wetlands used to be a bountiful land. That was before the daelkyr came, using breaches between their realm and Eberron to lay waste to the region. What happened here might have happened to the rest of Eberron, or worse, if not for the combined efforts of all who opposed them.
Once Vargard and the rest of The Split Falchion had learned of the geas they had been placed under, there was no resisting the Gatekeeper druids. Lesani herself was exempt from the enchantment, but only because of her existing ties to Oalian. Shakris, to her great dismay, was informed that she too had been placed under the geas. All who were involved in the decision believed her to be the sixth person mentioned in the prophecy, despite the wizard’s frantic arguments that she was more an acquaintance than a friend.

So the six had travelled through the Gatekeeper’s secretive teleportation network, ending up deep within The Shadow Marches.
The Gatekeeper group, a mixture of half-orcs, humans, and one orc, had all gathered to greet their guests. They were all druids, that much was obvious. The head druid, who was the only ‘true’ Gatekeeper in the group, greeted them. An orc, he was far gentler than the druids in Greenheart, though this was likely just an attempt to win over his reluctant allies. Naming himself Druid Thock, he then told the group that they should rest today, while he and his druids constructed a plan of action on the upper floor.
The team was invited to contribute to these discussions if they wished, though their presence wasn’t needed. The ruined keep, whose slightly-flooded basement hid the teleportation circle, would remain safe for the time being. Vargard declined the offer, wanting to instead talk with his own team and figure out what to do.

Despite her dual loyalty, Lesani cast silence over their little gathering to further isolate them from the Gatekeepers. They had made camp in the largest of the rooms on the ground floor, a room which also housed the Gatekeeper’s camp and the stairs up to the next floor.
“It’ll be a big vacation Jor. Trees, Jor, think about the trees Jor! Everyone else wants to go, what could possibly go wrong with chasing down a prophecy that got us sent to hell,” Jorduna’s complaining, which had been internal up until this point, continued.
“At least they didn’t take the ruby,” Marwyn compromises, feeling at least a little responsible for their situation considering his role in the prophecy, “Even if they aren’t exactly paying us, they didn’t rob us either.”
“Like hell they didn’t,” Jorduna shouts back, unafraid now that her tone was muted to outside ears, “What exactly do you call this? A vacation?” she stresses the last word, throwing it in the faces of everyone else.
“Jor, calm down,” Vargard orders, and the hobgoblin is temporarily mollified by her superior’s words, “Les, what the hell is this?!”
“Var, I did not know,” Lesani pleads, not liking the look of anger in the warrior’s eyes, despite herself harboring similar emotions, “My meeting with the Gatekeeper was less a discussion and more a briefing. Master Oalian had ruled before I had even reentered the Reaches. While I understand their motivations for this trap, I still despise their refusal to attempt to bargain with us.”
“At least you ain’t cursed. Again,” Jor replies bitterly. She eyes an open exterior door, and an idea forms. She drops to a whisper, saying, “Var, I’m going to make a break for it. Someone should be able to remove this, and we can keep in contact with the stones. If none of the druids see me….”
“Jor, I do not think…” Lesani begins, but the hobgoblin was done listening to her. Vargard attempted to order the hobgoblin back, but Jorduna had just passed the area covered by the silence spell. The warrior was about to rush over and drag the rogue back, when another wave of pain hit the latter, just as they crossed the threshold.

Throck was down in an instant, though he wasn’t angry. “Apologies,” the orc pleads genuinely, “I did not mention that Oalian would likely have restricted you to this base before we are ready to move out, and then to within a certain distance of at least one of our number.” The Gatekeeper then realizes the presence of the silence spell, and continues, “Feel free to talk amongst yourselves without fear of eavesdroppers.”
“What’d you care?” Jorduna challenges him, body weakened from the geas backlash but spirit still fierce.
The druid frowns, and what appears to be shame lights across his face. Eventually, Throck answers, “The decision to place you under a geas was not mine. Though I would not question Oalian, and I believe in the urgency of the task at hand, I find such measures distasteful. For what it is worth, I see you as equals in this venture. I must return now to my fellows. Please, do not attempt to fight your restraints, for my sake as well as yours.” He gives a formal nod in parting, and ascends back to the second floor.
“It appears Throck is more a kindred spirit than I would have believed,” Lesani observes.
“Like hell,” Jorduna replies.

The rogue managed to trigger the geas’ wrath three more times over the course before Vargard directly ordered her to stop fighting the spell. Each infraction, which consisted of either a direct physical threat to one of the Gatekeepers, or attempts to flee, seemed to inflict more and more pain to the rogue.
Thock decided it was a good time to explain the exact limitations of the geas while he healed Jorduna. The Gatekeeper also suggested that the spell took into account intent along with their actions. It wouldn’t penalize them for striking a druid if attempting to shock them out of a trance, for example. Though regrettably, the feedback would grow to the point of lethality if resistance was constant. All of this led Lesani to believe that Oalian had used a greater geas when binding her companions, and such measures surprised her. Even though she herself believed in the prophecy, her master wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

Marwyn had spent the night blaming himself for everything. He hadn’t asked for this, of course, but to the bard the only reason his friends were again trapped by a curse was his part in some kind of prophecy. He must have fallen asleep somewhere in the middle of his self-loathing, because he wakes suddenly to Jorduna’s cursing of the druids.
Breakfast was taken from the party’s supplies, which had thankfully been replenished in Sharn before they were run out of the city. Marwyn had also taken to carrying more with him, his second separation from the rest of his group finally teaching him that he couldn’t always rely on others to pack mule for him.
The druids had their own provisions, which appeared to be primarily drawn from game native to the area. The Split Falchion would have to resort to this as well if the prophecy wasn’t fulfilled soon.

To that end, Vargard was politely told by one of the apprentice gatekeepers that Throck wanted to see him in order to discuss their next move. The druid’s attitude was deferential, though the warrior couldn’t tell if that was due to actual respect, or more of a deferral to Throck’s position on the mercenaries. The other druids had kept their distance up until this point, keeping primarily to themselves.
This pattern continued when the two groups meet at the top of the keep. Throck himself was at the head of a long, rotted table upon which a map had been laid out. The rest of the druids remained behind him, impassively.
Vargard and Lesani were at the other end, waiting for Throck to begin. Marwyn was just behind the two, while Jorduna was glaring at everyone opposite to her from the doorway. Cletus and Shakris were in the far corner, the latter still trying to reconciliate having been kidnapped by druids, and the former surveying the landscape. The rough terrain and ample locations for an enemy to launch an ambush did not endear themselves to the ranger.

Everyone being assembled, Throck clears his throat and begins. “Our mission is to prevent the failing of the dimensional seal which safeguards this area from aberrant invasion,” the orc explains, indicating the circle drawn on the map which marks the zone. The area encapsulated was somewhere in the north-west region, bordering part of the Western Deep Wood. “I have been safeguarding this region for many years, yet I have never seen the wards this weak. Something is attempting to break through our protections, which we do not have the strength to replace at present. If this seal falls, we are looking at what may be the first foothold the daelkyr have had in our lands for centuries.”

“I assume the Cult is your first suspect?” Lesani asks, resolving to try and guide her companions through this as quickly as possible, “How long will the seals hold at current rate?”
“Those who worship Khyber are indeed ones we suspect to be involved,” Throck confirms, glad that there wasn’t any sign of open hostility yet from his ‘allies’, “Their presence in these lands have long threatened both our order, and Khorvaire as a whole. As for the seal, the situation is grim. Minor aberrants have started slipping through the cracks. On their own they are simply another breed of monster that haunts The Shadow Marches, but they herald a greater storm.”
Lesani, aware her companions weren’t aware familiar with the politics regarding of the Gatekeepers, asked for a moment to explain the Cult of the Dragon Below. “They are small sects of the Aashta clan, a part of House Tharask. Their intents vary from simply following old tenets of the clan, to a dangerous obsession with Khyber.”
“For the most part, our order remains uneasily at peace with the cults,” Throck continues, sensing a moment where he could interrupt, “However we will not tolerate their actions now.”

“I’m not an expert on the Great Dragons,” Vargard says, “But from what I’ve heard Les talk about, the aberrants come from Siberys, not Khyber. How’s this cult involved?”
Throck sighs, and taps a spot on the map close to him grimly, “Blightspot. That’s our name for it, but officially it is Castle Tantetril. There are two regions in our area capable of supporting heavy buildings. This keep is one, the other is the site of a large daelkyr ruin. We keep clear of it because we aren’t suicidal, but unfortunately fate has seen it to lead us into its clutches. The failing seal is centered there, and it is our belief that a cult has endangered it with their mad quest to rob what should be left to rest.”

With the conversation turning towards the specifics of their mission, the rest of the mercenaries come to the table. Shakris remained where she was, however, now trying to desperately probe for any weakness in the geas that affected her.
“My knowledge of Blightspot isn’t total, but I believe I should be able to guide us to where the seal’s primary enchantments are located,” Throck continues, “We can stabilize the seal once there, so long as it has not entirely failed.”
“If your damned magic is the only thing keeping monsters out,” Jorduna says challengingly, “And it’s failing, doesn’t that mean the place will be filled with monsters? And why do you even need us if you’re all entirely capable of fixing your own damn mess?!”
The Gatekeeper weathers her storm patiently, sympathetic to the rage despite who it was directed to. Finally, he answers, “We do expect the presence of aberrants, for which your presence will be welcome. However, the draconic prophecy you uncovered leads us to believe your presence will be crucial in finishing this task.” Jorduna laughs sardonically at the mention of the prophecy, and storms out of the room muttering to herself. A few of the druids behind Throck look at her incredulously, though the orc himself continues undaunted, addressing those who remain. “We are in agreeance with Warlock Windhailer that Marwyn is likely the one ‘Son of the Sea’, and is thus most integral to restoring the seal.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Marwyn asks.
“Draconic prophecy is always vague. Though in our history, we have seen it come to pass many times,” Throck answers, “I am not sure what will pass, only that it will follow the prophecy.”

Vargard, thinking more in terms of tactics, throws out a question, “What’s the short term plan?”
“We take boats across the swamp to Blightspot,” Throck answers, “It should only be a day’s travel, perhaps two if we run into trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Aberrants, as previously mentioned. Other beasts haunt the swamps, though most we are able to deflect without resorting to combat,” Throck answers, “Two of my adepts are particularly skilled at this.”
“In my opinion, there is little point in discussing Blightspot until we are there,” Vargard points out, “And I believe I speak for my companions when I say this matter should be resolved as quickly as possible.”
“Those sentiments are indeed shared by my party as well,” Throck agrees, “Meet us by the main entrance in one hour. We will properly introduce ourselves, and be off.”

One Hour Later
Jorduna had to be tracked down by Vargard, who found her angrily chiseling offensive script into a wall with an adamantine dagger. At first she had been hesitant, unsure if the action would trigger the geas. She soon discovered otherwise, and gleefully defaced the old building.
His rogue collected, Vargard and the others meet the druids back in the great hall. They had broken down camp in the meantime, and were assembled much like they were when the mercenaries had come through the portal. “I am Gatekeeper Throck, as you are aware,” the orc explains, “My companions have kept their silence thus far in deference to me, and with respect to your… particular situation. Though now that we are about to depart this place, such measures will no longer be needed.”
“Adept Talia,” a half-orc at Throck’s side says quickly, giving a formal nod alongside the introduction. She withdraws a bow and continues, “Ranged martial focus, curative spell focus, and secondary squad leader when necessary.” The druids finally impressed Jorduna with this, as the hobgoblin had always respected team discipline. She grudgingly admitted that they reminded her of the Wordbearers, though she was careful to hide it from the rest.
“Adept Eivald,” the human to Throck’s left carries on, “I’m the team’s scout. Transformative spell focus,” and the man’s skin ripples at this in a show of druidic power, “I also know a few artillery spells.”
“Adept Kansif,” a human druid steps up, “The only one more in tune with the land than I am is Throck. Eivald spots something too close to us and most of the time I’ll be able to keep it away. ‘ve got a nasty razor for anything that doesn’t” Kansif finished, patting a longsword on her hip.
“Initiate Valdir,” said one of the two towards the back of the druids. Now that the focus was on the half-orc, those familiar with House Tharask noticed he bore a mark of finding. This point wasn’t addressed, however, in favor of letting the druid continue, “I’ve been with the Gatekeepers for two years now. My Mark allows me to keep track of the dimensional seals more easily, though I still have much to learn. Right now I act as ranged support for the rest of the group.”
The last druid, a young human male, finishes, “Initiate Marvel. Gatekeepers took me in after something destroyed my village. Small place, not many memories,” he says almost nonchalantly, “Still in training, though I’m battle ready.”

The druid’s display surprised Marwyn, it was rather organized for people who hid in ruined swamp keeps. Though admittedly, if they really were fighting horrors from another dimension, such tactical precision might be necessary. He fingered the ring in his pocket, and wondered if he could get away with talking to Mevalyn while they were on the boat.
Vargard also approved, though for a different reason. These druids seemed reliable, not the kind of people who would throw a curse on you after offering hospitality. “I’m our frontline,” he starts, feeling he should reciprocate the druid’s greeting if they would be fighting together, “And leader. Not sure how chain of command will go, but we can sort that out later. Lesani’s our main magical support, though it seems you are familiar with her.” Throck nods in confirmation, and Vargard continues, “Jorduna’s our infiltrator, works both melee and short-range. If you can flank an enemy with her and draw their attention, she can get some good work in with her knives. Cletus is a pretty good shot with his bow, but he’s just as good with those short swords. No one’s quieter than him either, I’ll usually send him ahead with Jor if I can.”
“Jor?” Throck asks.
“Jorduna,” Vargard repeats, frustrated with himself for the slip, “It’s just a habit for us. Anyways, last is Marwyn. Usually sticks with a bow, most of his spellcasting enhances that. Has a rapier for close calls, with some healing magic. Between him and Les we can probably make a good number of us invisible.”
“That could be useful at Blightspot, though beforehand, not so much,” Throck says, “Speaking of which, we should go. Before something eats our boats, of course.” By his tone, it was clear that the orc was serious.
“Damn druids,” Jorduna curses again, under her breath.

The boats were tied to a dock which extended from the small hill which the ruined keep was built upon. Swamp stretched as far as the eye could see. Off in the mid distance something sank into the water. The druids didn’t seem to worry though, so Marwyn didn’t either.
Throck and the two half orcs each loaded onto separate boats, spreading their greater weight across the boats more evenly. Kansif and Marvel each loaded onto the fourth boat, while Adept Eivald remained at shore. Shakris, still mute, had to be practically dragged onto one while the mercenaries boarded by themselves. Marwyn was stuck with Throck, whose boat would head the formation.
Just before they would cast off, Throck addresses Eivald. “Keep a moderate circle Eivald. Not too far, the extra weight on these tugs will reduce our speed.”
“Of course Master Throck,” the adept nods. As each of the boats shove off, Eivald slips into the water, transforming into something with scales. Marwyn, who was wondering why the druid wasn’t on one of the boats, was startled. Though as before, the lack of concern from the other druids mollified him. The bard even found that he could track Eivald’s movements when he was close to him, a low primal signature surrounded the druid, though he soon lost track when the druid circled farther out.

Throck guided the remaining members through the swamp, himself moving the oars while telling Marwyn where to turn the tiller. They accidentally ran aground a few times, the boats only had at most a foot of water beneath them. But the orc was more than capable of pushing them back onto course, and not much time was lost to Marwyn learning how to steer.
Those who weren’t working the boats were at a constant vigil, examining anything that looked or sounded odd. With the exception of Shakris, who had so far been diving deeper into a depressed coma. The unfortunate reality was that there were many unusual sounds and sights in the swamp, putting everyone on edge.
Guided by Throck, the trip through the swamp took them through seemingly random directions. At times, they were forced to go single file due to the banks encroaching close on either side. Other times, the swamp was wide enough to allow for an arrowhead formation. Any natural wildlife that ventured too close to the boat diverted suddenly, along with a burst of primal energy from one of the druids behind Marwyn. The bard soon found out what happened when the group encountered something they couldn’t magically turn away.

Marwyn nearly has a panic attack when a crocodile pulls itself over the edge of his boat, but relaxes when he recognizes the primal aura surrounding it.
“Got something Eivald?” Throck asks to the rapidly unshifting druid.
“Definitely an aberrant, up by the channel half a mile ahead. Could be more, didn’t want to get too close. Big bastard,” Eivald reports, in an even tone. Marwyn, still putting his rapier into its sheath, was surprised by the composed manor of the druid considering what he’d just been through.
“We’ll go around,” Throck answers, nodding grimly, “Take the west path and edge around. Unfortunate, but we would lose more time displacing the creatures.”
“Understood,” Eivald acknowledges, and slips back into the water.

There were several other instances of this over the course of the trip, and judging by the nonchalance of the druids it was a regular occurrence. Throck’s knowledge of the land seemed immense. Any obstruction relayed to him was instantly met with orders for a new path. On the fifth such time, however, his knowledge ran dry.
“Damn,” Throck curses, after Eivald had told him of three hostiles blocking the pass ahead. He stops rowing, and the other four boats move close together. The width of the channel prevented them from putting two boats next to each other, so the conversation was somewhat ludicrous as everyone tried to talk loud enough for everyone to hear, but quiet enough as to not attract attention.

“What is it?” Vargard asks, from the third boat.
“Enemies ahead,” Throck answers, straining to keep his voice at a proper volume. Vargard sighs and just pulls out his sending stone, Marwyn doing the same. “Ah, very useful,” Throck compliments, glad that he was able to move down to a murmur. The mercenaries on the other boats did likewise, allowing for a more muted conversation.
“Never seen them before,” Eivald explains, after being prompted by Throck, “Three large twisted things, writhing appendages, eyes all over.”
“Eyes?” Vargard asks.
“Yes. It’s somewhat disturbing,” Eivald confirms, “We can’t avoid them, but they haven’t noticed us yet.”
There was silence on the line, until Cletus offers, “Can’ move tha’ boats over land?”
“No,” Throck answers, “With all the maneuverings we’ve been forced into, we have been forced to take what is akin to a river, whose outlet is not for another mile. Dragging these boats across land would take more time than simply combating the creatures would.”
“I thought the whole point of this was to avoid fighting aberrants?” Jorduna challenges, hidden anger coming to the surface somewhat.
“We can tackle three servants of the Far Realm if you are more content guarding the boats,” Throck answers back, deftly silencing the rogue without raising his voice.

It was eventually decided that Adept Talia, Adept Kansif and Shakris would guard the boats. The former, as she would make tactical decisions for the group staying behind. The second, in order to ward the area against any curious wildlife. And the latter, because it was clear the wizard was in no state to fight. Throck regretted having to bring her along, but the geas was merciless.
The away party was separated into two groups. Jorduna, Cletus, and Eivald would make silent approach and attempt to circle around aberrants, while the rest waited an appropriate distance. The mercenaries were advised to ‘stand back’ while the druids initiated. Apparently they had something special in mind.

With a note from a high pitched whistle, both Eivald and Throck gathered primal power. It was released into the swamp, and suddenly two giant waves rose from the ground. They collided at the surprised aberrants, which were exactly as horrible as Eivald described. One of the waves might have left some standing, but the combined might of both left all three prone. Vargard was prepared to rush in, but the combination of magical and mundane projectiles quickly finished the three.
“Like I said,” Throck says proudly, “We can handle three servants of the Far Realm. Though stow not your swords, warrior. We will likely need them as we move closer to Blightspot.”
“Alright,” Vargard shrugs.

It was near dusk when Castle Tantetril came into sight. It seemed they wouldn’t reach it until tomorrow, but their target was in reach. The land had been sloping upwards towards the latter part of the day. The swamp was also growing shallower with more time, reducing the paths for the group. Three more groups of aberrants had to be combated, the last raging on for quite a few minutes after a second group appeared from seemingly nowhere. Fortunately, all the injuries sustained were able to be healed by the group. Having 6 druids on your side does have its advantages, Marwyn admits to himself. He remembered the scrapes they’d gotten in before, when his own healing had run out and they were forced to rely on potions.

Throck led the group to a cluster of trees in the swamp, oddly close together considering the terrain. Throck confided that the copse was grown by the Gatekeepers themselves, specifically for this purpose. The boats were concealed with loose foliage, while everyone else made camp.
Curiously, the Gatekeepers consumed only a single berry for their meal, and were content. Marwyn examined the one offered to him, and sensed it was enchanted.
“Goodberry,” Lesani answers the look of confusion on Marwyn’s face, “A comfort of travelling with druids. They are certainly not as filling as normal rations, but they will sustain a grown man an entire day.”
Satisfied, and curious, Marwyn tries the berry. It tasted like what he would have expected of a mundane fruit, but suddenly felt an odd sensation of satiation. He stowed his flask and asked, “Why isn’t this common fare?”
“Would you enjoy eating the same meal day after day, especially if it were one berry?” Lesani asks rhetorically, “There is also the magic which is used to create them to consider. The berries do not last, and druid spells are often needed elsewhere.”
“Oh,” Marwyn replies. Not having much else to do, he turns his attention to the castle in the distance.

It was an odd structure, in that it looked nothing like the architecture he had seen in his time. Coming from one who had seen the capitals of most of the Four Kingdoms, this was saying something. The walls themselves generated a feeling of unease, though he couldn’t quite place it. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the place held monsters like the one that had tried to go for his throat earlier today. Or, it was his lingering thoughts of the prophecy. Though he had talked with Mevalyn again during the trip, despite her being busy with ‘sailing a thrice-plundered galleon with more leaks than loot,’ he hadn’t felt a glimmer of Winter from his dragonshard. The bard fervently hoped that he hadn’t hallucinated the entire thing. Even concrete proof like the copy of the prophecy he’d received from Sage couldn’t dispel his lingering doubts. He’d also acquired the unfortunate habit of waking up and, for just a moment, thinking it was all still some trick by the spirit of Blue Cloak. Marwyn also fervently hoped that would go away soon.

The druids offered to take watch for the night, granting the mercenaries a chance at a full night’s rest. Jorduna didn’t trust them enough to not take a half watch herself, but it was still a nice gesture.

The Next Morning, 2 Days to Spring Solstice
The next day’s travel proceeded as the last day’s had, though Throck had Eivald keep a closer distance. Aberrant sightings had increased, though they were able to dodge any that couldn’t be put down quickly.

“The seals are degrading at an increased rate,” Initiate Valdir reports, as they moved closer. His mark was glowing faintly, “I can feel the rift to Xoriat growing. We need to hurry.”
“Agreed,” Throck answers, “Anyone have sight of Eivald?” The was a general no that resounded throughout the group, and Throck grimaces, “He hasn’t reported in an hour.”
Everyone scanned the immediate area more intensely, searching for the missing druid. Eventually, Valdir manages to find his signature in a pool a few hundred yards to their left. “He isn’t moving,” the initiate reports solemnly.
“We go, now,” Throck orders, jumping out of his boat and onto the shore. It nearly sinks, causing Marwyn to desperately try and follow him out before the water gets over the edge. His effort fortunately saves the hull from taking on water, and the rest of the group follows the druid. Save Shakris, of course, who was going to stick with the boats.

The party arrived at the pond’s edge, and by now most could sense the shapeshifted druid lying at the bottom of the pond. “Eivald, get out of there,” Throck calls out, but to no effect.
“Could be unconscious,” Adept Talia suggests, wading in carefully. There were other organisms within the water, but they shouldn’t bother her so long as she was careful.
Lesani, who was less trusting of the beings within the pool, gives them a deeper inspection. The moment she detected psionic energy, she cries out a warning, but it was already too late. Her cry of “Aboleths!” was punctuated by Talia suddenly summoning a giant vine from the center of the pool, and using it to try and drag Throck in with her. When she turned to face them, her eyes were empty, and it was clear something else was controlling her.

“Get back!” Throck yells, fighting off the vine.
“No!” Lesani countermands, talking quickly “They can shake off the control, but only they are injured first. The creatures will attempt to control others, and steal essence from those they control to defend themselves.”
“Got it, punch the druids!” Jorduna responds, releasing a knife towards Talia. A moment after she worried about the geas, but fortunately nothing to her happened as the blade lodged itself in the druid’s shoulder.
Talia seems to shake a little from the pain, but the glassy look in her eyes doesn’t go away.

“There’s two of them!” Lesani continues, observing the pool, “That means they can control up to six…” she stops midsentence, turning to blast Marwyn with a bolt of energy. The aboleths can’t understand common, but they could read minds, and they’d identified the main threat already. A combined mental assault from both of the aquatic horrors had easily overwhelmed Lesani’s mental defenses while she was attempting to discern theirs.

The fight quickly devolves into a panic as friends turned against each other. Those who weren’t controlled were focused on either avoiding the aboleths or trying to free their friends, allowing the two abberants to focus on those who were close to the pool. Marvel and Kansif are pulled towards the pool by Talia, who was now throwing out lesser spells as she directed the vine. Kansif is quickly controlled as well, while Marvel seems able to resist the mental assault. This did little to help him, however, as Eivald’s primal form now tried to drown him in the pool. In a panic, the druid attempts to shift to something that can’t drown, but soon realizes his mistake as it only allows Eivald a greater hold.
Those who had managed to remain on the shore had to deal with a controlled Lesani and Cletus, as the aboleth also took control of the dwarf. Marwyn was quickly rendered unconscious through the efforts of both, and it took interdiction by Vargard to prevent them from outright killing him. Valdir, wide-eyed, also tried to help by firing half-drawn arrows at the two controlled mercenaries.
Throck, at the center of the storm, manages to fight off a mental assault from one of the aboleths. He curses to himself softly, knowing what he had to do, and silently asked for forgiveness as he summoned a whirpool in the center of the pond.

The suddenly violent current at the middle of the pond disrupted the vine which was still attempting to draw Throck in, as well as the two aboleths. The raging water slapped against Talia, throwing her down and finally freeing her mind. The unshackled druid turns her rage towards the aboleth closest to her, which was currently trying to swim away from the grabbing current. Most of her combative spells had been used against her allies, but fortunately there was one that persisted. Lightning, which had been assaulting those the aboleths hadn’t controlled up until this point, now struck the beast itself. Throck joins the assault from the shore, alternating between throwing poisonous fumes and bolts of cold at the beast. The vine was doing work at the same time, and eventually wrestled the creature into the air.

Though aboleths are certainly intelligent, far more so than the common man, but their physical forms leave much to be desired. To compare them to eels would be an insult to the latter. Besides beauty, they also lacked natural armor, relying instead on their superior aquatic mobility to dodge attacks. Suspended in air, it was helpless against its attackers.
With the fall of the first aboleth, Cletus snaps out of his trance. After an extremely vulgar string of curses, he wrestles Lesani to the ground and shouts, “Go! I’ve got ‘er!” The second aboleth lasted not much longer than the first, though it did almost manage to escape the vortex before the vine dragged it back in. Its last thought was of regret for choosing that particular spell from Talia’s repertoire.

And then it was over. The fighting had thankfully not attracted any other monsters, though it had left everyone drained. Those under the aboleth’s control had been forced to expend most of the magic, and those that hadn’t were drained from resisting. Marwyn was unconscious, several were on the brink, and both Marvel and Eivald were missing.
Adept Eivald answers to both when he emerges from the pool in his true form. Blood was dripping from his mouth, and he was holding his hands away from him with what appeared to be shocked disgust. “I…I killed him.”
“Eivald…” Throck says softly, “What happened?”
“I… I had sensed something. Here,” the druid answers weakly, “And then, I don’t remember… not until I had ripped out Marvel’s…”
“It was not you,” Lesani answers firmly, “Aboleths are skilled at…”
“Leave it, Les,” Vargard says softly, though it didn’t seem like Eivald had registered her words anyways.
“Talia, take Eivald back to the boats if you are able. We will make camp at next opportunity,” Throck says, to which the adept nods. Those who had been under the control of the aboleth seemed to have rebounded quickly, save Eivald. “You should return as well, I will recover for Marvel’s remains.”
Everyone else departs. Marwyn wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, as he had just been revived, but he didn’t like the grim looks. He fortunately counted four of his friends, but only five of the druids. Something had gone horribly wrong.

Fate continued to frown upon them when the group returned to where they had kept their boats. The timber which had made up their hulls had been smashed by some minor aberrants. They were quickly deposed of, but among the wreckage was found Shakris’ corpse. To the woman’s credit, there were signs that she had tried to put up a fight, but alone and afraid she was no match for those who assailed her.
They salvaged what they could, buried Shakris, and then looked for a place to camp.

Throck found his way to the camp somehow, no one bothered questioning how. “Marvel has returned to the earth,” he says in greeting, and notices that two things were missing from camp. “The boats?”
“Destroyed,” Talia responded morosely, “The one we left slain.”
“I must rest,” Throck says, turning away.

“That’s it?” Jorduna asks incredulously, “We get floored and that’s all you say?”
“What more is there to say?” Throck asks, in a defeated tone, “I knew not your friend, and Marvel… we grieve our dead on our own terms.”
“This is all your damn fault! And I bet we’re still going to that damned castle, despite the fact that worse things are waiting for us! And we lost two people before we even really started, how the hell are we supposed to…” Jorduna rages on, but is stopped by Throck’s next words.
“Had I the power to release you from your bonds, I would,” he says forcefully. Not with anger or malice, but with enough strength to drown out the hobgoblin, “Yet we are bound by oath, and you by geas. We complete the mission for the dead, not in spite of them. Now I must go. I will return at dawn. We will continue.”

The druid leaves and silence falls over the camp. The Gatekeepers seemed to be holding vigil for their fallen. Eivard was still taking Marvel’s death hard, though the initial shock was wearing off. The mercenaries simply talked quietly amongst themselves. Marwyn was informed of how the battle had gone whilst he was knocked out, though no one felt the need to go too much into detail.
“So… it’s over, right?” Jorduna asks, still taken aback by the rise she had gotten out of Throck, “Shakris is dead, and we needed her for the prophecy. We’re screwed.”
“I cannot believe that,” Lesani argues, “And we cannot lose hope. As… unpleasant a though it is, Master Oalian was likely mistaken in believing Shakris was part of the prophecy. Or perhaps, she was, and her part has come to an end.”
“That’s pretty cold, Les,” Jorduna points out, “So what you’re saying is ‘Oops, we accidentally got someone killed, but it’s ok because they probably didn’t matter anyways.’”
Lesani bristles, and whispers fiercely, “That is not what I said at all! I mourn her passing as much as you. More perhaps.”
Vargard, sensing an argument that could blow up and reveal their cover, cuts in. “Stop it. This is only making things worse.” The team discipline, frail as it was, held, and the two stopped their fighting.

There were still a few hours left in the day, but no one was intent on moving on. Several had wounds which would have to wait for the next day in order to heal, as between the fight with the aboleth, and all those before, the party’s spell pool had been largely drained. Marwyn was among the ones who had to resort to the bandages applied by Talia.
So, there was little for the bard to do but try to not open any of his wounds. He didn’t want to bother Mevalyn with any of this, from the sound of it she was having her own adventures. The others present were clearly against any form of conversation. Not having much else to do, the bard idly practiced loading his crossbow, being careful not to make too much noise. The last thing anyone needed was alerting more of the aberrants.

The Next Day, 1 Day to Spring Solstice
This night the watch was split between both the mercenaries and the druids, allowing those more injured on either side to rest. Those who made up the last watch saw Throck return, haggard but unharmed. He speaks with Lesani, who due to her nature had risen hours before.
“Will they continue?” the orc asks simply.
“What choice do they have?” Lesani answers evenly, “Had we the chance to return, you would have never lost Marvel.”
Throck shrugs off the last part, not feeling it worth challenging. “We will need to make it on foot, without the boats. At the very least, we shall not run into any more of the scum which assaulted us yesterday.”
“How dire must the seal’s integrity be to allow aboleths through?” Lesani questions, pulling Throck further away.
“We do not know if the aberrants were not here already,” Throck answers easily.
“Liar,” Lesani calls out softly, “Had they been on Eberron for an appreciable time, they would have assaulted us with flesh servants as well. These were new arrivals.”
“Warlock, you are making this more difficult than it has to be,” Throck whispers back fiercely, and then sighs. “Valdir is the only other who knows. While I have led you to believe the seals are gradually degrading the truth is… more difficult.”
“Why the deception?”
The Gatekeeper thinks to himself for a moment, weighing the situation. Eventually, he relents, “The truth may have led even my own druids to lose hope. The seal… failed. Briefly, before failsafe built into the enchantments were activated. But in that time…”
“When was this?” the warlock sternly interrogates, shock evident on her features, “For how long?”
“I do not know,” Throck answers honestly, “Only that it happened. I had hoped, not long enough for anything too dangerous to slip through. When we encountered those aboleths…”
“Aboleths are the least of our worries,” Lesani interrupts again, “Had a daelkyr been wise to opening rift…”
“I have been assured that is not the case,” Throck fires back, worried that Lesani’s loudening words would spill into the wrong ears, “This land has not been visited by much more powerful than that of an aboleth for some time.”
“You have discerned this personally?”
“Where did you think I had absconded to this past night?” Throck answers knowingly, “Had the answer been different, I would not have us continue.”
Lesani nods, now understanding the druid’s motivations more clearly. One thing bothers her, however, “You have discerned that nothing more powerful than an aboleth has invaded this land?”
“Yes,” Throck repeats.
“That still leaves the fact that there are creatures as powerful as aboleths, likely at highest concentration within Blightspot.”
“Oh,” Throck says, taking her point, “There is that to consider.” He takes a closer look at those resting, and notices the ones wearing bandages. “You have injured.”
“Remnants from yesterday,” Lesani explains.
“I shall correct this,” Throck replies, moving towards the wounded.

The dawn of the next day brought renewed hope to the travelers. Throck’s ministrations were enough to fully restore the group. The deaths of Marvel and Shakris still weighed heavily on all assembled, but the general consensus was to push through the grief and finish the mission. Jorduna was the major outlier, retreating further into a bitter silence.

All that was left to discuss was the final stretch of the journey, and then the great obstacle itself. Castle Tantetril, or Blightspot, an ancient Daelkyr fortress filled with monsters from another dimension. With the fate of the world at stake, the ten adventurers began planning their assault.

Continued in Part 35, Assault on Blightspot – Storm of the Century

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