Chapter 23: Through the Portal

An ornate, golden key lying on a wooden table.

For Gerard, stepping through the portal feels like falling into an endless hole. Air whips past his face as he plummets, his mouth open in a scream that the wind rips from his lips and casts away into the void. Just as he starts to think that he might be falling forever, the ground rushes up to meet him and he tumbles out, landing on his knees.

“Um. What portal would this be?” Atone asks into the sudden silence. The rest of the party turn to stare at him.
“Should we tell him?” Nubbins says. “Keothi would have said he didn’t trust—”
“Wordweaver did not trust anyone, Nubbins,” Gerard interjects. “Atone is part of our group now.”
“The warlock we were travelling with before we met you,” Aleph begins, “the one who died in the attack on the mill, was bound to the service of the dark god Be’He’Quin.”
“We do not think the relationship was entirely of Wordweaver’s choosing,” Gerard adds.
“Be’He’Quin gifted him a key that opens a portal to another realm,” the Warforged continues. “Before Wordweaver died, he asked us to help him explore it.”

“I… see,” Atone replies. “And you want to do this now?”
“You’ve got to admit, Nubs, we do have other priorities,” Cyd says gently. “I mean, Keithy is, well, dead. What good will it even do to—”
“We’re going to bring him back!” Nubbins shouts, slamming a tiny fist onto the table. “And when we do, I want to be able to tell him that we looked into the portal like he asked us!” He looks around the table, glaring defiance at the rest of the party. “Time works all weird in there, so it won’t take long. He died for us. I think we can all spare a few seconds for him.”
“I agree,” Gerard says softly. “Before he crossed over, Wordweaver told me that he wanted to be free of Be’He’Quin’s control. If we could find a way to earn him that freedom, even in death, it could bring him peace.”
Aleph looks to Cyd, who sighs. “Alright, fine. I’m convinced. Let’s get our freaky portal on.”

*

Eled has assigned them a suite of good rooms at the back of the tavern, far from the bustle of the market square. They pick the chamber furthest from the stairs, locking and bolting the door once they’re all inside.
“How safe is this portal?” Atone asks nervously.
“I’m not sure,” Nubbins replies. “Keothi used it a few times, though, and nothing bad happened to him!” So saying, the gnome crosses to a heavy wardrobe in the corner of the room, inserts the portal key into its lock, and turns. There’s a ripping sound, as though the air is a piece of paper being torn in half, and a swirling, grey-green portal appears in place of the wardrobe door. Nubbins enters the portal at a running jump and vanishes from sight. The rest of the group follow him with varying degrees of curiosity and reluctance, Atone bringing up the rear with a look of marked concern.

They stumble out on the other side into a dark, damp room with walls of greyish stone. Disorientated by the dizzying journey through the portal, Nubbins sits down on the floor with a bump. Gerard stumbles to his knees, looking a little green.
“That was… intense,” Cyd says. “So, where are we?” She squints around her, waiting for her vision to clear. There are wavy, mud-green lines crawling across her eyes, making it hard to focus. She blinks and shakes her head, but they don’t fade. It is almost as if the walls themselves are moving.

“It would appear to be a temple,” Aleph says, pointing. With difficulty, Cyd drags her eyes along the line of his arm. There is an immense altar of polished black stone in the centre of the room: she isn’t sure how she could have missed it before. Opposite the altar stands another portal, the twin of the one by which the group entered.

“A temple of Be’He’Quin, perhaps?” Gerard muses. “I’m not familiar with the symbology.”
On the altar stand three stone idols. Gerard moves closer to the dais to inspect them. They look like gaping mouths, or maybe staring eyes, each one with a ruby glowing at its centre…
“Gerard,” Aleph says sharply. The monk snaps back to himself, realising with a start that he has stretched out a hand towards the statues. He withdraws his arm hastily.
“They look like they’d be worth quite a bit,” Cyd says, joining Gerard at the foot of the altar. “Shame they’re probably cursed. Think we could get them out safely with magic?”
“I think we shouldn’t touch them,” Atone says. “Also, I think we shouldn’t be here at all. Let’s go back to the tavern.” He turns and takes a few steps towards the portal, but no one follows him.

Gerard is about to reply when a speckle of water hits the top of his bald head. “Did anyone else feel that?” he asks. He reaches up reflexively to wipe the droplets away, and his hand comes back smeared with blood. Covering his mouth, he looks up; as he does so, a red torrent cascades from the ceiling of the room, drenching them all in seconds.
“Is—is it raining blood?” Atone yells, over the sudden sound of the downpour.
“Unfortunately, I think it is,” Gerard replies, looking pale.
The rain stops as suddenly as it began, leaving a slick of blood on the floor and five very wet, very red party members.

“Well, that was disgusting,” Cyd concludes. “Shall we see what’s through the other portal? I’d hate to get nothing out of this trip except ruined clothes.”
“We should see where it leads while we are here,” Aleph agrees, drawing his axe. “I will accompany you, Cydonie, if the others will guard the temple until we return.”

Steeling herself, Cyd steps through the swirling, green window, feeling again the dizzying motion sickness she experienced the first time she entered the portal. On the other side, though, she finds plenty to reward her for the unpleasant journey. The rogue feels her jaw go slack and her eyes widen at the landscape around them.

She and Aleph are on a path in a forest, but those commonplace terms don’t do justice to the reality of what she’s seeing. Some of the trees have plumage like peacocks; others glow from within with the colours of sunset and put forth leaves like great drifts of cloud. Everywhere Cyd looks, she sees some new, strange, or beautiful plant, though there are no birds or other animals, and her sense of self-preservation just about keeps her from sampling any of the strange, jewel-like fruits hanging from the branches.

So dazzled is she by the sights around her that it takes her a full minute of walking before she becomes aware of a sticky wetness on the soles of her feet. Glancing down at the path, she sees blood seeping from her boots and staining the ground.
“Urgh!” Cyd drags her boots across the pale dirt, trying to wipe them clean. As she turns, she sees that she and Aleph both have left a trail of bloody footprints behind them.
“Alf, we’ve got to clean ourselves up,” she says. “Cool as any beasties round here must be, I’m not sure we want to meet the ones who’ll follow this trail.”

But though the pair wipe their feet thoroughly on the path—and rinse them with water from their packs—they still leave a bloody trail behind them when they set off again. Cyd throws up her hands in disgust.
“Great! Magic blood. This place is just fantastic.”
“It cannot be helped, Cydonie,” Aleph rumbles. “No doubt the spell will wear off in time.”
“It’s alright for you, you big tin can. Nothing wants to eat you.” She puts on a low, growling voice. “‘Ooh, shall we attack the giant metal guy?’ ‘No, best not, let’s eat his squishy meat friend instead.’ Honestly—”

Cyd breaks off as the pair round a bend in the path and emerge into a clearing. In its centre is a camp fire, around which are ranged clusters of pod-like structures. Strangest of all, the fire is being tended by a giant, floating jellyfish. Several more jellyfish emerge from the pods as Aleph and Cyd look on, too astonished to move. One of the creatures notices them: it turns a pale shade of green and wafts towards them, its eye stalks swivelling from Cyd to Aleph and back again.
Hello, a voice echoes inside their minds. What are you?

Cyd’s eyes sparkle. “Telepathic beasties,” she breathes. “Awesome!”
“We are travellers from another realm,” Aleph answers, since Cyd seems too excited to reply. “I am Aleph. This is Cydonie.”
Several more of the creatures have begun to drift over, a small crowd of floating green shapes gathering around the two adventurers.
“What are you?” Cyd asks them.
The one who addressed them first turns pink. We are us! Would you like to sit and eat with us? It continues. We do not get many visitors. The last pair of travellers to pass this way are remembered only in stories.

“We would be honoured,” Aleph replies.
The pink jellyfish leads them back towards the campfire, where they sit down.
“So, what food do you have?” Cyd says. She’s just realised that she’s absolutely ravenous, but she can’t see any supplies—not so much as a box of hardtack.
We feed on psionic energy, the creature tells her cheerfully.
“Oh. We… don’t.”
You eat physical food? We can make that, too!
Their new friend raises two of its tentacles before its face and closes its eyes; slowly, a ball of light forms in the space between its limbs. As Cyd watches, the jellyfish shapes the light into a… thing. Then the glow dims and the creature presents the lump to her with a proud air.
Physical food! it says.
“I’m… not sure that I can eat that,” Cyd replies. “But the concept works! Let me tell you about pork pies.”

*

Once Cyd can get past the uncanny feeling of eating something grown from thought alone, the creature’s take on pork pies actually turns out to be quite convincing. She starts describing other dishes, and soon has a cluster of jellyfish busy producing all of the ingredients for a faerunian picnic.

While they work, the creatures bombard Aleph with questions about where he and Cyd have come from, what it’s like having hands, and anything else they can think of. The Warforged responds as best he can, describing their home, and the temple they passed through to reach the creatures’ campsite. After a while, he takes out his baliset and offers to play them a Warforged battle hymn. The jellyfish turn pink, swaying in time with the music; a few of them even create balisets of their own and try to join in, playing them poorly with their tentacles.

“Do you know of a being named Be’He’Quin?” Aleph asks, as he and Cyd finally prepare to leave.
A wave of green passes across the nearest jellyfish. We have not heard of a Be’He’Quin. Is it like the baliset you made sounds with? the nearest one replies.
“I think not, but I thank you for the answer,” Aleph rumbles. “We should re-join our companions. Thank you for your hospitality, my friends.”

*

“Oh, you’re back already,” Gerard says, as the pair re-emerge from the portal. He sounds slightly disappointed.
“Time’s weird here, remember?” Cyd replies. “We were gone hours! We met an awesome tribe of giant jellyfish people,” she adds. “They could make stuff with their minds: we taught them how to do pies!”
“They were sentient? Fascinating! I would very much like to meet them.” Gerard turns to Atone and Nubbins. “Would you like to join me on a short excursion?”
Atone looks dubious, but Nubbins nods enthusiastically. “I like pies!” he says. “And we might learn something useful for Keothi.”

*

For Gerard, stepping through the portal feels like falling into an endless hole. Air whips past his face as he plummets, his mouth open in a scream that the wind rips from his lips and casts away into the void. Just as he starts to think that he might be falling forever, the ground rushes up to meet him and he tumbles out, landing on his knees. He gets to his feet and looks around: he is standing on a road paved with broad, pearlescent stones, stretching across a barren plain. There’s no forest, no jellyfish, and he cannot see the others anywhere.
“How interesting,” he murmurs, taking out his pocketbook and jotting a few notes. He begins to walk. At first, he can see nothing but the road for miles in any direction, but once he has taken a few steps, a cluster of buildings comes into view: they must have been hidden by some quirk in the landscape, Gerard thinks.

A worn dirt track leads off the high road towards the houses; the monk decides to follow it. There’s a copse of upside-down trees standing by the first of the structures, and as he reaches it, he sees a familiar figure coming his way.
“Gerard!” Nubbins calls. “I landed in a tree! It’s a good thing it was the wrong way round, or I’d have had to climb down. And look—I found a friend!”
He points, and Gerard starts. A cloth coin purse is bouncing along behind Nubbins, clinking gently. As the pair watch it, a mouth opens in its centre, revealing rows of small, pointed teeth. It screws itself up and leaps towards Nubbins—the gnome stumbles backwards with a yelp—and latches onto his belt, biting down on the leather. It wriggles, as though trying to get comfortable, then stills.

The two friends regard the purse in stunned silence. Tentatively, Nubbins tugs at it: it doesn’t budge. He shrugs. “Well, guess I’m looking after it now!” he says.
Gerard’s mouth opens and closes. “Have you seen Atone?” he asks eventually. “If you and I ended up close to one another, then perhaps he—”

“AHHHHHH!” Gerard is interrupted as Atone sprints past them, his eyes wide and staring. He scrambles up the bank and onto the high road, then dashes along it.
“Atone! Wait!” Gerard shouts. The tiefling only points behind him in response. The monk and the bard turn, just in time to see a house running towards them on spindly, clawed legs. It looms over them and then, taking a great leap, lands on top of them with a dull thump.

The noise halts Atone in his tracks. He stares at the house where his companions used to be, stricken dumb with horror.
“Gerard? Nubbins?” he whispers. He creeps towards the wooden structure, wings spread in case he needs to make a quick getaway. He edges closer. The house’s curtains are drawn, its windows closed, so he shuffles up to the door and, after a second of hesitation, knocks. “Hello?” he calls.

The door creaks open, revealing Gerard and Nubbins lying on the floor, blinking and dazed.
“That was fascinating,” Gerard exclaims as he gets to his feet. “Terrifying, but fascinating!”
“It’s a friendly house, I think,” Nubbins concludes as he dusts off his jacket. “Just like the coin purse.”
The trio leave the house, closing the door carefully behind them, and make their way back to the portal.

*

“I am never coming here again,” Atone announces. He never thought the sight of the blood-soaked temple could fill him with such relief.
“Did you find the jellyfish?” Cyd asks.
“We did not. This realm is terrifying and absurd, and I cannot make any sense of it at all!”
“Shall we call it a day?” the rogue says, glancing at the rest of the party. “I think Tony’s had enough.”

“There is one more thing I would like to try before we leave,” Gerard replies. “If this temple is indeed dedicated to Be’He’Quin, as seems likely, then perhaps meditating at its altar may grant us some insight into his intentions. Earlier, I felt drawn to those idols: I am going to focus my thoughts on them again. I would be grateful if you could keep watch on me while I do so.”

The group nod, drawing closer to the altar as Gerard climbs the dais. He kneels before it and closes his eyes.
“Do you feel anything?” Nubbins asks.
“Not yet, Nubbins. Perhaps a little quiet might—”
Gerard winces suddenly as a flurry of images and sounds bombard his mind. Fear floods through him; he can see huge, floating cities, fleeing a shapeless and destructive force. Creatures he has never seen before are mown down by faceless enemies and slaughtered where they fall. Rolling fields and ruined villages fly past his inner eye, until finally his mind comes to rest on a cave surrounded by trees. Within is a large, black gem, a void swirling at its centre. GO, a voice says.

*

The monk regains his senses to find himself bowing before the altar, his hands clasped before him and his face pressed to the ground.
“Ger? You OK?” Cyd is bending over him, her expression taut with concern. The monk gets stiffly to his feet. “I received a vision.”
“What did you learn?” Aleph asks.
“That Be’He’Quin had a mission for Wordweaver. And now that Wordweaver is dead, he intends to pass that mission on to us.”

Read the next chapter here!

New reader? Check out the first chapter!

 

Thanks for reading, everyone! If you’re enjoying the lovecraftian weirdness that is the Far Realms temple, don’t forget to check us out on DM’s Guild, where you can download this and all our other side quests for free! We’ve got maps on there too for the temple and more 🙂

3 Comments on “Chapter 23: Through the Portal

  1. Pingback: Chapter 22: A Day’s Grace – Tabletop Tales

  2. Pingback: Chapter 27: The Meadow in the Cave – Tabletop Tales

  3. Pingback: Chapter 30: The Camp – Tabletop Tales

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