The Warlord stood head and shoulders above even the largest member of his horde. Many said he had the blood of giants in his veins. He looked at the strange circle on the ground. It had been ash-covered earth half a day ago. Now it was strange, tightly cut stones with an engraved symbol cut into it. All around them was the taint of demons. He held up his own sword, taken from a powerful foe from the outer realms.
The same symbol. He'd long thought that the source of the corruption int his forest came from a power that was not of the natural world. Now he knew.
This was their gateway. All he had to do was figure out how to open it. Then he could spread his righter flame right to their heart.
With a wave of his hand the Warlord called the spirit of the dead shaman who lay before him. The translucent soul rose and bowed.
"Tell me everything." he rumbled.
Getting into the Pit was easy. Getting out was not. The Abyss did not like to give up anything.
Addryn made some adjustments and cast a spell. "Should be any second now. When they come through, grab them."
One by one the recruits fell upward out of the pit, caught by Addryn's gravity-reversing spell and thumping hard to the under side of the massive metal plate that usually covered the Abyssal door.
They were in planar shock, convulsing and wracked. The Jurers and the Guards reached out to haul them to the edge and bring them to the ground. The sudden reversal of gravity was just one last thing in a long string of abuse their bodies had suffered in the last few hours
It was all too much. They were fighters, every one of them, but the relief of being safe was enough for their minds to finally give into the fatigue and shock they'd been fighting for far too long.
One by one, on the street of the city they'd already given up their lives for, they passed out.
The angel was the last one though the gate. "Close it. Get them to the temple."
The crane released the metal plate with a crash. The glow from beneath it died down. Locks and chains were set. The rune glowed blue again. Stretchers were brought. Kiosks came back. Foot traffic began again. Street performers started up their routines again. Within minutes, it would have been impossible to tell that anything strange had happened at all.
"This is highly irregular." the disgusting demon squealed and grunted, scanning the tome in it's hands. "These mortals were not compelled or stolen. They simply... slipped. The Abyss holds claim over things lost to it's depths."
"If they were lost, we wouldn't be telling you exactly where they are." the angel glared.
"That still does not explain why the Abyss should consent to their return. The Abyss finds little difference between were and are." the demon retorted.
"Because if the Abyss wants to keep them, the Abyss is going to have to fight to hold them." the angel said resting her hands on the hilts of her swords.
The demon nervously cleared it's throat. The woman before it, the angel, the Hellguard, she wore armor made from defeated demon lords. Those blades were among the more famous weapons in the infernal realms.
"That would break your revered Accords." the demon said, trying desperately to steer the conversation away from a future where he was the next notch in her hilt.
"No. It would not. Those are Arch citizens. They have broken no laws or treaties. They were carrying out a Council endorsed mission and an unforeseen planar event pushed them into the Abyss. It is the Abyss' contractual duty to return our people and property. If you refuse we are within our rights to bring them back by force." the angel gestured to her left and right. "I am sure you recognize Link."
"The Traitor." the demon grunted, staring at his own reflection in the mirrored faceplate of the knight next to the angel.
"And Azrael." the angel continued.
"The Cage." the demon sneered at the scarred, bandaged man on the other side.
"We are the vanguard." the angel said. "And in ten seconds we are going to exorcise our right to retrieve our property. Wherever the Pit Gate leads, we will start there and carve a straight line to our people. Anyone or anything in our way will be forfeit. So, I suggest you ensure that our line is as short as possible."
The demon paused only a moment, it's piggy eyes narrowing and grudgingly caving to the threat. "You have their location?"
"Addryn?" the angel asked.
"I have them." the man in blue said without looking up from his glass tablet.
The angel turned her key unlocking the last of the locks on the Pit. "I consent." she spoke quietly to the rune in the center of the plate. It favored from it's calm, pale blue over to an alarming red.
The chains that had held the locks were quickly attached to the crane's hook and the whole thing began to move. The two Jurors and the angel rode the plate upward until it was level with the ground and stepped free, immediately taking up defensive positions around the leech-maw rim.
The swirling gorge beneath the plate was alive with anger and hissing spite. It spoke to them in the tongue of demons.
"THROUGH ME YOU GO AMONGST THE LOST."
"I've heard it before." the angel snapped. "Send your herald."
The Pit gnashed. "PERHAPS SEND THEM ALL, I SHALL."
"Go ahead. The Accords haven't been tested for a while. How many rings do you think you'll lose this time?" the angel snapped.
"INFINITE ARE THE LAYERS. INFINITE ARE THE LEIGION."
"Finite is my patience. Send your herald or make your play."
From the Pit slowly rose a towering boar-like figure, corpulent, with stubby three fingered hands at the end of thick, simian arms. On it's back were a pair of vulture's wings each with a pair of delicate finger-claws at the bend of the wing. It carried a tome in one hand and wore rich fabrics in a sarong around it's heavy waist.
"I answer." the creature said in an oily tenor. "You may ask."
"I ask nothing." the angel glared. "I demand."
Behind her, Addryn tapped away on his tablet, a small smile growing on his face.
Two figures moved quickly through the crowd and approached the Pit. As they passed and people noticed them, the crowd thinned and dispersed. People suddenly had anywhere else to be. Even the vendors and street performers started moving their kiosks and clearing the streets.
The two could not be more different. One wore white with the city's heraldry large and proud across his chest. His face was covered by a helm with a mirrored faceplate. How he saw out of it was anyone's guess. When he moved, he sounded like a pile of chains being dragged down the street.
The other was dressed in faded and tattered blacks and grays. He was quiet as a ghost. Beneath his tunic his whole body was covered in bandages, some soaked through. His face was partially covered by half-mask that ran diagonally from above one elven ear to below the other. What little skin was exposed was covered in scars. One eye was damaged, a milky white iris with a corona of bloody red. The other was a crystalline blue.
They nodded a greeting to Addryn, but he was busy with his tablet so they watched as the Jurors finished maneuvering the crane into place and hooking it up to the heavy iron plate.
When it was done, they each pulled a large key out from beneath their armor. "We need the third." one of the jurers said, looking up at Addryn from where they stood on the metal plate inside the pit.
A shadow passed overhead. Addryn looked up and watched an angel start to descend.
Unlike the other portal sites on Door Street which all sat vertically, The Pit was just a recessed circle that sank about two feet into the ground. It was surrounded by braided iron bands as thick as a man's arm and covered with rusty thorns that looked a lot like they were covered in crusted blood. The Pit was sealed by a heavy iron plate, locked with massive thorned chains, three enormous locks and a brightly glowing rune in the center of the metal plate.
The thorny ring around the recessed circle gave the entire thing the impression of a leech-like maw. The high pitched squeal of straining metal whined in the air punctuated by the occasional boom of impact that shook the cover plate and rattled the chains.
Next to the Pit was an articulated crane of Dwarven make, twice the height of a man with a two ton counterweight. It was anchored securely into the ground and folded up tight, it's hand controls bound by yet another lock and chain.
Addryn appeared right in front of two intimidating looking Jurors who were standing guard over The Pit. They weren't surprised. Teleportation was one of the many things Jurors could sense, or even prevent if they felt like it. They knew he was coming and had allowed it. They were the locks on the doors of Door Street.
Addryn tapped the insignia on his chest. "Priority authorization, Blue Tower, Addryn, zero-six."
Adrian's eyes went wide as he finished his calculations. He grabbed a chunk of cracked obsidian from the circle and took off running. "Let's go, move!"
He started sprinting through the crowd followed by his team of Watch guards. "Coming through!" he bellowed, weaving through startled people.
Yanking his keystone from his belt he pressed two gem-buttons button and started talking into it as quickly as he could.
"This is Addryn! I need teleportation clearance on doorstreet right now, and I need a breach team to meet me at the Razor Gate! I have two Operatives and a group of recruits lost in a planar shunt! I need priority control at the Pit Door."
"Granted. Go." the voice came through the Keystone like it was speaking between his ears.
"You catch all that?" he called over his shoulder to his team.
"Yeah! We'll catch up!" the sergeant said.
Without another word Addryn vanished.
Addryn's hands flew over his glassteel slate, working the calculations and trying to compensate for the interplanar flux. Why the city had ever decided to use an ExoPrime with suck unpredictable synchronicity, he would never know. It should have
The Watch squad assigned to him were tense, ready in case anything decided to hitch a ride in with their Recruits.
Addryn's eyes practically bugged out of their skull. "What th- NonoNO! DAMMIT!"
The portal ring flashed. The well-manicured cobblestones were gone. In their place was a patch of cracked obsidian with a pair of jutting stone blades jutting upward like claws. A patch of lingering smoke dissipated into the air making the Watch turn away and gag at the smell of brimstone.
Addryn's mind raced. He looked over his slate and back to hellish circle that had just been his portal site.
"What happened? Where'd they go?" one of the Watch asked.
Well hidden past the smoky tree line two orcs peered into the clearing, watching the group in the high platform. The skirmisher glared from behind the goggles of his mask. "Who are they? They come from nowhere. I followed the tracks of their reinforcements. They end at a cut circle. The grasses and ferns were sheared off. That is where the footprints begin. They speak the sacred tongue of fire, and come back to life when slain."
"They are the taint which we burn away the forest to destroy. The white elf said to our blasphemer prey that they will be here for two days, then will leave." the shaman growled, sacred flames licking between his fingers.
"We cannot allow them to escape!" the warrior said, appalled at the notion. "Their heresy must be purged!"
"We are only two. We could call others, but our losses would be great. They have the high ground now, and they know us. This would be a righteous battle, but not a smart one." The shaman's eyes narrowed in thought.
The warrior glared at the pile of smoking bodies of his kin. "They burn us like wood or vermin. Not even with the most basic of pyres. They insult us like we are undeserving of the simple courtesies of enemies. We would never do that to them."
"No, we would not." the shaman agreed.
"We cannot let this insult go unanswered!" the warrior said, rounding on the shaman angrily.
The shaman's feet flared to fire and his eyes burned. "You forget yourself, little cinder. Ensure that anger is properly directed. Focused and fed, fire can melt steel. Unrestrained, it consumes all and dies."
The warrior steadied himself and nodded tightly. "What will we do?"
"We will watch them. We need to know more about what they are capable of. Track down the closest forest beast, and drive it here. We will see what they do."
The warrior nodded and vanished into the forest like smoke.