‘The Melting’, Mirtul 14, 1493, just after midnight
Having been forced to retreat from the mill as it was overrun by cultists, the party headed back to the Keep to lick their wounds and decide their next move. Their pace was quickened however when they saw a single burning arrow fly into the sky from the keep’s battlement, the signal that Athanius and Escobert had agreed to use only if the keep was breached.
Moving with great haste, the party forded the river at one of its shallower points and made their way through the secret entrance they had used throughout the night. As they emerged from the lower levels into the keep they were greeted by a scene of chaos. Members of the town militia were running to and fro, and frightened shouts could be heard coming from the keep. The group was spotted by Cuth Swift, husband of Lydia Swift, who informed them that somehow the Sally Port was breached.
The party arrived in the courtyard to find a handful of militia already in battle with a small group of cultists and kobolds. It was less of an organized assault and more of a melee, the kind you might see at a knight’s tournament, with opponents fighting head-to-head or in small groups of two or three. Bolstering the defense of the ragtag militia was none other than Escobert the Red himself, whose blood-spattered morning-stars took down two more kobolds in the blink of an eye.
Beyond the melee, Hogar saw that two of the militia had fought their way to the door and were leaning against it to hold back any further incursions by the cultists and their kobold minions. They must have been using some kind of battering ram on the other side, as the door quaked rhythmically, cracks spreading across the reinforced wood. The party ran to help hold the door, but as they approached it burst inward suddenly, knocking the two guards to the ground. A large drake was the first through the door and it immediately moved towards the nearest prone guard, clamping its jaws down on the back of the poor man’s neck. The kobolds who moved in on the heels of the drake pounced on the remaining guard, ending his screams with their wicked daggers.
Zephyrian charged into the narrow sally port, hoping to use his greatsword to stem the flow of enemies from entering the courtyard. The rest of the party engaged in their own ways, with Kilran calling out his stinging insults, Athanius igniting the kobolds in divine flame, and Hogar firing arrows to hold back any further cultists from entering through the damaged door (at least that’s what he told Zephyrian when the Dragonborn asked him “why he kept missing”). After slaying the drake, the group made quick work of the remaining kobolds, and soon after joined up with Escobert in the courtyard to assess the situation.
The dwarf called for Eaden, the cleric of Chauntea, who he assured the group would have the door mended in no time. He went on to inform them that after talking with some of the other guards in the courtyard, he figured out what led to the breach. One of the cultists had infiltrated the keep and disguised herself as a guard. She must have heard that Escobert was personally interviewing every one of the guards in the keep, so she went to the sally port and told the guards there that the enemies were scaling the walls on the other side of the keep. In the confusion that followed, she stabbed one of the guards and slipped past the others to open up the sally port door, where a significant force of cultists and kobolds had been lying in wait. Fortunately, there were enough guards near the port that they were able to stop the intruders before they made it past the courtyard.
“That’s all thanks to you, half-elf,” Escobert grumbled at Athanius.
“If you hadn’t had me double the guard duty on the sally port, they likely would have made it into the keep, and Moradin only knows what chaos they could have caused then,” he continued.
The party did not have long to dwell on their victory however, as they had only taken a short rest before Governor Nighthill requested their aid on the battlements. There, he explained to them that their fighting force had been reduced to a full half of its original size, most of which was due to repeated attacks by the large blue dragon and his deadly lightning breath. Hogar growled at the mention of the great beast. Lennithon was his name. They had overheard several of the cultists fearfully mentioning as they patrolled near the river.
“Unfortunately, the one weapon we have that stands a chance of piercing his thrice-damned hide is of no use to us,” muttered Nighthill, indicating a large wooden trapdoor in the center of the western battlement.
“Without our ballista, we stand no chance against the dragon, and even if we get the damned thing out, who knows if we can hit him,” Nighthill continued gruffly.
He went on to explain to the group how the dragon had destroyed the mechanism used to raise the ballista during one of his earlier attacks, preventing the defenders from using it. Luckily for Nighthill, this was a resourceful group of adventurers. Under Athanius’ instruction, soldiers brought forth several casks and an armful of polearms. When asked what they were for, Athanius simply replied, “You’ll see. Just get them down there with the ballista.”
He instructed the soldiers, as well as his fellow party members, to position the polearms underneath the ballista and on top of the casks, creating a simple lever. Those down with the ballista pushed down with all their strength, and combined with the assistance of several soldiers above yanking on ropes, the ballista slowly but surely came creaking up out of the trapdoor.
With the ballista in place, the group came up with a plan to help ensure that they would have a clear shot at the dragon. Placing Phlegm’s prized candlestick on a pile of crates on top of one of the still standing towers, Kilran cast an illusion on the pile of boxes to make them appear as a pile of treasure. They also placed several torches around the pile to enhance the illusion.
When Lennithon returned not long after, the group was ready for him. During his first pass, the keep’s defenders fired a volley of arrows, only to be rebuffed by a powerful blast of lightning breath, blackening the stone where it struck, and grievously wounding several of the archers. Meanwhile, Zephyrian and Hogar worked together to position the ballista properly, and waited for Kilran to callout when to fire. As Lenninthon returned for another attack, Athanius used his thaumaturgy to cause the torches surround the “treasure” to flare up suddenly, causing the pile to glitter brightly in the night. As the dragon’s head lurched suddenly, distracted by the heap of treasure, Kilran called out for the two to fire.
Their aim was true. The ballista bolt crashed directly into Lennithon’s upper-chest, piercing the scales and digging into the flesh. The beast cried out in agony and rage, hovering for only a moment above the now nearly-defenseless heroes. But instead of lashing out at them with another blast of his deadly lightning breath, he instead promised that he would return someday and reward each of them with a much slower death. As he turned mid-air and flew off into the night, the group could hear a woman outside the castle screaming at him to return. The party members did not recognize her, but she was wearing a bright set of purple robes atop gleaming armor, and appeared to be leading the cultists outside the wall. She then called a retreat and the cultists and kobolds began skulking back into the shadows of the town…
Having finally earned some much-needed rest, the group returned to their sleeping quarters, where exhaustion set in, all thoughts of dragons and cultists gone from their minds for now.