‘The Melting’, Mirtul 13, 1493 , near midnight
After rescuing a large group of townsfolk from the burning temple of Chauntea, the party interrogated one of the cultists they had captured. They were ultimately able to discover two valuable bits of information. First, that at least one member of the Cult had been tasked with infiltrating the keep to assassinate Governor Nighthill; and second, that an ambush was being planned at the mill for the “would-be rescuers of the town”. Using this information, the party decided to leave Varrick in charge of protecting the Governor, and urged Escobert, the Governor’s steward, to increase guards around the keep’s vulnerable sally port. Athanius suspected the cultists might use this entrance as a way to infiltrate the keep, if they had not already done so. Never one to take any chances, he asked that Escobert have one of his men fire a flaming arrow into the night sky if the raiders attempted another attack on the keep.
The adventurers left the keep through the secret sewer tunnel once again, made their way west along the riverbank, carefully approaching the small group of buildings huddled on this side of the river. Hogar, scouting slightly ahead of the group, spotted a group of raiders, composed of kobolds, mercenaries, and one hooded cultist. The cultist appeared to be wearing somewhat more elaborate robes than those previously encountered, and he wielded some sort of rod brimming with electricity. Fortunately for the group, they never found out how dangerous that electricity was, as Hogar very quickly dispatched the cultist with a single arrow to the throat. The rest of the group was quickly dispatched, with the mercenaries fleeing off into the woods, shouting something about “not being paid enough for this”. The only remaining member of the enemy group was a lone kobold, who Phlegm identified as his cousin ‘Two-Toes’, and who reluctantly agreed to remain with the group.
Soon after, the party approached the mill, and quickly discerned that the interrogated cultist spoke true, as six cultists laid in wait around the building. From a distance it appeared that they were preparing to set fire to the mill, but upon closer inspection, their deception was clear. They were simply stoking a few small fires around the mill, likely with the intent being to attract the “would-be rescuers” into a trap. Athanius decided to disguise himself as a cultist, using the robes of the one they recently killed. Kilran used his minor illusion to complete the disguise by making it appear as if Athanius was covered in the same tattoos and scars they had seen on other cultists.
Athanius approached the group, informing them that Lord Cyanwrath (a name the group had heard uttered with trepidation by several enemies over the past few hours) had demanded they leave the mill and head to the other side of town to assist in killing the “foolish interlopers”. Athanius’ ruse proved believable to at least half of the cultists, who immediately ran off, but one stubborn dwarf cultist called his bluff, recognizing the feint for what it was. He called for the other cultists to attack, and they were soon joined by several mercenaries that emerged from the mill. The party, with much assistance from the candlestick-wielding Phlegm, managed to defeat nearly the entire force of cultists and mercenaries, losing only the newly-recruited Two-Toes in the fight. By the end, there was just one cultist left standing, who chose to flee in a final act of cowardice.
As he fled back towards the town across the nearby bridge, the group could see off in the distance a large force of enemies moving in their direction. And at the front of that group strode a massive humanoid covered in plate mail, appearing in the darkness to resemble a dragonborn, except with a prominent set of horns and a reptilian tail. As the fleeing cultist neared his approaching allies, screaming and shouting for their assistance, the draconic figure reached out and lifted him up by his neck, and then proceeded to literally tear him in half. Throwing the two pieces of the cultist to either side, the figure then continued his confident but steady approach toward the mill, signalling to his followers to charge.
In the face of such hopeless odds, and seeing the raw physical power of the mysterious draconic figure unleashed so casually, the group made a hasty retreat, with only Zephyrian staying long enough to stare across the river into the eyes of, what he now recognized unmistakably, a true half-dragon. Unlike dragonborn, half-dragons were the direct result of breeding between a female dragon in humanoid form and usually a male human or elf. They were far more vicious than the more noble dragonborn, often inheriting the more violent tendencies of their draconic mothers. They also saw dragonborn as inherently inferior, and sought to return them to their previous enslavement in the realm of Abeir.
As Zephyrian stubbornly joined the others in their retreat, the group looked back to see the cultists throwing torches at the mill’s thatched roof, truly setting fire to it this time. Disappointed at having failed to save the mill, the party pressed deeper into the woods, Hogar leading the way. After they had retreated a safe distance away, they began making their way back to the sewer entrance, hoping to return to the keep to establish their next move. As they emerged from the woods and approached the river however, they looked up in alarm as a single flaming arrow was fired from the walls of the keep into the night sky. It could mean only one thing: the keep was under attack…