‘The Melting’, Mirtul 17, 1493
Having successfully infiltrated the Cult’s camp earlier in the night, the party found themselves separated, with Zephyrian and Mirren below in the camp’s makeshift prison, and the rest on the ridge above the valley. Those above had just run into some complications, with Hogar and Ren unable to successfully dispatch both guards in the watchtower that loomed over the valley. While they had been able to lure away and kill the more gullible, and drunker, of the two, the other had been less easy to do away with…
After Hogar, Ren, Athanius, and Kilran all somehow failed to land a single blow against the surprisingly-agile lone guard, Ren raised up her arm mere inches from the man’s chest and began calling forth a powerful eldritch blast.
Before she could finish the incantation however, the man threw down his daggers, realizing that his luck was likely about to run out.
“Wait! Wait, wait, wait. You don’t have to do this. I’m a man of simple principles, and I’m only here for the gold. Perhaps we can work something out.”
Ren lowered her arm, but the rest of the group kept their hands on their weapons, Hogar especially, who had worked up a bit of a bloodlust. Athanius and Kilran stood behind the man, blocking any chance of escape.
“Now, you may have noticed I haven’t yet screamed for help. Sure you could kill me before they got here, but do you think you could outrun an entire camp of maddened cultists?”, the man continued smoothly.
“How about you tell me what it is you’re here for, and I’ll tell you how I can help. And then maybe, afterwards, when we’re far from here in a warm tavern, with our boots up on the table, we can talk about payment.”
At that last bit, Ren raised an eyebrow, Athanius grimaced, Hogar growled, and Kilran cocked his hand crossbow.
“Okay, okay, for now…I’ll accept my life as adequate payment. My name is Shath’rul yn Asraf el Kazram, but you can call me Shath. Now, what’s your plan?”
The group told Shath that they were from Greenest and had come to rescue the prisoners. He explained that he was with the Blacktalon Mercenaries, who had been hired by the Cult to assist with the raid on Greenest, as well as to help guard the loot on the return to the camp. When asked if the Blacktalons would assist the Cult in defending the camp, Shath explained that technically, since their contract only stated that they needed to assist in guarding the treasure, they would be under no legal obligation to defend the camp or its prisoners.
Meanwhile in the camp below…
Zephyrian continued to assess his surroundings in the makeshift prison where the group had left him. Fortunately, with the help of Kilran’s minor illusion Zeph’s greatsword had been left below with him, disguised as a fallen tree branch. Looking around at the other prisoners, eight total when excluding himself and Mirren, he noticed one of them looking back at him with an eager glint in his eye. Unlike the other bedraggled and downtrodden prisoners, this male elf appeared quite alert and in fighting shape, though admittedly a bit malnourished.
“Psst,” he whispered to Zephyrian. "I must admit that I overheard a bit of the conversation you were having with those fellows who locked you up. Something tells me they weren’t cultists, and you’re not really a prisoner. My name is Leosin, and I think I can help you.”
Zephyrian, seeing no reason to lie at this point, confirmed the elf’s suspicions, and told him to begin preparing the other prisoners for a potential breakout. Not knowing exactly what the others had planned, he decided the best he could do was to make sure the prisoners were ready to move quickly.
Looking over at Mirren’s bruised and battered face, Zeph felt a momentary twinge of guilt, since she had earned that beating as a result of distracting the warden for his sake. Putting his pity aside, Zeph motioned to her and whispered: “Psst, you still alive over there?”
“Aye I’m alive ye oaf! And I hope ye appreciate the beating I took so ye all could have yer little huddle earlier,” she responded gruffly. “How in the nine hells are we getting out of here?”
“By the sound of things, our companions disguises are quite convincing. We may get our chance to get out of here sooner than we thought if they don’t mess things u-” Zeph cut himself off suddenly as the guard looked in their direction momentarily, before resuming his conversation with another nearby cultist.
“Anyway,” Zeph continued, keeping an eye on the guard, “a few of these prisoners may still have some fight left in them. That elf in particular. How are your climbing skills dwarf?” he asked, motioning to the cliff above.
Looking up, Mirren shrugged, “Well, it ain’t like the mineshafts from my childhood, but I can manage well enough. What about you? Any chance ye can sprout wings?”
“Well you don’t have to worry about that, I have no intention of leaving this camp while Cyanwrath still breathes,” said Zeph, gritting his teeth at the mere mention of the half-dragon’s name. “These prisoners will only get in the way… Have you the strength to lead them out? I will cover you, this tree branch is more than it appears to be…”
Smiling at the realization of what that ‘tree branch’ likely was, Mirren replied, “I can lead them, aye, but how am I supposed to get them out through a hundred frenzied cultists, kobolds, and lizardmen? Me hammer is named Anvilbreaker, not Miraclemaker.”
“We will wait for our chance to escape… Either when the camp slumbers or the guards are distracted…. We will have to rely on the rest of our company for that,” Zeph responded, pausing for a moment.hmmm….Perhaps our jester Kilran has something up his sleeve. In any case be ready to move…Bahamut only knows what they have gotten themselves into now."
Back at the cliffs above…
Having spoken more with Shath about the different dynamics in the camp, the group finally agreed on a plan. Athanius would forge a contract, one with an insultingly low pay, and deliver it to the Blacktalon’s leader, Taurgosz “Tenhammer”. Key to their plan was that they convince Taurgosz that the contract was approved by none other than Freya Mondath, the Cobalt Claw cultist who Shath informed them was the primary liaison between the Cult and the Blacktalons. They weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen, but Shath assured them it would almost certainly ensure that the Blacktalons wouldn’t be assisting the Cult any longer. Little did they know how much of an understatement that would be…
While Athanius and KIlran went to deliver the forged contract, Ren would distract the warden so that the prisoners could escape, and Hogar would stay up above with Phlegm to provide cover fire in case anything went wrong.
Using her wily ways, Ren set about to take care of the warden, who she learned from Shath was a drawgonclaw, one of the relatively higher ranks in the Cult. Apparently he had been responsible for the failed infiltration of the Keep back in Greenest, and as punishment, was put on mundane guard duty. Ren played to the man’s pride, claiming that she had fallen out of favor with Lord Monath and begging the warden to help her. Trying desperately to calm her down, the warden agreed to let Ren into the prison enclosure with him, so that the other cultists did not see her in such a position of weakness.
Once inside, Ren once again used the warden’s pride against him, encouraging him to go and take Zephyrian’s head for himself, to prove to Mondath that he was above such menial work as guard duty. As the arrogant warden approached Zephyrian, sword in hand, Ren called for him as a distraction, but the man only looked back for a moment before beginning to swivel his head back towards his prey. Realizing she had no better option, Ren used her fey powers of illusion to make it appear that her ample left breast was suddenly exposed, stopping the warden’s movement as sure as a basilisk’s gaze.
Seizing the moment, Zephyrian slipped out of his false restraints and silently slipped the dagger KIlran had lent him from his vambrace. Then, with all the swiftness he could muster, he leapt forward and slit the man’s throat in a single fluid motion. Letting his rage get the better of him for a moment, he then bent the man’s body backwards, snapping his spine in two, before shoving him into a crevice in the cliff’s wall. Choosing not to comment on the barbaric act, Ren walked over and searched his mangled body for the keys, and pocketed his draconic half-mask for good measure.
Taking the keys from Ren, Zeph unlocked Mirren along with the rest of the prisoners, looking up just in time to see two lengths of rope dropped from the darkened cliffs above, courtesy of Hogar and Phlegm.
While all of this was happening, Athanius and Kilran had been making their way into the Blacktalon section of the camp with Shath as their escort. Along the way, Kilran used his bardic magic to drop a few insults among the Black Wing and Cobalt Claw cultists, leading each to believe that the insults had come from the other. Before long, a small brawl had broken out among the two camps. Satisfied with his work, he quickly caught up with Athanius and Shath who had just arrived at the Blacktalon camp. Within minutes of their arrival they heard a booming voice coming from the largest tent in the area.
“SHAAAATH!” roared the voice, seconds before the largest human either Kilran or Athanius had ever seen emerged from the tent flap. “What in the Nine Hells did you wake me up for? It had better be important, or I swear on that wife of yours you’re going to be on latrine duty for the rest of the month!”
The nearly giant-sized man, who could be none other than Taurgosz “Tenhammer”, had a braided black beard that could rival Escobert’s and wore the fur of a large black bear over his blackened leather armor. The only thing more impressive than the size of Taurgosz himself was the size of his hammer, a massive spiked maul that made Meeren’s Anvilbreaker look like the kind of hammer one used to hit nails around the house
As he approached the trio, blearily wiping sleep from his eyes, he noticed Athanius standing behind Shath and narrowed his eyes angrily.
“And what the hell is one of Mondath’s little blue henchmen doing in my camp, Shath? I thought we finished negotiating the terms of our new contract hours ago. What’s that you’ve got in your hand, little man?”
Having been warned of his temper, Athanius cautiously handed over the forged contract, praying to Melora that his head wasn’t about to be separated from his shoulders. Much to his and Kilran’s surprise, Taurgosz then settled down on a makeshift log bench around the nearby fire, the wood creaking painfully under his bulk, before pulling a set of spectacles from a pouch at his side and adjusting them carefully on the bridge of his nose. They might have laughed at such a sight, if their lives weren’t on the line. As Taurgosz began reading, a deep growl started forming in his chest, his jaws clenching and unclenching, and his eyes seeming to devour the expertly-forged words on the scroll.
As the seconds ticked by, and the growling grew, Shath, Athanius, and Kilran all took a few steps back. Taurgosz suddenly stood up with a swiftness that was quite unexpected for a man of his size and roared at the top of his lungs.
“WHO DOES THAT BLUE BITCH THINK SHE IS?!” he bellowed, before reaching down to pick up the 8-foot log bench at his feet and hefting it as if it were no more than a quarterstaff, hurling the unfortunate Blacktalon who had still been sitting there over a dozen feet away.
He then snapped the thick log over his leg like a twig before storming over and picking Athanius up by his robes with a single skillet-sized hand and lifting him several feet in the air.
“YOU DARE INSULT THE HONOR OF TAURGOSZ “TENHAMMER”!? I OUGHT TO SNAP YOU IN TWO AND SEND YOU BACK TO MONDATH IN PIECES” he roared, spittle flying from his mouth and spattering on Athanius’ stolen blue robes.
“I’m sorry, sir! I’m just the messenger! Please don’t kill me!” Athanius begged, only half-feigning the fear in his voice.
“Don’t worry little man, it’s not you I’m going to kill tonight,” replied Taurgosz, before dropping Athanius roughly to his feet. “I can’t say the same about that foul penny-pinching wench of a leader of yours though.”
Then, without so much as a word to his men, Taurgosz took his massive hammer off his back and began striding towards the gate that led to the distant command tent. Realizing what was coming, his men all quickly donned their armor and grabbed their weapons before following after their leader.
Shath turned to Athanius and Kilran and shrugged his shoulders before giving a half smile and saying, “See? I told you it would work!”
Unaware of what was going on in the Blacktalon camp, Hogar had been planning a bit of himself. While Phlegm crept along the cliffs above the prisoner enclosure, dousing the few torches that might give away the prisoners as they climbed the ropes, Hogar used his trusty hand axes to whittle away at the supports of the watchtower that loomed above. He then used a bit of fabric doused in lamp oil to fire a flaming arrow at the large purple command tent that dominated the area near the ominous cave they had seen on their way through the camp. As the flames spread, he noticed in the distance that the fight Kilran had helped instigate had devolved into a full-on brawl between the Black and the Cobalt cultists, though none had yet drawn a weapon.
As he looked back to the tent he saw a figure in purple robes emerge and angrily storm around to the edge of the tent so that she could see the flames. A gust of cold magic burst forth from her hands, snuffing out the flames before they could spread any further. It was at that exact moment that Hogar heard it.
“MONDAAAAAAATH!” The name echoed across the valley, filling every crack and crevice, reverberating back on itself for what felt like an eternity. As the echoes faded, a silence fell over the camp like a thick, wet blanket, suffocating and uncomfortable.
Taurgosz stood fifty feet from the woman in purple, who had yet to turn around, with all thirty of his Blacktalon soldiers at his back. His hammer was clenched in one hand, the contract crumpled in the other. He breathed heavily, his shoulders rising and falling, his breath filling the cool night air around him with steam. The man looked like a volcano that was seconds from eruption.
By this time, Zephyrian, Ren, Kilran, and Athanius had all reunited nearby, though Ren had to introduce herself since she had taken on the appearance of the warden. They stood back a bit from the Blacktalons, looking at one another anxiously, unsure of what exactly they had gotten themselves into.
After several agonizingly long seconds, the woman in purple who had doused the flames slowly turned around, head raised, as she looked down her nose at Taurgosz and his Blacktalons.
“What is it now you lumbering oaf?” Mondath asked, the words oozing from her mouth like blood from a wound. “We already agreed to your outrageous terms. And quite honestly, I had hoped to avoid your stench ‘til at least the morning.”
“You know damn well what this is about you sniveling wench. You’re trying to cut my legs out from under me with this new contract!” shouted Taurgosz, quite literally shaking with rage.
While this conversation was going on, Hogar, hoping to take advantage of Mondath’s distraction, hurriedly scribbled a note on a strip of paper before wrapping it around an arrow’s shaft. He then nocked his arrow, steadied his breath, and prepared to fire the arrow straight through Mondath’s throat, ridding the Cult of one of their high-ranking members.
“New contract? What in Tiamat’s name are you…” she began to reply, stopping suddenly and jerking her hand up and to her side, as the twang of Hogar’s bow echoed down from up above.
Without taking her eyes from Taurgosz, Mondath had somehow magically stopped the arrow in mid-air, less than six feet from her. She slowly turned her head to look at it, before allowing it fall to the ground, and picking up the piece of paper that was attached to it and unraveling it. As she read it, an arrogant laugh crept from her lips.
“Assassination? Really Taurgosz? That was your plan? Distract me with this nonsense about a contract and have one of your thugs take me out with a simple arrow?”
Taurgosz however seemed as shocked as everyone else at the sudden attack, and was whispering to Shath, who shook his head.
“Yes well this simply speeds up our time table. You know, before you die, you should know what my men call you. No, no, no, they don’t call you “Tenhammer”, that absurd fable you came up with. They call you, “Four-Eyes”. Humorous, no?”
At this point Shath and several other Blacktalons were doing all that they could to keep their leader from charging at the woman, realizing that they were severely outnumbered. Unfortunately for them, Ren had begun to get bored, and decided to give Taurgosz the push she knew he needed to finally lose complete control. She waited until Mondath finished her last string of insults before discretely summoning forth a mage hand in front of Taurgosz’s face. She then used it to slap him as hard as she could.
It didn’t matter that he was outnumbered five to one. It didn’t matter that Mondath’s pet ogre stood watching nearby. It didn’t matter that he and all his men might die. All that mattered to Taurgosz Tenhammer in that moment was that Freya Mondath had to die. Throwing his men off of him, he charged at Mondath like a tidal wave unleashed. Every cultist began to move at that moment but Mondath’s raised fist signaled for them to stop. She calmly began waving her arms in an arcane ritual, as the raging bear that was Taurgosz Tenhammer came closer and closer. At the last second however, the blue magic that had been coalescing around her body formed itself into three draconic shapes that all barreled towards Taurgosz, hitting him directly in the chest with an explosive force that not only stopped his momentum, but shoved him several feet back. He stood in shock, looking down to see a smoking hole in his armor, his chest severely burned. He looked back to his men then, raised his hammer up, and called for a charge.
The next sixty seconds were likely the most chaotic and blood-filled moments that any of the adventurers had ever experienced. Even Zephyrian, during his time serving with the Vilhon Mercenaries had never seen such bloodshed and chaos. First, Hogar turned around just in time to see that Phlegm had “borrowed” one of his hand axes and used it to chop away at the remaining bit of wood left supporting the watchtower. As it began to fall he tossed the axe back to Hogar, jumped onto the collapsing tower, and screamed “PHLEEEEEEEEEGM!” the whole way down. Unfortunately for the lizardmen below, they were unable to get out of the way as they tripped over one another in their attempts to escape. At the last moment he leapt from the tower into the nearby pond that the crushed lizardmen had been camping around. Before the group could check on Phlegm, they saw that Mondath was retreating.
Apparently having tired of her banter with Taurgosz, Mondath had turned with two of her guards and retreated towards the mouth of the cave on the distant wall. She was followed soon after by another group leaving the purple command tent, among which were a bald, tattooed man in red robes and a powerful-looking black half-dragon. Where Cyanwrath was like a mountain, hulking and powerful, this half-dragon was smaller, slender and moved like mercury over ice.
As Taurgosz and his men charged into the cultists in a piercing wedge formation, with Taurgosz leading the fray, the adventurers quickly realized that the mercenaries were going to die without their aid. Zephyrian waited only moments before charging in and letting loose his ferocious fire breath. Athanius used his cultist disguise to slip behind enemy lines before unleashing a powerful blast of thunder that sent several cultists flying away, bones broken in the explosive display of Melora’s wrath. Hogar provided as much suppressive fire as he could, assisting his friends when it looked like they were becoming overwhelmed. Kilran went with his tried and true tactic of calling out obscene mockeries, firing his hand crossbow, and using deception to confuse the enemies. Ren on the other hand, went with a somewhat more unorthodox tactic. Seeing the dangerous ogre join the fray, and realizing that Mondath and the other mysterious figures were getting away, she used her mask of many faces to take on the appearance of what she hoped to be a convince baby ogre. She then cast an eldritch blast at the real ogre, who roared in pain as the fey magic tore into its flesh. Turning in rage, it caught sight of the “baby ogre” and tilted its head in confusion. Ren then began pointing frantically in the direction of the fleeing cultists and grunting angrily, hoping to imply that the hurtful magic had come from that direction. Somehow, her plan worked, and the ogre stormed off in that direction. The black half-dragon was more than ready however, and she pulled a long serrated sword from her back and charged directly at the ogre, sliding aside at the last second and slicing the ogre wide open across its stomach, before finishing it up with a thrust to its vulnerable neck as it attempted to hold on to its insides. She then turned and stalked back towards the cave, the red-robed wizard frantically waving for her to return.
The battle raged on, and though the Blacktalons and the adventurers were killing at least three cultists or kobolds for every one of them that died, they could not overcome the horde. Unknown to the others however, Athanius had made a quick stop at the kobold camp earlier, and had urged the kobolds to rise up and fight back against the Black Wing cultists who so arrogantly had been creating their own kobolds. The self-proclaimed leader of the kobolds, Spike, chose to take this opportunity to strike, and as he and his dozens of kobolds began attacking the Black Wing cultists, the enemy wavered.
Shath saw that this was the only chance they’d get to retreat, and he and the dozen or so remaining Blacktalons all pulled Taurgosz away from the front line, moments before he collapsed from his countless wounds. The adventurers saw too that this was their last chance to escape, and they took it. Ren ran to Kilran and whispered something in his ear, moments before Kilran looked up to the sky and with a concentrated look, summoned his greatest illusion yet: Bahamut himself. The cultists and kobolds alike all looked up at the sky and screamed in terror and hatred, firing arrow, slings, and javelins, all hoping to kill Bahamut for the glory of their queen. The heroes of Greenest slipped away before any of the cultists realized they had been deceived.
The heroes and Blacktalons were able to outrun the cultists most of the way to the exit of the valley, but with Taurgosz unconscious, and Zephyrian poisoned by a cultists’ blade, they were almost overcome. They reunited with the escaped prisoners near the exit, screaming for them to run ahead. Thanks to Mirren and Zeph’s prepared trap however, they were able to collapse the pass behind them, crushing several cultists and kobolds that had been less than a dozen feet behind.
Together, the entire group collapsed in exhaustion just on the other side of the pass, each of them knowing that they had escaped death by mere seconds. The group’s labored breathing was broken by a single voice, as Kilran stood up and began dusting of his clothes.
Looking up and smiling, he said, “Well, that went better than expected.”