Tyranny of Dragons

A Town in Flames
It all began with a song...

‘The Melting’, Mirtul 13, 1493

It all began with a song. At least that’s what Kilran Tumitis will say when he retells this story in countless taverns and inns across Faerun. Kilran was one of several adventurers hired by the dwarven trader Agran Bronzebuckle to escort his caravan on its way from Athkatla, the capital of Amn, to Scornubel, a major caravan stop along the Trade Way. Kilran was hired for his reputation as a bard, as Agran knew that morale among the caravan crew could make or break a trip. What Agran didn’t realize was that Kilran was also a skilled fighter, with daggers, darts, and crossbow bolts hidden in everything from his boots to his lute.

In addition to the bard, Agran had also hired two hulking Dragonborn paladin brothers named Zephyrian and Varrick, and a half-Elf cleric named Athanius to assist with defending the caravan, as well as tending to any wounded. His last hire was a half-Orc ranger named Hogar, who would act as the forward scout for the caravan, warning of any potential ambushes that might lie in wait.

The first leg of the trip was largely uneventful, with the most treacherous enemy being the muddy rutted road, still wet in places from the heavy rains that always fall during the month of Tarsakh. During those first few weeks, there was little interaction among the hired guards. Kilran attempted to tell a joke to Zephyrian, but he simply grunted in reply and walked off. His brother Varrick apologized and told him, “humor isn’t exactly Zeph’s strong suit”. Athanius the cleric kept mostly to himself, and Hogar the ranger was rarely seen by the caravan except for when he came to report back to Agran. Greenest was the caravan’s first major re-supply stop, and Agran gave the crew the night off.

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The group made their way to The Hungry Boar, the town’s main inn, along with a few of the other caravan crew members, Najen and Dedel. Unsurprisingly, it took less than a minute for Kilran to gather a small crowd of townsfolk together for a song (hoping to make a few coins in the process). Something had Kilran on edge, but he couldn’t quite pin down what it was. Years of living on the street as a child had honed his survival instincts, and they were telling him that something was off about this night. He was distracted enough that he actually snapped the string of his lute as he began to play his first song. Fortunately for him, and much to the groups’ surprise, Hogar downed his ale, and made his way over to Kilran with a pan flute in hand. The two played a merry tune called “Raise Another Glass of Cheer”, and soon enough, they had almost the whole tavern singing along with them. Just as the song reached its crescendo, a bright white light suddenly flashed outside, followed immediately by the crack of lightning and the peal of thunder. Everyone in the tavern looked around somewhat confused, as it didn’t seem to be raining. As Hogar and Kilran attempted to get the song going again, another lightning bolt struck somewhere nearby, followed not only by the crack of lightning, but a blood curdling scream, quickly cut off.

The innkeeper, Fallon, went to the door to peer outside and see what was going on. She screamed suddenly and attempted to step back in the room just as a small lizard-like humanoid leapt out from the darkness, knocking her to the ground and stabbing her in the chest repeatedly. The townsfolk inside all began screaming and frantically trying to get away from the door, just as two more kobold piled in through the doorway, and two more crashed in through each of the windows on opposite sides of the tavern.

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Kilran acted immediately, striking a horribly dissonant note on his lute, catching the attention of the kobold that had crashed through the nearby window. Locking eyes with the scaly creature, Kilran shouted out a nasty insult in draconic that seemed to completely catch the beast off guard. It clutched its head in apparent pain, giving one of the nearby caravan crew the opportunity to bash it over the head with a chair, snapping its neck. Kilran used his hand crossbow to kill the other kobold with a bolt to the neck. Meanwhile, Hogar had pulled out one of his throwing axes and flung it across the room, cleaving in half the skull of the kobold attacking Fallon. Seeing their ally killed so quickly and efficiently, the two kobolds at the door turned tail and ran back out into the darkness. Athanius ran to Fallon and cast a minor cantrip over her that would stem the flow of blood for a time, giving the kobolds enough time to escape as he carefully peered out of the door to see where they had fled. In the distance he saw more kobolds and several hooded figures running after a small group of villagers. He turned back into the inn just in time to see Zephyrian charge the two remaining kobolds that had come in through the other window, cleaving one in half and wounding the other. Athanius summoned a sacred flame that engulfed the wounded kobold, who screamed “FOR THE DRAGON QUEEN!” as he was consumed by the flames.

Immediately after the last kobold had fallen, the group devised a plan along with the remaining townsfolk and caravan crew to sneak across town to the keep, where they hoped they would find shelter. They constructed a makeshift stretcher to carry the injured Fallon along the way. Just before they left the inn though, a sudden gust of wind buffeted the building, shaking the walls. At the same time, a feeling of dread and fear passed over the inn, and the moonlight outside was briefly eclipsed by a great shadow. No one knew what had just passed by, but they did know they couldn’t wait any longer, so they shook off the dreadful feeling and headed out the back door.

With Hogar scouting ahead, the group managed to avoid any major encounters for the first few blocks, and an expert shot by the ranger eliminated a guard that had stood in their way. The town was in utter chaos, with rooftops burning, hooded figures, mercenaries, and kobolds breaking down doors, and the constant sound of screams and lightning punctuating the night. Many of the figures were carrying sacks and filling them with loot as they went from house to house. The group lost one of the townsfolk, though not to battle, but instead to her own frantic paranoia, as she ran off into the night screaming for her family. At one point the group was almost discovered by a small party of kobolds and cloaked figures, but Athanius used a cantrip to mimic the sound of a door slamming behind them, which sent the kobold and its allies searching in that direction. Soon after though, the group heard the dying screams of someone who had been hiding inside. While Athanius regretted their deaths, he also knew he did what had to be done to save the group.

They had almost made it to the keep when they saw a family of five run across their path, with half a dozen kobolds in pursuit. The woman was wielding a small buckler and spear, and managed to kill two of the kobolds as Kilran shouted in Draconic to distract them while Zephyrian charged into the fray. The group quickly learned what had been causing the strange lightning however, as a massive blue dragon flew overhead, roaring and breathing out a blast of lightning breath at a nearby building. Its mere presence was enough to cause several members of the group to begin cowering uncontrollably in fear. Luckily for them, the dragon did not seem to be interested in them, and the group quickly recovered, slaying the remaining kobolds, despite being abandoned by the halfing caravan member, Dedel. The woman thanked the group for their help, and introduced herself asLinan Swift, and her husband as Cuth, agreeing to lead them to the keep.

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They were followed into the next alley by a group of kobolds being commanded by a hooded figure and some sort of mercenary guard, but quickly dispatched them and made it to the final road leading to the keep. As they approached however, they were cut off by three hooded figures and a handful of kobolds. One of the hooded figures was wearing some sort of draconic mask, and he began calmly walking toward the group, drawing a wide-bladed scimitar. The two other hooded figures began firing arrows at the group while the kobolds gleefully charged ahead of the man in the dragon mask. One by one the group killed the kobolds, with Linan charging out ahead and skewering one that had been wounded by Zephyrian. Hogar and Kilran used their bow and crossbow to take out the two distant bowmen, although a sudden bolt of lightning caused Hogar to misfire at one point, shooting an arrow directly into Zephyrian’s back, the force of which was luckily weakened by the shield he had strapped there.

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The group was momentarily surprised to see Dedel emerge from an alleyway with a sack over his shoulder, but they barely had enough time to register who it was before the masked man swiftly decapitated him with hardly a thought. He then turned his attention to Linan, using both hands to bring his scimitar down with a mighty blow that the woman attempted to block with her buckler. Unfortunately, the strike was so powerful that it shattered the shield, slicing clean through her wrist to remove her hand completely. As she fell to the ground screaming, Zephyrian swung wildly with his greatsword, but the man deftly leaned back to avoid the strike, the blade passing within an inch of his body. Athanius used the momentary distraction to call upon his god and fire a bolt of lightning at the masked man, scoring a direct hit in the chest, scorching a whole through his chainmail and charring the flesh below. He then charged in with his warhammer and swung a mighty blow against the stunned man’s head, shattering his mask and breaking nearly every bone in that side of his face. As he lay dying however, he chuckled, looking up at Athanius, and sputtered out one last warning: “You know what’s coming cleric. I can see it in your eyes. The Cult of the Dragon is rising. The Dragon Queen is coming for you all…”

Hogar screamed that the group had to go, as a large force of kobolds was charging their way, with several more hooded figures behind them, three of whom were wearing masks similar to the one worn by the man they had just killed. In one final push, with Varrick carrying Fallon on his back, Kilran and Cuth assisting Linan, they made a mad dash for the keep. Athanius slipped on the blood-slicked cobbles, and was nearly overwhelmed by the horde, as stones and crude javelins whizzed through the air around him, but at the last second he made it to the keep, where the guards immediately closed the portcullis and sealed the gate.

The group was quickly brought up to speed by one of the guards who urged them to meet with Governor Nighthill, and mentioned that he’d likely be with his Steward, a dwarf named Escobert the Red. The Swift family thanked the group once again, and left to seek out some medical attention for Linan. Varrick offered to escort them, and asked for Zephyrian to seek him out after meeting with the Governor.

Escobert was not hard to find, as the fiery dwarf was screaming at two guardsman in the great hall, screaming something along the lines of “BY MORADIN’S HAIRY ARSE, WHAT DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN I SAID NOT TO LET HIM GO TO THE DAMN ROOF!”. His temper soon cooled when he learned that the party had saved the Swift family, along with several members of the townsfolk from the inn, although he was deeply saddened to hear that Fallon had ultimately succumbed to her wounds during the final dash to the keep. He took them to see Governor Nighthill, who was bandaged and bleeding, but still tending to several injured soldiers on the wall of the keep. He informed the group that they had lost more than half their militia to the dragon’s vicious breath, and pleaded for them to assist him in taking back the town. Handing them a key to the secret tunnel that led out of the keep, Escobert encouraged the group to sneak out and head to either the Temple of Chauntea or the mill, as both seemed to be under attack. The mill was important for the future of Greenest, as it was where all of the grain they’d need to survive the winter was stored. On the other hand, the temple was filled with people who were unable to make it to the keep, and would be a likely target for the attackers. With that, he granted them a few small healing potions, and wished them the best of luck.

Less than an hour had passed and already these five had faced near-certain death and somehow escaped it, saving several other people along the way. It almost felt like somehow they were meant to end up on this caravan together…and as they sat down to get a short rest, Kilran took out his lute to re-tune it and was heard muttering under his breath, “It all began with a song…”

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A Sanctuary No More
Cologne, cultists, and kobolds!

‘The Melting’, Mirtul 13, 1493

After their near escape from a horde of cultists and kobolds, the party quickly met with the leader of Greenest, Governor Tarbaw Nighthill who asked for their aid. He informed them of a group of villagers trapped in the nearby Temple of Chauntea, as well as a report from one of his scouts that several cultists with torches were seen heading for the town’s mill. Faced with a choice, the group decided to rescue the villagers in the temple first.

At Nighthill and Escobert’s suggestion, the group used a secret tunnel to exit the keep, encountering a particularly vicious swarm of sewer rats along the way. They might have been overrun, if not for Kilran cleverly dousing the rodents with a healthy amount of his favorite Waterdhavian cologne, Midnight Allure , made from the glands of the rare displacer beast. Unaware of the cologne’s highly flammable properties, Athanius soon after summoned a sacred flame, engulfing the swarm (and singing the entangled Zephyrian and Hogar). The smell proved too overpowering for Zephyrian, and he immediately lost what little dinner he had consumed…

Leaving that horrid stench behind, the group crept to the end of the tunnel, and through the rusted heavy gate could see that their ruckus had attracted the attention of a small scouting party consisting of a cultist and several kobolds. Never one for subtlety, Zephyrian charged out of the secret exit as soon as Athanius had opened the door, skewering the cultist through the back, but failing to notice the drake hidden in the reeds nearby, which immediately clamped its jaws around Zephyrian’s back leg. A battle ensued, during which one of the two surviving kobolds offered his surrender, killing his fellow kobold to prove his worth. He introduced himself as Phlegm, and promised to do whatever it took to stay alive. Realizing his potential usefulness, the party agreed to let him live, even promising him great treasures if he helped them save the villagers from the temple. Strangely enough, when offered gold, he asked instead for the “nicest candlestick in the castle”.

The party found the temple besieged by a large group composed of kobolds, cultists, mercenaries, and a few more of the vicious hunting drakes. Using Phlegm to create a distraction, the party successfully snuck into the temple without any cultists seeing them. Once inside, the Ragetalon brothers were pleasantly surprised to find their mentor and father figure, Xannan Furros, inside with the rest of the townsfolk. He and the temple’s priest, a half-elf named Eaden, worked together with the party to calm the villagers enough to make their escape to the riverside, with the cultists close behind. Kilran used his cologne once more, the scent being so strong that the hunting drakes found their senses overwhelmed, proving useless to the cultists in pursuit.

After crossing the river to further mask their scent, the party led the villagers back to the secret entrance, where they found two cultists leaning over the body of the cultist killed by Zephyrian in the earlier battle. Before they could raise the alarm, Kilran cast a spell of sleep upon them, instantly rendering them both unconscious. As Zephyrian and Athanius moved in to finish them off, Varrick intervened, refusing to allow the cold-blooded murder of two unconscious people. Although the group seemed hesitant to allow them to live, Varrick reminded them that Nighthill had asked them to bring back a prisoner. With little time to spare, and more cultists heading their way, the party picked up the two unconscious men and brought them into the sewer tunnel.

Nighthill and Escobert graciously thanked the party for their assistance, but said there was little time to waste, and called for the immediate interrogation of the prisoners. He assured them that though he would allow for physical force to be used, the prisoners needed to be kept alive so that they could be potentially used as bargaining chips, or at the very least, “properly executed”. Escobert handled the interrogation of one, while Athanius, Zephyrian, and Kilran handled the other. Varrick would have no part in either. Athanius and the others found their prisoner was covered in tattoos, as well as what appeared to be self-inflicted scars, and even pieces of actual metal lodged in his skin. As they attempted to ask him for what purpose he and his people had come to Greenest, he shouted defiantly his undying loyalty to “the Dragon Queen”, going so far as to spit at Zephyrian, promising him a life of slavery under the reign of “the one true queen”. Realizing that they would learn nothing useful through brute force, Athanius fooled the cultist into believing that he was actual an undercover agent, calling for Kilran to place his blade against Zephyrian’s throat. The cultist replied:

Then it is true?! We truly did get someone into the keep! Then you must be the one sent to kill that fool leader of theirs, Nighthill. And what of the ambush at the mill? Do you know if our brothers there were successful?

Unfortunately, in his excitement and fervor for what he thought was his impending escape, he began spouting off once again about the glory of the Dragon Queen, referring to her by name, as none other than Tiamat herself. He spit once more at Zephyrian, who promptly knocked him out, breaking his jaw, with a single punch.

With their newfound knowledge in hand, the group informed the Governor that his life was in danger, and then hatched a plan for how to foil the cultists’ ambush at the mill…but not before Phlegm reminded the group that he had been promised the nicest candlestick in the castle…

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An Ambush Undone
A clever ruse...followed by a stubborn retreat.

‘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…

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A Final Stand (Part 1)
Out of the frying pan, and into the fire...

‘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.

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An Alliance Undone
How a bit of forgery led to utter mayhem...

‘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.”

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The Problem with Old Cellars
Ren and Hogar's excellent adventure.

“Where was I?” So often the conversationalists and raconteurs of this world use the phrase as an interjection when their attentions flag, but for those who have happened upon the the twilight realm, the phrase has a more literal meaning.

Much to the annoyance of Athanius, Yérënia and Hogar had grown inebriated following their successes in the Cultists’ camp—Ren from the tasty but hallucinogenic snozzberries found at the foot of the Sunset Mountains and Hogar from the fortified ale of the Keep’s cellars in Greenest. As the rest of the group ascended the stairs, a familiar voice rang out in Ren’s ears. It beckoned her, but out of place as the voice was, she assumed at first that the snozzberries were to blame. She had not heard the voice of her patron, Agridhama the Connoisseur, for quite some time, and tricksy as he is, his sudden arrival made her wary.

Soon, Agridhama made himself known to Hogar and after a brief but garbled look into Ren’s past, Hogar began to worry as well. Agridhama made it plain that Ren had not lived up to his expectations of her, but offered a way for her to redeem herself: steal something of value from a Duchess of the Unseelie Court. Much like pilfering the staff from a powerful and unpredictable wizard, this would not be an easy task, or one without consequences.

Hogar and Ren began to ascend the stairs of the cellar seeing nothing for them there but the promise of ever-growing hangovers, but the climb proved much more of a task than they had anticipated. Whether it was the ale or the berries or something darker at work, they walked for what seemed like hours or days or perhaps months. As their endurance waned, they realized that the darkness behind them was growing and with it, an unsettling growl. Hogar noticed a strange script circling the stairway wall, and with some consideration, Ren realized that the antiquated elvish challenged them to be brave or perish.

With a bit of bravado, Ren grabbed Hogar by the hand and jumped down into the darkness and the increasingly emphatic growl. Hogar and Ren found themselves before a simple wooden door. An inscription carved above the door suggested that having proven their bravey, they would now have to rely on their cunning. Opening the door, they found themselves in a hall bound by two doors. They continued with great trepidation, as Ren cautioned that the Fey, whether friend or foe, were not to be trusted.

The room’s floor was composed of large tiles, some of which Ren and Hogar soon noticed bore strange animalistic carvings. As they moved closer to the carved tiles, some strange things quickly became apparent: the carved tiles were being warded by some unseen force, the door behind them had disappeared and the wall was somehow following them as they progressed, and equally unsettling: they were being watched. While testing theories, Hogar looked into the silvery finish of Ren’s elven dagger and in the reflection, saw a pair of eyes. Eyes that quickly flashed from surprise to anger before a flash of light momentarily blinded Hogar. When his vision cleared, the eyes were gone.

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As Ren and Hogar began to try their luck with the carved tiles, each of them displaying an eagle, snake, or spider, they were bruised and battered by the warding, which tossed them against the wall like rag dolls. With their resolve already flagging, a set of spikes began to descend from the ceiling, which reinforced the notion that cunning requires haste. In short order, their space became cramped as the spikes forced Ren and Hogar to puzzle on their hands and knees, and to add to the calamity, Agridhama appeared to lament their foolishness. With death looming, however, Hogar employed his hunter’s instinct and, seeing the true pattern, trod a path through the tiles, reasoning that the eagle eats the snake who eats the spider.

owlbear.jpgAs the spikes fell behind them, Ren and Hogar found that their escape led them to a forest clearing with none other than a hulking owlbear pacing at its center. This test of might proved too much for Ren who was laid low by the beast, but Hogar caught it in the neck with a practiced shot. Unsurprisingly, the owlbear, in defeat, revealed itself to be an elf, who begrudgingly took the pair to meet their malevolent host.
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The Duchess, a powerful fey, but nevertheless a fey bound by the conventions of her people, welcomed the pair to claim a prize for their efforts. It became clear to Ren and Hogar what would have befallen them had they failed, as in the Duchess’ thrall, sitting and crawling and slithering in every corner of her hall were the once humanoid animals that had failed to escape her gauntlet.

Of this twisted menagerie, she offered Hogar one creature to be his companion. Not one to be impressed by any ordinary snake or stag, Hogar selected a blink dog, a cunning pack hunter of the feywild, which stalks with an unusual tactic. To Yérënia, she offered a single tome from her library and among the hundreds of dusty spines, Ren chose an ancient grimoire clad in Sylvan gilt and enrobed in a pall of shadow. This, however, was not enough for Ren, whose patron is a greedy sort. With Hogar as her lookout, she stole into The Duchess’ cellar and from its depths, she burgled a centuries old bottle of a fine celestial vintage.

The moment their feet crossed the threshold leaving the Duchess’ court, Hogar and Ren once again found themselves in the cellar of the Greenest keep. “Are you all coming?” Athanius’ voice called from the top of the stairs. Time, you see, does not pass in the feywild as it does in the material plane. Whether it drags behind or speeds ahead, time, like all other aspects of the feywild is deceitful and unpredictable. Something about this peculiarity struck Ren as she felt the bulge of the wine bottle in her bag: as time is meaningless to the Fey, they have plenty of time to consider slights against them. The Fey are petty and powerful, capricious and deceptive, but they do not like to be deceived themselves. The theft of the bottle is not something the Duchess would soon forget or forgive…

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A Treasure from the Past
Escobert requests a favor...

Just moments after ascending from the keep’s cellars, Athanius, Kilran, and Zephyrian were shocked to see Hogar and Ren emerge after them, somehow looking like they had been to the Abyss and back. They were each bruised, battered, and bloody, and Ren was sporting a nasty trio of slashes across her torso. Stranger still, they were followed up the stairs by the strangest looking dog any of them had ever set eyes upon. Without so much as a word, Ren stumbled past the group in search of a bed, any bed, to pass out in.

Hogar stuck around and attempted to do his best to explain to the group what had happened to them, but ended up drunkenly rambling on about a magical hallway, an owlbear that was really an elf, and a little man in a wooden mask, before giving up and walking away with his strange dog in tow.

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The rest of the group followed Hogar up to the chambers that Governor Nighthill had offered them, finally getting some much-deserved rest, despite it being just after sunrise. After sleeping nearly the entire day away, the party was awoken by a messenger from Escobert the Red, who requested their presence in his private chambers. After a quick stop at the mess hall, where Kilran took the opportunity to practice a new song he had been working on detailing their recent exploits at the cultist’s camp in the Sunset Mountains. None of the group failed to notice Kilran’s not-so-subtle embellishment regarding his own role in their encounter with Taurgosz Tenhammer….
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And when mighty Tenhammer lifted Athanius on high
The brave Kilran knew his friend’s death was nigh
So he hefted his lute and called out a shout
‘Listen here Tenhammer you big, stupid lout
Put down my friend or face my lyrical wrath’
And like that, he dropped Athanius right on his-

He was unable to finish the final line, as Hogar’s new found blink dog suddenly teleported on the table in front of him, knocking his food everywhere, and licking his face furiously, eliciting uproarious laughter from the soldiers nearby.

After the laughter died down and the group finished their meals, they made their way to Escobert’s chamber. Once there, he informed them that he had invited them there without the consent of Governor Nighthill, and had a favor to ask of them.

He went on to explain how one of his ancestors had built the keep many thousands of years ago, long before the town of Greenest emerged around it. His name was Escobert the Greedy, and he had a terrible reputation for his obsession with gold, gems and other magical artifacts. The greedy dwarf had his builders construct catacombs beneath the keep to store his accumulated hoard. As the dwarven clan vanquished more and more of the area’s surrounding monsters and bandits in their attempts to gather more treasure, a small community of humans sprung up around the keep, attracted by the prospect of a relatively safe harbor in the Greenlands.

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As this human community grew into a full-fledged town, Escobert the Greedy’s fear and paranoia grew so great that in the final years of his life, he arranged to have himself and his most trusted soldiers entombed in the catacombs, undergoing a forbidden necromantic ritual, binding their souls to the place. His son, Escobert the Wise, discovered his father’s plans too late, and lost nearly a dozen of his best soldiers to the catacombs’ devious traps trying to stop the ritual. Horrified at what those men encountered, he had the catacombs walled off from the rest of the keep, forbidding any to ever enter them. Escobert the Wise found that the temptation of such a great treasure proved to great for the remaining dwarves, and he made the decision to abandon the keep and relocate to the Greypeak Mountains in the North. The dwarf leader left the keep in the care of one of Governor Nighthill’s ancestor, a woman who had emerged as the town’s official liaison with the dwarves of the keep.

“So what I’m trying to say is…there’s an ancient treasure hidden below the keep, and I mean for you all to go find it. Of course, you’ll each be rewarded with one enchanted item from the treasure to keep for yourself, as is only fair. But the rest will go to Greenest to help us purchase much needed supplies for the coming year now that our harvest was all but depleted.”

After a brief discussion among themselves, the group agreed to assist the surly dwarf, although Ren had a strange condition. She quickly sketched a crude drawing of the group, with a poorly-proportioned Escobert at their center, and presented it to Escobert, insisting that if they agree to enter the catacombs, he must forever display the strange drawing on his mantle. Muttering something about the strangeness of elves and how his nose isn’t really that big, he agreed and placed the picture on the mantle.

He then presented each of the group with a small token of magical power. To Zephyrian a potion of giant’s strength; to Athanius, a healing salve blessed by Chaunteau; to Hogar, a scroll of concealing shadows; to Kilran, an enchanted driftglobe; and to Ren, a strange bag which, to Ren’s surprise and delight, would apparently allow her to summon an animal from the Astral Plane.

Kilran agreed to go and stall Nighthill for the time being, since the governor would notice all of their absence and begin asking questions. After that, Escobert wished the others luck, then activated a hidden switch in his chambers that revealed a secret entrance into the catacombs.

The heroes entered the dusty corridor, lit a torch, and then began their descent into the catacombs. Realizing that none of them had ample experience with traps, not counting Ren and Hogar’s recent foray into the Fey, the group suggested that Phlegm lead the way, keeping a keen eye out for traps.

As soon as they reached the bottom of a winding spiral staircase, Phlegm yipped excitedly, shouting that he had found a trap, but didn’t know how to disarm it. With a quick examination, Ren realized that it was magical in nature, and attempted to disarm it by disassembling the strands of magic woven about it. Unfortunately, the trap reacted to her meddling, and a sudden shock from the glyph left Ren twitching and momentarily paralyzed on the ground.

As the others stooped to check on Ren, the unmistakable sound of creaking bones and scraping feet suddenly emerged from the darkness beyond, just beyond the light of their torch. Gripping their weapons and assisting Ren to her feet, the party watched as two skeletons stepped into the torchlight, each sporting a heavy dwarven axe and a set of rotting chainmail. Thanks to their darkvision, Athanius, Ren, and Hogar could also see that two more skeletons stood further back in the shadows, readying bows in their direction.

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The group quickly spun into action, with Hogar sending Rolando blinking into the shadows behind the distant archers and Zephyrian and Athanius moving forward to shield their less armored allies. The skeletons were dispatch with in less than a minute, but unfortunately Rolando was wounded so badly that he slipped into unconsciousness. Fortunately, Athanius blessed him with a spell to stabilize his injuries, and Hogar bandaged his wounds. The half-orc then scooped him up and carried him back up to Escobert’s room for safe keeping. Unfortunately, in doing so, Hogar interrupted a rather rambunctious lovemaking session between Escobert and Mirren. He soon returned to the group, doing his best to shake those images from his mind.

The party moved deeper into the catacombs, encountering several devious traps, including a door enchanted with magic missiles and a barrage of poison darts. As Phlegm successfully disarmed the last one, he began jumping up with joy at his success (having failed to disarm an earlier one). The group meant to silence him but before they could the frenetic kobold stopped his celebrating and pointed down an adjacent corridor, mouth open in fear, before unleashing a terrified scream that echoed throughout the entire catacombs. Unaware of what Phlegm was screaming at, the group readied their weapons and prepared for the worst.

To be continued…

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A Wrathful Spirit Awoken
Don't ever get between a dwarf and his treasure...

Having successfully made their way into the catacombs after battling a group of skeletons and dealing with several devious traps, the party finds themselves with their weapons at the ready, preparing to face an unseen foe just around the corner…
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As Phlegm continued to screech and point down the direction of the hallway to their right, two hideously decayed undead dwarves emerged into sight. They charged the group, clawing and biting at them ferociously. Upon being hit by one of the ghouls’ wild swings, Phlegm fell to the ground, apparently paralyzed. Learning to avoid their claw attacks with even more determination, the party attempted to keep their distance. The fighting was momentarily interrupted as a familiar voice shouted from behind them.

“Hey bitch! I’m about to kick your old undead lookin’ ass!”

Kilran had arrived, and as he would later say, he showed up just in time to save the group from certain doom. It turns out he had “grown tired of babysitting the Governor”, and chose to simply lull him in to a magically-enhanced sleep. After the grouped finished dispatching the ghouls, Kilran informed Hogar that Escobert had requested his presence back in his chamber, as he was unfamiliar with the anatomy of a blink dog, and needed assistance in nursing Rolando back to health. Hogar nodded his thanks to Kilran and the group before jogging back the way they had come.

Going forward, the traps became even more dangerous, ranging from a hidden pendulum blade to a dangerous acid trap, the group grew increasingly wary. Ren even went so far as to use her new bag of tricks to summon a random animal, which turned out to be a giant elk whose antlers scraped the ceiling. She used the elk to break down a door in their way, but dismissed it before it came to any real harm.

Moving forward, the group thought they had found another door leading deeper into the catacombs, but Athanius noticed something seemed off about the torch sconces on either side. The thick layer of dust present throughout so much of the labyrinth seemed to be noticeably absent on them. Using a rope and a fair amount of dexterity, he and Kilran were able to use a lasso to tug on the sconces to test his theory, activating an acid trap that could have proved deadly to the party.

Unfortunately, for all of their efforts, the door itself turned out to lead to a space of absolute darkness, where not even Kilran’s magical driftglobe could be seen. As the group stared into the darkness, a ghostly and terrifying spectral dwarf suddenly emerged, claws outstretched towards them. Zephyrian and Athanius quickly pulled forth their holy symbols, causing the specter to retreat back into the darkness, shrieking angrily the whole way.
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“Yeah…let’s not go that way,” chimed Kilran, to the apparent agreement of the rest of the group, as they all took several steps backwards.

The party proceeded further into the catacombs, encountering several more traps, including a giant boulder, a hallway filled with spinning blades, and an animated suit of armor wielding a massive axe. After defeating the suit of armor and its accompanying skeletal guardians, the group finally found themselves before a massive locked door, covered in carvings, in both Dwarven and Common. The door featured the names of four famed Dwarven clans, in seemingly no particular order. They used their sending stones to send a message to Escobert, asking his advice, but he seemed as bewildered as they did. Even Phlegm, the group’s resident expert on traps had no idea what to do, explaining that kobolds were more known for their traps than riddles.

As the group considered several theories, some involving the chronological order that each of the clans was founded, others involving possible relations to Escobert’s clan, they tested each one by pressing a finger to different names on the door. Each time however, the letter they touched would flare red and a magic missile would fly out from the door, sending the “tester” flying wildly backwards.

While the others continued to debate, growing more and more frustrated with each attempt, a simple solution emerged in Kilran’s mind.

“Hey guys, what if we’re just supposed to spell out the word ‘open’?” he asked, raising his eyebrow in his oh-so-dramatic way.

At first the group reacted with eye rolls and chuckles, certain that such a solution was far too simplistic to actually work…until they saw Kilran swagger over to the door and reach out to press his finger against the ‘O’ in the first name. Unlike before, the letter neither glowed red nor shot forth a magic missile, but instead glowed a light blue. Kilran looked back at the group and smirked, moving on to press ‘P’ in the next name, then ‘E’, and finally, ‘N’. The door made a satisfying grinding noise as unseen gears and cranks turned, opening wide the magically-sealed door.

Kilran soon lost his smirk however, as the door revealed a crypt complete with four animated skeletons standing before a dwarven sarcophagus of sorts. The light of Kilran’s driftglobe was reflected in a large green gem set into the stone of the tomb. As the grinding of the door came to a halt, a hazy of glowing green energy oozed from the cracks of the altar, quickly coalescing into the form of a mummified dwarf. The hideous dwarf sat up suddenly, a sword grasped in each hand, and looked around the room slowly, before resting his malevolent gaze on the group. As he stood, the party noticed that he seemed to be fading back and forth between the physical realm and the spiritual, sometimes seeming physical enough to touch, other times appearing completely transparent.

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“Who dares to disturb the rest of Escobert the Undying?! Come closer, so that I might drain the life from you and add your pitiful weapons to my hoard.”

As he spoke, the four skeletons turned in unison, raising their weapons and preparing to attack. Before they did, Ren attempted a bit of diplomacy, thinking that she could reason with the vengeful dwarf, or at the very list, trick him.

“Oh great dwarf lord, we come at the behest of Tiamat, to…” she started, but she never finished the tale, as Escobert the Undying blazed with sudden rage.

“The Queen of Dragons thinks to steal MY treasure for herself? Over my. Dead. Body. I WILL KILL YOU ALL!”

At that, Escobert charged the group, wielding his twin blades with a deadly grace. To make matters worse, as the heroes fought back, they found that their weapons passed harmlessly through him as often as they connected. Zephyrian occupied most of his attention, while the others focused on eliminating the skeletal minions. Athanius called on Melora and unleashed his symbol upon them, causing them to cower and flee. Meanwhile, Kilran played a sinister and dissonant tune on his flute, one that he had only recently mastered which would allow him to briefly control another creature. As he played, the image of a twisted iron crown formed atop the head of one of the skeletons, a physical manifestation of the control Kilran was able to wield over it. Much to Kilran’s delight, he was able to force the skeleton to turn and attack one of the other skeletons, giving the party some much-needed relief during the battle.

As Zephyrian continued to fight toe-to-toe with the undead Escobert, Ren supported him with spells from afar, keeping pressure on the remaining skeletons to prevent them from coming to their master’s aid. At one point during their duel, Escobert called upon a dark spell to siphon some of Zephyrian’s life force away, growing in strength. Enraged by the spell, Zephyrian managed to land a devastating blow against the dwarf, causing him to stagger and retreat several steps back towards the altar. As he approached the stone altar, he reached his arm out towards the green gem embedded in its base, and appeared to be drawing some sort of energy from it.

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Realizing that Escobert seemed to be drawing power from the gem, Athanius cast a shattering spell, causing a sudden high-pitched noise to erupt in the air above the tomb in a wide radius. In addition to disorienting the nearby skeletons, the deafening noise caused cracks to form on the large emerald, interrupting the stream of energy Escobert was drawing from it. The undead dwarf screamed in rage, almost as if in pain, as the cracks erupted along the multifaceted gem, before settling his hateful gaze on Athanius.

The ghastly dwarf closed his eyes suddenly and spread his arms apart wide, his twin blades crackling with power, before slamming them together with an explosive force that knocked Zephyrian off his feet. As the party’s vision cleared, they saw that instead of two blades, Escobert now held one massive greatsword, the blade black and ethereal. Before anyone could react, Escobert to leapt over Zephyrian in a frenzied charge, heading straight for Athanius. The surprised cleric held up his shield, but the enraged undead dwarf brought his dark greatsword in a wide downward swipe, seemed to phase right through the shield, before cutting through the outer layer of Athanius’ armor and digging into the flesh below, leaving a grievous wound in its path. The force of the blow knocked Athanius to the ground, where he lost consciousness.

Having seen how the mad dwarf reacted to Athanius’ shatter spell, Ren ran to the altar, as Kilran’s spell of confusion kept the skeletons occupied with one another. She approached the altar, and with just a quick glance behind to see Escobert turning her way, she reached a hand out to hover just inches above the large cracked emerald. As Escobert screamed in a combination of horror and anger, unable to get to the elf in time, Ren smirked at him before unleashing a deadly eldritch blast, at point blank range, shattering the emerald completely.

The ensuing explosion threw Ren back several feet, knocking the air from her lungs. But the pain she felt from that impact was nothing compared to the skull-piercing wail of terror that escaped from Escobert’s doomed throat, as the emerald revealed itself to be the only thing keeping the wrathful spirit linked to the Material Plane. As his scream dissipated, so too did his spiritual form, resulting in his armor and weapon to come clattering to the floor. The greatsword separated back into two smaller swords, as the magic combining them vanished. The two skeletons, badly beaten as they were, each also collapsed into a heap of bones.

Across the room, Phlegm poured a healing potion in Athanius’ mouth, causing him to awaken, sputtering, but grateful. Ren meanwhile had recovered her senses enough to peer into the shattered stone altar, to discover that inside it was a hidden lever of sorts. Ever the inquisitive one, she reached inside and yanked on the lever with little hesitation. The party prepared for the worst, as the sound of grinding stone filled the room. Fortunately, the hidden door that was revealed behind the altar was filled with treasure, rather than monsters. At last, they had found the hidden treasure vault of Escobert the Greedy.

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Once the party had fully recovered their wits, they were able to determine that a powerful spell of binding had been placed on the vault, one which could only be dispelled by someone with the “blood of Escobert.” They sent Kilran back through the labyrinth, using a newly discovered secret exit, to retrieve the surly dwarf and inform him of their victory. Less than an hour later, Escobert the Red arrived in the tomb, along with a handful of his most trusted men. Reluctant at first, Escobert eventually worked up the nerve to cross the threshold into the vault, deactivating whatever magical wards had been set. Together, with a little assistance from Ren in the form of a Tenser’s floating disk, the group was able to cart out all of the treasure in just a few short hours.

Escobert assured the group that they would each be welcome to a magical item from the hoard, along with a few other select items, but that his mages and clerics would need the night to identify the items. He suggested they get a good night’s rest, before returning in the morning to select their rewards. The adventurers were quick to take him up on the offer, having risked their lives once more for the town of Greenest, a place they were quickly coming to see as a sort of home away from home.

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A Bit of Reconnaissance
WHAT'S IN THE CAVE?!
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Mushrooms, Troglodytes, and Traps, Oh My
What Could Go Wrong?
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